3 Really Good Self-Publishing Ideas and 5 Hilariously Bad Ones

by Joel Friedlander on August 22, 2012 · 36 comments

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by Alan Petersen (@AlanPetersen)

Recently I was asked to moderate a panel discussion for the Northern California Book Publicity and Marketing Association (NCBPMA) on self-publishing. Alan was one of the other panelists, and I was interested to meet him because he’s one of the few authors I know who also has an extensive background in internet marketing. I asked Alan for some input that would help authors just getting started with self-publishing, and here’s his response.



Self-publishing has become quite the hot topic recently.

Earlier this year, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos informed us that, “Sixteen of the top 100 bestsellers on Kindle today were self-published.

It’s that type of news that is sending many authors to search for those old manuscripts that have been tucked away in their hard drives, so they too can cash in on the self-publishing gold rush.

Self-publishing is also just so darn easy now. With just a few clicks of the mouse, you can have your book available for sale on Amazon, the Barnes & Noble website, and other online retailers.

Adding fuel to the fire is the amazing success of many self-published authors, including popular ebook authors like Amanda Hocking and John Locke, and even lesser known authors, now making their living as full time writers. There are also more casual writers who are supplementing their income nicely with their self-published works.

According to Amazon, E.L. James has sold more copies of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ than the entire ‘Harry Potter’ series combined—making her their best-selling author ever. She owes this success to her initial attempts at self-publishing her books.

But before you rush to self-publish your book, there are some things you should be doing first, and there are definitely some things you should avoid entirely.

Three Essentials

First, let’s start with the three essential things you should do before you self-publish:

  1. Have a selling/marketing plan. Sure, you could get lucky and sell a lot of books just by publishing them, but that’s highly unlikely. If your goal is to simply publish your book, then congrats, you’re done. Your friends and family will be proud. But if you want to get your book into the hands of as many readers as possible, you’re going to have to sell it. And as an independent author, you’re going to have to do most of the selling and promoting yourself. It’s best to have your book marketing plan squared away before you self-publish, so you can hit the ground running.
  2. Hire a professional book cover designer. The old adage, “you can’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t apply here. You are competing with many self-published authors as well as many traditionally published ones from both the big publishing houses and smaller publishers. The competition is tough, and the main factor that will stop a perusing prospective reader from clicking on your book is your book cover. So unless you’re a talented graphic artist or book cover designer, go get yourself a professional designer that will be able to transfer what’s in your head into a sweet-looking book cover.
  3. Hire a professional editor AND a proofreader. In the ancient days that ushered in this new self-publishing era (way back in 2009-2010), many of these trail blazers uploaded their unedited manuscripts onto Amazon’s Kindle marketplace. Their foolhardy ways subjected readers to an onslaught of misspellings, typos, and grammar errors. They might have not known any better, but now we do. So please, don’t treat your paying customers as beta readers. Hire a professional editor and a proofreader.

Note: There are several different levels of editing. A copy editor handles line editing that focuses more on the mechanics, while a developmental or substantive editor delves into your manuscript, checking for flow, improving characters, deleting paragraphs, and more. This is the type of comprehensive editing your manuscript needs.

Once this phase of editing is complete, hire a proofreader (someone other than your editor) to give your manuscript a final read through before publishing. You’ll be amazed how many grammar mistakes they catch.

You’re never going to have a perfect, error-free book – not even the biggest publishing houses can accomplish that feat. But you’ll at least publish a well-edited and proofread book that will appease most of your readers. This will cut down on a lot of one-star reviews from angry readers who might have even liked your story, but couldn’t get past the poorly edited writing.

Five Things to Avoid

Now let me share five bad ideas that you should avoid like the bubonic plague. I’ve actually seen these recommended to newbie self-published authors on the interwebs.

