Scribbling in the Wild: Creative Writing, Self-Publishing, and Finding Your Inner Author in 2022 (Part 2) 

Last we talked about the writing process and getting past the mental mind blocks to getting your authorial groove on. After all of the actual writing, let’s say you beat the odds and have a finished manuscript you don’t completely hate… now what? That was a question I sat on for three years because I didn’t have a clue on what to do after that. You can of course go the traditional route, which means essentially cold-calling literary agents or publishers directly with a manuscript query—an introductory letter with a basic spec about yourself and your book, plus a short excerpt—but be prepared for how hard that is. Much like looking for a job, you’ll get a lot of radio silence and rejection letters. I confess to not having an enormous appetite for that, but if your main goal is to publish (as opposed to making money out of the gate, or the very specific adulation of landing a traditional publishing contract), these days you do have many options for going solo and self-publishing. So this week, let’s look at getting your baby out into the world without loosing your shirt or your identity to, as Taylor would say, the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world.

As I alluded to last week, outside of traditional publishing, you used to be limited to predatory vanity presses who would ask for a lot from you in return for the “privilege” of allowing you to use their printers. Today, however, self-publishing has never been easier and one of the benefits of self-publishing is that you generally get to keep more of what profits you make (even compared to traditional publishing, unless you’re Stephen King), as well as control of almost everything about your book, from cover design to layout to pricing. The downside to that, of course, is you have to control everything, ha. But I want to wrap up this two-week discussion with a list of reputable vendors I’ve worked with publishing my books, so if you decide you’re up for the challenges of self-publishing, you can do it safely. Like any business based on fulfilling people’s cherished dreams, publishing has a ton of grifters who’d happily take your money and run if given the chance, which is another thing that keeps people from attempting the project because nobody wants a lack of knowledge to cause them to get ripped off. Unfortunately, self-publishing has its upfront costs, but you can control how much you want to sink into it. Technically, you can electronically publish (make an ebook of your book) for almost nothing if you trust yourself to make a cover or use blank templates. But you want your hard work to be nice (and make a little money, if possible), so I think if you can put a little money into, it is worth the cost. Consider this the money you’d paying an agent or the cut of your royalties you’d be paying a traditional publisher anyway. And I should mention out of the gate that none of the people or vendors below have compensated me for endorsing them (again, I’m much better at the writing side than the mercenary side). I’m telling you about them because I use them, and have found them generally easy to work with for a first-time publisher with no specialized software knowledge.

I’ve found the largest cost is hiring an editor to go over your manuscript, however, it also isn’t a requirement to publish. But although it is far and away my biggest expense, it is the one that I recommend the most strenuously. Reedsy is the site I used to find my editor and they’re great. They host a space for authors to find a variety of publishing professionals and freelancers to do pretty much anything you need to publish a polished book: editors, graphic artists, marketers, website designers, and most recently, the aforementioned elusive literary agents. Reedsy also has newsletters, a blog, and many podcasts geared toward helping their writers manage and market their books on the various platforms, as well as navigating the actual writing process. I am terrible at consistently devoting myself to marketing, but I’m sure many of you are capable of being more diligent than me and they have tons of resources available to point you in the right direction.

The protocol is that you send out requests for services in batches of five at a time, and said pros can choose to decline your offer or send you a bid for their services. For example, with The God’s Wife, I sent out my five offers and received three bids and two declinations, and then I could dialogue with the bidders to find the best fit for me and them. Because Reedsy is so legit, I personally use them only for editing because the pros can generally command fairly high prices for their services, and I do try to keep my costs in check where I can, but that’s part of finding a cost structure that works for you. Reedsy also has a free manuscript editing program which you can use to type up and format your manuscript in, because Word is seen by many as passé. I don’t find it intuitive myself, but I’m also a quasi-Luddite who finds the formatting part of writing a book to be the most challenging part of the process (observe this barely-functional website that would no doubt make the website pros on Reedsy weep). But it’s there if one is interested. Also for the record, if you go to Reedsy in search of a great editor, my own, Jessica Hatch, is amazing. She is an excellent editor (if you find mistakes in my books, they are post-hoc abominations that are 1000% my fault), and is a wonderful person to work with. Not to mention she’s the kind of person who was willing to take a chance on a rando first-time author like me.

