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

Novel Excerpts

I’ve posted the first two chapters of my unpublished novel, Rose’s Hostage, on the Read Me page.  You can get to it at this link https://aelizabethwest.wordpress.com/excerpts/ (scroll down) or go to the header at the top of the page and click on the drop-downs under Read Me.

Rose’s Hostage is crime fiction.  For those readers I have who are younger or particularly sensitive, this is not a G-rated book.  I have included a short jacket flap-style teaser on the Read me page you might want to check out.

Interview: Chuck Sambuchino’s How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack

There’s a new book coming out September 7 that I am dying to read.  The cover looks like this:

I think he's looking at me...

The author is a favorite blogger of mine, Chuck Sambuchino.  He’s been a wealth of information for all us UNPUBs out there.   I found him through Writer’s Digest and never looked back.

Chuck looks like this:

Gnome defense expert and publishing advice giver. Top that, Van Damme!

In his own words:

Chuck Sambuchino is the author of HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, a humor book coming out Sept. 7, 2010.  He is also the editor of GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS (2011 edition in stores August 2010) and runs a large blog on publishing: www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog.  Besides that, he is a magazine freelancer, playwright, husband, owner of a flabby dog, cover band guitarist, and all around chocolate chip cookie fiend.

Anyone who likes chocolate chip cookies can’t be all bad.  Chuck was gracious enough to grant an interview to this blog.

Tell us about the book.  The cover is hilarious.  It looks like a spoof of the 1976 book Gnomes, by Wil Hugyen and illustrated by Rien Poorvliet.  I loved that as a child.  Is this a gritty reboot?  Were you attacked by a gnome?  Should I rethink buying a gnome statue for my garden?

The cover is a spoof of the old book—good catch.  It’s not a reboot as much as something else entirely.  But yes, I would rethink that gnome purchase if you want to stay alive.

 

Humor writing is not easy for a lot of people.  Funny is very subjective.  Do you have any tips for writers who might like to do this type of work?

Obviously, the concept of the book is key—but there needs to be good content in the book, as well. My editor said it well when she said that people will pick up the book because of the title and cover, but they will only buy it if they flip through some pages and are impressed.  Besides that, I would try to build a platform and network of friends any way you can.  With the big publishing blog I handle (guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog), I have developed a decent platform to reach readers.  It isn’t necessarily a “humor platform,” per se, but it is a platform of some kind.

Your blog contains a great deal of information for new writers.  We thank you profusely for the help you’ve given us. Working in the business yourself, you’ve undoubtedly been well-prepared for publishing your own book, but is there anything that surprised you about the process?

Several small things. For example, a large portion of the original text ended up on the cutting room floor to make room for lots of photos—that part surprised me, but the end result is better for it. A surprising thing for me was how quickly the book came to life.  The publishing industry moves sooooo slow, but this book went from initial discussions with the editor to being published in 10 months, and that’s lightning.  I am very fortunate for that.

Marketing is getting pretty important for writers. Any hints for novelists in particular on their platforms and establishing a presence?

Bribe TV anchors to interview you and get involved in some kind of political scandal.  Besides that: Become involved in writers groups and organizations.  Join a local group, the MWA, the RWA, SCBWI—whatever you like.  And you can always develop a platform that has nothing to do with your writing.  For example, if you start a popular blog on yoga, when you have a novel to sell two years from now, you will have some kind of platform in place to read people who may buy the book.  You need friends who will help you spread the word in their small circles just as you will do for them.

Money is seriously lacking in every industry these days.  Advances are shrinking, editors are being laid off and it’s harder than ever to even get a manuscript past the round file.  Can a fiction writer really make a living anymore?

Well, it’s not likely if all you want to do is sell fiction.  A successful writer needs to wear many different hats—they need to write fiction, teach classes, write articles and freelance edit.  You need to remember that it’s OK to write some things for love and other things for money.  David Morrell, a popular thriller writer, once told me that only 250 people make their living solely from writing fiction.  You have to do other things to pay the bills.  But yes, you can make it work and make a full-time living writing.

What do you see for the future of publishing?

Not sure.  My specialty is helping people get their work published and finding an agent.  As far as the looming transition to e-books and such, I’m already kind of burnt out on people taking wild guesses on all that, and any guess I take would be beyond wild.  (Note to self: Write novel and title it Beyond the Wild.)

Just for fun, what’s the weirdest question / comment you’ve ever come across on your blog?

Following an agent interview, I do remember one comment that was something along the lines of “If this agent can’t sell books, she should model in Playboy because she’s that beautiful.” I think it was about 20 minutes later that the agent frantically e-mailed me to ask me to remove the comment.

Thank you, Chuck!  Everyone, get thee to a bookstore or Amazon and buy this book.  It looks like a hoot.  God knows we all could use a laugh these days!

Yellowback

I apologize for posting my Y post late.  Here it is, for your enjoyment.  I’ll get the Z post up soon.

I found an interesting word that I thought I’d share with you for my letter Y post.

Yellowback (aka sensation novel) – cheap pulp fiction from the nineteenth century; what some would qualify as airport novels today.  Called that because the color of the jacket was often a bright mustard yellow.

During the Industrial Revolution, mass production of goods began, and suddenly anyone with the money could fill his house with all manner of furniture, linens and accessories.  A look at the Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck catalogs from the late 1800s reveals a plethora of items for sale, including books.

