Saturday, May 16, 2009

To self-publish ... or not

As a book doctor, I have a lot of clients who want to know whether they should self-publish. Five years ago, unless their projects were short-run family memoirs or similar micro-niche projects, I recommended against it.

Today, I've changed my tune. In five years, the world is a different place. Web content rules and social media create markets unimagined a few short years ago. A savvy author can put together an effective, targeted marketing plan that sells lots of books around the world, not just around the neighborhood. Print on demand has alleviated the inventory problem. Unless an author wants a huge supply of his or her own books, there's no longer the issue of a garage or dining room filled to the brim with unsold stock. However, attractive as the self-publishing option is, the would-be author needs to remember to:

  • Write the best book you can write. There's not much, if any, editorial direction at print on demand operations. Particular companies may offer an editorial lookover, but it can be very expensive. Therefore, it becomes incumbent on you to check your own book thoroughly for inaccuracies, anachronisms (this is a huge issue in many of the books I'm asked to review), inconsistencies, holes in the plot, and half-baked research that will result in your readers' finding your book less than credible. Beyond the major issues, you must proofread your own material very carefully, looking for errors in diction, spelling, usage, mechanics, and punctuation. Of course, you can have talented friends help you proofread, and sometimes paying a book doctor is a worthwhile expense before you get to the printing stage. Book doctors often can spot major flaws and help you correct them in the early preparation of your manuscript.
  • Study other books to see what you want yours to look like. The cover and interior design of a book are critical. I've seen some seriously ugly covers because the author didn't know what direction to give the designers, and I've seen hideous interiors that look as if they came straight from the author's computer. If you're going to self-publish, learn something about the benefits of serif and sans serif types, point size, headers and footers, color, screens--and converse either by phone or e-mail with the person designing your cover. If he or she hasn't read the book, help your designer to understand your purposes in writing it. Good designers know how to incorporate your ideas and concepts into appealing visuals, but even the best designer is clueless if you don't talk. And don't be shy about turning down any idea you really loathe. A client of mine recently was given two cover choices. One was possible, the other was arty, but atrocious. There were so many things wrong with it she hardly knew where to begin. She took the first option as a starting place and worked with her designer until the design was one she could live with comfortably.
  • Don't go cheap, but also don't take every service you're offered. Many print on demand companies tell you they do "marketing," but when you look at the package, you see that it consists of postcards, bookmarks, a generic media release, and maybe a couple of posters. Those might be good ideas, but you can do them yourself for less money. Additionally, these ideas work better if you're planning to book yourself into traditional sales venues, such as bookstore readings. They're not so effective for online launches and other innovative types of promotion.
  • Understand that if your book flops, you have no one to blame but yourself. You can't talk about how that rotten publisher didn't tour you or that your editor suggested a less-than-talented publicist. You're on your own, so you have to have a marketing plan you execute or hire someone to execute for you. Think of non-traditional ways to sell. Think of appropriate tie-ins. Is it a book about dance? How about seeing if you can place it in dance studios as well as bookstores? Think big. Think creatively.

In a month or two, I'll be releasing my first self-published book, Back Again to Me, after six titles published by traditional houses. I've had a couple of very successful pre-launch readings (people were crying, which was what I was going for when I selected the excerpts I did), and several people asked me why I'd chosen the self-publishing route. I'm doing it because I want to get this book to market, and traditional publishing is too slow. I've been given notes by agents and editors and many of them were diametrically opposed. So I decided to go with my own gut and get the job done. As the process unfolds, I'll keep you apprised. And when the launch happens, I'll let you know.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your comments. The most important aspect of your book to invest in is its preproduction (as in writing, editing and design). I self-published with iUniverse last year and was completely satisified with their editing services, led led to 'Raincloud' earning some great reviews.
I also agree that most marketing packages offered by self-publishing companies are so overpriced that a good ROI to the author is nearly impossible.
Look forward to your further entries!
RT

gretchen said...

Thanks for your affirmation. This is a new thing for me, and I'm really enjoying it. I'm glad your experience was good and profitable for you.

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