A week ago, I self-published my first book – How To Find Your Vital Vocation: A Practical Guide To Discovering Your Career Purpose And Getting A Job You Love – through Amazon and Smashwords. In this series of posts on how to self-publish, I look at the journey and the lessons learned along the way. In this post I’m focusing on editing, formatting, cover design and getting help from the professionals.
(Continued from Part 1: Planning, Platform & A Promise Fulfilled)
Step 5: Get help with beta reading, editing and proofreading.
I know these are different things, but I include them together here because they are related. Not every writer needs, or needs to use, every one of these tools. And some writers who do need to use them, don’t. You’ll have to decide what works for your purposes. But if you’re genuinely interested in learning how to self-publish, you need to seriously investigate the option of hiring some professionals to help you.
For How To Find Your Vital Vocation, I hired a professional editor – Hayley Sherman of Whoosh! Editing – to go over the near-final manuscript before I made the very final changes. I think I have a pretty good grasp on the English language – I should really, considering I have a degree in the subject – but my editor still managed to pick up a whole raft of grammatical, stylistic and structural issues in the draft text. It was immeasurably improved after these were addressed. Even if you think your writing is close to perfect, hiring an editor is well worth it if you want to produce something that’s of a really high quality.
Beta readers provide a less formal function, and give observations on early drafts from a potential reader’s perspective. Whereas editing is usually a paid task, you can ask for volunteer beta readers in exchange for a free copy of your manuscript. This is something friends sometimes offer to do, but bear in mind friends have a conflict of interest (so do enemies). A better bet is to find someone genuinely neutral (in other words, someone who neither loves nor hates you). There are several Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon forums for indie writers, and potential beta readers can be found in these. The independent KBoards forum (previously Kindleboards) is another useful place to look.
Finally, a proofreader’s job is to pick up glitches in the text, even when it has been edited and you’ve been over it with a fine tooth comb. You may think you’ve caught them all, but you almost certainly haven’t. By the way, if anyone spots any typos in How To Find Your Vital Vocation, please let me know and I’ll fix ‘em!
Step 6: Don’t be afraid to ask for endorsements and testimonials.
I was fairly near the end of the writing process when I decided it would be a good idea if the front cover of my book featured an endorsing quote from a trusted expert in the book’s niche (self-help and careers). I suddenly realised I had left this a bit late, since any such person would need time to read the book before commenting on it. Doh!
Undaunted (well – actually quite daunted, but I did it anyway) I approached two people: my friend and colleague Grace Owen, author of The Career Itch, and Barbara Winter, author of Making A Living Without A Job. I politely asked them if they would be willing to read the near-final draft of the book and give me a quote. I felt very comfortable approaching Grace, having worked with her before and having already corresponded with her about the book.
I haven’t met Barbara in person yet, although we have been friends on Facebook for a while and I have been recommending her book to my clients for several years now (it features as a “recommended resource” in How To Find Your Vital Vocation). I thought twice about asking her, not because she’s not approachable – she is – but because I found myself thinking “She must gets loads of requests like this. She won’t have time to spend on a first-timer like me”.
But I’ve learned not to assume that my inner voices (I have several – don’t you?) are always right. So I asked anyway. “The worst she can say is no”, I reasoned. Well, she said yes and gave me a great quote for the book, part of which resides in pride of place at the top of the cover.
It really is worth asking. Think carefully about who you might ask, and then do so politely and appropriately, and be prepared to accept their answer – whatever it is – graciously. Don’t just ask “cold”; take the time to build a genuine relationship with them beforehand, if it’s not already in place. In addition to Barbara and Grace’s very welcome quotes, I’ve been able to include testimonials inside the book from my coaching clients and from members of the online membership programme which was the fore-runner of How To Find Your Vital Vocation.
Step 7: Create a great cover for your book.
Again, this can be done yourself, but that isn’t really advisable unless you’re a professional designer in your own right. The fact is, covers count, and you need a good one. Your cover needs to be able to hold its own amongst all the professionally-designed covers used in traditional publishing. Particularly important for indie authors, it needs to look good online (which is arguably where most indie author marketing takes place). Remember – you want the prospective reader to be drawn into the book, not propelled away from it.
I employed Jane Dixon Smith of JD Smith Design to put together the perfect cover for my book (she also handled my Kindle, Smashwords and Createspace interior formats). I was impressed with her work after hearing her interviewed on The Creative Penn podcast, and I haven’t been disappointed. Not only has she produced great work that I’ve been really happy with, she has also been a delight to work with and very professional and patient as I blundered my way through my first indie publishing experience.
Don’t fear that hiring a cover designer will remove you from the driving seat in terms of the “look” of your book. Far from it. Jane and I both pooled cover ideas, then I narrowed things down to three or four I particularly liked, and Jane worked up some draft cover ideas for me to choose from.
In the case of How To Find Your Vital Vocation, I eventually came down to a choice between two covers and turned to my blog readers, mailing list subcsribers and social media followers for advice on which to pick. As you can see, the elephant (after some modifications to the title font) won the race.
Step 8: Pick your publishing formats.
This step can come sooner, but if you haven’t dealt with it before this point, then the time has come. Are you going down the ebook or physical book route, or both? In my case, How To Find Your Vital Vocation has been released first as an ebook – through Amazon and Smashwords – and will soon be out in paperback.
Each format has its benefits. Ebooks are immediately accessible, but not everyone has – or even wants – an ebook reader. They can be cheaper (both to produce and to buy) because there are no printing costs but nowadays, print-on-demand processes make even paperbacks easy to produce and fairly inexpensive (if you want them to be). And despite the growth in digital media, at present paperback sales still outweigh sales of ebooks.
For me, the rationale for the formats I chose was pretty clear. Amazon dominates the market for ebooks, so an Amazon Kindle release was a no-brainer. Smashwords makes the book available to those with other ebook readers (such as Nook or Kobo) and also those who have none (you can download the book in .pdf form from the Smashwords site).
The paperback will be delivered via Amazon’s Createspace – a print-on-demand facility. This will ensure that a paperback version of the book is always “in stock” on Amazon’s site (other book printing facilities sometimes take longer to fulfil their orders).
By the way, if you’re a UK author publishing to Amazon and Smashwords, you’ll want to be aware of the tax implications. If you’re a non-US resident selling your self-published book in the US, Smashwords and Amazon must report your royalty payments to the Internal Revenue Service and must withhold 30% tax on your earnings.
The good news is that the US has a tax treaty with the UK, which means that as long as you provide the right documentation to Amazon & Smashwords, you can claim full exemption from this tax withholding and consequently pay no tax to the IRS. Details on how to do this are included in this useful post from A.D. Starrling: How I Self-Published As A UK Author.
In the next post, we’ll take a look at how to make sure the world knows about your newly-published book.