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Self-Publishing 101: 10 Self-Publishing Tips

People who get through childbirth, jury duty, or self-publishing often want to tell you about it. Me, too. After self-publishing two mystery novels, one novelette, and one short story, with a third novel coming out in July, I’ll be — according to my Google search — No. 13,600,001, to write on the topic. I could go on and on. But, mercifully, today, I’ll just offer 10 self-publishing tips.

1. Write Your Best Book! Don't get distracted by the other stuff. The SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING is producing a compelling tale for readers — not a sloppy vanity press-caliber vehicle for yourself. Be daring. Be original. Make what self-pub advocates are calling an indie or artisanal book.

2. Think Niche. If you have a choice, it's easier to sell a self-published book to an audience passionate about something like gardening, knitting, cats, vampires, or a particular place. My mysteries are set in the Chautauqua Institution, a quirky/churchy/historic summer arts community in far Western New York State. Its fans are open to all-things-Chautauqua, including my books.

3. Pick a Strategy. You can write a book and write a check, paying a publisher-for-hire (between $1,500 and tens of thousands of dollars) to do most of the work. You can DIY (do-it-yourself). Or you can take a hybrid approach as I do. I pay for: a book cover design; two levels of editing (big-picture, developmental editing and copy-editing); and print-book formatting (formatting means converting my Word.doc text to a format that’s both attractive (with nice fonts, chapter breaks, and headings) and useable by my publisher, CreateSpace, a division of Amazon). I do the e-book formatting by following this tutorial online.

4. Study Up. No matter which way you go, read many how-to items online, including this good article on costs and this good overview book that covers a lot of the basics that I'm not getting into here, including marketing.

5. Priorities. No. 1, great book. No. 2 great book cover. No. 3 (in my view) is a great Amazon footprint. Polish and re-polish what's called your “product details,” grabbing readers with a fun plot summary, reviews, photos, hype.

6. Stay in the Driver's Seat. If you hire a publisher, check references and past work. Ask friends and me for leads. If you hire a cover designer, spell out, generally, what you want: by checking out the bestsellers in your genre. Require a thumbnail version be readable and attractive — because that’s how most people will see your cover online. If you hire an editor, set deadlines and goals.

7. Do-It-Yourselfers: Find great resources online including free tutorials on covers, formatting, etc. Consider bartering your services for others or getting free editing from beta readers, a writing group or friends.

8. Hybrid Folks: Find cover designers through and designers and formatters through Smashwords. Use who you know. My editor is a very brainy friend of my son's. My cover designer is an ex-boyfriend of my nephew's. My website designer is my daughter's roommate. I market to and through: my alumni, gym, work, and neighborhood newsletters; friends’ and readers' book clubs; social-media links; blogs of like-minded people; local newspapers and bookstores.

9. Budget for Inevitable Mistakes, what a trucking company might call breakage and spillage. I overpaid for last-minute promotional bookmarks to take to an event and overpaid for a rushed Kirkus Review, while my (too messy) manuscript was being simultaneously copy-edited.

10. Have Fun! I hope you enjoy the process of self-publishing — and unprecedented opportunity it offers writers to reach readers on our own.

—Deb Pines

Deb Pines, an award-winning headline writer and copy editor for the New York Post, is the author of two self-published novels, In the Shadow of Death (2013) and Deliver Us from Evil (2015), top-sellers in the Chautauqua Institution where they are set. She’s also a mother of two, the former chair of MWA-NY’s Mentor Committee, a former reporter, and author of a self-published short story and a novelette. “If you enjoy an old-fashioned whodunit, it’s perfect,” the Jamestown (N.Y.) Post-Journal, wrote of her debut novel Shadow.


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