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I'm Finished the Book! What's the Next Step?
By: Karen M Gray
Posted: 15th April 2015

The final period on the final page has been written. Pens down! What an acheivement and a relief! Congratulations! Unfortunately it's not the end. Writing the book was the easy part. Now you have to get that sucker into the hands of your readers.

The first decision to make is whether you want to self-publish or sign with a self-publishing company. Personally, I do NOT recommend using a self-publishing company. The packages usually look good especially when the companies have a limited time promotional special, but there are hidden nasties as well. As in my own case, there's little care taken of your manuscript all the way from typesetting to promotion. Although there are a small number of printed books given as part of most self-publishing packages, the books sell at an artificially high retail price and the "sell back" to you price is rather a high percentage of that cost, meaning that basically you pay for their print costs. The companies then take a further percentage of the retail sales they manage to make, which means you are left with minimal royalties. This high retail price has a flow on effect, however, because the buyer will be reluctant to pay such high costs unless they really believe the book is worth it, (which for the buyer may be hard to justify given the plethora of other similar books on the market, and your realitive unknown status!) Unfortunately too, you have no say in how high that retail price is set.

Although royalties may be higher than traditional publishing houses, once you've paid your money, your book receives minimal promotion to the general public. Yes, most self-publishing companies will list your book on their website, in their catelogue and at trade shows, but is this really effective marketing? I think not! Consider how many people from the general population read that company's catalog or visit trade shows - only avid readers at best.

An ISBN usually comes with the package, but unfortunately the service provider owns that ISBN, not you, the author. Further, you do not own the print files which means you have no rights to print further copies for yourself. The issue of company ownership of the copyright means that your options are very limited.

Your layout is important. Self-publishers do offer this service, but it will cost you for their services. If you can do a professional looking job yourself, even better. It will save you money. (Traditional publishers will generally do this for you.)

My experience with the self-publishers in this regard was abominable, to say the least! To begin with, they requested my manuscript as a MS Word document. True, I did use MS Word to write my manuscript. However, Word docs are not particularly portable and tend to have different formatting and page sizes depending on whose computer you choose to use to open the file. Needless to say, the self-publisher I used simply imported my file into Adobe In Design and there was a heap of formatting changes and errors, which I was then expected to find and correct. To rub salt into the wound, they only allowed me to change a certain number of mistakes before they start charging for future formatting changes. This for me was frustrated further by the fact that the typesetter (or whoever was responsible for the file) kept muffing it up even though I was sending correctly set pdf files of the pages so that there could be no misunderstandings of what I wanted done. It was like talking to a brick wall. So frustrating! I felt like I was being ignored - all the while the number of corrections was increasing.

Put simply - my impression from my experience was that after you sign up and pay for the self-publishing package, they don't care.

Traditional publishing houses can offer self-publishing options much the same as dedicated self-publishing companies, but for the reasons already stated, I do not recommend that option. In the end they are no different. Unfortunately self publishing companies make their money in the initial sign up and in selling books back to you, not from the sales of your book. Thus, there is little incentive for them to try and sell your book for you. That's still up to you.

If you decide to go it alone, or even if you sign with a self publishing company and do not want to pay extra for their services, there is one essential task you cannot ignore - that is: editing. This task is paramount and cannot be ignored if you want people to take you seriously. Grammar and spelling mistakes are a definite "no-no" in the book world. These kind of mistakes say "careless" and "poor writing skills" about the author, and for a serious work, destroys your credibility.

Self publishing companies do offer an editting service but usually it's considered an extra and not cheap, and I found them to be not particularly thorough. If you decide to give them a go, I hope you have a better experience.

Editing can be expensive, but in the end, it's worth the money. If possible, have one recommended to you. If you cannot afford a professional editor, read and re-read your manuscript and correct every error. Then have family and trustworthy friends who have good spelling and grammatical skills to proof read and mark your manuscript for you. This may sound excessive but even after this many passes, you may still find mistakes.

Ensure you have a copyright page right after the title page. If you are not sure what to include just check what a few printed books have written. Also, front pages can include things like a dedications page, an endorsements section, a forward written by a well respected or well known authority, a special thanks page and most importantly, a well structured table of contents. If you are citing other people's work, your book must contain a bibliography or endnote references.

The majority of books written - even well written books - do not end up selling many copies - most less then 100. You will need to either have a good tradional publisher who is willing to do the marketing well, (unfortunately most traditional publishers still expect you to do your own marketing), or you will have to personally market your book which is hard work but not impossible, especially if you have a flare for it. There are marketing companies out there, but I have yet to read any real positive feedback about them.

Should you decide to self publish alone, choosing the right cover design is important. You want to have the potential reader interested enough to not pass over your book. Let's face it, there are so many books out there. If your book does not stand out, it will simply be lost in the noise. By "stand out" I do not mean garish and bad taste, but enough to attract positive attention and interest. Unless you are a graphic designer or have a friend who is and who is also willing to help you, you will need to employ one to create the best cover possible. For this task, my choice is fiverr.com. For five bucks you can have a cover professionally designed and if you don't like it, you have lost only five dollars - not a fortune. I personally commissioned five covers and had my friends choose the best. Of course I had the final say, and I must say, am very happy with the results. There are similar sites around the web now.

Self-publishers often offer a cover as part of the package deals they offer. That doesn't mean their designs are worth using. Get some opinions from your friends and family first before you choose to use one of the companies choices. Some of their designs can be horrible and look quickly patched together.

