I recently shared my experiences self-publishing a book for the first time, and since then I’ve had several writers reach out to me to ask about the nitty gritty behind it all: Which platform I chose and why, what kind of timelines I gave myself, and more.
There are many great reasons to self-publish. I’ve been writing for years already and had published four books via traditional publishing previous to my self-publishing venture.
Traditional publishing is great, and still very much needed, but it’s not always very empowering. You really are leaving your heart and soul to the mercy of someone else’s editorial mandate when you submit a manuscript.
Because my latest book, Going Beyond the Little White Book: A Contemporary Guide to Tarot, was something that I wanted to have as part of my tarot business – my very own product – it was important for me to keep control of it every step of the way. (I talk more about this in my earlier post.)
One thing I notice with self-published authors is that there can be a tendency to justify the decision.
You don’t need a publisher or an agent to make you an author. A writer’s work is to write. Stick to that and you’ll be fine.
Which self-publishing platform is best?
There are a lot really great self-publishing platforms out there these days, and many have cost-effective options.
As you’re checking out self-publishing platforms, ask yourself:
Do you want this to be a print of book, an ebook, or both?
Do you want to do the layout and design yourself, or will you hire someone?
How much money do you want to spend on this project?
How much time are you willing to invest in seeing this through to completion?
Originally, I had set out to write Going Beyond as an ebook, but by the time it was done, I had a 300+ page manuscript on my hands and felt it would be better to offer a print version, too.
At first, I thought I would handle the layout myself. I’d seen some good books people had created with Blurb.com, but once I started fiddling around with their software I knew I was in over my head.
I don’t have a design background. Even though self-publishing platforms are set up to allow you to truly do it all yourself from start to finish, there is still a learning curve. It’s not as easy as simply copying and pasting your Word document into their software. (I wish…)
There’s also the question of the cover. I didn’t want my book to look it had been self-published, but again, since I’m not a designer, I didn’t feel confident that I could meet my own expectations.
Time and money
Don’t treat your time as if it’s free and indispensable. It isn’t.
Keep your priorities clear. Are you a writer? Then your time is best spent writing. For me, being a writer and a business owner, I knew I couldn’t afford to take too much time away from my work and my clients just to figure out how to layout my book.
If you already have design skills, you could probably do it all yourself. But if you don’t, you will have to ask yourself whether it makes sense for you to invest the time and energy into learning a new skill.
I looked into hiring a designer, and there are a lot of folks out there who work with self-published authors.
You can also choose a self-publishing platform that will do it all for you, which is what I landed on with Lulu.com.
For a fee of $1,000 flat, they set me up with their amazing team.
There was still work to do on my part. Hiring Lulu.com meant that my book had to pass their legal review (they check for hate speech, propaganda, use of copyrighted material, etc.), and that my author photo and any blurbs I’d collected were cleared for permission before we moved ahead. Quality control is good.
Once we were through the red tape, things moved very quickly and they produced a design and format that I never would have been able to do on my own.
The whole process took a huge weight off my shoulders and freed me up to focus on my clients and create some promotion plans for Going Beyond.
In other words, it was money well-spent.
My fee to Lulu.com wasn’t my only cost along the way. I also hired a copyeditor to proofread my manuscript.
I really, really recommend that you do this if you are self-publishing. Yes, you can proofread your own work, but it takes time to do that. You’re also more likely to skim over any errors because you’ve already looked at your work long enough.
Hiring a professional copyeditor puts your book in the hands of someone who actually has the time and expertise to comb through it. (If you’re in need of a referral, I worked with Ruth Zuchter.)
Having a clean, corrected manuscript made my work with Lulu.com extremely smooth, and definitely helped to get the book out sooner, because I wasn’t combing through it page by page at the last minute, which is what you will end up doing otherwise.
This was an additional cost, but again, totally worth it.
Distribution and promotion
One thing you’ll want to look for in any self-publishing platform is where your book will be available once it’s finished.
I went with Lulu.com because they had access to major distribution channels. They also took care of the ISBN number and worked with me on figuring out pricing.
Because the one thing you don’t want is to create something that no one can actually get their hands on, right?
That’s also why it’s necessary to think about promotion as you’re going down this road. You will have to do this even if you’re working with a traditional publisher, so don’t treat it like it’s an added chore. I know it’s always easy or comfortable to toot your own horn, but if you don’t, how will people ever discover your work?
Someone needs to know you exist.
Find blogs that focus on the kind of writing you do. Find bloggers who’ve reviewed books that are similar to yours, or books that influenced your work.
Check out podcasts you can pitch yourself to.
Set up a Goodreads author page.
Ask your friends to help spread the word about your book.
The promotion is the fun part. It’s the celebration.
Format and inventory
In the good ol’ days of self-publishing, authors would end up having to commit to big print runs of their books and then live with them all for however long it took to sell them off.
Trust me on this: Unless you have created a bestseller, it takes a really long time to sell books. It’s why I never carry too much inventory of my own work, because I don’t want to live among boxes for the rest of my life.
Lulu.com is a print-on-demand service. When someone buys a book from their website, that customer receives a freshly printed copy. There is no minimum print-run to commit to, and no printing costs to factor in.
This works really well for the author, too. If I have a tarot workshop or other event coming up where I would like to sell some books, I can just order the number I need. Easy breezy.
Lulu.com also took care of ebook formats. Everyone wins: Readers have a choice of print or digital formats, and I’m not running up unnecessary costs by taking on more product than I need.
Aside from the writing itself, my book spent about two month with the copyeditor, and two months with Lulu.com’s team.
In terms of promotion, my general rule is that a book can be considered new for about a year, but that doesn’t mean I’m pushing it every single day. I do make time a few days out of each month to pitch it to bloggers and other folks who I think might be interested.
Really, I think a big part of finding satisfaction with self-publishing is in making sure you create a product you are proud of. You need to be willing to invest in your work – either through time, money, or skills – no matter what.
Disclaimer: I’m not paid by Lulu.com and was not asked to write this review of their services. I’m only sharing my experiences with this company in the hopes that it will help other writers make informed decisions.