Successful Self-Publishing: Getting Started

This is the second in a series of articles about self-publishing. This series will cover everything from the technical bits, to self-promotion, to getting books into bookstores.

To be successfully self-published, a manuscript needs an action plan. The author needs to understand the facets of the industry, and be confident in the manuscript’s quality, the route they will take to ensure the product is professional, and how the work will be marketed and distributed, and they need to know how they will get to get to that stage.

These are some of the things that anyone considering self-publishing should be thinking about.

A Budget, What’s That?

The first step is figuring out how much you are willing to invest in your work. Self-publishing well isn’t free, and it will usually require hiring other professionals to do a significant amounts of work. Figuring out the amount of money you have to work with can also assist in helping to decide which skills you are going to learn, and which tasks will be outsourced.

In order to get the best possible product (and yes, your book is a product), it is important to look at hiring an external editor. It is also crucial to get a professional looking cover design, so depending on your skill set, it may be best to hire someone to do this too. Other tasks, such as typesetting and designing the inside of the book, can be learned or outsourced, depending on your funds and your abilities.

It is also important to be realistic about what each step will cost. If you are hoping to get your book printed, approach a few local companies for quotes. Approach your state writers centre to get a quote for an edit or manuscript assessment, and contact a few designers to see how much your cover will cost. Do some quick scouting on the kinds of promotion you want to do as well, to make sure that it will all fit in your budget.

Getting the Manuscript Right

It is important to get the words right! No one likes paying for something that is badly written. Besides, word-of-mouth is free promotion, so it’s important to make sure that the book is perfect for the reader, and not just for the writer. Here, you will probably need to hire an external editor to help you perfect your work.

There are a couple of options here: you can get a manuscript assessment, a structural edit, a line edit and/or a proofread. A manuscript assessment and a structural edit are similar; they both deal with the content and structure of the manuscript. An assessment comes in the form of a written report, and the writer then uses that report to make changes in the manuscript themselves, while a structural edit is a more hands-on, collaborative relationship to get the manuscript to its best possible state. The former is a cheaper option which can be done by an industry professional, while the latter should only be done by an editor.

A line edit is a much closer edit, going through the manuscript sentence by sentence to improve word choice, grammar, style and flow. This is important for making sure the manuscript reads well, and for giving the reader the best possible experience with your work. Finally, a proofread deals only with fixing spelling, punctuation and grammar, and is usually the last edit done before the work is printed. It may be best to do this once the work has been typeset or laid out for printing, so that the proofreader can pick up any errors caused by the process.

Who’s the Audience Here?

A publishing house has the advantage of a marketing team, but when self-publishing you need to find ways to circumvent the noise and get your book directly to its readership. Depending on whether you choose to sell print, print-on-demand or digital versions of book, you will need to configure distribution, marketing and sales plans.

The first step in figuring out a marketing and distribution plan is identifying your target audience. What kind of reader will be interested in your work? Try to be as specific as possible. What age are they? What gender? What are their hobbies and interests? What do they do in their free time—when they’re not reading? Do they read often? How do they find books, tv shows, music and films?

Once you start to sketch out the answers to these questions, you’ll get a clearer idea of who you’re pitching to. Are they more likely to find your work in a bookstore or on Amazon? Do they read book reviews, and if so, are they from the New York Times or Goodreads? What magazines do they read, and which Twitter accounts do they follow—are there opportunities here for you to advertise to them?

Ebook or Print?

This seems like a pretty basic question, but it’s an important one to consider, and both options have their pros and cons. Ebooks are cheaper to produce and easier to distribute to your audience, meaning that you can spend more money on editing the manuscript and marketing it. You will only need to get the manuscript typeset/formatted for the digital form, and your readers are more likely to be voracious on social media, spreading the word about your work.

Print, on the other hand, is a different beast. Print sales are only going up, while ebook sales are falling, and there is some suggestion that people are more likely to buy ebooks if they have seen the book in print form. Bookstores are still the best way to market your book, even if they are difficult to penetrate, and some audiences are significantly more likely to purchase a physical copy of a book than an ebook. Additionally, a print book means you can have a book launch, handsell the book at markets and other events, and you can keep a copy on you in case you run into a potential contact.

Getting your book in print form is a bit more complicated. This generally involves either using a local printer and purchasing a large amount of books at a time before selling them yourself, or using a print-on-demand service. If this is the road you want to go down, you need to figure out where and how you will sell your book; it is difficult to do it well, but it is possible. Contact local independent bookstores to see if they do book launches, and whether they are willing to stock self-published books by local authors. They may only stock them on consignment. Get in touch with your state writers centre, and see if they have advice on where you can sell print copies of your work, and research markets and events in your area.

It’s Like She Has ISBN or Something

ISBNs are the numbers which are used to categorize, code and find books. They are essential for libraries, bookstores, and all other booksellers. In order to sell a book in Australia, you will need to purchase an ISBN, and if you have both print and ebook versions of your book, they will need separate ISBNs.

Some online publishing and print-on-demand services, such as Createspace and Smashwords, include a free ISBN as part of their service. Of course, this is certainly an option, but note that in the front of your book, where the publishing details are, it will identify that service as your printing company. This means that when someone opens your book, they will immediately know that it was produced from an online service. The choice is up to you, but it may affect some people’s perception of your work.

You can also purchase an ISBN directly from Thorpe-Bowker, which is the only legitimate seller of ISBNs in Australia. They come in packs of 10 for around $84 (or $42 each), and if you purchase your own, you can put whatever you want in the front cover. If you’d like, you can create your own mock publisher or small press, of which your book is the first title.

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