Are you or your group thinking about self-publishing a book? If so, there are some things you'll want to know before you get started to create a high-quality book that everyone will want to read.
Perhaps you, like many writers, find self-publishing attractive because it will let you circumvent the traditional gatekeepers: agents and publishing houses. Thanks to the digital and online tools available today, quality writing that might never have had a chance is out in the world. Writers -- even established authors --a re increasingly choosing this route because today's publishers do very little to support them. Authors must often hire their own editors and pay for their own publicity. And the royalties when self-publishing are often significantly higher than with traditional publishing, as much 70 percent.
When you're planning to self-publish a book -- as an individual author or a group -- you need to consider your resources and publicity team. Self-publishing can cost as much as $20,000, but it doesn't have to. You can save money by doing some or much of the work that was traditionally performed by publishers.
When the Salish Sea Writers, the Seattle writing community to which I belong, decided to self-publish an anthology of mostly memoir, we had a shared vision and lots of enthusiasm. All 25 contributors are published authors, but none of us really understood how many different tasks would need to be completed before our book, Secret Histories: Stories of Courage, Risk, and Revelation, was ready to release.
Before we started, we looked into various options for self-publishing. Our mentor, the author Brenda Peterson, suggested we look at Amazon CreateSpace, espresso book machines, Nook, Apple's iBooks, and Kobo. On her advice, we invested in a professional cover designer. The cover can make or break a book, so we spent many hours selecting pictures for the designer to choose from and later weighed in on the best position for the title. We also hired a designer to create the interior for the paperback version of the book. Though we have several professional editors among us, we hired a copyeditor, knowing from experience that it takes fresh eyes to spot typos and inconsistencies.
In most respects, our anthology was a DIY project. Some authors had specific expertise; others stepped up to the plate to learn new skills. We were aiming for roughly a six-month schedule, which -- in retrospect -- was ambitious. Fortunately, one of our authors, who specializes in marketing communications, volunteered to do project management and serve as our creative director. Thanks to her, we met our publication deadline.
We formed an editorial board of six. The board vetted submissions to make sure they met our editorial standards and theme, performed content and line edits, researched a title for the anthology, and asked well-known authors for comments for the back cover. Members of the editorial board also proofed the manuscript, proofed it again at the galley stage, and once more when the printed proof arrived. We chose to have our book produced in two formats: P.O.D. (print-on-demand) and e-book. Doing this saved us the enormous expense of printing an inventory of books.
One of our authors, a professional book editor, crafted the copy for the back cover, which also appears on the book's page on Amazon. Two authors drove the effort to obtain a legal contract to cover rights, liability, and the distribution of royalties, and yet another volunteered to serve as treasurer and handle the accounting. We needed an ISBN number, as well as a tax ID number for reporting royalties and sales tax (this latter because we were a collective rather than an individual author).
We knew it was important to get the word out well in advance of the anthology's release. A marketing and publicity team was formed to strategize about the best way to do this and -- given our limited budget -- chose to make good use of social media and other e-technology. The son of one of our authors created a website for Secret Histories, with links to a SoundCloud page where visitors can listen to the individual authors read excerpts from their pieces. It was a creative challenge to capture the most compelling excerpts for audio, and we had fun recording them. And in less than three weeks, we had more than 1,000 listeners. Another member of our collective created a Facebook page for the book, adding frequent posts. Yet another tweeted vigorously about the project (@SecretHistorie1). Authors included links to the Facebook page and our website in their email signature, on their Facebook pages, and on LinkedIn.
After publication, we amped up the social media and contacted local bookstores to schedule readings. Seattle area booksellers have been very supportive. So far five local independent bookstores have offered to carry our book on consignment and host readings, and more events are planned (including at a local writer's center).
If you want to self-publish, you can build on our experience. If you're an individual author and don't have a "village" to share the work, be sure to network and line up the resources you need to bring your project to completion. Don't forget to plan ahead for marketing and publicity, including social media.
The Salish Sea Writers played a role in the design of our book, made sure it was edited properly, moved the project forward, and publicized it. In return for our hard work and $3,000, we have an impeccably designed, well-written anthology -- a triumph of craft and community, and a model of what's possible in the new publishing world.
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