The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Self-Publishing a Book

Questions to Ask Before Self Publishing

But first, the publishing news worth reading this week:

The Hilarious Art of Book Design (TED Talk by Chip Kidd, famed Knopf cover designer): Since we’re on the topic of book design and production this week, I thought it was worth resurrecting this classic (and truly hilarious) talk by Chip Kidd. Even if design isn’t your thing, you’ll get a kick out of Chip.

How Do I Write My Book and Build My Platform at the Same Time? (Chad R. Allen): “Many of us want to get our books into the world, but we also understand the power and importance of a significant platform. We understand that if we write a book without a platform, we will have difficulty reaching an audience. We not only want to write a book, we want some people to read it!”

Local Flavors: Cookbooks Spotlight Fall 2016 (Clare Swanson for Publisher’s Weekly): “From Iron Chef to MasterChef to Top Chef, there’s no shortage of national media attention for kitchen rock stars and those clamoring for the title. Food Network personalities, big-time bloggers, and now YouTubers continue to dominate the cookbook bestseller list. But cookbooks by regional chefs from across the country are also climbing the charts and winning awards along the way. We spoke with publishers about how they put hometown culinary heroes on the map.”

The Ultimate Literary Ten-Course Meal (Evan Hanczor for Lit Hub): “…we’re consistently amazed by the power—creative, nostalgic, emotional—of translating text into food. If you’ve never cooked and eaten a dish from a favorite book, do it. Nearly any great book has moments of food in it, not just because characters have to eat, but because our relationship with food exposes so much about our identities, cultures, time, and place. What author forsakes a tool that can explore all that?”

The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Self-Publishing

A few weeks ago I mentioned how Jarrett and I are notorious for taking on more than we should…but I haven’t even told you the half of it.

We decided—in the midst of planning every detail of a DIY wedding sans professional planner PLUS crazy busy work schedules—that we should write, photograph, edit, design, and print our own cookbook as a wedding favor.

Actually, it was Jarrett’s awful idea. (This is how marriage works, right? Blame your partner for all the bad ideas?)

But really, I’m the one who should have known better. I’ve walked dozens of cookbook authors through the publishing process, and I know it’s no stroll in the park. It’s more like a two-year slog up a mountain, with a full team to help you reach the peak of quality you have in mind.

But I (very stupidly) thought: Hey, it’s only 10 recipes. Only 32 pages. Only a bit of design work. We can do this. And it’s better than cheesy “Maria & Jarrett Forever” koozies.

Oh, boy, am I a sucker.

Creating a book is a tremendous amount of work, especially if you’re trying to hack it out on your own. No matter how many books you’ve read yourself (and in my case, edited or agented myself), you’ll still be surprised at the level of detail that goes into creating an exceptional book.

Although we survived the process, got it done, and—dare I say—honed our teamwork superpowers, it could have been a much smoother process if I had wrapped my head around a few important considerations before jumping into self-publishing a book.

So now I want to be sure you don’t make the same silly mistakes I did! Whether you’re contemplating a self-published novel, an ebook bonus giveaway, or a four-color print book, there are a few key questions you should ask yourself before you even think about Step #1 of the process.

And don’t worry–I’ll give you all a look at the cookbook, so you can judge for yourself! Scroll down to the bottom of this post to take a peek at our Eat, Drink, and Be Married cookbook.

I do want to say: I’m proud of the final book. I am glad we did it. It did serve its purpose of being a special and personal wedding favor for all the wonderful people who traveled from near and far for our wedding. And I do know it will be a keepsake in our home for many, many years. It’s a book that fully serves its purpose as a personal item, if not a commercial one.

So here are the 3 questions you should ask yourself before jumping headfirst into producing your own book:

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Demystifying the 6-Figure Book Advance for Authors

Book advances for first time authors

But first, the publishing news worth reading this week:

What exactly is a beach read anyway? Summery, sexy — or sexist? (Sophie McManus for The Washington Post): “If you’re a fan of contemporary fiction, you know we’re neck-deep in beach-read season. Lists of hot summer page-turners tumble from every magazine and corner of the Internet. But what, exactly, is a beach read?”

A 4-Part Checklist for Writing Strong Back Cover Copy (Chad Cannon): “That back cover copy (BCC, as we say) is often the make-it or break-it factor on the consumer’s journey toward purchase. If you read it and think ‘Psssh not for me,’ or ‘What? I don’t get it,’ then you set the book back down and move on. But if the copy captures you, you open the book, peruse its insides, and perhaps purchase.”

