How To Self Publish #3

 

How To Self Publish — All By Yourself!

3 Self Publishing

So, how do you do it? Writing and revising is one thing (two things, actually), but publishing your work is something quite different. Still, if you write on a computer, you probably know enough about text formatting and file types to work you way through to a finished product. Self publishing is detail-oriented, structured work—but so is writing!

I have used the following services:

Kindle ebooks (Amazon)–  https://kdp.amazon.com

SmashWords ebooks–  https://www.smashwords.com/

Create Space (Amazon print editions)– https://www.createspace.com/

Lulu (ebooks or print editions)–  https://www.lulu.com

They are all different, yet similar in many ways. My comments relate most directly to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. The other services require similar types of setup and preparation of materials.

At the publisher’s web site, you have to create an account where you enter your personal information including the details necessary for the company to send you a report for your taxes. Taxes? Yes, you are planning to make money from this aren’t you? By the way, keep track of what you pay your editor and others that help you prepare your work. That could be a tax deduction.

Now it’s time to set up your book. The Kindle Direct Publishing site has instructions for each step. If you are not sure what they are asking you to enter, hover over the (What’s this?) button in the instructions. Some of the instructions link to even more detailed instructions. When all else fails, there is a [Contact us] link to get your questions answered directly. Remember, there’s nothing like doing it wrong a few times to help you figure out how to do it right. These sites all show you previews of your book so you can check your work before you release it. There are no points taken off if you ask for help.

Let’s get started. Book name: Put in your title, and there you go. You’ve started. There are more entries if you are writing a series of books like my Chronicles of the Dragon-Bound, and so on. The publisher? Hey, that’s you!

Prepare a blurb, a synopsis that describes your book. This is the advertising copy that will sell your book. There are many tutorials on the web as well as printed sources and examples. Check the dust jackets and covers of books you already own for other ideas.  A good blurb will have some punch—think of a movie trailer. It should be a short, pithy portrait of your book that says, “Buy me!” without saying “Buy me!”

What about an ISBN, an International Standard Book Number? For an ebook on Amazon, it’s optional. If you are only going to publish an ebook on Amazon, they have their own free identifier system. You won’t need an ISBN. To get an ISBN go to Bowker at:  http://www.bowker.com. They sell them there. Yes, another expense.

If you are publishing something you have written, it is not a public domain work—unless you want it to be. Something in the public domain can be copied and reproduced by anyone. If you want to sell your books to make money, be sure to keep the intellectual property rights. Your work is copyrighted if you say it is—put a statement in the front matter of your book. For more legal protection you can officially register your copyright at http://www.copyright.gov/eco/.

Create a cover for your book. Never judge a book by its cover? Not true! This and your blurb are the way you sell books to casual buyers. The cover should make a potential reader want to read your blurb. The blurb should make them want to read your book.

I created my own covers by buying a picture from http://www.shutterstock.com/ (other services have similar products). They have a wide selection, so be prepared to search. Try to find something eye catching that in some way represents your book. Shutterstock pictures cost money to download, but they come with a standard license to reproduce the picture on your own work. You could use your own photo as long as it didn’t include anyone or anything that would have protected rights of reproduction. (No, I have no information on specifics, only information on a few bad examples that scared me.) If you are a good designer (I am not), you could create your own abstract design to use as a cover.

Once I had a cover picture, I used a simple page layout program (I used Apple’s Pages. Microsoft Word makes me swear.) to put a text blocks with the title and author over the picture. Be sure to check the width, length, and pixel resolution requirements for each publisher for a cover on their service. They are all different, but each site will have a [Cover guidelines] button that will give you more information. Sorting through the different picture file formats, changing resolution, and the like can be confusing if you haven’t done it before. Here is one spot you may want to ask someone for some guidance.

Set up your book according to the voluminous instructions unique to each publishing venue. If I recall, they all accept MS Word files, but the formatting requirements are fussy and different for each one. There are some free Kindle books about setting up an ebook for Kindle (oddly enough). Each site has instructions for formatting and so forth available on the site. Be sure to add front matter for your book, the title page, dedication, etc. Kindle also likes to see chapters. There are instructions on how to create this list.

Once you have the book the way you want it, upload the file. I don’t know about you, but I felt the drama of the moment. I was sending my baby off to be made into a book!  Now, want an example of what can go wrong? I had all of my files double spaced because that was the way I edited them. When I uploaded the files, I didn’t change the spacing. I didn’t notice in the previews I checked, but it showed up double spaced on a Kindle. Solution? Make my files single spaced, then upload them again. Any goof on your part is fixable. Trust me. Someone will notice and tell you about it.

