Self-Publishing Strategy Guide I

[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 Book was 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,18a 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.

  • Write.
  • Self-imposed deadlines were invaluable to me.
  • Write.

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]

Frozen_cave_by_CORinAZONeTo 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.

Do it.

Level Three: Prepare to Publish a Book [Fire Volcano]

I used two services for publishing my book.

CreateSpace for the paperback.

Kindle Direct Publishing for the digital version.

Why?

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.

Artist - Hugo-H2P
Artist – Hugo-H2P

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]

19858-103095-LHSE1jpg-468x

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.

Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.com Illustration:poopbird.com
Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.com
Illustration:poopbird.com

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.

7. Proofing

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!

Future Topics

  • Marketing
  • Begging
  • Winning the Internet
  • Deceit
  • Tomfoolery
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Feel those Feels

Releasing a book is weird.

I feel this tremendous psychic weight taken off my shoulders. It’s done, for better and worse. This gigantic project that has consumed me for two years — and the feeling of having a ton of my system resources free up is electric.

But then there’s the new anxieties. People are reading it. Not many yet, but PEOPLE ARE READING IT. And I

The Earth-Pig Born
The Earth-Pig Born

need to figure out how to get more people to read it, need to market, promote, shill, all of that. Got to learn to stop checking my Amazon sales rankings, it’s like a new ant-bite, I just can’t stop scratching it.

Sprinkle a crazy busy work week plus final rehearsals for August:Osage County on top and I’m feeling more than a little rickety.

But I’m excited to get back to writing. I’m going to lay out my rough writing schedule for The Riddle Box next week, and hopefully get started before the end of the month. After the past year of editing, the thought of just throwing out some crazy ideas and poor grammar for Book Two is intoxicating.  I’ve already got the first scene rattling around in my head, several new characters, the overall arc of the story. It’s a murder mystery, y’all!

You’ll notice me continuing to flounder and poke around trying to promote Spell/Sword — but I’m hoping that it can start running in the background over the next few weeks to months, so I can focus more on The Riddle Box.

I’m also thinking about putting together a big post on self-publishing in general, my experiences with CreateSpace and KDP — any interest?

 

Wind / Sails / The Removal Thereof

Nausicaa – H. Miyazaki

A little context.

1. I’ve been working on my very first novel. [QUIVER. CLENCH. ANXIETY-NINJAS IN MY STOMACH.] I started working in September, and completed the very, very rough draft in April.

2. I’m coming around the bend on my first round of editing. Soon I will let a few Alpha Readers take a long look, before they solemnly set fire to my manuscript and without breaking eye contact — dial the authorities.

3. While I try to stay focused on the craft itself of working on the book, I have noodled around a bit on The Next Step. The world of traditional publishing is contracting, and it’s never been known for being an easy assault for new talent — so, most of my thoughts have been centered around Self-Publishing.  With resources like CreateSpace via Amazon it’s childishly simple to do, and I could have the most basic unit of my goals with a modicum of time and effort — i.e. a paper book that I slap in my mom’s hands.

4. I heart Pat Rothfuss. Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear are excellent books. Wise Man’s Fear is one of the only books I can ever recall finishing …then immediately starting to read again. Slowly, languorously. I went on to read other things, but I would circle back like a honey-drunk bee to take another sip. I read that cat’s blog religious — and all of this novel nonsense is so I can send him a copy [right after my mom] and then he’ll read it and think I”m awesome and that we should be best friends and then he’ll come to my birthday party.  THIS WOULD CLEARLY BE HIS REACTION TO MY WORK.

So, contextualized?

Today I read an interview he gave, linked into his own blog.

I was chuckling at his wry humor, and stroking my chin at the interesting bits — when I came to this section:

Full interview: Toonari Post

TP: Were you ever tempted to self-publish?

PR: Not really. Because, as I mentioned, I wanted people to read my books.

I know there’s a lot of talk about self-publishing right now. Everyone’s giddy with the possibilities. And I’ll admit that it looks good on paper: sell your books directly and keep a bigger chunk of the profit for yourself. No rejection letters. No hassle with agents. Sounds good, right?

Except nobody knows who you are. And nobody really cares. And your book is mostly crap because you haven’t had a substance-level editor give you feedback and make you revise it a couple of times. And your book is full of typos because you didn’t have a copy-editor read it. And the layout is ugly because you don’t know anything about layout…I’m sure you get the picture.

