Self-Publishing Stumbling Blocks (and 27 Tools to Get You Back on Your Feet)


Today, you don’t need to work with an agent or ebooks publishing house to get your book published. In 2011 alone, writers self-published 211,269 books according to Publishing Perspective, and this isn’t counting all of the free ebooks bloggers and marketers offer on their blogs. So if everybody’s doing it, why aren’t you?

Self-publishing might be easy, but doing it well is anything but. If you’ve never self-published a book or even an ebook, you aren’t alone. Despite the benefits, there are several stumbling blocks that can make a self-published book or ebook unsuccessful. The following tools can help you jump these hurdles and publish a book or ebook that you’re proud to offer to your audience, whether you’re doing it for free to promote your blog or you’re selling it to make some money.

Stumbling Block #1: “I don’t have time to write a book right now.”

Here’s a little secret: No one has time to write a book right now. We’re all super busy people, yet somehow thousands of people do manage to write books every year. So it’s not a matter of not having time. It’s about whether or not you want to make time by optimizing your schedule. Here are some great tools that give you the time to write a book:

How are you spending your time? Toggl will tell you. There are lots of time tracking tools out there, but Toggl is one of my favorites. You can track your time on Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, iPod, or Android with Toggl, as well as integrate into programs like Basecamp if you’re managing your writing project elsewhere. Toggl also allows you to budget time for different tasks so you can stay on track throughout the day.

Remember The Milk is an easy-to-use tool to help you manage your to-do list. You could use it to organize your life in general, but also consider making a book-specific list for the tasks you have to complete. “Write a book” sounds large and daunting, but if you chunk it out into smaller pieces, it doesn’t seem so bad after all. Ta-da Lists is a great alternative if you aren’t a fan of Remember The Milk.

Rescue Time is a handy little tool like Toggl that will help you track your time, but the premium version of this app is extremely useful if you want to take your time management a step farther. “Get focused mode” allows you to block distracting websites for a set period of time, you can set up alerts when you’ve spent too much time on a specific website (like Facebook), the tool will track your offline time, and more. All of this comes for a fee of $6 per month (or there is a free version as well).

If you need help staying accountable when it comes to large writing projects, 750 words is right for you. This makes the work into a sort-of game, where you try to accumulate as many points as possible every month. You get points for writing, points for writing more than 750 words (your target goal each day on this site), points for writing contiguous days, etc. It’s a great way to stay motivated. One Page Per Day is a similar tool to help you stay motivated to write every day.

Stumbling Block #2: “I don’t have the skills/talent to write a book.”

Do you have some kind of knowledge that other people might what to know? Or do you have an idea about something and the ability to do research and interviews? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you have the skills/talent it takes to write a book or ebook. Even if you aren’t a good writer, here are some tools to help you turn your thoughts into books:

Maybe your problem isn’t that you’re not a good writer, but rather that you’re trying to write using the wrong tool. If Microsoft Word just isn’t doing it for you, try Scrivener. This program is perfect for creating and editing longer documents, and while it isn’t free, there is a free trial that you can check out before purchasing. Features include a “cork board” for thoughts and reminders, an outlining tool, the ability to create document collections, and more. It even syncs with Dropbox.

If you want to find experts to interview for your stories, check out Help a Reporter Out (HARO). Founded by one of NMX’s speakers, Peter Shankman, this site allows you to put out a request in order to find people who are ready and willing to give you quotes and full interviews for your project. ProfNet is a similar tool.

If you truly don’t want to write your own book, you can use a site like Elance to hire someone to write it for you. You can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to several thousands of dollars to write a manuscript, depending on length and subject matter, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. I like Elance because people will bid on your project and you can read profiles and exchange messages to find the best person for the job. Once you have a writer, present them with your notes and ideas (the more, the better), set up some interview time so they can talk to you about your ideas, and let them do their magic. Freelancer.com and oDesk.com are two good Elance alternatives – or just ask for writer recommendations via social media.

Stumbling Block #3: “I can write a book, but I have no idea how to turn a manuscript into a book.”

The very first thing you should do after you finish writing a perfect, polished, ready-to-print ebook is hire an editor. Trust me on this one. I constantly find typos even in books published traditionally, so don’t be so arrogant as to think there’s not a single flaw in your manuscript. Even if your draft is typo-free, a fresh set of eyes belonging to someone who is not close to the project will help pick out weird wording, confusing passages and other potential places to tighten your text. Elance and the other sites listed previously can help you find a great editor.

From there, it’s time to design and get your book out there. Here are some tools to help:

Booktype is a tool that helps you collaborate with your editor (or other authors), and then export your book so it’s ready to sell or give away. If you plan on publishing on multiple platforms, Booktype is a great option, since you can correct problems once and have each version update automatically. Booktype makes it easy to format for web, mobile, print, tablets, and e-readers, all at once.

If you like using Word or another format rather than Booktype, don’t worry – you can easily design and convert your book as well. After your manuscript really is ready to go, Calibre is one of the best tools out there to help you format the book correctly for all e-readers. Calibre is free to download and makes the process pretty painless.

