Friday, March 19, 2010

A List of Helpful Links on Self-Publishing

I was about to title this blog post "Technology Hates Me" after a week of living on dial-up internet, but my good wireless connection is back (knock on wood) and today I've gotten oodles done without having to haul my laptop to the library, wondering when it's going to overheat and blow up on me.

So finally, I can offer up a list of web resources for those considering or in the process of self-publishing. The books mentioned at the end of my previous post are a fantastic start and contain just about everything you need to know to proceed in a step-by-step fashion. I recommend spending a lot of time reading about the process and considering both the ins and outs before plunging in. You'll be investing either a fair amount of time or money in getting your book into print, depending on whether you do most of the prep work yourself or hire experts to do part or all of it, so it's not something entered into lightly. As I'm discovering, though, it can actually be quite an exciting endeavor.

Here's a short list, in no particular order:

1) Publetariat - Founded by April Hamilton, Publetariat is an online community of indie authors. You can find just about everything on this site, from articles that cover every aspect of self-publishing to where to find a cover designer. With so many energetic individuals contributing, the content on this site is constantly changing. Visit it often!

2) iStock Photos - When you get to the point of needing a photo for your cover, iStock is overflowing with professional and artistic pictures to choose from. I could spend hours there just looking. And they are very reasonably priced, too.

3) Lightning Source - If you're going the print-on-demand route, Lightning Source will not only print your book as needed, but get you listed with major distributors, like Barnes and Noble,, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram.

4) Createspace - Prefer to go the Createspace route? For those who plan to publish a single title or who desire a little more assistance, look into it.

5) Self-Publishing - A Yahoo discussion forum composed of authors and small publishers, as well as typographers, reviewers and bloggers. I suggest reading a few books on self-publishing and then if you have any specific questions during the process, you can ask it here or in the next list.

6) pod_publishers - another Yahoo discussion list for Print on Demand publishers. As with the list above, make sure you have a basic knowledge of POD before posting any broad questions here. Both lists are worth just sitting back and reading for awhile to glean knowledge from.

7) Digital Text Platform - Want to publish direct to Kindle through This is the place to start. You may want to visit the Kindle discussion boards first (listed on this page) to get a feel for how things work.

8) Frequently Asked Questions about the ISBN - Don't know what one is or how to get one? Check here.

9) Bowker - Ready to purchase your ISBN(s)? In the U.S., a single ISBN will cost you $125; the cost for 10 or more is $250.

That should be plenty to get you headed in the right direction. My connection already went down once during the writing of this post, so I'll launch this one out there while I can.

Happy publishing,

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Turning Your Manuscript into a Book, or . . . Lo and Behold, My Computer is More than a Glorified Typewriter!

It’s true! I first started writing on a Royal typewriter thirty years ago – you know, the kind with the round keys that if you missed them your fingers would get pinched in a wiry web that had the tension of a bear trap? And you had to use carbon paper if you wanted to make copies? Remember this sound: “Tap, tap, tap, tap . . . tap, tap, ding! Click.”? Transition from that to the first computers and, wow, no more need for White-Out, plus a dot matrix printer eliminated the use of carbons. Given what computers can do today (spell-check makes us all look smarter than we are), is it any wonder more people are writing books now than ever?

This past week – or two, it’s all becoming a blur, because this is actually fun if you have OCD like I do – I’ve been formatting my manuscript in Word in order to make it look like a proper book. (Let me mention here that creating a Word document is just one step, after that comes creating a pdf file that your printer or self-publishing company will accept.) If you plan on formatting your manuscript yourself, two books I heartily recommend are: Aaron Shepard’s Perfect Pages and Michael N. Marcus’s Become a Real Self-Publisher. I like the latter for its straightforward step-by-step directions and the former for additional details about specific steps. Then, if those start to make sense, invest in Pete Masterson’s Book Design and Production: A Guide for Authors and Publishers. This last one not only gets into the nitty gritty of various fonts and page layout, but also has an extended glossary on terms that you can refer to during the self-publishing process, as a lot of the terminology will sound like a foreign language at first. Formatting a book interior really isn’t rocket science; it does, however, take time to learn about all the hidden features of Word that you never knew existed and create a professional looking interior. If you don’t have time, but do have money, there are businesses who will provide that service for you. Being the penniless writer I am, with time on my hands, I embrace learning something new. It makes me feel – what’s that word that Oprah uses? Ah yes, ‘empowered’.

So what have I learned in the last two weeks? A boatload. For starters, ‘styles’ is a feature that allows you to be consistent about headings and sections. ‘Headings’, btw, are not to be confused with ‘headers’. I figured out how to alternate the headers at the top of the page so that the title is on the recto (right-hand) page and my name is on the verso (left-hand) page. I also learned how to turn off pagination, headers and footers on specific pages by inserting section breaks and breaking the link to the previous section. Confused yet?

