Self-publishing your first book in 2023? Simon Whaley suggests a ten-kiss plan to keeping it simple.
Could 2023 be the year you self-publish your first book? As technology advances, self-publishing is becoming a simpler process. However, the same technology creates more opportunities, which can make it feel complicated and confusing. Do we have to use Facebook advertising? Why are authors creating short videos on TikTok? Should we go exclusively with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited? Or should we self-publish on as many platforms as possible?
Whenever I get confused, I remember the acronym used by the US Navy throughout the 1960s: KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid (because I’m forever calling myself Stupid). Here are ten simple steps to self-publishing your first book.
KISS 1: Book first.
First, write the book! We can’t self-publish something we haven’t written. Writing a book and self-publishing a book are two different projects. At this stage, we should concentrate our efforts on getting the first draft written. Once we’ve done that, then we might have something that we can polish to a publishable standard.
That doesn’t mean to say we can’t do some research into self-publishing in the meantime. But our priority at this stage is producing a first draft.
KISS 2: Question Your Motives
Why self-publish? What’s our motivation? Is this the right option? What are we hoping to achieve?
Having a clear set of goals in mind, and understanding how self-publishing can help us achieve them, is important, because self-publishing isn’t the answer for every writer. Those who dream of seeing their book on the supermarket shelves or in airport bookstores may be better off seeking an agent to secure them a traditional publishing contract.
Managing expectations is important. Gone are the days when we could upload a book to Amazon and it would sell thousands of copies without us having to do anything. Today, self-publishing a book is just one part of the process. To get sales, we have to promote our work. That’s more learning.
The more successful self-published writers, in terms of sales and income, are those who’ve self-published several books. Traditional authors face this issue too. It takes several books to build up a loyal readership or fan base.
It’s easy to compare ourselves with other self-published writers and think we can do the same. We can use their self-publishing journey as a source of inspiration. But we’re on our self-publishing journey, and that may travel at a different speed and in a different direction. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
KISS 3: Edit, Edit, Edit
Once we have a first draft, then we need to edit it. Nobody’s first draft is perfect prose. Ultimately, it’s this editing stage that turns our waffle into something that can compete with all the other books out there, including the traditionally published ones.
Proper editing costs money. This is not something Aunt Mabel can do for you, unless Aunt Mabel is a professional book editor. Any writer who’s written a book-length manuscript knows, we’re just too close to our own work. It doesn’t matter how many times we look at it, we will miss many things, whether it be a plot hole, a change in a character’s appearance, inappropriate character development, or a slew of grammatical issues and spelling mistakes.
We pay an external editor to challenge our thoughts and ideas. It’s an investment in our book, but also in our writing career, too. Finding an editor is daunting, but websites like Reedsy.com, and organisations like the Alliance of Independent Authors, can reduce the risk and fear.
KISS 4: Teamwork
Writing is a solitary business. Publishing isn’t. A traditional publishing house employs graphic designers to create book covers, editors to make books readable, and proofreaders to weed out any mistakes. As self-publishers, we need our own team. This takes time. Much more than you think.
However, keep it simple by employing the services of those when you need them. A bit of research is necessary. Some designers, editors and proofreaders have waiting lists of several months. That’s a good sign, for it shows they’re in demand.
Remember, this first self-publishing project is a learning process. It’s tempting to set a publication date, but make sure it’s realistic. Factor in delays because they can occur when we’re reliant upon other people.
There are steps we can take to smooth out this process. Use free online services such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid to check for basic spelling mistakes. Then hire a proofreader. Readers always find mistakes. While self-publishing means we can always correct errors and upload a revised manuscript, it’s better to get it right first time.
Cover design is a skill in its own right, and one few writers have. Designers understand how a cover conveys a book’s genre, as well as the intricacies of font choice and size. Don’t rush this process. If this first book starts a series, this cover sets the template for future books.
KISS 5: Publicity Plans
Traditional publishers maximise publicity on publication day. It’s always nice having a bit of a do, but the joy of self-publishing is that we can promote our books all the time, not just on publication day. This helps make publication day less stressful. Using blog tour organisers, such as Rachel’s Random Resources, can help spread the word over several days.
There are various ways of promoting our books, from using newsletter services to advertising via Amazon and Facebook. Investigate one promotional service at a time. Trying to learn and use several simultaneously can be confusing. It may also make interpreting sales results difficult, because it’s difficult determining which publicity tool generated which sales boost. A single focus on one promotional tool makes this much simpler.
KISS 6: Digital First
Start small. As self-publishers, we can expand at a pace that suits us. We don’t need to launch an ebook, paperback, and audiobook all on the same day. Start with the ebook first.
Some traditional publishers do this. Known as digital-first publishers, they release titles digitally first, and then, if sales are good, they release the paperback format a few months later.
Traditional publishers still do this to get several bites of the cherry. Sometimes they release a hardback edition first, followed by the ebook, and then the paperback edition over a period of several months.
Focussing on one format first gives us less to worry about.
KISS 7: Single Platform
There are so many platforms we can publish our books to. We can put them on Amazon, Apple Books, and Google Play Books, and we can use distributors to make our paperbacks available to bookshops all around the world. But we don’t have to do it all at once, if at all.
Focus on one platform first. There’s plenty of online discussion about whether self-published authors should sell only on Amazon or go ‘wide’ with other ebook platforms. That’s a decision for later. The simplest decision is to pick one platform that gives us access to many readers, which in most countries is Amazon.
KISS 8: Multiple Platforms
Once we understand one platform, then we can explore others if we want to. This can help with marketing, because every time we release a book on a new platform, we can use the event as a publicity opportunity.
Alternatively, instead of learning how to use the platforms of Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble etc, we can keep things simple by using a distribution service like Draft2Digital (D2D). They will circulate our ebooks across many other ebook platforms, as well as several library services, for a small slice of each royalty payment.
D2D won’t distribute to Google Play Books. If we want our books to be available to readers who buy their ebooks via Android devices, then we’ll need to upload our books directly to them. However, taking this approach means it’s possible to self-publish our ebooks on most digital platforms using only three different services (Amazon, D2D and Google Play Books).
KISS 9: Paperback Production
Publish the paperback. For many of us, nothing beats that feeling of holding a physical copy of our book.
Publishing paperbacks is slightly more complicated than publishing ebooks, so leaving it until we’ve mastered the ebook publication process makes sense. Another benefit is that we can incorporate into the paperback copy any manuscript corrections we’ve made following the ebook’s publication.
Again, there are a couple of routes we can take, but we can still take them one at a time. Amazon’s platform can use the ebook interior to create the paperback interior file, leaving just the print cover to be sorted, which, unlike the ebook, requires a spine and a back cover.
Amazon offers a distribution service, but if we want our local independent bookshop to stock our paperback, they’re unlikely to buy from their biggest online competitor. Many self-publishers use IngramSpark as a print on demand service that will distribute to most other book retailers.
KISS 10: Rinse and Repeat
Start writing the next book! Self-publishing becomes easier the more often we do it, so the sooner we write the next book, the better. The best way to keep readers buying our books is to keep writing and self-publishing them.
The self-publishing world can seem fascinating, fast-paced and frightening, all at the same time. But we should never forget that we don’t have to do everything at once. The best way to grow our writing business is to take it one step at a time and remember our motto: Keep it simple, stupid!
Business Directory – Useful Websites
Alliance of Independent Authors: https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/
Google Books Partner Centre: https://play.google.com/books/publish/
Amazon KDP: https://kdp.amazon.com/
Rachel’s Random Resources: https://www.rachelsrandomresources.com/
© Simon Whaley