Self-Publishing by the Book
An author brings years of expertise to a self-publishing guidebookJan Yager, author of How to Self-Publish Your Book (Square One), knows her way around the publishing world. In the 1970s, she began her mulifaceted career as an employee in the school division of Macmillan, before moving to Grove Press, where she gained experience in areas ranging from acquisitions to subsidiary rights deals. While learning the nuts and bolts of the industry, Yager also pursued her own writing—and a love for food and cooking. Her first book, The Vegetable Passion: A History of the Vegetarian State of Mind, was published by Scribner in 1975. Her second food-related book, Meatless Cooking: Celebrity Style, was published in 1975 by Grove.
Yager’s wide-ranging interests led her to step away from the publishing profession. After obtaining a master’s degree in criminal justice and a PhD in sociology in 1983, Yager expanded her master’s thesis into a book titled Victims: A Moving Portrait of Crime Victims Including Victims of Homicide, Aggravated Assault, Robbery, Rape, & Burglary (Scribner), the first of numerous books with a sociological focus.
In late '90s, with an already enviable number of titles published, Yager took a nontraditional route. She decided to self-publish her next book in order to “have more control over my writing and publishing because of the time challenges of raising a family.” The first of her indie books was Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives (1997).
Since that initial self-publishing experience, Yager has alternated between self-publishing her books (through her own company called Hannacroix Creek Books) and continuing to publish through mainstream houses. Today, she has written more than 50 books across the categories of self-help and relationships, time management and business, crime, fiction, and more. Here, she answers our questions about “the merits and challenges” of self-publishing and traditional publishing, which she determines “on a project by project basis.”
As a self-publisher, you need to know your strengths as well as your limitations. I chose strategically to go with Square One Publishers because I had done my research and discovered that they had a pre-existing “Writers Guides” book series comprised of five already-published titles. Luckily, Square One’s president, Rudy Shur, recognized that my proposed book on the self-publishing market was the next logical step in this group of titles meant to serve writers, both novices and professionals alike. So far, with a great and growing number of reviews both from within the trade and from the general public, I think that we both stand our best chances at success in this subject category by virtue of this partnership. It bodes well for the future of self-publishing, which is not going to go away any time soon.
Have you found self-publishing your work to be more rewarding than traditional publishing?
I wouldn’t say whether one is more rewarding or better than the other. It’s like asking a parent of two children which child she prefers—both are your favorites! But I will say this: When you are an author, too many fall into the trap of looking at what your publisher doesn’t do for you. But the minute you become a self-publisher, though, you realize all that your publisher did—or does—do. There are a lot more key “behind-the-scenes” steps to publishing a quality book than most authors realize. The number one concern for an author should be writing a good book…the way you publish is just a method of delivery.
What would be your biggest piece of advice for an author who is considering self-publishing a book?
Do your homework, and don’t skip any of the three basic parts of the self-publishing process, which are also the three separate parts of my book: “Writing and Sequencing Your Book;” “Publishing Your Book” (including cover and interior design, printing your book while also putting it into e-book format, and looking to turn your book into an audio title); and, finally, “Marketing and Selling Your Book,” which includes vital and experience-based tips about the rigors of the marketplace, the potential for publicity, and the possible revenue that can be generated through foreign rights sales of your book into other languages. All of these steps are crucial if a self-published author wants to succeed.
Do you advise indie authors to reach out to other professionals for editing and cover design services?
Yes, authors should reach out to professional editors to help develop, copyedit, finalize, and/or proofread their manuscripts. I can say, without hesitation, that the one professional who is completely essential to the self-publishing process is a proofreader. That person should always be the last pair of eyes to squirrel through your manuscript before it’s sent off to the typesetter and then on to the printer.
The same principles listed above also apply when it comes to securing a cover designer. Some authors have the talent and time to design covers for themselves that stand up to professional standards. These instances, however, are few and far between. Most self-published authors will need to find a cover designer who has experience in that area. When you look at the cover of a self-published book, you should not be able to tell whether it was published by Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, or a self-published operation.
What are the best resources for writers to discover these services, and what can they do to avoid being scammed?
If a self-published author doesn’t know where to start when looking for editorial and cover design help, they can reach out to certain well-regarded associations, such as: the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association); Reedsy; New York Book Editors; the Independent Editors Group (IEG); and the website of self-publishing guru John Kremer, which lists a number of service providers in the areas of editing and cover design. Another company to whom self-published authors can turn would be one that my publisher highly recommends: The Book Couple, based in Boca Raton, Fla.
As for being scammed by a self-publishing service provider, use your common sense. Always get more than one price quote from more than one company; ask to see a few samples of their previously completed projects; check the origins of their site testimonials, ideally receiving from said company the names and contact information from at least three current or previous clients with whom they have done business. The best overall way to avoid being scammed in self-publishing is to remain wary of any individual and/or service that will make an outrageous promise to you along the lines of “I can turn your book into a guaranteed bookseller.” If you ever hear that, run!
Is it important for indie authors to temper their sales expectations?
That’s a loaded question. On the one hand, I am tempted to say, “Be cautious about your expectations since most self-published books sell only around 100 books or less, or, if they’re lucky and really work the publicity and marketing end of it, maybe a few thousand.” On the other hand, though, I have also learned about too many examples of self-published books that really take off to dismiss the process entirely. What’s most important is that writers learn as much as they can about the realities of the self-publishing model so that they can determine where their strengths and weaknesses are within that market.
When did you decide to share your expertise with other authors? Can you discuss what it means to you to help guide other authors toward success?
I’ve actually been sharing my expertise with other authors as far back as 1999. That was when I held my first seminar (“How to Write, Sell, and Promote Your Book”) in Manhattan, on Long Island, and in Stamford, Conn. I added additional seminars including the “Book Promotion Boot Camp,” and “How to Sell Foreign Rights.” The popularity of my presentations has taken me over the years to various events and meetings across both the East Coast and West Coast here in America, and even overseas to Amsterdam and New Zealand. If I am able through my new book to help all those authors who are considering self-publishing to better realize their own goals more fully and successfully, then that means the world to me.