When writers decide to self-publish, they put a lot of themselves into the writing. As a start, they need to know how to write a book. However, they also need to have expertise and experience in 1) editing, proofreading, and maybe indexing; 2) book design and cover design; 3) marketing and selling, pricing, discounting; and 4) distribution and fulfillment.
New self-publishers are often confused about where to start and usually have a lot of questions. So, here are some of the more common questions—and some answers.
What’s the first step?
This may be the most important question in the list. You need to start by answering two questions: 1) What’s my goal in publishing this book? 2) How will I know if I’ve been successful?” The author is the only person who can provide answers to these questions. How you produce, advertise, and sell your book depends on your answers. Think about this. Don’t just blurt out some response. Write down your answers. Review them from time to time. Feel free to change them as you learn more.
Should you start a publishing company?
That depends on your answer to the previous question. If your goal is to create a book for limited distribution—yourself (a diary, journal, life story), friends and family (family history), an internal company production (handbook)—then the answer is no. However, if your goal is to reach a wide audience or you want to make money from your book, you’ll probably need to set up a business/company. Consult with your/an attorney and your/an accountant for legal and financial things you need to know.
Do you need an editor?
Again, back to the first question. If you’re writing and publishing something personal (your grandmother’s recipe collection), you probably won’t need, or want to pay for, an editor. However, if you’re going to try to get book reviews, have your book in bookstores, or have back-of-room sales with speaking engagements, you probably do. One of the major complaints about self-published books is the lack of editing. There really is not much choice. No author should be without an editor. And it’s not just dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Editors help with structure, flow, continuity, and the like. They can, and should be part of your writing team.
Do you need an ISBN?
An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number. (Note: Saying “ISBN number” is redundant.) There are two answers to this question. If you decide to have your book published electronically (an eBook) through someone like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you probably won’t need to buy one. KDP offers numbering services. However, if you intend to have printed books (using Amazon or any other service), and you want your book sold in bookstores and/or online, you will need an ISBN. It’s a very important inventory management tool. You can buy your own ISBN from RR Bowker or any of their authorized sellers. If you do, you’ll have more control over your book—and, your publishing company name will be listed as the publisher in various industry databases. Please note that, if you decide to use a publishing-service (again, like Amazon), you’ll save money by using their ISBN or other number to identify your book. However, they’ll be the publisher of record, not you.
How much does self-publishing cost?
The answer to this question depends on your goal and how much you plan to do. If you do your own editing, cover design, interior design, etc., the cost may not be too much. However, the results may reflect the financial investment. On the other hand, if you use the professional services of an editor, book designer, and the like, you’ll have to pay them. And the fees for each service cover a wide range. This would be a good point to decide who’s going to do what, and develop a budget that includes all purchased services. But unless money is a real issue for you, don’t let it prevent you from reaching your goal. Just be smart in how you spend it.
How long will it take?
If you use the services of outside editors, designers, illustrators, indexers, and so on, you’ll be subject to your schedule, of course, but also to theirs. There’s the work involved, but the selection process takes time, as does the coordination and back-and-forth communication. And you need to allot time for marketing and selling (book signings, speaking engagements, etc.). With whatever you invest in your book, you surely now need to spend the time to “get it out there”.
How much should you charge?
This is another tough question. Regardless of whether you go with an eBook or a printed book, and independent of what service you publish through, it’s usually the author that sets the price. There are a lot of guidelines available, but here are some thoughts. Does your book have comparable competition? What do they charge? Do you want to move a lot of books (free? lower price?)? Is your book about a narrow subject or a thick volume (higher price?)? Do you want your book to be part of an elite collection (likewise, higher price?)? And how much discount will each vendor take? All of this requires lots of thought, and talking with colleagues or an appropriate advisor is a good idea.
As you can see, there’s a lot to learn when you decide to self-publish. Asking a lot of questions of knowledgeable source, and listening effectively to the answers, is good way to develop a solid plan that will help achieve your goals.
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