Traditional Self-Publishing, part 3: Formatting the Book

You’d think that writing your book, getting it edited and obtaining a fabulous cover would be enough frustration for a lifetime. Think again. You still have to format the book.

What does that mean? It means you have to turn your manuscript pages into pages that look like the inside of a book. There are really two facets to this:

1) Providing front and back matter, such at title pages, copyright page, table of contents, dedication, acknowledgments, notes and/or a bibliography for nonfiction, appendices and an index.

2) Laying out the body of the book: fitting the margins to the size of your finished book, choosing type font and size for chapter titles and body text, justifying the type right and left, adding illustrations, and putting in headers and footers–those running titles at the tops of the pages and page numbers at the top or bottom.

I’m not going to take you through these in details. There are plenty of books and websites that will do that for you. Try this one: “How to Format Your Self-Published Book” by Moira Allen. Or buy a copy of Book Formatting for Self-Publishers by Jeanette Green.

If you use a print on demand service such as CreateSpace or iUniverse, or if you’re working with a printer, you can pay to have someone else do the formatting, but for most of us that isn’t necessary.

The best help for me is finding a traditionally published book I really like, preferably in a similar genre, and copying its formatting. Check a lot of books to see what you like for details such as whether to center your headers, where to put the page numbers, how to handle beginnings of sections or chapters, etc.

The process is going to be slow and frustrating, especially the first time. Take it one page at a time, and don’t rush. Each detail matters. Save the page numbers on the table of contents for last because they’re going to keep changing as you massage the layout. Doing headers and footers in Microsoft Word will drive you to drink. Its system makes sense–if you’re a computer. Just keep at it. Visit the help forums; other people have struggled with the same problems you’ll face. Don’t give up. Cursing is okay.

As with everything these days, you can hire people to format your book for you. Check Google for a never-ending list. You can also buy sophisticated formatting software. Adobe’s InDesign and Quark Xpress are the most popular. But these can be frustratingly complicated for the average writer. You can find a good comparison of book layout options at

Most printers will ask for you to send them a PDF file of the print-ready book, along with a JPEG file of the cover. Once you have every page the way you want it, save the file as a PDF, and email it to the printer. They should provide you with a proof, which you can then read for typos and layout errors. You will find some, but they should be easy to fix. Save your book as a PDF once more, re-send it and celebrate. Your book is on its way.

Next: finding a printer


Self-publishing in print, part 2: People do judge a book by its cover

So, you’re ready to self-publish. You have the inside of the book, but how do you get a cover?

The good news and the bad news are the same: You’re in charge of your cover.

Unless you are a professional artist, preferably with some graphic design training, don’t try to do it all by yourself.  Your cover is a critical part of selling your book. Even for e-books, the cover is what customers see when they go shopping. It can either turn them off or draw them in. You want them to love it so much they just have to see what’s inside the book.

If you are an artist or know someone who is, that’s an advantage. However, not all artists know how to do book covers, and you don’t want to ruin your friendship if it doesn’t work out. Still, a wonderful image, such as an original painting or photo, can make your cover sing.

Having control over your own cover is one of the advantages of self-publishing. I have had publishers provide covers that I loved and covers that I hated. If you look closely at my Freelancing for Newspapers cover, the print on the third newspaper down talks about “genital warts.” I was horrified when I saw it, but there was nothing I could do.

Likewise, on the first edition of Stories Grandma Never Told, the publisher used a picture of one of the women I interviewed. I hated it. I wanted a picture of my great-grandmother, but here was this other lady, and I didn’t want her on the cover. Too bad.

When I published Azorean Dreams through iUniverse, I sent them a picture of a harbor from one of the Azores Islands. They sent me a gorgeous cover featuring a couple kissing on a rock, with the harbor behind them. The background was a luscious blue. Just one problem. My hero had a mustache and this guy didn’t. They drew on a mustache. Fine. A couple years later, I discovered the same picture on the back covers of six months worth of Oregon Coast Magazine as part of an advertisement. The same picture. The same couple, minus the mustache.  By then, I was pretty sure that was Italy, not the Azores. They had used clip art, available to anybody willing to pay for it. I was appalled, but that’s still the cover on the book.

When the original publisher let  Stories Grandma Never Told go and I republished it myself, I got the cover of my dreams. The designer, Andrew Cier, from Newport Lazerquick, used photos I had provided to design a gorgeous cover that still makes people stop and comment.

For my latest book, Childless by Marriage, I didn’t know what to do. I was hoping the artist suggested by my printer would catch the essence of the book and come up with something wonderful, but she didn’t. She e-mailed me several completely inappropriate covers and insisted I choose one. Refusing, I wound up with a plain brown cover with a pair of wedding rings on the front because I needed something to get the e-book out by Mother’s Day. Ultimately, I went back to Lazerquick. My “artist” had used “clip art,” nothing I couldn’t have gotten myself . I went online. I found some great images, but then I thought: wait, I think I have something in my photo albums. Sure enough, I found the wedding picture that Jeffery Shirley turned into a cover I truly love. I wasted a bit of money with the earlier unusable versions, but it was worth the expense to get the right cover.

What I’m saying is that if you’re publishing your own book, you have to get the best cover you possibly can.  Don’t try to do it without expert help, but also don’t expect them to be mind-readers. Look in your photos, your art, even at clip art for images that might work. One precaution: You can’t use somebody else’s copyrighted image without obtaining permission. It’s easy to grab something off the Internet or scan a picture you find in a magazine, but it’s illegal to use it for your book without taking the proper steps.

Study other covers to see what you like and don’t like. Remember that the cover has to allow space for the title and your name.  Think about what colors you would like for the background, the spine and the back cover, all of which will include print that you want people to be able to read.

If you Google “clip art,” you will find sites such as “” where you can purchase images for a surprisingly reasonable fee.  A search for “book cover design” will bring you lots of companies willing to design your cover or offer you templates. These may work. Check them out carefully before you spend money. Just make sure you get the cover you like, preferably one that won’t turn up someday in a magazine ad.

Coming up: formatting your book and finding a printer

Self-publishing in print, part I: Everybody needs an editor

So you’ve decided to publish your own book. Excellent choice. You will have control over every aspect of the project, from writing to sales, and you will see your book in print within months instead of the year or more it can take with a traditional publisher. Now, roll up your sleeves; you’ve got a lot of work to do.

The most important thing is to write the best book you can. That means writing and rewriting until it’s ready, no matter how long it takes. There’s no point in worrying about cover art or advertising if you don’t have a good book to sell.

Aside from writing the book, the next most important thing is good editing. You may think you can edit your book yourself. You may even be a professional editor. I am, but I still hired an editor to look at Childless by Marriage before I published it. With her input, I wound up doing a major rewrite, but she also gave me the confidence to know this book was worth publishing.

No writer can see her own work the way other people perceive it. We’re too close to it. A good editor can see the book as a whole, noting things that are missing or that don’t fit, marking bad transitions, thoughts that are not complete, places where our egos cloud our writing, etc. She can also find our typos, misspellings and grammar gaffes. You think you can do this yourself, but you can’t. It’s like a doctor trying to cure himself or a lawyer representing himself in court.

I found my editor through a book she had written about writing. When I discovered she did editing, I hired her. It wasn’t cheap—approximately $1,200–but it was worth it. We worked both online and on paper. She sent me my book marked up with corrections and also sent a long detailed letter with her suggestions and corrections, just the way an editor in a publishing house does.

If you Google “book editors,” you’ll find dozens of listings, but anyone can call himself an editor. Check with professional writing and publishing organizations in your area. Look in the acknowledgements of books you admire. Use your social networks, such as Facebook, to get recommendations. Before you commit to working with someone, check their credentials. What is their training? What else have they edited? Most reputable editors will do a sample section so you can both decide whether you want to work together. If they balk at this, move on.

Here’s a great article by C.S. Lakin, “4 Ways to Find the Right Freelance Editor.”  Read it and follow directions.

There are other ways to get editing help that don’t cost money. Many writers I know trust their work to writing groups in which they critique each other’s work. The trick is to find a group with the necessary skills and knowledge of the genre in which you’re writing, but this can work very well. One can find critique groups online as well as in person.

If your work contains specialized jargon or sections in another language, you may want to ask experts to help you make sure you get it right. With my novel Azorean Dreams, for example, I asked several Portuguese speakers, including a professor of the language, to check my Portuguese dialogue. Good thing they did. My rudimentary Portuguese contained a lot of errors.

We all have doubts about  our writing. Even if we have published a dozen other books, we worry about whether the new one is any good. Your editor can help you make sure that it is.

What comes after editing? Find out in next week’s post.

Nontraditional publishing, part 2: E-books

Everybody seems to be talking about e-books these days. It’s Kindle this and Nook that.  Should I make my book into an e-book?

Yes, you should. The e-book is here, and it has changed how people read. Some people never buy print books anymore. They only read on the screen. They constitute a big share of the market that you don’t want to miss.

