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  • Writer's pictureJohn Clarkson

Welcome to The Wonderful World of Self-Publishing

One of the most frequent questions I get from readers is…how can I get copies of your old books? 

All my old books (my first five novels) are out of print.  There are companies on Amazon who sell them.  Actually, I think there may be one company: Thrift Books, which fulfills orders under different names, I think because they have different shipping centers.  I’m not sure. 

So, when readers of my current novels ask me how to get my previous books, I don’t have a very satisfactory answer for them, or for me.  As a result, I’ve decided to do something about it. Drum roll, please… I have entered into the world of self-publishing, starting with re-publishing the book that started it all: AND JUSTICE FOR ONE, originally published by Crown in 1992. 

After that, most likely NEW LOTS, and then REEDS PROMISE.  We’ll see how it goes.  It’s turning out to be a very interesting process, so I’ve decided to share it with my readers and website subscribers.

First of a bit of background.​

Among Thieves

All of my novels, including the first two in the James Beck Series AMONG THIEVES and BRONX REQUIEM, have been traditionally published. Back in ’92, the ability to self-publish didn’t exist. I guess there were a few vanity press companies, but traditional publishers controlled the process. Since then, everything has changed dramatically on both fronts.

On the traditional side, consolidation has swept through the publishing industry, for both publishers and distributors. What this all means is a topic for another blog, but suffice it to say, most of it isn’t good news for authors.

Bronx Requiem

The digital revolution has completely changed self-publishing. 

The effect is the opposite to what has happened in traditional publishing.  Opportunities have exploded.  There are pluses and minuses, of course, but one fact is incontrovertible.  Self-publishing gives authors much more control.

With this control comes much more responsibility.  The self-publishing author has to the all the work of publishing.  Or, hire the right entity (a difficult task) to help him or her self-publish.

Manage that entity.  And bear the cost.

Today all the U.S. publishing companies fall under the umbrellas of the “Big 5”.
  • Hachette Book Group owned by Hachette Livre a subsidiary of the French media company Lagardére.

  • HarperCollins acquired in 1987 by NewsCorp.

  • Macmillan which is owned by the German company Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck.

  • Penguin Random House owned by the German company Bertelsmann.

  • Simon & Shuster currently the publishing arm of CBS Corporation.

Each of these Big 5 has a slew of book publishers.  For instance, my current publisher, St. Martin’s Press, is under Macmillan, along with Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Henry Holt and Company; Picador; Tor/Forge, etc.

How Do You Self-Publish? Good question.  I’m learning as I go.  I don’t mean this to be a how-to as much as a follow-along.  Sharing rather than instructing.  But here’s the way I see it.
  • Step #1: Create a book: Write it, get it edited, proofed, and ready to publish.

  • Step #2: Produce the book: Design the cover, design the interior, prepare e-files.

  • Step #3: Distribute the book: arrange distribution through various channels, mostly online.

  • Step #4: Promote and sell the book: more on this later.

One major complication is Step #4.  You have to start promoting and selling long before the book is published.  Authors these days are expected to do more of this than ever before.  Traditional publishers just don’t do much of it.  They don’t have the manpower, budgets, resources, or business plan to properly promote and sell books. Some of this I blame on consolidation. Some on the nature of the business. Some on the effects of social media, self-publishing, etc. 

If an author thinks a book will sell just because it gets published – traditionally or independently (indie self-published), they are sadly mistaken.  It almost doesn’t matter if the book is the best ever written in a particular genre.  If no one knows about it, it won’t sell.

Let’s start with Step #1.

In my case, it might sound like that’s already done.  AND JUSTICE FOR ONE went through the entire editing and production process at a major publisher.  However, there’s still a ton of work to be done to get this book ready for self-publishing

Keep in mind that although word processing did exist when I wrote AND JUSTICE FOR ONE, back then and even when you publish traditionally today, at some point, you transition from a digital manuscript to a hard copy/typeset version. And even that version gets marked up by hand.  Once a book is printed and published, no digital file exists that reflects the final published version.

So, the first task was to transform the hardcover copy of AND JUSTICE FOR ONE into a digital file.  I thought it would be time consuming and expensive.  Time-consuming, yes.  Expensive, no.

Lo and behold, there are companies (not many) who will scan a book and use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to transform the scanned text into a digital file.  To get the best result they need to take the book apart, so hopefully, if you want to do this with an old book of yours, you have a copy that can be unbound and discarded. 

After a good deal of research, I used a company called Bound Book Scanning.  The cost?  About forty bucks.  The time?  About a week, on their end.  Much longer at mine.

The company claims 98% accuracy.  Sounds really good.  And it is.  But not so fast.  What does that really amount to?

AND JUSTICE is a bit long for the genre: 118,000 words.  Let’s say each sentence averages 7 words.  That’s about 40,000 sentences.  Let’s guesstimate every sentence has 6 punctuation elements.  That’s 240,000.  Then there’s line breaks and a bunch of other stuff that exists in a printed book you have to deal with.  Let’s round it all up to about 400,000 elements.  2% of that is 8,000 “things” you have to correct! 

Kind of like when they say something is 98% fat-free.  There can still be a lot of fat in it.

Even though it took only a week to get a digital Word file, I had to do a lot of proofing.

On the plus side, I wanted to edit the book anyhow.  It’s not often you get a chance to go back over your first novel with a couple of decades of experience and perspective.  I didn’t want to fundamentally change anything.  I wanted to preserve the product of a raw, young author.  However, I did end up doing hundreds and hundreds of nips and tucks and polishes. 

I remember back when AND JUSTICE, my first novel, was being publishing, I thought the editing process was endless.  Story editing, copy editing, proofing.  And it was.  But when I went back over everything this time, there were way too many mistakes.  I spent about two weeks, full time, doing my first edit (and correcting all those OCR errors).  I’ll go through it again at least a couple more times before I’m ready to create publishable files.  The good news is, the re-published AND JUSTICE FOR ONE will be a faster, cleaner, better read, but still essentially the same book published in 1992.

That’s pretty much it for Step #1.  Yes, MUCH less work that Step #1 would normally entail, but more than I envisioned.

Next blog, I’ll talk about getting a new cover designed.  NOT easy.  I’ll tell you about:

  • Reviewing thousands of covers in my genre.

  • My explanation for why so many book covers fail.

  • How to fix that.

  • And maybe get to share with you the preliminary designs.

Stay tuned!

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