So. You've decided to give up your social life and do NaNoWriMo. Or you've spent every moment of your free time for the last ten years working on your memoirs. Or you've locked yourself in your room for thirty days and thirty nights, taking in no sustenance, and emerged with the greatest graphic novel the world has ever seen. In any case, you have a manuscript (or at least, a first draft). And the time has come for you to make a decision and weigh the pros and cons of self-publishing a novel. If you do decide to go the DIY route when achieving your literary dreams, here are a few simple tips to help you along the way.
When you're choosing to self-publish, there's no right or wrong answer. If you're not quite sure that self-publishing is for you, I'd say go ahead and try sending your work around to publishers who are new-author friendly. Don't assume that no one will be interested in your work. You never know. If you do think of yourself as a maverick who was born to live the self-publishing dream, then go for it! There's no shame in so-called "vanity" publishing.
Just remember that self-publishing is not a shortcut to success. It's difficult, and rarely glamorous. But if you work hard, it can be well worth the effort:
1. Hire an editor
Yes, you've finished your manuscript. Perhaps you've even written 10 or 12 drafts of your manuscript. And you have spellcheck. So you're probably good to go, right? No. For the love of god, hire a professional editor. Yeah, self-publishing is going to cost you money. Publishing an un-edited book is like eating raw cookie dough: it might taste good at first, but if you eat enough you'll get salmonella (it's not a perfect metaphor, but you get it). Bake the cookies. Hire an editor, because they'll offer feedback you never even thought of. If you don't know where to start, check out websites like Upwork or Outsource to find freelance editors.
2. Make it look nice
You've seen those hilariously bad book covers, yes? Do you want your book to be on that list? You probably don't (unless that's your marketing strategy, in which case go ahead). You'll likely want to hire a professional designer to create a beautiful cover for your book. You want something that catches the eye, stands out from the crowd, and looks good both in print and in a digital thumbnail. But it goes beyond book covers—think about font choice, font size, layout, and end-paper color, too. The writing is the most important part, but no one will want to read your lovely prose if you've printed it in Comic Sans.
3. Marketing matters
If you think that publishing your e-book online is the end of the journey, you're sadly mistaken. You need a marketing strategy if you want anyone to actually read your book. Marketing is daunting, but you can take it step by step. Buy ads on websites you think your readers will visit. Invest in a social media presence. Reach out to journalists, businesses, and friends who you think might help spread the word. And most importantly, write an intriguing blurb and share it widely. Blurbing is an undervalued skill, and it can make or break a marketing campaign.
4. Fundraise like you mean it
I'm sure you already know about crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. And I'm sure you've realized by now that you're going to need some cash on hand to pay for editors, designers, printing, and ads. But posting a Kickstarter isn't enough: you need to promote it. You need to have a killer fundraising video or image. Why should people give you money? What about this project will benefit them? It'll also help to reach out personally to every friend and family member who might want to contribute. And you might want to think about partnering with another indie artist or with a charity. If half of your proceeds go towards your book, and the rest are donated to children in need, you might find that you're raising more money and helping a worthy cause.
5. Think about your audience
Who will want to read your work? You may not have written it with a particular kind of reader in mind, but now you have to think about who on Earth is going to pay for it. The most effective marketing and design will target one or two specific communities. Is your book going to be most popular with moms? With skateboarders? With your fellow writers? Is it about a current events issue that people care about? If you weren't the author, what would intrigue you the most about this book?
6. Reach every reader
E-readers are here to stay, but there are still a lot of curmudgeons (like me) who prefer paper books. If you only publish online, or only in print, you're missing out on potential readers. Go for an e-book and a print book if you can afford it. Research your local indie bookstores, and see if any of them sell self-published work. Getting people to your online store takes outreach and marketing, but if you can get your physical book on a bookstore shelf, there's a good chance that someone will pick it up and buy it.
7. Don't get discouraged
It's unlikely that your first self-published book is going to lead to fame and fortune. But don't let that get you down: you're paying the long game. Writing is very rarely about instant gratification. Work hard to publish, promote, and sell your work, but remember to keep moving forward with the next project.
Images: PeopleImages/E+/Getty Images, Giphy (7)