Becoming an indie publishing house is effing amazing, and not as hard as it looks

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Liz Gubernatis

Stack of colorful books with blue light behind them

Did you work on your novel this NaNoWriMo? Wondering what to do with your masterpiece now? I teamed up with my author-husband as his editor and publisher on his first novel and I'm ready to share everything we learned along the way with my fellow Offbeat Homies.

Whether you've just finished your opus or just got a really good start, here's how to take the next steps and publish your own novel.

Step One: Editing, Editing, Editing

Don't-Fear-the-Red-PenThere are several ways to edit your beautiful word-baby. It starts with you — but spellcheck and squiggly lines suggesting changes should never take the place of genuine copyediting. The Empire's copyeditor Caroline has talked about how even for her, "sometimes, though the perfectionist in me hates to admit it, things slip through the cracks." You're going to miss some things, too, so find your grammar-police friend or family member and ask them for their eyes. Know that what they find is not about you being a bad writer; it's about making your work MOAR BETTER.

Next, you're going to need content editing. Content editing is how you find any plot holes, confusing spots, characterizations that feel off, dialog that feels artificial, and facts that… well, aren't facts. It's about finding the flow, making sure any point-of-view chapters are consistently voiced, and that your story is as strong as it can be. On first read-through, I found four different first names for one character in Kevin's book. Oops!

As we worked on The White Wolf and The Darkness, there were times when things at House Gubernatis got butt-hurt. This is the editing that is hard to hear, for many. It takes a deep breath and stepping back from your work so that you can see what it looks like to someone reading it for the first time. You wrote your novel, and you know your story and characters, and sometimes things you know didn't make it onto the page, or didn't work quite the way you wanted them to. Good content editors help you polish your story till it shines.

By: Shawn CampbellCC BY 2.0

Step Two: Ch-ch-ch-changes

I know, you just spent the last month cranking out ALL THE WORDS. NaNoWriMo will do that to you. But now that you've accepted the copyediting and considered the content editing, it's time to make any changes you're going to make. Your high school English teacher calls this the re-writing phase. I call it the Bob Ross phase. There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.

Let your content editor's suggestions guide you and your thinking, test out the new ideas and see if they fit in your world. Ultimately, it is YOUR world, though, so when you're happy with the new material, run it by your copyeditor again and buckle up. You've just reached the top of the rollercoaster.

By: anomalous4CC BY 2.0

Step Three: Paperwork

There are several things you need to file to publish your novel. These will vary slightly depending on your country of origin, but the basics are the same world-wide.

First, you need ISBNs. These are the codes that get attached to your book, uniquely identifying it from all other books ever written and published, ever. Depending on how you decide to publish (e-book only, print-only, both) you may need multiple ISBNs. The sole ISBN broker for all of the United States is Bowker and you can purchase a single ISBN for $100 or a block of 10 ISBNs for $250.

We decided to offer The White Wolf and The Darkness in both e-book through Smashwords and print through Amazon's CreateSpace. Each format needs its own ISBN, so we needed two.

Both Smashwords and Amazon's CreateSpace also offer "free/cheap ISBNs" with services. The catch is that they then hold the official imprint as publisher of your book. If you want to be the publisher of record, you'll have to spring for the ISBNs yourself. We sprang for the 10-pack and now are ready for the next few books in the series, too.

Next, you'll want to file for copyright. If you feel confused about what copyright really covers, let me point you to where Offbeat Bride discussed copyright and wedding photos in a really accessible way.

We started at the US Copyright Office. The process took a few minutes to apply for an account, then a few days later, another few minutes to fill out the online form and submit the book with our $35 fee. It was a snap. As of the date we submitted the form, we're officially registered with the copyright office, though we won't receive the official certificate for a few months.

We filed for a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN). The Library of Congress is the de facto National Library of the United States. To have a copy of your novel added to the collection, you'll want to apply online. There's no charge.

Finally, read everything. When you're signing up at either Smashwords or Amazon's CreateSpace (or any other e-book or print-on-demand publisher) PLEASE be certain to read all your contracts, terms and conditions, and, well, everything. You don't want to blindly hit the "I agree" box/button here — this is your novel, your word-baby. Know exactly what you're agreeing to.

Step Four: Judging a book by its cover: Formatting, finessing, finally uploading

TheWhiteWolfandTheDarknessCoverThe trick to publishing a book that doesn't look like it was self-published is to make sure it's formatted well. You can do all your formatting in Microsoft Word — you don't need anything fancy. Whether you're publishing an e-book or a print book, there are some excellent guides to formatting for your medium. Smashwords has a style guide for e-books that makes them accessible on all e-readers (Kindle, Nook, iPad, Kobo, etc.) and CreateSpace has a guide for the interior of your book.

