From Manuscript to Book (Starting a Small Press Publisher)

Sometimes authors wonder why it takes a publishing company so long to go from manuscript to book. There’s good reasons for it!

There’s a lot that goes into getting a book into shape and ready to sell.

For each of these things, you’ll need to decide if you are the best person to do the task (thereby saving on costs) or if the book would be better served by hiring someone else to do the task.

blogpostmanuscript

Someday perhaps we’ll have a staff of people but for now it’s just me and a bunch of people that I contract for individual jobs.

Editing

The first step when you get a new manuscript that you want to publish is to do a content edit. If it’s your own book of course you’ll want to hire someone else to do this. I usually do for all the books we have. I might do one pass of editing first and then once the author has worked on those changes, send it out to another professional content editor.

The author doesn’t have to take all the suggestions that come up. The purpose here is to make the story itself better: tighten it up, make sure the conflict is strong and serves the story, make sure everything makes sense and flows from one plot point to the next in a believable way. This will do a lot to make the book better.

Next you’ll want a copy edit to check on facts, style issues, and consistency.

After that you need a line editor or proofreader to scour the manuscript for typos and mis-spellings.

After each of these edits the author will go over it and make sure of all the changes. You and the author need to come to an agreement on changes at this stage before you can move on to getting it out for sale.

Formatting

The book will need to be formatted for print and ebook. There are lots of people you can hire to do this, but it’s one task I prefer doing myself. This will involve things like putting together the look of the front matter (the copyright page, notice of other books available, etc.) This will look different in a print book v.s. a digital book (examples of mine at the end of the post). You’ll need to choose how a new chapter looks (Do you call it Chapter One or Chapter 1 or One? Do you have it in a different font from the rest of the text?)

Ebook formatting isn’t too intimidating. The key factors are that you should not have page numbers and you should not have hard tabs (tabs should be created in the formatting, not by hitting the “tab” button. You can find these in “find and replace” with ^t).

For most ebook vendors you won’t need to have it in their formats, they will take a Word document and turn it into their own format. But you may still want to get a program like Calibre to convert between formats (This is particularly good for ebook giveaways and free review copies that you can give people in whatever format they would prefer).

Cover Design

Cover design is crucial. You may have heard not to judge a book by its cover, but nearly everyone does! You can put together a cover yourself with GIMP (ironic name for my business to use, don’t you think?) or Microsoft Paint, but it’s usually painfully obvious that you did it yourself and it makes the whole thing look unprofessional.

There’s lots of great book cover designers out there and having a high quality cover will do a lot for your book sales and credibility.

For example, I’m super proud of the cover for The Boy Next Door, which I did myself. I paid for high quality stock images, I modified them into the characters, I picked the fonts, I picked the color, I blended it all, I got feedback.

The Boy Next Door

 

 

 

 

 

 

But look at it next to the pro designs for (W)hole and The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend and it’s still a little bit…lacking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll want to have your cover designer put together both an e-book version and a print version (and for that you’ll need to know the dimensions of the paperback including the spine width, which depends on the number of pages, and you’ll need to have your back cover copy ready or an ability to add it later with your designer).

Blurbs

There are different names for this, but I’m talking about the quotes of endorsement from other authors in the genre or from reviewers. Look for well known authors with books similar to yours and reach  out for quotes. It’s beneficial to both of you. That author will get their name on a book and you’ll get an endorsement. You’ll also be sending out pre-pub review copies, so when you get reviews in from that you can pick a flattering line and put that on your book. Figure out where to place this on your cover and include it in the book description.

Back Cover Copy

After the cover, this is the next most important element of selling a book (in my opinion!). It’s difficult to get back cover copy just right. It’s got to be interesting, to the point, snappy, and draw people in. It has to intrigue while not giving away too much. Writing this kind of copy is a real art form unto itself.

You can hire someone to work on it, but most of the services I’ve seen for this the person doesn’t read the book, so it’s not ideal. For Dev Love Press the authors and I work together on these descriptions, trading drafts and suggestions. Though actually, Annabelle has such a talent for it that I often just end up putting her copy on it directly.

Setting up Publicity

You’ll want to put together a plan for how you are going to market the title. I’ll go into more detail about how I do that in a future post!

Buy An ISBN

If you’re only going to be doing ebooks, you don’t strictly need an ISBN. If you’re doing print books, you’ll want to be the owner of the ISBN. If the company you’re working with offers you free ones, it means that their name will be listed as the official publisher. For self-publishing that doesn’t matter a whole lot, but to build your company you’re going to want to be the owner of your own ISBNs.

