How to self publish

I recently published my first novel on Kindle and paperback. And between 2010 and early 2012 I published two shorter books, Ayla’s Journey (a dark and surreal illustrated children’s book) and Dark Things (short dystopian stories, some of them flash fiction). This experience has led me to giving advice to other authors about self publishing, which I thought would be useful sharing with a wider audience. So here we go – an Idiot’s Guide to Self Publishing.

Part one – Preparing your text

1. Make sure you have a complete text you want to publish. By complete, I mean it’s been properly proof read for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, punctuation and formatting. There are a number of ways of achieving this. Read it yourself in different formats: I recommend printing it, going somewhere different to your usual writing environment, taking a red pen with you, and running the nib of the pen over the paper as you read. You will pick up different problems to reading on the screen (which if you only edit on paper, you must also do). Then ask someone else to read it. You should be doing this anyway – texts that want to be published are as much a product of the writer’s imagination as they are of the reader’s. So have a couple of friends read the text, and ask them to circle all of those errors, as well as give critical feedback on the story, its characters, those all important opening paragraphs, page and couple of pages, and how satisfying the conclusion is.

We’re not quite finished with the text. A few little prescriptive things:

a) Font. You might have a favourite font that you use. But is it readable once printed? If you’re going to publish as an ebook only this isn’t so important, because you can change the font on your device. But if you’re publishing to paper you need to choose your font. There’s a good guide to choosing fonts on the self-pub.net website. I would avoid Times New Roman (it looks amateurish in print), and stick to a font like Book Antiqua or Bookman Old Style (note the hint in the font title).

b) Page layout. For this section we need to pick up a book and open it to the first chapter. I’d like you to look at how paragraphs are laid out. Note that the first paragraph of a section is aligned with the page margin, while subsequent paragraphs are indented, like this:

First paragraph in line with margin.

Subsequent paragraphs start indented.

This is industry standard, and you must also follow it. This might mean re-formatting your entire book. Sorry, it’s necessary if you want to be taken seriously.

c) Section breaks. Some writers like to put an asterisk or other symbol between sections within a chapter. The standard is to use a single line break. It’s up to you. Most texts will look better with a single line break, unless your text is in a particular style (like a Gothic horror) and the symbol adds something to the atmosphere.

d) Font size and line spacing. Tricky. On ebooks you can adjust it on the device, so there’s not much to worry about. In a print book there’s only one way to tell if your print size and line spacing look good on paper: print and be damned. That means going right through this process, ordering a copy of your book and seeing how it looks. For guidance, I’d advise 1.5 line spacing and a font size of around 11. However you should also check the typesetting information in printed books you own, which sometimes describe the font and size.

2. Still here? Now you need a cover design. Some people are lucky enough to know artists and designers who they can ask to create book covers. There are also freelance book cover designers (find them through internet search engines).

If you’re creating an ebook, you will need your cover image prepared.

If you’re publishing on paper only, you can use the self publishing site to create a book cover.

3. We’re still in preparation mode aren’t we? So let’s go back to your book text because there’s a few things it needs: legal information, acknowledgements, copyright notice, contact information and page numbers.

a) For the legal information, simply copy the text from the front of an already printed book. I advise slightly amending any wording that isn’t about legal things to make it your own, but as a minimum you want to say something like: “Copyright © Your Name 2013 The right of Your Name to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her/him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.”

b) Acknowledgements are those thank yous that you want to give to whoever helped you write the book or encouraged you along the way. You don’t have to put them in. You might have noticed that they’re sometimes at the end of the book (my preference) instead of the start. It’s up to you if you include them.

c) Copyright information. You’ve already shown your copyright in the legal information. Now you need to say how and when your text can be copied, re-distributed, transmitted and so on. You’ll find this in the legal information text in the front of most books. Like I said, I recommend just copying the text from a book – you should notice that they’re pretty standard paragraphs across different publishing houses.

d) Contact information: these days being a self-published author is all about building an audience, and that means people need to be able to contact you. You don’t have to, of course, it’s simply advised. There are a number of ways to achieve this. Set up an email account specifically for your writing (do not use your own email address), set up a Twitter account, Google+ or Facebook page, or create a blog which has feedback options.

e) Page numbers. If you’re not sure how to insert these into your document, you can either click on the Help option inside your word processor, or in most word processors, you can use a drop down menu called something like “Insert” or “Edit”, and then an option like “Fields” or “Special”. In OpenOffice go Insert > Fields, and in Microsoft Word go Insert > Page Numbers. These instructions work for PCs; I don’t know much about Macs, sorry.

