a begginer's guide to self publishing part 1

Beginner’s Guide To Self-Publishing: Some Basics

Since 2013 I’ve self-published a few titles, and with my upcoming short story collection, “You, Me and the Rest of Us: #NewYorkStories,” I think I’ve learned a little about the independent publishing thing. Actually, in my humble opinion, I think I’ve learned a lot. In coming across others interested in writing I’ve been asked a few questions about the process and how to navigate it. It’s a big question but I’m hoping to tackle some of the smaller points in this article, along with 2 more that I’ll post later on. This is for folks who have absolutely no idea on how to begin—the same folks who have been asking me questions. With that being said, let’s go where no one… well, where a few folks have gone before.

Traditional vs. Self-publish vs. Those other guys

I think it makes sense to first give a brief overview about what publishing options are available. For those who are just thinking about publishing, it’s kinda required. I’ll try to get through it quickly, but I can’t promise anything.

So, you’ve got a story and you want to get it out to the masses. You want to inspire the world and, eventually, you want to have a day of the week named after you (I would like Lexiday). You want to get published. When most folks think published they think of companies like Norton, Penguin or FSG (where I interned for a while). That’s traditional, and if you want to go that route there are a few things you should do and know.

For one, most traditional publishers don’t work with authors directly. There are exceptions, but they bend rather than break the general rule which is that publishers don’t want to hear from you. To get the attention of those big companies you have to have a literary agent who then gets in contact with them on your behalf.

A literary agent works as a gatekeeper and ensures that a publisher’s attention isn’t wasted on manuscripts that don’t fit their tastes. They are filters, and though they would technically work for you, they are picky with who they select as clients. Getting one to work with you requires that you contact them with a 1) query letter, and perhaps 2) sample chapters, depending on if their require it. I don’t want to get too deep into that process so I would recommend you check out this video by writer Harry Bingham where he gives a few pointers on getting an agent.

Beginner's Guide to self-publishing

Let’s get typing. Whether it’s your manuscript or a query letter, write, write, write!

The short and sweet is that you write a good query letter and send it to any agents who deal in the kinds of books you write, or want to write. If they pick you up as a client then they will try to sell your book to publishers. If a publisher bites the agent gets a cut of the advance—starting at $5,000 or $10,000—that the publisher pays to buy the rights to your book. They basically own it, or that version/format of it. They take care of the technical book making stuff and get you into book stores through their distribution connections. They then cross their fingers in the hopes that you’ll be the next Suzanne Collins. They do some marketing, but it’s mostly up to you to sell your book.

If your book doesn’t reach Hunger Games status and goes nowhere, those same book stores sell the books back to your publisher who then pulp them in great big shredders nicknamed “Dream Eaters”—just joking, but not really.

Self-publishing, in contrast, means that you handle all the technical aspects that a publisher would normally take care of. Sounds tough right? Not really. Below I’ll cover why “not really.”

Between traditional and self-publishing is a gray area that I want to go over. There are several businesses that offer to publish your book. Companies like Xlibris or Author’s House reach out to writers and say that they will publish your book for a fee, unlike traditional publishers who pay you for your work. What these companies mean is that they will take care of the technical aspects of your book’s creation, although marketing and reaching certain book markets are entirely up to you.

These companies basically take your money and then farm out the technical aspects to people who may not be that good

They are legit businesses, but I consider them scams for the most part. Their model is based on the amount of authors that sign up to be “published,” not the amount of books they sell. This means that they’re not concerned with the quality of the books they publish. I remember getting a solicitation email from Xlibris when I was 17. It wasn’t because I was good (my writing was trash), it’s because I had gotten my name out there and they thought I might have money to give them.

These companies basically take your money and then farm out the technical aspects to people who may not be that good. They self-publish your book, but aren’t too interested in selling it—though some may offer a marketing package that you pay for. My advice? Don’t bother.

That was a lot longer than I thought it would be, but it was necessary, I think. Now let’s get to the fun stuff.

“How do you self-publish?”

I’ve been asked this question about 3 times in so many weeks. It’s why I’m writing this post. What’s the really short answer? Upload a cover image and a Microsoft Word file to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), and click “Publish.” Do the same for Createspace if you want to make a print book, and voila! The online retailer gets a cut of every sale, but it’s free to do and anyone with a working index finger can do it. If you want to be successful, however, you’ve got a lot to do before and after the “publish” button. Almost every aspect of which can be done by either you, or a freelance professional of your choice. As Yoda would say, choose wisely, you must… I just finished watching Star Wars.

… This article continues in Beginner’s Guide To Self-Publishing Part 2: Making a Book

3 Responses to “Beginner’s Guide To Self-Publishing: Some Basics”
  1. You’re right it’s easy to click that “Publish” button but what really matters is what happens before and after if you want to sell your book. Writing the book is just a small part of the overall process!

    • Alex Clermont says:

      Thanks for the comment, Kristen : ) I’m glad you agree, and I just wish all who self-publish did. The quality of a few books I’ve seen definitely require a pause between writing and pressing “Publish.”

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