Thursday, March 31, 2011

Week One: Marketing Presence

We're winding down on the preliminaries here, the checklist of things you need to concern yourself with before launching into self-publishing, and we're to the area that I've seen people have the most reluctance to tackle: marketing yourself.

You've got a great book, you've proofread and edited it meticulously, you've got a stunning cover and fabulous formatting. None of that matters if no one knows it exists. Everything you've done up till this point has been to ensure that once a reader sees your book they'll pick it, devour it, and eagerly await your next masterpiece. But they have to see the book. They have to either seek it out or stumble across it. If you want to sit back and wait for readers to come astumbling, be my guest. You'll probably have quite a wait, especially since self-publishing is just starting to blossom and it's only going to get more crowded from this point forward.

Make no mistake, a critical part of your marketing is tied up in your cover, your blurb and description, and your search tags (more about all that at a later date), but you've also got so get your name out there. Think of the web as a giant writer's conference. It's time to shmooze and get connected, hang out in the bar, strike up a conversation, set up a table to display your wares.

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard or read an author say, "But I don't have time for that!" and then show back up to ask, "How come nobody's buying my book?" I'd probably be able to pay for the new clutch I just put in my car. Get over it. I've got five kids (the youngest in kindergarten), a full-time freelancing business that takes a minimum of 40 hours a week, and a household to run. If I can find time to both write and do self-promotion, anybody can. The hope of course is that at some point in the future I'll quit the freelancing job and I'll be established enough that self-promotion will take far less time, but when you're starting out, you've got a mountain to climb.

Where to start up that sheer rock face? Forums, news groups, blogs, email groups. Read, familiarize yourself with what's out there. When you have something to contribute, post. Have a good  question? Ask it. Talk about yourself. Talk about yourself some more, but don't be obnoxious. Be a good web citizen and offer some value. Don't ask for favors unless you're willing to do some in return. Be polite. Be well-informed. Make friends. When the situation presents itself, join groups. Earn someone's respect. You need a network in the writing/publishing/reading community and you need to build it bit by bit.

You'll need an author's website. When people want to look you up, they'll need somewhere to go. You can go the fancy route and buy a domain and take the time to design (or have designed) a website. Or you can go the easier route and set up a site on WordPress or Blogger. (The pros, cons, and possibilities in another post).

It's a great idea to have a blog. It may be time-consuming and intimidating, but good grief, you're a writer. TALK! WRITE! Remember the three C's: Current, Cogent, Catchy. Blog regularly, blog something well-thought-out and interesting, and do it in a way that's eye-catching and invites people to add you to their RSS feed or bookmark your blog. If you feel it's too much to handle, form a group with friends and take turns. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it does need to have some passion.

Take advantage of social media. Have a Facebook page, or maybe a Facebook page for your book, series, or protagonist. Use Twitter. Set up your own little empire where you can get the word out and interact with readers and other writers.

These are all preliminary steps that you should take now. Soon you'll have to worry about sending out copies to reviewers, planning launch events, attending conferences, marketing materials, blog tours, and myriad other things you can do to market yourself. Before you get to that stage, you need to have a foundation online and in your local community. It takes time, and the time to start is long before you have a book to actually market.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Week One: Analysing Your Resources.

Now we come to what may be the most important part of your journey in self-publishing. Why is it so important? Because here you're going to set the tone for your published works. And while both writing a great book and marketing that book are vital, neither of those things is going to matter if you put out a sub-standard product. Your novel may be killer and you may be marketing it furiously, but if it's got a lousy cover, is riddled with proofreading errors, and looks like it was typeset by a trained monkey, that will not matter a whit to readers. Your book is going to scream "AMATEUR," and will be treated accordingly.

So now is the time to get your publishing house in order, so to speak. We're taking it for granted that you have your manuscript near where you want it, that you've chosen the platforms and formats you want your book to come out in, and that you're ready to start the process of actually publishing. Now take a deep breath, look around you, and -- most importantly -- be honest with yourself.

