The 572 pages of Adjunct Professor of English Kelly Owen’s new book The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones represent countless hours of research, writing and editing. Through her research, Owen debated the merits of self publishing her book versus shopping the manuscript around to editors and agents and hoping for the best. With the help of her husband Matt, Owen created an eye-catching brand, a compelling novel and a company called Boxer Publishing, LLC.
Owen offers tips on how to know if self-publishing is right for you, along with some do’s and don’ts for aspiring authors interested in taking the plunge.
1. What is your ideal publication schedule?
Once Owen was able to channel her time and energy into the writing, editing and marketing of The College Chronicles, she did not want to wait for an agent to get its publication in motion, even if publishing traditionally was a possibility.
“By the time I was finishing the first draft of the book, the self-publishing industry had really blossomed,” Owen said. “I researched meticulously, attended the PubSmart conference here in Charleston, spoke with vendors, and learned about the tools available for self-publishing. I decided I didn’t want to wait anymore.” Owen published The College Chronicles through Amazon’s CreateSpace for print and KDP for digital self-publishing and uses IngramSpark for wider distribution.
Alternatively, if you are more interested in traditional publishing and timing isn’t as concerning, sending manuscripts to agents could get you, if not a contract, some valuable feedback. Hiring a hybrid publisher who will split costs with you and share in sales revenue is also an option.
2. Can you stay motivated without a set schedule?
Owen plans to release four books, each expected to be more than 500 pages, to complete her series. Authoring one book alone takes a significant amount of focus and motivation, especially without a publishing company setting completion dates. Can you motivate yourself through the ups and downs of writing a book without an agent or publisher’s set deadline?
To keep herself motivated, Owen gave out a few chapters at a time to select readers and gauged their reactions. “Hearing them say, ‘What’s going to happen next? I want to read more,’ was really motivating. The more I wrote, the more I felt like this was a story that needed to be told,” she reflected.
3. Do you have a vision for the book cover?
If you do then self-publishing may be right for you. Once a publishing house gets your book, its design and marketing team often take creative control over your book’s art direction. This can be a good thing if you don’t have the time or resources to create your own cover, but if you know what you want to cover to look like, self-publishing guarantees you control.
“Through self-publishing, I control my artistic output,” Owen said. “I control the rights to my book, and I control the way it’s branded, which is what I wanted.”
4. Does it matter to you whether your book is sold in independent bookstores?
By creating their own publishing limited liability company, the Owens own the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for The College Chronicles. If you publish directly through a self-publishing platform like CreateSpace, they can assign you an ISBN they own and independent bookstores and libraries may be less likely to stock your book.
“There’s a good bit of prejudice against self-publishing,” Owen explained. “We wanted the ISBNs to be assigned to our own imprint, which gives us a better chance of getting into independent bookstores and libraries.”
As Owen demonstrates, self-publishing won’t prohibit you from getting your book into an independent bookstore, but be aware that it may require some extra effort.
5. Do you have access to marketing experts, like public relations agents and graphic designers?
Matt Owen, a Charleston-based public relations professional, was able to shed light on the marketing process. He contributed to much of the buzz surrounding The College Chronicles’ release by building the book’s website, crafting a press release, securing interviews, and building media lists and book blogger databases.Additionally, Kelly Owen worked with Kendra Haskins Design to finalize the book’s cover and come up with a sharp wordmark for the series.
If you’re not married to a marketing expert, have no fear. Many freelancers and agencies offer flexible packages in public relations and/or graphic design. However, if the idea of working on a marketing plan or discussing anything from typeface to color scheme horrifies you, there are many companies like Wise Ink and Rocket Science Productions that offer book publishing services.
6. Who will edit your book?
Finding an editor is a must and the more eyes on a manuscript, the better. Ask friends and family members to read through your book for typos and syntax or formatting issues and insist they give you critical feedback, and definitely hire someone who specializes in editorial services. Owen said, “It surprised me because I’m an English teacher and I proofread all the time, but you cannot proofread your own work. Not when there’s that much writing, and when you’re the author, you’re preoccupied with more than the letters on the page.”
Kelly Owen’s Do’s and Don’ts:
Do: Keep up.
Social media is an integral part of any marketing campaign now, book marketing included. Owen’s book features a black-and-white photo of a student walking toward a campus building with a stack of college text books (in color) behind her. The top book’s spine reads “#WhatsYourCourse,” the social media hashtag Owen will use to track reactions to her book. She also includes an “Evaluation” card in the print copies of The College Chronicles to encourage reader engagement.
“Incorporating social media into your marketing and promotion strategies is necessary for a book’s success these days, especially if you’re self-publishing,” Owen said. “Writing the book is the easy part—getting people to discover it is infinitely harder. That’s where the real work begins.”
Don’t: Slack on editing.
Copy editing may not be the most glamorous part of writing, but it is one of the most important parts. “You need to deliver quality work that readers will enjoy, and part of that is making sure they won’t be frustrated by numerous typos,” Owen explained. “Hire a good editor. But you’ll have to determine the type you need such as a line or story editor or both.”
Owen advises, “There are a lot of different elements you have to research when it comes to self- publishing, for instance: What copyright and media laws does an indie author need to know? Who owns the ISBN? What is metadata? How do you format a Word document to book specifications and get it ready to be uploaded and published? Different methods and self-publishing platforms abound, so you need to find the one that’s best for you.”
Don’t: Take shortcuts when it comes to design.
“Don’t try to do a cover by yourself if you are not a professional,” Owen said. “Matt and I did photograph the cover ourselves but when it came to advanced Photoshop to prepare the templates required for the covers, we hired a graphic designer and that was a great decision.”
The College Chronicles was released August 18, 2014, and is available at University Books of Charleston, the College’s Barnes and Noble and on Amazon and iTunes. Owen is currently teaching three sections of English 110.