[This is an actual email I’m sending to another writer today. I’m removing their name, of course, to respect their privacy — all you really need to know is they have sold a shit ton more books than me in the same genre, and I’m a moron for not listening to them.]
Good afternoon, XXXXX.
I’ve been intermittently agonizing over this email. You gave me some excellent advice and feedback on my novel The Riddle Box and went out of your way to assist me. Now I’m trying to come up with the best way to tell you I’m ignoring your advice even though I agree with it.
Of course, I just told you. But there are provisos and navel-inspections below. You are successful and busy, so if you don’t want to clog the mind-works, please stop reading here with my compliments, my thanks, and my undying respect.
Will it help if we imagine a more appropriate setting? Perhaps if we were sitting in leather chairs in front of a roaring fire as we sip tea? No, too patriarchal – how about at a deli counter in New York, enjoying bagels and coffee, trading different sections of the Sunday Newspaper. [Apparently this is set in 1987.] The jukebox is playing Elton John and the morning sun is slanting across the white tile and the rye bread.
First, your advice is completely correct. To make the book more marketable, to make it an easier access point for the reader, I should make the revisions that you suggested. I should forego the ‘joke’ , the ‘TV open’ and begin with the main characters. Asking the reader to slog through the prince’s monologue before the reveal, before the first murder, before even grounding the reader in a firm setting is stupid. Any editor worth their salt would tell me the same and be just as right. It demands patience from the audience — a fool’s gambit in any piece of writing — nowadays more so as there is so much media jousting for every bit of mental bandwidth we humans can muster. Not making these revisions is harming my chances of success in a quantifiable and significant way.
I take a bite of my bagel. Just to blunt the tension.
Second, I want you to know that I attempted to make the revision. I pulled that whole chapter apart, wrote a couple thousand words restructuring it, putting my main characters front and center. I got to write some new jokes, it even fixed some confusion in later chapters when I had to time-hop a bit to describe their arrival at the Manor. It was a good revision, it worked. And I hated it. I hated working on it, I hated making the changes. I hated you for being right, in a perfectly urbane, respectful way.
It’s just then that I realize I don’t have my wallet with me. I’m being rude to you professionally and I’m going to have to get you to spot me for lunch. I brush the crumbs off my chest in despair.
These kinds of revisions are a reality. They are necessary and good. If I want any chance of success in traditional publishing or even in the Wild West of self publishing, I need to get used to it. I need to accept it.
Now cue the Special Snowflake Defense. But my vision — but my art – but my blah blah blah. I know it’s crap. You will never meet a greater cynic than I, not in any imaginary diner in the world.
Ah, but still. But still. From the Cavern of Idiocy it arises. Of course I’m different and special.
I have to be the writer I am. If I stop listening to my Muse, then there’s really not much point to this whole enterprise. At this point my success is not renown or anything remotely financial. My success is my mistakes, my success is the stupid, weird, wrong-thing I wrote that would never exist anywhere else, under any other auspice. What I like is writing my weird story. What I don’t like is chasing an incorporeal finish line.
Maybe it comes down to this: If I’m chasing money and success I’m clearly losing. If I’m chasing weird art I’m always winning. And just about the only true fringe benefit of self-publishing is I can make the mistakes I want as often as I want.
You are folding up the Comics section in a most displeased manner. I consider going to the bathroom and jumping out the window.
So, there it is. You are an exceptional human and you’ve done me a solid. And I’m going to ignore it and be stupid. I make no claims that I’m doing it for the right reasons, or that one day people will compare my oeuvre with the Grand Masters who began their novels with history lessons, minor character slaughter, or songs.
Thank you so much for taking the time to help. You have led me way up into the water and even passed me a straw.
This will probably be boring. This is one of those ‘announce publicly my rough schedule and plan so I feel obligated to stick to it’ sort of posts. It may be helpful to other writers or indie-publishers who want a window into the behind-the-scenes process, or if you’re just curious where my next book is on the assembly line.
Finish rough draft of The Riddle Box. [COMPLETE.] – 9/24
Revamp of print and Kindle versions of Spell/Sword
Contact and recruit Copy-editing Strike Force
Print/order copies of Spell/Sword for copy proofing.
