Schizophrenia in the media

December 1, 2011 at 7:06 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Bit of a departure for a blog about self-publishing here, but I’ve been following the news coverage of Anders Breivik’s diagnosis by forensic psychologists as a paranoid schizophrenic. You remember Breivik; he’s the self-described ‘anti-Muslim militant’ who killed 77 people in and around Oslo in July.

Breivik has been quite clear in describing his motivations for the attack. He targeted the summer gathering of Norway’s Labour party in twisted retaliation for what he saw as their pro-multicultural, pro-immigration policies. Breivik, like many on the far right, felt not only that radical Islam was a very real threat to European societies, but that political entities on the Left were in some way allied with these radical Islamists.
Since his arrest, Breivik has been awaiting trial, with much of his time spent in solitary confinement. Now that he has been found insane, he may, depending on the court’s agreement with the findings, be facing compulsory psychiatric care instead of a prison sentence.

I’ve been reading a lot of comments on this verdict, and there’s two things that trouble me.

One is that this was a politically motivated attack. We don’t consider the mental health of the 9/11 hijackers, or of the Air India bombers. These were people acting in accordance with a very definite political agenda, using violence to achieve their aims. By lumping Breivik in with the likes of Charles Manson and Fred West, the ideology he subscribed to is passing by almost without comment. We know he was involved in one way or another with far-right groups, but when we categorise him as simply insane, all that seems to fall by the wayside. A terrorist act, a Norwegian 9/11, becomes instead a Scandinavian Columbine, a senseless tragedy with no political angle whatsoever. This is missing an important point: that anyone can be capable of unspeakable acts if they believe themselves to be doing the right thing. You can see it in schools, where children are taught that Hitler was an insane lunatic who somehow bewitched an entire nation into committing atrocities, as though he were the only murdering dictator in human history. Nothing is as dangerous as the man who believes beyond a shadow of a doubt that what he is doing is right. We forget this at our peril.

The second troubling aspect is this diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. I’m not in a position to argue with forensic psychologists over the mental state of a man I’ve never met. Breivik may very well be schizophrenic; I wouldn’t know. What I do know is how this informs the societal image of what a schizophrenic is.

Due to having written a novel with a schizophrenic protagonist, I have a Google alert set up to notify me of news stories on schizophrenia. It’s a depressing spectacle, for the most part. Especially today. The Google News page for schizophrenia today leads with Breivik, of course. He’s followed by Anthony Rapoport, a Chicago man who beat his aunt to death with a baseball bat. Scroll just a little down the same page, and we have Nicholas Bendle, the California man who killed a complete stranger with a hatchet.

Scared yet? Apparently, the world is full of murderous schizophrenics who could snap at any moment and kill you for no reason! Even if they think they have a reason, as Breivik did, it’s the madness, not the ideology, that we should blame.

So far, so depressing, but none of this is especially surprising. The mainstream image of schizophrenia has long been that of a rampaging, murderous psychopath – well, that or someone with ‘split personalities’, a completely unrelated condition. We’re thinking of Norman Bates, not John Nash.

The truth is a little different. About 5 per cent of violent crime is committed by people with various psychotic disorders, including but not limited to schizophrenia. When you consider that roughly 1 per cent of the population suffers from schizophrenia, it starts to seem a little less scary.

In 1999, a study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists concluded that people with mental illnesses are far less dangerous than people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and that dying at the hands of a mentally ill stranger is less likely than winning the lottery. But the media is naturally biased towards the unusual, the shocking, the bizarre. No one wants to hear about the 50 million people who didn’t win the lottery this week; they want to hear about the one who did. No one wants to hear about the schizophrenics who control their symptoms with medication and function highly in society despite their illness; we want the knife, the hockey mask, the Hollywood horror.

The truth is simultaneously more mundane and more horrifying: a supposedly sane person is just as likely to commit horrific acts as a schizophrenic. And whether Breivik is schizophrenic or not, it is his ideology that prompted him to murder innocent strangers – an ideology he shares with hundreds of sane people.

