So You Want to Publish a Book?

An exciting part of this writing journey that I particularly treasure – is the opportunity it gives me to connect with lots of different Pacific writers and poets from all over the place. This blog post is for YOU, the writer and poet who has dallied with the thought of seeing your work in print and in digital format but have dismissed it as too fanciful and too expensive. If you dont have a writing dream then carry on about your business, this blogpost is not for you. (Its a really looooong blogpost too, so if youre going to read it, make yourself some popcorn first.)

Many Pacific writers/poets have asked me about publishing their work online. This is my attempt to answer some of their questions and encourage all those with a writing dream – to have the courage to take that leap of faith and do what is necessary to put their voices out there. I am passionate about seeing more of our Pacific stories taken to a global audience and believe that digital publishing is an exciting avenue to make it happen – it’s the fastest, cheapest and simplest way to get our stories to the world. Self-publishing makes it possible for the artist to be in control of every step of the creative process – from packaging, pricing, distributing, marketing to promoting their book. It makes it possible for the artist to be in control of the financial returns of that book. I do not see it as a replacement for traditional publishing – but rather, as another option – particularly for those of us writing for a “niche market”. More than 30 lit agents and publishers rejected TELESA. ( And yes, I’m well aware that there are those who would argue TELESA is crap and deserved to be rejected, LOL.) One year later and TELESA has sold thousands of copies worldwide – initially to its FIRST target audience of Samoan/Pasifika youth – and then to a much wider multi-ethnic demographic. Love it or hate it, the TELESA publishing story demonstrates what most of us already suspected, there is a hunger for stories from the Pacific. Contemporary, ‘fanciful, fun’ stories written by us, about us and for us. It’s a hunger fuelled by our Pacific people worldwide but it’s also a hunger in Western readers who are intrigued by the richness of our unique cultures and mythology. Albert Wendt has said, “We need to write, paint, sculpt, weave, dance, sing, and think ourselves into existence. For too long other people have done it for us – and they’ve usually stereotyped us, or created versions of us that embody their own hang-ups and beliefs and prejudices about us. So we have to write our own stories.” 
 
A powerful truth, but I would also suggest – it’s not enough just to write our own stories, we must also take ownership of HOW those stories are shared and taken to the world, how they are packaged, produced and distributed. And yes, we must take ownership of the MONEY that our stories can generate. ( Yes, yes, I know that for many artists the “M” word is a very dirty word..kinda like poop. But let’s be honest here. if you can’t make money from your art, then you’re going to have to go work at a ‘real job’ to survive which means you wont have as much time in your life to create art…I dont know about you, but I would rather do what I love for 40 hours a week and get paid for it.)

  If you’re a Pacific writer with a dream to see your work in print – then maybe, self-publishing online is the answer you’re looking for.

If you have a novel or a bunch of short stories or a lovely array of poetry that you would like to publish yourself then here’s what I suggest (from my battle scarred experience.)

1. Have your manuscript edited by a professional editor. Somebody with a few clues about novels/poetry/short fiction. The longer the manuscript, the more essential an edit job is. Yes it will cost you money. But if you skip this part, you run the risk of your manuscript being total crap. Look around your networks first before you rush out to hire a scary editor stranger. Maybe there is an English teacher…or journalist type friend in your networks. If your collection is “just a little one” then at least make sure you have some awesome reader friends proof it for you. A fresh set of eyes will find lots of things you missed.

2. Get a cover design done. Yes you can pay hundreds and thousands for a stunning graphics artist designer company to make you a cover. OR you could again draw on your networks and collaborate on a cover with a lovely photographer friend…or a very clever computer wizz friend. Whatever you do, dont take a photo of your cat and make your own cover. Unless your book is only for your dear mum who is supposed to love everything you write. Even if it has a lame cover with your silly cat on it.

3. Print Copies: I get them done two ways.

– For the NZ, Samoa, American Samoa and Fiji audience, we have bulk print copies done with a NZ printing company. I convert my own Word document into a print template, send it to the printer in Tauranga via email and they send me the books when they’re done.

