Self-Publishing 101: A Guide to Taking Your Book From Dream to Reality
So you wrote a book. Congratulations, that’s quite an accomplishment! Considering that many people have never finished or even attempted to write a book, you should feel very proud already. However, once you’re done writing the book, you will soon realize that is just the beginning! After the words are written down comes the fun part. Almost like a baby who has been gestating for 9 months, your book has been formed and created by you, but self-publishing is a lot like giving birth. You have another complicated (and sometimes painful) process to go through before your baby will see the light of day.
We consider ourselves to be kind of like “book midwives.” Sure, women could give birth all by themselves and deliver the baby and everything could be fine. I’ve seen it on YouTube. But for most women, some assistance is not only helpful but necessary for the health of the baby. Similarly, self-publishing waters can be very murky and scary. Print book or ebook? Color or black & white? Do I buy my own ISBN or use someone else’s? How do I get people to buy my book? We can guide you through the process of taking your book from the idea stage all the way through making it available for sale, or we can just give you support where needed. Every book, like every baby, is different!
So here is a quick guide we put together for those interested in self-publishing but who are confused by all the options, terms, and choices out there. Let’s start at the very beginning…
You Have An Idea
You’re folding socks one day and when one inevitably comes up missing, you start to daydream about a sock monster that lives in the dryer, complete with cute drawings and… before you know it, you have an idea for a cute children’s book that would sell like crazy! Eureka! Or maybe you have had a unique life experience that you want to share with the world, and you are finally ready to tell your story.
But maybe you’re not a writer. Maybe you haven’t written anything since high school essays. Or maybe you are comfortable writing the story, but you don’t know any illustrators. Maybe you write the story but don’t really remember grammar rules, and is that how you spell copywrite?
If you’re not a writer, your best bet is to go with a “ghostwriter” or have someone collaborate with you on your story. You see this all the time in celebrity biographies: “Written by [Famous Person] and [GhostWriter].” Basically, you tell your story to a writer who records and takes notes, then they use that information to craft a compelling story, which you approve before publication. Penhall Publishing has several college-degreed and experienced writers on staff who can tell your story if you are not comfortable telling it yourself.
We also have a network of talented illustrators, artists and designers who can create images for your book, whether it’s cartoony children’s characters, detailed drawings or illustrative photography.
Once the words are written, you need to have an editor go over your manuscript. I don’t care if you have a PhD and a badge from the Grammar Police, you probably still misspelled a word or misused a comma. But most people need a little more than just a good proofreading. You may think your 7 page diatribe about the 19th century philosophy’s effect on modern life is important and needs to be in the book, but it might stall the action in your novel and cause the reader to lose interest in the story.
Having a second set of eyes read your work–especially trained, experienced eyes–is not only recommended, but is really a best practice. I can’t tell you how many self-published books I’ve seen for sale on Amazon.com that have words misspelled or mis-appostrophed in the title. I can only imagine what kind of unprofessional grammatical nightmare lurks inside. Don’t let this happen to you! It is worth it to hire a professional editor to make your book the best it can be.
People judge books by their covers all the time. The cover of your book is the single most important factor in selling your book, so it has to not only look great, but communicate all of the necessary information to potential readers while enticing them to purchase your book. You don’t want to trust this in the hands of just any graphic designer who says they can make you a book cover. I have seen covers missing descriptions, bar codes, even the author’s name! Book covers have a certain set of elements that are always present and we have many years of experience designing compelling covers that also say everything they need to say.
Some things to consider when thinking about your self-published book’s cover: Do you want it to be paperback or hardcover? If hardcover, do you want casewrap or a dust jacket? Do you want images like photos or illustrations, or colors and patterns? Do you have absolutely no idea what you want? That’s ok too; that’s why we’re here.
The inside of the book has to be designed too. “Really?” you may think, “even if it’s just words?” Sure, you can make it look ok in Microsoft Word and even add some pictures, but when you look at the proof, it’s all out of whack. The words run off the page, the pictures aren’t where you placed them, and each chapter doesn’t start on a new page like you wanted it to. That’s why you need an experienced book designer.
To put together the interior of a book, you have to consider margins, chapters, introductions and forewords, copyright pages, author bios, tables of contents and indexes, line spacing, illustrations, layout… the list goes on. We have been designing books for many years and reading books for even longer, and we can help you put together a professional looking book interior that you will be proud to self-publish.
Another consideration is a headshot or author photo, which is usually displayed along with the author’s bio either at the end of the book or on the back cover. You don’t want to use your nightclub selfie or a photo from 15 years ago that you had to scan from a print. A recent headshot from a professional photographer is one of the best ways to be taken seriously as a writer and is a wise investment for any aspiring author.
Self-Publishing & ISBNs
So now you have a book… kind of. A cover and an interior file ready to be uploaded to the printer. Only, which printer do you go with? How do they get the book to the readers? What’s the difference between print on demand vs having an inventory of books? What’s a distribution channel? What are royalties? Why are they charging a setup fee? How many ISBNs do I need? What the heck is an ISBN?