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Ebook publishing blues

November 27, 2011 at 5:48 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

With Scar out in paperback, I quickly set about getting an ebook version available. Now, personally, I’ve never read an ebook – at least, I hadn’t until I started making one. I don’t have an eReader, and I don’t really want one. You see, it’s not just stories that I love. I really love books; the physical object itself. I like bookstores. I like having books around me at home. While I can see the appeal of being able to carry a library around with you at all times, I can’t quite make the leap, yet.

But I’m not one to make war on the ocean. Ebook sales for January 2010 were up 261% against the previous January, and that statistic is now two years old. Ebooks outsell hardcovers on Amazon, and that’s for established authors. When it comes to self-published authors, the difference is more dramatic. It’s anecdotal, but from talking to authors on forums such as the Createspace forums, ebooks are where it’s at. Check out J.A. Konrath’s blog (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/) and see what he’s doing with ebooks and self-publishing. This is a man who’s turned his back on traditional publishing to self-publish ebooks, because he can make more money that way.

Think of it this way: no one’s ever heard of me, or my novel. They don’t know what to expect from me. For all they know, Scar could be the greatest work of fiction ever created, or (and this is far more likely) it could be a poorly written, unedited exercise in dilettante ego-stroking. But if they read the synopsis and it sounds interesting, they might consider taking a chance on my book. If they want a print copy, they’re risking $14.95 plus shipping. The ebook costs $2.99, and they can download and start reading it instantly.

This is basic marketing psychology, and if you want to sell books – if you want to sell anything – you need to get to grips with this. Ebooks can be priced so low that they become an impulse buy. But when you sell ebooks through Amazon, you get a 70% royalty. 70%, when traditionally-published authors who sell in the MILLIONS get 15-20%. If I sell two ebooks, I make almost as much as I do from one print book; that is to say, a $5.98 ebook sale gets me $4.18, and a $14.95 (plus shipping) print sale gets me $4.45.

I knew I had to make Scar an ebook. But I’m a dunce when it comes to computers. I basically have the same attitude to my PC as I do to my car; I can make it go, but I have no real idea how it works. If something goes wrong, I am powerless to fix it.

Enter smashwords.com. Smahwords is a DIY ebook distributor, and what they do is really quite impressive. When you sign up, you get a free ebook by Mark Coker, the founder of smashwords. (The first and so far only ebook I’ve read, incidentally.) This 88 page behemoth may seem daunting, but it’s an incredible tool that will teach you, step by step, how to take you book (assuming it’s in Microsoft Word) and make it into an ebook. Smashwords will then convert it into every conceivable ebook format, and sell it on their website.

Createspace will offer to make your book available on the Kindle for $79 dollars. But if you follow the Smashwords style guide, your Word document will be Kindle-ready for free. You can then go to Kindle Direct Publishing (kdp.amazon.com) and upload your book for free.

Honestly, if you write a conventional novel, you’d be stupid not to do this. It’s all free, it takes a few minutes, and it’s a whole other way to sell your books. Moreover, the ebook market is the big story in publishing right now. Rely only on print sales, and you will be left behind.

BUT….Scar is not like other books, and so transforming it into an electronic version was a quick day trip to an upper circle of hell. Scar has almost 150 footnotes, each of which had to be individually linked in Word to the point to which they’re supposed to refer. Technically, you can’t do footnotes in an ebook, only endnotes; so they all had to be moved to the end of the book. The blacked-out pages had to be reformatted into images, and once that was done, it turned out they were the wrong kind of images. The palimpsests and overwritten text – the very feature that makes Scar, Scar – simply couldn’t be replicated. Believe me, I tried. I spoke to every professional who would answer an email, and they all said the same thing – no way. Can’t be done. It took a week to turn Scar into a functional ebook, and it still wasn’t perfect.

Ultimately, I had to choose between a neutered version of Scar for the ebook, or nothing at all. But I really believe that this is the future of publishing. I love books; but I said the same thing about CDs. I liked the physical object; I liked the record store. I finally bought my first iPod in 2006, and I haven’t bought a CD in at least three years. Ebooks are new – so new that my spell-check won’t recognize the word – and they have very definite limitations. But that’s how technology goes; we laugh at what seemed impossible a year ago. If you’re not part of the future, you’ve consigned yourself to the past.

