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Self-Publishing for Beginners Part 1: Tools for Writers Series

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In this three-part guide, we'll discuss everything you need to know about self-publishing. Part one will focus on the benefits and considerations of self-publishing to determine whether it's the right option. Stay tuned for the next two posts, where we'll share a step-by-step guide to designing, pricing, publishing, and marketing your book.

Now that you've written your book, it’s time to consider your next move, and it’s a big one. Should you go with a traditional publisher or does it make more sense to self-publish?

Before you decide, let’s take a closer look at self-publishing, including how much more you can earn by doing it yourself.

Let’s get started.

What is the Difference Between Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing?

If you’re new to the world of publishing, it’s helpful to know the basics.

Traditional publishing is when a publishing company buys the rights to publish your book. They’ll edit, produce, market, and then distribute your book to shops, wholesalers, libraries, etc.

Traditional publishing is free for you. In fact, you actually get paid for traditional publishing. Typically, you’ll receive two types of payments.

The first type of payment is called an advance. This is a signing bonus. A typical advance is around $5,000, but it can be considerably more.

The second type of payment is called a royalty. This is a percentage of book sales. A new author can expect to negotiate a royalty of between 7% to 25%.

Sounds great, right? But there’s a catch.

It’s insanely difficult to get published with a traditional publishing house. And you can’t even get to a traditional publisher without a literary agent.

Most traditional publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. If they did, publishers would be up to their eyeballs (quite literally) with stacks of manuscripts from hopeful authors. In an effort to control the number of manuscripts they receive, most traditional publishing houses work directly with literary agents to find their next bestseller.

Literary agents are also highly selective about who they represent. They’re considered gatekeepers to the publishing world because they control access.

If you don’t win over a literary agent, you have little chance of getting traditionally published.

By contrast, if you self-publish, you won’t get any advances. You’ll have to pay upfront. But the good news is that no one can deny you.

Let’s take a look at the biggest reasons to self-publish.

Why Self-Publish?

Self-Publishing Tips for Beginners

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of traditional publishing, let’s discuss why you should consider self-publishing.

You're in Control of Everything

When you self-publish, you control everything about your book, from price to appearance to what stays in the book and what goes. However, if you sign over your rights to a publisher, you no longer have any say in how your book looks or is edited.

You Earn More Profits

The benefit of traditional publishing is that you get an immediate paycheck, and then you get royalties from book sales. The fine print is that you don’t start getting royalties until the publisher earns back the amount of the advance you were paid. So, if you were paid $5,000, you won’t earn another penny until the publisher receives that $5,000 back in book revenue at your agreed-upon royalty percentage rate. That equals a ton of book sales. What if your book doesn’t sell?

This is why getting traditionally published is so difficult. Publishers are taking a huge gamble because they don’t know if your book will make money and justify their investment (and advance payment).

However, when you self-publish, you don’t have to worry about any of that. You keep all profits (minus the expenses of actually publishing your book). This generally equates to around 70% of your book sales.

You Avoid Gatekeepers

When you self-publish, no one can stop you. You don’t have to query literary agents and get the door slammed in your face repeatedly.

You Don't Have to Wait Too Long

Traditional publishing isn’t a short process. It usually takes months, but it may even take years before you see your book in print.

But if you self-publish, you can have your book in hand by the end of the week.

The Steps to Traditional Publishing

Here’s what to expect if you traditionally publish your book.

  1. Edit your book - Why should you edit your book before going through a traditional publishing process? After all, won’t the publisher edit the book? Yes, they will. However, you’ve got to get to the publisher first. You need to first impress the literary agents. That’s why it’s crucial to edit your book before shopping it around to literary agents. By polishing up your manuscript, you’ll improve your chances of snagging a literary agent. Learn more about our editing services here.

  2. Find a literary agent - To find the perfect literary agent, first make a list of agents in your genre. Then research them to see if they’re the right fit. Here are our tips for finding a literary agent.

  3. Write a query letter - After you’ve identified a few literary agents who may be able to represent your manuscript, it’s time to write to them. You’ll need to compose a query letter that gets agents excited about your book. Here’s what you need to know to write a darn good query letter.

  4. Get an offer for representation - If the literary agent loves your query letter and manuscript, they’ll send an offer to represent you. From here, the agent will then shop the manuscript to traditional publishers.

  5. Don’t get an offer for representation - This is generally what happens. You’ll get turned down by the first batch of agents that you query. So you’ll need to repeat steps 2 and 3 over and over again. Some authors have to do it hundreds of times (seriously) before they find an agent who’s willing to take a chance on them. Or they simply decide to forget about traditional publishing and opt to self-publish instead. If you’re on this step, keep reading.

The Steps to Self Publishing

Here’s what to expect if you decide to self-publish your book.

Here are the five basic steps to self-publishing your book:
  1. Edit your book - Editing becomes even more important when you’re self-publishing. The last thing you want to do is spend your money publishing a book that’s riddled with typos and poor storytelling.

  2. Format the book - You can DIY your formatting or pay a service to do it. We’ll cover this in the next part of this series.

  3. Create a cover design - Read more about this in part two of this series.

  4. Publish the book - We’ll discuss how below.

  5. Market the book - Read more about marketing in part three of this series.

Should You Go With a Vanity Publisher or Do It Yourself?

Self-Publishing Tips for Beginners

A vanity publisher, also known as a subsidy publisher, is a company that offers to publish your book.

It’s not a traditional publisher because you pay for all of the services, such as editing, formatting, designing, and publishing.

It’s not self-publishing because you forfeit the rights to your manuscript. Even though you’re paying for your book to be produced and published, they’ll assume the rights to it and then sell it through their catalog.

It’s not a good option.

If you do choose to self-publish, avoid vanity presses at all costs. You have four serious options:

  1. Publish through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing

  2. Publish through IngramSpark

  3. Publish through both Amazon and IngramSpark

  4. Use a one-stop-shop to publish through Amazon and IngramSpark

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is not limited to ebooks. You can also publish print and audiobooks through KDP.

If you self-publish, you should consider doing print-on-demand (POD). This way, you don’t have to buy a bunch of books and store them in your closet or garage. Instead, your book is printed when a customer makes the purchase.

There are only two POD services: Amazon KDP and IngramSpark. KDP is free but IngramSpark requires a setup fee.

If you decide to self-publish and handle everything, it’s a good idea to use both KDP and IngramSpark. This allows you to get maximum distribution for your book. In addition to selling on Amazon, you can use IngramSpark to get your book distributed everywhere else, including book stores, libraries, schools, etc.

By the way, if you decide to use a one-stop-shop to help you with designing and formatting your book (more on that below), your book will still be distributed through KDP and IngramSpark.

Consider a One-Stop-Shop

Do you like the idea of self-publishing but don’t want to do it all on your own?

If you’re looking for a fair service provider (or a “one-stop-shop”) to help with print and ebook formatting, design, and distribution, check out these companies:

If you do use a service provider, be sure that you maintain the rights to your manuscript.

Looking for Even More Self-Publishing Resources?

In this post, we discuss the differences between traditional and self-publishing in greater depth. Examine the pros and cons of both before making your final decision.

Our affiliate, Joanna Penn, authored a fantastic article on this very topic -- How To Self-Publish A Print Book. Joanna is an authority figure on all things self-publishing related. The article provides a detailed breakdown of the process.

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