How to Set Up Your Self-Published Book for Preorder

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For the independently published author, preorders can be an important component of a successful marketing strategy. A significant majority of high-earning self-publishers employ this tactic as part of their launch campaign.* Whether an author is looking for a way to sell their book at an event prior to their publication date, wants to take advantage of potential sales during a prerelease publicity campaign, or simply wants to provide the more traditional offerings of a publishing house to their readers, setting up preorders is a smart choice.

Whether your preorder is for a print or digital edition, you should plan to post only publication-ready files. Attempting to get your book available for preorder by posting earlier versions of your files comes with the real risk of releasing incomplete iterations of your cover or manuscript. Instead of trying to figure out “workarounds” to get your book available for preorder before the files are ready, it’s worth setting your schedule for publication with a nice big preorder cushion time frame between when your final files are uploaded and when the book is on sale.

Here’s how to do it.

For Physical Books

  1. Post distribution-ready FINAL interior and cover files to IngramSpark.
  2. Set the on-sale date and the publication date as the SAME day in the future.
  3. Approve e-proofs once the files clear IngramSpark’s premedia check.
  4. Enable the title for distribution. Again, this step should be completed only if print proofs have already been ordered and approved.
  5. The preorder should be available within IngramSpark’s distribution network in one to six weeks.

For Ebooks

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP):

  1. Upload your final, distribution-ready mobi and cover files.
  2. Select the option to “Make a Kindle e-book available for pre-order.”
  3. Set a date in the future for the preorder release.
  4. The ebook will release at midnight local time in each marketplace on the on-sale date, and the status will automatically update from “preorder” to “live.”

Smashwords:

Option 1 (book is complete):

  1. Upload the cover and EPUB files.
  2. On the “Publish” page, click “Make It a Preorder.”

Option 2 (book is not complete):

  1. Unlike with IngramSpark and KDP, “assetless” preorders are an option through Smashwords. This means you can set up an ebook preorder prior to the final files being ready. However, do NOT upload an unfinished draft of the book. Instead, select the option “I will upload my final formatted manuscript later.”
  2. Next, select the on-sale date.
  3. Upload your final file at least ten days before the on-sale date to be sure it has time to pass Smashwords’ quality checks.

For a coordinated release date, we recommend establishing one publication date for all editions of your book: hardcover, paperback, and ebook. The benefit of this coordinated preorder approach is that any sales made prior to your pub date appear as final sales on your official release, with the potential to boost your ranking on sites like Amazon.com.

* According to BookBaby’s recent large survey of self-published authors. High-earning means $5,000 in sales or more.

Thinking About an Audiobook Edition? Start Here.

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At Girl Friday, we aim to be a one-stop shop—taking care of all aspects of the publishing process for our clients. That said, we’re aware of the limitations of our expertise, so we pull in strategic partners for certain facets of the process. Audiobook production is one of those areas where we partner with high-quality production agencies to bring our indie authors the best possible experience and product.

We took a moment to sit down with David Markowitz, Head of Strategy and Partnerships at ListenUp Audiobooks, to discuss the audiobook landscape and some tips for independent authors who are making their first foray into the format.

GFP: What does ListenUp do, and how does your approach differ from other audiobook production companies, such as ACX?

David: There are a lot of options in the audio space for indies, so choosing the right one is the first task. I’d say there are three tiers of service available to indies. The first is DIY: you find a narrator, perhaps through a listing on Craigslist or Fiverr, and hire them directly. They’ll record your book and you need to figure out how to get it up on distribution platforms, make the cover art, and promote it effectively to get it in your readers’ hands.

The second tier is Amazon’s ACX platform, which is the largest audio “content exchange platform”—it’s like a dating service site for people seeking and offering audio services. It allows authors to fill out the type of narrator they’re looking for, then people self-select and audition for your listing, you choose one, and ACX handles distribution of the finished book. While this is a better model than DIY, there’s a lot of luck involved in finding the right narrator match—and the terms highly favor exclusive distribution to Audible.

There are a small handful of companies in the full-service tier; this is where ListenUp is positioned. Unlike many of our competitors, who are music studios that do audiobooks on the side, ListenUp is entirely dedicated to audiobooks. We work with all the major publishers to produce high-quality audiobooks and bring the same services to Indie authors. (It’s not unlike Girl Friday’s business model.) When you work with ListenUp, we’re hand-selecting the narrator for you from a talented pool, managing their work, navigating the rules and regulations, and facilitating broader distribution—including the library market, other retailers outside of Audible, and the international market.

GFP: What's the biggest challenge in creating a high-quality audiobook? 

David: The audiobook market is growing rapidly with our ever-more-efficient society. Driving to work now feels like a waste of time if you’re not listening to a podcast. More and more people squeeze in their pleasure reading on their commute, or while exercising, via audio formats. As the market for audiobooks gets more flooded with content, quality matters—the microphone in the closet model is no longer okay with listeners, who have come to expect a more polished listening experience. As an independent author trying to make an audiobook for the first time, vetting the pool of potential narrators may be the biggest hurdle—they just don’t know what to look for in the hiring process and what pitfalls to avoid. And that’s an expensive mistake to make.    

GFP: What categories sell best in audiobook format? Are there genres that perform less well? 

David: In general, self-help and business books are strong-selling areas for audio. Also, genre fiction series do quite well, particularly sci-fi, thriller, true crime, or romance. Less popular and effective in audio are the more esoteric literary fiction titles.

GFP: What's a single piece of advice you have for authors when it comes to audiobooks? 

David: You should ALWAYS be reading your book aloud while writing it.

Tips from Successful Writers About Publishing Independently

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“Success” in book publishing is an ill-defined metric. We often talk to authors at the beginning of the process about what success would look like to them, for that particular book. It’s a worthy question to ask in order to understand what you’re setting out to achieve and to help set both realistic expectations and a strategy to get there.

To celebrate Indie Author Day this year, we’ve asked a few of our authors for their view on what it was that made their books successful. Here’s what they had to say.

What do you think was the most important piece of the puzzle in terms of your book’s success?

NIEA Award–winning novelist ANDREA THOME: No one will take you seriously as an author if your work isn’t clean as a whistle. I’m grateful to have worked with the same team of editors for all three of my books, and it’s made all the difference. Having my second book ready as an advance reader copy more than three months before my release date was critical to effectively marketing it. And having a publicist that specialized in literary publicity has been key. It’s also very important to have a consistent presence on social media and be willing to spend the time growing your base. Girl Friday’s “digital audit” was a huge eye-opener for me in terms of showing me where I needed development.

IPPY Award–winning author SALLY GAGLINI: The cover, superbly designed by GFP, and the book’s Amazon ranking were key in spurring sales: it was both a bestseller and #1 new release in its category. After the book was out a little less than a year, it won a silver IPPY—which boosted sales again. Educate yourself by learning as much as you can before you turn the ignition key.

Kirkus-starred, Amazon #1 bestselling author BRIAN RUTENBERG: Choosing a great editor was the single most important aspect of my book’s success. I should clarify that I am not a writer but a painter who wrote a book. Since I wrote Clear Seeing Place over a four-year period, I found it beneficial to pass my manuscript through two editing stages, which guided me in cutting out repetitive clutter and honing my points down into clear language.

Internationally published, Amazon #1 bestselling author BOB LEE: It’s a little like asking which piece of the jigsaw puzzle is most important. The last piece completes the picture but is useless unless every other piece is in place. To start, the book must fully “look the part.” It’s hard enough to compete with established publishers, so why put yourself at a disadvantage before you even start? Pay as much attention to getting cover, layout, structure, etc. right as the best-resourced publisher would.

In my case, Amazon ranking has been key. I got the book to #1 on Amazon.co.uk in the “International Business” category with some investment of time and money (profit sacrificed, to be precise, by buying the books from my own company, set up as a vendor on Amazon, rather than simply fulfilling orders “invisibly” from my own stock). I found it easier to get attention from potential distributors when my book ranked, and it provided a degree of reassurance to potential purchasers. But I also believe that you only need to hit a high spot once, because whatever potential advantages there might be in staying in the top 20 are unlikely to be worth the time and money involved.

Is the reality of being a self-publisher different than what you expected? How?

ANDREA: I had no idea how much work it was going to be. It’s expensive and very time-consuming, but if you really want to retain creative control of your work and your brand, there is no better way.

BRIAN: My first book was published by a traditional publisher (Radius Books). It was a wonderful experience, but I wanted to have more creative freedom with my second book. GFP provided the same level of service, expertise, and polish that a top traditional publishing house offers. Plus, I got the financial boost of low production costs and higher royalties. The book is doing better than I ever dreamt it could.

BOB: Reality—it’s a far bigger thrill, and there is a certain cache, to being a published author. It would all be wonderful if it wasn’t so bloody difficult to actually sell books. Quite easy to get exposure, publicity, and interest, but converting that to sales is so hard!

Based on your experience, what’s one piece of advice you could give to an author ready to start this process?

ANDREA: Be prepared to invest time and a lot of effort. It might take you a few books to get some traction, unless you’re a leprechaun or in the right place at the right time. Keep doing it because you love to write. Writing is the reward.

SALLY: Hire Girl Friday Productions. Professional, passionate, and extraordinarily talented, they are worth every penny you will spend. And . . . as an added bonus, you will sleep at night.

BRIAN: Write about stuff you really know, and avoid the passive voice.

BOB: Accept that your first drafts will not be published in that format, so they don’t need to be perfect, or even very good. They just need to be. Share your work early and often. I made the mistake in the beginning of allowing myself to be self-conscious of my efforts, maybe terrified of having my work judged and found wanting, so I protected myself by not showing it to others.

Start with a clear vision of how you want to feel when you hand a published copy of your book to another person. You don’t want to have to apologize, or explain, or justify, or share how it could be so much better if only you had had more X or less Y. Your book will be around—potentially—forever. It might be the only book you will ever write. Make it the best book that you possibly can. And when you hand the book to somebody, and they notice the beautiful cover, the beautiful layout, the beautiful writing, and compliment you on an outstanding achievement, accept the compliment and resist the very human temptation to bat it away.