So Scar is available as an ebook, without the palimpsests (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/97573). The blacked-out pages are in there, but they seem to appear and disappear depending on what reader you use. The fact of the matter is, I think Scar can stand on the story and the quality of the writing. There’s no doubt that it loses something without the palimpsests; but they’re not essential to the story. I’d rather have it available in this form than not at all.
The way I see it is this: there’ll always be a market for printed books. It’s 2011, and albums are still put out on vinyl; what does that tell you? Sometimes, a cultural artefact and distribution technology meld so perfectly that the object itself becomes a thing of beauty. That’s how I see books. The print version of Scar is a beautiful object, at least to me. It’s the ultimate way to tell the story I set out to tell.

But if people want to buy an ebook, for one-tenth of the price of a print copy plus shipping, I’m not going to stand in their way. I’ve been poor too long myself to start getting elitist. They might miss out on some of the effects I fought so hard to create, but the story will still shine through; they’ll still get it. That’s really all I want.

As a compromise, there’s a note at the back of the ebook. It gives readers a link and a password, so they can go to my website and download a pdf of Scar, the way it was meant to look. This way, those who really get the book, who really understand what I was trying to do, can see it the way it was should be. For those who just want to pass a few hours reading a story, that’s fine too.

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Attack of the novel.

October 19, 2011 at 9:23 pm (Uncategorized)

So here it is. Six months behind schedule; six frustrating months of endless editing, battling with software, cajoling reluctant friends into helping me out, coming home from the day job to spend all night in front of the computer – it’s finally here. Scar, by Ryan Frawley, published October 6th 2011.

Once I accepted the final proof, the system kicked into gear by itself. The first outlet to stock it was the Createspace estore. I get the most money from this – 50% of the cover price – but who the hell goes shopping on createspace? Three days later, the book went live on amazon.com. Before the day was out, I’d registered my first sale, thanks to a facebook status update and a supportive cousin.

Since the book is only on amazon.com and not on any of its foreign sites, such as amazon.ca or amazon.co.uk, I was concerned that the shipping would be exorbitant should anyone from those countries want to buy it. After all, I’m an English writer living in Canada; I expect a lot of my potential readers to come from those places. However, when I went to my amazon page (http://www.amazon.com/Scar-Ryan-Frawley/dp/098690130X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319083183&sr=8-1), I tested a few addresses and found that, for $4.99, it can be shipped to Canada in 11 days or less. It’s only $3.99 to ship it to the UK, if you’re willing to wait a month. I was pleasantly surprised by that.

The struggle is far from over, of course. The book’s out there now, but no one really knows about it. Now the actual selling starts.

On a personal note; I’ve been dreaming of being a novelist for as long as I can remember. How does it feel to have finally (sort of) arrived? Honestly, it doesn’t feel like anything. I don’t want to be a downer, and I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from following their dreams – far from it – but this process has been such a hurdle-strewn hassle that it became just a job. A frustrating, non-paying job that consumed all my leisure time. And it’s not as though it’s in any way done now that the book’s out. Now I’m a novelist, but I have to become a salesman.

Enough complaining. I’ve published a novel at the age of 28. I’ll get happy, I’m sure, if I can get people reading it.

To that end: enter the ebook. More on that to follow….

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Createspace screws up a second time

October 1, 2011 at 10:26 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

It’s been a while since my last post, and there’s a couple of reasons for that. Tectonic shifts in my private life have kept me on the back foot for much of the summer. Also, proof reading took far longer than expected. Every time I thought I had the book exactly right, I’d send it off to Createspace; they’d send me another proof, and I’d find more mistakes. I went through four different proofs in this way. (The last error I found was a discrepancy in the reported ages of the main character and his father. I must have read this book fifteen times by now. Five other people have read it, including a professional editor, and no one spotted this. A lesson for writers: you can never read closely enough!)

