Several months into the attempt, I realized that it would be extremely unlikely to get my novel Dragontamer’s Daughters published by traditional means. If this were 1993 instead of 2013, I’d be pretty much hosed. Fortunately, this is the 21st Century, where the Internet makes all things possible.
Before I go on, it’s important to distinguish between “self-publishing” and “vanity publishing.” Self publishing is do-it-yourself, being in control of every aspect of putting together a book: editing, cover design, pricing, marketing, etc. It was possible to do this in the past, but because the Internet has made it cheaper and easier, it’s grown in popularity, even among traditionally-published authors. With a print-on-demand service, you don’t have to pay to have copies made ahead of time: the company prints books when they’re ordered, and keeps a percentage of the money paid, leaving you the rest.
Vanity publishing (a sub-set of self-publishing) is when you, the author, pay a company to publish your book. This has also been around for decades as well, but it’s still expensive: usually, the vanity press wants you to buy many, many copies (hundreds or even thousands) but does nothing to help you sell said copies. And why should they? They already have your money.
Getting Creative with Amazon
With that out of the way, let me tell you how I got DTD into print. I had submitted DTD to the lit agents as a single, 600-page book. I learned that that’s considered much too long for a debut novel, yet another reason why publishing pros were loath to say “yes” to DTD.
I looked at some contemporary young adult books and found that they were usually no more than 300 pages or thereabouts, so I divided DTD in two at a climactic point about halfway through the story. I also decided to have it printed in the “trade paperback” size, about 5 ½” by 8 ½”, the standard for young adult books these days. That’s larger than the “mass market” paperbacks that you find at an airport newsstand. Trade paperbacks cost more, but I think they’re nicer.
- You retain full ownership of the book and can sell it at other venues
- Free ISBN
- Excellent (and free) templates and tools for preparing, reviewing, and editing your manuscript for publication
- Free and customizable cover art
- Ability to set and change pricing and distribution
- Free distribution through Amazon.com
- Free conversion to Kindle
- Reduced rate on purchasing copies for yourself to keep or re-sell
- Excellent royalty rates, which you can determine
- Automatic payments and direct deposit of royalties
- Reports on how many copies have been sold through Amazon
- Free tutorials and author forums for learning about self-publishing
CreateSpace offers a number of for-fee services for editorial, marketing and other services. I signed up for the Expanded Distribution, which would allow my books to be sold in bookstores and by other online retailers (you can get DTD through Barnes & Noble), and be available for bulk purchases by schools and libraries. Other than that, I didn’t need any other paid services, as I have excellent editing/proofreading skills, and I had the covers….well, covered.
James, Super-Artistic Genius
I met James Arnold several years ago through our mutual interest in Warhammer 40k, a science-fantasy wargame set in the very bleak far-future. James is a professional artist who draws, paints, does computer illustrations, you name it (check out his site). I could have gotten “okay” DTD cover illustrations for free through CreateSpace, but instead, I hired James to do them. Because while you can’t judge books by their covers, people certainly do buy books because of them, and I wanted mine to kick ass.
That, they do.
I told James what the books were about and gave him total artistic freedom. I believe my exact words to him were, “You’re the professional and I trust your vision.” And I love what he came up with. The cover for Part 1 is two dragons fighting, but it’s about as far from Frank Frazetta or Boris Vallejo as you’re going to get. Not that Frazetta or Vallejo are bad, but that wasn’t what I was looking for.
James’ cover is a highly-stylized, sort of wild and thoroughly unexpected illustration that perfectly complements the book. You’ve probably never read dragons like those in DTD, and you’ve probably never seen dragons like that on any cover. The book is different, and the cover is, too—markedly so.
Part 2’s artwork depicts a scene in the second book when Isabella and Alijandra, the daughters the book’s title refers to, discover ancient cave drawings that seem to refer to Pearl, the dragon they’ve rescued and tended after the fight on the cover of Part 1. I love the silhouette effect of the two girls: it’s like we’re seeing their shadows on the wall of the cave. Speaking of that wall, even the texture and dapples of the brown background are intriguing. But it’s the “petroglyphs” that James has done all over the place that really blow me away. I find something new every time I look at them.
James designed the covers, including the spines, so that they’d fit my book perfectly. He also was kind enough to send the covers in a few different file formats and to make minor corrections, such as fixing some typos I had sent him. Speaking of typos….
Re-reading, Revising, Re-writing
People think writing is glamorous, but it’s not, and proofreading is hell. Before I sent DTD to CreateSpace, I read through my manuscript—all those pages—and corrected errors. Then, I uploaded DTD to CreateSpace’s site and used their online Interior Reviewer feature to see what it would look like as an actual book.
Right off the bat, I found that I had put the headers (the info at the top of each page in a book) in the wrong order. When you opened the book, the page on your left was supposed to read “Dragontamer’s Daughters” at the top; the page on your right would have the chapter number and title. I had those backwards, so I had to correct all the headers in all 38 chapters. Ugh.
