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REPLAY 2011: How Much Work is Self-Publishing?

15 Dec

Between now and the end of the year I’m going to be using Tuesdays and Thursdays to replay some popular posts from 2011, in case some of the people who’ve discovered my blog in the meantime missed it first time round. Think of it as a “year in review” kind of thing. This post first appeared in September as part of Backpacked launch week and what’s hilarious is that despite everyone’s “I never realized how much work was involved!” reaction, this is only a fraction of what’s really involved in self-publishing when you’re starting from scratch. I wasn’t, because Backpacked was my third book and the sequel to a book that had done really well, and I didn’t do much publicity for its launch at all. So this is how much work self-publishing is when you don’t have to do that much work…

Today I’m going to talk about how much work self-publishing is.

I think people get the wrong idea because we – self-publishers – tell them things like, “You can publish a book on CreateSpace in half an hour” and “It only takes a few minutes to upload an e-book.” I’m as guilty of this as anyone, because I like to encourage people to self-publish (good books). I want people to understand that it’s achievable. But self-publishing – even self-publishing like this, just POD paperbacks and e-books – is a whole hell of hard work if you do it properly, or try to.

This time around and to help demonstrate this, I decided to keep a list of everything I had to do to self-publish Backpacked in POD paperback with CreateSpace and e-books with Amazon KDP and Smashwords, or to get to the point I am with it today.

So what have I had to do to get Backpacked out into the world?

  1. (February 2011) Decide to write and release the book
  2. Decide on a release month (not enough information for release date yet)
  3. Register a new free WordPress blog to act as Backpacked‘s dedicated book site
  4. Upgrade free blog URL to “backpackedbook.com”
  5. Set site to “private” while it’s under construction
  6. Take “scrapbook” picture to go on the cover
  7. Start new “scrapbox” for Backpacked; I use one of these for each book
  8. Mock up front cover design in MS Word
  9. E-mail cover designer mock up and ask for quote
  10. E-mail copyeditor and ask for quote
  11. Blog about decision to write and self-publish it
  12. Update Twitter profile, etc. with news of Backpacked
  13. Write a synopsis
  14. Blog the synopsis
  15. Get e-book (front) cover from designer to use for promotion
  16. Construct backpackedbook.com and set it to public
  17. Rearrange catherineryanhoward.com to make room for links, etc. about Backpacked
  18. Share cover design with blog readers and Facebook fans
  19. Write the book (Um yeah, that only comes now…)
  20. Edit first draft
  21. Send book to Sarah, my copyeditor
  22. Send book to Sheelagh, my best friend who’s in the book, so she can okay it
  23. Mock-up rough interior to get page count
  24. With page count, determine manufacturing cost using CreateSpace’s calculators
  25. Use manufacturing costs to determine list price
  26. Get cover designer to build an online bookstore* so readers can pre-order signed copies
  27. Mock-up design, liaise with designer to perfect online bookstore
  28. Set online bookstore to live and start to advertise it
  29. Download full cover template from CreateSpace
  30. Send template to cover designer along with instructions for back cover
  31. Send update to Mousetrapped page Facebook fans re: pre-ordering Backpacked
  32. … and to everyone in my e-mail contacts list…
  33. … and to everyone who ordered a copy of Mousetrapped from me…
  34. … and to everyone the More Mousetrapped mailing list…
  35. … and blog a reminder too, just for good measure.
  36. Answer interview questions for Alyssa Martino’s blog.
  37. Close online bookstore.
  38. Make a list of books ordered and print out receipts from PayPal.
  39. Upload 70+ photos to Backpackedbook.com to make slideshow and…
  40. … write captions for every single one of them while watching Outnumbered.
  41. Ok Backpacked‘s paperback cover design.
  42. Work out remaining timeline and set release date.
  43. Set up new title on CreateSpace.
  44. Upload finished PDF cover file to CreateSpace.
  45. Work through copyeditor’s suggestions, accepting/rejecting changes.
  46. Create two copies of MS – one destined to be e-book, one a paperback.
  47. Download CreateSpace interior MS Word template.
  48. Copy and paste in edited text and format interior.
  49. Insert free ISBN provided by CS onto copyright page.
  50. Go through interior again, fixing errors.
  51. Upload interior file to CreateSpace and submit for review.
  52. Order a proof copy so I can see for first time what cover, font, etc. looks like.
  53. Create a PDF version of Backpacked to send to blogger friends.
  54. Make this video about editing.
  55. Go through proof copy looking for errors and adjust interior file with corrections.
  56. Send interior file to copyeditor for proofreading.
  57. Buy envelopes for sending pre-orders.
  58. Take e-book MS and prepare it for upload – one for Kindle, one for Smashwords.
  59. Smashwords version won’t convert properly; try again.
  60. Smashwords version won’t convert properly; try again.
  61. Figure out only way to make it work is to “go nuclear”, i.e. strip out all formatting then go back and put it in.
  62. Upload/publish this new file to Smashwords.
  63. Upload/publish this new file to Amazon KDP too, so they match.
  64. Upload proofread interior file to CreateSpace.
  65. Order proof copies of this final version.
  66. Download .mobi version from Smashwords and send to friends/reviewers.
  67. Purchase royalty free music for book trailer.
  68. Use JING to record video for book trailer.
  69. Make book trailer using iMovie.
  70. Upload book trailer to YouTube and Vimeo.
  71. Check second – and final – proof copy.
  72. Click “Approve Proof” on CreateSpace (i.e. publish).
  73. Pay for ProPlan upgrade on CreateSpace.
  74. Order enough stock to cover pre-orders.
  75. Send “Out now!” message to everyone on my mailing list and the More Mousetrapped mailing list with MailChimp.
  76. Post “Out now!” status updates on Mousetrapped‘s Facebook page.
  77. Add book trailer to Smashwords listing.
  78. Add book trailer to Goodreads Author Profile.
  79. Set up new Google Alert for “Backpacked” + my name
  80. Add new section for Backpacked to my sales data spreadsheet
  81. Add Backpacked to bibliography in Amazon Author Central.
  82. E-mail Amazon to get them to link paperback to Kindle edition.
  83. Update Mousetrapped e-books with links to Backpacked’s e-book.
  84. Update Mousetrapped paperback interior with Backpacked in the “Also By…”
  85. Update Self-Printed e-books with links to Backpacked’s e-book.
  86. Update Self-Printed paperback interior with Backpacked in the “Also By…”
  87. Update blog, booksite etc. changing “Coming soon” to “Out now!” and links to buy.
  88. Update Goodreads author profile.
  89. Write 5 x launch day blog posts (including this one); schedule them for posting
  90. (Today) Keel over.

