MEA Guide to Self-Publishing
Modern technology has created a unique landscape for authors. In a very real way, you can take the “do it yourself” approach to the entire book publishing process, from rough draft to finished e-book or printed copy. In this burgeoning literary marketplace, there are some things you should know before you wade into the process.
- Getting Started:
First and foremost, writing is the most important aspect of self-publishing. Everyone has access to the marketplace, but your work will still need to stand out. To do that, it’ll have to be high quality, good writing, and interesting. You should ask yourself the same questions a potential publisher would ask:
- Is the premise unique and engaging?
- Is the subject matter interesting?
- Is it well-written?
- Does the author have a unique voice?
- Does the story flow well and keep a reader’s attention?
- Is there a market for this type of book? (Will it sell?)
Spend as much time as you need writing your manuscript. Write, re-write, revise, revise, revise. You should go through several drafts over a significant period of time to get the absolute best manuscript possible. Confidence in your work will play a key role later down the road when you’re marketing.
Don’t be afraid to be edited. No one writes in a vacuum – not even self-published authors. These editors and readers can be family and friends, or you can find a professional editor for a fee. There are different types of editing:
–Continuity editing focuses on the major, “high order” aspects of your book; story, character development, plot points, narrative arc, etc.
–Copy editing focuses on the “low order” proofreading things like grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It is extremely important to present a polished product to your readers. It creates a reputation for your credibility as a writer.
- What You Take on When You Do It Yourself
There are some things you should consider during the writing and editing process.
- If you are writing non-fiction, you’ll be legally liable for anything you publish. Take the time to do your research into slander and libel, as they are very real concerns. If a character in your book is portrayed in a manner that damages their reputation, they can seek legal redress. There are different ways to minimize your risks.
- Change names and physical characteristics. Do so in a way that makes it impossible for a reader to know exactly what person you are writing about. When in doubt, consult a media attorney.
- Send portions of the manuscript to the people about which you are writing and ask for their approval in writing.
- Research your book thoroughly. There are many reasons why presenting false information to the reading public is bad. Of course, the damage to your reputation is among them. If you are writing from memory, tell the readers in the introduction that the work is accurate to the best of your knowledge and offer a caveat that human memory isn’t perfect.
- You’ll want your finished product to be protected by copyright. While there is an informal copyright on anything you write and publish, it is best to register a formal copyright with the US government to protect your intellectual property. You can find more information at http://www.copyright.gov/
- ISBN– You will need to purchase an International Standard Book Number. Many of the companies involved in self-publishing can help you with this. Find more information directly from http://www.isbn.org
- Cover design – Books are judged by their covers. Many firms involved in self-publishing can help you for a fee, but a friend or colleague savvy with digital imagery can help you produce a great cover. Each self-publishing firm has their own requirements on size and resolution.
- Sole proprietorship
- Becoming a self-published author means you’ll become a business owner for tax purposes. Do research into your municipal and state regulations. You can also set up a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). While this is not required, it has benefits in that there are more tax deductions available and any legal liability only accounts for assets of the LLC instead of your personal worth.
- Keep track of any expenses you incur in your career as a writer. They can be used as a tax deduction. (Conferences, website fees, advertising, home office, printer ink, etc.)
- The best advice is to have an accountant help you find the maximum amount of deductions.
- The Options
- There are many self-publishing firms in existence today. While you are still self-publishing, you’ll need a firm to change your manuscript to e-book format or help with getting it print-on-demand ready. Additionally, they’ll be the ones distributing your book to major online retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and international sellers like Gardners in the UK. Their business models vary greatly, and most differ in terms of charging an upfront fee for conversion and 0% of your royalties, or no up-front free and a small (10-30%) cut of your royalties. Take the time to investigate which one is the best fit for you.
a. Bookbaby – Offers both e-book distribution to about 12 retailers (including the major ones) and the same for print-on-demand.
b. Amazon Kindle Direct – conversion of your manuscript to e-book format and distribution on Amazon. (Major drawback is that you are limited to distributing on Amazon only)
c. Smashwords – Similar to Bookbaby without the option to print-on-demand.
d. Amazon Create Space – One of the newest in the business, they offer print-on-demand and distribution on Amazon. Their models differ in whether or not you’d like to pay for extra services like cover design.
