If you’re an indie author–or if you ever plan on becoming an indie author–then you’ll want to check out the Self Publishing Roundtable, a weekly podcast devoted to independent authors and book publishing.
The show started out as a weekly roundup and discussion of the latest news in self publishing but has since evolved into an interview format with some of the most successful indie authors in publishing sharing their experiences and offering tips and insights on self publishing.
From breakout, best-selling indie author Hugh Howey to New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Denise Grover Swank, the Self Publishing Roundtable features an array of experts in indie publishing. The show covers a broad spectrum of topics from writing practices to strategies for marketing self-published books. Read more
Writing a book is hard enough. When you self-publish, your workload multiplies exponentially.
For first-time, self-publishing authors, the work involved can be particularly daunting. You’re taking on a process that is traditionally completed by a team of experienced professionals, and since it’s your first time, you don’t know what you’re doing or how to do it. Hopefully, today’s checklist will provide you with some basic guidelines to help you develop a solid plan that you can use to self-publish your first book.
This checklist is meant as an overview, a basic list of tasks and projects you should complete when you self-publish a book. You may need to work on some of these steps simultaneously. For example, while you’re revising your book, you might want to start the process of building your platform. While you’re working on the cover and formatting, you might want to start creating a marketing plan.
1. Write the best book possible.
There are many ways to approach writing. Some authors write for the market, going after whatever genre is most popular at any given time. Others write whatever moves them. I’m a firm believer in writing the book you want to read. You might write with an outline or you might write by the seat of your pants. Do it alone or collaborate with a partner. But whatever approach you use, you should write the best book you possibly can, a book you can be proud of. Writing the best book includes everything from drafting and revisions to working with beta readers and editors.
2. Line up your service providers and vendors.
As you go through the self-publishing process, there will be projects you can tackle yourself and projects you’ll need to hire out. You might be able to set up your own website but if you lack graphic design skills, you’ll probably want to hire someone to design your book cover. Maybe you can format your own book, but you need someone to help you learn your way around social media. For every step in the process, there are experts out there who can assist you. The decisions you make about which tasks to hire out will depend on your skills, schedule, and budget. One cost you should definitely plan on would be an editor. There are a range of edits you can get from developmental editing to line editing (proofreading). At the very least, you should have a professional proofread your manuscript before you put it up for sale. Be sure to find and contact these service providers in advance so they can fit your project into their schedules.
3. Get a website, and start building your platform.
Building a platform takes time–a lot of time. That’s why it’s something you should start working on early in the publishing process. Your best marketing tool will be your website, so start with that. It will be your online headquarters for sharing news and announcements (like your book launch), providing information about yourself (your author’s bio), and connecting with fans. One of the best ways to build a platform is to start a blog. Use it to speak to your target readership. You should also venture into social media. Try setting up one account at a time. Give yourself a few weeks to become familiar with each one before diving into the next.
4. Develop your marketing plan and materials.
Marketing a book is like writing a book–there are many ways to do it. You might launch your book with nothing more than a quiet announcement on your blog. Or you might do a hard launch, complete with advertising and a blog tour. From pricing and giveaways to submitting your book to reviewers and developing a social media marketing plan, there is no end to the options available to you when it comes to marketing your book. That’s why it’s a good idea to set aside time in advance to learn about your many options, and then figure out which ones are the best match for you and your book. You’re far more likely to find your readers if you have a marketing plan in place before the book becomes available.
5. Get a good cover.
Self-published authors have been ridiculed for their low-quality book covers. You know what they say: don’t judge a book by its cover. The problem is that most people do judge a book by its cover, at least they do initially. Maybe you’ve written a brilliant novel. It won’t matter if your cover was designed by an amateur. Potential readers will take one look and decide your book is unprofessional, and they’ll pass it up, maybe even for a book that’s not as good but has a better cover. If you’re not a graphic designer, the cost of the cover could be a significant burden. Fortunately, there are affordable options out there, including pre-designed covers that may not be customized to your taste, but at least they look professional. Just remember this: you’re investing in your future as a career author.
