My Self-Publishing Toolbox

I’ve been asked recently about how I publish my books, so without further ado, I present to y’all my self-publishing toolbox:

Image of Frøydis Labowsky from a shoot we did in 2011. Styling and make-up by Ingvild Eiring.

Image of Frøydis Labowsky from a shoot we did in 2011. Styling and make-up by Ingvild Eiring.

Getting the story down

I don’t support the idea that you need a special space/room/cave/whatever to jot your words down. Writing is writing – it’s just you and your brain making up stories. It doesn’t matter if those stories pour out of you by way of pen or keyboard, if you’re sitting in a tree or by your speshul IKEA desk made chic with sandpaper and pastel ribbons. You don’t need to clear your calendar either or feel somehow particularly inspired. Just goddamn write already! …and keep on writing until the first draft is complete.

I do a lot of writing on my iPad while on the bus to work. Of the many writing apps on the market, I’ve tried Pages, Nebulous and iA Writer – they are all good. If you want something simple to just plop the words down without any distractions iA Writer is great. If you want to write on your pad with “everything” you need readily available with an extended keyboard, Nebulous might be the thing for you.

I use Open Office on my computer, but borrow my boyfriend’s laptop with Word when I need to format a manuscript.

I find the good ole paper notebook to be absolutely crucial for ideas and outlining. I’ve tried the manuscript organizing apps Writers App and A Novel Idea, they work just fine, but I prefer to keep a notebook dedicated to story timeline, character gallery etc.

Publishing platforms

I use Createspace for paperbacks. It’s easy to use and makes my books available on Amazon.

For photobooks I use Blurb, that also can make your books available via Amazon.

For ebooks I use KDP, Smashwords, Google Books and ebok.no. I’m particularly fond of Smashwords – where you can easily get your book distributed to several platforms.

Formatting ebooks

I know it is possible to do this “at home,” but I find the process painstaking, frustrating and ghaaa… so I choose to leave this to the professionals. I use Kindle people to format my kindle book and ebook launch for everything else.

Since I’m a professional photographer I have no qualms about making my own covers, in fact – I cringe at the thought of having someone else mess around with them, but if I wasn’t a professional myself I would hire one.

Proofreading

I use Scribendi for proofreading. I’ve had my first two novels proofread by Scribendi people and couldn’t be happier. It’s not cheap, but it is necessary and absolutely worth it.

What about editors, you ask – well, I have several friends who have studied literature and are authors themselves. I trust them to give me the non-sugarcoated feedback I need to make my books the best possible.

Social media

As you can see, I use WordPress for my blog and homebase for my books. I also have a Squarespace website for my photography work. I have, of course, domain names that make sense too: jcloen.com and julieloen.com – it looks more professional and is far easier to remeber if anyone should ask, than a free domain name with “/blahblahblah” added to it.

I use mailchimp for newsletters. Free, easy and good looking. My sign-up page looks like this.

I have author profiles on Goodreads, LibraryThing and Amazon.

I can also be found around the web on Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube.

Promotion

For promotional purposes I’ve used:

KDP’s Free Book Promotion

Goodreads Giveaway (I’ve got one going on now, if you’d like a chance to win a signed copy of An Obelus Wheeze) – this thing is pure gold! It has generated more ratings, reviews and books added to to-read lists than anything else I’ve tried.

Goodreads Ad

Digital Book Today

E-books Grow on Trees

FreeBooksy

It’s Write Now

For business cards I use Moo. Fantastic quality at a great price.

Merchandise:

I used Etsy for years, but have given it up basically because you have to pay to make a non-permanent listing (added item to your store). The community is, however, great, and I did sell a few prints there – I might come back some time. I’ve also given up Cafepress because of ridiculous shipping prices and better looking print-on-demand items elsewhere.

The shops that are still open in the Crazy Cat Dry Goods & Sundries Emporium are my Tictail store, Society 6 and Zazzle.

Tictail is super easy and free to use – this is where I sell signed books and handmade goods. I would prefer to sell all my merchandise like this, but this is simply something I cannot afford to invest in right now. Both Society 6 and Zazzle are good print-on-demand online stores. I might move away completely from Zazzle, though – I have already unlisted all the clothing I had there. I was not happy with the quality of the print there. I bought a T-shirt there last year and the print is about to peel off completely… and I have not worn the T-shirt often. I love the quality of the clothes from Society 6, but I would like to be able to decide the price myself – currently the artist can only set the price for art prints.

