Rak Rants

To Pitch or Self-Publish? That was the Question!

I’ve been writing poetry for more years than I can even count; however, it wasn’t until COVID quarantine that I decided to try to publish some of my poems. Give a creative person time, and they will create!

But the question was, “how?” I had two options before me: Either go the traditional publishing route and write pitch letters to publishing houses (with the chances of getting lost in a sea of children’s books); or, take matters into my own hands and self-publish.

I chose the latter, and here’s why: It gave me more control over the creative process. I was able to select my own illustrator, my own book layout and how I wanted them printed. But this isn’t an easy route, either, and I learned a lot through the process.

Namely, you have to be your own production department, your own marketing department, your own sales department and your own fulfillment department. It’s a lot to navigate and it takes a lot of time and effort, especially when you already have a rather-demanding “day job.”

Here are 10 tips about self-publishing to keep in mind if you, too, are planning a book in your future:

  1. Write a Business Plan for Your Book. Don’t go any further until you scope-out your goal for your book, how much it will cost to self-publish, how you plan to market your book and what your distribution channels will be. And of course, set a budget. You need capital! Your book is no different than any other product that’s developed. Plan it out carefully and your chances for success will increase substantially. If you don’t have a business plan, my advice is, don’t bother.
  2. Research Your Self-Publishing Partners. This was probably the trickiest part for me – which service to choose for the best results? Well, again, this depends on your goals. For me, I wanted to offer my books in a variety of print formats – hardback, paperback and as an ebook., via their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) service, was the first and most logical choice since they are the gorilla of online commerce. However, they do not offer hardback printing options – just paperback and ebooks. I didn’t want to limit myself to just those two formats so I researched the best option for hardback printing, and I found Ingram is the service that large booksellers, libraries, etc. use to mass-order their books. The upside? They do a nice job with hardback printing; however, the process is slower than anticipated. So just make sure people are aware that this isn’t something that they will order and receive within two days, as in Amazon Prime! It takes time. Outside of using IngramSpark, your other option is to print locally, but that becomes much more expensive and they won’t have the networks with the book retailers. So you have to balance your distribution decisions with speed. I chose IngramSpark for that reason; and so far, I’ve been happy with their service (their website is not the most intuitive, though; so be forewarned).
  3. Hire Design Professionals. Sites like KDP and IngramSpark offer “design your own book” tools; however, I don’t recommend them. This is not the area to bootstrap and cut corners. Your book must look professional in order to increase your chances of success, so hire professional designers, illustrators, etc. to ensure the look and feel of your book is top-notch. If you want others to take it seriously, you must take it seriously by investing the right resources into your brand.
  4. The Marketing Is All On You. One of the reasons I decided to self-publish is because I was comfortable in my ability to properly market my book(s). After all, this is my day job! However, if you are not a marketing professional, my suggestion is to hire someone who can help you do this properly. Everything from your branding to your promotions to your distribution and your packaging needs to be thought-through carefully and executed professionally. Again, this is not an area to bootstrap or cut corners. Marketing will make or break your success, just like any other product. Also, be sure you have a specific marketing budget set aside. You’ll want to consider digital advertising, news releases, events and more in order to get the word out on your new book. That costs $$, but does have a payback if done professionally.
  5. Know Your Sales/Revenue Goals. For me, this was an easier part – it wasn’t my goal to turn massive amounts of profits. I wanted to try to break-even on my hard costs, and then donate any proceeds to a nonprofit supporting the Clarion, PA community – the region on which all of my story-poems are based. So my books have a philanthropic purpose. If your goal is to make massive amounts of profit, then you’ll have to significantly ramp-up your marketing budget. It is completely possible to make a living as a self-published author; however, it’s a steeper climb since everything falls on you operationally.
  6. Set a Realistic Budget. You know how when you get new carpeting, you suddenly realize that you need to now paint, and then get new furniture and then get new curtains? That’s called, “budget creep,” and it is really easy to fall into that trap if you don’t have a strategic plan in place at the get-go (refer back to Tip #1). Think through all of the expenses ahead of time (inevitably, there is something you’ll overlook), add it up and give yourself a 20-25% buffer on top of that for new opportunities or things you didn’t think of.
  7. Don’t Be Self-Critical. I can tell you from experience that, no matter how much time and effort you put into your production process, there’s going to be something you don’t like in the finished product. Of course there will be! We’re human and that’s just how our brains work. But know that your book is a constant work in progress. You can make changes before your next printing; you can have future editions; and you can even take things in a completely new direction for future books – that’s the beauty of the control you have with self-publishing!
  8. Roll With the Punches. Just know going in that not everyone is going to love your book. This is the scary part about putting yourself out there for the world to see! But just remember, not everyone HAS to love your book, or its mission. That’s not your problem, and in many ways, it’s really none of your business. Just keep your head down, stay focused and keep moving forward.
  9. Be Patient. Hoo boy, this isn’t my strong suit; however, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is your book. It takes months (and maybe years, depending on your book) to get it to the point where it’s even ready for a printer. Then, once you turn it over to a printer, you still have weeks to wait. And then, it takes time to market and build momentum. So if you’re thinking about self-publishing, know that you’re in it for the long-haul. Be patient. Stay the course.
  10. Pat Yourself On the Back. You’ve earned it! You pushed all of the “shoulda’s, coulda’s, woulda’s” aside and just did it. And for that, you are to be congratulated. It’s one thing to have an idea or a dream; it’s another to actually make it happen. Good for you!