The facts don’t lie. Everyone who publishes a successful book doesn’t have a deal with a major publisher. Over the last two decades self-publishing has flourished and the books sold by independent authors have done amazing things in the industry, including winning awards, becoming national bestsellers and even landing television or movie option deals. Whether you are working on a children’s picture book, a romance novel, a photography or business book, or writing your memoir, if you are choosing to self-publish the following tips will help guide your endeavors.
Know Your Dual Role and Responsibilities. If you are writing a book you are more than likely focused on your role as an author, the creator of content and the voice behind the message. However, when you self-publish you also take on the role of publisher. As such, you become the “company” producing this material. You must develop the plan and budget to support your book’s marketing, public relations, graphic design, pricing, sales, distribution activities and unexpected expenses.
Create Two Task Lists. Develop an author to-do list and publisher to-do list. This will help you to see what needs to be done and place you in the proper frame of mind for each role. Creatives aren’t necessarily the best at linear and logistical thinking and that is why you must see the separate tasks per role to better organize yourself.
Do Your Research. To self-publish, an author must map out the logistics necessary for publication. This involves vetting printers and fulfillment centers, editorial services, setting a budget and hiring a designer. Also, research E-book conversions and working with aggregators for online distribution.
Know Your Target Audience. Your book will not be for everyone, so authors must be clear on who targeted primary and secondary audiences. This means that if only this selected demographic bought your book, you would still achieve healthy sales and success.
Position Your Book Strategically. Authors should know at least the top 10 bestselling books in their categories, outliers included. For example, if you are writing a book on social justice and civil rights you must be familiar with books written by authors such as: Bryan Stevenson, Michelle Alexander, John Lewis, D. Watkins, Marc Lamont Hill and Ta’ Nehesi Coates among others. Knowing the key players in your category will help you as a self-published author position your book for introduction to readers and reviewers. Remember your audience is currently reading something already. They know the books in your category and you as the author and publisher should as well.
Understand the Implications of Cover Design. We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but rest assured that the cover design of self-published books will be heavily critiqued by readers, reviewers, book store staff, and media. It sucks to have a quality piece of fiction, yet a far from appealing cover. Book cover includes front, back and spine. Check out the covers of books in your category from a diverse group of writers. Yes, you want to be unique but not so unique that you push readers away because the cover is overcrowded with images and mismatching fonts. The spine should simply include author name, book title and company name. The three sections should have a seamless design layout. It’s best to work with a designer who does more than just books, and is skilled at creating polished covers with seamless graphics.
Write Compelling Back Cover Copy. Take the time to write an informative or entertaining book description. These few hundred words will follow your book everywhere from blogs to retailers. For a novelist, it is important to write an entertaining and engaging synopsis giving details that make readers want to dive in. Don’t be vague—many book descriptions fail to capture a sale because the description is too bland and falls short in securing an emotional reaction from the reader. If you are writing non-fiction, such as a business book on networking or financial planning, let the reader know what they will learn if they buy this book. Make it clear that your book has something they are in need of, and that you, the author, are qualified to deliver.
Design the Inside Pages Professionally. Typesetting the interior pages is very crucial to its readability and respectability. Remember, self-published authors are heavily scrutinized based on the appearance of their book. Don’t leave out page numbers. Make sure the author name and book title are visible on inside pages and be sure to check and double check spacing. Also, consider making the final page an order form for your book. Your distribution as a self-published author will be limited and this is a way to open it up. For every person that has a copy of your book they can share the order form with another potential reader.
Use a Professional Editor. Hiring a copy editor and a proofreader are smart investments. Copy editors have a keen sense of grammar, syntax, and punctuation. They check for technical consistency in spelling, capitalization, font usage, numerals and hyphenation. They also double check that names and locations are spelled correctly and dates and statistics are accurate. Proofreaders work from a printed version of the content and are looking for errors everywhere including missing pages or paragraphs. They are fresh eyes checking to make sure that what appears on the computer translated correctly when the material is printed.
Know Your Publishing Options. Although you have chosen to self-publish please understand this does not mean that you cannot obtain a literary agent and land a book deal with one of the big five traditional publishers (Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group and Macmillan). If you do an outstanding job this go-round and obtain impressive sales, press mentions and solid reviews this can all help in your cause to find an agent for the next book.
Dawn Hardy is a publicist and literary agent. Reach out to her at Serendipity Literary Agency.