Let me let you in on a little secret: most fiction writers are terrified. We've lived under the guillotine blade of traditional publishing for so long, worrying about our genre, our novel length, our "marketability," that we -- somewhere in those dark crevices of our mental caves -- feel that these creatures we've given birth to are going to be seen for their hideousness and spat upon. We're afraid to risk too much, lest we be disappointed when the book sales don't come, when the reviews are bad, when the "serious" writers point and laugh.

Well, snap out of it. Either you want to do this or you don't. And if you do, don't do a half-assed job. Have faith in your work and show it, whether that means a monetary investment or it means getting two less hours of sleep a night until you learn to typeset properly. Whether it mean putting in the research to find a good book designer or putting in an extra hour a day for weeks on end learning design. Not everybody has money, and not everybody has time, but if you want to show the world what you really can do, you're going to have to make the sacrifices somewhere. This is not the time to cut corners.

First of all, what are your capabilities and what are you willing and able to do? What software do you have? Who in your circle has capabilities that you can beg from, trade for, or pay a reduced rate for? Who do you trust to be as passionate about your work as you are? What is your realistic budget, and what can you do to make that budget work for you?

We've discussed the importance of proofreading and editing already, and I will repeat the lesson briefly. You need to have someone who you trust as professional to lend a hand. If you can't find someone to donate their skills or trade their skills, you may have to hire a professional. This is not cheap. I'm lucky in my circle that I have people I can trade with. Make connections, reach out, and if you do make the decision to hire someone, vet them fully. Ask to see samples or testimonials. Tell them what you expect. Do your research to make sure that if you do pay for a service, you're getting your money's worth.

Now we are briefly going to run our fingers over what's under the big sheet on the table, the scary thing: typesetting and design. And it is scary. I've been cramming my head with typesetting and design information for the last two weeks, and it's giving me nightmares. Literal nightmares. From my research, this is one of the make-or-break aspects of success. As I said before, your self-published work -- whether it's an ebook or a physical book -- needs to look the same as if it came from a big publisher. It has to. You need a great cover and a professionally typeset manuscript, and it's got to look good in every format.

You have two choices: DIY and hiring a professional designer. DIY can be pretty cheap, but it's going to eat up time like Stephen King's Langoliers. If you research and research, you can find a good designer, but the old saw is true, you get what you pay for. (I will mention that POD publishers do offer ala carte design options, and what I've seen from CreateSpace looks great, but it's relatively expensive.) This is where the honesty part comes in: do you have the time and mental fortitude to DIY or can you afford to pay for high quality work?

If I was looking to publish one book this year, I would probably hire a designer or go with a package from CreateSpace, but we want to publish 4 books by July and plan for 3 more by the end of the year. I literally can't afford to pay a designer for 7 books, even with a multibook discount. So after much research and much soul searching, I'm going the full DIY route. (I will add the caveat that if I find I am unable to do a good enough job, I will look into scaling back the production schedule and looking for a designer.)

After doing even more research, I've come to the conclusion that I needed to invest in some software if I want a chance at doing a professional job. The industry standard seems to be Adobe's InDesign. We went with the Creative Suite Design 5 Premium, which included InDesign, PhotoShop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Acrobat Pro, plus some other bells and whistles. This is pricey, nearly $2,000. Since we qualify for the academic rate, we got a steep discount, without which I was going to pay for it over 18 months from Best Buy. But our rational is that even though there is reportedly a STEEP learning curve, once we've mastered it we should be good to go for the rest of the books. In the end, what we paid for the software is less than what we would have paid for the typesetting and design of one book, so it's a gamble we're willing to take.

So, be honest. What can you afford to spend, either from your bank account or your time bank? Who can help you? Once you've committed yourself to doing a professional job, you need to have a plan to go forward and accomplish that.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Jumping Ship

For anyone who hasn't heard yet, best-selling author Barry Eisler this week announced his decision to turn down a $500,000 two-book deal from St. Martin's Press in favor of publishing himself. You can check out a very long and entertaining conversation between Eisler and JA Konrath here. Also, a view from the from the traditional publishing side at The Shatzkin Files, and further conversation with Barry Eisler at the Daily Beast.