Normally, when you receive a proof and it isn’t right, you go to your Createspace account and reject the proof. They will then ask a couple of questions as to why you don’t like the proof, essentially to make sure it’s not a printing error on their part. Then you upload a revised PDF, they process it and send you another proof, and the process starts again.
However, last time I rejected a proof, something strange happened. I got this message:

Congratulations on making “Scar” ( 3575000 ) available! All Content Creation products have been fulfilled and we would like to thank you for using our services. If you have not already, please follow the steps below to enable your title through our distribution channels.

I quickly emailed them back, explaining that I hadn’t accepted the proof, and that it wasn’t ready for publication. I got this message back:

In viewing the history of this title, I see that it has never gone available and that it is now currently in “Incomplete” status. The message you received seems to have been an error on our end and I sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding it may have caused.

Upon further review of your account, I was able to see that you successfully uploaded revisions on August 29; however, these files have not been submitted for our review process. To do so, please log in to your account, navigate to the “Complete Setup” step in the “Setup” phase, and select “Submit files for Review” at the bottom of the screen. We’ll then review your files and send you an e-mail notification outlining the results of your submission within 24 to 48 hours.

Once your files pass review, you will have the option to either order another proof copy of your title or skip the physical proof step and make your title immediately available.

So I did what they said. I submitted my files for review, and got this message:

The text overlaps on the PDF page 126. Please adjust the text in the native program and recreate the PDF for publishing.

That was too much for me. After the months of work I put into getting the book right, after getting four different proofs which all had the unusual text effects I wanted, I was in no mood to be told a second time that what I had fought to get wasn’t possible. I fired off a slightly nasty email, telling them that I knew that what I was asking could be done, but if they were unwilling to do it I’d find someone else who would. I got this back:

Our Technical Services team has confirmed that your files will be accepted as they are submitted in your account. We have set your title back to “In Process” and you should expect to receive a new review shortly. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Obviously, this was all a frustrating waste of time, but all’s well that ends well, no? They fixed my problem, once I got firm with them.
What irks me, though, is that without my consent, they moved me one step further along in the publishing process. By accepting a proof I told them to reject, they advanced me to the next stage in the process, and once you reach that stage, additional proofs cost additional money. I had to pay $12.99 for the proof I’m currently waiting on.
I understand that they’re a business. I got four proofs for free, and I would have no problem if after that, they decided to charge me. If they had just sent me a message saying, ‘we can’t keep sending you books for free. From now on, we’ll charge you for additional proofs’, I would have been fine with that. But instead, they made a ‘mistake’ that I now have to pay for. Not cool.

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The Most Exciting Blog Post in Human History!!!!!!

May 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm (Uncategorized)

Just a quick hint for anyone who, like me, is publishing with Createspace but living outside the US.
Since Createspace is a US company, the IRS will tax you on your royalties, forcing Createspace to withhold 30% of your earnings. You can get around this if your country has a tax treaty with the US. Different countries have negotiated different rates; here are the examples Createspace gives:
• Canada: 0%
• Australia: 10%
• UK: 0%
• Japan: 10%
• India: 15%
(Note Canada’s 0% deal; once again, I’m grateful to live here!)
Getting this rate, however, is not so easy. Createspace outlines the steps on their website (https://www.createspace.com/International), but I’ll paraphrase:
First, you have to get a Taxpayer Identification (TIN) Number from the IRS. You get this by filling in Form W-7 from the IRS website, then sending it off to them, along with notarised copies of identification, such as a passport. In something like 6-8 weeks, assuming you filled in the form correctly and included a letter from Createspace, also provided on the website, you’ll get your TIN. Once you have that, you can fill out form W-8BEN, mail that to Createspace, and you’ll get the tax rate that applies to your country of residence. If that sounds like a lot of hassle, it’s only because it is.

The shortcut

There’s a quicker way through this. As well as a TIN, Createspace will also accept an Employer Identification Number (EIN). You can get one of these by calling the IRS at 1-267-941-1099. They’ll ask you a couple of questions, such as the name and nature of your business (you can use your own name as the name of the business), and you’ll get an EIN over the phone in five minutes. Then you fill out and send off your W-8BEN to Createspace, as above.
Not the most thrilling blog post in history, I’ll grant you. But it’s good information to know, and something I wish I’d known about eight weeks ago.

