by Janis Susan May/Janis
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
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
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?
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.