Time is unfortunately a commodity I have very little of nowadays, but I also love to help others, especially those serious about pursuing their creative endeavors. This article attempts to achieve that balance.
What This Is: The basics to get someone started in publishing, to get their feet wet. To literally get a book for sale and ready to market. Things you need to know before you publish, and the places you can go to do so.
What This Is Not: An all-inclusive guide to self-publishing. There’s no way I could cram 5+ years of learning into a single post, nor does my brain cooperate in that way. This is also not a guide for how to find an agent or a publisher.
10 Things That Have to Happen Before You Publish
- Editing: You must have the book edited. Sometimes new authors believe this is an optional step, but I can assure you, no matter how proficient you are in your language (even if you yourself have edited books), you need an objective set of eyes. You cannot be objective. We just are not wired that way. The best way to find an editor is by recommendations from other authors, and most credible editors will do a small sample for free for you so you can get a feel for their process and style. Be sure to find one who is experienced and has good relationships with their clients. Your friend Sally who got an A in English is not a substitute for an editor. The type and degree of editing you need will depend on your experience level. I started off needing a content editor, but now have a copy editor.
- Beta Reading: Beta reading differs from editing in that with beta reading you are looking for pure reader reaction. What works? What doesn’t work? Where are there inconsistencies in story or character behavior? What was unclear? Unlike an editor, your beta readers do not need to have any formal experience, they only need to feel comfortable and safe giving you very honest feedback. You can find beta readers within author groups, or even from friends. The most important thing is that your beta reader is not telling you what you want to hear, but what you need to. I recommend 2-3 beta readers. Beta readers should be willing to work for free, although sending them a paperback of the finished book is a nice gesture.
- Formatting: Your book needs to be formatted to properly work on the various types of e-readers, as well as for paperback. Some authors (myself included) do their own formatting, but for your first time, I recommend leaving this in the hands of an expert. You’ll need an .epub file, a .mobi file, and a PDF of your paperback. Some editors also offer formatting, but if not, there are a lot of places to go to find a formatter.
- Blurb: Yep, those things on the back of the book telling readers what it’s about? You need one. They can be painful for authors to write, as it’s often hard to paraphrase our own work, but your editor can help you get it cleaned up. Couple of tips: strong statements, avoid repetitive words, and keep it in present tense.
- Cover Design: You need a cover. Not just any cover, but a good cover. Unless you are already a skilled and proficient graphic designer, no you cannot create the cover yourself. Fair or not, many readers can and do judge a book by the cover, and a cover that is either poorly done or does not fit with your genre/theme/brand is not only not doing you favors, it will actually work against you. You can find a cover designer the same way as an editor. You might even reach out to authors whose covers you loved and ask who they used.
- Brand: You need to decide what your brand is. What keywords should be associated with you, what you want readers to think of when they see your name and read your books. This is not a black and white exercise, but as you begin to wrap your mind around this, everything you do (from your covers, to your marketing, to your social media presence, etc.) should represent your brand. I may speak more on this in another article, as this is a huge topic that deserves its own space.
- Marketing: You can write the best book in the world, have it edited to perfection, commission the best cover, and have a consistent brand message, but if you don’t market your work, you will not sell any books. Sadly, books do not sell on their own. I know marketing is typically an ‘after the fact’ activity, but I bring it up in the ‘before you publish’ category because you need to know and decide upfront how much money and time you are going to invest in marketing. This includes time you spend on social media promoting your own work as well as paying third party advertisers to help you spread the word. Realistically, I spent 5-10 hours marketing (sometimes more) each week. Many authors are caught off guard by the cost and necessity, so it’s better to go in armed.
- Social Media & Newsletter: Create your social media presence EARLY. It’s so much easier to build from day one than to go back after a year and attempt it. You’ll want Facebook (an author page, not a personal profile), Twitter, and a Newsletter for sure. You might also want Google +, Instagram, and Pinterest, but your mileage may vary with these. And, most important of all, get your newsletter started. This will be the single biggest marketing tool you have as an author. I cannot stress this enough. You can get a free account with Mailchimp or Mailerlite, and it only becomes a cost service once you reach a higher number of subscribers. Include links to all of these places (FB, Twitter, Newsletter, etc.) in the back of every single one of your books.
- Author Groups: Look for author groups on Facebook and join them. Observe the discussions. Befriend authors, and where you take help, also offer it (perhaps by offering to beta for them, as an example). Over time, your author friends will become your tribe, but they will also help you navigate the often unfair, often confusing waters of publishing. They are also the only ones who know what it is to suffer from crippling self-doubt, but, on the flip side, the absolute high from nailing a passage.
- Financials: This one is as simple, or as complicated, as it needs to be. Essentially, you need to decide where you’re going to get your checks. It’s usually easier and cleaner to open a separate account for any book revenue. Also, be sure to track any expenses related to your books for tax time. Covers, editing, marketing, materials- items directly related to expenses to keep your writing business moving forward can probably be written off at tax time. I am not a tax attorney, though, so take that advice with this fact in mind, and consult one if needed.
