Ten years ago, if one were to ask the question, “What does it mean to self-publish?”, the answer might have been quite different than it would be today. Self-publishing has gained validation and wide acceptance over the last decade. Self-published authors have reached the best seller lists and entrepreneurs and professionals are realizing the value of authoring a nonfiction book to their businesses and careers. Self-publishing has allowed for publication of niche books that traditional publishers typically ignore. The barriers to publishing one’s own book—both real and perceived—are coming down, and if you wish to see your name in print, self-publishing is a sure bet.
What Does It Mean to Self-Publish?
Yet, even now, self-publishing can seem like stepping into the great unknown. So, out of curiosity, I googled “What does it mean to self-publish?” Google helpfully gave me the following definition:
Self-publish (verb): (of a writer) publish (a piece of one’s work) independently and at one’s own expense. (google.com)
To publish means to “bring printed works before the public, usually for sale.” (Merriam-Webster). Marry “publish” to “independently” and you get the popular term “indie publishing” used in reference to an author who self-publishes a book. With an increasing emphasis on “independent,” 2018 has brought about the term “Self-publishing 3.0,” which means loosely that authors take control of selling their books directly to the public without an intermediary (a bookstore, online retailer, etc.) taking a chunk of the profits.
We encourage authors to sell their books from their website, because, why not? However, until readers—the people who buy the books—are educated about the benefits of purchasing directly from authors rather than their go-to website (typically Amazon), existing solely on sales from one’s website may not be realistic. Having said that, I am reminded of an 1106 Design author – Shary Williamson. While Shary’s Woodland Elves books are available on Amazon, she sells directly as well. She has become her own publicist and agent. She’s worked tirelessly to get the word out by speaking at schools, service organizations, libraries, and churches, both locally and around the US and beyond. Shary has taken her job as an indie publisher seriously. It’s a lot of work, but this could be the future.
The Steps to Self-Publish a Book
Let’s pause for a moment and review the steps necessary to self-publish a book. Regardless of the route one takes to self-publish, these steps remain the same:
Write: Every book needs content but make sure you do the research on your market as well. In the absence of a traditional publisher to accept a manuscript based on marketability, authors have no gatekeepers to prevent them from bringing their book from the public. Authors often skip the step of determining if the public wants their book. An editorial evaluation helps authors find out if their book is market ready.
Plan: Arguably, planning could be the first step, particularly for a nonfiction work. State the goals for the book: hobby, vanity project, building author name recognition, establishing oneself as a thought leader. Research the marketplace, create a budget, and build a business case for the book. Plan the book marketing.
Prepare: This step involves the work to turn a manuscript into a physical book, be it print, eBook or audiobook format. (Hint: Readers expect to be able to read a book in whatever format they want. Print and eBook formats are a given in 2018, with audiobooks rapidly increasing in popularity.) The work includes editing, cover design, page design, typesetting and proofreading. Illustrations are created. In the case of audiobooks, think more along the lines of packaging and recording.
Publish: Bring the book to the public. Whereas offset printing was the usual route not so long ago, print-on-demand (POD) is the go-to publishing solution today for most authors. POD means books are printed only when ordered by buyers via an online retailer such as Amazon or by a physical bookstore or other retailer. There are two companies that do POD: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP: an Amazon company and thus the route we recommend to publishing to that retailer) and IngramSpark for wider distribution to other online retailers, bookstores, libraries, and other wholesalers. While offset printing can be used to print books for the author’s own sales from their website or distribution via conferences and book fairs, books can be ordered as needed from either KDP or IngramSpark. All that to say that the publishing stage involves the author opening up accounts with the POD companies, setting up the titles, uploading the files, obtaining proofs, and setting up the Amazon page and e-commerce on the author website. Which brings us to…
Market: Telling the public about your book and where to get it. This means having a presence on the Internet. Social media, author websites, reviews, blogs, video trailers…the possibilities are limited only by the author’s imagination (and budget).
What It Costs to Self-Publish
Google’s definition of “self-publish” includes the words, “at one’s own expense.” This is key: in the absence of a traditional publishing house, the author will pay the bills. The cost of self-publishing is anywhere from zero to thousands of dollars, depending upon which route you take to publish independently. Let’s take a quick look at the price ranges and what you can expect. Keep in mind that to reach your goals as stated in the Plan stage requires an appropriate budget. It’s better to wait until the book project can be funded properly and do it right the first time.
Zero: All the work to prepare the book is done by the author, family, or friends. Some steps may be skipped. Time consuming. Author tends to work in a vacuum with little independent feedback from industry resources and reviewers, often leading to book design and editorial results that can harm sales. Often files are not prepared properly for upload to POD, causing great frustration and expense.
$100-$2,000: Author does some of the work, purchases templates for the cover and interior pages. May source a freelance designer via Fiverr, 99designs or Upwork. May choose to spend limited resources on hiring a freelance editor, and may skip steps to save money. May experience same frustrations as above with uploading book files to POD website. May buy into a self-publishing company’s promise to publish the book cheaply, not realizing the negative ramifications on their royalties or ownership of their ISBN and book files. Little budget for marketing.
$2,000-$5,000: Author outsources all work to prepare the book, while possibly outsourcing some work to lesser expensive designers sourced online. There is budget for an author website and plans to market the book. Depending upon the designers and editors hired, the book presents well and looks professional. Author may have opted to hand book over to a self-publishing company but understands the sacrifice of royalties to save money up front.
$5,000+: Author hires professional designers and editors, opting for packages that will increase the book’s chances of success in the marketplace, such as editorial evaluation, different cover concepts and page design options, more research, additional editing, and marketing advice. Often does the research and turns to a company with a track record of success and which offers all services under one roof. Such companies can manage the entire project, leaving the author to focus on marketing. The author invests in book marketing assistance. The book represents the author well; there’s no difference between it and a traditionally published book. Author doesn’t use a self-publishing company and keeps 100% of the proceeds from each sale (less the retailer discount and the printing cost). The author has a website and sells from the website as well as online retailers and bookstores.
Basically, there is no right or wrong way to publish a book. These days we are all about tailoring the experience to the person. Think of how television has changed. You used to wait until 8pm on Thursdays to see your favorite show because that was the only time to catch it. The world stopped for a mini series. Now you can order up shows like you order fast food, choosing what, when and how you want to experience the show. As an author, you can now choose the self-publishing experience that fits your goals, budget, time constraints and tolerance for taking risks.
1106 Design is a Phoenix-based company that works internationally with authors, publishers, business pros, coaches, consultants, speakers . . . anyone who wants a beautiful book, meticulously prepared to industry standards.
We offer top-quality cover design, beautifully designed and typeset interiors, manuscript editing, indexing, title consulting, and expert self-publishing advice.
1106 Design provides start-to-finish project management, customized to your specific needs, with hand-holding every step of the way.
Contact 1106 Design to discuss your book.