I was recently asked “I’m writing my first draft of my novel, and I’m planning to self-publish in about six months. What should I be doing now that I might not know about?”

After some thought, I composed the following, which you may also find helpful:

After I finished my first draft, I several months editing. If this is your first novel, expect that you’ll be a better writer by the end, and you’ll probably want to go and rewrite quite a bit. I made ten complete passes through my book before I thought it was ready to be published.

Hire an editor and/or a proofreader if possible. I didn’t have the money for a professional, so I hired a creative writing major who had extensive writing experience and paid $10/hour. It took roughly 2 hours per 10,000 words.

If you can’t afford that, solicit friends for readers and divide them into two groups. Use half for an early draft, correct all the mistakes they find, and then use the other half to review the next draft. Be explicit to them about the kind of feedback you need: typos vs character feedback, etc.

Stop here: Are you interested in trying traditional publishing? If so, send it out to literary agents. Agents take simultaneous submissions, so you can send to 20 to 50 agents, and find out in a few weeks if anyone is interested. By comparison, publishers want non-simultaneous submissions, and take longer to respond, so sending to publishers takes years. After you’ve been rejected by everyone or if you decide to forego the pain of rejection, proceed. (I’m being flippant here, but personally I do solicit agents before self-publishing.)

You can work on your cover design in parallel. You should probably hire someone. Books are judged by their covers, and will be a major factor in whether people decide to buy it.

I made the choice to do a print version as well as an ebook version. Expect that the print version will take a lot of time if you choose to do it. Generating a 95% perfect epub version takes 2 to 3 hours. Generating a 95% perfect print version takes 2 to 3 WEEKS.

You will want to have a blog or website. Have a user-friendly URL to give people. Look at the websites of authors you like, and see what they are doing.

Have a user-friendly title for your book. I thought Avogadro Corp was a great name for my book because it gives great search results. Until the first time I tried to tell someone in a crowded room what the title of my book was. It turns out that it’s hard to verbally tell people “Avogadro Corp” and have them remember it. They usually think avocado. Not helpful. You want something that is meaningful, easy to remember, easy to spell, and will get good Google search results.

The very last page in your book after the story ends should be a call to action: If you enjoyed this book, take a minute to tell a friend or post an Amazon review.

When you launch, think about some of the following ways to promote your work:

  • Friends and family appeal: This is where you ask friends and family to buy your book via Facebook, email, and more. Even if you think that everyone is on Facebook, email more effective. It sits in front of people, in their inboxes, and causes far more action than just a Facebook post. Family and friends will be far more likely to buy print versions than ebooks. If you happen to launch near Christmas, remind people they can buy a book as a gift.
  • Facebook ads: If you are similar to other authors or your book will appeal to readers with a very specific interest, you may be able to reach them cost effectively through targeted Facebook advertisements. I wrote a blog post on targeted Facebook advertising: http://www.williamhertling.com/2012/01/promoting-books-with-targeted-facebook.html
  • Depending on where you live, particularly if you live in a smaller town, you may be able to get local media coverage. Send review copies to newspapers.
  • Send free review copies to friends who have blogs with any reasonable amount of traffic. (Buy them the kindle version or send them an epub or send them a print copy. They’ll almost always reciprocate with a blog post.)
  • Offer to do guest posts for other blogs.
  • Do book blog tours. (I don’t really get this one, so search it out.)

Any other ideas that you’d share with a new, unpublished writer who plans to self-publish?

William Hertling