Category Archives: Self-Publishing

Now Available in Audiobook Format!

I love, love, LOVE audiobooks. At least two out of every three books I read is an audiobook–CDs in my car or downloads on my mp3 player. I can’t imagine not listening to a book while folding laundry, cleaning guinea pig cages, cooking dinner, or mowing the lawn.

When the opportunity to create an audiobook version of Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Murder presented itself, I was thrilled.

Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder is now available in audiobook format from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder is now available through Audible,  iTunes, and  Amazon. Both Audible and iTunes downloads can also be transferred to CD. Veteran narrator Kenneth Lee really captured the heart of the story, and he brings to life the ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances in 1925 Kansas.

A lot of people out there love a good story, but they don’t have time to sit down and read. Others spend a lot of time trapped in their cars during long commutes. Even more people out there have conditions that prevent them from being able to read–vision problems or arthritic hands that can no longer hold heavy books–even though they might long to do so. Thanks to the magic of the mp3 and the internet, thousands of audiobooks are readily available to this previously non-book-reading audience.

For you self-publishing authors out there, ACX s a company that produces and distributes audiobooks through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes, the biggest companies that sell directly to consumers. (Most libraries that offer mp3 or WMA formats use distributors like OverDrive and OneClickDigital.) Originally, I thought that audiobooks were not accessible without a substantial upfront financial commitment, but ACX offers writers the opportunity to connect with narrators who are willing to accept a profit-sharing option in lieu of up-front fees. This means more options for writers who are just establishing themselves (and narrators who are building portfolios and wanting to connect with rights holders willing to take a chance on them).

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My Writing Process Blog Tour: Insomnia, Procrastination, and Weird Conversations in Public Places

You may have seen some of your favorite writers blogging about how and why they write, and author and Twitter Superhero Jami Gold just handed the baton to me. So…

What am I working on?

Depending on the day, I’m working on everything, nothing, moving toward my goal with a project, or sidetracking myself with something else. I was once asked to speak to a group of high school students about writing and wanted to impress upon them that writing is everywhere, and that the need to create the right narrative exists in everything from leaving a note for a colleague to posting on Facebook.

The really big projects I’m working on right now:

  • Researching my next historical true crime (which is proving to be challenging, because the murders I’m researching all happened in places that require field trips to other counties)
  • Researching and writing for my blog
  • Periodically kicking around a novel that made it to 80,000 words before I realized I wrote myself in a corner and my characters exchanged voices and now I don’t know what to do with it
  • Handling much of the social media communications at my new job with the Old Depot Museum (and a new blog coming soon!)

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

A lot of true crime is journalistic in nature. I really want my work to read more like a good story, and part of that is getting into the heads of everyone who witnessed the events. Florence Knoblock’s murder changed the way an entire town behaved and the way other people in other towns thought about Coffey County, Kansas. When I was writing Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder, I wanted readers to understand how even remote townsfolk were pulled into history as witnesses, jurors, experts, and avid newspaper readers. It wasn’t just the history of a murder, it was a snapshot of Kansas in 1925 and 1926.

I’m really interested in “microhistory” — not just big textbook history, but the history of a postcard or a building or a farm. For example, Sheriff Frank Hunter, the Knoblock murder investigator, was also dealing with bank robberies, car thieves, and the installation of  Burlington’s first-ever stop signs during the trial. All of these things impacted him as a person and as a sheriff. Multiply the personal stories by the number of individuals involved and you start to see how very rich and complex the narrative becomes.

Why do I write what I do?

Believe it or not, I started out wanting to write romance. I’m a big romance reader and I especially love light and funny romances. But my writing was never convincing. I just didn’t have the voice for it.

I started writing historic true crime almost by accident. I discovered the Florence Knoblock story when a folder fell at my feet when I was walking through the stacks of the public library where I worked, and the next thing I knew, three years passed as I researched the story. I remember how surprised I was that a murder story that occupied the front page of several newspapers for nearly a year almost completely vanished from memory. It was hidden away on newspaper reels in a county museum. I wanted to pull that story together and give it back to Kansas and preserve it for future generations. One of the most awesome things a reader told me was that the book inspired her kids to start talking to their grandparents about what life was like “back then.”

