Saturday, June 2, 2012

Do You Have A Story To Share? Taking The Leap To Self-Publish

books (Photo credit: brody4)
I met my friend Martha Orlando of Martha's Daily Devotions  one morning this week for coffee at Starbucks.  We were getting together so that I could share with her my publishing experiences and the recommendations that I have for her as she inches closer and closer to the precipice that is self-publishing.  I've already taken the leap on three occasions and one of the things I really wish I'd had in the beginning was someone to bounce ideas off of who'd at least taken the plunge themselves.  Not that there is any shortage of self-published authors these days but somehow, at the time two years ago as I was sizing up the cliff ahead, I didn't know any.  I was nervous.  I was unsure of the future.  I was worried if I was making the right decisions.  I was such a newbie in the world of publishing, I didn't even know the vocabulary that I needed to know to ask the right questions.  It was with great trepidation that I took the leap and while not all my decisions have panned out, I've learned a lot and I've never regretted the decision.

I've now published three books and have learned something each time.  However, there are so many options out there for writers to self-publish, I'm not sure I'll ever consider myself an expert.  I'm also not the most thorough researcher in the world and I'm sure there are many of you who have spent more time than I researching the process.  I'm more of the talk-to-some knowledgeable people and get-er-done type of an author. There are two ways I obtain information about publishing and writing.  One way is through following blogs, like Diane Krause's The Writing Range or Jeff Goins' blog: Jeff Goins Writer.  I also regularly check in with a social networking group called Write It Forward on  Joining is free and easy requiring just the posting of a profile. The site is a great forum for asking questions and getting answers from others who have been through the process of self publishing. Nevertheless there is a lot of information that I wish someone had told me before I started so here's Lynne's Guide To Self-Publishing.

Build A Platform 
No matter what stage you are at in publishing your work, whether it's a distant possibility or your manuscript is ready to go, build a platform for marketing yourself and your work.  As Dan Miller of 48 Days To The Work You Love says, writing and getting your work published is 10% of the work.  Marketing and establishing a platform is 90%.  You can't get started too early.  Starting a blog and/or a website is often a good way to begin getting your name out there.  Don't worry initially about traffic. Just start writing about what you are passionate about which hopefully is what your book is about as well.  Later you can be concerned with building an audience or following.  You just want to get something going in the beginning.

Develop a Niche
Part of building a platform is developing your corner of the world.  I personally consider this an ongoing process, however the sooner you can narrow it down the better.  Don't try to be all things to all people.  Don't write one week about raising children and the next about gardening, unless of course you want to start a blog about gardening with children.  Zero in on the specific interest or subject that you are most passionate about, most knowledgable about or at the very least the area you are learning about.  This is your area of expertise.

Research Your Options 
Online Publishing
Do you want to go with an online publisher who will do everything for you?  They will format the copy, provide someone to illustrate the work if needed, design a cover, proofread the manuscript, provide marketing suggestions, buy the ISBN number, obtain the copyright,  even get it published for Kindle or Nook and of course print the hard copy on demand.  This is what I did the first time around.  Each additional service you obtain from them you pay for and in the end the books you buy will be more expensive, per book, than if you did more of the work yourself.  You also have less control over the overall look of the book since many things are done by a formula.  You are also approving copy and communicating with your advisor online.  At the time this was such an overwhelmingly new experience for me, I was glad I opted for this choice.  There are lots of online publishers today with CreateSpace on Amazon probably being the most popular and from what I hear economical.  Create Space did not exist when I published my first book two years ago and I used Outskirts Press.  Given my level of expertise it was a satisfactory experience. But by the time I was ready to publish my second book, I decided I wanted more control and so, I published the book myself.

Self-publishing:  Do It All Or Some Of It Yourself

First you will need to be able to use a computer program to layout the book yourself or you will need to know or hire someone who will.  I didn't want to learn another program and luckily I found a wonderful friend who now lays out my books for me. However there are many ways to have this done.  I almost used Yawn's Books And More, local bookstore that not only sells books but provides self-publishing services on the side.  For a fee they will layout the book and provide most of the other services as well.

If you use an illustrator, you will need to find one you like yourself.  I searched and searched until I lucked into an art teacher from my school who does all my illustrations for my children's books.  If you ask around you may locate someone in your community with great talent who would love to illustrate your book.  Try the art departments of your local high schools and colleges.   There are also numerous online sites where you can review different styles and pay someone to create your illustrations.

You will need someone to proofread your work.  Don't expect to catch all those mistakes yourself--it's impossible.  I used Diane Krause, creator of The Writing Range blog and she is wonderful (no she didn't pay me to say that:). Again you will either need to find someone locally or through the web.

You will need to pay for and create your own copyright.  It's all online and costs $35.  Here's the link.  Keep in mind it's a government site and at least to my way of thinking, not the most user friendly but it will eventually get the job done.

You will need to pay for and obtain your own ISBN number.  Here's the link  You can buy one or several ISBN numbers at a time.  It is more economical to buy several which is what I did.  When you are ready to use them, you just go back into the site and add the title and other information about the work.

Finally you will need to find a printer who will produce the finished copy.  Get several quotes and have the ones you are interested in print up a sample copy of the book so you can see what it is going to look like. Obviously cost is a factor, but you want the book to look as professional as possible, so the cheapest is not always the best.  I've used two different printers and here's the link to the my the one I'm using for Wyatt The Wonder Dog Goes To Kindergarten.  As you can see, many printers offer lots of other publishing services and workshops as well.

Well, that's it in a nutshell.  There's no greater thrill than having the finished product of hours of hard work in your hand.  The process can definitely be intimidating but it is becoming so common nowadays that there are lots of sites that provide great information. I am always glad to share my experience with others as well.

What is your story and where are you in the publishing process?  Are there questions I didn't answer in this blog?  I'd love to help!

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  1. Lynne thank you for sharing your experience and giving us some good leads. I definitely want to publish hopefully later this year. What I need is a good kick in the behind first of all ;)

  2. @Corinne--You have so much to share! Let me give you that KICK!

  3. Such excellent resources and advice here, Lynne! One thing I did not ask you about when we met was income and how you keep track of that for tax purposes. I know that's a way off for me, but that might be another topic of interest for self-publishers.
    Thanks for the mention!

  4. This was a great post. Great information and advice and I found your experience really interesting. Self-publishing is an idea I've toyed with but so far my pursuits haven't gotten too far. Perhaps someday. :) Btw. I think it's so cool you and Martha got to meet for coffee! :)

  5. Thank you for sharing this great advice Lynne. I'd be interested in knowing what was the deciding factor in your decision to self publish.

  6. @Martha, thanks for stopping by--great idea for another post!
    @Jessica--thanks for the comment. Glad you found the information useful.

  7. @Debra--I began with children's stories that I created over 10 years ago and made several attempts to get published the traditional route. I finally (through the advice of Dan Miller of decided that as a school counselor, had a natural market for the stories and that rather than spending time and energy trying to get them published I would rather spend time and energy marketing and selling them. That's pretty much it in a nutshell although there is really a lot of parts to the story....