Going Indie by Lucie Simone
A few years ago, the notion of self-publishing was something akin to marrying your cousin in the writing world. At that time, it meant that your work was of such poor quality that no one other than your own family could love it. But then the market started to tighten as the economy started to decline, and editors and agents alike began passing on projects that otherwise would have been published only a few years earlier. Luckily, with the advent of new technology such as electronic and print-on-demand publishing, authors who’ve been given the brush off by the powers that be, now have the power to publish all on their own. The key phrase here being, “on their own.”
If you’ve gone through the traditional publishing channels only to collect a stack of truly lovely rejection letters, you’re probably feeling very frustrated. That’s what happened to me. I received loads of kind and encouraging letters from agents and publishers espousing my “fresh voice,” my “fun storyline,” my “quirky characters” and my ability to “clearly write well,” yet no one was willing to represent my manuscript. I was feeling pretty disheartened, but I still believed in my manuscript. I knew it had an audience. So, I decided to publish it myself.
I did my research, investigating self-publishing services such a Lulu and AuthorHouse, but ultimately decided that the best approach for me was to start my own small press. It meant I would be investing more of my time and money into the publication of my novel than if I’d gone with a service provider, but it also meant I’d get more of a return on my investment. If there is a return!
In order to start a small press, you must think of it as starting a business – not just publishing your novel. You will need to name your small press, register the DBA with your county clerk’s office, and further investigate if your state or city has registration requirements as well. Once you’ve got that business sorted, you will need a logo for your small press and probably a graphic designer to create it for you.
Okay, so now you’ve got the name of your imprint, your logo and your manuscript. What next? You are no longer the author. You are the publisher and it is now your job to prepare the manuscript for print with the same sort of care and professionalism as any major publisher. This includes securing the copyright, procuring an ISBN, finding a distributor, copyediting, manuscript formatting and book design.
Getting the copyright and an ISBN are easy. Visit www.bowker.com to order the ISBN for a cost of $125.00 and www.copyright.gov to file your manuscript for a charge of $35.00, and you’re all set. Then you’ll need to find a distributor. I chose Lightning Source because they have distribution agreements in the US, the UK, and Australia. But there are others out there, so do your research to see which one best suits the needs of your small press.
Copyediting. One of the biggest complaints that readers (and agents and editors) have about self-published books is that they are full of typos and grammatical errors. No book is completely free of them, but self-published books are more prone to them because a lot of authors feel they don’t need to spend the time or money on that aspect of the process. Whether you do it yourself or hire someone, do not skip this part. Do it at least four times through the manuscript in its entirety and preferably in one sitting for each pass. This way, you will be more likely to find inconsistencies in your story, as well as the typos.
Now that your manuscript is polished to a high shine, you will need to hire a book designer to format it. There are plenty of talented people out there doing this work. Just do a Google search for book formatting and book designers, and you’ll have a huge selection to choose from, ranging from the fairly inexpensive to the sort that will totally break your bank. So, again, be thorough. And most importantly, remember that the book cover is going to be the first thing a reader sees. So, make it a good one. For my book cover, I had a vision. I knew exactly what I wanted, and I hired a graphic artist to design it for me. After I had the artwork, I then hired a book designer to format it to the specifications provided by my book distributor for binding.
After some tweaking of the artwork and the interior formatting of the book, I had a solid, attractive book with a professional cover design and clever back cover blurb. And it was available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online retailers. Why only online? Because, as a small press with a debut novel and author, I don’t have any clout to get on bookshelves in brick and mortar bookstores. But that’s okay with me. Bookstore shelves are already so limited that even if my novel was published by a big publishing house, it would still be unlikely to find a place on the shelves.
But having a book available for people to buy is not enough. If you want people beyond your friends and family to read it, they have to know about it. And that requires publicity. This is going to be your biggest expense. But without it, no one will know your book exists. So, be prepared to invest a couple thousand dollars into it. And be prepared to give away a lot of books. Because unless you have Oprah’s home number in your back pocket, you’re going to have to rely on word of mouth to slowly build sales. And again, do your homework. Make sure you hire a publicist that knows your genre. I chose a publicist who reps authors who write in my genre that I know and love, including a couple of New York Times bestsellers. But I have a limited budget, so we’re starting small, focusing on online avenues with a book blog tour as the main source of exposure. I’m hoping that as more book bloggers publish their reviews, more readers will become aware of my novel and, hopefully, even order it for themselves. Fingers crossed!
Self-publishing doesn’t deserve the disparaging criticism that it often receives, but it should never be an author’s first choice. Only if you have already been through the traditional publishing rigmarole, receiving enough positive feedback to know that it isn’t your manuscript that lacks promise, but the market, then, and only then, should you venture into self-publishing. And do so with the knowledge that once you decide to go indie, you might fail. You might sink $5,000 into your book and only earn back $500. But that’s what it means to start a new small business. You’re taking a risk where others chose not to. And publishing is indeed a very risky business.
Lucie Simone self-published her debut novel Hollywood Ending from her own independent press Simon and Fig.