The 12 Steps to Creating a Self-Published Book

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First of a Series

Creative Coaching Series

Creative Coaching Series

Everyone dreams of being a published author. However, the definition of published has become broader. It’s within your grasp. Being published is a key goal in a writer’s life, a goal you can take control of — if you follow all of the steps in this series. Being published is a process that involves other artists, readers, professionals, and writers.Your greatest asset to complete that process is to take control of your desire. You’ve must harness desire to deliver the goods for your dream. In this series, I’ll break down each step, so you know how it works. Self-publishing your book follows a pattern classic to publishing.

  1. You create a story, and improve it through revising.
  2. You create one brief, one longer, and one comprehensive summary of the book. It’s your pitch, query, and calling card.
  3. You workshop with other writers to gather responses to your story, using those responses to create your final draft.
  4. You create your platform, before the book is complete, to build an audience
  5. You hire an editor to assess your book, and to guide your revisions to the story.
  6. You revise one last time, before submitting your book to copy-editing and proofreading tasks.
  7. You design your printed book, both the inside pages as well as the covers.
  8. You design and build files for ebooks: Amazon, as well as other outlets such as indie bookstore ebook shelves.
  9. You schedule and specify for production and organize delivery of printed copies, as well as your ebooks.
  10. You register your book with an ISBN number and a UPC code.
  11. You distribute the books in stores of several kinds: book chains, independent stores, and online stores.
  12. You tell the world about your book, encouraging reviews of all varieties. This final and essential step launches you as storyteller into the world, using your platform to introduce your written story, as well as attract an audience.

Steps 1-4 are the same for publishing as for self-publishing. On Step 5, things start to change. The editor in that step is one which you hire — in the same way that a publisher has hired its editor to help an author revise a book.

Like a good Tarentino movie, this series going to look at these out of order, starting with Step 5. We’ll double back to do Steps 1-4. That’s because your first four steps will be the same if you’re going to SelfPub, or Traditional Publish (TradPub). Then we’ll go on to Step 6.

You hire for steps 5-11, but you can do of those some parts yourself, depending on your skills. Step 12 is the same for either kind of publishing. Publicizing is the writer’s work to do for almost the entire life of the book. A publisher helps arrange initial interest, and might be able to schedule reviews. But tools like Amazon, GoodReads, even LibraryThing — these are yours to manage. More

Don’t despair: A novel takes awhile

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The novel, nearing completion

I’m in the final stretch of my novel Viral Times, doing the Ultimate Edits based on the reading and revision notes that I received from Jill Dearman — last summer. For a very fair fee, she read and marked 350 manuscript pages of the Summer, 2009 version of the novel. (I also got a five-page summary of the weak areas and the strengths of the writing.)

I am just doing the calendar math here, and June of 2009 — when I was pulling together and slashing down 144,000 words to 98,000 — is, yeah, about two and half years ago. There’s reasons as well as excuses about that span of time. A growing writing workshop practice, reading hundreds of pages of Manuscript Group books. It could have gone more quickly.

But I’m using the collective energy of National Novel Writing Month to get the end of this Ultimate Edit. It’ll be ready to read on Dec. 17. Just in time for flu season. Have a look at the work in progress — complete with a log of how the work progressed — at Leave me a comment, too.

Why You Must Revise, Blast It!

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To get published, or to be published.

Even if your goal is to self-publish, revision is a crucial step in writing any book. Writer’s Digest offered me this advice this morning in my in-box:

In her book, Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose says that “…for any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, or especially cut, is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clean, economical, sharp.”

Despite that the vehicles carrying your writing to the market are changing every minute—whether you’re Tweeting, blogging, submitting to online/print publications, pitching conventional publishers or planning to self-publish—the cream still rises to the top. Your writing has to be edited and rewritten until it shines. The competition has never been tougher, and that’s why it’s important your work is vigorously self-edited and revised before you ever submit to editors or agents. Learning to edit and rewrite your own stuff is more crucial than ever.

And just so you know, you face competition whether you publish yourself, or ink a deal for a publisher to pay for the paper and ink. Even if you have the skills and drive to create and publish a book on your own, making something people want to read — that requires revision.

