This post is about my experience self-publishing the first book coming out this year from Renegade Writer Press, which is my book How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes out with a Sharpie. I talk about a lot of resources I’ve been using, which I’ll link to from this post.
This is a huge post — over 5,000 words. I actually wrote most of it by speaking into my phone, so please forgive me if it’s not as polished as what you normally read from me. I had originally planned for this to be a podcast and I was outlining the script on my phone, and then I realized I had pretty much written an entire post just like that! I wanted to get this info out there as soon as I could…so here it is.
Why I’m Sharing So Much
I’ve been working on How to Do It All since the beginning of the year, and it’s been a crazy ride! I want to share the details on everything that goes into self-publishing, including the true cost of getting it done right.
Many writers think self-publishing consists of whipping out a manuscript and sticking it up on Amazon. And that can be true — I know there are some authors who do very well doing it that way — but in my view, smart readers can detect a lazy book from a mile off.
For example, I recently bought a 99-cent e-book that was at the top of its category in Amazon and that the author claimed was a bestseller. However, throughout the book the author kept bragging about how quickly he had written the book, and would say things like, “I’m sure there are more examples but that’s all I feel like writing” and “I know that joke was lame but it’s all I could come up with.” After reading this book I felt so angry, and so disrespected as a reader, that I did something I had never done before, which was to RETURN A 99-CENT E-BOOK.
So If you want to write a 50-page e-book in a few days and throw it onto Amazon, and that’s your schtick, and you have a big enough audience of raving fans to support that, sure…you can do it that way. But if you want your self-published book to appeal to discerning readers who are used to professionally done, traditionally published books from the big publishing houses — and to command a decent price — there’s a LOT more to it.
That’s why I’m detailing here the work — and the exact amount of money — that’s gone into this new e-book. As the book launch progresses I’ll share more numbers and details here on the blog so you can accompany me on this journey.
So, let’s start at…the beginning!
The Big Idea
On New Year’s eve 2015, I was journaling about the year and decided to make a list of everything I had done, seen, and accomplished in the previous 12 months. When I took a look at the list I couldn’t believe how much I had done, from traveling to five foreign countries with my family, to running two businesses, to hosting three exchange students.
It didn’t feel really special to me at the time, as I just like to have a lot going a lot on and that’s my usual M.O. But people are always asking me how I’m so productive and how I get so much done, and once I saw the whole list written out, I had the brainstorm to write a book detailing the process.
I especially wanted to address the cultural narrative that women are trying to do it all and burning themselves out in the process, and that they need to just relax and stop trying to be superwoman. I was like, “I like doing all these things! And yes, at times I’m stressed out, but is that really such a bad thing? Is it better to lead a full, meaningful, creative life where you grow every year and you experience some stress, or to lead a stress free life but don’t do much of anything else? When you’re on your deathbed, which would you rather look back on? Which would make you feel prouder and more satisfied?” That was the basis of this book.
With my previous self-published books I probably did a lot more than many other self-published authors, such as having beta readers and hiring proofreaders, but I still cut corners in order to save money. For example, I would normally choose a ready-made cover from a book cover design site, or have one designed based on a stock image I bought online. I would also do all the marketing myself.
Our books sell fine, but judging from the quality of the information and the 4.5 star average reviews we get on almost every book we’ve written, I always felt that we should be reaching MANY more readers…which means I’m probably not as good a marketer as I thought! I’m a writer. That’s what I’m good at.
For How to Do It All, I decided to go all-out and see if I could turn it into a bestseller — to really commit myself, and all my resources, to just this one project. I was super excited about the idea, and other people I told about it were excited too. I was talking with a lot of women about what they wish they were doing more of in their lives and what they felt they were missing, and I really wanted to create a book about it and have it reach every single person who could use it.
The Launch Team
It just so happens I had recently been approached by Tom from Insurgent Publishing, which launches books for self-published authors, among other services. Tom contacted me on a completely different matter and I had gone back and forth with him, and I liked his style…so I emailed him about launching this new book. Tom created a video presentation for me and we had some discussions on the phone, and I ended up hiring his team at a cost of $7,500 that would be spread over the course of the launch.
The first thing we did was discuss options for the title of the book. I started out with How to Do It All, but that seemed so simple that I wasn’t sold on it and I don’t think Tom was either. So I spent some time coming up with a list of options.
