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DIY Terror: How To Self-Publish A Horror Book

Self-published books keep horror alive!

woman holding up a book surrounded by other open books and glasses
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  • Photo Credit: Tamara Gak / Unsplash

Publishing your book shouldn’t be a nightmare. Here’s everything you need to know about self-publishing to ensure the horror stays inside the book. 

Pros and Cons to Self-Publishing a Book 

As with any major decision, it’s a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of each side. When it comes to self-publishing, there are things to consider before deciding which route to take.  

The biggest upside to self-publishing is you maintain creative control. Everything from the inside out is entirely yours. You can choose the interior layout, the publishing schedule, your cover design, marketing, and more. For some, this is a major plus, while for others, it might be a huge downside.  

Another plus is the only gatekeepers you have to worry about is the only one that matters—the readers. With agents and editors, they are looking for books that they know they can sell. While we all hear about the unexpected megahits, the truth is, those are the exception, not the rule.

For every book someone took a chance on, there are hundreds, if not thousands, that they didn’t. But with self-publishing, you don’t have anyone questioning if that horror trend is too early or too late. You get to decide what you publish and when you publish. 

Let’s get into if self-publishing a horror novel is for you. 

Tips on Writing Your Book 

No matter which route you decide to take, the first step is the same: write the book. But if you already know you want to self-publish, you might have a few more options on exactly what you want to write. 

The first thing to consider is the length of the book. For most novels, you have to write a minimum of fifty thousand words, with a vast majority landing over seventy thousand.

If you’d prefer to write a novella or even a novelette, you’ll find that it’s very difficult to find a traditional path for works that length. Most agents and imprints at traditional publishing houses simply aren’t seeking shorter works. And of the few who do, competition is extraordinarily fierce. 

But not all projects are meant to be novel length. This is particularly true with horror, where many of the most popular and widely read authors cut their teeth on shorter fiction. In the horror community, you’ll find a plethora of smaller, independent imprints dedicated to short stories, novelettes, and novellas. And because of this wider acceptance of shorter-form fiction, the indie community in the horror space is one that thrives. 

This community means that you have a much wider audience seeking out indie fiction. They’re used to not relying on mainstream publishers offering the kind of horror they like to read, and though this is shifting in recent months, traditional publishing simply can’t move fast enough to churn out the teeth-rattling stories avid readers are ravenous for. All that boils down to this: readers want horror.

So, first things first: sit down and write

Editing Your Book: Should You Hire An Editor?

Maybe you’ve already done the hard part and written a draft of your horror book.

First, give yourself a serious pat on the back. Writing a book is hard work and you deserve a moment of congratulations. After you’ve let your work sit—and yes, you should give yourself some distance from your creation—the editing process begins. 

Editing a book will look different for everyone. This depends largely on your writing process. Maybe you were working from a detailed outline and have a cohesive story that simply needs fine-tuning.

Or, if you write by the seat of your pants, you likely have to make sure the story is cohesive in addition to polishing the sentences. 

So—should you hire an editor to help you out? The answer will be different for everyone.

Because self-publishing means that you won’t have extra eyes on your work until you hand it off to readers, many authors will hire an editor. Again, which type of editor depends on what shape your draft is in.  

A developmental editor will take a look at your story as a whole and make recommendations to edit your work on a big-picture level. This means ensuring your plot line is coherent, that your characters have depth, look for glaring plot holes, and point out any other areas that might need some work.

They might suggest you rearrange chapters, merge plot lines, or add or delete characters or story arcs. Their focus is on the structure of the story. 

A line editor is someone who is looking at your work on a sentence level. They’re going to look at ways you can improve each sentence and paragraph. They might point out instances where you’re telling, not showing, or how you can deepen your metaphors to really highlight the depth of your story. A good line editor will hear your voice and offer recommendations to make it shine. 

Once you feel like your story and voice are solid, you may want to consider hiring a copyeditor. A copyeditor will go through your manuscript combing for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.

No matter how many people have read or edited your work, a copyeditor will ensure no mistakes are left in the final draft.  

Cover Design Matters—Especially in Self-Publishing

We all know the saying: “Never judge a book by its cover.” 

And I'd venture most of us know…that's much easier said than done.

Once your book is out in the world, the first thing readers will see is your cover.

And let’s be honest, we’ve all seen covers that we immediately walked away from. It doesn’t matter if your story might be their next favorite read if they never pick it up.

No matter how good your horror novel is, if your cover looks unprofessional, many readers will assume the work inside is also unprofessional.

A good cover is worth its weight in gold because it can snag someone’s attention and make them want to learn more about your book. 

If you have a good eye for design, there are many options to for DIY cover design.

There’s Canva, an easy-to-use design program that offers a wide array of graphics and templates for free. If you’re more advanced, Adobe, Photoshop, Illustrator, or Fotor might offer more flexibility in design. 

