My Word Publishing is one of Denver's most highly regarded self publishing companies. They guide authors through the self-publishing of their own books. Read Professional writing tips for self-publishers including book design, editing, marketing through the publishing process by My Word! Publishing.
Writing is the kind of undertaking that can take a lifetime to master. Anyone who wants to make a go of it should probably remember this before they decide to publish. It’s not a joyless undertaking (normally) but it does take a little discipline and some thought. I’ve worked with dozens of writers, and the successful ones tend to share some habits:
1. Find a quiet space:
Okay. So it doesn’t have to be silent, but the background should at least fade into itself. I’ve always liked the buzz of a good coffee shop, but my stomach always sours on coffee before it sours on writing.
2. Write every day:
Being a writer begins with the habit of writing itself. Most pros agree that it’s important to do it at the same time each day, but that’s not going to work for everyone. Just make sure you put words on the page before the lights go out for the night.
3. Get clear on your “why”:
Why do you want to write? Your voice carries your meaning to the world. Ask yourself what you’d like it to do. Are your stories meant to bring joy? Then you need to get clear on the shape and sound of that joy. You’ll attract readers that are attracted to what you’re about – make sure you know before you start sharing.
4. Forget your inner critic:
There’s a million reasons not to write. Your inner critic might help you keep jobs and make nice with coworkers and family members – self doubt is the best prison warden I know. But writers can’t listen to that s@&%. Besides, you can always catch mistakes in editing.
5. Make sure your computer works:
For the modern writer, your computer is more than a tool: it’s a workspace. It houses your work, and you’ll stare into it for hours at a time. Respect it. Keep things up to date. Clean up your desktop. It’s a digital temple after all.
6. Be curious about your subject:
This one should go without saying, but the best writers you’re likely to meet are wildly curious creatures. They wonder endlessly, frequently out loud (see number one). Curiosity begets research, begets useful writing. And going to the library makes a nice way to spend a workday!
7. Write every day:
It’s worth repeating. Also remember that not everything needs to be published or printed. Writers write, after all.
8. Make notes. About everything:
You don’t have to keep a journal, but you should keep a notebook. You should write things down that strike you – quotations, observations, sudden gouts of inspiration. And make it the old paper kind – computers and mobile devices aren’t the best for taking notes; boot time and menu navigation is an abyss into which your best thoughts get lost.
9. Be meticulous with your words:
Know what you mean when you say it. It’s fine to coin new terms and to use familiar words in unfamiliar ways, but make sure you can justify the choice. Good editors will listen, and good readers love that kind of thing.
10. Read every day:
The worst writers don’t have respect for the craft. They don’t read. The best writers will steal books if that’s what it takes to keep the story going. Besides that, reading is the best cure for writers block I know – don’t be intimidated, be inspired.
Writers, whether consciously or not, are playing with perceptions and in so doing, show people new ways of exploring the world. Listen deeply and write frequently – the rest will sort itself out, either in the pages or in editing.
James is a Denver-based editor whose mission is always the same: helping clients get to brilliant. Writing is a deeply personal experience, and James is dedicated to making your work, your idea, your passion reach your audience in the most effective way possible, all while remaining faithful to your vision and voice. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My wife and I started renovating our house this year. It’s an older place, built in the 1880s, and despite having what they call “good bones” we knew going in that a project like this wouldn’t be easy. We had walls to knock down, joists to shore, cabinets, toilets, and several hundred feet of electrical wire to move or install. Now I’m reasonably handy, but at the end of the day, I edit books. I don’t know how to manage construction projects. I found myself in a position familiar to many of my clients: needing someone to take a vision and transform it to a reality. We needed a contractor – someone to help shepherd us through this thing and ensure that our house didn’t fall down.
Writers need not worry about anything so dramatic of course. A bad manuscript might be embarrassing, or worse, completely ignored, but no one is going to wind up on the street for it. Still, editors help writers make the most of their skills and ideas that can, at times, look a lot like renovating a house.
How do you choose the right editor?
When it came time to find one, we discovered that choosing a contractor was hard. There’s a surprising number of them around, and they have some pretty different ideas about what that role means. One of the guys we interviewed thought his best qualification was in the fact that he never did work himself – he had people for that. As we talked to him, it became clear didn’t want to be accountable for the project or our experience with it. We didn’t like that: people should take pride in the work we do with our own hands. If they don’t, then why do it at all?
Editors also have to be hands on. Unlike construction, there aren’t any rules to govern what makes a manuscript good (or habitable), there is only aesthetic. An editor’s accountability has to come from there: the cultivated appreciation of tradition, convention, and rebellion. Editors take one some accountability for the writer’s relationship to their words, and have to find the right balance for every author they work with. They have to be willing to get into the bones of the story and help the writer understand what’s there. They don’t get the luxury of delegation.
Does an editor have to be an expert in your genre?
Another contractor we spoke to didn’t like the house. He had been willing to take the job, but in visits made it clear that the prospect gave him no pleasure. When pressed, we learned that his experience had largely been limited to newer homes, and he found the sheer age of our place to be intimidating. There was a mixture of materials and construction techniques that he struggled to see around. Whether this was a question of energy or experience, I cannot say. In either case, a lack of confidence can stymie projects just as quickly as a lack of competence.
Editors don’t need to specialize by genre to be good, but they have to love the job (and preferably the subject). A good book is made better by an invested editor, not just through correction, but also through the concerted effort to improve. And that means coming from a place of love. If there is no love there, improvement starts to look like work, and you can be sure that opportunities will be lost. Of course, love is complicated. Sometimes it requires us to give things up; a process made easier by an editor that prepares their client from a place of honesty.
