Please be advised that this is not a sure-fire ‘how to’ guide on self-publishing but merely an anecdotal account of my experience, together with some do’s and don’ts and lots of links that you might find helpful. In fact, this post can be seen as a work-in-progress document, so you’re more than welcome to add your insights in the comments section below. Remember, Indie authors help other Indie authors!
Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher. The author is responsible and in control of entire process including design (cover/interior), formats, price, distribution, marketing & PR. The authors can do it all themselves or outsource all or part of the process to companies that offer these services.
In 2008, for the first time in history, more books were self-published than those published traditionally. In 2009, 76% of all books released were self-published, while publishing houses reduced the number of books they produced—by Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Let’s assume you’re the proud author of a finished manuscript, duly critiqued, revised, and edited (again and again), for I see fire and brimstone in your future if you’re lax about the quality of your creation. After all, your pride, self-esteem, and reputation are at stake here; only you will be blamed for its failure or applauded for its success. Find yourself a professional editor, preferably someone who comes highly recommended. Or, you could resort to good ‘ole Google to find you a reliable service, but make sure that they can provide testimonials.
During the first three years of writing my memoir, I was fortunate to work with a professional editor who was a member of one of my critiquing groups. Then my husband, a technical writer/editor with more than twenty-five years experience, diligently worked his way through the entire manuscript. After that, I spent another two years revising and editing the manuscript, and once more after a full review by my MFA mentor and peer group, before I swapped my coaching/critiquing service with a professional editor for a final round of edits. I was lucky; it didn’t cost me more than time, except time is money, so make sure not to scrimp on this vital requirement.
I can’t vouch for these businesses, but somehow the following websites made it into my Research folder, so you might want to check them out—it should at least get you started:
- The Edit Dude: What I like about this website is its simplicity; it contains the necessary content and no more: a bio of David Slegg, his rates, testimonials, contact details, and a forgivable bit of rah-rah to promote his own book, which he co-authored with D.D. Scott. These two authors link to each other’s websites, and Scott’s is worth checking out too, since it’s often mentioned in e-book circles: The Writer’s Guide to e-Publishing.
- Victoria Mixon, Editor: I like the professional appearance of this website, and it comes with great testimonials, so it instills confidence.
You absolutely have to start with a good dose of research into the history and growth of the self-publishing trend, the overall process, specific requirements, and resources at your disposal, as well as predictions about its future to get a good overview of what it all involves. This is easier said than done, and I’d like to warn you upfront that there’s a fair amount of half-baked ideas, conflicting opinions, and dated blogs/websites out there that might lead you astray. But there are also a lot of experts deserving of respect for being the trailblazers, who are selflessly passing on valuable information because they believe in the change and genuinely want other Indie authors to succeed. If you don’t want to go it alone all the way, there’s a host of paid services that you can make use of; self-publishing is, after all, a fair-exchange business, as it should be.
I’d been contemplating the Indie option long before I started doing serious research—I was mortified to discover how far behind the curve I was.
Tip: Considering the dynamic nature of this trend, my advice is to make sure whatever reading material you select is current. You may want to first look at some big-picture perspectives before progressing to the step-by-step guides. The following websites are good launching pads:
- It’s a conspiracy: Is There a Self-Publishing Bubble?
- It’s an evolution: Revolution & Evolution – The Publishing Paradigm
- It’s a revolution: Ebook Sales Surpass Hardcover for First Time in U.S.
- It’s a war: A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing
- It’s not easy: Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know
- It’s liberating: Indie Reader
This was one of the first websites that jumped out at me and also the first e-book I bought and read from beginning to end: The Global Indie Author. I guess it’s the expatriate in me that favors global perspectives. Demers is a Canadian, her extensive knowledge is impressive, and she does a good job of keeping abreast of developments in the world of Indie publishing and sharing it on her blog. Her e-book is available in various parts of the world on all the known platforms. Again, you just have to Google the ‘how to’ of Indie publishing for a wealth of information with advice and links to resources, especially amongst the serious bloggers—the hero of them all seems to be Joe Konrath from the “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” link I posted earlier. Konrath’s vehement criticism of the old order (Big Six Publishers) is legend.
