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The Self-Publication Process as a First-Time Indie Author

For a first-time indie author, navigating your way through the self-publication process can be quite daunting. In fact, I have been preparing to undertake the independent publishing pathway model now for the past five years. I have studied formally at university, casually through programs offered by writing institutions, and have attended numerous industry conferences, events and festivals. However, it wasn't until this year that an opportunity presented itself and encouraged me to finally take that next step in my career.

Despite the many challenges this project presented, I am grateful to have had the time and space to work on completing this passion project. I am so much more confident in my skills and expertise now that I have had the opportunity to put my knowledge in fields of writing, publishing, communication, media, and marketing to practical use. As such, I have decided to share some tips and tricks about the self-publication process that I'd leant through my personal experience with self-publishing my debut novel, "Once We Were".

The Basics

  1. First things first: Do your research. For me, choosing to use the print-on-demand (POD) IngramSpark was a question of quality-control. They were becoming a household name amongst the indie pub community and offered a great advantage of having a printing facility based in Melbourne, reducing the cost of international shipping. Plus, they have a large distribution network which allowed me to reach global markets through these retailers, which meant I could make the book as accessible as possible.

  2. Always buy your own ISBN Yes, POD services will often offer you free ISBN - however, purchasing and using your own ISBN will ensure that you are the publisher of your title and not the service. That way, if you're unhappy with the quality of the product or service, you can always pull your book and choose a new service that can meet your needs. If you don't do this, then you run the risk of legal complications when trying to publish the title elsewhere. Head to Thorpe-Bowker to purchase your ISBN and remember that if you're going to publish your book in more then one format (ie. paperback + ebook) or publish more then one book, then you're better off going for the 10pk option of ISBN's as each book format and title must have their own assigned number (and if you're buying more then one, it's more affordable in the long run to buy in bulk).

  3. You don't necessarily need to purchase a barcode with your ISBN While you're purchasing your ISBN, you may be prompted to buy a barcode for your print book. Something I discovered through IngramSpark's cover template generator is that they actually provided the barcode for you at no extra cost, so whether or not you really need to buy one comes down to what service you are using. You can also look at using Terry Burton to download a barcode for free.

  4. Complete your book cover and other marketing assets ahead of time This one I learnt the hard way - it's actually quite complicated to begin marketing a book three months out when you don't have a completed cover design. If you at least have the front cover design ready to go, that can help a lot in establishing your book baby's presence in the world. Knowing the design you can build a theme for your marketing assets and begin planning promotions ahead of the release date. When planning, make a note for your editorial calendar (ie. promotional plan) that you can start promoting the book itself from three months out from the release date, up to six weeks after the release date. After this, it isn't acceptable to promote your new book as it's no longer 'new' in the eyes of the industry.

  5. Until your first book is published, don't expect to have access to all your author platforms Building an online presence is essential for indie authors as you are your own main source of promotion and marketing, followed by your readers who promote your work via word-of-mouth, recommendations, and reviews. While establishing a social media presence is easy, establishing your presence on author-specific platforms is more complicated. Until your book gets into the system of retailers like Amazon, you can't prove that your debut book is being published, and thus you can't begin establishing your presence on sites such as Goodreads, BookBub and Amazon Author Central. However, thankfully the processes for these platforms is relatively quick and easy once your book is into the system. Note: When setting up your author profiles, make sure that you try and keep your handles (ie. the '@') the same where possible to make it easier for readers to connect with you across all platforms. Additionally, claim your profile on as many platforms as possible, even if you're only intending on using one or two of them. This way you have complete control of your author brand and reduce the risk of someone else claiming it should you chose at a later date to need that platform.

  6. Check your licensing to know your rights If you've chosen to acquire materials such as fonts or images for your cover design, make sure you check the licensing agreement you paid for. This can impact how, what, and where you can use the materials, particularly when it comes to promoting your work in mediums other than the cover design, such as repurposing the materials for bookmarks, banners, social media posts and more. Note: It's best to check the fine print prior to purchasing to ensure you can re-use these materials, particularly if you're going to be paying a pretty penny for it.