In the Trenches of Indie Publishing: One Author's Story

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 Production editor Nicole with author Mark Lipton at the NYC launch of  Mean Men , September 5, 2017

Production editor Nicole with author Mark Lipton at the NYC launch of Mean Men, September 5, 2017

Mark Lipton is an independently published author whose book Mean Men released on September 5, 2017, to rave reviews. Mark is graduate professor of management at the New School in New York City and for over forty years has been a trusted adviser to Fortune 500 corporations, think tanks, nonprofits, international NGOs, and start-ups. His work has inspired his writing for the Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, and Journal of Management Consulting, as well as his first book, Guiding Growth: How Vision Keeps Companies on Course, which was traditionally published.

After the flurry of launch events for Mean Men, we took a moment to catch up with Mark about key takeaways from his first journey into self-publishing.

Meghan Harvey: You've published a book before through a traditional publisher. What made you choose to publish Mean Men independently?

Mark Lipton: A clear vision for Mean Men came into view after my research was complete. As I shopped the rough manuscript to large publishing houses, all I heard was how they wanted to refocus it in a direction they wanted. If I would only change some key elements of the narrative, they would give me a contract. I didn’t want to publish their book; I wanted to publish my book. I experienced more than a touch of arrogance from some of the big publishers, whose attitude was “We know how to create and sell books, you don’t.” And I realized from my prior experience with a large, prestigious publisher that they do not possess magical insight to the market or necessarily try to fully understand the author’s intent. I didn’t have all the answers, but I could see there was a viable alternative to the traditional route.

MH: The landscape of services to help authors self-publish is quite diverse. Why did you choose to work with Girl Friday on this book?

ML: One word: Relationship. I started working with Girl Friday in “book doctor” mode for structural editing. Partnering with Leslie Miller at GFP was a luxurious experience because she understands the importance of a trusting relationship in this work, and in the most natural ways, we bonded and had fun tightening the manuscript. We also continued to shop the manuscript to large, established publishers, and it was then that I realized, “I can go in a different direction for this book; I could do it myself with the team at GFP.” My trust in her led me to assume, by virtue of her role at GFP, that I would be able to develop the same type of trusting relationships with others there. That proved to be the case. The second reason was their seamless set of offerings. They’re a one-stop shop.

MH: How did your expectations at the outset of the project differ from the outcome of your experience?

ML: Due to the content of the book, and the events unfolding after the presidential elections, I realized I needed to launch the book very quickly. GFP easily accommodated this need. While it felt like we were moving at warp speed with many of the specialized pros at GFP working on their respective elements to bring the book to life, I never for a moment questioned that I was in the best, most-qualified hands possible. My expectations were high and they were met.

MH: Was there anything that surprised (or delighted) you about the bookmaking process with GFP?

ML: Well, I was certainly delighted that every single person I worked with at GFP was at the top of their professional game, incredibly pleasant to work with, and delivered on each and every promise. I could not ask for more than that. They set a bar pretty high on these factors and I wonder now if I could actually go back to an established large publishing house.

MH: Can you explain to other authors reading this why having a production editor was so important?

ML: I was in awe of my production editor’s ability to keep a dozen plates spinning in the air simultaneously, and to give me confidence none would slip. It’s high-pressure work, with the production editor essential to bringing all the pieces together. Designing the cover and interior, copyediting, fact-checking, indexing, and creating schedules to assure that those plates not only keep spinning but also that every detail comes together in time for launch day. Whew! A production editor puts so many decisions in front of the author that it can feel overwhelming at times. But a great production editor can do that and give the author the confidence that everything will be fine. A feeling of true partnership between the author and production editor is essential . . . and I don’t think many of them have that human touch required to make it a fine experience for the author while simultaneously being a hard-core project manager.

MH: What advice would you give to authors at the beginning of this journey?

ML: Ask yourself, are the people I choose to work with truly engaged with my vision, the book I want to produce? Search your gut for first impressions. Do your initial interactions suggest the professionals you choose to work with want not only to help create a great book but also to realize that it takes a strong, trusting relationship to bring it all to reality while minimizing any misunderstanding and conflict? Trust your gut.

Find out more about Mark at www.marklipton.com.

5 Indie Pub Thought Leaders to Listen To

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If you've started sniffing around about self-publishing your book, you know that publishing independently is not for the faint-of-heart. It requires an entrepreneurial spirit and entails some serious on-the-job learning. There's tons of information online about how to get from draft to published—but how much of it is good advice? Wading through it all and finding resources to trust is tough and time-consuming.

Here's a list of a few of our favorite thought leaders in independent publishing. These folks not only are the smartest out there, but they’re creating excellent content and making it available online. Subscribe to their newsletters and follow their social accounts—if you learn from only these and skip the rest of the noise, you can rest assured that you're getting the best information out there.

Jane Friedman @JaneFriedman

If you start researching self-publishing, it seems that all roads lead to Jane. That's with good reason: with twenty years of experience in the publishing industry, she understands both the traditional business of books as well as the quickly evolving digital landscape that's most relevant to indie authors. She is a champion of the professional independent publisher and shares an incredible volume of relevant content for indies, from writing advice all the way through branding, marketing, and promotion strategies. Jane has published several books on self-publishing and cofounded top-notch industry newsletter The Hot Sheet.

Orna Ross @OrnaRoss

Orna Ross understands the indie author—because she is one. Now an award-winning, bestselling indie author, she founded the Alliance of Independent Authors as a nonprofit resource for self-published authors. Not only is she a great person to follow, but “ALLi” maintains a list of vetted service providers, a valuable resource for self-publishers.

Peter McCarthy @petermccarthy

I’ve attended many indie conferences around the country, and I never miss a chance to see Peter McCarthy speak. With a history in traditional publishing, he knows the book business in and out, but is also an absolute guru when it comes to digital marketing—one of the smartest brains around. His most recent venture, Optiq.ly, is an amazing monitoring tool for author marketing and sales (I got to see a sneak preview of how it works), that gives authors real-time feedback on what is and isn’t working well so they can make valuable adjustments to their marketing strategy. Yes, there are so many online “tools” for authors to consider—but this is one that’s definitely worth watching.   

Data Guy @authorearnings

If Peter McCarthy was one of the smartest brains in the business, then Data Guy is the other one. Cofounded with self-pub bestselling author Hugh Howey, Data Guy’s company Author Earnings is a sales-data gathering machine (quite sure that’s not the technical term) that crawls Amazon to compile comprehensive snapshots of sales for all books. Why does that matter? Because traditional sales data (tracked by Nielsen and AAP) does not capture books that are sold through Amazon—Amazon doesn’t release that data. And yet, the vast majority of indie-published books are sold through Amazon. Author Earnings built a web crawler that compiles key stats from each book Amazon page to form a total picture of sales. Author Earnings’ quarterly reports are excellent resources, for example, when setting your retail price: you can rely on real data to know what price points work best for what formats by genre.

Penny Sansevieri @Bookgal

Penny is a crack-shot marketer who founded Author Marketing Experts—but more than that, she’s a great blogger. If you find yourself stuck in a rut with your book marketing, click over to her blog and you’ll find tons of ideas to jump-start your strategy and move the needle on your brand-building endeavors.  

Girl Friday @GirlFridayProd

Overly bold to include ourselves here? I don’t think so! We are experts at high-quality bookmaking—from writing to editorial and design to production, and we’ve been in business doing so for traditional publishers and indies alike for over eleven years. With so many service providers out there preying on self-publishers, our mission is to be the girls you can trust. Not only is our high-quality bookmaking process watertight, but our marketing consulting work is strategic and data-driven. Don’t miss our monthly newsletter, The Book Report.

Did we miss anyone, in your opinion? Leave a comment to let us know who you would add to this list.

Peek Inside: Self-Publishing Your Children’s Book Successfully

We all remember the magic of those first childhood picture books. The illustrations, the clever story, all managing to captivate us with so few words and very few pages. Those childhood memories are why so many people want to publish a kids’ book of their own. The economy of words, the interplay with the artist, and the specificity of the genre are what make that so tricky to do successfully, especially without a traditional publisher. Kristin caught up with Canadian self-publishing client and children’s author Heather Gordon (Does the Queen Fart?) to get her take on the keys to success. 

Where did the idea for your book come from and what motivated your characters? 
 
For many years, I have wanted to write a children’s book. I could never land on the right idea until the day that the title Does the Queen Fart? came to me, and from that moment on I knew it was the book I had to write.

I’ve always found farts amusing, and then having kids thrust farting into my life in a big way. Valentine’s “look” of a sweet boy with a mop of blond curls was loosely based on my son, who is a few years younger than the character. I think we all know mothers who are a little more conservative in the bum department and see farting and burping as extremely rude. Valentine’s mum wasn’t a hard character to bring to life.

What about self-publishing was more appealing to you than going with a traditional publisher? 
 
My husband is a published author, so I watched that process intently. I saw the obvious benefits and challenges in pursuing the traditional route. Early on, I had a few discussions with industry folks and realized “farts” were a polarizing subject. I decided to self-publish so I could create the exact book I wanted. The book I envisioned promoted farts as a good thing and something to be celebrated. Not all mums agree with that last statement. 

This is really interesting to me! Did you get the sense that a publisher would make you change the book to be more acceptable or less controversial?

I got the sense that the topic of farting was a nonstarter for some publishers. So there was really no way to change the book to make it more acceptable, given the whole book is centered around gas. I knew of examples of successful fart books (such as Walter the Farting Dog), but I think they are rare. Perhaps if I had hunted longer, I would have found a home at a publisher. However, I hadn’t sourced an agent and I was eager to publish my book.

You worked with an illustrator on your book. What was it like to see your characters and story come to life in this way? 
 
