You’ve written a book, you’re considering self publishing and you wonder what it involves. In short: a lot! This post is a concise summary from editing, through self publishing and book launching, with many links to tools and information to help you along the way. It contains almost everything I’ve learned from indie author discussions in a Self Publishing Twitter group by Cheryl Burman, and what I’ve learned while self publishing my first book.
I’m Writing/ Have Drafted My Book, What Now?
1. Craft Knowledge
If this is your First book, and or you haven’t already researched how to develop your characters and plot, or read up on story structure, now is a a good time! Make notes to help get your head around character development, story structure and how they intertwine. Then use your notes to write character and plot focused outlines or revision/ structural edit lists to address potential character/ plot holes in your draft.
Resources to Help: KM Weiland’s Blog Series’: Developing Character Arcs, Story Structure and Scene Structure.
2. Start Building Your Author Platform: Social Media
Yes, I’m talking about social media before you’ve even edited your manuscript, let alone have a book seeking a publishing path. Why? Because it takes time to grow a following. And the writing and editing stages are great opportunities to get to know fellow writers, build friendships and learn from each other. This is also the time to begin describing interesting features of your book and start generating interest in your story!
Post about the contents and the experience (or process) of writing your book. Talk to other writers about it on Twitter’s #WritingCommunity —or Instagram’s. Connect with people you share interests with on social media (local interests, genres, themes that inspired and tie in to your story etc).
To begin with —pick ONE social media you feel is a natural (or least uncomfortable) fit for you. Get comfortable calling yourself a writer there, and publicly interacting as one. (FYI: there’s no such thing as an aspiring writer. If you write —you ARE a writer!). Experiment, and learn the ropes of your first platform. Then start on a second platform. (Unless you’re bursting with restless energy *waves* and would rather choose the chaotic path of tackling multiple things at once over the easier one *waves again*).
Resources: Social Media for Writers, Facebook For Authors by Jane Friedman, #WritingCommunity Hashtags for Twitter and Instagram.
3. Critical Readers
Get at least three beta readers (if you can find more, I’d do so) to comment on how they find your characters, plot, pacing, story tension ect. If all they say is, ‘this is great and I liked this bit,’ I’d be asking, do my betas have the: Experience and ability to critically evaluate my story?
Willingness and time to honestly comment on things they find problematic (or less than ideal) as a reader?
Communication skills to spell out how any particular aspect of my writing confused, bored or otherwise put them off?
Or do my betas think I only want encouragement (or a positivity pass), as opposed to constructive feedback to help me grow as a writer and to ensure my story is clear and engaging to unfamiliar readers?
If you suspect any of the above is an issue with one of your beta readers, I’d get another/ an extra beta reader. I wouldn’t be satisfied readers will be satisfied with my book until I’ve had that rigorous critical reader who pulls me up on every potential crease, tear or hole in the reading experience. —And I’ve repaired and ironed those things accordingly. Having attempted that for Manipulator’s War, I’ve now got reviews complimenting things (pacing and characters) the reviews may have complained about, if not for my critical readers.
Resources to Help: Finding Critical Readers, Mentors & Editors.
Checklists to aid Critical Reader feedback: Chapter one, Act 1, Act 2, Act 3.
Consider your goals for this book/ series and your budget. If you can’t afford an editor, get a second round of critical readers to comment on your post-beta-edited draft. Then, if you’re happy with it —get other, sharp eyed people to proofread it.
If you can afford an editor, consider which type(s) of editing you can afford: developmental (structural), stylistic (line editing), copy editing (word level technical & factual edits) and proofreading. Manuscript Critiques/ Reports can be pricy, but are a cheaper alternative to (prohibitively expensive for most people) developmental edits. Bear in mind, some freelance copy editors charge by the hour instead of by the word. So if you tend to write fairly clean 100k books for example (like me), paying by the hour is more affordable and better value for money.
Resources: Different Levels of Editing and Critical Reader Services by editor Amelia Wiens (who did my manuscript critique) and 5 Things Authors Need to Know Before Hiring an Editor.
