Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Have you ever thought about Self Publishing? Yes and…

If I had 79p for every time someone asked me “Have you thought about self publishing?” I’d have….well I’d have more money than I’ve made selling a self published ebook priced at 79p (the lowest price you can set on Amazon).

Now, it has to be said that half the people that ask me that question run self publishing services of some sort. But, beyond them, there is this belief that self publishing is some kind of magic wand that you can wave over your pdf pumpkin and turn it into a golden carriage to Royalties and Success.

I am not saying self publishing isn’t a good thing. I am not saying plenty of people haven’t sold tons of books that they otherwise wouldn’t have got past an editor (for good or bad). I’m not even saying I won’t give it another go – I fully intend to go that route with some stuff this year. What I’m saying is: writing a book is relatively easy, self publishing it is extremely easy, selling the product is really, really difficult.

What traditional publishing houses have is a vast distribution network and marketing. What I have is a baby blog, a handful of Twitter followers and my immediate network on Facebook. I’m willing to bet my 7% commission that fewer than 10 of the people in my reach have bought my Graded Reader, The Tomorrow Mirror, which I’ve blogged about and wrote a free downloadable worksheet to go with.

But that is more of a thought experiment as I have no way of testing it.

What I can give you is this: my self published ebook currently withering on the overburdened vine of Amazon. Last summer, for fun, I wrote a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s well written, hilarious and could compete with the few parodies that are selling well if anyone actually knew about it.

I self published it as an experiment so I could see how that works out. I enrolled it in KDP Select which meant I could offer 5 days of free downloads every 3 months. I gave it a Twitter account and started a blog. Admittedly, I didn’t find much to write on it and eventually started writing Internet Dating stories on it while waiting for the book’s content to be released back to me so I could just serialise the book on the blog (which I still intend to do but am waiting for an illustrator I know to do some artwork).

In 6 months I got about 300 downloads on the free days and around 40 people paid for it. Only 4 people took the time to write a review on Amazon. And under 10 people shared the links via Twitter or Facebook. You’d think your friends would be the way to get something like that going but people don’t think like that. Friends now who read this blog and like it, talk to me about it even, don’t think to share it.

One of the reasons that parody is not selling as well as it should might be the title: Fifty Shades of Shite**. I think it makes people think it’s going to be, well, shit, whereas actually it’s not the filth you might expect. I am going to retitle and relaunch it as Carry on Fifty Shades and put it with other sellers than just Amazon. But anyway, I bet this post results in very few 79p expenditures too because selling this way is, as I say, extremely difficult. There’s just too much stuff out there. It’s like losing a diamond ring down the sewers and trying to find it. Actually the analogy is more like you don’t think to look for a ring down there in the first place. You want a ring – you go to a jewellery shop.

As for EFL materials, organisations like The Round are platforms which have a bigger reach than mine and later on this year, I will start looking into self publishing my own materials. But here’s why I think, even with the push of a marketplace, it will still be hard to sell things that way.

1. Teachers themselves are not the ones that spend the most money on materials, language schools are.

2. It absolutely must be edited by someone to be something anyone would trust. I went over and over and over my 5500 word parody and I still found mistakes in it when it had been on sale for months.

3. To use an EFL book, and course books are where the money is, you really need it to be a shiny, bound, hard copy real book. With an Audio CD or downloadable MP3’s and probably a Teacher’s Book.

I think Skills books and Resources are the way to go with self publishing but even then I wonder. Far more traffic on this blog has gone to my articles  than links to resources or downloadables I’ve put up.

I’m not discouraged by this, I know I have a lot of hard work to do that’s all. Higher royalties on self publishing from very small sales figures mean you have to be a tireless genius at marketing. Next year I’ll start speaking at conferences, not specifically to sell product but because I am enjoying being an active part of the community. We’ll see. But I’m going to put my eggs in a traditional publisher’s basket as soon as the opportunity comes along – I’m waiting to hear about something now and doing plenty of behind the scenes work with materials writing in the meantime.

Some day my Prince will come and I expect he’s going to look a lot like an Editor for one of the mainstream publishers.


**The link goes to UK Amazon but it can be found on the US, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and a couple of other versions.

Nick Robinson’s post on self publishing in ELT has a lot more specific insights into this.


And, in 2015, I did actually self-publish a novel. It’s just as I feared.


2 comments on “Have you ever thought about Self Publishing? Yes and…

  1. linksandanchors
    April 14, 2013

    I think that self-publishing is the book industry’s equivalent of a band doing gigs. You don’t do it to make a lot of money, but because it is fun, you can start to build a small but loyal group of fans (who give you feedback) and you also get to practice entertaining a crowd.

    It is more-or-less free (apart from your time) but it isn’t easy and it takes perseverance and creativity.

    • Nicola
      April 16, 2013

      I think blogging serves that purpose. I’m happy to do plenty of things for free, I love blogging for example and I did my parody for fun, but self publishing a course book would, at the moment, be a waste of time because with the small audience of people who’d be likely to buy it on an ebook platform, you’d get fewer readers than a blogged version would. EFL is not there – yet. Perhaps Resources are the way to go and Small Epic will be a good way to get that going. I intend to…but I would still much rather have the weight of a publisher behind materials written the way I think they could be done. That day seems a bit closer than a successful self published EFL course does.

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This entry was posted on April 7, 2013 by in Writing and tagged , , , , , .
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