Have you been wanting to self-publish your book, but you don’t know where to begin? Or does the prospective task seem so daunting that it paralyzes you into doing nothing? Is this even something you can do for yourself, or will you need a “village” to help you along the way? Maybe you’re afraid of the costs involved. Is it worth the risk to become an indie author?
I tackled this topic initially in a nine-part blog series called Self-Publishing Made Simple. These same questions keep popping up in writer groups, such as “Do I need an ISBN number?” and “How do I get my book in print?”
So let’s take a fresh look at the answers. First decide why you’d like to indie publish your novel and then we’ll move on later to show how to go about it. Here are some common reasons:
You have backlist titles and the rights reverted.
You want to publish work in between your traditionally-published novels.
Your book doesn’t fit into a particular genre category.
You have a nonfiction book or personal project you want to publish on your own. You want to direct the publishing process.
Pricing and discounts
Input on cover and interior design
Back cover copy, book descriptions, metatags
Loss of prestige
Difficulty getting reviews
Limited booksigning and speaker opportunities
Tougher standards to join professional organizations
Bookstores and Libraries may not stock your work
Pressure to Produce
Now that we’re clear why you want to self-publish your work, we’ll talk next about how to prepare your manuscript. In the meantime, please feel free to share why you are interested in becoming a self-published author.
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When you propose a book that’s number one in a series, it helps to have blurbs for the next couple of titles ready to go. You can send this along with your query or later with your full manuscript. Create a tagline for your series title, and check online to make sure this title hasn’t been taken. Then craft a query letter and mention this is the first book in a series.
My route to selling the Bad Hair Day mystery series was a circuitous one. When I first presented a proposal for Permed to Death, book #1, I sent out the first three chapters and a synopsis in a multiple submission to various agents. Here is my original query letter.
As we’ve mentioned before in a post on Tips for Query Letters, your one-page letter should include three paragraphs. The first one introduces you, gives the word count and the story genre. Next comes a catchy story blurb, followed by your writing credits. A marketing hook can also be included or suggestions for possible markets. In this case, that extra paragraph is where I mention a series.
Dear Ms. P.:
I’m a published author seeking a new agent to represent me for a mystery book proposal. PERMED TO DEATH is a 75,000 word novel featuring beauty salon owner Marla Shore.
When one of her clients is poisoned while getting a perm, Marla becomes a prime suspect. She attends the woman’s funeral and meets her relatives and business associates, all of whom have logical motives for murder. But so does Marla, as Homicide Detective Dalton Vail learns during his investigation. Desperately seeking to salvage her reputation, Marla tries to identify the killer before the next “permanent” solution is her own.
PERMED TO DEATH is the first book in a proposed series. Also available is a synopsis for the next story, HAIR RAISER. The title for the third installment is MURDER BY MANICURE.
I have four futuristic romance novels in print and am the winner of the 1995 HOLT Medallion Award in the paranormal category. PERMED TO DEATH is my first mystery. Would you be interested in seeing the complete proposal? An SASE is included for your reply. Please note this is a multiple submission. Thank you for your consideration.
I received rejections from all ten plus agents. (See my earlier post on this topic.) Some of them gave insightful comments as to what needed fixing. I decided to put this book aside to focus on romance again. I’d met an agent at a Florida Romance Writers conference who recommended me to a colleague of hers. I sent this person a query for Phantom Bride, a contemporary romance I’d written. Here is a copy of that letter:
Dear Agent L.:
I’m a published author seeking a new agent. This past weekend, I had a delightful conversation with Agent R. at the FRW Conference in Ft. Lauderdale. She is familiar with my four published futuristic romance novels for Leisure Love Spell Books and urged me to send you my new proposal.
Enclosed are the first three chapters and synopsis for Phantom Bride, a 60,000 word contemporary romance novel. I’ve already sent this proposal to Brenda Chin at Harlequin Temptation and am working to finish the book within the next couple of months. I’m seeking representation for this and other works in progress.
Included are my bio, one of my books, and an SASE for your convenience. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Agent L. took me on in Feb. 1997. While she was trying to sell my romance novel, I rewrote the first three chapters of Permed to Death as per the suggestions in those earlier rejection letters and completed the manuscript. In June 1997, I sent this agent a query for Permed to Death mentioning the series title.
Dear Agent L.:
Enclosed are the manuscript and synopsis for Permed to Death, a 75,000 word mystery novel and first book in my proposed series called The Bad Hair Day Mysteries.
I’ve already spoken to RC, Senior Mystery Editor at St. Martins Press, whom I met at SleuthFest in Fort Lauderdale this past spring. I told her about this story and she expressed interest in looking at it.
If you like the story and think JS at Avon might be interested, please feel free to send it along. GB is on my list as a mystery editor at Berkley Prime Crime, and I may have more marketing ideas in my files. As always, I’m open to suggestions for revisions.
