At some point last year, it became obvious to me that I wasn’t going to find a literary agent to represent my first novel THE ROAD AHEAD.
When I began writing, I swore that I would never self-publish. As reality set in, I accepted that I had only two options, set aside the manuscript or self-publish. I chose to go it alone.
I know there are a lot of first-time authors who are going through the same thing I did. So, I’m going to share with you my experience. This post isn’t guide to self-publishing. I am no expert. In fact, I think I made several mistakes along the way. I’m only sharing how I got my book out there. Thing for authors to consider once they get to this stage of the process.
At what point do I decide to self-publish?
I couldn’t find a Canadian agent that had the slightest interest in a political satire. The number of agencies in Canada is extremely small. I reviewed the preferred genres of almost all Canadian agents and no one listed humour as something they were interested in. I identified about a dozen agents that might be remotely interested. After several months they had all rejected me.
There was no chance of finding an American agent since the book was based in Canada. So, I began to warm up to the idea of self-publishing.
Determine what needs to be done
The first step was to plan out what need to be done and how much of it I was going to do myself. I don’t plan out my books but the production and marketing side was well planned. You will also need a budget. I did not make money on my first novel bu I look at it as an investment in the future.
My plan included the following steps. I decided to hire professionals to do the those tasks I felt were beyond my skill set.
- Copy editing – hire someone
- Cover design – hire someone
- Internal layout – hire someone
- Author photo – hire someone
- Get ISBN numbers – me
- Select a printer – me
- Find a location for a book launch – me
- Marketing – me
- Catering – me
My network was still very small when I completed my first novel. I didn’t know anyone I was comfortable handing over my final manuscript for copy editing so I hired someone. For the next time, I feel there are people who will proofread for me and do a great job. If you know someone like that, you will save money. Proofreading is priced by the length of the manuscript and it cost me close to several hundred dollars.
Cover design and internal layout
I was told on a number of occasions to have a professional looking cover. You aren’t going to buy a book based on the cover but many of us are initially attracted to a book because of the cover. I could have designed my own using Canva or some graphic design software but I wanted something original. Preferably a scene from the book. I also had no experience on how to layout out a novel so I needed someone who could do that too.
I decided to hire a freelance artist to take on these tasks. I discovered that Upwork is an excellent site to hire freelancers. You register on the site, set out the specs for the work to be done, the experience you would like the freelancer to have and your budget. You need to be specific. Your ad gets posted and people who meet your criteria apply. I think I had about 16 people who met my specs. You can also search freelancers who are registered on the site and invite them to apply.
I checked out the applicants. I wanted people who had experience in book cover design. I narrowed it down to 3 people who I sent some interview questions and selected Sarah Messina, a talented artist based in Florida. She had previously worked on about 40 book covers.
We skyped to talk about the work. I sent her 3 scenes from the book that I thought would work well for the cover. She sent me back some ideas and in a few days we had the cover. I also used Sarah to layout the book interior. The entire process probably took less than a month.
If you plan to use a picture of yourself on your back or inside cover and for marketing, you need a high resolution photo. I have a couple of people who would have done it for me but decided to use an inexpensive portrait photographer. You will make good use of the photo so I felt it justified the expense.
For those who have never published, each book has to have its own unique International Standard Book Number (ISBN) if you plan on selling it online or in stores. Each format (paper, digital, audio) gets a unique ISBN. In the US, ISBNs are distributed by a company called Bowker and cost money. Not so in Canada. Here, the ISBN agency is the federal government and we get them for free. The entire process is done online. I was amazed how simple it was. Canada’s ISBN agency is friendly to self-publishers, including those using their own name as the publisher.
Selecting a printer
Once your cover and layout are complete and you have a ISBN, you are ready to print. There are many options out there. In the end I selected CreateSpace. The company is owned by Amazon. The cost to upload a book onto their system is inexpensive ($79) and once uploaded you can print hard copies and digital copies online. Some printers provide discounts for printing larger quantities. CreateSpace charges a fixed price for printing and shipping irrespective of the number of books ordered. As a self-published author, it makes more sense to order small number of books as needed.
The cost of printing is determined by the number of pages, the book size, paper quality and colours. Uploading onto Amazon from CreateSpace was simple and free. Amazon works on a print on demand basis. That means they don’t stock copies of your book and print copies when someone orders a paper copy from their site. Chapters, a Canadian bookstore chain is not quite as simple or friendly to self-published authors. They expect hard copies to be provided and stored (offsite), which means you bear additional costs.
The book launch
Finding a venue for a book launch can be a challenge. I approached restaurants and bars but they want to be guaranteed to make money, which means either your guests have to spend money on food or drinks, or you have to. I finally came across an independent bookstore who would host the launch after hours and would allow me to bring in refreshments. You can also look at community centres, libraries and other public facilities.
The bookstore handled the sales and kept a percentage. Since there was no minimum sales required, the store was taking on the risk since staff stayed late for the event. That seemed to be fair to me. The store I used is a beautiful venue with lots of wood furnishings. It was also downtown, an important consideration. The timing was at the end of the work day and traffic is horrible in Toronto. I needed a venue that was convenient to the attendees.
You need to come up with a price for your novel (both for paper copies and ebooks). I had to set a higher initial price than I had wanted to. Because the bookstore took 40% of sales at the book launch, my cut would have been less than $1 after the cost of printing and shipping. After the book launch, I lowered the price down to what I had originally wanted. In Canada, the market is small and you don’t write books to make money. But you don’t want to sell books at a loss either.
Once I had books and a location for my launch, I began advertising. I wasn’t a big Twitter user at the time, so I had to rely on my existing network of friends, business associates, writing colleagues, etc. I used by email contacts, LinkenIn contacts and Facebook friends. I emailed the invitations out. An alternative is a platform like Evite with an automated RSVP system. But that would have meant loading a lot of email addresses onto Evite. Instead, people emailed responses and I kept tract of them manually.
You need to provide some giveaways. I had bookmarks and business cards printed. There is no limit on what you can hand out, provided you can fit it into your budget.
You might want to provide some refreshments. I went with some veggie and cheese trays with sparking water and some inexpensive wine. Again, you decide on your budget. Count on a lot of no-shows. I had a big turnout but about 25% of those who RSVP’d did not turn up. Keep that in mind when ordering food and you’ll save some money.
This entire process took about four months to pull together. It was a lot of work but I think it was a success. One thing I discovered is marketing is time consuming and a pain. I ignored it until I decided to publish. You need to market yourself and your work well before you publish. Many people weren’t aware that I was writing until the invitation appeared in the email inbox. You need to build some buzz about your work. Social media is a very helpful tool.