Part of the reason I can blow off trying to wrap my head around the Reedsy manuscript editing program is I already have another group willing to handle my formatting from word processor document to something that can be placed in digital or print format, and they even do it upfront for free. Draft2Digital does all of my formatting work, as well as all of my digital distribution. You simply fill out some initial information about your book, like a summary and genre, upload (in my case) my Word document, a cover file, and their program converts it to a form for an ebook. You tell them how much you want to sell your book for and where you want it available, and they’ll distribute it to those storefronts for you and distribute your royalties to you directly. They will take a percentage of your sales, but it is very reasonable based on industry royalty standards. For example, if I post a book for $2.99, I will receive $1.78 of every sale. I know that might seem like a deep cut for D2D, but 60% to the author, as I said, is pretty standard unless you’re very famous. Plus, much like many personal injury attorneys, they don’t make a dime on you if you don’t sell any copies and you can keep using their services. As for the distribution, they have contracts with all the major vendors you’ve heard of (they’ve been struggling to hammer out a good deal with Google Play, but honestly, how many of you are reading books on Google Play?). Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Overdrive (or whatever it’s turning into), Kobo, Hoopla, and a bunch more. They’ve also recently launched a paperback publishing arm to compete with Amazon KDP, which I haven’t used yet, but I might once I’ve put my current series to bed. Because it would be nice to do my paperback publishing with the same group as my digital publishing (and to potentially lessen my dependence on Beff Jezos’ beast). Also, they have a great support team, so if you have questions as you go along, they’re very responsive.

Now, you can get a cover for your book for almost nothing in a number of places. But I’m definitely the sort of reader who judges a book by its cover, so I’ve been willing to spend a little more than the bare minimum for a hastily slapped together Photoshop thing. That said, you can get a lovely cover and not break the bank. SelfPubBookCovers is a great place to start, if only for ideas. Their main business is pre-made covers for ebooks, but it is super easy to work with a graphic artist to get something custom made. They can also help you get a high quality spine/back cover made for your paperback editions. I like working with them because the SelfPub team does all of the interfacing between you and the artist, including payment, which is probably safer for everyone, and the site’s creative team is very responsive to questions and concerns, making the whole process a snap. And in a world where even the major publishers rely on stock images for their covers, it is nice to have SelfPub’s guarantee that your cover won’t be resold as is and will remain unique. Their graphic artist FrinaArt has done all of my covers for my God’s Wife books (including the upcoming one for Children of Actium, which turned out awesome!), and I’d definitely recommend her work—she’s great and her turnaround on projects is amazing (usually at most a day or two). Plus, SelfPub is a family-owned site, so it’s nice to be able to support another indie business.

[Seriously, everybody, super stoked about CoA—we’re in the home stretch (though, full disclosure, that also means I’m almost insane at the moment…)]

Fivver is also a great place to find all sorts of graphic artists. For the God’s Wife books, I use several Egyptian hieroglyphs for certain types of scene breaks (and for decorative art on pages like my title pages). Now, obviously no one owns the copyright to the Egyptian hieroglyphs, but if I go on Wikipedia, for example, someone still had to create the digital image of those hieroglyphs, so I can’t just poach them and put them in my book that I’m planning to sell without paying the creator. And even if the image is in the Commons and is technically copyright-free, remember it still has to be something my heroes at D2D can format. So any hieroglyph you see in my books has been created by Fivver artist xuntes based on the original Gardiner lists, but they’ve done wonderful work for me. In a similar vein, Fivver and Reedsy would be great places to find someone to do graphic work like maps for your book, if you’re like me and can’t draw anything you’d be willing to put in an actual book for sale.

