For self-published writers *only*: some hard truths…

Alright, I’m going to be honest here. This might be one of the toughest blogs I’ve written. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty ahead. But, I feel that if you’re jumping into the world of self publishing, this needs to be talked about.

I just got finished reading a pitch for yet another “marketing success” program that practically guarantees your book will be a “bestseller” upon launch (all for the tidy price of $27.99, no less!), even if you have no contacts, no online presence, blah blah blah. Just buy the program and you’ll find the secret to fast-tracking your book. You don’t know how many of these ads I’ve seen since I started writing, and if you’re self-published, it’s likely you’ve seen them also.

I’ll get right down to reality: even if you’ve spent a year writing your book, even if you’ve done everything you could do and spent every last penny on the most efficient marketing tactics…your book might not sell. Sure, friends and family might pick up a few copies, but all in all, only a few people may end up reading your book.

That’s what’s happened with the series I’ve been working on since 2013. That’s right, the first draft of The Fulbeck Six was started in 2013, and I kept plugging away, revising, and rewriting, until the first book in the series was published in 2019. That’s six years from start to completion of first book. Whew.

Now, this next part is ONE thing that I can’t blame on COVID-19, as The Fulbeck Six came out in 2019. I wrote it with an audience in mind, I did a good amount of research for it, and had a solid story that I really, really wanted to tell. I’ve been trying to market it to its target audience for over a year now.

And yet, very few people have ever purchased or read it.

WAIT—this isn’t some kind of guilt trip or sob story, so don’t go there! This is meant to be a reassurance to fellow writers. This is for all the other writers out there who have poured out their time and energy, bared their heart and soul—and then had nothing happen. Zip. Zilch. Aaaand, you got it….nada.

You’re probably wondering where the “reassurance” part of all this is…well, in 2018, self-published books made up a whopping 30-34% of all e-book sales in the English-language market, according to selfpublishingadvice.org. That’s HUGE! And that means there’s a ton of competition out there. Or, looking at it a different way, that also means there’s a huge number of struggling authors out there, too. There are so many other people out there who had a story to tell, worked diligently on it, then spent wads of money to get it self-published. And then…nothing really happened.

So, what’s my point? My purpose here is to tell you to KEEP WRITING. Do not let the market (or lack thereof) determine your worth as a writer. If you have a story to tell…well, it’s gotta come out. It needs to end up on paper. If for nobody, then FOR YOURSELF.

Let me say it again: WRITE FOR YOURSELF.

Write for your own entertainment. For your own satisfaction. Does writing provide an escape? Then keep doing it. Do you look forward to it? Keep doing it. Stop worrying about sales (and I can only say this to self-published authors because they aren’t contracted with a publishing house to produce X amount of work) and spend the time writing instead of selling.

Ouch. I guess I’m saying that only to myself, even though I absolutely love the marketing part of design/publishing books. LOVE. IT. But if it isn’t working, then why keep trying?

I truly believe I’ve been blessed with the stories I write, and they deserve to be put on paper. But their “success” may not be determined by my own timeline. My books might not ever be enjoyed by the masses, and I have to be OKAY WITH THAT. Or maybe some day, my children or grandchildren might pick up one of my books and say, “Oh, that’s neat, grandma (or great-grandma) wrote this.”

And I’m okay with that.

Reasons for a Trilogy

Recently I was reading reviews for a self-published book called The Coordinate, by Marc Jacobs. One of the harsher reviews (which there weren’t that many for this particular book) stated something like, “What’s up with books always ending on a cliffhanger so you have to purchase the next book? I’m so tired of that. I’m out.”

Even though it wasn’t my book, I cringed at the criticism, as at least two of my books are guilty of such. I’m sure the reviewer had no clue, but there’s at least a few good reasons for not having a single, huge volume to contain your story.

First, it takes a long time to write a book that’s about 250 pages (the average for my own books.) For me, it usually takes about a year to get a complete story ready for publication. If you know you have a big story arc (like in The Fulbeck Six), you don’t want to wait three years to get your giant tome written and published. Also, books broken up into smaller chunks are just easier to deal with. Do you want to edit 800 pages at once? Didn’t think so.

