So you’ve finished your book! Congratulations! You ask yourself, “Now what?” Well, now you’d like to publish it of course. You want other people to have access to your work!
You have several options. There is no “best” option except for the one which is right for you at the time. It is okay to change your mind at any step in the process.
Your choices are:
1. You can go with traditional publishing. This is the whole (long) process of researching editors and agents for what kind of books they like to work with (do NOT submit your book to an editor or agent who does not represent your kind of work), querying editors and possibly agents, then submitting the manuscript, then someday when it is accepted, going through the long journey to published novel.
Pros: You have other people to handle cover design, professional editors, and people to guide you in marketing. You also have (generally) a wider reach — books in chain-owned stores, etc. When you make it big, you make it Big.
Cons: Did I mention it takes a long time? And there are a lot of people who have to say yes to you? And that you still ought to hire a lawyer specializing in publishing contracts, just to make sure that you aren’t getting stiffed on any deals?
2. You can publish it for free on your blog or website.
Pro: This takes exactly no time at all.
Con: It is really hard to make money from it this way, and even though you’re a great writer who cares more about the work than she does about the cash… Well, you’re in Publishing mode now, not Writing mode, and Publishing mode is actually Business mode. If you AREN’T thinking about cash at this point, you’re being a bad businessperson. People who make money by publishing their creativity on their own website, or on a social forum, have to turn out a *lot* of content before they start seeing any returns on it — consider John and Hank Green, or Andrew Hussie. Or Matthew Inman from The Oatmeal.
Long-term Pros: If you start out by doing this, and you do it well, and you do it for a long time, you can work on building a platform with your audience, which can be a helpful point of negotiation if you later do another kind of publishing — insta-sales are attractive for both more profitable forms of self-publishing and traditional publishing! Platform-building also happens with self-publishing too, of course.
3. Self publish! The publishing industry, as you may have heard, is starting to become a very different shape than it used to be. The landscape has changed a LOT even within the last three years — it’s almost unrecognizable from 10 years ago. When I started college, the idea of ever self-publishing was unthinkable. You should still NEVER use a vanity press — that is when you pay someone to publish your book. In the immortal words of every sensible businessperson writer ever, “The Money Always Flows Towards You.” For more information on how to be a good businessperson/writer, go visit Dean Wesley Smith’s blog. He’s great.
Pros: Total control. Retention of all rights. Takes a little time, but we’re talking in terms of hours or days rather than years. And it is super awesome fun.
Cons: You have to market your own book, which takes a lot of time and energy and effort. And don’t expect to be making a truckload of money overnight. You’ll probably make enough be able to buy yourself a couple smoothies every month, though, which is great to start with! :D Smoothies! Material gain for your work!
So you’ve decided to go with self-publishing! That is the smart choice for many people these days.
I self-published my book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace, as well as Smashwords. With these guys, I get between 60% and 80% of the profits, which means I’m making $4 to $5.50 per copy for each ebook sale (at $6.99), or around $9.30 for every paperback copy (at $15.99). For comparison, a traditional publisher will give you an advance (probably around $5000 for fiction), and then you will receive royalty payments somewhere between 10-20% of the retail price of each book sold. But you only get royalties after they start exceeding your initial advance.
You can already see that is a LOT more money than I’d be getting from the traditional publishers. I sold about 50 copies (ebook and paperback) last year, and made around $300. Not bad, eh? Sure, I’m not going to be giving up my day job any time soon, but $300 is like a hundred smoothies. That’s a LOT of smoothies. Can you picture a hundred smoothies? Could you fit a hundred smoothies on a 16-passenger airplane (with none in the flight deck)?
Now, maybe I’d be selling more books if I had gone through a traditional publisher, but if I had, I certainly wouldn’t have sold any THIS year.
So how do I self-publish my book?
First, you finish your book. By finish, I mean all the edits too. ALL of them. You have to make sure that it’s perfect, because you don’t have a crack team of copy-editors working for you. You don’t have a superhero editor. You have to make sure it is good, solid, quality writing. Self-publishing, while it has lost the stigma of “vanity” press, still has a reputation for being the option that people choose because they couldn’t make it in traditional publishing. Don’t choose it just because you’re lazy or vain or you want your mom to have a copy of your book. Spend as much time working on your book as you would if you were going to send it to an agent or an editor. Have a bunch of people read it. FINISH it all the way until all it needs to go out in public is some clothes and its shoelaces tied into jaunty bows.
