If you’ve been paying attention to the book industry at all in recent years, you’ve noticed that book publishing has changed a lot. It’s no longer under the exclusive command of big, glamorous publishing houses with their three-martini lunches and total control over which manuscripts end up published and which ones end up on the slush pile.
Nowadays, writers can become self-publishing authors easily, regardless of a book’s topic, length, or even quality. Self-publishing has taken the book world by storm and the acquisitions editors of yore are no longer all-powerful.
For aspiring writers — and readers — everywhere, this is fabulous news! There’s a greater variety of books than ever before, in all genres, from poetry to “women’s friendship fiction,” which, I admit, I’d never heard of until a couple of days ago.
With this explosion in self-publishing, though, comes the realization by many first-time self-published authors that it’s one thing to write a book and upload it to a print-on-demand service and quite another to attract an audience of readers to buy the book, says jjhebertonline.com.
Curious about what experienced self-published authors would say to writers who dream of self-publishing, I interviewed some of my editing clients and asked authors in self-publishing groups on social media: What advice would you give writers who want to publish their own books?
Here are 10 tips for successful self-publishing, from authors who learned the hard way.
1) Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need
Authors told me: “I didn’t realize how much time it would take,” “everything takes longer than you’d think,” and “it will take much longer than you think, especially if you aspire to quality.”
I’ve seen many aspiring authors want to get their books out yesterday, but you can publish a book fast or you can publish a book well; it’s harder to do both. Give yourself the space to make the best decisions for your book, hire the best people, and get clear on how your book fits in with your larger plans and goals.
2) Start marketing early
Every author I spoke to reported that they wished they had begun marketing earlier. The basic rule I’ve heard is to start building your author platform (email list, social media, a forum or dedicated social media group if appropriate) 6 – 12 months before the book’s release and to start your actual marketing campaign (targeted blog posts, articles, podcasts, and advertising designed to create a buzz about your book) 2 – 3 months before the book is available.
It’s not enough to place ads or to send out an announcement to your email list (you do have an email list, don’t you?) once the book is released. You need to have a community of people who like the work you do, want what you’re offering, and are excited to buy your book before it even comes out.
3) Invest in the book
“It costs a lot of money to publish a book” was another comment I heard repeated in my conversations with authors. And it’s common in online self-publishing groups for aspiring authors to ask, “How much does it cost to publish?” The answer is: it can cost as much as you’re willing to pay, and you (and your readers) will get what you pay for.
To be successful in any venture, including self-publishing, you’ll need to commit to going all-in with your project. This includes financially. Think of the book as one aspect of your overall strategy to meet your income and creative goals, understand how it fits in with your plan, and give the book every chance to be successful. The books that disappear into obscurity are the ones whose authors didn’t spend the time or money to help them fly.
4) Don’t do everything yourself
There are a lot of steps to self-publishing. It’s much more than simply writing your manuscript on Word and then throwing it up on a print-on-demand site and waiting for the cash to come rolling in.
There’s conceptualizing your book idea so that it’s compelling to your target audience; writing and revising the manuscript; possibly gathering beta readers and a developmental editor; hiring a copy editor; designing the cover and interior; getting it proofread; uploading the final product; collecting reviews; building your author platform; creating a website that’s discoverable through an internet search; developing and implementing your marketing and publicity plans…whew! That’s a lot to keep track of.
If you value your sanity: don’t do it all yourself.
Think about the aspects of the work that are overwhelming to you or that you don’t enjoy or that you don’t know how to do, and hire others to do those tasks.
5) Hire professional designers
It’s a truism in publishing that “everyone thinks they’re a book designer.” Several of the authors who weighed in on my questions cautioned against designing your own. The truth is that people DO judge a book by its cover. If your cover is “blah” or simply bad, it will turn potential readers off. After all, one side effect of so many people self-publishing is that there’s always another book to choose if you’re not impressed with the one right in front of you.
Good book designers have the experience and training to understand how to use color, images, and typography to create an attractive design.
And designing the interior of the book to be attractive and readable is not as easy as you might think: a good designer can make your book look beautiful and give your readers an enjoyable experience when they open (or scroll through) the book.
Spend the money to hire professionals. Your book will be the better for it.
(Pro tip: pay your designers decently for good work. A $2 book cover will look like, well, a $2 book cover.)