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Createspace screws up for the first time

May 4, 2011 at 7:34 pm (Uncategorized)

Here’s how Createspace works: you create an account for free, and give them the title and ISBN of your book. Then, you determine the physical properties of your book, such as its size. All of this is incredibly easy, and the website guides you through the process quite nicely.

The next stage is where things get complicated. You need to upload the files that will form the interior of your book; the actual text of the novel, in my case. You’d think that would be simple, but you’d be wrong.

Createspace’s submission guidelines can be found here: https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/InteriorPDF.jsp
They seem straightforward enough; all text and images must have a margin of at least .25”, but they recommend .5”. Gutter margins (as they helpfully explain, the left-hand margin next to the binding of the book) vary according to the thickness of the book, and a handy little table right there explains that my novel, Scar, will need gutter margins of .75”. This is all relatively easy to deal with, at least in Microsoft word, which is what I used to write Scar.
Then things get trickier. You are to export your book as a print-ready PDF. This means that it has to be exactly as you want it to be printed; the pages of the PDF must match the pages of the physical book. Being blindly unaware of that, I wrote Scar on Word’s default page setting of 8.5” x 11”.

If I had written a regular book, it wouldn’t really have been a big deal to change the page size. But I didn’t. As previously mentioned, Scar is formatted unusually, with certain text written over other pieces of text. Some pages are utterly black, with fragments of white writing floating in the gloom like stars. I achieved these effects mainly through the use of text boxes, not worrying too much while I was writing about the feasibility of what I was doing. That’s the publisher’s problem, I figured, and chuckled to myself, unaware at that time that I was, in fact, the publisher.

What all this means is that changing the page size essentially meant going through the entire book again and moving everything around. Tedious and time-consuming work, but the effects I want to create are essential to the novel, so I did it. My difficulty was perhaps compounded by my utter ignorance of design, and only a very basic grasp of computers in general. I’ve been working in manual labour jobs since I was eighteen, so I never really acquired those kinds of skills. Ask me to stack a pallet or kill a rat, and I’m all over it, but when it comes to technology, I have the skills and confidence of a storm-beached whale shark.

With this in mind, I decided to take advantage of one of the paid services Createspace offers: the Total Design Freedom Custom Book Interior. You can see it for yourself at https://www.createspace.com/Services/TotalDesignFreedomInterior.jsp, but I’ll summarise. “Graphic designers will incorporate your ideas and vision into your book’s interior, giving it a customized look and feel through layout, typography, and formatting” the website trumpets. Sounds good to me. This service is regularly priced at $499, but was on sale for $299, so I snapped it up. Given the difficulties I knew I would have with Scar, it seemed like money well spent.

I sent my faceless ‘design team’ the Word file of Scar, and waited for their response. I had already taken care to get the margins right and get everything looking the way I wanted, so I figured they’d just covert it to a PDF and we’d be rolling.

About a month later, I got a message back from my design team. They had a couple of problems. One was an image I put at the start of the book; the resolution was too low, they said. OK, that’s fine. I’ll fix that. Their other problem was more intractable:

“2) There are text boxes throughout the interior file overlapping the main body of the text, example page: 164. When your book is formatted the text boxes will get lost in your text. If you would like text boxes, please place them without overlapping text in your interior file.”

But the text boxes are supposed to overlap the text! If they have to be out on their own, orphaned on the page, cut off for no apparent reason from the rest of the text, the effect is ruined and I may as well not have them at all. I sent a message back, stressing that the text boxes as they currently appeared were crucial to the book’s aesthetic; is there no way this can be done? Here’s what they told me:

“….we are unable to format the text how you currently have it because when we format the document for design, the text will shift and not appear as you currently have it. The only way for you to be able to keep your text as shown is to have you send us a PDF document of your manuscript, in which we would have to cancel your current interior service and have your publishing consultant set you up with one of our PDF interior services. Of course you or a designer would then have create a print ready PDF file of your manuscript as you want it to appear and then we could print this text in this manner. Please verify if you would like to switch to a PDF interior(sic) service or if you would like to upload a revised manuscript with your text formatting corrected.”

