Shop Talk: The Five Commandments of Self-Publishing Your Book

by Nathan Meunier

shoptalk copyThe publishing landscape is changing dramatically. When it comes to writing and launching a new book, DIY is increasingly becoming the way to go these days. The reasons are numerous. You have more control over the end product and more freedom to experiment. Also, it’s faster, there’s less risk involved, and you can get a disgustingly better royalty rate than with traditional publishers. Self-publishing isn’t what it was a decade ago. It’s way better, though you still have to do most of the heavy lifting yourself. Sadly, that’s often becoming the case with a lot of traditionally published authors too. So why not take control and put together your book on your own terms?

In doing all of the legwork to successfully launch my new book Up Up Down Down Left WRITE: The Freelance Guide to Video Game Journalism earlier this summer, I learned a lot about the ins-and-outs of what it takes to put a book together from scratch and publish it on Kindle and Amazon. If you’re looking to self-publish your own books, here are have a few core recommendations to consider before you hit the big shiny red button.

1) Build your platform first

Take the time to establish a “platform” of online reader base BEFORE you start writing your book. Build a website, generate interesting content that gets traffic, get on social media sites to build your follower base. Do whatever you can to establish yourself as an expert in the field you’re writing about, and connect with other like-minded people who can be turned into potential readers. It’ll make it easier for you to promote your book after-the-fact, cutting down on the chances of it tanking right out of the starting gates.

A few years prior to launching the original Kickstarter to fund UUDDLW’s completion, I got on Twitter, started beefing up the article posts on my work blog, and did a lot of online networking to help lay the foundation to help set this thing in motion. Some of that wasn’t entirely book-focused, as I use all of those things for my freelance career too, but I might not have spent as much time on that side of things otherwise. This helped me gauge audience interest in the book and get the word out about it for the Kickstarter and the eventual launch. For self-published authors, the bigger the “platform” you have the better.

2) Make sure your book doesn’t suck

This seems stupid obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t bother with this crucial step before clicking “publish.” If your book is a hot mess, think twice before you let it loose into the wilds. Whether your overall concept is shaky or your information isn’t so informative, a bad book can be a black mark on your career as an author that won’t be so easily forgotten.

Get impartial Beta reader feedback on your polished drafts. Ask a friend, a colleague, an acquaintance, or someone who knows your subject well (hell, ask all of them) to give your book a thorough readthrough and offer up their honest, no B.S. impressions of what’s good, what’s bad, and what could be improved. That feedback is very important, as it will help you make your book better. Doing this BEFORE it’s out into the world is much more preferable to having to re-launch after-the-fact.

When people spend their hard-earned money on a book that winds up sucking eggs, they get pissed. Very pissed, in some cases. Far worse than simply returning your book for a refund, they may go online and give you a nasty review which can hurt your sales.

3) Commission a great cover

An awesome cover can really sell a book. Conversely, a crappy one can also turn readers off. Unless you have some serious graphics design and art experience, don’t try to cobble together a cover on your own, Frankenstein-style. It’s worth forking over some green to have a pro artist tackle the task. Make sure it looks good both up close (for print) and in tiny format (for web), since you want it to standout in online stores too.

For UUDDLW and my other upcoming books, I hired an excellent artist, Blake Wheeler, to hand-paint custom cover art based-on a loose idea and a few specifications I gave him. After an initial brainstorming session, he produced a rough sketch, we tweaked the idea some, and then he cranked out the final painting, which came out amazing!

4) Give your book a killer title

Pick something that’s fun, clever, or bold that will stand out. Make it jump out in all the right ways. With self-publishing non-fiction in the ebook world, it’s even more important to pick a title that has a keyword relevant to your niche. Be sure to add a descriptive subtitle too for non-fiction works.

I’ll admit, Up Up Down Down Left WRITE is a mouthful. Some people scratch their heads. Others tell me they purchased the book based on their excitement over the title alone. Overall, I’ve received tons of positive feedback on it, but damn it’s a toughie to market easily. It gobbles up a ton of space in Twitter posts, and when you’re looking at the Amazon store, it’s tough to make out the text as easily in the smaller promo images. That’s a sacrifice I was willing to make, simply because the title stuck with me.

That said, a shorter, punchier main title is always better, and you can use your subtitle to fill in the gaps. Take my next upcoming book, Interview Fu: The Game Journo Guide To Conducting Killer Interviews, for example. #InterviewFu is a nice, concise hashtag, and I can say the book’s main title in one snappy breath. It also fits nicely on the cover in a large bold font, which will make it easier to get attention in the Kindle marketplace.

5) Get your book professionally edited

Having an editor dig through your book to weed out any grammar blips, spelling boo-boos, or structural issues is absolutely worth it. Self-published books often get a bad rap for being poorly constructed, and it’s true: quite a few seem slapped together hastily without any editing whatsoever. Making sure your book is polished by a pro is a must. Anything you can do to close the quality gap between a traditionally published book and your own book is a good thing. It’s not always cheap, but there are affordable options out there. Find someone you trust who has experience both editing and working on the subject you’re writing about. It’ll make a big difference in your finished product.

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Dig this article? Check out my NEW BOOK!

bowkerscoverMy book Up Up Down Down Left WRITE – The Freelance Guide To Video Game Journalism is out NOW in print and on Kindle! The book is packed with over 256 pages of insider advice, expert insights, and pro tips to help you break into freelance game journalism, successfully pitch editors, deal with the challenges of the freelance life, and much more! Also, If you want to stay up-to-date on the latest developments, promotions, and other upcoming book releases, follow @gamejournoguide and consider signing my mailing list for important updates!

You can also follow @nmeunier on Twitter for regular blasts of freelance advice. Spread the good word via Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites below if you feel so inclined. Thanks!

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4 thoughts on “Shop Talk: The Five Commandments of Self-Publishing Your Book

  1. I really enjoyed this simple but informative post. Thank you for sharing such easy to remember points in a clear concise manner. I find this to be really helpful.

    • Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for stopping by! Stay tuned, as I’ll have plenty more fresh posts on the way shortly along with more books and related announcements!

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