3 Tips for Mastering Self-Publishing – Liam McDonnell | Guest Post

Liam McDonnell is UX and Creative Manager at Pixartprinting

If you’ve never gone through it before, the world of self-publishing can be a crazy, hectic, overwhelming experience. Whether you’re the writer, the publisher or the marketer, there are many different components you need to consider to pull off a successful book launch.

From the content to the promotion and printing, these are just a few of the things to keep in mind as you move forward with publishing a book.


Lock Down the Content

Write, write, write. It is important to write every day. Even the most seasoned writers need to practice their skills. It’s vital to your creative process, so write away. Revising can always come later.

While it can seem tempting to jump into a new world and explore new topics, sometimes it’s best to start by writing what you know, whether this means exploring a historical topic that grabbed your attention and you’ve been studying for years, or writing from a personal experience that impacted your life. Writing what you’re comfortable with will make the process more natural, and the quality of your work will reflect that. If this is your first time writing a book, participating in forums, taking short courses and listening to podcasts are great resources to gather advice quickly.

That said, step outside of your comfort zone and explore different perspectives on these topics. You will learn something new, or perhaps even see your topic in a different light, if you look beyond what you’ve already researched.

Now, editing is arguably the worst part of the process. Don’t go at it alone. Enlist friends, co-workers, mentors and family to read your work at every stage. That second (or third or fourth) set of eyes is pivotal to making sure your content is challenging, inspiring or easily understood. Brainstorm new plotlines, character developments, and settings. The feedback you receive will be invaluable in the end, and create a stronger piece that is ready for the printer in no time.


Get Creative! Stand Out on the Shelves

While content may be king, a strong cover design is what will make your book stand out. You can choose to flex your own creative muscles and design the cover yourself, but you may find more success in partnering with a local artist or a creative colleague. You want to make an impact with your visuals, but you must find the balance between a design that captures your theme and grabs the attention on the shelves, while not looking amateurish.

As someone interested enough to want to publish your own book, you will have likely seen hundreds, if not thousands, of others lining the shelves over the years. The array of styles employed in the design of their covers are as diverse as the storylines and plot-twists contained within. However, there are patterns and trends that you can start to recognize, especially for certain genres.

Here are a few design and print considerations for popular genres:

  1. Thriller/Mystery Novels. These tend to use striking imagery containing the protagonist or a lead character in reference to a scene in the book. Sometimes objects are depicted on the cover tying directly to an element in the story. Use of heavily processed photography is usually called for – prepare to make friends with some particularly avant-garde photographers to achieve the right balance of intrigue and graphical appeal.
  2. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Given the subject at hand, you can expect to see heavily stylized visions of far and distant futures and planets not of our own solar-system. Real world photography is not going to help you here, but a hybrid of the real and the Photoshopped image with vivid colors and a sharp, bold title have worked well for the genre. Fantasy book covers heavily feature artist illustrations, and when produced in a series showcase a visual consistency and tell a story all of their own without turning a single page.
  3. Literary Fiction. The sky’s the limit when approaching the cover adorning literary fiction. Once the cover supports the mood and style of your book, it can be as simple as some well-placed text on a solid background (Loneliness, Cacioppo & Patrick), vibrant graphic art (A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess) or full blown photographic with bespoke piercings (The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood).
  4. Biography. Certainly, the most straightforward from a conceptual standpoint. You will want to feature your hero in the best light possible here. When you don’t have the luxury of inviting your subject for a photoshoot – it is likely that you will have a wide archive of imagery to choose from. When sourcing from older physical printed photos be sure to research full-service scanning/imaging companies for a high-resolution scan and touch up service. You don’t want your cover to look a hundred years old by virtue of the scratches and dust that came with your photo!


Make Some Waves

Alright, you have the content and the perfect cover. Now comes the fun part: promotion. A successful book launch comes down to how well you can create a buzz around your work. Don’t expect everyone to come running to read your writing right off the bat. Have a clear vision of who your reading audience is and focus your efforts on where they’re looking for books.

Here are four things to keep top of mind while creating a self-promotion plan for your book:

  1. Create a website or blog. Use the platform to post updates, content previews, and stay in touch with your readers. Whether you use WordPress, Wix, Squarespace or another platform, there are many ways to create an engaging space to interact with your audience. You should also consider creating a newsletter where you can share the latest news, events, and other happenings in your life that readers may find interesting. Make sure you post updates or new content at least twice a week.
  2. Remember the other indies. The independent author and publisher community is very tightknit and supportive. Join sites like GoodReads to connect with other authors (and readers). Once you have friends in the industry, start content exchanges. From giveaways to Q&As and short tips and tricks blogs, there are ways to leverage their audiences in your favor, and vice versa. Look into library associations and book clubs, where you can learn more about your audience. If you’ve written a work of non-fiction, you might prefer to spend time on forums with people seeking the knowledge you have to offer.
  3. Don’t ignore Amazon. While it may seem “anti-book” to join the Amazon community, it could prove beneficial to your marketing and promotion efforts. It’s important that you consider how Amazon will fit into your overall strategy, but there are opportunities to sell your book (both in print and eBook formats), as well as paid ads and promotions to reach readers that enjoy similar books. Amazon’s Author Central is the go-to source for making noise on the site.
  4. Get social. It’s important that you choose the platform that works best for you, and use it frequently. You don’t need to be on everything, but you need a well-established presence somewhere. Facebook makes for a great start because readers can easily engage, find information, and share your posts with a massive network of people. Facebook also has some of the most targeted and cost-effective ad platforms for social media. If you’re going to invest time and money in social media, Facebook should be a priority; the others can follow.


Choose the Right Printing Partner

The final step in the process is printing. There so many things to consider before you click submit on that final print file. From the overall cost to all the options available for substrates and finishes, it’s not an easy decision. As a self-publisher, especially, your cost and materials are significant in the overall strategy and bottom line of your work. You need to keep in mind the page size, number of copies in the initial run, special effects for printing, paper weight – the list goes on, and so does the list of printing partners.

Whatever the genre, the choice of finish is really a matter of taste. Laminating your cover, while certainly protecting the imagery or design, can change the tactile nature of how it feels in someone’s hands. A glossy laminate tends to repel dirt, dust and fingerprints, while a matte laminate (some find) has a more modern and elegant finish. What you gain in elegance you may lose in some curb appeal with slightly less vibrant colors when compared to the same cover produced with a glossy laminate. In the end, revisiting those hundreds and thousands of books you’ve read to get to this point should give you an appreciation for what finish works best for you – and ultimately your readers.

While there are many sources that you can use for printing, consider Pixartprinting – a leading source for creative professionals and self-publishers. The company specializes in cost-effective, custom-printed products in a variety of sizes, finishes, and binding options that will help you make a visual impact.

While this should not be considered an exhaustive guide to self-publishing, I hope there are a few tips within this that you can use to make a splash with your next release.



Originating from Ireland, Liam McDonnell is a technologist and designer living and working in Massachusetts. He is currently the UX and creative manager for Pixartprinting, a Boston-based online printer that caters specifically to creative professionals.

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