Liz Lazarus shares her recipe for self-publishing success in this guest post. Enjoy!
My mother used to say, “Good thing you got your father’s math skills and my English skills, and not the other way around.”
My mother was an art major and my father owned a small business. Mom and I would make up stories together with fascinating characters and my dad taught me the old-school way of manually counting change, rather than relying on the cash register. It was no surprise that my SAT scores for English and Math were identical!
As a writer, I’ve relied heavily on my creative, intuitive, artistic right brain – it takes that to write fiction. But, boy did I need my engineering, process-driven, logical left brain to navigate from finished manuscript to commercialization. Since I’ve now traveled that road, thought I’d share my 12 Steps to Self-Publishing with “Women Writers, Women’s Books” with a few tips I learned along the way.
1 – If you plan to spend or make a significant amount of money on writing and if you plan on writing multiple books, it makes sense to set up a business. Though it may seem daunting at first, there are only a few steps. First, you can set up an LLC by talking to your accountant or going online – the cost is usually around $100. Next, you’ll need a FEIN or Federal ID number and a State Sales Tax certificate if you plan to sell books directly. And lastly, once you have your LLC, you can set up a bank account under its name. By doing this first step, all the expenses and income of your business can be kept separate for other activities. If this step is just too complicated, you can always stick with your own social security number for tax purposes, when reporting expenses and book sales.
2 – Creating a Marketing and PR plan involves deciding when you plan to launch your book (launch date), how much you plan to spend (budget), knowing your ROI (return on investment) and the number of books you need to sell to break-even. For the marketing side, I’d encourage you think about if you’d like to approach traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio & TV). To do this, you need a strong news angle or a hook into the news cycle as mainstream media is highly competitive; for example, “Free of Malice” is based on factual events and promotes the right for a woman’s educated self-defense). Another route is using social media which I highly recommend. Setting up accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest is fairly quick – and think about your target audience and which channels they frequent.
3 – The editing phase is one of the most critical and it’s important to know that there are several kinds of editing. Start with a BETA reader – this is a trusted friend or colleague who can act as a sounding board and point out what he/she likes and dislikes about your manuscript. Next, a Critique Partner, someone who isn’t afraid to give you harsh feedback, a fellow professional who is invested in your success but can tell you where your baby is ugly. Then, a Content Editor will review the storyline, readability, character development and provide feedback where changes need to be made. Only after a thorough round (or more!) with the Content Editor should you move to the Copy/Line Editor who serves as a professional proof-reader, fact-checker, authority on grammar, punctuation, spelling, word usage, etc. The Copy/Line editor can be two different roles or combined into one. Is this editing process costly? Yes, but I feel it is the best place to spend your money. Early reviews of my book, “Free of Malice” had comments like, “I can’t believe this is a debut author.” I can say that lovely praise was due to 3 rounds of editing!
4 – When it comes time to design your cover, I suggest going to a professional designer. Give him/her any ideas you have plus any key points about the plot to consider. Also, think about your audience. Go to a bookstore and see what other covers in your genre look like, take pictures, analyze what they have in common and what stands out. An interesting tidbit I picked up during my field trip to a bookstore was that fiction books have “A Novel” on the front, so I added that text to my cover. Another rarely noticed tip for indie authors is to put your publisher’s name on the spine.
5 – Your photo is your identity so have your headshot done early in the process so it is consistent across your social media, back cover, media kit, etc. Like the cover homework, look at other authors in your genre and see what their photos have in common. You might notice that a lot of author photos are taken at an angle and the person is leaning forward, in an inviting pose. When you have your photo session, take a few options for outfits and take several shots so you can select from a range of options.
6 – What is an ISBN? It stands for International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and is a unique numeric commercial book identifier. “An ISBN uniquely identifies your book, and facilitates the sale of your book to bookstores (physical and digital) and libraries. Using ISBNs allows you to better manage your book’s metadata, and ensure maximum discoverability of your book. Your book is listed in Bowker Books in Print®, which is used by all the major search engines and most bookstores and libraries.” You can purchase them via Bowker at https://www.myidentifiers.com/Get-your-isbn-now. I suggest buying a 10-pack as you’ll need a different number for your paperback, e-book on Nook, e-book on Kindle and hard cover. If you don’t own your ISBN, you don’t own your distribution, so this is another expense worth making.
