Wednesday, 9 June 2010

An author's thoughts on Self-Publishing, by Stephanie Burkhart

Back in 2006, I decided to self publish my 40,000 word novella, "Across the Fickle Winds of History," using Lulu.

Across the Fickle Winds of History was told in the first person from the perspective of Olga Romanov, the eldest daughter of Nicholas II when she was seventeen years old in 1913. (The epilogue is told in the first person by Anastasia.) In the story, three mysterious strangers come into her and her sisters' lives offering friendship, but their goal is in direct opposition of the Prime Minister's who wants to make Olga the Heir Presumptive after her brother, Alexis. The story is a historical "what-if" and focuses tightly on Olga and her love interest, Paul Kerensky.

Lulu is known as a self publisher that offers FREE self publishing. In other words, they will publish your book with no cost to you. This is because they offer Print On Demand Technology – they print the book when it is ordered. It's smart in one way because it keeps overhead costs down, but it takes a while to get the book since it has to be printed.

For the most part, their statement is true, but if you're a first time author or a new author giving it a go, there are some hidden costs you might incur. Like Kimm, who mentioned yesterday, this is a difficult route to go. It requires research, hard work, marketing, and promotion plan. If you've got the budget for it, it's affordable. If not, you just might publish a product that isn't up to snuff. Lulu can be found at the following link:

I really liked what Kimm said about using outside editing services. Like Bekki mentioned, I can't catch my own typos to save my life. My beta reader is usually pretty good about catching them, but I also used an outside editor for the book. See how the cost is adding up? *grin*

I had heard good things about Lulu and they offered affordable extra services which I knew I needed to use. When an author self publishes, they take a lot of the burden of constructing the book as well as marketing onto themselves, things I wasn't really aware of. I just wanted to get my book out. I was attracted to self publishing simply because I wanted to call my book completely my own.

Lulu has a comprehensive menu of things that need to be done to make the book, from choosing the size, binding, paper grade, and cover help.

I used the editing services that Lulu had offered on their author services page. Now, their services can be found in this link: I also used the graphic artist services and PDF conversion services. I bought a worldwide ISBN distribution service as well. I was very pleased with the services rendered and I think the book is a polished presentation. Still, if you count those costs, it wasn't free and it ran me about $250.00. The book earned a 4 star review from Shannon Yarbrough at the Lulu Book Review.

Where I faltered was marketing. Lulu now offers a marketing packages, but these aren't cheap. Back when I used them, their marketing support was still limited. I had no plan, no marketing savvy and no where to really turn to for guidance. My marketing attempts were dismissal, but back then I had no idea the power of blogs, yahoo groups, and other low cost Internet marketing techniques. I also had no idea of the time commitment it would take to market the product, nor was I making time for it. I went on to writing my next project, because I'm a writer and that's what I want to do – write.

Across The Fickle Winds of History was the last book I self published. Partly because I wanted to actually sell a product and have help in those areas where I thought I needed to learn and get better in. (like marketing and promotion)

Another thing to keep in mind is that while self publishing is slowly growing a more respectable reputation, there is still that stigma that self publishing efforts aren't as polished as manuscripts and novels published with legitimate, recognized publishers. That's why it is so important to put out a quality project. I appreciated the help I got with editing, graphics, and PDF conversations, but researching my options was challenging.

For me, the pros of self publishing were in having total control from the first word to the cover. I learned patience. Writers can be impatient because they want to see their story NOW. Not only that, I learned that it takes a TEAM to bring a good, quality book to the bookstore.

The cons of self publishing (for me at least) was marketing. I had no idea how to really go about it. I would recommend self publishing if you research well and determine it's for you. You have to be able to afford it because there are hidden costs, especially if you want your project to look polished. You've got to be able to dedicate an intense marketing effort for it as well. Lulu has a fairly user friendly presentation on the web, but it's not as "free" as it looks. I've learned a lot about the "production" side of putting a book together and I appreciate the experience.

Here's a link to my book:


Linda Banche said...

