Self publishing is hard work. Really hard work, much more than I thought it would be going in. And don't get me wrong, I did my research. I talked to industry vets. I looked into the various publication channels, sought out the best forms of marketing. Found a cover artist with a shining reputation.
I searched out site after site, and resource after resource, trying to find the ways to do the best justice that I could for my book baby. And there are some amazing indie vets that are absolutely willing to share their knowledge. But often, I had to search for days (or pester the ever-patient Jesikah Sundin), just to find something simple. Not that the resources weren't available—they're just kind of scattered to the wind.
And so, when I was searching for a new blog post to write up, I thought I might compile some of the things I get asked about most frequently. The resources I use, the programs I prefer, and any other little tidbits I think might help you guys in your self-publishing journey. I might miss something (and I definitely don't know everything) but at least maybe I can nudge you guys in a more solid direction!
So, let's talk about failure.
Because I whoopsed, and I think more indie authors need to publish them. :D
I mean, fairly, no one wants to talk about their failures. But I feel like those are the things new authors can really learn from. Hell, even vets can learn from others failures. Whenever I stumble upon someone saying something didn't work for them, I quietly bookmark it into my mind and know to avoid that path. (If the circumstances lined up, that is—sometimes what someone else does can work perfectly for someone in a different genre or with a different audience)
But even with all the research in the world, sometimes things just go wrong. The printer won't get your books to you on time. The systems won't update properly on your launch day. Your eBook file wonks out for some strange, unexpected reason.
My biggest failing when it came to Imber was actually something within my own control, so let's start with that.
I've always been a huge advocate for making sure you edit your book and edit well. A major criticism of readers (when it comes to indie books) is that they're distinguishable from traditionally published books—often with complaints of poor editing at the forefront. So when a reviewer mentioned to me that she'd seen several typos in Imber, after I paid an editor a pretty chunk of change, I lost my mind. It was less than a week from launch, I had read myself into a tunnel, and here I was, unable to find these flaws. And too chicken to ask for help. I could have handled this situation much better than I did, and I didn't. So, learn from my mistakes! First . . .
There's a difference between fiction editing and standard grammar.
If you write an essay—or a paper, or an article—there is a very specific line of rules that have to be followed. When I sought out an editor for Imber, I was looking for someone who could do just that—clean up my manuscript. Unfortunately, what I didn't realize was there are actually rules in place for fiction editing that help with smooth reading. I was never a master of the dialogue commas, and I kind of tend to do my own thing with comma's in general . . . in fiction, that -can- be okay. In fiction, I can start my sentences with contractions and conjunctions if I so choose. What I didn't realize were the smaller intricacies that professional fiction editors know—tricks that help the reading go smoother, even when they don't always "look" right.
And I don't blame my initial editor. Even traditional authors proof their manuscripts after edits. And I did, so many times, but that was my second mistake.
Take a break in between proofreads!
Seriously. Days. A week at minimum. TAKE A BREAK. I didn't do this. I cut myself on sleep. I was barely eating, just obsessively reading and re-reading. Don't do this. In the end, it hurt my book.
Take a few days, read something. Play a game. Binge a TV show.
Just take a few days, and don't even look at your manuscript.
I also highly recommend changing your font before you do this, to something you don't normally write with. I don't know why, but it really helps. Maybe it jars your mind from what it was used to?
But, ever since, I've learned to make myself take breaks. And every manuscript since has been significantly better when I come back with fresh eyes. (And that's pre-edits!)
Also, make sure you have beta readers. Especially to an indie author, this is incredibly important. Not only will they spot developmental editing issues, but often they'll catch some of your major typos while they're going along. Reliable beta readers are an invaluable gift, and you should use them as often as you're able in your publishing journey.
Thankfully, with self-publishing I can update the files any time I want. So both the eBook copy and paperback copies of Imber were updated, and I can rest easier knowing Imber is much more the book it should be—one step closer to her traditionally published counterparts.
