So, About Those ‘Lazy’ Self-Publishers….

I love Sue Grafton’s work. I respect her as a person. However, I have a real, HUGE problem with a statement she made in a recent interview.

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for young writers?

A: Quit worrying about publication and master your craft. If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid. Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.

I agree with her that if you have a good story to tell, you must hone it. However, the rest of her statement…. Wow. Ouch.

There are many valid responses to this. Some of them have already been said elsewhere, ranging from harsh (“Why Sue Grafton Can Suck It“) to slightly weird, guilt-ridden support (“In Defense of  Hitler, Dahmer, Sue Grafton, and the Big Six“), to very reasonable pull-the-good-out-of-it-and-leave-the-rest mentality (“I Know I’m Going to Regret This“).

It’s all been said, eloquently, vehemently, and passionately. What do I have to add to this ongoing conversation?

My own story. If this isn’t an opening to discuss what goes into indie-publishing, I don’t know what is.

HERE’S THE GIST: you can churn out a piece of crap product, and it will cost you nothing. Or, you can put your worth into it – your time, your emotions, any spare money, your full concentration – and create something you’re truly proud of.

Creation: Writing the Book

If you’re an indie, chances are, you’re doing this alone.

I know, there are writers’ groups, online critiquing forums, coffee-shop gatherings and more (I belong to SnoValleyWrites), but when you’re doing this without an agent or an editor to help guide you professionally, you KNOW you’re alone. It’s kind of like a bunch of people in the desert directing each other. Sometimes they know where they’re going. Most of the time, they don’t, because the guys with the maps aren’t present.

That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Well, there’s more.

Compiling:  Putting the Book in Order

Beta readers help loads. Without mine, I’d have been truly lost. HOWEVER, in the end, the decisions on which scenes to keep and what order to keep them in rests on you. You can’t turn to your agent and say, “Do you think this fits with the demographic?” You can’t ask your professional editor (who’s likely done this for decades and knows the market well), “Will this idea sell?” Those decisions are on you, and they are frightening.

When we put our books out there, we’re banking on the belief that we have something important that the Big Six does not. We’re banking on the belief that we have an idea precious/unique/interesting enough that it’s worth the time of people who buy our books – that we won’t be robbing our readers. And when you’re brand new to the industry (like I am), that is a SCARY AS HELL decision. At least, it is if you give a damn.

Correcting: Editing Like Crazy

It’s possible (and recommended) to hire a professional editor for your manuscript. Well, sometimes you can’t afford that.

I couldn’t. I still can’t. And here’s the really icky part.

Professionally edited and published books have typos all the time. I’ve found them in books by EVERYBODY from Stephen King to Cassie Claire. Know what? The readers don’t care. They give those guys a free pass.

When there’s a typo in an indie book, we hear about it. And hear about it. And hear about it.

I’m okay with this, emotionally. I understand that putting a face to the editing (i.e. mine) makes it easier to find fault, just like I understand that it’s really impossible to catch EVERY error. However, this is pressure. A lot of pressure. Editing late into the night, last-minute paging through drafts to find every errant mention of a thing you deleted in scene 28, listening closely to every beta reader to be SURE you got as many errors as you could…

It’s work, and stress. A lot of it. (I almost forgot to take out any mention of wood from The Sundered. They don’t have wood anymore. The planet’s flooded. And then I forgot and automatically described docks as being made of wood.)

This is especially hard because I have a mild learning disability. I can’t always tell if the word I’m looking at is right, because the letters change places as I stare them. Those typos are wearing camouflage.

Completion: Word Count, Page Count, Formatting, and More

Lemme make this clear: you will never get to the point that your manuscript is perfect. If you think it is, then you are not ready to be published at all.

That statement will not make me popular, but it’s true. Completion isn’t a matter of “everything is perfect.” It’s a matter of “this is everything I’m capable of doing, and it’s time to put this in production and move to a different project.”

Of course, without an agent or editor, it’s up to you to decide when that moment comes. Again: really, really scary.

Now, just because the manuscript is done doesn’t mean your work is finished. Nope. First, there’s formatting. Are you making a print book? An ebook? What kind of ebook? They’re all different. Yes, you heard me: they’re all different, and require different things.

My “base” file for my book is kept in Scrivener, a writing program I HIGHLY recommend for anyone who wants to get serious about this. It outputs your manuscript to almost any format, which takes some of the work out of it – but not all the work. ePub and .mobi files were easy. Ah, but I wanted to make a printed book, as well, and the formatting I used for ebooks made a seriously ugly-looking paperback.

