Navigating the Maze of Self-Publishingby Jane Bussard
The Internet Writing Journal, October 1998
Self-Publishing means: You the writer are going to invest a lot of money and time to have your masterpiece published.
Some writers can use the technical computer programs that do everything required to prepare a manuscript for the printing press. Well, I was not one of those -- I knew absolutely nothing about a computer. So, my odyssey into writing and publishing was arduous and painful, although the challenge itself was fun. Other writers who have self-published will have a very different story than mine. There is one requirement however and that is...dedication. Without belief in your story, you will give up along the way.
For me, it all started this way. Long after my retirement, I decided to write down the memoirs of an incredible lady, Rosa Ellen Scott, who was born in 1895. She was my mother and I had tape recorded our visits together over many years when she was in her 80s. At that time I had jokingly told her, "Someday Mom, I will write a book about your adventurous life." She always pooh-poohed this idea. She was very wrong. Her life was full of love, great joys, terrible prejudices, hardships, intrigue and danger.
It took many months to listen to our conversations and take lengthy scribbled notes on those trusty yellow tablets. About this time, something extraordinary happened to me. I became enthralled, intrigued with her life, and the era in which she lived. It felt exhilarating and exciting to see how her story would unfold day by day. So Skinny Scotty was then and there imprinted in my heart as a real book that I must share with others.
It was then I decided that I must learn to use a computer: a must for any writer in this day and age. Finally about a year later, I had something they call a manuscript, a big stack of papers, filled with words. But, what does one do with this manuscript?
About then was the point where I decided that some research about the publishing business would be sensible. After much research and soul-searching, my husband and I finally decided to self-publish this story. So, I studied many big fat reference books, e.g., The Writers Handbook, Writing & Book Marketing Made Easy, and the real kicker, How to Publish Your Book & Sell a Million Copies (Sure!!).
Although we thought we were prepared, we were dreaming, of course. We did get four estimates of self-publishing costs. These estimates differed dramatically, but there were other factors to consider. What will they actually do for you and do they like your story? Can you look at copies of their completed books in your price range? Are they within driving distance, not clear across the country? Of course you must read every word in their contracts.
Our decision to go with a small local publisher (it turned out) was one of the best decisions we made. The cost was higher, but professional advice was readily available, and we liked the look and feel of the books they were publishing.
At this point, dear writers, you are looking at about a year for your wonderful manuscript to be turned into that wonderful book with your name on the cover.
I can give you a run down on the steps all of us took, the editor, the publisher, his staff and me, the nervous author, stumbling through this unknown world. I suppose if you don't want to be involved in the publishing process you can just turn your manuscript over to a publisher, hope for the best, and wait for the finished book. No thank you! If you want a book to be proud of, jump in, make a pest out of yourself and listen and learn.
First there is "EDITING." I capitalize the word because that will make or break any book, even if you are a pro in the writing game. Well, I was fortunate; the editor assigned to me actually liked my story. He said he enjoyed the country flavor, also very kindly telling me. "June, as a writer, you need a lot of help! ... but I will work with you." Boy, was I willing to do that. After 5 months of very tedious work, more research, many re-writes, additions, descriptions clarified, the spelling and sentencing corrected, we finally agreed it was now darn readable. Everyone can learn from an editor; he or she gives you a whole new prospective about your story.
Now, the actual publisher looks over this fine manuscript. He wants a few additional corrections, so begins the rest of the process.
Being an amateur, I of course, did not take these procedures in the order that is required...so ran into many snags. The following are steps that should be taken in their chronological order:
- Start planning what your cover will look like immediately.
- Talk over a possible price for the book with your publisher.
- Apply for Copyright and CIP number from Library of Congress.
- Apply for the ISBN number, which is International Standard Book Numbering.
- With your editor's help, write a short synopsis of book for back cover.
- Talk to anyone you know who can give you an endorsement, these are the promotional quips you need on the back cover. Give your manuscript to anyone you can think of who has some credibility, any editor or an established writer, anyone who might write a sentence of praise for your story. Also get their permission to use it.
- As a self-publisher, you are in the business of publishing...you must have a fictitious business license. Also get a re-sale business number from your local Board of Equalization.
- Make decisions about the wording of the foreword, table of content and epilogue. Choose fonts and chapter heading designs.
- Keep refining the cover design because you will often be changing your mind. Luckily, our son is a graphic artist, and watching him design my beautiful cover on a computer was amazing.
- Make the final decision on price for book which depends on size and pages. Skinny Scotty is the larger 6 by 9 size with 190 pages, soft cover with a heavy lamination and full color.
- Now is the time for the publisher to get your Bar Code set up for you, that is the grocery store looking code placed on the back of the book, which gives your ISBN and price. The book industry uses this for ordering.
- The next step from the publisher is called Pagination. This is completed with a unique computer program that prints your pages out exactly as they will be on the pages of the book. These must be re-checked by publisher, editor and yourself because this is it -- this is the way each page in your book will look. This stack of papers is called "galleys."
- Figure out where to find more money! These things always costs more than you bargained for. Just about now, you will be praying that there will be an end to all these decisions, because you are getting a little crazy.
- Get permission, in writing, if you are using any photo, illustration, or quote that doesn't belong to you.
- If you are planning to sell this book (and who isn't?), get some flyers designed with all the pertinent details of this wonderful book that will soon be out. Also, get stationary and business cards to assist you with marketing.
- Next, my publisher -- who is very meticulous -- wanted the pagination checked out again, along with all aspects of front and back cover.
- All this will finally come together. As I said, there were many, many steps which we did entirely in the wrong chronological order and had to go back three steps and so on. My husband kept telling me. "Hon, just slow down, that is not a life or death decision, remember this is supposed to be fun! Think of the education you're getting...why, our next book will just be a breeze."
- Ok, now these processes are all completed, now what? Well, the publisher does what he calls the blue-line. That means big photo plates in blue-line of all the paginated pages, in the correct order to print both sides of a page. Front and back cover details are on a special hard disk cartridge.
Then there is the "grand finale": A huge semi-truck backs up in your driveway. The driver takes out a fork-lift and unloads thousands of books, all in neat boxes, into your garage. You just stand there in awe.
That's when you realize what you've done! What in the world are you going to do with all those books? I didn't have the slightest idea of how to promote and sell a book and it was a good thing I didn't know of the pitfalls to come. Those were the complex and costly world of the promotional industry, the bookstore discount jolt, and the even greater jolt of the discounts distributors require and the serious problem of getting anyone to pay you. To begin with, none of these people are very enthusiastic about a self-published book, so that is the first tough hurdle. But, perhaps the promotional hazards of selling a self-published book should be another story.
We eventually fought through that whole promotional process, and Skinny Scotty is now selling exceptionally well, and we are getting ready for our second printing. Wow, what a wild and exciting trip these last four years have been. But, we are looking forward to doing it again, only this time with a lot more knowledge and understanding of that world of self-publishing.
**June E. Bussard is the author and self-publisher of Skinny Scotty, The Adventurous Life of Rosa Ellen Scott, which is available for purchase from www.amazon.com. Or, for autographed copy, just email firstname.lastname@example.org or visite the author's website at www.jps.net/jnjbooks. She welcomes comments from her readers. June and Joe Bussard also have a charming Children's Bedtime Story available through 1stbooks.com, entitled "Once Upon A Christmas Eve."