Good for you, Steph. It sounds like a hard road to follow, but you learned a lot, and that counts, too.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, Steph. It sounds a fascinating journey and one all authors should be aware of. Again the same themes appear - how important editing is, how vital the cover and marketing.
I hope your ACROSS THE FICKLE WINDS OF HISTORY continues to do well. Have you put it in for review at any of the review sites?

Linda Acaster said...

Great post, Stephanie. Your insight as a first-timer is much appreciated. I did my first p/b last year with Legend Press/NGP in the UK which uses Lightning Source as the printer for both UK/USA. I'd do some things differently now - marketing in particular - but that is what experience is for. It matters little what mistakes we make, just so long as we learn from them.

I wish you well with your novella.

StephB said...

Lindsay, I need to. I learned a lot about marketing and promotion with my release, "The Hungarian," so I'm going to try those techniques with my self published books. I thought I'd try "Destination: Berlin" first, which is self published through IUniverse. It's a "sweet" miltary action/adventure romance and I'm putting together a blog tour for next month. I just put together a video for Berlin and I hope to get it out to the review sites shortly. Once I give Berlin some needed attention, I hope to work on "ATFWH."

If anyone is interested in having me on a Blog Tour for Berlin in July, let me know.


Linda Acaster said...

Steph: sounds to me like you could do a blog on creating a step-by-step marketing plan!

LK Hunsaker said...

Hey Steph! Yes, "free" at Lulu is a bit of a ruse. It can be, if you don't get distribution or their services and don't get a proof or buy your own copies, but good luck selling without distribution! Still, they have grown over the years and can be a valid option.

Great post on "writer be aware" and do your homework!

Bekki Lynn said...

Great post, Steph.

Yes, I agree with Linda A, you could do a post on marketing for us. ;)

I wanted to do check out places for myself and rather than risk an actual story, I did a poetry book. I started with Lulu to see how it worked. If you do just the ebook, there are no costs involved unless you have the book edited by someone else or have someone else do your cover. That was a welcomed change I saw over the years. I did find it easy to do.

From there I went to Create Space last year to do the same poetry book. I ran into issues because I can't figure out how to make a cover according to their template -- all the instructions don't work for me. So, I ended up using one of their templates. You have to pay for proofs, which isn't all that bad, except I didn't like the cover and font on the first one I ordered, so I redid it.

Through eXcessica, we have the option of providing our own covers -- ebook. That is simple enough since I know the specifications required. However, when the publisher went to do the cover for the paperback via Create Space, she found the resolution of my cover photos didn't work. I had to repurchase the next photo size up and redo the ebook cover so she could do the paperback. So, I was glad to learn that resolution of the photos play an important part in putting a book together.

Gleaning knowledge wherever you can will only be a plus if you decide to venture into self-publishing.

Now, I just need the specifications for the paperback covers. It's been driving me nuts for over a year. No one had been willing to share that piece of the pie.

KBWalker said...

Thanks for an excellent post, Steph. A friend who's on her third book with Hodder & knows Chris Cleave says they both spend about half their time promoting their books and the other half writing the next one. So promotion and marketing is not limited to self-publishers. I'm hoping that when my novel is ready and I submit to publishers, my experience at promotion will count in my favour. A publishing house will provide the team to make several things easier and with access to cheaper production costs help to make my books cheaper to sell.
As many of you have pointed out, we have to keep learning!

Rebecca J Vickery said...

HI StephB and Everyone,
I am enjoying this week on Indie Authors and self-publishing. I love all the info being provided. Marketing is a hard part of it and I'm still learning about it everyday. It would be great to have a week long session on promos and marketing ideas.

Savanna Kougar said...

Steph, thanks so much. I wondered about how Lulu worked. I knew the basics, but I never tried them out.

Established authors I know have gone with Lulu because they don't have to bother with the demands of a publishers and they can get their book out in a much more timely manner.

Savanna Kougar said...

Steph, would you like to blog about The Hungarian at SHAPESHIFTER SEDUCTIONS?