It takes careful margin adjustments, font-choices and purchases, decisions about page numbers and fleurons (these pretty things), freak-outs about page numbers being WRONG, extra blank pages where you don’t want them and missing blank pages where you do, learning to create (and remembering to update) a table of contents, figuring out a complete copyright page, deciding just how professional you want to make the thing look – for example, I actually included the “10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1” in the beginning of my book. Why? Because there might actually someday BE a second edition of this, and just in case, I wanted to be prepared.

It takes learning about ISBNs and copyrights. It takes figuring out whether you’re going to incorporate (which is a good idea for long term) in the hopes you’ll make enough money that you’ll want the extra legal protection. It takes planning your bio, deciding pricing, figuring out paper color and whether or not your book will have pictures. I haven’t even mentioned all the work that goes into hunting down owners of “free” fonts for permission, or fighting with ebook code when it simply won’t give you the result you want.

Formatting ebooks is weird. Did you know if you do it wrong, your reader/phone/computer will NOT show the text when you switch it to low-light view? I found that out because a PROFESSIONALLY published ebook I purchased did not work with the black background/white text option. I made damn sure my book does.

It’s not that I didn’t embed the fonts – I learned how to do that, and they are embedded. It’s simply that a lot of ereaders and apps are incapable of processing the command to view things in a separate font.

Why does this matter? Because this book is first-person perspective. The journal entries, which are written by someone other than the protagonist, are also first-person perspective. That meant when the visual difference of a new font disappeared, so did the clue that a new person was speaking – and that entire section of the book suddenly made no sense.

I had to figure out how to size the journal entries so they’d be visually different with or without that handwritten font, without making the handwriting font look weird for people who could see it. That was crazy, and I didn’t know I’d have to do that until the very last second.

Cover: Yeah, That Thing People See First

We all know a lot of covers are crap. Self-published ones do tend to be the worst at this, and I understand why: covers take money and time, sometimes more than most people have to give.

I was fortunate. Years of working in website and graphic design gave me an edge. I have Photoshop, and I’m not afraid to use it.

Still, that didn’t give me any clues to how hard it would be to find an image I could use without owing somebody money, and fonts that I could print over and over again without cost. I had no idea how crazy it was to design something that had meaning for the book, but was visually stunning, but had the right balance of typography and color, and speaking of color, did you know you have to submit images in CMYK format?

Oh, this is important, because if (like me) you first design your cover in RGB (red blue green), it turns freaking pink and gray in CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and “key,” or black).

Cyan is not blue. Magenta is not red. My cover went to hell in two short seconds.

Commercial: Who’s Your Audience? How Do You Reach Them?

I’ll be honest: I dunno. I’ve read John Locke’s book on how to sell a million ebooks. I’ve taken courses by Holly Lisle, and Twitter-stalked so many successful marketers that I’ve absorbed a library’s worth of advice. Everybody pretty much says the same thing: figure out who you’re writing for, and try to let them know your book exists.

Well. This isn’t easy. This means putting yourself out there. It means being willing to tell perfect strangers, “I’m an author.” It means being ready to get The Look of Scorn when they find out you’re self-published.

It’s really hard to wear a smile when someone pulls attitude on you like that.

Conclusion: Hang On, I’m Still Catching My Breath

Wow, that’s a lot of work, you say! Yes, I say, it is. And all this while:

  • My grandmother died.
  • My mother died.
  • Two friends died.
  • My father had surgery.
  • I had surgery.
  • My husband had surgery.
  • There was an incident with an errant tooth.
  • We lost our jobs.
  • We lost our house.
  • We lost our car.
  • We moved to freaking Seattle.

I published a book while juggling all of this. It took work. It took a lot of work. I can genuinely say that without God getting us through all of this, without the firm belief that God actually created me to write, I don’t know if I could have pushed through at all.

Is it worth it? YES

A THOUSAND times yes.

Indie-publishing is a lot more work than traditional because most of the steps I had to take would have been done for me by my publisher.

I put in my time in the trenches. I’ve dealt with rejection and almost-acceptance from agents for years. It was only because the AGENTS THEMSELVES told me I had a product worth reading (and only declined it because it was too “different” to sell) that I decided to publish it myself.

I’m proud of the job I did, and I’d do it again. In fact, I will. Now that I’ve had a taste of the real joy that comes from creating something like this with my own hands, I know I don’t want to go any other route.

Indie-authors are some of the hardest-working people I know, and I’m proud to be one.

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