Ever since I published my book this spring, I’ve gotten a remarkable amount of e-mails and DM’s casually asking me how to publish a book. I’ve done my best to respond back that it’s a long process and if they have any specific questions I’m happy to answer them, but it’s a really tough/long question to answer so nonchalantly. Now that I did my signing at Barnes and Noble I’m getting twice as many of those e-mails and I figured I just need to write a blog post about my experience so I can direct people here. That way I have all the information in one place without forgetting anything (and I only have to write it once).
Write The Content
It’s great if you have a title picked out already, but it’s likely you don’t. I suggest starting with an outline of the actual content of your book first and foremost. What do you want to talk about? What do you want to include? I have no experience writing fiction, but in the same way I’d outline topics for non-fiction I imagine you’d outline plot lines and character development. Writing the content is absolutely the most important part. After all, it’s a book and people are going to read it. You want to make sure you have something valuable to say, something unique. Even if it’s a topic that’s been published about a million times, what’s your spin? Decide if you’ll speak in the first person. Decide the chapter breakdown. Decide the important stuff first.
The dirty truth is writing a book is one of the most unglamorous things you’ll do. You’re not sitting at a roll top desk in an attic with a feather pen you’re dipping in ink. You’re likely hunched over a laptop on your couch trying to rid your mind of everyday distractions. My best advice to you is to treat the writing of your book like a hot date. If you want to put on lipstick and a pretty outfit, go for it — it might help. But most importantly, you need to show up. Don’t reschedule your hot date at the last minute. That’s bad policy. Just show up. Even if you’re nervous, even if you make mistakes, even if they don’t ask you out again or kiss you at the end of the night. You have to show up. Don’t procrastinate on your dream.
I do some of my best writing in notebooks. If you’re like me in that aspect, don’t rule out handwriting parts of your book. But remember that typing your book is a necessity at some point, and it might just be easier (and quicker) to do it straight on the computer. Organize your folders on your computer better than you’ve ever organized anything in your entire life. When in doubt, give it a new subfolder. Each chapter gets a folder and there might even be multiple documents and folders in each of those folders. Label everything so the simplest person could find what they need to in an emergency. And if you do write in notebooks, stay organized with that as well. No loose papers you pick up in piles and clutch to your chest dramatically. It’s not romantic, it’s unprofessional. This is your hot date, your big dream. Treat it with respect.
Choose The Title
Come up with the title at the end if you haven’t gone into the project with it already picked out. Spend time on the title. Workshop it with multiple friends with different types of personalities. Write down all your options and message your friends to vote for their favorite three. Do you want to have a subtitle? Will there be punctuation? Don’t overlook simple and obvious titles. Sometimes those are the best.
Are you going to have illustrations, photos, tutorials, or any other visual content in your book? If you’re not the person who is going to be creating this content then you’ll need to hire someone else to do it. I do not recommend asking a friend to do it. It’s great to work with friends on some things, but if you’re serious about your book then you want to outsource this stuff. And by “this stuff” I mean everything. Give your photographer/illustrator your vision including a proposal with what you’re offering to compensate them with. Make sure you have a specific deadline written out, and always have a contract written up even if it’s simple. Depending on the nature of their involvement, they may also need to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Decide How To Be Published
I was planning on self-publishing. I was going to go with Create Space because it seemed to be the best option for color printing under the self-publishing umbrella. But once I launched my Kickstarter, a mid-sized publisher contacted me and said ‘we want to publish your book!’ and I said ‘screw Create Space!’. Let me officially and sternly say, there is nothing wrong with self-publishing. We have so many resources at our fingertips these days that we don’t need to wait for any man or woman to give us the green light to go after our dreams. There are also a lot of benefit with self-publishing, like being in total control of everything. That also has its downfalls obviously, like you’re in control of everything. There aren’t necessarily extra sets of eyes to help you out. You’re in charge of making sure things run smoothly. You’re in charge of marketing. You’re in charge of making sure this book doesn’t die.
We look at getting published by a publisher as this romantic engagement. And it can be. The thing you have to remember is you’re still likely going to be shelling out money upfront even if you get a publisher. Unless you’re famous, you’re not getting a hundred thousand dollar advance on your book before it’s even printed. You’re probably going to have to pay for the copies upfront and cross your fingers. The good thing about working with a publisher is they do a lot of the dirty work. They handle distribution. They talk to Amazon for you. They offer additional services you might have to pay for, but that you won’t have to personally do. And ultimately, being published by a publisher makes it a lot easier to be published be a(nother) publisher in the future.
You can choose to try pitching your book to publishers first and if they say no then you can go with self-publishing. There are tons of places you can publish your book. Create Space is one of them, but there’s also Lulu and Blurb. Research your needs. Are you doing a full color book or is just the cover color? You need to know what their reputation is with quality of different kinds of books before you make a decision. And you can always order one copy from each site to see what your favorite outcome is.
