Goodbye 2011… Hello 2012!

And so, the obligatory end-of-one-year, start-of-a-new-year post.

I’ve blogged about my writing resolutions for 2012 over on Writing.ie. so I’m not going to repeat them here. Instead you can skip on over there and read about why, for the first time in ten years, “get published” will not be one of my goals for 2012.

New Year Eve’s can feel like a bit of a downer sometimes, when you think back to the goals you set yourself 12 months ago and how some or all of them didn’t get achieved. I think a good way to avoid this is to focus less on what you wanted to happen and more on what actually happened. The things that, however unexpected, made you feel like you’d accomplished something. These are mine:

I got a BBC security pass (because I was on BBC Radio Ulster in their Belfast studio).

I was featured in Woman’s Way magazine…

… and in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times.

Mousetrapped sold its 10,000th copy, and Backpacked sold its 1,000th.

I finally got to see two places that, thanks to Formula 1, had been on my To Visit list for a long, long time: the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia…

…and pretty much all of Monaco, including lunch at Café du Paris.

I saw The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch in the Prado Museum in Madrid, a painting that plays a big part in my favorite book by my favorite author, A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly.

I was on the Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ Radio 1, which with an audience of 400,000 is the second most listened to radio show in Ireland.

I got to see Jurassic Park in a cinema when I was old enough to appreciate it (i.e. 29).

I got to spend 6 weeks in a beautiful little apartment in France, just writing. And that apartment was ten minutes walk from the promenade. And the promenade was five minutes walk from a picturesque Old Town where all anyone wanted to do was sit around drinking coffee and people-watching, i.e. MY IDEA OF HEAVEN.

I sat at a table signing books with a very long queue in front of me. (And no one in it was a friend or relative.) At Mousemeets in Birmingham. Photo credit: Laura Pearson Smith.

I giggled through a Pecha Kucha presentation during the Dublin Book Festival, and used the above photo in my accompanying slideshow to demonstrate what used to be every writer’s ultimate promotional dream. It got a big laugh.

I was asked to deliver the self-publishing section of Faber Academy’s first ever self-publishing and social media workshop in February 2012.

I got an idea for a novel—the novel whose first draft I’m nearly finished now—that I’m really, really excited about.

And even though it’s only 11.42 am as I type this, it’s already been a good news New Year’s Eve. First of all, Results Not Typical has made it into Trashionista.com’s Top 10 Reads of 2011! Woo-hoo, etc. I’m so delighted, especially since Mousetrapped made it into their Top 10 Reads of 2010. Thank you Elle, for all your support, and thanks to everyone who voted for their favorite read!

Secondly if you live in Ireland, you can catch me in the Irish Times magazine today. Remember a few weeks ago when I said I’d had a photo-shoot where I’d had to stand against a wall with books on my head? Well, that was why. But I quite like the photo, I have to say. Even if seeing that much white in my eyes makes me look a bit scary and my left arm is sticking out a weird way. But bonus: the books went some way to hiding my roots…

UPDATE: You can read the Irish Times article online here.

So that’s all folks—for 2011, anyway. Happy New Year!

Click here to read my 2012 writing resolutions on Writing.ie.

Special Guest Stars of 2011

While we’re all still on our holiday break and eating turkey leftovers, I thought I’d remind you of some of the fantastic guest posts I’ve been lucky enough to host over the last twelve months. There’s some fascinating insights, inspiring stories and hard-earned advice in there. Thanks to everyone who guest posted on Catherine, Caffeinated this year!

March:

Proof Social Media Sells Books by Talli Roland. The blogging queen shares her tips and tricks.

April:

A week of e-book authors sharing their e-publishing experiences:

May:

Far to Go blog tour. Alison Pick, author of one of my favorite books of the year, stops by.

June:

Shifting Expectations by Marshall Buckey. Why it’s a good idea to keep amending your writerly dreams.

July:

Happy 4th July! A USA-themed guest post from self-published author Michael Harling.

The Anxiety of the Debut Author by Emma Newman. The worries of an about-to-be published author.

August:

The Social Network by Gillian Duffy. A debut author gets to grips with all things social media.

Why I’m Self-Publishing by Roz Morris. Why Roz of Nail Your Novel fame self-published her book.

September:

The Memory of Trees Blog Tour. An interview with Mick Rooney on the launch of his book.

