Friday, April 27, 2012

Self-Publishing Basics Part 2: Creating A Cover

Books are judged by their covers.  This is one truism (or "truthiness") that seems to always apply.  If you have decided to self-publish, let me recommend that you take some time to study book covers.  Look at covers that have caught your eye and covers that are appropriate for your genre.  By this I mean BEST SELLING covers for novels in your genre.  Some covers out there, especially among self-pubbed books, are very amateurish.

I chose to go a little outside my genre (thrillers), and incorporate some imagery and cover format that had worked to draw my eye.  I have always been partial to a solid block of color behind the author's name/title of the book.  Some cover artists can blend the type into a dark spot of the cover art, or a place where there is a solid color.  This allows the title to "pop" and also allows the reader to delineate between the image and the title.  The two should connect, by the way.  The image should reflect in some way either the title or the theme of the book.   Unless there is a murder at the picnic, a bucolic scene with a field of flowers, a bench with a family around it laughing does not a mystery cover make.

Covers are art.  That is the way you must see it.  This art can be as simple as type face over a solid color, photo images and type or illustration/painting with type, or any variation of those.  The point of the art, the point of the cover, is to draw potential readers to pick up the book, to click on it and read more.

Now, I by no means am an expert at this, but I have a good eye.  I have read thousands of books and have perused libraries and bookstores for three decades.  I know what stands out.  I have watched the trends.  I notice when a book cover for a particular novel (i.e. Game of Thrones or The Stand) changes.  I notice when a cover I find appealing, but is outside of my reading circle--romance, for example--catches my eye and then becomes popular.  For sure, the popularity of novels is not dependent upon their covers, but on their contents.  Some books succeed IN SPITE of their covers.  The Stand was one of them, Stieg Larsson's Girl series is another.

The practical side of the cover is the design of it in preparation for print.  Many of the Print-On-Demand publishers like Create Space and Lulu provide tools to make this task easier.  But, just like many other areas of self-publishing, you must don another hat, develop another skill.  If you don't have proficiency with Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign or some other design studio software, I recommend that this task is one that you hire out to someone that does.  A good graphic artist, a cover designer, or even a graphic design student can provide the PDF document or JPEG image you will need to provide your cover.

Another practical consideration you must keep in mind is the art/photography.  I am not a photographer.  I used to be a fair illustrator but have not honed those skills in decades.  Find a photographer you like or subscribe to iStock photos or eShutter or some other online stock photo marketplace.  You can get pictures there royalty free for less than a dollar.  Or, if you like the personal touch, digital photography is an art form in itself.  If you would like to marry that talent with your talent for writing, then that could be your best option.

The beauty of self-publishing is that YOU have the control.  YOU make the decisions.  However, it is also the burden you bear because, in the end, the success or failure is on you as well.  You have to have good content, a good story told with craftmanship.  You have to have an attractive cover that draws in readers.  You also have to have a good marketing plan that puts your title, your name and your brand in front of as many people as possible.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Self-Publishing Basics Part 1--Formatting

You can easily find a ton of help out there for self-publishing, if that is your goal.  I am new at this, but I have followed self-publishing for almost a decade.  I want to impart some of what I have discovered and chronicle my journey into self publication.  My first book, Dark Mountain, was just released.  I am making it availabe in both print and electronic versions, because I believe that both mediums are important.  Some will laud one over the other and there is much debate over print vs. ebooks as well as traditional publishing vs. indie publishing.  I believe that there is an audience for both print and electronic books.  I also believe that authors should be able to enjoy the benefits of both traditional publishing and self-publishing.  Neither has to be mutually exclusive of the other. 

Formatting Your Book For Print

The biggest hurdle in self-publishing a book is that you need to incur some extra-writerly talents and skill sets.  One of the first skills you must use, once you decide how you are going to market your book, is to format it for publication.  Obviously, this step takes place after you have written the book and edited it thoroughly. 

You will probably be formatting for several formats (Kindle=html; CreateSpace = PDF or .doc; Smashwords = .doc, etc.), so remember to always have a clean copy or two of your original manuscript.  I kept five:  one for editing (clean manuscript with bookmarks at chapters so I could easily navigate when fact-checking); one to submit to agents (that didn't pan out); one for print publication (page numbers, headings, cover pages, etc.); and two for the electronic version--one in .doc or normal MS Word, and one in .htm format. 

This can get confusing, but if you name them to remember, it makes it easier.  You can also put them in separate files, to keep it straight.  The point is, be prepared to do formatting more than once, especially if you are publishing it in multiple formats.

First, I recommend highly that you stick to MS Word.  It is the easiest to use and has the most widely recognized format.  In fact, to publish to Smashwords, it is almost impossible to get your manuscript accepted without it.  Each version (2003,2007, 2010) each has its benefits and inconsistencies, but they are all generally the same. 