It was amazing! Marko Rop gave my characters the look and soul they deserved and really brought out the fun and playfulness I was after. In my case, Marko was fantastic and very willing to collaborate to create the vision. I do recall being unsure at first about the design of the mother, but she grew on me and now she feels perfect.

Print-on-demand illustrated children’s books are less common than other genres. Did you find print on demand limited any aspects of your book project—or did it provide any particular positives? 
 
Print on demand limits your ability to sell hardcover books, so that was disappointing. But, in my case, I had several hundred printed myself and sold them through various outlets.

You used IngramSpark to produce hardcover books, a choice many people avoid due to price. Did you make money on those? How did you sell them—through consignment at bookstores? Was it hard to get them on the shelves?

Yes, they were sold for a great profit. Based on the title alone, they sell well in “English” stores that carry London/monarchy-based merchandise, and there are small gift stores in Toronto that agreed to carry it. I honestly didn’t focus much time in this area, which in retrospect perhaps I should have. Good example of the hustle required to get the self-publishing game right.

What worked (and didn’t) in promoting your book? Was your marketing background a help to you when promoting? Was social media important? 
 
I have used social media widely, mostly Facebook and Instagram. I also set up a launch event at the Soho House in Toronto. It was a fun tea party with English toffee, biscuits, sandwiches, customized Queen cupcakes, and cookies. Every child left with a Queen Loot Bag with a whoopee cushion and candy beans. Oh, and the parents could sip bubbly too.

I do think social media helped! It’s hard to tie sales back to social directly, but if you look at metrics like followers/shares/likes, I can assume it’s had a positive impact. Also, there were some negative comments as well, but honestly, I welcome those too. It is good to create some controversy, as it gets people talking! 

What made successful self-publishing possible for you?

Well, self-publishing books in general requires a lot of hustle and can be very time-consuming. Given that I have a full-time job in television that I love, as well as two small children, there is a lot of work involved even before the book. Fortunately, I am married to a novelist, who provided endless support and reinforcement. My husband told me not to give up, and he would constantly remind me that my book was quality. Publishing can be a discouraging venture and a support system is key. Oh, and he’s English, so it was natural to write about the Queen!

Can You Successfully Self-Publish a Cookbook?

Reading restaurateur Nick Kokonas’s exposé on the DIY creation of the Alinea cookbook reminded me how frustratingly opaque the world of cookbook publishing is to people outside the biz.. It was also a great reminder of how many people hanker to put out their own volume. (Seriously. Mention publishing in a cocktail setting and I guarantee cookbook and children’s book ideas will pour forth . . .) 

Indie cookbooks have expanded far beyond spiral-bound Junior League collections. Spurred on by the success of culinary blogs the likes of Orangette and the Smitten Kitchen, witty home cooks with a good camera aspire to vault from Instagram love right to publishing success. Self-pub cookbooks are a natural too for the folks who can’t or won’t—can’t eat gluten, eggs, or dairy or won’t eat meat, for example—and their affinity groups online. 

Some home cooks fancy memorializing their hot sauce recipes for friends and family. Others want to preserve grandma’s recipes languishing in a spidery scrawl on yellowing recipe cards. Restaurants and bakeries see an opportunity to promote their brand and satisfy customers’ longing for re-creating that blissful bite. If you’re any one of these aspiring cookbook self-publishers, there are unique editorial, design, and production fundamentals that you’ll have to consider. 

Yes, cookbooks are sexy, inviting. But at their most elemental they are technical books that require forethought and deliberation. We’ll give you the down-low on design elements in the next post. For editorial concerns, here’s where you start: 

 

Establish Your Ideal Reader

Just as there are those who prefer Fifty Shades of Grey to Finnegans Wake, there are beginning and advanced cooks. Alinea or Modernist Cuisine land squarely in James Joyce territory and appeal to a very sophisticated user. Unless you are targeting these sophisticates, avoid or explain any technical jargon (What is a bain-marie? How does one blanch?) Use basic ingredients or explain any specialty items (can you order harissa, a North African pepper paste, online?), and provide more detail in recipe steps or through photography. 

Craft Proper Headnotes

Many cookbooks have very little text outside the recipes. That’s why headnotes, those little paragraphs that introduce each recipe, are so critical. The headnotes compose the conversation the writer/chef is having with the reader. Are they funny? Serious? Do they incorporate elements of memoir, telling stories from the writer’s childhood or family? Do they explain the dish or the ingredients or offer serving suggestions? Keeping your Ideal Reader in mind, make sure your tone is even and appropriate to the feeling you want to convey, write headnotes of approximately the same length, and check for oft-repeated phrases or words. Readers rarely approach cookbooks one recipe at a time. If you use the word “yummy” or “delish” in every headnote, someone’s going to want to hit you over the head with a frying pan. (In fact, unless you’re Rachael Ray, maybe just leave those words out.) 

Borrow, Don’t Steal

Technically speaking, recipes cannot be copyrighted. By recipe, I mean a list of ingredients and amounts. What can be copyrighted is everything around that: the headnote, the procedural steps, any detail or tip. If you want to include a recipe from your favorite cookbook, give them attribution in the headnote (e.g., adapted from Amanda Hesser’s cardamom French toast in Food52) and write your own steps. 

Sweat the Details

Cooking is about precision. Sure, once you’re good enough you can riff on recipes and make them your own. But no one wants to read or cook from a book where the recipe isn’t guaranteed to work.  

  • Test your recipes, preferably in different kinds of ovens or on different stoves (friends are nice for this). 

  • Be consistent and clear with your amounts and write them out properly. “One-half cup of chopped almonds” is not the same as “one-half cup almonds, chopped.” And what kind of almonds are they? Roasted? Raw? Blanched? Skins on, off, does it matter? 

  • List your ingredients in the order in which they appear in the recipe, and don’t skip any steps in the procedure. It’s just like Chekhov’s gun; if it’s in the ingredient list, then it must be used in the recipe. 

  • Do as the pros do and give doneness cues. Don’t just tell me to cook something for 8–10 minutes, but for 8–10 minutes or until lightly browned. 

Rock That Title

Sometimes the best title is simply the most descriptive. With the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook you’re pretty sure what you’re getting. If you want to be clever, choose a subtitle that clearly explains the contents. 

To Index or Not to Index

I’m going to assume you already realize how important developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading are to any technical book—and a cookbook’s no different. Find professionals and don’t skimp. What you might not have considered is hiring an indexer to help your cooks look up recipes or ingredients more easily. Indexing is the last step in the editorial process, occurring post-proofread on the designed pages.

How a Book Proposal Helps, Even if You Self-Publish

You’ve finally finished your book. It’s been a long slog, but look at that gorgeous manuscript you’ve created! You’re ready to see this book in print.  

You might be asking yourself, why not self-publish? The independent publishing landscape is more inviting than ever. Whereas the traditional publishing route is difficult for first-time authors to crack, self-publishing allows you to get your book out there more quickly, retain more control over the final product, and keep a larger percentage of your sales. If you are ready and willing to work hard to promote and sell your books in the digital marketplace, independent publishing could be a great fit for you. And hey, as an added bonus, if you’re not trying to get picked up by an agent or publisher, you don’t have to write a book proposal, right?  

Well, hold on. There are many reasons that a well-crafted book proposal can help you better position your book, no matter how you end up publishing it. At its best, a book proposal is a distillation of your project: It opens with a hook that speaks directly to your readership and goes on to describe the concept and scope of the book in clear, inviting language. A book proposal presents an accurate vision of the intended audience and offers an analysis of the market and the competitive titles already out there. It includes a breakdown of your platform, as well as ideas for promotional opportunities that you might pursue. It closes with a crisp, clean sample of the book’s material.  

So even if you self-publish your book, consider taking the time to craft a proposal. Here are just a few of the aspects of the book (and your role as an author) that you’ll be able to clarify in the process. 

Your hook: If you want a reader to pick up your book, you need to snare them with that perfectly crafted opening line. Lead with a short paragraph that presents your idea in bold, exciting terms—then delve into the details. If you self-publish, you’ll be able to use this text to kick off some fabulous back cover copy. Having trouble finding the hook? You might want to revisit your text. It could be that your manuscript needs another round of revision, but only by looking at it with the cold eye of a salesperson will you be able to see that. 

Your promotional copy: Following your hook, your proposal will include a longer description of your project. This overview can be mined later for back cover and promotional copy. Carefully considering the way you present your book—and then working and refining it until it’s streamlined and perfect—is always a useful exercise.  

Your audience: A big part of writing a proposal is researching and crafting an analysis of the market for your book and the competition it will face. In this section, you’ll pull together a clear vision of your primary readership, working to understand the other books your readers gravitate toward and the things they are passionate about. You’ll think about what’s already out there that could compete for your readers’ dollars and figure out how your book will differentiate itself. Figuring out these details early on will help you position your own marketing platform—crucial for any author, not just those who self-publish. Which leads us to . . . 

Your marketing strategy: The days of writing a book and sitting back to watch it achieve success are over (if they ever existed in the first place). The best authors work for every sale. They’ve identified their audience and know just how to reach them. For self-published authors, this is even more important; after all, you are your own marketing and publicity team. In crafting a proposal, you’ll have to start thinking about the promotional resources you can bring to the table. What is your platform? How will you reach your audience? What local or national papers or magazines would you love to see yourself in? How will you build your online presence? Which blogs should you try to guest post for? Where can you start networking with other authors and influencers in your field? Brainstorming this angle far ahead of publication will give you a leg up on other authors. You’ll be ready to reach out and connect with your potential readers long before your book hits the shelf, building awareness and interest. And you’ll have your audience clearly fixed in your mind as you make crucial creative decisions along the way, such has how your book cover design looks.  

The opening pages of your book: A very important portion of your proposal is the sample of the book that you include. As you pull together the proposal, you’ll want to run a fine-tooth comb through the prose of those initial chapters. Consider hiring an outside editor. See what issues the editor flags and use that feedback to start another edit on the full manuscript. Any chance you have to refine and tighten your prose before it’s in print, take it. 

