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my process and me: how to self-publish your book

Greetings once again. How are you? Where have you been? Where have I been. Oh …

I’m back now, and happy to be. Check this out – at the beginning of the month, my wonderful alma mater Beloit College flew me out for a book signing and to do a small talk on self-publishing. I was asked several questions, but among the most popular was about the process of self-publishing, the discipline involved in the writing process, deciding on the art, how to edit, everything. So here is what I explained to everyone, and I hope this is of use to you. Enjoy my reckless of use of my favorite word. This is the home of strange women, after all 🙂

Strange Rule of Publishing #1 – Love what you’re going to say.

I can’t stress this enough. What you have to say has value. If you’re considering printing it for mass consumption, you believe this already. Don’t be shy on the page with what you have to bring out to the world, don’t let your inner critic mess with you, don’t try to outright imitate anyone (unless that’s the intention of the project). Love what you have to say. You do not, however, have to completely understand what you have to say. Sometimes, some projects come along like a hand guiding you through a dark room. Just trust it, do it, and complete it.

Strange Rule of Publishing #2 – Work According to the Way You Know How

Most writers have an understanding of how they work: things as basic as knowing they have to write in the morning or at night, on a full or empty stomach, in a good mood or a bad mood, etc. This helps tremendously when setting yourself up with a schedule. Depending on what you’re about to create, you will have to allot time for brainstorming, for creative flotsam (having a drink first, or listening to a certain piece of music while writing, wearing lucky socks — whatever!), for research, for getting your workspace set up, and so on. Pay attention to this. Plan for this. If you’ve never sat down to write anything lengthy before (lengthy either in actual length or a project that in itself may be short but will take you a long time to accomplish), start with small projects first. Understand how much time you need, know what distracts you or keeps you focused. Know yourself.

Strange Rule of Publishing #3 – Start Writing.

That’s right. Don’t actually sit and do the calendar first. Just get started. The amount of time needed will reveal itself to you, because this will change. When I wrote Women in Strange Places: Stories, I was working 930a – 530p, got home around 630, worked out, had dinner, showered, and was at the computer ready to write by 830/900p. I would write until about 1230am or 100am. This schedule developed after the first few weeks of writing and working out, because these were two very important things to me and I was worried I would fall off my schedule if I did one or the other too often. Eventually I figured out how to just push the two into the day. You may have to do the same thing — budget your time VERY CAREFULLY between important tasks. You may have to cut out things entirely. You will have to sit down and ask yourself, if something starts to get in your way, what really matters with regard to your time.

Developing the discipline doesn’t come in planning, it comes in doing. You will have to make sacrifices, if not right away then down the line. They say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. Use that. Try it out. It’s going to be trial and error at first. Don’t get frustrated. You might write 20 minutes on day 1, an hour on day 2, 30 minutes on day 3 … keep going. Your mind will adjust.

Strange Rule of Publishing #4 – The Physical Manifestation of Your Dream!

It’s a scary fuckin’ thing to try and figure out who/what entity you will charge with the development of your project. Do your research. I tell people to do it all after they’ve finished the first draft of their book so that the worries of trying to decide what publisher to go with and how to edit and everything, don’t get in the way of the creative process. Let’s say for the sake of the example, you’ve finished a solid draft and are taking a break now to research who to go with for publishing.

When I worked for the Greenburger agency I came across a lot of material on the publishing industry and self-publishing was really starting to take off at the time. I chose my publisher because of a great spot in Publishers Weekly, as I prepared the mail to our clients abroad. It was talking about Lulu.com, and the self-publishing craze, and the freedom they allowed authors, etc.  I kept the information in the back of my mind.

From start to finish my book took me 9 months to write. I started to figure out who to publish through, and Lulu came to mind. Via twitter.com, and Joanna Penn’s website and a few others, I saw how popular Lulu had become since the time I had first seen it mentioned in PW. So I chose them based on people’s reviews of working with them.

There are several other sites you can through to self-publish. Wordclay is one, but I just didn’t like something about their structure, and Amazon.com also launched their BookSurge but their customer service is TERRIBLE. It’s very sales-based and you get completely ignored as an author. Lulu.com isn’t famous for their customer service either, but they are very consistent when it comes to addressing issues at least, and have a VERY strong author-based community where people help each other out.

There are many things to consider before you start the stone-cold process. What size should the book be? Page type and color? Font type? Art? The final title?

Go to the bookstore and look at layouts. Talk to your fantastic graphic arts/design friend (we all have about 20 nowadays right?), look around for a freelance photographer, or employ a good friend to take some pictures for you. Keep in mind the atmosphere and the message of your piece when you consider these things. How would you like for it all to be presented?

