The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing a Book that Doesn’t Suck

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Brandon Clements. Brandon is a pastor at Midtown Fellowship in Columbia, SC. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or his blog. Check out his novel, Every Bush Is Burning, which is the best self-published book I've ever seen.

In this age when you can pick yourself and build a platform in no time, this is the question we are all wondering: Can self-publishing actually be done well? Can you create a compelling book without going through the traditional gatekeepers?

Yes, you can.

Is it easy? No way. But you absolutely can self-publish a beautiful-looking book that people will read — if you do it with the right help.

Self Publishing
Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives (Creative Commons)

Self publishing has never been easier. And if you will resist the urge to cut corners and save a few bucks, you can create an excellent product you can be proud of for the rest of your life. Before we begin, first things first:

Is self-publishing right for you?

There are substantial benefits and hurdles to both traditional and indie publishing. Before you decide which route to go, be sure to weigh your options:

  • If you do it yourself, you'll have total freedom, but you'll also have to front the costs. The plus side is you get to keep most of the revenues.
  • If you go with a publisher, you'll compromise some of that freedom, but you'll get a lot of professional help. The downside is you share the profits with the publisher.

My decision was fairly easy, because my novel fell in the current “No Man’s Land” of being too “edgy” for Christian publishers and too Christian for mainstream publishers. My only options were to change things about my book that I didn’t want to, or self-publish. So I went to work.

If you decide that indie publishing is right for you, here’s my advice (in six steps):

1. Write the best book you can write

I worked on my book for six years, and I’m glad I didn’t hit the “publish” button sooner.

Just because it's easier than ever to self-publish doesn’t mean you should do it too soon. In fact, the ease should make you extra cautious to wait until the right time.

Writing a book is like having a baby — once it’s birthed into the world, there’s nothing you can do to take it back.

2. Hire the best freelance editor you can find

I know. You’ll want to skip this step. You’re a better writer than the person I’m talking to. I would faint at your staggering literary genius. I know. I hate to bust the Pulitzer Prize daydream I just sent you into, but come back to reality for a second.

The harsh truth is this: You’re probably not as good of a writer as you think. (I certainly wasn’t.)

Stay with me now — I’m not saying you’re not a great writer. I’m sure you are. I’m saying you could be a much better writer. And that your book will be a much better book with the help of a completely unbiased, knowledgeable, and sometimes vicious, cold-hearted editor to rip your ruinous phrases, ideas, and clichés from you.

So unless you're the next J.D. Salinger or have a very generous, talented, and experienced friend, please don’t skip this step. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

I found my editor, Andy Meisenheimer, through The Editorial Department. I am genuinely embarrassed to imagine what my book would have been without his help.

Be warned: There are as many predators out there as there are good editors. So do your homework and check references.

3. Hire a good designer

Do you know why self-publishing has gotten such a bad rap? Because people do shoddy work — both in writing and design.

Don’t let your cousin design a cover for you that looks like clip art. Make no mistake: People will judge your book by its cover. Whether you like it or not. If your work doesn’t look professional, no one will take it seriously.

If you need help, follow I learned half of what I know about indie publishing from this guy. Dig through his site, and you’ll be well on your way.

4. Decide: Will you go print, digital, or both?

I suggest both. Of course, only doing an eBook is about 20 times easier (and cheaper). If you do go the digital route, you should pay a professional to do the eBook formatting for you. Plus, there are a ton of people and companies online that do it.

Uploading eBooks to major retailers is way easier than you might think. For print, I recommend CreateSpace.

I used to recommend Lightning Source (now Ingram Spark) over CreateSpace, but in the past few years CreateSpace has made large strides. Their print quality is essentially indistinguishable from a traditional publisher now, and they are beyond easy to work with (the same cannot be said of Lightning Source).

CreateSpace also has incredible customer service–you can get them to call you immediately at any time, day or night.

Either is a good choice, and both will get you automatic print-on-demand distribution through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

A third alternative

You might want to look into other subsidy (or hybrid) publishers who do some of the work for you (for a hefty fee), but I would be careful.

There are a few subsidy publishers out there that seem good. I almost went with one before deciding to do it on my own. However, ultimately what swayed me from doing so was their less-than-positive reputation and cost.

Moreover, any promises of getting your book into brick-and-mortar stores are very unlikely with these types of publishers. And why pay them to do something you could do yourself (if you're willing to learn)?

5. Make it easy to find you and your book

There are millions of books out there and more self-published ones hitting the market every day. How will yours stand out? You'll need some marketing assets. Here are a few I used for my book:

With so much noise, you'll want to show people that you're serious about your writing. Going the extra mile of creating some of these properties online will make you look more professional than the competition.

6. Sit back and enjoy the fruit of your labor

For a day. Maybe a week, if you’re as tired as I was. And then, you’ve got to figure out how to promote the thing. And after that, you start all over with your next book.

Like I said, it requires blood, sweat and tears, but you can do it. And if you do it right, you’ll be pleased at the end. There's no thrill like holding your own hard-earned work in your hands.

You can start publishing your work today. And maybe that dream of a Pulitzer isn't as far off as you thought.

Want to learn more about publishing your own book? Check out Tribe Writers.

What self-publishing tips would you add? Share in the comments.