Self-publishing a book is hugely exciting and a great achievement. While much of it is straightforward, it can be a scary prospect particularly if you are investing in printed copies in significant numbers. Having just self-published my second book aimed at a farming readership, I found that I am still learning and yes, it is easy to make mistakes. Here’s my list of things you should do and things you should either avoid or consider very carefully.
What You Should Do When Self-Publishing A Book
1. Get a good editor. You cannot edit your own book and neither can your friends or family, even if they happen to have a degree in English Literature. I can honestly say I don’t think I would have finished my second book without my editor. Not only was the book edited well, but Sally also formatted my book for printing and gave me valuable feedback (which increased my confidence in it as a good product).
2. Get your cover professionally designed so it looks like a traditionally published book. I was being interviewed on national radio when the interviewer turned over to the back cover to see who the publisher was and it was only when he didn’t recognise the name that he realised it was self-published.
3. Ensure your book is as good as it possibly can be but don’t procrastinate over publishing. I know if I didn’t have a deadline set in stone, I would still be procrastinating over something or other. Indeed, if you can set a deadline in stone (like launching your book at a large event), it really focuses your mind. Ensure that everyone (editor, illustrator, cover designer, formatter) working on the book is sticking to the deadlines too or it can be very stressful.
4. Don’t leave some things till the last minute if they can be completed in advance. It can take two weeks to get your ISBN numbers for example so get them in plenty of time. Nielsen have changed their registration process since I self-published my first book which meant I had to register again. I had the ISBN number from the previous time but it looked like it was going to take up to two weeks for my book title to be registered to the ISBN. Luckily it was done and dusted within five days but this stress could have been avoided if I’d looked into it earlier.
5. Decide in advance where you are going to sell your book. Some will decide to just sell as an ebook. Others will decide to print (either print in advance or print on demand) and as an ebook. Depending on the genre of your book and the reading habits of your target market, it can be a good idea to print a number of books. If you’re worried about unsold printed copies gathering dust in your attic, then order a single box at a time from Ingram Sparks or Create Space (print on demand). Some people like to have a printed copy and it means you can make an immediate sale if anyone asks you for a copy of your book. Always carry a box of books in the boot of your car too!
If selling to wholesalers, do work out your break even price as the wholesalers will ask for a margin of 55% and you don’t want to be selling them at a loss! If you can sell into smaller shops, for example, local bookshops or gift shops, the margin is more likely to be 35% and of course, it’s a good idea to sell from your own website too. I’m doing all three and time will tell which sells the most copies and which method is the most profitable.
6. Build your readership by using social media. A blog has many advantages, three of which include being able to test your ideas on your market, building a readership and using the blog to promote the book. I’ve met many authors sceptical of the value of Facebook, Twitter and Facebook and while I wholeheartedly agree that ‘buy my book’ type messages will not work, these platforms allow you to have conversations with target readers, to write about your subject area as appropriate and yes, readers will use them to give you feedback on your book too.
7. Put yourself (and your book) out there. Now that you’re an author, you’re also a business person. You have a product to sell so you need to get out of the writing cave for a while and turn into a savvy marketing and sales person. I know that sounds scary but you can prepare by listening to various radio stations (and contacting your local stations) and stocking up on weekend newspapers, relevant magazines and newspaper supplements and seeing where your book and your story fit in. If you are a stay-at-home mum and the theme of your book includes home-schooling or something to do with education, trying to get a featured article on that topic in a newspaper supplement or parenting magazine in early September could work. Therefore, bringing out that book in mid August should work well. The press release announcing your new book might work but if it doesn’t, then I would suggest writing a piece that provides your target market with advice.
8. If you are taking a stand at an event, remember you are going to be competing with the other stands for people’s attention and money. If it’s a busy show, shoppers almost become dazed and blind looking at so many stands so you need something to grab their attention. Some authors will use flyers or bookmarks. I have used stickers for a number of reasons: You’re more likely to get a yes when you ask someone if they want a sticker than asking if they want to buy your book. Once they have stopped to chat, the conversation can move to your book. Once they are wearing the stickers, they are promoting your book as they walk around the show.
9. Write a second book .. and a third. Yes, I’ve discovered that my second book has increased sales of my first with many people buying both in recent weeks.
10. Only publish a book you are very proud of. It’s much easier to talk about and promote a book that you believe is the very best it can possibly be. I was having doubts about my book in June, it just wasn’t quite panning out as I had planned. Maybe it was the encroaching deadline of September or it was the break of having a weekend away but in early July, I suddenly decided to change the angle and structure of my book totally. It made for a busy summer with a total rewrite but I knew the book would be so much better.
11. If you are deciding to use book promotional services such as BookBub or KDP on Amazon, do ask other authors for advice on how to make the most of it. Join author groups on Facebook or LinkedIn and learn from others.
What You Should NOT Do When Self-Publishing A Book
1. Many people will format their own books for Kindle and Smashwords and if your book is fictional with a straightforward layout, you may be able to do it yourself. However, there are some things that are just not worth pulling your hair out over and for me, formatting my non-fiction book with its many headings and bullet points was one of them. My editor formatted my book for the paperback and I used Polgarus Studio for formatting for the ebook. Having a book you are proud of means it is much easier to tell people about it and yes, encourage people to buy it.
2. Don’t use social media to send out ‘buy my book’ messages – be conversational and share links to material of interest to your target market. Aim to be seen as an expert in your field, this is particularly important if writing non-fiction.
3. Don’t forget to thank people – that includes your readers for buying your book and journalists for featuring or interviewing you.
4. Don’t pay for advertising unless you have tried to get free publicity absolutely everywhere. Sometimes a paper or magazine may do a feature if you take out an advertisement. The value in this depends on the cost of the advertisement, and the relevance of the readership.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask. The worst anyone can do is say ‘no’. This includes shop owners, wholesalers, journalists, magazine editors. Be ready to explain why your book will sell well. If you’re prepared to let a shop stock it on a ‘sale or return’ basis, most will say yes. Don’t be afraid to ask readers to review your book too – they won’t mind as long as you don’t annoy them about it. See if your local library might include you in an event too. I’ve been invited to my local library’s ‘Book Lover’ event for the last two years to deliver a short talk and sell my book. As the other authors were Donal Ryan and Sheila O’Flanagan, it was an honour to be asked plus there was a good crowd there on both evenings.
6. Don’t forget that marketing your book is as much work as writing it so give yourself time to do your book justice. Then you need to start writing the next one!
Do you have any other recommendations to make to other authors self-publishing their books? I’d love to hear.
I am a huge fan of blogging for authors, partly because my first book was inspired by the popularity of one of my blog posts but I’ve also found it to be extremely useful as journalists have featured me as a result of reading my blog, it’s increased my readership and grown my fanbase too. If you are blogging and would like to improve your existing blog in various ways, our next eLearning course focuses on blogging and starts on 2nd November.