How to make a lucrative living as a self-published author: Everything you need to know

RACHEL ABBOTT gives us her top tips on how to self-publish your novel. Retiring early to start writing, she was rejected by publishers, so did it herself. She is now a best-selling author making a lucrative living on her own terms.

As a successful businesswoman running her own interactive media company for twenty years, Rachel Abbott was always on the go. When she took early retirement, she adored the idea of waking up in the morning with the words ‘relax in the sun’ the only item on her To Do list. But she soon decided to put her spare time to good use and finally turn the idea at the back of her mind into the novel she always hoped to write.

When she had finished the book, Only the Innocent, Rachel sent it out to a number of literary agents. Most replied politely saying they liked it but couldn’t see a market for it, and some didn’t respond at all.

“At that point, I put the book on the back shelf. Then one rainy day in September 2011, I discovered that it was possible to publish independently through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP),” Rachel tells Express Online.

Only the Innocent hit No. 1 in the UK Kindle Best Seller charts in February 2012, outselling titles from many established authors. It was one of the best-selling products across the whole of during the first three months of that year.

“Every day was a thrill seeing the sales grow and it changed my life by giving me the most unexpected sense of community. It has opened up a whole new world for me really; I get lots of emails and tweets from people who have read the book and from other KDP authors who are all really supportive, giving me a new group of friends,” Rachel adds with a smile.

“I’m loving every minute of it.”

Only the Innocent is now available in print through Amazon’s print on demand service, CreateSpace, which Rachel describes as ‘a doddle to use.’  Rachel also published her second book, The Back Road, on KDP and CreateSpace in the UK in March. It has been firmly entrenched in the top 100 ever since then.

Now Rachel tells us how she did it and give her top tips for what and what NOT to do.

From how to actually get published to what to do when people post vicious reviews (tip: NEVER respond) she tells us all we need to know to become a self-published author.

How long have you been self-publishing and how many books have you published?

I published my first book in November 2011 and my fourth book just two months ago in February 2015.

Did you intend it to be a substantial income when you started?

Not at all. I had an ambition to sell a thousand copies when I started, and then – when I could see the potential – I decided that I had to focus more on the marketing. But I never really expected to make money from it. That’s a real bonus.

Did you show your writing to friends and family first? Was that nerve-wracking?

It’s always an incredibly difficult the first time you ask somebody to read your work because you do want people to be honest with you, but at the same time you are really exposing yourself, your thoughts and possibly your inadequacies to those closest to you. I loved the fact that so many of my family really enjoyed my first book – which gave me hope that it might be a reasonable read – while at the same time getting some more critical feedback about the writing from the more discerning readers (such as my mother!) which proved really helpful.

What was the hardest part in writing and doing it all yourself? 

The first book is hard to write whether you end up being traditionally or independently published, but after that I think the biggest issue for independents is the fear that they can’t write another book that people will like as much as the first one.

I now have editors, a publicist, a jacket designer, much the same as a traditionally published writer, and I’m fortunate to get the support and encouragement I need from my agent. But for people who are just starting and perhaps can’t yet afford all the help, it can be a lonely job.

What tips would you give for things people should and should not do when self-publishing?

I don’t think I would ever tell somebody not to do anything. Different strategies work for different people, and although some people are keen to suggest that there are ‘rules’ we should all follow, I think we each have to find our own way. What they should do, however, is decide at the outset what success looks like to them, because it isn’t the same for everybody. Some people just want their book to be out there – they don’t care about sales. Others want great reviews, or perhaps a high chart position is more important to them then a high level of profitability. Until each individual has decided what he or she would consider to be a success, it’s impossible to define a strategy to achieve it. So, first define what success looks like, and create a strategy that you believe will help you to get there.

Have you ever had to deal with unkind or unpleasant criticism in readers’ comments? And do you have any advice on what to do if that happens?

I think every writer gets the odd bad review – even the best books in the world have some one stars. My advice would be to read all bad reviews. Decide whether it’s a ‘real’ review (some people just like to attack anybody who is successful, and it’s usually fairly obvious because they actually don’t appear to know anything about the book) and if it is real, decide whether the things they don’t like are justified or not. If they are, take it as a hint for your next book. But never, ever respond to criticism.


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