Deciding to self-publish is a tremendous leap of faith in an author’s career. While traditional publishing can give you the backing of in-house editors, cover designers, and marketers, self-publishing is increasing in popularity with authors. Why? It seems the lure of control we all like to have with our babies draws us to this decision. Ask most Indie authors why they went the indie route, and most will tell you it’s primarily about control.
I’m no different.
Deciding to self-publish was a challenging decision for me. Yes, it was about control but also love making art—writing is certainly a huge part of the artistic process – but so is designing the book cover and developing colourful and attractive social media images. I get to wear all of the creative hats and retain control throughout the publishing process.
Part of the decision was also due to the fact that my debut novel, Camino Wandering, fell into a unique category genre-wise. Many Camino-based books are published by religion-based publishers or they are independently published. Considering my fictional novel touches on the questioning of religious doctrines, I was pretty sure I would not be picked up by a religion-based publisher.
I am proud the story in Camino Wandering and feel strongly about the issues it addresses. The thought of losing that vision to the publishing process made my stomach churn. Plus, I’ll be honest, the time and energy I was looking at, in partnering with a traditional publisher, wasn’t ideal for me either. I’m like every other debut novelist there. I wanted my book out in the world faster than a couple of years down the track, which is what I’d have been looking at, if I went the traditional route.
That’s my story of taking the independent publishing leap.
Let’s talk about the business side of being an author and how to self-publish.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned as an independently published author is that the job is 20% writing and 80% marketing. When I first started out, I did a lot of research and learned some valuable lessons. I have scoured many websites and have read so many helpful books, Now, I feel my experience is important to share.
With every decision I make, I keep the big picture in mind: Writing is my business. Every dollar I spend is an investment in my career.
Before you self-publish, here are some tools and resources that have proved invaluable to me as a writer and entrepreneur.
As you read through this, understand there are some expensive tools I have invested in, but are worthwhile and highly recommended. They will save you time, headaches and yes, even money, in the long term.
Step 1: ProWritingAid. Revise and Polish.
You’ve written and edited the first draft of your novel. You like it. You believe you have ironed out the blatant grammar and spelling kinks.
Bring on ProWritingAid.
This is a miracle tool for me. It catches the grammar and spelling mistakes your word processor missed. It highlights my bad writing and offers suggestions on how to improve it. My writing has improved TEN-FOLD since investing in this tool.
What is ProWritingAid and why is it so great?
As the tagline says, it’s “A grammar checker, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.” It picks up everything from cliches to overused words, sticky paragraphs (my worst habit) to repeating words. I use every element of this program. I totally recommend investing in this tool – see how I mentioned investing? It’s the tool you will use in every part of your writing life: your novel, blurb, the back of your book, acknowledgements, and even newsletters sent out to your readers.
Click HERE for 20% off ProWritingAid.
2: Hire a Professional Editor.
Your novel is ready to go to a professional editor. This is where due diligence is imperative. It’s so important to find someone you click with, who understands your style and as well as your quirks. Someone who offers constructive feedback rather that someone who points out everything they see as wrong. You need to receive the good and the bad.
Professional editors are essential for indie authors. Depending on experience, they may be a bargain or the most expensive part of your publishing journey. The key is to find the right editor for you. Of course, it depends on what kind of editing you need. It may be a line editor or a development editor. But that’s for a future post I’ll refer you to this post for reference for now).
Step 2.1 is to edit your draft again, taking note of your editor’s suggestions and feedback. Once you’ve completed this, send your book to Beta Readers. Edit again. Then, move onwards to the next step.
3: Choose your BISAC codes
Your BISAC codes are an important part of the metadata for your book. The codes help sellers categorise your novel, based on the genre, the theme, the topic, etc. They help libraries and retailers determine where to place your book on their shelves or on their website. No one else assigns these but you and you must have it ready when you buy your ISBNs (see step 4).
Be clear on your BISAC codes and be honest. I can’t tell you how many erotica books I’ve seen in ‘clean romance’ categories. I understand that everyone wants their book in front of as many people as possible, but it’s important to get it into the right places.
4. Buy ISBNs
Firstly, what is an ISBN? The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier. It is a unique number for your book. Flip over a paperback and you’ll see a barcode. Included in that barcode is the ISBN. You must have a unique ISBN for every format of your book: Your eBook, Paperback and hardback, as well as audio.
There’s a lot of question on the web whether you should buy your ISBNs, since Amazon and Ingram provide them for free. I’m here to tell you that you should invest in your own.
