Self-publishing is NOT an easy or cheap option. It is much, much more difficult than submitting to agents and/or publishers. You must believe in your book and in yourself. It will involve lots of research, hard work, marketing and promotion.
The first and most important thing is to make sure your manuscript is the very best it can be. If you’ve ever watched programmes like Britain’s Got Talent, you will recognise the cringingly awful people who have never preformed for anyone other than their family and friends, people with rose-tinted glasses and selective hearing aids. There are plenty of self-published books like that (most of them piled in the authors’ garages) which give the rest of us a bad name. Seek out as much critical feedback as you can, preferably from other authors and readers who enjoy your particular genre.
A word of warning, not everyone will like your work simply because there isn’t a book out there with universal appeal. But if two or more people point out the same weakness, you ought to at least consider if it can be improved.
Once the content is as good as it can be, don’t stint on professional editing so that it is technically as good as it can be, as well. A book with spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors is off-putting and amateurish. There are skills involved in formatting, which are also important, for example gutters (the white space in the centre) and margins (the white spaces at the outside edge of each page). Some of the vanity and POD producers stint on these to save money and it’s not worth it.
People do judge books by their covers. It can be tempting to choose an ‘off-the-peg’ cover but like off-the-peg fashions they are uninspiring. There are websites from which you can purchase photos, like istockphotos, (mine cost £14) then it isn’t quite so expensive to have a graphic designer put it all together.
Print on demand (pod) is less risky than using a printing company to print in bulk but is more expensive per book. That will mean you will have to charge more money per book to cover your costs. Since you are an unknown author your book will have to be relatively cheap or people won’t want to take a chance on buying it if they can buy a cheaper book written by someone they know they like.
When you factor in your costs to determine what price you will have to charge, don’t forget to include the ‘cut’ the shop will have to take. The bigger stores (Waterstones for ex) will only buy books now from the major distributors who also will need to take a cut. It is still possible to sell directly to independent book shops. I sell most of my books at speaking engagements or workshops. With direct sales you can offer the buyer a discount because there isn’t a shopkeeper to pay.
You will need to think carefully about who your audience might be and what you hope to achieve. If you just want to see your book in print and maybe have a few copies for friends and family, pod companies like Lulu will probably be the simplest and most cost effective option. If you think you might be the next GP Taylor, whose self-published Shadowmancer became a best seller, you will have to have a story which will appeal to millions, be prepared to work extremely hard and have an enormous amount of luck.
My memoir, A Life Less Lost, is available via Amazon.co.uk for £6.99 or from Amazon.com for $9.99.