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Terrible Tips Tuesday: The Wonderful World of Self-Publishing

October 5, 2010

Last year I self-published my novel Where You Belong through CreateSpace, which introduced me to the irritation of publishing your own novel.  Not the marketing, which is a given, but the actual hassles of publishing it.  I think I went through 4 proofs before I finally got it in what I thought at the time was decent shape.  Then I reread it a year later and found several things I missed, including one embarrassing mistake.  So there was a fifth proof.

Anyway, now I’m back at it again to print a volume of my short stories called The Carnival Papers after a Steve Reynolds song.  Unlike the novel, this is just 202 pages long.  You’d think that would be a lot easier to edit than a 520-page book, right?  Wrong!

The first problem is that a volume of short stories needs a Table of Contents.  Despite my best efforts, when I opened the first proof, I immediately saw that some of my page numbers in the Table of Contents were wrong.  So I had to go back and change it, and then change it again after I made some other changes.  What a nuisance!

The second biggest problem came with the headers.  I could have been lazy like some people I know (cough, Gary Kessler, cough!) and just had one overall header for the whole thing.  Instead I decided to be clever and use a different header for each story.  This meant for a lot more work in setting up the headers.  Plus when I first printed the book, I noticed the headers on both sides were on the inside part of the page, which made it hard to see the numbers.  So for the revised proof I looked up some other books and then put the numbers to the outside and the title/author name centered.  So now that looks better, though I swear at least one story’s header which looks slightly lower.

Another problem is that with a novel it’s all one big file.  With short stories, though, it’s like fifteen stories written at different times and thus might have different formatting.  So I had to pull all these files together and try to get them into a uniform format.  The irony is that the title story, which I wrote after I decided on the title, had a different format in the proof than the others.  The margins on the edges were narrower and the title lower.  I’ve fixed the margins, but I swear the title still looks low.

Past all that is the run-of-the-mill stuff like spelling errors and whatnot.  What I should have done, which would have saved me $7 at least, was print the Word file out on paper and go through it first.  But I stupidly thought that since most of these stories were old (the bulk are from around 2004) that I’d edited them pretty well.  Not so much.  I especially noticed a number of tense errors where a story in present tense would have stuff in past tense for no reason or vice versa.  Then two of the stories are actually prequels to two other stories and that inadvertently created continuity errors that needed fixed.  Rarely too by putting it in “Justified” you get a line that will have like five words spread across the width of the page, which just looks wrong.

Then you have the whole thing with the cover.  When I first did Where You Belong I had to use a template because I didn’t have PhotoShop to make my own and didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for one of CreateSpace’s “packages” where someone would put as much effort into it as if I’d asked my brother to do it, which would be none at all.  The problem with a template then is that lots of other people have used it as well.  Imagine if you went to a bookstore and saw a dozen books with eerily similar covers?  A cover you make yourself is a better way to stand out–hopefully in a positive way.  Fortunately I got a copy of PhotoShop Elements, which isn’t as good probably as regular PhotoShop.  I was able to figure it out enough to get something made.

Unless you’re really good at drawing, then the best route is to do what I did for a cover graphic, which was to go to a stock photo site.  It costs money, but it’s 100% legal so long as you don’t sell 500,000 copies, which is definitely not a problem for me.  Then you just put that on the front, put some text over it, and you’re done.  Looks much better than a template, though still not as good as professionally done.  But then professionals have real photographers and so forth.  Lucky bastards.

So it really can be an annoying, maddening, and somewhat expensive process.  Of course if you’re like some self-published authors you don’t bother with any of that and just chuck it out there without so much as a second glance.  That’s part of what gives self-publishing such a bad rep.  Which is why I try to format it as best I can.  It’s still not professional grade production values, but it’s not painful to look at either.  It’s like the difference between shooting a movie with a camcorder versus your cell phone; the end result still isn’t going to look like James Cameron or Steven Spielberg, but at least it might not be laughably terrible either.

Looking at books published by the big houses is a good way to get some idea of what things should look like.  Though sometimes even they screw up.  Reading the latest Discworld book by Terry Pratchett, I noticed a missing quotation mark on one page.  So, yeah, you can have all the tools and people and still get something wrong.  The point though is at least to try, right?

Getting a big publisher to print it would of course be the preferred way to go.  Though in this case, I figure a book of short stories never printed in any magazines or journals of note really wouldn’t be a bestseller anyway and certainly wouldn’t get much attention from an agent.  This is the kind of boutique project that self-publishing is best for.  It probably won’t sell more than 5 copies (at least in print) but whatever.  The point is I’ll have a copy on my shelf, which is really all I want.  Anyway, I hope the next proof will be the final one so I can finally get the thing finished.

Thursday I’m going to yap about the sameness of characters in my stories in Reading FUNdamentals:  Separated at Birth…

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One Comment
  1. Wow what a headache. Ay carajo.

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