More Confessions of an Indie Writer

Some of you may not be intensely interested in writing or self-publishing. If so, you can stop here … right after you click on this shameless link to my books.

For the rest of you, read on.

A friend asked me earlier this week which company put together the Kindle and Nook versions of my three books. It was a question that took me somewhat by surprise. I thought he knew I had self-published all my books – both the paperback and digital versions.

“Oh, I know that,” he said when I reminded him, “but who created the digital files for you? There are lots of places who advertise about that and I wondered which one you used?”

When I told him I did it myself, he seemed amazed. “I didn’t know you knew how to do that kind of stuff,” was his response. I smiled and let him think I was a genius.

The truth is, I didn’t know. I had to figure it out.

I started the same way I suppose many author wannabes begin. I Googled self-publishing companies and looked at the first page of 23.9 million responses.

I won’t begin to list all the things I discovered. However, I did compose a brief, but by no means all-inclusive list of some of the more popular sites (listed in no particular order):

While I’m certain they are each terrific at what they do, I didn’t use any of them, because they all expect to get paid for their services.

Of course, that’s a legitimate expectation for the work they do. But I have a background in art, design and printing. However, even without that knowledge you can do it yourself. All you need is time, a sense of adventure, and the ability to laughingly absorb extreme frustration.

Now, this is why I told you earlier you could stop reading. I’m about to describe what it was like for me to set-up and arrange self-publishing for my books:

I wrote and edited my stories in MS Word and used two open-source software packages to convert them to e-Books.

The first was jEdit, a text editor that strips out the hidden formatting directions MS Word embeds (behind the scenes) and converts the Word document into html code … a requirement for the e-Book files used by Kindle and Nook.

It takes a bit of getting used to when you first start, because jEdit makes each individual paragraph suddenly become one long line of copy. You have to scroll sometimes to see it all. Plus, you have to be certain you have the proper codes for beginning and ending them.

You also need the proper codes for simple things like bold type, italics, quotation marks, apostrophes or ellipses – even chapter headings must be identified in code – since Kindle and Nook e-readers only understand those things in versions of html.

I know a bit of html code, but it was still a challenge. However, I got it done … which tells me most people should be able to do it.

Once the text was in the proper format, I imported it into another piece of open-source software, called Calibre. It converts the html file into the proper mobi files for the Kindle or ePub files for the Nook.

From there it was a simple (believe it or not) matter to upload the files to their respective destinations.

The mobi files were uploaded to Kindle Direct for the Amazon Kindle, and the ePub files were uploaded to PubIt!, the publishing site for eBooks designed for the Barnes & Noble Nook.

Now, I keep saying it was a simple matter, but the truth is the first time I converted a book this way (my novel, Reichold Street), it was an excruciating ordeal that had me checking my wallet and looking – more than once – at the I’ll-do-it-for-you-if-you-pay-me sites.

The paperback versions were a bit easier. Or maybe I was just numb from creating the digital versions.

I downloaded a book format in the size I wanted (5.5 x 8.5 is a standard trade paperback) from a company affiliated with Amazon: CreateSpace. I then copied my word document into it, making the necessary tweaks to the file for proper pagination. A chore in itself. Then I converted it (in MS Word) to a PDF file.

Making the covers required a bit of the artistic capability I mentioned earlier. I used photos I took myself or, in one case, an inexpensive stock photo, and converted them into pieces of artwork in Photoshop.

I also used another free open-source retouching software: Gimp (the GNU Image Manipulation Program). In one application or the other, I made covers complete with title and a back cover blurb.

There is a neat application within CreateSpace that guides you in making the correct image size, with the extra bleed area required for trimming. After your art is uploaded, CreateSpace even adds a barcode to the back of your book and can assign an ISBN number, the identifier necessary to get your book into bookstores and libraries (Note: it is possible to purchase and provide your own ISBN).

CreateSpace sends your work to Amazon for you when you’re done. It also has an option for extended distribution, which makes it available to other booksellers.

It sounds like a lot of work. I won’t kid you about it. It was a lot of work. All things considered, if nothing else, being an indie publisher gives you a healthy respect for the effort a publishing house goes through to prepare a book for the public. It’s easy to see why they command such a large percentage of the monies generated.

After all, they have to provide proofreaders and editors, buy design time to format the text pages and cover, buy photography or artwork, paper, printing and bindery services, arrange for packaging, storage and distribution. Not to mention a budget for publicity.

When an author contracts with major publishers he/she generally receives a royalty of only 15% of the book’s retail price (assuming the book sells).

If you’re an author and you feel that percentage hardly seems fair, try to remember … all you did, after all, was write the silly thing.

If you want to avoid those miserable publishing tasks, by all means keep sending out query letters looking for an agent to represent you to a publisher. It might take years.

I decided I couldn’t wait. I wanted to get my work published, so I figured out how to do all those other things (with the possible exception of decent marketing). Now, still with more time on my hands than money in my pocket, I stubbornly remain an indie.

That is, of course, unless an agent with access to a large publisher wants to represent me. If that happens, I imagine you will be able to see my smile from quite a distance. Until then, check out my link right here.

Thank you very much.


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