•• As a quick aside—if you find major typos in an indie author's book let them know, and not through your review! I'm incredibly grateful to that person for pointing out the faults, so I was able to correct them, and I think most indies would feel the same. But also—Amazon scans reviews for words like "typo". And if they want to be nitpicky, they can entirely remove the book from their site, for small errors, for undetermined amounts of time. I've seen authors wait even a month to have their book returned to Amazon, when if they'd have known directly the process could have been fixed in a day or two. So pop them a quick, polite, message! I'm sure they'll be grateful. I know I was. ••
So. There's the fail. What else do I want you to know?
Well. Lets start with the idea that a beautiful cover has to cost hundreds of dollars.
Let's be honest. Indie authors have a lot of out of pocket expenses. I'm fortunate enough to have a husband who makes good money and is willing to help support my books. Plus, even as a stay-at-home-mom, I still work part-time at GameStop. It's not a lot of money-but saving means I can absolutely afford a more expensive cover artist.
And don't get me wrong, I LOVE the art that Deranged Doctor Designs did for me, and I can't wait to work with them for my upcoming covers. But, the package I got through them cost me $300. An excellent deal, but I understand that a lot of indies might not have that starting out—especially when editing will pretty much always take your bank.
Thankfully, there are fantastic, inexpensive alternatives. Personally, I'm a fan of German Creative. She's one of the highest rated Fiverr artists I've seen. She's never had complaints of stealing art, she's prompt, and the covers I've seen from her are absolutely beautiful. And they're completely reasonably price.
A cover is someone's first impression of your book, and yes, it can absolutely make or break your sales potential, so keep that in mind. Make sure you get something that does your hard work on the inside justice, and that you're happy with. But, that doesn't mean you have to break yourself right out of the gate. There are options! Seek out other indie authors, see what they're doing. You might find someone awesome who's in your budget, or who makes beautiful premades. (which are generally a bit cheaper!)
Okay. So the first time you format a book, it might seem like hell.
Actually, depending how you go about it, formatting really is a headache.
You can pay someone to format your book for you—Fiverr has formatting options for relatively inexpensive, though I don't personally have any recommendations there. Eight Little Pages is a more expensive, but incredibly nice, option that offers not only formatting, but also editing and cover design services.
Or, you can do it yourself.
There are several options for formatting your own books! I know you can do them through Microsoft Word. I'm not sure about technicalities, but Microsoft offers a tutorial here and there's plenty more available!
You could also use Vellum, which comes highly recommended, but at a cost.
And, as another option, you can look into Blurb. This one I'm not familiar with, but they do offer several helpful tools, so it could be worth peeking into!
Also an option, and one that a lot of writers already have, you can format a book in Scrivener, too.
I don't use Scrivener myself, but there are several tutorials available online to help you along! :D
Personally, for my paperback, I went with InDesign. Now, the downside to this method is the fact that it costs $40/month (unless you sign up for a year, then it's $20/month)
But there are some major pluses to InDesign that make it, in my mind, worth the cost.
Once you create a template in InDesign, it's saved to the Adobe creative cloud tied to your account. Which means that once you do it once, it's done—so if you're writing a series, you can just use the same template and add or remove pages as needed. Which is actually fantastic when it comes to saving time later on.
Learning InDesign can be a little bit of a struggle. There are so many little things you can tweak and adjust, a ton of great font options, and it allows you to add images in full color or greyscale—so you can format all sorts of book types, from comics or cookbooks, to standard fiction and nonfiction books. (Quick tip, all images must be saved with 300dpi as the photo resolution) It can absolutely be overwhelming. Thankfully, tutorials are plentiful.
That said, once you get it down, the end result is well worth it. And if you have multiple books to format at the same time you can pay for a month and knock them all out at once. (Plus, if you're really ambitious, they offer free week-trials for new accounts! And you can absolutely take advantage of that to format your first book, or see if it's the right fit for you ;) )
As to eBooks, I'm a huge fan of Jutoh. EBook formatting was a much bigger headache for me, especially since eBooks use HTML formatting instead of using the design as you lay it out—meaning if you have invisible formatting you're not aware of in a document, it could completely ruin your eBook file. That said, Jutoh picks those errors out while you're formatting the eBook and paired with Kindle Previewer, you'll easily be able to get a smooth file. There's a one-time fee of $40 and then you have it for good. I highly recommend.
