So, you’re ready to publish your book? Great!! Regardless of what you may read across the web, it’s not as tough as you might think. Marketing your book and actually achieving a reasonable amount of sales, on the other hand, is pretty tricky. Having gone through the process a couple of times – and doing things entirely the WRONG way at the start – I hope I can offer you some help in streamlining the self-publishing process! Just remember not to panic. While the big picture can easily seem overwhelming, if you break it down into bite-sized chunks, it’s really not so bad. One of my favorite tools for project organization is Personal Kanban, a system that requires moments to learn and no cost to implement! If you are searching for a better method to organize your chaos, I highly recommend checking it out. Now, on to the good stuff…
Publishing your eBook
With so many websites offering free self-publishing and resale of eBooks, where do you start?? My recommendation is to use a combination of three websites – Smashwords, Amazon’s Createspace and Barnes & Noble’s Pubit.
The essential tools you will need are:
- Microsoft Word
- Adobe Acrobat Reader (free download)
- MobiPocket Creator (free download)
- Smashwords Style Guide (free download)
Smashwords as a book-selling venue has mixed reviews. However, it is extremely useful in helping you to easily publish eBooks and distribute them to various resellers such as Sony, Apple, Diesel, and others. They will even distribute to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, although I highly recommend uploading your books individually to every venue possible (for greater control over formatting, edits, and pricing). As far as a good place to “test the waters”, Smashwords is ideal. It is also useful for creating coupons (something the other retailers lack) – for example, if you wanted to offer reviewers a free eBook download. Just be sure to review your distribution channels carefully!
Your first step should be to read the Smashwords Formatting Guide. You will most likely need to go through your manuscript and completely re-format the layout, removing paragraph indents and tabs, creating paragraph styles, and generally looking at it with a fine-toothed comb. This isn’t exceptionally difficult, but it is by far the most time-consuming portion of the process. Once this is done (and you or someone you know has edited the manuscript for spelling and grammar, at the very least), you are ready to publish on Smashwords – and you have the base file ready to tweak for the other retailers!
The other piece that you will need to include with your eBook is the cover – and remember, first impressions are the most important. Even if you need to hire someone, make sure you have an attractive, professional cover to go with your book. Also carefully consider your “blurb” text (both a short version and a longer version), your book’s listing categories, and relevant tags to help people find your book.
Next, and most importantly (in my opinion), is Amazon’s Createspace. Createspace is the Mecca of self-publishing. Setting up an account and selling Kindle eBooks costs nothing, and their sales are higher by far than any other company. I mean, come on – it’s AMAZON! Additionally, you have the option of publishing print-on-demand books, which is a little more time-consuming and software-intensive process, but well worth it if you are able to do so!
Formatting your book for Createspace is simple, using your previously edited Smashwords word document. There are exactly two changes you need to make: Edit the copyright page to read “Createspace Edition” – or whatever language works for you – and insert page breaks after each section or chapter. That’s it! In the “Save As” dialog, save your file as a filtered html document. Follow the directions on the Createspace page to create your Kindle version with the MobiPocket Creator, upload a cover, and voila! You are now published on Amazon.
The other place I recommend publishing to is Barnes & Noble’s Pubit – another free resource, and they will automatically convert your word document to ePub. Again, edit the copyright page so that it doesn’t mention Smashwords or Amazon, follow the directions on the website, and you’re good to go!
As I mentioned before, this is the tricky part. There is no magic formula that will suddenly make you a best-selling author. Successful marketing entails a combination of persistence, creativity, and sheer dumb luck – as well as the willingness to reach beyond your comfort zone and face rejection and critique time and time again. It is also incredibly time-consuming. There are a few tips I can offer to get you started on the right foot, however. The three main areas to address when creating your own marketing “campaign” are your internet presence (or author brand), networking, and creative thinking.
The #1 thing you need to do as an author is create an online identity! Build a website and write a blog (Blogger or WordPress are good options). Find and join relevant discussion groups. Create a Facebook author page and a Twitter account. Join Goodreads and Shelfari. Link all these things, use some combination of them daily, and keep your posts and tweets interesting, personal, and relevant! If all you send out is “Buy My Book,” people will very quickly write you off as spam. Don’t dig yourself into that hole. Make your online personality as vibrant and engaging as possible, and you will attract friends, followers and fans from the furthest corners of the web. And honestly, once you have a base presence built, if you were to limit your time to only one activity, I would pick Twitter. Your potential audience is unlimited – and if just one person in the right circle retweets one of your messages, it can be seen by thousands of people!
I cannot stress enough the importance of building relationships in marketing. Whether this is in person or online (preferably both), you cannot know enough people! Someone who knows you is infinitely more likely to both purchase your book(s) and recommend them to others. Additionally, there are many reviewers or book group organizers out there who won’t even give you the time of day if they don’t know you – building a relationship, creating rapport, and giving them a reason to be interested in you and your book (besides the fabulous synopsis) are the surest ways to get your foot in the door. Just like any other business or opportunity, it often really is about who you know.
Who says you need to stick to the “tried-and-true” approach to marketing, anyway?? In this world of YouTube, Facebook and online gaming, anything is possible – and the more entertaining your approach is, the wider your potential audience. If you are a software developer, create a mini-game – or even an iPhone or Android app! If you are a musician, record a song about your book and post it everywhere! Perhaps the least difficult thing you can do is to create a video trailer for your book. This can be as simple or as complicated as you make it; the easiest way is to create a slideshow. Picasa, Power Point, and Windows Media Player are all examples of software that can easily put together a slideshow with pictures, captions, and music. For a more robust video, I recommend checking out Vimeo’s community – they are a video posting site that offers free tutorials on everything from how to take great pictures to deciding on and learning complicated software. Members share tips, offer suggestions & critique, and are generally very helpful.
… And there you have it: The nuts and bolts of self-publishing, accessible to everyone. Now, if you want to create an actual printed book, the process gets slightly more complicated. Createspace does offer Word templates to layout both the interior and the cover for print books, but I personally would not use anything but InDesign to create the interior of a book. Photoshop, Gimp (the free alternative to Photoshop), or another image-editing program will be required to create the cover. A solid knowledge of typography, book layout and design, and graphic design are also requirements for a project of this scope. If you have oodles of free time, these skills can be learned – but I would highly recommend finding someone to do them for you! Various “packages” are offered through Createspace to do just that, and there are also websites you can post a project on and hire the lowest bidder. Realistically, unless you know someone, expect to spend at least $1000 for the layout and cover design of a basic text novel, and potentially much more if you have lots of pictures or very specific requirements. While that may seem like a lot up front, that’s not too difficult to make back in royalties over the course of a few months – and seeing your very own book in print? Priceless.
In summary, go into the process with your eyes open. Expect challenges, be aware of the massive amount of work that you will need to put in AFTER the book is published, and don’t be disappointed if you only see 50 sales your first couple months! Keep meeting people, keep marketing, and keep writing new books to put out there, and with a little bit of luck, maybe you’ll be the next big self-publishing success story!