Self-Publishing Primer: Part 12 – What do I need to do and when do I need to do it?

You will find links to the other posts in the series at Self-Publishing Primer.

Many of the tasks you will need to accomplish to publish your book must be done simultaneously, and you can self-publish a book much faster than the timeline below. In fact, Fern Reiss has a book, The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days (The Publishing Game), that tells you how to self-publish your book in 30 days.

But this is my suggested schedule designed for a first-time self-publishing author who has a busy life and doesn’t want to be caught in a time crunch:

  • Start building your platform. Even before you write your book, begin marketing activities to build your audience. In How to Pump UP Your Blog to Sell More Books – Pt. I, Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Online Book Promotion says “EVERY AUTHOR NEEDS A BLOG” – and she means every author, published or not. Become active or increase your visibility in organizations that are part of your platform. Always think about how to extend your influence and enhance your credibility. Marketing will be an ongoing activity as long as you want to sell books.
  • Research, write, and self-edit your book. The amount of time it will take you to take your manuscript from an idea to a polished final draft depends on how much you have to research, how fast you write, how much time you devote to writing, and how much revising you do. You can learn to write faster by following the advice in books such as Write Your Ebook or Other Short Book – Fast! or Writing FAST: How to Write Anything with Lightning Speed. However, most writers I work with seem to take a year or more on average to finish their books.
  • Create your own deadline. Decide when you want to publish the book so you can schedule all the tasks you need to complete at the right time. Look for an event that you can tie to your book launch. Is there a professional meeting or a trade show in your industry that would be a good place to introduce the book? Is the book, a character, or a main event in the book tied to a particular holiday or season? My client, David Bowles, author of Spring House (Westward Sagas, Book 1) (The Westward Sagas), scheduled his book release around the 225th Observance of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse – the battle was a major event in the story, the observance was taking place at the national military park that includes his ancestor’s farm that became part of the battlefield, and he had the opportunity to speak at a Mitchell reunion about the family history that is the basis of his book.
  • Set up your company and get your ISBNs during the time you are writing your book. If you will be incurring significant expenses for research (such as traveling to specific locations), you will want to set up company up early in the process to be able to take advantage of business expenses. The process or creating a company, even a corporation or LLC, takes only a few weeks, but give yourself plenty of time to consult with your attorney and accountant long before you are ready to publish your book. Allow a month to get your ISBNs before the book is ready for the designer.
  • Research and make decisions about your book. How long will it be? What formats will you publish? What kind of cover will you have? To make good decisions, you will need to learn about publishing (you’ll find many good articles, Web sites, and books listed throughout this series) and talk to publishing professionals – editors, designers, and printers.
  • Choose an editor. Some editors prefer to wait until the manuscript is completely finished before they begin editing. However, I like to work with authors from very early in the project. Usually I find that the last chapter of the book takes a lot less time to edit than the first because the writer has improved his writing significantly by following the advice I gave earlier in the process. When I edit chapter-by-chapter, I still do several more rounds of edits on the complete manuscript, but there are fewer problems than there would be otherwise. And whether you are going to have the manuscript edited chapter-by-chapter as you write or wait until you finish the manuscript, allow several weeks – even months – to find an editor. You want to check out the competence and price, but just as importantly, you want to find someone who is passionate about your project, someone you trust, someone who you are comfortable with. And many editors like me have waiting lists, so you need to get on the schedule or your preferred editor may not be available when you need him.
  • Select a layout and cover designer and printer. Whenever possible, get recommendations and ask for samples of books designed or printed by the artists or companies you are considering. Compare quality, prices, and turn-around times to find the suppliers that best meet your needs, then get on their schedule so you can meet your deadline. You can work on this a little at a time as you write, or you can do it while you set your manuscript aside for a time as part of the editing process. The less you know about publishing, the longer it will take you to gather information and make decisions. I recommend you allow yourself three months for this process. If you plan to use original artwork, you will need more time (as well as more money) to find an artist who can create your vision.
  • Have the book edited and read by others. If you do not work with an editor throughout the writing process, you will send the manuscript to your editor when you have finished writing and self-editing. You may also want to ask other people to read the draft and give you feedback. If you belong to an organization related to your topic, for example, and have been building your platform within the group, some of the members may be willing to read and comment on your manuscript. This can be particularly helpful for books that contain information that the editor may not know – professional knowledge, historical facts, family history. People with the same interests may make suggestions to strengthen the book that an editor unfamiliar with the topic wouldn’t. If you get favorable comments, you can also ask if you can use the quote on the back cover of the book. Often, people are flattered to be asked for their advice and delighted to be quoted on a book cover. Depending on the editor’s schedule and how many readers you use, you will need to allow one to six months for the initial stage, then another few weeks to incorporate any suggestions from the readers into the edited copy.
  • Send advance reading copies (ARCs) of the book to reviewers. Many newspapers, magazines, and book reviewers won’t review self-published books, but some reviewers – especially online review sites -welcome self-published books. And you can also get reviews in specialty publications – genealogy publications for family histories, professional journals for your industry, alumni magazines from schools you have attended, and newsletters of organizations related to your subject. To have the reviews available when the book is published, you need to send the ARCs as early as possible – but not until the book is fairly well-edited. You can put a disclaimer that the book is still being edited, so a few errors won’t cause a bad review – reviewers are accustomed to reviewing ARCs. However, don’t send it before the book has been through a professional edit (at least the first round) because excessive errors will result in a bad review.
  • Deliver the book to the layout and cover designer. I usually use one person for both of these tasks, but you may choose two different people. Again, time required will vary with the designer’s schedule, but I usually allow at least one to two months for design work and approval of proofs. Even though you feel confident that the manuscript was perfect when you sent it to the designer, you need to proofread carefully. You may find errors that were missed until the book is in the final format, and designers make mistakes, too.
  • Set up your distribution channels and Web site and get your merchant account. While you are waiting for the designer to finish, you can get serious about marketing. When you have a Web site you can take advance orders – which will help you raise money to pay production costs – or at least start collecting names for a mailing list. You then have permission to notify your mailing list when the book is available. You can also take pre-orders from your platform – your family and friends and the people in your industry or affinity organizations.
  • Line up promotional activities. You may find it difficult to schedule a booksigning in a chain bookstore, but independent stores often welcome local writers. If you are willing to speak in public, check out opportunities to speak to groups interested in the subject of your book that will allow you to sell the book at the events. Look for special events to promote your books. One of my clients, Janet Kaderli, author of the children’s book Patchwork Trail, has signed books in a quilting store as part of a special promotion by a quilter’s organization. The young girl in her book learns to make a quilt, so even though the book is fiction, she was able to sell books at an event that drew people interested in the theme of her story.
  • Have the book printed. Your choice of printers and formats as well as the printer’s schedule will determine how long it will take to get your books from the printer. And remember, here again, you will want to approve a proof before a thousand or two books are printed. If you use a POD printer, you can have the first copies in a few days. If you use a printer in another state, you may have to allow a week or more for shipping. Usually, you can expect to have your books printed and ready for you in one to two months.

Promote … market … sell books.

For other views on what to do and how to publish your book, read these articles:

Next, we’ll talk about Web sites and e-books.

Related Posts:
Working with a Professional Editor (2-part series) 

[tags]publishing, self-publishing, writing[/tags]

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