So, over to Cally!
Self-publishing a collection of short stories: a brief how-to guide
I’m best known for my chicklit novels ‘Heaven Can Wait’ and ‘Home for Christmas’ but, what some people might not know, is that I started my career writing short stories.
I submitted my first story in 2005 and, after dozens of rejections, received my big break (and a huge boost to my confidence) in 2006 when I was placed second in the Woman’s Own short story competition. Since then I’ve been published by Take a Break Fiction Feast, My Weekly and My Cat magazine amongst others and, whilst the majority of my time is spent writing novels (my first psychological thriller ‘The Accident’ will be published by Avon HarperCollins in June 2014) my first love will always be short stories.
Although I’ll always advocate traditional publishing it’s near impossible, unless you’re a big name author, to get a deal for a short story collection so this month, with my agent’s blessing, I decided to self-publish my own collection (‘Secrets and Rain’) on Amazon.
So…how did I do it? And how much did it cost? Here’s a brief ‘how to’ guide:
Select your stories
The first thing I did was to go through my previously published stories and pick out the ones I was most fond, or most proud, of. ‘Wish You Were Here’ the story that came second in Woman’s Own was a no-brainer, so was ‘My Daughter the Deep Sea Diver’ which came third in the Writers’ Bureau competition and ‘Under the Waves’ which won the Bank Street Writers competition. I was definitely proud of those stories.
But what of the rest? ‘The Little Box of Wishes’ had to go in as it was the first story I had accepted by Take a Break Fiction Feast (I was so chuffed with the magazine I put it on my wall!), so did ‘Dinner for Eight’ which was commended in the Southport Writers competition (and made me cry when I wrote it) and several other stories that were poignant and meant a lot to me. But I didn’t want the collection to be too sad so I also picked out several, more light-hearted stories, to balance that out. So in went ‘Rent-a-Cat’, ‘Marry Me Man’ and ‘The Woman Who Became a Tree’.
Selecting the stories to go in took the longest time and I had to read and re-read the collection to check the flow was right (even then I had to do a last minute tweak when my proof-reader told me I had two stories about infertility in a row).
My formatter commented that all my stories had the same theme – ‘hope after loss’ – even the funny ones. I didn’t intentionally select them on their theme but, if you’re struggling, selecting by theme could work really well for a collection.
Get it proof-read
If I were self-publishing a novel I’d insert ‘get it edited’ before ‘get it proof-read’ but, as I’d had all my stories published at some point I knew there weren’t any glaring editorial errors so decided to skip that step. Rates for proof-reading are quotes in pounds sterling (or euro) per 1,000 words. I found they ranged from £5 to £8 per 1,000 words. My friend Laura Barclay is a qualified proof-reader and charges £5 per 1,000 words. Luckily she did it ‘mates rates’ for me so I saved some money there. Regardless of cost I’d HUGELY recommend her. She spotted things I’d missed even though these were stories I’d read and re-read myself over and over and again before I’d submitted them to Norah, Gayle etc (I cringe now knowing they weren’t perfect when I sent them in!).
Format for Kindle
There are lots of different ereaders out there but Kindle is by far and away the most popular and, in my research to see whether other self-published authors were targeting all the ereaders or just Kindle I found several blog posts where the author said 90% of their sales were on Amazon. So, format for Kindle it was (it seemed like the easiest way).
I’m pretty web savvy and decided to do my own formatting (where you format your Word document so it’s suitable for Kindle). I bought a formatting template (you can get one here and on various other sites) but, when I ran into difficulties and the edits for my newest novel appeared in my inbox I thought ‘sod it, I’m going to pay someone else to do it for me’. How much you pay for formatting can really depend on who you ask. The average rate I was quoted for a 22,000 word anthology was between £30 and £60. Luckily I have a friend who did it for mates rates so saved a bit of cash there too.
Again, I tried to save money and attempted to design the cover myself. Big mistake, huge! Not only did I spend lots of money buying photos and images from Shutterstock that I didn’t actually use but my designs were awful. The two I’ve posted publicly (you can see them on my blog here) were too chicklit-y and too summery. Neither of them reflected the image or tone I wanted my book to convey or represented the theme of the stories (‘hope after loss’). This is where I called in the experts and spent the majority of my money.
I used Design for Writers because I’d seen what a good job they’d done on DJ Kirby’s midwife book and on Clodagh Murphy’s novel. Design for Writers charge (at the time of press) between £149 and £209 depending on whether you want an ebook only or ebook and paperback cover. When you sign up with them they set up a private ‘design forum’ internet site where they ask you lots of questions (‘what’s the theme of your book?’ ‘which covers do you love/loath?’ ‘Are there any specific images/moments in your book that might make for a good cover?’ etc) and you answer them. I had to think long and hard before I answered the questions, particularly the one about ‘which other books would you like to see your book sitting alongside?’ as they really focus you on the market for your book. I’ve never used another design firm so I have nothing to compare Design for Writers against but I’d use them again in a heartbeat. Their first attempt at a cover for me was so perfect I pretty much signed off the project there and then.
Sign up to KDP Select
This was the bit I was worried about. Surely the whole uploading/publishing bit would be really difficult? Not so. All you have to do is Google ‘KDP Select’ and then click on the link. If you’ve ever bought goods from Amazon you’ll already have an account with them so you just need to enter those details into the sign in. Then it’s just a case of entering the details of your book (title, description, author etc), upload the cover, upload the file, decide on the price you want to charge (You get 70% of the cover price if your book is priced £1.49 and above, 30% of the cover price if it’s below £1.49), select which Amazon territories you want it published in (I clicked ‘all’ so my book is available in Amazon US, Amazon Germany, Amazon Brazil, Amazon India etc etc) and whether you want it DRM protected (i.e. whether people can rip it off or not. Some people choose not to have it protected as, some people claim, illegal rip-offs can help market you as a writer!).
And that’s it. You press publish and, within 12 hours, your self-published book is up on Amazon.co.uk and all their international sites. If you want to make any changes to the description or file you go back to KDP Select, make your changes and it’ll be updated on Amazon within 12 hours. You also go there to view your sales figures. Oh! One thing you will need for KDP Select is your bank’s IBAN and BIC codes (you can get these by calling your branch) as Amazon will need these to set up a monthly direct debit to pay you your share of the sales.
And that’s pretty much it!
I paid £250 in total to self-publish my collection of short stories and it could cost you more (I calculated a maximum of £400 if you pay full price for proof-reading, formatting and cover) or less if you’re a graphic artist or know one who could do it for mate’s rates.
And if you’d like to download a collection of previously published and prizewinning short stories to your Kindle to see what it looks like you could…if you’re feeling so inspired…buy mine! (Only £1.53 for a limited time).
Do let me know if you take my advice and have a go at self-publishing your own collection!
Buy ‘Secrets and Rain’ from Amazon.co.uk
Buy ‘Secrets and Rain’ from Amazon.com