Self-Publishing/Independent Publishing – Avoiding the Perils

These days, many authors are venturing into the world of self-publishing, now often referred to as independent publishing.

It can be a great thing to do for so many reasons. But it can also make you vulnerable to being ripped off.

I’ve recently been approached by a number of people who have fallen into this trap and are seeking advice.

They have paid thousands of dollars to have their book published and haven’t yet seen a copy of it.

Unfortunately, it’s often too late by the time this has happened.

So, in this post I’m hoping to provide practical tips to help you avoid these perils and others.

BEWARE SHINY PUBLISHING COMPANIES WHO PROMISE YOU THE WORLD

Self-publishing should not cost you thousands. Companies are preying on the elderly, and people in rural areas who don’t have the knowledge to know that they are being charged way too much.

If a company doesn’t have cost indications on their website then be wary.

Check out the company you plan to publish with.

  1. Ask them for references – and always follow these references up.
  2. Also do Google searches for online reviews and feedback about the company.
  3. Contact your local writer’s centre or organisation to see if they have any experience dealing with these companies. You can even ask the question on social media.
  4. Join Facebook Groups  or pages like The e-book experiment  and Self publishing questions where you’ll have a forum to ask questions as you follow the path to publishing your own book.
  5. Beware of fake testimonials and awards on websites. If a company states, “We are the nation’s leading independent publisher”, investigate this statement. Make sure it’s not just something they are saying about themselves to make them look better.
  6. If you decide to self-publish through a company, it can be good to use someone who has been personally referred to you by an author who has had a great experience with them.

10 TOP WRITING TIPS COVER - For adults - Discover the writer in youI’m not going to delve into the stages of self-publishing here. But yes, your book should be properly edited before you publish it, it should have a well designed cover, and you should ‘tag’ it so that readers who search for your book will be able to find it.

And if you intend to publish online then you should spend time online familiarising yourself with the self-publishing world and learning about other people’s experiences.

THE PUBLISHING PART

E-Books
You can publish your book as an e-book through Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Pubit (Barnes and Noble) or Kobo’s Writing Life.

You don’t have to pay thousands to get someone to do this for you. It’s something you can do yourself. It takes patience, but it’s worth the time and effort to do it properly.

Publishers provide free guides on how to do it:

Amazon – Free book, Building Your Book for Kindle
S
mashwords – Free Style Guide
P
ubIt – Not quite as straightforward but they have FAQs that can help you – and generally the formatting will be the same or similar for all online publishers. You might also find this article helpful.
Kobo – You’ll find formatting information on the Kobo Content Conversion guide.

10 TOP WRITING TIPS COVER - For adults - Ideas and InspirationGetting the format right is one of the most time consuming and essential parts of producing an e-book. If it’s not right, your file will be rejected so it’s worth taking the time.

I’m not advocating for any particular publishing system, but I have published on both Amazon and Smashwords with some success. I haven’t tried Pubit or Kobo but I’m sure their formatting and marketing would be similar.

Print Books – POD (Print on Demand)

Print on Demand can be a way to publish small numbers of print books, making it more affordable. What this means is that you only publish the number you want.

Lightning Source, Lulu and Createspace all provide these services.

Lightning Source has a print and shipping calculator so you can work out exactly how much you’ll have to pay to get your print books published and shipped.

Lulu Books also has a cost calculator on their site.

If there is no cost calculator on site then I would be wary. Don’t let any high pressure sales person talk you into paying more than you can afford or more than you want to pay.

MARKETING

Those shiny companies I mentioned earlier often ask for thousands of dollars to market your book and they don’t do anything you can’t do yourself. They don’t increase your Amazon or your search engine ranking significantly. These are things you have to do yourself by having a regular presence in the online world and getting yourself out there.

Some companies charge around $2,000 to set up your website, get you on Facebook and Twitter etc – but these are all things you can do yourself for little or no cost.