I also researched best-selling self-help books and books that had been in Oprah’s Book Club, and came to the realization that simple titles are very powerful. How to Do It All reflected exactly what the book was about, so that’s what I went with.
As for the subtitle, I’m partial to longer, humorous, more descriptive subtitles. I wanted to get across the idea that doing it all is not a stress-free venture, but it is a lot of fun and worth doing nonetheless. For some reason I suddenly envisioned a Sharpie checking things off of my to-do list, and that’s where the Sharpie came from in the subtitle The Revolutionary 12-Month Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes out with a Sharpie.
Tom suggested I start building a team of people who are excited about the book and who would help us spread the word. At the same time, I really wanted to gather a group of beta readers to take a look at the manuscript when it was done. So I started out by reaching out to my list of about 7,000 subscribers to let them know that anybody who is interested in being a beta reader should join my special early notification list for the book.
Of course, that meant I had to build a sales page for the book with a form where people could join that list…and then I needed to create a follow-up email that subscribers would get as soon as they signed up. That didn’t take very long, but it was just another thing to do that consisted of multiple steps.
The Beta Readers
Once I had a couple hundred people on that list, I was ready to build my team of beta readers. I used SurveyMonkey to create a survey for potential beta readers to fill out. I had had beta readers on a previous book, Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race…And Step Into a Career You Love, and I found that although people clamored to read the book in advance, some of them never sent me feedback once they had gotten the free advance copy, and a good half of them never reviewed the book on Amazon or anywhere else. Of course, I never require that people leave positive reviews, but part of having people beta read the book is also having them leave reviews to get the ball rolling when the book is launched.
So when I created this survey, I asked potential beta readers to let me know whether they would review the book, and if so, where. Of course, this wasn’t a requirement; if someone had previous experience as a beta reader past or was a self-help book junkie, whether they would leave a review wasn’t as important. But I think just having that question in the form helped clarify with my beta readers that I would love them to review the book.
Other questions I asked included whether the person had beta reading experience and for which books, what their favorite self help book was, and why they wanted to be a reader for this book. I wanted to make sure the majority of my readers were familiar with the self-help genre, and that they were passionate about reading my new book.
Once the survey closed, I had a meeting with Rachel, my account manager at Insurgent Publishing, and we chose the 21 readers we thought would be best for my book.
In the meantime, Tom and Rachel had been trying to convince me to start a closed Facebook group for my beta readers and early notification list members. I liked the idea and really wanted to have a place to interact with beta readers and fans…but in October 2015 I had quit all social media. In order to start a Facebook group, I would have to reactivate my old profile, which I didn’t want to do. I loved being social media-free and didn’t want to deal with messages, friend requests, notifications, and all that…and I also didn’t want my old posts on display.
My solution was to start a new, blank Facebook profile under a slightly different name and then use that to launch the group. I did that, and sent an invitation to my beta readers. I’m glad I listen to Tom and Rachel, because having this group has been a really great experience! I’ll talk a little more about how this group comes into play as we discuss the rest of the process.
While all this was going on, Tom and Rachel asked me to create a list of bloggers, podcasters, and other media people I know, who they would approach about interviewing me or reviewing the book. I was racking my brains to make this list, and my husband Eric suggested I go through all the articles I’ve written in the past — I’ve written for over 150 magazines, so there are a LOT of them — and see who I’ve interviewed in the past who might be interested in this book.
That was an amazing idea! As I went through my old interviews, I realized that in the past I had interviewed tons of well-known fitness models and authors, celebrities like Dr. Oz and Joy Behar, and many media people. I also knew many of women’s magazine and health magazine editors, and plenty of bloggers. So they all went on the list I had been compiling for Tom and Rachel.
Also, I approached Laura Vanderkam, the author of the popular time management books 168 Hours and I Know How She Does It, and asked if she’d write a cover blurb. Laura agreed (thanks, Laura!), so I would need to send her the advance copy when it was ready.
Then there was the matter of the cover. I wanted to do something super-professional instead of my usual M.O. of choosing stock imagery, so I hired James from GoOnWrite.com to create a custom cover based on my specifications. The cost for the cover was $400, which beings my costs to $7,900.
