WORDS FOR WRITERS – Things I Am Learning As My Own Publisher

Week number five billion (it seems) of my Self -Publishing Adventure is here, and my Kickstarter Campaign  has launched. I don’t think I’ve slept in that time, although I’m certain I’ve stared at my bed longingly.

There’s been a lot of tea, a little wine, and lots of learning moments guided by friends and mentors, and my own small mistakes.

If you’re thinking of self-pubbing, here are the four most important things I’ve learned so far:

#1 – Have  A Deadline

… and give yourself an extra two weeks of wiggle room, just in case.

Like with NaNoWriMo, the pressure of a real live, actual and professional deadline will not only help you plow through your To Do list, but will make certain that everyone else working with you knows exactly what is due when, and to meet their own deadlines.

This also helps to avoid confusion regarding what’s due when, and how long it actually takes to do everything. Do lots of research into how long it takes for the books to get printed, the files to be approved by the printer, for the books to be shipped to you, etc. Also, confirm with your team what their realistic goals are, and then drop an extra few days onto it, just to be safe.

It’s always much better to deliver early than to be scrambling at the last minute.

#2 – Have A Contract

… and make sure it’s clear.

Contracts should be  easy to read, straightforward contract that outlines copyright (who owns what), delivery schedule, payment terms and schedule, and any other expectations. If you’re running a crowdfunding campaign, be sure to include what payment or percentage your team can expect, and what other extra work it may cause for them. (For example, my illustrator has agreed to donate some sketches and original art from our book as perks for the campaign.)

Contracts might seem scary and big, and perhaps unnecessary between friends. However, I’ve found the best way to keep friends is to make the contract, and be as non-confrontational about it as possible. Usually I say something like, “Hey, I don’t plan on suing you and you probably don’t plan on suing me (I hope), but just in case, I don’t know, I die horribly in a moped-and-gelato accident, why don’t we get it all laid out in black and white? Deadlines, payment, royalties, all of it, and that way it’s clear, and off our minds, and we all know where we stand? That good?”

And if someone really, really resists a contract, then I really, really rethink working with them. If they’re not cool signing a contract, then what are they planning to do that’s so unprofessional and terrible that they think having a contract will screw them? If they’re claiming it’s because we’re friends, then I for the sake of our friendship, I’ll insist.

You can find templates for contracts for just about anything online.   If a contract really does scare you, then if nothing else put together a very clear, bullet-pointed list of expectations, deadlines, work division, delivery dates, etc. and have everyone on the team print it out and sign it and scan it to you. That way it’s guaranteed that they’ve read it.

And that way, everyone is starting from the same place.

#3 – Have a Budget Plan

…  and be realistic about it. Budget as if you’re paying your creatives full professional rates.

Figure out where the money is coming from – and if you’re doing a crowdfunding campaign, figure out how you’re going to pay for everything if it fails. Will you continue and publish, perhaps with a delayed timeline, or just let the whole project be put to bed?

And if you are crowdfunding, you’ll have to share your budget with your backers, so be very honest with it, too.

Lastly, find a way to pay yourself, too. Generally speaking, as the writer/publisher, you’re the one who collects and keeps the royalties, so that’s your cheque there. If you’re not planning on keeping the royalties, then be realistic about how much of your own money you can throw into the project without going into debt or endangering your own finances. And also be realistic about what happens to you, financially, if the project comes to fruition but nobody buys it.

If you’re extra-counting on that royalty cheque, you may want to do some rebalancing.

#4 – Hire a Professional

… and pay them at professional rates. You plan to make money on your book, so share the wealth with the people on your team.  I’m not saying you have to cut them in on the royalties or back ends (unless that’s the agreement that you come to); paying a fee is just fine, too.

What I am saying is discuss and provide a fair and reasonable rate for the professional work that the other members of your team are providing. If possible, get as close to professional rates as you’re able. When you pay people as professionals, they provide professional work.

So why hire a professional? Well, in terms of editors, they can always catch mistakes that you didn’t see. In terms of cover artists, interior designers, and cover designers, it just makes sense. Why not hire the people who have the expertise, the experience, and the tools (do you know how much InDesign costs?)  to do the job well, on time, and in good order. Learn from them as they do the job, so next time you can maybe do some of it yourself, or at least set things up so it’s easier for them the second them you work together.

It will make your product look polished, professional, and more importantly, formatted correctly.

Nothing kills a self-published book faster than sloppy design, poor editing, and incorrect formatting.

#5 – Have a Mentor

If you’ve never done this before, talk to other self-pubbers (preferably ones with well-reviewed books) and discuss earnestly the pitfalls, research, and hard work that goes into publishing a book for yourself. Try to walk into the project with no illusions about how much the marketing is going to cost, in both time and finances, and also the expectations of the emotional rollercoasters and pitfalls. Try to have a support group, if you can, and be honest with yourself about why you’re publishing and what your realistic goals are.

A mentor can help you navigate schedules, websites, and rules that you’re encountering for the first time, but they can also help you sail smoothly over the waves of being an author before, during, and post-publication, too.

And a bonus point:


Do all the research, know all the things, and THEN jump into the doing of the things.

Best of luck with your books, everyone!


JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – Things I Am Learning As My Own Publisher

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