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Are you ready to try self-publishing?

BY MARY NICKUM

We learned in school that anything published had been thoroughly checked and edited by specialists and those who knew far more than ourselves.
 
As we became adults, some of us became teachers, writers and experts in our own right, yet we learned quickly how hard it was to attract the eyes of a publisher, even with our credentials. Some
of us continued to butt our heads against the publishing wall, until we forced a toe in the door. Some of us gave up. A third group saw a new way in the modern world to get the work published: they decided to do it themselves.
 
New technology has afforded low-cost publishing through sites like CreateSpace, free ways to distribute your books on sites like Amazon and a way to keep all or most of the profits, without having a garage full of inventory to store and ship.
 
It sounds like a pretty good deal.
 
Not so fast.
 
Self-publishing has opened the door to anyone wanting to get their work out, but there are still things to consider before deciding to do it alone. There’s a reason why so many people look down on self-publishing. It’s because too many people try it before they understand what it entails to do it well.
 
Here’s a checklist to use before you try to go-it alone.
 
  • You are an expert on the subject matter you are writing about.
    You don’t have to have an advanced degree in the topic, but your knowledge of the subject matter should be well beyond that of an average person’s and you should be willing to acknowledge your limitations somewhere in the text.
  • You researched the topic extensively beyond your bookshelf and the local public library.
    There is nothing wrong with using the resources you have on hand — just don’t stop there. Beware of the internet. Use it with caution. Much information is unfiltered and unchecked—anybody can put anything online whether or not it is valid.
  • You had someone besides your best friend or grandmother edit your work.
    Your best friend and your grandmother are fine people and likely have your best interest at heart. However, they are probably not editors and, even if they are, they are biased when it comes to your work. Choose someone, or better yet, several people, who are experienced writers, editors or English teachers to read your work critically. You should welcome criticism — it means you are on the way to having a quality piece of work.
  • You have a marketing and business plan, which goes beyond Amazon.
    Amazon is great at what it does. It makes works available to anyone who can get near a computer and has a few bucks to buy a book. But that’s as far as it goes. How will anyone other than your family and friends know your book is there among the millions of other items to buy? They won’t. You are competing with at least a hundred million other titles, admittedly not all on your topic, but that won’t make your book any easier to find.
    A marketing plan provides a roadmap to follow to garner attention for your book. It should include:

    • A website.
    • A blog.
    • Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.
    • More traditional materials, such as bookmarks, business cards, postcards and flyers.
    • Signings and speaking engagements.
  • You have a personal brand.
    Your brand is your persona as a writer, specifically as the writer of your particular book on your particular topic. You must make yourself known by what you have written. Everything on this list helps brand you. Use it.
    If this all sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. Even the large publishers require more promotional work from their authors than they did back in the day.
    But when doing it yourself, you must also face the stigmas associated with self-publishing. It isn’t as bad as it once was, as more experienced and talented writers are going this route.
    Yet too often one can spot a self-published book within its first pages. The layout might be strange. There might be typos and spelling and grammatical errors that appear with distracting regularity. (Many self-publishing sites don’t edit work). You might see an occasional typo in books from large publishing houses, but nowhere near as many as you find in many self-published texts.
    You self-publish at your own risk. ♦

— A member since 2000, Mary J. Nickum is a retired librarian who is now an editor and freelance writer. Her primary focus is on science for the public. Nickum is editor-in-chief of the Intermountain Journal of Science and currently edits World Aquaculture magazine. Contact her at mjnickum@hotmail.com.

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