Road to Athering - Katje van Loon

posted 9 Jul 2012, 07:24 by Shen Hart   [ updated 9 Jul 2012, 07:54 ]

The Road to Athering: Trials and Tribulations of Publishing for the Indie Author

I’m not here to tell you finding a publisher for my book Bellica was hard. It wasn’t. Mostly because I’m a sneaky Slytherin, and my mother Kaimana Wolff/Eva van Loon is a sneaky Ravenclaw, and we hatched an ingenious plan to publish our books in a way very similar to self-publishing that would still get us through the door in certain contests and conferences.

(There are several places, you see, that don’t allow self-published writers into their special club. It’s stupid and elitist and trust me, I hate it as much as you do – but I’m not going to change it by shouting at it. I can try, but instead I’d rather just circumvent the rules in my sneaky Slytherin way. Easier on my voice.)

Wolffy created The Pack Press and I created Stars Above, Stars Below Publishing (formerly known as Motley Crew House, which is now an imprint underneath SASB), and we got to publishing each other’s books.

So no, finding a publisher was not difficult. The act of getting it published, however.....

Step 1: Revise, revise, revise.

Right after I finished Bellica I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore. I’d written the final 70,000 words or so (it’s 250,000 total, for those of you keeping score at home – that’s as many words as there are in the English language) and I’d gone back and revised the entire first part so my writing style was consistent throughout. When you spend 10 years writing a book, your style is bound to change (as is your plot and everything else – Zarqon and Athering today are unrecognizable from my first imaginings).

I had to let my precious book sit and collect dust and just think about other things for a while. It had occupied my brain for a decade; I needed a break. (Is this where I make an Occupy Wall Street joke? No, it wouldn’t be funny.) So I did. I relaxed, concentrated on school. Wrote maybe two poems.

I finally got back to it and revised the hells out of it. I went over my book so many times I was reciting passages in my sleep and talking in a Harbourtown accent (think Redneck Scottish Pirate).

It was brutal. I was tired. I wanted it done already.

So I sent it to my editor.

Step 2: Get it edited.

You’ll note I didn’t say “Edit it”; no, I said “Get it edited”. You shouldn’t edit your own work. I mean, you should, but only to a certain extent. Once you’ve gone over it a million times to make sure your worldbuilding is consistent, and your dates match up (oh boy, more on that later), and your creatures do creature-appropriate things, you send it to a pro. A professional editor who charges about 40 bucks an hour because honestly – if they’re advertising “professional editing” for any less than that, you’re probably not going to get a very good editing job.

(I advertise editing skills rarely, and I’m very upfront that I’m not pro. Which is why I charge far less when I do charge at all.)

So I sent it to my editor, who also happens to be my publisher (Hi, Mom), and she started editing. While that was happening....

Step 3: Cover design!

This is not as easy as it sounds. I’m not much of an artist. The only good-ish drawings I’ve done have been on my new phone, because it’s a touch screen that came with a pen. I decided, in order to circumnavigate finding an artist or a painting that was appropriate and working out all that stuff – which would have, at that point, probably delayed my release date by a lot, not to mention I was totally broke and couldn’t pay that much – to do the cover myself with a photo and a model.

I searched around for models, but kept coming back to my friend Dana Kagis. She had the right look and feel for Yarrow, my main character. She didn’t get my first message, and after a week I prodded her again (which is hard for me to do, because I always feel pushy when I remind people of stuff), and she agreed to do it. It was coming up to a month and a half away from my release date, so we rushed to get the photo done.

I borrowed a sword from my boyfriend, leather pants, a linen top, and a red curly wig from my mother-in-law, said mother-in-law’s fancy camera, and we trekked out to find Dana’s house.

It took a really long time and by the time we got there the sun was setting. (Damn you autumn hours!) We got Dana into her costume and hurried out to the park by her place. She posed with the sword and I snapped about 20 shots, at which point we went inside because it was freezing. The original photos (chosen one pictured above) were pretty dark, and so my original cover was pretty damn dark.

Behold, the magic of photoshop:

But I didn’t put together the second cover design until much later. For now, this was my design:

It was now time to put together my InDesign file.

Step 4: Get phone call from editor that reveal she’s been working on the wrong file for two weeks; try not to light everything on fire

Small snag. Somehow files got mixed up on Eva’s computer and she ended up editing the wrong one for several days. Hours of precious time had been wasted – by now it was only 30 days until my release date, and so much had to be done!

I’m not going to lie: I may have cried and eaten a pint of ice cream.

I quickly sent her the current files (again) and she started work all over again.

Step 5: Create book file; sell soul to devil

For those of you not in the publishing business, let me tell you something: InDesign – and all of Adobe’s Creative Suite 3, 4, 5 (6 probably) – is the devil.

Bona fide, horns and a tail, pitchfork, laughing at your torture, devil.

