Publishing a Novel (or three)

JA Huss FictionIf you’ve never self-published a book then you probably won’t be interested in this blog post, but just in case you’re thinking about doing what I’m doing (publishing three books at the same time!) I’m gonna give you the skinny on what it’s like.

Self-publishing is not the “easy way out” that some might think it is. Sure, you can slap together a PDF of just about anything and upload it to Amazon and take your chances. But that’s not self-publishing because it disregards the second half of the phrase – publishing.

Actual publishing involves a process that it quite involved. Sure, it’s easier now than it ever was. For instance, you don’t need fancy publishing software to put out a really nice book. Although it does help when it comes to cover design.  And you don’t need a printer either. In fact, you don’t have to have a print edition at all because the world has been flipped on its head with e-books.

That’s not to say you can’t have a print edition. You can. Quite easily in fact, through Lightning Source or Createspace or even Lulu.

But the workflow for publishing a book is quite simple. First you write what you’d like to publish, then polish and edit it, create a cover, convert it to the proper format, and upload.  Bingo. You’ve published.

It’s just that while these words come out so easily on the written page, actually putting them into practice is another matter altogether.

First, writing a book is not easy. I write tons of things – in fact I have more than 180 non-fiction books for sale and every one of them started with a blank Word document. Not to mention I’ve written three full length novels this year and I’m currently working on the fourth. So to simply say write a book is not quite doing it justice. Book writing has its own process, just like publishing. I’ll get into that in another post, perhaps. But not today.

Today, let’s assume you have completed a book. Now what?  Upload right away, correct?

No.  Don’t do that. You need to go through that book until it says exactly what you want it to say and then you must edit it.  I whole-heartedly advocate for paying an editor to do this step for you, but some people don’t have the money. If you need to do your own editing then make sure you read every single sentence, several times, and also read it aloud to pick up any flow issues.

But even if you’re going to hire out for editing how do you find an editor?  It sounds easy at first. I thought it would be anyway. Until I started looking for my own editor and discovered that I really needed to trust that the person editing MY book would “get” my story and my style. How can you possibly do that in the digital age?  It’s quite difficult. I literally spent months looking for a science fiction editor that would understand what I was trying to say with my story and my characters.

I had contacted several editors at first but the one I actually ended up going with was based off a whim. She posted on Kindle Boards and I happened to see her post and e-mailed her. She did a 1000 word sample edit and I hired her just like that. And she’s great. I totally lucked out.  But it could’ve gone the other way. Maybe I got an editor that liked to cut out a lot of stuff (I’m not a cutter – I only write it if it has a reason – you will never find fluffy filler in my books. If it doesn’t make sense in the book you’re reading TRUST me, it will come up later. Everything has a purpose.)

But handing over creative work for an honest critical evaluation is hard to do. You want to make sure that this person will not kill your spirit when they hand that manuscript back.  And as a writer you have to either trust them or get rid of them. You can’t not trust them and make a relationship like this work. Either you take their suggestions seriously or find another editor. Not listening to your editor is a waste of money.

And yeah. Money. Editors are not cheap. So this is something you have to plan for and if you’ve got a master marketing plan that involves putting out three books in a series at the same time, this is quite pricey. I’m happy (100%) with the price I paid, but it wasn’t cheap when you add it all up. She’s reasonable, but it’s three books, right?

The next hurdle is cover design. Covers can be whatever you want in the self-publishing world. And there are a ton of great cover designers out there – especially in photo manipulation. But in science fiction it’s traditional to have a more custom look – people are trying to imagine your vision so you have to meet them half-way.  I hired a cover designer, two actually. One guy got busy and bowed out after the first one. This is another area where you need to understand what you need and what you want. Study the covers of your genre and make sure that a reader can look at your cover and get an idea of what genre it is.

Again, artists and designers are not all created equal and neither are their rates so you have to shop around and decide what your budget will be. I think my covers were on the high end at $500 a piece, but for really nice covers expect to spend a minimum of $150 and if you want to use beautiful designers like those that advertise over at Kindle Boards, then probably more. Although many of them will work within your budget.

Once again, if you’re doing a release blitz like I am – three original covers is a lot of dough up front.   I haven’t made the final payment for the third cover yet – it will probably be done soon and I might go over our original budget since I just asked for some big changes – but so far I’ve paid $1300 for 2.5 covers.

So this is where I’m at in my three book self-publishing process. I have the books, two of which are edited and the third in process. Once the third comes back I’ll make changes and then send all three back for on final go over (for plot issues and such) so that’s really four edits.  Plus three covers.  This alone is enough to drive you to drink or smoke or both. And we haven’t even gotten to marketing yet!

But the next leg on my journey to self-publishing fiction is formatting.  Luckily I use Scrivener to write, so I’m crossing my fingers.  But either way I’ll let you know as I move through it, so stay tuned. I’ve got two months to pull this all together and be ready for release day on October 1, 2012!

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