Monday, June 13, 2011

How to Self-Publish a Novel

Sarah M. Anderson,
Proud Granddaughter
Authorial Mom Sarah here, with a not-exhaustive recounting of how I published my grandmother Goldie Lucas' novel, Eleanore Gray.

There's been a lot of heated (and, dare I say, overheated) discussion about self-publication these days. Brand new authors are forgoing the 'tradtional' New York publication routes and putting things out there. Established authors are walking away from contracts to self-publish. The e-book world is changing the playing field faster than anyone can level it.

This is not a blog about those choices. After all, my own books are coming out with Harlequin--that's pretty traditional. I'm going to go on record here as saying each author has to find the publication method they're most comfortable with.

Instead, this is a blog about how I (along with my parents, aunts, and uncles) rescued my grandmother's handwritten novel and brought it out of the closet (literally) and into print form.

Goldie M. Lucas
My reasons: Goldie was a poet. Her voice is lyrical and gentle. But the fact is that selling Eleanore Gray to a traditional publisher would be an uphill batte. It's a sweet book--no sex, and any violence happens off the page. The most scandalous thing that happens in the whole book is when Eleanore and her friend Nell make bathing costumes and go swimming. In other words, while this is a book my Gram Frances (age: 96 years old) would love, it's not a book that publishers would be falling over themselves to snatch up. There's just not that much of a market for sweet, historical, inspirational novels. Traditional publishers would also most likely want revisions--to see the climatic fight, maybe the wedding night. They would want more internal monologue or changes to the point-of-view. As these are the only words of Goldie's I have, I was unwilling to make wholesale revisions. (Plus, her voice is so distinctive that I had trouble mimicking it for the small changes I did make.)

Second was identifying the market for the book. That's easy--my relatives. The aunts, uncles, and cousins who had heard Goldie had a book 'somewhere' but had never seen it. This is a piece of our family history, so it's important to the Wrights (Goldie's maiden name), the Lucases, and all the other branches of the family. If other people buy and love the book, that's WONDERFUL. I encourage you to check it out here and here! But that's just icing on the literary cake.

These first and second reasons dovetailed into the third reason: Goldie's children are not getting any younger, and traditional published could take years of rejections and suggested revisions before any publisher made an offer. Time is of the essence here, and even then, it still took a year.

So I have a list of reasons that argue against traditional publishing. My relatives were supportive of my choice to do the book myself. However, I had never gone the self-publishing route before, so there was a rather large learning curve. Here's what I did to make this book:

1. Editing. Because Goldie wrote this book and my Uncle Jim had already had it typed up, I didn't have to write it. But I did have to edit the heck out of it. I did different readings for grammar (commas, apostrophes, etc.), word choice (ah, 'historical' terms for certain groups are no longer acceptable; repetition), and cohesiveness (Goldie died before finishing the book. The ending needed work to provide closure.). I read the book about five times BEFORE I even started looking at my publishing options. I had a professional editor (the Lovely Mary, Grammar Goddess) read it as well. My parents read it, too, as did Uncle Jim. Everyone caught different things.

2. Publishing Options: I made the choice to go with CreateSpace, an subsidiary. I thought at the time that would make it easier to load the book to Kindle format (more on that later), but I found several blogs that said, CreateSpace, and all those other print-on-demand services used the exact same printing technology. The book would look the same no matter who did it; it came down to price. CreateSpace was about $1 cheaper for production costs than Lulu.

Side Note: I'm defining 'self-publishing' synonymously with 'print-on-demand.' Using CreateSpace cost me nothing upfront. The only cost I have is to buy the book. Uploading the files and covers was free. (Same with Lulu.) Now, there are a wide variety of add-on options--I could have purchased cover design help, or formatting assistance. I could have also purchased distribution packages. Some of these add-on services were pretty cheap--the Pro Plan distribution package was about $40. Others, like the Total Design Freedom Marketing Pro service--where you give them a rough manuscript and they give you a finished book--can cost up to $5,000 (that's dollars, people). I didn't need any of that junk. I just needed the book printed. Print-on-demand costs are about half of the cover price of the book.

3. Services: As I mentioned above, I could have plunked down 5 grand to get a professional looking book. I didn't. While that one-stop shopping can seem easy, the odds of recouping that much money off this book are slim. Studies have shown that most self-published books only sell about 250 copies--which is about how many people the average author knows personally. That's about how many family members I have. If we sell an extra 50, that's awesome. But again, I'm not putting this book out for fame and fortune. I'm doing it for my family.

So how did I make the book look like a real book instead of something someone slapped a stock photo on? First--and if you're doing to self-publish, I cannot stress the importance of this enough--GET AN EDITOR. I'm an editor at my day job; I still asked the Lovely Mary to read it. This went through five sets of eyes. Typo-free text is the first sign of professionalism.

Second: I'm not a professional graphic designer. But my friend Leah Hanlin of BlueSky Design is. She was excited to do the book with me. I chose a piece of art that fit the book perfectly from and we discussed my ideas. I also brought in a book published by Penguin that was the same shape, size, and theme that I wanted. Leah was doing a book cover for the first time, so she also had a learning curve, but the end result was worth it.

I had heard horror stories of people uploading their Word files and getting books back where the pages had been shrunk from 8 1/2 x 11 to 5 x 8, rendering the font size unreadable. When your target market is over 60, you want to avoid minuscule font sizes. So I asked Leah to set the pages. The inside pages printed exactly as she set them, and the cover looked professional, not half-assed. This service added about $500 to the production costs, which may seem like a lot, but remember, that's one zero less than CreateSpace was offering for the same thing.

