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An Introduction to Self-Publishing
You’re writing a book! Congrats! Or maybe you’ve already finished your book and now you’re thinking, “What’s next?”
In the old days you would seek an agent, who would pitch you to publishers, and you might get a publishing contract. You’d earn some money – maybe even a lot – and then your book would be published in a year and you wouldn’t really have to do much else. You could take it easy. Go on vacation. Write another book.
These days, that whole process is a myth.
Sure there are still agents and publishers, but they are increasingly risk adverse. It’s not about the book anymore. Because even a GREAT book doesn’t guarantee sales, and nobody wants to spend $10,000 publishing a book that nobody buys.
To lessen their risks, agents and publishers mostly sign established authors with their own platforms.
That means, you need a blog; you need some previous bestselling books; you need contacts with other authors in you genre; you need a Facebook page with 50,000 likes. If you’re coming to the table with nothing but your book, you’re fighting a huge uphill battle.
It’s still possible… but is it worth it?
You can probably get a contract from a small press and a little advance (around $5000, if you’re lucky).
But as a small company, they won’t have the resources to make a brilliantly designed book or market it well.
Book marketing is changing quickly and you mostly need to use guerrilla marketing strategies that publishers simply aren’t capable of handling.
You need an author platform, but it has to be authentic and genuine.
You need to blog about articles that attract your ideal readers.
And then there’s all the other stuff; formatting your book for mobi and epub; getting print layout done in Word or InDesign – not to mention the book cover design itself which is crucial for managing reader expectation.
And there are so many options these days! Should you sign with Amazon KDP Select, or use Smashwords or Draft2Digital or Ebookbaby?
Should you use Createspace for print on demand or Ingram Spark?
There are arguments for and against every possible choice. Getting started can be tough. There’s a steep learning curve.
This site – www.publishxpress.com – is just one of my I’ve set up to help indie authors publish better quality books, faster than ever, and market them well. I’ll use it to keep sharing resources I find, tools I recommend, or marketing hacks that I’ve used to rule the bestseller lists.
So browse around; use the free ebook making tools I’ve put up or read the articles I’ve posted. If you have questions, get in touch – I’m not hard to find.
Book editing prices and services (how to find an editor)
Everybody makes mistakes.
And you might be tempted to just hand your freshly-written manuscript over to a professional editor, but I’d warn against it.
FIRSTLY, if it’s your first book and you just finished, congrats!
But a few things:
- If you want people to read it, you’ll need to describe, position and package it clearly so people know what it even IS.
- If you want people to like it, hopefully you’ve both hit and exceed genre expectations and plot conventions.
Start by self-editing.
Cut out the slow middle where nothing happens.
Improve the first and last chapter of each book.
Rewrite the first page of the book. Start with the action, not the backstory.
Search for repetition.
Beef up character motivation and conflict (every should have a reason for what they want or want to do: but they should never be allowed to do what they want).
Read all the way through it and fix whatever you can. Then do it again. You might want to read it out loud. You might want to put it away for a month and then read it fresh. But when you’re sick of it, or you’re sure it’s done, you may want to look for professional help.
What even IS an editor, anyway?
An editor helps improve your writing.
MOST editors are line or copy-editors, which means they’ll go through your writing and fix everything they can. They’ll remove typos, mistakes and errors, while also fixing redundancies or confusing sentences – rewriting if necessary. Good ones will also keep track of content or story, and leave notes whenever they have questions about consistency (“um, he had blue eyes, but then green eyes… and his name was Petrov not Peter…”)
Generally, however, one round of editing won’t fix everything (skilled editors should find 90% of mistakes, so out of 100 typos, they should catch 90.)
In traditional publishing a proofreader will go through it for typos or spelling issues after the book has been formatted.
Some editing services include more than one round of editing and proofreading.
Make sure you know what you’re getting exactly.
How much does it cost?
When I started my first online editing company, I priced between 1 and 2 cents per word for very thorough, “one pass” editing.
I enjoyed it, and I was good at it.
However, I learned that FIXING a book won’t make it successful in most cases.
