Self-publishing: an explanation

I thought it would be useful to cover this topic because there are still misconceptions about what it is. First, it will probably help to explain about traditional publishing.

A traditional publishing company will only take on work that they consider commercially profitable. After all, they are a business. Generally, manuscripts are submitted to publishers by literary agents, and the decision to accept or reject them depends on the potential of the story, market trends, and production costs.

If you are fortunate enough to have your novel accepted by a publishing company, all of the hard work required in the production and selling of the book is done for you. That’s the editing, cover design and typesetting, proofreading, printing, marketing and distribution. You will receive a payment in the form of an advance, which you pay back, over time, out of the royalties you earn from the sales of your book.

With true self-publishing, you publish your work independently and at your own expense. No literary agents or traditional publishing houses are involved. You manage the whole process from start to finish. However, the amount of work you can realistically do by yourself is dependent on a number of things, including: IT skills, time, and a reasonable understanding of the processes involved.

If you just want to see your work in print and don’t mind about quality control, you could complete the whole process at little or no cost. That’s an achievement in itself. But if you lack the resources required, or you care about how your work will be received, or you would like your novel to be produced to a professional standard, you will have to pay.

The ability to self-publish was made possible by the arrival of Internet companies such as CreateSpace, Lulu, and Smashwords, back in the early 2000s. Prior to this, the only way to publish a book outside of the traditional route was to use a vanity publisher, where an author paid quite a lot of money up front to have their book ‘professionally’ produced. This was often regardless of potential or quality, with little or no editorial service, marketing, and distribution. As a result, vanity publishing earned a bad name.

These days, many independent publishers have sprung up to offer self-publishing services, but in essence, these are no different from vanity publishers. The author still has to pay up front. As I write this, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook lists over 100 such companies. Some are even offshoots of traditional publishers (where rejected manuscripts are passed to a ‘self-publishing’ department). Prices vary greatly, depending on the service offered. You could pay anything from £200 to £2000 to see your book in print. If you decide to take this route, shop around and find out what is offered for the money.

Regardless of the route taken, there is a lot of work involved in publishing a novel, whether it is produced as a printed copy or an e-book. It is not a quick process, either, taking months rather than weeks.

I hope this offers an adequate explanation as to what self-publishing is. If I’ve missed anything, or you have any questions, please feel free to ask. There’s one last thing I would like to mention: whatever your resources, try not to skimp on the production of your novel. If you do, the hard truth is that you are unlikely to sell many copies beyond your circle of friends and family, however good the story. After all your hard work in writing it, this would be a shame. It does not necessarily mean paying someone else to do the work, but just spending some time researching what is involved in the production process. 🙂

 

CreateSpace & the ISBN conundrum

This week, I thought I would shed some light on the role of the ISBN, when self-publishing with CreateSpace.

What is an ISBN? ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. You’ll find one on the back cover of a published book.  It is a product identification number that enables a publisher to distribute the book to outlets such as major bookselling chains, internet booksellers, and libraries. As a self-publisher, you may wish to take advantage of this method of distribution.

There is no legal requirement in the UK for an ISBN, but when self-publishing with the US-based platform, CreateSpace, you have to provide one. They offer a choice of either using a CreateSpace-assigned ISBN or providing your own UK ISBN (initially obtained from the Nielsen UK ISBN Agency).

Which ISBN should I choose? This largely depends on how you wish your book to be distributed. If you are happy to sell your book via the range of Amazon websites and US outlets, then it’s probably best to choose the CreateSpace-assigned ISBN. If you wish to take advantage of UK distribution as mentioned in the opening paragraph, then you need to provide a UK ISBN. To further explain the differences between the two, I have, hopefully, offered some insight below. (CreateSpace currently provide four ISBN options, but two of these are not available for non-US members.)

CreateSpace-assigned ISBN. This option is free, but designates CreateSpace as the publisher and distributor of your work. As publisher, they use the imprint ‘CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform’, and this will appear on any bibliographical references. Although you always retain the copyright to your work, with this option you have little control over publishing and distribution rights. Your book will be sold on Amazon.com, Amazon Europe and eStore channels, but distribution is only available to CreateSpace Direct, bookstores, other online retailers, libraries, and academic institutions within the US – worth bearing in mind if you specifically want to distribute your book to these places in the UK. A CreateSpace-assigned ISBN can only be used with the CreateSpace platform.

Provide your own UK ISBN. There is no charge by CreateSpace for this, but you will have to pay a fee to whoever provides the UK ISBN. This could be direct to the Nielsen UK ISBN Agency, or to whoever self-publishes your book. (I currently charge £14.40 when using my own publishing imprint, Shadenet Publishing.) If you buy your UK ISBN direct, you choose your own publishing name. This makes it more personal, but more importantly, you hold all the publishing and distribution rights, and your imprint will appear on any bibliographical references. You can also choose your own distributor. Your book will still be available via all the Amazon outlets, but will not be eligible for distribution to libraries and academic institutions in the US. It will still be available to US bookstores and other online retailers, but your book’s ISBN must not have been submitted for distribution through another service, and you must use an industry-standard trim size for your book (5″ x 8″, 5.25″ x 8″, 5.5″ x 8.5″, or 6″ x 9″).

