Cold typesetting, warm and cozy sci-fi: self-publishing treasures

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type-settingCarrie Bailey is a science fiction writer who’s gotten her first book published. The nature of that publishing is a concern for some in our writing business. Carrie’s novels are self-published. She maps out the options for a writer of today: a traditional deal, a hybrid one, the small presses, or your own publishing. She calls down an image of her grandfather typesetting his book, letter by letter. It’s captivating, and the world would not have the writing of Virginia Woolfe if not for self-publishing.

Ipso facto, self-publishing is good for writers, right? Not so fast. There’s a column on Writer Unboxed by Dave King, editor for hire, warning the WU readers that self-publishing has its risks: a writer will believe their work is ready to publish when it is not. I assume that working with an editor for hire will help them better prepare their work. I sure hope so, because I am one of those editors. But I don’t blow smoke at my clients by telling them their only goal is to win that agent and that contract with a press. That confuses the creativity with the commerce of writing.

Bailey makes a better point. When considering the prospect of becoming an agented writer, seeking publishing deals, she becomes less motivated to write. Me too. The allegory I use these days is the film business. Lots of indie movies out there, crafted with love on a low budget. Many do not get more than a weekend at a local theatre, if any showings at all. Straight to Netflix. These are still movies, and some are worthy of your two hours. If everybody who made a film had to take a film degree (get and MFA!) or get picked up at Sundance (win an agent!) we wouldn’t have some movies to watch that we truly love.

Bailey says the dream she’s living is to write warm, comfortable, escapist sci-fi novels. That’s why we take our risks in writing — and then like in the movie biz, find collaborators (editors!) — to polish our books. Comfy escapism: what a treasure.

Self-publishing sources to skip

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Skipping girlNew writers, or anyone who hasn’t got a publisher yet, look into self-publishing service houses. These are the companies like Hay House, Author House, Xlibris… you probably recognize them because they’re peppering your inbox. For so many of these, they’re a way to invest in your book. But you want to do some work in advance of your spending, like with any investment.

I suggest you skip Xlibris. It’s one of the oldest companies that serve the self-publishers. These are called author services companies by now. They do the “system integration” of editing, printing, and distribution. Xlibris has some dissatisfied customers out there, and some have been unable to retrieve their products from the Xlibris catalog.  You can also skip Author House, Hay House, Lulu… the list goes on.

How do these companies do business? Most of the time, they sell to the less-experienced writer. A traditional publisher will invest money in your book, take a higher share of the royalties, and use their existing catalog to try to leverage interest and sales of your new book. Self-publishing author services companies do none of these things. Bookbaby can be useful. They recommend 7 editing companies, and offer a complete publicity service. You can purchase a review, or use the service that’s included with a book production package. Editing services at these author houses can be tricky.

A friend has discovered that editors from the Philippines are serving Xlibris customers. The Philippines can be a fine place to contract for English-speaking customer support. The English is adequate for phone conversations about typical transactions and situations. But you can see how a country without a native English culture could produce ersatz English services. These kinds of author services companies — and even firms like Web.com, for author websites — undersell and bid rock bottom by going offshore for their contractors. Offshore services coming from England, of course, are not offshore in that same sense.

Marketing is the realm where the author must take the lead. A nonfiction book, thank goodness, is far easier to market than a novel. (Every book is easier to market than a novel, except perhaps poetry.) The Writer’s Guild has released a survey of its members that points at the evaporation of publicity and marketing from traditional publisher services. More

Self Publishing: Even with a network, you must invest in your process

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Third in a Series

Creative Coaching Series

Creative Coaching Series

A book is an effort of mighty collaboration. It probably doesn’t seem that way while you’re alone in your chair with the door closed on your writing space, revising what’s written or facing the blank page with your visions. But it takes a village of helpers to make a book. As a self-publisher, you will learn to rely on many people.

Viral-Times-gasmask-cover blogIn my acknowledgements for Viral Times, I listed 17 people who had a direct contribution to my debut novel. From early reading groups, where the content editing was free, down to the creative coaching, editing and proofreading, and finally to my most trusted reader Abby — my wife and the inspiration for the book — there were many people to rely upon.

Finally at the last, just before my proofreader Leslie Nail and my printer’s account manager Terry Sherrell helped make these words ready for press and ebook, my beloved bride Abby read through these people, the places and all the dreams that she has inspired and nurtured. Making a book can feel like making a movie once you write down all the names who have midwifed it. It’s been my joy to deliver this story at last—and also as the first book in my life as a novelist.

The first book in that life required an investment in paid editing, in due course. For me it was content editing and  proofreading, but for some writers you might get content editing for free — if you have experienced writers or language arts teachers in your network. But nearly everyone needs to pay for copyediting. Altogether the editing is probably going to look like $3,000 in budget. It did for me, and I applied my 30 years of copyediting to my final draft before Leslie Nail took after it with “light copyediting” alongside her proofing. The book contains about eight errors anyway, but that’s out of 98,000 words. No typos — but I can live with that percentage.

