So you've finally finished that short story, novella or novel you've been working on and you want to get your work out there for all, or some, to see. Where do you go?
In the old days, you could mail a hard copy to an agent or Publisher and wait around for months to see if anyone bothered to read it or it was banished to a slushpile before its ultimate demise in the local landfill. Assuming your work was read, and green-lit for publication, you might get an advance then get to sit back and wait a year to see it appear on a book shelf in a store.
Your alternative to this lengthy process was to sell a kidney and pay an exorbitant amount of money to a vanity publisher who would run off a few dozen copies of your books and mail them to your doorstep. From there, you'd begin a campaign of begging at local bookstores, gifting to friends and family, and selling your prose from the trunk of your car like a drug dealer. Eventually, all those leftover prints would languish in your garage, feeding countless generations of insects and mold spores.
Thankfully, those days are over.
Today, we have Self-publishing, where we, the Authors, get to decide when people see our work. Better yet, as Internet Entrepreneurs, we control everything. Cover, content and marketing. For many aspiring writers, this may sound daunting, but it's really not. Self-publishing is actually very easy to do.
First off, ignore the naysayers. Traditional publishers and authors will often look down their noses at us Indie, self-publishers. They don't want us playing in their market, taking money they could have gotten. Friends and family might roll their eyes, scoffing at your idea to publish or telling you there's no money in writing. Forget all that crap. If you want to publish, you can. YOU are all that stands in the way.
WHERE DO I START?
That's a question I hear a lot. Heck, I even sat on a panel yesterday at Imaginarium, a Louisville, KY writer's conference. "Self-Publishing for Dummies" was an enlightening time for me. I was shocked to see so many folks wanting to publish but not knowing how to do it.
So, where do you start? The absolute best resource on the internet (which I assume you use, since you're reading this blog) is Kboards.com, and specifically, the sub-forum Writer's Cafe. This amazing online community of authors, readers, editors, proofers, cover designers, artists and more have a collective knowledge base that CANNOT be beaten. Ask ANYTHING and you'll get several answers. Please not, have a thick skin, though--some answers can be rough. Like any online community, there are trolls. DON'T FEED THE TROLLS. Read up and learn. You'll be amazed what you can find out, FOR FREE.
You can also listen to podcasts. RockingSelfPublishing.com is a great weekly show from the UK's Simon Whistler. He interviews those who have succeeded at self-publishing. Simon has a very liberal definition of "succeeded", with guests who are just starting out all the way to those making professional sums of money.
Joanna Penn hosts the weekly "The Creative Penn" podcast, another great interview podcast. Joanna really focuses on the behind-the-scenes of self-publishing and is a huge proponent of looking at your writing as a business.
Finally, check out your library. If there isn't a writers group, ask them to start one. Odds are, there are at least a half-dozen other aspiring authors in your community.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO SELF-PUBLISH?
NOTHING. Not a damned thing. Many will tell you that writing is a business and requires investment, blah, blah, blabbity blah. Bullshit. Got a computer, or access to one? A completed story? Internet access? Bam. That's all you need. Yes, spending money will make a better product, thereby increasing your sales, but you don't need money to get started. You can self-publish for nothing, and even earn a few bucks, that you then reinvest to improve your product.
FORGET ABOUT THE MONEY
Writing is not the lottery... well, it is, kind of. But don't think of it that way. There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of us self-publishing. The odds of being that one needle in the ebook haystack that scores it big and sells enough money to buy a new house are slim. Don't chase that pony. Write because you want to write. Because you enjoy it. If you get all desperate to make a buck or ten, you will suck the joy out of this possible profession. Instead, think of writing, and self-publishing as a part-time job. When you get better, you might be able to go full time. You might make enough to quit your day job. Or to buy a speedboat and vacation in Monaco. Or you might be like most authors and just have enough to pay the bills and enjoy yourself. As long as writing and self-publishing doesn't cost you anything, or stress you out, it's a win.
A lot of authors, and cover designers, and editors will tell you that you have to invest in your book. That you don't want to put crap out, that it makes us all look bad, etc. etc. I say bullshit. Life insurance salesmen tell you that you need a policy not because they actually care about you, but because it's their job to sell them. Don't listen to an editor or a cover designer who says you need to pay for their services. You might, but don't let them pressure you into buying something you don't want. Or worse, convincing you to wait to self-publish because you can't afford a cover or an editor...