Other Resources

There’s a jungle out there! It seems like every person who have self-published a book also publish a book about self-publishing books. I’m sure a lot of these are very good and informative, but the two people I keep coming back to for advice are Catherine Ryan Howard and David Gaughran. They have bloggged extensively about self-publishing and published books on the subject too. I’d recommend checking them out.

Beta Readers are Wizards

Something magical happens when I send a draft to a beta reader. I’m not talking about the feedback I will receive once the beta reader has read it, or how useful it can be to let the text rest for a while before going over it again – I mean the very instant that mail is sent or that envelope is posted. It’s like waving a wand and abracadabra: New eyes! Typos pop up from the text like mutated gophers. Purple prose wash onto a beach of shame like so much flotsam and jetsam. Paper doll characters bloat and explode upon the page – setting themselves up for execution or refurbishing. Stilted dialog sticks  out like thorns, and logical flaws make themselves known in deafening roars.

It’s hard to explain, but knowing that your words are being read by others makes a difference in how you read them yourself. I’m not saying that I’ll spot every little flaw myself before the wizards get a chance to point them out, but the knowledge of those eyes makes a remarkable difference.

An Obelus Wheeze is in its third round of being read by new eyes – the final round before I make the finishing touches and send it off to proofreading. Each round is different and serves a purpose in the editing process.

  • Round one: I send the first draft to a trusted friend who is also a writer. I almost feel sorry for her for doing this – the first draft is the text in a fetus stage, not something that is ready for the world. But because of the magic of beta readers it serves its purpose, and I am grateful for early feedback if there should be any major plot holes to see about.
  • Round two: A revised draft is sent to another trusted friend who has an eye like a magnifying glass. It is almost annoying how good she is at pointing out anything awry – from characters acting out of character to displaced descriptions of nature. She makes me feel dumb as shit, and I love her for it.
  • Round three: After implementing changes based on feedback from round two, I send the text to a bigger selection of beta readers – six people (this time), to be precise. At this stage, I pretty much consider the book done, what is left to do is merely minor tweaks – or so I hope. I will, of course, take any feedback to heart, but what I’m crossing my fingers for are thumb ups and hell yeahs.

I find that editing a book is a fluid process that takes its own sweet time. I spend more than twice the amount of time editing the text than I do writing the first draft. I don’t have a count on how many times I go over the text – in the end there are far more drafts behind the final result than the ones the beta readers get to read. And in the end the book would not have been the same without the wizards.

THE FIRST DRAFT BEAST

I’m currently editing my second novel: An Obelus Wheeze, the follow-up to Embers at Dawn. Before I started editing An Obelus Wheeze I completed Embers at Dawn, and then jotted down the first draft for the third book in the series The 9 Lives of the Outlaw known as Crazy Cat. I find that this method works well for me (write a draft, and then edit the forerunner). It gives me distance to what I have previously written before starting the process of editing.

Writing a first draft and editing are two very different kinds of beasts. I have realized that there is no point in even trying to write a perfect first draft – I tried it with Embers at Dawn about four years ago – it just ain’t gonna happen.

The first draft is the story in a hairball form, coughed into words by a rambling author. You will commit logical flaws, unsavoury purple prose and less than cohesive sentences. Your characters will be rag-dolls failing at the seams and with too little stuffing, exchanging halting dialogues and performing a series of mundane tasks in between the actual story (that you will later edit out). But that’s fine. That’s exactly what a first draft should be: a rabid, bastard of a beast.

It took me two first drafts of novels before I figured out that a first draft is just that: a first draft. The important thing is to get the story down. The polishing comes later. What I found out after drafting the second book, and then returning to the first book to edit it was:

  • My writing had improved
  • I had somewhere along the way found “my voice”
  • I had gotten to truly know my characters (the only way to truly get to know them is spending time with them)
  • I had made absurd flaws in the story that I didn’t notice while writing
  • I had made absurd flaws that I didn’t notice until someone else pointed them out to me
  • It doesn’t matter if I write by hand, type on my computer or tap it into my iPad – the words and story will be the same
  • It doesn’t matter if I’m at home, on the bus, or on a lunch break. I don’t need a room of my own to write… sort of speak