A word of caution here: if you turn hyphenation on in Word, you can be sure it will insert the hyphen in the wrong place within a word at least 25% of the time. That means I sat here with a dictionary and checked every single hyphenated word for hours. I also figured out how to turn spell-checker off for a specific word if I didn’t want it hyphenated by going to the Review tab and clicking on Set Language.

Widows and orphans are something else to be aware of at this stage in the process. No, not women whose husbands are deceased and children who’ve lost their parents. Widows are the last line of a paragraph that has spilled over onto the next page and are followed by the glaring white space of a scene break or the end of a chapter. Orphans are the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of the page following a scene break that stand alone, or they are also a lone word at the end of a paragraph on a line by itself. To the typographer, these are egregious errors that upset the delicate balance of a meticulously designed interior layout, and thus must be eradicated. To the rest of us casual readers, they just look . . . irregular, sloppy, blech. You can set Word to eliminate widows and orphans, but this will sometimes leave you with an uneven number of lines between the left and right pages. The alternative is to finagle individual paragraphs by inserting or deleting words or sentences so that you have neither widows nor orphans and every page contains the same number of lines – which is a huge amount of work.

One last thing: I am in love with Drop Caps – those fancy, oversized letters that shoulder their way into the opening paragraph of every chapter as if to say, “Here I am and I am beautiful.” Yes, you are beautiful, Drop Caps. You remind me of the Book of Kells. You are timeless.

Aside from learning lots of minutia, I’ve also had to make a lot of decisions. What size to I want my book to be? How big should the margins be? What font to use for the text, for chapter headings and for my beloved Drop Caps (sigh . . .)? After all this, I think I may have missed my calling in life. Maybe instead of a writer, I should have become a graphic artist or book designer. I won’t kid you – this is a lot of work and I feel like I am learning a new job for which I had zero qualifications. But, having an end product in mind – that wonderful thing called ‘my book’ – it makes all the time invested in learning worthwhile. Happy publishing!

Until later,

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

E-books: Their pricing, the cost to publish them and what do they hold for the future of writing?

When I discuss self-publishing with other writers, one question I'm often asked is, "Are you going to put out a paper book or an e-book first - or both?" Granted, a lot of debut authors going the self-pub route see e-books, whether through Kindle or Smashwords, as an easier, lower cost option. Without a publisher (and all their inherent expenses) to set pricing for them, that leaves the question of what to price an e-book wide open for the self-pub author. Ultimately, yes, I do plan to put my books out as e-books, but first I'll introduce them as p-books (lingo for 'paper books'), primarily because most of the people I personally know don't yet own an e-reader and don't read enough to warrant them buying one.

Recently, Amazon announced that starting in June it will pay authors 70% of the Kindle list price. This deal states that the list price must be between $2.99 and $9.99. Currently, many self-published authors are offering their Kindle titles at very low prices, like 99 cents... or even free - the logic being that readers are more likely to sample a new author if they can get the book for practically nothing. Their plan then is to build a readership base, in the hopes that they can later charge more for subsequent works. While I follow this logic, I can't say I agree with it, for the simple fact that it devalues the artist's efforts and the product they have to offer. There is also the problem of perceived value and 'you get what you pay for'. I just can't go there. To research, write and polish a work of historical fiction can take me up to two years (although I'm sure if I had a deadline of any sort, I could drastically reduce that time-frame). I believe the product I put out at the end of that time is worth something more than pennies.

Anita Davison's blog, in her post An End to Those Pesky Rejection Letters?, talks about whether this door to publishing for writers is a good or bad thing. And Mirella Patzer analyzes the emergence of e-book readers and their impact on the future of how we read in her blog post Reading, Then and Now.

Traditional publishers have been arguing that even though printing, shipping and warehousing costs are eliminated with e-books, there's still a lot of expense associated with them, like editing, cover art, marketing, and physical overhead (those Manhattan offices aren't exactly cheap). A recent New York Times article explores the dilemma of e-book pricing by traditional publishers.

How much would you shell out for a self-published e-book? $9.99, $4.99, $1.99 or would you only try it if it was free? Art Edwards discusses e-book pricing in his post: "How Much Would you Pay for a Self-Published E-book?".

So folks, that's a lot to digest. The bottomline is that publishing is in a state of fluctuation. Technology is changing so fast that by the time I get one thing figured out, it becomes obsolete. The economy is putting a squeeze on publishers and consumers and that all trickles down to the would-be author, as well as established authors.

Until later,