On Writing,  publishing

The New World of Publishing: It Ain’t So Easy

So far, in a number of these chapters in this topic, I’ve talked about the differences with this new world and the old traditional publishing. And then in the last post I talked about just one of the decisions that writers publishing their own books in their own publishing company must face. Pricing decisions, and that chapter caused all kinds of fun conversations.

And as many writers have learned already in this new world, being a publisher these days is easy COMPARED to what it used to be. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy in general. It’s just easier than it used to be.

So for a moment I thought I would back up and just make an attempt at outlining the ease and the difficulties with being a small publisher in this new world of publishing. Am I going to cover everything? Nope, not even close, but I hope this chapter will serve as a jumping-off point for more discussions and topics to cover later.

Okay, hang on, I’m going to start from the very beginning of a publishing business life and work through this, detailing where I see problems, where I see things being easy, and where in a few places this is different from traditional publishing.

The Birth and Growth of a Small Publisher

Step One: Writer decides to move over into the publishing world, either to put up new stories, to put up back list, or stories that didn’t sell. The reasons a writer would do this at this point are many, but I’m only going to mention one. Money. After all, this is a business. You want to make money with your writing. Sure, you want readers, sure you want your art to be seen, sure you are tired of beating your head against the problems of traditional publishers, but this is a business and businesses don’t exist for the most part unless they make money.

Step Two: Writer figures out what to call his new publisher. As you go through names, check to make sure the url is open and other considerations like that. Do you need to do any forms with the state or anything like that? Nope, it’s just you, so it goes with your writing income in a Schedule C on your taxes. Or a new Schedule C. Set up a Paypal account and a personal “internet” checking account where the money flows to. Keep this separate from your personal checking account and keep great records of every dime you spend and make. Is this step easy? Sure, but takes time to set up.

Step Three: Pick a story that will be your first published work through your new publisher. My suggestion, start with a short story. Easy to change and if you make mistakes, easy to fix.

Step Four: Format your story for electronic submission.  This needs to be a Word doc file. If you use something else you are just introducing problems. I won’t talk about other programs and don’t care about them. Here is how to make your Word.doc file into a file ready to be loaded up to an electronic site and read on some device.

1) Take your formatted manuscript, remove your address information at the top, then select all, change spacing to 1 1/2 spacing, change font to Times New Roman, change size to 12 point.

2) Remove all headers and footers and search and destroy all tabs. Then work through your manuscript making sure all underlines are changed to italics and so on.

3) Take your title and byline and change the font to 14 point. No bigger. Then in italics under that in 12 point put “Copyright 2010 by (Author name)”  You can put your publisher name under that if you want, but do not say the copyright is by the publisher.  Then go to the bottom of the story and a few lines after your ending put a few dashes, then after that put your author bio, where the story was originally published if it was, and references to other stories you have up that the reader might like if they liked the story they just finished.  Put all that in italics and single spaced to make sure the reader knows it is different from the story itself.

4) If you are doing a novel and have chapters, put hard page breaks between each chapter.  Caution!!  Never have more than four returns in a row on any file. That shows up as a blank page on a reading device.  Remember that what it looks like in your manuscript format is not what you are going for on a reading device.  On a hard page break, put two returns above the page break and two below the page break.

Save this file as your “main” file.  Then do a save-as and save a “Kindle” file, save an “Pubit” file, and save a “Smashwords” file.  For the Smashwords file, you must use their copyright information under your copyright notice. Go to their site, copy it and put it there.

That’s it. In a file folder on your computer you will have four copies of your story. Your story is ready to go.  Is this step simple? At first, no, and Smashwords will drive you nuts until you learn how to do it their way and get the tabs out of your files. But after a lot of these now, it’s very, very simple.

Step Five: Do your promotions file. This means write the story blurb. Smashwords requires that your blurb be under four hundred characters, and that means spaces. The other sites you are free to get longer and put in quotes and reviews and such if you want.  But have the file ready.  Also in this file have a list of tag words for your story ready so you are not trying to remember them as you go. Also have an author bio ready. Pubit asks for it.  Put it in Kindle under the story blurb as well if you want to.

Step Six: Do a Cover. Oh, yeah, that’s easy.  NOT.

Learn any number of programs for this, including (if you are really good) Photoshop. I have done covers in Photoshop, in InDesign, and in PowerPoint. PowerPoint is surprisingly easy and has a lot of things that you can do. Learning PhotoShop or InDesign is another matter. They are hard, flat hard to learn, and then even when you know the programs, you might not know how to design a good cover.   This cover step alone is why so many writers are hiring parts of this work out. Everything is pretty basic and easy right up to this step.

However, that said, I can do a cover for a short story now in PowerPoint in about thirty minutes from start to finish using a public domain photo that fits the story. Novel covers I use PhotoShop or InDesign and they take a lot, lot longer. And remember, I used to own a publishing company in the old days. If you are willing to spend the time to learn, you will make being a publisher a lot cheaper.

