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Advice for unpublished writers: Self-publishing

Part 4 of a series first written in 2003 and updated for 2011. Although I make my living by copyediting (and designing books and websites), often a writer will approach me for services they just don’t need yet. The manuscript has to be ready for copyediting before I can take it on.

The “self” in self-publishing means it’s all — production, distribution, marketing — on the self-publisher’s shoulders.

In traditional publishing, the publisher who purchases your manuscript arranges for copyediting, cover design, and typesetting. When you self-publish — and using a print-on-demand (POD) service essentially is self-publishing, even though your book will come out with the service’s ISBN — these tasks are among the many functions that become your responsibility.

If you choose to self-publish and want to produce a professional product, your manuscript must be edited for grammar, punctuation, and style. Every manuscript needs a fresh pair of eyes before printing, when corrections are still comparatively inexpensive. (A long-standing print industry maxim is “Fast, Cheap, Good: pick any two.”)

Readers do judge books by their covers. While readers commonly say they choose a book because they like that author or after reading the summary and skimming the book’s pages, what causes them to pick up a book they’ve never heard of in the first place?

Before you decide to self-publish, I strongly suggest you read at least one book on the subject. The most recommended book, Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, covers the basics, from writing to book production to promotion. (While I disagree with some of his suggestions about layout and writing, his explanations of ISBNs, CIP data, and the publishing calendar are a terrific primer for new publishers.) Other helpful titles are The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn Ross and 1001 Ways to Market Your Books by John Kremer.

Considering publishing through one of the online POD services? Talk to others who have self-published that way. And read up on self-publishing so you’ll understand what the POD service tells you. Before making a decision, find out just how much help the POD service will give you in producing and selling your book, and whether you will be locked into a long-term agreement.

Please note that POD is the acronym for print on demand, not publish on demand. But you don’t have to take my word for it: What is Print on Demand?

For more information about self-publishing, search Google or visit the Sac Publishers Publishing 101 page.

Advice for unpublished writers

About Sandra K. Williams

Sandra K. Williams loves books, both printed and digital. Since 1996 she has worked with authors and independent publishers, editing and designing books for print. Since 1999 she has built easy-to-use, accessible websites, and she uses her HTML and CSS skills to design reader-friendly e-books.

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