Every time I wander down a back road and discover Santa Fe Trail ruts or an old cemetery or the shell of an old building, I want to share that experience and sense of wonder with other Kansans. Traditionally, we’re either beat up by the press (and not necessarily without cause) or we’re forgotten entirely. Our Kansas ancestors were a gutsy and amazing bunch, and we should honor and celebrate them, warts and all.

How does my writing process work?

Well, the research goes like this:

Something catches my eye. And I dig at it like a dog after a bone and then something shiny distracts me and I research that for a while. I’m a living, breathing example of XKCD’s cartoon called “The Problem with Wikipedia.” I know I’ve found the right research topic when I’m living it, dreaming it, and what-if-ing it all day long. I walk around muttering through the holes in the story as I examine yogurt labels at the grocery store and I don’t fall asleep for hours because my brain is in hyperoverdrive while processing data I’ve collected. I get frustrated when I hit dead ends and just as I think I’ve wasted a boatload of time and money on an undoable book a tiny breadcrumb falls in my lap and I’m back on track.

And then I drag the people around me into the process as I bounce ideas off of them. I sometimes forget that not everyone wants to discuss the details of slicing throats with old razors over dinner. My husband has told me he sometimes wishes I had a button that says, “It’s okay, I’m a writer.”

The writing goes like this:

Repeat the first three sentences from the research portion. I’ve written my best blog posts when something shiny caught my eye in a moment of frustration with the book. Or when I was supposed to be packing because we were moving to a new town.

What no one prepared me for was how emotionally hard it can be to write a true crime book. Every time I sit down to write, I’m getting inside the heads of people whose hearts are aching and whose souls are weeping. I’m empathic by nature, so when other people hurt, I hurt, too. Swimming in all that sorrow–even decades-old sorrow–can be really hard. After a few hours, I have to come up for air and breathe in some sunshine.

The editing goes like this:

I am periodically impressed with myself as a read my draft, but mostly, I get a sinking feeling in my gut as I realize how much work needs to be done before this book is ready to show to anyone else. Then I procrastinate by telling myself that I NEED to do many responsible grownup things: scrub floors, dust, vacuum, clean bathrooms, rearrange my desk, make sure all of the books in my office are in order, water my plants, wash the laundry, and go outside and weed the flower beds. Eventually, I sit down and get to work.

I’ve noticed that I do better writing in the afternoons, evenings, and wee hours of the night. Editing, though, is a daylight project. Metaphorically, I think I need the harsh, truthful light of day to see the real flaws.

And now, to pass the baton:

Besides being a writer, Jennifer Mueller is one of the most fascinating ex-Kansans I know. I hope she’ll clue us in on her writing process.

And if any other writers would like to participate, here’s an open call to blog during the next week. There are four rules:

  1. Acknowledge the person and the site who invited you into the tour (that’d be me and you’d link back to this post).
  2. Label your post as part of the My Writing Process Blog Tour.
  3. Answer these same four questions about your writing process in the post.
  4. Nominate and link to up to three people to participate who would then post their answers the week after yours.

Let me know if you participate! I’ll add a link to your post.

My Experiences in Self-Publishing, Part 4: Format and Production (Choices, Choices, Choices!)

Readers are looking for awesome books, regardless of whether they’re printed by one of the Big Traditional Presses or if they’ve been uploaded by the author. A great book is a great book. Our job is to offer our readers the greatest book we possibly can.

The best (and sometimes scariest!) part about self-publishing today is that us writers have all kinds of options. In fact, even with a pretty solid vision of what I wanted my book to be, I was a little intimidated by the number of choices to consider.

To bring your book to life, you’ll need to make choices in three areas:

Format: The format is the final product your readers see. The most common types of format include physical books (hardbacks, trade paperbacks, mass market paperbacks, large print books), eBooks, and audiobooks (mp3 downloads or compact discs).

Production: The production of your book is the process of making your book.  This will include editing, cover design, file preparation, layout, galley proofs, etc. It will include choosing paper and cover stock for physical books and a performer/narrator for an audiobook. You’ll also need to decide if you want to set up your own imprint/press. No matter what formats you choose, you’ll need to edit your text and design a cover.

