October 2018 Issue
Step-by-Step Guide to Self-Publishing
By Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN
Vol. 20, No. 10, P. 42
It's possible to realize your dream of writing, publishing, and marketing your book.
Are you an aspiring author? If you are, keep in mind that writing a book is a significant undertaking, and the task can feel daunting if you don't have a solid plan in place to create and complete your masterpiece.
While becoming a published author used to require finding an agent and collaborating with an interested publisher, that's no longer the case. Self-publishing is a great way to expand and propel your business forward, often at minimal cost. So if becoming an author is on your bucket list, this step-by-step guide to self-publishing will help you turn your dream into a reality.
Why Do I Want to Write a Book?
Aside from a "bucket list" reason, you should determine what's in it for you. Perhaps you want to become a credible expert on a particular subject, do media work, or become a spokesperson. If you aspire to write for magazines or develop curricula, becoming a published author can serve as a stepping stone.
For those of you who have a thriving practice with a particular niche, writing a book can meet the needs of your clientele. Or if you're tired of providing the same handouts and recipes to clients time and again, compiling them into a book will not only save you time but also create a source of additional income.
What Makes Me Qualified to Write a Book?
If you have a "message on repeat" in your practice, on your blog, or on social media, or if there's a topic you're always reading about—one that you have a passion to communicate—you're more than qualified to write a book. Before you say, "There are tons of people more qualified than me to write about this topic," remember that you don't have to be the expert. There's no test for expertise. You need to embrace your skills and experiences and just go for it.
Where Do I Start?
Writing a book is a long, winding path that requires commitment and focus. We all have responsibilities that make it easy to stray from that path, so the most important thing is to first get your mind in order and consider the following questions:
- Am I ready for this?
- Is my inspiration for publishing a book bigger than my doubt?
- Do I know my limitations such as family and work responsibilities that may get in the way?
- Am I willing to consistently dedicate time to writing without someone setting deadlines for me?
Clearly Define Your Concept
What do you want people to remember you for? How focused is the topic? The more focused it is, the easier marketing and sales will be.
If you have many ideas, don't pack them into one book. Determine your niche and whether there are limited publications in the marketplace covering that topic. Do some research to determine what other people are searching for online.
If you have a recipe blog, you can compile it into a book. If you have patient handouts, you can turn them into a downloadable e-book. If your topic is trendy and timely, don't miss out on the wave by waiting too long to publish.
Your Audience Is Never Everyone
One of the most important aspects of writing and selling books is determining who are your potential readers. Is your audience predominantly male or female? How old are they? This is critical demographic information that will support your marketing efforts. Is your target audience perusing your Facebook posts or primarily watching YouTube? Do they pin or tweet? Do they prefer Instagram photos? Do they read print vs digital books? Younger readers are more likely to read e-books, whereas older consumers tend to prefer print. If you're unsure who your audience is and you have a blog, use Google analytics to determine this information and where traffic is coming from. You may be surprised.
In addition, it's important to ensure your topic and focus will be of interest to your target readers. Put yourself in their shoes, ask questions you think they'll ask, and think the way they do. What do you think they want to hear? What will they learn from your book that will help solve a problem? The key is to get your audience to say, "I must buy that book!" Your list of current clients and contacts is your largest asset. If you have their e-mail addresses ready to go, they're the ones most likely to buy your book.
Plan Your Process Before Writing
While determining your target audience, you'll need to choose a publishing format. Digital e-book, traditional printing, or print-on-demand (POD) are available options. E-books are the simplest, quickest, and least expensive publishing method. POD involves printing books only when they're purchased; it allows flexibility and lower upfront, out-of-pocket costs. Though typically less expensive per book, traditional printing may leave you with a closet full of books. This may work well for you if you sell plenty of inventory to private clients or if you have frequent speaking engagements where you can do "back of the room" sales.
Another important question to ask yourself is whether you want to write and publish your book by yourself. Answering this before you begin writing can save you time and money in the long run. The more you adopt a do-it-yourself approach, the less money you'll spend. But you'll need to determine whether going it alone is worth your time and whether you have the skills to do so. You'll need to create a book cover, take food photos and do nutrient analyses if you're publishing a recipe book, be creative with layout and design, and hire someone to edit the manuscript.
Roberta Schwartz Wennik, MS, RDN, owner of Affordable Editing Services, says, "The best time to engage help is before the writing begins. … Without discussing the book prior to writing, authors tend to become very attached to what they've written and are often reluctant to make necessary changes at that point. They also miss the outside insight we can offer. We dig deeper into how the information is presented and how it can best be understood by the potential audience. Our editing is far more than simply correcting grammar and making sure i's are dotted and t's are crossed."