Learning how to do covers is the big fear factor. We spent about two hours on it at the New Tech workshop and the writers there all got covers done while sitting in the class, some were off-the-charts fantastic. I think we cured most of them of their fear of doing a cover. So it can be learned. For this discussion, let’s just pretend you have figure out the cover problem and move on.

Step Seven: You have a cover, a file that’s ready, and a promotions file with blurb and tags ready to go.  You are ready.

Go to https://dtp.amazon.com/mn/signin and get an account. After you have an account and go through all the paperwork to set up yourself as a publisher, hit the “Add New Title” button and follow the instructions. Right now is where you have to set the price be ready. It takes me five minutes to load up a new story, but the first one took a lot longer.

After you are done there go to Pubit (B&N) and set up a new account there, then “Add Title” and follow the instructions, almost the same as Kindle.

Then go to Smashwords, set up an account, and do the same there.

This step the first time through (with all the set-ups and learning curves on learning how to get around on new sites) will be slow and painful. But after you have done a few stories, the process gets very easy.

ISBNs.  Use the Smashwords ISBN feature that’s free. Makes no difference and if you think it does, wow do you need to study up on what ISBNs are in the first place. I hear more silly worries about ISBNs than almost anything else. Use the free ones, folks.

Step Eight: Now comes the really hard part.  You have a story up for sale electronically. Congratulations. Now forget it and put up a new story, and then do it again, and again, and again.

Step Nine: You have moved to novels. Same process as above electronically, only with books you don’t want to ignore 91% of the market that likes and buys paper copies, so go to CreateSpace and set up an account.

But with POD publishing, there are a ton more steps and even more fun, meaning lots of learning.  You MUST learn InDesign. That way you can design your own covers and flow in your book in a way that will look professional. Remember, most traditional publishers and almost all magazines use InDesign. Use it, learn it. Use Lynda.com to take lessons. They walk you through InDesign book design there. And cover design as well.

This is difficult and a price you will pay, both in money and time, to be a publisher, a real publisher. Sure, you can hire this done as well, but the money you will spend over the years having it done will be huge compared to your upfront costs of the program and learning time so you can just do it yourself. In this step you have to set prices as well. And where you want it distributed and so on.

This is the hardest step of them all. There are so many things to learn in this step, if nothing else it will give you a real honest appreciation of what traditional publishers go through.

Step Ten: Promotions. Well, here comes more time you have to spend.  Your personal-writer web site needs to be maintained and also your publisher-name web site needs to be maintained and every time you have a new book out you announce it on both sites. You should be on Twitter and Facebook. If you do POD you can send out review copies to reviewers from your press name. If only electronic I know there are reviewers and blogs who take electronic books.  But the best promotion you can do (as I have argued in the past) is just get another product up and write more. And do better covers and better blurbs.

There are a thousand and one ideas for promotion and they are changing daily. Do the basics I listed above and get back to writing the next story. But again, I won’t argue if someone wants to spend money and huge amount of time doing a promotion on their first novel. I’ll be writing a couple more books in the same amount of time.

Step Eleven: Watching the sales.  Don’t, or at least not more than once per month. Early on they will just discourage you. Expect that.  Go into this publishing business for the long haul.

It’s Easy, Right?

Well, in all truth, this new world seems fantastically easy compared to what I had to do with my nineteen employees and two story office building.  I can now put out more product in one month on my own than that entire building full of people could produce in a month back in 1989. So in that case, this is so much easier I can’t begin to describe it.

But for someone with no design sense, not a lot of extra time, and not many things written, this self-publishing process is daunting at best.

There seems to be a thousand questions a new publisher must fact. Questions such as:

—How to balance writing time with publishing time?

—Are you better served to try to sell your book to New York or put it up yourself?

—Should you promote or write something new?

—And even simple decisions like what price to charge become difficult.

—Should you spend the money and the time to buy InDesign and learn it to do paper copies? Or try to get by with something cheaper and easier that will make your books look like they were self-published instead of professionally published.

—Should you stay with electronic publishing only and ignore 90% of your possible readership?

—Should you hire help? As I said earlier, there are numbers of business springing up with set prices, some cheaper than others, that offer writers some of these services.

—Should you spend the money hiring help and if you do how long will it take to get the money back?  (Note: Some agents are offering to do the work for you, to step into the publisher roll. Avoid them at all costs. Not an option.)

There are a thousand more questions you will suddenly face as a publisher.

So when you hear someone say self-publishing is easy, I hope you just don’t jump into it without thinking. It takes time, lots of time, but it is possible.

Very possible.

And because it is possible, it has opened so many doors for so many of us. And those doors are opening wider by the day. This is a wonderful new world we live in. It comes with costs in both money and time spent, but wow, is it fun.

Not easy, but great fun.