Publish It Yourself! Session 2 Lecture Notes

Slide 2- Outline

  • Tonight we’ll be focusing on self-publishing essentials, which will cover both the professionals you’ll need to help bring your project to life, and your project itself.
  • As I structured this course, I tried to think about the order in which you’ll need to have the various skills and information I present. That way, if you are referring back to the materials once the class is over, the presentations will give you a general overview of the self-publishing steps and the order in which they should happen.  Tonight, is going to be the exception to that.  Ideally, we would be talking about your book, your website, tagline and sales copy, before you go out into the freelance marketplace looking for people to help you with editing, cover, etc.
  • But because part of tonight’s class will be a chance for you to actually start working on your sales description using resources that are here in the library, I decided to move that part of the class to the end, so we’ll have time get through the material and use the final hour of our class for a description workshop. You’ll be up moving around the library, so if you want to take a little break, you’ll have an opportunity then. Is everyone okay with that?  
  • So I suggest making a note that the items presented in Your Book and Your Brand ideally come before Assembling Your Team.

Slide 3- Discussion

Would anyone like to share their thoughts and decisions about their projects?

Slide 4- Essentials

Now we’re going to talk about the professionals– the editor, designers, formatter, who will be helping you turn your manuscript into a full-fledged book, what they do, and how to find them

Side 5- Editor Funnel

  • Having an editor is extremely important to producing a professional quality book, and there are several different kinds of editors.
  • There’s also a lot of confusion about the different types of editors, which to hire when.  The best image I can give you is to think of it as a funnel– going from a wide, bird’s-eye view of your manuscript, down to the nitty-gritty of typos.

Slide 6- Editors

  • A Developmental Editor will assist with big picture issues like your characters, plot and pacing.  They’re also the most expensive. The DE I used charged about $500 for 30,000 word novella, and $1600 for a full length manuscript, which included 2 editing passes. Some price by page, others by flat rate.
  • Line Editors review your prose, check for accuracy, and story details such as timing, and continuity.  My developmental editor offer included a line edit in her second editorial pass. Hiring one individually, will cost around $1000.
  • Copy editors check your grammar, punctuation and spelling. The grammar cops. To hire one, is going to be likely between $500 and $1000, depending upon book length. There are less expensive options out there, such as ProWriting Aid and Grammerly, but there’s also a learning curve attached to both, and in having used this on one project, I was less pleased with the results.
  • Last is proofreading.  Proofreaders are the final eyes that check for typos, formatting, page numbering. Can sometimes be rolled into Copy Editing, but it comes at the end, after all other revisions are made.

Slide 7- Formatter

  • A formatter is the person who takes your Word document and makes sure that it’s laid out correctly before it’s uploaded to your publishing platform. Digital books and print books have different design needs, which I’ll cover in more detail next week. For now, just know that you start with a Word document and come out with three different versions of your book:  a MOBI file for Amazon, an EPUB file for everyone else, and a PDF for print. If you intend to publish a print version, have your book formatted BEFORE you have your cover designed.  Final page count will influence the book’s spine size– I learned this the hard way and ended up having to pay my cover designer extra to do a revision. If you’re only doing an eBook, the cover design can be done first
  • Formatting a book generally doesn’t cost a lot. I paid my formatter about $150 to create my eBook and print formats, but I’ve seen services advertised on Fiverr for much less. It’s a time saver, and with so many other details to take care of, it can be nice to hand this one off to someone else.  If your book has a lot of pictures, graphs or charts, I strongly recommend hiring a professional. While my book was just text, this part of the process scared me a little, so I used a professional formatter, though learning to do it myself is a skill I want to develop for future books.
  • Many authors do their own formatting and there are advantages to doing it yourself, aside from the cost savings.  It’s much easier to make changes to your manuscript, such as correcting a typo, or adding information in the back about your next release.
  • If you decide to try formatting, there are a number of ways to go about it, and there are several kinds of software that will help you. Vellum and Scrivener are probably the two most popular software for formatting. Scrivener is a creative writing software that has a formatting function, Vellum is Mac based and is supposed to be easy to use. Aggregators like Draft2Digital, Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing offer free online converters to which you can upload a Word document. Calibre is open-source software that will do the conversion for you, which gives you even more control over how the final product looks. Next week, I’ll cover some tips for cleaning up your Word manuscript to make the conversion smoother.