Distribute to CSF, then collect edits when complete
Enter corrections into CreateSpace template, then submit to service for re-release and update of Spell/Sword.
Print Version first, then Kindle, so there is always one version available for sale during review downtime by CreateSpace and KDP.
Contact prospective Beta Readers for The Riddle Box
It will be nearly a month before The Riddle Box is ready for review, but some may need time to make sure they’ve read the published version of Spell/Sword.
Also, consider inviting a Beta Reader who has not read Spell/Sword, to see how well the book plays without preamble.
All of previous steps must be complete before beginning to edit rough draft. [!]
Rough Draft Editing
Print out paper copy and read with a brightly colored Sharpie in my hand. Story edits, logic fixes, detail matching. Cut or add to draft based on this pass.
Read updated draft and record audio. Listen to audio while editing. Major grammar problems, sonic issues, repetitive language, wonky rhythms, things that just sound stupid when said out loud. Cut or add to draft based on this pass.
Depending on severity of changes, potentially re-record audio for new/fresh pass.
Cry for a little while. Quietly and softly.
Distribute to Beta Readers for review. (Give readers a deadline?)
Anxiety Demons Jamboree [!]
Contact illustrator and cover designer to begin work on new cover art and cover layout.
Respond to edits submitted by Beta Readers, update the draft.
Place Final Draft on CreateSpace template for print.
Distribute template to CSF [Copy-editing Strike Force] for Quality Control
Submit Final Print Edition to CreateSpace and KDP for review and publishing.
Promote launch of The Riddle Box.
Begin work on third book, Asteroid Made of Dragons
[This is a work in progress, to be updated and amended as curious folk ask questions that I haven’t answered here. Let me know what questions you have or clarifications needed in the comments below.]
So, you can now buy my book on Amazon — in Kindle and Paperback format. Just like a ‘real’ book! Or rather, just like a traditionally published novel. My book is sitting on the same virtual shelf as books published by Tor, Daw, and Random House. It’s a cool feeling. Maybe if I’d published five years ago I would be bothered by the fact that Spell/Sword will never appear on a shelf at a physical bookstore — but with paper going the way of the utahraptor or dodo it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
So how did I get here? A lot of research, a lot of trial and error — there’s a lot of navigation and study required when you’re piloting the ship all on your own. When I first got started I spent a lot of time reading other author’s posts on publishing and found them tremendously informative.
Joe Peacock’s The Absolute No-Bulls**t Guide To Writing, Publishing And Selling A Bookwas incredibly helpful and motivating. I strongly recommend you take some time and give it a read — it’s straightforward, concise and utilitarian. It de-mystifies the entire process, which was invaluable for me at the beginning. I’m going to try to not go over the same ground here, but focus more on my specific experiences with CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. I’ve begun to think of Joe as the Older Brother to the Internet — can be an overbearing prick, and he’ll kick over your GI Joes — but he always has your best interest at heart.
This guide is going to be part step-by-step How To — and partly me pontificating about my rationale for making the decisions I did. I hope it’s reasonably helpful.
Level One: Write a Book. [Grasslands]
In whatever manner you prefer. It took me about nine months to bang out the rough draft in between day job, nerd pursuits, other creative endeavors and various life calamities. I’ve only done this once, so I’m in no position to offer advice on how you get this step done. Just some paltry bullet-points.
Self-imposed deadlines were invaluable to me.
Now that I’ve gone through the entire process, I CAN say that this is the most fun part. Remember that and enjoy it.
Level Two: Edit a Book. [Ice Cavern]
To the greatest level that your pocketbook and Friend’s List will permit. I employed over 20 Alpha Draft and Beta Draft readers to catch all my bonehead grammar mistakes and weak narrative. I know that this can never truly equal a professional copy editor — but I am completely confident that I’m extremely close. I have some serious heavy hitters in my rolodex: college professors, Shakespearean scholars, creative writing savants, genre nerds, gnomes. Depending on how my finances fare, I may consider going the pro route next time around. I can’t stress enough how important this step is.
To put it in perspective, I wrote the draft in 9 months. I edited for 13 months. Thirteen long, grueling months of Not-Fun.
It sucks. It’s boring. It’s frustrating.