Description and Cover Design
Publishing a book is one thing and selling it is another. Without a compelling book description, your promotional efforts may fall on deaf ears. The same sentiment applies to the book cover; you want to opt into as many promotional programs as possible, and book cover design competitions is an exciting option. Here is one you should to know about: The Book Designer.
Don’t jeopardize the marketing phase by skimping on the production elements! The Gods of Indie publishing preach professionalism; that’s because they believe it’s the pearly gates to success; and they’re right!
I browsed the Web for ideas when I came across Stuart Taylor’s Chain Bear site and found exactly what I was looking for—the illustration had just the right mix of elements that worked with the title and content of my memoir. Here’s a pdf sample of a cover art license contract.
Having purchased unlimited and international rights for a reasonable (flat) fee, I was lucky, again, to exchange services with a graphic designer, and my husband’s advertising experience came to good use, too. Make sure to have all the necessary marketing elements designed, like book covers for electronic and print books, thumbnails, posters, pamphlets, book marks, etc. Here’s a pdf of my book description.
Usually the verso of the title page, this page carries the copyright notice, edition information, publication information, printing history, cataloging data, legal notices, and the books ISBN or identification number. In addition, rows of numbers are sometimes printed at the bottom of the page to indicate the year and number of the printing. Credits for design, production, editing and illustration are also commonly listed on the copyright page—by Joel Friedlander of The Book Designer.
Although Joel’s blogs alone could probably guide you through the entire process, I’d advise you to get a good blend of perspectives; there’s a lot to be learned from the different ways in which authors approach the process.
This is part of the copyright page; it’s a controversial issue, and you should be prepared to receive contradictory advice and/or read conflicting opinions. Some say whoever owns the ISBN owns the rights to the book, and others disagree. Some retailers of e-books require an ISBN and others don’t. You can buy your own or accept freebies from your chosen publishers.
I purchased a bundle of ten for $250.00. So far, I’ve used three #s, one each for the Mobi, ePub, and print versions of my book. Here’s a link to Linda Hoye’s website for some insights into the mystery of ISBN. And here’s the link to Bowker for all the information you need on how to obtain one or a bundle.
Library of Congress (LOC) Cataloging in Publication data
The purpose of the Cataloging in Publication (CIP) Program is “to serve the nation’s libraries by cataloging books in advance of publication.” Except, self-published and print-on-demand works fall outside of the scope of this program, because “resources available to support the CIP Program are limited. Recognizing this constraint the CIP Program is limited to publishers with an established history of producing works that are widely acquired by the nation’s libraries. Such works often include publications produced by small publishers (over 40% of CIP publishers publish less than 5 titles a year), but do not include works of self-publishers.”
Needless to say, the CIP Program is one thing I’ve ticked off of my worry list, for now, anyway. As one of my FB connections claims, it seems to be a staffing/administrative problem, i.e., they’re overwhelmed. The LOC also does not accept e-books.
Marketing tip: While CIP might be a requirement for libraries to purchase a copy of your book, it is my understanding that most libraries will accept books donated by local authors, whether self-published or not.
This is also part of the copyright page, and it’s really up you to include one or not, whether you write fiction or nonfiction—I did, and mine reads: While all of the incidents in this book are true, some of the names and personal characteristics of the entities involved have been changed in order to protect their privacy.
This, too, is optional. I decided to augment mine with a quote, as you’ll see from the pdf sample of my book (at the end of this post).
I hope you’ve kept notes of the people, groups, and organizations that helped you along the way, like your fans, critics, and artist retreats, to give credit where it’s due. Remember, it’s proper to request permission from your contributors to mention their names. Here’s a link to a ‘how to’ write an acknowledgements page: Green Leaf Book Group.
