When self-publishing, the most important thing is to reduce your risk. Over the years, we’ve seen dozens of self-publishers spend too much on their product and too little money and energy on promotion. In general, once your manuscript is written you should be spending 10% of your time on production and 90% on promotion. (See our self-publishing ebooks article for the basics of production, marketing and distribution of ebook projects. Also see our ABCs section for some modern publishing basics.).
To have a good chance of success, you need to tick several boxes. Some are crucial, and some are nice-to-haves. Here is our recommended checklist for most books. (Naturally the more out of the ordinary the book, the greater the chance you’ll have to add to this list.) If you think we’ve missed something, let us know in the comments.
Then, get yourself:
- A great cover. If you can afford it, spend about $500 and hire a professional book cover designer. The cover is the centrepiece of all your marketing work.
- A short (under 75 words), carefully crafted description of the book. You’ll reuse this on your website, in blurbs, in pitches to journalists, in interviews, in adverts, in bios and intros at events, and more. Craft and revise it till it’s the best 75 words you’ve ever written.
- An ebook on Amazon Kindle (Amazon has about a 90% share of the ebook market).
- A print-on-demand edition with a good, international print-on-demand provider (e.g. CreateSpace, IngramSpark). Make sure it’s an international standard size (e.g. B-format), and unless it’s a textbook, print it on cream (aka creme) paper, not white.
- A very simple website, at a domain you own (see this article), with:
- links to where people can buy the book easily (e.g. its Amazon page)
- a mailing-list signup form (use Mailchimp and ask subscribers to fill in as little as possible, ideally just an email address)
- your contact details, including Twitter account and Facebook Page
- excerpts from or previews of the book (use Scribd to upload and embed a piece of the book).
- A simple, written plan for marketing (one side of a sheet of paper is enough) that includes:
- directly emailing your supporters at least three times over three months
- sharing actively online (e.g. posting chapters online; for instance, this writer uses Medium)
- promoting your work in person (attending live readings, seminars, conferences, meetups, breakfasts, dinners).
- A Twitter account with a great profile picture (you don’t have to tweet often, but this lets readers message you and talk about you).
- A Facebook Page for the book or your publishing brand. (Note that a Facebook Page is separate from your personal Facebook profile. People can Like your book or imprint’s page separately from you as a person.) This is critical for enabling your friends to buy and talk about your book.
- A willingness to promote yourself confidently, even if you’re pretending! Most importantly, you must get supporters to write reviews of your book on Amazon. As a self publisher, you don’t have a publisher’s imprimatur as a seal of approval on your book: reviews on Amazon have to make up for that.
- A conversation plan for your Facebook Page (a conversation plan is a written plan of every post and image you plan to post over a period of time; here is a spreadsheet template). Spend a small amount (perhaps $100 over two months) on boosting your Facebook Page’s posts. This is critical for getting your book seen beyond the demographic of your existing social circle.
- A small stock (e.g. 30 copies) of short-run-printed copies to sell directly at events.
- A local print-on-demand supplier who can print 50 high-quality copies at a time for you quickly. (In Cape Town, we use Mega Digital, and let them sell our books directly to consumers via Mega Books.)
Things to avoid
- Never do a large print run (e.g. more than 100 copies) unless you have a bulk order that has been paid for.
- Never design your cover yourself (unless you really are a professional graphic designer). Assuming you’ve hired a real book designer, never overrule their choices of typography, colours or layout. Give them feedback, but trust their guidance. (We’ve seen many good covers ruined by anxious authors.)
- Never bank on making money (i.e. do not get into debt you couldn’t handle if you sell nothing).
- Never create an app.
- Don’t spend more than $2000 on a basic website. If you do, you’re building more features than you need (or you’re being ripped off).