Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 5

After publishing my first volume of poetry, I turned to the exacting task of constructing Volume 2 of Research Notes for Women at Play. Just as with Volume 1, I first created a template and then typed my book into that template. (For all my other books, I wrote the book first and then pasted the manuscript into a blank template.)

There was so much formatting involved with all three volumes of Research Notes that I just felt more comfortable doing everything in the template itself, thus decreasing the chance that I would create some inadvertent error if I were to transfer the manuscript to the template.

GregorichRNNotesIIKindleCoverI published Research Notes for Women at Play, Volume 2, in July of 2013. It was my second self-published book of that year, and my seventh self-published book since early 2010.

Not long after publishing Volume 2, I was hit with a desire to write a book on how to write a mystery novel. I’ve been reading mysteries since I was eleven years old, and mysteries account for perhaps 50% of all the books I read. As an avid reader, I find that over the years I’ve developed annoyances at certain things I encounter in some mystery novels — and if I encounter them, I do not continue to read that author’s books.

I’ve published two mystery novels, and while writing my second one, Sound Proof, I created charts and graphs. These allowed me to track the appearance of minor characters, track their motives, and always be aware of where all the characters were within the setting. I drew a diagram of the farm and buildings where the action took place. I made certain that the minor-character villain was present often enough to register on the reader’s consciousness. I tracked all the elements important to developing plot, character, tension, and resolution.

One day (who knows why) I was struck by a desire to explain some of the things a mystery writer should consider in order to write a mystery that doesn’t cheat, doesn’t sound improbable, and doesn’t annoy the reader. So, pulling out all my saved materials for Sound Proof, I wrote a 25-chapter outline for my to-be nonfiction book and then, week by week, wrote the manuscript. And, because most of the books I’ve written are not mysteries, the guide contains a lot of information on writing in general. (Reviews have pointed this out.)

Let me digress a moment to say that one of the truly wonderful things about self-publishing (and there are many) is that it allows writers to publish books that, because they have a small market, are unlikely to be picked up by a traditional publisher. All three volumes of Research Notes serve as an example. Th existence of high-quality self-publishing also allows writers to self-publish books that are unlikely to sell to a traditional publisher because the author isn’t a big enough name. My how-to serves as an example. I felt that traditional publishers might like my manuscript, but wouldn’t take a chance on publishing it. I love that I was able to publish it myself.

COVER-WITH-TEMPLATE

And now back to the process of self-publishing my how-to. With this how-to, which would become my eight self-published book, I ran into a word-processing roadblock. Fitting all the charts and graphs into my 6”x9” template proved impossible: there was something about Apple’s Pages program that didn’t allow a long chart (three pages long, say) to flow from one page to another. Instead, I had to chop the chart into pieces that would fit on each page. And even then, I couldn’t make it work. So, as before, I asked friend Robin Koontz if I could hire her to format the document. Robin agreed, producing a publication-ready template — but even she thought it was difficult to do.

Of all the titles I’ve come up with for my self-published books, this one is my favorite: Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies. The title promises information, lots of examples, and humor. The book, I think, delivers those things.

Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies, was published in October of 2014. It soon became my best-selling self-published book. To this day, Guide battles with Jack and Larry for the number one position in my monthly sales.

After I published Guide in 2014, I dove into the work of publishing the final volume of Research Notes to Women at Play. I self-published the first volume in 2010, and the third in October of 2015.

BookCoverNotesCoverIII-FINALIf you’ve been reading these posts on my self-publishing adventures, you may remember that I intended to donate my thousands of pages of research notes to the Baseball Hall of Fame . . . but then I got the brilliant idea of self-publishing a portion of the notes.

So, after the third volume was finally published, I began to organize my notes, so that I could deliver them to the BHOF in a neat order. I began in November, 2015, and I finished in July, 2016. The project was a big one. I delivered the notes in August, 2016. And then I spent the rest of the year catching up on what I had neglected while organizing the notes. So I did no self-publishing in 2016.

In fact, I thought it was unlikely that I’d self-publish anything for two or three years. But such was not the case.

________________

Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies vies with Jack and Larry for best-selling of Barbara Gregorich’s self-published books.