[xuntes also designed the sha I use as my site tag here]

While on the subject of copyright, technically the act of publishing your book will invest it with a copyright to you (the nice thing about D2D and even Amazon KDP is that those entities won’t have a claim on your copyright even though they’re the ones publishing your book). But honestly, it isn’t a bad idea to officially register your book as a fail safe and to create a paper trail in this digital age. I can’t speak for other countries, but here in the US, it’s a fairly painless process (though it’ll cost you about $65 at the time of this post). You can register your book with the US Copyright Office pretty much any time before or after you publish, though I like registering a little before I publish because if your work is unpublished at the time, you can upload a digital copy (aka, in my case, the Word file) of it to the website to register rather than mailing the government a physical copy of your book if it’s already published (and incurring the costs intendant therein). Especially since it doesn’t matter if you make changes to the manuscript after you send it to them, it’ll still count. Somebody at the office will presumably do a cursory check to make sure you didn’t just send them a copy of someone else’s work, and in a few weeks (more or less… it’s like getting a passport and processing times vary wildly), they’ll send you a certificate acknowledging your copyright. The certificate is more for your own enjoyment, rather than a document you’ll ever have to show anyone, but it’s still fun. Also, for the record, once your claim is filed, if you went the “unpublished” route, you don’t have to wait for the claim to go through to publish or anything. Move forward as you will and one day the government will catch up with you.

Mostly we’ve been focusing on ebook publishing, but as you might suspect from my earlier comment about being a quasi-Luddite, if I published a book, I needed the option of holding a physical copy of it in my hands. Because of things like the cost of getting a back cover and spine designed, paperback publishing will probably cost you a little more than ebook alone, and you don’t have to do it, but it is nice to be able to offer multiple formats to your readers. And more formats = more opportunities to make a sale. As I mentioned, other reputable groups like D2D are starting to get into the game, but the main player is Amazon, through their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) arm. I don’t find navigating KDP’s process quite as intuitive as some of the other previously-mentioned sites and bigger does mean that support is less responsive, but it’s not super difficult and it is free upfront, which is a rare nicety from your Friendly Neighborhood Behemoth. For a paperback edition, KDP claims you can simply upload a Word doc as you would on Draft2Digital and they’ll figure out the formatting, but I’ve never had this work for me. Luckily, if you do your formatting with D2D, they can generate a PDF file for you to give to KDP that’ll work. You upload the file, do a check that the formatting translated right and the whole thing isn’t wonky, and KDP will send you a proof copy at printing cost so you can check out everything in person before it’s put live on Amazon. There is a upper page limit for the paperbacks (around 740 pages), but unless you’re me, that’s probably not going to be an issue for you.

[I was sweating bullets when I was uploading Daughter of Eagles so much so that once I got everything to go through for it, I posted all of the specs to make sure I kept Children of Actium below them…]

You can also set your own pricing on Amazon; but because you’re now producing a tangible object that someone has to make, Amazon will take both the cost of printing a copy of your book on demand as well as a cut of your royalties (roughly on par with what D2D takes on your ebooks) out of your profits. This means, because I don’t charge $50 a pop on my paperbacks, I make much less on paperback sales than I do on ebooks, but I still love having the physical books available. Additionally, KDP has a beta going for hardback editions. Currently the hardback beta’s page count limit is lower than the paperback limit, but that’s more of a problem for authors with little to no self-control like me than an indictment of the limit. I can’t remember the exact number (something around 500 pages), but I know that I could do the beta with The God’s Wife (hardback available on Amazon!), but not with Daughter of Eagles. Again, it’s cool to be able to see your work in hardcover, too.

So, that’s my quick and dirty guide to writing and self-publishing. It is a process—one I’m getting a little better at each time I go through it—but I can tell you that you don’t need an excessive amount of tech savvy to navigate it. Which is great when you can focus more on the writing and less on the publishing, even when you’re going at it mostly on your own. It can be weird accustoming yourself to the idea that you’re a “real” writer when you self-publish, but there are tons of indie writers with devoted fan bases and as I said last week, it’s the writing that makes you a writer, not where or how you publish. Too many times on that bastion of melancholy known as Twitter, I’ve watched talented, creative people become devoured by their art because it became about some arbitrary level of success over what drew them to it in the first place. We all have to eat, but don’t turn your love of writing into another job—especially if you already have a job you’re suffering through to make ends meet. Fame or financial security in publishing is sort of like hitting the lottery, don’t be afraid to play your numbers, but try to keep things in perspective. Self-publishing is a great way to get your feet wet in this industry, especially considering how hard it is to get noticed. I’ve known I wanted to write since I was ten, but it took twenty years for me to take any serious leap toward that dream. If you want to chase that, don’t wait that long, because there are so many resources available now to help you do. Good luck, and again, if I can help, don’t be afraid to message me directly. Happy new year and happy writing!

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