Indie Publishing: Preparing for the Sharpened Stake*

A few years ago I sat next to a nice man at a friend’s dinner party. “Oh, you two should have a lot to talk about!” our hostess said. “Justin here just signed a book contract. He’s going to be published!”

This is always of great interest to me, as you might imagine. “That’s wonderful,” I said. I’d met Justin before. He’s an accountant by day and now … he’s a published author.

Justin beamed. “Yes, they accepted my novel right away,” he said. “My editor says there’s no problem with the manuscript. It will only cost a thousand dollars to …”

Uh-oh. You need to know, dear ones, if you have to pay, you’re not being published—you’re being printed. (And possibly taken to the cleaners.) Real publishing houses don’t make you pay to be published.

This is not to be confused with self-publishing; there are lots of great reasons to self-publish. (And yes, of course, if you want printed books, you will have to pay for them.) If you decide to self-publish, I recommend you check out Catherine Ryan Howard at Catherine, Caffeinated and Steven Lewis at Taleist. Both are experienced self-publishers—and they tell everything they know in their blogs.

Steven and Catherine are the experts. But I’ll try to summarize what you need to consider. Let’s say … you’ve written a book, and you think you’d like to self-publish. You already fully understand there are lots of things a traditional publisher does—like editing, cover design, distribution, and marketing—you will have to handle yourself, and you’re OK with that.

First you’ll have to decide whether you will publish electronically only, or if you want actual paper books too. For example, if you’re a financial planner who has spent some time speaking to service and church groups in your town and now you’ve written a book about financial planning, it might be nice to have a stack of books to sell at the back of the room when you give your next presentation. If that’s the case, you can hire out the things that need to be done (editorial, cover design, typesetting) and do a small print run. There’s no mystery to book printing; many printers can handle it and will be more than happy to work directly with you. The cost will end up being about the same as that bunch who want you to pay them to “publish” you (that is, not cheap) but you will get top-notch work from professional freelancers and you’ll control the final product.

Now, if you only need an e-book, that’s relatively easy. After you’ve hired all the editorial and designed a cover, you can use Amazon’s CreateSpace. Or Smashwords. They’ll do it all for you. Or you can hire someone to format it correctly and upload it to one of these sites yourself. (Because you still need their help for distribution to online retailers.)

If you want a combination of the two (electronic and print), investigate They were one of the first print-on-demand (POD) publishers, they’re still here, and I’ve held the output of their services in my hand and it was lovely. In the beginning, Lulu only offered print-on-demand; now, years later, they will typeset, design the cover, format, and so on. It’s not cheap, but none of this is. Or you can do it yourself, as we’ve discussed, and just upload your files for e-distribution and POD.

Got all that? Here’s a general checklist:

Finish the book:

• If you haven’t already, start building your tribe/platform.

• Work with a content editor to refine your manuscript.

• Hire a copyeditor to make sure the words, grammar, and punctuation meet U.S. publishing standards.

• Hire a designer to create a cover.

Make a decision:

• Decide whether you will e-pub exclusively or want actual paper books too.

Prepare your manuscript:

• Hire a typesetter if you want a printed book. Then hire a proofer to check the typesetter.

• Format the manuscript for electronic upload.

• Choose an e-publisher (who will provide distribution).

If you’re wavering on print versus electronic, go to Catherine Caffeinated; she’s done both and has opinions about it. If you said “Huh?” when I mentioned platform, you should read Mike Hyatt. :) My friend Justin? I don’t know what happened to his book, but I’m guessing it didn’t end up in a bookstore near you.

*“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready.’” (From Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, 2006)


Tweet: If you have to pay, you’re not being published—you’re being printed.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  1. By Self-Publishing (Same Old Same Old) on 9 January, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    […] as if this topic hasn’t been discussed here before; it has. (Here, for example. Also here, here, here, here, and this one has links to older posts.) As you can see, industry professionals have been […]

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