Update From Quarantine

Look what arrived in the mail yesterday!

The book It Sounds Familiar on a brown wooden table.

It Sounds Familiar is now available as a paperback and ebook at Lulu, and as an ebook at the Apple iBookstore. It should be hitting Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Rakuten/Kobo in the near future.

Paperback is looking a bit delayed as businesses and distribution chain components need to close to keep their staff safe. This is a necessary thing, and we can wait it out with our digital media in the meantime.

While we have no known COVID-19 exposures at our house, my daughter and I are both at high risk for complications, so we’re effectively quarantined (or perhaps reverse quarantined) for the foreseeable future. It’s all a bit surreal, but we’re getting by.

As a result of a teachers’ strike followed by school closures, I’ve been homeschooling my son for a bit over three weeks and my daughter for two and a half. Now that we’ve adjusted a bit, and distance learning picks up next Monday, I’m hoping to get my writing time back.

It Sounds Familiar – Finally

I’m finally back to fixing the end bits of It Sounds Familiar for a March release.

It turns out that while I can meet my ambitious goals for writing and producing, it’s unfair to dump a new novel on my writers group and expect them to get through it in a month (unless it’s a beta read).  Lessons learned!

More details to come as I get this wrapped up.

It Sounds Familiar book cover
Cover of A Familiar Story – Book II: It Sounds Familiar.

A Peek into the Indie Writer World – Part IV: A Walk Through the Process

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
  • Publish
  • Market

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.

Front Matter

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:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Dedication

Book Cover

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 the first article in this series, check out Part I. Or if you’ve just missed the previous article, check out Part III. For the next article in the series, check out Part V.

For more articles on writing, check out Reflections From the Sol.

A Peek into the Indie Writer World – Part III: Output Options

Once you’ve chosen the indie writer path, you need to decide what products or outputs you want to provide. Common options include print, e‑book, audio book, and online serial. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Looking at your target audience to see how they prefer their media, and deciding what you can afford to spend on your launch are good starting points. 

Indie publishing doesn’t have to break the bank, but there are some expenses; these will depend on your skill-set and the products you’re creating. Even if you’re able to do all the technical work yourself, you’ll need to buy an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for each publication or version of a publication. 

Print Run vs Print on Demand 

If you decide you want to offer a print edition of your book, there are still a lot of choices to make. Do you want hardcover or paperback? If paperback, do you want mass market (sometimes called pocketbook) or the larger trade size? Do you want regular print and large print options? Are you going to do a print run or go with print on demand (POD)?

Print Run

In traditional publishing, many copies of a book are printed all at one time. This is a print run. The goal is to sell all or most of the print run. If a book’s print run sells out early enough in its publication life, it will go back for a second printing. Indie writers can duplicate this process, working directly with printing companies to produce hardcover or paperback books, paying for the print run and hoping to sell enough to break even or make a profit. 

An advantage of a print run is that it’s easier to sell something that people can take with them right then and there. There are also some nice finishing features that a print run can make available that don’t exist in print on demand, such as a variety of bindings and maps on the inside front cover and/or endpaper.

Each printed format of the book (hardcover, paperback, large print, etc) requires its own run. If you’re planning multiple print formats, or if you don’t have investors or ready money to cover the outlay, a print run may not be the best fit for you. 

Indie writers who go exclusively with a print run, rely on hand-selling their book at conventions or events, and are directly responsible for all sales. Independent book stores may carry your books on consignment, but it can be very tough to get big chain stores to carry your books outside of their distribution channels.

Print on Demand (POD)

Print on demand is a publishing model where physical books are individually printed as they are ordered. Modern technology has made POD an affordable and common option. If you order a book from an online retailer, and the book is scheduled to take a week or two to arrive, odds are good that it’s POD book. POD printers can provide hardcover and multiple paperback formats.

POD printers often work with both print and e-book outputs. Many have arrangements for distribution to retailers, national and world-wide, which can take some of the burden of selling off the writer’s plate. You must follow designated formatting standards if you want your book to qualify for distribution. This is a detail-focused task that results in a professional product.

Unless you’re buying additional services, POD has a very low cost to the author. You will need to buy a proof of the book, a copy for you to review and make sure it printed properly, before it will be released to the general public. You may need to make changes and order an additional proof to confirm the end product is as expected.

Once you’re happy with the output, you can order your own mini print run of ten or twenty books to hand-sell at readings or events. There’s usually a price break at certain levels, making it worthwhile to buy a larger number, but the per-book price will not be as low as it is with a regular print run.

A disadvantage with POD is that many online retailers have contracts with various printing shops around the country (or even the world), ensuring the book is printed closer to the delivery address. These shops may not have the same quality or standards, and indie writers can’t possibly know how that quality compares. Like a print run, it can be very difficult to get your books carried in brick and mortar stores, but big chain retailers may have them available for online ordering.