Slide 8- Cover Design

  • A major decision you’ll make is your book’s cover.
  • It’s your bestselling tool, it can also be a major detriment. A great looking cover will draw readers in, an amateurish cover will reflect poorly on what’s inside.
  • Designing an eBook cover is a specialized skill, in that your cover must display well in a thumbnail sized image.
  • A cover designer is going to use stock art to create your cover, while an artist will create something one of a kind.
  • Amazon offers some free preformatted options within the KDP platform. They’re kind of generic, but worth taking a look at if you’re on a very tight budget.
  • Canva is a free graphic design platform that you can use to design a cover yourself. Once again though, if you don’t have a design background, and are new to the world of publishing, this might be an area best left to a pro.
  • A cover designer is going to use stock art to create your cover, while an artist will create something one of a kind. An artist is going to cost more.
  • You can opt for a freelancer, or a cover design agency.
  • Both will work with stock photo sites to access images they are licensed to use. Its fine to ask which stock photo sites they use, and you can even go to those sites and look for images you like and make suggestions. My designer actually asked me to do this, and it made the process easier for both of us, plus it was fun!
  • But before you hire anyone, ask to see their portfolio, make sure they have e book design experience in your genre.
  • Frequently design firms may offer premade covers that can be purchased for less than the cost of custom design.  They’re usually grouped by genre, they’re fun to look at, and you might find something that works perfectly. 
  • While you’ll be using the same cover image for your eBook, print and audio, keep in mind that print  require a book spine, and a back cover, which will add to your cost. Make sure your designer knows this going in, as it will save you money.

Slide 9- Bad Covers

This site actually exists, and it’s interesting to look at some of the mistakes authors make in this area. It can also help you avoid making the same ones.

Slide 10- Narrators

  • This is a newer area for self-published authors but a growing category.
  • There are two ways to approach hiring audio talent. The first is to pay up front, the second is to offer the narrator a share of the royalty.
  • The upfront charge will be based upon an hourly rate– which will vary according to the narrator. Findaway Voices sets the cost of a 50K word audio book at between 1000-2000.
  • Royalties are usually 50/50 arrangements based on the prior months sales.
  • Reading your book yourself is an option if you have speaking or voice over experience.

Slide 11- Finding Providers

  • Attending writer’s conferences and talking to other authors, especially in your genre, is one of the best ways to locate reliable providers.
  • Word of mouth– ask other authors who they recommend, or look in the acknowledgements of self-published books you’ve enjoyed. Often, the author will name the editor. They’re sometimes listed on the copyright page as well. 
  • You can also take advantage of listings provided by writers’ organizations, and professional organizations for freelancers.
  • Also some how-to guides will have recommended provider lists as well.

Slide 12- Building Your Team

  • When you reach out to a freelancer, you should be as specific as you can about the services you need, and about your project itself.
  • Most editors will want to see a sample of your work and will offer ideas for how they would approach your project.
  • With a designer, you’ll want to look at their portfolio of covers and see if their style fits your book.
  • Most providers will allow a set number of changes, so determine what that is upfront.
  • You’ll also want to find out if they’re available to work on your project within the time frame that you’ll need it.

Slide 14- Author Brand

  • Marketing yourself as an author is an integral part of marketing your book.
  • This is especially true in non-fiction, when you are selling your expertise or experience with a particular topic.
  • But even in fiction, your marketing should define what makes your work unique.
  • You’ll be coming up with a tagline for yourself, just as you came up with one for your book.

