Posted by: Kerry Gans | May 6, 2014

5 Lessons from the Self-Publishing Front Lines

I’ve been exploring the world of self-publishing with my nonfiction genealogy project, largely because it is a niche project that will not interest a traditional publisher. There are some genealogy-specific publishers, but I wanted to try and bring this book out at a lower price-point than you usually see from genealogy books, so I thought I’d do it myself. Besides, it would be a wonderful learning experience for me.

And, boy, has it been.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned so far:

1. You cannot be afraid of technology.

The self-publishing paradigm is technology heavy. This is an inescapable fact. If you are afraid of technology, or if technology has an inexplicable antipathy for you, then hiring someone else to format your book is probably the best idea. If you are a geek like me, and love learning new technology, then dive right in and enjoy!

2. You need to research your options before you start formatting.

Each company has slightly different formatting standards. This goes especially for Print On Demand (which I am doing now), because the interior margins will be different from company to company. Before you start formatting your book, research everything about the process for the company you intend to use—from page count restrictions to final pricing. I will admit that not once but twice I formatted my complete book only to find that the other company was the one I needed/wanted to go with. Save yourself a lot of time and work by being sure of your printing company before you format anything.

3. The learning curve is steep, and everything takes more time than you think it will.

There’s so much to learn. New programs. New vocabulary. How to create a PDF. How to create a specific type of PDF. Colors. DPI. Margins. Gutters. Bleeds. Embedding fonts. Every little thing you do spawns a thousand other things you need to know. At least, that’s what it can feel like. And on top of the technical stuff, you need to think about things like distribution channels and price points and retailer discounts. It’s enough to make your head explode. So if you think you can do this in a week, plan on two.

4. You will make mistakes.

Things will go wrong. You will screw up your interior and have to fix and reload it. You will have a computer crash and lose your work. You will think you are finished, only to find that you used “immigrate” when you meant “emigrate” EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And, you will waste time doing things you don’t need to do, because you didn’t do #2 above. But making mistakes is okay—you’ll know better next time.

5. You WILL get there in the end.

The first time through the self-publishing crucible can be overwhelming. But take it slow and one step at a time and you will get there. There is plenty of help out there, from the printing company’s support to community knowledge that will get you through the rough patches. And the best part of this is that after the first time, the next time will be easier. You’ll do things right the first time. However (especially if you don’t self-publish frequently), I do suggest taking notes as you find your way through the process, so you don’t forget the tricks you learned the first time. That way, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time.

If you’ve been wary of coming into the self-publishing pool, come on in—the water’s fine!

Do you have any other tips or lessons to add?

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