Friday, November 22, 2013

Birth of a Self-Published Print Book

by J. Lea López

It was painful. It was emotional. There were thoughts of "why am I doing this again??" There may have been some crying.

No, I'm not talking about childbirth, I'm talking about book birth.

I've been quiet on the FTWA blog for a bit, partially due to life and partially due to fighting with the formatting for my novel, which I self-published in ebook format at the end of May. This past Sunday, five and a half months after the ebook was published, I submitted the FINAL corrected file for the paperback edition to Createspace to be approved and distributed. I'd researched the digital side of self-pubbing a lot more than the POD side before I released my novel earlier this year. I thought digital would be so much more difficult than print. Boy, oh boy, was I ever wrong.

All I Wanted Was a Font!

I didn't think I was being unrealistic or overly fancy. I wanted a cohesive look to the print book, so I thought it would be nice to use the title font from the book cover as the font for the title page and chapter headings in my book. It's not an ornate font, but it is one that I had downloaded and installed. Here, take a look:
Nothing crazy. But that font caused 90% of the frustration I experienced with my formatting issues. This post isn't specifically about my formatting process or how I overcame this issue (in short, I had to create images of the text for each heading and use a different program to edit the PDF and insert the high-resolution images) but more about how self-publishing means YOU have to deal with every book birthing pain, from the sleepless nights with baby worries on the brain to the smallest of contractions to the aftercare for the episiotomy (if you don't know, don't Google) you'll need when your baby almost literally rips you a new one in the process of trying to make its way into the world.

It was my decision to use this particular font, and it was my months-long headache to deal with when it wouldn't properly embed into the file. It was my stubbornness that wouldn't let me just change the damn font and be done with it. No way. If I was gonna have this baby, I was gonna do it my way.

You Want Me to Decide WHAT?

My ebook was pretty much no-frills, basic formatting, to help ensure a good reading experience across all readers. With a print book, however, there are suddenly a WHOLE LOT of things to consider that I never would have considered before I started the process. And since there is no publisher (but yourself) there's no book designer (but yourself) or typesetter (but yourself). Which can be a lot of fun, but can also be overwhelming.

You'll make decisions that look good on screen but will horrify you once you have a printed proof in your hands. You'll agonize for hours over which font to use for your text. You'll scrutinize everything because you have to. It's like you have this awesome baby and you want to dress it in pretty clothes, put cute bows in its hair and coordinate its outfits with those bibs that have clever sayings. Who knew there were so many choices? Here are some of the things I never would've thought to look for until I saw them:
  • I really like how my name looks in Palatino Linotype, and not so much in other fonts.
  • I didn't like how my entire book looked in Palatino Linotype, so I used something else. Turns out I'm picky about the way lower case a and g look, among other letters.
  • I loved everything about my chosen font (Constantia, 11pt, in case you're wondering) EXCEPT for the way it squished together the G and the A in Gary, the name of one of my characters. So I had to manually adjust the spacing on those two letters for every. single. occurrence.
Damn you, Gary. Damn you.
  • Do I want my chapters to start this far down the page? How about this far? No, maybe this far?
  • Do I want to start every chapter on an odd page, or do I want to continue them immediately on the following page? 
  • Even if no one can agree on what's a widow and what's an orphan, when blogs advise you not to use Word's widow and orphan control, they say that for a reason. DO NOT USE IT!
WTF Microsoft Word! That's hideous!
  • About 50 pages into manually adjusting paragraph spacing to eliminate widows and orphans, I began to question my own tolerance for the buggers. (Hint: I care more about how the tops of pages look than the bottom, and if a sentence extends 3/4 of the way across a page, I'll probably leave it be.)
  • Do I like the copyright page immediately on the back of the title page? Turns out, no. I hate it. Who knew?
  • Do I want my acknowledgments page in the beginning of the book or at the end? (For me, at the end.)
  • My book ends on an even (left-hand side) page. Do I want the acknowledgements on the next odd (right-hand page) or should there be a blank page in between? YES I ACTUALLY DEBATED THIS!
Who Can I Pay to do This? Please, Take My Money!

Hiring out steps you can't or don't want to complete is always an option when you publish on your own. But that presents its own challenges. Where to start looking? How do I know they're good? Where's the fine line between affordability and risking "getting what you pay for"? The few times I started searching the Web for someone to do interior book formatting for print, I was only able to find ebook designers. Plus I didn't want to spend another five or more months researching and vetting (and saving up the cash) for someone to do the job for me. I knew I could figure it out if I just stuck with it. And I did. But boy was it exhausting.

All Hail Traditional Publishing!

Okay, not quite.  You'll never hear me say that one type of publishing is better than the other, although I think some people have been expecting that from me ever since I first expressed enjoying both the self-publishing process and the results I've been getting. I've been having a lot of fun, and I certainly do not mind those royalty checks showing up in my bank account every month. I even surprised myself by formulating a plan to finish and self-publish a WIP that I was previously sure would be THE ONE to land me an agent. I'll do a print version of that one, too, even though it makes me a little nervous. At least now I know to start working on print options long before I did this time around.

