Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2013, a Self-Publishing Odyssey! Part 1-The Why You Should, and How You Can, Self Publish an E-book and Paperback

OCD and the Art of Self-Publishing
Having very recently published my first book, in e-book and print, I have learned a great deal about the self-publishing process. In the following two-part series of articles I am going to detail how you too, can self-publish, discussing everything I went through so you can learn everything necessary, from choosing to publish all the way through promoting your book and getting it reviewed. If you read my book, in either ebook or paperback, you’ll see that in the dedication and acknowledgements, I thank Yahoo Voices and the Yahoo Contributor Network. If you're reading this, it’s because you and I share the most powerful medium for becoming a writer in today's environment that I could have ever imagined: The Yahoo Contributor Network and Yahoo Voices! I can honestly say that in large part it is because of Yahoo and all of my fans and readers that I had the courage, the motivation and, even the recognition, to embark on this journey. I cannot over-emphasize how the support of this community drove me through some difficult times to persevere and keep writing. I believe that many of my fellow writers here could, and should, consider self-publishing. Even if you don’t write here at Yahoo, if you write at all, self-publishing might be for you. In this 2-part article we will explore how to make that decision, and how to fulfill your goal to publish. One of the reasons I haven't been publishing here lately is because of the preparations necessary to self publish. But, as you can see, I’m back! “Ahem” “Oh yes, someone else who’s back---is Satan. Those who've read my stuff know that I usually work with Satan on political and social commentary pieces. I would not have expected to collaborate with him on these self-publishing articles. However, Satan's been feeling a little left out, because as I mentioned, I had to take some time off of the kind of writing to which he’s usually associated. Because of this I had promised him that he would be part of the next thing that I wrote. “And it's a good thing, for your readers anyway, because so far, this article is pretty dry!” “It's a how-to article. It's not the kind of thing where you can just throw in comments and jokes.” “Watch me!” Satan responded. Before I could complain, he continued, “Look, I was there for the entire process. I can help.” I must’ve looked doubtful because he continued, “I promise I won’t tell anyone what you’ve been doing to get good reviews.” “Hey! What are you talking about?!” I demanded. “Look, I’m just impressed you’ve been able to get any good reviews--- for doing that, believe me!” “He’s kidding.” “Sure I am.” “I will be drawing upon my experience publishing my new book, Not From Around Here, as a reference. In Part 1, we will review how to decide what book to write, how to decide if self-publishing is right for you, the process to get a book out in e-book form, why you would do that, and preliminary steps to take for the promotion and marketing of your book. In part 2, we will review publishing a print version of your book, as well as going into detail and actual experience in promoting a book and getting it reviewed. Along the way I'll be pointing out any issues or successes that came up. In my case, the book has been out in e-book for several weeks and in paperback for many days, so you’re truly getting first-hand experience on a very timely basis! I should note that despite how entertaining Satan is, he will actually be contributing mostly to the second part of the article, because his special skills-set turned out to be most appropriate for promotion and marketing. So, how do you choose your first book and why choose to self-publish? In my example, one lead to the other. Since I had published several stories on Yahoo and had a decent amount of very supportive readers, racking up thousands of reads, scores of fans and some very favorable comments here on Yahoo Voices, as well as on social media, I decided to use what I had become known for, as my first effort. I considered whether this should have been fiction or political commentary, and simply because I felt most like writing fiction at the time, fiction won out. Many of the writers here have specific types of articles they do regularly, from self-help, informative, fiction, and poetry, for a few examples, which would all lend themselves to a self-published book. Of course, even if you don’t write here at Yahoo, all these suggestions apply to you as well. If you are going to use any content you've published on Yahoo or anywhere else, you need to make sure you've retained the appropriate rights, or are able to acquire them, if you want to re-publish any previously published content. I enjoyed publishing short stories here at Yahoo Voices and had some success with them, so I decided a short story collection made sense. However, I knew from a talk I had with an interested agent, that a short story collection was a hard sell for a new author. She told me that, in her informed opinion, no major publisher wanted a short story collection from an unknown author. I had heard that before, and even with Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize in literature for a short story collection, I have been told that this still hasn't changed much. The agent indicated to me that if I persevered, spent money on copies of my book to send around to various small publishers, I might eventually find a traditional publisher in the second or third tier that was willing to publish my book. It could take as long as two years or more, cost me several hundred dollars and in the end the publisher might have no more marketing clout or financial resources than I would, to do the promotion. So, once I decided to go with a short story collection as my first book, I knew self-publishing would be the way to go. You should be aware that even if you wrote something that could be of interest to a publisher, it does not mean traditional publishing should definitely be the route you take. Why should you consider self-publishing? I have read many arguments that in the new frontiers of publishing, self-publishing can actually be preferential for some people. Probably for some of the reasons I mentioned above. Unless you work with a large publisher who also has a belief that your book can be a bestseller, you are likely going to find that there is not much promotional resources being offered for your project. To some degree you'll be going-it alone, even with a publisher. There are differences, of course. With a big publisher you have access to information and contacts that you will not have on your own. Also, when we discuss getting reviews to help with your promotion, you'll find that getting reviews from major outlets is more difficult, and from some of them it’s near impossible, for the self published. On the other hand, with self-publishing you have full control and you get maximum royalties. Of course, part of the reason you get maximum royalties is nobody gave you an advance, which is a nice thing to get from a publisher. Nevertheless, if you can make your book a success, and often it will rest with you, then you're likely to make more money self-published. The control is an important point. If a publisher is not large enough or doesn't believe in your work enough to support it with great financial resources, then you may watch your book struggle and by the time this occurs, you may feel powerless to fix it. When you self publish, from day one, you know the responsibilities, and possibilities, rest on you. Depending on whether you’re up to the challenge, this could be construed as a blessing or a curse. I am proceeding as if my readers are making the choice to self-publish, either because of its merits, or because they don’t feel there is a viable alternative for their work. I wouldn't tell you not to try to go through traditional publishing with a big publisher. But you may expend a great deal of time and resources before you make your goal, and the odds are you won't make that goal. Not that you can’t. Just that a lot of people try to get a lot of work published and even great stuff is often passed over. We’ve all heard those stories, of how many times bestsellers were first rejected. My purpose here is just to make you understand that self-publishing is a viable option and a reasonable alternative to attempting to go through the process of finding a traditional publisher. Things are changing weekly in the self-publishing field and it doesn't pay to go into all the things that have changed since---they’ve changed. But just to give you an idea, in the last few weeks, it is gotten easier to publish e-books on Amazon for the Kindle, it has become more expensive and difficult to use some companies to self publish a paperback or hardcover book, and it has become cheaper to get your printed book distributed in more places. Some of these I will explain further because they’re necessary for these articles, but on other changes, the details are too complicated, voluminous and unnecessary to this discussion, to detail here. There are primarily two e-book formats out there. There is the .mobi file for Kindle and the open standard .epub file used by iBooks from Apple, Barnes and Noble Nook and other e-readers. Until very recently to publish on Kindle you had to do an HTML conversion that often looked considerably different than your original document. Now, however, you can enter a Word document directly into the Kindle Direct Publishing system. I was going to pay a company to help me with the conversion when this change occurred, and when I entered my document into the system my first try at an e-book came out looking pretty good. Whether you're making an e-book or a print book, it will be near impossible to get it to look completely right the first time. Fortunately there are companies out there looking to help you. Some will charge you and give you independent assistance and advice. Inmy particular case, utilizing Kindle to help me get a Kindle e-book up and running and using Createspace to make my paperback, I was able to get all the help I needed without additional cost. However, those companies also offer design and implementation services for a fee. I found I didn't need to utilize those. When we talk about paperbacks in the next part of the article I'll tell you about hardcover printing though I’ll also review why I chose not to utilize that for my book. The first thing you're going to want is one document with your