So, today is my book birthday! Yay! Some of you have already pre-ordered my book so it’s popping up in you ereaders and for others it will soon pop up in your mailbox. I’m really excited about it and it has definitely been a long road and I wanted to share with the writing community my personal road map. When I decided to take writing seriously I had to look all over to get good information and not all of it was candid. Here, I promise to give you the nitty gritty and the dollars and cents. Writing the book is one thing, but publishing it is quite another.
I’ve always wanted to write and accomplishing that goal only requires a pen and paper or in the new age, a laptop, but if you want to see your book on shelves at bookstores you’re going to need more than a good story, you’ll need a plan. Now, let’s be honest there are different desires for different writers and those desires determine what road you’ll take: traditional or indie.
If your desire is to be on bookshelves at your local Barnes and Noble there really is only one way to do it, traditional. That requires that you query an agent and then have that agent pitch to an editor at a publishing house like Penguin or Random House. They may or may not market your book widely. They may or may not set up a book tour for you. You’ll get an advance for your book and it could take up to two years to see your book on shelves after you’ve signed. You’ll also have little say in the book title and cover, but you’ll have little to no upfront costs and you’ll most likely get to have a signing party at that local B&N you love so much.
If your desire is to get readers you can always give your work away on sites like Wattpad.com or Swoonreads.com. There are millions of readers you can interact with and they’re eager to give feedback. You won’t make any money, but you can build a fan base and that can morph into attention that would allow you to sell your work at some point. You could also use Kindle Direct Publishing and upload your work as an ebook for free on Kindle Unlimited.
If your desire is to get your work into the hands of readers, make a little cash and still be able to sell physical copies at conventions, conferences and fairs then indie might be the way to go. You get complete control of your work by starting your own small business and the timelines are as short as you want them to be. This is the route I chose.
Frustrated with the pace of modern publishing and the admitted undercurrent of racism in the industry I was no longer able to trust the judgement of the agents I was querying about my work. Is the story flawed or are there too many black characters? If you’re struggling with questions like this, the best thing to do is to get some critique partners (not friends/family) and try the story on them. If it has legs you have a decision to make, go it alone or wait for a door to open that may never. I decided to start my own publishing company, publish my own works and see how far I got. I’ve been able to secure local and national print and radio press, reasonable pre-order sales and bulk library and school interest.
Here is what you need to do the same:
Get a website. You’ll need a domain name, server space and a private email (not gmail). You can get it all at Wix.com or Squarespace.com. Just pay the money. Nickling and diming just creates more hassle for you. I have a personal on WordPress and a publishing on Wix. The interface on WordPress is way more complicated on Wix, but I don’t have to worry about WordPress ever going out of business and losing my data because it’s all opensource. If that sounded like gibberish to you, just use Wix. Don’t pay for someone to build you a site yet. It’s expensive and you’ll always have to pay them to update it. Just use the tutorials that the DIY sites have to teach yourself. You’re smart. You wrote a book, right?
Buy an ISBN. An ISBN is that barcode on the back of books at the store. If you want to every be able to sell your books in a store you’ll need one, and some publications won’t review your book if you don’t have one. Go to Bowker.com to buy one. I caught an end of the year sale and got 10 for $299, which is a steal because they run about $99 a piece. Now, if you’re going to just publish an ebook, you might not need it, but if you want to track sales the number will be important.
Hire an Editor. This is critical. You can’t see all of the tiny little grammatical errors in your book. Don’t try. Hire a line editor to catch all of those tiny mistakes you can’t, but also check their work. I made the mistake of not doing that before printing ARC’s for reviewers and it was an expensive error. I work at a school so I asked the head of the English department to help me out and she gave me a fantastic price (around $300) She’d actually done the work before so ask around.
Register It. You need to register your copyright of the book with the Library of Congress. It’s just $29 and you need the legal protection.
Hire a Designer. People do judge a book by its cover. You can’t sell a book if they don’t open it. I don’t know any designers so I used Upwork.com. It’s a freelance site and I’d used them before for other work. I found a logo designer and a book cover designer. The cover cost just $75 and the logo even less. Look at the portfolios of the designers that apply and be detailed in what you want. If you’re afraid to work with someone overseas you’ll miss out, because there are great designers in Eastern Europe and India and they’ll give you a great price. Make sure to use a book cover template from your chosen book printer (we’ll talk about that later) so everything is in place. I know a little about graphic design so I’m able to fix small things, but you may not so it needs to be perfect the first time.
Hire Someone to Format. I used Ebooklaunch.com. A formatter will arrange the book so that it looks beautiful on the page. Now, Scrivener says that their software can do this, but I found it to be a bit frustrating and it didn’t look right. There needs to be no difference between your book and any other on the shelf so you need to use a professional. The ebook people had a five day turnaround and they provided files for pdf’s, kindles and other ereaders for about $200. Don’t make the mistake I made and pull the trigger too early. I could have used them just once when I was sure everything was done, but I was too eager and had to use them twice to fix mistakes.
Market it. This was the hardest part. I thought I needed to hire public relations professional and send out press releases to get coverage. I spent more than half of my ($2500) budget on it and most of what I spent I’ll get no return on. a) Don’t hire PR. You’re a writer. A pitch is just like a query. Research the journalist you’re trying to reach and show them how you or your book or you and your book are what’s poppin’. Mention previous coverage in an effort to get new coverage. Send out the press release if you want to, but don’t expect much from it. b) Reviewers matter, but don’t worry too much about them. Reach out to bloggers and bookstagrammers. You can send them ebooks for free or mail them hardcopies for postage, which is super cheap. Tell them how much you admire their work. If you’d like feedback try Netgalley. I joined IBPA to get a discount on a three month stint on Netgalley, a site for reviewers and bloggers. It cost about ($200) for the run and the IBPA membership was free because I was a member at IngramSpark, my printing service. I can’t say if using Netgalley was worth it or not. I use the service myself, but whether that will translate to sales I’m not sure. It is an industry standard so there is an intangible air of legitimacy there.
Print it. So, I mentioned IngramSpark. I use them to publish my books. They are an indie publishers dream. With the new age of the online marketplace I’m able to plug into the digital bookshelf, bypassing the gatekeepers that keep books with black girls on the cover out of reach for the majority of readers. With IngramSpark I’m able to load up my files and make them available on BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com while also making print copies available for purchase on those sites and on book jobber sites like Baker and Taylor. Libraries and schools used jobbers to purchase books and if they aren’t available there there is no amount of pleading that will get them to purchase. The books are printed as they are ordered and you get a sizable cut of the profits without you having to worry about warehousing books that haven’t been sold yet. You can also bulk purchase books to sell at conferences.
Bundle it. If all of these different arms of the business scare you, you can try a partner publisher like WiseInk who offer a la carte services or packages where they’ll walk you through the process, find that great line editor, designer and even print for you, but those packages come with a pricetag of thousands of dollars. I can’t say if it’s worth it or not, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them as an option.
So there it is. Everything you need to do. I suggest you give yourself at least five months to get everything rolling. Magazines usually plan three months in advance when reviewing titles so that means you’ll need to get your pitch and book to them at least four months before your launch date. Later, I’ll post about working conferences, making writing buddies and signings, but if you’ve got questions, hit me in the comments. I’d love to answer. Now, go write and buy my book too.