Want professional looking graphics in your ebook, all formatted correctly? Learn how to use Adobe InDesign. This program isn’t free, nor is this something you’ll learn to use well in an afternoon, but it’s definitely a great design option for self-publishers. Alternatively, you can hire a graphic designer who knows how to use InDesign well.

Stumbling Block #4: “I have no idea where to sell my book or how to handle sales.”

Okay, so now you really do have the perfect book just waiting for buyers (or downloaders, if you’re giving it away for free). How do you reach the masses? The three major tools for getting your book out there are:

  1. Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon)
  2. Barnes & Noble PubIt
  3. iTunes Connect

If you want to offer print versions of your book as well, I recommend checking out Lulu.com, which allows you to print on demand with no upfront costs. Alternatives to Lulu include Blurb and CreateSpace. There are tons of print-on-demand options for authors beyond these three options, but make sure you do your research so you know exactly what percentage of the profits you’ll see.

It’s also important to track your sales, even if you don’t have to do any work to ship your product. Here are some tools to help you with that task:

This tracking tool for self-published authors allows you to track sales on all major sites. You can compare your sales from month to month or from site to site. This tool is $49.95, but if you’re a blogger and do a review, you can get it for free.

The BookBaby team will actually help you with any number of self-publishing tasks, but the best and most useful, perhaps, is their tracking system. They’ll distribute your book (in ePub format) for you and then you can log in to see your sales across multiple sites and even download reports. Their one-time fee is $99, and then you’ll pay $19 per year after the first year for continued access.

Stumbling Block #5: “Why would anyone care about my book? I’m not a popular best-selling author.”

You don’t have to be a best-selling author to sell lots of copies of your next ebook. You just have to be smart about distribution and promotion. Remember, all best selling authors were once beginners too.

First, it helps if your book has been reviewed, especially on sites like Amazon. You can send your book to your friends to review, but even better is to put your book out there for others to review. Here are some places to find reviewers:

They receive a ton of books for review, and they don’t choose to read all of them. So, it’s the luck of the draw. But if your book is reviewed on this site, you receive a lot of exposure. You can also enter your book for consideration in their contest called Discovery Awards, but be warned that there is an entry fee.

On Ning, the group Book Blogs is home to over 19,000 members, and many of them are extremely active and looking for books to review on their blog. Often, you can work out a deal for them to also leave an honest review on Amazon, especially if you’re willing to send them an extra copy to give away.

You can also leverage others’ audiences, even if you’re not hugely popular yet. You can do this through affiliate programs. If your product is high quality and you offer a generous commission, others will do the selling for you. My favorite affiliate tool for ebooks is E-junkie, with ClickBank being a close second.

No Excuses!

Hopefully, all of these tools will help you resist the urge to make excuses and start writing your next book for self-publishing! If I didn’t cover your biggest self-publishing stumbling block, leave a comment below with your problem. I’ll do my best to recommend some great tools to help you get over that hurdle.

And don’t forget to check out Publishing 101 For Content Creators: From Decision To Market – an upcoming panel at NMX Las Vegas 2013 featuring publishing pros from Grand Central Publishing and Wiley who can answer all of your publishing questions!

Please tell us how to reach you and we will notify you as soon as registration opens
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About Allison Boyer

Allison Boyer freelance writer and content marketing consultant. She also runs the food blog The PinterTest Kitchen with her mom and sister. You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (@allison_boyer) or contact her at allisonmboyer@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Allison,

    Thank you so much for mentioning HARO to your readers. We appreciate the shout out and hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

    Best,
    Laura

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for the great article. I’m working on an ebook and have been using ibooks author to try to format it for iPhones or iPads, but it’s complicated and taking a long time.

    I have another book I wrote in word. I’m really getting stuck over how to take it from word and turn it into an ebook.

    Are there any simple ways to do this? Format always trips me up. I also was thinking of selling it on my website, boxmonthly.com.

    How do I find a reasonably-priced editor that is knowledgable on my topic?

    Thank you.

  3. I really admire your writing; your all blog posts are unique and informative. The 27 tools you listed are really awesome and helpful. Just want to add one more tool i.e http://www.Talygen.com. It’s a time management tool for professionals looking for simple, affordable, web-based way of managing their business.

  4. Allison, Thanks for all these pointers. Writing a book can be exhausting (which is why many put it off forever). Seeing the many different option here can lighten ones perspective and make it less of a chore.

    Thanks for posting this. Keep up the great work!

    Dr Claretta

  5. Hey Allison, All I can say is wow. Nice job/writeup. It’s nice to see someone this on top of their game when it comes to writing. Your stuff is an easy and interesting read. Keep up the great work!

    Your new fan, Christal :))

  6. Allison, I tried publishing several books on amazon kindle and was surprised to see how unbelievably difficult it can really be. These pointers really provide the average Joe real value to doing it the right way.

    Thanks for posting this, Awesome job.

    Leane

  7. I think it is really important to submit your work to as many directories as possible. Most people do a few, then quit. Then they get all bunched up when their book doesn’t sell a million copies! Goodreadsw is great to publish on. There are of course different formats you must publish in and it can take some time. These tips are priceless for those who are looking to get things going again.