How to Self-Publish


How can you publish your own writings?

A lot of my friends are asking me about the process I used to publish - I think many of them would like to write their own books. Let me share my recent experiences for everyone (while they are fresh!):

First and foremost, you have to be a writer. To some, this will be incredibly painful, and to others, it will be excruciating. The only 2 primary requirements are time and determination. You must write alone, stay focused, and you can't be interrupted. You will spend hundreds of hours writing ... and doing nothing else.

Are there any tricks to writing that work?

Yes, and I highly recommend them, but you must use all 3:

Trick #1: the more you write, the better you will get.

Trick #2: the more you read, the better you can write.

Trick #3: the more feedback you get from others, the more you will understand how well you write.

That's it. Those 3 tricks are all that you need. You don't need a great idea or an original plot; if your writing does not contain these things, then you'll find that out from the feedback that you get. Then you can fix it.
(The most-important trick is #3. Without feedback, you probably will never get to where you want to be.)

When will you be a good writer?

I have a very clear definition: "A good writer is someone who can look at something that they wrote and recognize that it is crap." Until you can recognize your own crap, you can't know when you are writing well.

The VIKINGS! Trilogy has been written and rewritten many times. First it was in 3rd person, then 1st person, and finally in its current form. Why did I rewrite it so many times? Because it wasn't perfect! And anything less than perfection is crap when you are the artist that creates it. (And I am still collecting edits from readers to go into the next version! Improvement never ends!)

Can I can get published quicker by going the easy route?

What 'easy route'? Hey, maybe you think that you can just write kids books or poetry; the text of 'Hop on Pop' by Dr. Seuss or 'The Raven' by Poe could fit into two pages of a novel. But guess what? The competition for success there is the fiercest, and if you think that those writers put less effort into their products, then guess again. In many cases, they put in more ... and require more hours working (and marketing) to earn success.

Anyone who puts in the time, has the determination, and uses these 3 tricks will eventually become a good writer. How soon that happens depends on your level of effort. Now, let's say that you do these things and produce something that you feel others would love to read .... now what?

Publishing and writing have nothing to do with each other. Once you become a writer, and the hat fits, it's time to put that hat on the shelf and try on another hat: a businessman's hat. Artists write; businessmen (and businesswomen) sell. And, if you thought that your transformation into becoming a writer was painful, break out the morphine; you have yet to experience pain.

How do you build a valid business plan?

Research! Research! Research!

Read books on marketing; if you try to reinvent the wheel, you will most likely end up building a cube. The best processes are well-documented, easily-accessible, and change with the advent of each technology; read only the newest sources, or advice from authors that you trust.

Identify your audience. Talk to your audience. Study your audience; learn what they like and what they don't. Read the authors that they like. Read stuff that is popular to examine them (this is why I read Twilight, several romance novels, and The Hunger Games series was very informative!). Identify multiple target audiences; just one is not enough. Then decide how you should target marketing to each group.

A friend and I were recently discussing revolutionary video game designs. We discussed numerous great ideas for systems that don't exist today, multi-player options that can be done but aren't, and finally I realized that we were going about it all wrong; rather than focus on what is technologically cool, we should have been asking ourselves "what experience do gamers want?" and proceed from there. That is what marketing is all about, and what writers need to focus on: what do readers want, and how does your writing provide that?

Remember: you can't make anyone buy anything; all you can do is make certain that as many people as possible know that your books exist. You don't want people to buy your books who won't like them; their reviews will reflect that their expectations were not met.

Can I publish using one website?

No; I had to use numerous online companies to get The VIKINGS! Trilogy ready for publishing as ebooks and paperbacks. Each was a pain in its own way.

Google: Expect to spend countless hours on a search engine. If you hope for every reader to know that your book exists, then you need to get your book in front of them. But who are your target readers? Where do readers of your genre find out about new books? Where/when do they get together? Who is reviewing your type of books? Most of your potential readers won't come looking for you; you need to reach out to them; before you publish, you need to collect their emails now; as large a list of these folk as possible. And guess what? The best reviewers change often.

