Self-publishing in a Nutshell

3 minute read

Okay, you’ve written a beautiful novel and wish to unleash your wordbaby on the world.

There’s no doubt about it: traditional publishing is a long game. Agents, editors, publishers, and umpteen million pairs of eyeballs and opinions. For the right book for the right market at the right time, this is a super option.

I don’t want to talk about that.

The other avenue writery types now pursue is self-publishing. It’s not mutually exclusive with traditional approaches– peeps mix and match. Cool times indeed.

So what is self-publishing?

Well, it’s where you do everything yourself, have 100% of the say and get to keep 100% of the profit. Oh… and you assume 100% of the risk and guess what? It’s a long game too. But, for the right book for the right market…

You get the dealio.

If you want to hold a dead-tree version of your novel in your grubby hands, then you’re looking for a Print-on-Demand (PoD) publisher. Typically a website, you upload your manuscript, fiddle with a cover and fill in some deets. And, wham! Order your book or a case or a boatload. The shipment will show up at your door and you can hit every local bookstore, library and flea market.

Okay, there are more steps than that and more than this one paltry (yet mighty) blog post can handle.

Self-publishing printed books used to be the domain of vanity publishing and somewhat expensive. Not so any more. It’s more than affordable as you only pay for what’s printed. Amazon’s CreateSpace is the big name here and for a percentage, they’ll list your book in the Amazon store. Ain’t nothin’ free.

Now, Amazon also does e-books. What are e-books, you say? Glad you asked.

E-books are special digital documents that can be read on computers, tablets, smartphones or specialized reading devices called, uncreatively, e-readers. It is with these e-books, that the self-publishing author has leveled the landscape with traditional publishers.

Amazon is the big fish here as their Kindle format of e-books dominates the western market. Like CreateSpace, you just upload your manuscript and snazzy cover, fill in the blanks and BOOM, you’re done. The ‘boom’ is metaphorical. No explosions. Sorry.

Other e-book self-publishing platforms include Kobo and Apple iBooks. The market share is about 50% Kindle, 30% iBooks, 10% Kobo and 10% everyone else. Those numbers are highly variable (and possibly suspect) as it depends on the market and the source. For example, in Canada, Kindle and Kobo are at market parity. Also of note is that in the Appleverse, one can install both Kindle and Kobo apps on their favourite iDevice. Whatever.

It’s a really fractured space and quite daunting to setup and manage self-publishing arrangements with every platform. Especially Apple. If you don’t own a Mac, you can’t publish to iBooks. Period.

Enter Smashwords. They are a meta-publisher. You publish your manuscript through them and if your book passes their one-eyed scrutiny, they put you in a Premium Catalog and distribute your book to Amazon, Apple, Kobo and the rest for you. One stop shopping, right? Ain’t nothin’ free. They take a cut too.

Here’s what I’ve seen as a ‘best practice’:

  1. Make a dead tree version with CreateSpace
  2. Tick the automagically-make-a-Kindle version checkbox
  3. Published both in Amazon.
  4. Setup Kobo / Indigo for Canucks ‘cause it’s easy
  5. Setup on Smashwords for the rest of the platforms
  6. There is no Step 6
  7. Profit!

BONUS: You can also make the an e-book yourself. It’s not all that hard. Software like Calibre or Scrivener can easily make e-books for you to sell directly from your website.

BONUS BONUS: If you don’t want to make any money on a particular book and just want to build a following, then take a look at Wattpad. It’s a great platform to distribute short fiction too. It has a social network vibe.

BONUS NOT BONUS: A big thing to keep in mind is that there is no Easy Button. The biggest piece of work you’ll have to do after writing and editing your book is in marketing it. In the self-publishing space, that’s your job. The vast majority of self-published books sell less than 1000 copies. Measure your expectations accordingly.

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