Starting out self-publishing

The Kindle store offers more than seven million individual titles. About a third have not sold a single copy. That’s right, more than two million books remain unread. Why? I’d speculate that a significant proportion were published by authors who believed they’d done all the hard work. They thought they could sit back and watch their creation find a readership all by itself. Whether you’re traditionally or self-published writing ‘THE END’ on your manuscript is only the beginning.


You want to self-publish?


The Kindle store offers more than seven million individual titles. About a third have not sold a single copy. That’s right, more than two million books remain unread. Why? I’d speculate that a significant proportion were published by authors who believed they’d done all the hard work. They thought they could sit back and watch their creation find a readership all by itself. Whether you’re traditionally or self-published writing ‘THE END’ on your manuscript is only the beginning. I wonder how many authors give sufficient thought to marketing. I didn’t. Whatever way you publish marketing is key. Even traditional publishers will expect authors to take part in selling the product. Yes, I said product. Authors become very involved with their books. We have to; the wretched things would never get written if we didn’t. But if we want as many readers as possible to visit the worlds we invest so much creative energy into then we have to market. It’s an unavoidable evil.

            My first novel, ‘Blood Libel’, won a prize at the 2020 Emirates Literature Festival and I’ll be self-publishing in early 2021. I never gave a moment’s thought to marketing until I’d finished the book and thought about pitching to agents. I’ve now done that both via email and in person. It’s scary but necessary. I’m only part way through my journey to publication, but my advice is:


  • Start marketing early. When you conceive the novel think about who your ideal reader is. You might think you’re writing just for yourself. That’s fine if you don’t want others to read your book. If you do, then try to picture your ideal reader. Gender? Age? What other authors does she read?
  • Look at the Kindle best-seller lists. Drill down into the sub-categories, there’s a lot of them. What niche might your book fit into? This will become crucial when you launch the book into Amazon’s choppy waters.
  • Set up your author platform early. All you need is a simple website, a mailing list and, probably, a Facebook page. 

Marketing: the only way you can change ‘writer’ into ‘successful author’.


Michael Lynes is a writer living in Dubai. You can follow his self-publication journey by visiting: or Facebook.



Very good point about how one should start thinking about one’s audience as early as at the start of writing one’s book. Good tip about checking out Kindle’s sub-categories, I’ll definitely do that.

Nov-13 2020


You mentioned right at the end to set up your author platform early, and I’d really like to know more about that. Are there some resources you might recommend as to how to do that? Also, what does it mean to ‘start marketing early’? Just to have a sense of who your book is directed at, or is there more to it than that?

Nov-13 2020


It’s worth noting that the author of this post hasn’t published his book yet. So he’s not speaking from experience, he’s repeating what he’s discovered.

You’ll find that advice (set up your platform and start marketing early) all over the internet. It’s good advice - for writers of NON-fiction. For fiction writers, not so much.

A non-fiction writer writing about, say, football, can start a website or blog about football, work hard to build a following, and then when their book (about football) is published, they have a ready audience to promote it to. They would also join forums and Facebook groups about football and build a network of friends. They might run a Pinterest board about football, and so on.

For fiction writers, it’s often hard - even impossible - to follow that strategy. What subject would you need to write about, to attract the people who’d want to buy your novel? It’s often too hard to define. And remember, you need to be able to write a LOT about that subject, because it takes a long time to build a following.

For a fiction writer, an author website is usually just a showcase for your books. It’s a place you send people to learn more about you, and to tempt them to sign up for your newsletter, so you can notify them when the next book comes out.

For fiction writers, there’s no harm in creating an author website before you have a novel, but it won’t do you any good until you have a book ready to sell. Likewise, there’s no point in marketing a novel that won’t be published for another six months to a year - people will have forgotten by the time it’s out.

If you’re going to self-publish, the best advice is to wait until you have at least two books ready to publish, and preferably three. For your first book, make an effort to get lots of reviews early (there are techniques for this). Publish your second book within a couple of months, so people who liked your first book still remember you, and will want the second book. It’s worth noting that most successful self-publishing authors are prolific, bringing out two or three books a year.

Nov-13 2020


First, credentials: I’m 4 years and 4 novels into self-publishing. I’ve sold about 150,000 books total. Two of my books hit #1 in genre (hard sci-fi) at Amazon and one book was #1 in time travel for 6 weeks straight. Today, I have a legion of fans who buy whatever I publish - a really nice position for any author to be in. This is far more success than I thought possible when I started in 2016. How did it happen?

