Advice on self-publishing options?
January 6, 2019 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I have a book of creative work (poetry, microfiction, etc.) that I've been working on for several years and am considering self-publishing. Can anyone recommend a good platform to accomplish this sort of thing as an unknown writer? Has anyone used Amazon's self-publishing service or something similar? Any and all advice is appreciated.

This book is a side gig/hobby project; I have a day job and don't depend on my creative writing to make a living, although I'd be open to doing so if by some miracle it worked out. Money and recognition are not my primary goals; I simply want to put my work out into the world and see what happens. But I'd like to do it in a way that lets me retain a reasonable amount of artistic control and sets me up well in case I want to do more with my writing later in life. I'm open to ebooks or traditional print.
posted by AnnaBegins942 to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I mean, Amazon is probably the best ecosystem for this. It's a publishing platform, so you would have to do your own marketing and promotion, but there are perks to doing well in your categories and the significant perk of discover-ability on the largest book selling marketplace.

Note that Amazon has just changed the way they do print on demand (your books would be printed per order) and there have been complaints about quality during the changeover. That is something to keep an eye on at, for example, r/selfpublish.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:42 AM on January 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yesterday I stumbled upon this guide, which looks very helpful for your situation (and the situation I hope to be in myself in the not-too-distant future): How to Self-Publish on Amazon KDP (the Ultimate Guide).
posted by daisyk at 8:00 AM on January 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I worked with a small publisher for years as the production manager (I turned manuscripts into ebooks) and looked into all the distribution platforms.

1) Amazon is the 800-lb gorilla in the self-publishing world; you can put your books elsewhere as well, but boycotting Amazon guarantees a stalled career. Amazon-only is required for some of Amazon's promotions, and a lot of authors use that.

2) Smashwords is good for pretty much everywhere else - they distribute to the other sites so you don't have to deal with formatting and other requirements. Smashwords direct sales have the best rates in the industry (They keep 15% instead of 30%; I suspect you lose both that and the other distribution site cut when you go through them.) If you're not in it directly for the money, the simplicity may be worth that. However, Smashwords has strictly limited formatting requirements for everything except epub. If you have problems with them, memail me and I'll happily send you far too much detail + a template to work from.

3) The best software for self-pub layouts is either InDesign or Quark Xpress. If you don't have access to either of those (because they are srsly not cheap and also very complicated), Joel Rosenberg sells book design templates in Word; they're good. However, they don't convert to epub or mobi; you need other software for that. I prefer Sigil for epub, which is free, but also not simple. Calibre will convert RTF (not doc or docx) to epub and mobi; it helps a lot if you know some CSS to set up the formatting details. (Epub is, at its core, an HTML-based format. Mobi is based on something a bit simpler, but has many of the same features.)

4) Book cover is important. A mediocre cover means people who would love your book, won't notice it to buy it. Rosenberg also has monthly ebook cover design awards, which include commentary about what works and what doesn't, and why. Ebook covers have somewhat different standards from print, which just means a cover that works for both is a bit more limited. (Not much, though; the principle of "make the text readable" and "make sure the art conveys the genre" are true for both.)

5) ISBN registration is ridiculously expensive. It's not required if you go through Amazon or Smashwords and sell in ebook only; may not be required for Amazon print. If you use Smashwords' free ISBN, they're listed as the publisher, not you. If you decide to treat publishing as a serious career-adjacent activity, scrounge up the money for at least 10, and more likely 100 ISBNs. (If you have money to blow on your small publishing business, get a thousand. They don't expire.)

6) Copyright registration involves use of a gov't database that's got absolutely archaic software, but it's mostly just slow and clunky. It costs $35 per title and you have to send 2 copies of the "best format" to them - if you do ebook only, you only have to upload.

7) Self-publishing is a business. Income gets declared on your taxes in weird ways. It's fine to treat it as a tiny business that is intended more to entertain you or others than to make profit, but be aware that it is a business, and as such is subject to business laws that can show up unexpectedly. (OTOH, if you like business-y things, this is your excuse to register a DBA of your choice and get some nice corporate letterhead paper. It's entirely legit to treat this as launching a startup.)

