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Self-Publishing 101: Part I

Ever thought about self-publishing a book? Just curious about how it works?

There’s a slew of information about self-publishing to be had on the internet. It’s a hot topic in the literary world, these days. And, self-publishing isn’t as complicated as you might think. other ways, it’s more complicated than you probably realize. And for all the information out there, there are a lot of gaps. Before starting my publication process, I’d researched it to death.

It still hit me over the head with a frying pan.

That’s why I’m writing this--maybe if you ever go to self-publish, after reading this, you’ll only get hit by a rubber spatula. Learn from my mistakes. Let me try to fill in the gaps. Behold: a detailed step-by-step of how this process works. A guide to everything you will need to know and to do. And an emphasis on the information that you are not likely to find on all the big self-publishing advice blogs and sites.

Step 1: You have a book.

Is this the first draft? As in, you just finished writing it for the first time, or maybe have done a couple rounds of editing? Then you are not at Step 1. You are at Step -1, and you will need to rewrite that book and edit it many more times before you are at Step 1. Some will disagree with me, but most authors--especially most of the professional and/or famous ones--will agree: a book needs to be rewritten at least a few times. It needs to be edited infinite times. (By you AND by others)

Personally, I wrote Daughter of Lightning three times. First draft--I wrote it when I was thirteen. It was awful. Excuse the language, but Ernest Hemingway himself said: “The first draft of anything is sh*t”. Second draft--rewrote the entire thing, probably when I was fifteen. Great improvement, still crap. Did a ton of editing. Eventually acknowledged that it needed another systemic rewrite. Third draft--rewrote the entire thing, around the age of eighteen. Got some beta readers. Edited as mercilessly as I knew how. Now I was at Step 1.

Step 2: Get that book edited.

You a great proofreader? Great at nit-picking other books and improving them? That’s awesome. But no, you cannot be your own editor.

Well...okay, that was a very black-and-white statement. Let’s dig deeper.

Here’s the thing: editing is very expensive. If you do a Developmental and Line edit (probably the most thorough and useful package) for an 80,000-word book, expect to spend 2-3 thousand. Some of us have that kind of money to spend. Some of us (*timid raising of both hands*) DO NOT.

I did get Daughter of Lightning edited. I did a Developmental and Copy edit. And I think the Developmental was very useful, and improved my story. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Copy edit was useful. I honestly can’t remember what my editor did, as far as the Copy part goes. It does not involve proofreading, I can tell you that (and you can tell me that, if you got your hands on a copy of Daughter of Lightning before I got most of the typos fixed!). And even for the things it should have addressed, like wording, I feel my editor may have missed some things.

Granted, I had other problems with her. She was apparently having personal struggles at the time of our collaboration, which resulted in a lot of missed deadlines and poor communication. Likely, hopefully, you would have a better experience with most editors.

Here’s the thing. Now that I’m working on getting my second book publication-ready...I’m not having it edited. Partially because, straight and simple, I can’t afford it. (Student loans, hoorah!) Partially because I think I can polish it well enough with lots of hard work and the help of some beta readers. A large part of that is that it’s the second book. Since I had the Developmental for the first book, a lot of the issues my editor pointed out to me there, I can learn from and apply to the rest of the series.

So, my advice: if this is your first time publishing, or the first book in a series, get a Developmental edit, and if you can, a Line edit.

If it’s not your first, or you really can’t afford it...Here’s your alternative:

Have the Microsoft Word Robot read it to you.





Just the thought pains me. I am not looking forward to doing it with my 115,000 book. But if that robot comes across a typo, like she grabbed hrr Tic-Tacs instead of she grabbed her Tic-Tacs, it’s going to read: “she grabbed h-r-r Tic-Tacs”. And that’s going to be hard to not notice. Or if you used the word and seven times in a remarkably long sentence, you might not notice that as you’re reading it. But you’re going to notice it when you hear:

“She was beautiful, her hair and eyes golden like the latte my mom and dad used to get with its swirls of chocolate and caramel, and her nose dainty and adorable when it wrinkled, and a rosy blush in her cheeks that perfectly complemented her honey-and-vanilla complexion.”

Then again, though...if you’re writing descriptions like might not be at Step 1 yet.

So, have the robot read it to you. AFTER you’ve made all you’re other revisions. After you’ve had at least a few beta readers--some of which should be strangers who are objective and honest, not just your friends and family!--read it, and made revisions according to the feedback you received. After you’ve got the story, the characters, and the book as a whole right where you want it.

After the robot...proofread it yourself. At least two more times.

Surely, by now, you’ve caught all the mistakes, right? Probably not. There’s one more thing you need to do. Print it, then proofread it.

You see, our brains do a funny and very inconvenient thing. They read what they expect to read. Your brain knows that you meant to write “she grabbed her Tic-Tacs”, and it thinks you did. So that’s what it tells you is there. It knows this book front-to-back, page-by-page, word-to-word. (For real. After my editor made some small revisions to my manuscript, I read through it, and could easily spot it if so much as a single, inconsequential word had been changed.)

But then you print the thing. Suddenly, it looks different. “Oh,” your brain says, “this is new. We’ll have to pay attention.” And suddenly idiotic typos and hideous wording choices seem to be written with a red sharpie on the page.