Distribution: Once you have your book, you need a way to get it to your readers. You’ll need to decide if you want to sell the books yourself, through online retailers, or independent bookstores. You’ll need to decide if you’re willing to do consignment sales. Because Distribution is such a big topic, we’ll talk about it in a separate post.

Let’s take a look at the different types of formats and some of the basic elements of production. (We’ll talk about expenses later.)

I also recommend that if you’re hiring a company to print or upload your book, shell out some cash to buy some examples of their work. You’re far better off losing $30  to discover that the publisher can’t deliver a quality product than $300 or even $3000 on your own book.

Physical Books

Physical books come in many shapes and sizes, including but not limited to hardback, library bound, trade paperback, mass market paperback, pocket, large print (hardback or paperback).  The most common size for a self-published book is some version of the pocket or trade paperback. It has the substance of a hardback book but is a more cost-conscious. It is my experience that most readers who want a physical book are willing to pay between $10 and $20 for it, but they get a little squeamish at the idea of pay more than $8 for a mass market paperback (when mass market books typically cost between $4 and $8 for traditionally published books), and they tend to shy away from paying $25 to $40 for a hardback book for an unknown author. Self-published pocket and trade paperback books tend to end up with price tags commensurate to those of traditionally published books of similar size and shape.

Production

No matter what type of physical book you choose to offer, you’ll need to edit your text and come up with an awesome cover. I repeat:  EDIT YOUR TEXT AND GET A GREAT COVER. For most readers, a lackluster cover and bad editing, along with poor font choices, are the trifecta that announce the book is a bad self-published work, regardless how brilliant your story might be. Don’t let that happen to you! 

Printing Options

You’ll need to decide if you want to print your books up front or print them as you need them.

Traditional Press: A traditional press will print a larger quantity of your books all at once. In order to get a reasonable per-book price, chances are good that you’ll need to print in quantities of 500 to 1,000 or more. This is a good option if know you’re going to sell a lot of books or if you’re creating a book for a special occasion (like a church history book to celebrate a centennial).

This is not a good option if you don’t think you can sell 1,000 or more books, or if you don’t have a place to store them. (To give you an idea of how much space books can take up, my books come 24 to a box, and each box is 8 inches x 8 inches x 12 inches. A thousand books would fill 42 boxes and take up about 19 cubic feet of real estate.) Another challenge is that they’re harder to sell through the big online retailers.

Print on Demand: I’m a big advocate of print on demand, especially as POD has become sophisticated enough that POD books are almost indistinguishable from traditional press books. I also approve of only printing a book when it’s actually wanted and needed. If you’ve ever walked into a big-box bookstore and seen table after table of heavily marked-down books, you’ve seen the waste that comes with overprinting.

Most POD books are distributed through online retailers. The downside: not all independent bookstores will work with POD books because, depending on your distribution, they have to buy them at full cost, leaving no room for profit. (More on that later.) Some POD companies will give you, the author, a price break for bulk orders.

There are also POD-like companies that are print-on-demand to you, but do not upload to online retailers. This could be a great option if, say, you just needed 100 copies of a commemorative book you wanted to give to people attending a 50th high school reunion.

Production Choices

Beyond editing and cover design, you’ll need to choose who will do the layout and printing. You’ll need to set prices and acquire ISBN numbers if the press doesn’t do it for you. (More on that later.) You’ll also need to make choices about the physical product itself, like the kind of paper you’ll use and how much artwork you’ll include.

Establishing Your Own Press

Establishing your own press does not mean setting up a printing press in your basement. It means creating your own imprint. If you look at any book, it will have some sort of brand or imprint…traditional imprints include Random House and Penguin and LoveSwept. If you want to create a press called Cartwheeling Buffalo Press, you can! Your books will still need to be printed either by a traditional press or a POD. It will just have your awesome logo of a cartwheeling buffalo on the back cover. If you want to distribute directly to Lightning Source (instead of through another press) you’ll need to create your own press.

Layout

Someone–possibly even you–will have to take that document you have stored in Microsoft Word or WriteWayPro or Google Docs and massage it into a format appropriate for a book. Depending on who you choose for a printer, it could be you, it could be a professional designer you hire to prepare the book to upload to a press, or it could be a layout person who works for the press. Basically, this person’s job is to turn your manuscript into something “print ready” so that it will flow correctly on the page. Many of the POD online sites have tools that let you do this yourself.

Part of layout also includes the design of the headers (does every page have the title and your name at the top?), the location and style of the page number, and the way the first page of each chapter appears. Here’s an example of a guide that shows several some of the kinds of layout choices you might make.

Finally, you get to make font choices for both the interior text and the elements like chapter headings and headers and footers. These choices can be inspired by your book–for example, the chapter titles in a nice, Art Deco font would be awesome for a novel set in the 1920s–but stick to the basics when it comes to the actual text. There is a reason why a font like Times New Roman remains a classic choice. It’s easily readable, and the little ticks that make up the serif font gently connect words together to make your eye connect letters into words. You may be tempted to use Comic Sans for your funny romance or Chiller for your haunted house book. DON’T DO IT.

Paper

This is a good time to look at your own bookshelves and really examine the paper your books are printed on. What do you like? What makes you cringe? You’ll need to make choices regarding the paper inside your book as well as the cover.

Paper Color: Many companies will let you choose the color of your paper, usually white or cream. Many will argue that cream paper tends to look more professional, and I agree with this. (Go open up some of your hardback and trade paperback books and you’ll see very few of them are bright white.)

Paper Weight: If you have the option to choose weight, ask for samples. Weight refers to how thick the paper is. If you think about standard photocopy paper versus the paper greeting cards are printed on, you’re thinking about the weight. If it’s too thin (like phone book paper!) it will tear easily and the print on one side will permeate the other. If it’s took thick, it’s going to be heavy and expensive. Slightly heavier weights are appropriate if you’re printing a book heavy on artsy photographs (think: coffee table book). Most novels don’t need an especially heavy paper. You WANT your cover to be a heavy weight or it will curl with humidity and be damaged more easily.

Paper Finish: Matte finish (not shiny) or glossy (shiny) are the two main choices. When it comes to covers, you’ll also have the choice of coated matte. The finish will affect the way any artwork looks. Uncoated matte paper tends to absorb inks more and can make the images look duller. Most artsy books use glossy or coated matte paper because the images pop out better.

Pros and Cons of Physical Books

Physical books are still the superior choice for libraries, collectors, and hand-selling at events. However, they cost more to produce, it’s harder to gauge how many you’ll need, and they can create storage and shipping issues.

EBooks

In many ways, eBooks are far simpler (and the decisions are far less permanent) to produce than physical books.

Just like with physical books, you’ll need to edit your text and come up with an awesome cover. I repeat:  EDIT YOUR TEXT AND GET A GREAT COVER. (I really can’t mention this often enough.) Bad editing and a yucky cover are two of the three parts of the trifecta of a crappy eBook, the third being glitchy formatting that makes the book not flow correctly.

Even though there are a boatload of ways to read eBooks, they eBook files themselves come in three formats:

PDF: The old standard for documents downloaded from the web, very commonly used for forms and instruction manuals and usually read on a computer.

MOBI: The proprietary format for the Amazon Kindle.

EPUB: The most common eReader format. If you’re downloading to a Sony, Kobo, Barnes & Noble Nook, iPad, Android phone, or pretty much anything else, you’re probably downloading an EPUB.

The lovely thing about eBooks is that you don’t have to worry about most of the production issues that come with a physical book. You don’t have to stress about paper choices because there is no paper. You don’t have to worry about physical storage space because there is nothing to store  beyond the electronic files. You don’t really even have to worry about font styles (except for PDF format) because eReader users can pick the font style and size that they find easiest on the eyes through their reading device.

Production

Once you have your text edited and a snazzy cover for your book, your main concerns include where you’re going to sell your book (which we’ll talk more about in the post on distribution) and to make sure the book functions correctly from a technical standpoint. Anyone with an eReader has seen how books can hiccup, how some characters can be replaced by gobbledygook, and how images and line breaks can end up in weird places when people adjust the font size and layout on their eReaders.  If you’re book is straight text, you’ll have an easier time than if your book is full of illustrations.

