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In my previous post, I described the journey that had led to my decision to self-publish my second novel, If Pigs Could Fly. In this post, I’m going to talk a little about the nuts and bolts details that the process involved, mainly in the hope that it might prove useful for anyone following a similar path.
I’ve going to break it up into the following sections:
- The Product
- Formats / Dissemination
- Pre-launch Publicity
I’ve presented those in a rough chronological order, but in reality it’s much more fluid than that, with considerable overlap.
My advice really starts at the point where you’ve got the text of your manuscript to as good a point as you can get it. I’m assuming that you’ve done multiple drafts, and perhaps shown it to some beta readers (friends whose opinions you trust) to get additional feedback.
One point of advice I will give on the actual writing of your manuscript is to use the specialist writers’ word processor, Scrivener. It’s just brilliant in the way it helps you organise and shape your story.
Once I reached this point, where I’d taken the manuscript as far as I could go, I employed three people to help me turn that manuscript into a novel:
Firstly, I hired Amanda Rutter as an editor. I blogged a little while ago about how Amanda helped me, but basically, I would strongly recommend that you hire an editor. You yourself are simply too close to the woods to see the trees.
The process here was that I gave Amanda the novel in Word format (it was still in traditional double-spaced, typewritten manuscript format at this point), and she then edited with the track changes feature turned on. This allows you to see the edits (both text added and text deleted) that the editor has made directly to the document, and then either approve or reject them. Also the editor can put in comments. For those of you who haven’t used this feature, this is what it looks like in Word for the Mac:
Once I’d gone through the manuscript, reviewing Amanda’s changes, and then rewriting various sections to address issues that Amanda had highlighted, I then reformatted the Word document in the actual format of the final paperback version of my novel (more about that format later). I think the technical term for this is the slightly anachronistic “typesetting”.
I then gave that “typeset” version of the novel (still a Word document) to the second person I hired, Ro Smith, to do a copy edit / proof read (they are actually slightly separate things, but that’s probably something beyond the scope of this post).
Ro was doing three things for me:
- A second editing pass, at a more sentence-based level, and in addition, looking more specifically to catch typos.
- Checking that I hadn’t introduced any new screw-ups in the new sections I’d written in response to Amanda’s observations.
- Checking that I hadn’t screwed up any of the layout / formatting when creating the typeset version of the document.
In parallel to the work on the text, I was working with my cover artist Jon Hodgson, who’d been the cover artist on Game Night some seven years before. This involved me giving him some initial ideas and thoughts, then the two of us batting various ideas around, and going through several versions. I was probably quite an annoying client, but I’m thrilled with the final result.
I’d recommend all three of them.
The obvious questions for endeavours such as these are how long did it take and how much will it cost. Well it probably took around six months to go from a basic manuscript to a “typeset” Word document and a JPEG of the cover. You can do it faster if all the ducks line up, but it’s probably best not to rush it. For cost, it would be unprofessional of me to mention the actual prices changed, but between the three of them it was more than several hundred but less than several thousand, if that makes sense.
Formats / Dissemination
If you’re an independent, self-publishing author, I think you basically have two choices when it comes to the format of your book:
- E-book only.
- E-book plus paperback.
Paperback on its own simply isn’t an option. And there are many who argue that you should go E-book only, which isn’t as mad as it sounds. Realistically, your book isn’t going to get into bookshops and will only be available online. And even there, while people might be willing to make a punt on a self-published e-book by an author they’ve not previously heard of, they’re unlikely to spend several times that amount to purchase a paperback.
Let me illustrate this with an anecdote. Game Night is currently only really ticking over sales-wise, something that will hopefully change a bit when If Pigs Could Fly comes out. Since May/June, when I put the new version of it up in both e-book and paperback format, I’ve probably sold something like 120 copies of the e-book version. Meanwhile, I’ve only sold one copy in paperback, and that was a test purchase I made myself from my personal Amazon account, to check that it was working.
There are four reasons why I decided I wanted to do a paperback version of If Pigs Could Fly:
- So that I could sent out physical review copies ahead of publication (more on this later).
- So that I could sell the book at conventions (I’ve just come back from doing this very thing at the Irish Discworld Convention).
