Sunday, 15 April 2012

Self-publishing is easy. Isn't it? Part 1.

I don’t know who originally said it, but there’s an oft-quoted saying in self-publishing circles that goes something like ‘The great thing about e-books is that anyone can get published. The bad thing about e-books is that anyone can get published.’ It’s true. I frequent quite a few forums populated by 'indie' writers and I cringe every time someone starts a thread like ‘How many books can you turn out in a year?’ It goes some way to explaining why so many readers refuse to even consider buying self-published books. I don’t believe anyone can produce a well-developed, polished novel in two months, as some claim to do, unless they’re working twenty hours a day and have a lot of experience under their belt. Even then, they’re probably doing themselves a disservice.

I’ve published three novels and a short story in the past twelve months, so I’m being hypocritical, aren’t I? Well, no, because all of those stories were already complete in at least second draft stage before I started publishing. There are quite a few authors with a number of books published in a very short time who are doing that, too, so don’t think that I’m disparaging everyone who has a long list of books. They may have had those same books filed away for a long time.

So what goes into creating an e- book…an e-book that’s not going to be flung across the room by a disgruntled reader, that is?

1. Write the book. How long this stage takes is up to the writer. Those doing NaNoWriMo can maybe get it out in a month. Others, like me, who tend to edit as they go, maybe longer. Treespeaker took 7 years, but that’s because I suffer from Procrastinitis in a bad way.

2. Write the book again. This stage is very important. I had my first drafts of each of my books critiqued by other writers on Critique Circle. Doing something like that is an excellent way of gauging whether the book has any merit, where it needs the most polishing and how it can be cut down or built up. Even when I’d gone through and redone it, I sent the second draft back for more critiquing.

3. Edit the book. This is where you turn from writer into reader. You go through the book over and over, cutting out purple prose, names where they’re not needed, dialogue tags that trip the reader over, redundant words and phrases. You fix typos, tighten sentences and cut the c**p. Then, and only then, you move on to the next stage.

4. Get someone else to edit the book. This is where a lot of writers come unstuck. Editing can be expensive. Why pay for editing, when you’re sure you’ve picked up everything yourself?  In my experience, it’s impossible to pick up everything yourself. You may be a whiz at English and pick up every single typo and punctuation error, but you’re close to your story and you’re not going to see what other people might – when your characters do something contradictory to what has come before, or a chapter doesn’t fit in sequence, or a blue-eyed man’s eyes suddenly become brown or, in my case, when you mention those eyes to the point of sending the reader mad.

Like many writers, I couldn’t afford a professional editor, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t edited. With Mark of the Dragon Queen, for example, I was fairly sure the story made sense from the critiquing I’d had done. I was fairly sure that my spelling, grammar and punctuation were not too bad, but I am lucky enough to have great and talented friends who agreed to read the ‘final’ draft. The first, an English teacher, found plenty of missing commas, clunky phrases and typos. The second, a lady who does reviews for a well-known magazine, sent my draft back with enough red ink to paint a ship. My first reaction was to want to curl into a ball and have a good cry, but I didn’t. She was right. I’d over-used the eyes. I’d written phrases that, read literally, were hilarious. She didn’t even like my favourite character! Despite the amount of red ink though, editing out the problems didn’t take a huge amount of time. The ‘find’ feature in Word made it easy to cut the eyes out (!) and when I stood back and looked at my character, he really did need a good talking to. In the end, it only took a few changes in his dialogue to get rid of his unpleasantness.

You may ask why I bothered to do so much editing before, if someone else was going to edit? The answer is simple – I like my friends. I wouldn’t dare expect them to edit a story that was so full of errors they couldn’t enjoy the story…and if you had to pay an editor by the hour, doing most of it yourself beforehand makes economic sense, doesn’t it?

5. Edit the book again. Once you’ve been edited by someone else, it’s important that you go through once more and make sure that you’ve edited the edits properly. I’ve found my Kindle invaluable for this. I put my novel onto it and have the Kindle read it back to me out loud, while I read along on my laptop. The robotic voice is somewhat annoying, but if I’ve missed a word or doubled up, it will become very clear when it’s read out.

6. Format the book. This is different than editing. This is the part where you jump through the hoops set by Amazon or Smashwords or wherever you’re going to upload your book: the font size, the chapter headings, the indenting, the table of contents etc. It’s not easy and many people have to get someone else to do this stage for them to get it right. Some don’t bother and often their books come out looking like a dog’s dinner.