Still, someone has to prep your manuscript and convert it into an eBook. You have choices:

You can upload your own eBooks. Many of the major distributors of eBooks have tutorials for how to upload your eBook, and you don’t have to be a programming genius to do it. Some writing programs, like WriteWayPro, have built in conversation tools, as well. You have complete control over the product and can take it down on a whim if you choose to.

You can pay a flat fee to have the eBook uploaded by a pro. There are many affordable professionals who will, for a flat fee, take your manuscript, prep it to make it eBook friendly, and upload it for you. Note: They are only being paid to handle the technical aspects of creating the eBook and generally won’t look at or fix typos, misspelled words, or the fact that your main character’s hair inexplicably changed color in chapter six. They focus on making the book work correctly. Once the book is up and running, you and your pro part ways.

You can pay a distribution service. There are many distribution services that will prepare and upload your eBook to far more markets than you can likely reach yourself. They can also handle making repairs to the book if you catch something and will often handle the accounting.

Ta-da! We’ve just had an entire conversation about eBook production.

Pros and Cons about eBooks

EBooks are far superior when it comes to impulse buying. There’s something magnificent about being able to open my Nook, say to myself, “I want that book!” and in a couple of finger taps, a book is downloading to my Nook and my credit card is charged. INSTANT GRATIFICATION.  One of my friends (who has pushed my book with a zeal that would put a drug dealer to shame–I call her my book pimp) told me when she was talking about my book with some friends, they whipped out their phones and eReaders and downloaded it on the spot. No time to forget the title, no chance to think about it…they just bought the book. On the downside, it’s harder to have a book-signing, and libraries are not really equipped yet to take on your eBook because most libraries offer eBooks through major distribution services like OneClickDigital and OverDrive.

Audiobooks

Not everyone has time to actually sit down with a book and read, but many of those busy people listen to a good story while they’re in the middle of a 30-mile commute or folding laundry. Audiobooks used to be very cumbersome to produce and store when they were still on record albums (remember those little children’s books with the 45 rpm tucked into the back flap?) or cassette tapes (not ideal for leaving in the car in the hot summer sun). Fortunately, I’ve never seen one on an 8-track.

Most audiobooks today are either on CD or mp3. CDs are easier to put on library shelves, but there is more cost to producing them: the CDs and the packaging. They are, however, friendlier for car stereos (especially for anyone driving a car more than three years old). The other option is a downloadable mp3. The biggest distributor of downloadable audiobooks to a mainstream audience (as opposed to libraries)–and the friendliest toward self-published authors–is Audible.com.

Production

Once you’ve edited your text and created an awesome cover, your biggest challenges and expenses include choosing someone to read the audiobook and uploading it to a distributor. The hallmark of a badly self-published audiobook are a bad cover, bad editing (which you can hear if not see), and a bad narrator. Don’t let this happen to your book!

Picking a Narrator

Audiobook narrators are a special group of people. They have the ability to create voice inflections that make the listener feel like they’re following an entire cast of characters–male and female–even though you might have only one or two readers.

You might be tempted to read your audiobook yourself. “I can read,” you say to yourself. THINK VERY CAREFULLY ABOUT THIS. Are you actually an actor? Can you keep track of the different voices you use for each of your characters? Would a listener from the UK buy your London accent? Read a few chapters into a recorder and listen to it and honestly ask yourself: “Would I pay $20 to listen to me talk for seven hours?” I frequently sound like an asthmatic eight-year-old. I love my readers WAY TOO MUCH to do that to them.

Hiring a narrator can get expensive. Most charge by the “finished hour,” meaning if the final audiobook is seven hours long, you’re paying for seven hours of their services. Narrators can charge anywhere from $25 an hour to $2500 an hour. Some can be hired by the project or for a percentage of the sales.  A typical 300-page novel translates into an audiobook that runs about six to nine hours, depending on your text and the speech patterns of the narrator.

One company that specializes in the creation and distribution of audiobooks by authors self-published and otherwise is ACX (which distributes to Audible and iTunes). You can entertain yourself for hours listening to the audition clips of various narrators.

