Let’s say you want to know how to self-publish a book, and you want to do it in the cheapest and best way possible. Is this contradictory?
On my website at Write and publish your book, the two questions I get asked the most are how to self-publish a book and how to do it on a small budget. Coincidentally, they also want to know how best to do this.
But now let’s focus on the question of the best and cheapest way to publish a book. In fact, these are two completely different questions. The first question is, “What’s the best way to get my book published?” Then the second question should be, “What’s the cheapest way to get my book published?”
See, most of the people who ask me this question are really just new to the business. It’s a perfectly legitimate question, especially if you’ve toiled two or three months writing your book (again, the timeline for writing a quality book is the subject of another essay). So let’s separate these two questions.
What’s the best way to publish a book?
Write an excellent must-read book that is unique, provocative, controversial, a literary masterpiece, or endorsed by someone like Oprah. No really. That’s the best way to publish a book.
Take, for example, Joseph Finder, author of Paranoia, the best-selling corporate espionage book. He’d had moderate success with his earlier well-written CIA suspense novels, but hadn’t made it big until he accidentally created an entirely new genre with Paranoia. In his words, “All I did was try something new—a thriller with a fresh setting and a new cast of characters.”
Or how about Nora Raleigh Baskin, a popular writer of middle-class novels such as In the Company of Crazies (HarperCollins)? She’d had a knee-high stack of rejection letters until she wrote the book she’d always wanted to write—not because she wanted to be published, but because she wanted to write this particular book. That one book, which she wrote from her heart, set her on the path to a successful writing career.
Many people have a great idea for a book, and many of these books come from their life experiences. They have no experience as writers, but the strange thing is that they almost always ask about publishing the book before it is written.
Even when they ask how to self-publish a book, they are still thinking in terms of publishing their bestseller before even determining if there is a market for the book!
For example, do you remember the story about the man who had to cut off his own arm with a blunt knife to save his life? Aron Ralston didn’t just come up with the idea of writing his book Between a Rock and a Hard Place. His story was popularised well before the book was ever written.
Compare that to the woman who wants to write about her experiences with domestic violence. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story. As much as I’d like to see an end to this terrible disease, the story won’t necessarily sell books.
And selling books, that’s what it comes down to. Is your book sold? That’s the ultimate question you need to answer if you want your book published. The question of the marketability of your book applies whether you are self-publishing your book or trying to sell your book to a publisher. Either way, it has to sell or it’s not going anywhere.
That said, let’s go back to the original question: what’s the best way to get my book published?
Self-publishing or traditional publishing?
There is no easy answer to this question, and the answer you get will depend on who you ask. I think a lot depends on you, the genre of your book, your experience as a writer and in sales, and your intentions for the book.
Self-publishing is ideal for a businessman who wants to use the book as part of his or her overall business strategy. It’s a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field (assuming the book is well written and informative). The book can be “re-used” in e-books, teleclasses (conference telephone calls), webinars (seminars held over the telephone and the Internet), and ultimately advanced courses that sell for thousands of dollars. So, the book is printed at a loss and is usually given away to people who attend the seminar.
Self-publishing is also an option for novelists who truly believe in their work but are unable to find a publisher because they are new.The key here is that you have at least tried to sell your book to a traditional publisher.
Self-publishing with the goal of eventually publishing with a major publisher will take a tremendous amount of energy and perseverance to market and sell your book. If you can prove that the book sells, you will find a publisher. Just putting it on Amazon won’t do anything. You definitely need to work on the marketing of your book.
There are many self-publishing options, ranging from “free” (Lulu) to several thousand dollars. Perhaps the worst option is to go with the so-called “Vanity” press. These are companies that will publish your book for two to ten thousand dollars, print 2500 or more copies, and do a minimal amount of marketing. You’re stuck with a garage full of books and an empty wallet. Beware of companies that want to print your book in bulk.
Lulu is the most popular, but has its own cost. Most books published on Lulu don’t sell more than 10 copies in total. The books are amateurish, with homemade covers that look like something the dog has chewed on. The printing quality is good, but the printing prices are steep. For a fee, you can have Amazon list your book and give it an ISBN.
On the other hand, you can buy your own ISBN for a little more money and have your book printed at Lightning Source for a lot less money per book. You will earn back your investment with less than 100 printed books.
Then there’s everything in between, including “Print on Demand” book publishers who create the cover, edit your book, and format the inside of the book to look professional. Some POD publishers simply publish your book as is. You take care of the cover and the layout of the interior.
Keep in mind that you generally get what you pay for, although some POD publishers charge you high fees for what is somewhat like a marketing plan. Make sure you compare the options properly.
Expect rejection. Seriously, the vast majority of books submitted to both large and small traditional publishers (publishers that pay you upfront or don’t charge you upfront) are rejected. It is a fact of life simply because they are in it to make money. If they think the book won’t sell, they’ll turn it down.
The best way to ensure success is to write a beautiful, clever, provocative, inspiring, and brilliant book. No, let me take that back. The best way to ensure success is to already be someone who is popular, well-known, famous, or influential. Think of Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, or Paris Hilton (fear the thought).
If you’re writing a nonfiction book, it’s best to be someone important, have a sales track record, or have excellent references. If you’re none of these, consider co-authoring your book with someone who fits the criteria above.
Do your marketing research beforehand for non-fiction or a memoir. If you can go into your book proposal or query letter armed with documented evidence that people are buying your type of book AND that yours puts an interesting and unique twist on a highly relevant topic, then you will grab their attention.
You must write an excellent proposal. I’ve been billed thousands to write nonfiction book proposals (and I have a track record of success). It takes time to write a compelling lead that draws them to the benefits of publishing your book and to follow that up with a comprehensive plan for marketing your book. For non-fiction, you should have written two solid sample chapters.
But what about writing fiction?
The first thing you need is a good, well-written, and interesting book. We recently had a novel writing contest on the site, and you’d be amazed at how many of the books were grammatically flawed and poorly written.
What do people think? This is clearly not you. So take your great book and write an even better question letter. You have to get your book written. Don’t say “it’s almost done,” or that “I’m considering writing…” Ideally, you’ll have read about a dozen draughts of your book before sending it to someone.
It’s much easier to get your book published if you’re already published. But don’t worry if you are new. There are ways…and there are certainly ways to do it on a shoestring budget. You can have the cheapest and you can have the best, but you’ll have to work to have both!