  1. Set up your own website/blog – you can do this for free through Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, LiveJournal, Weebly and others. Read more here.
  2. You will find articles and guides on the internet about how to set up your platform through these mediums. Try to stick with sites that are linked to the actual platform itself. It might sound like a lot of work, but you could be saving yourself thousands of dollars by doing setting up your own blog or website.
  3. To set up your own Facebook account is not hard. Facebook will tell you how.
  4. Same with Twitter.

Marketing an e-book is hard.

For readers, it’s not like walking into a bookshop and being able to choose from what’s available. There are millions of books online so people have to ‘search’ to find yours. That’s why it’s important to have a strong online presence so people will hear about your books.

The Kobo Publishing guide has some extra tips on marketing. There may be other free guides in the marketplace too. Online resources are also available. Some reputable sites are The Creative Penn and Writer’s Digest.

Want to make your own book trailer, The Creative Penn tells you how. You’ll also find marketing tutorials and posts at Writer’s Digest.

My rule of thumb is ‘don’t pay for anything you can do yourself’. You’ll find the end result more satisfying and you’ll learn more about what you’re doing so that you can avoid the pitfalls.

I hope you found this piece helpful.

If you have any other independent publishing tips to share, please feel free to do this in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

 

SELF PUBLISHING – One Author’s Experience

In a world where it seems increasingly harder for new authors to get their work published by mainstream publishers, many are turning to self publishing; some with great success.

Today on my blog Tania McCartney talks about her self publishing experience.

Tania, what made you decide to take the self publishing road?

I’ve received enough publisher rejection slips to pâpier maché the Outback. There’s been a lot of despair, frustration and tears shed in this writer’s lifetime, trust me. But I kept telling myself that if Harry Potter was knocked back 14 times before conquering the world, I can grant myself the wholesome clinging to a shred of hope.

Forging ahead despite setbacks is easy for me because I love to write, and spending four years in Beijing with our kids certainly provided lots of creative fodder. But loving what you do doesn’t mean it can’t frustrate and disappoint you. After completing three children’s picture book manuscripts in 2007 and sending them religiously to a long list of publishers in China, Australia and the States, it was very despairing to watch time slip away – with nought but ‘we’re considering, we’ll get back to you in 8-12 weeks’ slips in the mail.

These slips are the equivalent of a glassed-in bamboo stick to a hungry panda bear; a wee bit tormenting. And they block out a large chunk of your life because most publishers like to be exclusively offered manuscripts. Nonetheless, each ‘we’re considering’ slip took centre-stage on my fridge, where its edges slowly began to curl before being removed and binned with the corresponding rejection letter.

I became almost immune to the disappointment. Almost. It affected me but at least it didn’t completely swamp and disable me like it did when I was younger.

So, what to do when you’re really sold on a story idea, you know it’s good and you’re just not connecting to the right ‘make it happen’ person? Well, what you do, is you publish it yourself.

And that’s what I did.

Was self publishing a daunting prospect?

The self-publishing process, at first glance, is most certainly overwhelming. Now that I have three successful self-published books in the bag, the single most frequent question I hear is ‘but how did you do it?’. I must admit, when I first passed thought to self-publishing my Riley and the Sleeping Dragon manuscript, my head was swamped with an enormous ocean and there was that original, ambitious thought, bobbing in the centre of that ocean – a teensy speck amongst the galloping waves.

Yes, it was a little bit overwhelming – especially as I was living in a place where English is a by-product and red tape binds every move you make. Naturally, despite living in China, I would publish the book in Australia, but I wanted to have it printed in China, and also distribute it amongst the expat community in Beijing and other cities like Shanghai and Chengdu.

Where did you start your self publishing journey?

I took small steps. I’ve written and edited countless articles and manuscripts and I have to say there is not much more valuable than the opinion of someone you respect. So I asked some brutally honest people to read my manuscript and the feedback was good. Shortly afterwards, I took it to the most important critics of all – the kids. I selected my test audience wisely, ie: no ‘YesKids’ – I wanted critical appraisal and I sought it of various ages. The test audience reaction was also excellent. So far, so good.

