I am not a fan of self-publishing. I have written about why I am not a fan before. But yesterday, a good friend of mine asked me for some advice on self-publishing and you can’t let a pal down. I am biased, of course, so if there’s anyone out there who has corrections or additions to what I said, please feel free to drop in a comment. Here is what I told my friend:
I am not a fan of self-publishing. That said, by definition, self-publishing is a do-it-yourself racket–thus the word SELF. There really aren’t “self-publishers” out there. There are, instead, “vanity” publishers and those are even worse in my opinion. There is a maxim in this business that says “money always flows from the publisher [or agent] to the writer, never the other way around.” But vanity publishers will charge you for publishing your book, which breaks that maxim and is a no-no.
For someone who really wants to self-publish, here are the steps I’d recommend (based on people who have done it successfully).
- Hire a professional freelance editor to edit the book. Poorly edited books are one of the biggest problems self-published books have. Editing is more than just checking spelling and grammar. It is knowing what to cut, what to expand, what to clarify, etc. Having the book professionally edited will go a long way to making it more readable and stand out.
- Create an e-book version of the edited manuscript. These days, this is pretty easy to do and most people with some basic computer experience can create e-books.
- Get an Amazon account and submit the e-book to Amazon so that it will be available there. Consider other e-book venues, like Apple’s iBooks.
- An e-book won’t sell itself. You need to promote your e-book. In the early stages, this promotion can be almost a full-time job. It means getting the word out about your book without annoying people. This can be subtle. If you don’t have the time to spend doing this promotion, hire a publicist to do it. This kind of promotion can be the difference between selling 5-10 copies/month and 1000 copies/month.
And I would avoid trying to produce a paper version of the book. These days, paper self-published books are non-starters and don’t come close to selling as well as e-books.
If you thinking, gee, that’s an awful lot to invest in a plan that may get the book to sell, well now you know what traditional publishing provides. If your book is good enough to be published traditionally, they do much of this for you; you don’t have to do it all yourself, you don’t have to pay for it, and on top of that, they give you an advance on the royalties.
The truth is, regardless of whether a book is self-published or published traditionally, there are three things that will determine how well (if at all) it will sell:
- Quality: is it a good book? Does it stand out above the others in its niche? The author has no opinion here (what author doesn’t think there book will be an instant best-seller), which is why hiring a professional editor is important.
- Does it fill a demand? Vampire novels sell because there is a market of people who want to read them. Self-help books sell because there are lots of people who believe that there is some secret to success. If the book is filling a demand, it has a much better chance of selling.
- Do people know about it? Can people find the book? Is it marketed well?
The four steps I outlined above are the bare minimum for self-publishing. It is a lot of work if you want the book to sell. If you don’t care about sales, but just want the book out there, it is a lot less work.
Anyone want to add or correct anything?