I was recently asked the process one must go through to self-publish a novel as I did. Okay. Let me see if I can make an explanation as easy as possible. I shall be completely straightforward and honest so brace yourself! It’s better than getting nasty surprises later.
1. Get an ITIN. You’re going to need that in order to claim the Canadian-US tax treaty and stop them from withholding 30% of your profits every time you make a sale across the boarder. Do this FIRST because it takes a full year for it to kick in once it’s processed. Do not baulk at the fee. This is a business. If you invest nothing, you’ll get exactly that in return.
2. Get an ISBN. If you’re selling your book in more than one format, request more than one ISBN. I requested 3 because I’m selling my book as an .epub and .mobi (two different ebook formats, the latter being exclusive to Amazon), and as a paperback.
3. Print a full copy of your manuscript and mail it to yourself. Make sure it has a time stamp on it to prove the date it was shipped. When you receive it DO NOT OPEN IT, put it somewhere safe and don’t look at it again. This might seem insane but on the very tiny chance that anyone should steal your intellectual property before it goes to print, you have proof that you can present in court that you had the manuscript before they did. This is known as the Poor Man’s Copyright. That said, with the headache that is publishing, no one is going to steal your book. This is for your personal sanity. You can now stop worrying.4. Ask for help from friends, family, acquaintances, people on the internet in writers groups will sometimes read and critique your work in exchange for you doing the same for them. This is called “Beta reading.” In short, you want the manuscript to pass in front of as many eyes as possible to filter out all the crap from typos to massive gaping plot holes. Accept every critique, no matter how harsh, with gratitude. The fact that someone actually took the time to look at your stuff and give an honest opinion proves that they care. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t bother. Do not select people who will only praise you. They will not serve as a good crap filter. The more brutal the critic, the better. Approach this with an attitude of : Please help me find my mistakes so I can be better. Take nothing personally.
5. Find an editor who does Line Editing or Substantive Editing. If you have any writer friends, ask them who their editor was. Widen your search until you can find one who is at least competent in your genre. Again, the more brutal the critic, the better. You may have to pay them by the hour as I did. I paid 15 dollars an hour but that is incredibly low. Expect to pay at least 30. Some editors charge by the word. Talk about your needs, your budget, your schedule, and make sure you are satisfied that this person is competent and able to do the job before agreeing to anything. Once you are satisfied, make a written agreement that lists the work to be done and your consent to pay the editor for their work. Again, do not baulk at the cost. A good editor is all that stands between you and putting out a piece of crap.
If you cannot afford it, you may want to hold off until you can. If you cannot raise the funds on your current income, you can try making an agreement with another writer whom you trust to be both competent and honest in exchange for some editing of your own. Barter if you have to. Do NOT hire a friend. If you do, and the contract falls through for some reason, you may lose that friendship. This industry is pure gambling from beginning to end. Protect yourself as best you can, but do not put anything on the table you’re not prepared to lose. To that end, make sure to have a professional relationship with your editor and nothing more.
6. Find an artist for your cover art. Yes, you can do the cover art yourself if you have the skills. If you don’t, be honest with yourself and find someone who does. You CAN create a cover by yourself that looks “professional” with free clip art/backgrounds/etc but all such covers have a certain “look” to them. They do not stand out. Your cover is your first line of defence in tempting a customer to click on your book. Do NOT skimp on this step. This need not be crazily expensive. Look on sites like DeviantART. You probably already have favourite artists that you follow. Do a little hunting and see which ones take commissions. Poke them until you get some replies.
Once you are both satisfied with your needs and wants, again, make a written agreement on the work to be done, the payment agreed on, and most importantly: your rights. You may have to pay extra for the right to print, display, and sell the artwork in question. An artist might want to sell you limited rights indicating that you can only use this cover for 5 or 10 years before you have to renew the contract (and pay them again) or print another edition using a different artist. I got my cover art and unlimited rights to print, display, and sell it so long as I do not sell prints of it which is fine by me as the only prints I want to sell are on the front of my book! I paid 250.00 CAD all-inclusive. You should budget up to 1000.00 CAD for this though.
7. Find a graphic designer to do your lettering and formatting. An artist and a graphic designer are two different jobs. Sometimes an artist can also be a graphic designer but this is not to be expected. Once again, negotiate and ensure that all of your agreements are in writing. I paid about 300.00 CAD but I hired a friend of mine who gave me a special discount. Expect to pay around 500.00. You will need to know where you want to sell your book and the dimensions your cover needs to be in order to tell your designer what to do. In my case, as I was publishing both an ebook and paperback, I had to look at the specs for both. Which leads me to my next step.
8. Decide which channels you wish to sell your book on. You want the widest distribution possible. I went through Smashwords, Kobo, and Amazon for my ebooks. (Smashwords distributes to many different distributors so have a look at what their reach is like. You may want to deal with some distributors individually like I did or you may just let Smashwords deal with all of that for you.) For my paperback, I went through Lulu. I recommend you have a look at CreateSpace, IngramSpark, and DriveThruFiction (for fantasy, sci-fi, or horror only) as formatting with Lulu was an absolute nightmare.Their staff is reasonably attentive and they’re looking at upgrading their software but I must state that it should NOT take a full month of fighting with software just to get the cover art to look decent and print properly. Take into account that you will have to budget for at least one proof copy of your book if you choose to sell it in printed form. This is to make sure it looks how you want it to when it’s actually printed. This will likely cost around 20.00 CAD per proof copy.
9. After you’ve made your decisions about distribution, you can either format your book yourself or you can hire someone to do it for you. My editor did my ebook formatting for me so that I did not have to go through the headache of doing it myself and it was worth every cent I paid him. Recognize that it will take about a month to get distribution up and running on all the channels you want to sell your book. In terms of scheduling, budget for extra time for things to go wrong and get fixed, and then double it. Formatting and distribution was by far the biggest headache for me and I will be straight up honest with you: it was a nightmare. I was a total wreck for about two months trying to get all this sorted out. Ask for help from people who know what they’re doing. Join writers groups on LinkedIN and ask a million questions.
10. Marketing … This is the hardest part of any self-published work. How to advertise? Well, I have a blog and a facebook group. You can try buying ad space or going around to local bookstores and see if they will carry your book. Get business cards to hand out when you’re rubbing shoulders with other creative types. Put out samples of your work online for people to browse. Your greatest tool by far is word of mouth. Most book sales happen because a friend recommends your book to someone else and they, in turn, recommend it to other people. As such, your book must be as awesome and mistake-free as possible. Believe me when I say: “Go pro or go home.” If it’s not a really great product, it’s not going to sell no matter how much you spend in advertising.
Let me state that one of the biggest differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing is when you do your waiting. In traditional publishing, you wait BEFORE your book comes out. That is to say, you wait for your agent to find you a publishing house that will take you on. In self-publishing, you wait AFTER your book comes out. That is to say, you wait for readers to discover your book and talk about it with their friends. You will very probably sell next to nothing for months. Do not freak out. This is normal. Profits in self-publishing very often follow a snowball effect type formula. For more info on how this works, check out this free book here. It’s definitely worth the read even if you don’t decide to go with Smashwords.
There are some other steps you can take which I did not such as setting up a business bank account. I decided that this was unnecessary until I actually start making significant profits from my product. You can also try making a youtube channel to talk about your book. I have not done this yet because I have been too busy working on my sequel and recovering from the hell that was my first publication experience. It took me about two years and about 1230.00 CAD to take my novel from finished manuscript to full publication. Hopefully, with the knowledge I’ve provided here, it’ll take you less time and hassle. But hey, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it!
Good luck to you.