Freedom Rock

Monday, May 7, 2012

So, You’ve Written The Great American Novel . . . Now What?

You’ve done what you’ve always wanted to do . . . write a novel. It’s taken you months, years, decades; so now what do you do? Do you buy the Writer’s Digest and spend hours writing query letters to send to literary agents? Do you search the web to find websites like AgentQuery or dailywritingtips to find the perfect person to send you back the rejection letter, or better yet, one who wants money to shop your book?

We’ve been that route, not the “pay someone to shop the book,” but the Writer’s Digest and getting a New York City top agent to shop our novel. Most literary agents do not simultaneous submit. Here in the songwriting world where I come from, we write a song and send it to as many artists and producers as we can. Whoever takes it first gets to record it. It is not uncommon to have multiple people in line waiting to record a song, or even to have multiple artists record or cover the same song.

In traditional book publishing it is different. A literary agent can get “blackballed” if they do simultaneous submissions. Most publishers take three to six months to read a book and get back to the agent with a yea or nay. For someone who has written songs professionally for the last twenty-five years, that is just too long.

Lucky for us, “the times they are a changing” (to quote Bob Dylan). With the advent of the Internet and eBooks, the Nook, the Kindle, the iPad and the Smart Phone, physical books are no longer the norm. Now don’t get me wrong, there are folks out there who still want to feel the pages of a physical book in their hands, I’m one of them. But there is a new generation of tech nerds out there who don’t know life without some form of computer.

Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. It is a lot of work, but it can be done. Here is how my husband and I did it. First, we wrote the book on Microsoft Word 2010. Ours was a thriller novel, the first in a trilogy called, “Fortune’s Web.” We wrote it together, but that is fodder for another blog.

After writing many versions of the manuscript, and editing those versions ourselves “ad nausium,” we needed to have someone else study it. After reading a manuscript 10 times or more, one’s eye sees the correct version whether the word is spelled right or not. (Editing: it’s the difference between knowing your shit, and knowing you’re shit.)

Editors can cost up to $1,500 to edit a book, and many of them charge by the word. We had 83,000 words in this novel, and no budget to have it professionally edited. Since I am a former French and English teacher, I used my grammar expertise to do the best editing I could. I also called on everyone I knew, from my teacher friends to family, to edit our book.

Okay, so you’ve written the great American novel, re-written the novel and edited the novel. Now you’ve imagined the bitchin’ cover of all time, one that will cement your book into the minds of the public. How do you get the image from your mind to the cover of your best seller?

It helps to have a genius son who is a tech wizard, Christopher John Chater; a friend and former student who is a world famous photographer, Mike DuBose; and the best friend of your daughter who just happens to look like your heroine, Jessica Kneeland. That’s how we did it on no budget, but I’m sure the same principles would apply with you taking the picture (or a photographer of your choice . . . just watch the dpi . . . it should be at least 72 for the eBook and 300 for the physical book).

We had a concept in our minds and tried several versions of our cover before we came out with the “Fortune’s Web” cover as it stands now. There is a program called Gimp, we used the 2.6 version. This is an image manipulation program and you can download it for free. Once you get the hang of it, it is really quite easy to use.

Now that you have your cover photo or artwork, make sure you have permission to use it and follow all copyright laws. We don’t want anyone getting sued for copyright infringement. It is time to put the concept together.

Using Gimp 2.6, put your cover artwork together. There is a template or you can make your own. Chris put public domain pictures and fonts together with Mike’s photo to make it look like our model was platform diving from the barrel of a Browning Hi-Power Semi-Automatic Pistol. This was Chris’ concept and we thought it was brilliant. Then together, we chose the font, the size and the color. We spent many hours on the phone talking over the decisions we made and even used Gimp ourselves to make the final small changes we wanted.

The cover was originally blue, but when we uploaded it to to get the physical book together, the blue that we had for the original front cover did not match the blue that Create Space had for the back cover. Since they didn’t provide the color number, it was impossible to match the blues on the front and back cover, therefore forcing us to the black cover background. We knew black is black is black and it would match front and back.

Once you are certain you have caught the mistakes and have your cover completed, it’s time to upload it to We used Smashwords because they also help you to get onto the other sites. In order to do this one needs an ISBN number (International Standard Book Number) which helps identify your book. ISBN issuance is country specific, author specific and publisher specific. In the United States the privately held company R. R. Bowker is the responsible entity, and there is a charge, which varies depending upon the number of ISBNs purchased, with prices ranging from $125.00 for a single number.

But, will give you an ISBN number for free if they are listed as the publisher of record. Publisher here does not mean copyright holder. The copyright holder is the author. Think of Smashwords more as a distributor. They help you distribute on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony reader store, Diesel eBook Store and the Apple iBookstore. You can earn 65% of List Price from major eBook Retailers and 85% Net at With traditional publishers, your earnings are usually 17.5%.

Now it’s time for the formatting. The document needs to be formatted and saved as a .doc file. Formatting for Smashwords is explained in Mark Coker’s book which is free on Once you are ready to e-publish, format your manuscript to a Microsoft Word .doc file. Then click “Publish” and follow the steps to upload your book and cover image on

If you want to format your book for, it’s a little different. The .doc file needs to go to the web-filtered HTML file. From there, one uses the Amazon software program, Mobipocket creator, to build the book into a .prc file which allows you to read it on Kindle apps. Then you upload it to your Kindle account through It takes you step by step through the process. We opted not to use the KDP Select option (share library) because I just don’t know enough about it yet and need to research that a bit more. We can always add it later on.

Once we had the cover pictures, the font size for title, authors, blurbs, etc. we procured the barcode by following the easy steps on Create Space is a part of which does POD (Print On Demand). Using POD is much more environmentally friendly than traditional publishing practices in the past. Before, publishers would do a print run of say 50,000 books and send them out to bookstores. If they were not all sold in the first year of their release, they were returned to the publisher and destroyed. Roughly 35% of a traditional publisher’s print run were pulped. That’s a lot of waste!

Now came the hard part: getting the manuscript accepted into the physical book template. Chris and I were on the phone for 10 hours trying to upload the manuscript to the website to get the physical book printed. In one way, it is easy to upload, but it is hard to get margins, gutters, images, blurbs all to go together to get a perfect book. I have to give Chris credit for sticking with it. Every time Create Space gave us the book to proof, there would be another part wrong: the font wasn’t embedded, the gutters were wrong, a picture dpi wasn’t large enough, page numbers were repeated, there were blank pages in the middle of the book. Finally we got it right and got it to read correctly. Then it was off to have a proof printed.

Throughout this process, no money was needed. I loved that. The only thing I had to pay for was a physical proof of our book. I could have done that for free too if I wanted to proof it digitally. But, being the old fashioned girl that I am, and needing to see the physical book to really get an idea of what it’s going to look like, I paid the $5.00 for the proof and the shipping to get it here.

We get the proof in a few days. Both of us will read the physical proof and go through it before we print. Shouldn’t be long now.

If you want to buy an advanced copy of the thriller, “Fortune’s Web” or an autographed copy, just message me on Facebook or email me through and put “Fortune’s Web” in the subject line. I’ll be waiting to hear from you.

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