Dream Chasers is Finished!

There’s been a lot of good stuff going on in my personal and professional life over the last six weeks. That’s an awesome thing, of course, but it means that I’ve had to put off sharing some especially awesome news until now. But the wait is over, and now I’m super excited to announce that my newest book, Dream Chasers: Living in Pursuit of a God-Sized Dream is finally done and will be available for purchase this upcoming Saturday, November 15th!

Dream Chasers Cover

Isn’t it pretty? I have to give a huge thank you to my BFF/SNOO (that’s “Best Friend Forever/Support Network of One” in case you don’t know) Rashada Nunez, who put this beautiful cover together for me. She also served as a sounding board, personal cheerleader, sympathetic ear, and accountability partner through this whole process. What can I say? She’s awesome. Go check out her blog if you have the time. It’s at www.designsbyrashada.com

If you want to check out the book, the kindle edition is available for pre-orders on Amazon now. You can have a look by clicking here!

If you’re curious about the content of the book and you want to catch a sneak peek of the content, you can head over to my twitter page and respond to my latest tweet with the hashtag #amazoncart. Amazon will apparently send you a free sample, which I think is pretty cool.

Ok, that’s all. I’m done with the shameless self promotion. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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Freedom, Cost, and Responsibility

When I first started looking into my publishing options for My Brother’s Keeper, I spent a lot of time reading about the pros and cons of traditional vs. independent publishing. One of the things that surprised me was the vast volume of blogs and articles on the topic of independent publishing as a path to freedom from the tyranny of the evil publishing overlords.

Most of the posts sounded something like this: Big publishers are evil. They don’t care about good books or good writing or good authors. They’re just money making machines. And if they don’t see your book as a money-maker it doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, they’ll never give you the chance you deserve. And even if they do publish your book they’ll give you pennies for every copy sold and keep the rest for their greedy selves. But that’s ok because now I can publish my book myself and prove them all wrong!!!!!

And for many people who choose to independently publish their work, there are certain kernels of truth in statement like this. Many perfectly good books are rejected by publishing houses every day. Publishers make hard decisions about what books to print and what books to reject – and often it comes down to what they think they can sell. But that’s to be expected, because lest we forget, publishing is a business, and as a business it’s end goal is to be as profitable as possible.

That doesn’t make big publishers evil, dictatorial, or cruel. It makes them pragmatic. It makes them capable of surviving in the midst of an industry that is undergoing radical transformation. It makes them smart.

So yes, if you don’t fit into the mold of what’s popular and sellable, then self-publishing may be exactly what you’re looking for – “freedom” from the limitations of traditional publishing. But if you’re going to take the plunge, it is important to acknowledge exactly what this “freedom” really means.

You see, freedom is a tricky thing. The freer you are, the fewer rules and restrictions you are subject to, the greater responsibility you take on to govern and monitor yourself. Because no matter how free you may be, you’re still subject to the consequences of your own actions (not to mention the other “free” individuals with whom you come into contact).

As Americans get ready to celebrate our national Independence Day, we are, essentially, about to throw a giant continent-spanning freedom-party (with BBQ and fireworks and everything!) But I, for one, am thankful that I live in a place and a time where my freedom is not absolute. I have the right to make my own choices, to live and speak and worship as I desire. But I don’t have the right to kill someone or to take what does not belong to me. I don’t have the right to punch a stranger for looking at me weird. I don’t have the right to wander naked through the mall or smoke in a store. There are still laws that I must obey, and police to make sure that those laws are enforced. There is order in my society, rules and regulations, social expectations and cultural norms, and all of those things limit (in small ways and tiny measures) the breadth and depth of my freedoms.

But the self-publishing industry isn’t part of the 21st century world. It’s closer to the old wild west. As indy publishers we are trail blazers, wanderers, adventurers seeking our fortune in places where “societal norms” have not yet settled. That’s a good thing. It gives us freedom. But it can also be a bad thing, because it means that there’s no one policing our choices. There’s no one keeping us out of trouble.

That means that you can produce exactly what you want in whatever manner your choose. You can sell your book for a million dollars or give it away for free. You can create a 500 page tome made entirely of jumbled letters and childlike scribble. You can do pretty much whatever you like, slap a cover on it, and call it a “book”.

You can do any of those things, because you are free; but each choice that you make as a self-published author comes with its own set of consequences.

So before you make the decision to self-publish, you first need to identify your motives and expectations. Are you publishing because there is a message that you want to get out there and you think print-media will help you in accomplishing that goal? Are you publishing because you want to make a career out of writing? Are you publishing because you want to make money? Or are you publishing because you want to finish a written work that has never felt complete as long as it’s sat in manuscript-form in a drawer somewhere?

There are no wrong answers here. You can publish for whatever reasons strike your fancy. Nevertheless, it is still important for you to understand the “why” behind your decision to publish; because that why will dictate exactly how much freedom you have in this process.

You see, you as a self-pubishing author are not the only one with freedom in this equation. The reader – your end user – also has freedom, specifically freedom of choice. You have the right to publish whatever you want and to present it to readers for their enjoyment, but each individual reader has the right to pass over your book without a second glance. So if your motivation for publishing is tied to commercial success, your freedoms are limited by what you can expect your readers to accept.

What does this mean? It means that you need to know what your readers want and like, and then you need to give it to them. You are, of course, free to put a picture of a zombie on the front of your recipe book, or to cover your spy thriller in pink hearts and flowers. But you will then be subject to the free choices of an audience who will quickly and quietly move on to something that looks more like the books they want to read.

You are free to finish a first draft, print it out, mark it with a kiss, and declare your work complete. You are free to argue that the nuggets of gold that are found in your writing more than make up for the 22 typos that can be found in the first chapter, and that no one cares about which version of to/too/two you use in a given sentence. In other words, you are free to publish your unedited, unproofed work. But your readers are then free to write the scathing reviews that come with such shoddy work.

As an independent author you have freedom – more freedom today than perhaps at any other time in our history as writers. However, that freedom comes with responsibilities and consiquences. So if you are serious about your writing, if you want to be treated like a professional, make sure that you’re acting like a professional. Don’t abuse the freedoms you’ve been given. Treat them as something precious and special – something to be treasured – because that’s precisely what they are!

Book Covers – Making Improvements

The beautiful thing about independent publishing is that nothing is ever really set in stone. In today’s digital age, with POD printing made as simple as uploading a PDF of your book onto an idiot-proof website, it’s incredibly easy to fix the little things that pop up as problems after you’ve hit that “publish” button the first time. It’s wonderful to know that you don’t have to live with that typo you just found on page 57 this week. Everyone who’s already bought your book  has to live with it, of course. But you can fix it going forward, and that’s an awesome thing.

The terrible thing about independent publishing, though, is that nothing is ever really set in stone. And if you’re like me, that means that you never really let go. Even after you’ve hit publish, even after your book has sold, you will (from time to time) look back and what you’ve done and think “I know I could make it better.”

That happened to me recently. Actually it’s been happening to me constantly, but just recently I decided that it was time to do something about it.

You see, when I first began this whole journey into independent publishing I realized that all of the research I’d been doing and all of the skills I’d been developing needed a test run. Before I published anything of significance (my first big project was a devotional book for my church, written by one of my pastors, that I absolutely did NOT want to be a disaster), I needed a test run (or two or four). And so I went to the most ready source of writing I had available to me – a blog I’d been keeping for a few years. I pulled together 30 posts that all connected to a central theme, put them together as a short devotional book of my own, and used that work as my lab-rat.

This book (along with two more I later developed in a similar manner) was the experimental creature upon which I tested all of my theories and ideas about bookmaking. It was never specifically meant to be a “seller”. I didn’t plan to make any money off of it. After all, ALL of the content was already available for free on line, if you were willing to dig for it. It was just a way for me to get my feet wet.

The results were … passable. Some things worked, some things didn’t. But the books served their purpose – I learned a lot in the process of making them.  And as time went on and I learned more and more, I went back and fixed or improved upon these three projects.

One of the biggest failings of these books were their covers:

Let’s face it – they’re awful. I’m NOT a designer, and these early attempts are proof positive of that fact. But I wasn’t about to spend money on covers for books that I wasn’t serious about selling. So I picked a theme (bricks, to go with the concept of the narrow way) and did what I could with them.

But now, more than a year later, those covers still bother me. They don’t fit in their genre. They aren’t pretty. They aren’t very readable, and the imagery is muddled at best. They were barely better than white lettering across a colored background. Simply stated, they sucked.

With every other aspect of these books I have gone back to make improvements, to fix, to tweak, and to otherwise make them more appealing. And for months I have looked at these ugly covers and thought “I need to do something. These can’t stay the same.” And finally I was simultaneously shamed and inspired, and so I finally came up with these new and significantly less-sucky covers:

I would call them “new and improved” but that suggests that they’re much much better. The truth is that I’m still not a designer. The type still isn’t as legible as I’d like. Anyone with any design know-how would probably look at them and cringe just a little bit. But they no longer glare at me from the computer screen. They no longer make me want to cry. They’re hardly stunning. But they’re not embarrassing any more. They don’t stick out like sore thumbs in their amazon categories. They’re significantly less awful.

And so this is me, making improvements. And that’s the good thing (and the bad thing) about publishing your own work. You won’t get it all right the first time around. But you don’t have to. Because you always have the opportunity to go back and make things better.

Proof Copies: Do I REALLY need them?

Yes.

We could end it there and call this the shortest blog entry I’ll ever write. But that wouldn’t be much fun, would it?

So let’s talk for a while about WHY you need proof copies of your book.

We’ll start with a few basic presumptions. We’ll presume that you’ve written your manuscript, that you’ve re-written it several times, that you’ve had it edited (hopefully professionally!) and made the necessary changes. We’ll presume that you’re releasing a paperback and that you’re industrious and decided to do the page layout and formatting yourself.

Are we all on the same page? Good.

Given these presumptions, how long would you guess you’ve spent staring at these words on your computer screen, even after you’ve finished writing them? Over the course of your many drafts and edits, how many times have you read over the same words? The answer is many – you have spent many many hours reading the same 70,000 words many times over.

And that, my friend, is the main reason why you need physical proof copies of your book. The problem isn’t that you’re lazy or stupid or sloppy.  You’ve read through every word of your book over and over again to catch even the smallest mistake, but that creates a whole different problem.

You see, the human brain has an incredible capacity to translate actual information to meet its own expectations. Have you ever read that email that gets forwarded around every few years where the letters in the words are all jumbled up, but you can still read it because the first and last letters are in the right place? Or have you ever glanced at a sign quickly and done a double-take because you think it says something wildly inappropriate? On closer examination you will probably discover that the actual words on that sign aren’t what you thought you saw. This happens because our minds work as our own visual Universal Translators (no Trekkies here? Would a Tardis reference be better? … No? oh never mind!) The point is that the brain is very good at taking the mixed up visual data that our eyes capture and fitting it into the empty slots of what we EXPECT to see. It’s a kind of mental shorthand that enables us to understand what is being presented to us even when it is visually incomplete or incorrect.  The more familiar we are with a visual cue (sign, symbol, word, sentence, etc.) the more easily we recognize it, and the less work our brain has to do to translate.

That’s a very handy trait under certain circumstances, like when reading signs on the side of the highway or skimming through your facebook feed.  It’s a lot LESS handy when you’re attempting to do something like proofing your own writing.  The more time you’ve spent on a text, the more familiar you become with it. The more familiar you become with it, the more likely your brain is to implement its handy-dandy visual translation trick when information is incomplete or incorrect.  That’s why you can read a sentence very carefully on more than one occasion and never realize that there’s a word missing.  This is doubly true if you are constantly looking at the information in the same format (in a Word document on your computer screen, for instance).

So how do you trick your brain into turning off this less-than-helpful superpower? The key is to find a way to make the words less familiar. Take them out of the setting that you’re used to seeing them in. Force your mind to actually engage with the text, rather than allowing it to see what it always sees. There are ways to do this before you get to the “proof copy” stage of the book-making game. Printing out your manuscript is one way of doing it.  Putting it in a drawer for a month is another. Both of these ideas work because they take away the familiarity factor. Words on a page read differently than words on a screen. Words that you haven’t seen in a month read differently than words you worked on yesterday.

But let’s say you’ve done that a half-dozen times or so. Do you still need to order a proof copy of your book?