  1. Go get your book cover designed on Fiverr.com. For just five bucks, voilà, you’ll have your book cover ready! As stated above, the book cover is important, so please don’t skimp out on it. Prices vary wildly. When I was researching book cover designers, the prices varied from $5 to over $2,000. I would suggest you budget at least $200.
  2. My manuscript looks great on Word, I’m ready to self publish! Formatting can be tricky and Word is infamous for the funky formatting nightmares it unleashes. This is different from book editing. Book formatting is how your book will look when it’s printed or how it will display on the popular e-readers (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc). If you’re tech savvy and have time on your hands, you can learn it yourself. If you’re not, I would recommend you hire an expert. You’re looking at $40-$1200 (depending mostly on formats and manuscript size).
  3. Oh, I can’t believe that reader left that nasty 1-star review, I’m going to reply and give them a piece of my mind! Authors need to have thick skin. Not everyone is going to like your book. In fact, some people are going to hate it. And some will be vicious about it, since the anonymity of the Internet makes it easy to be mean. You can learn from bad reviews, so you should welcome constructive criticism. But resist the temptation to pick a fight with your reviewer. When an author does this, it usually goes viral. And no matter how nasty the review, it’s the author who ends up looking really bad. If you’re going to respond to negative reviews, keep it light and professional. Don’t get down in the mud.
  4. You can buy 100 five-star Amazon reviews for cheap? Cool! There are a lot of sites out there where you can buy fake reviews, Tweets, followers, Facebook Likes, etc. Stay away from all that. The online reader is not dumb. They can sniff out fake reviews like a French truffle hog sniffing out that gourmet food. Major corporations have been caught buying fake reviews, and more than one book publicist has been axed for the same offense. So it’s not just self-publishers going down that shoddy road. The practice of fake Amazon reviews has gotten so bad that many prospective readers don’t even trust five star reviews anymore.
  5. I’m going to send this template email asking these influential bloggers to review my book. The fastest way to tick off bloggers is by sending them a canned, generic letter asking for a book review. Bloggers deal with email spam, comment spam, social spam via Twitter, Facebook, etc., so your template request won’t get you far. It might even get you permanently blacklisted. Get to know the blogger and send them a personalized request that shows you know about their blog and their readership/subscribers. Your book might be awesome, but you’re not doing them any favors by sending them your book for free (please, don’t ever charge them for a review copy). They’re doing you the favor—if they choose to review your book.

There you have it. Three things to do and five things to not do. As self-published authors, we’re living in very exciting times. So go for it. But please do it right. Your reputation and book sales will be better for it.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, please leave a comment below. I’ll be checking back, and I’ll try my best to respond.

self-publishingAlan Petersen is a blogger and affiliate marketer with several online properties in a variety of niches. He is also a self-published author of both fiction and nonfiction. You can read his blog, Fictive Universe and connect with him on Twitter @AlanPetersen and Facebook.

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    { 31 comments… read them below or add one }

    levonne March 27, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    I epublished and now am making a marketing plan. I couldn’t help myself! Thanks for your article. @levonne

    Reply

    Sun Mielcarek December 5, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Fiverr is high authority market for webmasters .

    Reply

    Alan Petersen December 5, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    I’m not sure if you’re being facetious, but Fiverr is a good site for small jobs. I use it when I need an image Photoshopped, a quickie header or banner designed, small jobs like that. For example, I’ve used Fiverr for my Twitter (@alanpetersen) header and Facebook timeline cover (http://facebook.com/alanpetersenbooks). But I provided them with the graphic of my book cover but not the actual cover design.

    – Alan

    Reply

    Robert Harrison September 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Excellent article! It confirms a lot of the other research I’ve been doing about self-publishing. Professionally, I’m in the marketing and advertising field so I recognize the importance of this part of the process, but never having marketed a book, let alone my own, information like this (and your blog in general) is a goldmine.

    I consider myself extremely fortunate to have a very talented friend who is an illustrator/graphic artist who has graciously agreed to create my book cover at no charge. Now if only I was friends with a book editor…

    Reply

    Vicki Thompson August 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    After years of tossing it around, I’ve started writing my autobiography. This will likely be my only writing endeavor but, I’m doing my homework trying to learn all the do’s and don’t’s. This has been a great page! Thank you!

