Self-Publishing 101—What You Need To Know And What No One Bothers To Tell You

It truly is amazing to me the juxtaposition between reality and rhetoric. People tell you that you’re in for a juicy apple and then you end up sucking on some prunes. Although your regulation may be fine—sitting on the throne may not have been part of the agenda. When it comes to self-publishing I find this to ring true. I’ve been reading articles online and while I have some useful information, I feel that you don’t always get the total picture and certainly not the frank answer. So I’ve decided to give my honest opinion on my experiences thus far. I’ll start off with the checklist.

Checklist item # 1—Copyright

The most obvious thing for any budding writer/ self-publisher is of course copyrighting their work; however a little clarification is needed on this process. According to the Library of Congress your work is already assumed copyrighted if you are indeed the true claimant to it. So what do I mean? Essentially if you say something is yours—it is. You do not need to obtain copyright as it is already assumed. What the Library of Congress does is offer copyright protection. Technically speaking all works published in the United States should be submitted to the Library of Congress for filing within the first three months of publication, otherwise possible penalties can be given; however this isn’t really something that is or realistically can be enforced. The Library of Congress is too busy trying to process their current submissions to be checking for every single thing being published in the United States. However it is in your best interest to register your work with them. Reason? Well let’s say you do publish your work and it actually does really well. Then Samantha the Bitch from creative writing class 101 rolls in. She knows you, has seen your work, is a writer, and is jealous of your new found success. So she calls foul, and says that your bestseller is really her idea. You’re ready to throw down with this heifer, but how are you actually going to prove that it was originally your idea. You never bothered to register, so now you have mounting legal fees, credibility issues, and a whole host of other problems. By having your work registered, you can avoid these problems, because your filed work will serve as your proof; plus if it does end up escalating to a legal battle the Library of Congress offers assistance with those legal fees, so when that bitch comes for you—you’re ready for her.

So what is the cost of this? Surprisingly cheap; the Library of Congress has two basic offers. If you process your work online and send in an electronic copy, the fee is just $35. The best thing is you could do multiple works on just one application and still pay just the $35. This can be done prior or after publication. Your application also processes faster online. This is the option I chose and it took around three months before I received my official letter. Not Speedy Gonzalez, but for a government agency—not bad.

The second option is to mail it in. You have to send two copies of your book and pay a $65 fee. The turnaround time is also much longer. Although you may think it is best for them to have a hard copy, I personally didn’t feel it was worth it. Aside from the additional fee in the application and postage, you run the risk of your stuff getting lost, and the time it will take for them to actually get to your stuff. It first has to get sorted out in the mailroom, where they get thousands of material, and then someone actually has to go through the actual packaging and just all these extra hoops. While when it’s electronic its right there. No postage fee—quicker delivery time—and best of all cheaper. Cheap is good for the self-publisher, especially when you factor in all the additional expenses you have to go through.

Checklist item # 2—Cover Art

A lot of POD (print-on-demand) companies offer a generic cover selection to choose from; however if you want your work to stand out you may want to branch out. If you’re really strapped for cash you can always check out sites like Dreamstime.com where for as little as $13 you can have a selection of thousands of images which you can use as background for your cover. Lulu.com allows you to upload those images and you can draft your cover from them.

If you are looking for something more professional then you will need to hire a designer. For me I have three basic criteria: (1) they have to have a website; (2) need to offer me free electronic version (3) be reasonably priced. The website thing allows me to see their portfolio, which is a must if I’m going to pay someone I don’t know to design my work, and the electronic version is self-explanatory. Being reasonably priced varies depending on the budget of the individual, but for me that means not paying more than $450. I don’t give a damn what this person offers or claims that they are going to do; unless you’re going to give me original hand painted artwork, I don’t see why in the hell I should pay more, for someone essentially just purchasing an image for under $10 and then digitally altering it; creative—yes; labor intensive—I think not.

Now if I pissed off any graphic designers, my apologies, but I like to be clear. I paid around $375 for my cover and I know if I looked around more, I probably could have found it cheaper, but ultimately I was satisfied with the price.

In addition to that I would also recommend that you wait to have your cover designed until you are just about ready to publish. The reason for this is that your designer will base the stats of your cover—meaning its proportions according to the length and width of the spine, on the number of pages. During the book editing and formatting process your page count may vary significantly, so you want to make sure that you are giving the designer the final count, before they design the cover.

Checklist item # 3—Think Before You Kindle

Electronic versions of your book are a must for the self-published author. Sales are traditionally better in this area, than print versions, and it allows you to offer your work at a discounted price and still make a profit. However there are a few things to be bear in mind. The first is having multiple versions of your book, prior to uploading your work. If you did not pay to have it professionally converted you’ll be surprised at how utterly fucked up it will look if you upload a PDF format. Kindle and most electronic E-books utilize a flow format that does not separate by traditional pages. PDFs are static so when they convert over, the results are typically bad. There are plenty of sites that will convert your book into a variety of formats, such as mobi—but they don’t come cheap. For a full length novel it could cost as much as $200—and more—depending on its length and the version you submit. Word conversions are cheaper, while PDFs are typically more, due to the amount of work needed to convert them, and the turnaround time can take weeks. If you are signed up with CreateSpace they’ll do it for a flat $65 fee and will use the version you submit for the print book. This is by far the best deal.

