Self Publishing Your First Novel: The Thorns And The Roses

I’d promised myself a while back now that I would share a little of my first ever self publishing journey with you. Not so much looking at helping or troubleshooting as there is so much advice out there to find in books, websites, and blogsites, not to mention all the companies and agencies that can do it for you at a price. But some of you might find it helpful if I do look at the thorns and the roses along the path I took with CreateSpace (CS) for the print on demand paperback of On Turtle Beach, and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for the ebook. If nothing else it may help demonstrate how doable it can be with a great deal of attention to detail. I’ll be going from the notebook I kept along the way (to help me if or when I do this again) which started out all neat and tidy, but quickly became a wee bit disorderly. I’m also coming at this from the UK perspective, but there are only minor differences on the whole. Apart from the boggy formatting stages, most of it seemed to be about making decision after decision after decision.

I had the manuscript ready, edited, and proofread so many times, I couldn’t stand any more. The word document, was processed so it had no tabs, no headers and footers, just a run on file with page breaks between parts and chapters. My hubbie and I designed the cover together. My artist side and his techy designer side made a good combination, and copyright free pictures were sourced from Pixabay.com, which always seems to come up trumps for me. Next time around I might have to take a different approach because I’m going to want something more figurative in the sense of showing a person on a larger scale in a setting.

I read in advance two books on how to self publish paperback and ebook, including the dreaded marketing. This was scary. It looked sooo complicated. I thought, how on earth are we (that is me and my hubbie) going to do this? The formatting was obviously tricky, as well as some other factors, like the table of contents for the ebook. He kept saying it will be fine, you’re worrying too much. I kept saying, no, you don’t understand, it’s going to be tough! Why else do you think people often need to pay for it to be done? Needless to say, by the time we got to press the button for the off, we were both tense. Well, it was tough…and there’s no way I could have done it solo. But we both needed help from a book we came to rely on which is Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing (3rd edition 2014)

And even though it’s technically out of date, it was more detailed with some much needed humour. She tells you to calm down, when to take a break for a coffee, when to ‘just do it’ and when not to, and ‘fudge’ comes into her vocabulary at testy moments. She tells you what you are likely to be thinking or feeling and she tackles it head on.

STAGE 1 – THE PAPERBACK

1. I decided to process the paperback before the ebook, but before registering with CreateSpace (CS) I picked a book size from the listed options, got my keywords sorted (for searches) along with genre categories, book blurb, and author bio. And the ‘front matter’ copyright page was a joy to do –  a sweet smelling rose i.e. ‘This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance….’ You get the idea, really yummy. The cover was ready, and font type and size for the text and chapter headings were decided on. This was tested by copying and pasting the chosen font and size, of extracts from the manuscript, onto a page the same size as the book size I’d selected and seeing if it worked well for reading. I also searched my own books to find one or two novels that I liked the layout of and used these to refer to when making structural decisions.

2. Registering with CS was easy, I used my own name, rather than my author name, to get an account number. Then you put your author name in when you’re submitting your book. Wow, I thought, now we’re off.

3. Next came the submitting of tax information. It was far smoother than anticipated, but we crossed our fingers that our internet connection didn’t cut out, then breathed a sigh of relief when it went through.  I used my national insurance number for the tax ID number, which went on to create a W-8BEN, which I’d seen happen before from some US illustration payments. They also needed my IBAN (international bank account number, on your statements) and BIC (bank identifier code, also on statement, I think).

4.Then we were ready to ‘Add New Title’, that is, publish your book, selecting the size, the colour of paper etc. Somewhere around this stage I acquired an ISBN-13 and ISBN-10 (the latter relates to an older system, that’s still in place)

5.We downloaded a template for the book, which is sized according to your choice of book size  eg 5’’ by 8’’ in my case, and into which you begin copying and pasting in the text . We used the blank template rather than the ready formatted one, because the blank one was easier and more flexible to work with. We had two copies of the MS to work with, saving one for KDP. We used a physical print out of the word document of the manuscript to guide the process. Then came insertion of title page, copyright page, quotation page (I wanted to use a quote from Charlotte Gray about sisters, having got her permission), then a blank page, then the first page of the novel, in my case the Prologue. After the prologue came a page for ‘Part One’ on the right side, then another blank page, with Chapter 1 beginning on the right. All the text was justified. All the part pages and chapters were copied in, with ‘About the Author’ page coming at the very end. The main point here is that the margins are already set in your downloaded template. So for each left hand page, the left margin is smaller, the right margin larger, and for each right hand page, the left margin is greater and the right one is smaller. I’d never noticed this feature before, but of course it’s allowing for the binding and the open reading of the book.