While this doesn't spell the demise of legacy publishing, it's certainly another indication that traditional publishing companies are no longer the only game in town.

Week One: What Are My Expectations and Who Gets Me There?

Now that you've decided to go down the self-publishing path and you're busy working on your manuscripts, you've got to choose your publishing platforms. There are two components that will figure into your choice: your expectations and your abilities.

Do you want a paperback or are you just looking for ebook distribution? This is a big question for a lot of people, because of the ingrained attitude that you're not actually published until you have a book in your hands. Thanks to print-on-demand technology, it's not an either/or proposition. If you really want to publish in paperback, you can do so at very little cost. On the downside, POD publishing takes either a lot of work your part or an outlay to have someone experienced do what you can't. On the upside, it opens up another distribution channel. And even if you don't sell a ton of paperbacks, you have a real, physical book that you can hold in your hands, set on your shelf, and send out as Christmas presents.

I'll refer again to a great article by Jane Friedman,  4 Key Categories of Self Publishing. In it she lists the major players and what they can offer you in the way of distribution channels, production, and design.

Once you've decided whether you're doing ebooks, printed books, or both, you need to look at your abilities to decide what you're going to be able to do or what you want to learn to do. You'll need a cover (a front cover for ebooks and a full cover for printed books) and a manuscript in the correct format for each platform you want to distribute on.

After looking at all the options, we're planning on using Amazon's CreateSpace for paperback editions, Kindle Direct Publishing for ebooks for the Kindle, and Smashwords for distribution to the iBookstore, the Nook, and other smaller formats.

I chose CreateSpace because I feel comfortable with the interface and I like the ala carte options. I plan on going DIY for the cover and interior design and the typesetting, but I know that if I run into a major roadblock there are other options open to me. In CreateSpace, if you can manage all the design yourself, the final cost for setting up your POD paperback is the $15 you pay for a proof copy. (For $39 and $5 a year per title, you can also choose the Pro Plan, which reduces your production costs, increases your royalty share, and opens up further distribution channels.) Lulu is another perfectly viable option that offers similar packages, so do your homework and find out which option you feel is the best fit for you.

While Smashwords' site says that it will eventually distribute to Amazon, for right now it doesn't, so we're going to be doing ebooks through Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords. If you meet Smashwords formatting standards for their Premium Catalog,  you'll be able to distribute your books to the Nook and iBookstore platforms, among others.

So we've chosen out distribution channels. The next step is to look at our resources and abilities to determine how much we can DIY and what services we may need to outsource.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Soft-core Processer

So what's a Susan in this dichotomous duo of ours? If Keri is persistent, driven, and tech-savvy, does that make me a lazy, distracted dinosaur? Oh sure, I'll cop to the first two (on occasion), but dinosaur? Let's dig a little deeper.

The dinosaurs did not die off because they were slow to change; the Cretaceous creatures were among the most bizarre in appearance, after all. This was no case of extinction by lack of evolution.

Meteorites happen and then what's a lizard to do? You cannot outrun destiny, especially when it blots out the sun for days on end and kills the food supply.

I've never had a problem finding sustenance and at nearly two miles high, the sun and I are intimately acquainted. The relationship I'm working on is the technological one and Keri is my psychologist: She has been navigating the electronic realm forever and tolerates my quaint tales of magazine subscriptions and catalogue orders. She kindly pets my pointed little head.

Yes, I want my kids to be able to click on any element of the toolbar and perform any task on the pull-down menus. I also want them to know their way around a toolbox and comfortably manage a dinner plan. I hope they examine their email threads when they aren't stitching together quilt squares, and I know they will effortlessly process their words electronically. I just prefer that they write to me in cursive.

