Yes, you really can do it yourself.
I get asked fairly often why I chose the self-publishing route. Truth is, there are several reasons. First, it takes a lot to dissuade me, but my 217th agent rejection letter did it. And the agent who did offer me representation misspelled the word “definitely” (as “definately”) in three separate letters—which said plenty about his attention to detail); besides, he refused to give me references. I had no assurance he’d ever so much as successfully sold lemonade; I wasn’t about to entrust him with my novel. Second, some traditional publishers expect the author to do most, if not all the promotion, platform development, and marketing. If I would have to do all that stuff anyway, in my case, it made more sense to do it on my own. I was willing to do all that, in exchange, I’d have more work, but also more profit.
The Decision to Self-Publish
After conducting additional research in to various companies, I chose IngramSpark, the self-publishing arm of Ingram, one of the nation’s two largest commercial book-distribution outlets (the other is Baker & Taylor). I liked their simple process and pricing structure; and my membership in the Association of Publishers for Special Sales gave me a break on the setup fee. As a repeat client, I can also attest to their print quality. Plus, with Ingram’s production facility being two hours from my home, I’d get next-day delivery even though I selected ground shipment.
Beginning the Process
Before you careen into self-publishing a book, take some time to do it right.
Choose the right book company to partner with. There are several, including IngramSpark, CreateSpace, BookBaby, and Lulu. Do your own homework. Pick the one that’s the right fit for you. I’ll walk you through the process I used with IngramSpark.
You may wish to establish a publishing-company name (mine is Little Elm Press). It’s not mandatory, but it lends credibility. When your book is available online, it looks more professional to see a company listed as the publisher instead of your own name.
Secure an ISBN. You can get your ISBN from a self-publishing company, but unless the link at their site takes you to R.R. Bowker at http://www.bowker.com, be aware the entity that holds the ISBN controls ownership of the book. You don’t want to try to re-issue your book some day through a different publisher and find you need to get another ISBN because you don’t own the one currently assigned to it. R.R. Bowker is the lone source in the U.S. for direct sales of ISBNs. Assign the ISBN to your book; do this online (you’ll need a separate ISBN for every format, so if you also release it in ebook format, you’ll need one for that, one for audio, etc.). R.R. Bowker walks you through the process of entering the title, author name, publication date, price. You will get the option to buy a barcode for the ISBN (which I recommend). Don’t buy a barcode for ebooks. Generate, download and save the barcode file; you’ll provide it to your cover designer later.
Pay Attention to Details
Ensure your manuscript is in pristine condition. Tie up all loose ends, leave no abrupt POV shifts, and secure all permissions if you’re using song lyrics or quoting another author’s book. Hire a professional editor, proofreader, layout artist (for the interior layout), and a fantastic cover designer. And unless you’ve got a friend or relative who can take a professional-quality photo of you, engage a professional photographer to take your author photo. It’ll be worth it.
From a marketing standpoint, cover design is critical. Why? A great cover attracts attention. And while people may not necessarily judge a book by its cover, they certainly do stop to look at an attractive or compelling cover; and getting someone to look at (or pick up) your book makes a huge difference when it comes to sales.
Get the interior layout squared away first; your cover designer will need the total page count in order to finalize his or her bit of the puzzle. IngramSpark has a simple spine-width calculator feature, to compute a precise spine width to two decimal places.
After you’ve delivered your ISBN/barcode to your designer and gotten your all components assembled (finished interior layout in .pdf form; and completed cover design in proper .pdf format), you’re ready to upload your files. With IngramSpark, the process is straightforward—just click a few buttons, upload the files and you’re ready to submit. Once the files are successfully uploaded, it will generally take about a day for the electronic proof to be ready for your approval.
How Many Books Should I Order?
After you’ve signed off on the electronic proof, order one book. Just one. Let me say it again: Order one book. Don’t get ahead of yourself here. An electronic proof is fine for reviewing the finished product, but there’s no substitute for holding an actual copy of your book.
If you’re a typical author, you’ll probably spend the next several days staring out the window, checking your watch and cursing your postman for every second he’s delayed in delivering your mail. Don’t. Go about your life, inasmuch as you can. Yes, I realize it’s far easier said than done, but your book won’t arrive a moment sooner with you peeping through the blinds every 37 seconds.
When your book does arrive, examine each page carefully, to ensure it’s exactly as expected. If so, great. If not and you need to make adjustments, you’ll be glad you listened to me and ordered only the one copy. Make any necessary revisions, upload the revised file and, again, order one book.
Because IngramSpark charges $25 for each revision (either to the cover or the interior), be sure you’ve caught all your oopsies before you submit a revision. Otherwise, it could get costly.
Order as many books as you realistically think you’ll be able to sell (be conservative in your estimate; the last thing you need is a garage piled with cardboard cartons full of unsold books). If you’ll be doing personal appearances and book talks in libraries, bookstores or other venues, you might want to start with an order of a hundred books. And if book sales are brisk, it only takes a few days to get a new shipment. If you can accept book orders ahead of time through a local bookstore or on your website, great! That means you can sell out your first run and use the profits to pay for your second print run.
Whichever company you choose, I wish you much success in your publishing endeavors. And if you’ve self-published, please comment about your self-publishing experience.
Links to resources:
- R.R. Bowker for U.S. ISBNs: http://www.bowker.com/products/ISBN-US.html
- ISBNs Explained: https://www.instituteforwriters.com/isbns-explained.aspx
- The Association of Publishers for Special Sales: http://community.bookapss.org/
- IngramSpark: https://www.ingramspark.com/
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 2017.