What It Takes to Make Your Book

I’m not talking about the writing… I mean the actual physical (or ebook) copy. In my opinion, this is where the true value of a hybrid publisher comes in, and if you can afford it and find one that will do a good job and is worth the cost, go for it!

So what do you have to do? Well, you have a few choices. You can go with the printer’s book-building tool if they offer one (IngramSpark has a tool that’s infinitely easier for me than trying to get the cover exactly right within their template), or you can piece it all together yourself.

Physical Books

If you’re trying to do it all yourself, you need to know your exact page count and be able to create a printable cover using Illustrator or a comparable software. There are some decent free print editing software programs out there, but they’re clunkier than Illustrator and require a lot more patience and effort. Your files also need to be exactly the way you want them. One of the pros here is that you are in complete control over all of the formatting, including drop caps, indentation, layout, and style.

As I said, I use IngramSpark’s book-building tool. Here’s my process:

  • I write everything in Google Docs so that I can work on it anywhere (including on my phone)
  • Switch it over to Pages so I can get the formatting exactly the way I want it (if you have a PC then Caliber or Kindle Create work too)
  • Export it as a word doc and an epub (I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure that you save both versions of your book)
  • Use the IS tool to build out the front and back content like the copyright, acknowledgments, a page listing my works, and the author page;
  • Make my indexes, glossaries, and punctuation guides as a text insert that goes into the table of contents
  • Build the copyright and acknowledgment pages exactly the way I want them along with any additional front page copy and make sure to disable the table of contents button so they’re not added

Make sure that you give yourself plenty of time because you have to build the book chapter by chapter. Pros are you can name the chapters anything you want and include numbers, and the preview screen helps you find errors in the layout and content chapter by chapter. Cons are it takes forever and some of the decorative formatting, like drop caps, is harder to pull off unless you know HTML and CSS. There is a way to directly edit the code if you’re comfortable with it though.

If you use the book-building tool, document everything while you create the book! I mean, take screenshots of where everything is placed, write down the color codes for the cover and any fonts you use, write down the font and size, and make sure you have everything that you will need to recreate the book in multiple places and keep it as consistent as possible. Because I didn’t do that with Welcome to Jessie’s, the paperback and hardback are slightly different. Then when I did Where the Ogrekin Roam, I forgot to write it all down when I built out the hardback. Once it’s submitted, you can’t go back into the files until after they are processed and either approved or rejected. It was over three days before I was able to get back into them again– which caused another delay in my publishing schedule.


I learned the hard way with Welcome to Jessie’s not to export the epub from Google Docs, especially when building it in Draft2Digital. It was a lot harder to create the table of contents, and the formatting was more difficult to work with. D2D also just has very little flexibility when it comes to building your book. My other issue was that the previews did not accurately show the finished product. I was not happy when I found the layout errors in the finished ebooks. They’re not terrible; I’m probably the only one who knows they’re there. It still irked me.

I decided to submit directly to Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble and use Draft2Digital for library and international platforms for Where the Ogrekin Roam. Remember a few paragraphs ago when I said to make sure you save everything as an ePub and Doc? This is why. Kindle Create is really intuitive, but you have to upload the docx. The other thing I ran up against is formatting. I don’t know why the formatting options are greyed out unless it’s because I exported the docx from Pages, but any drop caps that included a quotation mark are a mess.

The Cover

With the physical book and ebook, make sure your cover is the right size and displays all of your information. If the title, author, or any of the information you want to put on the cover is too close to the edge, it might get cut off in the bleed– the section printers use to make sure the cover art extends all the way to the edge or beyond of the cover itself. This article on figuring out pixels to inches for different trim sizes is really aimed at children’s books and their illustrations, but I found that it was a good rule of thumb when I first tried to build out my cover in Gimp (the free photo editing software I use instead of Photoshop). I really overshot it with Welcome to Jessie’s, as anyone who looks at the ebook can tell, but that’s because I didn’t follow my gut and overthought the entire process.

By the way, make sure you take breaks, come back and get a fresh look at your work, and don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion. And always listen to your gut instincts! Remember you got into this because you love writing, and chances are you love reading too. You know what your readers want because you know what you want.

My last piece of advice here is to give yourself time. It takes hours, if not a few days, to build your book, and you have to build out each version– ebook, hardcover, paperback, copies in different languages, large print, etc. It takes longer if you don’t know what you’re doing, but don’t be afraid to learn as you go and take a lot of notes. My office walls are plastered with stickies for each step of the process. Make sure you have everything you need from the get-go– epub files, doc files, cover, a plan for the layout, and your ISBNs. There are really great tutorials all over the internet that teach you how to use different editing programs, layout programs, and the various book building tools. As you do it, you’ll get more comfortable and faster. Just make sure to build at least a month into your release schedule for the book creation and getting your physical proof. You always want that physical proof in your hands before you mass-order your books!

Navigating ISBNs, Copyrights, and the Library of Congress

Sunny does not like sharing once he finds an article of black clothing he can cover with white hair.

Yes, this post is out of order. In my defense, the first time I published, I did everything through IngramSpark, so when I decided to branch out on my second book, I hit some obstacles that I would like to share. So let’s get started with ISBNs!

What is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. In a nutshell, it’s the number assigned to your book, and it’s important to remember that each variation of your book (hardback, paperback, large print, audiobook, every language adaptation, ebook, etc). has to have an individual number. This is used by bookstores, retailers, and libraries to identify the formats of your book. Every country has an agency responsible for issuing ISBNs; in the US, it’s Bowker.

If you want to sell your book through retailers or distributors, you have to have an ISBN number for the physical versions of your book. As of now, most of the major retailers don’t require them for ebooks. Personally I got them anyway because if that changes, I would rather be prepared; it also makes my ebooks more discoverable. If you want your ebooks in libraries, then OverDrive, the largest ebook supplier used by libraries, requires it.

How Do I Get One?

You can simply apply for one online, but you have to be careful who you use. There are scam “agencies” out there who claim to sell ISBNs at lower rates, but the numbers are not valid. In order to sell ISBN numbers, the agency first has to purchase and register them through Bowker, and each agency’s site should have some kind of Bowker partner identifier. A huge red flag is any agency who claims to sell individual numbers (not in bulk) at a significant discount.

There is an exception to the discount rule, and that’s when an agency sells an ISBN at a significantly discounted rate in exchange for being listed as the publisher. Typically this is offered by agencies who also provide printing and distribution services. What this means is that whatever agency you use will be named on the imprint for your work, and you essentially lose the ability to list yourself as the publisher. It can also limit your distribution channels depending on the terms of the sale, so read the fine print very carefully and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re just starting out and are more concerned with getting your book out there while working on a limited budget, this isn’t a bad option. Once you gain some recognition, you can republish the book with a new ISBN number under your own publishing name. In this article, there is a great section on the pros and cons of getting a publisher held ISBN instead of your own.

I bought my ISBNs through IngramSpark for $85 as part of the book set ups. It was easy, but one of the advantages of buying from Bowker is that you can buy in bulk for substantially better rates. It’s $295 for 10, $575 for 100, and $1500 for 1000. They never expire, so when you consider that you probably need at least two numbers per book, you can really save a lot in the long run.

This article helped me a lot when I started researching ISBN information for my first book, especially when it came down to whether or not to purchase an ebook ISBN and who to use.

Registering a Copyright

This doesn’t have to be a huge hurdle, but it really depends on how comfortable you are with bureaucratic paperwork. But first, let’s get into why you want to register your work with the copyright office (note: this is for the US– laws vary country by country, so if you’re uncertain, look up your country’s agency and laws or seek out legal aid).

Why Should I Register?

Technically, copyright protection starts when you begin to write and lasts for your lifetime plus seventy years, but filing the registration gives you a public claim to its ownership. Without that claim, it’s harder to pursue copyright infringement litigation if your work is plagiarized. It’s important to file within three months of publication to legally protect yourself.

Something I wish I had not paid for was having a third party agency register my first book’s copyright when I bought my first ebook ISBN numbers. I thought that everything would be taken care of, but all they did was create my account and complete the form. You still have to review the form, submit the application, and pay the $65 fee yourself on top of whatever fees you paid the agency. I don’t know if paying for that service did anything really valuable because I couldn’t find anything online that backed it up, so all I can say is spend that money at your own risk. I personally didn’t have any problems filling out the form on my second go round, but if you have trouble with that sort of thing, then maybe paying for a third party to handle all of that for you is for the best. If anyone knows another reason to actually get that service, reply in the comments!

