Like any revolution, self-publishing has its highs and lows along the way to its ultimate objective. There’ll be preconceptions to overcome, technical hairballs to unpick, and the odd silver-tongued rogue to ambush the unwary stranger. If this is to be a positive experience, you’ll need a trustworthy guide.
Let’s start by demolishing the self-publishing is for losers myth. Self-publishing’s what you do after your book’s been rejected by traditional publishers. Right? Wrong. The self-publishing revolution begun by Amazon is massively significant. It’s on par with Caxton and the invention of movable type. And maybe more so – we are in the eye of a publishing revolution; people just haven’t realised yet.
That’s because, even amid these dramatic advancements in publishing, we are fixated by the patterns of the past. Traditional publishing, the writer completes a manuscript submits it to a publisher who recognises its a genius and publishes it. Didn’t matter if the manuscript was scrawled with a quill or hammered out on an Adler or for that matter keyed in with Microsoft Word. You provide the words the publisher provides the book. It’s a two-component process.
We are like the general fighting todays battles with strategies of the past. The conventional publishing industry reinforces this attitude. Look at the typical format an agent imposes on a query submission. A4, 12pt Times New Roman, double spaced, ranged left. You’ll never see a book laid out like that. The inference is clear. Demarcation. Words are your business; we’ll take care of the rest. They may use email, but they are stuck in the days when queries were dispatched in sheaves of badly typed and foolscap.
Now we come to my big point. Self-publishing is an opportunity, and invitation, to break away from the shackles of the past. Self-publishing requires a whole new mindset. Importantly, thinking like a self publisher will add an extra dimension of creativity and satisfaction to your writing.
But this requires turning the traditional publishing model on its head.
Ask yourself: ‘What’s the last consideration of a writer?’ The book cover design, of course. That’s a publisher’s job, right? That’s a job for an artist not a writer.
Not anymore, that’s your job now.
This is a brilliant exercise to clarify a writer’s thinking. Envision a single image which encapsulates the subject of your book. Something that not only accurately represents your subject but gives it market appeal. Constantly revisit (or adjust) that image as you write.
Cover design as an afterthought so often relies on a montage of imagery, that’s just the product of woolly thinking. Someone has lost the plot – literally. A single powerful image is the one punch KO of the graphical world. So, if you are writing about, say, about a forest. Your single image will be a tree. Tell me that’s not what’s happening with Stephen King’s ‘Christine’, Herman Melville’s ‘White Whale’ and Peter Benchley’s ‘Jaws’.
Now what’s the next last consideration as a writer? The typography. That’s a publisher’s job, right? That’s for a typesetter not a writer.
Not anymore, that’s your job now.
Again, this comes with a benefit. To understand how typography can help a writer, we need to address to the basics of written communication. Those strange abstract squiggles on the page which miraculously cause images to be seen and emotions to arise in the mind. Those 52 individual shapes, collectively forming a pattern evoking meaning. Shape = meaning. This doesn’t just apply on a micro level (individual letters/words) it’s also applicable to the macro level the shape the letters form on your page, and ultimately to the shape of your manuscript. Writers should learn to be playful with their typography. Modulate sentence, paragraph, and section lengths. Write shorter punchier dialogue. Or the opposite if that works. Maybe break a few conventions for the sake of visual appeal. Keep in mind shapes convey emotion and pace.
Here’s a few lines from one of my books (in this case I’m favouring triangles) …
‘So that’s your limo,’ said the barmaid.
‘I have temporary use of it,’ I said.
‘And the goons minding it?’
‘They’re on staff.’
Indifferent typography can render a book unreadable. Creative typography can be inspirational. For a self-publisher typing in double spaced twelve point across an A4 page is plain dumb. You have no impression of the final appearance of your book.
The quick and dirty way to get a book feel to your manuscript is to simply jack your text up in size. Between 16pt and 18pt depending on the font. You’ll need to be looking for 32 lines on the page and an average line length of 11-12 words.
The ultimate is to type directly into a book template. That involves opening an Amazon account (cost free), choosing your page size, and downloading a template. They come in two varieties plain, that is empty, and with sample text. Best way is to get the sample text version and type over the text. (You’ll notice the gutter is wider on the right of a left-hand page and vice versa.) This provides you with a what you see is what you get version of your book as you type.
Then the fun starts. When you have finished your story it’s time to start killing the widows and orphans (typographically speaking). Nothing looks less professional than a single word left over at the end of a chapter, or even a single line. You want your dialogue to flow, you don’t want to have to turn over a page to see the last dramatic word of a sentence. Typing into a template provides a level of control unavailable to a conventionally published author. (I have a rule that no page has less than four lines.)
