Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Great Self-Publishing Tips from Someone Who Has Been There -

Today it's time for a guest post - and tips. Lots of tips! LK Gardner-Griffie, author of the fabulous and award winning Misfit McCabe series, brings us her spin on the choice to self-publish and the important things to keep in mind.

Take it away, LK:

Everyone's journey toward publication is different, and my journey is no exception. My journey started with an agent before the manuscript was even finished, but didn't result in the hoped for book deal. In 2007, I got tired of it languishing in a box, and decided to publish it on my own for my family and friends, and then won a teen choice award with it. When Christine asked me to write a little something about self-publishing, maybe some tips on the process, I was delighted to say yes, but my next thought was holy cripes there's a lot to it!! So rather than attempt to cover everything in self-publishing, I thought I'd give my top 5 things to keep in mind.
  1. Do your research--Once you’ve made the decision to self-publish, one of the first decisions is how you’re going to do it. Do you want to have a print copy, paperback? Hard bound? Or are you only interested in ebook format?
    There are a multitude of options available. And just because you decide to go with one option, doesn’t mean you can’t go with any others. For example, you’ve decided to go with ebook as the format you think will sell the best. With POD (Print On Demand) there isn’t any reason why you can’t make print copies available as well. You don’t have to purchase them in bulk, but if a customer would like to have a copy to hold in their hands they can.
    Here’s where the research comes in. Which company do you go with to handle your ebooks or your print format books? Do you get one company to handle them all? Or do you use different companies for different methods? For me, one of the determining factors is price. How can I drive down the price of production so I can set a reasonable price to allow me to compete with the price of traditionally published books?
    A lot of companies provide “package” deals. Know what you’re getting in the package and whether or not that creates value for you. Also, several provide services, but be cautious because often the services offered are at inflated prices. But if you don’t want to do the formatting, cover design, copy editing, etc. it might make sense for you to seek out service providers for those items.I started off with Lulu as my print provider back when they actually had a decent reputation. Then Amazon opened up CreateSpace and when I investigated I found that by using CreateSpace I could knock $5 off the cover price and still make more per book than I was with Lulu. In fact, with CreateSpace I was able to fix a retail price lower than my base cost with Lulu. The decision to make the change was an easy one. My next step is to go with Lightning Source because it will provide me with the flexibility and distribution I want with the same quality as legacy publishing uses. Initially LSI was only open to publishers, but they have expanded their business plan to include the individual.
    For ebook’s you can end up formatting for each distributor yourself, or use a company like Smashwords.com which takes your file and formats it for nine separate formats. Smashwords also distributes directly to Sony, Kobo, Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and are working on more deals. What is nice about them is that they also allow you to opt out, so if you don’t want to distribute to Amazon, but would prefer to do your own Kindle formatting, you can. I know that some express concern because Smashwords pays quarterly, but Barnes & Noble pays immediately, so opt out of B&N distribution and use PubIt for Barnes and Noble. This is one of the benefits of self-publishing – you decide.
    And as far as research is concerned, it doesn't end with the selection of how. There are things that publishers know because they have a legal team to advise them, that somehow you also must know. There are legalities with publishing books and what can and can not be included. For example, one of the most common mistakes I've seen in self-published books is the use of song lyrics. Don't do it!! With written work, normally there is a fair use clause which allows for the quoting of a small portion of the work without copyright infringement. With lyrics there is no such thing as fair use. If you quote any song lyrics in your book, you must have permission to do so, and those rights do not usually come cheap. As FYI, song titles are not subject to copyright, so it is okay to reference those. This is but one example of an area where there are potential pitfalls. Make sure, if you use any outside sources, you research what the legalities surrounding them.
  2. ISBN’s – International Standard Book Number--all books require them--even ebooks. And the ISBN for the print version cannot be the same as the ebook version. They are different products and require different numbers. Just as a paperback and a hardbound book also have separate ISBN’s. When you’re making your decision of which provider to go with, you also need to be aware of what options are available to you with ISBN’s. Some providers offer ISBN’s as part of the package. Check into what that means. Does it mean that the provider is ultimately the publisher of record? Whoever registers the ISBN number is the publisher of record. And just because your book has been assigned an ISBN doesn’t mean that the ISBN will be registered with Ingram’s which is necessary for library inclusion as well as ability to have the books ordered through brick and mortar stores. In addition to your provider, you can purchase a block of ISBN's directly through Bowker's, but the smallest block they sell is ten. So the initial outlay can be a little steep if all you have planned is one book. But if you have several, then your best course of action may be to purchase the block directly from Bowker's. You will then be able to establish yourself as the publisher of record and determine what name you'd like to publish the books under. Some people choose to go in together on the purchase of the ISBN block and share the ISBN range. Just be aware that if you do this, only one publisher name can be registered for the block. So if it is registered as ABC Publishing, you can't suddenly decide to put the books out as XYZ publishing.
