Book Publishing Tips for Business Owners
It’s time to publish your first book. This Smart Hustle Guide is for the small business owner who needs the top DIY book publishing tips.
So, you want to write a book and publish it. Great news! This is exciting. Learning how to publish your first book is a journey and the more you learn about the process before diving in, the higher your potential is for a smoother ride.
Like most larger projects in life, there is no one-way to go about publishing a book. While some people might find success with one path, others find that another route really works best for them. Will you make money? Let’s face it. The reality is, most people do not make a whack-load of cash from writing a book. Even a great book. Yes, quality should rise to the top, and given enough time, the right people in the best circles could take note of your ideas. But the competition can be stiff.
The reality is, most people do not make a whack-load of cash from writing a book. Even a great book.
According to a 2019 ProQuest Bowker Report, about 1.7 million books were self-published in the US in 2018, and about 100,000 are published each year, collectively, by major publishing houses nationwide.
Consequently, as Seth Godin points out in his blog, writing a book usually isn’t about hitting the jackpot. For most people, it amounts to an enjoyable hobby. It’s about the intellectual experience writing provides. The process of writing and publishing a book benefits your mind, it’s stimulating, it can clarify your thinking, and it can help spread your thoughts and ideas to other people.
All this being said however, it’s true that having a book published can help solidify your authority on a topic area. It can also help leverage your brand. People who write books often know what they’re talking about!
So, where should you start? Is it best to publish your book yourself, or to attempt to get a traditional publishing house on your side? Or, should you go for something entirely different: a hybrid system?
Each route presents its own weaknesses and strengths. Remember, publishing your book is about your ideas and the process. You’re sharing your mind with the world!
Should You Go With a Traditional Publisher, Self Publish Your Book, or Try a Hybrid System?
Having your book published by someone else has, for centuries, been the only route writers have had for sharing their ideas. Getting your work accepted by a major publisher has always been tough, though. Cambridge University Press is said to be the oldest publishing house on the planet founded by King Henry VIII in 1534 and it wasn’t until the early 1980s that desktop publishing came onto the scene, giving writers the power to take charge. It’s been a long slog!
Today, things have flipped. Far more people actually publish their own writing each year than go through traditional publishing houses. Self-printing is now easy. You can now create high-quality book covers, print multiple copies, get an ISBN number, place your book in independent bookstores and sell it online all by yourself. Each route has its own drawbacks and benefits, of course, and depending on your project, one could be a better match for you than the other.
Getting Your Book Published With a “Real” Publisher
It’s important to point out that getting your work published by a “real” publisher, (think Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, etc.), takes time to complete.
Getting your work accepted can involve following these steps:
- Write your book
- Have it edited
- Find an agent, or
- Research publishers in your topic area
- Pitch your work to them
- Wait for a response
The process of getting your book published starts with, of course, writing the book. Next, you’ll want to have it proofread. You can submit writing with typos to agents and publishers but this isn’t advised.
Following this, you can either search for a literary agent or target publishing houses directly. Having an agent raises your chances of being considered by a publisher.
If you want to fly solo, it’s best to start by researching publishing houses that print books similar to yours. You want to connect with the right people. A publisher that only puts out recipe books isn’t going to be interested in publishing your Best DIY Sheds to Make Your Neighbors Jealous In 2022. So, do some research online and at the library. There are many reference books and blogs with compiled lists of publishers such as those listing the best history book publishers, etc.
Finally, formulate your pitch. Make it snappy and catchy! Send your pitch out to the right people and hope for the best.
Of note: it’s OK to pitch your book to more than one publisher at once but a “gentlemen’s agreement” in the industry generally considers it unkind to do so. This is because it takes publishers time to read and consider your work. This being said, if all successful writers waited for an approved moment to share their work, that time might never come. What you do is legally up to you.
Why Publish Your Book With a Traditional Publishing House?
A publishing house can be advantageous for you as a writer because:
- Publishers don’t just print your book but may help promote it
- Publishers invest
- They print multiple copies of your book at no cost to you
- Publishers can get your book into major bookstores
- They may provide you with a cash advance
Successful writers like J.K Rowling obviously have a team working to get their books in front of the public’s eyes in order to be bought. Publishers invest. They pay to print your book and work to get it into large bookstores with a huge audience of buyers. They may even give you a cash advance to live on, (while writing your next amazing, best-selling novel).
