When an author decides to publish their own book they bring with them a lifetime of experience. Their books usually grow out of this experience, and capitalize on their skills and knowledge. At a minimum, you need to know something to write a book.
Usually, their experience doesn’t include any expertise in:
- Editing, proofreading, or indexing books
- Book design, cover design, or marketing
- Book wholesaling, distribution, discounts or fulfillment
- The price of Jiffy bags or what “media mail” means
And after all, why should they? They’ve been busy doing other things.
We’ve been surrounded by books from infancy, and pretty much take them for granted. Until it comes time to make one of our own, and that’s when the questions begin to appear.
Let The Questions Begin!
Beginning self-publishers usually have pretty similar questions. This allows those of us who try to help self-publishers anticipate a lot of their concerns, particularly that feeling of floating, alone, in the middle of a big sea of confusion.
Without further ado, let’s look at the top questions new self-publishers have when they decide to self-publish a book:
- What do I do first?
- Do I have to start a company?
- Do I really need an editor?
- Do I really need an ISBN?
- How much is this going to cost?
- It’s going to take how long?
- Can you get my book into ____?
- What do you mean, discount?
You have to start somewhere, and the problem is you might not know exactly where that is. But the most important task you face at the beginning of your self-publishing career is to answer these two questions: “What is my goal in publishing this book? How will I know whether or not I’ve been a success?” You are the only person who can answer these questions, and how you go about producing and marketing your book will depend on how you answer. Give yourself plenty of time, and write your responses down.
Okay, now you know why you answered question number one above. If your goal is to create a book for friends and family, for gifts, for fundraising or as an internal company production, you do not need to start a company to meet your goal. On the other hand, if you want to reach the widest readership possible, or make money from your book, or advocate on a large scale for a specific agenda, you are going into business, and you will need to set up a company in order to do so. Get advice from your accountant before you go any farther about how best to establish your company.
See how important that first question was? If you’re publishing your recipe collection, or your great aunt’s recollections of her childhood, you probably don’t need an editor. If you plan to get reviews, space on bookstore shelves, or speaking engagements, think about this: The biggest complaint about self-published books is lack of editing. You simply have to be able to pass this threshold, and editors are more accessible than ever before.
If you’ve already decided to go for bookstore or online sales, you’ll need an ISBN. If you buy your own ISBN from RR Bowker or one of their authorized vendors, you will have more flexibility and more control over the fate of your book, and your company will be listed as the publisher in book industry databases. If you use a publishing-services company you may be able to save the money by using their ISBN to identify your book, but they will be the publisher of record.
Well, that depends. There is no accurate way to answer this question (unless you consider “between nothing and $20,000” to be an answer) without more information about your book and your goals. But a lack of cash shouldn’t stop you from getting into print, because there are more ways to publish than ever before. If you’re planning a commercial publication, you’ll need to find a book designer or book shepherd who can help you construct a budget that’s appropriate for your project.
A professionally produced book may employ editors, designers, proofreaders, illustrators, indexers and a lot of time and energy to put together properly. Selecting, hiring, coordinating all these tasks in itself takes time, not to mention the marketing chores, bibliographic listings, preparation of media kits and review copies, and allowing time for reviewers and bookings all take time. You’ve invested a lot in your book, now it’s time to make sure you get the most out of it.
Success for some authors is a review in the New York Times, or a spot on Oprah’s couch, or hitting the bestseller lists. And hey, it may happen. But if it does, it will be the result of all the work you put into the book itself and the efforts you make to spread your message as widely as possible. Nobody can guarantee that for you. Rather than a goal, think of these accomplishments as results of your work.
You want to see your book on Amazon.com, you think it would look great on the “New Nonfiction” table at Border’s, and you think the local independent bookstore will give you the chance for a reading. Remember that book retailers, distributors, wholesalers and book clubs are also businesses that expect to turn a profit. They are your collaborators in your efforts to sell your book, and you will have to pay them for the privilege. This fact will dictate how you go about setting your retail price, so you need to learn how this part of the book business works.
The Road Forward
As you can see from the answers, there is a lot to learn when you leap into book publishing. Getting rid of the initial confusion that seems to affect most people is the fastest way to get traction for your project and take the actions that will help realize your goals.
Take a moment to let me know questions you have that haven’t been answered here in the comments, and I’ll be glad to give them a go.