If you want to get your book into the hands of readers quickly, self-publishing could be the way to go. There is no need to go searching for a literary agent and there is no risk of your manuscript ending up on a publisher’s slush pile. If you think self-publishing is for you, here are some tips on how to do it.
Obviously your biggest task is writing your book. But, because you won’t have the resources of a big publishing house behind you, you’ll have to write more than just your manuscript. This additional material may include:
- a dedication
- information about the author
- promotional pages (including links to your web page and social media, as well as other books you have published)
Write your promotional material well ahead of publication, so that you can use it in your pre-release marketing. Two essentials are a synopsis and a tagline. A synopsis is a brief summary of your book. You will need a few of versions of this. One version will be for book reviewers, bloggers and bookshop owners. A 250 word summary is a good size to aim for. You will also need to write a description of your book for online retailers. This is basically a synopsis of your book without the ending. When writing this version you need to think about how much of the story you want to give away and what will entice readers to buy your book. If you bring out a print version of your book you will also need to write a promotional blurb for the back cover. It will be similar to the description you write for online retailers, but may need to be shorter. Most blurbs are no longer than 150 words.
A tagline is a memorable catch phrase that will give readers a feel for your book and hopefully make them want to read it. The tagline of The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, is ‘There are worlds waiting. All it takes is one small step …’. This evokes a spirit of adventure and curiosity, perfect for this science fiction novel where humanity discovers thousands of parallel Earths to explore. Contrast this to Matthew Reilly’s fast paced, action-packed and explosive novella, Hell Island, which has the chilling, but also slightly overblown, tagline ‘Welcome to Hell on Earth’. You know it is going to be a thriller, and won’t be surprised when the protagonist comes face-to-face with an army of genetically engineered apes. Another example is Ben Aaronovitch’s Broken Homes, which has the tagline ‘Stuff gets serious South of the River …’. The lighthearted use of the word ‘stuff’ reflects the humour infused in this fantasy thriller, which is a mixture of magic and police procedural.
Check out the blurbs and taglines of books in your genre, to get a feel for the way they are written and the language they use.
Are you ready to self-publish now? Not yet. Any manuscript that is published by a publishing house goes through a three-stage editing process: a structural edit, a copy edit and proofreading. Often that means three sets of eyes have checked every word before a book is released. You need to reproduce this process as best you can. Unfortunately, you can’t do it all yourself. It is too easy to overlook mistakes when you try to edit your own work. No matter how many times you go through your manuscript, some errors are going to slip through. Obviously, you need to do as much tidying-up of the manuscript as you possibly can, but you also need to get some other people to look at it. Try and choose people who are going to be honest and objective. And don’t forget to get a fresh pair of eyes to proofread your blurb and tagline.
Most people associate self-publishing with ebooks, but it is possible to get your manuscript into print without having to store a pile of books in your living room. This is accomplished by using print on demand. Print on demand allows your book to be printed and shipped by request, saving you large upfront costs and the need to store a supply of books. It is easy to do through distributers such as Amazon’s KDP Print, IngramSpark and Lulu. If you are thinking of self-publishing, a combination of ebook and print on demand is a good way to go.
Formatting is one of the more time-consuming tasks when self-publishing. This is especially true if you are not familiar with the software. Some ebook distributors, such as Smashwords, will allow you to upload your manuscript in Word. Other distributors will require you to use a different file format. The most common are:
- MOBI format (for Kindle ebooks)
- EPUB format (for most other ebook stores)
- PDF (for print-on-demand)
If you are familiar with Adobe InDesign software, you can use it to format your manuscript. If not, Pressbooks is a simple, intuitive book production program that allows you to import a manuscript, choose a book design theme, and export the finished product into a suitable file format for publishing your book.
Ebooks allow you to include links to your website, social media, and other ebooks you have published, so don’t forget to include them.