Dinosaur? No, not yet. I do still carve in stone, but as I stand on the precipice of e-publishing, the valley seems verdant and the future looks bright. No meteorites in sight.

In excavating the wonders of my garage, I can still find the notebooks, diaries, and journals of my Triassic. During my Jurassic, I moved from a simple word processing machine through PCs, laptops, and now on to my IMAC and IPAD.

Let's see what weird horns, humps, and spots I sprout as I lumber over to this new watering hole. Terrabytes, anyone?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Week One: The 4 Manuscript Stages

OK, so you've got a manuscript and you're pretty happy with it. You've done the first rewrite, or the 3rd rewrite or the15th rewrite, and you're satisfied with the motivation, dialogue, character development, story arc, action, denouement. What now?

1) Beta Readings

What is a beta reader? A beta reader can be anyone you trust to read your manuscript and give you useful feedback. It doesn't have to be a professional writer or an editor. In fact, it's a good idea to have at least one beta reader who is just that, a reader. Someone who loves to read, reads a lot of books (preferably in your chosen genre) and who isn't afraid to give you the unvarnished truth. Generally your mom or your significant other or your best friend is not the best beta reader. They're apt to tell you that whatever you wrote is the absolute bee's knees. That's not always the case. My best friend is a great beta reader because she will tell me in no uncertain terms if what I just wrote is a load of crap, and she's usually right. So be judicious in asking those close to you.

But it's a good idea to find and connect with other readers who aren't so close to you, but are willing to take the time to provide this service. Where should you look? Writer's groups, improv groups, forums, message boards.  Get to know people (either in person or online) and find people you trust to evaluate your manuscript as a whole. Offer to trade services. A great way to do this is to trade manuscripts and act as reciprocal beta readers.

For our first mystery Darker By Degree, we were lucky enough to get input from two publisher's reader groups. Beyond that, I've met some great people online and traded manuscripts with two of them. Both of those readers mentioned the same two plot points or motivations as things they "didn't quite buy." After looking back at those segments, it was obvious what they had found, and we're working to fix those things in a final rewrite.

2) Copy Editing and Content Editing

While "copy editing" in it's strictest sense is practically the same thing as proofreading, I'm combining copy editing and content editing on a continuum, because it's best to find one person who can serve as an editor and hit these basic needs.

And editor is going to pick your mistakes, the ones you pass by. And trust me, no matter how careful you are, you will pass them by. I've made my living as a proofreader and editor and I'm damned good at it, but when it comes to my own stuff, I can't see things the way I see it in other's work. It's human nature. And while if you are a crack editor you can catch 95% of your errors, there's still room for improvement. And if you're not a crack editor, you damn well better find someone to check you. It's vital to not end up with a sloppy manuscript.

A good editor will not only find your grammar errors, but will find your structural and style errors. Do two characters have indistinguishable voices? Are the names of characters too similar? Do you use the same imagery too repetitively? Is your action unclear, your opening weak and uninspiring? I could rattle off a hundred other things, but you get the drift.

I'm lucky and know people who will edit me for free, in exchange for my editing services on their work. If you are at sea and don't have someone you trust as a professional, you may need to hire an editor, which can be expensive. Again, if you're going DIY, the best thing to do is barter services with someone. On the upside, the longer you do this, the better you yourself get as you learn to look out for the things that trip you up.

3) Proofreading

A proofreader is going to catch your spelling, usage, punctuation, capitalization, agreement, typos, and basic formatting errors. A good proofreader will make sure that style is consistent, i.e. that sometimes you don't write two o'clock and at other times write 2:00.  At the end of the process, you should have a clean manuscript. A proofreader does not "edit," per se, but makes sure you're manuscript is consistent in usage and free of typos. Make sure you use someone with experience, even if they're a friend. You'd be surprised at the common misconceptions that abound about usage and grammar. Make sure they use an industry standard guide, such as the AP Style or the Chicago Manual of Style. Or if you're doing it yourself, make sure you've brushed up on your basics and have a reference book if you have any questions.