Working with Cover and Interior Designers (Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer): “Almost every publishing professional advising self-publishers says the same thing: focus on editing and cover design. Those are the two most important elements of your book, the ones that will make the biggest difference in how your book is received and how it will sell.”

Frontlist Fiction Hits a Dry Spell (Jim Milliot for Publisher’s Weekly): “Publishers have been expecting difficulty getting media attention for their books in the second half of 2016, as coverage of the presidential election dominates the various media outlets where authors usually drum up publicity.”

Demystifying the 6-Figure Book Advance for First-Time Authors

Let’s talk about this big subject today: book advances.

But first, you have to let me whine for 2 seconds, please, because I did an extremely dumb thing. I decided to try to close on three books in the two weeks before my wedding. Because obviously, wedding planning isn’t that hard, right? And because I didn’t have two big business trips already. And because it’s not a busy season in my life, at all.

Let’s just say the past few weeks have involved a lot of hand-wringing and whining and wine. Lots of wine. Wine is my new maid of honor. Wine might be my new groom. (Jarrett, thoughts?)

But now that I’m almost through it (and getting married Saturday the 27th!), it does feel absolutely exhilarating. And it got me thinking about this business of selling books and how complex and ever-changing it really is.

Each of the three books I sold had wildly different circumstances. Two were from first-time authors and one was from an already-established, highly successful author. Yet it doesn’t matter whether it’s an author’s first book or tenth book–my goal is always the same:

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Greeting Cards for Writers & Creatives

Encouragement greeting cards for writers pin

But first, the publishing links worth reading this week:

How To Be an Author Publishers Fight For: And Get a Publishing Deal without Writing a Book Proposal (Chad R. Allen): It’s true–publishers often fight over the most desirable (read: platform-backed) authors. That’s what happens every time we take a book to auction, and it’s a situation every author wants to be in. Here’s a great look at how to be that lucky author.

Publishers’ Dilemma: Judge A Book By Its Data Or Trust The Editor’s Gut? (Lynn Neary for NPR): “Publishing is a notoriously risky business. A publishing house might give a first-time author a six-figure deal, only to see the book flop. It’s always been hard to predict what will sell. Now publishers are getting some help from data that tells them how readers read — and that makes some people nervous.”

10 Fundamental Ways To Boost Your Facebook Organic Reach By 193% (Diana Adams for CoSchedule): Understanding the Facebook algorithm is essential for anyone working to build their author platform. Here’s a great, snappy rundown of what you can do to increase engagement on the most highly populated social network out there.

Neil Gaiman on Why We Read and What Books Do for the Human Experience (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): “The question of why we read and what books actually do for us is as old as the written word itself, and as attractive. Galileo saw reading as a way of having superhuman powers. For Kafka, books were ‘the axe for the frozen sea within us’; Carl Sagan held them as ‘proof that humans are capable of working magic’; James Baldwin found in them a way to change one’s destiny; for Polish Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska, they stood as our ultimate frontier of freedom.”

Literary Agents and the Hybrid Author: A Conversation with Bob Mecoy and Kristin Nelson (Sangeeta Mehta for JaneFriedman.com):  Book publishing is changing so quickly, and this is a great look at the hybrid author space, where authors can work with traditional houses while still self-publishing some of their works. As most people know, there are pros and cons to both approaches, and that’s why I think Kristin’s advice here is so essential: “Know thyself.” Only you can determine what your goals as an author are and what path will get you toward those goals.

Greeting Cards for Writers & Creatives

Remember last week when we talked about rejection? And I promised you all I’d give you something this week to cheer you up?

Well, they’re heeeerrreeeee.

Meet your new pep talk cards for writers:

Encouragement greeting cards for writers pin

 

These greeting cards are perfect for any writer, blogger, or creative in your life who’s feeling down-and-out about their work. You can print them out on nicely textured paper (this Classic White Laid Card Stock #100 is my favorite and what we used for our Save the Dates, but any nicer paper you have lying around will work well, too), cut them out, and fold them into little greeting cards. Use them two ways:

For yourself:

When you’re feeling inspired, motivated, high on life, just all around on top-of-the-world, write yourself a note about how it feels and why it’s worth it. Scribble down why you have so much to be proud of and how very good those triumphs feel.

Then tuck it away until that rainy day when rejection comes calling. (But tuck it away someplace you’ll remember, because good lord, I would lose it in a flat second.) When you have that day where you feel defeated, depressed, and very, very done with it all, pull out your card and sit with it awhile. Remind yourself that this feeling will pass, and you don’t have to be so hard on yourself until it does.

You can print 10 pep talk cards and sprinkle them around your house, or do just one at a time when the mood strikes you. As long as your little card makes you feel a bit less alone and sad, it’s doing its job in the world.

