How do I self-publish?
First of all, is your novel complete? I get a lot of e-mail from people who are just thinking about writing a book and would like some advice on how to get started. Honestly, this is the hardest part of writing a full-length novel. For me, it helped to let the idea percolate in my mind (in my case for about 4 months) before I even wrote the first word. Then I jotted down some notes and thought about the story some more. Finally, when I had a general idea of the beginning, middle, and end, I came up with a loose outline and started writing. I hear a lot of, “Oh my God, I could never outline. I can’t be limited that way. I must let my story emerge organically, without constraints.” That’s perfectly fine. If I tried to do that I’d find myself staring at a blank screen every day since I really need to have some idea of what I’m going to write about before I sit down and open my word document. But that’s just me. Part of writing a novel is figuring out the method that works best for you. Whatever you choose, don’t stop doing it until you type THE END.
If your novel is complete, is it revised, edited, and polished? Have you given it to your critique partner and your beta readers and received their feedback? And then revised again? All of these steps must be checked off your list before you’re even ready to begin the self-publishing process. A surprisingly high number of people write to me and say that they’re just thinking about writing a book and want me to tell them how to self-publish it. My answer is always, “Finish the book first, and don’t worry about anything else at this stage.”
The next step is research. I spent approximately two months reading everything I could find about self-publishing. I actually typed ‘self publishing’ into the Google search box and went from there. It may seem overwhelming, but breaking it down into smaller pieces really helps. www.kindleboards.com is a great place to learn valuable information and connect with other self-published authors. And all of the retailers you’ll be uploading to have really great FAQ’s which should answer a lot of your questions. If you’re going to self-publish, learning everything you can about it is also part of the process. When I first self-published, I spent a half hour per day scouring the Internet, reading blog posts from successful self-publishers, and exploring promotional opportunities. That’s not a lot. There’s a myth that self-publishing means you will constantly be marketing and promoting your book, but that’s not true. If you work smart, it should not take you endless hours per day.
Which company did you use to self-publish your book?
I didn’t use any company. I uploaded directly to Amazon (via Kindle Direct Publishing for the e-book and CreateSpace for my paperback), Barnes & Noble (via PubIt! – now re-named Nook Press), and Smashwords. On the Island was formatted according to the Smashwords guidelines and was accepted into the premium catalog. This meant that the e-book was also distributed via Sony, Apple, Kobo, and Diesel (you can upload directly to Apple and Kobo now, without going through Smashwords). I also released an audiobook via Audible’s ACX program.
You don’t need a company to self-publish, but you DO need retailers (I’ve just listed the ones I used above).
These are the places you will sell your book.
Cost to upload On the Island to these retailers:
I PAID NO ONE.
Please don’t ever think you need to pay someone to do for you what you are perfectly capable of doing yourself. Self-publishing is not easy, but the actual uploading process is pretty straightforward. There are lots of companies out there that will try to convince you that you need them to publish your book (for which you will pay a hefty fee or a percentage of your earnings). They’ll probably throw in a bunch of stuff about how they’ll market your book for you and do all kinds of things you should learn how to do for yourself anyway. Run, run far away from these companies.
That being said, while it’s true that uploading is free, editing, formatting, and a nice cover will cost some money. But there are plenty of talented freelancers who can do this for a flat fee so there is no reason to give an individual or company a percentage of your book earnings to do any of these things for you.
To recap: You are the publisher. Uploading to retailers costs nothing. Don’t give anyone a percentage of your book sales (no matter how much they try to convince you that you should).
Should I have my book edited?
Yes. I strongly encourage you to pay for outside editing. Because you’re the publisher, you are responsible for the same things that all publishers are responsible for: developmental editing and copyediting. I also believe in hiring a professional editor. You may have a friend, relative, or co-worker who thinks they are perfectly capable of editing your manuscript, but unless editing is their profession, they’re not qualified. And you really, really need a good editor. Someone who is an expert when it comes to grammar, spelling, and punctuation, not to mention the general rules of fiction writing. I’ve seen so many self-published authors skip this step but it catches up to them eventually when the low reviews start pouring in. This is a really bad thing and I don’t want it to happen to you. Take pride in your work and edit BEFORE you upload. Even a handful of reviews citing a lack of editing may be enough to turn potential readers off. One more thing: proofreading is not editing. We can all spot typos (they’re surprisingly easy to see in others’ books but somewhat more difficult to find in our own manuscripts). Proofread your own work carefully, but hire a copyeditor to catch everything you missed.