YES

Because this is the only way that you will see exactly what your consumer will see.  And for whatever reason, things that didn’t stand out to you while you were formatting your text or editing your manuscript will become glaringly obvious when you see it in on that magical 6×9 page, held in your hand, and flipped through for the first time.

Let me tell you – I am a meticulous person, and if you’d asked me at the time of submitting my book for printing if I’d needed a proof copy I probably would have laughed. But I ordered a proof copy anyway. And a week or so later, when I received it and read through it, I was SHOCKED at the errors that I found. It wasn’t that there were so many – but they were so blatant, so obvious, that I couldn’t fathom how I’d missed them! There was even one on the first page. How mortifying is that?!?

So if you’re planning on self-publishing your book take my advice – order a physical proof copy before you hit that “publish” button. Believe me, it’s better to wait the extra week or two and find the typos yourself than it is to skip that step and have those typos found by readers. Remember, it only takes one or two glaring errors to convince a reader that they are dealing with an inferior product. And that’s not the impression you’re looking to leave, is it?

Createspace Customer Service: A Horror Story

Here’s the thing, I love Createspace. I love their website. I love how easy it is to get the books printed there onto Amazon. I love their pricing – I mean seriously, you CAN’T beat their pricing. I love their proofing options. I like pretty much everything about Createspace, except for one thing …

Their customer service stinks.

Now I don’t want to scare anyone off of their service, so please read the following story with an understanding that I’m still using Createspace to this day. I’ll probably keep using them for a very long time, even with their crappy customer service. After all, Createspace is an entirely automated system, and 99.9% of the time you don’t need any customer service. But for that 0.1% when you DO need to deal with someone, let this be fair warning:

A few months ago I helped a pastor at my church publish a book. I used Createspace for her project because (as I’d mentioned before) I like them a lot. Originally I ordered her one copy of the book so that she could see the finished product. It turned out beautifully. Then we ordered a batch of 50 so that she could give them to some of the people in the church. Again – we had no difficulty. The books were beautiful. Everything was awesome.

But then demand started to grow – people who weren’t computer savvy wanted to be able to buy copies of the book in the church bookstore. So we ordered another batch of 50. And this time when we got the books the covers were dark, oversaturated, and … well just ugly.

So I went online and found the Createspace customer service page. There was no phone number, but there was a fill-in-the-form-to-send-an-email complaint section. So I used it to send them a message, explaining the problem (including pictures of the original printing of the cover together with the latest batch, so that they could see the difference) and asking why it happened and what could be done about it.

In response I received a generic form email saying that they were sorry to hear about my problem and could I provide them with additional information. I clicked on the link that they included only to discover that it sent me to the exact same fill-in-the-form page that I’d originally used.

I thought it might be a mistake, so I filled in the form again, and explained in my message that this was the second time I was sending it.

The response? The same generic email saying the same thing and sending me to the same page to fill in the same form!

By this time a few days had passed and I was starting to fume. So I filled in the form a third time, and this time I expressed how much this was “NOT OK!” (my exact words). And when (before I received a reply email) I was prompted to complete a survey about my customer service experience, I took advantage of the opportunity to let them know how frustrated I was.

This time my response was from a real human being – a customer support “specialist” who wrote to me in real-human-English as opposed to computer-generated-boilerplate-lingo, and had a name and everything! She apologized for the inconvenience, acknowledged that from the picture I’d sent, it seemed that there was a severe variation in the covers, and then asked me to send her the book id #s from a few of the books in the latest batch so that technical support could look into the problem (“You’ll find it right under the bar code on the very last page of the book” she said).

Now, at this point the books were at the church, and so I had to wait a few days until I could get back there to look.  But that didn’t really bother me, since I finally felt like progress was being made. However, when I finally got one of the books in my hand I was confused to discover that there was no book id, no bar code, nothing at all on the last page.

So the next morning I emailed my customer service representative to explain the problem that I was having and to ask, basically, “what now?” and “am I an idiot or something?” And a few hours later I opened a freshly-received response from Createspace only to find ANOTHER BOILERPLATE EMAIL asking me to fill out that SAME STUPID WEB FORM and requesting PICTURES (remember I sent them with my very first request) and THE BOOK ID#s (which I had just informed them I couldn’t find!).

That’s when I lost it.

And by “it” I mean my patience. And with it my cool, and my ability to remain anything close to calm. I’m pretty sure my response was typed in all caps. I know for a fact that it was scathingly indignant, and generally enraged. It was virtually dripping with distain and general contempt at their utter lack of competence. It wasn’t nice …

So I guess I wasn’t that surprised when I went yet a few more days passed without hearing anything back from them. But this time, when I did there was another (different) actual human person on the other end of the email. This one had apparently done her homework. She actually:

  1. Apologized (again) for the problems
  2. Explained why I didn’t find book IDs (these books were outsourced to a different printer)
  3. Explained that they couldn’t do their normal quality checks because of #2
  4. Offered to ship me 50 new books to replace the dark/ugly ones
  5. Promised that they would do everything possible not to outsource any work from our account again (and therefore hopefully avoid repeating the problem again)

As promised, the new batch of books was shipped – and it was beautiful. So it ended up being a completely acceptable resolution to the problem, but frankly it shouldn’t have taken that much time, frustration, aggravation, or screaming on my end to get there. Because in all honesty, if I have to yell at you to get you to do your job, then really … you’re not doing your job.

Has anyone ever had a similar experience? Have your customer service experiences with Createspace been better? Leave a comment and let me know

Designing Your Book’s Interior: Dos and Donts

OK, this is one of those topics that gets my inner uber-dork all happy and restless and eager to show off its arcane and useless knowledge. Normally she (I’m talking about my inner uber-dork here) is content to sit quietly and let me pretend that I’m a normal person with normal levels of interest in normal things. But then there are days like today, when a topic starts rolling around in my head, one that’s of specific interest to her … and then she quickly gets a little hard to contain 🙂

First let me say, if you’re serious about designing your own book layout you must MUST go and read everything you can from Joel at the Book Designer blog (thebookdesigner.com). Everything I learned, all of those arcane rules that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I learned from him. If you have specific questions on things like copyright, front-matter, back matter, or really ANYTHING regarding the design process, you can probably find the answer in one of his many articles on the topic.

That being said, here are my favorite DOs and DON’Ts of designing your book’s interior:

DO include the appropriate front matter. What is the appropriate front matter? Well, you’ll want a title page (on the right-hand side) and a copyright page (this can be on the left, on the back of the title page) at minimum. Many books will also have a table of contents, an acknowledgements page, a dedication, a foreword, a preface, or something else in that vein before we see chapter one. You can decide for yourself what you need. But the important thing is that you need something.

DO make sure you credit everyone on your copyright page (better safe than sorry – especially when you’re using someone else’s art work on your cover, or quotes from the Bible in your text, for instance)

DON’T mis-number your pages. Page #1 is on your right hand side … always … no matter what.  Open a book right now – where is the first page? It’s on the right. It’s always on the right. If your right-hand pages are evenly numbered, it’s a sure sign that someone didn’t know what they were doing.  It’s ok to be a rookie, but that’s no reason to make rookie mistakes, right?

DO pick a readable font for your text. This is about more than being legible (although that’s important too). What you’re looking for here is a font that encourages the reader’s eyes to keep moving. It should be simple and “ordinary” enough that that you don’t notice it. It should be spaced nicely – you don’t want your book feeling cramped or stretched out because of a poor font choice. Many experts in the field suggest using a serif font like Garamond (as opposed to a san serif font like Ariel) because it draws the eyes ever forward. Many people who know a lot more about this than I do agree that Garamond is a decent starting point. But personally, I find it incredibly difficult to read when italicized, so if you’re like me, and likely to use serious volumes of italics in your text, that’s something you might want to take into consideration.

DON’T format your book like you would format your blog. Words read differently on the printed page than they do on your computer screen. When we write for blogs we are assuming that people are reading on their computers – where discreet chunks of text make scrolling and reading easier, and so we use block styling for our paragraphs (that’s a paragraph that has no indentation at the beginning of the first line, but has spacing between it and the paragraphs before and after it). Books don’t work this way though. People are used to reading books as one continuous piece of text. We’re used to seeing no spacing between paragraphs, and a simple indentation on the first line to indicate a new paragraph has begun. So unless you have a good reason (and I mean a GOOD reason) for using additional spacing between paragraphs, you’re better off sticking to simple indentation and leaving it at that.

