“Get out your favourite books and see how they are formatted.”
ONCE the decision to independently publish has been made, it’s time to enter the more technical phase of publishing. You’re about to transform a manuscript into a book that will endure, a process traditional publishers employ teams of experts to execute. These are the roles you need to manage as you put your book together, and the choices you have.
Will you print or not?
A few years ago, many were predicting the end of the printed book because the stats for eBook sales were rising exponentially; but between 2013 and 2015 they levelled off. Many readers still want to hold a printed book in their hands, but some writers don’t want the extra hassle of formatting and distributing a paperback, and are happy to publish eBooks only. Do your research and know why you’re deciding on one course or the other. I went into profit on the basis of one paperback order from one bibliographic company servicing one major city’s libraries. That cheque paid for all the set up, publishing and launch fees of four titles. Publishing a printed title paid off for me.
Your print is my command!
Not too long ago, independent publishers were faced with a tough choice when having their books printed affordably: Should I print 500, or 1000? Either meant having plenty of spare books around in the garage and giving them away as presents for years, when sales didn’t deplete the printed stock. The good news is those days are over, with print on demand (POD) services. Basically, when a customer orders your book, the system prints one for them. No waste, no storage, no need to give them away. Large tracts of books, both traditionally and independently-published, are now sold POD, especially when ordered online.
Your favourite book
One of the best ways I found to get my head around putting a book together was to analyse my favourite titles, then emulate them. Printed books have a traditional style, with pagination, running headers, and chapter divisions of all kinds based on a standard format with odd numbers on the right-hand page and even numbers on the left. Readers will expect to see your printed book in this format, which applies to fiction and non-fiction, so it’s wise to have very good reasons for deviating from it. Here’s a handy guide to the sections of a book.
How strong is your platform?
Independent publishers need to select an online publishing platform. Some recommend publishing on all of them. I stick with one, which gives me print on demand and international distribution for eBooks and printed books across the full spectrum of sites. I also get access to the largest domestic booksellers in my country. Do your research and find a publishing platform that suits you.
Feeling your fringe benefits
As independent publishing became more accessible, writers’ and publishers’ associations began to form strategic business relationships with online publishing platforms to offer incentives to authors publishing our own work. There are an increasing number of options out there for writers to benefit from significant discounts in exchange for annual membership. The option I chose gives me free uploads on all my eBook and paperback corrections, of which there are always plenty. This has saved me hundreds of dollars, far in excess of the membership fee. The best of these associations also distribute great material about the changing face of independent publishing.
Decoding your ISBN
Used throughout the global book trade, from bibliographic services to high-street bookshops and online book sellers, the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique identifier for every published book. Generally, they appear in the ‘front matter’ of a book, near the copyright statement, and in the barcode on the back cover. They can be purchased from ISBN services in all major publishing territories; but shop around a little – they are generally more expensive to purchase individually, so think about buying a batch. Remember, no publisher in the world produces just one title, and your eBook and printed editions of the same title will require different ISBNs.
Asserting your copyright
Many writers worry a lot about copyright, fearing their ideas will be ripped off and plagiarised. Yes, it’s essential to use the copyright symbol in your book’s front matter, but ensure you also assert your moral rights over your work in a separate, one-line statement, then move on. There are several sites that claim to be providing free downloads of eBooks, and yours might make an appearance, but these sites come and go, and they rarely lead people to free downloads, often spreading viruses and malware to the cheapskates who fall for them.
Scanning your barcodes
Barcodes are nifty shortcut allowing sales people to scan your book and instantly calculate its price, with all information linked to the title’s ISBN. Many publishing platforms supply barcodes for free with your cover template, but they can also be sourced from online suppliers within your country. They’ll ask for your ISBN in order to create a barcode, and like ISBNs they can be purchased more affordably in batches. Some retail sellers, such as supermarkets, require unique in-store barcodes in order to stock your books, which you’ll need to arrange if you want to sell through that channel. You’ll generally pay quite a premium for this service.
Your entitled book
I have a basic message when it comes to book titles: keep it simple. Titles follow standard patterns, particularly non-fiction, which uses main titles and straplines. For example, Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love has a main title that is lyrical, while the strapline (sometimes called the subheading) is descriptive. Be aware that overly long titles can be prohibitive in catalogues and listings, four to six words maximum is a good standard. There is no copyright on titles. You could, for example, call your book Star Wars, but that name has been Trade Marked for the purposes of creating generations of memorabilia, preventing its use without permission.
