Youngblood Blog

Writing weblog, local, topical, personal, spiritual

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 »

  1. I hope you gain much from the support group!
    Promoting my books is not something I enjoy. That’s why I rarely mention them on my blog unless something awesome happens. I’ve seen authors who talk constantly about their books and I don’t want to be like that.
    Get involved, make friends, and when your book is ready, maybe you can do a blog tour?

    Comment by Alex J. Cavanaugh | September 8, 2011 | Reply

  2. thank you, Alex. I know the energy is out there — so many of us wanting to communicate –some good at the group thing, some just learning– but I thank you for this initiative and am in awe of the growing number of participants. Good for you!

    Comment by siderealview | September 8, 2011 | Reply

  3. This was a most interesting and enlightening post. I’m not ready for publication in any form yet. When I am, I don’t know which route I’ll be trying for but this is one of the more in depth pieces I’ve read on self-publishing. Thank you. Best of luck to you!

    Comment by Sarah Pearson | September 9, 2011 | Reply

  4. There are so many paths to choose and none of them easy that it can be daunting. So, I’ve adopted the baby steps approach. Take everything one little step at a time. When you are ready for publication, why not try all avenues and see what works. Blog tours are really great ways to promote your work without waving a sign on your own blog that reads, “Look, I’m published. Please go buy my book.” Fortunately, you have friends like Alex who can help you (love to be your friend, just not sure how helpful I can be with this particular issue).

    Nice to meet you. Wishing you great success on your road to publication!!

    Comment by Isis Rushdan | September 9, 2011 | Reply

  5. I think your self doubts are endemic to us writers, at least most of us. A new lady joined our writing group yesterday who said many of the same things. But getting something out there gets you onto the ground floor and then there is always the possibility of taking the elevator to the top. Good luck.

    Comment by charlesgramlichCharles Gramlich | September 9, 2011 | Reply

  6. Thank you Isis, Sarah, Charles for visiting. Alex was right– the IWSG is a mine of info and support! I’ve replied to Isis and Sarah on respective blogs, but Charles, somehow your comment box wouldn’t let me in without signing up for (yet another) blog – must be the Zen of it! sorry. Great to have your problems. Your Musegirl/guy will sort you – in Dreamscape, I suspect

    Comment by siderealview | September 9, 2011 | Reply

  7. Thank you for this post… very informative and interesting. Publishing is scary… and going it alone scares me even more. But it has some benefits that I find very appealing… especially the control.

    Comment by Doralynn | September 9, 2011 | Reply

    • thank you Doralynn – I checked out your blog and am in awe of your ‘authentic’ background in crime!! so no words on being lame — almost believe you EAT scary for breakfast!
      Marian

      Comment by siderealview | September 9, 2011 | Reply

  8. I’ve started epublishing, so am in about the same place as you. You’re right. We all have to start some place. Whether we’re with a big publisher or not, the same work of promotion and marketing is ahead of us.

    Comment by MPax | September 9, 2011 | Reply

  9. That was quite an in depth look at the publishing options. I don’t know what the numbers amount to, but with the increased number of options that make being published more possible, perhaps more writers than ever are trying to get their words out there in the public forum. The loudest voices are the ones who will be most noticed. Some of us may be fortunate to acquire champions for our products, but most of us will have to go it on their own. Self promotion has always been a neccessity but we rarely are in on the process. With outlets such as blogging this process has become more visible so that we have become more aware of the man behind the curtain.

    Good luck in your efforts. Your blog looks great.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

    Comment by Arlee Bird | September 9, 2011 | Reply

  10. I wish you lots of luck! I don’t know if you’ve done so, but if you would like reviews done of your book, I am sure you can ask. I’d also suggest hitting places like AbsoluteWrite.com and WritersCafe.org for even more places to market your book. Personally, I’m all about helping new authors, so if there is anything I can do, just drop me a line. Great post!

    Comment by Mel | September 10, 2011 | Reply

  11. Thank you everyone for visiting Youngblood’s site! I was so impressed when I visited on Wednesday, not just by her post for the group, but the entire layout and wealth of information on her blog. Well done!

    Comment by Alex J. Cavanaugh | September 10, 2011 | Reply

  12. Lee and Mel – thank you both so much. Every little bit of extra info is a jewel. Some of us never quite cover all the ground, and it’s so amazing to have co-conspirators digging away at the mine-face.
    Alex — I’m blushing. I think you just said such lovely things because wordpress does things differently from blogspot — lol

    Comment by siderealview | September 11, 2011 | Reply

  13. Hi Youngblood! You bring up some great points. I love that we now have options and that we don’t really have to be alone. This online writing community rocks! So great to meet you!

    Comment by PK Hrezo | September 11, 2011 | Reply

  14. very detailed and tip-loaded information, marian… greatly appreciated 🙂

    seems your ‘homework’ has taken you a long ways toward getting your tales in print, all the best, and keep on plugging away!

    -tony

    Comment by laughingwolf | September 12, 2011 | Reply

  15. I’d like to add Xinxii as another great opportunity to sell eBooks. Plus points: very easy to use, free of costs, no special formatting required, real-time processes, they accept multiple formats (including epub, mobi, pdf, txt, mp3 and doc). Minus point: no print. http://www.xinxii.com

    Comment by Maria-Lena | September 12, 2011 | Reply

    • Thanks for this, Maria-Lena – they call themselves the ‘leading digital text platform in Europe’ — and Europe could certainly use a little help up the ladder. Boo-hoo on no print. …still desperately seeking print in Europe….. any and all suggestions considered….. 🙂

      Comment by siderealview | September 12, 2011 | Reply

  16. Mpax, PK: thanks so much for support and shared journey — so good to know you. Tony (laughing wolf): wot I said about some bloggers being so much more prolific than I…. wow to your site – couldn’t find a space ANYwhere.
    Thanks all for good wishes – sending them back. We’re headed for ***dom!

    Comment by siderealview | September 12, 2011 | Reply


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