We Try It!: Self-Publishing

About a month before I got my master’s degree, I was chatting with one of my professors about the topic I’d picked for my final research paper and joked that I’d had to narrow my scope pretty severely because I found out that my original topic was so broad that  “I could write a book on it.” He said, “Why don’t you?” and started me on a journey that is sort of still going on.

While I could write many words about the process of writing the book: the swings between complete assurance that this is what I’m supposed to be doing and not believing that I ever thought anyone would want to hear what I had to say, the combined panic and elation when people actually responded to my requests for interviews, and the overwhelming fear of what would actually happen once I’d finished the book and didn’t have anything impressive sounding to say when people asked me what I was doing while looking for a job, I’ll focus instead on the part where I self-published. Because it’s more straightforward and probably of far more use to others than a break down of my neuroses. Also, that’s what I have a blog for.

I chose to use Amazon’s CreateSpace as my self-publishing service because my former professor recommended it to me. I liked that they had several packages for what you could get but also offered services a la carte. In my case I was less concerned about designing a cover for my book, but definitely wanted professional copyediting and proper interior design. This was based on my own bias of being able to ignore a boring cover as long as what was inside was well arranged in an easy to read format and properly edited. I contacted them before the book was finished and discussed my options in terms of services, pricing, and getting my book available on Kindle. Obviously, all of that came at a cost but the good news is that CreateSpace (and a lot of other services) operate on a print on demand basis. So you won’t have to pay for a supply of books, even if you do have to pay for editing, formatting, an ISBN number, and Kindle conversion (which is what I did).

When I finally sent the book off to be copyedited, it took a few weeks before I got it back. They work with Microsoft Word’s track changes feature, so I got back a manuscript with the suggested changes and notes from the editor as well as an overview that was a basic critique of the book. I had been very nervous about this, because up until that point I hadn’t showed the book to anyone outside of a couple of my friends and family members. Getting that critique back and reading the opinion of someone who was neutral on the whole project was great, and all the suggestions for edits were good too. They definitely helped me clean up my writing a bit and identify areas where I needed more information or where I had repeated myself.

Because I had paid for interior design services, I also got a few pages of mock-up of what the interior of my book would look like. This was mostly so I could see the selected fonts, how chapters would be introduced, and how the table of contents was set up. All of that looked fine to me, so I approved that part right away. For the manuscript, I had to go through and approve all the changes and make any edits I wanted to make before submitting a final manuscript. Once the final manuscript was submitted, I waited about two weeks before I got a proof of my book in the mail. Once you approve the proof, the book is then made available for sale on Amazon.

This is where I kind of fell down. Because I was so eager to get the book out there, I ended up having to pay for two additional proofs because I would make a couple changes and say “send me a new proof” before realizing that there were actually more mistakes to be corrected. They won’t let you approve your book for sale without a proof, so if you go this route definitely go over your manuscript and included proof with a fine-toothed comb and make sure EVERYTHING is perfect. That should be a no-brainer, but I know my zeal to actually get the book available for sale blinded me a bit. Also, because only the first proof is included with the services you buy, I had to pay for the additional proofs, so my haste cost me time and money.

The whole process, from submitting my manuscript to having my book available for sale on Amazon took about three and a half months. Some of that time was me dragging my feet with getting through all of the edits I got back, and making later changes to the proof once I got it in the mail, and some of it was the time it took CreateSpace to edit the book and make the proofs. If you were really diligent about it, I’d say the whole thing could probably be done in two months, but not much less than that if you’re using their services. Obviously, if you get an outside editor and format your own book, your cost will be much lower and you’ll only have to wait for them to make up a proof for you to approve. Kindle conversion was a separate service that cost $70, and that took a few weeks and I was required to set up an account with Kindle Direct Publishing. The Kindle Direct Publishing account is free, and you can also upload your own PDFs there, so if you just want to put a book out on Kindle you don’t have to go through CreateSpace at all. For me, it was important to have a physical paperback available but depending on what genre you’re writing in or what audience you want to reach that might not be necessary.

All told, I probably spent $2,000 getting my book published with about half that cost going towards copyediting alone. I didn’t pay out of pocket; my mother has a business and she funded getting my book published because she wanted to see it out there just as much as I did. Like I said before, you can seriously cut down on that figure if you’re smarter about how you handle your proofs and format your interior yourself, or you can spend more than that if you want a professionally designed cover. The CreateSpace team responded to all of my questions and concerns promptly and clearly, so I never felt like I was in the dark about what was happening. The CreateSpace home page you get when you sign up with them gave me a step by step process to follow towards getting my book published and now provides clear information on my sales.

So what’s it like being a published author? Well, basically like it was being a non-published author. I’m happy that I wrote a book and got it out there, but sales haven’t been great because I don’t have much in the way of marketing behind me and I don’t know that there’s a lot of people searching for non-fiction books about the music industry for artists interested in launching their own careers. (If you are, though, here’s a link to mine.) I’ve been working on writing to local colleges to see if the professors would be interested in a copy to see if it’s something they’d recommend to their students, but I haven’t gotten a lot of response back. It’s a nice line on my resume, but so far not interesting enough.

At the end of the day, though, I would do it again. I wouldn’t ever be content to write a book and have it sit on my hard drive. I want it to be out there, despite the fact that while I was going through the publishing process I was kind of terrified of exactly that. It sort of felt like I was about to walk onstage in a bikini, metaphorically speaking. Now that it is out there, though, I don’t feel like I had anything to be afraid of. The biggest question facing me now is whether or not to start on a second book that builds on the one I have out there.

If you have any other specific questions about self-publishing or my book, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer.

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