An Introduction to Self-Publishing Fiction
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Hey, writer! Have you considered self-publishing your work? Welcome to the fourth installment in our publishing series! As I mentioned in our introductory article, there are many reasons why a writer may choose to publish. But if you’re hoping to build a career from your writing, you’ve come to the right place!
When it comes to building a writing career, self-publishing is just as valid a publishing route as going the way of agents, book deals, and publishing houses.
Despite the stigma, many authors have found success in building personal self-publishing empires, including fellow writing bloggers K.M. Weiland and Joanna Penn, as well as authors like Hugh Howey, H.M. Ward, Amanda Hocking, and James Redfield. So how can writers use self-publishing to earn a full-time living? Let's break down an overview of this topic today!
Self-Publishing as a Business
Self-published authors are often called “author-entrepreneurs” because their success lies in operating as a business. Writing, editing, and publishing are the tasks that self-published authors must complete to produce their product. But they can’t just slap their new book up on Amazon and hope for the best.
Products, after all, don’t sell themselves. They are actively sold by whomever is doing the marketing. In this case, by authors who diligently put in the time and effort to build their brands, grow their platforms, and market their stories.
When building a career in self-publishing, it’s important that authors publish books of a similar quality to those produced by traditional publishing houses. That means investing money upfront in good editing, cover design, formatting, and proofreading services.
In essence, self-published authors find professional success by taking on the responsibilities that would otherwise have been handled by their agent, editor, and publishing team should they have chosen to pursue traditional publishing.
How do self-published authors build publishing teams?
Self-published authors don’t have to tackle all the responsibilities involved in producing a high-quality novel on their own. In fact, they shouldn’t. Successful self-published authors build publishing teams similar to those that work with authors in the traditional publishing world. Members of a self-published author’s publishing team often include a:
• Developmental editor
• Copy editor
• Cover designer
In most cases, a self-published author will hire freelance editors, copy-editors, and proofreaders to work with them on producing a top-notch manuscript. From there, cover design can be done by a hired freelance designer or through one of many trusted online cover design companies. (Joanna Penn has a fantastic list of cover design options for self-publishers over at The Creative Penn. Check it out!)
Similarly, a self-published author may choose to hire a freelance book formatter or they can do it themselves using a program like Scrivener or Adobe In-Design or by utilizing a template, such as those from Joel Friedlander.
Working with a hybrid publisher...
Hybrid publishers combine the publishing team of a traditional publishing house with the upfront costs of self-publishing.
In essence, an author can pay a hybrid publisher upfront to produce their book, which can take the load of finding and hiring each individual member of a publishing team off an author's shoulders. Some hybrid publishers even help authors market their new books!
This may sound like a great option, and it is! However, finding the right company can be a bit harrowing as there have been many cases of supposed hybrid publishers scamming gullible writers out of thousands of dollars, hours of their time, and sometimes even the rights to their work.
There are, however, many veritable hybrid publishers out there, so don't let this scare you off. Just be aware of the dangers, do your research, and make sure that any company you choose to work with is highly reputable.
Hybrid publishing isn’t a option I've researched in-depth yet, so I likely won’t dive further into this topic very soon in our publishing series. If you’d like more info, I encourage you to get started with these trusted resources instead:
• What Is a Hybrid Publisher? | Jane Friedman
• The Indie Author's Guide to Working With a Hybrid Publisher | Publisher's Weekly
• What is Hybrid Publishing? 4 Things Every Author Should Know... | Writer's Digest
The Cost of Self-Publishing a Book
One of self-publishing's biggest detractions is, without a doubt, the upfront cost of producing a professional quality book.
There are many authors who self-publish for next to nothing, but in most cases, these authors aren’t looking to build writing careers. They simply want to share the story they've written, and therefore forgo hiring editors, proofreaders, designers, and so on.
For an author looking to self-publish a book that can rival the quality of those produced by big-name publishers however, upfront costs are unavoidable. I plan to break down the cost of self-publishing in far more detail in an upcoming article, but for now, it’s worth mentioning that the typical cost of self-publishing a professional quality book can fall anywhere between $1,500 and $5,000 USD.
This may seem steep at first, but keep in mind that these are your upfront costs. Your expenses. Just like the expenses that any other entrepreneur would pay to continually produce a product they can sell. If you’re treating your writing as a business, you will see income, too. Maybe even enough to make a full-time living!
