Self Publishing Observations

Posted by:

Of course, as noted throughout the site, the first title available from Late Nite Books is the d10 Core Roleplaying Game System Pocket Companion & Core Rulebook available on Amazon.  This, of course, is a major step for me personally and my fledgling company, so I decided that I would share a little bit of my insights into this process.

I am very happy that my first book turned out so well, and I am even more satisfied that I did everything 100% by myself.  I spent a total of around $8.00 US to get my book published and available on Amazon, the largest online retailer in the world.  So, I decided to share a little bit of this information with those out there who may be wondering how this is all possible.  But, unlike many websites, I am not going to make you buy a book for this information; I am going to release it for free.  Isn’t that so wonderful?

I decided early on that I would:

  1. Spend as little money as possible to develop the project.
  2. Develop a quality project that had ample proofreading and quality controls.
  3. Put up a free version for download to help promote the product (due to the genre).

So, that being said, let’s delve into the details and find out what I learned as a result of my first adventure into the publishing world!

The Bottom Line:  Making Your Buck Count

This is, of course, paramount to small publishers and individuals.  The first thing I will examine are the tools I used to produce my book, and their cost to me (or their current market cost):

OpenOffice – OpenOffice.org’s word processor proved invaluable to my project.  It is capable of doing everything (as far as I’m concerned) that the commercial competitors are capable of, such as Microsoft Office and WordPerfect.  Now, I’m not saying that these other products are bad to use if you have them, but if you don’t have them already, OpenOffice is a great and free alternative, and it exports to Portable Document Format (PDF) natively.  This is key to your success as a small publisher, which I will discuss later.

Adobe Photoshop – I’ve used Photoshop for many years now, so I’m use to it.  I’ve had my copy forever, so I don’t quite remember what I paid for it, but the current price is $699.00 from their U.S. site.  Since I’m dedicated to using Photoshop, I can’t tell you which alternatives are easy or good to use, but I have heard that the GIMP is capable of most/all of Photoshop’s abilities, and there are a comparable amount of tutorials available to get you going.

WordPress – In case you didn’t know, you’re looking at WordPress now.  It was the best and easiest choice for me to use to promote my work online and make updates and news available to the masses.  If you don’t like WordPress, others content management systems (CMS) like Drupal, Joomla, or PHPNuke are fitting substitutes that help you manage your content and push updates.  If you’re tech-savvy, you could attempt to build your own page from scratch (especially if you are reading this with interest in developing your own programming manuals).  If you’re like me, you have the ability to write it from scratch, but you’d rather focus on the content and publishing with speed instead of building it all from scratch.  If you’re like most people, you prefer things to be simple and easy-to-use.  Since I don’t operate an eCommerce solution from my personal website, I like using a simpler CMS (although you can integrate eCommerce plugins easily into most CMS these days).

These are the three tools I used in producing my first book.  I used OpenOffice to write the material and format it, Photoshop to produce my cover art, and WordPress to publicize it and maintain an online presence.  When you are thinking of adding a new tool to your pipeline, you should consider its cost, usefulness, and necessity, and I always urge people to seek a free “copycat” of the software and try it out before buying expensive ones, especially when you’re starting out.

Deciding on Your Publishing Option

This section, on most blogs and websites, turns into a Lulu vs. CreateSpace debate.  I am not going to indulge the demons by bashing one and raising the other up on high because I actually plan to use both services at this time, and I’ll explain why:

Lulu – They have the ability to make hardcover books, they do list on Amazon, and they accept PayPal.

CreateSpace – It is an Amazon company, they give a slightly higher royalty payment, and they do paperback books wonderfully.

For quality of the finished product and service standards, I would recommend reading through their respective community forums, as I do on a regular basis.  Both companies consist of really good people who make it possible for people to realize their dreams, and that’s really awesome of them!  I can’t really recommend either one over the other.  Reading about the problems that people have had with either service will let you know if you can personally accept the common problems of one service over the other for your particular book or publishing needs.

I found CreateSpace to be somewhat easier to work through the process, but Lulu’s is not rocket science either.  Let me say it this way: I approved the first copy of my CreateSpace proof when I received it, but I will have to work on my Lulu hardcover version some more because it doesn’t explain the guides extremely well.  If you’re making a casewrap hardcover, I recommend putting anything “non-bleed” at least 1/4th an inch away from the spine on the front and back covers!  See my article on Bleed and Trim.

Proofread, for Crying Out Loud!