We certainly didn’t expect any contractor to come equipped with everything, but we wanted someone who was engaged. The contractor we chose was the first one willing to push back a little on our design ideas. He had concerns about the age of the house, but walked us through them, exploring solutions rather than his fears. He kept our focus on the ways forward, preferring to mitigate scope creep and cost overruns by hitting them hard and up front. He addressed our concerns with patience, grace, and design notes scribbled on bits of drywall.
The editorial relationship needs the same kind of openness. No editor comes to a manuscript with a complete picture of the finished product – every project is different and has a unique set of requirements and possible outcomes. Editors need to learn writers the same way that writers need to learn their way around their editors. When the discussions end and the editing begins, the two parties need to have found a wavelength, a thing of valleys and mountains. You’ll find that as you explore these, patience and grace show up when both parties are willing to bend to the demands of the journey – the editor’s job is to know when to stop and scribble down some design notes.
What is the editor’s job?
So far, things have gone well. Our homes are complicated spaces. When we decide to change them, we upset the order of our lives. Our happy places wind up covered in plastic and paint; we’re unavoidably unsettled. Indeed, this is a significant part of the experience. If someone is going to come in every day for weeks on end, it’s probably easier if they have a touch of humility and respect for the space they’re entering.
The same can be said of our manuscripts. These are also complicated spaces, and when we decide to publish them, we risk upsetting the order of our lives. An editor’s job is in part, to crawl into the dark and unpleasant spaces of our imaginations and help us see how to shore things up. The process can be challenging and unsettling, but it can also be deeply rewarding. Working with an editor can be a chance to figure out exactly what you want to say and to get clear on why you want to say it. If a good contractor helps us to see the home behind the work, a good editor focuses the writer behind the story. If I don’t like the house that comes out of my contractor’s renovation work, the project will fail. The editor helps the author love their work, and that makes it easier to do everything else, from promotion to speaking to writing the next book.
James is a Denver-based editor whose mission is always the same: helping clients get to brilliant. Writing is a deeply personal experience, and James is dedicated to making your work, your idea, your passion reach your audience in the most effective way possible, all while remaining faithful to to your vision and voice. He can be reached via email: email@example.com
Long before my books hit bestseller lists, I used to hide my writing under the bed in notebooks like secret treasure. I was afraid to share my writing with the world. I’d write stories and never show them to anyone. Sharing my fiction made me shake, if I tried to read it out loud. Having other people read it left me feeling queasy. I compare it to stage fright, and it’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older. At the root of it, I was afraid people would catch a glimpse of my dreams and thoughts and think I was crazy, weird and judge me. It’s silly, I know. So how did I overcome my fear? By facing it. By doing what I love, by getting up in front of a crowd and hiding my shaking hands and realizing: It is what it is. It doesn’t matter if you like it or if it’s perfect. It’s my art, and I’m not hiding it anymore.
Now, as a publishing consultant with My Word Publishing, helping other authors of all types of books on their publishing journeys, I sometimes hear similar fears from other authors: “Is my book any good? Will people like it?” It’s a form of stage fright as people release their books into the wild.
If you are a writer who is afraid to share your writing with the world, realize you are not alone. I posed the question of greatest fears to several talented fellow authors. What are you most afraid of when it comes to writing? Here’s what these brave souls said.
What Writers are Afraid of:
“Not knowing how to start or how to end—while making the story memorable enough to grab a reader and then haunt them when they are through.”
–Sunny Weber, Author of The Dog at the Gate: How a Throwaway Dog Becomes Special, and Beyond Flight or Fight: A Compassionate Guide for Working with Fearful Dogs.
“Continuity. Writing a series is tricky. Are my characters growing organically? Did I remember all the plot points/backstory I introduced in the previous two books? Am I carrying those threads through? Did I address everything I need to in the character stories I seeded in the first book? I’m in the process of writing the first draft of book 3. Series development and world building are truly skills quite separate from writing a good story … I have a new respect for authors that write series, that’s for sure!”
–Sara L. Daigle, author of Alawahea: Book One of the Azellian Affairs
“As I write book three of a historical fantasy series, I’m afraid of rehashing the same characters, mannerisms, dialogue, descriptions, and action ad nauseam. It’s is difficult to be fresh and original with the same characters. Also, readers want more of the same elements they enjoyed in previous books, while wanting something fresh at the same time. Finding the right balance is a huge challenge.”
–Catherine Spader, author of Feast of the Raven, and Return of the Wulfhedinn
“(I) am afraid of my book being boring. It’s not finished yet and I feel stuck wanting to bring more to it.”
–upcoming Author PJ Winter
“That someone I respect will hate it.”
—Bull Garlington, author of The Full English and Death By Children
“To contradict a fact or a character’s personality traits in the book. Yikes!”
—T.L. Harty, author of Behold Ellowee
“Rejection. I hate the idea of people rejecting my words. They are like my little babies and when something I write is rejected it feels like they are picking on or rejecting my kids. ”
—TaKaylla L. Gordon, author of the forthcoming One Date Rule
“I find writing in itself fearful: the spigot it opens, the secrets it bares, the hidden depths it discovers. I keep a quote from Faulkner above my desk, from his Nobel acceptance speech. ‘The basest of all things is to be afraid.’ I think of how brave he had to be to risk the muddy stylistic swamp of ‘The Sound and the Fury,’ to write from the point of view of mentally handicapped Benjy Compson. He gives me courage, but that doesn’t take away the fear.”
