Jason Flamm
Copywriter / Soft Skills Teacher

Blog

Not my best writing, but some of my most necessary.

Self-Publishing is Hard, But Maybe Not How You'd Think

 Image c/o Josh Felise at unsplash.com  https://unsplash.com/photos/yIMy3ERBc3

Image c/o Josh Felise at unsplash.com https://unsplash.com/photos/yIMy3ERBc3

Yesterday, it finally came. The first ever book in the history of the world with my name as the author.

Actually, it’s the “proof” version of my book, which I’ve already torn apart for grammatical errors and design flaws. But, hey that’s what a proof copy is for, right?

Ripping off the cardboard tab and opening up the thin shipping box, I felt a sense of calm, accomplishment and pride. When I saw the cover I lit up like the colors on the front of it. My grin began to hurt my jaw as I took picture after picture of it in all its glory. No flash needed — my face would work just fine to light up the room.

I suggest that everyone, especially if you are on Medium, put yourself in a position to discover this feeling.

It’s my first book and I’m excited about the opportunities it brings. One of those opportunities that I’d be remiss to take advantage of would be the process of self-publishing and how my experience might help someone else, if I’d be willing to document it.

So, here it goes.

Here is how you self-publish your first book:

First and foremost — no surprise here — you have to write it.

I had no idea how to write a book. You’d think with all the reading I’ve done, it would’ve come very natural to me. I mean… it’s just a book right? But, instead I found myself wondering what page the Table of Contents should go on. Should I leave blank space between chapters? How does one write an About the Author section?

Even the outline for the actual contents of the book had me baffled.

So, I did what any unsure creator of things might do — I reverse-engineered it. Actually, to tell the absolute truth, I stole it.

I downloaded a book that was similar in nature to what I wanted to write and simply copy+pasted it onto a blank Google Drive document.

Now, before you burn me at the stake for the highest sin a writer can ever commit, understand that I knew I’d be changing the entire thing anyways. In fact, the first thing I did was delete every word. I simply kept the headings and the overall structure.

Imagine if a house builder could tear down only the walls, floors and roof of a house instead of destroying a perfectly good frame, piping system and foundation.

That’s what I did.

I knew what I wanted my book to be about, but I didn’t know where to start. Having this structure as a jumping-off point, provided me that place to start.

Then, I went through and changed every one of the headings into what would be the headings for my book. I tried to be very careful not to leave any original word, period or font used previously.

I was stealing not plagiarizing.

At the beginning stages of writing this book I chose to write in the morning. I had a routine down. I’d wake up early, spend an hour writing — sloppily — (this was the first draft after all) and then repeat it each day for about a week and a half.

It wasn’t long until I started to hate what I had begun.

But, I was dead set on finishing. So, I finished my first draft and turned it over to a friend who agreed to proofread it for me. This was a mistake — not only on his part, because it was a damn mess, but also on my own part.

You’ll discover why in a moment.

My friend had the book for about a week and a half. In that time I completely pivoted and decided I no longer liked the types of books I just made and regretted doing it in the first place. I started writing my next book (this one would be different!) on a plane ride to New Orleans and back. In fact, I finished it in just about eight hours. It was a subject I’m more passionate about and have a helluva lot more experience in. Also, it was about half the size.

When my book buddy returned the document back to me with his notes and grammatical fixes the only thing I took refuge in was that he said he really liked it. That bolt of enthusiasm from an outside source was just what I needed to get back into it.

So get back to it I did.

I immediately accepted all of his proofreading fixes. I’m not great at proofreading and I use commas way too loosely (you’ve probably noticed this if you’ve read any of my Medium articles).

Then, I went into the meat of his feedback. I really wanted to know what specifically he thought was good and what was just “meh.” Anything that was meh was removed. The parts he liked I moved to the top of each section and I filled in all the paragraphs between.

Is this the correct process to revise a book? I have no clue.

I only know what I know and I know comedy writing. In comedy writing you get rid of the crap and move the good stuff to the top of the heap. I spent another week on revisions. I started to dream of releasing the book into the world. The fame and fortune that would come along with it.

I didn’t realize how much I STILL had to do.

I also didn’t realize how much a mess this book was still in. Oftentimes, in revising it, I found myself rewriting entire paragraphs and sections. Many of the sentences were so poorly worded that I wondered if english was my first language. I realized too that I had wasted my friends proofreading ability because I would need it to be proofread again.

It was bad. And this was the second version of it…

I got disheartened. I put it down and seriously considered sending it out into the ether, never to be mentioned about again. It was now my Voldemort. I reasoned with myself that failing is perfectly okay and I learned a lot from just THIS part of the process. It wouldn’t be time wasted, because my second book (which would’ve become my first book now…) was going to be so much better. Things would be different.

But, then I thought about my friend and the fact that he spent HIS time going through my book for me. If I threw it away, I wasn’t just wasting my time, I wasted his as well.

That was unacceptable.

