How I do it

how-i-did-itI had a request over on Tumblr (Hi, Toadleeah!), where I spend most of my Internet time, asking me about my publishing process. I don’t know that I have any original insights, but seeing as how I am on the cusp of releasing book #2 into the wild I can’t shut up about publishing anyway, so I may as well feign productivity by writing up a big ‘ol blog post.

***DISCLAIMER I KNOW ALL COMMENTERS WILL IGNORE BUT WHICH IS HERE FOR ME TO REFERENCE WHEN PEOPLE GET UP IN THE COMMENTS LIKE ‘THAT’S NOT RIGHT’ OR ‘THAT’S NOT HOW SO-AND-SO-DOES IT’ or ‘THAT’S NOT HOW I DO IT’: No, it’s not how so-and-so does it or how you do it, and I’m not saying it’s the right way. I’m simply saying this is how I have done it. I’m not even saying this is how I’ll do book #3.***

That out of the way, let’s begin. At the beginning, I suppose.

WRITING

I can’t tell you how to do this part. I have hard time with it, myself.

EDITING/PROOFREADING

Print on demand publishing houses offer editing packages. I have no idea what they cost. I have, on average, $0 to invest in my writing, so I do the editing myself. Does this show in the final product? Yes. It’s too soon to be saying this since Ghost Stories isn’t on shelves yet and I haven’t actually put Ellipsis in its grave, but when I finished Ellipsis I thought I had created a fucking masterpiece. One year later I was mortified by what I had written. My proofreading and line editing skills are apparently pretty darn good: there were no grammar or spelling errors to be found. My substantive editing: ARRRRGH. (I am already turning blue holding my breath over whether or not I have repeated my heavy-handed mistakes in a whole new genre with Ghost Stories, but only time will allow me the perspective to tell.)

Beta readers are a valuable resource for the starving writer type. They are free, monetarily speaking, but you must pay for them in time. You need to start advertising your need months before you are actually ready for them because no one is ever ready for you when you need them. I consistently fail at this and as a consequence I have just the neighbor girl and my husband as beta readers.

Where do you find them? 1) Put the word out on social media. 2) There is a forum on the NaNoWriMo site just for this. There are also whole sites devoted to critiquing and receiving critiques, such as Scribophile. Generally, unless you have a captive audience (a family member, for instance) it is polite (or, on many sites, required) that you return the favor and critique the work of your beta reader(s) as well.

PUBLISHING

I can’t tell you anything about traditional publishing. I can’t tell you about vanity presses (the old model of independent publishing in which a run of several hundred or several thousand books were printed by a small publisher and paid for up front by the author for the author to distribute and market on their own). All I have ever used is print on demand.

There are a lot of print on demand companies and I cannot tell you which one is right for you. It depends on what you need or want. They don’t all offer audio books or ebooks or hardcover. Some are better than others for comic books and art books. Some have restrictions on which print sizes they will help you distribute or market. Some have better royalties than others. And everyone is always changing their rules and offers, so you’ll just have to roll up your sleeves and Google till your fingers fall off.

My first time around I went with CreateSpace. I was not starry-eyed about Amazon (the owner of CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing), but I know people who buy everything (and I mean EVERYTHING, including their toilet paper) from Amazon (admittedly these people are shut-ins). Other selling points at the time included the purported ease of use and the automatic listing on Amazon and Kindle. (The distribution package I opted for also allowed me to submit my first book to other online book retailers like Barnes & Noble).

It was, by my standards, pretty easy. But keep in mind that I also singlehandedly do two business’ state and federal taxes, insurance, and licensing from my living room and I used to manage several multi-million dollar public works construction projects (before spectacularly burning out), so what I find doable with a spreadsheet and a cup of coffee may not jibe with what you find doable. However, we do all this on the Internet, and there are shitloads of people offering good advice about how to manage the many technical hurdles involved in self publishing. (I would like to add, though, that in my experience in the forums on CreateSpace about 50% of respondents are pretentious fucking assholes and want to be damn sure you are aware of their utter superiority.)

