I’ve always been a do-it-yourself kind of gal. I sew buttons and hem trousers, make pizza dough from scratch, and preserve produce at the peak of its season—not because canning has recently made a comeback, but because it brings me joy. I’ve explored my craftier side by making journals and lamps, purses and placemats. I even created an e-zine for women writers when I couldn’t find the advice I needed online. It’s been that way with many pursuits—if I can’t find what I need, I’ll make it. If I can’t find someone else to do it, I’ll do it myself.
As writers, I think we have that independent spirit ingrained in us. We’re used to solving problems on the page and creating something from nothing. We seclude ourselves for hours on end, so we can craft our own beautiful, moving, or disturbing worlds. We take in all the writing advice available to us and produce a piece as polished and as real as we can possibly imagine at the moment—until it gets critiqued and reworked into a stronger version. And when we finally get close to finishing our masterpiece, we start thinking about what we are going to do with it. Submit it to a small press? Query an agent? Aim for the Big Six? Pay for a subsidy/vanity publisher? Or DIY and self-publish? It’s a lot to think about!
Ultimately, only you can make the initial decision of which path to pursue. And each path has its own unique set of challenges. Some writers I know have always known that traditional publishing was for them. The dream of a New York agent and a Big Six publishing house was something they couldn’t shake. But sometimes the market has a different idea of what’s on trend; and after years of waiting for an agent to sell their finely-crafted and edited manuscript, they get fed up and decide to get their book into the hands of readers by self-publishing. And then there are those that know they want to self-publish from the start. Maybe they want a bigger piece of the pie and ultimate control over their project. But both quickly realize that there is a steep learning curve ahead of them. There are many things to consider: editing, cover design, interior layout, e-book formatting, ISBNs, copyright, printing, distribution, sales, taxes, and marketing.
Unlike making your own jam and canning fruits and vegetables, do-it-yourself does not mean alone. Just like a writer needs a writing group to help polish her work, those who decide to self-publish need help, too. But which parts do you decide to do yourself and which do you contract? What types of book editors are there and what do they do exactly? What about copyright laws and protecting your book when becoming a self-publisher? How do you create a book cover that helps sell books? Can you write your book a blog post at a time to create a platform? Should you sell e-books on your blog? How can you get the most bang for your marketing buck? How can you track book sales in real time?
This issue answers all those questions and more. We want you to know what’s in store if you choose to self-publish; and we want to give you some tools to make the process easier and more efficient. This DIY/Self-Publishing Guide will help you get started. We will also be discussing DIY publishing topics and answering questions throughout the month on our Facebook Page. So saddle up and join us, as we explore the wild world of do-it-yourself publishing!
A big, warm thank you goes to our freelancers and staff members:
We welcome back Kathy Higgs-Coulthard and thank her for examining the pros and cons of both traditional and self-publishing in her article, The Energizing Spirit of Transition: Divergent Paths to Publication. While chatting with Kathy via e-mail, I’d asked her what she was going to write for this issue because she did such a wonderful job writing about e-books vs. print for our E-Publishing Revolution issue. At first, she admitted, she thought she had nothing to contribute; but then she remembered an amazing author she’d met last year who hand sold over twelve thousand copies of his books by going school to school until he built up enough of a fan base to attract a traditional publisher.
She thought it would be interesting to hear how he did that in the world of children’s lit, and why he felt the need to then go traditional after so much success on his own. His name is Bryan Chick, and he’s only one of the fascinating guests in this interview. Another one, conversely, is Nan Cappo, an author who traditionally published with Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, but chose to start an independent press to self-publish her next book. Throw in Susan Kaye Quinn, who published with a small press before deciding to self-publish, and S.R. Johannes, an award-winning author who tried to publish traditionally for eight years before self-publishing, and you’ve got one fascinating introduction to this issue!
They say that behind every good writer is a great editor. After all, no one can self-edit their work perfectly—even the most experienced writers need another set of eyes. Unlike traditional publishing where a professional editor is assigned to your project, a self-published author has to find one herself. This is one of the most important decisions you will make as a self-publisher. But what exactly does a book editor do, and what should you look for when hiring one for your project? We welcome freelancer Therese Pope to the WOW! family and thank her for interviewing Susan Mary Malone and Karen S. Elliot to get the inside scoop on book editors. These two ladies have great advice to share and have helped many writers take their books to the next level—including sales to traditional publishers.
I hate to say it, but we writers are a nervous bunch. We often worry about others stealing our ideas or plagiarizing our work. We question using brand names in our fictional stories and referencing real people in our memoirs. After all, getting sued is the last thing a self-published author wants! The whole “I didn’t know” thing may sound cute; but as a business owner (and that’s what you are when you self-publish), it’s your responsibility alone to learn the rules. Luckily, we have a lawyer and writer to show you the ropes! We welcome Celia Aurora Torres-Villanueva and thank her for her informative article, DIY Copyright for Self-Publishing: Five Things You Should Know. Celia examines many of the topics that worry writers and puts your mind at ease.
Learn about copyright, trademarks, borrowing or stealing, digital rights, creative commons, and more—all in writerly language!
