This blog has two purposes: 1) To announce that I am self-publishing book four called The Assignments and 2) to review my experiences with the process. I’ll touch on what I’ve come across going DIY however I’m no expert. The internet is full of self-publishing articles with topics ranging from how you do it, which firm you select (if any) and should you self-publish at all.

If you’ve never written a book, I can tell you that finishing is a mix between elation and relief. You learn that when you think you’re completed, you’re often not. Months or years of writing, re-writing and re-writing again is only the first step in bringing a novel to “life.” Professionals agree you’re not “done” until your novel endures rigorous editorial scrutiny. It adds costs and time and is painful when you must admit that, given sober second thought, something you wrote that you thought was good was terrible. While this step is, I suppose optional, I will put my name on nothing that isn’t the highest quality. Good editing is essential.

I Finished my Book! Yahoo! Now What?

In fact I completed The Assignments last November and immediately sent it out to prospective publishers. Not all of them responded, and those that did replied with rejection messages (not unexpected.) Enough time has passed for me to choose the self-publishing route, as I have with my first three books. One caveat, many industry professionals are not fans of the do-it-yourself route. In short, they say, “Don’t do it.” I’m working on a future blog to explain why I don’t follow their advice.

The process takes about four to eight weeks depending on the book. If you search for “How to Self-Publish a Novel,” the vast array of purveyors might surprise you. Indie publishing is now big business. Many are compelling in their sales pitch explaining how they will walk you through the maze to the goal, a shiny novel ready to autograph. There are rankings listing the top ten vendors across several categories, as you might find if shopping for a new laptop. It isn’t easy to decide.

I like to think of the self-publishing firms as travel agents, one of whose main jobs is to sell airplane seats. A jet costing many millions must be in the air as often as possible and full of people. So is it, I imagine with the printing industry. All of the self-publishing firms are “feeding” final product to the keep the large print machines running.

Services Provided by the Self-Publishing Firms

I have no way of knowing but suspect many/most of the firms hire freelance professionals to complete the various specialty assignments, not unlike your renovation contractor hiring a plumber, carpenter and electrician on your behalf. They offer design services where each shop creates a unique cover for your book. There is now a service offering many “pre-made” covers that authors can search through and pick one that looks good (for a much lower cost.) Once selected, that cover is “retired.”

Your publisher checks your document for any formatting or design errors. Did you change fonts in the middle of the book? Do you have two chapter thirteens? They do this once (included in the price.) If you then submit another file with errors, it costs more. They will also ask you if you want things like drop caps (the large capital letters beginning the first word of the first sentence for each chapter’s first paragraph.) In short, they make your book look like it should.

Your publisher will offer to secure an ISBN and Bar Code, an absolute necessity for proper identification of your work. Some indie authors do it themselves. I don’t suspect it adds much to the cost.

The debate between E-Readers and paperbacks continues, but you want your novel in both camps. Once your book is ready for print, someone must translate it into Mobi (for Amazon and Kindle) and Epub (for the rest.) If your book is more complicated with things like graphics, footnotes or a table of contents, it costs more. Here your publisher will set you up with electronic retailers like Amazon or Ingram. Again, authors can do these themselves (if they know how.)

Buyer Beware

Since this is my fourth novel, I’ve learned some of the industry pitfalls. I “fired” (didn’t use again) my first and second publisher. My third book was a much better experience and so I’m going with them again this time.

For The Analyst and The Ponzi I relied on the publishing company to provide editorial services. When I went through the editor’s comments (for each book by different editors) and found mistakes he or she had missed, I wasn’t happy. While writing Tradur Gurl, I worked with an excellent editor (and author herself) for the first time. I was quick to ask her to review The Assignments. After she finished her review of what I thought was a solid version of the novel, it took months to incorporate her excellent comments. It wasn’t a complete rewrite but my work required major surgery. As a result, I believe the novel you’ll read is much improved.

There were other skirmishes. In one case, a book cover designer recommended by a friend (who worked out great) wanted to double his price for the next book. For my second book I relied on my (one I won’t use again) publishers to provide cover design expertise and it was terrible. The process is the author explains important themes or ideas in their stories. They give you three covers to choose from. If you like none, you get a limited (free) number of tries to “adjust” their proposals. I felt the covers they designed for me were far from relevant to the background information I gave them. We threw them all out and started over (at my cost.) My cover experience with Tradur Gurl was much better so that’s a vote in favor of using that publisher again. Using my example above, that contractor appears to hire better tradespeople.

Then there’s the financial twist some use. A book publisher that advertises higher royalty payouts than the competition doesn’t at the same time tell you that close to ninety five percent of self-published books don’t recover the costs to produce them. A quarter percent more of zero is still zero.

Common Sense Always Rings True

I concluded that I would never learn the ins and outs of the book publishing industry (nor do I want to.) Therefore, the “trick” is to work with someone who by all appearances is trustworthy, makes you feel as if you are their only customer and cares about your experience with them. That’s a business model that works anywhere.

Your Book is Really done – Ready for Sale

It’s a wonderful feeling to hold your book in your hands for the first time. There is, however another (for some, insurmountable) hill to climb.

Many self-publishing shops offer sales and marketing training as a package option. This can be as simple as giving the author a free “how to” guide to running training consultations at around $75 per hour and up. If an author is fortunate enough to sign a contract with a traditional publishing company, it manages the bulk of the sales effort. As I understand it, they often ask their writers to share more of the marketing load. “Hybrid” publishing is a new strategy that falls somewhere between traditional and DIY.

I believe this is one of the most difficult challenges for most indie authors. If you love to write and commit to months or years to create something you’re proud of, starting a new challenge (sales and marketing) is daunting. I’ve put my heart into writing my books. Now I have to learn to sell them too? I dabble at it, have a professional-looking website and post on Instagram. (I’ve never been a Facebook fan.) I have a twitter account, but you wouldn’t know it. In my heart I know if I put the same level of dedication for my writing into learning how to market on the internet, I would sell many more books. My problem is I prefer the writing part. It’s harder to motivate yourself to do something you don’t love and it takes many hours away from your writing.

Summary

I think it’s helpful to talk to people who’ve been through the process. I’m happy to answer all comments or questions at author@dawkwriter.com. Regarding my future publishing efforts, today it’s a stand-off. Let’s get the book out there first and see what happens.