Second, get your manuscript edited.  I will cover this in another post, but it is still an important step you cannot ignore.  It will cost money, but it is worth it.

If  you are seeking to have your book published in print (via Lulu or Createspace or others), I recommend that you download a template for the size of book you are seeking to publish.  This can be everything from a mass market paperback size to a common 6" x 9" trade paperback.  Once you do that, it can be as simple as copying and pasting your book into the template.  You can alternately study the template design (page widths, margins, gutters, sections, headers and footers, etc.) and apply those to your manuscript.  Don't forget to save the document under a different name (instead of "Title.doc," save it as "Title 6x9.doc" or something similar). 

This step can be daunting.  Some publishing service providers offer a service that does the formatting for you for a charge.  In fact, at any one step, Lulu, CreateSpace and other print-on-demand (POD) publishers offer services for a fee.  Often, they are great bargains.  Mostly, if you have the technical savvy, patience, and time, you can do them yourself for free.  I did them myself and saved over $500 total. 

Formatting Your Book for Electronic Distribution

If you are seeking to digitally publish your book, then start with your clean, original manuscript in MS Word.  Select "All" and then "Clear Formatting."  You should see a pretty plain document, with all the fonts removed.  This is the best way to start your formatting for Kindle or Smashwords.  Save the document as a different title--"Title Clear.doc" or "Title Digital.doc" will suffice.  Then, you can go in and create bookmarks, paragraphing, etc.  Re-save the document and then "Save As" html, formatted.  This is the format that Kindle demands in order for it to be published in its newest format.  It can also be converted this way to Epub and Mobi formats (Apple, B & N, etc.) as well.

I could go deeper, give more information, but these are the basics.  To provide more information, this would be a very long post.  I can, however, recommend heavy research.  Each provider (CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, Lulu, Smashwords, B & N direct publishing) offers TONS of help, links, and information on how to publish.  In addition, there are ebooks online as well as other blogs that offer more in-depth information about formatting.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Self-Publishing Choice

I am writing this in anticipation of my proof copy for my debut novel, Dark Mountain.  Over the next week or so I plan on writing some blog entries that cover some aspects of self publishing: formatting, choosing a POD publisher, marketing, Amazon, pricing, making a book trailer, designing a cover, making a website and branding.  Today, though, I thought it best to start at WHY I decided to self-publish in the first place.

To truly understand this decision, I have to first establish my love for writing.  I knew at the age of 12 that I would someday be a writer.  I loved books and when I wrote my first story (a sort of "Children of the Corn" knock-off), it was for an Eighth Grade English class.  I really liked my teacher, and so when she gave us a writing assignment, I really wanted to impress her.  So, having some drawing skills, I took some art paper and made a scary cover with blood dripping from the words and stapled my hand-written story inside.  I even embellished the back cover with blurbs and fake reviews.  Needless to say, she was duly impressed and gave me some very positive feedback.  I never looked back on that dream that began that day on the second floor of Weston Junior High School. 

In college, I eventually got my English degree (after flirting with Pulpit Ministry, Computer Programming, Teaching English, Teaching English as a Foreign Language and Library Science).  I knew to be a writer that all the Creative Writing courses I could take would never really advance me in my career.  They were helpful, for sure, but I wasn't prepared to live on the income of a starving writer.  I'm still not and so I have a real job in addition to writing.  I wasn't attracted to the stodginess of journalism and even though I have a salesman heart (that's what I do now), I didn't want to move to Chicago, New York, Miami or Los Angeles to work for an ad agency or marketing company.

So, I took classes, read books, researched online, and wrote as much as I could discipline myself to do with a young family and the demands of life. In other words, I produced nothing because I felt I had an excuse.  I lamented my diminishing skills (they were actually getting better), my lot in life (I have, for the most part, always moved forward), and dwelt in the Land of Pity and Self-Loathing for almost a decade.

Then, something awoke in me.  I began keeping a writer's notebook.  I began and stopped several books (some of which I plan on finishing).  I tried to get published.  I wrote articles for a homeschool publication in our state.  I wrote and produced a newsletter for our homeschool support group.  I kept honing my skills.  I kept reading literature. 

Then, about eight years ago, I got more serious. I subscribed to writer's groups, critique groups and searched for ways to expand my writing.  Eventually, I began to call myself a writer.  I let that define me and even started a blog, wrote some short stories and published them on Smashwords for free.  I subscribed to industry blogs and kept up with the publishing industry on a daily basis.  I researched agents (that was new to me:  early in my writing I had been sending to slush piles, but all that had changed). 

Then, in 2009, with several novels started, a bunch of notes for others and ideas swirling in my head, I discovered NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.  It is in November and it challenges aspiring writers to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  It is an accomplishment, to be sure.  I participated and actually succeeded in my first attempt.  The result was mediocre.  I recognize good stories.  Dark Mountain Mean was just ok.  I put it aside, began a more ambitious novel that required massive research and kept me up at night with excitement. 

