Do you have a book inside you?
I’ve self-published a handful of books, all of which are available on Amazon and provide me some monthly income (click on the links in the sidebar to learn more.) From time to time, when people realize I have self-published, they become intrigued because they have a book inside of them, too. They want to know how they can publish a book. (If, after reading this article, you are ready for help, click here for our self-publishing support services.)
Since I’ve been asked more than once how to go about publishing a book, I thought it would be helpful to write a blog post to help anyone out there who wants to become a published author. Here are ten basic steps to take, based on my experience. (Note: experiences vary…this is just how I do it.)
1. Consider starting a blog.
What does this have to do with your book? A lot. Blogging will help you get into the habit of writing regularly, and help you define your typical reader. It will also help you build an audience so that when you do publish, you’ll have some customers! Here’s a link to my long time web host, who can help you set up a WordPress blog quickly and with reasonable expense.
2. Write the book.
This takes discipline. Many people have an idea for a book but never start putting their thoughts on paper. If this is you, I encourage you to carve out a set amount of time per week during which you will start drafting a small portion of your book. If you are already blogging, you can “kill two birds with one stone” and publish some of this work in the form of blog posts. Once you have several good ones, you can tie them together into one package to sell. (Yes, even though people may read your blog, they will probably consider buying your book too for the convenience of having everything in one place. I do suggest also adding something unique to the book so it is not just a series of blog posts.)
If you find it hard to be disciplined, it may mean that you are feeling overwhelmed by the overall task of “writing a book.” Instead, break it into small pieces. Set a small word count goal for yourself, and/or make a weekly appointment for writing and write for an allotted amount of time. (I call mine “Writer’s Block” referring to the block of time I carve out for blogging.) Some people find that practicing a certain ritual before writing helps get their mind into gear (i.e. using a particular app, listing to a certain type of music, writing any time they are in a coffee shop.*)
Tip: Don’t edit too much when you are first writing your ideas. Just let it flow. Go back and edit later.
3. Start building a platform.
A good part of publishing a book is marketing the book. These days, you don’t need a traditional publisher to help you market. You can begin to build a following through social media and blogging. Seek to serve your audience. If you like to speak, volunteer to present to various groups in your city or church. Utilize social media to share thoughts. Read other blogs and provide encouraging comments, building relationships. Try to collect email addresses and send meaningful newsletters. You might consider a resource such as Platform University to help you stay current.
4. Hire an editor/proofreader.
Once you have your manuscript drafted it is a good idea to hire an outside person to objectively read it. This may cost you something, but you should not skip this step! One of the downfalls of the accessibility of self-publishing is that some books are being put out there at subpar quality. You don’t want yours to contain obvious typos, formatting errors or run on sentences, to name a few mistakes. A good editor/proofreader can help you avoid that. Our support services can help.
5. Design a cover, or hire someone to do so.
There are lots of options for cover design. If you have some talent in this area you can do it yourself. Not great with graphic design? You can hire someone independently, or even use a service such as 99 designs or Fiverr (I have done my own or hired a designer so I don’t have personal experience with these sites. However, others have.) Create Space offers a cover creator you can use to design your own. A good cover is valuable so your book looks professional. We have a great graphic designer who can help, too!
6. Consider your printing and distribution options.
For my first book, I used a local copy center to produce spiral bound versions with just the quantity I wanted to have on hand to sell at events. Now, I use Create Space to create paperback books and Audiobook Creation Exchange if I want a book narrated. I love Create Space because there is no up front charge, and they are connected with Amazon. They provide a seamless process of uploading and reviewing your files and proof copies, and then making them available on Amazon. You don’t spend a publishing dime until someone wants to buy your book. When the order is placed, Amazon takes their cut and deposits the rest into your account.
I use Kindle Direct Publishing to produce e-books. I personally don’t create a paperback book every time I publish an e-book. I find that you can create a stream of income with an e-book as well, and I actually have sold/distributed more e-books than tangible books.
