You just wrote “THE END” to your first book: what next?
a.k.a the overwhelming perspective of the future after the end.
Who hasn’t ever wondered what happens after the end of a book? After the two main characters walk towards the sunset, after the criminal is arrested, after they finally land back on their home planet, after he kills his kidnapper….
For the author, the end is just the beginning. What lies beyond is editing, proofreading, rewriting, promoting, getting a cover, considering publishing options, formats, pricing, layouts, test reader feedback, re-rewriting, re-proofreading, etc.
This future is scary because it’s full of decisions. The first one is: where do I start?
Here is my advice: first, enjoy and celebrate! You have finished putting pen to paper; that’s a big deal! Then, make a plan.
I’ve seen authors freak out, fall into deep despair and just give up because they chose one road, realise they missed a bunch of steps, went back, think they’re all done, realise there is plenty more to do, feel alone…a vicious cycle.
After a nice celebration, the first thing to do is actually sit down and decide what you want to do with this book. Everything that follows will depend on how you answer that question.
What do you want to do with your book?
Part of the answer to this question lies in the reason why you wrote it in the first place. You may not know yet, but take the time to think about it and express it. For instance, you won’t make the same choices if you wrote to become a billionaire, or if it was because you just had a story to tell. Once you have your answer, it should help you know if you want to share your book with:
- No one
- Yourself and your locked drawer
- Someone specific
- Your friends and family
- A specific group (your colleagues, your neighbours, your students, etc.)
- The whole wide world
How you publish your book should depend on this, and not on an opinion, hearsay, or simple ignorance of all the other options you could have considered.
You don’t need to choose just one option cited above, but you may want to put them in order of priority. Then, depending on your number one priority, here is what you’ll need to do:
- No one: Toss it. Or better yet, store it somewhere (you might change your mind one day and bitterly regret tossing it)
- Yourself and your locked drawer: Take the time to re-read your book and correct the things bothering you. Store it and re-read it whenever you like.
- Someone specific: Proofread and edit where needed (if it’s just for one person’s benefit and you feel up to it, you can do this job yourself).
- Your friends and family: I’d advise getting someone to help you with the proofreading and editing. You may not need to do major editing, but at least make sure the story, scenes, characters, etc. are coherent.
I inadvertently changed a character’s name in the middle of the book once… that would have been awkward…
- A specific group (your colleagues, your neighbours, your students, etc.): In this case, you’ll want your book to look like a book. I’m talking real editing, cover, and formatting (which will also mean choosing the format you want your book in).
- The whole wide world: on top of the above list here you’ll need to think about publishing options, distribution methods, promotion, communication and events.
For each of the elements listed above, there are many things to think about. It’s often because you didn’t get a chance to learn about all those things that it can look scary. It doesn’t need to be.
First, because you should always take the time to ask around and get help. A million of people are more experienced than you in one or many of these areas, and a lot are happy to give a hand. The first proof of this is the infinite number of writers groups on social networks and forums. Listen to what people have to say, but make your own choice — don’t just take everybody’s advice as Gospel.
You should always take the time to ask around and get help. Most people are happy to share their expertise.
Now let’s look at all the tasks you may face. Obviously, depending on what you have decided to do with your book will determine which of these tasks you have to do.
Be aware: each of these “>” is not actually a step to climb one by one. Some overlap, some need to be repeated at different stages, some never really end :)
Oh and, before you start any of this, decide what budget you can/want to put into all this.
> Finish the book:
- Rewrite and proofread.
When I wrote my first book, as soon as I was done I wanted to have some test-readers read it. I didn’t even take the time to read it myself (weird enough thing to say: I never read my book) Getting the first feedback, I realized I partly ruined their experience by giving them a book filled with a bunch of spelling mistakes, weird sentence constructions and plot holes.
You don’t necessarily need to have someone do that job for you, but take the time to do it. Trust me.
- Get feedback and start again (the “rewrite and proofread” step, not the whole book)
If you want to get your book out there for more than just your first circle of acquaintance, a professional is recommended.
- Choosing your editor is an unskippable step. I’d advise looking online for recommendations, asking fellow authors (whose book you’ve actually seen and at least skimmed) and then contacting them directly to get your own feeling.
Make sure you’ll have a good relation with your editor. You need to be able to comment on their feedback, but also trust their opinion while being assured that the core spirit of your book will be preserved.
- Get a cover: depending on the format you need, you’ll need different designs and formats. Unless you are a graphic designer, my number one advice is: don’t do it yourself.
- — If you need a cover just to send your book to publishing houses or agents, then don’t do anything. Keep a clean page with the title and author and that’s it.
