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Self-Publishing: Tips, Tricks & Techniques

If you've chosen to publish one of your own books, you know you're in for a challenge, and lots of work, and lots of fun. For most of us the process starts out as an idea, then ripens into a dream. It takes hold of our lives, dictates how we spend our time, compels us to capture our thoughts on paper, and tests our ingenuity in a hundred different ways. But a dream without action is like a car without gasoline. It can't go anywhere. To move our book from inception to completion we must fuel ourselves with education and study; we must conquer the craft of writing and publishing.

The undertaking is complex. The subject mater must be widely appealing -- or tightly focused. A snappy title must be created. Sloppy writing must be sharpened and honed to a fine edge. A myriad of business procedures must be mastered: pricing, discounts, invoices, licenses, and taxes all clamor to be reckoned with. Unfamiliar numbers and listings must be conquered. The fine points of design and production seem infinite and incomprehensible. Typesetting decisions, paper weights, and binding options pull you in a dozen different directions. You will feel as though you are drowning in a sea of details.

Then (for the successful self-publisher) one day it all begins to fall into place and you gain a sense of how the whole process fits together. The mysteries of advertising and promotion begin to clear up. Your news releases find their mark. Requests for review copies pop up in each day's mail. A prestigious national magazine asks about first serial rights and an expert reader gives you a great blurb for the cover.

Finally comes THE DAY. Your books arrive from the printer. The dream has been given form. You had a goal and you reached it. And as your publishing venture matures, you'll mastermind merchandising techniques you never thought possible. Thousands of people have done it successfully. So can you.

As a writer you can be self-published, subsidy-published, or commercially-published. Self-publishers are sometimes called private publishers, independent publishers, small presses (though usually this denotes a publisher of several titles), or alternative publishers.

According to the R.R. Bowker Company there are on average 1,200 new publishers coming into the marketplace ever quarter, an average of just under 5,000 new publishers starting up each year.

Statistics show that of all the titles published annually (665,000 books currently in print, with some 53,000 more being ground out each year) by the established, commercial publishers, only about three out of ten are financial successes.

Unknown writers are hurt by the fact that a disproportionate chunk of advertising dollars is spent for authors with established track records or those with celebrity status and a "name."

Repeated rejection slips can smother the hopes of ordinary men and women who feel that their manuscript, their book project has something important to contribute to the reading public. For the courageous, for the entrepreneurial, for the dedicated, self-publishing is a practical and profitable way for them to launch their own work. They become self-publishers.

But without planning, without forethought, the odds against success for the self-published are overwhelming. Indeed, the risk of capital is about that of putting your stake down on a Las Vegas crap table.

But if you carefully prepare, if you follow a methodical, step-by-step coherent plan, you can succeed as a self-published author, and even prosper.

With computer technology becoming cheaper and easier to use, there's an exciting revolution going on in self-publishing.

Tom & Marilyn Ross' trade paperback THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING (Writer's Digest Press, $16.95) is literally everything you will ever need to know in order to successfully write, publish, promote, and sell your own book. It is the basis for this workshop and indeed, even this introduction.

You can minimize risks and maximize profits by learning exactly what you need to know and the order in which you need to act to get your book from the idea stage through the production process and into the hands of consumers.

You will learn how to create and control your work every step of the way, with complete explanations and plenty of professional advice on book production and business procedures, publicity and marketing strategies, plus invaluable tips on negotiating with regular publishers and agents for secondary sales.

There is computer desktop publishing advice including publishing software (some of which I will be updating), laser printers and word processing programs.

Guidelines for business matters and production basics that explain everything from designing the book to getting it printed.

Appendices list important marketing contacts, clip art sources, the publishing timetable, bookstore chains, reprint publishers, wholesalers and distributors, and a great deal more.

Actual samples of sales letters, ads, catalog sheets, cover designs, invoices, copyright applications, and virtually every form you'll need are provided.

Proven marketing techniques including free publicity, advertising guidance, and dozens of innovative ideas to boost sales are given, and I will be adding some more based on my own 20+ years of experience in the field both as an author, a self-publisher, a retail bookstore owner, a reviewer, a consultant/advisor for small presses and independent authors, the producer/host of television's BOOKWATCH, and the editor-in-chief of The Midwest Book Review.

Self-Publishing requires two kinds of investments: investments of capital (money) and investments of yourself. As in any business you will require start-up capital. There must be enough money to print the book, send out review copies, sustain an advertising campaign, and so forth. How much depends on many variables. How long will your book be? Will it have photographs inside? Will the cover be full-color? Will you type it, do it on a computer, or have it typeset? How many copies will you print and on what quality of paper?

You might skimp by on a few hundred dollars for a booklet on which you do most of the work yourself. You could spend over $30,000 on a coffee-table book with lots of color photographs. Generally speaking, to produce a professional-quality book and promote it properly, you'll be in the range of $10,000 to $15,000 in today's marketplace.

But be forewarned! Lack of market analysis, careful planning, budgeting, and persistence has caused some people to lose their investments.

You must be willing to devote a substantial block of time to your publishing project. While this can be spread over a long period, there is no getting around the fact that to have a dynamite book, you must spend much of your time writing, revising it, producing it, and promoting it.

A self-publisher is all of the following: writer, editor, designer/artist, typesetter/compositor, printer, financier/accountant, marketeer, shipper/warehouser, legal adviser, financial underwriter, and business manager.

The motivations to self-publishing can be many and varied. Some are in it to make money. Others because they yearn to see their name in print and to leave some sort of literary legacy behind, still others have a cause to serve, a dream to realize, a hobby to have fun with and pass the time of day. Still others see self-publishing as an adjunct of something else. A "how to" book on dating helped one man's dating service prosper; several of my acquaintances found that self-publishing got them more paid lectures, consultancy clients, seminar programs, and tenure application success.

Before you move ahead on your self-publishing venture, establish concrete goals. Over and over, it has been proven that those who take the time to think through and write down the desired results in terms of specific steps are the people who achieve success. Lay out the course. Write the steps involved. Break down the overall process into easily digestible chunks. Chew on them. Spit out those that don't work. Take more generous bites of those that are satisfying. Set your goals and plan carefully for a successful journey. The first leg of your trip has to do with developing a winning manuscript. Your book is your product. The rest is salesmanship.

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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