How to Self-Publish a Book

Self-publishing can be an extremely rewarding experience, both financially and otherwise. It allows you to write on your own schedule, set your own deadlines, and have a hand in every step of the publishing process. At the same time, it also means you won’t really have anyone to hold your hand and help you as you publish your book. Luckily, I’ve written up this handy guide that will teach you the basics and help get you started on your self-publishing journey.

I’m going to cover the basic steps involved in prepping your work for self-publishing, tools you can use for different parts of the process, and tactics for getting your work out there. While this covers the basics of what you’ll need to know, there is always more to learn. If there’s something you have more questions about after you finish this post, leave a comment so we can chat further!

Editing – The First Step to a Finished Product

Writing your story is only half the battle. Editing your work is the first step of many to self-publishing your work. I have a few posts about the process of editing your work on your own that start here. I am a big fan of doing some self-editing before asking for help. Once you’ve gone over your story yourself, though, it’s very important to get some fresh eyes on your book. If you want your work to truly be its best, it’s also important that those fresh eyes belong to a professional.

There are lots of different kinds of editors. Some (like me!) are line editors who willing and able to help at all or most parts of the editing process. Other editors focus on specific areas, like developmental editing or proofreading. This article at The Helpful Writer gives a good general overview of different kinds of editors and the services they provide. A professional can give your story the polish it needs.

Paying for editorial services can get expensive, though, especially if you’re hiring more than one person for different parts of the process. If you really don’t have the extra cash to hire an editor, ask friends and family if they’d be willing to help. Check to see if your library or local community college has a writing workshop. Poke around the internet to find critique groups, both online and off.

Whether you pay an editor or get feedback from friends, honest feedback from people who understand story structure and grammar will be your best friend. Get really good at listening to critiques of your work and seek out a LOT of it. It can be hard to have someone tell you “this character doesn’t really leap off the page” or “I found this chapter confusing.” There might even be times when you disagree with the feedback and don’t end up using it. Still, hearing it is good, and getting diverse perspectives on your work is helpful.

Digital, Physical, or Both?

After the editing is done and you feel like your book is ready to go out into the world, you need to figure out whether you want to release your book digitally, as a physical book, or both. Consider your goals for your work and how much capital you have to invest in the initial publishing process.

Digital publishing is going to be the cheapest way to publish your book. Digital publishing is basically free once you’ve gotten editing and cover art out of the way. You don’t have to have an ISBN (more on that later!) as you do with physical publishing. For an indie author who is just starting out and doesn’t have a ton of cash, this is likely where you’ll start.

Physical publishing is a bit more capital-intensive. Your cover will need to be more than just a simple cover image–you’ll need a design that covers the front, binding, and back of your book, which requires more work and skill to create. Then, you’ll need to purchase an ISBN for your book. After that, the process is much the same as it is with digital publishing: you’ll research distributors and choose the ones that work best for you and sell your books.

The ideal option for most writers is to do both. Doing both gives you the broadest possible audience to market to and ensures readers will be able to get your book in whatever format they prefer. Still, a lot of that comes down to your goals for your work and how much you can invest. If you decide to publish both digital and physical editions of your work, you’ll need to make sure you purchase 2 ISBNs, one for each edition. While this will give you more avenues to distribute your work, particularly for your digital edition, it does require some up-front investment.

Every option available to you is valid and they each come with different benefits and drawbacks. The great thing is, you don’t have to stay married to one option or the other. When you’re self-publishing, you have the flexibility to publish a different edition of your work later on. If you start out purely digital, nothing is stopping you from eventually getting into physical publishing. The same goes for starting with physical publishing. Regardless, you should know what editions of your book you’re going to publish when you start out. It’ll make some of the decisions you’ll have to make down the line a little easier.

Cover Art – Because We All Judge Books By Their Covers

Obtaining cover art is an integral part of the publishing process. Whether we admit it or not, a book cover can make or break a reader’s decision to buy your book. A quality cover results in more sales.

