Tomorrow, March 9th, I'm giving a talk on self-publishing at the Pinwheel Writing Workshop at ACMA - the creative arts school here in Beaverton.
The plan is to publish my presentation live as an ebook, but just in case that mega fails, I'm putting the presentation up here. :)
How to physically self-publish a book – with Stacey Howland
I’m Stacey Howland, I write under the pen names Stacey Wallace Benefiel and Stacey Wallace. I self-published my first book, Glimpse, in April of 2010, and never looked back. In addition to being an author, I’m also a publisher, marketer, and sometimes cover designer.
My self-publishing business is called Write Free Press. (www.writefreepress.com)
I named it this because I have a tattoo on my arm that says Write Free or Die. I was having a hardcore indie moment when I got it. :)
I write across several genres – paranormal, urban fantasy, time travel, contemporary, literary fiction. All of my books contain a romantic aspect, though, so you could say I’m a romance writer. Chick-lit is also a fine label to put on my writing – it’s what I like to read. I’m currently obsessed with JoJo Moyes.
WHERE TO START:
You’re going to need a Word doc, preferably docx. So, whatever program you wrote your manuscript in, in order to format it in Vellum, or publish it on Draft 2 Digital or Amazon, you will need to convert it into a Word document.
The easiest way to do this is to write your manuscript in Word. However, some people really like Scrivener or Google docs or another word processor and super hate writing in Word. If that’s you, do your thing, but you’re going to need to convert that document to Word. (In a pinch you can use a pdf, but I don’t recommend it.)
You have your Word docx and you’ve had 3-4 people read it and comment. These are your beta readers. They may be from a class, a critique group, or friends and family members who are avid readers. Don’t go overboard and let 20 people critique your work. You will have more opposing opinions than you’ll know what to do with and it is frustrating.
My rule of thumb with beta readers is if ¾ of the people commenting have the same objections to something in the story, or found a particular sentence hard to understand, or think I should add or subtract from a scene, then I will consider following those directions. If one person has an issue with something and no one else mentions it (or everyone else loves that particular bit – I’ve had that happen) then I choose not to follow that direction.
The other important thing about beta readers is at least one of them should be good with grammar, punctuation, and spelling. If you don’t have access to someone like this, you can run your manuscript through Grammarly. The free version does a pretty good job.
Hey, Stacey, shouldn’t I hire an editor? How can my book possibly be good if it hasn’t been professionally edited?
Well, here’s the deal. Editors are expensive and not where you should be spending your money when you’re first starting out. Your goal is to publish each manuscript right where you’re at and then start on the next one. I promise you will get better the more you write and publish.
When you make enough money to hire an editor – they are plentiful and not hard to come by – you may find that you don’t need one. Contemporary romance novels often don’t need editors. Epic fantasy, on the other hand, you have way more potential for plot holes and overwriting and other things that editors really can help with. I have used a content editor exactly once, on Her Other Life, because it is magical realism and a more complex story than I usually write.
CREATE A COVER AND A BLURB:
After you have your manuscript ready, you need to think about cover design. I usually hire out for this unless I have a simple idea for a cover and can make it myself in Canva. I’m hopeless at making paperback covers, so I don’t hire out for those. Or, if I just want the paperback for a quick giveaway or something, then I will make a black back cover and put the ebook cover on the front.
When you have the manuscript and cover done, time to write a blurb! This is hands down the part that most authors I know hate. Ha! I find it’s helpful to have a tag line and then two to three paragraphs summing up the book without giving spoilers
Here is an example from Crossing:
Open doors and open minds - Crossing is an unconventional romance, but a true love story nonetheless.
He stole her lipstick … and her heart.
Twenty-year-old Dani Walker can’t believe her luck when she’s paired up with the gorgeous Liam Garrett as her Acting I scene partner – or when he ends up in her bed. Being a Plain Jane with a mouth on her hasn’t exactly served Dani well in the guy department. In fact, she’s had nothing but one-night stands. Still, she lets go of her insecurities and falls for Liam, despite feeling like he’s holding something back.
When Dani finally discovers Liam’s secret, she must learn the true meaning of accepting the ones we love for who they are, or risk losing the best thing that’s ever happened to her.
Now you’re ready to format.
I use Vellum to format my ebooks and print. It has several nice layouts and is easy to use. It is only available on Mac, however, which is a bummer. (Vellum and Scrivener are pretty much the only two reasons my laptop is a Mac, otherwise, I’m more comfortable with Microsoft.)
Not to worry, though, if you don’t have a Mac, you can still format your Word doc with Draft 2 Digital for free – it has a lot of nice options as well. If you find that you absolutely hate doing any sort of formatting, you can hire someone to do it for you. This is usually inexpensive.
That’s the thing with self-publishing – you can learn and do it all or you can hire out the parts you don’t want to do.
When you format with Vellum, it offers you many file formats so that you can publish your manuscript to any platform directly. I do this with Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Google Play usually. I use Draft to Digital to publish on Apple and other smaller platforms. My books are currently all in Kindle Unlimited – the Amazon book subscription service – so I only have them published to Kindle right now. If and when I take them out of Kindle Select, I will most likely publish them all through Direct 2 Digital because it is easier to manage everything all in one place and these other platforms don’t bring in enough profit for there to be much benefit in going direct.
You will want to add some backmatter to your formatted file. Vellum and D2D make this easy. You can add an About the Author, Acknowledgements, your social media links, a link to your newsletter, etc.
I’m currently revamping my newsletter – specifically what I’m giving away for signing up for it – so there isn’t a link in my books now.
After formatting is done, it’s time to publish your book. As I said before, you can go direct to all the platforms if you like, or you can us Draft 2 Digital or Smashwords. I recommend Draft 2 Digital. You will need to go directly with Amazon regardless.
A word about price: I follow the pricing scale that Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch use. My novels are $4.99, trilogies or short collections are $7.99, boxed sets are $9.99, paperbacks are $12.99, novellas (over 25 K words) are $3.99, short stories (under 25K words) are $2.99.
All of your prices should end in .99 in the US and all of the other territories.
Live examples of all of this will be provided at the writing workshop.
Marketing is a whole other topic, I just wanted you to have the basic nuts and bolts of how to self-publish a book.
Here is a list of resources pertaining to self-publishing that I’ve found helpful:
Joanna Penn – www.thecreativepenn.com
David Gaughran – www.davidgaughran.com
Tammi Labreque The Newsletter Ninja – www.newsletterninja.net
Mark Dawson Self-Publishing Formula – www.selfpublishingformula.com
Kindle Direct Publishing – www.kdp.amazon.com
Draft 2 Digital – www.draft2digital.com
Vellum – www.vellum.pub
Canva – www.canva.com
Grammarly – www.grammarly.com