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:

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

Question #1: What are my expectations for quality?

I know firsthand how many people are involved in creating a book in the traditional publishing process, but the enormity of what they do didn’t fully sink in until we tried to attempt it ourselves.

There are experts at every stage of the process for a reason: each step in the publishing process requires very specialized skills, and although we were able to piece together a semi-respectable final book, it by no means has the depth of quality that I would expect from any of my authors’ books.

This bugged the hell out of me.

I hated being able to visualize what a stunning book would look like yet being utterly incapable of replicating that vision myself. I know great books, but I don’t know every skill needed to create them.

The recipe editing was easy, since I’d edited many cookbooks in my former life as an editor and still edit many recipes for proposals today. But I’m not a master photographer like some of my authors. I’m not a designer who has laid out hundreds of books. I’m not a recipe tester or a copyeditor or a prop stylist.

These skills are all immensely specialized, and the dabbling amateur (like me) can easily struggle to build the depth of skill necessary to execute all of those elements at a very high level.

So I don’t love the way the photography came out. I don’t love the design. I don’t love every word on every page. Am I proud of what we created? Definitely. It’s a keepsake I’ll always treasure, and the perfect repository for recipes I can’t live without, like my Yayo’s Paella and my Yaya’s Tortilla de Patata.

The Lesson:

Perfection takes a team of professionals. If you have high expectations for your book, you’ll also need to have high expectations when selecting your publishing team. Yes, you can do it all, like I did, but you may find that the end result doesn’t have that magic sparkle or professional polish that you envisioned. And if your end goal is to sell your book in the marketplace—whether through Amazon or on your own platform—you want it to be able to go toe-to-toe with the competitive books in your category.

So be willing to invest in creating a product you can feel proud of. You’ll be surprised how very specialized skills like copyediting, cover design, and page layout can be, and how, when they’re done well, they instantly elevate the quality of your book. Look for experts who’ve already shown they can create the kind of magic you want, and then allow them the freedom to surprise you.

Question #2: Is this my deepest passion or simply something I want to scratch off my bucket list?

Everyone knows I love cooking—it’s my favorite way to unwind after a full day spent at the computer. But every time Jarrett brought up that we should be cooking and testing a recipe for the book, the joy whooshed right out of it.

Suddenly, it became work. Cooking for publication is very different than cooking for pleasure—you need to measure every step along the way, type instructions as you go, jump through mental acrobatics to streamline each step, and then put words to the things that usually come naturally to you. There is no true “flow” to it. It’s more a herky-jerky process of checking, double-checking, and multi-tasking while everything burns on the stove behind you.

Food bloggers, I now respect you more than ever. You make it looks so graceful.

The experience greatly highlighted to me that a secondary passion can quickly lose its luster when it’s professionalized. I like cooking, but I love working on books about cooking. It’s the same distinction as “I love reading books” and “I love writing books.” (It’s also the same distinction as “I love writing books” and “I love working on books.”)

Reading a book is an experience of flow and escape and leisure. Writing a book is a slow, forced grind, full of stops and starts, additions and deletions, second-guessing and hand-wringing.

It’s worthwhile work if it’s your deepest passion, but it’s draining if you’re not in it for the long haul. So before you jump into writing a book ask yourself:

Is my goal to be a career author, or is my goal to just publish a book?

The Lesson:

If you find yourself dragging your feet on certain projects, put yourself on pause and investigate why. Is it just fear and resistance? Or is it a sign of a deeper disconnect?

Pull out a notebook and write a list of reasons why you want to write that book. Then create another list of reasons why you don’t want to write that book. Which list was easier to write?

Question #3: Do I have time in this season of my life to do this well and also enjoy the process?

We’ve had a busy year. Between Jarrett working long hours at his firm, my busy agenting schedule (plus travel to NYC every other week), and planning a wedding from the ground up in other state, we’ve had very little unscheduled time for just recharging.

As most of our after-work and weekend hours were swallowed up by wedding planning, I became increasingly aware of what a huge (and unnecessary) commitment we’d taken on with the cookbook. Those koozies started to look real good.

This is exactly why I always tell my authors that a balanced life—one with plenty of margin—is essential to creativity and productivity. I don’t want to see my authors running themselves ragged, because I know how burnout can be a long-term hit to their career and their happiness.

Without fail, overcommitment will also lead to inferior output, especially when it comes to a big project like a book that needs a lot of thoughtfulness, care, and top-notch work to go into it. It’s not a project you can just zip off to the printers. It’s one you have to tackle with a full tank of creative energy, and just as importantly, enough time in your schedule to mindfully savor the process.

The Lesson:

Margin is the hidden source of creativity. When you fill up every free hour in your schedule with to-dos, you’ll end up with a life of small achievements, not one of big accomplishments—and more importantly—fulfillment from those accomplishments.

We’re not machines. We’re not meant to execute task after task after task until our parts start to fail and we begin to fear being unbusy. And as much as our egos try to convince us otherwise, we’re not superheroes when we say “yes” to everything, do everything for everyone, and demand perfection in every area of our lives.

Honestly assess where you are in your life and decide if right now is the time you’ll be able to do this big project justice. Remember that there’s no deadline, no race, except the one you set for yourself.

(Well, unless you’re getting married—in that case, our deadline was our wedding date of this Saturday!)

I wanted to give a big THANK YOU! to everyone for sticking with me through this crazy year and always reading along on our adventures. Writing this blog has been so much fun for me, and it’s a core part of my commitment to helping authors get published and make a living from their creativity.

Thank you for being here.

And as promised, here’s a sneak peek of our wedding cookbook! It’s not perfect, but we hope you’ll get a kick out of it anyway.

Click here to download our wedding cookbook!

I won’t be posting next week as Jarrett and I will be at the fabulous Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island for our mini-moon. But follow along on Instagram to see what we’re up to!

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2 thoughts on “The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Self-Publishing a Book

  1. This is such a fantastic idea. I am *amazed* by the cookbook – it looks so good! And I love the little stories you guys included. Your wedding guests are going to love it. 🙂

    P.S. Congrats!!

    1. Aw, thanks, Bridgid! Funny story: the printed copies arrived at the farm today and I had a hissy about the printing looking a bit yellowish. The cookbook saga continues! But I’m over it now, and onward to the big day on Saturday. 🙂

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