Going It Alone: Self Printing

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Vanessa O'Loughlin & Catherine Ryan Howard

Sometimes you just know you’ve written a great book – but it’s getting rejected by publishers because it is just too niche for the market – they like it but they know they won’t get the sales to justify a print run. This is what happened to Catherine Ryan Howard with her book Mousetrapped. Not being one to take things sitting down, she decided to go it alone and self publish Mousetrapped.

Over 5000 books later, she has moved from an unpublished author to one who has been interviewed by the Sunday Times and on BBC Radio. So how did she do it? Her new book Self-Printed is a fantastic guide for anyone who is thinking of dipping their toe into the world of self publishing. Catherine’s wit and down right common sense shine through what is essentially a How To book, making it a really entertaining read packed full of invaluable information. She’s made the mistakes and she tells you what she did and how she did it, to make the process simple and easy for you. She not only covers the actual process of getting your book printed in hard copy, but how to create you author profile, marketing it using social media, and how to create an eBook version – all, almost, for free.

Self Printing with Catherine Ryan Howard from Writing.ie on Vimeo.

Writing.ie caught up with Catherine in the United Artists Club in Dublin’s elegant Fitzwilliam Street to chat to her about why she decided to self print, and how she went about it. But first let Catherine tell you a bit more about her book Self Printed and some of the myths surrounding self publishing:

“My favourite piece of writing advice has always been “write the book you want to read” but in this case it was more like “write the book you need to read” or “write the book you’d need to read if you could find a quantum physicist to build you a time machine that would allow you to go back to a year and a half ago, to before you self-published, and thus instead of having to figure all of this out for yourself – and figure out some of it by making very costly mistakes – you could have read this book and got it right first time.” Writing things I could’ve done with reading once upon a time has become a bit of a theme with me. My first book, Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, started life as the travel memoir I wish I’d read before I moved to Florida without a driver’s licence, anywhere to live or indeed the first clue of what lay in store for me.

When I decided to self-publish that book and started to research the topic online, I couldn’t find any “How To” books or websites that didn’t offer self-publishing advice served with a generous helping of “Traditional publishing is dead!” propaganda, or that wasn’t written by someone with a literary agent-shaped chip on their shoulder who could clearly benefit from attending some kind of Resolving Your Bitterness self-improvement course.

It all seemed so angry. There was talk of evil “gatekeepers” and a shadowy group known only as “The Big Six.” (I was surprised to learn that these weren’t in fact horned demons but merely literary agents and major US publishing houses.) These people weren’t just self-publishing their novels or trying to sell e-books; they were sticking it to The Man, man! They were going to prove that their book was as good as anything Stephen King could produce. They were gonna show ‘em all, just you wait and see. As soon as their novella, Complicated Stuff That Happens in Space During a Bleak Time in the Future, hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, they were going to send a reply to every one of the 1,532 rejection letters the book had received along with a photocopy of the list and a crayon drawing of a middle finger.

Oh yeah. Take that, Big Publishing. Take THAT.

There was also a very strong smell of eau de delusional in the air. One self-publishing website advised would-be self-publishers that writing a book actually wasn’t all that hard – if you could say it, they claimed, then you could write it. Another said that agents, as a rule, never responded to unsolicited submissions and only used their slush piles for kindling. And don’t bother pursuing your dreams of traditional publication – publishing is like a business class lounge us civilians aren’t allowed into, and anyway all publishers want to do to aspiring writers is point and laugh. Hard. A parade of the usual Bad Writing, Big Selling suspects (Dan Brown, James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer) were regularly dragged out to prove the point that Big Publishing wouldn’t know good writing if it set up camp on their desk, as were famous stories of missed opportunity, such as J.K. Rowling  repeatedly being told there was no money to be made in children’s books while she and Harry Potter were getting rejected up the wazoo. And everyone seemed to think that by uploading a file to a website today, their book was going to be stacked in a pile just inside the door of every bookstore in the world no later than Tuesday.

