Tell Me About Self-Publishing
January 4, 2018 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Can you give me advice on publishing the book what I wrote?

So, during my recent period of unemployment, I decided to write a short fantasy novel. I'm close to a final draft, and I'm starting to look at what I want to do with it. I'd potentially like to self-publish it as an ebook, and I'm wondering how best to go about this. Have you self-published a book before, and if so, do you have any advice you might share?

More specifically, do you prefer a specific platform? Why?

What format should my final draft be in?

How does self-publishing under a pseudonym work?

How is pricing typically determined?

What advantages did self-publishing provide you vs. going a more traditional route?

Are there other considerations I should be aware of?

The book itself started out as an attempt to write a Robert E. Howard/'30s pulp kind of story, but without some of the more problematic aspects of that genre (i.e., obvious racism, bullshit 19th-century ethnonationalist theories of European prehistory, ridiculous heteronormativity). It sort of mutated from there, and I now call it either a "barbarian spy novel," "Emo Conan," or "CS Lewis with fewer obvious Christian allegories and way more stabbing."

(Note: if anyone wants to read a .pdf version, send me a memail with an email address I can mail it to. Perhaps this is more appropriate for MeFi Projects, but I don't have a url I can use)
posted by TheWhiteSkull to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I used to work with a small publishing house; I did the ebook & print formatting and a lot of the industry research. I have been an ebook fanatic for years; I no longer read genre fic on paper.

FORMAT: Make in epub; use Calibre to convert to Mobi. Epub is the most flexible format. If you're going Amazon only, converting from whatever to Mobi may be fine, but you'll probably want the flexibility of epub for other things at least sometimes - even if it's just for review copies. If you'd like specific formatting advice/suggestions, feel free to memail me.

PLATFORM: Your big choices are "Amazon exclusive" to get the bonuses available through that, or "Amazon plus other places," to get a trickle of sales from those and to be resilient against any weird changes in Amazon's algorithms. I am strongly pro-diversity, but I can't argue with the financial decisions of authors who've chosen to be exclusive.

PSEUDONYM: You put the pseud on the cover and inside, and you make very sure your accounts with Amazon & other places are related to your real name - or your publishing company name. (Congrats; you now have a publishing business. Kristine Kathryn Rusch's business blog is probably your best resource for that.)

SELF vs TRADITIONAL: There are, right now, pretty much zero advantages to the "traditional" publishing route. Agents are basically worthless, and trad publishing contracts have gotten even more rights-grabby than they used to be, and they used to be awful.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: Be willing to fork out real money ($100-$500) for a good book cover, and find someone who isn't you to help you decide what that is.

If you're Amazon exclusive, you don't need an ISBN. If you go through Smashwords, they'll give you an ISBN, but it'll list them as the publisher. Buying a single ISBN is a fool's game - might as well fork over the extra for a ten-pack, and if you have any thoughts of publishing a series, a hundred-pack is worth the long-term investment. (They don't expire.) Bowker wants you to assign a different ISBN for each version of a book: each type of ebook, paperback, hardcover, special fancy-fonts edition, etc. Many small publishers settle for "one isbn for print, one for ebook."

PRICING: Hahahaha hahaaha aahaha *thud*. This is so scattered. Options include $1 to get lots of sales; $3 ($2.99) to max out the Amazon percentage-to-author; $5-$7 to be cheaper than a standard paperback, or... more, for various reasons. Dean Wesley Smith (Rusch's husband) has a whole tag dedicated to ebook pricing concerns. Short version: $3.99 to $6.99, with romance being on the lower side, mystery on the upper side.

Me, specifically: I prefer Smashwords, which is DRM-free and feeds to other major ebook stores except Amazon and B&N. However, Smashwords has formatting requirements that are a pain. (I also happily buy from Baen and Angry Robot. I grudgingly buy from Amazon, and then use a plugin to strip the DRM.) I won't pay more than $7 for fiction without a really, really good reason.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:16 PM on January 4, 2018 [28 favorites]

Here are links to two older articles by another industry insider.
posted by Bruce H. at 6:56 PM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Since you're in Canada, you can get ISBNs for free via Library and Archives Canada if you meet the criteria for a "Canadian publisher":

"Canadian Publisher" means a person or entity who:
- makes a publication available in Canada, and
- publishes from an official office of business located within Canada, and
- indicates that the published material's place of publication, when it is given, is within Canada, and
- has at least 75% of its employees based in Canada

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:01 PM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I also write and self-pub genre fiction. I agree with a ton of what ErisLordFreedom said above.

