My Adventure in Self-Publishing: Wrestling the Proof Copy into Submission

Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, CoverA proof copy of your novel is a beautifully constructed illusion.

Oh, it feels like your book, it could even be argued that it smells like your book, but when you open it up… Wait! I forgot that comma! What happened to that word in that sentence? I know I didn’t mean that!

The illusion is shattered like a mirror and by the time you have gone through the entire book your hands are riddled with little scratches and nicks, and the mirror is nothing like it used to look like. It’s all funky now and so is the reflection staring back at you.

Okay… okay… I know that is dramatic, but that is how I felt going through the proof copy of my new novel MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE.

One of the wonderful little surprises I had with deciding to work with CreateSpace is this option for a proof copy. Yes, they give you the option to look at the proof online for free, but I wanted to hold it.

See, I’ve never gotten into the whole Kindle thing. I just can’t get lost in a story via a screen like I do with paper. Maybe that makes me old fashioned (and, wow, I feel too young to have that feeling about anything), but it just feels more real. On paper is how I discovered all of my favorite books! We share a history, paper and me; and I want my new book to be part of that as well.

What was I talking about again? I got distracted. Oh, yeah, the proof copy!

You see that last paragraph, “distracted” is the key word there. It is so, so, so easy as you get closer to locking down a book to get distracted, not focus as intently on the review in front of you. This is the fifth time I have read this novel in the last few months, fifth!, and my fear is I was beginning to assume things; in other words, mistakes were being missed out of sheer mental laziness on my part.

I noticed this was going to be an issue pretty early on when the proof copy arrived. First, just holding a printed version of a new book is… Magical sounds cliché, but that is the best way to describe it; and if I can’t use it for this, when can I use it? This very moment is what you dreamed about since you first put pen to paper with the idea! (Granted, leading towards self-publishing as compared to traditional publishing is not usually the dream objective, but you can’t deny the fact that your book is done and you are holding it for the first time as a book, not just a collection of papers from your old printer.)

MaximilianOkay, I did get misty eyes. I admit it. MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH as a book means something special to me (well, honestly all of my books do but in different ways); this one was my crazy brainchild. My attempt to really do something new on the page while also playing in a genre I have always loved reading as a kid. Yes, those are the same cobblestone and foggy streets from Sherlock’s London, but in this book they belong to Maximilian Standforth and his narrator Bob.

First off, the cover work done by my cover artist Brina Williamson really captures the fun and gothic nature of the work, setting up the mood for the text within, which is exactly what you want from a cover. (You can visit her site and learn more about what she can do for you here. Also, she wrote an editorial about working with me on the cover! You can read that via this link.) I could stare at it all day.

Stop being distracted! As they say in Monty Python: Get on with it!

So I made a schedule, trying to read two to three chapters a day, never at the same time. I took my time. And when I started to feel distracted, I put the book down. Went and did something else and returned to it. There was a plan in place, not a great plan, but a definitly working one.

The one thing I walked away with from the experience was again how happy I am that I worked with an editor before going down this road. (I worked with Rebecca T. Dickson, who just published a book filled with great writing advice called WRITING ON YOUR TERMS. You can check it out and buy it on her site via this link) Most of the stuff I was correcting here, or needed to do was stuff I created after the edit or simply were things I wanted to say differently.

Whatever the case, by the time I had finished the review, there was a wonderful awkward sense of peace, knowing that, no matter what, the book was going out into the world. The links are up on amazon, the countdown is in place.

My hands were now forever clean of it.

After completely my proof review, uploading my final version of the book, I had to start thinking of the eBook version. I decided to go with Kindle Direct with CreateSpace for no other reason than they make it so very easy to do. BUT what they don’t tell you is all the work you have to do preparing the new draft of the book for that new reading experience.

First off, I had to reformat the entire flipping book, get rid of a lot of the extra spaces (for example, my chapters beginning in the middle of a page, the table I created to make the table of contents line up, etc) and other annoying little bits. I also noticed there was a tab issue in the document, which meant a few hours one evening going through the entire manuscript correcting about two to three paragraphs on each page.

One thing great about Kindle Direct is you can test your book on different devices to see how it looks. Honestly, I found with each version I attempted “simple” seemed to be the key word to aim for. For example, my fancy font starting each chapter had to go. The bigger issue was around presentation for me. As people know who read my blog (or maybe my book MY PROBLEM WITH DOORS, and you should, it is awesome), I like to experiment with word placement from time to time. I find that it adds an emotional denseness to a narrative, by giving a manufactured feeling of a dramatic pause. And in MAXIMILIAN I have a horrific scene that is given through a bunch of quick jarring, incomplete sentences and thoughts. Well, the scene works for most Kindle devices, but I wouldn’t recommend reading it on an iphone. A book like this doesn’t work for a small device honestly. And that is just one example.