—Maggie Kast, author of The Crack between the Worlds and A Free, Unsullied Land
“As a nonfiction writer, my biggest fear is getting a fact wrong. With my first book, as time went by, I realized that the “expiration date of a fact” applied to everything I’d written over a 3-year period. Since I quoted stats about women who had been elected to the Senate, I had to update those stats with each election. The way I overcame this challenge was to keep up with the news. Plus the four professional women who endorsed my book helped me catch an updated fact or two. Having as many eyes on your facts as possible is important in nonfiction writing.”
—Melanie Holmes, Author of The Female Assumption: A Mother’s Story, Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate
“I’m always afraid of being mediocre and trite, without offering middle grade readers something which will inspire them and push them to be change agents. I don’t think that fear is ever lessened, but once a reader tells you they loved a book and it made them change their thinking, it gives you the fuel to continue to pursue that goal in the next book.”
—Childrens author Bibi Belford, whose books include Canned and Crushed, The Gift, Crossing the Line and Another D for DeeDee
“Let’s say I’m ‘writing on it.’ As someone who primarily writes memoir and on difficult topics, it is hard to publish the not so pretty truth. I have little problem putting the words down, it is only when they lay there, exposed and vulnerable that I have a flutter in my gut. How I handle it is to accept that a flutter is a good thing…it means I’ve gone where I’m uncomfortable going and that is how I define living without a leash.”
—Deb Lecos, author of Walking on the Bottom of the Ocean
Ultimately, You Have to Have Faith In Your Writing
At a certain point, the book becomes its own entity, like a baby. It might be a pretty baby or an ugly one, but it’s your baby. The final stage of finishing a book may be freaking out over it.
That’s okay and normal. If you are in this situation, with people reading your baby and reviewing it, have faith. If you’ve revised and revised, worked with an editor, poured your blood, sweat and tears into your book, if you’ve done your best, you have nothing to worry about. Now, it’s show time. Time to shine!
Congratulations on writing a book! Now how do you find readers?
Usually we think of labels as a bad thing, but the truth is that labels are how readers search for new books. Labeling your books correctly will help your readers find your book. And it’ll help your friendly neighborhood librarians and booksellers promote your book.
So what are all these acronyms, and how do they help?
ISBN: A Book’s ID Number
This one’s easy—ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s like a fingerprint or an ID card for a book. With very few exceptions, every book in print has a unique ISBN. Even separate editions of the same title will each have their own ISBN. So if you want know which edition of Jane Eyre is on that Amazon listing, check the ISBN.
In the US, ISBNs are assigned through a single company, and they’re required by virtually all retail outlets where you may want to sell your book. Sounds simple enough, right?
There’s one more important detail about ISBNs, and it’s one that vanity presses will never mention up front: whoever owns a book’s ISBN also owns the sales and distribution rights. It’s not hard to see how someone else owning the sales rights to your book could cause big problems. (That’s why at My Word Publishing, authors own their content and their ISBNs—and keep all the associated rights!)
Do you need an ISBN? Absolutely—and make sure you own it by opening your own publishing company. Whoever owns your ISBN owns your sales and distribution rights, so please own your own!
What’s an LCCN?
Ah, the Library of Congress. Keepers of our most cherished national artifacts, and catalogers extraordinaire. We love the good old LoC, but a Library of Congress Catalog Control Number, or LCCN, is actually not required for every book. It’s not necessary to establish copyright, or to sell your book in the US. Some authors or publishers send their books to the Library of Congress, hoping to get it added to their collection. The LCCN is a byproduct of that process.
Here’s how it works:
On the Library of Congress website, you apply to participate in the LCCN program ahead of publication.
The Library of Congress assigns your book a tracking number—the LCCN – that you will put on your copyright page.
When your book is complete, you’ll send them a book, and they decide whether or not to supply it with Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) data. If the LOC gets a million books a year requesting this CIP data, about 25% actually do.
If they do add your book, it will be cataloged. That means, in part, creating “Cataloging-in-Publication” (CIP) data. This data will also be sent to your publisher and they will add it to your book’s copyright page.
Think of the LCCN as a pre-CIP number. And the LCCN program with the Library of Congress is a way to get CIP data free of charge. But your chances are slim.
Do I Need CIP Data?
This one is more complicated, because Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) data is useful for certain books, but not incredibly necessary for others. Big publishers get this data from the Library of Congress (see above), but self-publishers or indie presses can get cataloging data from a freelance cataloger (usually a librarian with a Library of Sciences degree).
What is CIP data, and which books need it?
CIP data is printed on a book’s copyright page. It includes basic stats like the author’s full name, suggested subject headings, and Dewey Decimal Classification numbers. Books published after 2015 will also have info like BISAC categories and publisher information.
Having these stats in one place, in an easy-to-read format, allows librarians and booksellers to quickly ascertain all of the vital information about a book. They can add relevant tags to their web site, shelve it in the right place, and get an idea of who might want to read it.
Did you write a cookbook about vegan Lebanese baking? CIP data will ensure it’s shelved correctly. Is your masterpiece a noir mystery about quantum mechanics? CIP data means your book will turn up in searches for either topic on a library’s web site. In short, CIP data helps your readers find your book! Fortunately, at My Word Publishing we have our own resident cataloger, who can add CIP data to your book prior to publication.
Do I need CIP data? That depends!
You want libraries to carry your book
Your book is nonfiction
Your novel contains an unexpected mix of genres or topics
Probably not, if:
Your book is genre fiction
You plan to sell your book direct-to-readers, at conferences or other speaking engagements
I hope this short explainer cleared up the mystery surrounding ISBNs, LCCNs, and CIP data. Check out the complete list of services that My Word Publishing offers, no matter what stage of publishing your book is in.
The costs of self-publishing vary drastically from the total Do-It-Yourself Authors spending the least amount of money to those who use vanity press publishing options. You’ll hear ranges from $1000 to over $20,000. There is and can be a happy medium in what you spend on self-publishing your book. While you never want to sacrifice quality, you can find a few ways to save.