For those of us with limited design skills (ahem), this part of the self-publishing process can be nerve-wracking. Fortunately, you can find a cover artist who specializes in the kind of cover you’re looking for.

Hiring a cover artist is especially important if you’re planning on having your book printed or using print-on-demand services. Physically printed books require some extra help in order to make them look truly polished and professional, as I mentioned earlier. Rather than just a standard rectangular book cover, you need someone to design your front and back covers and the spine of your book. If you have the money, paying an artist to create a great cover for your book is 100% worth it.

If you don’t have the cash up front to pay an artist, there are simple ways to make an attractive-looking cover. Photoshop and InDesign are amazing for creating DIY covers, especially if you have a template to work with, but they’re expensive. My two favorite free resources for making any kind of graphic? Canva and Unsplash.

Canva is a simple, free tool for creating graphics. They provide thousands of free templates for every graphic you can imagine, including book covers. It’s easy to learn and won’t cost you anything. They also have a phone app that’s super functional and easy to use. Unsplash is a great source of beautiful stock photos that you can use for any purpose for free–including popping them into a book cover template on Canva. With those two tools, it’s easy to make a simple, attractive ebook cover. Caveat: Canva doesn’t have any built-in templates for physical book covers, so it works best as a tool for ebook covers. However, there are ways to make it work. If you download a book cover template from CreateSpace, you can upload that template to Canva or another tool like Photoshop or InDesign and use the template as a base.

No matter what option you choose, make sure it looks good! Get feedback on your cover from people you trust to make sure it’s eye-catching and attractive to more than just you. God knows there are times when you’re working on a graphic for so long you totally lose perspective. Extra eyes are a huge help.

Formatting – More Important Than You’d Think!

Formatting is an oft-overlooked part of the self-publishing process. Depending on the channels you will be distributing your book through and the format your book will be published in, you will need to format your book in specific ways. Most distributors will provide you with simple guidelines for formatting ebooks. Very simple formatting works well in ebooks, so if you’re only publishing digitally and your book doesn’t contain complex graphs or images, you can definitely do it yourself.

Formatting for physical publishing takes a bit more work. This write-up over at DIY Book Formats is an excellent overview that can help you figure out how you want to format your book. (Seriously, I learned so much from just that one post.) There are also some really good examples of what certain print formats look like elsewhere on the site, plus more detailed instructions on how to format your book using Word and InDesign. It is totally doable to format your book by yourself, and that’s what most self-published authors do.

Of course, some people prefer to outsource this work. There are professionals that specialize in formatting ebooks and print books. If you’re not the most tech savvy, don’t have much of a design eye, or would prefer to hand this work off to someone else, look into hiring someone to handle this part of the process for you.

ISBNs – What the Heck Are They and Why Do I Need Them?

If you are only planning on publishing an ebook, this is a section you can skim. However, if you’re planning on having your book physically published or are interested in wider distribution for your ebook, listen up!

First, a definition: ISBNs (or International Standard Book Numbers) are unique numbers that can be used to identify your book worldwide. ISBNs are not required for ebooks, though they can be helpful and boost your visibility as an author. For physically published books and audiobooks, though, ISBNs are a must. Giacomo Giammatteo explains how ISBNs work and the process of purchasing them in great detail here. (One important detail that he mentions that I want to emphasize: you should purchase your ISBNs directly from Bowker or whoever your local provider of ISBNs is rather than from CreateSpace or a similar company. Purchasing your own ISBNs gives you more freedom in terms of distribution avenues.)

If you’re in the US, you’ll need to purchase your ISBN through Bowker at this link. Bowker offers discounts on bulk purchases of ISBNs. They also provide barcodes that you can print on your book, which are required for many physical distribution channels. Keep in mind that you need a separate ISBN for every edition of your book. This means that an ebook would get one ISBN, a physical book would get another, and an audiobook would get a third. If you come out with a new edition of your physical book that’s in a different size, that would need another ISBN.