Oh, did you want to import your file and keep your formatting? Ok. I’ll work once and then never again, even though you’re doing everything the same way.

Oh, did you want me to not crash? TOO DAMN BAD.

Oh, did you want to keep your perfect file perfect? I think I’ll insert random capital letters in the middle of sentences, just for shits and giggles.

Between school and eating, sleeping, and trying like hell to not smoke or drink (curse you, addictions), it took me until a few days before my supposed release date to finish the file.

I then had to order copies from Oscar’s, proof said copies (which I was only able to do half-way – make sure formatting worked, spine was correct, no weird boxes in the text, readable, etc – a handicap that ultimately led to Step 7), re-order after fixing the file ten times, and mail out three giveaway copies to the winners from my GoodReads giveaway.

My first edition was far from perfect, but my book was published. I was satisfied.

Or so I thought.

Step 6: Advertise, while still knowing nothing about social networking or how to utilize it to the fullest extent possible

In the halcyon days of my first book publishing foray I was a complete social media newb. Oh, mom thought I knew what was going on, because I’m of that generation, but small secret: I knew nothing. Nothing.

I posted on Twitter once or twice, did a few blog posts but didn’t advertise them many other places than Facebook, didn’t even look into doing an ebook until after the print book was done, didn’t look into doing a CreateSpace print book until earlier this year, and that’s still not done (ugggh proofing why are you the bane of my existence), didn’t really talk about it on G+ (if I was even on G+ back then; November 2011 was so long ago I can’t remember).

I didn’t do anything. Not really. Mind you, I was trying not to fail school at the same time, so fair to say my mind was otherwise occupied. But now that I do know what I’m doing, I can say that’s not really an excuse.

So it’s not much of a surprise that only four or five people showed up to the first joint book launch for myself and Mom (she was launching La Chiripa, book two of The Falling Sky Trilogy) or that only one person showed up to the second one and left halfway through – before I could even present my book. (I’m not bitter.)

Regardless, I sold quite a few copies. Friends and relatives had been waiting for a while (13 years already so soon again yet), so I had a few customers.

Step 7: Double-check your first edition; find massive continuity error; rock back and forth in horror for days

Yeah, you read that right. Even though Bellica had been revised and edited by me several thousand times, and revised and edited by Eva several hundred times, neither of us caught this error. (Mind you, neither of us caught certain huge errors in her book until about the 8th or 9th time I read it, so perhaps it’s just that we’re such brilliant writers the mind makes up for our human errors. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

I got the date of a really important event in my world dead wrong.

This is a world I created and I messed up the dates! How silly is that?

It occurred to me, as I was going through the file to create the ebook, that Yarrow would have been far too young to already be a bellica by 4009 – she was only a lieutenant two years prior to that, so even for a rising star rocketing to the top of the military ranks because she’s just so awesome that’s a bit fast to get two promotions. It’s not like she’s Sarai in the temple or anything. (Those of you who have read my book will get that. Those of you who haven’t probably should. I’m just saying.) Furthermore, the Atherian temple has a lot more ranks than the Atherian military. Ergo, promotions happen sooner.

And then I realized that this event I had set for 4009 hadn’t been set for 4009 across the board – some parts of the book said 4015. Obviously at some point I’d decided to change it from 4009 to 4015 because it made more sense – past-Katje is smarter than present-Katje sometimes – but I hadn’t changed all the references to the event.

Oh my gods and goddesses, talk about disaster. The devil is in the details, as they say (though that’s factually wrong), and boy was someOne laughing at me here.

So. Back to editing.

Step 8: Create Kindle edition; look into other ebooks at end of Kindle select; cry because the formatting is always different

After editing my book again and making sure everything was consistent again (which I was now hyper-paranoid about, so it took longer than it should have because my anxiety kicked in every time I thought it was done and I had panic attacks and nightmares and insomnia over it) I had to format it for the Kindle.

This is actually far easier to do on Scrivener, so I will say right now: if you are an indie/self-published author or you’d like to be and you want to make publishing ebooks easier on yourself, invest in Scrivener. I think it’s about 50 bucks USD, and it will save you a lot of headaches when it comes to creating the ebook files.

I discovered this after 10 hours work on Bitters, a novella by Kaimana Wolff. I tried to make an ebook with InDesign. As noted in Step 5, InDesign is the devil and this did not work so well. Hence, 10 hours of trial and error work (because where we’re going, we don’t need tutorials – seriously, though, there were none).

To Scrivener! I shouted, in my empty house, while naked.

Once I switched to Scrivener for ebook formatting it was a breeze, relatively speaking. There was still quite a bit of trial and error, but nowhere near as much as there was with InDesign. Soon I had a very nice Kindle file for Bellica (and La Chiripa, which I was working on at the same time), as far as ebook files can look nice (you don’t get much choice when it comes to design, really), and I uploaded it and enrolled it on Kindle Select.