Another consideration is your ISBN. Generally, you have three options: 1) No ISBN. Not all print on demand publishers offer this option. If you go this route you can sell your books through the publisher’s website and your own website but they will not be accepted by libraries or bookstores. This is a good option for short run, special-interest stuff like family histories, personal photo books, and community/club cook books. 2) Buy your own. They are cheapest in packs of 10 from the issuer, Bowker, but as that price is currently a whopping $295 it’s out of my price range. 3) Get an ISBN through your publisher. Sometimes this is free, sometimes it is not. When it is not, expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $125 for a single ISBN. ($125 is the current going rate for a single ISBN from Bowker. Sometimes the free ISBN comes with restrictions, such as fewer distribution options or loss of the ability to make up your own publisher name for the information page in the front matter of your book.

FORMATTING AND COVER DESIGN

In keeping with my life’s theme of being both cheap and poor, I do everything with free software (with the exception of a heavily discounted copy of Scrivener – thank you NaNoWriMo!). The final manuscript is formatted in OpenOffice Writer and I make my own covers in GIMP. These, again, are things that the printer can do for you, for a price. Not everyone is going to have 12 uninterrupted hours to fiddle with margins and page styles like I do. (Not kidding about 12 hours there, but book #2 only took like 3 nonconsecutive hours, so it gets better!)

Publishers offer a free cover builder on their websites, but if you aren’t careful your results will not look remotely professional. I have but two tips on this subject, because design is very subjective. 1) Only scholarly publications, research papers, and text books can get away with having an image inset into a field of solid color. I don’t know why. I just know it to be true. If I see this format without a Ph.D. behind the author’s name or without a fancy-assed title like “Ontological Gerrymandering of Eschatological Ecumenicism in 13th Century Rome” I recoil as if I have been slapped across the face. 2) DO NOT USE THE FONT CALLED HOBO. I prefer to call it “Hobo Spider” because it is just as dangerous. If you decide to use this font please DM me your address and a bus ticket to your home town so that I can beat you to death with your manuscript. Go to your local library’s website and browse the documentaries. Notice how all the ones with their title in Hobo are conspiracy theories? 2b) I would also urge to to please not use Papyrus unless you have, in fact, gone back in time to the 90s to write a book about your favorite pharaoh.

hobopapyrus

Be sure that your cover fonts are free for commercial use. If you are using fonts that your publisher did not provide, look into their licensing. Just because it came with the computer program you’re using doesn’t mean you can use it on a product you will profit from. When in doubt, download fonts from a website that clearly states that they are free for commercial use or buy a license to use them for commercial purposes. On both of my books so far I have gotten my cover fonts from 1001fonts.com. (Be sure to check the little button that looks like a price tag, which will restrict your search results to fonts that are free for commercial use.)

I design my own covers using a free program I can just barely maneuver in, called GIMP. (Thank dog for YouTube tutorials or I would still be weeping about layers.) This is one of the very few areas of publishing on which I spend money, because I purchase cover art. I pore over stock photo sites until I find just what I want. The cover photo for Ellipsis was just fucking enormous and also landscape-oriented, so I was able to center the center-line of the highway on the front cover and still have plenty of image left over to wrap around the spine and back cover. It cost me $20 and that license allowed me to make up to 500,000 impressions and edit the artwork however I liked. Not fucking bad.

ellipsis cover

CreateSpace’s template includes a no-go space you need to keep clear so that they can insert the ISBN block for you.

ghost stories cover

Lulu gives you an ISBN block for you to copy and paste. Ghost Stories has purchased art on the front cover only. The back cover is a simple gradient.

CreateSpace, after I uploaded the PDF of my text block, gave me a template that I was able (with the help of a really great tutorial) to use as a layer in GIMP so that I could arrange all my elements (art, text, ISBN) to be right where they needed to be. Lulu, the service that I’m using this time, gave me a list of parameters and measurements in three different graphic design measuring systems, from which I was able to construct my own effective (though less WYSIWYG) template.

DISTRIBUTION AND MARKETING

Here is where I suck the mostest. I am not outgoing or confident so I have trouble schilling my stuff. To an extent, your publisher can help you with this. Most offer expanded distribution for free or a small fee (around $50 in my experience). This gets your book automatically listed on (or made eligible for you to manually list it on) Amazon and other online retailers.