Recording an Audiobook Yourself

So you sound like Morgan Freeman and you’ve decided to record the audiobook yourself. You’re going to need some decent recording equipment and, most important, a soundproof place to record it. This is probably not going to be in your house. Think about it…what may seem like quiet to you really isn’t that quiet when a listener is trying to listen to your book. Our homes are infiltrated by the sounds of birds chirping, cicadas buzzing, ambulances roaring, and neighbors slamming car doors. You don’t want that in the background. Even a recording in your basement will register water running through the pipes and the furnace firing up. You need a sound-proof room. Many communities have someone who runs a recording studio for local bands and will charge a by-the-hour rate for using their professional equipment facilities.

Pros and Cons about Audiobooks

Audiobooks can reach a completely different audience. There are a lot of people out there who claim they “don’t like to read” or “don’t have time to read,” but they’ll happily listen to an audiobook while doing other things. MP3 formats mean that they can be affordable for the consumer to download instantly to an mP3 player or iPod. The downside is that they can get expensive to produce if you have a particularly long book and most libraries won’t be able to distribute an mP3 (though some will buy a CD). Also, they’re generally not a good option if your book depends on illustrations to tell the story.

My Choices

As mentioned back in the post about your book’s vision, my vision was to have books in libraries, books I could sell at events, and eBooks.  I’ll talk about my choices for distribution in a later post, but I chose to work with a POD book press that helps self-publishers distribute their books through the major channels so that it could easily be ordered through bookstores as well as online. The physical book is printed on cream-colored paper and the cover has a wonderful coated matte finish that is almost velvety to the touch, a lovely thing for tactile people. I chose to work with an eBook distributor who has made my book available all over the world.

My one regret? Not having given more thought to creating an audiobook. At the time I was planning my book’s release, I didn’t appreciate that an audiobook version was an accessible option.

My Experiences in Self-Publishing, Part 3: Editing and Cover Design

Before I get into formats, general production, and distribution issues, I want to talk about editing and cover design. No matter what book formats you choose, you need a good cover design and your text needs to be immaculate.

Editing

Raise your right hand and repeat after me: I SOLEMNLY SWEAR TO GET MY MANUSCRIPT PROFESSIONALLY EDITED.

As you’re planning your budget and looking for ways to save money, do not scratch out the line item for an editor. Bad copyediting (or copy editing, depending on which dictionary your frequent) is part of the trifecta that can flag your book as an amateur self-pub (the other two being bad cover design and poor font selection). Good editing ensures that the reader is really reading what you thought you wrote, and it makes you look like you know what you’re doing.

Do NOT entrust your editing to your mother or your retired high school English teacher unless either is currently editing professionally. Professional copy editors are trained to comb through your text for wayward commas and dangling modifiers. They also keep up with changes in the English language.

Having trained as a copy editor, I can tell you…when you’re a writer, copy editing is hard. Us writers are naturally inclined to want to rewrite sentences instead of focusing on making them grammatically correct. A good copy editor will see things you’re blind to after too many rereads, and he or she will do so in a speedy manner.

“But I’m only releasing my book in audiobook format,” you might be thinking. “Who cares about the copyediting?” Well, your performer might. If the words are spelled wrong and the punctuation is wrong, the person reading your book will likely mispronounce words and put the inflections in the wrong places. It could get pretty ugly.

Copy editors might charge by the page, by the hour, or by the project. Be prepared: a good copy editor might have a waiting list of clients.

Cover Design

Raise your right hand and repeat after me: I SOLEMNLY SWEAR TO HAVE MY COVER PROFESSIONALLY DESIGNED.

Years of weeding library collections has taught me this: if you ever want to lower the check-out rate on a book to roughly zero times per year, dump the dust jacket or obscure the cover so that a reader browsing the shelves can’t figure out what the book is about.

Here it is: we all judge books by their covers. A good cover should give us a feel for the book. Most readers can look at a series of covers and immediately identify the ones that are romances, urban fantasies, mysteries, literary fiction, etc. Really good covers also set the tone for the book. Remember, readers have easy access to millions of books. If a reader looks at your book and can’t figure out if it might be something he or she wants to read, they’ll move on to another book.