This being said, publishers don’t treat all of their writers this way. You might get your book published but find you have few real sales. And it’s important to know that traditional publishers take a large amount of the profit from each sale of your book because they shoulder all of the risk. For this reason, it can be important to remember to protect your rights. If it matters to you, try to secure the right to work on the book cover with the publisher in your contract. It can also be a good idea to negotiate the power to buy hundreds of books at cost. You can use these as promotional pieces and give them out as free samples.
Getting published by a major publishing house can be difficult to do but it’s not impossible. It may be the right route for you to try! Publishers have a ton of success stories behind them and have made themselves and some of their writers quite successful and rich over the years, and you may be next. You never know! If you think this route is right for you, go for it.
The Pros and Cons to Self-Publishing
(or, “Why You Might Want to Do All the Hard Work Yourself”)
Because traditional publishing can be difficult to navigate, publishing houses take a large percentage of the profits, and few writers have the honor of having their work published compared with the number of people who create something, millions of writers around the world are choosing the self-publishing route. Anyone can self-publish a book and try to sell it. And keep all of the money. This is the main attraction to self-publishing. The process eliminates the closed doors of traditional publishing houses and the need to be chosen from the masses by a publisher as being “deserving” of a chance to be published. You can do it yourself! Instant gratification.
Let’s not forget, however, that self-publishing isn’t just about being able to create your own book and hold it in your hand. It also involves getting your book into the hands of buyers.
Of course, not everyone who self-publishes is interested in doing the grunt work of promoting their book. Do what’s fun and effective for you.
Typically, when you self-publish it’s a good idea to do the following:
- Start gathering an audience for your book
- Write your book
- Continue gathering an audience for your book
- Have your book edited/proofread
- Work with an artist for any images
- Design a great cover
- Gather an audience for your book some more
- Get an ISBN number
- Find a printer
- Print your books
- Promote and sell your book
In some ways, self-publishing can be easy. And it’s fun! If you like, you can be 100% in charge. The flip side of this is that you will also be 100% responsible for the successful marketing of your work. In this way, self-publishing can be a challenge but it’s also a journey through which you can meet other like-minded individuals and have fun meeting the benchmarks and challenges you set for yourself.
Is There Any Benefit to Hybrid Book Publishing?
Hybrid publishing refers to a type of publishing that crosses traditional with self-publishing. This method has the writer pay for the publishing in exchange for receiving higher royalties than are possible through traditional publishing but lower than if you self-publish. Hybrid publishing often means your book is made available to order by large bookstores but it doesn’t guarantee that stores like Barnes and Noble will buy it and place it on their shelves.
This being said, many people are attracted to hybrid publishing as it takes the work of formatting and designing a book for publication off their shoulders. It depends on the type of person you are, where your potential skill set lies and whether you’re willing to pay for publishing upfront whether or not. As with the other forms of publishing, there is much to consider.
Hiring an Editor: Should You Do It?
Yes, you should. Unless your book is a short, simple picture book written for young children, (or even if), you should hire an editor to proofread your work. An editor can tidy up your typos and also ensure your ideas are crafted in a way that makes sense. Agents and publishers will be that much more likely to take you on if your writing truly shines right from the get-go.
When self-publishing, hiring an editor helps ensure your work reflects the quality of your thoughts and opinions which can potentially help increase your sales and solidify your reputation as a writer. All of this matters when it comes to placing your best foot forward and diving into the world as a published author.
In summary, traditional publishing has its attractive aspects and can be a great avenue for some writers to pursue. Self-publishing offers many more writers the chance to see their work in a finished form and try to reach readers on their own. Hybrid publishing may offer the best (or worst, depending on your point of view), of each world and presents a newer avenue for publishing.
If you do choose to self-publish, how can you sell it? Keeping your book in boxes in the garage and selling them at the foot of your driveway is one approach. But we don’t advise it! In these digital times there’s another route that takes the stage under a much brighter spotlight: getting your book on Amazon.
How to Get Your Self-Published Book on Amazon
Many authors choose to self-publish their writing on Amazon. Is this for you? It could be. Publishing on Amazon, as with any platform, comes with many different benefits and drawbacks. Some of the benefits to publishing with KDP include the fact that:
- It’s easy
- It’s affordable
- You can choose your format
- It makes your book widely accessible
- It’s reliable
Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to self-publish your book for free, which can be an amazing thing. Once your book is made available through Amazon, the company keeps your files and prints copies on demand. You pay nothing up front. Beautiful! Amazon gets a portion of your sales in exchange for printing and distributing your book and for giving you access to what can potentially be a very wide online market. When someone buys your book, Amazon passes the royalties onto you.
