Not a Carefree Summer… Self-Publishing

Self-publishing. I first did this in 2009, I think. I put together a book of essays. It was a really nice book of essays with a dedication from someone I honor and respect who loved my writing — for me a huge success. More to me than “publishing a book” was George Reading’s love for my thoughts and way of expressing them. In our lives we meet some people we know have something to teach us and we do kind of “grovel at their feet” to get the lessons. I think the psychic groveling is an important part of being schooled, and George was one of my life’s important teachers, a way-marker, a friend. No one ever bought this book.

I published this little book, Free Magic Show, so I could learn how to self-publish. At that time there were fewer platforms than there are now and I chose Lulu. Lulu was/is easy to use. The mechanical process of getting a manuscript up there is simple and pretty clear. I used them to publish the textbook I used in my Business Communication classes after the book I liked was re-edited and rendered useless.

In working on Free Magic Show, I also checked out Createspace, which is Amazon’s platform. At that time it was cumbersome and demanding. I resented this because I saw it as Amazon’s way to make money out of the myriad people who know they “have a book inside.” Apparently I wasn’t alone, because Amazon has simplified the platform and I used it with The Brothers Path and the second edition of Savior. It’s better than Lulu for one very good reason; you get a bigger percentage of the take when your book sells. Their template also renders a prettier page.

Back in 2010, I used editing services on Lulu early on for Martin of Gfenn. I paid someone $300 to help with the first chapter. I needed help at every level of editing and she was good, encouraging and helped me — and also recommended that I NOT self-publish but pursue conventional publishers. She also happened to be in England which I now know has a very different audience in general than does the US. I took her advice and tried to sell Martin of Gfenn but having attempted that for MOG in the very narrow arena for literary historical fiction before my book was truly ready, he had a leper’s chance, (ha ha) so I ended up self-publishing with Lulu. I expect to put out a second edition in the next few weeks through Createspace and kill the Lulu book. Not sure, though. Many self-publishing authors recommend keeping a book on two platforms.

Both Lulu and Createspace (and every other self-publishing platform) offer a range of editing and marketing services. They are very, very, very expensive for someone like me. I realized at the very beginning that I was going to have to figure out myself how to do a lot of this without help. Luckily, I like designing covers (though I don’t think all of mine are successful or the most marketable). What this means, though, is that going to help pages for some platforms a self-publishing author will find him/herself looking at jargon loaded faux explanations designed to get them to hire someone to do it for them.

Publishing eBooks is another thing and requires a manuscript formatted according to whatever arcane requirements the vendor demands. This is also a place where Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple make money. Formatting for ebooks is laborious and can be very frustrating, especially after one has dealt with the paper book requirements. Again, you can hire someone. I don’t.

Amazon’s Kindle platform might be the most straightforward and easiest to use. They are “happiest” with a word file, that, ideally, will have formatted titles, subtitles, headings, etc. iBooks wants an ePub, and that’s simple enough to translate from word or Pages (which I use). I am now formatting books for Barnes & Noble’s eReader. So far this is the most complex — they want an ePub as well although their system allows a writer to upload from a variety of programs. They also have an editor one can use after the file is uploaded, but it’s proven buggy (for me) and closes both Google Chrome and Firefox.  Nothing about it is really difficult except the language they use. Lulu likes PDFs which they will “convert” to eReaders that look horrible on Kindles… PDFs make ugly text on eReaders.

Why even deal with eReaders? Money. I’ve sold at least 3 times more books on Kindle than as paperbacks.

A writer who has the time and is prepared to muddle through learning the various platforms and software, who’s patient and somewhat indifferent — carefree, even — about how everything turns out can do all this on his/her own. A writer who’s afraid of effing up and impatient with software and mechanics, can easily hire all the help they afford. It’s a trade off — time or money. And, of course, once the book is published people have to know about it so they can buy it.

13 thoughts on “Not a Carefree Summer… Self-Publishing

  1. Martha, I self-published a short non-fiction book recently for Kindle e-books. I found a blogger who edits, creates covers and prepares the mobi file. Waaaay less than $300. Good luck!! I’m working on my next NF e-book 🙂

    • There are people who do work at a more fair rate. My goal was to inform people about what they can expect when they start the self-publishing process and the services offered by each of the various platforms. I found an editor a few years back who’s great and who has worked with me on two books. And, if a person can manage the software themselves — as I do — putting the book up on Kindle (Nook, iBook) is free. There are a lot of options depending on what someone writes and the level of editing they need.

  2. What’s the hardest part–writing the book or having it published? I had no idea all it takes to have something published. I admire your stick-to-itness, Martha.

    • I don’t think writing a book is all that hard — depending, I guess, on what you’re writing. But if you don’t have money to pay people to do stuff, it’s hard work and it’s learn as you go.

  3. I used CreateSpace 9 years ago for my book, but I had the software (Adobe Framemaker) and I had been designing books for a living for 30 years. Today, I don’t have that software — or not in any usable form. I don’t even have Word, so I wonder if I could do it. I didn’t use an assistance for the book design, but I sure could have used a good proofreader/editor! I wish I’d done that, just to catch all those awkward sections and typos I missed until after publication.

    I heard from Teddy. I’m on your tour 🙂

    • 🙂 Yay!!!!! And you have the book!

      Createspace has made it really easy. I convert from Pages to a PDF but word works just as easily. You can do it with the most basic word processor but NOT anything made by Apple!

  4. Great post, Martha! It’s really good to have reliable information from someone who’s walked the path before and met the challenges. Like you, I can’t pay someone to do all the publishing and marketing for me, so it’s either do it myself, have a printer make up a few copies for family and friends, or simply stop once it’s edited. But that last doesn’t make sense to me, after having worked so hard and paid for a professional editor.

    On the other hand, it’s a big decision for an older person with caregiving duties and perhaps not the time to put in the hours required to learn, and then to do it all myself. After all, I’d like to get it complete and out there (in whatever form) in my lifetime! 🙂 So I haven’t actually decided which way I’m going to go yet.

    I’m a pretty good self-editor, but I’ve learned scads from my advisor about the craft of book-writing that I never noticed before! I agree with you completely: it’s SO worth getting those professional eyes on your manuscript once it’s written.


    • If you decide you just want a few copies, you can publish on for free (Createspace, too) and keep your project “private” and have them print as many copies as you want. I’ve found that’s the cheapest way. I even use that for drafts that I want people to read for me. I “publish” a draft on Lulu and send it to everyone who’s volunteered to read it. That way everyone has exactly the same project, it looks like a book, and when, I get them back, it’s easy to find their edits and comments and to make them in my manuscript. For a 300 page book I pay $5/book more or less on either Lulu or Createspace so it’s a very good deal.

      They both have “wizards” to help you make a cover. Most people don’t design their own covers and that’s one place people who plan to sell their books invest some $$$. But if you decide to make your own cover, it’s not difficult. Both platforms make it pretty easy. Don’t be daunted! 🙂

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