For a friend:

Know a friend going through a rough patch or creative drought? Sending her a cheer-up card will probably mean more to her than you can imagine.

Just last week I was curled up on the couch after work, moaning to Jarrett about how overwhelmed I am (the whole close-on-4-books-and-take-2-business-trips-just-3-weeks-before-my wedding-thing has been my dumbest idea to date). Then he handed me a package that had just come in the mail. It was a gift! For me! From an author! (My actual reaction had many, many more exclamation points to it than this.)

But that small little gift and the thoughtfulness that went into it cheered me right up. You have the power to do that for someone else, too.

So go right ahead, print these bad boys out, and go cheer up someone who’s having a rough day. They’ll love ya for it.

Click here to download these greeting cards for writers and creatives.

Encouragement greeting cards for writers

 

A Zen Method to Cope With Rejection

Literary agent rejections

The publishing stories worth reading this week: 

Publishing a Cookbook: Editors and Closing Day (Rachel and Polly of Thriving Home): This is a fun one for you! My authors, Polly and Rachel, give a great behind-the-scenes look at what really happens when we’re selling a book at auction. If you’ve ever wondered how a cookbook deal gets made and what happens when many publishers are interested, this is the perfect read for you.

The Effortless Effort of Creativity: Jane Hirshfield on Storytelling, the Art of Concentration, and Difficulty as a Consecrating Force of Creative Attention (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): “In the wholeheartedness of concentration, world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.”

Can Serialized Fiction Convert Binge Watchers Into Binge Readers? (Lynn Neary for NPR): I love this idea of tapping into the popularity of binge watching and bringing it to books, but I’m not sold on the idea that a book = an episode. Actually, I think a chapter = an episode. People are already binge-reading when they can’t put down a book and race through it quickly. If anything, serializing a book (chunking it into sections and releasing them one-by-one) is the opposite of binge-reading, which requires you to have back-to-back access to the whole book/series.

A Key to Writing Books that Sell and Sell and Sell (Chad R. Allen): I’m often asked what the correct balance should be between storytelling and practical information in a nonfiction book–here’s a great explainer on this from Chad Allen!

Collards And Canoodling: How Helen Gurley Brown Promoted Premarital Cooking (Nina Martyris for NPR): “The Single Girl’s Cookbook sold close to 150,000 copies. But how did an editor who couldn’t cook and who described herself as a ‘grown-up anorexic’ end up writing a cookbook? She didn’t. The recipes were ghost written by cookbook author Margot Reiman. Gurley Brown simply added the garnish.”

 

A Zen Method to Handle Rejection

Literary agent rejections

Do you know the one thing I hate about my job? I hate writing rejections. I hate it, hate it, hate it. Please have me do anything else, including contract review, as long as I don’t have to say “no” to someone’s hard work.

The very thought of writing rejections makes me miserable. Because I know how hard some people take them—I see it with my own authors. I see the self-doubt and blame that springs up around a “no, thank you,” and I hate the very thought of afflicting that on someone else.

But I do it. And I do it because I believe in one thing: the best yes. Every time I say no to something that’s near-perfect for me, I’m saving room on my list for that project that’s 100% perfect for me. And I’m protecting my time for my authors, who deserve to have me there for everything they need.

That’s also how editors see it. That’s how sales, publicity, marketing, and everyone else who weighs in on an acquisitions decision sees it. We can only make magic when the very thought of a book makes us come alive. Otherwise, we’re doing a disservice to the author and the reading public by putting something out into the world that we’re only somewhat excited about.

And here’s a secret: Everyone in this industry gets rejected. It’s not just writers, I promise! An editor can have a book she loves rejected by her team. A marketing manager can have her new ad campaign denied from on high. A publicist can get hundreds of rejections (usually in the form of silence) from a press mailing. Agents and authors can get rejected by editors, and editors can get rejected by agents and authors.

There are thousands of things that can go wrong or get blocked by anyone along the entire acquisitions chain. Rejection is in the undercurrent of any media industry, and it’s the cardinal rule for anyone who creates and shares their work: you will get rejected. You’ll get stomped on; you’ll get battered; you’ll get tough.

Yet too many people let these disappointments destroy them. So let me say it now: I’m not going to let that happen to you. I’ve coached dozens of authors through rejections, and I know that how they handle it is what separates the career writers from the hobbyists.

If you’re serious about your work, you know there’s no Plan B to fall back on, no other career that will be good enough. The only way onward is through the wilderness of rejection. Here’s how I would coach you through each step along the way:

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