A New Learning Curve
Reposted from "The Writers in Residence" on June 8, 2022
Unlike many of my colleagues, including several Writers in Residence, I’m a novice at self-publishing. My first two novels were published by the late, great Champlain Avenue Books (CAB), but they’ve closed up shop—which means those books are no longer available, not online, not in bookstores, not anywhere except in the boxes stashed in my linen closet.
It has therefore fallen to me to get those books back out into the world for people to find and—I hope—buy or at least read.
As I embarked on this journey, the best advice I received is this: “get professional help,” and they didn’t mean psychotherapy (although that may be necessary on down the road.) I took that advice and enlisted the wonderful Paula Johnson to guide me, answer questions, tolerate my whining—oh, and design the cover and format the manuscript for uploading to print and e-book formats. Thanks to Paula’s hard work (and a little of my own), it looks as if Mending Dreams, my very first published novel, will be resurrected later this month, first as an e-book and eventually in print as well.
Even with a pro steering me through this, I’ve had to manage some issues myself and make a few decisions. CAB really spoiled me—all I had to do was write the book and turn it over to them. But now …
First came the cover image. Paula sent me ideas for a basic concept, and I found an image I liked, which Paula then massaged and added the text. Here it is.
Yep, it’s a radical departure from the First Edition cover, and I confess that neither Paula nor I loved-loved-loved the image itself. However, it does speak to the heart (pun intended) of the story, it’s eye-catching, and it will tell the potential reader/buyer what kind of story this is.
This is an important consideration when choosing a book cover, as Miko Johnston observed in her recent post here.
Once the cover was set, and before we could proceed with formatting the manuscript, I had to manage those business issues. Fortunately, the copyright I registered for the first edition still applies, but I had to procure new ISBN numbers for both formats, plus an LCCN number. Those initials, as you probably know, stand for International Standard Book Number and Library of Congress Control Number respectively. The former is your book’s unique identifier, which you can purchase from Bowker. Some self-publishing platforms will offer to provide them for free (they’re not cheap!), but I wanted my own so I could take it with me to other platforms in the future if I wanted. And you don’t absolutely-positively need one for an e-book, but I went that route because I’m just a total control freak. The LCCN number tells libraries or any other interested party specifically where your book is located within the hallowed halls of the Library of Congress. Registration is free, although the website isn’t the most user-friendly, but they were quick to give me a provisional number, which will become official only when I send them a copy of the published print book. An LCCN number is not mandatory, but if ever I hope to get my book into libraries, I need one.
Paula did a fine job formatting both the print manuscript and the e-book, which I then had to read over for any weird section or line breaks and other things like that. In theory I only needed to scan the files because the text itself was straight from my triple-proofread manuscript, but that process wasn’t as easy as I expected. This was mostly because I got caught up in reading the text, and there were times when I came on sections where I went, “Wow, I don’t remember writing that!” In the end, I found very little to correct.
I learned a couple of new terms during this process: “Front Matter” and “Back Matter.” They are just what they sound like.
Front Matter comprises the title page and the copyright page, where those pesky numbers are shown, along with the usual copyright notice and typically a disclaimer about this book being a work of fiction, etc., plus any credits or dedication you want to include.
Back matter is where you place any Acknowledgements and the author bio. And here’s where professional help’s value is evident. Paula suggested I include some book club-type questions AND an excerpt from Write My Name on the Sky, my second novel. She also included my website url and a request for reviews at the end of the bio. These are things that would never have occurred to me.
The final touch is the back cover, where I put a short summary of the story that, with any luck, will entice a prospective reader to open the book and read more. It helps to have one or two “blurbs” by published authors, praising my book, and my good friend G.B. Pool stepped up and wrote a lovely blurb for the back cover of Mending Dreams. “You gotta have friends.” So true!
I’m still traveling along that learning curve. Next stop: distribution—how to get the book into readers’ hands. There’s a dizzying array of options, and I think I’ve narrowed the choices down. But that’s another story, for another day.
The bottom line is this: yes, it’s a lot of work to publish your own books. It’s scary and sometimes confusing. But for a control freak like me, it’s also exhilarating. And I want to emphasize that the path I’ve chosen is not for everyone. Many of my colleagues have gone the self-publishing route totally on their own, with great success. Several of them have shared their experiences, as well as tips for my own adventure—along with support and encouragement. However, such skills as I have are verbal, not visual. For a novice self-publisher like me, having a partner has made the journey less confusing, and I know the end result will prove I made the right choices.
Good luck on your own publishing journey, however you go about it, and thanks for reading.
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This blog features new entries plus "encore" presentations of guest posts from years past.