Even to those on limited budgets, Schwartz Wennik suggests hiring a seasoned editor because a poorly written book will receive bad press. "Remember, you don't have a second chance to make a good first impression," she says. "That also includes the book cover since it's the first thing a potential customer sees. Sometimes you can tell a book by its cover."
Another important step to take before you begin writing is developing a book proposal—even if you're self-publishing. A book proposal is a business plan that includes an outline for the subject matter and marketing strategies. It's an important piece that many authors don't take into account. If you wait until the book is published to develop a marketing plan, you've fallen behind.
So even if you're self-publishing, a book proposal will help you organize your manuscript and develop a marketing plan. Most cookbook coaches suggest writing a book proposal for self-publishing because it demonstrates your commitment as it would with a traditional publisher with attention to the details most people don't consider.
Cookbook author Maggie Green, RDN, LD, owner of The Green Apron Company and CookbookCamp.com, offers a cookbook proposal checklist on her website at http://greenapron.com/2016/10/steps-to-write-a-cookbook-part-7-write-a-cookbook-proposal. Green also offers private and group mastermind cookbook coaching services for those looking to engage an expert in their writing process. The following outline serves as a guide to help you develop a book proposal.
Develop and Organize Your Manuscript
- Overview and Introduction: What is the book about? (For cookbooks, include the planned number of recipes.)
- Table of Contents: List chapter titles. Include brief chapter descriptions, a few sentences to one-half page each. If this is a cookbook, list all recipes.
- Sample Chapter: Include introductory text from several sections of the book. If it's not a cookbook, create a sample chapter. Once you've done this and feel good about your content, continue with the remaining chapters. Look at some of your favorite books or cookbooks for inspiration to get a feel for layout and content. Include a list of references, if applicable.
Answer the following questions:
- Why are you writing this book?
- What are your unique qualifications?
- Who is the target audience, and where do you find them?
- Do a market analysis by researching what other books similar to yours already exist; why is yours different and better?
- How do you plan on launching your book? How will you announce it to the world (eg, social media, press releases, book giveaways, speaking engagements, and networking events with local, professional, or faith-based organizations)?
If you plan on organizing book signings, include the following:
- a short author bio suitable for the back cover of the book and a longer bio suitable for an "About the Author" page you may want to include in the book;
- a professional headshot;
- a list of articles in which you're quoted; and
- TV/radio clips, if applicable. (This will help if you plan on writing a press release when you launch.)
Consider how many hours it may take to pen a cookbook with 50 to 100 recipes in addition to taking photos and doing nutrient analyses. Are you writing a book about a particular subject that requires research? How long will it take you to thoroughly search and read PubMed or Google Scholar articles to find sufficient evidence to support your narrative and evaluate each study? What is the opportunity cost to your existing business? Can it support the time commitment for something that doesn't immediately generate income?
In a survey of 1,007 self-publishing authors by the website Taleist, conducted in 2011 by Dave Cornford and Steven Lewis, 50% said they make less than $500 per year on books. In addition, as reported in a March 2014 article titled "A Good Goal for Indie Authors: How Many Books Should You Sell?," by Chris McMullen, an accomplished self-published author, authors of self-published books sell an average of fewer than 250 copies total. Furthermore, if you require assistance with all aspects of the writing, editing, and design process, a finished book can cost up to $10,000. If anticipated sales are anywhere near the average, that's a huge investment you're unlikely to recoup.
The lesson is that most authors don't make money on their books, but they may reap the financial rewards of publishing their books through speaking engagements or increases in their client base. This is important to consider when choosing a publishing method.
Choosing a Printing Format
Following are some details about the various publishing methods.
E-books are the quickest and most cost-effective way to bring your book to market. Julie Beyer, MA, RDN, author of You CAN Write a Book: The No-Nonsense Guide to Self-Publishing, recommends fledgling authors collect all their blogs, recipes, Facebook posts, and the like and create a PDF to sell as an individual e-book on their website. This works especially well if you have a defined niche.
Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, intuitive eating counselor and blogger at The Foodie Dietitian, followed Beyer's advice. In her self-published e-book, Nourish Your Namaste: How Nutrition and Yoga Can Support Digestion, Immunity, Energy and Relaxation, Lydon married her two fields of expertise: nutrition and yoga. She used an iBooks e-book author template designed for Mac users to lay out the book and a low-cost website, eJunkie.com, to manage downloads and set up an affiliate program. Another common template for e-books is InDesign, part of the Adobe product line.
