Ever since I brought out my first novel, people have come up to me and said how much they’ve dreamed about writing, too. Most of them already have a clear idea of what they want to write. Some already have a finished manuscript. What they don’t have is an idea of how to go about self-publishing their book. This is what I tell them:
First, your manuscript should be as professional as you can make it. The biggest complaint about self-published books is that they’re riddled with spelling, grammar, and formatting errors, and that they read as though published by a novice (which they often are, but they don’t have to LOOK that way!). It’s worth the effort to get your book critiqued, edited and proof-read by a professional, or at least by someone who knows what they’re doing. No matter how extensive your own skills are at catching spelling and grammar errors, it’s extremely difficult to catch your own mistakes. You really need some outside editing assistance.
Publishing an e-book is the easier and less expensive than paperback. There are several well-respected e-publishers, but since my experience is strictly with Amazon Kindle, my information is based on that.
The technology is not difficult. I’m not very tech savvy, but I still was able to do a creditable job with the step-by-step instructions and some help from the Kindle community online. Amazon even offers a free Kindle book (which you can download either to your Kindle or to a free Kindle app for your PC), titled Building Your Book for Kindle, which covers most of the nuts and bolts. After having done the first book, I was able to format the second book within five minutes. Basically, you will be producing an .html document. I was able to go from my Microsoft 2007 word document, to the Word 1997-2003 which is most compatible to .html with one keystroke, and then to a Web Page, Filtered document in two keystrokes, which gives you a finished .html document that can be downloaded to the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing program. I filled in the other information online (author, whether or not I owned the rights, any additional people involved in the project, etc.,) and then came the fun part of choosing a cover photo.
A Kindle book does not have an actual cover, of course, but you need something that LOOKS like a cover for the Amazon website. I was able to select cover art from an online website (http://www.istockphoto.com) for $18, added the title and author name, and created a .jpg. The only, I repeat ONLY other cost was to purchase Digital Rights Management, for $35, which protects my book from being ripped off. That’s it. Amazon assigns an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) for free. I wrote my own product description for the website, and chose a price. Kindle books are typically inexpensive, but you can make 70% royalties if you price it at $2.99 or over. Below $2.99, you make a 35% royalty. Amazon figures your royalties monthly, and deposits them in your chosen bank account about 2 months later. Reports are updated daily.
Print-on-Demand Paperback Books
For a print-on-demand paperback book, I also chose Amazon, through their CreateSpace print-on-demand publishing arm. The technology is slightly different. You will format your book a bit differently, basing it on the actual page size and font, including page numbers, headers, footers, whatever you want. (I used a favorite paperback novel as my guide.) Otherwise, once you have the formatting done, you save it as a .pdf which I can do in one keystroke on my Microsoft 2007 Word program. You might choose to have back cover art as well as front cover, and you can design your own layout or use one of the free templates they offer. My first book was completely self-designed, and the additional art cost $15, while I used an author photo I took myself. You can add text to the back cover with a synopsis of the book and/or reviews.
One significant difference in expense for a print-on-demand book is the ISBN number (International Standard Book Number). This is required for any book that is going to be offered for sale. (If you’re doing a book strictly for give-away, for example, to family members, then you don’t need one.) A single ISBN costs $125, but if you think you’re going to publish more than one book, then you can buy ten ISBNs for $250, which is what I did, since I expect to publish 5-6 books, eventually. You CAN get a free ISBN from Amazon, but in that case, THEY own the rights to the book, and I prefer to continue to hold the rights. So, the basic cost for a print-on-demand book is $164 plus cover art, which came to $33 for me. You will also probably want to pay $12.95 for a preview copy of the book, to make sure it looks the way you want, and make any necessary changes if it doesn’t. I discovered the first time that I had set my outside margins too small, so I had the opportunity to go back and adjust them before the book went out to purchasers.
