Self-Publishing Checklist

We love the line from Pirates of the Caribbean where Captain Barbosa says “the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” Where writing and publishing is concerned we prefer guidelines to rules. Guidelines provide flexibility to artistically express yourself. In the spirit of providing guidelines for new and aspiring authors interested in the self-publishing route, here is bookowl’s Self-Publishing Checklist.

Before we get there ye mangy writers, let it be known that there are perils aplenty in here publishing waters! Before you dive into these waters, read How do I get published? to get a sense of what other publishing routes are available. If absolute control over your product including funding your book’s editing, illustration of book cover, marketing and promotion, and figuring out your distribution channels is not too much for you, then by all means, self-publish.

Recently, we've heard the phrase, “self-publishing is easy” thrown around a lot. Not so. Uploading books online or printing a book today is easy. Rather the statement should be that the mechanism for self-publishing is easy. Actually creating a well-edited, professional book and selling many copies of your book is hard work. We've met a number of self-published authors who are not ready when it comes time to creating and selling a well-planned book. We fell into that category when we started this blog process.

We've come to expect “hope and prayer” as the central theme for most new self-published authors, even if they are atheists. Prayers won’t help your self-published book sell once you put it on Amazon. In fact, a more useful prayer would be to ensure that people do not return books on Amazon once they’ve purchased and read it (Note- it does happen).

Let us back up our reasons with some stats. We came across a presentation from the 2014 Digital Book World conference, which included a few startling stats we found from a survey they conducted of over 9,000 authors - of which 88% were fiction writers.
1.   The annual writing income of approximately 76% of surveyed self-published writers was less than $1,000 compared to about 54% of traditionally published authors.
2.   For surveyed traditional writers, approximately 62% did not get any advances, which if you are a self-published author might help you breathe a bit easier.

However, if you are self-publishing to make a living, let's assume you start out with the following budget of $5,000 for a really good copy editor, book cover, formatting, marketing and some physical copies to sell at festivals or give away in promotions. Based on the stat on the annual writing income of $1,000, you are looking at recouping your costs in 5 years.

Still convinced that this is the route for you? Great! Successful self-publishers are doers. Below is a Self-Publishing Checklist we put together to guide our self-publishing journey. We’ll blog about each of the topics. We'll discuss our strategies and how they are working or not for the self-published book our guest writer is currently marketing. Our aim is to fine tune our marketing strategy to see if there are any takeaways that we can share with other self-published authors.

How do I get published?

In my opinion, the decision of which publishing model to choose boils down to two essential things: ‘control’ and ‘who pays’. An appropriate visual would be the graph I've drawn below. Think of any publishing model as falling between these two variables. Basically, I think of control as referring to who owns the rights to the book and with that comes publishing responsibility (couldn't resist riffing off the Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility”). The other variable, ‘who pays,’ is simple - it’s either you and/or someone else. There is a reverse side to the ‘who pays’ coin and it is ‘who benefits.’ The more you pay, the more you control issues such as royalty and profits.

What about literary agents? Where do they belong on this graph? Some workshops I've attended think of literary agents as a subset of traditional publishing and I tend to agree with this categorization. Literary agents are the gatekeepers to some publishers. If you manage to land one, great! If not, don’t sweat it, according to a literary agent I spoke to. Anecdotally, only 5% of North American books published go through literary agents. On the ‘who benefits’ side of the coin, note that literary agents usually get 15% commissions on domestic sales of your book, which will come from your pocket. However, like any expert, they will leverage their connections to ensure your book succeeds, and some may do editing. An agent might be well worth the back-end investment.