How to Self Publish Your Novel: The Micropublisher Revolution!
Be Your Own Publisher
Let's face it, authors will try almost anything to get their work published, even the occasional desk exercise. But it's not necessary in this day and age to resort to contortions. Technology now makes self-publishing a viable option.
There are very real advantages that stem from being your own publisher, mostly related to control of the process. If you are technically astute, or willing to learn, you can do much of the work required yourself. The steps required to create your own publishing company and to publish your book are generally as follows:
- Create a marketing plan
- Create a publishing company
- Create a website
- Acquire ISBNs
- Arrange Distribution
- Acquire and edit a manuscript
- Send Advance Review Copies (ARCs)
- Design the cover
- Pre-publication publicity
- Ongoing Promotion
Create a Marketing Plan
Your book is a product to be marketed, and a key element of marketing is to fulfill the needs, wants, or desires of the customer. Create a written marketing plan at the very beginning and use it as a guide, to inform the creation of everything else. At some point, you have to sell your book, and the time to make it desirable to the buyer is now.
In your written marketing plan spell out how you will inform the public about your book and encourage them to buy it. Be creative and specific. Define reachable groups that relate to your target audience. Identify group leaders who might effectively help reach group membership. Define how you will reach out. Online? Social Media? Paid advertising? Articles? Interviews? Appearances? Word of Mouth? Giveaways? Partnering? Skywriting?
As you write your story keep your marketing plan in mind. Modify the plan if needed, but make sure the marketing plan and your story are on the same page.
Create a Publishing Company
The core of your micropublishing effort is your publishing company, and it can be as simple as a sole proprietorship or a more complex LLC. Regulations vary, so research this in your state and locality. You will probably have to register with your state’s Department of Revenue or Department of State to exist as a business entity and to collect taxes. You generally register as a DBA (doing business as) and should open a bank account in your company name once it is formed.
The company name should support your marketing plan. Do some research to ensure that the name is not already in use in your state, and also that a matching website domain is available that is in sync with branding intentions. This will be important for later search optimization on the Internet, critical to helping customers find your book.
Make sure to have a system in place for accounting, to keep track of your business transactions for tax purposes and to keep these separate from personal transactions. Consult an accountant if you are in doubt.
This sounds a bit daunting, but it really just involves a little research, filling out forms, and some creativity, planning, and budgeting. Once your company is operational, you are no longer just you. You are the company.
Create a Website
You should have a website to promote and sell your books. It’s a centralized repository for information about you and your books, for articles, and for monetization of book-related activities. It’s your interface to the online world.
To create a website you must purchase a domain. The domain is simply ownership of the web address that leads to your website. When choosing your domain name consider it in concert with your marketing plan. Sometimes the domain name you want is already taken, so it makes sense to consider your company name and the domain at the same time, to be sure they fit together from a marketing perspective and are available.
It’s not very expensive to purchase a domain, and it can be done through the web hosting company that you choose. I recommend 1&1 Ionos, which I have used for many years:
Once you have purchased a domain name and signed up with an Internet provider like 1&1, you are ready to build your website. Your technical expertise or ability to hire a website designer will determine how much effort this will involve on your part. You will still need to provide your own content and other elements, and it will always be a work in progress. There are many online resources to guide you through this process.
Nearly every book that is available for purchase has an ISBN, which is the International Standard Book Number. This is a 13-digit number which is a unique identifier assigned by the publisher to each version of a book.
The ISBN indicates the publisher of record for the title and is used in transaction systems worldwide for ordering and tracking books. An eBook, a hardcover, and a paperback version of the same title would each have its own unique ISBN. A publisher planning to publish a title in all three formats would need to have three different ISBNs for this one title.
In the United States ISBNs are issued only by Bowker. Once your company exists and you have a website, purchase a block of ISBNs from Bowker here:
A block of ten generally makes sense for starting off, but if you are considering publishing a number of books in several formats, a block of a hundred is more economical and provides more long term options.
As of this writing, ISBN Prices are as follows:
1 for $125
10 for $295
100 for $575
1000 for $1500
Note that if you are supplied an ISBN from Amazon or any vendor other than Bowker, they are the publisher of record, not you.
There are several major players in the ebook distribution game, and which one you use depends on your goals and technical abilities. Here we will discuss:
- Kindle Direct Publishing
Kindle Direct Publishing
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to make your ebook available on Amazon as a Kindle ebook. To publish using Kindle Direct Publishing you must create an Amazon KDP account. It is free to set up your account, and once your ebook is available you get paid for each copy sold, minus a percentage that goes to Amazon. After you create your account, follow the instructions to upload your interior and cover files. There are fairly easy instructions at the KDP website to help you with this.
Use your own ISBN (you can purchase one from KDP, but then they are the publisher of record). They have an optional program called Select, which offers inclusion in their Lending Library and certain marketing programs. However, with Select, you must agree to sell your ebook exclusively through KDP for 90 days, after which you can opt-out.
KDP is great for selling on Amazon and has many marketing tools. It is fairly easy to set up, and they will convert your Word document to an ebook format for you. Once you create your account you can manage your books from a dashboard, where you will enter various title information, search keywords, your book’s categories, and other information to help users find your book. Coordinate this with your marketing plan to target appropriate demographics.
- Pros: Free and easy to use.
- Cons: Distribution on Amazon only, unless you use Select.
For more information:
IngramSpark is owned by Ingram, which distributes almost everywhere, but does come with some costs. You will have to be more technically savvy to use Ingram because they do not format your Word doc for ebook use. You’ll need to do that yourself or hire someone who can.
You send them two files, a jpg for the cover, and an epub for the interior. They do not check your writing or formatting, so make sure it’s right when you send it.
The benefits in distribution with Ingram can be well worth the effort, simply because of their presence in the book distribution space. It costs $25 to submit an ebook, plus another $25 any time you submit revisions after it is in production, but you get free global distribution. IngramSpark currently distributes to around 25 online retailers. For a complete list visit their site.
- Pros: Wide distribution.
- Cons: Cost and amount of work for the publisher to create needed files.
For more information:
Smashwords is an ebook aggregator, meaning that they distribute your ebook to many online booksellers. You upload your book in Microsoft Word, and Smashwords converts it into an ebook and makes it available to many online retailers and libraries. When a copy is sold, you receive payment, minus the 15% taken by Smashwords.
Smashwords reaches many online retailers, such as Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Walmart, OverDrive (used by many libraries), Gardners, Scribd, Tolino, Baker & Taylor, Inktera and more.
You can opt-out of any of these online retailers. For example, if you use KDP to distribute on Amazon because of certain benefits, you would not want to also use Smashwords for Amazon.
It costs nothing to create an account and upload your ebook. It will still be up to you to convince the world to actually buy the book.
Smashwords has a very user-friendly site, offers wide distribution, free author profile pages, coupons (allows you to offer coupons to readers), and several other nice features.
- Pros: Upload once, reach many. Ease of use. They format your file for you.
- Cons: The website is somewhat outdated.
For more information:
Draft2Digital is a fairly new but popular ebook aggregator. They accept your book in Microsoft Word and format it according to the requirements of the online retailers it partners with, where it then becomes available for sale. They also have their own storefront, where customers can buy your ebook. They take around 15% of each sale and pay you the rest. You get paid monthly.
As of this writing, Draft2Digital distributes to Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo (including Kobo Plus), Tolino, OverDrive, Bibliotheca, Scribd, 24Symbols, Playster, and Baker & Taylor.
You can opt-out of any of these online retailers. For example, if you use KDP to distribute on Amazon because of certain benefits, you would not want to also use Draft2Digital for Amazon.
Draft2Digital has one of the best user interfaces available for ease of use in setting up your ebook and offers various marketing and community features.
- Pros: Upload once, reach many. Ease of use. They format your file for you. Modern website.
- Cons: Newer company. Distributes to fewer retailers than Smashwords.
For more information:
Tell us your thoughts
How would you consider publishing your book?
