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Amal Awad on Self Publishing

  |  February 23, 2014

A handout photo of author Amal Awad (Photo by Jeremy Ong)
Jeremy Ong
A handout photo of author Amal Awad (Photo by Jeremy Ong)

Australian author Amal Awad - whose latest book is The Incidental Muslim: Undiluted Perspectives on Life, Love and Pop Culture - offers valuable tips on how to make the most of your self published book.

 A few years ago, I published my first novel, Courting Samira, as an e-book. A few months later, a print edition followed. I didn’t have a publisher, and I had zero expectation that it would sell beyond a few sympathy purchases from friends.

After all, I grew up in an era of big name publishers, where anyone who self-published was doing so through vanity press. This meant paying a lot of money to print thousands of copies, without anywhere to really sell them.

Bookstores don’t, for the most part, touch self-published authors. But we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. The entire book publishing world has been turned on its head in recent times, with major publishers merging and/or downsizing. Mainstream publishers are also dipping into print-on-demand, offering digital books with a special few highlighted for print as well. Meanwhile, in some cases, digital books cost nearly as much as print versions.

But while the boundaries have been widened, it’s also a saturated market. Sure, there are some runaway successes – Fifty Shades of Grey is just one example. But while it’s never been easier to publish a book at a low cost, and make it available throughout the world, doing so doesn’t guarantee success.

Nevertheless, the doors are open for those who have the stamina and thick skin to self-publish. While it’s not an exhaustive list, here are some tips I can offer based on my own experience of publishing on demand.

  • Do your research. You could absolutely fluff your way through a self-publishing process by cutting corners, but you should be treating your book as a publisher would. You are your own publisher. That means treating the process with the time, respect and budget it deserves.
  • Have a budget in place for everything you need. It will cost you money and time, and it can be stressful, but it can be a fairly economical process as well.  The following points below will require funds:
  • Formatting – e-books come in different formats (epub, mobi, etc), which require different files; print files require another type of format altogether (it’s ultimately a PDF that you upload). This doesn’t have to cost a lot – anywhere between Dh850 to Dh1,640 for all.
  • Editing – this may, admittedly, be too expensive for some, so this is when you call in favours with friends and/or pay people in kind. Whatever you decide, you need people to read it (a) for errors; (b) constructive criticism. The latter one is probably best left to people you don’t have a close relationship with because you need honesty not coddling.
  • Cover design – this is so important to getting people drawn to your book. The proverbial saying is “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but it exists because it’s exactly what people do. Online, it’s even more important, because not everyone will bother clicking through to an Amazon preview.
  • ISBNs – E-books and print editions require different ISBNs. While Amazon and others offer ISBNs, they come loaded with conditions. It’s worth purchasing your own and having complete ownership over it as the publisher.
  • Marketing – What will you use to get the attention of media and people you want reading the book? There’s no point exerting blood, sweat and tears over something only for it to sink into the cyber ether. This means you will need to buy copies and send them out, with a press release and even a gimmicky promo. Think of how difficult it is to find a book you might like on a bargain table, then multiply it by 1000 and you’ll get the idea.
  • So that means you need to promote your work if it’s truly something you want people to read. Print on demand services can be tailored for people who just want to put together a nice book for family and friends (i.e. it doesn’t get listed for sale), but otherwise, you’re fighting for attention. Know your market and proceed accordingly – make a list of all the people who, even by six degrees of separation, can help you promote the book. You can try social media as well, but I find that is most effective if you’re already a prolific tweeter or Facebook poster. Try to get a distributor for bookstores, as it’s an arduous task getting their attention otherwise.
  • E-books are increasingly popular, but for many, it doesn’t feel “real” unless there’s a print edition. I would recommend doing both, if only as a means to market your book more effectively. I had a whole lot more success getting Courting Samira on the airwaves and in print media when I had a book to show producers and editors. It’s also the best way to launch a book. There is still a bit of a stigma attached to purely e-publishing, and you can’t sign a Kindle (though I was once asked to annotate a copy of my book). There are several outlets for this, but the most popular would be Amazon’s Createspace and Lulu. I have only used Createspace [www.createspace.com] for print and Kindle verions – this gets your book into stores beyond Amazon (including The Book Depository). Smashwords’ [www.smashwords.com] premium program is free and gets you into the iBookstore.
  • The runaway success is a rare beast, and there will be times when you wonder why you even bothered.  It can be a draining process. You will need to check your copy and PDFs for all formats several times. You will start to hate the very sight of your own work. This is a good sign. While any book can have the occasional error, it’s somehow worse if a self-published work has issues. It looks cheap and as though the publisher doesn’t care. Of course you care – why else would you be going to the effort?
  • Finally, use it as a learning process and try to have fun. I learned a lot the first time around, which helped me tremendously with The Incidental Muslim. Overall, go in with the desire for a unique and rewarding experience, even if some decent sales don’t hurt. More than anything, sales will open other more lucrative doors for you.

Amal Awad's latest book, The Incidental Muslim: Undiluted Perspectives on Life, Love and Pop Culture

Amal Awad is a Sydney-based journalist, writer and author. She has self-published two books: Courting Samira [courtingsamira.com] and most recently, The Incidental Muslim – Undiluted perspective on life, love and pop culture. For more details click on her Facebook.