A Decade of Writing

March 2021 will mark an important anniversary for me. It will be a decade since I retired from ‘normal’ work. I was an accountant in the City of London working for one of the largest firms of accountants in the world. It was a job I enjoyed, but working in an accountancy practice is a young man’s job that involves long hours and an enormous commitment. I had reached retirement age, and it was time for something new. Most in my position, would have considered a hobby like golf, sailing or walking. But I’m different.

I had always wanted to write a novel. “Collision” was my first. I always knew I could write. I had written four obscure accounting texts, one of which went to four editions, and I contributed to industry accounting texts on banking and leasing. But I didn’t know if I had the imagination and drive to write a novel. That’s a real challenge.

Well, a decade on, I ‘ve published three novels and am working on my fourth. Four books in ten years is not a great output. But it was never about the output or the money. I’ve learned a lot about storytelling, writing, publishing and marketing, much of which I have discussed in this blog. If you are new to writing I hope the blog I have produced will help you find your way. There are some 84 blogs on the subject.

There are lots of traps for a new writer to fall into. And a number of sharks out there that will promise you help and support for a large fee. Fortunately, I avoided most of them. The truth is that as a writer all you need is a computer and writing software that will output. I would recommend Scrivener (which is about $47) or any other software that can output Epub and Mobi formats. This is not a huge investment.

The only other essential expenses I incur are for editing, cover design and advertising. How much you choose to spend on each is up to you. It’s possible to get a good cover for under $100 on Fiverr. For advertising, I use Amazon Advertising Sponsored Products and keywords, but you need to tread carefully. The largest expense is probably the cost of editing. I do most of the basic editing myself, but a professional proofreader is a necessity for the final proof.

If you’re new to writing and publishing, then you need to understand that there is a learning curve involved. You need to understand dialogue and other writing format conventions, book formatting conventions, advertising and more. It will take time to learn. It took me 20 months to publish my first novel but I was a complete novice at marketing. Even now after ten years I’m still learning about publishing and marketing. The alternative is to undertake a training course to fast track the process. There are a number of good courses out there. But they don’t come cheaply.

If you are a new Indie writer and have a burning question, ask me on the blog. Or if you prefer, email me through my Contact page.

Indie Publishing on a shoestring

When I started writing my first novel, I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for. During my career as an accountant, I had published a number of books albeit of a technical nature. I knew it took perseverance to produce the first draft of any book. But it doesn’t stop there. It can take as long again to edit and re-write the manuscript until you know that the book’s structure works, and then there’s the checking of the formatting, consistency, and accuracy of the galley proofs until you have something worthy of publication. In those days, I had the benefit of professional editors and a host of technical people and resources I could turn to for help. On your own it’s a whole new ball-game.

I also knew that to publish a novel through a traditional publisher, I would need an agent and a publishing contract, which could perhaps take another two or three years if I was successful at all. And that the likelihood of being published first time was about as likely as winning the lottery. Even great writers, like Stephen King, spent years of receiving rejection notices before being accepted. I wasn’t prepared to wait that long.

The alternative was to self-publish. I did my research. There were lots of companies offering to help authors publish novels, but at the cost of thousands of dollars. Fortunately for me, I ignored them all; I wasn’t prepared to make that kind of investment for the kind of support they were offering, most of which related to activities I could do myself, or outsource for a fraction of that cost. I decided I would initially self-publish an e-book on Amazon, and would perhaps think of a print edition at a later point.

I realised I would need to outsource the preparation of the e-book cover to a graphics designer; but most of everything else I could do myself with a little bit of help from my wife on the editing front. The cost of preparing a reasonable e-book cover can range from $30-$3000. I was lucky I found an excellent designer through Fiverr on the internet for $55 and was very happy with her design.

The next issue was formatting the file for Amazon submission. This was something I thought would be technically difficult, but proved to be just the opposite. You don’t need to be a technical wiz kid to publish an e-book on Amazon. There are different ways of doing it, but I chose to use a software tool that I used to produce by manuscript, called Scrivener. It’s an amazing piece of software designed for authors. And it has the ability to ‘compile’ your manuscript into a variety of different formats, including mobi, e-pub, pdf , as well as Word and rtf files.

To ensure you are using the latest Amazon software you have to download a free file from Kindlepublishing called Kindlegen and tell Scrivener where the file is on your computer system. Then all you have to do is pull the graphics file for your cover into Scrivener and select compile function. The result is a mobi file that you can test out on your own Kindle, or on the PC or Mac using the free Kindle software for your Mac or PC.

The first time I tested the file on my Kindle I was elated. Once you’re happy with the file then it’s time to upload it onto Amazon. The whole process of setting up your account and uploading the file will probably only take 30 minutes, most of which is simple account administration.

Amazon has about 85% of the E-book market. To reach the other 15% I decided to use an aggregator: a company that deals with the retailers such as Barnes & Noble. My choice was BookBaby. Again I used Scrivener to compile this time an Epub file. I then used Calibre, a free open source e-book library management application, to check the Epub file worked as expected. Then it was a simple process to open an account with BookBaby and upload the file. Simple.

The last step on my the road to becoming an Indie author was to produce a print book of my first novel. Initially, I never expected to delve into print books at all. But this month I released the print version of my novel, “Collision – A Sci-Fi Romance” on Amazon and other retail outlets using CreateSpace, Amazon’s own print on demand company. The only additional cost in this process was to commission my graphics designer to produce a front/spine/back cover and the cost of a proof book.

The process is a little more complex than producing an e-book. Broadly, I used Scrivener to produce a PDF file with the right paperback size and margins as required by CreateSpace. And then uploaded the PDF of the content and a PDF of the cover onto CreateSpace system. The whole process took about two days to get the formatting absolutely right in Scrivener. Chapters have to start on an odd page numbers, and this means including blank pages where necessary in the Scrivener file. Page numbering and headers have to be turned off on pages containing front-matter, chapter starts and blank pages; and getting the gutter and outer margins right can be fiddly. I found a number of clips on YouTube dealing with Scrivener and CreateSpace that will walk you through the process, and CreateSpace’s own guidance on their website is also very helpful, particularly on margins and cover specifications for different numbers of pages.

Once the PDFs are uploaded they can be reviewed on CreateSpace’s online galley proof, which shows how the book will be printed. A number of iterations may be necessary before you get the formatting just right. Then you can order a proof copy of the book from CreateSpace to see what the final product looks like.

To sum up, the hardest part of becoming an Indie author is actually writing and editing a good novel to a professionally high standard. Good editing is important and it’s difficult to edit your own material entirely on your own. Fortunately, I have a very patient wife with a good eye for finding mistakes. A good cover design is also a must. The technical aspects of E-book and print book production by comparison are not daunting. It is simply a matter of working through the process. After you’ve done it once you’ll realise that actually it’s quite easy. The hard bit is writing your opus.