For developmental editing, I used Alison Dasho. A good developmental editor will do several things: check your manuscript for pacing, plot, characterization, prose, etc…If you’ve got tense changes or head-hopping or repetition that does nothing to move your story forward, they’ll tell you about it.
For copyediting, I used Anne Victory at Victory Editing.
Feel free to contact Anne or Alison for a quote. They are awesome. If they are booked there are many freelance editors out there (just make sure to do your due diligence so you know that they’re qualified).
Did you have your e-book formatted?Yes. I outsourced my e-book formatting to Guido Henkel. He’s amazing and affordable. He will format your e-book beautifully and give you a nice, clickable Table of Contents (which I feel strongly you should have). Tell him Tracey sent you (not because I get any kind of kickback, but just because I like him so much).
Should I apply for a copyright?
Yes. You can register your copyright at www.copyright.gov. It’s the best $35 you’ll ever spend.
Do I need an ISBN?
Yes. You can purchase them at www.bowker.com (you’ll need a separate ISBN for each retailer and another one for your print edition). However, Amazon and Barnes & Noble will use their own unique numbers, so using an ISBN on those sites is not necessary (I didn’t, and I still made the NYT bestseller list).
How do I create my book’s cover?
I used this site to choose my cover image. For On the Island, I bought a photo (it was an actual beach in the Maldives) and my awesomely fantastic friend Penne applied the text for me. You can do whatever you want, but you should spend some time on this step (and whatever your budget allows), because people really will judge your book by its cover. My cover image cost $360 because I bought the 300dpi size (which you will need if you’re going to release a paperback). Otherwise, you can buy the 72dpi size. Sarah Hansen of Okay Creations is a fantastic cover designer. You can find her here.
How did you market your book?
To get started, I used a combination of social media (Facebook, Twitter, and my blog) to do a book launch. What I did not do is send DM’s on Twitter asking people to read my book. Twitter is for making friends. If your profile information includes your book title, people will check it out if they want to which is preferable to you asking them to check it out. Ditto FB. It’s okay to make sure people know about your book by posting a link on your page, but let them take it from there. You should also set up an author page on FB.
After I launched the e-book I did a giveaway on Goodreads for four signed copies of the paperback. I also purchased paid sponsorships on Pixel of Ink and Kindle Nation Daily, both of which paid for themselves in increased sales.
I think there’s a misconception that following a specified formula will automatically equal a successful self-published book. On the Island was largely a word-of-mouth book. There is no promotion that will ever be more effective than a large number of readers talking about your book. If there’s any secret to a successful, self-published book, that’s it. It doesn’t mean that everyone will like your book – because it’s impossible to write a book that every single person will like – but if there are enough readers who connect with your novel, and they recommend it to other readers, you’ll probably do very well.
Should I query agents with my self-published book?
I would advise against this. If your self-published book sells well, agents may reach out to you directly. At the very least, you will need to have sold 50K+ copies on your own in order to garner any interest from an agent (and subsequently a publisher).
Should I enroll in KDP Select?
It depends. This is really a personal decision and I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answer. I did not enroll On the Island in KDP Select because I am a firm believer in making your book available through as many retailers as possible. If you enroll in KDP Select, you will only be able to sell your book on Amazon. After having the amazing Guido format my book for several different retailers, and uploading to them, the last thing I wanted to do was take the book down from those sites. I’m sure Nook owners wouldn’t like that. Or those who prefer Kobo or Apple or Sony or Diesel.
I am a BIG fan of Amazon KDP, but less a fan of Select. Also, the ability to make my book free for a certain number of days was actually a turnoff to me. I know that some authors have used KDP Select’s free days to their advantage, but I simply can’t fathom giving something I worked 18 months on away for free. But again, this is a personal choice and you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons. It sounds like Select has lost a bit of its oomph lately, so do your research and see what other self-published authors are saying about their results.
