There is so much to be done as a self-publisher, and while I wouldn’t dare pretend that I can tell everyone how they should do things, I’m more than happy to share with you the steps I took ahead of my first book’s release.
- Write and revise — Write a first draft, then edit, revise, and polish until it shines. (At some point in this part of the process, you will likely want to get test readers, although you’ll likely still want to do some more polishing after that step.)
- Hire an editor — There are two things that often separate traditionally published novels versus the self-published ones — cover design and editing. That said, if you don’t want your book to be seen as amateurish, then make sure you get those two things right. I’ll talk about cover design further down this list, but as for the professional editing, once you feel you have done your best in getting your novel to its final form, hire a reputable editor and send your manuscript to them. (I’ve got an entire post about why everyone needs to hire a copy editor—indie or traditional. Click here to read it.) Once it’s out of your hands for 4-6 weeks, you can get started on the business end of self-publishing.
- Set up a publishing company — Hopefully, you’ve already decided on whether or not you want to set up your own publishing company. I did, and I have set up a website for it — Seaport Publishing. If you go this route, you’ll need to decide on whether or not you want to set up a formal business structure — either as a sole proprietor, LLC, or something more complex. I read in the 2014 Guide to Self-Publishing that for most self-published authors, a sole proprietorship is the business model of choice. I’m not a CPA or a tax professional, so I can dispense no advice in this regard. I can only tell you that if you haven’t already, you need to ask yourself if you plan to take this writing business seriously. If you do, then you should manage it seriously. Have a separate account set up especially for your writing expenses and revenue, and keep records of everything so that when tax time comes around, you’ll be ready to report on your earnings (if you have any) and your expenses — things like that receipt for your Scrivener software, that fountain pen and those composition books, your subscription to Writer’s Digest, or your domain name and website hosting.
- Establish your Print-on-Demand (POD) and eBook accounts — This is a great time to set up your accounts with Amazon’s CreateSpace, Ingram’s IngramSpark, and Barnes & Noble’s NookPress. I know there are lots of other self-publishing platforms out there, but those are the three big ones. In terms of print, I use CreateSpace only for selling books via Amazon.com and IngramSpark for everything else. Here’s a great article that makes the case for why and how you should use those two services together. As for ebooks, I’ll be sticking with KDP for now.
- Buy your ISBNs and barcodes — There’s a lot to know here. In fact, maybe I’ll write a post about this in the near future. For the sake of keeping this article succinct, however, I’ll just say that since I want to be sure I can have my print book available anywhere that wants to carry it, I have purchased a set of 10 ISBNs and just one barcode (for now) from Bowker. Bowker is the ISBN-assigning agency for the United States. If you live in a different country, you’ll need to do an online search for which agency you should use. Just to clarify, I’ll only need one ISBN and barcode for my novel, unless I decide to release it in both paperback and hardcover formats, in which case I’ll need to have a unique ISBN and barcode for each format. I do not recommend using CreateSpace to get your ISBN, even though they offer that service. Unless you want Amazon’s CreateSpace to be the publisher-of-record for your book, you’ll want to buy your own ISBNs. You can get them in bulk from Bowker.
- Design your cover — This part can be tricky. Both CreateSpace and IngramSpark offer template-based cover designing, but if you want a wrap around cover (like the one I’ll be using for The Smuggler’s Gambit), you’ll need to know how many pages your finished book will be before you can download a cover design template. In the short term, if you already know what you want the front cover to look like, and you’re not very comfortable using Photoshop, you can use a free service like Canva to build it.
- Create your front matter and acknowledgements — Once you have your publishing company name and ISBN, you’ll want to think about how you want to put together your book’s front matter — the title page, the copyright page, the table of contents (should you choose to use them), your dedication page, and your acknowledgements. (I plan to put my acknowledgements at the back of my book, followed by a sneak peak of book two.)
- Build your platform — Really, truly, you should have already been working on this while you’ve been in the process of writing your novel, but at this point, you need to amp up your platform-building activity. While your manuscript is with your editor, now might be a good time to talk to local booksellers about stocking your book. Maybe a good way to approach them is with a nice-quality printout of your book’s cover. Ask them if they think the design is an attention-grabbing one. This is also a good time to get your author page set up on Facebook and decide on the other social media sites that you think you might want to plug into.
- Decide on a tentative release date — By the time you’ve gotten all of those things done, you may very well have your manuscript back from your editor. Depending on the changes that he suggests, you still have more work to do. Once you’ve integrated your editor’s changes into your final manuscript, it will be time to decide on a release date. Spring is traditionally a big time for book releases, but depending on the subject matter of your novel, you may actually want to time your book’s release differently. For instance, my first novel takes place in May of 1765, and since it was due to be released in 2015 — exactly 250 years after the story’s events — I wanted to be sure my book was out far enough ahead of May to gain some traction with readers.
Once you’ve gotten all of these steps taken care of, you’ll hopefully be ready to dive into publishing.
You have worked so hard on dreaming up your story, and writing it, and editing it, and refining it. Now isn’t the time to get exhausted and do things half-way. Whether or not your independently-published book is as successful as it can be depends entirely on you. Part of the beauty of self-publishing — total control — can also be the beast of self-publishing. If you get impatient and try to do things in a hurry, or without doing your homework, you’re only going to end up cheating yourself of what could otherwise be a more successful venture. On the other hand, if you give your novel’s publication all of the care and attention it deserves — ensuring that it’s the very best it can possibly be — then you can know that, by God’s grace, you did that. An agent didn’t do that for you. A big, traditional publishing house didn’t do that for you. You did.