Tuesday, October 25, 2011

So... you want to be a self published author, do you?

Here is some information that I put together for a writers panel on e-pub / POD that I hosted at Necronomicon.

Here are the basics - e-pub means any electronically published work. Whereas, POD stands for Print On Demand. All books that will eventually end up online or in print start out in an electronic file so whether you decide to stay strictly e-pub or eventually move to POD, all of this information can apply.
Let's start with the Advantages...
  • Less start up $$ needed - Basically to self publish you just need to create an account at a POD site and upload your story. Or upload your work to a site like Smashwords what specilizes in e-pubs.This does not cost anything but just because you write a book and make it available in print doesn't mean that it is good or will sell.
  • More control over work - No editor to tell you to change your story or no one to tell you what to sell it for.
  • Work at your own pace - No deadline to meet. While this is appealing, you will need to be dedicated to writing your story.
  • Keep all the profit minus print/shipping costs - Your only cost is in ordering your own printed stock and paying for the shipping to have it delivered to you.
  •  Companies like CreateSpace & Lulu include automatic Amazon listing, limited cover options, your own eStore (Lulu only).
The disadvantage list is much, Much longer!

  • You have to do everything (editing, formatting, marketing) yourself. - This many not sound very hard but you would be surprised. If you are willing to learn how to do this on your own, it can be accomplished.  Editors are EXPENSIVE! Sometimes you can find one to edit for 25 cents a page but more often then not they charge per word. I use beta readers but be warned sometimes they are just looking to read a free story and are not reliable for finding errors (spelling/grammar) or giving feedback in a timely manner.
  • Most POD sites will provide a formatting guideline for printing your book. You may have a learning curve with this is you are not proficient with the program you are using to write your book (i.e. Word).

  • You have to educate yourself on ISBNs, Tax ID’s, public domain, and conventions. - Sites like Lulu & CreateSpace offer "free" ISBNs but they come with limitations. You need to read carefully what you are allowed to do with your published book if it is under a "free" ISBN as there are some restrictions. ISBNs can be purchased (100 for $800 or something like that) and that may be the route you wish to go if you are hoping a big publishing house might "pick-up" your book in the future. As a self published author, you can earn money from selling your book for up to 3 years if the money earned is under the federal cap by using your SS# as your Tax ID# (because the money earned is considered to be earned from a hobby). However, if you go over the cap you will need a federally issued Tax ID #. You should also be aware that you may be asked for a Tax ID # if you are selling your book at an appearance or convention.
  • Marketing can be a huge hurtle for a self publishing author. If you believe you can just create a website and that your listing on Amazon will sell your books, then you are sadly mistaken. You may need to educate yourself on marketing strategies and even then you may not sell many books. As an author with a Bachelor's in Marketing, I am still struggling to get out of the "red."
  • If you do not know what public domain is, you will need to educate yourself. There is A LOT to learn on this topic (too much to cover here) but you need to know about "Copyrights" & "All Rights Reserved" for imagines and your own work.
  • Marketing, I covered above but conventions fall into this category. Learning what conventions you want to market your book at and the costs affiliated with the conventions requires research and networking.
  • You have to have money to order proof’s and inventory for conventions if you are going to have books in print. As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. We've all heard the saying and it applies to self publishing as well. You don't have to have books on hand to sell at conventions and guest appearances but it does help! Readers want to "see" what they are buying upfront.
  • Create separate accounts (PayPal/Bank). - Keeping your accounts separate is essential in any business venture. The last thing you want is to be audited. If you are not familiar with this practice, then you need to educate yourself on it. Research how to start a small business and you will learn what you need to know (again, too much to cover here) because becoming self published is a business!
Easiest thing about e-pub/POD?
Instant gratification if you aren't afraid to learning what you don’t know and working your butt off!

Hardest thing about e-pub/POD
  • Finding a good editor and being able to afford them.  As I mentioned, editor's don't come cheap. There are several options if you can not afford one. Beta readers, I already mentioned but consider writing groups, college English majors, or English teachers.
  • Finding cover art. Even though CreateSpace & Lulu have databases with public domain art, they might not have something that fits for your book (Ex. Fates) Cover art is EXPENSIVE and usually you are only paying a "licensing fee" to use the art and the artist retains the copyright. If you are not sure what I mean, again you need to educate yourself on these terms (too much to cover here). For example, the 'cheapest' licensing fee I have come across so far was $300 for a piece of art and I would be limited to using it for the book cover only. What this means is that I would have to buy a separate license to use the same art on any promotional materials (business cards, bookmarks, t-shirts, etc.)
Things to ask yourself before you decide to self publish...

  • What are the reasons you want to self publish? - Too expensive to send manuscripts out to big publishing houses? Formatting a manuscript to send to a publishing house is another thing you will have to educate yourself on. Each publisher has a different format requirement but most require single-sided, double spaced pages and the manuscript must be bound. Think about this for a moment... if your book is 300 pages normally, just to make it single-sided bumps it up to 600 pages. Then it must be double spaced so now you are looking at 1200 pages. Bind it at FedX or Kinko's and you end up spending almost $100 for one formatted manuscript to be sent to a publisher. And that is with no guarantee that it will even be read!
  • Don’t want to go through the rejection process? - Waiting to hear back from a big publishing house can take months and that is if they even bothered to look at your manuscript. Then if you do hear from them, can you take the criticism that comes with it? Many writers can not!
  •  Impatient to see your name on the cover? - This is the worst reason to self publish! If you just want your name on the cover of a book, save yourself some time and don't bother writing the book. Every year, thousands of aspiring authors self publish (especially with eBooks becoming the new popular way to publish!) and clog up Amazon with crap stories just so they can search for themselves or say they are listed with Amazon. Take your time, write a good story and worry about seeing your name in print last. The book should be about the story not about your name being on the cover.
  • Can you do the marketing yourself? - Marketing is expensive. Ordering book inventory and promotional items cost a lot and are needed to get your name out there. If you are hoping to make money selling books, you will be disappointed. There is a reason most authors still have day jobs!
  • Can you afford to attend conventions (travel & hotel’s cost money!)? - Again, you will have to spend money to make money. Starting with local conventions is the best way to go because you don't incur travel costs.
  • Can you make your own website or afford to have one made? - Sites like Facebook and GoodReads will only get you so far in getting your name out there. Many readers want to see a website for the author. If you do not know how to make your own or can not afford to have one built, it will hurt you. Buying a domain name (a .com) and finding an online host can be cheap if you are willing to have your potential readers (customers) flooded with ads when they visit your site. But, keep in mind that those "cheaper" sites will not only annoy your potential fans but will also limit how much you can upload (sample chapters, pictures, etc.) And don't forget about web graphics...they cost money too if you can not make them yourself!
  • Can you make your own printed promotional items (using photoshop or another graphics program) and/or afford the printing? - This was covered above... discount postcards, business cards, banners, web graphics, etc. These all cost money if you do not know how to did it yourself.
  •  Do you have the time and motivation to have a second job? Self publishing is a full time job. - being an author is a FULL time job regardless of how you decide to publish. If you do not have time for a second job in your life right now, then now is not the time to become an author. I spend about 10 hours a day online trying to get my name out there and I am sure many of you have never heard of me... and maybe now you still don't know who I am or what my stories are about!

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