entire publication, except for the cover. You'll be entering the cover into the publishing systems separately. I'm not going to go into header and formatting issues specific to any particular word processing program. If you have trouble getting those things to look the way you want, there is ample help for these issues if you search the Internet. Any article you read on self-publishing will tell you that the cover is one of the most important parts of your publication, whether it's an e-book or a print book. People will see the cover first. In an ad, on an internet listing, a vendor site, on your Facebook, or wherever. In my case, I had an idea for a picture I wanted on the cover. Interestingly, while my photographer delivered what I asked for, during the shoot she explained to me that she wanted to take a few more pictures. She wanted to get my entire shadow on the ground in the picture. As you can see from the cover I've included as an illustration for this article, she was right on the money and that's the picture I used. Seeking outside opinions and help are highly recommended to review your cover design and the look of your book. A lot of people choose designers to make their cover using stock photos and drawn illustrations and computerized elements. I have seen a lot of striking covers out there, so I can't tell you how to proceed. While I wasn't looking to spend extra money on cover design services, if I didn't have an idea for my cover, or if I couldn’t make it work, I no doubt would've spent the additional money to make sure my cover was professional. There’s nothing that I can tell you about the content of your book except to make it the best you can. If it's not a novel, it's a good idea to have a reason why you included that particular body of content together in one publication. If it's a novel obviously you put in what you think you need to put in. If it's a nonfiction book, you will not only need to produce your book, but to convince people that you should be the one who wrote the book that they should read. It may mean establishing yourself as an expert in a particular field or area. In my particular case I tried to include a body of work that illustrated the range of stories I think I write well. Regardless of the content of your book, once you make it the best you can write, you need it to be the best that can be produced. This means editing. There are two things I can tell you about editing. It stinks. And it sucks. Those are two things that I felt needed to be said, but they are not actually the two points I need to make! 1) It's no fun editing. If you're really good at editing your work, that's great! I do the first couple of edits of my work, but those are usually content edits and for obvious grammatical flaw edits. I usually have another set of educated eyes do an edit for me. This is not always possible with a story or article, but it is absolutely essential with a book. In fact, in my case, after one editor went through it, I paid another editor to go through it again. Ironically, what you'll learn is, 2) editing is a never-ending process. I'm not sure why that is, because the number of words in your document is finite. However, after each edit, when the editor (or you) believes they've found all the errors and quality corrections--- you will find more! Now technically, in an e-book you can make corrections after its first published, and submit them, and they'll re-publish the e-book. It's a relatively seamless process. But not everyone will have the final version and you don’t want too many different edited versions out there. Take your time and try for one great edited work before you publish! Take this from my experience because I did a few re-publishing’s of my e-book! Certainly, it’s no longer practical to keep making edits once you have a print copy out there, if you choose to go with a print copy. Therefore you need to edit your work as best you can, then be at peace with the result once it's published. That’s why the subtitle to this particular article is “OCD and the Art of Self-Publishing”. Because with many aspects of the publishing process, you need to be relentless in going over your work, over and over again, as if you have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), yet then, you will have to reign in your OCD, or you will forever fret over the results---because you will keep finding things you could correct, or rewrite. It’s just the nature of the medium, and our own desire to always make our work the best it can be. Most of you don't have OCD, so this really shouldn’t be an issue. For those of you that do, I sympathize, believe me. So you wrote, you edited and you made the cover as best you can. You have yourselves a book! It might be a compilation of work you've already done, or it might be all-new material. Whatever it is, it's the best you can do. If not, why would you publish it? This is an important point, because in order to effectively promote and market your publication you will need to solicit reviews and handout, or e-mail, a lot of copies of your book to get the word out. If people end up not liking your book, you want that to be because they just don't ---“get you” and not because you--- could’ve, would’ve, should’ve--- done a better job! In my example, I wanted my book out at the end of the