  7. Know your limits For me, I knew there was no way that I was going to be able to make an imprint logo for my little 'publishing house', so I outsourced that task to a friend. Additionally, I had also planned to complete the typesetting by hand using Adobe InDesign, but with being so pressed for time, in the end, to get the final copy uploaded in time for the release date, I had to forgo that idea and accept that I needed assistance. Thankfully, Vellum was my lifesaver when it came to typesetting! The software program did admittedly cost me a little more than expected due to the currency difference - US pricing, not AU - however, I can't say that it wasn't worth every cent I paid. I was a lot less stressed in the end knowing that I just had to upload a word file into Vellum and then edit the formatting settings to meet my needs and desired style for the book - plus, it made my concerns with free-flow formatting for ebooks disappear as the system sorted out everything upon export. Note: You don't need an imprint logo as a self-published author (so don't stress about not having one, it's just something I decided I wanted to do). And there are many different ways to typeset your book, Vellum is just the way that I decided to go about it.

  8. Plan in advance Make a note of your deadlines and the links you need. When do you need to have any legal requirements done by? When should you apply for any guest blogging spots? Do any of your industry memberships provide support services to help you promote your new release? As a first-time author, you want to make use of all the resources at your fingertips to help get your book out into the world.

Publication Tips and Tricks

  1. Remember to apply for the NLA's Pre-Publication Data Service It's free to apply for and allows indie authors to have their books made available in Australian libraries. It must be applied for at least ten days before the publication date. Plus, after completing it you can put the NLA catalogue logo at the bottom of your copyright imprint page!

  2. Note when and where your legal deposits are due Typically in Australia, all books are required to undergo a legal despot to the National Library of Australia, which is subjected to be sent within one month of publication. Additionally, a legal deposit must be made to your state/territory representative - for myself and those in NSW, that means submitting a legal deposit also the State Library of NSW, as well as the NSW Parliamentary Library & University of Sydney Library.

  3. Create a UBL A Universal Book Link (UBL) is a link which can direct your readers to all e-book retailers from one weblink. The service I use is by Books2Read (a service by Draft2Digital). By inserting a single (store) link to your book, the service can auto-fill in all of the retailers selling your book - plus, if you create a free account, you can easily update these links automatically or manually at any time, as well as create a personalised UBL link that's rememberable for your audience. Additionally, if you're an affiliate with any of the booksellers, you can insert these into the backend of the system as well.

  4. Check your files prior to upload There is nothing worse than having to re-upload a file (and having to pay a fee to do it) because of a minor error you missed (which let's face it, is going to happen no matter how many times we proof-read beforehand). While IngramSpark's fee is only $25, converting this to AU pricing makes it a little pricier (abt $35-40). Additionally, if using IngramSpark, make sure your PDF file is set to PDF/X-1a:2001 You can use Adobe Acrobat or Adobe InDesign for this depending on how you process your typesetting, but IngramSpark won't let you upload the file unless the PDF has this type of setting.

Final Tips & Advice

  • Attend writing events such as workshops, festivals and conferences - even once you're published, the industry is always changing, so it's always best to keep on growing alongside it. If you have an ABN and earn an income, you can claim these professional development opportunities at tax time.

  • On that note, sign up to be a member of your local and/or national industry writing bodies, such as the Australian Society of Authors, Romance Writers' of Australia, etc. They provide invaluable information and opportunities to their members, and membership is also tax-deductible.

  • With IngramSpark, it can take between four-to-six weeks for your book to enter into the distribution network and retailer systems - make sure you leave enough time before the release date to allow for this.

  • Don't freak out if you see your book being sold at different prices across different stories than at your RRP - e-retailers can set the price to whatever they like, so don't stress about the difference. If you are worried, you can always alter your price or wholesaler discount, but that doesn't necessarily mean the retailers will adjust their prices accordingly.

  • In Australia, via IngramSpark, books returned can only be destroyed - of which you repay the wholesaler for the costs of the returned books plus shipping (for this reason, I opted for non-returnable sale)

  • Invoices from IngramSpark do take a couple of days to come through, so if you've paid them anything, I recommend taking a screenshot or printing out the page if you're concerned about it getting lost in the interweb and need a copy for your records.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed learning some tips and tricks to the indie publishing trade for first-time authors!

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