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New Year, New Career

by Tom Ashford

The Self Publishing Formula community is made up of a lot of different writers at a lot of different stages in their careers. For some, those careers are still unfortunately in fields completely unrelated to that of being an author, whereas for others it’s a case of turning a comfortable five-figure writing salary into six, or even seven.

Never fret, newcomers. We all have to start somewhere.

And with 2019 peeking its unfashionably-early head around the corner, what better time to turn that hobby into a job than now? What better time than a new year to start that self-publishing journey (or kick-start it, if your self-publishing engine has been stalling for a while)?

Make it your New Year’s Resolution to make a career out of your writing. Here are a few fun, simple (and by no means exhaustive) tips on how to put yourself on the right track.


It sounds obvious, but what stops most writers from ever finishing that first book is not talent, but a lack of commitment. It’s understandable – it’s no small feat to come up with eighty-thousand words, let alone eighty-thousand good words. And without that first novel written, how do you know if you’re any good? How do you know that you’re not wasting your time?

The answer is: you don’t. But it’s also this: you’re not wasting your time. So few people actually get round to writing the book they’ve got stuck in their head, that just by writing one you’re already doing better than most. At least you can know you’ve done it, and if it isn’t brilliant? No sweat. Write another one, building on what you’ve learned. The second book will be a lot easier to write, and a lot better too.

But you still have to do it. Find a time that works for you, and stick to it. Make it a routine until you can’t go a day without writing, until it makes you anxious when you’re not typing words. Find somewhere quiet or find somewhere noisy – whatever suits you best. But find that time, even if you have to make it, and write. No book has ever been published inside someone’s head.


Want to take gardening seriously? Then don’t go out there with a fork and spoon from the kitchen and start poking at the flower beds. It’s the same with any profession – or even any hobby – that you want to take seriously. You have to invest in the basics.

That doesn’t mean splashing out on the most expensive MacBook Pro you can find. Any old word processor will do – you can even type out the first draft of your manuscript on an old Underwood typewriter or pen it longhand in a journal, if either of those options take your fancy. But it does mean knowing which pieces of software are useful in bringing your book to market, and which are essential.

Eventually you’re going to need to type your story up, because the contents of your eBook or Print on Demand paperback have to come from somewhere. Here’s some good news: this part doesn’t have to cost you anything. I use Scrivener, a comprehensive writing tool of which I’ve barely scratched the surface. It doesn’t cost much and it can format your eBooks into .mobi and .epub formats too. But you could also use Google Docs, if you want an online option.

Either way, you are going to need to format that book once it’s written. The best money can buy is probably Vellum, which produces beautiful eBooks and paperbacks. But there are also free services such as Draft2Digital, which can help upload your book to the various online stores as well (for a percentage).


Some of us are graphically gifted and can design beautiful covers of our own. Others are lucky enough to have experience in editing, or family and friends with that experience.

The hard reality is that others – and arguably even those who can do it themselves – have to pay for it.

The cost of professional editing and professional cover design can vary, but the average is usually a few hundred for each (that’s if the cover is bespoke – there are plenty of ready-made covers out there for much less, and many are excellent). That may seem like a lot, and for most people it is. I certainly wouldn’t splash that sort of money without thinking long and hard about it. But every business venture requires investment, and there are few products brought to market that don’t require some up-front costs before release.

If your book suffers from developmental issues, or is filled with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, then your reviews are going to be poor. A professional editor will pick these up so you can turn your book into something just that: professional.

In the same way, if your book has a cover that looks homemade, people won’t buy it. Anything you publish has to go up against the J.K. Rowlings and Stephen Kings of the writing world – and your readers shouldn’t be able to tell the difference (at least not by much). And it’s not just about looking good. Your cover designer will work on something that fits the right genre, too.


A mailing list is key for a number of points. From a mailing list you can gather beta readers, advance review teams, and of course fans who will buy your book upon release. Mark swears by them, and for good reason. You don’t need to assemble a team of one hundred thousand readers as soon as you start, but start working on it early.

Mailchimp is free for those with under two thousand email addresses, and now that free option comes with email automation. Make sure you set one up, even if you’re not actively gathering new readers. You never know who might join your list!


Seeing as you’re on the SPF Blog, hopefully this is something you’re already taking seriously!

The industry is constantly changing, and nobody can be good at everything. How to build a mailing list; how to make the most of that list; how to write a compelling blurb; how to set up Facebook and Amazon ads; how to make money from Instagram. These are all aspects of your writing career that are worth learning about, and there are hundreds of great books out there with which you can develop your skill set.

There’s also the Self Publishing Show with Mark and James, and this blog (which goes without saying). And although they don’t come cheap, the SPF 101 and Ads for Authors courses are invaluable for either setting up your writing career or strapping a rocket to it. However you choose to do it, investing in yourself should be one of your biggest priorities – whether you’re making a million dollars a year or you’ve yet to put pen to paper.

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.