Self Publishing tips I learned the hard way

I’ve spent the last year and a half/two years stumbling around with self publishing and illustrating. I read a lot of things online, but most of what I learned came from making mistakes and trying to fix them. So with the re-release of the Balloon Lady well underway, I thought I’d compile a list of helpful things that took me longer than they should have to figure out.

  •  if you’re illustrating: scanning your images in at 600dpi gives you more room to work with than the standard 300dpi

The first batch of illustrations I did, I had no clear layout, I used an unfamiliar medium, and I only scanned them in at 300dpi. Which, after having to maneuver and stretch the images to fit inside the book format ended up looking…less than what I’d hoped. When I tried to use the same images again on the fatter createspace version of the book, they looked so bad that I decided to remake them because I could not bring myself to print those that way. I could have scanned them in again at 600dpi, but there was no rhyme, reason, or consistency to them anyway.

  •  if you’re illustrating: work with a medium you’re familiar with.

For the second round, I used acrylics on watercolor paper and because I’m good at acrylics and know how they work, the process was much smoother than the first time when I tried watercolors and pen. I generally lay as much paint on things to correct mistakes as possible (and with acrylics, that works smashingly) but if you’re using watercolor, you get mud. Which happened a bit with the first round.

  •  Decide on a format and size beforehand

With the first edition I wrote and illustrated everything without having anything remotely resembling a layout. So I went with the one that I thought would be able to fit the images. Turns out that one didn’t even have an ISBN for that size and I spent a long time trying to make everything fit reasonably. The second time around, I knew what size I wanted, so after I ordered the proof, everything I painted I made the size of the cover, and I left room for text on some of them (not that I used that much, but it was there).

  • Decide who you want to publish with and think about how you’d like to distribute

I recommend lulu and createspace for two reasons. 1) lulu can get you into the ibookstore – although, when I tried it, it was really difficult, and with the new iBooks Author, I’m not sure entirely how that works, but they offer it for free. 2) createspace is sort of amazon and partners with them which means, it’s easier for people to find and access your work. It’s also very easy, they have online tools and proof capabilities, so if you’re like me and you got your proof and made a few margin tweaks but don’t really want to order another one (even though it’s *really* cheap at $7 – versus, somewhere near $20 on lulu, but I got faster shipping so it could be cheaper) you can view it there and make sure all of your text is out of the gutter and approve it without having to buy another copy just to see how it looks.

  • tweak, tweak, and more tweaking!

I’ve gone through I-don’t-know-how-many uploads and saves and re-exports over the last week finding things that I missed. It gets really really frustrating, but the end result is worth it. Just today, I was about to hit “I approve!” but I decided to re-read the proof just one more time to make sure there weren’t any spelling errors after I fixed all the margins, and I found a rogue “t”, a “d” instead of an “r” at the end of a word, and a “she’d” instead of “she”. So I fixed those (with a few app crashes because my laptop is getting old) in the iBook Author version and the createspace version. I’m reasonably satisfied that I’ve now fixed everything – but it’s taken me countless times to the point of sort of hating it to get there.

  • iBooks Author is harder than it looks

iBooks Author just came out a few months ago, and I hit a couple snags; You have to have an ISBN. One sells for $150. This is the biggest and only reason I would suggest using a company like lulu to get on there, because they give you free ISBNs (createspace doesn’t support ibooks, just kindle, naturally) for it. But if you have one, or have one that you can use, then use IBA to make it and launch it. There are some really irritating problems with IBA. It’s great until you’ve spent 12 hours trying to move a picture without moving text and then you have the brilliant idea to use text boxes. 1) The pages don’t turn, they slide. It’s not something you can change either. 2) There’s a really annoying Table of Contents page and you have to either do everything in a chapter or section – which isn’t ideal for illustrated children’s books.
So when you’re using it, my advice to you is fill in everything, make sure you name your file in the chapter section, otherwise the TOC will come up as “untitled”. Fiddle with the TOC page, and test it on your ipad before submitting. I made the mistake of doing none of those things, so I’m still waiting to hear a rejection so I can upload the new file that I’ve been tweaking as I’ve found errors in the createspace proof.

  • Use text boxes!

If you’re making a book with pictures – children’s or otherwise, the best way to get text and pictures on the page without messing up the order of either too much is to use text boxes. In pages and ibooks it’s a little T with a square around it. You just write or paste the desired text inside of the box, select it all to change the font and size and then move it where-ever. I try to set the layout of the images to “none”, so it doesn’t move the text.

  • Keep Text out of the gutter!

I discovered something recently I should have discovered a really long time ago.
I should have turned on “show layout”. Because that shows you exactly where the margins are, and if you try to keep your text in between them, like magic, your text is out of the gutter.

  • Use a two-page (or two-up) view if possible

It’s so much easier to see what you’re doing if you can see both pages. It takes me forever to find this button. In pages, it’s where the zoom is located. 

  • For easy navigation, use a thumbnail view

I found this by accident while trying to find the two-up view. But thumbnails make it easy to find specific pages – especially when you know where a misspelled word is and don’t want to scroll through the whole document to fix one letter. In the screenshot, I obviously already have thumbnails turned on – but if you’re using pages, that’s where you’ll find it.

  • Other things to consider

ISBN’s – if you want to do any type of real-world distributing at all, you’ll need an ISBN. Libraries need ISBN’s, professional reviewers need copies with ISBN’s, iBooks needs ISBN’s – so make sure that if you want to make a book for more than friends and family, you select a format that is ISBN supported.

Formatting suuucks, and by the end you’ll probably hate your computer, your software, and you’ll be utterly sick of your story, but it’s worth it.

I didn’t talk about it much, but editing (before you tweak) is crucial. I sent my manuscript (without pictures) off to some friends who are grammar nazis, editors, and have really good outside eyes for story bits that I might have missed. I used InkWork Services as my professional editor – she’s great!

Above all, hang in there and push through. It’s hard, but it’s worth it – if for no other reason than an author’s profile on goodreads.


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