November 29th, 2009 | Self-Publishing | 28 Comments
A couple of folks have asked if I'd offer some thoughts on how to self-publish successfully, since we were recently chatting on this blog about self-publishing options. If you go to Lightning Source, the setup for the book is $35, plus another $35 for the cover. You also pay another $35 for the ISBN number. They'll send you a cover template (complete with barcode, which you MUST have if you're going to sell it in any store). You'll pay about $3 each for the ink/paper/binding of a 200 page book, or $4.50 for a 300 page novel, plus an extra $1 apiece for the cover. You can order as few as you want, but you'll discover there are discounts starting at 50 copies. Then you'll have a shipping charge added to that. They're fast, and will get you your books in about two to three weeks. So… your total per book cost is going to be roughly $6 per book, give or take how many pages it is, how many copies you get, and what all you do with the cover.
You know why most self-pubbed are looked down upon? Because they are badly written, poorly edited, and have lousy covers. (Wait — before you self-pubbed types write to tell me how wonderful your book is, you should know that I've done this a long time. I've self-pubbed my own books. I've been involved with dozens of self-published titles. And I've been in the industry for a couple decades. Believe me, I can recognize crappy writing, editing, and design — and most self-pubbed titles have all three. Yours may be the exception, but that's the common impression people hold of self-pubbed books, and they hold it for a reason.) So keep this in mind: There are a lot of good people working in publishing, and if they all say the book isn't that good… well, they may be right. So don't parade your arrogance around by publishing another lousy book.
So what can you do to make your self-pubbed book better? First, do your research. If you don't know anything about the process, talk to some people who have successfully self-published. Second, hand it over to a professional editor. That might change your book cost by dollar or two per copy, but it's worth it. A second set of eyes will catch things you've missed because you're too close to it. Be wary of paying an editing fee to a vanity press, who may or may not have quality editors on staff. With very little work,you can locate a good editor to assist you with your book. Third, invest a couple hundred bucks with an artist who can create a nice-looking, salable cover. Again, this will drive your price up. But you'll never sell a book with a bad cover. (In fact, I've seen pretty good books fail because of horrid covers.) Fourth, before you hand over your print file, hire a copyeditor to do one last check. Yes, that's another expense… but having that third set of eyes will simply make your book look much more professional. Fifth (and perhaps most important), have a plan in place to market your book BEFORE it releases. Most self-publishing authors fail because they can produce the book, but then don't know how to sell the actual copies.
I've self-published several books successfully. I did hardcover nonfiction books, had a lot of editing done, paid an artist for the cover, and had a plan in place. Those books cost me about $8 each. They were a specialty item (books of card tricks for magicians), so they had a high retail price tag — $40. That worked great for me, but I knew exactly how to sell books of cards tricks. I knew which magazines card magicians subscribed to, knew how to get them reviewed in magic magazines, knew how to get the books to magic conventions, and knew who my audience was and how to reach them. I also knew their language — what they wanted in a book of card tricks. So I had a plan for selling the books. I've helped other people do trade-size paperbacks. Those cost about $6 each, and they normally sold for $10-$12, so the author was making more on his self-published books than if he had sold the book to a traditional publisher and received a royalty. BUT HE HAD AN AVENUE FOR SELLING THEM. The issue for most self-published authors is that they think through how to get the books, but not how to sell them. If you don't have a platform, if you don't know who and where your audience is, and if you don't have a written plan to reach them, you're probably just publishing a book out of vanity.
Think about this: Some of the self-publishing ventures you'll discover will charge you as much as $100 per book. They'll try to get you to sign on with their marketing efforts (generally for a very large fee). They may or may not deliver on their promise. Think of it as building a house — you can pay a big fee to a general contractor to have it done for you, or you can do much of the work yourself and get it done for less money. I'm not saying the self-publishing companies are unfair — they're just trying to make a profit. But be aware that you can probably accomplish the same thing for far less money.
Two other notes: First, there is, in my opinion, almost ZERO market for self-published novelists. No matter how much time you spend improving your manuscript, people don't want to buy a novel unless it comes from a legit source. You have to hand-sell every copy. If you've got a big group of friends, and you're satisfied you can make this work, have at it. But be aware that you're not going to make any money. Second, my friend and fellow literary agent Rachelle Gardner put it very well when she noted recently, "Understand that self-publishing is an alternative to regular, royalty-paying commercial publishing, not a stepping stone to it." She said it perfectly. I don't believe that your self-pubbed book will get you a publishing contract with Random House or Harper Collins. Just so you know.
Let me close with something you'll appreciate… A couple years ago, some folks decided to try and find the worst self-published book on the market. I was sent a copy of the winner, just for a laugh. The title: How to Good-bye Depression. The subtitle (and I swear I'm not making this up), is: If you constrict anus 100 times everyday. Malarky? or Effective Way?
With a guaranteed winner subtitle like that, I'm sure you'll agree this must be one life-changing book. The author is Mr. Hiroyuki Nishigaki. His chapter titles include: Turn to bay throwing away pride, Save sex energy and rotate vortex, erase your bad stickiness and multiply various good feeling, and of course the immortal Stare, shoot out immaterial fiber, ucceed in concentrating, behave with abandon-largess-humour and beckon the spirit (I double-checked to make sure I had that one correct, complete with the word "ucceed").
There's obviously much to think about here. Rotating your vortex is no doubt a good thing. I
9;ve long been an outspoken vortex-rotator, as my friends can attest. And I'm all for erasing your bad stickiness — a topic that just doesn't get enough mention these days. I'm not as sold on shooting out immaterial fiber, but I may not be as far along in the process as Mr. Nishigaki. Still, you've got to admit the whole idea offers many helpful benefits. As he says in his back cover copy, "I think constricting anus 100 times and denting navel 100 times in succession everyday is effective to goodbye depression and take back youth. You can do so at boring meeting or in a subway. I have known 70-year-old man who has practiced it for 20 years… His eyes sparkle. He is full of vigor, happiness and joy. Furthermore, he can make * * three times in succession." The copy goes on to mention that this man has burned out his stickiness and is busy shooting out his immaterial fiber, so it MUST work. As the author puts it, "If you don't know that… your life looks like hell."
Just think of the promise offered there. If you're facing a boring meeting this week, you may want to order a copy…