Library of Congress

The last thing I want to cover is registration with the Library of Congress. The LOC is the largest source of literary works in the country and one of the largest in the world. While the copyright agency is part of the Library, copyrighting your work does not guarantee that it will be catalogued. It will be entered for consideration, but if you want to make sure it’s really in the Library, you have to fill out a PrePub Book application to get the LOC control number. Relax, it’s not that hard. Just make sure you have everything you need, including your ISBNs.

Also here’s a fun fact: you can’t copy and paste your book description or it will be flagged for invalid characters. You have to type it out in the description field.

Why Do I Want to Do This?

Because the LOC assigns consistent cataloguing data for your book that is used by libraries across the country. If you’re writing a series, it can also make sure libraries are notified in a timely manner when the next installment is released. The one caveat is that you can’t register a published work, although you can ask your local library for assistance getting your work catalogued. You have to make this part of your prepublication checklist, but it’s free as long as you don’t mind donating a copy of your work to the Library. For more information, I recommend their FAQ page.

In one of my upcoming posts, I plan to recreate my personal prepublishing checklist, but all of this is on it as part of covering my bases and protecting my work. Happy writing, and good luck out there!

The Dreaded Curse of Imposter Syndrome

Ace has zero shame. Most of us could learn from him.

Imposter syndrome: that crippling fear that you’re not really that good, that you don’t deserve your success, that the world will realize that you’re not the real deal and run you out of town.

Growing up as a woman in the South in the 70’s and 80’s, I was taught that it wasn’t ladylike to discuss my accomplishments being good at something. It was boasting, and I didn’t deserve my success unless its recognition came from other people. I still can’t talk about my books without feeling like I should apologize and then go hide under a rock.

On top of that is an underlying stigma about being a self-published author. There are still schools of thought that believe that being self-published means you’re not good enough for a traditional publisher, but that’s not true. There are some really incredible self-published authors out there. The reality, especially now, is that the traditional publishing world is incredibly hard to break into, whether you believe it comes from publisher and agent burnout or too many authors and not enough agents or publishers (I’ve seen arguments for both sides of that particular coin). No, not every self-published book is gold, especially without the assistance of a professional editing and proofreading team, but you can find those services if you do your research.

Are my books perfect? Absolutely not. But enough people who are honest with me have given me constructive feedback followed with “I really liked it” to let me know that I have a good product and could actually go somewhere with this. I wish I could make the gut-wrenching anxiety stop so I could enjoy my journey, but it’s hard. So what can I do to help myself? Well, I can keep working on the journey– social media, newsletters, plugging my product, working on the sequel, trying to get reviews (holy cow that is ridiculously hard to do without paying a fortune!), and writing every day. I also started writing positive affirmations. This is huge to keep my mindset where it needs to be.

But most of all, I need to remember one very important fact. If my audience believes in me, then they can’t all be wrong, right? I need to have faith in the faith that they have in me, and I need to realize that I am doing exactly what I love. And you know what? I’m pretty damn good at it, and I will be a successful writer.

So take that, mind!

Do Me Right

Ace is the king of the cat tree.

In this post I want to touch on the things I had to learn. Keep in mind that I have a full time job, I’m neurodivergent, and what works for me, especially with my non-writing obligations, won’t necessarily work for you.

Here are the things I learned that were absolutely important to the process, and I’m very glad I figured them out early on:

Trust the Editing Process

If you hired an editor or enlisted the aid of one (and good for you if you did), listen to them with an open mind. In my opinion, the two types of editors who can really help me are content editors and copy editors. Content editors focus on the story elements and structure like plot, characters, continuity, and flow. Copy editors look for technical errors such as grammar errors or misspellings. Don’t be afraid to listen! Don’t be thin skinned. Their input is not an attack or an implication that you’re a bad writer. Remember that it’s literally their job to make your work better so that your audience will want to come back for more.

Double check your work. Before you submit it to any publisher, use a program like Pages or Calibre to view your work as an ebook. Order a physical copy and read it cover to cover. I didn’t do that because I had read it so many times that I was positive I had everything covered. I didn’t realize that the ePub layout structure for my first book would change just enough to make the paragraph breaks wonky or that I had a typo (which really drives me crazy, but that’s okay. I’ll live).

Advanced Readers

I chose readers who covered my target audience but who came from different demographics. My goal was to make sure that my story did not fall flat, that it was comprehensible, and, more importantly, that I received feedback. No one likes giving or getting negative feedback, especially when it’s your friends. But if you paid or recruited someone to read your book, then you need to listen! These readers represent all of the people who you want reading your book. If someone suggests a rewrite or modification that you know won’t work because of something happening later in a series, then figure out how to rewrite that scene to achieve the same end goal. That actually happened to me quite a bit because I know what’s happening two, three, even nine books out. It was too easy to forget that the readers didn’t have the same insight.

Know How Much You’re Making

No matter what platform you use to publish or sell, you have access to sales reports. If you don’t, then you need to find a new platform because that information should always be readily available to you. I use WooCommerce on my website, and Ingram Spark for physical copies and Draft2Digital for my ebooks. All three have great reporting as do Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple.

But in addition to royalties or sales, you need to remember to take a bunch of other stuff into account:

  • Get your tax and use certificate in your state if you have to pay sales tax
  • Know how much you pay for shipping to your customers
  • If you ship yourself, consider a shipping label printer (I found a great one from Amazon for $53)
  • Shop around for packing material and make sure you calculate how much it costs per unit (if you buy a 25 pack of boxes for $26 after tax and shipping, then you just added $1.04 to your cost)
  • Adding little giveaways like bookmarks and thank you cards are a nice touch, especially for early buyers (I wrote thank you cards for everyone who bought from me in the first two weeks my web store was open), patrons, and contest winners; just make sure you keep track of how much all of that costs though.
  • Don’t forget about subscription and dues if you’re a member of things like the Author’s Guild or ALLi
  • Try to identify which of your expenses are one time costs (standing posters for your author events) versus renewed (giveaways and swag) and try to buy in bulk if you can while factoring those costs into the price of your books
  • If you’re comfortable making your own files and have access to a good quality printer, try to make as much of your marketing material as you can
  • Consider a subscription to something like Quickbooks to help manage your books and taxes

Budget Your Time

Burn out is real! Writer burn out is too! There is so much that goes into self publishing, and the more you do on your own, the more work you have. Mailing lists, Patreon accounts, social media, maintaining your presence on the various platforms that are out there (more on that later), are you buying ads? Gotta maintain those too, tracking sales, submitting for events, festivals, conventions, and author appearances, submitting to libraries and book stores (more on that later too), submitting to magazines and publications, not to mention you’re still writing your next book(s). And if you have a full time job, a partner, kids, any responsibilities that take a significant amount of time, you have to factor all of that into the mix.

Personally I use Apple reminders to make lists of things that need to be done. Then at the start of each day, I copy whatever I want to get done that day into a separate list app. I don’t let myself work on anything outside of that second list. If I don’t do that, then I’ll get sucked into how long my original list is, feel overwhelmed, get derailed by ADHD, and either get nothing done or try to do everything and get no writing done. If I know I have a lot of other things going on that day, I set a timer for each task. If I don’t finish a task that day, it’s okay. I can finish it later.

Oh, yeah. Stop beating yourself up if you don’t get something done.

Rewards are a big incentive for time budgeting too. I don’t drink alcohol anymore, but I used to reward myself with a glass of nice Scotch or wine. Now I make a really nice pot of tea. Or I watch an episode of something in one of my many streaming queues that would take about three lifetimes to clear out. Writing is a reward too. Knowing I can write a chapter or flesh out an outline or give a character new life is something to look forward to, and it’s an incentive to A. put the phone down and stop getting distracted and B. stop trying to take on too much at one time.

Keep Reading

You’re a writer. That means you create words for other people to read. Consider reading to be your form of research. What new styles and authors are out there? You just spent a day in your own head, how would it feel to take a break in someone else’s?

I swear that sounded a lot less creepy when I started to write it down.

Join a book club, join a reading challenge on social media, and share what you’re reading. It’s a great way to support fellow authors (and maybe get a little support yourself).

Next time I’ll go into how I learned about submissions for events and stores and the importance of an online presence when you self publish.

Where Did I Go Wrong?

Lucy’s trying to make me feel better by being very cute.

As I look at what’s left of my bank account and sigh mournfully, I would like to take this moment to discuss the importance of research and planning ahead. Here’s where I blew money:

  • Filed the copyright too soon
  • Did not sign a contract when paying for cover art
  • Didn’t communicate adequately with the cover artist
  • Paid to have the copyright filed
  • Paid a vanity publisher


If you file a copyright on your first draft and make significant changes (restructure, add art, additional or less chapters, etc), you have to refile. It’s $65 a pop, so make sure you have everything the way you want it or pretty close the first time. I am definitely not known for my patience, and when I finished the first draft, I jumped the gun on everything except actually publishing– and that was only because my copy editing background taught me better. As a result, I had to register the copyright twice after making huge structural changes to the body of the work during the editing process.