  3. Give yourself time--So many times I hear of someone deciding to self-publish and they announce a release date which is so close to the current date my hairs stand on end. Then I remember I’m not the one who has to make it happen and find the ability to breathe again. However long you think it will take to have a perfect proof? You can probably double it. There are a lot of factors that go into self-publishing a book and trying to coordinate all of them and releasing a product you can be proud of takes time. Maybe I’m just exceptionally picky, but I want to put out the best product I can, and to do that takes time. Once I realized that there was no race, and that I controlled my own deadlines, I relaxed and enjoyed the process a little more. Here’s a tip – formatting a book is a finicky process and even if you hire someone to do it for you, it will most likely not be perfect the first go-round. Same with the cover.And here's why: when you write the book, you may write it in manuscript format which is double spaced, but no book I've ever picked up in a store is formatted that way. Print books are justified, you most likely will center headings, and then there is the question of headers & footers. Where do you want the page numbers to go--on the top of the page or the bottom? Do you want the facing pages to have different headers? How much space do you want between the header and the text?
    Once you get everything formatted, do you suddenly have pages with a single line of text? Do you want it to stay that way? Oh, and one of my favorite pests to get right, does the text at the bottom of the page remain consistent or have you fallen victim to the windows and orphans of word formatting which groups paragraphs together and will leave more white space than you intended.
    If you already created your wrap-around cover prior to getting all of the niggling formatting done for the interior, chances are you will need to make a change in the spine width. What was once 200 pages just became 225.
  4. Promotion--This is an ugly word, but is necessary for all books. In fact, the same principles for promotion apply whether you are self-published, small-press published, or large-press published. Sure, there may be some additional marketing that a legacy publisher may do if they have decided to untie the purse strings for your book, but more and more, the marketing and promotion falls on the author.So, you'll need to create a platform, have an online presence, get reviews, create book buzz, set yourself up as an "expert" in your area. What not to do? In social networking, which is a valuable tool, don't continually pimp your books. It's annoying and will likely be ignored. Social networking is for making connections, and frankly if the only thing you have to say to me is "buy my book", then we have very little to converse about.
    One method of promotion is to build up buzz before the release of the book. This goes back to my previous point of making sure you've allowed enough time prior to the release/launch date. Time is necessary to help you build up buzz for the release. It gives you the chance to start building the word of mouth before the release. You can even have some ARC's (Advanced Reader Copies) made and get some reviews established (from non-family members) before the release.
    And a word on Amazon rankings: First off, they are not the be-all, end-all, but they do play their part. And they are capricious; you will find your ranking skyrocketing on the basis of a sale and then plummeting the next day. The rankings are not based solely on sales, you can increase your Amazon clout through tags as well.
  5. Reviews--They are a necessary evil. Why evil? Well, not all reviews are good, and it feels like someone is bashing your child. Even the positive reviews may have inaccuracies that make you cringe and want to correct... but you can't. Well, you can, but it is not recommended. If you read your reviews, just like a star in Hollywood, you need to let the comments roll off your back.Another "what not to do" is get all of your friends or family to post exceptionally glowing reviews on Amazon for you. Why? Because the backlash will not be kind. People can tell when you've "stacked the deck in your own favor", and then will want to tear you down a peg or two. Let your book stand on its own merit. Get reviews, but get them from uninterested parties. An occasional review from a friend or family member--as long as they declare it in the review won't necessarily hurt, but if you have fifteen five star reviews from people you know, they don't mean quite the same as from a stranger.
Thanks again LK! If you guys have any questions, leave them in the comments and I will get answers. Cool? Cool!


  1. Whoa. This is a boatload of information! I'm blown away by LK's knowledge and generosity in sharing that knowledge. I'm just beginning to (very distantly in the back of my mind) consider self-publishing, and it's really cool to read this very frank post about just a FEW (oy!) of the steps.

    Thanks Christine and LK! And congrats on the Teen Choice Award LK!

  2. Wow, you gave me so much to consider. So much more than I thought I needed! I've avoided deciding and now I know why. I was waiting for your post! Thanks so much, LK.

    Take care,

  3. Great info LK! Thank you so much for sharing. I love that you went forward after having an agent. There is life after being agented znd Ithink it's important writers know that. You're an inspiration!

  4. I meant to get here to comment yesterday, but days seem to be something of a blur lately...
    First thanks to Christine for allowing me to ramble on about the process.

    Ali - it is a lot to take on, but for more and more people it is worth the amount of work, and brings a great deal of satisfaction to see your work through to fruition. The freedom of having control over your projects is fantastic.

    JC - If you decide to go down this road and ever feel like you need a helping hand, just give me a shout.

    Heather - Thanks. I agree. I think people need to know that not every agent story ends in success and that it also doesn't mean the end of the road.


Thanks for your input!