As a budget-conscious writer, I can’t really justify spending the money on ISBNs at the moment, especially since I want to focus on ebook publishing. However, as Giacomo points out in his article, ISBNs can allow you to include your book in more distribution channels and therefore earn more. By skipping out on an ISBN, you miss out on potential sales through libraries and services like OverDrive, even if you’re just publishing digitally. Weigh your options and decide what’s best for you. You can always purchase an ISBN for your ebook after you publish it.

Picking Distributors

There are a huge number of distribution options for a self-published book.

Amazon Kindle is often the first choice of many authors. It’s easy to use and gives you access to millions of readers all over the world. But there are a whole lot more self-publishing options than Kindle, and they’re all worth looking into. Aside from Kindle, you can publish through Apple iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press, the Google Play Store, and more. Working directly with each of these channels is possible and ensures that you’re getting the maximum amount of profit out of your book. Still, managing all those individual channels can be exhausting. That’s where aggregators come in.

In a nutshell, aggregators allow you to publish your book through them. They then get your book into a whole bunch of distribution channels without you having to do a whole bunch of extra work. It’s a good way to maximize the number of eyes that will see your book. The drawback is that aggregators take a cut of every purchase, usually somewhere around 10%. For the amount of work they handle, it seems fair. Aggregators are also usually non-exclusive. You can use multiple aggregators who have different distribution channels to increase your book’s footprint.

There are also lots of options for aggregators, and new ones pop up all the time. The one you’ll hear about most often as an indie author is Smashwords, which distributes to all of the channels I named in the paragraph above along with numerous others. This blog post gives an awesome overview of the top aggregators in the market.

Most of those aggregators are focused on ebooks. Ingram is the top distributor for many physically published books, and is used by indie authors and publishers. Ingram distributes both ebooks and physical books and has a worldwide reach. They are trusted by independent bookstores and chain retailers alike. Amazon’s CreateSpace offers similar services, and many recommend that authors use both CreateSpace and Ingram.

And, Finally, Publish Your Book!

Once you have all your ducks in a row, publish! your! book! Give yourself a pat on the back, go grab a mimosa, and relax for a bit. You earned it.

Have more questions about the self-publishing process? Have some information or resources on self-publishing you’d like to share? Let’s talk in the comments!

A Simple Guide to Self-Publishing

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[Review] Turtles All the Way Down

Mental illness is part of my everyday life. On a good day, it’s quiet background noise, a voice whispering cruel things that my rational self is able to ignore and brush aside. On a bad day, my nerves are jangling, waiting for my anxiety to pounce again and force me into a series of repetitive thoughts that get harder to control as every new thought appears. On a bad day, my brain will settle on something to obsess over and pick, pick, pick at it until I am struggling to get through my day.

So when I heard that John Green, master of writing relatable teenagers with varying degrees of social and/or plain old anxiety, was writing a book with a main character with OCD… I was pretty excited. But I’ve strayed from reading YA in recent years, as I am getting to the point where they no longer feel like they’re for me. Reading about kids in high school feels like reading about an alien planet I once lived on but have no desire to go back to. So I filed the knowledge away to be taken advantage of at another time, figuring I’d maybe read it someday when I had time.

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Luckily, my partner knows me better than I often know myself and put Turtles All the Way Down on hold at our local library branch before the book was even released. (Frugal and romantic! He knows the way to my heart, y’all.) It took a few weeks before a copy was available, but as soon as it was, I started reading.

And… had to stop not too far in.

It wasn’t because the book was bad. Oh, no. It was because it was too good. Reading it spiked my anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t have OCD, but the main character Aza’s fears of germs and disgust of things like the process of eating and digestion, and her constant questioning of whether or not she was real felt extremely familiar.

I powered through it, though. There were so many portions of the story that pinged some core feeling inside me. Aza’s struggle with physical intimacy because of invasive thoughts about germs, her descriptions of “thought spirals” and questions about what controls our thoughts and whether our thoughts are us or not, and the way stressors in her life eventually get her to this point where she feels as if her control over her thoughts is even more limited than normal – so much of it felt like things I had experienced, and the writing is visceral enough that sometimes I had to stop and catch my breath for a minute and remind myself that I was okay.