6. A big sharp thorn was the page numbering and blank pages. Every new chapter and Part, plus prologue and epilogue has to be, or begin, on a right page and be an odd number. So left pages are even numbered, or if between parts, can be blank. All blank pages cannot have a number on them even though they are included in the page count. This proved to be when my hubbie had to go to Catherine Ryan Howards website and get some up to date info on how to do this page numbering in ‘sections’. A nightmare! I don’t know what we would have done without her. Then I checked through it several times (I get to do the time-consuming sloggy stuff in this partnership), making sure the chapter headings were spaced consistently down from the top of the page, and that the text beginning each chapter was also aligned the same for each one, whilst also ensuring that part titles were consistently spaced…and everything else!

7. Next up was saving this as a PDF and uploading it to CS, where you get to see your novel on the ‘online reviewer’, which is your first 3D experience, where you get to turn the pages, so to speak. CS tells you if there are any problems/’issues’ with your file, then when those are sorted you repeat the process, and with the okay from CS you go on to submit the book cover.

8. Book Cover – a template is provided appropriate for your book size and your book depth ( the width of the book’s spine is dictated by your final page number for the novel). We had a design ready to tweak for the spine width, so with a little more work on that aspect, the cover was processed to fit, converted to a PDF, then uploaded. You get to choose your finish (matt or glossy) at this stage. I chose matt, which I’m very happy with. You wait again for a checking process to be done, ‘submit for review’,  then go on to some nice roses from there, such as ordering a proof copy.

9. In the meantime I went on to enter what I had readied in advance for the selling page on Amazon:  book blurb/description, keywords, genre, author biography, then CS takes you through the process of choosing your distribution channels…with me frantically checking on ‘what the fudge this was all about’ (as Catherine would say). I said no to expanded distribution, yes to the rest.  I won’t go into pricing, because my book is a large one with regard to page number (which is so typical of me!), meaning the cost of production was higher than average, so therefore the retail price had to be more than I envisaged. I did much needed research on the forums at this stage, to feel happier with the pricing.

10.When the proof came, I couldn’t look at it at first. It was the fattest, nicest smelling rose that had ever come my way, but also quite surreal, as if it was going to disappear and leave behind a sprinkle of fairy dust. I also expected it to be in a foreign language that I couldn’t read. I just couldn’t believe it would be in English and be okay. Then when I gave myself a talking to I was able to look, get used to looking, but then I expected to find glaring mistakes. Well it was actually pretty good! One big piece of advice I will give is to read through your ‘real’ book proof as a reader, not as the writer. I spotted tiny mistakes this way, that I’d never seen when checking on my laptop. It also helps you to ‘own it’  – it really is your book, you’ve written it and it’s going to go out into the world. So the file had to go through the submitting process again, until all was well, and we were ready to go on from there.

11. Next up was ordering my author copies, X10 of. Mine came in 2 weeks, from the US, which was amazing, considering the time limit given is at least 4 weeks. Beautifully packed and presented.

STAGE 2 – THE EBOOK

1.While waiting for the paperback proof we got on with this, thinking it would be straightforward, but it was by far the hardest stage, because we had glitches that couldn’t easily be explained and which drove us both nuts. I can totally understand why writers pay for this to be done, but we persevered. We registered with KDP, didn’t use their automatic conversion process because we still had to do a table of contents (TOC) which is compulsory for the ebook.

2. I registered with KDP using my existing customer Amazon account to create a KDP account. I had to do the tax information again, as KDP is a separate company. I filled in the book details again, and you get 2 extra keywords to choose, and an extra genre category for searches.

3. The ebook file is one massive run on word file, which then has to have parts and chapter section breaks put in, along with all the other front matter and end matter that the paperback has. If we do this again, I noted down that we would create a copy of the CS paperback 5 by 8 word template file, just before page numbering and before section breaks went into it, so that is one big run on file with no blank pages, no page numbers, no section breaks, but with the front matter and end matter included. The table of contents needed Catherine’s help again, this being a list of the chapters in the book, with the front matter and end matter too, and they have to be hyperlinked to where in the ebook they are. Things get foggy in my notes here, my hubbie trying things out, consulting forums – and there does seem to be many more issues with the ebook formatting than with CS. I was getting more anxious as time went on and pestered him about what was wrong, what was he doing? But in the end, we got it sorted – well, he got it sorted. Hurray! The front cover was uploaded and the ebook was finally ready to be viewed on my own kindle, once again with me not believing what I was seeing. My own novel on my own kindle? How amazing was that?

