How to self-publish

Dante And Virgil In Hell by William-Adolphe Bo...

There’re a few thousand bloggers out there who’ve done this one.  Now I’m one of them.  In my own defence I’m one of the more recent (my last search for this yielded results a bit out of date), it will not be a reblog of the same two or three out of date posts, and it won’t just be saying: ‘just use Smashwords, because uploading stuff to the web is HARD’.

Why?  Because it’s bullshit.  Self-publishing is really easy — most of the complicated sounding parts of this post are things you don’t have to do.  Self-promotion, that’s harder, but as no one really has the slightest damned idea what actually, every damned time, works it isn’t worth going into.  All I’ll say about promoting your book is:  common sense, don’t spend more than you have on advertising, and don’t just put your book out there and expect the Best Seller fairy to visit you in the night and leave millions of devoted fans under your pillow.

Step one:  Write something.  Really, don’t bother reading further if you haven’t written something or the end isn’t anywhere in sight.  If you’re ‘thinking of writing a novel’ then congratulations, you’re marginally insane and potentially masochistic.  Lawrence Block recommends you have a quiet lie down.  I do as well; take a belt of whiskey, take a nap in a dark, quiet room and if the voices stop then go, lead a happy life.  If they’re still there, I’m sorry but you should write a novel and you’re now in for a very real sneak preview of Hell.  Stop thinking and just get to writing, because while the voices don’t shut up, they do get less annoying if you tell their story.  If by ‘thinking of writing a novel’ you mean ‘boy howdy, ah bet iffin I put some words on some of that new fangled paper shit I can be rich as Jed Clampet like that Stevie King feller or that guy who wrote that Jurassic Park movie … wassis name?  Jeff Something-Jewish-sounding’ then just stop.  Go talk to Amway, you’ll have better odds and less stress.

Now — point of note:  if you plan to let a service like Smashwords not only sell your book on their store but also on everyone else’s you may as well stop here.  Please, though, ask yourself if it’s really so much harder to use several services based on the same underlying software, for free, yourself at full royalties (60-70% on average) than it is to deal with the SW Meatgrinder and then let them keep a 15% cut for the privilege of having won the argument with their MG and then with their Autovetter.

Familiarise yourself with the services you’ll be publishing through.  WARNING: MAKE SURE THAT THE SERVICE YOU’RE EXPERIMENTING WITH DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY PUT THINGS FOR SALE ONCE THEY’RE UPLOADED.  Not all really give this option; Smashwords will do this, for example.  CreateSpacePubItKoboKindle, Apple all do not (though it should be noted that Apple’s is a little … different — you’ll be previewing, not from their site but from your computer.  Kobo is similar).

Note, though, if you plan to use an ISBN, your experiments will need to be deleted rather than simply released to the public with Kobo, and possibly with Nook (I’m still talking to PubIt to work that one out).  And if you’re going to use Smashwords you might as well plan to use an ISBN.

Familiarising yourself just means go to Kobo’s Writing Life, go to PubIt, go to KDP, and upload various document formats, various images and so forth and experiment with the previewers (Amazon and PubIt are the best really for experimenting, and as they are different formats, I recommend tinkering with both).  Also go get your book project started on CreateSpace — believe me, simple rules of thumb for how big to set your gutters is no substitute for actually checking that your text is properly centred.

Decide how good you are at this, and how much money you have to risk.  CreateSpace is great for me because I know I’m going to make layout mistakes.  I’m getting better, but there you are.  I’m also no genius with Photoshop and the cover creator is my new best friend.  It’s also free.  Still, for better varieties of book options, wider distribution at higher royalties (that $25 option to put your book out to places that aren’t Amazon with CS?  Yeah, this is who they use) you could go with Lightning Source.

‘But Dumb Ass, print is dead.’

No, print is not dead.  Many still swear by it, and some collectors always will.  CS is a free POD service, it can’t hurt.  Now, don’t go putting up 5-page stories there.  You can, but ask yourself how likely you are to pay the cost of a printed book (5-pages may well need to be $1-2.50)   and shipping for something that you’ll have read in two minutes, and is about a centimetre or so thick?  Still, you aren’t killing any trees unless someone buys it, so if you feel so inclined then do as ye will.

