The pre-publication checklist for indie authors

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Some people say that the hardest part of writing a book is making yourself sit down at the keyboard.  Some say it’s maintaining the commitment to finish your first draft.  Some say the hardest thing is working on that second draft, and then the third, and then the fourth and the fifth as you whittle down your ideas to razor sharpness, honing your message and perfecting those characters that you’ve come to deeply love.

They’re right.

Writing a book, fiction or non-fiction, is pretty torturous.  In a good way, of course.  Right?  Yeah.  But once you’ve gotten all that over with, and saved that final copy of a book you’re proud to put your name on, the really hard part begins.  If you’ve decided to self-publish your work, you’ve made a difficult decision, and one that will require a lot of technical work and some serious know-how if you’re going to pull it off.

To help make things a little bit easier for the novices among you, here is a list of tips for some of the basic tasks you’ll have to complete, including a couple of things you might not have thought about yet.

Picking your self-publishing services

So have you heard of this newfangled company named after some river that’s taking over the digital publishing world?  I think they call themselves Danube or Nile or something.  Amazon?  Oh, yeah.  That’s it.  Turns out they’re a pretty great option for publishing e-books, due to the massive popularity of the Kindle platform, but they’re not the only choice.

Smashwords will distribute your e-book to multiple sales outlets, including the iTunes store, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo Books, without any additional effort from you.  They’re a great option for people who want to branch out as far as possible, and they offer authors some interesting tools to get the word out.

So many formats, so little time.

So many formats, so little time.

When it comes to paperbacks or hardcovers, though, your options expand significantly.  CreateSpace is linked to Amazon and automatically creates an Amazon page listing for you, which is convenient.  Their paperback products are usually high quality and their shipping is quick.  But Lulu lets you do hardbacks, which is also pretty attractive.

Debating the merits of all the different print-on-demand companies out there would take several more blog posts, but here’s the big takeaway: do not engage with companies that try to get you to pay them for Amazon listings, all-in-one design and editing packages with exorbitant hidden fees, or nebulous “marketing packages,” or companies that hand you contracts you don’t understand, make promises about sales numbers, charge more than $10 for an ISBN, or show up on Writer Beware.

Formatting your template

I’m going to focus on CreateSpace for a minute, not because they’re paying me (hah), but because I’m most familiar with their services.  All print publishers will need you to format your work before you can upload it into their magic printing machines, and that takes a bit of finagling.

CreateSpace (and other companies) offers free pre-formatted templates that I love.  They’re special Word documents that have all the headers and margins and front matter plugged in already, and you just have to fill in the blanks.  I actually write my whole book in a template I’ve customized for my press imprint, which saves time down the road when I have to….

Remove hidden markup

This is the worst.  When I wrote my first book, The Last Death of Tev Chrisini, I did it in Google Docs.  Boy, was that a mistake.  I had to go through each and every paragraph, line by line, and change all the “tabs” to actual paragraph breaks, remove all the four-space blocks I used to start new lines, learn how to use page breaks and section breaks and figure out what orphans and widows were and how to kill them.  It was not fun.

It's simple enough to check your work.

It’s simple enough to check your work.

Creating your document within the template in the first place, using a current version of Microsoft Word, can help eliminate some of the time-consuming corrections that hidden markup can require.

Doing battle with the cover creator

I have never cursed and screamed at a computer more than when I’m trying to format the cover of a book.  If you have acquired your cover art from a professional designer, chances are she has formatted the work to meet the dimensions of your book already.  I am jealous.  Because for those of us who do the work ourselves, figuring out exactly what the creator gods want is a frustrating, fuming process.

Do you have any idea how many yearling goats I had to sacrifice to make this happen?

Do you have any idea how many yearling goats I had to sacrifice to make this happen?

Getting the front cover to line up with where the spine starts; getting the back cover centered; making sure the edges aren’t arbitrarily cut off in different places each time you upload an image…I wish I had some concrete tips for you, but the cover creator’s secrets are only accessible to men and women wiser than I.  My best advice: leave a lot of extra time to get this right, and don’t order proofs until you’re absolutely certain that you’re happy with the digital copy.

Choosing your marketing categories

Marketing is far too vast a topic to fully address in such a small space, and to be honest, I’ve never really been very good at it.  I am good, however, at telling you how to optimize your book within Amazon’s categories in order to achieve the most exposure and the most highly targeted audience you can.  Browse through this post explaining how to categorize your book and pick your BISAC categories for some little known secrets that will maximize your chances of getting noticed.

Inspecting the proof copy

Holding your first printed proof in your hands is one of life’s greatest moments.  Your book is real!  You did it!  Yay!  While you might be tempted to log into your account and hit “publish” right away, and then order 100 copies to distribute to your family and friends, I would advise that you do a double-take first.

Does the cover look right?  Is the binding high quality?  Are the pages smooth and uniform?  Did your font come out the way you wanted it to?  How many typos did you miss?  How many formatting errors did you accidently make?

When I get a proof copy, I sit down and read the entire thing aloud.  Seriously.  I read it slowly and carefully (to my less-than-enthused cat) so I can scrutinize every word, fix every missing punctuation mark, and absolutely ensure that each page is perfect.  It takes time, and it might crease your binding, but you need to make sure that everything is totally perfect before you release the beast into the wild.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

I know I asked for a story before bedtime, but do we have to read all 464 pages?

I know I asked for a story before bedtime, but do we have to read all 464 pages right now?

Letting go

Now you’re ready.  Now you can hit “approve” and let your words soar.  Right?  You’re ready, aren’t you?  I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?  What if people hate it?  What if you get bad reviews?  Or worse, what if no one buys it?  What if your sales dashboards stay glued to “empty” once your friends have grudgingly forked over their money?

Well…that might happen.  It’s certainly happened to me.  All you can do is reassure yourself that giving up is not an option.  Keep surfing those blogs.  Keep asking for reviews.  Keep selling.  Keep writing.  And keep your head up.  Overnight successes are rarely what they seem, and everyone has started out where you are today.  Be confident in the finished product you’ve worked so hard to create, and remember: the best (and worst) thing about the self-publishing journey is that it’s only over when you call it quits.

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3 thoughts on “The pre-publication checklist for indie authors

  1. Pingback: Five Questions to Ask Yourself before Committing to Self-Publishing | Jennifer Bresnick

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