With a flood of eager young authors getting excited about the rising legitimacy of self-publishing, there’s an important and very hard question that every one of us has to answer.
Are you ready?
These days, it’s very easy—and free—to upload any piece of writing and sell it as an ebook, a paperback, or even a hardcover. Self-publishing isn’t quite taking over the industry as some claim, but it is gaining ground as a viable option, and many people have made significant paychecks from it.
You can’t just force a piece of bad writing on the world, though. If your ultimate goal is to make enough sales that you could support yourself, for example, you have to start with something that people will actually want to buy.
All promoting aside, the first step, and the most important one, is to polish your book until it’s as professional as any traditionally published book. It should stand out from the masses of poorly written, poorly edited, and poorly formatted works of your fellow overzealous self-publishers.
Before you even consider publishing of any sort, read a few books about editing your own writing. Try every suggestion they make, because often you have no idea how much one idea can benefit your work. Seek out advice from other authors, both traditionally published and self-published, who have good quality and more than just a friends-and-family fanbase.
Once you’ve edited your book into oblivion and are sure that it meets the standards set forth by people like Orson Scott Card, you might be ready to move on. I don’t mean you have to be as talented as the best writers of the day, I mean you should eliminate typos and grammatical errors and awkwardly structured sentences to the level of a professional editing job. It’s not easy. Even published books have errors in them, and editing your own work is harder than editing someone else’s. Get practice on other people’s writing first, if you can. You’ll learn a lot.
Aside from the basics, you should still have a solid plot, interesting characters, and an attention-grabbing premise. This can venture into the subjective, so it’s best to get reader’s opinions—as many as you can—before evaluating what you have, what you want, what your readers want, and how you can compromise between that all.
Let’s suppose you have a well-polished novel that’s good enough to be successful, but somehow you haven’t caught the eye of a publisher or agent and you decide to try self-publishing. Now you have to deal with formatting and promotion all on your own.
Formatting isn’t hard, you merely need a good word processor and a list of guidelines. Look at books of the same genre as yours to get layout ideas, use fonts that look professional (nobody wants to see 96 pt. Comic Sans on your front cover), and start experimenting. The presentation is probably the second most important part, after writing a good book. Your goal is to make an impression, keep their attention, and make them want to stick around for your next book. Professionalism in every area is very important.
Finally, once you’re ready to put your book out there, research the many options and tools that are open to you. Keep in mind that if you’re paying somebody to publish your book, you’re getting ripped off. The only things you might have to pay for are professional editing, graphic design, formatting (if you don’t do those things yourself or have awesome friends who will do them for free), and possibly promotion. But if you’re self-publishing, it’s better to learn how to promote yourself than to pay a vanity press to supposedly promote your book. Most of them don’t do it anyway, but they won’t tell you that.
Any questions? Stick around for more thoughts on self-publishing and promotion in future articles, or you can contact me with specific questions by posting a comment below (make sure you subscribe to receive email updates for replies, in case you forget about the comment), or just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.