Self-publishing…decisions, decision, decisions

My new life chapter one concept for fresh start, new year resoluIf you’re considering going indie, many decisions need to be made. I worried about the process, the how-to, but after releasing my first self-published title (Unexpected Consequences) and preparing for the second (Breeder 3: Warrior), I discovered it wasn’t  the process that was hard, it was all the decisions before that point. Once a course of action is set, the rest is easy-peasy.

Here are some considerations:

  • Do you publish under your author name or a “company” name? Using your
    My first self published book. Cover designed by Syneca Featherstone. Click photo for buy link.

    My first self published book. Cover designed by Syneca Featherstone. Click photo for buy link.

    author name is the simplest way—but self-publishing still carries a bit of stigma and you may want a separate company-sounding name to avoid that. I assume (someone correct me if I’m wrong) that using a company name requires forming an LLC, filling out paperwork, paying a fee, and getting a local business license (more paperwork and fees). I didn’t want to go through all of that, and if anyone asks if I’ve self-published, I’m going to say yes anyway, so I decided to use my own name.

  • ISBN or no ISBN? You don’t need one to self-publish, and they’re expensive.  Amazon assigns your book their ASIN anyway, and other sites have numbers too. However, an ISBN identifies you as the publisher and encodes the book with a lot of other info.  And, as I serendipitously discovered, if one’s book is re-released with a new ISBN and the previous book had an ISBN, the reviews will carry over! You can buy a block of 10 ISBNs from Bowker for $275-$295 (they’re currently on sale). A single IBSN is $125. However, each format requires its own ISBN (so, one for Kindle, one for Nook, one for pdf etc.)
  • Where will you publish? Amazon is the big kahuna. You can easily “get by” with publishing exclusively on Amazon. And there are benefits for doing so. However, you may not want to put all your eggs in one basket. So you may want to consider Nook Press, ARe, Smashwords, Sony.  You must decide if you only going to e-publish. Or will you do a Print-on-Demand book or Audio? Foreign translations? But again, you can start simple and as you gain confidence, expand your repertoire.
  • How much do you want to do yourself? You can do as little or as much as you want. There are folks who will “help” you self-publish to the extent that it will almost be like working with a publisher. Or you can do everything yourself. Or any degree in the middle.
  • Finding and hiring an editor. You know those death-defying stunts you see on TV with the fine print says, “don’t try this at home?” Editing should come with a similar disclaimer.  You cannot edit your own manuscript! (And your bestie who was good in English doesn’t count either). You will need a content editor who can identify plot holes, shallow characterizations, POV shifts, pacing problems, etc. and a line/copy editor who will correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. These should be two different people. Ask your author friends for recommendations. Is there a self-published book that you thought was well done? Ask the author who she/he used. Just about every book credits the editor. Google her/him.
  • Finding and hiring a cover artist. Another stunt with a disclaimer. Hire a professional. Again, ask around. Cover artists all have websites. Check out their work. Find an artist who has done covers for books in your genre. You can buy“pre-made” covers, but custom covers are relatively inexpensive. You might pay $40 for a pre-made one, but you can get a custom one for as little as $75-80.  If you’ve worked with a publisher and liked your cover artist, chances are that person freelances. Track him down. (ditto for editors!).
Artist Mina Carter did the cover of Warrior, to be released Oct. 21

Artist Mina Carter did the cover of Warrior, to be released Oct. 21

I’d had 15 books published with four different publishers before I decided to go indie. To my surprise, self-publishing isn’t that much more work at all. When I used a publisher, I still worked with editors and cover artists, and did ALL my own promotion.  A lot of time was wasted waiting for the publisher to act. (Yeah, I know they’re busy with other authors’ books. But when you’re the self-publisher, the only book in the queue is yours). The time I save not waiting more than makes up for the initial legwork.

If you’re considering self-publishing, here are two ‘must read’ books:

The Naked Truth about Self-Publishing by the Indie Voice – everything, literally everything, you ever wanted to know about self-pubbing. A lot of how-to and things to consider. And the author stories are inspirational. I doubt that there is a better book on self-publishing than this one.

Publish on Amazon Kindle with Kindle Direct Publishing – Amazon’s step-by-step free instructions for self-publishing on its site. You can also get this a PDF download. If you’re wondering if you can do-it-yourself, check this out.

Questions?  Other considerations prospective indies should take into account:

♥ ♥ ♥

Coming up this week:

Wednesday, Oct. 1, A spotlight on Sue Lyndon and her first indie book, Maid to Submit

Thursday, Oct. 2, An interview with a vampire of Loose Morals by Darling Adams aka Renee Rose

Friday, Oct. 3, Don’t take it personally–it’s just business. How many times have you heard that? Here’s my take on the business of writing.

Saturday, Oct. 4, Another eight sentence excerpt from Warrior, the third Breeder sci-fi romance.

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38 Responses to Self-publishing…decisions, decision, decisions

  1. Livia Grant says:

    As always, Cara, this post is a wealth of knowledge. Lots of important info and I appreciate your sharing your lessons learned as you go through the self-pub journey.

