Self-Publishing: How I Did it: Part one.

Believe it or not, people – writers especially – ask me, how did you self publish? Here’s the barebones answer. It’s important to bear in mind that we each face this task with some partial understanding and some terrifying ignorance. The problem is to bridge a solution over our weakest skills. Everyone’s experience will be different, and your ideal company to self-publish with may not be the same as mine. Check them out!

I published through CreateSpace, which is owned by Amazon.com . They offer many alternatives in self-publishing, and I will only mention a few of them.

My greatest ignorance was how to do a cover. I knew that somehow I was going to send them a pdf file consisting of one digital image that would, in some vague sense, be “just right.” I set out to find a digital artist who could illustrate my book and set the cover up in digital form, since obviously, I could not. Instead, I found a wonderful artist who painted (as in oil on canvas) my front cover, map, and the background for the back cover. She also advised me regarding the entire cover, and forced me (because this was not her thing) to learn how to deal with that digitized cover on my own.

The artist was my greatest expense, because I spun her wheels in my ignorance. For my next book, I will ask much less of my artist, and spend less. There were other remarkable advantages to working with a local artist who asked good questions. I’ll return to this in a separate posting.

You can find artists inexpensively on the web, and you may be able to get an entire digital cover done for around $100. One good place to look is the DeviantArt artist community. Look for something you like and email the artist about fees. Alternatively, look for book covers you like on the web, and email the author if you can’t find the artist. Fees will range from very high to low, so don’t get discouraged.

CreateSpace offers many options for covers. You can use one of their templates and add little more than the book’s name and your name; or you can do just the front cover, etc. I opted to provide a full cover. For a book that is 9” high and 6” wide, the cover is 9.25” high (you can’t predict exactly where the edge of the book will cut your picture). The width is 6” plus 6” (for the back cover) plus that 1/4” slop, PLUS the width of the book in pages and cover. (CreateSpace will help you calculate that width.) You then need to figure these widths in pixels (at 300 per inch, usually) to lay out your cover correctly.elf-Publishing: How I Did it: Part one.

By the way, as soon as you start reading the CreateSpace web pages and requirements, you’ll see that there’s some complexity, and there’s room for you to err. But fear not! They provided me with excellent customer support. They even pulled my book back from full publication when I “published” an early proof by mistake.

I made my final digitized art by taking my artwork to Staples. The cost was nothing (less than $7), but I had to prayerfully trust two young men to be gentle with the canvas and do a good job, because I was not allowed to examine the result in the store. (But it was good.)
I used a free program, Paint.net, to lay out the digitized full cover. It took me three proofs to get everything lined up right. One hard part was getting exactly the right pixels on the book’s spline (the part you see when it’s in a bookshelf.) One of my text edits added eight pages to the total, and I had to recalculate the spline’s width in pixels. Meanwhile, my artist helped me with two corrections, of types she expected as part of the deal: she moved one element of the picture so that it would fall in the front cover instead of being partly cut off; and she adjusted a false-color problem: her method of shadowing a lightning-stroke with oils produced an incorrect greenish white in the first digitization.

The back cover of a paperback should have a picture of the author. I lucked out here by taking a remarkably useful pic of myself, in my back yard. Otherwise I would have imposed on a skilful friend, or even paid for a digital portrait of myself.

The back cover usually has a short, striking quote from the book. I never thought about that while writing the book! I was lucky to find one without much trouble. In my future novels, I will make sure to write a phrase I want on the back cover.

The back cover requires a rectangular space where the ISBN will go. I had to plan my layout, knowing where CreateSpace would slap this rectangle on top of my backcover design. It wasn’t hard.

How did I select the scene to go on the front cover? I know now that one ought to plan this in advance. When writing, imagine a scene that will belong on the front cover! I didn’t plan for that either, but I easily thought of a scene I could ask the artist to paint. (For my second novel, it will be much harder to find the right scene. I’ll speak of this in my next post.)

Each time I had a good cover, I used other free programs to turn my jpeg image into a pdf file as required by CreateSpace. (They have webpages to explain their requirements.) Then I was ready to upload my pdf cover. (You upload the cover, and the book’s contents, separately.)

I “joined” CreateSpace. They have an optional fee per book, which was $49. If you pay this fee, your other CreateSpace costs (including the costs per proof and per selling book) are lowered. I would pay this fee unless I was using CreateSpace only for a few rare proofs. This fee was crucial in keeping my list price down.

You have to decide what your list price will be, and you can change your mind. It has to be high enough to cover CreateSpace’s costs. It has to be a bit higher than that, if you want your book to be for sale in the routine way that independent book publishers and schools and libraries order. It may have to be a lot higher than that if you want to cover costs quickly and make a profit. My own goal is to get readers, not to make money, so I set my list price at $14.98. Here are the implications of that price, considering the shipping cost to where I live:
I earn $3 per sale on Amazon.com . I will cover all my costs if, somehow, I sell hundreds of books, and if publicity is cheap. (In comparison, over 1,700 people are listening to my book at the PodioBooks Website.)
I earn about $7 for books I sell in person. (These are books the author buys direct from CreateSpace and sells to friends, or at book-signings.)
I bought 25 copies direct from CreateSpace. If I sell half and give half away, I will cover their cost.
I will earn $0.01 for each book that a library or school orders from CreateSpace. (I told you, I want readers.)

When the cover was settled, I proofed the hell out of four proof copies. I did not want to proofread too fast, in order to catch mistakes. This process took about four months. It’s a cycle: Approve the proof, wait for the book to be shipped to you; read carefully; correct carefully; proof your corrections; upload the new text; and start over.

My proofreading was driven by a simple, demanding goal: I wanted my book to be as free of errors as the carefully edited books you can still buy from some publishers. The greatest lack a self-published author has is the lack of professional editing. (Today, many published books still do not get good editing.) I was amazed, as I made my corrections, to see that I was also finding tiny logical errors in my story, so the proofing was very valuable. As I said, it took MONTHS, but the resulting quality was worth it.

When you think the book is right, you make a pdf of it and upload that to CreateSpace. It’s very important to understand what that means: I made an exact image of what I wanted the book to look like, and then I pdf’d it. The printed book looks exactly like my Open Office Writer file, including fonts, margins, pagination, bolding ... everything.

I paid about $11 for each proof copy. You won’t do this very often, and you can think of it as the equivalent of a few boxes of cookies. CreateSpace offers very expensive overnight shipping. I always took the least expensive shipping cost, and never waited more than a week for my proof.

Eventually, I was happy with both the cover and the text. I approved for publication, and in about three days, the book was on Amazon. Now I have to publicize it, as best I can. I will be writing about publicity in a few months, but here’s one bit of advice: Every time a person says they will buy your book when you publish it, add their name and email address to your notify-on-publication file.

Here are my remaining self-publication costs:
You will need a website for your books. I pay godaddy and 1And1.com . I use Kompozer (a free program) to write my website. The next cost is very important: you are going to GIVE some copies away: to friends, and to potential reviewers, etc. Bear this in mind when setting the list price.
CreateSpace seems to have a $5 yearly fee to keep your book up. They waived the fee for their authors in 2010. I got my ISBN from CreateSpace. I can’t remember paying for it; it might have been free.
I expect to pay some money to do publicity. I will certainly have to invest my time. More about that in a few months.

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