The Dynamics of Self-Publishing

When I first began writing, I never would have considered self-publishing. There was a negative stigma (a valid one at the time) attached. I was going to be traditionally published and agented. After all, those two characters were the actors in my daydreams about my writing career.

I confess that I hadn’t garnered a gazillion rejections from agents and publishers—probably less than a dozen if you count those who didn’t even bother to respond—before I decided to go in a different direction.

But after about eight years of study, I finally thought I might have a manuscript that could hold its own in a very competitive marketplace. And thanks to the very well-placed encouragement of a few other authors, L.J. Sellers in particular, I decided to suck it up and try this thing on my own. I would finally take control over my career, and not leave it up to the whims of others.

But I would do it right. And that’s the reason for this blog post. I hope you find it informative and encouraging.

Write your first draft. (I love, love, love that Anne Lamott gave me permission to write a shitty first draft. Sometimes I forget that it really is okay, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t mean it—and wasn’t right.) When you’ve finished with your manuscript, celebrate! I’m told, and I believe it, that less than 1% of people who sit down to write a book actually finish one. So when you finish that first draft, understand how rare and fabulous you are. Swish your hips a little, or swagger, whatever makes you feel fabulous. Because you are!

Let it sit for a day or two (while you continue to pat yourself on the back and celebrate), then begin your self-edits. This becomes another draft. (Side note: one thing to consider while self-editing is to read your manuscript aloud, or have it read electronically to you, so you can hear the repeated words or other glitches.) This is actually kind of fun. The hard work has been done. You’re just pumping it up.

Once you’ve got your self-edits taken care of, look for a few beta readers. These aren’t editors. They also aren’t your mother and BFFs. They are smart people (not saying anything negative about your mother or BFFs) who read your genre and will offer you good suggestions and comments about what works and what doesn’t. You are building your publishing team when you bring on these early readers. The ideas or changes you choose to accept from them become yet another draft.

Whatever you’ve done up until now, do not skip this step.  It’s time to find a fabulous editor to add to your team. Someone with a solid reputation in your genre. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can achieve this step on your own. This is when you need to bring in the big guns. One good way to find a possible editor is to look in the acknowledgement section of books you’ve enjoyed reading. Especially books that have been self-published. Check the editor out. What’s his/her process? Is he/she a good fit for you? Does he/she believe they can contribute to your final product?  It could take several attempts. This is your first major expenditure. Your first investment in your book aside from your time. Take a breath and make sure you feel good about your choice. And be happy to pay for the experience. (My editor of choice is Jodie Renner. I love her process and her approach. And it doesn’t hurt that she likes the words I offer up.)

Going through edits with an editor who knows what they’re doing, like Jodie, is one of the most enjoyable parts of this process. It’s a collaborative effort with the joint goal to make your creation even better. As good as I think my writing is, a good editor can always make it stronger. Always.

Now is the time to find a cover designer. Unlike editing, it’s possible you might have the design skills to do this on your own. Most people do not without training. I figure I have enough things to learn, so I hired a designer. Once again, check out the acknowledgement section in books whose covers you love. Your cover is going to be a huge factor in whether or not someone decides to buy your book.

Of special consideration these days, make sure your cover “pops” as a thumbnail. That’s how most people are going to see it on websites. A tiny little stamp mixed in with a bunch of other little stamps.

Your cover designer can also be your interior designer for the trade paperback version of your book, if you don’t want to go through the learning curve to do it on your own. A paperback isn’t necessary, but not everyone has an e-reader and it’s very nice to have something to hand to someone else… and it’s nice to put your book on your book shelf. (The cover designer I’ve used for both of my books is Patty G. Henderson. She has an amazing intuitive ability coupled with the desire to work and work and work and work to make you happy.)

A fun website about what NOT to do for covers is this one: Lousy Book Covers. (Oh, please, please, please God, don’t ever let a cover of anyone I know end up on this site. Especially mine. Amen.)

This step is totally optional, but well worth considering. Establish a publishing company as an LLC and buy your own ISBNs. If you want to look and feel professional, this is the way to go. Buying ISBNs onsey-twosy is very expensive. But you can buy a group of ten at a much lower cost. You’ll want to use one for your ebook version and one for your paperback. As most everyone does, I used Bowker.

You’ve got the final product and you’ve got the cover. Now what?

You need to have your manuscript formatted for ebook and paperback. Again, this is something you could probably figure out how to do yourself (and many do so successfully), but I’ve seen plenty of really bad results. Now is not the time to pretend like you’re an expert.

After a lot of research, and anecdotal data, I elected to focus on Amazon as my distributor. They have a worldwide reach and every author I spoke to told me that by far, most of their sales came through Amazon. Even those readers who only read on their Nook, or iPad, can read books formatted for Kindle and available exclusively through Amazon. The marketing benefits of an exclusive relationship with Amazon are pretty darned impressive, but that’s another post.

**It’s important to note here that there are options for your ebook’s distribution. Those include Kobo, Pubit, iTunes, etc.  You can publish to all of them, including Amazon if you choose. But if you want to enroll your book in the Select program with Amazon, you agree not to have your ebook available for purchase through other distributors. To me, the benefits of the KDP Select program through Amazon far outweighed the benefits of having multiple distributors. You may want to experiment.**

The bottom line here is that I needed to have my manuscript formatted for Amazon’s Kindle. There are a lot of people who can do that for you, but I loved the quality and service (and price) I received from Liber Writer. If you’ve got more complicated formatting to deal with, you might want to take a look BookNook. Hitch is a friend of mine (and a fellow blogger at Crime Fiction Collective) and knows what she’s doing from one end to the next. You couldn’t be in better hands.

Upload your ebook and paperback to KDP Select and CreateSpace. Because I’d made the considered choice to publish my ebook exclusively with Amazon, KDP Select was a no-brainer. Signing up for this program allows my books to have quarterly promotions (this is a marketing post) and available to be lent through their library. The first time Red Tide was checked out of the library was as good as gold to me. Plus, I got paid!

CreateSpace does an amazing job of producing a trade paperback you can actually hold in your hands. My biggest piece of advice here is to take the time to get a proof. Make sure the colors on your cover are exactly the colors you had in mind. Make sure the layout is perfect. While changes and corrections are fairly easy for your ebook, they can be a little more complicated for your paperback.

Dang! You’re done. Now what? Prior to your release date, line up some solid reviewers for your book. Liber Writer has, as part of their program, a way to send your ebook to reviewers with the reviewer’s name as part of the ebook. The more reviews you can have at or soon after your release, the better off you’ll be. A word to the wise: try to make these legitimate reviews, not friends and family.

If you have any other questions, please say so in a comment. I’ll do my best to answer them and update this post.

It’s all better with friends.

**Updated 03/09/13 – Thanks, Rashda!

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