Second, breaking books into a trilogy limits cost. A book published by KDP with a spine width of .5″ usually costs me almost $5 to produce (after all, they support American jobs by being printed here! Yeah!) The wholesale cost of these books are about $7.50, which is an enormous cost. Think of how expensive a large book would be—it would be totally cost-prohibitive for both myself, wholesale buyers, and anyone else who has to pay for the book. That’s why I’m aiming for smaller books (.5″ spine or less), which necessitates books being broken into smaller chunks.

Third, readers seem to gravitate towards series. When polled, one group of students I was speaking to was overwhelmingly in favor of reading a series instead of a standalone book. The reason is easy to understand—think of how popular it is to binge on a Netflix series or read through all of the Harry Potter books. People love the experience of staying in a story. A series—three books or more—allows the reader to do this; the story spans for days or weeks instead of a single sitting.

Even if I was publishing traditionally I would choose to write my stories in a series. I love the buildup of excitement for the next installment and the readership it seems to promote. A word of caution, though: you will always have certain readers who despise cliffhangers or the need to buy the next book, just as the reviewer I mentioned. But I think the risk is worth it.

Kindle Direct Publishing: A Cautionary Tale

This year, I’ve published three books using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)—one in March, one in October, and then one in December (The Devotional Poems of Florence Fern Austin-Wallace). The March upload (The Legacy of the St. Alodia Hotel) went flawlessly. and on this blog I gushed how fantastic the process was, compared to the old CreateSpace platform. After Amazon combined CreateSpace into KDP last year, it seemed they’d merged the best of both worlds, making for an incredibly easy process from start to finish.

But in October that easy process was no more. For whatever reason, KDP eliminated key steps in the cover creation process, thereby making the process much more difficult to figure out for the uninitiated. The marriage between cover and manuscript (the two uploaded elements) was no longer a straightforward operation. I was able to use a third-party workaround to get the correct cover measurements (spine width/cover measurements are all based on paper type and the book’s total page number). Despite the trouble, both the digital copy of The Fulbeck Six and the physical proof copy that I ordered from Amazon came out looking amazing, and I was “good to go” when it was time to hit the publish button.

I had set a tentative date that I was quite sure I’d be able to have both physical copies and Kindle copies of The Fulbeck Six available online for everyone. I’d never done a release before where copies would be in local retailers on the announced date of publication, and I was so excited to finally do everything the “right” way. That’s when it happened: my pitch-perfect proof copy of The Fulbeck Six was outright rejected for going live on Amazon. I received an email just days before its release date saying an error had been detected in the cover, and I was to contact customer service.

Needless to say, I was perplexed and severely disappointed that the book I’d worked nine months on, invested over $200 in production, and had a perfect approved proof, was now in limbo and not likely to meet its release date. Several calls to customer service later, I learned that there was no manual override to send the book to print, even though no actual error existed with the cover. All I could do was re-submit both the cover and manuscript and hope it wouldn’t get bounced again by the evil rejection robot.

Luckily, that worked. It was approved just in time for its hoped-for release date, but after that experience I was hesitant to recommend KDP to potential self-publishing authors. To know that some computer glitch could not be overridden by humans was extremely unsettling, and actually unprecedented in the last fifteen-plus years I’ve been sending things to print as a graphic designer.

Fast-forward to November. My father-in-law wished to publish his late mother’s poetry collection. The whole family worked like mad to get it done in time for copies to be handed out for Christmas, spending nights and weekends collaborating to get the entire collection of almost 200 poems typed and the book formatted. My father-in-law worked furiously to get the book edited quickly. The design process, upload to KDP, and going live on Amazon worked flawlessly this time (by still using the third-party workaround I figured out for the cover) but when the book went live on Amazon, we were prevented from ordering author copies (copies we buy at cost, instead of full retail) which was the exact thing we needed to be able to do to get books to family as Christmas present.

I’d never had this problem with any of the other books I’d uploaded. Once again, I consulted with KDP customer service reps several times over the span of about a week. And once again, it was clear they had no way of fixing or manually overriding the process. Sigh.

I knew that the best course of action would probably be to take the book offline and re-upload, starting the process all over again. But online book sales were already steady, and the KDP customer service reps kept insisting that if we just waited, it would probably fix itself.

Just yesterday, my father-in-law went in and initiated a re-upload, which always triggers up to a 72-hour lockout on the book. Thankfully, by this morning, we the book was (incredibly!) live again on Amazon, and we were finally able to order author copies.

I guess the point to this blog is to caution those planning on using the KDP process. Know that it isn’t a guarantee you’ll get your book published in the time frame you expect. There are some big shortcomings with KDP’s inner workings that I hope will be refined for future uploads. The biggest concern for me is that it seems nobody is at the helm—it’s 100% regulated by software that can’t be manually affected.

So, if you’re planning on using KDP in the near future, please consider this cautionary tale and allow yourself MUCH more time than you expect to see your book up on Amazon.

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Introduction to the Next Chapter

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I’m switching gears a little, readers. What I’m working on right now is a vast departure from the last four books I’ve published. From now until it’s finished, my primary focus will be the historical nonfiction book that I (unknowingly) started research for in 2011. To give readers a better understanding of my unlikely start into the world of metallurgy, I’m including this introduction of my research in my blog. Welcome to the new chapter. Enjoy.

2011 

The residents along Broadway Street Southwest had probably become accustomed to seeing me and my stroller every afternoon, usually around one o’clock. My ten-month old son was wrapped snugly in a blanket, protected from whatever weather early spring could produce. I walked the same route most days, heading south across a busy road that leads out of town and into a quieter part of our older neighborhood.

Before my son was born I had frequented the same walking path for a half-decade prior, only as a runner, not a bone-tired mom with an acid-reflux-suffering infant. During my running days my faithful black Lab, Sadie, stayed astride with an easy lope. Once my son was born, however, she happily adjusted to briskly walking alongside his stroller.

On one particular afternoon very close to spring break, high white clouds promised a dry but overcast day as I put my son in his stroller and grabbed Sadie’s pink leash. The air was vibrant with the very distinctive scents of early spring in Albany, Oregon: wet, fresh earth and new grass mingled with trees of all varieties, cottonwood in particular.

The route I followed was a popular one; on any given day I would see more cyclists, runners, and walkers than cars. South Broadway Street was a glorified sidewalk with rough, cracked pavement. If two cars happened on the road at the same time traveling opposite directions, both had squeeze to the edges of the road just to pass each other.

The east side of Broadway was lined with lovely horse chestnut trees that bloomed shades of pink or white in the spring and dropped spiky nut-bombs in the fall. The west side of the street had a few old, rural homes spread far apart, with conifers and deciduous trees filling out the in-betweens. In any season the walk was peaceful and ever-changing…except for one thing.

Running nearly the entire half-mile length along the east side of Broadway was a collection of buildings: some exquisite and stately, some utilitarian, and some so unique they had no comparative reference. A chain link fence ran the length of the property, just on the other side of the chestnut trees. Marigold-yellow “U.S. Government Property” signs hung from the links in regular intervals. Where all of southwest Albany grew and changed around it, the property within the fence stood unchanging, like an industrial Zen garden of sorts.

Manicured, well-kept, and with a staggering variety of trees, the property seemed untouched by time. In the years I’d looped around the facility, nothing ever seemed to change within the compound. I had only briefly asked my husband, an Albany native, about the facility within the fence.

“It’s the Bureau of Mines,” he’d told me. “Or, it was. Not sure what it is now.”

I’d never heard of the Bureau of Mines and had no reference for what it was or had been.

“What did they do there?” I’d asked.

“Materials testing. Smashing stuff, working with metals, things like that.”

So that was the extent of my knowledge of the place I’d skirted for six years. It had a hodgepodge look about it: the campus started out with two elegant, collegiate-looking brick buildings; one clearly used and well-maintained, the other drab and suffering from obvious abandonment. Their backsides faced Broadway; even without seeing their front entrances I could tell they were quite old and had been built in an era where architecture was far more ornate.

