Before the Internet, you needed a book agent or a handful of luck if you wanted to spare your novel a slow death in a publisher’s slush pile. But now, with the triple power of the Internet, tablets, and self-publishing platforms, it’s possible for anyone to release a book into the world and do well. Or, even astoundingly well (Fifty Shades of Grey was originally self-published as an e-book and a print-on-demand). But should you do it? Here are ten points to consider—from someone who has self-published—before you take the plunge.

1. Figure out the goal of your book. Are you looking for a coffee table edition to keep in the waiting room for your patients? Are you just trying to publish some fan fiction? Do you want something that you can use to send out to potential clients? Who do you want reading your book? Once you have the purpose figured out, it will be much easier to decide if you should go with self-publishing or keep trying the traditional route.

2. Budget everything. Before you do anything else, determine how much money you’re going to have to set aside for your book since you’ll be paying for everything out of pocket. Shop around for designers and illustrators (if you plan to use them) and get total project estimates from them before you sign off on anything. Will you be using any photos that don’t belong to you? Factor in the costs of getting the rights to use them. Will you be hiring a copy editor or proofreader? Get an estimate. How much will it cost to print one book? Now multiply that by however many units you’ll be printing, plus add shipping and tax.

3. Keep track of your money flow. All of your costs and expenses, and then any income that you might have from book sales (including from #5, below), will have to be reported to the IRS. It’s better to keep a spreadsheet from the start than to scramble in April to put everything together before the tax filing deadline.

4. Grammar Mistake City? Although you can “DIY” your whole self-published book, it’s highly recommended to have someone else review your draft to give you feedback or (at least) to correct your grammar mistakes. It’s surprisingly difficult to catch your own mistakes, even if you go through your book with a fine-tooth comb. Luckily, you can hire an experienced proofreader through oDesk or, if you want free help: 1) enlist a friend who loves grammar, or 2) consider joining a writing group in your area to get multiple eyes on your draft.


5. Pre-sell all the way. There might already be an audience for your book halfway across the world (or at least eager friends and family at home who want to help make your dreams come true). An easy way to lighten the cost of self-publishing is to launch a reasonable Kickstarter campaign (or Indiegogo) to pre-sell your books.

6. E-Book it. Depending on the goal of your book, you might just be looking to make an e-book. The good news is that Amazon makes it very easy to do this, lets you keep up to 70% of your royalties, and has a huge audience of buyers (PS—Self-published romance novels are doing really well right now).

7. Print, baby, print. If your heart is set on print, shop around for either a local printer or use an online service, like Blurb. Because you have total control, you can decrease (or increase) the costs by going with hardcover or paperback, black and white or color, cream or white paper, and a few other options. Pro tip: if you decide to go with an online printing service, the company might be authorized to issue ISBN numbers and bar codes so check with them before you buy your own via Bowker. Extra pro tip: Most self-published authors sell 100 books on average, so don’t print hundreds of units before you really see orders coming in for them.

8. Be your own marketing team. Depending on the goal of your book, you might have to be your own marketing team. There are millions of books out there now, and you want people to read yours. Figure out the best way to reach your audience—what websites are they reading and where are they hanging out in their free time? Get creative. You might also get some sales through guest writing on relevant blogs, getting your book facetime on another site as an affiliate, becoming a social media maven, or even through long-term stocking at local bookstores.

9. Get a website. Platforms like Squarespace make it really easy (and cheap) for anyone to get a website online—even if you’re beginner level at doing this. They also make it easy for people to click “buy,” add your book to their cart, and then pay you in one swift motion. If you’re going to be your own marketing team (see #8, above), then having a website will pay for itself.

10. Throw a book launch party. Self-publishing your own book is a lot of work, no matter how you do it. You will spend countless days working on the book in the first place, then going through the research and printing process, and then (possibly) self-marketing that tome to everyone you meet. A book launch party will not only be a good way to reward yourself after this trial by fire, but might also land you some sales.

Ona Abelis self-published her own poetry book, The Names of Things: Stories From New York, in paperback in January 2015. If you have any questions about the process, send her an e-mail, and she will try to be helpful. You can follow her on Instagram/Twitter at @oabelis.

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  1. If you want to sell your book, you need to become a marketer in addition to being a writer. Don’t wait until your book is finished to start marketing it. Start ASAP and build up an audience.

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