Want printed copies of your book? There are a number of publish-to-order sites on the web. I have used https://www.createspace.com/ , and https://www.lulu.com, but there are others. You go through many of the same steps as setting up an ebook, but you will need an ISBN number. After you enter your information, cover, and text, your book sits out on the web waiting for someone to order it. With electronic publishing, each book is printed out for each order.

One advantage of using Amazon’s Create Space is that Amazon’s reach is huge. If you have a Kindle ebook, the ebook and print option appear together on the book’s listing page. One disadvantage of Create Space is that you have to go through the whole formatting and submission process a second time. It and KDP are both Amazon entities—the listings show up together, but you have to go through the whole submission thing all over again. I found that I also had to go through the formatting process for my text all over again.

You may also choose to have your book printed by a conventional printer like Book Masters ( http://www.bookmasters.com ), located near Mansfield, OH. They will print anything, any format, any size, etc. but they want to print a bulk order—and charge you at that time. I still have excess inventory of my book about the Bryan City Band.

What happens when you sell your books? (Notice I didn’t say, “if you sell?”) You get paid money! How does that happen? Amazon has a couple of royalty plans, but I opted for the simplest at 35% of the selling price. The other choice with higher royalties seemed more limiting—more trouble than it was worth for my purposes. You can revaluate your options and change later.

Amazon’s Kindle does their payments by direct deposit these days. Rather than use my existing personal account, I created a separate checking account to receive the book royalties. Details for accounts vary from bank to bank. Every month over a period of a couple days, I get as series of notices that royalties have been deposited in my writing account. The Kindle Store is world wide. Each country where Amazon operates is an entity unto itself—they all pay you for what you sell there.

Other publishers will only cut you a check once the royalty total exceeds $100 or some other fixed amount. I have a couple of places that are slowly accumulating money for me. C’est la vie. At least my book is available in iBooks, Barnes & Noble, etc.

One thing I caught that you might want to watch out for: My Amazon books sell in Australia, India, Burundi, etc. Thrilling! The only problem is, the bank charged me a $1.00 transaction fee every month for every deposit made in a foreign currency. Turned out my royalties from countries like France, Germany, and Burundi were not enough to pay the money changers. I had to go back in and raise prices of my books in those countries so the royalties would cover the foreign currency transaction fees.

Most of my market so far has been in ebooks. There are a lot of readers of fantasy and science fiction out there. Romance is another big market for e-readers. I keep a few hard copy books on hand for promotional work. Those I just order tens-at-a-time from Create Space. You could use other printers as well.

Feeling a little overwhelmed? Of course you are. I hope you can see that, although there is a lot of detail work required to self publish, it is something you can work through on a step-by-step basis. Who is better at detail work than an author who has written, rewritten, revised, edited, etc.? There are plenty of services who will do any to all of these self publishing steps for you—at a price. If you can tolerate all the fussy particulars, deal with ambiguous directions by experimentation, and maybe have a salty vocabulary to let off steam, you can get the job done. You can publish your own work and keep all the profits.

How To Self Publish #2

 

How To Self Publish — All By Yourself!

2 Preparing to Publish

Readers expect to read clear, polished writing—especially if they pay money for it. Taking a scenic drive in a beautiful setting in a car with dirty windows is irritating. Reading something with misspellings, grammatical errors, poor sentence structure, and all those other unforgivable sins is irritating in much the same way. No matter how charming the story, technically poor, unpolished writing keeps the reader from seeing the delightful landscape you are trying to create.

 There are two types of editing, developmental and copy. Developmental editing focuses on the story, the characters, the setting, etc. Are the characters consistent? Believable? Are there holes in the plot? Does the timeline hold together? Your editor may also give you ideas that will give your work more punch. A good developmental edit will make your story hang together and be as good as it can be. Many of my first draft characters tend to be feckless wimps. Probably because I am a feckless wimp myself, I have a hard time recognizing this until someone else points it out to me.

Copy editing deals with the dirty details of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. These are all the nit-picky, fine points that English teachers used to mark on your school papers. Trivial technicalities? Consider how the lowly comma changes the meaning of these two sentences:

“Let’s eat, Grandpa.”

“Let’s eat Grandpa.”

You have to be sure what you have written says what you mean it to say. Readers will notice. The more you write, the better you learn the rules. Even so, you need a fresh pair of eyes (or two) to make sure your writing is clear and correct.

