You’ve finally finished it. The book that you had been talking about for years and had been planning for even longer is completed. You sit back and pour yourself a well-deserved drink and toast to your hard work and dedication. It’s a dream come true. Or is it?
There’s a saying in the writing community that writing the book is the easy part, getting it published is harder. The vast, endless network of writing agents, publishing houses, and boutique printers is daunting and in many cases impenetrable. Navigating the content of your own book is relatively simple when compared navigating the boundless seas of the publishing world.
With success stories of self-published manuscripts – from financial books like David Chilton’s The Wealthy Barber to E.L. James’ bawdier Fifty Shades of Grey – more and more people are foregoing the traditional route.
But this process isn’t much simpler.
To give you an idea, here is a short list of what you can expect with any book you opt to self-publish:
Copy Editing. I don’t care how good of a writer you are, it’s almost impossible to fully edit your own work. Even if you manage to catch every instance of grammar and misspelling, you’ll almost definitely at some point have a sentence that lacks clarity or has improper word choice. Unless you have a few friends with English degrees and copious amounts of spare time, you’ll have to pay for a copy-editing service which usually runs about $0.02/word at the very cheapest, per edit. That adds up quickly.
Cover & Jacket. Here again you may have some friends with some digital design skills and some free time. If not, you’ll most likely find yourself forking over at least $300-600 on a cover design and even more if you want (or need) a full jacket. Remember, a physical book needs a front cover as well as a spine and a back cover.
Formatting. All text is not created equal. If you want to self-publish both a printed book and a digital book, you’ll need to create two different versions of your manuscript. Your digital manuscript will also have to follow a number of formatting regulations – tabs, for example, do not fly in digital manuscripts – or your manuscript will be spat back out at you as you to try and discover what you did wrong this time. You also need to include full legal notes, author information, etc, or else it will be very easy for your book to be stolen and duplicated illegally. Usually, any company that provided you with a copy-editing service can also provide formatting for each medium for an additional fee.
ISBNs. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. The only company you can buy an ISBN from is called Bowker and it is virtually impossible to list your book anywhere on the planet without one of these. This is one of the rare and allowed monopolies to exist in the USA. Unfortunately, Bowker prefers to sell ISBNs wholesale to other publishers, not directly to consumers so you will need to buy them individually.. Every version of your book – print, digital, etc – will need its own ISBN.
Distribution. Traditional hardcopy markets, like bookstore sales, are largely run on distributor relationships with publishers, so most self-publishing is done online with its own complexities. Even if you plan to only self-publish digitally, there is no single catch-all to get your book to every site out there. Amazon has its own, exclusive upload portal as does Google Books. Apple’s iTunes and Barnes & Noble have no upload portals and only accept books from third-party distributors. There are some free eBook sites such as Smashwords that will convert and send your book to these sites, but the process is arduous. Any changes you need made – even just the book’s title or description – can take weeks before they appear changed on the website. You’ll also be forking over a double-portion of fees as Smashwords will take its own cut after the distributor site takes theirs.
Marketing. And after all of the above steps, you still have to get people to buy it. You’ll have to run ads and likely pay for book reviews. Kirkus Reviews – one of the largest book reviewing firms in the country – charges around $450 for a 250-word review that will take you 2 months to receive. Self-publishing means self-marketing, so you’ll be booking book tours and finding ways to connect with new readers. So, unless you plan on selling your books out of the trunk of your car, you still aren’t done spending money on your blood, sweat, and tears.
All of this, of course, doesn’t mean that self-publishing isn’t an option. You’ve already gotten this far with writing, a feat most who dream of writing a book never accomplish. It just means that you might want to hold off before you open that bottle of Cabernet and toast to your completed, textual victory, because the work isn’t quite over yet. But you don't have to do it alone. Find a company (like this one) that does more than one task, and you will make seeing your book on a shelf a reality.
Getting published, even self-published, is a team effort. Having experience in your corner - from content to copy editors to marketing gurus - can be priceless.
J.E. Tobal is a self-published author of several works of fiction from short stories to novels, all for sale on Amazon.com and other major retailers.