Yesterday I wrote briefly about marketing. I'd like to explain in more detail just what kind of work goes into self-publishing a book, because it isn't at easy as it sounds. At least, if you want to do a good job and have minimal cash flow.
First, write a book. I used to think that was the hard part, but it turns out that was the easy part. It's also the fun part, though I have to say what follows is interesting in its own way.
Once your book is done, you could simple upload it via Amazon or something. However, if you want to a good job, there are many more steps.
Do you want to only publish an ebook? You'll need to learn how to format your file for an ebook. If you are inexperienced, as I was, you will realize you write with a lot of habits that don't work well with ebook formats. For example, I never used page breaks between chapters. But if you want a proper ebook, you need those page breaks. You need to learn how to hypertext your chapter headings. You can't use <Tab> to start your paragraphs. Rather, you need to set your margins properly. If you don't do these things the format will come out wonky.
Do you also want a print edition? That's another style of formatting. Line spacing is different. Paragraph spacing might be different. Some people say chapters should all start on the same side. Your table of contents will be different. You need to format for a different page size, etc.
You also need an ISBN and copyright. Applying for a copyright is easy enough online, but will cost a little money. Make sure you add a copyright page to your book! Also get an ISBN. I'm in Canada so those are free, but in some countries you have to buy them. If you do ebooks on Amazon you don't need them, and Createspace, I believe, can issue you one.
Now you have everything you need. Can you afford a professional editor? Definitely get one if you can. I was a poor student at the time I wrote Elf Mastery so couldn't afford it. I went through the book 14 times myself, and had some beta readers who caught a few mistakes. I still miss things, though.
Of course you also need a cover! Covers are important because that is what will entice someone to read the blurb (short book description/pitch). You need a good eye for pictures and fonts. Get a pro if you can. I couldn't. I found someone on deviantart who was willing to work cheaper than a pro, and then a friend who is good with Photoshop and has an eye for detail helped put it all together. Little things like fonts can be very important. This goes for the interior as well - you need to have fonts that are appealing and easy to read.
After all this you think the hard part's done. You can just post it and people will flock to read it. But no. If you are unknown, you have no one searching for your books. People need to learn about it. Sure, you'll start off ok as friends and family pick up copies, and the Kindle library might draw some people in. But it can take some time for people to even notice your book.
One thing that slows me down is I refuse to have people give me blind reviews. I told people not to review my book until they have finished it, and then to be honest. I'm pretty sure a lot of people do have friends and family that go on just to boost ratings but not me. I think my book should stand on its own. I sent dozens of emails to people who review books online looking for people willing to review my book. So far I have had a few replies. Now the nerve-wracking part is waiting until the reviews are submitted, as I hope they are good.
So marketing is the real workload for me, especially as I suck at it. If I get good reviews, though, hopefully my book will stand out more among the tens of thousands of books vying for attention.
One thing to note, by the way, if you are using Amazon, is your free promotion days. You may not feel you want to give your book away for free, but people know books have promotion days and wait until they get posted for free before downloading. Last weekend I had two free promotion days and sales skyrocketed. I made no money, but it got the book out and hopefully some of those will turn into good reviews.
Don't let me discourage you from self-publishing. I'd say do traditional publishing if you can, but I didn't like the hassle of querying agents and waiting only to be rejected. Dating already fills that role in my life. Even if you get accepted,the agent needs to find a publisher, and it's a ton of waiting. At least self-publishing lets me DO stuff instead of sitting around wondering.
One of the trickiest elements of self-publishing seems to be marketing. It is turning out to be somewhat enjoyable, as I am learning new things, but it's a bit nerve-wracking as I first need to convince people to read and review it, and also hope the reviews are positive! I refuse to pay reviewers (and most refuse payment anyway) as that is shady. I even told my friends and family not to give me falsely positive reviews. If my book can't stand on its own merits then it doesn't deserve to be out. But it does. I'm confident there is a market for this book. I just need to get it to the right people.
I know my maps aren't fancy-that's why they don't get printed in the books. But they do provide me with a reference if I need to remember where everything is. Here's one of the Equinox region.
Mind you this overland map is a lot more pleasing to the eye than the map of Euinox in my previous post.
Got the picture of Aura from TheAvies and posting in the Characters section. As Kyla ended up alone on the front cover, I will probably put Eunoe, Aspen, and Aura on the back cover of the paperback version of the book.
A friend (Jessica Dennis, who did the cover) expressed interest in drawing Denzig in his disguise and also said I should open up a section for fan art. I have no fans as of yet, but if I get some that sounds fantastic. If anyone sends a picture of any characters or scenes from the book to email@example.com, I will try to add them to my page. I would love to see pictures of Equinox in particular. I made a rudimentary map, though I only added buildings mentioned in the book. I suspect there would be more:
There should definitely be more dormitories besides Haven Hall in the bottom left. And maybe a stable behind the Communications building for the Steeds of Light. Anyway this was just a basic reference for the story. I'm already working on book 2 and as it progresses I'm sure more buildings will be added. As an FYI the Aeolian Field is where Aura teaches her class on breezes.
