June 28, 2018

10 things I wish I had known before self-publishing a book

By Madeleine Dodge

When I was 14-years-old, I wrote a poem entitled, Does A Giraffe Ever Feel Small? It told the story of six animals and the characteristics that make them stand out from the rest. It had a cute rhyme scheme and a resounding message to love yourself for who you are.

Over the course of four years, this poem morphed into a children’s book by the same name that I self-published with my friend, and illustrator, Olivia Wischmeyer. We crowdfunded over $3,000 to cover the cost of producing our book and donated all profits raised from sales to Reading Partners Colorado and Books for Africa. Our book was officially released April 2017 when we were both seniors in high school. In one year, we’ve sold over 700 copies, and our book has been sold in five different stores.

As young people, we were new to the process of self-publishing and endured many failures before we held the final book in our hands. Here are 10 things I wish I had known about self-publishing before starting the process:

Don’t be intimidated by published books; use them as a guide. When I first considered self-publishing, I was afraid I would be discouraged looking at published books. But I learned that other books are helpful guides when creating your own. If you find a book you love, consider what qualities catch your eye and how you can achieve the same effect. If you find a book you don’t like, think about what you can do differently. Even remembering which books you loved as a kid can spark an idea of the book you want to create.

If you’re planning to use non-standard formatting, be aware of the consequences. When we thought about our book’s format, we wanted it to have artistic appeal, so we chose a square 8”x 8” hardcover with a matte finish, hoping to make it more marketable to artisan stores. But we discovered that by designing the book to be “artistic,” it wasn’t within the standard format of a 7”x 10” or 8”x 10” book. Because it was square, we were unable to easily format our book as an ebook, ultimately restricting our sales. If your book has an unconventional format, understand that it may conflict with industry standards that are set for a reason.

You will need more money than you think. Many unforeseen costs will add up during the project. For example, submitting online files of your book for printing can be confusing for first-timers, and you may have to print the final version multiple times before it’s perfect. The first few times we printed our book, the order of the pages was wrong, the cover art was shifted, and the words didn’t seem big enough. To correct these issues, we spent an extra $200 that we hadn’t budgeted. Sometimes it is hard to determine what you need to fix until you receive the book in person. You may also have to pay for other unexpected items that cut into your budget, such as the ISBN or a higher quality of paper and ink. When you’re setting your budget, include a buffer to give yourself more flexibility as unexpected costs arise.

Know the distribution process, as book profits are often lower than you expect. Each level of the distribution process takes a cut of your profit. If you know each step, you will better understand your potential earnings. For example, if you sell your book through a distribution channel such as Amazon, Ingram or Baker & Taylor, these companies will take a percentage from each book sold. Bookstores will also usually take 40% of the profits, even if you sell to them directly, without a middleman. Price your book with such information in mind so that you can better estimate your profits.

It’s important to start networking early. It’s amazing the connections you can make when you step back and survey your social circles. I was astonished by how many people I met through my alumni, professional, and social networks that offered valuable advice. Unfortunately, I often met them later in the process and realized that their advice could have prevented problems I had in the beginning. For example, I met someone with experience in marketing children’s books after we had struggled with our first round of publicity on our own. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek out advice from people who may have knowledge to offer early in the process.

Trust the experts. You may think you know better or that your process is different. Regardless, listen to the self-publishing experts. When you read an article about printing companies or receive advice on the dos and don’ts of selling your book, consider this information. There were often times when I thought my book would be different because it was non-profit and because I was a young author. I learned that the book world is sometimes cruel and that advice from experts can be a saving grace.

Don’t rush through the process just because you want to see your book as a finished product. When I first imagined my own children’s book, the thought of seeing it in real-life excited me beyond belief. It was easy to speed through decisions for the sake of getting to the final product. I wanted so badly to hold the book in my hands and show it to friends and family that I skipped things that, in retrospect, were important, such as investing time in our book’s description and pinpointing keywords to promote its online visibility. Remember to slow down and be sure you aren’t skipping steps that are important to your book’s success.

The key to marketing is persistence. When trying to sell your book or hold a reading, usually one email or one phone call is not enough to make an impression on the buyer. Be sure to follow up in-person and continually reach out until you get a definitive “no.” Keep track of your contacts so you can stay in touch and always be on the lookout for opportunities to show your book. Unfortunately, your book won’t sell itself, and as the author, it’s your job to give it the chance it deserves to reach an audience.

You may not get on the Today Show, but you can still sell a lot of books. Every self-published author imagines making it big, but the reality is, it may not happen. Even if you have a great book with a thrilling story and gorgeous illustrations, it may never make it out of your hometown. And while that may be a tough realization, as it was for me, it allows you to focus your energy on what you can do. Commit yourself to doing your best with the audiences you have. If you’re only in one bookstore, put everything into getting your book on its front shelves. If you’re selling by hand, do as many local readings and signings as you can. Set reasonable goals that you can meet. This will give you the confidence to reach for bigger goals down the line.

It’s important to convey confidence. You’ve labored over your book for ages, gone back and edited it countless times, and pulled all-nighters making finishing touches. Then you go to your first marketing gig and suddenly you’re filled with doubt. You see shelves and shelves of other books and think, “What does mine have to offer?” If you let this thought take over, it will completely impede your ability to sell your book. You have to believe that your book belongs on that shelf with all the others. When you sell your book, sell it with confidence, and buyers will pick up on your enthusiasm.

Madeleine Dodge, a BlueInk Review Summer 2018 intern, is a Rhetoric and Media Studies Major at Lewis & Clark College. BlueInk Review is a fee-based book review service devoted to self-published titles exclusively. For more news and writing and marketing tips, sign up for our mailing list. And be sure and visit us at https://www.blueinkreview.com./

One thought on “10 things I wish I had known before self-publishing a book

  1. Daniel J. Madden says:

    Dear Madeline,

    I’ve had the dream for years. I have several chapters penned on one project, thoughts for a children’s story line, even the occasional song idea. Alas, 72 and no product yet to fine tune. Not discouraged. Just facts.

    Your article was well-crafted and most beneficial.

    Thank you,

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