But, for those eBook readers out there, no worries! I was able to create a version I was very happy with which I uploaded to Kindle. So everything should all be set, print and eBook for the official release of the book on June 11.

With the book’s release fast approaching a new issue has emerged. Well, it is honestly not a new issue, but it is definitely one I have been avoiding. After it comes out… then what?

It is so easy in today’s overly-congested world of books to have a book lost, unread, only found by chance in a misspelled amazon.com search. I don’t want that for my book. No one does!

I, like all authors, want my books to be read, enjoyed. That is one of the reasons I started writing in the first place. But to get to my readers, to break through that wall from “just another” book to “the next one I am going to read” book, is the trick.

I entered MAXIMILIAN first in a book giveaway on Good Reads (which you can enter here). My publisher for A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM had some luck with a giveaway for that book with over 1100 readers signing up. MAXIMILIAN is not up to that number, nor do I expect it to get there (only up to 220 so far). DAYDREAM is frankly lucky to have “Jane Austen” in the title.

One of the great things about doing a book giveaway on Good Reads is people entering the competition have the choice whether to add the book to their reading list. So, for example, with DAYDREAM I know over 600 have added it to their reading list. Now, if they ever get around to it, well, who is to say? But the fact is the initial contact is there. I just have to cross my fingers and hope that that next step takes place.

I need to think about reviews, marketing, and other options online. Yes, on Twitter I have over 20,600 followers but for the life of me, I don’t see Twitter as a very good marketing tool. Yes, it does draw people to read my blog each day (Hi there!), but I don’t see it leading to sales for DAYDREAM and my older work. Frankly, 140 characters isn’t enough to pitch a book and the attempts we writers make on Twitter can get a little monotonous, leaving, I am sure, possible readers’ glassy eyed.

So there is my conundrum. The big question of “What can I do to help my book now. What’s next?”

That is what is going to keep me up, losing sleep, in the weeks and months ahead. The same question I am sure every writer has suffered around, the great obstacle in the path of literary stardom. But for a self-published work it is more so, because there is not a marketing team or a publishing house with its finances at stake behind you. This is on only your shoulders and you can feel each pound you personally placed there.

What’s next?

What’s next???

If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had three novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare (coming June 11), My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!

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Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare by Scott D. Southard

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11 responses

  1. Hey, if you figure out the answer to what’s next, do a blog. I’m sure we’d love to read what you have figured out.
    As I’m just finishing my first draft I have a ways to go before I need to deal with what’s next, but it’s always on my mind.

  2. Been there, done that with createspace. I know what you mean about the proof copy. When I self published my young adult fantasy, Ashmikisle Out of the Ashes, I completed an additional edit when the proof copy arrived. Something about seeing the work in real life book form. I’m about to self publish a women’s southern fiction book, but this time I’m going to publish through my own company. I’ll still take the print on demand route, but I’ll have my own ISBN’s through my own publishing company–a new journey for me. Congrats on Jane Austen–My copy arrived last week.

  3. The problem with reading proof copies is the same as the one you run into with initial editing of drafts–familiarity makes it hard to see errors. The writer ends up reading what they expect to find rather than what is actually on the page. If he or she doesn’t have the luxury of time to let the proof sit for a while, I would suggest handing it over to another writer or a trusted friend. Get a fresh viewpoint and the errors will stand out as if in neon!

    • Exactly! That’s why I worked with an editor before getting the proof. In many ways, this is more me just not letting go in many ways. Usually books don’t end for me as a writer, it is more me just walking away.

  4. I’ll agree that reading on a Kindle doesn’t capture the same feel as a good ol’ print book, but it is closer than a computer screen, and as such makes quite a handy proofing tool.

    And it has one other great feature – expectation bias is a writer’s worst enemy when trying to proofread his own work, but I’ve taken to utilizing the Kindle’s text-to-speech ability to greatly alleviate that issue. It may be a little crude, but it’s certainly intelligible, and even after multiple people have scoured the manuscript, it’s helped me to catch all those last little missing/repeated/wrong words that a human editor, myself or otherwise, have overlooked.

    • Well there are some visual stuff in the book that will just work better in print. I can’t change that no matter how much I may work on it.

      Still, it should still be a good book in any format. Trust the material.

      I look forward to hearing how people react to this book. It has a fun twist (of course most of my books do).

      • Yep, there are indisputable advantages to print in the area of granular control over the final visual layout (I know I miss my fonts and careful typesetting in reflowable e-copies). My point, however, was entirely about proofreading the narrative.

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