But yes, I do still want to go traditional with some future titles, for varying reasons. Honestly, though? Screw the barely-there marketing assistance I might get from a publisher. I don't care if I could possibly get a big advance. Forget about the bookstore placement. At this point, you know what the biggest appeal of traditional publishing is?

A publisher is like a surrogate that will undergo IVF and carry my baby to term, enduring every last physical labor pain to bring it into the world. (Are the birth analogies getting a little weird? They're weird, right? Hang on, we're almost done.) It's my baby, and I love it, and I will care for it once it's born, but giving birth to it just might kill me. A publisher would mean not worrying about font and typesetting and gutters and margins and "holy mother of Garamond how do I get rid of the running headers on the first page of each chapter?!" because they'll do all that for me. Without me having to get out my checkbook. And when it's all over, I'll have a shiny new baby to ooh and ahh over and to hug and love forever and ever.

Bottom line: Just like a parent will tell you the pain of childbirth is "so worth it," I'll say the same about the long process it's taken for me to finish my paperback. It's an amazing sense of accomplishment and I'm excited for my book to be out there (soon) in another format. Will I do it again? Yes. Will I do it differently? Probably. Will I still keep an eye out for that perfect surrogate to birth future babies if I think we'll be a perfect fit? You betcha.

If you're considering self-publishing, I'm not trying to dissuade you. In fact, I'll probably try to encourage you more than anything. But I also want you to stop and think about all the steps there are. Now double the amount of steps. Now imagine completing all those steps on very little sleep while trying to keep the rest of your life under control and also leaving room to deal with the many unforeseen complications that can pop up along the way. Sound like fun? Congratulations! You're ready to birth your very own self-published print book.

If you're a self-publisher, what was your most frustrating part of the publishing process?

J. Lea López is a shy, introverted writer with a secret world of snark and naughtiness inside her head. She writes character-driven erotica and contemporary new adult stories. Her first novel, Sorry's Not Enough, and her free short story collection, Consenting Adults, are available now. She'd love to tweet with you.


T.J. said...

It's recent - I followed all the guidelines to the letter, and heard from several people of issues. I'm an editor - that's embarrassing! So, I sent one of the MS (after it'd been formatted by ebook retailer for publishing on several formats) the issue wasn't editing - it was the mistakes during the going from MS Word to .mobi, .epub, .pdf. OMG - eighty three errors - facade came out fac ade, spacing, missing commas, missing words, *facepalm* none of which were evident in the original I used to upload.

I do know someone who will format for a reasonable price, and she has loads of experience as a self published author as well as working for a publisher. I'm going to her from now on ...

Suzanne Payne said...

This scares me! I've birthed two children, but this is WAY more scary! I may be getting out my check book and paying you to do it! LOL!
Glad it's finally done, though...makes you feel great! And I'm proud of you..:D

JeffO said...

And you've neatly summarized the reasons I am not self-publishing. It's not in my skill set, and it's not a skill set I particularly want to have.

Darke Conteur said...

See, I found all of that a challenge, and I LOVE a challenge.

I followed the Smashwords guideline and don't have any fancy font but the one that is recommended and I've never had a problem. :P Mind you, I format as I revise. My paragraphs are already set to a certain indent and I regularly check for extra characters, and yes, I use Word. I love Word.

It's a learning curve for sure, but as I had a bad experience with a recommended formatting site, I don't mind.

Matt Sinclair said...

Yet another reason why I'm thrilled we've been able to use the skills of a very talented designer. I owe her big time!

J. Lea Lopez said...

The conversion process for ebooks can definitely make some wacky stuff happen, Tonya. Doing the ebook was a bit of a challenge, but fun, and nowhere near as stressful as the doing the paperback version, for me.

Darke, I liked the ebook formatting challenge too! The print formatting was a bit more frustrating for me, though. The basic formatting that I did for my ebook using the Smashwords style guide (like paragraph indents) was helpful, but there were so many other things to work out when it came to formatting for a physical book.

Gina Gao said...

This has been a very interesting post! I enjoyed this quite a lot.

Gina Gao said...

This sounds like some complicated stuff. Definitely not something to be figured out by myself.

Jeny Ruelo said...

There are tools that could help you in making the formatting of your book a little bit easy. First if you are self-publishing, say for example in Lulu or CreateSpace, go to its community section and ask for help. There are also a lot you tube videos that you can searh about book formatting tutorial or ebook conversion. Lastly, I would like to recommend our book formatting and ebook conversion services, at a very affordable price. Do not try to do it all yourself. If you are not in good in using a software, avail a service and use all your energy in writing or marketing rather than spending hours and days of book formatting. :-)

Jean Oram said...

Ha ha! Jen you crack me up.

I used Scrivener for my interior design and it went fairly smoothly. You do have to be careful with orphans and widows because I found halfway through the job I was like Who Cares!? And then I realized that I actually would when I wasn't feeling so burned out. But yeah, you can sink major time into fiddling. The nice thing is the second go-round is faster and easier. If you recall what you did the first time. (No guarantees there!)

Honestly, YouTube saved my butt. Learned a ton! :)

J. Lea Lopez said...

Yeah, you know what, Jean? It wasn't until I started self publishing that I realized YouTube was for more than cute animal and music cover videos! ;-)

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