A few notes on Lightning Source:  They ain’t cheap, and they expect you to do it all yourself, and you’ll need to purchase your own ISBN.  As the average author is broke, broke, and broke we’ll assume that option will come after you’ve used one of the safer one and found that you have these things called readers and fans who will buy your book and provide you with this interesting substance known as legal tender with which one might purchase LSi’s services.

Still, know your options.

I, personally, don’t recommend looking too hard for other eBook sellers.  It’s nice to support the little guy, but think realistically  if you and ten of your friends never heard of the place, what are the chances that more than one or two people are ever going to buy your book from there?  See?  Now, that said, if you stumble on one that’s easy to use and isn’t going to charge you for the privilege then by all means put your book there.  One or two sales is one or two sales.  Hit the big boys folks have heard of, you’ll be happier.

Now, don’t get to playing with the publishing services to the detriment of writing.  Also, save this part till you’re nearly done with the manuscript, or even possibly after you’ve finished your first draft (or if you’re Laurel K Hamilton … or was that Anne Rice?  Hmmm … Rice, it looks like, thank you Google … you might call them versions.  Frankly I don’t give a flying fuck if you call them pineapple gravy, they’re drafts, get over it).

Step two:  EDIT!

‘Wait, what was that nearly thousand words I just read if it wasn’t step two?!’ you ask in dismay, staring at me suspiciously and thinking long and hard about that aluminium bat you have in the closet.

The experimenting isn’t a step, it’s a Good Idea.  Do it at some point.  Trust me, you’ll get writer’s block OR if you manage to make it to the end of the book without any (hey, it could happen … maybe) then you’re going to have stages during editing where you won’t have much to do but sit around with your thumb up your arse, you may as well have something to do with the other hand so it doesn’t get bored — and you can only do certain alternatives so much before it starts to chafe.

Editing is so important you can’t even begin to understand it until you’ve done it some.  Editing is the second layer of writer Hell.  Writer’s block is a dark, deep, despairing pit of anguished souls somewhere in the sub-basement of the final layer.  The first layer of Hell is fans.  And stop making me stretch this metaphor any further before I decide to try to create Writer’s Hell, Dante style.

REREAD YOUR WORK!!!  Start here.  You know what you meant to say and if you’re reading your stuff and going, ‘wait, that’s not right!’ then you ought to fix that, shouldn’t you?  I mean do we want to be Anne Rice and misspell our own characters’ names?  Or the title of the book?  I didn’t think so.

When you’ve done that, possibly a few times, find a grammar Nazi and befriend them.  I married mine.  Still, the point here is find someone with a good grasp of the English language and let them read it.  Are you a grammar Nazi?  Good, fine, fantastic.  Find a literate friend to read it for you who has sufficient grasp of English to point out the mistakes you WILL MISS because you know what you meant to say there and the Human brain is a tricky little fucker.

REREAD IT AGAIN!  Your editor might have made typos, you may have had a perfectly sensible sentence with proper grammar that has the wrong character speaking!  Or some other stupid mistake.

Now, in theory, you’ve got a finished novel.  If it’s SF, self publish it.  In my opinion the SF publishing houses out there are trying to kill themselves.  Do you want your book in the hands of a suicidal sociopath?  I thought not.  Still, if you feel like you’ve got something worth the trouble then hunt an agent, the SF publishing houses are such that you’ll be happy you spent that 15% commission … unless you’re exceedingly contract savvy and have the eyesight to easily view fine print.  Also, if you plan to deal with the publishers yourself, you may want more common sense than the average writer is wont to possess.  Still, it happens (the having common sense, I mean), in such case — great, but you might notice that more than a few of the publishers want agented submissions only.  And be careful of some of the royalty-only or profit share things — John Scalzi talked about that recently in a week of posts (read them all) starting here.  Also — if you’re going through all this, why did you read this far?

