Becoming an author might seem like a longshot. You might think it's impossible to find an agent or publishing company to represent you and get your work published. However, it's now easier than ever to self-publish and avoid hassles like pitching and the slow publication process.
"Being a self-published author is possibly one of the most empowering experiences you'll ever have," said Kevin Tumlinson, director of marketing for Draft2Digital. "Just learning how to express yourself concisely and with an audience in mind can help shape you in ways you've likely never imagined. It's therapeutic, and it gives you great power. It's the best adventure there is."
Self-publishing gets your name out there, and you can succeed just as if you've published through an agent or company. Here's some advice on how to do it from successful self-published authors. [Success story: Filling the Gap: How I Self-Published a Barrier-Breaking Children's Book.]
Writing a book requires planning. Michael J. Sullivan, self-published author, suggests keeping notes and ideas in a journal. Research your topics and plots, and create files for possible characters.
You'll also want to consider your personal goals before jumping in and know why you want to do this, said Dennis Schmolk, sales and social at BookRix. If you have a story to tell, go for it. However, if your goal is to make money, choose a genre that will set you up for success, he added.
Devising a plot may be simple, but putting words onto paper is an arduous process. You might feel pressured, struggling to balance writing with work and your personal life.
Often, many aspiring authors don't hold themselves accountable. "Saying yes to the book means saying no to something else," said Pat Flynn, author and podcaster.
If you're going to publish without a team, you'll need to stay focused. Having freedom with your writing may help inspire you.
"Authors who work with traditional publishers give up the right to have any kind of creative control of their own work," said, Steven Spatz, president of BookBaby. "Self-publishing ensures authors have a say in every decision along the process."
Use your independence to motivate yourself. Refer to your notes to remind yourself why you were inspired in the first place. This also ensures you don't miss any points of your story.
Editing is crucial. Since you're representing yourself on your own, you'll want to be sure there are no foolish errors in your final draft. According to Spatz, your book isn't finished until it's edited by a professional, which is the best investment.
"So many great books have been doomed because the author didn't want to spend the time, effort and money to have a sharp-eyed editor find all the silly typos or other [grammatical] errors," he stated.
However, don't fret if you can't splurge: Not every author uses an editor, said Tumlinson. "It's common wisdom to do so, but some authors use other methods to accomplish the same task," he said. For instance, "beta readers," or unprofessional critiquers, are often willing to edit your manuscript in exchange for free a copy of the book.
"This can be a handy and economical way to proof and improve your book, making it very popular with self-published authors," Tumlinson added.
Guy Kawasaki, co-author of "The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users" (Portfolio, 2014), sent copies of manuscripts for corrections to anyone who wanted to review the book. He noted that he asked anyone who received an advance copy of the book to add an Amazon review in the first 48 hours of the release of the book, which also contributed to his success.
"Feedback contributes to improvement," Kawasaki said.
You don't have a publishing house backing you, so you'll need to do your own marketing. According to Schmolk, you should start promoting your book before it's on the market: "Tell friends and family about it, build communication [with] potential fans," he said.
"The point of marketing is to increase the odds that your ideal reader will find and read your book," added Tumlinson. "For that to happen, certain basics need to be in place. First, you need to know who your ideal reader is, including where they like to spend their time – particularly online – what they enjoy paying attention to, such as books they read, movies and television shows they watch, places they like to visit, etc."
Flynn used his channels to promote and share his work. He also built a launch team of a couple hundred people selected for early access to content. His marketing program unlocked various levels of purchasing and interacting with the book, including "thank-you" postcards. For people who showed higher levels of engagement, he matched the cost of the books and donated that amount to Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit that builds schools, trains teachers and funds scholarships.
Since you're pursuing the publishing process independently, you'll need to calculate your investments. Sullivan recommends being reasonable about your expenses.
"I'd say you should budget $150 to $250 for cover design and $300 to $750 for editing," he told Business News Daily. "This means you'll have about $450 to $1,000 invested in the book, and it's not too hard to earn that back."
To keep track of your finances, "get a financial adviser and an accountant and listen to them," advises Tumlinson. "Even if you're not making a lot of money to start, get into the habit of managing it like it's a vast estate, so that later, when the real money starts, that habit is already built into your DNA."
Tumlinson adds that you should set aside 30 percent of royalties for taxes and the remaining 70 percent for author expenses, from advertising to conferences.
"Always invest in yourself, and always look for ways to improve both your work and your ability to promote it," he said.
Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.