I just wanted to self-publish. I wasn’t angry, or bitter, or on a list of Persons Unwelcome at the security desk of a major publishing house. Yes, my book had been rejected, but I wasn’t taking it personally. I was also brutally realistic and knew that by self-publishing a paperback with a Print-On-Demand site like CreateSpace and e-books with Amazon and Smashwords, I was not going to get rich, famous or rich and famous. In all likelihood, I’d be lucky just to recoup the cost of the coffee I’d have to drink to get me through the formatting process. And I knew that despite what the Self-Publishing Evangelists claimed with their James Patterson arguments and the like, most self-published books were rubbish. This was just a fact, and a fact that could be easily proven with a quick trip to the store on any self-publishing service’s website. While I would try to ensure that mine was as not-rubbish as it could possibly be, I wasn’t under any illusions that it wouldn’t get picked out as the impostor amongst a line-up of “properly” published books.

So where was the information for people like me?

I couldn’t find it, so just as I had written Mousetrapped, the travel memoir I’d needed to read before I moved to Florida, I started posting about self-publishing on my blog, making it the blog I’d needed to read before I started this whole self-publishing adventure. Whenever I collected some information, I’d run it through a Delusions of Grandeur filter and spray it with common sense, and then post it under the heading “self-printing.” Because that’s what this is: self-printing. It’s not publishing. It’s printing copies of your book or making it available to download in e-book form, and then whatever happens after that is entirely up to you. The posts became popular, and soon I was getting e-mails from other would-be self-publishers – or self-printers, I should say – asking for the answers to questions I hadn’t covered, or that they couldn’t find in the ever growing collection of posts I’d written on the subject.

Mousetrapped was out a year in March 2011, and my thoughts turned to writing its sequel. Before I got started on that though, I wanted to do something for the new visitors to my blog who perhaps didn’t have the time or inclination to trawl through what was now more than a year’s worth of posts. Maybe I could consolidate them into a downloadable document, and copy and paste them in chronological order. A PDF maybe? A little e-book? I sat down one weekend to start doing just that, but soon realised that there was so much more about this whole self-printing business than just the stuff I’d blogged about.

So I started writing a guide, from scratch. That guide became Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing, the guide I – yes, you’ve guessed it – wished I could have a read a year and a half ago, back when I didn’t know what POD meant, or what a Kindle was, or anything about the migraine-inducing horror that is formatting your manuscript for e-book conversion.

This is the blurb:

Do you think that no one has the right to stand between you and your published writer dreams? That the publishing industry is going down in flames and self-publishers are going to rise like a 99c phoenix from the ashes? That all literary agents are interested in doing is blogging sarcastically about the rhetorical question at the start of your query letter, that editors will just use your submitted manuscript for kindling and that you’ll be senile before you hear back from either of them? That once you’ve uploaded the book you finished yesterday afternoon to Amazon, it’ll be mere minutes before the money starts rolling in and you can quit your day job? Do you say things like gatekeepers, The Big Six, Dan Brown, legacy publishing and indie authors a lot?

Are you self-publishing to “show them all”? If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions then I do apologise, but my latest book Self Printed isn’t the book for you.

This book is for writers who consider self-publishing to be a good Plan B, or even a sideline to traditional publication. Who want to do it the cheapest and easiest way possible while still producing a quality product. Who understand that much like Starbucks outlets and Nespresso coffee machines, traditional and self-publishing can peacefully co-exist. Who know that they don’t have to sell a million copies of their book to start earning a living from their writing, but that they do have to work hard and treat it like a business. Who are blessed with common sense and live in the real world at least most of the time. Who find my jokes funny.·

If this sounds like you, then Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing may be just the “How To…” guide you were looking for. It will tell you everything you need to know in order to publish a Print On Demand paperback and e-book, and – crucially – sell them, without sounding like anti-Big Publishing propaganda produced by the Ministry of Truth.·Be warned: you are now entering a No Saying “Gatekeepers” Zone..”

So thinking of self publishing? Start by getting your hands on this self published book, looking at the cover design, at the paper quality, at how the cover feels. Then follow the instructions….!

About the author

(c) Vanessa O’Loughlin & Catherine Ryan Howard 2011

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