Don’t let the title fool you. I have no idea what I’m talking about. A little more than a year ago, if you told me I would be on a path to publishing my first novel in a series, I would have said you were crazy! But here I am, hopefully, about three months from completing the only real item I have ever had on my bucket list: publishing a book. Actually, it’s been a goal for me since way before bucket lists were even a thing!
So how does one even write a book? Well, that’s a silly question. One does one of several things: you can get a notebook and a pen, and do it the old-fashioned way, by giving yourself hand cramps by writing it in cursive. This has many advantages, since you can do it anywhere, even in the bathtub if you’re not overly splashy. But the cramp thing…and eventually you’ll have to type it all into the computer anyway, unless you find someone who can read your scrawl and do it for you. So doing on the computer seems to make more sense unless you are really, really old school. I opt for the computer. You can save stuff, you can delete instead of crossing out or erasing, and as long as you are using “the cloud,” you can pick up your writing anywhere at any computer. I’m on a laptop right now at a coffee shop, and you can’t do that with a PC. Oh, you can also record or use voice recognition software.
Next thing you need to do is write. And make sure it doesn’t suck too bad. This is the easy part for me. I just sit and let it all flow from my head to my fingers and to the keyboard. But say you don’t know how to write, or you don’t have ideas? I’d say take some classes and see if you even like to write. I love it, but some people love olives. Ew.
So, now you’ve written down everything. You’ve written a book! Congratulations! Now someone will just somehow knock on your door and tell you that they have magically heard of your brilliant manuscript, and they would like to publish it for the whole world to see! End of dream sequence, and back to reality! So, pretty much none of the writers I have gotten to know have any instinct for what to do next, and the information, although readily available if you’ve ever heard of Google, is overwhelming and confusing. There are so many choices of what to do next. Do you want to have your book published by a huge publishing house, become the biggest writer of all times, and make millions on your work? Of course you do! Until you learn that so do millions of other people, and there are only so many slots out there for new, famous authors. And if no one has heard of you, your chances are pretty slim. To get a publisher, you need an agent. To get an agent, you need to send out queries, lots and lots of queries. I mean, hundreds of them. And then you get the joy of receiving hundreds of rejection letters. I have a very fragile ego. I feel like it is a personal slight if my cat doesn’t come when I call him. Cat people, you understand. So, I decided to skip the queries. Actually, I sent exactly one. And never even heard back. And that’s when I heard there was another option.
Self-publishing. So, what was my first thought about self-publishing, besides the inevitable “only losers and bad writers self-publish?” It was “how do I self-publish???” Then, I felt helpless because I didn’t even know where to start. Time started to go by. People kept telling me that I should do something with my completed manuscript. So, what did I do? I wrote four more manuscripts! Now I have a series, sitting in files on my laptop. But then things started to get interesting. First, I met another author, and we exchanged stories to beta read. Ok, that was fun. Then, my brother got me a book by an author local to him about indie writing. Eh, okay, I don’t really like non-fiction, but I gave it a look. Then I took a nap. Then, I contacted my first cousin once removed to ask a question about sushi restaurants in the 80s in New York City and he told me about someone he knew that had self-published several books. He gave me her contact information, and that changed everything. This author was/is amazing! She has all versions of presence on social media, and I started to follow all of it. She had videos about how to self-publish. I ate them up! I ordered her book. It was beautiful! And it was good. And I wanted to be just like her. So, I started to do everything she was doing. I kind of want to be her. If she is reading this, just kidding.
So, here are some of the things I have learned about self-publishing:
- Join an online group of people helping each other out with self-publishing, like the Self-Publishing Support Group on Facebook. It’s the best move I ever made around publishing
- Read your work over and over and over again
- Read your work again
- get other people to read your work (alpha readers for the first draft, and beta readers for the almost-final draft)
- make changes based on what people advised, but don’t compromise your integrity. Someone might hate something in your book, but that doesn’t mean you have to get rid of it. But sometimes, your readers have really great ideas!
- This is where things get really tricky. There are lots of things to do after your words are the way you want them. First, it’s always a really good idea to look at other books in your genre and see how yours compares. You’ll want to make a lot of creative decisions about your book, so see what else is out there.
