Thursday, June 27, 2013

The DON'Ts of Self-Publishing


As my first self-publishing journey comes to an end, I would like to share a few lessons I have learned. I have already published several blog posts on the DOs of self-publishing, a few of which can be found here, here, and here.

Here, I offer the DON'Ts of self-publishing according to my recent experience. I do not claim that this list is exhaustive, only that it's what I learned the hard way so you don't have to.

DON'T wait to set up your business

Long before you ever plan to get your novel out there, decide on your business structure. Many self-publishers (myself included) set up an author/publisher business as a sole proprietorship. If you don't use your own name for this (and even if you do,) there are steps to take. To get your book out as quickly as possible once it's finished, you should have your business up and running well in advance so you can spend those last weeks focused elsewhere. Here are some step-by-step instructions for starting your author/publisher business.

DON'T wait to set up your bank accounts

This is a part of setting up your business which wasn't covered in the aforementioned blog post, but it's an important part. It is strongly suggested (and generally wise) that you set up a business checking account and a business savings account, and use it for all of your publishing-related transactions. This will keep your business funds separate from your personal funds, which will help you enormously when tax time arrives. A word of caution: every bank on earth will try to sell you their merchant services when you sign up for a business bank account. These services typically include mechanisms for taking credit cards on your home computer and your smart phone (an example being The Square.) My personal opinion: don't. The bank will charge you monthly fees for this, and you can get it for free from PayPal. Establish a PayPal account instead of signing up for your bank's merchant services, and PayPal will send you their version of The Square (it's actually a triangle.) It's free, and their customer service absolutely rules over any bank. You also don't need a land-line to take credit card orders, which some banking merchant services require.

DON'T wait to set up your printing and distribution channels

This is a place where I really screwed the pooch, and paid for it later. I thought that I couldn't really do anything until I had a book in hand. How wrong I was, and each site came with its own glitches (listed below,) and resolution of each glitch cost me some time. At any time while writing your novel (say, during those moments of writer's block,) establish a profile on the sites listed below. In some cases (ahem, Lighting Source, ahem,) there are several steps that involve waiting for approval. But the good news is, you can get through these steps long before your book is ready. Deal with the glitches early. Then, when your book IS ready, you just slam the files onto the site and you're off. Here's my list of places where you should establish a profile well in advance:

  • CreateSpace 
    • CS is pretty quick, but it's good to get it up and running.
  • Lightning Source 
    • For print book access to Ingram for B&N print book distribution and Baker & Taylor for libraries. 
    • Takes forever.
    • There are forms to fill out online, then you wait for approval. 
    • Then you are sent a slew of additional forms which you must print, sign and fax back.
    • Then you wait for approval.
    • Once approved, upload files, order a print proof, and wait some more.
    • I'm still waiting.
  • Amazon Author Central (US, UK, FR, DE and JP) 
    • Amazon should be straightforward, but in my case, all five sites had a glitch linking my twitter account. This took time and several e-mails to resolve. Once resolved, it was fixed on all sites. 
    • Also, be aware that the FR, DE and JP sites are in their respective languages. If you set up your US and UK sites first, you can remember much of what you did (the sites are all set up identically.) You can also use Google Translate in a separate window to get a rough idea of what each site says.
    • None of the foreign language sites are currently allowing me to link my book to my author page. I still haven't found the answer to this.
  • Nook Press
    • Direct upload, this was fairly straightforward. 
    • It took a few days before the book would show up in a search.
  • Barnes & Noble
    • For print book access to BarnesandNoble.com.
    • Once print book and Nook book are set up, they should link together on B&N.com.
    • You need Lightning Source set up first.
  • Kobo Writing Life
    • OK. Kobo has one area of major stupidity. You can only accept royalties from Kobo via direct deposit, and you can't do anything on the site until you provide your bank account and routing number info. But Kobo is a Canadian company and thinks there is no such thing as a 9-digit routing number. To my knowledge, every routing number in the United States is 9 digits. I know for certain that every routing number from Bank of America is 9 digits. So I couldn't set up my Kobo profile until I exchanged multiple e-mails with their customer service department which finally permitted me to provide my bank account info. Blech.
    • Note that you DO NOT need to provide your account number to customer service during the aforementioned chain of e-mails. I just provided them with the routing number (which is the same for every BofA in the U.S., and my city, and they eventually got their system to recognize my bank and city (albeit, the wrong bank branch.) 
    • Do not enter your state in the city field (i.e. write "San Diego" and don't let it auto-populate to "San Diego, CA" - which it will. Enter a space or two after "San Diego" to get rid of the auto-populated state.
    • At that point, I was finally able to provide my bank account number directly onto the website and carry on. 24-72 hours later, the book was published.
  • iBookstore
    • You need to apply online to publish in the iBookstore.
    • Then wait five days.
    • Then you don't hear anything back from them.
    • Contact customer service.
    • Then get an e-mail response that there was an issue with your Tax ID number and legal entity name.
    • Send some e-mails back and forth over several days to resolve the issue.
    • Application takes another five days to review.
    • I'm still waiting.
  • Shelfari
    • Start a profile and populate with some of the books you have read
    • Do some reviews, etc.
  • Goodreads (reader only - author page after publication)
    • Start a profile and populate with some of the books you have read
    • Do some reviews, etc.

