Emma Hill on self-publishing your book

Posted by Emma Hill

So, you’re thinking about publishing your book yourself? Welcome!

I published my award-winning, young adult novel, Baby Girl, on my own imprint – Emma Hill, Writes – in 2020.

I share here the things I’ve learned on the journey so far – it seems like all routes to publishing (whether with a big publishing house, a small press, or independently yourself) are different, so take everything I say and adapt it to fit your book’s market and requirements.

Build a plan (and a budget) and do lots of research. There is a growing body of information out there and it’s never been a better time to be an author independently publishing your own work. It is, at times, overwhelming – I warn you. Work in stages, at the pace you can manage around all the other demands on your time and energy. And first things first…

Write your book

Don’t worry about how you will publish it, until you’ve written it. Get that first draft out of you and on the page and then leave it alone.

Rewrite your book

Draft and redraft until you have the book in some kind of shape, before you send it out into the world.

Send it out into the world

Submit your book for prizes, competitions, schemes and awards. Make sure you are subscribed to and following New Writing North, The Bookseller, Society of Authors and the organisations that specialise in the kind of book you have created. Any chance you get to submit your work, do it. If you win anything, or get good feedback, this will serve you will later in your publishing journey – and you can feature it on your cover too, which really helps call attention to your book in bookshops.

Start paying attention to the market

Get out into bookshops and immerse yourself in the publishing industry by following The Bookseller and getting up-to-date with current trends and news. Start thinking like a publisher, as well as an author. Where would your book sit in the world? How will you make it appeal to the readers who will be interested in it? What else is similar?

Build your promotional library

If you’ve been submitting for schemes and awards, you will have been creating synopses and pitches and bios about yourself, your book and your other writing. Get an author headshot, start working on your online and social media presence – you don’t have to be everywhere, but you need at least one place online where readers and the publishing and bookselling industry can find out more about you and your work.

Work out what you can do yourself

Where does your skill set lie? I am a producer, as well as a writer, so I am experienced at organising things, schedules, deadlines, paperwork and budgets. I also work in digital and broadcast content and have some technical knowledge and solid editorial skills. What can you do and what do you need to bring in others to do? Which leads me on to…

Invest in your cover

You must get a professional cover designer – I repeat – you must get a professional cover designer. This is not one to do yourself, or ask a friend with Photoshop to create for you.

I found the wonderful designer of the Baby Girl cover, Jo Walker, through research and getting in touch with people whose work I liked. Look at covers you like and reach out to designers, or get in touch with the Literacy Consultancy and ask them to forward you details of some designers. Your cover is everything. You need to work with someone who knows what works and how to make an impact in your genre.

Bring in the experts

You will require professional feedback about what you intend to publish, ideally more than one round. If you can afford an editor, hire one – again ask around, or reach out to Literacy Consultancy. You will also want someone to proofread your work and probably someone to copy edit too, unless you have experience in doing this – you can find out more about the differences between proofreading and copy editing with a quick internet search.

Finally, you need a typesetter, to set your manuscript into a book layout for printing – look on sites like Fiverr, or ask the network of people you are developing if they know anyone.

And that’s your book done – easy, right? Now on to getting it out there…

How to publish

You need an ISBN for your book, which you buy through Nielsen – all the information you need is on their site.

I began by publishing my book to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing as an ebook and a print-on-demand paperback, as that was all free-to access and was what I could afford to do. There is a wealth of information on Amazon KDP on their help pages and you can attend seminars and watch tutorials to help you get your book on to Amazon KDP. It will take time – a LOT of time – so allow plenty and work your way through this over several weeks (or months).

Later on, when I had saved more money and had more recognition for the book, I ordered a small print run and got the book into bookshops. For this stage, I got great advice from India Darsley of Pushkin Press. I gathered quotes from printers and worked out what was most cost effective for a short print run – don’t print thousands of copies you might never sell. Digital printing makes small print runs easy and accessible. Think small, as you start, you are planting seeds for your future back catalogue.

Telling the world

Create a promotional plan for yourself – even if you have one follower, behave as if you have thousands and promote your book professionally. Do things like a cover reveal, a publication date, an author Q&A and follow Sam Missingham for lots more brilliant advice about promoting and marketing your book.

You may like to invest in marketing (such as social ad spend through platforms like Instagram) or PR (by engaging a freelance PR specialist).

After publication

Right, you’re done. Sit back and watch the money roll in…

Just kidding!

Publishing your work is a looooong game and your book will require regular attention and promotion. From letting booksellers know about your book (by email – don’t go into the shop and bug them while they’re working); to submitting for competitions and managing your accounts – the work continues! I’ve begun to think of it as clearing hurdles – first the hurdle of a whole draft, then another, then getting the book out there, then promoting it. I’ve learned to plod, not sprint, my way through it, in order to stay the course.

And, with that, on to the next hurdle…

Start your next book

Being an author is about building a portfolio of work. So start planning your next book, as you prepare to publish your first, if you are in it for the long run. Take time to reflect on all you learned writing and publishing book 1 and build a more robust plan for book 2. Most importantly, keep learning, keep writing, keep enjoying it. And good luck!

Emma Hill is a writer, producer, director and facilitator, working across literature, digital, broadcast and theatre. Her debut novel, Baby Girl, won a Northern Writers’ Award, was Commended in the Faber & Faber FAB Prize and was longlisted in the Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize. Emma is BAFTA and Royal Television Society nominated for her digital and broadcast producing work, which has also won a Broadcast Digital Award. Emma was in the shortlisted cohort for Nesta’s inaugural Alternarratives Prize in 2020 and longlisted in the SI Leeds Literary Prize for a work-in-progress draft of her second YA novel, New Witch of the North, which will publish in early 2022 on the Emma Hill, Writes imprint. You can find out more about Emma and her work at