Friday, May 17, 2013

Self-Publishing, My Lessons Learned

Steps to Self-Publishing

1. Write a great book, or at least a good book. This is critical. Of course, if it is really a great book and you can find an established publisher to publish it, then I'd opt for that route. Really. Save yourself the headaches. The problem is that it is pretty easy to write a book; it is a much harder task to write a good one, and pretty difficult to write a great one. This is why there are so many self-published mediocre books available. You can do better, though.

Okay, your book is written and you want to publish it.

2. Edit your book. Please. I spent weeks (of writing time) writing my second book. I spent months editing it. My buddy James Altucher said recently "When you write, don’t think about money. Don’t think about who the reader is. Don’t worry about what people will say." I agree with the statement, but grammar and spelling still count - a lot.

3. Format your book properly for e-books. Yes, the converters out there are pretty good, but not perfect. Now, if you're reading this before you write your book, then go study a style guide (I use the one from Smashwords) and implement the guidelines when you start. This was the major reason that I published our first book on Smashwords. I wanted to walk through all the editing steps on a short book. Trust me when I say this - it's a pain. I can see why someone with a few hundred dollars would hire someone to do the formatting. I spent hours modifying the format of the first book. It was worth the time - the book looks much better than the original one published on Amazon. I learned a lot about formatting.

4. Get an honest person to read your book. Family is fine, as long as they are willing to give you a fair critique (see Vernon's Rules of Verbiage), but usually family is so impressed that you actually wrote something they unintentionally mislead you. If you have a friend who is willing to give you straight feedback, then listen to them. This is sort of hard, because there will be criticism and you will get defensive. Wait a bit and get past that; try to look at what you wrote like a stranger would.
4a. Edit again. Really. This makes the difference between a poor book and a good book.

5. Manage your pictures. If you don't have any pictures, then smile and move on. My second book has over two dozen pictures in it. I took each picture, cleaned it up and then saved it in a smaller jpg format. Some experts suggest the png format, and that would be okay, but they are a bit larger, and I was trying to minimize the size of the final book. Now, though, I have a problem. I imagine some of the readers will want to zoom in on the documents (they are pictures, of course) and they don't zoom well. I removed much of the detail when I optimized the pictures. I'm not too sure how to handle this, but think I might have to set up a site to contain the full-size images and let readers sign up to access them. I'm just not sure how to do that yet.

6. Come up with a good title. No, really. The first book was easy. What did we want people to know about the book? That it was all about preparing for the Fiscal Cliff. I struggled with the title for my second book. My working title was always The Frau Chronicles. It's still how all my folders and files refer to the book. It sure doesn't much anything about the content, though. So I changed it a few months ago to She Bit Her Own Butt: My Mother-in-Law Misadventures. The idea was to give an indication of what was in the book, so I chose something from one of the chapters. Though a title like that will get a lot of attention, it just sounds … disrespectful, and that's not really what the book is about either. So I changed the title to The Frau Chronicles: My Mother-in-Law Misadventures. That was better, but we talked about it last night and I decided it was still not quite right. The final title is now simply My Mother-in-Law Misadventures.  After all, that's what most of the stories are about, though the last chapter is a pictorial history of Frau's earlier years and it's quite good also.
6a. Oh, and if that isn't hard enough - come up with a good subtitle too!

7. Do a good cover. I took a shot at a cover, but I'm just not a graphic artist. You can tell by looking at the cover of our first book at the top of this post. The problem I had was summarized by Tatiana, the graphic artist I hired to create a cover for my second book. She said “the problem with the other covers is that they don’t portray the core of the book. These covers would look good for a Biography or a Memoir, but your book isn’t like this.” No, my book is supposed to be funny, with some poignant moments. I'm still trying to create a cover that I really like. Honestly, this is such hard work I almost want to give up. I feel like McCoy in Star Trek: "Dammit, man, I'm a writer not a graphic artist!"
I think Picasso had problems

8. Write a good short description and a good longer description. This is what the person browsing the book store will see, and it needs to convey what the book is about, enticing a purchase. I struggled with this a lot, and still am. I'm not sure what I'll use for the short description, but this is the long one:

What happens when your Mother-in-Law moves in for a few months and stays for a decade? You write a book about the funny and odd adventures as you deal with a WWII survivor under your roof.In this funny and witty chronicle, Vince tells some of the outstanding stories of living with an old woman who was short in stature but large in life.From microwaves to garage sales join in the tales of pinching pennies, battling bankers, and losing kittens. Laugh at the Perfect Present and weep when the willow falls. Finally, take a pictorial tour of the flight from Nazi-occupied Poland to the USA, the years that shaped Vince's mother-in-law.If you have a mother-in-law, you should read this book. If she is coming to live with you ... well, you're on your own.

9. Get an ISBN. There is a ton of information on this topic, but it boils down to two choices. You can let your publisher assign one (Smashwords will do that for you) or you can buy one from Bowker in the USA. I can't explain this any better than Joel Friedlander, the Book Designer (amazing site for authors, by the way). If you want to sell your book and can afford it, buy an ISBN for it. If that doesn't really matter to you right now, let your on-line publisher (like Smashwords) assign it for you.

10. Following the guidelines on your publishing site, upload your book to their converter. This is a pretty simple step. Each converter will give you feedback, and I actually use the one at my Amazon site pretty often to get a "feel" for how the book is looking. Yesterday the Amazon converter caught a misspelled word. I've edited this thing over a dozen times, and I missed it.

11. I don't see this one listed often, but please do it. Go grab your file and look it over. As I said, I create the mobi file from my Amazon bookshelf before I ever publish the book, download it and read it on one of my Kindle readers. I did the same thing after I put the first book on Smashwords; I downloaded the Kindle and the PDF versions and reviewed them. They looked good, but if I had found an error I would have corrected it and uploaded the book again.

That's it. Your publishing effort is now complete. (There are questions about copyright. Yes, you can pay for the copyright to your book, but legally it is protected when you publish it.)

Now you have to market your book, and I haven't a clue how to do that yet. More to come?

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