Monday, July 23, 2012

Cheap, Easy and Quick. Oh No!

It's been almost a month since I last blogged.  I've been immersed in trying to get Predatory Animals ready for publication.

Since my family has come upon some hard financial times, it has put a bit of strain on my venture as a self publishing author.  Those pesky upfront charges are small when weighed against the life of your e-book, but when weighed against your empty pocket book, it makes it a little harder to swallow.

When I published Guarding the Healer I subbed out some of the work, willing to part with the money to speed things along.  The talented Barry Napier created my cover art and I had the wonderful Rob and Amy Siders of 52Novels do both the digital and print formatting.

It was well worth the money I spent.

But then the family budget ran dry and one of the first things to suffer was my writing business.  That was okay.  I didn't begrudge it.  That's just life.  Heat and food are more important than publishing my stories.

But I didn't want to stop, so I improvised.

With Contemplations of Dinner I scraped up the money for a cover.  It's not the best in the world, but good for the money I spent.  I searched online and found a way to create a mobi and ePub file and then sent it out in the world.  I blogged about the process I used.

I want to make something very clear.  DON'T USE THIS PROCESS!

Yes it was cheap.  Yes it was easy.  Yes it was quick.

But when have you ever known these three things to create something great?

Oh sure, it'll create a passable e-book.  But for indie authors reaching for the top, striving to outshine traditional books, passable just isn't good enough.

A smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.  I'm on my way to being smart.  I hope you're on your way to being wise.

As I was finishing up my manuscript of Predatory Animals, I had a game plan running in the back of my mind as to how I was going to get it ready for publication.  Though it put me behind my target publication date, I saved the cash for a cover artist.  I have absolutely no graphic design skills, nor the time to learn any, so this was a must.  This time I went with Dustin Ashe of Indy Armada.  Dustin is great to work with, and I love his covers.  I also decided an editor was a must.  This time Barry Napier agreed to edit the book (he's a triple+ threat).

But what about the formatting?

I really wanted to work with 52Novels again, but the money just wasn't there.  So, I figured I'd go the cheap, easy, quick route again.

Thank goodness, somewhere along the way I picked up a great e-book titled Let's Get Digital by David Gaughran.  Man o' man am I glad I did.

There is a lot of great information in this book, but the part that caught my eye was the section on formatting.  Mr. Gaughran said something that really hit home for me.  He states:

"There are no shortcuts! You might hear of shortcuts and think I was unaware of them. But if you try, for example, just to export an e-reader ready file from your manuscript in Microsoft Word, you are asking for trouble. Trust me.
You might also hear about programs such as MobiPocket Creator, which can produce a Kindle-ready file straight from your Word file. You might hear of people who did this and said their formatting was perfect. You might even be one of those people. However, this approach can result in problems with your formatting that you may be unaware of."

Yikes!  That's exactly what I did for Contemplations and what I was planning to do for Predatory Animals.  But if there were no shortcuts and I couldn't afford professional help, what door was left open to me?  He goes on to say:

"You are going to have to get into some HTML; there is no avoiding it. If you are smart enough to write a book, you are smart enough to do this. Don’t fret. It’s not that bad if you take your time and follow the instructions exactly."

This was what I was afraid of.  I'm not a very tech-savvy person, and I know (or knew) zilch about HTML.  But I took a deep breath, read through David Gaughran's explanations, then under his advice read Guido Henkel's nine part blog post about formatting.

It didn't sound so bad.  Henkel's explanations seemed easy to follow.  What did I have to lose?

And you know what?  It really wasn't that bad.  Henkel is a MAC user, whereas I use PC so there was a bit of translation needed.  I got snagged once, but I sent David Gaughran an email and he responded within the hour.

That is one of the things that continues to impress me about indie authors.  The willingness to help each other out.  David has his own writerly things going on.  He didn't have to take the time to help some unknown person halfway around the world.  But he did.  And fast.  He walked me through a few things and got me right back on track.

It took me about a day to complete formatting Predatory Animals, but considering I thought it would take me a week, I was well pleased.  And the final product looks so much better than the cheap, easy and quick version.  And another thing, I actually enjoyed it.  I like to work with my hands, to build things, whether it be a deck, a garden, a marine aquarium or a book.  I also like learning a new skill and being able to handle a problem on my own.

Now, I'm not discounting using a professional.  There is something very comforting about handing that off to someone else so you can focus elsewhere.  I loved working with Rob and Amy at 52Novels.  I will most likely seek their help again.  If you have the money to pay someone to format for you, I suggest you look them up.  But if you like or need to format yourself, that's fine too.  The goal is to have a professional looking book.  It doesn't matter how you get there, as long as you get there.

So the choice is yours.  But if you decide to format for yourself, don't go the cheap, easy and quick path.  Take the plunge and get your hands dirty.  I promise you'll be fine.  If I can do it, anyone can.