As some of you may know, in July this year I walked the South Downs Way and I was quite excited about converting my travel journal into a paperback book. Business friends of mine had self published books before, and one networking friend had even set up a self publishing business so how hard can it be? As soon as I returned from the walk I launch MS Word and began writing the manuscript. Within a few weeks the book was ready to be published, but where do I start?
My first point of call was my networking friend, Andy, who gave me lots of advice. He offered to publish the book for me, but when I worked out the maths, spending in excess of £2,000 for my first book meant that I needed to sell a lot of books to make a profit. I have the time to learn this new skill, so I turned to my next best way of learning anything new, YouTube. In the meantime, I sent the Word document to my best friend Julie, who went through it all with a red pen and edited lots of errors. It just goes to show that you can not rely on Grammarly 100%. Grammarly (the online writing assistant that guarantees a mistake free document) was my original editor, but an actual human being, especially one who knows you so well, was ten times better than any online programme.
Here are my five learnings from the self publishing process:-
#1 – Size matters!
To get a book published on Amazon you need to use a publishing tool called KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Part of the process is to select the size of the book that you want. I spent time in my office measuring other books with a ruler trying to figure out the best size for my book. I thought it was the right size until the proof copy arrived. It was way too big and would not travel well with a backpacker who was walking the South Downs Way (my goal for the book).
#2 – Get advice from a professional!
I vented my frustrations about the whole publishing lark on Facebook when I couldn't get Kindle Create (Amazon's design software) to do what I wanted it to. I must have spent over 30 hours playing with that software which was a complete waste of my time. A Publishing Coach, the lovely Suzan St Maur, saw my post online and offered to meet me for a coffee. I jumped at the chance! She talked me through all sorts of things that I didn't know that I needed! I was scribbling away with enthusiasm and hanging on to every word she said.
- My guttering was all wrong – I had no idea what a gutter was but I do now!
- Do I want larger margins for people to write notes along the trail?
- I needed captions under my photos to explain what they were (sounds obvious when someone points it out to you).
- I now know what a “widow” and “orphan” is when it comes to publishing a book.
- I hadn't realised that the design of the inside and page layout was just as important as the book cover.
- Words such as prologue are not used anymore – its a preface.
- I also didn't know that it makes your book look professional if you have the title of the book in the top right of every page.
- Copyright blurb should be designed in a certain way.
- There is also an unwritten etiquette as to the order of each section.
- Suzan also mentioned that nearly all authors publish an audio version of their book nowadays, and this should be something to consider.
Armed with all this new knowledge, I set to work on my book once again. I wasn't ready to give up yet!
#3 – Use a designer who understands your values and mindset
A friend of mine introduced me to Caroline Smith from Peninsular Design a few years ago. Caroline lives in the middle of nowhere in Scotland and she is an outdoors kinda girl. Caroline was perfect for the job and as soon as I described the book and my ideas she was onboard with a personal design within a few days. I loved it! Caroline's idea was to use the same image of me and my backpack on the front of all my books (yes, I may write more), and then change the scenery according to the different trail. When I discovered that Caroline's specialism was “cows” then I knew this was going to be a long term relationship. There is a secret cow placed strategically on the back of the book (and there will be a cow on all future books). She's great! (I hope you agree and like the design cover).
#4 – Amazon are fussy but that's not a bad thing.
Pulling my hair out as once again as the “preview” on Amazon looked awful. Pages dropped off the end, captions on photos were not aligned, the style just looked like a MS Word Document (which it was). This was not how I wanted it to be. I wanted something that looked amazing and felt like a proper book. Not just someone that uploaded a word document and clicked “print”. I was that frustrated that I could cry.
Out of desperation I sent an email to my new friend, the Publishing Coach, Suzan, explaining the problems I was having. She emailed back within an hour with details of a new contact, Helen, that she thought may be able to help me. Taking a deep breath, I wrote an email to Helen asking for her help. Helen messaged back that evening asking me to forward the manuscript. I then waited for three long days (which wasn't that long, but it felt like a long time!) for a response. Helen suggested I put the Adventure Geek logo as headers for each chapter, the images were the wrong file size, there was no consistency in the chapter subtitles, and an array of other changes. Rather than just giving me a list of things to do she simply said “can you send me your logo and the images and I will do it all for you”. This was music to my ears!
#5 – A Kindle manuscript is different to a print manuscript
To get your manuscript ready for Amazon you need two types of file. A PDF for the printed version and a Kindle software approved document for the Kindle version. Life would be much easier if it was just one version wouldn't it?
My very first book, Once Upon The South Downs Way, finally went to print in November. Yes, it took me two weeks to write the book, and then another three+ months to actually get it to the stage where I was hitting the “publish” button on Amazon. Even now, I can see some mistakes, but at the end of the day, in the words of Seth Godin, just get it shipped! So that is what I did.
Has this put me off self publishing? No, I will simply do it faster and better next time!