Ten key things you need to know about the self-publishing industry

Before you take the leap, look over the ledge. The more you know about how self-publishing a book really works, the better off you’ll be in the long run. Here are ten truths that may not be exactly self-evident, but will help you make better decisions, spend less money, and create the book you’ve been dreaming about.

1. Self-publishing is simple

It’s making a book for yourself. No more, no less. You won’t have to pitch your book to a publishing house that likely isn’t interested, you won’t have to hire an agent to represent you, and you won’t have to bargain for royalties and advances. It’s just you, your talent, and publishing and marketing tools provided by a platform or service.

2. Self-publishing is complicated

That’s all very true, but you’ll still find yourself facing a world of decisions. From relatively simple ones to book size and cover type to huge ones like which self-publishing platform to go with, you’re on the hook for every aspect of the journey. And, unfortunately, there aren’t many short cuts. While the challenge can be fun, be aware that you’ll need to become an expert (or at least aware of) a whole new world. Royalties, typesetting conventions, ISBNs, distribution, marketing trends—you’ll need to learn a lot if you want to succeed. Luckily, there are a lot of guides out there to help you on the way.

3. Self-publishing is a legitimate option

This is more true now than ever before. It may not be the path you expected when you dreamed of becoming an author, but it’s not a dream. It’s a reality. Self-published books are tearing up the charts and selling in the millions. Furthermore, with better and better quality printing options available, self-published books are increasingly indistinguishable from traditionally publishes books—and as traditional publishing houses scale back their marketing efforts for even their mid-list authors, self-promotion is increasingly important for all authors.

4. The future of publishing is ebooks

It’s easy to sell an ebook. Why? One word: Price. Without the cost of physically producing copies of your book (not a trivial matter) you can set your price so much lower with an ebook—and sell as many copies as you want. An original ebook is an unbeatable way to get the word out about your brand, your imagination, or your talent.

5. Designing your book cover is key

Your cover will probably be the first thing people see of your book, so it’s your chance to get in their heads and make a wonderful, intriguing impression. It’s absolutely the last place you want to look cheap, lack creativity, or appear unprofessional (or, even worse, all three). This is one part of the book-making process that could definitely use the professional touch (more on this later). Unless you’re a graphic designer yourself, we strongly urge hiring a freelance designer to create your cover.

For inspiration, check out this collection of some of the best book covers of all time. It’s an inspiring resource for design and type treatment.

6. You’ll face competition

The flip side to the ease of entering the world of self-publishing means it’s easier on everyone else, too. That means you’re entering a very crowded field full of books that might just be better than yours, a field that’s expanding every day. But don’t let that discourage you—take the opportunity to become part of the conversation, meet your fellow authors, and maybe even learn from them. The world of self-publishing can be a very rewarding community to be a part of, even if you don’t hit the top of the best-seller list.

7. You’ll need a team of experts

There might be a “self” in “self-publishing” but that is definitely no reason to go it alone. The best writers need editors, copyeditors, photographers, designers, and more. The best photographers need writers and editors. And so on and so forth. You probably aren’t already an expert in each aspect of book production, so why not hire that expert knowledge and make your book the best it can be? Here’s a great breakdown of the average costs associated with each aspect of the book-making process when you bring in help. You can also tap resources like Writer.ly, a clearinghouse for freelance publishing assistance. You should also consider hiring help with marketing and publicity to generate more return on your investment, and you might even find it prudent to secure yourself some legal advice.

8. You’ll also need a realistic goal

You’ve probably heard of E.L. James or Jennifer Lyon, but here’s the truth: There’s only two of them. While you should be very, very excited about starting your self-publishing journey, it’s best if you face the facts: Only a very few authors (self-published or not) are going to strike it rich. If you’re going to feel like you’ve succeeded, a reasonable goal to shoot for is simply breaking even. Or getting your name out there. Or building your personal brand. Or just enjoying the journey. If you’re depending on making a lot of money from your self-published book, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Keep costs reasonable and the overhead low, understand that you need to be a businessperson as much as you need to be a dreamer, and you’re more likely to be satisfied with the experience.

9. Printing your book is just the beginning

Putting your book together is a labor of love, but sometimes marketing it can be the real hard work. You’ll need to put your name out there if you want people to actually buy your book, especially if you don’t have the muscle of a traditional publishing house behind you. If you do your homework and grow your connections over the course of months (or even years), it will be that much easier to promote your book moving forward. Go to literary events. Join a book club. Attend writers’ conferences and conventions.

You’ll also need to keep in mind the need to create updated editions of your book, if it’s non-fiction, or the option to create sequels, if it’s fiction.

10. Self-publishing can be fun

That’s it. Just remember to take a breath, relax, see the big picture, and enjoy the ride.


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