I have also learned that:

  • Wordcount is a curse. Trying to fill whatever metre you’ve set yourself will only result in a whole lot of mundane noise – that you’ll banish during the editing process anyway
  • There is no point in commencing the editing process as soon as you’ve completed the first draft – you’ll be blind to the text and wrongly think that the rabid beast is not in need of medical attention
  • Paper is king. Red pen is the mighty queen. Get the beast out of the computer and let it breathe – it is so much easier to spot sore paws and the bubblegum stuck in its fur that way

A friend of mine recently finished the first draft of her debut novel. I told her time and time again to quit fiddling with the first few chapters – to get on with the damn story – but of course she didn’t listen. I wouldn’t have listened to me neither, but this is what she wrote on Twitter after finally completing the first draft: “Rewriting is so exciting! If I’d known how much it’d change and how much it would improve, I’d have jotted down the draft sooner!”

I guess that that very first of first drafts is something every author has to face alone and come out of it facepalming herself just like every other noob before her. Seems like none of that “just get it done” business makes any sense until you’ve started editing the damn thing.

What I’m trying to say here is that the first draft is a feral mongrel, as well it should be. Spawning that beast will not teach you how to write, teaching it to sit and not shit on the floor will, or in other words: editing will transform that wild puppy into a (hopefully) nicely groomed champion.

Yellow Highlighters & Black Powder

For me, research spans from poring over books to saddling up horses and loading guns.

IMG_4132I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was eleven years old when I mounted one three years ago. I joined a riding class for beginners. I trotted, no: walked around in circles during my first lessons. The riding instructor was the only one there who was anywhere near my own age, except a few of the parents accompanying their 6-12 year olds. And yes, I’m talking about three years ago.

The riding instructor just so happened to be a returning customer at the video rental store I was working at back then. We got to talking, and when I told her that I could hardly wait to go trail riding; she immediately picked up on it. From then on I had most my riding lessons on trails in the woods. It was challenging, fun and inspiring. We’d cross rivers, climb steep paths, gallop across fields and cuss at cyclists who’d come zooming past us – startling both us and the horses.

I believe that being new to horses made me notice things about them that I would have otherwise ignored if I’d been a seasoned rider, details that I’ve integrated in my writing. I can say pretty much the same thing about being a tyro gunslinger.

IMG_2595I handled a firearm for the first time about a year and a half ago at a gun safety course. I had done some research about guns of the Old West, but felt like I was grasping at straws without hands-on experience. I needed answers to questions that no book could truly answer.

My questions have pretty much been answered, and more so: I have found a sport I’m serious about. As far as horses go, I greatly enjoy getting to know their nature and pursue to become a better rider, but horses remain a hobby for me. I have no intention of winning a derby. Shooting, on the other hand, has made my competitive instinct surface. I compete in local ISFF competitions and train several days a week. My love for shooting and the Old West has also brought me to CAS (Cowboy Action Shooting). What better way to live the dream, than to dress up in cowboy attire and shoot guns (replicas) from the Old West era?

But research isn’t all about guns and horses, I’ve spent my share of hours with my nose stuck in a book, or scrolling through websites in search of what truly was. It’s a never-ending search…

IMG_5778In response to the phrase :”Write what you know,” I’m stuck between saying: “Hells yeah!” and: “That’s BS!” I have read countless interpretations of the phrase in writer’s guides that explain it as simply a way to make it easy on yourself: Set the story in your home town, in the present, construct the characters around yourself and people you know, and voila: you don’t have to do any tedious and time consuming research. Obviously, this doesn’t work when writing historical fiction.

Another tip I’ve come across more than once is: If you have to do research, don’t do any until you’ve completed your first draft. That way you’ll only have to do a minimum of research because you’ll have pinpointed exactly what you need to learn. I can see the logic in this, but I find this piece of advice flawed.

I’d like to expand the phrase “write what you know” into: “know what you write – write what you know.” By “know what you write,” I mean: Do your research and know your characters. Having a firm grasp on the what-fors of the period your story is set in will help you from stumbling into the pitfall of assumption. What use is it to do research post writing if you find out that half of what you thought you knew turns out to be plain wrong?

The ultimate kind of research would be to travel to the places I describe in my writing, but until the opportunity to do that arises: I pretty much live the dream anyway.