Any self-publisher can purchase an ISBN. Until recently, they were only available in blocks of 10, but the Nielsen UK ISBN Agency have realized that many self-publishers only want to publish one book, so they have started offering one ISBN, currently for £75. (Bear in mind, 10 can be bought for £149.00).

E-books do not necessarily require an ISBN number, but if you want to distribute e-books through channels other than Amazon, in the UK, then you will need to assign a different ISBN number.

I hope this goes some way to making the ISBN choice easier for UK self-publishers. I’d quite like to hear from anyone about their experiences of using a UK ISBN with CreateSpace, especially with regards to distribution.

The Importance of Being Edited

If you had asked me ten years ago (when I first took up creative writing) what an editor did, I probably would have said, ‘Someone who helps to publish books’. Such was my ignorance at the time.

If you had asked me three years ago whether my self-published book of short stories had been copy-edited, or not, I probably would have said, ‘No, why should it?’. Such was my ignorance and arrogance at the time.

If you were to ask me today, when I say that I am about to self-publish my first novel (actually, I’m not quite there yet), had it gone through a proper editing process, I would reply, ‘Of course! Why wouldn’t it?’.

So, what changed? Well, four years of studying, courses, experience, observations, research…an accumulation of knowledge; that’s what.

Before the days of self-publication, the editing process was generally something that only happened within the confines of a publishing house. We weren’t quite sure what it was, or how it happened, but within their hallowed halls the transformation of raw manuscript to printed book took place.

With the ability to self-publish, all kinds of new terminology has surfaced. Some are still not quite sure what it all means: proofreading, copyediting, lineediting, developmental editing, structural editing, typesetting, formatting…except that having it done might make their work more sellable, so it must be a good thing.

It seems that self-publishing is here to stay, and I’m all for it. Not least because the modus operandi of conventional publishers means that many promising manuscripts never see the light of day as a printed book. Self-publishing allows those slush-pile stories to break free, but the downside is that the independent author is simply not able to prepare their own work for publication in the same way that a dedicated (read as both ‘devoted’ and ‘exclusively allocated’) editor would be. Why?  Not editorially qualified, and too close to their own work, means it is impossible for a writer to self-edit properly. Sadly, this means that a large proportion of self-published books do not meet professional standards, and invariably fall by the wayside. What a waste! What a shame!

It makes no logical sense for a writer to invest time and energy into producing their novel, but not invest time and money in having it professionally edited. They are doing themselves, and independent publishing, a great disservice. After all, nobody has to read a novel. So, if yours isn’t enjoyable, page-turning, fit for purpose, then you may just get 5-star reviews from friends and family who feel obliged to say that it’s wonderful, and then, ultimately, no more sales. Why would you want that? You deserve more!

As a creative writer, I can relate to why self-publishers may not want to have their work professionally edited, but believe me, if you are serious about trying to make money out of your writing, and you want recognition for all your hard work, be prepared to put it through a professional editing process. It is important, and what you learn from the experience should help you (and any subsequent editor) enormously, when you come to work on your next novel.

Happy writing! 🙂

 

Editing tip 2: The Ellipsis (or ‘dot-dot-dot’ as it’s known)

The ellipsis (plural: ellipses) is a series of three full stops, used to show an omission in the text. In fiction writing, an ellipsis is often used to denote a pause (not an interruption – that’s something different), an unfinished thought, a trailing off, or to create a dramatic or ironic effect:

“I’m not sure if … what I meant to say was …”

The door closed slowly behind her …

“You are joking … aren’t you?”

Sentences that end in a question mark, or an exclamation mark, can be written with the ellipsis before or after:

“How did you … ?” or “How did you? …”

Technically speaking, there should be one full space before and after the three full stops, but when formatting a document from left-justified to fully justified, the characters are often padded out, leaving something like this:

Before: “Hello … how are you?”       After: “Hello . . . how are you?

The latter can be distracting to the eye as it takes up a more space, and in my opinion, does not give a professional look, either on an e-reader or in printed form.

Fortunately, most word-processing programs recognise three full stops together as an ellipsis and can autocorrect them to signify one character. There may be an ellipsis already built in to the character set: in Microsoft Word, the ellipsis is obtained by pressing the keys: ctrl-alt-full stop. It inserts half a space before and after, and does not pad out when changing the justification of the text. Worth remembering.

One other thing: there are only ever three full stops in an ellipsis – in English, anyway – not four, five, or six, as I have seen! 🙂

Editing tip 1: Simple Formatting for Kindle Publishing

Pick up any fiction novel, and take a look at the first paragraph of each chapter.  Most likely, the first line of the first paragraph will be aligned at the left edge of the text area, or to put it another way: blocked at the left margin. The first paragraph is also blocked after a section break, a quoted passage, an illustration, and after anything that is an interruption to the continuous flow of text.