Alright so marketing is definitely one of my weakest points. I'm not good at pushing myself or my book(s) on other people, to my own detriment. Don't be like me! But there are some amazing marketing tools available for Indie authors, thankfully. Plus, there are some Facebook groups full of indie vets who are absolutely willing to share their tips and tricks and try to help you along. (Links below)
Not so skilled with Photoshop, but need social media graphics? I'm in love with Canva. I use it for everything! Promotional graphics, aesthetics, Instagram stories, headers . . . It's fantastic! And it's a completely free-to-use program.
Want to test your cover design? To see how it would look in a 3D format, (like the insert image to the right) or to use it for promotional reasons? Another indie author made this awesome 3D Book Cover Creator and all you do is upload your cover! Better still, it's completely free-to-use.
Physical Marketing (Add-ons)
Need to print something? Be it book swag, event banners, etc. I've had amazing results with Vistaprint. There are other options, but for the cost, quality, and speed of production, they're my go-to for marketing needs. I've ordered from them several times with great results. Want bookmarks? GotPrint has amazing bookmark pricing and their print quality is aces too.
Also, I feel like it's worth noting that I've used both of these from a U.S. perspective. I'm not sure how their shipping varies internationally, so that might be something to consider.
Doing everything yourself means doing everything yourself—including advertisements. Now, I'm not amazing at these. I haven't found that "perfect" combination to really push my book, and I think this is something most authors struggle with. Not only because of changing algorithms but also because the reading market is always in a state of flux. That said, there are some things that will help, and I found these particular articles absolutely worth a read.
Remember those Facebook groups I mentioned? Here they are! I highly recommend checking these out and really taking note of the posts. You'll see a lot of successes, and occasionally a failure, but there's a ton of incredible information in these groups and a ton of amazing, helpful authors all just trying to help each other along. It's beautiful.
(filled with industry vets, you'll find some incredible marketing advise)
(this is one is specific to Young Adult authors)
(specifically focused on covers and blurbs)
Book Tours and Social Media
Now, I can't pretend to be an expert about these. But what I can tell you is that social media, especially Bookstagram, have done wonders for my book sales.
(Though, if you join Bookstagram only to market your book, you might find yourself disappointed. Bookstagram is a thriving bookish community on Instagram, but the reason it's so successful is the genuine connections and incredible people on the platform. If you join because you love books and want to make some real friends and relationships, you're in the right place. Marketing your book is just a fun bonus. Plus, I've met some of the most incredibly talented writers in my adventures on there. It's truly a wonderful place on the internet.)
You can absolutely make a successful author/writer Instagram account with good results! Just keep in mind it's a visual platform so that could mean a lot more graphic-based promotions, or selfies, or workspace shots, or whatever you think best represents you and your books. :D
That said, social media and book tours are a super fun way to get your book out in the world. Again, I'm no expert, but the general idea is to reach out to people who might be interested in promoting your book. You give them a copy, via eBook or paperback, and then on release day they'll make some kind of post—likely a review. And, since I'm not an expert, more articles!
ISBN and Self-Owned Publishing Companies
Now, when you self-publish your book, there are several options when it comes to having an ISBN assigned to your work. An ISBN is the "International Standard Book Number". It's basically the identifier that tells book sellers how to find and order your book. Createspace and KDP (who are merging exclusively to KDP, as a heads up) offer ISBN's when you publish your book—but unfortunately this also means that your rights to that title, or some of them, now belong to Amazon.
Personally, I wasn't all for that. So I went to Bowker. For around $300 you get ten different ISBN numbers (and since each format needs its own number, I then had the ISBN's I needed for each eBook/paperback for my trilogy, with four to spare) This ensures that I own my books, and I don't have any issues when it comes to wide distribution—because they'll always have the same identifier number.
But, when you go to Amazon, that little sidebar will still say it's published by Createspace. That's kind of a bummer, huh?
It doesn't have to be! :D
Owning your own publishing company is actually not as hard as you might think. (Unless you start adding authors, but that's a whole other ordeal.)
Hi, I'm Tyffany, and I own Archangel Publishing. ;) (Oh yes, that's a Mass Effect reference.)