    Reply

    Shirley Ford August 28, 2012 at 5:17 am

    Hi Joel, another great article. I have published my first book and even after having it proofread again and again, I still have a few typos apparently; so with the small amount of money I am making on this book, I can afford to spend more on publishing the next one. That’s the plan anyway!

    Reply

    Alan Petersen August 23, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Great comments from everyone and thank you for the feedback and nice words!

    I love it how the importance of having a marketing plan, a great book cover, and a well edited and proofread book is being reenforced in the comments.

    Reply

    Toni Dwiggins August 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    I’ve worked as a proofreader and copy-editor, many moons ago, and that gives me a certain skill set to go over my writing. However, that’s just a start. I would never EVER consider publishing a book without hiring a professional content editor (and proofreader), in my genre.

    I just want to add that Alan is the organizer of a terrific self-pub writing group based in San Francisco, where valuable writing/marketing tips are traded, and coffee and camaraderie are in good supply. ;)

    Reply

    Carol Verburg August 23, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Joel & Alan, thanks for this inspired & inspiring follow-up to our BAIPA meeting. Also, Joel, thanks for the link to Tom Friedman’s astute point that good books as well as good jobs (among many other national riches) depend on a strong education system, which we gut at our peril.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 23, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Great to have you as a visitor, Carol.

    Reply

    Katie McAleece August 23, 2012 at 4:48 am

    I appreciate the weight of this post, there’s a lot of great content. Also find it pretty nifty that you’ve gone as far as to give us estimates of cost for certain things. Those are nice things to know!

    My favorite part of this is, “The old adage, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, doesn’t apply here.” THAT IS SO TRUE. …Sorry for the caps. The cover is so, so, so important. People DO judge BOOKS by their covers.

    Alright, I’m finished on my soapbox. Thank you for another great post!

    Reply

    Turndog Millionaire August 22, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Good tips. A solid plan is a must if you want to have a long standing book. Easy to publish…yes. Easy to sell…not so much :)

    Thanks for the thoughts. good things to consider for someone planning his first launch

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    Reply

    Omar Luqmaan-Harris (@BookMarketing33) August 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Nice post, Joel.

    The one other essential decision Self-publishers must make is whether to independently publish or utilize the services of an “assisted” self-publisher like Author House. Here is a blog I wrote on this topic sometime back: http://bit.ly/PXJ4I8

    If it helps, I have created a FREE book marketing template that my publishing company has used to sell 30,000 copies of 4 books in 2 years. E-mail me, Joel if you’d like to partner on this.

    Best,

    Omar

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 23, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Thanks, Omar, for offering your extensive template for other authors to use.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins August 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Bowerbird,

    It’s true; people are always trying to sell you services. That game is as old as time itself. Yes, they don’t generally have skin in the game, but that is the nature of service business today.

    You bring up a good point that people need to honestly assess their own abilities when they decide to create a commercial work for sale.

    There really are multiple disciplines that are required for book production. The big 4 are Writing, Editing, Design and Marketing.

    Most people the dive in to this feel that they are competent at writing. However, competence can vary wildly in the other areas. People really need to self-assess to see what portions where they fall short. Granted, if you just don’t care about the quality of your work, you can do whatever.

    Going into writing & producing my first novel, I was overconfident and figured I was an 9/10 across the board. I was also wrong.

    My writing, well, that is subjective. (I will gladly give out free samples)
    Editing, I am a 2/10. I hired that out.
    Design, I feel like I’m a solid 6/10, just competent enough to get through, but time will tell. (I wish i would have hired it out after the hours i put in.)

    Marketing, I feel like a 4/10, I need all the help I can get, within my
    means.

    If you are a 2/10 on design, and you care about your product, then by all means, hire that out.

    Tracy

    Reply

    bowerbird August 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    i’m sure glad nobody took my slam personally.

    (or perhaps it’s just that no one wanted to be
    as indelicate as me, which is understandable.)

    at any rate, i certainly didn’t mean to undermine
    the fine individuals sharing their expertise here…

    so thank you for having an open mind.

