Self-publishing Part 2

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Last time I talked about starting the process of self-publishing. For me, anyhow. This week I want to dig into the nitty-gritty a little bit. Before I begin, however, I want to mention that I’ll be talking only about the e-book stage. I’ve not yet embarked on developing the print version, but when I do, I’ll talk about that process. Frankly I’m a tiny bit terrified of it, but then I’ve been terrified of the self-pubbing process from the get-go. I’m not entirely sure why, except maybe that I’ve always imagined this mysterious and complicated process behind the scenes. It’s somewhat complicated, but once you break down the steps and also hire out parts of it, it turns out that it’s not so scary.

Let me remind you of the list of steps I gave in my last post:

  1. get the book beta-read and edited (I did this in two stages to really get the feedback I wanted)
  2. copy edits
  3. proofs
  4. design a cover
  5. get an ISBN (or 2 if I do a print edition)
  6. get copyright
  7. convert to epub and mobi
  8. upload to all the major platforms
  9. open accounts to all major platforms
  10. write back cover copy
  11. come up with a tagline
  12. write back of the book copy–like links and such to other works/website/newsletter
  13. figure out how to do print layout, or find someone who can
  14. figure out what POD service to use and figure out how to use their service
  15. decide on a release date (and you have to hit that date)
  16. publicity (getting review copies out in time for your release can be very tricky)
  17. update website

Whew. That does look daunting, doesn’t it? And it leaves off the most important thing–finish the book. So that’s where I started. I finished the book. I then sent it out to a single beta-reader. At that point, I knew it was pretty rough and I wanted to get some quick and early feedback on just the fundamentals. I got that and revised. At that point, I felt that iTheIncubousJob-FJM_Low_Res_500x750t was in good shape and that now I would send it out to several beta-readers who could give me feedback on anything and everything that they wanted to. Once I had those replies, I revised again. It’s important not to publish something you don’t feel confident in.

At that point, I was working on different titles. My original title wasn’t bad, but it didn’t work well with the actual story, and looking forward, it would make it harder to title the rest of the series. I also needed to come up with a series title. I forgot to put that in my list. But I wanted to have a way to reference these books on my website and in advertising once there were more than one. I came up with Mission: Magic. A bit of a play on Mission Impossible. Since one of my characters is a fixer with magical abilities, and since each book revolves around a magical job, the title works really well.

At the same time, I did three things. One, I sent the book out as an ARC (an uncorrected proof in the shape of an Advanced Reader Copy) to the reviewers who need a long lead time. The second thing I did was arrange for copy editing from a professional. I think it’s critical for a book that you make sure your grammar, spelling, and consistency are as clean and perfect as possible. Yes, some typos are going to get through, but hopefully it’s only one or two. I used to be a professor of English. I have a PhD in English. I should be able to correct my own stuff, right? Not even. There’s a point when you’re too damned close to see clearly. You need other eyes and you need someone who really checks deeply. It will probably be one of your larger publishing expenses, but worth it.

The third thing I did was arrange for a cover. I’m going to speak only briefly about that, because in my next post I plan to go into real depth. I couldn’t afford a lot of money on a cover, and yet I wanted something slick and professional looking. (Did I succeed?) I could have tried doing it myself. I have Photoshop and Illustrator. But I’m not that good at them, and, more importantly, I don’t have a strong grasp of design. I found my cover artist pretty quickly. A friend of mine was putting out her backlist and has some really great covers. I asked who did them and then went to see if I could afford to work with her. I could. Her name, incidentally, is Fiona Jayde. I recommend her. (As a small side note, a lot of cover designers, including Fiona, have a selection of premade covers that are cheaper. I wanted something more specific to my book, but it’s definitely an option.)

At that point, I did some waiting. (I could have worked forward on some of the below steps, but I wanted to get a little distance so that I could do those jobs better, especially writing back cover copy.) When I got the copy-edits back, I went through and revised again. Now, if I’d been smart, I’d have have already done the backmatter and sent those in to be copy-edited so I didn’t introduce new errors. Unfortunately, I didn’t think of that. So in terms of timing, next time I will have all of it prepared.

Speaking of backmatter, you might wonder what that includes. That’s where I put in acknowledgements, a biography, a picture of myself (well, I could, but I didn’t), links to my webpage and directly to my newsletter signup page, a list of other books by me, and a teaser from another book. I didn’t want to put in any direct buy links, since that would require me to change those out for every version–Nook for Nook readers, Kobo for Kobo readers, and so on. Instead, I linked to my webpage and told readers they could read more about my work, and then they’d have all my buy links to choose from. I don’t know for sure that was the best idea, but if not, I can always change it later.

Then out to my final proofers. These are just people who want to read the book and look for typos or errors I missed or introduced late. There can never be too much proofing.

The next step for me was converting to the epub and mobi formats. Amazon is mobi, epub is all the rest. I don’t know how to do that and I didn’t want to learn at that point. It’s not very expensive to hire that out, by the way. So I sent it away.

At the same time, I was working on a cover tagline and the back cover copy. A cover tagline goes on the front of the book to hook the reader. Some people use blurbs from other writers. I decided I wanted a hooky sort of sentence that would hopefully make a reader want to read more. I decided on: Another chance at love . . . Another chance at death. This was in two stacked lines (see above). One of the things you have to think about in your cover, tagline, and back cover copy, is how you want to position this book in the marketplace. Covers signal to readers what the book is. I wanted it to say paranormal romance. The tagline does that, but also says adventure and action.

