On August 9, 1996, a fire swept through the cabin, my summer residence at Camp Bauercrest in Amesbury, Massachusetts. Along with a guitar, clothing, computer, and many writings, my first completed novel went up in flames. Twenty years ago, flash drives and backup files were not on my mind.
When the fire destroyed my writings, knowing it was time to start again, I had to make a decision. Do I try to rewrite the novel, now incinerated, or start from scratch? I decided to start anew. I also decided to take a different approach. I read up on successful authors and effective writing techniques. The familiar theme that stuck with me was very simple. Write. Write. And write some more. Like playing a melody on the guitar, or mastering a free throw on the basketball court, practice and repetition hone your skills.
I believe it was Stephen King’s standard that I inherited. I forced myself to write ten pages per day, every day, no matter what. Despite working three jobs and playing in a band that practiced three nights a week and played a show or two most weekends, I wrote.
The moral of this anecdote is simple. The most important part of the journey to publishing a novel is writing, creating, and refining your product. From start to finish, it took me over five years to arrive at what I considered a final first draft of my novel, Weeli’s Smile, The Revolution. For me, that meant a complete, somewhat cohesive story. In fact, that turned out to be wildly optimistic.
After a few edits, I went through several painful years of submissions to hundreds of agents and publishers, hoping to get Weeli’s Smile published through traditional publishing channels. At the end of year three, I got a bite from a small publishing house. I was thrilled, ecstatic even. Not too long after said bite, they were acquired by a large publishing house, and the project was canceled. It was at that point that I decided to take an alternate route for Weeli.
With the advent of e-books and print-on-demand technology, publishing a book is now possible at a relatively low cost but there are obstacles to success that should be carefully considered.
Traditional publishers have resources for editing, formatting, and marketing. They also have relationships and connections for press and distribution. All these are challenges for a lone soldier. There are countless resources online that speak to the options and obstacles of self-publishing, including checklists, templates, and editing tools. There is nothing magical about the information that follows. I arrived at this list based on my own experience with Weeli’s Smile and establishing my self-publishing company, Ormus Publishing. That experience included exploring the many resources that are available to everyone.
The Ormus Publishing Self-Publishing Checklist
It is almost insulting to presume that anyone needs to be told how important the product is, and yet, it is equally negligent not to reiterate it. Write. Get feedback. Rewrite. Edit. Rewrite. Edit. Rewrite. Get feedback. Edit. Rewrite. To put it simply, make sure the product you are offering is a product you are happy with in all respects, one that you can stand behind and feel excited to promote.
Check out this article on SmartBlogger, which pulls some key pointers from Stephen King’s book, On Writing, called, Stephen King’s 20 Tips for Becoming a Frighteningly Good Writer.
Copy and Content Editing
When you feel your manuscript is content-ready, then you need to decide on a professional content and/or copy editor for your publication. This is absolutely essential. Traditional publishing houses have teams of editors to ensure the final product is professional and marketable, and so should you. There are many independent editing services and most self-publishing services, like Ormus Publishing, offer editing services at fair rates. For more information on the importance of editing before you publish, see Michelle Burinskas’ article, Edit or Forget It.
To Print or Not to Print?
One of the earliest choices you’ll have to make is whether or not to offer print versions of your publication. This choice will impact downstream decisions such as obtaining artwork, formatting styles, selecting a printing company, and, potentially, whether or not to be your own publisher. In today’s market, which is becoming more digital by the day, it is possible to succeed with only an electronic version of your work. Most estimates show that e-books account for 60% of the overall market. This number is in constant fluctuation but has continued to trend in favor of electronic over paper.
Below is a source comparing book earnings in both electronic and print formats called,
To Be or Not to Be a Publisher?
Another important decision made relatively early on is whether or not you will be your own publisher. Pragmatically, becoming your own publisher is fairly easy. Simply decide what type of business you will register your publishing company/entity as, pay a small fee to your local municipality to register your entity and, if necessary, obtain a federal EIN (Employer Identification Number). In most cases, you can register as a sole proprietor without obtaining a separate EIN. Taxes for your entity will then be filed under your social security number.
