Tag Archives: Independent Publishing

Unlocking the secret life of (most) writers

WRITERS are living through tough times, and times are usually tough enough for wordsmiths.

“Of optimal use to writers who have at least one manuscript completed and the willingness to create another.”

Not since the invention of the printing press has it been easier to publish books using an array of affordable online publishing services, but these same systems and the distribution networks they feed have stripped the traditional currency of many of the same books to almost nothing.

Newspapers struggle to get readers to pay, and we now have multiple generations who do not expect any content should come with a price tag.

Yet it’s not all bad news. Despite the terrible odds stacked up against writing for fame, glory and riches, people still tell stories.

My lack of success in landing a traditional publishing contract for my work led me down this pathway, even as a log-jam of manuscripts was piling up in my head, heart and hard-drive. Write, Regardless! is the result of having many questions fired at me ever since I threw my cap in the ring and became a publisher who made a small splash.

I once worked in publishing and learned a thing or two about gauging what makes a good story, a savvy author and a win-win contract, but I needed to spend years researching online processes and social media in order to lay the foundations for this step into the partially unknown.

And I hasten to add I don’t have the answer to every question. I’m still learning, but after finding myself corresponding at length about my approach, and thereby losing time for my own work, I decided to look at how I achieved my limited success in order to have somewhere to direct queries.

“I was objective enough to make decisions as a publisher as much as I was making them as a writer.”

In my first year as an independent publisher I profited from the publication of four titles, which made money after significant sales to libraries of the paperback version of my strongest non-fiction title Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love. This title had relevance to the news cycle in that it spoke considerably to the critical political journey of marriage equality legislation in Australia.

9780645270525The publication of Closet His, Closet Hers: Collected stories at the same time was no mistake. Fiction is a much harder sell, and I consciously floated my first fictional title on the same wave as Questionable Deeds. To put it plainly, I was objective enough to make decisions as a publisher as much as I was making them as a writer.

That is the key to Write, Regardless! It seeks to unlock publishing industry secrets, but it will also raise your awareness of what it takes to spend your precious time writing regardless of what the publishing industry thinks of all your hard work.

This book is not aimed at teaching you to write, although it has several encouragements to analyse your work to make it more engaging and entertaining to readers. It doesn’t offer short cuts. I started creating an online presence as a journalist twelve months before I started writing my first published book, and I encourage readers to give the process at least the same time as I have, which is now approaching five years.

Writing is about doing the work. Publishing is about even harder work. Marketing and promoting a book is the hardest work most independent publishers will ever do.

Write, Regardless! is the technique I applied to myself, and in doing so earned a third of a traditionally published writer’s average annual salary in my first year, without any support whatsoever from the traditional publishing industry or the mainstream media.

That might sound like very small fry, but weighed up with the high chance of getting ripped off thousands of dollars for the ‘one-stop-shop’ charlatans, or outsourcing the work to others, it’s a resounding success story. I made more than many authors receive from books that have been treated to the full suite of marketing and promotion, festivals and competitions.

As I write this, I am preparing to attend my first writers event as part of a panel discussion at Brisbane Writers Festival. For a self-published author in any country that is almost unheard of.

Write, Regardless! is available free online as a series of articles on my website, but I’m publishing it here with all the same links to other resources I created on the journey.


It will be of optimal use to writers who have at least one manuscript completed and the willingness to create another with a regular writing schedule of no less than a page of new material a week. It’s also designed for you to begin the work of becoming a publisher at the end of each chapter, before moving onto the next.

One page a week sounds like a small amount, but there is more to being an author than writing these days. Read on and courageously do the work!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

Writer, show your proof!

“Be hard on yourself and make your book the best it can be.”

BY now your book and your plan to market it should be well advanced. You’re nearly at the finish line with the formatted, beta-read manuscript that you’ve read multiple times from start to finish; your effective title and cover; all your publishing matter (such as an ISBN and barcode), and your established working relationships with the mainstream and social media into which to spread the good news about your book’s publication. It’s now time for one of the very hardest parts of the marathon: to proofread your book and ensure is passes the eagle eye of hungry readers.

Good housekeeping

What no independent publisher should try to do without is a cast-iron back up of their work somewhere external to their computer, such as a USB memory stick or a separate hard drive. Within that, ensure you always know which is the most up-to-date version of your work as you proofread it. If you’re proofreading eBook and paperback versions of the same content, you’ll need to ensure every change is made across each version. Work out what kind of system works for you, and stick to it religiously.