Do You Have What It Takes to Self-Publish Successfully?

Self-publishing sounds like the great panacea to all publishing woes. It is indeed a tremendous development that is transforming the industry and handing unprecedented power to authors. This is all exciting stuff, but before you jump on the bandwagon, you’ll want to consider these traits that are key to self-publishing success and happiness.  

An entrepreneurial spirit: The successful self-publisher knows that being an author these days is not just about creative genius. It’s about seeing yourself not as a writer but as a small business—a publisher. As such, you’ll want to behave like one.  Create a business plan. Set goals. Develop a targeted marketing plan. Learn how to use Excel. Track your numbers. Then analyze them to determine which of your marketing efforts are working best. Watch those numbers grow. Study what the competition is doing, and learn from them. If that sounds daunting at first, start by learning from others: Join or form a community of other aspiring authors. Share information. Knowledge is power in this business, and the authors who are making a good living these days spend half their time writing and the other half nurturing and growing their platform. The key to doing this well is not fighting it or denying that it’s necessary, but creating dedicated time and space to embrace it.   

A deep understanding of your audience: The successful self-publisher also knows that bigger is not always better. It’s not about how broad your audience is. It’s about understanding exactly who your audience is—what problem they’re looking to solve, and providing the solution through very targeted writing that speaks directly to them. The most successful self-publishers know where their audience is hanging out online and are informed and generous members of those communities. It’s more effective to develop a cult following of a few thousand than to dilute your message and aim to please too many different groups. Know your reader, know what they want, and write for them. 

The long view: Publishing your first book is a massive accomplishment and certainly something to celebrate. Call your mom. Break open the bubbly. Jump up and down. Maybe shed a few tears of relief that you’re finally holding your very own book in your hands. But that’s not the end of the journey. In fact, successful self-publishers know that that first book is really a building block that serves as the foundation for your career as an author. Book number one is for establishing an audience. Book number two is for growing that audience. Book number three will help sell books one and two. And so on. Publishing is a long game, and the big rewards come only after investing time in your platform, building a loyal following, and rewarding that loyalty with the next book in the series. So pop the champagne. Share it on Instagram. Then sit back down at your desk and get to work on book number two.  

Realistic expectations: I don’t mean to bring anybody down, but the realistic self-publisher knows that competition is fierce and sets attainable goals. Successful self-publishers don’t give up when their book doesn’t appear on the New York Times bestseller list. They’ve done their homework, know their audience, keep the long view in mind, and don’t let themselves get blindsided by the fact that Oprah hasn’t called. And your goal doesn’t have to be easily quantifiable. It’s okay if you just want to be able to give your life story to your grandchildren; if it’s going to be part of building your platform or brand; or if it was something you wanted to cross off your bucket list. But be very clear on your objective from the start. Then celebrate it when you reach it. 

A commitment to quality: Quality matters. There’s a temptation to upload as soon as your draft is done (so that you can get to that champagne celebration that much sooner), but take a deep breath. Consider the long game (again), and know that a well-designed cover, professional editing, and carefully crafted marketing copy are all essential to long-term success. It’s a way of treating your readers with respect and showing them you care about delivering a fantastic reading experience. And taking excellent care of your readers is what successful self-publishing is all about.

Get the Best Results from Your Publishing Team

From having control over design and editorial changes to earning more favorable royalties, there are numerous good reasons why authors opt to publish books themselves. Professional indie authors also understand how important it is to hire a competent team if their book is going to compete on the same shelf as traditionally published volumes.

Perhaps you just recently took the plunge and hired an outfit of editors and designers, or maybe you’re halfway through production of your book. Either way, these tips will get you the best results from your team.

  • Be clear about your goals. Are you determined to get your book into local bookstores? Is one of your primary goals to make a profit? With this information in hand, your production team can help set realistic expectations and inform you of actionable steps for distribution and marketing.
  • Write thorough briefs. Depending on the established scope of the project, your crew may be writing your promotional copy, creating your author website, and designing the cover, interior, and logo using the information you provide as a jumping-off point. By providing clear direction from the start, you’ll help your team deliver the final copy and designs you’ve been envisioning. If you’ve hired a marketing strategist and publicist, it’s important that they’re fully briefed as well.
  • Give specific and objective feedback. For example, when you’re reviewing your copyedited manuscript, clearly respond to the copyeditor’s queries with actionable edits. This might mean inputting a simple “OK” to agree with a suggested change, or choosing a proposed solution and rewriting to fit. With design, though a cover might not “feel right,” go beyond such imprecise comments. Focus on identifying what’s not working for you rather than what you think the correct solution might be. Maybe the font is too traditional, the title too big, or the red that was chosen too bright. What did you think would be different about the design you envisioned? Communicate the specific element that’s not sitting well with you and why, and then let the designer bring their expertise to bear on the best solution to that problem.
  • Be open to new possibilities. Do you already have the perfect cover design in mind? Share it with your team, and get ready to review ideas both inspired by and completely independent from your own. Though your original concept is an excellent starting point, you might miss out on a well-suited design if you’re focused exclusively on your own. It’s smart to come to the creative table with a good dose of humility and appreciation for the expertise of the people you’ve hired to help you.
  • Stay organized to keep your team organized. Use best practices to keep the process rolling by acting like a professional. Input your project schedule into your online calendar to ensure you stick to your deadlines. Collate your design feedback into one email as opposed to several, or use project management software to collaborate.
  • Use the software specified by your production editor. You will likely need access to the latest versions of the tried-and-true publishing standbys: Adobe Reader and Microsoft Word. Reader is used to view and comment on PDFs (design files), while Word is the gold standard for editing and commenting on your manuscript. If you’re unsure how to use each program properly, ask for guidance.
  • Alert your team to potential issues right away. Whether you have a schedule conflict with your proposed review time or you think Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature turned off during your copyedit review but you’re not sure, tell your team immediately. Their experience and insight can help you head off problems and keep your book on schedule.
  • Come prepared to meetings. Not sure what to prep? Ask your project manager. You’ll be able to get the answers and next steps that you need if you and your team are on the same page during critical conversations.
  • Have a question or concern? Raise it. Your team is there to guide you through the production process, and often asking questions right away can save you the time, effort, and potential costs that making late-in-the-game revisions might necessitate.

At the end of the day, remember that you entrusted a stellar team of experienced publishing professionals to shepherd your title from manuscript to finished book. Ask questions, do as much of your own research as you like, query and requery issues until you’re satisfied, and bring a collaborative mindset. If you do these things, your relationship with your team will be productive and your book will be the very best it can be.

Publish Like the Pros: The Indie Author's Dream Team

At a traditional publisher, there are no fewer than eight (often more!) people working collaboratively to bring each book to market. Given that it takes a village, it’s no surprise that first-time self-publishers often feel alone or overwhelmed by the complexities of the bookmaking process. To do it right, you either have to assume each of these roles or, better yet, hire experts to help you.

Here’s a comprehensive list of the essential partners you will need on your self-publishing team. If you choose to wear some of these hats yourself, just ensure that you cover all the bases.

1. The Developmental Editor

What they do: A developmental editor’s job is to read your manuscript with an eye toward big-picture issues like narrative arc, plot, pacing, character development, and point of view. Creating a robust fictional world is an enormous task to ask of just one brain, and no matter how good a writer you are, I promise there will be some weird hitches in your timing sequence or something off about the main character’s voice in one section that will throw the reader. Nonfiction writers, especially subject-matter experts, are often too close to their material and need a layperson’s take on organization, tone, consistency, and clarity.

Our advice: Hire a professional. This is not the place to sub in your wife or dad or BFF. The developmental edit is often transformative—the difference between a five-star and a one-star review on Amazon.

2. The Copyeditor

What they do: Your developmental editor may have moved mountains, but she was focused on bigger-picture issues. A copyeditor’s responsibility is to ensure that each sentence of your work is squeaky clean. Editing on the heavy side, a copyeditor will do some wordsmithing (would you like to use “night shift” rather than “nightgown” to align with medieval vocab throughout?). At minimum, the copyeditor will ensure that supporting character Lucy doesn’t morph into Lucie (or Linda) halfway through the book, that you haven’t overused your favorite phrase, and that your indefinite pronoun antecedents are clear. Don’t know what a pronoun antecedent is? That’s why you need a copyeditor.

Our advice: Skipping a copyedit is like washing your hands without soap. Hire a professional who knows The Chicago Manual of Style inside and out, and you’ll sleep better at night as your release date approaches.

3. The Cover Designer

What they do: Professional book cover designers are experts in this single type of design—in other words, a great graphic designer generalist is not the right fit. Book cover designers know what works in what genre, know what print specifications and cover “treatments” are appropriate, and employ best practices such as styling typefaces for readability at thumbnail size (for readers who will see your book on Amazon.com). They can also generate barcodes, map spine and back cover layouts to printers’ templates, and package mechanical files.

Our advice: Covers sell books—everyone knows it. If you intend to sell books, hire a professional cover designer.

4. The Interior Designer

What they do: Interior designers are responsible for everything between the covers, and, interestingly, are often different people than cover designers. The interior designer also has a highly specialized skill set, which has as much to do with layout and typeface as with reader psychology and editorial.

Our advice: If you’re looking for ways to cut costs, and you’re okay with compromising some polish and perfection, and your manuscript is straight text, then there are template designs you can buy that can be an economical stand-in for an interior designer. If you choose to go this route, you will need to be comfortable with new technologies to “flow” the text into the template yourself.

5. The Proofreader

What they do: During the layout process, it’s possible for all sorts of formatting errors to occur—italics are dropped, a line breaks in such a way that only two letters dangle on a blank page, a chapter number is omitted, a running head contains a typo, etc. Even when layout is done professionally, these issues arise (it’s not uncommon to have a couple hundred in a standard-length manuscript!), but if you’re using a template design, you’ll find even more formatting errors.

