Despite critics' claims to the contrary, self-publishing is hard work.
It's as simple as looking at the disparity in the division of labor between traditionally published authors and those who go their own way. When you sign with a publishing house, you have your editor, PR team, cover designer, agent, and branding handled for you by others. When you're out there on your own, you have to fill all those roles—and come off as twice as professional while doing so.
It's easy to say "a good story will sell itself," but that simply isn't true (or at least, not entirely). The market is flooded with options, which means your story needs to stand out to get the attention it deserves.
How do you make sure your book does that? Well, here's what you don't do.
#5. Don't: Edit Your Own Work
This one may seem a little self-serving, but hear us out.
Good editing is partially about perspective. A fresh set of eyes on your work will help you identify plot holes, questionable facts and figures, character inconsistencies, and a slew of other problems you may not be able to pick up on your own. Because the story has spent such a long time in your head, you as the author may be privy to information the readers are not, and so events that make sense to you may go over some readers' heads.
Our eyes are also naturally inclined to skim details we've seen or read before. This has much to do with the way our brains process and categorize information. When we've read the same page three times, we pay less attention on each subsequent pass, and whether we realize it or not, we then fail to acknowledge the details—even when they contain glaring errors.
But your readers will notice. To them, this material is fresh, hot off the press, and as their brains absorb the information, they'll automatically search for inconsistencies.
So why not limit your editing to the opinions of your beta readers, then?
The answer is simple: Most beta readers are not editors. Many will be unable to articulate what exactly is wrong with a scene or a chapter, and therefore won't be able to help you fix it. While beta readers are an integral part of the writing and editing process, they do not replace the services of a well-trained, highly skilled, and educated editor.
Don't let a lack of perspective hinder your work. Hire an editor, even if only for proofreading or an editorial assessment, often the two cheapest options you can order. Their insight is invaluable.
#4. Don't: fail to edit At All
There's a misconception among some writers about what editors actually do.
Editors don't rip the soul out of your work—not the good ones, anyway. We don't stomp on its heart. We don't try to make you "sell out" or compromise your vision for the sake of marketability (although depending on your intentions, we may try to help you find a palatable compromise between the two).
In short, editors aren't here to ruin your good ideas. We're here to make them the best they can be.
Budding writers are especially guilty of believing that editing isn't for them. They're well-aware of proper spelling and grammar rules, and they've read enough books on writing to know all about the concepts of the hero's journey and Saving the Cat, and so on and so forth. In fact, they believe they know the rules so well that they're able to break them. That's just part of their vision—their inherent greatness as a writer.
The truth is far less romantic. Great writers aren't born; they're made. No amount of innate talent in the world will exempt them from this.
Putting your ego aside—or at the very least, stepping out of your own head—won't just make you a better writer; it's also one of the important steps to becoming an author, and one that helps you connect with your readers. And if your readers can't connect with you and your work... they're not going to be your readers for very long.
#3. Don't: overlook formatting
Part of being a self-published author often means formatting your own books, both the print and digital versions, but as eBooks routinely outsell physical copies, we've chosen to focus on the formatting of eBooks for this point.
Proper research is crucial to presenting your book in a way readers won't just think is awfully pretty, but is legible too. You can have one of the most incredible stories in the world, but if each page is a giant wall of text, few will keep reading long enough to realize the greatness of what you've written.
Use indentations (preferably .25"–.5") to mark the beginning of every new paragraph after the one that begins your chapter (this one shouldn't be indented at all, if you're writing fiction). If you aren't going to use indentations, then make sure you have appropriate paragraph breaks so that they don't run into one another. Use a serif font for your text, but not one that's so stylized that your works become illegible, and justify your paragraphs if you can.
Lastly, be aware that when your readers are on a tablet or eReaders, your paragraphs may seem longer than they do in the word processor you wrote them in. Frequent paragraph breaks, even after just a few sentences, are not always a bad thing!
#2. don't: write a lackluster blurb
Some of you may remember perusing bookstore shelves (and some of you might still do it!). As you scanned the rows, you'd pluck out an interesting title, look at the cover, then flip it over to the back to read what it was about. If you didn't find it an interesting premise, you'd put it back.
Okay, maybe a few of you would skim a few pages just to be sure. But not most of you.
Being able to present your story in a succinct and intriguing way is a big part of finding success as an author. If you can't engage your readers in a couple hundred words on your back copy, then chances are they aren't going to trust you to do it for the next tens of thousands. First impressions are everything, and if your book's introduction is the equivalent of a limp, sweaty handshake, it isn't going to capture your readers' interest enough for them to invest time and money into it.
Your blurb should make the reader ask questions. Our brains are wired in such a way that they will automatically seek out answers—answers which can only be found in the pages of your book. Make sure your blurb sets up the story without revealing too much of the plot. Establish the interesting things about your characters and the dilemmas they're about to face. And don't be too wordy! The back copy is not the place for incidental information.
#1. don't: Skimp on Cover Design
As we mentioned in our previous blog post, it takes the average reader only two seconds to decide if they even want to read your blurb. That decision largely hinges on your cover design.
You may know a thing or two about Photoshop, or even free programs like GIMP. But do you know what your reader demographic looks for in a cover? Have you researched the top 100 books in your genre and taken a look at what design elements made them successful? Do you know how to find royalty-free stock photos, or which sites require an extended license versus a standard? Do you know where to find free fonts and brushes and textures, and which ones require you to buy licenses from the artists? Do you know enough about your chosen program—how to alter colors, saturation, brightness and contrast, convert from CMYK to RGB (and vice versa, and when that's appropriate), add layer effects, create transparent backgrounds, the difference between rasterized and vectorized images (and why it matters for text)?
If you don't, are you willing to spend the time, effort, and perhaps even money to learn?
If not, a professional cover designer may be the right option for you.
You can find less expensive artists on sites like Fiverr, or you can opt for experts who are often employed by both indie authors and traditional publishing companies. The choice will depend entirely on your budget, but a book with a well-designed cover has the potential to earn a lot more than what you paid to create it. If you're not design-savvy and your want your book to have the best opportunity among thousands of other self-published and traditionally-published books, you'll have to make it look as special on the outside as it is on the inside.
But if you are willing to learn about the design process, there are plenty of resources available to you. Tutorials on the subject abound, and sites like Dafont and Font Squirrel can provide you with the tools to make a truly extraordinary cover all on your own.
Regardless of what road you take, never undervalue quality. You worked hard on your manuscript—let it show!
Avoiding some of these mistakes isn't easy. Self-publishers are routinely held to a high-frequency publishing standard, meaning they must publish twice as often as traditionally-published authors do. In the scramble to acquiesce to this demand, it may be tempting to let one or two of these elements fall by the wayside.
But the bottom line is that putting out a poor product won't net you any more readers than postponing your work and ensuring quality. In fact, in the long run, it may net you less. Self-published authors still suffer from tenuous credibility, and one egregiously false move could turn your readers off from ever purchasing your books again.
Invest effort into your book in all aspects of the publishing process, and your chances of success will be that much higher for it.