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Self Publish and Be Damned Confused

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'In the early years of twenty-first century, in the First Digital Age, ritual self-publication was widely practiced. Just as every Muslim was encouraged to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their adult life, each individual in Western society strove to publish at least one book, regardless of its merit. The practice was spread through social media (not yet recognized as a disease), and eventually destroyed whatever remained of Western culture, which finally drowned in a digital tsunami of loghorrhoea in 2020.' - An extract from The Chronicles of Unreason (pub. 2075).

Fantasy? Maybe. But even if you haven't published a book yourself, you probably know at least one person who has. And if you spend too much time on the Internet, like most normal people (and especially on Twitter, like me) you may have noticed a recent change in the way that writers are pursuing their favourite online activity, which is writing about writing.

For the last few years the Internet has been groaning under the weight of 'writing tips,' and most of them are drivel. I should know, I've written many of them myself. In my defence, I've always tried to come up with writing tips that are at best useless, and preferably misleading. Things like:

'Always take a break if you've spent more than six hours at a stretch in online arguments about punctuation.'

'Be alert for plagiarism. If it's not happening to you, you're clearly not writing anything worth stealing.'

'Writing is rewriting. No, wait. GOOD writing is rewriting. Or maybe, The BEST writing... No, the first version was OK.'

And, more recently:

'Write about what you know. But as if you were being spanked by a preposterous idiot.'

(I apologise if you've already seen any of these as tweets. Although you can't really blame me for doing a little light recycling. And it's not as if it's a huge chore to read them again, is it? In fact, I've got nothing to apologise for. Give me a break, OK? It's hard work coming up with this stuff. Actually, it's you who should apologise, for trying to make me feel guilty.)

My writing tips were facetious reflections of the kind of 'inspirational' guff that's very hard to avoid on the Internet, and for which I've coined the term Unspirational Quotes. Then came the eBook revolution, and everything changed. Instead of writers simply telling each other how to write, they began bombarding each other with instructions about what to do with whatever they managed to write in the brief moments when they weren't busy giving each other writing advice. Writing tips have now been overtaken by publishing tips.

Don't get me wrong. A lot of the information and advice you can find online about publishing and promotion is very useful. But like everything on the Internet there's just too much of it. I've absorbed as much as I can, and while I'm clueless about any of the technology, I've noticed a few attitudes that seem to emerge. I've attempted to distil them into three bullet points.

  • IS MY BOOK READY TO BE PUBLISHED? No. Nobody's book is ever ready to be published. Every book could always be improved. But the problem with self-publishing is the lack of a professional editor who can help you rewrite your book until you're both heartily sick of it and you agree to unleash it on the world, consoled by the knowledge that at least it's not quite as dreadful as it was at first. If you haven't got an editor, just assume you need to rewrite it. If you don't know how to make it better, just make it shorter. The right time to publish then depends on how many of your friends have published books. It's like a party: you don't want to be first, and waste all your brilliant conversation on the host, but you shouldn't arrive too late either, when everybody is too drunk to appreciate all the fascinating, spontaneous things you'd prepared to say, or said them already.
  • WHICH PLATFORM SHOULD I CHOOSE? Search me. It's like choosing a mobile phone service: most of them are OK and nothing out there is total rubbish. That doesn't mean you'll be satisfied. Like any other aspect of life, nothing works the way you want it to. The world of self publishing is changing all the time, and unless you find several people, from many different sources, screaming that one particular platform is a disaster, a total rip off, a danger to children and a vile insult to human decency, choose whichever one seems to suit you. It's all going to end up on Amazon anyway.
  • HOW DO I PROMOTE MY BOOK? To answer that question you need to ask another one: Who gives a shit? Unless you know who your audience is and why they should care about what you've written you're wasting your time. So, first you have to make yourself visible, then give people a sense of who you are and what your writing is like, and then engage the ones who seem interested. If you're not famous the best way to do this is through social media. Even if you are famous, you'll probably still use social media. Everybody uses social media. The only piece of advice I've got about using social media is: Dont try to be everywhere at once. Only God can do that, and look at all the hassle he gets. So, restrict yourself to the areas where you're comfortable, and which seem like your natural online home. I enjoy tweeting and I like writing blogs, so I've been using those things to create a social media profile. I hope that my tweets, and the style of my blogging is engaging enough for people to want to read what I write. So that when the time comes for me to begin promoting a book, I can use, say, a blog to do it. A blog like this one. In fact, this very blog. Because...

I've written a book. It's a funny novel called Utter Folly and it's available on Amazon in the UK and in the US.

See what I've done here?

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