Mike Medberry, author of Living in a Broken West: Essays, talked to my spring narrative writing class for The Writer’s Workshop about how to self publish a book. All those interested in deciding if and how to self publish their book will benefit from this talk. I’ve include the summary of it below.
By Mike Medberry
Henry David Thoreau who self-published the American classic, Walden, wrote that if you have built castles in the air, all of that work need not be lost as that is where your castles should be. He added, “Now put foundations under them!” You’ve written an interesting book at with extreme effort, and you’d like to sell it, so put a foundation under it! Do some research, take a critical look at your own writing, and a define how much self-publishing will cost and yield. The following are a few of the things that you might want to consider:
1) Define what you expect in publishing your own book. Is it for your friends or colleagues or do you think that your book serves a much broader audience? Your next steps will depend on that decision. Keep in mind that about 800 million books are published every year in the US, half of them self-published, and they sell only a handful of copies. Average book sales per year (standard publishers and self-published) are 200 copies and less than 1,000 copies in that book’s lifetime. Can you do better?
2) Build a foundation for your work: create a good website for $500 – 2500, develop high numbers of supporters on your defined social media networks like Facebook or Twitter, write supportive blogs on the web or articles in hard copy magazines or newspapers. This is all so basic but people often fail to accomplish it because it is hard, consistent, long term work.
3) Have your manuscript edited and understand what editing means. Good editors are expensive at $20 to $100/hour, but they are indispensable. There are essentially five kinds of editing: a) Developmental Editing which looks at the basic content of the manuscript; b) Structural Editing which looks at the logical flow of the manuscript, style, tone, and overall quality of your writing; c) Copy Editing which assesses the tone, reads for clear and consistent style, asks who is your audience, and looks at word choices and grammar; d) Line Editors should go through your writing line-by-line to look closely at the impact of your writing, word choices, and add polish that will allow your writing to be clear and eloquent; e) Finish Editing is the last stage of writing which focuses on raking up all of the missed minor errors like capitalizations, misspellings, word choice–things like using “there” when you meant to use “they’re” or “their.” All of this is pretty painful, but get used to that pain.
4) Design your book! I know, I know: it was news to me that I had to think about a million arcane details to make my manuscript look like a classy book. But, of course, I wanted my book to look like one of the very best! This should be a fun process, but you can get bogged down in accomplishing the many details to the point of its becoming numbing. I could always hire a consultant to iron out the particulars, but I would learn nothing. I found it very fascinating to learn. I suggest that you hire a good designer at roughly $2,000 to $5,000, retain many of the critical details, and work closely with her. Learn what she is doing for you. It is a lot! I will simply list the items: Define your book cover. Approve of the text, graphics, Table of Contents, and chapters. Place photos and write the captions. Create a publication page: define the International Standard Book Numbers or ISBNS, barcodes (which set the price of your book), QR codes all of which are available through the mystical company Bowker, which, it turns out, you must use. The publication page also includes acknowledgements, the author, credits, and defines the critical subjects that bookstores depend upon to create a shelf your book fits into, like adventure, memoir, or outdoor recreation. Inside the back cover includes your vita, photo of yourself, and defines your other publications. The outside of the back cover includes your picture, a great summary of your book, great quotes from recognized authors supporting your book, the logo for your publisher, the QR code, and the barcode. That is all you need… But the bookstores will know exactly what is needed!
5) Print the book and publish your book. Nowadays, it is much simpler, much cheaper, and more effective to print books than it was ten years ago because of self-publishing software and Print on Demand services. It is your decision to have your book printed in exactly the way that you’ve imagined and there is no stigma about publishing your own book, as there was in the past. Using color or distributing photos across the book or making editorial opinions are decisions that can be made by you and are now relatively cheap.
6) Find Target Audience – I think that self-publishers, you or me, can effectively aim at smaller audiences than standard publishers can and still make money; that is strictly a matter of your expenses and theirs, in which you are able to saturate your target at a more local place and at a reasonable price.
7) Choose publishing platform – Publishers include Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark among many others, but in my world those two are absolutely key to consider. If your manuscript is in good shape, there will be no problem publishing your book with either or both publishers. If the manuscript is in bad shape, well, good luck… Read the contracts carefully or your book may be pulled from publication if you don’t follow their guidelines. You will come to understand that: Profit with Ingram = book price – 30% – printing price And that will set the price you can choose.
8) KDP vs Ingram – There are significant differences between KDP and Ingram, however. All independent bookstores will reject KDP books (or will offer you a consignment plan) and will favor Ingram because Ingram will guarantee that bookstores can return any book. That will cost you money, but you will have many more places to sell (all of the indie bookstores!) if you’re using Ingram. With the e-books the circumstances will reverse, however. It is a yin-yang relationship with publishers; you need both, and you must read that annoying contract very, very carefully with any publisher.
9) Distribute and sell your book. Your foundation and all the work you’ve done to publicize your book will come into play when you go to distribute and sell your book. With an action plan that extends one-year from the publication date you would be able to rack what is happening with your book and will help you plan readings. Keep good track of your book sales for tax purposes. This is particularly important when a store offers you a consignment plan, which will be hard to collect-on without good records.
10) Road to Success – Now, as if all of that wasn’t enough to think about, I’d say that you are on the road to a most extravagant and interesting success! And all of us should cheer for every other writer who treads upon this path.