Because I have self-published a book - excuse me while I insert a link - many people now consider me an expert and have asked me for advice. That is like asking a guy who’s played touch football who the New York Jets should draft in the first round. (No wisecracks, OEsheepdog!)
However, so I don’t have to keep repeating myself in PMs and emails, I have decided to write about it and will break my experience down into three posts. The first will deal with the preparation and publication of the print copy, the second with the Kindle version, and the third with sales and promotion. (That last story, like a legitimate massage parlor, is the one without a happy ending. So far.)
After several false starts with book projects, I finally got serious about one during the winter. I had posted several parodies of the Presidential candidates and the issues which had been well-received, and I decided to create an entire book of them. Because I wanted half of the book to consist of new material, I wrote several pieces that I had no intention of posting on OS, including parodies of Gingrich, Obama and the libertarians. In addition, I took the pieces I had already posted here and performed a little plastic surgery: a nip and tuck here, a shot of Botox there, and in some cases, implants or liposuction. Finally, I assembled them into a single Word document, arranging the pieces into an order that made at least internal sense. (Note: a YouTube tutorial on using CreateSpace claims that your input must be PDF; this is not so.)
There was never any question about going the self-publishing route. Better writers than I have told me about their frustrations in seeking a traditional publisher; I once took a seminar about preparing a book proposal and it seemed daunting. Even if I had confidence about landing a publisher – which I didn’t – the fact that the topicality of the subject had a short shelf life argued for the speed of self-publishing. (In fact, I was able to add a piece about the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke flap less than a week before the book went live.)
I gave a lot of thought to the title; I didn’t want anything bland. For a while, I leaned toward a title that played off John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. I decided A Confederacy of Douches was too vulgar to use, though in my book, I use it as the fictitious title of a Mike Taibbi book about the Republican convention.
My decision to use my “pen name” was a last minute one that I’m still not sure was right. My real name, Richard Brown, is listed in Amazon because I wrote the introduction to Writer Mom’s book. However, enter my name and a hundred books come up, including one called How to Use Herbs, Nutrients and Yoga in Mental Health Care, which – wouldn’t you know – was going to be the title of my next book. Enter “Cranky Cuss” and, for better or worse, you get only me.
I chose to publish the book through Amazon’s CreateSpace. Like it or not (like it I don’t), Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla of the publishing world and to ignore that seemed foolish. CreateSpace is very easy to use and doesn’t cost a cent, though both of those statements come with caveats. (Because CreateSpace is print-on-demand, there is no need to pre-print or ship stacks of copies, which is why there is no upfront cost.)
After a few preliminary entries like book title and author name, as well as the assignment of an ISBN number if you don’t have one, you upload your text, which takes a few minutes. When it has been successfully processed, CreateSpace will tell you about any potential printing issues and allow you to look at your “book” on-screen with “pages” through which you can leaf.
My initial upload got the Open Salon response: Oops, lots of errors occurred. The problem was that I hadn’t properly formatted the original text. For starters, the margins were too close to the edge, I hadn’t put in proper page breaks and I hadn’t included page numbering. I had to spend the next several hours reworking the original Word document, which would have driven me insane without the help of my daughter Michelle.
The first thing we did was change the original document, which was 8 ½ x 11, to match the size of the book, which was 6 x 9; this would allow us to number the pages accurately. It also allowed us to insert blank pages into the text where necessary to ensure that title pages, acknowledgements, etc., appear on the right-hand side. We made the margins wider and inserted proper page breaks at the end of each piece.
However, numbering the pages turned out to be tricky. We decided to begin numbering from the page with the first actual text, not the title page (which needs to be included in the original document). Michelle was used to an older version of Word, and the page numbering options were confusing; it took us several tries to get it right.
We tried, and failed, to get the book title and author name on the tops of alternating pages. Word insisted on inserting them even into the blank pages. In frustration right before we gave up, I posted on Facebook that Microsoft Help was an oxymoron and found that this was a universal sentiment.
Finally, after a few hours of tinkering, we uploaded the text again. This time, I got two warnings – one about a different font I use briefly, the other about the insufficient bpi of the author photo – and thought neither was worth addressing. I was done with this phase.
At this point, your potential book must go through an Amazon approval process to ensure that it meets their standards. This can take up to 48 hours and they will notify you by email when they’ve completed the review. (Don’t ask me what happens if they reject you!)
Here is where the caveat about “no cost” arises. It is expected that you will order a proof copy of your book, and I can’t recommend highly enough that you do so. The cost of the proof varies, depending on book length, use of color, etc. Mine cost around $2.50 (this will be the same price used when the author orders finished copies of his book for personal use). CreateSpace offers several levels of shipping; I chose the speediest (and most expensive) because I was in a hurry. I should note, however, that CreateSpace overestimates the time it will take for the book to arrive; if they say 5-8 business days, it will probably be there in four.
When I received my proof, I noticed immediately that the margins were too close to the binding, making some words hard to read. It also gave me a chance to go through the text very carefully, looking for omitted words and grammatical errors; I found almost a dozen, and it wouldn’t hurt to have someone else review it. (Hiring a professional editor is a separate issue.)
Correcting those errors meant I had to go through the entire process a second time, including the Amazon review. After the second proof, I was satisfied and gave the OK to publish. Within minutes, CreateSpace had a page selling the book. It took about 24 hours for the Amazon page to appear. The entire process, from initial upload to CreateSpace to finished product, took less than two weeks.
It might be gauche to talk about royalties, but that’s one thing all prospective authors are concerned about. Again, it varies by book size and resources used. I set a price of $9.99 for my book. An Amazon sale nets me about $3.40 and a sale directly from CreateSpace about two dollars more. Unlike other self-publishers, CreateSpace pays royalties monthly rather than quarterly. My suspicion is that, by paying that quickly, Amazon is using its financial muscle to lure prospective authors away from the smaller self-publishing houses. If Amazon drives them out of business, let’s see if they are still as author-friendly.
Next time: my experience with Kindle.