    -bowerbird

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins August 23, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    bowerbird ,

    Oh, most of us are writers of some sort and with that you have to be a bit of a cynic to survive. We have all been sold and burned at least once in life, some of us many times. Everyone knows to take things with a grain of salt and to weight the benefits of anything we outlay cash for.

    Reply

    bowerbird August 22, 2012 at 10:43 am

    i’m a marketeer. therefore you need marketing.
    but you must pay me a flat rate, not a percentage
    of the sales increase which i implicitly promise you.

    i am a book designer. so you need a book designer.
    but again, of course, i will charge you a flat rate.

    likewise, i am an editor. so you need an editor.
    flat rate, in advance.

    cover artist, proofreader, book-tour coordinator,
    courses, webinars, the list goes on and on and on.

    we’ll help you sell books. you wanna sell, right?

    ***

    remember, you don’t have to play the game this way.

    you _can_, if you want, and i will _support_ you
    — without charging you any money, i might add —
    but you need to know that you don’t _have_to_…

    -bowerbird

    Reply

    chris August 22, 2012 at 7:15 am

    As the writer of a 95,000+ word non-fiction book, I can tell you the costs for proofing/editing make it almost impractical to hire out for that service. This is where I start calling in favors and bartering.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins August 22, 2012 at 7:55 am

    With a back of the napkin calculation, that 95K novel is about 325 Pages, double spaced with 1” margins (Times New Roman). Now, agency editors may charge $5 a page, but most free-lance editors will only hit your up for $2-$3 a page. I think $650-$975 is more than reasonable for a quality, professional edit of a full novel. A proof reader is also a good idea, but you can print a few ARCs and have a wide audience that is interested in your book do a proof read session or ten if you don’t want to hire it out.

    Now, if you have people in your circle that can do the professional work that is fantastic.

    Reply

    Alan Petersen August 22, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Hi Chris,

    If you can get a professional editor (not just a fellow writer, English major, etc. but an actual editor) by calling in favors and bartering, more power to you! That’s awesome.

    But you should be able to find an editor within your budget. You can open a bid request at the freelance sites like Odesk.com and elance.com.

    You can go to forums like the “Writer’s Cafe” at KindleBoards.com. I found one of my editors there. She had a lot of experience, samples, references, and portfolio, that I could check out.

    Many of them will even do an editing sample of your manuscript for free, which is a great way to see if you like their style.

    The editing process will take a bite out of your publishing budget, but the cost is not as horrible as many believe.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins August 22, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Tracy’s Top Five Tips for Debut Authors.

    1-Living in a vacuum is a bad idea.
    Anyone that wants to break into the business needs to learn the business. Get out; read blogs and articles on the topics that you need to learn. There are many writers, designers, marketers and industry insiders who offer knowledge freely. Take advantage of those education opportunities. Interact with other people and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The easiest way to mess up is to go in blind.

    2-A paid critique of your work is worth its weight in gold.
    Get professional insight early on. Paid critiques are one of the best ways to see where you flaws are so you can correct them early. Since the paid critique doesn’t know you and doesn’t care if they hurt your feelings, you will get unbiased advice. The best bang for your buck is to write a couple of short stories and send them to several paid critique services. Having real feedback from multiple industry professionals is a great way to find, and get rid of, your weaknesses. For less than $50, you can make sure your writing is on track when you decide to tackle that novel.

    3-Writing can be a hobby, but publishing, especially self publishing, is a job.
    Writing a novel may take you three months and you will probably enjoy every minute of it. After the manuscript is done, it’s all work after that if you want to see it correctly in print. Going through a traditional publisher will take effort, potentially several re-writes and a lot of waiting. Self publishing is a lot of work if you want to do it right and be competitive. After delivery of the edited manuscript, the design of the cover and the formatting of the print and e-books can take months. The marketing and strategy will likely take months of work as well. It doesn’t have to be a 40 hour a week job, but if you are serious about it, it will take a significant amount of labor to deliver a refined and finished product. You can save that time by paying someone else for his or hers. So weigh your options carefully.