- — If you absolutely want to do it yourself (or need to because you don’t have any money to spend): keep it simple, extremely simple. Don’t try fancy montages, illustrations, font effects, etc. If that’s not your job, it will be ugly.
- — You can find “cheap” and easy options with tools like Canva, paying for a good picture on stock sites or using a free one from sites like Unsplash. The risk is that you might end up with the same cover as someone else using the same technique.
- — If you hire a professional designer (the same goes for anyone else you hire), look around online to find reviews of their work. Also, choose someone recommended over a perfect stranger, and make sure you get a good feeling from them.
Don’t spend too much money. For me, unreasonable would be above $400 if there is no original illustration, or above $900 if there is. If you are just starting out as an author, you probably don’t need a major artist to do your cover. There will be time to reinvest and republish your book with a fancier cover once it has proved itself worthy.
keep it simple, extremely simple
- Formatting and typesetting:
Choose what formats you want your book in: eBook, paperback, hardback, audiobook — take your pick.
The choice will be yours if you go down the independent publishing path, or not if you are traditionally published (see publishing path options below).
What you choose will obviously depend on your personal preference, but also on who is going to read your book. Now here is what you need to do depending on the format you choose:
- Print: You’ll need to take care of your book’s typesetting. Depending on your personal savviness (shrewdness?), you can either:
1) Use professional software (InDesign, for instance)
2) Use a formatting tool like StreetLib Write :)
3) Use a word processor (e.g. Microsoft Word), but ONLY if the book is for your acquaintances and if you know how to do that.
- Hardback: find a not too expensive, but quality printer. Once again, a lot of people can help you with that: ask around. Get a sample copy to make sure the result looks like how you want it to and, when happy, order a number of copies in line with your publishing plan.
- Paperback: I’d definitely urge you to consider print-on-demand, depending on your publishing path.
You can use it for hardbacks too, and it reduces/eliminates your upfront costs. It is also a much more sustainable solution: no money lost in case of unsold copies, no storage space needed, less paper waste, etc.).
If ever you need copies for events or to distribute to local bookstores, then you can simply print the exact number needed.
- eBooks: read up on the standard ebook formats (right now, ePub) and which formats are required by which bookstores (e.g. Amazon will require their proprietary format .mobi).
Find either an easy tool to format your eBook, or hire someone to do it for you. Don’t bother buying and attempting to do it yourself with Adobe InDesign if you never used the tool before. You’ll just waste your time when there are plenty of perfectly valid tools to help you format your eBook without any technical knowledge.
Here, I have to mention StreetLib Write again. It’s free, it’s online, and it can be used by anyone with no strings attached. On top of all that, its an extremely powerful tool that will give you the cleanest eBook you could ever have.
You can also spend some money and let a professional deal with this. As any professional you hire on your publishing path, I’d advise asking around, comparing, etc.
At StreetLib, we noticed that authors and publishers needed an easy and convenient solution for building high-quality…medium.com
- - Audiobook: This is a bit trickier. To get an audiobook that doesn’t sound too amateurish, you’ll need quality reading, quality recording, quality sound editing and quality formatting. There a bunch of companies offering these services, but the price can be quite steep.
You’ll also find freelancers offering to do that work for you(or part of it: recording or editing). Once again, make sure they’re legit and trustworthy.
Finally, you can choose text-to-speech technologies, but will of course end up with a result that sounds a lot less like a human.
Oh, and if you just want an audiobook to share with your family, recording it yourself would actually be a nice choice. Just make sure you have the right tools and environment to record yourself :)
> Choose a publishing path:
Of course, as said above, it depends on who you want to read your book. The important thing is not to miss an opportunity because you weren’t aware it existed. And you may actually end up choosing all the options.
Medium/Big traditional publishing houses: of course, if that’s something you want or even dream of, nothing prevents you from trying to get your book published by renowned publishing houses. Except they might not be open to submissions for your genre. You may want to find an agent (see below), and please keep in mind that the bigger the publishing house is, the less control you’ll have over your book’s content (This is true in most cases, but since they usually know what they are doing, it might be worth trusting them). Also, remember that your share in royalties will be quite small. If you do end up getting an offer:
- Congratulations! That’s awesome, it’s a great proof of your book’s value.
- Do not sign without reading your contract! Being offered a publishing contract is great, flattering, intimidating, and many other hard-to-manage emotions. However, there are big contract obligations you do not want to accept without knowing what you are getting into:
- — If you are about to give up most of your royalties, it’d better be worth it. Make sure the publishing house guarantees a good distribution, a relevant promotion plan, a good representation at book fairs, events, etc.
- — Make sure you aren’t giving away too much exclusivity. If the publishing house only offers to publish paper copies, make sure you’ll be allowed to manage other formats elsewhere if you decide to. Same goes for different languages etc. Plus, make sure your contract only lasts for the right duration. If they only look after you and your book for 6 months and then move on to other projects, you should be allowed to move on too.