- Because it makes the Kindle version of your book look more professional and credible. This is because: a) the paperback will be shown as an alternate format on the Kindle version’s page, which puts it psychologically ahead of the mass of self-published e-books that have no paperback version; b) the Kindle version’s price will be shown as a discount against the paperback price; c) the Kindle version’s page will display a page count, that being the page count of the paperback.
- I wanted to be able to hold a real book in my hands. It wouldn’t feel real otherwise.
There is one big disadvantage in doing a paperback, which is that your cover design becomes more complicated. Instead of merely needing a matchbook sized front cover, you need both front and back covers and a spine, in a much larger size.
For the paperback version, I went with Amazon’s own CreateSpace service. CreateSpace offers print-on-demand publishing of your book. Once you’ve uploaded and configured your book, this basically works in two ways:
- Your book appears on the various Amazons around the world, at a price that you’ve set. When a customer orders the book, CreateSpace/Amazon prints it and ships it to them. You don’t need to do anything, and no up front cash investment is required from you. (Theoretically, it should be available / orderable from other channels, but I have no idea how well that works).
- You can order copies of the books yourself direct from CreateSpace. (In whatever quantity you want. If you only want 10, then you only order 10.)
I’m sure there are other, better, print-on-demand companies out there, but CreateSpace does what I need it to do, and being an Amazon service it should work well with them.
Creating a CreateSpace version of your book is relatively simple. You have to upload the interior of your book in PDF format, and the cover in JPEG format. You can download dynamically created templates for both of these items from the CreateSpace website: you enter in the dimensions of your book, and it generates an appropriately sized template.
For the e-book, I went with two separate routes. To get If Pigs Could Fly onto Kindle I went with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. (You can actually publish a Kindle version from the CreateSpace version, but I wanted the greater control you get when you do it directly).
For the Kindle version I had to create a separate version of the If Pigs Could Fly Word document, which I formatted differently, according to the guidelines on the KDP site. And I also needed to cut just the front cover portion of my cover JPEG into a separate JPEG.
As with CreateSpace, creating a KDP account and uploading your book is free.
Now I could have left it at that, with the e-book available for the Kindle only – and in fact Amazon do offer various inducements to do just that. In reality, Kindle is probably about 95% of the e-book market, but I didn’t take the exclusive deal, basically because: a) I don’t want to be the man that helps Amazon have a monopoly; and b) if one of my readers has bought a non-Amazon e-reader, I still very much want them to be able to read my book. (In fact, I find the idea of telling someone that they can’t read your book because they’ve bought the “wrong” e-reader objectionable on several levels).
So in addition to Kindle Direct Publishing, I created myself a Smashwords account, and uploaded a third version of the Word document there. Smashwords offers me three basic things:
- People can purchase the book directly from Smashwords, DRM free, in a variety of formats including PDF, .mobi, and .epub. The point being that no matter what type of reading device you have, you can purchase a copy of my book.
- Smashwords distributes your book to a variety of other disseminators, including the other three of the “big four”: iBooks, Kobo, and Nook.
- Smashwords offers authors the ability to generate voucher codes allowing readers to download free copies of your book. I’m going to use these in two ways. a) As prizes for “win a free copy of the book” type competitions; b) to allow me to offer a free e-book copy with each physical copy of the book sold at conventions.
An interesting pricing inversion often becomes apparent when you compare the prices of self-published and conventionally published books.
In paperback, the conventionally published books are usually cheaper (at least, once they’ve reached the mass-market paperback phase of their life-cycle). This is because they’re printed on conventional printing presses with runs of several thousand, which is always going to be cheaper than a book produced singly using print-on-demand technology.
By contrast, when it comes to e-books, it’s usually the self-published version that’s cheaper. This is because while the conventionally published product has to firstly cover all the costs of producing the product that aren’t related to printing (which is most of them – writing, editing, design, publicity etc), and secondly, because they don’t want to too badly undercut the paperback version. Whereas the self-published author doing it for a hobby can basically afford to sell it for 99p / 99c (the minimum price that Amazon allows).
I wanted to fight this inversion.