DON'T wait to get reviews:

If you're not doing an ARC of your book, it's a good idea to at least give your completed (or mostly completed) manuscript to as many reviewers as you can (friends, family...) Even the Word document. These people can provide reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari, etc. as soon as you have established your author pages. Then when the book becomes available to the masses, you don't look like a dork by having zero reviews on your book and author sites. See my book and author sites for examples of looking like a dork. Moreover, if you get some great reviews before the book is published, you can include a review page in the front of your book.


DON'T publish before obtaining an LCCN, if you want one

The LCCN is essentially a catalog number for your book. For the self-publisher, the necessity of having one of these is debatable. But if you want one, there is a window of time for obtaining it: you have to have already assigned your ISBN, but you need to include the LCCN in your copyright page - so you have to get the LCCN before publishing if at all. It can take some time to get one, so plan ahead.

The official launch date for The Vesuvius Isotope is July 1, but the book is available now via all of the channels mentioned above except where noted. As I post this, copies can be obtained via Amazon (for print books or Kindle,) Barnesandnoble.com (for Nook,) and Kobo (for...Kobo.) You may also still get a print copy at my website, which will come signed.

Will I self-publish (by choice) again? That depends. I can say at this time that I'm 100% happy with the product I ended up with. But I have yet to see how the novel will actually sell. Stay tuned...

Readers, what would you add to this list?

Addendum: They say that the average self-pubbed debut novel sells between 75 and 250 copies (this basically equates to how many people you know…) They also say that if you've sold 1000 copies, you're doing something right. To date, I'm two years in on The Vesuvius Isotope and I can tell you I'm about halfway between friends-and-family sales and you're-doing-something-right sales. So, no, I'm not rich and famous, but yes, I will self-pub again. In fact, I'm about to. Please stay tuned for The Death Row Complex, coming in June.

8 comments:

  1. Good list! And good luck with your book. Welcome to the deep end of the pool.

    Additions & amendments:

    Don't mess with iBookstore directly unless you own a Mac. After Apple gets done stiff-arming you over your iBook account, you'll discover that the only way to upload your book is throuh iPublisher, which runs only on a Mac. I went through Draft2Digital (https://www.draft2digital.com/login/), which will publish your ePub to any of five outlets that you choose (including iBookstore). D2D does the dirty work for you in exchange for a reasonable percentage of will probably be an infinitessimal number of sales.

    Don't forget that the book description in LSI/Ingram accepts common HTML tags, such as the ones you can use here. They won't tell you this, but if you don't use them (including "br" for paragraph breaks), your book description will run together into a single mass of text, and you'll end up attempting to change it in every online bookseller around the world.

