Almost two years ago I self published my first book, Send It On, a collection of short stories. I am a horrible self-promoter and haven’t spoken much about the book or the process behind publishing. Since every one can’t get a land a book deal like your favorite YouTubers, I’m here to give you a very highly requested #TechTips post, on how to write and publish your own book!
I think a lot of people have some pretty dope storylines that they could put to paper, but they’re allowing their insecurities to overwhelm them. That’s one of the underlying missions of #SmartBrownGirl to empower women (and others) to say f*ck the opinions of others, the doubters to the haters, and have the self-confidence to just DO! Literally writing starts with you just starting.
I started writing Send It On in 2007, after my homeboy Shawn said to me, drunkenly at the A/C Canal Street train station, “yo son, your life is like a story you should really starting write about it, like keep a journal and shit then turn it into a story” I didn’t start right away, but I started eventually writing things in pieces. I had a blog and then a myspace blog and then Facebook notes trying out different stories to see how people responded. When I lived in NYC most of my associates worked in media, and one who was an editor at Vibe left a comment, like yo this is really touching. So I’m not going to discount the power of a validation. I understand the psychological weight can be a lot to get over. So reach out to other writer circles, take a writing course at a local community center or college. Start a Tumblr, even if it’s anonymous. There’s plenty of websites that will publish your work, as sometimes it’s just seeing it formatted in a pretty layout to see that you have the power to get it done, while seeing the areas that you can improve on, like Medium.com, and Thought Catalog, amongst others.
Literally just do it.
2. Google.com is your friend
Literally if you have a question, and you’ll have a lot of them, you can type it into Google and quickly learn something new. The definition of a word, how to structure a sentence, to formatting your book for publishing. To how to purchase an ISBN, a book identifier code you need to sell your book, Google is your best friend in this process.
3. You are going to make mistakes.
Look, I am an Aries, I HATE, can’t stand, can barely deal with being embarrassed. But that is something self-publishing my own book has taught me that I just have to get over.
This is self-publishing. Spelling and grammar errors are bound to happen. You might not have the snazziest cover design or it may look different in print then when on your computer. But you’re doing something that so many other people are scared to even embark on, this is a big accomplishment, so take your time, the beauty of self-publishing is that it’s easy to correct your errors and keep on learning along the way.
4. Formatting is the most crucial part.
Well once you’ve written the book and had it edited. Definitely have it read by several people for grammar and spelling. If you have a big name publisher they spend upwards of $2500 to get a book edited. I spent about $350 and then had to clean it up on my own again. So yeah.
But on to formatting , whether it’s poems and short stories or a self-help empowerment book, the look and feel of your book will be very important. How your paragraphs flow on a compact book vs. 8×11 print book varies greatly. This is where you and Google will probably get most intimate.
Typography changes lives and the reading experience. I went with Baskerville at 11pt and 1.2 line spacing, after perusing several blogs on best typography practices.
Send It On, is 5×8, Black & White interior on Cream paper. You can go to the library or the book store and check out the different feels of books. I printed out drafts of my book so I knew it was too short to be a bigger size book. I wanted something compact that was still lightweight (so not too many pages) but dense enough it felt like a substantial book. 5×8 put my book at 126 pages.
I then downloaded the Word document templates from Createspace (which is the vendor you have to use if you want your book to be on Amazon) and laid out the interior pages on that. They have a separate template for the cover + back and I used that in Photoshop.
If you are not keen on learning Photoshop (which you can purchase for one months use via Adobe, it’s about $20) you can use sites like Fiverr, to get a cover designed for cheap. Just remember you get what you pay for.
I used hashtags on IG to find a water color artist in the Philippines who charged me $50 to do the artwork and then did the layout for the cover myself.
5. The Independent Publisher.
Amazon is great because that allows your book to be available internationally. As I mentioned, you have to use Createspace, an Amazon company, to get your book on Amazon. The downside is that you make less profit than buying your book in bulk and selling it on hand, but once you do the math on time and labor of holding inventory, I find the profit on Amazon to be equitable.
A lot of authors will link their book directly to Createspace, because if purchased through their e-store the profits split are higher than on amazon.com, but the customer also pays more.
So my book is $14.95 PLUS shipping so about $20, I would make $5-7 off that purchase vs. on Amazon it’s listed on sale at $12.48 and if you have Prime free shipping, I’ll make $2-3 off that purchase.
Createspace will also set you up on Kindle through the KDP website. But you have to format your book specifically for Kindle readers. That is definitely more work and we’ll come back to this.
There’s also Ingramspark, so I use them when I do events and want to have the book on hand. They help you if you want to get into independent brick & mortar book stores. I also like their book quality better. Their rates are better if you want to order your book in bulk as well.
6. E-books and kindle have to be formatted differently from print.
Specifically for Kindle a lot of the formatting has to be removed and your tags have to be structured properly because e-books for e-readers are essentially HTML files. In coding, a paragraph has <p> </p> tags around it and CSS that structures the font, etc. Sounds complicated but for whatever software you use there’s typically templates you can download to make it a pretty simple process.
I laid out the content in Pages, the word processor for Macs that is similar to Word. Then used InDesign to format the print book; this is not required and only recommended if you already are familiar with InDesign. Word is more than enough because you will HAVE to use Word or Pages to format for Kindle. The fancier software like InDesign are too complex for the needs of Kindle.
To format for Kindle you remove page numbers, auto-generate a table of contents (Google got you on the tutorial, takes 5 seconds) and properly tag your Chapter Titles, Subtitles, and Body/Paragraph tags. Then export it to an EPub file. THEN you have to download the free software Calibre, where you upload your book and then export it to a .MOBI file that Amazon Kindle accepts. You can also check it across e-readers from iPads to Kindles and Nooks on Calibre to ensure that its formatted properly. *Boom*
Calibre is great even if you’re just a reader of e-books. It can convert PDFs and such so that you can read them on your Kindle. I put you on!
7. Marketing w/ a website.
There will be a separate #TechTips on building a website. But when it comes to marketing, social media is an obvious necessity and I would recommend at least a one page “splash page” for your book. This is something I need to improve on, as it’s on my to-do list. But Awesomely Luvvie has a great splash bag for her book, she also has a publisher, so this is a high bar. You can get something similar using About.Me or Wix or something more sophisticated like WordPress.
Really quickly for WordPress. You can use wordpress.org if you don’t have your own server. All my sites run on WordPress and I have my server through SiteGround.com and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THEM as they answer my a million and one questions. I previously used DreamHost and their interface is more user friendly though customer service can be frustrating. If you are limited in knowledge, Siteground has the best customer service.
Then I get all my WordPress themes, which is how you change the look of your website, via Themeforest. You will need to know some basics in order to upload the themes and get them to look nice on your site, but it’s not a harsh learning curve. For something similar to Luvvie’s book site you can buy the Foundry theme on Themeforest (where you can see a live preview of any theme they have for sale). Just remember the sleeker the layout the more work to customize it on your site.
This is a lot!! I might have to do a follow up cause I’m sure there’s a ton of questions to be asked. But look at this as a starter guide to writing that awesome booking you’ve pushed to the back of your head.
My bday is on Friday and it would be great if you purchased an autographed copy of my book Send It On, or just copped it on Amazon, be sure to leave a review!
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