Self-publishing is something of a misnomer. The process of taking a book from first idea to a spot on someone’s bookshelf requires the help and talents of many people. The work used to be done by huge publishing houses. When you offer to self-publish, the responsibility for all the many tasks involved falls squarely on your shoulders. But you are already the author, the editor-in-chief, and the business owner. You cannot hope to sit isolated in your little home office and do everything yourself, no matter how talented you may be. The success of your book will depend upon how well you assemble a team of assistants. Here’s a look at the staff I have assembled. Perhaps it will give you some ideas.
My most important hire was my husband. Of course he was already on board to give me moral support, but as time went on, he has taken upon himself three important roles. First, he is my travel agent. Once I decide on the need for a research trip or agree to do a talk, a book signing, or a conference appearance, he takes over. He plans the itinerary, books our accommodations, and provides the transportation. Second, he is my mail clerk. He’s much better than I at packing and wrapping, and he never seems to mind a trip to the post office every few days. I can count on him to mail out single book purchases or handle large book shipments. And third, he is my official photographer. Whether I need a special shot for an illustration or just some general pictures to help me set a scene, he is there with his camera. You can see a sample of his work on the cover of Beyond All Price. He also comes with the advantage of being inexpensive. His salary is $1.00 a year, augmented by clean laundry, home-cooked meals, and endless affection and gratitude.
My business plan recognized that I would need to hire a design artist to create the book cover and a layout expert to make sure that the final book meets the exacting standards of the publishing world — page numbers, attractive fonts, spacing, chapter titles, and flourishes all in place. Since both those areas are way beyond my expertise, I hired both functions through the production company who contracted to produce the physical book.
I found another multiple source of staff members at a company called Vistaprint. I got started there by ordering my first business cards for Katzanhaus Books. From that one order, I learned about their other great promotional items and ended up buying a magnetic sign for the side of the car, postcards, brochures, a tote bag, and several other items with my own logos on them. Then I found that they also provided hosting for websites and blogs, as well as domain names and e-mail addresses for companies. I was able to use their services for all my promotional and web-based needs.
You will need a banker. Money matters, but many people are not trained to handle it efficiently. I certainly wasn’t. My first lesson came when a friend of a friend bought a book from me and handled me a check. When I looked at it the next day, I found that she had made it out to Katzenhaus Books. I took it to the bank, only to have it rejected. I couldn’t cash it because I didn’t have an account in the name of Katzenhaus Books. I could either hunt the person down and ask them to write another check (embarrassing!) or open a business account as Carolyn Schriber, DBA (doing business as) Katzenhaus Books. Since there was a real possibility that other checks would follow the same pattern, I went ahead and opened the account. A good move, as it turned out, since the account came with an associated credit card that lets me keep business purchases separated from household purchases. It also provided safe direct deposits for royalty payments.
At about the same time, I realized that I needed to be able to take book orders on my website, which in turn meant I needed to have a credit card manager. Despite what you may have heard, most people trust PayPal to handle their credit card purchases. The service they provide is the easiest — and the safest — way to handle such charges. I’ve never had a PayPal charge that was not paid in full, and the company is quite good about forwarding customer information. They charge only a couple of percentage points on each transaction, and those are pennies well-spent in terms of convenience. Granted, occasionally I get a “phishing” attack on my account, asking that I send in my bank account number, but since all such requests are by definition fraudulent, there is no real danger of an account being compromised. Further, PayPal is very good about tracking down the perpetrators if you send them copies of any such e-mails. I use their services constantly without problems.
To extend my outreach, I needed the help of professional promoters. I found my greatest help came from three sources, First, the wonderful reading site, BookBuzzr, which not only created a free on-screen reader for each of your books but continues to offer clever new ways to advertise the books for free. I gained access to professional trade shows by subscribing to NABE, the North American Booksellers Exchange. The connections I have made through professional writers’ organizations have also been invaluable. Writers are tremendously generous folks, probably because we’ve all been in the same trenches fighting the same wars.
When Beyond All Price began to make a lot of money —not a fortune, but more than I ever expected — I sought more help with money management. A financial advisor helped clarify the best uses for unexpected windfalls. He found flexible investment ideas that helped preserve the principle while providing a way to start the money making money on its own. He also introduced me to an absolute necessity — an accountant who could help me organize my records and deal with the tax complications that come with self-employment taxes and irregular income schedules.
I relied on friends for many things. They served as sounding blocks when I needed to talk through an idea. They volunteered as pre-publication manuscript readers to check for unfortunate mistakes, blatant errors, and unintentional omissions. They were my first salesmen as they talked about the book to their other friends, and throughout the process, they were faithful cheerleaders. A couple of them are still reposting my blogs and tweets to keep spreading the word. I couldn’t have done it without them.
So there are the people I needed in order to “self-publish” a single book. Even I am surprised at how many there are: travel agent, mail clerk, photographer, design artist, layout expert, production company, printer, web host, banker, credit card manager, professional promoters, financial advisor, accountant, sounding blocks, manuscript readers, salesmen, and cheerleaders. Each of them deserves partial credit for any success my book has achieved. If you’re beginning this same process, start now to identify the staff that can help you along the way.