We’re so lucky to have an independent publishing expert in the house. Deana Riddle teaches two self-publishing courses for WOW!, so it was a no-brainer that I ask her to write something for this issue. I could pick any self-publishing topic with the certainty that she’d deliver, so I decided to pick one that we haven’t covered before: book covers. We welcome back Deana and thank her for her insightful article, Creating Book Covers that SELL!. When we discussed the article initially, she was going to use some mock-up (fake) book covers as examples, which I thought was a good idea; but I also recommended she pick a couple of good examples from the real world for a sidebar. Well, when she turned in her article, I was shocked to discover that she’d picked two real book covers from Amazon to critique—and one was a “bad” example!
The last thing I ever want to do is pick on someone publicly without her knowledge. And although this wasn’t picking on someone, just an honest examination of her self-published book cover, I didn’t feel comfortable going forward with the piece. Authors have a hard enough time as it is! So we talked about revising, but we just didn’t have the time. Plus, the piece wouldn’t be as effective as it was. Then, Deana came up with a solution so simple that I don’t know why I didn’t think about it. She asked the author for permission. She wrote the author and asked if she could use her book cover for the article; and in return, she’d design a new, effective book cover for the author. And surprisingly, the author said yes! The author, Hazel Larsen, admitted her cover art was not perfect. She said she’d been too impatient and had so many ideas that she decided to go with anything and finally publish.
And she graciously offered her cover for this article as a “prime example for self-published authors who try to do everything themselves when they should really hire someone instead, for certain things anyway.” What a down-to-earth author! Thank you, Hazel and Deana, for making this a truly useful and much different article on book covers. Oh, and you’ll have to stay tuned for when we publish the article on Deana’s “before and after” cover revision!
One of the toughest parts of self-publishing—actually, any publishing—is getting your book into the hands of readers. So when Margo Dill suggested interviewing authors for their best marketing tips, I was certainly on board. This is a topic we cover quite often, but it never gets old because new ideas are popping up all the time. What makes this article different is that almost all of these marketing strategies can work for authors with little or no budget. In Getting the Most Bang for Your Marketing Buck: Book Marketing Strategies that Work with Today's Readers, Margo talks to eight successful authors—Megg Jensen, Cheri Lasota, Darci Pattison, Ruth Hartman, C. Hope Clark, Melissa Ann Goodwin, Suzanne Lieurance, and Chynna Laird—who share tips on everything from giveaways to e-book cards.
Are you ready for a little inspiration? It’s not our Inspiration column, but it’s just as inspiring. We’ve all heard of authors who get those blog-to-book deals, like Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia or Martha Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer, but how did they do that? And can you use the same concept for self-publishing? WOW! team member Jodi Webb finds out in Writing a Book One Blog Post at a Time: Interview with Nina Amir. Nina is the author of How to Blog a Book, and she makes it sound so easy that I’m convinced to try it myself! Why not? When you’re blogging a book, you’re also building a platform and an audience to sell books to. As a self-publisher, I see this as a smart way to go. Read this interview to find out what steps you should take to get started. Not to miss!
We also have an exciting 20 Questions interview for you this issue! We welcome back freelancer Steff Metal and thank her for her interview with Ali Luke, an English writer, author, blogger, and coach who carved her own paths to publication in many different avenues. From selling nonfiction writing-related e-books on her blog for writers, Aliventures, to self-publishing her debut novel, Lycopolis, to writing Publishing E-Books for Dummies for John Wiley & Sons, and running the Writers’ Huddle, a subscription-based writers’ community, Ali is full of advice and a mentor to many writers. You are bound to find just the nugget you were looking for in this interview.
One of the most important decisions a writer can make is whether to do it herself or to hire someone else. For freelancers, time is money and billable hours, and this can be a make it or break it decision. When one project gets pushed back, they all start piling up; so if you can save time on non-writing-related tasks, should you? And which ones? Thankfully, we have columnist Allena Tapia to weigh the pros and cons in Own It or Outsource It: The Writer's Guide to DIY Decisions. Some of her answers may surprise you! By following her solid advice, you’ll be able to make smarter decisions about your outsourcing and get back to what you really want to do—write!
Can you name one way to track the effectiveness of your book marketing efforts? More followers on social networks? No, that’s not it. Although that’s good, too. It’s book sales! We welcome back Laurie Lewis and thank her for her helpful article, How 2 Track Your Book Sales in Real Time—and Why You Should! Laurie shows you how to use Amazon to track sales, both with direct real-time tracking and indirect methods—depending on whether you are the publisher of record. I particularly like her tips on how to use sales information for promotion purposes.
We’re also proud to announce the Spring 2012 Flash Fiction Contest Winners! A big thank you goes to literary agent Regina Brooks for judging this season’s contest. Congratulations to all the winners and those that had the courage to enter the contest as well. You’re going to enjoy reading these creative stories!
And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank WOW’s editor, Margo L. Dill, for all her hard work on this issue and making it an absolute pleasure to read.
Like I mentioned in the very beginning of this editorial, every project—DIY or not—passes through many different hands. I remember going to see the author, playwright, and actor, Wallace Shawn, speak at UCLA. After giving a somewhat socialist monologue, he took questions from the audience. One gentleman stood up and said, “What about the self-made millionaire? He did everything himself, so why should anyone else get a piece of it?”
To that end, Mr. Shawn replied, “No one is self-made.”
And if you really think about it, he’s right. We’ve all had teachers and mentors in our lives—whether it was the boss who believed in us or the editor who gave us a chance. And book projects, no matter how DIY they are, are a collective effort of many professional hands and hearts.
On to the issue . . . enjoy!