Adventures in Indie Publishing – Part One (Probably)

Disclaimer: I’m writing this blog post a good couple of days before my book is even released.  But I’ve had so many questions, I thought maybe it’s time to tell about my journey in publishing – so far.  And to answer some questions I’ve been asked.  Remember, I’m John snow here:  I know sweet Fanny Adams about what I’m writing about here, just my own meandering experience.  

So, you want to publish?  Here is the bad, and the worse news.

The bad news:  sitting down and writing your book is the easy bit.  The worse news:  publishing is hell.

There are two roads to take in publishing, either traditional publishing, IE, you go through a publisher and they handle all of this for you, or you indie publish.  I tried my hand at traditional publishing, and got laughed at – this is why I indie published.  I cannot help you with traditional publishing except for the following:  if you are a South African:  we do not use the “Agent” system in SA.  Don’t waste time looking for an agent, it is not how it works here.  You need to approach the publishers directly, and this is where my advice runs out on traditional publishing.

Okay, so, indie publishing:

It costs a lot of money.  And I mean, a LOT.  Someone, I think it was Deon Maas, said something along the lines of “If you want to go broke in SA, write a book.  If you want to go homeless, write fiction.”  I’ve found this adage to be true.  Indie publishing costs money – more money than you think.  Okay, if you have the capacity to do it DIY, or pull in some friends to do some favours, you may save money, but at the end, it will put you back some bucks.

In no particular order:

Your editor:

Your book will need to be professionally edited if you have any hope of getting any credibility.  Even Stephen King has an editor!  Don’t think you can fly solo on this, because you can’t.  My book went through three rounds of editing.  Actually, four, the same editor went through her own edits a second time – your book needs to be checked for speller and gramming, story, consistency, content…  and your buddy cannot do it for you.  Unless your buddy is someone with a degree in English and/or has an editing qualification, fugedaboudid!  Spend money on your editor.  And book is just as good as it’s editor, and a bad editing job makes your book a laughing stock.  And in my opinion, this is why indie publishers have such a bad rep:  bad editing.  Do not fall into the Dunning-Kruger trap of thinking you do not need an editor:  you do.  (Thanks to Jackie, Gwen and Flo for editing my book – I owe you ladies a crapload!)

Your Cover:

This is the truth: people DO judge books by their covers.  A shitty, cheap, home-made cover tells the prospective buyer this is a shitty, cheap, home-made book, and it passes right on.  Remember that there are literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of titles on any shelf, and even millions on Amazon.  If your cover sucks….  Get a professional cover done by a professional graphic designer who knows what they are doing.  And oh, Pro tip:  if you think of going the stock photography route, be very, very diligent in reading your licensing agreement:  the last thing you need is a nice big heavy lawyer’s letter landing on your table and you see thousands of Dollars gone!  Bad covers get lost in the ocean of visual clutter, good covers get picked up.

Another tip:  test your covers.  For my first novel, I did A-B testing in six different cover designs, three of which were specifically shot for the cover for ‘Discovering Leigh’, and three came from my photography archives.  These options went to friends and strangers alike, until eventually a winner of my six iterations were chosen.

Your Layout:

How does your book look on the inside?  Just a bunch of words on a page, right?  Oh, if it was only that easy.  Do you know and understand what widows and orphans are?  Bleeds and slugs?  Leading and kerning?  GREP codes? If you do, skip this section.  If not, take my advice:  get someone to professionally do your layout for you.  Yes, you “can” lay it out in Microsoft Word, just like you “can” run a marathon barefoot with your hands tied behind your back – it’s possible, but not optimal.  And there is the stomach-churning bit:  you need to lay it out three times.  Once for your South African printer that will need to print it on a standard size, so you need to lay it out to your SA printers standards, I laid mine out on A5.  Secondly, you need to lay it out for your Amazon print-on-demand paperback size, US standard, mine was 6 x 9 inches.  And then you have to do the whole bang-shootie again for your eBook app.  I am lucky, I’ve been a graphic designer for ages, and worked in InDesign for many years, doing other people’s books, and thus it saved me a crapload of money.  Good layout makes for a pleasurable reading experience, bad layout makes the reader work, and then you lose them. And no, even if you don’t plan on printing and just go eBook, you cannot do it yourself, eBook publishing requires a professional layout as well lest it become just one, continuous garbled mess.

Printing:

You did not see this one coming, did you?  Yet it’s as obvious as daylight. Printing costs money.  A lot of money.  Especially in smaller print runs.  Do your homework and find a good printer.  And this is the exception to a life rule:  I found a printer what quoted me about a third of what the others did, and get this, their end product was better.  Cheaper AND better.  My only conclusion is that these guys do a shitload of work, and this is what they DO.  A “general printer” who prints brochure and pamphlets and business cards and and and, are not always geared up to handle paperbacks.  This company, probably (I have no proof except postulation), does nothing except books, so that is why they can keep costs low and quality high.  There is a certain elegance about something that does one thing, and does it well.  Do your homework with printers.

Amazon:
There are other worlds than these, but Amazon is like Google:  it’s ubiquitous.  It is the place where everybody goes to buy books.  Other platforms exist, but they make up a tiny percentage of the book market. Get onto Amazon. To get started, you want to get into KDP:  Kindle Digital Publishing. There are a million pages on the internet of how to do it, hundreds of thousands from Amazon themselves, but start here:  https://kdp.amazon.com  and oh, if you want to get money, you need a bank account that Amazon will pay into, and f you are a South African like me, that bank is Payoneer.  Getting a Payoneer account setup is quick and easy, and Amazon will deposit your profits in that account, and you can use your Payoneer card just like a normal credit card, or transfer your funds into your SA bank account.

Profits:

Speaking of which:  the author makes the least amount of money of anyone in the process.  The printer and book seller makes more money off your books than you do.  Yes, scream and shout like a thirteen-year old who has just discovered life is unfair, but that is the system, and it sucks.  Amazon royalties are laughably small, and bookshops in SA take stomach-churning large amounts of slices off the top.  Many books do not make it onto the shelves, because after all the costs, the writer makes a LOSS!  Having a book n a shelf could very well cost you money, not make you money.  Consider your marketing strategy very carefully lest your book ends up making you homeless.   I sincerely hope you write for love, because if you write for money, take your savings and go to the casino.  You at least know the odds on a roulette table.

So, this is where I am now in my adventure in indie publishing.  I’m launching my book in approximately 56 hours.  In a another month or so, I may have more advice / anecdotes / feedback, but for now, this is what I can tell those who have asked me.

Ciao!

g.