Youngblood Blog

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Going it Alone: the Self-Publish Author

First printrun in 1450 using wooden blocks and metal lettering: Gutenberg's Bible

When I decided to go the self-publish route for my historical ghost novel, ‘Phantom’s Child’, I really thought I was venturing alone into an uncharted wilderness. A few months down the line, I now realize I was mistaken. Where writers and authors in the past had to navigate the choppy waters of the publishing world on their own, often (if they were compulsive enough) without the support of family and friends, now the world of publishing has had to open its doors to contemplate other ways, wider avenues of communicating with its public. The internet has moved the goalposts.

With this more immediate form of communication come angels-in-disguise: I mean writerly sites in general (AmWriting, SheWrites, Facebook, MySpace, OmTimes, Google-plus) and the brilliance of sci-fi master Alex J. Cavanaugh in particular.

Alex Cavanaugh’s monthly sharing platform
Alex is the proud author of space adventure CassaStar, published by Dancing Lemur Press, with its sequel, CassaFire being launched early next year. But his heart goes out to those of us who haven’t yet made it in the Big (publishing) World, or who have struggled long and hard to jump through its hoops.

So he has initiated a ‘bloghop’ combined with an Insecure Writers’ Support Group, just so the rest of us can benefit from shared information, dos and don’ts of fellow authors who have been there, done that, and most altruistic, a network of help and moral support for those (recurring) moments when we feel like throwing in the towel.

His Insecure Writers Group page gives a full list of 121 authors already participating. I am just thrilled that I find myself no longer alone — that others have trodden this road before me and we are all together treading it right now.

So, Alex wants us to reveal — on the first Wednesday of the month — what troubles us most in these tricky times where publish-or-die is the option chosen by only the most crazy among us.

I admit to such crazies.

Releasing one’s inner fears
Having written for years (and continuing to follow that route dictated by my taskmistress, the Muse), I no longer have a choice in the matter. My fear is that, if my success as an author depends on my being agent, marketing director and girl-in-the-street selling my books, I shall fail miserably. There, I’ve said it. I know writers (according to Myers-Briggs) are perennially better bloggers than self-promoters, but I believe I must be the worst. I just can’t get the words together to say: ‘look at me; look what I’ve done’.

So is there hope?

With Alex’s new support group, I believe there may be, and I welcome his wonderful new arena.

While I am several years down the road taken by all serious authors: trawling the world of submissions, query letters and pitches to agents, editors, and publishers; entering publishing contests; I have only a little to show for the hard slog. One fantasy novel of mine has currently been accepted for publication by a Michigan publisher; I wrote a small history years ago which has had some success, but my current projects (my WIPs) are all still out to tender. From that perspective, and given that my educational background was historical mixed with linguistics, I braved the self-publish world.

Only to discover that my worst nightmare — my lack of marketing skills — would return to haunt me.

Paying it Forward
Alex wants us to share our deepest doubts. Because I had already worked on this blog to share my experience in the self-publishing arena — something which many contemplate but perhaps need a little extra shove to make them try — I’ve chosen to tack on my blog below, because it seems to fit the bill his group describes:

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Alex J Cavanaugh

Please check out his page for a complete list of all the other authors participating. If you fancy, you can join in, too. It is an awesome throng.

Self-publishing: the Go-it-Alone route
Much has been said already about traditional publishing by bloggers more prolific and more regular than I. But there would seem to be a nouvelle vague in do-it-yourself. Dry-walling and combustion-engine-tinkering are so passé. The future is staring us in the face. They say anyone can do it.

It’s called Self-Publishing.

But it takes stamina. It takes drive–like nothing you’ve ever summoned before. And it takes time and patience.

This is one author’s small attempt to defuse and demystify the ‘rules’ of the game and to shed a little light on a brand new wave which is sweeping the Nation. Nay, I say it louder: It is sweeping the English-speaking world.

And while some say the e-book will eventually replace the old faithful hardbound or paperback novel, I believe the Jury is still out on that one.

There is something compelling about holding a favorite book, lovingly turning crisp pages to check out a piece of dialogue you may have missed, or — dread the thought — sneaking a peek at the end, that will always have more ‘reality’ than digging in your beach-bag for the Nook where you uploaded Amanda Hocking’s latest effort.

However, there is room for both. That’s the beauty of the new technology.

Merely ten-twenty years ago the publishing world on five continents went through the motions — much like newspapers and magazines before them — of typesetting, formatting, reformatting, checking ink supply and — usually with a sigh of relief — cheering when the first printrun came out all right. I used to work in that ancient industry. It had hardly changed since Johannes Gutenberg felt that first thrill of seeing his Bible come off the press in 1450.

I must still have a little Gutenberg in me, because I delight in choosing a new book from the shelf, smelling the quality of pages and ink (it’s still there), comparing page layout and print styles. It’s an artform. Academic monographs differ from fiction. Non-fiction has a different approach from poetry anthologies — but it’s the stuff of dreams: the miracle of writing and the printed word.

You don’t have to take my word for it. We have a classic rôle model to look to.