Ten years ago, I’d never heard of electronic books. Occasionally someone would send a book as a pdf that could be read on the computer, but it was so awkward I’d either never read it or print it out so I could carry the pages around and read them away from my desk.

Then came the Kindle, Nook, iPad and their various brethren. They were light, portable and easy to use. You could store hundreds of books on your e-reader, slip it into your purse or backback and read wherever you wanted to. They were expensive at first, but the prices keep coming down, and the books are way cheaper than print books. Click a button and poof, it’s yours, instantly. No trip to the store, no shipping fees, no worries about storing the book when you’re done.

The advent of e-books has not only changed the way we read but the way we publish. If you’re going to publish a print book, it needs to also be available as an e-book. And if you can’t find a publisher or can’t afford to pay to have your book printed, you CAN afford to publish an e-book. At this writing, it’s free. That’s right. It doesn’t cost anything except your time to publish an e-book.

So how do I publish an e-book?

Publishing an e-book is not difficult, although the formatting takes time, and it’s different for different kinds of readers. Online sites offer step-by-step guidance for each format. These include:

  •—all you need to know to publish for the Kindle
  •—guides you through the process of publishing for the Nook
  •—provides e-books for nearly all e-formats and offers its own free e-books full of e-publishing advice. Even if you don’t decide to publish with Smashwords, get the e-books. They offer great advice for all self-publishers.

Follow the directions, upload your book, set your price and voila, your book is published. The good news is that if you want to change something in the book, it’s easy to do, unlike with print books where your mistake remains in print forever.

Of course, there are things to consider:

  • You still need to provide a well-written and well-edited book.
  • You will need an attractive cover that will look good in ads online. If you are not an artist, don’t try to do it yourself.
  • You should copyright your book and you will need to purchase an ISBN number, the number which identifies your book. If you are publishing the book in different formats, you will need a separate ISBN number for each one.
  • E-publishing programs through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords put your book online and list it in their catalogs, but that won’t necessarily sell your books.You still need to market your book in the online and offline worlds to make people notice it among the hundreds of thousands of other e-books being published.
  • E-books are generally priced lower than print books. Although royalties are higher—Amazon offers 35 % and 70 % options—you’re not going to see big bucks for a while, if ever.

Is that it?

Pretty much. If you don’t own an e-reader, I suggest you get one so you can understand the e-reading experience. Reading books published by other authors will show what works and what doesn’t. And this is cool: You can copy your word files to the e-reader and read your own books as if they were already published. Suddenly it’s easy to see where you need to fix typos or do a little more revision.

Have fun! If you have questions, please ask.

If I’m not going to get rich, why publish a book?

For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about book publishing. Posts have covered making the decision to write a book, how to approach a traditional book publisher or literary agent, and how to self-publish with a print-on-demand company. Before we move on to e-books and other forms of self-publishing, let’s take a minute to talk about why we might want to publish a book.

Dick Lutz, an author/publisher, notes that publishing a book is like buying a lottery ticket. One’s chances of winning the big jackpot—fame and fortune–are small, but we love to try because there’s always a chance that this book is the one.

In a recent column, he wrote something that got me nodding my head and writing “Yes!” “Success at book publishing can be measured in many ways. It’s not only whether or not you make money. Many a book that didn’t sell well enough to break even is still a success in that it served a purpose or fulfilled a need.”

Lutz goes on to list reasons to publish a book besides getting rich, all of them valid. Most of us don’t write just to get rich and famous. We also write to tell a story that needs to be told, to inspire, inform, educate, or entertain. We might do it just for fun or as a stepping stone to building a career.

I’ve been thinking about all this as I try to figure out how to explain to my father why I just spent $2,500 to print copies of my new book, Childless by Marriage. I’m sure I’ll spend more to publicize and market it. I hope I make money at it. I believe that I will at least match the modest but steady income that I get from my other books.

I daydream about a major publisher picking it up and zooming it to number one on the bestseller lists. But even if that doesn’t happen, I needed to tell this story. I needed to open the discussion of what it’s like to be childless because the man you marry is unable or unwilling to have children with you. If I never make a cent, I’ll still be glad I published this book.

Childless by Marriage has been available as a Kindle e-book since Mother’s Day. Yesterday, I picked up nine boxes of the paperback version. I’m not sure where to store them yet. I could have used the print-on-demand method, where the book is stored in digital form on a computer somewhere and copies are only printed as orders come in, but I’m an old-fashioned writer. I wanted books I could hold in my hand, carry in my car, sell at talks, meetings, fairs, conferences, etc. I didn’t want another company to come between me and my readers.