This means that I didn’t even look at doing other formats until the end of my Kindle Select initial three months – not to mention being bed-ridden with a spinal injury sort of took the rev out of my engine and the think out of my brain.

When I did, lo and behold: whole new formatting game.

Bellica is still only available for Kindle. EPub is coming soon-ish, and the rest are coming after I format for Smashwords (which requires a very specifically-done Word document), but these all must wait because I am currently doing proof-reading for the CreateSpace version.

Oh, yeah. That.

Step 9: Do another file for CreateSpace version; get CreateSpace book; start proofing to discover that InDesign messed with your perfect file and yes, you need to proof every single page of this 720-page monstrosity

As you can tell by the length of this article, I write a lot. I write more than I should, no doubt, and my epic masterpiece first book ended up being 720 pages when I formatted it for CreateSpace.

My first editions were only 350-ish pages, because I made the print tiny. This is why many of my friends haven’t read the book yet. (I couldn’t afford to do big print; it would have been prohibitively expensive. 350 pages cost me 12 dollars per book.)

CreateSpace uses cheaper paper, however, so I could make the book larger print, more pages, and smaller trim size.

Yay! I shouted, when I got my box of five proof copies.

Crap! I shouted, when I started proofing my copy -- after giving out the other four copies to friends – and saw that the errors were large and numerous enough that I would have to proof the whole thing, because gods know what else InDesign did in its quest to drive me insane.

While I have a pretty new cover for Bellica’s CreateSpace version, I still don’t have a bunch of copies that I can sell at Pagan Pride Day. Which is in August, by the way, and I’ll have to go to Seattle to pick up the books. So I’m working like mad on proofing the monstrosity I birthed book I lovingly, painstakingly created over years of hard work so I can actually sell some more copies to pagans, because it’s pagan fiction and maybe Pagan Pride Day would be a good marketing strategy? I don’t know. Just thinking out loud here. *insert winky face*

Step 10: Letting go of perfection

Technically I could have done that earlier and just went ahead with the imperfect CreateSpace version, but some of the errors are bad enough that my Virgo rising would have beat me with a stick had I tried. So I am proofing it.

What I’m not doing, however, is proofing it again after completing the fixes to the file. I’m proofing it, fixing the file, re-uploading, and then approving for sale. If another machine-made error sneaks its way into the file the gods will just have to forgive me, because at this point it’s becoming unhealthy. I have to let go of Bellica so I can nurture her siblings. Leave the nest, little birdy! Fly away! (This is the second time I’ve used the parenting metaphor and it’s creeping me out.)

This is called letting go, and it’s the hardest lesson a writer has to learn. I have to face that my first book will never be perfect; there will always be English majors who pick it apart until it begs for mercy and then they will continue to pick it apart, because mercy is not in an English major’s vocabulary (with much love to all you English majors out there – don’t try to deny it, you know it’s true). It may even end up as an example on TVTropes. I’m sure people will give it 2 stars on GoodReads because they didn’t like the formatting, or the font, or there was a typo or two or some wonky machine error (though, to those people who rate a book low because the copy you got had one or two errors: you stink).

I have to be okay with that. I have to be okay with that so I can focus on The Jade Star of Athering, Dead Transgressions, Islands of Fire and Water, The Man of Bronze, and all the other novels I haven’t started yet that are just waiting in my head, clamoring to be free. I will never work on these if I keep going back to Bellica.

Step 11: Learn from past mistakes

I made a lot of mistakes while publishing Bellica. That’s how I learn. I now know that I should have beta readers, so I’m setting that up for The Jade Star of Athering. I know that I’m not as speedy as I’d like, so I’m giving myself more time for each step of the process. I know I need a certain amount of help – I can’t take on everything myself, or I take a trip to Nervous Breakdown City (terrible place; you can’t get anything done, everyone’s just shaking and crying all the time).

I’ve also learned ways to trick the devil into doing what I want. *shakes fist at InDesign*

Publishing has been a long, weird road for me, and it’s nowhere near over. I’m always traveling to Athering – every time I write a book set there and set out to publish it, I’m taking more steps on that weird, spongy, fungus-and-cobblestone path. (Seriously.)

Things to remember: be optimistic, get some sun and exercise, drink a lot of tea (or beverage of choice, so long as it’s not pop – ie, poison). These are key to keeping yourself healthy on your road to Athering, or wherever else you want to end up.

Katje van Loon is quite possibly the real life incarnation of Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace, though a considerably wordier one. She blogs at  Bacon and Whiskey and GossipDiet about politics, feminism, and her life as a writer (as well as her attempts to cook, garden, and in general be a regular human being, most of which are quite hilarious), as well as curating the site Kat & Wolff . You can find her book Bellica at Kindle and her poetry book can be bought direct from her.