So, a friend over on Tumblr asked for information about how to start publishing their short stories. And, since I am always willing to talk about it and always have way too much to say, have a post. Maybe a series of posts about how I’ve been going about the self publishing thing so far.
Now, bear in mind, I’m new at this.
My very first book to be bought by a publisher has yet to be released (Secrets of the Artificer Mages, don’t ask, can’t discuss it, very long story). That contract was signed in January, 2012. It was what gave me the impetus to start releasing my other stories. I mean, if that story was good enough to be bought, why not the other stories? :D
The first one went live almost two years ago, November 2012. Then I started publishing things regularly in 2013, with the goal of putting out a short story, novella, novel or collection once a week for an entire year in 2013. I did that, only missed 2 weeks out of the whole year which is pretty awesome. This year’s goal is to write a novel for every single one of my ‘verses and put out short stories in-between.
I am prolific. Unapologetically prolific. But I’m still very, very new at this publishing thing, both traditional and self publishing. So please do bear that in mind as you read further.
Once I had that contract in hand and realized just how long it takes for a story to be published traditionally, I set out to learn more about 1) the publishing industry and 2) about this new self publishing thing I’d heard vaguely about.
I no longer remember how I stumbled across them but the two people that I’ve found that have been the most help to me in terms of information and advice, classes and workshops and just sheer example, are Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rush.
Both of them have been professional writers for, I believe, 30+ years. They’re married, FYI, and together they own WMG Publishing. Previously they ran Pulphouse Publishing, which was for a while a mid-sized publishing house that was fairly well known. I don’t really know because I never paid attention to publishing houses back before 2012. All I cared about was where had my favorite writers gone and how much was their next book. *wry smile*
Now, once I found Kris’ site I immediately started reading her Freelancer’s Survival Guide ($9.99 Kindle, $26.99 TPB on Amazon) which is seriously invaluable for anyone who is thinking of freelancing in any way, not just as a writer. I highly recommend buying it. If you can’t afford to buy it, no biggie. She has it available on her website for free as blog posts. You just have to click on the links to get there.
Reading that led me into reading her Business Rusch series which is covered in the Business Rusch series, the Discoverability series, the Estate Planning series (which I have yet to start doing and need to work on badly), and her Overview of the Publishing Industry series.
There is a ton of information there, guys, the vast majority of it free. Check the comments. Kris moderates them so they don’t get horrible.
Reading Kris’ stuff led me onwards to Dean’s stuff. And wow, there is so much stuff there! Dean has lectures you can listen to over and over (reasonably priced, just $50 to $75 for over an hour of material), online workshops (many of which I’ve taken–ask if you want recs!) and some in person classes (one of which I’m attending late in October–nervous about that!).
Most importantly for this post, Dean has a series of posts that he’s done about the publishing industry that debunk a lot of myths that people believe in and that provide information about how to do it right, i.e. successfully enough that people buy your stories.
First off, I read his book Think Like a Publisher ($5.99 ebook, $8 TPB on Amazon). This is the roadmap that I’m following as a self publisher.
He’s working, slowly, on updating it for current conditions in the publishing industry but things keep changing so fast that it goes out almost before he’s written a chapter. Still, you can find the 2015 versions of Think Like a Publisher over here. I think the book is still pretty valid and it gives you a good place to start so I strongly suggest reading it.
One series of posts that he does is the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series. I highly recommend reading these, guys. It’s really easy to get caught up in myths and ‘everyone says’ stuff that holds you back and cripples your writing career. A lot of what Dean says is pretty harsh but he’s been accurate on everything I’ve tried and he’s been at this for decades on both sides of the publishing industry, writing and publishing books.
Frankly, I have Dean’s blog on my RSS feed for my Dreamwidth account. He does daily posts about his life, including his daily routine, how much he writes and what he gets done every day. It’s pretty fascinating to get a glimpse into the daily routines of a career writer. I recommend following him just for that alone even if you don’t read the rest of the links.
The third resource I found was The Passive Voice. He’s an Intellectual Properties and Publishing Lawyer who links to current events and news in the publishing industry. I will warn you that he updates frequently, so frequently that I had to unfollow his RSS feed because it was overwhelming me, but he’s got a lot of really valuable information.
So, there’s the background information that I use to do my self publishing stuff. Do consider reading it all. You’ll learn a lot even if you don’t agree with all of it.
Not that it helps explain exactly what I do to get a story published. *laughs*
So, let’s start with the really basic basics, shall we?
First, write a story. Don’t think about publishing it. Don’t think about how to market it. Don’t even consider how you’ll sell it or what covers or anything you’ll put on it. Just write. Take as long or as short an amount of time as you need to get that fuzzy feeling of ‘hey, I think this might be good’.