Even if you have a great cover, if you use a self-publisher, be careful they do not change it. I sent my cover into the company even though they were offering a cover as part of the package (the designs they were offering were terrible to say the least!) However, for some reason only known to them, they decided to change the title to white (on a light background). I was not aware of this until my handful of freebies arrived. You could hardly see the title at all. I contacted them and complained that I had not given them any authorisation to change the cover and that the artwork was copyright. They eventually agreed to change the cover for any subsequent print runs/sales, but would only send me one corrected copy to compensate. This left me with a box of books with botched covers to sell. Obviously they then wanted me to buy more copies of the book with the correct cover from them. So beware! Check everything and every communication carefully!

If you are only intending to sell your book in electronic format, the front cover is all you will require. If however, you are thinking producing printed copies of your book, you will need to create a full cover. Consider carefully the wording of the back cover description. You don't want to give too much away but it must be enticing enough to have the potential reader eager to look inside for more. How will reading your book be beneficial to them - that is: why should they read your book above so many others on offer? It may be worth looking at some of the books in the online stores to see what advertising techniques they use. Read the most popular books descriptions. How do they draw the potential reader in? Once you've decided how to word your description, let friends and family give you their honest opinion. You may want to consider including an endorsement on the back cover as well but only if there is room. Less can be more as clutter can put people off.

Including an ISBN for your book makes the searching (and subsequent finding) of your book easier for all, but it is not essential. It also makes it easier for retailers to track. (There is more very helpful information about ISBN's at https://www.myidentifiers.com.au/isbn/main) ISBN's can be obtained online from Thorpe-Bowker or one of their agencies. It is more cost effective to purchase a bundle of ten ISBN's than to buy a single one, but if you do not intend to write further books, that may be of little value to you anyway. However, it is highly likely that you will, so for less than the cost of two single ISBN's, you can buy ten.

If you do obtain an ISBN, you may want to include a barcode on your back cover as well. While it is true that Thorpe-Bowker can sell you one along with the ISBN, it is far cheaper to have one made for you on fiverr.com or another similar site. I was personally very happy with the results from fiverr.

If you are considering printing your book, or having a self-publisher do it for you, in order to complete your cover, carefully consider the dimensions of your book. Try to choose from the standard print sizes available, as non-standard print sizes can "up" the cost considerably. Once the size is chosen, calculate the final number of pages after converting your manuscript to that size. This is important when determing the spine width. Don't worry! There are templates around that will calculate this for you, but you do need to know the final number of pages. Once you have all the sizing, the back cover description, the barcode and possibly a small head shot of you, you are now ready to employ a graphic artist to create the full cover - front, spine and back. Again I would suggest fiverr.com as one of the cheapest places for great artwork.

Electronically formatting your book can be tricky, especially if you have not done it before. A self-publishing company may do this for you, but if they have asked for the manuascript as a MS Word doc, watch out for those formatting mess-ups I mentioned earlier. This was yet another area of frustration for me. Sigh!

If you must use a MS Word doc file, there are s few formatting things you must do when doing it yourself:

  • Hyperlink your contents. Don't use the auto-contents field in Word.

  • Be careful NOT to use characters in you titles when hyperlinking. Word will not always hyperlink from contents to title then back to contents properly. I personally found this very frustrating.

  • Do not use multiple carriage returns for spacing. Rather use the space before or after the line and use the insert page break command at the end of chapters to start your chapter on a fresh page.

  • Try not to indent more than once. It doesn't always transfer well.

  • Images don't transfer well. You will probably have to use another program to re-insert them.

I found that the Smashwords website has some good tips about preparing your file for Amazon ready conversion. There are probably similar sites with the same kind of info if you look.

When you have finally editted and formatted your manuscript exactly how you want it, save it as a html file. You will now need another program to insert any images. I used Komposer. (I'm sure there are plenty of others available but I liked the review I read from another indie author who recommended it.) Once finished inserting the images, I saved the file and imported it into Calibre. There I added the metadata (including cover) and converted it to a mobi file. This file I tested on my kindle first, then when completely satisfied, I sent it through to Amazon.

If you have converted the file well, there should be no problems, but it may take a couple of goes, making changes after each try, until it comes out clean. You'll be very fortunate if it works first time, so don't be disappointed it you have to go back and make changes and resubmit.

Making your file Apple Ibooks epub compliant is another story. Even converting your file into an epub through Calibre, and testing it on your ipad does not guarantee Ibooks will accept it. Basically they want you to use their program to format your manuscript. After using MS Word, I found their program hard to use and not intuitive at all, and gave up after two or three attempts! (Starting from scratch using their program may have been better, but not for my existing manuscript. I had major sections, then chapters and then chapter sections. Unfortunately, the indexing system of their program did not allow for this arrangement.) On the other hand, if you have a copy of Adobe InDesign, this program will convert it for you, and as a bonus you can create "print ready" pdfs which any printer will accept.

Well that's the nitty gritty for book preparation. Now comes the hard part - the marketing!

Check out the other articles for marketing strategies and tips.

Cheers! :-)

- Karen

(author of "How to Save Your Marriage: A Guide to Restoring & Rebuilding Christian Marriages on the Precipice of Divorce")

PS. If you found this helpful or would like to hear some more helpful tips on a particular aspect of self-publishing, just drop us a line though our contact page!

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