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.

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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.

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

Saving the Best for Last

RN3FINALCOVER10-9-15 copyIn 2009 I became interested in self-publishing, and after exploring the options, I reprinted She’s on First as a self-published book in February 2010.

I was so pleased with the results (a new cover design [by Robin Koontz, who also designed the cover above] plus I restored a small scene that my editor had cut back in 1987) that I realized I would self-publish more books. My best-known book, Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball (Harcourt, 1993) proved undoable because in order to reprint the 100 photos in the book I would have had to pay thousands of dollars in permissions. (And I feared that if I published the text only, without photos, both readers and libraries would be very, very upset.)

Maud Nelson, 1890s

Maud Nelson, 1890s

But while I couldn’t afford to reprint Women at Play, I could afford to put together and publish a new book, one that consisted of my research notes — the raw materials from which I sculpted Women at Play. Such a collection of newspaper articles, posters, diaries, and letters would, I felt, interest baseball researchers. Also, I thought such a book would interest English teachers at the junior high, senior high, or college level. A collection of original sources, all on the same topic, could prove valuable to those who teach the research paper.

Excited about this, I started to put together my concept of the book. Almost immediately I realized that this was not a one-volume project. Rather, it would take three volumes — because I wanted to keep each book at about 150 pages rather than publish a large-format, 450-page book. From the get-go I decided what each volume would logically contain, starting with women ballplayers of the 19th century and moving forward to the early 1930s.

Research Notes for Women at Play, Volume 1, contains articles on Maud Nelson, the most important person in the early history of women in baseball; on Margaret Nabel, founder of the New York Bloomer Girls; and on the African-American players of the Baltimore Black Sox. It also contains articles on John Olson, Maud’s husband, founder of the Cherokee Indian Baseball Team (though they were really Seneca Indians).

Leona Kearns

Leona Kearns

I published Volume 1 in November of 2010, and I thought I could publish Volume 2 by 2012. As it turned out, Research Notes for Women at Play, Volume 2 took me longer to put together: it was published in July 2013.

Finally, in October of 2015, five years after I published Volume 1, I’m publishing the third (and last) volume of Research Notes for Women at Play. Because all of the information in Volume 3 comes from the years 1925-1935, none of it is public domain. This means that I could quote only modest amounts of most articles: it means that I spent a lot of time writing accurate summaries of article contents.

But Volume 3 is different from the two previous volumes in another way, too. A reader going through it from beginning to end may feel she or he is reading a novel. Or deciding a court case. Or perhaps reconstructing a “what really happened” crime scene.

That’s because Volume 3 contains the story of the Philadelphia Bobbies, Eddie Ainsmith, and Leona Kearns, their disastrous trip to Japan to play against men’s teams in 1925, the abandonment of three players, and the death at sea of one of them.

Margaret Gisolo of the Blanford Cubs

Margaret Gisolo of the Blanford Cubs

Contrasted to the tragedy of that story, Research Notes, Volume 3 also contains the exciting story of Margaret Gisolo, who helped lead her 1928 American Legion Junior Baseball team to the state championship. Margaret later played for Maud Nelson’s All-Star Ranger Girls, and later still founded the Department of Dance at Arizona State University, where she was a much loved and highly respected professor. The book also tells the story of Leona Kearns’ younger sister, Nellie, who, along with Margaret, played with the All-Star Ranger Girls.

Volumes 1 and 2 have worked in the way I wanted them to. They are used by baseball researchers looking for information that might help them learn more about a team . . . an individual . . . a rare photograph. They are also used by teachers, and in more imaginative ways than I would have considered. Some teachers, for example, use the books to teach about sports journalism in the past . . . about the manner in which women athletes were written about  . . . even about clothing styles.

If one must spend five years sifting through thousands of pages of accumulated articles and arranging them in a useful order, then it’s a reward in itself, to the writer, that the final volume is the most exciting.

And a reward to the reader, too, I hope.

Baseball signed by the 1934 All-Star Rangers players.

Baseball signed by the 1934 All-Star Rangers players.