Indie Publishing Must-Haves, Part II: Publishing

If you missed the previous post, don’t forget to read Part I: Writing Must-Haves.

Must Haves 2

I started my first novel, Hiding Haelo, seven years ago. (You can find it here.) A significant portion of that time was research. Industry research. Because I wasn’t going to take a few days to slap together an ebook for something that took me years to write and edit.

This part – the publishing part – is expensive. It’ll add up somewhere between $2,000-$6000 dollars. Or more, depending on who you hire and how extensive you’re willing to go. There’s also a significant chance your book will never sell enough to recover those costs. So before you continue, ask yourself if you’re persistent enough to see it through to the end, whatever that end may be. And if you’re ready for that risk, then give your book the best chance possible at success. Here’s how:

As I mentioned in Part I, if you want to be a professional indie author/publisher (meaning you present your work with the same – or higher – level of professionalism and attention to detail as any traditional publisher would), then read on. This is the series I wish I would have read at the beginning of this journey. Take my advice from seven years of trudgery and do with it what you will.

Part II: Publishing Must-Haves.
P.s. this article is a DOOZY. Definitely not a quick read. Again, years of research.

Here’s a preview:
#1- Professional editor
#2- Business name/alias or LLC
#3- Separate bank account
#4- ISBNs
#5- Website
#6- Canva account
#7-Formatter/typesetter (the Reedsy Editor!)
#8- Cover artist
#9- Accounts at printers & ebook distributors

Ready for the juicy details?

#1 – Professional editor.

Before you even think about publishing your novel, you need it professionally edited. This is not optional. Even if you yourself are an editor. You need a new set of eyes. Knowledgable, unattached, meticulous eyes. Beta readers are necessary and incredibly helpful, but a professional editor is going to be invaluable.

If you’re a member of Reedsy, (totally free for authors to join) then finding an experienced, proven editor is easy. Their marketplace brings together authors and top-notch industry freelancers (editors, artists, typesetters, marketers, etc.) with ease. You can browse professionals, ask for a quotes, and discuss quote options all within Reedsy. All communications go to your email as well, so you never miss anything. And a HUGE plus is using a Reedsy professional (human) editor in conjunction with Reedsy’s (online software) Editor. Your freelance editor can comment and edit right within the online software so there’s no emailing back and forth of different drafts and clumsy editing formatting.

There are other options. Ask your favorite authors who they used. Though questions like this will get a much better response rate if you’ve already built up relationships with those authors. You could also google “how to find a professional editor” and pull up a slew of informative sites and articles.

Before you decide on an editor, talk to the authors that have worked with them before. Most editors offer a “sample” edit of the first chapter or so of your book, so you can see if they’d be a good fit with your style. Do your research.

And remember, listen to your editor. You might not make every single change they suggest. After all, it is your book. But you need to understand why they made the suggestions. They want you to succeed!

#2 – Business name. (Sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.)

Technically, yes, you can publish under your given name. It’s called “sole-proprietorship.” You don’t need to do anything. If you choose to do it that way, then when you need to fill out “name of publisher,” you’d put your given name. HOWEVER. It is wise to separate yourself a bit.

In most U.S. states, you can register yourself as a sole proprietorship using a business alias, AKA: the name of your publishing entity. You usually do this at your state’s Secretary of State office. It’s not that hard, I promise. For me, the hardest part was figuring out what day I was willing to drive to the state capitol building. You print the form online, figure out if your state requires a small fee, and either submit it in person or mail it in (extra fee and process time). You can do this before or after you do any official business under that business alias. Registering your alias prevents others from registering the same name. It is not technically required (at least in Arizona and the other states I researched), but recommended.

Registering as an LLC is another great option. It creates a legal buffer between you and your publishing entity. Meaning, if someone were to sue you, your personal assets are not up for grabs. This option is more expensive, but might be a very wise investment for the future. Some might prefer to do this through an attorney, as there are legal requirements that can get confusing or would require so much research on your part that you’d prefer to pay someone (attorney) to do it for you. LegalZoom and other such sites can help with this ($149 + government fees).

Unless you have a P.O. box (easy to get!), business address, or have registered with a company that hosts your business at their physical business address and forwards paper mail to you, then you’ll have to be okay with your home address being associated with your business.*  Your tax rate is dependent upon the state in which this address lies. Wyoming, Nevada, & Texas have great tax rates, and there are many companies out there that will offer an address for you in that state. Do your research very, very carefully.

(*When you get to the marketing phase, you’ll need a business address anyway to use an email marketing service such as MailChimp.)

#3- Bank Account.

Get one that you use exclusively for your publishing endeavors. Do your research. It can be a brick-and-mortar bank, a credit union, or an online bank like Ally.

#4 – ISBNs

ISBNs are the numbers associated with each format of each book. They help bookstores, libraries, and internet searches find your book. The numbers identify the name of your publishing entity, the title, and the author. Some of you might think this sounds like excess fluff. It is not. You want your ISBNs.