RESEARCH

Next was researching the target market. I needed to understand who it was for (the English-speaking expat community in China was my initial focus, with Australian children a target for when I returned home), and what ages and what genre the book fell into. Because the project was so large and I was doing it on my own, my main focus was penetrating the expat community in China, and as a well-known family matters columnist and features editor for several English language magazines, I was fortunate to have a high level of exposure and marketing aid to succeed, not only in Beijing but other major Chinese cities.

I also needed to seek a niche. As a multi-media book combining scenic photos, graphics, photos of objects and cartoon illustrations, I knew the layout of the book was unusual. I also knew the travelogue style was unique and therefore felt confident it would attract attention in an oversaturated market. I honestly feel that seeking a solid niche is vital for new books to stand out.

ISBNS

Gathering the basics to actually publish the book was very straight forward. I contacted Thorpe-Bowker, who are the Australian provider of ISBNs, by email. Within days, I received a freshly-baked batch of 10 ISBNs at a very affordable price. They likewise helped me organize a barcode at minimal cost. I then contacted the National Library of Australia for my Cataloguing in Publication Entry data, and received it by email shortly afterwards.

Whilst waiting for these things to arrive, I sourced an illustrator online. This was possibly the most difficult step – finding someone reliable and passionate and affordable. I used a Canadian whose work was good but whose time management skills and demands sent me into a flying panic close to book launch time. Finding the right illustrator is absolutely crucial – not only for their talent and style, but for the author/illustrator relationship. I have since found a new artist who is an author’s dream and I will subsequently work with Kieron Pratt on all Riley books in the series.

SOURCING THE RIGHT SOFTWARE

Once I began working the manuscript into picture form, I found I needed to buy new software (Adobe Illustrator) in order to create print ready files for my printer. This cost a few hundred dollars and was a Godsend. Learning how to implement and use this software was vital, and I’m still learning how to use it effectively, three books later.

Whilst working on the book files, I began researching how to list my books with Nielsen Book Data and Global Books in Print, and to begin contacting both the media and literature organizations such as the Children’s Book Council of Australia, various state writing centres, the Australian School Library Association and others. I also had to send a copy of my book to the National Library, for their records.

What did you do about printing?

I located a reliable printer (in Beijing). My first two print runs were conducted through this printer, and I swapped to a different printer for the third print run, just as we were leaving China. Again, shopping around for the right one is crucial. A quality relationship is almost as vital as the quality of the actual printed product. Since coming home to Australia, I worked with Ligare, an established printing company, on my second book in the Riley series – Riley and the Dancing Lion: A journey around Hong Kong (Nov 09).

When did it all come together?

My first print run of Riley and the Sleeping Dragon arrived in November 2008, only days before my book launch in Beijing, and the book was a huge success. It sold over 2000 copies during our last two months in China, and has since sold another 1000 since we returned home in January 2009. It helped enormously to have the media exposure through the magazines I worked for in Beijing, and both my books (I also published a memoir entitled Beijing Tai Tai) continue to sell extremely well in several Chinese cities.

I was very nervous about bringing Riley and the Sleeping Dragon home to Australia. Before coming home and once on home soil, I spent countless hours researching and implementing how to get my book into the mainstream market here. I was enormously grateful to be taken on by a major book distributor – Dennis Jones & Associates – since early 2009 – and this company now carries all three books.

This past year, I have read Riley and the Sleeping Dragon at countless schools, libraries, clubs and events. I began constructing teaching modules on book writing and publishing to be presented with book readings, and even implemented a successful Writer in Residence programme at a Canberra school that mimicked the production of the book. In August, I was a Children’s Book Council visiting author for Book Week in the ACT and Riley and the Sleeping Dragon has just been featured in the Australian Booksellers Association’s Kids Reading Guide for 2009/2010.

Thanks for sharing your amazing journey with us, Tania and congratulations on all you have achieved.

I’m sure you will be an inspiration to others who are thinking of taking the self publishing road.

For more information about Tania, check out www.taniamccartney.com &  www.taniamccartneypress.blogspot.com

Dee