So get to it. There’s a lot of help out there.

Bounding back from revisions

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Writing is re-writing, but once you’ve done your rewrites it’s time to move on into the next book, story or article. A fresh start on a new project can seem tempting while you’re digging out of the problems of revising drafts. Once you’re clear of that book, though, starting can be difficult.

Over at the blog Be The Story, author J. Timothy King offers several layers of advice on how to beat the post-revisionist blues. He shares more than 10 aspects to consider about tools to approaching that new work. One that stands out, for me after my first novel Viral Times, is to stop judging the completed work.

Have a look at King’s post. It’s adapted from How to Lift Depression … Fast by Joe Griffin. As creators we tend to put a lot of our self-worth into our work. While the judgment is an appropriate part of the work, that kind of criticism tamps down our spirit to return to new creations. Let the best response to completing your work be encouraging, even if the writing is far from perfect. Writers improve their ability by writing. Authors have more than one project inside them.

Are we reading differently?

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The evidence in today’s audience suggests the answer is yes. A fun article on Tim Bray’s Ongoing blog suggests that our language skills are hard-wired to grasp conversational writing, because 90 percent of human language history used only talk to communicate.

There’s nothing much on the Net that’s without precedent in spoken language. What’s new is that written discourse is becoming less like oration and more like conversation. It’s not clear that this is bad.

Then there’s Karleen Koen, a novelist who’s working on her fourth book, historical fiction based in France. She writes on her blog

As I polish (which means cut, smooth out, delete, write new things that make the reading slick) I do believe people are reading differently, with less patience — and the inherent problem with a historical novel is that a writer has to set up the background so the reader understands the world he or she is entering, and that can’t be done in a quick paragraph or two. Or at least I can’t do it.

There will be readers who love to immerse themselves in a book, get lost in the pace. But are there enough of them now, growing up in a Twitter generation, to give writers a livelihood? Bray notes that books are losing market share and adds, “Unsurprising, because when you start at 100 percent, there’s nowhere to go but down. Books are now competing, on a fairly level playing field, with the Net media: blogs and Twitter and mailing lists and fora of other flavors.”

But a certain kind of story can only achieve its potential as a book. A good friend of mine just landed a nice contract for a first book. It will be an impressive debut when she finishes. A literary pace will probably govern her writing, though. Are you patient enough to give yourself over to a pace that will match your vision for your work? One clue: How long can you sit in the chair and just write, or just revise? I don’t know many novelists who tweet on Twitter.

Time changes stories

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There may be times when stepping back for awhile from a story or novel can provide a deeper understanding of what is vital to the tale. Up on the Web site for the literary journal Glimmer Train, the writer Erica Johnson Debeljak talks about writing her memoir twice, 10 years apart, first as journalism and much later as a novelization.

An honest writer of either fiction or nonfiction has to admit that the treatment of characters and situations — what is left in and what is left out — ultimately serves the meaning of the work, and that meaning can change over time. In other words, there is content (lived experience, impressions, imagination) and there is form (genre, story shape, the flow of words and sentences on the page), and the process of a writer funneling content into form will virtually always produce a different product depending on perspective and what meaning is being pushed to the fore at any given time.

She goes on to say this isn’t a viewpoint that non-fiction writers will embrace easily. But she “made changes in chronology and cold hard facts” while creating the memoir Forbidden Bread, the second life of her story.

More than a few writers in our workshops have worked on fiction based in life experience, or even a novelized memoir. Letting time elapse between drafts might help you if you’re working on such a story.

Sol Stein on humanity and authority

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My good friend and fellow novelist Larisa Zlatic sent me an excerpt from a good writing book by Sol Stein. Her excerpts from Stein on Writing include these:

The first step in revision is to make a judgment about your main characters. Character problems must be dealt with before beginning a general revision. This method of revision makes certain that you have humanized your characters.

Do you think about them in situations that are not in your book? If so, good. It means your characters are alive in your mind and should come alive in the minds of the readers. If you can’t think of an important character in situations away from the story that character may need more work. Ask these questions:

• What is about your character that you like especially? Is it also your own trait? If yes, it is a symptom of the autobiography trap, creating a character that is too like yourself. Resolution: give a character a trait (positive or negative) that you absolutely don’t have.