5. Decide on Cover Art
In choosing an artist or creating your own cover, research current covers in your genre and audience age. You want a cover design that clearly says to the reader “this book is (insert your genre)”. You also want a design that appeals to readers of that genre in ways they’re used to seeing. Pay attention to current trends in your genre, by researching new releases and studying their covers. For example, dark covers are a thing with YA Fantasy at the movement, and if characters are on epic fantasy covers — they’ve got weapons. So my cover for Manipulator’s War is dark and features weapons.
Creating Your Own Cover
Remember that you need copyright permission for the art and fonts you use.
These fonts are public domain and free on Google. You can also purchase fonts from Creative Market.
You’ll find free public domain images on Pixaby, Smithsonian Open Acess and paid ones on Shutterstock. To make the most of those resources, you may like cover design support from fellow indies via FB Group Book Design 101 and feedback on your cover and blurb from FB group Indie Cover Project.
Traditionally published authors will have honed their pitches near to perfection. Their blurbs will have had a LOT of critical feedback, editing by a literary agent, and possibly by an editor before a back cover exists to place those blurbs on. So for your blurbs to compete at online retailers —hone your pitch craft! You can get pitch critiques in the facebook group Author Unleashed, which focuses on this skill and on my Authoring Discord. You’ll find my best advice for writing an engaging blurb in this post.
If hiring a cover artist, check the contract to see if you own the art, and if you need to pay the artist fees for using the art in your merchandise, on your website and in any promotional graphics you make. If you’re unsure which of multiple pieces of concept art to use for the final cover, try posting a poll on social media and or consulting your newsletter subscribers. In considering cover artists, you may also like to ask how they work, and how much your cover design can change within the negotiated price. For example, my cover artist Judah (GlintofMischief) and I built a set of Pinterest pins as well as discussing my cover, and I reviewed multiple concept sketches before we chose (and modified) the published cover. I also chose my fonts, and designed the glyphs on Manipulator’s Wars cover.
If you want to be actively involved but don’t have the skills to produce your own cover, check you’re hiring an artist as prepared to work collaboratively with you as Judah is with me. If you’ve got Indie Author friends, I suggest beginning your cover artist hunt by asking them (or tweeting) for recommendations.
6. Choose Your Distributer(s)
Kindle Unlimited or Wide?
In choosing a distributer, you’ll have to decide whether you want your ebooks available on Kindle Unlimited (where readers pay a monthly rate to access Kindle’s library, as opposed to buying your ebook, and you are paid per page read). This means your ebooks are exclusive to Kindle. Alternatively, your books can be sold in multiple digital spaces —publishing wide and available on Kindle, but not Kindle Unlimited. Wide vs. Exclusive: A Tale of Two Marketing Systems by David Gaughran is a good resource to help you weigh factors and understand both options. If you’re considering wide, I highly recommend the Facebook Group Wide for the Win, who discuss marketing strategies and have information threads on publishing wide.
Publishing Wide, Some Distributor Factors to Note
Do you want to publish ebook and paperback or just ebook?
Do you want pre-orders? Again —ebook (and paperback)?
How do you feel about managing multiple dashboards on difference distributors/ stores?
Do you want your book to be distributed to libraries as well as stores?
Do you want access to retailers in-house promotions?
Resource: Why Ingram Spark expanded distribution for print books is preferable to Amazon’s, including ISBN advice, by Eric V. Van Der Hope.
Allows paper back preorders via Amazon (KDP/ Amazon only allows ebook pre-orders).
-Lets you order paperback author copies before publication, (Amazon doesn’t).
-Requires you to purchase an ISBN for paperbacks.
-Distributes ebook and paperback globally, but multiple sources I’ve read discourage using their ebook distribution.
Draft 2 Digital
D2D charges a 10% commission and has paperback distribution in beta, using Ingram Spark print books.
In-house Apple and Kobo promotions are available via D2D (and not otherwise unless you go direct to these retailers).
Around half the retailers and libraries Smashwords and DraftToDigital distribute to overlap, and these two distributors are joining forces, so signing with one will in time mean you’re with both.
Having uploaded my book to Amazon, Kobo, D2D and Ingram before Smashwords, I found Smashwords dashboard the most challenging to navigate. There’s a LOT of information and links to process. I didn’t find it user friendly. However, I persisted with them because around half the places Smashwords distributes to differ from D2D, and I wanted my ebook available there a.s.a.p.
