Many wonder where to begin with self-publishing. I am going to take you through the steps that I took and the order that I did them in. This may or may not be how others do it, but this is my experience.
After writing your manuscript and at least running it through a spell-checker and reading it through once yourself, it is time to get an editor. Check out the many resources online to find an editor. My suggestion is to find one that works in your particular genre. Look for reviews on this editor and see what other people say about his/her work. When you finally pick an editor that you like, send them an inquiry email introducing yourself, and asking them about how they handle the editing process, what their rate is and are the available to take on your project. You’ll get back a response with the above info and possibly a request to see a chapter or two of your work. They will edit it for you send it back and you can see if they provide what you are looking for.
Take your time with this process, and be sure about who you are agreeing to work with. The editor provides a very important service and they will help to shape how your novel turns out. Editors usually provide several different kinds of services and price ranges.
The Editorial Assessment
It can be confusing as to whether you should do an editorial assessment or a developmental edit first, or even if you need both. And editorial assessment is an in-depth book report on your manuscript evaluating things like characterization, plot, structure and style. It is known as an edit letter. It handles big picture items and if you are confused over whether your plot works, or if you are in the beginning stages of writing your manuscript, this might be the way to go.
The Developmental Edit
The developmental edit is a thorough and in-depth edit of a finished manuscript. You will send them a copy of your work (most seem to prefer Word) and they will send you the document back with changes in the margins and actually copy editing marks as well. The Developmental Edit is more work intensive and it takes longer. The editor will examine not just word choices and phrasing, but will also examine plot holes, problems with character development, and overall structure and style. The editor will not do these changes for you, but they will provide you with an outline of issues and provide feedback on your novel. A good editor will also make sure you understand the edits needed and how to implement them.
After a developmental edit, the manuscript can be changed dramatically. For some, accepting honest feedback and suggestions can be difficult. You may have to cut out entire scenes, months or years of work can be reshaped or heavily criticized. But it’s worth it. Allow yourself around eight weeks for this whole process.
This is mostly proofreading. You may or may not need an editor for this. Some authors pay for the developmental edit and then pay for a line by line edit or copy edit. This is where the editor goes through the manuscript line by line looking for grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes. It is a single-minded effort where the editor is looking at grammar, inconsistencies and substituting weak words and phrases for more powerful ones. You can copy edit yourself, but be careful on this one. After you have read your own manuscript four or five times, it is very easy to overlook mistakes. I’m not saying don’t do it yourself, but definitely take your time with it. Using a program like Grammerly or AutoCrit is invaluable to this process if you are doing it yourself, but I have to say, you won’t get the same results as you do with an actual copy editor with years of experience.
THE COVER ARTIST
While the editing process is going on, or even while you are still working on the manuscript, you need to find yourself an artist and come up with a desirable cover. The cover will entice a reader to look at your book so do not neglect this important step. You can design your own cover but there are reasons to have a professional artist do your cover and mostly it is about licensing. If you decide to design your cover yourself and you pick from stock images you have to be absolutely sure that you have the proper licensing for any images you use. Having your own artist who draws his/her own artwork eliminates that. You do have to make sure when working with your artist that you have all licensing angles covered. Meaning, there may be one cost for the artwork for the ebook and another for the paperback. The pictures are different, the paperback is larger and wider. Just make sure you are clear on this and never assume.
There are many artists out on the internet. You can start by googling for artists that specifically do book design. There are many qualified and beautiful artists out there, and again you need to make sure you pick someone who works with styles appropriate for your novel. Contact them by email, with an inquiry letter as you did for the editor and then go from there.
THE COPY WRITER
You may not feel that you need a copy writer, but I find that I have a hard time writing the blurb about my book. This is another area that is important if you want to grab the reader’s attention. The copy writer will want a summary of your novel (like a book report) and the first three chapters of the novel. Pay them, give them a couple of weeks and you should have a really nice, snappy blurb that will help sell your novel. You will put this blurb on the back of your novel and you will use it in your description when you finally put your novel on Amazon or where ever.
Like all the other steps this one is very important. You may find after all the edits are done, that you did something errant like copy a paragraph twice or there could be spelling errors that have been missed. Proof reading is important. You want your final product to be as polished as possible. There is a way to do this by putting more eyes on your work before it is published. It is called Advanced Readers’ Copies (ARCs), more on that in a moment. The next thing you have to worry about is formatting your book.
FORMATTING YOUR BOOK
If you are going to Publish on Amazon, your book will have to be in .mobi format (correction: Amazon recently went to epub format). Print on Demand requires a PDF, and Google Books requires an ePub format. Since each platform has its own formatting and formatting issues, this can seem daunting. Scrivener, my writing tool of choice, will allow you to export your manuscript to all of these formats, which is great. However, their exporting and formatting lacks some finesse. If you want to really have a nicely formatted book that looks professional, might I suggest using Vellum. I love it and I wouldn’t be without it.