The yellowbacks followed the penny dreadful, the best known of which is Varney the Vampire, or The Feast of Blood, a gory, overwrought vampire tale that could be purchased for a pittance and was widely devoured by the mass market.  The cheap pulp books of the day tended toward what we now call genre, or category fiction.

Category fiction falls into several areas:

Romance

Usually man and woman; mutual attraction and love; almost always has a happy ending.  The happy endings and Three’s Company-type misunderstandings which keep the characters apart are why I don’t read straight romance novels.  But then, I lean more toward the dark side.  It has cookies.

Crime

Criminals are usually protagonists.  Can involve cops/detectives, courtroom drama, and the like.  Generally, the perpetrators of the crimes are known.

Mystery/detective

A detective, forensics expert or amateur sleuth.  The majority of them are whodunit novels, where the perpetrator is unknown to the reader and to the detective, with a reveal at the end.

Action/adventure

Think Commando, with missions, jungles, weapons, and machismo.  I know that’s a movie, but it’s a great example of the genre.  Also David Morrell’s First Blood, the novel Rambo came from.

Speculative fiction

Includes fantasy and science fiction, is a broader term for those.  Fantasy involves invented worlds, magic, supernatural beings.  Science fiction is science, technology, and future-oriented and can be hard, where technology drives the plot, or soft and more character-oriented.  Alternate worlds fall into this category also.

Horror

A subgenre of fantasy, horror tales are the monster stories, ghouls, ghosts, and reanimated corpses seeking brains or revenge.  You can have straight monsters, like Pennywise in Stephen King’s IT or explore the terror within, as in Robert Bloch’s Psycho.

Westerns

Cowboys, cattle drives, and water rights, just like the John Wayne movies.  Notable Western authors include Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry.

Literary fiction

Ha, got you! Literary fiction is not strictly genre, but it’s fiction and it’s a category.  So I’m putting it in.  It’s characterized by serious themes and great attention to style, depth and character development.

Category fiction is broad and malleable, and writers often combine elements of more than one genre in their work.  For example, you can write a romantic story set in an alternate universe, with magical elements.  Or like my book, where a relationship begins amidst a criminal setting, which would make it a romantic crime thriller.  Predator, while not a novel, is actually a monster (horror) movie in an action/adventure setting.  Sometimes this results in the invention of a new subgenre–vampire romance, for example–which if successful will spawn a score of imitators.

It’s recommended that you at least know what category your story falls into before you query, so you can target agents and publishers who handle that type of work.  One of the biggest reasons for rejection is sending a query to someone who doesn’t represent your kind of story.

It also gives them a better idea of where they can sell it.  Obviously your agent won’t want to take your romance novel to a horror publisher, unless it’s about monsters in love who tear down the city.  Hey, that actually sounds like something I would read…

Don’t worry if you think you’ve written a yellowback.  People have been slurping them up for over a century.  Some snobby people think genre fiction is not real writing, but tell that to Stephen King.  When your horror novel hits the bestseller list, you can laugh all the way to the bank.

Write Me a Letter

Writers spend a lot of time surfing the intertubes for magazines and agencies.  Numerous websites exist that aggregate submission calls, including NewPages.com, Duetrope’s Digest and various freelance market listings.  The most important page you’ll see on any magazine or agency site is the guidelines.

The short story market has shrunk from what it was years ago.  Competition is fierce, and screeners look for reasons to reject submitted material.  Pieces that don’t fit the guidelines are the first to go.

You have to tailor your submissions to the magazine itself.  If you’re writing articles, it makes sense to know you won’t be able to sell something about finance to American Cowboy, unless the article is about economical ways to board horses.  It has to address what the publication is looking for.  Same with an agency; you wouldn’t query a weepy historical romance to someone who is looking for crime thrillers or young adult fiction.

Fortunately magazines, literary journals and agents let writers know what type of material they seek.  Most websites have a page titled “Submissions” or “Guidelines.”  Read that page and then do what it says.   They use this information to screen submissions.  If yours doesn’t fit the guidelines, they don’t’ have to waste time reading it.  Too many pages, too many submissions to read and coddle each one.

Lots of agencies these days won’t even respond if they’re going to reject your work, so you might see something like “If you don’t hear from us within four months, assume we aren’t interested.”  Pretty clear, if you ask me.

I’ve seen literary journals whose submission instructions are so vague it sounds as though they are open to anything, but usually they’re not.  In those cases, read the journal if you can.  If the material is online and subscription only, go to the bookstore and find a copy.  You can sit at Barnes and Noble and read it; just don’t spill any coffee on it or you’ll be buying!  University libraries might have copies of literary journals also.

Guidelines do more than filter material.  They tell screeners if you can follow directions.  Think of it like answering a job advertisement.   You wouldn’t want to work with someone who can’t follow basic instructions, and neither do they.

Don’t assume each agency or publication’s submittal process is the same either.   Check!  Look on the website.  Very few don’t have websites now.  A lot of agents and magazines are going green and have switched to accepting email submissions and queries.  Remember, AN EMAIL QUERY IS STILL A BUSINESS COMMUNICATION.   You must take the same care with your letter as you would if you were mailing it.

Here’s a great post from Rachelle Gardner’s agent blog about why guidelines are so important.