Tag Archives: writing a book

What I’m Learning About Self-Publishing a Book

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Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
I recently self-published my first book, Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. It’s a 200+ page collection of short essays about my experiences as a camp host and parking lot attendant at a popular trailhead in a National Forest. Some of my readers have expressed interest in publishing books of their own, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about self-publishing so far.

#1 Writing the book was the easy part.

Confessions of a Work Camper includes 15 never-published-anywhere-else essays, as well as newly written introductions to each chapter, and some fun lists, but the bulk of the book has appeared in blog posts. For the most part, the book was written before I decided to self-publish it.

The steps that came after writing were the more difficult parts for me.

#1a Proofreading is a pain.

Believe it or not, I edit my blog posts several times before I schedule them. I thought I’d been doing a great job proofreading until I put the texts of posts into my book document and found typos all over the place. So I did more proofreading and editing. Then I did more proofreading and editing. Then I took a friend up on her offer to help, and she read the entire document and offered some corrections. Then I read the entire book aloud and found more mistakes. So when it was time to approve the proof of the book, I did so without reading it one more time. That was a mistake.

When I started reading my essays again in preparation for reading them aloud to an audience, I immediately found more errors. I’m not talking about formatting problems. I’m talking about wrong words in sentences. Since the words aren’t technically misspelled, the spell check didn’t alert me to them, and my eyes glided right over them. Sigh.

Every typo is an embarrassment to me.

The first edition is barely complete, and I already need to work on the second edition.

#1b It took me a while to figure out how to use CreateSpace.

I needed some form of Adobe to use CreateSpace’s cover creator. I couldn’t get Adobe to work with Firefox. I had a telephone conversation with a CreateSpace representative in South Africa. He was exceedingly nice and very helpful, but Firefox and Adobe still wouldn’t work together to let me use the CreateSpace cover creator. I ended up using Google Chrome to do anything on CreateSpace that required Adobe.

I put the text of the book in a Word Starter document. (Word Starter is the word processing program my laptop came with. I never upgraded.) When I transferred my text into the document formatted for CreateSpace, any words in italics transferred to all caps. Since I use italics to indicate thoughts or conversations, this glitch made it seem as if all the people in my book were YELLING AT EACH OTHER. I had to go into the CreateSpace document and manually change each instance of capital letters into italics.

When it came time to approve the book’s formatting online, formatting that looked fine in the CreateSpace Word document looked all wrong in the examples of the actual book. I spent an entire morning working on the formatting, and it’s still not perfect.

I’m not saying CreateSpace is impossible to use. When I got frustrated with it, I reminded myself that people many people use CreateSpace to self-publish every day. However, there is a learning curve when using CreateSpace. (The Poet had warned me of the learning curve when she first told me all she knew about publishing with CreateSpace.) Until a writer learns the ends and outs of CreateSpace, getting a book ready for publication may take more time than expected.

#2 That book’s not going to promote itself.

Again, writing the book was easy, compared to getting people to buy it.

My book was first released as an ebook. In the first day the ebook was available, it sold nine copies. This is great! I thought. From there, sales dwindled. Once my friends who read ebooks bought their copies, I had to figure out how to get strangers to buy it.

#2a Public libraries aren’t so keen on buying self-published books (and sometimes they don’t seem to want to buy any books at all).

I had the idea to get all my friends across the country to ask their local libraries to buy my book. To make it easier for them, I researched different libraries to find out how my supporters could go about requesting a book for purchase. Many libraries have an online form for such a request, but while some library systems (I’m looking at you, Las Vegas, NV and Richmond, VA), say sure, patrons can suggest a book for purchase, I found no indication of how to do so.

I filled out an online request for the purchase of my book with a library system in a major U.S. city where I happen to have a library card. I received a response saying they don’t even consider buying a self-published book unless it has at least 50 reviews on Amazon or GoodReads. (I currently have seven reviews on Amazon and none on GoodReads.)

#2b I’m not much of a hustler, so figuring out ways to promote the book hasn’t been easy. I’m encouraging folks who’ve read the book to leave reviews on Amazon and/or GoodReads. I’ve set up an author’s page on GoodReads. I’ve announced the book (repeatedly) here on my blog and on the Rubber Tramp Artist and Blaizin’ Sun Creations Facebook pages.

I’ve done two readings so far, and have another scheduled for the day this post runs. The two readings were at the RTR and both were small. Making a reading a success seems to take a lot of promotion, including hanging flyers and sending emails. I haven’t given up, but it’s a lot more work than I expeted.

#2c It takes CreateSpace a while to deliver 100 copies of a 200+ page book.

It was Christmas before I was able to approve the book for publication and order the 100 copies I wanted for promotion. I thought I’d get them by the first week in January, which was based upon absolutely no concrete information. Instead, my estimated delivery date was January 17. I was hesitant to schedule reading where I hoped to sell copies of the book when I had no copies of the book to sell.

#3 Lots of people want to write a book.

When I mention I’ve recently self-published a book, the person I’m speaking to often says s/he has written a book or wants to write a book. I try to be encouraging while also making clear that writing a book is only the first step in getting it read.

 

In Which I Decide to Write a Book

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My friend the Poet visited me at my campground over the summer. During the visit, the topic of self-publishing books came up. The Poet planned to self-publish a book. I hadn’t given self-publishing an actual book much thought. Sure, I’ve published zines before, but a whole book? That seemed beyond my capabilities, but the more I thought about the project, the more I thought, I could do this!

A couple weeks after The Poet’s visit, I decided on a Tuesday afternoon that I would self-publish a book (called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods) collecting my stories of work camping. Before a week had passed, I made decisions about chapters. I wrote intros for each chapter, as well as an intro to the whole collection. I decided in addition to stories that had already been posted on my blog, the book would include brand new, never before published stories. I wrote several of these new stories.

I want the book to be ready for purchase for the winter holidays, which means I have to work pretty fast. When I got to civilization, I asked the Poet for all the information she had about self-publishing. She graciously sent me an informative email within a couple of hours. I choose a company to work with and did some of the preliminary work of setting up an account.

I also did a quick Google search on “confessions of a work camper” and “confessions of a camp host,” and with the exception of a couple of poorly written blog posts, I found nothing. Could I possibly have come up with an idea for a book that’s never been written? (Part of me thinks I should not go public with this idea, lest someone else scoops it up before I can complete my project. Oh well. I’ve never been much good at keeping my big mouth shut. Also, I feel like if I go public with my intentions, I will have to follow through if I don’t want to look like a fool.)

I wrote to another friend who is a published (as in by a publishing company) writer. She offered to help me with the book and told me to think about goals for the book. Goals? Ok.

My Goals for My Book

#1 Generate income

#2 Generate interest in me as a writer

#3 Bring more readers to my blog

#4 Amuse readers

#5 Educate people about the possibility of work camping.

Because I am worried my blog will suffer while I am working on the book, I have been recruiting guest bloggers. I’ve invited several friends to write for the blog while I am busy with the book. In less than an hour, three people said yes and one said maybe. If other folks want to share stories, please contact me. I am looking for nonfiction pieces of a personal nature, 300 to 2,000 words. I’m most interested in travel and van dwelling stories; pieces about class issues; recommendations for books, articles, zines, websites, music. I don’t want to put a lot of work into guest posts, so please edit carefully before you send me anything for consideration.

This entire book project is exciting and overwhelming, but mostly exciting. I think I will feel less overwhelmed when I am no longer isolated on a mountain with no internet access. It won’t be long now.