If you are publishing a printed book through Createspace (Amazon’s printing entity), they offer a free ISBN, a $10 ISBN, or the option of using your own (purchased through Bowker, the ISBN management agency).

The free ISBN means “Createspace” is listed as your publisher and is the only printer you’re allowed to use. If you are throwing this book together with minimal effort and minimal expectations, and have no plans beyond minimal Amazon sales, this is the option for you. Please note, “Createspace” listed as the publisher is a pretty big red-flag to observant potential readers.

The $10 ISBN means you get to use your business alias as your “publisher.” You still must only print through Createspace. Which means you can’t print through IngramSpark, LuLu, Smashwords, a local indie press, etc.  If you only ever plan on selling the book through Amazon, and not ever* in actual bookstores or printed in bulk through a less expensive printer, than this option is a great fit for you. Before deciding on this option, however, ask yourself if the time spent writing the novel, the money spent on editing and other services, and your expectations are aligned with the narrow potential this option gives you.

(*Amazon offers something called “expanded distribution” for libraries and bookstores. This is not beneficial to you. And it can’t be undone. Don’t do it unless you have done a ton of research and still really think it’s what you want. It’s better for you to have two printers: Createspace for Amazon sales, and IngramSpark (or other POD printer) for all other sales. It is not in a bookstore’s economic interest to buy anything through Createspace.)

Buying your own ISBNs is the wisest choice for serious, professional indie author/publishers. That said, if you live in the States, it’s a total money-making scheme on the part of the ISBN agency. Authors in almost every other country in the world pay a small fee for ISBNs. You, you apple-pie-lovin’ yankee, must sacrifice a notable chunk of change. Bowker (the only ISBN sales agency) has 3 options: 1, 10, or 100 ISBNs. If you are only ever going to write one book, and even then only create one format (ebook, paperback, hardcover), then go ahead and buy one for $125. For most of you, buy the 10. It’s going to cost you $295, but you’ll have ten numbers. That’s five books covered if you’re doing both ebook and paperback. You could also get 100 ISBNs for $575. No matter what you do, you can always buy more.

Note, if you print paperbacks through multiple printers and the content is the same, they can share an ISBN. Same goes for ebooks. It’s different formats, not different printers/distributors that require new ISBNs.

When you buy ISBNs, the only info assigned to those numbers is your publishing name (alias or LLC). Specific book information is to be filled out later, whenever you’re ready. Do not fill out book identifying information (Title and Author) on those purchased numbers until you are completely ready to publish. Your title or pen name might change during this whole publishing process and you don’t want to waste a number. Once assigned, ISBN numbers cannot be re-assigned.

#5 – A Website

Not a general website for everything you. This isn’t a blog about your kids, a place to sell your blackberry jam, or a site to discuss politics. This is an author website.

Your website should include:

  • Information about your book(s)/series, with eventual links to where they can be purchased.
  • An About page or biography. (If you’re an expert in a field that has to do with your book, put that there too. Legitimize your platform.)
  • A way to contact you. (Don’t put your home address or phone number. Stick with a contact form or email address.)
  • A menu link to your blog if you have one.
  • Any book “extras.”
  • A way to gather email addresses, which I’ll discuss in Part III of this series.

Your site needs to be clean, clear, uncluttered, and helpful, but never boring. The tone of your site might mirror the tone of your genre or author style.

There are 3 aspects to hosting a website. The domain name, the host, and the platform on which you build. Sometimes two of these are covered by the same company.

You’ll need to buy a domain name. Google domains, GoDaddy, Bluehost, etc. are all domain registrars. This is cheap. If it’s not cheap, look elsewhere.

Blogger, WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly are all platforms on which to build your site. They provide the interface to build so you don’t have to learn code. A lot of these are free, but look at what you want and what they can offer carefully.

Sometimes the interface you’re using is also your host, but not always. Your host is the company that uses your domain name to host your website on their physical servers. Some hosts, like BlueHost, offer domain names as a package deal.

Make sense? No? Do your research. Or you could always hire a webmaster. This could be a tech savvy kid in your neighborhood.

#6 – Canva account

Or another easy graphic design program. Canva allows you to quickly create a beautiful design in the exact dimensions you need (facebook, instagram, pinterest, newsletter, twitter, site banners, etc., etc., etc.) Not only that, but with the “Canva for Work” account ($13/month, or $120/year), you can duplicate that design into different sizes with one click. You can also create images with a transparent background. All this without the time, steps, money, and training required for photoshop. You need this not only for eventual marketing, but for your website as well. I use this all the time. It’s kind of addicting.

#7 – Formatter/typesetter (Reedsy!)

If you’re doing paperbacks or hardcovers, then formatting comes before the final stages of Cover design. Because you need to know exactly how many pages your book will print in on exactly what size of paper.

Uploading your Word doc into KDP (Kindle – Amazon’s ebook entity) is not going to spit out a clean ebook. It’s just not going to happen. You have 3 choices.

Number 1: buy ebook/print formatting software ($100+) and do it yourself. There is a learning curve.