4. Another point to make is that since the KDP book file is in word, it means that spell checking is done, which is a reassurance more than anything else.

5. Now, I found myself wanting to make a few changes after I got the proof for the paperback, so this was done for the paperback file with CS, and then the word doc for KDP and both files were resubmitted. This was very straightforward, but at the time was stressful – I mean, when was it going to end?

6. Once again, there was pricing to sort for the ebook, and ‘KDP select’ to tick, a few more decisions, an ASIN number to be allocated for the ebook, search inside to be ticked, (which is an extension of the ‘look inside’ feature, where topic searches can be done eg artist or turtles in my book’s case).

7. Then we went on to create an author page through ‘author central’, where you get to put your bio and author portrait pic and contact details,  such as facebook, twitter, and your website. Doing your author page is another nice rose. But take heed, just because you put your author page up on Amazon.co.uk, doesn’t mean it shows up on Amazon.com. So later on, when I found out about this, we set up an author page for the US, and for Germany, and Japan, as advised in a writers facebook group I joined for indie writers.

8. When I notified people I knew, about my book being available, I found that if you go to your book page, click on the sharing envelope symbol, you get a short code you can copy and paste into emails, facebook and twitter, which gives a neat direct link to your book.

9. Warning – just because people say they’re ordering your book, doesn’t mean they are going to order it right there and then. And if they do order it quickly, it doesn’t mean they will read it straight away. Yes, I know, how could they not? ;>) And during the summer, people have lots of priorities, other than reading your book, so don’t expect reviews to come flying your way very fast. This is a surprisingly tough time, especially with your first novel, I suspect. There you are, knowing that people are finally reading your book, your ‘special creation’ your ‘precious’, as Golem would say, and you are being laid bare. So take it easy on yourself, and trust in yourself that you’ve done the very best job you can. And I can tell you, when you get your first reviews, and you know they are heart-felt (us INFJs can tell, you know ;>)) then they are the sweetest smelling roses of all.

AFTERWARDS – A FEW TIPS

It takes a few days for both formats to show up on your books page, and for all the features to be sorted – but you can trust that they will be.

My book is quite a long one, so the look inside feature, didn’t show all the first few pages ie the front matter and then into the prologue and first chapter, in sequence. I tried to solve this, checking with the forums and with CreateSpace, but getting nowhere. The forum found it a common problem. In essence, the pages are skipped and looking inside is randomised, so the bigger the book, the more the first few pages may be skipped (my own deduction). Just make sure that 20% of the book is set to be browsable, which is meant to be the default setting, and you can rest easy that you are in exactly the same position as everyone else.

After ‘launching time’, (wasn’t much of a launch as I hadn’t planned anything extravagant, again, typical of me) I joined 4 facebook groups for writers, which has been really useful. Most are very friendly and supportive and you pick up lots of tips. But you have to be discerning as it can be overwhelming – that old chestnut of mine again – ‘too much information’!

A huge tip, which is a little late for me to act upon, is this: Any review you get for your book, entered on the UK page, does not automatically show up on the US site. So if you ask your reviewer, giving them both links, to copy and paste their review into the second, then that is a huge help. Only wish I’d realised earlier.

I joined Goodreads, and sorted an author page for me and the book, but wish I’d joined as a reader earlier, as it takes time to build relationships. However I will persevere because I like the way it’s run. You can also do book giveaways, you can befriend other authors and readers, and leave reviews of books you’re reading and checkout other people’s. All very useful.

Finally, I loved the full control self publishing gave me, but marketing is not my forte, so I’m trying different approaches, with Catherine on my back again! I may do a post on marketing in the future as it’s a big learning curve for those of us to whom it doesn’t come naturally. Also to point out that this very first time with CS and KDP was obviously a bigger deal than when I come to do it again, as the accounts are conveniently already set up. And perhaps next time there will be at least an even distribution of thorns and roses.

Hoping you find this useful in some way, and well done if you’ve got this far in the reading. It will be a shorter post next week, and then I might take a week off to do some much needed new writing.

Here’s wishing you some happy writing sessions.

(top pic pixabay; lower one, sepia roses drawing by me)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About lynnefisher

Writer and visual artist living in Scotland, INFJ type Blogsite lynnefisher.wordpress.com Twitter @writeartblog Facebook https://www.facebook.com/lynnefisherheadtoheadhearttoheart/
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2 Responses to Self Publishing Your First Novel: The Thorns And The Roses

  1. Rick Ellrod says:

    Lynne — a very detailed and useful account! I’m bookmarking this for guidance if I go the self-publishing route. (And that’s a lovely picture of the roses. And thorns.)

    Like

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