Self-Publishing: Do It Your Way

‘Tis the season of hand-picked guest posts that will hopefully keep you entertained while I sand down my fingerprints finishing my novel at a clip of 3,000 words per day when it’s going good and 3,000 extra calories consumed when it’s not. There was a fantastic reaction to Pat Fitzpatrick’s guest post last week on the 3 things he wishes he’d known before he self-published, so I hope there’ll be just as much enthusiasm for today’s: Dan Holloway’s Do It Your Way. (I’m sure there will be.) Take it away, Dan… 

“Do it yourself. That’s what self-publishing is all about. Isn’t it? I don’t mean that you literally have to stand over the press as your printed pages speed off it, or that you should be frantically coding away as your Word document morphs into something fir for Kindle. Or even that those artistic ignorami among us should slave away with paints and Photoshop to create our own covers. What I mean is that, like a ghost in the machine, a puppet master pulling the leavers, a legion of tired metaphors searching for somewhere to lay their head, in control of the whole thing is you.

And yet the more I look around a self-publishing universe expanding faster than the Hubble constant should permit the less I see it.

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It’s something symptomatic of our age. The three key letters in all of this are “you” – the three letters I don’t think I’ve seen really properly considered on more posts than I could count on a pair of mittens. We live in a society that is focused more than ever before on the individual. And yet we have less of a concept of individuality than, well, than is sufficient to satisfy me in any way, shape or form at any rate.

Let me explain.

As a digital society, we are bombarded with ways to be unique, to express ourselves, to be quirky and individual – Instagram being the paradigm. And we are bombarded with websites like Buzzfeed that extol the virtue of individuality. It is no surprise that self-publishing, especially digital self-publishing, is booming at a time when other forms of self-expression are frotting each other so vigorously in the cultural air.

But the closer you look, the more you see that the “self” involved in all this, the “you”, the “individual” doesn’t actually mean anything. It stands simply for “agency”, a force as impersonal as gravity or electromagnetism (perhaps the third force in any twenty first century’s Grand Unified Theory). It means simply the process of pressing the relevant button. We live in a world that has created a myriad ways for us to proclaim our individuality by performing an action a million other people are also performing.

The “you” of “do it yourself” has been lost to the extent that the “you” who self-publishes, if you believe many of the blogs and articles and media coverage, is simply the action of pulling together a set of discrete tasks (editing, design, formatting, distribution) and pressing buttons. In other words the “you” who self-publishes is so much a completely different entity from the “you” who writes, it would be a category error to compare the two.

We still see lip service paid to the wonder of a writer’s voice, to the thing that makes their words unique, gives their vision a singular power to move readers in ways nothing else can do. And yet this ocean of dazzling difference is, we are told, to be delivered with utter homogeneity.

We have lost a beautiful truth – that there are as many ways to make a book as there are to tell a story. Of course I know that if we write a certain kind of thriller people will expect a certain kind of cover, and that if we write a certain kind of poetry people will expect a certain kind of mysterious use of line breaks. I’m not suggesting you write the 17th edition in your erotica series in alphabetti spaghetti on the floor of the local bus station (though now I’ve said that I really want to). I know there are practicalities to think about.

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But those practicalities shouldn’t close your mind off to your wonderful creative individuality. Even if you absolutely, positively have to present your book in a certain way (say, it’s the 6th in a very successful series about what goes on behind closed doors at a cupcake store) – there’s nothing to stop you baking cupcakes for your book launch, and putting a picture of your cover on the bottom of the casings. Likewise I have a friend who knits and sells characters from her stories (http://www.wigglypets.co.uk/). Or you can make special editions. Richard Pierce recently created a limited edition of five beautiful artisan bound copies of his erotica novel The Failed Assassin, thus enabling himself to fulfil genre expectations with the ebook and let his creativity fly with the limited edition.

Perhaps the most exciting form of expressive self-publishing is when form and content collide in a perfect storm. Two wonderful examples of this are Rohan Quine’s The Imagination Thief, an ebook that links to video and audio material, not only immersing us in the surreal trance-like world of the novel but fully utilising Rohan’s skills as a professional actor, and Lucy Furlong’s Amniotic City, a psychogeographical poetry map of hidden feminine imagery in the heart of London.

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Even a very cursory search of Amazon will reveal a whole plethora of books about making books – books about binding, about folding, about decoupage and collage. There are numerous ways to learn the crafts that will then allow you to create books that express what it is that makes you you, and that is one of the most truly exciting things about self-publishing. Most of all, always remember the three most important letters in do it yourself – “you” and never let people tell you “that’s a silly way to make a book.” There are so few writers who stand out in the self-publishing world, and the sad fact is that this is by and large because so many of them try to blend in – what kind of way is that to stick in a reader’s mind?

About Dan:

Dan Holloway‘s Self-publish With Integrity: Define Success in Your Own Terms and then Achieve it is now available for Kindle. The book, which includes chapters on community building, handling self-doubt and never being afraid to be yourself, is intended as a guide to help self-publishing writers discover, and then stay true to, their fundamental writing goals, helping them steer a path through the maze of how to guides, helpful advice, and other obstacles that beset them at every stage of their writing life so that achieve long-term happiness and success on the only terms that count: their own.

3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Self-Publishing My Novel

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Today we have a guest post from my fellow Corkonian self-publisher Pat Fitzpatrick on the 3 things he wish he knew a month ago, i.e. before he self-published his thriller, Keep Away From Those Ferraris. Take it away, Pat!

It’s over a month since I self-published my new thriller, Keep Away From Those Ferraris. Now that I have some distance from all the madness, it’s time to warn others what it can be like. Because what it can be like is a form of nervous breakdown.

I’m a middle-aged Irish man. So the last thing I’d thought I’d end up writing about was my emotions. But then strange things happen when you self-publish your first novel. Mainly you go plain mad.

My guess is that traditional publishing is a breeze in comparison. There you have a publisher who decides when your book hits the streets. Your book cover is done and dusted so there is no point in worrying whether the woman on the front is showing too much flesh. (Or too little flesh, given the way things are going.) And you have a team of experienced publishing professionals to talk some sense if you lose faith.

I had none of these supports. All I had was a final draft with corrections from my editor and the notion that two weeks was oceans of time to get my book up on Amazon. I was wrong on both counts. Here is what I would say if I could go back two months and give pre-publication me some advice.

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1. Dodge the Drafts – Somebody has to Shout Stop

The ‘final’ draft turned out to be the seventh-last draft. I reckon this is the single biggest issue when you self-publish – nobody ever shouts stop.

I also work as a feature writer for a newspaper here in Ireland.   I have two editors to tell me that if I don’t give them copy in the next five minutes, I don’t get paid. (They dress it up a bit nicer than that, but we all know what’s going on.) So for example, if I am turning in a 3000 word piece on hipsters in Ireland, I will write three drafts and do a final proof read and spell check before sending it off. I’ve been at it for years, so I know what is required to keep the quality up without wasting time.

It was different with this novel. I kept picking at the final draft, as if it was a never-say-die scab. Every time I got to the end, I’d go straight back to page one and click through it again to see if I could skelp out another surplus comma.  I was like a hamster, on a wheel, in the movie Groundhog Day. The result was the potential for more typos, except I had used my editor card already. I was in a hole and kept digging.

Catherine Ryan-Howard eventually bailed me out. We met on a TV show in Cork (it’s not as exotic as it sounds) where she showered me with some priceless self-publishing insights. The real diamond was publish my book at the end of November to make the most of the ‘I got a new Kindle for Christmas’ crowd. It was like somebody finally shouted stop. I found my inner editor who guided me through a final-final draft. The rule was simple – stop picking at the scab and only change a sentence if it makes you feel physically sick. I found three. And I hit publish in early December.

Side note: A key thing that worked for me was to convert the second last draft to e-book format and read it on a Kindle. I had a pen and paper on hand to record any changes that really needed to be made. The fact I couldn’t just type them in there and then gave me some perspective. This stopped a lot of madness.

I am working on the sequel now and want to have it published by this December. This time round there will be four drafts – three before I send it off to the editor and one more before I press go. Deciding on four now means I can’t just skip through a second and third draft with the notion that I can fix it up later on. With any luck, I’ll dodge the 5th draft. Not to mention 15th one.

2. Keep the Faith

The run up to publication is a roller-coaster ride.  One minute I’m pumped up and working on the opening line in my Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech. (‘Alright Stockholm!!’ – I fancy the stadium rock approach.) The next minute I’m be on the verge of actual tears because my book will never find an audience. In one of those moments I decided my next project should be a Young Adult Vampire Zombie Trilogy set in Tipperary. Thankfully, that moment passed.

