The last decade has seen a massive upheaval in terms of how books are bought and sold. Publishing is no longer the exclusive domain of the big-name distributors, and for a small outlay, anyone can upload their book to Amazon or the many other retailers such as iBooks and Kobo. However, just because it’s easy to do, doesn’t mean you should be tempted to throw a raw manuscript into the online marketplace and expect it to be the next bestseller. If only. Don’t even think about indie publishing until you have addressed the six points below.
I’m talking everything from global story editing to a final proofread (preferably in print form). What kind of editing you require depends largely on your experience as an author or within your chosen genre, but even brilliant writers spend time carefully going over their own work and allowing a trusted team of readers and/or a professional editor to pick through it too. It should be obvious that unless you have a story people actually like, it will never be successful. It can be an expensive service if you choose to hire an editor, but you can at least learn how to self-edit here.
- Cover design
Yes, people do judge a book by its cover. Indie authors are infamous for shoddy covers, often an unedited photo with a bland, colour-clashing font. If you don’t pay attention to your cover and make it appeal to readers in your genre, then browsing customers will skip you by without a second thought. Think of the cover as a movie poster; it should hint at the themes of the story and excite the viewer, but it doesn’t have to include every element of the plot. Search Amazon for bestselling ebooks in your genre and examine their covers closely. What do they all have in common? You can also search for pre-made covers pitched specifically for indies. Just be careful before you buy; even pre-made covers can be pricey and not all of them are worth it. I recommend joining a reputable self-publishing group on Facebook and ask for feedback from experienced indies if you’re not sure.
- Formatting & file types
Don’t let your story – or beautiful cover – down with terrible formatting. All the major platforms require different file types. Amazon Kindle requires .mobi, iBooks require .epub, and then you need a print-ready pdf for paperbacks and hardbacks. If you don’t format your files correctly, your book will look horrendous on the various devices readers use. Not good. You will also probably want to include other features such as ornamental breaks, drop-caps, character emblems, specific chapter fonts etc. If that sounds like a complete nightmare to you, I recommend using a free online file editor such as Reedsy Editor or purchase specialist software such as Vellum (worth every single penny if you intend to publish regularly). These tools will literally save you hours, if not days.
- Proof copies
I personally believe that you should never publish a book without reading a proof copy first, both for editing purposes, but also to check the formatting. You can preview your files on your Kindle app, for example, or during the upload process, but it’s still helpful to order a proof print copy (easy to set up through the KDP dashboard) to read through before launching the book. It also gives you the chance to review your print cover and make sure it fits correctly and the artwork has come out as you planned.
- Review team
Now you have a polished manuscript, interior, and cover, it’s time to prepare for the book launch. Ideally, you should have a few genuine reviews lined up for release day. If you are just starting out, it’s a good idea to use a service like Hidden Gems, a bona fide site designed to connect authors with reviewers. Be warned though, you better sign up in advance, and the reviews will be impartial and honest. But the response rate is fantastic, and you’ll get a load of reviews on Amazon within a week of your book going live. Never underestimate the importance of reviews. Without them, you may struggle to get readers to take a chance on your work.
- Mailing list & social media
Being an indie author requires more than writing books – you also have to market yourself too, as online publishing has become highly competitive in the last few years. Make sure you have an author page on Facebook so readers can engage with you, and set up a mailing list with services such as MailChimp, an autoresponder that allows you to collate the emails of your fans so you can contact them in bulk without spamming.
To build a list, you need a way to tempt readers to hand over their details in exchange for something else, usually a free gift. This can be sample chapters, character profiles, a short story, or free signed paperbacks. Get started by joining group-promoted genre giveaways through sites such as Bookfunnel and by creating a sign-up form (through your autoresponder service) on your author website and social media pages. When your book is ready to go, include an irresistible offer inside the book to tempt your fans to join your list, or invite them to join to receive notifications once your next book is out. Contact your readers regularly to build a relationship with them over time, and soon you’ll have a horde of fans keen to read, review, and promote your books.
By now, your to-do list is probably getting rather long, but building a reputation as a good writer is not a sprint. It will take time and hard work, but there’s nothing more wonderful than a complete stranger contacting you to gush about your characters or your story. Indie publishing is a rewarding but often tiring process. Unless this is just a hobby, you need to treat it as a business. I wish you good luck on your publishing journey.
Ciao for now,
P.S. Still struggling with Step One? Check out my services here and request your free sample edit.