Editors and designers and distribution, oh my! A step-by-step guide to self-publishing your book
This is a guest post by Margot Atwell
1. Find an editor
Now that you’ve polished your manuscript as much as you can, it’s time to find someone professional to help you make it as good and clean as possible. Even if you’ve edited the manuscript 10 times, it’s important to have someone else look it over for possible mistakes; errors in chronology, consistency, usage; and parts where the manuscript isn’t up to the standards you’ve set for the book. A talented professional editor can make your book significantly better, and working with one can make you a better writer as you discover some of what readers might perceive as weaknesses in your book.
Because self-publishing—especially e-book publishing—is so much easier than it used to be, some authors skip this step to save money or time. Ensuring that your book is as good as it can be before you publish it is respectful to your readers and can save you embarrassment down the road.
2. Choose a format
For many authors, their book doesn’t really feel published until they can hold it in their hands. Others just want it to be available to readers. Some authors with nonfiction books want to be able to sell them at conferences, and some authors want to minimize their financial risk until they know whether their book will be appealing to readers. The format you choose should reflect your priorities and the goal of writing the book.
The format or formats you choose for the book will have a significant effect on the next stages of publishing the book, the cost of publishing the book, and the timeline for publication. I discuss this in more detail in my book, The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success.
3. Create the package
The look of a physical book—including the cover, format, paper quality, and other elements—is called “the package” of the book. The choices you make at this stage will create a reader’s first impression of your book. The package of the book conveys a lot to readers.
Finding a good cover designer is one of the most important decisions at this stage. Readers are fairly sensitive to design, and if the quality of the cover is poor, readers will often assume that the quality of the writing is similarly poor. Make sure to look at the designer’s other work before hiring her. If you’ve written a genre novel like romance or science fiction, try to find a designer who has worked in that genre, as there are some very specific expectations for what a romance or sci-fi cover will look like.
When you’re working with the designer, find five or ten samples of covers you like in your book’s category and figure out why you like them. If you give designers concrete design samples to use as a guide, it can really help you get the aesthetic you’re looking for.
Other aspects of the book’s package include the title and subtitle, any endorsement quotes, whether you use matte or glossy laminate on the cover stock, the quality and color of the paper, and many additional considerations. The book’s package is the first marketing tool in your arsenal, so make sure you dedicate the time and resources to making sure it’s very good.
4. Decide on distribution
The method you use for distribution will depend a lot on whether you are publishing the book as an e-book or a printed book (or both). For an e-book, distribution is fairly straightforward, and there are many inexpensive options open to you, including Smashwords, Bookbaby, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Ingram, and others.
If you’re publishing a printed book, distribution becomes a little trickier. There are many print-on-demand services that will do distribution to the online retailers and some of the wholesalers for you. There are also distributors such as Midpoint Trade Books, PGW, Consortium, Bookmasters, and others that work with publishers to sell and distribute their books. Many of the bigger distributors only work with publishers of a certain size, so if you’re self-publishing your first book, it can be challenging to find traditional mainstream distribution.
5. Create a promotion plan
Though I’ve listed this last, you definitely shouldn’t wait until the book is available to figure out how to promote it. The best plan for your book will depend on who you are and what kind of book it is. If it’s a novel, you will probably have the most success connecting with readers who like similar books—via social media, book discovery sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing, or through your blog. You might also solicit reviews from local newspapers and magazines, websites, and blogs that review books similar to yours.
For nonfiction books, the promotional plan will be even more dependent on who you are. Publishers frequently talk about an author’s platform. What that means is two-fold: what is the author’s experience or authority in their own field, and what channels do they have to get their message out to potential readers. This can include a strong social media presence, a well-regarded website, blog, or newsletter, a radio or local-access TV show, a column in a newspaper, regular speaking engagements at events in the author’s industry, and many other things.
If you don’t have any of these things, don’t despair! It’s important to create your promotional plan early so you have time to develop your platform before the book comes out. Start small and local—with a blog, with social media, with an interview at your local paper. You can use these things to build into larger opportunities with a greater reach. Once you start promoting the book, don’t give up! It’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results, but think of how long you spent writing the book. Make sure to give it the best possible chance for success by continuing to promote the book. If at first you don’t succeed—try again with a different approach.
Best of luck with your publishing journey!
About this post’s author:
Margot Atwell has worked in book publishing for almost 10 years, producing four national bestsellers in that time. Her writing is featured in such publications as Publishers Weekly, Publishing Perspectives, Movifone, and Five on Five. The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success is her first book.