For many of us who enjoy writing fiction, poetry, recipes or other pieces of creative writing, the next logical step seems to be publication. The problem is, however, that thousands of other people with similar interests have already tried and failed to gain the attention of mainstream publishing companies. Getting a collection of poetry or a first novel accepted by a major publishing house can take years, provided your manuscript even survives the first glance by a professional reader. Even smaller presses have already committed their resources for years into the future. Getting a book or manual into the hands of readers today often involves a form of self-publishing.
Self-publishing a manuscript should not suggest the material is somehow unworthy of professional publication. Poet Walt Whitman self-published his collection, Leaves of Grass, which is still considered to be a classic literary work. Self-publishing really means believing in the value of your work enough to make a personal investment in it. Some self-published manuscripts recoup their original costs, but many do not. The ideal self-published book has a definite audience, a unique point of view on the subject and a compelling writing style. Some self-published books can be entered into writing contests, and a few are actually selected for republication by major publishing houses. Here’s how to self-publish a manuscript:
- Consider the target audience of your proposed book. One important consideration of self-publishing is the scope and size of the initial press run. Take a moment to consider who would be most interested in buying your book. Would it be a few friends who enjoy reading your poetry, or an entire church group which enjoys your original recipes? Is the subject matter strictly limited to local interests, or would the general public benefit from its publication? It pays to understand your ideal audience so you can make decisions on artwork or number of pages or pricing later on in the process.
- Self-publishing begins with self-editing. If your manuscript had been accepted by a major publishing house, you would most likely be working with an editor to make vital changes to your manuscript. When self-publishing, this step is equally vital. This is the time to either hire a freelance editor or weed out weaker elements of your manuscript yourself. Your or your hired editor should proofread anything that survives the initial cut. If additional material is needed to flesh out the book, now is the time to create it. A good editor should be able to arrange individual pages for maximum impact on the reader. If the book is a how-to manual, then illustrations and instructions need to be coordinated and checked for missed steps.
- Find a desktop publishing program or word processor. There are a number of computer software companies which offer specialized desktop publishing programs for writers. Many computers already contain some form of word processing program or Microsoft desk publishing software. Since these programs offer a number of features, you may have to experiment until you find one that can handle your publishing needs most intuitively. If you are creating a poetry chapbook or other smaller project, the text will have to be reformatted to fit the left and right sides of a standard 8 by 10 piece of paper. Look for features such as page numeration, indexing, object insertion and page previews. Preformed templates for common types of publications (greeting cards, posters, newsletters, etc.) may also prove very useful.
- Consider artwork and photography. Readers enjoy seeing photographs, especially if they help to illustrate a point or define a character. Some fiction books for children are also improved through the use of illustrative artwork. If nothing else, the cover may need some appealing graphics to create visual appeal for potential readers. If you cannot provide quality photographs or illustrations on your own, you may want to commission a local artist or photographer to help. Photographs may have to printed on special paper for better reproduction quality, but a computer printer with high quality printing capability can usually do a credible job. The cover art may have to be duplicated onto heavier paper by a professional print shop.
- Create a final copy for reproduction and binding. Depending on the amount of books you wish to create during your first press run, you may have to provide a copy of your entire book, from cover to cover, to a local print shop for mass copying. A home computer printer and a supply of ink cartridges might suffice for very small runs. Make sure each and every page is formatted correctly, the text is completely error-free and the pages are numbered and indexed. The print shop may have several methods of quick binding, from a three hole punch to coil binders. Saddle stapling is also an option, whether performed by the print shop or at home. Saddle stapling involves placing two or three staples through the middle of a folded manuscript. You’ll need an actual saddle stapling machine or deep-throated office stapler to perform this type of binding.
- Trim your pages to avoid telescoping. One problem many self-publishers face when creating folded or digest-sized chapbooks is the tendency of the pages to expand outwards. This may not seem so noticeable when dealing with two or three pages, but if you have eight or more folded pages being combined into one book, the innermost pages will bulge out–a process called telescoping. In order to correct this problem, you’ll need to trim of the excess edges with a large guillotine-style paper cutter. The results will be much more professional.
- Price your book and advertise. When pricing a self-published book, consider the actual expenses incurred during production, such as printing costs, paper, artwork and photography commissions and editorial fees. If you only want to break even on the publication, your final price should only be a small percentage above cost. If you’re hoping to recoup your entire investment and make a significant profit, then you may want to create a price doubling your actual expenses. Create a website to promote your self-published book, or advertise through word-of-mouth. Getting a self-published book on the shelves of local bookstores may be challenging, so be prepared to sell your book’s appeal to shops which cater to the same audience as your book.