Also have some other proofreaders. Your stubborn brain may STILL gloss over errors, even after it’s printed. But to a new brain, not so stubborn as yours and without preconceived notions of what it’s reading, they should stand out just fine.

But let’s say you can hire an editor. If you can, do. How do you go about finding one?

It’s not as hard as you may think. Let me direct you to a wonderful resource: Reedsy.

It’s a platform for professional freelancers that perform many services. Editors, ghostwriters, cover designers, marketers, illustrators, and more. If you hire an editor through Reedsy, your project is under their protection--if the editor doesn’t deliver, or you have other problems, you can report the collaboration and Reedsy will assess if a partial or full refund is due, etc. They also have a high standard for the professionals on their site, so you can usually trust that the person you hire is experienced and reliable. The only downside is that Reedsy charges a 10% commission on whatever you pay the professional. So if you pay an editor $2,000, you’ll also have to pay Reedsy $200. The risk-free collaboration can definitely be worth that, however.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for on Reedsy, or just want more options, let me direct you to another wonderful resource: Joanna Penn’s website, The Creative Penn. She has tons of great information for authors, especially indies. This list of editors is one such piece of information. (But still do your research! I contacted several of those editors, and did run into one who was downright rude and condescending. Definitely not someone you want as an editor!)

Finally, finally, you are past Step 2.

Step 3: Decide if you want a publishing imprint, and get one.

Grab a book. Look at the back cover. Somewhere, probably near the bottom left corner, is there the logo and name of the publisher? “Penguin Random House” and a picture of a penguin? (Just kidding, I do not know what their logo is. Don’t think it’s a penguin, though.) That is the publishing imprint. It may be on the spine of the book too.

You may be thinking: I’m self-publishing. So I won’t have a publishing imprint. This is obvious.

Lies. You will have a publishing imprint. The question is...will it be yours, or will it be Amazon’s?

Now, though I can’t guarantee this, I don’t think Amazon puts their name and logo on the spine of your book, the way Penguin Random House would. But, on the book listing, in that section of details, it will say: “Publisher: Amazon” or something similar. You will be the author, but they will be the publisher.

In contrast, get on the listing for my book, Daughter of Lightning. Scroll down to that details section. What do you see? Publisher: Java Dragon Press.

I am the author of the book. And, my imprint (aka my business), Java Dragon Press, is the publisher.

Why is this important? It’s not that important. Basically what it boils down to is that it looks more professional to have a publishing imprint other than Amazon. It looks better to have a logo on your spine. And, it might help you get into physical bookstores. A lot of brick-and-mortar stores turn their noses up at Amazon-published books, but might give a book with its own imprint a chance.

Decided to get your imprint? Not sure how to go about it?

Neither am I. I literally just fumbled my way through this one.

Basically, I got on the “official website” for my state, and found a place to register a business. I think it cost me like $15. Could you skip this step? Quite possibly...I’m not sure on the copyright issues that may arise if you don’t register the imprint name as yours. I did do some research, but it was a while ago, and there were mixed messages. But for $15, I’d play it safe and just register your business. (Besides, who doesn’t want to be able to say they own a business? I own a business, y’all.)

Then, you’ll need to attach your imprint to your ISBN (more on that next). And, you’ll need to design a logo. I did that using Canva, and it was surprisingly easy.

Step 4: Get an ISBN.

No one warned me about this one. Or if they did, I was too busy writing my next book in my head and missed it. So I learned it the hard way--you need an ISBN, and ISBNs cost money. (If you’re not familiar with the term, an ISBN is the number above the barcode on a book)

Now, fortunately, if you haven’t a penny to spare, Amazon will give you a free ISBN. But this comes with the same problematic baggage as using Amazon’s free imprint--it looks less professional, and it likely ruins your chances of getting your book into a brick-and-mortar store. I don’t know the details of this complex relationship, but Amazon and bookstores hate each other’s guts. So the more the word “Amazon” or “Kindle” shows up on your book, the more bookstores boot you out the door.

You also can’t use that free ISBN from Amazon anywhere else. So someday if you want to publish it on IngramSpark too, or sell it through your website, or on Apple, or whatever, Amazon isn’t going to share. You’ll have to get your own ISBN.

So if you have no plans on selling your book anywhere else (physical stores or other online platforms) and really don’t care about having complete and total ownership, go ahead and use Amazon’s free ISBN.

But if you don’t like that option, head on over to Bowker, and buy one for yourself. (Don’t try to buy it anywhere else. This is the official site for ISBNs, and buying them anywhere else is risky) Better yet, buy several. If I remember right, it’s like $100 for one ISBN, but $300 for ten, so obviously go with ten. “What am I going to do with ten ISBNs, whackjob?” you ask. “Well dear, you will need one for every book you publish, and they’re like Ramen Noodles--they don’t expire.” My proud-whackjob-self replies. But this is assuming you plan to publish more than one book. If not, then I concede falsity and grant that you should only buy one.

Once you have your ISBN(s) on Bowker, you will be able to register your book and publishing imprint with that (or those) ISBN(s). It’s pretty simple, so I won’t bore you with mechanics.

Alright y’all, your brains may or may not be as tired as mine after all that self-publishing mumbo-jumbo. It’s quite a process, so a comprehensive 101 is quite a long blog post. Thus, let’s adjourn for the time being. We’ll return shortly for the following steps.

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