Just a few years ago the question ‘should a new author self-publish’ would have received a very different answer to the one I am giving today. In the past you would have exchanged the term ‘vanity publish’ for ‘self-publish’, and that is a whole different kettle of fish.
There are still plenty of vanity publishing companies out there – do an internet search and you will find yourself inundated with names. So, is vanity publishing a good idea? It was the only way to self-publish when I first contemplated the idea and, personally, the thought of paying a substantial amount of money to have my book published and then to have to sell copies myself from ‘door to door’ so to speak did not appeal to me and I decided not to go down that route. That left me with the usual task of trying to find an agent who would then try to find a publisher which, for many, is an unfruitful search; even some of the most famous authors have had their books rejected time and time again by agents. Finding an agent and publisher, then getting the book published is also a very long-winded process and it could take a year or two for you to see your book in print (assuming you can get an agent in the first place of course!) Self-publishing an ebook is much more appealing for many a new author who wants to see their book out there in weeks or months not years!
With the development of technology over the last few years ‘self-published’ now takes on a whole new meaning, I really can publish my work myself, and it is an exhilarating experience. The question now becomes ebook, print or both?
There are many options out there. Again an internet search will leave your mind reeling and you will begin to wonder where to start, or maybe even whether to start. I’ve been through all that and would say that if you are happy with your writing and think that other people will be interested in it then get out there and have a go. It need not cost you anything so if you make a mistake – so what? It was an experience to learn from and build upon.
I will begin with the ebook market today. When I decided to self-publish my novel ‘Heronfield’ I looked at all of the options and decided to publish through two companies. Amazon and Smashwords.
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
I decided to go with KDP because, like it or not, everyone the world over knows Amazon so if your book is sold there you are likely to get far more people stumbling across it, and hopefully that will lead to far more sales.
You can hire a company to help you format your book for KDP, or you can have a go yourself. I would not call myself an IT expert, but with a little time and patience I was able to format Heronfield and have it accepted by KDP at the first attempt. If I can do it anyone can! KDP provide a clear guide on how to format the book, just follow that and everything should be OK.
That is fine for the manuscript, but as your book will be seen on the internet you will need a cover, and it will need to be attractive and attention grabbing. If people are not intrigued by your cover they will quickly move on to something else so, unless you are a great artist, I would advise you to get an expert in to do it for you, it is well worth the cost.
Before you click the button to publish take a look at the Kindle Select Programme. If you choose this you are committing to sell exclusively on Amazon for a period of time and allowing people to download your book from the Kindle library; you will receive a payment for this. Weigh up carefully if this is the route you want to go – then make sure you click on the appropriate button!
Before you know it you will have a book for sale on Amazon!
That takes care of Amazon and Kindle, but what of other formats? Do you want people with a Nook or iPad to be able to read you book? I looked long and hard at the different formats I would need and I must admit I found it daunting. That is why I decided to publish on Smashwords.
Smashwords was a pioneer in ebook publishing and is currently the largest distributor of self-published ebooks. It is easy to format your work, just make sure that your Word document is formatted as described in the Smashwords guide then upload it and their ‘Meatgrinder’ tool does all the hard work of formatting it for different ebooks for you. Upload your cover as well and you are ready to go – you can sell on Smashwords and also have them distribute to other ebook sellers for you. Suddenly you find your book for sale on Barnes & Noble, Apples iBooks, Sony Kobo etc. etc. – all from one upload!
So, there you go, you have a self-published ebook in multiple formats and it didn’t hurt a bit! But do you have your ISBN? The ISBN is a unique identification number for your book, and you need a different one for each format – print, Kindle etc. This is another of those things that a first-time self-publisher can find daunting; Smashwords has a good guide to ebook ISBNs which you might find useful if you need to take a more in-depth look at this topic.
Most companies will issue an ISBN when they publish your work (either free as part of the package price), or you can purchase your own list of ISBNs and issue them to your work each time you publish something new or in a new format. Be aware though that whoever issues the ISBN will be listed as the publisher. If you want to be your own publisher rather than Smashwords, KDP or someone else then you will need to buy your own ISBNs.
This is something that you need to look at carefully when putting your book on the market and setting the price. Smashwords and KDP can give anything between 60% and 80% depending on different criteria, so read their guides carefully. Whatever you get it is likely to be much higher than any royalties made through traditional publishing.
So, there you have it. I took a deep breath and decided to self-publish, and thoroughly enjoyed the process! For me KDP and Smashwords do what I want at the moment but I may decide on a different approach in the future. If this article has encouraged you to try the self-publishing route then please remember to look at other companies and formats too before making your choice.
Good luck and let me know when your book is out there!
(I plan to do a short blog on self-publishing in print soon so watch this space).