There were other corrections to be made, too. I had to fully-justify the text so that the words on each paragraph made nice, even lines going down the left and right sides. If it doesn’t, then you get what’s called a “ragged right margin,” and while that’s okay in some publications, it looks sucktastic in books.
Once I had that all straightened out, I had to make sure that there was the same amount of text on each page. MS Word (which I had used when drafting the manuscript) has what’s called “widow/orphan control” to keep single lines of text from appearing at the top or bottom of pages. If that happens, Word will usually bump the whole paragraph onto another page, which might leave a lot of white space at pages here and there. Again, in other documents, it’s not a big deal, but it looks crappy in books, where there should only be white space at the bottom of a page when a chapter ends or there’s a section break.
Sounds tedious and nit-picky, doesn’t it? It was, but not as tedious and nit-picky as what came next. After I had both books looking what I thought was ok on the Interior Review, I ordered physical, bound copies—mock-ups of what the book would look like when finished—to proofread again. Because it’s one thing to read something on a screen: it’s another to have it in your hand in front of you.
I had thought that there would be a few dozen corrections to be made through all 600 pages. WRONG. There were HUNDREDS of corrections to be made, basically at least one on every page. Typos, improper verb tenses and agreement, spacing errors, paragraph indenting flubs, etc., etc. I discovered that I have the bad habit of using a word—for example, “loudly” or “whispered” or “tangled”—and then using it again a sentence or two later. That’s no big deal if it’s a common word like “said” or “went” or “took,” but if it’s not, then the writing suffers.
I thought I had properly proofread DTD before I had sent it to the lit agents, but obviously, I had not. I can’t believe I had submitted my novel with all those embarrassingly obvious errors. Anyway, once I had the text perfected, I converted my Word files to PDFs and uploaded them to CreateSpace once last time.
Now that I had nailed down how the book would look and read, I had to decide how I wanted to distribute it. CreateSpace has several options for books, the least of which is offering it on Amazon.com. I also opted to have it available through Amazon Europe and, for a small fee, to bookstores, other online retailers, libraries, and schools.
Next, I had to pick a price for each book. The higher the price, the more you earn in royalties, but, of course, you can price yourself out of the market if you’re unreasonable. While usually the lower the price the better, CreateSpace has a certain minimum depending on the size of your book. The minimum for DTD Part1: Pearl was $11.18, and initially, I set the price at that, as royalties aren’t as important to me as getting readers is. That’s higher than some mass-produced, traditionally published books of comparable size and page length (some of the Scholastic books go for $8.99), but it was as low as I could go, and besides, there are plenty of equivalent books that cost more than that.
After some thought, I realized that I would actually save customers money by raising the price of each book to $12.50. Why? Because at least in the U.S., if you buy $25 worth of stuff through Amazon, you get free shipping, and I figured most people would buy both books at once. Before, they would pay lower cover prices but wind up paying more than $25 because of shipping costs. My hope was that people would recognize and appreciate that. (Currently, as of November 2013, Amazon has both books at $11.25 each)
When I started prepping DTD for publication, I hadn’t been thinking about anything but a softback version, but this the 21st Century, after all, and e-books are all the rage. Amazon has another subsidiary called Kindle Direct Publishing, so I went with them. I took the Word files that I had used for the PDF final version for CreateSpace and stripped out the headers, footers (including page numbers), and table of contents. I also took out the paragraph indents because they came up screwy on the Kindle preview reader; instead, I put extra lines in between paragraphs. Then I uploaded the final version (including an image of each front cover) to the KDP site.
Some publishers have the cojones to price their e-books the same as their printed books (though they’re avoiding the printing costs), but I made mine the minimum, $2.99 each. I signed up for the 70% royalty rate and the KDP Select, which allows folks to borrow e-versions of your book and Kindle gives you some money for it each time they do. The catch is that with KDP Select, you give them three months’ exclusive e-book distribution rights, so you can’t put your e-book on, say, Smashwords during that time. Eventually, I raised the price for the e-books to $3.99 each, because if you sell too cheap, people think your book is crap.
Selling Books, Getting Paid
I released DTD on June 1, 2012, and since then, whenever a book is sold through Amazon or Kindle, it tracks on CreateSpace or KDP, as appropriate, and I can pull up reports any time that show how many I’ve sold and how much in royalties I’m due. Royalty payments are monthly for CreateSpace, quarterly for Kindle. Again, that’s not a really a big deal for me, as my job compensates me quite nicely.
I’ve been very pleased with CreateSpace; KDP, not so much. Designing a softcover version of my book was fairly easy: the hard part was fixing all the mistakes I found. The KDP process was not nearly so smooth, and I had concerns about the quality of the versions folks were downloading. The extra money from borrowers isn’t big enough to keep me with KPD Select. Going with KPD also meant I couldn’t do a version for the Nook, which many people have. Accordingly, I put DTD on Smashwords when my exclusive period with KPD Select ended.
As for promoting DTD once it was published, well, that was another story….