How to Self-Publish

The Self-Publishing Journey

Put any of the headings below into Google and you will get a wealth of information, much of it far more detailed than I could hope to provide. All I wished to do here is give you an overview of the decisions and process I took to self-publish in the hopes that it offers some help for anyone else wishing to travel the same path.

– S.F. Burgess

Why self-publish?

Like most authors, I imagine, I didn’t want to self-publish. I had my dream of finding an agent and getting a book deal. I sent my three chapters (hardcopy), with a cover letter, carefully crafted for the individual it was being sent to and self-addressed stamped envelope, to every agent and publisher that took submissions in the Writers and Artist’s Yearbook. The printing and mail costs alone for this endeavour was expensive. Of course, these are serious companies, trying to exist in a cut-throat industry. I received a few standard (often unsigned) rejection letters, but mostly what I got was silence. Big business, it seems has NO manners. Of the 60-odd letters I sent out I got one, half-decent reply, a few lines scribbled on a standard rejection letter telling me my book was too long. I will admit to being a little confused by this: my genre is fantasy, notably epic fantasy, and as I’m sure you are aware, fantasy books are usually very large. After all, to create a new believable world, you need to use a lot of words.

I did a bit of research, asked a few people and discovered that the reason length was an issue was to do with risk. The longer a book, the more it cost to produce, the more it has to be sold for, the more monetary risk involved and nobody was going to take this sort of risk on an unknown author. The need for caution and ‘certain’ outcomes in the choice of what to publish appeared to have taken precedence over trying something new. Don’t get me wrong, I am under no illusions, I am sure if my book was stunning, my talent oozing from every sentence, it might still have received consideration. I know that I am not a literary genius, but I can craft a good story, something people would find entertaining and I know my writing style is as good, if not better than many published authors.

At first I tried editing the book, even cutting it by a third. In some ways this was no bad thing, it made the story a little faster, but it was still over 200,000 words long and I reached the point where cutting further would impact the story I was trying to tell and I wasn’t willing to do that.

Thoroughly dejected I gave up on the manuscript and moved on to writing something shorter. This would have been the end of the story had it not been for my new, amazing husband, who read the original manuscript, listened to my tales of woe about trying to get it published and being the practical man that he is, offered a solution – we’d self-publish.

I was resistant to begin with, after all, if I wasn’t good enough for a publishing house or agent, what right did I have thrusting my work on an unsuspecting world… And what about the cost??

My husband pointed me towards the work and opinions of Hugh Howey, a man whose writing I find to be genius and whose opinion I greatly admire. Slowly I began to realise that self-publishing was not only possible and affordable, but was a ‘backlash’, a stand, against the big traditional publishing houses who seemed to have forgotten that making money should NOT be the sole motivator in publishing a book – the world simply doesn’t need any more Katie Price books!

Self-Publishing – Where do we start?

Once we decided to self-publish, we began our research. We read as much as we could about the process of self-publishing. We decided early on that Kindle Direct Publishing  was the best way to go, with perhaps Createspace or Lulu for the print on demand hard copy. This way some of the problems of distribution could be solved, we could effectively market to the world and still keep the costs down; also we didn’t have to worry about buying 25,000 books up front and trying to sell them to shops!

My husband and I read as much as we could, we found Guy Kawasaki to be very helpful and several of the free “how to publish” books that you can get from Amazon Kindle were useful. Once we felt we had a handle on what was required we made a loose sort of plan and began working our way through it.

Each of the headings below represents a stage in that plan.

Draft Reading

When I originally finished my first draft (Sept 2009!), I had printed off (at Staples) four hard copies. I then bribed four of my closest friends (and avid book readers) with large amounts of chocolate, to read my book and give feedback. They all did an amazing job and the book was massively improved because of it. However, in the last few years I had messed and tweaked with my book, working on the advice and comments I was given and it was now almost a different book from the original and it needed draft reading again.

In this instance I turned to three more of my close friends (two of whom were from my writing group), who did a stunningly professional job of pulling together the draft and talking me through areas where things might need clarifying and adjusting.

I can’t stress enough how important this draft reading stage is to a self-published author. No author should work in isolation, you need feedback and constructive criticism to polish your book. Those who are willing to take time to read your work and tell you where your mistakes are should be treated as precious and held in the highest esteem. If you don’t have friends who can do this for you, join a writing group, you’ll find people who can help you, as long as you are willing to return the favour!

Editing

Editing should be done by a professional. It’s VERY hard, if not impossible, for an author to properly edit their own work. You are so familiar with the work, so attached that you don’t READ what’s actually there, you see what you meant to say. However, professionals are very, very expensive, especially when they charge by the word and are dealing with a book as long as mine!

