What You Should Know Before Self-Publishing a Book

If you have an important idea that the whole world needs to read about, you can write a book, but the publishing world is hard to penetrate and difficult to navigate. What does an agent do? What is a request letter? Do you have to know someone who knows someone to get anywhere? Will the gatekeepers of the pub world always stand between your message and the public?

You can get around all of this by self-publishing (and here’s a good guide on how to actually do it), but there are a few non-procedural things you might want to keep in mind first.

You are on your own

When you self-publish a book, you won’t have the stress of dealing with agents and editors, but you won’t get the benefits either. There is no cash advance to keep you afloat while you write, and no one to check and make sure your book isn’t junk. Without these checks and balances, you can write and post whatever you want, but don’t be surprised if the reviews aren’t good.

If you’re not a strong editor (or know someone who is willing to help you) or have trouble writing copy , being alone can be tricky. You will have to manage your time well, plan when you will write, and read everything very carefully.

Enlist the support of friends if possible, but remember that if you don’t pay a professional, it still won’t help you catch every continuity or spelling mistake.

“Let someone who respects you or cares about you read this first,” said Darien Anay, who self-published In the Nude , a collection of poems in 2014. She chose someone she “respected as a writer and a person”. Start thinking about someone in your life who fits that description and pray that they have time to do it for you.

Promotion will be difficult

Again, you are here on your own, so there is no industry machine to push your book. You are a machine, so start promoting your work long before it’s published.

“If I did it again, I would promote it consistently for at least a year before I plan to make it available,” said Anay, who suggested building a social media audience prior to promotion and release.

Traditional authors have many ways to promote their books. Their publishers promote them and deliver them to bookstores, for example. They have publicists who send out press releases and prepare them for interviews. You should consider stopping by your local bookstore and asking exactly how you can get your work on their shelves. Take some time to create a press release and send it to any reviewers or editors you can find online. Sounds pushy, but you have to be pushy because no one else will push you and your book could easily fall into complete obscurity.

If you have friends with high social media status, you will also want to ask them for a few favors. If you have the budget, throw yourself a release party, but make sure you set it up for maximum social media exposure. Think: a photo booth, kitschy decor, an event hashtag, and maybe even a prank your attendees can accept by sharing photos of a book or a party. Think about how you find out about books, movies, shows, or events, and then make sure you use those same opportunities to promote your work.

Lifehacker staff writer Sarah Shawfety self-published Book Dating: Singleton’s One False Search for Love in the Self-Help Department in 2012, in addition to publishing books the traditional way, so she has a unique perspective here. She said, “If you want it to sell, be prepared to sell it yourself using every channel available, and even then manage your expectations.”

Let’s look at this a little further…

Manage your expectations

Your book, as Shawfety put it, “will not fly off the shelves.” It’s just a crowded industry, plain and simple, and you’ll be at a disadvantage without the support of a publisher. Don’t take on this case expecting it to top the New York Times bestseller list. This can happen, of course, but it’s extremely unlikely unless you have millions of social media followers, a friend in the upper management of a major bookstore chain, or some magical genie in a lamp waiting to grant you a wish (in which case, you probably wouldn’t publish on their own).

However, be optimistic. This is an opportunity for you to share your work. Cash raking or record sales may not be your only motivators. Anay said she published her book of poetry so that her friends and family could better understand her experience. Shawfety described self-publishing as “empowering” and “a terrific way to take control of your passionate project and release it to the world without waiting for someone to give you permission.”


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