And as the stock to cover the pre-orders is somewhere between North Carolina and here right now, I have yet to:

  • Sign and pack stock orders; send them out.
  • Print out all invoices and update cost/profit spreadsheet
  • Sell stock to family and friends.

And by the way, I haven’t really done a major publicity push with this book. If I had, we’d have to add things like finding reviewers, e-mailing them, creating and printed an information sheet, sending review copies, etc. and maybe try to organize a blog tour and a giveaway. The book trailer and blogging about it are all I’m doing. Nor have I had a launch, which would mean organizing a venue, ordering in stock, creating and ordering printed materials (posters, bookmarks, etc.) and contacting the local press in the hope they’d cover it. The list above, in other words, is the least amount of work I could possibly do for one of my self-published books.

It’s self-publishing on a quiet day.

*You can’t conduct commerce of any kind from free WordPress blogs, so I had to “hide” another self-hosted site inside my free one to act as the bookstore. 

Visit BackpackedBook.com to find out more.

Applying for a US Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN): A Saga in 3 Parts

7 Nov

Back in November 2009, I paid my first visit to the Print-On-Demand website Lulu after a friend sent me a link. What’s this? I thought. Upload a PDF, make a cover and have your book for sale on Amazon.com? How easy is this! 

It was easy. But then, to balance everything out, came the process of applying for an Individual Tax Identification Number, or ITIN.

For those of you not yet familiar with the, um… process, shall we say, if you don’t have a valid Social Security Number (SSN) – which you won’t have unless you live in the United States – CreateSpace, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords have no choice but to withhold 30% of all your earnings or, in other words, cut every royalty cheque they send to you down by just under a third.

STOP RIGHT THERE. Before you all start whinging and moaning, THEY DON’T DO THIS FOR FUN. It’s the law, not  for kicks. So if you can’t “stand all this bureaucracy” as self-publishers are always telling me, then I have a simple solution for you: DON’T SELF-PUBLISH YOUR BOOK. Don’t forget how lucky we are to be able to do this in the first place. So, has my SUPERFLUOUS USE OF CAPITALIZATION stopped your grumbling? Good. I’m glad to hear it. Let’s continue.

The good news is that if you live in Ireland, the UK or Canada, you can put a stop to this and get 100% of your earnings from those three companies because your country and the US have an agreement known as a tax treaty. (If you live in Australia, you can have this withholding cut to 5%. For other countries, read this.) But in order to do this you have to apply for and get an Individual Tax Identification Number from America’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and then you have to send that number to each of the three companies.

Sounds simple, right?

Excuse me a moment while I roll around on the floor laughing, would you?

Thanks. I’ll just be a sec.

It is simple, relatively speaking. The problem is that there is a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon (up to 446km/277 miles long and 29km/18 miles wide, if you were wondering) between the information provided by the likes of the IRS and the information you actually need to get the job done.

To compound this, they are pathologically pedantic when it comes to the filling in of forms and the inclusion of required documentation; my blogging friend and Nail Your Novel author Roz Morris had a form rejected because she’d written “UK” instead of “United Kingdom” in a space the size of a thumbnail.

The good news is that I have – finally, after three attempts – got an ITIN. Woo-hoo and stuff. But I couldn’t have done it without the trial and error of others, so today I’m going to tell you exactly what I did in the hope that you can get your ITIN in just the one go.

A Word of Warning

I thought this process would take about 8 weeks, total. That’s why I thought – and said, in Self-Printed – that if you were only earning $100 a month or so, there was no great panic about getting the ITIN, especially when, should you start making serious money and get one in the future, you can claim back your withholdings to date.

But now I take back all that. Apply for it right now. This second. The very moment you have a book for sale on CreateSpace or Smashwords (why not Amazon KDP? We shall get to that), get started on this process.

Why? Because I received my ITIN last Thursday, November 3rd, and I started this process eight months ago, back in March.

Applying

When it came to actually getting an ITIN, I relied on the experiences of author and blogger Sally Clements, who generously donated her story to Self-Printed, and Roz Morris, who posted about her own saga of applying here.

To get an ITIN, you need:

  • Identification, usually your passport
  • A letter from one of the companies proving you publish with them
  • A W7 form.

You can download the form and the instructions for filling it out online.

I strongly recommend that you read both Sally’s and Roz’s posts before you fill it out, and that you print two copies and have a practice run first.

Next, e-mail CreateSpace or Smashwords customer service and ask them for the letter you need to apply for an ITIN. The first time I did this, CreateSpace mailed me a physical letter; the second time, they sent me a PDF which I printed out. Either one is okay. Don’t ask KDP, who will tell you that a copy of their terms and condition and evidence of your book’s Amazon listing is enough, because it’s NOT. You’ll get laughed out of the IRS if you send them that. You have to have a physical letter, even if it’s just a PDF you printed out.

As for identification, we’ll get to that in a second.

To apply, you can do one of two things:

  • Visit your friendly neighborhood IRS agent at a US embassy
  • Apply by mail.

(There are some other things, like going to a third-party agent or hiring someone to do it for you, but avoid these at all costs.)

Since the nearest embassy to me is in Dublin, I decided to apply by post.

