Many of you know I love supporting new authors. Today I’m thrilled to have a blogging buddy guest post. Cheryl and I met a few years ago via our blogs and she’s published a novel called The Wanderers. I can’t wait to read it! Today she shares the lessons she learned while self-publishing her book.
Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing
The wandering adventurer in my novel has a series of Rules for survival, which he takes very seriously. I have not (so far) put together a serious list of Rules for Surviving Self-Publishing, but if I ever do, I know what Rule #1 will be: Everything must be done twice (or three times or four times or…)
This was my first time self-publishing, and there was a definite learning curve! Pretty much every step of the process had to be done and tweaked and done again—although I hope that on a second novel, I can cut some of that down…
I’m not mentioning the challenges to scare anyone off, but because I hope I could save you some time. I’ve put together a list of the major things I learned, calamitously or otherwise. These may just be my particular quirky missteps, but I’m guessing they could happen to anyone…so perhaps a warning can come in handy!
1) Mind Your Pixels
My biggest formatting crisis involved my cover. If you get one done professionally, you may be able to sidestep this. I created my cover myself in my photoediting program, and exported it as a JPG. CreateSpace wants it as a PDF (which my editing program won’t create), so I used a free online conversion site.
My first proof looked terrible—because I didn’t realize that when the conversion site promised to keep the “original size,” they didn’t mean the original pixilation, and I couldn’t tell by looking at it on a screen. I had to get access to Photoshop and make the conversion there…and the second proof was a huge improvement.
2) Stare Down the Smashwords Style Guide
If you want to make your book available in a wide variety of ebook formats, Smashwords is an effective way to go. But—every writer I know agrees that the submission process is, shall we say, challenging. They’re very particular on formatting, and provide a very long Style Guide to walk through the process. That should help—but I found reading it absolutely harrowing! It wasn’t so much the process, but the attitude of the guide. A little too much of “this is WRONG, don’t do it that way,” when everywhere else seemed to find it a perfectly acceptable method. It’s disconcerting!
However—the Smashwords Style Guide did give me the solution to a format problem (see #3) that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else (I looked). And when I finally submitted my file to Smashwords, I got through their famous “Meatgrinder” on the first try.
3) Tabs, Indents, First Lines
Maybe it’s me, but I don’t usually pay attention to whether I hit Indent on any given paragraph, or whether Word tried to be helpful and made it automatic. This is fine when you’re printing a document normally…but ebooks get upset about inconsistency, and start showing the indents differently.
Trying to manually correct tabs is…well, it’s not impossible, but trust me when I say it’s very time-consuming. After far too much time manually manipulating tabs, I finally found out (thank you, terrifying Smashwords Styleguide) that you can use “Find/Replace,” enter “^t” to select all tabs, delete them, and then use the automatic “first line indent” for everything. A very useful tool that is strangely hard to find out about.
4) Save As, Save As, Save As
Basic, but it bears repeating—with any major change in formatting or content, Save As to create a new document, and title clearly. If you’re submitting to multiple publishing platforms, CreateSpace, Kindle and Smashwords will all want the files formatted differently. Save as. Nine times out of ten I did this—the tenth time I thought I did it, and then discovered I hadn’t, and had stripped formatting out of my CreateSpace file, when I thought I was in a new Kindle file. After some frantic hunting about, I found another copy of the original on a thumb drive. And while we’re on that subject: back up, back up, back up!
5) Pulling Books Off the Shelves
To wind up with something that actually wasn’t a crisis or misstep, but was just fun…I did a lot of informal research on how I wanted to format my novel, especially the print version. By that I mean I pulled stacks of books off my shelves and tried to figure out what the common formatting features are! It’s strange the things we don’t notice when we’re reading words on a page.
A few suggestions I gathered from those piles of books—justify your text, keep a blank page at the front of the paperback, provide an adequate gutter, and don’t indent the first paragraph of each chapter. And then there’s room to play with header text, page numbers, chapter headings…it’s not a bad idea to pick a few favorite books from in your genre, and see what formatting they used!
That covers some of my clearest lessons, and brings me to what would probably have to be Rule #2 (if I was writing rules), which is Learn from what other people have done. I did a lot of that too—and I’m sure it saved me from even more challenges along the way!
Cheryl Mahoney is a fantasy writer, living in California and dreaming of fairylands. Besides novels, she also writes a book review blog, Tales of the Marvelous, and is on Goodreads (MarvelousTales) and Twitter (@MarvelousTales).
Her first book, The Wanderers, is a Young Adult Fantasy novel, loosely inspired by fairy tales. It’s the story of Jasper, a wandering adventurer; Tom, a talking cat; and Julie, a witch’s daughter. They pursue quests and fight monsters, such as a sea serpent, an ogre, and a very dangerous Good Fairy. There are a lot of elements from familiar fairy tales…but generally with a bit of a twist!
Thanks so much for all the useful tips Cheryl! I wish you the best of luck and happy holidays.
Have any of you dealt with any of the issues Cheryl mentions? Do you have any useful tips to share?