7. Beware of scams and expensive publishing options.
Some “publishing” companies like to make writers feel like they are a highly accomplished author, but could very well just be willing to print anything sent to them (even if it’s junk) and make money off that writer selling the “book” to their friends and family. Do some research at sites like this or even Google “publishing scams” and you’ll see what I mean.
I once submitted a book proposal to a publisher, and received a letter of interest, only to find out that basically–they wanted to print my book at a cost in the hundreds to thousands to me, even though, to be fair, I believe that cost could include some editing and marketing help. While not exactly a scam, I consider that type of business to be somewhere between a “print shop” and a “publisher.” They may offer a couple of helpful services, but if I have to pay that much, I would be better off going with something like Create Space and outsourcing to individual editors and graphic designers. If you have a huge audience and are pretty sure you can re-coup that size of investment, then you can choose to go for it. Me? I’m sticking with as little up front costs as I can.
8. Be prepared to handle administrative tasks.
My small business has a retail license and I file sales tax for in-state sales. When selling books at an event out of state, you’ll need to check the rules of sales tax for that state for the event at which you’ll have a table. You’ll be receiving 1099s for royalties from places like Amazon (for when they sell your book) and if you co-author a book and split the profits, you’ll need to provide a 1099 to the other author(s) even if they earn less than $600 in a calendar year. Once you know the procedures, it’s not that hard to keep up with. I use recurring tasks to remind me to file sales tax, for example. But it’s important to set up systems ahead of time and not be caught by surprise regarding taxes, licenses, etc. By having good systems in place, you can take care of small tasks monthly and when tax time comes around, it won’t be too stressful to gather all the info you need.
7. Begin to market.
The idea of marketing makes many of us cringe. It’s hard to self-promote without feeling proud or self-serving! But, remember, if you have something of value that will help someone else, you shouldn’t be afraid to share it.
There are lots of ways to market. One of the best I’ve found is the “offer it free” and/or “countdown deals” programs through Kindle Direct Publishing. As long as my e-book is exclusive to Amazon, I’m allowed to offer up to 5 free days for every 90 my book is in the program. This is a great way to get the book into more hands because LOTS of people download free books. It can connect people to other books you may have on Amazon as well. Some of my books (one for which I’m a co-author) have made various “Top 100” Lists (paid and free.) This has happened several times. I believe using promotions like this has been a large part of why we’ve enjoyed this blessing.
You can share about the free books on your social media networks, sell tangible books when you speak to groups, arrange book signings at local coffee shops and bookstores, set up a table at fairs, etc. Some of these ideas may work better than others, depending on the customers at that event and what your book is about. It’s an experiment!
10. Take responsibility, be realistic, and keep building relationships
The book you produce is your book. Even if you happen to be accepted by a traditional publisher, you will be asked to do much of the work, mainly–marketing. Traditional publishers often want to sign authors with established platforms–authors that can generate enough buzz on their own to shoot up one of the common bestseller lists. (Yes, their books may be good, but be realistic–they rarely become a bestseller just because of the quality of their book.) It’s your responsibility to continue to build relationships and offer valuable content to people, not just for the sake of selling, but serving.
Several of the NY Times Bestselling authors have an established following who they continue to serve with good content and engagement between books. This builds loyalty and “primes the pump” providing enthusiastic initial buyers for their next book. Full marketing strategies utilizing current fans go into making the best seller list. I’m not saying this is unethical. Just be realistic. It’s probably rare for an “unknown writer” to suddenly be picked up and become a best selling author without either building their own platform or being shared or recommended by someone else’s. (I know of one author, for example, who saw a definite spike in sales once a bestselling author mentioned his book to their followers.)
Sometimes, you can enjoy more freedom and even make more money per book by self publishing and marketing on your own to your own audience. Be realistic and understand that may mean less overall sales because of reduced volume. But it’s not easy to be accepted by a traditional publisher, so some sales as a self-published author may be better than no sales while you wait to be “discovered.”
The world of publishing is changing, and self-publishing carries far less of a stigma than it used to. Why keep a book under wraps, waiting for a “traditional publisher” to decide if it’s worthwhile? If you have a book in you that can help others, go for it!