• If you’re going on a vacation how would you feel if your character were going along? Would you look forward to that? You may need to add some sparkle to your character, some interesting eccentricity, personality characteristic that will make his company more enjoyable.

I have Stein’s How to Grow a Novel on my bookshelf, and Chapter Eight offers on advanced point of view. He summarizes the explanation of how to distinguish first from third from omniscient, then he says, “I can’t recall a manuscript that didn’t have a couple of glitches in the handling of point of view. Sometimes dozens. The need to be caught in revision. The novelist’s authority depends on it.”

Authority in writing transmits the “dream state” to the readers, the means to lock them into the world you’ve created. And believe me, I’m working on maintaining authority in Viral Times right now.

One chapter at a time, revising goes

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I’ve assembled a schedule to get me to the end of Viral Times, the novel project of my past six years. Two hours a day, five days a week, three or four chapters. Taking a carving knife to 129,000 words. Not so bad, if you look at science fiction standards, where 120K is the top end. I always wanted to start at the top, after all.

It’s especially educational to revise writing that you penned more than four years ago. Talk about a cooling off period…

Chapter 25 is now complete, with 22 more to go in about six weeks. I’m in the oldest material now, one of the five attempted starts to the book. (It’s finally got a prologue, so there’s no doubt where it begins.)

The good news is that the writing to come will get easier to revise, because it’s fresher. If there’s a shiny center to this cloud of words, it might be in seeing how much my craft has grown up. A funny thing to consider, growing up, when you’re already past 50.

“You just have to take it bird by bird, buddy.” That’s the advice that Annie Lamott’s dad gave her brother, who had procrastinated on a school paper about birds. In Bird by Bird the boy had dozens of books on the table and it was time to finish. For me, too. There’s another, newer book, about a much older time, waiting inside.

Prologue possibilities

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I am taking a good hard stab at a prologue for my novel Viral Times this week. In the process I’ve discovered how few writing books address the nuances of this pseudo-beginning for a story.

Revision and Self Editing has a two-page section called “The Use and Abuse of Prologues.” Good stuff. I found the advice in Manuscript Makeover even more helpful. “Some agents refuse to read manuscripts with prologues,” Elizabeth Lyon warns, but the section also explains in significant detail how you can avoid undermining yourself by using a prologue. Also, Beginnings, Middles and Ends has good instruction on the subject.

In summary, a prologue has its mission: Tell parts of the story the reader wants to know before the main story commences. Set a tone with the best language you can craft. Raise questions, too, so readers are motivated to continue.

Writing loses a mighty coach

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Donald Murray died over the weekend. The Pulitzer Prize winner (Editorial Writing, 1954) became a mentor and coach for Roy Peter Clarke, the director of the Poynter Institute for excellence in Journalism. Clarke’s work at Poynter goes far beyond the nonfiction formula for journalists. Two years ago he wrote a series, 50 Essential Strategies for Writers, with powerful fundamentals to help any writer, regardless of genre or style.

Clarke compiled and edited those 800-word masterpieces into a book this fall, Writing Tools. But Clarke was quick to praise Murray for his teaching and coaching, begun in Boston at The Globe in the 1980s and then at the St. Petersburg Times, where he became a close friend of Clarke.

Up on the Poynter site, Clarke wrote a moving tribute to Murray. Clarke told a story about his coach comparing the way we teach writers to write versus the way we teach our children to walk:

“Too bad we don’t teach children to write the way we teach them to talk or walk. When a baby tries to take her first step and then falls down, we treat it like a national holiday. We surround the baby with support. We don’t say: ‘No, no, no, before you can learn to walk, you need to develop the proper foot angle. Don’t try that again, you little brat, before you’ve mastered the basics.'”

Murray wrote some textbooks that I own, a real resource to the teacher in me who leads in the Writer’s Workshop. The Craft of Revision and Write to Learn can be had on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and other book sites.

Great teachers like Murray are born of the belief that the only required element to learn writing’s craft is a desire to write better. Everybody is a writer, everybody can write. That’s what we believe and teach at the Writer’s Workshop, too.

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