Tweet Treats Blog Tour. Jane Travers stops by to tell us about her Twittertastic idea.

October:

21st Century Dodos Blog Tour. Steve Stack brings a video of the adorable Martha reading from his book.

Mining Yourself by Victoria Mixon. Why writers should take advantage of their uniqueness.

November:

My New Life—Being an Author by Mariam Kobras. Does life change after signing on that magic dotted line?

The Devil’s in the Debut by Nicola Morgan. Why a debut novel has to have that extra something special.

REPLAY 2011: A New and Improved, Even Easier Way to Format Your E-book

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I’ve been 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. (Or a “I’m trying to finish the first draft of a new book and so I don’t have time to write five new blog posts a week” kind of thing…) On Thursday I’ll be revisiting some of the guest posts I hosted this year, so this is my final replay post. It was first published in September and it’s the way I format my own e-books. Since I posted it, I’ve discovered that Mac users get even better results if instead of “Normal” style, they use “Plain Text.” If publishing an e-book is in your To Do for 2012, I think this is the easiest way to do your own formatting without learning computer code… 

Last week the dreaded day came to turn Backpacked into an e-book.

I did everything I usually do (as I outlined in my How To Format Your E-book the Non-Migraine Inducing Way post) and while it converted fine for Amazon KDP, Smashwords was just not happy with it – the .epub format, i.e. most important format outside of .mobi for Kindle, was alternating fonts every other paragraph. Thinking that maybe I’d done something wrong, I started again.

And again.

And again.

And then because I knew that sometimes using MS Word for Mac can screw up things a little bit, I even tried using the archaic monster from the pre-Stone Age that is our family PC, the machine that makes the Commodore 64 look like a Cray-SV1 (I’ve been reading about super computers this weekend – long story…). But it still didn’t work.

I couldn’t understand where things had gone wrong – I’d followed all the instructions, done everything I was told to do and had pulled out everything that didn’t need to be there, even page breaks. Finally I tried pulling out enough of my hair to leave unsightly bald patches and saying bad, sweary things about Smashwords, but – surprisingly – that didn’t work either.

Which left just one, unattractive option: going nuclear.

The Smashwords Style Guide says that if things aren’t working out, there is one very extreme option – the nuclear option – that strips everything out of your text except the letters, the words they make up and the spaces and lines between them. I didn’t want to do this because I use a lot of italics, and that would mean that I’d have to go back and insert 77,000 words’ worth of them. That wasn’t going to help with the this-book-is-driving-me-crazy thing. But I really wanted to conquer this thing, so I did it.

And it worked brilliantly.

The thing is, Smashwords is not the problem. Smashwords was never the problem (and in fact, their free Style Guide is a godsend). Microsoft Word, which was invented by the devil himself and then evidently coded by horned demons, is the problem. That’s why I work with Pages, but you can’t upload anything but .doc files for e-books. Even though my paragraph style was set to Normal and was in size 10 Times New Roman on screen, it wasn’t really set to Normal and in size 10 Times New Roman. Word was just jesting. It was letting me think it was, while hiding in the corner trying to stifle its own sniggering and chucking everything but the kitchen sink into the code.

I had to go through my book again but, while I did, I was able to pick out a few more errors, clean up a few sentences and generally improve it a bit. So instead of thinking of it as formatting, I just thought of it as another go-through, another revision. Once I was done I copied and pasted that text into my CreateSpace template, which then took only half an hour to format back into a POD interior, so both editions were the same. Then I was so happy with the result I went and re-did Mousetrapped the same way and when I’ve time, I’m going to do Self-Printed as well. I also used it for a formatting client’s e-book that had images and it worked out a dream.

Better yet, once I had scrubbed the formatting from my e-book file, it was so much easier to go back and put in what was needed than the way I’ve formatted in the past. It actually simplified the process. And you can even use your POD interior file if you like – because you’re taking out all of the formatting anyway, it doesn’t matter how much has been done to your document to begin with. I’m never going to format an e-book any other way again.

So here is my new and improved, Even Easier Way to Format Your E-book the Non-Migraine Inducing Way!

Do you need reminding about how in e-books there’s no such thing as a page? Read about that on this post. Or just remember, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A PAGE in e-books. Got it? Good.

Let’s begin.

Start by making one of these. Or five.

