Indie-publishing, what some call self-publishing—although strictly that terminology is more suited to the pre-print-on-demand and pre-e-book days of the “vanity” arm of conventional publishing—sounds like a breeze. You just write it, tweak it a bit and share it with the world. Right?
Ha! If that were the case, I came to realize when jumping into this labyrinthine new world, a whole industry wouldn’t have sprung up of people and companies offering to help you do-it-yourself, all the way from authors to editors to formaters to layout people and cover designers, some of them independent and others attached to the biggie names in indie-publishing like CreateSpace; Kindle (KDP); Amazon.
There is a wealth of support out there, not all of it commercial. People have put up YouTube videos by the score than can guide one at every step. You ask a question on one of the many platforms and the support and generosity of assistance is amazing. Thanks, for example, to the benevolent geek, which he must be, of www.bookow.com who offers a free bar code generator—up to six a day. They (bar codes and bar code generators) are for sale elsewhere, I discovered, for big bucks.
I am happy to say that advancing through the potential minefield (what it at times felt like) of indie-publishing was a supportive (in that I felt supported) collaboration filled with good fortune and what I can best describe as amazing synchronicity.
This was primarily thanks to some special and talented professionals. One a friend from college days who has been preparing books for publication for major educational publishers for more than a dozen years. The other three are former newspaper and/or magazine associates who I am lucky to be able to call good friends. Two I worked with in the San Francisco Bay Area. One I worked with in South Africa.
All were newbies to indie-publishing although expert in their relevant fields and who, bar one, have seen this as a new door that has opened to collaborative partnerships and more books.
The consensus? The only way to learn about this complex and multi-layered venture is — to just do it. Step by step.
What do you really want to do yourself?
Your first decision, as the author, being: what do you really want to do yourself, besides the writing?
Even here there is choice. A wannabe writer friend told me he hired someone to rewrite his entire indie-book into a better read. I hear this is not uncommon. And as editors have typically played a significant role with certain big-name writers in conventional publishing, I guess not that surprising.
As a long-time writer-editor-journalist-copy editor, I didn’t want to go this route. But I could have gone on, forever, “writing my book”—as distinct from completing and publishing my first of a planned series of books. I needed a deadline. Goddammit, I’ve existed on deadlines, when it comes to writing, for as long as I can remember. As a freelancer, I impose deadlines on myself by committing to editors.
But with Cravings, many things were keeping me stuck in my “I’m writing a book” story.
I think of Kathy Hrastar as my writing buddy as in when we’re both in the same city (Oakland) we regularly talk writing one-on-one, have been in a writing group together, have shared and critiqued each other’s work—and when I am away, we still talk writing, regularly, one-on-one via Skype.
She formally got the ball rolling when she told me she had a three week gap between one city college class and another and if I had the manuscript completed by then, and there would be no other opportunity, she would copy-edit it for me.
This “offer I could not refuse” did it for me. I knew I could trust Kathy to not give me opinion and critique on the content. This was my book. As a writer, she could understand that.
But she is also a superb intelligent copy editor. One could not hope for better.
Say Yes Press
Jumping ahead a few steps, and several weeks, to “Say Yes Press,” because this involves Kathy… I read I needed to publish my indie-book under an imprint, a “publishing company” name.
From much googling and reading and asking questions, including of fellow San Francisco Bay Area Travel Writers member Jim Shubin—he will hold your hand through the indie-publishing process and provide everything from cover to editing and design in the Bay Area via the Book Alchemist—who generously gave suggestions, encouragement and advice, I ascertained this “imprint” could be formally registered if I wanted to run “a business” under the name.
But on the other hand, it could just be a name I liked if I didn’t want to run “a business” under it. (I didn’t.)
Simple? No. Deciding on a name stalled the process for—probably three weeks as I came up with potential names and discarded them. Gave myself a deadline, decided on a certainty, only to be told by erstwhile long-time Sunday newspaper copy chief, restaurant reviewer and food writer (in South Africa) Anne Stevens, whose proofreading expertise I had gratefully accepted (post-copyediting), that “that name is so boring.”
My next “that’s it!”— when I Googled, a similarly named, existing, publishing company jumped up.
I had a couple of friends short-list from my long list. I settled on a name. Again.
Then, before signing in to Bowker to buy my 10 ISBN numbers (this seemed the most appropriate ISBN option), for which I needed my imprint name (I put it in the wrong place after all this and they “saved” me at the eleventh hour, during the publishing process), I went to take a bath.
Yes, that’s right. A bath.
Reclining in the water, I thought, “this is my book. I don’t need to please anyone. It does not need to ‘sound‘ right to anyone but me.”
At that, “Say Yes Press” popped into my head. And in that flash, I knew I had it.
Kathy liked it so much, she suggested we register it and consider starting “that business.” I suggested she register it, I pay toward the registration, and in turn have honorary use of it.
And that’s the story of Say Yes Press, which is now a registered imprint with great scope for collaboration and growth and currently awaiting Kathy’s first indie-published in-progress book, plus others. And, by agreement, all my future books.
So, Kathy for copy-editor and Anne for proofreader. The manuscript was ready. The cover art, I had decided on a couple of years previously. It was a drawing by Durban artist Pascale Chandler: one of three my mother gave me years ago that had all hung, framed, in my bathroom in Oakland for several years. So no issues for cover picture. Which is only part of the cover story.
I knew I wanted Zen circles to break the thought paragraphs in the print version of my book.
I didn’t think Zen circles or graphics would be possible in the Kindle and e-Book version after asking on the Kindle helpline. But I had not, at that point, accounted for the skills and know-how of Jo Marwick, the college buddy in South Africa from years back mentioned previously.
At some point, while still wondering if I should try to do the interior myself, I had remembered she did graphic design and e-mailed her to ask if she knew anyone who could do what I was looking to do. Print-on-demand through CreateSpace, an e-book through Kindle Direct Publishing, and then to publish on IngramSpark, print and e-book, for potential distribution far and wide, if anyone in the far and wide ever chose to read it.
Jo got back instantly and said no. No ideas. No contacts.
Dozens of books
Then about an hour later she called me.
Well, yes, she said. Thinking about it, she realized she had been doing exactly this for years—book design and in fact dozens of books—small-run books for individuals and big-run books for a publishing house. Not indie-publishing. Not print-on-demand. But regular, professional, “proper” books.
And she was keen and enthusiastic to branch out into what I as doing, share her considerable expertise—and learn all she could about what she wasn’t sure of, which included eBooks.
I had, meanwhile, spoken to Debbi Murzyn who since then, has moved from Pleasant Hill, California, to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Debbi is the most creative, talented and super-organized magazine designer I’ve had the pleasure to work with. (We had also become “besties” while working on a now-defunct magazine that involved long hours and a dishonest publisher.) Would she consider doing my cover? She had never done a book cover. But she’d done magazine covers aplenty. And magazine interiors.
Yes, she said, she would give it a go and yes, she would suggest fonts and yes, she would come up with some design ideas for inside the book, using an element of the cover art.
And so it was that, after some trial and re-trial, we short-listed five covers. She tweaked. She tweaked again. I had fun, meanwhile, staring at book covers (jackets?) in bookstores and online, while delighting in working with her again—and appreciating the work of book designer Chip Kidd and his Hilarious Art of Book Design Ted Talk, recommended by Kathy.
One final tweak of what had originally been her favorite and it became my favorite too and the Cravings cover was born. With follow-through to the inside, so that the design would hang together and flow.
And the back cover? She convinced me my kitchen PhotoBooth selfie wasn’t going to work and I must get a proper professional “author” picture shot. Good thing too.
Debbi’s ideas were tweaked and adapted and perfected by Jo as we forged the same sort of collaborative partnership I had thought was only possible with Debbi—and which made getting the 2015 first edition of Cravings out there and up an adventure (followed by a second edition in 2017), even as we held our respective breaths, again and again at each step, until finally we popped a bottle of bubbly and proclaimed it—or we—were done.