3. Uploading and Proofing: Leah set the pages, and I read the book again (catching about 20 more errors--you can't proof enough). Then we stayed up way past my bedtime to upload the files. The cover was tricky--we had to shrink the file size without losing the quality--something about flattening. (Again, this is why I hired Leah.) Then CreateSpace checked the files and let me know when I could order a proof, which was the next day.

The shipping on the proof was about $3.50, and was supposed to take a week. It got here four days early, so my personal experience says the faster shipping wasn't vital.

Then I READ THE BOOK AGAIN. You must do this. Because Leah is a professional (and the printing  gods were smiling on us all), the book was good to go. I did find one indent that was off, an extra hypen where I don't really need one, and a few commas I'd add back in. But the pages printed in the right order, right-side-up, and the cover lined up. I'm sure that someone will email me with a correction or two, but if you don't read the proof, you won't know if you're putting out a quality product or not.

4. Ordering: So the proof was good; ordering copies came next. Uncle Jim had a family reunion coming up, so I ordered him a box at the author price (about $7.50) and had them shipped to his house. I ordered a separate box for myself. The shipping costs for this bulk order were considerably cheaper--about $0.50-1 a book, instead of $3-4. I could get it faster, but that's much, much more money.

5. Distribution: is my main distributor, but I have the book stocked at Great Debates, my local independent bookstore, as well as a few church and Christian bookstores. I can also try marketing it in and around the Ozarks in Missouri.

But here's the thing about that--marketing and distributing a book takes TIME. If you want to sell more than that 250 books I mentioned earlier, you're going to have to get out there and pound the pavement, press the  flesh, and talk the book up to a lot of people who may or may not care a whit about your 'baby.' You have to blog, social network, and beg for reviews. You have to know how much time and energy you can put into marketing, and you have to be prepared to hear that 'no.' You have to be able to deal with bad reviews. (For a lesson in how NOT to handle reviews, read this. And then promise me you won't ever, ever do that.) If you can't handle that, you need to reconsider putting your book out there.

6. E-book formatting. One of the original reasons I went with CreateSpace was because I thought it would make Kindling the book easier. That wasn't necessarily true. Leah did a great job with the print version, but she made PDFs on a Mac. When she went to do the Kindle form, she discovered they do not want PDFs. They want some other program that is PC based that requires downloads. Smashwords was the same. This was quite a speed bump in our plans, so we went ahead and did the print version first. Neither one of us has quite figured out how to work this new program on the PC, so I'll have to get back to you on how it turned out.

I do know that I want the e version out there--that way, it'll never go away. My son and all potential grandchildren will still be able to find Goldie's book and read it. Putting Eleanore Gray out there on a cloud makes it close to immortal.

So that's it. I am still in the middle of the marketing process--sell sheets, cold calls, a box of books in my trunk just in case someone wants one. I hope to recover my costs, but again, this is a piece of my family history. If I sell a million books, great! If not, I've done my best by Goldie and her children and grandchildren.

Eleanore Gray can be purchased here at Amazon and here at CreateSpace. And don't forget that I'm giving away a copy here on June 21st! Be sure to leave a comment to be entered!


TinaFerraro said...

Very interesting, thank you, Sarah, and I will check out your grandmother's book right now!

Mary Jo Burke said...

Hi Sarah,

A few years ago, someone I knew wrote a book. It was turned down repeatedly. She decided to self publish. She found out I was a writer and wanted me to buy a copy. To be polite, I did. Editors don't get enough credit. I had the urge to pull out the red pen myself. It was a true story about a family of child abusing drug addicts. She was going to save them. Didn't work out. When she asked me what I thought, I mumbled it was fine and kept walking.

Sarah M. Anderson said...

Thanks, Tina! You rock!

Mary Jo, I've been burned by that a few times, too. I was terrified when I started working on Eleanore Gray that it was going to be some kind of awful--and I'd have to do all this work anyway, because it's my grandmother's book and I promised my uncle and dad I'd do it. I was so deeply thankful that this was a lovely book that held up for several readings.

lucylucia said...

Sal - I think you and Leah did a wonderful job on the cover art! I will be ordering mine off of Amazon, however, I am cheap enough to wait and see if I win the contest first! ha!

tlhardin said...

Sarah, congratulations! I think you are a very exceptional person. I think it is great that since you have become a writer, that you to want to encourage others reach their potential and give information to them. I am sure there are many wanna be writers that read your blogs and are greatful for your help. I have learned a lot of information that I never new about writing and publishing from your blogs. I have always thought what it would be like to write a novel. It brings back memories of high school when we were given an assignment to write a story about a topic. "The Blue Raincoat" I went for a murder mystery. I think I got a B on that assignment just for the fact of my "written english" To bad we didn't know about hiring editors back then. After reading your blogs I think about trying to write a novel on "the Blue Raincoat" just to see what I could come up with. But wouldn't know where to start, how to create a complete book. I always had trouble in school just to come up with the 500 word essays. But way to go for you!

Erin Heers said...

I can't imagine how you felt when you first found Goldie's manuscript; it must have been amazing! Of all the family heirlooms I have, my favorites are the letters they sent to each other.

When my dad was in basic training he and my mom wrote to each other daily about the most mundane aspects of their days apart. It's amazing what is revealed in those simple handwritten letters. I'm in the process of scanning and typing them up to share with my family, though I don't have nearly as much work as you did!

Best of luck with the book. I can't wait to read it!