Self-Publishing Panel – Three Perspectives with Sarah Higbee, Phil Williams & Richard Buxton

Thursday 11 April



Self-Publishing is an increasingly popular choice for writers as an alternative to, or in parallel with, traditional publishing. With so many options available, it can be difficult for writers to assess which option is right for them and what level of professional support they will need to ensure a quality product.
Sarah Higbee, Phil Williams and Richard Buxton have all self-published in their own genres and will each briefly present their self-publishing experience and perspective before fielding questions from the audience.
The Q&A session will be structured with the following broad subject areas tackled in order:
- Pre-publication - Completing your manuscript
- Publication - Book and eBook production
- Post Publication - Marketing and Promotion
Please bring your questions and join us for a relaxed night of discussion.


Review of the meeting


Richard Buxton, Phil Williams and Sarah Higbee talked about their experiences of self publishing, and beyond. Afterwards there were focussed Q&A sessions – and other points of view from members of the audience.

Notices and Reminders:

1. Members Flash300 competition certificates were awarded. In her absence through illness, Derek accepted Liz’s for third place – Never a Cross Word. And Rose accepted cup and certificate for gaining first place with The Important Date.
2. Short story competition now open, 1500 – 2500 words, 1 entry per member only, closing date, 13 June. Pam Weaver will judge them, look at her website for her writing tips, . More info in the competition area of the WSW website
3. Next month’s meeting, Thursday 9 May, change to previously published: Sarah Palmer, freelance editor (and former chair of WSW) speaking about what editors do.
4. Plea for committee members, as Phil (publicity) and Richard (competitions) are leaving, committee will be down to three, please consider taking part.
5. July meeting – various WSW members will speak about how they reached present position in ‘My writing journey’. Volunteers again, please, for twenty minute talk.
6. There was a raffle. I won a prize, that never happens. Maybe one of the three pieces I’ve sent to current competitions will strike lucky too?
7. Delicious refreshments at the coffee break, I heard the lemon cake praised, but my vote goes to the coffee and pecan. Thank you, Alison.

Self-Publishing Talk and Discussion

Richard ( ) spoke first. He took three years to write his first book, and then spent another 18 months courting agents. Although some followed up his initial approach with a request to read his work, none of them accepted him. Richard joined the Historical Novel Society ( ) and many members were enthusiastic about self publishing. In consequence he worked with Lucy Llewellyn of Head and Heart Publishing to produce his book. Lucy spoke to us last year. Illustrations for the book were produced by relatives and friends.
Richard produced both a paperback and an ebook, to sell through Amazon and Ingram Spark ( ). He also has a short story on the Amazon website. Although Richard published his first book in the UK, as the series is based in the US he has chosen to publish the second volume there, where he is experimenting with using a traditional publisher. Richard also pointed out that his competition prize-winning stories have appeared in nine anthologies, so far short story writing has been more lucrative.

Sarah ( ) teaches creative writing and writes science fiction/fantasy. She wrote SFF for more than ten years, and sent work to agents and publishers with no luck before self-publishing through Amazon. She emphasized that successful self-publishing requires novel series (especially in SFF, once readers understood and enjoyed a new world/universe they wanted to spend more time in it). Authors have to take care to maintain the consistence of characters, their relationships and histories.
After showing us her initial mistakes she emphasized the importance of paying for good quality cover design, which linked unambiguously to the content and had a coherent theme for the series. Sarah told us that after she changed to the newest version 2/3 purchasers of book one in her series subsequently bought book 2.
She warned that self-publishing took a lot of time, book production and then marketing took hours of her day. So she is happy that she has now sold a book to a traditional independent specialist publisher, who will allow her to have some input to the book’s final appearance. She has sold 2 short stories and has been commissioned to write for story anthologies. An editor and agents are now showing interest.

