Indie-publishing on a shoestring – how to get your book out there in paperback and e-book for £200: what they don’t want you to know

November 26, 2014

To indie-publish or not?

When I finally gave up sending The Evergreen in red and white to agents and publishers, and got sick of the lack of even the smallest courtesy of a reply, I was faced with a decision: do I bin several thousand hours of work or do I somehow go ahead anyway? Indie-publishing is growing, but it is still better in my opinion if you can get a publisher – it is not an easy option going it alone, especially if you are serious. The mainstream publishing industry still hold nearly all the cards when it comes to getting publicity and exposure. On you own you are left with a hard slog unless you get lucky.

     This is a tough decision for a writer – and at this stage you must recognise that you are probably suffering a combination of elation at ‘finishing’ your project, dejection that it hasn’t made the Booker shortlist by now, paranoia, resentment and confusion. In short you are in no position to make that decision. You should therefore rely on the smartest, most honest people you know and ask them to help. It is possible after all that what you have produced is a pile of shite and that the best thing all round for your sanity is to start again on another book, treating that as a rehearsal (plenty of writers do that) or just to accept that you write to give pleasure to yourself and/or those around you and leave it at that.

     You need to know if what you have written is worth anyone paying good money for. After all, there are so many books now being published: more in 2013 than in the years 1800 – 1950, apparently. Yours may have been rejected by the publishing industry but it still may be as good in its niche, if it has one, as mainstream published books. You need people to tell you what is wrong with your book – you don’t want friends to tell you it is marvellous. Ask them to be honest and to tell you how it can be improved. (You should already have done this before you sent it out to agents, but before you embark on indie-publishing you need that honesty.) Let’s be a bit brutal: as well as some corkers, there are some truly awful self-published books out there. Do you really want to add to that stinking pile?

     Right so you’ve decided there is some merit in publishing your work. First of all you need a budget. What is realistic for how many copies can you sell? If you are lucky a few hundred in the first year is possible. You may expect to make about £1.25 on an e-book or between £1.90 – £ 4.50 on a paperback depending on how you sell it: so don’t give up your day job. There are plenty of sharks out there who will be happy to help you, happy to charge you for proof-reading, typesetting, editing, setting the whole thing up on Kindle, designing a cover, advertising, tweeting on your behalf etc. etc. So you might just break even after about 6 years if you can maintain sales. (Of course you could just gamble that you are the next E L James, or you could spend £1000 on lottery tickets which might be a safer bet.)

     As well as some sharks there are also some indie-publishing heroes out there to help you avoid expensive mistakes: without them I couldn’t have hoped to get The Evergreen off the ground. I started from the point of view that I wanted to avoid the label of “vanity publishing.” That meant making, not throwing away, money – even if the target was no more than to at least break even, and then any ‘beer and skittles’ money generated on top of that was a bonus.

 

You can get a book into paperback and in e-book format for £200. Here’s how:

 

Editing and proof-reading. 

This is something you should have done before you even sent it to agents, really. Once you’ve finished your draft, put it to one side and forget about it for as long as you can: at least 6 months I reckon. Then read it aloud to yourself: if you stumble over sentences they probably need a re-write. Get your smart, literate friends, or even better, friends of friends, to read it and tell you what is wrong with it. Then once you’ve edited it read it again. Then read it again. And again, and again. I was still finding mistakes in The Evergreen after about 8 reads – and they are still there in the final thing – damn! One way to do it is to put it onto you Kindle (see below). (If you haven’t got a Kindle that is probably a necessary expenditure). However, early on it is probably best printing off a copy and scribbling on it as you go.

 

Learn how to format an e-book. 

This sounds scary but here the first heroes come to your rescue: Guido Henkel:http://guidohenkel.com/2010/12/take-pride-in-your-ebook-formatting/ , Notepad ++ http://notepad-plus-plus.org/ , and Calibre http://calibre-ebook.com/ (These people are heroes, they make their stuff available for free. Once you start making money, perhaps consider putting some their way, or make a donation to them up front so that they can continue their work.) Before you say, “but you can just use Amazon’s own Createspace software to upload your Word document.” Don’t. The formatting on these often looks awful. Take a look at The Evergreen:http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Evergreen-red-white-Steven-ebook/dp/B00I0F78VQ/ref=pd_rhf_pe_p_img_6  : download the sample to your Kindle, or my other book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Skippers-Wooing-annotated-WW-Jacobs-ebook/dp/B00HX7M074/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1415369469&sr=1-1&keywords=the+skipper%27s+wooing  Compare that to something like (taking a book at random, that I know nothing about – it could be a great read for all I know): http://www.amazon.co.uk/Englewood-Fireside-Tales-Jean-Airey-ebook/dp/B003DQPLL6/ref=sr_1_38?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1415358478&sr=1-38