Copy editing

In independent publishing, beta-reading has come to replace what was once the first stage of copy-editing. After having your work read by one or more beta-readers, take the opportunity to use the feedback to rework it. Once you’ve formatted your work, and before you do your final proofreading, there is another chance to tweak your book’s plotting and content. Be hard on yourself and make your book the best it can be.

Watch the formatting

Ensure that any copy-editing does not throw out your book’s formatting. If you make cuts or a lot of additions, your paperback will end up thinner or thicker than it was and you may need to adjust the spine width of your cover design. Very often, a traditionally published book has a few blank pages at the very end. These are to allow for expansion and contraction of the content prior to publication without impacting the cover design, but check with your print on demand (POD) platform as it may have restrictions about leaving too many pages blank.

House style

Whether you complete your own copy editing or you engage someone, you’ll need to decide on a house style or style guide. There are differences in publishing style between major international publishing territories that reflect not only the spelling of those regions, but also publishing conventions. Choose one and stick to it.


There is no rule on earth that demands independent publishers follow an existing house style, but what readers will always notice is a lack of consistency in a book. Consistency suggests to readers that your choices are intentional, not mistakes. If your house style is all over the place, they’ll be unforgiving. Staying consistent between books is also important. Think about visual links between book covers and interior styles across all the books you publish in a one-year period. Let readers grow familiar with your publishing style.


It’s crunch time. If you want an excellent publication that doesn’t let you (and your readers) down, this is your chance to prove yourself a quality book publisher with a future in the industry. There really is no way to avoid this stage of the process… put friends on notice, make the kids walk the dog, lock the office door, take the phone off the hook and put every sentence through its paces.

Contracting-out the job

You may wish to engage a copy-editor and/or a proofreader to complete this stage of the work for you. Agree on the terms of the job and the cost before they embark on the task, and which house style you require them to follow. Don’t expect the work to be done swiftly if you want accuracy. As with every part of the publishing process, if you want speed, anticipate errors and an invoice that reflects your impatience.

Start at the end

After several reads of a manuscript, you’re bound to have been alert to copy errors in the first half, and blind to them in the second. On one of your error-hunting missions, work backwards through your book, starting at the last section and working your way to the first, giving fresh eyes to text that’s probably not had much focussed attention.

Mistakes on mistakes

One of the easiest stages to make proofreading mistakes is when you’re correcting errors. Get into the habit of altering the text, then reading the whole sentence again to ensure you have corrected it properly.

Avoiding litigation

As an independent publisher, it’s crucial to ensure that what you are publishing does not defame anyone. If you’re quoting a person or a source, check that you’ve been accurate. Be accurate with the portrayal of people’s identity (job titles, spelling of their names, backgrounds). If you are writing about real events, think about changing names and locations to protect the privacy of individuals, places and businesses, and include a disclaimer in your book’s front matter. Be scrupulous about this process and don’t rush it. Check every source, quote, attribution and reference. If in doubt about anything, leave it out.

Copyright clearances

If your work quotes from or includes the work of others, you’ll need to get clearance from whoever owns or manages the copyright of the material. Usually, your first port of call is the publisher of the work, who may seek clearance for your use of the material from the author. Sometimes, work is out of copyright and in the public domain, and there may not be a need to get clearance, although out-of-copyright material is often held in a collection that requires clearance for its use (for example, an art gallery that owns a copyright-free painting). Always check if clearance is required, or if there are limitations imposed on use of word and images; and always attribute a source where it is known.

Readers are your friends

“Let go of perfection and aim for consistency – imperfections will be picked up by your early readers.”

Independent publishers need to come to terms with a reality: publishing without the support of others will mean making at least a few errors in your first print run. Even whole teams of highly skilled users of the English language have been known to miss obvious inaccuracies before titles hit the printing press. Prepare for this inevitability by engaging ‘first readers’ of your work when it’s just been published – perhaps your beta readers – and ask them to give you feedback about spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, inconsistencies, etc. Your online publishing platform will allow you to make as many changes as required to the publicly available versions of your books. There’ll be a few rogue copies out there with errors… but that happens to every book publisher in the world.



For many writers, there is a willingness to hit the publish button in a rush at the last minute, but quality publishers will slow down at this penultimate moment and proofread the work properly first. Let go of perfection and aim for consistency – imperfections will be picked up by your early readers, so invite them into the process. You can see the finish line from here, just don’t trip!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, format your ebook!

“The main difference between a paperback an eBook is the functionality afforded by an eBook’s menu.”

