Before you spend money on publishing services, read this

old ropeAs indies get ever more professional, an entire service industry is springing up to offer us services for every occasion. At this year’s London Book Fair, the Authors’ Lounge was heaving with suppliers, and no shortage of willing customers. While it’s great to have access to these, authors are ripe for rip-off.

This week David Gaughran highlighted unscrupulous companies that charge exorbitant prices, or hoodwink authors into paying for services that could be obtained for very little or no cost.

So this post is a self-publishing 101; a catch-up for those who are wondering what they need to spend money on. In some cases, knowledge is the answer; all books, authors and genres are different, and one supplier does not fit all.

It’s virtually impossible to publish a book without any expenditure, but we can make sure we use our budgets wisely – and stop writers filling the pockets of unscrupulous suppliers who are getting rich on our dreams.

Publisher accounts

Some authors don’t know they can create their own user accounts on Smashwords, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo and CreateSpace. Or how simple it is – basically, no more difficult than entering your details in a mail-order website.

Some companies offer to upload your books through their account, but this is unnecessary. Even if you don’t make the files yourself, you can still upload them. If your service company went out of business, what would happen to your book listings? Moreover, if a third party controls your access to these publishing platforms, it’s harder to adjust your book’s appearance and description – which as you’ll see is essential to successful self-publishing.

Ebook formatting

This week, as you may have gathered, I published the follow-up to Nail Your Novel. I was rusty with the e-platforms, but it didn’t take long to get reacquainted.

Basic ebook formatting is dead simple if you can use Word on an everyday average level. You don’t need to be a wizard, but you do have to be meticulous. The best instructions are at the Smashwords Style Guide, a free book with diagrams and reassuringly clear instructions. There are a couple of other useful links in this post I wrote 2 years ago when I first ventured onto Kindle. I reread them when I uploaded my new book last week and it all went smoothly.

Indeed, if you have Scrivener, it will format ebooks for you.

Print book interiors

Print books are more tricky than ebooks, and amateur ones can look dreadful. But there are various tools to help beginners do a good job for very little money.

cathI recommend you read Catherine Ryan Howard’s book Self-Printed, which I used the first time I ventured onto CreateSpace and I still keep to hand to remind myself how to set up a book. She also has a ton of other useful guidance on book formatting.

How do you make the interior? CreateSpace provides Word templates, if you need help (although I make my books in a design program and upload a PDF).  CS templates are pretty plain, and Word isn’t ideal for interior formatting, but it’s fine for novels, which require hardly any design. In any case, a neat finish isn’t created by fancy typesetting, it’s from consistency and readability – and you can find a post I wrote on that here.

If you want a slicker look for little money, try Joel Friedlander’s book design templates for use in Word.   Joel has created interiors that you graft your text into – which is exactly what happens when books are designed in mainstream publishers (although they don’t use Word).

Which print-on-demand company should you use? There are two main options: Lightning Source and CreateSpace. LS isn’t suitable for beginners. It costs to start a book project and proofs are expensive. CS, though, is free to set up and holds your hand. Here’s a post I wrote comparing the two for novice publishers.

Covers

A great cover is money well spent. But you need to take creative control because you could end up with something unsuitable, horrible, or even illegal if the designer downloaded images from Google instead of sourcing them legitimately. This happens.

When you hire a cover designer, you need to know how to choose them and how to know when the job has been done properly. Identify your genre, familiarise yourself with its most successful covers, then you’ll know how to judge which designer is right for your book. Here’s a post I wrote recently on getting a cover designed.

Marketing

At LBF I talked to a publicity company to find out how they’d publicise a literary novel. They hadn’t tackled literary fiction before, and seemed unwilling to admit it until I pressed them hard. If I’d been a newbie, they’d have been selling me expensive packages that were unsuitable for my book. (I wasn’t looking to buy anyway; I was asking out of curiosity.)

With marketing, learn as much as you can before you hire publicists or buy advertising. I’ve learned a lot from Joanna Penn’s blog, and this is where I’d send you too.