In the traditional publishing model physical bookstores can return copies of books they order for a full refund. This can spell trouble for the publisher, who is charged back both for the original cost of the book and for shipping. The origin of this consignment model dates back to the great depression, and for a publisher experiencing significant returns, it is depressing indeed.
For the micropublisher this is not generally a favorable model, but it is often desirable to offer a paperback version of your book. Print-on-demand technology makes this possible. This involves the use of printers that can print, bind, and cover a complete book in less than a minute. A book is not printed until demand warrants it, so there is no large-scale warehousing or returns of unsold cases of books. Coupled with online distribution this is a viable option for the micropublisher.
To minimize risk do not make a print-on-demand book returnable where this option is offered. The odds of being stocked in bookstores is small, but the risk of a single large returned order is too high. Rather, market directly to consumers via online retailers, and forego physical bookstore presence. That consignment model is best left to traditional publishers with the ability to endure returns.
Below we discuss two popular options for print-on-demand distribution.
Kindle Direct Publishing: Paperback
Along with ebooks for Kindle, KDP can also provide a print-on-demand version, which then becomes available for sale on Amazon as a trade paperback.
KDP will accept your manuscript in Microsoft Word format and create the required file for print-on-demand. If you already have an ebook with KDP, they can use this to create the print-on-demand version. They also need the cover file from you. Your book will be available on Amazon only, but you can opt for their extended distribution program for wider distribution. Use caution with this option. Your book's ISBN cannot be submitted to another company for distribution, and the extended distribution option does not allow for your book to be returnable, a condition most physical bookstores demand.
KDB is part of Amazon, so its integration of your print-on-demand book with its own system, both from a production, distribution, and marketing stance, is great. Getting your paperback book into production is fairly easy, and for selling directly to the reader it’s about as simple as it gets. Cover options include gloss (shiny) or matte, but they do not offer a hardback edition. They are somewhat less expensive to use, have better profit margins on Amazon, and charge no fees for setup. The print cost is deducted from the sale price when a book is ordered, and the publisher is paid the balance.
Simply create a KDP account and upload the required files per their instructions. Review and approve the proof, then publish. Your book quickly becomes available for purchase on Amazon, and all you have to do is get readers to buy it.
- Pros: Ease of use. Free. Integrates best with Amazon.
- Cons: Limited external distribution. No hardcover. No option for returnable books.
For more information:
IngramSpark offers the paperback and hardcover editions, as well as ebooks. They accept files of your book interior and cover, provided by you, and create the finished print-on-demand file, which is used to create a physical copy of your book when it is ordered by an online retailer, such as Amazon or BN.com. The book goes into Ingram’s distribution system and can be ordered by any of their partners.
If you opt to make the book returnable and offer a 55% discount, it will fall into the same category as any traditional publisher. Many bookstores, online retailers, libraries, and schools get data feeds and order from Ingram on a regular basis, so theoretically they might order some copies of your book. However, if it doesn’t sell, they could return them at your expense. Think carefully before opting for this path. You can always change later if circumstances warrant.
Note that a book that is marked as non-returnable does not concern online customer purchases, only bookstore orders through a distributor. The returns policy of the retailer governs the purchase by a reader.
IngramSpark charges $49 for setup, as well as a $12 yearly maintenance fee. Updates to an existing file cost an additional $25. If you use IngramSpark for print-on-demand, they offer to include your ebook at the same price. Otherwise, it is $49 for paperback or hardback and $25 for ebook. This is for setup only. There are print costs when the book is ordered, which is deducted from the amount paid to the publisher.
- Pros: Global distribution. Option to set returnable and for trade discount.
- Cons: Costs to set up and maintain. Publisher must prepare all files.
For more information:
Acquire and Edit a Manuscript
You probably already have the manuscript in hand which you intend to publish, but at this point, you should have a better idea of how you will be marketing your book, how your company and website to tie in with that vision, and how the book will integrate with both.
You may realize that some aspects of your book would benefit from further editing, perhaps to appeal to certain groups, organizations, or subjects that you intend to target through your marketing efforts. Be careful not to infringe on trademarks or other intellectual property, but recognize the potential for reworking your manuscript to support marketing. You do not have to sacrifice your literary vision to accomplish this, but it can be a balancing act.