Please note, the process of putting your Word file into a print template took me a long time (and lots of curse words) to learn. But its not impossible to master. Dont ask me to show you because I might curse at you. I’m VERY stupid when it comes to technology so figuring out how to do this step will probably take a normal person like you, half an hour tops. Basically, you choose the template you want from Amazon createspace, download it, insert your Word document and then go thru and clean up all the messy bits. Then you save it as a PDF file and voila! Ready for the printer. Sounds easy, doesnt it? Well it wasn’t easy for me. There are formatter people you can pay to prep your file for you. A typical charge for this service is $90USD. I didnt know about formatter people when I first started but it wouldnt have mattered because I didnt have $90 USD anyway. If you’re techno stupid like me and you DO have some money, then I recommend you hire a formatter and save yourself the time. And cut down on the curse words in your life.

The more books we order, the cheaper the print cost. We get 2000 copies printed at a time for the Telesa books. Its expensive and I dont recommend this option unless you already have an order for 2000 copies of your new book. Otherwise you will be stuck with boxes of books getting moldy in your garage. You can get printing done quite cheaply at various printing companies throughout Asia, (China comes to mind here) but I havent tried it yet. (Its on my List of Things to Do.) We now have a distributor for the print books here in NZ and at home in Samoa which means we only have to supply to them and they take care of orders for bookshops etc. Im very grateful for the companies and online school/library suppliers that stock my print books. I love Auckland Libraries because they are fabulous supporters of the Telesa Series, (and because I spend way too much time there reading books when I should be writing.)It is almost impossible to get a self-published book into a chain bookstore. This is where I tell you how much I hate Whitcoulls NZ and you listen with a very polite face but inside you are secretly rolling your eyes, sick to bits of hearing me bash on stupid mega bookstores that won’t take a chance on a book that has sold more copies than many of the gleaming “artsy” books by other NZ authors – just because it doesnt have the magic stamp of a traditional publisher’s approvalAnd if I’m really in a wild mood, I then tell you that according to the Booksellers NZ professionals, “good sales of a fiction title would be around 3,000 copies” and I stamp my foot and yell at the Whitcoulls NZ management, MY BOOK HAS SOLD WAY MORE THAN THAT, SO THERE! And you try not to show me how much you wish you could run away and not have to listen to my ranting.  But indie bookshops are great. And Paper Plus NZ is WONDERFUL and I encourage you all to shop there. All the time. Because unlike stupid Whitcoulls  they do stock my books.  So please go into a Paper Plus today and hug somebody. Bake them cookies, tell them how fabulous they are for supporting Pacific literature, even when its self-published (and has words like ‘dalashious’ and ‘aikae’ in it. And too many descriptions of glistening, rippling brown boy muscles.)

When trying to decide on doing print books, consider your target audience. The initial audience for Telesa is of course, Samoans and then all brown/Pacific people in general and then fabulous white/multi-hued people who enjoy a paranormal romance that doesnt have vampires in it. This meant we needed print books for Samoa because most readers there are not getting e-books. The two Samoa’s have been shamahzing when it comes to my books, so supportive and encouraging. In (the small town) of Apia alone, there are ten different stores which stock my books and the last time I did a book signing there, hundreds of people waited in line to shove past me and meet Ezra Taylor to get their book.

– To make your book available in print worldwide, you publish it through Creatspace Amazon. This is a print on demand company. You sign up for free. You upload your book and the cover, also for free. You click publish. (For free.) It then shows up on the Amazon sites for the USA, the UK etc. When a customer buys a print copy, Createspace prints ONE and posts it to them. You get a royalty cut. Did I mention all that was free for you the author? This means you dont have to invest money into printing lots of books (that will sit in your garage and get moldy.) Also, it means an author like me can write on a rock/in a coconut tree/lying on a beach/floating by a waterfall (and all the other silly places that silly people who believe in stereotypes assume that I write from) and still have her book available to the world and I dont have to pay crazy amounts to post it to people. All those people in Alaska/California/Utah etc that have print copies of my books, got them through Createspace. Lots of people in Australia got them there too. Which is why I cant sign them for you, no matter how nicely you ask me to.

The cool thing about Createspace is that you can purchase your own print books at the bare bones production cost, no matter how few you buy – and have them shipped wherever you want. If you only want to publish your book so you can get a few copies for your family or friends, this is a great way to do it. English teachers – its also a cool way to publish a collection of your student’s creative writing and have each student put in five dollars to get their very own hard copy of their very own words in print. Big Daughter writes poetry and I’m going to help her get her collection up onto Createspace so we can get her words “in print”. (Christmas present alert for all my family members…LOL)