Phil ( ) has spoken to use before about self publishing. He writes EFL textbooks and steampunk SF.
Although he began self-publishing in 2011, nothing really sold until 2016; and it wasn’t until the end of 2018 that writing earned him a living wage. He also spent years submitting unsuccessful queries to agents and publishers. Game changers for him were
- Studying courses, e.g. Mark Dawson’s SPF course ( )
- Learning about on-line advertising, how it works, how to do it
- Joining writing communities (e.g. ).
Phil agreed with the other speakers – having your own website, advertising, having a series and cover design are important.
Phil has now published ten books, and three series, two have been Amazon kindle best sellers. He has sold more than 12 000 books.

Questions from the audience produced more advice from all three panellists:

Genre – stay within recognised genre for self-publishing, readers may be disappointed if what they buy is not what they expected – and a poor reader’s review can be disastrous. (maybe I should put a hyphen before reader?). If the book does not fit comfortably in a genre slot, call it literary, but don’t expect to make money.
Font size, typeface and spacing – if you are writing for an editor, something traditional e.g. Times Roman, font size 12, line spacing 1.5 to 2, Word as your WP is fine, some prefer Scrivener.

For publication, use freeware such as Calibre, or Scrivener, to make a typescript publication ready. Amazon Kindle requires the work saved as a moby file. Phil spoke of how he alters word spacing etc to produce a professional appearance, the others said this needed a high degree of tech ability.
Editors and (beta) readers – different types exist – from developmental to copy editors and from proof readers to beta readers who look for consistency during and between your books. Use reader feedback, even if you have professional editors.

Some editors, such as Silverwood, will charge around £2500 - £3000 to make your manuscript into a finished book. Richard’s choice (see above) costs about 1/3 of that.
Finding editors – Readzie can help find specialists for each section of editing process, but then the author needs to manage the process (time-consuming). The Association of Independent Authors and Spread the Word have recommendations. You can find samples of their work at the Society of Editors and Proof Readers.
Phil and Richard had had mixed experiences, suggested an editor whose focus was not confined to a particular genre was better.
Pricing and Royalties – On Amazon, prices less than £2.99 give an author 30% royalty. £2.99 - £7.99 give 70%.

Stock Photos - produced by professional photographers, bought by (e.g.) book cover designers. One of Sarah’s book covers had three stock photos overlaid within it. Cost around £30 each, or through cover photo design group special offers Phil has paid as little as £30 per 100 pictures. One stock photo may sell to multiple users.
Advertising methods – Keyword on Amazon, you can bid for words from list of 600. If customer searches for a book using that word a thumbnail of your book appears in customer’s search (not necessarily on first page). If customer subsequently buys your book, you pay Amazon fee, approx. 20p. But, Amazon algorithm changes (3 monthly?) so successful keyword combination does not last indefinitely.

Direct methods (to bookshops, libraries, through talks) expensive and time consuming. Someone said libraries would now only take one copy of self-published book, even as gift. Richard said Ingram Sparkes distributed his books to book stores.
Authors’ websites need content and updating.
Give-away promotion – power of free – give the first volume of a series (as e-book) away free. Suggested that you get your money back that way, but it’s a four-figure investment.

Phil spoke of advertising on Amazon in 3 countries only and spending 30 minute a day checking results.
Paperback v e-book? – Richard said that through Amazon a paper back that cost the reader £10.99, made him only 93p. But if he has them printed by an independent publisher/printer he makes about £1.50. Paperback sales much less profitable then e-book.
Print on demand is still more expensive per copy than a print run of (say) 200, which might cost £1400 for first 200, including coat of ISBN.

Amazon or not? – despite some reservations, panel agreed that power of numbers means Amazon is route if you want your work to reach maximum number of readers. A cautionary tale from Terry warned us that acceptance by an independent publisher did not guarantee sales. There are alternative genre specialists and can look at Promo or Smashwords. Phil said research showed him that bookshop sales were as follow up of what readers had seen on Amazon.
Links to some of the associations/companies mentioned are on the accompanying slides available in the members section.

Wendy Swarbrick