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 4

After I self-published two books in 2010 and another two in 2011, I planned to make Volume 2 of Research Notes my fifth self-published book, to come out in 2012. It was still my intention to donate all my research notes to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but I couldn’t do that until I finished publishing all three volumes.

As it turned out, I realized that instead of publishing Volume 2, I would end up self-publishing a totally different kind of book, though a baseball-related one. Jack and Larry is a nonfiction crossover (Ages 10 – Adult) book I had hoped a traditional publisher would offer me a contract on. I had been trying to get Jack and Larry published for more than three years. Editors told me they liked it . . . but they didn’t offer to publish it. Based on the personalized rejection letters I received, editors didn’t want to take a chance on a story set in Cleveland, Ohio: they didn’t consider that as exciting or as big a market as New York or Los Angeles. And some felt that the story should center on either Jack Graney or on Larry, his bull terrier — but not on both.

February 2012 would mark the 100th anniversary of Larry joining the Cleveland major league baseball team, then called the Cleveland Naps. By late summer of 2011 I realized that if I wanted the book out for that 100th anniversary, I would have to self-publish it.

And so I did.

BookCover5_5x8_5_Jack and Larry-FINAL-FINAL

Somewhere around late 2011 CreateSpace developed templates for all of its book sizes. (Lulu had had such templates all along.) So now it was possible for a user to download a template and paste her manuscript into it. In other words, she didn’t have to create her own template. I downloaded a CS template — but I wasn’t happy with either their default margins or their default typeface. Rather than change the CS template, I figured it would be easier to use my own 6″x9” template.

What I didn’t figure on was how difficult it would be for me to create the screened sidebars that appeared on some of the pages. Jack and Larry is written in free verse (also called lined prose), but some pieces of information appear in prose sidebars. Either because I couldn’t master Pages back in late 2011, or because it wasn’t possible to create pages of free verse with screened sidebars back in 2011, I asked Robin Koontz if she would like to design the book interior. Robin was willing to try, and she designed a beautiful looking interior — as well as an attention-grabbing, heart-warming cover.

J&LPg2

This page contains both a free-verse poem and a screened sidebar.

I published Jack and Larry early in 2012, so that it was out for the 100th anniversary of Larry joining the Cleveland Naps. The book received numerous reviews in baseball publications and bull terrier publications and became my best-selling self-published book. I have spoken on Jack and Larry in Ohio, Illinois, and Canada, and presented the story to middle-grade and junior-high school students. Even now, more than five years after its publication, I am still asked to give presentations on the story. Had I not self-published this book on the 100th anniversary of the event, I think it would never have been published. Timeliness of publication is a very strong argument for much self-publishing.

Because I spent all of 2012 giving talks on Jack and Larry, traveling, and publicizing the book in many different ways, it was the only book I self-published that year.

So, then: would I self-publish a sixth book in 2013? And would it be Volume 2 of Research Notes?

Yes. And No.

Either because I enjoyed writing the free verse in Jack and Larry, or because I loved the 6″x9” format, or for some reason still unknown to me — I decided to start 2013 by self-publishing my first collection of poetry.

Cover-with-Template

Because this book contained only poetry (no sidebars, as in Jack and Larry), I was able to format it myself. And even though CreateSpace now offered templates, I still continued to create my own, rather than download and modify theirs. (This would change when I self-published my tenth book.) Once again I duplicated my trusty 6″x9” template and pasted the pages of my manuscript within.

For this book, unlike any of the others, I wanted no header or footer information except for the page numbers. That is, I didn’t want my name or the title of the book to appear on the pages. My reasoning was that such information would, in one way or another, interfere with the lines of poetry. In addition to not wanting headers or footers to interfere with the poems, I also didn’t want the page numbers to interfere. So I made certain that the page numbers were in much smaller type, and that they appeared in the far-right corner of each page: where the lines of poetry were least likely to run into them.

