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What They Don’t Tell You About Self-Publishing A Book

A Self-Published Author Gives Us the Ins and Outs on Writing Our Own Lane.

Workin' Girl

On April 4, 2018, I announced to the world that I wrote a book, sunny., and it was available for pre-order.


sunny. is a collection of poetry and prose about the ins and outs, ups and downs, and twists and turns of life and love. Rooted in the notion that "everything is a peace of a poem, if you're paying attention," sunny. explores how to learn to love yourself, what happens to the love when a relationship ends, and how love finds us in even the seemingly minute details of life alone or with someone else. The book was born out of a need to process a relationship I couldn't make sense of and a challenge from a sorority sister.

I, like most writers, dream of having a literary agent and getting a book deal, but that isn't my current reality. Still, I knew sunny. was a book that warranted being in the world, so I decided I would self-publish it and learned a lot along the way.

If you're considering self-publishing your book, here are 6 things to keep in mind:

Do Your Best to Nip Impostor Syndrome in the Bud

You might be wondering if anyone is going to care about your book beyond your Mom, Dad, and maybe a few friends. You can't afford to think that way. People will care about your book if you care about it. People will care about your book if you make them care about it. When you self-publish, you're one person show so confidence about your work is a necessity or else you won't be able to promote it well or pursue opportunities you know you and your book deserve.

Think About Marketing

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As I already said, when you self-publish a book you are a one person show unless you've got it like that to hire others to do your marketing for you or help you with it. But if that's not your situation, then as you're working on your manuscript, you should also be working on your marketing plan. How will you publicize your book? How are you creating and sustaining buzz? How will your book live and sell beyond its initial launch high? What marketing assets do you need?

And your plan needs to be deeper than, "Hey, I wrote a book and I think it's great so you should buy it." What reason does someone have to buy your book if they come across it in a store or see it mentioned on social media? What value is it adding? What story are you telling and how are you constantly reaching and engaging with your demographic through your marketing channels? Will you run social media ads or create a sales funnel?

Consider these things while you're writing and the process after publication will be much easier. Tools like Canva are great for designing branded assets for Twitter, Instagram, and your website if you can't afford to hire a designer. Services like Buffer allow you to pre-schedule social media content and also send it out for you, enabling you to pursue that next project without wondering if you've mentioned your last offering yet. If you want to run ads or create a sales funnel, do your research and hire out for those services or invest in courses about how to do it right on your own.

Remember, if you write it, some will come, but if you want your book to have a long life, you'll need to market it and tell people why it's worth reading.

Pick Your Publishing Platform Well

I published sunny. through, what was at the time, Createspace, one of Amazon's self-publishing platforms. It has since merged with the Kindle platform and become KDP or Kindle Direct Publishing. As I was researching self-publishing platforms, I also came across other popular offerings like Blurb and Lulu.com. There's also Tablo which I was just introduced to and boasts that it will get your book into 40,000 bookstores from Amazon to Barnes & Noble, as well as physical retailers all over the world.

Each platform is going to come with different costs, offerings, and royalties. You want to keep those three areas in mind as you pick the platform that's right for you. Think about what your goals for your book are and which platform will get you closest to achieving them.

You'll also need to think about if you're going to have a physical book, e-book or both and which platform will best enable you to distribute them. Know that you'll have to go through separate processes to get on iBooks and Nook, so be prepared for that extra step no matter what platform you choose.

Do Your Research

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When I had written enough of sunny. to realize that it could actually be a book, I went to a bookstore to study what other books in my genre looked and felt like. I took notes on everything - font, font size, how the books were structured, how many pages they had on average, the cover art, the cover material (front and back), what was on the spine, the color of the pages, where the title and author name were located, how the table of contents was laid out if it had one, how poems were structured on the pages, and most of all, how each book made me feel. I wanted to make sure that sunny. would make sense, look right, and stand out if someone dropped it in a stack of poetry books by prominent poets of yesterday and today.

Once you have a general sense of what books in your genre are like, research and think about how you can make your book stand out. Sunny. has a simple cover. It's just the title, my name, a saxophone, and a bright yellow background. I haven't seen many poetry books with a saxophone on the cover or with bright yellow backgrounds and I knew these design choices would make sunny. stand out while also communicating that there's a story behind the sax and the book is about finding the sun. It makes you feel warm inside and intrigued; both being characteristics I believe have helped it sell well.

Be Mindful of Your Costs

Unlike getting started on other creative endeavors, self-publishing does have a price tag associated with it. You will need to pay for your ISBN, which is like your book's identification number. You'll also want to copyright your work with the U.S. Copyright office for an extra layer of protection. And if you're hiring out for design work or marketing help, those services will cost you as well.

Make sure you have a budget for the process and do your best to stay under it. You can't get out of buying an ISBN and while you can skip the copyright, it's really not the best idea. I recommend buying your ISBN from whoever you self-publish with as it will just be easier and they may even include it in the price of using their platform. Your copyright will cost anywhere from $35-$85 and again, is a step that should not be overlooked.

Think About Opportunities for Expansion Early

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You don't need to have a podcast, event series, and merchandise ready to go as soon as your book is released into the world. In my personal opinion, it's smart to see how people respond to the book before jumping on to various spin-offs, but if folks are responding well, think about ways you can build on the initial interest and purchases to really create a brand out of your work. Can you host workshops, parties or other events? Is there a podcast in there to extend the story? Are people asking you for merchandise? Thinking about the larger picture of the brand that can grow as a result of your book while you're in the process of publishing will make you better prepared for later down the line.

Ultimately, bringing a book into the world is no small feat and thanks to technology, getting a traditional book deal is no longer the only way to become or be successful as an author. Hopefully these tips and tricks help you in your process of self-publishing and congratulations! You're going to be an author!

Featured image by Getty Images.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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