If it isn’t SF, I might recommend starting the process to self-publish but not actually put anything for sale, and then submit to some good agents too.  Some of the nicer agents out there have response times of only 2 – 4 weeks.  You’ll spend that much time arguing with your eBook layout, and in editing.  Once your first chapter is clean and solid start shopping.  The entire publishing industry is committing suicide, but some are being quicker about it than others, and more determined too.  And really, you might appreciate the loss of putting the book out by yourself.  Don’t think for a moment you’re off the hook for publicity, marketing, and so forth, though — the publisher is supposed to do these things but they don’t necessarily know any more about it than you do (‘But they’ve got the almighty Experience!’ yeah, fuck off with that shit, if you think like that just … go away.  Having experience and learning from it are anything BUT the same thing).  Don’t believe me?  Look here.  That, by the way, is an exceedingly mild story.  I’ve come across far worse, but I’m not in the habit of sharing horror stories.

Don’t want a publisher?  Determined to go it alone?  Fine.  Got rejected by the agent?  Fine.  Agent read your SAMPLE and told you to cut your story by umpteen thousand words?  Sweetie, give them the finger and either find another agent or do it your godsdamned self.  (note here, if they’ve read your sample and made STYLISTIC suggestions, that’s one thing.  If they’ve made commentary of what specific umpteen thousand words might want cut or changed AFTER ASKING FOR THE FULL MANUSCRIPT that’s another kettle of eggs right there too, and if you’ve picked a competent and intelligent agent you should listen, but don’t blindly obey — they’re working for you, not the other way around — ask questions!).  Obviously one of these is most likely why you’ve read this far.  Let’s continue.

By now you’re familiar with your ePublishers.  Good.  If you’re not, don’t tell me, I’ll just use my Fail Shovel upside your fucking head.  Now we’ll make your eBook.

Lots and lots and lots of ways to do this.  Some are gooder than others.  Some actually are better than others.  Some are retarded.  You’ve been warned.

My personal favourite tools for this stage are MS Word, Apple Pages, Calibre, and Komodo Edit.  The Komodo Edit — a good basic text editor that isn’t going to start changing things for you AND preferably that can recognise markup and highlight it for you to make all of this crap easier to read, others exist and are fine.  Some fantastic ones existed for DOS and can still be used.  Get creative.

Word is only if you’re going to do a print edition.  I do most of the word processing in Pages, but Word is a little easier to do page numbers in.  That’s all, just the page numbers.  If you don’t want page numbers in your print edition then lose Word.  OpenOffice and LibreOffice don’t count — they’re no easier for this than Pages.  All other word processing functions are better, in my opinion, in Pages.  If you don’t have a Mac or iOS device you might want one.

Now for your print copy export from Pages to a .doc (or have typed it in Word in the first place, you sick masochistic PC user).  Open it in Word and start getting your final tweaks to layout proper for the print edition.  Make sure to have the options in Word set to embed any fonts you used (only important if you made your own fonts, or downloaded any.  If they came with your computer or word processing software 100:1 says they already have it).  Set your paper size, set your margins, set your gutter, etc.

USEFUL TIP HERE:  The mirrored margin thing that’s so important?  Word is fucking retarded, and if you manually set a page to an odd number, but it’s actually an even page in the overall document it will be treated as an odd page for purposes of margin.  Yes, the bloody thing is that stupid.  If you need to manually make something an odd number page when it’s actually even, find somewhere you’re comfortable inserting a blank page to make it actually be odd.

Another useful tip: Well, two actually.  A lot of people will tell you to use full justify for your text.  It isn’t hard, and if there’re people out there who won’t give your book a second glance, thinking it amateur to have ragged right edges while everyone else could give a rat’s ass.  So just go ahead and do it.  Make sure you remember to put a carriage return at the end of ALL paragraphs, even ones that end chapters, or the book.  Keeps that last line from stretching across the page.

CreateSpace is going to be the most work.  Getting your margins just so, and making sure your layout is good.  Start here.  Besides, if you haven’t thought much about your cover, try their cover creator, if you end up with something you like then use it for your eBook too — Preview (Mac) or Paint (Windows) can crop the spine and back cover off from the preview image.  GIMP (every damned thing) can be used to tweak resolution (and for the cropping for that matter).

