Self-Publishing in Five Critical Steps (Real Talk)

Okay, so you have written your first book and it’s bloody brilliant!  You are headed for the NYT Best Sellers List, just as soon as you turn all these words you have written into an actual book!

1 Quill-Pen-I5Which it isn’t, right now. What you the writer actually have is a manuscript, which is to say that it is simply a bunch of words (hopefully very well-organized words) that you typed up in Microsoft Word (or, god forbid, some lesser known word processing program.)  It took you a ridiculously long time to finish this thing, but you did it! And now, you are certain that you are ready for publication! Not only that, you want to self-publish (on paper and/or electronically) because everyone is doing it. It’s so simple these days, with Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space and Barnes and Noble’s Pubit!  Let’s not forget SmashwordsGoogle PlayGoodreads  and Lulu.

The options for getting your book out into the cyber and real worlds  are practically endless! And there are so many epub success stories. What about that Amanda Hocking! What a Cinderalla Story! Or, how about that John Locke – one million sold through KDP!

Well don’t start counting your weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list just yet. There are at least four additional major hurdles that you must clear before you are ready to release your baby to that ever fickle publishing market. Also, if you are self-publishing, you must fund all of these additional steps as well. They can end up being quite costly if you don’t do your research and establish a budget and limits.

Also, as a publishing services buyer, you must beware! There are tons of vanity scammers out there! They will harass you for large sums of money, promising all sorts of literary success, all the while, providing very little in return. They even, in some cases, steal your book from right under you, by tricking you into signing over the rights to it! Why do they resort to such treachery? Because they know how hard people will fight for their dreams. Once they scam you out of your book rights, they know that many writers will pay even greater sums of money to gain those rights back. Rule of thumb, any publishing company that quickly agrees to publish your book for $X amount of dollars and then proceeds to harass you endlessly about pursuing a deal with them, is some sort of scam artist. Don’t fall for it! Do your research and follow these simple steps.

Step 1. Edit, Edit, Edit!

images-5Your manuscript must be edited, but, even before the edit you should probably seek out an editorial review (costs should range from $150 to $300) where a very skilled writer or editor tells you exactly what type of editing your book requires. An editorial review will let you know where you stand. In dealing with my own clients, I have found that an editorial review is essential, because often times (in fact, most times,) I find writers have not a clue of the kinds of mistakes they are making. Sometimes the mistakes I find in the manuscripts that I review are minor (simple punctuation errors like misplaced commas and apostrophes and a few improper word choices.) However, more often the mistakes that I find in the manuscripts are huge – an incomplete or defective conflict arc in fiction or a very confusing or incomplete structural framework in a work of nonfiction.

The largest problem that I consistently encounter with most beginning writers is a lack of understanding of the structure of a sentence – which is huge! If you do not have a firm understanding of the structure of a sentence you simply cannot expect to go forward with the publication of any book, until you do.

When I review a manuscript, I inform writers of the types of errors that they are making. I also inform them if they are even at the stage where their manuscript can even be edited – or if their writing mistakes are so large as to require major rewriting – which has to occur before any copyeditor can work with the manuscript.

Once a book is ready for editing, editing costs depend on a number of different factors, but typically, editing costs are calculated by word count. If a manuscript is 80,000 words, then a very basic edit will cost about $800, or .01 cents per a word. If a manuscript requires more extensive editing, you can double, or even triple the costs per a word. Editing can be quite labor intensive, and therefore, quite expensive. If you want more specific information on the editing process, check out Alan Rinzler’s blog entitled – The Book Deal. It has tons of information on the publishing industry in general, but, I especially like the information Rinzler provides on editing. Check out his Ask the Editor category to get a really good idea of how editing is correctly incorporated into the writing and publishing process.

