Self publishing for family historians (again)

For the good people who attended the Society of Genealogists workshop on self publishing on Saturday 8th July, here as promised is the gist of what we covered:

First off, it is important to find out as much as possible about the process in order to avoid getting confused and/or ripped off. There are sharks out there.

Self publishing  is ideal for family historians for several reasons:

  • You get to control everything: the length of the book and the look of it including the cover
  • You can mix the genres (ie history/family history/memoir and fiction)
  • It doesn’t matter if you only intend to sell a few copies (see POD below)
  • You can edit the text, images and/or cover at any time and re-publish the book at no extra cost
  • Your book never goes out of print

PRINT ON DEMAND (POD)

This is what has made self publishing in print form possible and financially viable. Instead of having to print off hundreds or thousands of copies of your book, and find somewhere to store them, Amazon (or whoever) files your book electronically and only prints a copy when someone orders one. Unit costs per copy are the same no matter how many you order. Shipping costs on top vary according to the country the buyer lives in and how many copies he/she is ordering. So if for example you order ten copies to be sent to the same address it will not cost ten times as much as ordering one copy.

BEFORE PUBLISHING

EDITING

Having written your book and polished it to within an inch of its life, it’s a good idea to have it professionally edited. Every writer no matter how successful or experienced needs an outside eye to check for overall structure, clarity, repetition and consistency.

(That said, if you are only intending to publish for your immediate family this may not be essential, though the right editor can always improve any book.)

COPY EDITING & PROOFREADING

Copy editing means checking the book for grammar and sentence structure. Some editors will do this for you, but don’t expect it.

Proofreading means checking for typos. You should be able to get a sharp-eyed friend or colleague to do this for you.

Once your book has been written, rewritten, edited and proofread, the next step is to gather it together in two documents:

  • INTERIOR
  • COVER

The interior consists of Front matter, text and End matter. What goes where is a matter of choice but generally speaking this is what I go for:

INTERIOR FRONT MATTER  

  • Title page
  • Copyright page
  • Dedication/quote page
  • Map/family tree/photo
  • Table of contents

INTERIOR END MATTER

  • Afterword
  • Acknowledgements
  • Appendix & chapter notes (or notes if you have footnoes)
  • Bibliography
  • Author biography
  • Index

FOOTNOTES

In my first book The Worst Country in the World I didn’t use footnotes for various reasons: a) I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the text and b) footnotes don’t generally work in ebooks. Instead I referenced my sources in the Appendix and Chapter Notes, and expanded on various things only the seriously interested, such as family members, might want to know. This was a personal choice however. With my current book I may rethink.

DESIGN

Whether you decide to go it alone or get people to help you it is useful to have some idea of what you want your book to look like. It can be helpful to find a book whose layout you like and use it as a template. (I chose Kate Grenville’s The Secret River for the plainness of style, clarity and size of font and relatively generous margins.) These are the considerations:

  • Page/trim size: Amazon’s POD templates are limited to standard book sizes such as 5” x 8” (standard novel), 6” x 9” (standard non fiction) etc. (I chose 6” x 9”)
  • Font and font size: (I chose Palatino 11 point – on the large size, deliberately; I experimented with different fonts and sizes, & margins,  by printing out a few pages and cutting them down to the relevant size, but it’s difficult to see how it looks until you can see the full printed proof)
  • Margins: (mine were top & bottom 1.9cm, inner 2 outer 1.5, gutter .33)
  • Chapter headings layout: (Aligned L, R or C, upper or lower case, start some way down the page)
  • Extras: such as drop caps (1st letter of 1st sentence in each chapter enlarged), small caps at beginning of new chapter, headers
  • Images: (photos, maps, family trees) – see below for copyright

COVER

Received wisdom says don’t try to create your own book cover unless you are an experienced graphic designer or au fait with Photoshop. Professionals know what is eye-catching and what is not and what is appropriate for the genre. They should also be clear about how many versions and amendments they are willing to provide for their fee. Fees differ according to how much they are required to do; original artwork will obviously cost more than if you provide your own image, or if they are able to use stock images from copyright free sources. Expect to pay from around £250 upwards.