As I headed south, a temporary-looking modular building partially blocked a much more interesting structure: a huge, stark white tower with frosted glass windows stuck out, both literally and figuratively, far above anything else within the compound or otherwise. The farther south I walked, though, the harder it was to make out what buildings were within the fence, as perimeter buildings blocked the view. I could partially see a large building in the core of campus that was floor-to-ceiling windows—all two or three stories of it. Despite all the beautiful, paned windows, the brick building seemed very much to match the collegiate buildings. Next to that was an even larger brick building with a very unique roofline and curved windows.

On any given day when rain wasn’t pelting the neighborhood, passers-by who happened to look within the fence might see lab coat-clad scientists crossing campus on vintage beach cruisers, sometimes with briefcases in hand. Witnessing the old bikes and their riders and the buildings frozen in time was almost like seeing a glimpse of a bygone era; like echoes of the past somehow manifested still within the fenced compound.

As much as I wanted to see the architecture of those two inner buildings, my view was mostly blocked by a behemoth, almost-windowless structure that gleamed stark white. I guessed it to be at least two stories tall, but without conventional windows, there was no way to tell. It seemed almost warehouse-like and its sparse architecture gave no clues to its age.

The next building, though, intrigued me so much that I credit it with being the catalyst for my interest in the site. A squat little warehouse with a curved roof and floor-to-roof paned windows seemed quaintly out of place. It caught my attention because it looked very much like it could have been built during World War II. Nothing else on campus looked quite like it and I was drawn to its sweet, diminutive aura that contrasted so sharply with the scholarly architecture around it.

Beyond the little warehouse was a very long building that ran east to west, probably half the width of the entire property. More industrial buildings were tacked onto the back end of the property, far from the road.

And that’s where the ever-present fence jigged away from the road at an askance angle. I could see portions of property within were fenced so there were seemingly no ways in or out and tall grasses grew wild there (and provoked my allergies more than just a little during late spring walks).

As the fence receded, a vast field opened up to the east. In 2011, it wasn’t the only undeveloped piece of property in the neighborhood, but it was quite possibly the largest swath of acreage devoid of homes. A broken-down old fence composed of nearly rotten planks and rusted strands of barbwire no longer suggested the space was off-limits. A metal sign, its contents long removed, stood staring blankly to the west. Blackberry brambles sprung up at the base of the barbwire fence, spiraling into a six-foot high natural barrier.

In all the years I’d been circling the property, I’d never seen a person on the field. Nobody played fetch with their dog, no kids crossed from one side to the other. Only bluejays and bunnies seemed at ease with the peaceful, wide-open pasture.

At the end of Broadway Southwest, a small stand of evergreens signaled the beginning of the Albany Tennis Club property. I’d been told that the fifties-era establishment was quite the draw to the neighborhood in its heyday, with outdoor courts, a swimming pool, and indoor courts. The entire facility occupied a thin strip of property on the very edge of the land owned by the U.S. Government.

It’s at this point that I’d turn back toward home. Once past the tennis club, I’d head north again and nearly right away be on the other side of the empty field. During the summer the grass would grow shoulder-high and be wheaty and dry; it would also be the only open space in the entire neighborhood where you could get a proper view of sky-searing sunsets. During that day in mid-March, though, the field was just beginning to sprout new green growth. Rain-soaked skeletons of last summer’s Queen Anne’s lace brushed against the stroller as I walked along.

On the edge of the field, two old signs were stuck in the ground, rusty and askance from a half-century of standing sentinel on the field. Barely-there oxidized letters spelled NO DUMPING on one, and on the other, a new plastic “No Trespassing” sign had been tacked to the old post.

Just past the open field, the chain link fence would appear again, this time enclosing an oddly-angled empty space with no apparent entry. Then, another fence, this time protecting more factory-like buildings inside. Tall warehouses were cobbled together with smaller buildings; there seemed to be a mishmash of materials and eras.

Pure industrialism began to meld back into collegiate architecture; the other side of the lovely old brick building with arched windows and unique geometric roofline could be seen between structures. The backside of the tall white tower came into view, attached to two sides of a long, low brick building. Pedestrians walking on next to the fence would be treated to a grouping of deciduous trees and conifers; during autumn so many leaves drop that the road became wholly clogged with them.