- — Don’t hesitate to take your time, have people with more experience read it through and give you their opinion. And negotiate! An agent may turn out quite useful for this part.
- — As for any professional who may be working with you in your book project, make sure you get a good feeling with the people you’ll be working with. It’s like considering a new job: the interviews, questions, resumes, trial periods etc. shouldn’t be only for the company’s benefit. You also have a say.
Getting a contract offer from publishing houses is like getting a job offer. The interviews, questions, resume exchanges, negotiations and trial periods that follow are not only for the company’s benefit. You also have a say.
- Small/Independent publishing house. They are professionals that offer to take care of everything but the writing of your book. It may be a really good choice as editing and promotion are real jobs. However:
- Not to sound too alarming, but there are a lot of scammers in this business. Check online and ask around.
- Make sure the publishers are actually going to do all the publisher’s job. Get an ironclad contract, and be willing to fight if they don’t end up fulfilling the contract’s conditions.
- Avoid contracts where you are required to pay a lot of money in advance (instead or on top of royalty shares given to them)
- And of course, everything said about big/medium publishers also goes for small/independent ones.
- The most important question to ask yourself is what they will add to your publishing project, and at what price.
- Self Publishing: You can decide to take on all the publishing tasks yourself. If your goal is only to share your book with a specific group of people (see above), then you won’t need to promote your book much, making self-publishing a good choice. You may also go down this route because you want to keep complete control over your book. That’s a hell of a good reason in my opinion.
This doesn’t mean you should do everything yourself (see >editing and >promoting where I often advise hiring a professional).
Apart from editing and promoting, your main task will be distribution.
- Physical distribution: if you get a print version of your book, you may want to have copies to offer to bookstores in your area, drop in your neighbors’ mailboxes or force upon your colleagues. Before you go doing that, consider the difficulties it’ll present: You’ll need to pay the printing costs for those copies, manage expedition and deliveries, and store them. Print only copies you know will go somewhere at some point. I don’t want to imagine the number of authors’ garages filled with boxes of untouched books.
I’d absolutely not recommend getting CDs of your audiobooks. Go for digital copies please. If you must, get a card with a link and QR code to the digital version of your audiobook. No one wants to buy a CD that will get damaged or lost. And nowadays, most people actually don’t have a that plays CDs. Of course, if your audiobook’s target audience is the elderly, then it’s a different story. A CD might be relevant.
- Digital distribution: Even if you go for a paper version of your book, making it available online with print-on-demand services is a great solution as it eliminates problems regarding storage, returns, etc. Furthermore, depending on your original goal, you’ll be able to reach a much wider audience. Be it for eBooks, audiobooks or paper books, you have many options for distributing your book online:
- — Go direct: some online bookstores like Amazon, Apple, Kobo or subscription services like Playster allow authors to publish their books directly. As you are going direct, you may be cutting costs (= get bigger royalties), but that’s not always the case. And by choosing one channel, you limit your reach. If you choose to go direct with multiple bookstores, you may struggle managing billing, book updates, etc.
- — Go even more direct: If — for instance — you want your book to be only available for your students, you actually don’t need a big distribution. The best option here is probably to sell your book yourself directly on your website (or professor page, or email, etc.). There are many options for this, but I’d say the ultimate solution — built specifically for books with no up-front costs and 75% royalties — is StreetLib Sell.
- — Use a multi-channel distributor: In case you were wondering, that’s what we do. Our core business is to make publishers and authors’ lives much easier and help them share their books across the world. Of course other companies do the same, and you’ll want to look around to see what’s the best solution for you. But i’m pretty sure you’ll see we are a great choice. What you’ll need to consider is:
- — — Where does the distributor actually distribute (consider bookstores, but also geographic areas)?
- — — What are the entry conditions (upfront fees, contract conditions, etc.)?
- — — What are the payment conditions? How and when will you get your royalties?
- — — Side features (on top of distribution, what will you get access to?)
- — — What kind of support will you get?
- — — Is the company evolving with the market?
This last point is actually rather important, don’t disregard it.
> Promote & communicate:
- Please, I beg you: don’t forget or ignore this point. I have actually written a bunch of blog posts on this topic over the years. The latest one had quite an alarming title: Is marketing dead? If you wonder why you should actually resort to marketing (promoting, selling, etc.) your book, please read it. Of course, and I’m repeating myself here, it depends on who you want to read your book. No need to spend time and/or money on promotion if only your grandma is supposed to read your book. Just give it to her for her birthday and that’s all the communication you need :)
Book marketing. The black sheep of independent authors and publishers. Accepting that your creation, your work of art…medium.com
- Get an agent: This is mainly important for two scenarios: you want to reach Medium/Big publishing houses, or you have been approached by them (for instance, after your book has become a big success). You’ll probably ask: why do I need an agent if I already have contract proposals? Well, read what I wrote above about publishing contracts :)
- Work on your book’s metadata: part of improving your book’s online visibility, and ensuring the right people see it, is via your book’s metadata: keywords, blurb, categories, etc. There is a lot of information online to help you with this, and once again: ask around!
