Self-Publishing – Reflections of a rookie

Nearly a year ago, around the middle of February, I sat out to write down a few memories. For years, my husband and I have joked about the things we've done, the experiences we've shared and the characters that have floated in and out of our lives.

Many of whom became family, and others only a phone call away.

We've worn many hats, lived in several states, owned biker bars, ran stock cars, driven eighteen wheelers OTR and surrounded ourselves with a plethora of unique individuals.

Mostly bikers, local race-car drivers and more truck-stops full of truckers than we can count. With this in mind I'm sure you can imagine how colorful some of those moments were!

Many of the things we've lived through, instigated, laughed at and shared with others would be considered shocking by some and unbelievable to many.

Often through the years, we would make the comment, “If we wrote this stuff down, no one would believe us!” Okay, maybe it was said in a more colorful language, but you get my meaning!

Ten months ago, I opened my laptop and began to list some of the highlights of our twenty-five years together.

I was simply writing it down as it happened, you know, for prosperity. Our children are  grown, time is passing and I didn't want to worry about forgetting some of the best times of my life!

It didn't take long before I realized that I could actually take from the pages of our life and weave them into a fictional novel!

I had written poems and a couple songs, but that was it. I am good enough with words I know how to express what I'm thinking.

When I was a child in grade school, I would write short stories for fun or grades, but in the last thirty years?

Nothing but grocery lists and short works related to training manuals for new employees. So much for my credentials as a writer!

What was I thinking?

Would I embarrass myself on the world stage? Possibly…okay, probably!

Could I get a contract with a publishing company? Too doubtful for words!

Was there another route I could take to share my story? Yes!

I read the occasional magazine, watch the news and surf the internet. I had heard of this new breed of writers doing their own thing, ‘Self-Publishing'. I had given it very little thought, until the day I decided to write my first novel.

What did I have to lose? I was recently unemployed and climbing the walls in the middle of winter with nothing to do.

Ready for a challenge, eager to learn something new, I decided to do something exciting, something I had dreamt about years ago, before life got in the way.

So I began writing a story. Winter ended, and I was still writing.

We moved to another town, I didn't really notice because I was still writing. We settled in, Spring passed me by, and I continued writing.

Summer appeared and I realized that my story was going to be much more complex and way longer than I had originally intended.

The novel had taken on a life of it's own and I still had so many life stories to weave though the pages!

This was going to take much more than one book, so I made the decision to turn it into a series of books.

Once that decision was made I completed the first book and suddenly it was time for me to go to work. I needed to educate myself on how to become an independent author and self-publish my own work. I had no idea what was ahead of me, I only knew I had the freedom to do it.

My 10 basic rookie mistakes:

My first mistake?

I wrote a book without diligently researching the product and the industry to learn the basics.

Lesson learned: Take yourself to school and scour the internet. Sit at the virtual feet of those who went before you, and take the time to read the shared wisdom in various author forums.

These wise words  by writers who have acquired the knowledge and experience it takes to succeed are invaluable.

Author forums are a wealth of time saving information, and most authors really enjoy sharing their expertise.

They will answer your questions and concerns, offer suggestions and point out issues, they want their industry to shine and be competitive with the traditional publishers.

Indies (independent, self-published authors) as a group, share pride in what they have accomplished and unprofessional shoddy works will reflect not only on the author, but the industry as well.

My second mistake?

I wasn't properly prepared to write, I didn't have a good writing software. I used the generic writing pad that was installed on my laptop when I purchased it. I actually wrote my entire novel on WordPad!

I had been so involved with creating the story, I never even considered the limitations of what I was using.

It was only after the book was completed, when it came time to edit, that I realized it didn't include ‘Spell-Check'! I hadn't noticed, and for that one simple oversight, I paid dearly.

If you can't imagine the horror of editing an entire book of over 97,000 words without this basic, precious tool, please take my word for it, save your sanity, you're going to need it!

Lesson learned?

If you can't afford to buy software, you can download free versions from the internet. With most of them, you can write, edit and more. Shop around, try them out, its free!

 Three common free downloads in alphabetical order;

  • Apache OpenOffice
  • LibreOffice
  • Sigil

My third mistake?

