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How I wrote and published Mentoring Mr Singleman - Part 3 - Going down the indie route with KDP.

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

This is the third in a short series of three posts adapted from a live talk given to the 2020 Independent Authors Online Festival. The video of the talk itself, which includes me reading the extracts, can be found at Unit 17 of the festival site

I had never envisaged going down the indie route. My first published work as a much younger man was knocked out on a typewriter, and I remember well the intense thrill of a letter from an editor saying that they liked your piece or your story, and wanted to publish it. However the landscape has changed since then. Agents have become the gatekeepers, and finding an agent is not easy. After six months of submitting, following all the good advice about carefully tailoring each submission letter, and getting nothing back but formulaic rejections, none of which gave any indication of the work having been read, I had had enough, and began to explore the alternatives.

Somebody put me on to Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP, which is run by Amazon. I should make clear that I do not have shares in Amazon, and I recognise the negative impact that they have had on traditional bookselling. They have however opened up a valuable route for the independent author, so for those of you thinking of dipping your toe in the KDP waters, here are a couple of pointers from my own experience.

One of the things that is most appealing about KDP is that Amazon don’t take any money from you unless and until you start to sell books, so you can get your meisterwerk up there for the world to see and buy at no cost to yourself. However this alone is unlikely to lead to success, and in fact if your manuscript doesn’t reach certain production standards then Amazon may reject it.

The areas where you might, and arguably should, spend money, are as follows.

1. Cover design. All the advice is that a professionally designed cover is highly advisable. Mine cost me £200, (it’s possible to pay a lot more) and while it isn’t the classic Cornish Romantic Novel design, I've had a lot of positive feedback about it. 2. Copy/general editing. Having spent my working life telling people where they could and couldn’t put their commas, I decided not to pay for this. I proof-read the printed manuscript three times myself, but some typos still crept through. Direct speech is a particular problem – the Word grammar check doesn’t seem to pick up missing or misplaced speech marks. I did a further two proof readings once I had the paperback in hard copy, and I’m pretty sure that all the glitches are now sorted. (Another great thing about KDP is that you can edit your manuscript at anytime, and it will update within about 36 hours). As far as general editing goes, I have lots of generous but candid friends with Eng Lit degrees, and I relied on them to tell me during the writing process if they felt this or that section needed amending. However professional editing in some form is something most writers should seriously consider.

3. ISBN number. These cost about £90 a time, but are not essential. I bought one because it made it feel more like a proper book, and it makes it more credible to book sellers and wholesalers. 4. Marketing. It is often said that an indie writer is not just an author but also a publisher, and therefore running a business. I haven’t spent anything on marketing yet, but I’m planning on ploughing my initial sales revenue back in, either to facebook ads or to one of the simpler options offered by Amazon. (Some are positively Byzantine in their complexity)

So far, then, I’ve spent about £300 up front, and got back about half that in royalties over four months. I was interested to hear another contributor to the festival plump for a figure of £1000-1500 as a realistic investment in a first novel. I don’t think I would ever have considered spending that much, but then my sales figures could be better. Blame it on my cultural heritage.

In many ways, Singleman is not, perhaps, the ideal KDP novel. It falls slightly between categories, and is at present a one off, although I am a quarter of the way through a sequel and could envisage a trilogy. The fiction books that do best on the platform are typically solidly generic and often part of a series, so that they benefit from economies of scale and repeat custom from a known customer base. The title itself causes confusion - it tends to come up alongside books on toxic masculinity!

I don’t, at present, have any regrets about having gone down the indie route. The pleasure of getting my book out there, into the hands of readers, and getting lovely reviews, has been immense. Somehow, until I read it in paperback, I didn’t really believe I had written a proper novel. Now I know that I have, and I know from the reviews that it stands up well, and that does great things for my confidence as a writer. Would I have preferred to take the traditional route? Yes, in an ideal world, but I might have been hanging around a long time. I might have had to implement editorial decisions I didn’t like, and pretend to be enthusiastic about a cover design that I didn’t choose. That said, I’m still submitting to agents, and while there is a sense that some consider a self-published book to be off limits, others are more open. We shall see.

©Kim Sancreed 2020

See the second blogpost in this short series for more information about Arvon courses and how one helped me to write Mentoring Mr Singleman. You can read more information about the inspiration for the novel in the first blogpost.

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