James sent me a long questionnaire about my preferences in color, imagery, and so on. I researched self-help book covers and noticed a lot of them were text only, and they often used bright primary colors like yellow and orange. One of the covers I sent to James as an example was the cover of The Power of Habit, which is a deep yellow with simple, icon-like images. I wanted the cover of How to Do It All to be immediately recognizable as self-help, but also make it clear that this book is aimed at women, so I let James know that as well.
Within a couple of weeks, James had created four awesome prototypes. I liked them all and really wasn’t sure which one was best. One cover had a cool-looking infinity symbol, but the title was hard to read and it wouldn’t work out in a thumbnail size on Amazon. There were a couple of covers with Sharpie and highlighter imagery that I also liked, but Diana pointed out that they looked a lot like study guides. I agreed. If you already knew what my book was about, these covers were awesome, but if you were a shopper on Amazon and came across these covers, you wouldn’t have any idea that they were self help books.
I decided to post the covers on my closed Facebook group and ask my beta readers what they thought. There was a lively discussion with a lot of amazing and thoughtful comments. Many readers preferred the sharpie imagery in two of the covers, but also liked the boldness and colors of the plain text cover.
I reached out to James and asked him if there was some way to incorporate the Sharpie imagery into the plain text cover. I also asked him to somehow make the cover a little more feminine so readers would immediately know this book is aimed at women.
Within a week, James came back with four more covers. Each one had the same bold text, and my name was contained within a Sharpie under the title. He had also added some interesting flourishes in the corners.
I posted the new covers in the Facebook group and asked my readers what they thought. In the meantime, I had opened up at the Facebook group to everyone on my early notification list, so at this point I had around 150 members. (By the way, if YOU want to join the early notification list and the closed Facebook group for How to Do It All, here’s the link.)
Again, there was a lively discussion. At the end, we seemed to have a tie between two of the covers: The one with the hot pink background and the cover with the red and orange ombré effect. I made the executive decision to choose the one of them that I like the best, which was the ombré one.
At around that time, Laura Vanderkam sent me her cover blurb, so I sent that to James and he incorporated it into the final cover.
But wait! I suddenly realized that because this book was going to be published in print form as well as in e-book form, I would need a wraparound cover for Createspace, which is Amazon’s print-on-demand service. I asked James about it and discovered it would be an additional $80 for the wraparound. So let’s add that to the total: Now we’re at $7,980.
Publishing How to Do It All in print format also meant that I would need to get an ISBN number for the cover. Diana had already purchased a block of 10 ISBN numbers from Bowker. I believe it was around $295 for the whole block but she expensed that to the company, so I didn’t pay for that personally. I went to Bowker and filled out all the information they needed, and got my ISBN.
The Writing (Finally!)
Notice that so far I have not talked about the actual writing of the book. The writing was going on while all this was happening.
It took about four weeks of intense work to finish the first rough draft. At one point I spent two days at a local hotel just so I would have the quiet time and mental space to really focus on the book. That’s when it really started coming together. I’m not going to include the cost of the hotel in the tally of book expenses because of course you can do without that.
I used the program Scrivener to write the book. The first thing I did was create an outline of the chapters I wanted to write, and then for each chapter I created a page in the Scrivener file. What I like about Scrivener is that you can easily move pages and sections around. I had already bought the program, which was $40, so I won’t include its cost in the tally of how much this book cost to write and produce.
I wrote the book in bits and pieces. I would write part of one chapter, then move to another chapter, then rearrange chapters, then talk to women I knew to get their input and ideas, then realize my chapter titles stunk and redo them all. I also ended up repurposing a few blog posts I had written for my old wellness blog that never got off the ground, and a couple articles I had written for women’s magazines that had been killed.
When I gave Diana a very early draft to look at, she pointed out that it looked like just a collection of tips on time management and motivation. There was a big ol’ Do-It-All plan, but the advice was all pretty basic. Diana commented that when she read the book pretending she didn’t know me, she really wanted to know what my secrets were. Her exact words were, “I want to know what this woman is on that lets her get so much done…and how can I get some of that?”
So I had to re-think the entire book. I discovered that a lot of my original tips were strategies I had gleaned from my years of reading and experimenting with self- help. But in real life, I had tweaked all the strategies to fit my exact goal of doing it all. Also, I had combined many strategies and synthesized them into my own brand of productivity.
