Monday, April 25, 2011

How I did it. (bare bones publishing)

So I've told you WHY I did it--indie-published, that is. Here's the HOW (Disclaimer: contains work, complications, and immense satisfaction).

I'm just going to go over the steps I was able to take, steps which have given me some pretty decent mileage so far. Also, this post is going to focus on the publishing end of things. My next post will focus on book marketing.

But before I get started, I need to get something out of the way. Aspiring writers, this is where the passion comes in. Think indies only care about selling their books? Think they don't care about the art of writing? Do you have any idea how hard this is? You can bet your ass I care about my writing. I care about it enough to make sure that it has an audience, and I won't let anything stop meNo man, no woman, no animal, vegetable, mineral, literary agent, or breakfast cereal. Care about your art? Want people to read it? Then consider the non-art tasks ahead of you. Indie-publishing is a big, wild, messy meat storm. There are a lot of us out here. And actually, it's kind of fun. (Really, what meat storm isn't?)

Here goes:

My Bible
My journey to indie-publishing started by devouring and taking notes on every word of "The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing" by Marylin Ross and Sue Collier. I didn't follow all its advice, but reading this book before I published saved me a lot of bullshit, hassle, and heartache. It is concise, up-to-date, and covers everything from getting your work edited to how Oprah takes her coffee. Read it.

Get Legit! The ISBN
What: The ISBN is like your book's social security number. Once assigned, it allows your book to be instantly recognized by booksellers, libraries, and sites like Amazon and GoodReads. It is also the definitive element of a published book. When you're book is assigned an ISBN . . . bam! it's published material, baby. If you own that ISBN, then you are the publisher.
How: ISBNs are available for purchase at Single ISBNs are $125. I bought a block of 10 for $250. Here's why:
    1. The paperback, hard cover, and ebook versions will each need their own ISBN.
    2. Single ISBNs have a digit sequence which booksellers and everyone else in the industry recognize. It's like code for "I'm cheap and I'm doing this alone and I only have one book!" Just buy a block of 10 and sell your remaining ISBNs.
Other considerations: Self-publishing sites like Lulu offer "publishing packages", which include your book's ISBN with design, book-printing, distribution, and marketing services. Tempting? Yes. Why didn't I use it? Well:
    1. They severely limit book size, paper types, and other things that I wanted to be in control of.
    2. They print their logo on your book. No thanks.
    3.  It's more expensive--and only marginally less work than doing all this stuff myself.
    4. Using Lulu kind of screams "SELF-PUBLISHED!", and booksellers/literary agents turn their noses up at the stigmatic scent of it. NOTE: It's actually really cool if you're looking for limited distribution (family memoir, cookbook, local/community-interest books), but I had my sights way high.

Other Fancy Numbers I Needed
1. The LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number), which I got here
2. A copyright from the US Copyright Office, who, for their own sick pleasure I guess, will require two free copies of your book after publication. Also, their website hasn't been updated since Savage Garden broke up. Good luck.
3. A barcode (unless you're publishing only e-books). Most POD (Print-On-Demand) distributors will provide one. We'll get to them later.

I miss them like I miss chatroom RPGs (a lot).

Business Considerations
I started a publishing imprint for two reasons: a) I needed a nifty logo for the book's spine, and b) I sincerely want to publish quality work--yours and mine--and be taken seriously. So:
1. I obtained a business license (<$20 in most states)
2. I came up with some branding and created a landing site.
3. I began recording and categorizing every last dime of expense toward publication.
4. I saved my tips for months, deep-cleaned an apartment that had enough windowsill grime to drown Artax, and put $600 in a new bank account. I also started a new PayPal account.

Pace Yourself
When indie-publishing, there's a lot of stuff to take care of between finished manuscript and published, hot-off-the-press books. About six months of careful work, actually. Here are the things I found most important:
1. Editing. Yes, you've edited and re-edited. But pay someone, barter with an experienced editor, or swap manuscripts with another serious author. An editor will find not only weird grammar mistakes and funky phrases--they'll also find plot/character discrepancies, overused elements, and plot holes that YOU WILL HAVE. You cannot do this yourself. 
2. Proofreading. Again, someone other than you will be vital in finding all the spelling mistakes and double-typed words. I printed out my edited manuscript and distributed it in manageable chunks to a small group of fine, well-read friends. That worked for me. Note: No matter how many times your work is proofread, it will go to print with errors in it. It's inevitable. Forgive thyself.
3. Design. Design and typesetting I'll save for the next post. It's kind of a big deal.
4. Ebooks. Formatting for e-readers is a bitch, but anyone with MS Word can figure it out if they read Mark Coker's free guide. After formatting, I released Vessel as an ebook via Smashwords (which automatically distributes to B&N, Nook, iPad, iTunes, Kobo, and Diesel) and Amazon (for Kindle). Both sites are user-friendly and easy to manage.
5. Pricing.
     --I priced my book at 14.99, an average price for a novel-sized paperback. It's enough to cover printing and shipping (to me), and to chip away at the publication expenses I've piled up ($3,000 and counting).
     --I priced the ebook at $2.99 because that is the lowest price Amazon will allow for a 70% royalty. Anything below that gets a 35% royalty. I can easily sell more copies for 99 cents (while making 35 cents a pop), but I will not be taking the price down. I strongly feel that Vessel's quality and length--plus my humble obscurity--make $2.99 a very appropriate price.
6. Galleys. Bound galleys are pre-publication, unproofed copies of your book. They give you a feel for what your book will physically look like. They will also be handy for sending to reviewers a few weeks before the publication date. I ordered 40 and have used them all. I'll talk about reviewing in my next post.