Crossing the Skyway was my sixth self-published book. By this time I was thoroughly enjoying not only the writing of the books, but also designing and publishing them. I was finding (and continue to find) self-publishing rewarding on many different levels: immediacy; control of design; control of pricing; higher royalties; and, especially, collaboration between writer and designer. I enjoyed going through the cover design process with Robin Koontz, who not only was interested in how I “saw” the cover, but who also (because she read each manuscript), had her own ideas from a reader’s and designer’s perspective. From the very beginning, I found self-publishing to be a very rewarding process.

________________

In Jack and Larry the Cleveland Indians win the World Series.

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 2

When I first considered self-publishing, what I was thinking of were manuscripts which, for one reason or another, would have taken years to find a home with a traditional publisher. So I was thinking of books I had already written. Or perhaps had not written yet, but soon would.

I was not, I assure you, thinking of going into my file cabinets, pulling out thousands of pages of research notes, and publishing them. Yet that’s what happened.

The existence of easy self-publishing through CreateSpace is what made me even think about publishing a collection of research notes. As a result of all my research on the history of women who played baseball, I had thousands of pages of information in my file cabinet. My original intention was to get all these notes in good order and then donate them to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

sc004dc527Which I would have done back in 2010 had self-publishing not come into my life. Because one day, as I was eyeing the stuffed file drawers, trying to figure out how and when I would put them in order, a thought crossed my mind. Two thoughts, actually: (1) Might baseball researchers, historians, teachers of the research paper, and others be interested in some of these notes? (2) If so, why couldn’t I self-publish the ones that were public domain (1923 or earlier)?

I was so excited by the possibility of this venture that I immediately sat on the floor in front of my file cabinet and began sorting. It soon became clear that, unless I wanted to publish a 500-page book (I did not), I would have to divide the notes into at least two volumes. Digging deeper into the files, I realized that three volumes allowed for a more logical division of the materials. Okay, then: I would self-publish three volumes of research notes!

Shoving future volumes two and three aside, I collected all the papers that would go into volume one and heaped them on my computer table. The stack was about 18 inches high.

The next day, I looked at CreateSpace book sizes again and decided that I wanted a bigger size than 6×9”, so that I could have wide margins in which people could write, and so that the book might more easily lie open. I chose the 8″x10” format and then created a document that size in my word processing — thankful that I had learned how to create such a format for my first self-published book. (See Adventures, Part 1.) CreateSpace at this time (2010) still did not offer format templates. Because I knew not only how to create a specific page size, but also how to change page margins, I ended up with a template that was 8 inches wide, with a 1-inch inside margin and a 1-inch outside margin. Because many of the newspaper articles were quoted in full and thus indented even more, readers usually saw a 1.25-inch margin.

Left Page V1              Right Page V1

From that time on (February, 2010) until early October, I daily typed notes into my 8×10 template. This was tedious work, not because the notes were uninteresting (some of them were quite lively reports from old newspaper articles), but because I had to create many headers and sub-headers and develop a style for the newspaper reproductions. In short, I was making design decisions as I created the book, entry by entry.

By October of 2010 my book was ready. Robin Koontz designed the cover for me, and in early November of 2010 I self-published Research Notes for Women at Play, Volume 1. Although both Robin and I knew there would be more than one volume of Research Notes, and although both of us knew that the CreateSpace POD process did not allow for printing on the spine of books that were fewer than 175 pages in length — neither of us anticipated something that would turn out to be a problem when I started to work on Volume 2. More about that in a later blog.

 

First Cover, V1

Cover design by Robin Koontz

This time around I was able to conquer the alternating headers problem: my left-hand pages contain the title of the book, my right-hand pages contain the names of the main players in Volume 1. But this time around I decided to put this information in the footers, not in the headers. My reasoning here was that information at the top of the page could interfere with the reader’s concentration.  The fact that I didn’t know how to create different left- and right-hand headers/footers with my first book, but was able to do it with my second, made me giddy with happiness!

If you recall, my goal was to format my second self-published book in three weeks or less. As it turned out, the process for my second book took longer than three weeks. In fact, it took eight months — but that’s because I was creating the manuscript as I went along. With She’s on First, the manuscript had been created years ago: my job was simply to format it. With Volume 1, creation, design, and formatting took place at one and the same time. This is a much slower process than pasting an existent manuscript into a template.

