Monday, February 18, 2013

Six things I've learned from self-publishing (so far)



As the hours grow long and the release of ‘Pandegnomium’ draws near there seems to be so little to do. Except writing another book and in case that fails to commence; write a blog. It’s the poor man’s solution for getting rid of bad conscience about not doing anything constructive with your time.

One thing I promised myself I’d address before this whole ordeal was over is the question: “What would I wish I’d known before I even began self-publishing?” Others have redesigned the question to: “What would you wish you knew before you began writing your first book?”

So I said to myself; ‘Why, you dashing beast, you should go out there and at least share some of your experience with anyone out there, who’d be interested in self-publishing their book!”
And so I did. This is a small pocket guide of things I wish I’d know before setting out. 

Some of these may be known, some might seem blatantly obvious. But some things are so obvious that they bear repeating. Some might also disagree with me; feel free to discuss.

A) Writing is the fun part
If you’ve written a book before, you may have tried that state of mind where things just come to a crawl. Though the story is in your head, social media, television or the newest game seems to beckon for constant attention. You might even end up hating the process, hating the pace, hating the story, hating that you set out on this bloody project in the first place. It makes no sense; it seemed like such a fun idea in the first place?
From my personal experience; this is actually the height of things. You might be the type just craving to edit and correct every tidbit later on, but most people I’ve spoken to later seem to prefer this stage above all else. It might seem disheartening when put like that, but that’s not to say it all goes to hell from there. Only that you should rejoice in this process; kick off your shoes, go crazy, play and be excited. It’s creativity and so exciting once you let the story develop without holding back too much.

B) Apparently, you need to know some basic stuff about formatting documents
If you’re like me, you haven’t done much in the area of formatting documents in, say, Word. Beyond that fancy stuff you did in school. But regarding manuscripts for sites such as Amazon and Smashwords there are rules if you want your books to look good. When I started out, I thought I’d do well simply jotting stuff down, adding some Tab-strokes here and some strange new font there. But these things apparently matter; so if you’re going into this, you’d do yourself a great favor reading up on the requirements on whatever site you intend to publish on. Don’t be like me and discover this AFTER you’ve done the whole thing. Knowing the rules in advance can significantly ease the burden later.


C) If you don’t live in the US and intend to publish on pages like Amazon and Smashwords, you likely have to pay additional tax to the US.
This came as some of a shocker for me, who believed I’d simply upload stuff and money started pouring in. Well, they might, but besides from any taxation applied in your own country, you’ll pay an additional percentage to the US. Ebooks are hardly a goldmine in the first place, but this can significantly diminish your income. Depending on where in the world you are, you might be able to avoid this extra taxation partly or even entirely. Don’t be like me and realize this some weeks before launch. Instead, check up with the IRS (There is a service at Smashwords that lets you know of your options depending on your country, if you publish there) and start to fill out the forms. It seems vary what people recommend, but most I know have applied for an EIN-number through form FSS4. Through mail, this can easily take 4-5 weeks, if not even more. Alternatively, you can call them for a much faster process. Once done, an FW8BEN formula is required to finish the process. Phew.

D) Stuff looks good on paper and in your head.
I had pretty much all of ‘Pandegnomium’ figured out in my head and it made perfect sense. While I occasionally stopped to ponder upon minor details, it all seemed flawless. It did in the little black book I carry around all the time and on writing on the pale screen. Then, when I presented it verbally to my illustrator, things suddenly got complicated.
You’re likely familiar with the term how a lot of stuff looks great on paper, and when writing books a lot of stuff is going on. On paper. Some authors will discourage you from talking too much about your work, especially when unfinished, but there can be an immense value in summing up your plot to whoever might be willing to just listen. Even if you aren’t the greatest talker, suddenly laying things out on the top of your head will put things in a whole new light. It’s funny, but some ideas simply sound bad when spoken out loud. Maybe you realize the plot suddenly isn’t as simple as you thought, or some passages simply sound strangely off. If you get that feeling once you start talking about it, you might at least consider why it’s there.

The next couple of points might vary a bit more on an individual basis. They certainly applied to me. 

E) Critique can be harsh, even when constructive.
After six years in university, I thought I’d become immunized to critique on my literary skills; at least to the degree that I could sort the bad from good with a cool mind. I was obviously wrong.
For many people, writing a book is a most personal endeavor; it’s very close to your heart and thus equally sensitive towards any critique. Much more than, say, I ever felt regarding my final thesis from university. It adds up nicely with the notion that authors need approval. We hunger for it. Like children showing off their newest drawing, we too need to be confirmed and approved by our closest. And on that note, it’s not really that hard to take criticism the wrong way.
When I had my first evaluation of ‘Pandegnomium’ there was a lot of stuff wrong with it. More stuff than I had imagined. It was especially harsh when my proofreader stepped in and mercilessly began tearing away at passages that didn’t make the slightest bit of sense and dialogue that wasn’t in character.  I was surprised at how sad this made me. It was like someone intentionally wanting to point out the flaws in your marvelous creation and initially I couldn’t even go over more than a few pages at a time.
But my suggestion to any aspiring writer out there is this: learn to love these people. A dedicated proofreader is worth her/his weight in gold, if not more. Mistakes suck; but these are the people who will notice that you described one horse in the stables in the start of the chapter, and how you wrote they rode away on two. If you’re like me, you consider yourself beyond such trifle mistakes. But trust me; you might easily be fooling yourself. Learning to take critique, or even love it, is one of the biggest steps you can make, in my opinion. Errors are what make us improve and what will make your next book even better.
They’re also a great way to discover your favorite (overused) words. In my case, ‘likely’, ‘eyed’ and ‘very’ ranked the top.


F) “The worst part of success is trying to find someone who is happy for you.” ― Bette Midler
I have come to envy graphical artists a lot. The 1000 words that a picture can say is enough in itself, but the fact that it can be so easily absorbed and commented upon, in a modern age that often leaves so little time, is some advantage. At least compared to books.
While writing a book is something a lot of people will likely respect you for, I found it surprisingly hard to find someone actually willing/able to read it, let alone hear about it. This is not necessarily because the surroundings have ill intentions in mind or simply don’t care; but taking in books is a much bigger task than just commenting on a picture. If you’re one of the people with a good handful of beta-readers, consider yourself blessed. It was surprisingly easy to feel very alone about the process, which stresses the urgency of holding high your belief in your own project. That’s what really matters in the end.
Then consider that loads of people write books these days, seeing as it has become much more accessible. In the past, having a book published was often met with prestige and some respect. Today (especially if you admit you’re self-publishing) it makes you part of a very, very large crowd with plenty of ambitions. That’s not to say you’re mediocre in any way; only that we must be prepared to fight for our approval. Write a good book and stand out, and always consider yourself a proud author. You will likely be the one providing most of the praise, along with your spouse, parents and pet.
Which is not entirely bad, come to think of it.

Still so much more to learn!
Needless to say, this is merely the tip of the iceberg and the myriad of lessons to come can seem almost overwhelming. At this time of writing, the publishing is barely over and it feels like such a small step. Yet, looking over these points truly makes me realize how much I didn’t know before setting out on this strange journey.
I hope some of these lessons can help out any aspiring author out there. Even if not, perhaps they have served as nothing more than an interesting read. Either way, take good care of yourself and see you next week!
- Nicolai.

Nicolai Grunnet is a psychologist and author of the fantasy series ‘Heureka’. His work can be found on www.nicolaigrunnet.com and www.facebook.com/authornicolaigrunnet

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