I am happy to chat at length about any of this.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:31 AM on January 6, 2019 [25 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies, all...I appreciate the advice. @ErisLordFreedom, can you elaborate on your point #4 around what constitutes a good book cover? I'd love some resources around this as that's one of the elements I'm still considering. Feel free to message me directly if you prefer.
posted by AnnaBegins942 at 8:52 AM on January 6, 2019

Cover design is an endless debate in the publishing industry. There's a lot of agreement of what's horrible but little consensus on the difference between "okay" and "good" and "wow." Also, trends change; it's very much a matter of knowing what's currently popular. (Sci-fi books from the 60s don't have the same kinds of covers as sci-fi books today.)

The key parts:
* Genre should be obvious - romance covers do not look like sci-fi covers do not look like business tips covers.
* Do not fall into the trap of trying to make the cover look like something that happens in the book.
* Text needs to be legible, which is a much more important point for ebooks.

It's not that you can't make the cover a scene from the book, or a picture of the characters, but absolutely no person ever said, "I read that book and the cover was wrong, so I'm not buying the next one in the series." Don't make "has wrong hair color" a reason for skipping the perfect artwork for the cover.

I'll message you.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:08 AM on January 6, 2019

One word re: ISBNs - if you want any libraries or bookstores to buy your book, you’ll need one. Whether or not you want to consider them as a target market is up to you. But you won’t get far without one.
posted by lyssabee at 9:09 AM on January 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

highly suggest joining the Facebook group SPF Community which is all about this and contains members at all levels of self-publishing success.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:41 AM on January 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Self-published poetry (and literary fiction) is not as popular on Amazon as genre fiction is. I personally am much more likely to read poetry and microfiction via social media (Twitter, blogs) or in traditional literary magazines, especially literary magazines that publish online. If your main goal is to get your work read, you should think about whether a book is actually the right format. Think, also, about what other ways you will publish or share your work that will help people discover your book, if you do go that direction.
posted by yarntheory at 10:20 AM on January 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

3) The best software for self-pub layouts is either InDesign or Quark Xpress.

If you have a Mac, I would seriously recommend you take a good hard look at Vellum.
posted by Naberius at 12:01 PM on January 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

For a good intro book to cover design considerations for self-publishers, there's Stuart Bache's The Author's Guide to Cover Design.
posted by yhlee at 12:24 PM on January 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

You can quite easily set up both print and e-books on Amazon. Both now go through Kindle. Amazon will assign you an ISBN. (I've used ones from Bowker as well, but IIRC this actually precludes some of the distribution options.)

For copyright, you don't need to send the Library of Congress physical copies if you register the manuscript before publication.

For printed books, you'll submit a PDF. If you already have Word, you have all you need. But note that you'll be doing the editing and book design yourself. If you're used to working on a computer screen, be aware that print magnifies little problems of fonts and spacing incredibly.

All this has worked out for me, but I write mostly non-fiction and had an existing decade-long web presence. I published some fiction books because I wanted to, but they sure don't sell well. So if you have no one who's already interested in your work, this is not going to make you famous.
posted by zompist at 6:40 PM on January 6, 2019

I've self published three novels using Createspace for the print on demand versions, which works nicely with amazon since amazon owns it - cross promoting etc. They're now blending it into KDP
For e-books I use Calibre on my mac.
If you live in Canada, you can get free ISBN's from the Canadian Government!
posted by drinkmaildave at 10:16 PM on January 6, 2019

I am you, except with fiction. I'd just say to be aware that a lot of self-pub resources seem to assume that the only goal or, indeed, reason to write at all is to maximize profit. Many will encourage high investments and elaborate tactics from the very beginning in the name of "don't you care about your business?!?" I was, for example, strongly encouraged to quit my job and work full-time on marketing the books I write mostly to entertain myself. I did not do that. The world continues to turn.

These suggestions are optional. They'll help! It's good advice! But you can buy in as much as you like, and only as much as you like. You can inch your way into the deep end if sales are not your only priority. I found only one book along those lines, called Bootstrapping for Indies, which seems to have vanished now. That may be a useful term of art, though.

posted by cage and aquarium at 4:58 AM on January 7, 2019

Cage and Aquarium, I did a quick search and you can download Bootstrapping for Indies from the author for free or a donation! I look forward to reading it, thanks for the suggestion
posted by drinkmaildave at 7:08 PM on January 7, 2019

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