Lately I’ve been talking over self-publishing books with other authors, some who’ve been down that road and some who are unsure what the path looks like, and I realized something: In all my attempts to pull back the curtain of mystique on the writing process I’ve never actually gotten down to the nitty gritty and talked about exactly what steps are necessary to self-publish a novel. I’m going to remedy that as best as possible, starting with today's post. Due to the size of topics, I'll be splitting this up into multiple posts detailing different pieces of the self-publishing process. If you’re one of the folks who has e-mailed with this question then today’s post will look very familiar, because I’m hitting the some notes I have when answering this question on a personal basis.
To be honest, there aren’t a lot of steps in self-publishing, but the quality of the product you end up with is often dependent on how much time, energy, and yes, money, you put into each one along the way. You can do it cheap and fast, but if you’re going to all the trouble of publishing your work then I really recommend you take your time and put out the best work you can. Okay, enough preamble, onto the logistics!
Steps Before Self-Publishing
Obviously the first step to publishing is to have a manuscript that's completed, proofed, and error free. As a writer, this is a place where you have to make a judgment call on your own capabilities. You can save a big chunk of your initial cost by not paying for editors, but the catch is that you have no one else to catch your potential mistakes, and trust me from experience, you do not want to put a book up that’s full of errors, especially as a new indie author.
Most of you will need editors. Yes, editors, not an editor. You should have separate people do sweeps of the work, one first, then the second with the proofed copy. Big publishing firms use multiple editors, and for good reason: no one is so perfect they can catch everything. Multiple sessions, I recommend two at least, will make sure you have a manuscript that is tight, cohesive, and ideally error free.
2. Cover Design
Of course books, even e-books, need eye-catching covers. It’s your books face, how they draw attention and distinguish themselves from the masses, and believe me when I say that people will 100% judge your book by its cover, so this is not a place to half-ass. This is also a good time to decide whether you want to go print and digital, or just digital with your work. If you’re a good enough graphic artist to make your own then you need to be mentally crafting a full-cover for the piece, and if you’re contracting it out then you’ll need to tell the artist you want more than a front cover. If you’re unsure and the prices are reasonable, I recommend going full book cover. Most will only charge an extra $50 or so to tack on spine and back, so it's worth the upfront investment rather than scrambling to create a cohesive back later (which I'm currently doing with a few books).
3. Determine your market
The main digital players are Amazon, Nook, and Smashwords. Amazon offers a system called Kindle Select, (now Kindle Unlimited which will need a post all its own to cover) whereby you agree to sell only with them and in exchange you get better royalty rates and the power to do certain promotions. I won’t touch too heavily on this here, largely because it’s the sort of thing every author has to decide for themselves what’s right for their project. Also because I did a post that covered the various markets and what they offer here: http://theonlinenovel.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/from-web-serial-to-book/
4. Determine a cost
This is last because only at the end do you know how much upfront investment you have had to put into the book, which comes after editing and cover design. I'm not saying those costs have to be built in, just noting that you might want the data when making your decision. Self-pubbed books usually tend to price ourselves lower than mainstream ones, because without the backing of a publisher and devoted following we have to bank on people taking a chance on us.
I go in at 3.99 for most of my novels, and I'm in the higher end of the spectrum. Book size and pre-existing audience are of course mitigating factors to consider when you set your price, but there really is no hard and fast rule that I’ve seen in action. My only piece of counsel here is not to go over $5 if you can avoid it. For me, $5 is a mental cut-off point where I re-evaluate how much I want to try a book or author. I’m not saying I always decide against it, but it’s definitely a pause in the purchasing a process, and as an indie author the fewer of those you allow to happen, the better.
Looks, it is what it is, we all go through the pre-publishing panic phase that comes from putting your art out for the world to judge. Here my best advice to take a breath, hold it, and let it out.
Then do the same thing as many times as needed, except replace “breath” with “vodka.” Works like a charm.