Recommended cover designers

Alternatively look online for cover designers and if you find one you like, contact them direct. Likewise in a bookshop: the designer’s name may be on the fly-leaf of the book, otherwise contact them through the publisher.

COPYRIGHT

As we touched on in the workshop copyright is a minefield, and I cannot pretend to be an expert. However I did come up against a copyright issue when I wanted to use a 19th century painting by Australian painter Tom Roberts for my cover. The image itself was out of copyright but the high-resolution photo of the image online belonged to an art gallery in Ballarat, Australia. They allowed me to use it on condition I signed a detailed license form stating I would not change the image or superimpose text on top of it, and that I would send the final proof to them for their approval. In the end my cover designer decided she couldn’t comply with their demands, so we didn’t use it.

So while an image may be out of copyright the online photo of the image – or in the case of books or documents, the scanned version uploaded online by an organisation or library – may not be.

BLURB

This is what appears on the back of a paperback or on your Amazon page. The blurb is notoriously difficult to write, but it is your selling tool, and should be:

  • Brief – no more than 200 words
  • Written in the third person present tense
  • A selling tool not a synopsis

Here for what it’s worth, is my blurb for Worst Country:

In 1787 a handful of people – convicts, marines and government servants – sail across the world to settle a new colony and call it New South Wales.

In 1801 Mary Pitt, a widow with five children, migrates to New South Wales from her home in Dorset to live among these same convicts.

Two hundred odd years later Mary’s great great great great granddaughter travels to what is now Australia to discover why her ancestress risked the lives of her entire family to make her home in a penal colony. She uncovers tales of astonishing bravery and bloody-mindedness, the origins of a unique form of class distinction, why her own Australian/English mother was the person she was and how what was once regarded as the worst country in the world became one of the ‘luckiest’.  (135 words)

I’m not saying this is an ideal example (nowadays I think I’d edit it down a tad), but what I’ve set out to do in three paragraphs is:

1) The original story
2) My family’s part in the original story
3) My quest to investigate 1) and 2)

~~~~~~~~~~~~

HOW TO GO ABOUT SELF PUBLISHING

There are three basic options

  • DIY using POD with either Amazon Createspace or Ingram Spark – the cheapest option
  • AIDED – through a reputable publishing company or individual
  • HIGH-END – custom-made with special paper, size and shape and/or binding, eg coffee table book. Ideal for image-heavy books.

DIY – This is the option I chose but I would only recommend it if you have a lot of time and patience. I formatted both the paperback and ebook versions of my book – it took me longer than it should have or than it would do now. It isn’t that difficult, you don’t need any particular IT skills no matter what the books tell you.

If you are interested in the nuts and bolts of doing things yourself you can find more technical details here

Amazon Createspace: https://www.createspace.com Amazon are the market leaders for self publishers. They may be behemoths, and tough employers, but they are very efficient and easy to deal with. Their submission guidelines are very straightforward and easy to follow. They can also show you what kind of royalties you can expect to receive according to how your book is priced. The submission process is free, they don’t start to make money until you start to sell books. They also provide their own free ISBNs and barcodes.

Ingram Spark: http://www.ingramspark.com Ingram have been around forever but Ingram Spark, the self publishing arm, is relatively new on the scene. The advantages of IS are they have print outlets in the UK and Australia as well as the US (Amazon CS is US-based), their distribution is considered to be better, and for the Amazonphobes, they are not Amazon. The quality of print is also slightly better, in my experience. The drawbacks are you have to provide your own ISBN (available in the UK in batches of 10 through Nielsen – http://www.isbn.nielsenbook.co.uk/controller.php?page=121) – and you have to pay a small fee to submit your ms (unless you are a member of ALLi, see below).

AIDED – Here is where you get someone else to do the work for you. You can buy in services a la carte so to speak, in other words you can provide the cover yourself but hire someone to proofread the book, or to format it.

Before contacting an outside organisation, there are things to be wary of.

  • DO be clear exactly what you are looking for
  • DO make sure you hang onto the rights to your book: if you’re using a self pub company pay the one-off fee to get the book up there and that’s it
  • DO make sure the royalties come straight to you and not through a third party: otherwise you’re dealing with vanity publishing and have the worst of all worlds and will make zilch money
  • DON’T sign any long-term contracts

Recommended organisations:

I Am Self Publishing https://www.iamselfpublishing.com. A young brother and sister organisation, very friendly, very savvy, experienced in producing all kinds of books. They offer an initial no-obligation consultation, either in person or on the phone.

SilverWood http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/packages – Silver, Gold and Platinum service. Much recommended by fellow indie publishers.

Matador  http://www.troubador.co.uk/matador.asp  A large organisation with a rather confusing website. Probably American but also based in the UK. Again recommended by indie authors.

HIGH END – Custom-made, recommended:

I Am Self Publishing – see above
Lifelines Presswww.lifelinespress.com
Pynto – as above

WEBSITES

If you don’t already have your own family history website I would recommend creating one. It is an excellent way for other family members to get in touch with you. I have a static (ie not a blog) site at marymatchampitt.wordpress.com and I’ve had all manner of distant relatives contact me with very useful information. You can create one for free, or for a small annual hosting fee, at WordPress.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

ALLi guidebook
Published by ALLi and available on Amazon and elsewhere*
ALLi 2
Published by ALLi and available on Amazon and elsewhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*There seems to be a problem with this Amazon link. I will query it with ALLi and repost.

RECOMMENDED WEBSITES

An organisation run by indie authors for indie authors. They publish a list of recommended service providers (available to members only) and books (available to all). They also have a closed Facebook page and monthly meetups in London and elsewhere, plus they offer other perks such as reduced rates with Ingram Spark and free entry to the London Book Fair, among other things. If you want to know more, click on the ALLi logo on the top right of this page.

MARKETING

Not of great relevance to family historians necessarily. But if you want to submit an article or ask for reviews here are some online magazines.

For example when I contacted Who Do You Think You Are for a review they were pretty sniffy, but I sent them a copy anyway and heard nothing more. However they do – or did – have a feature in their magazine called ‘My Family Hero’ and when approached were very keen to include a story about my ancestress.

EBOOKS

Whether or not you are thinking of publishing in e-form (not so suitable for picture-based books), ebooks are easy to produce – again on your own or with help – and you receive a higher royalty (70% through Amazon compared with around 20-25% for paperbacks). Most indie authors sell more ebooks than paperbacks, partly because bookshops are generally reluctant to stock  indie published books, and partly because of the cost of POD. My sales are 90% + ebook, and of those, 95% are through Amazon Kindle.