Once you're all set inside, it's time to finesse the outside. Despite all advice not to, we all first judge a book by its cover. Creating an attractive cover for your novel is fun, but can be totally overwhelming, too. I love delving into Offbeat Empire resources for help. For example, to find a color palette, you can use this tool. For The White Wolf and The Darkness, we went with white for the white wolf and black for the darkness, so our palette was pretty simple. We also wanted to make sure the title was in a larger font than the author name, and that both were legible in the thumbnail-sized image that would appear on Amazon.

There are SO many resources for help with your cover, from the art to the copy, and your genre will help you decide how to proceed, too. "The White Wolf and The Darkness is a heart-pounding tale of what's beyond our understanding in the depths of space and how humanity shines brightly despite the Darkness." In other words, it's a Science Fiction/Mild Horror Space Adventure with some profanity, magic, and awesome. So our cover includes space to make the science-fiction-space-adventure part immediately recognizable before you even read that description. Your genre will probably suggest some thematic elements for your cover, too.

Finally, bookow is the best (and free!) resource for your cover creation, especially if you're going through Amazon's CreateSpace. Remember that your book's back cover is written more like advertising copy than a synopsis, but you don't want to give away spoilers to your own book! The best advice I have for this is to grab a few other books in your genre and read the backs to get a feel for how your own book should sound. Read it aloud and ask friends to give you feedback, too.

Are you bright enough to shine despite the darkness?
In a future that might be, Asala is a magician and warrior who has trained to contend with any foe, supernatural or mundane. The Covenant of Earth Nations has lost contact with Dark Star Station, a deep space research facility orbiting a primordial black hole, and has sent Asala along with a team of COEN Corps commandos to the station for answers. The team arrives to find the only light aboard the station is what they bring with them.
A presence waits in the shadows, hungry and curious. Can Asala confront this terror and keep her commandos alive, or will she and all those in her charge fall victim to…The Darkness?

Once you have your cover and your inside all formatted, it's time to upload! Give the process a couple of days to go through approval, and you're golden!

By: Steven DepoloCC BY 2.0

Step Five: Launching your book, no rocket science required

Hard part is done, right? You've written your novel, and now, with the push of that last button, you've uploaded and published it! Congratulations! You're a published author! How do you let the rest of the world know about your beautiful book? Here are some tips…

  • Build your author brand. Whether you start a blog and build yourself an author website (You don't need to be super-savvy!) or just build yourself an author facebook page, you want to get your "I'm an author" name out. (Psst… speaking of which, give ours a like!)
  • Invest in the right handouts. There are three items no author/publisher pimping a book should be without. Start by making Vistaprint your bitch for business cards. You can add a QR code to your business card that will take people directly to your amazon page, to your smashwords page, to a page on your website offering them a special coupon… you get the idea. Next, make a good poster to hang during your book signings. Vistaprint is good for this one, too. Last, spend some time creating a sell sheet for your book. This is a one-page handout you give to bookstores and libraries with all the pertinent info, including everything from cover image, ISBN numbers, page count, and genre to a short description and author bio.
  • Approach your local bookstores and libraries. Bring your shiny sell sheet and business card, and ask at the help desk for the person in charge of setting up local author book signings. What happens next depends on where you are, but in one afternoon, we'd set up a signing at our local Hastings and a speaking engagement/signing at our local library, just by asking and having our info ready.
  • Big tip: Lead with your shared audience for best results. "As a local author, I'd like to consign a few copies of The White Wolf and The Darkness with you, and set up a book signing to connect with our local science fiction readers." The focus of this is on our shared audience (the bookstore and the author) — not on what the bookstore can do for the author, but on what the author can do for the bookstore. Aim for a Saturday (best foot traffic) and bring a good pen. Be yourself, be approachable, and smile. You're signing copies of your book! For readers! SMILE!

Step Six: Success!

Tell everyone you know about your book, and enjoy the big moment — you've worked hard to get here! You're a publisher! You're an author! You did it!

Royalties may never be rolling in at a rate that lets you quit your day job, but seeing your book on your e-reader or holding it in print is priceless. Measure your success by your own yardstick.

Your Turn!

Will you be polishing and publishing your NaNoWriMo work? Maybe that novel you've been working on for a while longer? A collection of poetry, photography, or recipes? Let us know!

If you'd like to order a copy of The White Wolf and The Darkness, we'd love to hear what you think! Use coupon code XE59J to take 25% off your e-book copy at Smashwords.

  1. This is perfectly timed! I spent my Saturday planning out a non-fiction book with my friend. I will be doing the photography and she will be doing the writing and we are planning on self-publishing at this point. So this is super helpful!

  2. I did NaNoWriMo! I wrote 50k towards my already started post-apocalyptic thriller, and will be polishing it off in the new year (once I get my wedding out the way in 26 days!). I've got to get me some beta-readers, and hoping to have it sent to publishers by October next year so I can start planning for my next NaNoWriMo! I'm ready for the hard work, I know editing is 3x as much work as writing the first draft!

      • Thanks so much! It was my first NaNo, and I enjoyed it so much. It really got me out of my creative rut and pushed me to finish the first thing ever.