Step 1: Prepare Your Manuscript

Open your manuscript file, whether it be the plain old Word document you and your editor have been working from or the interior of your POD paperback, all laid out nice and stuff, and eliminate anything that just doesn’t work in an e-book. You can either let them go, or leave the pure text in there to do a little work around with it later on, e.g. take the text out of a text box, delete the text box and put the text in a paragraph in all italics instead.

The following are e-books no-nos:

  • Automatic footnotes
  • Text boxes
  • Headers and footers
  • Columns
  • Tables
  • Any other fancy word-processing stuff.

Then click Edit -> Select All -> Copy.

Use a simple text editor program, like TextEdit. 

Step 2: Go Nuclear

Now open a simple text editing program. If you have a PC, this will probably be NotePad; on Mac, it’s TextEdit. Paste your work into here. (On Mac, select “Paste and Match Style” so it matches the style of TextEdit, not the style of the text you’re pasting in as that defeats the purpose.) This will strip your work of all formatting and images. Once you’ve done that, click Edit -> Select All -> Copy. Then open a brand new MS Word document, save it as .doc (not .docx) and turn off Auto-Formatting and Auto-Correct by un-checking the boxes in Preferences. Paste the stripped text in and save.

Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Format by un-checking the relevant boxes in Preferences.

Step 3: Style It Up

Working now in this new, start-from-scratch MS Word document, again with all text selected, go to Format -> Style. Your style will be set to Normal, but chances are that normal won’t be what you want. (It’s that damn horned demon again.) So click Modify and make Normal Times New Roman, point 10, left-aligned and single spaced. Click Okay to modify that style and then Apply.

Modifying your Normal style in MS Word.

Keeping all the text selected, then go to Format -> Paragraph and make the settings single line spacing with no extra space before or after, left-aligned with first line indent to 0.3″. So that it looks like this:

Save your document. Switch to Draft View (View -> Draft View) and make your paragraph returns visible (click the little paragraph return symbol in the toolbar that looks like a backwards P). Your book should now be looking like this to you:

Step 4: Put What You Need Back In

Now go through your document and put back in what you need in terms of formatting. Here’s what I do as I go through the book:

  • Insert e-book appropriate front matter including license notes, centered (tip: create a new, modified style where text is not first line indented but is centered – this will keep our formatting pristine all the way through). If you don’t know what that should be, I included an example in my original how to format an e-book post.

If you need some centered text, for example for titles, don’t just click “Center.” Instead, go back to Format -> Style and create a New Style for this purpose.

  • Insert page breaks between chapters (non-fiction/not a lot of chapters) or between parts (fiction/20+ chapters). Because some formats ignore page breaks, always have a paragraph return above and below the break so that if this does happen, the text doesn’t get all squashed up. To insert a page break, select Insert –> Break -> Page Break.
  • Insert bookmarks at chapter headings (non-fiction/not a lot of chapters) or at the beginnings of sections or parts (fiction/20+ chapters) so you can create a working table of contents later, i.e. readers can click on the table of contents and be taken straight to a certain point in the book. Insert a bookmark by clicking Insert -> Bookmark and call it what it is, e.g. Chapter One, Part II, etc.

Inserting bookmarks. You can also see in this image that to start a new chapter, I simply skip a line and make my heading bold. Keep it simple!

  • Format headings. For chapter headings I just use bold + italics and for section headings I switch the text to all caps and make them bold.
  • Put back in italics and/or bold where you need them in the body text.
  • Remove the first line indent where necessary, e.g. the first lines of chapters, chapter headings, etc. (The quickest way to do this is by moving the slide rule at the top of the page, I think. Just be careful to only move the first line and not the whole paragraph.)
  • Make all URLS live, i.e. Insert -> Hyperlink.
  • Insert e-book appropriate end matter, such as links to your blog, the titles of your other books, etc. Your last line in the e-book document should be “###END###’ centered, so that the reader knows they have come to the end of the e-book.

DO NOT:

  • Change your font size. All my e-books are now 10 point right the way through. I make text look different using only bold, italics and all capital letters.
  • Have more than four paragraph returns anywhere in your book. E-book reading devices allow readers to change their font sizes considerably and if you put too many paragraph returns, your readers will end up with blank pages at some font size settings. You really should never have more than one except for the pairs on either side of a page break, which technically aren’t together anyway.
  • Justify your paragraphs. Left-align is the only thing that really works properly across all formats.
  • Refer to retailers. Do you think Barnes and Noble is going to want a link to Amazon in your book? Hardly. I normally do two files, one for KDP (Amazon) and one for Smashwords. I keep the Smashwords file clean because it goes to so many different people, but in the KDP file I say things like, “Look out for [TITLE] in the Kindle store.”