Submission is straightforward, and free, through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing: https://kdp.amazon.com/

For other e-devices such as Apple iBook, Nook and Kobo, you can use one site to distribute to all platforms such as Ingram Spark or

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com
Draft2Digital: https://www.draft2digital.com/

Again it is free to submit your book.

That’s about it. If there is anything you would like to add or comment on, or if you have any further queries, please either comment on this post or email me at patsytrench@gmail.com.

 

 

Judging a book – hints about cover design

No, I’m not going to tell you how to design your book cover. I will say find a professional to do it for you as there’s nothing worse than a shoddy cover, and I speak from painful experience.

I decided to change the cover of my non fiction book about my Australian ancestors. The book has been out for nearly four years and is selling reasonably well, but I figured it could do with a boost, and besides it received a general thumbs-down from my writer colleagues on the ALLi Facebook forum.

Print scanned
The original cover

The photo is of the Hawkesbury River, where my story is largely set, and was taken by my good self a few years ago. Criticisms of it included the fact that it was not obviously about Australia, that the colour was wrong for that country, that the image contradicted the title (which was the point) and that it was too contemporary.  Of all those the one comment that made sense to me was the last.

I found a designer, recommended by ALLi and as it happens Australian, and I found an image I liked – a 19th century painting of the Hawkesbury River by an artist called William Pigeunit. It had just the right element of threat.

Hawkesbury Piguenit cropped
Hawkesbury River with Figures in Boat: On the Nepean 1881 (wikipedia)

Unfortunately while the picture itself is in the public domain I could not find a copy of it with a high enough resolution – I think that’s the term – ie, 1MB or more.

So I found another painting – A Summer Morning Tiff by Tom Roberts – again in the public domain but in the possession of an art gallery in Victoria, Australia. They wanted a fee to provide me with a high res image, and they also sent me a licence to sign promising we would not alter the image in any way, and asking to approve a proof of the cover before publishing. My designer (Jessica Bell) decided one way or another she couldn’t work with the picture without making alterations. So back to square one. In the end she worked on my original image, and the end result, which I am very happy with, is below.

3rd draft
Cover by Jessica Bell

Jessica has managed not just to make the picture a good deal more vivid (by comparison the original looks decidedly drab), she has added depth and interest, and the font suggests a story not set in contemporary times. The miniature silhouette of the woman’s head adds a touch of human interest and hints the book is about a woman, which it is.

So, I’ve learned a few things I didn’t know before in my many years of self publishing, and here they are for the edification of anyone out there contemplating using an existing painting for their book cover.

  • Make sure the image is out of copyright and in the public domain.
  • Make sure the image is at least 1MB.
  • Even if you’ve found an image in the public domain if it is not a high enough res you may have to pay for one that is.
  • It is up to the writer rather than the designer to check image copyright.
  • Your designer may and probably will have access to copyright-free images, so discuss it with her or him.
  • If your book is about a person or persons a touch of human interest in the cover is a good idea.
  • The writer isn’t necessarily the best judge of the sort of cover that will make a book sell.

That’s it really. I wish you the best of luck with your cover design adventure, and again if you have any queries get in touch!

Patsy Trench
patsytrench@gmail.com

Self publishing: the nuts and bolts

In response to some queries I’ve been receiving recently from writers thinking about self publishing, here is an update on the nuts and bolts of what it entails.

Self publishing offers exciting opportunities for writers …

  • You get to be in control of everything, including
  • When you publish
  • What you publish
  • The look of the book, including cover design
  • The price

… It also entails a certain amount of hard work, but depending on your inclination and your budget you can get other people to do all or some of it for you. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Write the best book you can and have it professionally edited and proofread
  • Hire a professional cover designer
  • Convert the manuscript into ebook for Amazon and other online retailers
  • Publish the ebook on Amazon direct, and/or through Smashwords
  • Design and publish the paperback
  • Market it!

Amazon is the leading online retailer but there are other important outlets as well, including Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks. It is possible to publish your book on all of them for free.

There is also Ingram Spark. They publish and distribute ebooks and paperbacks globally. The pros and cons of IS are

  • Their worldwide distribution is better than Amazon’s
  • The quality of paper and print is marginally better than Amazon’s
  • You have a better chance of selling your book through retailers who don’t like Amazon
  • They have print outlets in the UK and in Australia, as well as the USA
  • Unlike Amazon and the rest however you will need your own ISBN. These are available to buy in a minimum of 10 through Neilsen (in the UK).