Make yourself a cover (or commission an artistic friend), and format your book for print or ebook, etc. A quick google search will bring up many good tutorials.
Choose which websites you’ll be publishing through. I’ve had great experiences with the ones I’ve used — Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords.com, and Createspace.com.
A note: Don’t bother signing up for Kindle Select. Not worth it.
A second note: DO NOT USE LULU. Lulu does some SHADY stuff with rights. Be sure to ACTUALLY read the Terms and Agreements this time, guys, because *that* is going to be your book contract. That is what is going to either save you or screw you over if something goes wrong. Do your research.
Get accounts on those websites, set up everything that needs to be set up (credit card info so they can pay you, your address, etc etc). This part will take maybe half an hour.
Submit your manuscript for automated authentication — this is a process that may take several hours. I did it in the evening and went to bed. It was done when I woke up the next morning. If for some reason your novel is rejected, it’s because of a computer error. You may need to encode your novel in some other file format.
All in all, start to finish, once you’ve got all your content good to go, you can get it set up in under 24 hours. I believe that the Amazon subsidiaries (KDP and Createspace) have to manually verify your novel before you put it up for sale (to keep out spam), but mine were verified within 48 hours. Seriously, this is the least significant time commitment ever.
None of this was particularly hard, although when I did it, I had some first-time wrangling issues, possibly because I run Linux — the Smashwords verifier just DID NOT want to play nice with an OpenOffice document, but it worked fine once I submitted the manuscript as a PDF. It was a bit tedious, but none of it was the REPEATING kind of tedious — now I know how the tools work, next time it’ll be a lot smoother and more efficient.
Okay, it’s available for sale. Now what?
Well, you’ll probably want to do a bit of marketing or at least set up a nominal online presence. Write a blog. Have an author Twitter. Set up your very own Facebook fan page. Tell all your friends and family. And then just keep telling people, one at a time. Look at indie book review blogs, read their submissions pages, and write them a nice letter (following ALL their directions! Nothing will make you stand out more!) asking them to write a review of your book and offering them a free copy of the ebook. Be SUPER polite to your reviewers, even if their review is not as glowing as you would like it to be. They are doing this as a hobby. Bad reviews are not the end of the world. I have sat halfway up the stairs and sobbed into the carpet about a less-than-awesome review myself. This happens to everybody. Have your cry and then move on and try not to think about that one again. But then I wrote a sincere thank-you note to the woman who reviewed it, because she had taken the time to read it and then to craft a response with her thoughts.
Be polite, because, after all, your next book is going to be even better, and you want them to consider reading that one too, right?
And then write that second book.
Self-publishing has been a great choice for me. I’ve learned so much about the things related to publishing that are peripheral to the book itself — how covers are designed, what fonts are used in books, what drop-caps are, how to market myself, how to format a copyright page and front matter, how to negotiate a brick-and-mortar store into carrying my book, how to pull off a successful book signing… Guiltily, I will admit that all that stuff has been even more fun than writing is. I’m learning so much about the industry by doing everything myself. I would like to one day move over into traditional publishing, but not until I have enough clout, knowledge, and experience to wrangle a contract like I would like to see one wrangled.
And I leave you with three parting thoughts:
First, that this is SO much fun. And really easy.
Second, that just because it’s easy doesn’t mean you get to slack off. Don’t get impatient and publish the second you’re sure the book is done. Set it aside for a week and do another read through, just to be absolutely sure. No excuses!
Third, that this is a business. Be a good businessperson. Educate yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of “Poor little me, I’m just a writer, so I don’t have the head for all that big scary complicated business stuff.” You know what business is? It’s people. People dealing with other people. Your biggest tool here is not your talent — it’s your ability to smile, introduce yourself, and be a good person to do business with.
Best of luck!
This post was written by Alexandra Rowland, author of In The End, an apocalyptic fantasy novel. Be sure to check out her work! Find Alexandra Rowland on Twitter (@_alexrowland) or her blog (http://alexandrarowland.wordpress.com) or her Facebook fanpage (www.facebook.com/AlexandraJRowland).