Today's guest post is by 'publishing buddy' Paul Burridge.
Self-publishing is what you do after your book has been rejected by traditional publishers. Right? So, let’s start by demolishing the self-publishing is for losers myth. The self-publishing revolution begun by Amazon is massively significant. It’s on par with Caxton and the invention of movable type. Maybe more so – we are in the eye of a publishing storm; people just haven’t realised yet. (For the purposes of this article the term self-publishing, will refer to Amazon Self Publishing/Kindle.)
That’s because, even amid these dramatic advancements in publishing, we remain fixated by the patterns of the past. Traditional publishing, the writer completes a manuscript submits it to a publisher who recognises its genius and publishes it. Didn’t matter if the manuscript was scrawled with a quill or hammered out on a vintage Adler or for that matter keyed in Microsoft Word. You provide the words the publisher provides the book. It’s a two-component process.
We are like the WW1 generals fighting today’s battles with yesterday’s strategies. The conventional publishing industry reinforces this attitude. Look at the typical format an agent imposes on a query submission: A4, 12pt Times New Roman, double spaced, ranged left. You’ll never see a book laid out like that. The inference is clear. Demarcation. Words are your business; we’ll take care of the rest. They may use email, but they are stuck in the days when queries were dispatched in sheaves of badly typed foolscap.
Now we come to my big point. Self-publishing is an opportunity, and invitation, to break away from the shackles of the past. Self-publishing requires a whole new mindset. Importantly, thinking like a self publisher will add an extra dimension of creativity and satisfaction to your writing.But this requires turning the traditional publishing model on its head.
Ask yourself: ‘What’s the last consideration of a writer?’ The book cover design, of course.
That’s a publisher’s job, right? That’s a job for an artist not a writer.
Not anymore, that’s your job now.
This is a brilliant exercise to clarify a writer’s thinking. Envision a single image which encapsulates the subject of your book. Something that not only accurately represents your subject but gives it market appeal. Constantly revisit (or adjust) that image as you write.
Cover design as an afterthought so often relies on a montage of imagery, that’s just the product of woolly thinking. Someone has lost the plot – literally. A single powerful image is the one punch KO of the graphical world. So, if you are writing about, say, about a forest. Your go-to image will be a tree. Tell me that’s not what’s happening with Stephen King’s ‘Christine’ or Herman Melville’s ‘White Whale’.
Now what’s the next last consideration as a writer? The typography. That’s a publisher’s job, right? That’s for a typesetter not a writer.
Not anymore, that’s your job now.
Again, this comes with a benefit. To understand how typography can help a writer, we need to address to the basics of written communication. Those strange abstract squiggles on the page which miraculously cause images and emotions to arise in the mind. Those 26 individual shapes, collectively forming a pattern evoking meaning. Simple equation – shape = meaning. This doesn’t just apply on a micro level (individual letters/words) it’s also applicable to the macro level the shape the letters form on your page, and ultimately to the shape of your manuscript. Writers should learn to be playful with their typography. Modulate sentence, paragraph, section, and chapter lengths. Write shorter punchier dialogue, or longer, whatever suits. Maybe break a few conventions for the sake of visual appeal. Maybe invent a few of your own. As long as what you do forms a logical consistency you’ll be fine. Always keep in mind shapes convey emotion and pace.
Here’s a few lines from my books, The Other Worlds of Eliot Prufrock (in this case I’m purposefully favouring triangles)…
‘So that’s your limo?’ said the barmaid.
‘I have temporary use of it,’ I said.
‘And the goons minding it?’
‘They’re on staff.’
Indifferent typography can render a book unreadable. Creative typography can be inspirational. For a self-publisher typing in double spaced twelve point across an A4 page is plain dumb. You have no impression of the final appearance of your book.
The quick and dirty way to get a book feel to your manuscript is to simply jack your text up in size. Between 16pt and 18pt depending on the font. You’ll need to be looking for 32 lines on the page and an average line length of 11-12 words.