If one were to peer long enough through those trees, the front side of the forlorn abandoned building could be seen, very far away on the other side. If you really stopped to look, you could see it had once been lovely: a pillared front façade framed the paned front door; a black iron lamp hung to light the entrance. Three floors of brick walls were shored up on a white basement abutment that was streaked with water stains. Ferns sprouted from rotten wood cornices and windows were empty and blank.

As I walked along the fence turned inward, leaving open a large grassy square with tall conifers and a small white building excluded from the rest of the compound. I’d often cut across, pushing the stroller hard against the soggy ground, and my dog would lag behind to smell every tree trunk.

The closest building to the fence looked newer than the classical buildings close by, but was still built in a way to blend seamlessly with the surrounding vernacular. My father-in-law had once told me that for the longest time it seemed only a concrete pad had existed there. “I could never figure out if they’d run out of funding, or it was some sort of underground building. It wasn’t long ago that they finally completed it,” he’d recalled.

There was a certain aura of mystery that surrounded the whole site, heightened by the government signage and perimeter fence and security guards that walked the property around the clock. Coupled with the whispers of unknown projects, it became our neighborhood’s biggest question mark for me.

That night while waiting for dinner to finish cooking, I sat at our dining room table with my laptop open. Prompted by the days’ earlier walk, I started an internet search to see if I could find the origins of that little curved-roof warehouse on the Bureau of Mines property. I wanted to prove my hunch was right: that it had been constructed during WWII and used for something war-related.

I wasn’t sure where to start my search. The facility had been known by many names, but to locals, it was simply—and only—the Bureau of Mines. When I Googled it, I noticed it was also called the Albany Research Center, only now it was called NETL, or National Energy Technology Laboratory. Still more names appeared: at one time, it had also been called the Albany Metallurgy Research Center, and decades before that, the Northwest Electro-development Laboratory.

I didn’t know where to start, so I simply typed in “U.S. Bureau of Mines, Albany.” Incredibly, that did the trick: a plethora of entries appeared.

As I read through those online documents, I got a very real sense that whatever went on during the early days of the Albany Research Center, the science was brilliantly new and groundbreaking.

It’s these groundbreaking achievements, the everyday and extraordinary people who performed them, the stories and myths, and the buildings they inhabited, that are my driving force for the history book.

And…a little FYI here…the name of my publishing imprint, Owl Room Press, was inspired by a vaguely-mentioned room located in the Bureau of Mines facility. What it was for, and why it was named such, remains a mystery to this day. 

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“But the books are SO MUCH!!” Pricing, Amazon, and Self-Publishing

A few weeks ago, as I was completing the very last setup steps for The Fulbeck Six, I had the opportunity to set the price for the book. 

Back up, let me rephrase that. I got to choose a number above the minimum price that Amazon automatically sets for paperback books, based on printing options and total page number.

That’s right, I only have partial say in how much the book is offered for online. Now, to be fair, I tried really hard to get my new book to be less than $16 by putting a cap on word count. Alas, because of my font choice, my plans were foiled, and in the end, The Fulbeck Six ended up having a spine width just the same as Abshire House and St. Alodia, hence the same price.

My font choice was based on my target audience, for ease of reading, so I didn’t want to change that. I also didn’t want to edit out any more of the book; it had already been whittled down to just the right point. So it went live on Amazon for the high price of $16.

Now, if you know me, you know that I like getting cheap—or free—books. I go to St. Vinnie’s instead of Goodwill because I’d rather pay $1.99 for a book than $4. I raid our Little Free Library for anything that looks interesting, so paying $16 (cough) for a book is unusual for me.

So why are paperback books printed by Kindle Direct Publishing so darn expensive? In some cases, paperback prices are so high that they rival hardback new releases. The reason might surprise you: the books are printed right here in the USA. If you’ve bought one of my books, check the very last page: it will give the location where it was printed. Formerly, the date was also printed, but for whatever reason KDP has since discontinued dating their printed books.

Most commercial paperbacks are printed overseas and therefore are much cheaper, but I figure with the print-on-demand model that KDP uses, creating the books overseas wouldn’t pencil out when you figure in both shipping time and cost, and for a small quantity (generally, one book at a time.) But there’s an upswing to all this: while we’re all paying a higher price per book, the quality of the cover and interior paper is actually much better compared to mass-produced commercial fiction. More importantly, we’re supporting American jobs each time we purchase a KDP print-on-demand book.