- Get your book professionally edited. You can get an editor to review your content, another to check your spelling, grammar, and flow, and another as a proofreader. Beta readers can take care of some of this stuff, but it’s a good idea to get at least a copy editor, who can see things that everyone else misses. Editing will probably be the most expensive part of self-publishing. You pay per word. The longer your book, the more you pay.
- Complete your cover art, or hire someone to do it for you. You can use original art, but you can also get a cover designer to complete the whole thing for you so you don’t have to worry about dimensions and all that. Just make sure the designer is very clear on what you want. What type of cover to you want? Check out other covers in your genre to see what sells!
- Formatting is crucial to make your self-published book look professional. You can format yourself using any one of several programs. I’m just using Word right now, but there are some products that are much more sophisticated, so do your homework. There are lots of thing to format, including titles, subtitles, headers, subheaders, page numbers, footers, images, front matter, back matter, etc. There are tons of vidoes on You Tube to help you to figure out how to do these things on your own. If you don’t think you can do it yourself, hire someone who knows what they are doing, to do it for you.
- If you don’t know someone personally who you can hire to do all of these great things for you, you can use some websites already set up for this purpose. I used Reedsy to find my editor, and there’s also Fiverr. The nice thing about these options is that the folks on the site have already been vetted, and you can see what work they have already produced along with their resumes. If you find someone by another means, be really careful, and make sure you have some sort of signed contract with the expectations of both parties clearly stated. It’s heartbreaking to get scammed at this part of your publishing journey.
- When you have your cover image, editing is completed, and formatting is exactly how you want it, you can then load your PDFs to the publisher/distributor. Do TONS of homework about who you want to use and ask questions of your support group. The main ones I have seen being used are IngramSpark and KDP, but even they have tons of options. You want to look at your options for hardcover, paperback, digital, and possibly audio versions.
- One thing that you might not expect (no one does) is that your book will not sell itself. It requires marketing, unless you are already the most popular bestselling author ever known to Earth, and even then, you have to market. You will need to start marketing long before your work is released. There are many ways to market. Some are free, and some will cost you some money. Social media is free. Make sure to start author pages on all the social media platforms that you can stand, and then post to them, a lot. It’s free. And it gets the word out. Pay attention to the audience you want to attract. You’ll find more seasoned adults on Facebook, but if you are trying to sell to teens and young adults, TikTok is the way to go. Get over your stage fright and make some catchy videos! They don’t all have to be about your book; they just have to be engaging and attract people to following you. Other free things you can do are newsletters, blogs, and podcasts.
- If you have a marketing budget, you can run ads on Facebook, or Amazon, or whatever works for you. You can start a personal website with your own domain name. Some people like to sell their books off of their own site, or just use it for updates and information. When you know your book will become available, you can schedule book signings or release parties to get the ball rolling. Get some swag for giveaways or raffles. Get yourself some interviews. One good way to get publicity is to sign up for book awards. Think of how nice your book cover would look with an award on it!
- What do you charge for your book? Again, turn to books in your own genre and find some that area a similar length. Then just charge whatever you want.
- Get advance copies of your book when available and find readers to read them. Then have them leave reviews for the book on Goodreads and Amazon. Ask everyone you know to leave reviews. Reviews are free ads for your book.
- Make your (Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, etc.) author page the most beautiful it can be. Look to see what is available for you to make it great. Amazon has A+ Content. Look it over and see if it’s for you.
- Make sure the world is aware of your release date. they can’t buy if they don’t know it’s there. Make a lot of noise. Squeaky wheel, etc.
- Revel in the fact that you are now a published author and try not to have imposter syndrome. You are a real, accomplished author. Congratulate yourself. You deserve it.
- Now, write the next book in your series, and start it all again. Keep in mind, the more you publish, the more you sell. Series sell. You will have repeat buyers.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list. There are other things you can do, like get a logo, or a marketing package, or hire a public relations professional…but not everything is for everyone. But I wish I’d had a list of things to expect on the first day I started writing. It would have helped to move things along a lot faster. And if even one person sees this list and finds it helpful, it’s a big win. For all of us.