Sunday, 1 October 2017

What NOT to Do When Self-Publishing - Guest Post Alison Morton

Interested in self-publishing? If you are, you might want to read this - a warts and all guest post from Alison Morton, writer of the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series. It's about what NOT to do if you are thinking of going down this route. In Alison's words, 'highlighting some of the difficulties brings a sense of reality to the whole business of self-publishing'.

Over to you, Alison.

Self-publishing?  Please don’t do these things

I’ve published eight books – six novels, two non-fiction – via the indie route since 2012, but in the preceding three years I learnt writing techniques: structure, plot, dialogue; how to delete adverbs, adjectives and over-writing. Then came techniques needed in the publishing world: proposals, submission packages, approach letters and etiquette in approaching agents and publishers; and how the publishing industry worked, who was who and how to make and use opportunities.

I attended conferences, courses, fairs, seminars, I read how-to books, joined writers’ groups and associations and talked to other writers, tutors, assessors, publishing experts and mentors. I brought in my business skills: time management, networking, project management, accounting, cost analysis, pricing, marketing, PR and negotiating. And I listened.

Along the way, I’ve learnt a great deal including some essential dos and don’ts.
Contrary to the jolly cheerleader ‘you can have it all’ approach, I’m going to be negative, and possibly crushing, because there are a lot of things you shouldn’t do if you want to succeed as an indie author.

1. You are not entitled to inflict rubbish on readers just because you can
In this glorious age of democratisation of publishing anybody can publish a book. Being honest, 80% of them shouldn’t. Grammar, punctuation, gripping prose, a rattling good story edited by a competent experienced editor and a fabulous book jacket are minima. If you DIY publish, learn how to do it properly: read ‘how to’ books, go on courses, research online and read guides, join specialist forums, learn from the experts.

2. Don’t whinge
The world is unfair. You learnt that in the playground. If you have a plan, work hard, research thoroughly and cultivate people, you will increase your chances of success astronomically.

You will see others get breaks, seem to prosper, receive plaudits, win prizes. Admit it, you’re left feeling a little envious. A secret – they’ve been in exactly the same place, but they slogged on. If you need to whinge, talk to the cat/dog/your critique partner. But don’t do it in public or you’ll be seen as needy. And nobody likes to be seen supporting a needy whinger…

3. Don’t diss others in the food chain
True in life and true in writing and publishing; it’s a village. Be friendly to all whether they’re a stellar bestseller or the newbie in your writing group. Of course, there are people we don’t warm to – the bumptious, the snobby, the unctuous and the darnright obnoxious. They have their own problems and really, we have to feel sorry for them.

As an indie, you have the benefits of freedom, control and the ability to be fully flexible in your PR and marketing. But please don’t sneer at mainstream authors or regard them as ‘sold out.’ They have chosen their route to publishing as you have yours. Remember we are all writers, especially if we share a genre.
Alison with TV presenter Sue Cook at
the launch of INCEPTIO
4. Don’t be a pest 
It’s hard, really hard, when you’re clutching your sweated-over manuscript or self-published book to your chest and you see your dream publisher/agent/endorser twenty paces from you not to rush over and gabble about your treasure in a demented ΓΌber-pitch.

Nobody is more passionate about your book than you. That’s how it should be; you have immersed long hours in it and probably part of your soul. But rein it back and think strategically. Approach people in the terms they find acceptable, be gradual, wear your sensible hat and exert your brain, not your emotions. Publishers and agents outline their requirements on their websites – study them in detail and send what they ask not what you think.

Endorsers and reviewers are often very busy and/or fighting deadlines. Approach politely and if they don’t have time or don’t wish to read your book, thank them and withdraw gracefully. Ditto if you decide to approach agents and publishers and your book is rejected. And please don’t send unreadable files (silly fonts, midget type, badly formatted) to anybody at any stage.

5. Don’t expect to be the great breakthrough author, nor to be rich beyond dreams
More books = more income, but in the ferociously competitive book world, you’re statistically unlikely to become one of the ‘big beasts’. However, with hard work (that expression again), you can enjoy a supplementary, even comfortable income.