Rising in popularity in recent years, POD is known for its lower out-of-pocket costs and flexibility. The most common platform, CreateSpace by Amazon (soon to merge with Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing), enables users to upload books—some for free—on its templates. CreateSpace also offers a cover design template, excellent customer service and support, and Amazon Prime shipping. In addition, it handles the entire sales process following manuscript approval to check for formatting and proper image sizing. Under this format, authors don't have to store books or worry about out-of-pocket costs unless they choose to buy books for speaking engagements, office sales, etc.
Nonetheless, there are several downsides to CreateSpace, such as low author royalties and higher print costs than other print-only services. There's an option for expanded distribution to bookstores and libraries, but the price tag often is prohibitive. Moreover, authors may need a secondary service with an additional ISBN (International Standard Book Number, a unique numeric commercial book identifier required for your book) to sell anywhere but Amazon.
Popular POD options include the following:
- Ingram Spark (www.ingramspark.com) is a distribution network that doesn't provide design or editing services but does offer a low-cost option to distribute publications online, in stores, and in libraries. Unlike Amazon, Ingram Spark will set up a presale option.
- Book Baby (www.bookbaby.com), a full-service publisher of e-books, traditionally printed books, and POD books, offers design, editing, and marketing services including a complete self-publishing package for $1,499.
- Lulu (www.lulu.com/create) is a full-service publisher of e-books, paperbacks, and hardcovers. While Lulu's print charges can be expensive, it doesn't charge commission.
- Instant Publisher (https://instantpublisher.com) is pricier than CreateSpace with limited design and sizing options. It does offer layout and proofreading assistance for an extra cost.
This option enables authors to create a PDF of their manuscript and gain the benefits of a traditional printing service such as a lower per-book cost with a much larger profit margin than POD. However, a typical minimum order is 500 books, which authors must store and ship themselves. The large upfront printing costs and the time commitment to process orders are considerable drawbacks to this printing method.
Self-published authors Sohailla Digsby, RDN, LD, CPT, author of Best Body Cookbook and Menu Plan, and Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN, author of The PCOS Nutrition Center Cookbook, chose the traditional printing route because they each have business models that have built-in book buyers. Digsby uses her books as part of her corporate wellness and fitness center programs, while Grassi specializes in polycystic ovary syndrome to best serve her client base.
Selling on Amazon
You don't need to publish with Amazon to sell your books on its website. If you use a traditional publisher or other POD service that isn't a distribution network to print your books, Amazon Advantage may be a good option.
According to Amazon, the program works like a consignment store. Your books appear on Amazon.com as a product sold by Amazon. You apply to participate in the program, and Amazon places book orders with you based on customer demand. You then send Amazon copies of your books, which it stores in fulfillment centers, and when books are sold, Amazon handles the payments, wrapping, and shipping as well as customer service and returns. The books you sell are eligible for free Super Saver Shipping and two-day shipping through Amazon Prime.
You receive monthly payments from Amazon for the books sold. There are requirements for participation in the program, so learn how to apply and more about the program online.
You also can earn extra money by becoming an Amazon Affiliate, meaning you arrange to receive commission on books and other items sold through specific click-through links you're provided when you join. More information about this program is available on Amazon's website.
Other Things to Know
Not all publishers include an ISBN with your package. Therefore, you may need to buy your own ISBN and barcode through Bowker (www.myidentifiers.com/get-your-isbn-now).
If you're offering both print and e-book versions of your publication or if you plan on writing more than one book, it's best to purchase a package plan rather than an individual ISBN.
Many RDs use Upwork (www.upwork.com) or Fiverr (www.fiverr.com) for freelance design services. Make sure to shop around and obtain several bids because some designers are more talented and experienced than others.
The benefits of self-publishing as opposed to using a retail publisher are significant. Self-publishing authors control the time to market and can produce a book in a month, if so desired. A publishing house may take 18 to 24 months to produce your book.
Those who self-publish control all of the content, including the title, narrative, copy length, voice, design, and photos. Also, with POD or e-books, it's easy to revise and update the material as research changes.
Whichever path you choose, enjoy the journey to becoming a published author.
— Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, is the author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club and owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, which specializes in weight management and prediabetes nutrition. Follow her on social media @LaurenPincusRD and online at www.NutritionStarringYOU.com.