4. We’re still in preparation mode. We’ve done a lot to the text and the contents, and we’ve started thinking about the cover. You might have made a lot of changes. If so, rest your text for a week or so, come back to it with fresh eyes, and read it through again with a red pen. Self publishing is all about polishing and polishing and polishing. Now make a cup of tea, you deserve it.

Part two – Registering with self publishing sites

1. This is probably the bit most want to know about. You’ve heard of other people self publishing, but you’re not sure how you do it yourself. Let’s manage your expectations right now: this is going to take a while. You can save your progress and come back to it, if you’re pressed for time. Just be prepared for this to be easy, even while it’s time consuming and laborious.

2. We’re going to use Amazon as our self publishing site. Once you’re up to speed with using Amazon, you can use other sites, like Lulu or Nook or Google Books. So, go here https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin and create a user profile. This site is called “Kindle Direct Publishing” or KDP. It’s going to be your central resource for getting an ebook out.

3. Now you need to set up a different user profile on a different site for the print version of your book, so go here: https://www.createspace.com/ This is called CreateSpace. If you have a central Amazon account, you should find that the KDP and CreateSpace accounts are automatically linked together.

4. Later, you can register on Lulu.com for print and ebook if you want. I prefer Lulu for printed books, because the book creation process is a little easier to use. But for the moment, let’s concentrate on the Amazon facilities.

5. Go back to Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP. Once you’ve registered, you should see a screen like this:

Image

To start the process of publishing your ebook, click on that yellow button “Add new title”.

Step three – Creating your ebook

1. Click on that button! You’re taken to a page which is headed by Your book, and then there’s probably a box underneath about enrolling your book in something called KDP Select. Ignore this for now, you can come back to it later.

2. Start filling in the details for your book. That’s how easy it is: you’re just filling in boxes. But now comes a tricky part. You’ve been asked for a Description. This is the short paragraph that people will read when your ebook is listed on Amazon, which should grab their attention. Rather than spending hours trying to think what to write, go to a successful book’s page, say Life of Pi, read the text, and adapt the style to suit your own book.

For example, the Life of Pi text says this:

One boy, one boat, one tiger …After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and best-loved works of fiction in recent years.

To adapt this for your book, break it down into the elements, and include your own book’s details. So let’s assume you’ve written a book about a family at war over several generations.

One family, three generations, one deadly secret. [See how we get a quick description with very short elements.]

When Arthur graduates from college he expects a bright future. [Now we have a male lead, and we have something to gain and lose: a bright future.]

But his attempts to leave behind his working class background bring him into conflict with his parents. His struggle to move on with his life brings out a secret hidden by his grandparents, which threatens to tear apart the entire family. [Now we have a problem establishing, conflict, and a hint at the consequences.]

Spanning three generations, Arthur’s Kitchen Sink explores the tensions at the heart of every family and how love can tear us apart.

Anyway, you get the idea. Use the hook, give us the context and then create the conflict and what’s at stake for your character. Then finally place the book in its genre: scifi, fantasy, literary fiction, thriller, etc.

3. When you get to section 2. Verify Your Publishing Rights, you should click the following:

a) This is not a public domain work… Most authors will use this option. It means the work is yours and belongs to you.

b) This is a public domain work… If you’ve taken works that are out of copyright you have to choose this option. For example, some people collect old versions of The Brothers Grimm stories originally published in the 1800s and now out of copyright, and publish them as collections.

