You know what’s awesome? Analogies. And it just so happens that I have an analogy to share with you, which I’ll happy toss your way in just a moment. This particular analogy is rooted in my recent endeavor of publishing a book. Which came about as I’m sure most book concepts do…
It all started with an idea that came to me while I was out on a jog one day (I don’t know about you but my brain really goes into idea mode on jogs, hikes, long drives, and/or while I’m in the shower).
The concept was a wildfire-centric book of short stories, poetry, and artwork, all of which would be contributed by wildland firefighters past and present. The more I formed the concept in my mind, the more intrigued I became. Why didn’t something like this already exist within a such a storytelling community? I finished my run and immediately called a fellow fire friend to bounce my idea off of them. They seemed just as excited about the concept as I was so I called another fire friend, and then another, all of whom had the same level of intrigue and excitement. That was all the confirmation I needed to start moving down the path.
Now, this might be a good point in the story to divulge a couple of things about myself. For one thing, when I get an idea I don’t sit on it for too long, I generally take action pretty quickly like any field going person would. And the other quirk worth pointing out is that when it comes to putting something together, I’m not the “directions following” type. I’m more of the “look at the pictures and skim the directions” type. If I build something and it works, then the fact that I may, or may not, have additional unused parts lying there is irrelevant. Alright moving on.
So there I was, needing to put something together. I investigated how indie-publishing worked just enough to know that what I was aiming to do was possible. I figured it made sense to take things one step at a time rather than get too far ahead of myself in the publication process, so that’s how I went about it; one-step-at-a-time.
But before getting into the steps of the publishing process, remember in the beginning when I said I had an analogy for you? Well, here it is.
The experience of publishing a book is very akin to having a child. Perhaps you’ve heard this analogy before? I can recall hearing this same analogy on more than one occasion, and remember thinking it was a bit melodramatic.
Well, I’ve birthed a child, and I’ve now published a book, and I’m here to tell you that the comparison is not overdramatized. With the exception of transferring the physical pain of birth to mental anguish, you’ve pretty much got a straight comparison.
Now, I’m not going to leave you in the dark wondering how those two life experiences could possibly even be in the same ballpark. I’m going to provide all the details stage by stage, because just like becoming a new parent the unsavory details of publishing a book tend to be hidden away. This leaves onlookers to assume it’s all a piece of cake because they only see the end result, while those who’ve been through it exchange all knowing glances of understanding at one another.
Pregnancy (Writing/Editing a Book) Stage:
Writing and editing a book happens gradually over time and moves through different stages, much like pregnancy. Some stages aren’t that big of a deal, other stages are pretty unsavory, but you know that this phase is only temporary. This is what you must go through to get to the labor (publication) stage. This is a fickle stage where everything needs to be “just so,” in order to successfully navigate all the way to the end.
Of course, you’ve heard horror stories about the next stage, but you’ve read up on it and gotten a smattering of advice, so you’re feeling ready. Plus, you’ve been in this phase for so long that even though you know pain is imminent, oddly, you still find yourself looking forward to it.
Labor (Publication/Book Launch) Stage:
Then “the moment” arrives and nothing happens the way you anticipated. The basic sentiment is, “what in theeee hell is going on right now?!?! I wasn’t prepared for any of this shit!” It’s disorienting and confusing, and this stage goes on for far longer than it has any right to. Then comes the point where you’ve expended every last ounce of effort to make this thing happen, and you know deep down in your soul that you’ve got nothing left to give. You’re just about to wither away into the void when FINALLY, the baby (book) comes out!
Postpartum (Marketing) Stage:
There you are feeling the biggest sense of relief you’ve ever known… for all of 9 minutes. That’s approximately how much time it takes before your brain recognizes the fact that you’ve just been straddled with a very heavy load of responsibility. Not only that, but essentially all of the tasks associated with it are completely outside of your knowledge base. And the ones that are known are less than appealing. (E.g. Handling someone else’s poo/”Pitching your book”)
In short order you’ve got to learn some critical skill sets, all while battling the cumulative fatigue that you’ve stacked up over the past several months. Welcome to the postpartum (marketing) stage. This is the silent suffering stage. It’s the stage where people congratulate you, but don’t really notice how banged up you are because they’re busy looking at the adorable baby (book).