I had no clue as to how to format an ebook. The truth is, I had never seen an ebook! I was going on what I knew from the traditional books that I had read throughout my life.

Lesson learned? Once you have chosen your software and taken time to familiarize yourself with it, and before you begin to write so much as a single word, you have several formatting decisions to make. Not familiar with that either? Research!

Look at lots of books which other authors have published.

But how? Go to an online retailer like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, who offer book samples on every book they sell.

Check out the different styles, formats, fonts, line spacing and indents. Choose how you want your book to appear and be sure to be consistent or your book will look unprofessional, an instant turn-off for potential readers!

You are sure to run into a few of these while comparing, remember to write down everything you like, and everything you want to avoid!

Here are a few basic issues you will need to decide on:

  • Book size: Do you know what you want? You have several choices, the two below are common.
  • 6×9, 5×8
  • Digital or paperback? Digital does not require or need to have page numbers, most people frown on them, but in paperback books it is standard (and expected) to include page numbers.
  • TOC: (Table of Contents) Do you know how to add a TOC to your document? Each software is a bit different, but you can use Google to answer your questions, or go and visit the author forums again. Professional in appearance, a TOC is a tool for the reader, use of a TOC is encouraged but not always a requirement for digital editions, check your publishers guidelines.
  • Format: Paragraph settings, indents, line spacing etc…set them all before you begin! The general settings below will give you a starting place, and you can adjust from there if desired.
  • First Line– 0.20
  • Below Paragraph– 0.05
  • Line Spacing– Single or 1.5

Chapters:

Are you going to give each chapter a title or simply number them? Either way, you will need to determine which type of ‘Heading' you will use, this will tie your chapters to the Table of Content so the reader can jump from one chapter to the next without scrolling through the book.

Example: ‘Heading 1' is a common choice. (Arial font, size 16.1 will appear if you choose this)

  • Text size: 12, is commonly accepted
  • Font: Times New Roman, is common accepted
  • Headers and/or Footers: Do you want to use them? Headers are generally used for the name of the book and/or authors name to be displayed at the top of each page. Footers are generally for page numbers, but you can be creative. Again, look at other books on the market, read the free samples and decide for yourself which looks better.
  • Cover Image– The very first thing the customer will see is the cover to your book. Every book needs a cover, the more unique the better. Your books cover has the most important job of all…to quickly draw the readers eye straight to your book and away from the cookie-cutter images that surround it.

If like me, you cannot afford to hire someone to create your cover, don't despair, you are far from being dead in the water, but you are a lot further from the shore than writers with deep pockets.

Rushing your cover image choice could undo everything you have accomplished thus far. That's how important your book cover is, and in an effort to stress this point, I am going to share with you my angst-riddled journey to find the right cover for my first book.

Then I am going to offer you a few links to sites where you can find free and public domain images. Most of them royalty free, some may require a mention, read everything before you commit yourself.

First and foremost, you need an image, something that will indicate to the reader what your book is about. I am not an artist, I have issues drawing stick-people, so I couldn't just sit down and create a book cover, and even if I could, I would still need an image to adorn it.

I couldn't buy one, I did not have the funds, so I perused the free images in Amazon's Cover Creator, to see if I could find something useful, since that was where I planned to publish my book.

The pictures were all generic, mostly scenic and absolutely nothing they offered could be used for a book about bikers, so I gave up for a day or so, but came back and tried Amazon's picture gallery again.

Determined to find at least one picture that would be suitable enough to get past the hurdle of the ‘book cover phase' and onto the ‘hurry-up and push the publish button' stage, I eventually settled.

NOTE: (Big-giant-regrettable mistake!)

I found a picture of an old castle in ruins, I liked the picture, and since a castle played an important role in my story, I decided it would work. It was a nice colorful picture so I happily downloaded it, prepared my cover and felt good enough about it to hit publish.

NOTE: (I just became a self-published author!)

I sold around 30 books my first two weeks and about the same the following month. I was very happy, except for the fact that the cover kept nagging at me. Even though anyone who read the book would be able to relate to the image of the castle, it wouldn't draw in bikers, my targeted readers, nor elude to anything about the story. It looked more like a travel destination in Ireland.

