My First Novel: The Long Road to Publication

cover3bI’m pleased to announce that my debut novel The Eyes of Mictlan is now available for purchase at Amazon in both Kindle (eBook) and paperback formats. The Kindle version is $2.99. If you do not own a Kindle, Amazon has free Kindle reading software for almost any computer or mobile device, as well as a free online reader. The eBook is also available for free to Amazon Prime members (via the lending library) and Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

For those of you who prefer the tactile feel of a book in your hands, the paperback version is $9.99. If you would like both versions, you can buy the Kindle version for 99 cents after purchasing the paperback. You can also order either version by clicking on the cover image to the left.

Well, that takes care of the promo portion of this post. The rest, should you choose to keep reading, is the story of my journey from concept to publication.

To quote the infamous theme song from Star Trek: Enterprise: “It’s been a long road, getting from there to here.” I first put pen to paper (yes, pen and paper) back in 1997 when I wrote the first chapter and outlined the rest of the novel. The idea for the novel originally sprung from a text-based online role-playing game I was considering playing on AOL back in the days of dial-up modems (kids, ask your parents). As part of creating a character for the game, you were supposed to come up with a back story for your character. I never ended up playing the game, but I liked the character I created, so I decided to turn his story into a novel.

My original intention was to write it as an experimental serial novel, in which I would post a new chapter at regular intervals. In fact, the first chapter has been available online in one form or another since 1998.

An early online version of my novel, circa 2006.

An early online version of my novel under its original title, circa 2006.

However, when I realized that there was enough material for a full-blown novel, I altered my plans. It took many years to complete—as any aspiring writer will tell you, one of the biggest obstacles to completing a novel is finding the time between your job, housework, and various other adult responsibilities—but eventually (and with the help of a period of unemployment) I finished the first draft in early 2009. Subsequent drafts followed and I finally had a draft that I deemed worthy of submission in the winter of 2012.

I tried the traditional publishing route first, submitting queries to agents, but then I began to notice that more and more people were self-publishing and that the self-publishing industry was growing at an astronomical rate, with even established authors beginning to self-publish. I like the idea of maintaining full control over my property and earning higher royalties on each sale, not that I’m expecting to earn much (you don’t really make any money on a book unless it becomes a best-seller). It’s more about the work itself, getting it out there into the world, and self-publishing seemed like the best way for me to accomplish that. The traditional querying process did have its benefits, though—it helped me to hone the marketing of my book, specifically the synopsis I eventually used for the back cover—but I am happy with my decision to go the indie route.

Self-publishing is a lot of work, especially if you choose to do everything yourself as I did. I broke a couple of self-publishing rules of thumb: don’t be your own editor and don’t design your own cover. Handling everything myself was like having a second job. My wife, who has an editorial background, was a big help in proofing an early draft, but I performed all subsequent editorial passes of the manuscript myself. The big danger in editing your own manuscript, even if you have an editorial background as I do, is that you are too close to the material to make the cuts that are necessary—and there is a lot of truth to that—but I revisited the manuscript a couple of years later when I made the decision to self-publish, and by then I was far enough removed from the material that I was able to make some ruthless cuts that I had resisted making in earlier drafts.

One major thing you need to keep an eye on when self-publishing is whether you are using any material that might be subject to copyright (such as song lyrics) because you will not have a publisher to handle obtaining the necessary permissions. You could try to obtain the rights yourself, but in my case I found it easier to go back through the entire manuscript and remove any such references either through deletion or by altering the prose to make the references non-explicit. I don’t think these edits had any negative impact on the story anyway—in fact they forced me to be a bit more inventive—so I’d say it’s best for self-publishing authors to just avoid copyrightable references altogether.

The Back Cover

As for the cover, I am not even close to being an artist, but I have enough Photoshop experience that I was able to make a cover that looks decently professional. I had first tried one of Amazon’s online cover templates, but these were too plain and I didn’t want my cover to look like everyone else’s, so I spent a lot of time getting the look I wanted. The front art includes a real photo of mine that I manipulated via Photoshop to depict a scene from the novel. For the back cover (of the paperback) I chose to use an author photo rather than create another image. A professional designer probably could have created a better cover in half the time it took me, but I am pleased with it overall.

