Traditional v Self Publishing – Thoughts of an Author – Neil Bursnoll


Talking about publishing today – author of Augustus Baltazar – Neil Bursnoll

With traditional publishing you don’t have the problems of finding money for an editor, or pushing your book out to big name papers and magazines to build early interest. When self-publishing, you have to build your presence manually by getting involved in discussions with like-minded authors, or following similar people on Twitter to get to know them. I can’t speak from experience down the traditional route, as my first novel, Augustus Baltazar, is independently published and is on more book websites than I ever knew existed. The subsequent promotion has all been down to me. The follow up will be self-published, and won’t be available in as many outlets.


There’s an enormous amount of legwork involved with self-publishing. I have to source an editor and numerous proof-readers myself, and have obsessed over little typos or grammatical fails. But this book is totally my responsibility, and I have to get it perfect. If there’s a slight miss of an apostrophe, or the faintest of punctuation mistakes, the reader is likely to spot it. And at times that reader can tell instantly if the book has not gone through the rigmarole of strenuous editing that a mass produced novel would endure. When you’re doing all of this yourself, it’s very easy to make the slightest mistake. Take your eye off the ball for one moment, and you’ll not even realise you missed an error. When it comes to the grand launch and consumers are starting to pick your book up, the last thing you want is a bad review based on inadvertent typos that you thought you’d deleted, or the broken margins where the formatting software didn’t quite understand what the tab impression was for.


Getting my own name out there has been rather difficult, as I’m one tuna in an ocean riddled with shoals. Confidence and the fear of rejection were always two problems I had when it came to my writing. I’ve overcome one of them by getting a book out there, but it’s still difficult to present myself when I don’t have the skills of a seasoned salesman. Last year I visited a local bookshop to see if they’d be interested in stocking Augustus Baltazar. I didn’t prepare myself properly, as I didn’t have my ‘elevator pitch’ or even a copy of the book in my possession. I put my request across, and he asked who I was and the genre. I replied with both, but then he asked the same question, albeit in a slightly different context. It completely caught me off guard, and after several seconds of brain whirring, I asked him to repeat the question. It came back at me in the exact same manner as his last demand, and I fumbled with my description so badly I’m sure he wondered what on earth I was doing there. Now he did say he’d be happy to take a copy from me, but I’ve not been back since. I’d clearly given a poor first impression and couldn’t face a second round of kidney punches. However, I’ve managed to get it stocked in two other bookshops, as well as two libraries. I was also featured in my local newspaper, which I’ll revisit when I have a children’s charity book ready to go later this year. Most importantly being classed as a published author has helped propel my writing. Finishing book one has driven me to finish the follow up in ten months, compared to six years for the first volume.


When it comes to Twitter, my main promotional tool, there’s a running theme. For every insightful tweet or random observation, there’s a swathe of promotional postings. Naturally, as a writer trying to find his feet, I follow a lot of other authors. Some write in the same genre as I do, others don’t. One running theme with a lot of them is the incessant self-promotion of their own work. Now that’s completely understandable – in a world where it’s relatively easy to self-publish, you need to get your head above the rest so that the average consumer buys your book and not that of the next person.


I’m not on Twitter to spam links to my books every time a great review is posted, or that it’s in the top 10 of a particular chart. That doesn’t drive me to buy a novel, as I may not enjoy it. If the blurb grips me, and the premise piques my interest, I’m more inclined to investigate. But with only 140 characters to fill, it’s very difficult to get your message across and make the consumer part with their money.


One of the things I enjoy the most about Twitter is game named Friday Phrases. It’s the brainchild of Amy Good (@amicgood) and it gives you the chance to construct a story in a tweet. Sometimes you can expand it in follow-up tweets, but more often than not they’re self-contained. I find that this is a great way of connecting with my followers as it shows what I can do, rather than endlessly peddling my releases in the hope that someone will buy a copy. In fact, I’ve seen countless articles announcing “Write this way!” or “Doing this? Don’t! Write like this instead!” If I do that, I won’t be able to stand out. I enjoy writing the way I do, and I’ve already connected with readers who appreciate it.


There are crazy amounts of people that are consistently discounting or offering their novels for free. It helps to get copies shifted so that people start reading your work, but when that promotion ends, does it drive up sales to entice other customers? There are countless books that I’ve downloaded when they’ve been free over the past year, and so far I’ve not read a single one. Yes, a bargain is a bargain, and I’m sure I’ll read each one eventually, but for me there is no further incentive to chase down that writer and yell “YES! I will read more! This was awesome!” Granted, I’m a very slow reader, so stocking up on all those freebies provides me with reading material for quite some time.


With a full-time job that isn’t writing and a family to raise, finding the time to both write and promote is a case of as-and-when. Twitter is a monster to get through when you follow so many people, and I’ve only recently started to use Google Plus. After a bad experience last year, I’m joining forums of like-minded writers and readers again, which has actually helped boost interest in my debut. Long gone are the days of watching the Amazon ranking every other hour, as the sales have dropped so steeply its soul destroying to see it trickle away. I read last year that the more books you have for sale, the better chance you have of selling, and with the next Baltazar novel out in a month or two, there is hope that it may cause a small spike in sales for both volumes. The first one performed well on release, but that’s more because I have friends and family who are genuinely interested in my writing. I have a few other releases planned in 2014, and I may give one of them away for free permanently, perhaps as part of my email signup. It could help market my style and in turn build my fan base. I can’t control the price of Augustus Baltazar, otherwise that would be reduced on the release of book two to get new readers into my series.


But the big issue here is why should I give away something I’ve spent so much time slathering over and honing? All of those years of researching and writing, followed by months of editing and rewriting. Throwing it into the ring for a freebie bonanza may help get a few new people on board, but what about those who are exactly like me? How many other readers out there snap up a free book but never read it? The simple fact is, as I don’t have a huge marketing budget to propel me into people’s consciousness, or the luxury of a popular broadsheet gushing over my every word, I need to consistently make myself known. It feels like I have lead in my shoes when I need the winged ones of Hermes.


Thanks Neil!


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Happy Reading Folks!

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One Response to Traditional v Self Publishing – Thoughts of an Author – Neil Bursnoll

  1. David Penny says:


    The reason you have to give some books for free is the same reason trad publishers spend millions on billboards and PR and lunches. Marketing. Sure, it might gall you’ve spent an age writing it, but it’s only time. And in most businesses time is money. But you have to invest in order to grow. If you consider the cost of an editor and proofreader and cover artist an investment, then free copies are the same.

    Good luck with the book(s)

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