Monday, January 9, 2017

The Struggle of Independently Publishing Your Book

Regular readers will know that I released a short story collection 10 days ago through the Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing site. Should you wish to buy a copy, you can find all the requisite information at this link here.

It has, understandably, not been without its workflow hurdles. And if you're thinking about releasing a work of your own through Amazon, you'll find some good notes below on how to approach it all.

The last story I included in the collection, "Marina, Patina, Corona," was finished in July of 2015 before I moved back to Kansas City. Otherwise, all the stories in the collection were written right after I finished grad school in December of 2011 all the way through 2013. It was a fun project which forced me to keep writing, even if the format (the short story) had not been one that I really studied or focused on during my grad school days.

Compiling the collection was easy; many of the stories felt connected in some way, so placing them in a particular order in the book itself wasn't difficult. I had no skill in creating cover art, but as a reader, I knew that the cover was muy importante and needed to convey a similar aesthetic feeling to that found within its pages.

As I'm the type to try to spread the artistic love around, I enlisted the help of my old and dear friend Rob. An artist (and DJ) himself, I thought he'd be a solid candidate for the job. We'd played many gigs together and had a lot of late nights playing records in basements and clubs around town, but we hadn't done anything non-musical together before and I wanted to see what his brain could come up with based on a few stories I emailed him and a few things that I was looking for. I was not disappointed with the final version of his creation.

Once Rob had a general idea of what I was looking for, he set to work. Meanwhile, I tried to make sure all my pages were formatted correctly, paginated right, and the table of contents matched up to everything just so. It would not be a stretch to say that I completely revamped the formatting of this book at least 20 times before we finally nailed it.


I chose a standard 6x9 book through the KDP site. It's a good size without being too strange or too bulky in any direction. When saving your Word documents to upload to the Amazon site, ALWAYS make sure you change the size of your Word docs to fit the size of your book. Amazon does NOT alter that for you...though they have plenty of for-pay services that will do all this for you; pass on that. You'll be glad you did.

You can change the size of your documents in Word by choosing "Layout" in the top menu bar, then clicking on "Size," and then choosing "More Paper Sizes" at the bottom of the drop-down menu to input 6.00 x 9.00. SUPER easy, but if you have strange formatting like I did, you'll definitely want to spot check every line to make sure the layout looks the way you want it to. Actually, you'll just want to do that with everything throughout the process. Again, it's a slog, but way worth the work you put into it.

I set my margins on each document to be 1" on all sides. It looks like a lot of white space through the previewer on the site, but I can assure you it will be fine when it all prints out. My book could not have come out more perfect in regards to the text and its placement.

For the actual font, I chose a 12-pt Garamond. It's both classy and stylish without being overly one or the other. Plus it's just super easy to read for most people. Win/win.

Because I did not have the ability to combine all my Word docs into a single PDF (though I've figured out how to do so now through other avenues), Rob helped me achieve that as well. It's important to note here that you'll have plenty of blank pages at the beginning of your book. I should've included about three more and really thought harder about the layout, but I'm still very happy with the final product.

A good rule of thumb when turning your text all into one large document: two blank pages, your title page, your info page (ISBN number, rights reserved, copyright, etc), two more blank pages, then your table of contents. It can be hard to wrap the brain around the formatting of a book when looking at single documents in Word.

When you finish with the text of one page in this first section (and you plan on adding more pages), go to the end of your chosen text, click "Insert" in the menu bar, choose "Page Break," and then begin adding the text for the next page. Repeat the process as needed. This will provide clean pages that translate well through the upload and review process.

Because I had a story collection, pagination was difficult to get done right. There was a foreword included by my dear friend Surya at the beginning (page numbers were in lower case Roman Numerals) and then the collection came after. Had I been thinking more clearly, I would've made sure that the title of each story, while on its own singular page, fell on the left side of the book rather than fell on whatever side came next. This is a style issue and a personal preference for me, however. With enough playing around, you'll figure out what works for you.

I put the acknowledgments/dedications at the back of the book. Some people put these at the front. Again, this is up to you. After that, the author bio. I should've added maybe two or three blank pages after that.

Once you've got your documents paginated and combined correctly, you *should* be able to upload the entire document to the paperback option on the KDP site. It won't spellcheck your document for you, so make sure you've already done that and everything's solid on that end. If there are any conflicting issues with the sizing of your cover art and the size of your document, the KDP site will let you know. If no conflicts arise, then you're off to set pricing on your book!

I honestly reformatted this book some 20 or 30 times. Different fonts, different font sizes, different margins...everything. Don't get beaten down by the amount of work you have to do on the front end. If you want it all to look right the first time, spend the extra couple hours making sure. Your readers will thank you and you'll be less likely to beat yourself up later for having not taken those extra steps in the beginning.


Luckily, formatting your pages is a bit easier (I think). You don't need page numbers and you don't need to worry about margins. If you have titles in different parts of the book that tie back directly to your table of contents, you should do this for every title in your document: highlight the title within the text (not the one in the table of contents). Choose "Heading 2" in the right side of the formatting menu in Word and biggity bam. This should allow e-readers to simply click on that particular title in the table of contents and jump them right there. 

After each separate section/chapter, go to the end of your chosen text, click "Insert" in the menu bar, choose "Page Break," and then begin adding the text for the next page. Repeat the process as needed. This will provide clean pages that translate well through the upload and review process. 

Remove indentations. Read that again and make sure you understand. Paragraphs that start with indentations are going to translate funny in the digital readers. Just remove them all to eliminate that headache. It looks funny on the page, but it will look fantastically streamlined in the digital format. 

Once you've got your entire single document ready to upload to the Kindle option on the KDP site, save it as a Rich Text Format file. You can do this in Word by clicking "File," then "Save As," then choose "Rich Text Format" from the drop down menu provided beneath the file name of your document. Whereas it took me several times to upload a proper document to the paperback side of things, I only had to do the Kindle side of things once and it all came out looking pretty great. 

It should go without saying that you should check EVERY page of your manuscript through every step of this process. Technology ain't perfect and neither are you, so double, triple, and quadruple check everything EVERY step of the way. If you put out an imperfect product, you'll hate yourself for not spending the extra hour or two doing this. It will genuinely eat you alive from the inside out and it will definitely disappoint your readers. If you can't be bothered to make sure your book looks right, how can a reader be sure your actual book is worth reading? 

And now...there are tons of digital markets out there, so you don't need to start with Amazon/KDP or CreateSpace, but there are certainly some benefits to doing so. I imagine if I had started with CreateSpace first, I'd be a little happier, but I'm not sure. What I do know is this: after 5 days, Amazon started discounting my book from $15.00 down to $12.00. I wasn't notified about this. After contacting them, I was told they could offer discounts if they wanted, but if the price needed to change, then I needed to go through my distributor or publisher to make those changes. Frustrating, as that put a damper on my profits (after printing costs and Amazon's take). So, that's something to keep in mind.

Otherwise, I'd say the whole process has been (thus far) pretty easy. If you don't know how to hustle your own book to people, you may want to do some research on that months before you ever plan on releasing it. Social media is a good way to get people interested, but you're more likely to have friends and family already in place ready to support your writing habit. If not, you're going to have a very tough time getting people to find and read your book in a sea of books that already drowns the reading public.

As always, your best bet is to simply write something people have not read before, something that doesn't feel or read like anything else, something that makes you stand out as an author people should start paying attention to.