 Developmental editing and revisions are a necessary part of the writing process. How many times do you need to go through your story? Once I get to the point where I'm not making significant changes, I go through the whole thing one more time. So what are significant changes? If I'm changing the story by doing things like adding description, clarifying motive, fleshing out a character, etc., I know I need to go back through the whole thing again to make sure the changes work. When I get down to debating that-v.-which, farther-v.-further, etc., it's time to send it off for review by another set of eyes.

I have trouble seeing my own mistakes. I know what the text is supposed to say, so as I proof read, I see what should be there—not what is actually on the page. Sigh. The longer you lay a story aside, the easier it is to see the flaws. However, unless you want to spend a lifetime revising the work, find an editor. Again, there are people who will help you with this, but you tend to get what you pay for. A writing buddy may be willing to trade edits. Maybe a friend will help you edit for a six-pack and a couple packs of beef jerky. Are you FaceBook friends with a former high school English teacher?

Or—maybe you should consider professional editing. Of course professional editing costs money. Since you edit before you try to sell you work, consider a professional editor an investment. You are putting money out on the table, and the roulette wheel is spinning. Can you afford to take the chance? Here is why beta readers’ are helpful. Was their original response encouraging? Now that you have done some serious revisions, consider getting some more responses. How much of a market is there for what you have written?

 Once you have a polished work, you could submit your work for publication, but remember. This is a guide for self publishing. You are the person who has to make the call. It will be your money. Do you have confidence in your work? Will you ever know unless you try?

How to Self Publish #1

 

How To Self Publish – All By Yourself

1 Write Something Worth Reading

The first step in self publishing is to write something—no seriously. If you don’t write it, you can’t publish it. So, finish it! If you are writing on an irregular, part-time basis, make an outline, take notes, make maps, etc. You need to document what you are going to do with your writing. I am a perfect (bad) example of why you should plan your writing. My back files are full of two to twenty page story starts where I have forgotten what happened next. Maybe someday I will work these pieces into something, somewhere. However, for now, they nothing but time-wasting dead ends.

Once you are finished, the real, uh, fun begins. Edit, revise, evaluate—rinse and repeat. My draft copies are not pretty. I won’t bore you with my flaws. The important thing is to fix yours. Let your work cool off a few weeks before you go back through it. Believe me, you will find problems. I am always appalled by some of the bonehead errors I find. The first draft is not your finished product. Your goal here is to get your text comprehensible enough that a reader can understand the story.

The next step is to have somebody give it a test read and give you feedback. Find someone who reads your genre, and see how they like it. Some people call this a beta reader. Many authors are willing to trade reads—I’ll critique yours if you critique mine. If you are doing an appraisal of someone else’s writing, it’s not cheating if you take notes on things that author did that you like. You are not going to copy of course, but keep your eyes out for the way they introduce characters, describe the characters, set a scene, and other technical things they do well (or at least, better than you).

If you want to sell your work to the public, put your ego in your back pocket. You need to listen objectively to what other people say about your work and try to fix the problems. One struggle I have had is figuring out exactly where the trouble lies. For example, suppose I have feedback that my hero should not get so upset just because someone called him a runt. Maybe he shouldn’t, but maybe it means that I haven’t developed the hero’s character or background enough to show why it is an appropriate response. As a writer, I have the entire story in my head. I need to be sure that the important parts get written down so the reader can understand it as well as I do.

There are some websites that can give you feedback and help decide how much interest the public will have in your work. I’ve used WattPad.com. It is an active site for readers and writers. I have draft copies of several of my books as well as some shorter works on the site. You see statistics on how many people have read your works, plus many of the readers are not shy about commenting on them.

The question you need an answer to at this stage: Is your work something that readers will respond to? You are not looking for perfection at this point. Self publishing is a lot of work. You have to make a decision. Is what you have to say worth investing time and money to take it farther down the road?

Quotations of Orin Herne

 

In my book, King’s Exile, Orin Herne is the retired leader of West Landly’s Guard. A master tactician, Herne mentors young Dax through a critical period. Several readers have expressed a desire to see a collection of the legendary general’s thoughts and observations. I am more than happy of comply.

 On Preparation:

Nothing worthwhile comes without a wagon full of work.

The more proficient you look with a weapon, the less likely it is your opponent will do something rash.

[A prudent man would] wish the best, but plan the worst.

You can never know too much about the enemy.

Every mile today is one less tomorrow.

Surprises are problems.

Caution is always better than regrets. 

Now you’re thinking tactically. Shoe the horses and patch the tack before the trip I always say.

The Perils of Over-Planning:

You may be selling the fish before you’ve dug the bait.

