When I tell people I’m a writer, often one of the first questions I get is, “Have you considered self-publishing?” I’ll try to succinctly explain that that’s not the right publishing path for me, that there’s actually a lot more involved than just uploading a file to Amazon or CreateSpace, and that I’d rather have an agent and publishing house on my team. But for those of you who are thinking about self-publishing, here are the main things you’ll want to do to make sure you have a quality product that reaches its target audience. (And yes, I’m treating books as products here. While writing is a creative art, publishing — including self-publishing — is a business.)
- Hire an editor. You shouldn’t rely solely on your critique partners or beta readers to find all the weak points in your novel. CPs are great, but in most cases they’re not professional editors. A professional editor will help you make sure your book is the best it can be. Finding the right editor will require some research, though. Look at recent books in your genre and category that you enjoyed and check the acknowledgments to see who edited them. If that editor does freelance work, reach out to him/her and ask for a sample edit. Of course, you’ll want to make sure his/her services are within your budget. I haven’t done a lot of research on freelance editors, but Jordan McCollum wrote a great introduction to finding your perfect editor and editing level on Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. If you’re looking for an editor, I recommend reading the article. (And once you’ve worked with an editor, you’ll want to hire a proofreader, too. Nothing will make me abandon a book faster than typos or grammatical errors, and I know I’m not alone in that.)
- Hire a professional cover designer. If you’re not a graphic designer or trained in some other type of visual art that translates well to designing book covers, you’ll want to work with someone who has that expertise. An enticing cover can draw people in, making them click from a web page with hundreds of thumbnails to a description of your book. The wrong cover could have readers passing your book because the image doesn’t match the tone or type of story they’re looking for. (Side note: make sure your cover matches the tone of your book. Otherwise you may not reach the audience you’re trying to reach, and reviewers will be quick to point this out.)
- Have a marketing plan. You may have a great book and a gorgeous cover, but if no one knows about it, it’s not doing you any good. Plan ahead so you can build buzz before your release date and keep the conversation going once your book is out.
- Reach out to bloggers who review your category and genre and ask if they’d be willing to review your book. (Though you’ll want to make sure they’ve liked other books that are similar to yours, first. If your book isn’t a good fit for them, their reviews will reflect that.) If you want to do a blog tour (and you should seriously consider it if you’re self-publishing), contact the hosts of reader, writer, and related niche blogs. Keep in mind that not every blogger will post reviews; but if you ask, some may let you to give an interview or write a guest post on a relevant topic. Research the blog ahead of time so you know what type of post the host(s) may be willing to consider.
- Consider having a cover reveal, giveaways, or sneak peaks to build anticipation before the release. Keep in mind, giveaways don’t necessarily need to be copies of your book; in fact, readers love prize packs that are related to the book. They’ll get something personal and meaningful, and they’ll still buy their own copies of your book.
- Reach out to your local newspaper, radio, and other media and ask if they’d be interested in doing a story on a new local author. Make sure you have a media kit ready to go on your author website so they know you’re a professional, and so they can easily grab quotes, image files, and other information if they need it at the last minute.
- Reach out to local bookstores and libraries. If you’re publishing in print as well as digital, keep in mind that most stores and libraries won’t stock a self-published book unless a customer requests it. Rather than get annoyed with your bookseller/librarian, ask your readers to request your book at their local stores and libraries. And remember, while book signings are great opportunities to connect with readers, they aren’t your only options. Ask your library if you can give a writing workshop, or if your book has a certain niche audience, see if you can do a program that connects with that audience. (For instance, if you wrote a historical fiction novel set during the Civil War, see if you can present on an interesting piece of the research that went into your novel.)
So, there’s an overview of some of the things you’ll want to do and think about before you self-publish. Have I missed anything? What else would you recommend?