Some publishers also offer an option that will make your book available to libraries. But this does not mean that it will magically appear on library shelves the way it magically appears on Amazon. A librarian has to read the description of your book in a book broker’s or wholesaler’s list (my library system uses B&T) and feel moved to spend (in the case of my library system) taxpayer money to buy (or rent, in the case of some B&T books) a copy or copies. If you really want to see it on the shelves of your local library you should call or scour their website for a more direct option. In my system, they will accept a free copy of any local author’s book and will put it in the system after someone reads and approves it.

A similar scheme is necessary to get into brick and mortar shops. Independent bookstores are just as picky as libraries about what they’ll order from the wholesaler and some are very very leery of people toting armloads of books that they paid to have printed. However, several of the bigger indies in my area have a local author promo in which, for a fee of $50 and your promise to bring donuts, they will let you have an in-store event (a book signing and/or reading) at which they will let you sell your books if you give them a cut. If you don’t bomb they may be convinced to consign some copies for you.

Get a website and/or a blog. Learn some SEO. Tweet about your book using preexisting hashtags. Get some business cards printed up and hand them out shamelessly to anyone dumb enough to respond “that so?” when you mention that you have a book coming out. (They will NOT remember the title without your business card!) Go to “local author” events (neighborhood bookstores and libraries have these or you can Google other local indie authors and make your own). Politely badger other indies to trade interviews on their blogs or podcasts or whatever.

biz card 1

This is what my business cards for Ellipsis looked like. They had my name, the name of the book, where to get it, how to contact me, and even the cover art. I designed them myself using a cheap online printer.

ghost stories biz cards front

The business cards for Ghost Stories are vertical and have all the contact info on the back. This time the emphasis is on the book and not me.

Questions? Please ask!

— Amanda

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2 thoughts on “How I do it

  1. Questions are rolling in! These are from Tumblr:

    1) Was your decision to self-publish based heavily on $ or were the other reasons?
    To be brutally honest my decision to self-publish was due entirely to lack of self-confidence. Now that it’s all online, it costs nothing but time to query agents and publishers. But I cannot convince myself that what I have is good enough. So I decided to self-publish until something I put out has a big enough response that I can talk myself into pursuing traditional publishing. I just need to have something in my hand I can wave around and say, “See, X number of people have given this good reviews on Goodreads and I’ve sold X copies without your clout, so I am clearly a good investment.”

    2) What types of (dis)/advantages would have been available if you sought traditional publishing?
    There’s little to no money in traditional publishing, and oftentimes there isn’t even a whole lot of marketing or advertising done on your behalf. What traditional publishing has to offer is A) People with vast experience, putting that experience to work for you, and B) The keys to sooooo many doors. Instead of (metaphorically) standing outside of libraries and bookstores beating on the door and begging to get in, you are cordially invited. Your publisher’s name and/or logo beside your title in the wholesaler’s catalog, plus an intriguing write-up by their PR person, tells the person who orders books that this is a great idea, not an ill-advised gamble. Other publishers, other authors, customers, everyone looks differently at a “real” publishing name. I am as guilty as everyone else.

    3) When working with beta readers, do you send them the whole manuscript? or pieces at a time?
    I send them the whole thing because I write way out of order, but you can send them however much they are willing to read whenever they are willing to read it. On sites like Scribophile work is usually submitted for critique a chapter at a time.

    4) What types of things do you ask beta readers to look for?
    In general, grammar/spelling mistakes and plot holes/continuity issues. I also want their overall gut reaction. Was it boring? Did it seem thrown together? Was there too much going on? Every book has its specific issues, too. With Ellipsis I was concerned about pacing. I wanted it to roll along with their circuitous road trip without being boring and while very slowly building to the climax. With Ghost Stories I was concerned about readers who are new to the idea of agender characters and singular they being confused by the language used to describe the character of Maura.

    5) What were the big mistakes you encountered when reviewing your first book?
    If we aren’t talking about editing mistakes then I would say I missed my mark. I worked on Ellipsis nonstop for years and when I published I was convinced right down to my socks that I had made Something Good™. I didn’t think it was a masterpiece or even an original idea, but I was certain that it was well written. Several years down the road I have the perspective to see that it is not the subtle coming-of-age story I thought I was writing. It’s not polite to trash your own stuff but at the same time I don’t think any other writers will argue that sometimes your first book is a pile of crap. But I seem to learn by doing, so I’m going to keep doing until I either A) figure it out or B) alienate my audience.

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