The best thing about the current publishing environment is anyone can publish a book; the worst thing about the current publishing environment is anyone can publish a book.
Publishing is different from a decade or two ago. The digital revolution has made publishing easier, cheaper, and convenient. There’s an entire galaxy of self-published books. Like the real galaxy, a large portion of it consists of dark matter, but it weighs the whole thing down. A few self-published works achieved renown, from 50 Shades of Gray to The Martian. But the majority of self-published titles require authors to create their own success.
Over two dozen companies now offer self-publishing. A list of them is here. They vary widely in features, services, and costs. I published my novel Ghost Writer using Amazon’s CreateSpace service. CreateSpace is free (you pay for hard copies and certain services), and you can create a professional-looking book in hard copy and e-book format. Amazon’s Kindle Direct is linked to CreateSpace, so it’s an easy process to port your novel over to Kindle.
CreateSpace offers format templates, or you can submit in PDF or Word. I submitted my novel in a PDF file, complete with front and back covers, spine, and introductory pages to control what it looked like. Some have reported bad experiences submitting documents in word processing format and with the built-in templates. They look fine online but contained variations in the print copies.
One key to successful self-publishing is professionalism. You want your book to look as though it were printed by a publishing house, not like a word processing document. Read and reread and reread to pick up misspellings, typos, and confusing passages. Reading from back to front will help isolate errors.
Pick up books similar in genre and size to yours and study carefully. What fonts do they use, what size? How are headers and page numbers handled? Which introductory pages precede the beginning of the text? Tailor your manuscript to look like a professionally published book as much as possible. If you are writing in a genre where 300-400 pages is the norm and yours runs 800 or 165, you have a problem. Look at pricing. Commercial pricing is tied to volume size. Normally a 6 by 8 inch book will retail in the $12 to $18 range. Don’t cheat yourself by pricing your book below the market rate, but don’t think yours is so unique people will pay more.
Hire an editor. Editors work on several levels from copy reading to developmental editing, i.e. plot, dialogue, characters, and substance. A future column will focus on choosing an editor.
A cover illustration can grab the reader’s attention, and a back cover description hooks the reader into your story. CreateSpace offers cover templates but bland and generic. I combed image services for compelling images to buy and hired an artist with Photoshop expertise to create a striking cover and prepare it according to CreateSpace’s specifications. You may want to hire an artist to create cover illustrations to dramatically tell your story in images.
With each revision, order a hard copy proof. CreateSpace offers an online proofing utility; use it, but spend a few bucks on a hard copy, too. You’ll see errors in the hard copy you may miss on your computer screen.
CreateSpace offers a free International Standard Book Number (ISBN). You may, however, purchase your own. Whoever owns the number is listed as the publisher. An ISBN provided by CreateSpace will show CreateSpace as the publisher. If you own your number, you can specify another publishing name.
Once your book is the way you want it, submit the file to CreateSpace. In a few days it will post on Amazon, and copies will be available for order. The price is low enough that you can sell hard copies at a discounted rate and still make money. Then it’s up to you to make it sell.
And you thought the hard part was over?
— Edwin Frownfelter