Here are several ways we believe you can save money and still produce a quality product.
The Costs are in the Mistakes
A lot of the extra costs associated with self-publishing are simply due to the amount of mistakes you make—like printing 500 copies of a book with an error in it—and now you don’t want to sell them!
To avoid mistakes due to errors, hire a book coach to help you through the process. Trust us, the amount you spend on getting support will save you a ton in mistakes down the road. Plus, you’ll get through your authorship journey with a lot less scars and bruises along the way.
Other mistakes people sometimes make: not hiring a professional editor (which can cause your book not to sell), a bad cover design, and believing books sell themselves!
At My Word Publishing we offer “Spot Coaching” programs, where you can buy a package of 10 questions for just $150. It’s an easy way to keep you on track and ensure you aren’t making costly mistakes (or getting ripped off by another professional). You can find out more about that here.
Saving Money in the Editing Process
Editing is typically one of the most expensive parts of the self-publishing process. It’s also the part of the process that you absolutely cannot skip if you want to publish a professional book.
However, you can save money in this process if you:
Ensure that you’ve truly poured everything into your book before it goes to the editor. Writing a rough draft and handing over your manuscript too early will cost you. If your book isn’t complete, your editor will send you back to your desktop to keep writing. These additional rounds of editing will start to add up. In this process, you want your book to have a clear direction. If you are struggling with this, hire a book coach first, flush out your ideas, then send your manuscript to the editor.
Be sure you’ve done SEVERAL rounds of editing before submitting your manuscript. Once you’ve completed your own “self-editing”, send it to a few trusted friends or advisors—not to be your editor, but to simply help you find more places where there are errors. The best thing YOU can do as an author is to read your manuscript out loud and backwards—line by line. This will allow you to see easily missed or misspelled words and punctuation errors thus saving you time and money in editing.
Use Print-on-Demand for Book Orders
One of the best parts of being a self-published author today is that we have the great convenience and option of using print-on-demand services. This is where you’ll be able to order any number of copies of your book from 1 to 500 for the same price. Because of the consistency in price, authors can save money on doing a large print run (which costs thousands of dollars). Only order what you need and stick to ordering 50 or so books at one time. You can get a new order shipped to you within a week, so you never have to worry about carrying a whole garage full of inventory and can easily restock.
Watch Your Marketing Dollars
It’s alluring to think about your book being on the shelves of Barnes and Noble or appearing on the Today Show. Every author wants that! But it’s important that you find the right marketing outlets for your book and your work. A big PR firm may have great results with other clients, but is your book topic really something the media wants to hear about right now? And should you pay $3,000 or more to get in front of the media? Remember, on average you’ll be earning $5 per book on your return. That’s a lot of sales for a self-published author to get a good ROI.
Another thing to be cautious of investing in at first, especially when you are short on dollars, are book trade shows. You’ll need to consider the price of attending, as well your travel expenses.
Remember to think about the cost of self-publishing like you do any other service –there are those types of people who drive economy cars and those that drive luxury vehicles—which type of person are you and what type of book do you want to produce?
As you finish your manuscript, it’s time to think about designing your book. Remember, just because you are self-publishing a book, doesn’t mean your book should look self-published. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The more professionally designed your book, the more credibility you’ll have with it. You are very near completion, and now is not the time to take shortcuts or cut back on your budget.
The Design Elements of a Book
The two parts of your book design that you’ll need to complete to get your book to print are the cover and the interior. The same designer can complete these, or your cover and interior designer can be different people, working together to create a uniform look.
Getting Your Cover Designed
The cover designer will work with you to create a full cover for your book including the front and back of the book. Typically, a designer will give you a variety of images and fonts to choose from and will co-create this design with you. You may decide to incorporate a personal photo, an image of a particular object, or not use any image on your cover. Whatever your preference, the cover designer will work to create a cover that matches the tone and style of your book and genre
In addition to creating the front image, the designer will also put together the complete book jacket, which includes the spine and the back of the book. (The spine is finalized only when the interior of the book is completed and the page count has been finalized.) The back of the book required a variety of information from you, such as the “back of the book blurb,” an author bio and/or picture, a barcode with the ISBN, your publishing logo, and a testimonial or endorsement. Less is sometimes more, so you don’t need all of these elements on your cover, but you will need most of them.
A beautiful, professionally designed book cover won’t sell your book for you, but almost. It’s the first selling point in the buying process and a critical one.
Getting the Interior Layout Designed
The interior layout of your book is just as important as every other part of the book. When a book isn’t professional designed, it’s always a sign that someone has self-published.
The designer who completes your interior layout will provide you with final, print-ready files that can be sent to your printer. While many layout programs online allow you to do the layout, they have severe limitations, and lack the critical eye of a professional designer.
Your book is unique and special, and you want your layout to reflect that as well. Utilizing a DIY layout software creates a cookie-cutter layout, that may or may not reflect the tone and style of your book as well as match the cover.
Layouts vary greatly in their complexity. General fiction are pretty standard and are relatively easy compared to a self-help book with lots of sub-headings, bullet points and lists, and those are even less complicated than a how-to book with various footnotes, graphs, charts, and appendices. Regardless of the complexity of your layout, the most important part of the layout is consistency. Having a designer work with you on your layout will help you identify the inconsistencies in your manuscript and create a uniform and professional look.
Lastly, readability is a crucial part of a reader’s experience. The book design will create a tone and feel for your book that easily allows buyers to read your book without distraction. While selling your book to a buyer is the first challenge, the second step is getting people to actually read the book they’ve purchased. Book sales lead to book reviews, which in-turn leads to more book sales!