I wanted my first published book to be as professional looking as possible, I wanted to give my readers as polished and perfect version as I could manage, so I began investigating professional editors. They were all very expensive: for the size of my book! My first choice was Fiction Feedback, I’d had some dealing with them in the past, when they did a ‘sanity check’ on my work and give me feedback on my style and general commercial level of my book. They were massively helpful, worked to pre-arranged deadlines and provided real value for money, but I just didn’t have the money I needed to be able to afford them and one of the rules my husband and I had made in this endeavour was that we were NOT going to go into debt achieving it!

After a lot of looking around, we eventually found a professional editor who was willing to edit the book for half the cost of Fiction Feedback… this small price should have alerted me, but I was SO happy to have found someone, I went with it.

It was a HUGE mistake! The editor was ANYTHING but professional, while he might have understood the rules of grammar, perhaps better than I did, he had no ‘understanding’ of literature, of language, of how a book should flow. His vocabulary was limited, and he actually managed to introduce huge numbers of errors into the manuscript, even spelling the main characters’ names wrong on several occasions. I had expected to get back a manuscript I could do a couple of tightening tweaks to and it would be good to go – what I got back (several weeks late!!) was a mess!

I then had to go through the entire manuscript again (thankfully he had sent the track changes version) going through each and every change, word addition and deletion he had made, checking each one, then going through it again, as best I could, looking for all the errors he’d missed, it was a nightmare! It also set back my proposed launch date.

My advice here is if you want to be taken seriously as a professional author then editing is VITAL and should NOT be done on the cheap. Personally, I shall save up for my next book and send it to Fiction Feedback.

Book Cover

Compared to my experience with the editor, getting my book cover designed was a dream! I choose an Australian designer called Scarlett Rugers, she was recommended by someone from Guy Kawasaki’s APE Google+ group and I was just delighted by her service. Her website is wonderful, her customer service is amazing and her talent is prodigious! I choose the ‘Chocolate Fondue’ Package (I love that her packages are named after food!), because I liked the idea of bookmarks and posters and because it was the best I could afford.

I was not disappointed, Scarlett was brilliant and worth every penny, she read my book, offered me a range of ideas, listened to my feedback and produced something even better than the image I had in my head and she did the whole lot on time, from the other side of the world. I shall be using Scarlett for all of my future book cover needs, she is genuinely a miracle.

Layout

So, finally, we had a finished manuscript. How then do you get the layout right and get it into Kindle and Createspace? (We decided on Createspace because of the huge distribution potential.)

Well the first step was buying copies of Scrivener, you can get it for Windows and Mac. We have it for both and I have to say if you can get it and use it on a Mac, do so, it’s a far superior and more stable version compared to the one you get for Windows.

Up until this point my manuscript was in one, very large Word file, with Scrivener we broke it down into its chapters and front and back matter. (I say we, but my amazing husband did most of this thankless grunt work, a debt I can never repay!) In future I will be writing my books directly into Scrivener, it makes the whole process SO much easier and more organised. Once the manuscript was uploaded to scrivener, we were able to start looking at layout and style.

To be honest we didn’t really know what we were doing here, so my husband asked me to choose a book from my library that I liked the layout for and he would copy that. I chose “The Gathering of the Lost” by Helen Lowe, a great book and also the larger 6.14 inches by 9.21 inches size in which I felt my book would fit better. Using this book as a basis for indentation, chapter headings, page numbering and contents page etc. we were able to use scrivener, Kindle Direct and Createspace tools to create the layout we wanted (or as close as we could get!). There were a lot of frustrations along the way, for example, you can layout the book so it looks perfect in a Kindle Paperwhite emulator (I recommend getting an emulator to check your work), but as soon as you looked at it in a different version of Kindle e-reader, of which there are several, it looked awful again.

Once we had a version of the book on Kindle and Createspace we were ready for a proofreading.

Website

The concept of a website was something I wanted from the start. This isn’t something you have to have, but if you’re serious about being an author, it’s a good idea to engage as much through social media and the internet as possible. I wanted to give my readers ‘added value’, a place to talk about the book, useful information, direct access to asking me questions and eventually have somewhere they could post fan art or fiction if this was ever necessary.

We purchased the domain name and site through Fast Hosting Direct choosing to use WordPress to manage the site because it was popular, open source and fairly straightforward to use. Being popular there are lots of help and support sites and being open source lots of useful plug-ins you can buy as the site gets bigger.

I spent a bit of time thinking about the sort of information I wanted to add, what readers might be interested in. Unfortunately after the time-suck that the editing process turned out to be, there was not as much time left as I’d hoped to get the website as perfect as I wanted for launch. I took the decision that a website with a small amount of information – that would grow over time – was better than no website. It was a difficult decision, I prefer perfect, delivered on time, but sometimes compromises have to be made.

ISBN Numbers

Professional books have ISBN numbers,  I wanted ISBN numbers for my Kindle and hardcopy book.

You can, if you wish, buy your ISBN numbers from Kindle, but doing that forever marks your book as a ‘self-publish’, because Amazon is registered as the book’s publisher. You can’t buy ISBN numbers as an individual, you have to be a company and the smallest number you can buy is ten.