However, while it felt amazing and made me felt seen to have these kinds of trials put to paper, the thing that really made Turtles feel important was its focus on healing. Note that I don’t say “recovery.” If you’re looking for a book where everything ends very neatly and the main character conquers their mental illness entirely and everything is hunky-dory, don’t expect Turtles to be that book. Aza is not perfect at the end of the novel by any stretch of the imagination. But she has taken the time to use the tools at her disposal to be the best she can be, and that was a deeply important message for me to read. This is a book about healing hurts and knowing that sometimes, even though you have healed, your pain can sometimes try to come back to haunt you, and that’s not the end of the world if you have the right tools to handle the pain when it arrives. It’s also about life going on, and how, despite mental illness often being an unwelcome guest that will likely never leave you, you can still go on to live your life and do all the things you dream of doing.

I felt like John Green summed up that sentiment really well at the end of his acknowledgments.

Lastly, Dr. Joellen Hosler and Dr. Sunil Patel have made my life immeasurably better by providing the kind of high-quality mental health care that unfortunately remains out of reach for too many. My family and I are grateful. If you need mental health services in the United States, please call the SAMHSA treatment referral helpline… It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable. There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

Despite some meandering plot lines and a kind of slowness that drags portions of the book down, I still think this is, if not one of the best, then one of the most important books I’ve read in a while.

How to Edit Your Own Writing Like a Pro, Part 2: Know Thyself

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Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

For part one of this series, “The Basics,” click here.

We all have quirks in the way we write. For some of us (*cough* me), those quirks include long sentences, overuse of commas, and overuse of em dashes. One of my best friends always used to mistype “minute” as “minuet,” not because she didn’t know how to spell the word, but because her fingers tended to jumble up the E and the T. Other people tend to mistype certain phrases – “all of a sudden” becomes “all the sudden,” for example.

Quirks like these are perfectly normal, and sometimes they can even be endearing. Unfortunately, a lot of people’s written quirks are pretty grating and can affect their audience’s experience negatively. Luckily, with some extra attention to detail, most of your more annoying quirks/repeated misspellings/regularly broken grammar rules will disappear.

So, how do you fix things?

The first step to fixing these issues is really analyzing both your own writing and other people’s writing. If you’re a novelist, read some high-quality novels and really take time to look at how they word things. If you’re a blogger, read some blogs written by professionals that have a really strong grasp of English and see how they put things together. Once you’ve done that, go back and look at your own writing. Older pieces will be better for this, as you’ve had some time away from them and they’ll feel a bit more like they were written by someone else. This will help you see your writing with new eyes.

Once you’re looking at your own writing, get really nitpicky about it. Are you using that word correctly? Are your paragraphs and sentences too long? Too short? Are they all one length with little variation? Are you using extra words you don’t need? (“Just” and “suddenly” are often used unnecessarily.)

Identifying these shortcomings can be difficult if you haven’t practiced it or if English isn’t your first language, but it’s a vital part of becoming a better writer and self-editor. Finding out what mistakes you make most often in your writing will help in two important ways. First, it will make your existing writing higher-quality and easier to read. Secondly, it will keep you from making those same mistakes in the future. This will allow you to update old posts and make them easier to read and increase audience engagement in the future by ensuring readers aren’t turned off by easily-avoided errors. With a little editing, everyone’s happier!

How To edit your writing

#Preptober Continues!

There are twenty-two days left until NaNoWriMo. I’m getting a little more scared, but also way more psyched up. My boyfriend and my dad have both decided to participate, which is exciting. I’ve never really done NaNo with anybody besides me, myself, and I. I’m also going to be living in the city while really-for-real-not-quitting-after-three-days participating, which is also awesome. I’m a Real Adult now and the idea of going to write-ins or other local NaNo events isn’t completely scary now. I’m also doing some NaNo-related stuff for work, which means I’m thinking about NaNo all the time instead of just when I’m in productive leisure mode (the rarest mode of them all).

