Some notes on self-publishing

Hi, peeps —

Today, I thought I’d give you an overview of my self-publishing journey. For those not in the know, I am a hybrid author, meaning I publish some of my stuff through traditional houses and I self-publish some of my other stuff. This model works well for me, because I have a full-time day job and I just don’t have the time to really devote to self-publishing all of my work.

Now, before I go any further, I am not at all saying that any one approach is better than another, though you will find people in all camps who wave that banner pretty high. That’s fine. The important thing for you if you’re an author is that there are pros and cons to all approaches. Do your homework and choose the model that best works for you. Some people may be best served through a traditional house. Others may be better off completely self-publishing. And others may choose a hybrid model. The point is, pick the one that best fits you (author, know thyself!) and the time and resources you have.

If you’d like an overview of self-publishing in general, see this post from Writer Beware, posted at the Science Fiction Writers of America.

And here’s hybrid author Chuck Wendig on some pros and cons to traditional publishing versus self-publishing.

So here’s an overview of steps that are involved in self-publishing. That is, the steps I go through. Please add your tips and links to the comments! Share your knowledge and experiences! Share the luv!

Some quick advice before we begin: TAKE YOUR TIME. And be willing to SPEND MONEY on professional services to put out the best, sexiest, superest awesome product you can. Do not release poo. Do not release your first draft with a cover you slapped together from the bargain bin at a stock photo site. If you want to be taken seriously as an author, then take your work seriously. Offer a professional product. And that means, of course, you will have to spend money to make money.

And, since you’re moving into PUBLISHING, that means you need to follow the publishing industry and get educated about many different aspects therein. That way, you won’t be caught with your pants down.

And if you’re an author who has other work published through traditional houses and you’ve decided this is it, you want to try some self-publishing (provided your traditional house contracts allow for that — READ THEM CAREFULLY and if in doubt, check with the house), I recommend you start with a short story or novella rather than a novel-length project. That’ll keep things manageable, especially if you have a day job. For me, it was a good way to get my feet a little wet to see how it worked.

If you are not published at a traditional house and this is it, you’ve got a novel to publish, well, looks like you’re starting there, day job or not. That’s okay. Keep in mind that your first outing is a learning curve, so make sure you are realistic in how much time you’re allotting for each step in the process and your release date.


Okay. Let’s move along.

ONE: Write and polish a manuscript. Seems obvious, but there it is. Do not publish a first draft. Or a second draft. Do not publish any draft that has not been seen by a professional editor and beta readers. Once you finish the project — that is, you create a draft that you feel is ready to be read by your handy betas — send it to them. Make sure they’re beta readers who will tell you if something isn’t working, and not the kinds of beta readers who think everything is rainbows and sparkleponies and there is nothing wrong with anything and isn’t the world a grand place to be, especially when there’s ice cream? There’s a time and a place for those beta readers. Assessing your manuscript draft for possible publication is not that time or place. You want the harder-edged beta readers who will be honest with you and tell you what works and what doesn’t. Because if THEY pick things up that aren’t working, chances are, your readers will, too.

Wikimedia Commons, “Throes of Creation,” Leonid Pasternak

After your betas go through it and you rewrite it, guess what? You’re not done. Go back and polish it up. That means go back and find repetitive phrasing that you use a lot (some betas don’t pick this stuff up — they’re looking for big-picture issues). Check your adverbs. Are you overusing them? Check things like participial phrases. Used incorrectly, those can throw off the pacing in a manuscript and provide your reader with some funny imagery. Funny in a not-so-good way. Plus, they can clutter your writing and make it passive, not active. Here’s a blog I did on participial phrases, to help you understand what they are and when to use them.