Proofreaders specialize in spotting any lingering text errors (there’s a missing word here: “Would you like go to dinner with me?”) as well as formatting-related issues. They mark missing quotation marks, extra spacing around dashes, or incorrectly styled epigraphs. Their checklist is long.

Our advice: You wouldn’t rely on Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar check to stand in for your editor’s work on your manuscript, would you? Similarly, it would be foolish to assume that your template design program’s “auto-layout” would catch all of the errors a human reader will. Since proofreading is not only about text but also about formatting, it’s wise to hire a professional proofreader—lay readers won’t pick up on half of what a professional proofer will. Also, the proofreader should be someone reading the book for the first time. You and your editors are too familiar with the manuscript; you need to bring fresh eyes.

6. An Ebook Developer

What they do: The ebook developer translates your printer-ready files (i.e., static PDFs) into formats optimized for consumption on e-reading devices. Converting your ebook to MOBI and EPUB “reflowable” formats makes the text dynamic and easy to read on any device—and a professional ebook developer is an expert at this task.

Our advice: It depends on how important the ebook edition is for you. If it’s a “nice to have” and you’re trying to keep costs down, consider using autoconversion software like Draft2Digital. If you’re publishing in a genre in which the digital version will be the primary edition readers buy, consider hiring a professional.

7. A Marketing Strategist

What they do: We’ve written at length about how readers won’t flock to buy your book just because it’s available on Amazon—no matter how awesome your cover design is. Having an intelligent strategy for how to find your potential readers online, grab their attention, and actually get them to purchase your book is a necessary component of publishing successfully. That said, marketing effectively is all about building your author brand and creating relationships with your readership—a task that really needs to be done by you.

Our advice: There are so many different marketing tactics you could try, and they’re not all going to be right for you and your book. Engaging a marketing strategist helps you focus on what you know will work well and ignore the rest of the hype. Stop short of hiring someone to “assume your voice” and produce and post all of your online content for you, though; the most successful authors are personally engaged with their readers. Our advice is this: take a “strategically assisted DIY approach” to marketing your book to keep things both authentic and manageable.

8. A Production Editor

What they do: The unsung heroes of the book pipeline, production editors are the conductors of the orchestra. The production editor selects the right editors and designers, manages contracts with each of them, builds a schedule that’s suited to the project type, handles the registration of ISBNs, determines the retail price, interfaces with the printer or POD platform, and is the keeper of all the project details and shepherd of the integrated bookmaking effort.

Our advice: There are many self-publishers who happily handle their own project management and interface directly with the various freelancers working on their book. These same authors will attest to how much work the project management is—and how hard it is to foresee problems in the pipeline if this is your first time! At Girl Friday, we devote dedicated production editors to each client.

The Supporting Players

Depending on your project, you may require even more help. Scan the list below to make sure you cover the relevant needs for your project.

9. An indexer, if your nonfiction book needs an index.

10. A fact-checker, if your nonfiction book is full of names, places, dates, quotes, or other facts you need verified.

11. A lawyer, if your manuscript uses quoted excerpts, song lyrics, or descriptions of known public figures, or if it offers legal or medical advice.

12. A photo researcher, if you intend to use images in your book and need help verifying or securing permissions.

13. An audio conversion team, if you want to create an audio edition as well.

Is Hiring Someone to Manage Your Self-Published Book Project Right for You?

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Imagine an orchestra performing without a conductor. Sure, the musicians have the sheet music, but how do they know when to start playing? When should the violins recede and the cellos surge? Who sets the tempo? How will they express the true intent of the composer without someone leading the way? Without a conductor, you can imagine the orchestra going from concerto to chaos in a flash. And the same is true in book production. 

The production editor’s job is to be your closest ally—and the only person on your team who understands your project in its entirety. He or she plans the production process that is uniquely suited to your book and manages the details along the way. 

1. Setting Up the Game Plan

At your project’s kickoff, the production editor asks lots of questions and prompts you to fill out a couple of key briefing documents that help us capture the vision in your head. The answers help us get to know you, hand select the best team of editors and designers for your project, and set up a realistic production schedule. Early on in the process, your production editor establishes your printing plan and defines the book’s specs (trim size, paper stock, cover treatment, and which printer or print platform—or combination—makes the most sense for your project). 

2. Assembling Your Team 

A key role of the production editor is knowing which resource partners will be the best fit for your book. We work in conjunction with the editorial director and managing editor to carefully select the developmental editor, copyeditor, and proofreader who will work on your project, making sure they are well matched to your material and that their personal style will make for a good working relationship with you. We also make recommendations for cover and interior designers, choosing those with experience in your genre and the right sensibility. 

3. Reviewing Work for Quality, Consistency, and Authenticity

At every stage of the process, the production editor reviews the editors’ and designers’ work to make sure the work is consistent and high quality and that it reflects your intent. The editorial process can be a time when an author makes their toughest decisions, and sometimes a writer’s “darlings” must die. But the production editor comes to the author’s aid as an advocate, providing options, ensuring quality—all while keeping the project moving on schedule and on budget. The production editor also works as a translator between the author and designer—who often think and speak in much different terms. The production editor provides a prospective reader’s viewpoint in terms of the online search, browsing, and point-of-sale habits of the author’s audience as well. 

4. Managing the Minutiae

As a DIY self-publisher, you have to perform all the administrative tasks that a traditional publisher would handle on an author’s behalf. Production editors handle these kind of details on your behalf: buying and registering your ISBNs, determining the book’s retail price, setting up your copyright page, and uploading final files. 

5. Reviewing the Proofs

Once the hard work of creating a book is complete, it’s time to finalize printing, pricing, and distribution options. For our White Glove and Deluxe projects, the production editor transmits book files and metadata to the printer and designated distribution sites for each format. We check, and recheck, every aspect of the book and ebook to ensure each edition is ready for publication and distribution. Part of this verification process includes closely reviewing ebook files and physical print proofs so you can be confident your book looks fantastic, whether its pages are in a reader’s hands or on their iPad. 

6. Shaping the Marketing Collateral

Savvy authors know publication is just the first step to connecting with their audience. Effective book marketing includes the creation of a professionally designed website as well as other collateral such as custom logos and online content. Since the production editor has worked side by side with the author to produce the book, that person is perfect for helping to convey the right vision to the designers and strategists working on the various elements that will help deliver your book to market. 

7. Taking Ownership

On a personal note, it’s hard to describe the satisfaction I feel helping a client bring their project to life. I’ve been known to talk to my screen while reviewing an author’s revision, announcing, “Yes! That’s perfect!” I’ve been moved to tears seeing a book in layout for the first time. I get a rush when I hold a finished book in my hands—I rub my hands over the cover, feel all the pages. I even smell the ink (TMI?). But what this tells you is that as a production editor, I’m deeply invested in helping the client reach their goals—every step of the way.

Want to Self-Publish Successfully? Don’t Skip These Seven Steps

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A couple of weeks ago, GFP attended Digital Book World’s first Indie Author conference, designed for the “new professional author.” With excellent presentations by the publishing frontier’s thought leaders, including Jane FriedmanJon FinePorter AndersonData GuyOrna RossKelly Gallagher, and Peter McCarthy, the event gave a fantastic overview of one of publishing’s most dynamic areas.

As we know, the advent of the self-publishing platform has changed the publishing landscape dramatically. At one point, Richard Nash presented a graphic like the one below depicting how, essentially, the traditional book manufacturing chain—involving a printer, distributor, and retailer—collapses in the self-publishing model down to a single entity: the “platform.”

Every publisher (traditional, hybrid, or indie) has the same challenge: to connect authors with their readers. In many ways, self-publishing platforms are beneficial for authors because platforms make the distance from author to reader shorter and more direct. This gives authors more control over how they reach potential reading communities with the added benefit that the profit pie is split in fewer ways. Your royalties as a self-publisher are much higher than when you work through a traditional publisher.

However, the direct accessibility the platform model offers has also prompted hundreds of thousands of self-publishers to overlook some of the most essential processes in a successful book publishing business. But DIY just puts authors in the control seat—it does not give self-publishers permission to skip essential steps that ensure quality.

At the conference, Orna Ross, the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, laid out these seven essential processes for publishing successful books—regardless of which publishing model you’re following. We couldn’t agree more.

1. Editorial. The first thing to do if you want to reach readers is write a really good book. If you want to be a successful author, you need to think of yourself competing with the books traditional publishers are putting out. That’s the bar that readers are measuring your work against. Traditional publishers are hiring high-quality editors—you should too.

2. Design. Design is a crucial part of your book’s branding. People absolutely judge a book by its cover. Don’t DIY your cover, or it will become a barrier to your story’s ability to find its way to readers.

3. Production. Production refers to the printing of your book. POD (print on demand) platforms, because they offer a “no-inventory” approach, are sensibly the primary production method for most self-publishers. Understanding what the platforms do well and don’t, as well as choosing print specifications that are in line with your book’s genre (size, paper, cover, format), are all important to get right.

4. Distribution. Look back up at the infographic above. Brick-and-mortar bookstores do not figure in to the current self-publishing/platform model. (Look here if you need more convincing.) However, self-publishers do have access and even advantages at e-retail storefronts (Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com), where nearly 75 percent of all books are purchased. There’s also no barrier for distributing your e-books through distribution platforms such as KDP, Kobo, iBooks, Nook, etc.

5. Marketing. Making the book available for sale is great, but with 4,500 new books published daily, I’m sorry to tell you, no matter how great your book or beautiful your cover, readers are not going to just flock to the flame. Having a strategic marketing plan is critical to reaching your readers where they are online and cutting through the noise that impacts their buying choices. Most importantly, marketing is about listening to and connecting with your readers, not using social media as a bullhorn to talk about your book. Self-publishers can make this reader connection—and oftentimes do it even better than traditional publishers can do on an author’s behalf. It’s your relationship with your readers that’s key to your marketing success.

