Tag Archives: self-publishing

Do self-published authors owe other SPAs?


On this blog – and in comments – and on Facebook…, I am constrained by the available options for text and emphasis and images.

I live quite happily between the limits imposed by the constraints, find my own way of doing what I need to do (most of the time) so I can write the way I prefer.

And, as a member of various online groups, come into contact with other authors.

On occasion, we will exchange or list our book titles with/for each other, and I will see what choices someone slowly becoming a friend has made in self-publishing, from cover to content to interior book design.

And then the hard part comes: if I see potential that is not realized fully because of relatively small, benign problems, I am, mother-hen-like, pulled strongly toward saying something, making a small suggestion that would improve, IMNVHO (in my not very humble opinion) their work.

Their PUBLISHED work.

Who am I to make recommendations?

Someone who has read an enormous number of books – and has self-published exactly ONE so far.

Someone who went into excruciating detail in preparing Pride’s Children PURGATORY to look as good as the best traditionally published work (limited by Amazon and their paperback POD (publish on demand) capabilities), and, of course, my own learned-in-time skills, and spent months getting the ‘look and feel’ of the paperback, and the look of the ebook, to my own standards.

Someone who took a lot of advice from people who would give it.

And who rejected gobs more from people I didn’t end up respecting for their opinions.

Traditional publishing is not mine to condemn

Because, although every one of my opinions had been informed by what I’ve had to deal with in READING those books, I have no control over their choices, nor do I crave any.

Things such as tiny text on the page, double-spaced, surrounded by huge amounts of white space, and with a gutter so narrow you have to break the spine to read the words that edge it.

Or as pale gray text.

Or as fonts (leave that one alone).

Or… (insert here the things you hate the most about traditionally-published books that seemed deliberately designed to make it hard to read).

But self-publishing has an image problem

We are accused – and all SPAs are tarred with the same brush – of being, well, crap.

We are assumed to not be able to find a traditional publisher who will takes us on, regardless of the small to non-existent advances, predatory contracts, miserly royalties, accounting mysteries, and complete lack of control that we are pretty sure we’d have to live with if we tried.

And, unfortunately, I have to agree with a lot of the complaints (again, regardless of the fact that much traditionally-published material is of poor quality itself).

So what should I DO?

The question crops up almost every time I read an SPA’s work (and buy, usually because I’d like to find out how the story ended, and the price is usually quite reasonable (<$10) if you buy an ebook, compared to the ridiculous prices for traditional ebooks): do I say anything?

To the author, directly, in an individual and gently-worded email which he or she can peruse – or not – in PRIVACY.

Should I couch it in ‘best practices’ language?

Should I include a copy of something with some of their particular awkwardnesses minimized (including, but not limited to, a piece of their own work)?

Should I point to an example that I consider ‘correct’ and make a comparison?

Because what I DO do, is to never buy a book from them again.

And never (okay, once so far) recommend their book.

IOW, leave them in their happy ignorance of my elevated standards and practices, happy in their own devices, which probably include… what?

Intelligent authors make unintended or misguided choices

There are basically three explanations:

  • they don’t know
  • they know and don’t care
  • they know – but have no clue how to fix the problems

And may or may not appreciate a busy-body telling them.

But lack of quality affects many things down the chute from just writing the damn thing: read-through, recommendations, reviews, and ultimately the ability to write fiction profitably.

I have kept my mouth shut – so far

Figuring nobody appointed me standard-bearer.

Figuring that as long as I monitor my own work, I’m doing the most that I should.

Except that that niggling perception among many readers that self-published work is crap affects ME. And I have to work very hard to distance myself from the crowd when trying to persuade a reviewer to read MY stuff.

So I’m throwing this out there to see what my readers think:

  • Should I try to improve the breed? Or
  • Should I try to make sure the readers I want think of me as a good outlier?

And should I ever use my own pretty work as an example when interfering in other writer’s God-given right to make their own choices?


Formatting with Word following Scrivener requires nerves of steel

Chapter One sample pageIT’S LATE, BUT I’M WINNING THE PAPER WAR!

Here I am, 2:20 A.M. the night before Thanksgiving (a holiday we celebrate by making homemade pizza, one per customer, exactly as required – and which will not be shared), having reached a good place in the battle to turn Scrivener’s .doc output into a pdf for a POD at CreateSpace, the next step in the publishing journey.

Software Tools determine workflow

I HAVE Scrivener, and I HAVE Word. I know how to use them, more or less, and I am still hooked on the general plan of keeping only ONE master file in Scrivener, and producing the various output formats from there WITHOUT changing anything but the front and back matter (ebooks generally get a shorter version, print books get the full glorious everything).

[That reminds me – don’t forget the ISBN – it has to go on the back cover and the Copyright page.]

Anyhoo, Scrivener, plus a tiny bit of assistance from TextWrangler and an epub unzip/zip Applescript (in my one-click method of producing epubs, which then get folded into mobi files by Amazon), was perfectly adequate, nay wonderful, for the ebook.

But print books are made of sterner stuff.

Scrivener is NOT a word-processor

It comes pretty darn close if you have a simple book, and will go straight to pdf if you want it to.

But, since it isn’t a word-processor, it won’t do widow and orphan control, and it won’t do hyphenation, and they tell you that right up front. Neither of these things were important for the ebook, which was lucky for me: I get to learn these things in stages.

But Scrivener produces the .doc file for Word to work on

And this is where my cunning methods came as close as I could manage to having Scrivener pass almost-finished work to the next stage of processing.

This is the stage at which the Compile pane shines.

Set up for .doc output, and then remember to save your changes (update the preset) every single time you put some work into the Compile selections, or you will remember I said this: the minute you finish a Compile, Scrivener forgets anything you didn’t save.

This ‘feature’ allows you to make a change and try it out with no effect beyond a new version of the exported file, but I don’t tend to make versions: I know what I want, and I keep twitching the little switches until I have what I want, and then I save and back that one up compulsively.

What choices do you make in Scrivener BEFORE compiling?

Every single one you can.

Fonts: if you want, as I did, Goudy Serial Xbold 24, for your book title, it is far easier to pick it in the Compile Formatting pane, than to go into a nice fresh Word doc and start from scratch, EVEN IF you remembered to create a Style to save that font selection.

Vertical spacing: if you look at the little editor pane that comes up in Formatting, you will notice that over on the right side there is a line-spacing widget on the ruler. That holds the key to making headers like mine with several parts (Kary, Sanctuary, 8 PM) look exactly the way you want them. Do NOT do vertical line spacing with returns! You are not a typist any more. Use your paragraph spacing, cleverly labeled ‘other.’ You will thank me.

Keep with: Another wonderful little doohickey. It’s under the Format>formatting tab in Scrivener, and, if you use it on both parts of the header, you are telling it to keep the header line with the date/time/place line, and that one with the first paragraph of the scene. Which entirely removes the problem of header separated from their subheading and/or text.

Margins, and facing pages: I tried doing this in Word. It bit me. It was much easier to set it up in Scrivener and pass it on. This is the dialogue in the Compile page setup. I’m using a left and right margin of 0.5″, PLUS .25″ for the gutter margin. The image below shows the way the page will be laid out if there is only one page, with the extra margin on the left; if you choose the ‘facing pages’ option, you will get the mirror page on the left, with the extra gutter margin on its right.

Gutter margin setupThis is backward in my mind, but that’s how it works. YOU don’t do that part, Scrivener does after you check ‘facing pages.’ Which means in a standard book, you create the right hand side page of a two-page spread BEFORE the left hand page.

The page at the top of this post IS a right hand page. If you look, you can see the gutter margin extra space on its LEFT side. I prefer all my chapter to start on the right – I think it looks nicer, even though it wastes a few pages where you need a blank page on the left.

Table of contents: to do that in Word, you have to select each piece you want to be in it (front matter, chapter headings), apply a heading Style, and then use Word’s elaborate setup. Or you can use Scrivener, get the Binder to look the way you want the ToC to look, Copy Special (as ToC), and paste it where you want it. Then, as you compile, somewhere between the two programs they put the page numbers in. If you do it that way, you may have to update page numbers manually; and Word will fight you like a possessed man for control, but that’s what delete buttons are for. And Undo. Scrivener was easier. Neither was easy. I have one.

Justification: left, right, ragged, justified – but not right indent. Sigh. After the ebooks wouldn’t, I was hoping Scrivener could pass a right indent on to Word. Nope. So I generated a Style in Word which will indent anything I apply it to equally on BOTH sides, and that is now done.

Paper size and pdf size: Scrivener for the win. Once set up though, Word keeps trying to put you back on 8.5 x 11 paper; keep and eye on it when you create your 6 x 9 pdf.

Choices to make in Word

Formatting of headers and footers beyond the basics you get from Scrivener with the content and the page numbers; restart at number 1 on the first page of the story.

I also formatted the footers with a paragraph style which put a few points of space above them – otherwise it looked as if the text were sitting on the footer. Ditto for the headers: 4 pts of space after the paragraph with the name of the book and the chapter on alternating sides – and it didn’t look as if the header was sitting on the text.

Sections: I wanted my prologue AND my chapters, my Title page, and my Part page (Book 1 of the trilogy), to be right hand pages; I put my cursor on each page, chose Format Document, selected ‘odd page’ for them, and let it apply just to the section. Voila – everything tidy on the right, and the gutter margins in the right places.

Widows and orphans: Finally – Word does a magnificent job on its own (though, as you would suppose, it is hard to handle a lot of short paragraphs – dialogue – and not end up with parts of paragraphs: a 3 line paragraph at the end of a page can end up with two of its lines on one page, and the other on the next. If you REALLY want to keep lines together, you will have to do manual control with Keep together, or use my backup trick: there are 8 lines of padding at the beginning of each chapter (from the top of the page to the first line), but it one goes missing or I add one, you’d never know.

Right indent/margin: I WILL have my epigraphs indented on both sides, or die trying! They just LOOK wrong indented only on one side.

FONTS: There’s a reason God invented fonts. Because sometimes you just need to make things stand out, such as your name at the bottom of the title page, or the chapter title. These are aesthetic choices, and if you are designing your own interior, you get to make them. I hope it’s not a horror show when I get the proof copy back. My one little excursion into the fun of fonts is the Prothalamion/prologue, which I had great fun making look like The New Yorker at quick glance.

I’ve gotten far enough to have solved all the problems

Good for the brain, and slow with brain fog.

Front matter, back matter, the prologue, title, and part pages – and ONE chapter complete with headers and footers, and my methods are done.

All I have to do is finish the remaining 19 chapters, update the page numbers for the chapters in the table of contents, check everything – and upload.

Methodology is hard – this part is just work. And it shall be done soon, and I can go back to writing, with the paper version of Pride’s Children sitting on Amazon’s shelves.

By the way – all this fuss, and it doesn’t look that different from the ebook. Sigh.

Now aren’t you glad you asked?



Blogging about how far you’ve come


Brent Riggs (Brent@brentriggs.com) said to write a post about how far you’ve come, and how blogging has changed since you started: I’ll look at the period since I started posting Pride’s Children, February 12, 2013.

To ‘Write about where your blog was “X” numbers of years ago.’

He said, in an email: ‘People often become discouraged about blogging because they think those who are successful did it with ease and very quickly. What they do not realize is that it most likely took many years of hard work, perseverance, and setbacks.

Tell them about the hard work, setbacks, and commitment it took to get you from “A” to “B” (today).

This is the first Tuesday post in a very long time in which I don’t have a scene to announce, and it feels odd.


I started this blog to see what blogging was about, and found I like to blog. I’m an opinionated sort, and stubborn, and chatty under the right circumstances. By the time I started my own blog, I had been reading and commenting on other writing blogs for over a year, and could see how it worked.

At that point, September 9, 2012, I took the plunge.


