The process starts with a book that is finished, and edited to perfection.
You're sure of several things:
- The research on which the fiction or non-fiction narrative is based is beyond reproach;
- The style in which the book is written is appropriate to the material;
- The spelling, punctuation and grammar are all spotless;
- There's a decent market for this kind of book (doesn't have to vast, just viable);
- You're tired of waiting for publishers and agents who're not going to cooperate;
- You have the time and energy to learn how to publish and market yourself;
- You have a few hundred dollars, minimum, to invest.
A good place to begin is with the image in your mind's eye. How do you SEE the book? Because every part of the process, from design to printing to marketing, will be your shot to call! You're the publisher now -- as clearly distinct from the writer.
So we'll take a quick look at the job of publishing as a whole, before we look in-depth at the process via which you'll turn your manuscript into a book.
It’s no accident that “coffee table monsters” from the major publishing houses look as if they’ve been designed by a team of computer geeks who also have degrees from a fine art college. The art and craft of the page designer encompasses both of these fields: the team (or individual) responsible for laying out professionally-published books will begin with a concept ... a sketch in coloured pencils or inks ... and then the magic happens in the computer.
Perhaps you can’t expect to be quite up to the task of laying out the Encyclopedia Britannica on the desktop, but most of the techniques are within the reach of self-publishers, and your self-published book need not look plain.
It all begins with a clear idea in your mind: what is the book going to LOOK like? When you're flying solo (not working with a vanity, subsidy or joint venture outfit) no one can decide for you how things are going to appear. People can help with their advice, or provide clipart, photos, fonts and so on, but the bottom line -- the decisions about what goes where, and how big, and what colour -- all this is down to the publisher. And that’s you.
Don’t underestimate the job you’ve taken on. It’s complex, and there’s a learning curve! The trick is to enjoy the process of learning. You’ll find ways to unleash your creative nature which you might not have previously imagined. The craft of laying out a book is just as artistic, and almost as demanding, as the craft of writing and illustrating the book.
In fact, when you’ve decided to be a self-publisher, you’ve made a commitment: you’re about to make yourself a Jill (or Jack) of All-Trades. You must be...
- The writer, without whom no book would ever make it into print
- The editor, without whom every book will be rough around the edges
- The proofreader, without whom every book will be strewn with errors
- The illustrator, without whom no book would have pictures; or
- The executive in charge of choosing the artwork, which is just as important
- The layout designer, without whom every book would look like a manuscript!
- The marketing and sales department, without whom all books would be pulped...
To master the above suite of skills will take time. When you're ready to publish, however, the hardest jobs are already behind you. If you've developed into a good, solid writer with excellent editing skills, the task of learning book design on the desktop is easy by comparison.
There are rules to learn and follow ... and you'll need the right software. Relax: it's inexpensive these days, and although there's a learning curve, recent software systems are better designed and very intuitive, designed to be user friendly.
Book design -- the rules to learn and stick to -- is the topic of the next post in this series: we're going to go hands on. Be on the mailing list, or subscribe via RSS, and stay up to date!
Last chance to chicken out: be sure!
Still, self-publishing is a huge step, a massive decision to make -- be sure you want to go this way! You’ve tried to make contact with agencies in New York and London, and drawn a blank. You’ve moved heaven and earth, and invested a ridiculous amount of money in mailing out reading copies of your manuscript. Perhaps you got as far as a publisher reading and liking your work, only to have it subsequently trashed by the “reader” to whom it was passed.
The who? After an editor at one of the major publishers has read and liked your (for example) fantasy novel, your manuscript will be passed on to a fantasy-specialist reader, who is an at-home booklover who gets paid by the company to read genre works and tell the publisher if, in his or her estimation, this is a good novel.
Now you get to the subjective part of the process. A fantasy reader who loves Tolkien above all authors may easily have very little patience with Conan the Barbarian, and a million-copy money-spinner will be rejected out of hand. A reader to whom the epitome of SF is the technical reality of Arthur C. Clark may have no patience with tongue-in-cheek space opera, and yet space opera is an evergreen among SF fans. Your book is rejected right here, though the editor liked it. The editor has just been told the book is “not good fantasy,” or “not good SF,” and a rejection letter will be issued. Some purportedly conciliatory encouragement may be included, along the lines of “The writer is promising and should be encouraged to continue.” (As an experiment, a professional writer with eight published novels under his belt put this system to the test and received exactly this response!)
Having drawn a blank everywhere, and yet still having faith in your work, you’ve decided to self-publish. You’ve already climbed the learning curves associated with writing ... editing ... copy-editing ... proofreading. You’ve looked into marketing: where you can find people to buy your book, and how many of them there are. You know the sales are out there.
It's time to talk to a printer.
You’ve reached a threshold where the worlds of the publisher and the printer meet, like the meniscus between air and water.
In today’s digital world, the line where printer and publisher meet can often blur in both directions, and eBooks complicate the issue even further: publishers “print to software,” even though there is no printing process ... neither is there a bookstore!
If you’ve made the decision to self-publish, it is time to talk to a printer; but before you do, enter into the scene with a clear idea of what a printer is, and what the printshop does; and what kinds of printshops are out there. Some can help you ... some can’t. Some will cost you an arm and a leg, others will save you and your project.
Next: we go hands on, and turn that manuscript of yours into a book!