While I know that my book is self-published and have no small amount of pride in that, I wanted it to look as near to a traditionally published book as possible. So I set up my own company. With my husband and two of our friends, we established Jojosala Publishing Ltd. While this company exists in the first instance to provide our books with ISBN numbers and be a ‘publishing company’ for our books, we have been approached by several writer friends with offers to pay us to help them publish their books, so it’s possible that in the future Jojosala may become an on-going concern, as opposed to a sleeper company.

As I’ve said, setting up your own company is not necessary and it’s a big step, I would never recommend doing so if you are at all unsure about what you are doing. There are possibly other ways of getting ISBN numbers, but you need to be careful of ‘vanity press’, leeches who pray upon authors promising them fame and riches in return for money, then provide poorly or not edited copies at huge cost. If money is an issue and you just want your work published, go with the ISBN number offered by Kindle. If you have more money to invest and think you have more books in you, you can set up your own company, as I’ve said this need careful thinking about.

Important – If you are getting your own ISBN numbers, don’t forget to send copies of your books off to the relevant libraries when you have published.

Pricing, Legals and Tax Issues

This was the most confusing and frustrating part of the book creation process. Using CreateSpace means we are opting for the ‘print on demand’ option, which means there are large costs involved. I wasn’t really that interested in getting rich, I just wanted people to read and enjoy my book, however, I also didn’t want to price the book so I was making a loss! I’m happy that the paperback book’s price is not ripping anyone off. Working on this principle we came up with the other price points for the US dollar and the euro. Kindle also has costs built into the price, obviously being an e-book these costs are far less, but with e-books in the UK there is tax involved, which need to be considered.

If you’ve ever read a book (and I have to assume you have if you’re here!) then you might have spotted the ‘legal’s’ that goes in the front. This information informs the reader of the ISBN number, who published the book and that the author has copyright. It sounds ridiculous, but even now I’m unsure what all this means, and if there should be some legal paperwork somewhere that backs up these legal statements. Having done some research and still being none the wiser, we selected ten books, at random from my library and created our ‘legal’ page based on what all these pages had in common. Perhaps not the best way of doing it, but the only solution we could think of without having to involve expensive legal advice.

There are only two things certain in life – death and taxes, as the saying goes.

With this in mind, we had to consider the tax implications of having even a small second income. All I can say here is get a professional. A good accountant is always a good investment.

However, you must also consider tax in other countries. If you use Createspace for your hard copy, you will find that the American government will take tax off you directly from the book sale for sales in the US and it’s a large percentage! You can claim this money back, but it’s not the fastest method in the world. However, this is where having your own company can be useful, as you are able to get an EIN number. You need to call the IRS in Seattle (the scariest call I have EVER made!) and ask them for one, if you follow the right script, they will give you one over the phone. With this number you can avoid paying tax in the US and just pay it in the UK.

Proof Copies

Once everything was done, and the book was built, uploaded and formatted in Kindle and Createspace we needed proof copies. For the Kindle this was easy, we just needed an emulator. For the hard copy we had to order a copy. The delivery was quick and the process flawless.

I can’t describe in words (strange for a writer) how it felt to open that package and hold in my hands, my book, my baby, for the first time. All that effort, thought, time, obsession contained between that amazing cover design. I was crying so hard I couldn’t even read the title, I was totally overwhelmed.

We then read slowly through the proof copies and got friends to do the same, made any corrections that were needed, remembering to change the hard copy and the Kindle copy! Then we were ready to go live.

Going Live

If I’d had the money I would have arranged a marketing package… I didn’t. I was almost at the end of the funds we had put aside for the project.

So my marketing strategy is relying on:

  • Word-of-mouth,
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • This website
  • Possibly some local, small scale advertising.

I’m hoping that those who enjoy the book will tell others, or send them to the website. I have set up a Facebook page and Twitter account, with which I shall do my best to interact with readers. I also had 500 bookmarks created by PrintingBlue who were very helpful and professional. I intend to give these to people who want to buy signed copies directly from me. It’s not much, but it’s currently the best marketing I can do. There are four further books in this series that I need to write, perhaps by the time I get to book three or four I will be able to afford professional marketing.

Summary

The process outlined above took about 5 months from start to finish and cost several thousand pounds. It doesn’t have to be that expensive of course, but I wanted to give my readers the best I could, given that I was expecting them to pay to read it! I felt it was a good investment in both time and money and with the exception of the dodgy editor I don’t regret any of it. It has been a great learning process and I’m hoping what we’ve learnt from doing it ourselves is how to help others through Jojosala.

As I’ve said, there is a tonne of useful information about self-publishing on the internet, I would suggest reading as much as you can beforehand if you wish to follow down this path. Feel free to contact me through this site if you have any further questions.

Remember, you CAN do it, we did it, it’s possible, you just have to want it badly enough!

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