6 Tips For Self-Publishing That Book You've Always Dreamed of Writing

I had a great Skype conversation with Thomas Burns last month, who is a new friend, a former Fulbright Scholar and author of the upcoming book The Unofficial Guide to Fulbright Scholarships. After coming across my book, he asked if we could meet and a few days later we were talking, halfway around the world, about his awesome idea.

We live in an amazing age, unlike anytime in history, and it's redefining fields like technology, communication, media and much more. The fact that you are reading this, seconds after I write it in Mongolia, days after I video-conference with sometime halfway around the world, about publishing books using a mechanism that didn't exist a few years ago, is the perfect example of just how amazing it is.

When I was in America over the holiday season I spoke with my Uncle Josh about a book he self-published when I was younger. It cost him hundreds of dollars to buy dozens of copies and then sell them to family and friends himself. He really enjoyed writing it but, as you can imagine, the self-publishing process was a little difficult and very expensive. After handing him a copy of my book and talking  about the process of self-publishing online for a few minutes, he was convinced. "Next time I think I'm doing it your way," he said.

Self-publishing online has cost me nothing, not a penny, and after selling hundreds of copies of the Unofficial Handbook in a few short months, we have already raised hundreds of dollars for Peace Corps projects around the world. In case you are interested in self-publishing your own book, like Thomas and my Uncle Josh, here are a few tips that you might find helpful...

1. Clarify Your Idea

Before you begin, it's important to ask yourself a few questions: 
  • What exactly are you writing? 
  • Why are you writing? 
  • And who are you writing for? 
In my case, I wanted to help people who were interested in being Peace Corps Volunteers, to give them the book I wished someone would have given me, and I knew it was a small target audience. Self-publishing allowed me to freely express my ideas, raise about $4.00 from every book to give back to Peace Corps and update it as many times as I wanted. Take time to answer these questions carefully.

2. Gather An Incredible Support Team
At first it was just me, but the more people I told about my book the more people wanted to help. Some of my friends used to work for magazines or publishers, some loved to write, some loved to read, some loved graphic design and all of them were excited to help. It will be very helpful to have a support team of people you love and respect whether editors, proof-readers, advisors, press contacts, graphic designers or even cooperating organizations. Don't go it alone. Ask for help and you'll be amazed at who steps forward.

3. Write Consistently and Stay Inspired
Chris recently said, "When you get writer's block, lower your standards and keep going." It's easy to be hard on ourselves and get overwhelmed, with standards that are so high that they might drive us crazy. Be easy on yourself. Surround yourself with things that inspire you, other books, videos and people who remind you why you are writing. Keep something with you that makes it easy to jot down your ideas, a small notebook, an electronic note-taking application or even your cellphone. Let out your great ideas and keep them organized. There are tons of great free resources out there. Some of my favorites are Evernote, MindNode, PBWorks and GoogleSites. They are all free and very easy to learn. Pick one or two and use them all the time.

4. Create Space For Yourself
In writing consistency trumps bursts of inspiration in the same way that exercising 30 minutes everyday trumps vigorous exercise just one time a week. Create space for yourself to write, maybe a physical space but certainly uninterrupted time, so that you can chip away at your work. It can be a little lonely at times, and it might take longer than you thought originally, but if you stick at it you will finish. Trust me.

5. Consider Self-Publishing
Take a look at the self-publishing services out there, like Lulu.com. They require no start-up cash and are usually print-on-demand services, meaning that when someone orders your book they print it and ship it right then. You just write the book and they take care of everything else. In Lulu's case, they even put the book up on Amazon.com for you for free. Also, the growing industry of eBooks (which can be read on computers, Kindles, Nooks, iPads and just about anything now) are another great option. E-junkie.com is a good service for selling your eBooks online, again with no start-up costs. Remember, when you self-publish you retain the rights to your book and you can always go with a traditional publisher later if you want.

6. Keep People Updated
The last thing, which is easy to forget, is to keep people updated on your book. Use Facebook, Twitter, your own website, whatever you want. Post regularly about how you are doing, good or bad. It gives you a chance to talk with others, for them to support and even motivate you, and it keeps people excited for the day when they can finally hold your book in their hands. Keeping people updated benefits everyone. Also keep it as personal as possible, connect with people individually whether through email, in person, or in writing. Integrity is the best long-term marketing strategy. Be yourself, be kind and be helpful. And when you mention them in the Acknowledgments, it'll be like icing on the cake.

Writing a book is a daunting task, but it's not as difficult as you may imagine it to be. Give it a shot, gather your support team around you and remember I'm right here with you. Contact me online through our community on Facebook, I'm excited to help anyway I can!

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