Last week, I met with a creative writing class in Salem, Oregon, to talk writing and publishing and Hagridden. A few of the students were interested in my experience with “traditional publishing” (short answer: sunnyoutside press and Columbus Press have been GREAT to me!), but I began my reply by explaining that, actually, “traditional publishing” is self-publishing.
This industry that we call “traditional publishing” today is really only a couple hundred years old — and the way it works today is younger than that, maybe a hundred years old. Traditionally, I explained, loads of authors and poets actually self-published, some to begin with and some forever, some as a matter of expedience and some as a matter of principle — in fact, publishing a century or two ago looked very much the way publishing looks today. The difference today is that self-publishing is much cheaper and easier to do in our digital world. And it’s that ease, really, that maintains the old (actually, new) stigma against self-publishing.
But writers can still self-publish today with the same quality and the same principles as folks like Walt Whitman and Beatrix Potter and James Joyce (all self-published). The trick is to skip the modern ease and speed of tossing a typed story onto Kindle and calling it a day and, instead, do everything the “traditional” publishers do when they publish a book.
(What you’re about to read is a lengthy buzzkill, so if you want to just skip to the good news and the free book, click here.)
After you write the book (or perhaps even as you’re writing), you’ll need to hire an editor, which won’t be cheap because an editor isn’t a proofreader, she’s a story wizard who will go through a book and coach you through story development, character details, plot holes, theme, concept . . . . And so on.
And then you have to hire a copyeditor, which is a different job and which requires a different skillset from an editor. Ideally, you’ll hire two or three copyeditors, because no one set of eyes will catch everything.
And then you have to hire a designer. If you’re doing things right, you’ll hire two: one to design the book, and another to design the cover. But sometimes you can get lucky and find someone who can do both. If you’re doing both print and ebook, you’ll have to look long and hard to find someone who can design for both formats, because, again, those are different skill sets.
While you’re at it, you might want to hire a web designer, too, because you’ll want a web presence. This is the thing most authors assume they can do themselves and, frankly, fair enough — I made this website. I’m happy with it. But it’s clearly a DIY job and isn’t as clean or as cool as the novel site that Columbus Press made for Hagridden, so if you want something like that and you’re self-publishing, you’ll have to pay for it.
But with or without a DIY website, you’ll have to hire a marketer (or, more likely, a whole marketing firm) who can promote the book, help you set up readings, find reviewers, create advertising, and manage a whole range of social media. Don’t think you can do all of that yourself, even if your book is your full-time job. Trust me. I’m not doing it myself — my publishers have done a lot of work on my behalf — and I still barely manage to keep on top of things. There literally aren’t enough hours in a day for one human being to do all the marketing work a book requires.
And then, of course, you’ll have to print and distribute the thing. If you’re doing an ebook, printing and distribution are relatively cheap, though of course you don’t want to limit yourself to Amazon’s Kindle (much as Amazon works to make you limit yourself), so you’ll have to figure out and promote multiple platforms. If you’re doing a print book, you can find printers that can also handle distribution, but it won’t be cheap.
But here’s the good news!
Brad Pauquette, the founder of Columbus Press as well as the guy behind the Columbus Creative Cooperative and the Columbus Publishing Lab, has put out an ebook on self-publishing that takes all those grueling, anxiety-inducing headaches I just described and breaks it down into simple steps, a kind of instruction manual that can walk you through the self-publishing process.