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Adventures in self publishing - If I can do it anyone can

My first self published book, Stress Free Adventure Planning is about travel planning. If I was to be perfectly honest I would describe travel as a series of events where things go horribly wrong, which in retrospect is the best possible thing that could have happened to you.

Well self publishing is a bit like that. There are an awful lot of points where you're ringing your hands and tearing your hair out, but once you are finished and are holding a copy of your completed book in your hands, you can’t imagine how fortunate you have been to have had this experience.

Who’s stupid idea was this again?

Writing is something I was drawn to ever since I was a teenager, however due to being more than a little dyslexic I had always considered it out of my reach. I receive enough flack over miss-spellings in the occasional facebook post so you could see how I would be terrified at the condemnation a whole book would bring.

I had been researching, creating an info-product for an online business that was in the works, when a friend asked for my help organizing her honeymoon. She was excited but apprehensive she would miss something and didn’t really know where to start.

It was then that I realized the amount of info on travel I had amassed over my years on the road and that all this info was actually of value to somebody else. I brought the idea up with a friend, not really being serious just thinking out loud and she offered to edit anything I came up with. If it wasn’t for that I don’t think I would have ever followed through but I thought hell I’ll give it a try and see what I can come up with.

self publishing research

Ground work, word count and other undertakings

To my surprise the book pretty much wrote its self, sure the research and link checking was arduous but I’m kinda into that sort of thing.

Being a non-fiction book it was relatively easy to organize. I simply made a mind map of all the topics I thought needed to be included, and then ordered them from where I thought planning would start. This was made easier by using Scrivener, a writing program that lets you drop and drag your index cards/chapters back and forth, as you format. (Try it here, free.

The program also gives you the ability to set daily word goals, so I was quite motivated as I watched the words pile up. I was probably about 95% done before I thought to myself “oh wow I’m writing a book.”

Don’t get me wrong, I researched my butt off;

  • What formats do e-readers like the best?

  • How to write a winning title?

  • Bullet points to hold your readers interest.

If there was an article, blog or library book out there I read it, scratching down notes in a little book, cursing that I hadn’t discovered this or that tip a few days earlier.

I blame my father’s DIY attitude, it tends not to occur to me that something is out of my league until I have already committed to it. In which case, more often than not, I slog through and achieve something unexpected, primarily because I am so over committed to the project that I have very little choice.

The dreaded edit

Now this was the bit that was scary for me. My grip on written language is tenuous at best, so I had to hand my book over to others and hope like hell they came through for me. I had two people edit for content & readability and two edit for spelling & grammar.

Being as this was a long shot and my first book, the people who edited my first manuscripts where volunteers, friends and family.

I am amazingly grateful to them for their time and efforts, without which the book would have never happened. However using friends and family had two stumbling points for me. For a start; time frame, my book became months behind schedule as I waited to get edits back from different people and I also got the dubious pleasure of my editors rehashing and generally having a good laugh over my mistakes.

Don’t get me wrong, I know my spelling is atrocious but as any of you artists and writers out there know; it is incredibly difficult to stand up behind your idea in the face of the worlds indifference and general ‘get a real job’ attitude. Additionally, try achieve that without people taking pot shots at things you really can’t help no matter how deserved they think they might be.

This was also the stage of the book where all my research started to suggest outsourcing.

Need an editor? --- outsource!

Get the best book cover possible? --- outsource!

and you know what, if you can, you should totally outsource as many things as possible to EXPERTS!

However I had three reasons I did not follow all this perfectly good advice:

  • Budget, as in I had none what so ever.

  • When I am learning a new thing on the fly, I like to have a go at all it’s different aspects, even if I fail, I will know what is involved for next time.

  • Let’s face it I’m a sucker for punishment.

There really is nothing like the editing process. You edit, copy-write edits, you edit, content edits, you edit… rinse and repeat and that’s before you even get to formatting edits.

People complain about typos missed in the editing process but a human being can only read the same words so many times before they see what should be there rather than what is.

At least with an e-book I can continue to fix up the occasional typo even after publication.

Stress Free Adventure Planning

Formatting, a comedy of error's

The fun third stage of self publishing is formatting.

By this point I was totally out of my depth. HTML? Hard enters? Image centering? ~ Yeah Nah!

This was the only stage of the process that I had totally underestimated. Not just that I didn’t have the skills (which, let’s face it, covers most of the project) but just the sheer amount of time this stage took. It was a good third of the overall project. Of the five odd months it took me from conception to launch, only about six weeks was actually writing, the rest was devoted to editing and formatting revision!

Formatting for those not initiated into the fine art, involves making your work appear in different e-book formats the way it does in a basic word file. From removing every single enter in a piece to making sure images are inserted correctly. You make changes, upload into the editor and look at the book, going back to word and changing things and uploading again until you have something that looks as close to the original as possible. The frustrating thing is that Kindle alone has 7 different formats. You can fix your book in one format only to have it all over the place in another. If I could say anything about formatting it would be that it is the art of patient compromise.

The other thing I hadn’t considered was how much work is required setting up accounts with the different e-book providers and the things they would require in order for you to publish. These consisted of such things as different copyright pages, to calling the US for tax exemption numbers. Luckily I found a few books that saved the day (this one is particularly helpful ) and once more slogged through.

Managing expectations

So nearly five months after I started, I had a book. The problem is - for the self-published author - this is just the beginning. I have a marketing plan (more research - are you seeing a theme?) but in order to raise my profile from an unknown author it will take time and money. I imagine it will take around a year before I see any kind of steady results and even then I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to retire in luxury.

This doesn’t mean I’m not recommending self publishing. I just believe you need to manage your expectations. Unless you are already famous with a large following, the chances of you becoming an overnight success are slim to none. If your motivation is, however, more than purely financial, then the process is incredibly rewarding.

I can’t describe the satisfaction of holding my book in my own two hands or Googling the title and seeing all the hits. There is something I did, something that a few months ago was just an idea in my mind!

The most rewarding thing for me however is the feedback. It may be long in coming (the first thing that almost everyone tells me is that there is a typo on page 130) But to have my friends who are organizing trips refer to some information the book gave them, to get congratulations from people who have laughed at my spelling in the past. For my father who has looked at me dubiously typing away on his couch the last few months, to exclaim at how thorough and useful the book is. (See dad, I was working all that time). These are rewards beyond the investment of my financial future, and I am making them!

There are all sorts of motivations to write a book and just as many paths to have that book published. If you have the desire and the drive, self publishing is well within your reach. It won’t be easy and it certainly won’t be quick but if writing is something that draws you, all the information you need is out there waiting for you to follow your dream. After all, if I can do it anyone can.


"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." — Toni Morrison

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