Cover Art

I gave my artist a detailed creative brief, but when she began discussing changes, I didn’t specify what parts had to remain the same. I also didn’t give her a time line upfront or require her to sign a contract since it’s someone I know, and I didn’t ask for a drawn concept– I accepted a verbal one. I paid in installments (a third up front and a third when she verbally gave me the concept), but the finished product wasn’t what I envisioned at all. It’s a great concept! It’s just not what will work for the book. But because I didn’t give her structure and better guidance on what I needed, I lost the first two payments I made and wasted her time. You’re probably going to hire or recruit people for a number of steps in your book, and communication and setting expectations is so important.

Paid to Have the Copyright Filed

I bought my eBook ISBN number from a third party, and I bought the option to have my copyright filed. What I didn’t know was that you still have to actually pay to register the copyright yourself. All they do is set up your profile. If you don’t mind paying for that, then go for it because it definitely saved me time. However, I couldn’t find anything online that says that having a third party do it for you has any benefits, so if someone knows of any that exist, please add them in the comments!

Paid a Vanity Publisher

This is where I am kicking myself the most. I had no idea what a vanity publisher was because I was in the early stages of trying to figure out how to navigate the self-publishing world. So when I was solicited by one, I thought it was the greatest thing ever and went for it. I was smart enough not to sign a contract that didn’t have an out, and I didn’t submit any material, so I still had all of the rights and ownership. I only got about half of my money back though. If I had gone through with it, I would have given up the rights to my work for 10% of the royalties.

I’m not saying vanity publishers are bad, but do your research, read the reviews, and look at all of the fine print before you sign anything. If you have the money to invest thousands of dollars in one and let them do all of the work for you, go for it. If that seems like an exaggeration, consider that you should plan to pay around $1000-3000 out of pocket no matter what you do for an editor, proofreader, artist, the book creation, online presence, and everything else that goes into making your book. Vanity publishers can charge more and give you less in royalties, so it comes down to cost and profit vs convenience.

What I learned from all of this…

All told I wasted around $2800 from mistakes, lack of research, and lack of communication. That’s a lot for a new author. When your writing is your passion and you want to get your work out in front of the world, it’s so easy to jump the gun and rush the process. I promise you, taking the time to do everything right is worth it. Next time I’ll talk about the things I did that went the right way. Until then, happy writing!

P.S. If you’re an author, share your social media links and website in the comments! I love finding new authors to follow.

My Self Publishing Journey

First of all, let me just say that this was a huge and terrifying undertaking for me. I didn’t have the financial resources to take advantage of most publishing packages, so I had a lot of trial and error and mistakes. Writing was actually the easy part. That and cooing over Sunny, the toasted marshmallow fluff squish of a cat.

This is the third time I started to write this book. I don’t know what was different now, but it just came out so much more easily than when I tried before. I definitely had an amazing support team– my best friend Brenda (who Jessie is modeled after), my housemate Alicia who made me do silly things like “eating” and “sleeping”, my friends Dave and Erin who doubled as my proofreaders and ARC readers, and my bosses and coworkers at my pub who encouraged me to stick with it and helped spread the word when it was finished.

This is the first in a blog post series about self publishing to try to help other new authors circumnavigate the publishing world and hopefully avoid the same mistakes I made. The first thing I want to say is DO YOUR RESEARCH!!! Never– and I mean never— commit to anything financially without doing background research. Publishing is a lot more expensive than most people think, and you can run yourself into the ground very quickly unless you’re in a position to burn through a lot of cash. One of the best resources I found is the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Best Self Publishing Services (and the worst). Another great resource is this self-publishing checklist from Jane Friedman.

She also has a great post about query letters if you decide you want to go the traditional publishing route. I tried. It was astounding to me that I could turn out an 83,000 word novel in seven months and then spectacularly choke on a three paragraph query letter. A five year old would have written a better one.

I’ll go into the steps I took and resources I found in this series, but the most important thing I can say is don’t rush it. We all want to get our work out there, but if you want people to enjoy your work and take you seriously as an author, invest in a proofreader, editor, and advanced readers. Trust me when I say it’s invaluable! You can pay for those services, or you can find them among people you know.