I made the announcement on Twitter and on the main page of my website: ‘The Anomaly Problem,’ a science fiction novel, the thing over which I labored for years, is coming out on September 9th, 2016. I will be self-publishing the novel, a plan that is not without risk. Since the announcement, a few people have asked why I’m self publishing. I think I’ll save the “why” for another time. Instead, I want to talk about “how.”
To start with, let me say this: if I were to stick with the original plan of traditional publishing, I wouldn’t need to think about most of this stuff. Publishers have people, teams, to handle these things. The self-published author has to think about and execute all of this stuff him- or herself. It’s a lot of responsibility, and a lot of work.
Of course, you can pay someone to do most of this stuff. Book designers, editors, cover designers. But I’m too, shall we say, frugal, to pay someone for things I can probably do myself. I’ve got plenty of mediocre repair jobs around the house to prove it. So what follows is my process so far with getting ‘The Anomaly Problem’ to readers.
It isn’t enough to just write a book, not if you’re self-publishing. A book isn’t just words on a page. Those pages have to be designed, then printed, then bound into something a person can hold and read.
Before any of that, the book has to be looked over, scrutinized, the spelling and grammar fixed, the plot holes closed up, the dialogue tightened up. This is the only thing I would be willing to pay someone for, to get more eyes on my manuscript. Ultimately, I have the final say over what actually goes into the book. But the feedback from the owners of those eyes can be invaluable. This step, then, requires an author to put away their ego. As Marecellus Wallace said in Pulp Fiction: “Fuck Pride. Pride only hurts. It never helps.” A few years ago, I never would’ve taken this step. I would’ve let myself believe that my writing is perfect, beyond reproach. With age comes wisdom, I suppose.
And that process led to some fantastic results. I can’t thank the people who read my manuscript enough.
Once I’ve got a manuscript I like, it’s time to design the interior of the book. Since I want ‘The Anomaly Problem’ to be available in print, this step is a bit different from what I’m used to. A text file on the screen can be resized, the font changed, all of that stuff. The printed page is static. It’s a dead tree with ink on it. And it will endure, so I want it to look good. I imagine my book being found by scavengers after the world goes to shit and someone trading it for a box of ammo and some canned ham. If the book doesn’t look professional, it won’t be worth anything, and the scavengers will burn it for heat.
And I can’t have that.
Luckily, my book isn’t terribly complex in terms of style. I can use Microsoft Word to design it. If it had images, crazy font and formatting changes, things like that, I’d use something like Adobe InDesign, which is a bit on the pricey side, but would be worth it if I needed the power. There’s also Scribus, which is free. I tried using it for ‘The Anomaly Problem,’ but it kept crashing. I would recommend a properly-configured Linux system to run Scribus, not Windows 10, even though it’s supposed to work for Windows. I don’t have time to putz around with janky software, so I scrapped that idea. Microsoft Word may not be perfect, but it’ll work. And I already own it, so it fits right in with my frugality.
With the interior in progress, I turn my attention to the cover (the image above is not the cover). Here, I find myself in mirky waters. You know that old saying “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”? I’ve always taken that to heart. I’ve never even considered the cover when picking a book. Why bother? It’s usually just some marketing team’s creation anyway. And then they go and change covers for different editions. What a mess.
So I blanked on the cover. Despite some high-level, alcohol-fueled brainstorming sessions, I was coming up empty. How do I distill the book down to a single image? And how do I execute that image?
I spent a lot of time overthinking the cover, and I got nowhere. So I stepped away from it a bit. And I had an epiphany: keep it simple. I boiled it down to a number. Four. I’ve got four protagonists in ‘That Anomaly Problem.’ So why not make an image with four panels? A quadriptych. Each panel will be a simple image pertaining to one of the protagonists. I think it’ll work, and work well. It’ll be a mixed-media image, combining 3D graphics with digital photography. I’ve been doing 3D modelling since high school. Probably could’ve gotten a job doing it. Oh well. And in keeping with my whole frugality thing, I’m using Blender, which is free but INSANELY powerful. If you have any interest in 3D modeling, check it out. There are a ton of tutorials and a great community behind it. I plan on posting a behind-the-scene video documenting the creation of the cover, so stay tuned for that.
Once the inside’s done and the cover’s done, what’s next? Someone’s gotta print it and sell it. For this, I’ve turned to the biggest name in the (selling) business, Amazon. Their CreateSpace platform is perfect for me, because I need to do very little in terms of logistics. They print, they ship, they collect payment, and I get filthy rich. They take care of all the little things. Right now, I’ve got no less than three other novels I’m trying to write. That’s where I want my brain. I’ve got enough of a mind for business to avoid getting completely screwed, so I’m not worried about Amazon taking so much control. I’ve read the fine print, and you should too. And if you’re at all doubtful about the terms, get yourself some counsel. Me, I can decipher most of that crap, and I can bounce it off my wife, who has a better mind for lawyer-speak. The point is: you should know EXACTLY what you’re getting into with printers and publishers. Don’t assume you’re a smarty-pants with all the answers. Get some help with it. There’s no shame in asking for help.
Once all that’s done, there’s only one thing left to consider: marketing. If I share my marketing strategy on here, it’ll limit its effectiveness. But I don’t plan on spamming my blog, or my Twitter account. I don’t like that crap. I repeat: I will NOT spam my blog or Twitter account. That’s a promise.
I do plan on keeping my followers up-to-date with my progress. I really want this to work, and I want to share the whole crazy ride with the world. If I succeed, my success can help others. If I fail miserably, the world can learn from my mistakes.
I can live with that.