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A Guide to Self Publishing: Hits, Misses, Lessons

Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics

A number of you have asked me how can they: a) publish a book, b) make money out of books c) how do I best can go about it?

One of the most important essays I have ever read was William Deresiewicz's essay in the Atlantic titled The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur. Check it out. The essay spelled out how the era of an institutionalized artist was gone and now we have individuals who are institutions unto themselves. IN the past, if you were a painter, a writer or engaged in creative production, you had guys around you who did the publicity and the marketing, for you. But nowadays, this a privilege of the most talented, creative and connected. Social media came to liberate us from the tyranny of control, censorship, gate-keeping of such institutions and it has created so many millionaires, armed with nothing but their skill, essential tools and a desire to create a product that the public wants. That is how we now have so many comedians, musicians, artists who didn't have to to use the traditional model.

To this we shall return. But first a quick guide to self-publishing.

1. Write your book and finish it. Take a reasonably long break and go back and edit it. Once satisfied, print it and make your final edits.- As you write save your work after every 2 minutes. Your computer can crash. The document can go suddenly blank. Once done every session, save the book, or material on Google drive and it doesn't hurt to have hard copy. Don't learn the hard way. Ctlr+S. Always.

2. Hand over the book to an editor. In an ideal situation you need an army of editors. Someone to dig the grammar. Someone skilled and who knows you at heart to look at the content and structure. Then you need two guys to proof-read the work. In the past, publishers, did everything for you in-house on their bill. Now you have to do it yourself. Editing is very expensive and one of the reasons that self-published works can be of poor quality is due to the lack of funds to afford good editors. I have received reasonable complaints about some avoidable errors in my books, but it is a learning process. I have been fortunate that sometimes I have folks who can volunteer. A good friend volunteered to proofread the current set of memos for the subsequent editions. Listen to your editors. Defend your voice, your style where you have to, and often agree to kill some things. In video production, we call it, "learn to kill your babies".

3. So, as you plan for the book. Budget for editors. They make a huge difference.

4. You will be the ultimate editor of your work and self-publishing requires a lot of hands-on approach. Personally, I hate re-reading my work. But over the years I have trained myself to read and re-read. Since so many people can end up handling your book, it is not uncommon for the book to end up with mistakes. By being hands-on you can minimize them a lot.

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5. Once the editing is done, you need a designer or designers. For the cover and for the layout of the book. Some designers are good at both. For the cover, you need someone creative enough, not someone stuck in the old, Kenyan style of school books' covers. You can Google the best book covers and get ideas. Better still, you can have your own ideas. -Designers come in two ways: cheap and expensive ones. Being expensive does not necessarily translate to quality work. Being cheap does not equate to bad work...You just need about two or three designers to work with.-if the designer is designing the inside pages, you need a very meticulous one so as not to bungle up everything. And follow through.-Designers are like tailors and they come in all shapes and sizes. Some are too busy, some super lazy and others totally unprofessional. Sometimes you need the patience of Job and the equanimity of Solomon. But know when to cut them off.-Always give them a week or more for deliver and a few more days for any tweaks, but keep reminding them.

6. Once the cover and the inside of the book have been designed, do a dummy of the book to see how the final product will look like. DO NO SKIP THIS PHASE.I skipped this in my first novel because my Indian publisher and some Kenyans over there cared more about my money and not my work. The resulting blunder was a glaring error on the first line of the book and many regrettable mistakes. Once you get the dummy, read it, cover to cover and ensure everything is in place. At the printing stage, sometimes words stick together some don't come out and here you can correct everything. Check the cover over and over again.

7. Print the book. For costing, been trying to work out, but it varies. But the cost of printing is around( No.of pages of the book multiply by 1.5-2.5 or sometimes 3.). E.g. if your book is 200 pages(200X1.5)= 300$. It can be higher or lower depending on the printer, the type of paper and the finishing. Also the higher the quantity, the lower the cost. So, it can be anything between 180-300$.

9. When paying especially the big printers, think of VAT. Ask if their quotation is VAT inclusive or exclusive. They like passing that cost down to the client, so, don't forget. They may tell the book will cost $50,000 to print, but when paying the accountant you are slapped with a $183,000 receipt.10. The cost of printing does not include, delivery and distribution. Don't forget that when doing your pricing.

Now to selling Back to aforementioned essay.

Another important boom I have ever read is Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. That is where I learnt about the 10,000 hour rule. It takes 10,000(not literally) for you to be a pro in anything. This often translates to 10 years. Y'all loved Terence the Creative's Wash Wash film which we can agree is his crowning moment. He delivered. But if you read his story in the Sunday Nation juzi, about his rise from the trenches and you follow him on YouTube, you will know the Wash Wash film is not an accident. Unless you are super talented, or exceptionally gifted, it takes so much work to make a name that you can cash in on. To be a creative entrepreneur is to work, often thanklessly, but with a mission. Whether film, writing, painting, you have to put in the hours. You cannot start today and have a best seller tomorrow. This is reserved for beautiful women with derriere's who can break the 10,000-hour rule with one Tik-Tok Twerk video. And if you think it is not work, you may want to to talk to them about how they work out, how they diet and what they have to do to entertain their followers. So, this is for those who think there is a short-cut to fame. That one appearance on TV or endorsement by a big-wig can suffice. There is no substitute for hard work. So, if you want to write a book, a screen play, produce a movie, start now, and work towards it. Privately. Consistently. In a disciplined way and it will bear fruit. In a few years, you will make it. If you doubt, study the journey of every creative you admire. Lastly don't beat yourself too hard. Mistakes are part of life. The public can forgive you if they are genuine, innocent mistakes and you are willing to learn.

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