self-publish your memoir

Congratulations! You’ve finished writing a document that will become your memoir. Many authors dream that the next step is uploading their Word document and digital images to Amazon KDP Publishing and, with the push of a button (or two), voilà, their book is on sale online. 

A nice dream, but as someone who has helped dozens of memoir writers self-publish, here’s a glimpse of what’s actually involved in turning your manuscript into a printed book via Print on Demand (POD) technology.

Step #1: Editing.

There’s no way around this. No matter how good a proofreader you are (or a family member is), you need a professional editorial eye on your manuscript before publication. A copy editor will flag unclear passages and inconsistencies along with spelling, spacing and grammar issues. They may even help you input the corrections accurately into your file. I also recommend a separate, final proofread of the manuscript, after all the tweaking that happens during the layout process. Both are well worth a writer’s money, and your readers will thank you.

Step #2: Layout.

Sometimes I have to tell my clients, No, laying out a book is not something your typical 15-year-old grandchild would know how to do. Deciding on easy-to-read fonts, proper leading (space between lines), hyphenations, and the overall look of the pages (headers, footers, etc.), as well as the best way to place images, requires someone with graphic design expertise. Plus, a book designer will also help you create your table of contents and any special pages. Additionally, you are likely to need a designer with skills appropriate to creating the cover and a PDF (electronic image) of it, according to the POD printer’s specifications.

Step #3: Creating the
publishing details.

While your book is being designed, you should be creating a “metadata” document that summarizes the details of your book: full title, authors, keywords for searches, a summary of the book (short and long), and the total number of pages – once finalized. Most POD publishers will also help you get an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) tracking code assigned to your book.

Step #4: Uploading your files.

Uploading PDF files to online POD publishing sites like Amazon KDP or Lightning Source can be easy… or challenging. Your designer may need to upload the files to your account for you and troubleshoot them as well. For example, all the images will need to be properly “linked” to the pdf file. Otherwise, your upload will be rejected.

Step #5: Reviewing proof
copies and ordering books.

You’re almost done, but not quite. The review process from upload to signing off on your author’s proof copy can take several weeks. Once approved, you will be asked to set your book’s price (based somewhat on the number of pages). No matter what price you set, keep in mind the POD printer costs for making and shipping each book often takes a huge chunk of each sale. My authors are surprised to find they often make less than $5 per book.

That’s just the overview! So yes, getting your memoir into print may take more time, expertise, and expense than you bargained for. (And creating an e-book version of it is an entirely separate process.) I always say that publishing your memoir is not a moneymaker but a joymaker: the joy of turning your life journey into a keepsake book for you, your friends and family to enjoy.

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