What 28 DAYS LATER Taught Me About Self-Publishing
“Lesson one – You never go anywhere alone, unless you’ve got no choice. And lesson two – Only travel during daylight, unless you’ve got no choice.” – Mark, 28 Days Later
I enjoyed the hell out of 28 Days Later back when it came out; it was a smart and emotionally affecting film. But the quote above especially has stayed with me in the years since I saw it, for two reasons: First, Mark doesn’t give Jim rules to follow, because there are no rules anymore. Instead he offers Jim two lessons – knowledge earned the hard way that has kept him alive when most everybody else is dead. (Or, you know, a ravening monster.) And second, he acknowledges the fact that these survival tactics can’t always be followed.
Do it this way. Unless you’ve got no choice.
When I decided to self-publish back around 2011, I looked around for advice on how best to go about it. I ran into a lot of proclamations. Never do this. Always do that. One I saw a lot – and I mean a lot – was ‘always hire a professional to do your covers.’ The other was ‘never do your own covers.’
To which I at first silently and then very vocally added Mark’s caveat, ‘unless you’ve got no choice.’ Because I had no money for professional covers, and therefore no choice.
So I made my own covers. I learned how to use free photo manipulation/illustration software, read up on the basics of graphic design, and got to work. I eventually reached a point where I could produce book covers that weren’t embarrassing, but I’ll be the first to admit that they aren’t particularly exciting. Still, Trouble’s Braids won the first SPFBO despite the homemade cover, and I’ve managed to reach a point where I write for a living, and sell books whose covers I did myself.
I’m now at a place where ‘unless you’ve got no choice’ doesn’t apply anymore. It’s taken me a while to admit it, actually, because stubborn and also money, but here we are.
Here’s the thing: I don’t actually want this post to be about me. I want it to be about the writer with no money and a brilliant book in their head, or on their hard drive, but not on Amazon because they listened a little too closely to somebody who told them what the ‘rules’ are for self-publishing.
There are no rules for self-publishing. That is its blessing, and its curse. There are only lessons, and caveats.
Your book will probably do better if you have a professional do your cover. It’s not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that you’ll get no sales and gain no readers for a book that hasn’t been published.
Your first homebrew book cover will probably not be very good. But the saving grace of self-publishing compared to traditional publishing is that you can change stuff, practically overnight. You can iterate. You can get incrementally better. And if, like me, you started off with nobody buying your book, then take comfort in the fact that that means nobody is going to remember that first bad cover, so you’ll have nothing to be embarrassed about.
Get in the ring. Get dirty, get bloody. Fall down a lot. Get back up a lot. Keep pushing to make your dream a reality. Nobody else is going to do it for you. Nobody can.
Then get to the point where you don’t have to worry about not having a choice. Us readers want to see it.