At this point, I didn’t follow my own advice and had merely a completed manuscript for Permed to Death, a synopsis for Hair Raiser, and a title for Murder by Manicure. And that’s how I sold the series in a three-book deal to Kensington. Then and Now book covers:
Below is how I would write this proposal now:
Series Proposal for The Bad Hair Day Mysteries
Hairstylist and salon owner Marla Shore solves crimes with wit and style in sultry South Florida.
PERMED TO DEATH – Book 1
Sassy hairstylist Marla Shore is giving grumpy Mrs. Kravitz a perm when her client dies in the shampoo chair. If that isn’t enough to give her a Bad Hair Day, handsome Detective Dalton Vail suspects Marla of poisoning the woman’s coffee creamer.
HAIR RAISER – Book 2
Hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Shore volunteers for Ocean Guard, a coastal preservation society. When someone sabotages their gala fundraiser, she must comb through a knot of suspects to unmask a killer.
MURDER BY MANICURE – Book 3
Hairstylist Marla Shore joins a fitness club to get in shape, but she finds a murder instead of an exercise program. To complicate matters, handsome Detective Dalton Vail disapproves of the charade she’s playing to help a friend.
My First Mystery Sale
Permed to Death sold to Kensington and appeared in hardcover in December 1999. The sale was a 3-book contract, and the series took off from there.
The Lesson – If you’re presenting a book that is part of a series, have blurbs on books 2 and 3 available along with the overall series title and a tagline. The same goes when you are pitching your book in person. Mention that it’s part of a series. See my post on Tips for the Hot Pitch for more details.
Through much trial and tribulation, I learned how to publish my books direct to Apple Books using my Dell desktop computer. Earlier, you had to submit using an Apple computer. Since I didn’t own one, I hired a formatter to do the uploads for me. Then Draft2Digital came into existence, and they offered an easy way to submit your books to Apple. Naturally, D2D takes a commission for this service.
Then Apple changed the rules. You could upload directly through any Apple device, such as an iPad, or via the iCloud on your PC. I decided to learn how to do this rather than going through a third party aggregate or hiring a formatter.
Click on Pages. If you haven’t added this app, you need to do it first. Once in Pages, on the upper row is an upload symbol. Click on this and upload your Word document. Double click on the document. At the upper right, click on the tool symbol that looks like a wrench. This brings up a dropdown menu. Click on Publish to Apple Books. You’ll have to sign in with your Apple password. Check “This is a new book.” You can update an already submitted book at this stage, too.
Make sure you fill in the boxes accurately. Under Layout, click Reflowable. Upload your book cover. Correct the book title. Add your series name and number. Make sure your author name is correct, including your middle name or initial. Next, provide your book description. If you’re copying and pasting, paste it in with Control-V.
Next, choose your Apple subject category and subcategory, i.e. Mysteries & Thrillers, Cozy.
For Interest Age, I’ll put 12 and Older
Contains Explicit Content: No
Publisher and Imprint: [Add your publisher name if you have one]
Original Publication Date: [Today or later]
Pre-Order: Yes or No
Specify Sample Range: No
Vendor Number: Apple assigns you a different vendor number for each submission. Do not make the mistake I did in thinking this was something I had to fill in. It has nothing to do with your seller account. I screwed up on this point and kept filling it in and messing things up. Lesson learned: Leave this box alone.
ISBN Digital: Scroll down below Vendor Number to find this box. Use “Control-V” to enter number if you are copying and pasting.
ISBN Print: Add your print ISBN here if you have one.
Hit “Download Preview” to review.
Hit Open. Use “Page Down” to flip pages.
When done, Hit “Upload” on bottom right of the previous window
This will take you to iTunes Connect, where you should already have an account. Sign in and click on My Books.
It may take a few minutes for your new book to pop up. When it does, click on it, then click “Edit Metadata.” If the spacing isn’t right on your book description, add <br> at the end of each paragraph and in between paragraphs. Here’s mine for Hairball Hijinks.
Make sure all else is correct, then click on Submit.
Go to Rights and Pricing
Click on Add New Territories
Fill in the Release Date
Cleared for Sale: Yes
Base Currency: US Dollar
Publication Type: New Release
List Price: Fill in your retail price
Suggested Apple Price: Can be same as above
Apply to Territories; Select All, to check the boxes for all territories
Continue, Confirm, Done.
Get your Apple Book ID. Come back later, sign in to iTunes Connect, go to My Books, and get the individual store links. Consider joining their Affiliate program at https://www.apple.com/itunes/affiliates/
More people are reading on their smartphones and tablets these days. While they can download the Kindle app, it makes sense to have your book directly available to Apple customers. If you’re just setting up a seller account for the first time at iTunes Connect, you’ll need to fill in all the payment and tax information. If you have an LLC or a fictitious business name, you may have to contact Apple and ask them to apply this publisher name as the Seller on your account.
Once you’re all set up, everything will become easier. Apple has a few more hoops to jump through to submit a book than Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes and Noble, but it’s worth the effort. And by uploading direct, you can take advantage of whatever promotional opportunities they offer, such as free promo codes.