Level Three: Prepare to Publish a Book [Fire Volcano]
Paper Version — I did a fair amount of research onto several online presses. The other main one I considered was Lulu.com. They are really great if you want to order in bulk and warehouse the product yourself. They have tons of paper and trim options – soft cover and hard back. But that’s a pretty big if – especially when you’re in my position. A total unknown pushing some wacky genre fiction. As much as I would love to have a hard cover of my book, it just didn’t make sense to lay out the startup money for something that was going to sit stacked in my breakfast nook.
I slowly shifted my thinking towards CreateSpace as they print on demand, and sell directly through Amazon.
You establish the cost of your book through the size, page count, etc. — then you set the list price at whatever you want. Anything above cost is your profit. [Pro Tip]: The cost of your book increases if its sold through Amazon, instead of bought directly through CreateSpace. This wasn’t an issue for me, as I really wanted the legitimacy of an Amazon storefront, but it may be something to take into account if you have your own webstore.
Finally, the website was easy to navigate, except for a few minor snags — I’ll talk more about that later.
Kindle Version – Or rather – Why not on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. etc.?
One reason: the Kindle Lending Library. It makes my book free to the thousands and thousands of Amazon Prime members. At this phase it is far more important that people read my book than people buy my book.
I know there’s a lot of discussion about Amazon’s draconian domination of the e-book Wild West — but from my perspective it’s hard to argue with that kind of market share. The Kindle is the dominant e-reader on the market, and anyone with a smartphone or tablet can read just as easily using their free app.
Level Four: CreateSpace [ Sky Platforms]
Okay. You’ve got the book all edited and shiny, now it’s time to set everything up with CreateSpace for the paperback. The site is very user-friendly if you are reasonably proficient with the internet and simple online interfaces. I’m a giant dork so I had little trouble, only occasionally having to use the forums, Help section, and one quick phone call to Customer Service. It leads you step by step through the process.
1. Birth Certificate – Name of your book, author name, synopsis, all that sort of thing. Pretty self-explanatory.
2. Print Specifications – Selecting the size of your book, whether or not you have color images to print inside, etc. I didn’t have any interior artwork for Spell/Sword so I selected Black and White printing — and the smallest book size, because my novel isn’t particularly long. I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons for all the different sizes, but I didn’t put much thought into it. I like the size my book is, end of story. Take that reasons.
3. ISBN Number – This is a little complicated. And once you decide your book is locked to that number [oversimplification, I know] so give this some serious thought and research.
CreateSpace owned ISBN: Free! But…it sets the publisher of your book as CreateSpace, and limits your distribution options later. There is a little bit of a stigma to services like CreateSpace and Lulu, and if in the very remote chance that you want to sell your book to a traditional publisher later you can’t just move your ISBN, you’d have to make a whole new edition with a new ISBN number.
CreateSpace licensed ISBN: $10.00. Same problems as above, but frees up most of your distribution options.
Personal ISBN purchased through CreateSpace: $100.00. But you personally own the ISBN number for your book, and can set the publisher of record. My book is published by me under the name Lodestar — which is the small business I’ll be setting up to handle my paltry revenue. It also means that I can move my book to any other printing service, or use another service concurrently with CreateSpace whenever I need. I’m also thinking about having it tattooed on me somewhere.
Personal ISBN purchased directly: I…didn’t do much research on this. You can get it cheaper buying it yourself, then inputting it into CreateSpace . But it meant using another site, and another process so I just went ahead and bought my personal ISBN through CreateSpace. To me, the convenience was worth whatever markup they have.
4. Cover – Now, CreateSpace does offer a free cover generator as well as professional design services. I used neither. Don’t be a chump and use the free cover generator — it’s fine if you only want your mom to read the book. I’m sure the professional services they offer are fine, but I’d much rather give the artists that I know personally my money.
The layout of the cover is extremely important as CreateSpace needs it to match exactly with the specifications for the cover — most importantly the spine which is a function of page total. There were lots of numbers and jargon, my designer knew what they meant and put it all together for me. I’ve noticed that many self-publishers take the DIY part of this route a little too much to heart. I recognized that I knew virtually nothing about layout and graphic design and paid a skilled friend to handle it, same goes for the actual cover design.
