Question: What do the following books have in common—Joy of CookingA Christmas ­Carol50 Shades of Grey?

Answer: Each one started as a self-published book.

Working on your own masterpiece? Here’s how to avoid the most common traps as you make your way to self-­publishing your first book…

Pitfall #1: You aim too high or too low. It’s great to have literary dreams but wanting to be the next Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen can be paralyzing. On the other hand, if you treat writing your book like a hobby and fail to get it professionally edited and proofread, it could look amateurish in the end. 

Solution: Start from where you are, and write the best book you can. 

Pitfall #2: Doing it all on your own. There are numerous resources out there that can help you create a book that looks just as good as anything being released by the big publishing houses. 

Solution: Hire various freelance professionals with the skills you need. 

Show your book to those whose opinions you value such as colleagues in ­relevant fields and, if you think they can be objective, friends and family. You may also want to find a local writer’s group that might offer valuable feedback. Most important, however, is to hire a professional editor and proofreader. All these eyes will help to assess proper flow and organization, catch ­typographical and grammatical errors, and help you find and solve other problems you didn’t know your manuscript had.

Note: Don’t hire the same person to both edit and proofread. These roles demand different skill sets. 

Cover design is pivotal to catching readers’ eyes and not looking “self-published.” Unless you’re artistically inclined, you will want to invest in a professionally produced cover, which typically costs anywhere from $100 to $1,000 or even more, depending on the designer’s experience and base of operation. Internationally based designers in certain countries and talented design students eager to break into the cover-design field may be more affordable. 

Start with referrals from any friends or colleagues who have satisfactorily self-published a book. Find ­designers, typesetters, editors, proofreaders and others who will help make your book look great inside and out through Reedsy.comEditorial Freelancers Association…and the ­Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, to name just a few of the many available resources. 

Pitfall #3: You plan to publish only a print version. Some people love the feel of holding a physical book, but others prefer an e-book or an audiobook.

Solution: Publish in as many formats as possible.

All three formats—print, e-book and audiobook—are ideal for sales. If that feels too daunting, start by picking one format based on your target audience and skill set. Once you launch your book in that first format, go on to each of the other formats when you can.

An e-book is faster and easier to format than a printed book and less costly to publish. Good resources for creating and selling your e-book include Amazon’s Kindle Direct PublishingKobo …and Barnes and ­Noble Press

Of course, most writers dream of one day holding their printed books in their hands. Popular self-­publishing options for a print version include Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing…Archway PublishingBookBabyiUniverse.comIngramSpark…and more. Depending upon the package that you select, some, such as BookBaby and Archway, will take care of everything—from editing and proofreading to interior and cover design. Others, such as IngramSpark, require that you provide them with a completely finished book. 

More on printing: Thanks to print-on-demand (POD) services, books now can be printed as orders are placed. The quality usually is excellent, and it eliminates the risk of having hundreds of books sitting around that may never be sold. Some of the more popular POD services include Amazon Kindle ­Direct…Barnes & Noble Press…Blurb…and Ingram’s Lightning Source. Depending on the length and whether the book is in black and white or color, expect to pay around $2.50 to $16 plus shipping. 

A good option for new authors who want to dip their toe into audiobooks is Audiobook Creation Exchange, owned by Amazon. This service can connect you with a narrator if you don’t want to narrate yourself. If you’re hiring a narrator, you have the option of doing a royalty-only deal or paying what is called a per-finished-hour (PFH) fee. With a royalty-only deal, you split future earnings among three parties—ACX, your narrator/producer and you. You and the narrator/producer each receive a 20% share of retail sales. But you could get a larger share of the earnings if you instead pay your narrator/producer a flat fee, typically $100 to $400 PFH. However, that could cost $1,000 or more. 

Pitfall #4: You don’t sufficiently promote your book. If readers don’t know your book exists, they can’t buy it. 

Solution: Begin promoting your book in the months leading up to publication, and don’t stop for at least six months to a year after publication. Better yet, keep promoting indefinitely, especially if there is something in the news that would help to revive interest in your book.

Use social-media outlets—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc.—to build excitement. Reach out to podcasters, TV news and radio shows, and explain to them why you’re the best expert on your topic or why everyone will want to read your book. 

Hiring a publicist might cost $1,500 to $5,000 a month—often with a three-month minimum. If he/she has excellent connections, the money might be well-spent. Ask for referrals from fellow authors, or check out listings through Publishing Trends newsletter. If you go the DIY route, Cision has a free e-letter called HARO (Help a Reporter Out) that lists media leads.

Nontrade marketplaces, such as gift or novelty shops, or even through corporations, companies, associations and book fairs, may be better suited for self-publishers because this allows for more targeted sales. 

Pitfall #5: You let inertia or fear stand in your way of self-publishing. 

Solution: Just do it!

So many people have manuscripts squirreled away in desk drawers, or they have an idea that they want to explore. What if it’s not brilliant? No matter your age, it will be an amazing accomplishment and part of your legacy to finally share your novel, nonfiction book, memoir or cookbook with the world. 

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