Distributer Links: Kindle Self Publishing, Ingram Spark, Draft2 Digital and Smashwords.
Going Direct, Some Considerations
By going direct, I mean which stores will you create an account with and upload to directly? In answering that, I’d consider:
Which stores dominate and have the most reach generally?
In which countries do you want to sell your book in and what are the biggest retailers in those markets?
Which retailers have the biggest share of the market in your home country?
Does the store you’re considering pay in your local currency? (Being based outside the US can be a disadvantage here).
What do other indies have to say about their experiences with specific distributors? Have they had issues, what kind and how did they find customer service/ support?
Amazon is obvious for market share and reach. Googleplay store is hardly a leading book retailer, but they’re Google, so that appeals to some indies. (They were unable to verify my Aussie bank account, which is why I’m not direct with them). Barnes and Noble are another logical choice for popularity in America (they only pay Australians in US dollars and the currency conversion fees may be higher than my earnings, so I’m not direct with them). Beyond that, I’d be considering the questions above to decide who to go direct with.
Imprints: do you Need or Want One?
Amazon will display information about your book to potential readers, including ‘publisher.’ If you don’t want Amazon to display ‘publisher (insert your legal name)’, I suggest creating an imprint. Mine is Faraway Fiction Press. I’ve registered it as a business name with the relevant Australian body for tax purposes and it has its own website (to reserve and link the .com domain name to my books).
Resource: For info on the benefits of having your own press, see this post by David Wogan.
ISBNs: Do you Need or Want them?
Many retailers offer a free ISBN, which can only be used for your book at that retailer. So if you use free ISBNs, your ebook will be registered under a different ISBN at each retailer, and that ISBN will link back to that retailer. If you purchase and choose to use your own ISBNs, each format needs its own ISBN, but you can use the same ISBN for your print or audio or ebook at different retailers. ISBNs are free in some countries (Canada and Sweden among them), and are best purchased by their official seller (Bowker) in the US, Australia and elsewhere.
NB: If you distribute print books via Ingram, you must purchase an ISBN. If you only plan to have print books on Amazon, you may prefer to use free ISBNs for everything. Which ISBNs are best —free or paid— depends on which factors you prioritise: saving money, having sequential ISBNs pointing back to you instead of a retailer or other. Many indie authors seem happy with either option.
7. Extend your Author Platform
I suggest setting this up after social media because imposter syndrome is real, and hopefully having been on social media and presented as a writer for at least a few months (I was on social media over a year before I took this step), you will find it more natural to write an author bio and present yourself professionally as an author on your site. Blogs are optional and of course take more time, but they bring a lot more traffic to your site than an author name and book title no-one has heard of, so I recommend them.
If you decide to have a blog, I recommend drafting posts ahead of time. (I teach full time, so I write most blogs in the summer holidays, then edit and publish them once a month).
Resources: Author Website Set Up Tips, Unpublished Authors and Websites by Jane Friedman, 100 Unpublished Author Blog Ideas by Mixtus Media.
Once your site and social media presence are established, its a good time to think about your newsletter. If you only have time for a blog OR a newsletter, here’s a post by Jane Friedman weighing pros and cons of having only either. If you start a newsletter, you’ll need a reader magnet. A 10-20k short story, maybe the origin or background story of a central character or a subplot you had to edit out of your novel can work nicely for this.
Resources: Not sure what to say in your newsletter or where to promote it and how? I’ve blogged ideas in Author Newsletters: the Basics. See also Unpublished Author Newsletters by @LombardEmma. For newsletter providers and more information, see Jane Friedman’s Newsletters for Authors Getting Started Guide.
I suspect that’s more than enough information to get you started, and possibly enough to make your head spin, so I’ll end this blog here. Part 2 is packed with ideas and resources for your book launch and initial marketing plan, author profiles, formatting and uploading your book and tips right up to launch day.
I learnt A LOT of the above from conversations with and between the following indie authors:
Just in case your head isn’t exploding with information already, there are more resources on many of the above topics on my Writers Resources Page. I’ll also point you towards a Self Publishing pro, David Gaughram.
If your head is exploding, I suggest bookmarking this post so you can revisit a few of its steps at a time.
Whichever of the above steps you’re at –Good Luck!