This book took more than a decade to see print. I will spend years marketing it and talking about it. Like a child, a book becomes a permanent part of your life. Before you commit to such a project, know why you’re doing it. If money is your only object, think again.





Traditional publishing, part 4: Synopses

I want to get my novel published, and I keep reading that I need something called a “synopsis.” That sounds like a disease. What is it and and How do I create one?

In plain English, a synopsis is a summary of what happens in the book. Tell the story of your novel in condensed form, from beginning to end. You write it up in paragraphs , using present tense, even if the book is written in past tense. For example:

Tim Brady, a divorced high school math teacher in upstate New York, wonders how he can possibly keep going until retirement. Then, one day, into his classroom walks the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. “I’m your new assistant,” she says.

Okay, this sounds like a lame book, but it’s an example of how you start this thing. Paragraph by paragraph, you describe the main events and the characters involved, adding bits of dialogue and brief quotes from the text of the novel, working your way to the conclusion. Don’t try to put everything in, just the highlights, the most important things that happen, and don’t keep the ending a secret.

You can find two great articles on writing synopses at  “How to Write a Synopsis” by Marg Gilks and “Writing a Synopsis from the Ground Up” by Dee Ann Latona LeBlanc offer step-by-step advice on how to write a synopsis. Also, publisher Moira Allen explains it all in The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals.

How long should a synopsis be? It seems like it would take a lot of pages to sum up a whole book.

It certainly could take a lot of pages, but it’s a summary, not a book. Opinions on length vary. I have heard of synopses going as long as 50 pages, but editors and agents generally don’t have time to read that much. Limit yourself to 10 pages maximum, and if you can do it shorter, that would be great. I’m not saying it’s easy.

What else do I send with my synopsis?

Your package, which could be sent by snail  mail or by email, depending on what the editor or agent wants, should also include: a cover letter, briefly explaining what you are sending and who you are, the synopsis, the first three chapters, and–if using snail mail–a self-addressed stamped envelope for their reply. If you’re using email, make sure you include contact information, and use the subject line to describe what you are sending, e.g., “suspense novel submission.”

Got questions? I’ll be happy to answer them.

Traditional Publishing, Part 3: How Do I Write a Book Proposal?

This agent says she wants to see a “complete proposal” for my nonfiction book? What does that consist of?

The proposal is an important sales tool for nonfiction books, one that is often requested by agents and editors. It’s possible to sell a book that is not yet written on the basis of a good proposal. Essentially the proposal includes:

  • a description of the book
  • your background
  • an analysis of the marketing possibilities for your book
  • an annotated list of competing books, noting why yours is better or different
  • a detailed outline
  • sample chapters

Sounds like a big project? It is. My proposal for Childless by Marriage was 32 pages, not counting the sample chapters, but looking at it from the plus side, writing the proposal forces you to clarify what you’re writing and where it fits in the market. As discussed when we were talking about book queries last week, you really need to be able to sum up your book clearly and briefly in order to sell it, and indeed in order to write a good book. You also need to know who is likely to buy it and how you can reach them, as well as how it fits in the marketplace. Is there another book out there just like it or is your book something new and different? The outline will force you to organize your materials and see where you might have too much or too little.

Can you show me examples of good proposals?

If you Google “sample book proposal,” you will find many possibilities. Among the most trustworthy:; and No, they’re not identical. Different folks like different styles, but the elements are the same. The agent who liked my Childless by Marriage proposal sent me a sample of the style she likes and had me revise my proposal to match before she sent it out to publishers.

How do I submit my proposal?

First, only submit proposals to agents or editors who say they want them. If they only want a query, send them a query. However, if their guidelines ask for proposals or they request a proposal in response to your query, follow their directions as to how to send it. If they tell you to send it by e-mail, do so, usually as an attachment, and be grateful to save the postage. If they want it by snail mail, print out a clean, double-spaced copy, with the pages numbered and your name and the title of your book at the top of each page. Fasten it with a big clip or a rubber band. Do not put it in a folder or binder. Put the whole thing in a big envelope, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for their reply, take it to the post office and cross your fingers.

Where can I find more on book proposals?

There are several great books that will guide you through the process of writing a book proposal. Three I would recommend are Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal, Jeff Herman’s Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why, and Stephen Blake Mettee’s The Fast Track Course on How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal.

Next time: how to write a synopsis, which is a different critter from a proposal.