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DIY Disaster - Is self-publishing right for you?

Mention DIY and the first image that pops into most people’s heads is a guy standing over a leaking sink or other household emergency, tool in hand, scratching his head, not sure if he’s made things better or worse. Is DIY book publishing the same? Here are some things to consider.

There are some people who like to do all DIY themselves, even if they have no experience, because they see it as the cheaper option (even if it takes longer and is more difficult). There are others who call in a tradesman at the first sign of work required and have others do the tough stuff for them. There are still others, who do what they know they can, then call in the experts for anything else.

The same goes for self-publishing your book, and it’s important to know what you’ve got in your toolbox before you attempt the job.

You’ve spent ages writing your book and you want it to get the best possible opportunities for success, so it’s best to know what you’re in for in order to determine where your skills lie, what you can do yourself, and when you’ll need to call in the professionals.

Editing

When you’ve finished your story, it’s best to get an editor on board. Editing your own work can be a minefield because you know what you’ve written or at least what you intended to write. You can picture everything in your head, so sometimes you fill in the blanks when the words aren’t on the page. You’re too close to your work.

A good editor is worth their weight in gold. Even if you only use a copy editor who will cover things like grammar and spelling it is money well spent. Don’t rely on your word-processing software to pick up on your grammatical and spelling mistakes, they are not humans and can only determine if something is right or wrong, they won’t know about context or if the word is misplaced.

Your word processor wouldn’t pick up on the mistakes in the following classic sentence:

The quick brown fob jumps over the lady dog.

This is because ‘fob’ and ‘lady’ are real words, spelt correctly. However, here they are out of place. You might not pick up on the mistakes because your brain already knows the story and will gloss straight over them.

You might also want to consider a good story editor. Don’t worry, they’re not going to start messing with your finely crafted tale, their job is to help you tell that tale by helping you come up with extra scenes to better move the story along, cut other parts which might be too slow, help develop characters to make them more likeable (or villains more dislikable), or flesh out plot points.

Most authors who’ve hired an editor have admitted they are worth every penny, helping them make their book even better.

You could copy edit your own work using such techniques as reading aloud to help you pick up on mistakes, reading paragraphs backwards which will remove the story element and help you concentrate on the writing mechanics, or simply walking away from your work to return to it later once you’ve had a chance to reset.

To get ideas on editing the actual story, you could pre-release your book, a sort of trial version, and get feedback from these readers, using their responses to make changes. In the same way a movie studio might alter a film after test-screenings.

Formatting

Formatting is something that looks incredibly easy to do, but is actually easy to do badly. You’ve typed out your book already what more is there to do?

There are a lot of ways of easily converting your Word document or text file into an ePub or Mobi file, making it ready for uploading to your favourite eBook retailer. As long as it works, it works, right? Sometimes it can, and if you’re only publishing for friends and family, or a small fanbase then you can get away with it.

But when it comes to selling a product, things are different. People who fork over their hard-earned cash for a book will be expecting a higher standard.

A professional formatter will strip everything out of your book, leaving only the bare words. This ensures there isn’t any rogue code leftover from your writing software that could make things look iffy in different scenarios.

Formatting isn’t just about getting your words on a screen, it’s also about making sure those words look right, and look the same across all devices. It’s about making sure it looks good, and reads well so as not to jar someone out of your story because of how the words appear.

Styles, fonts, and images, all should be displayed properly and work flawlessly across all formats. Flourishes, fleurons, drop caps, and fancy chapter headings are also covered by formatters.

Other things to consider when formatting are things like tables of contents. There are normally two, one that you see as clickable text as a page inside the book, and another that the eReader software uses. It’s very important to make sure these work right so readers can navigate your book.

A professional formatter will also include meta data, including author details, title, genre, copyright, etc. As well as help your book sales by optimising descriptions and keywords for online retailers.

There are lots of little things (as well as some big ones) that an experienced formatter will do, that all add up to an attractive, successful book.

Cover design

Cover design is one of the first things that differentiates a self-published book from a professionally made book. Design is something that everyone thinks they can do to some degree, as it looks so simple, but it’s very difficult to get something that looks like it was made by a traditional publishing company.

You can look for an appropriate picture on various stock photo websites, and then type your title along with your author name and bingo, you’ve got yourself a book cover. Save it at the resolution required and upload it with your ePub file, job done.

A professional designer will look at your book cover as a work of art. They’ll employ techniques such as colour theory and typography, they’ll know how to use space and what imagery to use. They will make your book look like it belongs on the shelves of a bookshop.

Depending on how much budget you have at your disposal, your designer could use anything from a collection of stock imagery, a composite image, exclusive illustrations, or specially commissioned photography.

To discover just how important cover design is, have a read of our article People really do judge a book by its cover - First impressions count.

Marketing

Marketing is a very broad category including social network engagement, blogging, vlogging, website maintenance, writing press releases, audience building, branding, search engine optimisation, soliciting reviews, and eleventy other things.

It’s more than possible to do any one or more of these things, but to take all of them on board means that you can’t give everything your fullest attention and some things might suffer.

As a writer it would be important to stick to your strengths, concentrating on what you’re good at, writing. This could involve blogging, press releases, and social engagement.

You could build your own website, but with it brings added headaches of making sure everything plays nicely together, works across all devices, as well as ensuring it performs well in the search engine rankings.

The process of writing, publishing, marketing, promoting, and selling your book is a roller-coaster ride. We’re here to hold your hand and scream with you all the way.

Let us know what you think about self-publishing below, and be sure to sign up to our newsletter which includes tips and tricks, and special offers for our services, including ready-made book covers and designs, eBook formatting, and promotional tools.

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