When Writers Aren’t Writers

It’s the dirty little secret of writers that we don’t spend most of our time writing.

This has been especially true for me during this non-fiction fractal project. There are the obvious non-writing activities like programming, generating figures and images, and research. But as I’m making the final push before release there’s all sorts of formatting checks, table of contents correction, regeneration of images, cover design, acknowledgements, marketing research, etc.

But this is by no means unique to this project. The eBook formatting alone is something that many pay professionals for, anywhere between $129 – $250 (and that’s for standard fiction projects, don’t even want to think about what they’d charge me for what is basically a math and programming textbook).

The rise of self-publishing forces us writers more than ever to be involved in all parts of the process, to be “artisinal” writers.

And I think we should embrace this.

What’s the major complaint about self-publishing? That it’s a vanity project, that it could never succeed in a traditional publishing house, that the quality is poor. And it is surprisingly easy to make a crappy product, something that looks like a book, but bares little resemblance.

Those of us who are choosing this path, at least for some of our work, need to take this stereotype on board. The marketplace may not be the best place to determine “literature” but I don’t think most of us are in that game. We want to tell a good story, one people want to read. And we’re being judged on that story, our grammar, our formatting, and our cover design.

Just because you can hit “publish” doesn’t mean you should … at least not yet.

It’s the old chestnut  you need to revise and rewrite and format until you’re sick of it, and then you need to do it some more. It’s not easy. Having to support multiple formats and devices is a problem most self-published authors didn’t have to deal with ten years ago. Someone can read your book on a 4 inch smartphone, a 10 inch iPad, or a 16 inch laptop. There’s a reason some people get paid to do this.

But the pay off is worth it, no matter how well the book sells. One thing we’re often giving up when we ePublish is having something we can hold in our hands, something tangible and physical that tells us we made something. It might not seem the same, but quality work can have the same result. Something that works and feels like something the professionals put out, and reads like your favorite author. Such things are possible.

They just take patience, sweat, coffee, tears, coffee, pizza, coffee, cherry coke-zero, and yes more coffee.

And encouragement from a community of friends, bloggers, and fellow writers. I’m always happy to share the wealth, and have benefited from the work of others tenfold. Take the time to do it right, but know that we’ll help you, that we can’t wait to read it … when it’s done.

I’ve got some more formatting tips for the rest of the week, including how to deal with the way Calibre detects contents pages, checking drafts on multiple devices, and hopefully some of my initial thoughts on formatting for both Amazon and Smashwords. Stay tuned won’t you? 🙂


Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Trube On Tech, Writing

7 responses to “When Writers Aren’t Writers

  1. I shall be looking forward to all the formatting tips you can offer as I shall soon be venturing into this uncharted territory

  2. Jeff Peters

    Awesome. I may be doing an ebook project down the road so I look forward to reading your tips.

  3. Totally looking forward to the formatting tips!

  4. First: Cherry. Coke. Zero. You are a man after my own heart. I don’t drink soda often, never much cared for it, but when I do, it’s Cherry Coke. And it’s always diet, because apparently in the battle between diabetes and cancer, I’d rather have cancer. 😛

    Second: There may be some stigma around self-publishing, but what about vanity publishing? I wrote a post several months ago about a friend who owed me money and it turned out her excuse for waiting so long to pay me back was that she spent $7,000 publishing her book. She was just pleased as punch, too, acting like she’d hit it big. I mean, $7K? Really? Ever since then, she’s been nagging me about working on my writing and giving me advice on “how the biz works” and I lie my face off about any progress I’m making because I don’t want the inevitable sales pitch form her to speak to her “editor.” Self-publishing may not get writers a lot of street cred, but at least the technology exists, now, to do it without the up-front cost.

    • Yeah, the idea of paying a lot of money up front to self-publish a book never really made sense to me. It requires you to sell the book for a lot more than I think a book should cost. I have consider things like CreateSpace for the book, or other POD services, but digital seems cleaner in the long run. And yeah, Cherry Coke Zero is awesome.

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