Step 5: The Bells and Whistles

You can stop right here and skip to step 6, Upload and Check Your E-books, if you’re happy with your book as it is, or you can add in some bells and whistles, like:

The live table of contents in the e-book version of Backpacked. The links under the copyright notice/license notes link to the web, i.. my blog, Twitter account etc., but the links in the table of contents link to bookmarks, i.e. locations within the document.

A live table of contents. These are very helpful for non-fiction and reference books. The idea is that you insert a bookmark at the start of each chapter or section, go back to the start and type a table of contents and then make each entry in the table a live, working hyperlink that if clicked, will take the reader to the bookmarked location. To insert a link to a bookmark, click Insert -> Hyperlink and then in the window that appears, click “Document” for in-document links and select the appropriate bookmark.

Inserting images in e-books. 

Images. Yes, I’m talking about adding images to your e-books. Have I ingested some crazy pills? Didn’t I always say you shouldn’t put images in e-books? Didn’t I claim that trying to do it was just bringing on a world of pain? Well, when you use the nuclear option, images are easier to work with just because the body text is already behaving well. To insert an image, you must Insert -> Picture -> From File. (You cannot copy and paste.) You must ensure that the image’s layout is set to “in line with text.” To check, right-click the image and select Format Picture -> Layout. Keep the image small; I make sure mine don’t stretch further than 3 inches across the screen. Centre them for cohesiveness, and for safety, leave a page break before and after. In the image above, I created yet another style for the image caption. Don’t forget that for now, at least, most people read their e-books in black and white.

Work arounds. Everything that’s in your paperback can go in your e-book – you just have to use your imagination. Text boxes are easy: just take the text out and either give it its own paragraph with a return above and below, or just insert it like any other paragraph but in bold and/or italic. A formatting client of mine had a worksheet in her physical book – you can’t put that in an e-book (and there’s no point in doing it, anyway), so I advised her to make a PDF of it, and tell her e-book readers to go to her website to pick it up. They still get the worksheet and she gets a website visit. For footnotes, I went to the text where the footnote appeared in the physical book, went to the next paragraph return and then inserted it using square brackets (see highlighted section in the image below).

Adding footnotes manually (see highlighted section).

The only limit, really, is your imagination. For instance in my novel that’s out next month, Results Not Typical, there are several sections that are supposed to be branded literature from the company at the heart of the plot. They’re in a different font to the main text. In the paperback, those sections look like this:

But how to accomplish that in the e-book? Well, this was a true work around. I took a screen shot of the header as it appears in the MS Word document that forms the interior of my paperback book. Then I inserted that as an image into the e-book. The rest of the text, i.e. the rest of the text in each of those literature sections, will remain the same, but at least those image headers will alert readers to the fact that they’re different. So in the e-book, it looks like this:

Step 6: Upload and Check Your E-books

Checking your e-book is really easy and can be done with your Smashwords converted files. (When you upload to KDP you get to see an on-screen Kindle preview which is great but not ideal and anyway if it’s working at Smashwords, it’s definitely working over at KDP.)

Pre-nuclear: Ugh. It’s all, bad and stuff. Yuck!

Upload your file to Smashwords and while it’s converting, download Adobe Digital Editions and Amazon’s Kindle reading application (both free) to your computer. Then when your book goes live, download the .epub and .mobi (Kindle) versions from your book’s page and check them using the programs you just downloaded. If you followed the instructions above, they’ll look great. If they look anything other than great, immediately unpublish your books (click “Unpublish” on your Smashwords dashboard) and try again.

If you’re having problems, download the Smashwords Style Guide. Honestly, you don’t need anything else – if you follow its instructions, your book will look great on Smashwords and Amazon KDP. It’s where I found out everything I know about formatting, along with trial and error. And caffeine-induced epiphanies after a very long day of e-book formatting.

Post-nuclear: Oooh, look how pretty and correctly formatted and stuff! 

