If you’re thinking of going indie, or have already decided to, you may find yourself wondering what steps you need to take. This is a look at the process, focusing on hard copy books and e-books.
The short version, in bullet format for those with very little time:
- Write your story
- Identify your output product(s)
- Copy edit your story
- Purchase and/or assign ISBNs
- Request PCN (hard copy print only)
- Format the story
- Create front matter for printed work
- Cover art and design
The longer version with more details:
Write Your Story
There are many different ways to write. Use whatever process works for you (drawn out, under tight deadline, or anything in between). Revise and edit your draft to ensure you have the best possible version you can. Many people like to use critique groups or beta readers, other people don’t. The key is that your content (poetry, short stories, novella, or novel) is the highest quality you can make it.
Identify Your Products and Process
You can start looking at the various products and printers out there while you’re still in the writing stage. As your story gets closer to being ready to print, you’ll want to have some decisions on your starting point, at least. Will it be an e-book with print to follow? Or do you just want to start with the e-book and see how it goes? Your plans will influence some of your next steps.
Copy Edit Your Story
Most people think of this as proofreading, finding and fixing typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors. In this case, it also includes ensuring your soon to be published book has a consistent style.
Style is a set of rules that provide a uniform look to a document. This includes things like use of font, font attributes (bold, italic, underline), implementation of flexible or optional grammar (such as the Oxford/serial comma), and the presentation of specialized terms. Most fiction publishers have a house style built off Chicago or AP style, both of which have handy manuals. It ultimately doesn’t matter what style you go with, as long as you are consistent.
In the editing world, style often includes formatting elements, but for the indie writer, some of that formatting will vary depending on the product or products you’re producing.
Things to Watch For
- Consistent spelling for names of people and places
- Consistent terminology for magic or world-specific details (eg: does the world use shape-shifter, shape shifter, or shapeshifter?)
- Use of numbers (phone, age, height, distance) are generally spelled out in fiction
- Consistent units of measure (unless there’s a good reason for it, you don’t want to randomly switch between metric and imperial)
If attention to detail and copy editing aren’t your strong suits, copy editing is something you should plan to hire out. You can also just hire someone for the pieces you need done. If you have a handle on your house style, but want someone else to proofread, that’s totally a thing that people do.
Purchase or Assign ISBN
If you’re printing with a company that offers a free International Standard Book Number (ISBN), and you’ve chosen to go that route, you can skip the purchasing step. I personally prefer to have full control of all my ISBNs, allowing me to take them with me if I switch printers or distributors.
Buy your ISBN in advance via Bowker. You will need one ISBN for each product you are producing. A trade paperback needs a different ISBN than a hardcover or audio book. There’s often a discount to purchase multiple ISBNs at one time.
Once you have any needed ISBNs for this project, you’ll need to link the number to a book title, and provide some information on the book and edition (publisher, summary, cover etc). This is a good time to perfect your back-cover blurb or teaser. You can come back and update much of the ISBN information later if you don’t have all the elements at the time you’re doing this.
Request a Preassigned Control Number (print copies only)
If you’re based in the US, you’ll want your book registered with the Library of Congress as this increases the likelihood that it will get into libraries. It also provides some added copyright protection.
You will use the Preassigned Control Number (PCN) process, which takes 10-15 business days. Start this far enough before you plan to complete the publication process, to ensure you have your Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) before you go to print. If you have trouble navigating the Library of Congress’ website for questions (and you probably will, it’s not as clear as it could be), you may want to explore the PCN Manual.
To complete the process of registering, you will need to send a hard copy of the printed book to the Library of Congress.
Format the Story
Formatting your work can fit in with style, especially after you’ve gone through the indie process and have a handle on what you want and need. Many writers will create their draft in the most complicated format they are planning on producing, just so this piece is well underway (and less frustrating later). Once the book is ready for publication, they’ll make copies to reformat for other products.
At this point you need to know how you plan to publish and what company you’ll be using, as different publishers have different formatting requirements. Be sure you read the requirements before you put in a bunch of work changing your novel into a font you won’t be able to use.
Features you need to make formatting decisions on include:
- Page size (determined by the product you are creating)
- Margins (leave room for the gutter – the inside margin where the binding is)
- Chapter heading font, size, and position
- Indent (fiction usually indents first line of a paragraph)
- Line spacing (look at similarly sized books to choose number of lines per page)
- Section breaks (asterism or section sign are both good choices)
A Note on Paragraph Styles
If you’re not already using paragraph styles in your word processor, you need to start now. Styles designate font, size, and text attributes, as well as features like line spacing and indents. When used properly, styles ensure consistency and a professional looking end product. They also make it much easier to reformat the entire document if you need different features for a different product, or if you suddenly need a different font for your text body.
If you are creating an e-book, you must designate title and heading 1 styles at the very least, as these are used for navigation. Failure to designate these will often result in your book not meeting requirements for distribution.
Do not use extra returns and the space-bar to place text where you want it on the page. This makes your digital end product inaccessible to people with adaptive reading equipment. Screen readers will read every one of those spare characters, and no one wants to hear “asterisk, asterisk, asterisk, asterisk…” as they wait for the next section. Instead, use your styles to put chapter headings where you want them, and use hard returns (ctrl+enter) to separate chapters.
This is the content that comes between the front cover and the first page of the story regardless of whether it is a print or e-book. The professional standard includes:
- Copyright page (including the year of publication, ISBN, and LCCN)
- Table of contents (this will be automatically generated for e-books)
- Title page (should be on the right page for print editions)
Optional content includes:
This is your primary advertiser for your book, whether it’s print, e-book, audio book, or a serial. You will use this image everywhere to pitch your work. We’ve all been told to not judge a book by its cover, and we all do it anyway, so expect that this is something that must be done right.
Consider your cover a visual extension of the story. It needs to be appealing while giving your reader clues on what to expect. If your zombie apocalypse story has a cover that feels like a Christian devotional, it won’t appeal to some of your readers and you’ll have gone against the expectations of others. You absolutely do not want your book to look like you spewed clip art at the page, a common new indie writer mistake. A generic cover does you no good either.
It’s okay if you don’t have the skills to create a stunning cover for your book; hiring someone to do this for you may be your best bet. It’s worth paying to get a cover that helps readers decide to pick your story. There are a lot of great artists out there, so look around and find someone whose style is a good fit and who you can afford. That said, don’t whine about prices. Artists deserve to be paid what they’re worth.
The steps at this stage will vary depending on the company or program you decide to go through.
For most print on demand printers, expect to have to buy a proof before the book becomes available to the public.
This stage will vary depending on your comfort level and opportunities. In general, you should be marketing yourself as a writer at any opportunity. This means participating at conventions, doing readings, and posting announcements on your social media and website. Be careful to avoid giving your friends a constant hard sell on Facebook, though. No one enjoys that. Your social media needs to be somewhat active and should include content not specifically related to a recent book release. Posting teaser chapters can be a great try-before-you-buy option.
While this looks like a lot of steps to take, they are spread out over the course of your process of bringing your story to publication, and many are not that onerous. Most print on demand companies have paid services to help with some of these steps, if they seem too great for you to overcome on your own.
For more articles on writing, check out my Reflections From the Sol section.