Also, this time around I did not use the New Pentium typeface that I had used in She’s on First. Initially I chose Palatino because I think it’s a beautiful, very readable typeface (with no problems when it comes to italics or Arabic numerals). But somewhere along the line I realized that Palatino is also a rather large typeface. I experimented with changing my document from Palatino to Times New Roman.

The result was mildly astonishing: my 8×10” book was reduced from 123 manuscript pages to 112 manuscript pages. At no cost in legibility. The reduction in page size helped me keep the price of the book at $12. (I would have preferred charging $10, but with the cuts taken by both CreateSpace and Amazon, my income per book would have been too low.)

A few days after publication I created a PDF of the document and self-published Volume 1 as a Kindle ebook. (More about PDFs as ebooks in a later blog.)

My Formatting Accomplishments
•  Created an 8″x10” Template
•  Created Wide Page Margins
•  Inserted Distinct Footers for Left- and Right-Hand Pages
•  Chose a Problem-Free Font
•  Designed the Interior with Consistent Headers and Sub-Headers
•  Decreased Total Page Count by Choosing a Different Font

________________

Research Notes for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, Volume 1 not only reports the stories of 19th century female ballplayers, it sets the stage for the dramatic intersections of these stories in Volume 3.

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 1

Desktop Publishing (DTP) is the creation of print-ready documents using page layout skills on a personal computer. That is to say, a person sitting at her personal computer can use her word-processing/layout program to create a document that can be printed as a newsletter, or a greeting card, or a book. She can most likely print the newsletter or greeting card directly from her printer. But in order to print/publish the book, she will have to submit the document to a publisher.

That publisher can be an ebook publisher such as Kindle or Smashwords; it can be a traditional publisher which uses traditional printing presses; it can be a Print On Demand (POD) publisher such as CreateSpace or Lulu, which sends the document to various POD fulfillment centers who print and ship the book.

The kind of self-publishing I have explored and used is the POD kind in which the author creates the page design and cover, determines the price and distribution, and is responsible for the marketing. To date I’ve self-published ten books through CreateSpace, and I’ve turned all ten of them into Kindle ebooks after first publishing them as softcover books.

Bloomingdale Public Library

Selling my self-published books at the Bloomingdale Public Library, with Phil Passen

I first became interested in self-publishing in 2009, probably as a result of the fact that editors were taking way too long to respond to manuscript submissions. Also due to the fact that some of the rejection letters I received stated that the story was wonderful but, in the publishing house’s opinion, the book would not be profitable. So I reasoned that in addition to submitting manuscripts to traditional publishers, I would try to self-publish those stories which editors at mainstream publishing houses did not or might not want.

Back in 2009 I did a bit of research on the various self-publishing options. Lulu and CreateSpace (CS) seemed the most usable at that time, and I chose CreateSpace because marketing my books through Amazon (via CS) would be both easier and more profitable.

CreateSpace charges no setup fees: thus it’s possible to publish a book at no cost on CreateSpace. This is how I published each of my ten self-published books: at no cost.

No financial cost, that is. I confess there was definite wear and tear on me as I worked to conquer the difficulties of formatting manuscripts into facing-pages book form. In my public presentations (“How to Self-Publish on CreateSpace at No Cost”), I guide the attendees through the CreateSpace process step by step, from set-up through finished book. However, I find it more interesting to look at my experiences in chronological order: what I learned, book by book.

sc00d32959

1987, hardback, Contemporary Books

From the get-go I realized that self-publishing a book would most likely result in my making a few mistakes. If I were going to make mistakes, I would prefer to make them on a reprint, not a new book. The rights to She’s on First, my first novel, belonged to me, so I decided I would reprint it myself, as my first CreateSpace book.

I began formatting the manuscript in early November, 2009. That’s when I realized that even though I had been working with documents for decades, an 8.5″x11” manuscript page was N.O.T. the same as what was required for self-publishing a  book. After perusing the various book trim sizes that CS offered, I settled on the 6″x9” size. I guess my choice was a good one: two or three years later CS made the 6″x9” size its default selection.