Leonardo's Notebooks --Codex Leicester, named for its patron-- one of the world's most sought-after books

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) kept notebooks of his inventions, his scientific theories and his sketches and in 1717 one of these — a 72-page Notebook — was acquired by Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester. When the Leicester estate was wound up in 1980, the Notebook moved on to a collector. That collector sold da Vinci’s Notebook to Bill Gates for a fabulous sum in 1994. He renamed it the Codex Leicester, after its original rescuer. It is refreshing to know that the founder of that electronic marvel, MSWord –like it or loathe it– takes delight in a unique manuscript dating from the 15th Century.

And, bottom line, as all writers know, there is something magical about seeing oneself in print.

Print-on-demand books
So, first the bones.

Old way: galley proofs checked before the print run

The Old Way
You were chosen by a Publisher in the Real World who screened you (with or without the help of an Agent) who has asked you to send in your completed MS to them. Your (approved) MS is run by the in-house Editor, the art department prepares artwork for your cover and the whole thing is sent to be printed at a Printing House of the Publisher’s choice and a print-run agreed upon by you both in a Contract is given the go-ahead. You may or may not receive galley proofs. (In the old days, galleys were always sent out before the final agreed version was run). The Publisher then markets your work at their expense to libraries, bookstores and chains, devising and orchestrating all publicity for your book. You are given a (negotiated) share of the sales of your book. You may or may not be offered a number of ‘author’s copies’ or ARCs (advanced review copies). You get to see your book on the shelves in mainstream bookstores. This will probably include a listing on Amazon.

The New Way
You do all of the above –yourself.

Let’s say you have completed your novel of 50,000-70,000 words, edited out all the passive voice, extra adverbs, made sure all the sentences end in a period, and generally done great re-writes, versions 1 and 2. You’ve had an editor friend read it and you’ve got a great cover design you want to use and you’ve gotten tired of the agent-reject circuit anyway, and still think you’ve got it in you to go it alone — because you love your main character and the storyline just ‘fell into place’.

That sounds about the right mood to approach one’s first self-publish (ad)venture.

Front cover, back cover all uploadable along with internal text: 'Phantom's Child' via CreateSpace POD

I decided first to try the CreateSpace route. The POD arm (‘print-on-demand’) of Amazon.com. To be honest, I was new to POD and had not yet heard of Smashwords.

I have subsequently done my homework on the Smashwords method. There are several positive points to both systems, depending on what you want for your final product; what computer you prefer and comp.language you are happy working in; also, how fluent you are in internetspeak.

It goes without saying, that afterwards you have to be a pretty good salesman of your own work.

Basically — while there are other systems out there, like Lulu — what appealed to me was that I thought I could get my head around the system.

Like Alex’s initiative, it was an experience in joining a community.

Plus Points
They offered help at every juncture along the way. You keep ahead of the learning curve and you’re mostly all right. The mechanism includes an author page where you upload your document in their specific (pdf) format. Your chosen cover design is uploaded separately. They approve these and you’re ‘live’ within three days.

Minus Points
CreateSpace is tailormade to fit into the Amazon.com system (but NOT into the Amazon.co.uk system except if you choose to publish in e-book format), so best to figure in shipping costs beforehand — if you live abroad — because your final books will only be shipped from the USA. International shipping, while offered in three forms (regular, superfast, and economy — superslow) adds quite a bit to shelf price.

You write your novel in a text document– .rtf or .pdf for CreateSpace; MSWord .doc for Smashwords.

Both systems have marketing support — nominally a List of recommended publications which they distribute to bookstores, libraries and wholesalers as part of their commitment to you. They do no active promotion on your behalf. That’s for you to do.

CreateSpace issue you with an ISBN in return for a share of any profit you make from sales of the book. The ISBN belongs to them. But this should not be a problem if you do not plan to sell your book commercially!! Beware of any company that asks for a set-up fee (some companies can charge hundreds of dollars), as you are unlikely ever to recover this money through book sales.

Lulu is upfront about what they do but they will charge $99, if you want your own ISBN.

If you can’t design your own cover, cover design assistance and marketing are offered for a fee. If you want to offer your book additionally in Kindle format, CreateSpace will charge you $69 to do this for you, but if you do it yourself on the Amazon interface, it is free. However the payment/banking/remuneration systems are held separately, so you have to enter your bank details individually for both systems. Mind boggles. It helps enormously if you already have an American bank account.

A friend used Lulu for a small project and found their interface simple, the cover designer easy to use (though not suitable for a large review on the back-cover). They were prompt and their delivery was affordable. Because Lulu has affiliates abroad you do not pay or have to wait for international shipping. However, she found paper quality not as high as CreateSpace or Smashwords.

Thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh for this helping hand along the way

If you don’t chose their inhouse help, both Lulu and CreateSpace encourage you to format the book yourself. This can be done in a text file and then converted to a .pdf file. These are also suitable for converting to an eBook. Smashwords e-book format is converted for you by them, but you must submit to them in MSWord. If you are an Apple-lover, like me, this may not be as easy as it sounds.

A few words of encouragement: the process is relatively easy if you set your mind to it — not daunting or over-techhie, or I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it. For those who want to see their work in finished, tangible form, it can be a revelation.

We probably all agree that the ultimate dream for a writer is to be snapped up by that great Publisher-in-the-Sky who will get us on the New York Times Bestseller list.

But, hey, we all have to start somewhere.

A big thank you to Alex for making the road-less-traveled a little easier.
©2011 Marian Youngblood

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September 7, 2011 Posted by | authors, culture, fiction, Muse, novel, popular, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments