Tag Archives: Self Publishing

Unlocking the secret life of (most) writers

WRITERS are living through tough times, and times are usually tough enough for wordsmiths.

“Of optimal use to writers who have at least one manuscript completed and the willingness to create another.”

Not since the invention of the printing press has it been easier to publish books using an array of affordable online publishing services, but these same systems and the distribution networks they feed have stripped the traditional currency of many of the same books to almost nothing.

Newspapers struggle to get readers to pay, and we now have multiple generations who do not expect any content should come with a price tag.

Yet it’s not all bad news. Despite the terrible odds stacked up against writing for fame, glory and riches, people still tell stories.

My lack of success in landing a traditional publishing contract for my work led me down this pathway, even as a log-jam of manuscripts was piling up in my head, heart and hard-drive. Write, Regardless! is the result of having many questions fired at me ever since I threw my cap in the ring and became a publisher who made a small splash.

I once worked in publishing and learned a thing or two about gauging what makes a good story, a savvy author and a win-win contract, but I needed to spend years researching online processes and social media in order to lay the foundations for this step into the partially unknown.

And I hasten to add I don’t have the answer to every question. I’m still learning, but after finding myself corresponding at length about my approach, and thereby losing time for my own work, I decided to look at how I achieved my limited success in order to have somewhere to direct queries.

“I was objective enough to make decisions as a publisher as much as I was making them as a writer.”

In my first year as an independent publisher I profited from the publication of four titles, which made money after significant sales to libraries of the paperback version of my strongest non-fiction title Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love. This title had relevance to the news cycle in that it spoke considerably to the critical political journey of marriage equality legislation in Australia.

9780645270525The publication of Closet His, Closet Hers: Collected stories at the same time was no mistake. Fiction is a much harder sell, and I consciously floated my first fictional title on the same wave as Questionable Deeds. To put it plainly, I was objective enough to make decisions as a publisher as much as I was making them as a writer.

That is the key to Write, Regardless! It seeks to unlock publishing industry secrets, but it will also raise your awareness of what it takes to spend your precious time writing regardless of what the publishing industry thinks of all your hard work.

This book is not aimed at teaching you to write, although it has several encouragements to analyse your work to make it more engaging and entertaining to readers. It doesn’t offer short cuts. I started creating an online presence as a journalist twelve months before I started writing my first published book, and I encourage readers to give the process at least the same time as I have, which is now approaching five years.

Writing is about doing the work. Publishing is about even harder work. Marketing and promoting a book is the hardest work most independent publishers will ever do.

Write, Regardless! is the technique I applied to myself, and in doing so earned a third of a traditionally published writer’s average annual salary in my first year, without any support whatsoever from the traditional publishing industry or the mainstream media.

That might sound like very small fry, but weighed up with the high chance of getting ripped off thousands of dollars for the ‘one-stop-shop’ charlatans, or outsourcing the work to others, it’s a resounding success story. I made more than many authors receive from books that have been treated to the full suite of marketing and promotion, festivals and competitions.

As I write this, I am preparing to attend my first writers event as part of a panel discussion at Brisbane Writers Festival. For a self-published author in any country that is almost unheard of.

Write, Regardless! is available free online as a series of articles on my website, but I’m publishing it here with all the same links to other resources I created on the journey.


It will be of optimal use to writers who have at least one manuscript completed and the willingness to create another with a regular writing schedule of no less than a page of new material a week. It’s also designed for you to begin the work of becoming a publisher at the end of each chapter, before moving onto the next.

One page a week sounds like a small amount, but there is more to being an author than writing these days. Read on and courageously do the work!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

Writer, you’re an author!

“This is a time to take great care of yourself.”

THERE is nothing quite like hitting the publish button on your own work. It’s an even sweeter experience when you’ve been patient and really done the work on your book, confident that you’ve made it the best it can be with the resources at your disposal. Congratulations, writer… you have transformed yourself into an author! Here are a few considerations your new title brings with it.

The book blues

Many authors draw comparisons between publishing a book and having a baby, no doubt due to the long gestation period and the potential for a difficult birth. There’s also a good chance you’ll encounter something of an anti-climax after publishing a book, particularly after your launch has come and gone, and the initial flurry of sales has died down. This is a time to take great care of yourself. You’ve achieved something major after sending one of your precious brainchildren out into the world. You’re bound to feel vulnerable as your work finds its feet.

Reviews (the good and the bad)

It won’t take too long before you start garnering feedback on your publications, on online book-selling sites across the world, or social media sites like Goodreads. Be prepared for people to love and hate your work in equal measure. Bad reviews hurt, leaving authors feeling misunderstood and disheartened. My best advice on this is to let reviews be. Always encourage readers to write them, but read them very rarely, and never engage in an argument with a reviewer who didn’t like what you wrote. This is an incredibly difficult standard to maintain, and one of the best ways to get through it is to get busy on positive actions around your publications.