The most exciting piece of prep I’ve done so far this month has been writing a synopsis for my novel. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, considering that I haven’t been 100% sure what my story was even really going to be about. But I tried to treat it like I used to treat thesis statements in my college essays. It’s a possible roadmap for where I’m going that will get me asking the right questions, but I may go down a back road and find something totally unexpected but way better than what I started with. I may end up writing something entirely unrelated to the synopsis/thesis and end up having to rethink it altogether. And that’s fine. The point is that I have a starting point and have told myself what direction to start going in.

Here’s the synopsis so far:

 

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Add me as a Writing Buddy on NaNoWriMo.org! My author name/username is missbluestocking.

 

In writing just those first few hundred words, I learned some new things. The city people are definitely going to be some of the main antagonists in this story, but I didn’t have a fully realized idea of how that would happen. I still think I need to rework some of my ideas about them. Like, for example, I don’t necessarily want to write a story where violence is the answer/the main conflict. But the premise I’ve given myself leans that way. So my current options are: 1) continue with this premise and then subvert the violence paradigm by having Masha always choose nonviolence and use more creative problem-solving, or, 2) change up my premise and have the issue be more internal. The girl that Masha picks up – she’s damaged. She’s been stewing in a deeply toxic ideology for a long time. Maybe that girl causes problems because her social training just doesn’t work in a society so radically different from hers. Maybe she tries to apply city rules to the community she moves into and it causes conflict.

It’s an interesting choice to make. I’m not entirely sure how I want to go about it. I have this idea of what I want this book to be, what I want it to say and mean, but I haven’t yet figured out how to get there. I’m really happy I’m already thinking about these questions, though. This story has been rattling around in my brain for months, but this is the first time I’ve actually really put pen to paper and done anything real with it. I definitely think that that’s worth doing before November 1st, especially if you’re a Planner rather than a Pantser. (That is, if you prefer to plan ahead for your novel rather than flying by the seat of your pants.)

I still have a lot of questions that I need to ask myself in the next few weeks, but I feel really happy about where I’m at right now. Definitely feeling more confident in my ability to finish this year than I have ever felt before.

How are you preparing for NaNo? Are you a Planner or a Pantser? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

 

How to Edit Your Own Writing Like a Pro: Part 1 – The Basics

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Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

When it comes to writing, fresh eyes and a second opinion are invaluable tools. Having someone who can look over your writing and make it flow better and catch all the typos and misspellings you weren’t able to catch on your own can take your blog post, short story, or novel from “meh” to “amazing.” (Trust me, I know – the majority of my job is taking the work of okay writers and making their writing sound like it was written by a great writer.)

Fortunately, you usually don’t really need a professional copy editor like myself to fix the biggest issues with your work. A lot of the problems I see are simple fixes, and with a little practice on spotting those issues, you’ll be able to fix half the issues in your work so that when you actually do have someone go over it, they can focus more on the quality of the content rather than fixing a bunch of easily-avoided errors.

The absolute most important part of this is taking the time to do a first edit yourself. I know that probably sounds like common sense to a lot of you, but for those of you – or, if I’m being honest, us – who want the instant gratification of our stuff being Out There For People To Read Right Now Immediately, this can be challenging. But most blog posts only take a few minutes to read, and investing five extra minutes in your blog post or the latest chapter of your story on Wattpad is not going to kill you, and it will improve your audience’s experience. Whether you take some time to read it out loud or just read over it and check for mistakes, it’s worth it.

“But what do I look for when I’m editing?” you ask. “How am I supposed to tell when something doesn’t sound right or isn’t working? I suck at grammar!” My simplest answer to this is reading out loud. It’s a lot easier to catch when something’s funky in your writing when you have to say it and hear it, especially if you’re a native English speaker. You just know when something isn’t quite right. This works great for issues like:

  • Tense switches, where authors can’t seem to decide when their sentence is taking place. Like this:

I was walking down the street and then we see each other.

The word “was” tells me that this sentence is taking place in the past. But then the word “see” tells me that this sentence is taking place in the present. It makes for a very confusing experience as a reader and an editor, because I often have to use context clues from other sentences around the problem sentence to decide whether I need to change this sentence to “I was walking down the street and then we saw each other” or “I am walking down the street and then we see each other.”