Will you read my book if I send you a copy?
I love reading, and I would love to read every book that is offered, but my TBR pile is in serious danger of toppling over. I also have manuscripts to beta read and/or write blurbs for, and those take precedence over everything else. I’m one of those authors who can’t read anything when they’re at a certain stage in the writing process, so my reading time is very limited right now.
Will you review my book for me?
I don’t write reviews anymore. Authors writing reviews for other authors has come under fire as a conflict of interest which is unfortunate because writers are often voracious readers and when I love a book I want to shout it from the rooftops (and leave reviews on Amazon, B&N, and Goodreads). However, in light of some recent changes to review policies I will no longer be writing reviews. But if I enjoy your book I will definitely recommend it on my personal Facebook page and also my author page.
Can I be your beta reader?
The beta reading stage is one of the most important stages on the way to a book’s publication. It’s also extremely stressful for the author (or at least it is for me). This is my baby, and showing it to someone for the first time can be quite nerve-wracking. Also, beta reading can be hard work and requires a fast turn-around. I have a trusted list of beta readers and do not have a need to add to the list at this time. Believe it or not, too many beta readers can actually be counter-productive.
I’m an aspiring writer and I’d love to connect with you in person to discuss my manuscript and/or the publishing industry. Could we meet for coffee, lunch, dinner, or wine?
I receive invitations like this frequently and while it’s always an honor to be asked, my writing schedule of 9-3 makes it difficult to break away during the day. My evenings are set aside for family time, and for shuttling my children wherever they need to be.
Can I send you my manuscript?
Unfortunately, there’s really nothing I can do with your manuscript. Sending it to me (especially unsolicited) will not get you any closer to your goal of publication because I’m not an agent or a publisher and therefore cannot help you. If you want to pursue a traditional publishing contract you’ll have to write a query letter and send it to agents. If you want to self-publish, you don’t need anyone’s help because you are the publisher. See my ‘Self-publishing FAQs’ above.
I have a really great story to tell, but I can’t write. Will you write my story or co-author it with me?
Unfortunately, I’m unable to write anyone else’s story. I take the ideas I can’t get out of my head and turn them into books, and I have enough ideas floating around in my brain to last me for a long time. But I encourage anyone who has a story to tell to give it a try themselves – they might be pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoy getting their story down on paper.
When will the On the Island movie be out? Do you have any say in the casting?
I don’t have any movie news to pass on at this time. MGM has optioned the rights for a feature film and screenwriters have been invited to pitch the studio. I’ve been cautioned that Hollywood moves quite slowly, but if/when there is any information to pass on I will definitely post it on my blog, FB, and Twitter. Unfortunately, I do not have any say in who is cast in the film (but I’m going to lobby hard for John Goodman to play seaplane pilot Mick because he would be super awesome).
Interview/guest post requests/book clubs/and personal appearances FAQ
Will you write a guest post for my blog or answer interview questions?
Due to manuscript deadlines, as of October 1st, 2013, I am unable to commit to new requests for Q&A’s and guest blog posts (this does not include requests I’ve already said yes to). However, if you are a member of the media you may contact my publicist, Amanda Walker.
Will you come to my book club meeting?
I have attended many book club meetings in the last year (and I’ve had an absolute blast!). But I am currently at capacity for book clubs and will not be able to commit to attending any additional meetings until spring. My publisher has also asked that I give precedence to book clubs whose meetings I have not already attended.
Charitable donations and giveaways FAQs
Can you provide a signed copy of your book(s)and/or swag for my blog anniversary, “likes” celebration, raffle, fundraiser, or other contest/giveaway?
I get these requests on a daily basis, and I am more than happy to help out. Please include the link to your review of my book(s) with your request.
Will you make a charitable donation to ………………………..?
I currently make regular donations to the following charities: The Humane Society, The Animal Rescue League of Iowa, and Hope Ministries (a homeless shelter in Des Moines).