images-11 Step 2.  Get the Book Formatted –  Okay, while this never was a simple process, it has become even more complicated due e-books.  Now there are two options: traditional hardcopy formatting and e-book formatting.  Let’s start with the traditional hard copy books. To put it quite simply, the manuscript version of your book that you typed up in version Microsoft Word looks nothing like a book! (At least not one that is made out of paper.) In order to get that manuscript into a format that looks anything like a book, you have to either format the book yourself (not a simple task by any means) or hire a book formatter to do it.  Nobody can explain all of the intricacies of book formatting like the infamous book designer himself, Joel Friedlander. Check out his blog, The Book Designer, not only to get the most awesome and detailed information available on proper book formatting, but also, a wealth of information on writing and self-publishing. Honestly, I think Joel’s blog is absolutely the best blog out there on self-publishing. He’s great.

Once a book has been formatted, it has to be proofed (because when the book designers format the book, they move the words around to make the layout of the book the way it should be. (For example, chapters must always begin on the right side of the book, words and paragraphs must be properly spaced on the page.) While book designers are moving the text around on the page so that it is visually appealing to a reader, they make errors.  Therefore, after a book is designed, it must be proof read again to catch the errors that were made during formatting.

This is why a print version of a book takes much longer to produce than an e-version. Also, in print, everything has to be perfect, prior to formatting because once the file has been formatted for print, it cannot be easily changed.  Book formatting, for a fairly simple book, like a book of poetry or a novel, can costs anywhere from $300 to $800. If the book requires more complicated formatting,  (for example, if it is a nonfiction book that requires indexing, charts, or more sophisticated graphics) the formatting costs will increase substantially.  Book formatting, for a print book, is a big deal. It’s labor intensive, time-consuming and therefore, costly. Thus, e-books are quickly becoming the news books of choice.

The good news about e-books is that you can do everything with them so much faster (read them, write them and publish them!)  Formatting an e-book is much easier than hardcopy formatting, because all the formatter has to do is change one electronic file to another type of electronic file. There is no concern about how the book will look “on paper” because there is no “on paper.” Formatting the book so that it looks just right electronically is much simpler than formatting a hardcopy. To get an e-book formatted, you probably shouldn’t spend more than $100 to do it, and can probably even do it yourself.

10-24 TWD Book Covers-001Step 3 – Acquire a Book Cover –  Admit it, you do judge a book by it’s cover! Everyone does, so unless you have some pretty amazing graphic design skills under your belt, you had best hire a graphic designer to design the front and back cover for a print book or simply a front cover for an e-book. (Typically e-books don’t have back covers.)

Typical cost for an e-book cover design are $150 to $300, while hard copy designs (requiring a front, a back and a spine) can run anywhere from as low as $500 to as high as $1500, or higher. But, as with everything else in this industry, cost depends upon how much time you, the publisher, require of these various publishing professionals. If you want to make a lot of changes, it gets costly. You the writer should have an idea of what you would like for your cover. The concept should, in some way shape of form, connect to the concept of some of the content within the book.

As a writer, you should also keep in mind that you are not a graphic artists. Even though you have an idea for what the cover of your book should look like, don’t fail to take advantage of whatever advice a graphic designer can provide to you. Graphic designers are accustomed to designing things for publication and other professional uses; therefore they have better ideas  and greater knowledge  than most writers about what works visually for a book cover. If a writer hasn’t a clue as to what kind of book cover he’d prefer, I advise writers to check out the book covers of other books in the same genre. I find that nonfiction book covers are more difficult to conceptualize than fiction covers, where the story will typical provide all sorts of ideas that lend themselves to book cover designs.

