Monday, 24 February 2014

The Road to Authorship

This post is about what's involved in becoming a self-published author.

Living in France wasn't my only dream and it wasn't the only one that had to bide its time. Before my decision to pursue France I had the idea of becoming an author. Lots of people do and some of them do it. I was going to write an autobiography on growing up as a baby-boomer in NZ. And then I met Nicolas and my emphasis changed somewhat. My relationship with him was built on blind trust and hope. I told him back in 2008 I was going to write a book and include him in it. He wasn't fazed, instead suggesting he could put me in touch with his own publishers in France, when the time came. That sorry story came to an end at the beginning of 2010 and out of the muck came my determination to go it alone to France and thus the beginning of this blog. Now there will be a book, only it will be different to the original subject.

Becoming an author is a bit like moving to France; scary, expensive, confusing, liberating and usually lonely. Having finished my manuscript about my experiences in changing hemispheres and surviving the French I sent off query letters to literary agents and, where necessary, included sample chapters, synopsis and proposal. Most have predictably never replied. Those that did said it wasn't their thing. One said good luck and that she thought I wrote with poise and polish but...... well, I'm grateful to have got that much feedback.

Oh the hours I've spent trawling forums about becoming published. It seems I've got more chance of winning Lotto than getting a book deal and it's not necessarily due to the quality of the writing. You've got to be an established author or a celebrity to get a look-in. Even getting a book deal would mean a wait of at least 18 months before it would be available for readers and then my royalties would be miniscule after everyone's taken their percentage. Screw that, I've got better things to do than waste time doing stuff guaranteed to be a waste of time. So I've been researching self-publishing.

Nice little mine-field for the unwary. You can choose vanity publishing and get ripped off with huge fees for supplying almost nothing but you do end up with a book in your hand that maybe no one knows about or wants. It probably hasn't been professionally edited, more likely run through a spellcheck. I need to give myself the best chance of succeeding and that's not it.

More research and consideration of doing absolutely everything myself and then just finding a boutique printer to run off some copies. Nah, this is the digital age and I'm not a graphic designer. I need a little bit of hand-holding and confidence in presentation and distribution.
  • Create an account with CreateSpace, Amazon.com's print on demand publishing arm
  • Find a professional editor who understands commercial requirements.
  • Research book interior templates styles and costs for later reformatting for print and ebooks. A license is required.
The manuscript will need to be rewritten depending on the editor's markups and suggestions. I must be prepared for hearing feedback I don't like. My editor is not doing proof-reading. I'm more interested in whether the structure and flow are working so hopefully around mid March he'll have found time to send me back my marked-up manuscript from the US. He was Stephen King's first editor and markets himself like that though I do wonder why, after 2000 book edits, he's not had other major successes. He's more affordable than anyone else I could find. Tick.

I'll need to format the manuscript according to a purchased interior template and then create a stable pdf that meets CreateSpace's requirements. There's uploading to be done. Do I want to complicate things with photos in my book? You can publish without a template but it'll look amateurish.

I agonised over whether to just go with a free ISBN (International Standard Book Number) from CreateSpace or be truly independent and buy one myself but I found I'd have to get one from the French afnil agency for that and their site is awful to understand and it talked about also having to have a legal deposit. It all got too hard and expensive so too bad, CreateSpace will be my publisher, not me.

Ooops, don't forget taxes/royalties. This has to be organised with the US tax department. Holy shit. Which country do I use as an account for this? More searching and worrying about implications with either NZ or France. I don't have a postal address in NZ but I do have an accountant there. Nope, have to go with France as that's where I'm currently living. So I had to research tax treaties between the US and France... article 12 royalties... 5% withholding tax. I spent over an hour on the phone with the IRS. Turns out the advice I'd found on the internet was already out of date and I needed to make a new international call elsewhere and wait... to get an EIN number as a non-resident taxpayer. Then I would need to download 3 copies of W-8BEN, fill them out and send one to CreateSpace, one to Kindle Direct Publishing and one to Smashwords once I have each of my account numbers with them.

So far, after placing that second international call to the international EIN section and spelling everything out over the phone I have now received my precious EIN number to avoid withholding tax on my royalties. I'll still have to pay tax on them in France.

Find a professional book cover designer who knows how to make thumbnails look good and takes endless revisions. Tick but oh oh, I can't get started on this because the internet is showing me there are now many other products out there with the same name as my book. I must change my book title.

Oh oh, there's a BBC reporter who has written books and she's on several pages of Google search before I ever find myself. I must change my name. This was all doing my head in. Requests for help on various chat forums didn't help much. Most close alternatives were taken according to Google and Amazon. Choosing a new title and author name was surprisingly difficult. After much deliberation I am publishing Follow My Heart under the name of Frances Lawson. So, maybe I can now let my cover designer know the book title and author. I'd better finish writing the blurb and bio.

Hang on. I've changed my book title so now I'll have to change my website name. Cue domain search for the title of my book - and it's available but at an staggering price for .com, so it'll have to be .co. Now I need to ring my US hosting company and ask them to transfer all my website content over to the new domain name. Simple, thank you Go Daddy. Next, change some content on the website and amend my email signature to show the new site. Phew!!! Does this ever end?

I suppose once you've done this self-publishing once and set everything up it gets a lot easier. To do it properly with a decent professional look is not cheap but it'll be slightly cheaper than a vanity publisher and I will have a high quality product(s) to sell indefinitely (paperback and eBook). Be warned, this is a huge amount of work and then marketing the finished product will be a job and a half too. I'd love to do better than earn back the (mortgage) money I've invested in this dream project. Tick bucket list.

My thanks to all those who've trod this path before me and left footprints for me to read.

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