So, what do you do? Scan the previous page, for opportunities to you either reduce the line count or extend it. They will abound. Then begins a massive game of whack-a-mole. Kill a widow, she potentially gives birth to an orphan later in the chapter. So much fun.
By now you will have discovered that self-publishing is a misnomer. The very term self publishing perpetuates the myth that there are two involved in this process. There’s self and there’s publishing. In truth there is only you. The sooner you integrate publishing into your writing process the more successful and fulfilling the results will be. Self-publishing should be called DIY publishing. That makes you the editors, proof-readers, typesetter, a graphic designer, printer, and publicist.
And now we come to the biggest differentiator between conventional publishing and self-publishing. When you have finished your book, you haven’t finished your book. With conventional publishing you discover a catastrophic mistake, and you’ll have to trash a massively expensive print run. With self publishing, no problem, revise your manuscript and simply resubmit. You receive an adverse review, maybe decide to revise a section, have a total rethink, no problem, the additions, alterations, correction appear within 72 hours of a resubmission. Want a total rethink, just unpublish it and start again. The only things you can’t change are the title, authors name and paper colour (choice between white and cream).
The paperback is a print-on-demand service which means it is a digital process. In terms of finish, it has two major differences to the conventional offset process. Fonts were designed for traditional printing which is a wet process. They allow for ink absorption into porous paper. Digital printing is a dry process eliminating absorption. Traditional publishing fonts can appear much too light so use a heavier font than you would for offset. The upside being that digital paper quality is much better than traditional books, especially paperbacks.
Colour printing (cover) can be disappointing, digital printing is not great for subtleties. You should bear that in mind its limitations when choosing imagery, colour, and title font. But the upside, with self-publishing, all sales and marketing will take place online. The physical cover which is paramount in attracting instore book sales is not even a consideration in online sales. What attracts and influences online buyers is all on screen, which is unaffected by the digital printing process. The first time the buyer sees the printed paperback when it’s delivered at which point, they are (hopefully) only interested in reading it.
The twin self-publishing format to the paperback is the eBook. Having completed your paperback, it is a simple process to convert to an eBook. Just download an application, and it’ll guide you through the process. All the same rules and opportunities apply. Save for you rather unnervingly surrender much of your hard-won typography to the reader, who can change the font, style, and size (although your line breaks will survive).
So, will being self-published exclude you from conventional publishing? Absolutely not. For E L James and ‘Fifty Shades’, independent publishing proved to be a springboard to success.
Something with as many virtues as self-publishing, there is bound to be a serpent in the garden. In fact, lots of them. These come in the form of ‘vanity publishers’. There insidious creatures are easy to spot. They’ll have a phoney but convincing front. They want you to believe they’re conventional publishers. But they will always be open to submissions. Next clue, they respond with a lavish brochure and a covering letter confirming your work has great literary merit and enormous sales potential. But as an unpublished author you will understand that you should share the cost of publishing. But think about this… it’s a print on demand service, there are no costs. And here’s the real kicker, publishing on Amazon (and some similar platforms) is FREE. Typical vanity publishers will charge more than £4,500. And you may even lose control of your copyright. For a similar service I’ll charge £299. Okay, that’s cheap, but I’m not trying to exploit the ambitions of fellow writers.
And, by way of reassurance, I know what I’m doing. I attended art school for four years. Practiced design and copywriting for thirty-five years and taught design at three universities. I had my first book (conventionally) published in 1975 (yes, I’m that old). Still self-publishing was a steep learning curve even for me, with all the experience and tools at my disposal. On retirement I promised myself I’d single-handedly revive abstract expressionism. Had all the paint and brushers ready, the canvasses primed. The Turner Prize committee on speed dial. Then my wife bought me a writing course for Christmas. And much to my disappointment, I discovered I was an obsessive writer. I completed my first novel a couple of years ago. I’ve written two more since. So, you can say I've walked the walk. Take it from me, not much beats the thrill of holding your first paperback, hot off the press.
What I have found helpful as a writer, and what I encourage others to do, is to incorporate self-publishing into their creative process. It’ll enrich your enjoyment of writing and produce better books. And that holds true whether you continue down the self-publishing route, or whether a conventional publisher does eventually recognise your genius.
You can learn more about self-publishing and my services at: www.publishingbuddy.co.uk or call 07498 368047