Marketing your book is a challenge, there’s no doubt about that, and the more writers choose to self publish the harder it is to get anyone to read your book. In my experience non fiction is easier to market than fiction as you can target a specific readership. That said, you can do as little or as much marketing as you like depending on whether you are hoping to make money out of your writing or are just happy to have your book out there.

For more information on the whole process, plus how to find people to help you, please click on https://patsytrench.com/2015/08/16/self-publishing-for-family-historians/

If you are serious about self publishing you might consider joining The Alliance of Independent Authors. They have a private Facebook forum where you can get advice on all aspects of independent publishing, and there are also regular online conferences and physical meetups. Click on the ALLi sidebar on this page to find out more.

Good luck with your indie publishing enterprise, and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Patsy Trench
patsytrench@gmail.com

Ingram Spark (& others)

On Tuesday evening courtesy of ALLI (The Alliance of Independent Authors) we had the pleasure of a talk from Andy Bromley from Ingram Spark.

Ingram Spark with border

When I first published The World Country in the World back in 2012 the only option for indie publishers was Amazon. Ingram, a family firm (then and now), existed as book distributors only, and their print arm Lightning Source was aimed largely at traditional publishers.

All that has now changed with the ‘Spark’ added specifically for independent authors.

The great advantage of Ingram Spark is that they have print outlets not just in the US but here in the UK (in Milton Keynes) and in Australia (Melbourne). This cuts down on both shipping costs and delivery time (although paradoxically ordering a book to be sent from the UK to Australia is, though quicker, more expensive if printed there – due presumably to GST). I’ve had my latest novel The Unlikely Adventures of Claudia Faraday printed by both Ingram Spark and Amazon Createspace and quality-wise there’s very little to choose between them except that the print on the IS version is very slightly clearer.

Createspace with border

Ingram Spark is growing all the time and, much as we all love and hate Amazon it’s very good to see some competition. Submission is almost as easy as with Createspace, the only differences are:

  • The submission costs on Ingram Spark are $US49 for ebook and print or for print only, and $US25 for ebook only (ALLI members get a discount), as opposed to free on Createspace.
  • Amazon Createspace provides its own ISBN, for free, but this means your book will have Createspace printed on it, which tells everyone it’s self published. With Ingram Spark you provide your own ISBN (in the UK from Neilson, minimum of 10 costing £144), but you get to create and name your own publishing outfit so nobody can tell whether you are self- or traditionally published.
  • International – ie outside the US – distribution is cheaper and easier through Ingram Spark.

Received wisdom, confirmed by Andy Bromley, recommends for print versions of your book to use BOTH Amazon Createspace AND Ingram Spark. If you submit your book to Createspace and DON’T click on Expanded Distribution then all sales outside the US will go through Ingram Spark, under your own publisher’s name.

Happy days!

And another thing for Australian writers: The Book Depository (owned by Amazon) is apparently about to open up in Australia, and offers free worldwide delivery. Since Australian Amazon handles ebooks only it’s good to see another online company providing competition for print retailers such as Booktopia.

Wordery with border

Also on the heels of Amazon is Wordery, an online bookshop handling print books only and offering free worldwide delivery (and currently better deals on both my books!).

Patsy Trench
patsytrench@gmail.com

Exercises in marketing 2

Self publishing is not free.

It’s true you can upload your book onto the Amazon site and to Smashwords for free, but if you want a professional job done you will have to pay for parts of it.

Barney and books
Barney the book salesman

At a rough estimate it costs at the very least £500 to self publish a book, to include editing and cover design and other odds and ends such as fliers or postcards, review copies etc. (The dog comes free, bribed by biscuits.) If you’re hiring help with creating your paperback and converting to ebook that will bump the costs up; and if you’re publishing through Ingram Spark there’s a small fee to upload your book, plus £144 for ISBNS (sold in a minimum of 10).

It’s also a good idea to set aside something for marketing. I had my first go at promoting The Unlikely Adventures of Claudia Faraday at the weekend using an online site called ebooksoda. You register, upload your book details, blurb and price, and choose a category – historical romance in my case – and in return for a fee of $15 (£10 or so) they promote your book to their subscribers by email on one specified day; though the book remains on their site, further down the page, for a few days afterwards. It’s good to offer a discount, so you need to make sure this is in place on the day of the promotion. Amazon changed the price almost immediately, Smashwords likewise except for Nook, which took around 24 hours. (NB The price on the amazon.com site was showing up as $3.03 in the UK, but $2.99 in the US, for some reason.)

Result? Zilch. No sales whatsoever.

However, when I emailed ebooksoda to tell them I had registered with them but not received any emails or made any sales they responded swiftly, pointed out a blip in my registration and refunded the fee, even though there had been some click-throughs apparently. So thank you ebooksoda.