  3. This is fantastic. I would have never thought about the ISBN and the copywrite. Thanks so much for all the resources. Also, I love this genre, I'll have to give your book a read!

    • Thanks Evee! Hope you enjoy it — when you have given it a read, please leave an honest review so we can make the next book even better (and don't forget, you can use that coupon for a discount on the e-book)!

  4. This is a great step-by-step. Also, if you are wondering where to find people who will give your book thoughtful critiques as you work on revisions, I recommend the site http://www.scribophile.com. You get critiques pretty quickly and become a better writer by critiquing others' work. It's like a free do-it-yourself MFA program.

  5. There are so many resources out there for getting help with a manuscript. Professional critiquers, editors, proofreaders, etc. Even if you have grammar-nazi friends, I'd still recommend getting professional help. An unbiased opinion and professional skills can make a world of difference.

    • Absolutely. My husband lucked out in that I am a professional, so while not as unbiased as a third party might have been, we were able to work through a lot of the critiquing and editing process together before sending it further to beta readers. That said, a first read-through to pick out the glaring grammar-police bits can make it easier for a professional to do the critiquing and easier for the author to handle the bigger ideas that need to be weighed and measured, and your friends are usually gentler with you in that first word-baby butt-hurt stage of sharing your work, in my experience. That said, you're right: professional help is widely available and extremely useful!

  6. Did you self print paperback copies of the book or just go entirely e-format? Mostly curious as to whether it is necessary to print paper copies for the purpose of book signings and consigning copies to local libraries etc. or whether providing the book in e-format to the libraries, and posters for signing at a 'book signing' event would be ok alternatives?

    • Great question. We did the Amazon CreateSpace print copies (but we really wanted print copies). It's not necessary if it's not what you want to do. Many libraries are happy to accept e-copies and posters for signing are a great alternative. We have also printed business cards for the book (as in, front of card = cover of book, back of card = qr code with discount coupon for book if purchased from Smashwords) to hand out at signings for folks who'd prefer the e-copy. You could do something similar, signing a bookmark that had a code on the back for e-copy, for example. Your mileage may vary, of course, but if you'd rather stick to e-copy, you should follow your gut and go for it.

  7. As a writer, I would like to emphasize the importance of steps 1&2: please, please, please, spend a lot of time on revision and editing. PLEASE. True, there are some writers whose first drafts are amazeballs-unicorn-magic right off the bat, but that's not usually the case. Any piece of writing meant for the public sphere – even a piece of flash fiction, or a teensy two-line poem – needs polishing. (In fact, I'd argue that the shorter the piece, the more carefully crafted it needs to be.)

    Besides, while self-publishing is a perfectly fine route, if you want to make a name for yourself and build your ethos as an author (which is harder in self-publishing, because a lot of people still look down on it) you have to produce really quality work. So: if you intend to publish, please PLEASE be serious about the revision process. It might take way longer than you expect, and you may have to lose sections/characters/plot points that you loved… but hey, you can always save those for your next novel/screenplay/poem/memoir!

  8. I wrote a novel in NaNoWriMo in 2012 and still haven't finished editing it. 🙁 This article definitely gave me some inspiration to finally get through some proofreading/editing and, hopefully, get to publish it at last!

    Just curious… what are the next steps for e-published books? Can large publishers get interested in it?

    • Go Jecka!

      If you're interested in e-publishing, definitely look into Smashwords. They distribute to Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, Apple iTunes, all the big guys. Kindle has its own platform, Kindle Direct Publishing/KDP but it's painless, and free.

      Large publishers these days tend to extend offers to people who exhibit a robust fan base to begin with, because you've already done the legwork in marketing and building a readership. While I have less experience with pitching to and being accepted by large traditional publishers, this experience helped me cement my goals to build my own small, indie publishing house. K&L Publishing put out our book, and while on some level that's technically self-publishing, on another, it's our brand, our indie publishing house, putting out a first book.

      I understand the appeal of traditional publishing, but I am drawn to this indie, offbeat publishing and how it's easier than it looks, and extremely fulfilling to be in the driver's seat for the entire process. Whichever way you go, good luck to you!

  9. Just a side note: you can publish with your own publishing imprint at either Smashwords ($9.99) or Amazon/Kindle (under $10; I'll have to go back and look). Useful if you aren't able to afford a chunk of ISBN numbers.

    Also, you're not required to register your book with the Copyright Office. The very act of publishing means it's copyrighted:

    "During the title upload process every author must confirm his or her rights to publish the content. This does not mean you need to register your copyright through the U.S. Copyright Office. UnderU. S. law, anything written in a fixed form – including an ebook – is automatically copyrighted. I verified this on the internet.

    "However, if you wish to obtain a registered copyright, it can be done via the Electronic Copyright Office for $35. This is the fastest and least expensive method. For a legal opinion, please consult a lawyer."
    https://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/copyright-isbn-royalty-pricing-with-amazon-publishing/

    Thanks for the rest of the information. Very helpful!

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