Two Non-Fiction Authors on Self-Publishing: Conclusion of a 3-Part Series

(In part 1 of this series, two of my self-published author clients, Garth Rustand and Christine Cowley, shared how publishing a book contributed to their business credibility. In part 2, they spoke about why they chose to self-publish. Today’s concluding segment takes a peek into how they approached the self-publishing process.)

The Self-Publishing Process

Deciding to self-publish one’s book is all very well and good, but how to go about it?

Bowker (a book data company) recently launched a self-publishing resource site called Self Published Author.com that provides a useful breakdown of the activities involved in self-publishing:

  • Editing (developmental editing, copy editing, fact checking, legal vetting)
  • Design and production (print and/or e-book layout, design, illustrations, and use of validation tools to ensure file and metadata conformance to desired standards)
  • Marketing and publicity (social media, search engine optimization)
  • Rights (registration, permissions, licensing)
  • Distribution

I would add indexing and project management to this list, and, of course, the most important task of all: writing.

An author usually has the writing covered — though some hire ghostwriters — but the other publishing tasks can cause some consternation. Fortunately, there is an abundance of information online these days about self-publishing — though the volume is as much a curse as a blessing.

“There are far too many choices online today,” says Christine Cowley, noting that when she decided to self-publish Butchers, Bakers and Building the Lakers back in 2007, bypassing the conventional publishing process wasn’t the massive trend it has become. “There was very little online,” she recalls. “It was hard slogging to find any service providers at all, and I ended up going by personal referrals or trial and error . . . Now it’s just the opposite, and there are a lot of charlatans out there ready to take advantage of an author’s ignorance.”

Sifting through the Options: Self-Publishing Package Providers

As Christine intimated, today’s self-publishing author will find a staggering number of service providers when he or she turns to the web — and it’s hard to know who to trust.

At a panel presentation entitled “Opportunities in Self-Publishing” at BookNet Canada’s Technology Forum 2013, held in March in Toronto, Rebecca Albani of Bowker gave a rundown of the leading self-publishing service providers in the United States, which presumably resembles the Canadian leader board as well:

e-books

  • Smashwords
  • Author Solutions
  • Lulu
  • BookBaby
  • MintRight

print

  • CreateSpace
  • Author Solutions
  • Lulu
  • Publish America
  • Independent Publisher

While these companies have emerged as market leaders and are establishing brand recognition, a recently filed lawsuit in the US accuses some of these companies of deceptive practices, highlighting the importance of “buyer beware”  when it comes to signing up for a publishing package with any company.

Another Self-Publishing Option: The General Contractor Model

Buyer beware also applies to the approach that Christine and Garth both took — which was to act more like general contractors of the self-publishing process — but they liked the control this model gave them. Rather than work with service companies (which were just emerging at the time they were publishing their books), Christine and Garth chose to hire and coordinate a team of independent professionals to help them produce the books they envisioned. “I didn’t think I would get the quality I wanted any other way,” Christine says.

At the London Book Fair this past April, authors were encouraged to think like entrepreneurs when it comes to self-publishing — and that’s essentially what Christine and Garth did (which is no surprise, considering they are both independent business owners). They treated their books like business projects, doing their homework and finding suppliers that offered professional quality and value for money (which didn’t usually mean the cheapest).

For editorial assistance, both turned to the Editors’ Association of Canada, which has an online directory of editors at the national level and job hotline services at the local level. When I met both of these authors (by email or in person), it was clear they were interviewing me and assessing our rapport. I also edited a short passage for Christine to show her how I would handle her words (she had two other editors do the same). When Christine and Garth selected me as their editor, our first step was to establish a contract using the EAC standard freelance editorial agreement as a base.

For graphic design, Garth successfully worked with a referral from a friend, while Christine had to go back to the drawing board when her initial designer missed deadlines and cost her some valuable time. “The designer I ended up working with is a dream,” she says. “Having a professional designer also made it very simple to work with the printer.”

Speaking of printers, both used the same one for their print books: Friesens. “I originally thought I would go with a printer in Hong Kong,” says Garth. “The printer there provided a good quote and was very conscientious, but I wanted to make sure I could not have this done in Canada, so I asked around and ended up contacting Friesens.” Garth was astounded at the Canadian company’s competitiveness with the Hong Kong quote, so it was an easy decision to have his books printed closer to home.

For an e-book version of one of her books, Christine and her designer used Smashwords, which distributes digital books to multiple e-book portals. The process to convert their print file to one that would meet Smashwords’ requirements was not straightforward (“it took us about twenty tries to remove every design feature from the file and upload it successfully,” Christine says, only half-joking), but they managed to see their way through.

Throughout the process of self-publishing, both of these authors occasionally had to “kiss a few frogs and make some costly mistakes,” as Christine puts it, but she is a staunch promoter of the general contractor self-publishing route.

That said, the self-publishing scene is evolving quickly, and top-quality one-stop shops are sure to rise to the fore. Custom publishers, like Figure 1 here in Vancouver, are another form of service offering, not a conventional publisher, but not a typical self-publishing service provider either. Authors have a lot of choice today, and those who do their homework and take a business-like approach to the self-publishing process (as distinct from the creative writing process) will be surprised at how easy and rewarding it actually is.