I wrote my first novel, Cold Water, when I was thirteen. At the time I thought it was great, and enthusiastically shipped it off to literary agents expecting a publishing contract to land on my doorstep. Of course in hindsight it was actually pretty terrible, basically angsty-teenage word salad. I put it in a drawer for a few years and forgot about it. Then when I was seventeen, my dad suggested that I self-publish on Amazon. At first I was wary – would it be worth the effort? Would they just take away any royalties I made? But I decided to give it a shot because what did I have to lose at that point?
So I did it. I went back, I rewrote the entire novel until it didn’t make me want to physically cringe anymore, then I published it on the kindle store.
At first I only sold a few copies. I made some pocket money out of it, nothing glamorous but enough to give me a little electric buzz of happiness every time I saw the number go up. It gave me a purpose, something to work towards. And soon I became addicted to that feeling. I wanted more of it. I needed to sell more copies.
So I started doing some marketing, though at the time I didn’t really know that’s what it was called. I joined writing websites, forums, chat rooms. I’d made my own book cover so I flogged that thing everywhere I could. I posted samples and excerpts. I sent off review copies to book bloggers. I made the book free for a week. And then something amazing happened.
My sales went from 3 a week to 30 a day.
It was so incredible, so completely unexpected that I was honestly in shock for a very long time. I’d expected to sell maybe 10 books total. The real number was in the thousands. I still don’t completely understand how it happened, whether it can be attributed to my marketing efforts or luck. I expect it’s a bit of both along with good timing. I published at a time when the indie book market was just starting to take off, with people like Amanda Hocking and Jamie McGuire gathering fame.
I was still in school, trying to make decisions about University, and this was the thing that made the decision for me. I thought ‘look, I’ve got this novel out there, and people are reading it. They’re paying money for it and recommending it to their friends and blogging about it. So maybe studying Creative Writing isn’t a stupid idea. Maybe I could really do this one day for a living.’
I think of self-publishing as similar to starting up a business. Most people will go the traditional route of being employed by a company because there’s structure, guidance and a boss to give you jobs and targets. There’s stability and financial security. Building something yourself is different – you are completely accountable for your own success or failure. You’re not reporting back to anyone, there’s no one to tell you that what you’re doing is right or wrong. You’re essentially on your own, which can be both terrifying and liberating.
For me, and many others though, Amazon self-publishing gave me something I couldn’t find elsewhere. It gave me an opportunity to test myself. It gave me the chance to take control of my publishing experience and see how far I could go. It gave me the validation I so desperately needed at the time and the courage to base a huge life decision such as going to University on my writing. It made me realise that writing could be more than just a hobby for me, that maybe there was an audience out there for it, I just had to reach out to them.
I’m not saying self-publishing is the right decision for everyone. Even now, I would love to have the approval of traditional publishing houses. But I do think it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s been an exciting journey up till now, one that I’ve learnt so much from and has made me a better writer. My initial dabbling in book promotion has led into a career in marketing, which I realised through that is something I enjoy.
So to anyone out there who’s undecided on whether or not to go for it, I say to you: ‘why not? What have you got to lose?’ It might just turn out to be everything you wanted, and more.
To find out more about my work, see my books page. Follow for updates on an exciting new release scheduled for next year, as well as more tips and tricks for self-publishing. I’m also looking to host author interviews and guest posts on my blog – if this is something you would be interested in, please get in contact!