Chris Gardner

The joys of self-publishing.


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Designing your own covers.

I’ve always designed my own covers and to be honest I’ve not been completely satisfied The_Letter_Cover_for_Kindlewith all of them. But the beauty of self-publishing is that I can change them whenever I like and as my capabilities improve I continue to do that. My best cover so far is the last book I published, ‘The Letter’, which I had very little input in! The idea was mine but my artist daughter-in-law took over the design and since I’d already paid someone on fiverr to do the text I went with that. It looks much more professional and I’m very pleased with it.

Not everyone has an artist in the family though and I like a challenge. I always found the worst thing about creating Createspace covers to be the space limitations–trying to fit the text inside the lines. I finally realised they have a template for cover design which allows much more freedom but you need editing software to use it. Photoshop is the obvious one of course but I’ve been looking into free software and GIMP seems to be the most popular.

I don’t know how many times I attempted to understand the written directions or youtube instructions but I’d almost given up until my son was here for a weekend visit. I tend to need to see things done rather than just read instructions. He spent around 15 minutes going through it with me and although I’m still learning I know the basics now and it’s not so scary! My first completed GIMP cover is a re-do of ‘Stony Creek’, the first book in my rural romance series, which is free as an ebook and also available as a POD. It might still be showing the older cover on Amazon but will show the new one when it’s downloaded. I’m pretty happy with this and now slightly obsessed with the whole design process and want to re-do all my books!stonycreeknewcover

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Indie Authors and Typos

I have written about this before but I’m one of an enormous number of authors who are self-publishing now, for various reasons, and I’m continually disappointed at the lack of editing in a lot of the self-published books out there. Yes, it’s true, almost any book you pick up at the library or a bookshop will have errors. I just finished reading one and I found one typo, in over 300 pages. I think that’s forgivable; I also presume my own books have errors in them, but I hope not. If they do I’m pretty sure they’re minor. The odd typo will get through many rounds of editing but honestly, some authors don’t seem to edit at all.

If you can afford it, of course you should hire a professional editor (Yes, I am one, but I’m only taking on Australian clients) and maybe, instead of putting out a book a month, take a little more time and make sure it’s as good as you can make it. Presuming you have Word or something like it, you’ll have Spellcheck etc., which is at least a start. There’s a lot it can’t correct though, and apostrophes in the wrong place are a major annoyance for me. I’ve been writing weekly hints on my Facebook page, so please take a look:  Editing Indies.

What really bothers me is when I start reading a book and I find a thankyou or some sort of mention of an editor who has worked on the book, followed by page after page of obvious errors. If you’re able to hire an editor, take your time and have a good hunt around. There’s plenty out there and some even have qualifications. Check references and ask for a free sample. Look at their books if they’re also writers. Before you send your story off to be edited make sure you think it’s perfect. Use Word’s Text to Speech–hearing your story read out aloud, even if the voice is a bit robotic, is fantastic for picking up those little typos that are almost invisible–like whole instead of while–one I found in my latest story. It’s a slow process but well worth it.

Take your time. It doesn’t matter if you write 5000 words a day or 500. What matters is that they’re your best words.

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The Letter

It’s been a major effort but my new book is finally done and dusted and available on Amazon. ‘The Letter’ took me much longer to write than any of my other books thus far, partly because I had a lot of research to do and partly, I think, because it was the book I’d wanted to write for years. I’ve always been fascinated with history; loved it at school and also at university, but mostly I loved reading historical fiction. And still do. I don’t mind if it’s romantic or mystery or one of those family sagas. History at school was mostly about our British heritage–English royalty, which I would never write about myself but still love to read. At university I studied Australian history and in my Honours year I concentrated on Women’s History. That still sounds a little odd to me because of course it’s not only about women, but it was more a social kind of study–about people, rather than dry old politics.

I’ve written two books based on, or inspired by, my research on women who killed their children in the early 20th century, one fiction and one non-fiction, and I wanted to write a book about women on the goldfields in the 19th century. I studied that as well and had done heaps of research so a novel should be easy peasy, right? Ha! I spent hours researching specifics like what they ate on the goldfields, what they wore, what the town (Bendigo, where I now live) was like in 1855 and so much more. Of course every time I looked up something I’d find something else of interest and spend far too long reading irrelevant history, but that’s one of the benefits of indie publishing. No deadlines or if there are they’re self-imposed, so who cares?

I also had drama (of course) with the cover. I had an image I loved and a background I liked and managed to put that together, but decided to get someone else ( https://www.fiverr.com/) just to do some nice cover text for me. I quite like creating covers but Createspace covers are difficult and it was worth the few bucks I paid to get that done, but yes, drama. The morning after I sent the cover off to Germany for the text I woke up and realised I hadn’t checked the resolution of that background image. I jumped out of bed and ran (okay, now I’m just being dramatic) to my computer to check it. Not good enough!