Doing a free promotion on Amazon for April 10-11 2016, if anyone's interested...
When I developed Kyla as a character I wanted to focus on growth. So I started with someone who was innocent, naive, and energetic, even to the point of annoying those around her. I knew I was going to run Kyla through some trials in the story that would force her to grow and mature, and I wanted to show that she had the ability to face dark times and still come out the other side as a happy, optimistic individual, only wiser.
In beta reading, for the most part, Kyla did well. There were a few people that really didn't like her at the beginning, though most seemed to have warmed up to her at the end. She comes across as a bit stupid in parts, though it was intended to show her lack of worldly exposure. Most people seemed to like her by the end of the story, but I had a hard time because I knew if I couldn't sell her at the beginning agents and readers might be turned off by the book. Yet if I changed her, that was like me saying 'There's something wrong with you because you aren't educated in the ways of the world.' This book is supposed to show her education in life, and having her start off more street-wise would have ruined her development.
This is a large reason I decided to self-publish. I wasn't confident I could get Kyla past an agent as they usually only read the first couple chapters before deciding if they want to see the whole manuscript. And I like her in the beginning. I love it when people can smile and see the bright side of life. I like positive energy. Not everyone does. Some people want their main characters to be dark and edgy. I knew it was a risk.
This contrast of approaches to people like Kyla is illustrated at the student orientation in Victory Hall. Lili sees Kyla and immediately pegs her as a coddled hick. Uneducated, unseasoned, and immature. She hones in on that and targets Kyla as someone who needs to toughen up. Lili was loosely based on a friend I used to have, who was a bully back in school and legitimately thought she was doing other girls a favor by bullying them to get them ready for the real world. Even as an adult she held to this philosophy.
Eunoe saw Kyla from a different point-of-view. She saw the part of Kyla who was pure, happy, and compassionate. The value she placed on Kyla's strength was stronger than any contempt she might have for her weaknesses.
In the end I decided not to change Kyla. I think she's a fine type of person to be. It's not a person's fault if they have never been educated. It's only their fault with how they use what they know. Kyla is ignorant of many things. She is not a perfect character. But she takes what she does know and applies it in the most productive and positive way she can.
I'm a bit tired, so this may be a bit of a ramble, but in the end I'm happy with how Kyla turned out, and I think most people who don't like her in the beginning of the story will like her by the end.
A book's cover is crucial. When someone's browsing a store (real or virtual), the first thing that will grab their attention is the cover. This is particularly important as an unknown writer, as no one is going to be attracted to my book because I wrote it.
Since money was a factor, and I couldn't afford a professional cover artist, I found a girl on deviantart (TheAvies) who had a couple pictures that looked similar to my main characters. I commissioned her for four separate portraits, and as soon as I got the picture of the main character back from her I though it was perfect for the main character. The other portraits will still be used, but mostly to be on the back cover of the paper version.
I'd like to show you the original artwork here:
It's a pretty adorable picture. There is the tip of an extra finger that I erased in post, but really I was happy with her work and she was really excited to do it. And she worked for much less than a professional artist, so that was great. Then I had a friend help with the cover. She did some overlays, which really add some depth, and we added the title and my name.
We ran into an unusual debacle with my name. Originally I had it really tiny under the elbow. My friend said it should be much larger. The black background was an obvious place, so we placed it over the title. I went to Goodreads for some feedback. People seemed to love the cover but many felt my name should go on the bottom. So we tried it. Here's the side-by-side.
Both look really good, and I was torn which to use. The font color on the right was changed to make it easier to read on the new background. Both have advantages and disadvantages. My name's easier to read on the left, but my name at the bottom frames the picture better. But it also looks like a belt. The top is cleaner on the right, too, though. Since I couldn't decide, I put it to a vote on my Facebook. Top won, but barely. So that's what I went with. It's an ebook so I can change it if I want. Maybe I'll keep the ebook as is and do the one on the right for the paperback.
If you want to buy it just click the 'Buy the eBook' button at the top of the page! I will post the link for the POD as soon as it's available.
I became interested in fantasy when I was four years old. I was in the gymnasium of the elementary school in Rosemary, Alberta, watching a play put on by a group of traveling entertainers. In my little village (I think it was about 300 people), if there was an event, everybody came. So the bleachers were full, and I sat on the floor of the gym with the other small children.
I don't recall many details of the play, save the main character had to retrieve a dragon's tear. At one point he encountered a wall, which, to my surprise, opened its eyes and spoke.
"A wall that talks?" I thought. "How stupid. Walls can't talk!"
As the play continued, I kept looking at that wall prop. The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I felt. A wall that talked seemed such a creative idea! What brilliant playwright came up with that?