The content or story + the market demand for that kind of story = 90% of success.
You want your book to be clean, error free and well written, so readers will take a chance on it without being distracted by mistakes… but a clean manuscript doesn’t make the book more enjoyable or satisfying. Even if you pay a lot for the world’s best editor.
Check out this post for more details: how much does book editing cost.
Who can you trust?
I’ve seen writers start editing companies because they can: it’s a pretty easy skill to set up a part-time online business.
Technically, anybody can do it, without any training or credentials.
But it can be difficult to measure quality, even if they have lots of happy client testimonials. Even if they have some advanced degree in literature.
It’s mostly about how well they can sell themselves, how confident they are or how good at web design and marketing.
Interestingly it seems the majority of editors aren’t great at marketing and most have ugly, amateur websites… because most editors aren’t business people, or they’re self-employed and manage everything themselves.
Prices vary widely, but I’ve seen proofreading for .005 and editing for .01 per word.
Now that I have a PhD in Literature, I probably wouldn’t do it for less than .04 cents per word.
I don’t think I’d trust someone to do a good job for less (editing takes hours and hours of laser-like focus. It’s exhausting, and if they pay just a little less attention for 5 minutes they could leave dozens of typos).
But I’d pay more attention to past clients; I’d look up some books they’ve edited online to see if they sound smooth and well-written.
I’d check out their own writing or experiences.
I’d send in a sample trial edit (if they were willing).
You also want to see if they have any process in place for refunds if the client isn’t happy (almost none of them will).
Do you really need an editor?
I have friends who self-publish without hiring a professional editor.
Personally I do the same. I outline in detail and self edit my book as well as I can. Then I let beta-readers find typos and mistakes (there are often dozens) before publishing. I don’t use an editor because my process works, and my books don’t sell less because I skipped out on professional feedback. But I can risk doing it this way because:
- I’ve built an author platform and email list of fans
- I write commercial fiction on purpose and story matters most
I have friends who have full time editors on payroll; so they finish up a draft and send it straight to the editor for cleaning – often getting the editing for a full-book back in 48hours or less.
My point is, there is no “RIGHT” way to publish, and investing big in an editor may help teach you a lot about your bad writing habits, but may not significantly boost sales (so it’s not always a direct or necessary investment).
Free ebook formatting tools and templates
There are basically two kinds of ebooks.
The first type is the nicely-designed PDF file you use for a lead-gen offer or optin bribe.
You’ll want to get it formatted, mostly like in 8.5″x11″ size, which you can do in MS Word or Adobe InDesign.
You’ll also need a cover, and then you might make a 3D mockup or promo image with that cover.
Then when people optin or sign up, you’ll take them to a page they can download the ebook, or attach it in an email.
If have some templates for this kind of ebook at www.diybookformats.com
Kindle or iBooks or Kobo…
If you want to distribute your ebook so readers can buy and download it to their devices, you’ll need to format your ebook to .epub or .mobi files.
The automatic ebook converter on this site will help with that – you still need to do some basic formatting to your document so that the ebook will convert well, but it’s the fastest and easiest way to to make your ebook files for online bookstores.
You can either upload them directly, or use a service like Draft2Digital to distribute your ebook for you.
How to write a book (getting started)
For some people, writing a book is as easy as sitting down and putting pen to paper… but they’re freaks. For most of us, it’s hard work. I have a PhD in Literature and still get agonizingly stuck and frustrated in the middle of a new project.
Writing a book is HARD. It takes months of continuous self-motivation and persistence – you’re basically working for free, risking that all your invested time and energy will result in SOMETHING of value. For most people, the struggle and challenge is part of the goal. It’s a personal quest and defiant battle. You’re choosing a difficult goal and DECIDING you can meet it.
But then it gets hard. What if the book doesn’t go anywhere? What if you don’t know what happens next? What if it sucks, and forces you to reconsider your self-images as a literary genius? What if nobody likes it?
The good news is…
All of this is completely normal. This is the process. If you’re dealing with fears or lack of confidence, read my post on dealing with uncertainty or procrastination. For some, the creative process is necessarily frightening, because creatives never know how (or if) their works will turn out as good as they hoped.
