It’s a new day for self-publishers, no question about it. Indie authors can take the business of publishing a book into their own hands without spending huge amounts of money and, with a little diligence, can reach their specific readers through powerful sales channels available to everyone.
But there’s a catch. They themselves have to provide all those essential, professional services that traditional publishers have always supplied.
Just think about it. If you want to succeed with readers, booksellers, librarians, and media people, your book must meet the industry standards they have come to expect. It must look and feel professional in every way. And that means you’re going to need a team of professionals to handle editing, copyediting and proofreading the manuscript, creating a striking cover, designing the interior, finding or creating illustrations if you are going to include them, choosing book formats and trim sizes, and vetting vendors for e-book, print on demand, and/or offset book production. You may also need help with setting up a website, creating a mailing list, negotiating social media and creating press releases, arranging blog tours, managing publicity, and finding book review opportunities.
With the right training, you may be able to take on many of these tasks. But you have to ask yourself, “Is this really the best use of my time?”
Self-publishers generally answer “No!” to that question. And we agree. You ought to be able to spend most of your time writing and communicating with people who will benefit from what you write (otherwise known as marketing).
Team Member Picks
At the very least, most self-publishers engage an editor and/or a copyeditor, as well as an experienced cover designer, to make sure the look and feel of the book are professional.
But self-publishers who can afford it often assemble their own, larger publishing teams to replace the teams of pros they would be working with if they were being traditionally published by, say, Random House, Harper Collins, Chelsea Green, or Berrett-Koehler.
Who is on the team will vary because individual self-publishers have different skills, and it’s smart to employ the people who complement your skills where they will do the most good. For instance, a talented photographer who’s self-publishing may be able to provide a professional designer with top-quality photos for the front or back cover of her book. That makes sense.
Here’s a little more detail about what makes up a professional publishing team and why you need these pros. Your dream team could include:
- A book shepherd, sometimes called a book coach, to oversee all phases of your book’s development, to help you decide whom to hire for what and to generally hold your hand throughout the whole process
- A developmental editor, to be brought on board fairly early in the process to help you refine your concept, organize the material, maintain consistency, keep up the pace, develop your characters in fiction, and generally serve as an objective observer—a sounding board for sharing ideas and keeping you on the right path as you write and revise
- A copyeditor when the manuscript is completed and ready to be designed
- A proofreader when the print book is close to going to press
- A book designer (or two) to handle the interior and cover designs, and help with print vendor selection and the file upload process
- An e-book converter to create e-books for distribution nationally and internationally
- A publicity professional to help get attention for the book when it launches
- A website designer
- Freelance graphics suppliers for your website(s) and collateral promotional material
- An indexer for nonfiction books
- Other professionals required for specific marketing needs such as arranging blog tours, writing press releases and book jacket and promotional copy, and pitching the media in general
Paths to Experienced Professionals
How are you supposed to find all this talent, hire the right people, and pay appropriate fees? Here are our suggestions.
- Check out The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide for a curated, current list of professional service providers for self-publishers. Full disclosure: We wrote and published this new guide because, as far as we could tell, there was no trusted, central place for indie authors to go to find the various essential resources they need to make their book the best it can be. It provides more than 850 listings organized into 33 categories, and it’s updated (and sometimes expanded) every three months.
- Consider engaging a book shepherd or book coach. As mentioned, these people are familiar with the entire publishing process. They can help you find the specific vendors and team members you will need to produce a book that meets accepted standards. Make sure the person you hire has had experience with indie publishing and, of course, check references.
- Chat with editors you are thinking of hiring. Are they enthusiastic about your book and do you like them? Again, check references, work out terms that are acceptable to both of you, and get a signed letter of agreement.
- When looking for cover designers, make sure you examine their portfolios and like what you see. You want a designer who already understands how to create a cover for the readers of books in your book’s genre, category, or niche. Work out mutually agreeable terms and get a signed letter of agreement or contract.
- When it comes to marketers, always check on their experience with book publishing and with self-publishing in particular. Someone who has had lots of experience marketing Toyotas or skinny jeans probably isn’t going to fit your needs. As with all hires, check references and confirm the deal in writing.
- With everyone you hire, make sure you have established exactly what they will do, what they will charge, when they will deliver, and how you can withdraw from the relationship if it isn’t working out.
The absolute best way to do this is with a written agreement prepared for you by an intellectual property lawyer who works with independent publishers and self-publishers. A curated list of some of these lawyers will be included in the next edition of The Self-Publishers Ultimate Resource Guide.
- As noted, checking references is essential. One useful tactic is typing the name of the person or company you are considering into a search box and seeing how they present themselves and what other clients have had to say about them.Also, consider checking out your potential candidates on some of the consumer protection sites such as Writer Beware and the Better Business Bureau.
- Keep in touch with everyone on your team. You are the boss. You are the manager. And communication is key. If someone is late or you are not happy with the work a team member is doing, discuss the problem and try to work it out. This is your book. Your name is on the cover, and it is up to you to do everything you can to help your team make it the best, most attractive and professionally presented book it can be.
Joel Friedlander is a self-published author, an award-winning book designer, and a well-established blogger as well as coauthor of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide. The founder of the Self-Publishing Roadmap online training course, he offers predesigned book templates for Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign, as well as tools for authors at BookDesignTemplates.com. To learn more: thebookdesigner.com.
Betty Kelly Sargent, coauthor of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide is also the author of seven traditionally published books and one other self-published book. The founder of BookWorks and of The Educated Author, which will launch in the spring, she was editor-in-chief of William Morrow, executive editor at HarperCollins, fiction and books editor at Cosmopolitan and a book reviewer for CNN.