How to Self-Publish Your Own Book – Lesson 2: Getting Started with Self-Publishing

If you are lucky enough to have found a subject you feel passionately about and have already managed to write a book about it, your job is half done. However, not all of us are that lucky. While we may enjoy writing once in a while, posting occasionally on blogs or online forums, writing for a book requires not merely a different kind of writing talent; you also need to determine what you are going to write about.

Let us begin this blog series by first understanding how we can find a marketable subject and content for the book we would like to write.

What Does One Write About

When the idea of writing a book strikes you, your first instinct is to begin writing at once. In fact, most budding writers are told that they need to write down whatever comes to their mind even if there are major revisions later. Perhaps, in some sense that is a good idea. In all probability when you start writing, you have the seed of an idea for a book and as you start writing, the idea begins to grow, taking more and more shape. Here is where we have to get more selective; i.e. to decide what we want to write about and to whom we are aiming the book.

If you would like your book to be well received and if you truly want to make your self-publishing business a success, you need to realize that your book will need to be well-marketed. The larger the number of people buying your book, the more successful your business will be. Therefore even if you have some idea of what you would like to write about, you need to see how receptive the current reading community is to your subject. For example, today, how to lose weight or how to develop a healthy lifestyle are really hot topics. On the other hand, some books start off in absolutely uncharted waters and yet become huge successes. Determining what subject to write about, especially one that guarantees a fairly large readership is not going to be easy. However, by following some techniques that we mention below, you can make a genuine attempt at finding topics that can sell.

The very first step you will need to take in this regard is to identify the number of people who you strongly believe will be interested in the topic you are writing about. See if you can notch up a significant number of potential readers. Of course, like many new authors, you may also truly believe that there are many out there who are just waiting for a book like yours. However, you need to be more practical and make a realistic assessment of who all might be interested in your book.

Once you have the number, you need to understand what this means and what  we mean by significant number of potential readers. If you are writing up about the history and traditions of a very small local community or trying your hand at a new kind of fiction, for example, even a few hundred might be a significant number. On the other hand, if you think you have created an interesting detective character that will take the world of who-dunnits by storm, you may be looking at hundreds of thousands of readers. It is up to you to decide what kind of audience will be interested in your book and the number you can safely say, who will be interested in your book.

You will also need to carry out some kind of market research on your subject. The best place to begin is at any one of the online bookstores such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Google Books. Search for books written on a subject similar to yours. You will then know what the current interest in that subject is as well as where the present competition stands. These sites will also indicate what sales figures for those books are, which can be very indicative of what a good book on that subject can possibly bring.

If you are keen on your subject, do not be disheartened if the numbers are not encouraging. On the other hand, if you are open to suggestions or are flexible, within limits, about the choice of topic, you could consider writing on something more popular. So before you proceed further, do some market research, identify a marketable topic and then continue writing your book based upon your findings.

Another very important aspect of writing a book is to give the book a good title. Typically, most publishers do not go with the titles originally thought up by the author. These titles tend to be too functional, and publishers are looking for titles that are not only attractive but also appealing. While the choice of a title may not make too much difference to the success of the book, it is obvious that an intriguing title will push more people to at least look at the book than what an ordinary title would have done. The title typically tells the potential reader what the book aims to do and the subtitle gives readers a compelling reason to buy it. For example, the title ‘Eating Your Way to Weight Loss’ is an interesting title for a book about weight loss and the subtitle, ‘ Lose weight by eating healthy, not less’ tells the reader why they should buy it.  Further, it is not the readers alone on whom the book has to make an impression but also on bookstore managers who like stocking books that have catchy or distinctive titles. Therefore, once the book is completed, take some time researching on what an appropriate title for the book would be. Look at other similar books and see what kind of titles and /or subtitles are being used. Do they use any idioms or clichés suitably modified to reflect the content or do they perhaps use some wordplay? You could also just go with the kind of feeling your book evokes while choosing the title.

Note that a writer does not usually provide a novel with a subtitle – instead what is known as a ‘tag line’ is very commonly used. Very often, this is just a clever marketing tactic and does not really appear on the cover of the novel. But the role of a catchy tag line in luring prospective readers is often underestimated.

Starting a Self-Publishing Business

We have thus reached a stage where you have the final draft of the book in hand and are ready to self-publish it. You now need to know what steps you are to take to get this book published. The very first step would be to start a self-publishing business. But how does one start a self-publishing business?

  • A business can be of three different types – a sole proprietorship, an LLC or a corporation. Most self-publishers prefer to start off as sole proprietorships though you may want to understand what the legal and tax implications of each ownership structure are with your legal and tax advisors.
  • Next, you will need to decide on a company name. Though there is absolutely no harm in letting the public know that your book is self-published, you may want to choose a name for your self-publishing company that sounds more business-like and not just use the author’s name. You could select a name that reflects the subject of your book but you should remember that you could write more books, each of which may have a different subject. You may therefore want to select a name that generally indicates it has something to do with publishing.
  • You will now need to decide on an address for your business and acquire a business phone line. You need not get concerned if you are working from home – most self-publishers work from home or at least do so to begin with. If you are working from home, you may want to use a mailbox with a post office. Such an address works in protecting the privacy of your home as well as in making it sound more business like. You will certainly need a separate business phone line to take orders and speak to various suppliers and so on. It does not help if there is a customer on the line and your five-year old decides to take the order – invest in a business phone line.
  • Among other legalities, you will need to set up a business checking account with a local bank. Speak to your accountant or a consultant on setting up a bookkeeping system. Since you will be starting off small, you do not need anything complicated. Some standard methods of keeping track of income and expenses and calculating taxes are sufficient. If you intend to sell your book to bookstores or distributors, you will not receive immediate payment for the orders placed but will have to wait for 45 to 60 days and hence will need to understand the accounts receivables system.
  • You can always sell your book through distributors and bookstores. However, be warned that you will have to sell the book to them at a heavy discount and after that wait for payment. A very attractive alternative is to sell directly to customers through websites – this means you will need to have the set up to accept and process credit card payment. You can expect a lot of sales through the Internet and should work towards setting up an online web store.
  • One of the most important questions self-publishers ask, is about the ISBN – what is ISBN and why should I obtain it? ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. This is a unique number that allows every single book in print to be identified unambiguously. Till very recently the ISBN code consisted of only ten digits. But there have been so many books published the world over that all unique ten-digit combinations have run out and a new thirteen-digit system has been introduced. It is hoped that this system will allow for enough unique numbers to be generated for many years to come. 

    If you look at the ISBN number, you will notice that there is a prefix to identify the publisher followed by a number that actually identifies the publication and then a check digit right at the end – this digit is generated randomly by an algorithm. You may have noticed the ISBN number on almost all the books that you see today but may be surprised to hear that there is no legal obligation to have one on your book. On the other hand, without an ISBN number you cannot create a bar code and no bookstore will be able to sell your book.Another interesting point about the ISBN is that you cannot buy just one ISBN. If you want one, you will have to buy a minimum of ten numbers. This is not so bad since hopefully you would want to write and sell many more books. You could speak to your printer or typesetter about creating a bar code for you, which is usually placed on the back cover of the book. This makes it easy for the staff of any bookstore or library to find it.

Now that we understand what the self-publishing business involves, let us get down to the brass tacks of knowing how to get the book published.