How Not To Look Self Published

By all means, leap, but look first.

By all means, leap, but look first.

I know sometimes the lot of us who are indie publishing sound like a deranged chorus of school children going “come on in, the water is fine.”

However, as you must have heard once or twice, you shouldn’t jump off a bridge just because all your friends are doing it. Or at least you shouldn’t leap before you look.

Here are a few things I wish I’d known when I started off. Mind you, I didn’t make as many mistakes as I might have, but I still made plenty.

I will give you some resources to check on for indie publishing, in a supplemental post (and I’m sorry I’m behind with those, but I caught the stupid flu) later on, but meanwhile here are some basic things.

While indie publishing lumps together micro presses, some small presses and self-publishing, what we’re going to be talking about here is mostly self-publishing. Or rather, how to not self-publish while self-publishing.

Confused? Don’t be. I’ll explain.

This post will mostly cover forms of self-publishing because the process to submit to micro and small presses is largely the same as to submit to traditional publishers. The advantage versus disadvantage calculations in small vs. large publisher is something you’ll have to do on your own, depending on the self-publisher and what you’re doing. Some small publishers are much better at giving you personal attention, some worse; some are very exacting with their accounting, and some… aren’t. (Then again the same could be said for some larger publishers.)

However, when you self-publish, it doesn’t mean you just throw your work on Amazon under your own name with no publisher.

You can do that of course. The fact that you can do that is one of the beautiful things about the time we live in.

However, even though in publishing circles themselves, and where no one has anything invested in dissuading you from self-publishing (as most traditional publishers do) the stigma associated with self-publishing is mostly a thing of the past – the general public doesn’t necessarily do this.

It is hard for those of us on the inside, seeing how fast the publishing landscape has changed these last four years, and being aware that some people have made fortunes by self-publishing, to realize that most of the reading public isn’t aware of this sea-change.

If you look like this every full moon, you're probably a werewolf, not a were-editor.

If you look like this every full moon, you’re probably a werewolf, not a were-editor.

Most of the reading public is still absolutely convinced that traditional publishers scrupulously edit everything they get in, too. And they think that each and every book – even the mid and low list – gets very personal attention.

What I mean is that they’ll be inclined to think a self-published book must be shoddier or less professional. And people have a strange way of seeing/hearing what they expect. For instance, though my accent sounds, if anything, closer to Russian, some people on hearing I’m from Portugal will swear I sound like Ricky Ricardo. On the other hand, if they don’t know where I’m from, they will never guess that I come from a Latin country.

So, if you’re going to self-publish your book, you want to protect yourself from the expectation that it will suck just because it’s self-published.

This will involve a bit of… well, turning yourself into a publisher. Not full time and not to publish other people too – unless you want to – but sort of more like a were-publisher (which is like a werewolf, but far less hairy. Also, it doesn’t risk getting you shot for raiding chicken houses. Well, more than likely, at least. I mean, who knows what some editors do in their spare time?)

While still remaining your own mild mannered writer self, you can and perhaps should assume the aspect of a publisher to protect your work from the appearance of lack of professionalism.

There are several ways to do this, and remember I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know the particular laws in your state, so always double check what I say.

The simplest way to establish your publishing “house” that will be devoted to publishing your work, of course, is to do it under a dba (doing business as) or a trade name.

All this means is that you’re still publishing yourself, and the company is really you, but you can use this name while doing business.

Think of a DBA as your false mustache and sunglasses of publishing.

Think of a DBA as your false mustache and sunglasses of publishing.

Depending on your state, the process of forming a DBA can be as simple as registering it, or even simpler (some states allow you to have a dba provided you have a dba bank account. No registration needed) or it can be very complex and cost a significant amount of money.

In most cases, however, it is simple, and it allows you to do business as you always have, and your taxes the same way you always do.

Then when you put your book on Amazon, you put your DBA under the “published by” – and it no longer looks like a self-published book.

Well, at least it will no longer look like a self-published book if you don’t do something silly like call it “Mary Smith’s Press” – if your name is Mary Smith – or some equal piece of folly. If you can’t come up with a more evocative name, pick two initials – not your own – and call your press that.

YT Press might sound a little odd, but at least it sounds professional. And not like you.

Before you wed yourself to a DBA though, do a web search for your chosen name. It would be really upsetting – and it happened to a friend of mine – to discover the dba you picked to publish your young adult fiction under is eerily similar to the name of a press devoted to Bondage and Domination.

Even if your press is – just – a DBA remember to present a professional appearance in all your contacts with vendors and/or recipients of publicity materials (more on that later.)  And for the sake of your sanity and of keeping track of your publishing expenses vs. income, it might be best for all concerned if you do establish a bank account just for your publishing venture.

After the DBA there are a lot more complex business structures available to you, (and for most of these you’ll have to have separate bank and tax accounts) including but not limited to various types of incorporation and partnership. You might want to consider them if you are likely to have substantial income; if you want to share this publishing thing with a friend (or family member); or if you also intend to act as a micro-publisher for other people.

If you fall in any of those categories, please find a trustworthy lawyer and discuss the matter with him.

The second part of acting like a publisher is to establish a website. (And btw, you really should buy Think Like A Publisher by Dean Wesley Smith. No, I don’t get a kick back – I am very bad at this, since it comes after all the other stuff.)

Since most people associate traditional publishing with quality, your goal is to look like them, not to stick out.

Since most people associate traditional publishing with quality, your goal is to look like them, not to stick out.

The website should not say “this is Mary Smith’s Website” (particularly if your name is Mary Smith) it should just have the press name, and a notice of upcoming books.

Other things that are part of acting professional and, frankly, covering your behind.

I will do a more detailed post about covers, but for now, suffice it to say you should be aware of the copyright laws relating to such things as art, fonts, and any other material (including book design) you’re likely to use in creating your books, be they paper or electronic. I’d advise buying The NOLO Copyright Handbook and keeping it at hand.

Another thing you should do is look at the covers and interior design that the big publishers are using in your chosen field/genre – remember part of looking professional is imitating what the professionals are doing – and pay close attention. For instance, while it’s normal to share documents online with a space between paragraphs, only amateurs do that in their kindle books. And while a picture of something or other might be evocative and it’s very easy for you to get hold of – or take – in certain fields having a photo cover is a sign of an amateur. For instance, fantasy and mystery, right off the top of my head, usually have drawn art on the cover. Romance, on the other hand, even historical romance, usually has a photo.

Look at the books that are similar to yours to take your cue on how to present your book.

And then – needless to say – make sure your book is edited and presents the best possible aspect to the world.

Next week: editors, copy editors, beta readers and nitpickers. (Oh, my!)


Pictures courtesy of Shutterstock  1 © Sergey Nivens     2©  Valentina Photos   3©   Christos Georghiou   4© juliasv