Five months later I decided I was ready: on 2/12/13, I had 40 scenes in hand as a buffer, and I figured that would be enough to provide me space to write the remaining ones before I’d use up my buffer – never checking out my own data (what did you keep all those notebooks for then, Alicia?), which when examined showed that some scenes had either taken months to write, or were surrounded by periods of time where I had external or internal reasons for not writing.

So I started. And I’ve missed only one Tuesday (by about an hour – had the scene ready, just forgot to post) since I started.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Writing is temporarily over, at least on Pride’s Children scenes in Book 1.

Now I’m having weird withdrawal symptoms which I’ve realized are entirely normal: if you intend to self-publish, and have used all your energy for writing, when you get to the ‘publish’ part, you haven’t finished all those things you could have been doing as you went along.

You haven’t finished with one task, not really (there will be whole-book editing, and cleanup of a few known problems), but you now need to learn and do all those things you’ve been putting off.

People in general have been lovely and supportive, and other writers in particular have been helpful (I’m just one of a long line of newbies coming after them.

How long does withdrawal last?

Only until you get thoroughly into the next phase: it took me about this past week to really get going.

There will be a hiatus of sorts between ‘last scene posted’ and ‘available for sale’ because I barely made it to the last scene, and it’s going to take time (a month may be too optimistic) to do those tasks I have some control over: cover, description, formatting, final editing.

The ‘Soft Launch’

Getting Pride’s Children, Book 1, up on Amazon without making a big fuss is called a soft launch, and the idea suits me: put it up there, buy a copy and make sure the formatting works for at least one device (I have a Kindle and the Kindle app on my computer). Edit/fix/reload.

Decide the cover is awful in some particular way. Do something about that. Change the cover in the online store.

Learn more about descriptions – decide you MUST change it. Do so. Throw book up on Amazon again.

Repeat until the obvious mistakes are taken care of; pray there aren’t TOO many. Just for personal sanity, not bragging rights.

Hope you haven’t accumulated negative reviews.

Then think about a proper launch. The kind that gets reviewers to look at your book, and arranges for ads in various places. Realize what I just said. Hide.

Ebook is up and running, then what?

Get template for paper version. Learn all that stuff. Create paper version.

Think about audiobook. You’ve got to be kidding! Nope. More stuff to learn.

The bad part about a soft launch is that you give up some of the ‘New’ time Amazon provides for exposure of new titles. Why do I remember ‘new this month’ or something like that? Must go look up.

After an adjustment, I’m back to work

I promise to get back to blogging about the pieces of this ‘publishing puzzle’ if I discover new and uncommon ways to do it; if not, I’ll just link to the places I found my information if they seem to need some visibility: I am extremely grateful already to the DIY-ers who write free blog posts and inexpensive ebooks about ALL this stuff.

I am reading all this information, filling in the little forgotten corners. Amazingly, I remember most of it, if not in detail, at least that I read it somewhere, which reassures me that I’m not starting from scratch. Phew!


The current task, following JM Ney-Grimm’s wonderful advice (http://jmney-grimm.com/2015/04/what-happens-after-the-manuscript-is-complete/), is to get a description that will:

1) tell people exactly what they’re getting if they buy Book of the Pride’s Children Trilogy.

No, this doesn’t mean reveal the plot – that they have to read for. But there has to be enough information in the part of the description that shows up on the page when you click on the cover image, BEFORE you decide to click on SHOW MORE (if you do).

That little piece of real estate is the most crucial of the whole description.

You want an action on the part of the potential reader: preferably ‘Buy now,’ but almost as good will be ‘Show More’ and ‘Look inside the book.’

2) let a potential reader see a bit of the writing style, somehow, because that is the main thing they are buying and will be spending a lot of time with: characters, plot, and everything else, will come at them from THAT writer, and there are a lot of things a reader knows for sure he doesn’t like (typos, sentences that begin with ‘ing’ constructs, incorrect dialogue punctuation, pet peeves of all kinds).

That style will be much more obvious in the sample, but a reader won’t get to the sample if the first bit of the description turns her off already. I’ve seen it done – I’ve left my share of descriptions, knowing I didn’t want to read further.

Let’s see if I can do better, and I hope people will tell me – rather than just get out of there – but I can’t count on it.