4) Formatting

I'm using formatting here as a distinctly different step from typesetting, which we'll get to in the future. (Different publishing platforms require different formats, i.e. PDF, Word, HTML, each with their different typesetting requirements and quirks). When I'm talking about formatting, I mean your basic margins, chapter headings, indent length, scene breaks, font, etcetera. You want a consistent manuscript style. The more consistent and careful you are in formatting your manuscript, the easier it's going to be to typeset it and move it between programs.

I usually do the formatting myself and have someone else go over it, particularly my significant other, who is good at picking up inconsistencies.

What Next?

While you're working on getting feedback and shepherding your manuscript through these stages, it's time to move on to choosing your publishing formats and working on your marketing, but that is a tale for another day. Back to my own rewrites...

Week One: What Am I Publishing?

The first step in publishing your own book is to figure out what you've got. This may seem obvious at first, but as I said at the beginning of this adventure, if you're going to publish a book, it needs to be as good as a book from a traditional publishing house. It needs to be a good read and it needs to be professionally presented.

Presumably you have a story to tell. (I am purposefully ignoring the people who say, "Wow, Amanda Hocking made a fortune writing paranormal romance! I think I'll do that!" When they have never picked up a paranormal romance in their life, haven't read any of Amanda Hocking's books, and are looking for the quickest route to fame and fortune. While occasionally a mercenary approach may hit a bullseye, it is not a blueprint for anything.)

In the interest of expediency, I am going to show rather than tell. I have four novels that I want to publish in the next 4-5 months. The first is a vampire novel, the next two are the first two books in a serial mystery series that I wrote with Susan, and the fourth is another horror/suspense novel that is fully outlined and mostly written, but the last 120 pages or so are unfinished.

I've got a head start on a lot of people, because the first three books at one time were agented. One had a contract with a small press that fell through when the editor who liked the book left. The mystery series made it all the way to a fight on the editorial board, where after some major back and forth and a requested partial rewrite on our part, the series was eventually passed on because one person who had veto rights decided she didn't like certain elements. (Yes, these are the vagaries of publishing. The kind of vagaries that make you want to tie a cinderblock around your waist and fling yourself into the closest pond.)

The point is, those first three books are almost ready to go. They've been gone over and over, been through numerous rewrites, been read by publisher's reading groups, been perused by various beta readers. They still need some finessing, but they're in the final stages. We've had massive feedback and taken it into account. So what's left is final rewrites and a proofreading process.

Takeaway? Typing "The End" is just beginning. By far the biggest compliant I see in reviews of self-published books is that the books were not professionally proofread and edited. To put it simply, everybody thinks their baby is perfect. You need somebody else to point out what you can't see.

So take a look at your manuscripts. Putting aside the rewriting (which may be continual tweaking or a massive slash and burn) and you have four stages: beta reading, copy editing, proofreading, and formatting. Skimp on any of these stages and you're likely to end up with something that's going to be unsatisfying, both to readers and to your inner critic.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Week One - What To Do First?

A week ago, I decided to self-publish four novels. Having made that momentous decision, I was swiftly overwhelmed by a numbing set of possibilities and steps to be taken. Where to start?  If you're looking to publish yourself what should you do first? During the next week, I'll go through these steps in individual detail, but here's what you need to think about.

1) Examine your work. What do you want to publish? You may be a published author who has a backlist that's gone out of print. You may have a novel that you've been shopping around with limited or no success. You may have a novel you've just finished, or one that's still in the writing stages. Be honest with yourself about what you've got and the amount of work it's going to take to get to the publishing stage.

2) Analyze your expectations to choose a publishing model. You need to know what you want, what you expect, and what you'll be satisfied with. Jane Friedman has a very concise and helpful guide to The 4 Key Categories of Self Publishing. Do you just want an ebook? Will you not be happy without a paperback? How much DIY do you want to put into producing the cover and book?