The problem is of course that your book stops being a book after the first few drafts. It becomes a collection of words that are only as good as your mood. If you are reading the same 70,000 words over and over again, your mood won’t be that good. That’s all that’s going on here. I’m struggling to think of what I can do to remedy this loss of faith the next time out. The best I can come up with is a banner on the wall by my desk. It will say “The Book is Fine, you are just tired and suffering from a mild dose of self-loathing.” Let me know if you have a better alternative.

3. Let it Go

One of the most famous historical artefacts on the island of Ireland is called the Book of Kells. It contains the four Gospels, transcribed on to vellum (calfskin) by Irish monks around 800 AD. It is said to contain a deliberate error on each page because only God is perfect. I went to view it recently with a friend in Trinity College Dublin. This guy had spent some time living in Tehran and pointed out that classic Persian rugs had a similar blemish for the same reason.

Bear with me, there’s a point here. Nobody’s perfect. Any work of art is just our best shot at perfection. Wait until it’s actually perfect, and you’ll end up waiting forever. Traditional publishers understand this, which is why deadlines rarely move. Self-published authors need to build it in to our thinking if we ever want to get the job done. This doesn’t mean publishing a first draft written on cheap wine and expensive coffee. You still need to read, re-read, pass to an editor and read it once or twice more. After that, you need to press publish and start working on the sequel. That’s probably my biggest takeaway from the mad month I spent before publishing Keep Away From Those Ferraris.

Now if you don’t mind, I need to come up with something to go after ‘Alright Stockholm’ in my speech to the Nobel crowd.

Pat Fitzpatrick blogs about self-publishing and other oddities here. You will also find links to his novel there if you would like to see how all this turned out, or click the cover image above to go straight to it on Amazon.com. Thanks Pat! 

A New Year, A New Routine (Or, The Problem With Goals)

As much as I detest New Year Eve’s with all its enforced fun and depressing reminders that yet another year has gone by and you haven’t achieved all the stuff you swore you would, it does have two things going for it: it comes with fireworks, and it throws open the doors on another fresh, exciting 365 days in which anything could happen.

someecards.com - I can't believe it's been a year since I didn't become a better person.

I had a bit of an epiphany in 2013 about how I go about achieving my goals. (Or not.) I’ve read a lot of books about goal setting and positive visualization and the law of attraction, and the more scientific consensus seems to be that rather than visualizing yourself having achieved your ultimate dream—sitting under an oak tree with Oprah while she insists that everyone in the world runs out right now and buys a copy of your book, for example—your time would be better spent visualizing you doing the work that might lead to it. For example, if you dream of losing 50 pounds, don’t bother closing your eyes and trying to convince yourself that you are already 50 pounds down, as per The Secret and its mystical friends. Instead, visualize yourself doing the things that would lead to such a weight loss, like getting up early every morning to hit the gym, because you know what? You’re going to have to hit the gym, and the main problem is that you’re not that doing it already.

So this New Year’s Day, I didn’t bother with my annual list of things I wanted to achieve in the next 12 months. There’s enough of them laying about the house already, and they all say the same thing. Instead I went about designing an everyday routine that looked like what a person who had achieved those things would be doing on a day-to-day basis.

(That may not be the most elegantly constructed sentence in the history of the English language, but let’s just go with it.)

For most of last year, my ‘work day’ routine looked something like this (I work from home):

  1. Wake-up
  2. Go back to sleep
  3. Wake-up again
  4. Lie in bed for a while
  5. Get up
  6. Dozily make some coffee
  7. Take coffee to computer
  8. Check e-mail
  9. Catch up on my celebrity news
  10. Oh, that looks like an interesting link my friend has posted on Facebook…
  11. Two to four hours pass by
  12. Is that the time? Why, half the day is gone! I’ll never get much of anything done now, because I didn’t start early enough. Oh, well. There’s episodes of Catfish on my Sky+ box and tomorrow is another day…

Do you think that’s what Michael Connelly’s day looks like? Karin Slaughter’s? Gillian Flynn’s?

I think not.

Things needed to change, and I knew from experience that writing ‘write every day’ or ‘finish a novel’ on my list of goals wasn’t going to cut the mustard.

