The bloody realities of self publishing

Self-publishing is a grind. Don’t kid yourself that you can just kiss off that bestseller, throw it up on line as an eBook or paperback then lay back and count the royalty cheques as they roll in, particularly if you forgot to put in the teen vampires chapter.

Here in the grunt room at Fraudcast News, I’ve got to the stage of promoting my book beyond the immediate circle of family and both of my friends. Time for a brief run through what got me here.

There’s quite a skillset to build up or borrow just to get this far, the first being to have the idea for a book.

The ones behind Fraudcast News  began germinating 15 years ago, when I first wondered about the realities of political power in the European Union. No really, it’s sad but true, that’s the sort of thing that bothers my head in idle moments, I can’t help it.

As a Reuters reporter in Brussels, I witnessed political decisions being taken over the heads of European environment ministers – by finance ministers, heads of governments and even European Commission civil servants. It made me think about where power truly lay, who had it and what I as a journalist should be doing to write about that. My immediate concern was why so little ever got done to resolve environmental issues such as climate change. As I now know, the problem goes far wider.

My questions about power and how journalism should cover it mushroomed out over the years, eventually forcing me out of Reuters. They spread down to national and local levels of government and up to the global level. It took ages for me to work them into the broader critique of representative democracy and journalism, and possible remedies, that is Fraudcast News. It’s complicated but not impossible stuff.

The work required me to write and re-write the text, getting various clever friends to read through each version for coherence, content and so on. With a complete first draft in hand by last May, I re-wrote it all again in the subsequent months on the back of people’s comments, positive and negative. Many times over the years, I considered jacking it all in as a bad job. The project survived, emerging complete at the start of 2012.

That took me to, one of several self-publishing sites. My first goal was to publish an eBook, which took a few days to work through their system.

My Word document needed juggling about to strip out unnecessary formatting and to make its chapters suitable for the table of contents generator Lulu uses to turn a document into EPUB format. There were all the usual annoying glitches you get with any formatting process but I got there in the end, this being the result. I used one of their off-the-shelf covers to get me going. Once it was done, I read the ebook from start to finish, picking up quite a few grammar howlers, spelling mistakes or wooly sentences as I went. Strange how a changed format threw up errors I’d missed in the previous one.

Next was the paperback, which was more straightforward. I created a PDF from the Word document, played around with fonts, headers and footers and the extra pages at the front. I appealed to the world for help designing a cover before eventually doing one myself and market testing it with my Facebook friends. They were great – I got tonnes of helpful and useful advice.

The process was faster than it would have been with a conventional publisher, once I’d worked the text through to its first complete draft. I’d tried but failed to get a conventional publisher a few years back and decided this time around to do it myself.

Would I recommend that others do the same and bypass the old-style route?

It depends, though probably yes. I’ve learnt a lot having to do all this stuff myself, to say nothing of the experimenting I’ve been doing with Facebook, Twitter and the rest.

You certainly need friends who are willing and able to help and plenty of time that you don’t have to spend on other things, with or without full-time, paid work.

No conventional publisher would have accepted me doing a Creative Commons book or giving away free PDFs, so I was probably always destined to do it this way. Technology set me free then made me work my backside off.