Considering self-publishing? Excellent!
It’s a rewarding experience, but be prepared to work hard!
A guest post by Dawn Curtis
The idea behind my immensely satisfying foray into self-publishing was hatched in a kind of casual way. Two summers ago, while attending Yoga as Muse TM for Authentic Writing facilitator training, one of my fellow trainees and I decided that we would publish an anthology of the group’s collective work. Landing a traditional publishing deal was never one of our goals. Though some of us have indeed been published in the usual way, our intention was to use this book to promote the Yoga as Muse TM methodology we used to create the work and would all soon be teaching.
As writers, coming up with the content was by far the easiest part of the process. And most of us are professional editors as well, so that part was also painless. However, like most writers, we also had little to no money to finance our venture. So when the free print deal we had lined up for the book fell through, I embarked on a steep learning curve into the full spectrum of options available today for authors who want to bring their own works to market.
And realized very quickly, that I knew absolutely nothing. Author was one thing. Author as “literary entrepreneur” was something else altogether. I do like a challenge, however.
The first thing I discovered was that all self-publishing is not created equal. In self-publishing, as in life, your motivation matters.
Vanity publishing vs. self-publishing
Before deciding to self-publish, begin by asking yourself this: Why do I want to self-publish?
If you just want to have a few printed copies of your book on hand to give family and friends as gifts, or perhaps sell to a few acquaintances, then what’s commonly known as “vanity” publishing might be a solution. Vanity publishers typically provide a complete package of publishing services (ranging from $600 – $5000) and sell your book on their website, taking a hefty percentage for the privilege. Most offer print on demand, and take care of distribution to major retailers.
Or are you, like me and my co-authors, looking for more control over the process, including keeping more of the dollars you earn from book sales? If so, you need to answer a second question: Do I have what it takes to be a publisher? That’s right. A publisher. When you choose to self-publish, you are effectively taking on the responsibility to perform all the tasks that a traditional publisher performs. Besides printing your book, real publishers make sure it is professionally edited, designed, promoted and distributed. Self-publishing shouldn’t be a short-cut designed to get around these elements. If you’re going to self-publish, you’re selling yourself short if you accept anything less than the same level of professionalism.
All this can be time consuming, and a steep learning curve for most of us writers or translators. We’d rather put our time and energy into our craft, and leave the nuances of graphic design, website creation and marketing to the experts.
But in the last few years, the publishing industry has been turned on its ear. Even if you’re lucky enough to land a traditional publishing deal, the power of social media dictates that you will be expected to market yourself. And many publishers are only interested in signing authors with a proven self-publishing track record, evidenced by the sales numbers for their books. During my research, a sales representative at Balboa Press (the vanity publishing arm of Hay House Publishing) told me that Hay House (a traditional publisher) routinely gets new titles to publish from the top-selling self-published books on Balboa Press, because the sales figures prove that the authors understand how to market themselves.
Going for it
Decided to take the plunge? Good for you! What are the elements you need to consider?
As publisher, bank rolling the whole shebang will be up to you. Everything listed below costs money. If you’re short on cash, consider exploring creative financing options, such as bartering for editing, design and website creation services. You may also be eligible for grants, depending on where you live and the work you are publishing.
You owe it to yourself to put out as professional a product as possible, so spend the time and money it takes to have your work professionally edited. This is perhaps the most important step. You may have the most interesting book in the world; however, if it hasn’t been properly edited and proofed, no one will want to read it to find out.
Most people do judge a book by its cover. Readers have more books than ever clamouring for their attention, and if they pass yours over at first glance, or worse, get turned off, you likely won’t get a second chance to capture their attention. Pay for a professional cover design. It’s worth it. And make sure that your cover art looks as appealing online as it does on the actual paper cover.
Printing and distribution
How do you want to publish your book? As an ebook? Paper version? After much research, I decided to do both, and recommend the following services:
Lightning Source – print on demand, distribution to major retailers. Charge you for cost to print books only, plus shipping. You can order as few or as many books as you want. Can also do larger, offset print runs. Mail directly to customers, or ship to you and you send them out.
CreateSpace – Full-service vanity publisher, but one of the most reasonably-priced; also handle distribution to major retailers.
Smashwords – eBook publisher; you keep 85% of sales from their site; also distribute to all major ebook retailers; unlike with Amazon and Kindle, you’re not locked in to one retailer only. You’ll need to format the eBook yourself, or have someone do it for you.
Change in the publishing industry, fuelled by the digital revolution, is in general a good thing. Self-publishing gives authors much more power, and enables us to make more money on a per-sale basis. However, you still need to sell your work.
Books on display in brick and mortar stores, along with book readings and a bit of media coverage used to be enough to get the word out. However, far more is expected of authors in today’s very competitive book market.
Along with the tried and true methods of book signing events, author appearances and readings, there are vast potential untapped readerships out there that won’t find out a thing about your work unless you discover how to reach them. Online marketing, via blogs and other social media, can be a great way to generate sales. At minimum, you will need a website for the book, a Facebook page, and an electronic press kit including a press release. But remember –these devices won’t sell books for you. It’s the relationship you create with readers that will pique their interest.
Author and innovative literary marketer Brad Listi, interviewed by John Warner in a post on Jane Friedman’s blog entitled How “Literary” and “Entrepreneur” Are Becoming Intertwined, explores the brave new world of being a writer in the 21st century. He has this sage advice:
“But then there’s still the issue of marketing and making actual sales. And as far as that goes, my view is that word-of-mouth trumps all. Same as it ever was. Nothing is more important when it comes to selling books. So first and foremost, you have to be really, really good. And then secondly, you have to be really, really lucky; you have to catch that magical cosmic wave that certain books and authors seem to catch as a function of timing and the mood of the collective subconscious. And thirdly, you have to be proactive and effective in letting people know about your work.”
There are some very good, free resources available to help you out. Particularly helpful is information from author Joanna Penn’s sample book marketing plan, available for free, that provides sound advice on book marketing techniques. For a timeline of when book launch activities should occur, take a look at some free tips offered by Saundra Mitchell.
And remember–above all, have fun! Even if you do decide to pursue a traditional publishing deal down the road, it helps to know the role of a publisher inside and out, and you will, once you’ve brought your own book to market.
The long, dark winters in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, where Dawn lives with her daughter, are perfect for delving into the creative realm. Dawn has a BA in French translation and is a certified yoga teacher in the Sivananda tradition. She provides editing services, writing mentorship, self-publishing consultation services and Yoga as MuseTM workshops to clients and participants in Canada and the United States.
Her most recent work, Stories We Keep: A Yoga as Muse Anthology, was published in December, 2011. To purchase a copy, or to find out more about Dawn and Yoga as Muse TM, contact Dawn through her website at www.dawncurtis.com.