Selecting a Designer
You’ll want to take the same approach to selecting your designers as you did in other part of your project, whether selecting your editor, writing coach, book shepherd, or printer.
Questions you might want to ask your potential designer:
Can I see some recent samples of your work?
What is your process in designing the cover/interior?
What is your timeline for completing a project like this?
What are your payment terms?
Can I get all the final files after they are completed?
Browse Bookstores for Designs You Love
Lastly, to make this process easier, spend some time perusing your local bookstore and notice what you like and dislike about both covers and interiors. When you get into this process, you’ll be surprised at how many details truly go unnoticed to the reader.
This is the part of the publishing process that brings your book to life. Authors really enjoy seeing their cover come alive and what their words look like on paper that’s ready to print. You are in the final stages of the book production process, so keep up the momentum, and you’ll soon hold your book in your hands.
If you are an indie author on Amazon, as part of Amazon’s Kindle Select Program, you can use five free days to promote your ebook in exchange for three months of exclusivity. Many traditional publishers are increasingly doing free promos as well, and the competition is growing with thousands of free ebooks available every day. So how do you make your ebook promotion stand out?
First, here’s what not to do
While it’s tempting, marketing your free days to family and friends, predominately on Facebook or Twitter, is a bad idea. These are readers who are more likely to pay for your book. Ideally, you should be marketing to new readers who’ve never heard of you before.
I do not recommend doing a free day promotion close to your book’s launch, because you don’t want to poach paid sales from yourself. Friends and family can definitely help spread the word after they’ve read your book, however.
Do not sit back and expect the free downloads to roll in without doing any advertising. I’ve heard from two authors who’ve run free day promotions without advertising, and heard crickets in response.
Don’t wait until the last minute to advertise your free day promotion. I recommend approaching book discovery sites four to six weeks before your promotion, so that you are more likely to get a slot.
Carefully evaluate ebook promotion sites. Be wary of any sites that guarantee downloads or look like possible scams. If its sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You don’t want to get flagged by Amazon for violating their policies.
Do not run an ebook promotion without any reviews on your book. Reach out to your early readers and ask for reviews. It may seem like a catch-22, but readers likely won’t give your book a chance if it has zero reviews, and many book promotion sites won’t pick it up without solid reviews to start.
The Top Ebook Promotion Site
A quick explanation for those new to ebook discovery and promotion sites: basically, readers sign up to receive recommendations for discounted or free ebooks in their favorite genres. The sites then regularly offer recommendations. The best sites curate their lists and offer a limited number of highly rated books.
The king of book discovery sites is Bookbub, and for good reason. The site has more than 10 million book fans on its email lists. It selects only 10 to 20 percent of books that apply for a featured deal; the key to acceptance is having strong reviews and lots of them.
I recently advertised my literary novel, A Storm of Stories, on Bookbub, where it reached #8 in the top 100 free books in the Kindle Store and #1 in free contemporary fiction short stories and literary books with 18,069 downloads on Dec. 30. The ad cost $301 but went straight to my target audience. After the promotion, A Storm of Stories reached #5 on the paid bestseller list for literary short stories. The book had about 18,000 pages read in a week on Kindle Unlimited, as well as a spike in paid sales—not bad considering the book’s genre, literary short stories, and that it was around the New Year’s holiday.
But what do you do if you don’t have enough reviews to get Bookbub’s attention? There are several other players out there with growing email lists of readers hungry for free books.
Other Places to Promote Your Free Ebook
In November, I ran a smaller ebook promotion for A Storm of Stories and garnered 3,468 free downloads and more reviews. I saw a modest spike in paid sales and Kindle Unlimited pages read, as well after the promotion was over. Here are some of the sites that were worthwhile for me.
Freebooksy has more than 368,000 registered readers across categories. It has 110,000 subscribers in the literary genre and costs $60 to advertise a literary book, for example. You can also submit for editorial consideration for a free slot. It’s one of the best-looking sites for free ebooks, in my opinion.
Ereader News Today is another one of my preferred sites to promote a free book on with a total of 200,000 subscribers and 135,000 in the literary fiction genre. It cost $40 to advertise a free literary book.
Another one of my favorite sites is the Fussy Librarian. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to promote on the Fussy Librarian, during either of my recent promotions because I wasn’t early enough to book a spot. The Fussy Librarian has 122,000 email subscribers. In the literary fictioncategory specifically, it has 97,118 subscribers and costs $16 to advertise a promotion. It’s one of the best values out there for advertising a free book. As a result, its calendar fills up quickly. The Fussy Librarian is also unique in that readers get to choose not only the genre, but the level of violence or profanity in the books they get suggested.
Some of the smaller players I used
I advertised on Booksends.com and EreaderIQ, which claim to have well over 150,000 active readers together. Booksends has 16,000 readers in the literary category.
I also liked BookRaid, which charges based on clicks, with a maximum of $20. While they politely declined to release subscriber numbers when I contacted them, they did tell me that my book had 450 clicks during my promotion.
EbookSoda cost $15 and has more than 22,000 subscribers, with 4,000 literary subscribers.
Ebook Betty has more than 24,000 subscribers on its email list and had an option to advertise for $18.
Overall, the two recent free promotions boosted my Amazon rankings and visibility, and increased my reviews from 47 with a 4.2 star rating to more than 72 reviews with a 3.9 star rating.
Weeks after the Bookbub promotion, A Storm of Stories was still in the top 100 bestsellers in the literary fiction short stories category on Amazon. Ultimately, stacking promotions can help you hit the bestseller lists for your categories, increase your reviews and help you find new readers.