6. Get your book professionally edited.
Speaking of investing in your book–do not skimp on editing. I would say editing is even more important than a decent cover, but it really depends (as with all things in self-publishing) on your skill set. Typos and blatant errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation tend to yank readers out of the story and have also been known to garner tons of negative reviews. Don’t let your excellent story suffer because you didn’t bother to get it properly edited. If you’re working with a tight budget, join a writing group and look for beta readers with strong editing skills, but be prepared to give back by providing critiques for others.
7. Plan to format your book for various editions and platforms.
You should put out paper and electronic editions of your book, and you should publish your book across as many platforms (stores) as possible. This ensures that your book is available and accessible to anyone who wants it. Each version needs its own ISBN and unique formatting. You’ll also need to render a .mobi file for the Kindle and an .epub for everything else. You may even want to do a hardcover, and eventually, an audio book. You might want to publish internationally or get your book translated into multiple languages. Decide ahead of time what formats and platforms you’ll publish to initially. You might want to get print and paper out immediately and tackle the audio book later. Be aware that formatting can be tedious and there’s a learning curve. Be prepared to spend some time formatting your own books, but also know that there are lots of service providers out there who will format your book for you, and they can be quite affordable.
8. Get ready to launch!
Some authors publish their book and immediately shift their focus to writing the next one. Other authors take some time to do a big launch and draw readers to the first book before delving into the next one. The luckiest authors have enough time to do both. The great thing about self-publishing is that you can choose a launch strategy that works for you and your book. Sometimes, a single book (especially one that took a long time to write) warrants a hard launch with lots of buzz. Other books (especially books that are the first in a series) might perform better once several books are available. Do some research, find out what strategies have worked for other authors, and plan your launch accordingly.
9. Get busy promoting.
One you hit the publish button, your book will become available to tens of millions of readers, but they won’t know it unless you tell them about it. Whether you start promoting your book immediately or wait until you have a few books out before you start promoting, you’ll eventually have to come up with a marketing campaign, and then you’ll need to execute that campaign. Marketing a book is a lot of work but the payoff can be worth it if you do it right. Here are some ideas to consider: contests and giveaways, newsletters, blog tours, social media, sales, advertisements, and submitting to reviewers.
Make That List and Check it Twice
You writing and publishing experience will go a lot smoother if you work from a plan. By starting with a plan, you can establish a series of deadlines for your project. Whatever you do, don’t rush your book to publication. Give it the time and attention it deserves.
Remember, the writing should always come first. Don’t get so caught up in planning everything else that you don’t leave any time to get your writing done. But do your research and make a plan, so you can check off every task one by one. And then get busy on your next book.
Good luck with your self-publishing projects, and keep writing!
It is ridiculously easy to self-publish an ebook, especially if you are using Scrivener. You can go from a final draft to a fully published book with just a few clicks. And if it turns out to be a hassle, there are plenty of professionals offering formatting services at affordable rates.
But ebooks require either an electronic reader or an app on a tablet or smart phone. Some readers haven’t made the switch to e-readers and many more find it uncomfortable to read on their phones. And let’s face it–a lot of people are holding out on making the switch to digital because they love the smell and feel of a real book in their hands or because they prefer a physical product over a digital one.
Yet many self-published authors are opting out of print publishing altogether. It is an extra step in the publishing process and it’s not an easy step if you’re not a wiz with formatting. Since most self-published authors make most (or all) of their sales in the online space, where e-books are the preferred format, it might be worth it to lose a few sales in order to focus resources elsewhere (writing the next book, marketing, etc.).
But is that really the wisest decision?
The Benefits of Publishing in Print
There are countless benefits to publishing in print, the least of which is expanding your sales opportunities. Here are a few reasons self-published authors shouldn’t skip out on print:
- You can hand paperbacks and hardcovers to loved ones, acquaintances, and random strangers. You can bring them to bookstores, libraries, and networking events. When it comes to in-person marketing, nothing beats a physical product that you can hand out.
- Get your book into circulation: people will share, show, and lend physical books. It’s sitting around their house or they’re holding it on the bus, making it visible to others. That’s free marketing!