I tried to create 6″x9” pages on Pages (Apple word processing software), but couldn’t. My attempts frustrated me for days and days. And days. Admitting defeat, I stuffed my MacBook into a backpack, hoisted the pack onto my shoulders, and walked to the Apple store on Michigan Avenue. There I explained my problem to the first person who offered assistance. He showed me how to set the page size in about, oh, three minutes.

Creating a 6″x”’ template was the single biggest problem I had to solve in formatting my first manuscript. At that time, CreateSpace didn’t offer templates. They do now, but because they didn’t then, I had a lot to conquer.

The second most difficult problem for me was figuring out how to make my word processing program show one header on a left-hand page and a different header on a right-hand page. Specifically, I wanted the title of my book to appear on the left-hand page and my name on the right-hand page.

I absolutely could not do this, and so She’s on First was published with the same header (the title) on both the left-hand and right-hand pages.

SOF Sample copy

My template, showing the layout of two facing pages

The typeface I chose for She’s on First was New Peninem, which no longer looks anything like it looked back in 2009: it was a serif font back then (as you can see in the pages above), but now it’s offered only as New Peninem MT, which appears to be a sans serif font. I have no idea what intrigued me about it back in 2009, because after my novel was published I realized that wherever I had used italics, the New Peninem font didn’t look good. It especially didn’t look good if there were Arabic numerals involved. Maybe, some day, I’ll go back and convert the entire document to a more readable typeface, such as Palatino or Times New Roman.

I think that by 2010 (if not even earlier) CreateSpace offered Cover Creator as a way for its customers to easily create book covers. For my first book (in fact, for my first nine books) I didn’t explore this option. That was because I wanted a really great cover for the reprint of She’s on First, and I didn’t particularly want a cover design that would look exactly like other cover designs. So I asked friend Robin Koontz, a writer/illustrator/designer, if she would design the cover. I paid Robin for her design, so, while I published for free on CreateSpace, I did lay out some money for the cover design. And I also paid for the cover photo. I’m both glad and grateful that Robin took care of dealing with the cover template that CreateSpace allowed me to download after the interior was approved.

SOF-COVER-FINAL-JAN16-2010 copy

The cover template, created by Robin Koontz, who, just before publication changed the color of the black line to a striking orange-red

Back in 2010, if you wanted to self-publish through CreateSpace you had to order a physical proof of your book and examine it. This later changed so that now you can proof your book online, without ever holding a physical copy in your hand. Even though I’ve published ten books with CreateSpace, I always order a physical copy. When I received my proof copy of She’s on First, I opened the book to the middle and saw that the interior margins I had created were too narrow: I had half-inch interior margins, but after seeing how tight they looked, I changed them to three-quarter-inch margins.

Where I Succeeded
•  Creating a 6×9” Template
•  Creating Page Margins
•  Inserting Headers
•  Inserting Page Numbers
•  Choosing Fonts
•  Examining the Proof Copy and Correcting It

Where I Failed
•  Creating Distinct Headers for Left- and Right-Hand Pages
•  Choosing a Problem-Free Font

In February of 2010 I published She’s on First as a softcover book. A few days later I submitted a PDF of the document to Kindle for publication as an ebook. This means I accomplished my goal of self-publishing a softcover POD book — and ebook! — with about three months work on my part. At this point I was already thinking about self-publishing a second book. My goal was to reduce my formatting time from three months to maybe three weeks.

________________

Read She’s on First and decide for yourself if the New Peninem typeface should be replaced with a different one.

How Many Unpublished Works?

Recently I was a guest lecturer at a college class in writing fiction. Toward the end of the class, after all the students had asked questions, the instructor who invited me (she’s a writer as well as a teacher) asked a question nobody had ever asked me before. Yet it’s one I think about several times a year. The question was: You have published approximately 200 books. How many unpublished books do you have in your files?

Published and unpublished manuscripts

Published and unpublished manuscripts

To answer the question, I had to think quickly and calculate just as quickly. I write adult fiction and nonfiction, middle grades fiction and nonfiction, picture books, beginning readers, early readers. And poetry. How many of these various manuscripts are in my files, still unpublished? I answered that there may be as many as 25. And then I took the question a step further by saying that of the 25, I hope and expect that 7 or 8 will be published.