If you are really short on funds, then I would suggest that you upload a clean word version. This means that you have to remove all the page numbers and try to minimize any excess and unnecessary formatting or fancy lettering so that when the book converts it’ll have a better appearance.

Aside from that if you are utilizing Kindle Publishing there is something else to think about. CreateSpace through Kindle does offer you expanded distribution to their international markets, however you may end up having to agree to an exclusive contract where you can only have your e-book on Kindle. If you have it anywhere else—including selling it directly on your own website—and they find it—they will delete your Kindle version. Since Kindle is so mainstream it may be worth the exclusivity, but this is something to think about.

What You’re Not Told—Before I Play, Tell Me What I Need To Pay

Now to the other tibits. There are a few things you need to look out for as you go through your publication and promotional process. The first thing being companies that are offering you this great deal, either for their cover design, book distribution, or advertising services, but don’t tell you upfront what it costs. I have discovered time and time again, that when they don’t post a price, it’s because the fee is ridiculous. Like I once got quoted over $900 for a book cover design (and I ended up finding someone for $375) or another where they told me they’d charge $3000 for a six week book promotional services. While these companies seem to do a really good job in their packing and their professionalism, you need to think before you start dropping it like it’s hot.  There honestly is no reason, why you should pay that much for something everyone else is charging for less. While I am a firm believer in you get what you pay for, sometimes you end up paying too damn much. Irrespective of your plot summary, designing a book cover should not have wildly different fees, so if a company can’t give it to you straight, don’t waste your time. The best way to determine whether you’re getting a fair deal is to do an extensive online browsing and check different price ranges. You should be able to determine a base-price and then figure out what’s a deal, and what’s inflation. You want to work with folks that are honest, so make sure you check before you pay money to a company that only sees “sucker” on your forehead.

What Needs To Be Told: Marketing

This is the one area that I’m still playing around with, so I don’t have concrete answers—yet—on what works and what doesn’t. But what I am starting to realize is that I need to buy myself some high boots for the amount of bull’s shit I’m stepping on. The one biggest misconception that people have is that if they pay to have their stuff out there, people will buy it; sort of like if you build it—they will come. There is a whole industry out there built to take these sort of people in. The problem is, is that this way of thinking fails to take into consideration that A LOT of people are trying to put their work out there, and since you most likely will never have the huge sum necessary to truly make your work stand out in a meaningful way, it’ll just get lost in that confused sea of madness.

A second and critical thing that book authors particularly overlook is the fact that books just aren’t advertised—not in the traditional way other things are. Think about this for a second; when you turn on the TV and gaze at the myriad of television advertisements how often do you come across a book ad? The rare few that make it are for really established authors that really only serve the point of letting you know they published another book. To make a book plot juicy in a TV ad they have to dramatize it; and a dramatized book is a movie. So called “book trailers” offered by book promoters are really just ways to pay someone’s salary. Although trendy, they rarely look good, and once again, who in the hell buys a book based on a cheap Youtube video.

Books have and always will sell best by word of mouth. This is because a book is a huge commitment of time and not a product. You are actually investing something of yourself when you sit down to read, so unless someone personally tells you it’s a good investment of time, or you read enough reviews from average folks telling you that its worthy, advertising the old fashioned way won’t work.

Now how to go about obtaining that coveted word-of-mouth gold stamp; that is the million dollar question. Honestly I’d be lying to you if I told you I had a sure answer. This is definitely the hardest challenge of any self-published author, however as I go along in my journey, and learn more about this, I will pass on my finds in an updated post.

Final Thoughts

This is really just scratching the service, and I didn’t get to touch on everything I wanted, like ISBN or building your own websites. I’ll go into that at a later date, but for now I figured I’d go over a few key areas. My main goal was to try to separate fiction from nonfiction, because although I enjoy and write fiction, I believe when I’m speaking its best to remove the residue of bullshit from my mouth.

Useful Links.

Here’s a few links that I thought might be helpful

Copyright with the Library Of Congress. Gives great info on the process and how to go about it.

http://www.copyright.gov/

ISBN obtaining

http://www.bowker.com/en-US/

KDP – Kindle Publishing List of Professional Conversion Services

https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A3RRQXI478DDG7

Top-rated POD company

www.createspace.com

Website where you can create your own free website

www.weebly.com

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2 Responses to Self-Publishing 101—What You Need To Know And What No One Bothers To Tell You

  1. Great post, Eventually I may self publish some short stories but I understand there is more to it than a click of the button.

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