For our next installment of the Guest Blog Post, I turn to my good friend and all-around fantastic author Bud Smith. Bud’s a veteran of the self-publishing wars, and in his guest post, “A Self-Publishing Blueprint,” he imparts the knowledge and wisdom he’s gained while publishing his own collections of short fiction and poetry. With a healthy dash of humor, to boot. His guest post will surely answer any questions you might have about self-publishing, and ease your mind as well.
A little about Mr. Smith:
Bud Smith is the author of the novel, Tollbooth (Piscataway House), the short story collection, Or Something Like That (Unknown Press), and the poetry collection Everything Neon (Marginala). He edits at JMWW and Uno Kudo, and lives in New York City.
And now, without further ado…
A Self Publishing Blueprint
by Bud Smith
Oh Jesus, this again. The debate, ‘Should I self publish my book, or should I sell it to One of the Big Five?’
Who knows what you should do. Should you be getting an agent? Should you be looking for a movie deal? Should you be finishing your book? Should you start writing your book? Should you get off the floor, you’ve been laying there curled up in a ball for three weeks, just eating crumbs that roll over.
Regardless of all that, I think it comes down to, Have I put in the time to learn how to do what I want to do great.
Okay! I saw this coming … YOU’RE GREAT! Knew you’d say that.
So then, you probably wanna talk about self publishing. There’s no time to waste, you say, I gotta self publish this book ASAP. Alright, keep reading. But also, if you are against self publishing, keep reading. I’ll talk in this article about how to use POD to print your drafts out in paperback form, for you to edit and finalize, before submitting to small presses, agents, even God. She likes a good book too.
Self Pub 101
1. There’s still a stigma against self-published books. I call it, the grime of self-publishing. But, they can be great books. And they can be just as great as books released from major publishing houses.
* Whenever I say just as good, I mean, they can actually be far better, because they can say whatever the hell whacked out thing they want.
* When I read a book, I’m reading it for the art of the writing. It doesn’t bother me if you put your book out yourself or if the biggest publishing house in the world put your book out.
* I think of small press books in the same light that I think of indie films. Some of my favorite movies are made by solitary directors who wrote, produced, and acted in their own films. There’s a handful of books on my self that are from authors who’ve pulled off that same level of commitment to their books. It can be done. It will be done again.
2. Not all self-published books are created equal.
* The problem most readers have with dedicating their time to reading a self published book, is the fact that the creators of the book, sometimes seem to give zero fucks about spell checking their work, editing their work for typos, working on the appearance of the text, considering font, sizing of page, spacing of lines and characters … in short, the readers are mad because they are looking at a sloppy/ugly book that is not pleasing on the eye or brain, regardless of the content or quality of the writing, and the purpose that writing achieves on an entertainment and educational level.
*Successful self-published books, are that way because of the level of care put into ‘building the thing from the ground up.’
*And it’s all bout the person who’s putting together the project, hence the self in the self publishing. If the self wants to take their time and do something beautiful, the self can do that. If the self wants to put it out raw, the self can do that too.
Whichever. I’m a fan of both ways.
I’m probably not the best person to ask if self publishing is cool. I’m biased, and by biased, I mean, “I don’t give a fuck what is considered cool.”
I just care about making stuff. Sometimes making stuff involves me working with a press on a book that they will publish for me, like I got to did with my novel Tollbooth (Piscataway House), and did with a collection of my poetry called Everything Neon (Marginalia Press); or other times, it’s all ‘me’, and by that I mean Unknown Press, and I’m doing all the layout of the book myself, from cover to cover and the inside guts between. That self publishing stuff happened with my short story collection Or Something Like That, the literary anthologies, First Time, and the forthcoming anthology Too Much.
I like books, and I like making them, any way that I can.
I get all starry-eyed with the process. But, had a big trial and error period with making my own books, ie. self publishing my own books. I scoured the internet looking for people who would ‘tell me how to do it.’ And believe me, they would—there’s no shortage of long-winded advice that leads nowhere.
Just look at this fucking article. Long-winded, check. Semi-helpful, check.
But my purpose here … is to just say what I do. To give you the details. To get you set-up, so that your book looks the best it can, whatever that means for you.
Self-publishing for release.
Or using the self publishing model to generate your own ‘draft books cheaply.’
The Process Step By Step
1. Your book should be done, finished, finito.
* By finito, I mean: you’re ready to stop writing for a little while, get it printed up as a ‘proof’, order yourself a copy, and read it. Run spell check on your draft at least.
* I make 6 X 9 books generally. 5 X 8 books will follow the same general layout and formatting tips though.
* margins are 1 inch. All margins, Top, Bottom, Left, and Right.
* Header and Footers, I Set at .5 inches, but generally put nothing in them but page numbers. I like a simplistic, clean book.
* all indents are set to 0 in.
* tabs= .25 inches. The tabs are set this way, so they create a pleasing paragraph start. A moderate bump in, at the start. Most bad looking self published books have 2 dead giveaway layout messups. The first, is over exaggerated paragraph starts, ie. .5 inches-1 inch on a 6 X 9 book … The other mess-up I commonly see, if that the self pub author decides to put a an extra space (line break) after the conclusion of each paragraph. This always looks unnatural.
