It’s often said that it takes a village to raise a child – the same could be said about publishing a book.
While it is possible to do it all yourself in Microsoft Word, Photoshop and uploading your files to one of the many free eBook sites available, this approach is rife with potential pitfalls and it’s difficult to achieve a professional result on your own (especially if this is your first self-published book).
Yet the quality of your end result is crucial. Like any business collateral you create, your book is a representation of your business. In many cases, it will be a potential client’s first interaction with your business, and it will lead them to make a number of assumptions about who you are and the quality of your products or services.
Like any business collateral you create, your book is a representation of your business. It needs to be good. Click To Tweet
If your book is of a high-quality, with a professionally produced cover, good quality paper and compelling content that’s clearly organised and well written, then they are more likely to see you as a leader in your industry and the type of entrepreneur to charge premium prices for premium services.
On the other hand, if your cover looks like a DIY job, the paper and binding is of a poor quality and your book is riddled with repetition, holes in your argument and grammatical errors, it’s going to be difficult to persuade your readers to pay top dollar to work with you.
What’s the solution?
Unless you happen to be an excellent editor and designer along with being a PR and marketing guru and having your own printing press, you’ll need a team to get the best results.
Who do you need on your publishing team?
To self-publish a great business book, you’ll need the following members on your team:
- Editor: Many self-publishers think they can skimp on editing costs and often just find someone who will correct their book from a language perspective. Instead, a good editor will look at the structure and content of your book and will give advice on how it could best be organised, how to remove repetition and rambling and how you can fill any gaps in your argument. It’s only once these macro issues have been addressed that you can move on to the micro issues of spelling and grammar.
- Beta readers: Beta readers (either other people in your industry or people who meet your target reader demographic) can be very good at providing feedback on your content. However, because they aren’t a paid supplier it can be challenging to find people who will get back to you within your desired timeframe, and who will give you useable feedback. If your book needs a lot of work from a structure and content perspective, they may also struggle to diagnose any issues, so I usually recommend sending your book to beta readers after an initial edit. This means they can make more specific comments on paragraphs, examples and chapters that do/don’t work, rather than tackling the book as a whole.
- Proofreader: Proofreaders are language technicians. Where a structural editor will look at your book as a whole, a proofreader will be looking at individual words to catch any remaining grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, typos and incorrect punctuation.
- Cover designer: Your cover designer will design your front cover, back cover and spine. They can also help with other marketing collateral, like postcards, bookmarks and images for online marketing.
- Internal layout designer/typesetter: Depending on your designer’s skillset, this may or may not be your cover designer. In the past, typesetters focused on the appearance of the words themselves (font, spacing, justified text, when to break words across lines, etc.) while internal designers focused on tables, graphics and the appearance of the page as a whole. Over time, these roles merged, and a single designer will usually look at both.
- Illustrator: If you want your book to have cartoons or a lot of diagrams, it can be good idea to engage an illustrator to create a consistent look throughout your book, as well as to ensure all of your images are print quality. Your designer may also be able to help with this, depending on their skillset.
- eBook designer: Again, depending on your designer’s skills, this may be your internal layout designer or you might need to find a separate contractor. In many cases, if your physical book is designed according to your eBook distributor’s guidelines (see https://www.bookbaby.com/ebook-conversion-tips for an example of this), you will be able to upload the PDF directly.
- Printer: If you want physical copies of your books, you will need a printer to print them! Some authors just rely on print-on-demand copies, but I find that getting a short print run with a local printer often means you have a better per-book cost, and you also have more say over the quality.
- Online distributor: Here you have the option of uploading your eBook and print-on-demand files to each online store individually, or using an online eBook distributor to upload your files to every store in one go.
- Bricks-and-mortar distributor: If selling your book in stores is important to you, you can approach stores independently, or you can use a book distribution company, which will already have relationships with the major retailers in your area.
- Marketing and PR help: The most challenging part of publishing a book often isn’t the writing or production – it’s what happens next. Many authors rely on their networks for marketing, but if you really want to make an impact, it could be worth getting some professional marketing and PR help.
Depending on your skills and your requirements, you may need some or all of these suppliers. In my experience, the suppliers every author needs are editors, proofreaders, cover and internal layout designers and printers.
Should you choose an end-to-end provider or freelancers?
When it comes to publishing providers, you have two options – working with an end-to-end self-publishing company, or working with freelancers.
End-to-end self-publishing companies are one-stop-shops that will do everything that needs to be done to turn your book from a Word document into a paperback. This will include editing and proofreading, cover design, internal layout design, eBook conversion and upload, book store distribution and printing. Some may also offer PR and marketing support.
