The mysterious world of self-publishing

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This blog was originally published on my website, www.CanadianAdventureBooksbyMonica.com

Where on earth do I start?

This was the very first question that I had on my journey to self-publication. I had the ideas, draft manuscript and all the elements of my book, but had no idea how to go digital and put everything together into the final product – being a hard copy book. Note: I wanted my book to be published in hard copy, but you may want to publish an e-Book. Sorry that this article does not cover e-Books. From my research, apparently only a small percentage of those who set out to publish, follow through. I can totally understand why! I have learned a lot through my own process of self-publishing and hope that you will find this article helpful, or at least a good place to start. Good luck with your journey to self-publication!

My steps (not necessary in order):

  1. ONLINE RESEARCH. I started with an online search about self-publishing. I read many articles and posts, but didn’t really get too much out of it. It’s like being a small fish finding its way in the ocean.
  2. PICK THE BRAINS OF ANY CONTACTS THAT YOU MAY HAVE. I reached out to my friend, Doris Chung, in the printing/publishing business for some guidance (www.publisher-ps.com).
  3. FOLLOW-UP ON YOUR LEADS. Doris put me in touch with Upon A Star Books Inc. (www.uponastarbooks.ca). I contacted Jessica Alex and got a helpful overview of the world of publishing and distribution from her.
  4. DO YOU WANT FULL CONTROL OR HIRE DIFFERENT TRADES TO HELP YOU? I knew all along that I wanted to have full control over my creative process. I didn’t want to hire an illustrator or have anyone make decisions about my books. I illustrated My Great Canadian Adventures by hand, because it was just that ‘type’ of book. However, I knew that I wanted to produce digital illustrations for my Winter Moose series. It was quite a challenge for me, as I never used any digital programs for illustration before. My sister bought me a Wacom tablet for my birthday gift (a lovely surprise indeed!). I tried it out, but got frustrated that the program was a bit too “abstract” for me. I could not easily control my strokes, colours, etc. I was so frustrated and basically called it quits. I then downloaded a 7-day trial of Adobe Illustrator. Upon opening up the CC (Creative Cloud) version, I was overwhelmed. I closed it quickly before the 7 day trial period was over.
  5. FIGURE OUT EXACTLY HOW YOU WILL TACKLE YOUR ARTWORK/ILLUSTRATION. Even though I wasn’t sure what type of program I could use to assist with type of digital illustration that I envisioned, I took a chance and signed up for a Digital Graphics course at Seneca College. The 16-week course covered Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Dreamweaver. This was the most useful intro program that I ever took. I even learned tricks that I apply in my every day life. By being armed with these software tools, I am in full control over the illustration, design element of my books, preparing my books for printing and website design. It is also easier to work with your own timeline. In addition, my one-person advertising department (being myself) has the first and final say in creating everything from social media posts to advertising posters. However, if you have the manuscript, but do not want to illustrate yourself, you can hire an illustrator to help you. FYI – the cost of Adobe Illustrator is about $33-$40 CAD per month after conversion from USD.
  6. COPY EDITOR. COPY EDITOR. At some point, I highly recommend that you hire a Copy Editor – a third party who will review your manuscript and provide feedback. Depending on word count, I ended up paying about $200+HST for a copy edit for Winter Moose Visits Montreal. The feedback I got from my Copy Editor was invaluable and helped to improve my book. I not only got really important comments about content, but also a grammar refresher!
  7. APPLY FOR YOUR ISBN #. In Canada, obtaining an ISBN # is free. You can just set up an account online through Library and Archives Canada, and follow the instructions. Basically, you just need the name of your book and a mailing address. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/services/isbn-canada/pages/isbn-canada.aspx
  8. PRINTING. You may want to get a quote before you make a decision about which company you will go with. Lucky for me, my friend is in the publishing/printing business (www.publisher-ps.com) and was able to help with this part. If you have decided to print hardcopy books, yet on a budget – you may need to print outside of Canada. Keep in mind, printing outside of Canada may be cheaper, but you need to anticipate more time for ordering additional books. For example, if the orders come in quickly and you are running out of books, you need to order more immediately. Your book order may not come in on time.
  9. ONLINE PRESENCE.    A) You need to purchase: i) a web domain (this is the website that people would type into their browser); ii) a webhosting package; and iii) e-commerce package if you want to sell online. There are so many companies you can use. I used IPOWER (www.ipower.com) because I have used their services before.   B) You can just buy your domain name AND go with Shopify. From what I have read online, Shopify can sell you a domain name as well. I wish I knew about Shopify before I purchased my domain name and webhosting package. Caveat: You need to watch out for the fine print when buying your domain name and webhosting package. Apparently, I am not allowed to renew my domain name unless I keep my webhosting package. Unfortunately, this translates to more costs over time. Keep in mind you can buy a domain name from one company and a webhosting package from a different one. The cost of the basic package through Shopify works out to be about $40 CAD per month after conversion from USD.
  10. PAYMENT. How do your customers pay you for your product(s)? This part is so easy through Shopify. Your customer can pay any way (Paypal, MasterCard, Visa, etc.) they like at checkout. Depending on your plan with Shopify, the processing fee you pay will vary. Check out their price plans. The beauty of Shopify, is that you do not need to set up your “own” credit card processing accounts (i.e. Visa, Mastercard) and you do not need to limit your e-commerce site to only accepting PayPal payments. If you have shopped online before, you would understand the frustrations of having limited payment options.
  11. DISTRIBUTION. You have to figure out how you will distribute your books. Apparently, distributors may not accept your books, unless it is through a publishing company. This presents an issue because it may be easier for someone else to look after distribution. Of course, traditional distributors will take a cut of your sales. I looked into Amazon, but after exploring this option, I figured I might be lucky to make $1.00 per book. Plus if you want your inventory to be shipped through Amazon’s warehouses, be prepared to pay more. Again, everything depends on the product that you are selling. If your price tag is high, it might be worth it to store your inventory at Amazon’s warehouses and have them distributed for you.
  12. SHIPPING. A very complex issue. Based on the cost of my books, it did not make sense for customers to pay more than the cost of the book itself, for shipping. I looked into Chit Chats Express (chitchats.com). Their prices are lower than the larger shipping companies such as Purolator, but if you do not have enough volume for them, you have to physically drop off the package at one of their offices. This would be too cumbersome for my own needs. So, basically, if shipments come in sporadically, you have to keep running back and forth to the shipping company. Luckily, through Shopify, if you use Canada Post, you can automatically print off shipping labels from the computer, affix the label and simply put the package in the mail for delivery. This saves a lot of time and depending on the price package you purchase through Shopify, your customer can also have access to estimates from other shipping companies.
  13. COPYRIGHT.  In Canada, it is not mandatory to copyright your work. However, it would be recommended to obtain a certificate, in the event of any disputes/litigation. Check out Canadian Intellectual Property website: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/wr03915.html 
  14. Setting up your social media.
  15. Hiring a Publicist (if you want).
  16. Selling your books to local bookstores.
  17. Organizing a book launch (if you want one).

Resources: For e-commerce: www.shopify.com. It took a bit of work to figure out the interface, because I have only worked with other web design templates before, but it actually quite easy to design a professional site with all the e-commerce tools built in. I have some prior experience with designing websites, but still needed to hire someone to help me with the more technical stuff.

For sticker printing: www.stickercanada.com. It was really easy working with them. They are very efficient at providing proofs for review if you request to see a proof. The prices were very reasonable and the delivery was free and quick.

That’s it in a nutshell. But, just to let you know – holding my books in my hands for the first time was a very satisfying feeling. Some other considerations.

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