You know you should probably feel a sense of accomplishment, but you’re beyond exhausted, and you know that for as awesome as this baby (book) is, it’s not grown-up and living on its own yet so your job isn’t anywhere near done.
Are you going to have another baby (book)?
There you are stumbling through the madness and the mayhem, attempting to keep this baby alive (get people to know the book exists), constantly thinking no way am I doing this right, when some masochist utters the words, “so do you think you’re going to have another baby (book)?” Suddenly a thousand thoughts and feelings rush through your system that range from physically tackling that person, to contemplating whether considering it makes you clinically insane after what you just went through.
Before I had a kid, I was very headstrong in feeling that if we had any children at all, we’d have two. Then I went through the process mentioned above and recognized that I didn’t have the mental fortitude to put myself through that again. Although the labor/birth phase was certifiably horrible the postpartum stage was somehow worse. I didn’t think I could endure that phase a second time if everything played out the same (I left out many painstaking details for your benefit) as the first go around.
Sure, you could play the game and say, what are the odds it would go exactly the same? I have no idea what the odds are because I wasn’t willing to play that game. And that’s the succinct explanation of why we have one, not two children.
But funnily enough, here I am again. (Hey, I recognize that tree!) I went into the publishing process fully intending to release an annual volume of ‘Hold and Improve.’ Then I actually experienced what it takes to make that happen. If I learned anything from the actual birthing process, it’s that sometimes getting right back after it is the best thing, and sometimes it’s not.
When I remove emotion and stop to evaluate the book birthing process, I know that I learned a ton the first time around and that it will absolutely go much smoother the second time. Even though I know it will be exhausting, and that I will question my life choices repeatedly, I’m going jump back on the horse because I know that the end result is worth it. Not monetarily, mind you… that’s a whole other can of worms that’s not often spoken about.
Independent authors don’t receive an advance like a traditional publishing company would offer, plus the author pays for the fees associated with publication up front. The only earnings come from sold copies of the book, and even at that, the author is lucky if they make 25% of the listed book price. So, unless a book is wildly successful (I’m talkin’ WILDLY successful people) a published book will not be a source of income. And whatever does get paid to the author takes several months to be distributed to them from the publishing company.
Even with all of that being true, I’m still planning to have a second child (book) because if people stopped writing books and telling their stories the world would be a much less worthwhile place. That’s the whole reason I created Hold and Improve in the first place; to preserve the fire culture through storytelling and art, and that’s what I clung onto in the worst moments of the process… the why.
And, to be fair, the first time around was more equivalent to having triplets, because I wasn’t just writing and publishing my own book. I was writing (the introduction and a couple of my own stories), editing, copy-editing, proofreading, and publishing a book that consisted of content from 22 authors and 4 artists; not a small undertaking.
Prior to my foray into the realm of publishing I thought that I appreciated books. I love reading books, I have my favorite authors/genres, and I thoroughly enjoy spending time (and money) in bookstores. But I didn’t truly understand just how determined, persistent, and masochistic a person has to be to actually publish a book. Now I truly appreciate authors, and the books that they put out into the world.
So, getting back to it, Hold and Improve- Volume Bravo will be happening in short order. The submission period for Voume Bravo is actually open right now (Dec 1- Jan -1, 2023). I figure it’ll be just like having two kids in diapers. I already know the next stretch of time is going to be hellacious, but eventually it’ll pass. However, after Volume Bravo I won’t be making any promises to myself about what I will, or will not do down the road. I’ll be taking things one step at a time.
Speaking of which, allow me to present to you…
Steps to Indie Publishing a Book-With Multiple Authors/Artists
Step 1. Get the word out about the project by way of creating/posting many social media posts. Hello Canva!
Step 2. Begin accepting short story, poetry, and artwork submissions.
Step 3 Somehow keep track of all the submissions (enter, the first of many spreadsheets).
Step 4. Make final selections for the book.
Step 5. Announce selections to the selectees.
Step 6. Go through the copy-editing phase with each author (this took a good long while).
Step 7. Get final approval from each author.
Step 8. Work with the (endlessly talented) designer on cover and formatting concepts.
Step 9. Proofread, then proofread a bit more.
Step 10. Continue fiddling with design and formatting.