Have your manuscript edited by a professional editor or someone with professional editing skills. Have it proofread by several trusted proofreaders, and generally get it in the shape that you want readers to see. This is your product, and you will be competing with many others. Stand out.
Send ARCs (Advance Review Copies)
Send review copies to potential reviewers as soon as possible before the publication date. Several months if possible.
This is to get reviews for use in marketing, and possibly to put on the cover or website, or in press releases and other publicity. If you are offering a paperback version, your distributor usually offers publisher copies at or near print cost, and may even offer a review version. Use these to send to reviewers after they have agreed to review your book.
Target reviewers in concert with your marketing plan, focusing on those who have a platform to reach the most potential readers in the most relevant subject areas. Follow up with any who did not respond, or who asked you to send a review copy but did not respond with a review in a reasonable amount of time. Ask before you send a review copy. You may want to make the copy available as a download from your website from a protected directory.
Once you get reviews you can use them in marketing, and definitely as a blurb on your cover, but get permission from the reviewer first.
Design the Cover
Much like the manuscript itself, the cover should be coordinated with your marketing plan. If you lack the technical skills to create a tantalizing cover, you may have to hire a professional. Be sure to use a designer with actual book cover experience. You’ll need a cover image for various formats, such as Kindle, other ebook distributors, and paperback. Each distributor or printer will have their own set of cover requirements, so make sure your designer can handle this.
Your back cover will need a barcode. This is the white rectangle with black stripes at the bottom of a book’s back cover. It contains the ISBN and pricing information for your book, which used by scanners. Once you have an account at MyIdentifiers,com (the Bowker ISBN site) you can purchase and download a barcode.
A book is considered copyrighted as soon as it is written, however to strengthen your position in the event of infringement it is considered best practice to formally register your book with the U.S. Copyright Office. This is fairly straightforward, and involves filling out an application, paying a small fee, and providing two good copies of your book.
- U.S. Copyright Office
Index of the U.S. Copyright Office's website
All is ready. The company, the website, the distributors, and the marketing plan are in place and good to go. It is now time to launch your pre-publication publicity campaign, in which you will announce to the world the pending arrival of your book.
This is when you create a buzz about your upcoming book. Send out an email blast, post to online groups you have joined, and otherwise activate your publicity machine with round one of the marketing campaign. The intent is to raise awareness and interest in what is on the way. This can be a few days or weeks before the actual release. When you send the next blast, it will hopefully find your potential customers in an expectant mood.
This is a good time to set up post-release interviews. Contact potential interviewers when your book release is right around the corner, but schedule the actual interview for when the book can actually be purchased by the public.If you plan to do events at local bookstores or other venues, this is the time to set those up as well.
Go live. The book is now available for purchase in all formats. Repeat the pre-publicity blast, but with the exciting news that the book is now available. Be well prepared for any events you have scheduled, and be sure to notify local media in advance, and invite them to cover it. Find an angle to make it newsworthy, then use your on-air time to sell your story. Be prepared to succinctly state the value of your book to its intended audience.
If you have correctly identified, located, and communicated with your target audience, and if your book is a quality product that is correctly priced, then sales may result.
If not, then the only thing to do is to adjust, and persevere. It can be a long road, and the search for what works can be challenging.
Keep pushing it. Make a schedule for regular activities, such as posting on social media, tweeting, engaging new audiences, etc. Plan for the long haul. Seek new groups that might be interested in your book, and tastefully engage them. Do events in which you share your expertise. Partner with organizations for a share of the profit. Be creative in your search for readers, and be relentless in your efforts to promote.
The Micropublisher Revolution represents the confluence of self-publishing and technology, fueled by pent-up demand. If you are a creative writer with a passion to write and a desire to publish and promote, an opportunity now stands before you.
The steps covered here represent a starting point. As with any challenging endeavor, the key to success is to train, train, train. Whatever your weakness, make it into a strength by learning, research, and training. Then use your skill to execute. Mistakes will be made—learn from them and move forward.
May your passion be the fuel that drives you to success.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 William R Vitanyi