You choose whether you want to sell your book as an ebook, a printed book, or both.
Getting your book on Amazon is relatively simple to do. First, you create an account KDP and upload your files to the platform. Amazon will walk you through the required steps. To publish with KDP you will:
- Create KDP account
- Follow Amazon’s introductory steps
- Upload your book files including an amazing cover
- Set your language, region, and keywords
- Decide on a pricing and royalties structure
- You’re done! Save and publish
- Order a copy of your book to see how it looks
- Check to see how your book appears on-screen as an ebook
KDP has many steps in between those above that you need to complete. Amazon’s platform prompts and guides you through the process. In many ways, self-publishing with Amazon can be a seamless process. But not always.
Tackling Problems With KDP
KDP has strict formatting guidelines that can sometimes present challenges to authors. One stumbling block is with images. If you are publishing a kids’ picture book, for example, incongruities can pop up that create challenges with formatting. Because of this, some authors find that hiring a formatting service can be the best way to go. Working with a formatting company can give you access to someone with whom to talk in order to troubleshoot your problems faster. You make sure your work fits Amazon’s guidelines before you upload it, saving you time and headaches.
What about typos? If you find you have misspelled words, have content you would like worded differently, or you want to change your images including your cover, the beauty of uploading your files with Amazon is that you can change them at any time. You simply fix your content and then upload a newer version of your book for sale. There is no limit to how often you can do this.
Are your sales slow? You might consider adjusting your selected categories and keywords named in connection with your book to be more easily seen on Amazon.
Finally, you also may find that you have two sales pages on the platform instead of one. This can happen when you sell your book as both an ebook and hardcover version. It’s best to have one page for sale so as not to confuse yourself and buyers. To amalgamate your pages contact KDP support and ask that both versions of your book be made for sale on just one page. Troubles can easily arise when self-publishing your book with Amazon’s KDP but these can most often be fixed by getting outside support, fixing things yourself, or contacting KDP itself.
How Are Authors Paid Through Amazon’s KDP Platform?
As a self-published author on the KDP platform, you receive royalties for your book every time someone buys it. These royalties are distributed monthly, and come to you about two months or 60 days after the month of purchase. This period is 90 days for Expanded Distribution sales. You can choose to receive your money through direct deposit, a wire transfer, or a check.
Direct deposit can be the easiest way to be paid through KDP as it’s fast, secure, and there is normally no minimum payment threshold.
Wire payments with KDP do have minimum payment thresholds which is typically around $100USD and can also come with attached fees. For their part, checks are only issued by the platform in cases where electronic payments aren’t possible. Checks are also subject to minimum payment thresholds and can have associated handling fees in many countries.
There are two royalties options to choose from when selling your book as an ebook through KDP. You can receive 35% royalties or 70% royalties, depending on the price you set for your book. As the creator of your book, you get to decide at what price you want to sell it. KDP makes some suggestions but the final price is up to you. In order to settle on a price, it can be a good idea to do some research and find out what books similar to yours are being sold for.
Are you selling a paperback book through KDP? A fixed royalty rate of 60% currently applies to paperbacks sold through the platform.
While you don’t get to keep 100% of the sales from your book with KDP, if you are able to market it effectively by linking to the platform, the potential for larger sales exists, making the platform a definite attraction.
Drawbacks to Publishing on Amazon’s KDP
As with any publishing platform, not all is perfect with Amazon’s KDP. It’s an approach to self-publishing that works well for some people and not for others.
Some of the drawbacks to KDP include:
- No marketing support
- You don’t get to keep 100% of your profits
- There are maximum prices to receive 70% of your royalties
- Formatting can be a challenge
- Royalty payments are delayed
- It limits the discounts and deals you can offer
Self-publishing your book through KDP means it’s for sale, but Amazon does not market your book for you. Generously put, the platform gives you the freedom to do what you want with your own marketing. (More about marketing in the next section!)
Another factor to be aware of is that, when you place a book for sale on KDP, you are limited with regards to what types of freebies and discounts you can offer to your readers through the platform. If this type of marketing is going to be a mainstay in your promotions, (ie, buy one, get one free, or enjoy free downloads every month), KDP may not be the self-publishing route for you. While there are some chances for these types of customer rewards, they remain limited with Amazon.
