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Thursday, May 26, 2011

On the Overwhelming Task that is Self-Publishing

At some point every writer has to decide whether or not they wish to become an author.  What's the difference?  An author is published, and a writer is not.

Let's talk about that decision, shall we?  First off, a writer must decide whether or not they are writing for themselves, to share, or to make money.  If they are writing for themselves, they may never pursue publishing.  If their desire is to share what they write with the world, there are a variety of modern-day mediums to do so, from blogging to tweeting to printing your own books.  If they wish to make money, the game changes; they may make money blogging, they may seek traditional publishing avenues, or they may sell articles or stories to magazines and other publications.

A decade or two ago, the decision-making process was simpler (and far more limited):  write for yourself, share with your close friends and family, or seek traditional publishing as a money-maker.  Nowadays, things are a bit more complicated...but with some serious determination, your options are OPEN.  REALLY, SERIOUSLY OPEN.

For those of us who want to share our stories with the world - whose sole intent is NOT to make money, but to give our characters lives of their own and introduce readers everywhere to these figments of our imagination, or to generate thought and conversation, or to see our own words in print and pass them on to our children to teach them the importance of creativity, reading, and personal accomplishment - our options are limitless.  The avenue I originally selected - traditional publishing - I learned (to my great dismay) was not an option.  Not because I'm not a competent writer.  Not because I have a terrible story or flat characters or no imagination.  Not even because my query letters suck.  It turns out that my trilogy is too outside the norm, and therefore is not marketable.  Intense, fascinating, and beautifully-written, according to half a dozen agents and a few editors, but not marketable, and therefore no one will pursue it.  This means TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING.  Cest la vie.

Though publishing houses believe my ideas to be unmarketable, my desire to share those ideas remained intact.  I'm not looking to profit, I'm selling the book for the minimum amazon will allow...I just want to be able to discuss my plots, characters, and research with friends and readers.  I love it, you see.  It is unfathomable how much research has gone into this trilogy:  four months' preliminary and two months' a little ways in.  Six months of my life...just in research.  40 typewritten pages stored on my hard drive.  And I LOVE it.

I confess, I'm also being selfish:  I want my children to grow up seeing their mom's books on the shelf, knowing that their mother defines herself as someone - authentically Jessica Bradshaw - instead of something:  "Mother," "Wife," "Homemaker."  There mother is a real person, creative, intelligent, passionate, eager, imaginative...and capable of more than dishes and laundry.  I ALSO want them to grow up knowing that my life does not revolve entirely around them.  They are, along with my husband, the most wonderful and rewarding part of my life, but it is just as important that their mother have a separate identity.  After all, at some point they will grow up, leave home, and have families of their own, and then what happens to me if the whole of my identity - stay-home mothering - evaporates?  What is left?  ME, that's who.  Because my identity is NOT consumed by household tasks and childcare.  And I believe they will be grateful in the future, and grateful NOW, having a mother who has taught her children that they are not the center of my world...or anyone else's.

So I wanted - NEEDED - to see my book(s) in print.  And if traditional publishing wasn't an option, self-publishing was the avenue I had to pursue.

I confess, too, that I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into.  It's rather like child-bearing:  Had I known exactly what I was in for, I'd probably still have done it, but I might have given it a little (or a LOT) more consideration.

What does self-publishing really entail?  Why is it such a challenge - so completely overwhelming?  Allow me to elaborate.

You write.  You edit.  And edit and edit and edit and edit and edit, and find readers to slap you with the occasional "THIS BITES" and edit and edit and edit some more until you have a book you can be proud of.  Both practice and patience make perfect.  But then there's "ready" for publishing, and "perfected" for publishing.  Proof time.  With traditional publishing, a typo is their fault.  You're perfect.  With self-publishing, a typo is ENTIRELY YOUR FAULT, and EVERYONE KNOWS IT.  So you proof and proof and proof, and maybe ask or hire someone to do it so you have a fresh set of eyes on the manuscript you've been pouring over for months...if not years.  Once perfected, you have to choose a self-publisher.  Then a binding and size and paper type and color and layout and font type and size.  If no template is available, you must find one or create one, and then move your manuscript to it.  But when you do that, something will get screwed up.  Something always gets screwed up, and you have to pour over the manuscript - now in the template - for hours and hours to perfect it.  You're in charge of title pages, pagination, author notes, and even figuring out where to put blank pages...and how many.  Then you create a pdf file from the template and upload that puppy.

Right about this time, I'm REALLY hoping you remembered a cover.  If you're writing YA, like me, it needs to be a photo-realistic cover, so you'd either better have experience with photoshop and a willingness to spend hours on your cover art (with images licensed for your use!) or a VERY capable cover artist.  (I've got one for you, in case you're interested, and she's VERY reasonably priced considering what you get.  Check out here site HERE.  That's the contact page, by the way.  Tell her I sent you.  She's AMAZING; just check out her portfolio links at the top of her contact page!)  Covers take time and money, of course, so be prepared.  And make sure you have rights to the images used, or you could wind up in court later when your book or your merchandise sell.  And while you - or your artist - are working on the cover, you should also be working on your back cover text.  It's going to take a while, too, because more likely than not you're a writer, not a marketer.  So your cover is done - lord-willing, it meets the standards and specifications of your publisher! - and you upload it, then wait for your book to process, then order (at your expense) a proof copy and...WAIT.  When it comes, you'd bloody-well better review it.  Something will be wrong, you'll correct it, re-upload your brand new pdf, wait for processing, order another proof, and if the planets are properly aligned, you can release your book for publication and order your own copies...after you "sign" agreements and submit your ssn for tax purposes and set your pricing and choose your distribution lines.

And of course, you'll want one of those distribution lines to be your website.  You bought a web address, found a host, and paid a web designer, right?  Whew.  Now you just have to hook up the paypal account you created to your website so people can buy directly from the price you agreed to in your contracts.  And then you'd better order enough copies to suit whoever might buy them from your site, because it's actually YOU selling and shipping them.

Then there's your author site.  See above, without the paypal link.  (You'll just hook it up to your other site.)  Oh, and your facebook fanpage (you have one of those, right?  AND a professional headshot to include somewhere therein?  And a writer's bio and excerpts and contact forms and...anyway...) and your twitter account...and those are the BARE MINIMUM for a web presence.

And you'll need your book in ebook form.  I highly recommend smashwords, by the way.  You have to RE-reformat your manuscript in ebook style, but after two or three hours of major frustration you'll eventually get it.

Ooooooooh, I forgot about press releases.  And marketing.  And SEO.  And a writer blog linked back to your site(s).  And RSS feeds.  And merchandising.  And arranging your own appearances, signings, and offering your self-published book to major bookstores on commission.  That's ALL...YOU.

Did I say overwhelming?  I meant "nearly impossible."  Unless you're really, REALLY motivated.

And I am.  And I'm loving it.  I'm so excited I can see straight.  Tired, but excited.  Out hundreds of dollars, but thrilled.  Exhausted, but bouncing up and down like a school girl with a jump rope.

Oh, and still enjoying my day job:  SAHMotherhood.  Love to continue this entry, but you get the gist, and I have to run and get munchkin #1 from school!  Have a great day, all, and if ever you consider self-publishing, well, I'm here to walk your through living your dream!  All my best!  Jess :)

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