I tried publishing my book the traditional way, contacting agents and sending queries in hopes that one might be tempted to work with me. Unfortunately, as many authors have discovered, it can take a lot of time and effort before an agent agrees to work with you, if one decides to work with you at all.
After many rejections, I decided to read more about self-publishing. At first I was skeptical...it seemed a lot easier to just keep trying to get an agent, in hopes that a publisher would do all the work for me. But as I read more about self-publishing, I found myself attracted to the idea of doing it all myself. After all, it would allow me complete control over the process...and I thought it would be fun to learn something new. After months of indecision, I decided to bite the bullet and self-publish my books...and I'm glad I did!
The First Step
The most important thing to do is have a finished manuscript! This seems like it would be the hardest part. My strategy was to just keep writing, whether I felt like it or not...and edit later!
I had two options here...pay an editor to edit my book, or do it myself. I highly recommend not doing it yourself...and I'm speaking from experience, because that's exactly what I did. Editors seemed too expensive for me, so I went over my manuscript countless times, catching more and more errors each time through. It took a ton of time and effort to get the book where it needed to be...and while I personally think I did a decent job, only time (and you, my readers) will tell!
I had to format my book for ebook and print publishing, since I wanted to have the book in ebook and paperback versions. This was probably the most time-intensive part, other than editing and writing the book in the first place. There was a lot more to it than I ever imagined...and wrestling with OpenOffice and Word to get the book to look the way I wanted was quite the ordeal. Learning about trim sizes, proper borders, bleed, gutters, pros and cons of paper types, PDF/A standards, font embedding, orphans and widows, etc. took a lot of trial and error. I found http://www.diybookformats.com/starthere/ to be helpful for the basics.
I spent a few days looking for an artist to design the front cover. I did a google search, and looked through a bunch of artists' web sites, finally deciding on Bookfly Design (www.bookflydesign.com) because it had some really professional and striking covers in their fantasy/sci-fi gallery. There was a 6-month waiting list, which bummed me out at first, but turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The extra time sitting on the manuscript allowed me to develop some objectivity and make some changes that improved the book.
James Egan from Bookfly Design was great...I'd highly recommend him. Very responsive, professional, and punctual. I had him design a paperback and ebook cover, and some ads. He requested the manuscript and I submitted my ideas for the cover, along with other covers and authors I liked. His first go at the cover was nearly spot-on, and I was pleasantly surprised with his work. The cost for the whole package was around $700. All in all, a great experience!
Choosing a Vendor
I spent a long time deciding between Amazon KDP select only and doing Amazon plus Smashwords. I decided on Amazon KDP select because I felt that their promotions might help build a readership, and many authors I read about mentioned that they started with Amazon KDP select, then after the 90-day exclusivity expired, published on Smashwords as well. Then, when sales dipped, they would pull their book off of Smashwords and put it on Amazon KDP select again for another 90 days to drum up renewed interest.
I initially thought of using Amazon KDP's new paperback publishing option to publish the paperback version of Runic Awakening, but starting having problems. The cover design included a barcode generated by the artist, but Amazon KDP auto-places its own barcode as well, so it caused two barcodes to appear overlapping each other on the back of the cover. It took me forever to figure out that this was what was happening...at first I thought it was an issue with the pdf of the book cover I was uploading. I'm glad this issue happened, because it forced me to read more about Amazon KDP vs. CreateSpace (also own by Amazon). CreateSpace is more robust, having expanded distribution, and also publishes to Amazon, so there's no downside to just using CreateSpace. It took about twelve hours for CreateSpace to approve my paperback, and 3 days until it listed the book on Amazon.
For marketing, which was another lesson in and of itself, I built a website through Squarespace, which was pretty easy to use, and relatively cheap. I bought domains for $20 a pop, and built the website using their page creator, which was mostly intuitive. It also publishes a mobile version of the site automatically, and looks pretty good, so I'm happy with it so far. I also made a Facebook page, and am trying Facebook promotions to increase awareness of my book.
I'm also trying Amazon's ad campaigns. Amazon allows for two basic types of paid advertisements. You have to be enrolled in KDP select to use them:
Product display ad:
Minimum $100 budget. Display ads on Kindle homepages, product searches, etc. Cost per click is usually $0.15 to $0.20, and you're only billing for the clicks you get.
Sponsored products ad:
Displays ads on search results and product detail pages. You can choose a budget per day and how many days to run the ad campaign. Again, you're only billed per click.
I chose to run both. Amazon also keeps track of the sales from the campaign, so you can see if the campaign is actually profitable. It can take up to 3 days for data to show up from the campaign.
For those of you wanting to publish your own book, or who are curious as to how it works, I hope this was helpful! Self-publishing has been a fun and rewarding experience for me, and I'm glad I decided to do it!