For tips on polishing that manuscript:
QueryTracker blog
Writer’s Digest article
Novel Rocket blog

And here are some super-awesome articles from the Just About Write archive by Lori Lake:
A Few Self-Editing Rules
Revisions and Editing Part 1: Creating Better Early Drafts
Revisions and Editing, Part 2: Creating Better Finished Drafts by Culling, Augmenting, and Using Global Searches

This TIP helps a lot: for self-editing, change the font of your manuscript and go through it. Every time a manuscript changes format (even if it’s something as simple as a font change), you’ll see things that you missed. Your brain gets used to one format, and skips over things. So it’s a good idea to change the font throughout and go through again before you send it to an editor.

Point being: writing is a CRAFT as well as an ART. You need to learn HOW it works and the mechanics therein. Work with a writers’ group; work with more experienced authors than you; take writing courses and seminars/webinars. Read writing how-to books and do the exercises. Take some basic grammar and sentence structure courses so you understand how things fit together. Writing, like any other art or sport, takes practice. Don’t think you don’t need it.

All right. Once you’ve polished after the initial beta read, re-send the manuscript to the cranky, find-things-wrong beta readers. Once they’ve gone through again and you do another polish (see links above), it’s time to…

TWO: find a professional editor. YES, this is going to cost you money. Have you heard the adage “You have to spend money to make money”? Well, that applies here. There are many, many editors out there. Check with your writing colleagues who self-publish to find out who they use, and here are a few links that will give you an idea of what you’re looking for:

Editing for Authors, rates — editors charge by the word, page, or hour. Find out what their rates are and see if they’ll do a free assessment of your manuscript/free estimate of cost.
Finding an editor, from Jane Friedman’s blog by Stacy Ennis (if you’re not following Jane, start)
The Creative Penn, with a whole bunch of articles and resources on editing and the importance of it — INCLUDES A LIST OF EDITORS

THREE: Once you’ve found an editor you feel you can work with, start setting your schedule for release. If you’re writing a standard-length novel (i.e. anywhere from 60K-80K words, give or take), you’ll need to work with the editor to see how much time he or she needs. The editor will assess your work and give you that timeline. If you provided your most polished piece, hopefully, this’ll be around 3 weeks to a month. Give or take. Make sure you schedule in that give or take. While you and the editor are doing your back-and-forth…

FOUR: Get a designer for your cover. There are two things in play, here. One, will you be doing ebook only and two, will you also be doing a print option? If you’re doing both ebook and print, you will need to apprise the designer you choose about that (and make sure the designer you’re using can do a print cover) and you and the designer will then work together to determine what templates he or she needs to use.

For example, if you decide to release a print version through, say, CreateSpace (Amazon), there are templates on the site (you have to have an author account to access their self-publishing info) that you will provide to your designer. The word count will also help determine the page count, and the designer is going to need a page count (which will be available once the book is typeset — we’re getting to that) in order to determine how wide the spine of your book is. You will also be deciding what’s called a “trim size” for a print book. That’s the actual size of the book. CreateSpace offers several different alternatives. My advice? Stick to a standard size (and CS will tell you what those are). Here. In case you’re interested. Trim, cut, bleed. Which is also kind of a metaphor for writing and publishing…

I’m assuming that you’re not a graphic designer and that you don’t really have experience doing your own covers. If you’d like to go that option, by all means, knock yourself out. I don’t, because I don’t have the time to learn the basics and I prefer to hire designers to do it for me.

Source: Bookmark Self-Publishing

Nevertheless, if you want to DIY your book cover (particularly if you’re just doing an ebook):
Completely Novel blog
Open accounts at stockphoto sites. and are two. But also, keep in mind that a lot of those photos have non-exclusive rights, which means you and anybody else can use them. Which could create THIS issue.

