|Mini story, "The Two Princess and Freddie," by yours truly|
1. Get yourself a professional cover.
Seriously, folks, it's that important. The cover is your first impression, the first connection between your readers and your story. It's a method of communication in the same way that your first page is. Your cover could in fact make or break your story. Don't skimp here! Budget carefully so that you can hire the best.
The cover designer I'm using for Red Sun Blue Earth is Scarlett Rugers. I've been very impressed with her services thus far, and her prices are fairly reasonable for the industry. Here's a blog post on covers for self-published authors, and one on getting cover art. Other cover designers that I researched are Damonza and Historical Editorial. Self publishing companies such as CreateSpace also offer basic cover design, but not sure that I'd recommend using those resources. They may not offer professional quality covers or enough flexibility to get a cover you like.
2. You need feedback. Hire an editor, or at the very least have a team of test-readers edit and critique your book.
What I said above really says it all. The stereotype of self-published books is that they are poor quality and badly written. Who doesn't like busting stereotypes? So be sure to make your book the best it possibly can be by offering it up as a sacrificial offering to the eyes of editors and test readers who may butcher it but who will probably ensure that your book is better than it would've been on its own.
For my book, once I was finished with two drafts on my own, I got together a team of test readers from my favorite writing forum, HolyWorlds, who gave me some good feedback. I also got feedback from family and friends at this point. After incorporating their feedback in a third and fourth draft, I hired what's called an editorial evaluation, which is where editors give me their feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of my story in about a six or eight page Word document. (It's less detailed and more general than page-by-page editorial services, but since hiring a professional editor costs one or two thousand dollars or more, I needed to economize a bit!) I got the evaluation from CreateSpace, and was very pleased with the quality and depth of it. If you are looking for a full editor, I'd suggest the following resources as a starting point: Book Editing Associates, Through the Looking Glass, G-Revisions, Editorial Freelancers Association, and Hock's Editing Services.
3. Appearances matter, so be sure to format it or hire a formatter.
This one's a bit more basic. The technical details of preparing a Word document or manuscript to sell online can get a bit complex, so I'd recommend hiring someone to take care of it for you. However, it's definitely possible to DIY this one, especially if you've got an eye and the time for nitty-gritty details. Here's a tutorial that walks you through formatting your book in HTML. Although I haven't hired a formatter yet, I'm planning to use the skills of Aubrey Hansen, who has done some excellent formatting in books that I've read in the past. Plus she's extremely affordable.
There's more involved, of course, but these are the three major elements that every self-publishing author needs to deeply consider before the book becomes public. I may post later about other aspects of self-publishing to keep in mind. This is quite enough information to start off with, though, in my opinion!
Let me know in the comments if you've ever self-published, and what resources you've used, and if you have any questions on self-publishing or any tips to share from your experiences. Have a great week!