At my most recent library position, I worked the reference desk, which was right next to the new books area. Without fail, books with awesome covers always checked out right away. Books without awesome covers–especially if those books were by unknown authors–sat and sat and sat. It didn’t matter if the cover hid the most brilliant prose ever. Bad covers repel potential readers. Indie Author News recently posted an article called Bad Cover = Bad Sales that really drives home the point.

Cover designers can charge by the project or by the hour. Some cover designers work with stock images (less expensive), and other designers do a lot of illustration (more expensive). It is helpful to work with a graphic designer with experience in book covers, but either way, you’ll need to know the specs required by the publishers of your paperback, eBook, or audiobook for your designer to produce a final product. Be prepared: a good cover designer might have a waiting list of clients.

Once you’ve picked a cover designer, try not to drive the designer crazy. India Drummond wrote a great post at the Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing blog called How to Make a Cover Designer Cry. The examples of designer-writer interactions gone wrong are funny until you realize they actually happened.

My Book

Luckily for me, I happen to know a great copy editor. Despite my own training as an editor, she humbled me with all of the errors she found in a manuscript that had been through six drafts. Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Murder was a challenge to edit because there were so many people and places involved in the recounting of the Knoblock murder investigation and subsequent trials. I knew I had found the right editor when she made comments like, “You call him Johnnie Knoblock here, and John Knoblock elsewhere. Are these referring to the same person? Do we need to change one or the other?” She made it a much tighter, cleaner manuscript for readers to read.

I looked at several prospective cover designers, but fortunately for me, my cousin is a professional graphic designer and offered to do the cover. Honestly, I had a serious case of butterflies when I agreed to work with her on the project because, well, WHAT IF I HATED THE COVER? What if she didn’t *get* what I was hoping my cover would say? It could have been a disaster.

To give her a sense of how I wanted the cover to feel, I sent her several other covers that I absolutely loved because they captured the rural isolation I was going for: Nancy Pickard’s Scent of Rain and Lightning, Laura Griffin’s Thread of Fear, and Linda Castillo’s Pray for Silence. I also sent her Stephan Anderson-Story‘s photos of the abandoned house where the murder took place.

Fortunately for me, my cousin and I were totally in tune with each other, and she created my awesome cover.

Shadow on the Hill book cover

Shadow on the Hill book cover

Next Decisions: Formats, Production, and Distribution

Now your text is in the hands of your copy editor and you’re in line for a great cover designer. In the next few posts we’ll go over the decisions you’ll need to make in order to turn your manuscript into a book and get it into the hands of the public.

My Experiences in Self-Publishing, Part 2: What’s Your Vision?

If you’re thinking about self-publishing your work, you have many choices ahead of you. But before you even worry about formats, online book retailers, and author events, take a moment to think about what you envision for your book.

My vision for my book

Sure, most of us fantasize about a runaway bestseller. But envisioning more immediate, tangible goals will help you figure out the best way to approach getting your book out in front of your audience.

When I was envisioning my goals for Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder, here is what I pictured:

  1. My book on library shelves, especially in Kansas history collections.
  2. A book I could sell at events; a book I could sign.
  3. A book people could collect and pass along to a friend.
  4. A book available at local bookstores and museums.
  5. A book people could immediately access with a click or a tap the second they heard about it.

Do you see what I mean by immediate and tangible goals? It turned out that my vision focused on availability and opportunities to interact with the public. I knew, based on my goals, I wanted to be able to offer both a tangible paperback edition as well as an eBook edition.

Where do you picture your book?

Take a moment to think about your goals. Don’t think just in terms of sales–we all want sales!–but think about all the places you can easily see your book.  Here are some examples to get you started:

  • You want to be able to sell your cookbook at a booth at your county fair.
  • Your church is celebrating its centennial and you want to sell a book about its history to raise funds for its renovation.
  • You picture people reading your romantic comedy on their phones while waiting at the doctor’s office.
  • You want to see your artsy home design book for sale at your local boutiques.
  • You want people to hear the beauty of your poetry as they’re commuting to and from work.

Why does vision matter?

A realistic, tangible vision helps you do two very important things:

  1. identify your potential audiences
  2. identify what you need to do in order to reach your potential audiences

Your vision for your book will help you determine if you need to publish in paperback, eBook, or audiobook format. It will guide your marketing outreach, help you determine if author events are worth your time, and help you build what will hopefully be a long-term relationship with readers. Without vision, you might waste time and money making choices that won’t help you sell your book. So take a moment and envision.