Electronic books, or e-books, are one of the easiest ways to dip your toes into the indie pool. Many e-book providers also offer distribution (sometimes referred to as aggregation). To qualify for wide distribution, your end product will need to meet specific criteria ensuring that it looks professionally produced.

There are many advantages of going the e-book route. It’s relatively simple to set up and produce. Depending on your skill set, and willingness to work through the technical elements, this can cost as little as $25 (the cost for an ISBN). Some e‑book production companies provide a free ISBN; just read the fine print to ensure you aren’t going to regret not being the owner of that number. 

E-books become available relatively quickly, often the same day you complete the publishing process. Because of the low cost of production, these can be priced low enough that curious readers may be willing to take a risk on someone they’ve never read or heard of before.

A disadvantage with e-books is the difficulty in standing out from the deluge of e‑books published daily. While libraries are starting to carry e-books, it’s not universal, making this a tough bottleneck to get through. Not all audiences have embraced e‑books, so it’s critical that you know your audience’s preference.

Audio Book

Audio book is an output I’ve researched significantly but haven’t been able to provide. I have friends with visual disabilities who would benefit, and I know several people who enjoy listening to books on the bus or long car rides.

Like a print run, audio book has more up front expenses than other outputs. You can expect to pay your voice actors at least $200 to $400. If you’re doing your own recording, be careful not to over-estimate your ability or your equipment. Theatrical or voice training can definitely help you out, but they don’t guarantee a successful product. The reading quality and audio quality will make or break your audio book.

Online Serial

Online serial publication is another easy place to start, especially if you can stick to a schedule. It doesn’t require an ISBN, but it does require participation in a service that is set up for subscriptions and donations. If you’re tech savvy enough, perhaps you can program this into your own site. Most writers use something like Patreon or Wattpad.

This route is still relatively new in the industry. The advantage is that writers can more directly connect with their audience. Some writers use this to gain a following, posting short stories and teasers for free to draw people in, while providing subscribers regular chapters and higher level content.

Disadvantages can include difficulty in getting enough traffic, the pressure of providing routine content for subscribers, and random changes in terms of service (a problem Patreon has had several times in the last year). Some writers don’t feel this counts as truly publishing, but if you are providing content to readers, it does fit the definition.

On the surface these options can seem really intimidating. If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed, pick one to focus on at a time. There’s no reason you can’t roll out various editions as you get more comfortable with the formats. Many writers provide only one format, and that’s fine too. Going indie, means you can do what works for you.

For the first article in this series, check out Part I. Or if you’ve just missed the previous article, check out Part II. For the next article, check out Part IV

For more articles on writing, check out my Reflections From the Sol section.

A Peek into the Indie Writer World – Part I: What Does it Mean to be Indie?

If you’re invested in reading books or if you participate in the convention circuit, you may have heard the term “indie writer” gaining popularity. What is an indie writer?

The traditional publishing model generally follows these steps:

  1. Writer gets experience, submitting short work to magazines/websites and longer work to publishers who accept unagented pieces
  2. After acquiring three or more significant or professional publishing credits, the writer finds an agent to represent them (agents generally only manage longer work, such as novellas, novels, and screenplays)
  3. Agent may work with the author on editing their novel or novels
  4. Agent connects with publishers, submitting novels to acquisition editors likely to buy them (the larger the publisher, the more acquisition editors they have)
  5. Once a publisher offers to buy the novel, the agent helps the writer navigate and understand the contract; some aspects may be non-negotiable
  6. The writer receives an advance, this is an advance payment on expected royalties
  7. The publisher may pair the writer with an editor (some houses are cutting this step)
  8. Publishing and distribution is handled by the publisher
  9. The writer receives royalty checks if the work out-earns the advance
  10. The Publisher continues to work with the writer, rejecting stories that aren’t viewed as profitable and directing the writer to marketable stories, until either party finds the relationship a poor fit (though writers and publishers still need to honor the contract if it covers or includes multiple works)

An independent, or indie, writer has decided not to follow the traditional model of publishing. They do the writing, editing, cover selection, publishing, distribution, and marketing themselves. Since it’s critical to have a professional end product, indie writers need to be honest with themselves about what they’re really capable of. It’s a good plan to hire out the parts of this process they don’t have the training or skill set to truly accomplish. Many indie writers hire out the cover art or the book’s layout and design elements.

Print on demand (POD) technology has drastically changed the publishing landscape, evening the playing field for writers who want a different path.  I’ll cover more on how POD and various printing and distribution companies work in the writer’s favor in a future piece in this series.

Check out Part II of this series.

For more articles on writing, check out my Reflections From the Sol section.