I personally am currently Amazon-only. I have eventual plans to "go wide" (distribute to other retailers), but I haven't had the time/focus to get those other formats ready and up, so I figure I'll reap the benefits of going Amazon-only for now. For me, those involve being part of the KDP Select program, which gives me a higher royalty rate and 5 free days per KDP cycle, which are good for running promos or even just letting friends and family get free copies. I agree that I think diversity is better in general/in the long run, but Amazon-only works for me for now. I don't have any plans to use Smashwords because I don't like the idea of giving away a percentage as compensation for them doing the distribution for me and would theoretically rather do that work myself, but on the other hand, I clearly haven't done that work yet on my books, so maybe Smashwords would be a better idea!

Even though I'm Amazon-only, I buy ISBNs from Bowker. It makes me feel less tied to one retailer and also more ownership over my work.

If you're interested in a paper version at some point, I've found CreateSpace (through Amazon) to be perfectly fine for my needs. The upload interface can be a bit slow and proofs take awhile to ship, but the finished copies are lovely and very professional looking.

I sort of guess on my pricing - it's theoretically easy enough to run experiments and make changes over time, but I sort of see what Mark Coker says about pricing that year in his annual survey (here's the one from 2017) and see what other authors are doing and pick something that feels like it's in the right ballpark. You mentioned your novel is short, so you might want to price it a dollar lower than a longer novel, maybe? For ebooks, my novel is at $3.99 and my book of short stories is at $2.99 for now, if that helps.

Two podcasts that I found to be really helpful (back when I was listening to more podcasts a year to six months ago) are Rocking Self Publishing and the Sell More Books Show. RSP is great for case studies of strategies that are working in various genres, and SMBS is great for keeping up with what's going on in the self-pub world.

One last thought - think a bit about your goals for self-pub. Do you want the "my book on a bookshelf" feeling of pride and an easy way to have friends get a copy on their e-reader? Or are you hoping to use this book to launch a writing and publishing career that pays your bills? Either way - or anything in between - is fine, but you'll want to tailor your strategies to your goals. For just getting it out there for pride and friends/family, it's okay to go the easiest way in terms of distribution, to maybe pay less for a cover/editing, etc. If you really want to build an audience and a career, you'll want to think more about branding, marketing, a website, etc.

BUT the great thing is that self-pub can easily be an iterative process, so you don't have to get everything right out of the gate! Covers can always be changed, newly edited versions can be released, etc. etc. Don't get bogged down in all the details, but do have a sense of the direction you want to head, at least to start with.

Feel free to MeMail me if you want more details on anything (though I may be slow to answer as I have a newborn at home!).
posted by bananacabana at 7:23 PM on January 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

There's at least one closed Facebook group for indie authors that might be a useful resource for you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:52 PM on January 5, 2018

Just as a reference point, for those who do go the traditional route, a good agent is definitely not "worthless." There are a lot of crappy agents out there, but there are also some stellar ones, and it can be hard to tell the difference when you're querying.

Agents are still the gatekeepers for most larger traditional publishers. That's not how it should be, but it's how it is. Larger traditional publishers can offer a lot of advantages over self-publishing, and a good agent will fight to get you as many of those advantages as possible. A good agent can also identify smaller, up-and-coming presses that might be a good fit for a particular book.

Source: I have an awesome agent. I used to have a crappy agent. I have writer friends who've had good and bad agents. I have other writer friends who've self-pubbed or gone with indie presses, and in some cases, they really could've used a good agent. I've also been in a unique position -- I've published a book with a major traditional publisher without going through an agent. It was a great experience, but I stumbled over a lot of details that a good agent would have caught and/or prevented.
posted by QuickedWeen at 8:36 AM on January 6, 2018

If you go with Kindle only, you can just upload your doc(x) file, if you wrote in Word. For CreateSpace (Amazon's paperback option), you will want a PDF. You can use a pseudonym easily.

Get someone to read over your manuscript. By the laws of the cosmos, an author is unable to even see most of their own typos.

I don't know how copyrights are handled in Canada, but find out before you publish. (In the US, you can register a work electronically before publication without having to send physical copies.)

The advantage of self-publishing is that everything is under your control, you avoid the hassle of getting a gatekeeper's attention, and your book stays in print as long as you like. The disadvantage is that publicity is entirely up to you. I do pretty well with Amazon-- but I mostly write non-fiction. Don't expect a lot of sales, unless you have fans waiting for your book.
posted by zompist at 10:20 PM on January 6, 2018

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