I am not perfect, but there is nothing more upsetting to those who have been reading for long periods of time to see a document fraught with typos, misspelling, and horrid grammar.  People are certainly willing to forgive an error here and there, especially since most people will quickly find out that you’re flying solo in this thing, but try to get it as close to perfect as possible before releasing it.

Just as a personal experience, and I am not going to name names, but I purchased a PHP programming book recently.  The guy who wrote it was brilliant.  The topics were very helpful, and the book screamed with taste and elegance.  Unfortunately, it was largely unusable:  the source code supplied had so many errors and typos that it made it even harder to learn the material.  I eventually got through it, and I sent the author an email stating that it was such a great book and recommended that he repair the typos and errors before publishing a second edition.  This is especially important with manual-type books, and it can be more forgivable in novels, but try not to do it too often and proofread, proofread, proofread!

As a final note to this section, a simple recommendation:  to save some bucks on this part, and since most people would rather set their book on fire before proofreading it themselves when you get to proofreading your 300-500 page book (yikes!), offer someone you know some kind of compensation instead of paying a professional.  Make sure they are generally good with English, though.  I have a friend that agreed to proofread my copies in exchange for a hand-delivered, signed copy with a personal inscription.  That’s just the price of a single copy of my book and a little pen work.

Read Your Book and Get Opinion

Read through your proof when you get it, and have other people check it out and give you a little mini-review.  It helps to give the book to people who can appreciate the topic and who might “get it”.  If you’re writing a novel about romance, giving it to your overweight, extremely anti-social friend with two friends, one of them being you, the other being a fish named “Randy” who may or may not have died weeks ago in a tragic filter incident, might not be a good idea.  Get some statistics to compare against your friends to see what age group, sex, and personally types traditionally enjoy the genre you are writing in, and get their feedback on the product.

Putting Up a Free Version in a Saturated Market

Some of you will understand what I’m talking about right from the beginning, others may take a little coaxing to get to where I need them to be.  Regardless, I will begin:  sometimes putting up a free version is better than leaving it purchase-only, and I’ll explain why.

Hold on, there.  I know you are saying, “What do you mean?! I’ll be ruined!”  I’ll get to that.  I’m first going to get into a couple of different types of industries out there.

First, I will talk a little bit about the roleplaying genre and explain it a little.  Roleplaying games (RPGs) are played with rule books and manuals around a table amongst friends.  Games such as Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and all of White Wolf Publishing‘s games have a very devout following.  Even these major RPG are doing very well for themselves if they sell 5,000 copies of a single item in a year’s time.  As such, do not plan to get extremely rich off of your roleplaying game sales, if that is what you plan to write.  In other words, writing RPGs is a passion and done for the personal satisfaction, unless you have an idea that just takes off and runs from the word Go.

Second, I will talk about novels.  Here’s where you can actually make a little money, depending on your skill.  In order to make it on the New York Time’s Best Seller list, you need to surpass, I believe, 10,000 sales, and the ranking goes up and down depending upon your sales.  Don’t get discouraged, though; this is alot easier to accomplish with a novel than any other kind of book, so the odds aren’t necessarily against you.

So, the RPG industry sells game manuals, in essence, and is generally split into factions that support this product or that product.  Novels, however, are somewhat disposable: once you’ve read it, you probably will not read it again unless you pick it up years later, you are writing a report on it, or you really, really liked the story.  In the RPG business, people review and read the books constantly over a span of years, thus developing a loyalty to a particular game book.

The same goes for manuals of any type.  Who doesn’t know the For Dummies! series of books that claim to teach you anything under the sun for $29.99, give or take.  These books have expanded to just about any topic that you can think of, and they do rather well.  I’ve read several of them personally, and I can see why they do well: they are rather informative about the ins and outs of their chosen topic matter, and they do a very good job of explaining information in a way that you can use it, without a whole lot of time spent on commentary and theory.  If you’re planning on writing an instruction set or manual of any kind, you can definitely learn from this series of books.

So, concluding on why I put up a free version, I decided that, since it’s an RPG system and that market is extremely hard to get into due to saturation, I put up a free version.  Novels are usually not best served by this method, as you want people to buy the story to read the story, but in the case of d10 Core, you are better off giving people incentive to buy the hard copy by being able to freely explore it in digital format.  After all, you are trying to compete with some ancient and deep-running loyalties in that business, but I always work on d10 Core with a light heart and without profit on the mind.

Finishing Up

I hope you learned a little something about this self publishing business while reading.  If not, I hope my personal story entertained you, at least mildly.  And, of course, if I missed something, feel free to comment!

0

About the Author:

  Related Posts

Add a Comment