- Be active online: this is essential! If you have zero presence online, how are readers going to hear about you? There are lots of ways to be present online, and how you go about it will again depend on who you want to reach, your capabilities and the money you are willing to invest (some are free). I won’t go into too much detail for each as you can find lots of information and help online, including in our own Tips & Tricks.
- Your book’s page: the absolute minimum. Make sure your book page (the page on a bookstore that talks about your book) is clear, complete and enticing.
- A website: your main showcase for anyone but your direct acquaintances. Your website should make it easy for people to learn about your book and buy it (either directly or with obvious links). There are many platforms that make creating a website quick and easy. Once again, keep it simple, or you’ll end up with a disappointing result — unless web design is actually your job. A solution like Instapage or Wordpress may very well be enough. You can also hire professionals for all or part of this job. Hunt around to get an idea of prices. A key factor to consider is will whoever creates your site be available if you need changes or technical support in the future? And will you be able to make little changes yourself if needed?
- A blog: this can be attached to your website. It is a nice way to regularly talk about your book, your activities, events, etc.
- Social media: Having your own space online is great, but you also need to go where everyone else is. And that’s on social networks! You don’t need to have an account on every single one. Just pick the ones that match your audience, and INTERACT! Don’t just post “buy my book” posts. Join groups: comment, debate, discuss. That is how you get noticed.
- Forums: This is pretty much the same thing as social media, but can be particularly efficient if you find forums with your precise target audience.
- Online book events: There are a bunch of Twitter Live events, online conferences, etc. Look for the ones that could be relevant to you and get involved! Even if you don’t talk about your book, you’ll at least get a chance to (virtually) meet relevant people.
- Book platforms and media: There are dozens of people out there talking about books and authors on blogs, webzines, podcasts, websites, social pages, etc. Get in touch with them, present your book, offer to guest post something relevant, etc.
- Communicate (create content): This is of course closely linked to the “exist online” point. Just presenting your book once, and then saying “buy it, read it, buy it, share it” won’t be enough. You need — both to help your visibility and to let potential readers know what you’re all about — to create content about your book, your characters, your theme, your writing experience, etc. If you have no idea what to write about, I wrote a blog post to help you with that:
17 topic suggestions, 3 web lessons and One very good advice.medium.com
- Price your book correctly: A small, but rather important point. And quick to figure out. You need to look around to see how books are priced in your category and format (yes eBooks should be way cheaper than paper books!). You might decide to distribute your book for free (remember it might cost to do so). However, I’d always bear in mind that giving your book a price shows you value the quality of your work.
- Events (virtual or real ones): Whether you participate or create your own, events are always a good way to let people know about your book. Have launch parties, reading sessions, virtual launch parties, go to book fairs, literature events: whatever you can think of to give your book visibility and allow readers to discover your work (and hopefully buy it).
- Curate and care for your community: if you do things right, you’ll get readers. You may even get readers who like your books. Those will be your best communication channel: their reviews and recommendations are the most effective way to get other readers. You thus need to take care of them, show your appreciation, keep them informed about your projects. You can do so with a newsletter, on social media and in real life. Don’t hesitate to get to know them and let them know you.
> Choosing what’s next and including it in your plan:
This is a minor step and will probably take a bit less time in your publishing plan. You should simply answer these questions:
- Do you want to write something else? You don’t necessarily need to wait for all your publishing efforts to be over to start another project. Actually, combining both will help to get new content to talk about and, if your book does well, you’ll never be completely done with the publishing activities.
- Is it related to the first book? If so, that’s one more reason to start talking about it and working it into your communication about the first book. Make sure to stay coherent from one book to another, be it in terms of genre, storyline or design.
- Do you want to turn your book into a movie, TV series, comics, etc? That’s a whole other activity I don’t know much about but, why not? You just need a good plan :)
To conclude this way-longer-than-I-expected guide, I’ll say one thing:
Knowing what you get into, having appropriate expectations and surrounding yourself with the right people (friends and professionals alike) will guarantee you a great publishing journey and stop you from feeling overwhelmed!
I hope this helps. If it does, please say so in the comments as I may turn it into a free mini-eBook guide (with more polished text, a nice layout and formatting — exactly how I have advised you to do actually:)