If you’ve known only rejection by every publisher and agent under the sun, and you’re wondering what to do next with that book you wrote. That story you poured your sweat, your blood and tears over. That kept you up day and night, away from friends and family gatherings. That plot hole that had you downing Pepto-Bismol like it was the antidote. That made you gain or lose 20 pounds, depending on your constitution. Had you staring at a bright, white screen or a dull white page for hours on end, forcing your mind to produce a smidge of an idea, and have it swim by that gelatinous goo that had become your brain. Then you most definitely do not want to toss all that hard work away, right?
So, here you are, thinking the hard part is over. You finished your book. To self-publish will be child’s play compared to the self-torture that is writing a book.
Ha! Think again, sunshine! There is a reason, and a good one, that several players enter the arena when publishing a book. There’s your editor, copy editor, blurb writer, book designer, photographer, marketing expert, and probably a few others I’m forgetting. When you self-publish, guess who gets to do all of that work? That’s right! You! Tiny, insignificant you against the Titans in the business to try and get your book noticed.
You might think, well, easy; I’ll hire all of those people. Unless money is not an issue, all of those beautiful people cost a pretty penny. So what to do? Well, not that I’m an expert or anything, but in the interest of full disclosure, here’s how I went about it if ever you’re interested.
Editing is a long and painstakingly annoying task. Now, some of you might try to edit as you go along writing your book. Don’t. Do it when finished. When the creative juices are flowing, do not slow them down by editing. This is probably what’s going to take most of your time. My advice? If you can afford an editor, hire one. Or at least find a beta reader. I did neither. I edited my book alone. It took months. Months.
I don’t know how many times I reread my manuscript on my laptop, but you would think I would have spotted all the typographical errors present in my writing. Boy, did I have a surprise when I bought my first copy of my paperback book after it was published! Yeah. The book was out with all those embarrassing mistakes that I only noticed once my copy arrived at my house. I can only thank my lucky stars for not advertising early in the sea of books that Amazon publishes for anyone to notice. So my advice? Print your manuscript! Yeah. Sounds crazy, right? But believe me, it’s much easier to spot mistakes on paper.
The design of your book should reflect the story it carries. It needs to catch the reader’s eye. It needs to tell information about the mood and style of your book. It needs to stand out on a bookshelf because you’re competing against professionally manicured books.
In my case, my book is a thriller that tells the story of a home invasion that happens one Halloween night. I had a clear vision for my book cover. And so, I naively thought I could pay for at least the book cover design. Guess what? I couldn’t afford it. So to the stock images, I went. There are several websites out there selling stock images. Heck, I sell stock images! So I selected a picture of a house at night with all the lights inside turned on. If you read my book, you’ll understand why I chose that picture—wink, wink, nudge, nudge. See what I did there? No? Sigh. Nevermind. Where were we? Ah! Yes. The cover picture. The image I selected gives you the impression that someone is spying on the house from the outside. It’s a good image for my book. Not exactly what I wanted, but it will do.
For reference, here are some stock images sites where I might or might not sell images myself.
Can Stock Photo
So once you have your picture selected, what now? Well, depending on where you’re publishing your book, you can either use the website’s templates for the book cover or create your own. However, there is always a risk the picture you selected will not be compatible with the book cover design you want. That’s what happened to me with Amazon Kindle. The stock image I picked didn’t fit properly with the book design I wanted. Therefore, I had to either change the image or change the book design. I settled for the book design. And it turned out pretty good. True, the title does not appear on the front cover, but it makes it more interesting. Besides, on a bookshelf, you only see the spines of books.
Curiously enough, Barnes & Noble also has templates, and I couldn’t transfer Amazon’s one onto their platform. I had to create one using their models, and this time, I was able to put the title on the book cover. And yes, I used the same stock image. That paperback edition is still in review, and once it’s published, I’ll let you know. The only slight downside was that I had to assign it a new ISBN. No big deal.
The book design also includes the back cover, usually containing a brief author bio and book blurb. Both those items need to attract the interest of a potential reader. I am of the position that your author bio needs to include something whimsical or funny about yourself. You want your readers to be able to relate to you. As for your blurb, it needs to contain enough of your story so people would like to read it but not so much that you give anything away and still add a little mystery to the mix. It’s a delicate dance, and not all writers are good at it. I don’t think I am. But for my first time writing a book blurb, I think I did okay.
Another fun aspect of self-publishing is that different self-publishing platforms accept different formats of your manuscript. Swell, huh? Some take Word documents, others only PDF. Some insist you convert your file into an epub before submitting it. You need to make sure you have your manuscript under at least those three formats before you start hunting for a place to sell your book. It’s a lot of tedious and technical work, but you need to do it if you want your novel to appear on several book websites. And trust me, you do. The more exposure your book gets, the better. Remember the Titans? Yeah, there’s hefty competition out there.
Your Author Picture
Your photo will appear on your book’s back cover for all to see and judge unless you’re publishing under a pseudonym. Again, this is an area if you can afford the expense, hire a professional photographer. You want a clean, neat picture that says: “Why, yes, I write interesting stories, and you should read them.” Since I’m somewhat an amateur photographer, I took my picture with my old Sony camera. I added a black and white filter to give it a little panache, sophistication, augustness. Either way, I’m proud of that picture that I took against the brick wall of my parent’s balcony right next to their garbage can. Fancy, huh?
And we have come to the whale of self-publishing. The mighty beast you need to tackle and defeat to get you and your book noticed out there in the raging sea that is the world of published books. Now pay attention because this is the most critical advice I can give you about self-publishing your book. Do not go into self-publishing if you do not have a budget established for marketing because you will get crushed by the competition with deep pockets. Announcing on your social media accounts that you published a book will get you nowhere unless you have an insane following. It’s time to swim in the big pond with the big fish and market your book where the Titans do. And to do that, you will need to lay down the cash.
Where to market? Amazon Kindle has an ad campaign for authors. Barnes & Noble has partnered with BookTrib. There, you can get your book reviewed and have it appear on their social media, where they have thousands upon thousands of followers. Kobo has partnered with BookLife, where you can have your book reviewed by a Publisher’s Weekly professional reviewer. Goodreads has book giveaways that put your book front and center to their followers. The options are endless. What you need to determine is how much you’re willing to spend on them. Who knows? You might end up with a bestseller.
To conclude, read as much as you can about self-publishing. See what worked and what didn’t work for other authors before you head out there. But most importantly, have faith in your novel and your ability as a writer. And have faith that an audience does exist for your story. If not, well, the good news is you’re a writer, and you can always write a better story.
Oh, and if you do all of this, remember, there are no guarantees that you will be a successful self-published author. There is an element of chance that enters the equation as well. I mean, I’m not. So far, I’ve only sold 13 books and five of those I bought.
Good luck out there!