Of course, there’s a cheaper alternative: the Kindle version (usually significantly less than paperback) or even better, the Kindle Unlimited version (free, if you pay for the subscription.) Amazon does not set a minimum price for the Kindle version and authors have an option to offer them for free, if they wish. But, when production investment can run into hundreds of dollars (as was the case with The Fulbeck Six), authors usually try to take advantage of the higher profit margin that the Kindle versions provide…especially when secondary market purchases can sometimes yield only $2 profit.

For now, despite high prices, I’ll stick with KDP as my printer, though in the future, that may have to change. Next blog I’ll address the major issues I had going through KDP this time—issues that weren’t a problem earlier this year.

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Kindle Direct Publishing and the E-book revolution

Since I last blogged, I have since hit the “publish” button on both the paperback edition of The Legacy of the St. Alodia Hotel and have produced the Kindle edition. Of course, both are now live on Amazon. For those who are interested in how the process went, I’ll briefly describe the it here.

Once I received my physical proof copy of the book, I took a week to read through it entirely once more. While doing that, I would mark corrections in the hard copy, dog-ear the page that the corrections were on, and then go directly to the formatted PDF document and make digital changes on the fly. There were quite a few formatting changes (small stuff, but noticeable just the same) and a few spelling/grammatical corrections that needed to be made. It was an incredible experience to be able to change them on a document that matched the book’s layout exactly, and a highly enjoyable editing experience.

After completing all changes and corrections, I uploaded the corrected PDF document to the manuscript portion of KDP. I also had some significant cover changes that I wanted to make, and that file was uploaded. And that was it. I previewed the entire book digitally, found it to be perfect, and hit the “approve and publish button” on a Tuesday, just a few days before the planned release day. Kindle alerts you that it may take up to 72 hours for your book to appear for sale on Amazon, so I wanted to be sure I had plenty of time.

After that, it was time to create the Kindle version. Keep in mind, although it will ask for an ISBN number, there is no requirement for ebooks to have an ISBN…so don’t go and spend an extra $125 on an identifier! It’s not necessary 🙂

I had to upload a different cover file (which was the same cover, just cropped to the size of the front of the book) and upload the interior, which also was slightly adjusted for formatting, and hit the ‘preview’ button. Once again, in the exact same order, the Kindle version was produced and I was able to digitally proof the layout. Once it was good, I approved it, and got the notice that Kindle e-book version usually take 24 hours to appear on Amazon.

Sure enough, a day later, the Kindle version was up for sale on Amazon. The paperback followed about 48 hours later, and on Thursday of release week, I was able to announce to my super-fans that the book was up a day early (oh the perks!)

And it was just that easy. No confusing steps, no head-scratching befuddlement; just a quick and  streamlined service that produced a high-quality book that’s printed on demand.

In total, I spent almost exactly a year writing the manuscript for St. Alodia. Three months were spent in the editing process, and one week was spent in the production process. The total cost of paperback production was $125. Editing costs totaled about $78, which was the printing cost for three manuscripts. I failed to keep track of the amount of coffee purchased during the writing stage :’D

I have to thank my readers and fans for such amazing support and continued readership. Sales have been steady during the entire week the book has been out, and I’m starting to hear back from fans who have already finished the book (which is amazing!) There is nothing better than hearing that something you wrote for fun is being enjoyed equally by others…it makes it all worth it!

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Goodbye CreateSpace, Helloooo Kindle Direct Publishing

It’s been an absolute beehive of activity around here lately. Some days it feels a little insane, like I’m running around with my hair on fire, but that’s just the way things come together sometimes!

I wanted my blog readers to be the first to hear about current progress on The Legacy of the St. Alodia Hotel. As you all know, I promised a March/April 2019 release date, and here we are, barreling down on March already! Well…I’m happy to announce that I’m on track to release the book on Friday, March 1st!! 

So, here’s what’s been happening: I received the last corrected manuscript from one of my volunteer editors today. That said, I’d been working on formatting the interior pages of my book for two days prior. For the first two books in the Hadley Hill series, I dealt with uploading pages to Amazon’s former self-publishing site, called CreateSpace. In a word, it could be described as difficult. There were dozens of steps that had to be completed, and it took several tries for me to understand everything that I had to do. Most of the difficulty had to do with the website interface (in my opinion).

