Five tips for successful self-publishing

Avoid asking friends/family to critique your manuscript

Asking someone who loves you to critique your manuscript can put them into an uncomfortable position. The first thing many of them will ask themselves is: “What do I say if I don’t think it’s any good?”. What you need is feedback from people who are objective, so consider engaging with a group of beta readers. You need advice from readers who know their stuff, ones that can not only tell you what is working, and what isn’t, but also articulate why!

There is a price, however. It’s best to build up brownie points as a beta reader yourself, before asking for feedback on your own work. Also, time spent with the group will help you gauge the group members and their competency. You need to feel comfortable with them, but more importantly, you should respect and value their advice. An alternative to this is to engage a structural editor, but that comes with a hefty price tag. A great beta reader group can be a godsend - so spend some time finding the right group.

Remember, crafting a book takes time and may involve multiple revisions. Quality beta readers can help you with that journey.

Takeaway: If you want feedback on your manuscript, seek out objective readers.

The final edit

You know what I am going to say here, but do consider… Bestselling and award-winning writer submits their latest manuscript to a publisher, what does the publisher do? Yes, sends it out to an editor. It’s an industry standard. Note that editing is not proofreading (that comes later). While they will correct any spelling or grammatical errors, editorial changes (which are suggestions, it is up to you, the writer, to accept or reject) can include: improvements to structure (macro and/or micro), fact checking (still cranky at the author who had me on a fruitless search for Scrubs on Netflix), ensuring consistency and minor matters that may have escaped your beta readers.

Yes, you can self-edit, and many self-published authors do. Of all the tips for self-editing that you’ll find, by far the best is to give yourself some serious space between completing the manuscript, and the final edit. You need fresh eyes. Shoving it in a drawer and going backpacking around South America would work a treat, but that’s an unaffordable ideal. So, just shove it in a drawer, get on with life, and forget about it for six months.

Takeaway: Fresh eyes are need for the final copyedit of your completed manuscript.

Designing the book

Designing and typesetting a book can be a daunting task, which is why this is an area many self-publishers look at outsourcing. While there are a number of applications that can be used to design a book, Adobe’s InDesign is the gold standard program within the industry. A designer using this program can also save you money on future titles once master pages and design elements are set.

Whether you are typesetting yourself, or using a designer, the first step is to establish the number of design elements your book needs — aside from paragraph text and chapter titles, does your story also include narrative elements like text messages, quotations or song lyrics? Perhaps you’d like to embellish the text design with a fancy dropped cap for the first paragraph of each chapter, or add in some text ornaments?

Once you have ascertained the number of typographical designs your book needs, it’s time to set styles in Word.  This will save you (or a professional typesetter) time later on. You can use the styles that Word provides or create your own — e.g. create one called ‘opening par’, and then go through the manuscript, highlight each opening paragraph and set that to the style you’ve just created. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, as you (or your typesetter) will fine tune the actual design later. Rinse and repeat with the other style designs your manuscript calls for.

If using a book designer, once the document is imported into their typesetting program, the design elements they’ve created in the application they’re using will override Word’s.  By liaising with your book designer, and doing some donkey work yourself, you can get a quick turnaround from manuscript to typeset copy and future titles will almost format themselves.

If setting yourself, play around with different looks for each text design element.  Once you’re happy, right click in your style menu and tell Word to update that style to match the highlighted text.

Takeaway: Learn how to use styles. Get proficient and you could be typesetting as you write.

Designing the cover

Unless you have graphic design skills, cover design is another area you may consider outsourcing to a professional. Yes, there are programs (both free or quite cheap) you can use to create your own covers, but you might find yourself having to work with only a finite number of templates. A good graphic designer can individually design a cover template which will give your titles a consistent ‘look’ that is unique and recognisably yours. With a cleverly designed template, creating covers for subsequent titles may simply involve change of title (derr), and a different cover pic — a 5-minute job.

On the matter of cover pics, there are plenty of free stock photos available.  However, if you are willing to pay for a stock photo, not only are you far less likely to see it used elsewhere, you get much more choice and variety. If going the self-design route with an off-the-shelf template, paying for a photo could help your book stand out from the crowd.

Finally, e-books don’t have a back cover, but you still need a blurb. In traditional publishing houses this was generally written by the publisher. You might like to get back to your beta readers and ask them to write the blurb for you.

Takeaway: You can tell a book by its cover.

The last step - proofreading

You have a typeset book, you have a cover and you have a blurb, but don’t hit the launch button just yet. The whole shebang needs to be looked over by a proofreader. Proofreading is not just about spelling and grammar (which should have been corrected during editing), a proofreader will also pick up on any formatting errors and spacing problems. When taking in editorial corrections new errors can creep in (like an extra space), or perhaps the typesetting program failed to put into itals the occasional italicised word in the paragraph text?

If you’ve engaged an editor and typesetter, and have a keen eye for detail, then the final proofreading is something you may consider doing yourself. However, if you have self-edited and/or self-typeset, your should seriously consider engaging a professional proofreader. You owe it to your readers that your book is as squeaky clean as it can be and not littered with typos.

As to the cover and blurb, even if you’ve engaged a designer do get these elements double-checked as an error here is not just embarrassing, it will affect sales. If engaging a proofreader, get them to check the cover.

Takeaway: If you’ve done everything yourself, this is the one job you should outsource, even if it is to a pedantic friend (and my bet is that they're a Virgo!).

If you would like to comment about this post please visit my Facebook page.