**Regardless of whether you choose to use spacing or indentation, under absolutely NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you be using BOTH!

DO give your text room to breathe. This is not a contest to see how many words you can fit on a page. That doesn’t mean you should use 14 point font (normally 10 or 11 is fine). But it does mean that you should consider things like the sizes of your margins, and even your line spacing, when designing your layout. It’s amazing how much more “open” a page can feel when you give yourself a little extra spacing between lines. Remember, reading is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, and if your words are so crammed together that your reader can’t keep his or her place, or if your margins are so small that there’s no room for a reader to actually hold the book … well that gets really un-enjoyable really quickly.

DON’T forget to make this look like a book. You will need to design things like your running headers (that’s the info on the top of your page that tell the reader something useful – like the name of the book or the chapter that they’re in), page numbers, and chapter titles. Remember that they don’t have to be the same font, let alone the same size as the text in the book. This is where you can get creative and give your pages some character. Just make sure that whatever you do is legible, attractive, and fitting for your genre. And if you aren’t sure what’s fitting for your genre, go to the library or your local bookstore and head straight for the shelves you hope to see your book occupying. Open 10 or 20 books and flip through the pages. Look at the design elements used. It won’t be long before you can see patterns emerging.

DO pick a style and stick with it. There are rules you need to follow, but you are creating your own work of art here, so there are also stylistic choices that you will need to make along the way. Just make sure that you’re consistent in those choices throughout the book. Don’t switch fonts for your chapter titles half way through the book. Don’t change how you handle quotes or footnotes or whatever. It can be hard to keep track of these things when you’re formatting hundreds of pages of text, so take notes as you go. Create a cheat sheet, and update it whenever you make a change. It will keep you from making this mistake.

DON’T put anything on your blank pages (no running headers, no page numbers, and certainly no “this page is intentionally left blank” … have you ever seen that in a “real” book?  I don’t think so!) They’re blank for a reason. Leave them that way.

DO remember to make it look pretty. You’re designing this interior. It should look designed. Not overworked, not fussy, but intentional and beautiful.

Was this helpful? Do you have any dos or don’ts of your own that you’d like to share? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you.

Self-Publishing: A 6 Step Overview

It’s amazing to me to think how many people have asked me in recent months to tell them what I know about the self-publishing process. It’s just as amazing for me to realize that just a few years ago I was blissfully ignorant of all of this myself

I remember when I first started looking into the world of self-publishing. The sheer volume of information out there was overwhelming. So, in the hopes of sparing you a little of the tedium and confusion that I went through at the beginning, I’ll be using the next few posts to present a very basic overview of what self-publishing actually entails. Nothing I’m going to say here is new. You can find it a million times over on a thousand different blogs all over the web. But at least here you have a simple, real-world list of what you will need to do …

And just as a word of warning – this one is going to be long. I can’t help it – I’ve always been long winded, and there’s no getting around the sheer volume of information that you need to know, even in a simple overview.

So grab your coffee (or tea, or whatever you’re drinking to stay awake on this lovely Monday morning), and get comfy as I present The Six Steps To Self-Publishing (or whatever).

Step 1: You will need to write a manuscript

I assume that you know what that means. You may not, however, understand what it entails. To write a professional-level manuscript, one that will be taken seriously in a competitive market, you will probably need help. This means finding yourself an editor, or at the very least a proofreader (and no, your genius-mom or bookworm-friend won’t cut it, not unless that’s what they do for a living).

This is the “writing” part of the writing process, and it will take months of your life to see it through. The best advice I can give here is don’t rush it.  Work on it, and keep on working on it until it feels ready. Then let it stew for a few weeks and pull it out and work on it again.

Step 2: You will need to create a book interior

This is not the same thing as writing the book itself. It’s a whole different step. This is about turning the words in your word processor into something that looks like the finished product that you see on the shelves of your local bookstore. In other words, this is the step where you design the interior of your book.

This is when you will need to do things like create a copyright page and a table of contents. You will need to design the layout of the text within the pages, create running headers with page numbers, etc. This kind of design is an art form unto itself, and there are very specific standard practices that you will want to follow in order to make it look “right.” We’ll get into more of that in a later post, but if it’s the type of thing that sets the hair on the back of your neck prickling, this is another one of those steps where you might want to hire professional help (yes, there are professional-grade, freelance book designers out there who do nothing but make the pages in your book look pretty!)

