Fiction / My Books

Self-Publishing Woes: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

TheTruthBJust in time for the holidays, my book finally came online. I purchased about 20 myself to give out as gifts and to use to pitch to local booksellers (not to mention reviewers).

So, imagine my distress when I heard yesterday that there’s a duplicate paragraph in the “final” book. The only good thing about hearing this is that it was from my sister, who had previously sworn not to read the book due to its content. While I was glad she decided to pick it up, I was mortified that the book was going out with this big mistake in the first chapter.

If you have all the money in the world, you don’t really need to worry about these problems; you can hire a team of professionals to do the hard work for you. However, if you’re on a budget, you will be doing most of your own heavy lifting in getting your book from digital copy to print.

I’ve been wanting to do a post on the how of self-publishing, so I guess today is the day. Learn from my mistakes, would-be authors, and perhaps you will have far less frustration than I have had!

I opted to self-publish through Amazon and Create Space. E-books aside, Create Space offered the most economical route to self-publishing. It’s essentially free. However, whether by their design or just my bad luck, I had a lot of trouble laying out the book itself. Create Space offers a layout service “starting at $249,” but I didn’t want to begin my foray into publishing by going into debt.

Here are some key tips for laying out your own book. Hopefully they will avoid you getting in the situation I’m in with a book that is still not ready to be read.

1. Choose a standard size for your published book and make sure the margins account for binding

This actually didn’t trip me up, because Create Space offered several options that would be considered a standard publishing format, including the extra margin space. I selected 6″x9″ trade paperback for a literary fiction novel. Save 8-1/2″ x 11″ for your dissertation submission.

2. Use a small font and justify

When I first laid out the book, I was going from a writer’s perspective: Writers are recommended to submit manuscripts with a 12-point font. However, if you actually pick up a standard published book, fonts are much smaller (8-9 point). A large font just doesn’t look right. In addition, writers don’t justify their paragraphs; it’s harder for an agent or publisher to read, but readers of a published work instinctively expect the paragraphs to be justified. A large font and left align will look amateurish (and it took me three hard copy proofs before I figured out what was “wrong” with the book’s appearance… the font!).

3. Make sure your word processing settings aren’t making your job harder

This was a huge problem for me. For whatever reason (my stupidity? Create Space’s template?), when I cut and pasted my text from my Word program into the 6″x9″ template, my page and line breaks went all wonky. I ended up cutting and pasting to correct for this, forcing line breaks mid-paragraph. This is probably how the aforementioned double paragraph happened.

Because I was using the new template, I simply assumed the problem was there. What I now know is that Word has two settings that need to be unchecked (i.e. turned off). If you select the paragraph tab, you get the option for “Line and Page Breaks.” Make sure “Keep with next” and “Keep lines together” are unchecked. And while you’re in that interface, you probably want to make sure “Don’t hyphenate” is checked.

4. Use proper headers and footers

Again, I had a lot of difficulty with this. I consider myself a Word expert, but I honestly could not figure out my headers: One should be the title of your book and the other should be the author’s name. Also, you don’t want a header on any page that begins a new chapter, meaning you technically need a third “no header” header. Because I couldn’t figure out how to do three different headers (I found the option in Word but it didn’t “stick”), I ended up using text boxes. If you decided to go that route (I don’t recommend it), make sure that you put them in only after you’re 100 percent sure you don’t need to make any edits and fix them to the margin, not paragraph so that they don’t move around on you!

Assuming you are doing name/title at the top and page number at the bottom, you’ll also be dealing with a footer. Regardless of whether the page number is in header or footer, you want to make sure your page numbers are at the margin. That means that your odd pages (on the right-hand side as you read) have the page number at the right margin; even pages have the number at the left margin.

5. Speaking of pagination… Make sure your pages start where they’re supposed to

When you are uploading your book, you really want to have four pages before your work begins (meaning your first page is actually page 5): the title page, either a blank page or copyright/ISBN info, a dedication page, and a blank page after the dedication page. I’m italicizing for emphasis because in my very first proof, I forgot the blank page, meaning my first page of text was on the left-hand side of the book. The good news is that you don’t have to worry about the last page of the book, because you’ll get a blank page if you end on an odd note.

6. Splurge on the cover

Unless you are a graphic designer or A-level photographer, chances are you won’t have the wherewithal to create a great cover. Beg, barter and (no, not steal) plea to get a decent cover. Hopefully your work is truly “reader ready,” in which case, send the document to a graphic designer who you think is a good fit. If you are very talented and very lucky, you may find a designer who believes in your work (I did, she’s here!) and gives you a discounted rate. Even on a strict budget, you want someone to crack open that cover. They won’t if it looks like shite. (A great resource for getting started on finding cover art is this set of links.) You also may need to spring for a headshot (I didn’t… next book!), and don’t forget to put your price on that cover. You don’t necessarily need to put the Canadian equivalent (unless you’re selling in Canada), but you want to have a baseline price, even if you decide to discount it later on.

Which book are you more likely to read? (The same text inside but professional outside on the right.)

Which book are you more likely to read? (The same text inside but professional outside on the right.)

7. Pay for the paper proof

At the end of all of this, you’ll want the paper proof, not the online proof. Do as I say and not as I do, and reread your final “final” proof, even if you’ve forced yourself to reread your book 55 times! Get a reader with a keen eye for detail to go through it, as well. Beta readers are great for content/clarity, but they aren’t your need at this point. You need your 10th grade English teacher… or the kid who was the editor of the school paper. Or an out of work journalist who—ideally—wants to help you (maybe you can work out a trade with another writer and offer to proof his/her work in exchange). And the more time you allot for this, the better. Otherwise, you’ll be paying for express mail to get the paper proof shipped.

Why is any of this important? Because the best written book in the world will not be well received if it doesn’t look professional. I spent hours (and dollars paying for the proof and shipping and 20 books that have errors!) laying out and proofing this book, because I know it’s a great book. You want readers to read your work. The worst thing that can happen is that no one reads it not because the writing is crap but because the book reeks of amateurism.

And now I’m off to follow my own tips and lay out the book once more. Hope to see it corrected in the New Year!

9 thoughts on “Self-Publishing Woes: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

  1. Writing a book is not in my plans, but if it were I would value this information. Good of you to share what you have learned.

    • I’ve learned from N’s experience that you aren’t helping yourself by not helping others. I’m sure there’s info like this elsewhere, but it can be hard to find. Not everyone makes the same mistakes, but this should help others avoid making mine! 🙂

  2. Awesome tips. I’m just about done with all the formatting, cover, etc. and am planning for a release in January. One thing I found useful in the formatting department, was to create a “nuked” version of my manuscript. I’m not sure if I saw that suggestion on CreateSpace or somewhere else. Basically cut your ms from word and paste it into notepad, which strips all the word formatting. Then, back into word and add only the formatting you want. Of course, I’ve already tweaked my nuked “final” several times. Even found some more wrong word errors. Someone needs to invent a checker for that. 🙂

  3. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It is very kind of you to share your wisdom gained from experience and help the rest of us on our way.

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