I rewrote the entire book with this in mind. Readers wouldn’t want a jumble of productivity tips, they would want my exact strategy for doing all that I had done.
Then I sent the book back to Diana, and a couple days later we talked on the phone. Diana pointed out that a lot of my advice required spending money, which wouldn’t resonate with a lot of readers, and that I failed to mention free resources like the library. She also mentioned that when she read my book she didn’t get the same excited feeling she did when she had read my previous book, Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action.
Also, there was something about the 12-month Plan I had developed that wasn’t working for her. After talking with a lot of women I had developed 12 goals that would be accomplished one month at a time, like traveling, volunteering, becoming well read, creating an amazing home, and learning a new skill. However, even though I included lots of advice on how to reach each goal, the goals themselves were pretty nebulous, and Diana and I both thought felt they could use more direction for readers who were unsure about what each goal meant to them.
So it was back to the drawing board. I made sure to include more options that didn’t cost money, and I also completely reworked the Plan. I decided the twelve-month Plan didn’t really work because some goals could be done quickly, while others were more long-term in nature. That meant I had to take the words “12 month” out of the title, which I asked my cover designer to do.
I also decided to call each of the 12 big goals Desires, and then within each Desire were three specific Levels of Goals to go after. For example, in the Desire “Cross a Finish Line,” the three Goals were to finish a 5K, finish a half marathon, and finish a marathon. That way, if the reader was undecided on what “crossing a finish line” meant to her, she could just choose a Goal that corresponds with her current level of fitness. And if she finished one goal, she could move onto the next one.
The Beta Reading and Proofreading
I really wanted to get the process moving, so I promised my beta readers that I would have the advance copy of the book ready by the following Friday…then I had to haul my butt to make it happen.
After revising the entire book, I did a final edit and created a PDF. I also created a form for beta readers to fill out. In the past I had just sent my beta readers the entire book in Word format and let them have at it, but it ended up a lot of readers would go through and fix typos and formatting issues. I didn’t want them to waste their time on this because I had already lined up a proofreader and was going to pay to have the book professionally formatted as well.
So my beta reader form had questions about how the readers felt about the title, the order of the chapters, the writing style, the Plan, and so on. Then I suddenly had the idea to also ask if my beta readers happened to know of any bloggers, podcasters, or other media people who would like to cover the book. (I’ll talk more about this later.)
Speaking of proofreading, I approached a proofreader Diana knew, but she wasn’t available so she suggested a proofreader named Vince Dickinson. He agreed to be ready when the book came back from my beta readers and I had revised it. The cost of the proofreading will be about $600. So now we’re at $8,580.
So anyway…in a week I got the forms back from my beta readers with almost 100% compliance, which was amazing! And having a beta readers is just about the best thing I have ever done. These lovely readers — I had 20 women and one man — offered some really amazing insight and feedback. I printed out every single form, and then for each beta reader I took about a page of handwritten notes on their feedback. Even better, lots of beta readers answered my questions about media that may want to interview me or review the book, and I compiled all that information and sent it off to Tom and Rachel at Insurgent Publishing.
I then incorporated all the feedback into the new manuscript, which basically meant completely redoing the plan once again because they didn’t like the three levels of goals I had included for each Desire. They said it was too constraining and they wanted the freedom to choose. So I moved those goals down further the chapters that were dedicated to each Desire, and made certain to stress each time that these were suggested options for readers who truly did not have any idea of what they’d like to do for that Desire. For example, for the Desire “Learn a New Skill,” if the reader was completely stymied by the idea of picking a skill to learn, she could choose one of the suggested goals — learning to knit, learn a language, and learn an instrument — which I chose because they’re accessible to almost everyone and often inexpensive to boot.
Other changes I made based on my beta readers’ astute feedback were:
- Moved chapters around.
- Combined some chapters.
- De-braggified my Do-It-All Manifesto.
- Deleted a couple lame jokes.
- Removed almost all swear words.
- Got rid of most instances of the phrase “you need.”
- Added in many more ideas for how to accomplish each Desire. For example, for the Desire “Write,” I listed the many forms of writing you might want to try, from blogging to memoir to copywriting.