But there is more to a good cover than a picture, title, and your name

 A good cover will incorporate elements of your story and characters in a way that not just catches a potential reader’s eye, but makes them curious about what they’ll find inside the pages. Knowing what colors to use, the size of letters, and font style all play into subtle psychological responses that a good cover designer can tap into.

And for that, it’s well worth paying a professional. 

There are any number of good cover artists out there. Pop onto X, and you’ll find a wide array of people active within the horror book community who design incredible cover art. The easiest way to find an artist you’ll love is to talk to an author with a cover you can’t stop staring at. Budgets can vary wildly, so be sure to know your limit up front so you can find the artist who’s right for you. 

How to Self-Publish a Horror Book 

After you’ve written and edited your book, you’re now ready to start the process of actually publishing the book. Your first order of business is developing the metadata. While this might sound intimidating, once you break it down, it’s fairly straightforward. 

The metadata consists of title, possible subtitle, book description, ISBN, BISAC code, price, publication date, and author bio. There can be other data included, but this are essentially the core of your metadata.  

If you don’t have a title yet, you’ll want to spend some time thinking of what goes into a good title. It should give some clue as to what your story is about, spark some curiosity about the journey they’re about to go on, and fit the genre. It’s also a plus if the title is unique. You may love the title of another book, but from a marketing perspective, you want readers to be able to find your book easily. 

Your book description should be short and sweet. You want this to be less than three hundred words and offer a succinct introduction to what your book is about without giving anything about the plot away. This is your one chance to capture your potential reader, and if done right, can be used to help you market your book, too. 

The ISBN is a unique code—the International Standard Book Number—that identifies your book to online retailers. This essentially allows your book to be sold online, so it’s important you create one and make room for the barcode in your cover design, as well. Every format of your book, from audio to ebook to print, will need a unique ISBN for each. 

The BISAC code classifies what your book is about. It covers genre, topic, and theme. This helps readers find your book based on terms they might search. It also helps with discoverability in recommendations and algorithms, so be honest about what your book is truly about, not what you think will be popular. 

How Much Does it Cost to Self-Publish a Book?

For the most part, many platforms are free to upload and publish an electronic version of your book. Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo are all free. The royalties for each will vary depending on how much you charge, so do your research.

And of course, you’ll have to track your sales on each platform. Amazon and Barnes & Noble also offer the option to print a physical copy of your book on demand, which can be another way to get your book to readers as not everyone is a digital reader. The only downside is that your royalties will be lower with physical copies as you are charged the printing cost.  

If you choose to self-publish on one of these platforms, most of the costs you'll incur self-publishing your horror book will come on the back end: developmental editors, copyeditors, cover artists, and book interior formatting.

If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry, there are aggregators who publish your book on multiple retailer sites and centralize your sales tracking for various percentages of your royalties. Some of the more popular aggregators are sites like Draft2Digital, PublishDrive, and StreetLib.

One advantage of these sites is that they are also mostly international, which can help you reach a global audience. These fees vary from 10% of your sales to a flat monthly subscription service charge.  

How to Self-Publish a Book on Amazon  

Amazon is one of the biggest, and perhaps, easiest platforms to self-publish a book on. They sell an enormous share of online books and make up just over 90% of self-published books. This can be good and bad. 

Their experience and volume have made self-publishing on their platform relatively easy. You can upload the book file yourself and they pay a 70% royalty on every book sold over $2.99. They have a decent customer service center to help with any questions or problems you encounter, and the process is fairly straightforward. 

Amazon also offers a program called Kindle Unlimited, which puts your book in front of readers with subscriptions to the service. This can help get people to try your book at a low risk, since they pay for the subscription, and you get paid per page read.

The only downside is that to quality for the program, you can’t publish your book on any other platform, so it locks you into that one line of revenue and readers. 

How Long Does it Take to Self-Publish a Book 

From start to finish, how long it takes to self-publish a book largely depends on you.

Everyone writes and edits at different speeds, and you may choose to take more time in creating your cover art and book description. 

But as far as uploading an edited manuscript and hitting publish, the process itself takes only minutes. 

Marketing Your Self-Published Horror Book 

There are several approaches to marketing. The first is doing everything yourself. Social media can be useful, but as many indie authors will tell you, social media is good for connecting you to readers, but that doesn’t always translate to sales.

Still, it’s useful to use social media as a way to announce upcoming releases, generate buzz, and keep your books in readers minds. 

Social media can also be a great place to connect with potential partners to get your book in front of new readers. You can learn about upcoming events like conventions, which are a great place to set up a table, interact with readers, and meet other authors.  

You can also use social media to create a street team. This is a team of readers who help you promote your book. At a minimum, they read and review your book in exchange for a free copy.

But they can be instrumental in hosting giveaways, getting your book in front of their followers, and help you come up with creative ways to promote your book. 

Finally, if you have the budget, you can always hire a PR firm. These can run anywhere from $800 to as much as several thousand.

These firms can help you book television and radio interviews, find podcasts to be guests on, pitch various media outlets for guest articles and essays, and generally get you in front of other press opportunities.  

Featured image: Tamara Gak / Unsplash