Keeping your book (and yourself) buoyant

The great thing about print on demand (POD) publishing services is that you don’t have to sit with thousands of copies of your new book in your office. They can be printed in short runs, allowing independent publishers to plan marketing campaigns that are financially low-risk. Having said that, it’s easy to end up with a few spare new paperbacks on your shelf. Get them out there!

“Share the good news about how you contributed to making the world a better place for writers.”

Direct selling

Readers love meeting authors, especially when there’s a copy of their book for sale. Reserve a weekend, gather up all spare copies of your book, print signs with great review quotes, and hold a stall at your local markets. Ensure you have a special ‘market price’ for your book (such as a discount for buying more than one), and you’ll shift a few copies; but there’s an old marketing saying about never letting a customer go without being able to get in touch with them again!

Connect with readers

Direct selling gives authors an opportunity to begin an ongoing relationship with our readers. There are many ways to do this, such as handing out a business card, or becoming friends on social media. Starting an emailed newsletter allows you to regularly stay in touch with readers and let them know your news about upcoming titles and events you’re participating in. Because avid readers still tend to enjoy the communication offered via email, they’ll often readily agree to giving you their email address. Social media platforms like MailChimp can be used to create free or low-cost email newsletters for independent publishers, but always let respondents know you’re not planning to sell or share their details with any third party.

IMG_1670Shameless self-distribution

Just about any bookshop or bibliographic service in the world will be able to stock or supply your book if it has an ISBN, but independent bookshops and libraries are likely to ask you to arrange for the printing and delivery of your titles directly. Work with them in their way and you’re likely to shift a good number of copies. You’ll also maximise your profits by cutting out the middle man.

Checking out the competition

An increasing number of book trade festivals and competitions are opening the door to independent publishers, who’ve grown from an anachronism into a relevant player in the international publishing industry. Some still have their gates firmly closed to indies and operate on an invitation-only basis, just check their application details and be prepared to travel. Many conferences, conventions and exhibitions are seeking authors to present their work, so think laterally and stay open to invitations.

Marketing madness

Selling stuff takes energy and an iron will. In this era, selling words in any format is in one of the most challenging periods in the history of publishing, as the social media inevitably supplants the mainstream media as the dominant platform for all things newsworthy and literary. Stay agile, take the knock-backs with a light approach and ensure you celebrate your wins. In my first year of independent publishing, I made about one-third of the average income of a mainstream, traditionally published author, with absolutely no assistance from the media or the publishing industries. That left me feeling wiser but also, in my own way, successful. Remember that you define what it successful, not others. Keep to your goals and ignore all the white noise.

Adjust your course

Redesigning a cover, re-launching a title that has not been effective in the marketplace, and re-pricing or rebranding existing work are old publishing industry tricks. Independent publishers can benefit from employing all of them if we find our work doesn’t hit the mark first time around. We can always think again, laterally and creatively!

Conceive another brainchild

As I have written on many occasions in Write, Regardless! no publisher ever releases just one book. One of the best ways to stave off post-publishing blues is to be already well on the way to completing another manuscript by the time they hit. Now that you know the process of independent publishing, achieving your second-born will be all the easier for you.



Publishing your first book, and ensuring it is a high-quality product that delivers for readers, is an incredible achievement. One of the best things you can do when you achieve it is to share the good news about how you contributed to making the world a better place for writers. Write, Regardless! is my way of inspiring wordsmiths to keep putting work out there despite the odds that traditional publishing poses. If I have inspired you, please find me and return the favour!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, format your paperback!

“Nothing screams ‘self published’ louder than an author trying to economise by squashing too much text on a page.”

CREATING a book for readers to hold in their hands is a craft. For independent publishers, it’s a chance to lovingly nurture our manuscripts into three dimensions, but can also lead to much hair-tearing angst, so it’s best to keep things very simple. Here are the basics you’ll need to get across in order to format your titles for a print on demand (POD) service.

Processing your words

Whether your computer is a PC or a Mac, you’ll need word processing software that can paginate a document and export it as a PDF (‘Portable Document Format’). Apple Pages and Microsoft Word are the main options that come with most desktop computer systems. Tablet computer versions of this software do not have all the components required to format paperbacks, so be aware when starting out that a desktop system will give you more options. All word processing software has a help tool to assist you in finding answers to questions. Use it, or Google what you’re after and someone in the world will tell you what you need to know!

Sizing up your book

Your preferred POD service will offer standard book trade sizes. Use your word processor’s page setup function to set the size of your paperback (your cover will need to match this exactly). Every page of the document will assume these dimensions automatically.

