In 2011, I embarked on publishing my first collection of short stories – also known as my terribly-rushed-graduate-thesis – through Amazon’s CreateSpace. While I was successful after many proofs, I hadn’t successfully mastered the art of self-publication. Of course, being completely naive to the process left me with the impression that I was not a “real” author. Several years later, and several rejections in between, my self-doubt led me to falsely believing anything “self” made was in some way self-sabotage.
However, rest assured: self-publishing is an actual process that many authors use, and being a self-publisher, or having your own imprint, does not make you less of an author. You can achieve professional quality books on your own.
…self-publishing, or having your own imprint, does not make you less of an author.
By following these key steps below, you are following the same process that any traditional publishing house would have you do as a contracted author. The caveat: you need to be willing to devote your time, expenses, and energy to your project.
Before you get to the list, repeat this mantra: You cannot depend on your wisdom alone. Living in a writer’s bubble does not make for great art. Writing is a collaborative process that involves the skills of many.
Hire a Freelance Editor
While it goes without saying, many of my author-hopeful friends flat out refuse to pay for editing services. Of course, while I whole-heartedly love my beta readers (and not just because they’re FREE), a professional editor has a trained eye and years of experience to help you get your project up to speed with the current market. Not only that, they will tell you exactly what genre you are writing for!
My current editor, Nicole Tone, offers a variety of services – all of which are affordable. As a writer, I have the option of choosing between a reader’s report, or something much more detailed like a developmental edit.
- Reader’s reports: A general overview of strengths and weaknesses. It’s much like having coffee with a friend and discussing the likes and dislikes over your book.
- Developmental Edit: A detailed review of those strengths and weakness (e.g. editor will note the strengths in plot structure, but will discuss how you can refine character development). Think of it as though you are siting in a classroom and you are doing a complete literary analysis and picking at those very minute details that only trained readers can view. (It’s not that scary, however!)
Unfortunately, when I first began my self-publishing venture, I made the mistake of trying to edit my own work. This practice resulted in big picture issues (i.e. plot holes, character development, etc.) and to a slew of grammatical nonsense because my eyes (and brain) filled in the blanks for me. So while everything made sense in my head, many readers were left asking me, or themselves: What the f*ck?! And that’s not really the reaction you’re going for.
Hire a Freelance Designer
Initially, I thought a good cover meant a decent photo and some fancy font. As long as it had the title and my name somewhere on the cover, that was good enough. And if the interior was legible and nothing bled onto the margins, that was also a win for me.
….while people proclaim they don’t judge a book by its cover, they do. Your cover is part of your marketing. It is, literally, the face of your book, so if you’re not an artist or photographer and don’t have experience with typesetting programs such as Adobe InDesign or Quark, you should hire a freelance designer to do both for you.
Ashley Ruggirello’s business, CardboardMonet, offers a plethora of design services as the ones mentioned above, in addition to graphics for your personal website and social media platforms. These services may come especially in handy if you are looking to make any of these mediums more professional and less DIY.
Like CardboardMonet, other freelance designers offer templates that are available for immediate purchase. Just be sure to read if other designers only offer that cover art or formatting to one author. The last thing you want is to have a book look just like someone else’s!
Select a Publisher or Print on Demand Service
Amazon’s CreateSpace is not the SOLE POD (print on demand) service available to self-published authors. Below are some of the most common POD services:
However, there are other POD services available, such as the Espresso Book Machines (EBM). Unfortunately, there are only about 12 of these machines (in the world!) that will make a book ready to read in 5 minutes.
Some of these EBM publishers provide publishing packages that include all of the above (and soon below) for prices as low as $300. Here is an example of what an EBM package looks like:
- Set-up Fee
- Formatting (interior)
- Book Cover Design
- One Proof
- ISBN and registration with Bowker
- Library of Congress Registration (Copyrights)
Additionally, information obtained and made through these EBM publications will not only be made available to the Print on Demand database, but can also be taken to other PODs mentioned above.
I highly recommend reviewing all of the EBM publisher’s tiered packages, as well as their al a carte offerings as well. Many of these can save you money in the long run, and the hassle of comparing book printing quality. The other benefit of having an EBM publisher is having direct access to shelving within local bookstores and other promotions.
Obtain ISBN, Barcode, and Copyrights
To have complete control over your work, you should obtain an ISBN and register with Bowker.com. Bowker is the U.S.’s sole ISBN distributor. This means that you should not purchase any ISBN from third parties.
ISBN’s allow the self-published author to distribute their books into the mainstream market. So they are necessary. While it is true that CreateSpace generates a free ISBN for you, your work remains an imprint of CreateSpace, and you will not be able to use this ISBN to distribute elsewhere other than Amazon.
Bowker also provides barcode and copyright packages. Again, if your dream is to sell your book at Barnes and Noble or the local bookshop, you need to have your barcode registered and synced with your ISBN. You put this much time and effort into your work, so you should reap the benefits!
You can apply for Copyright before publication, and it is often encouraged to do so before hand. Once you register your work to the Library of Congress (you will have to upload a text file of your work), you will not have to refile for copyrights after you publish your book, if you choose to do so. However, if you choose to forgo copyrights, know that you must register your book within 3 months of publication. The deal is good for 70 years, so not bad, right?
Develop a Marketing Plan
I wish selling a book was as magical as writing it, but we don’t wind up becoming NY Time’s best-sellers overnight, or do we? (Did anyone read the Handbook for Mortals drama? You definitely don’t want to be those people!)
Nevertheless, you should develop some sort of marketing tactic other than to spam the shit out of your family and friends. Nobody wants to read a book out of pity, nor do they get anything out of seeing countless pleas to purchase a book.
So…you’re a writer. A creative. You have something to offer! Consider what it is you have to offer and begin with those strengths. This means that you can, oh I dunno…
- Guest blog or vlog
- Discuss your strengths and creativity on a podcast
What I’m saying is: marketing goes beyond something that looks pretty in a package. The package must have some exchangeable knowledge or value that the reader can physically hold (aside from your book) which you can definitely promote during, before, or after the blog, vlog, etc.
These steps helped awaken a force in me. I am in control of my own work, and a work I feel is professional and deserves to be read. Many agents have enjoyed the concept, but they didn’t always understand the vision, and didn’t feel our visions aligned. Which is why I was rejected.
Rejection from major publishing houses and agents does not make you a bad writer. It could be timing, or it could be the agent/publisher’s preferences that make all the difference. Don’t let that make you bitter about your vision, though.
Now that you have the tools and basic knowledge of self-publishing, you can create your own destiny.
Do your research, set aside some funds, and keep an open mind. I can’t wait to read your work!
Rejection from major publishing houses and agents does not make you a bad writer.