You've made it, and now it's time to get your books printed and make them available to readers! I used Lightning Source, which is the best thing since the discovery of bacon. Lightning Source is a high quality Print-On-Demand/Distribution powerhouse. Here is what Lightning Source does:
- They print my book, only when I order copies, or only when they are purchased by someone online.
- They make my book available on Amazon, B&N, and other online retailers--and they handle order fulfillment.
- They allow me to choose my wholesaler/distributor price (the price Amazon and others pay for my books to resell them). More on that in the next post.
- They list my book in Ingram's database. IMPORANT: Ingram is the only book distributor that bookstores want to hear about. "This book is listed with Ingram." = "I'm not fucking around here."
- They give you incredible customer service. No robo-calls. No half-literate teenager reading some company-enforced troubleshooting list. I have not one, but six specialists available to me, whatever the crisis. My account manager is Jonathan. Jonathan is in control. Jonathan has my back. These people rock, and when their clients have a problem, they are on it like special ops. You need a rush-order of 50 but your author photo is fuzzy? My man Jonathan is locked and loaded.
- Oh, and they're affordable. (Note: Lulu uses Lightning Source to print your books)

The catch? Lightning Source will only deal with publishers, so you must own and hold the rights to your book's ISBN. Also, you'll need some basic knowledge of book printing and publishing basics--nothing a thorough read of  "The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing" (mentioned above) or some dedicated internet research won't tell you.

And there we have it: the bare bones of publishing. That's about as basic as it gets, and you can take it as far as you want from there. There are many things I didn't do, or can't do as one person. For more ideas, check out sites like, and the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers of America). There, you will find friends and higher ground in the meat storm. Next up: the cheapest and most effective book-marketing strategies I've found. Broke! Obscure! Exhausted! But for $2.99, sugar, I'll make you forget your name! 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why I did it. (self indie-publishing vs. traditional publishing)

Hang in there, folks. This is going to be a long one.

In the past couple of months, I've received the occasional message from a friend or acquaintance asking how to get published. And since publishing is the biggest "new favorite thing" I've developed since Jurassic Park introduced me to velociraptors, I am happy to respond--and at length. Sometimes, I get so excited about the topic of publishing that I'll spend the better part of an hour on a response. So, in order to save my keyboard and provide more thorough information to you, I'm just going to get it all out in a short series of posts.

I say 'series', because again, it's a subject I can wax long on. (Ew, that sounds dirty.)

So this first post is going to be about WHY I decided to indie-publish. I feel like there's no need discussing how to publish your work unless I first explain the options we all have prior to publishing. In theory, I could just call this post "How to GET your work published, and why it's not worth your time", but then you'd probably stop reading.

These are my sincere opinions, but they are opinions made after much research, physical sampling, actual application, and frequent eating of cake (cake erases all the bitterness). But seriously, no bitterness here. This is just publishing, as it is viewed by one author. Me.

Traditional Publishing
Up until about two or three years ago, this was the only chance you had at selling your book anywhere beyond your local bookstore and your own personal website. Getting a publisher is a very strict, formal process, and no one gets around it. You don't just mail a manuscript to the publisher like they do in the movies. To get a publisher, you need an agent. To get an agent, you have to pitch to multiple agents in your genre with a query letter. Just Google "query letter", or visit the blogs of either J. A. Konrath or Nathan Bransford, and you will find more information on this process than you can ever possibly read. But I won't waste more of this post explaining how that's done.

Because--and is your alligator onesie zipped up?--it's not going to work. Bottom line: there are too few agents, and too many of us.  Luck and timing factors in, even for the best novel you can chuck at these patient people. A typical, respectable agent views 12,000 or more query letters a year, and they generally pick up less than four new clients a year. And though you may be absolutely certain that your work is good enough to make you one of those four, your odds still SUCK. You have about the same chances of getting anally raped by an office chair at the speed of sound. Which is great news for your anus, but not so much for your book.

If you do find an agent (expect to query at least 40 of them individually, on their own individual terms), and that agent is able to get you a publishing deal, your book won't hit the shelves for at least another year. If the marketing efforts allotted to your book do not create projected sales, you may wind up paying back part of your author's advance (usually a couple thousand dollars). If projected sales are exceeded, you start earning at a 10% royalty (on average). The publisher can take the book out of print anytime, and unless you've got another book lined up to publish, you're done. Yes, there are tons of perks to getting published by an established house. For one, they are able to spend more time and money than you have on marketing--not only to retailers, but to booksellers, wholesalers, and libraries. That alone frees up A LOT of time for you to actually write, which is well worth the effort.

