Self-Publishing 101

The nuts and bolts of doing it your way

I occasionally get invited to lunch by folks who want to pick my brain about self-publishing. My busy schedule notwithstanding, I usually graciously accept, since no one else ever invites me to lunch. Plus, who needs three naps a day?

My hosts presumably think I am an expert on the subject because I have self-published 16 thrillers and mysteries on Amazon (plus assorted omnibus editions containing some of those books). The truth is, once you have self-published one or two books, the process is like riding a bicycle.

(That’s not to say the writing of the books is easy. That is more akin to falling off a bicycle, repeatedly, onto a bed of spikes.)

My books are available solely on Amazon. Its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform is exceedingly user-friendly and has about 70 percent of the market. Other e-publishers (Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google, and Apple) have their own systems, with varying degrees of user difficulty, none insurmountable for the computer-literate.

And if you use Smashwords, one of the innovators in the business, much of the work is done for you. Once your book is on the Smashwords site, it will automatically migrate to any of the other sites you specify. The payouts are slightly different, because Smashwords takes a small cut, but if your book is a hit, it won’t make a noticeable difference.

I use KDP because I also have my books in the Kindle Select program. The advantages: free and discount promotions, and payouts for books in the Kindle Unlimited universe, where readers pay a monthly fee to read enrolled books. The disadvantages: You are locked in for a three-month period, and your books can’t be on any other e-publishing platform.

Now to the nitty-gritty.

(These hints are primarily for novels. Nonfiction books, with tables of contents, annotations, bibliographies, etc., are a whole different ballgame. Smashwords provides a great instruction book you can download; Amazon and the rest also provide extensive help.)

Okay, let’s start.

First off, you must write a book. No getting around that. Then, you must have it edited. You cannot just throw 60,000 words out there full of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors. (Although sometimes grammatical errors are intentional; more on this later.)

Just about everyone, of course, self-edits. But the problem is that when we read our own writing, we tend to fill in words when they are missing, and miss mistakes because our brain tells us what we want to see, especially in action scenes.

An example: The killer shot him three times the chest. Now, I know you spotted that the “in” was missing, but in a long paragraph that you are self-editing, I bet you would read write past the mistake. And, of course, most spell-check programs can’t differentiate between like-sounding but correctly spelled words. (Did you catch the “write” for “right” two sentences ago?)

I have three or four “beta” readers edit my books. They are not professionals, and I pay them in pastries and Scotch. So far, their health is holding up, although I think they list me as a “pre-existing condition” on their insurance forms.

I just sent my next book to one of them, and she sent back a list of so many typos that I think I must have drunk some of the Scotch while I was writing. Another reader/editor will give me her copy soon. I guarantee she will find as many, if not more mistakes — many of them different. I will make the changes and then re-read the manuscript. I bet I find a couple everyone missed.

Typos are like WWII bombers: They always get through. I just found one in the paperback edition of Hard Evidence, a traditionally published, professionally edited John Lescroart hardcover bestseller. Which probably means no one caught it since the first edition in 1993. And I once found a typo in a James Bond novel that is older than some of the stuff in my fridge, which moves around on its own.

So, either find a stable of “beta” editors who like you or your pastries, or hire a professional. I did not go the professional route. That can be costly, especially when you turn out two or three books a year, as I do.

And you have to be careful with editors. There are “content” editors, who will critique style and structure, and “line” editors, who are only interested in grammar and typos. Since I’m an egotistical sort and like my own style, my editors (who have bought into that style, bless them) are the latter. I rarely disagree with them, since they know that when I use curses, ethnic slurs, and other horrible words and phrases, they’re coming out of the mouths of my characters, usually villains. They also know that I try to use vernacular and slang when appropriate — like “gonna” for “going to.”

Believe it or not, a few people who leave reviews of my books on Amazon don’t get that and excoriate me for bad grammar, even when it’s intentional. I bet they are English teachers. If I run into them, they’d probably rap me on the knuckles with a ruler. (My teachers in elementary school, nuns, did that. I loved those nuns.)

After you are happy with your manuscript, add front and back matter. To see what looks appropriate for front matter, get an e-book sample online. Amazon, for one, lets you read the beginning of a book for free. As for back matter, just add a link to whatever site the book is on so people can leave a review. Links to your other books, if any, also go in the back. And if there is more than one book, attach a first chapter to entice readers to buy other books.

Covers: Google free online tutorials to show you how to make your own; Amazon (and others, probably) have easy-to-use cover-making software, or you can buy covers for less than $100.

Final hint: Since you will probably go on Amazon (remember: 70 percent of the market) whether or not you use it exclusively, invest in a Kindle or put a Kindle app (free) on your computer, and then email your finished and formatted manuscript to your dedicated Kindle email address (Amazon gives you one). Then you can see how your book will look to readers.    

Lawrence De Maria, once a Pulitzer-nominated New York Times reporter, has his 17th self-published novel, an Alton Rhode mystery, coming out momentarily, unless someone asks him to lunch, in which case there will be a slight delay, depending upon the wine. His books are available at ST. AUSTIN’S PRESS (BOOKS BY DE MARIA)

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