SO, you want to self-publish a book . . .

There’s a terrible old adage that says, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” Horrible skinless cat allusions aside, this phrase is incredibly useful for explaining the extreme variety of choices that you have when self-publishing a book. I am new to the self-publishing world, I recently self-published my first novel, A Million Miles, and I’m here to tell you all about my journey.

Let me be the first to congratulate you on your pending manuscript and clap for you as you cross the finish line. If you’ve written a book and you’re considering self-publishing please read on, and allow me to share my proverbial cheat sheet with you.

Step One: Decide what you’d like to accomplish by self-publishing.

Do you want to print a few books for a handful of friends? Do you want to forego printing actual books and just make your book available online? Do you want to be the next J.K. Rowling, Tom Clancy, or some other name-drop worthy writer? These are important things to consider because each path you take will be different — hence that awful cat thing.

I only know what I’ve done and take note, learning about self-publishing is just as important as doing research for your book. You are, by default, starting a publishing company. Your little book being released into the world marks the beginning of a business venture, and you should treat it as such. You wouldn’t decide to build a house from scratch without doing some serious research, would you? I didn’t think so.

Which brings us to Step Two: Formatting.

I realize this sounds somewhat vague, but it’s exactly what it sounds like. For example, if you are going to print physical books, you will need to take your book out of Microsoft Word (or whatever writing platform you were using) and drop it into a layout/design program like InDesign. Another note: unless you are very experienced with InDesign I don’t recommend doing this by yourself. I have been using InDesign for years but when it came to laying out a 250 page continuous mass of text that I poured my heart into I felt supremely overwhelmed and under qualified. Also, I was terrified of screwing up and leaving a word, or God forbid, an entire chapter out. Also, you should be aware that from this point on you are going to read your book a zillion more times than you did when you were editing.

You’re now likely in full-on-freak-out mode. I printed my first run with a company called BookBaby, which was a little more expensive than I’d like to admit, but I was wary of printing in China (yes, China) so I went with a U.S. company. You should absolutely Google around and comparison shop. Ask for samples, ask for discounts, ask for it all.

So, paper books are generally assembled in InDesign but digital books have several ways in which they can come to life. There’s Createspace, Smashwords, and many other places that you might choose to call your digital home. I went with Draft2Digital. Draft2Digital made it really easy to upload a Word document and see the book in the various digital formats. If you have little or no computer experience this might be a little too daunting for you, but if you understand basic HTML formatting and can follow step-by-step instructions, you will probably be able to hold your own. An important thing to remember, which no one told me, is that you can keep uploading your digital manuscript until you get the formatting right. If you don’t like the spacing, you can fix it and re-upload it. When I first started out I thought that everything had to be buttoned up on the first try. Digital publishing is not as scary as I had imagined, and it’s really forgiving. Also, the staff at Draft2Digital is incredibly helpful and answers questions within 24 hours.

Next up: The Cover.

Your book needs a cover! What else will people judge you by!? But really, the cover is super important. This is kind of like the InDesign thing. Unless you’re very well-versed in photography or graphic design in general, I highly recommend that you hire someone. Sadly, a lot of self-published books look . . . well, self-published. If you know the difference between Comic Sans and Akzidenz-Grotesk then you might be ok on your own, but if you think that one is a cartoon and one is a Swedish metal band, then you might be in trouble. Some fair warning on this step as well: choosing a cover is very difficult. It’s important that you don’t rush this process and only move forward once you’re truly happy. I went through at least 12 covers. You will know the right cover when you see it, kind of like how you know when you’re done editing.

This is just the beginning of the self-publishing process. You definitely need to do your homework, but at the end of it you’ll have an amazing book with your name on it that you MADE. You wrote it. You brought it into the world. And that is a pretty fantastic feeling.

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