Deciding where to begin this series of posts on self-publishing was about as difficult as figuring out how to actually self-publish for the first time. What kinds of things do you need to research? What are the steps from first draft to a live product page? What are the current best practices? What are the pitfalls to avoid? And that’s all before any considerations of marketing, which is a raging bag of cats all on its own.
I knew partway through the first draft of Eidolon that I would self-publish it. I wanted more control over cover art and release date. I wanted access to data about where my sales were coming from and what affected them. I had previously worked with an established romance publisher, so I already knew some of the process from first draft to edits to descriptions and excerpts and then finally to the finished product.
However, I knew I would be taking on many more roles than before. Roles I had no idea how to fill. I would have to research my distribution options and decide, for example, whether I would push to iBooks and how. I would have to find and commission an editor. To learn how to format my book for its digital and print editions. To take a hard look at the size of my budget and determine how best to use it.
Once the first draft of Eidolon was complete, I cannon-balled into all these questions about how to reach a final product, where to distribute it, when, and for how much. But diving into one area of research ended up opening up more and more questions.
For example, after a couple days’ research, I settled on which distributors I’d use, but then I needed to know what format(s) they require for upload. Then I had to find out how I’d convert my file to that format. I also realized I’d need to adjust the front and back matter for each distribution channel. Then I needed to decide whether I should offer pre-ordering for Eidolon, to learn which distributors offered pre-orders, and to figure out how early I could set that up prior to release.
Then I wondered, how will I keep all of this organized?
As those in the tech industry might say, I spent weeks “yak shaving.” At one point, I got so overwhelmed that my husband asked if he could help find the answer to one of the questions I faced: that of whether I needed to form a business, and if so, how.
All the information you need is online, but not all in one place. And not all of it stays relevant or correct. As everyone says over and over, the publishing industry is constantly changing. New competitors to Amazon show up. The way Amazon calculates sales rankings could change. One formerly popular distribution method may become unpopular or might be absorbed by a competitor. The way a retailer pays could change. What one author recommends as having worked for them might not work at all for you.
So, when your to-do list to get to a final product looks like what you see above, it’s no wonder you’ll find books for sale that promise to walk you through the steps to publication. Buying a book of expert advice sounds much easier than sifting through fifty open tabs on your web browser.
A starter list of books on self-publishing:
Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self-Printed
David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital
Helen Sedwick’s Self-Publisher's Legal Handbook
I did a lot of my own research despite buying and referencing Self-Printed. (A caveat: Catherine’s book outlines how she self-published and is not exhaustive.) For example, Catherine really pushed her reader to go for the free ISBNs offered by Smashwords and CreateSpace (the Amazon-owned Print-On-Demand service—update: CreateSpace is now part of Amazon KDP), but many others will push you to pony up the money for them (note: they’re free for Canadian authors). I took a long, hard look at the considerable expense of buying up a block of my own ISBNs through the US’s ISBN site Bowker. Would the cost be worth it, I wondered, to have an ISBN for the Kindle version of my book when the largest online retailer of e-books, Amazon, cares more about its own identifier (ASIN)?
A lot of the decisions a self-publisher makes will be personal to their genre, their goals, their audience, and their budget. And like any writing advice you’ll find out there telling you “the best way to write stellar dialogue” or “modern readers prefer books of this length,” most self-publishing advice (keyword: most) is merely that: advice. You don’t have to use the most popular distribution route or write to the current genre trend or, ahem, always start new chapters on the right-hand page just because someone makes it sound as if doing otherwise will get you hate mail.
Do ensure you’re making the best product you can. Get some critique and revise. Get that story professionally edited. If you’re not paying someone to do your formatting for you, take the time to learn how and do a clean, thorough job. Double-check your work.
Do make your product as easy to find as you can—as well as anyone can when Amazon’s search algorithm seems like a magic trick, especially for erotica. Understand what kind of metadata your distributors want and plug in the best descriptors you can think of after browsing other books in your genre, especially bestsellers, to see what keywords and categories they used. Look at their book descriptions for inspiration on how to write your own.
I also want to stress that as a self-publisher, you can adjust or change your strategy. To reiterate, the publishing industry is constantly changing, and what works for one author may not work for you. If you don’t see expected results from a decision, you can change it, or at least try something new with your next book. And while it may not feel good to realize a decision didn’t pan out, there is value in learning what does and doesn’t work for your publishing plan and overall writing career.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be breaking down the major steps to self-publication and their most popular options. The outline at the top will update with links as we go. For now, head to the next post where we’ll talk about ways to keep all this information organized.