Creating the interior of an e-book, on the other hand, is often a much simpler thing. E-books aren’t static products. The look of a page depends on what kind of file you’re reading and what you’re reading it from. Even things like font sizes aren’t etched in stone, so much of the “prettifying” that’s necessary in a paper book becomes moot when you create an ebook.

You won’t be creating headers or worrying about text layout. You will, however, need to make sure the correct front-matter (copyright info, etc.) is there, but then it’s just about formatting the file in a way that will work well with whatever e-book converter you are going to use.  Again, we’ll get into more of that some other day.

Step 3: you will need to create a cover.

A book cover needs to contain some basic information (the title author’s name, etc.). It needs to be attractive and compelling – which means it needs to follow some basic rules of graphic design. It should be easy to read (it is especially important that it remains readable at thumbnail size, since that’s how most people will be viewing it if they’re buying the book on line). It also needs to be simple and uncluttered. And finally, it should conform to the expectations of your readers.

What does that mean? That means that they should be able to tell, by looking at your cover, what kind of genre the book fits into. In other words, you shouldn’t put a cartoon unicorn on your memoir or a creepy photo of a swamp on your collection of humorous essays. You want your book to find the right readers, and your cover should confirm to them that this is the book they want to read. It shouldn’t confused or annoy them.

*** Cover design is another complex area where you might want to find a professional to hire. Keep in mind that book cover design is a specialty of its own within the larger “design” world, so you would benefit from hiring someone who’s familiar with the field.

Step 4: You will need to pick a printer

For self-publishers this normally means using a Print on Demand (POD) printing service. To use a POD service, you create a PDF of your book file, and then upload it into their system. Then, any time someone orders a copy of your book, they print a single copy. There are several services out there that are widely used, reliable, and relatively easy to navigate. I use createspace.com because they’re cheap and because they make it super-easy to get your books onto Amazon. Other good POD options include lightningsource.com and lulu.com

The other printing option available to you is called “Offset Printing.” This is the printing process that big publishers use. It’s high quality, and in large print runs it’s significantly cheaper than POD as well. The problem with Offset Printing (for the self-published author) is that you need to print many (think at least 1,000) books in one shot. Most of us can’t afford that, and unless you’re a public speaker, pastor of a large church, magazine editor, or someone else with a large sphere of influence and the expectation that you will definitely SELL all 1,000 of your books, it’s normally not worth the hassle.

Step 5: You will need to publish.

This is the point in the process where all the bits and pieces come together to make a book that people can find and read. If you are using a POD distributor, this is the easy step. Createspace (the POD printer I use) is so user-friendly that it’s almost impossible to screw up the process.

In order to publish you will need an ISBN. If you are using Createspace (or many other POD publishers) you can get a free ISBN from them. This means that Createspace (or whomever) will be listed as the publisher of record. That doesn’t hurt you in any way or take any of your rights away as the author and owner of the work.  So if you are planning on selling primarily on line or in person (aka – not through book stores) feel free to take advantage of the freebee.

In order to publish you will also need to pick the size and type of book you want to create. Of course, you have already figured this out during the design process (because otherwise how would you know what size the cover and the interior pages needed to be, right?) so it’s just a matter of selecting the appropriate option.

This is also the point where you will set your price, pick your genre, enter a description, etc.  But once you’ve walked your way through these steps (there are more, I’m just skipping over the less pertinent, mostly because they’re self -explanatory and somewhat idiot-proof) and uploaded your interior and cover files to the publisher, you can hit the pretty little “publish” button, and off your book goes to be made available for purchase! If you use Createspace, your book will automatically show up on Amazon in a few hours or days.

Step 6: You will need to market your book

I should probably have put this first, because marketing is one of those things that should be started months before your book goes live. You will need to know who your target readers are and develop a strategy on how to read them.

How do you reach them? It’s impossible for me to say, because so much depends on who they are. But it’s very important that you do reach them, because as good as your book may be, it’s never going to sell itself. It’s only going to find its audience if you get involved in the introduction process.