Step 11. More proofreading.
Step 12. Begin the long and tedious process of font selection.
Step 13. Recover from temporary blindness caused by too much proofreading, then proofread some more.
Step 14. Vomit out my eyeballs from too much screen time.
Step 15. More design and formatting tweaks.
Step 16. Update the book contributors.
Step 17. Create chapters and the table of contents.
Step 18. Randomly realize I have posted absolutely nothing about the progress of this book project since I ended the submission period quite some time ago, and quickly switch gears to social media post building mode.
Step 19. Guess what? More proofreading.
Step 20. Hmmm… getting close to having an actual book file, better figure out the next steps with the publishing company.
Step 21. Stumble through the set-up of the book specifics within the publishing website. Size, paperweight, ISBN number, barcode, BISAC codes… What does any of this even mean????
Step 21. More proofreading.
Step 22. Update the book contributors.
Step 23. Farm out some of the proofreading fun before I legitimately lose my mind.
Step 24. Seriously re-evaluate my life choices that have brought me to this point of misery.
Step 25. Become significantly frustrated with the fact that all of this took several months longer than planned.
Step 26. Update the contributors.
Step 27. Make bookmarks from old fire maps for the book’s contributors with all my spare minutes.
Step 28. Try to figure out how it is that books have review blurbs on the back cover when the book isn’t released yet for anyone to review it??
Step 29. Have the “early reader” concept explained to me by a legitimate author and then quickly find a few kind humans willing to read the book in its PDF form.
Step 30. Upload the (19th version of the) book file. Finally!
Step 31. Wait two days for an e-proof of the book.
Step 32. Recognize that the file needs adjustments.
Step 33. Attempt to make file adjustments while the designer is away and unavailable.
Step 34. Spend countless hours making a horrible mess of the book file in my attempts to “fix it.”
Step 35. Call in reinforcements who are savvy in the ways of all things Adobe.
Step 36. Sketch out schematics for the statue that I will erect in this person’s honor for having fixed the book file.
Step 37. Submit the book file, again.
Step 38. Wait a few days for the e-proof.
Step 39. Receive an error about the barcode placement on the book cover.
Step 40. Cuss a lot.
Step 41. Fix the barcode placement on the back of the book.
Step 42. Wait a couple more days for an e-proof. Again…
Step 43. Look over the e-proof with great care and attention even though I’ve already read this entire book so many times that I have lost count.
Step 44. Accept the e-proof, finally!
Step 45. Wait impatiently for a physical copy of the book to be printed and shipped to me for final approval prior to book launch.
Step 46. Receive confirmation that the book shipped… 2-day shipping.
Step 47. Coordinate the donated thank you gifts for each contributor of the book.
Step 48. Try to understand how 2-day shipping actually means 5-day shipping to UPS.
Step 49. Watch the pages of the calendar fall away with great stress and frustration.
Step 50. Take a deep breath prior to opening the box containing two copies of Hold and Improve (one for me, one for the designer).
Step 51. Check front and back covers.
Step 52. Prepare to breathe a sigh of relief…
Step 53. Wait. What in theeeee-hell is this????
Step 54. Hit the panic button. RED ALERT!!!
Step 55. Why does the front portion of the book have weird triangle paragraphs with words running off the pages?!?! Seriously. What is happening? Wait… This isn’t even content from my book. Part of someone else’s book has been printed in the front portion of my book!
Step 56. Cuss a lot.
Step 57. Try to understand why this happened in one of the books I was sent, yet the other book printed normally.
Step 58. Do everything short of send a carrier pigeon to the publishing company to figure out what the hell is going on.
Step 59. Wait a day for a response.
Step 60. Try to tamp down the stress from knowing that I have now surpassed my “publication date” that had been pushed back once already.
Step 61. Wish I had elves to generate social media posts, while making lots of social media posts.
Step 62. Get word that my book file is okay, and that it was just a printing error. Crisis averted.
Step 63. Order a book for every contributor and person who helped me along the way.
Step 64. Hit the switch making the book available for purchase publicly.
Step 65. Quickly learn that flipping that switch doesn’t really mean much because it can take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks for the book to populate in bookstore databases.
