Self-publishing a book is the last step in a long, and often arduous, process. Bookmundo is of course here to help you with that, but we also attach great importance to what comes before publishing, such as the quality of the cover and manuscript. We’ve been at the forefront of self-publishing for a while now, so we’ve seen a lot of books come and go, with varying results. Hence, we’ve picked up on some common issues that can impact the popularity of your book. These issues serve as the inspiration for this post.
In this article, we’ll cover ten of the most important questions you ought to ask yourself before publishing your book. If you can give yourself satisfactory answers to all of these, then you should be ready to pull the trigger on that “publish”-button!
Is your first sentence compelling enough?
A good cover might entice someone to pick up and open your book. When they do, it’s most likely going to be the first sentence of your story they examine before deciding whether or not to buy it. A well-written and well-thought-out first sentence will thus add to its attractiveness in the eyes of readers. Take, for example, this captivating opening line:
“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”– The Trial, Franz Kafka
Kafka’s work has stood the test of time for many reasons, but one of them is most certainly his ability to craft an intriguing opening line. He wastes no time trying to ease into his narrative world, instead opting to forcibly drag us there. The suddenness with which we’re thrust into this very dramatic scene is probably quite reminiscent of what the protagonist himself must feel when he wakes up one morning, only to be suddenly arrested.
The takeaway is this: leverage your readers’ emotions and cause them to ask themselves some intriguing questions which they have to keep reading to find the answers to. In this example, Kafka taps into a common fear for many people; being wrongfully accused and arrested. Lots of questions pop up in your mind when reading this line – who is Josef K.? What did or didn’t he do? Is he really innocent? Who is arresting him? If the narrator’s hypothesis is correct, who slandered him, and why?
You could simplify it even further – like Andy Weir (who’s a self-published author himself, by the way!) did for the first line of The Martian:
“I’m pretty much fucked.”
The terse finality of this opening line grabs the reader’s attention immediately. Not only do we want to know why the narrator is so certain of his predicament, but the use of obscene language effectively jolts the mind awake – turning a reader who’s merely curious into one who’s actively interested. Short, impactful sentences make for good opening lines.
Sketch out an overview of your story, and identify the most important plot points. Have you developed these points sufficiently throughout the book?
Contrary to popular belief, one great big twist doth not a good storyline make! As an author, it’s important to think ahead with regards to your storyline, and the plot points contained within it. Make a clear timeline of your plot, and mark your plot points in colour – you can even devise a colour-coded scheme for yourself in order to differentiate between different kinds of plot points, or those pertaining to specific characters.
This little exercise will help you visualize your story, and identify sections where important developments are too sparse, or too frequent. Generally speaking, we advise you not to use more than two major plot points in your book.
You should also ask a friend or family member to read your story. If you can count on their honest opinion, you stand to gain invaluable insight about the pacing, clarity, and difficulty level of your book.
Are there any plot or character twists in your story?
Remember when, a few paragraphs ago, we said that one big twist doesn’t necessarily make a good storyline? Well, that doesn’t mean you should avoid a good twist now and then either.
Naturally, plot twists aren’t the sole determinant of success when it comes to writing a bestseller. However, they definitely help with catching a reader’s attention and lodging your book in their memory – something that you definitely want as a self-published author.
One time-tested method of achieving this effect right from the start is to create a relatable character, for whom the reader develops sympathy, only to then have said character do something which is at odds with this sympathetic personality. For example; a bored housewife who’s planning a murder, or a high school chemistry teacher who decides to become a drug lord.
Which narrative point of view is your story written from? Are you sticking to it throughout the entire book?
The perspective from which you write your book determines how the reader experiences your story. A common problem we see in many self-published manuscripts is that authors switch between different narrative points of view, which tends to confuse readers and make it difficult for them to immerse themselves in the story. Some authors have experimented with using alternating points of view (with varying degrees of success), but we tend to recommend sticking to a single one unless your vision absolutely demands otherwise.
Below, you’ll find a list of the different narrative points of view; determine which one your book is written from, whether it’s appropriate for the story, and if you’re using it consistently throughout the book.
Traditionally the most common perspective; it involves an unspecified entity relaying the plot and characters of a story to the reader. As this narrating entity isn’t involved in the story, there is no need to provide any information about it. There are two main types of third-person perspectives:
The omniscient narrator:
In this mode of narration, the teller of the story is aware of everything that goes on in the world; events, places characters, and their feelings.
The limited narrator:
As the name implies, this mode of narration offers a more limited third-person perspective on the story, usually only providing information based on the main character’s own knowledge, thoughts, and feelings.
The Second-Person Perspective:
This perspective is very rare, especially in popular fiction. Essentially, it serves to make the reader (or more often, audience) into a character in the story.
The First-Person Perspective:
This point of view is for those of you who really want to invite your readers into the head of your main character. As you know, the first-person perspective reveals the story through the eyes of a character who is either experiencing it in real-time or has experienced it in the past.
The Alternating Perspective:
As previously mentioned, this point of view can be a tricky one. Nevertheless, if you want tell your story from both third- and first-person perspectives, you can! For example, you might want to tell your story from a third-person point of view but include journal entries written by the characters themselves from time to time.
