Friday, April 1, 2011

Special Guest Post: Self-Publishing

Ed. Note: Between us, Alicia and I know a lot of people in the writerverse. Lisa Alder is one of those people we both know and admire for her bright spirit, her smarts, and her can-do attitude. So when she said she was looking into self-publishing, we knew she would not only figure it out, but would do a fantastic job with it. This is why we asked her to provide one of our very rare guest posts. Here are Lisa's tips on self-publishing, all learned by experience.

Self-Publishing: Nine Things You Should Know Before You Make the Leap
First off, I want to give you a little of my background before I get to the advice. I’ve been writing for years. Literally years. I’ve got an entire closet full of unpublished manuscripts. With every rejection, I’ve tried to take the feedback and improve my craft. And I still haven’t been able to sell a manuscript. I have a great agent who has multiple NYT bestseller clients. So far, she hasn’t been able to sell my work. After writing a novella that was ultimately rejected by several e-publishers, I was pretty discouraged. 

So, I decided, besides a little bit of money, I didn’t have anything to lose. Thus began my self-publishing journey.

With the very high profile news about Amanda Hocking’s success (great blog for very frank advice and view of self-publishing: ) and authors, such as Barry Eisler and Connie Brockway, deciding to self-publish their next manuscripts, there is a lot of buzz about self-publishing on the internet.

Only you can decide if venturing into the world of self-publishing is for you, but based on my own experience so far, here are nine things you should know:

1. It’s a lot harder than it looks. You are the writer, the editor, the graphic designer, the copy editor, the programmer, the marketer, and the accountant. Basically you can’t just write and let other people take care of you. It takes a lot of effort to get your manuscript ready for sale. 

2. Pay a professional editor to look over your work. I know there are people out there who will disagree but a professional editor is going to get your work publishing ready. I don’t think you need to pay someone thousands and thousands of dollars BUT you need someone who has experience in the business.

*Get recommendations from people who have used the editor.

*Stalk them online and listen to what they say to make sure they’re a good fit for what you write. Remember: Just like when you’ve got a manuscript under submission and you’re waiting for the call that says, “We love you and your work, it’s perfect!” It’s never perfect.

3. Copy edit the manuscript. Use the tools in Word or Word Perfect (whatever word processing program you use) to go over the manuscript. Then give it to a critique partner or friend who is good at copy editing. Make their changes. Copy edit the manuscript again. And then one more time. It’s amazing how many little things fall through the cracks.

4. Calibre is your friend. You can use the FREE program to convert your file into the proper e-book format for Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. I want to stress here, this isn’t hard. BUT it takes time to figure out the mechanics. This is actually a separate blog post in and of itself, but here are a few tips.
*Convert your document to a Word .doc NOT .docx – Calibre doesn’t like .docx.

*You can’t use tabs. Once you’re all done with the manuscript, you need to take out all the indent tabs. (Yes, this is a pain) Not even for your chapter headings.   

*In the Word Home tab, under Styles, use Heading 1 to highlight your chapter titles. Once you convert in Calibre it will form a Table of Contents.

*Then Save your .doc As a Web Page (.htm or .html). Load the .htm into Calibre by clicking on the Add Books icon. Once it is added to Calibre as a .zip file, you can begin to convert into the appropriate e-book formats. Click on Convert Books icon. Tell Calibre which format you want to convert the manuscript to, and then in the ‘Look and Feel’ section, click the box that reads, Remove spacing between paragraphs. This will format the book properly for e-readers.

*Finally, proofread the uploaded book in the preview section before publishing. (I had to re-format/re-save/re-enter/re-load/re-upload about 8 times before the formatting was correct) 
5. Research your market in the e-book world. The romance genre, erotic romance in particular, has had electronic readers for years so the availability of your book in only e-format is not a big deal. But if your target audience is say, the over 65 reader, self-publishing may not be the right choice for your work.

6. Don’t slap something together and throw it on the Internet. You always want to remember that everything you put out there reflects on you and your author brand. Continue to work, work, work on your craft. If the manuscript you are publishing has been rejected by traditional publishing houses, review their advice, analyze their comments and see if there are any common themes in the feedback. Be open-minded and make the changes necessary.