3) Analyze your resources. You may want to do as much DIY as possible, which may entail an investment in software or even training. You may know people who are artists, proofreaders, copy editors, designers. You need to find who in your circle you can beg services from, barter services with, or hire to do the things you can't or don't want to do.

4) Look at your marketing presence. You need at minimum an author's website, but it's also a great idea to have a blog, a Facebook page, and a presence on Twitter. Join discussion forums and email groups. When you have something interesting to say, comment on other people's blogs. You need to become known, you need to have a network, and you need to start right this minute, months before you actually make your book available.

5) Have a plan. Set a goal, or a series of goals. Maybe it's a week to get a blog up. Maybe it's a month to have your novel proofread. Maybe it's 3 months or 6 months or 8 months to your virtual book launch. But once you've got a list of the steps you have to take, slice that mound of stuff into reasonable pieces and set out to tackle it step-by-step.

You've got to start somewhere.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Brief Note About What to Expect

Why should you put us in your RSS feed? After all, there a ton of blogs out there about self publishing and marketing your writing, many of them so-so, but some of them brilliant. We're not here to duplicate information that's been covered ad nauseum, although we will be recognizing the best of this information and pointing you toward it. We're not going to evangelize any particular approach or platform or get into a shouting match about the relative merits of Lulu over CreateSpace.

What we will do is walk you through what we're doing, from the moment we decided to publish ourselves going forward. What did we consider, why did we make the choices we made? What worked and what didn't? What hurdles did we run into, what did we forget to do? And maybe most practically, how much time and money did it take?

Marketing your writing is a business. Writing is not so much a business as an avocation. Meshing those two things into a cohesive whole is troublesome and difficult and takes a lot of effort. It's not something that comes easy to most writers, especially those of us with houses full of kids and full-time jobs. We aim to show that it can be done.

The other thing we offer is passion. We love writing. We still get giddy and call each other up after writing a particularly gorgeous passage, saying, "Hey, listen to this..." We sweat over our character motivation, or the clarity of our prose, or agonize over a plot point that just doesn't ring quite true. We are writers first, but realize we have to be more or we'll just keep writing for ourselves and no one else.

So, here we go. Come along.

Friday, March 18, 2011

About The Blog List and the Blog of the Week

I'm going to be building up the blog list to the right as this blog grows. I'll be adding blogs and websites that I feel have good information, interesting discussions, or other as yet undetermined qualities that amaze and astound. The only restriction is that they'll be writing/publishing oriented, and that they offer something readers will be interested in. While I won't restrict myself to adding one blog a week, I'd also like to highlight what I feel are particularly helpful sites.

Today's addition is The Book Designer, authored by Joel Friedlander. Informative, well-organized, snappily written, The Book Designer is a wealth of information on all aspects of publishing yourself. After perusing the site somewhat cursorily (I have a kind of full plate right now), my favorite post so far is 52 Great Blogs for Self Publishers, which offers the blogs in a clickable list.

Really a top-notch, professional site, and you have the option of signing up for a newsletter and email updates. As Joe Bob Brigg's used to say, check it out.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I'm Susan, and I've been writing for 45 years. I'm not terribly old, but for lack of another talent, I did start pretty early. I have always romanticized writing, comparing everything I wrote to Hemingway while longing for a seat at Dorothy's Algonquin Round Table and fearing that F. Scott had simply "used all the words". I was raised to love books and to revere their authors, maybe a little too much. "They" were the authors and I was me. The odds were long and the work longer. But still I managed to crank out poems, songs, stories, and essays at a feverish clip throughout my childhood and into adulthood.

Then my fear was that I could never compose a "book-length" work. That one dogged me for years until, at 34, I finally finished my first novel. Then in a five year span I cranked out two more novels and two kids--pretty good production, especially for a highly trained self-doubter. Now to get the three non-breathing offspring published.