Number 2: hire a professional typesetter ($100+ for ebook, additional $$$ for print).

Number 3: Reedsy’s free Editor software. If you’ve already written your book, paste it chapter by chapter into the Reedsy Editor. Then do a read-through to catch any hidden Word doc formatting. In my case, I had instances of missing spaces. The Reedsy Editor creates the title page, copyright page, dedication, table of contents (automatically hyperlinked for ebooks), notes, and “back matter” (about the author, acknowledgements, etc.). With the click of a button, you can export as an .epub file (perfect for later uploading into KDP or other ebook distributors), or as a ready-for-print PDF file. Did I mention it was free?

You still might want to consider hiring a professional typesetter (also available through the Reedsy marketplace) if you want more than what the Reedsy Editor templates have to offer. For instance, if you want the first letter of your first word for each chapter to be enlarged in a different font, or if you want text wrapping around images within your book. These are things that the free Editor can’t do, and would require the services of a human professional.

And don’t forget to check what sizes are even available for print before you format/typeset printed books.

#8 – Cover Artist.

Yes, you can choose to do this yourself. But be honest, have you ever browsed through ebook listings and thought to yourself, yup, there’s a self-pubby. When you do it yourself, you’re proud! Good for you! Which unfortunately also means you’re likely blind to how the design actually comes across to potential readers. Someone who is trained in book cover design can bring your presentation up from the masses of awkward selfies to the echelons of professional design. They know things. Like where to position images to draw the eye toward turning the page. Seriously. That’s a thing. Also, they know that your cover has to be readable when shrunk down to a 2-inch image. That’s also a thing. A very important thing.

Hire a professional. If you can’t afford top-notch industry leading artists, then look into artists who live in a state with a lower cost of living. Someone who has to pay NYC rent is going to charge more than someone who pays Oklahoma rent. Or look into local design grads and students.

Again, if you’re on Reedsy, finding and receiving quotes from experienced artists is easy! They are less expensive than you might think. They’re trained to be able to do amazing things in efficient time. View some of their portfolios on this Reedsy Pinterest board.

When choosing an artist, look at their portfolio. Find someone with the art aesthetic you’re looking for AND a knowledge of your genre’s typical cover style. Above all, be clear with your expectations before they give you a quote. Bring examples to the table. Let them know the tone you want the cover to convey. Because to say, “oh, just throw together something clean and beautiful” because you can only afford 3 hours of their time, but then come back over and over again with hours of changes is not appropriate business etiquette and could cost you.

And as a great segway into the next Must-Have: Know your book’s actual page count and paper type before final cover design. Read why below.

#9 – Accounts with your printers

KDP (Kindle) is the Amazon ebook entity. Nook, GooglePlay books, and Apple’s iBooks are others. Branch out. Use them all. Please note: if you decide to enroll your KDP book in the “Amazon Exclusive” program, you cannot use any other ebook distributors for at least the minimum 3 month enrollment period. Amazon Exclusive was once a good program for authors. Enthusiasm is quickly dropping. I’d tell you why I chose not to enroll, but the research changes almost every 3 months.

For physical printed copies, Print on Demand (POD) printers are the most feasible option for self-published authors. You probably don’t have the cash to buy 5,000 books for your own selling inventory (to which you then become the distributor). POD solves that problem. You never pay upfront for books. When someone orders a book, the printer immediately prints and then ships it.

Createspace is the POD way to go if you are selling paperbacks through Amazon. The delay and inventory issues associated with having an outside printer provide books for Amazon sales is enough to necessitate that. However, it is very wise to also print through IngramSpark. Ingram is the leading book distributor worldwide. If you want your books available for bookstores, mega-stores, libraries, or anywhere international, you should have an account at Ingram. (IngramSpark is Ingram’s POD entity). This does not mean that your book will show up at Barnes & Noble, or your local Indie bookstore, or Walmart. It only means that if those places wanted your book, they could easily get it. IngramSpark also offers hardcover, which Createspace does not. (Though remember, if you do hardcovers, that’s a another ISBN).

Publishing through Createspace is free. (The account, that is, not the actual printing of books for your own purchase). IngramSpark requires a fee anywhere from $75-125, depending on the special they run or if you ask a service representative for a special discount. Sometimes, they’ll run free specials through their emailed newsletters.

Take note of the math calculations these printers stipulate for finding out the correct book cover size. The more pages, the thicker the spine, the bigger the cover file size. Paper type makes a difference as well. My own book ended up increasing by 8 pages at the last minute (formatting issues, not additional content). Those 8 pages created such a cover-design sizing headache. Then, I decided to switch from white paper to cream paper. Cream paper is thicker. Another design headache for my cover artist. Know your book’s actual page count and paper type before final cover design.

There you have it, folks. I’d mention the food addictions, the maid/chef, and the day-job or Sugar Daddy/Momma Must-Haves, but this article is already ridiculously long.

Until next time (Part III: Marketing),

Your humble comrade,

TM Holladay

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