It just so happened that my son and his artist wife were here for the weekend and I asked her to check the photo for me because I wasn’t sure. Anyway to cut a long story slightly shorter, she offered to do another image with one of her own photos and I emailed my German cover person and asked her to wait for the new image. There was some difficulty in communicating with her, mostly because she’s in a different time zone of course. We’re pretty used to that in Oz but when you really need some back and forth communication and you have a book ready and waiting for that final step it’s frustrating to say the least. I’ve been a wee bit stressed. So anyway the cover is beautiful and I’m happy with the book, so check it out. It’s available as both an ebook and print on Amazon.com, Amazon.UK and the new Australian store.

bookstandletterThe_Letter_Cover_for_Kindle


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Amazon-Friend or Foe?

A lot of writers hate Amazon–they’re big, corporate, money hungry and not at all like those small independent publishers who actually care about what they’re publishing, right? I can’t say I’ve loved every minute or that I’m thrilled with every aspect of the business but for a self-published author who doesn’t have money to burn Amazon is a godsend.

new the inheritance coverIt’s true they’ll sell anything–well, almost, and some of the self-published stuff is rubbish, I agree, but the same applies to small publishers who require hundreds of dollars from authors to produce their book. There are publishers who care about their books, of course; if they’re the ones paying the upfront costs it’s essential they publish only what they believe they can sell.

I’ve written about vanity publishers before and I won’t go into it again here; I sometimes feel as if I’m selling Amazon to writers out there and I have no intention of doing that. I promise I don’t have shares. I just want to let you know that it’s not so bad being a self-published writer on Amazon!

There’s also their Createspace department, where you can publish your book in POD form and they’ll distribute it to several other shopfronts for you. Then there’s Kindle Unlimited, which is a lending library. The customer pays a monthly amount and has to return the ebook, just like any other library, and the author is paid per page read. The amount, as far as I can ascertain, is not always the same, but at the moment my KU amount is about half as much per book as a sale would be, which is not bad.

Another thing I like is that it’s easy to make changes–for example I have a list in the back of each book, of all my other books, and when I publish a new one I add that to the list. I can also change covers if something better comes along, and fix typos if I discover them after my book’s published.(!) All in all, for me Amazon is invaluable and I’d be lost without it. Come and check out my Author Page or here if you’re in the UK.


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Self-Publishing: Designing your own covers

inheritance-cs3rdBack to the trials and tribulations of self-publishing! One of the best things about self-publishing print on demand or ebooks is that you can always make changes. A tweak here and there, or fixing typos you’ve missed when someone else points them out to you after your book’s published! One of the worst things about self-publishing PODs or ebooks is that you can always make changes, which means, of course, nothing is ever quite good enough.

I’ve always had an interest in visual art and spent several years studying before swapping over to writing. That doesn’t mean I was good at it, just that I do have enough knowledge to make me frustrated at my limitations! So tweaking book covers is my weakness. Or is it my strength? I’m not sure on that one! I’ve been able to either use my own images or find free ones online until last year, when I paid a designer on fiverr.com for a cover for ‘Inheritance.’

Next I paid for an image for the cover of ‘Red Wine and sanctuary_cover_for_kindleSummer Storms’, and did the text myself; it was around $14, but I forget where I bought that. There’s a lot of online images available but often you have to buy a bulk number, rather than just one at a time. I have discovered one site I’ve used now for two new covers for old books, ‘Sanctuary’ and the POD image for ‘Inheritance’. They’re called CanStock Photo and both images I used were $7 USD each.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen of course you have to go through the whole uploading process again, which, after three or four years I still find very frustrating, but it’s worth it, if only because it makes me feel better. Until I get another idea. I’ve also built another new cover for the thesis I wrote when I was at university, 2005. It’s called ‘Demented Mothers’ and it is a thesis, not a light read, but definitely interesting. This cover has one of the mothers, Camellia McCluskey, in a ghostly effect using Pixlr, a free kind of photo shop, which is a lot of fun to mess around with.

‘Sanctuary’ is free on Amazon and Amazon.UK, from December 1 (USA time) to December 5.


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Vanity Publishing

I’m constantly surprised at how many writers don’t seem to understand the difference between traditional publishers and vanity publishers. I often read writers proudly announcing they’ve been accepted by a publisher and they’re thrilled at how easy it was and pumped by how enthusiastic the publisher is to publish their very first novel.