So that’s it, folks. If you want to have this post to hand while you format your e-book, click here to download a printable PDF. I know, I know – I’m just too, too kind. If you want to express your gratefulness, buy a copy of one of these or, alternatively, tell everyone you know about them. Every single last one. I’ll know if you leave a few people out, you know. I have ways.

Click here to find out more about Backpacked

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Eve is probably my favorite day of the year, because Christmas is practically here and all the excitement, presents, food, food comas and Christmas TV specials are still ahead of us. I’m writing this post ahead of time but if I’d to guess I’d say that right about now—Christmas Eve morning—I’m knee-deep in red velvet cupcake making, half way through my first pot of coffee, looking forward to the annual Christmas Eve re-watch of the Father Ted Christmas special later and just bursting to give my gifts because I’ve really outdone myself on the great ideas for presents front this year.

*smug*

Today is as good a day as any to thank all of you, lovely blog readers, for hanging around here this year and for not only reading my ramblings, but sharing them and commenting on them. I’m certain you’re all on the Nice list.

Have a very Merry Christmas! x

10 Books I Read in 2011 That I Want You To Read Too

This time last year I blogged about my 2010 in books, awarding titles to some of the books I’d read during the year like Most Surprising, Most Disappointing, Most Recommended, etc. This year I’ve decided to do things a little differently. First of all—and for the first time ever—I kept a list of all the books I read in the last twelve months, to help with this post. Second of all, I asked myself why do we write these kinds of posts? Why do people make these Books of the Year lists? Why am I making one?

Well, it’s because I want you to read these books. I want you to read them because I think that if you do, you’ll really, really enjoy them. So instead of My 2011 in Books or My Books of the Year 2011, here’s my list of 10 Books I Read in 2011* That I Would Recommend To You If You Asked Me to Recommend a Good Book For You To Read Right Now. I know it doesn’t have quite the same snappiness as “Books of the Year” or whatever, but let’s just go with it.

(Click the images to go to the book’s Amazon listing.)

Fiction:

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson

Cuckoo by Julia Crouch

Darkside by Belinda Bauer

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Far to Go by Alison Pick

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

Non-Fiction:

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Bossypants by Tina Fey

The Upgrade by Paul Carr

Have you read any of them? Any you’d add? (Or replace?!)

*I read them in 2011. They may have been published before. 

A Crafty Catherine Christmas: The Ultimate Hot Choc Hamper

If you were around these parts this time last year, then you’ll already know that I am great at doing Christmas. Like, seriously great. Potentially better than I am at anything else, which is a bit worrying. You can re-visit last year’s posts and check out my 2011 gift guides for writers, book-lovers and coffee-drinkers by clicking here, but today we’re going to talk about a gift I’m actually giving to someone this year. Someone who wouldn’t read this blog in a million years, let’s hope!

Here in Ireland, as you may have heard on news bulletins filled with terms like Celtic Tiger, the boom years, IMF, bank bailouts, and totally screwed, all our purse strings are a little tighter this Christmas, and so the days of waltzing into BTs and getting some shiny girl behind a cosmetics stand to put together a prezzie for you are long gone for most people. I’m not bothered by this; I see it as a challenge. And if you have any imagination at all, making a gift for someone not only costs less, but it’s fun too and a far better thing to receive, because it’s thoughtful, personal and unique. And you made it.

Now let’s be clear: when I say make I’m leaning more towards assemble than create. You won’t catch me knitting jumpers or glass blowing or glue-gunning glitter onto things and calling them art. I am, let’s not forget, The Girl Who Hates Tinsel. But I think a little DIY can go a long way, and My Ultimate Hot Chocolate Hamper is a good example.

What you need:

  • Jamie’s Epic Hot Chocolate Mix (see below)
  • A fancy jar to put the mix in
  • A bag of marshmallows (extra points for Christmas shaped ones)
  • About a meter of cellophane (a nice florist will sell it to you)
  • A basket or gift box
  • Some shredded tissue or paper
  • Ribbon, Christmas paper, gift tags. etc. to decorate.

What you need to do:

The idea of this hamper is that you give a hot chocolate-lover a unique gift: a hot chocolate mix that turns into a liquid hot chocolate much richer, much nicer and much more chocolately than anything they can buy in the shops or order in a café or restaurant, and you give it to them in a gorgeous hamper you made yourself.