Ever find yourself confronted with a blank, white page wondering what to write about as you get started? Fear not. There are a wealth of writing prompts out there to help you on your way. You may also find ways to weave them into projects you’ve already began as well.
Writing prompts come in many forms. Short phrases, objects, scenarios or photos can be used. They are meant to spark your imagination and inspire you. You can incorporate them into a story, poem, essay, or in some cases even a memoir, or you can start from scratch and see where they take you. You can twist and shape your story any which way. You have the freedom to determine what direction you are going to take the prompt. You can take a prompt literally or metaphorically, as well.
There are many good sites out there for writing prompts, as well as books. One of my favorite prompt writing books is actually geared toward poets. It’s the Practice of Poetry by Robin Behn and Chase Twitchell, but many of the exercises can be used for prose.
If you like fictional scenarios, I recommend Writer’s Digest’s prompts. Typing in “writing prompts” on Pinterest.com is also a fun place to get ideas.
If you look around you, you may find prompts in unexpected places. A coffee shop I frequent has sayings on placards on the wall. Graffiti on a bathroom stall door could even spark a poem. You could write a story that takes place in the year stamped on a penny in your pocket.
Writing Prompt Groups
Personally, I get most of my prompts from other writers rather than online. I’ve belonged to numerous prompt writing groups over the years. And some of my favorite prompts have come from people I know.
If you can’t find a prompt writing group in your area, consider finding some writing friends and create one. It can be as simple as sitting down at a table, each writing a prompt on a scrap of paper and swapping them. Reading excerpts after the writing is done can also be fun. And afterward, if you get stuck at home, you can phone a friend or text a fellow writer and ask them to send you a prompt.
Ten Writing Prompts to Get You Started
Pick out a photo of a celebrity online and riff off of it.
A fictional version of Bob Dylan made a cameo in one of my stories with his wild, tousled brown hair, for example.
Write the ending first.
Getting started can be the toughest part – so mix it up. Start with the last sentence of your piece and go on from there.
Incorporate all five senses.
What do you or your character smell, taste, touch, see or hear? This is especially useful for memoir writers because it jogs your memory.
Write about a personality trait.
It can either be a flaw or strength, depending on the circumstance or your point of view. This can be your own trait or your character’s.
Write two lines that flat out contradict each other.
Then, figure out how that makes sense.
Everything happens for a reason.
Do you or your character agree or disagree? (I have a friend who lived through cancer who hates this saying.)
Write a fight scene.
It could be an argument or actual blows.
Write what you don’t know.
Turn the old adage on its head and take your writing outside your comfort zone.
Write about the things you have forgotten.
This could relate to your childhood or not.
We regret to inform you…
…or congratulations. What words have changed the course of your life or changed your character’s life?
A true independent publisher is you – an author who starts their own publishing “imprint,” and organizes and pays for their own designing, editing, and printing of their book. The great news is that as the big publishing houses went out of business, merged, and downsized, the professionals within those houses have flooded into the self-publishing arena. That means the service providers with that high-level experience are now available to us, and we as authors can produce professional books that are indistinguishable from a New York Times best seller.
Books that are self published are the sole property of the author and all sales proceeds belong to the author. So the pros of independent publishing are easy to line up:
You maintain 100% creative control
It can be scary to take over the reins and take “complete creative control,” but if you get a publishing coach to keep you in the right direction, and hire a professional editor, cover designer, etc. you’ll realize quickly that this is the best way to go. In a big traditional house there are teams of people making decisions about your book and you get very little say – if any. After the hard work you’ve put into your book, this can be soul crushing.
With self publishing you keep 100% of profits and royalties
One of the most important steps you can take when self-publishing is to make sure you maintain your copyrights. But you should also be fully aware of the lesser-known sales and distribution rights. Whoever owns the ISBN on your book owns the sales and distribution rights, so when you are publishing independently you want to open your own publishing company, at which point you will acquire your own custom ISBN.
One of the biggest mistakes an author can make is to “self-publish” with one of those online publishing companies. You think it’s nice to have that publisher logo on the back of the book? It’s doing you way more harm than good. Generally speaking – because all of the companies within this model have variances – these companies let you buy your own book for a 30 to 40% off the retail price. And your royalty usually sits around 70% of your net receipts – which adds up to about $3.60 for a $15 retail book. What you want is 100% of your royalties. Why have someone else making money off your book?
You’ll make a heap more money
A study was taken a few years ago with IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) to follow the progress of 500 authors of a similar genre over the course of five years. Half of the authors were published through a traditional publisher, and the other half started their own publishing company. At the end of the five years, each author had sold about 5000 books. So let’s do the math:
Generally speaking (there is a small variance of course) the deal with a traditional publisher is your royalty is 6.5 – 8.5% of the wholesale price. If the retail price of your book is $15, then the wholesale cost is roughly $6.75 (55%). Multiply that by a median of 7.5% and you make roughly .50 a book.
If you self-publish your $15 book (250-page book that costs $3.85 to print on Createspace), your profit margin is $11.15 when you hand-sell it direct to the consumer. Your royalty on Amazon is $5.15. That’s at least ten times more money.
You have flexibility to change anything anytime: no red tape
There are a number of reasons you’ll want to make a revision in your book. Of course there is the annoying typo, but moreover, what if you get an endorsement or testimonial from an A-lister in your industry and want to put it on your cover? You can also use your book as a sponsorship opportunity. For example, in lieu of a company buying a book for all attendees of a conference you’re going to speak at, you will put their logo on the cover of each book.
When you choose self publishing, you get to make these decisions. You can make the negotiations. And pronto. If you have to wait for the red-tape of a corporate publishing house you will more than likely lose the deal.