Breaking your sections

Paperbacks are divided into three main sections – front matter (introductions, copyright statements, etc.), body matter (often divided into chapters), and end matter (references, acknowledgments etc.). Check this guide to book sections for a broader description. You’ll need to divide your document into sections using your word processor’s section break tool. These breaks allow the addition of page headers (see below) and sequential page numbering (see below) and blank pages where required.

Why blank pages?

Have a look at a traditionally published book. There are always a few blank pages throughout, sometimes to ensure that chapters start on the right-hand page, or towards the end of the book. A blank page in a word processing document is achieved by making it a section all on its own – it’s just a section with no information on it!

Your front matter

Front matter is usually short and concise, in a different font size and style to the body of a book. Here’s the place to include a short biography about yourself and list your other works. Your disclaimers and copyright statements can appear on another page. It’s a legal requirement that you contact your state and national libraries to donate paperback and eBook copies of your titles. They will add it to their online catalogue, creating more metadata on you and your book, and the national library will email you a logo to place in your front matter.

Your body matter

The best rule of thumb is to ensure your work is legible. Font size is not the only consideration here – make sure you have generous margins (check the minimum with your POD service provider) and the words don’t jam up the whole page. Count the number of lines of text on one page of your favourite book and ensure yours is similar. Nothing screams ‘self published’ louder than an author trying to economise by squashing too much text on a page with small letters and margins.

Your page headers

Traditionally published books use page headers. They are part of a reader’s experience of books, but independent publishers often leave them off. There are many header variations. Page headers that run throughout a book are known as ‘running headers’. Usually, the author’s name runs throughout on the left-hand header and the book’s title on the right. Short story collections can run the collection’s title name on the left, and the story title on the right. Look at traditionally published books for ways to achieve effective headers.

page-numbers1Your page numbering

In the English-reading world, a book’s first page numerically is traditionally the first page of the body matter, and takes a right-hand page. This embeds odd numbers on the right-hand page throughout the publication. Front matter is either un-numbered or uses Roman numerals in lower case (i, ii, iii, iv, v etc.). Blank pages often don’t carry a page number, although one is allocated for them sequentially. This is where section breaks will assist. You word processor will allow you to tailor each book section with certain characteristics, including a check box for whether you want to start that section with new numbers and headers, or to continue with the numbers and headers from the previous section.

Your book has how many pages?

When quoting the number of pages in your book to distributors and your POD service, it will be the total number of pages in the entire document, which will always be more than the number of pages bearing a number. Add your front, body and end matter together for the full number of pages in the document. Your word processing software will tell you how many pages there are in the entire document.

Page numbering and your paperback cover

When ordering your paperback cover template, remember to allocate the total number of pages in your word processing document, plus any extras your POD service asks you to allocate. This is usually required to be an even number, with one blank left-hand page at the end of the file for the POD service to insert printing information on. If you alter the length of your manuscript, it will alter the width of your paperback and you’ll have to apply for a new cover template and adjust your paperback cover design accordingly.

“Formatting is a laborious, detailed process. Give it time.”

Your widows and orphans

In typesetter parlance, small numbers of words on a line by themselves at the top of a page or the end of a paragraph are considered as forlorn as widows and orphans. Invariably, as you begin to format, you’ll come across some in your book and you’ll need to deal with them by using your word processing software’s ‘pagination and break’ tool to pull them back to the previous page or paragraph, or push more text across to join the ‘widowed’ or ‘orphaned’ words, leaving them less ‘forlorn’.


When is an orphan really an orphan?

As a general rule, when the last line of a paragraph appears at the top of a page or a column, if it takes up less than half the line, the words are orphans. If it takes up more than half the line, the line can stand as it is. Very often, there is simply no way to logistically deal with widows and orphans, and you’ll need to edit your work down, or add to it, to lose them. This happens on every print edition of a newspaper or magazine, every day of the week.

Your book styles

Looking at your favourite books, notice whether each chapter has a capitalised word or words at the start. How did the typesetter deal with a break in the text? Experiment with your word processing software to achieve the look you want with your body matter. Traditionally, the text in a published book is justified (lined up) on the left- and right-hand of the page.

Your multi-format consistency

If you’re planning to create an eBook of your book, the formatting will be different, and Write, Regardless! will cover this in a future post. For now, get into the habit of ensuring that whenever you make changes to your manuscript, you make them to each version: paperback, eBook, and any other version you have backed up. This is the start of being an effective proofreader and editor of your work.



When embarking on the formatting of your book, my advice is to work out the dimensions very early by pasting the entire manuscript into a document set at your desired dimensions and line spacing. See how many pages it will be (including front and end matter) and order a free cover template from your POD service. They’ll get back to you, usually in a matter of hours, and you’ll be able to see how thick your paperback will be. Make the adjustments you need in scale and thickness until you have your ideal final book size before embarking on any more detailed formatting. Formatting is a laborious, detailed process. Give it time, take care and remember to save and back up files regularly.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.