In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss three basic components of self-publishing: the words, the design, and the technology. They summarise the importance of each and how they have tackled them in their own projects.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- The words of your book
- The design of your book
- The technology you will need to access
- How to combine the three basic elements to support your own self-publishing goals.
Mentioned in this episode
Print on demand and ebooks:
Ebook aggregators, distributors and bookstores:
ISBN agencies (specific to your country):
- Australia – Thorpe Bowker
- UK – Nielsen
- USA – Bowker
- Google [ ISBN ] and your country name if you are not in one of these countries.
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Find us on your favourite podcast player and at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, three basics of self-publishing.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my blogs, books and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood educator. I have four adult kids and I live in south-east Queensland. I write romance under the name of Alison Joy and you can find all my information on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy and for the past 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to inform my teaching and preaching and more recently my writing and blogging. You can find out all about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Our topic today, it’s the next in our publishing series and this time we’re talking about the three basics of self-publishing, which are the words, the design and the tech.
Now, there’s a billion things we could talk about here but we’re going to try and just cherrypick some of the main ideas to give you a little bit of an insight on knowing where to get started. We’ll also add some more links to further information on the show notes at gracewriters.com. So, feel free to pop over there and have a look for some more inspiration and ideas.
Alison, you’ve been doing some research for us on what people say about the importance of getting our words polished and I’m sure you also have some of your own personal opinions and experience on that. Can you get us started on the topic of getting our words in shape for our self-published book?
Alison Joy: Yes. Thanks, Belinda. I think it’s important to know that when we present anything, we want to put our best foot forward. We want to show people the quality of our work. We want to impress people to some degree, impress them so they’ll want to read the book. So, we have to do the best we can with our words. That means to polish them. Polish them where you make them look good and easy to read. You want to make it shine.
So, it’s a bit like in the old days, not so much now, when you had guests coming over and you’d be all madly polishing the silverware to make it shine. To make it look good. To make a good impression. So, that sort of thing is something you want to do with the writing of your words. You want to show professionalism and the way you have to do that is you have to go through and you have to look at your spelling, see that it flows well, see that it’s logical and grammatically correct. It’s got to be the best you can be. The best it can be. And I think you’re going to have to have professional help to do that or maybe if you’ve trained some friends very well to help you, that’s great.
You need to get other people to read your work, to comment on it and it’s a good idea to have professionals in terms of an editor and a proofreader to help you with that. It won’t ever be perfect because none of us are perfect but it has to be the best that you can get it.
Belinda Pollard: I love that way of looking at it, Alison, where it’s virtually, you’re honouring the reader by making your work as polished as possible.
Alison Joy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: There’s also that issue of the fact that if the words have been to the gym, so to speak, and really done all that work, then they’re going to being communicating more clearly as well. So, that’s also a valuable aspect that I see.
Alison Joy: If you want people to buy your book or buy your works down the track, as you’ve said, you’re honouring them. They’re parting with money and they could spend it on any one of a number of things and if you want them to spend it on your work…
Donita Bundy: Yes. I remember when I was working at a church as a service leader and quite often after the service I would have queues of people waiting at the bottom of the steps. I’d just turn around and thank the band. Thank everyone for contributing to the service and I’d turn back around and there would be a queue of people lining up to tell me things that I could do better next time in the service.
And if someone had prepared a PowerPoint with typos, that was very distracting. If the music or the drums were too loud, people wanted to tell me. But the sad thing was, these little things which are big for some detracted from the service and the message of what we were presenting to the congregation. The message of hope or whatever it was that the sermon was about, the songs were about. I’ve carried that thought over into my writing. If my work is full of typos and mistakes, it stops the reader getting into the story. It stops the relating of the characters. They keep coming to these little roadblocks.
So, to help the reader engage into the story we need to do what we can do to remove all those blocks. Anything that’s going to detract. And for me, I am not a speller. I’ve said before I’m a little bit dyslexic so the words that come out I see a bit different to what other people see. So, I need help and a proofreader.
I really respect the work of proofreaders. I think they do a fantastic job but I don’t expect my proofreader to get it 100% right. I write stories of 110-112,000 words. I don’t expect them to be perfect. I will accept a level of a couple of things wrong – but things wrong on every page, that’s not okay. A couple throughout the book? Yes, we’re human and that’s fine but I want it to be as polished as possible. As you said, Alison, so that people get the story. They’re focused on the story not all the little mistakes.
Alison Joy: And the other thing is when you have people do reviews you don’t want them to mention in reviews that there was a lot of typos. And I’ve seen that lots of times on reviews. They go, “Ah, yes. The story was this, this and this but … it was full of typos and it was full of this and it was full of that,” and you’re going, “That’s not good!”