This being said, the platform does present some suggested ways to market your book, including by using the following programs:
- Author Central
- Amazon Advertising
- Kindle Countdown Deals
- Kindle eBook Preorders
These avenues allow you to share information about yourself and your work with readers. They also present the chance to purchase advertising through Amazon to promote your KDP book as well as offer limited time discount deals, and allow readers to pre-order your book up to a year before its official release date on the platform.
So, Should You Sell Your Book on Amazon?
Amazon’s KDP has limits and frameworks within which authors must operate when selling a book. Because of these, and the fact that you don’t get to keep 100% of your sales, some authors choose to forego the platform. Nothing is preventing you from selling your book on your own through workshops, presentations, and off your own website, of course, while simultaneously selling on KDP. It can take some trial and error to find what works best for you and your book.
How to Get an ISBN Number for Your Self-Published Book
Yes, you can get an ISBN number as a self-published author. This number is something you don’t want to skip! Libraries, bookstores, online retailers, and others rely on this number to identify your exact book and categorize it with other books.
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is a 13-digit identifying number. You don’t need an ISBN number for ebooks that won’t be made available in stores or libraries and technically you don’t need one for a book in print that you don’t plan on distributing through these channels as well, but why sell yourself short? Having an ISBN number assigned to your book means you can share it with others in recognized public places, easily.
You can get an ISBN number in a couple of ways. Many self-publishing book platforms such as Amazon can provide you with one as part of your package. You can also purchase an ISBN number from a recognized and respected source in your region. If you live in the US, this is done through myidentifiers.com which is part of Bowker. Bowker is the official supplier of ISBN numbers for authors who are physically located in the United States and its territories. You can purchase just one ISBN number, or buy them in bulk, depending on your needs.
The Importance of Marketing Your Book
Getting your book printed is the easy part. You can hire professional artists and designers through online platforms for your images and book cover, and have numerous copies printed. This is not difficult to arrange and do. Finding an audience interested in reading your work is the bigger challenge. In order to reach these people, it’s important to start connecting early on. In some situations, you may actually begin doing this before you even write your book. Many people have blogs, social media pages, and podcasts through which they share related content and promote their self-published book through these channels once it’s ready for the market.
You can start building your potential audience for your book through the following platforms:
- A personal website
- Blogging/platforms like WordPress
How to Build an Email List
In order to be able to reach your target audience, it’s wise to start building an email list of people who like your work even before your book is completed. This can take many steps. You may do this by collecting emails from interested family and friends in a folder. You can also do this by creating a personal webpage with a call-to-action.
You can create a webpage for free through a platform like Wix.com.
The idea is to write blog content related to your topic and share it on social media platforms like Facebook. By creating a monthly newsletter associated with your website or blog and placing a call-to-action for readers to sign up for this newsletter on your personal webpage, you inadvertently create an email list of people interested in your work. Once you have their email and their permission to send them email promotions (this is key), you can readily reach those who may be more likely to want to purchase your book once it’s done. Building an email list takes time but it can be an invaluable way to reach people who may potentially be interested in buying your product.
How to Promote Your Book on Facebook
Facebook can be an attractive social media platform on which authors promote their books because it allows for lengthy, text-laden posts. Of course, you don’t want your posts to be too long and risk alienating your audience. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok, however, more closely rely on image and video, and while you can certainly promote your work there, being able to write more on a social media platform is naturally good for…writers!
To get started, set up a fan page for your book or yourself as an author on Facebook. Next, share updates and tidbits about your writing process, as well as your book promotions and sales through this platform. Make sure you link your Facebook page to your personal website and vice versa to get people to follow your updates and sign up for any newsletter you have. (Everything comes back to that almighty email list).
You can pay to advertise your book on Facebook as well, and direct buyers to the webpage from which the book can be bought, such as your personal website or a book publishing platform like Amazon’s. If you’re new to marketing and advertising you may want to hire a professional to help you with your campaign but it’s not mandatory. Most successful marketing campaigns adhere to the SMART principles. They are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and have time-based goals.
Marketing campaigns can turn into a huge topic. As a general rundown here, it’s good to know that you can buy ad space on just about any social media platform and spend as little or as much as you wish. Platforms like Facebook allow you to select your target market and get your message out to a specific group such as women under 55 living in the UK, the US, and Canada who have certain interests. You can use advertising online to create brand awareness, promote specific products, generate leads, drive traffic to your website, and more.