First, I agree with Marisaw - for fiction writers, your web page means very little. I use mine to post blogs and as a place to give away stuff to readers. Yes, you need a webpage, but don’t put too much time into it. Amazon is everything. Focus there.

Except for my permafree reader magnet, I sell exclusively on Amazon. Why? Love it or hate it, Amazon is the bonfire that keeps book sales going. All others are a match in the wind. I tried B&N, Apple, Kobe, and others. Limp sales went nowhere. Selling at Amazon is no cake walk, but you have a chance if: a) you write a dynamite story b) you pay for a good editor to help you make your story even better c) you hire a good cover artist to make it stand out among thousands, d) you find an author you want to “be like” and pay careful attention to how they pitch their books, and e) you learn and relearn the Amazon system (it’s always changing). This is my latest book.

Writing a good book is hard. Marketing (I find) is even harder, but it can be done. Start your learning curve with Joanna Penn ( Joanna has been doing this a long time and she has tons of free materials and good books to read. (I’m not associated with Joanna in any way - I only bring attention to her because her advice helped me). After Joanna, try Nick Stephensen ( - and I’m also not associated with Nick in any way. There are other gurus out there, but beware of anyone who says they’ll handle marketing for you. I think those are the ones that are scams. Nobody can do this for you. It must come from the heart, and only the author can do that. Remember, it takes effort and time! Plan for 6 months after your first book - 100% marketing & sales.

Your Amazon sales page must be good, with a great blurb that reaches out to the right audience. You will also need a bunch of 5-star reader reviews. You can’t buy them (that’s illegal as far as Amazon is concerned), you must earn them. You might start with family and friends for the first 10 or 20, but to get to a 100 5-star reviews or more, you’ll need to sell (and of course, your book will need to be good). Use Amazon ads that are finely tuned to hit just the right audience. As Michael points out - know your audience. Unless you get lucky, you’ll need multiple effective ads that direct attention to your book page. There are plenty of resources out there that teach you how to create an ad - it’s complicated, but necessary. Take the time to learn (I’m still learning).

I’m happy to talk to anyone who is struggling with this. It’s not easy, and there are no guarantees. But if you have a good story to tell, Amazon has given us a way to get that story in the hands of thousands of people. Good luck!

Nov-17 2020


Close family and friends reviewing your book is also ‘illegal’ in Amazon’s eyes - ‘We don’t allow individuals who share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer Reviews for that author’s book.’ (source:

Nov-19 2020


True, but unless they actually share the same address, it’s unlikely Amazon will ever find out…

Nov-19 2020


Good to know!

Nov-19 2020


A few years ago I was in a face to face group consisting of several writers who were self published. One discussion centered around the loss of reviews (deleted by Amazon) because they had Facebook connections with one another. Also good to know. I have no idea whether Amazon still tracks Facebook connections, or why those writers thought their Facebook connections were the source of the problem. I’d be more inclined to think the interconnected reviews were being picked up by a program.

Nov-19 2020


When I self-published my first book, my mother (unasked) tried to review it. Amazon didn’t let her post the review.

I can’t say for sure how they knew she was someone in the ‘not allowed’ category. We are Facebook friends. I possibly had ordered something with her address at some point, but this was more than 5 years after I moved out. But regardless of how they tracked, they do catch some people.

Nov-19 2020


Pretty much what Dougp and Marisaw said and has been said many times over. I’ve published a novella (sold about 4.5k copies) and a very narrowly focused book on a particular kind of antique glass and desk sets that is going to do well to sell 25 copies a year. In both cases, the most important thing (other than a great book, professionally edited, great cover art, great sales page on Amazon) is a plan to get reviews, and reviews from highly ranked reviewers. To do so is a time-consuming slog, but it can be done. There are tools that allow you to hunt down reviewers of books similar to yours who have publicized their email address on Amazon. You can use the tool to make a list and then write the ones at the top of your list a personal letters to ask them to review your book. This worked brilliantly for me on my fiction. It was a bust for my art history book. On the other hand, for the art history book, I solicited reviewers on a FB dedicated to the type of art I wrote about, and that has worked brilliantly… Again, though, it is time and money. I had to buy 20 copies, find the right reviewers (who confirmed they could post a review to Amazon; if you spend less than $50 a year on Amazon you can’t post a review). I’ve had to mail all the books out, follow up with them, etc. Some, of course, went cold on me. But so far 9 out of 18 have left 5-star reviews, and I’m hopeful there are 3 more in the pipeline. Long story short, no, a web-page is not going to do much good for you unless you have some really odd circumstances and a big following already. 5-star reviews are what sell books, so you need a book worthy of 5-stars, and a plan to get them.

Nov-25 2020
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