4. Now you need to upload your book cover. Fortunately we covered this in Part one – Preparation, and you have a file ready. Make sure it’s saved as a .jpg. Once you’ve uploaded your image, you should see it appear on the page behind the upload box. Now just click the little [x] in the top corner to get rid of the upload box.

5. Upload your book file! You can upload a .doc, but I recommend something first. Open your word processor and then open your book file. Now we’re going to save it as a different file format. If you’re not used to doing this, it’s really easy, and here’s the step by step guide:

a) Open your file

b) Click on the File menu

c) Click Save As (note: do not click “Save”, you must click “Save as”).

d) Now you have the save window on your screen. Look near the bottom and just below your file’s title is an option saying “Save file as type:”. Click on the little arrow on this box.

e) Go through the file formats and click on HTML or HTM. Now click SAVE.

f) When you upload your book, look for the .html version. It makes the file conversion a but easier for KDP.

6. Now you’ve uploaded your book you can preview it online. Finished? Almost there. Click Save & Continue.

7. Now we’re into pricing. This requires a little bit of thought.

a) Click Worldwide rights.

b) Choose the 70% royalty rate if the book is your original creation. If it’s a collection of other out-of-copyright works, then click the 35% royalty rate.

c) Choose your prices. KDP gives you minimum prices. It’s up to you what you choose, but some advice first. If you have no audience, no public profile, no previously published works or reputation, setting a price at book store levels will work against you. Try setting a price of USD $3.50, and click the boxes for the other territories saying “Set price automatically based on US price.”

8. Done that? At the bottom is a little box you need to check saying you’ve read the Terms and Conditions. Click it and press Save & Publish.

9. Well done! You think you’ve published your book. Not quite. First Amazon needs to check that you’re not publishing porn or anything illegal. If all is well, within 24 hours you’ll receive an email telling you that your book is now available for sale. You’re a published author! Brilliant. That’s the end, right. Right? Well, it could be. Or it could be time for…

Step four – Marketing your book

1. First we need to understand “marketing”. If you think it means “advertising” you need to read this. If you know what it means properly you can skip forward.

2. Marketing is about making your product visible, attractive, interesting, desirable and of forming a connection with your potential audience and purchaser. Advertising is a part of that, of course. If it helps, imagine you’re in a physical market, surrounded by market stalls, each selling foods and clothes and consumer goods. There are hundreds of them. How do you know which stalls even exist? Which stall do you choose? Do you even know what you’re there to buy? Now consider it from the market stall holder’s point of view. You’re selling clothes, but everyone else is selling similar clothes. How do you make yours stand out? Even worse, your stall is stuck down in a corner behind 100 other stalls. This is where marketing comes in.

3. First you need people to be aware of your product. We do through that different forms of advertising. This can mean using Twitter, Google+ or Facebook, or through more advanced measures like having our books reviewed in magazines or by well known new book blogs.

4. So people have followed the direction signs and are looking at your stall (your book). Now you need to create and maintain their interest. This is where the product description and the cover image help. People are a sucker for a pretty picture. That’s not cynical, it’s just true. Many decisions to buy a book are based on the cover. But they also want a book that’s suitable for them. If it says “scifi” on the cover, you’ll hook the scifi fans and lose the romantic fiction fans. That’s fine. Know your audience and market to them. The book description you put into KDP when you were creating your book helps here. What else helps? Well they’re on your page, and they’ll want to read reviews to see what other people though. Never underestimate the power of social recommendation. It is not acceptable to write your own reviews. But you do need 1 or 2 to start you. Go back to the friends who read your book and ask them to write a quick review.

5. By the way, we’re following the classic marketing model called AIDA here. It would be worth your while reading the Wikipedia page about it.

6. You have their awareness, you’ve grabbed their interest, and you’ve created some desire. Now you need them to commit and buy. Price is important here. Your readers need to feel they’re not risking too much money for what is still an unknown quantity. But you don’t want to appear cheap either. That’s why we’ve set the book at USD$3, above minimum but not greedy. I’m no marketing expert, so from here on in I advise using a search engine to look up ideas on marketing your self published book.

