Advice For Self-Publishing Part I

Derek Ouellette —  January 29, 2014

photo-2So I just got my first book self-published. It was something I wanted to try for the new year (2014). While I went into this with a bit of a snub nose, having now gone through the experience I’d say it was well worth it. Actually, I had a blast publishing my first book.

If you’re thinking of self-publishing something you’ve written I’d say go for it. When I first looked into self-publishing back in 2007 it was going to cost me hundreds of dollars. Today, it is literally free. All it will cost you is some time and perhaps if you want to see a physical proof before you release it into the wild book world, then you have to pay for it (for next to nothing plus shipping).

Here I’d like to offer you some advice based off my experience working in a bookstore, seeing self-published books arrive on the shelf from time to time, and now having published my own book. A lot of this comes right down to taste. So take it with a grain of salt.

1. Edit, edit, then get others to edit, then edit some more.

I can’t tell you how many edits this book went through – and it’s only 56 pages! At one point I said to my wife, “That’s it. There can’t possible be more mistakes.” So she sat down to give it a “final” read through, and found more mistakes. Then my coworker, Lila, found even more mistakes, things I never would have caught. If you’re self-publishing there’s a good chance you don’t have a professional editor. So make sure to get as many people to scour the text as are willing. Don’t submit a final copy until you are 100% – no. Wait. 1,000% positive that it is publish ready!

2. Go with them.

There are different publishers you can go with. Two of the most popular are Lulu and CreateSpace. I actually went through the process with both, but eventually abandoned my project with Lulu and stuck with CreateSpace. Here’s why: 1. CreateSpace is a subsidiary company of Amazon (Amazon is the largest online book distributor in the world). 2. The quality of your book with CreateSpace will be slightly better (based on reviews and my own experience of receiving proofs from both). 3. Your cost per book, if you want to buy your own book to sell. is considerably cheaper. For me it was less than half the cost as Lulu!).

3. Plainer is Better.

It’s counterintuitive, but true when it comes to the cover and page quality. It’s tempting to think that if your cover *glistens* and if the pages are bright white it’ll give your book an appearance of professionalism. But the opposite is actually the case. Take a moment to browse the shelves of your local bookstore (and yes, they still exist and you’d do good to support them!). You’ll find that most book covers are “matte” not “glossy” and most book pages are “cream” not “white.” If you want a professional looking book, do what the professionals do. Go with a matte cover and cream pages if you’re given the option.

4. Standard is Better.

The same principle applies for the interior: your font choices, font size and formatting. Now there is a certain amount of creative leeway when it comes to formatting. Choosing to start chapters half way down a page or having quote boxes off to the side and so on. But nothing says “this book was self-published” like a book that uses excessive BOLD and UNDERLINE throughout the text. Italics is considered standard for professional emphasis. If you want to emphasize in your book, do what the professionals do, use italics and keep your font standard size.

5. Price to Sell.

If you’re publishing a book just to make money, please put your manuscript in your desk drawer and ask God to recalibrate your motives before you pull it out again. Keep in mind that unless you already have a large audience somewhere or your own business where you can promote and sell your own book (like my friend Ryan who sells his book “Saving Face(book)” at his MediaSafe workshops), chances are people are not going to spend $20 or $30 on an author nobody’s heard of. I originally thought I’d sell my book for $12.99 on Amazon. In the end I decided $8.99 was more reasonable (and I’m still making a profit!).

6. Lower Your Expectations.

There’s nothing like thinking that a movie is going to bomb and then coming away stoked because it was “way better” than you expected. The opposite is true too. You think a movie is going to be awesome (I love Green Lantern and had high expectations for the film), then when it sucks, you feel it in your gut (I cried after watching GL, and prayed they’d do a remake). If you set your expectations too high you better brace yourself for a letdown. But if you start with low expectations, you might come away pleasantly surprised. I’ll be happy if my mom buys my book. Anything above that is grave. :)

7. Have Confidence.

Having low expectations does not mean having no confidence. You wrote the book because there is something you wanted to say and believed it enough to spend countless hours writing, editing and designing it. When you tell someone about your book, get excited. Share the story behind it. Boast a little. If you get excited about it, chances are the person you’re telling will too.

8. Be Your Biggest Promoter.

I worked at Indigo-Chapters for a season. Did you know that the books you see displayed on tables and book ends are there because someone literally paid for them to be there. People are not interested in promoting you or your book. They’re interested in making money, because money is how businesses exist. It’s not all about greed. Sometimes it’s just about survival. Self published authors get frustrated with the bookstores for not prominently displaying their book, but it’s not the bookstores responsibility to promote a self-published author, especially when a new Max Lucado, Rick Warren or Karen Kingsbury book just landed on the shelf. You are your biggest fan. Be your biggest advertiser! The self-published authors whose books fly off shelves are the ones who recognize their job, not only as author and publisher, but as advertiser too.

And finally,

9. Have Fun.

This experience was a blast. So much so that I’ve decided to revive a more serious piece I was working on to see if I might get it professionally published (my next challenge!). Take pride in your book and above all, have fun.

Buy My Book!

Here’s the link to Amazon if you are interested in purchasing my book, The Joys of Marriage: A Story About Surviving the First Year of Marriage (with Joy). It is a memoir of the highs and lows of the first year of marriage which ends in a finally despairing place. It’s a reminder that happiness may come and go with the ups and downs of life, but Joy, real Joy, is steady as a rock. But real Joy can’t come from us (we’re too selfish and emotional for that), it must come from the Lord. If you do purchase my book from Amazon please consider writing a review on Amazon as well. Reviews on Amazon help to bring visibility to the book for others to purchase.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Jeremy Myers

    As a self-publisher myself, I agree with absolutely everything you have written. My main area of weakness is that first one, the editing. I hate reading and rereading my books, and paying someone to edit it is expensive!

    • Derek Ouellette

      Yes! The Editing process was (and continues to be) the most difficult part. Even now that it’s published I keep thinking, “I should have worded that different” or “this could have been trimmed” or “I should have explained that point further.” Let me ask you, aside from your blog and social media sites that you’ve personally promoted on (Facebook/Twitter), what avenues have you found to be successful in promoting and selling your books or bringing awareness of your book to people you don’t know?

      • Jeremy Myers

        Right now my email newsletter is also a good avenue. Very soon I will be starting a a “book launch team” for people who will read and review the book in advance of publication, and then during the week of publication will help promote it. At least, this is the plan….

        • Derek Ouellette

          That sounds like a great strategy. I checked out Redemption Press. It’s pretty cool what you’re doing there. Keep it up.

  • Rob Grayson

    Thanks for the insight into the self-publishing process. Hopefully it may come in handy one day…