Webs of wishes ensnare the over optimistic.

You’re taking a loan on trouble you’ve yet to see.

When second thoughts become thirds and fourths, they get a little stale.

Even the best battle plan only lasts until the second swing of the sword. After that, it’s all up to the fighters.

Leadership:

Decisions have consequences.

Every leader needs a legend.

Just wearing the crown, leading a fancy parade—that's not being a king.

Personal Appearance:

[Why he kept his hair cropped short] Keeps the hair out of your eyes in battle and makes your helmet fit better.

[The benefits of disguise] I’ve found it useful to have options for whom I choose to be. From time to time the general finds it instructive to get out and hoist a pint in a pub.

Other Observations:

[Conducting surveillance] Listen with your ears and your skin.

[Distraction as a tactic] “Slight of hand for the slight of mind,” he sighed. “She gets the Ruling Council looking east when the problem is under their noses.”

[Restlessness caused by prolonged inaction] The fidgety-widgeties

On Becoming a Writer: Part 1

 

February 25, 2016

 

On Becoming a Writer: Part 1

 

How did I become a writer? Well, I’ve always been a reader. For as long as I can remember, I've also had the urge to write. Note that word “urge." It was an urge, not a passion. After all, I had to make a living. Any number of times I started a story flush with ideas, but there were always other things to do. Postponing serious writing work was easy to rationalize. After all, I wasn’t a real writer. Real writers wrote the books I loved to read. I could never do that.

While I pursued a career in academics, I had to do a lot of writing—a lot of writing. I could write, and I did write. But all my serious efforts involved writing stiff, turgid prose that met scholarly requirements. I was writing to and for other academics. Along the way, I kept having story ideas, and I even started stories now and then. A few I even finished. They suffered from the stylistic habits practiced in academe, but I had fun telling stories.

What finally tipped me over the edge to get serious about writing was my dissertation, a major, book-length academic writing project. Once it was completed and approved, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I was sick of being serious and creating nothing but heavy, cast iron, academic prose. In a reflexive counter action, my long-suppressed writing wild hare flared up. I sat down wrote a completely trashy little short story that made me laugh.

I finished it. I liked it. Most importantly, I had fun writing it. I knew I could write. I enjoyed writing. All that I knew before, but post-dissertation, I knew I had the gumption to finish a book.

A couple of years later I took on a major writing project, but this one was fun. I was a long time member of a community band, and the band’s one hundred fiftieth anniversary was approaching. (Our band is something like the third oldest, continuously-performing band in America.) An anniversary like that is a major event—at least locally. The director asked me if I would “put together a pamphlet or something” to tell the history of our band. I readily agreed.

At the time my wife was doing a lot of genealogical research. While she reviewed the microfilm records of area newspapers, she made a copy of any article she found about the band. With the other files from the band’s records in the local library archives, I soon had a tall stack of raw data—enough material to fill a book.

The band project had me writing non-fiction again—taking notes, organizing information, and all that academic-type stuff. The work might have been the same, but the subject was different. People joined the band because they enjoyed making music. They were out to have fun. Fun loving people do colorful things. The notes had a wealth of human and musical interest stories. All I had to do was organize all the information and tell the story. Fun! In fact it was so much fun I did two more local histories including one about the Spangler Candy Company, the maker of Dum-Dums®.

At that point I had an epiphany—I was an author! I had written books. The books had been published. I liked telling stories in writing. People asked me about my books. I spoke to groups about my books. The evidence was incontrovertible. Thinking about myself as an author made the next step possible.

Books for Sale!

 

February 16, 2016

 

Despite good intentions, it has been too long since my last post.

So, what is my justification for the wait? What excuse do I offer? Well, I have been publishing. (Bows, and waits for the swell of applause . . . and waits . . .)

Last summer I finally put two of my Starship stories together in an ebook for sale the Kindle Store on Amazon. Starships got a couple of good reviews along with very few sales. Promotion is the thing, and I didn’t do any—at least not yet.

Now I have my King’s fantasy trilogy up for sale. Several people have inquired, so I thought I would relate a short history of my writing process for these books.

I started writing the first book, King’s Exile, February 18,  2011 after rolling scenes and plots around in my head for several years previously. By November of the next year I was nearing the climax of King’s Dragon, the second book. Writing King’s Crown took from mid-February 2013 to December 19 of that year.

I did a fair amount of revision while I wrote. Some days the main story line just stalled; I didn’t know what came next. When that happened, I would go back and revise. It kept me in the story, and it give me a chance to fix some really crappy writing. On occasion I also had to return to what I had written because as the plot forged ahead, I changed things and make up stuff that forced me to go back and make adjustments.

