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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With friends like these…

Two more of my Alpha Readers gave me their criticism on the book, and I’m still picking the shrapnel out of my ego. I picked my first readers well — they’re good enough friends to call me on my shit. And called it was indeed. INDEED.

Beyond the psyche-bruising, all this feedback is making me really excited to get back to work on editing. So far, all of my readers have overall enjoyed the book — and the problems they’ve called my attention to are concrete. Maybe not easy to fix — but definitely doable. I can see multiple ways to change things to evade their criticism, but I’m going to let all of it settle a while longer. I’m still waiting on feedback from a third of my readers, and I don’t want to over-react to the first criticism I’ve received.

Admittedly, a fair amount of the criticism are ‘no-argument’ types. Grammar flubs, word repetition, confusing passages, jokes that didn’t work, etc. Those will be fixed — -it’s the things that deal more with overall structure and style that I’ll need to carefully ruminate on.

Sorry I can’t be more specific yet! Still drafts out in the wild.

Alpha Readers Responding: 4 out of 12

Man-Horse

The first responses from my Alpha Draft readers are trickling in — mostly positive, but with a stern helping of jack-booted constructive criticism.  I’ve already said “Well, here’s what I was going for — but oh god, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. I AM FILTH.” about seventeen times, and I’ve only heard from two readers.

I’d like to be more specific, but there’s still a lot of Alpha Drafts out there in the wild — and Science is my watchword on this process. I don’t want to pollute the other readers, gotta keep the sample clean. If I say that my readers are having problems with that centaur poetry in Chapter 11, then it’s sure to make all the other readers gaze at my sensual equine haiku with a more critical eye.

Just let yourself feel it. The rhythm, the majesty.

That’s all I ask.

First Read Stats

Chapters: 22

Villain Interludes: 4

Times author wept: 0

Main characters: 2

Lesbian bards: 2

Dinosaurs: 1

Minotaurs: 1 [sadly]

Fight scenes: 12-15

Dance scenes: 1

Named Villains: 6

Wyvern rides: 2

Hyper evolved frogs on steam-powered roller skates: 76

Weird dream sequences: 2

Witches: 1

Allusions to Buddy Holly lyrics: 1

Swords named ‘Chester’: 1

Word count: 49,235

I like my book. It’s got problems, but I don’t feel overwhelmed — YET. Several sections are in severe need of fleshing out, clarification and a rigorous, rigorous edit.  The next stop for the Edit Train is working on the chapters individually, probably save the first couple of chapters for last as they’re going to need the most work.

And now to get to it….

 

Star Prophet II

Cold walk, warm house. My uncle’s third knuckle on the right, potato-sack lumpy and his red voice and the fall of the Roman Empire. The stars were out, but I was in.

Humans do these things. They do these things to each other every day.

My face was bent. I rolled next to the couch and waited, while meteors impacted on the surface of Mars.

The press of headphones, the music and the moon  – I lay with the sheet over my head and lost myself. The rhymes, the words – the quick symmetry of the drum and the strange keen of the electronic flute.

I think about Star Prophet’s planets — about the songs he hears. The whirling slide of space and time, the spaces, empty – now full. Jupiter turns his face, and Saturn hula-hoops across the dance floor. The blood on my pillow is red. The rains of Mercury and Venus, the broken canyons hidden beneath the cotton-wool cloud.

[I’m really not happy with this section. I’m used to bla-bla-blahing my way, spitting out a few hundred words like it was nothing. This sucker’s fighting me. I’m going to keep working on SP in dribs and drabs, then do a massive revision when it’s all done. This is what I get for actually thinking about a story.]

I finished.

MY. ROUGH.DRAFT.

Of the book.

That I wrote.

Ahead of schedule — 4 pages and about 5000 more words than I planned for the rough draft.

In the dark of the night, I got to type “THE END” for the first time in my life.

Man, it felt good.

Like great-good.

Like PUNCHING A MANTICORE IN THE FACE IN BETWEEN BLISTERING KEY-TAR SOLOS -GOOD.

Come on -- he freaking deserves it. WIPE THAT SMIRK OFF YOUR GOB, MANTICORE.

I know I’m a long way from being finished — I have a lot of editing, a lot of fleshing out, a lot of work still to do.

And let’s be honest — I’ll probably hate 45% of what I read, cutting and slashing with my seafoam green Sharpie.

And I know this is in no way impressive to the bulk of my WordPress pals — some of you with five or more novels under your name.

But this is my first time making it to base camp, before the final assault to the peak of BOOK MOUNTAIN.

So pass me some hot cocoa, and keep your snickering to a minimum.

"Where can I stash my keytar, y'all?"

Third Person Perspective Omega Gold – Championship Edition

In working on the rough draft of That Thing, I’m realizing more and more that I’m using the Third Person-Omniscient Perspective extensively AND I’m switching between two characters. I’m only doing it at natural breaks in the action, but I realize I’m quickly treading into the realm of FORBIDDEN FICTION.

I’m not going to stress out about it too much at the moment — if I hate it/think it’s confusing, I’ll restructure when I edit.

But — BUT. Anyone got some input on whether I’m freaking out about nothing, or if I should take this more seriously?

Get your grammar straight, son.