If your efforts could get you published.

For realsies, no bitterness here. Agents are nice people. This is just reality---if you're a first-time author with 1) no previously published work, 2) no money, and 3) no author/publisher inside connections. Are you? Then this is the obstacle course you are looking at. I ran through it, and it was a good learning experience, but somewhere between the revolving bridge and the gladiator with the giant padded Q-tip, I realized it wasn't going to work. It may work for you, and if you give it a try, then I wish you the best of luck and extra padding.

This guy didn't even send a form rejection letter.

And when you're done with that . . .

Indie Publishing
Welcome. How was that? Your face looks swollen. Did you try the traditional publishing route? You did, didn't you? Slap some meat on it. Your trials are far from over.

So if traditional publishing is so tough and risky, indie-publishing must be a cakewalk, right? Wrong. Publishing independently is a quantifiable ass-ton of solid work. It's also relatively expensive; you foot the bill for editing, web hosting, graphic design, printing, shipping, marketing, all of it. You spend hours emailing, researching, adding your book to listings, creating web content, and building your reader base. And eventually--as long as you've written something appealing--it starts to work. (PS, you still don't earn a dime, but you're not here to make money). 

How then, did I personally decide which large pile of work to dive into? Why publish on my own, if it's just as hard, if not harder, than finding an agent?
1. The work itself is progressive. It goes somewhere. Instead of bleating day after day for agents' attention, my efforts go directly toward reaching readers.
2. It's stuff I'd have to do anyway. Authors who sign on with established publishers must still do a lot of marketing legwork if they expect their work to sell. 
3. Higher royalties. Because I'd be lying if I said that wasn't nice.
4. More control. If the book fails, it's on me.
4. I was relatively certain Vessel would do okay. . . and so far, it's holding its own, thanks to all of you who've read it.

Why I don't call it 'Self-Publishing'.
I prefer to call it indie-publishing. To me, 'self-publishing' sounds like a one-track pursuit--one individual, one book, one mantra, gotta publish it, gotta publish it, gotta publish it. Indie-publishing implies an approach which is much harder to stigmatize. I am not publishing my self. And I may be publishing for myself, but not solely. I also publish to honor a project that is years in the making. I publish for the 200+ people who got behind Vessel prior to publication. I publish because I want to eventually publish the works of others. And I publish to say SUCK IT to anyone who's ever thought that writing was an unprofitable waste of my time. Unprofitable? Yes. A waste? A waste is what I would be if I didn't power up and do it anyway.

Good lord, I love it.

So that's WHY I did it, and why I hope you'll consider doing the same for yourself. Next up is HOW I did it, a magical tale of hope, ISBN blocks, and windowsill sludge. It will probably contain more practical information than this post, which is as earnest and gentle as I could possibly make it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

This week, in dreams...

Something is surely in my oatmeal. I tend to have memorable, epic dreams, but not every night in a row for a week. Just listen to the stuff my head is doing:

Monday. I am in a laboratory in which a formidable witch has covered me in small bird tattoos. She decrees that I have to get rid of them before she sees me again, or something terrible will happen. I then find myself at my parents' house, where they cheerfully hang around as I try to scrape my tattoos off with a series of butter knives--all too dull for the job. Eventually, because this is a great idea, I cut a fist-sized hole in my stomach. My appendix promptly pops out and proceeds to dangle. "Oh!" says my dad. "Just pop it back in, you'll be fine." I pop it back in, and am fine. We visit my grandmother, who is (in my dream only) a cat veterinarian, and we make a few house calls to her feline clients. While I am waiting for her in the woods and trying to keep additional guts from falling out of the gigantic hole in my abdomen, the tattoos fade and come flying out of said hole as actual birds. The hole then heals into a sort of gross, fleshy horn on my stomach. Pretty disgusting stuff, but if that's not as cool as any Kelly Link short I've ever read, then I will eat my own sawed-off tattoo.

Tuesday. Here we go again: another zombie apocalypse dream. Apparently, I'm doomed to have at least one of these every month for the rest of my life. For the first time, however, I am confident in a zombie-infected world. In this dream, I'm not running or hiding or having my feet tugged at by rotting corpses. I've got this down, and I am not afraid. I and my real-life but all too dreamy beau are like this badass Pony Express, hopping from abandoned car to abandoned car as each one runs out of gas, and making deliveries to people along the way. Delivering what? I don't know. Awesomeness, I imagine.

Wednesday. Okay seriously? Where did this one come from? I am along on some Tokein-esque quest with a psychic woman, a Legolas-lookalike, and SANTA CLAUS. I don't remember what we were after, or anything else....just....Santa? And he was so mean. He lost his temper at every turn, and at one point he broke a table in a drunken rage. I repeat: Santa.

People of Earth: is it the radiation? Is it my thyroid? Are you having wacky dreams this week, too? It's bedtime, and I'm honestly ready for more action, but what now? Zombie Santa: Veterinarian. Lord. I can't wait.


Oh! And just a reminder: Vessel the e-book is FREE FOR ONE MORE WEEK at Smashwords! No Zombie Santa, but plenty of living-dead horror (and humor).