Can You DIY Your Self-Published Book? This Writer Says Yes

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Self-publishing a book isn’t easy. I’ve edited a lot of books for self-published authors, and I’ve never met one who is independently wealthy. Scratch that—I’ve actually edited a few books for pretty well-off characters, but even the richest of clients doesn’t like to waste money (which is why they are rich, probably).

It seems like every indie book project has the same mandate: do it cheaply.

There can certainly be a lot of expenses when it comes to self-publishing.

From hiring an editor to designing a bangin’ cover to laying out the pages to marketing the danged thing, you’re potentially looking at outsourcing a lot of professional services.

But, depending on your level of initiative, your willingness to be an autodidact and your actual project needs, there might be a corner or two you can cut if you do it yourself.

Besides writing the actual book, here are four tasks you can DIY before you self-publish.

1. Create your own focus group

Before you spend money on a professional editor, put yourself out there to your friends.

Ask a few smart, honest, fair friends to read your rough draft and give you feedback. You’re not asking for free editing work; you’re just asking for opinions—and people love to share opinions. Similarly, consider looking outside your circle of friends to find beta readers.

If you decide to hire a pro (which, as a freelance editor myself, I obviously recommend), it may be less expensive in the long run because you’ve already done some of the cleanup work. Plus, extra eyes on your manuscript are never a mistake.

But, when vetting friends to read your work, be particular. You’re looking for people whose smarts you respect—and whom you trust to tell you the truth. Your mom, for instance, might not be willing to be quite frank enough with you.

2. Illustrate the book yourself

Do you like to doodle? Do you take photographs? These are all potential sources of artwork for your book.

If you are planning to publish an ebook, your photos don’t even have to be high-resolution. You can just grab them from Instagram.

But if you’re planning to create a printed version of your book, make sure all photographs and artwork are at least 300 dpi (dots per inch).

3. Learn to lay out the book

Book layout programs like InDesign take a little bit of gumption to learn, but there’s no reason the average person can’t do it.

The cost of the application is often cheaper than the cost of hiring a professional to do it for you. If you’re the techie sort, and especially if you’re planning on publishing more than one book, this might be a good investment for you.

On the other hand, if you’re already short on time, and learning new technology tends to vex you, this might not be the best use of your time.

4. Be your own PR representative

Here’s where you can really cut some corners and do it yourself.

There are so many ways to promote a book online these days: social media, your blog, a free WordPress or Squarespace website. You can even take the time to type out thoughtful individual emails to every single person you know to beg… er, persuade them to buy your book.

In this day and age, you don’t necessarily need to hire a publicist to get the word out (although it can be a great idea for some authors and some books).

Know when to delegate and when to DIY

The most important thing to remember is this:

If you’re self-publishing a book, you’re an entrepreneur. It’s important for all entrepreneurs to know when to delegate and when to DIY

One of the factors you should consider is how good you actually are at learning new skills and doing things yourself. If you’re not the type of person who is good at teaching yourself new skills, or if you don’t tend to have a lot of spare time, then you may not want to embark down that road.

I, for instance, am pretty good at DIY-ing certain things, like making my own hand creams and birthday cards, but I can tell you right now I’m never going to change a tire in this lifetime, and I’m still pretty bad at cutting my own bangs after 40 years.

If you hate computers, don’t try to learn a page-layout program just so you can skip paying a professional designer—especially if this is a skill you will only need once.

They are professionals for a reason: they can do it faster and better than you can—and ultimately, that might save you money, depending on how valuable your own time is to you. Anything that helps you outsource work in order to maximize your time and free you up to do what you do best should be considered a worthy expenditure.

Of course, there’s the cold hard fact that you may not have the money to pay for all the parts of this book process you’d love to outsource. On the one hand, it’s important to consider your expenses on this book an investment, so it may behoove you to charge, borrow, or beg (in other words, Kickstarter). On the other hand, going into debt—either literally or by owing your friends favors—may not make a lot of sense for you

Weigh all the factors: your budget, your skills, your willingness, and what you expect to reap from this project. Then, decide what to DIY, and what to delegate.

Have you ever DIY’d your book production? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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Joslyn McIntyre is a Western Massachusetts native and longtime Californian currently living in Salt Lake City, Utah, and pining for a coast. She’s a freelance writer and editor and th... .

Website | @outsideeye

Traveler and blogger Chris Guillebeau

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this post. The links you share are useful. I self-published 3 books that are now in the hands of a publisher and are being re-launched. Well 2 are already newly out, but the third isn’t re-released yet.

    However, I’m currently writing another series of books in a different genre under a pen name, and I think I’m going to self-publish these. Your advice will be most useful. Thank you.

  2. I self-published two books on Amazon and Lulu. I understand the entire process and am available to help anyone who may need it.

    @chithinkjour

  3. A critique and edit of a novel manuscript is a starting point. The author then has to re-write and take into consideration all comments and recommendations. I would recommend, after achieving final manuscript making submission, where possible to a mainstream publisher.
    Many require this to be via a literary agent, but you may strike lucky and be offered a publishing contract. I was offered publishing contracts for my second novel, but decided to self-publish again. The standard and format of print on demand novels has improved greatly from the early days. Also, it is possible to build a platform of publication with control over most aspects of the publishing process. Inevitably there are points of display and layout, which you later feel could have been improved on. The mainstream publishers offer fantastic promotional opportunities with editions of your novel in national booksellers, plus reviews by newspapers and even visual media coverage. Unavailable to the self-published author.
    I have recently found a readership in the United States, for my second novel which is the best result, so far. My third novel, now in critique, has nuance towards this market with both American and British characters. My first novel published in 2014, is set in the nineteen sixties, but has benefited from promotion into the American market alongside the second romantic thriller publication.

    • This is a great point. It used to be that people self-published because they couldn’t get a “real” publisher to take them on. These days, though, a lot of authors are choosing to self-publish so they can have full control over their design, positioning, marketing, etc.

  4. I did everything in this post, so that is reassuring. 🙂 But does anyone have advice: I self-published my first novel via Amazon strictly for family/friends, and now I would like to gain representation for it, so I have started the process of Querying Literary Agents. But everything I am reading indicates that its fairly hopeless BECAUSE I chose to self-publish first, and that very few (if any) Agents, let alone publishing houses, will take on my book, and that I should just move on to my next project instead. I have heard success stories, but I was wondering how it was done. -Should I still keep querying Literary Agents? What did those of you who have been in this position do? ANY advice would be helpful, Thank you SO MUCH! http://www.ajdejong.com

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