Assemble the ingredients for your hot chocolate mix. I used Jamie Oliver’s Epic Hot Chocolate recipe, but as I’d a tall jar I had to double the amounts. The main ingredients are icing sugar, corn flour, cocoa, Horlicks (or something resembling it), cinnamon and grated or chopped chocolate. Layer them into your jar but don’t mix them. We’ll leave the recipient do that, and until then your jar will look oh so impressive.

Cut a square out of Christmas wrapper paper about twice the width of the lid of the jar, and secure it to the lid with a elastic band. I stuck a bow and some miniature jingle bells on there too.

This…

Next, fill the bottom of your basket or box with shredded tissue paper—or, shredded paper. I’m downright smug about my idea to take scraps of leftover Christmas wrapping paper and the red carrier bag the marshmallows came in and feed them to our shredder. Smug, I tell you. Especially since shredded tissue is like €4 a bag, and this way you’re recycling as well. Get you!

…becomes this.

Put your jar of hot chocolate mix and your bag of marshmallows into your basket, standing upright but leaning against the back of the basket. You might also want to add a festive mug, a bar of chocolate, a mini-grater or any of the other things you might associate with drinking hot chocolate at Christmas time. I just added a Christmas card to mine.

Before we start wrapping it, we want to make sure that everything is stuck in place as there’s nothing more annoying than having to undo the cellophane wrap to fix something that’s fallen over. I put a bauble in between the jar and the marshmallow bag to keep them in place, and I also secured the jar, the card’s envelope and the marshmallow bag to the back of the basket with sellotape. Cheating, I know but hey—it works!

Now comes the tricky bit: the cellophane. Cut a very large piece and place your basket in the middle of it. Our aim now is to gather the cellophane above the basket in the best way we can. I start by taking each end and holding it together above the basket with one hand, while folding the ends (the sides) in over each other as neat as I can. Then I just gather it all in an elastic band at the top. You might need a few goes to get it right but remember as well that this is supposed to look homemade, not perfect.

All that’s left to do now is decorate! Be sure to put the instructions for making the hot chocolate either in the hamper or on the gift tag.

Obviously this hamper idea doesn’t have to be confined to hot chocolate. You could also make:

  • A Christmas Movie Night Hamper. A couple of Christmas DVDs, a box of microwavable popcorn (or, if you’re in Ireland or the UK, “Reindeer Poppings” from M&S!) and a clapboard picture frame which you could frame your Christmas message in.
  • A Christmas Night In Hamper. A copy of A Christmas Carol (or any Christmassy book), a Be Jolly Yankee Candle, a pair of fluffy slipper socks and a box of Twining’s Christmas teabags.
  • A Christmas Morning Coffee Hamper. A bag of Starbucks Christmas blend, a festive cup, a red Bodum cafetiere and a handheld milk frother.

So that’s my Ultimate Hot Chocolate Hamper. Tip: give this to someone who lives with you so that (i) you get to enjoy it too and (ii) you get all the stuff back so you can make it again next year…

REPLAY 2011: 5 Things Self-Publishers Shouldn’t Worry About (But They Do)

I’ve been 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. (Or a “I’m trying to finish the first draft of a new book and so I don’t have time to write five new blog posts a week” kind of thing…) This post was first posted back in September.

I get asked a lot of questions about self-publishing.

Most of these questions – I’d say at least eight out of every ten – are answered on my blog, and if the people who asked them took a few moments to read my blog every once in a while, they wouldn’t have to ask. Some of the answers don’t even require the reading of my blog, for instance: Do you recommend CreateSpace?

Do I recommend CreateSpace? Hmm. Let me think on that. You know what? No – no, I don’t. I hate those bastards. With a passion. In fact, I hate them so much that I’ve chosen to self-publish not one, not two, but three POD paperbacks with them, included detailed instructions for using them in my book Self-Printed and I’ve a fourth CreateSpace POD baby on the way. So recommend them? What do you think?

Some of these questions I’m asked – maybe one out of every ten, on a good day – are really, really good questions, questions I wish I’d already answered on my blog, questions I make a note of so I can answer them one day in the future. The kind of ones where I didn’t explain something because it feels second nature to me now, and I’ve forgotten there was a time when I didn’t have a clue. I like those kinds of questions. I hope they keep coming.

That rest are what I call the Are You Kidding Me With This? questions.