Not all marketing has to cost money. Book descriptions, price point, tagging, titling and categorisation will all affect whether your book can be found by its ideal readers and you can experiment and tweak ad infinitum. (Remember I said you don’t want to have to ask a third party whenever you adjust your book’s back end? This is a good reason why.)  You might find you know more about marketing than you realise, as I did when I was asked to write this guest post.

Two more books I’m going to recommend:allibook

psst… Editorial services

First, of course, you need a book that’s fit to be published. In a publisher, there would be a team of people handling different editing stages:

  • developmental (the big picture: book structure, characters, narrative voice, plot etc)
  • copyediting (niggly details like plot consistency, names, timelines)
  • proofing (looking for typos and other mistakes)

It’s worth hiring expertise to help you with these and it’s unlikely that you can do it cheap. But you can choose wisely: here’s my post on issues to be aware of.

Thanks for the pic Horia Varlan

What other warnings and tips would you add to my self-publishing 101?

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  1. #1 by catherineryanhoward on May 6, 2013 - 7:25 pm

    Thanks so much for the mention Roz! :-D

  2. #3 by TKnC on May 6, 2013 - 8:03 pm

    Reblogged this on THRILLS, KILLS 'n' CHAOS and commented:
    Well worth a read.

  3. #5 by Minuscule Moments on May 6, 2013 - 8:05 pm

    Roz Best post yet for me thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  4. #7 by David Barber on May 6, 2013 - 8:07 pm

    Reblogged this on David Barber – Writer and commented:
    Well worth a read.

  5. #9 by acflory on May 6, 2013 - 10:50 pm

    Great reference post for indies Roz. I’ll be referring back to it when I’m ready to give Createspace a go. :)

  6. #12 by ED Martin on May 7, 2013 - 3:10 am

    Thanks for the great references, all in one place. I’m definitely bookmarking this post.

  7. #14 by kareninglis on May 7, 2013 - 11:29 pm

    Great one-stop-shop post, Roz…. RT coming up :)

  8. #16 by Simon Cornish (@UnforgivingMuse) on May 8, 2013 - 1:00 pm

    Thanks Roz, exactly what I need for the anthology I’m helping put together. Now I can sound like I know what I’m doing.

  9. #18 by spamslitterature on May 8, 2013 - 7:24 pm

    Great post, Roz. Lots of useful information.

  10. #20 by Eric Stevens on May 8, 2013 - 10:36 pm

    Not all hope is lost for marketing, although some solutions are steadily coming to market, it’s a matter of literally going through each google search, page by page and asking other self published authors what worked for them.

    • #21 by Roz Morris @ByRozMorris on May 12, 2013 - 5:54 pm

      True, we learn by watching other authors. But we need to match like for like. Genre authors are learning to use the marketing tools effectively, but it’s not as easy for literary writers. (Something that I wanted the marketing company to have an honest discussion about.)

  11. #22 by Amber Dane on May 10, 2013 - 12:03 am

    Thanks for the helpful post!

  12. #24 by Travis Ford on October 16, 2013 - 12:43 am

    Nice blog. As I read the blog there was no mention of Lulu. As a self publisher on Lulu I find it was more easier than CreateSpace and Lulu distributes to Amazon for free.

    • #25 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on October 16, 2013 - 8:38 pm

      Good point. I didn’t mention Lulu because I used to use them and had a bad experience. I think they’re great for producing review copies, but they didn’t hook up well with Amazon when I used them. In fact, they deleted my listing and I had to fight to get my reviews back. Then they handled the situation extremely badly and didn’t try to rectify it until I started a public campaign on Facebook and Twitter. They also told me off for this.
      Now, this was three years ago and things may well have changed. But that episode made me switch to Createspace, and I’ve been happy with them.
      But if you’ve made Lulu work, that’s great. They may well have come on in leaps and bounds. And their print quality is good.

  13. #26 by Kurt Graver on November 12, 2013 - 10:20 am

    Just started to write my first ebook. This was really helpful

  14. #28 by jbiggar2013 on February 10, 2014 - 1:02 am

    Reblogged this on jbiggarblog.

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