So your publishing company is established but now you need to focus on bringing your product(s) to the market. To do this, all books require an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) while print versions also require a barcode. If you want to own your own ISBNs, you need to create a publishing entity. If not, there are many companies, such as Ormus Publishing, that will provide the ISBN for your publication. These companies do not own the rights to your publication but will be listed as the publisher for all publications under those ISBNs. The North American resource for ISBNs is Bowker. Other companies can obtain ISBNs through Bowker for you but beware. If the company offers ISBNs but is not publishing your book, don’t bite. While these companies are legally allowed to sell the ISBNs, the numbers are often unusable, as they are assigned to that specific publisher. Check out this warning from a publishing house on ISBN fraud called, The Importance of Getting an Authorized and Legitimate ISBN Number.
If you are publishing a print version of your work, you will also need to purchase or obtain a barcode that coincides with your ISBN. As with the ISBN, you can purchase the barcode directly through Bowker or through a third-party vendor.
Once your content is finalized, you should copyright your work. This will grant you exclusive rights for use and distribution of your publication. Copyrighting is relatively simple and can be done directly through the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress, either online or by mail, for a small fee. The online standard fee is $35.00 – $55.00 while paper filings are $85.00.
Once your written manuscript is edited, copyrighted, and assigned to an ISBN, you will need to start thinking about developing the additional internal content for your publication, which may or may not include copyright information, reviews of or praise for your work, publisher information, a dedication page, a table of contents, and acknowledgements. Again, there are many free resources online, but my recommended approach is to take a few books off your bookshelf or glance at a couple of your e-books and use them as a template for internal content and layout. Once the content is finalized, you will need to ensure it is formatted appropriately for the publication (electronic and/or print).
Along with designing a book cover (or book “wrap” as it’s known in the industry), additional content needs to be included. Again, you should look at book samples to decide what you want to include. Reviews of or praise for your work, a brief description of the book, author information, ISBN, barcode (if printed), and publisher information are all bits of information worth considering. When drafting external content, keep in mind that this will be your potential readers’ first encounter with the book. Suffice it to say, more people will read the outside of your book than will ever read what’s inside, so take the time to ensure your external content is effective.
As you draft content, keep in mind that all of your written content and photos are eventually going to appear on the book wrap, so remain cognizant of what the content and cover art will look like together. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the market does, so it’s prudent that your cover is sharp and professional.
Whether you’re publishing an electronic or print version of your work, you’ll need a professional cover. For e-books, you will probably only require a front cover image, as most back covers are not included in the e-book format. For print versions, you will need artwork for the binder and back cover as well. There are several approaches you could take. Some publishing services offer free, predesigned covers. Other services will sell cover designs or design a custom cover for you based on your requirements.
You can also design a book cover yourself. If using your own design, you need to be conscious of professional formatting and imagery for both electronic and print versions. If you design your own cover, unless you’re equipped with the proper skill set, you will want to engage a professional graphic artist in developing a specialized image based on your design.
Most publishing services have specific format requirements for both e-books and print publications. Many of these services have tools or offer a fee-service to ensure the format is acceptable for your intended outlets. Other companies also offer professional formatting services, which will ensure your book uses professional and appealing font, spacing, and style. As I’ve said before and will say again, do your research.
Review All Drafts in All Formats
During each step of the process, you must review each proof to ensure format, content, and appearance are acceptable. If you have a print and an electronic version, verify both. If you pay for editing services, proofread everything and consider paying a proofreader to refine and polish your product. As you make your way through the self-publishing process, remember that it is up to you, and only you, to ensure that your product is satisfactory.
Where and How Will You Publish?
The Print Version
The most common print option in the current self-publishing arena is print-on-demand via Amazon’s Createspace. There is very little, if any, up-front cost, which makes this appealing. Rather than paying for pre-printed books, there is only a fee when a customer purchases the book. That fee is taken directly from the purchase cost.