4. E-books. I publish the Telesa Series digitally on Amazon but there are other places you can do it. Its a simple process. You convert your Word document to e-book format, upload it, upload your cover and then hit the publish button. Amazon pays you a 70% royalty for books that are priced over $2.99, so for every e-copy sold of Telesa, I get about $2.09. In my wild dreams, I sell hundreds…thousands of e-copies every week and dine on steak&lobster every other night with three different desserts to follow. (I also look like Naomi Campbell in my dreams and Thor is whisking me away to holiday in Asgard. Go figure.) But the reality is much different….*sigh*
E-books are wonderful though. And they are most definitely the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to take our Pacific stories to a global audience. You can pay a formatter to prep your manuscript. The most recent quote I got for this service was $15 USD. I learned how to do it all myself by studying this book:
     Self-Printed, The Sane Person’s Guide to Self Publishing by Catherine Ryan Howard.
Its only $4.99 for the ebook on Amazon and I recommend you get it if you want to get your writing published.

There ya have it! That’s my wannabe-helpful list for those of you with a publishing dream. What else would you like to know? Ask me in the comments section and I will try to answer or at least direct you to where I think you can find out.

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17 comments

  1. Oh Lani your such a crack up…just reading your tips was fun! I have enjoyed your Telesa Series, we are total fans. My family & I have bought multiple paperback copies of both Telesa books via Amazon and also the digital copies. We were fortunate to have you sign our hard copies at your book launch in Brisbane, it was very exciting meeting you and of course Ezra. Thanks for sharing your tips…I hope this encourages our PI writers out there to take their dreams in their own hands and make it happen… as you have shown it can be done! Malo LaniMuch Alofa … Timu family Brizvegas

  2. this is EXACTLY what i needed to hear!!! were you talking just to me? LOL btw, you were right about that self publishing book. it's excellent. going to try formatting my book myself (and if that doesn't work out, will force my techie husband to do it)

  3. Thank you Elizabeth – I wanted a quick link to all the info many people ask me about so I could direct them to it super quick. I hope i covered many of the key points. I hope your writing is going well and I look forward to reading more of yours, SOON!

  4. Im glad you found Catherine' book helpful. Its been my publishing BIBLE in so many ways. Her blog is also an excellent resource. Its where i found out how to get my EIN number from the US inland revenue super fast and easy. You need to apply for it now Sieni, before you publish your book because otherwise Amazon cuts 1/3 off all your royalties.

  5. Hi Lani, word could not explained my feelings about your book, you are one most formatting person in the world, I'm so glad that I have order 2 books from the Barnes and Nobles, I went there on 1-24`13 and purchase 2 books, they do not have it on stock. So I have to order it prepaid.. It will be arrived in 4 days… just can't wait to read them… Respectfully your,Susana…

  6. Hey lady! Sorry I haven't popped over for a bit. I'm potty training the twins, and I'm fairly sure I won't ever have free time or sanity ever again.How did you potty train five of them? I bow to you. That said, thank you for this post! It's very timely, as I've decided to take the leap and self-publish. All your advice rang very true as I've hired out every job (Formatting? I can't even remember my email passwords half of the time.)The one thing I can't emphasize enough its to absolutely have someone else design your cover …unless you love your cat that much. I just hired a lovely girl in Australia, and she'll be doing a lot better than I would have by drawing something in Windows Paint. It's a sad but true fact that we all judge what we buy, by its cover, so money there is well spent.Hope you and the beautiful family are doing fantastically. I'm over the moon the book is taking off so well!

  7. I always get a buzz and do a hop'skip'jump when you visit the blog Paige – your adventures with the twins and life in general have me in stitches over at your blog! Congratulations on the decision to move ahead with publishing yr book. Youre one of my fave bloggers and I cant wait to read your book.

  8. Hahahahahahahahaaaa (: Your post was sort of like a slap in the face – but like a real good slap – I’ve been out of school for about 8 months and haven’t done any sort of serious writing (except for a few days ago) and here you are with a post that appeals to my lame life as an English major failing drop-out. Anyway, thank you for the loads of information – we don’t have any popcorn so of course I was reading while folo’ing my faua. lol. Maybe in the next 5 years when my writing is so KAISI like you and Sia Figiel then maybe I can finally publish my own work because as of right now all I seem to write about is my crappy life hahahahaha 😀 Faafetai tele !

    1. Thanks for the blog visit – dont knock your ‘crappy life’ – my best writing comes from my own life experiences and I would guess that Sia Figiel would say the same thing. Write what you know and what you feel passionate about, for most of us thats our own crappy lives! lol I Look forward to reading your writing.

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