6. Promotion. Put thought into the way you price your book and pull different levers to help move more copies. Readers have come to expect promotions, which offer an important tool to get people’s attention. Comprehensive resources like Author Earnings’ quarterly analyses, the only full picture of traditionally published and indie book sales, can give you important insights into what price points for print and e-editions are successful in your genre.

7. Rights Sales. This is another area where independent authors struggle in relation to their traditional counterparts, most of whom have teams of people dedicated to pursuing subsidiary rights for their list. Yet sub rights—film rights, audio, foreign editions—can really impact profits. While it might prove daunting or nearly impossible to sell film rights as an indie, audio has shown progress. There are now production/distribution/marketing houses like ListenUp or the more do-it-yourself ACX (an Amazon company) that remove the friction of finding narrators and distributing the audio editions.

When you’re making the decision to self-publish, make sure you consider your capability to take on the management and execution of these key elements. And if you can’t do it all yourself (few can!), hire help where you need it to give you and your book the best chance of success.

Your Book: The Ultimate $20 Business Card

As both a marketing tool and a sellable product, books can do wonders for consultants, cementing your rep as an “expert” and putting you on the map. As Girl Friday’s self-publishing division has grown, we’ve seen an increase in thought leaders looking to publish their own philosophy in book form. It’s not just the experience of making these books for clients that turned us into believers—we were hooked by the same tactic.

Five years ago, Girl Friday was at a turning point. We’d expanded into new areas and were poised for big growth. Instead of trying to navigate that growth spurt on our own, we tapped business consultant and poet Libby Wagner, the author of The Influencing Option, to help us with visioning and culture. Read on to hear from Libby on how publishing her book has affected her professional reputation and her work with clients like us.

LESLIE (“LAM”): You have self-published your work and gone through traditional publishers for other books. What influenced those decisions?

LIBBY: For entrepreneurs and thought leaders, a traditionally published book is still the platinum standard—a publisher vets your idea, puts a stamp of approval on it, and, sometimes, helps you promote your book. But more and more, your commercial appeal is dominated by what you can promise the publisher in terms of sales: what’s your marketing platform like, how many people you’re in front of (who might buy your books), how active you are on social media, etc. They are looking not only to recoup their investment, but to make money. I choose the self-publishing route when I want to get a book out quickly, it’s contributing to the body of work that is my intellectual property, or it’s a purely creative venture with value to me apart from a money-making standpoint. I like both.

LAM: How do you incorporate your books into your consulting work with clients?

LIBBY: I think of my books as extensions of my work and my value to my clients, so I might use a book with a team or group because we are going to learn specific mindsets and tangible skills for bringing about change. I’m also very pragmatic, so I want people to have tools, ideas, language, and ways to commonly enter into conversations that are important to them. I also use my books in leadership development forums and academies, where we utilize the book chapters or ideas as conversation starters.

LAM: How do your books function as marketing tools?

LIBBY: I use my books to introduce myself to a prospective client or group. I regularly give them away and am happy to do so: It’s the ultimate $20 business card. I never worry about my books being out there in place of me . . . nothing is like the real thing! People who hire speakers love the fact that I have books, because it lends credibility to my ideas and demonstrates my thought leadership. Sometimes I include my books as giveaways for people at a speaking event, or we have a book table where I can sign and interact with participants at events.

LAM: When you first consulted with GFP, we used The Influencing Option in our work together. The book is still on our shelf, and the ideas are part of our company values. Does it usually work that way?

LIBBY: Yes, I think so. People often contact me and tell me that they are still using my book and offer it to others as a helpful tool for creating positive, productive work environments. One of my favorite experiences with a client was returning after a few months to do a check-in and tune-up, and I said, “So, how did it go as you practiced the new skills with each other?” One woman’s hand shot up: “Holy crap! It works!” It’s hard for people to remember everything they say and experience with me in person, so the book gives my advice the longevity to help clients really shift (if they want to!).

LAM: You bill yourself as a “boardroom poet,” a role that, according to David Whyte, combines “the power of the artist with the sheer practicality of a sound business mind.” Clearly you love language. But what would you say to a consultant or thought leader who doesn’t consider themselves an author? Would you still recommend publishing?

LIBBY: In my circle, lots of people have published, so we might think it’s not a big deal, but it is. Not very many people will take the time and energy to organize and express what’s important to them to put out into the world. Your book makes you four-dimensional, creating greater value for your clients and audience. That said, there are some great books out there and some terrible ones. Because there’s no barrier to entry anymore, it’s not just about writing the book; it’s about writing a book you’re proud of. Don’t do it alone! GFP is the perfect sort of partner to work with, because subject-matter experts need help, whether it’s with editing, navigating the publishing terrain, or even help sorting and writing the ideas in the beginning. A book is a commitment, and sometimes we need a chaperone.

LAM: In the last decade, we’ve seen readers’ willingness to digest text contract from book length to white paper to blog to Facebook post to tweet. Do you think there is still room for the book in modern marketing and thought leadership? What does a book do that a blog can’t?

LIBBY: Well, as much as I’m trying to be digitally savvy, I’m a Luddite when it comes to books. You know what people are doing on the subway in NYC? Reading books. Real ones. You know what I’m handing over to the green-eyed waitress who’s been on her feet too long, and I just know she needs what I’ve got tucked into my bag? A book. The book. There’s certainly a place for articles, white papers, blogs, etc., though frankly, we need less of 7 Tips for This and 10 Steps for That. A book is a place where you can follow an idea or ideas all the way to the end, where you can go deep and wide and fling the net of language out to catch us all up in it.

Libby Wagner, poet, author, and speaker, is a trusted advisor for presidents, CEOs and executive directors, and her work has shaped the cultures of numerous Fortune 500 clients, including the Boeing Company, Nike, Philips, SAP, Diageo, and Costco. An award-winning faculty member, Libby holds a master of fine arts in poetry and is a graduate of the prestigious Million Dollar Consulting College—a perfect symbiosis for the poet pragmatist. Her monthly column, “The Culture Coach,” is a fantastic resource for thousands of business owners in the retail industry. She is the author of the Amazon bestseller The Influencing Option: The Art of Building a Profit Culture in Business; poetry collections Like This, Like That and Somehow; and 2016’s What Will You Do With Your 90,000 Hours? The Boardroom Poet’s Thoughts on Work. Check out her inspiring TEDx talk, “Own Your Voice.”

How (and Why) to Sell Self-Published Books to Bookstores on Consignment

Even in this digital age of Amazon and e-book sales, there’s still nothing like seeing a physical copy of your book on the shelf of a brick-and-mortar bookstore. We’ve written before about why securing national retail distribution as a self-published author is really, really hard. But the good news is that it’s quite possible for self-publishers to obtain local bookstore placements on their own. These days, a lot of booksellers recognize the quality of many self-published titles and acknowledge that a growing number of indie books are worthy of their precious shelf space.

You can arrange these deals in one of two ways. You can either ask the store to order a quantity of your book directly from the Ingram catalog (they’ll need your ISBN to do this), or you can purchase copies of your book at your POD platform’s “author copy” rate and bring them in to the store on consignment. Most bookstores prefer to sell indie books on consignment because the consignment model is less stressful to the store’s cashflow: authors don’t get paid until after the books sell. Even though the author has to pay for the printing cost up front, the earning potential of the consignment model works out in the author’s favor.

Take, for example, a 228-page 5.5×8.5–inch trade paperback printed through IngramSpark and listed at retail for $12.95. Standard wholesale discount (if the store buys from the catalog) is 55 percent, and the print charge is $4.28. This means you make a profit of $1.55 per book when the bookstore buys directly from Ingram.

Selling the same book on consignment works like this: You purchase author copies directly from Ingram at the print cost ($4.28 each, in this case). Consignment deals usually offer the author a 60/40 split, with 60 percent going to the author. What that means is the bookstore will pay you 60 percent of list—or $7.77 per book in this case. Subtract your print cost of $4.28 and you wind up with a profit of $3.49 per book—which is clearly preferable to the direct wholesale option that earns you $1.55 per book. (Note that you will have some shipping costs added as well, so your profit may be slightly less when you factor that in.) Use your POD platform’s calculator to crunch numbers for your book’s exact specs to be sure—but chances are you’ll find that consignment the more profitable option.

Not all books make the consignment cut, though! Back when I was a buyer at an independent bookstore, I met self-published authors every week who solicited their titles—which is how I learned that there’s a right way and a wrong way to make a consignment pitch. Here’s how to pitch the right way:

1. Commit to Good Quality

Booksellers carefully vet each title based on customer interest, bestseller trends, and quality. We all judge books by their covers, and I’m sure I’m not the first book buyer to admit that I ordered plenty of books based on the cover art alone. That’s why the book production part of the process is so crucial. That said, a book can have the most gorgeous cover in the world, but if the quality of the writing is poor, a bookstore will pass. Book buyers want the whole package—a great cover that fits the genre, quality writing (that has received a developmental edit, copyedit, and proofread), and a professional print job. If the book looks unprofessionally designed, edited, or printed, the store will likely pass on it.

2. Do Your Research

Although selling books on consignment doesn’t cost the bookstore anything up front, shelf space is one of those valuable resources that factors into the unseen costs of keeping a book in stock. Because of this, a bookseller may not offer a consignment deal if the book won’t appeal to the store’s audience. Before pitching a book, an author should do research on what the store carries. Do the displays cater to a particular reader? Does the store already stock similar titles? Knowing this information will help shape a better sales pitch. And don’t forget that booksellers favor authors who are already loyal customers. If you invest in them, it’s more likely they’ll invest in you: visit your local bookstores on a regular basis, show up for readings, and buy books!

3. Make Your Pitch

Booksellers are busy people. Respect this and you’ll already be ahead of the game. Cold calls and drop-ins are interruptions to the workday. So call ahead to check on a good time to meet with the buyer. The in-person appointment should take no more than a few minutes, so come with a prepared, polished pitch. Be sure to leave the book or promotional material (sell sheet, bookmark, etc) that includes the ISBN so the buyer can look up the book later. Bonus points for authors who use their websites to encourage readers to order their books through local bookstores.

