Becoming an Author is Hard!
Updated: 5 days ago
When I was a kid I would write stories.
I'd get a few sheets of blank paper, usually torn from a notebook. I'd scramble through the junk drawer (everybody's got one, right?) for a working stapler and some staples and three clicks later my book was bound.
I had so many ideas in my ten year old head and even then, I knew I had to be unique and write something that was different than everything else out there.
I remember one year writing a story about a croquet tournament. Croquet, as in the "sport" with those hard, colorful balls, wooden mallets, metal pieces and played in your backyard. Yep, that sport.
My story was riveting (sort of) and had all the essential elements, a beginning, climax, and ending, main and supporting characters, some action, and a lesson learned at the end. I added dialogue and fancy words. I checked my spelling, and checked for correct grammar and punctuation usage.
When I was done I meticulously illustrated each page as best a fourth grader could. I was so proud of the work that I presented my "published book" to my parents, friends, and finally, to my teacher.
If I look hard enough, that book is probably somewhere in my box of memories in the attic or basement.
Along with 50 others (I also remember a killer story about a celebrity flower who could talk, but who wasn't interested in all the fame) because, like I said when I was a kid I wrote stories.
The moral of this story: I was a writer then and I am a writer now.
Why then is publishing a book on your own so hard? Why don't I have 50 books on my Amazon Seller's Account? Maybe I need to dig my old manuscripts out of retirement. Was I really more ambitious as a 4th grader than now, as a 38-year-old?
The problem is not ambition, it's reality. Publishing a book is HARD. Really, really, stinking hard.
When I decided I was really doing this at the start of the pandemic (because I finally had time, right?), I immediately started my social media accounts to introduce myself as an author to the world. Check them out world (and feel free to hit that follow button too, wink wink!):
I knew in my heart that I was an author and that I wanted to self-publish, but I needed to share it with everyone! I needed to let them know I was serious about this, to hold myself accountable and really do it, and to start the laborious task of marketing a book that didn't quite exist yet.
Do you know what I learned right away?
That a LOT of people want to write a book....a LOT! So many people cheered me on from the get-go and simultaneously shared their "secret" that they too wanted to be an author one day, that it was their dream too.
Why then didn't I know a single author?
Ok actually, I knew one. My friend Darcy self-published a children's book a few years back and she helped me realize I could do it too.
Then there was that one mom from my kid's library class who wrote a children's book but I didn't even know her name enough to check it out. And then I think my mom's friend's friend wrote a book and maybe it was on Amazon.
But my question still loomed. If so many people wanted to write a book, why haven't more people done it? Is this "dream" that so many of us share that far out of reach for most?
I'm nine months into being an "author" and now I know why.
And it's EXPENSIVE!
Mostly it's hard. But not the kind of hard that's strenuous or impossible. Self-publishing is complicated.
Crowdfunding is an option for those who can't offer up their life savings at the moment, so the "expensive" excuse can be put to the side for now. But it's still hard!
Who knew that the actual writing of the book would be the easiest part?
First, there's editing. Once?
No. Three times?
If you're lucky.
I went through FOUR professional edits and countless self-edits. Developmental Editing, line editing, stylistic editing, copyediting, and I know I'll need at least a final proofread (or two) at the end. Who knew there were this many different kinds of editing? Definitely not me. And to think, I didn't even mention the 8 or so beta readers I sent my story to before all of this.
And the waiting.
Waiting for each person to get back to you, and sometimes they don't. When all of the editing was complete I really thought I was getting closer to the finish line but what I didn't realize was that I had barely started the race.
So what does it take to self-publish a book for the first time? Here is MY list so far of what needs to be done after your manuscript has been written and edited professionally:
Watch a billion, give or take, YouTube videos that tell you about publishing your first children's book.
Determine your trim size. Do yourself a favor and figure this out early on. Spend lots of time at the library in the children's book section, finding books that you like. Will your book be landscape or portrait? Come to a decision that you're happy with that fits the vision you have for your book.
If you're self publishing, determine where you want to publish your book-- Ingramspark, KDP, Bookbaby, Lulu, and will you start an LLC and use your own name to publish the book? Spend a ridiculous amount of time on websites and in Facebook Groups trying to figure out the pros and cons of each, until many, many hours later you come to a decision which means you've got to completely change your original trim size (yep, this happened to me), negating all the fun time spent at the library. Many companies only print books in very particular trim sizes.
Will you format a digital version of your book? There are so many good reasons to offer a digital version of your book to readers.
Decide if you will print-on-demand or use offset printing. Again, plan on spending a ridiculous amount of time researching the pros and cons of both, talking to people who have done both, and watching YouTube videos to determine which path you will choose. E-mail a multitude of printers for print quotes (or use the instant quote option that some offer on their websites) if offset printing is your choice. Wait for responses, and weigh the choices before coming to a final, well-informed decision. It's exhausting and you aren't even close to finished.