My project consultant also called me on the phone to say basically the same thing. If I wanted something flashy and unusual, I would have to do it myself. They offered to refund the money I paid for their design services, and I was on my own.

None of this is exactly unreasonable, but at the same time, I can’t help feeling that they missed an opportunity here. Their interior design service offers the skills of graphic designers to help you create a book that looks exactly as you want it, but at the first hint of something unusual, they give up. If you’re going to have words like ‘total design freedom’ and ‘customized look and feel’ in your promotional material, you should really be prepared to deal with some unusual requests. It’s not like I’m doing anything that unusual anyway; pick up a copy of Mark Z. Danielewski’s ‘House Of Leaves’, or Matthew Remski’s ‘Dying for Veronica’, and you’ll see far more innovative things done with the novel form.

It was disappointing that they gave up so easily. It seems to me that they only want to help you design your book if the book is already more or less complete; but if that’s the case, why pay them hundreds of dollars? I only needed their help because of the unconventional formatting of Scar, and that’s precisely why they couldn’t help me. As the old saying goes, you don’t have a dog and bark yourself.

As a footnote (which Scar is also riddled with, incidentally) I got these messages on April 8th. It’s now May 4th, and I still haven’t been refunded for the service they couldn’t provide. Not an impressive showing so far.

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Printing Your Novel; or, How I Accidentally Started a Publishing Company

April 25, 2011 at 4:37 pm (Uncategorized)

Once your book’s written and edited and as good as you can make it, it’s time to go to print. There are a LOT of companies all too willing to step in and help you out with that; just google ‘self publishing’ or ‘print on demand’ and see how many adverts pop up. There’s a ton of money to be made in this game. They say everyone has at least one book in them, and it looks like a lot of us will pay to make that book a reality.
There’s a few different directions you can go in with this. Companies range from giants like lulu.com and CreateSpace to the art bookstore in Vancouver that has an Espresso printing machine and can knock up a book for you in a couple of weeks. Some companies charge fees, some don’t. The size and type of book they can produce for you varies; for instance, Lulu lets you make a hardback, but Createspace doesn’t. What they charge to produce your book, the royalties they pay and the methods they use to distribute your book all vary quite a lot.

I decided to go with Createspace, for a few reasons:
1) It’s an Amazon.com company, and so your book will automatically be listed with Amazon.
2) It’s easy. CreateSpace is set up for people like me, by which I mean those utterly clueless about book design and publishing. They guide you through the steps you need to take to get your book out there. If you like, you can pay them to handle virtually the whole process. More on that later.
3) They pay higher royalties than most other companies – at least compared to the big ones. Although my chances of breaking even, let alone making a profit on publishing my novel are pretty slight, the less money eaten up in publishing costs, the better.

A quick cruise through blogs and forums about CreateSpace will turn up a lot of discouraging things. In fact, I’ve had my own problems with them already, which I’ll detail in another post. What is important to remember though is that CreateSpace, Lulu and many others are so-called ‘author services’ companies. They don’t expect to sell many copies of your book; that’s not where they make their money. It’s the additional services they offer to authors that brings in the cash. Things like editing, cover design, distribution, marketing – a single author could spend thousands on all this, and CreateSpace publishes hundreds of authors daily. My advice would be to purchase as few of these as possible. Most of what they offer can be done better, cheaper, or sometimes both by consulting a different company or individual, like I did when I went looking for an editor.

Choosing a company to print your book is like choosing any other company, really. Make sure you read the fine print and be clear on what they’re offering. And remember, these companies are not publishers. They don’t care about the quality of your book, or whether or not it sells.
For a helpful comparison between three giants in this industry, go to http://duskpeterson.livejournal.com/49913.html

Oh, and one other thing. If you’re going to sell your book, you need an ISBN (international standard book number). Createspace requires this before you do anything else. They can assign you one for free, but then your publisher will be listed as Createspace. This may not be a problem for you, but it makes me a little uneasy. Your alternative is to get your own ISBN and make your own publishing company; this is incredibly easy. In the states, ISBNs can be bought from the following companies:
• Aardvark Global Publishing Company
• Bethany Press
• Espressio
• FilmMasters
• Instantpublisher.com
• Lulu.com
• PPC Books
• Publisher Services
• RJ Communications
• RKD Press
• Signature Books
• WordClay