I buy them through https://www.myidentifiers.com/ and buying in bulk will save quite a bit of money.

An ISBN identifies both the book and its edition so if you have a hardcover and a paperback you’ll need two for that book. If you decide to put an ISBN on your ebooks (I don’t) you’ll need a separate one for that, etc.

Apply for Copyright

A literary work is automatically the property of the author, but it is good to officially register it with the copyright office. Typically you would put the copyright in the name of the author but in some cases you might use your name as the publisher. Make sure this is part of the contract between you and the author.

It will involve a small fee and sending a copy of the work to the copyright office. More info here: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl109.html

Sending for Pre-Pub Reviews

Four or five months before your publication date, you’ll be sending out what’s called ARCs to reviewers. ARC stands for either Advanced Reader Copy or Advanced Review Copy. These can go out before the proofreading is done and before the cover is done. Traditionally they were sent out with plain cardboard covers, but these days a rough draft cover is okay as long as it clearly says ARC on it. You’ll want to send a cover letter with it too telling the reviewer about your new company and what the book is about. (Make some business letterhead to send it on too).

We’ve had wonderful luck sending to The Romantic Times. I was intimidated at first to try them, but I decided I had nothing to lose and they’ve actually been wonderful to work with. We’ve gotten two print reviews, one web review, and done a print ad with them. Being able to show that our books got good reviews from a respected magazine in the genre makes me really proud.

Here are some places to send (but definitely look into magazines in your company’s genre!) Also consider looking into book review sections of your local newspaper. They may also be interested in a story about a local entrepreneur starting a publishing company.

(More info here: http://www.sellingbooks.com/get-pre-publication-book-reviews/)

You can also send review copies to book review blogs but it’s less critical usually to do that ahead of the launch date. Blogs depend less on these books being brand new than print reviewers do. (A later post will go into how to get reviewed at book blogs).

Choose Distribution

You need to decide who you’ll be working with to get the book out.

Print:

For the print book, the most important thing is that you work with a service that will get you in the Ingram database. If your book is there, bookstores will be able to order it.

The big choice is between Createspace (owned by Amazon), Lightning Source (LSI), or a local printer. I would cross off the local printer right away because most print shops are not equipped to handle something as specialized as professional book printing. Lightning Source is well respected and is what indie publishers have been using since before “indie” became a euphemism for “self-published.”

Personally I find LSI a little intimidating to get started with and I’ve been very happy using Create Space. Now that I’m starting to grow a little bit and working on expanding into more print sales I will be researching and reconsidering LSI.

LSI does give you more choices and has hardcover as well as paperback options. For just getting started, Create Space is simple and easy. (The only paid service on Create Space I ever use is the expanded distribution for $25).

(Post later on how to get into bookstores)

e-Version:

The big choice you have here is whether to enroll your books in the “Kindle Select” program. It requires that your book be exclusive to Amazon for ebook format for 90 days at a time. In return Amazon gives you the ability to run promotions like free days (that can help you gain visibility) and countdown deals. Typically I start a book out exclusive to Amazon, take advantage of those deals and then don’t renew after the first 90 days. So three months after launch I add the ebook to the other channels. I am strongly considering changing that for the future. I have not been finding the Kindle deals to be doing as much as they once did for sales.

The other big channels are Smashwords, Barnes and Noble Nook, Kobo, and a handful of others. You can get distribution to Nook and Kobo through Smashwords, but it’s often a better deal to upload directly with each one. Smashwords’s big advantage is that they make your book available in every ebook format from HTML to PDF to Epub and .mobi (Nook and Kindle formats).

Uploading

Getting your book uploaded is a pretty straightforward process. Just follow the instructions. One question that you’ll get asked is about whether you want to add DRM to your books.

DRM decision: I never put DRM on any of my books. It is supposed to discourage pirating, but in practice it usually doesn’t at all. Being a player of video games, I’m used to DRM being something that punishes the honest people buying something and does nothing to deter pirates. Put a Google Alert on the name of your books and authors and send take down notices to any pirate sites where you find them. That’s about all you can do to combat piracy. Here’s an article about DRM when it comes to book selling.

In a future post I’ll go into details on optimizing the look of your books’ pages as well as SEO and keywords/tags.

***

Oh man, I have promised you SO MANY future posts! Don’t worry, I’ve already got drafts started on at least half of these!

Sample front matter for paperback and ebook (for the ebook versions, keep the front matter as brief as possible. You want to make sure people can see a sample of the story itself and also that they don’t feel cheated by a huge file that is mostly filler:

print front matter

 

ebook front matter

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