10 Tips on How to Win in Self-Publishing

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ― Toni Morrison

As a 13-year publishing professional I have seen self-published books do amazing things in the industry.  This includes winning awards, making national bestsellers list, garner television interviews for its authors and land TV/ film options. If you are choosing to self-publish, the following tips will help guide you regardless of genre.

10 Tips for Self-Publishing Success

1.       Know Your Dual Role and Responsibilities  If you are writing a book you are more than likely focused on your role as an author, the creator of content and the voice behind the message. However, when you self-publish you also take on the role of Publisher.  As the Publisher, you become the business savvy force behind producing this material.  You must develop your book’s marketing, finance, public relations, graphic design, sales, distribution activities and everything in between.

2.       Create Two Task Lists – Create an author list and publisher list. This will help you to see what needs to be done and the proper frame of mind for the task. Creatives aren’t necessarily the best at linear and logistical thinking and that is why you must see the separate tasks per role to better organize yourself. 

3.       Do Your Research –  To self-publish, an author must take time and do the research behind bringing the book into the marketplace. This involves vetting printers and fulfillment centers, setting a budget, hiring designers and editing help.  Also, research E-book conversions and working with aggregators for online distribution.

4.       Know Your Target Audience—Your book will not be for everyone, so be clear on who your primary and secondary audiences are. This means that if only the selected demographic bought your book, it would still achieve healthy sales and success. As a literary agent and book Publicist I am repeatedly telling novice authors that it is important to know the books in their category. Where are those titles being reviewed and promoted?  How are those books selling and to whom?

5.       Position Your Book Strategically – I advise authors to know at least the top 10 bestselling books in their categories, outliers included. For example, if you are writing a book on social justice and civil rights you must be familiar with books written by authors such as: Bryan Stevenson, Michelle Alexander, John Lewis, D. Watkins, Marc Lamont Hill and Ta’ Nehesi Coates among others.  Knowing the key players in your category will help you as a self-published author position your book for introduction to readers and reviewers. Remember your audience is currently reading something already. They know the books in your category and you as the author and publisher should as well.

6.       Understand the Implications of Cover Design – We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.”   However, rest assured the cover design of a self-published books will be heavily critiqued by readers, reviewers, book store staff and media. It is very unfortunate to have a quality piece of fiction yet the cover is far from appealing. Even worse, writing a compelling memoir and believing the value lies in your face on the cover when you don’t have an established audience or fan base. You should take a tactical approach to having your cover designed. There are no shortage of cool and interesting book covers in the marketplace, but as a self-published author you want to be careful in being too out of the box for your debut. Check out the covers of books in your category from a diverse group of writers.

7.       Write Compelling Back Cover Copy – My library is full of self-published books where the back cover copy and the spine often lack the content needed to make a great first impression.  For a novelist, it is important to write an entertaining and engaging synopsis giving details that make the readers want to dive in. Don’t be too vague. Many book descriptions fail to deliver strong sales because the description is so bland and falls short in securing an emotional reaction once it has been read. If you are writing non-fiction such as a business book, let the readers know what they will learn if they buy this book. Make it clear that your book has something of value and that you, the author, are qualified to deliver it.

8.       Design the Inside Pages Professionally – Typesetting the interior pages is very crucial to its readability and respectability. Remember, self-published authors really are heavily scrutinized based on the appearance of their book. Don’t leave out page numbers. Make sure the author name and book title are visible on inside pages and be sure to check and double check spacing. Also, consider making the final page an order form for your book. Your distribution as a self-published author will be limited and this is a way to open it up. For every person that has a copy of your book they can share the order form with another potential reader

9.       Hire a Professional Editor – Hiring a copy editor and a proofreader will be smart investments. Copy editor has a keen sense of grammar, syntax, and punctuation. They check for technical consistency in spelling, capitalization, font usage, numerals and hyphenation. Proofreaders work from a printed version of the content and are looking for errors everywhere including missing pages or paragraphs.  They are fresh eyes checking to make sure that what appears on the computer translated correctly when the material is printed.  I’ve had authors work with a team of beta readers who all received an advance version and served as proofreaders for the chance to have an advance look.

10.   Know Your Publishing Options – Although you have chosen to self-publish please understand this does not mean that you cannot obtain a literary agent and land a book deal with one of the big five traditional publishers (Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group and Macmillan). If you do an outstanding job this go-round and obtain impressive sales, press mentions and solid reviews this can all help in your cause to find an agent for the next book.