summer but, editing and other issues required, that to get the job done right, it didn't come out till November. So, technically you now have a book. What the $#@& do I do now, you're probably asking?! (Though I imagine your expletive was more colorful than decorum would allow for this article.) You need to determine what formats of the book you want to sell and where you want to sell them. In the e-book format you have the opportunity to sell your book through many venues on the internet at a very low price or cost. In my case I decided that a low-price that should allow anyone who wants my book to buy it would be $1.99. Now, if you find my book online you'll see that the Kindle e-book is $2.99. WTF? I'll tell you. You see, there are forces at work beyond what we know, until we do our research and get ready to publish. If you sell an e-book through Kindle for under $2.99 you get a 30% royalty. At $2.99 and above, you can elect to get a 70% royalty. Some people sell their books at $.99 believing that they will more than make up with greater sales, what they lose in potential royalties on each copy. However, you’d need to sell almost 7 times as many copies, at $.99 as you would at $2.99, to make the same amount of royalty. I think this is eminently possible if you are selling a non-fiction book with universal appeal. $.99 truly would seem to be a price that makes the purchase a no-brainer (at least as far as cost goes). I have seen a couple of informal studies that claim $.99 through $2.99 is actually all no-brainer territory. These purported results would indicate there wasn't much difference in sales for any amounts in that price range, which would indicate $2.99 and $.99 would sell about as many copies and you should go with the $2.99 price to earn more income. However, at this time there is no hard science that I am aware of that proves the accuracy or veracity of those study results at this time. For my example, I certainly was not offering a nonfiction book with universal appeal. I am offering fiction that I put a great deal of time and effort into. Although the self-publishing process can be free or near free of cost, I paid for an editor and there would be some elective costs that were still to come. Also, promotion has its costs, such as, gas and travel expenses, your time, and handing out free copies of your book (in print form, which are certainly not free to you). Self-publishing is not a cost free endeavor, although it can be done for minimal outlays compared to what was available years ago, before the advent of current publishing and e-reader technologies. When you look at the sales of e-books, you will see that is it an attractive market that you probably shouldn't pass by. And when you look at e-books you will have to consider that the dominant platform currently is Amazon's Kindle. Why do I bring that up when you can simply publish on all the different platforms available? That's a good question! Because you'll be offered a service called Amazon KDP Select. With this, you give Kindle exclusivity to your material in blocks of 90 days. In exchange, they will make your book available to be lent out in their Amazon Prime program. This means that Amazon Prime members can borrow your book for free but you get financially compensated by Amazon. Other benefits include putting your book on sale for a lower price for a specific amount of time. You can even give your book away for free for a specific amount of time. Why would you do that? Some people do that to promote other books in a series by giving the first book of the series away for free. Since I only have one book, giving it away for free makes no sense. The potential rewards for the Amazon KDP Select program made it seem worthwhile to me. However, at this point I can't really say many people have rushed out to borrow my book, even though the cost to them is free. On the other hand, the downside to giving Kindle limited time exclusivity is reduced because there is a free Kindle app that allows almost any e-reader to read Kindle books. I have several readers that are currently reading the book on their iPhone or iPad using the free Kindle app for that device. So whether you should go exclusively with the Kindle platform in these blocks of 90 days, either once, or if successful, then you would continue to renew each 90 days, is entirely up to you. But if readers want your e-book they can manage to get it, even if they have another e-reader platform. If you want to publish to each e-platform on its own, you'll need to go to Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, the Google Playstore, and there are also offerings from Sony and a couple of other players. I'm not familiar with all of them yet because I decided to explore the KDP Select program. Unless something substantially changes I will not be renewing that exclusivity and I will be placing my book on every platform I can find, once the first 90 days is completed. So in the next article I will probably have a few more platforms to mention, just as an addendum. When it comes to putting out an e-book, and you will find the same for putting out a print book, there are many companies that look to get between you and the customer, and help you out. They all charge various fees for these services. After researching the many different