Other print options include old-school publishing houses. In these cases, there is often a minimum print requirement and up-front costs. Additionally, many traditional print-on-demand shops do not offer distribution services directly to customers, in which case you are choosing the mail-from-your-basement-style option and you are responsible for inventory and distribution (which will, of course, include shipping costs). In this day and age, it’s difficult to see many advantages to this option.
Once you’ve established the manufacturing aspect, you’ll need to define your distribution channels. Where can people go to buy your book? Amazon’s online marketplace, given its presence across the globe, is a must. Do your research and figure out what online avenues are most appropriate for your product.
Along with considering other online bookstores, you may want to offer your book through conventional brick-and-mortar locations as well. There is value to placing your product in places where your potential buyers can pick it up and flip through it. Amazon will soon be opening physical locations in major cities across the U.S. and Barnes and Noble still has a dominant presence in busy areas. Don’t forget your local, independently owned bookstores and public libraries, especially if you’ve established a network or have a strong community presence in the area.
The Electronic Version
There are a number of platforms available for offering your publication as an e-book. Amazon’s Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, and a whole host of other companies offer an electronic book service. While Amazon’s Kindle is the most popular platform, there are a number of factors, such as book genre and geographic location, which should be considered before you decide where your book should be available for purchase.
Setting an Appropriate Price for Your Product
Determining a suitable price for your book is a key step in the publishing process. You want to ensure that the price of your electronic or print book keeps the demand for your product as high as possible to maximize the number of units you sell and, ultimately, your profit. This can be tricky so, once again, do your research. Check out prices for books in your genre and those of similar length. Setting a price too low or too high can deter potential buyers from actually making a purchase.
Having a product is great but, without proper marketing techniques, it is likely you will be among the few people on the planet who know you have a product to sell. If sharing or selling your publication is not important, there is no need for marketing. For the rest of the self-publishing world, a marketing strategy is not only relevant but a crucial step in bringing your publication to your audience and ensuring you turn a profit.
Again, there are countless free resources online that provide checklists, reviews, ratings, and information regarding marketing a publication. Take advantage of them. The easiest decisions involve taking advantage of any free marketing resources. Social media is predominantly free. Use it. In the age of the Internet, there is no reason not to get your information out there.
This brings us to my next suggestion: build a website. If you can do it yourself, do it. If you know someone who can build you a website, use them. Otherwise, it’s worth considering the construction and maintenance of a website in your publication’s budget. A website or landing page should be a pillar in your marketing plan as it’s one of the fastest, easiest, and cost-effective marketing mediums to maximize both reach and awareness of your product.
After taking advantage of all the free marketing you can, the rest is up to you. Considering all the variables of a marketing plan and the idea that it is specifically tailored to a product or service, it’s difficult to list all of your potential options here. For example, identifying your target audience based on your book’s genre is key; if you are publishing a technical manual your marketing plan and target market will be different than if you are publishing a romance novel. Self-publishing services, like Ormus Publishing, offer services for targeting the appropriate audience and defining the best marketing strategy for your publication.
Though it seemed like an impossible task at the time, rewriting Weeli’s Smile was one of the best decisions I ever made and embarking on the self-publishing process has been well worth it. Publishing a book can be a daunting idea but it becomes manageable when you break down the process and take it one step at a time.
Although there are many choices to be made along the self-publishing route, remember that you can do almost all of it yourself at little cost if you have the time, knowledge, and skills required. Doing less yourself means more cost to get your publication across the finish line. The right answer to these variables is entirely dependent on the individual product and situation. So, find a balance that works for you.
If you are not sure what approach to take or choices to make, it is best to get advice. Talk to other self-published authors. Join writer’s groups and forums. Do your research and encourage feedback from others to determine the best approach. Unlike other self-publishing services, Ormus Publishing is happy to provide free consultation on your many self-publishing options.