If the bookstore does offer you a consignment deal, congratulations! Once your book is available in store, be sure to tell readers, friends, family, and coworkers where they can buy copies locally. The more interest and sales you can generate in the store, the longer the shelf life your book will enjoy.

Even after your book is no longer physically available at a brick-and-mortar location, a customer who prefers to support their indie bookseller rather than Amazon can order a copy through the store. Booksellers can order a POD books by looking them up on the Ingram database. Ingram will then print the book and ship it to the store, where the customer picks it up.

One last tip as you order your books: be conservative in the number of copies you bring in to the store (the store will have an opinion about the quantity too, no doubt). Far better to sell through your consigned copies and have to order more, than to retrieve unpurchased copies that were overstocked.

Gotham Ghostwriters' Q&A with Kristin Mehus-Roe

This piece was originally published on September 6, 2016 by Gotham Ghostwriters. 

GFP's director of publishing partnerships, Kristin Mehus-Roe, sat down with the folks at Gotham Ghostwriters for a Q&A about the changing nature of the publishing world and her best advice for authors looking to expand their platform. Special thanks to NYC's Gotham Ghostwriters, a full-service ghostwriting agency striving to bring stories to life. You can read the entire interview here:

GG: Why and how was GFP established, and how has it evolved since its inception? Have you found your services changing/expanding in recent years? If so, why?

Mehus-Roe: GFP was founded in 2006 by Ingrid Emerick and Leslie Miller, and it’s changed a great deal in those ten years. Yet, the underlying principles remain the same: provide high-quality editorial services and transformative client relationships. Over the years, GFP has expanded from focusing specifically on developmental editing, book doctoring, and ghostwriting to providing full book production. We work with a range of clients, including self-publishers, looking to present specialized knowledge in a polished package and large publishers who need editors and designers to support their in-house staff.

It’s been an exciting time in the industry. The rise of independent publishing, coupled with the shifting landscape of traditional publishing and the downsizing in large publishing houses, have meant an expansion of our services to better serve our clients.

GG: GFP offers a lot of services—from editing to social media to design to production. What are the most popular services you offer, and why do you think that is? Have you noticed a growth in interest in a particular area since you’ve worked there?

Mehus-Roe: The greatest change since I’ve been at GFP has definitely been in the self-publishing world. Even in the last four years, there has been a 20-fold increase in the number of clients looking to publish independently versus those wanting help finding a traditional publisher. More clients understand that independent publishing has become an ever-more-viable way of getting books into the hands of readers, sometimes the best way, depending on your publishing goals and platform.

While GFP has always provided top-quality editing and writing, we now take on more full production packages, sometimes shepherding a book through editorial production (copyediting, proofreading, and design), or taking on the entire process, from manuscript through to the printer.

GG: You also offer self-publishing services. When it’s easier than ever to self-publish (at least digitally) these days, why would an author benefit from working with GFP? What should an author who is planning to self-publish know before entering the ring?

Mehus-Roe: It is easier than ever to publish your manuscript, yes. Print-on-demand (POD) technology has made it simple to upload a document with a cover and make it available for sale on Amazon and other online retailers. However, some bad came with the good. The advent of POD technology ushered in an absolute glut of poorly produced content, because the bar of entry was so low—which is part of what gave self-published books a “less than” reputation for so long. Over the last several years, successful self-publishers have recognized that if they’re to be competitive in a landscape where 4,500 new books are published every day, their books’ quality should be on par with that of traditional publishers from edit to interior to cover. And the work that goes into an industry-standard publication requires a team of no fewer than 6-7 professionals.

Girl Friday’s program supports self-publishers who want an integrated team that replicates a traditional publishing experience, with one important exception: the author is in charge and keeps 100% of their royalties. We talk to prospective self-publishers every day, and the best fit for GFP are those who recognize the importance of quality book production and are willing to be engaged in their own success in marketing their books. A huge red flag is when authors believe readers will simply flock to their book with no work on their part. That’s just not the reality of the book publishing marketplace—it’s a scrappy business! Go in with your eyes wide open; put your best work out there and bring an entrepreneurial spirit to connect with readers.

GG: Publishing folk—both in and out of house—will tell any aspiring author that promoting and selling your book is all about platform, platform, platform. At what point should an author start thinking about his/her platform? Is this different in self-publishing vs. traditional publishing? What advice do you give to authors looking to build their platforms from the ground up?

Mehus-Roe: What we’ve found during these start-up self-publishing years is that authors who publish independently need a platform as much as authors being traditionally published. We try to convey to authors that their work doesn’t start or end with writing the book—they also need to sell themselves and their expertise (or voice or characters, depending on the genre in which they are writing). It’s a clichéd story for those of us who have been in publishing for more than five or ten years, but we really did used to write proposals that included a marketing section that said something along the lines of “author is willing to go on book tours and will make themselves available for TV and radio interviews.” The idea is laughable now, because every author really needs to sell themselves as a thought leader, as an influencer, as someone who can connect and help sell books.

Our initial advice for authors looking to develop a platform is to get out there in those ways appropriate to them and to their work, social media being one of the big ones. They need to establish a voice on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn… and be active there. That means posting regularly, engaging their audience, reaching out to other authors or area experts. Getting to know their peers—whether that’s fellow sci-fi writers or motivational speakers/authors—is crucial, as are relationships with influencers who can promote their books and pass on the word of mouth. We also suggest authors seek out opportunities to expand their message, from becoming part of their local book community to offering guest posts and articles.

GG: You’ve worked with a lot of companies to develop books to help them promote their brand. Why can a book be a useful brand-building tool? What makes a good branded book?

Mehus-Roe: Ideally, a book relates to the ideals of that company in a way that resonates with a reader. This will vary depending on the type of company and the audience. For example, we worked on the Boeing Centennial book, which was created primarily for Boeing workers and Boeing friends and families, but also for a general audience. It was really important that that book convey the principles and values of Boeing through the years, but also spoke to each reader’s connection to the company. We tried to do this by including anecdotal stories about projects and the individuals who worked on these projects. Our hope was that readers would recognize themselves or their parents in these stories and in the featured historical photographs.

When we created a children’s book about the Seattle Great Wheel, our audience was both locals and out-of-town visitors to the Wheel, and here our goal was to convey the fun of the experience and the brand while showing its very strong connection to the rest of Seattle, particularly the downtown area. The book identifies the Wheel as an iconic part of the Seattle experience, while providing a whimsical story that kids can relate to (and hopefully their parents want to read to them!). Our hope with both these books, and our other branded books, is that readers finish each book with a better idea of the company and an increased sense of brand loyalty.

The Hard Truth About Distribution for Self-Published Authors

Distribution has always been one of the more complex aspects of book publishing, and print-on-demand platforms have caused increasing confusion and hype around this process. It’s the number one question prospective self-publishers have: How can I get my book into bookstores? To be clear: When print-on-demand platforms offer “free global distribution to retailers,” this means that your book will be listed in the Ingram catalog, from which booksellers purchase orders. Regardless of whether you print on an offset press or print-on-demand, “available for distribution” and “on a shelf in a bookstore” are two entirely separate states. Basically, just because bookstores can order your book doesn’t mean they will.

The mysterious alchemy by which books get ordered from the catalog and shelved in stores is the nut self-publishers haven’t been able to effectively crack. Why? Several good reasons:

  1. The sales process involves in-person pitches to bookstores’ buyers by publishers’ sales reps. This is time consuming and expensive and relies on networks of reps with regional and local relationships with booksellers. Because they work on commission, reps have little desire to peddle a book by an unheard-of indie author with no marketing to back up their sell-through plan. Hear in detail how this works from S&S’s Christine Foye.

  2. The economics don’t work out for booksellers. Standard trade discount is 55% off list price. But when you throw a POD platform into the mix, the pie gets sliced further, so booksellers get closer to 40% or even as low as 25%—which is a much less attractive purchase for them, if even feasible with their slim margins.

  3. Bookstores buy everything on a returnable basis from traditional publishers. Until recently, that wasn’t even possible with POD books. Now it is: if you elect to make your POD book returnable, you will be mailed back returned copies of your books (how sad an experience is that?!), and to add insult to injury, you are responsible for the cost to ship the books back. Plus, it’s a catch-22: mark your book as nonreturnable and there’s little to no chance a bookstore buys it—but mark it as returnable, find out how sad and expensive that is, change your mind, and learn that you still are forced to accept and pay for returns for a full six months, according to the fine print in your contract (!!!). (PSA: Please do not make your POD books returnable in the hopes that bookstores will buy them.)

The outlook is bleak for self-publishers who seek retail distribution. But is “how do I get my book into bookstores” even the right question to be asking as a self-publisher?

I would argue that trying to make your self-publishing business model behave exactly like traditional publishing is not the right approach. There are ways in which self-publishers will never be able to effectively compete with traditional publishers (retail distribution being a big one), but there are also ways in which traditional publishers are struggling to compete with self-publishers. The latest Author Earnings report numbers give some compelling examples of where indie authors are in the lead:

  • Print books represent 39% of book units sold, while ebooks command 61% of copies sold.[i]

  • As of 2012, online retailers, not brick-and-mortar stores, were responsible for nearly half of print book sales, a percentage that is steadily growing.[ii]

  • Brick-and-mortar bookstores account for less than 20% of print books sold (the remaining percentage, after e-commerce sites and chain/independent bookstores, is made up of book clubs, supermarkets, warehouse clubs, and mass merchandisers that there’s no way indie authors could distribute to).[iii]

  • In two short years, the market share of paid unit sales between indie and Big 5 ebooks has more than inverted. The Big 5 now account for less than a quarter of ebook purchases on Amazon, while indies are closing in on 45%.[iv]

  • 39% of the 195,000 ebooks comprising Amazon’s bestsellers as of January 2014 were by indie or single-author publishers. [v]

  • During the same snapshot, 56 of Amazon’s overall top 100 bestselling ebooks—more than half—were self-published indie titles (priced at full/competitive retail, not bargain giveaway pricing). [vi]

  • Indie books now account for more than 42% of all ebook purchases each day on Amazon.com.[vii]

At the Digital Book World Conference in New York a couple of months ago, it was clear that the Big 5 are struggling to maintain their domination in the face of the biggest book retailer on earth—Amazon—which doesn’t play the traditional distribution game.

