Self-publishing, D-day approaches

Some of you will know that I am currently in the process of self-publishing a book what I wrote (as Ernie Wise would say). It’s a children’s novel called Sugar and the race to save the Earth (aimed at 6 to 10 year olds) and it will be available as a free eBook under a Creative Commons licence. Those who have been kind enough to follow the Twitter feed and/or like the Facebook page will be aware that the book is now with the publishing platform and the day for launch is fast approaching.

the cover of the book
The cover of the forthcoming book

In my head that date would appear to be 1st August but there are a few variables outside of my control which may delay that slightly. I thought it would be a good idea to jot down some notes on the process itself and so I’m going to do that here. A quick note though: this is not a “ten tips to self-publishing success” article, it’s just my ramblings about the process I undertook to get to this stage. It’s a bit long but I’d sooner keep this kind of information together rather than make you hop all over the place for it.

If you are interested in the project or the book and/or would like to support this, please consider liking the <Facebook> page or following us on <Twitter>. Eventually I will be producing other books and will keep people up to date through the same channels.

What tools did I use?

Creative writing probably requires only two things: an idea and something to write it with. So in the simplest terms you can do it with a pencil and paper. Writing something for publication requires a few more things, like a publisher. The choice of publisher will to some extent dictate the format of the file the writing is stored in and will certainly have an impact on how those files are arranged or formatted. As you’ll know I’m an advocate of freedom particularly with regards to software so my choice of tools was also dictated by that also. Here’s what I used:

  • Vim – Text editor – I used this to write the unformatted text. I use Vim in my day-to-day work so other options may suit other people but using a plain text editor enabled me to focus on the writing, spelling and grammar and not the formatting.
  • Libreoffice – Office software. I used this to compile and format the book and to produce the print-ready PDF required by the print house.
  • Inkscape – Vector graphics editor – I used this to create the covers and some other ancillary images used in the book.
  • GIMP – Bitmap graphics editor – as my kids did the drawings for the book I used GIMP to clean them up after scanning and convert them to 2-bit (black and white) images at the required resolution.
  • Calibre – eBook -management software – I used this to convert my eBook file into various eBook formats – including the kindle mobi format. It’s an excellent piece of software and I highly recommend it for not just converting but reading eBooks.

How did I write it?

I wrote the book a chapter at a time, in order and I wrote each chapter in a separate file. This helped me focus on each chapter by itself and also meant I was able to read each chapter as I progressed to my editing team (i.e. my wife and children – after all they are the target audience 🙂 ). All in all it took me around a year from starting with a bare idea to finishing the epilogue. That’s mostly because I was fitting in the writing around my day job and I wasn’t spending all my spare time on it. This had an interesting side-effect though. I found that leaving it for a few days and coming back made me read back through what I had done previously and thus I became a secondary editor of my own work.

To start with though I wrote a quick half -page synopsis of the storyline and split that into chapters. So each chapter had a sentence about it’s plotline and this gave me something to flesh out when I came to write the chapter. It wasn’t set in stone though and I  change aspects of the storyline following feedback from the editorial team. This meant I had to go back and amend some earlier chapters as the story progressed but I found it somewhat easier that way.

Which self-publishing platform did I use?

I wanted to keep costs down and also I really am not expecting this to be a seller, let alone a best seller so I didn’t really want to go to the bother of a traditional publisher/editor. Never the less I wanted to make a print copy available and also one for Kindle. This is mostly because I had written this for my kids and they wanted to see their drawings in a “real book” – indulge me for being a Father trying to encourage his kids’ creativity.

I looked at a few different options – mostly the main ones: Lulu and Createspace came to the fore. I chose Createspace because being an Amazon company they kept the costs of putting a book on the ubiquitous portal down. Yes I know all the arguments about Amazon and tax in the UK but I also know that – like many – I complete a tax return every year and claim whatever I can to avoid paying more tax. I can’t blame Amazon for doing similar but would welcome a UK government that stops pointing fingers and start closing loopholes.

As an experience I have found Createspace pretty good. Their online tools for things like proof-reading and cover creation are well produced and easy to use. The cover creator is a wee bit simple but I had already produced my cover images and so it was handy to use a tool that highlighted where things like the barcode or bleed area (e.g. print margins) go.

Dealing with the IRS

The major (and as far as I can see the most cost-effective) players are based in the USA. This is fine for US citizens as the platform handles all the tax requirements on your royalties. For those of us outside the US it’s a problem though as the IRS (US Tax office) takes 30% of your royalties before you see a penny. The UK has a tax arrangement with the USA so we should be charged at all but in order to claim this you need a US tax number called an EIN. They tell you that you need an ITIN which takes an age and a half to acquire but in reality you can phone them and get an EIN instead almost immediately. All perfectly legal and above board and no tax to pay in the US. You’ll have tax to pay at home but I’ll leave that for you to sort out.

I used the guide found here which is really good. A quick tip I have is to stay up and ring a bit later. The IRS office is open from 7AM to 10 PM Monday to Friday (are you listening HMRC?) and so if you call them during their evening you get through much quicker. I called around 12:30AM over here and got sorted in about ten minutes. It’s worth doing and the IRS man I spoke to was very helpful.

Legal deposit

Publishers of any printed works published in the UK must by law send a free copy to the British Library within one month of the publication date. There are five other libraries which are entitled to a free copy within a year but only upon request. You are however legally obliged to send one to the British Library. One of the nice things about using a print on demand service like Createspace is that you can order your own books at a much cheaper price. This is because you are not being charged your own royalty. The relevant information for where to send the book can be found here. Copies for the other libraries will be sent to the legal deposit agency. Details of that can be found on the same page as the British Library.

 Sharing at the heart of it

A drawing from the book
A drawing from the book (c) Ryan Cartwright CC:By-SA –

From the beginning I knew this was not going to be a source of any real income but that was never really the point of the project. Initially I was just writing down a story for my kids. As time progressed they wanted to make it into a book and so I pursued a cost-effective way to do that. The thing that struck me though was how much I (and they) enjoyed the process of collaborating on a story like this.  I would read a chapter and ask where they think the story was going to go next. Most of their ideas ended up in the book. The drawings were their idea and even though I’ve always wanted to illustrate books I know what it meant for them so we set out some ground rules and they set off producing the superb drawings for the book – one of which you can see here.

So when I made the decision to distribute this story I decided that the collaboration and sharing that was part of the production process should continue into  and indeed lead the distribution side of it. Thus I am interested in finding out what other readers (if there are any) think the story should look like. The fact that I wrote the words down does not give me any claim over what you should imagine the scenes or the characters look like. Stories are about imagination.

What’s next?

So now the book is almost ready for print. I have a proof copy on it’s way to me as I write this. Following that it should be ready to order within a few days of me approving the proof. However the eBooks will be available to download for free at the same time. I think it makes life less confusing to launch everything at once.

If you are interested in the story there is a sample chapter available and I’d love to hear any feedback you have on that.