Everything I Learned about Self-Publishing a Book

December 13, 2016

So, You Want to Write a Book?

In the fall semester of my senior year of college, I decided to write a book. As if I wasn’t busy enough finishing up my courses, working two jobs, running a website, and trying to find steady employment post-graduation, I realized I needed to take my writing a step further. I initially set my sights on developing an eBook that could be easily dispersed and inexpensive to produce, but I couldn’t let go of the idea of holding a published work, my published work in my hands. I wanted to see my writing sit on bookshelves in homes and stores for years to come. I knew it would cost me a pretty penny on the front end, but holding my book now is entirely worth the stress I endured and money spent over the past year. I consulted numerous publishers who were genuinely interested in picking up my work, but there is always a cost attached. Frankly, I didn’t have $10k to get my book off the ground, and wasn’t convinced that I could make that money back in any sensible time frame if my book was to be sold at an affordable price point with limited distribution.

I made the conscious decision to self-publish my work so that I could control all factors of publishing and how much money I spent along the way. Ultimately, the full process took 1 year to complete, given that I was also working and finishing school simultaneously. Although the work is not finished because I have not yet secured steady or major distribution in multiple bookstores, I feel satisfied in saying that the self-publishing process is complete. Here is the step-by-step process I followed, mistakes and all, to take my book from notes on my iPhone to a printed copy ready for distribution.

The Process

  • I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. I wrote until I had too many Word documents open that my computer started closing them for me. I made sure I far surpassed my target word count because tons of your writing will end up getting cut in the process of revising. My book is comprised of a series of essays – Ultimately 10 pieces didn’t make the final product.
  • I used tools. Sometimes it isn’t always possible to have a laptop in front of you or a pen and paper in your hand. If I found myself in a waiting room or other temporary space, I frequently typed out passages and ideas in the Notes app on my phone. Automatic diction also became an awesome asset to me so that I could record my thoughts while I was driving. I frequently recorded myself talking through a concept and then typed it out later, or used auto diction to type my spoken message and then revisited the text to clean up typos and mistaken words.
  • I hired an editor. I knew I couldn’t afford a firm, so I began to shop around with my friends and contacts at nearby universities. I ended up hiring my longtime friend – she’s a feminist and one of the best writers I know, so she was perfect for not only editing for structure and grammar, but for concepts and organization of my content. We agreed on a per-page amount that I would pay her, rather than per edited word. The rate was reasonable and I didn’t have to pay one lump sum up front. We went through 2 full revisions of the work before agreeing upon the version to be printed.
  • I made it official. By purchasing an ISBN number and registering my work with the United States Copyright Office, I made sure my work was not only protected, but that it was eligible for distribution and searchable via the international database.
  • I hired a graphic designer. Again, I hired a close friend who actually works in graphics and studies design, but hasn’t finished her degree yet. This opportunity allows her to earn money, build her portfolio for future employers, and keeps me from hiring out work that is far out of my small budget. We worked together over the span of about three months to design the full cover wrap for my book’s exterior. I completed all the interior formatting/design myself. We agreed on an hourly rate of work, and she kept track of her time and invoiced me at the end of the process.
  • I chose an on-demand printing house. I ended up choosing The Book Patch/Wilshire Press, an Arizona-based printing house, simply by determining what was most appropriate for my budget and time frame after a lengthy Google search. The Book Patch features on online bookstore which provides a space for me to sell book for free, and they only keep the cost for printing. My 189-page book was under $5/copy to print when ordering in bulk (100+ copies).
  • I promoted. Beginning with my own social media accounts (personal and professional), I informed the public of my book’s publication in stages. First, I notified people that I had written a book at all. Building the excitement slowly made the first sales a huge success. Next, I announced the title. Shortly thereafter, I revealed the cover artwork. Use Instagram, Facebook, any platform you have to promote your work. Create a unique hashtag to collect posts and photos in one place, and encourage supporters and buyers to use it also. Mine is #lessonswepaidforbook, primarily used on Instagram. Hosting a pre-sale helped me cut costs on the first bulk order of my title because buyers fronted the money.
  • I documented. Have you made money from your book? Good. Have you spent money in the process of self-publishing? Of course. Keeping meticulous records of your income and expenditures in the process of self-publishing will make tax time a breeze. Once I crossed the threshold of being debt-free in the publishing process, I was excited but calculated when tracking all income and documented as many transactions in as much detail as possible.
  • I pitched. When you choose to self-publish, you simultaneously commit to securing your own avenues for distribution. I made the conscious decision to start small based on my schedule and time available to commit to book sales. I began by pitching local bookstores to purchase my book outright or on consignment at a slightly discounted rate. In this sense, I still controlled all aspects of promotion and earned the most per copy by being selective among distributors. After months of negotiations, a local chain book store agreed to carry my title! In a few weeks, I’ll see my book sitting on a shelf just waiting for a stranger to find.

Interested in reading my work? You can find Lessons We Paid For on sale here, or contact me directly on social media to purchase a copy!

Have questions about self-publishing? Drop me a comment below!

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  • Reply Rebecca Strength and Sunshine December 14, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    This is awesome girl! Congrats on such a big feat in such a crazy time in your life already!

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