Revisions are at very little or no cost
If you win an award, or get an endorsement, you would have your cover designer embed them into the cover. Equally, if you have a typo to fix on your interior you would ask your interior formatter to make that revision. Most cover designers or interior formatters include a revision or two in their price so it shouldn’t cost you anything. If you’re using Createspace as your printer and distributor, they don’t charge anything for uploading new files. (Ingram Spark does have a $29 fee every time you make a revision.)
On a related note, you really just want to make revisions in your book once – or at least as minimal as possible, because every time you pull your book out of distribution, it takes 2 to 6 weeks to get completely back in line.
You have close relationships with your service providers
It’s all very tempting at the beginning of your publishing process — amidst the overwhelm of it all — to think “I don’t want control. I’m sure the cover designer and layout designer know what they’re doing and all will be grand.” Which is to say, you have no problem handing over all the control. Until you do.
Knowledge is power, and when you start to learn what your options are, naturally you have an opinion. In the big houses, those choices are not yours. You will work with your editor closely, but it’s usually in the contract that they get “last edit.” They get the last say. When it comes to your cover design, you usually have zero control. The author is never on the design team.
In the self publishing process, it is best that you get a publishing coach – aka book coach – who will lead you to professionals, review the options with you, give an experienced opinion, but you always get the final say. You want close relationships with your cover designer, layout designer, and of course it’s imperative to have a very close bond with your editor. You should feel comfortable enough with each service provider to ask questions you might deem as silly (they’re not!) and call them anytime and get a response. You don’t get those relationships when someone else owns the copyrights.
A statistic that is very real these days is that your chances of getting picked up by one of the big publishing houses is under 1%. You’ve got to not only have a big following already, but you’ve got to have a book they’re looking for. Having a fabulous book with all 5-star ratings on Amazon is something to brag about, but if it’s not a genre the big houses are looking for, they’re simply not interested.
With that said, even if you magically got an agent tomorrow, you’ve got to work with that agent to draft a proposal – which is your social proof and marketing plan that the agent will turn around and use to sell you to the publisher. That alone takes upwards of 8 months.
Then, let’s say, magically your agent got an offer right away. The reality is that, more often than not, your manuscript sits at the house for a year-plus while they think about it. (my words, not theirs.) Let’s say, then, that magically, they move forward with your book. To put it through editing and layout would take upwards of two years. (Yes, we have all heard about the big stars that get them out in months, but that’s not the norm.)
Bottom line is that to publish through a traditional house, the timeline would be on average, 3 years.
In the self publishing world, to put your manuscript through 3 editing rounds, layout, cover, publishing, and into distribution — using professionals that have come from the big house world — takes on average 8 months.
Consider the two-year difference for publishing, add the more money you’ll make selling your book – and you have to ask yourself, What’s the point?
Publishing is a very different world than the one we grew up in. It’s no longer the world of big advances and national book tours. But due to today’s reality that there is no longer a gate-keeper telling us that our content is good enough to get out into the world, this is undoubtedly the best time in history to be a writer.
The most expensive part of self-publishing your book lies in the mistakes that you make. You hire the wrong editor, but before you realize that, you owe them $3000. You sign up with a “publisher” before you discover that, yeah sure, you kept your copyrights, but you inadvertently gave away your sales rights and your distribution rights, and now it will cost you $1000 to free yourself from the contract. Or you hire a cover designer because they’re a good artist, but $500 later you realize that doesn’t mean they have the marketing experience that a proven book cover designer has.
Money isn’t the only element that you waste when you make bad decisions. Of course, there’s the gobs of time and immeasurable brain cells—and let’s add the loss of momentum. It’s hard enough to write, produce, and publish a great book, then to add the element of having to constantly start over, it’s downright demoralizing.
The following Top 11 Self-Publishing Boo-Boo list has been collected from both our personal experiences and authors who have made these mistakes and come to us to fix them.
Top 11 Self-Publishing Boo-Boos are:
Starting with a big print run to get a better price per unit
Self-publishing a book was always an option, but what made self-publishing explode is the advent of print-on-demand (POD). Before POD we had to take our print job to a big offset printer and commit to a minimum print run of 3000-5000 books. That’s what made self-publishing unaffordable. The printing alone was upwards of $12,000 dollars.
So, while it’s true that if you print 3000 books you’ll get a better price per unit, I recommend starting with 100 at a time and work out the tweaks: correct typos, add an endorsement or review, maybe get an award on the front of your book. It also gives you an opportunity to get your head around what your sales numbers look like before you make a 3000 print run commitment.
Being in a hurry
You’ve just been hired as a speaker in three months, so you want to quickly write, produce, and publish your book so you can sell it. There is no way to produce a quality book in this timeline, and such an endeavor will end up doing you much more harm than good. You want your book to represent who you are, and in turn, serve as a lead generator for business, more speaking engagements, and potential partnerships. If your book proves you are sloppy with editing and content, aren’t you saying that is who you are in business? You have to put your best foot forward, and as the reality check always proves, you can’t get fast, cheap and good. You only get to pick two.
Working with online “subsidy” publishing houses
A subsidy publisher is also known as “vanity publishing,” or pay-to-play publishing. Anyone can publish their book with this model because they have no selection criteria. These “publishers” do not purchase your manuscript, but rather, you, the author, pay for the cost of publication. Generally in this model you maintain your copyright, but please make no mistake; the books are owned by the publisher and remain in the publisher’s possession. The publisher distributes the book under its own imprint, and the author receives royalties.
The “hidden” problems of going this route are:
While you do keep your copyright, you do not keep your sales and distribution rights. They are publishing under their own imprint with their own ISBN, which means you do not own 100% of your rights.