Attempt No.1

I thought I was being oh SO clever. I got my form, filled it out as per Sally’s instructions, printed out my letter from CreateSpace, got my passport notarized by a notary (you’ll find a list of them in your local phonebook; I paid €20 to get a notarized copy) and then sent the whole thing off to the address on the instructions that came with the form.

Except that’s not where the form was supposed to go.

About six weeks later, my letter gets returned with a stamp on it saying that the forwarding service from the address I sent it to has expired and so they sent it back to the sender address instead.

Oh, great.

And, FAIL. Time to try again.

Attempt No. 2

I get a new envelope, write the address I’m supposed to send it to on the front and send it off by standard mail. It’s now about the middle of May. I’m still thinking I’m oh so clever, but my cleverness has slightly less smug on it now. I figure that my application is perfect, my writing neat and my ink blue, and surely once I manage to send it to the right address, the fabled ITIN will be mine.

No such luck.

At the end of June, I get a letter from the IRS saying that my application is missing documentation. Because my notarized passport copy was notarized by someone that didn’t work for the IRS, it needed an apostille, which is basically a stamp from the government who issued the original passport that says, “This is real.” The letter said to go get that, and then send it back.

Problem is, the letter gives me 45 days to do this, and the letter was dated more than four weeks, or 30 days, before. That leaves me 15 days to get the apostille and get it back to Texas, where the IRS office is. The other problem is that my passport just expired, so I need to go get a new one. There’s a backlog at the passport office, so it takes me three more weeks to get it. Therefore, I don’t make the 45 days and my application is rejected.

(A letter confirming this arrives on September 14th, dated August 11th.)

So again, FAIL.

Attempt No. 3

Third time’s a charm, right?

This time I leave no stone unturned (or box unticked); I make sure my entire application is perfect. My W7 form is filled out correctly; my notarized passport copy has an apostille attached (I got it in my nearest consular office; you can also get it by post); my letter from CreateSpace is in there and the address on the envelope is correct.

The clock is ticking (you’ll understand why in the next section), so to help things along, I sent this application in by express post, making sure that no one has to sign for it on the other end lest I annoy any IRS agents.

I mailed it on Wednesday 7th September, and the post office said it would arrive in Texas within 5-6 working days.

Last Thursday, November 3rd, I got my ITIN in the mail. FINALLY!

Getting Your Money Back

When your ITIN arrives, crack open some champagne and by all means, even have a glass of it. But then get back to work, because you’re only half done. Now you have to submit your ITIN on a W-8BEN form to each of your US-based self-publishing services, which will probably be CreateSpace, Smashwords and Amazon KDP.

And this is why my clock is ticking: apparently, if you submit your ITIN successfully and use the W-8BEN that has an affidavit on the end, you will be refunded all the money the company has unnecessarily withheld from you so far in the current calendar year. You can see why, despite starting the process in April, I was starting to get nervous as spring turned to summer and summer turned to autumn.

Again, I used the instructions on Roz’s Nail Your Novel blog for filling out the form. Make sure you use the proper form – you want the one with the affidavit of unchanged status at the end, which you can find here. You don’t need to include anything with your letter, but you do need to put something in the “Reference” line of the W-8BEN form that will identify you to the company.

  • For CreateSpace, this can be your member ID which you’ll find on your member dashboard
  • For Amazon KDP, you can use your Publisher ID, which you’ll see on your account page
  • For Smashwords, put the e-mail address you used to register in the reference line.

What do you do if you’ve had money withheld before the current calendar year? Well, there is about $500 in the IRS coffers that was withheld from me in 2010. I’ve found a site called TaxBack.com that has a special service for tax refunds owing on royalties. There is a charge of course, but it’s representative of the refund. I’m going to give them a try for that $500. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I sent my W8-BEN forms off last week to CreateSpace, Amazon KDP and Smashwords. I’ll let you know how I get on with retro-refunds, and how soon I start getting 100% royalty cheques instead of just 70%.

So to recap, make sure to:

  • Send your application by express post that doesn’t require a signature on arrival; that’ll shave a couple of weeks off your waiting time if you’re applying by mail
  • Use blue ink
  • Don’t use abbreviations – even if there’s hardly any space
  • Get an apostille from your nearest consular office if you use a non-IRS notary
  • Use the W-8BEN that has the affidavit at the end so you get your withholdings so far this year refunded
  • Have the name on your CreateSpace/Smashwords letter match your actual name, not your pen name.

The forms you need are:

The addresses you need* are:

  • the IRS ITIN section: Internal Revenue Service, ITIN Operation, Mail Stop 6090-AUSC, 3651 S. Interregional, Hwy 35, Austin, TX 78741-0000.
  • CreateSpace (for your W-8BEN): 8329 West Sunset Road, Suite 200, Las Vegas, NV, 89113, USA.
  • Smashwords (for your W-8BEN): Tax Compliance Dept., 15951 Los Gatos Blvd., Ste 16 Los Gatoes, CA 95032, USA.
  • Amazon KDP (for your W-8BEN): Attn Vendor Maintenance, PO Box 80683, Seattle, WA 98108-0683, USA.

*Correct to the best of my knowledge today, Saturday 5th November. Please double-check on the relevant websites that these addresses are still valid when you submit your W-8BENs. 

You may also need:

  • This post (you can print it; see little print button below), Sally’s post and Roz’s post
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Patience
  • A stress ball or ten.

Good luck!

UPDATE #1:

I posted my three W-8BENs on Friday 4th November by express post, making sure no one had to sign for them at the other end as in all likelihood, they were headed for PO boxes. On the 16th, I received an e-mail from Amazon KDP confirming receipt of my W-8BEN.