Belinda Pollard: Yes, and we’ve talked in previous episodes about some of the ways that we can improve our words including getting volunteer feedback from beta readers which you might also hear pronounced bay-ta readers or betta readers and they are people who read our story and give us feedback from a reader’s perspective.
We’ve also talked about self-editing and we’ve talked about hiring editors. Hiring an editor can be extremely expensive because it’s a time-consuming task. So, a professional editor will need to spend many, many hours in your manuscript to bring it up to publishing standard.
It’s often surprising how long an editor needs to work. We might think that it only takes us three or five or seven hours to read our book so that’s all the editor will need. No, the editor will need to multiply that by about five because of the way that they work and things they’re having to do. And I have a degree in writing and editing and I’ve been an editor for over 20 years but I still hire editors for my own books so that’s how valuable I think they are.
Now, the things that I generally recommend to people to spend the most on, the most time, the most money, the most energy on in their self-publishing projects is first of all the words because the words are the enduring component and secondly, the look. So, getting that professional look.
Donita, have you got any thought for us regarding page design and cover design and how important those might be to the self-publishing process?
Donita Bundy: First of all, I have to say I am a visual person. So, for me it’s very important. I’ll be honest and say I do judge a book by its cover. I will be drawn in and it’s the same with the page set out, as well. It means a lot to me but that’s just the way my brain works. I’m visual.
The good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a cover and to get your work formatted. For example, if you want to publish work with Kindle, on Kindle Direct Publishing, they’ve got a free program you can download and they will format the pages for you and the headings and they will make it look amazing. And they will give the ability to preview what it will look like on a Kindle and what it will look like when it’s printed out.
They also have a program where it’s called a Cover Creator and you can go in there and just follow the step-by-step process and create a cover for free. You do have to have your book already uploaded and ready to sell on Amazon before you have access to the Cover Creator but it is free. You can use your own images if you want to or you can go to their stockpile and use theirs. And if you’re stuck for ideas, they’ve got this huge community you can go to and check out other ideas, as well.
There are other companies out there that offer free cover design. I’m a member of Canva and they have a free book cover template there. I’m not sure whether you would have access to their stock photos. You may have to pay for those. And there are a number of companies out there online that offer to give you free cover design. I’ll put a link to some of those in the show notes. It is possible. However, I think the debate about the cost of getting your cover designed by a professional is very similar to the cost about paying for an editor.
If you are a hobby writer and you’re self-publishing for your family or for yourself, you may not want to spend a lot of money on your cover and that’s fine. But as Alison has just said, if you wanted to be a professional and you want to make a living out of this, you may want to think about investing some money in a cover design designer.
So, the research says that at the moment in 2021 to have an ebook cover designed is about AU$420 for just an ebook by a basic designer. In print you’d be looking between AU$480-$630. However, in saying that, they are the basic designs that someone can give you which is just a simple put together cover. If you’re looking at a professional illustrator, you could be spending between $500 and $1,500 on your cover. Again, you’re going to get what you pay for. Some of these illustrators will read your book and get information. They will offer you several edits. They’ll give you something and if you don’t like it, they’ll change it. Some designers will give you up to three changes and you also have to consider that these designers will spend approximately 20 hours, at least, on a cover. So, they also need to be paid for the images that are used on your book and also the fonts. Sometimes you need to pay for the fonts.
If you’re doing your own book, just a quick note, you can go to Google Fonts and there’s heaps of free amazing fonts there that you can use for design. But again, if you want something special, you’re going to have to pay for it. And that goes for everything, I think, in what we’re doing. If you want something super special, you’re going to have to pay for it. But we have access to programs and companies that will enable us to do a good job by ourselves. But it all depends on where you’re going with your writing and your publishing and what you want to achieve. What your end goals are as to how much you want to invest in the process.
Belinda Pollard: One of the things that’s important to remember with book covers too is that the book cover can change. So, you can actually change your book cover later on without needing to get a new ISBN and that’s useful to know because maybe if you’re wanting to just try and test and use a simpler cover, then you could put it out there with that simpler cover and then possibly think about upgrading the cover later on. So, that’s a possibility.
There are also various different places that will produce premade covers. So, they’re nice professional looking covers but you just go and choose the cover you want and they put your title and your author name on it and those can be a cheaper way to do it. The sky’s the limit for the upper end of the pricing of book covers. I know Donita said the upper limit there was $1,500 but I’ve seen them go a lot higher than that. But you can work it out for yourself what works for you.
And I mentioned ISBN. That is the International Standard Book Number. That’s part of the tech which is our third issue. Now, we could talk about tech until the middle of next week but we won’t. What we’ll do is we’ll just cover a couple of the basics and then put a few links for you in the show notes so that you can grab some more details.