HOWEVER – if you want to be a career authors, write books that matter or that changes people’s lives, the process is actually easier.
It’s much easier to intentionally write a book readers will love, as long as you respect and understand the needs and desires of your audience. The truth is, most authors don’t want to do that – they’d rather wrestle with the dark shadows of void and muse, dancing on the edge of madness and divine intervention, struggling to force their passion into a manageable structure that will make sense to others.
It is that sense of unease and discomfort and fear and doubt that makes the eventual completion of your book so satisfying.
YOU DID IT!
Even though you weren’t sure you could.
Even though you thought it would never be good enough.
Some ways to actually get the book done:
- Write every day. Develop a habit. Either write 1000 words a day or write for an hour a day. Consistency is key.
- Research your genre. Read the top 10 bestsellers. Read the reviews and figure out what readers liked and didn’t like. How can you write something BETTER than all the bestsellers (while still satisfying the shared genre tropes readers love and expect?)
- Use a plotting chart or outline – especially for commercial fiction, you need to structure the experience.
- If you get stuck, take a day or a week off. Don’t beat yourself up for not writing.
- If you’re frustrated and can’t write, it’s probably because there’s a problem in the story you need to fix first.
- Your first draft will be shit. INTEND to finish a shitty rough draft, rather than a masterpiece (the draft comes first. The writing starts getting decent after the 3rd revision.
- If you’re bored, your readers will be. Make something exciting happen. You can use my writing prompts.
- Focus on the story. The actual writing doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does. Focus on WHAT HAPPENS, tension and conflict between characters, and how they feel about it and each other. Make sure they can never relax or chill, because something’s coming or they’ve got to go do something or something is hunting them or one of them is dying.
- Don’t expect others to understand or support you. Your friends or family may be jealous of all the time you’re devoting to your special project. You’ll probably annoy the hell out of them by talking about your book all the time. They won’t get why you’d spend SO much time trying to do one thing without any obvious benefits
- Build an audience – the more my audience grows, the less fear or doubt I have; because I know my fans will like my writing; and I also know how well the book will sell because I’ve done research (it’s less risk if you know your book will earn some money).
- Set a deadline – one of the main problems with writing a book is that nobody else is waiting on it. It can literally take years, and continually get harder and harder to actually finish (because it will grow and change with you). Make a bet, put it up on preorder, announce it to the world… find a way to have other people COUNTING on you to finish by a certain date (for example, paying for a table at a book conference and NEEDING to get it done on time). Stress and pressure can really help with writer’s block.
- Join writer communities or groups: it’s important to get support and encouragement from other authors.
- Lower your expectations. Most writers never finish because they want a PERFECT book. But nobody’s perfect and your first book probably won’t be your best. If you care too much about this project, set it aside and write something simpler or easier just for fun, or to “test launch” a book you don’t care much about, just for practice. This could even be a short permafree book meant to build your fanbase.
- Once you’ve finished, self-edit your book as much as possible before getting some new eyes on it. Feedback is important, but make sure it’s from actual readers of your genre, and don’t be afraid to just put it out there (if anybody gives you negative feedback, listen – but also be OK if your book isn’t for everyone).
Nonfiction can be easier, since you mostly just need to provide value, HOWEVER – it’s a mistake to only focus on the content. A successful nonfiction book will be 1/3 personal anecdotes, 1/3 quotes or stories about interesting or successful people or events to illustrate points, and 1/3 actual, practical content.
It’s true that a lot of readers would RATHER just get straight to the good stuff without all the drivel, but they’re also less likely to remember or care about it. If it’s all practical stuff and no story, they may get bored and tune out. It’s your job to teach AND hold their attention.
If you want a super successful nonfiction book launch, it helps to interview/include a bunch of other people with relevant audiences, so the book launch becomes a shared project (also, you can get people to commit to share your book release six months in advance (hat tip Tim Grahl). A general nonfiction book in a popular subject can be a stable earner, but you can also use a book to attract clients or build your business.