- Sure, you could scan your signature and paste it into your ebook, but that’s not a real autograph, is it? You’ll need a print version if you want to autograph copies of your book, which are great for giveaways and a good way to build a loyal fan base.
- Lots of people have e-readers but not everyone has one. Many people still prefer print for a variety of reasons. By refusing to make your book available in print, you are aliening readers and potential fans of your work. Even if they are a small percentage of your readers, they still matter.
- When readers visit a site like Amazon and your book is only available as an ebook, it doesn’t look very professional.
- Also, a lower priced ebook looks like a good deal next to a higher priced print book.
- Print books make far better gifts than ebooks.
- Kids are still more likely to read a print book than an ebook.
The most important reason to publish in print is for your readers. Even if you’re only making one or two print sales per month, it’s important to remember that those print books might get passed along to friends and even used bookstores, exposing your work to new readers. As you write more books, you’ll make more sales. And you never know–one of those print readers might have a large audience of their own and through word of mouth, one print sale could easily translate into a hundred digital sales.
If you ask me, the benefits of producing a print book far outweigh the hassle or cost that it might incur.
Why Your Print Sales Might Be So Low
Many self-published authors say they don’t publish in print because when they’ve tried it, the sales didn’t justify the hassle of creating a print version of their book.
My own print sales are about 25% of my total sales, which is a considerable percentage. I know that my books have been used in classrooms and writing retreats, and it’s likely that my print sales are so high because my books are learning resources. However, I suspect that the reason my print books sell so well has more to do with marketing.
You see, if you don’t advertise the fact that your books are available in print, then your print sales will lag. I’ve seen several authors who refuse to publish in print (some of whom also limit themselves to Amazon, but that’s another topic for another day) because historically, their print sales have been low–sometimes only one or two copies over several months. But in every case, I also noticed that those authors were not letting their readers know that their books were available in print. I think those authors might have been selling themselves and their books short. If you only point people to your ebooks, that’s all they’re going to find.
Oddly, a few writers self-publish in print only. Just a few weeks ago, I found a book that I wanted to read. It was available in ebook but not for my e-reader (Kindle) and there was a paperback version on Amazon. At first I thought it was a new book–maybe the author hadn’t gotten the Kindle version out yet. But then I found that the book had been out for many months. It looked to me like the Kindle version was not forthcoming at all.
That author lost a sale, because although I wanted to read the book, I wasn’t so eager to read it that I was willing to inconvenience myself.
In self-publishing, we need to take advantage of every opportunity and do our best to meet our readers’ demands. That means producing great books, pricing them competitively, and making them as widely available as possible.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever self-published a book? Did you publish an e-book, print book, or both? Jump into the conversation by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
In recent years, self-publishing has become an acceptable way for authors to share their work with a readership. But just a few years ago, self-publishing was the last stop on the rejection train. Authors usually resorted to self-publishing only after dozens of failed attempts to land an agent or sell their work to a publisher. For this reason, self-published books carried a negative stigma, which is only now being shed.
Since most self-published books failed to pass the litmus test of the publishing industry’s gatekeepers, they were seen as universally unworthy. And in many cases, they were. Agents and editors won’t get on board with substandard books, so those books are less likely to get published.
But that doesn’t mean every rejected book is substandard or all writers who self-published did so because they couldn’t secure a publishing contract.
In fact, some of the most notable writers in the literary canon self-published: Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, William Blake, Benjamin Franklin, Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, and L. Frank Baum. And if that’s not enough, Wikipedia lists even more self-published authors and self-published bestsellers.
The Truth About Rejection
The truth is that plenty of books that went on to great success were initially rejected. Lolita was “overwhelmingly nauseating.” Jonathan Livingston Seagull was “ridiculous.” George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which critiqued communism, was rejected by none other than T.S. Elliott, who said “We have no conviction that this is the right point of view from which to criticize the political situation at the current time.”