If you want to hire a cover designer, here:
Positive Writer tips for hiring a designer
The Creative Penn with even more awesome tips and suggestions about designers

Another TIP: if you’re publishing LGBTQ fiction/nonfiction, hit up self-published/hybrid authors writing in those genres to find out who does their covers — the ones that you feel best resonate with what you’re doing. That recommendation could also get you a discount from the designer if you tell him or her that so-and-so recommended them. It’s a good idea to do this anyway, but particularly in LGBTQ fiction, sometimes you find a designer who is uncomfortable doing a cover for LGBTQ subjects. It’s a sad but true state of affairs that all the advances LGBTQ people have made in the past few years do not necessarily erase homophobia. Anyway…

FIVE: the manuscript is back from editing and you’re ready to get the file ready for ebooking. This means another bunch of work and more decisions. You will, of course, be making your ebook available on Kindle. You’ll need an account via Kindle Direct Publishing. KDP offers formatting instructions. Follow them. Use their Q&A forums if you get stuck and if you’re still stuck, contact them directly for help. In my experience, they’ve been responsive to me. There’s a preview option in KDP that you check your file in after you’ve uploaded it once it’s formatted. They offer previews in all Kindle devices and even iPad. Go through all previews because any weirdnesses you find you have to correct in the original document and then upload it again. It’s okay. You will have lots of uploading ahead of you. KDP also walks you through royalty rates and the contract they offer. READ THE CONTRACT.

TIP: illustrations are a pain. If you’re writing adult fiction, you probably won’t need to worry about that. But if you want to have little clip-art thingies for your scene breaks, this is art, and you’ll need to follow the instructions to make sure you have those properly embedded.

Another TIP and something else to keep in mind when doing ebook files: Fonts (typefaces) are intellectual property-protected. So it’s probably best for you to use what are called “open source fonts” (i.e. free) on your ebooks. Google has them. Use them. (which means you will need to download them)

Info on fonts and copyrights HERE and HERE.

SIX: What other platforms do you want to use? Because you will have to make files for each of them, in the requested format. Like Nook and Kobo and the like. Fortunately, epub format can often be uploaded to these sites, but I strongly recommend you use the previewers on each platform to ensure that everything translated correctly in the formatting. One of the things some authors do is use Kindle and then have what’s called an aggregator platform like Smashwords or Draft2Digital. The Smashwords formatting procedure is…well, let’s just say it’s not the friendliest. They have started taking epub files, though, so that’s why you need to make sure your epub files are super clean and sexy, to make translating them across platforms as trouble-free as possible.

Anyway, an aggregator means that for a bit of your royalty, the site will make your book available on other platform sites like Nook and Kobo.

Comparison chart of ebook aggregators (from Oct., 2013)
Benefits and drawbacks

TIP: I hired someone to create ebook files for me of one of my novels. Yes, it cost some money. Depending on the person/firm you hire, you’ll be spending around $100-$200 for all different files for many different platforms. It was worth it to me, because again, I don’t have the time to devote to making these files myself. It was a load off my mind and after I spent 10 hours gnashing my teeth and ranting and raving because I couldn’t get my opensource epub software to play nicely with my Word doc/RTF doc, I decided I’d best call in an expert. Tell you what, my stress level decreased exponentially when I did.

SEVEN: If you’ve decided to put out a print version, guess what? You’ll need to hire a typesetter to prepare a print-ready .pdf of the manuscript. Typesetting, friends, involves a lot more than you think. Read THIS to see what. And no, Word is not a typesetting platform. You’ll need InDesign or something comparable. You will need to work with this person to develop a schedule. For a basic novel, no illustrations, it’ll take a typesetter anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on her schedule. And remember, you also need to coordinate with the cover designer to determine what the page count’s going to be (the typesetter provides that) so the cover person can finish the spine of the book and the back cover in accordance with the templates from the platform you’re going to be printing with.

Wikimedia commons: Corridor typesetting
Wikimedia commons: Corridor typesetting

EIGHT: Let’s say you’ve got all your efiles ready to go and the .pdf of your typeset print version ready and the final cover is ready, too. Now it’s just a matter of uploading, ensuring you’ve read the contracts for all platforms, and setting a price for ebook and print, as well as distribution via the channels you’ve opted to use. Each platform will walk you through each step.