    Don't assume that because you checked "worldwide rights" in Nook Press and your book shows up in the US Nook bookstore, that it will also appear in the UK Nook bookstore. I'm still fighting that battle.

    Don't spend a lot of time creating a publisher account with B&N unless you're going to try to place printed books in the retail outlets themselves. (Good luck with that.) Your print book will appear in BN.com automagically once Ingram starts pumping it out.

    A note on Author Central: my books linked automagically to my French, German and Japanese author pages after a few days. However, the link from the author page to search for your paper books will fail bcause the link is set to find the books in the native-language bookstore, and yours will be in the English-language bookstore ("Englische Bucher" in amazon.de, for instance).

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    1. Thanks for all of the addenda Lance, those are helpful. I'll add a couple more:

      1) I actually own a Mac and am still finding iBookstore to be a pain in the rear. I'm not done yet, so I'll keep everyone posted about additional issues I may come up with. I assume this will be worth it, given that Mac people are religious about their Macs (except me, I really don't care either way...) So I assume iBooks is probably popular among them, although I have no stats to back up this assumption.
      2) Yeah, thanks for the tips about the paragraph changes. My back cover is a single paragraph so it doesn't really apply, but I'm sure others will appreciate it. Would you be interested in doing a guest post about basics of HTML for those of us who are total dummies in that arena?
      3) Let us know what happens with Nook US/UK.
      4) Good to know about B&N. My understanding is that it's categorically impossible for a self-pubbed author to get into their stores, so...
      5) Interesting about the foreign language Author Central pages. I guess I'll wait a little longer and see if that happens. As of now, I have author profiles set up on all of those (except Japan, which wouldn't even accept my username/password because it's in Latin letters. How did you deal with that?) But I don't have my book linked. I tried the native language bookstore and the English language bookstore and neither one worked. I could find my book but I couldn't link it to my pages.

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    2. 1) Keep plugging away at iBooks. I've read that they're really hard to work with, so if you get tired of the fol-de-rol, give Draft2Digital a try.
      2) Sure, I can do that. Let me know when and how much.
      4) I've read a few authors claim that after a great deal of trouble, they managed to get a B&N manager to carry their paperbacks. Other than the great satisfaction of seeing your book on a shelf in a real bookstore, I'm not sure whether that's worth the time expended to get there.
      5) Amazon.jp will accept Latin letters, but you have to set up your account specifically with them -- they don't recognize your non-JP Amazon account. (You can use the same username/password, though.) It's helpful to have a browser that will translate the pages as you go along.

      I understand now what you're saying about the other Author Central pages. My name links back to my DR and FR author page from the product pages, but I don't have the links under "Books by..." on my DE and FR author pages. After I saw it come up correctly on the UK site, I didn't pay much attention to the others. You may need to contact the Author Central support folks for those pages. I didn't have much trouble communicating with the French and German support people in English.

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  2. Great stuff, Kristen. I published my first novel through a traditional publisher, but are thinking of doing something different with my next one. Have decided which route to take yet - self-pub or indie. So I have been reading all the blogs I can on both. Thanks for the info and good luck with your book. I'm looking forward to getting it.

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    1. Thanks DC, I hope my experience will be useful for you. If you click the "self-publishing" label on the left hand side of this page, you'll find multiple posts on the subject. The folks on this site have been VERY helpful in getting through this journey. Best of luck !

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  3. Wow, this post has skyrocketed to number 2 of my all-time most popular posts, second only to the "Where do your marketing dollars go" post by Sunny Frazier. Which tells me something about what kind of material people really want to read...

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  4. Thanks for your note on Kobo & routing numbers! I was trying and trying to figure out why I'd never gotten any payments from them - looks like their computers randomly removed a digit from my 9-digit routing number. So I'm starting my email to their customer service...

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  5. Well, honest articles about the harsh reality of business are my replacement for the 'hard-boiled fiction' I once enjoyed as a teenager. ;-)

    Thanks!

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