Writing back cover copy is a miserable experience. You generally want to have a single, hooky opening line. That’s the grabber and a lot of times when books are listed in catalogs and websites, that line shows up with the cover and nothing else. That line can be the difference between a reader clicking through to read more or looking for something else. After much playing and brainstorming, the final back cover beginning tagline is: It’s tough to have a conscience when you kill for a living. (A previous version was . . . “it’s tough to be a ???? in a room full of killers.” But it turns out that filling in the blank was hard. Pacifist didn’t work. My character is willing to be quite violent. And there’s no good antonym for killer. Go figure.

For me, I’d have to keep reading the back cover copy to know more after my tagline. That means the rest has to make the reader buy the book. Generally you think of the back cover copy as advertising the first 50 pages of your book–the triggering action and tension. More than that and you risk spoilers. (And of course, this is not at all a hard-and-fast rule–it’s a beginning point for focusing). You want to write it in the same tone as your book–though not necessarily in the POV. I usually work from a limited omniscient POV when writing back copy. The voice will tell the reader a lot about what to expect inside. You want to focus on action, tension, and get the reader to want to know more: how does it work out? What happens next? You have to give enough information to be interesting and whet the reader’s appetite. This post is already terribly long, so I’m going to link to the Amazon page to let you read the full version should you so desire.

You don’t get a lot of room for the back cover copy. I mean, technically you could write a thousand words, but your reader won’t stick with you. This is a commercial and you have to keep it sharp, fast, and entertaining. I wouldn’t go over three paragraphs, with the addition of the single top tagline and possibly a bottom tagline. That’s about as large as I would go and expect to hold the reader’s attention.

First paragraph establishes character and setting. Second paragraph establishes conflict and tensions. Third paragraph tells the reader how screwed these people are. That’s my formula in a nutshell. That’s where I begin, anyhow. And then I tinker until I like it. Again, the ‘rule’ is a beginning place. This may not at all work for your book. The nice thing (and terrifying thing) is you get to decide. But remember, you can change anything at any time if it’s not working, before publication or after.

At this point, you have to consider preorder v. just putting it on sale. If you have preorders, that allows you to do some marketing and spreading of the word before hand and readers can immediately go and order without having to remember later. That can be gold. That said, you have to set your publication date far enough out that it leaves you time for the various platforms to get the manuscript into their system for distribution. For some, that can take a while, since they want to make sure it’s not porn or something else they don’t want on their site. Amazon requires me to have it in by February 20th for a March 1 release date. The platforms will also require you to open accounts in advance so they can make sure the payments will work and they can verify your information. They will also want something uploaded–a doc or rtf file will work. I didn’t care for that. I’m afraid that they’ll accidentally go ahead and sell that version, so I only did that with Amazon. I should be getting the electronic files any day now and will be able to upload final copies and still be able to have preorders. Since Amazon is the biggest piece of the sales pie, I thought preorders there were important.

Incidentally, the platforms I plan to use are Kobo (these generally also go to many indie bookstores with an online presence, so that’s a key player), Nook, iBooks, and Smashwords. I will not go with Googleplay. They can do weird things on pricing without asking and it can be a killer for your earnings across all platforms. Most self-pubbed writers I know don’t put it on Googleplay. If you are thinking about it, be sure to research the pricing dangers. They are real.

Along with all this comes figuring out how to price. Wow. I really have gone at terrible length and there’s still more to cover. Thanks so much for sticking with me. I guess I should leave off now and hit on the rest in the next couple of posts.

So next up with be the book cover. After that, pricing and possibly print versions. I’ll also want to mention different programs that you can do ebook conversions with. I have also yet to talk about advertising and ISBNs and copyright. (ISBNs are not necessary for ebooks, but I’ll talk about them anyhow.) I also want to talk about the positives and negatives of having preorders. And there are some.

Now, if you have questions, or have things you want me to talk about, I need you to leave a comment about that. I dumped a lot of information here, but I’m aware there’s a lot that I didn’t cover. It would help to know what you want to know or what I need to cover better.

As always, thanks for coming by Magical Words and have a delightful day!

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3 comments to Self-publishing Part 2

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Wow, this definitely is a lot of information! The bit that grabbed me was how you structure your back-cover copy. An interesting and daunting challenge, but your rules for structuring it sounds like a great place to start! (and I did click through – what you ended up with sounds awesome)

    In terms of questions, how do you find beta-readers? Do you pay them, since they’re giving you important work information and you need a quick turnaround? I am a very-small-social-circle sort of person, so I have a couple of friends who can give me great feedback, but they have their own busy lives, so it can take months to hear back… (and, of course, they’re not professional editors…)

  • I’ve cultivated writer friends who will beta, as well as good readers. Some are friends, some are fans. You’re looking for someone with a good eye for character, plot, world, and so on, and a strong acquaintanceship with the conventions that you’re writing in. Sometimes you can find people online in various writing groups, exchange critiques and find some people who are a good match and can give you the kind of feedback you need. There are editors you can hire, as well, to do developmental edits (or content edits). These can be expensive, though very worthwhile. If you go that route, make sure you find someone with a solid background, and who you can work with. Often you can do a short trial sample for a minimal cost to find out what you’ll be getting, and they’ll often tell you if you’re ready for them–some writers still need to learn a lot of craft and spending that kind of money when you’re not ready is just plain stupid.