Should I Rely on Bookstores for Sales?
If you’ve written a book it seems logical that you would sell it in….a bookstore. These days, however, this might not be the case. Bookstores are fascinating places but often not extremely well-run businesses. As someone once said, they can often be “where books go to die”. It’s a sad truth. Some readers might discover your work in a bookstore by chance but the chances are small. It’s more likely that they will hear about your book elsewhere and get to the bookstore to find it. If your book isn’t exactly what they were hoping for, however, it’s easy to lose a sale.
One great thing bookstores do bring to self-published authors, however, is the opportunity to hold live book signing events. If you can arrange these, having your book in a bookstore can be worth the effort. It can also be beneficial to connect with book clubs and to give a talk about your book through them. By doing this over and over with a well-written, interesting book, you’ll see sales.
How to Harness Blog Mentions
When selling your book online what matters most can end up being blog mentions. Do your research and track down blogs related to your topic or to promoting new, self-published books of your genre, and tell them about your work. Ask to be mentioned. Look for blogs with a large number of followers. Some bloggers will be happy to mention your book launch or other related promotional events for free. Those with the biggest followings will ask for a fee. This can be well worth it. A blogger has access to a large following of people and can provide you with an amazing opportunity to communicate with a pre-set audience that has the potential to be directly interested in your work. Bloggers may charge for tweets that promote your work, ads in their banner and elsewhere on their blog, as well as promoting your book through their other social media channels.
By doing your research well and finding bloggers who provide content closely related to your topic area or to the subject of self-published books in general, you can connect with a valuable market.
Hosting Live Events for Book Promotion
In addition to in-store book signings, holding other events like book launch parties, workshops, readings, book clubs, talks, lectures, seminars, and information sessions can also help connect you with your audience. These can be either virtual or in-person. By hosting your own events, you can control your message and speak directly with your readers. You might promote your book directly at these events, or focus on softer promotions such as getting additional people to join your email list or to follow your social media pages. Or, you may simply focus on having a good time and sharing your information and message. Offering free PDFs, brochures, and pamphlets at these events can be a great way to draw people’s attention to your book, to be bought at another time.
Importance of An Amazing, Fabulous, Overwhelmingly-Great Cover
Last but not least, remember that, as much as we’ve all been told not to judge a book by it’s cover, everyone does it. As humans, we can’t help it. We do it. So, be prepared. Hire a great artist. Get a fabulous designer. If you’re going to spend any amount of money on creating your book, invest in giving it a great cover. Statistics show that redesigned book covers have generated 51% more clicks than their originals. This is no joke! An amazing, fantastic book cover sells more books so focus on sourcing one in any way you can.
General Dos and Don’ts
Publishing your own book can be exhilarating. It can also set you up for a lot of disappointment. It’s a fact that the vast majority of books on the market don’t sell well. Remember that, for most people, the joy is in the journey. Don’t quit your day job just yet. Relish the time to ruminate over your ideas as you write and cherish the readers that you have. Plainly put, it’s wise to lower your expectations in order to be happy. If you exceed them, you can be pleasantly surprised. The happiest authors on the planet are those who write for the love of writing and don’t worry too much about the rest.
Self-publishing is a huge journey. Like any creative process, it’s filled with ups and downs, triumphs and defeats, and whatever it brings your way, it’s sure to include opportunities for growth, development, and learning. Be patient with yourself and know what you enjoy and what you don’t. Be flexible but stick to what works for you. Remember: Van Gogh sold only a handful of paintings throughout his entire life. We’re not advocating that you stress yourself to the point of cutting off your own ear, but remember to keep things in perspective. Did you love writing your book? Are you proud of your accomplishments? Fantastic. That could be enough and all the rest is icing on the cake.
Ramon Ray, entrepreneur and founder of SmartHustle.com who has published 5 books to date. Ramon’s recent books are, “Celebrity CEO” all about personal branding; and “Grow Your Solo” all about growing your solo business. Ramon is an expert on small business success and an exhilarating keynote speaker.
Check out Ramon’s Smart Hustle podcast and listen to the journeys and insights of successful small business owners across the US. Contact Ramon Ray to participate in your next event and share the high-passion joy he has for entrepreneurship. Happy writing!
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