7. A final comment. Be prepared for the amount of work marketing needs. You need a presence on Twitter where you’ll find a large community of indie authors. You need to advertise it constantly – one tweet on Twitter won’t do it. One post on Google+ won’t don’t do it. It needs several per day over the course of several months. It needs time and commitment if you want it to sell.

That’s it. Well done, you’re finally a published author. You’ve taken your first step into a wider world. I promised to include details on CreateSpace and publishing to printed books. That information will appear here in the next couple of weeks when I have some spare time, so check back in early February.

If you have any tips to share or want this blog post updated with extra information, then please leave a comment below, and I’ll look into editing and improving it.

Advertisements

astrotomato

To promote the launch of my first novel “Planetfall: All Fall Down” I am giving away two copies of the paperback in a competition.

All Fall Down is the first book in a trilogy. All Commander Kate Leland wants is to be promoted to General. When it’s handed to her on a plate in return for investigating the death of a scientist, she is plunged into self doubt. Is she up to the job? And why doesn’t the scientist’s death appear to be as simple as she was told? Before she knows it, General Leland is plunged into a race against time to save a planet and prevent a war. But is she up to the task?

Weaving together different plot threads set in cyberspace, on the surface of a desert planet, and in an underground colony, the first book in the planetfall series is scifi in the space opera…

View original post 272 more words

Competition time

To promote the launch of my first novel “Planetfall: All Fall Down” I am giving away two copies of the paperback in a competition.

All Fall Down is the first book in a trilogy. All Commander Kate Leland wants is to be promoted to General. When it’s handed to her on a plate in return for investigating the death of a scientist, she is plunged into self doubt. Is she up to the job? And why doesn’t the scientist’s death appear to be as simple as she was told? Before she knows it, General Leland is plunged into a race against time to save a planet and prevent a war. But is she up to the task?

Planetfall_cover_final

planetfall cover art

Weaving together different plot threads set in cyberspace, on the surface of a desert planet, and in an underground colony, the first book in the planetfall series is scifi in the space opera mould. It also mixes in a government conspiracy which readers of Tom Clancy or Matthew Reilly would appreciate.

Competition

To win one of the two copies up for grabs, simply answer the three questions below. Send responses either as a reply to this post (I won’t approve the posts until after the competition closes, so that your answers aren’t shown to others), as a Direct Message on Twitter @astrotomato or to my email address astrotomato@gmail.com

Questions:

1. All Fall Down is set on a desert planet, where there are important minerals in the sand. Which famous science fiction book (and later film) was set on a desert planet devoid of water and full of giant worms?

2. All Fall Down is available in paperback and as an e-book. Which platform/website is each available from? (Hint: check my Store.)

3. The final question is actually just a question from you: what was your book of 2012? I’ll collate the competition entries and produce a list of favourite books from you all. There’s no right or wrong answer, I’m just looking to share reading tips!

The competition opens GMT 21:00 on Friday 18 January 2013 and closes at GMT 21:00 on Friday 25 January. All entrants must answer the three questions. I will pick the winner, and my decision is final, even if it’s rubbish. UK addresses only for this competition. Family is barred from entry to avoid claims of nepotism. Entries will be put into a hat and pulled out in the dark. The winners will be announced on this blog if they agree to having their names published.

Good luck, astro x

The Next Big Thing Bloghop

This blog is part of the “next big thing bloghop”. It’s a self interview format, which anyone can use. Within the self interview, we amateur authors are supposed to also tip some up and coming authors’ blogs for other people to visit.

The point of course is so one writer can raise awareness of another writer and so on. (I’ll blog separately about building community soon. This is a key component of getting writing.)

 The interview

  • What is the title of your book?

