There’s no shortage of online writing advice. On the contrary, when I first decided to independently publish, I was swamped with such a flood of information that it was hard to find sure footing.
The terminology was tricky enough, let alone the specific strategies other independent authors discussed as I listened in and scrambled to figure out just what they meant by “broad” vs. “narrow,” rapid releases, Bookbub and so on.
I found myself wishing for simpler answers and asking myself: What do I actually NEED if I want to publish a book independently?
For those of you who’ve asked the same question, good news! Having independently published my first novel, I now have at least a little better grasp on the answer.
1. A (Finished) Manuscript
If you’re thinking, “Kind of obvious, Anne,” I don’t disagree, but bear with me.
Many writers who hope to be published are working on building their platform- i.e. a presence and influence that will help them sell books later on- without a finished manuscript in hand.
I’m not saying that a platform is a bad thing- in the saturated book market, it looks like you’ll need it! However, just remember that if you’re seriously pursuing publication, the finished, polished, as-perfect-as-possible manuscript is key.
It’s key if you’re going traditional, as you’ll be pitching that manuscript to literary gatekeepers who are inundated with stories.
It may be even more important if you’re going independent, as you’re going to be pitching it to the world without the benefit of a bigger name than your own backing you up.
2. Proper Interior Formatting
I thought that I was a decent typist and pretty good with formatting- until I learned how many things I didn’t know. (Things like the evilness of the Tab key- UGH!)
There are specific formatting rules that an independently publishing author must be familiar with- otherwise books might end up with words running off of the page, weird blank spaces, or all kinds of other unprofessional eyesores.
Thankfully, if you have a working knowledge of Microsoft, much of this is doable on your own, as I discovered when I created a classroom anthology for my 7th and 8th graders.
Depending on the format of your published work, you’ll have to know how to save it as a number of different types of files, too.
For instance, if you’re going to publish your story for Kindle, you’ll need to have it in a mobi file. If you want it readable on other types of devices, it’ll need to be an epub- because, in one friend’s words, “Kindle doesn’t play well with others.” 🙂
If you want your book published in paperback, it’ll need to be a properly formatted pdf document, but the cover will have to be a jpeg. (The Kindle cover will need to be jpeg too, but with different dimensions.)
Then there’s sizing to consider, spacing, this interesting publishing term called “bleed,” and making certain that the fonts you use aren’t under copyright…
Again, much of what you need to know is online, through KDP or other sites. However, this is an area where I was grateful to have the lovely and talented Amanda Ruehle on my side. An independently published author, editor, designer and formatter, she’s also much more tech saavy than I. She took my manuscript and turned it into a beautifully polished piece.
3. A Cover
You may have been told not to judge a book by it…but you know people will.
Whether you’re publishing an e-book or a paperback, a cover is the first thing readers see, and it’s an important marketing tool.
For those ready to dive into cover design there are do-it-yourself options, even for those of us without tons of image editing software. One example is KDP’s Cover Creator tool – it’s free and has different formats to choose from.
If you’re like me and discover that enjoying arts and crafts doesn’t make you a talented designer, you can hire cover designers for a wide range of prices- from under a hundred dollars to several hundred. (I know several people who have worked with designers through Fiverr and been pleased with the results.)
4. What About Money?
One of the appealing things about publishing through KDP is that (at least currently) it costs no money up front.
KDP runs on a royalty system. Authors receive a percentage of all ebook sales, and a percentage of all paperback sales after printing costs*. The percentages vary depending on just how and where books are sold, but that’s all detailed on their site.
There is also the option of featuring e-books on Kindle Unlimited. Rather than a royalty based on sales, the money KU takes in is divided among authors depending on how many pages of their manuscript get clicked on by subscribers.
So. Theoretically, you can independently publish a book with no cost apart from time.
5. Is That It?
Well, yes. And no.
After all, the beauty and challenge of going indie is that everything about the creation of your book is up to you.
- Having beta readers and others to help you polish your work
- Hiring out, begging or bartering for editing services
- Finding places and people willing to do reviews (without breaking Amazon’s review policies…)
- Marketing the book
- Figuring out how publishing will affect your taxes
- Continue bullet points ad nauseum…
Add to all of these considerations this: according to a source cited on Kristen Lamb’s blog, one million books were self published last year.
Lamb also pointed out in the post that these books didn’t have to go through traditional gatekeepers, (i.e. publishing houses, editors, etc) leading to a pretty huge range in quality.
Independent writers- that’s our challenge. The “needs” list for self-publishing really is quite short and easy to quantify.
But the details- the other steps that make our book a professional piece that stands out from the other 999,999,999 books-
Those take time. Effort. Stick-to-itivness.
If you’re willing to put those in, you’re well on your way.
Where are you in your writing journey? Looking to publish? Not interested in jumping down that rabbit hole yet?
Published authors- did I miss anything? What would you add to the list?
Wherever you are, I’m wishing you all the best!
Thanks for stopping by!
*Since printing costs come out of the cost for the paperbacks, KDP does set a “minimum selling price” for individual books. From there the author decides on a price for their book.