So instead of the question “how can I get my book into bookstores?” I encourage prospective self-publishers to ask instead: “where does my reader like to buy books?” and “in what format does she prefer to read?” and “how can I use my position as a self-publisher as an advantage to sell copies of my book online?”

While some aspects of traditional publishing are important to pursue as a self-publisher (high quality editorial and design, most importantly), don’t let bookstore aspirations blind you to the opportunities you have to find your readers through other, equally if not more successful, distribution channels.

 

[i] Author Earnings’ Print Vs. Digital Report

[ii] DBW blog, March 2013

[iii] DBW blog, March 2013

[iv] Author Earnings’ February 2016 Report

[v] Author Earnings’ February 2016 Report

[vi] Author Earnings’ February 2016 Report

[vii] Author Earnings’ February 2016 Report

The Whole Elephant: Why Indie Publishing Roots Make GFP an Excellent Publishing Partner

Back in the day when Ingrid and I worked for Seal Press, our jobs lacked the glamour of big-house cred. That was a time when “independent publishing” didn’t mean self-publishing. It meant you were small and scrappy, trying to live your values and save the world, while making no money doing it.  

What Ingrid and I did have, in addition to nothing-to-sneeze-at indie and feminist cred, was the knowledge and expertise of what a publishing house does. By that I mean what everyone in a publishing house does, from the person on the phone doing fulfillment to the person attending sales conferences with the distributor to the person managing the slush pile to the person scheduling readings and events to the person writing back-cover copy to the person collating corrections . . . I won’t go on because the list is already bordering on tedium. And that’s my point—I’ve barely scratched the surface. It takes a village, my friends, to write, acquire, edit, design, produce, distribute, and publicize a book.

How was it that we knew what each person did at every stage as those beautiful change-the-world books went from idea to endcap? Because more than likely, we were the ones doing the work, or two of ten people doing the job of fifty. Was it stressful? (Sure. We drank.) Did it teach us everything we needed to know about publishing, including hard lessons that stay burned in our brains forevermore? (Why, yes it did.) At an indie publisher, everyone commits to keeping the book on schedule, staying within budget, and creating the most amazing book possible. There’s no other department to push off work to or blame for the book falling behind or for a bad edit or the wrong title. You know the parable about the blind men and the elephant, where each feels only a piece of the elephant and thus gets a skewed vision of what it really looks like? Well, in indie publishing we weren’t relegated to just a tail or a toenail or the trunk. We saw that whole beautiful animal and took complete responsibility for its care.

This holistic vision and passion for each book are the roots of Girl Friday. More than that, as a small firm committed to quality and relationships, those are our values. The same lessons so many Girls Friday learned working in-house—the constraints of a P&L or the fires that pop up in legal review—allow us to see and care for the whole elephant today, whether we’re working with individual authors or with major publishers who want to replicate their production pipeline out-of-house, giving them greater flexibility with their lists.

It’s because of our indie background that we believe so strongly in working on the whole book on our clients’ behalf: We match the perfect developmental editor with experience in that subgenre to each book. We carefully review each step in editorial production. We liaise with outside design teams or stakeholders internal to organizations, always keeping the project at the heart of our decisions. We weigh in on covers and titles and marketing plans and write back-cover copy. Above all, our team investment in the whole book allows us to deliver flawless books of the same quality we would have been proud to produce back in the day and manage to have a little fun while doing it. Even as we grow, we’ve been careful not to lose that small-team, whole-book approach we learned back in our salad days and to stay focused on the whole elephant.

Why NOT “à la Carte”

Publishing one’s own work is a complex task. Clients often ask us if we can help them do a discrete piece of it—just the copyedit or the cover design, for instance—and we almost always decline. My email responses to these requests are necessarily brief, but today I’ll take the room to explain why.Authors who have their manuscripts acquired by a traditional publishing house are automatically given an “in-house treatment”—meaning that an entire dedicated team of experts will work together to make sure their final book is high quality and well launched. Publishers know that acquiring good material is only the first of many important steps to success, and the integrated production team that develops the raw manuscript into book form is critical. In no publishing house ever does a manuscript come in, get laid out in design with a cover slapped on, and get a quick proofread before publishing. But many self-publishing authors seek exactly that: a piecemeal approach to editorial and design. There are several good reasons why à la carte production does not serve up the best book:

1.  Your text will be rife with errors. The production process that a manuscript goes through to become a book is like a funnel. If you skip over the initial developmental editing stage, which addresses lots of big picture issues (even the most talented writers are too close to their work to view it with fresh eyes), then those big picture problems remain and trip up a copyeditor, who should be focusing her energies on a more granular grammar and style level. But a good copyeditor will also flag stray developmental problems—so if there has been no dev edit, the copyedit pass will be unreasonably heavy. Heavy copyedits always mean that more work is left over for the proofreader, who will have a tall order to catch the hundreds of issues remaining. Hundreds?! Absolutely. A heavy proofread of a standard-length manuscript often has upwards of six hundred errors to fix—and with that many problems on the final pass, the likelihood that more errors will slip through to the published version is much greater. To put it another way, asking for à la carte editorial services for your book is like building a car yourself and then hiring someone to double check the quality of the exterior paint job.

2. Your design will suffer. Design is woven tightly into the fabric of this highly integrated process. Interior book designers should not be making any decisions about your content—but when a manuscript comes their way that hasn’t been through a proper editorial process, it forces them to interpret things (such as the intended relationship of subheadings that are set in inconsistent font sizes. This means you could wind up with what you wanted to be a subheading under the main chapter header looking as if it’s the start of a new chapter altogether—because the designer wasn’t clear on how you wanted that piece of text styled). Manuscripts that have not been through the editorial and styling process are a disastrous mess formatting-wise, even though they may look okay to the untrained eye. This formatting inconsistency makes for a more manual layout process, which can introduce significantly more design errors. Pairing design with professional preparation of the text ensures that editorial intentions are clearly and consistently communicated to the designer, and this ultimately results in a much lighter proofread and a more polished set of final pages.

3. The experience will make you want to tear your hair out. In-house at a traditional publisher (and at Girl Friday), there’s a person whose job it is to manage the team and expertly shepherd the book through the production process. When you self-publish and decide to cherry-pick services, you have to fill this role, acting as the sole communicator between the various members of your disconnected team as well as foreseeing all potential problems yourself. It’s not only frustrating but also very expensive to make mistakes of poor foresight—such as finding out just as you’re ready to upload your final files that the trim size you imagined for your book is not supported by the platform you’re using.

It’s an exciting time to be in book publishing, and self-publishing has disrupted the industry in ways we never could have imagined ten years ago. But there are some things about traditional publishing that are worth keeping—and having a team of expert professionals work together to create a book is at the top of the list.

Three Key Questions to Ask at the Beginning of Your Children’s Book Self-Publishing Journey

There is a common misconception that children’s picture books are the low-hanging fruit of the publishing world. Perhaps because they’re short and simple, folks think: I could write a great picture book! And yet, a very small percentage of children’s book ideas land a deal with a traditional publisher. Self-publishing has disrupted the notoriously difficult children’s book publishing landscape just as it has the adult market, and writers are jazzed. However, too many aspiring children’s book self-publishers don’t look before they leap. They dive right in to a lovely working relationship with their favorite artist and produce a finished file, only to then come to Girl Friday (or someone similar) for publishing assistance and find they’re already too far down the wrong path. Think through the considerations below at the very beginning of your children’s book publishing journey to ensure that you’ll be putting your best foot forward.

1. Does your book have a specific audience, and do you know how to reach it?

We think it’s thrilling that self-publishing platforms are making room for new books to exist for very specific market niches. A publisher may not buy a book if the market for it is too small, but that doesn’t mean there’s no market at all—it simply means that the publishers aren’t able to effectively reach that specific set of readers. The most successful—perhaps the only successful—children’s book authors who self-publish have a clear understanding of who will buy their book and a clear plan to reach them. That could be selling copies directly through their website (providing there is existing traffic), or through an established relationship with schools or libraries, for example.

2. Is the format you envision for your book possible, and if so, is it financially viable?

A classic vision for a picture book is a jacketed hardcover set in a landscape orientation. The problem is that most print-on-demand printers are not set up to print and bind books in landscape layouts—and the ones that are can be prohibitively expensive (often around twenty dollars per book in print costs!). Before you engage any freelancers (artists, editors, or designers), you need to first confirm the cost to print the book in the format you envision. To determine that your format will work, find a self-publishing platform that supports landscape printing (Bookbaby is worth looking into), and plug in numbers to see how much it will cost to print. That information will tell you if you can sell the book at a reasonable retail price and not have to raise the retail to thirty dollars just to break even on the printing (not advisable!). If you can’t make the costs work, don’t despair! If you can be flexible about the format, going for a portrait trim size (IngramSpark even offers an eight-by-eight -inch square hardcover option), you’ll be able to make the numbers work out.

3. Have you jumped the gun with the artwork?

Many self-published authors come to us for editorial and design services with artwork fully completed. This is problematic because it hamstrings the developmental editor’s work on your story. The developmental editor will work with your story’s pacing to tighten and drive the plot forward. If art is created in conjunction with your drafted plot, then the developmental editor has to leave the pacing intact, and you’ve missed a great opportunity to strengthen your book. It’s best to hold off on having anything other than sample artwork created until the developmental-editing phase is complete.