Despite the maxim ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, people literally do. This means your cover design is really important. A good cover design will help to sell your book. A poor cover will be a real turn-off and prevent potential readers from clicking to sample or purchase your book.
Unless you have design skills you will need to get professional help. A good place to start is to find some covers you really like, preferably in your genre, and see who designed them.
When you are creating or choosing the cover design, remember it is going to be reproduced in various sizes. A bold, simple design will stand out clearly when viewed on a smartphone. Be especially careful to ensure your title can be read in a thumbnail image, as this is what people will see when they are browsing for books online.
One of the benefits of self-publishing is that you can change your cover design at any time. You might choose to do this if you find your original design is not working, or if you feel the design has become dated and needs a more contemporary look.
The biggest retailer of self-published books is Amazon. Other significant players include Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. If you choose to distribute your book through Amazon, you can choose to do so exclusively, using their KDP Select program, or through a range of other retailers as well. With Amazon, you can upload your book directly to their site. For some other retailers you will need to go through an intermediary distributor, such as Smashwords.
Marketing separates the sheep from the goats. Writers who are fascinated by it will most likely thrive as self-publishers. If you are not interested in the world of marketing, you should stop reading now and find yourself an agent. Successful marketing as a self-publisher requires time, energy and determination. It is a lot easier if you love it.
Before you release your book, block out several months on your calendar to devote to marketing. During this time you can set up pre-order arrangements through your distributors. Have the following items ready:
- book (this may sound silly, but it should be finalised)
- book cover
- synopsis and blurb
- metadata (ISBN, title, author name, year of publication, price)
An ISBN is not essential for an ebook, but it does help to identify it online. If you decide to go to print, your ebook and print book will need separate ISBNs. You can get your ISBN through Thorpe-Bowker.
Ebook pricing varies between genres and over time. You will need to do some research to find out what pricepoint (standard retail price) is working for your genre at the time of publication, and then keep an eye on fluctuations. The price of your print book will need to cover manufacturing and distribution costs, as well as a margin for your royalty.
Successful self-publishing comes from building a relationship with your readers. If you have a website, and people are looking at it, you need to do something to build your email list. This way you can keep in contact with your readers and let them know when you are releasing a new book. Popular email marketing applications include:
These applications will allow you to build your mailing list, send emails to your list, send out ebooks, and perform various other marketing functions.
A social media presence is also essential, but be realistic about what you can manage. It is better to have one social media platform and do it well, than try to spread yourself across several platforms and not do a very good job on any of them.
Reviews are a great way to create interest in your book, this is especially true with self-publishing. Contact as many book reviewers as possible. You can find lists of book review blogs on the internet. Send each reviewer your synopsis, cover design and an offer for them to review your book. Even if only a couple of reviewers take up the offer, it will be worthwhile.
Another way to promote your book is with a blog tour. This simply means contacting different bloggers and arranging to submit some content about the release of your book, or some other related topic. Once again, be prepared ahead of time and have material ready to go. Each blog on your ‘tour’ is likely to have different requirements in terms of the content they will post. Some blogs may accept a written post from you; others might request a different format such as a live chat, a Q&A session or a podcast. After your content is posted you will have the opportunity to engage with the audience by answering questions and responding to comments.
If you have written several books in a series, it is often worthwhile offering the first book for free – or at a heavily discounted price – with the expectation that at least some of the people who read it will pay for the rest of the series. You cannot make a book perma free (permanently free) on Amazon directly, but you can offer it for free in other ebook stores. If you get a few people to notify Amazon that your book is available for free elsewhere, they will match the price.
All these marketing efforts will work better if you support them with regular posts on social media, and some well targeted Facebook advertising (if you have the budget for it).
The secret to marketing is to closely monitor what’s working and what isn’t, and to only spend money on what has proven to be successful.
Self-publishing is not for every writer. It requires learning new skills and spending a lot of time away from your writing. Fortunately there are a lot of tools to help you. If you decide self-publishing is right for you, enjoy the process and the opportunity to get close to your readers.