7. Get a cover. Just find a photo that fits and slap some text on top, right? Wrong! There is nothing more likely to make sure a book doesn’t sell, than an unprofessional cover. So, unless you are a graphic artist yourself, or know someone who is, that’s more expense – but a worthwhile expense in the long run. What you need to aim for is a clear picture that gives a good idea of what your novel is about and a clear font that is legible at a very small size. No matter how beautiful your cover may be at normal book size, if people can’t read the title and who it’s by when they look on Amazon, they’re not likely to check it out.

8. Upload. Now here’s a step that people might think is simple – just press the button and walk away. But no, it’s important that before you press that button you check through your book as shown on the preview. No matter how clean you think you’ve made your file when formatting, you’re likely to discover areas of strange fonts, wonky indenting and yes, more typos! Check it. Thoroughly. If it’s wrong, start again. Do it over and over until it’s as perfect as you can make it.

Then you can press the button!

Coming up: Self-publishing is easy. Isn't it? Part 2: So I’ve pressed the button and self-published. What’s next?


Baggy said...

I get frustrated by the typos in these books.

Just read one, which was an excellent story, that had been proofed by two people and it still contained errors.

Kate said...

Eek, I hope you don't mean mine. I would hope, if it were mine, that you'd let me know about them so that I could fix them.

Clare said...

The most sensible post on e-publishing I have read - should be compulsory reading for those planning on self-publishing.

Andre Jute said...

Can't say fairer than Clare. Kate's article should be compulsory reading before people are allowed to press the button.

Trish said...

Yes, there's a lot of hard work going into most self-published eBooks and paperbacks. I published four children's books in just over a year, but I'd been working on them for over five years and getting them critiqued and editing over and over. It's not easy and they you have to learn how to make an eBook, a paperback, and then to market. Oh, the pain. You have to be really determined to self-publish. Authors are relentless, but the pay is lousy, unless of course your books take off.

A great post, Katie.

Kate said...

Thanks, Clare and Andre!

Trish - "...but the pay is lousy, unless of course your books take off." We can dream, can't we? :)

Trish said...

Yes, Katie, we can dream. We all hope that our books will go viral one day. LOL. Wouldn't it be nice to wakeup one morning, check our Amazon page and find our books in the best-seller list.

Good luck with yours, oh, and mine. :)

Kate said...

Ah, yes, wouldn't it! *mutters to self - "It's a marathon, not a sprint, it's a marathon, not a sprint...'*

Eliseo Mauas Pinto said...

“Write a great book” might strike you as common sense, but it’s the most common
mistake of many authors. Some indie authors – intoxicated by the freedom to self-publish
–rush their book to market before it’s ready to be seen by readers.

If your book is poorly-conceived or poorly-edited, readers will reject it. If you write a
great book that satisfies readers, they will reward you with their word of mouth.
Honor your readers with a great read.
Readers value their time more than the money in their wallet or purse.

Awesome post and quite revealing Katie!... I have two e-book projects in mind for the past years, and I am still in the writing lapse... hope to jump into the next step soon!

Keep up the sacred flame as always!
bliss and blessings ♥

K. A. Jordan said...

Those people who think it's 'too easy' should have to go through the process. I can't tell you how many days I worked 18 hours at something like formatting (a WEEK of 12 to 18 hour days) copy editing and promoting.

Today I wouldn't sign a contract with a trade publishing company - the horror stories have me quite terrified that I'd sign some horror of a contract and lose all rights to my own work.

But there was a time when I read Harlequin's sample contract and wondered if it would be worth losing my work forever to simply get my name out.

There are still thousands of writers who wouldn't hesitate to sign some draconian terms to get 'validation' and a few thousand dollars.

Still - this December my first e-book paid for the publication of my first paperback via Createspace. I would have paid that much simply to learn the process - if there had been a class to teach it.

The second book is going just as slow, but just as steadily I'm seeing progress. If this one also pays for itself in a year or two - then every copy sold after that is profit.

The books will remain on sale as long as I want them on sale. I'll own the rights.

It's a strange feeling when you hold that paperback in your hands and say 'I did that.' Then all that work doesn't matter as much as the book itself.


Kate said...

Eliseo, I'm still looking forward to you getting your poetry out there!

Kat, I really need to go that next step and get my books printed. It's a matter of working out the most cost-effective methods for someone here in Australia. I can imagine the feeling you had holding your book, but I'd love to experience it for myself.

I think there are still advantages to being traditionally published if the contract is right, but whether they outweigh the advantages of self-publishing, I can't decide.

Sandy Nachlinger said...

GREAT post with lots of valuable advice. I'm sending the link to all my critique group members, along with a link to Part 2.
BTW, I connected to your blog through a Tweet by Sharon Tillotson.

Sandy's Blog

Kate said...

Sandy, thanks for visiting! I'm glad you found it useful and I hope your critique group do, too. Thanks to Sharon for the Tweet!