venues I decided to pretty much go direct. I'm technologically savvy enough to get the job done and truthfully nothing was so complicated. Everyone that publishes here at Yahoo Voices should be able to handle those tasks necessary to get their work through any of the systems I'm discussing. If you’re more newbie than that, you either need to do some research or take some help. However, a lot of the systems will offer enough help without cost, if you’re patient and willing to learn. I have not found a foolproof method, or a perfect method, to publish and promote. Whenever I see a potential service I might be interested in, I do an Internet search for reviews of that service. I believe this is a good way to handle many things, by the way. I have found no service that was so loved or highly rated, that I believed it could make the difference between success and failure. That's just me and my understanding of the issues. I am becoming quite active in the online writer and self-publishing forums and I believe I've researched the topic enough to know that there are no shortcuts to success. If you are going to self-publish it behooves you to also become at least somewhat active in online forums. The more internet research you do, the more forums and discussion groups you will find. There are certainly easier ways to get things done if you want to pay someone else to do them. I was not looking to pay anyone else, because I didn't want to spend the money and I want to understand the processes involved, as best I can. When you understand something you can work with it and take control of it. I will tell you right now, that when you research online, about putting out an e-book, you will barely think it's necessary to publish a print book anymore. But that’s not true. I've run into many people that waited to buy my paperback, which came out several weeks after the e-book. Also, in the next article, when we talk about promotion, if you're able to do any book signings or drop-offs to a book club, you will need a hardcover or paperback print edition, to do so. Distributing an e-book is quite simple. Each platform that you agree to sell it on, Amazon, Apple iBook, etc. will put it into their system; make it searchable and available, and work out the financial details with you of how to pay you. They want product to sell and they want to compensate their authors. Promotion and marketing is quite different from distribution. When you form an agreement with each of those platforms, they distribute your e-book. If you choose to go with an intermediary company to assist you with creating your e-book, they'll tell you they'll distribute it for you as well. But what they'll be doing is placing it in those different platforms for you. It is convenient and a time saver but it is not an indispensible service. While I plan to cover promotion in the next article, along with how you get the book out in print, I'm going to cover a little bit of it now because if self-publishing is an area you wish to explore, there are some things you'd better set up ASAP. You will want a Facebook page and most probably a professional Facebook page. If you set them both up, they’ll link together. You'll want a twitter account. If you can swing it financially, you'll want a website. You can shop them from all the major web companies and you’ll find there are some very affordable opportunities out there. The thing is, you can get by just with your Facebook and your Yahoo contributor profile. But if you set up your own website, it can be the hub where you have links to Facebook, to your contributor profile, to your twitter, as well as any other social media you may pursue. You may also blog to support your writing. I was blogging before I was publishing anything else online, once I discovered Yahoo I was only blogging material I wasn't putting on Yahoo Voices. However, once I put out a book, I now use the blog as a promotional tool, as well! As we come to the close of the first part in this series of articles, I hope you'll come away with a better understanding of why you might self publish, what you might self publish, and how an e-book might fit into your plans. You should also be considering all the social media and web presence options I just mentioned, at a minimum. Because, the reality is, if you’re going to self-publish, then you’re going to have to self-promote. You don't have to do it alone. You can hire assistance or your can cajole assistance out of your friends and relatives (we’ll discuss that more in the next article). But however it's done you will need to promote and market. In the next part, we’ll look at getting a print book published and distributed, as well as the promotion and marketing of your publication!

4 comments:

Bruce said...

I don't think I'll be doing publishing anytime soon. But thank you for the info. If I were a writer I would be less intimidated by the self publishing process after reading this.

Rebecca Black said...

Excellent article with valuable information! Thank you!

Mylinda said...

Very good article. I have a much better understanding of how self publishing works.

sherri granato said...

I have considered self-publishing my children's book. Luckily I have helpful friends in the industry that give me sound advice. Thank you for sharing such valuable information.