Last week, I announced in my fan newsletter that I will be publishing A Thousand Roads as my debut epic fantasy novel on October 31st, 2018 in ebook (January 9th, 2019 for print). This was a pretty big moment for me, and in fact, though I’d been planning to do this for months already, it took me two weeks before I could finally write that newsletter and make the announcement.
Today I want to talk about what helped push me over the line, because it’s a topic that relates to any self-publishing author.
When you hit “publish” and your book goes live on Amazon and Smashwords (and other platforms), you are becoming not just author, but publisher as well.
I have worked with numerous self-publishing authors. Often they adopt the term Indie author. I personally like using self-publishing because really, it stares the stigma in the face and says “there’s nothing wrong with this”. In the dozens of self-publishing authors I’ve worked with, one pattern I’ve seen is that those who have established solid careers are the ones who go the extra step to further define their role as publisher, separate from author.
This is not just creating your author brand and stamp of professionalism as an author. This is creating, in addition, your publishing imprint which will have its own brand across all the books you self-publish. Just like a reader recognizes the logo for a major publishing house, they will come to recognize your brand logo based on the reading experiences they’ve had with books you’ve self-published under your imprint.
Creating your self-publishing imprint: your own company to be proud of
This is an important point to nail home if you are self-publishing as an author: you are starting your own publishing company! That company is going to be exclusively specialized on publishing your books. It doesn’t need to be registered with the government as a business, nor do you need a business name, nor do you need a publisher website. You need only know that, aside from being the author who wrote the book and will sell it, on your author platform as an author, you are also the publisher who published the book and will sell it, on your publishing platform.
Now, in practice, these two usually merge quite closely. You need not separate the two in the same way a publishing company would create a business identity for itself, since you’re not accepting submissions and publishing fiction beyond your own work. What you do want to do, though, is establish consistency and a process so that when readers see your imprint logo on the spine of your books, or in the opening copyright page, that logo will mean something.
Here are some things that will help give your imprint a professional edge that brings out more of the “publishing” aspect of “self-publishing” to create a final product closer to what a traditional publisher would produce:
Branding: make a team and be authentic
You don’t have to have a website, but you could do this. I created a website for my imprint, Dreamsphere Books, but I did so because I have plans to publish niche fiction beyond my own over my career. In fact, as you’ll see, I launched Dreamsphere Books last year to get it off the ground, using a fun piece of experimental science fiction.
Notice on that site I am honest about what the publishing imprint is and what my goals are. I don’t put up smoke and mirrors to try and give readers the impression this is a publishing company who has “acquired the rights” to my book. I state explicitly on the website that this is John Robin’s publishing imprint. This kind of transparency is so important if you are self-publishing because it instills trust in your readers. You are effectively saying, “I am a self-published author and I’m proud of my production, so much so that I’ve gone to all these steps to give you the books you see.”
And that leads to the most important point about branding your publishing imprint: “all these steps” implies something bigger than yourself. Traditional publishing is collaborative and involves a large team, often 30+ staff who will be involved in the production of a book. Unless you’re sitting on $25,000, you likely won’t have 30+ team members involved in the production of your book, but nonetheless, a team is a team and it’s important to establish roles so that you can wear your author hat while others can wear the publishing hat to help your imprint from the publishing aspect.
Some key roles: team members who help define the publisher role
As the self-publisher, think of yourself as the director of your self-publishing imprint. Imagine you’re running a small restaurant. While you can step in and do anyone’s job, your goal is to learn how to train the professionals who will do each job and then oversee the operation. Likewise, there are critical roles involved in self-publishing a book and, while you may know how to / be able to do them all on your own, think of the amount of time you could have spent writing or promoting your book instead!
You’ll need editors, ideally a team who will be consistent across a series. At the very least, you should have two editors, one who does a higher level content edit, and another who does a copyedit. If you can’t afford a proofread, try to find some grammar-savvy beta readers to proofread your book, all formatted and ready to publish, before publishing, but after the editing is complete. This helps you reduce typos drastically, which will make your self-publishing imprint stand out.
You’ll need at least one person who is skilled in design to make you a great cover, as well as formatting the interior. These are two different things, so often an author will separate the two in their production: you’ll have an awesome cover artist who becomes your go-to for all your books, and an awesome interior design company/designer who takes your final copyedited manuscript and turns it into the final ebook / print book.
For Dreamsphere Books, I’ve added an artist to my team of two who will be collaborating with me on the maps, as well as some interior panels and custom chapter headers. You don’t need to have an artist involved, but if you want to have art inside or custom chapter headers, you might want to get an artist involved to give it a special touch in addition to the great touches the interior designer will add.
Many authors forgo this but you shouldn’t because your book summaries are as important points of sale as your cover and your opening pages! Copywriting involves writing the copy that readers find on the back of the book (or in the description field on Amazon/Smashwords) or other related summaries. A copywriter can match style based on comparative titles so that your summary catches the right readers.
Copywriting is a skill that copywriters specialize in, and I firmly believe it’s not something to cut corners on if you’re wanting to make your self-publishing imprint stand out.
Often times, if you want to save some money you can give this role to your editor, as many editors are skilled at copywriting and might help you refine your copy. I have several clients I’ve worked with who usually work with me on copywriting prior to publication and often find the perspective I bring as editor is different and helps pinpoint the market.
This last part is the one self-publishing authors can often neglect, or get carried away with, and sadly, lose lots of money on. You don’t have to hire a publicists or a PR specialist or a marketing organization. You can do this and there are numerous examples of self-publishing authors who succeed by utilizing these team members, but these aren’t the actual brass tacks.
You only need one team member, and it should be someone other than yourself: a review and outreach coordinator. You can add more than one team member to help with the review and outreach coordinator’s work, depending on how large you want to your campaign to be, but the point here is: to get your book off the ground, you need to connect it to reviewers and influencers, as a publisher separate from yourself.
Reviewers usually have blogs and you can contact them to request a review (or what’s called a “blurb” — that reads like a review but they will do this for you after reading just an excerpt / summary and you can think of it as more of a recommendation). Influencers are bloggers or other online hubs where you might have a guest post/contribution that helps expose you to potential readers.
As the author, you will want to try to get as many reviewers and influencers on your radar as possible. But there are many who would better be approached by your publishing imprint, represented by the review and outreach coordinator. Again, it’s down to the power of a team: you, the author, trying to sell your self-published book, will have a different impact than a review coordinator asking for a review / placement for you, as a member of your team (and offering FREE copies to review, not asking for sales).
You should do both of these, of course! But this valuable team member will give the marketing role of your imprint a different kind of edge that will help you get more reviews, recommendations, and appearances, and ultimately, help you gain more exposure to readers.
Do you have a self-publishing imprint? What kind of things have you done to separate your role as publisher from author to define a professional edge?