The Internet has truly revolutionized the publishing world. We have more avenues to share our thoughts, ideas, and innovations with hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people than ever before. If you have a working manuscript or you’ve been sitting on a completed one for some time, this post will cover five self publishing tips that I learned through the process of publishing two books in the last year: A Journal from the John Muir Trail and Reflections from My 25th Year.
This is not, of course, a complete step-by-step guide to self-publishing. If you’re interested in starting the process, I recommend conducting further research, but I also welcome you to reach out to me if you have any specific questions.
Checking and Double-Checking Your Proof
This tip can’t be overstated. I probably went through my digital proof at least a half dozen times before finally submitting it to a publishing platform for review. Even after it was approved for paper publication, I had to review three more paper copies of each of my books before I was fully satisfied with the final product.
This took time. The platform I used would send me a paper copy in the mail after I asked for one. This took a week or two and then I had to review each one thoroughly, note the changes I wanted to make, make those changes in my manuscript, and resubmit. Then I had to wait for another paperback version to arrive in the mail and do it all over again.
Just when I thought I had my books to a point where I was ready to move forward and start distribution, one of my proofreaders would contact me and bring another snafu to my attention. So, before we move on and talk about proofreading, I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to thoroughly comb over your manuscript several times over before starting the self-publishing process.
Enlisting Proofreading Help
No matter how many times you read over your own manuscript, however, someone else will undoubtedly pick up on misspellings, incorrect verb tenses, and strange sentence structures. That’s why it’s key to enlist proofreading help well in advance of your target publication date. You may benefit from running your manuscript past an automated proofreading tool like Grammarly, but there’s really no substitute for getting it under several pairs of human eyes that you trust.
When enlisting proofreading help, you don’t have to reach out to the most notable folks in the field and you don’t have to shell out a bunch of extra cash to have your manuscript dialed in. Personally, I entrusted the first handful of copies of my book to my parents, close friends who are also writers, and a colleague or two that I knew would actually read it and offer critical feedback.
It can also be helpful to give your selected proofreaders some direction when they’re reading your manuscript. If, for example, you’re very adept at catching misspellings yourself, you might want your proofreaders to focus on things like sentence structure and verb tense. Ask your proofreaders (nicely!) to pay special attention to the areas in which you feel your writing may be lacking. This will allow you to garner more useful feedback with which you can move forward.
Finding a Publishing Platform
So you have your manuscript to a point where you’re feeling very confident and you’re ready to publish. The next step is finding a self-publishing platform that will take you through the various steps you need to complete in order to make your digital manuscript a paperback reality.
The platform that I used is called CreateSpace. It is an Amazon company, which means it has a direct avenue to Amazon book distribution. They did, however, recently announce some changes to the platform, so that would certainly be worth researching before you move forward.
I loved CreateSpace’s process because it was simple and easy to submit manuscripts, review them, order proofs, and set up distribution channels. They give you the option of making your book available, not only on Amazon in the US but also on Amazon affiliates worldwide, which helps to expand your reach. They also allow you to make your book available in both digital and paperback versions, which is key in the age of Kindle readers.
Lastly, their platform contains a number of helpful (and free!) publishing resources to walk you through the process. But, if you ultimately get stuck, it also allows you to pay for certain additional services. Best of all, your books are printed on-demand, which means there is no up front cost to you. Amazon simply takes a percentage of the sale every time your book is purchased.
Cover design can be one of those factors of self-publishing that’s easily overlooked. I made that mistake the first time around and, to be honest, I’m still not 100% happy with the covers of both of my books. Since discovering Canva, however, I have been able to design book covers that more closely resemble the brand I’m going for (and, most importantly, don’t look like they were done by a third grader. No offense to third graders, of course, for there are certainly some out there that could probably design a better book cover than I can now, but you get the point).
Anyhow, cover design can and may be one of those things that you actually end up shelling out a little of money for. After all, it’s the reader’s first impression of your book and if they can’t get past it, you’ve likely lost them. So, in addition to utilizing a tool like Canva, you might want to look into whether cover design is one of the additional paid services offered through whichever self-publishing platform you choose.
Ok, you finally have a print version of your book in your hands that you’re happy with. Now, how do you get the word out that your book is available? Honestly, this is still an area that I’m very much researching and learning in. There is a lot of competition out there, and it can be difficult for your books to become ranked in Amazon’s database. But there are certain things you can do to help your books reach more eyes.
I started by reaching out to my personal network (i.e. family, friends, acquaintances, etc.) to see who would be interested in reading a copy of my books. I kept the price very low to start things out, but that made things more accessible for my inner circle. A few weeks after that, I followed up with everyone to see if they had received a copy and if they had begun reading it. Another month or so, I reached out to solicit reviews on both of my books on the Amazon platform. These reviews can be helpful in having strangers find your book through organic search.
Since that initial marketing push, I’ve turned my sights mostly to social media marketing. I’ve begun posting regular quotes from my books with information on where people can get their hands on a copy. I’ve also started filming myself reading excerpts from my books and publishing those on YouTube and Instagram TV. The goal here is simply to cast a wide net. I’ve even begun to offer giveaways to get more free versions of my book out there in the world. As you might imagine, I’ll follow up these giveaways with review solicitations and seek to build momentum in that way.
I am not a self-publishing or marketing expert, but what I have learned through freelance writing over the course of the last five years is that you can find so much helpful information simply by being willing to search for it online. And I’ve also learned that there’s no harm in a good, old-fashioned trial-and-error.
Maybe a year from now I’ll update this post with more helpful tips or refine these existing ones. But if I hadn’t made the jump to publish these books, I wouldn’t be able to share some of what I learned through this experience with you today. And I wouldn’t be able to tell you, 100%, that simply going for it was more than worth it.
Are You Working On A Book?
If you’ve been working on a manuscript for a while, or you have one finished and you’ve been procrastinating on taking the next step, I’d love to know if you found these tips useful. I’d also appreciate feedback if you simply dream of publishing one day in the future and have bookmarked this post for later.
Leave a comment below letting me know if you found this article helpful or if you’d like to see an article on a different topic entirely. I will respond as soon as possible and I appreciate and welcome any and all comments (although I do reserve the right to remove comments if I find them offensive or inappropriate).
I’d also be thankful if you choose to share these organization tips with others, especially if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do! The point of social media, after all, is to be SOCIAL! I don’t need followers or likes, but I’d like to contribute to a real conversation about how we continue to improve as a society and as individuals.
It’s a Brave New (Self-Publishing) World!