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.


  1. Is the software for the Pay-To-Print version? I finished up formatting Sweet Dreams for Smashwords this afternoon, and I was able to do it with Word 2007 easily. Actually, they stressed that even Word 2007 overformats and mostly the instructions were about cutting the formatting down to a bare minimum. I haven't looked into Kindle Direct Publishing in depth yet, but if they accept .txt files it suggests they want even simpler.

    The odd question I was left with by the Smashwords formatting was... what IS the appropriate generically professional font?

    On a side-ish note, the hard part for us is going to be cover art. It's the art that's going to get people to give us a glance long enough for our words to hook them. Ridiculous, but that's life for you. Our cover art needs to be more professional than anything else.

  2. I'm going to go more in depth with the typesetting soon. I'm still researching and organizing my thoughts. InDesign files won't work for Smashwords, but I'll have files in Word anyway that I'm going to strip the formatting out of for Smashwords. The InDesign is more for typesetting for print and actual book design. Smashwords is limited in it's creative design (which is not a bad thing, just different.)There is a free plugin converter from Kindle to convert InDesign files, which is one of the major selling points for me, as I have seen nightmare after nightmare described about formatting gremlins in the Word-to-Kindle conversions.

    I have an artist working on cover art, and I've also looked at composing covers with stock elements. Once I get InDesign up and running I'm going to start mocking covers to see what I come up with. Most of the pro designers that I've sampled are using InDesign. When I start mocking them up, I'll post samples so everyone can see the progression.