As I prepare my second book for publication I am increasingly realizing that a writer’s life revolves around three phases with each project, writing itself being one of them, but less than a third. The mechanics of submitting for publication, the second, is grunge work, with numerous stumbles along the way. The longest phase is post-publication publicity, which, for most projects, never ends.
I am currently deep within the grinder of the publication process. This has its own various stages. Self-publishing removes what for most writers is the most daunting first step of the process: finding a publisher. With Dogmeat, my first book, I went with an expensive vanity publisher, Xlibris. This time I am using the leaner, more casual Createspace, Amazon.com’s publishing arm. They are cheaper and more flexible, allowing various revisions for small fees, most of the work done via a user friendly web interface.
One of the first steps of publication is line editing, a professional editor scanning the manuscript for typos, errors in grammar and syntax, spacing and other such details. Most self publishing houses offer such editing services, but these editors don’t do much beyond that. Having my own personal editor, Mim Harrison, affords me several advantages over publishing house editors. To begin with when we submit a manuscript for publication it is already polished and we skip a time consuming first step. More importantly Mim doesn’t just clean up the typos and syntax. She gives precious advice on content, rewording so sentences flow better. shuffling chapters, deleting material where necessary, asking me to explain or clarify when needed, altering chapter titles into catchier ones and more. She also functions as a publishing consultant, holding my hand and guiding me through the entire process.
With my new book Appassionata, a collection of seventeen short stories, Mim decided their line-up and she made a huge contribution to the subtitle, a decision that turned out to be quite a challenge given the diversity of the stories. We eventually agreed on “and other stories of lovers, travelers, dreamers and rogues.”
The submission of a manuscript is soon followed by a need to create a marketing copy. This consists of identifying the genre (in our case Fiction/Short Stories), key words for internet searches, alluring quotes from the book, and a short summary of the book. Once again, because of the diversity of the stories I had no idea how to do any of this. Mim came up with it all.
Then comes the front and back covers and the spine of the book. With both of my books I took on the front cover and delegated the back to Mim. The back typically contains the marketing copy, testimonials, author’s photo and biography as well as a bar code and ISBN number of the book. The spine is something I care little about but Mim does. With both projects she insisted that not only should it contain the title and author’s name, but also the entire subtitle. Xlibris gave us a hard time with this and I had to coerce them to do it. With Createspace it was easier, but we still had to ask for it.
The front cover has the all important artwork and title of the book. Publishing houses provide talented graphic artists that can create eye catching compositions based on submitted concepts.
With Dogmeat I submitted two of my own photos and wanted them superimposed. The front cover was complete in about a week, with only two revisions.
Appassionata was more complex. I once again wanted a superimposition. After verbally describing my concept to the Createspace team, I submitted a photo I took of the charming trullo house in Alberobello, Italy that you see below and asked that it be superimposed with a steamy love scene I downloaded from the internet.
Within ten days I received two very fine compositions as options.
After consulting with a handful of family and friends I chose the lower one and spent three revision cycles fine tuning the concept with the graphic artists. With Dogmeat I had actually spoken to a human being at Xlibris during this process. With Appassionata I never met the graphic artist. It was all done on a templated internet interface and it worked fine. I recently approved the final version of the cover.
Final version of the cover.
Now comes the final, most grinding and yet all important process of proofing the book. With Dogmeat we did this on digital galleys. With Appassionata we will proof a sample book. Mim and I will work on it simultaneously, as we did before. Intense familiarity with the text puts us at some disadvantage, our eyes sometime skipping errors. So my wife Julie, whose input as a fresh pair of eyes was invaluable with Dogmeat, will also help out.
With Dogmeat, despite all our scrutiny one glaring error slipped through and was recognized by a physician reader: I had mislabeled an all important cranial nerve, as though I was an amateur. We had no way of correcting that with Xlibris, short of an expensive re-publication, and we never did. Createspace allows such corrections for a small fee, and this is a blessing, for I am sure some embarrassing mistake will again slip through.
The whole publication process takes around three to four months if the author is attentive and quickly responds to each development. In the meanwhile, the grind can bring all creative activity to a halt. In my case, with a busy neurosurgery practice taking up most of my time, this was indeed so both with Dogmeat and Appassionata, leaving me frustrated with a period of prolonged creative constipation.
Currently I am doing something about this: I just started work on my next project, a murder mystery set in Hungary, Romania, Moldova and Turkey. More on that later.