Thursday, June 29, 2017

14 Questions to Ask Before You Self Publish

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Part of the Indie Author Series

I've been away the last week and just got home, so I'm dipping into the achieves today. Enjoy!

When I decided to self publish Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure in 2014, I had only a vague notion of how the process worked. I'd done my research on whether or not self publishing was the right direction to go, I had pages of notes on what to look for and worry about, but I wasn't sure how to take that first step. What did I need to buy? How much would it cost? Who should I go with?

Luckily, I had a good friend who pointed me in the right direction and was able to answer my many questions. (And even inspired this weekly column). While there are a lot of moving parts, self publishing isn't that hard if you take it step-by-step and plan ahead.

If you've decided to self publishing and aren't sure where to go next, here are a few questions to get you started (this list assumes you've done all the editorial and proofing process and your book is ready to go):

1. What's your budget?

Self publishing can be expensive, so decide how much you're willing to spend and determine where that money is going to go. Keep track of your costs, not just for tax purposes, but to know how much you'll need to make on each book to be profitable. This is also handy to gauge how many copies you'll need to sell before the book pays for itself and starts making you money. Commons costs:

  • Proofreader
  • Editor
  • Designer
  • ISBN (where applicable)
  • Bar codes (for print books)
  • Proof copies
  • Submission fees (where applicable)
  • Advance Reader Copies (ARC) (where applicable)
  • Marketing and promotion
  • Postage and shipping

(Here's more on self publishing and associated costs)

2. What formats do you want to publish in?

Do you want an e-book, paperback, hardcover or any combination of the three? Knowing what format(s) you want will determine how many ISBNs you need, what size you'll have to format the book for, and how to price it.

(Here's more on understanding your e-book formatting options)

(Here's more on deciding if you want a print version or not)

3. What's the price of the book?

There's a wide range of prices out there, especially for e-books. Research your genre and see what books in your market are selling for. Most print books sell for more than e-books, so you'll likely have separate prices for various formats. Don't forget to look at what your royalties will be with each venue--different venues take different cuts and have varied fees.

Tip: Determine what you want to earn on each book and then price accordingly, adding in the vendor fees and other associated costs. For example, if you want to earn $5.00 per book, and the costs to print/sell that books are $4.40, you'll want the book price to be at least $9.40.

4. Who do you want to publish with?

Most of the big sales venues also have a publishing arm these days and will distribute your book in their stores (either online or brick and mortar where applicable). Other venues are publishers/distributors who place your book in bookstores and also sell them on their own sites. You might decide to use more than one, as Amazon is easy to work with while other venues are harder to get a book listed with without a distributor.

Amazon is the leader here, but there are other options as well, such as Barnes & Noble, Ingram, and Smashwords. Amazon publishes print books through Create Space, and e-books through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Barnes & Noble publishes e-books through Nook Press. Ingram works with POD printer, Lightning Source and publishes both e-books and print books. Smashwords is also a publisher/distributor that publishes print and e-books, and a newcomer is Draft 2 Digital, which has been getting some great reviews from the indie folks.

5. How many ISBNs will you need?

Each format of your book will need its own ISBN (International Standard Book Number). You can buy/register them at Bowker, and if you want to publish anywhere but Amazon, you'll need one of these. Amazon offers its own numbering system (ASIN-Amazon Standard Information Number) and they let you bypass the ISBN. If you plan to sell only on Amazon, you can skip this cost. There's a major discount for the more ISBNs you buy at one time, so if you plan to publish multiple books it's worth getting what you need up front if you can.

And remember--if you're doing an e-book, paperback, and hardcover edition of your book, you'll need three ISBNs.

(Here's more information on ISBNs)

6. When's your release date?

Some sites, like Amazon, can get a book up within a day, while others, like Ingram, can take weeks before a book is listed for sale. Leave enough time between submitting the files and your release date to ensure the book is actually for sale at all venues when you say it will be. Don't forget to allow time for proofing any print books.

Tip: Pick your release date and work backward to ensure you have enough time for all venues to process.

7. Who will design your cover and interior pages?

Self-published books have been mainstream long enough that an unprofessional cover signals "bad book" to many readers. You'll want to find a good designer within your budget and take your time creating the best cover you can. If you're doing print books, you'll also need to design the interior pages. Choose a designer experienced in both cover and interior layouts.

