How to Self-Publish: Lesson's Learned
Have you ever said, "some day I want to _________" in a way creating an internal bucket list? Sure. We all have. One of mine was, "some day I want to write a book." This personal declaration was usually followed by people asking, "what do you want to write about?" I had no idea. I just knew I wanted to write a book. I didn't need to know the topic because the timing wasn't ripe. I just knew the bigger picture of an assignment.
Then when God gave me specifics in 2015 it overwhelmed me. I had NO idea where to start and the process felt so daunting and intimidating. Besides, I didn't have time to write a book when I was mothering three small children, the Executive Director of a non-profit, married, and volunteering in ministry. I was too busy working for the Lord.
So God removed me from all I knew, took me to a foreign land, and then left me from one day to the next with absolutely nothing but time to sit and write. My writing journey started out as casual journaling. I was purging and getting everything out of me. Then the writing transitioned into a devotional. And one night an outline all came together as a book, including the overall topic: how to wait well. Forty-five days later a book of more than 200 pages was completed in draft format. The words just came out of me. It was a difficult season for my husband with me coming to bed at 6 am because I couldn't sleep without getting the next thought on paper.
When I was done, my husband gently told me he didn't think the book I finished writing was the first one God wanted me to publish. His words reminded me of the 2015 God assignment to chronicle the stories of those we reach during annual Super Bowl outreaches. So, I put my personal book to the side, went to this year's Super Bowl, and when I came home started writing that book - Voices Outside the Stadium.
There were so many people cheering me on and before I knew it, I was done. Now what? I had NO idea how to publish a book or what to do with this stack of papers in front of me. I knew I was being obedient but I didn't know the least about publishing it. Literally, the same week I finished, he brought me an editor and publisher who gave me advice.
I wonder how many reading this have books in them and because you lack knowledge you haven't moved forward? I am by NO means an expert, but as a novice self-publisher I want to share some lessons I learned that I pray will spark a fire and help you.
1. Overcoming insecurities and embracing the truth that God has given me something unique to author.
The biggest hurdle I faced before, during, and now after publishing the first book is the sheer intimidation of writing and authoring a book. So many days I battled with intense feelings of inadequacies. "What new do I have to say that hasn't already been said? I am not a good enough writer. What if it's boring? What if it sucks (just keeping it real)? I'm not working and don't have the money to publish a book." And on and on. I battled daily with these thoughts and warred through them. Then when the work was done and I submitted it to some close writing friends and an editor, my stomach was in knots. Those feelings were intensified during the waiting period of getting their feedback. Not all feedback was positive and again I pushed through and am perfecting my skills to improve. I've joined local and national writing groups to expand my networks and learn from others.
If you feel like God is calling you to write a book, know it's normal to have these insecurities. War through them and minute by minute remind yourself, God has given you something so unique. Maybe someone has written books, blogs, podcasts, about the same topic. But no one can write and say it the way you can. Like your fingerprint, God has something so unique for you to write and publish.
2. How to get organized and started?!?!?!
When it came down to sitting and actually writing the book, I was perplexed. Where do I start? How do I organize my thoughts? I was using Microsoft Word and found myself skipping around and being totally unorganized. Then I reached out to someone who I saw using a writing software years prior who self-published and she gave me the name of the program she used and it was so reasonable - $40ish. Scrivener found here.
They give you a 30 day free trial so I decided to try it, risk free. The trial is for 30 days opening it as opposed to 30 days from when you download it. So if I use it today and then don't open and use it for 3 weeks, it only counts the actual days you open and use it, not the time in between when you weren't.
The first night I got the program I copied and pasted everything I wrote in Word documents into the software and I am not exaggerating...my book came to life. The outline took shape as I was able to view and move things around in categories and groups. You can use a cork board feature to have everything in front of you and move things around. There are also folders with the ability to break your book into as many small pieces as you want and move them around by just dragging them to a new place.
For example, if you know your book will include a lesson about the loss of your father, you can write it out in one section and later decide to move that one story to a different section of your book because it relates better to that topic. You just drag, drop, and BOOM that individual piece is moved to where you want it in your book. This software broke things into small stories and revolutionized my writing. When you want to print a manuscript (something that I had no idea how to format), the software will compile and export it in manuscript format!