You pay through the teeth for any small revision. (The standard fee for this model is $250 for a revision, whether it’s a simple typo or an award that you’d like to display on the cover.)
You are entering a publishing contract that is very difficult to get out of—if you can at all.
The service providers (editor, cover, layout) are less experienced. In this model, you simply choose a template design for your cover and layout; they are not custom designed with the collaboration of a professional. And rather than an editor, you may only get a proofreader to review your manuscript.
Another way they make their money is by inflating the cost of printing. They will charge you 2.5 to 3 times the cost of printing compared to, say, Createspace.
This model has no advantages for the author, and the way the model is set up does not allow you to make any money. There is not one thing they can offer you that you cannot do yourself (with guidance) and hang on to 100% of your rights and royalties.
Doing it all alone
The best way to publish a book is true independent publishing. That means you open your own publishing company, own your own custom ISBN, find your own editor, cover designer, layout designer, etc. The con to true independent publishing is that you don’t know your way around the system, therefore it leaves you ripe for making bad and expensive mistakes.
Please consider hiring a book coach.
Book coaches are best used in the case of a first-time author to keep the project on course. The coach’s job is to assure the author gets involved with the right vendors, to cover all the details, and to streamline the system so authors don’t waste money on bad decisions. Many first-time authors fall prey to the first editor they meet, or the $49 cover designer they find on the internet, or the “Kindle Expert” who will set them up to “sell 500 eBooks a week!” etc.
Having a good book coach guide your project will save you thousands of dollars, and significant time and aggravation. For more information on how to choose a Book Coach, read our blog here.
Spending a lot of time marketing to bookstores
Ironically, bookstores are not a great place for authors to sell books. Generally, they want a 40% discount—55-65% if you go through a distributor—and if your book doesn’t sell after 90 days they will either ship it back to you—at your expense—or you can pick them up. The exception is your local independent bookstore. We love our local independent bookstores. They are our community partners and we want to support them. But the rule of thumb is “tolerate bookstores, don’t pursue them.”
Spending money on a trade show booth to sell your book
Next to no one will buy a book randomly by stopping by your booth at a trade show. This is not a good marketing practice. Even if your book is directly related to the theme of the show, this is not a good way to sell books.
The one exception is if you are a speaker at the event. Even if you have two minutes to speak in front of the audience, it will be worthwhile. Otherwise, please don’t put this at the top of your marketing plan.
Spending money on a PR agency
A couple years ago, a survey by IBPA (Independent Book Publisher’s Association) was taken with 500 authors over the course of 5 years. One of the questions to the authors was, “What was your biggest waste of money?” The #1 answer was “Hiring a PR agency.” If you are a big name with a big following, this might be a good option for you, but if you don’t yet have a following of 10,000 Twitter followers and you aren’t filling up stadiums with your motivational speaking, hiring a PR agent is a ghastly waste of money. PR agents can’t get you the coverage you want if you don’t have a name that TV shows, radio shows, etc. have heard of. They generally run about $3000 a month and have a minimum of 6 months. It’s not a good way to spend your money.
Buying advertising in newspapers, trade magazines, and Facebook ads.
That IBPA survey also confirmed that the second biggest waste of money—for selling a book—was advertising.
Consider: A friend of mine told the story about how he had a radio interview and got over 100 book sales from that interview, so he thought, Hey, why don’t I buy an ad on this radio station—they’re obviously my target audience. So he spent $100 for a 30-second commercial x 10 ads. He got bubcus.
Why? It was the same audience, the same station, the same time. Because PR is someone speaking on your behalf, it’s more authentic. People tend to trust that more.
Advertising doesn’t come off as authentic and organic. That’s why networking and word-of-mouth are the most important pieces of your marketing plan. People want to do business with people they know, like, and trust.
Facebook ads are fantastic. Their tools allow us to find our target demographic down to eye color. But just like buying an ad on a radio station, statistically, people don’t buy a book straight from a Facebook ad.
Facebook ads are perfect for email capture campaigns; to offer something for free in exchange for getting their email, but not for directly selling a book.
Formatting the interior layout in a Word doc
Please don’t believe that formatting your layout via Word looks so darn good it could pass for a professional job. That’s fine for a school paper, but not for your book. A professional can help navigate you through your choices in various elements to consider, including spacial issues, as well as how to proof it. For more information on formatting do’s and don’ts, here is a blog.
Having a template cover design
Your #1 promotional tool is your cover design. Please don’t take a short cut with an online $5 template cover. A cover is comprised of color, graphics, font, and of course, the title. All of these elements have a purpose in reflecting the journey the reader is going to take. That takes the skillset of a professional cover designer.
And the biggest self-publishing boo-boo of all …
Not investing in a professional editor
Editing is the most painful and expensive process in self-publishing, therefore it’s where most of the shortcuts are taken. Authors think that their neighbor who is an English teacher will suffice. I would agree with that if it’s a family book, otherwise no, the English teacher next door would simply be a good start.
Choosing your editor will be the biggest decision you make in your publishing journey. Even if you’re a good writer, yes, you’ll want an editor. You’ve got to trust them and feel comfortable with them. This is a journey you will take together. Please interview two or three editors who have specific development experience with your genre. Also ask for a sample edit—that is their cost of doing business and they should provide that at no charge.
Taking a shortcut with your editing is the single most common mistake authors make when they self-publish a book. It is expensive and painful, therefore tempting to circumnavigate, but if you want a professional book, you must have a professional editor.
For more information on the types of editing click here.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ve listing the above in bullet points with a small paragraph, although most could easily take up an entire chapter. We don’t want these to be a secret, so please learn from them—and pass them on to your author friends!