Self-publishing: a seldom-told story

Partial cover image of "The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers"

We knew we wouldn’t be able to create a cover worthy of the story just on our own, so we found a graphic designer to give the book the pizazz it needed visually. (Enjoy this teaser image for now!)

Here’s the good news: self-publishing puts authors in control of nearly every aspect of the publishing process.

That’s also the bad news.

Once upon a time, a successful writer could get away with being a brilliant storyteller and leave proofing, editing, cover design, interior layouts/paginating, and distribution to folks whose full-time jobs were to manage such things.

Today’s writers who walk the path of traditional publishing continue to benefit from the collective expertise of professionals.  At the same time, the self-publishing route has become more accessible and profitable than ever before.

Which means more and more folks—such as my wife and I—are taking the do-it-yourself approach.

The pros and cons of DIY publishing, self-publishing, independent publishing (or whatever you wish to call it) could monopolize an entire series of blog posts.  Suffice it to say that amateur publishers have more freedom when it comes to the presentation of their novels than their contract-signing counterparts do.

Yet that freedom comes with a price.  For instance, a traditionally published author might not have much of a voice when it comes to the composition of her cover.  In fact, I’ve heard of situations where writers downright despise the depiction that ultimately graces the front of their books.

Not so with self-publishers—that is, of course, if you are a graphic designer, know one who will do you a favor, can afford to hire someone with the talent to translate what’s in your head to the printed page, or are satisfied with a template you (and God knows how many other writers) found online.

Fortunately, my wife and I know more than a few graphic designers, and we’re both extremely satisfied with how the cover for our upcoming children’s book, The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers, turned out.

Then again perhaps “DIY” is a misleading term when it comes to self-publishing.  I’d wager very few independently published authors could ever do it all alone.  Even those who can’t afford or otherwise spurn professional help in the form of artwork, editing, and proofing (a perilous decision, in my opinion) aren’t likely be the ones buying paper, setting up the press, or building their own retail website to sell their work.

Why would you bother when services like CreateSpace can handle the printing for you, and Amazon.com is more than capable of handling monetary transactions and distributing copies?

Despite such shortcuts, however, plenty of work remains for the self-published author.

I’ve read articles that purport the contrary, but believe me when I tell you that self-publishing is a significant investment of time.  Most of the checklists I’ve stumbled across online are far from comprehensive, and even if they were, looks can be deceiving.  A single line item can swallow up an entire afternoon…day…week…

On more than one occasion while trying to make sense of journey, I’ve felt like a certain British lass who wandered haplessly down a rabbit hole.

For example, we asked our cover artist to leave a space for the barcode, which we knew we would be purchasing in the near future, along with an ISBN.  No big deal.  It would be easy enough for her to add it to the back cover later.

But before we could create the graphic of the barcode, we needed to determine the price of the book, which we couldn’t do until we learned how much it would cost to print the book, which we couldn’t calculate until we were reasonably certain how many pages it would have, which ended up being only one aspect of price because we learned that printing our interior in full color was cost-prohibitive, which meant we needed to figure out if our color illustrations would look good in grayscale, which we couldn’t do until we consulted the graphic designer who was working on the cover.

Yes, I’ll have some more tea, Mr. Hatter…

Before someone accuses me of unfairly representing and/or tarnishing the reputation of self-publishing, perhaps a disclaimer is needed.  Our situation might not be typical for the following reasons:

  • This is our first attempt at self-publishing, so there’s a learning curve.  I’m confident that if we were to go through this exercise again, it would go faster and smoother.
  • Because there are two authors, there are two opinions when it comes to details big and small.  Not every decision is a drawn-out negotiation, but before either of us pulls the trigger on any task, we at least have the courtesy to consult the other.
  • I’m a (recovering) perfectionist, who sometimes gets bogged down in research.  (More evidence of that here.)  I prefer to consider all of my options before committing to a course of action.