Slide 15- Author Website

  • I’ll talk more about websites in the next session, but getting a basic site set up before your book is formatted and published will save you serious time and money down the road, and make some of the things I’ll talk about this week much easier. So I’m going to give you a little information about websites now, and we’ll get into more detail in the next session.
  • Basically your website is like your online office, and a place where you can connect with readers.  You’ll likely be using social media too, but social media sites come and go. You also don’t have control over them, where with a website, you do. It’s also a place where readers can connect with you online, and sign up for your mailing list. You don’t need a list yet, but once the book is out, you will.
  • Hosting means that you contract with a company to put your site on the internet. There are a number of companies out there, some offer free sites, others charge an annual fee. Which you choose will depend upon your budget, the services you want and the amount of customer support you prefer.
  • Your domain name and URL is just your address on the web.  SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is how people find you online.
  • SSL is a security certification that assures visitors you’ve taken precautions to guard against hackers.
  • Privacy policy simply explains what you’ll do with any data you collect.
  • The domain is another basic marketing tool, and it’s best to go with something simple, like your first and last name, followed by a .com.  If your name isn’t available, trying adding “books” “author” or “writer” to your name, until you have a unique domain that you can purchase, like Usually domains can be had for less than $50 per year. WordPress and Blogger also offer free domains, but the domain will include their name: . If money is an issue, it’s fine to use the free domain at first, but plan to purchase your domain as soon as you can. Not only does it look more professional, you cannot move a domain that you don’t own. While changing hosts may not seem like a major consideration now, there’s an excellent chance you’ll eventually outgrow your first website. When that happens, you don’t want to have to start over with a brand-new name.
  • Also don’t use the title of your book as your domain name.  If you write another book you’ll have to change it and if people find you through social media or author’s pages on Amazon, it’s easier to have the names consistent.

Slide 16- Website

  • You can hire a designer to create a website for you, which will start at around $200 and go up from there. You can also create your own for free on WordPress or Blogger. If you’re comfortable with technology, setting up a basic site isn’t difficult. The downside to these hosting companies, is that there’s little in the way customer service. If you need more hands-on help, I recommend Go Daddy.  A basic website will cost around $150 a year, includes your domain name, and the company’s Website Builder software is free and easy to use. It doesn’t offer as much customizing as WordPress, but it’s good for starting out. The best part about Go Daddy is their telephone customer service, which is extremely helpful.
  • If you decide to try it yourself, I recently took an online course through the Margie Lawson Writer’s Academy, called Crazy-Easy Author Websites. It’s around $100 and it’s excellent. There’s a web link on the resource page at the end of this presentation.
  • Your website doesn’t need to include much at first. Just information about you, your book, how people can get in touch with you and an SSL certificate and privacy policy are sufficient to start.

Slide 17- Janice

  • We’re going to pick on my friend Janice a little, using her author’s website as an example.
  • She created it on WordPress, and it’s only two pages, a home page that includes her photo, her author tagline and a short biography.
  • She’s not published yet, and is pursuing a traditional publishing deal, but her site is available for editors and agents to see. It adds a layer of professionalism and gives a sense of who she is and what she writes.
  • Her author tagline is “Heartfelt Historical Romance,” and her photo, which has kind of a 1940s-1950s vibe to it, reflects the era she writes about– World War 2 and the post-war.
  • She’s still using the WordPress owned domain, but she has her own name in the domain which is good. She has also added the word “dotcom” after her name, which I wouldn’t advise. It’s one of those cutesy add-ons that will likely be confusing and or annoying down the road, so I’d advise her to drop it, if she can.

Slide 18- The Book

  • We’re not going to spend time on writing craft in this class for a couple of reasons.  First, not everyone is working on the same type of book.  A children’s book, a romance novel and a non-fiction how-to book are all very different, so seek out the best instruction you can find for the type of book you’re writing.
  • Second, writing a good book takes a lot longer than four weeks. Many authors, myself included, write three drafts of the book before showing it to critique partners or beta readers. 
  • Beta readers are going to be your first audience. They should be people who are familiar with your genre, and if they’re writers too, that’s a bonus. My beta readers include people who are easy to please, as well as those who are more critical. My reason is that it’s important to know what works in your story, as well as what doesn’t, so if your mom, spouse or best friend reads your genre, go for it! I recommend 3-5, because an odd number of beta readers avoids split decisions. If three people out five like or don’t like something, you have more consensus.

