Hello, dear readers!
I've gone back and forth and around the bend trying to think of the best way to present my self-publishing adventures. At first, I wanted to be super factual because I noticed a lack of self-publishing stories for Canadian writers (outside of just converting USD to CAD)—at least ones that were transparent and gave me the numbers I needed.
But I'm not a black-and-white kinda girl (let alone a numbers girl).
What I am is a writer, so I'm going to take you with me on a narrative journey with as much transparency (and as many facts) as I can manage. I promise not to waffle too much.
Our story begins over two decades ago, when I was a starry-eyed ten-year-old—just kidding!
We're not going that far back.
You will have noted that this is not my first foray into self-publishing. I, along with four fantastic fellow writers, published a free fantasy anthology in January 2020: Fantasy Unbound. I harangued Mae McKinnon, Kris Hawley, Ian Gough, and Elizabeth-Rose Best for the better part of a year for their stories and input on our book's design and eventual publication.
I settled on using Draft2Digital (D2D) to distribute our eBook on two simple factors: (1) It'd make the book accessible to most people, and (2) they were okay with a free eBook (Amazon, even through D2D, required I put a price on our book).
Odds are, I'll use them again for my eBooks.
But now I want to go print.
And all the trials, tribulations, and little twists the free eBook presented exploded exponentially.
Step 1: Research
Naturally, all good adventures start with a bit of research. Whether you're throwing darts at a map or piecing together a detailed schedule, there are some choices to make before you set out.
I knew what I'd be writing: a dark fantasy/light horror anthology. I combed through stories I'd written, things I wanted to rewrite, and new ideas that would suit the theme.
Now, I'm a little lucky, working as an editor in the industry has introduced me to a lot of wonderful people. I didn't have to do much research for an editor or book designer, I reached out to a content editor early to have him on standby. I also got in touch with three proofreaders who could guarantee a 30-day turnaround (depending on when I called upon them, hence having more than one on hand). Fantasy Unbound had put me in touch with a reliable and affordable book designer for the cover.
I liked having that roadmap set up but those were details to iron out later.
Even before looking for printers and how to distribute a printed book, I had some important decisions to make.
Decision 1: Binding
The first decision was whether I wanted this first book to be a hardcover or a paperback. Since I'm a new author testing the waters, I thought the expense of a hardcover would be a bit much. Don't get me wrong, I think hardcovers are gorgeous, but, for my first venture into printing, I thought having a single print run would be best (and maybe less of a headache?). Paperback, all settled, right?
I stared at my shelves and all the paperbacks there.
Okay, maybe not.
Decision 2: Trim Size and Cover
There are dozens of little details that'll change your book's price. If you want a custom trim size, that'll cost you (if you can find a printer who'll accommodate you). So I was looking at standard sizes. I already knew I wasn't going to go with the mass market paperback (4" x 7"); I wanted my first print book to have a little heft on the shelf.
Trade paperbacks can range between 5.5″ x 8.5″ and 6" x 9" but the ones I was modelling this anthology after were 6" x 9".
But now the cover. I'd chosen a softcover over a hardcover, but what did that mean? I poured over my favourite anthologies on my shelves. I then discovered something terrible about myself: I adore matte covers.
I know, I know! It's such a silly thing to obsess over. A gloss finish gives a book so much more vibrant colour and pop...but I enjoy holding a matte book more. Plus, I'd already decided the cover design would be a simpler illustration with limited shading. A gloss dustjacket over a linen hardcover looks great but for my trade paperback, I decided I needed a matte cover.
Decision 3: Paper Type
Now this one was a little harder to determine. I foolishly didn't have time to go out to local print shops to test my theory before this Covid-19 pandemic put us all in lockdown here (I'm not even home to check my shelves at the moment either). I would highly recommend doing so to see what kind of paper you like for printing. It's great to see options between 50 lbs, 55 lbs, and 60 lbs, cream, antique white, or white papers...but unless you work in production, it's hard to grasp what all of that means.
I knew I wasn't sold on bright white paper but the paper weights were a little beyond me. Thankfully, and I wish more publishers did this, some books I had actually recorded the paper they used on the copyright page. I settled on the 55 lbs. antique white or something close to it.
Okay! That's all the options, right?
Oh no. No, no, my dear reader, we aren't done yet.
Decision 4: The Little Things
Amid the research, I discovered a few other terms I think every first-time author should know.
This first point is pretty standard: Your printer will be using CMYK...make sure your book designer knows that (they should but you never know). What is less understood is this will introduce terms like 4/4 (four over four), 4/1 (four over one), 1/1 (one over one), and 1/0 (one over zero). This is asking you if you'd like full-colour (the four CMYK colours) versus one colour (usually black) or no colour.
So, in a regular novel, your text will be 1/1 (black ink used on both sides of the printed page). A regular novel's cover, generally, will be 4/0 (and a hardcover is always this designation) as there's only colour on the outside. If you want coloured endpapers, that has its own designation depending on what you want (0/0 for no colour; 4/4 for full-colour; 4/0 for only the front endpapers).
Not all printers will give you the option but if you're asked, now you know!
Next is page count. You don't need an exact number when getting quotes but a rough estimate is important. The page count will not only inform the quote for the printed book but give you an idea of spine width (for your book designer) and weight (for shipping estimates)—which is another reason dimensions and paper type are important too.
But this introduced another point: Know your layout. MS Word's standard margins and spacing are not set up for book printing by default. Save yourself and your printer a world of hurt by working in the margins you intend to see in print. You would think this is a moot point if you intend to use a program like Adobe InDesign to lay everything out...but unless you've completed your book and already fed it into a layout program, this one give you the page count. MS Word is actually helpful in this endeavour: You can lay out your text with the margins, indentation, and spacing you plan to use and it'll give you a decent page number estimate.
Okay, now we can move on to the next step, printing and distribution! Stay tuned!