Getting books from the desk of writers to the hands of readers has always been a three step process:
- Creating the book: editing, laying out the interior, designing the cover, and printing
- Distributing, Promoting and Marketing
Traditionally, writers have been involved in only one of those phases. Creating the book, distribution, promotion and marketing were responsibilities turned over to the traditional publisher. Beyond finding an agent and signing a contract with the publisher, the author didn’t have to worry about the business aspects of the book trade.
Self-publishing changes that. A self-publishing author is an independent publisher who is responsible for all three stages of the process. A successful indie author must become a project manager who understands each step of the process and makes sure that the requirements of each are carried out well. Let’s look at what that means.
Anyone can self-publish a book. One of the reasons for the stigma associated with self-published books is that not all of them ready for publication. The indie author’s first responsibility is to write a good book. The fact that self-publishing has lowered the barriers to entry for people who want to write a book can be problematic.
Agents and acquisitions editors were, for better or worse, responsible for “quality control” in the traditional publishing universe. They decided which books were worthy of publication and when they were ready to go to print. A self-publishing author must assume the responsibility for quality control.
She must begin by mastering the author’s craft. That means practicing and recognizing that recognizing that the first draft isn’t necessarily ready for the best-seller list. As Kristine Rusch said in an excellent article in her Rusch Business Blog, Writing Like It’s 2009 : “Why in the world would you expect to succeed on an international stage the very first time you try to write a novel?” You need to write a lot to develop the skill to produce a quality book.
Even then, don’t try to go it alone. Get help from others. Your book, no matter how well written, will require both content editing and copy editing. Best-selling author Guy Kawasaki, in his book APE: How to Publish a Book observes, “There are four methods to obtain both kinds of editing: enlisting friends, family, and coworkers; tapping niche communities; crowdsourcing; and hiring professionals. I do all four for every book! You can never get too much editing and feedback.”
Creating the Book
Mark Coker of Smashwords explains in his 2013 Book Industry Predictions ,”...Writers want to publish books that reach readers, but to reach readers they must produce books that are as good or better than what the big NY publishers are putting out.” This means new responsibilities for authors. Says Coker, “…writers must carry the publishing burdens once borne by traditional publishers, such as the cost of editing, proofing, book production, packaging, and distribution…”
Many self-publishing authors try to do all of these things themselves. But, what are the chances that an indie author will also be skilled at book layout and cover design and experienced in contracting with printers?
You could learn to do these things, but as Kristine Rusch asks, “Would I Be Better Off Writing? I don’t know about you, but my answer to that one is always yes. Which means, in one form or another, I need to hire out things like book and cover design, uploading, and marketing.”
There are lots of companies out there, Author Solutions being the largest and best known, which will offer to do all of these things for you in a nice neat package. The package comes with a nice neat price tag too. Think twice before signing with one of these firms.
Mark Coker advises, “Pinch your pennies… When you hire professionals (cover artist, editor, proofreader, marketing pro), hire the professional directly, so your money goes straight to them, and not to some author services firm who will farm the job out to someone then mark up the fee several-fold.”
In choosing professionals to work on your book check them out carefully as you would a physician, an attorney or contractor. Don’t forget to make sure that the person you are comfortable with so that your collaboration goes smoothly.
Distributing, Promoting and Marketing
A lot of would-be indie authors say, “I don’t want to market.” They continue to seek traditional publication where they think they will be off the hook. The fact is that even with traditional publishers authors are expected to take on increasing responsibility for marketing their books. No book will be successful without good marketing.
There is no substitute for learning how to market your book. Creating an author platform whether online, offline or preferably both is essential if you want to sell books.
As with producing your book there are lots of companies that will offer to take the nasty task of marketing off your hands. For a fee.
Think carefully before you choose that route. “Most books don’t sell well, even when backed by expensive marketing,” advises Mark Coker. “It’s really tough for authors to earn a return on their marketing investment. Many marketing service providers will happily take thousands of dollars in fees, yet deliver few sales.”
If you choose to employ people to market your book make sure to employ the guidelines discussed in the previous section.
The thing that an author who seeks commercial success through self-publishing must understand is that she is starting a business. If you plan to do that you have to learn the business. You don’t have to do everything yourself, but you have to make sure that everything is done well. And, you have to do it at the lowest possible cost without sacrificing quality.
Self-publishing is not easy. There’s a lot to learn if you are going to do it successfully. But it offers a great opportunity for authors. That’s why we said, in our initial post of this series, Publishing a Book in 2013? Self-Publish It!