I’ve priced the paperback as cheaply as I can, at £6.99 / $9.99, so that its price is comparable with a conventionally published paperback. This means that I make very little on it, but I figure the reader doesn’t care about what kind of printer was used – they’re paying for the end product.
But I’ve priced the e-book at £1.99 / $2.99, because I happen to think that this is a reasonable price to pay for a full-length 90,000 word novel, and I think I should have enough pride in my work to ask for that.
There is also another factor, which is that those prices are the minimum Amazon will allow you to charge if you want 70% royalties, rather than 35%. In other words, an author receives six times as much money for a $2.99 book as for a 99c one. (Think on that, next time you refuse to buy any books priced at more than 99c!)
I made sure to have everything product-wise ready at least three months ahead of my set launch date.
(One minor point. With both KDP and Smashwords you can upload your book and set in a pre-order date, which allows readers to pre-order it. You can’t do that with CreateSpace. You can upload it, and then order copies for yourself, but the only way to handle the “future launch date” thing is to keep all distribution channels turned off – so it doesn’t appear on Amazon – and then turn them on a few days ahead of launch.)
I’d spent the previous few months assembling a list of people I could send review copies to (a.k.a. Advance Reader Copies, or ARCs). This was friends, contacts, bloggers, reviewers and so on. Once the book was up on CreateSpace, albeit not visible to the outside world, I then ordered myself a bunch of copies and sent them off to all my ARC recipients. I think I sent out about fifty in total. (After the editorial and cover costs, the purchasing and posting of the ARCs was the other big cost). As part of this, I’d ordered some nice book boxes off Amazon, and also had some stickers made up (red text on a clear background) saying “Advance Reader Copy, Not For Resale” that I stuck on each book.
Finally, I got an entry for the book up on Goodreads. For those who haven’t come across it, Goodreads is sort of a Facebook for people who like reading books. They can talk about what books they’re reading, what books they have read, what books they would like to read, and recommend books to their friends. Unlike Amazon, Goodreads allows people to post reviews of books that haven’t yet been released. But they also have a very cool feature: Goodreads Giveaways.
This feature allows an author to give away a set number of their books, one or more, for free, to Goodreads members. To the members, it’s like a free-to-enter lottery, with the prize being free books. They go to the link I just posted above, and click on any of the offered books that take their fancy. The author is responsible for shipping the books to the winners (you can limit the giveaway to specific countries to avoid punitive shipping costs).
Why do it? Well basically, in the hope that some of those who receive the books will write review of your book and / or recommend it to their friends.
Does it work? Yeah, I think so.
Between the ARCs that I sent out myself, and the Giveaways, If Pigs Could Fly now has 14 reviews on Goodreads and 17 ratings. In addition, 193 Goodreads members have added it to their “to read” list. I think that’s pretty good for a self-published book that isn’t being published until tomorrow.
I hope all the above makes sense. How successful my endeavours will be is yet to be determined. And if you want to talk about any of the above, and get more details (there’s more I could have said, but then this post would have been ridiculously long), please drop me a line (see the contact page on this site).
And finally, if you’ve found these two posts at all useful or entertaining, perhaps you might consider purchasing a copy of If Pigs Could Fly at one of the links below. I really would be hugely grateful. Thank you.
* * * * *
Amazon UK (£1.99): [link]
Amazon US ($2.99): [link]
Smashwords (£1.99 | $2.99): [link]
Amazon UK (£6.99): [link]
Amazon US ($9.99): [link]
If Pigs Could Fly should also be available on iBooks, Nook, and Kobo within a few days of its publication.
“West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency. Doctor Ravinder Shah speaking. No case too weird, no problem too bizarre. Strangeness a speciality. How can I help you?”
London Social Worker Rav Shah moonlights as a paranormal detective, aided by one of his clients and a Border Collie he rents by the hour. It was supposed to be a bit of fun: a search for truths out there; a quest for a life more interesting than the one that fate, destiny, and personal apathy had granted him.
But then a case involving a Yorkshire farmer and a herd of flying pigs leads him into a world darker and more dangerous than he’d ever dreamed.
The truth is indeed out there.
And it’s got Rav square in its sights.