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10 Tips for Self-publishing

"Building" a book on your own is easier and more cost-effective than you might think.

Ever think about writing a book? Catherine Zimmerman didn't, at least not at first. But as she gathered information for a class she was teaching at the American Horitcultural Society, the words quickly piled up.

Zimmerman decided to use her material to write a user-friendly book about creating meadows. But after talking to people in the publishing industry, she realized she wanted more control over her work than traditional publishers would allow. "I'm a control freak," she admits. So she took matters into her own hands and published Urban & Suburban Meadows on her own.

A stigma use to surround self-publishing, the assumption being that you'd only do it if no one else wanted to publish your book. But thanks to the Internet, that stigma is lifting and writers are finding easier, more cost-efficient ways to get their work published.

Still, self-publishing isn't for everyone. It involves lots of effort, meticulous planning and often significant financial risk. But if you think it might be for you — whether you're publishing your memoir, a how-to guide or anything in between — here are some tips to start you on your way.

Cultivate a unique idea. Before you even spend time and energy writing, examine the market to see if there is a need for your book. When Zimmerman got interested in meadow-making, she realized something surprising: "I couldn't really find a book about how to do it." Thinking that other people must have also been in search of a guide, she decided to fill that need herself.

School yourself on the publishing process. Even if you're going to self-publish, commercial publishers have valuable insight. Be open to learning and receiving constructive criticism from people in the industry. The more you learn at the outset, the less likely you are to be set off course by unpleasant surprises along the way.

Get your finances in line. Anyone who has self-published will tell you that sticker shock is an unavoidable part of the process. "The cost of shipping is the No. 1 surprise," says Tanya Hall, business development manager at Greenleaf Book Group. Combat this shock by staying organized and keeping a meticulous profit-and-loss spreadsheet. "Think about start-up cost, design, editorial, printing and marketing," Hall advises.

Take the time to write. Even as you're enmeshed in the web of logistics, take the necessary time to step outside of it and write. "If it's scheduling one hour a day when your mind is most clear, turn off the radio and the phone and just focus," Hall says. "You'd be surprised how much you can accomplish."

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