Guy Kawasaki, one of the founding Apple Computer gurus and now an expert on SelfPub, wrote a superior book with Shawn Welch on the creative magic of making your own book. In APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur; How to Publish a Book, there’s good advice on editing: It’s a stupid mistake to skip paying for the work, done by a pro.

The third challenge is figuring out how much to pay a content editor. The going rate for content editors is $50 per hour. Figure that content editing will take 20-30 hours, so you’ll be spending $ 1,000-$1,500 for these services. The going rate for copyediting is $35 per hour, and copyeditors can work their magic at the rate of roughly 10 pages per hour (although this can vary depending on the complexity of the material), so you’ll pay approximately $ 1,000-$1,500 for a 300-page manuscript. This is one of the dumbest places to try to save money, because poor copy editing destroys the quality of your book.

Stepping Out to the Self Published Steps

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Your editor is your coach, guiding you through creative choices

Second in a Series

In my previous installment on this topic, I broke the process of self publishing into a dozen steps. The first four are essential, but they’re not exclusive to self-publishing. You must have a book ready to publish if you’re going to become your own publisher. Practicing steps 1-4 delivers a book to your laptop. (And don’t worry, I’m coming back around to the articles about these first four creative steps.) But the writing starts to become a self-published book, what the industry calls a title, at Step 5: Working with an independent editor.

Editors are everywhere, from low-ball outlets like Skillpages to the spin-off businesses that Writer’s Digest promotes. You will be auditioning your choice of an editor to make your book better. You can start with story development, after you’ve set down your initial draft that you offer for an assessment. A good development editor — sometimes called a substantive editor — will give you notes on plot, structure, pacing, and especially character motives.

Creative Coaching Series

Creative Coaching Series

It’s very difficult to do this process for yourself. And while your workshopping group will give you a lot of help, they’re often not able to see the whole work and devote the time to it that any book needs. Unless you’re just extending the scope of characters who’ve already been welcomed by readers in a prior book you’ve published, development is key.

How do you hire an editor? For me, it was as simple as looking in the classified ad pages of The Writer magazine. There, Jill Dearman had a 4-line ad that promoted her services, available by the page. I contacted her by email, then summarized my book for her so she could see what kind of story she was working on. You want a good match of interest in your subject from the editor, along with a feeling of trust you’ll have in their competency and professionalism.

If this sounds like choosing a doctor, it certainly felt that way to me. You’re looking for references, as well as evidence that the editor’s work has led to published books. Membership in the Association of Independent Editors is one marker, but that’s a fee-only membership with no certification. It’s not as simple as looking for a stamp of approval.

But this is a coach you are hiring — and you will know when you have right mix of pressure and praising coming from this pro. More

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

Everybody talks up blogging. Here’s how to start

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Start Writing a Blog

The info-graphic above (click on it to see the full view in my Ron Seybold Pinterest board) shows how you’d work through the steps to get a blog up and running. If you write anything, you need a blog. Non-fiction writers, especially you. It’s a source of content for your product/book. Fiction writers, you will need a blog for a publisher you might gain, attention to get an agent, or your self-publishing project.

Learning to write 150 words at a time, and being helpful in some way, is all it takes. By the way, the advice is “no less than one post a month. Once a week is a better minimum.” You can do 150 words a week.

The future of bookselling: keeping authors happy

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bookstoreThings are changing on a steady course for the trade of selling books. Now there’s analysis emerging that suggests the most important part of publishing — in the trade sense, where there are agents and the lot — is keeping authors happy.

It’s been said before, but this book industry is really about the storytellers, not the companies which make their stories available and try to lure readers toward them. Imagine the role of the bookstore in five years as an advertising medium, a place to help generate desire for a book. You walk the aisles, but you order from an online source. Showrooming, it’s already being called.

A savvy column on this is online at The Idea Logic Company, written by Mike Shatzkin. In The future of bookstores is the key to understanding the future of publishinghe writes

Most of all, publishers are going to have to think about how they maintain their appeal to authors if putting printed books in stores becomes a less important component of the overall equation. It is still true that putting books in stores is necessary to get anywhere close to total penetration of a book’s potential audience. Ignoring the in-store market obviously costs sales in stores, but it also costs awareness that reduces sales online. (After all, stores are very aware of the “showrooming” effect: customers who cruise their shelves with smartphones in hand, ordering from Amazon as they go!)

But that’s today when the online-offline [book sales] division may be near 50-50 overall and is 75-25 for certain niches. If those numbers become 75-25 and [niched at] 90-10 over the next five years, the bookstore market really won’t matter that much to most authors anymore. Whether through self-publishing or through some fledgling publisher that doesn’t have today’s big publisher capabilities but also doesn’t have their cost structure, authors will feel that the big organizations are less necessary than they are now to help them realize their potential.

It’s still easy to find the agents who remain cheerleaders for the “curated” book. That’s the one which is selected from many which are submitted, then re-crafted by revisions from the author [demanded by the big organization to ensure sales, or the hopes of them], then finally edited by a pro and turned out to a sales force.

Maybe. But when bookstores become shops for coffee and blank books and writing instruments and toys, the big organizations are going to get a smaller share of retail space. Book retailing is going to become less important than book selling, and the latter is much more available to the indie publisher.