Factor in upgrades if they are a part of your vision. Paper weight, embossing, spot UV, foil stamps, linen spine, dust jackets, oh my!
Oh did you pick an illustrator? Scope out their portfolios, and ask for samples. Make and sign a contract? Do that.
Pagination. There's a word I never knew existed. Know what it means and spend some time setting yours up correctly. The last thing you want to find out after formatting is that you have the wrong number of pages in your book. Pagination is like the science of your book so you don't want to mtech-savvyess that up!
Make a book dummy. Send it to your illustrator and your book designer.
Set up a professional e-mail address.
Start on your website. Will you purchase a domain?
Start an e-mail list. Where will your e-mails be sent from? What will you write in your e-mails? More research.
Have you started your "how much publishing a book will cost me" list? If not, get that started. Watch a million more videos to determine your costs. Spoiler alert: there are a lot of costs!
Open a separate checking account to separate your personal and business finances.
Hire a formatter/designer. Sure, you could do it yourself if you're tech savvy, which I am not. With a to-do list as long as the one you've got, this is a no-brainer. Want a professional looking book? Hire a professional. This requires more research and checking out portfolios to pick the perfect person for the job. They will help lay out the book, page by page, help design a best-selling cover, pick eye-catching fonts, etc, etc.! There will likely be a lot of back and forth so be prepared for more waiting.
Purchase a copyright, and your ISBNs. You'll need three separate ISBNs for your hardcover, paperback, and e-book, so get the ten pack to start.
Determine the price of your book. Will you do hardcover, softcover, e-book? Do some market research to determine a good price but also take into consideration your cost of printing, shipping, and other factors like warehousing, distribution, etc. Know your numbers inside and out. This means back to YouTube, back to your Facebook groups. Ask and learn. You don't want to lose money on your book.
Decide where you will sell your book--Amazon (but which platform? who knew there were SO many), your own website, Indie bookstores, indie online bookstores.
Make a press kit. Send it to the press!
Assemble a launch team. See mine here: https://forms.gle/9V99WxPdMd5AbE177
Do a Kickstarter-- Ok realistically I could add at least twenty more "to dos" on this topic ALONE. No, fifty. I'm just going to leave this one right here though because if you know, you know. Check out my Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ourbestfriendkarma/our-best-friend-karma
Write a book blurb, a dedication, a copyright page, a title page, an author page, and create your endpapers (do you even know what those things are?)... I'm probably forgetting something, Let's face it, I'm not much more experienced at this than you.
Promotional items-- bookmarks, stickers, decals, notebooks, magnets, plushies. What will help sell your book? Research printers, get quotes, and create mockups. www.uprinting.com is my favorite! www.stickermule.com have great deals too. And recently I discovered www.stickergiant.com
Decide how you will pack and fulfill your book orders. Will Amazon do it? Will another company do it? Will you take up half your kitchen to do it? Will you use bubble mailers or cardboard boxes? Will you pay a little extra to be eco-friendly? Will you use tissue paper, or farmer'sadd something extra like a thank you post card? Will you use a label maker? Will you use USPS and if so, are you willing to go to the post office daily? www.Pirateship.com makes it easy to figure out the cheapest shipping option, purchase it, print a label, and you never have to leave your house!
Connect with influencers, other authors, writers, self-publishers, etc. Might want to invest in some blue light glasses if you haven't already.
Set some time aside for tears. There will be a lot of those.
Marketing. Ha! If you think that word is as simple as a single bullet entry, this is probably the first blog you've read about self-publishing. Although some of my bullets refer to some marketing to-dos, know now that marketing will likely require an entire blog or two, which I'm not quite prepared to create. Some day soon though, so be on the lookout!
Delve into the world of author visits, fairs, farmers markets, festivals, and flea markets.
Are you exhausted yet?
You don't even want to know how many times I've had to go back and change my two-spaces-after-a-sentence habit to one.
My point is, writing a book is NOT just writing a book. In hindsight, the actual writing part was only about .001% of becoming a successfully published author.
Writing a book takes time and resources. There is not a customer support line to call when you aren't sure what to do or if your decision is the correct one. Everyone on the internet is an expert so it can be daunting weeding out the good info from the nonsense.
My mission here is not to deter anyone from going after their dream of writing a book and self-publishing, but instead to let you know right here and now that, simply put, it is hard work.
There is a reason why half of the people you know want to be authors, yet none of them are (self included, but hey, I'm getting there!).
With that in mind, and trying hard not to sound cheesy, how intensely proud would you be of yourself if, despite your lack of sleep for months on end, you tackled every hurdle that came along with self-publishing, and came out on the other end with a beautiful book that you worked your tail off to create?
While I am not holding a finished product just yet, the complicated world of self-publishing is becoming a little less murky day by day.
And I refuse to quit because I've got stories to tell.
What about you? Are you a new or aspiring self-published author? Comment below and share a new tip or step that I forgot!
Author of "Our Best Friend Karma" - Coming soon, I promise!