There are other writing programs, but I highly recommend investing in one. My dad uses a similar one called WriteItNow v 5.0.3g, which I think is a little more costly.
In terms of where to start and how to organize, I know this may sound simplistic but just start writing and allow the Lord to organize it throughout the process and at the end. Don't be so caught up in where things belong. That will come together and develop through the journey.
I would often write about something and the next day be out and about and an experience would tie in perfectly to what I just finished writing. Allow God to work through what He wants to show you. Also, your readers want to connect with you. Therefore, when you have a principal or lesson, tie in something personal so people can relate. Transparency and vulnerability may be difficult, but ask the Lord to guide you.
Also, remember honor those who may read what you're writing. You may share some painful lessons and after reviewing edit some things out that weren't important to show the underlying point. Also, there were some writings I shared with people who were directly connected. In some instances, out of honor, I asked for their permission and edits before I used the example. Don't assume someone is okay with you sharing something involving them if you haven't gotten permission.
Now on to some practical publishing things I've learned (again, not that I am an expert by any means).
3. Self Publish or Publisher?
I spent hours researching and speaking to already published authors about how I actually go about publishing the book once it was finished. Based on what I learned, unless you have a large platform/following, it's very difficult to get a contract with a publisher. Some accept manuscripts, some are by invitation only. If you do work with a publishing company some will give you what they call an advance and after you sell enough books to cover the advance, they'll give you royalties on books sold thereafter. And royalties are usually 10%.
What??? I was shocked. I spend hours and months pouring my heart out and laboring and 90% of the book doesn't belong to me? Oh no! In exchange, they may professionally edit the book for you, market it, design the cover and inside layout, etc. And not always. And you only get 10% for every book you sell. In addition, the process with a publishing company takes a LONG time.
Needless to say, I decided to self-publish. Then I was faced with the daunting task of deciding who and how to self-publish. I researched them all. I watched videos, listened to podcasts, read blogs, called and interviewed friends who self-published. I decided to go with createspace.com (Amazon's self publishing company, which is now called KDP) and so far I have been so pleased! Honestly, it almost felt too easy.
But before I get to the actual publishing there are other steps...
4. Hiring a professional editor, ISBN, Costs, and Book Cover.
Once I completed my writing I knew I needed help editing. For me, writing the book was easy. Editing the book was tedious and laborious. You want to hire an editor to ensure excellence. You don't want a bunch of typos and a book riddled with errors in grammar. But how do I find an editor who is Christian and reasonable? Remember, I'm not working and I don't have thousands of dollars to dish out on an editor. Even after I hired an editor, there were still errors that others caught, and maybe even some now. So one of the best things you can do is let people read your manuscript and ask for critical feedback and edits, as intimidating as it may feel.
When it comes to hiring an editor, there are different kinds of professional editing. The more detailed edits cost more. Here are a few good resources to describe the different kinds of editors and resources:
Grammarly is a great tool to download and use. There is a free version and this is a good blog they have about the different types of editors you can hire.
If you need a reasonable Christian book editor, the one I used for my first book was good and charged $2 a page double spaced for a manuscript. I used a Christian editor on fiverr.com for the second book and she was also reasonable, quick, and gave good feedback/edits. If you want either one of their contact information, you can send me a message and I can share both their contact information. I also purchased the book that my first editor wrote about writing a Christian book that's a really good resource for new Christian authors (e.g., showing how to cite scripture, how to write your copyright page, etc.). Click here
Also read the blogs from https://reedsy.com/. They were really helpful in learning the nuances of self-publishing. I also signed up to receive their newsletters that are always filled with great information for self-publishers.
ISBN's...every book has to have one. An ISBN is the unique number usually accompanied with a barcode on the back of every book. Each different formats must have a unique ISBN. So for example, one for the hardcover, one for paperback, one for e-book, etc. And they are not free.
If you self-publish with createspace.com (now KDP) they will provide an ISBN for free BUT everything I read and heard from other self-publishers said NOT to use their free one. You can learn more about why here. Instead, I purchased my ISBN from Bowker here. Before clicking, let me lesson the shock.