Once your book is “live”, whether for Kindle or paperback, it will go on the Amazon website within about 2 days. If you ever need to revise it, you can do so easily, by just changing the download, and it will be “live” again in about 2 days. If you ever decide to UNpublish it, (for example, a publisher offers you a ton o’ money to let them buy it), you can completely withdraw it with 48 hours’ notice.
The new realities of print-on-demand means that customers can order one or one hundred copies and get them delivered in about three days. That means you don’t have to order 5,000 at once in order to bring the price into a reasonable area. You won’t be selling them out the back of your station wagon for years to come. I like to have copies on hand, and order about 20 copies at a time, and they’ve been very well-done, clean copies, with no problems. I’ve heard of a few people having received damaged or faulty books, but Amazon appears to be very good about replacing these without hassles.
Royalties are handled differently with P.O.D. There are printing costs, which are related to the size and number of pages of the book. If the book gets sold through Amazon, they get a cut, and if the book gets sold through another place, such as Barnes & Noble, they get a cut too, so you have to set the price to where it will at least not COST you money to sell it. You can buy the book yourself directly from Amazon for a good reduced cost, just above the printing cost, if you expect to sell the books yourself directly to customers. What you can NOT do, is advertise the books for a lower price than Amazon sells them for. So, what I do is advertise them at the same price on my website, but offer free shipping. Also, when I sell them face-to-face (especially to book clubs), I price them lower, which I can do since it’s not advertised.
Self-Promotion & Marketing
Finally, self-promotion. The biggest concern for people when they are considering self-publishing is how they’re going to promote the books. For one thing, Amazon’s own website and marketing helps. You can tag your books so that they show up when someone is doing a search on the topic area, and you can categorize your books for the same reason. If someone buys your book and anything else, when that other item comes up on someone’s screen, your book will also come up under the heading “People who bought THIS also bought THAT.” Also, about six weeks after your book shows up on the Amazon website, it will begin showing up on Barnes & Nobles’ website, and other mass markets.
Otherwise, you’re pretty much on your own. You have to consider your target audience and get creative. Non-fiction is easier to market than fiction. Genre fiction is easier to market than general fiction. Dem’s da berries. I use a multi-pronged approach. I have my own website to promote my book. I use social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. I am developing a number of speeches to use for groups like Toastmasters, Rotary, Womens’s groups, etc.. I have promoted my books to book clubs and most of the clubs who’ve read one book come back to read the second novel as well. I’ve been invited to speak with local clubs when they are ready to review the book. I’ve donated copies to the local libraries, who’ve then invited me to speak to their book clubs or Friends of the Library groups. Please note, these speaking engagements, other than the book clubs, are not just about my book, but on various wider topics. It can’t always be a sales pitch. Word of mouth is an important element, as well, and it’s something over which you’ll have almost no control. I’ve printed up postcards with my book cover on the front, and a blurb and ordering information on the back, and I scatter these around like the autumn leaves. Probably most of them don’t accomplish anything, but I know for a fact that one led directly to one of the book clubs, and an order of ten books. My second novel, The Pleasure of Your Company, features main characters that are Baby Boomers, and so I’m working on connecting with that market. Plus, if people like one of my books, they may consider ordering the other, so publishing more than one book is a bonus.
Will I sell thousands and thousands? Probably not. I’ve already sold hundreds, though, and I’ve had a great time doing it. I’ve also been approached by a small independent publisher about possibly signing with her, although I’m not convinced yet that she can do anything I can’t do myself. But this may be a way, if I’m reasonably successful, to get into the back door of traditional publisher. IF that’s what I decide I want. I’m no longer convinced of that. I have to admit, I really enjoy having all the control over this endeavor. I can decide how hard I want to work at it, when I want to work at it, I can control my publication dates, etc. At my age, being able to call the shots is a big bonus! One thing I can promise you. If you decide to go ahead with self-publishing, you will find a lot of adventure along the way. Bon Voyage!