The Publishing Hat: Put Your Dress Clothes On.

(This is the next article in my Many Hats of Self-Publishing series. Read INTRO, EDITING, COVERS, and FORMATTING here.)

There’s a saying that I want you to memorize from here on out in the whole publishing game: Begin as you mean to go on. Now the whole quote is by Charles Spurgeon and is of great spiritual significance: “Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began, and let the Lord be all in all to you.” But for business purposes, we can focus on the first part: Begin as you mean to go on.

You’ve written a book. You’ve edited that book (and had another professional look it over, as well.) You’ve created or hired a professional to create a cover for that book. You’ve formatted that book. Now, you’re ready to publish.

Begin as you mean to go on.

The minute you hit that “publish” button, you are a professional. Possibly, you’ve been a professional author before this. Or this may be your first time putting a book into the marketplace. Either way, it’s an exciting moment. An important one. You have a chance now to set the tone for your writing career, so here’s my advice for this step. I want you to remember two lessons I’ve learned.

Things you put online are online forever.
Nothing is permanent, so don’t be afraid to change.

Sound contradictory? It is and it isn’t. To explain, I’ll tell you a little about how I first published, and then I’ll tell you about pushing the right buttons the first time.

So, when I first published my books, I focused on three publishing platforms: Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing), Barnes & Noble (Nook Press), and Smashwords. In 2011, those were the only three distributors who allowed self-published authors to distribute directly into their online stores.

SIDENOTE: Notice, I said distributors, not publishers. YOU are the publisher. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the like are your publishing partners. But you are the boss. Remember that.

Amazon and B&N were direct retailers. Press publish, and it’s in the store. Smashwords is a retailer AND a distributor. They will take your book and put it in their store, then distribute it to Kobo, iBooks, the Sony e-reader store, and others. To this day, that’s all I do. Three distributors. (Kobo also has a direct publishing platform called Writing Life now, so keep that in mind.) In fact, if you only wanted to distribute through Amazon and Smashwords, that could still get your book in all the major retailers! Keep that in mind if you’re looking to simplify life.

So I published my book at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. I didn’t file copyright or buy my own ISBN numbers, because I didn’t absolutely HAVE to have those things, and I was broke. So, if you don’t have the money, don’t worry about that part. Under US law (if you’re not a US citizen, please check the local law in your country), copyright is automatic once a work has been created. And Amazon and B&N don’t require ISBNs. Smashwords DOES (if you want to distribute to stores like iBooks), but they offer a free one when you publish on their site, so take advantage of that if you don’t have the money to buy your own. So that’s what I did. The bare minimum of financial output.

But, this is also a begin as you mean to go on moment. If you DO have the money to file copyright and buy your own ISBN, I recommend doing that. It’s not a necessity, but I recommend it because my intellectual property attorney does. If you’re ever in a legal situation where your ownership of your books is called into question, both those things are good to have, though not essential. This is the link to file copyright. And this is the link to buy ISBNs from Bowker.

Things you WILL need to publish include:

  • A cursory knowledge of how to fill out online forms. (Very cursory. If you can start a Facebook profile, you can probably publish your book. Just saying.)
  • Your book file. Remember, ePub for B&N and Smashwords, mobi for Amazon.
  • A high resolution cover (jpg file) of at least 300 dpi.
  • A summary and keywords for your book.
  • A price for your book. (We’ll talk specifics about pricing next week.)

A WORD ABOUT THE BOOK SUMMARY: Everyone hates them. Everyone. I would rather write a full length novel than a 200 word summary of that novel. So if you feel stuck or weird or completely lost, know that you are not alone. If you absolutely have NO idea where to start with this, then this is a great step by step to writing your first book summary. In my opinion, shorter is better, so in the samples at the link, look at the “Really Short Version” of 182 words. That’s where I’m aiming on mine. Also, if you imagine you’ve got the deep voiced movie trailer guy (“In a world…”) whispering your summary over your shoulder, that’s normal, too. Or maybe that’s just me. Also, this falls under the “nothing is permanent” rule. Summaries are easy to change if you feel like yours isn’t selling your book well.

WHAT ARE KEYWORDS? These are search terms or words that will help readers find your book when they look in the online stores. For a great summary of how to pick the right ones, read this page from the Amazon KDP guidelines. It tells you everything you need to know about keywords and it applies to all the publishing sites.

So, you’re almost ready to publish. This is a good time to talk about those two lessons I’ve learned from the top of the post:

Things you put online are online forever.
Nothing is permanent, so don’t be afraid to change.

Everything your publish electronically is changeable: the cover, the summary, the keywords, the book file itself—but it’s also online forever. What do I mean? It means, the first time I published my book, A Hidden Fire, there were typos. I’d had it proofread, but there were typos that slipped in. I’m sure there still are. In fact one character name was spelled wrong the entire book and neither me or my editor OR my proofreader caught it. SO embarrassing! I fixed it as quickly as I could. (Nothing is permanent! Yay!)

Buuuuut, I still occasionally see copies of that file floating around or reviews that mention the mistake. Why? Because people either bought the book and downloaded it before the corrections, or they downloaded a pirated copy. (Oh, yes, that happens. Almost immediately.) So, even though I’ve fixed it, the mistakes are still around and always will be. (Things you put online are online forever.)

That is why it’s so important to put your best foot forward from the beginning. Begin as you mean to go on. Your first impression is key. But, at the same time if you make a mistake, don’t dwell on it, because that will drive you insane. Publish your book when it’s ready. Don’t stall waiting for perfection, because there is no such thing. Remember, you can change what you need and move on.

So, you have your files, your cursory internet knowledge, your cover, and your summary. Now…

  • Load all that information onto your chosen platforms.
  • Set your cover.
  • Set your price.
  • Do NOT enable DRM. (Please don’t. It doesn’t discourage pirates only punishes honest buyers.)
  • DO enable lending. (Hey, you want readers to lend your book to friends, don’t you? That way they can talk about it a bunch and get other friends excited about buying it.)
  • and…
  • Press “publish.”

That’s it. That’s all.

You’ve published a book.

(And it wasn’t all that hard, was it?)

The minute someone buys that book, you are a professional. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. You have been paid for creative work. So act like a professional. Begin as you mean to go on. Don’t act like no one except your mom is going to buy your book. Act like the entire world is your marketplace, because it is.

You’re a published author. Well done.

We’re going to talk about the touchy subject of marketing/promotion/social networking next week, so please come back. I am NOT a marketing expert, but I have been doing this for a while and I’ve seen a lot of what works and a lot of what does NOT. If you want a sneak peek at my advice, you can read this post “For Writers: The sum total of my marketing knowledge (which is not much)” on my blog.

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One Comment

  1. Great post, I’m coming up to this stage in my writing life and reading these sorts of easy, understandable posts really helps and makes me feel less overwhelmed by it all! 🙂

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