Some facts about self-publishing in 2011

Posted in self-publishing, writing.

Else­where on this site, I’ve mentioned my inten­tion to self-publish (re-publish?) the Essalieyan short stories that have appeared in various antholo­gies. When I said this, I knew very little about the entire process, but assumed that the text would be the most time-consuming part of it. As it turns out, this was not entirely accu­rate. Every­thing else is also time-consuming.

A reader of this blog offered to deal with one of the things I most dreaded: comparing text to the print book for differ­ences, and catching those errors in the text he himself inputed, line by line. When the text comes back to me, I have two proof-readers (not including myself) who will then read it in printed form, to catch anything that he missed.

It’s impos­sible for one person to catch every­thing, no matter how careful or compe­tent they are.

The incred­ibly impres­sive Courtney Milan has a post on her blog which describes the process of text handling from manu­script to finished product (in this case, ebook, but the steps are derived from the process of shep­herding a book from author’s hands to printing press). She is not making this up, and her point — that no single person can catch all errors, is absolutely true in my opinion, and in my expe­ri­ence.

Some­times readers will assume that because I have the elec­tronic files of the manu­scripts for any given work I’ve written on hand, the conver­sion into ebook should be simple and effort­less. I believe there are some authors who do, in fact, do this.

But what can (and in my opinion is likely to) happen in that case is described here, at Dear Author, a romance review site run by a woman who is also, in my opinion, incred­ibly smart. The part that’s rele­vant (although the Harle­quin news is rele­vant to me on a different front) is near the end of the column, in which Jane posts two para­graphs of text which contain four errors.

While the text I have on hand doesn’t have that many, it’s entirely possible that some other work of mine could. Most of my mistakes, on the other hand, are touch-typist mistakes; if I’m typing, I can just as easily type “talked” instead of “talking”, which by the way really really really irri­tates me, as a reader. It looks like a tense change — in the best case. These are the mistakes that a spell check won’t catch; a spell check also won’t catch the wrong name, missed words, or its vs. it’s.

If you do read the Milan blog, you’ll know that the substan­tive edito­rial work has already been done. The manu­scripts I have have all gone through edito­ri­ally requested revi­sions. But the manu­scripts I have have gone through none of the other stages. In order to get them into shape, I have to consider the rest of the editing process. It’s diffi­cult when dealing with short fiction, because Amanda Hocking aside, collec­tions or short stories are not likely to sell in huge numbers. Paying for cover art work, paying for copy-editing, paying for format­ting, and paying a proof-reader can quickly make short fiction a money losing propo­si­tion. Jim C. Hines, on his blog, has posted his numbers for the two books he’s released on his own (one is a main­stream novel, and one is a short story collec­tion of stories asso­ci­ated with his Goblin Books.) Although his collec­tion is shorter (mine is about 100k words — everyone act surprised), I’m real­is­ti­cally assuming similar numbers for what is a simi­larly themed work.

I can check the manu­script I have on hand against the printed book; I can change what needs to be changed to reflect it. A line-by-line compar­ison can be done, by me, at the cost of only my time. (At the moment, it is being done by a reader, at the cost of his time, my grat­i­tude, and my attempt not to feel enor­mously guilty). It’s one way of dealing with copy-editing, because the text on the page has already been through a copy-edit. But the resulting text still has to be proofed, prefer­ably by someone who is not me, because someone else will have natural sensi­tiv­i­ties to errors that I don’t have. I print out the stories in a font and format that is very close to a printed book page, because changing the format changes the text and the way I read it.

Garfield Reeves-Stevens said to me, after my first book was published, that it’s inevitable: the book will arrive, you will open it with excite­ment and joy, and the first thing you will see will be the typo that everyone missed in every pass of the book. (He was right, and I am actu­ally good at proofing the galleys of my own books; one of the several people who missed that mistake was me).

But the alter­na­tive — publish what I have — produces some­thing that’s not as close to a book’s reading expe­ri­ence as I can possibly make it, and that gives me ulcers. I have some of the best readers in the world; they are certainly some of the most forgiving about my various delays. But I think they deserve the best effort I can make (which is often the cause of some of the delays). Forgiving me for making the book better* is not the same as forgiving me for being cava­lier.

However… it’s not just the text. Once the text is as perfect as it can be made (and I’m absolutely certain some­thing will escape uncor­rected into the wild), there’s more.

What I have discov­ered so far:

1. Covers are neces­sary. Even for a short story. No one uploads a book without a cover, these days; at least one service will not offer the book for sale without one.

2. I have no visual acumen what­so­ever. I spent twelve hours of time I could have spent in revi­sions (I wrote first, before I started) looking at stock images and at deviant art. What I discov­ered is that I know when I like a piece of art or a photo­graph — but that I have no ability to gauge whether or not an unadorned image will work as a cover. In the sink or swim world of the self-starter, I had an anvil tied to my ankles. So: covers clearly are never, ever to be done by me.