Why? Owning your ISBNs is about control. Owning your ISBNS means you can publish wide. You aren’t locked into just Ingram Sparks or Amazon. You can publish wherever you want with your own ISBNs. If you use the Amazon or IngramSparks ISBN, you can only use them with those distributors.
How you buy your ISBN is different for every region. You purchase it as a publisher from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency. In Australia, I bought ten ISBNs from Thorpe-Bowker. It cost me $AUD 88 (as of December 2020). I only needed three ISBNs initially, but I bought ten because it was cheaper in the long run. Plus, it allowed me to be ready for the next book, and the one after that.
5: Create your Book Cover using Canva
Creating the front cover is one of my favourite parts of being an Indie Author. I could experiment on this part for hours. (Oh, who am I kidding? I can spend days!)
I use Canva to create my book covers. For Camino Wandering, I used one of my photos from my 2018 Camino. I uploaded the photo to Canva and then worked with fonts to create the look and feel I wanted. For my second novel, Beneath the Surface, I used an image I found in Canva Pro for the blood image, then tweaked the cover for the look I wanted to go with.
Once you have the final image created for your front cover, you need to adjust the size for formatting. The dimensions for your cover can be found on the website of whichever distribution path you’re using (Ingram Sparks or KDP, for example).
Printing paperbacks is a LOT more complicated. You either need to hire a cover designer to create it for you OR invest in something like Affinity Publisher. If you go with the latter, put on your patience hat to work it out.
Since I was on a strict budget and we already had Affinity Publisher (purchased @ 50% off), I spent a significant amount of time learning how to create the full cover (which includes the spine, ISBN imprint and back cover format – which I also created in Canva). I used the distributor’s template and, to be honest, I almost caved and hired a cover designer. I was THAT frustrated with it. But I persevered, and I learned a LOT.
I’ll write a post in the future about creating a paperback cover, but for now, here’s my recommendation: Use the distributor’s template and join the Facebook forums for KDP support or Ingram Sparks support to find answers to your questions. Using distributor templates will save you a significant amount of time, as will the support groups. But you can’t use one template for all distributors. They provide unique templates for their own service. Be warned, I found the instructions often murky.
6: Vellum = The Magic Tool for Interior Book Design
A fellow author steered me to Vellum, and I am still thanking her. Why? Because Vellum takes your Word document* which, by now is all polished and ready to go, and puts it in a final publishing format.
What does that mean?
Once you have your book cover complete, you upload the file, add in the Publishing company’s information (that is your company as an Indie Publisher, which you’ve registered beforehand). Add your publishing company’s logo (which you can also create in Canva) then move on to the interior formatting. Select the font, the outline, the headings, add in your Copyright information, any dedication, and finally, your acknowledgements. A menu will walk you through the available choices.
Once you have it all sorted and you love the look of your book, tell Vellum to ‘print’. Vellum is FREE to use UNTIL this point. Once you hit print, Vellum works its magic and spits out all the applicable file formats for Ingram Sparks, Barnes and Noble Press, Kobo, Kindle Direct Publishing, or whichever distributor you decide to use.
The thing I love about Vellum is that I could play with these settings BEFORE I committed to buying the application. Vellum is an investment, but once you hit ‘print’, you’ve bought the application for life, and it’s yours to use for every book thereafter.
*Things to note:
Vellum only works a Mac. Atticus is an alternate for PCs, but it’s not as robust.
Per their FAQ: Vellum can import any file with a .docx extension. These kinds of files are often created by Microsoft Word, but other word processing applications can create them as well, including Scrivener and Pages.
7: Wide or KDP Select?
Let me explain these terms first.
KDP Select refers to the Amazon Unlimited service. Publishing on KDP Select means you cannot publish your eBook anywhere else. You’re paid on the pages read, not the book sale. You can still sell your paperback and hardbacks anywhere you like, but by going through KDP Select, you are limiting your eBook sales to Amazon’s select service.
What if you want to sell your books, rather than be paid by the pages read?
You can do this through KDP, which is different than KDP Select. KDP refers to Kindle Direct Publishing which is the forum to sell your book on Amazon. You can upload both eBook and paperback formats to KDP.
Wide means publishing wherever you like, outside of KDP Select. You can publish on IngramSparks for example, and it will publish on Amazon through IngramSpark’s distribution (but I’ll warn you, Amazon doesn’t always play nice doing it that way).
My recommendation? If you want to sell your book (vs. be paid on pages read), publish on BOTH IngramSparks and KDP, then upload to Barnes and Noble Press, Apple, Kobo etc… This is called going wide, while also publishing directly on Amazon.
Good luck! Leave a comment if you have any questions at all.
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