So You Want to Publish a Book: A Guide to Self-Publishing

In early 2016, I began a process that was completely foreign to me: self-publishing. After almost eight months, I finally published my first novel, The Rose Garden. To date, it has sold over 300 copies, and to celebrate I thought I would shed a little light on the whole process for you curious little minds out there.

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Write your book. And rewrite. And rewrite.

True, this step is kind of a given, but it’s the most important out of all the steps. Let me stress this: just because your book is self-published does not mean it can still be full of errors. You want to put out quality work, here! Your book is important, and you should make sure that it’s close to perfect before you put it out there. Your readers don’t want to feel like they’re reading one of your high school essays.

I went through sixteen drafts before finishing The Rose Garden, and I still found both a plot error and a spelling error (which my mom, a former English teacher, neglected to point out to me, just saying.) The editing process is grueling and time consuming, but in the end, all those hours you put into it will be worth it.

Research and choose your company.

This is also a very important step. There are three main self-publishing companies that I came across while preparing to launch The Rose Garden: CreateSpace, Lulu, and Lightning Source. All of them have their own pros and cons. This post on Write Hacked was very helpful when I was deciding.

In the end, I went with Lulu. They are a fantastic, easy-to-use online company with a website that is easy to navigate and instructions that are clear and specific. That being said: I knew that I was mostly going to sell my book to people I saw everyday. If you want to sell your book online through websites like Amazon, I would go with CreateSpace. Lulu does allow you to sell on Amazon, but you make less of a profit than you would using CreateSpace.

Pay for a professional to make a cover.

I cannot stress how important this is. I paid $150 dollars to the insanely talented Mia Hodell and she designed me a gorgeous cover, way better than any of the covers a simple cover creator software could make.

When we all say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” in the back of our minds we know that we are lying. A cover is a book’s first impression, and it will be 90% of the reason that someone will want to learn more about your book. If you have a cover made with a photo and some text that are just slapped together, no one is going to think your book looks interesting. Unless you have the Photoshop skills necessary, pay someone who does to make you an eye-catching cover. Trust me. That was the best $150 dollars I ever spent. And if you’re self-publishing, you’ll only need to sell around 15 books to cover the money that you spent.

Upload everything and order the author’s proof.

Once you have the cover and your actual content ready, all you have to do is upload it to the website of your self-publishing company. It might take several minutes for everything to upload, but once it does, it should ask if you would like to order an author’s proof.

After receiving the author’s proof

After you receive your glorious author’s proof and you cry a little bit because it’s actually happening (true story, I cried when I got it in the mail), check the cover. Make sure everything aligned correctly and that the picture isn’t pixelated or anything like that.

Read through your entire novel again. Check for any obvious errors and take note of anything that might be wrong with the font size or text alignment on the page. If you do find errors, go back to your files, fix the errors, re-upload to your publishing website, and request another author’s proof. Repeat this process until everything is perfectly how you want it.

My book was perfect when it came the first time, minus the aforementioned spelling error, so I was good to go. But you might have to go through the author proofing step three or four times before everything looks right.

the pros

You control everything that happens.

As a self-publisher, you control anything and everything that happens with your book. You get to decide what the title is, what the cover looks like, what the format inside the book looks like, and how much it costs. In traditional publishing, you don’t get a say over any of that stuff. If you like being in control and expressing your personal creative outlets, self-publishing is the way to go. You don’t have a boss, you are the numero uno, the man (or woman) in charge.

It’s cheap.

When I published The Rose Garden, it cost me $2.75 per copy. Initially, I purchased 300 copies to sell, and was roughly 800 dollars. For 300 copies!! If you want to buy a ton of your books (perhaps literally, if you buy enough copies, you could make it to 1,000 pounds) to sell them at some sort of book store or social function, self-publishing is easy and insanely cheap. And you make all of that money back, fast. I only had to sell 100 copies until I got out of the hole.

You get to keep all of the profit.

In traditional publishing, you will make, at most, 25% back on all of the books you sell. However, that’s usually only true for big name authors like James Patterson and J.K. Rowling. Most authors receive a mere 6-7% profit of all the books they sell.

With Lulu, I sold each book for $15 and simply had to pay them what it cost to make the book ($3.75) so I made roughly $11 back on each book. When I sold my books through Amazon I made slightly less per book (about $8), but it was still a fair percentage of the profit.

the cons.jpg

You pay for everything out of pocket.

When I first published The Rose Garden, I spent over a thousand dollars, including the cost of the cover creation and the copies that I purchased to sell around my neighborhood. I also paid for all of my release party expenses and for promotional flyers. Take my advice and have some money saved before you start any novel projects. In the end, I made a profit of almost triple of what I spent, so it was worth it. But you must be prepared to spend some in order to make even more!

Traditional publishing will get you more exposure.

If you want to share your story with as many people as possible, if you dream about sitting in bookstores and signing copies of your novel while seeing copies of it on the shelf; self-publishing is not for you. Very rarely, if ever, do self-published novels make it big. Without professional marketing help and the kind of exposure that traditional publishing provides, it’s very hard to become successful.

You do all the marketing by yourself.

Speaking of marketing, if you want self-publish, pull up your boots and get ready to get your hands dirty. To market my book, I had to put together a release party, launch a blog, and post repeatedly on all sorts of social media outlets. If your novel is going to be even slightly successful, you need to be prepared to put in hours of marketing. I wish I was exaggerating. H.O.U.R.S.

So, what would I recommend?

Personally, it’s my dream to be a famous author one day, and if I’m being honest, that’s not going to be achieved through self-publishing. Traditional publishing is the way to go if I want to get my story out there. I wrote The Rose Garden for a charity- all of the proceeds I earned from selling it went to a local hospital. In that instance, I didn’t need a ton of people to know about my book, because I just wanted to make money so I could donate it.

For my future novels, I’m definitely going the traditional route. The self-publishing route was definitely a good experience, and it made me appreciate all the steps that a novel has to go through before it makes its way into a bookstore.

If you’re just getting started and aren’t ready for the traditional route, it never hurts to try out self-publishing! The whole process is fun and a lot of work, but you’ll be very proud and grateful for the book in your hands at the end of it all.

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Do you have any questions about self-publishing? Go ahead and ask, I’m more than happy to answer! 

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