  • Grammar issues, like punctuation being outside of quotation marks, or apostrophes in the wrong place. If you have trouble with things like grammar and punctuation, your best bet is honestly to google it. I do it all the time. Every time a teacher or professor has tried to teach me grammar, I have really struggled to understand it. It goes in one ear and out the other. (What’s a past participle? Hell if I know.) I understand how the English language works and what sounds right, but I can’t always explain why. Knowing why can be really important in editing, because English is a mutant language with a ton of exceptions to all of its rules, not to mention a ton of rules you have to memorize in the first place. If you’re unsure about a rule, the easiest thing to do is go to Google. It will often lead you to places like Grammar Girl’s articles where different grammatical concepts will be explained to you in a simple way that is usually pretty easy to remember. But if you don’t remember, it’s totally okay to look it up again. (And again… and maybe a few more times after that because grammar is hard.)
  • Problems with sentence structure. I will see a sentence that’s just weird. Usually these sentences aren’t wrong, exactly, but they just don’t quite come out right when you read them. I’ve been guilty of this. There’s a lot of different ways that this can happen, but here’s an example:

How foolish that was I have no words to express.

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with this sentence. (At least, as far as I can tell – someone correct me if I’m wrong!) It just sounds weird. And there’s a better way to write it so that it flows better: “I have no words to express how foolish that was.” See how nicely the second version flows? Just changing the words around a bit made the meaning of the sentence much clearer and easier to read.

And that’s really the whole point of editing: you want to make your writing easier to read. We could get really nitty-gritty and talk about every possible issue your writing could ever have, but the details aren’t as important as it is for you to keep the goal of making your writing as accessible for your intended audience at the forefront of your mind.

Have specific questions about editing? Feel like I missed something important? Leave a comment and I’ll answer your question in a future post!

 

White Men's Grooming Pinterest Graphic

Yes, It’s September, and Yes, I’m Already Prepping for NaNoWriMo

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Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

It honestly feels weird to have already started prepping this early. The 4 other times I’ve started NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar with the challenge) I have waited until the absolute last minute to get started. November 1st rolls around, I remember I made a commitment to myself to do NaNo again, and I just wing it and see what happens. I’ve finished twice this way, and failed another two times. While it’s fun to just let myself type out whatever comes to mind, I feel like I’m not really the kind of person who wants to deal with the stress of pulling two thousandish words a day out of thin air as I hope for the best anymore. My time is a lot more limited and I need to be thoughtful about how I work to make sure I can actually accomplish my goals and not feel overwhelmed.

So, for the first time, I’ve been planning. I have a setting sketched out (a post-apocalyptic America where everything isn’t a gigantic mess and people are actually doing pretty okay–I’ve gotten lots of inspo from the solarpunk movement and have done a lot of thinking about non-capitalist economies), I have a main character (her name is Masha, she’s butch as hell and flies a solar-powered airship), and a general conflict (City People are weird and holding too tight to the old ways, while everyone else just does their best to avoid the City People, but, of course, trade happens between those groups, and things get ugly at one point).

Every time I get an idea, whether it’s for plot stuff or character stuff or setting or whatever else, I make sure to write it down in my journal so I can go back to it later and not forget it when it’s crunch time in mid-November and I’m losing my mind trying to figure out where this story goes and how it works. And it feels really good to be taking care of that ahead of time and feel like I’m setting myself up for success rather than just chugging along and hoping I don’t fail.

I’m also really excited about this story. I feel like I haven’t had a “good” idea in a long time, but my brain popped this one out and it felt like I absolutely needed to do something with it. It’s a culmination of a lot of my interests and sensibilities, with a main character who has been rattling around in my head for a while but just didn’t seem to fit anywhere, in a setting I really care about. So maybe it’s way too freakin’ early to be trying to plan out my book for NaNo, but it’s exactly the right time for me to be getting pumped about spending a month churning this novel out.