Self-publishing is becoming increasingly popular, and it is often a good option for independent authors. Why go through all the hassle of finding a publisher when you can do it yourself by just hitting ‘upload’, right? Well, of course it’s not that easy, but it can be straightforward, if you think about all the practicalities first.
The actual mechanics of self-publishing is the easy bit. You fill in all the details and upload your finished file and Amazon, Lulu or whoever does the rest. What new authors (or those new to self-publishing) often forget is the long list of other tasks that go into preparing and selling your book. These are the ‘hidden’ jobs that traditional publishers do behind the scenes. If you’re self-publishing, you’re going to have to step up to the mark and take on all these other jobs too. You’re not just a writer any more – you’re a one-person publisher. Here’s a list of things that independent writers need to think about or plan ahead.
- format and size, print or ebook
- cover design and blurb
- price, royalty deals
- marketing and distribution
If you are going for paper print copies you will need to decide on a trim size before your book design and layout can be started. What size will your book be? This will be influenced by, for example, which company is going to print it, where it will be distributed, what’s normal for the genre, as well as personal preference.
Print on demand
With modern printing set-ups you have the great advantage of being able to order and print as little as one book at a time. However, for paper copies you will need to invest in a proper interior layout design, otherwise your book won’t look professional. Remember the design cost is the same whether you print 2 books or 2000, so factor it into your cost calculations.
If you want to sell ebooks only then you don’t need a full interior page design as you do with paper print (unless you want a fixed page layout rather than reflowable), but you do need your ebook to be properly formatted for your chosen distribution outlet. Research the different options carefully and choose what’s best for you. There are different requirements for Kindle, for example, than for other outlets such as iBooks or Smashwords.
It will always pay to get your book cover professionally designed. Remember that potential buyers will probably spend less than a second looking at your listing before moving on, and if your cover doesn’t draw readers in you’re not going to get sales. You need to make an immediate impression!
You need to write a short summary (blurb) to capture the essence of your book for the cover and also to add to your online listing details when you submit your book.
You will need an ISBN for each format of your book, ie one for hard copy print, one for Kindle, one for iBooks etc. You can buy a block of 10 numbers (in the UK) from Nielsen, and you are better to do this yourself than use ISBNs allocated by eg Amazon or Lulu.
Remember that you are the publisher of your book, so to avoid it screaming I’m self-published! you should think about a publisher name. Choose something that you can use with any future titles too. It’s a good idea to check whether the domain name for your idea has already been taken. If not, it’s a good name and you should probably register the domain in case you want a website, even if that’s in the future.
What’s a reasonable retail price for your book once you’ve taken into account all the costs? Is it worth offering a promotional price for a short time or joining a scheme such as Amazon’s KDP Select, where you agree only to publish via Kindle in return for bigger royalties?
When you list your book for sale you will have to choose the most appropriate book categories. You can find a list of industry-standard categories here: https://www.bisg.org/complete-bisac-subject-headings-2014-edition. Depending on which outlet you use, you may be given different choices.
Marketing and distribution
How will you get sales? If you are self-publishing then it’s basically up to you! Have you thought about marketing materials (flyers, posters, getting reviews etc)? Do you need a book website? How can you use social media? Can you promote via local bookshops?
Are you prepared to deal with book orders yourself or do you want one of the big companies to handle this for you? Are you happy just to sell online or do you want your book in bricks and mortar shops? Your decisions will determine which distribution deal you should sign up for, and therefore will affect the profits you make.
Before signing up with a printing or distribution company you need to understand all the implications of the different options for royalties. What’s right for you will depend on how much of the behind-the-scenes work you want to do yourself and what you want the printing and distribution company to do.
OK, so you’ve now got a whizzy book cover and cool-looking interior design, and all the admin’s done, but don’t forget that it’s what’s inside that’s important. If your actual writing doesn’t flow well or is full of grammar mistakes and typos, you’ll soon pile up the bad reviews. Therefore you should also factor in the cost of a professional editor and proofreader. You can’t afford not to!
Here are some links with useful information to help you plan your self-publishing journey: