What I’ve Learned (So Far) from Self-Publishing My Book

If you follow this blog, you probably know by now that I said “F*ck it,” and put Tunerville up on Amazon (see Buy Me! page). Someone posted a review already, and it was a good one. Thanks, mysterious internet reader!

I’ve learned a few things and probably have a lot more to learn. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

How to do various things in GIMP

GIMP is the freeware version of Adobe Photoshop. It probably has a different interface — I don’t know, since I can’t afford to even kiss the hem of Adobe’s garments. But the concepts of image manipulation are the same.

Someday I hope to approach the magnificence that is this guy.

I found a wonderful image free for commercial use that really seemed to capture the book. I googled a zillion ways to make the lettering look good, and armed with a picture and some knowledge, I designed both an ebook and paperback cover.

The latter was a complete nightmare.

First, I had to figure out how to wrap the picture around the spine. When I thought I had it down, I made my cover, but I used the wrong template for the number of pages. The Amazon publishing platform rejected it twice before I figured that out. Yes, I had to start all over again. More than once.

But it turned out pretty good!

This is a proof copy. The inside still needed a bit of work.
The back.

And the spine. Ignore my hipster headphones in the background.

I was pretty impressed with the quality of the paper, too. It’s print-on-demand, so if you order a copy, they crank one out and send it to you. This means I do not have to ship them out of my mum’s garage.

When you do this, you have to do EVERYTHING by yourself

Although I ran the cover design by someone, I made it all alone. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing walks you through almost everything, but it can’t answer all questions. They have customer service. I called them once and they called me back. But my phone died temporarily, and I missed the call. Fortunately, I figured out the issue by myself.

Making the inside look good also took work. You can find folks on Fiverr and other e-lance platforms who will help you, but I didn’t have any money for that. I used their guidelines and a template and lots of advice from Derek Murphy at Creativeindie. Thanks, Derek!

Despite it being mostly free, to do it right still cost me money

Sure, I could have just published an ebook for nothing on Amazon and raked in my tiny royalties. But I wanted to do a paperback, since the more formats you have, the more readers you can reach. To do that, I had to get an ISBN, or International Standard Book Number.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s the identifier distributors, booksellers, libraries, etc. use to identify and find your book. Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t require one for ebooks, but you need one for a physical book, even print-on-demand. While Amazon will give you one for free, it’s limited. You can only use that ISBN on their platform.

Bowker has a monopoly on ISBNs and is the only place you can get them in the U.S. No, it’s not super cheap. If you buy one, it’s $125. If you buy ten, it’s $295. The more you buy, the cheaper the unit price for each number. As you can imagine, publishers get them in bulk.

I bought ten so I could use one for the ebook and one for the paperback. This means the numbers belong to me, not Amazon, forever. And I have eight more for future editions or anything else I want to crank out. They never expire, but I cannot reuse any of them.

Of course, this cost money that I couldn’t really spare. Here’s hoping I can make it back in sales.

Speaking of sales…

I don’t know jack about marketing

I made a dumb AF book trailer (seriously, it’s hilariously stupid) and a friend who has a Roku channel that plays old horror B-movies and other assorted weird stuff offered to play it. He said they have 20,000 viewers. Hey, one of them might buy it. You never know.

Here’s the trailer. Someday I’m going to look back on this and cringe. Probably tomorrow.

Besides trailers, you have to talk up your book on social media. You have to make an author page at Goodreads (I did). You have to solicit reviews, because if you don’t have any, Amazon will think you suck and yank you. That’s the part that freaks me out a little, approaching people I don’t know and asking them to read my crap.

Someone posted a 4-star review at Amazon and I was elated (thank you!). Before that, the poor thing was alone, naked, and afraid.

Kind of ironic for a book about ghosts.

If you don’t have a website or a blog or any kind of following, it’s going to be a lot harder to sell books. I advise writers, even traditionally published ones, to get on the damn internet and create a social media presence. It’s important not only to post but to engage with followers. Follow people back (check them out first, obviously), like and retweet/share, connect with industry folks.

This isn’t what I wanted, but it’s what I needed

I wrote the sequel to this book a year ago. But since then, I’ve been stuck. Part of that had to do with the endless, agonizing job hunt and the major decision to sell out and move. I didn’t want to do it with Amazon, either, but using my own ISBNs gives me a little more flexibility.

I’ve spent so much time getting this to the book I wanted it to be, but I found myself re-editing after writing the sequel. Now the story is fixed and I can move on and quit mucking with it. Plus, since things are awful right now, it gave me a much-needed boost of self-esteem. I DID something, y’all.

If you’re thinking about publishing a book this way, I would definitely do the following:

1. Read as much as you can about it. I’ll share some links that helped me.

2. Let go of your expectations. You’re very unlikely to get famous this way. If you’re entrepreneurial, you might make a little money.

3. Make sure you have a great product. Don’t just slap your trunk novel up. Choose your best work.

4. Do not let a book out into the wild without getting another person, preferably a professional editor, to look it over. You’re competing with professionally produced books.

5. If you can afford it, hire a cover designer. It was a no-go for me, unfortunately. I just did the best I could.

Would I have preferred traditional publishing? Yes. Am I still going after it? Of course, with something else. But I did it, and you can read it now, and that’s the most important thing.

Links:

How to Get an ISBN: An Author’s Guide For All Things ISBN

Writing Your Book’s Back-Cover Copy

Sarra Cannon’s Self-Pub Guides

What’s Your Book Marketing Plan? 6 Crucial Steps to Include

And if you’re committed to looking for a small press rather than going it alone, Writer Beware has your back.

Victoria Strauss — Precautions for Small Press Authors

TUNERVILLE IS OUT!

Happy New Year!

So I did a thing. I put Tunerville on Amazon.

I’ve blathered on about how I didn’t want to self-publish. I had good, sound reasons. But you know, I couldn’t stop thinking about this book. It was like being in love.

Much like my real relationships, it just sat there, giving nothing back.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

I’m a fan of the podcast WRITERS/BLOCKBUSTERS (Thunder Grunt). The three screenwriter hosts analyze movies from a screenwriting angle. On the Doctor Sleep episode, they were talking about the filmmaker, who started with very little and had made short films, as most do. This led to a discussion of how the only real way a screenwriter knows a script is truly filmable is to film it. Make it and put it out there, they said.

This got me to thinking about my book, which got close but didn’t quite make the hurdle to traditional publishing. The best small presses that take unagented submissions in my genre are closed to them currently. Perpetually, it seems; I keep checking in vain for open calls.

While listening to the podcast, I thought, Why not? Why not just say ‘f*ck it,’ and put it out there?

I should listen to the Doctor.

I wrote Book 2, and I’d like to close out the trilogy with Book 3, even if my readership at this point is very small. I want to finish The Catalyst. I’m tired of waiting and I would like to move on from this relationship.

The odds of getting noticed this way — for novelists, anyway — are practically zero. But that’s not necessarily the goal — maybe just doing it so it can be read is enough. I worked damn hard on restructuring it, and it’s finally as close to the book I hoped it would be as I can currently get. It might not be the breakout but that’s okay as long as someone besides me likes it. And let’s face it; right now, even Baby Yoda-sized revenue is better than nothing.

You didn’t actually think you could escape him here, did you?

Image: Disney/Forbes please don’t sue me lol

Off-topic, but you should go get Disney+ and watch The Mandalorian. Seriously, it rocks. The channel is worth it just for the access to Disney’s entire back catalog, plus Star Wars, MCU, and Pixar. No, I am not a shill; I just think it’s awesome.

You can get Tunerville on Amazon as an ebook (MOBI). The paperback is pending — there is no way I’m publishing it before I look at the proof. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get the free app from Amazon and read it on your device.

Click on the cover below or visit the Buy Me! page or sidebar for a link.

Yeah, I made this. :)

NaNoWriMo 2019: Going Dark

This isn’t working, folks. Not the book, but blogging the process. I keep thinking about what I’m going to say here rather than there. I’ve barely begun and already it’s tanking my concentration.

The story is a bit more complicated, and it’s a new genre for me. So for now, I think I need to go dark on blogging about it. That does NOT mean I won’t pop in here to let you know how it’s going, or if I wrestle a writing-related bear and want to discuss it. Or if anything else happens.

It’s been a few days now since the big move. I feel much better than before. The brain fog was real, and the extra pressure of word counts did not help at all. I didn’t just move; I upheaved my entire life.

I don’t know if doing this will be very very good, or very very bad, but it had to be done. Trying something new is scary.

Kinda feels like this, with no net.

Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

So NaNoWriMo 2019 is done, and I’m just gonna write. See ya later.

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 5: Crash and Burn

Y’all, I just feel terrible.

I know it’s from a commercial moving site, but this post describes exactly how I feel right now. Everything hurts. Everything. And I didn’t do the actual moving work.

Worst of all, I will have to do this all over again when I find a job and a place. I just can’t even think that far ahead right now. Selling the house put so much extra stress on me that I suspect it made things worse. Or maybe it’s because I’m not a kid anymore.

My mom and I went out to run errands today, and she was trying to show me where stuff was. Nothing she said made any sense. It’s doubtful I’ll be able to remember it without googling a map.

Hmm, I thought she said turn left but I don’t think this is quite right . . .

Anyway, I’ve been slowly getting back into the story mindset I had before the move, when I wrote the outline. There is no way I will make the NaNoWriMo 50K goal, but I might be able to finish the book by January.

I AM NOT GOING TO QUIT.

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 4: Move Complete

First, let me say that the move went pretty smoothly. Dad engaged a couple of Mennonite dudes and they showed up at 7:00 am this morning with a trailer, loaded all my stuff, drove for three hours, and then dropped it off in two different places. Thanks, guys. Thanks, Dad.

I would post a pic of him but he would kill me, so please enjoy this picture of my former neighbor’s cat. His name is Charlie.

Photo by Elizabeth West

Second, I am totally dead. In order to be ready, I had to get up at stupid o’clock after not sleeping very well. It’s going to be a really long day for the Mennonite dudes; they probably aren’t even home yet and they started earlier than I did.

Third, there will be no NaNoWriMo’ing today; I am so tired I can barely type.

Fourth, I was not selected for Pitch Wars, so I guess that’s it for Tunerville currently. I have feelings about that; I spent so long with it, but I’m too tired to unpack them right now. At least now I can concentrate on the new book.

For the time being, I’m literally the nerd in her mother’s basement until I find a job in the nearby bigger city or somewhere else. Thankfully, I’m in my own comfy bed.

Sorta like this, only with no sunlight.

Image by LUM3N from Pixabay

I’m not going to miss Old City, but I will miss people, and I guess I’ll miss my house. It was kind of annoying, but it was home for quite a while. I cried a little about leaving it. But someone new will live there now, and he’ll probably fix it up. It needs someone to love it and improve it. I needed a new start, and a bigger job market.

So I’ll be back tomorrow, hopefully with a word count.

NaNoWriMo 2019: Day 3 of the OMG I am Dead

Today’s word count: 0.

Spent all day packing and cleaning. Am too tired to breathe. Every part of my body hurts. My hair hurts.

This will never stop being cute.

Tomorrow, very early, I move. I’m not doing most of the work, so hopefully by the time I drive 200 miles, unpack some stuff, and rest a little, I’ll be able to crank out some pages. I’ve got a long drive to think about it.

This is my last night in this house. Though I won’t miss this city, I think I’ll miss the house a little. It was super annoying a lot of the time, but it was home for quite a while. 

If I could have made a life here, I might have stayed, but there was just no way. Obviously, I don’t belong here. Well, if I get everything I ever wanted, I’m not going to complain!

Come on, universe! I’m ready!

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 2: Slow Going

I think I wrote about 149 words today; I don’t think the next two days are going to be very productive.

I tried thinking about my story while packing, but then I ended up thinking about packing, sorting, and why I can’t seem to get rid of 87,000 t-shirts. Balls!

This song has been stuck in my head all day. You’re welcome. :)

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 1: Uh Oh

I’m behind already. Well, the same thing happened last year and I hit the target, although I did start with 15,000 words already written.

Today, I signed the closing paperwork on my house, a rather emotional event. Then I came home and did some packing. I only have two days before I move — most of it’s already done. All I have to do is:

  • pack my dishes and the things I’m actively using
  • put all the rubbish in the bin for one last pickup
  • take some stuff nobody wants to the thrift store
  • drink a gallon of milk (it won’t survive a three-hour drive)
  • clean
  • and do some large loads of laundry.

I’m also leaving a bunch of stuff for the buyer. He’s getting all the appliances, some furniture, and a few things I don’t need anymore or can easily replace later (cleaning stuff, snow shovel, etc.). None of it’s junk; it’s all stuff he can use.

The Catalyst is a working title. I don’t know if it will be the actual title. But! I did finish my outline last night, so I sort of know where this story is going, although I have no idea what will happen.

This Shiba in a swing seems unbothered about it.

I’m pretty tired, y’all.

NaNoWriMo 2019: And Here We Go

Happy Halloween and NaNoWriMo 2019 Eve!

I’ll post a word count, etc. every day during NaNoWriMo. Posts may be short, especially during the first week, since I’m moving and hopefully at least temping while I continue the job hunt in a bigger market.  

It bugs me that I didn’t make more progress on editing Book 2 this year. I got distracted by the conlang and life things. I decided to proceed as if nothing will happen with Pitch Wars and Tunerville. While I will be disappointed I’m not selected, writing New Book will undoubtedly take my mind off it for a bit.

The advice “Write what you want to read” has produced some really amazing works. I mostly read genre fiction. I’ve been struggling to land on a type in which to specialize. When I decided to get serious about my writing, I originally intended to do whatever I wanted, regardless of genre. No restrictive branding slots for me!

Of course, publishing and marketing don’t work that way. Bookstores have categories, and if you do well in one, you tend to get locked into it. Only huge success a la Stephen King allows you to break out and write whatever and still make money, and even then, you’ll have readers who eschew any non-conforming works.

More skeletons, please.

Image: Goodreads

For the record, I’m a die-hard SK fan who really liked Joyland.

While I enjoy literary fiction, I’m not sure it’s best for me as a writer. Secret Book, despite its ignominious end as a trunk novel, taught me how to elevate my writing. It contains some of the best prose I’ve ever produced, even if the premise was cringingly awful. My grad school writing professor, a Mark Twain scholar, told me that no time spent writing is wasted, and she is right.

Neither is time spent reading. Even as an unpublished writer, I get questions from non-writers about craft, and the two things I emphasize most are writing (butt-in-seat!) and reading. Although there really are no new stories, there are as many ways to write them as there are writers, and reading will fill your inspirational well. If you read widely, you’ll see what works and what doesn’t.

If you’re a screenwriter, you must watch movies (and read scripts). It does not matter what kind. Despite what certain directors have said recently, there is value in all cinema.

Speaking of that, I just want to disavow people of the notion that comic books, horror films, and comic book films can’t be recognized as fine art.

Some of the most beloved classics are fantasy. Peter Pan, The Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland . . . I’m sure you can think of some. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus is arguably science fiction but I had it twice in college. 

Where’s the love for me? I’ve never been out of print since I was published in 1897!

Image: Wikipedia (public domain)

When Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Return of the King won 11 Oscars in 2004, including Best Picture, I cried. It was the penultimate film from a book that has set a nearly unsurpassed standard for the high fantasy genre, a film with elves and orcs and hobbits and dwarves and all manner of beasties, with a villain who is nothing more than an immense, ever-open eye. I cried because it was like the opening of the Black Gate in real life, behind which the books and movies we loved were dismissed and imprisoned.

And it’s given us movies like Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. Story arcs with iconic and beloved characters like Captain America and Iron Man, whose actors can play them with depth and nuance because the writers want us to see them that way and there’s room now to do it.

No longer are comic books a joke; now they’re winning Oscars for costume design and music (Black Panther, in 2019), and even acting. Heath Ledger’s posthumous award for playing the Joker might have seemed a nod toward the tragic cutoff of a promising career, but it absolutely was not. Anyone who saw The Dark Knight knew they were watching a darkly brilliant performance, and it didn’t matter that he played a comic book character.

To be fair, Martin Scorsese has a point in that Marvel’s dominated the movie house to the point where indie-style pictures can’t get greenlit easily or at all. Publishers have behaved similarly in blowing off new and midlist authors for fiction with mass-market appeal, because publishing is a business, after all.

Looking at my past works, I see speculative elements in every one of them (with the exception of Rose’s Hostage, another trunk novel). Very well then. Tunerville and Book 2 are urban fantasy, with ghosts and portals but set in the real world. It leads to you didn’t think I was actually going to tell you what happens, did you?

Now I shall try my hand at a full-on fantasy.

It may be a complete failure, but as my professor said, it won’t be a complete waste of time. Since these genres have become commercially viable, that gives me hope. Writers who enjoy fantastic fiction have a shot. But we still need to be true to ourselves, even while hoping it hits that sweet spot leading to publication and even moderate success.

We want to write it, and we want you to be able to read it. That’s a worthy reason to keep doing this. To everyone participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck!

NaNoWriMo 2019: Harry Potter and the Writer Who Tried to Do Too Much

It’s NaNoWriMo time again, campers!

Yes, I’m taking a stab at it. This year, it’s going to be a bit harder, as I have a LOT going on.

What’s Going On?

I’m moving

Hallelujah, I’m finally getting out of the town I’ve been stuck in for-fricking-ever. I’ve been job hunting forever, and there is no growth here. Plus, I’ve priced myself out of the small market. So what I need is a bigger market.

My crappy house has sold, and I’ll be able to move anywhere, though it will probably have to be within Nearby BiggerCity for now. I don’t really want to be there, either. However, the universe has been throwing favorable signs at me, and I’ve thrown a bucket of wishes at it, so we’ll see.

Since I won’t make enough profit to move somewhere cool and then get a job, I will be the literal nerd in her mother’s basement. It’s just temporary, however, until I find something. If I find work out of state, Oliver and I can just tootle away. I can come back for my stored stuff later.

Small silver four door car under a big tree
My little tootlin’ buddy. Hopefully not my future home.

Photo: Elizabeth West

Closing is November 7 and I have to move 200 miles and two locations away before then, so this is going to take some organization.

I’m packing

Since I’ve no clue where I’m going to end up or what I’ll need, the new homeowner, a younger person starting out whose grandparents are buying the house for him (aww), is purchasing some of my furniture. I’ve sold a lot of the rest on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Only a few things are going with me; the rest will be in storage.

Yes, I’ll have to move twice, unless something happens between now and then. The next two weeks will be key. It’s a little difficult to pack while you’re still actually using the things you need to pack.

I submitted Tunerville to Pitch Wars

This may not even happen, but if I’m chosen as a mentee, I will be revising one book at the same time I’m writing another. Gah!

There’s a new idea floating around in my head, though I might actually write Book 3 just to get it out and done. If nothing comes of Pitch Wars, then I can take my time with the conlang and revision of Books 2 and 3. It’s possible to publish earlier works later after you’ve broken through (please, universe, let me break through).  

I’m still job hunting

The less said about this, the better.

an iPad with a job application on it
Please let me give you all my private information so you can ignore me and send a rejection six months later! I love that!

Image by Gerd Altmann at Pixabay

NaNoWriMo Prep

Several tasks remain before I’m ready to dive into this year’s project.

An outline

Book 3 is already outlined in my head and has plenty of notes. New Idea is currently nothing but a blurb I wrote while practicing query letters. Regardless of which I choose, I should at least hit the high points to keep myself on track.

Music to write by

Last year’s Writing Music playlist will suffice. If I make a new one, I’ll share. I still have loads of albums to pick from.

A routine

I don’t mean a schedule, but the way I prepare and how I get into each session. Since I’m trying to cultivate a better writing habit, I’ve spent some time thinking about what works best for me.

  • Sitting in one place at basically the same time of day (usually evening, especially if I’m working)
  • Reading a little where I left off (this only works if I’m writing from start to finish, which, as you know, I don’t always do)
  • Throat-clearing

I want to talk about that last one. Sometimes, when you sit down to write, it’s hard to get started. Long ago, when I was stuck once, I did an email workshop called Daily Writes, created by Shery Arrieta Russ. I discovered that it helped to free-write for a few minutes about what I intended to accomplish that day. After finishing the workshop, I kept the habit as a way to unblock myself when I couldn’t seem to get started. All the blah-de-blah can be deleted later and doesn’t affect my word count.

I don’t expect to get all the way through Book 3 (or whatever) in November, but last year, I finished Book 2 the following month. Since I’ll be in a new city with no money (until I find a job) and no life, I reckon I’ll have lots of time.

Read more about NaNoWriMo:

A First Timer’s Guide to Prepping for NaNoWriMo | NY Book Editors

The Pitfalls of NaNoWriMo | LitReactor

NaNoWriMo 2019: How to FINALLY Write Your 30-Day Novel | reedsy blog