EDIT ON THE CHEAP
That doesn't mean having grandma read it with her trusty red pen in hand. It means go online and find some beta readers. Or join a website like Wattpad, where you can post snippets or whole novels and get feedback. Some online writers groups will have authors who'll edit, quid-prose-quo: you read theirs, they read yours.
You don't need a college degree to write a novel. Sure, it might help, but if you can tell a story, you can learn the mechanics of writing, for free, by talking to others or reading how. NEVER PAY for this information. The people who charge you for it are out to make a buck. Plenty of folks will share information for free.
Once you think you've got some good edits, start bargain shopping. FIVERR.COM is a great website that offers every imaginable service for $5.00. That includes covers, blurbs and more.
Keep it Simple, Stupid. That's an engineers expression, but it also works for covers. If you've ever been to a library, you've doubtless seen hardback books. Not all have fabulous artwork. Some have NO artwork. The only really important rules about cover design are:
1. Don't have bad art. Moldy bread isn't appetizing, and neither is bad art. Self-publishing is great, self-publishing something people buy is better. No art is better than bad art. Get opinions for free online before you put that art up.
2. Your cover must be readable. If a reader can't read the title of your book, you might as well have a blurry image or no image.
3. You don't marry your cover, nor is it written in stone. That first cover may be all you can afford, it may not generate many sales, but it's a cover. You can always go back and replace it later. Remember, REINVEST in your work. Start with a simple cover with a single symbol, title and your name. Fiverr.com can give you that. Later, spring for some stock art at places like Fotalia or Shutterstock. Learn to do the art yourself with free programs like GIMP, or (re)invest in some cheap software online, like Corel Paintshop Pro on Amazon--it's less than $50 if you get an older version (just make sure it's compatible with your computer's version of Windows or Mac).
4. Keep it simple. (I know, I'm repeating).
5. Make it relate. Don't false advertise. Make sure you cover has SOMETHING to do with your book contents. If Harry Potter had a magic wand on the cover, it would work. If it had a mechanic's wrench... well, that would be misleading.
GET A PROOF READER
Proofreading is vital because our brains want to see our work the way we want it. We will often gloss over mistakes we've made, oblivious to them. Printing your work and reading it helps. So does reading it aloud, but there's still going to be something to slip through. Even if you paid an editor, something might slip through. Get a Proofer, or a Beta Reader. People will do that for free sometimes, or, again, you can swap proofing with another author-to-be.
REVISE AND RE-PUBLISH
Always improve your work, polishing that turd to shiny perfection. At least for a while. Don't put off your next work to perfect your self-published work, but there's no reason why you can't go back and fix typos, or plot points readers griped about, or put a better cover up. Hell, you can even change the title if you want! It's YOUR book!
More than 70% of ebooks are bought on Kindle. Don't sweat iTunes, Kobo, etc. etc. when you're first starting out (and avoid Google, their interface sucks). Kindle has easy, simple instructions online. If you can use a word processor program and pay bills online, you can get your manuscript read and uploaded. It's not that hard. If you can't, shop around for someone who will format it. Maybe even on Fiverr.com, or on KBoards.
What? You want print editions? It'd be cheaper to buy some scrap wood to shove under the leg of that wobbly table. Don't kill yourself trying to put together a print edition until you're ready. It is a lot more complicated. Not impossible-complicated, but significantly harder. Createspace.com (yet another Amazon subsidiary) offers a fairly easy system for making print copies. But before you do that, make sure the eversion will sell. Make sure you have a winning, or at least selling cover. Print copies are an investment of money you could spend on better cover art or editing. Invest those royalties easily.
REMEMBER YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY
Just because Hugh Howey has sold a bazillion copies of Wool, or the guy working the drive thru at McDonalds sold one whole ebook in five years doesn't mean that is your fate. Genre, target audience, and product quality are just some of the factors that make books sell. LUCK is the greatest. Your book is one of millions out there. Even if you win the lottery and produce a Superbowl Half Time ad, what you write may only sell to a few folks. That's perfectly okay. Keep writing. Keep self-publishing. You can do it.