Tip: Don't forget to test how your cover looks at thumbnail size, as that's how most readers will see it online. If it doesn't grab them at the small size, they won't click on it to see it at full size.

(Here's more on designing your cover)

(Here's more on designing your book)

8. What's your front- and backmatter?

This is commonly forgotten until the last minute, but these are important aspects of your book. Frontmatter are the pages before the book starts where you have your copyright pages, dedications, list of other books, etc. Backmatter are the pages at the end that have links to your website, other books, newsletter information, author information, and calls to action to encourage readers to look for your next book or learn more about you.

(Here's more on backmatter)

9. What's your metadata and keywords?

These elements are key to search engines and sales algorithms, so take the time to decide which keywords work best for your book and how people will be able to search for it.

10. What are the potential review sites?

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of review sites out there and not all of them are right for your book. Determine which reviewers will get books, what formats they prefer, and how much lead time they'll need. You'll need to send out review copies months in advance of your release date for any hope of a review around your launch. Three to six month is about average, but it can vary by reviewer.

Tip: If you're not sure who might be a good fit, pick a book or two that's similar to yours and see who reviewed those.

11. How many Advance Reader Copies (ARC) will you need?

Some review sites will only accept print books. Authors can purchase their own books at a discount, but it's wise to budget for ARCs so you're not caught with a lot of unexpected expenses. Don't forget to add in any postage or shipping costs, as these add up as well.

12. Does your e-book work on multiple devices?

Bad formatting can ruin an otherwise great book, so leave time to proof your e-book on a variety of e-readers. You can find emulators for most e-readers online, either through the publisher or a third party. If you have an e-reader, don't forget to load your own book and see how it looks. Send copies to friends who have other e-readers as well.

13. How much marketing do you want to do?

This is another aspect to include in your budget. Do you plan to just do blog tours or did you want to buy some online ads? What about events and signings? Travel costs eat into your profits, so determine if an event is worth what it will cost you to go. If you spend more than you make, it might be a bad move. But if the exposure is worth the extra cost, it could be a wise choice. Possible marketing ideas (and costs) to consider:
  • Business/book cards
  • Postcards and/or bookmarks
  • General swag (buttons, pens, wristbands, etc.)
  • Website
  • Blog
  • Blog tours
  • Advertising
Tip: Create a marketing plan with a to-do list so you know when, where, and how you're going to market your book.

(Here's more on marketing your book) 

(Here's more on creating a writing business plan)

14. Is your marketing copy prepared?

You know you'll need cover copy, but you'll also need smaller blurbs and even a single-sentence tagline for marketing purposes. It's helpful to create a variety of book descriptions and keep them handy so you can grab one as needed. Don't forget to write a variety of author bios as well.

Tip: Before you get too far in the process, search for your title on Amazon and Google. You don't want to discover three days before launch that there are already six books with that title out there.You also want to make sure your title doesn't contain words or phrases that are so common your book gets lost in a Google search.

Odds are more questions will come up as you go through the process and encounter issues specific to you and your book, but this list will point you in the right direction and get you started.

Do you have questions on self publishing? Or tips about the process? 

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my bestselling Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  
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  1. I'm going to suggest underlining your tip about searching for your title to see if it exists, not just on Amazon, but on Google as well. I have two novels ready to go and didn't realize until recently that the titles I selected contained such common words that searching for them is likely to turn up a number of results that are not mine. But of course, now I'm so attached to those titles that it's much harder for me to come up with new ones!

    1. Great tip, thanks, and I'll add that to the list.

  2. Great summary of everything a person needs to know to Self-pub. Off to the class wikis this goes!

    1. Yay, thanks! I suspect this article will get updated frequently as things change in the publishing world.

  3. Great article. Lots of great info. Thank you.

  4. Yes, great list! It's a time-consuming effort, so it's smart to make sure you're absolutely ready.

    1. Totally. I was a little surprised by how longer certain things took. And there was always "just one more thing!" popping up (grin).

  5. Talk to other authors before hiring anybody. Talent isn't everything. I expect my team to act like professionals. Luckily, they have talent too. :)

    1. Absolutely. Treat it like a small business, because that's what it is.