I’m told it costs $99 for a single ISBN.
Luckily for me, I live in Canada, where ISBNs come free from CISS, the Canadian ISBN Service System (gotta love abbreviations within abbreviations). Fill out a simple online form with a few general details of your book and invent a name for your company, and they’ll get back to you with an ISBN. They say to allow six weeks or so, but they got back to me within five working days.
And that’s how I accidentally became the head of a publishing company.

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The edit’s the thing…

March 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

So you’ve written that novel and you’re ready to publish it. You’ve shown it off to your family and friends, and at least some of them have agreed that it doesn’t suck. Good. But if you’re going to self-publish your novel, you’re going to need to hire a professional editor. You do. And those of you who think you don’t need one probably need one most of all.

Why? Well, a professional editor is, or should be, utterly unbiased. They get paid no matter what they think of your work, and so if it’s garbage, they’ll let you know, and if they praise it, you can believe them. No matter how objective your circle of friends tries to be, if they have an interest in your happiness, chances are they’ll go easy on you. A professional editor doesn’t have to live with you sulking because they suggested you could stand to lose chapters 7, 18, 119 and 237-298; or that your main character has the depth and complexity of a damp Kleenex on a rainy sidewalk and your plot twists may as well come with two week’s written notice.

Secondly, a professional editor probably knows more about what sells books than you, your family or your friends, unless you happen to come from a publishing dynasty or regularly lunch with the heads of the Seven Sisters of publishing. And if that’s the case, it’s pretty unlikely you’d be self-publishing in the first place. For example: my novel, Scar, contains a number of different fonts, representing the viewpoints of different characters. While my editor understood the impulse behind this, he cautioned against it, especially if I was to try to publish the book via the conventional route. Agents and publishers, he pointed out, are very wary of writing with more than one font; it reeks of amateurism, like wearing jeans to a job interview. No matter the quality of the work, most agents and publishers will stop reading once they see the font change. And there I was thinking I was all edgy and cool like Mark Z. Danielewski.

Editors – good editors – know books. It takes real skill to look at a finished manuscript written by a complete stranger and figure out how to make it better. After five years of writing Scar, I had reached a hopeless impasse. Too familiar with the story and too invested in the outcome to be able to so much as approach the clean-eyed objectivity of a new reader, I knew I needed a professional’s opinion. It was nice to hear that my girlfriend thought it was good, but I needed a more in-depth analysis.

So how do you find an editor? The same way I find everything else – the internet. If you’re self-publishing with one of the big companies, like Createspace or Lulu – more on them later – they can edit your manuscript for you, for a fee. Createspace, for instance, charges $0.0175 per word for a basic copyedit on a book longer than 10,000 words. Doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider that Scar would cost $1750, just for a review of spelling, grammar, punctuation and the like. A more comprehensive edit, in which they offered me the services of “a professional editor who will focus on improving sentence structure while providing suggestions to help you strengthen your book’s content” would have cost me around $3200; far more than I’m able to spend.

If you have money and time’s an issue, this might not be so bad. I can’t speak to the quality of Createspace’s editors. One thing that did put me off, though, was the fact that I had no way of knowing, at least before buying the service, who my editor was. If I’m laying out that kind of money, I want to be sure it’s being edited by someone with experience, who knows what they’re talking about.

So I decided to use the internet to do some shopping around, and eventually settled on pronovelediting.com. One of the many things I liked about them was that they were willing to do a sample edit of a couple of pages for free so I could see what to expect. I got samples from a few different companies, but the edit from pronovelediting.com was hands-down the sharpest, most insightful and most helpful of the bunch. Also, their turn-around times are impressive. And best of all, the edit for the entire manuscript came in at around $1500! (Though in fairness, I should point out that this was an edit of content, style, plot and things like that, and did not include the basic mechanics of spelling, grammar and punctuation. As it happens, I’m a fairly decent proofreader myself, and in order to keep costs down, I decided not to pay for that service. It’s easy to find people who can spell to help you out; not so easy to find help with the structure of a story, plot and character development, imagery, etc. That’s where I found I needed professional help.)