     It is worth the effort to get it right: you may be taking a DIY approach but there is no reason you can’t do a better job than many of the lazily produced commercially published e-books (see my review of Ours Are the Streets for example at: http://stevek1889.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/sheffield-novels.html )

Have a look at Guido Henkel’s stuff and then have a play with your book on Notepad++ and Calibre. Follow Henkel’s instructions on cleaning up your formatting and transferring your text to the programme editor (I used Notepad ++ but there are others). Deal with your special characters as described (If you need a £ sign you need:&pound; by the way. ) To then turn it into an HTML file you need to wrap the text with HTML headers etc. You can even make up your own <p> tags. Try cutting and pasting the following at the start of you Notepad++ document instead of what Henkel has:

 

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd">

  <head>

    <style type="text/css">

      html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0em; }

 p

{

  text-indent: 1.5em;

  margin-bottom: 0em;

}

p.first

{

  text-indent: 0em;

  margin-bottom: 0em;

}

p.firstlone

{

  text-indent: 0em;

  margin-bottom: 1.2em;

}

p.gap

{

  text-indent: 1.5em;

  margin-bottom: 1.2em;

}

p.extragap

{

  text-indent: 1.5em;

  margin-bottom: 10.2em;

}

p.chapter

{

  text-indent: 1.5em;

  font-weight: bold;

  font-size: 1.5em;

  page-break-before: always;

  margin-top:3em;

  margin-bottom:0em;

}

p.sub

{

  text-indent: 1.5em;

  font-weight: bold;

  font-size: 1.5em;

  margin-top:0em;

  margin-bottom:2em;

}

p.newpage

{

  text-indent: 0em;

  font-weight: bold;

  font-size: 1.5em;

  page-break-before: always;

  margin-top:3em;

  margin-bottom:2em;

}

p.centered

{

  text-indent: 0em;

  text-align: center;

}

span.centered

{

  text-indent: 0em;

  text-align: center;

}

p.titlepiece

{

  text-indent: 0em;

  font-weight: bold;

  font-size: 3em;

  text-align: center;

  page-break-before: always;

  margin-top:5em;

  margin-bottom:2em;

}

 

    </style>

  </head>

  <body>

 

 

I don't always use all the <p> tags in each of the books I've done, but I'll try and explain what I use them for. Some of these I made up and they seem to work:

 

<p class = “first”> removes the first line indent from the first paragraph after a heading or a * gap (like in a proper book).

<p class = “gap”> creates a gap after the paragraph: so use that if you want line spacing between paragraphs to create break in the story<p class = “sub”> allows a subheading under a chapter number without showing up on the contents list

 

<p class="firstlone"> allows a paragraph on its own left-aligned, with a gap afterwards – so for a first left-aligned paragraph where you want a break in the story after that first para.

 

 <p class="centered"><span class="centered">*</span></p> This places an asterix in the middle of the page. It is best to follow that with left-aligned text for the first paragraph

<p class="titlepiece"> creates a titlepage: the title on its own on a page.

 

 

The following example lets me end the page with "...fill me again" then start "Rab Howell...perhaps" on a new page half way down in italics:

<p class="extragap">On Good Friday 1898, Sheffield United beat Bolton 1-0. Sunderland lost to Bury by the same score and Sheffield United secured the English Championship for the only time in their history… so far. Come fill me again!</p>

<p class="newpage"></p>

<p><i>Rab Howell… perhaps ........................

 

 

This is the start of the book, following straight on after the HTML header above:

 

<p class="titlepiece">The Evergreen in red and white</p>

<p class="newpage"></p>

<p class="first">First published in 2013 by 1889 books.</p>

<p class="first">Copyright © Steven R Kay 2013.</p>

<p class="first">The moral right of the author has been asserted.</p>

<p class="first">Cover: Greg Whitmore and Steven Kay.</p>

<p class="first">This e-book is licensed for your personal use only – it should not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you are reading this book and did not pay for it, please purchase your own copy – thanks for respecting the hard work and thousands of hours that the author put into researching and writing this. </p>

<p class="chapter">Author’s Note</p>

<p class="first">In 1894 Rabbi Howell became the first Romany to play football for England. I have never believed the accounts in the club’s history books of what happened in 1897-98: a pivotal season for him. My research led to what I believe to be as close to the truth as is possible. This is a fictional account based on what facts that can be gleaned.</p>

<p>The glossary contains Romany and dialect words, should the reader wish to know exact meanings.</p>

<p class="chapter"> </p>

<i>I don’t know exactly what Howell is made of, but he is an acrobat and I believe if he were standing on his head he would somehow get his kick in, and the ball would be picked up by one of his side.  – Free Critic, Athletic News, January 1898<p></i>

 <p class="chapter">CHAPTER ONE</p>

 <p class="firstlone">Saturday 17th April 1897</p>

 <p class="first"><strong><big><big>Rab</big></big></strong> took the little…

 

 

Once you have uploaded onto Calibre and created an e-book you can put it straight onto your Kindle to check it.