Meanwhile, Dark Mountain Mean languished on my computer, stewed for almost a year.  I pulled it back out in 2010 when I was unable to get my NaNoWriMo off the ground.  My fantasy project flopped about halfway through and I knew I wouldn't make it.  So, I picked Dark Mountain Mean back up and began the daunting task of writing the final 25,000 words and editing the mostly crappy first 50,000.   Tracey, my wife, agreed to read it while I edited the first part and finished the last part.  She actually pushed me.  She finished the first part and begged me to continue writing.  She was interested in reading about how it ended.  Her excitement lit a fire under me. 

I now knew--KNEW--I could write well.  I was finally beginning to think I was publishable AND had the discipline to finish.  But, even after completing the first draft, I knew I wasn't finished.  I began the second edit with my wife's notes in hand.  I fixed inconsistencies, bad story arcs, some spotty grammar, some sketchy moral fallacies and that took a year.

Eager to get some more positive feedback--Tracey's excitement was contagious, but she is my WIFE--I asked some folks if they would interested in reading it.  My college-bound son, Nate, and a friend from church volunteered.  Another year went by.  I began to query agents while I waited for more feedback.  I got several rejections. 

All this time I was waiting, watching.  I was a Team Big 6 proponent.  I had read (and participated a little) in self-publishing.  I was immensely disappointed in the quality of the writing.  It went beyond the bad grammar, poor formatting, amateur cover art and poor premises.  The story-telling was awful.  Just dreadful.  I am no high-brow reader, even though I can recognize the difference between Henry James and John Grisham.  I am an eclectic reader, perhaps the most widely read person I know:  everything from Dickens, Dostoevsky, and Camus to Star Wars, Forgotten Realms and Magic the Gathering. I read Stephen Covey, CS Lewis and Larry Burkett as well as biographies on Jim Brown, business books, sales training books, and motivational and devotional books.

The simple fact is:  most self-published books were sub-par.  They thankfully didn't charge much and often were free, but even that sometimes didn't make up for the poor writing.  But, I digress.

The point is, I was firmly NOT in the self-pubbing camp.  I wanted an editor. I wanted an agent.  I wanted the clap on the back that comes from acceptance into this community.  But, the longer I researched the publishing industry, I realized that the timing, the money and the hassle weren't really what I was expecting.  Agents, other writers, and  publishing professionals laud the experience as worth it, as all part of the "way things are."  The longer I listened to that, the more it sounded hollow.  I saw the same lack of editorial care with traditionally published books, I saw the hackneyed titles and regurgitated plots. 

The longer I listened, the more Amazon and Lulu and CreateSpace and Smashwords, even, looked more logical.  At least, to me.  I had made a timid attempt at getting represented.  I struggled with my query letter.  It doesn't do my story justice.  I felt rejected, because I was.

One day, I made the decision.  I knew I wouldn't go back.  Although, I might.  If offered, I would accept.  But, I want them to come calling to me, not the other way around.  I will self-publish even if it means the only people who buy my book are people I know.  I don't want to do it for any other reason other than it is my dream and I refuse to let it die.

I can't wait for the proof copy.  I already know I will have to do some more work on the cover.  In fact, I have already uploaded a new cover and edited the interior again (the 5th time).  I have about 50% of the marketing in place (website, Amazon Kindle Select, social media) and about a dozen people lined up ready to make a purchase or a download.

I am already satisfied.  To me, that little feedback from people who haven't even read my book yet sustains me.  It's like I am in Eighth Grade all over again. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Launch Soon!

I know I haven't been blogging regularly lately.  I have finally made the leap into the self-publishing fray! All things are being made ready for Dark Mountain to be published before the end of April.

I have completed the interior of the print version of the novel so far and have made a decent cover (if I say so myself).  I secured an ISBN # from CreateSpace and am using them for the POD services and the author's estore.  I will work on the HTML code for the interior this weekend and hopefully get it published to Kindle Direct Publishing before Monday.  If all goes well, I will have it available for Amazon Prime members to borrow through the Kindle Select program soon. 

I am so excited, to say the least.  Right now I am eating, sleeping, and breathing my novel.  In the meantime, check out my new website (part of the extra work I am putting in to promote the novel and my writing career).  See the new link to the right to check out my estore.  I am pricing the print version at $9.99 and the ebook version at $2.99.  You get the print version through my author's site and the ebook version I hope to have available on all devices (Kindle, Apple, Sony, Nook, etc.) when I get it up on Kindle Direct Publishing.

Be sure to "Like" my site, "+1" it or even embed my video in your site, Facebook comments, etc.  The more the merrier. I will appreciate your help and your patronage.  Keep coming back, as now I will update more regularly as I crank up the media blitz and begin to finish my other works in progress.