Step 66. Cuss a lot, and become frustrated with myself for not having read up more intensely on this part of the process ahead of time.
Step 67. Assess my life choices yet again.
Step 68. Somewhere about 5 steps ago, have an interview about the book with someone who knows what they’re doing in the publishing world, only to learn that I must have an author photo taken.
Step 69. Find a kind soul to take my photo in a manner that didn’t make me want to vomit, because I have a real aversion to having posed photos taken.
Step 70. Check book selling sites every 12 hours to see if the book has populated.
Step 71. Send yet another update email to all of the contributors letting them know the progress (I sent them a lot of update emails).
Step 72. Check for the book and BOOM there it is on ‘Barnes and Noble.’
Step 73. Come to the realization that anyone could buy this thing… it’s just out there in the world roaming freely. Feel a slight sense of doom for some reason.
Step 74. Social media. Where are my elves?!?!
Step 75. Puke out my eyeballs again from all the screen time.
Step 76. Build a book info sheet for marketing stuff, then have the epiphany that I should probably be doing marketing stuff.
Step 77. Move into the marketing phase.
Step 78. Do some quick internet searching to figure out what I should be doing during the marketing phase only to learn that I should have been working on this phase several months ago, fantastic.
Step 79. Cuss a lot.
Step 80. Question my life choices again.
Step 81. Begin building spreadsheets full of bookstore info, people I should be contacting, bulk orders, and expense trackers… all while recognizing that my computer folders are a hot mess, but I’ve got no time to deal with them.
Step 82. Write a bunch of letters in order to send them out for marketing stuff.
Step 83. Cuss a lot.
Step 84. Realize that I really, REALLY don’t like marketing and come to understand why publicists exist, while also sadly acknowledging that I can’t afford a publicist.
Step 85. Wonder if this will ever end.
Step 86. Social media posts.
Step 87. Eyeball puking.
Step 88. Seriously, why hasn’t someone stopped me from making these sorts of life choices?
Step 89. Become paralyzed by the sheer length of my to-do list.
Step 90. Wonder why the books I ordered are taking so long to arrive. Are they actually harvesting trees to make the paper book by book? Are they being delivered by pogo-stick? What is going on over there??
Step 91. Begin receiving photos from people who had ordered the book from a bookstore and now have it in hand well ahead of my own book order.
Step 92. Start to wonder for the first time, if this whole book publishing thing was actually a good idea.
Step 93. Teeter at my wits-end.
Step 94. Begin receiving feedback from happy readers, helping to remind me of the purpose behind why I put myself through this.
Step 95. Finally receive my book order! Quickly package and ship books out to the book’s contributors.
Step 96. Cuss a lot.
Step 97. Feel grateful for the bookstores who were willing to take a chance on stocking their shelves with Hold and Improve.
Step 98. Search high and low for marketing elves with no luck.
Step 99. Back to the spreadsheets…
Step 100. Have the vague recollection of an author friend telling me I should remember to take time to celebrate the book release, then make a very half-assed, and rather unsuccessful attempt at celebrating.
Step 101. Work on reconfiguring my website as if I have the slightest idea of what I’m doing.
Step 102. Emailing, spreadsheets, marketing, social media…
Step 103. Take a look at the calendar only to realize that I’ve got to start prepping for Volume Bravo. Whaaaat?
Step 104. Evaluate my life choices once again.
Step 105. Pack up, and move cross-country real quick.
Step 106. Unpack at warp speed.
Step 107. Game on, let’s go Volume Bravo!
And there you have it, a quick 107 step process of careening through the indie publishing process like a drunken toddler.
If nothing else, this experience has taught me that the act of writing is the absolute easiest part of publishing a book, and writing isn’t a cake walk y’all. Of course, I can’t speak for the traditional publishing route, but from what I’ve heard you’ve still got to run the gauntlet.
So, for all of you prospective authors out there, let this blog post be the after school special that scared you straight, unless you’re ready to have that baby! And if you’re going to go for it, make sure you’ve got a good partner. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to make a book with (James/Design), or make a baby with (Ian/Husband). Alright then, analogy complete. That brings us to…
To learn how to make a submission for the next volume click here. (Time’s running out! Don’t delay.)
To learn all there is to know about Hold and Improve (or to grab a copy) click here for the landing page.