Fast-forward ten years and here I am, having played by the "rules" and submitted, oh yes, submitted, for well over a decade. If in those earlier years I questioned my ability to be a "real" writer, what now am I to do with the prospect of being a "real" indie publisher? Oddly enough, when Keri proposed the idea, I was ecstatic...ready. I suppose I had finally come to the age and the point where the fear was gone and the fallacies exorcized. And if I could take control of what has always been mine anyway, then why not get the beauty and the angst out there and let the words fall where they may.
Keri likes the old notion I walked around with for years that if I couldn't manage to be delivered to the reader by the big houses, and in hardcover of course, that I would just type out my stuff and hide it amongst the "real" books on the library shelves. I might have done it, too. Or you know what, maybe that's exactly what I'm finally getting the nerve to do.

My Three Favorite Quotes From The Weekend's Research

"I'll never write another synopsis again!"

"If you're a lousy writer, self-publishing is a terrible idea."

And my favorite, from Susan:

"Whenever I tell somebody I'm a writer, the first thing they ask is where they can get my books. I've never had anyone ask who published me."

The New Paradigm in Publishing

(Cross-posted from The Spectral Obelisk for newcomers)

Used to be, only idiots self-published. I know I was against it. Vehemently against it. The only people who self-published were delusional, furtive little creatures, the kind who show up at writer's conferences with their scrawled and dog-eared manuscripts clutched in their sweaty paws, wanting someone, anyone to tell them, "You're a genius!"

When that unlikely event failed to occur, there was always the vanity presses, waiting like snake-oil salesmen in the backs of their shabby carnival wagons, doling out self-labeled bottles of misplaced self-esteem. It was a step up from hermits cranking out mimeographed pages in their parent's basement and forcing them onto hapless passers-by, but not by much. Every once in a while there was a success story like Robert James Waller, proving that it could be done. Why, one minute he was a failed writer and the next minute Clint Eastwood was speaking his words on the big screen! Ah, but that ignored the thousands of dollars and hours and miles Waller had to put in before he sold his first book. And even then, you have to factor in luck. Luck had a lot to do with it.

Well, the days of investing your life's savings in a crate of books, packing them in the rumble seat of your jalopy and heading out on a whistlestop tour of the byways are over. Way over.

Now, it costs you next to nothing. You don't have to quit your day job or save up sick days. You can do it all from the comfort of your home for pennies. And most importantly, it no longer matters if you self-publish. The leper colonies have shut down and self-published people can walk out among decent society without having to disguise themselves.

Ah, I've made it sound so effortless, so tantalizing! Why, I can just publish my masterpiece and readers will intuitively find me and realize my magnificent work! Er, no.

There are still two unavoidable facts that hold true and will always hold true. One, your work has to be good, and I mean good enough to pass the same muster as a book from a big publisher. I've been looking and north of 80% of self-published fiction is a hot mess. That's a non-scientific number, but it's not far off and bound to only increase as writers realize the possibilities and throw their overripe bait out into the water. Underdeveloped writers are going to stop working to get better, and hopeless writers are going to be able to publish unreadable dreck. You see, the problem with removing the gatekeepers of quality is you've leveled the playing field to a point where it's going to be flooded with people who have no idea what they're doing. On the up side, if you're good and smart and tenacious and work your butt off doing what you need to do, you have a good chance of doing at least as well as you would do with a traditional publisher, perhaps even better.

Fact number two has to do with working your butt off. If you bypass a traditional publisher, you still have to do everything a traditional publisher does. Your private publishing staff must include: beta readers, a copy editor, a proofreader, a cover designer/illustrator, a typesetter, a marketing strategist, a publicist, an IT expert/web designer, and a business manager. If you lack in any of those departments, you're apt to fail.

Now, if you're lucky and clever, you yourself may be able to fill many of those roles. You may have friends, acquaintances, and family that can fill some of those roles. Chances are, you'll have to hire some independent contractors or barter services to fill some of those roles. The truth is, you're likely at first to spend way more time marketing yourself than you do writing. And, boy, you better be a good writer to start off with, and willing to learn from your mistakes.

So, no, it's not easy, not by a far shot. But the publishing business is changing and I can't think of anything more exciting than that.

