I'll be the first to admit that, when I decided to independently publish my first novel, I was freaking clueless. Deadly Remains was my first finished manuscript, I didn't know any other published authors nor did I have any contacts in the publishing world. I didn't realize that there are some interesting (and sometimes rather contentious) opinions about self-publishing and the authors who choose to release their writing in such a manner. My decision to go the independent route had little to do with what other people were going to think of me. (Although I'd be lying if I told you I don't care about what other people think.) In spite of my ignorance, or maybe because of it, I simply decided that the best person to take care of me was me, a notion my Dad did his best to impart throughout my upbringing. If mistakes were going to be made, they would be my mistakes. Any success would be mine to enjoy. My book would succeed or not based on its own merits. Besides, the way I figured it, some of my best lessons in life have come from making mistakes. One thing I've learned is that the labels 'indie-published' and 'self-published' are misnomers. Shhhh. Don't tell, but I didn't do everything by myself. Although I had control over every aspect of my novel's publication, I couldn't have pursued the independent path without help. My husband, who has been an avid supporter of what initially began as a hobby, helped me with much of the heavy lifting. Under the auspices of our independent publishing company, Scry Media LLC, we worked hand-in-hand to do everything we could--editing, formatting, cover design, marketing--to make my novel a success. I enlisted family and friends as critics, taking their advice to hone the narrative, make sure characters felt 'real', find plot loopholes and tell me whether the story just plain worked for them or not. The entire process took many months, countless revisions, and many hours in front of the computer, but it was a labor of love.
Another thing I learned is, while it isn't necessary to spend gobs of money to produce a quality product, the publication process isn't always easy or straightforward. There are many details that are fairly simple, like setting up a company, opening a business bank account, and getting an ISBN, but formatting the text properly can be tricky and time consuming. At least it was for us. It sounds deceivingly simple—just convert a .docx file into an .ePub file and upload. Ha! Unless things have changed for the better in the last nine months, the conversion, especially for uploading to Apple's iBooks, is often tedious and frustrating. (And if, God forbid, you have footnotes with links elsewhere in your book…good luck!) This is one of the reasons why companies like Smashwords and Lulu are in business. For a cut of your sales, they will take on the job of formatting and uploading your book, both for sale on their and other major e-book sites. If you don't have the inclination to deal with the vagaries of HTML, PDFs, section headings, or art safe zones, self-publishing with this type of aggregator can help accomplish your goal of getting your work out there. That said, I'm here to tell you that it isn't impossible to do it yourself thereby keeping the majority of the profits in your own pocket.
My husband and I spent many hours combing the internet for information and experimenting before finally arriving at a conversion process that worked to get my .docx file into the electronic forms acceptable for upload to the three big players: Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple. Each company has different file requirements for submission. Wrangling the bits for print publication through Amazon's CreateSpace involved yet another pipeline fraught with its own intricacies, mainly to do with getting the cover precisely put together. (Tip: don't even think about formatting your book cover until you know that your manuscript is carved in stone. The number of pages directly affects the size of the spine.) None of it was easy, but with persistence and determination anyone with a computer and some choice software can do it.
Here are some of the software packages we used. (We had better luck finding the inexpensive tools we needed on the Windows OS side, but things may have changed in the past year for Mac users.):
In addition, my husband's blog posts about the conversion process might also prove helpful.
I am proud of what we've managed to accomplish with a little money and a lot of gumption. On Amazon alone, Deadly Remains has sold over 5,000 copies with admittedly little in the way of marketing, the majority on Kindle—way more copies than I ever dared dream. (While this might not sound like a huge number, keep in mind that as an indie-author I'm keeping 70% of the e-book's sales price. To make the same amount of money with a traditional publisher, I'd have needed to sell 20,000 copies.) Even more exciting is that my novel is currently running at a 4/5 star rating with over thirty reviews, a majority from people I've never met who have taken the time to offer their thoughts and constructive criticism. Although I find it completely terrifying, hearing from my readers has been both gratifying and instructive.
More than anything, my indie-publishing experience has taught me that I have so much more to learn! Whenever I start to feel self-doubt creep into my mindset, I remind myself that this is only the beginning. Deadly Remains is the first manuscript I've ever written and I know that I have much more to offer. You can bet I'll be striving to better myself both as an author and indie-publisher, and I'll continue to learn from my mistakes and successes. If you're an aspiring author, I hope my experience has shown that if I can do it, so can you!