A year in the life of a self-published author: Part II – Preparing the book for launch

In the second part of this blog series to celebrate a year since the launch of Only the Innocent, I want to talk about everything that happened between the decision to publish, and the actual launch date. I will touch on the things that I did, and more importantly the things that I should have done – the lessons that I have learned.

In the world of technology, things move at a remarkable rate. When I was preparing Only the Innocent for the Kindle, the process I went through to convert my file from a Word document to a mobi file was very long-winded. I couldn’t find any really good converters, and there were plenty of warnings about bad output from Amazon’s own system, so the first thing that I had to do was spend time considering how best to format my book.

As I said in the last post, I am very lucky. In that post, my luck was based on the fact that I could dedicate my time to writing. In this post, my luck comes from the fact that I used to run an interactive media company – and way back I was a systems analyst and programmer (although very out of date, and very rusty). But I knew enough to understand the basics.

I had written the whole document in Word, and I knew that Word would have added an awful lot of code that needed to be stripped out. I am an experienced Word user, so I knew how to use styles. I would never press the space bar multiple times to indent a paragraph, for example. I would always use the TAB key. And I would never press Enter twice between paragraphs – I would always do it once, and style the paragraphs if I wanted increased space. So for this reason, I was starting from a relatively good position.

In spite of all the applications online that will now convert Word files into ebook formats, there are some very specific formatting issues that need to be addressed before undergoing any conversion. These are covered in a very early blog post of mine which can be found here. But I am pleased to say that it is no longer necessary to get embroiled in HTML coding. If you get your basic formatting right, there is free software available to take care of the rest.

I no longer use Word to write my books. I am working on a Mac now, and I use Scrivener. And this software allows me to output into any ebook format, presuming I have obeyed the basic formatting rules of tab keys, no multiple returns and styles (although they are a bit limited in Scrivener).

Scrivener is going to be the subject of a future blog post, and I will also touch on another useful piece of software called Storylines. I now use them both for different things – but that’s for another day.

Initially I thought I would have a go at preparing my own cover. I can use Photoshop (sort of) and I had an idea of what I wanted. When I had finished it, I sent it for comment to one of my ex members of staff – a young man who had joined my company straight from university as a designer, and was now the company’s Creative Director. He took one look and said “leave it with me”. What came back was a different thing altogether. A very professional, slick, eye-catching cover. (Lucky again!)

The cover is SO important. I have read many debates about whether people choose a book based on its cover. The answer to me is so simple: they may not buy it because of the cover, but it’s what makes them look at it in the first place. I’ve said this before, but it’s back to the old ‘curb appeal’ with houses. You want people’s attention to be drawn to your book. You need them to take a look. My version would never have achieved that.

So, I got the cover right, and I got the formatting right (even though it was a very long-winded process). The next bit, I got wrong.

I asked several people to proof-read my book, and they did a great job. BUT… I then started fiddling, tweaking. And I introduced errors. There is no excuse, but that’s what I did – and a couple of them were howlers. I noticed them quite early on after publication, but by then Only the Innocent was doing really well, and I was scared that if I put up a new version, there would be a gap of possibly days in which my book wouldn’t be visible. I couldn’t take the risk. That was a bad decision, and I was completely wrong about how it would work.

If you produce a new version of your book and upload it, the original one will stay there until the new one takes its place. It’s very quick and easy (except in my case I was still formatting using the old method, which made it a bit more tedious). Just go into KDP and upload a new version. It couldn’t be more straightforward.

But the final lesson that I learned in this process was that proof reading is not enough. I am very pleased to say that I now have an agent – and she decided that her first job was to edit Only the Innocent. I hadn’t really understood the editing process. I knew about copy-editing – the formatting, style and accuracy of the writing. But copy-editing doesn’t change the substance of the text. I had thought that when this more fundamental type of editing took place – sometimes referred to as developmental editing – the editor would rewrite chunks to improve them. Err – no! They scribble all over it “need to see more of the room” or “what is she doing whilst she is saying this?” or “too much – cut this bit back”. And so it goes on.

For me though, getting back all those edits on Only the Innocent (and there were a lot of them) was not the torture that you might think. As I rewrote, or puzzled over what I needed to do, I began to feel like a writer. I began to understand what was wrong, and the resulting version – republished in late June – is so much better than the first one that it hurts!

Another trick that I learned was to read the whole book out loud. Not only did it make it easier to spot mistakes, but also it was so apparent when any dialogue was stilted or there was an inadvertent repetition of words.

I have done a lot of reading of self-published novels over the last year, and one thing that I can say without a shadow of a doubt – those that have been professionally edited stand out a mile. If you can find any way of having your book edited, do it. I wouldn’t even consider publishing a book again without going through that process.

In brief, then, what have I learned:

  • professional formatting is essential, but now (assuming you abide by some basic principles) it can be done very easily with various online services
  • a great cover makes all the difference
  • if your book has been proof read, don’t start tweaking! Or if you do, make sure it’s proof read again
  • read your book out loud to yourself – it really works
  • have your book professionally edited – and by that I mean developmental editing, not just copy editing.

Tomorrow’s post relates to a marketing plan. I have written about this before, but things have changed!

This blog is part of the birthday celebrations for Only the Innocent – launched a year ago this week. All week, the ebook will be available from Amazon UK for just £0.99 as a special offer. To buy from any other outlets, please visit the Rachel Abbott website.