As I said before however each author, each book, each day is quite different. My next promotion is with bargainbooksy later this month. Better luck this time hopefully.

 

Exercises in marketing

You’ve written your book, rewritten it, rewritten it, had it edited, cover designed, beautifully produced and published, it looks gorgeous. Nobody is buying it.

Neglected book with border
Sketch by Anna de Polnay

I have been self publishing since 2012 (only 3 books so far) but surprisingly maybe I’ve never before had to find a marketing stategy, perhaps because my first two books are non fiction.

I have however read everything there is to know about marketing, becoming an entrepreneur, building a platform, creating your brand and all those other ghastly business-oriented terms. I have also discovered some useful things, such as:

  • Marketing that works for one author doesn’t necessarily work for another.
  • Marketing that works for one kind of book doesn’t always work for another.
  • Non fiction is easier to market than fiction.
  • Above all it’s vital to find a strategy that you are comfortable with. If you are physically unable to accost people in the street or tell everyone you come upon from bus drivers to checkout people about your book (as am I), then don’t. Think of something else.
  • Try and make it fun.

To this end I am for the first time trying some online promotion sites for my 1920s novel The Unlikely Adventures of Claudia Faradaybeginning tomorrow, December 19. I’ll be blogging about my progress.

Patsy Trench
patsytrench@gmail.com

 

NaNoWriMo

Write a novel in a month? You have to be joking.

NaNoWriMo.org
NaNoWriMo.org

There’s a certain amount of pressure on indie authors these days to churn out several books a year. (Never mind the quality, feel the width.) If you believe some of the hype coming usually from the US there are self published writers out there earning zillions, because they’re writing a dozen books a year, in series, therefore building a ‘platform’ and a loyal readership.

There is sense in this, though for many of us the words ‘platform’ and ‘entrepreneur’ – another favourite – fill us with fear and trembing. Most indie authors don’t make much money, or expect to. We write because we want to write, because, perhaps, we are vain enough to think other people might be prepared to devote a few hours to reading what we have to say. No matter how shy you might be it is true to say you’ve got be quite arrogant to be a writer.

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – began a few years ago, in the US of course. The idea is you register on the website and over the 30 days of November you churn out 50,000 words – which is not quite a novel but is quite an achievement. It works out at just under 2,000 words a day.

I’d known about NaNoWriMo for a while but thought it was nothing more than a gimmick with an ugly name. But this year, it being November and not a lot going on, I thought I’d give it a go. We’re only a week in but here’s what I’ve discovered so far:

  • If you are a fastidious writer who likes to waste time going over your first 20 pages until you’re blue in the face, this is for you.
  • If you are easily distracted, can’t wait to sharpen pencils or clean the windows or more likely glance quickly at Facebook, this is for you.
  • If you are full of doubt about your ability to write in the first place, or to build a plot or create characters, this is for you.
  • If you are inclined to spend a ridiculous amount of time researching, both before and during the writing process, because you really really have to get it right, this is for you.

I am all of these things. That’s partly why it took me six years to write my first book (The Worst Country in the World – though here was a lot of genuine research involved in this) – and a couple of years to write my second (The Unlikely Adventures of Claudia Faraday, absolutely no excuses there). The novel I’m embarking on as part of NaNoWriMo features a character in my last book, as it happens, which makes it part of a series as it happens. But I have absolutely no idea how my story is going to proceed, I have no plan, every day I’m starting out with an empty screen and a blank mind.

Knowing you’re expected to produce all those words, every day of the week, is liberating. It liberates you from going over and over that difficult passage that quite likely will be jettisoned from the final draft of your book anyway. It frees you from having to research every item, moment in history or, in my case, actual person, and then finding it impossible not to include everything you’ve learned just to show off. It frees you from dithering – shall we switch to a passionate romance in the South of France in the next chapter or shall we stage a momentous marital row leading to divorce? – stalled by thinking the decision you make is crucial, and irrevocable.

Whether or not you, or I, end up with any kind of a product at the end of the month isn’t really the point. What is exciting about writing is discovery. You wake up in the morning without an idea in your head and a couple of hours later, there you are with a brand new character doing stuff you never dreamed you would dream up in a million years. It’s childish in some ways, in the best ways, playing with your imagination and seeing where it will take you. Writing through (is it through or by?) the seat of your pants as the expression goes may not suit every writer. But I would actually recommend it, even to the meticulous planners, if only as an experiment. You might surprise yourself. Which is ultimately what writing is all about.

NaNoWriMo.org