4 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Self-Published
A few years ago, I had an idea for a short, five-chapter book about the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. I had taught on this passage a few times and thought the text brilliantly took on the problem of pain and suffering in a way that resonated with other people. Since most publishing companies aren’t interested in publishing five-chapter books from unknown authors, I knew I would need to be a self-published author. While my experience was largely a pleasant one, I definitely look back at that time and see some things I could have done differently.
So, here are four learning moments from my self-publishing experience that I hope will help you:
- Fewer people use e-readers than I thought.
- Plan to pay someone to format it.
- Plan to do several rewrites.
- Come up with a promotional plan (It won’t just happen.)
DON’T LIMIT YOUR AUDIENCE.
One of the choices I had to make was to self-published print copies, electronic versions or both. Because print was more expensive and I didn’t think people would want to pay too much for a short book, I went the “e-only” route. My reasoning being that my audience would be largely younger and therefore more technically savvy. I was wrong.
It turns out the Millennial audience I was after doesn’t like e-readers very much, at least not in comparison to those in their late 30s to 50s. At least a dozen times, I had people on Facebook ask if there was a way to buy a hard copy of the book. That was probably the tip of the iceberg of lost sales. My point is to cast as wide a net as possible with your book. If possible, do print and electronic versions and promote your book through as many avenues as you have access to. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and email will all reach different audiences.
PAY SOMEONE TO FORMAT THE E-VERSION.
It turns out there are very specific file types needed for e-reader books, and these file types change depending on who you’re self-publishing through. You might be the industrious type of person who thinks, I can learn how to code that on my own. If so, the internet has plenty of info to help you; however, I am not this person. The good news is, there are plenty of people out there willing to take your manuscript and turn it into the format you need for very little money. I spent way too long arriving at this conclusion.
PLAN TO REWRITE … MORE THAN ONCE.
Because I was used to writing sermons, I imagined a book would feel the same way. Write it out, edit for clarity and grammar, and then send it in. Wrong.
What I found is the writing I thought brilliant on Tuesday was terrible on Wednesday. A 24-hour “cooling-off period” helped me see the weak spots in my thought progression, or how unfunny that joke was.
Because of this, I rewrote some sections of my book at least half a dozen times. The good news is, I can still go back and read the book and be pleased with how it turned out, but it took a lot of editing to get to that point.
HAVE A PROMOTIONAL PLAN FOR YOUR SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK.
People had always told me I should write a book! And I was the college pastor at a large church! AND I had TONS of Facebook friends. I assumed the book would just…sell itself. And it did! I sold…tens of copies. OK, I did a little better than that, but to this day I’m disappointed with how limited the sales were.
If you are going to promote the book entirely on your own, you’re going to need to be very intentional about it. Beyond leveraging your social media outlets, you’ll want to consider paying to boost your posts on Facebook, finding blogs who might be interested in you writing a guest piece that points toward your book, and leaning into your church community for help.
There is another option. Self-publishing organizations like Equip Press offer to not just help create your book, but also to promote it. There’s a financial investment up front, but the positive end is if the book you’re writing connects with the audience you’re aiming for, the sales could quickly launch beyond your limited sphere of influence. Because ultimately our hope is that God will use the words we write to make an impact in others’ worlds.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about becoming a self-published author, but hopefully my experience helps you some in your journey.