COMPARED to the process of formatting a paperback, putting an eBook together is relatively easy. The key to understanding the difference is the ‘fixed vs. fluid’ concept. The content of a paperback is fixed – every page remains locked in place however the file is printed; whereas the content of an eBook is fluid – there are no fixed pages and the content takes the dimensions and layout of whatever eReader (tablet, Kindle, smartphone, etcetera) the reader uses. The best place to start is to follow the guidelines provided by your preferred online publishing platform. Here are the basic elements of creating an eBook.

Adapt your paperback

It’s crucial that your paperback and eBook editions have the same content, and one of the best ways to ensure this is to adapt your paperback word processing document into a second document that you can then export as an Electronic Publishing format (ePub) file, bringing the same version of the content with the conversion. Be careful not to reformat your original file, ‘Save As’ or make a copy first. Remember, when you make an adjustment to the content of your book in one file, you’ll need to make the same adjustment to all other files. This is the first step in being an effective editor and proofreader of your own work: apply all changes to all editions!

What do you adjust?

When you have a copy of your original document, resize it back to the standard word processing dimensions (generally A4) but leave all body text of your chapters justified left and right.

Your new ISBN

International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) are unique to every edition of the same book, so you’ll need a new one for your eBook that is different to that of your paperback. Most independent publishers buy a cluster of ISBNs because it’s cheaper to buy them in bulk. Ensure you insert the eBook’s ISBN in the front matter of your eBook file. There is no need for a barcode on an eBook.

Drop your page numbers and headers

The good news about eBook publishing is that you don’t need to concern yourself with page numbering – if you’ve created a new document out of your paperback, turn off all page-numbering functionality. You also won’t need page headers or running headers. Your readers’ eReading devices will create page numbers and running headers within your eBook. Some online book distribution sites require you to nominate a page length for your eBook – use the page length of your paperback, it’s just a guide for booksellers and buyers.

“A great advantage of an eBook edition of your book is the ability to include hyperlinks for your readers.”

Breaking your pages

As with paperbacks, it’s preferable to break your eBook into sections. Books are divided into three main sections – front matter (introductions, copyright statements, etc.), body matter (often divided into chapters), and end matter (references, acknowledgments etc.). Check this guide to book sections for a broader description. In a paperback file, Section Breaks are used for this purpose, but Page Breaks will suffice in an eBook document.

What’s on your menu?

The main difference between paperback and eBook formatting is the functionality afforded by an eBook’s menu, or Table Of Contents (often abbreviated as TOC in word processing). Most online publishing platforms require all eBooks to have a TOC allowing readers to jump straight to each section or chapter by clicking on that section of the TOC. Many independent publishers find this the trickiest part of eBook formatting. The best way to start is to search your desktop word processor for instructions on creating a TOC for an eBook. They often provide a template for publishers to replicate.

9780645270525Your eBook cover

Covers for eBooks are the book’s front cover only, in ‘portrait’ (upright rectangle) aspect ratio. Your publishing platform will require it to be uploaded by itself, generally as a jpeg or a PDF, following guidelines about what size to make the image. There are many variations on this sizing, but it’s important to follow your platform’s specific requirements – they’ll make your cover work wherever it appears within their distribution network. Very often, publishing platforms require your cover to be inserted on the first page of your ePub file. Word processing documents generally allow images to be ‘floating’ (not centred on the page) or ‘inline’ (centred on the page). Your eBook’s ePub file may be rejected by your publishing platform if the cover image is not ‘inline’.

Embed your hyperlinks

A great advantage of an eBook edition of your book is the ability to include hyperlinks for your readers, allowing them to click through to other content, which could lead them to your other books on your social media platform, or related information, or other resources on your subject matter. The options are endless.

Exporting your eBook

When you’ve created your eBook document in Microsoft Word or Apple Pages, you’ll want to see how it looks on an eReader. The optimal way to do this is to export it in a format that eReaders can open, and ePub is one of the most popular. If you’re working on a desktop computer, you probably won’t be able to open your ePub file – email it to yourself and open it on your tablet or mobile phone. Check it for formatting errors, and adjust it as needed.

If you’re working on a desktop computer, you probably won’t be able to open your ePub file – email it to yourself and open it on your tablet or mobile phone. Check it for formatting errors, and adjust it as needed. When you’re ready to upload your ePub file to your online publishing platform, you’ll probably need to insert the ISBN as the file name (check their guidelines).



Ebooks are generally easier to format than paperbacks, with no need to worry about page numbering or headers. You can check your eBook formatting by exporting it as an ePub and reading it on a tablet or smartphone, seeing it just as a reader will when they buy your book from an online bookseller. Take the time to make sure you’re happy with the way it looks before hitting the publish button.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.