by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson
To tell the truth, I kind of halfway believed that this day would never come. On 30 October my publishing blitz ended. Unless you’ve been living under a rock this summer, you probably have heard more than once that I’ve been doing a blitz of one book release (two new works, the rest re-releases of reverted backlist) every two weeks since 30 June.
That’s a heck of a lot of books.
And an insane schedule. Why would anyone do anything so utterly mad?
Back in late May, when this idea first appeared, I had no idea of how much plain old work – and plain old money – would be involved. Each book was re-edited, re-formatted, given a wonderful new cover and released in both electronic and paper versions. Sounds deceptively simple, doesn’t it? It wasn’t. Without the most wonderful team in the world – scanner, editor, formatter and cover artist – behind me I never would have made it. No – without them I never would even have considered it!
In May I did FAMILY OF STRANGERS, a tasty little classic gothic romance set in Victorian Scotland. It took several weeks to get it up and running, and it has done rather well. Deciding to do the rest, I jumped in with both feet, my normal way of doing something. Concentration has always been a problem with me, and after several weeks I had done something on every book, but not one was completely finished and ready for publication.
Some of the older books were so old that no electronic version existed. Appalled at the thought of re-keying them, I had them scanned. My scanner Melynda Andrews is the best in the business, but inaccuracy is the nature of the beast no matter who does it. Age and texture of the paper, ink density, type font and the letters themselves all affect what is translated from paper to pixels, so each letter must be checked. For example, ‘his’ morphed into ‘liis’ and ‘rain’ into ‘min’ and so forth – but never with any degree of predictability. Some of the results were horrific, some were hysterical, but each had to be checked.
It’s not the big errors that get you – it’s the little, almost invisible ones. On getting the scan back, I had to go through the manuscript almost pixel by pixel. Years ago during my magazine editing days I learned to proof by starting with the last word and going backward. That way I was seeing the words and letters themselves and not getting lost in the story. At least, it helped.
After that tiring and sometimes hilarious chore, I started at the beginning and did the editing on the re-releases myself; the two new works went to my wonderful professional editor Laree Bryant, and then through a rigorous round of revisions. As the re-releases had already been edited by their respective publishing houses, I didn’t see a reason to submit them to my editor, but I went through them with a fine-tooth comb, tweaking and doing a little bit of rewriting. No book is ever really finished, you see. As long as we can get our hands on it, we can always find some little something that can be improved.
Then there were the covers. It was by pure blind luck that I was fortunate enough to find Dawn Charles of BookGraphics, one of the best cover artists in the world, who worked tirelessly with me turning what I wanted, what was possible and what I could afford into an elegant cover. She also provided me with a huge banner proclaiming both my names – Janis Susan May for romance, Janis Patterson for mysteries – for when (if) I do signings, and created some positively fantastic bookmarks.
Working with my wonderful formatter Vickie Taylor was the easiest thing. I had already gone through the manuscript, making it as clean as possible (studying those pixels again), taking out any extraneous spaces, returns, etc., and putting the various elements in the order I wanted them for both the electronic and paper editions – copyright page, dedication, other books available, by the author and all that. I would email the files to her and tell her which electronic distributors to program for and in a few days I would have individualized files for electronic and print that only required me to point-and-click to upload. Being a total techno-naif I love point and click!
Yes, I know there are loads of authors who do this themselves. Joy go with them. There is nothing wrong with my brain-box (at least, I hope not) and I could learn do the formatting myself. After all, in the dark ages of computers I wrote a couple of decent COBOL programs. However – I am a believer that one should do what one does best and hire out the rest. It’s only good time management, besides saving my nerves. I frustrate very easily.
Then a couple of days before official release day – so I would have links to hand out on release day – I would upload. First would be the print version at CreateSpace, because I wanted time to order a proof and still get the distributor buy links in time. Then, closer to The Day, I would upload to Amazon, BandN and Kobo myself. iBooks/Apple always went through Draft2Digital. While many people swear by them, I don’t like some of Apple’s practices, and Macs are too expensive for me to consider anyway.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Basically it is, but it is both complex and time-consuming. And, believe it or not, this was the artistic part.