Which in itself, was another reason I settled for it, because the characters in my book were all of Gaelic decent. But then again, you wouldn't know that unless you read the blurb or the sample chapters of the book, and (here's the kicker) if the cover doesn't draw the reader to the book, it is a deterrent, not an asset!

Into my second month published, sales slowed down. I wasn't worried, it was the end of summer and people were spending their money on school supplies, college and last minute vacations. I decided it would be a good time to change the cover.

So, once again I went searching for a free cover image, but by now I had spent some time researching and taking notes on places where you could get ‘free public domain' images on the web. Never-the-less, I had not yet learned my lesson, so I was destined to repeat my mistake.

What I stumbled across, was a vintage artwork from the public domain, done by Thomas Nast, entitled ‘Liberty is not anarchy'. Well, since my Saga was about someone trying to take away the freedom that bikers hold dear, and it showed a picture of ones enemies being crushed and it was black and white, (bikers love black & white) I figured if I put the artwork on a black background, it would stand out and do the job of catching the attention of my target audience.

I was happy with it for about 30 days. Even though it looked really good, the cover didn't scream ‘This is a story about bikers'. I felt like an imbecile, the angst was unbearable, at that point if I could have afforded it, I would have ran straight into the arms of a professional cover artist.

I could have cheated on myself in a moment of weakness and despair, and I am so happy I didn't! My decision to become an independent writer, to create and self-publish my own work meant much to me. It meant freedom.

It meant showing the world who I am and what I can accomplish on my own. I simply needed to step up and educate myself through more research, more learning, more experience. I needed to suck it up, be patient and figure it out. So for the moment, I worked on my other projects and gave it much thought.

A couple months later, my husband and I were out on the Harley, and as we rode the back roads enjoying the wind and the scenery, I had an epiphany…duh…we are bikers! What had I been thinking?

I had been searching for an image which portrayed what the book was about, and there it was, sitting in front of me as we rolled down the highway. As soon as we pulled into the garage, I dismounted and ran straight for the camera and went to work!

The end result? That's my ol' man on the cover of book one, and it is our son who graces the cover of book two.

Why hire someone to take a picture of a model dressed like a biker, when I live in a house of bikers? I may even put my daughter on book three! I am very proud of the covers on my biker saga books and just like publishing my first book, I did it myself.

As promised, here are a few sites with free images to get you started, I have used images from the first two on this list.

 

  • GRAMMAR:

Homonyms and Homophones: Words that sound alike but have different meanings. Make yourself a list of every one you know, then look up more on the internet. Make an extensive list and post it near your work station for quick reference.

Examples:

  • There, Their, They're
  • Passed, Past
  • Pair, Pear
  • Effect, Affect

Don't put off taking notes the first time it happens, research your answer, add it to your list and from then on if you find yourself in doubt, the answer is only a glance away! Organize your formatting preferences in order, make yourself a check list.

Each step you take, each path you choose for your book, write it down. Soon you will want to write another book, and you will be prepared. You don't want to have to retrace your steps. Maybe you would prefer to create a template or use one of the free templates found throughout the web.

It's easy to forget these things between books, as your mind is already on overload writing another book, promoting, marketing, networking and selling your wares to everyone you meet.

Remember to utilize every resource you can find, arm yourself with the right tools, put your heart into your work and never be afraid to ask questions. Be patient and diligent as you walk your new path, you only have one chance to make a unique first impression!

You can do this…all by yourself!

Ride Safe, Write Daily!

Pamela Murdaugh-Smith

email    : goodgaelicsouls@gmail.com
website:  www.ggshc.web.com/
FB Page: facebook.com/bikerbooks
twitter   : twitter.com/goodgaelicsouls

Books referred to in article:
A Biker Saga, GGS
A Biker Saga, Switzerland

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Radu Balas

Radu is the Founder of Publishing Addict and author of "Sell More Books Using Your Author Website | The Easiest Way To Brand, Build, Market, and Manage Your Authorship" Soon available on Amazon.

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