3) Give readers a good feeling if they do the next click – I know when I’m being taken care of, as a reader, and I assume everyone else knows what they like to read.

Orient the reader and get the reader started, and lead her to wanting to find out what happens next.

I’m pretty sure that after cover, keywords, description, and sample, readers will know if they want to continue: I want to give them enough information to make that decision in an easy and complete little packet.

Doing something I’ve never done before, seeing if I can take all that advice and information I’ve gotten, and put up a professional package (you up there in the peanut gallery: stop laughing).

That is just the very start, as I’m following JM’s path – description only until I feel it’s perfect, then cover, then description again (you didn’t believe it is really perfect, did you?), then cover again…

What lies ahead?

I don’t know how much I’ll blog about this – I am such a rank beginner at this that even as entertainment it will pale.

I just don’t know what to do with myself on Tuesdays yet. Expect me to be erratic, and ecstatic, and static, and confused.

But trust me: I’m having great fun.

This is a time to make all and any suggestions. While the concrete hasn’t set.

What say you?

Writing chickens come home to roost


When you’re writing a book, especially one that took a very long time to write, such as Pride’s Children (Book 1), and you really, really want to get back to writing, so as to get Book 2 moving, and return to that nice quiet place where all you face every day is the blank computer screen, and you’ve done that many thousand times before, and know you can, you find that there are all these little details you’ve sent flying every time they showed their feathered heads while you were writing – and they’ve come home to Mamma.

I’m sure that’s true whether this is when you start querying agents, or whether you have plans to do it yourself, but to write I have to be in a bubble.

The key is PREPARATION – but you have to DO it, not just read about it

I have hundreds, maybe more, blog posts by other writers bookmarked: covers, marketing, editing services or self-editing instructions, online Twitter/FaceBook/website/blog presence, formatting, layout… The list goes on.

I’m sure the list of things I have to do now is finite – at some point you throw ‘the product’ up on Amazon as ‘finished’ as you can get it for now, and then your words must live on their own, and people may love them or use you and them for target practice.

But it doesn’t seem like a finite list when I look at the material I’ve accumulated which I intended all along to go back to, ‘after I finished writing.’

The after is now, and it’s daunting.

Future shock, present shock

I have other things to write, besides fiction.

I even go back to all the semi-coherent blog post starts I’ve been writing – and have trouble figuring out why I bothered to write those words which were supposed to get me started on what seemed like a good idea for a post – 6 months ago.

They seem pathetic, boring, uninteresting, banal.

I know it’s shock: the future HAS arrived, and it has a lot more details to it than I allowed myself to think about back then, when I DIDN’T want to let things distract me.

The problem of perspective

When you write, you are a god. Minor, but definitely in control. This is even more true when it’s the first universe you’ve been god to (for the record, it’s my second – there IS a trunk novel with intriguing bits…). Feel free to laugh at me.

When you publish, well, then you’re just another wannabe, competing with potentially millions of other writers, better writers, more established writers, writers who have publishers that market for them and edit them and design their book covers and spend lots and lots of money promoting their latest book…

Oh, wait. That is the old model. The one I’ve promised myself to eschew because there is no way I’m going to attract their attention.

So, on the self-published side, is it easier? Nope. Here you have to compete with all the SP writers who KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING.

Fortunately, many of them are wonderful folk who have shared how in books and websites and blogs.

There are services – people happy to take your money and do all these things for you. I just don’t count myself able and competent to navigate finding them, employing them, and interacting with them – it takes a lot of work to be an employer.

So instead I commit to LEARNING how to do all this stuff. With my brain – they wouldn’t give me a loaner.

Is that all? Nope.

Oh, and the worst part? You now have to go do something completely out of your comfort zone: GETTING A HEAD SHOT OF A SMILING YOU (or whatever) which will adorn the flap, the blog, and the author page on Amazon.

Bringing up the final point: Yup. You have to describe you and your writing and your book – to your prospective millions of adoring fans.

If these two don’t make you crawl in a hole and pull it in after you, I have no idea what will.

Please enlighten me.