Now, CreateSpace can make your Kindle edition for you.  If you want to, go for it.  But I will point out you might want to still preview the resultant MOBI file.  MOBI and table of contents data are going to be a nightmare.  I personally recommend doing your own MOBI using the instructions found here.  I don’t recommend your ePUB from InDesign.  If you don’t have Pages, maybe use it, but if you have Pages — let Pages make it.  If you don’t use footnotes, I’m not sure it actually matters.

Amazon is taken care of.  You now have a Kindle and a Print.  Now we need to work on the ePUB — your bread and butter.

NOTE: The following is complexity for purposes of being a finicky perfectionist.  In theory You can use Adobe InDesign and be done with it.  I don’t like end of chapter foot notes in eBooks, and AID doesn’t do that except for Kindle files, Pages does.  Also I don’t like my title page, copyright, dedication, etc. to all run together as one page/chapter as they do by default.  This tells you how to clean that up.  If you don’t mind all that, then ignore half of the follow except the bits about cover image.  Believe me, it SEEMS the hard way, but it’s the easiest in the end since it means it all comes out okay instead of something getting broken by some badly written script.

If you have Pages, then make a new first page.  Put something there.  When you export to ePUB check the box to make the first page your cover.  This will save trouble in the long run.  But first, let’s prep a few things.  BTW, if you’re using InDesign, then it has this step as part of the export, just know where your cover file is.

Whether you use InDesign, or Pages (or most things for that matter, even uploading it to Nook and letting it do the conversion for you) you’ll need to have done a few things.

  • Make sure your chapter headers have a unique style name called Chapter or Chapter Name.  Most things look for this.  It isn’t so important if you’ll use Pages’ export function, but you do still need to give it a unique style whatever you call it (same goes for In Design).
  • In Pages, go to the inspector, go to the TOC bit and check whatever you named your chapter style and uncheck all else.  In InDesign you’ll do this during the export process … I think.  Possibly you have to make a TOC in the document (I know you do for the Kindle).  Give me a break, I tried it once, hated it, and refuse to do it anymore.
  • GIVE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO STAND OUT A CHAPTER HEADER.  yep you read that right.  Make sure every FORCE PAGE BREAK you want has a chapter name.  Don’t worry, we’ll clean this up later.  This is for two purposes.  Let’s say you have a “Other titles by” bit that you want to be its own part of the document, but don’t want in the TOC?  This would be it.  Want Dedication in the TOC, but don’t want to have “Dedication” at the top of your dedication page, that too.

Now, to recap. Pages, put a fist page with something on it, check use first page as cover.  In everything put chapter headers with a unique style name wherever you want page breaks.  Make sure this chapter header style is what your TOC is set to build with (or if you’re relying on autodetect in things like PubIt’s converter then make sure it’s named Chapter or Chapter name)

You now have an ePUB, congratulations.  You’re not done yet.  Open Calibre. Import the file.  DO NOT LET CALIBRE OPEN IT, and DO NOT LET CALIBRE CONVERT IT!  Right click the document and select tweak ebook.  Then explode it.  You’ll have a lot of files here.  First, replace the cover image file with your real cover image.  Even if you used InDesign.  It edits the file resolution to one that will get rejected by a few services.  If you used Nook or similar … I hope you feel like using Google to find out how to manually include the instructions to let there BE a cover image.  Don’t use Sigil — you’ll find it adds all sorts of extra blank lines to things and messes with other formatting.  It’s retarded.

Also, anything with a chapter name you DO NOT want in your TOC, edit the TOC entries with Komodo to get rid of them (the files with TOC in the filename?  yeah, those).  Remember the example with the Other Titles bit, that you just wanted to be its own page, but you didn’t want it in the TOC?  You’ll delete it and it’s <> tags from the TOC file(note plural, there’re usually 2) AND do the next part.

Now, you’ll have xhtml or html files with “Chapter-#” file names.  These are your book.  Go in and anything you added JUST so it’d be in the TOC or JUST for a forced page break, delete the chapter header.  Please bear in mind that Chapter-1.xhtml isn’t necessarily Chapter 1 (some ePub creators will do that, but few of them do).  But you should quickly find the Dedication page, and that Other Titles page and so forth.  Somewhere in there will be something like <h2>Dedication</h2>  or <span blahlbhal>Dedication</span> and such.  Get the tags and the word deleted.  Do this to everywhere you don’t want that chapter header to show up.