You’re ready to publish!
For self-publishing, there are a number of sites where you can load your book. Each site asks for a different file type, and has certain requirements. Most are fairly easy to navigate once you get the hang of it. Below I’ve listed out the main sites where you can distribute your work. They all have FAQs and Tutorials should you need help.
For eBooks, you can publish directly or through a third party. For paperbacks, there are several places you create and distribute your work, and I’ve listed them below separately.
Bear in mind that eBook royalties vary by how you price your work. Most retailers will only offer max royalty if you price your book $2.99 or higher.
Direct Distributors for eBooks
A direct distributor simply means you are selling your books directly through the retailers. With Amazon, you have to go direct, as they no longer allow third party uploading. For all others, you can choose to use one of the third party options, or you can upload directly with them for quicker reporting and tighter control.
- Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing: http://kdp.amazon.com. Distributes to all Amazon markets that sell ebooks. Kindle sales are a top earner for most authors, so I recommend starting here. KDP also offers a program called Kindle Unlimited that has some perks, but requires exclusivity (can’t publish anywhere else). They offer 70% royalties on books priced $2.99-$9.99 and 35% to anything under $2.99 or over $9.99. On top of that, they remove a small amount for delivery fees, which is based on the size of your .mobi file. For uploading, for best results, use a .mobi.
- Barnes & Noble Nook: http://nookpress.com/. Distributes to Barnes & Noble US. For royalties, they pay 40% up to $2.99 (or over $10) and 65% for $2.99-$9.99. When uploading, for best results use an .epub.
- Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/writinglife. Kobo is a Canadian company that distributes to a number of markets. They’ve seen a lot of recent growth, including the ability to book promotions directly with them. They offer 70% for books over $2.99 (no cap), and 40% for anything under.
- Apple iBooks: https://itunesconnect.apple.com. Apple is the only one of the retailers listed here that requires you to have very specific hardware: a Mac, in this case. You have to download an app called iTunes Producer to distribute content to iTunes. If you do not have a Mac, you can use one of the third party aggregators listed below to get your work on iBooks. Apple does not have a firm royalty table published, but royalties come out between 60-70% usually.
- Google Play: https://play.google.com/books/publish/. I’ve never been able to find a straight answer about Google’s royalty payments. I always estimated between 50-60%, and the end result comes out around there.
Third Party Distributors for eBooks
- Draft 2 Digital: https://www.draft2digital.com/ They distribute to iBooks, Kobo, Nook, and several other niche retailers. D2D, of the two, is easier as they do not have rigorous controls over the content you upload. It also appears on the retailers quicker, in my experience.
- Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/ They distribute to most of the big retailers (iBooks, Nook, Kobo), as well as many of the smaller, up-and-coming, or niche retailers (see site for full list). Smashwords, in addition to distributing to other retailers for you, has their own storefront where consumers can buy your books as well. Their content requirements can be more tedious if your formatting isn’t perfect, and they take longer to send books to retailers. However, Mark Coker, CEO, is very active in the indie community and loves feedback.
Third Party or Direct?
Your Books Are Uploaded: Now What?
- Start executing on your marketing plan. This is another topic that deserves a separate post (if not an actual course). However, the absolute best marketing for your book is another book. If a reader loves it, but has nothing else from you to buy, they will move on.
- Keep your social media active. DO market your work there, but DON’T only post about your books. Find interesting content, images, etc. that relate to your brand. For example, my books are set in New Orleans so I often post articles and pictures of the area.
- Engage with people who engage with you. If you start selling like Stephen King, this might prove more challenging for you, but in the beginning you have more time for interacting with readers, and you should use it wisely.
- Don’t ask for favors from other authors unless you have already established the kind of relationship where that is appropriate. They are your friends, and maybe your fans, but mostly your friends. On the flip side, do join cross-promo groups or author co-ops designed for helping one another with promo. Learn from other authors, take what advice works, and adapt it to work for you.
- Learn early that everyone’s experiences are different, and what works for one may not work for another. Everyone I know who has seen success in writing has done it in different ways. Master your brand, keep it consistent, write good content, and most importantly, begin writing the next book.
- Start tracking your sales. Put your spreadsheets together early, and update them periodically so you don’t have to go back months later and reconcile. There’s a lot of ways to look at data, and I may tackle this is another post, another time.
- Don’t expect overnight sales. Or even any sales. You might get no sales at all for a while, and 10 books in your first month might be ambitious. It takes a long time, a lot of work, and a significant amount of patience to build a brand and a fan base. But, don’t despair. One reader will lead to another, and another. View this as a business that deserves (and requires) your time and commitment to thrive.
- Research! There’s so much to learn, and so many great resources out there. Here’s a list of some sites that have some great information for authors new to publishing: https://soulsistersauthoradvocates.wordpress.com/start-here/