How I Self-Published a Book.
You’ll notice that doesn’t say how to self-publish a book in general. The way I did it wont apply to the majority of writers who may or may not have some flavor of degree in the subject or plan on having an agent traditionally publish their work. The following explains how I went about writing a short work of fiction fully intended for entertainment. (So many of these “how to self-publish books” posts are about non-fiction or sales related.) So here we go:
I’ve been writing things on and off since high school, all of it silly stories or attempts at long winded epics that just weren’t grounded in anything of substance. In 2014 I was thinking up something fun to write for NaNoWriMo and got through it with an epic fantasy bit. Several people I see now are all about epic fantasy and it’s a fun one to start with. You probably won’t ever read it as it has a terrible ending and the plot wanders. Anyway it was a fun exercise in finishing a work and I suggest anyone who wants to finish a novel length piece use the 3 week limit as a writing exercise.
Then in the summer of 2018 my husband signed up for the Masterclass video services. He got it to have Gordon Ramsay teach him to make a steak but I watched the James Patterson course on writing books. I’ll admit I haven’t read any of his work but his course is highly informative as it actually tells you how to format and structure your story. There are newer Masterclass courses by other writers but they don’t go in to the bones of pacing or structure the way Patterson’s course does. Anyway, his course has “homework” with it that basically has you plot out a story and write a book, so I figured if I was going to invest my time into doing this work that I would do something worth publishing.
Next I had to come up with a setting. I started with a one paragraph synopsis of the entire story. Four of them, each one very different, and picked out the one that sounded like I could actually finish in a reasonable time frame. There were two ghost stories, a boring political drama, and then something else I can’t remember. The fact that I can’t remember shows how good of an idea it was. One ghost story involved a child killed in a candy store, the other was a man who is haunted by his dead wife. Yes, Redbriar started out as a ghost story.
While working through the course I changed the plot, changed the characters and such. The setting and time stayed the same for the most part as it was always historical fiction. I also knew that the vast majority of historical women’s fiction is either true events, romance, or mystery specially anything written in or around the Victorian era. Now, I love reading/watching anything set pre-1960, and I’m more of a fan of the early 1900’s than the mid to late 1800’s but the way the characters were forming during the outline I had to push the timeline back to post-civil war America.
So after you have a one paragraph synopsis there is the actual outline to nail down. I can’t stress enough the importance of an outline for those of us who’s ideas and characters tend to wander off without us. The issue I had with the Bronze Age Fantasy story was lack of outline which just lead to the characters slogging through battle after battle with no real ending. OUTLINE THE STORY. You can pave over so many plot holes when they are two rather than two pages long.
By the time the outline made sense the original synopsis was completely changed. No more ghosts, no more male main character. Some of the changes came when I was working, and Gone With the Wind was on in the background. I couldn’t help but get angry at literally anything Scarlet O’Hara was doing. The biggest issue I had was with her wanting to stay at Terra at the expense of any and all other relationships and even though Rhett wasn’t the best person in the world he had every right to walk out on her. When it dawned on me that post Civil War US was the same time frame as London in the 1860’s I thought what if Scarlet’s family went back to Ireland rather than stay in the US. That’s where Mary-Ellen’s story kicks in with a protagonist more interested in keeping a family together than living in a specific house.
I wont get into anymore spoilers in the book but once the outline was done I set out to divide the story into chapters. Each chapter was cut up into three to four paragraphs which were fleshed out with proper story. Turning two to three paragraphs into several pages is where the bulk of the time gets spent in writing. You can bang out the plot/synopsis/outline in a couple of days but the chapters will take some time. It took me about three months to write everything out. I wasn’t exactly a scholar on the 1860’s so some research was involved. If I were writing a fantasy book this time would have been spent world building, but with historical work you can spend the time googling and reading up on historical events to make sure you aren’t writing something out of place. Once the first rough draft was finished several parts of the story had to be redone and fixed to keep things congruent. Then with the second and third drafts I had some friends read through to see if things were good.
Here comes the expensive part, writing the book only costs your time, but when you have something you plan to sell to people you need to do your best to have it in the best condition you can. Having the book edited is important. Even if you have four dozen English degrees, at the least have someone double check it. I hired a freelance editor to do both line and copy editing which I severely needed as my ability to place commas is lacking. While the book was being edited I worked on the cover. I have a fine art degree and years of graphic design experience so I did my own. There are several freelance book cover designers who can make your book look great but it will cost just as much as your editing so budget accordingly. Even doing my own cover I still had to buy font licenses and stock texture assets so don’t think $100 is going to cover it.
After you’ve got an edited manuscript and a fancy cover you have to make the decision as to where you want to self publish your work. Most people opt for the free Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) from Amazon. They will give you a free ISBN which will point to them as your publisher as well as make it difficult to sell the book outside of the Amazon ecosystem. Because I wanted to do paperbacks I opted to use Ingram Spark for publishing. This meant I could get my book on Kindle, Nook, etc as well as get it into libraries and bookstores who order via Ingram. To have full control over the book I bought my own ISBN’s. These are not cheap and a 10 pack will rival your editors fees. Matching barcodes also have to be on the cover which means if you’re using a third party for the artwork they need the info as well.
Having my book 100% on Ingram means that I don’t have the control over the sales the way I would if I was using just KDP. If you want to have your book on Kindle Unlimited you can’t have it anywhere else, and if you plan on doing Amazon giveaways and promotions you will need access to the KDP account for your work which Ingram Spark does not give. The choice boils down to if you want the expanded distribution or big beefy Amazon promotions. If I were writing romance, YA, or a fantasy series I would have probably gone all in on Amazon.
When using your own ISBN’s and setting up the info for the book you have to put down an imprint name. This doesn’t have to be a full blown LLC business, either. I went with Misprints Publishing for the imprint as I’d never done something like this before and was sure to have errors along the way. In fact, the first print run had chapter 2 printed twice in a row as opposed to chapter 3. It’s since been fixed but it costs money to resubmit files, so be aware when you make changes to check everything else as well.
File formatting is also difficult, KDP has a desktop program that will put the book in formats that they can handle but with Ingram you’ll need to be able to submit print-ready documents. Those of us in the graphic design business can handle such things with Adobe Acrobat etc, but for those who only know photoshop this will be another hurdle. I used Reedsy to do the ebook files at the time as well which worked perfectly. There are other much more expensive options to format your files if you plan on doing multiple books down the road.
So after about a month of research, three months of writing, a month of editing and design I published the book in mid-Janurary of 2019. The first few weeks Amazon will give it a boost to the ratings so it will show up in more search results but this doesn’t last very long which is why many folks set up advertising and pre-orders before it goes live. If you aren’t worried about sales ranking and stuff you can advertise in other ways like Facebook, and Twitter. I had terrible luck with Twitter ads, but Facebook ones work well during certain seasons. Doing ads for Redbriar is difficult because it doesn’t fit into a broad genre and it’s easy for potential readers to assume it’s romance or a mystery based on the era it’s written in.
Almost none of this really applies to folks who are planning to submit their books to agents. Should you wish to go that route you’ll basically start querying agents with your finalized manuscript after your editor has gone over it. Some people say you don’t need to get it edited first but your mileage may vary depending on who you are sending it to. I chose self publishing because I wanted full control over the story and the characters, that and the fact the book doesn’t fit the current market. Scifi, fantasy, romance, horror, mystery, etc all have a vast network of agents and publishers looking to pick up stories from those genres.
That’s about it for this little explosion of text. I had a few people ask how I went about making the book and figured a long winded explanation was better than a scrawl of tweets.