The absolute best way is to type directly into a book template. That involves opening an Amazon account (cost free), choosing your page size and downloading a template. They come in two varieties plain, that is empty, and with sample text. Best way is to get the sample text version and type over the text. (You’ll notice that the gutter is wider on the right of a left-hand page and vice versa.) This provides you with a ‘what you see is what you get’ version of your book as you type.
Then the fun starts. When you have finished your story it’s time to start killing the widows and orphans (typographically speaking). Nothing looks less professional than a single word left over at the end of a chapter, or even a single line. You want your dialogue to flow, you don’t want to have to turn over a page to see the last dramatic word of a sentence. Typing into a template provides a level of control unavailable to a conventionally published author. (I have a rule that no page has less than four lines.)
So, what do you do? Scan the previous page, for opportunities to either reduce the line count or extend it. They will abound. Then begins a massive game of whack-a-mole. Kill a widow, she potentially gives birth to an orphan later in the chapter. Sounds like a pain, but it’s so much fun.
By now you will have discovered that self-publishing is a misnomer. The very term self-publishing perpetuates the myth that there are two involved in this process. There’s self and there’s publishing. In truth there is only you. The sooner you integrate publishing into your writing process the more successful and fulfilling the results will be. Self-publishing should be called DIY publishing. That makes you the editor, proof-reader, typesetter, a graphic designer, printer, and publicist.
And now we come to the biggest differentiator between conventional publishing and self-publishing. When you have finished your book, you haven’t finished your book, you’ll never finish your book. With conventional publishing you discover a catastrophic mistake, and you’ll have to trash a massively expensive print run. With self-publishing, no problem. Say you receive an adverse review, maybe decide to revise a section, the additions, alterations, correction appear within 72 hours of a resubmission. Want a total rethink, just unpublish it, take your time and start again. The only things you can’t change are the title, authors name and paper colour (choice between white and cream).
The paperback is a print-on-demand service which means it’s a digital process. In terms of finish, it has two major differences to the conventional offset process. Fonts were designed for traditional printing which is a wet process. They allow for ink absorption into porous paper. Digital printing is a dry process eliminating absorption. Traditional publishing fonts can appear much too light so use a heavier font than you would for offset. The upside being that digital paper quality is much better than traditional books, especially paperbacks.
Colour printing (cover) can be disappointing, digital printing is not great for subtleties. You should bear that in mind its limitations when choosing imagery, colour, and title font. But there’s an upside; with self-publishing, all sales and marketing take place online. The physical cover which is paramount in attracting conventional instore book sales is not even a consideration in online sales. What attracts and influences online buyers is all onscreen, which is unaffected by the digital printing process. The first time the buyer sees the printed paperback when it’s delivered. At which point, they are (hopefully) only interested in reading it.
The self-publishing twin to the paperback is the eBook. Having completed your paperback, it is a simple process to convert to an eBook. Just download an application, and it’ll guide you through the process. All the same rules and opportunities apply, save you rather unnervingly surrender your hard-won typography to the reader, who can change the font, style, and size (although your line breaks will survive).
Self-publishing was a steep learning curve even for me, with all the experience and tools at my disposal. What I have found helpful as a writer, and what I encourage others to do, is to incorporate self-publishing into their creative process. It’ll enrich your enjoyment of writing and produce better books.
A bit more about Paul (who writes as Saul Ben) –
I spent five years at art school. Practiced design and copywriting for thirty-five years and taught design at three universities I had my first book (conventionally) published in 1975 (yes, I’m that old). On retirement I promised myself I’d single-handedly revive abstract expressionism. Had all the paint and brushers ready, the canvasses primed. The Turner Prize committee on speed dial. Then my wife bought me a writing course for Christmas. And much to my disappointment, I discovered I was an obsessive writer. I completed my first novel a couple of years ago. I’ve written two more since. I joke that my last one book broke Amazon. Didn’t realise the max length for a paperback is 830 pages, my last book was 883 pages – rookie mistake.
Paul offers his help with self-publishing via the Amazon service (manuscript processing, cover design, ebook design and administration) for a flat fee of £380. Find out more here.