Now, if you didn’t do anything stupid or make any mistakes you should be able to save everything WHERE CALIBRE PUT IT and then go back to Calbire and tell it to rebuild the book.  !!DO NOT OPEN THE BOOK IN CALIBRE!!  Among the many other things Calibre does wrong, its built in reader adds a .txt file to your ePUB that tell is what the last page you were one was.  This file doesn’t have an entry in a Contents file in the ePUB and means that the file now fails in various ePUB validators.  So, until it’s safely elsewhere don’t let Calibre do anything but pack and unpack the file.

Tell Calibre to send you to the folder the eBook is kept in, and grab that ePub and put it somewhere safe … keep a copy there too if you like.  NOW you can open it in Calibre.

Step 3:  !!!PREVIEW!!!

Copy the resultant file to your iPad or iPhone (Apple has a Book Proofer that can do this for you, just connect iDevice, load software, drop book on it, and hit the make it so button), or onto your Nook, or whatever.  Try to open it in an eBook reader (like Calibre) and look closely at things to make sure it came out well.  Don’t just glance at a few pages, but you don’t need to necessarily read it all the way through.  Try to navigate by TOC, scroll to chapter breaks.  Go to the special page breaks you added and make sure they’re clean.  READ THE TOC to make sure that things that you got the placeholders for force page breaks out.  Navigate to the unheadered parts you wanted to be in the TOC and make sure they look right.  If you embedded a font in the ePUB (all advice, and mine too, is if you’re going to do this then use InDesign) make sure it’s working and so forth.

Looks good?  Fine, start uploading.

START WITH SMASHWORDS!  Why?  ISBN.  They’ll give you a free one for your e-edition.  Use it.  Now, admittedly, here’s where I REALLY don’t like Smashwords — whatever you upload is immediately on the site.  GAH!  Given the eccentricities of their Meatgrinder this is the stupidest design decision since MS Windows.  My personal advice, fuck that shit and upload straight ePUB.  Sadly, SW sucks and there won’t be preview copies on their site this way, but at least you won’t get a mangled mess either.  Besides, don’t stress it.  Not many people, comparatively, shop at SW.  And your OTHER services can put up samples, and you can put samples on your website, etc.  It probably won’t matter much.

Now, start setting your book up on all the other sites you’ve picked.

After some waiting for processing, you’re done.

Apple’s processing takes longer, but is more thorough.  I might recommend deciding on a publishing date a month or two out.  Put your work into iTunes Connect with a pre-order date of that month or two out and hype the fuck out of it, and on services (e.g. Kobo) where you can set a “future sales date” (this isn’t a pre-order, no one will see this but you on your Writing Life dashboard) do so.  Finally put the rest up and just wait for the day before that pre-order date you set with Apple.  Then you hit ‘put on sale’.  Generally these things take 8-24hrs to process.  12 is the average for books newly being processed, 8 is the average for ones that you’re making changes to that’ve already been for sale.

Get back to work.  You didn’t get an advance, and no one’s going to flock to buy the book.  If you’ve another idea, be writing it.  If not, work on publicising this one.  Even if you’re writing another, publicise this one.

The key both in the presentation of the book and advertising is:  don’t look like an overexcited puppy, or a toddler who just did a finger painting and wants Mommy to put to put it on the fridge.  Take the time to edit, take the time to revise and polish, not too much time, now — it doesn’t have to be the picture of perfect English, but it ought to be readable and clear.  The blurbs, ads, etc. should be just as well made and well thought out.  If you want to make FB posts, make sure you know your friends list — if spamming the shit out of them with “I wrote a book, and it’s here, and you can click that here by the way, and it’d be great if you bought it and told your friends” is likely to actually work, then go for it.  That’s FB and I did mean on YOUR page, not the page for the book or your Author’s page or anything like that.  I mean the one where you share LOLcats with your sister.

Beyond that I’ll just point out Project Wonderful, Google AdSense, and so forth.  Go.  Enjoy.  Write.  Publish.  Go mad.

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