So you want to self-publish a book. Here's what I learned from experience.
In 2006, I came up with (what I felt was) a brilliant idea for a novel. After letting the idea swim in my head for a few years, I finally got the chutzpah to write (and finish) it. After countless read-throughs and edits, I declared my book done and facetiously exclaimed: “Time to get money!”
Well, not so much.
After querying hundreds of agents (and some of those agents multiple times over the span of years) and applying for countless contests, I decided enough as enough: I was going to publish this book on my own. On September 16th, I released Chick Lit (And Other Formulas for Life) into the world.
The months leading up to its release were some of the most exciting, terrifying, amazing, stressful months of my life. And I learned a lot along the way, like:
1) Self-publishing does not have the stigma it once had.
The writing world is a different place than it was even a few years ago. In a world where we’re quicker to read a blog post than we are to go into a brick-and-mortar bookstore, what defines a reader (and a writer) has changed. Self-publishing was once seen as a desperate, last-ditch attempt from a writer who couldn’t cut it in the real world. Now it’s seen as simply another avenue for a writer to get their work out there.
There are plenty of writers who have had the option of going down the more traditional path, only to opt for self-publishing. The Internet leveled the playing field for writers across the board.
2) Editing is only the beginning.
I have probably read my manuscript from cover to cover around twenty times. There were moments when I would get just plain fed up with proofreading. I’d find myself rewriting a paragraph for the fifth or sixth time, going, “Man, I cannot wait until I’m done editing!” — Falsely assuming everything else would be easier.
Ha! Once I started creating the checklist of things I needed to accomplish in order to properly publish my book, I found myself outright retreating to the world of editing. Yes, editing was tedious, but it was predictable and, in many ways, easier than all the other stuff I’d have to do.
3) Congratulations! You are your own PR firm now.
When you are self-publishing, you are everything. You are the writer, you are the editor, you are the publisher — and you are also the PR rep, the marketing strategist, the business mogul. My go-to is self-deprecation, which doesn’t bode well when you’re trying to promote yourself. It takes a lot of energy to be comfortable with seeing yourself as a product — and a product that you genuinely believe people would want to buy.
4) The sheer number of new things you will have to learn/decide on is overwhelming.
Do I hire someone to format my book, or do I do it myself? Should I upload my book to a platform like IngramSpark or do I approach each retail entity individually? What about ISBNs?
No matter what the answer to the seemingly endless barrage of questions, you will find yourself doing way more research than you could ever have imagined — whether you are researching design firms, researching how to create layouts in Microsoft Word (or simply researching when you should hire a firm and when you should do it yourself). For once, my Google search history looked professional and mature — not filled with things like, “Vine video compilation” or, “how tall is Channing Tatum?”
5) You will obsess over your favorite books like a crazy person – but in a different way.
I think nothing sums up how crazy I must have looked to outsiders quite like the image of me sitting crossed-legged on my floor, stack of books to my left, with a pried-open book in one hand and a ruler in the other.
What was I doing? Measuring margins & book dimensions, seeing what a 300-page book looks like at one size in comparison to a 500-page book at another. When you’re striking it out on your own, seeing how others do it is crucial. Everything, from where the page numbers rest, to what fonts and spacing people use. I was paying attention to things I had never even given a second thought to before, like the copyright page or the acknowledgements section.
6) Every step forward is incredibly daunting, so stay organized.
Doing anything for the first time means every step forward is a step into the unknown. And that is scary. So scary that I routinely found myself doing a little of each task randomly, without really accomplishing much. That’s where writing out what I needed to do — and in the order that I needed to do them — was crucial. It kept me focused when all I wanted to do what spread myself thin (and then maybe check Facebook because, hey, this is really hard work).
The best thing I did for myself was create a list of tasks, breaking them down into accomplishable pieces and providing myself with set deadlines. It took what felt like 5,000 different things I had to do and made them a little more manageable.
7) You will still have to put yourself out there.
The one thing I did not miss when I had decided to self-publish was the endless stream of rejection that I would get from submitting my manuscript to literary agents and contests. The one thing I did not realize was that, as a self-publisher, I would still have to put myself out there — only, instead of agencies and contests, I would be submitting my book to reviewers, review blogs, and other literary websites, many of which won’t even consider a self-published book.
8) No man is an island.
The term “self-publishing” is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, there was a lot that I was doing on my own, without the help of an agent, a publishing house, a PR firm. . . but I wouldn’t be where I am today without the family and friends who helped me. From my husband’s priceless advice on syntax (and invaluable help on the computer) to my friends volunteering their time to read an early edition and provide feedback.
I did not do this on my own, and I cannot imagine trying to get everything done by myself. I am forever in debt to those who love and support me. It’s part of the reason why I like the term “independently published”. I published this book independent from the mainstream publishing world. But I certainly didn’t publish it by myself.
9) Throughout all this mess and unpaid man-hours, you will be reminded why you do what you do.
One contest once asked their participants to answer, “Why do you write?” And I answered, “Why does a dog lick himself? Hygiene, obviously.”
All kidding aside, I write because I can. I write because I have to. I write because there have been times where I’d be at a red light, scribbling something furiously in my notebook, angering the people behind me as I fail to notice the light had turned green.
I write because I am desperate for my voice to be heard, for my stories — whether they are fictional creations or personal narratives— to be out there. I am desperate to have even one person read what I wrote and go, “Wow, I can relate.” Or, “Wow, that made me think.” Or, even better, still: “Wow, I feel a little less alone in my feelings and experiences.”
Writing is one of the most frustrating, thankless endeavors you can voluntarily do. In a world where “everyone writes” and “no one reads” —where making a living off of writing can be as much of a pipedream as becoming a rock star — we continue to write because it is our passion. I published a book that was essentially ten years in the making, knowing full well I will probably never make ten years worth of earnings off of it. I might not even make ten months worth. But I do it anyway, because it feeds my soul.
So perhaps you have a manuscript gathering literal or metaphorical dust. Perhaps it’s time to take that tentative step forward and publish your creation. It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.
(Image via iStock)