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

Secret Book and Self-Publishing

I am slowly crawling out from the cocoon of heartbreak and back toward my Secret Book manuscript.  However, I’ve reached an impasse that has held up the story somewhat.  The road has two forks, and I need to go down both of them.

My attempt to brave the first fork has shown that my research into the period and especially the English setting is sorely lacking, to the point that it’s holding me up.  I’ll be in London again in two months, and I want to spend much of my time there doing research.  So I’m making plans to organize where and when and who and how.

If I finish the book and it sells, I can write off the whole trip! 

If I finish the book and it sells, I can write off the whole trip!

Image:  Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The second fork led right back to Heartbreak Hotel (I should just buy real estate on Lonely Street, seriously).  I couldn’t write the lovey-dovey part of the book because it’s been so long since I’ve been happy in a new relationship that those scenes are coming off wooden and stilted.  I can’t tap into those emotions right now, even in my imagination.  That realization made writing them and listening to the book’s Einaudi playlist exquisitely painful.

Shit like this all over Facebook right now does not help.

Starring everyone I’ve ever known and a bunch of stupid celebrities I don’t.

Starring everyone I’ve ever known and a bunch of stupid celebrities I don’t.

Image:  mashable.com

So I’ll take First Fork Road for now.  (And I’m listening to Einaudi again, which is a good sign, I suppose.)  Meanwhile, stuffs be happening:

  •  This research and preparation will take time.
  • I’m embroiled in trying to retrieve my Rose’s Hostage critique.  Things are not going well at the moment.  Hint:  if you pay someone to do a critique or editing, get a turnaround time in writing.  In the meantime, a chapter rewrite I thought of on my own looms.
  • I’m still querying agents about Tunerville (more on that shortly).
  • I’ve entered a story in literary magazine Glimmer Train’s New Writers competition.

This past weekend, I attended VisionCon with my Whovian friends.  I went dressed as Donna Noble in an outfit very similar to this one:

I’m not linking to who Donna Noble is.  Go watch Doctor Who on Netflix, you godless heathen!

I’m not linking to who Donna Noble is. Go watch Doctor Who on Netflix, you godless heathen!

 Image:  bbcamerica.com

I clipped a small adipose plush to my jacket just in case no one realized who I was supposed to be, but everyone got it and a couple of people even wanted to snap a pic.  So my first cosplay ever was a success.

While I was there, I attended a panel on traditional vs. self-publishing hosted by horror/fantasy authors Ben S. Reeder, JM Guillen, and EM Ervin.  All three of them are self-pubbed; only Ben Reeder has gone through traditional publishing.  EM Ervin’s book had only been out for two weeks when they had the panel–I could totally relate to her excitement.

Overall, the three writers were in favor of self-publishing.  Guillen said he had never gone for the regular method.  Reeder told the audience that you certainly do not get much money from traditional publishing–advances have shrunk to ridiculous amounts, especially for first novels.  I knew this already, so no surprise there.

Don’t quit your day job just yet. 

Don’t quit your day job just yet.

Image:  graur razvan ionut/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reeder and Guillen both said that while the slush pile and queries are still a thing, agents have a new tool to find writers–they go online and see what is selling.  And according to Reeder, whom I spoke with the next morning on my last pass through the dealer’s room before heading home, you can make a living this way, if your sales are decent.

I have my doubts about that last, but they definitely gave me something to think about.  I’ve been avoiding self-pubbing for several reasons:

  • It still has a shitty reputation, because anyone can do it. And anyone does.
  • It costs money.  Even if you avoid vanity publishers and publish on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing for free, if you want even a hope of having a decent project, you still have to shell out for a competent editor and hire a book cover artist.  All three of the panel hosts agreed these two things are absolutely vital.
  • It requires you to do ALL the work.  While traditional publishers these days put authors to work flogging their books, with self-published books the onus is on you.  All of it.
  • It lacks the one thing traditional publishing gives you that nothing else can, according to Reeder: legitimacy.

This last is why I do not want to self-publish Rose’s Hostage or Tunerville.  I’m still querying the latter.  I got a rejection this week that said the query sounded interesting, but that the agent in question was inundated with work and not taking on new clients.  Maybe it was a form email, and maybe not.  It’s difficult to tell sometimes.

You will not see any self-published books at Barnes and Noble, unless they’ve been picked up by one of the Big Five, and that is very, very rare.  Still, it does happen.

You too can write a masturbatory fantasy and have it become a media darling.

You too can write a masturbatory fantasy and have it become a media darling.

Image:  Wikipedia.com

I want that legitimacy.  It’s like getting instant street cred.  If I get it, I will have passed the initiation; industry professionals will have declared my book worthy, and I’ll become one of the club.  For me, right now, self-pubbing is not going to happen with those two works.

I thought–and I keep thinking–that it might be a good way to offer something shorter than a book to you, my readers.  Because I feel bad that you haven’t got anything besides this twit of a blog to read.

What do you think?  If you would like me to put some stories up, let me know in the comments.