My recommendation is to write while you’re on fire with passion. Forget spell check and proper grammar in the name of genuine excitement. Once you’ve word vomited everything you can say, go back and re-read what you wrote. Fix silly mistakes first and then things like sentence structure. I have a really hard time editing on the computer, so I would print out my chapters one at a time to look at in my hands. Once I had edited my own writing, I would hand each chapter off to my dad and have him look for things I had missed. He’s not a professional editor, just a second pair of eyes. If you have someone in your life who is willing to do this for you I highly recommend it. Then, you want to hire an actual editor.
I got my editor on Upwork, which is an amazing site for outsourcing all kinds of tasks. It’s basically the freelancer’s dream. You get to create your listing of exactly what you will need, what you want in the person you’ll hire, and name your price. Then the offers will pour in almost immediately. Tons of people will want to work for you. You have to go through and weed out people who don’t seem good for you. Process of elimination is easiest. Are they asking for too much money? They’re out. Do you really prefer they have at least one prior experience on this site under their belt but they’re a newbie? Cross them off. Ultimately, you want to go with your gut. This person is going to be reading your work before anyone else, in its most vulnerable state. You want to be comfortable with them and trust them.
There are tons of other ways to get editors. If you’re working with a publisher, they will have editors on staff you can pay extra for. You can meet an editor at a local company if you would rather work with someone you can meet in person. You need one, though. Don’t think you don’t need one. You definitely do.
Don’t be off-put by all the red ink on your manuscript. It’s okay that there are a ton of “errors”. Lots of these things are suggestions. And remember that this is first and foremost your book. So if an editor says this particular sentence would flow better if you worded it this way but you really want it that other way, go with your gut. This is your baby. You get final say.
Publishing a book isn’t cheap. At all. Again, unless you’re famous you’re going to pay for all of this out of your own pocket and most first-time authors lose money on their first book. I chose to do a Kickstarter campaign where I asked for $2,500. I was stupid. I had no idea how much things would cost and even though I knew it was definitely going to cost more than I was asking, I was scared to ask for double it because if you don’t reach your goal on Kickstarter you don’t get any of the money. [Read more about running a Kickstarter campaign here.] That was stupid. Ask for how much you need. I was fully funded in eight days, and I did get over-funded, but it still didn’t nearly cover the cost of publishing my book. People are much more likely to throw money at a campaign that’s about to end which hasn’t met its goal yet, than donate when it’s already “sufficiently” funded.
Do your homework. I thought I did, but I didn’t get thorough enough. I also didn’t get very accurate quotes from my publisher before it was contract time and I was in too deep. Get stuff in writing upfront. You need to make sure you have money for your editor, your photographer/illustrator, your book designer, and then the actual printing costs. If you’re self-publishing you have to buy an ISBN number. If you’re doing a Kickstarter, you have to send out rewards and don’t you dare forget how expensive postage is. Things add up. I spent about $10,000 on my book before I ever had a copy in my hand and I have in no way made that money back. I try to look at that 10K as an investment, and every book I sell as profit just for my own sanity, but in reality, I’ll be in the red for a long, long time.
Your publisher might have a designer you can utilize, or you can outsource this to a third party from Upwork as well. There are tons of graphic designers waiting to have a project to work on. This is really just about making sure your book is pretty. Do you want the text to be left aligned or flush with the margins? Is everything black and white? What fonts are you using? Where will the pictures go? How big will the text be? Do you need a table of contents? What about an introduction, acknowledgments, or dedication page? You have to include legal copyright information in the front of your book. Your book designer will help you do all of this. Think of them as the interior decorator.
Hype the shit out of your book. Tell everyone about it. Make and mail out postcards. Blast it on Facebook. Contact local bookstores and offer to do in-store signings. Consider hosting a book launch party and/or hiring a publicist. If no one is interested in your book, no one will buy it. And if no one buys it you’re not making any of your money back. Get as many testimonials/reviews as you possibly can. They really help.
Lots of self publishing websites easily integrate with websites like Amazon so you can sell very easily online. What sucks is even with a publisher, online sites and book stores only pay wholesale prices for your book. That’s usually 55% off the cover price and then they get to charge whatever they want for it. That’s why books can be so cheap on Amazon, because even though it’s 30% off the cover price, they’re still making a profit because the author took a huge cut. It sucks. My books ended up costing almost $10 a piece to print and their cover price is $22.95 so when Amazon buys them they pay around $11 for them and I still have to pay my publisher a 15% processing fee. Let me say it again: it sucks. That’s why I try to look at each sale as profit, not trying to climb out of the deficit I created at the beginning of this adventure.
If your book isn’t full color it won’t cost nearly as much as mine to print. Full color is crazy more expensive. And the more books you order upfront the bigger a discount on each book you get (but the more overall money you’re paying in the beginning). Make sure you do your homework and make sure you can afford everything. You might want to look into how to find a literary agent to help you with this.
Remember this is a long process with a lot of variables. You have a lot of choices and a lot of control in the beginning, but how your book does at some point is somewhat out of your hands. If you have any more specific questions about the process, please feel free to ask in the comments below or e-mail me. I hope this helped to answer some of your questions and I didn’t discourage you at all. Yes, it’s hard but I’m so glad I did it. It was the number one thing on my bucket list for as long as I can remember and having that checked off is a feeling I can’t describe.
Hey! Do you wanna buy my book? I did a lot of work on it. 😉