Anne Frank’s diary was rejected sixteen times. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected eight times. Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected by over 100 publishers before its authors went ahead and published it themselves. (Source: Flavorwire)
Let all these instances of rejection and self-publication be a reminder: agents and editors are only human. They read ridiculous amounts of prose and are tasked with picking only the ones that, in their estimation, have the best chances of becoming bestsellers. And they make mistakes. I’m sure the eight publishers who rejected Harry Potter will carry the weight of that mistake for the rest of their lives.
When you stop to think about the jobs that agents and editors perform, it’s easy to understand why so many great books slip through their hands. Maybe an agent read a book when he was tired, hungry, or stressed out. Maybe he just read three other books with similar storylines. Maybe the story touched a bad nerve. Maybe the editor who read a book loved it but didn’t feel like his publishing house could find an audience for it. Maybe he disagrees with the narrative’s philosophy. Maybe he’s looking for a zombie story.
The fact is that just because a book is rejected five, ten, a hundred times does not mean it’s bad or that it can never be successful.
The Other Truth About Rejection
We can’t escape the other truth about rejection, which is that some books really are rejected because they’re not very good. While authors must remember that a rejection doesn’t mean their book can’t go on to find success, they also have to figure out whether their book has the potential to succeed.
The best way to gauge the merit of your own work is to be well read. If you haven’t absorbed a hearty portion of the literary canon, you have nothing to gauge your own work against. You need to read good books, bad books, mediocre books, and great books and learn to identify that je ne sais quoi that differentiates them.
The New Era of Self-Publishing
If you ask me, the new era of self-publishing was inevitable. Its fate was sealed when Internet access became widespread. Of course authors are going to self-publish their work now, and in droves. Before we had all this fancy technology, self-publishing required a hefty investment. You’d have to find a printer and pay for a run. There was no print-on-demand and there were no ebooks. You placed an order — 500 books, 1,000 books, 15,000 books. You paid for all those books and then you went out and sold them, trying to recoup your investment and turn a profit. Nowadays, most self-published authors hire an editor or proofreader, cover designers, and maybe a PR consultant. Back then, you had to do all that, plus pay thousands of dollars for copies of your book. Technology changed all that, making it easy and affordable to self-publish.
Some people have decried the wave of self-publishing that’s sweeping across the Internet. Some terrible works are getting published! We need the gatekeepers of the publishing industry to weed out the bad books! I think that’s nonsense. Let the market — let the readers — decide which books they want to buy and read. Let authors take the risk, put their work out there, and see what happens. It’s an ideal business model that creates a broader and fairer playing ground.
And the best part is that it puts the power of publishing into the hands of the authors and readers, removing middle men who controlled what got published and what didn’t (which is kind of a scary thought).
A Living Example
In 2011, Hugh Howey self-published Wool, a short story, through Amazon’s Kindle Direct program. As it grew in popularity, he developed the story into a series (check out the complete Wool (Omnibus), and in 2012, he sold the film rights to 20th Century Fox. Film legends Ridley Scott and Steven Zaillian have both expressed interest in working on the project. Most recently, Howey entered a contract with Simon and Schuster, who will distribute Wool to retailers in the the US and Canada. And for the record, the contract allows Howey to continue distributing Wool online himself.
And Wool was never even rejected. Howey made a conscious decision to self-publish. Here’s what he said about self-publishing just a few days ago:
“I never shopped Wool to agents. After my first book release with a small press, I decided that self-publishing was for me. I never looked back. It wasn’t until agents and publishers began approaching me that I engaged in a dialogue. I actually predicted this before it happened. Over a year ago, I told anyone who would listen that every book should *begin* as a self-published work. Let it prove itself in the market and then allow agents and publishers to approach you. I was mocked for espousing this view, but it has now become more and more common. DBW recently posted a story about the 300 6-figure advances in 2012, and how 45 of them were for books previously self-published. That’s a healthy percentage.” (Source: Goodreads)
Of course, self-publishing isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly an option all writers should explore. In upcoming posts, we’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of both traditional and self-publishing.
Have you considered self-publishing or given any thought as to whether you want to choose traditional or self-publishing? Have you read any self-published works recently? Share your thoughts on self-publishing by leaving a comment, and keep writing!