Google, YouTube, Facebook, iPhone, iPad, internet – does anyone even read books anymore? The numbers are falling wherever you look. And yet it’s never been so easy to find readers for your book. According to a study by Hugh Howey, almost every third ebook bestseller on Amazon is self-published.
Self-publishing? Isn’t that what you do when you can’t find a publisher? A last resort for hobbyists and wannabes? Yes and no. Self-publishing has long been a credible option in the US, and indie authors are starting to make inroads in Europe as well. Dr Florian Geuppert, Managing Director of BoD, says that we’re currently in the middle of a transition:
“Self-publishing is no longer solely motivated by passion, but increasingly by professional interest.”
My goal was always to write a book before I turned 40. As time was running out – my 40th birthday is in April – I decided in January that I would turn my top 50 parenting blog posts into a book. There would hardly have been enough time to find an interested publisher, so I didn’t bother. Besides, as an entrepreneur, I like the DIY spirit of self-publishing.
Step 1: write the book
The first step is the hardest: what to write? If a plan is what you need, try the Guardian’s 30-day method. Once you’ve got that in place, it’s time to pick the perfect writing tool. Good old Microsoft Word might be the first thing that springs to mind.
But if you’ve ever opened a Word document with more than 50 pages, you’ll know how quickly this old favorite becomes unwieldy. And besides, as a writing environment, Word is incredibly unsexy. Writing software intended specifically for authors is one alternative. Two of the best include:
Many authors swear by Scrivener. This program lets you structure long texts quickly and easily by representing each chapter, scene, character etc. as a separate page. These pages can be constantly reordered and recombined through an overview known as the ‘corkboard’, like Post-its on the fridge. Scrivener is a complete writing studio for Mac and Windows. Find out more about its advantages in this report from PCWorld.
I personally switched allegiances from Scrivener to Ulysses. Why? I can’t better David Hewson’s explanation. Ulysses is simpler, more straightforward and simply more attractive than Scrivener, while still featuring all the functions you need – I’m a particular fan of the fullscreen mode. Ulysses is available for Mac, iPhone and iPad, and I write everything with it (including this post). David Hewson has written an ebook which brilliantly demonstrates how to write a book using Ulysses.
For purists, I recommend the hipster typewriter Hemingwrite – or a real typewriter! Or even a ballpoint pen. Did you know that Quentin Tarantino writes by hand? In fact, here are 10 famous writers who don’t use modern technology. After all, at the end of the day, it’s not about the technology, but about the writing.
Step 2: edit and proofread
Do your book and your readers a favor and invest in a professional editor – or at least have your manuscript proofread. Readers don’t forgive errors easily. If you don’t know anyone with a knack for spelling and grammar, you can always rely on Supertext.
Step 3: formatting
The design of your book will depend on whether you’re publishing an ebook or print edition; novel or nonfiction. Ulysses and Scrivener both allow you to export your text easily as a fully formatted ebook or printable PDF.
Depending on how and where you intend to publish your book, the following tools may also be helpful:
- pressbooks.com (online tool for print and ebooks)
- Book Design Templates (Microsoft Word templates for print and ebooks)
- iBooks Author (software for Mac OS X and iBooks)
- Free templates from Amazon (for print books)
- Vellum (ebook software for Mac OS X)
- Calibre (ebook software)
For my first attempt, I tried Ulysses’ export function (I didn’t like the template), then messed about with an Amazon Word template (and gave up after two hours of copy and pasting), downloaded Vellum (great, but unfortunately only for ebooks), and finally settled on Pressbooks, an online tool based on WordPress. If you’ve used WordPress for blogs, you’ll find it easy to navigate: just create chapters instead of blogposts and a book design instead of a blog theme. It works a treat! Pressbooks can export EPUB, MOBI and PDF formats.
Step 4: the cover
A good cover is even more important than a well-formatted book – after all, it’s what sales depend on. It works on the same principle as wine: after spending long hours laboring over the text, it’s worth taking just a little more time to make sure the cover design is as good as it can be. Anthony Puttee, founder of BookCoverCafe.com, sums up what you should pay attention to when designing a cover in his post 14 Tips for Good Kindle Cover Design.
And if you doubt your skills as a graphic designer, you can always use a pre-designed cover instead. Here are two good sites for professional templates:
Personally, I tried my hand at designing using Pixelmator, an alternative to Photoshop. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of book design and find out which sizes and formats suit which store, you can read up on it here
– but I can tell you straight off that Amazon is the easiest to use. If you want to publish directly via KDP (we’ll get to that in a minute) – and most people do – you can take advantage of the simple Kindle Cover Generator.
Step 5: publishing
Wow, we’re almost there. The content and cover are ready – now you just need to publish your book. Let’s start with the bad news: a self-published book is unlikely to make it into stores. If you want to see print copies in a physical bookstore, you’ll have to go through a publisher. You can find a guide to the process here.
There are three main ways to go about publishing your book in online bookstores:
- via a publisher (you send the manuscript; the publisher does the rest)
- via a distributor (you upload your formatted or unformatted manuscript and cover; the distributor ensures it reaches all the relevant online distribution channels)
- by sending it to stores yourself (you send an appropriately-formatted manuscript and cover to each online store individually)
And there’s no way to avoid Amazon: not only does the retailer own 70% of the online book market, it also makes it possible for authors to create an ebook within 24 hours using its Kindle Direct Publishing service. Thanks to CreateSpace, you can also turn the finished product into a paperback – or the other way around.
You’ll need to decide whether you want to list your book on all online stores (Amazon, iBookstore, Kobo, etc.), or only on Amazon. If you decide to deal exclusively with Amazon, the KPD Select Program offers additional opportunities to promote your book through giveaways. Find out the advantages – and disadvantages – of an exclusive relationship with Amazon via KDP Select here. If you don’t want to chain yourself to Amazon, it’s worth spending some quality time with this list of the most important distributors.
I worked with Amazon KDP and CreateSpace to publish my book Papperlapapa. The ebook was available worldwide in under 24 hours, while it took a few days for a specimen copy of the paperback to reach me from Seattle(!). After I’d approved it, it was only another 24 hours before everything was ready to go. Amazon’s tools are self-explanatory, but if you need help along the way, you can easily find thousands of introductions online. Here are two which helped me:
For the ebook
For the paperback
Step 6: marketing
Just putting your book on Amazon isn’t enough to guarantee that anyone will actually buy it: for that, you’ll need to market it. On Twitter. On Facebook. On your blog and your website. You can even create a media kit to send to the press: here’s mine as a PDF.
If you need inspiration, google “book marketing” for thousands of ideas… or at least 89 of them.
And with that, we’ve reached the end of this brief guide to self-publishing. If you want to find out more, I recommend APE – Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur from former Apple marketing guru Guy Kawasaki.
Good luck! Writing and publishing a book is a lot of work, but the end result made me very happy. And with every copy that you buy, I’ll be even happier…