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Every so often I am asked what one piece of advice I would give an author who is seeking to self-publish a book. It’s really hard to boil down everything an author should know about self-publishing into one piece of advice, so I’m going to cheat a little and say that my advice is to listen to these five things that many authors don’t really want to acknowledge, but should hear.
1. There are people who will take advantage of your lack of knowledge about the self-publishing business.
On the one hand, it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate between companies in the self-publishing industry that truly have your best interests at heart and those whose best interests lay squarely on their own bottom lines.
On the other hand, with the Internet at our fingertips, it’s never been easier to find reviews—good and bad—about companies and people who provide self-publishing services. Truly, one can no longer plead ignorance when it comes to deciding which company gets to work with you on your book.
Here’s how you can look beyond the great customer testimonials on the company website. In the search bar of Google or Bing or whatever, type in the name of the company you are researching along with the word “reviews” or “scam” or “complaints.” It’s kind of fun to see what comes up. Unless you’re doing this search after you’ve already paid the company money, in which case I apologize for provoking that sick feeling in your gut….
Some other possible red flags:
• “Free” ISBNs where the self-publishing company grants you one of their ISBNs without explaining to you that they are now the publisher of record and not you;
• Not receiving the full royalty to which you are entitled;
• Self-publishing companies that seem to be associated with a traditional publisher, giving them some credibility;
• Companies that ask you to submit your manuscript for approval and/or pay to have your book “published,” giving you the sense that you’re getting your book published by a “real” publisher.
And never, ever forget that you are the customer.
2. “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
Planning extends to self-publishing. And planning to take the advice of the first self-publishing company you find on Google, even if that company happens to be 1106 Design, is not a plan.
Part of your plan should be to find a company (or companies, or persons) that provides the services you need to publish your book independently. But that should not BE your plan. Your plan should include research into your book’s viability, the competition, cover and interior design of books in your genre, and into the self-publishing industry itself—how exactly do you plan to get this done?
Planning should include some goal setting (personal and business goals – do you want to make money, use your novel as a launching pad to a series of books, is the book part of the marketing strategy for your consulting business, or is your book a legacy piece for your children?). Setting goals helps you identify your budget and the types of services you require. Then you need to research the best way to find those services. And you need a budget. And a marketing plan. And, oh yes, plan to write your book too!
3. Get paid like an Indie Publisher, not an indie author.
Ah yes, the things they never tell you. When you publish through a self-publishing company (sometimes called a subsidy publisher for reasons that will become evident, who actually publishes the book? Is it you? The company? Are you getting “royalties” from the company or are you getting the correct profit per book (sometimes called “publisher compensation”)?
Indie Publishers make sure their per book profit is calculated like this:
RETAIL PRICE – PRINTING COSTS = PROFIT
…while indie authors tend to get “royalties” from companies that use an equation something like this:
RETAIL PRICE – PRINTING COST – COMPANY’S SHARE = ROYALTY
Don’t forget that you need to deduct all of your fixed costs from your royalties or publisher compensation. Those are the costs to prepare the book for publication.
If you decide to be an indie author, understand what you are getting for the “Company Share” slice of your profits. Take this matter seriously; the amount can add up to dollars per book. “Subsidy companies” subsidize their low upfront costs by taking some of your profits. “Pay me now or pay me later,” as the saying goes. Some companies will charge you an arm and a leg up front AND take their share of your profits, so make sure to be very clear on the calculation and what services you are receiving.
The easiest way around this is to be an Indie Publisher. Purchase your own ISBN. Be the publisher of record on your book. Only deal with companies that encourage you to set up your own account with IngramSpark or CreateSpace so that the publisher compensation comes directly to you and not via another company that sends you “royalties.”
4. If you have to cut corners, perhaps now is not the time to self-publish.
We are the first to admit that doing it right costs money. But, you are in control of what “doing it right” means to you because your definition of “doing it right” depends largely on your goals, your plan, and your budget.
If you are self-publishing a family memoir for your children and you have a small budget, then you will try and do as much as you can by yourself or by reaching out to friends and family for assistance.
However, if you are publishing a book as part of your company marketing strategy, you want to make sure the book’s quality (or lack thereof) does not reflect badly on you or your business. In short, you’ll need to throw money at it. And if you can’t, then research ways to fund the book (e.g., crowdfunding) or consider whether a book is a realistic part of your business marketing strategy at this point in time.
Think of it this way: Traditional publishers set out to make a profit. They only take on and invest money in books they think will sell well and increase their bottom lines. That’s why so many books get rejected. If you’re the author and even YOU aren’t willing to invest much money into your book, what’s that saying?
5. You will have to market your book.
I wasn’t sure where to put the emphasis in the above sentence. Should it be “YOU will have to market your book” or “You WILL have to market your book?”
Either way, marketing is essential to your book’s success. No one else is going to do it for you, unless you have the budget to hire someone to help you market your book. And even then, you’re going to have to be the person doing the book signings, giving the talks, encouraging libraries to take your book, schlepping your book to local indie bookstores, going to conferences and book fairs, handing out bookmarks, writing your blog posts, and the other myriad tasks that fall upon the author’s shoulders. Incidentally, if one day you realize your dream of being published by a “real publisher,” you’ll STILL have to market your book.
Again, if you choose to be an Indie Publisher and treat your book like a business with a budget and profit expectations, then you will know that promoting your book will have a direct impact on meeting your profit goals.
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