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On Self-Publishing

The rise in print-on-demand publishers and the increasing popularity of ereaders has led to an explosion the last few years in self-publishing. Anyone -- so the story goes -- can write their magnum opus, print it through CreateSpace or Lulu or CafePress or publish it through SmashWords or Kindle Direct Publishing and have any instant bestseller. Money in the bank!

Uh, no. That is not actually how it works. 

I am an avid reader of both print and ebooks. I work in a bookstore. I have worked in comic book stores and libraries in the recent past. I also edit and publish print-on-demand and ebooks for Bibliotheca Alexandrina. So, I know whereof I speak.

You want to self-publish? Have an absolutely awesome book about Frigg that you think the whole world needs to read? Have an epic fantasy based on Hawaiian mythology? A tale of contemporary Lithuanians trying to revive the faith of their ancestors? Awesome. I'm glad to hear it. Really. The world needs more great polytheist/Pagan literature.

Here are a few pointers to get you started.

The cover is important. Really. The cover is really really important. There is a reason mainstream publishers spend money on in-house art departments or pay sizable fees to independent graphic artists. The cover can make or break a book, because people really do judge a book by its cover. 

The cover is shorthand. In a glance, it offers a synopsis of your book. Have you penned a tale about a Roman colony on an alien world? Awesome! Don't plant a picture of Abraham Lincoln on the cover (yes, I have seen covers that utterly inappropriate). Check sites like iStock and deviantArt and etsy. iStock offers a wide range of royalty-free images for a nominal fee; the independent artists on deviantArt and etsy are often open to negotiation as to compensation (in my experience, some will take a small fee and a free copy of the book as payment for use of the image). Choose an image or group of images which best summarize your book. In the case of the Roman colony story mentioned above, a man dressed in classic Roman armor standing on a harsh landscape with a couple of moons and a futuristic city in the background would do the trick nicely.

Don't know how to create a cover? Have no talent for Photoshop? Then hire someone. There are a lot of things a self-publisher can do on her own to save money; cutting corners with the cover is not one of them. Spend the money to hire a graphic artist who knows what he is doing; CreateSpace actually offers the option of hiring such an artist during the publication process. Graphic artists can also be found on etsy, deviantArt, Craigslist and -- heck -- college message boards. You might luck out and find a student who needs the practice. Even better, you might find a collaborator with whom you can build a long-term working relationship.

As to the tale itself: bear in mind that there are a dozen different ereaders on the market and their software may display unusual fonts, diacritics, and even foreign alphabets as blank squares or gobbledeegook. I strongly recommend that you write your magnum opus in Word or Pages or TextEdit. Use a simple font like Helvetica or Times New Roman; something easy to read. No fancy fonts. Keep the stylizations to a minimum; pick either bold or italics for emphasis and stick with it through the entire manuscript. Save your manuscript as a plain .doc file.

And, of course, always always always back up the file. Save it to a .zip drive, iCloud, or some other service.

Also -- and this is particularly important if you are publishing through SmashWords -- certain eformats do not like tab. At all. Indentations using the tab key can cause all sorts of wonky formatting errors. If you want to save yourself the headache of having to reposition the first line of every paragraph using that stupid slider ruler margin thingy across the top of your document -- and I cannot express in words just how rage-inducing that is -- than do not indent at all. Write your manuscript the same way I am writing this blog post: justify everything to the left and put a space between each paragraph. The reader will be able to follow along just fine, the software will have minimal interpretation problems, and you will save yourself a migraine attack.

Okay, so the cover is ready to go and the manuscript is complete. Next step: edit. Then edit again. Then once more. Don't rely on Spellcheck or any other software to catch the errors in your book. Software does not understand the difference between whether and weather or lightning and lightening. You, as the writer, should. If you do not, hire someone who does. Copy editing is your last chance to catch errors which will cause you untold embarrassment for years to come (case in point: I completely missed a contributor biography in one of the anthologies I edited; oops). This is also not an area to cut corners. Do not ask your best friend to look over the manuscript just because he is your best friend. There are plenty of professional and semi-professsional copy editors looking for work. Hire one. Again, you may find a collaborator with whom you can establish a long, mutually beneficial relationship.

Manuscript proofed, so you're ready to publish, right? Mostly. In the case of SmashWords, a plain .doc file is the best thing to upload. The site's software will convert it into other formats, such as .epub and .rtf and so on -- hence, the need for simple. Other sites, though, such as CreateSpace, prefer a file in .pdf format. If you don't know how to convert a file from .doc to .pdf, again, hire someone. (This is one of those areas where a self-publisher can sort of cut corners. Learning how to create a .pdf from a .doc file is much easier than learning how to create a cover. Consider taking the time to learn how to do it, as this will give you even more control over the final appearance of your book.)*

And finally -- yay! -- you're a published author! Congratulations!

Now the real work begins. Marketing. Self-promotion. Interviews. Review copies. FaceBook. MySpace. LiveJournal. Print advertisements. E-advertisements. Your personal webpage. And on it goes. Your book will not sell itself. I repeat: your book will not sell itself. How many copies you sell, how much money you make, how much recognition you earn for your genius is up to you. Authors who make enough through self-publishing to support themselves are few and far between; HP Mallory, Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey are notable examples  who made a big enough splash to be picked up by mainstream publishing houses. Maybe you will, too. Maybe you'll strike it rich, but opt to stay a self-publisher. Either way, simply publishing the book is not the end. It's the beginning. Time to move that story from inside your head and out into the world.

Oh, and one final point. Do not take three books to tell your story when one will do. Be succinct. Readers are often impatient and we can have short attention spans; we are constantly on the look out for the next great book and nothing irks us quite like an author stretching out a story like a Gumbi doll. Tell your story. Allow us to revel in it -- then go write a different story, and allow us to enjoy that one, too.

 

* File size is an important consideration at this point. Kindle Direct Publishing and SmashWords both max out at 10 GB. Not a problem with text-only files, but remember that images take up a lot of memory. Interior images means a bigger file.

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

Comments

  • Jamie
    Jamie Friday, 04 October 2013

    Gods, that sounds like a lot of work...in addition to your mundane job(s).

    My hats off to all of you who are competent authors.

  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis Saturday, 05 October 2013

    Rebecca, Guiding pagan writers about self-publishing, marketing, etc is important support, good for you! In aug, I addressed a major self-publishing myth — Amazon placement — in an interview about social media marketing. It might interest yr readers: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/beverlymacy/2013/08/13/social-media-radio-with-beverly-macy

  • Thomas Stevens
    Thomas Stevens Wednesday, 09 October 2013

    Couldn't agree more. The cover is much more important than a great number of first time authors think. Even if you don't want to judge a book by its cover you will still find yourself doing so. You think you won't but then you do.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Wednesday, 09 October 2013

    @Thomas: Yep. *nod* I love science fiction romance, but books in that subgenre are not well categorized at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or at the library. The title and -- especially -- a thumbnail image of the cover are the best way to find such books during a quick perusal. Unfortunately, a lot of sfr books are released by small publishers and self-publishers who don't realize just how important the cover is for drawing in readers.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Wednesday, 09 October 2013

    @Francesca: thanks for the link!

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