Some thoughts on self publishing from personal experience
There are many reasons you might want to consider becoming an independent author Ė maybe youíve tried the conventional publishing path and have discovered that talent does NOT always find a home; maybe youíre tired of trying to shoehorn your story idea into the currently fashionable genre labels and constructs; perhaps you are simply an independent spirit who doesnít want to worry about deadlines or word counts. Or maybe youíre writing nonfiction and already have an established audience. Whatever the reason, independent publishing can be a rewarding experience.
However, there are some things to think about.
No matter your reason for deciding to go it alone and publish your book independently, you must be aware that there is a stigma attached to independent publishing. Whether or not it is justified, many people still associate the idea of a traditional publisher with legitimacy. The standard and traditional process of getting a book published by a big publisher means that a manuscript is passed through countless hands in the process and possibly revised many times as well. There is a belief that if a book has survived this process and a publisher will consent to publish the book under their banner, then it must be a worthy item. Ever read a book and thought, ďThis is awful! I canít believe this book ever got published!Ē If so, then you already know that quality is only one of the criteria that lead a publisher to choose to publish a book, and not necessarily even the most important one.
It used to be true that to publish a book independently automatically meant an author was spending a lot of money at a vanity press Ė and typically the only one making any money in the process was the press itself. Thankfully, the nature of publishing has changed dramatically in the last decade. It is now possible for an author to make a book available on a print-on-demand basis for a very minimal investment at most. If the book is published digitally, it can be done entirely for free. The majority of the money in this scenario should flow TO the author, not away.
Just as when publishing in the traditional manner, you want to ensure that your manuscript is as polished as possible before making it available for sale Ė it is perhaps more important to do this when self publishing because fair or not, your book will be judged more harshly than a book from a big publisher. In order to make your book look as professional as possible:
1) Edit, edit, and edit again
Ideally, it's best to work with a live person in this process, but if you canít afford to hire a freelance editor to review your manuscript, you can do it yourself. One simple way is to read your manuscript out loud. Reading out loud forces you to slow down and really see the words on the page, not just what you intended to put on the page. Reading dialog aloud is great way to hear whether it sounds natural and realistic.
There are hundreds (possibly thousands!) of books on the subject of editing your own work, but one of the best and most useful ones Iíve ever read is Self Editing for Fiction Writers.
There are also countless websites devoted to the topic. Author! Author! is one that provides detailed and exhaustive practical examples of editing and formatting tips for manuscripts.
There are also countless websites out there specifically set up to prey upon the hopes and dreams of authors. Beware of book doctors and other sites that make big promises about bringing fame to your door. Research any editor or site before you commit. There are many, many forums for writers available. Preditors and Editors actively collects information on legitimate people and sites in the publishing world, as does the associated blog Writer Beware.
2) Have the manuscript read by an objective person Ė as many as possible!
Itís hard to edit and revise in solitude. Find a critique partner, hire a freelance editor, or in the case of nonfiction, ask an expert in the field if they would be willing to read it for you - take their feedback seriously. If nothing else, they can help you catch typos or other areas where your prose might not be as clearly written as you think it is. Typically, people who love to read will be most helpful with story line issues but not necessarily as attentive to the craft of writing so itís best to try to find someone who understands both the process of writing and also the particular genre of your manuscript.
3) Hire a graphic artist to design the cover art
People do, unfortunately, judge books by their covers. Your story / information might be fabulous, but if you have an amateur looking cover chances are no will ever open the book to find out. Using Photoshop isnít as easy as it looks. There are many freelance graphic artists who can make you an attractive cover based on your criteria and your budget.
4) Choose your distributor carefully
Before you commit to a distributor for your book, make sure you research them thoroughly and read all the fine print Ė they are not all created equally. Who sets the price? How much royalty will you earn? Who holds the rights for the book? How do they advertise their site and their book catalog? For print-on-demand books, look at independent reviews about print quality and distribution channels. You can have a beautiful cover design, but it will do you no good if the press uses a poor paper quality and the binding is badly done.
5) Donít expect to get rich
One of the main benefits of self-publishing is keeping the greatest share of the royalty for yourself. Depending on the distribution channel you select, you can expect to keep anywhere from 30-70% royalty on the cover price which you set. However, unless you are a fabulously connected person, able to network effortlessly, and create a viral word-of-mouth storm of enthusiasm for your book, donít quit your day job (and if you can do all of those things, drop me an email please). Yes, it does happen occasionally, but for the most part know that marketing a book is hard work even with a big publisher behind you securing front table placement in the big bookstores. Itís infinitely harder if you are an introverted loner (ahem). Just making a book available isnít enough, and even if you have a website and web presence, the number of books youíll likely sell will be small. Publish your book for love, not money, and anything you make out of it will be the fudge on the sundae.
**Warning: If you plan to self publish as a way to circumvent the traditional publishing process in the hope that an editor or agent will read your book and be so impressed that they offer you a huge advance to publish the book themselves, think again. Iím not saying that itís never happened, but in general agents and editors have enough to read without trolling for gems themselves. Also, once a book is published in any manner, unless it already has an impressive following of its own, most publishers arenít going to be interested in re-publishing what will now be considered a previously published book. **
Sure, self-publishing removes some of the usual hoops you have to jump through to get your book in print, but to do it well is not necessarily an easy process. If you take the above suggestions seriously and are willing to put in the necessary time and effort, you can produce a quality book. Good luck!