UPDATE #2:

After investigating TaxBack.com to see if they could help me get my $500 back from 2010, I decided not to pursue it. It involves more forms than I’d ever care to see in my lifetime, and two that made me uncomfortable: one that gives the company power of attorney in my dealings with the IRS (which they need to act on my behalf) and a change of address form that would change the address the IRS have on file for me from my home to the offices of TaxBack.com (so the refund goes to them; they need to take their fee out of it before they refund me the rest). Now I know all this is above board, but I’ve only just got my ITIN after three attempts—the last thing I want to do is to change any details, such as my address, that the IRS have on file for me, only to have to change it back a few weeks or months later. That just says Future IRS-Induced Headache to me. Secondly, power of attorney? For $500? Or $500 minus their fee? Um, I don’t think so. So guess what, America? You can keep my money. God knows I owe it to you after driving on your roads with only a learner’s permit for a year…

UPDATE #3:

On Tuesday November 29th: success! A cheque from Amazon KDP with a big number on it. Hooray! All my tax withholdings refunded back to December 2010. I thought maybe they’d include it with my monthly payment but they’ve sent an entirely separate cheque. And they’ve sent it pretty quickly. No word yet from the other two (CreateSpace and Smashwords) but as KDP is by far the biggest one, I’m not bothered. And let the Christmas shopping commence!

UPDATE #4:

On Monday 5th December, CreateSpace send me this month’s cheque as per usual—except this one also contains my tax refund going back to December 2010. I have to say excluding Smashwords (and the withholding there is so small, I don’t mind doing it), once the ITIN has been received this refund process has been very quick and utterly straightforward. A nice antidote to the process of getting the ITIN in the first place!

UPDATE #5:

Please read this post. You may not need an ITIN at all, but an EIN.

 

DISCLAIMER: I am not a tax specialist, and I have no expert knowledge of international tax law or any related issues. This post is intended to help you apply for an ITIN and submit your W-8BEN forms to the relevant parties, but it is not intended to be legal advice. I accept no responsibility or liability for the outcome of your ITIN application, W-8BEN submission or refund of tax withholdings. So there. 

How Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

28 Oct

Lizzy walked into the pub. “Susan?” she called out excitedly. “Susan?” she added, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and then readjusting the hat on her head. There was no response. Susan could see her but after what had happened yesterday she wasn’t interested in answering her. Lizzy knew this but she was in denial. Instead she watched as Lizzy cocked her head and peered into the murky darkness of the room, the blinds keeping the sun out like a unicorn’s wings pierces the air. “SUSAN! WHERE ARE YOU? I NEED TO TALK TO YOU!” Lizzy exclaimed angrily. “Now!” she added. “Sue?” she added to that, hopefully with a hint of impatience. She folded back the cuffs of her Burberry oatmeal-colored three-quarter length mac and pulled off her Hermes gloves and shook the snow flakes from her Nine West boots. Then she caught sight of herself in the mirror in front of her. Wow. She thought, smugly. “I love how good my long brown hair goes with my blue eyes.” Peter looked up then, seeing Susan ignoring Lizzy who was looking for her. He stood up suddenly and put his hands in his pockets. “This ISN’T what I signed up for!” he shouted heatedly. “And Susan,” he added, pointing with aplomb to the woman seated next to him across the room from Susan if she were looking at it reflected in the mirror. “Lizzy is looking for YOU!!!?!”

Yeah.

That is only a slight dramatization of a scene in a self-published novel I read (bits of) recently. 

Five minutes of my life I’ll never get back. And a paragraph of words that will never quite make sense.

You and I can look at that and instantly see what’s wrong. (Clue: all of it.) We’ve been constantly reading books since we figured out how, perhaps we’ve been given some writing talent to start with by the universe and maybe on top of that we’ve spent months or years putting two and two together to improve our craft. So we know the paragraph above is Grade A Self-Published Poop, now with Extra Stinky, and doesn’t bear any resemblance to any good book we’ve ever read.  

But the writer who self-published that book, presumably, didn’t set out to make a fool of themselves. They didn’t intentionally self-publish extra stinky poop. The very fact that they self-published suggests that they thought this book was good, and that they thought the discerning reader would be happy to shell out some of their hard-earned cash in exchange for the experience of reading it. (Let me also just say that this book was priced much higher than 99c.) The writer thought this because the writer didn’t – doesn’t, presumably – know that they can’t write very well, or at all. They don’t know how to write well, and they don’t know that they don’t know how to write well. But then, how can anyone know what they don’t know?

Since I first self-published, I’ve found out plenty that I didn’t know I didn’t know. For instance:

  • Sarah, who edited Mousetrapped and Backpacked, taught me how to use a whole new world of fancy grammar (I’m looking at you, semi-colon) that I was too scared of using before, and also pointed out plenty of American English words (like “someplace”) that I’d thrown, unknowingly, into my British English book
  • Averill, who proofread Results Not Typical, pointed out that when you’re writing a character’s thoughts, it’s EITHER italics or “she thought”, as in it’s either I don’t think so, Emma thought OR I don’t think so. I had always put all thoughts in italics
  • Joel of The Book Designer offered me some very welcome advice about my paperback’s interiors, including that if a page is blank, is should be completely blank, i.e. no page numbers, no running headers, etc. I didn’t know that and I didn’t know that I didn’t know that. But he did, because he’s a professional book designer. 

Speaking of The Book Designer, Joel has started an e-book cover design award and even though he’s too nice to say so, some of the covers submitted could be brought up for grievous visual harm. In fairness, what the submissions have shown above all is that a fantastic standard of e-book cover design is emerging from all this self-pubbing, but there were a few in there that would only convince you not to buy the book they were on. But it was a competition, and the submitters knew their covers would be showcased on the site. So they hardly thought their covers were bad. On the contrary, they must have thought they were good. They thought they were so good that they could compete with professional cover designs. Why? Because they know nothing about covers or, perhaps, even books. But they don’t know that they don’t know.

Nobody really knows what they don’t know and having a little bit of knowledge in a subject – for instance, being a writer who has read lots of books – only clouds your view even more.

And this is why you can’t self-publish alone. You have to get professional feedback to find out if your book is good, because you can’t tell and if you have an opinion… well, it’s just your opinion and something tells me you might be a tad biased. You have to get professional editing and proofreading services because what they do is not typo-hunting and spell-checking – it’s finding the mistakes and misuse of language and muddled thoughts that you don’t even know are there. If you wouldn’t recognize what you’re looking for, how can you expect to find it? And you need to get help with your cover design, because self-publishers get all misty-eyed when they see their book – “My book!” – and flip the switch in their brain that would otherwise alert them to the fact that it looks nothing like anyone else’s book, now or ever.

So while I don’t blame our adverb-loving, POV-straying, formatting-abusing friend from the beginning of this post for not knowing that he can’t write, I do blame him for putting that kind of crap out into the world and worst still, charging people for it. Because the first thing he should’ve done after typing “The End” (although it was probably “THE End!!%!”, knowing him) is employed the services of people who do know what our aspiring writer friend doesn’t know he doesn’t know, and will gladly tell him for a reasonable fee.

This is why self-publishing cannot be a one warm body and a coffee machine job. You need professional input. You need a team.

Why? Because you don’t know what you don’t know. But they do

No Printed Proof: A Very Bad, Very Good Idea

16 Sep

For a while now, many CreateSpace customers have been seeing this when they go to order a proof copy:

As part of a limited trial, CreateSpace are offering their customers the opportunity to skip the proof copy stage and instead make their book available immediately – without anyone ever having seen it in print. I think it’s a very bad, very good idea, depending on who you are and why you’re publishing your book.

Why It’s a Very Bad Idea

The obvious reason it’s a bad idea is bad self-publishers. They’re the ones who have apparently never actually seen a real book, and so use Cover Creator, put their text in point 16 Bradley Handwriting and start their book on page one. There was always the hope that when they held their book baby in their hands, they might actually notice that it looks nothing like every other book they’ve seen during the course of their life, but without a printed proof, that’s never going to happen. And thus the pool of self-published poop grows ever bigger.

This may sound strange considering the average proof copy from CreateSpace is under $10 and shipping, if you don’t mind waiting, only another $5 or so onto that even if you’re very, very far away, but having to pay for a printed proof acts as a deterrent against trigger-happy self-publishers. I know that if I had a manuscript in a drawer and discovered a POD site that let me get a book up on Amazon in mere hours without having to pay any money at all, I’d be so tempted to do a quick spell-check and chuck it up there now. But knowing that you have to pay for a proof (and shipping) is a little Stop sign in the road, a little pause button on your plans. Hopefully one that makes you reconsider, and do the POD thing properly instead.

The people I really fear for in all this though are the ones who work in CreateSpace’s customer service department. As it is, I’ve encountered plenty of self-publishers getting their knickers in a twist because “proof” is on the back page of their (wait for it) proof copy, who send death threats to CreateSpace HQ because one corner of one book in a shipment of fifty has a slight bend at one corner and who insist that the “you’re” that should be a “your” on page 6 was definitely a “your” in the PDF they uploaded and that the “you’re” in the finished paperback was all CreateSpace’s fault. Can you imagine what these people would be like if they could order personal stock without seeing how the book looks first, or if they could sell their book on Amazon without checking it themselves? Nightmarish, for sure.

Why It’s a Very Good Idea

One of the major benefits of Print On Demand is that you can update your book at any time and know that the only books without the update will be the ones on shelves in the homes of the customers who already bought them. You might want to update your books because:

  • You discover errors and want to correct them
  • You release another book (and so want to add it to your “Also by” or put an ad for it at the back of the book)
  • You need to update contact info, like a website or e-mail address.

The procedure for updating your book was:

  1. Put your book on hold so you could make changes (which usually listed your book as “Ships in 2-3 weeks”)
  2. Upload your new files and submit for review
  3. Order a proof and wait for it to arrive
  4. Check the proof and okay the files, so it becomes available again.

The problem was that (i) this cost a proof plus shipping every time and (ii) if you waited for your proof to arrive, your book would likely go to “Temporarily unavailable” on Amazon and so become unorderable. Normally I would order the proof, but as soon as it shipped, go back to CreateSpace and approve the files, “publishing” it again. I was taking a chance, of course, that everything was fine, but if I’d only changed a line or two I could be confident that it was. With this no printed proof option, I can make the changes, submit them for review and then as soon as they get the okay, approve them as is. It saves time, money and trees.

The Best of Both Worlds

I think CreateSpace will be making a mistake if they offer this option unequivocally, but I also think they’ll be making a mistake if they don’t offer it at all. I think they should make every customer order at least one printed proof per title but, once at least one printed proof has been ordered and shipped, changes can be made after which the files can be approved as is, i.e. with no printed proof.

That way, this is a win-win. It doesn’t open the floodgates for trigger-happy self-publishers, but it means correcting one word or adding a book title to a list won’t cost you a proof copy and ten days of no sales.

Have you seen the “No Printed Proof” option on CreateSpace? Have you used it? What do you think?

BACKPACKED WEEK: How Much Work is Self-Publishing?

8 Sep

Welcome to Day #4 of Backpacked Week! To celebrate/constantly remind you about the fact that my new travel memoir, Backpacked, is out now until you buy a copy of it, I’m posting every weekday this fine week about aspects of this most recent self-publishing headache– I mean, um, process…

First, a reminder (or, another one): Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America is out now! It’s the story of the three months I spent backpacking across Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, despite me not wanting to. If you read Mousetrapped, this is what happened next. If you didn’t read Mousetrapped because you’re not into Disney or NASA, rest assured this new book features neither of them. And you can buy it for your Kindle for just $2.99, or for your shelf for $14.95. Visit the Backpacked website for more information, or just hang around here, where I will be CONSTANTLY REMINDING YOU ABOUT THIS AT REGULAR INTERVALS until Friday.

Then I’ll stop.

Promise.

Today I’m going to talk about how much work self-publishing is.