Vellum is a program that works only on Apple. But there is a way for us Windows users to get around that. There is a hosting platform called macInCloud. You can have your own virtual Apple machine for a monthly fee and buy and install Vellum on there. Someday, I will probably just by myself an Apple computer, but until I am rich and famous and can afford an Apple, I use macInCloud.
If you don’t want to go the above route, there are companies out there that will format your manuscript for you for a fee. The reason I bought Vellum and macInCloud is because I can make changes to my manuscript, reformat and republish it easily and quickly, which is great, especially if you find a typo.
ADVANCED READERS’ COPIES
Advanced readers’ copies are pre-publication copies that are used for feedback and proofreading. There are a few web sites where you can set up ARCs and get the feedback you need. One of those is BookSprout. Others include NetGalley, and Hidden Gems. The way these sites work, is you provide copies of your work in the various formats, and they provide readers. The author pays a monthly fee, it usually isn’t large and then you can set up your ARC. Not only can you get valuable feedback, but you can also get reviews for your book which can then be put on your publishing site (Amazon, Apple Books, Google Books, Kobo, etc).
There is a very good article on how to get ARCs, here.
BECOME A PUBLISHER
In the world of Self-Publishing, you are the publisher. Therefore, you need to open a business. And that, in itself, could be a whole other article. Suffice it to say, you will need a business checking account for the publishing platforms to deposit your royalties. You will also need to be a publisher to buy your own ISBNs. And it is also useful when filing your taxes. Starting up a business is not that hard and it’s not that expensive either. In my state, I can start a business for just $99.00. There are a lot of sites out there that will tell you they can provide all these services for you, create your business, set up your accounts with Bowker, etc… and they will do this for a fee, of course. My advice, do it yourself and save your money. Just go to your local state’s website and read up on what you need to do.
Speaking of taxes, if you are setting up your own business as an LLC, it will start out as a C Corporation. Since all you are doing is selling your own material, you should set yourself up as an S Corporation. Why would I do this, you make ask? S corporations are corporations that elect to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes. Shareholders of S corporations report the flow-through of income and losses on their personal tax returns and are assessed tax at their individual income tax rates. This allows S corporations to avoid double taxation on the corporate income. That requires getting the Federal Form and filling it out and mailing it in, after your corporation has been formed. Again, go to irs.gov, don’t go anywhere else to do this. (NOTE: I am not a professional tax person and this is only my opinion. Please seek professional advice before doing anything.)
ISBNs (To buy or not to buy)
All novels require an ISBN in order to be sold. The International Standard Book Number is a commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency. Bowker in the United States is the website where you go to purchase your ISBNs. Sellers like Amazon can provide you with an ISBN for free, but it is their ISBN. That means you will need different ISBNs for Apple Books, and different ISBNs for Kobo, etc.. if you choose to use their ISBNs. If you buy your own, you will have the same ISBN no matter what across all platforms. I prefer to buy my own, and I did, in a pack of ten (It’s cheaper). You will have to use a separate ISBN for each product, meaning the eBook has its own ISBN, the paperback has it’s own ISBN and the Audiobook has its own ISBN. You can start to see how you will go through ten ISBNs very quickly, especially if you plan on doing more than one book. Imagine if you were publishing on all the different publishing platforms and each item had an ISBN for each product on each platform. It could get really unwieldy very fast.
PICK YOUR SELLING PLATFORM
So now, you’ve got your manuscript, you’ve got your cover art and you’ve got your ISBNs. Now you have to decide where you are going to put your novel to sell it. Amazon is a popular choice, for obvious reasons. They have eighty percent of the market share for online retailers of books. The others, Apple Books, Kobo, Google Books, Barnes and Noble (Nook) all together make up the other twenty percent. You can decide to set yourself up with Kindle Unlimited, but know that if you do you will not be able to publish on the other platforms. You can put yourself on all the platforms if you decided to not put yourself in the Kindle Unlimited program, so you can be everywhere. It is up to you to decide what woks best for you.
When you set up on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) you will need your EIN from your publishing company, a business checking account for them to deposit your royalties into, your formatted .mobi manuscript, the pdf manuscript if you are doing Print On Demand (POD), the ebook cover and the POD Cover. If you are using your own ISBNs, you will need those also. Log into KDP and set everything up, load up your manuscripts and covers, wait for Amazon to go live with your novel (it takes a few days), and viola you are a published author. Easy, huh?
I bet you think its over now, don’t you? Oh no, my friend, we have only just begun. We do not publish manuscripts and then sit back on our laurels. It does not work that way. One of the most important aspects of self-publishing is that you have to treat it like a business. So, once the book is published, you have to promote it. Next up, Marketing.