The great thing about self-publishing companies is that they can streamline the publishing process. They have a team of professionals ready to go and, because they’re managing your publishing schedule, there shouldn’t be long waits in between suppliers (assuming that you give any feedback promptly, of course). They’ve also published many other books, so if something goes wrong they can fix it quickly, whereas you might spend hours on the phone to various suppliers trying to figure it out yourself.
The catch is that self-publishing companies charge for this convenience, and in some cases the cost might be thousands more than if you organised your own publishing team. (Though some self-publishing companies are also open to offering part of the process, such as producing your book once it’s been edited, so it’s worth investigating these options too.)
If you choose to work with freelancers, you’re likely to save on the cost of publishing. Smaller teams and sole traders have lower overheads, and they can pass those savings on to you. They may also have connections with other people in the industry, so if you can’t find an illustrator, for instance, they can send some names through and save you the time you might have spent Google-ing.
However, things don’t move as fast when working with freelancers. First, while you might need to wait a few weeks or months before you can enter a self-publishing company’s queue, if you want to work with a popular freelancer, the same thing can happen. If you want to work with a number of popular freelancers, you could be waiting several weeks between each stage of the process.
Second, any back and forth between your suppliers needs to go through you, which means issues can take longer to resolve. In a self-publishing company, your project manager will do all the back and forth, which means any design or editorial questions will often get answered without them having to bother you. When you’re working with independents, everything needs to go through you.
Finally, if something goes wrong, you might not know where to turn. A design you don’t like or an edit you’re not happy with is fairly straight forward – speak to your supplier and, if you can’t come to an agreement, find a new one. But what happens when your book isn’t appearing on Amazon, or a shipment of books got held up after you decided to print in China instead of locally? In these cases, you don’t know who to speak to, you don’t know the business processes, and you often don’t even know the right questions to ask to get the help you need. This is where a good self-publishing company can really help – they’ve seen it before and, in most cases, can solve it quickly.
Ultimately, it comes down to the time or money question. If time is a higher priority to you, go with a self-publishing company. If the dollars are more important, find good freelancers.
5 tips to choose your self-publishing team
Whether you’re choosing between self-publishing companies or you’re weighing up different designers or editors, there are a number of questions to ask when choosing the right publishing team for you.
- What service are they providing?
- What books have they worked on?
- How much will they charge?
- What are their turnaround times?
- Can you see a sample of their work?
1. What service are they providing?
While you might think that all cover designers or all editors offer the same service, the truth is that their services can vary greatly.
If you take editing, for instance, some editors will simply offer a human spell checking service while others will completely overhaul your book, creating a new structure, removing repetition, and recommending new content as well as looking at the language.
When it comes to designers, some may offer cover design and internal layout while some just offer covers. Some may have a limited number of revisions or concepts they provide, while others might keep providing designs until you find one that’s a match.
The key is being clear on what you need, and what the person quoting you is actually offering. This then makes it easier to compare quotes, as you aren’t comparing apples with watermelons, and it helps ensure you’ll get the result you want.
2. What books have they worked on in the past?
Visit any bookstore, or jump on to Amazon, and you’ll see books on countless topics across a range of genres. What many first-time authors don’t realise is that those genres all have clear conventions, and working within those conventions is key to getting the results you want.
Let’s take cover design. Erotic romance books look a certain way. Thrillers have another look. Business books look different again. While it can be tempting to create a cover that stands out, the fact is that your cover is the first thing readers will be judging to determine whether or not your book is a match for them. If they’re a fan of romance and your book doesn’t look like a romance book, they’re not going to buy.
The right cover can have a dramatic impact on your sales, and one of the keys to getting the right cover is working with a designer who is familiar with your genre.
The same goes for editing. Epic fantasy trilogies and nonfiction how-to books are all very different. The goals of the author are different (to entertain versus to help their readers get a result), which means they are structured differently and the content they include is different. While some editors work very well across genres, I find that when an editor works predominantly in one area, they become familiar with the typical issues that crop up in that type of book, which means they’re looking for opportunities to solve those issues.
In fiction, those might be issues around pacing, point of view, character motivation, plot holes, backstory and so on. In nonfiction, many of those issues simply don’t come up. Instead, the issues I see in nonfiction tend to be around providing evidence, explaining the benefits of taking a certain action (or the risks of not taking it) and providing actionable advice for your readers, which helps them achieve the goal they wanted to achieve when they bought your book.
