Last week I hinted that I might have another book in the works. I've been going back through this blog from the past 18 months, pulling out the posts I think might help other first-time self-publishers find their way through the many traps that await the innocent. My advice to others is always to commit to the book, give it a title, and tell readers that it is coming. That not only builds interest but keeps the author working. So, following that advice, here's the announcement. Before the end of this year, I will be self-publishing a small guide to self-publication. The working title is "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese: How to Avoid the Traps of Self Publishing." I'll be talking about my own experiment in self-publishing and offering some tips on what I've learned along the way. The manuscript is about 75% complete, but there are gaps to be filled. As I write the posts to flesh out the existing information, I'll post them here, in hopes of spurring my readers to tell me what else I need to talk about.
It's one thing to decide you'll self-publish your new book. It's quite another to take all the steps necessary to become a publisher. Here's the point you must understand: publishing a book starts long before the book is written. Publishing is a business, not an afterthought. So, in the spring of 2009, establishing a business was my first step.
A business needs a definition and a name. I started with the name, something I could use as a publishing imprint on my books. I didn’t want anything that would identify me too closely — not my name or a street address, nothing too cutesy, but something that would lend itself to a neat little logo. After coming up with several ideas, only to discover by way of a Google search that the name was already being used, I looked around the room where I was sitting and realized that all four of my cats were there keeping me company. My first thought was, “This is like living in a cat house.” Then, realizing the unfortunate connotations of that word, I switched to German, coming up with Katzenhaus Books and a simple black cat silhouette as a logo.
Next I asked myself what I wanted this business to do. The answer was fairly straightforward. Katzenhaus Books would produce, publish, promote, and sell one or more books of original historical fiction. It would remain flexible enough to expand into other book types. Perhaps eventually it would be able to offer similar services or advice to other writers who were seeking independent publishing choices.
Any business needs capital and a financial plan. During my academic career, I had relied on research grants to support the writing process, a publishing contract to pay production costs, and a publisher to bear the burdens of advertising and distribution. All I had to do was write. Now, all those expenses came back to me. I started my financial analysis by comparing several years of our living expenses against our income to discover how much discretionary income I had to play with. After deciding how much I could afford to risk on this venture, I did some research on self- publishing companies to estimate the total cost of a typical book. What I discovered was a wide range of offers, depending on how much help I was going to need.
The next step involved an honest examination of my own knowledge and abilities. I had easy access to most of the research materials I would need, so I would not need to do a whole lot of initial travel. I’m a professional historian, a pretty good writer, and an experienced copy editor. Writing was not going to be a problem. Advertising and distribution remained question marks, but I had some experience in doing book signings and conference presentations. I was also an experienced webmaster. When it came to book design, on the other hand, I was pretty much out of my element. While I might have an idea or two about how I wanted a particular book to look, I was going to need someone to do the actual cover and interior layout. It appeared that I could afford to pay for some contracted design services and handle production costs out of the nest egg I had identified. Then I worked on establishing a book price that would make it possible to re-coup my expenditures.
My private resolve was to produce the book I was eager to write within the next two years. Then I needed to sell enough copies to (1) restore the savings account and (2) accumulate enough of a cushion to finance any future book. I gave myself an estimated eighteen months to two years to accomplish that. If, at the end of four years, I had not made a profit, I would retire from the publishing business and take up knitting or crossword puzzles.