7. You can’t just publish it and be done. You need to contact review sites (who review the kind of book you have written) and request a review. You need to promote the book on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, whatever social media outlet you are comfortable using. Guest blog and give away a copy of your book. 

8. Have more content ready to go or at least be working on it. Readers are voracious.
If they liked the first book, you want to be able to offer them more in a timely manner. (That said, Don’t rush! The last thing you want to do is alienate readers by not giving them a consistent read.)

9. How to price your novel. There’s been a lot of discussion online about e-book pricing with many people trashing the .99 cent model. I suggest that you really think about what your work is worth. Pricing is tricky. You don’t want to devalue your work but you also don’t want to price so high that no one buys it.
Is it justified to offer the first book in a series at a lower price to entice people to try? Sure. However I don’t think you should price everything at $1.00. I talked to several self-published authors to get a feel for how they priced their work before deciding on a price.

So above are the nine things I learned while I leapt. In my quest to self-publish, I spent money for an editor and for someone to design my book cover. I have no idea yet if I’m going to make any money. My biggest hope is that readers like the world and the characters I created. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But at least now I will know.

I’m still absolutely trying to earn a traditional publishing contract, but in the meantime I’ve taken control of this one step in my journey to publication. Honestly, it feels great.         


Lisa Alder recently published The Demon’s Bargain, an erotic paranormal romance novella (edited by Theresa-who is amazing!). Available now on Amazon, Smashwords, and The second novella in the Demons Unleashed series will be out in May.


Lisa Alder said...

One quick note! Calibre doesn't format for Smashwords. That was a misconception on my part. However, after you've formatted for Calibre, making the appropriate changes to upload to Smashwords is easy.

Also, I am happy to answer any questions!!


Sophie Littlefield said...

This was a realistic, well-considered introduction to the process. Great advice!

Steena Holmes said...

This was a great post. I'm sure more unpubbed authors are thinking about self-pub than they'll admit. Doing our homework, making sure we write the best possible story is key. Good luck - you'll do amazing! Can't wait to read your romance (off to buy)

Lisa Alder said...

Thank you! I hope you enjoy TDB. The stigma of self-publishing has definitely diminished. It's an interesting time to be an author. :)

Edittorrent said...

What fascinates me is how easy it has become to self-publish. A few years ago, this would have been so much more complicated. Now it's automated and almost entirely goof-proof.

Thanks, Lisa, for a great post!

Gigi Pandian said...

You've confirmed that it's a lot harder than it looks! Congrats on maneuvering all of this to put your book out there! I don't know that I could do it -- which is why I decided not to be a freelancer for my day job as well ;)

Jane George said...

Wow, thanks for the Calibre tutorial! I paid a formatter and still had lots of problems, made worse by my ignorance. And I definitely don't want to have to call up a pro every time I need to change something.

I agree that self-publishing is hard. It is rather like throwing your book down a well then shouting for others to come and shine a flashlight on it.

But trad-pubbed authors must market too.

Orlando said...

Awesome post, I agree 100% on every point. Wonderful information. I will continue to view your blog.

Deb said...

Fabulous intro! I relied only on beta readers when I published two months ago, so my work was good . . . but there were still a few things that needed fixing. I coughed up the money for an editor and a copy editor, which ended up being awesome. I'd go back in time and do it a couple months sooner, if only I knew what a difference it would make! Instead, I'm checking Amazon hourly to see if the newer, pretty book can now be previewed. (I hope it happens soon!)

Next time around, I'm doing it totally different . . . and much more like what you've described here! By then, I'll hopefully have a grasp on book review bloggers who are a good fit for my stories.

I've gotta say, I love folks who put this kind of information out there to help other writers. That sharing spirit is an inspiration! Thank you :)

Jami Gold said...

I don't know if I'll ever self publish or not, but I'm bookmarking this anyway because it's so darn helpful. :)


Lisa Alder said...

Good luck! I do think there is a different learning curve when you have illustrations.

Gigi and Orlando--Thank you!!! :)

Deb--I absolutely believe that having an impartial editor (who was not involved in the plotting process) really helps. We are too close to our own stories to see when we haven't clarified something properly. Good luck to you!! :)

Jami--I really believe it's good to arm yourself with knowledge even if you don't end up using the information. Thanks!