Basically, the value of the ISBN is that it makes your book findable in various ways. Some of the distributors do offer free options for an ISBN but do be aware that if you use one of those, it can make it harder for you to get into libraries. So, that can be a thing to weigh up. You’ll see there’s various debates online as to whether to use a free ISBN or a paid ISBN. I’m an old curmudgeon and I like to be the publisher of record for my books. I’ve come from a traditional publishing background and I want to be the publisher of record and by having my own ISBNs I can be the publisher of record. But I also have an advantage in that I am in Australia and ISBNs are cheaper in Australia than they are in some other countries.
So, you do need to register your ISBN in whichever country you are in. Unfortunately, you can’t go shopping internationally for your ISBNs. They do have to be in your country. I would say do not ever buy one through an agent. Always get it direct. There is a lot of weirdness going on out there. Buy your ISBN direct.
You’ll find that, for instance, in Canada and South Africa I think the ISBNs are free because they are distributed through the national libraries in those countries. In Australia they’re less than $10 each if you buy 10 and you will need 10 because of the different formats of your book and they’re through Thorpe-Bowker.
In the UK they’re about £17 each if you buy 10 and you get them through Nielsen in the UK. In the USA they’re about $30 each if you buy 10 and you get them through Bowker in the USA. So, there’s all these different places that you need to go depending on where you are in the world.
The next thing you need to do is choose your print-on-demand distributors. Now, there’s lots of different ways to do this. This is how I do it. I have it on IngramSpark which gets you into the Ingram Book Distribution system. Ingram is the biggest book distributor in the world. All of the books you see pretty much in your local bookstore are distributed through Ingram. So, I want to get into the power of that system.
So, I set up my print-on-demand books there and I can then order. Physical bookstores can order from there. Online bookstores will feature their data feed which means that your book is available there. Libraries can order from the Ingram system. And then I also set up on KDP Print which is for the Amazon eco system. So, that’s another possibility and another way to get in there. I actually do the two and I recommend the two for most of my clients that I help get setup on self-publishing.
You also need to choose your ebook distributors and again there’s lots of different options. For some people, they can choose to go just with IngramSpark for both ebook and print-on-demand because it’s less fuss. Now that really depends on how much you hate computers! And how much being able to have ongoing control of your books matters to you in different ways depending on why you’re doing it.
We’ve talked previously in previous episodes about the different reasons for self-publishing. Actually, some people do go just with IngramSpark but you get a lower royalty on your ebook if you go just with them. So, you might want to go through an aggregator like Draft2Digital. They are someone who you can upload your ebook files, your different ebook files, to them and your book cover and then they will distribute it out to a whole bunch of different online bookstores.
And you can also go direct with KDP which is Kindle Direct Publishing for Amazon. You can go direct to Kobo, to Apple Books, to Barnes & Noble depending which part of the world you’re in. We’re in Australia. We can’t go direct to Barnes & Noble but a lot of people can. You can also go direct to Google Play. So, there’s lots of options. There’s masses of options but it’s about just carefully doing your research, thinking about it, praying about it and coming to some conclusions about where you would like to head with your particular process of self-publishing.
It’s okay to be a bit bewildered at first, to take your time, to think about it, to change your mind, to ask people. It’s okay to do all of that and just gradually get yourself sorted out and work out which way you want to go.
Any thoughts Donita and Alison?
Alison Joy: I think, don’t be so hard on yourself. You are going to make mistakes and that’s just part of the process. Just because you go one way doesn’t mean you’ve done it – there’s no wrong way. There’s no right or wrong way. It’s what works best for you and you ask all these questions and you do all your research and then you’ve got to make some sort of decision for yourself. And you can’t get paralysed by the options. You’ve just got to, okay, well, make a choice. You can change it. It’s not that big a deal but it’s just you’ve got to start somewhere.
Donita Bundy: I think, too, it’s good to remember that being creative and unique is to be kept to our writing and our words. When it comes to designing covers and to ticking boxes, stick to genre and do what is easily identifiable. Go to where you’re going to get good coverage and publication. So go to the big companies I would say and tick boxes. I think that’s the thing. Keep the creativity to your writing.
Belinda Pollard: Great tips. Thank you. How about I pray for the Gracewriters.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that we have these amazing opportunities these days to get our books out there in ways that were never available in generations past. I pray for all of us as Gracewriters that you will give us wisdom to know if this is a path that you would like us to take and particularly that you will keep our gracenotes alive in our work. That you will keep us praying and hanging onto you. That you will keep us honouring and glorifying you through all of our lives but also particularly in our publishing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen.
Donita Bundy: Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Alison Joy and Donita Bundy, thank you so much for your insights today. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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