* text is 11 pt. Georgia, Garamond, or Minion.
* Line spacing is 1.1, or 1.2 (white space is your friend in book design.)
* Alignment = Justified. Clean edges. Text like a box. Open up a pro-book by a big pub house … oh shit look at that, they are all aligned as ‘Justified’
* Character spacing I usually leave alone, but you can add a little white space between the individual characters if you prefer. 1%-2% max is recommended for this, in the body of text for a standard novel, short story collection, book of essays.
* First of all, when you open a book, the inside of the cover, does not count as a page. Page one, is on your right hand side when you immediately open a book. This might seem counter-intuitive to some. But, all books start on page 1. Well laid-out books will not be numbered (in header or footer) until after the title page, publisher page, any other pertinent page, before the actual text of ‘page 1’ of your novel starts
In example: there should be no ‘page numbers’ in the headers or footers of these pages, in this: section one.
* page 1: title page
* page 2: publisher’s page/copyright page
* page 3: table of contents (A/)
* alt. page 3: “for”
* alt. alt. page 3 “quote”
* page 4: blank, (add section break)
Section Two: begin automatic page numbering in header or footer.
* page 5: text of book begins here.
* page 5-whatever (body of book)
* last page of body text (add section break)
Section Three: no page numbers here.
* at end of book, on an even page, add acknowledgements
* blank page
* finish with bio page
I always like to ‘start’ a new chapter, on a new clean page. I add page breaks to the end of paragraphs that will be the finale to a chapter. This keeps things clean, and organized. You could just hit return a bunch of times, but if you add a page break, your formatting will improve dramatically, and as you edit, add/remove text in later drafts, the start and stops of paragraphs will be cemented.
You have a pleasing looking document now. I go into the Menu>File>Print, and in the print window, I convert the .doc into a PDF. A PDF is beloved by printers. What you see on the page is what you see in the book.
I use Createspace for my printer. There’s benefits to using them, especially in the price, quality, ease of upload … and my favorite thing, the ability to keep ordering cheap proof copies of your title as you see fit, before approving it (if ever) for release online and in the Amazon store.
Other benefits of PDF
*Pdfs can be uploaded to issue.com And you will get a preview of how the interior of your book will look in printed form (on screen). You will be able to flip through your book by cursor, to take a look at your layout, choice of font, sizing, spacing and page numbering …
*Upload the PDF to your printer, ie. Createspace.
*Be sure to select 6X9 book if your file is a 6X9 PDF, or however you set your pages up.
Of course book covers are important. If you don’t have much experience with making your own covers, it’s a good idea to get help. A bad book cover steers people away. Generally, if I see a book with a bad cover and know it’s self published, I make the assumption that it is not edited, even proofread, laid out nicely, or in general, worth my time. Remember this is all happening digitally online, mostly. People are going by a thumbnail.
So … that said, if you are going to make your own cover, and have a working knowledge of photoshop, at least, you can, and should give it a shot on your own. (Q: Do you suck now? How will you get better? A: BY DOING IT.)
*Sometimes simpler is better.
*Graphic, timeless covers do better.
*Make sure the title is clear.
*Make sure your name is clear.
*Avoid: blurry, crooked and smudged
Some of my favorite covers are from Charles Bukowski. All his press did was put the title of the book and the author’s name, with minimal fluff. See also: Ask the Dusk and Catcher in The Rye (red cover yellow letters)
Don’t like how it comes out? Fucking hire someone to fix it, maing.
When it’s all loaded up on your printer’s site, and you finally get that email that says they are ready for you to order your proof copies, or they are ready for you to CLICK APPROVE PROOF COPIES, slap yourself in the face if you thought for a second to just approve the proof copies.
* Order a physical copy
* Read it.
* Revise it.
* Mark it up.
* No matter what you do on your own, you will not find all the typos.
* Again: No matter what you do on your own, you will not find all the typos.
* Fix the original doc.
* Make a new PDF.
* repeat until you are happy with the result.
* I recommend getting people to read your book, extensively proofreading it. I recommend paying them what you can. I recommend that till the cows come home. A new author will not listen. That’s fine. You will one day break. You will one day learn. Or, you can just take my fucking advice now. HAVE SOMEONE ELSE, who is not your friend or lover, proofread your book. Better yet, get two people.
* Fix it again.
* Make a PDF.
* Re-upload it.
* Look at the physical proofs.
* Like it?
Congratulations, you just made a book. I like art and I love books, so I’m happy. Another book for me to read!
Those are some of the tips I can offer. There’s a lot more, and things always change, but that’s what I’ve got right now. I hope it helps you make a book.
Chances are, it’ll take you a few tries before you are happy with the results. Don’t give up. And keep getting better at writing, designing, editing and making in general, by practicing it.
Even the pros have to learn this stuff. Don’t let anybody tell you that they just skip it. While they make not be physically making and releasing their own titles, their publishing houses are not carrying them as far as legend would have you believe.
Writing and book making is hard work. But hugely satisfying work.
Enjoy it, party animals.