The Self-Publishing Process

In my previous post, I spoke of why or why not self-publishing might be a good idea. In this one, I will attempt to outline the process of making it happen for those who would like to give it a try. More specifically, I will be talking about publishing a book here, though it can apply to some degree to publishing a short story as well.

Let’s say you’ve completed your book. It’s been edited and reviewed a thousand times over, and it is as good as it is ever going to get. The logical next step, of course, is to publish. But let’s say you don’t want to go the traditional route. Let’s say you desire more creative control over the whole process, and have plenty of time and money to invest in giving your book a proper launch. In that most ideal case, here’s what you do:

Step 0-Professional Editing

Assuming you haven’t had this done already, you may want to get your book professionally edited, or else at least looked at by a few people other than yourself. If you’re really confident you have a strong manuscript (say, you’ve had it for years and been over it many many times yourself until it’s flawless), then you can skip this step. If you don’t wish to skip it, then be aware that it can be the most expensive part of the process. Good editors can demand hefty sums of $1000 or more, depending on how long your book is and how many types of editing you want them to do. Either way you go, the next step is a must.

Step 1-Formatting

If you’ve had your book professionally edited, this may have been included in that process. Or, you may even have formatted it before you began typing. If not, however, it is up to you to either format your manuscript yourself or hire someone to do it professionally. Admittedly, this is a skill that most writers who are already familiar with word processors can probably pick up quickly and do an adequate job at. But, if you really don’t trust your sense of design (or just hate dealing with all kinds of technical stuff), then there are pros out there for hire, most of whom will probably cost less than the editor(s) you may have worked with earlier.

Just remember, either way you have it done, this phase is important, as it will most likely determine the page size and therefore page count for any print books you may make.

Step 2-Copyrighting

Technically your work belongs to you the moment you create it. And you can technically include some note of this on your copyright page (see next week’s post). However, if you want some extra legal protection domestically (and occasionally internationally), you may wish to actually register your copyright with the Feds. You can do this online or (for an additional charge) via USPS. For this, you will receive a notice from the Copyright Office that your work is now registered with the Library of Congress.

A cheaper, albeit somewhat less solid method from a legal standpoint, is to simply seal a copy of your manuscript in a box and mail it to yourself. Once you receive it, DO NOT open it. The post date on the package will show that the work was created before that date, and so anyone who claims to have created it after that date will theoretically have their claim rejected in court.

Whether you actually register a copyright or not, including a professional-looking copyright page (which is not actually required, but definitely recommended) is a good idea, though you will need your ISBN before you can fill one out completely (see Step 4 below). Not only does it make your book look that much less indie, but it will also serve as enough of a deterrent to keep and halfway decent folks from even considering claiming your work as their own. (Domestically, at least: copyrights and trademarks tend to hold a lot less sway in certain overseas countries.)

Step 3-Cover Art

If you are a brilliant artist as well as writer, then you can no doubt take care of this yourself. Most authors do not possess this double talent, however (at least, not to the degree necessary to make a really professional looking cover), so your next bet is to find a cover artist. If you only plan to publish and e-book, there are plenty of “free cover art” places out there, though of course, none of these are custom tailored to your book. If you can find an artwork among these that you like, then by all means go for it. Otherwise, hiring an artist is the only way, and besides editing, this can be the most expensive part of the process.

Cover artist pricing once again varies, this time based on how renowned the artist is, what media they work in, and sometimes how big the artwork is (front cover only as opposed to wraparound, for instance). $500 is a good average range, though they can vary widely from well below that to, I’m sure, several thousand if you’re going for a really well-known artist. But as the cover art is one of the biggest creative complaints of traditionally published authors, this can be well worth it to some. After all, when you commission an artist, you have pretty much free reign in choosing what goes on your cover. And the best part is, if you hire a real pro, then they can help guide you if you don’t have any idea what exactly you want. Just remember to be polite and professional throughout your dealings with the artist, and he or she will give you the same in turn.

Step 4-Purchase Your ISBNs (and Barcodes)

Once your book is as good as it’s going to get, you are in a good position to lock it in place by assigning it an ISBN. ISBNs could be the subject of an entire post unto themselves, but basically they are those little 10- or 13-digit numbers next to the barcode and on your copyright page that pretty much every book in circulation for the last 60 years or so has. Every new edition or format of a book has to have its own ISBN, so you’ll have to purchase one for each format (paperback, hardcover, audio, large print, etc.) that you plan to publish in. It might be advisable to buy a whole bundle at once, especially if you’re planning to publish more books in future, as this is cheaper in the long run.

E-books do not require an ISBN by law as of yet, and each platform you publish them on will supply one of its own. However, if you plan on publishing across multiple platforms, it definitely looks more professional to buy an ISBN specifically for the e-book version to use uniformly across them. Up to you, though.

Another thing you may want for your print editions are barcodes. You can also purchase these in bundles, and they are essential if you’re planning to print books en masse and sell them yourself (or try and get them distributed to booksellers). If you are using the services that print on customer demand, then they will supply their own barcodes if you don’t have any, so you need not worry overmuch about it.

If, of course, you do not plan to sell your book, but simply distribute it for personal use or pass it out to family and friends as a Christmas present or something like that, then you need not worry about barcodes or ISBNs at all, and can move on to the next step.

Step 5-Publication

Once you’ve got your book formatted, assigned it an ISBN, and have a good cover (and sometimes even before), you can begin choosing where exactly you want to publish. This will be largely determined by what formats your book is in. E-books tend to be the easiest formats to self-publish, and you have a wide range of publishers and distributors to choose from. Usually it is free to publish with them, as there are no up-front printing costs. They simply take a small portion of royalties from any sales you make.

Print books are harder to publish and much harder to distribute widely (another advantage of traditional publishing that I failed to mention earlier). However, there are many print-on-demand services out there who will gladly print as many books as you would like in whatever size or edition you want. These are known as vanity presses, and can be extremely pricey. And of course, it is still on you to get these printed books distributed to bookstores, assuming those stores will have your title on their shelves.

An alternative, more affordable alternative is offered by a few platforms. Instead of charging you to print a bunch of books up front, they make books to order for customers. This means that they will take the printing cost out of the total amount the customer pays, rather than you buying a big batch of books from them and then having to sell them yourself. You can still do this, of course, and will most likely receive an author’s discount when purchasing copies to sell yourself. However, there is no minimum amount in this case, so you won’t break the bank doing so. That said, distribution is still going to be limited.

And that’s pretty much it, as far as the publishing itself goes. After this, there is a lot of marketing to do if you want your book to be a success, but that is a subject unto itself. For now, I hope this rough guide will give you a glimpse of what those of you curious about the self-publishing scene are getting into. If you’re still determined to go forward with it, then more power to you!

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is an author, linguist, historian, and nature-lover based out of Kansas City, Missouri. He has previously published several short pieces in various local and online venues. Among these are the short stories "The Buck" and "The Otter Kit Streamer", which won 1st and 2nd place respectively in the 2015 and 2016 editions of the academic journal, 'Shorelines'. His first novel, 'Sauragia', was published in October of 2020.

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