 

What I haven’t learn to do is successfully add pictures (other than the cover) or tables to e-books using this method. If anyone can help with that?

 

3) Getting a paperback published.

 

By all means shop around to see what you can do on price but I would recommend Fast Print Publishing:http://www.fast-print.net/ They are not rip-off merchants. You pay for what you get – can’t complain about that. If you want add-ons from them they sell each of those separately so you can make up your own package. Other so called “self-publishing” companies don’t let you do the basics yourself and some take a cut of every sale on top. Fast-print don’t do that. For £150 I got The Evergreen set up as a Print on Demand book and £49 for them to keep it topped up on Amazon as “in stock.” I also bought 200 copies off them at a price that allowed me enough margin for retailer discount. (Retailers want 40%, so on a £7.99 paperback they get £3.20 leaving your profit as the difference between printing costs and £4.79 – that makes it very tight to turn a profit). To do the £150 package you need to send them a typeset PDF of your book. Next step learn to typeset on your PC: don’t panic.

     You cannot do this on Word and then transfer it to a PDF using software: it will mess it all up: I found out the hard way. You could of course pay for software such as InDesign or Adobe writer (but why would you unless you are a professional?). So instead you need the next hero’s help: Apache Open-Office: https://www.openoffice.org/ This has a facility to export a document as a PDF and doesn’t lose your hard work in typesetting. Study paperback books you like and see how they are laid out. This is what you are aiming to replicate. Paste your document into Open Office docs and then start fiddling. I suggest you set it up with two pages per screen: recto and verso. The Evergreen is not my ideal layout: it is rather densely set out, the font is size 11, is itself economical with space, and the margins are as squeezed as I could make them: but at about 105,000 words, and in order to keep costs down, I had no option: more pages more cost. I went for a standard page size of 197mm x 132mm. I set the Open Office page width at 12.70 and height at 19.80 – the closest I could get it. This when exported as PDF using Open Office’s facility came out as PDF that was 5.19 x 7.76 inches which was close enough. I set the inner margin at 1.40 and the outer at 1.20, top at: 1.30 and bottom at 1.93. The page layout is mirrored which gives you the recto and verso. Just fiddle on is my advice.

 

4) You can’t judge a book by its cover

 

But everyone does. This might be the one area worth spending a bit of money on. I didn’t spend any on The Evergreen, however. I did the basic idea and then a friend with some slightly more sophisticated desktop publishing software helped me out and produced the JPEG for the cover. Fast Print have a guide as to how the cover should be laid out with bleeds round the edge etc. I also paid a few pounds for permission to use the font: from a lovely guy called Galdino Otten (another hero in my eyes: http://galdinootten.com/ ) The cover of The Evergreen is not probably what a commercial publisher would have come up with but it works, I think. Another possibility for doing something at low cost may be to get a design college student to help. It is slightly easier just producing an e-book cover and can perhaps be done using a simple desktop publishing package: the cover for my edition of The Skipper’s Wooing was done on Open Office Draw for example. There also are cover design templates out there that you can use if you: see for example: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/10/20/book-cover-design-ms-word/ 

     Another website worth looking at for all matters self-publishing is: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/

 

5) As you approach publication you need to start thinking about publicity, so that you can hit the ground running. This is hard work and not very satisfying. You have to tout yourself and your wares using whatever means possible: no one else will do it for you. I suggest setting up a website (I used Wix.com which is very easy to use for anyone with a bit of computer knowledge: it is very intuitive.) You should also consider spending a few pounds getting you own domain name: that way search engines are more likely to find you. Use Twitter where you can. Look for any openings that make you book special: every book has its own audience and possible openings. Search around for people that will do reviews for free in your genre. You may have to budget for sending out some free copies. Learn how to do a professional looking press release. 

Suss out your local media. Try and get local radio interviews if there is something newsworthy about your book: the launch or a relevant anniversary or whatever. See also David Gaughran’s: Let Get Visible which has some useful ideas ( http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ )
     Above all persist. You need to keep it up for long enough for word of mouth to start working for you – you need to keep chucking it in the air and you have to hope that if the book is strong enough it will eventually fly on its own (I’ll let you know if mine ever does!) Good luck with yours.

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