You need an editor who’s familiar with the typical issues in your type of book, because they are better positioned to help you address those issues.
3. What are their lead and turnaround times?
You finished your book last week and you want it published next month, so if you book an editor for next week, everything should work out perfectly. Right?
When new authors are mapping out their publishing schedules, a common mistake is only taking their turnaround times into considerations, such as three weeks for an edit. However, Good suppliers are often popular suppliers, and this means they can book out weeks, if not months, in advance. So your three weeks for an edit suddenly becomes three weeks in two months’ time.
When speaking to any supplier, ensure you ask about both their lead and turnaround times so you can map out your publishing schedule. If you find someone you really like (and whose work you really like), you may decide to adjust your print deadline for them. If your deadline’s non-negotiable, you can keep looking to find someone who can work within those constraints.
4. How much will they charge?
If you go to three self-publishing companies and ask for quotes to produce your book, you could get three different prices. The same goes when contacting editors, cover designers and printers.
Should you just choose the cheapest option?
The key is understanding why you’re getting different quotes so you can make an educated decision.
This can happen for a number of reasons:
- The suppliers are quoting different services. If one self-publishing company thinks you’re providing an edited manuscript whereas the other one thinks you need editing, you will get two different prices. If one editor is quoting a proofread and another is quoting a multi-edit package, you will get two different prices. If one printer thinks you want a standard book size and another thinks you want something different, you will get two different prices.
- The suppliers have different levels of experience. Experienced suppliers who have built a good reputation tend to charge more, because they can. Someone who’s just starting out will often charge less to get their first few clients.
- The companies are different sizes. As I discussed earlier, end-to-end self-publishing companies tend to charge more than freelancers. Part of this is for the convenience of their service, but another part is simply that their overheads are much higher. The same goes if you choose to work with an editing or design agency rather than a solopreneur.
Once you’re confident you’re getting quoted for the same service, the next step is to consider what’s important to you. Are you comfortable working with someone who’s just getting started and who may not be familiar with your genre or the publishing landscape in general? Or would you prefer to pay more to work with someone with a proven track record?
5. Can you see a sample of their work?
You’ve asked your suppliers about their services, which books they’ve worked on, their turnaround times and their prices. So how do you choose?
Get a sample of their work.
It can be hard to figure out what you’re getting based on a description and a price. Different suppliers may use different terminology to describe their work, and many have different understandings about what’s expected of them.
If you don’t get a sample of their work, you might not be getting the level of service you need, which can lead to tensions during the publishing process. The worst-case scenario is that you will have to redo everything with different suppliers down the track.
If you do, not only will you know what you’re getting into, but you’ll be more likely to achieve a professional result.
For different suppliers, request the following:
- Editors: A sample edit. This may be an example of a chapter they’ve worked on previously (ideally you want to see the original as well as the edited version, or the edited version with Track Changes turned on so you can see what has changed), or they may offer to edit a chapter from your book as a trial. (At Grammar Factory, anyone who books an editing consultation with us gets access to our secret sample edit vault, which includes before-and-after examples of chapters we’ve edited.)
- Cover designers: Samples of covers they’ve designed in your genre.
- Internal layout designer/typesetter: Samples of chapters they’ve designed in your genre. If you have special features you want to include, such as diagrams, tables, featured quotes or other decorative elements, ask to see samples that feature the same elements.
- Illustrator: Other illustrations they’ve done.
- eBook designer: If you have an eReader, like a Kindle or iPad, ask them to send you some of the files they’ve designed.
- Printer: Physical copies of the books they’ve printed, with details of the paper and finishes used for each book. If you find something you like, you can request the same specifications.
- Marketing and PR: Ask to see marketing material they’ve created for other authors in your genre, as well as the results of any marketing campaign. How many sales did they achieve? Did they get the author media coverage or a speaking opportunity?
Another option is asking for the details of some of their past clients so you can speak to them about their experiences.
In a nutshell
A book is the ultimate business card, but only if you do it right.
Unfortunately, many self-publishing entrepreneurs don’t. Their books look like they’re self-published, with DIY covers done in Photoshop. They feel like they’re self-published, printed on poor-quality, lightweight paper. And they read like they’re self-published, filled with the mistakes that spell check missed.
Instead, the solution is to self-publish a book that’s so good that it looks, feels and reads like it was professionally published.
With increasing numbers of talented professionals going into business for themselves, and all of them just a click away, you can now access the exact same resources a traditional publishing house uses to create professionally published books. This means that, by following the tips in this article, any entrepreneur can create a winning publishing team for their business book.