Last week, we looked at why you might self-publish your book. The reasons are as individual as you are. We also talked about how much work DIY publishing is. This week, we’ll dig into what that work entails. All of this information came from Steve Almond’s informative workshop Viva the DIY Revolution! at Writers’ Day, put on by the New Hampshire Writers’ Project.
Before You Write the Book
That’s right, there are steps to self-publishing (traditional publishing, too) before you even sit down to write your book. In traditional publishing, if you’re writing nonfiction, you’re going to put a pitch together for an agent or a publisher. The purpose of this is to ensure that there’s an audience for your book and that you are writing for them. Once your book is contracted and you have a direction, you begin the writing process.
With fiction, you generally have a manuscript already when you approach agents and publishers, but you still may go through many revisions to streamline your story for a specific audience. An agent may suggest rewrites that turn your chick lit book into a YA novel because she has a publisher who would buy your story as a YA novel, for example.
If you’re going to publish your book yourself, however, you don’t have an agent or publisher guiding your writing to a predetermined audience. So before you write a word, decide who your audience is. Be as specific as you can. If you aim to write a diet book, who will read your advice: Women? Men? Twentysomethings? Fiftysomethings? How about fiftysomething women who have tried all the diet advice there is and just want to lose the last few pounds and be happy with their bodies?
Once you know who your audience is—and before you start writing—go find them. Get to know your audience and become a respected voice in their community. I don’t mean you should go out there as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. If you’re going to write for this audience, get to know who they are and interact with them. Tell them you’re writing a book about your shared topic, if you want. More important, demonstrate that you know your topic.
Check out online and offline groups and organizations that focus on your topic. If you’re writing a book about Alzheimer’s, as Lisa Genova did, then getting involved in the Alzheimer’s Association is a great way to build an audience who will be interested in your book. Write a blog and get it noticed. Speak on your topic at relevant events.
Your self-published book will sell mostly by word of mouth. There’s no well-oiled marketing machine prepping the market until you create it. It takes time to create that marketing machine and to build an audience. When you book is finished, do you really want to spend months, even years, building that audience or do you want people eagerly awaiting its arrival? This built-in audience is just your starting point. You need to have sold them on your book already when you publish. They’ll start evangelizing for you and help you sell your book. (More on that later in the series.)
I Wrote a Book. Now What?
There are two main approaches to self-publishing your book: you can buy a package of services from a print-on-demand (POD) publisher or you can act as your own publisher, hiring the vendors yourself. We’ll look at the first approach today.
If you opt to contract with a POD publisher, remember that you get what you pay for. This is your book that you’re investing in. Find out exactly what you’re paying for. Does the publisher offer editing services, such as copyediting? An editorial or editorial quality review is not editing. This review only says that you’ve got a basic form of a book. It doesn’t help you organize your book. It doesn’t ensure that your grammar, usage, and spelling are sound. It doesn’t apply a consistent style. It doesn’t check your facts. It doesn’t even look for typos.
Don’t get me wrong: an editorial review is useful. But you also want your book to be edited. Everyone makes mistakes in writing, from a simple typo to larger problems of timelines and organization. You don’t want your readers to find that your main character is a blue-eyed blonde on page 6 and a brown-eyed brunette on page 106. Or that you advise eating 10 oz. of vegetables a day in chapter 4 but 12 oz. of vegetables a day in chapter 16. If your publisher doesn’t offer editing services, you’ll need to hire (or barter for) these services.
Other questions to consider:
- What kind of design services does the POD publisher offer? Will you have to find someone to design your book cover or is that included in your package?
- Do you have to buy a base number of books upfront? How many books are you comfortable trying to sell on your own over time?
- Will the publisher get you listed on Amazon? Sell your book from its website?
- How long will the publisher hold on to your files and reprint the book for a lower fee?
Do your homework. Know what you need, what the publisher offers, and what you need to do for yourself. This is where you put on your accountant’s hat and determine the true cost of publishing your book. If you’re looking for a lot of services and are willing to pay for them, this might be the way to go. Here are a few reputable POD publishers, but don’t be afraid to Google others, especially those who might specialize in your topic: