8 Essential Steps You Must Take Before Self-Publishing Your Book
In this new digital age, publishing has never been easier.
Amazon and Goodreads are a breeding ground for hopeful new authors, most of which are virtually unknown and inexperienced in the publishing world. Many writers haven't the first clue about what it takes to publish a book. I'm not talking about throwing something together on CreateSpace. I'm talking about publishing something professional, memorable, worthwhile and, most importantly, well written and well edited.
So you're here, and you're still reading. Perhaps you're a writer yourself, and you've published a few of your own books. Perhaps you're almost at the publishing stage and you're researching what you have to do before you finally release your masterpiece to the world. If the latter is you, then bravo. I applaude you. You have already taken the first step to making sure that YOUR book is worth more than the hastily released works that aren't even nearly ready to be bought and read.
Your book is finished, or almost finished. What do you have to do before you become an officially published author? How can you stand out from the crowd, and make sure that your indie book is worth reading?
What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing a book?
Step 1: Write a Good Book
Well, duh, you're probably thinking.
You'd actually be surprised how bad some self-published books actually are. It's a hell of a shame, because there are just as many good self-published books out there. Don't be another one of those authors who was so excited to release on Amazon that they forgot rule number one - making sure the book is actually good. People will hate it. They'll hate you. And not long after, you will hate you.
How can I make sure my book is good?
If you are happy with the plot, the characters, prose and narrative - genuinely proud of your work - then you're one step closer to having a finished product and a "good book".
However, reading and checking for yourself alone isn't the answer. Whether you think it's good or not, there are going to be people who disagree with you. There will be people who find errors that you couldn't spot after reading over it fifty times. At this stage, then, you need beta readers.
Step 2: Get Beta Readers
Beta readers are people who read your book from beginning to end and give you a raw, honest opinion. Some readers will be writers themselves, and other readers might just be people who love to read. They're getting a free book, so it's a win-win situation.
However, it can be surprisingly difficult to find people to beta-read, especially if your book is long. People say they don't have time to read, and others would prefer to just enjoy a book, without the pressure of having to talk you through your mistakes. Here's a clearer list of people who don't make good beta readers.
You SHOULDN'T ask:
- Your best friend. Even if they're super eager, there's always a chance they'll lose interest or never find the time to sit down and read it. You'll keep pestering them, they'll feel awkward about it, and you can potentially lose friends. It happens.
- Your mother. Your mum is probably going to love what you write no matter what, and less likely to point out areas where it can be improved. If you want to hear a string of compliments, your mother is the best person to choose to read your book, but probably not good for honesty.
- Your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband. Again, someone close to you is unlikely to be completely honest and tell you things that need to be improved.
You SHOULD ask:
- Other writers. Writers know their craft, and an experienced author (particularly someone who writes in the same genre/field as you) will be ready to point out anything that doesn't sound right. They'll be able to offer constructive criticism and even offer suggestions on not just what needs improving, but how to improve it.
- Editors. Editors are people who love books, and probably won't charge you for beta reading your book for free. Editors and proofreaders are experienced in this sort of thing, and won't be shy to point out things that could be improved. And if they become interested in your project, you already have an editor sorted out (more on that later).
Where can you find beta readers? Critique groups and writer groups are all over social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Be friendly, be humble and willing to read other people's work, too, and you have a huge group of willing beta readers (and possibly future customers) clamouring for your book. Popular sites like these include Writers World and Phoenix Quill on Facebook.
What's your favourite book genre?
Step 3: Take Criticism Well
Don't send off your book to someone and expect them to say it's perfect. They won't, unless they're in the "SHOULDN'T" list above.
Think of criticism as a free gift helping you to make your book better. Even if they trash it, ask yourself "why?" If someone says "your book is crap" without any meaning behind it or way of justifying it, then by all means, ignore them. But if you get comments like "the description of X in Chapter Y sounds a little off", "you have a continuity error where the main character thinks this in Chapter Three but then this in Chapter Seven", or simply "this part doesn't make sense", then you've got something to work with.
People aren't trying to hurt you, but it can sometimes feel that way. It's like being told your baby is ugly. Even if your baby is hideous, you're going to love it anyway.
But unlike a baby, a book can be made better. Take criticism well, and use it. If one reader thinks something is wrong, it's highly likely others will agree with them.
Step 4: Get More Beta Readers
That's right. Clean up your manuscript and send it to more beta readers with the new improvements. Hopefully, you'll have some interest from your original readers to read the new version. This is ideal, because they can let you know if your changes are better than before, and extra things you may have missed.
The beta stage is a pain, but it's necessary if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.
Step 5: Hire a Copy Editor
One of the downsides to self-publishing is that often you have to pay for editing services out of your own pocket. The upside is that you know what you're getting and you can choose an editor who is right for you.
The first step in editing (aside from your own) is to hire a copy editor. A copy editor checks for things like repetition (and what synonyms you can use instead), words that can be replaced to have a bigger impact, and a general "clean up" of your weaker sentences. Beta readers won't do this for you, but a professional copy editor can help you make your manuscript glow.
Step 6: Hire a Proofreader
All stages are important, but can (perhaps) be skipped if you're a more seasoned writer with an already established fanbase. However, proofreading is an absolute must.
What does a proofreader do?
You can't spot every single mistake yourself. A proofreader fixes:
- Punctuation errors
- Grammatical errors
- Spelling mistakes
Unless your book is very, very short and you're a proofreader yourself, it's a great idea to hire someone to check for these errors.
A sadly huge amount of self-published books have been nowhere near a proofreader, and you can tell. They're riddled with spelling mistakes, tense confusion and incomplete sentences, ruining the reading flow and often leaving paying customers frustrated and unsatisfied. To avoid becoming one of these writers, hire a proofreader (AFTER your copy editor is finished with your work) to polish and perfect every sentence.
Step 7: Get an Amazing Cover
Believe it or not, people do judge a book by its cover.
Hire a computer savvy friend (or a professional) to design your cover for you. As well as beautiful art and the right font, the designer must take into account the book spine and back cover. Check out Charlie Hoehn's great article on creating a professional cover. You can do this yourself too, but make sure you know how.
Step 8: Format, Format, Format
Self-publishing either a paperback or an ebook takes a lot of work with formatting. The font has to fit properly on a Kindle or other ereader, the spine and cover size on a paperback has to look correct, and there are potential issues with paper sizes and page orientation. You also have to make sure that your formatting is absolutely perfect.
If you decide to publish with CreateSpace, they will send a sample copy of your book to make sure you're happy with the paperback version - please do this step. It can be frustrating to have to wait a few days for the book to arrive, but it's much better than realising the mistakes after it's been released, and having to un-publish it and start again.
After these steps have been completed, you will (hopefully) have a well-written, professionally edited manuscript, with a great cover and proper formatting. You are ready to jump into the world of publishing, where you can proudly call yourself an author. Congratulations!
Are you happy with this guide? Is there something we missed? Leave a comment below.
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