Subsequent paragraphs, you will notice, are indented. The space that they are indented by can vary, but generally, the text starts at about 3–4 characters in.

You will also notice that there are no blank lines between paragraphs, but there may be a gap of white space, a decorative device (known as a fleuron), or simply a number of asterisks, to denote a section break.

This style of formatting is uniform across the majority of printed fiction novels and is the style I have adopted when formatting a document for electronic self-publishing, in particular, for the Kindle devices.

(Before I continue, I should point out that I currently use Word 2010 for document formatting, and all instruction is based on that.)

Rather than choosing ‘none’ as the indent setting for the first line of the first paragraph, which would be the logical action, I always indent it by 0.01 cm. Why? Well, the older Kindle e-readers, in particular, will set a tab as a paragraph indent in the absence of a given measurement: a rather wide tab, at that. I am not sure whether this is to do with Word or the way the Kindle compiles the document. However, specifying an indent at the formatting stage will override the e-reader’s desire to use a tab, and the measurement of 0.01 cm is enough to be recognized by the e-reader as an indent, but not enough to be recognized by the human eye.

Setting the indent for subsequent paragraphs is less complicated, and I simply indent the first line of these paragraphs by 0.5 cm.

The other basic formatting features to take into account are justification, line spacing, and font size.

Justification: simply justify the text so that it lines up at both the left- and right-hand margins. Additional spaces will automatically be added between words to fill out the lines. Again, you will notice that most printed novels display the text in this way.

Line spacing: it is possible that with single line-spacing, the text can appear denser, making it harder to read on an e-reader screen, whereas double line-spacing creates too big a space between the lines. I always set line spacing as ‘multiple’, at ‘1.15’ (with no spacing before and after), which makes the text less crowded.

Font size: generally, in the modern printed novel, there seems to be a uniform font size of between 10–12 pt. (I use 11.5!) It would seem that classic serif fonts are the preferred choice: Times New Roman, Palatino Linotype, Garamond, Baskerville, for example, as serif fonts are slower to read, apparently.

It is worth experimenting with different fonts and font sizes, saving the file and then running it through the Kindle Previewer to get an idea of how the finished product will look. This can only be an idea, mind, as there does seem to be differences between the way the previewer shows how pages will appear, compared with how they actually appear on the relevant device.

(Note that when saving the Word document for Kindle use, it should be saved as Web Page, filtered (*.htm;*.html).)

Following these simple tips should create a Kindle-ready document that embodies the traditional publishing standard for printed novels, offering a consistent layout that people are used to.  You never know: it may generate more sales!

To see a PDF version of this article, using the mentioned formatting, please click here.

E. & O. E.

If you have ever worked in an accounts department, or received an invoice for goods or services, you may have noticed the abbreviation ‘E. & O. E.’ printed somewhere upon it. This stands for ‘errors and omissions excepted’.

It is essentially a disclaimer: a commercial ‘get-out’ clause used to reduce a company’s liability for potentially incorrect or incomplete information. It states that information cannot be relied upon, or may have changed by the time of use, or that the information is correct, but no responsibility will be held if an error has occurred.

If you self-publish without employing the services of an editor, and are just relying on your own checking abilities (however good they are), or on those of friends and family, then you may as well print ‘E. & O. E.’ on the pages of your novel, because there will be errors and there will be omissions, and probably more…

The problem is that Joe Public can be your harshest critic. One only has to read the 1-star reviews on, say, Amazon, and an author’s sensitive ego can be torn to shreds in a sentence (the writer’s ego is something to blog about, but later, perhaps).

So, what stops a prospective author from having their work copy-edited? Lack of finances? Fear of criticism? Naivety? Over-confidence? I suspect one, some, or all of these!

It is my belief that many self-publishers-to-be do not fully understand the role of a copy-editor. There is so much more to it than just simply checking through a document page by page, to ensure that spelling, punctuation, and grammar are correct. A copy-editor has to go through a typescript line by line, word by word, and character by character, making sure that a piece of work is suitable for publication by ensuring that the work is prepared to a standard that Joe Public will understand. It is not a five-minute job either, so there is little point in being impatient. Copy-editing takes time, it takes concentration, and it takes dedication.

To be fair, though, copy-editing is not cheap. It’s not cheap because it’s a skilled job. I am sure that there are writers who simply cannot afford to pay for the services of a copy-editor, and so take their chances, but sadly, it’s not enough, especially if they are thinking of submitting to a literary agent. In conventional publishing, the work has to be error-free and that goes for self-publishing too.

If you decide to self-publish without having your work copy-edited, you will need to make sure that your skin is thick enough to cope with those low star ratings. If you sell enough copies, there will always be one. Everyone’s a critic! Bad reviews will pull the book’s overall rating down, and risks putting off potential buyers. Even worse, if the sample shows errors, you may not sell any.

Maybe it’s not such a bad idea, after all, to print ‘E. & O. E.’ on the copyright page of your novel, or on the back cover, before going to print!