I think people get the wrong idea because we – self-publishers – tell them things like, “You can publish a book on CreateSpace in half an hour” and “It only takes a few minutes to upload an e-book.” I’m as guilty of this as anyone, because I like to encourage people to self-publish (good books). I want people to understand that it’s achievable. But self-publishing – even self-publishing like this, just POD paperbacks and e-books – is a whole hell of hard work if you do it properly, or try to.

This time around and to help demonstrate this, I decided to keep a list of everything I had to do to self-publish Backpacked in POD paperback with CreateSpace and e-books with Amazon KDP and Smashwords, or to get to the point I am with it today.

So what have I had to do to get Backpacked out into the world?

  1. (February 2011) Decide to write and release the book
  2. Decide on a release month (not enough information for release date yet)
  3. Register a new free WordPress blog to act as Backpacked‘s dedicated book site
  4. Upgrade free blog URL to “backpackedbook.com”
  5. Set site to “private” while it’s under construction
  6. Take “scrapbook” picture to go on the cover
  7. Start new “scrapbox” for Backpacked; I use one of these for each book
  8. Mock up front cover design in MS Word
  9. E-mail cover designer mock up and ask for quote
  10. E-mail copyeditor and ask for quote
  11. Blog about decision to write and self-publish it
  12. Update Twitter profile, etc. with news of Backpacked
  13. Write a synopsis
  14. Blog the synopsis
  15. Get e-book (front) cover from designer to use for promotion
  16. Construct backpackedbook.com and set it to public
  17. Rearrange catherineryanhoward.com to make room for links, etc. about Backpacked
  18. Share cover design with blog readers and Facebook fans
  19. Write the book (Um yeah, that only comes now…)
  20. Edit first draft
  21. Send book to Sarah, my copyeditor
  22. Send book to Sheelagh, my best friend who’s in the book, so she can okay it
  23. Mock-up rough interior to get page count
  24. With page count, determine manufacturing cost using CreateSpace’s calculators
  25. Use manufacturing costs to determine list price
  26. Get cover designer to build an online bookstore* so readers can pre-order signed copies
  27. Mock-up design, liaise with designer to perfect online bookstore
  28. Set online bookstore to live and start to advertise it
  29. Download full cover template from CreateSpace
  30. Send template to cover designer along with instructions for back cover
  31. Send update to Mousetrapped page Facebook fans re: pre-ordering Backpacked
  32. … and to everyone in my e-mail contacts list…
  33. … and to everyone who ordered a copy of Mousetrapped from me…
  34. … and to everyone the More Mousetrapped mailing list…
  35. … and blog a reminder too, just for good measure.
  36. Answer interview questions for Alyssa Martino’s blog.
  37. Close online bookstore.
  38. Make a list of books ordered and print out receipts from PayPal.
  39. Upload 70+ photos to Backpackedbook.com to make slideshow and…
  40. … write captions for every single one of them while watching Outnumbered.
  41. Ok Backpacked‘s paperback cover design.
  42. Work out remaining timeline and set release date.
  43. Set up new title on CreateSpace.
  44. Upload finished PDF cover file to CreateSpace.
  45. Work through copyeditor’s suggestions, accepting/rejecting changes.
  46. Create two copies of MS – one destined to be e-book, one a paperback.
  47. Download CreateSpace interior MS Word template.
  48. Copy and paste in edited text and format interior.
  49. Insert free ISBN provided by CS onto copyright page.
  50. Go through interior again, fixing errors.
  51. Upload interior file to CreateSpace and submit for review.
  52. Order a proof copy so I can see for first time what cover, font, etc. looks like.
  53. Create a PDF version of Backpacked to send to blogger friends.
  54. Make this video about editing.
  55. Go through proof copy looking for errors and adjust interior file with corrections.
  56. Send interior file to copyeditor for proofreading.
  57. Buy envelopes for sending pre-orders.
  58. Take e-book MS and prepare it for upload – one for Kindle, one for Smashwords.
  59. Smashwords version won’t convert properly; try again.
  60. Smashwords version won’t convert properly; try again.
  61. Figure out only way to make it work is to “go nuclear”, i.e. strip out all formatting then go back and put it in.
  62. Upload/publish this new file to Smashwords.
  63. Upload/publish this new file to Amazon KDP too, so they match.
  64. Upload proofread interior file to CreateSpace.
  65. Order proof copies of this final version.
  66. Download .mobi version from Smashwords and send to friends/reviewers.
  67. Purchase royalty free music for book trailer.
  68. Use JING to record video for book trailer.
  69. Make book trailer using iMovie.
  70. Upload book trailer to YouTube and Vimeo.
  71. Check second – and final – proof copy.
  72. Click “Approve Proof” on CreateSpace (i.e. publish).
  73. Pay for ProPlan upgrade on CreateSpace.
  74. Order enough stock to cover pre-orders.
  75. Send “Out now!” message to everyone on my mailing list and the More Mousetrapped mailing list with MailChimp.
  76. Post “Out now!” status updates on Mousetrapped‘s Facebook page.
  77. Add book trailer to Smashwords listing.
  78. Add book trailer to Goodreads Author Profile.
  79. Set up new Google Alert for “Backpacked” + my name
  80. Add new section for Backpacked to my sales data spreadsheet
  81. Add Backpacked to bibliography in Amazon Author Central.
  82. E-mail Amazon to get them to link paperback to Kindle edition.
  83. Update Mousetrapped e-books with links to Backpacked’s e-book.
  84. Update Mousetrapped paperback interior with Backpacked in the “Also By…”
  85. Update Self-Printed e-books with links to Backpacked’s e-book.
  86. Update Self-Printed paperback interior with Backpacked in the “Also By…”
  87. Update blog, booksite etc. changing “Coming soon” to “Out now!” and links to buy.
  88. Update Goodreads author profile.
  89. Write 5 x launch day blog posts (including this one); schedule them for posting
  90. (Today) Keel over.