The most work, however, revolved around formatting both the paperback and Kindle versions. The easiest approach would have been to format the paperback version in Word and then convert it to an html file for the eBook version, but I did it backwards because I had not originally intended to do a paperback version. I started with a Word doc and converted it to an HTML file. However, I was not entirely pleased with the conversion, so I put on my Web Designer hat and began editing the HTML file (this would later come back to bite me when I began formatting the Word doc for paperback).

After uploading the HTML file and viewing it on Amazon’s previewer (a nifty feature that shows you how the eBook will display on various mobile devices), I had to make even further edits to account for display issues on certain devices. By this point, I had made so many tweaks to the HTML file directly that when I discovered new edits that needed to be made to the original manuscript during the paperback phase, I had to edit both the Word and HTML versions separately—I couldn’t simply re-convert  from the Word file or I would have lost all of the extra work I had done on the HTML file. My advice: do not do it the way I did. 🙂

Once I finally got the eBook version looking good in all devices, it was time to format the paperback version. The paperback is created through a separate site called CreateSpace, which is owned by Amazon. The nice thing about using this service is that it does not cost you any money upfront—the books are printed on demand and you make a percentage of the profits minus the manufacturing costs. If you already have a Kindle version of your book, Amazon will automatically link it to the paperback version once it goes live.

As with the Kindle version, it took a lot of work to get the paperback looking perfect (fonts, page headers/numbers, gutter/margin settings, etc.), but at least with the paperback version you only have to format it correctly once and then you’re done—no worrying about cross-device compatibility. After completing the paperback version it was then time to create author pages on Amazon and CreateSpace, as well as update my blog to help market the release.

The Paperback

The Paperback

Some of you may have noticed the new title. Life’s Blood had been the title of my novel since I wrote the first chapter all the way back in 1997, but when I began the self-publishing process, I noticed that there are roughly a dozen books on Amazon with either Life’s Blood or Life Blood in the title. I didn’t want my book to get lost in a sea of similar titles, so even though I did not relish the idea of making copy changes, redoing my cover, and editing all references on my blog to Life’s Blood, I decided that I needed to come up with a new title.

After brainstorming a bunch of ideas and scanning my novel for a line or phrase that might make for a good title, I settled on The Eyes of Mictlan. It is certainly unique, as I saw just one other book on Amazon with Mictlan in the title. It is also significant to the plot and has an aura of mystery about it, something that the more generic-sounding previous title did not, so I think it may end up being a blessing in disguise. Sometimes necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Whether it translates to more sales remains to be seen, but at least I’ve given it a fighting chance to stand out.

I decided to join Amazon’s KDP Select program for the Kindle version, which lets you earn up to 70% royalties as opposed to the normal 35% and also makes the book available in the lending library for Amazon Prime members (for which you can earn a small royalty each time it is read). The trade-off is that you must make the eBook exclusive to Amazon for three months and re-commit to additional three month-periods for as long as you remain in the program. Established authors may balk at the exclusivity requirement but overall it seems like a good deal for new authors. I decided to price the eBook at $2.99, which is the minimum price you can set under the rules of KDP Select, though I have the option of making it available for cheaper or free for short periods of time as part of promotions.

The design of the paperback is trade rather than mass market, so it has a good size to it, similar to a small hardcover. However, it is expensive to produce, so $9.99 was basically as cheap as I could make it while still earning a small profit (I will actually earn twice as much on sales of the eBook, despite it being $7 cheaper). In order to make the paperback $9.99, I had to decline the expanded distribution option, which would have made it available to libraries, book stores, and similar entities. The production costs would have skyrocketed under this option and I would have needed to set the price around $14 to make even a tiny profit. I just didn’t think that was worth it—who’s going to spend $14 on a paperback from a first-time author? I’m not concerned about missing out on extra distribution channels at this point since I don’t expect to sell many paperbacks anyway; I imagine most people will opt for the less-expensive Kindle version.

So anyway, that’s the story of my story. If nothing else ever happens with the novel, at least I finished it and it’s out there in the world. If you decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it. If you like it, please spread the word . . . and if you don’t like it—well, maybe don’t spread the word. 😉

Writer, traveler, photographer, hiker, film/TV addict, amateur chef, casual gamer, and occasional tennis & saxophone player . . . in real life I do web design.

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