VistaPrint: You will need business cards, fliers, and signs; they don't appear magically. VistaPrint is one of the many online printers, and they have a graphics tool, but one way or another, you will need to create/edit your own graphics - better get good at it now. Your first efforts will probably suck (mine did), and you have to be careful of stealing images off of the internet; using someone else's artwork for a business can get you sued. Start early ... and keep improving your efforts.

Bowker: For each book, you will need an ISBN number to publish; many publishers will provide these at a cost, but the best/cheapest is from Bowker. Buying just 1 ISBN is expensive, but no one gets rich off of one novel, so you might as well get the package discount. But Bowker is confusing - they are also a self-publisher, and their confusing website tries to trick you into using their services, so you could be signing up for more than you intended (if you're not careful).

Kindle: Kindle was the easiest online business that I had to deal with, but probably because I already knew so much about it. You don't need to worry about printing issues; add the image of your cover art as one file, download their template, and copy and paste your novel text into it. There are some details, like page headers and chapter-breaks, that you will have to finesse, but these are pretty straightforward.

CreateSpace: In all of these online businesses, you need to create an account, and for the inner-part of your paperback books, the process is similar to that from Kindle: download their template, revise it with your novel, and upload it. However, their requirements for cover art are not easy. You can use their automated cover creator, but they have lots of little rules of what is acceptable and what will be rejected; these rules are not well-explained, and their auto-generated emails telling you why your artwork was rejected are practically worthless. Remember, people only look at the text of books when they like the overall image; cover art, single photos, font size, style, and color - everything must be perfect.

To submit covers such as mine, good luck; I had a nightmare of a time, and no one on their Help lines knew anything. It must be formatted exactly as they want, and the instructions that one person gives will cause another person to reject you, and you can only speak to the idiot Help desk; you never get to talk directly to those who rejected you, assuming that you were not rejected by an automated process (never looked at by a human). Even artwork that I built using their own templates was rejected.

Then, it has to be in a PDF format of a specific size, so you may need special software to create it. Also, their printing process can vary, so your spine may be misprinted by 1/8 inch (in any direction), and they consider that acceptable. For best printing, you must design your covers/spine so that a little variation does not make it look terrible.

Freelanced: Unless you are a talented artist, or just using a plain cover, you will need a cover artist. I went to several sites, but the one I chose my artist from was Freelanced. Thousands of artists sign up and display their artwork, and you can contact them directly that way. Or, you can post an ad, such as "I am looking for an experienced cover artist for 3 historical fiction novels. Images must be similar to <insert your favorite fantasy artists> and contain multiple characters ..." and you will not have to wait long. Within 48 hours, over 100 artists applied to my ad. Most of them were worthless for my purposes; cartoonists, sketch artists, and one was a wood-burner; of them, I selected about 15 who were actually acceptable. Some were outrageously-priced, others didn't have the right style, and some were more amateur than others. I picked the best that I could afford, and I got lucky; I was delighted with the quality of my artwork. But I had to wait 6 weeks for each cover; when you make your plans, be sure to schedule at least this much time for your artist.

Will it cost a lot of $$$?

Cost depends on many factors, most of them under your control. The more that you do yourself, the cheaper it will be. For example, I went to the Kindle site, created a profile, and prepared each book as an ebook myself - I needed my (pre-purchased) ISBN numbers, but this was relatively inexpensive, taking only a lot of time. CreateSpace could have done all of this for me with one-click per book, but they would have charged me $75.00 for each click.

You can pay hundreds or thousands to get someone else to edit your book, and you can pay hundreds or thousands to get someone else to create and format your covers, and you can pay hundreds or thousands to get someone else to market your book. None of these are required costs, but someone has to do each. For the cheapest rates, look to that person in the mirror.

When you are ready to publish, send me an email with any questions; I can expand on each of these comments in great detail.

Until then, happy writing!