There is also the business part. First I got a DBA for my publisher name. Forming an S corp or an LLC didn’t make financial sense at this point, but I did want the ability to cash any checks that might come in the company name.
I copyrighted with the government those books which had not already been done. It’s the cheapest intellectual property insurance I know, and I advise every writer to do it.
In addition, there was the acquisition, assigning and registration of ISBNs through Bowkers – and Heaven help you if you get two numbers mixed up! Each book had its own specific copyright release on the copyright page, because they need to state if, when and by whom the book had been published before. There were the individual dedications. Print and electronic versions each needed their own special order of contents. Front matter and back matter were different.
Because I wanted to get them all done as quickly as possible so all I would have to do was upload (didn’t work, by the way – every release day was an edge-of-the-seat affair) I worked on a lot of books at once and got very confused. Finally I created a spreadsheet to keep me organized. One row for every book, one column for every action. At one time I had forty two columns. It’s come down a little since then, but it’s still an impressive amount of data. For a while I was so stressed I couldn’t sleep – I’d wake in the morning at some dreadfully early hour and, my mind churning with what had to be done, be unable to get back to sleep, so I’d get up and start work. By the way, writing is my only job, other than looking after The Husband, the animals, the house, the yard, some volunteer work and assorted family and friends.
The Husband became accustomed to eating frozen things for dinner – mainly pizza – and we ate out or got takeaway more than ever before. Laundry became a hit-or-miss proposition. With three animals (two cats and a bossy little dog) we’ve always had a recurring crop of dust bunnies, but they took advantage of my concentration on the books to grow into aggressive dust hares until in self defense The Husband started wielding the vacuum cleaner. At night I was too tired even to read. Writing? Forget it.
But now it is over. I’m glad I did it, because the books are done, and in self-publishing there is no worry about shelf life. For good, bad or indifferent, these stories will be out there forever, hopefully generating some income while I go on to the fun part of creating new books. I say hopefully because my MasterCard is still on life support.
Speaking of money, I’ll admit to being disappointed that sales have been much lower than I dreamed – even lower than I expected. However, on my writers’ loops everyone has been saying that their sales are down as well, so I take faint comfort that I’m not the only one or that it’s not my books themselves being ignored. I’ve spent some money – more than I could afford, really – on advertising, but nowhere near enough to make a real difference. Still, as Scarlett said, tomorrow is another day, and we can only wait to see what it will bring.
Have I given up on trad pubbing? Of course not. At this moment I am under contract to two traditional publishing houses and intend to continue with both. And, if one of the Big 5, or however many of them there are this week, comes waving a contract with a healthy advance attached just watch me jump.
Do I intend to keep on self-publishing? Yes, most definitely. The freedom to do what I want, to tell the story I want without having some little editor girl forcefully ‘suggest’ that my heroine be a deep-sea diver instead of an insurance investigator or another editor that the story take place in the mountains of Montana instead of downtown Dallas. Even if such ‘suggestions’ would strengthen the story (which they most definitely would not have) I know nothing about deep sea diving and even less about Montana. My sense of outrage at such needless meddling was only exacerbated by the fact that I have shoes older than either one of those little editor girls! Now I can tell my stories with the voice I want. Of course, they will be professionally edited, etc. That’s a given.
Not giving up on self-pubbing, however, does not mean I will put my husband, myself or my books through an insane blitz like this again. My future self-pub efforts will be done in a civilized manner, at a manageable speed of one, maybe two releases at a time. I’m too old for nonsense like this, but will certainly admit that this blitz taught me more about self-pubbing than I ever knew possible.
I’m glad I did it, but now it is time to tell myself (in my execrable Latin) Dire, Faire, Taire – loosely translated, Say It, Do It, Shut Up.