It’s full title is planetfall: All Fall Down. I’m quite particular about “planetfall” being all in lowercase, although for convenience I write it with a capital P when I advertise the book. Why am I particular? It’s both a visual aesthetic thing and a quotation thing. If you look at “Planetfall”, the word looks unbalanced. There’s that capital P and it looks really heavy over on the left, with the thin t, f and ls afterwards. If you write “planetfall” you reduce the weight of the left hand, and also get a nice symmetry with the down stroke of the p and up stroke of the ls at the end. The other reason is because “planetfall” was a word I pulled from the middle of a sentence and realised was a useful double entendre for the story series.

  • Where did the idea for the book come from?

The idea for the book came from a writing exercise I set myself in 2007. I wanted to write a first person perspective piece that was full of restrained emotion and was no longer than one side of A4. That original piece was about a Mexican man who had been a soldier at the Alamo, or some other Mexico-American conflict in the 19th century. In the original exercise he was talking to his young son about what it meant to be a man and what it meant to be a soldier.  He was also teaching his son to shave, but to leave his moustache as it was the “mark of a man”.

From there, I wondered what it would be like to be the son, and to look back on that moment. The poignancy of the following exercise intrigued me. Somehow that grew into an expansive idea about a soldier in the middle of an enormous war, and his humanity gradually breaking down.

  • What genre does your book fall under?

It’s scifi, and more specifically space opera.

  • Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I sent the book to several agencies, and had some very good feedback on it. A few wrote back and said they liked it, that it had a “big scifi feel” that was “missing from the current market”. Unfortunately this worked against it. Agents are conditioned by publishers and sellers to be risk averse. Sellers go to publishers asking for books similar to what sold well last season. Publishers go to agents looking for the next big thing that was like the last big thing. And so a market becomes risk averse.

Because planetfall is my first novel, and I essentially taught myself to write novels using it, I’m not as confident with the writing quality as maybe I should be (I certainly think my 2nd novel, Backpackers, has better writing, and planetfall book 2’s writing is better yet). I was always happy to self publish this novel, though I won’t be as happy if I end up self publishing Backpackers.

  • What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movies rendition?

The main character, Kate, is about 36 years old, with red hair. Maybe Jewel Staite, who played Kaylee in Firefly & Serenity, would be a good choice. Daoud needs to be someone with north African or Middle Eastern looks, who’s thin. I can’t think of anyone useful right now. I know I would want Chiwetel Ejiofor for the character Djembe, though.

  • How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Years. I think I finished my first draft in early 2011, which was 3.5 years after I started. I thought that was it, and it didn’t need any changes! I’d edited it as I went along, so I’d re-written, chopped out sections, included new bits and so on. But I soon learned why more experience authors talked about being on their second, third, fifth, tenth draft.

The breakthrough in having subsequent drafts was sending the manuscript to a well known scifi agent, John Jarrold. He was kind enough to write me a long email about what I’d submitted to him, even though the material wasn’t up to publication scratch, and I will forever think kindly of him for it. His feedback made me go back to the first draft and start making some improvements to meet what he said. And that made me think more and more and more…

  • Give a one-sentence synopsis of your novel

“Military Intelligence is called in to investigate the death of a scientist, but can they uncover a plot to make first contact and start a war before it’s too late?”

  • What other works would compare to your story?

I’m so out of touch with scifi that I have no idea. I spend most of my reading time on literary fiction or New Scientist. However, I would hope that people would recognise its influences, which I happily make apparent: Dan Simmons, Iain M. Banks, George Lucas, Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert.

  • Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I had always wanted to write, and in my teens I wrote some horror short stories. I even won a school award. But I gave up. In my mid-30s I came across two thought exercises when going through some life coaching: (1) “Imagine you’re on your death bed. Who’s there, what do you want to tell them you did in life, how should they feel about your passing?” and (2) “Imagine you have to write your own obituary. What is it going to say?” As you can see, they’re very similar, and what they both have in common is making you think about your life from the end, looking back.

After thinking about those questions, I realised that one of the things I wanted to say was, “Yes, I wrote that novel I’d always wanted to write.” And that of course leads to the question, “When did I write it? When I was dying? Not possible. When I was old and infirm? Not likely. When I was bringing up kids? No time. Well, when? Ah, the best time is now.”