- Most of these companies offer competitive royalty rates. It is mainly a matter of preference. Do your research, call them up, and ask as many questions as you can. Also, be wary of many of the “extra” services they offer for fees. You can save a lot of overhead by designing the cover yourself, for instance.
- Metadata – All of the information about a book which appears on retail sites comes from you. Title, subtitle, synopsis, and categories are all very important elements of marketing your book. Look up some of your favorite titles and read their synopses. (The synopsis will appear in many, many places.)See what catches your eye, what turns you off, and what might work best for you.
- Pricing – This is another important element in terms of marketing. The less expensive your book, the more attractive it may be to potential readers. But if it’s priced too low, it may be seen as being low quality. And remember, while you can always lower the price of your book, you can never raise it!
Important note on pricing: The higher your sales volume, the higher the rankings on distributor sites will be, and thus the more visible your book will be to readers.
- Proofing – Once you submitted a finished manuscript, the publisher will send you back proofs of your work, essentially showing you exactly how your book will appear. READ THROUGH IT CAREFULLY, and have others read it, too. Typos happen, and they are hard to live with once they’re out there in the literary marketplace.
- Release– Once everything is finalized, your book will be released to the pubic.
Congratulations! Now What?
Once your book is out, it’s no longer your creative work – it’s a product you need to sell!
Unique Product Identifier – what distinguishes your book from others like it? Is it the perspective from which it’s written? Is the story untold? Think of what is unique about your book, and focus on that when you market it.
Even before your book is out, you’ll want a large web presence. Drum up some interest in you as the author by blogging, writing short stories and articles, and in general get your name out there. Be prepared to have a big presence. You’ll need it!
- Facebook – Widely used social media. You can choose an author page to brand yourself personally or a site specifically for your book. Don’t be afraid to ask friends to “like” your page to get yourself out there initially. Facebook also offers a paid advertising option to appear in newsfeeds of a demographic of your choice. Facebook is also a good way to connect with organizations and groups which may be interested in your book.
- Twitter– Hashtags are a good way to engage readers by tweeting about trending topics. Brand your own hashtags, too, and see how they spread. Again, don’t be afraid to use your personal networks to get started.
- Goodreads– Run by Amazon, Goodreads is a sort of social media for readers and authors alike. Many groups do reviewing collectives wherein authors trade books to review. Be sure to establish your book’s presence on this site, as readers can review it and talk about it as well as recommend it to friends.
- Website – You’ll want to be easily visible when someone types your name (or pen-name) into Google. One of the best ways to do this is by creating a personal website. There, you can blog, show pictures and images, provide links to interviews and other publications, and in general let a reader get to know you. Several companies offer relatively easy ways to establish a website. You can create your own URL, and for a small fee have a professional website.
Again, take the time and research what’s best for you. A website is something which can serve you throughout your writing career.
- Reviews – While major media outlet reviews of your work is a big help, even customer reviews on Amazon and other digital retailers provide a big boost to your book’s visibility and attractiveness. Always ask for reviews, but be prepared for some not-so-good ones, even if it’s stellar work. Still, the positives far outweigh the drawbacks. An often-reviewed book is a major marketing asset.
- Get out there! You’ve written a book of which you can be proud. Don’t be afraid to get yourself out there and talk about your work. Radio, television, and podcasts are all powerful means of communicating with your readers. The more they hear about you, the better your sales will be.
- Keep writing – The more work you have published – poems, short stories, think pieces, etc. – the more the public will see you and your writing style. Submit to literary journals and popular websites.
Keep at it! Writing is not easy, but having a book on the market is a major accomplishment. Seeing your name on a book is well worth the effort you’ll be putting into it.