I’m not a publisher. I’m not a critic. I’m not even a bestselling author. But I still know what a good book looks like.
This is a tough subject to talk about. While I don’t want to be too critical – I have such an appreciation for anyone who has the guts to write anything and publish it – I think that these things need to be said. Self-publishing gets a bad rap because people publish books that are simply not ready yet, and it’s something that can be so easily fixed!
That being said, if you identify with any of the mistakes I’m going to discuss, please don’t feel offended. We’re all learning; that’s why I’m here! I’m still learning about the self-publishing process every day. Take it instead as an opportunity to grow.
I’m going to start with my book review page. Take one look, and you’ll see that it’s full of books that were simply not ready for publication. All of those one and two-star reviews? They probably could have been fixed very quickly if the author would have given their book to someone and said, “Is this ready to publish?”
If you’ve been following my series on self-publishing, you’ll know that we’ve already talked about some precautions when it comes to self-publishing, as well as just how to write a book in general. Now, it’s time to talk about what comes next. What happens once you’ve finished your perfectly crafted story?
Well, here’s the first thing you need to ask yourself: is it really finished?
When you publish a book that isn’t ready to go out into the world yet, it doesn’t matter how much marketing and promotion you do – your book isn’t going to go anywhere. Loved ones may give it glowing reviews initially (which isn’t a bad thing – support from loved ones is fantastic!), but once readers get their hands on it, they’ll see the truth immediately. It’s a really disappointing feeling to put so much time and effort into something, put it out into the world, and see that people don’t appreciate it. Trust me, I know! I go through it on a regular basis.
The only solution? You have to do better.
The great part is that you’re not alone. Not only are there limitless resources available online (like this blog!), but I’d bet that you have at least one person in your life who will give you their honest opinion on your book.
That’s the real key to self-publishing: don’t do it alone.
We are often blind to our own weaknesses; it’s just a part of being human. That’s why it’s so important to include others in the process of publishing your book, whether you get an editor, beta readers, or someone else to look over your work.
So, how do you know if your book is ready to go?
It’s not a “one and done” process. It’s going to take some time to evaluate every aspect of your manuscript and compile what your editor and/or beta readers say. But once you think you have it all nailed down, it’s time to compare your book to some others and see how it holds up.
“Compare?!” you may cry in dismay. “But we’re not supposed to compare our works to others!!”
Okay, yes. It is important not to compare our work too much with that of others, or else we may get some kind of fake notion that we’re not good enough.
But this is different. If you’re self-publishing (especially if it’s your first time), I recommend getting a successful book in your genre and in the same format you’re publishing in (ebook or print). Then, take a look at your book and compare it to the one you just got, being completely honest with yourself. How does it measure up? Remember:
Self-publishing is not an excuse to be unprofessional.
Let’s take a look at all of the elements you need to go over.
This is so often overlooked in self-publishing, and yet, we often forget that while readers aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, most of them do. A sloppy, unclear, grainy, and/or boring cover will kill your book before its life even begins. All professional publishers know this! Do you see any unprofessional covers when you walk into a bookstore? Of course not! So you have no excuse.
It may cost some money, time, and/or effort, but it’s so worth it to make a good book cover. It’s going to sell your book more than anything else. Unfortunately, most of us who are self-publishing don’t have the budget to commission an incredible artist, but that’s okay. You can have some fun with images on websites like Pexels, Unsplash, and Pixabay. The images you get on here have no copyright restrictions, meaning you can use them however you like and even edit them! Even just using these kinds of images can produce a stunning cover. That’s how I made my book covers for The Drabbles of a Dreamer and Colours!
And if you really need an artist for your cover, either start saving up or ask some creative friends/family for help. They may be willing to help you for a much smaller fee, or they may take payment in the form of food, babysitting, help around the house, etc. (But please still pay them for their work somehow – you’d want them to do the same if they asked you to write something for them, right?)
Make sure that you have your cover formatted correctly on whatever site you’re using for publishing, too. Having a great cover that’s out of focus or cropped weirdly is just as bad as having a sloppy cover image. If you’re making a print book, always get an advanced copy first. You may be so excited that you want to jump the gun without checking your work, but trust me, that’s never a good idea, no matter how great it looks online! You’ll almost always find something to tweak once you see the copy in person.
This is a little more broad, but it’s still something you should consider before you officially release your book baby into the world. The content is what people are buying your book for, after all!
The Story Itself
Try not to let any self-doubt get in the way here, but take one last look at your story. Truly and honestly, how does your story hold up? Is it cohesive? Is it gripping? Will people want to read until the end? (Hint: this is where beta readers come in handy!)
Also, it’s important to give the whole story one last read through; you can even read it aloud if you have the time. Look for any small errors that you and/or your editor may have missed. Don’t stress too much; even professionally published books contain errors! But you certainly don’t want there to be a lot of them.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many actual published books I’ve read that don’t have paragraphs or contain wonky formatting that makes the book impossible to read. Seriously.
If you can’t afford to get someone to format the book for you, do your homework. I publish through KDP, which makes formatting super easy with the Kindle Create program. Your book might need unique formatting, or you might just not like Kindle Create, and that’s fine! But you still have to learn to format your book correctly.
Remember that nice, professional book you’re comparing yours to? Does your formatting look similar to that book? Or does yours look sloppy in comparison?
Again, seems simple, right? Nope!
I will say it once more: Do. Your. Research. The description is the second thing, after the cover, that will convince a reader to buy your book. There are right ways to write one, and there are wrong ways to write one.
A good description will tell you what the story is about and make you excited to read it. A bad description is either 1) boring or 2) inaccurate.
The last thing you want your description to be is inaccurate because it’s the surest way to get someone to stop reading your book. For example, I picked up a book for my reviewing gig and read the description. It was all about sticking to your family and it seemed like a nice, insightful book. I start reading it, and ten pages in, teenagers are swearing up and down, shooting each other, etc. I felt betrayed! If the description would have really told me what the book was about, I would have never picked it up. Long story short: inaccurate descriptions become a speedy route to instant bad reviews, even if the reader has only read ten pages of the book.
Finally, It’s Ready
Once you’ve taken the time to go over all of these things, give your finished book to someone who you know will give you their honest opinion. You don’t have to listen to all of the feedback people give you, but try to view it objectively and get your pride and self-doubt out of the way. Remember, it’s not a judgment on you; they’re trying to help you be successful!
And finally, it’s time to publish your lovely little book baby. In an upcoming post, we’ll talk all about self-publishing platforms – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
In conclusion, please don’t skip these steps in self-publishing. You may get more efficient at managing them after you publish more books, but don’t get too cocky. Publishing a book is not a quick and easy process; it takes a detailed eye and a lot of intensive work. But once you come out with a wonderful product that people are excited about, you’ll instantly know that all the work was worth it.
Do you need someone to take a look at your novel prior to publication? Contact me! Authors have found my feedback on their books invaluable as I provide honest – but kind – comments that are based on years of experience.
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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels