Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

We’re into the countdown. I’ve approved the interior file for the e-book, and I’m awaiting the pdf of the print book. Publication Day (defined as “before the end of the month”) draws nearer.

And I already have a growing list of things I wish I’d done differently which, for purposes of this post, means “sooner.”

I wish I’d allowed a lot more lead time for the independent publishing process.

You’ll read that once you’ve written your book, you can format it, upload it, and publish it in a few short days. This is probably true, but it overlooks one huge thing: you just might want to sell a few copies. To do this, you need to plan ahead.

Back in the summer, I thought I was all set when I found that lovely checklist implying that I could publish my book in three months. While I now quibble with the interior deadlines in the checklist, I can’t deny that it’s technically correct. What I wish the checklist had said was that at the same time I was addressing issues like book design, I also needed to be thinking about (and working on) marketing, publicity, and book launch matters.

Last week, I watched a webinar on book launches. While the webinar was primarily designed to sell the presenter’s (very expensive) services, it did include some very useful information. That information included his view that there are four types of book launches, and for three of them, you need at least three months’ lead time. For one of them, he recommends at least nine months. In any case, he said that if a potential client came to him with fewer than three months before publication, there wasn’t much he could do, especially if the client didn’t have an email list, a community of influencers and fans, and a platform.

So yes, while it’s technically accurate to say you can publish your book in three months (or less), if you want people outside your immediate circle of friends and family to know it exists, you’ll need to start a whole lot earlier.

I wish I’d understood pre-orders.

Since I’m a debut novelist, it’s quite possible that not having a pre-order period isn’t going to make a huge difference to whether State v. Claus sells. Still, I wish I’d known enough to make an intelligent decision on the subject.

(Note: this is one of those areas where it’s important to know what you don’t know and not to assume that you understand . . . well, anything.)

Pre-orders are exactly what they sound like, namely, people ordering your book before Pub Day. All along, I’d operated on the assumption that in order to upload the book so people could place pre-orders, you need to have the book completely finished and ready for sale.

Turns out, I was wrong.

All you need in order to start the pre-order ball rolling is an image (most likely the cover) and a book description to get people interested in pre-ordering the book. Uploading the actual polished manuscript can come later. Which means I could have opened to pre-orders on October 1, the day I revealed the cover design.

For what it’s worth, the checklist didn’t include this. (To the contrary, the text following the checklist explicitly said it wasn’t talking about pre-orders. I should have paid closer attention to the exclusions.)  

Theoretically, I could still have a brief pre-order period. With as much as two weeks left in the month, I could upload the cover to all the potential sites and let people start placing pre-orders. The problem is that after reading horror stories of how people spend hours upon hours uploading books and having them kicked back and uploading again, I decided I needed help from someone more tech-savvy than I (which, as you know by now, includes approximately 87% of the world’s population). Fortunately, the studio that’s handling my interior design as we speak is still doing uploads, so I decided it was worth the $40 to have them handle all that. (Ironically, between the time I hired them for this part of the project and the date I delivered the manuscript to them, they decided to stop doing uploads. They’re still doing mine because we’d already agreed on it, but if I’d waited a few weeks, I’d have been out of luck.)

In any case, at this point the interior designer is still busy formatting my print book, and I’m not going to interrupt that to ask him to upload material for pre-orders. I suppose that if I really cared about the pre-orders, I could devote this weekend to uploading covers and book descriptions. On the other hand, I have housework, yardwork, and billable work to do. There’s only so much time.

Moreover, as with everything, I’ve received conflicting advice from the Facebook groups, but most people seem to feel that as a debut novelist who isn’t a household name, I’m not going to see much benefit from pre-orders anyway, especially with only a few days. So, I figure that for this book, I won’t worry about pre-orders. Still, I wish this had been a knowing and intelligent decision rather than an “oh, well” one.

I wish I’d known what to focus on.

Every now and then, I’ve stumbled across an article that lists a dozen things you can do as part of publishing your book independently. At the end, the author usually says something like, “You can’t do everything, so pick one or two things and focus on those.” Which is great, but if you don’t know which ones are most likely to bear fruit for you, how will you know what to focus on?

It’s not unlike someone pointing to a vast apple orchard and saying, “You can pick McCouns over there, or Red Delicious over there, or Honeycrisps over there, or Granny Smiths over there.” If you don’t know how the apples differ or what you want to do with them, whether you want them for snacking or baking or sauce, you won’t know which ones are likely to satisfy your needs.

**********

On the other hand, there are some things I’m glad I handled as I did.

One was setting up Tuxedo Cat Press as my imprint in an official and legal way. Tuxedo Cat Press, LLC is a limited liability company established in accordance with law, and Tuxedo Cat Press is its registered trade name. I bought the domain name tuxedocatpress.com and set up TCP’s website. Tuxedo Cat Press is the owner of record for the ISBNs I will be using for my book, and those ISBNs are tied to the Library of Congress Control Number assigned to State v. Claus. I still need to apply for a sales and use permit so Tuxedo Cat Press can sell books directly through its website, but as a practical and legal matter, Tuxedo Cat Press is a real business.

This turned out to be a very good thing when I received a very nice email a few weeks back from a gentleman in the UK who had decided that he too wished to adopt “Tuxedo Cat Press” as his imprint. He acknowledged that I’d had the name first and inquired whether I minded if he used it, too. In view of everything, I couldn’t agree to his request, but I appreciated tremendously the fact that he asked. If I’d left the idea of forming an imprint until the book was ready—or even if I’d decided it was too much trouble to set it up properly—I might well have found myself scrambling to come up with another name for my imprint.

Another thing I’m glad I’ve done is amass a significant collection of physical books on my shelves as opposed to e-books. Countless times throughout the design process, I’ve gone out to the living room and perused my shelves to see how a particular design element is handled. (One of these days–as soon as I feel absolutely confident the design part of the process is finished–I plan to put them back on the shelves.)

Pop quiz: name everything you typically find on the spine of a traditionally published book.

Title?

Yes.

Author’s name?

Of course.

Publisher?

Yes.

And . . . what else?

You mean there’s something else?

The publisher’s logo.

Granted, sometimes it’s just the publisher’s name, but most often, there’s either a logo or at least a fancy version of the publisher’s name or initials in a distinctive fashion. So if your plan is to make your book look that of any other publisher, you’ll want to include your imprint’s logo on the spine.

Tuxedo Cat Press

That’s just one thing about how books look that I never noticed despite being a lifelong reader. Another is the running headers on top of each page. If you’re like me, I’ll bet that until two minutes ago, if I asked you what’s on a printed page in a book, you’d have said text and a page number. In fact, in practically every book I own, the top margin of each page of the text (except sometimes chapter and section pages) will include the author’s name, the book’s title, the chapter title, or some combination of these items. Seriously, go and pull a few traditionally-published books off your shelf, and open each to a random page. We’ll wait for you.

Still another thing I’m glad I did was to invest in reference books. As I proofread the first version of the e-book, I found Dreyer’s English and The Copyeditor’s Handbook indispensable. I could probably have looked up a lot of things online (in fact, I did), but sometimes, being able to flip through pages alerts me to issues I hadn’t realized were issues. I guarantee that if Benjamin Dreyer were to go through my manuscript, he’d take issue with any number of things, but I caught as much as I could, thanks in no small part to his lovely reference guide.

Perhaps the best thing I’ve done is to invest in community. I’ve posted before about the marvelous people who have assisted me in a variety of ways. Many of them are people I met years ago, long before I ever dreamed that State v. Claus would grace a bookshelf. Others are more recent acquaintances, and yet they have been every bit as a generous with their time, talent, and knowledge. No matter how solitary you are—and I definitely am—you will need your community if you wish to transform an idea into a book. You will be there for them, and they will show up for you, because that’s what communities do. It’s not a transactional relationship; it’s what we do for each other as humans, simply because we can.

In sum, I’ve already discovered things I wish I’d done differently; I imagine there are plenty more of these moments ahead of me. On the other hand, there are a few things about this whole indie publishing journey that I’m glad I handled as I did.

Of course, in the end, the most important thing is whether I told a good story. As long as you enjoy State v. Claus, that’s what counts.

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