Another thing my beta readers asked was that I include the free worksheets in the book, even though I had planned to make them free downloads. I’d been struggling with how to make this work because some of the worksheets you would need to use multiple times — for example, I have one worksheet you could use every day if you wanted — and I didn’t want to have a ton of pages in the book devoted to worksheets.
Based on my beta readers’ feedback, I decided to include each form in the book just once. Then my readers could either create their own forms, copy the ones in of the book on a copy machine, journal their forms, or just go and download them. What’s great about that idea is that even if readers are downloading the worksheets, they can still read the book and just glance ahead at the appendix to check out the worksheets as they’re reading. This will help readers get an idea of what the entire Do-It-All Plan is like.
After I got all the feedback incorporated into the book, I wrote the front and back matter, like the copyright page, dedication, acknowledgements, and “about the author” page. I also needed to number the chapters and parts, which I didn’t do earlier because I knew the order of the chapters was likely to change. And throughout the book, wherever I mentioned a chapter I had to go and changed the placeholder text to the proper chapter number.
Eric and I each quickly read through the book one more time to catch any obvious errors, I did a spell check and also a search-and-replace on double spaces…and I sent the new manuscript off to the proofreader, which is where it is right now.
I also sent the book off to Diana, and she gave me a hearty thumbs-up, saying now the book gave her the same excited feeling she had when she read my previous book, Commit.
The Design and Layout
Around this time I also remembered I needed to have someone create the Kindle and ePub layouts for me. I went to the company that had done my previous books, Polgarus Studio, and the owner said he would be ready when I had the manuscript complete. He couldn’t give me a price without seeing the manuscript. In the past, if I remember correctly, I had paid around $50 for the service, but How to Do It All has 12 tables and a lot of bulleted lists, so I’m pretty sure it will be more. Let’s say $100 just to be safe and make it nice and round. So now we’re at $8,680.
And of course, I need to get a Createspace interior layout done. I did some shopping around, and the company that I liked most, Integrative Ink, quoted me about $459, although they will give me an exact quote when I have the manuscript finished and they can do a simple layout. Let’s add that on, which means we’re now at $9,139.
Earlier I mentioned the free downloadable worksheets, of which there will be a TON. The reader will be directed to a particular web address where they’ll enter their email address. This will subscribe them to a special list that will automatically send them a link and password to the downloadable worksheets. That means I still need to build that page, create a sign-up form in my email system, create the page for the downloads, and upload the worksheets.
More importantly, it also means I need to create a buttload of printables. At this point I have spent so much money that I’m really not wanting to drop a whole lot on these worksheets. I’ve been fiddling with creating them myself and I haven’t been happy with the outcome. I really want these worksheets to be super-cute like all the printables I’ve downloaded from the mom-blogs and housekeeping blogs. So I’m still trying to figure out what to do about that.
Now I have a little breathing space. While the book’s been at the proofreader’s, I’ve been doing some preliminary marketing on my own. I pitched a guest post to the Tiny Buddha blog, which was accepted, so I wrote it up and sent it in. I also emailed a few influential members of the media I happen to know about the book.
And in between all that, Diana and I are working on a new series of books for writers called The Renegade Writer’s Tiny Guides. Because once my book launches, we’ll need to have more in the pipeline! And more…and more…
The Tally So Far
The tally for what I’ve spent on How to Do It All so far is $9,139. Almost $10,000! And keep in mind I haven’t earned a penny from the book, and haven’t been doing any other paid work except a small Write for Magazines class and one mentoring client. (BTW, there’s another Write for Magazines class starting on March 21 if you’re interested!) Heck, even if I had not decided to go all-out and hire a launch team, I would have paid out over $1,600 just on design, proofreading, and layout — and I haven’t even gotten to the worksheets yet.
But based on my beta readers’ overwhelmingly positive feedback, and on the fact that I hired a launch team that knows way more about book marketing than I do, I have my fingers crossed that How to Do It All will be a big, ginormous, humongous hit.
I’ll keep you updated on the process, my costs, and the result of the launch. In the meantime, I’d love it if you could do two favors for me:
- Join the early notification list and Facebook group for How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes out with a Sharpie.
- Tell all your writer friends about this post. If they’re at all interested in self-publishing a book, I think this will be an eye opener for them!
Thanks, and keep on writing!