At the end of December, 2013, I sought help from a Laura Petrella, a professional editor. After working on the plot and characters in a developmental edit, she helped with copy editing—ensuring I used nothing but the bestest grammar. Four rounds of editing finished up in the late summer of 2015. At that point I enlisted help from my former colleague, Sherry Howard, to prepare the final copy.

That was hardly the end of the story. The final proofreading and editing took longer than expected (as does everything I attempt). At that point, I had to reformat everything and upload the files for publication. January 12, 2016 King’s Exile went on sale in Amazon’s Kindle Store. The other two books followed shortly. Getting the files ready for Create Space took additional time, but I’m in the final stages of having print copies of the books available. I also put the books up on Smashwords where the ebooks will be distributed to Apple’s iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and others.

Even without me having time to promote the books, sales are chugging long. I’m actually making money at this. Well, sort of. I haven’t recovered my costs yet, but at least  the flow of money has reversed. Unfortunately, getting these books on the market has meant I’ve had to postpone writing new material. Dragon-Bound Thief, a fourth book in the Chronicles of the Dragon-Bound is about a half to two-thirds done. I have a third Starship story which crashed last summer, and I have not had a chance to get back to it for revisions. 

 

Research for Writing

Fantasy, Science Fiction, and “Fantastical” Science

 

I’ve read lots of science fiction and lots of fantasy over the years. Most times the line between the two is pretty clear. Magic and dragons? Fantasy. Rocket ships and ray guns? Science fiction.

However, some writers blur the genres. The best writers can create hybrid genres of their own. Take Anne McCaffery’s dragonriders books. At first they read like non-magical fantasy. As the stories wind on, the reader finds a good bit more science fiction, but with the fantastical element of humans able to connect with dragons telepathically.

 The movie Interstellar starts out as good science fiction, but soon fantastical interpretations of scientific principles crop up which takes it into some extremely speculative areas which are not backed by scientific theory. (By the way, this is the main reason I did not enjoy what was otherwise a pretty good movie.)

 What about traveling faster than light? We have suspicions that theory may allow this in certain extreme cases, but it is only speculation. So warp drives are not allowed in science fiction? No, I think faster than light travel is a well accepted idea and is perfectly okay. Too much fanciful science or technology can be a problem in science fiction, but sometimes you need to move the story with judicious use of something like a faster than light drive.

 What is bothersome is when an author dwells on the fantasy technology trying to make it more "believable." In the science fiction of the first half of the twentieth century, sometimes authors would take pains to make their advanced technology seem realistic. Skip this. You’ve got an FTL drive? Great. Let's go somewhere, but skip the tour of the engine room.

 One additional note. The science fiction book and movie “The Martian" is giving scientific fiction a good name. Andy Weir’s main character approaches problems with the attitude of a scientist. He works hard to figure it out a solution. Of course Watney already knows the science, but he has to figure out ways to get it to work with what he has. This was one of the reasons the Apollo 13 mission (and movie) was such a great story. Here's what you've got. Here's what you have to do. Now, how do you do it?

 

 

Navigating the Kingdom's of Landly

 

I have posted draft copies of the first two books of the Chronicles of the Dragon-Bound on WattPad in order to get some feedback ( https://www.wattpad.com/user/WilliamCulbertson ). A reader has requested a map to follow the action. What I have is hand-drawn in all its rude, crude, low-contrast glory. However, in order to accommodate my readers, here is a scan of the map for the first book. I hope it helps.

 

Random Thoughts While Walking the Dog

 

Want to cut your writing production? Get a puppy. We are the newly adoptive parents of lab named Bindle. Bindle is not quite four months old, and is quite a handful. Right now she is dozing peacefully on the hearth, but this will change within the half hour.

While I have the time to write, I want to share a vocabulary observation prompted by dog walking. In our many rounds about the neighborhood, I am forced to spend a fair amount of time contemplating manholes (among many other doggy landmarks). I am puzzled by a certain terminology that is applied to our local infrastructure.

Many manholes are labeled, “Sanitary Sewer.” Why? Is there anything more UN-sanitary than our system of “sanitary” sewers? Many other manholes are labeled. “Storm Sewer.” To me it would be less confusing to label our sewers either sanitary, if they carry relatively clean storm water, or unsanitary if they carry, uh, the other stuff.

 From time to time I encounter some of our local city officials at the coffee shop. I plan to raise this issue with them. I will do this even though I expect to be treated like a harmless crank—which I am.

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