Final Thoughts on Indie Publishing
Here are my final words on the topic of indie publishing.
For Backlist Titles
Once you have your rights reverted, you can reissue these titles yourself. Follow the steps in this series. I always make sure to say it’s a reissue in my promo posts and to mention the original publisher on the copyright page. Since I do a new round of editing, I call these my Authors Editions. Your other choice would be to find a new publisher but it depends on what books you’ll have available and how much control you want. It’s gratifying to improve and launch these titles yourself. You can add your own front and back material, hire your own cover artist, and choose the formats and distributors of your choice. Plus, you can set your own price, and that’s an important benefit considering how high the trad publishers price their e-books.
Allow a few hours or a day for this book to show up on your Author Central site. Sign in again to Amazon Author Central. Click on Books. Find your new title and click on it. Scroll down to where it says, not finding what you need, contact us. Fill in form and say “Please link this revised paperback edition with the Kindle and other editions.” Or, “Please link this newly revised Kindle edition with my previous mass market edition.” Provide ISBN numbers. Once linked, your customer reviews will show up on all editions. While on this page, you can add your author bio, improve the book description, or add editorial reviews.
Consider bundling your published backlist titles into box sets. Add a special enticement for fans who’ve read these books before, such as a new short story, craft tips, recipes, or character interviews. Make this bonus material exclusive to the box set. Offer a discount so the set costs less than if a reader bought the books individually.
For Original Titles
If you’re writing a series, make sure your series title is consistent at each distributor. Prepare a cover reveal notice and a book launch party. Solicit reviewers with advance reading copies. Consider offering your digital arcs through BookFunnel. You can format your book for free at Draft2Digital without having to publish it there. Use these files for your ebook ARCs. Midwest Book Reviewoffers a pre-published review for a $50 fee. This site is well worth it but be wary of other paid reviews. Look on your social media sites for book review groups where you can post your offer. Ask your FB friends and newsletter subscribers for advance reviewers. If you ask other authors, don’t be pushy and understand that published writers have busy schedules and may have to turn you down.
This concludes our series on Self-Publishing Made Simple. If you want more information, both BookBub and IngramSpark offer excellent blogs that you’ll find helpful, as do many other authors out there. Do your homework, present a professional product, become active on social media, and you’ll be headed in the right direction.
This is Part 5 of my Self-Publishing Made Simple blog series.
You have a polished manuscript. You have bought a block of ISBN numbers. You’ve determined how you want to present yourself as a publisher re using an imprint or not.
Now you’ll need to decide if you will be publishing an ebook, paperback, and/or hardcover edition. Finish the copyright page by adding ISBNs for the format of your choice.
Note: If you’re simply going to upload your book to Amazon and participate in their KU program, likely you can use the ISBN number assigned by Amazon. This is true for certain other distributors as well. But keep in mind that this will register them as the publisher on record rather than you. See Part 4 for how to assign book titles to an ISBN number.
Book Descriptions and Tag Line Write a one-sentence tag line for your book along with short and long story descriptions. If you need help, go here:
For a paperback, decide if you want a longer blurb on the back cover or a shorter one with review quotes. Remember to leave room for the bar code. You do not need to buy this. Distributors will provide their own bar codes, or you can get one free online. Prepare the back cover copy to send to your cover designer.
Author Biography Prepare your author biography. This should be written in third person in an engaging manner. List your writing awards, professional organizations, genres, and special interests. Have a long bio, a short bio, and a couple of speaker introductions geared to writers and readers. You’ll need a shorter bio for the online book distributors, where you might want to include the URL to your website or newsletter.
Keywords Make a list of your keywords. These are phrases readers might use to search for your book. They don’t have to be one word. You can use phrases such as, “mysteries with humor” or “cozy mysteries with pets” or “mysteries set in small towns.” Here’s an example of more keywords for mysteries. Look at the bestseller categories on Amazon for more ideas. https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201276790
Cover Design Think about a scene or two that you’d like to see depicted on your cover. Also consider your series branding if your book isn’t a standalone. Colors, text, and placement should be consistent from book to book. So should the art style. Look for a cover artist who has a portfolio of books in your genre. Join the writing community to get recommendations.
Pricing If you’re unsure what to charge, look at other books in your genre with similar page counts to see what the going rates are. What are readers in your genre willing to pay for a print book or a digital copy?
Formatting Formatting comes next. You can do it yourself, hire a professional, or use one of the third party aggregates, such as Draft2Digital, to do the conversions for you. What you’ll need will depend on your technical skills and where you plan to upload your book.
Distribution Before we get into particulars on book distributors, decide where you want your book to be sold. Are you planning to sell it at Amazon alone, perhaps with their Kindle Select program so people can get your book through Kindle Unlimited? Then all you need is a mobi file. For BN, Kobo, and Apple, you’ll need an ePub file. For print, a pdf file is required.
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