A Self-Publishing Primer
You’ve done your outline, carefully completed extensive research, and fleshed out your protagonist, antagonist, and assorted minor characters. You’ve battled your literary demons, outlasted extreme bouts of writer’s block, written your book, and received glowing feedback from several manuscript readers.
You’ve heard horror stories from fellow authors who sent out meticulously crafted query letters to specifically targeted agents on every literary agent-listing website ever known to authorkind—only to be repeatedly and callously rejected. And not with politely worded handwritten missives like: “Your manuscript is breathtakingly lovely; it made me weep! Alas, at the moment we happen to find ourselves absolutely replete with cleverly written Southwestern-themed zombie love stories and, regretfully—in a move that shall, no doubt, prove to be our firm’s ultimate undoing as a respectable literary agency in the alarmingly near future—we must pass on representing your novel.”
Okay, I admit it: That’s my fantasy rejection letter pretty much in its entirety right there.
Nobody writes these letters anymore. Nobody even comes close. In fact, the best you can probably hope for is a form letter that’s been photocopied so many times you can barely read the trite, tired words on it.
I’m sure you’ve heard all the usual tales about literary agents’ haphazard, even careless, treatment of authors. Just the other day, a friend was telling me a woman she knows derived her pen name from the way one agency had botched her actual name on a rejection letter—it wasn’t even close!
Sometimes, they don’t even bother trying to make you think they cared enough to consider reading your work. Way back in my starry-eyed, wishful days, eagerly anticipating literary representation and dreaming nightly of lucrative publishing contracts, I once got rejected via postcard. A postcard! Did my enclosed SASE mean nothing to these people? It’s unfortunate there’s no “indignant” font, because I would most certainly have used it just now.
Then again, I also got three successive letters from one agent (initially asking to read the first three chapters of my novel, then asking to see the entire manuscript, and finally offering to represent me). Why did I decline their offer of representation? Apart from the fact they couldn’t even proofread their own correspondence—the same word was definately (sic) misspelled in all three letters—I had the unmitigated gall to ask for their client list. I was told it was “in the early stages yet.” So, with no proof these folks had ever even successfully sold lemonade, they expected me to entrust them with my manuscript—to which I’d devoted the better part of 26 years—simply on their assurance. Riiiight. Next! Is it any wonder so many authors choose to go the self-publishing route?
Speaking of which, let’s talk a bit about self-publishing via Amazon.com.
CreateSpace is Amazon.com’s user-friendly print-on-demand environment that enables even the least technologically savvy of us (that would include me, incidentally) to successfully navigate the choppy waters of indie publishing. Full disclosure: I chose a different platform for my own foray into the world of independent publishing.
Think of CreateSpace as a sort of plug-and-play mechanism—you pick the size you want your book to be, choose stock and cover options (white or cream interior pages; black-and-white or full-color print; glossy- vs. matte-finish cover), and calculate the spine width using their handy formula. (See? Your ninth-grade algebra teacher was right: It did come in handy one day!) There’s a comprehensive, downloadable submission guideline that details everything you need to know to publish your book.
CreateSpace gives you the option to design your own cover, with their easy-to-use interactive online Cover Creator gizmo. With it, you may generate book, CD, or DVD covers. Or, if you prefer, you may have a professionally designed cover created for you (at an additional charge).
And, with their proprietary Interior Reviewer tool, you can feel confident your page layout renders exactly as you intended … and if something does go amiss with the formatting (for instance, if one of your graphics lands partway outside the margins), the tool will alert you, so you can fix it.
CreateSpace makes a variety of book-distribution channels available to its customers with their free membership. Publishing a book doesn’t get much simpler than that. The site even outlines royalty calculations, so you’ll know ahead of time how much you’ll earn when someone buys your book—cha-ching!—whether that’s through Amazon or via other distribution means.
While CreateSpace will issue an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) when you publish through them, you might want to consider purchasing your own ISBN(s), so you or your publishing entity becomes the publisher of record. If you allow CreateSpace to obtain the ISBN you thereby relinquish ownership of that particular ISBN for all time––which, in my opinion, is foolhardy at best. If you update your book to such a degree that it becomes a new edition, you can assign it a new ISBN that you own, and you’ve then reverted ownership back to you or your publishing entity.
To do this, just establish a company name (mine is Little Elm Press) and associate that name with the ISBN (or block thereof—you may buy ISBNs singly or in blocks of 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000 or 100,000 … but let’s not get carried away here, huh?). When you register your ISBN(s), associate your publishing-company name with those ISBNs and you’re all set.
Once you’re ready to see your book in print, there’s another facet of Amazon.com’s marketing you should look into. Even if you publish traditionally—or if you self publish through another POD or indie-publishing channel—you may still establish an author presence on Amazon.com’s website.
A final word of advice: Once you’ve gotten your book self-published, don’t expect to sit back and watch the royalties roll in. Publishing was the easy part. Now you’ve got to get out there and sell it! Don’t think Amazon.com is going to use its considerable resources to promote your book. That’s all on you, my friend, but if you need a great checklist, IFW has a great one. Take to Facebook (you do have an author page there, right?), Twitter, Instagram and any other social-media platform you can think of. You’ll also want to network with prospective readers; try scheduling a speaking engagement at your local library or inviting friends, colleagues, neighbors, members of your writers’ group (even the public at large) to your book-launch event. And if you need ideas for that book-launch party, here are nine keys to a great book-launch party.
Now get your book out there … and start planning that book launch!
Rita M. Reali is an award-winning author whose work has appeared in Reminisce magazine, the S.H.A.R.E. pregnancy-loss newsletter, and newspapers across Connecticut and Tennessee. She’s spoken about editing at writers’ conferences and delivered presentations on proofreading to several professional groups. Rita also runs an editing and proofreading business, The Persnickety Proofreader, and blogs under the same moniker: https://persnicketyproofreader.wordpress.com. Her debut novel, Diagnosis: Love, was published in 2015; she published her second novel, Glimpse of Emerald, in October.