edited: Sunday, October 25, 2009
By Fiona Robyn Ingram
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Sunday, April 12, 2009
Become a Fan
A writer's guide to successful self-publishing in ten easy steps.
By Fiona Ingram
Self-publishing, once regarded as the poor cousin of traditional publishing, offers a myriad of opportunities to writers who, for one reason or another, have been rejected by literary agents and large publishing houses. Agents could be considered a necessary evil. Sure, they prevent the big publishing houses from being inundated with worthless manuscripts, but they also can overlook the brilliant bestseller in the making. Self-publishing and Print on Demand (POD) allows budding authors to bypass the hurdles, get their work into print, and get it out into the marketplace. Most writers who follow this path hope to be spotted and picked up by a traditional publishing house. Yes, this happens and there are more than a few examples of the rags-to-riches success stories—“Rich Dad Poor Dad” being a famous example, topping the New York bestseller list for seven years.
On the other hand, there are several good reasons why this is a rare occurrence. Simply put, the aspiring but inexperienced author tends to overlook the fundamentals that make up a good book, and traditional publishers won’t touch a shoddy piece of work. Another factor is that many authors haven’t the knowledge or the energy to tread the long and tiring path of marketing their book themselves. Being published by a traditional publisher means most of the work is done for you, including the editing, design, and marketing process. Self-publishing is hard work because you, the writer, have to do all this yourself. The bottom line, however, is that a great book will find its way to the top, regardless. If you feel you have a good book that’s worth the effort, then go for it.
Here are ten simple steps to self-publishing success. The rest is up to you.
- Be Totally Driven: Your book should be uppermost in your thoughts. You should either be mentally or physically honing it, or thinking of ways to market it—constantly. Create a good mantra that you can repeat when things look bleak … because you’ll need it. Read my article Mind Power for Author Success for help with mantras and visualizations. Do not let anything or anyone’s comments put you off. Surround yourself with positive people, energy, and thoughts, and grow a thick skin.
- Find Out If You Can Write: Look for a local, professional writer or editor (plenty on the Internet) and pay for their opinion. You may have to attend a few classes to hone your writing skills, but it will be worth it. Do not ask a friend to read it and give an opinion unless he or she is a professional writer.
- Get Funding: You’ll need it, so start saving. Put aside $7 000-$10 000 for your production and marketing costs. You won’t need your entire budget immediately but your start-up costs will be around the $2 000 mark, depending on the self-publishing program you choose. Add to that the book cover, graphics, editing, marketing and website expenses, and you’ll see how costs rise. Do not give up your day job to become a writer; rather manage your time better. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve with a few hours’ writing in the mornings and evenings, and at weekends. Be cautious in your spending—many authors blow their budget on production and have nothing left over for marketing. My article Self-Marketing and Internet Savvy will help.
- Find A Good Self-Publishing Company: Expect what you pay for. Many charlatans in the marketplace take your money and leave you with a few poorly produced copies and no real platform for sales. Do some research and find out exactly what they offer. They should offer: a top program with all the elements for your book to meet traditional publishing standards. This includes the ISBN, a barcode, title and author name on the spine, back cover copy, and author bio details, as well as proper typesetting. They should offer editing and proofreading services, and a presence on the top book sites (such as Amazon), as well as a program that gets you into the bricks-and-mortar outlets such as Ingrams, Barnes & Noble, and Baker & Taylor. They should also offer an optional extra marketing strategy to cover radio and television and some Publishers Catalogue-type publications (you’ll pay for this), as well as sending out review copies and press releases to relevant people. Check everything they do for you, including your layout and copy proofing. If you’re not experienced enough to spot errors, then get someone else to look at it.
- Meet Your Deadline: Generally self-publishing companies give you a year to complete your manuscript. During that time, decide if you want an outside professional to do your cover and graphics. Self-publishing companies usually offer graphics services but there have been comments about their ‘sausage machine’ style covers. Do not get a friend to design the cover unless he/she is a professional artist. Use a good artist who will produce a unique, eye-catching cover. The cover sells the book, so don’t skimp on it. When your publisher sends you corrections, get onto it right away. Make sure your book is on sale within a year of joining the program. Want to do it sooner? Don’t rush into putting your book out there and find later on that you’ve missed some vital elements.
- Get Properly Edited: One of the biggest complaints of traditional publishers is that self-published writers are poorly edited and copy is usually not properly proofread. Do not let your best friend edit it for you unless he/she is a professional editor. A good editor will cost you around $2 500. Obey the editor. We all have bad writing habits and most times, we can’t see them. At the same time, remember that you are the creator of your characters and story, and only you know the unique and intricate intertwining of all the threads in your book. Take the editorial advice, but stick to your instincts if it compromises the story.
- Marketing Is Essential: Gone are the days when a writer could sit in an ivory tower, just writing, and not get involved in the nitty-gritty of actually selling the book. Unless you’re Stephen King, Wilbur Smith, James Patterson, or J.K. Rowling, that’s not going to happen. It may come as a surprise to learn that only a small percentage of books are sold through traditional outlets and retail stores, and that a book has only 3-6 months on the shelves before being nudged aside for new titles. Competition is stiff because between 800-1000 new titles are produced every day in the USA. That’s a lot of books. You’re going to have to come up with creative ways of marketing, but one Golden Rule is the same. Books are sold because people hear about them, so whether you spend a million dollars or no dollars on marketing, tell everyone! Now your friends can help you by telling their friends and colleagues about your book. Open your Marketing Folder the day you sign up for the self-publishing program. (See Self Marketing and Internet Savvy).
- Be Prepared To Work Hard: There are occasions where a good agent or traditional publisher will look at a self-published title, providing the book meets the industry’s standards, the copy is properly edited and proofread, and the author has worked hard to get the product out there and tell the world about it. The self-published author has a tough time. Not only does the writer have to write the book, but also he or she must slog on with marketing the book because, although the self-publishing company can do a lot for writers with their own marketing program, they always advise the writer to go the extra mile. All you have to aim for is making sure everyone knows about your book. The rest will follow.
- Start Your Next Book: You can’t be a one-book wonder. As your first book is nearing completion, you should already be halfway through your next book, as well as planning the marketing of the first book. You can also put up the first chapter of your new book on your website to excite continued reader interest. Dan Brown wrote at least three books before “The Da Vinci Code.” By the fourth book, everyone knew who he was, but it took a while. That’s why you have to keep your day job.
- Don’t Look Back And Don’t Give Up: Patience, persistence, and self-belief are what you must cultivate. Using your mantra every day and continuing to write will cement the vision of success in your mind.
Fiona Ingram has just published her first children’s novel, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab. She is a full-time author in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Fiona Ingram also offers in-depth courses in self-marketing and book promotion techniques. These courses are limited to South African writers although please feel free to connect with Fiona for tips and advice.