At the time of this blog writing, they cost $125 for one or $295 for 10. Do the math...I purchased the 10 because I would need more than one for paperback and ebook so getting them in bulk just made sense. If you self-publish with createspace.com (now KDP) you DO NOT need to purchase the barcode from Bowker. When going through the upload process of your book on KDP you will type in your ISBN and they generate the barcode for you and place it on the back cover.
If you don't know someone to design your book cover, KDP has a site where you can design your own. I don't know much about this because I had someone design mine. If you also have someone to design yours, make sure to forward them the links below. Your graphic designer can download the template based on your book's number of pages. Make sure you have this correct (after using their downloaded template discussed below) because at one point I was one page off and the spine noticeably didn't match in the proof...super annoying for a graphic designer to re-do. Here are some articles to send to your designer:
KDP makes it easy for the designer with template downloads having the correct bleeds and dimensions based on the number of pages and the type of the paper you will use. Again, if you don't have a designer and you want one, my sister in law (who is a 2 time Emmy Award winner) designed both my covers and I can forward you her information.
5. Publishing on createspace.com now KDP.
Once you're done with final edits your manuscript needs to be in the right format for a paperback and e-book. Here is a good read that may feel overwhelming. If so, you can also download one of KDP's paperback templates here so you don't need to set all the margins up yourself. Just download their template and copy and paste your book, chapter by chapter. One thing I wish I would've known was the font in their template seemed very small to me. When I ordered the proof, the print was so TINY. I increased the size and the final has Garamound size 12. For my second book I used the font Palatino.
After copying your book into their format for paperback and e-book, upload the file into the KDP online portal. Once uploaded, you can literally scroll through your book and see how it will print. If you don't like the way something looks, you can make necessary changes to your word document and upload a new file.
You upload your cover (or make your own) using their templates, complete a Book Description and About the Author section and other things (e.g. choosing your keywords for search criteria) and submit your manuscript for approval. I won't spend a lot of time here (because, again I am no expert), but take some time and research how to pick good keywords and what two book categories you what your book to be placed in. These are really important. The key words help people get to you when they are searching. Try putting in a word and seeing what begins self populating in google or in amazon. Whatever pops up are phrases that are searched consistently based on algorithms. In terms of choosing your book categories, from what I read you want to choose something that is accurate but also narrows you in a category so you don't get lost in bigger categories with huge authors. Choosing these categories factors into your book ranking on amazon which is based on sales. Here is more information from KDP and also research how to chose these. This is a good read here.
Within 24 or maybe now 72 hours of submitting your manuscript you will receive an email to review and approve your proof. You can view the proof online and I also recommend purchasing one before making it live. I realized through the proof that the font size was too small and I didn't like the way the spine printed so we changed it.
Approved proofs immediately go live! Unbelievable. Just like that you are an author.
This was the HARDEST part for me because building up to a launch felt so much like self-promoting. I had a coach from one of my Christian writer groups who encouraged me that I was not promoting myself, but promoting what God had given me to share. That has helped a little, but I still cringe when I post to promote. If you feel the same, know you are not alone.
Before I got the book launch coach I was just going to click to make the book live and be done. She encouraged me to send the manuscript to 20 of my closest friends and ask them to be part of the book launch. Their assignment is to read the book pre-launch and once the book is published on amazon to go purchase it and leave an immediate review. This way by the time you get to launch day you will have a few reviews already up (which is what everyone looks at when they buy something). Also building up to an official launch day helps drive sales on that one day and with my first book I hit #1 in the book category. Make sure to watch that and take a screenshot because the algorithms happen quickly.
There are so many good apps out there to make graphics for social media. The best one I have found is canva.com and is free. You can do from your desktop and your phone. I even made a video using filmora. I did have to buy that but it was super reasonable compared to adobe products and was super user friendly.
7. Revisions after publishing.
There are rules about this (can't be too material of changes) but if after you publish someone sends you simple typos, you can fix the typos, go online, upload the new version, submit and approve the proof and all books sold and printed after that upload will including the fixed typos! Super easy, super fast.
Happy writing and feel free to let me know if I can help or encourage you in any way.