It’s like the query letter problem that I just mentioned, magnified a hundredfold. You might be good at telling a story, but that doesn’t mean you know anything about marketing. Or layout. Or editing. Or publicity. Or selling your books for foreign markets.

Even if you’re surprisingly good at one of those things, you’re still not going to be as good as a professional. You don’t know the tricks of the trade. You don’t know the right people to call. You don’t know what mistakes to avoid….

Everyone can point to a few examples of people that have done very well for themselves self-publishing. But honestly, those folks are lucky as lottery winners. They’re statistical anomalies. You want to publish with a publisher because a publisher knows how to publish a book. And you don’t. You really don’t.

Woof.

Dang.

Now, first and foremost, this isn’t about how Pat Rothfuss broke my heart, or what a big meanie-face he is, etc. etc. His beard is made of laughter and moonbeams, people.  From my EXTENSIVE PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE [aka reading his blog.] he is clearly not a malicious person in any way. He was speaking from his own experience, trying to give helpful and clear advice.

It was a bit stern, and absolutist — but then, I remembered — Nerd/DM High Speech. Nerds speak in absolutes, with unwavering knowledge about whatever topic is in our demesne.  It probably comes from being the smartest kid in the class, or years with our finger pointing at the small print in the Player’s Handbook. We all delight in pronouncing This is how it is. This is how it works. No, you cannot gain access to 6th level spells, just because you have a magical ability that increases your effective caster level, Carbunkle.

No, this post is about my reaction. I felt foolish.

Here is a writer and person that I respect telling me that I’m functionally wasting my time. I will self-publish my novel and it will be garbage. It will not be discovered, it will not be read. I am doing a disservice to myself and to the work itself by going this route. Pat Rothfuss told me I was an idiot.

This is not how my fanfiction plays out AT ALL.

I don’t think he’s wrong. I don’t think he’s right either.

For the vast majority of people self-publishing, he’s absolutely right. We all need to hear the stark truth like that. A wake-up call that if your goal is financial success then you are setting yourself up for failure. You are not some maverick Hemingway blazing across the firmament while thumbing your nose at traditional publishing. If you got into this gig to be the next 50 Shades of BLAHBLAHBLAH, then you are in it for the wrong reasons. Take a glance at the amount of self-published drivel on the Amazon Kindle alone. His metaphor of winning the lottery is apt. Every writer can benefit tangibly from a trained editor, copy-editor — and the inarguable expertise in marketing and layout that a publishing house can bring to bear.

But, I’m special. SCREAMED THE SPECK OF DUST IN A TRANSPARENT ALLUSION TO THAT CALVIN AND HOBBES STRIP.

YOU KNOW, THIS ONE. [I miss Bill Watterson.]
And beyond that, I do believe that traditional paper publishing is in its dotage. We’re caught in the weird wilderness between traditional and digital publishing, and all the old dinosaurs are late to the game. The tools are all laying around [editing, design, computers with blinky buttons] — what’s to stop us from selling and promoting our own work digitally direct to our audience? John Scalzi almost pioneered this concept, releasing his work chapter by chapter on the web, then backed into traditional publishing after he had already built a readership. And he’s the president of the freaking Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, now!

There are more options now  then ever, so more people than ever are going to chase the dream their own way. So, yeah, me too basically.

I have taken his thoughts to heart.  I’ve always considered self-publishing the book as a first step, a tool to one day get picked up by a publishing house. The first book is a resume for the new job I want to have.

I hear you, Pat. I really do. But I am mercurial at best — I just can’t stay motivated with the idea of finishing the book THEN enduring two years or more of frustrating query letters, and standing like a beggar outside the big publishing houses wearing an adorable Dickensian top hat.

Well, maybe the top hat.

So, I’m sticking to my guns. Alpha Readers in July. More and more editing after that, and then when I say done I will use this fancy InterWebamaphone to put my book into people’s hands and on their fancy e-readers.

And I’m still sending you a copy, Pat. I’ll save you some cake, and a brightly colored hat.

In Communist Russia, Kindle reads you!

I’ve been doing some very basic research on Kindle Direct Publishing — and I’m curious, what do you WordPress illuminati think about it?

This is how books are made!

Personally, I’m very intrigued — it seems like a fascinating tool to self-publish, completely doing an end-run around the paper-publishing brontosaurs.

Ultimately, this is all Top of the Mountain stuff, while I labor mightily on the slopes — but still rolling it around in my mind palace. [Sherlock reference — sorry, thought this was Tumblr for a second.]

Thoughts – opinions-actual experience?