Self-publishing Afterthoughts: What I did and what I wish I’d known.
I won’t repeat what’s already online about how to self-publish. I will say: It isn’t 7 easy steps. Also, note the date as you read- the market is changing rapidly (eg. CreateSpace has surpassed lulu.com in preference; smashwords.com is exceptional but hardly a household name yet…) Mostly, I will share my mistakes with you, the shortcuts that I wasn’t aware of, the money I could have saved.
First- What I did (bare bones):
-manuscript in final copy edit, creative complete, (acknowledgements, disclaimer, dedication, permission etc.)
-artist and designer working together on cover
-website content: excerpts, discussion questions, photos, images, blog… ($1500)
-crowdfunding campaign. Crowdfunding levels the playing field. Everyone (anyone) can make a CD, start a small business, publish a book- crowdfunding is a great way of getting investors/capital.
I wrote the script for the campaign video (minimal wording) and planned “perks” for donors. I hired professionals to tape the video ($850). It was uploaded to youtube & my website. It can be used after campaign for marketing.
I used Indiegogo.com for the campaign & I have no complaints. Lots of support material is provided. I ran a summer campaign & I missed donors because of it. I made $4,000 on the campaign and from that paid 9% to Indiegogo, paid for the video & part of the website bill, printed 200 books and mailed 50 of them as perks to campaign donors.
-joined Facebook with marketing in mind during crowd-funding campaign
-manuscript went to designer to lay out in indd format. Proofs and final edits. Cover jacket then finalized on indd with blurbs, reviews and quotes, art, scanner product code. Whole thing went to local printer to print 100 copies digitally ($1,700) (I didn’t make enough on the campaign to afford a larger traditional printing- 1500 books for $12,000.)
-Epub version of file created for upload to Amazon for Kindle reader. Very fussy. ($400 for expert help)
-I readied a Microsoft Word version of the manuscript using Smashwoods Style Guide and then uploaded it to www.smashwords.com where it can be purchased by anyone and downloaded in any format (PDF, Kobo, Kindle, Apple iPad, Apple iPad, Nook, Sony Reader, & most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, others (Epub), PDF, RTF, Plain text, Palm Doc (PTB), LRF). I’m not techno-talented. If I can do it, anyone can. (It took me many hours and there was some yelling at the computer.)
-Uploaded to Kobo (epub file) then Nook (epub file), although Smashwords can do this for you automatically with your properly-styled Microsoft Word document.
-Launch & marketing tasks picked up.
-Second order with local printer- this time $3,400 for 200 digitally-produced books. (My greatest folly.)
-Last thing I did was upload to CreateSpace for print-on-demand at Amazon (and married that page with the Kindle version)
Okay, now this is what I wish I’d known:
Those people who say they’ve got self-publishing down to 7 easy steps accomplished over a weekend are blatant liars (or doing a shoddy job). Block off some time, I mean holidays, a summer…
1- Plan marketing long before you’re even finished writing. Flesh it out once in a while, constantly picking other people’s brains and websites. Have some real tasks set out in detail for when your book is launched. By that time you will be up against sheer fatigue and some fear too. Have the steps broken down with a timeline- some tasks will begin months before the book is even complete.
2- Join Facebook way back when you’re writing the book & include friends in the journey. It comes on harsh when you show up just to market your new thing (even when you’re upfront about it).
3- Chat with your videographer a few times before filming- bargain a better price, trust your vision & share it, choose young hip videographers, plan a fun day, be flexible- let the magic happen. Don’t over-practise.
Video practice fun- click to see blooper
4- Don’t run a crowd-funding campaign in summer when everyone’s outside. Study Indiegogo and plan at least a couple of months ahead of time. There are some great crowd-funding workshops out there. This is when you need your savvy computer friends to help out- people with connections who will put some effort into spreading your video/researching email addresses/finding contacts online who will help your cause. You will spend hours doing this, but according to workshop notes I have, you need someone “who can come up with 500 new contacts in a day when the pressure is on”. I still don’t understand how to access to email lists/newsletters etc.
5- Style your Word Perfect document using the www.smashwords.com style guide. This is worth every moment to get it right. If you read this early enough, do it while you’re setting up your manuscript in the first place and write within that format. Then upload it to smashwords.com and thru them to Kobo and Nook.
6- Get print-on-demand thru Create Space and (yay!) use the Word Perfect document you just styled for Smashwords. Now you can print those perks for your campaign donors at $8 each plus shipping, so yeah, you’re not saving anything really- except all the visits/proofs/interaction with the local printer, wrapping and mailing all those books, putting cash out on a large order that may or may not be filled quickly (There are a lot of boxes of books at my house.)
7- I wish I’d known that when a local unknown author leaves books at his local independent bookstore (no, Chapters won’t look at you until you sell a bunch on Amazon), that these books are left on consignment. When they do sell, it’s 60/40, the writer’s 60% hopefully covering his production costs. (I paid $17 per book, they sell for 29.99. My share is $20.)
8- I wish I’d taken responsibility for the product bar code on the back of the book. There’s a simple app to check that the bar code works, but mine doesn’t. It feels unprofessional when this comes up in a bookstore.
9- Why did I pay someone $400 to edit my epub file for Amazon? I could have gone to smashwords first and got an epub file from there. Then I could have used it for Kindle or Kobo or whoever else.
10- Choose a publishing date at the beginning of the month. My date is Sept. 30. Now when I’m going to author’s fairs and so on, I am asked what month it was published because the show may be open only to authors who published in the last 6 or 12 months.
11- Plan more than a month between campaign-end and launch. It will take at least 6 weeks to print books and mail them as perks, upload and give e-books in various formats, and plan launch details. My tight deadlines caused unnecessary stress.
12- If I were to do it again, I would insist that the artist have a final look before the designer sends it to the printer. Mistakes would have been caught by the artist that the designer didn’t see. Neither the designer nor the artist saw the cover proof before it went to print (different cities) and that caused errors in the final product. If timelines had been kept (or if I’d been more flexible about changing deadlines), there would have been time to mail it around.
My final bit of advice: Take charge- this is your project. Your inexperience with publishing doesn’t equal stupidity- demand respect for knowing your product & your audience and for your many skills. Do not be intimidated.
Surround yourself with encouraging dependable people who will give quick and honest feedback on script, video, blogs, website look, campaign progress, cover, book dimensions etc.
Last word: Joy. No matter how traumatic the process is, do not succumb to fear. It’s a triumph to finally relinquish your creation and share it with the world. Take time to dwell on the joy. Congratulations on your accomplishment, my friend. Best of luck!