On March 1st 2011, at just about midnight, I finished the edits on my new book “The Hidden Institute”. Up to that point, I had thought of the book in terms of character, plot, pacing, theme, action, and description. But on that day, I took off the author cap and replaced it with the publisher cap. After that, I saw it as product, units, sales, and widgets.
It’s a different type of work, and one which most authors shy away from. I wrote this down, partially to show everyone what goes into the business of self-publishing. To be fair, though, I also wrote it as a checklist to myself, for the next time I publish a book.
The first thing I did on March 1 was convert the source to a formatted file. I had done all of my writing in Notepad (and “Write Or Die”). My editing was done on a wiki site that I set up for communication between myself and my beta readers. While those were good tools for their purpose, they did not answer the problems of formatting. For that, I turned to LyX. It’s an open-source tool for formatting formal writing which was recommended to me by Nathan Lowell.
I’ll say this for LyX. It is powerful, it is open source, and it is very useful. With that said, it is also a royal pain in the ass. The learning curve for this tool is abominable, and the tutorials are laughably vague. LyX is very proud of not being a word processor. . . but I don’t know why they’re proud about it. They say that LyX isn’t WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get), but rather WYSIWYM (What you see is what you mean). I can tell you now, after wrestling with it for a day and a half, that it does not give you what you “mean”. When I put in newlines, I MEAN for those newlines to stay. And their support online is the worst sort of open-source holier-than-thou BS I’ve ever seen. Nine out of ten responses are “Read the manual”, which is useless to any edge case question.
I have to thank Nathan Lowell for sticking with me during this time, when I was ranting and raving about it on IM. He had to go through the same thing when he started working with it, and I was lucky enough to benefit from his knowledge.
Ranting aside, though, LyX does produce the most beautifully professional file you’re likely to find, especially for the price. It is a trial by fire, but well worth the work. And once I was done, I had a PDF version of the book that was as professional as any you’ll see rolling off the presses at any of the big six.
So that was my first 1.5 days. After that, I submitted my PDF file to CreateSpace. This one is my big moneymaker, the website that has consistently done the best for me with Tumbler. I spent about half a day formatting my cover (don’t use their cover creator, it’s rubbish for anything that doesn’t want to LOOK like vanity press) but aside from that, the process was fairly easy. You need to know what size book you’re making (trust me, stick with the industry standards) how many pages you have (which you get while formatting the book), and simple information like pricing and teaser description. Once I was done with that, and happy with all of my answers, I was ready to order my proof copy. The purpose of the proof copy is to ensure that there is nothing wrong with the book by sending me one copy that is made the same way all the others would be. If it was perfect, then we were ready to pull the trigger, and start selling books.
Timing Mistakes to Avoid
Now here’s something I did wrong. I didn’t get any blurbs or reviews from my beta readers, so at the time of publishing, I had no testimonials for the cover. I was in too much of a hurry, and because of it, I had to ship without. Don’t let this happen to you. When you send out beta reader copies, leave a form at the end of the text for them to fill out with a little mini-review that you can grab quotes from.
Since we’re on the subject of things I did wrong, let me bring up another one. Pre-orders. I totally forgot about pre-orders. So here I was, March 1, with a full manuscript ready for publishing, and I hadn’t posted a thing about pre-orders. I jumped online and put together a blog post, telling people that I was ready to accept pre-orders, but that was only days before the actual product would be available for purchase online. I tried to make up for that by offering numbered, signed e-books, but I still should have given them more time. Note to self: Pre-orders start when you START editing, not when you stop.
Moving on. So, CreateSpace is my favored channel for physical distribution, and for Kindle distribution, but it doesn’t cover all the bases, reader-wise. For that, I went to SmashWords. SmashWords will take your document and convert it to multiple e-book formats so that it can be read as anything from text to nook. The good news is that it covers all your bases. The bad news is that it takes a little while to format the manuscript, it must be formatted their way, and their format is not terribly pretty. Still, it is the best way to get your book out there in multiple formats.
Once I submitted my document, I started out at #762 in the processing queue, and half a day later, the book was available for purchase.
With CreateSpace covering my physical media and Kindle, and SmashWords covering all the other e-book formats, I was all set, right? Well, no. There was one other version that I wanted to get out there. Google.
I’ve loved Google for more than a decade, and love the idea of Google books even more. As a comparatively new writer, my biggest enemy is obscurity, and teaming with the world’s greatest search giant is a big plus. So, I logged on to my Google Partners account, gave it the new ISBN number (Oh, I got the ISBN number from CreateSpace, more on that later), and uploaded my cover art/manuscript. Three days later, and it’s still processing. Honestly, I have no idea what could be taking so long. It’s 300 pages, so even if they were actually reading the thing, they should be done by now. But I digress.
Regarding the ISBN number. I get mine free from CreateSpace, and did a lot of study before I did so. Now, you can buy your own ISBN number, but it’s pretty pricey, and you have to buy one for every format you support (an e-book does not have the same ISBN as a p-book, or an audiobook). If you were only to buy one, it would cost around $100 USD (last time I checked). So, that was an expensive proposition to me. By comparison, CreateSpace will let me use one of theirs, but I give up the publishing right. What that means is that, I am not technically the publisher of those books. CreateSpace is. I have the right to end my association with them at any time, pull my book from the shelf, and buy a new ISBN if I want, but so long as I’m using their number, they are the publisher.
So at this point, I was waiting on my proof copy from CreateSpace, I was waiting on the queue for SmashWords, and I was waiting on Google’s “Processing” (still am). After all that, I created a landing site for “The Hidden Institute”. A landing site is the place where you send people who want to know about your book. It has contact info, sales info, reviews, whatever. A one-stop shopping center for all relevant information about a book. I tend to keep mine pretty spartan, showing only a preview of the book, with links to places where you can buy it, read reviews, etc. Throwing the page together was easy. Putting the content together has taken more time. I still don’t have a preview available, because I’m waiting for Google to finish “processing”. The Google Preview is a great way to embed a large portion of your book in a webpage.
Promotion and Podiobooks
With all that done, I was ready to sit back and rest. Time to let the money roll in. Well, no. As it happens, a self-pubbed writer’s work is never done. I still had to promote it. I got up on Twitter and told people about it. I got on Facebook and told people where to find it, but that was only the tip of the iceberg for my promotional plan.
My real promotion is in podiobooks. It’s a lot of hard work, which leads to incredible promotion for an indie writer. So, as soon as I had the book available for sale, I sat down in front of a microphone and started recording. It’s going to take at least a month of work, but when I’m done, I’ll have opened my book to a whole huge group of readers who like to take books with them when they’re travelling or commuting. It allows me to offer my writing to the blind without publishing in braille (which I never thought of doing before . . . how do you self-pub in braille? . . . note to self, check that out).
Anyway, it’s a week after finishing my edits, and I’m now published. Your path may not be the same, but I hope it helps to see how one person did it.
What’s next? Goodreads, Facebook, paid ads . . . and most important of all, the next book. Hope to see you then.
Update: I don’t know why I forgot to put this in, but it’s worth noting that everything I did last week was 100% free. Now, I did decide to go with the pro plan for CreateSpace, which meant that I could make more royalties at a lower price point. The Pro plan cost $40, but everything else was completely free.