    4-A good editor is worth their weight in uranium.
    Choose an editor that has experience in your genre and provides good notes. They can be as affordable as $2per page. I just can’t stress this enough. You are an artist and the work you delivered on the page is art. However, a book is a product and there are certain expectations that the reader will have. If you opened a can of Coke and the product inside was flat and tasted acrid, you would be disappointed. Likewise, consumers will expect a certain level of professionalism in the written works they buy. The editor (or team of editors) is your best bet to assure a solid written product is delivered from the art you created.

    5-Books are judged by their covers.
    Unless you have formal training in design, contract a pro or take bids and choose the best one. There is nothing to be gained by a poor cover. Taste is subjective and what might be appealing to you, may not appeal to a mass audience. You should have several cover designs created or your book. Test them out on a sample audience. You just cannot skimp on doing research and “taste tests” for your cover options. Your customer’s will vote on your cover design with their wallets.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 22, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Nice list, Tracy.

    Reply

    Mary DeDanan August 22, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Hey, professional editor here, as well as writer. If I may chime in: I never accept an assignment from an indie author that pays by the page or word; $2/page might well be less than minimum wage. You are not going to get quality editing for that, and I can’t even afford cat food. Writing skills vary incredibly, as do the different stages of editing. Some manuscripts fly by, 10-12 pages an hour, other require major surgery and go much slower, say 1-2 pages an hour. Therefore I charge by the hour. If you’ve honed your chops and send me a clean manuscript, an hourly rate will turn out to be a better deal for you too. For standard professional rates and pace, check out http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php. And by the way, I do barter. But not for uranium!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 22, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Mary,

    Thanks for the input and the link to Editorial Freelancers. Different editors have different ways of estimating and charging for their work, and it’s wise to talk to the editor you’ll be working with about how to ensure you get the work your book needs in the most efficient way. All of the editors I work with see a complete manuscript and talk to the author before they will give an estimate, and that makes a lot of sense to me.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins August 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Thanks for the link Mary. According to it, $3 per page is the best-case, bare minimum, with $25 per page as the ceiling. Now, maybe it is the quality of work submitted or the just the market, but there are editors out there that do have a passion for their work and charge less. Perhaps EFA affiliated editors have a premium.

    I shopped around to find editorial work and several were lower cost and offered a reasonable rate. After a sample edit, the quality of work was there as well.

    Looking at author services at self-publishing firms like Createspace, they charge $3 for a basic edit and $4-$6 per page for more involved edits. ($0.012, $0.016, $0.022 per word, 250wpp.)

    Therefore, service prices and quality can vary. $2 per page must be on the lower end of the spectrum, but there are quality freelance editors out there that will turn over good quality work for that rate. There are probably a few that charge $40 per hour and turn over terrible work.

    The joys of procuring services are many.

    Reply

    Anya Kelleye August 22, 2012 at 5:49 am

    Yes, this is a great post. I’m not an author myself (yet) but a cover designer. I WANT indie authors to do well which is why I read up on all of this information to be able to make professional covers that are affordable for indie authors. There are so many good books out there by indie authors that would just do so much better if they had better information. Some have found it, some have not. A good editor, proofreader, cover artist, book designer, etc can be found without breaking the bank if an author doesn’t have the funds, especially just starting out.

    Thanks for the great info. I’m going to pass this on to several authors that I know.

    Reply

    RD Meyer August 22, 2012 at 1:35 am

    Excellent post! I thought the line about having a marketing plan was the best part. Too many writers assume that if they just publish, they’ve got it made, for surely everyone will be drawn to the book’s brilliance. Unfortunately, unless your name is King or Rowling, that’s just not the case. Nowadays, writers, especially indie writers, have to understand the business side to have success.

    Reply

    Frances August 22, 2012 at 5:49 am

    I love your blog, Joel. This is a great post (thanks, Alan) and confirms the reason that I’ve hired three editors to review my book before I publish it. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 22, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Thanks, Frances. I admire your dedication to creating the best book you can, and I think it will be to your advantage when you publish.

    Reply

    Alan Petersen August 22, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks! And congratulations on your book. It shows you care about your readers by putting it through a vigorous editing process! Good luck with your book!

    Reply

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