And as you mature as a writer, people will ask for your opinion, read your blog, ask you to speak and, as long as you produce good content and information, come to regard you as an expert in your field. You may not win the Booker Prize, but you’ll probably be eligible for, and even win, some well-regarded indie ones.

Harsh? Probably. Realistic, certainly.

But being a writer, although creative, is a job. As an indie writer, you just have to show you’re also a professional.

Alison Morton writes the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction.

The first five books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices.  AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. SUCCESSIO was selected as an Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller. The sixth, RETALIO, came out in April 2017.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing.

Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.

Social media links
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site:
Twitter: @alison_morton

Buying link for RETALIO (multiple retailers/formats):

RETALIO book trailer: 

Early 1980s Vienna. Recovering from a near fatal shooting, Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova, chafes at her enforced exile. She barely escaped from her nemesis, the charming and amoral Caius Tellus who grabbed power in Roma Nova, the only part of the Roman Empire to survive into the twentieth century.

Aurelia’s duty and passion fire her determination to take back her homeland and liberate its people. But Caius’s manipulations have isolated her from her fellow exiles, leaving her ostracised, powerless and vulnerable. But without their trust and support Aurelia knows she will never see Roma Nova again.


  1. A very comprehensive list, Alison - thanks for sharing on Wendy's blog!

  2. Thank you, Rosemary. I hope I wasn't too harsh, but I think we all have to be realistic in today's market.

  3. Nice to be reminded of the pitfalls - it's a long hard road to becoming a writer worth reading. Thanks for sharing.

  4. A very honest and useful post - thank you, Alison and Wendy. The Roma novels look interesting too.

    1. I don't want to be bad-mannered and post a direct link, but if you pop over to my site (The link is shown at the end of the post.), Tracy, you can get the first book, INCEPTIO, for free.
      Just saying...

  5. Such good sense and advice from Alison. It doesn't come across as negative. It's wisdom from experience Thanks Alison and Wendy for sharing it.

    1. Thank you, Anne, for your kind words. I've watched others as well as learnt the lessons myself. Very happy to help others avoid the pitfalls!

  6. Excellent advice – and I don't think it's harsh at all. If we're not aware of this stuff before we try to self publish, we're going to be really disappointed after the book(s) come out.

    Of course we can do everything right and still not get get the success we'd like, but that's life.

    1. Oh, how true, Patsy, but by avoiding the no-nos, we put ourselves several steps ahead of the crowd.

    2. Useful advice for me with another self-published story collection coming out in just over a week πŸ˜€

    3. Snap! We've both got new books out next week.

  7. Like a breath of fresh air, reading this! Thank you to both.

  8. Great article, Alison. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Interesting article, thanks Alison.

  10. Love both your wisdom and generosity, Alison. Thanks for sharing such frank, helpful advice.

  11. Thank you Alison and Wendy for this article. A very helpful reminder to research and work hard.

  12. I couldn't have said it better myself! Great post. Thank you both so much.

  13. Brilliant Alison, may I say I'm from the 'other side' I'm a book blogger and I met Alison 'online' a few years ago. I was intrigued by her books and have now read most of the Roma Nova series and am happy to recommend them to others.
    Alison is very supportive of book bloggers and her professional manner shines through.
    I had the opportunity to briefly meet Alison in the summer at a busy launch for her latest book.
    May her hard work continue to pay off.

    1. Oh, Rosie, I'm blushing now!
      It's been a pleasure to work with you through the years and it was a similar one to meet you, albeit briefly, 'in the flesh' in June.
      More Roma Nova stories are in the pipeline...

    2. What lovely words, Rosie. It's great to see a book blogger who is so generous to self-published authors.

  14. This is really the best advice for a new author. Thank you!

  15. Thank-you for your honesty. I am about to write my publish my first book. I am nervous and this makes me more nervous - and even with a proof reader I do worry about typos!

    1. Wishing you lots of luck with your book, Bena.

    2. Being cautious is a good idea. The next stage is research and then hard work. With those three, you'll get there! Good luck!

  16. Good article and clear writing , thanks for shared .

  17. Impressed by the writing on a unique topic that must touch others mind, I think.

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