Now that I’m home in my office, let me walk to my file cabinet and examine my unpublished manuscripts, just to see how accurate my reply was. Here’s what I have:

        2 adult novels — one mystery, one thriller
        1 adult nonfiction — anthology
        1 YA novel — it’s a work in progress
        2 Middle Grades nonfiction
        3 Middle Grades fiction
        7 Early Readers
        2 Picture Books, poetry
        6 Picture Books, prose

That’s a total of 24 unpublished manuscripts: very, very close to my estimate of 25.

When I look at them now and evaluate them, and know which ones I can and will rewrite, my guess is that 7 of these can and will be published. Sooner or later. That, too, is close to my original guess.

This doesn’t mean that I rule out the possibility of publication for the other manuscripts. The manuscripts I no longer think worthy of continued rewriting are long gone from my files.

The ones I keep around still speak to me in one way or another — it’s up to me to find the heart of the story in each of them and, with luck, publish them for the world to read.

Desk Impressions and the Writing Life

 

Although I’ve never participated in NaNoMa (National Novel Writing Month, held, of course, in November), I received an interview request from Webucator Training Services, who do participate, and I agreed to answer the interview questions. The Q & A are below.

Photo by Southwest Spirit Antiques

Photo by Southwest Spirit Antiques

What were your goals when you started writing? I think my first goal in writing must have been to make an impression. Not necessarily on people, but on something. I say that because when I was seven years old my mother bought me my own desk, a kid-sized maple roll-top one. My very first day at the desk, I wrote the word hill so hard that my pencil pressed through the paper and into the desk surface. Forever after, the word hill stared at me from the desktop.

It was, I now realize, a sign that the road to publication would not be easy. For that — publication — was my goal when I started my first novel. This was in the late 1970s, and the novel was about a female major leaguer. I titled the story Bases Loaded, but when the book was published in 1987, the publisher titled it She’s on First.

Contemplating goals, 1986

Contemplating goals, 1986

What are your goals now? My goals now are the same as they’ve been since I first started writing books: to write the kind of stories that speak to me, and to have them published so that others can read these stories.

However, today writers have publishing opportunities that didn’t exist in the previous century. We have the opportunity to self-publish beautiful-looking books and market them to interested readers. So my goal of getting published now takes two different paths. I submit books to traditional publishers, and I also self-publish.

What pays the bills now? Savings from past work-for-hire jobs help pay the bills, as do teaching gigs and public speaking. Although I taught English at a junior college years ago, I now teach only on a freelance basis: various classes on subjects such as “How to Write a Novel” or “How to Self-Publish through CreateSpace.” In addition, I turn many of my book topics into presentations for the public. Two examples. My best-known book is Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball (Harcourt, 1993), which happens to be nonfiction. Twenty-one years after its publication, I’m still giving talks on various stories from the book. One of these talks, “When Women Played Baseball: The Story of Margaret, Nellie, and Rose” was chosen by the Illinois Humanities Council as a Road Scholar topic in 2014.

My most recent book, Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies (CreateSpace, 2014) also affords me many opportunities for giving classes on the mystery novel itself as well as on writing the mystery novel. Both of my examples of income-producing work come from nonfiction books, but each of these nonfiction books actually stems from the novel that preceded it —  Women at Play came after I wrote the novel She’s on First, and Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel came after I wrote the mysteries Dirty Proof and Sound Proof. Even if you think you’ll never write anything but fiction, you may find that looking at the nonfiction angle of your novels helps produce steady income.

Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing? The answer to this question is very short: I could not “not write.” The world offers limitless topics and possibilities. I am a writer, and writers write.

What advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing? Read books, particularly the kind you want to write. Never stop reading books! Take classes in writing, go to writers conferences, meet editors, and at the same time explore self-publishing — having more than one iron in the fire is good business sense. Join a critique group of trustworthy writers who will help you say what it is you’re trying to say.

 

If by chance you want to write mysteries, check out Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies. Wishing you a smooth and steady path to your writing goals.