Most self-published writers, I presume, get unsolicited offers from publishers these days; we’re always accessible on Facebook or LinkedIn or whatever. We all want to have the next ’50 Shades of Grey’, or at least that kind of success and it’s nice to hear any kind of praise for anything we do, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at how many writers respond to these kind of publishers.

BookCoverImageher fleshandbloodLet me make it clear–traditional publishers don’t ask writers for money! They actually pay an advance to the writer which immediately puts them in a position where it’s to their advantage to distribute the book and sell as many copies as possible. The writer is still expected to make use of social media and other publicity but the publisher doesn’t make any money unless the book sells.

A vanity press is a publisher who asks the writer to pay for everything, from editing right through to distribution, while a traditional publisher pays for all of this. The vanity publisher in fact makes his money directly from the writer, whether their book is a success or not. The traditional publisher makes money only if the book is successful enough to cover the writer’s advance, the costs of editing, printing and so on with some net profit at the end of it. It’s not hard to understand why it’s so difficult for new writers to find a place in the world of traditional publishing.

I’m not necessarily saying all vanity publishers are scammers, just that writers should understand the difference. It may be that you think it’s worth paying someone to do all that’s required to produce your book for you, but if you do choose that road at least make sure you do lots of research and try to find someone with genuine recommendations from other writers. This is why I self-publish–all things considered it seems the best option for me. I can do what I like when I like, and if I do choose to pay someone for a book cover design or any of the many things a self-published writer has to do, it will still be my decision.

If you have any experience, good or bad, with vanity publishers, I’d love to hear about it.

‘Her Flesh and Blood’, a fictionalised version of my true story ‘Not Guilty’, is FREE from the 14th to the 18th of October. For more details about this and my other books please see my ‘Fiction and Non-fiction’ page or visit my author pages at Amazon.com or Amazon.UK

Excerpt from ‘Her Flesh and Blood’: We had a blazing row when George finally got home. He was drunk and he called me names that I would never say, let alone write down, even here in the privacy of my journal. I slapped him and he hit me hard across the face. I fell over and hit my head on the table. The children were asleep but we were arguing so loudly that Dolly woke up and came out crying. She cried out to George to stop hurting her mumma and he came to his senses then. He picked her up and then helped me to my feet and we both said we were sorry and put her back to bed. He refused to discuss what happened at the factory, except to tell me never to go there again. I know he was humiliated. I’m sure Mr Leggo gave him a good talking to and the workers were no doubt amused by the whole event. I don’t care. Now those women are gone and we can get on with our lives. My children will have a father.

 


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Agony and Ecstasy–Designing your own book covers

Beast_of_War_Cover_for_KindleI finished my latest book a week or so ago and decided to spend some time before I start the next one working on covers, one in particular. I’ve done all of my own covers and currently have 15 books on Amazon; most of them I’m reasonably happy with but the children’s books in particular are really crying out for an artist. There’s no way I’m ever going to find an image of 3 teens, one who’s green and extremely tall and thin, one blue and muscular, and one tiny with white skin and pointy ears, for ‘Beast of War’!

When my youngest son started school I did too and I spent a few years studying art before I decided writing was more my forte. It was fun and hard work and I think the design aspect has proven worthwhile but unfortunately my drawing skills are just not up to scratch, certainly not now if they ever were. Then again my handwriting has deteriorated a lot since I started spending so much time on a computer too and that might be part of it.

Anyway, back to the drawing board–or at least the free photos at morguefile. I did find a picture there that I used for a new cover on ‘Beast of War’, which gives it a fresh look at least. Maybe next year I’ll try the local community college–see if I can find an artist who’ll work for nothing!

 

The only cover I’ve paid for is ‘Inheritance’ and I’m very pleased with that one (from fiverr). I had planned to get the same designer to do my latest new the inheritance coverbook, ‘Red Wine and Summer Storms’, and since it’s book 3 of a series I wanted the other 2 re-done so they’d all sort of match up. I wasn’t happy with his design and I realise now what I actually love about the design of ‘Inheritance’ is the actual picture, which was from one of those sites that sell them, so I went looking for pictures and found one I liked at istock for around $14. Then I redid the titles on the others so they match up reasonably well.

not guilty 2014 coverMy favourite cover, for ‘Not Guilty’, is one of my own photos and the layout is one of Createspace’s, which is considerably easier than using your own.

I’d love to hear from other self-published writers about your cover design stories.

‘Beast of War’ is FREE on Amazon from 4th to 6th December (USA time) and ‘Not Guilty’ is free 4th and 5th. My book of short stories, ‘Connections‘, if free right now, today only.

 

 

 

 

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