5. Setting up the Template – Okay, this part was a little convoluted.
You need to have your book laid out on a PDF to upload to CreateSpace for review. When I first started playing around, I just exported a PDF from my Google Drive and uploaded it to see what it would look like.
It was a hot mess.
My mother is a graphic designer and printer, so I have a vague understanding of margins — but clearly not enough for these purposes.
Luckily, CreateSpace offers Word document templates. It took some grunt work copy and pasting each part of my book, chapter by chapter into the template — but it ensures that the printed page comes out correctly. Also, print is set with a ‘justified’ margin as a default. I had to go through several times to find all the places where the spacing was weird and correct.
Review the template again and again … then five more times. You’ll never catch everything, but you have to put in the sweat equity to get as close to flawless as possible.
Once the template is complete, you save it as a PDF, then you’re ready for upload.
6. File Review with CreateSpace
Once the files are uploaded, you’ll be able to view the book page by page online.
You can’t directly adjust anything at this step. Anything you want to change, you have to go back to your template — make the change — then upload a new PDF.
Spell/Sword doesn’t have any interior images — so I’m no help there.
Once you submit everything for review [Interior and Cover], CreateSpace takes 24 Hours to review and make your book ready for proofing.
You have two options here:
Paper Proof: This is what you want to get the first time around. An actual, honest to god copy of your book. You get it, you hold it in your hand. You get to go through it with a colorful marker, hunting for every typo and spacing issue that you missed on the template. It’s truly a wonderful moment. [You do have to purchase your proof, it’s the established cost of your book plus shipping. ]
Online Proof: It’s identical to the Interior Reviewer you used earlier.
If you need to make changes after reviewing your proof, you have to back to the template and resubmit it all again, and wait 24 Hours again. For Spell/Sword I got the paper proof first, then after making all the corrections I felt confident that the Online Proof was sufficient.
PRO TIP: Even after your book is published you can ALWAYS make corrections and go through the process again — it will just mean that your book is not available for sale while it’s being reviewed and proofed again.
8. Final Thoughts/ Issues
After you approve your proof, your book becomes available for sale within 24 Hours. In my case it was up on CreateSpace itself within an hour — than on Amazon later that night. The site was very helpful guiding you through the rest, deciding on distribution channels, etc. I freely admit I kind of glazed my eyes and picked the standard options.
Now, some grousing!
Shipping through CreateSpace is a little stupidly expensive — especially when you’re an Amazon Prime member, used to getting 2 day shipping for free. I understand that it probably has something to do with preventing you from purchasing too freely through them instead of Amazon, their parent company — but still! Spell/Sword is 8.99 on Amazon — if I want to buy someone a copy and send it to them, it’s actually cheaper and quicker to buy through Amazon then get copies at cost through CreateSpace.
Friends have ordered copies through Amazon, and they arrive in a standard Amazon box – but the books are completely loose. None have been damaged so far, but it made me raise an eyebrow.
Royalties: I actually haven’t been published long enough to get my first check — I’ll update this when I have more experience.
Level Five: Kindle Direct Publishing [Ghost Carnival]
Almost as an afterthought, CreateSpace guides you into the warm clutches of KDP. They export all of your information about the book, the interior, and the cover all in one go. All of the info and cover exported fine — but I quickly discovered that the layout for the print version looked crazy weird on the Kindle.
I actually found an easy workaround – I directly uploaded my CreateSpace Word document to KDP, and it looked fine. I’ve experienced a fair amount of paranoia, because the Kindle comes in so many sizes [including native apps on iPad and PC] that making sure that there were zero formatting issues. I’ve read the book on my 3rd gen Kindle and it reads just fine at various sizes, and none of my E-Readers have complained YET. YET.
When you start obsessively searching your book on Amazon [not that I did, that would be silly] you may notice that the Kindle and Paperback versions initially have different pages — just give Amazon 48 hours, they automatically group them together. I also noticed that initially when searching my book titile, it came up fifth — but after a few days of sales, it populated first. Admittedly I picked a weird ass name for the book — that slash in Spell/Sword plays hell with some search algorithms.
Yowza! This thing got involved . I think I’ll keep this going as I plunge further and further into Self-Publishing RPG. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!