Be aware that the alternating perspective does require more vigilance however – the red thread can easily be lost in this narrative mode, especially if perspectives alternate frequently!
Have you struck a good balance between the narrated time and the narrating time?
Would you write a one thousand-page novel covering a five-minute period? Probably not. That’s why it’s important to consider the balance between narrated time and narrating time. The latter refers to the length of the telling itself, i.e., how long it takes to convey the story, whereas the former refers to how long the events we are told about actually lasted.
Striking a balance between these two is an important part of making your book enjoyable and easy to read. This means that if you’re going to be writing a story with a long narrating time, but a short narrated time, you’re going to have to provide more in-depth information about the occurrences, and vice versa.
Does your final sentence leave the reader wanting more?
As an author, you are the master of your own story; deciding whether to end your book with an open or closed ending is your prerogative. Nevertheless, a good ending should move the reader. Whether it’s as a result of surprise, sadness, reverence, joy, or any other emotion, you want to elicit a strong response. If you can achieve this, then the reader has connected with your characters, and you have succeeded. You can view the last line of your story as a sort of farewell, and as we all know, a good farewell will stick with you for a long time. This is just another reason why it’s so important to have beta readers as a self-published author.
Does the structure of your manuscript complement that of your story?
The formatting of your manuscript acts as a trail of breadcrumbs for your readers. That’s why it’s important to make sure that the structure of your story is clearly laid out in your book. This is where chapters usually come in.
For example – does your story contain alternating perspectives? Different timelines? Complex plots like these would benefit from chapter titles that provide some extra information, such as the name of the character from whose perspective the story is being told, or the date of the telling. This will make your story far easier to follow. If your story is chronological on the other hand, you might just settle for numbered chapters instead.
Also, it’s worth knowing that most people tend to read a chapter or two, before putting the book away for a few days; it’s more uncommon to stop reading mid-chapter. Hence, chapter-length is important. People tend to prefer reading shorter, structured segments of text rather than slogging through pages upon pages of uninterrupted prose. In other words, chapters give your readers some time to breathe and reflect. Furthermore, with the help of an enticing cliffhanger at the end of your chapter, you can compel them to keep turning those pages.
Hence, when dividing your story into chapters, keep in mind that they should be like little stories in themselves. This means that the first and last lines of a chapter are similar to the first and last lines of your story as a whole, in terms of function. As such, your goal is to end a chapter in a way that makes the reader want more.
Does the cover of your book complement your story?
Let’s get something out of the way once and for all: you don’t need to be a professional graphic designer to make a beautiful, representative cover for your book. If you do decide to design your own cover (and aren’t a graphic designer), remember that less is more. When you design your cover, you want to aim for a Scandinavian kitchen rather than a Mediterranean cathedral. A nice, clear image with a stylish font works far better than a busy image with a quirky font.
This is of course a rule of thumb, not an unbreakable commandment. You’re an author, after all, so thinking out of the box is part of who you are. Keep in mind, however, that self-published books are often judged far more harshly than their traditional counterparts. As such, you want to emulate the look and feel of a traditionally published book as much as possible.
Does the title of your book appear too frequently in your story?
A good title shouldn’t have to be reiterated in every chapter of your book. Instead, the reader should naturally begin to grasp its meaning as they progress through the story.
Take John le Carré’s The Constant Gardener, for example. It’s a somewhat ambiguous title; what on earth would the author be referring to? Surely it’s not an entire book about a full-time gardener – especially since it’s in the thriller section? Once a reader has decided to give the book a go, they’ll not find this term anywhere in it. Rather, the metaphor of gardening dawns on them as they work their way through the plot.
Of course, you can opt for a more accessible title as well. Just keep in mind that it’s supposed to encapsulate the mood and feel of your story. Ideally, it should also be intriguing enough to raise some curiosity. As such, it isn’t something you want to sprinkle liberally throughout the plot. By the end of the book, the title should amount to a tacit understanding between you and your reader.
Does your blurb catch a potential reader’s attention within 5 seconds?
Have you made use of the tips outlined above? In that case, make sure to take the time to write an engrossing, tantalizing blurb. That way, you can maximize the number of people deciding to read that amazing final draft of yours.
Blurb-writing isn’t as easy as it may seem. As the author of the work, it can be hard constructing a text that intrigues a potential reader without revealing too much of the plot. Try only revealing the very beginning of your plot, without introducing too many characters. You just want to tickle the reader’s interest a bit to make them entertain the idea of buying your book.
Furthermore, if you’ve self-published books before, it might be interesting to add some review scores to go with your blurb. Contact a reviewer (or several) that has evaluated your previous books, and send them a review copy. If it’s your first book, or if you don’t want to add review scores, you may want to consider adding a captivating quote from the book instead. Choose a quote that encapsulates the atmosphere of your book in no more than five lines.
So what now?
That’s it – if you have everything mentioned in this article under control, you should be more than ready to self-publish and sell your book! We hope that these tips have helped you on your path to becoming a self-published author. If you have any thoughts about or suggestions for this article, feel free to leave a comment!
Also, if you have any questions about the platform itself, or if you’re interested in hiring some professional help with anything related to publishing your book, don’t hesitate to contact us before publishing! We offer a number of professional services to help you perfect your manuscript and cover.