If you're telling yourself for the 57th time, "I could write a book," but you don't have a direct line to the editors at Random House, it may be time to consider self-publishing. Don't knock it: James Redfield's "The Celestine Prophecy" and John Grisham's "A Time to Kill" started this way. But if you're going to go to the trouble (not to mention the expense), you'll want to make sure your precious copies don't just end up in some dusty garage. How do you get your tome flying off the shelves at Borders? We asked some experts for advice:
HYPE IT UP. Publicizing your book shouldn't be the last thing you think about -- you should start even before the masterpiece is finished. Begin by lining up people to blurb it -- raid your Palm (and your friends' contacts) for former colleagues, teachers or other high-profile prospects. Once you've typed those two gratifying words, "the end," call the local media, and submit excerpts to magazines and newsletters. Just be sure to target your audience, says Dan Poynter, who started out writing books on hang gliding and now publishes the book "The Self-Publishing Manual." Newspapers probably won't touch your slim volume on sewing, he says, "but if you send it to a sewing magazine, they'll pick it up in a heartbeat."
POLISH YOUR PAGES. The buzz is out, and you've got a first draft. Now you need to whip it into shape. Hiring an editor isn't a bad idea; you can post ads on Craiglist.com, Copyeditor.com or local job boards (ask for references, and try out prospects with a few pages first). Because consumers and reviewers do judge a book by its cover, be sure to find a good graphic designer. Check out the covers of comparable books, then advertise on job boards, track down illustrators whose work you like or go through AIGA (www.aiga.org, formerly the American Institute of Graphic Arts).
You'll also have to convert your pages to PDF or use a program like Adobe PageMaker or QuarkXPress to style the text, setting up margins, page numbers and the like. If you know how to do this yourself, great, but most people need to hire a typesetter. Ask your graphic designer for a referral.
SAVE YOUR PENNIES. Make no mistake: All this will be costly. Steve Boorstein, the Bethesda-based host of the syndicated radio show "The Clothing Doctor," says he spent $7,500 on the first printing of his book, "The Ultimate Guide to Shopping & Caring for Clothing." That covered the initial print run and paid for an illustrator, a PR firm, an editor, a designer and a self-publishing consultant, he said.
Don't forget that you'll also need to shell out at least $245 for an ISBN number (apply at www.isbn.org), the unique identifier that keeps distributors from confusing, say, "Birds of America," the illustrated guide by John James Audubon, with "Birds of America," the short-story collection by Lorrie Moore.
GO TO PRESS. Luckily, for the most part, a printer is a printer, Poynter says. Send out a "request for quotes" and go with the lowest bid. Prices typically start at $5 or $6 per book for 100 copies of a standard-size, 256-page paperback, but they drop as quantities rise.
If you want a tiny printing, you might try a print-on-demand operation, such as Xlibris (www2.xlibris.com), CafePress.com or AuthorHouse (www.authorhouse.com). These companies can simplify the publishing process by providing layout and design services, the ISBN number, and a distribution network -- but they tend to have higher costs and lower returns.
PUT IT OUT THERE. Unless you're on the lecture circuit and plan to pass out your book at talks, you'll need to find a wholesaler or distributor to sell and ship it to retailers. The difference: Wholesalers, such as Baker & Taylor (www.btol.com) or Amazon Advantage (www.amazon.com/advantage), handle only warehousing and shipment, while "master distributors" like Biblio Distribution (www.bibliodistribution.com), a small-press distributor, have a sales force to present books to retailers. Again, the more marketing you've done ahead of time, the easier it will be to persuade a distributor to pick up your book.
Rachel F. Elson