And as the stock to cover the pre-orders is somewhere between North Carolina and here right now, I have yet to:

  • Sign and pack stock orders; send them out.
  • Print out all invoices and update cost/profit spreadsheet
  • Sell stock to family and friends.

And by the way, I haven’t really done a major publicity push with this book. If I had, we’d have to add things like finding reviewers, e-mailing them, creating and printed an information sheet, sending review copies, etc. and maybe try to organize a blog tour and a giveaway. The book trailer and blogging about it are all I’m doing. Nor have I had a launch, which would mean organizing a venue, ordering in stock, creating and ordering printed materials (posters, bookmarks, etc.) and contacting the local press in the hope they’d cover it. The list above, in other words, is the least amount of work I could possibly do for one of my self-published books.

It’s self-publishing on a quiet day.

*You can’t conduct commerce of any kind from free WordPress blogs, so I had to “hide” another self-hosted site inside my free one to act as the bookstore. 

Visit BackpackedBook.com to find out more.

BACKPACKED WEEK: How to Make a Real Book

7 Sep

Welcome to Backpacked Week! This is where, for one week, I post about the newfangled self-publishing stuff I’ve picked up from self-publishing my third book, Backpacked, which is out now, and thereby slip numerous reminders about my new book, Backpacked, being out now, into my blog posts without you feeling like I’m just incessantly bombarding you with the news that my new book, Backpacked, is out now. (And only $2.99 on the Kindle store. Bargain!) You can see the week’s schedule in Monday’s post but for today, our topic is how to make a real book, i.e. the interior file for your Print-On-Demand paperback

***UPDATE JUNE 2013: Re-reading over this post I noticed that it contains a major error. On front matter pages, end matter pages, title pages and blank pages, there should be NO page numbers. You can do this by creating MS Word’s ‘Sections’ feature, e.g. break your book into sections and remove the page numbers from the pages listed above. This is something I’ve learned as I’ve gone along (oops!) and this post was written forever ago, so apologies! But that’s how it should be done. ***

The internet is teaming with instructions, tips and advice on how to format your e-book – just look around this very blog for plenty of articles about tabs, paragraph returns and Normal paragraph style (all of which seem to mention the incurring of headaches). But there is no where near as many articles or places to go for information about what should be inside your Print-On-Demand paperback. This is a shame, because it’s easier to make your POD paperback look like a “real” book. Alas, it’s also easier to make it scream “self-published!” An imperfectly formatted e-book can be forgiven, in a sense, because some traditionally published e-books aren’t all that pretty either and the most important thing to a reader is that your e-book be readable. But you’ll never get away with it in a paperback.

Back to the Bermuda Triangle

I’ve said before about how, it seems to me, there’s a Bermuda Triangle-type effect in self-publishing and that into it disappears everything self-publishers know about real books. That’s why, I believe, many of them do things like put patterns on their book jackets instead of images, print quotes like, ‘”Suzy is a great writer” – my mom’ on the back and start their chapter ones on their page ones.

Before you sit down to lay out the interior of your POD book, look at real books. This is the single best thing you can do for your own POD interior. Try to study books in the same genre as yours. If you’ve written chick-lit, look at some chick-lit books. What’s on their first page? Where do they put their dedication? What does their copyright notice say? Are the acknowledgements at the beginning or the end?

The Ingredients

I think the best way to make a great looking POD book is to keep things simple. Be professional, but don’t be overly ambitious. Make sure you have everything you need in there but resist the urge to get carried away.

If you download a MS Word template from either Lulu or CreateSpace, your book’s page will already be correctly formatted. This means that the even pages (the pages that appear on the left-hand side as you read the book) will have slightly different left and right hand margins to the odd pages (the pages that appear on the right-hand side as your read the book), allowing for the space that will be lost on the pages when it’s bound.

Put in page numbers. The easiest way to do this is to Insert -> Page Numbers. Make sure your page numbers are formatted differently for your odd and even pages (so they appear on the “outside” of all pages when bound), which will happen automatically if you’ve downloaded a template. Check the box that says “Don’t show number on first page.” I make my page numbers slightly smaller than my body text, i.e. if my body text is point 11, I make my page numbers point 9.

Make the odd page your bestest ever friend. The odd page – the page on the right-hand side as you read the book – is where everything starts. It’s where you’ll put your title page, start your chapters, start your sections – everything always starts on the odd page. If you get to the end of the chapter on page 85, you don’t start the next one on page 86. You skip it, leaving it blank, and start your chapter on page 87 instead.

Create your front matter. This is the stuff that goes at the start of your book. If I could get one message to every self-publisher on earth, “Books don’t start on page 1!” would be high on my list of potential candidates. You can modify this for your own needs, but generally I lay out my front matter like this:

  • Page 1: About the Author OR Praise for previous books/editions
  • Page 2: ISBNs, copyright notice, disclaimer if applicable
  • Page 3: First title page (author name, title, sub-title)
  • Page 4: Also by, i.e. list of your other titles (or blank, if you don’t have any)
  • Page 5: Second title page (title only)
  • Page 6: Blank
  • Page 7: Dedication
  • Page 8: Blank
  • Page 9: Start book.

Click the image to see the beginning of Backpacked in PDF.

Pretty up your body text. Stick with a proven, simple font. I use Book Antiqua. I don’t recommend using Times New Roman because it’s not used in “real” books, generally, and so you using it in yours is a tell-tale self-published sign. Justify all your paragraphs and for fiction, use first line indent on them. I’d stick with around 0.3″ – take into account the size of your book. For instance, on a page measuring 5.5 x 8.5 (the size of Mousetrapped and Backpacked), anything more would appear to stretch half-way across the page. Block paragraph style generally works better for non-fiction.