Find a beta reader. Do not skip this step, especially when you’re just starting to consider publishing your work. Beta readers are lovely wonderful people who are the best people in the universe IMO. There are two basic sorts of beta feedback you want at this point.
First, grammar, spelling, awkward phrasing. You know, the basic stuff of do these sentences and paragraphs work structurally. This sort of beta reader is pretty easy to find. Ask around.
Second, you want a reader’s feedback. Fanfic writers get wildly positive feedback pretty easily. Sometimes they get ‘you suck!’ feedback. Rarely will they get actual feedback that gives them information on how to improve a story or better, what’s good / bad about their particular writing style.
When you ask someone to give you reader’s feedback, this is what I’d suggest saying:
I’d really like it if you’d read the story over and tell me how it felt to you. I’m not sure that I got X issue done well (exposition, description, transitions, cliffhangers, openings, whatever issue you’re kinda worried about) and I’d really like to know how I did for a new reader. In addition, it’d be great if you could tell me where you really enjoyed the story, where you sped through it because it was super-gripping, and where you got bored or skipped ahead. That’ll tell me what I did right and what I did wrong.
Always give a timeline for when you’d like the feedback returned to you and don’t hesitate to poke them if they’re late. Yes, I know. Poking seems rude but otherwise you’ll get stale feedback instead of immediate feedback. I generally give a beta reader of a short story a week and a novel longer, like a month or so.
Now, once you get the feedback back to you, read it over, set it down, step away from the computer and let it sit for long enough that you don’t either rage that someone didn’t like your story or cry that you’re a failure and a fraud and OMG, I will never, ever, ever be a published writer!
Yes, I do this every freaking time I get beta feedback. No joke. It’s down to about 24 hours delay but I always, always, always have to step away and then come back with a less emotional, more objective point of view.
Because, you see, the reader’s beta review is telling you the absolute truth. They’re not telling you that this grammar is wrong. They’re telling you how they responded to the story and they can never, ever be wrong about that. You can have intended a different message to get to them but their response will always be their response. If it doesn’t match your intent, well, you know what you need to work on.
And every single time I’ve fixed things that my betas have commented on the story has been stronger for it. Just saying.
All right, next step is to go fix what your beta readers found without completely revising everything in the story! Once again, yes, really. Do not do endless rounds of revision. Fix those specific issues and leave everything else alone because the rest of the story works. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke!
You now have a completed story! Celebrate! *cheers and throws confetti*
It’s time to switch hats from creative writer to publisher. This is not an easy thing to do, especially in the beginning! Just so you know.
Here’s what you need to do next:
First, You need a story blurb that is less than 800 words, preferably less than 200 words.
If you ever wrote strict drabbles, good on you, you’re ahead of me. Writing blurbs is freaking hard! A good story blurb will not describe the setting, the characters, the opening conflict of the story. No. A good story blurb has 2-3 short sentences that lay out the central conflict of the story, plus one sentence that describes what sort of story it is (action? SF? Romance? Mystery? Exciting, dramatic, comforting, heartbreaking, use words like that) and maybe a really short sentence about the series, if the story is part of a series. They’re short, punchy and sales tools so you need to write a good one. Your story blurb is your second most important tool for selling your story, right after your cover.
Have some sample blurbs I’ve written that I’m proud of.
Mike Long’s job rarely intruded on his personal life but when it did the consequences were always catastrophic. A combined work and vacation trip with his four lovers turned into a fight for survival as their space liner was shot down over the planet Viridian.
Cut off from galactic civilization, injured and besieged from all sides, it’s up to Mike to get the five of them home. Along the way, they have to exploit Viridian’s unique culture so that they can protect each other and maybe have some fun, too.
Crash Landing is the exciting first in the Accidental Spy Ring series of erotic novellas.
When Anwyn heard her best friend cursing over a letter from home, she thought it would be nice to give her a hand. A quick trip to a new country to protect Iola from an unwelcome marriage would be a chance to have fun while doing a good deed.
But the trip revealed plots against the Dana that Anwyn could never have anticipated. The simple trip became a complicated political trial that threatened not just the family’s fortunes but Anwyn’s safety as well. Stopping the Delbhana’s plot might be the hardest thing Anwyn had ever done but failure wasn’t an option.
Storm over Archaelaos is an epic coming of age fantasy set on the matriarchal world of Muirin. People of all ages will enjoy this thrilling adventure.
After Shizuka’s father suffered a terrible accident, she took on the challenge of apprenticing to the nobility of Ambermarle in the hopes of learning a new career that could cover for his medical care. Breding Manor surprised her with more than just career opportunities.
Two potential romances with the Lord’s oldest son Ammad and his willful daughter Nabeela promised a new path that Shizuka could never have imagined.
A New Path is a sweet romance where second chances lead to something wonderful for everyone involved.