So don't let the cost of self-publishing keep you from pursuing the best publishing route for your writing career.
What platforms do self-published authors use to publish their books?
There are many different platforms via which a self-published author can produce and distribute their books, and in many cases, self-published authors will use two or more of these platforms to help expand their book’s reach. Let's take a quick look at some of the most popular publishing & distribution platforms:
• Amazon’s Createspace: Use this print-on-demand service to publish a paperback book that will be available on Amazon.com.
• Kindle Direct Press: KDP allows authors to publish a Kindle ebook that will be available on Amazon.com.
• Ingram Spark: Use this aggregator to produce paperback, hardback, and ebook versions of your book that can be distributed through many online retailers, as well as in physical bookstores worldwide.
• iBooks: Use this platform to directly publish an ebook to the Apple iBooks app.
• Kobo Writing Life: Use Kobo Writing Life to directly publish an ebook that can be read by Kobo e-reader users.
• Nookpress: Use Nookpress to directly publish an ebook that can be read by Nook e-reader users.
• Draft2Digital: Use D2D to self-publish ebooks that can be distributed through Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, and other online retailers.
• Smashwords: This ebook distribution company distributes to Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Tolino, and many libraries that utilize the Overdrive app.
• Book Baby: This self-publishing company, in addition to offering ebook, print, and print-on-demand options, also offers design, formatting, and marketing services.
• Pronoun: This self-publishing platform offers design, formatting, and ebook distribution services, as well as many free marketing tools.
• Lulu: This self-publishing company offers print, print-on-demand, and ebook publishing services, as well as design, formatting, editing, and marketing services.
These platforms are some of self-publishing’s most popular print and distribution options, though there are many other companies worth researching should none of these options fit your personal self-publishing goals.
Marketing as a self-published author...
Books don’t sell themselves. For self-published authors, marketing is imperative. And unless an author chooses to purchase marketing services or hire a marketing assistant, the job of marketing their books falls squarely on their shoulders.
Maintaining a strong online presence is often key to achieving marketing success in our modern era. As we discussed in the first article in our publishing series, authors—whether indie or traditionally published—should build and maintain an author brand, platform, and readership if they hope to find success in their publishing careers.
But once an author has established their online presence and begun building a readership, how do they market their books effectively? Well, there are a plethora of options! Which marketing strategies will be most effective in selling your book, however, will depend on several factors, including your book's genre and age market, as well as your publishing goals.
A few common marketing strategies include:
• Running a blog. There are two main ways to utilize a blog as a marketing tool. First, you can attract new readers to your work by sharing articles of interest, such as writing advice, books reviews, or topics related to your novels (e.g. true crime for mystery novels, medieval legends for fantasy or historical fiction books, etc.).
Alternatively, you can use a blog to keep your current readers engaged and up-to-date by sharing your writing journey, sneak peeks of upcoming work, career updates, and other personal news.
• Giveaways. Hosting an online giveaway—be it of your own book or a fun related product—can be a great way to expose new readers to your work.
• Serials. Some self-published authors choose to publish part or all of their book in installments on their website or on a site like Wattpad to try to hook new readers and encourage them to buy the full book.
• Publishing a series. If readers love your book, they're far more likely to purchase another if the first was part of a series. Because of this, publishing a book series can actually be a marketing strategy all its own!
• Opportunities for exposure. Authors can gain fresh exposure by appearing on podcasts, participating in interviews, joining a blog hop, attending book and/or writing conferences, and taking on speaking engagements.
• Book reviews. Authors can also gain additional exposure by offering free copies of their book to popular book bloggers and vloggers in exchange for an honest public review.
• Discounts and sales. Authors can offer special discounts and periodic sales as a way to encourage additional sales and draw in new readers.
• Newsletters. Authors can build an email list and send out newsletters to their most ardent readers, which allows them to keep their readers in the loop and to fan the flames of their love for their work.
Of course, this is just a quick sampling of the many ways authors can market their books. Your marketing options are virtually infinite, and sometimes experimenting pays off. So don't be afraid to dive deep into the wonderful world of marketing.
Keep in mind, too, that your readers will always be your best marketing tool. When readers love your work, they share it. And word-of-mouth recommendations and book hype will always be far more effective ways to grow your reach than any cold sales pitch.
So focus on growing and engaging with your readership, and you’ll be well on your way to self-publishing success...after you get your book on the market, of course!