Thursday, February 27, 2014

Becoming a Self-Published Author

By Patricia Cruzan

Part of the Indie Authors Series

To become an author certain disciplines need to be developed: reading books, studying the language, and studying others’ books. Most writers love to read, so that discipline isn't that hard. But, if you want to write children’s books, spend time at children’s areas of a public library, at home bookshelves, or at a bookstore. Reading books of various genres and levels will help you become familiar with the types of books you can write.

Studying the Language

How many writers spend time looking at the The Chicago Manuel of Style, Sixteenth Edition; the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition; and The Elements of Style? A writer ought to read these as well. Why? No one can remember everything, so the reference books serve as reminders of the rules. Having the books available helps, whether you use all the rules or not. Language changes over time, so a wordsmith needs to have up-to-date reference books. When a reader looks at other people’s writing, they may see a mistake; but, when that person checks the reference books, the rules may be different than years before. Writers make mistakes, but each writer wants their book to be as error free as possible.

Study the Process

Before you self-publish, read books about the process, such as The Self-Publishing Manual, by Dan Poynter; The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, by Tom & Marilyn Ross; You Can Write Children’s Books, by Tracey E. Dils; The Successful Writer’s Handbook, by Patricia L Fry; and, Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg.

Study What's Been Published

When a children’s writer drafts a novel, other books can be studied for style, character development, and story arc. The sentence lengths, paragraph lengths, and vocabulary use are important. The size of the font is crucial, too, on the outside and inside, as well as the cover art. Also pay attention to how the book is set up. If the book is nonfiction, study the table of contents, footnotes, and index. Everything about a book is important to an author and a publisher. The different elements of a book don’t always matter to a reader.

Respect Others' Time

A writer might come up to an author and say, “I’m thinking about writing a book.”

The experienced author may or may not have time to talk to a writer who approaches them about creating a book, but feels obligated to answer. Consider if that author has time to spare before approaching them for advice.

The Business Side

If you follow your dream of writing and publishing a book, you'll probably need the services of other people to help get the final product out the door. It’s hard to create, edit, promote, and upload a book without help. Unless you're a professional artist, a cover illustrator will be needed. A designer might be needed for the interior of the book, too.

To plan ahead, consider the answers to these questions:
  • Will the book be written for a large enough audience to recoup the money you invest?
  • Do you want to make money from the book?
  • Are you willing to accept the positive and negative comments about the book?
  • How will you get the book out to your readers?
  • Are you willing to seek out businesses to help?
  • Will you sell at fairs and book festivals?
  • Are you willing to be a speaker at libraries, schools, or clubs to promote sales?
Most people don’t realize the time and discipline creating a book involves. You must think of a viable idea to develop first. An outline or semantic map may be next, if you want some structure for the book journey. You might prefer to skip the outline or semantic map and just write a rough draft. When the draft is complete, revisions follow. During the revision process, you must check for consistency for names, character traits, and dialogue. Other writers might provide constructive feedback after several revisions. The book will need multiple revisions. Once you think the book is about ready for publication, other jobs need to be undertaken.

ISBN: You'll need to buy an international standard book number (ISBN), for your new book, from Bowker. A number can be purchased through Amazon, too.

Editing and Proofing: Continue to revise and proof your manuscript. Having someone read the final version is important. Many professional editors are available, for a fee, before you upload the manuscript for printing.

Illustration and Cover Design: You'll need to hire a professional illustrator. There are companies that sell images, but you'll need permission to use them. The artist or company selected should supply the images in a required publishing format, such as a JPEG. You'll need to check out a couple of companies that can do the work and see what their text and illustration specifications are. If the artist doesn’t send the illustrations in the right format, the files will have to be converted. This is very time-consuming, and it requires a certain technical knowledge to do.

Printing and Distribution: Unless you choose to become a printer, time will need to be spent talking to printers or checking online print sources. Printers are not cheap, and the professional printers only print large quantities. The books will need to be stored in a dry, climate-controlled space. If you don't have a large enough space for the books inside, you may run into problems. Garages or sheds may not work too well; they are damp, hot, or cold. Books are heavy to lift, so also consider whether large quantities will be kept around the house or not.

A printer might have to send the books out for binding services, so ask to see some of the binder’s work before spending money on it. If the binder doesn’t use the right glue or doesn’t let the glue dry long enough, the pages could stick together. That is a nightmare at a book signing if the books aren't checked ahead of time.

Various online companies allow you to upload books to their printing site for publication. Some companies can charge so much for this service, that it’s hard to recoup the amount spent. Other companies don't charge for this service. The author only pays for the books and services purchased. If you're computer savvy, the book can be uploaded to a print-on-demand site (POD). Companies of this kind vary in the royalty rates that authors receive. The author should keep a large percentage of the profits. Some of the print-on-demand companies want you to invest large amounts of money in marketing campaigns. Consider whether money might be made from these campaigns or not. Many books have to be sold to break even.

When you pick a company to produce your books, select one that produces a good product without a large investment. The books will cost money to buy, but paying large amounts can be devastating to your finances.

Pricing: Before you upload your book, consider the book's price. Book prices should be set at a rate to make money. After all, you've invested time and money to produce the book. Bookstore retailers typically want 40 percent or more of the retail price. Decide ahead of time if the price of the book will be included on the back cover or not. If the book is to be sold in a bookstore, a bar code needs to be on the cover and inside the book.

Copyrights: When you're ready to upload your book to a printer or print-on-demand company, fill out the online paperwork for a copyright, too. The copyright office does require a fee for this service. You'll need to send a book file to the copyright office for a registered copyright, which is a legal form of protection for your book.

If you do the research on publishing ahead of time, and have someone to help with the book, then self-publishing is a rewarding endeavor.

About Patricia Cruzan

Patricia writes children’s books, poetry, articles, and short stories. Her latest book, The Wonder in the Woods, is for ages nine to ninety-nine who enjoy reading about dogs, sports, vacations, and libraries. Her other children’s books are Max Does It Again, Molly’s Mischievous Dog, and Tall Tales of the United States. My Reflections and Sketches of Life are two poetry books of Patricia’s for older readers.

Various stories, articles, and poems of Patricia’s have been published in Grit magazine, Fayette Woman, Focus, Fayette County News, the Citizen, the SPAWNews, and various anthologies.

Patricia is a member of SCBWI, GWA, and SPAWN. She is also a friend of the Fayette County Public Library and the Peachtree City Public Library. For more information on Patricia and her books, visit,,, and

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  1. Wow great advice! ^^ Does this work for any type of book, like a graphic novel perhaps?

    1. S-Le,
      Thanks for the comments. I've never done a graphic novel. You need an ISBN and a bar code. Much of the information is applicable.

  2. Gives me a few new things to think about, thank you for this information.

    1. Tzalaran,
      You are welcome. I'm glad you found the information to be helpful.

  3. Excellent list of things to consider when self publishing. Thanks!

    1. Julie,
      I appreciate the comments. I hope the information is useful. Maybe you can use it when you create your book.

  4. This is an excellent list because it can be applied across self-publishing in any genre. Thanks!

    1. Angela,
      Thanks for stopping by. Let us know when you have your book available. I hope the information above helps you write the book you want to write.