The Write Stuff: Tips on Self-Publishing a Book
Experienced authors share the perks and pitfalls of self-publishing
Cindy Kibbe, writing under her pen name C.K. Donnelly, is the author of "The Kinderra Series," an award-winning set of young adult fantasy novels. Like many authors, she self-publishes her work — in her case after she received more than 100 rejections from traditional publishers.
It is increasingly common for authors to publish their own work, thanks to technology that enables them to print as few as single copies only after receiving an order — and payment. Sales of self-published books rose 264% in the last five years to 300 million copies annually on average, generating $1.25 billion in revenue, according to recent statistics from WordsRated, a non-commercial data analysis group.
Navigating the world of self-publishing is not easy for novices, but some authors who have succeeded in doing so are willing to give advice, much of which they learned the hard way.
"I think having one hundred percent control over the cover artwork and overall content of the book is a benefit."
"I didn't choose to self-publish at the outset," Kibbe says. "I wanted to be repped by a literary agent and be traditionally published … Unfortunately, after querying for a year — and more than 100 rejections — that just wasn't going to happen. If I wanted 'Trine Rising' and its sequels to be read, I had to self-publish."
"I am very, very proud of achieving this goal and having three books out there for readers to enjoy," she adds. "It was a difficult road."
The Perks of Self-Publishing
Author Scott Hanson self-published his two books, "Who is Gym?" and "What's Your Number?" after not having success pitching the books to traditional publishers in his home state of Arizona. (Both of his books are very Arizona-centric, so he thought a local publisher would be his best shot.) While the rejection letters from publishers were hard to swallow, there have been some upsides to being self-published.
"I think having one hundred percent control over the cover artwork and overall content of the book is a benefit," Hanson says. "Having books to give as gifts has also been a benefit of self-publishing. Writing and publishing a non-fiction book gives the author automatic expert status. In my case, I have been recognized as an Arizona high school sports expert, having conducted dozens of interviews across the state."
Gaila Kline-Hobson has published "The Chosen's Calling," a trio of books for young adults, on Amazon. A former teacher, Kline-Hobson always wanted to be an author and pursued her creative endeavors once she retired.
"You retain total control over your book," she says about the benefits of self-publishing. "Amazon gets the book out quickly, in both electronic and printed form. Print quality is excellent. You get to retain much more of the royalty. I have self-published three times. If I write another book, I will use Amazon."
Alternatives to Amazon and Their Advantages
"I produce and distribute my books on both IngramSpark and KDP Amazon — and I highly recommend all self-published authors do the same," Kibbe says. "First, Ingram is the only house that will create and widely distribute a jacketed hardcover as print-on-demand (or POD). Amazon currently has a hardcover POD option available, but it doesn't have a jacket."
"Also, bookstores purchase their stock from Ingram, not from Amazon," she adds. "So, if you want to be on shelves at Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore, you must be available through Ingram."
Kibbe goes on to note that there are up-front costs associated with self-publishing; the adage "you have to spend money to make money" applies to the self-publishing industry as well as most others.
Lin Hawthorne is a self-published author of "Mom's Not Wipin' Your Bum," the first in what is planned to be a series of humorous "Mom's Not…" books for kids. In addition to dealing with the financial strain of raising capital up front to publish a book — she did a Kickstarter fundraiser — she says that self-published authors wear a lot of hats.
"Being a self-published author means a lot of business management, self-promotion and hands-on marketing."
"Being a self-published author means a lot of business management, self-promotion and hands-on marketing," Hawthorne explains. "It means creating your own online following using traditional marketing methods and social media. For anyone considering being a self-publisher I would suggest the following exercise: examine your goals. Do you want to just publish a book and sell a few copies on Amazon, or do you want to make a profitable business out of it? Use that goal to drive all your decisions."
"If you want to create a business out of it, hiring a book marketing coach is a great decision," she continues. "They will push you to get that audience and appear online, even though it may not be the most comfortable for those of us who are older. And if being a self-published author just proves too much, you can always take that audience and online presence you've cultivated and use it as leverage to query traditional publishers. You just can't lose with the experience you gain from diving into self-publishing."
Lessons Learned and Shared
Kline-Hobson says that learning the business side of the industry was the biggest self-publishing challenge for her. "Learning how to get the copyright, ISBN numbers, format the draft for publication, uploading the manuscript, setting up a website, and deciding about advertising and social media coverage were the biggest challenges for me with my first book," she says.
Encouragingly, she adds, "It was easier for the second and third books."
Charlie Brian Golding, a self-published children's book author, says that he loves having control over the creative process of the book, but looking back, would have made some different choices. "I would have waited a bit longer until the book was completed to start the self-publishing process [and] before I hired a publicist," he says.
But, on the flip side, he notes that hiring a publicist who works in the self-publishing industry has helped him to navigate the process.
"Read a lot about self-publishing and educate yourself about the process before diving in," Kline-Hobson advises those interested in publishing their own work. "Unless you are extremely tech savvy, expect your learning curve to be high as you maneuver through all the necessary steps before final publication. Make sure you carefully save a copy of your manuscript in case the cyber world decides to make a copy disappear."
Kibbe acknowledges that she still hopes to connect with a traditional publishing house someday because she thinks it could help her find a wider audience. "Still, I'm grateful for everything I've learned, both the good and the bad," she says. "It's made me a much stronger person."
The growth of alternative distribution channels has leveled that part of the playing field for self-publishers, but she says they still face some disadvantages.
"It's the name and brand recognition that lags far behind for self-publishers," Kibbe says. "Millions of titles are published every year and you must find a way to rise to the top for readers to find you."