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Board Member’s Memo: 7 Tips for the Emerging Author-Publisher

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by Rob Price, President, Gatekeeper Press & IBPA Board Chair —

Rob Price

There has never been a better time to be an author. For decades (centuries, actually), all-powerful gatekeepers ruled the landscape, determining whose books would be seen by the masses. If you weren’t one of the lucky few, your chances of getting your book out there were negligible. Then things changed.

First came Amazon and the introduction of the online bookstore. Then came the fall of Borders and other brick-and-mortar outlets. Recent years have brought on the proliferation of e-books and the ubiquity of e-readers. Advancements in print-on-demand (POD) technology now allow authors to professionally print as few as one book at a time and avoid tying up thousands of dollars in inventory. As the barriers to enter the publishing industry have tumbled down, “author-publishers” have been popping up.

With proper knowledge of the publishing industry and a compelling manuscript, first-time author-publishers can place their books on the same playing field as traditionally published books. The most important thing an author-publisher can do outside of writing a compelling manuscript is hiring the right people for the right jobs. Below are some tips that should help publishers along way.

1. Use a professional editor.

It should go without saying that things like typos, inaccurate grammar, and usage mistakes can destroy a book’s chances for success. Unfortunately, it needs to be said. Always have your manuscript professionally edited. Not only do you need someone with an eye for things like punctuation and syntax, but you will also want someone to review the content and quality of your manuscript—addressing things like organization, transitions, tone, voice, complexity, character development, etc.

When seeking a professional editor, ask for qualifications and references, and have them to do a sample edit for you. Find out how many rounds of revisions are included and make certain to nail them down on price.

2. Hire a good designer.

People judge books by their covers. Even an untrained eye can spot the differences between a professional and amateur cover design. A good designer will know how to capture a book’s essence, keep it in line with genre-specific norms, and ensure it is marketable. They will also be able to use their discretion to take your ideas and run with them as needed.

When hiring a designer, make sure you ask for their portfolio and make sure their terms are clear. Clarify answers to the following questions: Will they be providing graphics and images? Who will responsible for their cost? What happens if you are unhappy with their work? Will they create only one design or several? Is their price for the front cover only or is it inclusive of the back cover and spine? What is their turnaround time?

3. Pay attention to formatting.

Most books follow certain industry standards when it comes to things like front matter, back matter, running headers, etc., and most readers will know within the first few pages of your book whether it was laid out professionally and should be taken seriously. Does your book contain a half-title page or title page? Is the copyright page correctly formatted? Should your acknowledgments page appear at the beginning of your book or the end? A professional layout artist will not only be able to attractively format every page in your book, but he or she will also know the answers to all of these questions and more.

When surveying the field for an artist, make sure to see portfolios, ask for sample layouts, and find out whether they use a standardized template or give customized attention to each book. What do they do if you aren’t thrilled with their work? Do they charge for content or formatting changes after they’ve completed their design?

4. Consider an e-book technician.

E-Book creation is as much art as it is science. Although often referred to as “conversion,” which implies a certain passivity, the creation of a properly formatted EPUB or Mobi file is a highly technical process. When hiring an e-book technician, you will want to make sure they review their work by hand and line by line to ensure there are no formatting errors. If your book is image-heavy, like a children’s book or graphic novel, make sure the person you hire knows how to create a proper “fixed-layout” file (as opposed to “flowing text”). Obtain assurance that the files created for you will be compatible with all e-reading devices and across all retail platforms. If you want your e-book to contain embedded audio or video files, make sure the person you hire can handle these specific needs.

5. Find the right printer.

Finding the right printer is as important as any other factor. You can have a well-edited manuscript, a beautiful cover, and a professional interior, but if it’s printed on poor stock or bound improperly, all will be for naught.

When talking with printers, find out what stocks of paper they use, how fast their turnaround times are, and, if needed, whether they offer unique options like spiral-bound printing, cover embossing, or DVD-affixing. Ask to see samples if you aren’t familiar with the different options available, and make sure you’re aware of their minimum printing quantiles.

6. Figure out distribution.

There are more options for getting your book out there today than there ever before. If you don’t yet have a full-enough catalog of books suitable for a traditional distributor (with sales reps and relationships with brick-and-mortar stores and libraries), there are still a number of options available to you. A number of the larger retail outlets (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) will allow you to set up and manage accounts directly with them. If you do not want the hassle of managing your own account with each retailer, you may want to work with one of many aggregation companies. Some will take a percentage of your sales and some will ask for payment up front.

If you go with an aggregator, make sure they provide you with regular sales reports broken down by venue, and they understand whether they are acting in an exclusive or nonexclusive capacity. Lastly, make sure you are not signing away any ownership rights to your book.

7. Make yourself discoverable.

Making a book available, in itself, is not enough to ensure success. If no one knows it’s there, it may as well not be there at all. Making a book known and discoverable can be the trickiest (and most expensive) part of publishing, which is why even the biggest publishing houses continue to shift this onus onto their authors.

The book marketing area is also the area of publishing most fraught with bad actors who make false promises and charge exorbitant fees. Be wary of anyone who guarantees results and always read the fine print of any contract to see exactly what is being offered. What does social media coordination mean? What good is guaranteeing 50 phone calls to media outlets if the whole idea is futile from the beginning? As much as any other aspect of publishing, references here are necessary.

Whether you’re publishing your first book or your hundredth, always remember you are the publisher and are therefore the boss. Do your research and make service providers sell themselves to you. Armed with the right information, you can take advantage of this brave new author-centric world and give yourself the best opportunity for success.

Rob Price is chairperson of the IBPA board of directors and the president of Gatekeeper Press with 200,000 books sold as a self-published author. Gatekeeper Press works with publishers and authors looking to self-publish who earn 100 percent of their net proceeds, retain 100 percent of their rights, and reach readers all over the world.

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