You know that saying “Don’t run before you can walk”? Well, some would-be self-publishers seemingly want to figure-skate professionally before they can stand upright. They want to know where they can buy “Signed by the Author” stickers before they’ve even wrote the book. Others have only the faintest grasp of what self-publishing is and what it means, realistically, for them and their book, and so presume that they’ll have to add things like “movie deals”, “paparazzi” and “Booker Prize” to their Things to Concern Myself With list. A couple of weeks ago an author told me that it had taken “four phone calls to Amazon” before he managed to get his book published on KDP. What? Why? And what could you possibly be calling them about? This isn’t rocket science, people!

Self-publishing is simple. It takes a lot of patience and hard work, yes, but it is, ultimately, simplistic. So don’t overcomplicate things. Don’t be overly ambitious. Don’t let your imagination run wild. Don’t run before you can walk (or figure-skate professionally before you can stand upright.) Don’t get your knickers in a twist over movie deals.

And whatever you do, don’t worry about these things:

1. Shipping Charges

CreateSpace’s shipping charges are a bit on the pricey side. They used to be on the astronomical side, but at least now they’re somewhat affordable. But they don’t really matter that much. They certainly don’t matter so much that they should affect your decision when it comes to picking a POD company because if you want to make money self-publishing, start by not sending books to yourself.

If you want to sell your POD books in bookstores, you’ll have to buy them, ship them to your home and then try to sell them to bookstores. But if you want to sell your books in bookstores, then don’t get them printed by the likes of CreateSpace or Lulu. There just isn’t enough room in the margins to accommodate the manufacturing cost, a cut for the bookstore and your profit while keeping the retail price far away enough from the stratosphere for anyone to consider buying it. Don’t buy your own book, even for stock.

You also shouldn’t worry about your readers having to pay those shipping charges, because you shouldn’t encourage anyone to buy your book from, say, your CreateSpace e-store. I just despair when I see authors asking readers to buy their books from there because their royalty/profit is the highest. The way to sell books is to make them visible on Amazon – once you do that, the books sell themselves. “Visible” means high up bestseller ranks, high up search results and in things like “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” Every time you sell a book on Amazon, you contribute to this visibility. So why would you encourage anyone to buy your books from CreateSpace, where the sale leaves no trace at all? In that case there’s a tree falling in the woods with nobody around, and we can definitely say it doesn’t make a sound.

The only times you have to even think about shipping charges is (i) when you post the proof copy to yourself and (ii) ordering books for friends and family. Let’s say for the sake of it that that totals somewhere between 30-50 books. Presumably your goal is to sell thousands, so why would you make a decision based on something that affects a fraction of the books you hope to shift? There’s no good reason, so don’t worry about it.

After a while, your POD paperback’s cover will start to do this. But who cares?

2. Perfection

Once upon a time I had the misfortune to work as a campsite courier, a kind of general assistant on a “camping” resort in the south of France. Our customers paid big bucks to stay in mobile homes, chalets and oversized tents, and we got paid practically nothing to clean them before they arrived. Whenever anyone complained about a stain on the floor or a bit of dust on the window or a smear on a glass, we’d shrug, hold up our hands and say, “What do they expect? It’s camping!”

This is Print-On-Demand. This is a machine that throws together a book in a matter of minutes. It’s not a professional printing press that uses high quality cover card, elegant binding and smooth, beautiful paper. And these are self-published e-books. It’s a Word document that’s been run through an almost free-to-use, automated conversion program that spits out several different formats at once. It’s not a team of highly trained techie types who work from the code and make e-books that are things of book-design beauty. Yes, you should make your POD paperback and e-book look as great as you possibly can, but don’t chase perfection because you won’t find it.

Your POD paperback will likely have:

  • a glossy cover that collects fingerprints
  • a cover made of card thinner than a traditionally published book, so it’ll bend more
  • some pages that may appear printed very slightly off kilter
  • the occasional ever-so-slightly damaged corner
  • “Proof” printed on the last page if it’s a proof copy
  • A barcode, date and address printed on the last page no matter what.

Why? BECAUSE IT’S CHEAP-AS-CHIPS POD, people!

Your e-book will likely have:

  • spaces where you didn’t intend for there to be spaces
  • lines where you didn’t intend for there to be lines
  • page breaks where you didn’t intend for there to be page breaks
  • an automated table of contents (that’s different to the one you put in).
But it will still be perfectly readable and if you’re lucky, looking good too. So don’t worry about it.

