In the old days, the only way for writers to publish a book was through a publisher. This meant finding an agent, pitching editors, and hoping that one of them likes it. Then writers would lose control of their books because the editor and publisher would oversee content, interior design, cover design, sales, and marketing. And this describes what the lucky few writers experienced. Most writers were simply rejected or ignored, and they never published a book.
Those days are gone because of the rise of self-publishing. Now writers can publish their own books and control their own destiny. Anyone with a computer, Internet access, and something to say can publish a book. This doesn’t mean that the process is easy or foolproof, but at least it’s possible and available to many more writers. I’ve written twelve books. Traditional publishers brought ten to market, and I self-published the most recent two.
I learned a lot about self-publishing in this journey—so much so that I co-authored a book called APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book. I’d like to help writers everywhere break the shackles of traditional publishing. As a start, here are my top-ten recommendations for self-publishing a book.
There are four good reasons to write a book: (a) you have accumulated knowledge that merits sharing; (b) you want to further an idea that benefits mankind; (c) you want to entertain, amuse, or inspire people; and (d) you want conquer the intellectual challenge for writing a book. There is one all too common bad reason to write a book: because you believe it’s a means to an end where the end is positioning you as a thought leader, making a lot of money on royalty, or fostering your consulting and speaking career.
I’ve written twelve books, and I’m a freak about efficiency, ease, and efficacy. With that said, these are the tools that I use. Microsoft Word (writing), Adobe InDesign (layout), Evernote (collecting anything), Dropbox (backing up). The only controversial recommendation is Word. I realize that it’s a bazooka, and you may only need a fly swatter, but every editor, printer, ebookstore, and designer uses it. Also Word styles are indispensable for non-fiction writing. Word is a beast, and you have to wrestle it to the ground, but once you do, it’s the best tool to write a book in my humble opinion.
The single biggest mistake authors make is waiting until their book is done to start working on social media. They think that a few weeks before the book is ready, they can hire an intern to “do social media” to build buzz And the richer and more powerful the author, the more she or he believes this. It takes a year to build a social-media marketing platform. You should start this process the same day that you start writing.
Kindle is an awesome distribution mechanism for your self-published book. My books have been on sale within eight hours of uploading. Kindle can account for 85-90 percent of your sales—in the case of APE, it represents 100% of sales because we only use Kindle. There are lots of raw emotions about the market power and domineering behavior of Amazon, but I suggest you bury the hachette (sic) and focus your efforts on Kindle.
A good test for whether a company is taking advantage of you is if it suggests that you buy hundreds of printed copies of your book to get the best deal. There is little reason to do this because the CreateSpace part of Amazon can print your books on demand in a couple of days. You might pay $6/copy through CreateSpace and get the price down to $3/copy with a big offset printer run if you order 1,000 copies. Paying more for print on demand sure beats eating 900 copies when your sales don’t meet your expectations.
The crowd is a beautiful thing. It has helped me complete my outlines, provided me with stories to illustrate my concepts, content edited, copyedited, reviewed for Amazon, and evangelized my books. If I had to put a number to it, I’d guesstimate that feedback from the crowd makes my books 50 percent better. This is another reason to build a social-media following immediately—this is the best, and maybe only, way for you to earn the respect and indebtedness of the crowd.
There are three ways that a book can scream, “Self-published by an amateur:” lousy interior design, crude fonts, and poor copyediting. Your goal should be to produce a book that is better than a New York publisher’s—think “artisanal publishing.” The best $1,000-2,000 you can invest is for a professional designer and copyeditor. Figure that you’ll make $7/copy on a $9.99 Kindle book. Can you sell 300 copies to pay for these professionals? If you’re not confident about 300 copies, should you write a book at all?
There is a fourth way that a book can scream “self-published,” and that’s a lousy cover. Canva, the company that I work for, offers a series of free templates to help you design a professional looking cover. You can also hire a professional for $1,000 to design your cover, but I encourage you to at least try making your cover from one of our templates. The most important thing about your cover is that it looks great when it’s the size of a postage stamp because that’s the format that people will see most of the time.
The belief the you can deploy a digital file to various readers and everything will be fine is naïve and incorrect. For Kindle alone, there are Kindle tablets, Kindle free apps for smartphones, Kindle free apps for computers, and browser-based readers. From first hand experience, I can tell you that just because your book looks good on one form of ebook reader doesn’t mean it will look good on them all. This means that you must test your ebook on as many platforms as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to buy every tablet, phone, and computer, but you should at least ask your friends to look at your book on their devices.
The advantage of traditional publishing, if your book is acquired, is that you get a monetary advance and an editor (aka, psychiatrist). The disadvantages are the process takes at least a year, you do not control your book, your royalties are in the 10-15 percent range, and when your publisher gives up on your book, it’s “done.” The advantage of self-publishing is that you are in control of your destiny. The disadvantage is that you and only you are responsible for your destiny. Your book is “done” only when decide to give up on it.
My last recommendation, therefore, is to not give up. It can take years to make a book a success—it may not even be your next book or your next next book that succeeds. But you’ll never know unless you try, and you never give up. You cannot quit your way to success.
Canva has created design inspirations for your Kindle covers that are remixable and ready to use. See the designs on our Pinterest board and then create your own. Good luck on your self-publishing journey!