Start your chapters on new, odd pages, about a third of the way down the page. In Mousetrapped, I simply typed “One” in the same font and size as the body text and then made it italic, then typed the chapter name in capital letters and made that bold, and left-aligned them a space or two above where the chapter actually started. Like this:

But then last week I was messing around with the interior of Backpacked, and I had an idea. There are two fonts in MS Word which are very similar to the fonts used on the cover design: Impact and Bradley Hand ITC. What if I used them to make the text on the title page look like the text on the cover image? Well, it would look like this:

That worked so well that I went and redid all the chapters headings, centering this time around, and using the same combination of Impact and Bradley ITC. That ended up looking like this:

Backpacked also had five parts, and I made title pages for them using a piece of MS Word ClipArt (which will appear to be black and white in the printed book), like this:

I liked that so much then I went and redid the entire interior of Mousetrapped too*, so they’d match. Everything with me has to match, if you didn’t know that already…

Create your end matter. (I hate calling it “back matter” which dredges up all sorts of connotations!) You don’t really have to put anything here, but you’re a fool if you don’t. This is where you can do things like:

  • Type “THE END” – my absolute favorite bit of writing books. FACT.
  • Add an author’s Note. Use these sparingly. There’s nothing more annoying than an unnecessary author’s note – it can come across as self-indulgent, and leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth right before they put down your book
  • Add acknowledgments. This is where you guarantee yourself sales by putting people’s names in print. If their name is in there, cha-CHING!
  • List your references, or a further reading list.
  • Give your readers a reason to join your online platform. List your website URL, your Facebook page URL, your Twitter username, etc.
  • Put your about the author here if you didn’t stick it in back at the start.
  • Put ads for your other books. Yes, you’ve listed them under your “Also by…” list back at the start, but why not take the opportunity here to tell readers what they’re about? You can add images; just remember that they’ll appear in black and white in the finished book.

The Thick of It

So let’s say you’ve studied real books, not started yours on page one and put everything listed above in your paperback interior. Does that mean you get an A+ from me? No. A B, maybe. (Minus.) Because there is yet another landmine for POD self-publishers to step on, something that affects the appearance of their finished book almost as much as the cover design, font and layout: how thick it is. A much neglected consideration, how many pages your book has doesn’t just affect your unit cost and list price. It can also be a big, neon sign that points to your book with a red arrow and blinks “Self-published!” on and off repeatedly.

My 180-odd page, 6 x 9 proof copy from Lulu. Utterly unimpressive. John Mayer for scale and eye candy.

The very first POD I ever saw was one of my own: a Let’s Just See What This is Like proof copy of Mousetrapped that I ordered from Lulu. It was extremely slap dash – I basically copied and pasted my MT manuscript into the 6 x 9 document template, made a cover using Lulu’s cover creation software and added to cart. And it was horrible, because it was way too big and far too thin.

The difference between 180, 6 x 9 pages and 232, 5.5 x 8.5. pages. 

It really annoys me when self-publishers make decisions based on money alone. Yes, you obviously have to take that into consideration, but you won’t make any money if it’s all you’re thinking about, because your book won’t sell any copies if it’s been designed by a bottom line. Don’t refuse to leave blank pages because you don’t want to pay for them, and don’t pick a larger trim size so you’ll have to pay for fewer pages.

Collect the whole set! (Although you can’t, because Results isn’t out yet!) Self-Printed is 6 x 9, Mousetrapped and Backpacked are both 5.5. x 8.5. and Results will be 5 x 8. All my books are by CreateSpace. 

If your manuscript is novel-length – say, 80,000-100,000 words – you’ll have no problem making your book look like a “real” novel. When it comes to choosing a trim size, don’t start at CreateSpace or Lulu. Start on your shelves. Pick out a book you like the look of, and then get out a ruler and measure it. Next, find the closest trim size on offer at your chosen POD website. Download the corresponding template, and copy and paste your manuscript into it. Create a few blank pages at the start, add a few blank pages at the end and move the start of all your chapters to their own, odd-numbered page. This will give you a good idea of how many pages –or how thick – your book is likely to be. If your book is shorter than that, go for a smaller trim size to make more pages.

If this all sounds too much like hard work, I can do it for you. Click here for more information.

*Please note that if you were to order Mousetrapped from Amazon today, you would get the original interior. It can take 6-8 weeks from the files to update in all distribution channels.

Find out more about Backpacked here

When the Postman Brings Proof Copies

29 Aug

Whenever I’m asked what’s the best bit about my adventures in self-publishing, I always say the same thing: seeing my book for the first time. For me, that means the morning my first proof copies from CreateSpace arrive in the post.

And this morning was quite the proof copy feast! Behold:

It’s Backpacked! (Nails by New York Nails. Fingers author’s own.)

It’s the inside of Backpacked!

It’s the back of Backpacked!

It’s how Backpacked matches Mousetrapped! (Be still my heart…)

It’s Results Not Typical!

It’s the inside of Results Not Typical!*

It’s the back of Results Not Typical!

It’s the Results Not Typical sampler that’s going out with Backpacked pre-orders!

Collect the whole set!

Getting letters from readers is pretty sweet, not having to do a 9-5 job that kills me a little bit more each day is even sweeter, and I was way overexcited to get a BBC security pass the night I spoke for about thirty seconds on an episode of Arts Extra on BBC Radio Ulster back in February. (Before that, my way overexcited moment was seeing a book of mine listed on Amazon for the first time. I just stared at it non-stop for ten minutes.) But still the best thing about all this, the most exciting moment, is when months and months of words and PDFs and cover designs and trim sizes and page counts comes together to make a book.

I must now go spend an inordinate amount of time gazing at them adoringly, stroking them, smelling them, seeing how they look on a shelf, see how they look in a To Read pile, etc. etc. and then a final round of pre-proofread typo hunting is so ON.

*I ordered my maximum of five proof copies of Results from CreateSpace as four of them are going out for review. One was randomly on white paper and that was the one I took the picture of before I realized that actually it should be on cream. Luckily the other four were on cream and I don’t mind because I can use the white one for myself, but I’d be annoyed if I were selling them. Weird, huh?

Backpacked will be out September 5th, all going to plan. Results will be out October 1st. Find out more about those titles here.

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