After a few weeks of feeling sorry for myself and doing everything I could to avoid a certain file on Google Drive, I told a few friends about how I had written two books in the course of a month and a half. They were shocked and amazed and I realized — shit, I wrote two books in six weeks and I’m seriously thinking about axing one of them for no real reason at all.

Especially since I should’ve known this was going to happen.

Everyone who has ever done creative work has felt this. You get invested into a project and you go through ups and downs throughout the life of it. Inevitably you become unhappy with this thing in front of you and feel like you missed the mark completely.

Process sucks and everything always looks better inside our brains. It’s just how it works.

Upon that realization, my vigor was renewed. I first focused on rewriting the framework and bookends of each section. I left the meaty paragraphs alone and instead first made sure that the book made sense. Then, I tore apart each paragraph one by one.

I hired a graphic designer through Fiverr.com. I knew the risks in hiring someone for just a few bucks but, I had faith that whatever came back I could fix into something better.

I finished what I thought would be the final draft (spoiler alert: I was wrong) and sent it to another Fiverr.com freelancer for proofreading.

Then, I asked my book buddy (who proofread my book and was a first-time book author last year) “how the hell do I actually publish this book?”

He directed me to createspace.com. Which does just an amazing service for people who want to self-publish.

I dug around and realized that I needed a special type of cover for my book. You know, one that includes a spine and back image? How the hell did I forget that books had back covers? For this I had to go back to my graphic designer and ask him to use “createspace.com formatting.” This cost me another ten bones. But, I also had to tell him the number of pages the book would be.

The problem was my proofreader hadn’t returned my “final” version. I mentally panicked. Why was I so awful at this? I Googled “how many words per pages for a book.” Google said:

So, I did some quick math; 21,000 words divided by 275 equaled 76 pages. Phew. Thanks Google.

I went back to the designer and said it would be 80 pages, because I figured I could just use a few blank pages if I needed to make some more room. Surely, I wouldn’t be over that in length… right?

He sent back the design and I was ecstatic. I loved it. I showed it to a few people and they loved it as well. All in all, it cost me about $35. Not bad. Not bad at all.

(I’d show you the image, but I don’t want you all to think I’m just plugging my book. Because, I’m not. It’s not ready to sell yet or else I would be.)

Then, I got my proofread version back. Again, I blindly accepted all the changes and moved onto loading my document and covers to Create Space.

It was all the wrong size.

Cue sadtrombone.com.

Also, I realized I needed this thing called an EIN. Duh! Of course I need an Employer Identification Number. I’m trying to charge people money for buying a product. Why am I so bad at this?!

I resized my pages to 6x9, which is the “most common size for books” and discovered that my book was actually well over 90 pages.

Boy-oh-boy. #FirstTimeAuthorProblems

I spent an entire day reformatting my book contents. Why a whole day? Oh, because I also revised a huge chunk of it again. It was still a mess.

I also realized that my proofreader from Fiverr failed miserably at her job. Even someone like me, who is mediocre at best at editing, found some glaring mistakes.

Again, unacceptable. Not because I’m a grammar nazi, but more because when I see something is wrong, I can’t just ignore it.

Frustration settled in a bit, but this time it was different. There was no wanting to quit or wishing I never started to begin with. Instead it was a renewed sense of vigor and fortitude. It was a determination to finish what I had started. It was almost go time and I knew it.

I finished my revisions and resized everything to what it needed to be and then I loaded it onto Create Space. I also called my lawyer about my EIN. Then, I did something magical.

I ordered a proof copy of my book.

Which, as I said, I received yesterday.

Also, as I said, it’s already been completely marked through with more revision notes and design fixes.

It’s still a damn mess.

But, it’s my mess. In a few weeks, I get to ask people to purchase a copy of my mess. Soon after, I’m sure I’ll get my first negative review on Amazon calling it a damn fine mess.

And that’s how you write your first book.


tl;dr version:

Here is how you self-publish your first book:

  1. Write it
  2. Realize you can’t just write it and instead steal it
  3. Re-write what you just stole
  4. Get through your first draft as quick as possible
  5. Mistakenly ask for proofreading feedback when really what you need is reassurance that it doesn’t suck
  6. Rewrite your book
  7. Realize you know nothing about actually publishing a book
  8. Ask someone how
  9. Go to Create Space and think about how lucky you are to live in the era you live in
  10. Hire a graphic designer too early
  11. Hire a proofreader (again too early, but in this particular story too late)
  12. Send revisions and requests to your graphic designer — pay more money
  13. Realize you formatted your pages incorrectly and spend a day fixing
  14. Also spend that day rewriting your entire damn book
  15. Get an EIN, so that you can actually sell your book
  16. Order a “proof” copy — so that it finally feels real
  17. Get over 200 reactions on a Facebook status by posting a picture of your book cover and use #author
  18. Be happy
  19. Tear your book apart
  20. Resend it for another proof copy
  21. … yet to be determined. But, I’m confident that we’ll get there.

Have you published a book? Was this similar to your experience?