3. Format­ting is not entirely trivial, and at the moment, for only ebooks, three different formats are required: an epub (which as far as I can tell is mostly html/css), a mobi file (for the Kindle), and an MS Word .doc file for Smash­words. The latter is the only way I can make the book avail­able for the Nook. If I had a busi­ness address in the US, I could upload directly, and that would make this a lot less painful because I can upload an *epub* directly. At the moment, however, I get to play with MS Word style sheets in order to format the book.

4. A print book — even a print-on-demand book — requires an entirely different format, and print-ready type­set­ting, or as print-ready as someone who has no native DTP expe­ri­ence can make it. There is no auto­matic gener­a­tion of, for instance, a table of contents, among other things.

5. The last round of proofing. Some of this can’t easily be done by me, some can. The last round involves down­loading the finished books, or sections of them, to see what the format­ting glitches are for each venue in which they are avail­able. I assume, because I haven’t done this on anything but my own computer yet, that the glitches are format only, and not in the text.

Having said all this, I do intend to bring out the Essalieyan short stories. I intend, at the moment, to re-release all of my short fiction as indi­vidual short pieces over time. But because I’m still working out what has to be done, and because I’m in the process of doing it and the learning curve is highest, and because the bulk of the writing day has to be given over to writing (War and Cast in Peril), it’s not going to be as fast as I would have liked.

* better, of course, being a subjec­tive term

13 Responses to Some facts about self-publishing in 2011

  1. Alex says:

    Fortu­nately I have a web back­ground so the format­ting ebooks is some­thing I can do without much problem. I haven’t gotten into the POD yet, but likely will hire someone for that when the time comes.

    I also will always hire a copy­ed­itor because I HATE proofing and like you I have no visual acumen (as you put it) so will always hire a cover artist. That means each ebook costs me about $500US to publish elec­tron­i­cally, which isn’t bad at all I figure in the grand scheme of things.

  2. I also will always hire a copy­ed­itor because I HATE proofing and like you I have no visual acumen (as you put it) so will always hire a cover artist. That means each ebook costs me about $500US to publish elec­tron­i­cally, which isn’t bad at all I figure in the grand scheme of things.

    Copy-editing is not the same as proofing, though. At best guess, and low-end pay, a four hundred page manu­script will cost between 800.00 and 1,000.00. In my entire writing life, I have written only one novel that was that short. I have written novels that were 1648 pages. I’m not sure what proof-readers are paid, because my proof-readers have always been in-house; the copy-editor I’m consid­ering should I do orig­inal work actu­ally charges 35.00 an hour, rather than the 2.00 – 2.50 per page that used to be more common when there was one Stan­dard Manu­script format.

    I do know that’s high, and 19.00 an hour is a figure I heard when asking a managing editor what her company paid. This would be for copy-editing.

    For a novel — say, a new CAST novel — it would be well worth it; the cover for a new CAST novel would also be in the 2k range, and I could expect to cover all costs fairly handily — substan­tive editing, copy-editing, proof-reading, covers. Hiring someone for .pdf typset­ting for PoD is between 2 and 5 dollars per printed book page if you elect to hire a type­setter.

    But for a short story, if I look at Jim Hines’ expe­ri­ence as a guide­line, paying for each stage of the process would eat more than I could make. I’m doing the format­ting for the various ebooks on my own, because I can, which saves 200 – 250.00 for conver­sion (at novel length; I’m sure the shorts are less; I think one place is offering 85.00 for conver­sion of shorts).

    $500.00 for a novel, yes — although I don’t think it would be anywhere near as inex­pen­sive as that. As I’m not writing novels for self-publi­ca­tion yet, it’s a bridge I don’t have to cross. I under­stand that there are a lot of authors who have chosen to self-publish, and I under­stand all the reasons why — but for a variety of reasons, it’s not a route I’m consid­ering in the near future.

    Some of those reasons would be: I would be able to write far fewer new words if I did.

  3. technomom says:

    You don’t know me from Adam’s housecat, but I’ve been a fan for — well, a really, really long time. I have past expe­ri­ence as a tech­nical writer and such, but that’s irrel­e­vant to you.

    I switched over to reading ebooks almost entirely almost two years ago, but quickly found that the format­ting in many of them was just terrible. For someone like me, who admit­tedly has OCD, the prob­lems made some books that I really wanted to read completely inac­ces­sible. I found it neces­sary to learn how to open and edit them.