3. Unrealistic Retailing

Every time a self-publisher wonders aloud how they can get their book up on Amazon for pre-order, a fairy dies.

FACT.

What kinds of books are available to pre-order on Amazon? Books published by actual, proper big publishing houses. Who should be thanking their lucky stars they’re even allowed on Amazon in the first place without a warehouse of stock, a meter-high stack of paperwork and some credentials? You, the self-publisher.

Don’t be getting ideas above your station. If you’re Hilary Swank and you’ve been invited to the Academy Awards, Oscar de la Renta will send you a beautiful gown made just for you. If you’re you (or me) and you’ve been invited to your (or my) grandmother’s 80th birthday party, it’s off to Debenhams (Macy’s, American friends) to buy something mass produced off the rack.

So when you say anything about pre-ordering, I say: Puh. Lease. If you self-publish a POD paperback, it will be for sale on Amazon.com. If someone orders it, magical elves will print it, package it and ship it, and then the cousins of those magical elves will deposit the profits earned from that sale into your bank account. This is amazing. This is fantastic. And this is ENOUGH.

Don’t worry about whether or not Waterstone’s can stock your book, because they won’t ever want to. Don’t worry about VAT and Whispernet delivery charges, because they’re on all books, not just yours, and therefore the concern of the buyer, not the seller. Don’t worry about who is selling your book – just be glad anybody is.

And don’t even mention pre-ordering.

(There goes another fairy…)

4. ISBNs

An ISBN is a 10 or 13 digit number that identifies your book. If CreateSpace or Smashwords give you an ISBN, they own the ISBN but they DO NOT own the work you assign the ISBN to. In other words, you are free to publish your book anywhere else whenever you like, but you’d have to use a new ISBN.

So, repeat after me:

“ISBNs identify, copyright owns and protects. ISBNs identify, copyright owns and protects. ISBNs identify, copyright owns and protect…” and continue to do so until you stop worrying about how taking a free ISBN might affect your future movie deal, agency contract or first million dollar cheque.

Just STOP.

5. The Future of Publishing

In one dark corner of the internet right now, last month, next week, there is a conversation comprised of blog posts, articles, tweets, etc. that’s going like this:

“The book is dead.”

“The book isn’t dead.”

“Yes, it is. I just bought a Kindle.”

“No, it isn’t. Can you decorate with it? Can you decorate with your Kindle? Didn’t think so…” and so on and on and on.

There is also another conversation running parallel, going like this:

“Publishing is dead.”

“Publishing is not dead.”

“Your children won’t remember bookshops.”

“My children will be visiting their children in the bookshops they work in…” and so on and on and on.

And yet another that goes like:

“I heard these guys saying publishing and books are dead. I’m going straight to self-publishing e-books. It’s best for my career.”

“I don’t know how to do it though. I’m going to submit my novel.”

“You’ll be sorry when you die before you hear back.”

“You’ll be sorry when no one buys your clump of computer code…” and so on and on and on.

If you are thinking of self-publishing and haven’t yet sold a single book, or even if you have self-published and sold a few copies, NONE OF THIS MATTERS.

And for the ranty record, I really wish people who don’t work in publishing – and that includes me, and almost all self-publishers – would shut their pie holes about what a world they don’t live and work in may or may not have happen to it, theoretically, in the future, based on how many guys down the pub they know with Kindles. Knitting a scarf doesn’t make you the fashion editor of Vogue, and self-publishing a book doesn’t make you a publishing expert, and it especially doesn’t make you an expert on the whole global industry of publishing and where it’s headed. Self-publish, sell a few hundred thousand, make money and perhaps either refuse or sign a publishing deal, and then I’ll start to listen. Otherwise, I’m going to need you to actually work in publishing.

See also: debate over whether people like me should be called “self-publishers” or “indie authors.” What’s next on the agenda of irrelevancy – whether it’s e-books, E-books or E-Books? Because I don’t know about you, but that’s a question that’s keeping me awake at night.

NOT.

Instead, concentrate on your own little corner of the world, the part of the world you do know about, on your big picture, and–

[Say it with me now]

Don’t worry about it!

Let’s all have a nice, big cup of coffee now. That will also help with the not-worrying.