Are these perfect? Nope. Could I improve them? Yup. Will I eventually tighten them up and redo them? Probably. But probably not soon. Still, I’m proud of them and I think they work pretty well.
Second, you need a cover for your story.
Go to Dreamstime.com. Their stock art has the proper licenses for being used on book covers. They generally cost between $5 and $20 per piece of art, based on their credit system. Always pick the biggest size you can afford, always with 300 DPI as the resolution. Just do it. It saves effort later and avoids a bunch of headaches.
ETA: Do not immediately buy the piece of art you like! You can get a comp image that you can play with to see if it’ll work on the cover. Trust me, don’t spend the money until you know you can use that art. Otherwise you end up with a folder full of lovely art that’s functionally useless. I’ll do a post about making covers so for now just remember get the comp image and play with that rather than buying the pretties right away.
Now you have a question to ask yourself: Will I put this story out in print or just in ebook format?
Contrary to the many, many rumors and myths, print is not and very likely will not go away. It’s just in the process of becoming something like collectable records. Few people buy them but they’re still there and they bring in a high price. Print books will continue to be made in the same way. Most people will read ebooks, IMO, but print’s going nowhere.
Plus, there are valid reasons for taking that extra step to put your book into print.
First off, you may have potential readers who cannot cope with ebooks. I do. The very first story I put out I had a faithful reader contact me and ask if I could put it into print because she couldn’t do ebooks and needed hard copy.
Second, having that print copy makes your ebook copy look less expensive, no matter how high or low you price it. It’s a sales thing, purely psychological but very powerful. See Dean’s posts on publishing for a more detailed explanation.
Third, creating that print copy will give you a final chance to proofread the story in a completely different format. That helps you catch errors that you’d otherwise miss. Very good reason IMPO.
So, assuming you say yes, I’ll take that extra step, you need to set up accounts on three sites, minimum.
They are CreateSpace.com for your print copy, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing unless you’re absolutely opposed to Amazon (but you’d lose a huge chunk of profits if you do skip them) and Smashwords.com as they’re the major distributor to ebook sites worldwide.
You can also set up accounts on Kobo Writing Life and Nook Press. Kobo distributes very well outside of the US and their readers are my personal favorites. FYI, I have not taken the step of publishing direct with them yet. I expect to within the next 6 months to a year. Nook Press is, of course, Barnes & Noble’s self publishing system. Getting your books direct to them is a good idea. Rumors of their immanent demise are greatly exaggerated.
There are even more sites where you can sell your books directly. I haven’t explored them yet but it’s well worth taking the time to do so and I’ll be doing so soon-ish.
Third, you need to consider whether or not you want to have your own ISBN numbers (bought in the US from Bowkers.com.
This… well. It kind of depends on what your goals are. If you have any vague, pie-in-the-sky plans of opening your own small press, doing so is a good idea. If you want absolute control over the book, it makes sense. But it is not necessary in the US.
Well, Amazon doesn’t require ISBN numbers. They assign their own number to a book so your ebook with them doesn’t need one.
Smashwords provides free ISBN numbers and free is always a great deal. It’ll still say that you’re the publisher of the Smashwords edition so I’d just go with their free ISBN number.
And CreateSpace? Has three options for ISBN numbers that you can choose. First, you can have their free ISBN number and have CreateSpace listed as the publisher. This will keep most bookstores from buying your print book for their stores so it’s not terribly desirable. Second, you can choose to pay $10 and you’ll get to list your name or your publishing house’s name as the publisher. This will get you into bookstores! Right there, along with a good cover, good blurb and an accurate price. That’s all it takes.
Or you can do as I did, because I didn’t realize that CreateSpace had that second option, and buy ISBNs from Bowkers. ISBNs are expensive in the US. I bought 100 for $575. They’re going to last about 3 years for my rate of publishing. Prices are going up, too. I am not sure, at this time, whether I’ll spend the money for more. ISBNs in other countries may be free or there may be a nominal fee. Check in your own country for details. A friend in NZ only had to pay a nominal fee for her first book’s ISBN which was awesome since she published it on a shoestring.
If you’re not sure how many books you’re going to publish or what your publishing future will bring, go for the $10 CreateSpace one. It’s the cheapest, most effective choice.
And it means you can put out your story for a grand total cost of $10 to $30, including the cost for art. Pretty damn cheap, if you ask me.
And wow, my tl;dr is strong today! *laughs*
I’m going to have to split this up and do another post on the actual mechanics of creating the ebook and print book versions, and their covers, next week. Lots and lots to say there!
I hope that you enjoyed reading this. Please do ask questions if you have any. I like sharing my world building but writing these takes time away from writing stories that I could publish. Thus, it would be greatly appreciated if you would consider leaving a donation. All money received goes toward keeping me writing and posting these columns. Thank you very much!