That is, in my memory, the moment I became interested in fantasy. Growing up, my siblings and I enjoyed movies such as The Dark Crystal and Willow. I was an avid reader and while I did read many classics in elementary school, such as Roots, I very much enjoyed stories of fantasy. I loved The Chronicles of Prydain, The Chronicles of Narnia, Dragonlance, and my book of Myths and Legends from around the World (which I still have). Into adulthood the majority of my leisure reading is either classics (Greek mythology, Shakespeare, Milton, etc) or fantasy (Tolkien, Jordan, etc). At some point, however, my reading phased out and my interest in writing phased in.
For years I have been writing scripts for TV shows, stories, and even a novel, and some have even been pitched to agents. Nothing has ever gotten anywhere. I confess that I haven't been persistent - quite often I got distracted from a project by a new idea, or frustrated after a rejection or two, and given up. When I started Elf Mastery about a year and a half ago, I knew I had a problem of getting my fingers in too many pies and became determined to see it through to the end. No other projects until it was finished!
Elf Mastery started off as a cartoon, actually. I envisioned it as a children's show with songs and everything. I even wrote the lyrics for them. I created a pitch bible and sent it to two animation companies but never heard back. I also realized I had two problems:
First, I worried it was too dark for a children's show. If you've started reading it but haven't got too far in it might not seem that dark, but it gets darker as you progress. Nothing I feel is inappropriate for children, but people do die. I've already started the second book and it's even darker in spots. So I didn't see it succeeding as a musical cartoon.
Second, I spoke to a man who worked in animation. He said to be aware that once you sell a show, especially as a no-name writer, you aren't likely to have much control over what direction the show will take and it will probably end up quite different from what you envisioned.
I decided a book might be easier. I could decide how I wanted it written, and once it was published, the story was set in stone. I would have more creative control. I could also target a slightly older audience. The beginning of the novel was then adapted from seven episodes I had written which constitute the first several chapters. Then I continued writing in prose format. To a trained eye I think this separation might be apparent.
It took me a while to finish - over a year - because frankly working cut into my day. I didn't always feel like writing after a long day at work. Luckily I left my job so I could get a pension payout to go to school for a Master's, and had some time in between to write. I was able to finish the book while taking my courses online.
The next step was publication. I knew that going through a publisher was the best way to build a reputation as an author, and I knew I would need an agent. I sent out at least a dozen queries. I only heard back from four, which were polite declines. No one even asked for my manuscript. Either my sample was terrible, or wasn't standing out enough. I had several beta readers, and the responses were mostly positive to the story, but one kind of explained the issue (I think). She noted that in the first couple chapters she though the story was going to be an entirely different book than it ended up being. That, and she didn't like the main character at first, though by the end she said she really grew on her. As the sample chapters are from the beginning, I knew I had a problem. Two, actually. First, agents were possibly rejecting the book because they thought they knew the direction it was headed, though they didn't. A better query letter could fix that, so no problem. The bigger problem was that readers might also be turned off in the first couple chapters. That's the real issue for me. It's not that there's anything wrong with the first couple chapters. I think they're pretty good. But they seem to be setting the tone of a typical 'girl experiences life's little problems in a magic school, makes some friends, and stands up to a bully. The end.' By chapter three or four my beta reader realized that wasn't going to be the case, and especially by eight or nine, but I knew this might be a challenge to get readers engaged.
I'll admit I did consider deleting the first couple chapters for this reason, but that was where the main characters were introduced. I could have introduced everyone in media res (during the action) in the middle, but the point of the story is watching Kyla's growth from an immature young woman into a much wiser, experienced young adult. I wanted to start before her character development begins. At any rate none of the beta readers in my target demographic complained about any of this, so I decided to leave it as is. I prefer it that way myself, though only time will tell if that was the right choice.
Sorry for the digression. Anyway he issues above made me feel that an agent was unlikely to pick up my book. I hadn't really tried that hard, however, and could have sent out more queries, but in one of the courses I was taking we talked a lot about how the internet is changing business, our social environment, etc. One of the things I looked out specifically was how Youtube is causing problems for television producers and advertisers because more and more young people are getting their entertainment online. It occurred to me it would be more interesting and fun to self-publish.
And it is. I had to format my book for Kindle, which is harder than it sounds. I had to commission my own artist for the cover, as well as have a friend help with the design. I didn't have the money for an editor so did that myself (with a little help from friends, though I have personally gone through the book fourteen times now and probably still missed some things).
Self-publishing has no credibility in the writing world. It takes no writing skill to publish if you do it yourself. But I did love not being beholden to someone else to get the book out. I certainly wouldn't recommend it for everyone. A publisher would be very useful, for editing assistance and promotion. However, this is the path I ended up on, and its been fun. Who knows if it will be a success.
Well, that's my first post. Since I want you to buy my book I'm going to post the Amazon link here. At the time of this writing there is no paper version, though it is coming. I'm just waiting on a bit more artwork and doing the formatting.
Hopefully you enjoy it. If not, no refunds.
Bryant Reil currently resides in Kelowna, BC. Recent accomplishments include completing a Master's degree, and having finished two books, Elf Mastery and Elf Doubt. The third book, Elf Righteous, is underway.