Your cover story
The most contentious part of independent publishing is getting the cover right. It’s an incredibly subjective field and unless you’re visually gifted and can operate design software, like Photoshop, it’s best to engage a cover designer. If you’re confident doing it yourself, sites like Canva are very user-friendly and allow you to create a simple eBook cover for free or low cost, following a template. A good rule of thumb is to use one strong image as opposed to multiple, competing images. Check with your publishing platform on what dimensions and resolution they need the cover uploaded at, and work within their thresholds. Very often they’ll ask you to use your title’s ISBN as the file name. When sold online, your book’s cover will appear at thumbnail size, so ensure the title is legible, and the image works in that tiny scale.
Their cover story
Covers for printed books are best created using a template that your publishing platform will send you, which will be generated for you based on the number of pages in your book (to gauge the thickness of the spine). Printed covers are achieved using a back-to-front format with the front cover on the right-hand side of the file, ‘wrapping around’ the book right-to-left and printed on one sheet of cardboard stock. Publishing platforms usually require you to provide an ISBN to generate a template, although some platforms will provide you with an ISBN. The same goes for barcodes – don’t buy one until you know if your publishing platform provides them with templates.
Getting your head around word processing
One of the most important considerations when preparing to create a book is to check your word processing software can manage to format and export printed book and eBook files. Generally, two files are needed for every book: (1) An exterior, full-colour cover file; and (2) An interior, black and white file of the pages. For printed books, exterior and interior files are generally both PDFs (‘Portable Document Format’) in which all information is locked into place on each page throughout the document. For eBooks, exterior files are generally PDFs and the interior files are generally ePub files (‘Electronic Publication’) in which all information is fluid depending on what device it’s read on. Printed book files are fixed. EBook files are fluid. Get your head around that difference and you’ll be way ahead.
You’ve been warned about disclaimers!
For decades, published books have borne legal disclaimers protecting the author and publisher from litigation. Generally, fiction and non-fiction need to be identified as such, and this is where writers are wise to ensure privacy is afforded anyone whose story they have written about by changing names, locations etc. For educational books, a disclaimer might be appropriate to protect you from reader expectation about learning outcomes from your work. Disclaimers should not replace a thorough analysis of the legal ramifications of what you publish.
Does your book size matter?
There are several traditional sizes for books offered by publishing platforms – there is no standard and no rules, but making a larger book generally means it will be thin unless your word length can fill it. Some publishers deal with this by using a larger font size to pad the book out. Refer back to your favourite books and use your publishing platform’s printed cover template generator as it will indicate what width the book will be with the font size you have chosen. There’s a bit of guesswork involved initially, but experiment with dimensions and font sizes long before you decide on the final book size. That way, you won’t have to reformat everything from scratch if you change your mind.
Your local bookshop
“You’re the boss, launch when you are ready!”
Is your best friend. Go in and introduce yourself and ask if they stock independently-published titles. They may ask you to manage the ordering and delivery of your titles, or they may be happy to arrange that for themselves, using your book’s ISBN. Work with and support your local bookshop. Think about hosting your book launch there, it can be a win-win for author and bookseller.
Don’t let deadlines kill you
Books take weeks and months to format, proofread, print and distribute. Give yourself plenty of time to achieve this monumental process. Don’t, for example, set your book launch date in stone until you’re 100 per cent sure you can deliver, and so can all the players you’re relying on in the publishing chain. You’re the boss, launch when you are ready!
Back up your files
Start getting into the habit of religiously backing up all your publishing files. Once you’ve done the work on your books, you don’t want to lose it all if your computer fails. I still use a USB memory stick and it works very well.
Putting a book together is a major challenge. These basics are just the start of each process, and they’re designed to get you across the major elements to publishing before Write, Regardless! starts on the specifics. Take time to ensure you have the right computer software for creating printed books and eBooks. Research publishing platforms available in your country and if they access the distribution sites you want to sell your books into. Set gentle deadlines for yourself, as this will be a steep learning curve. Get out your favourite books and see how they are formatted. Chances are, you can emulate them.
An extract from Write, Regardless!
© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.
4 thoughts on “Writer, build your book!”
Thank you, what an eye opener. I’ve just returned to writing after a very long hiatus and recent retirement. I have two epic novels I’m working on. So much has changed. Not sure where to start.
It is bewildering, I agree, but I reckon one of the best ways to start is to keep writing. Nothing beats a fantastic manuscript, that’s where all the passion and energy should go. When you’re faced with publishing, take one step at a time. It was easier than I thought it would be, looking back. All the best!
Is there any truth to notion that it’s difficult to get an agent accept work from a first-time author over 50?
It’s difficult to get any agent to accept work. It’s difficult for them to sell work, also. I don’t believe age is relevant, it’s not something authors need to indicate when applying to agents or publishers anyway.