by Allison Maruska
A friend emailed me a question. She’s written a book and is considering what to do with it.
Her question: “How do you self-publish on Amazon?”
She didn’t mean what buttons to push on KDP that makes the book go live. She meant: “What are the steps necessary to prepare a book for publication?”
I emailed her my response, and as I did so I realized my email was pretty darn close to a blog post. Ergo, I’m sharing it with you.
Some may see self-publishing as an easy way to get your book into the world. It’s not easier. It’s just faster. There are some important questions to ask before hitting “Publish,” else your book will drown before it has a chance to bob once on the water’s surface.
While this post is meant primarily to those considering self-publishing, the following questions apply to ALL publishers and authors. Some publishers have sub-par editors, for example, and no matter which route you take, marketing will mostly fall on you, the author. So you must know everything there is to know about your final product.
Question 1: Is my book edited?
Your book is your masterpiece. Your baby. It can be scary to let someone pick on your baby. It’s easy to get defensive. Here’s the thing, though: nobody’s first draft (or even fifth draft) is perfect. This is why publishers have editors.
Realize that editing is necessary. It’s more than finding typos. It’s cutting boring parts, enhancing character development, and eliminating crutch words, among many, many other things. A cursory self-edit is a good first step (starting with these items is a good idea), but that’s all it is – a first step.
You have a couple of options when it comes to getting your book edited. The most obvious is hiring an editor, but there are different types of editors. Proofreaders will help you find typos and wonky sentence structures. Content editors will point out plot problems.
Another option is to work with good critique partners (read how to find some here). No, they usually aren’t editors, but they are fellow writers who have likely been through the editing gauntlet themselves. CPs come to the table with different experiences and talents, and they bring those to your book.
While hiring an editor is one opinion, that opinion is (hopefully) current on publishing trends and is knowledgeable when it comes to story structure. A CP group gives you a variety of opinions, and you can use the suggestions that best serve your story.
Best case scenario – work with both an editor and a critique group. I’ve found this brings the best results, and I’ve learned a great deal from both.
Question 2: Does my book have a professional cover?
I Googled “bad book cover” in search of an image for this point, and now I need eye bleach. *curls into the fetal position and shakes*
Don’t judge a book by its cover is more cliche than truth anymore (and it’s also more about not being prejudgemental in general). Everyone judges books by their covers. I’m certainly not going to read any of the books that popped on that Google image search, and odds are at least a few are good stories.
Your book cover is the first thing a potential reader sees. If they are put off, they won’t open it and read the first page unless they are related to you (and maybe not even then). If you publish and the book isn’t selling, pretty much every piece of advice will say to criticize your cover first (editing second).
Unless you are a graphic designer yourself, do not try to create your own cover. It is worth the money to hire a professional cover designer. Dig into portfolios, get recommendations, seek out the designers of covers you love. I’ve used a few different designers. Read about two of them here.
Question 3: Is my book professionally formatted?
Yes, formatting is boring, and that’s on a good day. On a bad day, you’ve angered the formatting gods and the process is downright maddening (this is especially true of paperback formatting).
But published books are not formatted like your manuscript. You’ll have to go to single spacing, smaller indents, and remove ALL extra spaces and line breaks, or your ebook will not behave on all the devices. For your paperback, you’ll need page numbers and headers.
Once you get the hang of formatting it’s not too difficult. You can also hire this service out if you don’t want to deal with it.
Question 4: Do I have a platform?
If you create a Twitter account the same day you publish and start spamming book promo tweets, you’ll be promptly ignored. Potential readers on social media like to know who the hell you are before you start trying to sell them stuff. And you know what? So do potential agents. When you query, expect to be Googled. They want to see if you have the ability to market yourself.
Build a newsletter email list and/or a blog. Post updates regularly. Start a Facebook author page and Twitter account and work on building your following. Depending on your genre, explore Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and StumbleUpon. And start all of this before you publish. That way, on launch day, you have an audience who will listen to you.
The point of all of this is to make yourself visible. Known. Yes, use your platform to promote your work, but also use it to help and entertain others. Show that you’re a real, interesting person and not a spam-bot. Your pre-published following can make the difference between a successful book launch and your book falling into the abyss.
Guest post contributed by Allison Maruska. Allison likes to post in line with her humor blog roots, but she also includes posts about teaching and writing specifically. Check out her website for more of her work.