Do and Don’t

Do dream about all of the places you want to see your book. It’s okay to dream big–who doesn’t want to see a #1 rank on Amazon?–but it’s more important to dream tangibly. Remember the Flat Stanley project, where school kids took pictures of Stanley in different places? Try that with your book.

Do be realistic. Picture your most immediate likely audience, and then the next likely audience, and so on.

Don’t feel like your book has to be everything to everyone. If your vision is to have only an eBook version and you don’t want to mess with paperbacks, THAT’S OKAY. The joy of self-publishing is that you call the shots. That also means that if, down the line, you change your mind, you can always introduce new formats.

A Final Note…

As mentioned before, the choices I made for might book might not be the right choices for you or your project, and that’s okay! Taking the time to envision your goals for your book will help you make the best choices for your book.

My Experiences in Self-Publishing, Part 1: Moving Away from the Old School Librarian’s Bias

Introduction

After Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Murder was unleashed upon the world, several writers asked me about the self-publishing process. As a result, I’m working on a series of posts detailing my project and the choices I made. Before you read further, I offer you two important warnings:

Warning 1: The self-publishing industry is evolving very fast, which means that my posts on the subject will probably be outdated by the time you’re reading them.

Warning 2: The choices I made for my book may not be the right choices for you.

The Old School Librarian’s Bias

I spent eleven years working in public libraries: five years as a library page at a large metropolitan library during my high school years and six years on the reference desk of a mid-sized city library during my adult years.  As recently as 2009, us librarian-types were still pretty skeptical of self-published books. It isn’t that we were opposed to an author self-publishing, it was that we didn’t want to accidentally waste taxpayer dollars on a poorly written, poorly edited book, or in the case of nonfiction, a book that could potentially give bad or even dangerous guidance. For us, the issue was that the books weren’t vetted by anyone.

Librarians WANT to support local authors. Librarians WANT to offer their patrons new and thought-provoking books. Librarians DON’T WANT to waste money on books that won’t circulate or could cause harm to readers. Sadly, this meant that librarians often dismissed self-published books without a backward glance.

Then a series of important events happened that changed the way readers and librarians looked at self-published books:

  • The publishing industry threw itself over a cliff. They dumped quality mid-list authors and focused on megablockbuster authors and celebrities; they were slow to join the eBook revolution; and they laid off their editors and copyeditors, resulting in poorly edited books.
  • Publishers Weekly began to publish PW Select, a quarterly guide that reviews and recommends self-published works, thereby creating a vetting process.
  • Online booksellers, reader-oriented sites, and book bloggers took the lead on reviewing and vetting books.
  • Digital POD presses began to create quality books that can withstand library use.
  • Pretty much everyone has access to an eReader, tablet, Android phone or iPhone, broadening the audience for eBooks.
  • An entire industry of editors, cover designers, and production people has developed to ensure that a self-publishing writer can create a quality product.

Librarians are still committed to not wasting money, but they now have the tools that make it possible to confidently choose self-published books that are a good fit for their patrons.

Why I Self-Published

In 2012, I took the plunge and decided to self-publish Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder. For two years, I accumulated dozens of rejection letters from mainstream publishers and agents, many of whom were actually very complimentary of the manuscript. I might have walked away from it if it had been a novel, but it was nonfiction, and I hated the idea of a piece of Kansas history being unavailable because a handful of mainstream publishers didn’t want the project.

Even though I had been following the publishing industry closely for half a decade and could see how the industry was changing, that niggling Old School librarian’s bias was still creeping around in my brain. I discovered, though, that the tools are out there to create the kind of book that readers will read and librarians will buy. So I self-published. The process takes a lot of work, but I’ve created a book that has been well-received. For me, it was worth it.

About This Series of Posts

Through this series of posts, I will talk about making choices about formats and costs, crowdraising, marketing, understanding and communicating with your audience, and resources I found helpful. I will be opinionated, but I will not tell you what to do, because my choices might not be the right choices for you!

Please feel free to make comments and ask questions.