Final chapter in this series on how I write my novels! If you missed the previous articles, you can find them here:
As always, I’ll throw out the reminder that Scrivener is my software of choice for organizing and drafting novels. But my methods may be adaptable to other creative organization helpers, as well.
In this final segment, I’d like to cover publishing. I have never taken the traditional publishing route, so the only experience I have to offer here is self-publishing. But first things first … final edits.
When I felt there was nothing more I could for my book on my own or with the aid of beta readers, I hired an editor to help with final edits. Editors come in two varieties: content and line. They are different from proofreaders. Let me explain.
Content editors look at the content and context of the story overall and suggest ways to improve it. When I wrote my first book, I hired a content editor because the thing I was the most insecure about was whether or not it was a good story. Her feedback was invaluable overall, but in the end, since I am self-publishing, I had the final say on what to change and what not to change. She gave me tips on things like setting development, parts of the story that could be cut out, what didn’t work for her in terms of concepts, and advice on word count vs. story telling for fantasy novels. If I had any questions about plot holes or character development, I could consult her about that.
Line editors look at the script’s technical aspects. This includes proofreading for grammar and spelling, but they can also offer editorial advice in terms of what did or didn’t work for them, raise questions about clarity of wording or style, and suggest ways to make the script tighter and more efficient. I will admit I have never hired a line editor, due to my limited budget. But between my own expertise in English, the multiple eyes of the beta readers, and the content editor, most of the technical errors get squashed during the many revisions. What a line editor will not do is help you develop your setting, characters, or plot.
Finally, there are proofreaders. Proofreaders are not editors. They are not there to help you with the content or development of your story in any way. They are there to find your spelling and grammar errors, and that is it. It is not their job to give opinions on context, characters, style, word count, or suggest rewrites of any kind other than technical errors.
It’s important that you know what you are paying for when you choose professional revision services. And it’s important to remember that in self-publishing, the author has the final say. Always.
When I get the final feedback, revisions are usually quick because there is usually little left to correct. The book is now almost ready to publish.
The next thing I finalize is the cover art. I usually do my own because I used to be an art student. But there are loads of extremely talented artists for hire out there who would be happy to design a good cover for you. Pay them well! People really do judge a book by its cover.
The basics on cover art are simple. The thumbnail design needs to be distinct at a distance. The cover needs to look like the genre(s) it fits. It needs to be relevant to the topic of the story. And it needs to be as professional as possible.
I pushed the boundaries on the “thumbnail” rule with my own books, but that’s because I personally love detailed art. Plus, I wanted Aija and Trizryn represented either in part or whole because of the ambiguous relevance of the titles. They are both changelings. They are both fledglings. They are both having to confront some dark themes by book three. They are both heirs to the royal bloodline in book 4. And they are both in some way responsible for the saving dragons in book 5. … I knew the rule. I broke it anyway. Meh. I’m happy with my designs. But I can always change them later if I change my mind because I am in control of those decisions, rather than the publisher.
To get a feel for good cover art in any given genre, browse the top-selling books in that genre on-line or in a book store. Don’t copy ideas. But pay attention to what might grab the reader’s attention about the designs.
I usually start working on cover art somewhere around the third draft and give myself plenty of time to finish it before the final draft.
Keep in mind good art is not cheap and takes time. Also, remember the cover artist cannot read your mind. Provide as much reference as you can if you have specific ideas, and answer any project communications as soon as possible so they can get right back to work. The longer you delay communicating with your artist, the longer your finished cover will take to produce. Make sure the cover art is absolutely finished with the correct size recommendations for your chosen publication site before beginning the publication process.
Choosing a Publisher
I’ve already said I cannot offer advice on querying a traditional publisher. But I can offer a few thoughts on how to choose a venue for self-publishing.
Determine the size of the audience for your particular genre. Amazon’s self-publishing services have the most “reach” in terms of sheer numbers of readers. But that is also precisely why a lot of authors don’t want to publish through Amazon. They feel Amazon is monopolizing the market. And if authors feel that way, readers can feel that way, too.
I publish through Amazon AND Smashwords. Smashwords will distribute various formats including mobi to various sellers and libraries. So, people who prefer not to shop at Amazon can find my books through alternate distribution and formats. One thing to be careful of with this approach is exclusivity clauses. For example, if I sign on with Kindle Unlimited, I will have to unpublish from Smashwords because Kindle Unlimited requires exclusive rights. That means fewer formats, which might mean fewer readers reached.
Decide whether you wish to publish in digital or paper or both. The publisher you choose will determine options available. I have chosen to go with digital-only versions for now because I can more easily update the previous books as new books in the series are done. When the series is finished, I will pursue print versions. But for the sake of cost and time, digital is all I can afford right now.
Finally, choose a publisher that will return the royalties you wish to receive. Generally speaking, self-publishing royalties are higher than traditional, but you have to do all the marketing footwork yourself. (Actually, I’ve heard from people in traditional publishing that either way, you’re expected to handle your own marketing more often than not.) Print will be more expensive to produce than digital because of cost for paper and ink, and that price increase will be passed along to the consumer. The size of the book, therefore, will determine a large portion of that price. Otherwise, digital books can sell from .99 and up. My books are priced at $2.99 because 1) I am an indie author, so it’s unlikely people who have never heard of me will want to invest much more than that into something unfamiliar, but 2) my work is worth something. Dragonling took two years to write and some very, very long days and nights.
Pricing is a very controversial subject among authors and readers alike, but generally a book should not be given away as a freebie unless it is the first book in a series, or unless it is part of a special marketing event. Don’t be afraid to ask a fair price for time and effort spent crafting the product.
The actual process for publishing will depend on the chosen publisher. Amazon’s submission requirements are very different from Smashwords’ because Amazon seeks to streamline whereas Smashwords seeks to diversify. You can hire someone to do this for you if the process feels too overwhelming, but I have always done it myself.
When I’m finally ready to publish, the first thing I do is create the front and back matter, if I have not already done so. Front matter includes title page, copyright page, dedication, table of contents. On-line sellers usually preview a certain percent of the book, so you don’t want to clutter the front matter with a lot of extras. The table of contents is the most important part of the front matter because in digital readers it needs to be interactive and work correctly. Back matter generally contains any series information, author information, marketing information (like web pages or other books by the author), and extras like maps, appendices, and acknowledgments.
When everything passes one final inspection in Scrivener, I double-check my settings for exporting the files into Libre Office, then hit the collate button. Other than the index cards, collate is my favourite feature in Scrivener. I write scenes separately for ease of reference, but without collate, I used to have to copy and paste ALL of my scenes together in the end to form one long script. Now collate does that for me by taking all of my scene files and chapter folders and squishing them together into one script. I have a checklist to follow from here on out.
First, I make sure I export collated copies of the whole script for each publisher. For me, that means one is labeled for Amazon, and another is labeled for Smashwords. I also note the version of the story. I edit the copyright page to say “Amazon Digital Version” or “Smashwords Digital Version”. I add an updated copyright if I’m revising a previously published version. (I believe Smashwords now requires their name on the copyright page.)
The next thing I check is formatting. I will not go into detail here; it’s too complicated for this article. But generally, I check the book for strange spacings, margins and alignment, font styles and sizes, blank pages, too many pilcrows before or after chapter headings, etc. With Amazon Kindle, Word’s “Headings” can auto-generate an interactive table of contents. But for Smashwords, I have to program my own headings. That’s because Smashwords’ distribution engine, known as the meat grinder, needs specific simplicity to chop the script up and spit it back out in a variety of different formats. In general, the rule of thumb for digital publishing is the simpler the better. The more fancy the layout, the more likely it will have problems transferring between various file types and devices.
If the formatting check passes inspection, I sigh with relief/grab a snack to celebrate/dance around the room/squeeze my cat with unwanted hugs and kisses. If it doesn’t, formatting can be a nightmare to correct. … Just saying. Too many times I’ve had my italic and bold fonts completely stripped from the script while trying to fix something with formatting inconsistencies. Considering I use italics for a lot of telepathic dialog, foreign dialog, flashbacks, and emphasis … to lose ALL italics for the sake of a minor formatting correction is gut-wrenching. But as a last resort, there have been times when I had to nuke the entire script of all previous formatting and start over from “default”. This is why formatting is usually my most dreaded task of all.
Digital books require an interactive table of contents. For Amazon, this means highlighting each chapter heading as a “Heading” in Word, and then creating additional headings for front and back matter. For Smashwords, this means creating my own bookmarks for each heading, and then going back and creating hyperlinks for each bookmark. Tedious does not begin to describe this task when you’re talking about books with 30-50 chapters.
Finally, I check the front and back matter for any interactive links that need connecting to the web.
When all is said and done, I put the finished publisher-ready edit through a “homogenizer” like Calibre or Amazon’s Kindle Previewer to see how it looks in phone, tablet, and e-reader screens. I check the table of contents to make sure it works. I check other links to make sure they work. Then I do a quick skim to make sure there are no weird formatting issues I might have missed. If there are errors, those errors must be corrected; then the script goes through the homogenizer again to be sure the fixes worked.
All of this used to take a few days for Kindle and about a week or more for Smashwords. This year, however, I had to learn how to make my books functional with the newer Kindles, so it took 3 weeks. (sigh) … Hopefully, next time I can get it done faster, but this time I hit a lot of obstacles in the learning process and finally gave up on using Libre Office and switched to Word. My main problem was figuring out a way to put invisible headings on pages that didn’t have visible headings (like the dedication page) without the Kindle add-on nuking all of my previous formatting! Ugh! Live and learn. … For Smashwords, it took the usual week. (I cannot believe I actually preferred formatting for Smashwords this time around.)
The Home Stretch
The rest of the process is easy after that. You upload the script. The publisher skims it for errors and spits out anything it thinks should be double-checked before publication. It’s usually just spelling errors and uncommon words mistaken for spelling errors due to the setting being in a fantasy world.
I correct what should be corrected, check the ignore box on what I want to be ignored, and resubmit the revised script. The publisher will notify me when it is approved and ready for publication.
If I haven’t already done so, this is when I fill in the details for the book’s royalties, formats, genres, credits, availability, and ISBN code. I update my tax information and upload the cover. This is usually quick and painless stuff.
The final element is the copy writing and blurbs. Again, I do this myself, but the option is there to hire someone else if it’s not your thing. Copy writing is very different from creative composition. It summarizes the story using journalism methods and marketing language to encourage people to buy the book. So many authors might prefer someone else to do it. The blurb, in particular, has to be short, pithy, and enticing.
Copy writing is usually limited to three to five short paragraphs. This is what we usually see inside the book cover in print versions and in long descriptions on the page where the book is sold. The blurb further condenses those paragraphs into three to five sentences. And that is what you normally find on the back of the book cover in print versions and in short descriptions when using a search engine.
When all of that is done, all that’s left is to hit the publish button! The publisher notifies the author when the book is “live” so purchase links can be shared on web pages.
I usually give it about a week before considering the publication done, just in case something goes wrong and needs immediate fixing. (Marketing is a whole other topic for a different discussion.)
On a final note for this article series, I’d like to add that when I publish the newest volume in the series, I also update previous volumes. This is me taking advantage of digital format at no cost to reprint anything for both myself and my readers. This means I proofread each of the previous books one more time to catch any errors previously missed, cut down word count, or clarify minor edits, so the quality of each book is improved. It means I had to go through the mind-numbing process of reformatting each book all over again after updating front and back matter. It takes time to read, revise, and update four books that are over 100K words each, while also handling the initial publication of the fifth book in the series. But I do this because I want the books to be the best that they can be. There is always room for improvement, and I am committed to this series and to giving my readers the best that I can offer.
So, I hope you’ve enjoyed a little insight into the stages of how I create my novels, from beginning to end. At the very least, I hope I’ve offered some insight into the work involved in creating a novel and self-publishing. It’s not easy. It’s not quick. It’s not pretty. But for me, the end result is worth the effort. I write because I am a writer … because I love telling stories. If other people enjoy what I’ve written, that adds even more depth and meaning to what drives me. And I thank my readers from the bottom of my heart for sharing the journey with me. ❤