How and Why to Self-Publish Your Book

I get a lot, a lot, a lot of emails about how I self-published my book from friends, business, associates, and random people online.  I have also had many people ask me at speaking engagements and via email about my story and how I published my book, “You’re Grounded!” when I was so young.

Please do keep in mind, this is just my experience, I am definitely NOT a seasoned professional in this area and these are just my opinions.

My Quick Story: I finished writing the book almost completely when I was 17 and did not even think about publishing it until it was all done.  When I thought I would publish it, I contacted a few literary agents that my family knew, who explained to me the steps and issues below, and I made the decision to not even try to get into a traditional publishing house (see why below).  I hired an independent editor I found online and contacted a few different companies to self-publish.  I chose iUniverse and have been very happy with them.  I now have a literary agent at Endeavor William Morris Talent Agency and we are working on a few new book proposals and possibly getting my first book, “You’re Grounded!” re-published with a traditional house because my sales have gone so well.

Step 1: Write the Book (or at least the Book Proposal)

When people email me with an idea or a few notes, I tell them to keep writing before they even think about how to publish to keep writing.  Whether you want to go traditional or do it yourself, you should have an introduction written, a table of contents and the first three chapters written (a basic book proposal).

Step 2: Evaluate Costs

There are many differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing.  The first is cost.  Self-publishing costs vary greatly.  The biggest difference, is that if you go with a traditional publishing house they will probably pay you up front, yet if you do it yourself you put up the initial costs.

Step 3: Your Ownership?

This is one of the major reasons I self-published.  I wanted complete control over my content, title, name and book.  I did not want to have to go to anyone if I wanted to change something or do something with it later.  Typically, with a traditional publishing house you split ownership, and therefore control over your materials.

Step 4: Think About Barrier to Entry and Editing

Typically, authors have a literary agent and then the literary agent pitches your proposal to their contacts at traditional publishing houses.  The literary agent helps you with your book proposal, pitching and even packaging of your materials and typically gets 10% of profits.  I have heard that it is nearly impossible to get traditional houses to look at your material without an agent.  This was another reason I did not want to go with a traditional publishing house.  I knew it would be a long time before my book would be on the shelves, and I wanted it out immediately.  I also have heard that once you get into houses, they like to take apart and change your manuscript and this can often be a difficult, tedious and frustrating process.  On a positive note, traditional publishing houses know what they are doing.  Usually, they can work magic with incomplete manuscripts.

Step 5: Legitimacy

I will say this; traditional publishing houses are looked upon much, much more favorably by other authors, the media, and informed buyers.  If you self-publish you will always be explaining why you did not go with a traditional publishing house.

Step 5: Are You Going to Self-Promote?

Traditional publishing houses are machines of promotion.  They have outlets, interns, people, staff, connections, experience, poster board and snazzy looking bookmarks they print for you.  When you self-publish you are on your own.  Publishing is just the first step and then you are in charge of a lot of marketing.  YOU will be selling our book out of the back of your car, arranging book signings (you have no idea how much goes into those).   You have to have a lot of energy, time experience (or ability to learn quickly and from someone who knows) and money to cover these costs.  Self-publishing can be perfect for people who already have an audience because with a traditional publishing house, their cut is really paying for their media contacts and PR department.  If you do not need this, do not do it!  Once I published “You’re Grounded!” it was trial and error that I got it out there.  I read a lot of books on self-publishing and talked to every author I could find.   Traditional publishing houses do a lot of this for you.

Step 6: Complicated Loopholes

A couple of authors described to me some of the difficulties they have had with self-publishing houses on really odd stuff that we would not know about (another reason to have a literary agent).  Some of the things I have heard: they make you buy your books back if they do not sell, they market you for 6 months and if nothing breaks they stop working on your book and that there are a lot of politics in houses with little authors versus well-known authors.

Step 7: Pick Your Place

After hearing some of these stories, and knowing that I wanted complete control of my material, I just needed to figure out how to self-publish.  I was really deciding between iUniverse and Lulu.com.  Honestly, I looked at many other options I thought these were the best choices out of all the ways you can do it.  Lulu gives you complete control and is absolutely free (although I have heard it can be hard for first time authors without some help) and iUniverse is a company where you buy packages and they help you self-publish but do not take any control.  I have loved working with them, and although I am now looking to go traditional I would definitely publish with them again.  I think I paid around $1000 for their gold package which helped me get my barcode, get onto Amazon, get a copyright and everything.  They took care of all of that for me and gave me hours of phone support during the self-promotion process.  They still deliver all my books to my speaking engagements when I go.  If you use them, please tell them I (Vanessa Van Petten author of You’re Grounded!) sent you!

Step 8: You Have Just Started

Please keep in mind that publishing is barely the first step.  The real work comes after publishing with the promotion.  This is a lot of work.  I have done everything from sneaking my book into bookstores so people perusing the parenting sections would try to buy it and then the bookstore would have to order it when it was not in their system (yes, really) to pretending to be my own (British) secretary Madge when trying to get people to display my book.  It is all worth it though, if you love your message and reaching out to people!

Moral of the story and my advice: If you have the opportunity to work with a traditional publishing house (and they are willing to give you money up front and cover your costs of marketing) do it! If you are starting from the beginning, it can be like climbing a mountain to get your manuscript in front of traditional literary agents and get them to bite.  This is when I often recommend trying to find a literary agent.  If you cannot find one of those, you should definitely consider self-publishing.

Good luck, once you publish, send me your parenting books and I will review them for my site!

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