8 November 2012 § Leave a comment
There are only a few days to go until I launch my book, “Dostoevsky’s Russians”, and lots of people have been asking me about how I published it, so I thought I’d write a bit about why I did it, and how it all worked. Some of you will know that I started off sending proposals off to publishers, and I had an exciting false start when I got quite a positive response to the very first one I sent. I dutifully scrubbed up the first three chapters, and sent them off, and then they decided that although they liked my writing, they only really publish literary criticism by “career academics”. They obviously didn’t read my first proposal very thoroughly, but hey ho, it was a start. Then after that, nothing, or almost instantaneous rejections, and after filling in a few proposal forms, in which I was asked to explain to publishers how the book should be marketed, and what I would do to promote it, it suddenly occurred to me that I could do all this myself and stay in control of things.
I couldn’t afford to do anything that involved parting with hard cash, but there are two self-publish print on demand services, which do what they say on the tin – Createspace, and Lulu. Although Lulu are UK based, I opted for Createspace because they’re part of Amazon, which has to be my main distribution channel. (Lulu list on Amazon, but it didn’t seem as straightforward or quick as Createspace). In terms of copyright, I own all the rights, but I opted for a Createspace ISBN (because it was free) so I can’t publish this edition of the book anywhere else. I don’t see that as a problem: if a publisher suddenly comes along and loves it, they’d want to make changes and put it out as a new edition anyway, so it would need a new ISBN.
To publish, all you have to do is upload your book and the cover, order a proof and then set the price. Easy. Well, ok it all involved quite a bit of work, but the whole process was quite easy to follow, and the online previewing tools showed me quickly and easily whenever something went wrong. There were times when I read things on the Createspace authors’ forum and thought it seemed overwhelmingly complex, but actually, if you keep your head, follow the instructions, think logically and have a reasonably good grasp of Word, it’s quite straightforward. Of course without the wisdom of an editor, I may have made some layout mistakes, and I’m still convinced that some of my commas get up and dance when I’m not looking. I spent a lot of time examining the books on my shelves, looking at running headers, spacing, and general layout, and quite a bit of time swearing at Word when it kept mangling things (headers and footers were particularly awkward). I was determined to make it look as professional as possible – to the extent that I downloaded an open-source version of Garamond with a full set of ligatures (i.e. when letters like f join up to the next letter), and spent ages messing about with hyphens and spacing. It was fun: I get a bit geeky about things like this sometimes.
The other fun thing was having complete power over the cover design. I’ve already written here about the perfect photo that I found, and after some playing around in Scribus, which is an opensource desktop publishing programme, and more swearing whilst I figured out about bleeds, trim sizes and spine thickness, I uploaded it all to Createspace and gazed in awe at the spinning 3D picture of how my book would look, and flicked through virtual pages. Of course, I also had to do things like an author photo, and I had lots of nice comments from friends on facebook about a picture I’d uploaded, so I cropped it and used that. It was taken by my seven-year old son, while we were on a grungy camping weekend at a punk festival.
Second time round, the proof was fine and then it was just a case of making a Kindle version. I thought it would happen automatically from my original files, but actually I had to reformat it all, with HTML code. I could have left it with Word’s code, but again, I’m a geek and I hate messy files. I found a nice online tool that stripped out all the junk code, and then I started from scratch and put things back in. I learnt how to use CSS at the same time, which was useful.
So, with great excitement, I can say that “Dostoevsky’s Russians” will be available to buy on Amazon on our joint birthday, Sunday 11 November. It will also be exactly two years since I first put fingers to keyboard. I’ve had an amazing time writing it, and if people enjoy reading it too, that’s great, but what will be even better will be if everyone who reads my book is then inspired to pick up a Dostoevsky novel.