Five Things You Might Not Expect Going Indie

By Kerry Schafer

I'm very nearly through my first venture in independent publishing, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I didn't see coming.

I'm not going to spend time on the things that are easy to see. Obviously you're going to need a cover and some sort of editing. But there are some other things you'll need when the manuscript is all polished and shiny that you might not have thought about in advance.

1) A blurb for the cover. In traditional publishing, often your editor will ask other authors at the publishing house to read and endorse your book. Or at the least, remind you that it's time to start looking. With independent books, it's up to you to track one down. You snooze, you lose. (And yes, when The Nothing comes out that little endorsement quote is probably going to be missing.)

2) ISBN numbers. You need these so bookstores and librarians can find your book. Some of the platforms (Amazon, etc) will give you one, but all of the research I did points to it being a very good idea to get your own. You do this at www.bowker.com. These are kind of spendy - $125 for one ISBN, and if you're doing epub and paper  you're going to need at least two. I went with the bundle of ten for $295, since I figure I'm likely to do more Indie books down the road.

At this cost, you might be wondering if you really need an ISBN. You do, and here's why. From the Bowker website:

"The most important identifier your book can have is the ISBN. As the U.S. ISBN Agency, Bowker is the ONLY official source of ISBNs in the United States. ISBNs provide unique identification for books and simplify the distribution of your books throughout the global supply chain. Without an ISBN, you will not be found in bookstores, either online, or down the street from your house."

3) A Library of Congress Control Number, or PCN. I'm told librarians will use this number to find your book, so you want one. Good news - it's free! It's just a little bit of a hassle to sign up for the account and request the number. It also takes about a week, so allow for adequate time. You can get started at http://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/. Click the link for Open an Account and get started. There will be an email you need to respond to in order to complete the process, so watch out for that! You will also need to send a print copy to the Library of Congress as soon as it is available.

4) Copyright Page and Application. Technically, your book is protected by copyright without actually applying for an official copyright, BUT it seems if there is ever any legal involvement with your book going to court you will need the copyright to have been registered, and that means you have to file with the copyright office. You can do this online here: http://www.copyright.gov/. The advice I've read is to wait until the book is published to file, so I haven't done this yet. I understand there is a fee involved - somewhere around $50. Once again, you will need to send in a print copy.  There is some terrific copyright information here, including what to put on the copyright page: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/03/how-to-copyright-your-book-2/

5) Paper and ebook Covers Are Not Created Equal. Your cover designer needs to make two separate files. The ebook one is straightforward. The cover for a paper book has some extra requirements. In order to finalize a cover that will fit properly across the spine of the paperbound book, your designer will need the exact number of pages of the book after it's been formatted and set in PDF. He or she will also need back cover copy and the aforementioned endorsement if you've been able to secure one.

6) Formatting. From all I've read, formatting isn't difficult so much as it is time consuming and nit picky. I fully intended to learn to do it myself, but time and life got in the way and I ended up getting some help. You'll need two different e-formats - .mobi for Amazon Kindle, and .epub for everything else. You'll also need a pdf of the interior of the book for paper. Since I didn't do the work myself I don't have a whole lot of advice here, except that my friends who have done this a lot advised me to stay far away from Calibre and to use Adobe InDesign. The ebook version of The Nothing was done in Scrivener, however, and it looks clean and professional.

And that wraps up this edition of what I've learned about Independent Publishing. Maybe next time I'll share what I learn in the process of getting The Nothing set up for print on demand and up on the various platforms.

Kerry Schafer
Kerry Schafer writes fantasy with its teeth sunk into reality, mystery that delves into the paranormal, and (as Kerry Anne King) women’s fiction that explores the nooks and crannies of family and forgiveness. More about Kerry on her website.

2 thoughts on “Five Things You Might Not Expect Going Indie

  1. 1. Cover blurb. There’s a trick here that involves working with your network. Get somebody who writes what you write to do a beta read before you get too far down the editing rabbit hole. If they like it, they’ll tell you and you can ask if you can use their comment as a blurb. I’ve never said “no.”

    They’re not as useful as one might think because almost nobody will see them on the thumbnail cover. They’re handy for the product description page, so if you have one, rock it. Same thing goes for back cover copy. It’s used on the product description but the only people who’ll ever see it on the back cover are the people who find the book in hard copy.

    2. I bought a 100 ISBNs because I plan on using them. That brought the price down to $5 each. I think the package is now $550 for a hundred, but if you’re planning on a career…they last indefinitely. 🙂

    3. Libraries are a long shot. Likewise bookstores. It would be lovely, but it’s not something I’m going to spend time on. YMMV. (Note: my books *are* in libraries and bookstores. There just aren’t enough that are likely to want them to matter to me.)

    4. The formal copyright offers limited utility. You have no additional protections but you may have additional remedies if you can afford to pursue them. (I am not a lawyer. This should not be construed as legal advice. I also don’t have deep enough pockets that I’m likely to start fighting in court over this when I can get DMCA takedowns where it matters.)

    5. Covers are often a problem. I require my cover artists to give me the PSD or XCF (layered versions) so that I can make those adjustments once I’ve gotten the appropriate cover template from CreateSpace (they generate it based on the size of the file you upload).

    I actually ask for three .. ebook, paperback wrap around, and dust jacket for hardcovers. I also have the skills needed to move the pieces around to allow for that last 1/8th of an inch that CreateSpace always seems to want.

    The dirty secret here is that the cover image – not the cover – is what sells the book. Almost nobody will see the cover itself until/unless they’ve bought the book. You want it to be professional and correct but – for most sales – it’s going to be a confirmation to the buyer that they made a good choice.

    6. The Bonus Thing!

    Tools will save you on formatting.

    Sigil is a free tool that will create standard format epubs from relatively easy word processing files. Learning how to create a clean file to feed it is probably the most complicated thing. It’s not hard. The internet is loaded with tutorials on how to use Sigil.

    Once you have a valid epub, Amazon’s KDP provides an offline previewer that uses their kindlegen tool to convert the epub to a very good mobi which you can then upload directly. It’s simply a matter of grabbing the download from KDP and opening your epub in the kindle previewer, It’ll tell you if there’s a problem and (generally) where it is.

    Paper is a bit touchier. I use an actual typesetting layout program to take the source file and put in all the front matter, back matter, etc. It’s not a complicated process but it took me a couple of weeks of fiddling to get the template the way I wanted. For me it was worth it – I’ve published nine novels in paperback with the tenth one waiting in the wings and eight more on my TBW pile. Hiring it done shouldn’t be expensive (around $500 to $1000 depending on how much twiddling is needed).

    For me paper is “not leaving money on the table.” It’s worth a couple of weeks and a few bucks to get the paperback created and available. I sell fewer than 10% of my units in paper and earn less per unit for each copy sold, but that’s still royalties in the bank at the end of the month.

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