  2. Just a quick comment on the ISBN thing – if you choose not to be Amazon-exclusive, you can get a free ISBN from Smashwords.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Will that ISBN identity the author as the publisher–or will it list Smashwords as the publisher?

      • It lists Smashwords as the publisher, but as Cassandra said, it doesn’t seem to matter. That being said, I’ve self-pubbed without an ISBN all year on Amazon. It’s only a couple of booksellers that require ISBN. (Apple, maybe?)

        Another important consideration of Amazon-exclusive or not is the impact of Kindle Unlimited. Right now, I’m finding ~45% of my ‘sales’ are borrows on Kindle Unlimited. Borrows impact your sales rankings, so if you choose to forgo that revenue stream, your sales ranking will be affected by it as well. It’s worth evaluating if the income you get from other streams will beat the Kindle Unlimited income. (Each Amazon-exclusive period is 90-days long, so you aren’t signing up for a lifetime commitment here.)

        • Cara Bristol says:

          That’s something I’m evaluating now, Tara. Ninety percent of my income comes from Amazon–I have a feeling all the other sites won’t come close to the income I would make from the “borrows.”

  3. You don’t need an LLC to publish under a “name”. My indie stuff is pubbed under C-Squared Publishing. Also, the free ISBN through Smashwords lists them as the publisher but IMO not in any place where it matters. I’ve chosen not to spend money on ISBN’s because it doesn’t seem to matter. Additionally one ISBN covers all formats except print.

  4. Great post. My first book was accepted by a publisher and it was a good move at the time, because the costs for editing, cover design etc can be quite steep at first and if you haven’t made your name in the world of books, you have no idea if you’ll ever recoup that initial outlay. Once you’ve made a name for yourself, however, self publishing becomes a lot more attractive. You have total control over all the small details and you reap more of the benefits 🙂

    • Cara Bristol says:

      It would be financially challenging to start out Indie. I estimate that I’ll spend about $725 to self-publish (2 editors), formatting, ISBN ($27) and cover art to produce Warrior. If I didn’t have good sales under my belt, it would be a heavy hit. Going with a publisher at first is not a bad way to go. I would do it again, and I would pick Loose Id again. But I think the time is right for me to go indie.

  5. FWIW, I haven’t seen an author who’s made a lot of money through KU. If there are authors who have, I’d love to know about them. Most of the ones I’ve spoken to said they basically got screwed by staying with Amazon entirely and having KU lends.

  6. Thanks for your post Cara. I think for new authors, going with a publisher who publishes in your genre (especially if it’s as specific as spanking) is a good call. Get your name out there and start to gain an audience. Plus it’s easy – they do cover, editing, etc…however you lose control of cover, pricing, etc… It’s something I’d like to try and maybe do a little testing of the waters first.

    The KU program is interesting but it also is discouraging in that Amazon counts an 18 page chapter as a book and those top seller lists are changing because of this. I’m curious to see how things go with KU over the next few months.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I’m going to be watching KU too. My hunch is the borrow reimbursement works out better for the author if your book is cheaply priced.

  7. All very interesting. Thanks. I have several books in KU and wasn’t sure if the amount paid for borrows was based on the price of the book, but it looks like all borrows are paid the same. But…does it then make sense to charge a bit more per book so that the borrower feels like they are getting more bang for their monthly fee? I just joined KU but when I looked for my single monthly borrow as a Prime member, I always tried to find something priced over $2.99 just to feel like I got a good deal.

    Ditto what Cassandra said about a company name. You’re a sole proprietor and can use a company name. An LLC or incorporation takes time, money and paperwork, but provides certain protections that probably aren’t necessary for publishing.

    Thanks for the previews of upcoming posts. They look good!

  8. Viv says:

    Thanks for reminding me again why I do not want to do this. 🙂 Warrior cover looks fabulous. Can’t wait for this book!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thanks, Viv. It seems overwhelming at first–but it’s really not. It is actually far simpler than working with a publisher. These are the tasks you DON’T have to:
      * Write a query
      * Write synopsis
      * Change your story in ways you don’t want to
      * Fill out cover art forms
      * Fill out blurb forms
      * And wait…for the acceptance, for the contract itself, for the edits, for more edits, for a release date, for the cover art
      And you get your royalties much faster–and make more off them.

  9. Thank you so much for such an informational post. I’m thankful I went with a publisher first. I have only published two books with Loose Id and they are a wonderful publisher but like you Cara, I did not like the wait time between edits, acceptance, and such. Now I, with self publishing, can use a professional service to publish the quality work I choose to write. The freedom and revenue are endless if a writer is willing to put the time in. I chose to start a publishing business for my releases, Sinful Escapes Publishing. The process was simple. I registered my business with the government, paid $35, and got approved. I’m so excited for this adventure. All this information everyone is sharing is so helpful.

  10. Laurel Lasky says:

    Great post. I have a WIP and the post offers info I didn’t know.