(Coming soon:  the myths of self-publishing versus legacy publishing.)

Big Decisions

(Cross-posted from the Spectral Obelisk for newcomers)

So, anyway, last Thursday night I was in the throes of rewriting. What had started out as a lark -- hey, let's dust off that old manuscript and see what it looks like -- had morphed into this life-and-death struggle worthy of a nature-documentary-waterhole-showdown-on-the-savannah. And I was very much the gazelle and not the crocodile.

The actual rewrite was going well in terms of, you know, improving the book. I now had the experience and judgment to see the saggy spots and the repetitive imagery and the telling-versus-showing. As of Thursday night, I had cut something close to 40,000 words and had a nice little roadmap for switching around some action, integrating the remaining parallel storyline, and strengthening some dicey motivation. Problem was, it was never going to hit the magic word number the publisher was adamant about. (The publisher had not seen the whole book, just sample chapters and an outline. And while there are good reasons for books to be shorter, it's also my belief that a story takes as long to tell as it takes to tell.)

So I had a dilemma. Make the book less rich and the story weaker by taking some shortcuts to hit an arbitrary number, or put the manuscript back in a drawer. At about 7:00, I had an epiphany. It was probably a combination of things: words from some truly swell writers I've met, research on a somewhat unrelated matter, and some inexplicable light going on in my head. So for the next several hours I put the book aside and did some research. (I am a whiz a research, a research-savant, if you will.)

It came down to a comparison chart, the kind you see when you're trying to decide between "standard" and "premium" options of whatever you're buying. What comes with what? I was dealing with a small press (a nice, respectable small press -- I wish them no ill will). And what were they offering me? No advance. Publishing in trade paperback and ebook formats. A professional cover. Listings in the catalogues, a press release, and a few copies sent around to reviewers. A standard royalty fee.

I realized quite quickly that whatever they were offering me, I could offer myself. So, just like that, I've decided to become to my own small press. I've been editing professionally for 20 years. I've been advising people on marketing their writing for about that amount of time. I'm surrounded by people who are talented designers and marketers.

I realize better than anyone that this is going to take an immense amount of work, but the only thing I'm risking is my time. (Well, and the time of the people around me who have agreed to launch this experiment with me, but they're doing it of their own free will.) Phase one should be finished by July. For the first time in two years, I'm actually excited about my writing.

(Of course starting, oh, about now, it's back to the rewrite. The sagging middle ain't going to fix itself.)


Hello, there. Welcome to the new digs. Some people may know me from my "fun" blog, The Spectral Obelisk. The purpose of this new blog is to focus solely on the world of writing, specifically self-publishing, or as I would prefer to call it "publishing yourself" to wash it clean of any old icky associations that might be lingering in people's heads.

After some intense research and soul searching, and after 20 years of counseling people that publishing yourself was akin to being your own lawyer, I've come to believe that not only is publishing yourself a viable option for writers, but it's going to eventually drastically change the landscape of publishing. I'm not by any means predicting the demise of traditional publishing, but in the last 18 months or so the paradigm has shifted, and traditional publishing houses will eventually have to change and morph to accommodate that shift.

There are several excellent blogs about publishing yourself, and I'll be adding them to the blog roll as this site fills out. But I want to do something a little different. You see, I decided a week ago today that I was going to become my own small press. I have four novels -- two solo and two mysteries co-written with my talented friend Susan -- that we're going to publish over the next couple of months.

So what I'm offering here is an adventure that you can follow, if you're so inclined. From the spark of an idea, through the research, step-by-step through the nuts and bolts of all aspects of publishing your own work. I hope to have guest bloggers who can offer their own expertise on all aspects or writing, publishing, and marketing, and provide a clearinghouse of sorts for the bits and bobs of advice and tips and reliable information that's strewn all over the web.

You can watch in real time as we take our work and get it to market. Hopefully learn from our mistakes, and possibly have the inspiration to take control of your own art.