Table of Contents
I can understand the necessity of a ToC for serious non-fiction books with dense subject matter that needs to be ordered in a certain way. Or, fiction with specific chapter titles. I decided against it for the print edition of my book, though I consider it a functional element in any e-book for toggling between the various chapters. So, it’s really up to you to include a ToC or not.
With regard to Front and Back Matter, this is a blog post you may want to study for an overall discussion of the various elements.
I’m so impressed with myself for having converted my MSWord document to Mobi and ePub files all by myself. Yes, you’ve guessed it—I’ve learned to speak another language…okay, I really mean that I now understand XHTML code, albeit only the very basics of this Hypertext Markup Language in which web pages are written. Since I work as a creativity coach and wanted to add new skills to my repertoire, I decided to go it alone…well, not entirely, seeing as I closely followed the generous guidelines outlined by four brilliant Indie authors who also blog generously on the topic of self-publishing (links to their websites below).
- David Gaughran (his book Let’s Get Digital is available from many retailers).
- Michelle Demers (I mentioned her earlier; her eBook The Global Indie Author is available in many parts of the world).
- Guido Henkel is famous in the circle of Indie authors and much respected for his selfless eBook formatting guidelines that you can follow on his 9-part blog post.
- Paul Salvette (his eBook How to Format your eBook for Kindle, NOOK, Smashwords, and Everything Else is available at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords).
Michele DeFilippo heads up 1106 Design and offers a wonderful range of services, tailor-made to your needs. She has a profile on Facebook and the Gutsy Indie Authors group, which I belong to as well—a group of Indie authors who exchange information on “everything you need to know about indie-publishing,” moderated by Sonia Marsh.
Do yourself a favor, make sure to learn the difference between aggregators, distributors, retailers, and bricks-and-mortar book shops. Not only is it all a bit confusing, but that’s where the self-publishing landscape changes faster than the micro-climates in San Francisco.
- I’ve come across the website of Book Architects; they offer a conversion service and seem to know how all the role players fit together.
- And here’s some help from an Australian perspective.
- Or maybe you want to compare various services with the help of consumer reports.
The two leading POD companies are CreateSpace (CS) and LigtningSource (LS). Expect to come across many fierce debates about which one is the best. Robin Sullivan tries to put it into perspective: Write to Publish blog
I’ve worked with CS and have had nothing but excellent service. So far, my e-book is available on the Kindle (Amazon) and NOOK (Barnes and Noble) platforms, and my print book can be ordered from Amazon. Even though I prepared my MSWord document according to their guidelines, I decided against working with SmashWords; I’ve read a lot about the horrors of their Meatgrinder conversion and decided it was not worth the risk. I’ve tried uploading to Apple’s iBook, but what a nightmare—their ineptitude is really a disgrace considering how easy it is with Kindle and NOOK. The good news is that Kobo will soon launch Writing Life, and I’ve already signed up on their author portal.
I’d advise you to open a new bank account dedicated to tracking the expenses and income of your Indie publishing business. And here are two websites that shed some light on tax matters:
- From an author’s perspective (N.V. Binder)
- From an accountant’s perspective (Alison Pensy is also an author)
I sure hope you’ve established yourself as a blogger long before you even contemplated becoming and Indie author. Make sure to set up a profile on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and everywhere else that appeals to you and where you feel comfortable to participate actively and effectively.
I blog, mostly, about creative writing, and on personal coaching and expatriation, too. These are my three target audiences on all my social media platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Goodreads, and who knows where else I’ll land in future.
I won’t say anything more about marketing as I’m still on the steep end of the learning curve. Besides, this is a topic for another blog post. Should you feel so inclined to add more information, or an anecdote about your self-publishing experience, or if you feel the need to correct any ‘facts’ that I’ve cited, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from other Indies—we’re a community, after all.
*A pdf sample of my memoir: Out of Sync.