What does that mean? It means I created a Sole Proprietorship in New York State that allows me to publish my books under a publishing company, but still allows me to operate as a business under my own name. Yes, there are still separate taxes for my business, and if I were to do an event (like a convention, most book stores have the permits needed to do signings and generally they order the copies) I would still need permits. But, a lot of what I do goes right through Createspace/KDP/Ingramspark and they'll send me tax forms at the beginning of the year. Yay! Not too bad, right? And Sole Proprietorships don't have nearly as many legal hangups as some of the bigger business forms. It's actually quite simple, and all you have to do is go to your county office! Plus, the fees were small for NYS. I want to say less than $50. The odds of them being low in other states are pretty good, too!
•• Side note: I'm not sure how this works for International authors. You might have to look into your region. Also, Createspace/KDP/Ingramspark are not the only self-publishing options. I reference them because they're the most popular and are my preference, but if you're not a fan, you're not stuck with them. Maybe I'll do a blog post just for those someday. ;) ••
There are a ton of self-published authortubers who are doing awesome things for the writing community. I'll mention a few, but I'd also like to quickly note that if you enjoy being in front of a camera and don't mind sharing your thoughts or ideas, building an authortube platform could be an incredible way to meet other writers and promote yourself at the same time.
That said, you can do the same thing as an active participant of the authortube community.
Now, there are a ton of good channels, and some of my favorites aren't actually self-published (or aren't trying to go that route). Which is totally fine, but since this article is focused on self-publishers, I'm going to stick to those.
So, Jenna Moreci is self-publishing done in its best form. Not only did her recent release, The Savior's Champion, do really well (because it's an awesome book, let's be honest) she's a well-spring of knowledge on the topic of self-publishing—and she shares all of it. Plus, she's incredibly sweet and willing to help her fellow authors. Go!
Megan Tennant! I've had nothing but good interactions with Megan and some of her videos are hilarious. And remember above, when I said more authors need to talk about their fails? This video is so educational! And Aletheia gets nothing but praise (and is absolutely on my TBR)
Erin Kinsella is an absolute sweetheart and she has a pretty awesome series on Worldbuilding that's worth stalking. And her book Hera sounds right up my alley. Go check her out! We all need more amazing writer buddies, right? ;)
I would be doing you an absolute disservice if I didn't mention Kristen Martin. She has amazing videos on her own journey, but also on better ways to self-publish and things you need to know (like the recent Createspace/KDP merger)
Again, gotta love the indies that are willing to share their fails. I'm all here for it! Plus Vivian has some pretty solid advice overall. I've been watching her channel for ages, and she's so not afraid to give you her thoughts.
Oh hey look. One of those Microsoft formatting tutorials I mentioned. ;) Mandi is another authortuber with some really great general advise, and she completely just rebranded her debut novel—which is a journey I think we can all really learn from.
Alright guys. I'm not sure how much more I can honestly add to this. xD I've probably forgotten things, and there are probably a crapload more resources available to indie authors. But, maybe this is a solid nudge in the right direction?
I'm gonna go play some Fallout now. ;) But, before I do . . .
One last piece of advise . . .
Don't. Be. Afraid. To. Ask. For. Help.
Seriously. Not sure who to ask? Ask me. I do as much as I possibly can to support other writers, no matter how they're trying to publish. And maybe I can't answer your question, but maybe I know someone who can.
Indies have a lot on our plates. We do EVERYTHING. And I genuinely contribute my biggest failing to my timidity over asking someone new to read over Imber.
So if you don't know how to do something, or you don't know the best programs to use, or you need a proofreader, or you need to bounce an idea around, or you can't find reliable beta's—ask someone.
We only bite sometimes, and usually it's pre-caffeine. ;)
Writing is an ever-evolving craft. It's always changing, and it's an art form that I personally don't think can really be completely mastered. But there's a beauty to that, to the idea that I can't ever totally keep up. It's a challenge that will keep my on my toes.
That said, I'm slowly learning that having a squad to help you can be the most amazing gift a writer can have. We have a lonely profession, huddled away in our little writing caves.
But you're not alone.
We all win, we all fail.
Help your fellow writers, support your fellow writers, and when you need help?
Don't be afraid to ask for it. <3