Editing your manuscript is one of the most important steps to making a great book, so price isn’t everything. Getting it done right is going to cost you money, no matter which route you go down. I went through a bunch of different editors, and was quoted anywhere from $800 to $5000. This isn’t the time to cheap out, but your own circumstances will dictate what you can afford. The quote for $5000 I got was from a big name in the publishing industry, a man with decades of experience behind him who has edited some of the biggest bestsellers around. It would have been great to have someone like that in my corner, but I simply don’t have that kind of money. I’m guessing lots of people don’t.

In the end, I was very happy with the service I got from pronovelediting.com. The editor really seemed to understand what I was trying to do with Scar, and the suggestions he made helped it to be a far better book than it would otherwise be. Scar is not the easiest novel to edit by any means, and $1500 was, to me, a small price to pay to make sure it was all it could be before I set it loose on an unsuspecting public…

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In the Beginning….

March 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

It’s not that I’m a complete dilettante. I’ve published before; a few short stories, here and there. I’ve won a couple of prizes for them. I even got paid for writing them, which is a big deal when you’re 22 and have been dreaming of being a writer as long as you can remember.

You’re 22 and piss-poor, but you’re happy, smiling away in your tiny basement apartment and drinking your shitty warehouse wages, because the future is yours. Everything you ever wanted is just around the next corner. All you have to do is grab it.

A few beers, a few jobs, a few stories later, and you’re 27.  Not old, for a writer; but not a kid anymore, either. Especially considering how early you started; you wrote your first novel at the age of 18. OK, so it wasn’t a good novel, but it was a novel all the same.

So it’s time to get serious. If there’s one thing your 27 years of life have taught you, it’s that nothing is ever handed to you. Nothing comes easy. Dreams are pointless unless you chase them, but they’ll never happen unless you make them.

You have another novel now, a better one. You’ve been moulding this in the dark for five years. It’s outlasted any job or relationship you’ve had. You’ve infused it with your own red life, filled its dark heart to the brim with cruelty and beauty, and now it sits brooding on your desk. At night you can almost hear it breathing, snarling.

Time to find a publisher. But before you can do that, you should probably get an agent. So you look around. You send out emails and manuscripts, first to the big guys, then to the smaller guys, then, finally, to anyone you think might take a chance on an unknown.

Mostly, you get ignored. Often, you get a formulaic response: thanks, but no thanks. Now and again, a spark of interest sends you swaggering for a while; but then the verdict comes. It’s good, it’s really good, but we just don’t see how we can sell it, especially in the current climate.

They couldn’t sell Kafka either. No one wanted to publish Lolita. Confederacy of Dunces was published too late for its unfortunate author. Most great books were rejected at least once; all great authors were rejected many times. You’re in good company.

But you have something the old masters never had. You live in a world far smaller than any they imagined, a world bounded in copper wire where you can talk to anyone, anywhere, without leaving your apartment. You live in a world where technology has robbed the old gatekeepers of their power, where anyone can be heard by everyone. You live in a world where a book you wrote in Vancouver can be ordered by someone in Australia, and printed right there. No shipping, no bulk quantities. Print on Demand. Another front in the ongoing democratisation of culture.

After rejections into the teens, I started to wonder what exactly I need a publisher for. How much did I expect them to invest in advertising a first-time novel with unconventional formatting and difficult-to-classify subject matter? What kind of changes would they ask me to make? What compromises would I be forced to suffer in order to put before the public a book I might no longer recognise as my own? And if I sold my novel’s soul to the corporations, what could I expect to get in return?

So I decided to do it for myself. All of it. This blog will follow my adventure in self-publishing, from choosing a printing service to marketing to sales and beyond. The (hopefully many) highs and the (hopefully few) lows. You’ll see me fail or succeed as it happens. Either way, it’ll be my own failures, and my own success.

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