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! 


  1. I love you so much right now. You are seriously awesome.

  2. Wow. I'm printing this out and filing it with my self-pub workshop notes. Thanks.