  • What else might pique the reader’s interest?

planetfall: All Fall Down is the start of a trilogy. The story in book 1 – that of a scientist dying, and General Kate Leland slowly discovering a plot to start a war – is a mash of cyberpunk, space opera, thriller, murder mystery and psychedelia. It features the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. The main character is female, and there is a strong female minor character who plays a much larger role later on (and I have 6 books drafted out for her which I’ll never get round to writing!) I like writing about lead female characters. I think it comes from always playing the female character in computer games. Maybe it’s a repressed form of transvestisism. Female readers are getting back to me and saying they love Kate and Sophie, the supporting character.

Book 1, All Fall Down, is really more of a prequel, as the story I originally wanted to tell starts in book 2. But I couldn’t tell the story of book 2 without setting out the background story. All Fall Down goes quite odd in parts where it’s strongly influenced by William Gibson.

  • Who is your “Next Big Thing”?

Now it’s my time to tag writers that I feel could be “The Next Big Thing”.

There are three authors I want to push, though two have no significant online presence as far as I know. (And they’ll probably never see this, either, but please remember their names.) The third has a massive presence which is also very useful for writers.

Tara Basi – he writes dark science fiction, urban fantasy and satirical radio plays. He’s been a big influence on my writing in the last year, and I was fortunate enough to edit his book “Blocks” in early 2012.

Peng Shepherd – like Tara, I met Peng on a writing course at London’s City University. For me, she’s this generation’s Haruki Murakami. She has a ‘plain’ way of writing, that’s full of atmosphere and magical realism. She’s gone to study a Master of Fine Arts in New York, and is currently editing her first novel. She’ll be on best seller lists by 2025, I guarantee it. Read one of her stories: Free Cake.

Lucy V Hay – Lucy runs the writer and scriptwriter support site, Bang2Write. It’s chockful of useful articles, and her Twitter feed (@ Bang2write) is essential for up and coming authors and scriptwriters. She also has a book out, currently in German only as far as I can tell, called Bauchentscheidung. It’s Young Adult Fiction.

I hope you enjoyed this “Next Big Thing” blog. If you’re a writer and it’s helped you, then please copy the format and put your own answers in. Drop a link in my blog reply area so that I can have a read!

As usual, good luck with your own writing projects.

astro x

Debut novel launches on Kindle and paperback

Today is a proud day! Today I finally published my debut novel All Fall Down, the first book in the planetfall series.

I started this book (originally just called “planetfall”) in September 2007, and finished the final final final final final final draft in August 2012.

Writing my first novel has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences of my life. Let’s not beat around the bush: it is hard to write a novel. If it looks easy to anyone, if it looks like it’s just scribbling a few words down when inspiration strikes, then I can only suggest looking harder.

Writing a novel is hard work. At every sentence on every page in every chapter across the whole book, you have to bear in mind how it affects every other sentence on every other page in every other chapter across the whole book. You have to invent people and their lives and hopes and contradictions and life histories and families and let them live inside you and interact with each other. There are rooms to describe, worlds to invent, references to embed, colours and sounds and smells to be aware of. And all of this – for most of us who write – against the background of going to a normal day job, shopping, cleaning the house, trying to have a life, pay the bills and keep up with our own reading and watching movies and so on.

There are harder things, to be sure. Bringing up children is no doubt harder and more rewarding. But that’s not to dismiss the dedication needed to create a book and the world and people and stories inside it. It is akin to a child being created. And like all children, it must at some point be let go to fend for itself.

And so to my debut novel. Planetfall: All Fall Down, my first novel, is now available on Kindle and paperback. There are links in my store, or follow one of the links in the text above.

Good luck with your own writing projects. And if you have a minute available, please visit the Kindle page and “like” the book, even if you don’t download it. I’m told if it reaches 50 likes, that it will be promoted on Amazon’s new books email to thousands of customers. Thank you.