Finally, there are economical options to book cover designs. You can get a template book cover from a POD company like Lulu or graphic artist who specializes in book covers. These companies and artists have already designed the book covers. All you, the writer, are required to do is add water – or actually your name, book title and perhaps a particularly compelling image. Check out Graphicz X’s sample book covers to get a taste of the kinds of options that are available to you using this concept.

barcode2a Step 4 –  Acquire an ISBNs and Barcode – With a book cover, at least a print book cover, you have to deal with the issue of your ISBN and barcode. ISBN’s and Barcodes are tricky areas for the self-publisher because acquiring your own ISBN- if you are not a major publishing house is ridiculously expensive!  A single ISBN costs $125! (and the barcode isn’t even included in that! Ten ISBN’s cost $250, yet 1000 ISBN’s cost $1000. If you buy multiple ISBNs, as you can see, the price drops exponentially. Majors in the publishing industry only pay $1 per an ISBN and can afford to give them and the corresponding bar codes away for free.  Minors, like the typical self-publisher – has to either buy 1000 ISBNs – which he would probably never need unless he plans to publish 1000 titles, or pay the ridiculous mark up. It is quite a dilemma.  Who is ripping off self-publishers, so? Someone hired by the federal government! It figures. Meet Bowker – the U.S. ISBN agency- check out their site to read up on how you can purchase you ridiculously expensive ISBN.

I personally opted to accept a free ISBN, from Createspace, when I published my book, The Way Through, Lessons Learned on Life, Love and the Journey.   However, according to The Book Designer, accepting an ISBN this way can be tricky.  In the most technical sense, I am not identified as the publisher of my work, (even though I have funded all of the above steps besides the $125 ISBN.) Because Createspace owns the ISBN to my title, Createspace is the publisher. I still opted to go this route because I believe, most of my rights as the publisher remain in tact, even though Createspace provided me with the $1 ISBN. But ,if you want to hear the other side of this issue, check out Joel Friedlander’s down and dirty on the trickiness of ISBNs.

featurelarge_Marketing-booksStep 5 –  Book Marketing and Promotion

Finally, and this is by far the most difficult and expensive step in your self-publishing journey. You must market and promote your book, because quite honestly good writing does not sell books. I am sorry to say it, but you could be one of the bestwriters in the world, but if you don’t have a good story, for fiction or a new and exciting way of providing information that everyone needs, for nonfiction, your book probably will not sell. Writing, like everything else, is market driven. You must be filling some sort of need or want, and typically people read because they want to either be informed (nonfiction) or entertained (fiction). And even, if you have the ability to do one or even both of these things very well – (as I feel that I do) your book still will mean nothing! Well, at least not to anyone other than you, without some really clever marketing, to get it out and selling on the market!

If you hope to make any money off or your book, you absolutely must market your book to a correctly identified target audience. All of the prior steps discussed above all lead to this really, last and big one. Marketing, marketing, marketing will make or break you as an author. Good writing does not sell books, but good marketing gets them flying off the shelves! How does one market a book well? Well…this is very tricky. You could spend unlimited money on this and that – there are so many book marketing schemes available to those who have the budgets to explore them. You could give all of them a whirl, and yet still not make a single dent in your book sales.

You could also do nothing, and just wait for people to find your bloody, brilliant book! (Sometimes, it happens – but rarely. Usually, nothing will happen.)

Finally, and in many cases, this has worked well, you can get on the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, your very own blog and work your tale (pun intended) off trying to build some sort of platform from which to jump off. This is how most authors experience some degree of success.  For a great definition on the ever elusive platform, check out Jane Friedman’s Blog on reading, writing and publishing in the digital age.

In order to understand the concept of the author platform, check out Dan Blank’s blog devoted to media for authors and publishers.

But it is not easy. This requires countless hours of hard work, legwork, footwork, handwork, headwork – it’s all work – from the author.  There is just no getting around it! You, the author, have got to be the biggest promoter of your work. If shameless self promotion – Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book! – is not your thing, please know that there are other ways to become successful besides being an obnoxious, pushy book peddler! One of the best experts I’ve come across on how to accomplish platform building and internet marketing successfully and inexpensively is Penny Sansevieri, check out her website, Author Marketing Experts.

But none of this work is easy and none of it is cheap. All of it requires extensive sums of time and/or money. Once again, this is an expense that you must carefully budget for annually. Step 5 is in fact so complicated, it will require an entire blog post dedicated exclusively to it. Stay tuned!