The first time I self-published, I was new to the process and endured many failures before I finally held my book in my hand. Here are nine things I wish I had known about self-publishing before starting the process.
When I was 14 years old, I wrote a poem entitled “Does A Giraffe Ever Feel Small?” that tells the story of six animals and the characteristics that make them stand out from one another. It had a cute rhyme scheme and a resounding message to love yourself for who you are.
Over the course of four years, this poem morphed into a children’s book by the same name that I self-published with my friend and illustrator, Olivia Wischmeyer. We crowdfunded over $3,000 to cover the cost of producing our book and donated all profits raised from sales to Reading Partners Colorado and Books for Africa. Our book was officially released in April 2017 when we were both seniors in high school. We’ve since sold nearly 1,000 copies and the book has been sold in five different stores.
As young people, we were new to the process of self-publishing and endured many failures before we held the final book in our hands. Here are nine things I wish I had known about self-publishing before starting the process.
1. Use traditionally published books as a guide
When I first considered self-publishing, I thought I’d be discouraged looking at books produced by traditional publishers. But I found that other books are helpful guides when creating your own. If you find a book you love, consider what qualities catch your eye and how you can achieve the same effect. If you find a book you don’t like, think about what you can do differently. Even remembering which books you loved as a kid can spark an idea of the book you want to create.
2. If you choose non-standard formatting, be aware of the consequences
When we thought about our book’s format, we wanted it to have artistic appeal, so we chose a square 8” x 8” hardcover with a matte finish, hoping to make it more marketable to artisan stores. But we discovered that by designing the book to be “artistic,” it wasn’t within the standard format of a 7”x 10” or 8”x 10” book. Because it was square, we were unable to easily format our book as an eBook, ultimately restricting our sales. If your book has an unconventional format, understand that it may conflict with industry standards that are set for a reason.
3. Know the distribution process and what profits to expect
Each level of the distribution process takes a cut of your profit. If you know each step, you will better understand your potential earnings. For example, if you sell your book through a distribution channel such as Amazon, Ingram, or Baker & Taylor, these companies will take a percentage from each book sold. Bookstores will also usually take 40% of the profits, even if you sell to them directly, without a middleman. Price your book with this information in mind to better estimate your profits.
4. Start networking early
It’s amazing the connections you can make when you step back and survey your social circles. I was astonished by how many people I met through my alumni, professional, and social networks that offered valuable advice. Unfortunately, I often met them later in the process and realized that their advice could have prevented problems I had in the beginning. For example, I met someone with experience in marketing children’s books after we had struggled with our first round of publicity on our own. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek out advice from people who may have knowledge that can help you early in the process.
5. Trust the experts
You may think you know better or that your process is different. Regardless, listen to the self-publishing experts. When you read an article about printing companies or receive advice on the dos and don’ts of selling your book, consider this information. There were often times when I thought my book would be different because it was non-profit and because I was a young author. I learned that the book world is sometimes cruel and that advice from experts can be a saving grace.
6. Don’t rush through the process just because you want to see your finished product
When I first imagined my own children’s book, the thought of seeing it in real-life excited me beyond belief, so I sped through decisions for the sake of getting to the final product. I wanted so badly to hold the book in my hands and show it to friends and family that I skipped things that, in retrospect, were important, such as investing time in our book description and pinpointing keywords to promote its online visibility. Slow down and be sure you aren’t skipping steps that are important to your book’s success.
7. The key to marketing is persistence
When trying to sell your book or organize a book reading, a single email or phone call is usually not enough to make an impression on the buyer. Be sure to follow up in-person and continually reach out until you get a definitive “yes” or “no.” Keep track of your contacts so you can stay in touch and always be on the lookout for opportunities to show your book. As good as it is, your book won’t sell itself, and it’s your job to give it the chance it deserves to reach an audience.
8. You don’t have to get on the Today Show to sell a lot of books
Every self-published author imagines making it big, but the reality is, it may not happen. Even if you have a great book with a thrilling story and gorgeous illustrations, it may never make it out of your hometown. While that may be a tough realization, as it was for me, it allows you to focus your energy on what you can do. Commit yourself to doing your best with the audiences you have. If you’re only in one bookstore, put everything into getting your book on its front shelves. If you’re selling by hand, do as many local readings and signings as you can. Set reasonable goals that you can meet. This will give you the confidence to reach for bigger goals down the line.
9. Convey confidence
You’ve labored over your book for ages, gone back and edited it countless times, and pulled all-nighters making finishing touches. Then you go to your first marketing gig and suddenly you’re filled with doubt. You see shelves and shelves of other books and think, “What does mine have to offer?” If you let this thought take over, it will undermine your ability to sell your book. You have to believe that your book belongs on the shelf with all the others. When you pitch your book, do it with confidence, and readers will pick up on your enthusiasm.
This post was written by Madeleine Dodge, a BlueInk Review Summer 2018 intern and a Rhetoric and Media Studies Major at Lewis & Clark College. It was originally posted on the BlueInk Review blog. Republished with permission.
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