Final self-publishing notes

So, this basically brings me up to date on my first experiments with electronic and paper self-publishing.  Mostly I covered the mechanics of creating product.  The wide world of marketing is yet to come, and I have a lot of research to do and more decisions to make.  I’ll be posting on this. (Occasionally.  This isn’t a daily blog and never will be).

There are a lot of places that have much more detailed information on things like formatting than I’ve discussed here.  Amazon, Createspace and Lulu offer instructions and advice at every level.  Some of it, like the detailed HTML manual for Kindle formatting, is over my head.

All of these outfits will be more than happy to do extra things for you for a fee.  Editing.  Artwork and cover design.  Professional formatting.  Marketing.  You name it.

That’s up to you.  The way I see it, I’m just dabbling in this, and I didn’t want to spend money on the project.  Of course, I already had some decent publishing and artwork software, a manuscript that had already been professionally edited, and some experience in manipulating documents.  Your own mileage may vary.

Just be aware that these companies will happily take large chunks of cash for services they will try to sell you.  This isn’t a rip-off:  the services are probably good ones.  But how much are you willing to sink into a product that’s going to earn you a couple of bucks at most for every sale?  Always calculate how many books or e-books you’ll need to sell to make it back.  It’s usually a lot.

This is why a lot of professional authors are using these methods to publish old works that are out of print.  The product is already there, and ready to go except for possible conversion issues.  What’s to lose?

And me?  Why am I doing it?

I wrote Castle Falcon for my kids.  Finished the first draft on Midsummer Eve of 2006.  I started out, completely naive, to find an agent.  With a book over 200,000 words long.  The first agent who was seriously interested, in the beginning of 2008, wanted to cut the length (no problem.  I shaved 30,000 words on the first try).  But then she wanted to cut out all the adult characters, too.  I agonized over this, and decided to keep looking.

A year later, another agent was very enthusiastic about the book (at this point about 143,000 words long).  This was after over 120 rejections.  He signed me on almost immediately, but had trouble selling it to publishers.  Based on feedback, his editorial assistant recommended–yes–cutting all the adults out again.  Apparently the school of thought is that a book for young people where you haven’t kicked all the grownups out of the picture won’t sell.

This time, I did it.  Chopped huge chunks of story and characters out, knocking it back to 100,000 words.  I didn’t have anything left in me to drop the agent and go back out into the query cycle (not to mention the world was running out of agents for me to query).  But to ease the pain, I constantly kept a “director’s cut” of my own vision going in parallel with the “abridged” edition that I was working on for the agency.

Two years passed, and a number of publishers were approached with the “abridged” version.  The agent, to give him credit, made his best efforts.  But no sale.  Eventually, the agent started focusing on non-fiction, his original strength, and we parted company amiably, with all rights returned to me.

So Castle Falcon has already been through the wringer, and I frankly don’t see how further attempts to go the agent/publisher route are going to get different results.  Now here I am, taking my “director’s cut” (145,000 words), and trying the Road Less Traveled By.

The point is, I’ve got little to lose now by sticking Castle Falcon out there on self-publishing venues. It isn’t cost me any serious money (so far), and I’m learning a lot about how to put a book together, both physically and electronically.

However, this may not be the right road for other people who are just starting out with their books.

This is just my opinion, but if your dream is to really see your book in your local store, with a major publisher’s name on it, don’t go the self-publishing route until all the others have been exhausted.  I mean, really exhausted.

Maybe you’re looking at your tenth query rejection, or your twentieth, and feeling kind of low. You know what?  That’s a lot less than the 120 rejections I clocked before I signed up with an agent who loved the book.  I made a lot of mistakes early on (like trying to pitch a 200,000 word book), but learned as I went.  Try to find reliable critics and readers (not easy, but possible).  Tune your queries.  Get advice.

Getting your work published through the conventional routes requires the persistence of a glacier, and skin like a rhino.  Believe me, you will need to cultivate these traits.

Keep in mind that I have another completed middle-grade book that I’m still shopping to agencies, and a third YA fantasy in progress that I also intend taking through the conventional publishing routes when it’s done.  After all I’ve been through, it’s still my preferred way of getting my work to the bookshelves.

To all the other aspiring authors, wherever you eventually go to make your book real:  Good luck!

That was fast.

A Createspace update:

I ordered a proof copy of Castle Falcon yesterday (May 25).  This is one method of checking your work, and recommended.  It’s really the only way to spot issues like cover alignment, large enough gutters for the binding, and whether or not the book manufacture is any good.

The e-mail confirmation of the order came in yesterday (May 25) at 2:33 PM.

I found the e-mail confirmation of the shipping of my order on my e-mail this morning, dated May 25, 6:41 PM.

How do they print a book that fast?  Even a softcover?

Createspace

Createspace is basically Amazon’s hard copy publishing system.

The interface is pretty easy, same as with Kindle. Upload a PDF of your inside material, and an image file of your cover. I used the “full cover image” method, same as for Lulu. Createspace has some decent tools to create “off the shelf” covers using themes, but these won’t be as good (in my opinion).

Createspace assigns an ISBN to your work, and will automatically generate and place the barcode on your cover artwork for you.

The publishing interface is a lot more elaborate than Amazon’s Kindle interface, but very easy to navigate.  Their online preview system is very good, showing exactly how your book would be laid out, cover and all.  You also have the option of ordering a physical proof copy for about ten bucks.  The publishing process is set up on a chart with green checks showing what’s done, and you can skip around or go back if you need to make changes.  I found I had to make a lot of changes as I spotted formatting issues.

The bad news is that Createspace doesn’t have any other options besides softcover (essentially a large paperback.)  It’s one reason I stuck to Lulu for hard cover versions.  Maybe this will change.

As with Lulu, there are prices to set, and distribution choices to make.  Three of the distribution choices (Amazon, Amazon Europe, and Createspace Store) are free.  An expanded distribution option costs $25, and I’m still figuring out exactly what that means.

I’ve set up the book and am ordering a proof copy, but haven’t decided to pull the trigger on full publishing for this method yet.

Self-publishing fun

I’ve been fooling around with various self-publishing methods for a while now. I learned the ins and outs of Lulu while making gift books for my family, and frankly, that taught me ninety percent of what I needed to know for other methods, like Kindle or Createspace.

Formatting is always the prime issue. I compose my manuscripts in Microsoft Word, but methods of converting Word to workable text for publishing aren’t the best. For a real professional job, you need a real publishing program. I was fortunate that Adobe Indesign was part of the Adobe suite I had purchased some time ago (mostly, I use Photoshop and Acrobat in my regular work).

Indesign allows you to lay out the book as it will appear, with good tools for adjusting text for appearance, although the interface is more difficult in some ways than Word and it took a lot of learning. Fortunately, I don’t have to learn all of it, just what I needed to make a simple all-text black-and-white book.

Once you have that Indesign document, you can output PDF files that are accepted nicely by either Lulu or Createspace (the same file, actually). The Kindle plug-in I mentioned in an earlier post does fine for Kindle (.mobi) files that import quickly into Amazon’s publishing program.

The covers I did myself (the one seen in earlier posts was for Kindle). For the Lulu books I designed artwork for the “one-piece” option, that basically wraps a single cover image (text and all) around the entire book (even further if you’re using dust jacket layouts).

Next post: Taking those old Lulu gift books into the public space.

A quick P.S.:

Don’t go running out and trying this stuff with your favorite unpublished manuscript until I get to the end of this series. There’s things you need to know.