Time is money, time and money: If you’re a first-time self-published author, spending a lot of money to create a sleek, professional product is probably freaking you out. After all, you can spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand to put out a book. You will also be spending time and possibly money marketing said book. If you have not developed a brand/platform for yourself as a burgeoning author, you need to think about that AT LEAST A YEAR IN ADVANCE of releasing your book. You need to get a website up, make some of your writing available to readers for free, and get active on social media. Choose the platforms that best work for you. I’m mostly active on Twitter and Facebook and I blog regularly at my homesite and at Women and Words.

Marketing: You’re doing all of it. Having said that, most of us who were initially published with traditional houses do a huge chunk of marketing ourselves. Some of us do ALL of our marketing ourselves. I had kind of a head start in marketing, thus, because when I started self-publishing, I already had a few books and short stories published. That is, I had a backlist, and some people who read my work thus know who I am and what I write. If you’re starting from scratch to self-publish, you could have a harder time of it — establishing your brand. But if you’re going to be your own publisher, guess what? You have to do it. Publishing is a business, no matter the approach, and you need to sell and move product. How do you do that? You market and promote.

Check these links:
The Book Designer on marketing and promotion. And yes, it is useful to purchase the books on how to do this for ideas.
The Creative Penn with 7 marketing tips for first-time self-published authors
Publishers Weekly with some tips

Okay. That should be enough to keep everybody busy. Heh. And here are some folks that you need to follow for all kinds of awesome info:
Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer (practical advice to help build better books)
Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn (resources for writing, publishing, and marketing your book)
Kristen McLean, founder of Bookigee (develops new services for writers, lots of other cool stuff)
Peter McCarthy, marketing innovation guru
Victoria Strauss, author and analyst of all things publishing. She’s a co-founder of “Writer Beware.”
Jane Friedman, helping authors flourish in the digital age
Chuck Wendig, he of the terrible minds with all kinds of writing and publishing advice

The Alliance of Independent Authorshere’s their advice for self-publishing blog.
The Editorial Freelancers Association. Offers a list of members-for-hire.

Happy Monday and please, if you’ve got tips/links, post ’em in the comments! Thanks!

10 thoughts on “Some notes on self-publishing

  1. Every now and then I’m tempted to self-publish a few short stories (or a group of two or three short stories about the same characters) but it seems as though the cost of cover designs, etc. would be a much bigger fraction of possible returns than with novels, even if the editing costs would be lower for shorter work. From your experience, are short stories worth self-publishing if you already have some moderate exposure in traditionally published books?

    • Yes. I bartered the cover and edits for my first novella, which I priced at $.99. So basically, the only thing I spent was time getting it ready for Kindle. It’s Kindle-only, because it’s just not cost-effective to put a short story or novella out in print (unless you lump it as part of a collection to bump up the page count). My second novella, which comes in at nearly 40K words is priced at $1.99. I bartered the edits and paid $75 for the cover, including different formats for different platforms. Currently, it’s ebook only, Kindle. I did make that money back plus a lot extra. It was well worth it.

      And yes, at some point, I’m going to get files ready for them for other platforms. I’ll be paying someone to do that because, as I’ve said, it is a pain in the ass and time-consuming for me.

      Since you have a publishing track record, do it. Put a short story out. Make it a longish short story if possible (around 4K-8K words), and price it at $.99 on Kindle. You can do the formatting yourself (it’s much less of a hassle to do formatting for a short story/novella than a novel) and you can barter the edits. Hell, Sacchi, I’ll edit it for you. No charge. Just buy me a beer at some point. Ta-da. BARTER! Q. Kelly and I have used Melody Simmons for ebook covers in the past. Good rates. Tell her I sent you. She did “From the Boots Up” for me.

      Generally, I make sure my drafts are super-polished and pretty clean before I send them to a proofreader/editor. And if I use a fellow editor, we generally barter services for each other. So that’s an option, too. The whole underground barter economy. LOL

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