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5 Lessons Learned About Self-publishing
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Thinking about self-publishing? The idea can be daunting, but it is nowhere near impossible. It's being done all around the globe, more and more often, by more and more writers.
I kind of backed into self-publishing. My first five books were traditionally published, two by a New York house, three by small presses. When my first two books went out of print and the rights reverted back to me, I paid to have them published by iUniverse just to keep them active. Sometime later I began to hear about self-publishing and I realized that opened up a whole new ballgame. I have since self-published my last five books, and I absolutely love it!
However, it is not easy. It takes a lot of work as you, the author, are now either doing or contracting the jobs of copy editor, formatter, cover designer, blurb-writer and promotional packager. How much you do yourself and how much (if any) you contract out is entirely up to you. There are no hard and fast rules about that, but there are plenty of pitfalls along the way. In the interest of easing the learning curve for up-and-coming authors, I've got a list of five lessons learned through my own experience with self-publishing.
1. Be meticulous
As you start looking into self-publishing, you may run into some diatribes (mostly from publishing houses) about how self-published books are low quality, error-ridden tripe slapped together by people too lazy to pursue professional channels. There was a time in the distant past when that may have been true, when Uncle Frank paid through the nose for a vanity press to publish his 600-page grammatically-challenged book about his life as a beer-can collector.
That was then, this is now.
Nowadays, all manner of authors are choosing self-publishing. The writing is top-notch, the books are quality and most people would be hard pressed to tell without looking whether a book came from an East Coast house or Create Space (Amazon's self-publishing subsidy). But because of that legacy of unprofessionalism, today's self-published author needs to be absolutely meticulous in his/her approach. It's a little like the red-haired stepchild having to do everything twice as well in order to be thought half as good. That means paying attention to those wavy red and green lines that appear in your Word document. That means remembering all your high school rules of grammar, punctuation, and word usage. That means reading and re-reading and re-reading again to catch the spelling errors, the missed commas, the unequal quotes. Blowing off the rules of writing shows a blatant disrespect for the reader and--worse--it's the easiest way to lose the reader. Nothing takes me out of a story faster than confusing punctuation or a misspelled word. If I have to go back and re-read a sentence in order to understand it, I'm no longer in the story. The words on the page should be the effortless and almost transparent vehicle that carries the reader along; if the reader has to stop and fix a flat tire, he's not going to be happy about that and he's not going to be charitable about the rest of the book.
2. Call for support
Whether you elect to hire editorial help or not, it's a good idea to have others read your book and comment on it. Oh, sure, your mother will read it, and she'll love it and not have a single bit of constructive criticism ("It's lovely just the way it is, dear."), but you need more than that. I try to get as broad a spectrum of readers as I can, both my writerly-type friends and my not-so-writerly reading friends. This way I can get both levels of feedback, from the "you're mixing your metaphors" comments to the "describe your character more" comments. If you do hire a professional editor, you will likely get a third level of feedback that can be both helpful and insightful. However, I advise a bit of caution here. Never forget that you are the authority on your book, no one else. Even a hired professional editor may have ideas about your book that just don't fit. I had one editor make suggestions about my character that I thought seriously about but had to reject; the suggestions were things my character would not have done. Your ultimate guideline for the book is staying true to your characters and telling their story in the best way you can.
3. Don't re-invent the wheel
What's great about the industry right now is that there are lots of great writer's support networks online. Join Goodreads.com and LinkedIn.com, and start following and interacting in the various forums there. Read blogs by other writers; many of us are happy to share our experiences. If we can save you from some of the pitfalls, we will. The indie writer community is happily turning from competition to cooperation. And if you don't see a particular issue addressed, ask. You do not need to suffer in silence or work out the bugs alone. Pioneers have already done that, and you can benefit from their experience.
4. Don't be fooled by vanity presses
Vanity presses (pay-to-publish) are not the same as self-publishers. If you're new to publishing and you come across a deal that you're not sure about, check out Predators and Editors. If there's anything about the offer that doesn't sound right, Google it or go into the online forums and ask about it. You could save yourself a whole bunch of pain and frustration.
5. Get the word out
The last piece of the puzzle that you'll need to address is marketing. Make yourself-and your book-visible. In this day and age, you do that by increasing your online presence. Start a webpage (for you, not your book; you're going to write more masterpieces, right?), start a blog, be active on social media and online forums. There is an excellent book on this called We Are Not Alone by Kristen Lamb. She does a great job of breaking down all these tools, guiding you step-by-step as you create and grow your web page, your blog, your Facebook page(s), your Twitter account. It's better to read this book or one like it sooner rather than later to save yourself a few missteps.
That said, don't worry if you've jumped the gun and made a few mistakes. We all do. But that's a good thing; we grow from our mistakes. Just keep moving forward.
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