Slide 19- Title

  • You probably have a title for your book already, or at least have one in mind, but the title is so important that it deserves special consideration.
  • Remember that eBook covers aren’t large, so if you have a lengthy title, it’s going to impact the look of your book.
  • A good way to see how your title will work in the marketplace is to go on Amazon or iTunes Books and look at the top sellers in your genre. Does your title “sound” like a romance, or a cozy mystery or a how-to? 
  • You should also look and see if your title is being used, and if so, was the book published recently?  Is it a book that might hurt yours if readers got them confused? I ran into this with two of my titles. My first book, Pairing Off, originally had a different title. But when my publisher did a search of that title, they found an erotic romance that had some pretty bad reviews on Amazon and strongly suggested I change it.   When I published Shining Through, I found a World War 2 novel by Susan Isaacs. While it’s a fairly well known book, it came out over 10 years ago, so there wasn’t likely people would confuse it with mine.

You might be wondering about using someone else’s title. Titles cannot be copyrighted, and you frequently see song titles recycled as book titles, though you’d want to be careful about using a lyric, or a song title that is rephrased as a lyric. For example “She Loves You,” would be okay, but “She Loves You Yeah-Yeah-Yeah” wouldn’t be.  Likewise, public domain poetry, and literary references such as Shakespeare’s works are commonly used, but I’m not an attorney, so I’d recommend doing research into fair use first.

Slide 20- Tagline

  • Your tagline is a simple sentence that communicates what your book is about, and snags a reader’s interest– all in less than thirty words. Are they hard to write? Yes, they can be, but they’re worth the effort because you’ll use your tagline in so many ways.
  • You might also hear it called an elevator pitch, which comes from the world of screenwriting. If a screenwriter gets on an elevator with a hot-shot producer and the producer asks about his latest project, the writer wants to be able to explain AND sell the story, in the time it takes to go to the third floor.  You’ll be more likely to use it in casual conversation with a potential reader, on social media, or as product description for an online retailer.
  • Fiction taglines follow a few rules of thumb. Reference the story’s setting.  Describe your character, rather than use their name. State the main character’s goal, why they want it and what stands in their way.  Non-fiction taglines specify a problem the reader has and how the book will help solve it.
  • Internet Movie Database is a great resource to help you learn the rhythm of taglines, long and short.

Slide 21- Description

  • This is a longer version of your tagline, up to about 150 words. It’s the marketing copy that traditionally went on the back cover of a paperback.
  • Again, this is more about selling your book and enticing readers than it is about 100 percent point-by-point accuracy. As they saying goes, you’re selling the sizzle, not the steak.  If there’s a way to use some buzz-words from your genre into your description, do so.  The description for Shining Through refers to the love interest, Daniil, as a Russian bad boy. Which is he, but bad boy romance is a currently popular sub-genre and Russian bad boys are well represented. So of course, I was going to use that description for my book.
  • For prescriptive non-fiction, use bullet points and a short list of topic headings, as well as action words– learn, discover, increase, etc. to describe how your book will benefit a prospective reader.
  • Knowing what your potential reader is looking for– either in terms of how-to knowledge, or an emotional experience can help you as you show them how your book meets that promise.
  • You can actually go to Amazon and start searching books like your, and look at other terms that come up on the autofill. Jot those down, you’ll be using them when you set up your Amazon account.

Slide 22- Workshop

  • For the rest of our class period, you’re going to be working on descriptions, pitchlines and taglines for your books.
  • A good place to start is by finding books similar to yours and getting a feel for how the descriptions are written.
  • Because it can be easier to write the longer copy first, I suggest you start there, and use that as a starting point for your pitch line and tagline.

Slide 23- Next Steps

  • This coming week, take your project a little further. I’ve listed several ideas for things you could do, so choose whichever fit best with your project and your schedule.
  • We’ll meet back in our regular classroom next week, and I encourage everyone to bring their laptop so we can walk through the process of setting up your Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing account together.
  • I’ll also post my lecture notes on my website.

I’m adding a link to an article you might find interesting. It covers much of the material we went over in Session 1, but it’s a good reference and a starting point for more online research into self-publishing.

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