I’m also incredibly detail-oriented, so if the page numbers on the contents page don’t align perfectly along the right margin, I have a problem with that.  The point is to make our book look as polished as any traditionally published title.

Speaking of page numbers, I must have spent an hour last Sunday battling Microsoft Word, which boasts an incredibly convoluted process for setting up Page 1 on any page other than the first or second with a document.

Even after setting up a section break to separate the story itself from the book’s front matter, I needed a YouTube video to show me the location of a tiny, random button that appeared at certain times on a certain tab and which needed to be unclicked so that the footer styles wouldn’t carry over from the intro to Chapter 1.

And then I had to figure out why only odd page numbers were showing up.  On second thought, forget the tea.  Alice needs something stronger…

The entire time, I kept thinking, “There are people out there whose job is to transform a manuscript into a print-worthy layout.  Someone—or several someones—could do in a matter of minutes the steps we’ve been attempting to do (on and off) for the past handful of weeks.”

But that’s the tradeoff.  We could have decided to hire a service to handle such things.  We also could have attempted to sell The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers to a traditional publisher of children’s chapter books.  Instead, we’re doing as much as possible ourselves.

It’s been a learning process as well as an adventure outside my comfort zone.  But that’s Wonderland, for you: unfamiliar, sometimes infuriating, and often…well…wonderful.

Editor’s note: The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers is no longer available for purchase. Here’s why.

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13 Comments

Filed under Writing

13 responses to “Self-publishing: a seldom-told story

  1. Kim

    Exciting! I hope you get it up in time for Christmas sales..i know a certain little boy who would love a new book for Christmas.

  2. Great post. Thank you
    Arran

  3. Thomas P. Ramirez

    Hope you’ll be starting the Edgar Rice Burroughs biog soon.

    You write so effing well!

    Thomas Agrommus

  4. Pingback: What else a writer needs to succeed (Part 3) | One Million Words

  5. Congrats again David.
    Hey if you ever need help making Word do what you want (like ‘Page 1′ being on page 4), please let me know. I know more about that stupid program than I ever wanted. :)
    … unless you have Word 2013. I haven’t seen that one yet. So I cannot really promise results with that one.

  6. Hi David,

    I am planning to go the self-pub route, too, and am currently in the marketing process while I work on revision. It’s my impression that the trad pub route isn’t as convenient as it once was, either, and my thought is, if I have to do all that work anyway, then I want a bigger piece of pie.

    In your experience do you think it’s true that trad pub is demanding more of the writer in terms of elbow grease and marketing as well?

  7. Howdy!

    I’m happy to share my two cents, but…

    Disclaimer: I don’t have much experience in the traditional publishing arena yet. I do have an agent, but things have been moving snailishly slow with my novel. There have been a few nibbles, but not a strong prospect at the moment.

    Therefore, I can’t really make a first-hand comparison between the marketing efforts provided by publishing houses and what one would can expect if he/she goes it alone. I’ve read many articles, however, that seem to support the notion that unless you’re a big name (King, Steel, Grisham, etc.), you — the author — are expected to bear the brunt of the marketing burden; in other words, if you’re a first-timer, they probably won’t allocate a large marketing budget for you and will perhaps expect you to put in some serious time “getting out there.”

    Of course, those in the industry often make this rebuttal: “Of course those writers who haven’t made a name for themselves will be marketed/supported because it’s in our best interest to get them noticed and increase sales.”

    In all likelihood, it comes down to the individual publisher, book, and author.

    There are many writers who seem to be enjoying anywhere between a moderate to a great amount of (monetary) success by eschewing traditional publishing and going the DIY route. And some “hybrid writers” are working both angles, self-publishing some things and going the traditional route with others. In some ways, it’s an exciting time to be a writer because we have more avenues than ever before to get our words out there.

    I suppose finding time for self-promotion just comes with the territory…

  8. Pingback: A sad ending to our self-publishing tale | One Million Words

  9. Pingback: 4 reasons why fiction writers struggle with marketing | One Million Words

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