Self publishing: making your book the best it can be.
Self publishing isn’t a new thing, but in recent years it has grown into a huge global phenomenon. With sites like Lulu.com springing up everywhere and offering you the chance to create your own professionally printed book at reasonably low cost, it’s much a much more accepted and accessible route to publication than it once was. There are also more reasons to self publish than ever before — the internet offers you millions of potential readers, you have total creative control over your work and you can even stand to make more money this way. But a lot of writers are also turning to self publishing simply because they’re tired of the time and effort involved in taking the more traditional route. If you’re publishing your own stuff, there are no deadlines, no requirements, no contracts to sign, no obligations to show up at events, no book tours. You decide when to sell and who to sell to, how to market yourself (or not!) — you even pick the cover price. However, self publishing is not all plain sailing — without a publishing house and their army of PR gurus and graphic designers behind you, making your book appealing to the average reader is much more tricky. That’s why you need to follow these three rules to make your book the best it can possibly be.
Yes, it’s boring, and yes, it takes loads of time. Yes, you’re at the putting-a-book-together stage so chances are you’ve read this stuff a million times already. Yes, proofreading sucks. But you have to do it.
Typos are a writer’s worst enemy. We tend to be terrible perfectionists so spotting a misspelling or a missing comma when it’s too late to change anything can drive us nuts. Alternatively, we can be blissfully unaware, but out there in the world that rogue semi-colon is irritating the hell out of readers everywhere. But you shouldn’t just proofread to avoid the nitpick factor. By producing a self published book that’s polished and flawless, you’ll be doing yourself and millions of other writers a huge favour.
How often do you spot a typo in a book that’s been produced by a big publishing house? Occasionally, but it’s rare. That’s because the book in question has been proofread by several different people before being given the OK. However, self published books carry many stigmas, and one of them is that they tend to be chock-full of errors and therefore annoying to read.
By proofing your stuff before you hit the “photocopy x1000″ or “submit to Lulu” button, you’re creating a more professional-looking product, and by creating a more professional-looking product, you’re increasing your chances of a good review AND helping to dispell the myth that all self published books are full of typos. I’m a very sympathetic reader, but when it’s obvious that someone just hasn’t bothered to proof, it does irk me a bit, and the last thing you want to do is annoy people, particularly if you want them to rate your stuff. If you’re not so hot on spelling or if grammar and punctuation rules tend to escape you, don’t worry — you can still be a writer! Just get someone else to give your book the once-over with a red pen and point out the issues. It really does make a difference, so take the time to do it.
2. Find a good blurb.
A lot of writers make the mistake of writing their own back-cover blurb, or worse, just not bothering with one at all. It may just seem like a bit of fluff to fill the space, but the blurb is one of the most important selling tools at your disposal. What’s the first thing most people do when they pick up a book in a bookstore? Turn it over and check out the blurb on the back. Why? Because they’re relying on it to tell them whether or not they should part with their cold hard cash in exchange for this particular lump of literature. The blurb is the make-or-break of a book sale: do it right, and the guy with your book in his hand will sprint to the counter knowing that he has to read this. Do it wrong, and he won’t just put it back on the shelf — anytime someone mentions the book he’ll say “yeah, I thought about buying that, but it didn’t look so hot.” Not good!
So why shouldn’t you write your own blurb — surely you know your work better than anyone else, right? Yep — and that’s exactly why you shouldn’t!
Firstly, a good blurb should leave the reader desperate to know what goes down between the covers of the book in their hand. If you write about your own work, the itch to “explain” it is very strong. But the last thing you want the blurb to do is explain things — if anything, it should mystify them even further. Secondly, though you may know your work inside-out, your perception of it may well be totally “wrong” — i.e., the way you see your stuff may be radically different to the way a brand new reader will see it. Write your own blurb and you may well be misleading potential readers as to what’s inside!
Instead, I recommend finding someone who knows their books, and getting them to write your blurb. Preferably, it should be someone who knows your work to some extent, but who doesn’t know you too well — ask your mum to write your blurb and chances are it won’t be too accurate either. Writing an effective blurb for a poetry book is much harder than for a novel, so you need someone who knows a bit about what they’re doing, if that’s at all possible. If all else fails, send me a copy of your manuscript, and I’ll write a blurb for you — seriously! I’m not saying I’m a world authority on blurb-writing, but I’d be a better bet than your Mum (unless your Mum is an editor at Random House or something, obviously)!
3. Make it look DAMN GOOD.
Another big stigma attached to self published books is that they’re ugly, and sadly, there’s a lot of grounds for this one. People really seem to think they can fling a cover together in MS Paint in two minutes and hey, it’ll do. Not so! How your book looks is almost as important as what your blurb says — it can make or break a book sale. We really are visual creatures and if it won’t look nice on our bookshelf, we don’t want it! Superficial, but true!
There’s more to it than the cover, too, though the cover is important. In terms of getting your cover looking chic and lovely, I recommend trawling the archives at Book Covers Anonymous for some inspiration. As you’ll see from the stuff there, your cover doesn’t have to be incredibly colourful or complex to look good (in fact, if you’re not sure what you’re after or what looks OK, plain and simple can be a really good, safe way to go). It also doesn’t have to have a direct correlation to the book — you don’t need to visually represent the title in the cover image, necessarily. You also need to think about your cover image (if you choose to have one) — if you didn’t create it yourself, you don’t have copyright and that’s a big deal; you can’t just nick someone else’s drawing or photo, and if you contact them for permission chances are you’ll have to pay. A good plan is to make friends with a starving artist or graphic design/illustration student — offer them a deal. You get to use an image of theirs and they get to stick it in their CV, plus obviously you’ll give them full credit in their book and provide a link to their site, etc. They get exposure, you get a great-looking book. It works!
But I said it’s not all about the cover, and this is definitely true! You need to think about the typography, and think hard… not just for your title and the text on the front, but also for the back cover and the contents of the book itself. It may seem like a tiny thing, but typography is a big deal — just think about the extreme reactions people have to (shudder) Comic Sans. 12-point Times New Roman won’t cut it. If you don’t know anything about type, find someone who does, and seek their help! You also need to think hard about the size and placement of text, and the placement of the various ‘elements’ that make up your book — inner cover, contents page, bio, blurb, acknowledgements, author photo, etc. A lot goes into making a book look nice, so think hard and spend some time on it!
There are heaps more things to consider when you’re self publishing — how to go about it for a start, also how to market yourself and how to optimise your decision to self publish so it helps rather than hinders your writing career. Check out my How to Publish series for more info on this stuff, and if you have any thoughts about making a self-published book into a brilliant product… you know where the comments box is!