Are you confused yet? I was too, the first time we published a book. Over time we have learned how to navigate the murky self-publishing waters and would love to help you do the same so you can make the best choices for your book. Like this common rookie mistake…
“But CreateSpace says I can get a free ISBN for my book! That’s awesome, right?”
If you want a major corporation holding the rights for your book, and don’t mind if they use it for their own purposes, then sure, that’s awesome. But the #1 advantage to self-publishing is complete ownership and control of your book. So why would you give away the ownership of your book for a “free” ISBN? Everything has a cost, so don’t be fooled! Let us help you make sure your book is published correctly so that you get to keep all your rights and profits.
Printers: On Demand vs. Inventory
When choosing how to print your book, there are many options which have their pros and cons, and we can help you find the best printing option. On demand printing is the new favorite because it is set up at little or no cost to the author, and does not require you to keep a large box of books in your garage that you have to try to unload on your unsuspecting friends, family and coworkers.
Titles are made available on bookseller’s websites like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, and when a customer buys the book, the printing company prints and ships enough to fulfill their order. Copies of the book are also available to the author/publisher at cost so you can buy one copy or 100 copies, depending on your needs.
This option works best for most books, and different printers offer enough options for sizes, color vs black & white, paper thickness, paperback vs hardcover, and distribution that almost any book can be printed on-demand.
However, if your book is oddly sized or otherwise unusual, or if print on demand options are too costly for your size, color and cover options, or if you just like having full control of all orders and shipping, printing an inventory of books may be your best option. You can still make your title available on major bookseller’s websites, as well as sell it on your own website, but the process is different.
In addition to print, your book can be made available as an electronic version, which is a good idea for anyone wanting to distribute their book as widely as possible. Ebooks can be short or long as needed so it’s great for recipe books, short stories, how-to manuals and other shorter formats. Of course, almost any book can become an ebook (although books with fewer images tend to be better suited for electronic formatting).
Selling Your Book
At long last, your book is available for sale on Amazon.com, so you sit back and wait for the sales to roll in. If that’s your strategy, you will wait for a long time. The truth is, there are lots of books out there. Literally millions of books are for sale on Amazon.com, so you have to tell people to buy your book or they will never know it’s there. A few posts on your favorite social networks are good; if you have a few hundred friends who really like you, you may get two or three sales. But if you really want to sell your book, you either have to do your own marketing or hire someone whose job is to promote your book and manage your social networking sites.
Most of the printing companies like CreateSpace, Lulu and Lightning Source include availability through their distribution channels such as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble so that people can buy your book on the bookseller’s website and they will print and ship the book for you. This easy method comes with its cost, as all distributors charge a percentage of sales for the convenience of listing your book on their site. But most find the cost is well worth it to have your book for sale online worldwide.
You can also sell the book on your own website, and if you’re really serious about becoming a respected author or publisher, you must have a website for your author name, book’s title and/or publishing company, if applicable. It’s best to have all three so that if someone Googles your name or book’s title, all of the different websites will add legitimacy to your online reputation. The websites will also be platforms for you to sell your book, and there are several e-commerce tools you can use for this purpose.
Another smart thing to invest in is marketing images and/or videos that can be shared on all social media websites. These can be anything, such as your book cover and some quotes about it, or images and quotes from the book, combined with information about where to purchase your book. Images and videos go viral on social networks and yours has the same potential if it’s compelling enough, which could lead to hundreds or thousands of orders of your book.
How Long Does This Process Take?
Publishing is a complex process and putting together a professional quality book takes time. With our last few clients, we worked for more than six months to get from an edited manuscript to available on Amazon. Sometimes this includes several rounds of proofreading after the files are sent to the printer. Sometimes authors decide on one size and once they get a printed proof in hand, they decide it’s not right, or they try out paperback but decide they want a dust jacket instead. It happens and it’s no reason to stress, because ultimately the most important thing is creating the book you want to publish.
Perfection takes time! That’s one of our mantras here at Penhall Publishing, because we are more concerned with creating great quality books that everyone can be proud of, rather than maxing out on clients to make more money, or rushing through production to save time. Just like giving birth (to bring back the analogy), you can’t control how long the process will take and it’s best just to relax and have a positive experience. If you rush the birth of your book, it could do harm to your “baby” and cause undue stress.
So be prepared that from edited manuscript can be 6 months or more, and if your book needs editing that will take another 3-6 months, so in total you’re looking at 6 months to a year for your book to be available for purchase.
Self-Publishing is a Change For The Good…
Self-publishing is not just “vanity press” anymore, it has opened up a world to authors and publishers that makes printed books a reality for people who once thought they might never be published. Instead of trying to shop your manuscript to publishers, become your own publisher. Despite its costs, self-publishing is advantageous in many ways and has quickly become not only a legitimate but a promising way to get your book in print. If you don’t believe me, then just know that the bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey series was at one time a self-published book.
If you haven’t already, please read “Why Self-Publish Your Book?” and “Costs of Self-Publishing” for more information on the process, and of course don’t hesitate to contact one of our experienced publishers to get started on your project.