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?