Self-publishing is the ultimate do-it-yourself literary exercise. What a publisher would normally take care of is going to fall on me. That means everything from copyediting to accounting will have to be done by yours truly, except that much of it can be hired out. After all, that’s what the publishers do: hire people to do the work, but before I decide what to do myself and what to hire out, I’m going to look at what all that work actually is.
The Business End
First, there are some legalities and paperwork to be done. This could be creating a legal entity like an LLC, filing a DBA, or maybe even less. Books need ISBN’s and sometimes UPC symbols. Accounts need to be created and linked so the money will flow. These are the things that make up the business end of self-publishing, and unless I found some pre-existing author co-op who has already done this, I’m going to be doing these things myself. An excellent overview of all this can be found in the book Publishing & Marketing Realities, by Christine Rose.
All of that is a one-time activity which does not need to be repeated for each book. The rest of this will focus on what I have to do for the book itself.
Shine the Manuscript
Normally, I would think of this as “polishing” the manuscript… you know, fine-tuning the language, double-checking the spelling of various names, and fixing all the there/their/they’re errors. But that’s what you would do before sending a manuscript off for consideration by an agent or editor. Before it goes out to publication, it needs a little more. Hence, we need to “shine” the manuscript.
This gets into the real nitty-gritty of copyediting. Beyond there/their/they’re, copyediting includes all those pesky rules of punctuation, noun-verb agreement, proper case usage, Mom vs. my mom, and so on. Of course, these are all things a good writer is already supposed to understand, but they’re also things that are easy to gloss over when you’re reading, especially when you’re reading your own familiar text.
This calls for a third-party copyeditor, someone who not only knows all those rules but is willing to grind through the story, reading not for pleasure, but with a pen poised to drip blood over every little slip-up, from that first quotation mark to the final period. Certainly I can do a careful combing of the text, but if I’m prone towards a certain mistake, I’m probably prone to miss it while reading too. Hence, I will almost certainly hire this out. While there are many other skills I can attempt to learn, I will be hard pressed to teach myself to not be me.
Putting the E in Book
There are two quite different formatting tasks in putting out a book these days: formatting for e-books and formatting for print. Let’s start with e-books.
As I understand it, e-books are essentially a kind of compiled HTML. Or at the very least, HTML makes the best source material for e-books. I found a great series on e-book formatting that lays out the process step by laborious step. If HTML is Greek to you, then it’s probably even more laborious. Fortunately for me, I’ve been hand-coding HTML since 1995, and apart from the use of styles, the HTML involved doesn’t look much more advanced than what I was doing in 1995. My initial test with a short story was promising.
This I will likely do myself, though I’m not opposed to paying a knowledgeable consultant to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. This is less about saving money and more about having control. I could hire it out, get a crappy result, and not know how to go about fixing it.
Putting the Book in Print
I have decided I want to do print versions as well as e-book versions. Partly this is for actual sales, but I confess that a large part of this is emotional. While it is not one of my rational reasons for wanting to be published, there is a little irrational core that wants to put a copy of my book on the shelf in my library. It’s hard for me to say how much is sales vs. holding it in my hand, but I think the rational side is strong enough to justify the effort.
So, what is involved in putting a book in print? Strangely, I’m less sure in this area. I know that all the printing services (Lulu, Lightning Source, and CreateSpace) want it as a PDF. Alas, unlike HTML, PDF files are something of a black box to me. Adobe keeps me well supplied with PDF readers, but PDF writers are in short supply.
Microsoft Word can export to a PDF, but is that a valid PDF? I recall once talking to a small publisher about sending files to Lightning Source, and she kept saying that I had to use Adobe’s In-Design because “the fonts have to be embedded.” I’m a little fuzzy on what that means, but it looks like it means adding the font definitions to the PDF file, just in case the print-on-demand machine doesn’t have them. Alas,
In-Design costs hundreds of dollars, so I may not be so quick to go down that road. I’ve seen a few tutorials that talk about simpler (or at least cheaper) ways to embed the fonts, but I haven’t tested them. If nothing else, I might hire out the job of making sure my fonts are embedded.
But there’s another question in my mind about the print formatting, and that is quite simply making it look good. A print book is a richer visual experience than an e-book. Issues of font choice, margins, line-spacing, headers, etc. are all handled somewhat automatically by the e-book reader. In print, all of this is under the control of the publisher, which in this case, would be me.
So my question is, do I actually know enough to make it look good? Certainly, I can look at other books and try to match their style, and I can contort Word around in lots of interesting ways, but until I actually see it in physical form, I’ll always be wondering if it looks more like The Catcher in the Rye or a 300-page ransom note. Clearly, this is another area I might pay a knowledgeable consultant to point me in the right direction.
The Cover to Be Judged
We always say don’t judge a book by its cover, but in reality we do it all the time. When strolling through a bookstore, we make that judgment multiple times a second, waiting for something visual to grab us. We may do it less when shopping online, but even then a catchy cover will get me to click through and see what it’s about. A boring cover fades into the background of the page.
So, apart from cleavage and explosions, what should my cover have? Ok, maybe it’s not that simple. It should have some relation to the story inside, but I feel strongly that cover art should not live within the straightjacket of illustration. Instead of trying to show a scene from the book, I think the artwork should try to capture something of the essence of the story. Maybe it’s a unique view. Maybe it’s an emotive character. And hey, maybe it is cleavage and explosions, but I’m going to wait a while before launching my bestseller Bomb Boobies of Babylon!
I think I can do the artwork myself. I did quite a bit of digital painting from 2005 through 2009, and while I have focused more on my writing lately, I think I can do a decent job at it. If it turns out badly, I might simply take it to another one of my artist friends and say, “Can you paint this… only good?”
Then there’s the title, my name, the blurb on the back, and so on. That’s less about art and more about graphic design. While I don’t have as much experience here as I do in the artwork itself, I’ve done enough that I at least have the technical skills. However, I won’t know until I try it whether or not it’s snazzy or forgettable. I will say that I already shortened the title because I could see it would not fit well on the cover.
Putting it all together with CreateSpace and the e-bookstores will be the final hurdle. Hopefully, it’s little more than navigating through the various web forms and uploading the content, but like parallel parking, you don’t know how hard or easy it is until you actually do it. (For the record, parallel parking is HARD!) This might be one of those areas where I could use an experienced hand guiding mine along, saying, “Click… NOW!”
There’s more to do after that, from marketing to sales pushes, getting reviews, and trumpeting them across the internet, but mostly I’m focusing on getting it out, and then getting the next one out, and so on and so on.
That’s it for now. Wish me luck!