Cover design really did need to be performed by a professional, as one needed to do all the calculations by hand (bleed + back cover + spine width [found only after you’d uploaded your completed manuscript] + front cover + bleed= your cover size). After you had those bits put together (manuscript completed in Word, converted to a PDF, + separate cover design), then you could proceed with the laborious task of digitally proofing the whole package before ordering a physical proof copy.

Once you approved the proof and it went live on Amazon, then you could make your Kindle file from your CreateSpace files. But the two (CreateSpace book and Kindle Direct Publishing) were separate entities, and operated differently. Sometimes there were hang-ups in the file conversion process. It was a little messy, to be honest.

But for two books, I suffered through the mess to produce Hadley Hill and Abshire House, and I have to say that it was totally worth it. In the end, it was totally worth suffering through the convoluted processes: the final products were fantastic, high-quality books that are printed here in the U.S.A (yeah!)

Last year, Amazon morphed CreateSpace into Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The transition process was very easy, and once I got used to the new interface, I loved it. I especially love the beta version of KDP’s sales dashboard–it’s absolutely fantastic. But I knew that the manuscript-to-final-product phase would be much different for St. Alodia. 

First off, this time around I made the cover well in advance. Of course, it wasn’t the correct size (again, you only know the spine width once you’ve uploaded the final manuscript to KDP) but I used Abshire House as a rough guide. The cover design was 100% perfect and ready to go by the time I received the final manuscripts from my editors.

I went through the manuscript and did ALL corrections at once, then converted the Word document into a 6×9 format. I then uploaded the title page graphic to Word, added the dedication page, acknowledgements, and additional information. I then made sure to format all chapter breaks, page numbers, etc. so the book looked exactly as it should in Word.

After thatwas completed, I purchased the ISBN through Bowker.com. That’s a quick process that gives you the permanent ISBN number that Kindle Direct Publishing requires to continue your upload process.

A quick side-note should be added here: if I didn’t have a background in print design, my manuscript set-up would definitely be simpler. I wouldn’t be able to make or add the fancy title page graphic, or design the cover myself. Having Illustrator and Photoshop are absolute musts if you’re going to attempt the pro-level book formatting stuff. Or, you could always hire a designer to do it for you (and save yourself a HUGE headache!) I also am a stickler for keeping the visual language consistent: the same body copy fonts, headers, and cover fonts are consistent across all three books–another must if you’re designing a series.

So when I logged into KDP last night, I had a finished manuscript, but not an upload-ready cover. Here’s where things got amazing: once the manuscript was uploaded and checked for format errors (and there were none, woohoo!), KDP spit out a total number of pages. Then it let me download (get this) a bespoke (as in, just the right number of pages) PDF template for Illustrator that allowed me to plunk my cover design on top of to make size adjustments. HOW FREAKIN’ AWESOME IS THAT?? No more formula calculations; just a fabulous template!!

It gets better. Manuscript upload was a breeze. After converting my 8.5″x11″ page size down to 6×9 in Word, I exported it as a PDF and simply uploaded it to KDP. Once the appropriately-sized cover was up, I hit the “preview” button, and a digital page previewer came up. This one is a lot slicker than the old one, as it didn’t seem to have a hangup with Flash, as the previous one always did. Within minutes I was able to see the book just as it will be printed out.

Of course, I always have about a dozen rounds of adjustments to make, which means making a new cover file (a piece of the cover graphic was actually missing on the first upload) and making a new manuscript PDF (super simple now, as it’s all done in Word) and then uploading them all again. No worries, it’s all good– and so much faster than before.

Bottom line: serious props to Amazon and the team of people who re-engineered the KDP self-publishing website. They made a clunky process streamlined and slick. I can’t wait to upload my next two manuscripts (whenever they get finished…)

I ordered my physical proof and it’ll be here Friday. If all looks good with the cover print, and formatting inside is perfect, then I’ll be on track to release the first of March. Which, of course, I’m totally and completely stoked about!!

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