To celebrate the release of my new book, I figured I’d do one of those cheerful rundowns about how self-publishing rules and you can too!
Just kidding. Self-publishing is pain in the ass. I’m torn on which part is my least favorite, but it’s probably preparing the layout for the physical copy. I admitted to myself that everyone in publishing wants a Word doc, so I gave up my beloved Pages 09, which will probably lose support soon anyway because Apple’s pushing their new bastard stepchild version of Pages on everyone. It’s not quite as bad as the ice-pick lobotomy they gave Final Cut Pro X, but it’s close. Yay it works better on iPad! Because everyone banging out half a million words a year is doing it on their iPads. Jesus. Whatever: I learned how to use Word, or at least the 2011 Mac version. My favorite feature: CTRL-Z might decide to undo the last half hour of your work and drop the cursor at a random location, giving you no indication of what just happened so you have to go over the entire manuscript again. Or maybe you hit enter and surprise! Nothing happens! Or it put a line break somewhere not on your screen! Check everything again! And the margin is different for this one heading even though it says it’s the same! Why? Who the fuck knows! Just eyeball it or something! Should have used InDesign.
Editing is slightly better because I pay someone else to do a lot of it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to read the entire thing forty times in the tedious and horrifyingly illogical task of trying to prove a negative. After two editions, there’s still a word missing somewhere in my last book, and when I found it, or rather when I discovered its absence, I died a little and drank a lot, but accepted the need to move on.
I’ve also accepted that I am not an expert at creating eBooks. This was more difficult to swallow, because after twenty years of writing and ten years of programming, I really should be. I was corresponding with a company that would do it for me, but I was put off when they quoted me a price per page. Since pages don’t strictly exist in eBooks, I had to wait all weekend for them to define what a “page” actually meant, and seriously, who doesn’t use word count? An eBook conversion service charging by the page is like a video conversion service changing by the scene. Anyway, I did manage to bang out a decent kindle version between Word and Calibre, and it’s embarrassing enough that I had to use two immensely top-heavy UIs to edit what is essentially a collection of XML files without admitting the embarrassing amount of time it took me, so I won’t. If you’re going to go down this path, do not start two weeks before your release date, for you will be ruled by impatience and fear, and will likely never get to the Nook and iBook formats you had planned and will end up paying somebody else anyway. Figure it out early. Everyone I talk to about this mentions Lulu and Createspace and some other thing I forgot, and I’ve tried them and been forced to conclude that I’m an idiot, because even after trying to follow the recommended preparations and uploading to their eBook tools, everything looks awful and the table of contents is nonsense. It’s yet another thing I should probably be trying to figure out now instead of complaining, but I’m lazy and complaining is easier than studying. FYI, the Lulu version might be a little wonky. If you buy it and it’s unreadable, let me know and I’ll make it up to you somehow.
For the physical copies of your book that nobody will buy, Lightning Source is the best quality you’ll get. Use creme pages and the matte cover, and your book will be sumptuous to hold. One guy wrote to me to say he bought my last book because of the texture. I’d say it’s worth it if you have a bookstore that will carry you, as it will get your name out and taste like legitimacy, but remember you will just never make money off print on demand, unless you’re so popular you probably have a publisher anyway. Also, if you, like me, require a stack of books to prove to your family that you actually produce something, do it through Lightning Source, but be prepared for an expensive and tedious process. Every time you upload a change, there’s a forty dollar “file-processing” fee, and that’s per file: if you change the cover and the interior, you’re spending eighty bucks. If I charged forty dollars for every file I processed, I would have retired to a private island in 2008 and I would have made my fortune in an hour. They clearly don’t trust their programmers to whip up a python script to process these files, if they have any programmers at all; their site looks like it was made in the 90s and is exactly as easy to navigate as you’d expect from a website made in the 90s. If you don’t care about quality, go elsewhere for books, but if you want a book that looks and feels like it was printed by a major publisher, Lightning Source is the only POD service I know of that passes muster. They also automatically link up to your eBook on Amazon, or they did last time. Not a game-changing feature, but at least there was something nice to wake up to at the end of the nightmare.
So to sum up: layouts are a pain, Word is a terrible program, editing is illogical, whatever you do about eBooks don’t do what I did, and if your ego is locked up in certain nonsensical requirements for pseudo-legitimacy and you have a bunch of money from your day job, print through Lightning Source.