I started by identifying a major problem: I didn’t get up early enough, or more to the point, I didn’t get up when my alarm went off. How could I change this? The first thing I did was I stopped using the alarm on my iPhone to wake me up. Instead I downloaded Sleep Cycle, an app which wakes you up within a 30 minute window of your alarm and at the most optimal time in your sleep cycle. Therefore you aren’t jerked awake only to feel as if you haven’t slept at all. It’s more like you’re sleeping soundly and then you start to swim to the surface and when you get there gentle music is playing and you wake-up feeling refreshed and rested.

(Most of the time, anyway.)

But the urge to snooze is strong with this one, so I needed a little extra help. I needed an incentive. The thought of a cup of coffee is usually what gets me out of bed in the end, but the problem with coffee is that you have to make it before you’ve had any.I needed something really tasty to push me the distance from my bed to my Nespresso machine, and lately I’ve been getting seriously bored of the Nespresso range of capsules.

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Then I discovered Bar Italia Nespresso compatible capsules, and I fell in love. They. Are. Delicious.  Now I am closing my eyes at night in anticipation of getting to drink a cup of it when I open my eyes on the other side.

(I know. I should really see someone about it.)

Hooray! I was up early and feeling fairly human. What could I do now to ensure that I started my day with the things that mattered, and not what Jamie Dornan was wearing as he walked to his car yesterday? Coffee takes about 20 minutes to hit the system, so that was a window in which to gently set me up for some work. And this is where it was a good idea to go and think about the big picture. I took my coffee, sat at the dining table that offers a nice view, got out my Erin Condren planner and reviewed my short, medium and long-term goals, keeping in mind that if I want these things to happen, I have to take some action on them today.

Like, next.

Now.

Then, writing time. Three hours of it. It’s taken a lot to get me to a place where I write every day and I want to, but this was what helped me the most: a few months ago I was watching crime writer Declan Burke on Writers Web TV, and he mentioned the writing advice of Lawrence Block. I went immediately to my Kindle and downloaded his book — which is actually a collection of columns he wrote for Writer’s Digest — and read it straight through. There’s lots of great advice in there, but one thing that really stuck me with that if you write first thing, you can enjoy the rest of your day guilt-free. If you don’t, you spend your day, whatever you’re doing with it, feeling guilty and anxious and regretful and unworthy and stressed, all because you haven’t written. So: DO IT FIRST.

I have a Post-It on my noticeboard of a clock-face showing noon, and a smiley face. (Well, I know that’s what it is, okay? That’s all that matters.) It’s a reminder that my day can go one of two ways. Either I can get to noon and be happy because I’ve already done my three hours writing time, OR I can get to noon and feel crappy about how I’ve wasted half the day and crappy about whatever else may happen during the day because I wasted the first half of it.

What happens at noon? Well then I do my actual work, which depending on the day might be self-publishing stuff for myself (i.e. the business side of my writing life) or one of the freelance book-related jobs I get paid by someone else to do.

Then come five or six p.m, my favourite bit of the day: LYING ON MY ARSE. Or doing whatever it is I want to do, which can be anything, because I’ve done everything I should’ve done and tomorrow morning, when I open my Erin Condren planner and look at my short, medium and long-term goals, I know that I’m a little bit closer to them than I was yesterday, because consistent effort quickly begins to add up. In just one week of this, I’ve already written 10,000 new words and I feel on top of my To Do list.

(There might also be three empty boxes of Bar Italia capsules in the bin…)

I read Commander Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth just after Christmas, and Hadfield’s take on chasing dreams is wonderful: if you take pride in the every day work you do towards them, if you do everything within your control that will get you closer to your goals on a daily basis and you take pleasure and pride in that effort, you will be happy — even if the dream or goal never materializes, or doesn’t for a long time. This is how Hadfield managed to never fret about the terrible odds of him achieving his dream (he was a Canadian who decided to become an astronaut at a time when only US citizens need apply and then, once that changed, got chosen out of thousands for an Astronaut Corps that would see many of its members never fly in space). Instead did everything he could to prepare for the opportunity to fly in space should it arise, and enjoyed every minute of it. Then, when his dream did come true, it wasn’t a relief but a bonus.

How are you tackling 2014 so far? Do you write down your goals? What are you doing different this year? Let us all know in the comments below!