  11. I’m so glad I clicked on your blog post tonight. I indie published my first novel and was made to feel like I committed a sin by some book stores and vendors. I’ve also used publishers and publish assist people to help me with my books. Lately I’ve been thinking about going back to being indie again. I’m tired of waiting on publishers to send me second and third round edits to see a project completed. I know they have many authors to help but time is money. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Self-publishing is SUCH a different animal now. I self-published a novel about 15 years ago before Print on Demand, before epublishing. It was very hard to make a go of it back then. Distribution was next to impossible. Now, it is completely different.

  12. Jaye Peaches says:

    This post is very informative and reflects much of what I’ve discovered. I started out self-publishing and used it as a learning experience, rather than to seek commercial success. If you are already a published author with a readership base then taking this route is much easier when it comes to marketing and promos – your pen name is known.
    I opted to go for different distributors rather than lock into Amazon. With little money to spent I chose to have eye-catching cover art to grab attention. Now I can afford to splash out on editing too. Creative control over your books is a big advantage, so is taking the full cut of the book rather than a percentage. However, it is a lonely business where learning from mistakes is a necessity and marketing a constant challenge. I should say when I wrote the books I had no plans to publish them, that decision came much later, so my time hasn’t been taken into account, but writing is a time intensive activity.
    I didn’t bother with an ISBN – Smashwords have their own and the ASIN is increasingly acceptable as a book number. If you’re starting out and want to have an easy win giving away your book on ARe pushes it up on to the bestseller quickly and is a good marketing ploy, however, once you’re off the top seller lists your book can vanish very quickly as the sheer volume of books being published in this genre ticks over at rate.
    If I had more money to spend, I’d invest in more advertising, but generally, I’ve stuck to the notion my self-published books are not money makers but my creations to enjoy and I write books for publishers to provide the income. Maybe one day that will be reversed 🙂
    Thanks for the post.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      One thing I’ve learned is that the market is ever-changing and you have to stay current. What used to “work” doesn’t anymore, and now there are new things.

      Having a “name” definitely helps with being successful at indie publishing, but I’m not sure that that is any different than being with a publisher. Being with publisher X doesn’t give you any more visibility, although, it might give you a tad more credibility, which might make people more apt to take a chance on a newbie. There is still some stigma attached to being self-published.

      But, I have seen many authors start out as indies and make a killing–they zoom right past all the traditionally published authors because they have complete control over their product.

  13. Sue Lyndon says:

    Good article, Cara. The thing that has always confused me most are the ISBNs. I’ve spent hours Googling whether or not they are really necessary and it seems everyone has their own opinion about this. Seems like a good idea to buy them in bulk though!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I don’t think they are “necessary.” Not for ebook publishing. I think they ARE necessary for print. If you want to get in brick and mortar bookstore, you need the ISBN.

      Aside from that, I personally think it adds an extra layer of professionalism to the product, but for self-publishing, it’s strictly a matter of preference. And for authors who are just starting out and are on a very tight budget, it IS one area where they can trim some costs.

      The NAME thing is what really confused me–trying to figure out what was required if I used a “publishing name” v. my author name.

  14. Rollin Hand says:

    I’ve dealt with all the issues you raise because, except for two books published through Stormy Night, I’m self pub all the way –34 books. This is my two year anniversary this Fall. I don’t bother with ISBN’s. I’m not in print anyway. I’m mostly self edited but now I have a beta reader who helps out. That’s very useful. I also do my own covers. They tend to be simple, but I made that decision based upon the fact that in spanking erotica you don’t need to be fancy. Basically the cover needs to convey the subject matter to the casual browser and I can do that with what I have on hand.
    KU is an interesting new thing. I’m not positioned to put anything in it because all my books are published across several platforms. I use Draft2Digital to get my books into B&N, Apple, ARe, Kobo,etc. It’s something to watch though. I used to think that I made more going with multiple retailers, but Amazon is still the big dog and at some point I’ll reassess exclusivity with Zon and KU.
    You don’t need an LLC to be a publisher. I just use an ABN, DT Publications, which is the same basically as Rollin Hand as a sole proprietor.
    It’s working because I have a fan base now, small but enthusiastic. That’s based, I’m convinced, on author name recognition. The market for spanking erotica is smaller than for romance by a wide margin. Romance (with spanking) has a much broader appeal and caters to readers who are not necessarily spankophiles, but who do like kinky and steamy with their alpha males and feisty heroines.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thanks, Rollin for sharing. That’s impressive–34 books in 2 years. And I know you work as an attorney too. So doubly impressive.

  15. JB Schroeder says:

    Cara, I am in the exact same place & was very excited to see your post! Been asking myself the same Q’s & realized just the other day, that this was the overwhelming part…once I start ticking off the boxes, it should all feel do-able. Glad to hear you reiterate that, and to hear there’s a current Bowker’s sale! As always–thanks!

  16. Congrats Cara. I’ve self pubbed my 4 books and its not as hard as I thought either. There is a lot of work on marketing and trying to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. I loved that many of the indie authors have been generous in sharing their knowledge along the way.

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