    Honestly, I rather enjoyed the chal­lenge. I haven’t been able to work in a while due to health issues, and my daughter (who I home­schooled) has just left for college, so I find myself with too many hours on my hands. So far, I’ve stuck to epubs, because I have a Nook and can convert anything else to that format easily. It would be quite simple to learn about the Kindle format, though, and I already know MS Word.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve yet to find any stylesheet that does a truly elegant job of creating an epub. They’re a good start, but there’s always tweaking, at the very least, that needs to be done. And if you already have a Word file that’s good enough for Smash­words, honestly, some­body else could be doing that work for you while you could be doing things nobody else could do — like more writing :-)

    I’d be more than happy to do the ebook creation for you, and consider it a labor of love. You’ve provided so many hours of plea­sure over the years that it would hardly begin to ever approach being thanks enough!

    Please feel free to email me (I’m sure that you can see my email address) if you’d like to discuss this some­where other than in blog comments.

  4. Alex says:

    Michelle: You’re right. Commenting first thing in the morning never is a good thing. I meant proofing, not copy­editing… The copy­editing part will come later (after I pay for a wedding) and according to the research I’ve done will increase the book costs by about $500 to $1000 depending on the length of the book. It’s well worth the invest­ment to make the books as profes­sional as possible.

    And yes, for an estab­lished writer the better part is to publish the back­list and continue with the tradi­tional publishing. If only I’d gotten off my butt as I’d planned to do as a teenager and started publishing in my early 30s instead of now in my early 40s. ;)

  5. Michael says:

    I will gladly offer my services as a proof-reader (almost) completely free of charge. (Maybe an ARC or some­thing, once all is said and done.) For me, the thrill of reading your books before they come out (and thus shaving whole MONTHS off my wait time) is worth a little detail-minding work to me.

  6. Michelle — I too am more than willing to volun­teer my services as a copy-editor/proof­reader. I do both for students publishing disser­ta­tions (along with checking format­ting like margins, consis­tency of headers, etc.) on a regular basis, normally for $20/hr, but for you I’m more than happy to do it for free (and to offer a US-based mailing address/post office box, if that’s helpful too). As another commenter said, I’ve gotten so many hours of enjoy­ment out of your books that getting to spend more time with them, even in fanatic-preci­sion-mode, will be more fun than work. :-) I also have all (I think) of the short stories in their published form, so compar­isons to printed text are also possible. Please do feel free to drop a line and let me know how I can help.

  7. Lyssabits says:

    Someone with an estab­lished fanbase like you have can prob­ably crowd-source a lot of these hassles these days. ;) I can under­stand perhaps not feeling right about accepting work from fans for which you’d normally pay, but I’m sure after this post you’ll get plenty of offers. If I had an artistic bone in my body, I’d happily offer to do covers. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are fans of yours who’ve already done some fanart that could be used. I’m good at proofing but I imagine you have plenty of people who can do that already.

  8. Estara says:

    I have no idea if they still are open to newcomers, but have you thought of joinging one of the author collec­tives who are making old and new books avail­able drm-free on their sites — and who help each other with all of this? Of course that would mean reci­p­ro­cating with some exper­tise of yours…

    I would have thought you’d fit perfectly with the Book View Cafè crowd. Also — if you read up on Sharon Lee’s blog and LJ you can see what sort of hassle she’s being going through re-releasing the Liaden Universe chap­books herself in the various formats.

    And finally one self-publishing author who does impec­cable format­ting for others, if her own books are anything to go buy, is Moriah Jovan — however I hear she has a lot of work on her plate and you’ll know best if you can afford that finan­cially.

    And third — You could have a fan artist — or at least a semi-profes­sional at deviantart design a logo for the Essalieyan short stories which is striking and easily resiz­able (even­tu­ally you could have buttons or t‑shirts for fans ^^ — see where my imag­i­na­tion takes me) and adapt that with a well-chosen font to what­ever short story you want to sell singly (or have a space of the cover that could change with some sort of symbolic thing for the partic­ular short story in ques­tion — I’m reminded of the Liaden Universe Dragon and the Tree symbol). Or if you can afford it have them create various covers for you — if it is digital use ONLY it should be cheaper than if you buy printing rights…

    And there are several graphic designers that offer to create fairly good looking stock covers for books — a big anthology might work with that invest­ment.
    http://​www​.hotdamn​de​signs​.com/​p​r​i​c​i​n​g​.​asp — for example

  9. Genna Warner says:

    I just discov­ered that Women of War which contains The Black Ospreys is avail­able on Kindle and I just purchased it. :) I still want the rest of the short stories on eBook format though. Just thought I would let everyone know.

    And I wish there was some­thing I could do to help with getting the rest of the stories as eBooks.

  10. Aaron says:

    How is that possible if Michelle owns the ebook rights to her short stories? Is there an exemp­tion if the anthology is released as a whole? Some­thing doesn’t seem right here…

  11. izzy says:

    Right, proof reading and editing are very tedious tasks. However, as mentioned, you can just hire a profes­sional who will do these tasks for you.

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