7 – Now that you have your cover design and your photo, you have a few of the parts for your jacket. There are 2 versions of your book that you can create – your ARE, or Advance Reader Edition (sometimes referred to as ARC – Advance Reader Copy) and your final book. The cover for your ARE should indicate it is an Advance Edition and the back should have the book synopsis, your bio/photo, your marketing plan and a “Not For Sale” blurb. Look at any ARE and they all basically have the same information. When you are ready for your final copy, remove the marketing plan and “Not For Sale” and replace with endorsements. Before you have the interior of the book laid out, be sure you are 100% ready. Typos and other fixes are not difficult in a Word file—they get much harder in an InDesign or other graphics file. On the interior, be sure you leave space for your Copyright page, your dedication, your text, your acknowledgements, etc. Also, most books start with the first chapter on the right-hand side.
8 – Websites can be expensive so it’s your decision if you want one and how much to pay. I’ve been told by several people that it is your “identity” so worth having one. Templates can make the creation easier or you can go to a professional designer. Be sure to ask about the upfront cost of creating the page and ongoing costs for hosting it or adding email addresses. The basics for a Website are: Home page, Author page, About the Book, Media Kit, Blog should you choose to do one, Upcoming Events and Contact Info.
9 – Once you have the book layout completed, it’s time to print your AREs. I’ve found CreateSpace to be a great option as you can print on demand and they don’t charge for changes. It typically takes 2-3 days for the PDF upload of the book and cover to be approved, about 1-2 weeks for proofs to ship (you can order up to 5 proof copies) and 2-3 weeks for bulk shipments. No matter how much you have proofed your book, there will be typos and edits so avoid printing in bulk at this point. The AREs can be used to send advance copies to media, for awards submissions, for additional proofing, etc.
10 – With the ARE available (either PDF or hard copy), you can submit for professional reviews: Foreward, Kirkus and Midwest Book Review are a few and range in price from $50 to $500 so decide what your budget will allow. Awards are also an option, like IPPY run by the Jenkins Group. A little research or talking to fellow authors will give you genre specific ones that are worth the cost/effort to apply. If you don’t want to mail out a ton of books for reader reviews, NetGalley is an option. For about $300, members of NetGalley can download (at no cost to them) an electronic copy of your book to read and review. The copy expires at the date you choose and cannot be forwarded which protects from pirating and unauthorized distribution.
11 – At this point, you have a paperback book via CreateSpace but will need an e-book as well. There are a myriad of companies that will convert your book to e-book, some for free and some for a fee. I used BookNook, but it’s worth some research to find the best price. Note that Kindle books need a mobi format and Nook and others need ePUB so there are 2 conversions that will be required. Does this remind you of the old Beta / VHS wars? There are also some one-stop shopping options like Smashwords and Draft2Digital.
12 – Finally, it’s time to offer your book for sale. CreateSpace will allow you to sell on Amazon and Ingram Spark does the same for Barnes & Noble. For pricing, I’d suggest checking out similar books and price accordingly. You can always change the price so don’t get too stuck on this step, and know that your royalty will likely be less than 1/3 of the sales price so hope for a real blockbuster to make that Return on Investment equation work.
As noted in my bio, I’m a first time author so please take my advice with a grain of salt. Hopefully my 12 steps will provide some assistance as you navigate the process of publishing and not drive you to need a different kind of 12 Step Program!
About the Author
Liz Lazarus is the author of Free of Malice, a psychological, legal thriller loosely based on her personal experience and a series of ‘what if’ questions that trace the after effects of a foiled attack; a woman healing, and grappling with the legal system to acknowledge her right to self-defense.
She was born in Valdosta, Georgia, graduated from Georgia Tech with an engineering degree and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern with an MBA in their executive master’s program. She spent most of her career at General Electric’s Healthcare division and is currently a Managing Director at a strategic planning consulting firm in addition to being an author.
Free of Malice is her debut novel, set in Atlanta, and supplemented by extensive research with both therapists and criminal defense attorneys. She currently lives in Brookhaven, GA, with her fiancé, Richard, and their very spoiled orange tabby, Buckwheat.
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