At only 170 pages, my book is a nice 5.5 by 8.5 (or so). Lulu gives several sizing and paper weight options. Price is dictated by this, and the page count, as well as how much color you have, if any, that’s going into the final book.  My best friend, Sarah Teodorescu, is an incredible photographer, and she helped me figure out the cover art along with our good friend Daniel Flores who does art and layout designs. A lot of Sarah’s photography is looped through my videos on my channel: http://www.youtube.com/womeninstrangeplaces.

Lulu also has formatting guidelines on how to structure the manuscript’s indents, spaces, characters per line, etc, to properly fit the sizing you’ve chosen. Play with this, and make sure that it looks good. Their tools are pretty accurate as well.

Once I uploaded the book in the uploading tool, the site will give you a .pdf proof of the book that’s free for you to download and stare at and print out as long as you like. This is not, though, an accurate depiction of what the book will look like. For this, you must order a proof copy of your book. You pay the manufacturing price of your own book every time YOU order it.

When your book comes in the mail, read it. There will be typos. Read it again. You will find more. Twist the book around in your hand, sit with it, carry it around, sleep with it under your pillow. Really love it. See it in your hands in front of you. Make your edits and changes to your manuscript saved on your computer. Then don’t touch it again for a few days. Read it again. You will probably find more typos or some other kind of inconsistency. Make more changes.

You will have to re-upload the manuscript and the art and all that again. You will also have to re-order a proof of the book. When you get the new proof, read it. If it reads clean, it’s error free, it’s gorgeous, it’s ready to go.

For pricing, Lulu takes $4.00 or so from the price of the book and gives the rest to the author. Something UNHEARD OF in traditional publishing, where you get anything from $0.05 to $0.25 off the cover of your first book (this also depends on the publisher and contracts and all that other muck). Once you set your book as “public” it is for sale, you design your sale copy and your store front and everything, which is what this link leads to: http://www.lulu.com/strangeplaces.

All of this is outlined in far greater and clearer detail in Lulu’s FAQ section, and in the author boards as well.

The bulk of self-publishing is free. I didn’t pay for anything beyond ordering 2 proof copies, and copies for bookstore consignments for which I was essentially reimbursed for later.

So, it’s that easy. Layout the manuscript. Choose your art. Upload these into the site. Order proof. Proof the proof. Okay the proof. Set your price. Viola.

Promotion:

The internet used to be a man on the moon kind of situation. Someone found a spot (a website), planted their flag, and bam, they were the newest latest, the freshest coolest. Now, EVERYONE AND THEIR MOM has a site, a blog, a twitter, a facebook, a myspace, a plurk, a livejournal, linked in, wordpress … it’s a giant cacophany of presence. You must now sit down and think, what makes YOUR project unique?

Go back to Rule #1. Why do you love what you have to say? What’s special about that? What’s the best avenue to use to tell people about it, and why it’s good for them to know? Don’t get bogged down on trying to have one of each site and blog and twitter and profile. After a while the process defeats itself, you can’t keep up. Start small. Keep a blog and a twitter first, say, and network through both. Find people with common interests or topics, or, people with rivaling interests or topics. Engage in conversation. Blog on your blog and comment on others’. Soon your network will grow and word of mouth will start.

My book is unique, I think, because it pushes a message of self-acknowledgement, no matter how dark the circumstance, in  genre that is known for shrouding things in mystery and truth-warping. I also have a very cinematic style of writing, which isn’t easy to do, and a lot of people are engaged when they read it. I can say these things with confidence because I own and love my book. If you’re nervous about your work, really sit with yourself and ask yourself what the book is about for you, what it communicates to people, and start to own that. Once you do, you can talk about it openly and PROMOTE it, suggest it to people, and so on. This is not arrogance, this is faith in yourself and your talent. That’s what self-publishing is all about — not waiting for someone else to discover you amidst the fabled slushpiles of old. Don’t wait for someone to speak your message FOR you. Go for it.

Coming Up:  Did you read Women in Strange Places: Stories? Have you checked out the excerpts on the WISP Channel? Play the Immaculate Lady game with me and put yourself in the place of one of the characters. What would you have done in their situation?

Also, The Emotion of Gender – what women and men are perceived to be entitled, and not so entitled to.

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About womeninstrangeplaces

I am a writer and artist from New York City. I live in Oslo, Norway. I dedicate my work to promoting literacy, experimentation and expression, women's empowerment, and awareness against sexual violence. I do my best to do what my gut tells me at all times, and on weekends, I go dancing.

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