DIY: The Outer Limits

If you’ve written a book and are planning to publish it yourself, you’re well advised to get professional help. Hire an editor; hire a cover designer; for print books, hire an interior book designer; and by all means, hire someone to build you a good-looking website.

I’m hoping to bring out six or seven books during 2017, so I’m in a slightly different position. I kind of don’t want to shell out $10,000 for the privilege, since it’s not too likely I’ll ever see a return on that investment.

Plus, I have a basic level of technical competence in several areas. Having been a professional editor for many years, I have no hesitation in skipping the “hire an editor” step. Designing a book interior is not that difficult; after a few days with the free 7-day trial of Adobe InDesign, I’m confident that I can do the job, so tonight I purchased the one-year subscription to InDesign.

Cover design and website design, though — how far can I push the river? What are the outer limits?

I have been sternly advised by several people in a Facebook writers’ group where I hang out NOT to try to design my own covers. They have good reasons for urging caution! The skills used in writing are quite different from the skills used in graphic design. You can be a whiz at one and a complete dud at the other. In fact, that would be true of most of us.

On the other hand, my father was a professional artist and illustrator, and my mother was a talented amateur. Also, I have some previous experience with Photoshop. So I’m not a complete babe in the woods. I’ve hired someone to do a series of four covers for my four-volume fantasy epic, but I haven’t heard from him for a few days. I honestly don’t know what’s going on. And even when he sends me finished covers, I’ll still have two or three more books to do. Maybe if I hop in the car, drive down to Barnes & Noble, and spend a few hours taking detailed notes about how covers are designed, I can avoid embarrassing myself too badly.

I would never attempt to do an illustration, needless to say. I can draw stick figures if you let me use a ruler; beyond that, I’m hopeless. But many covers are produced using stock photos. Maybe I can produce adequate covers myself.

I’ve been talking to a guy about doing a website design for me, but he made the mistake of mentioning that he wants to use Divi. So I had a look at Divi. It’s a new system for designing WordPress sites. Costs $89 per year — and once you have the site, you don’t even have to keep up your subscription, unlike the Adobe stuff. So that $89 can be the total cost, if you don’t plan to upgrade your site on a regular basis. It really is a slick system, and the documentation is very good.

Hmm — should I pay the guy $1,000 to do a Divi-based site for me, or should I pay less than a tenth of that and do it myself?

Subsidiary questions have arisen about the design of book covers for specific genres. Those are marketing questions. I can certainly understand that a younger person who hopes to have a career as a writer may rightly be concerned about making effective marketing decisions. I’m not in that position. The more I go on, the more I see the process of making books — and, for that matter, websites — as an art. Art and business don’t mix well, except by accident.

I think I’m about to invest in Photoshop too. Of course I’m assigning myself a lot of work! But I’m a retired guy. I have plenty of time, and I’m not frightened of work.

I’ve already discovered one advantage of DIY book production. I wrote a fantasy novel this fall called Woven of Death and Starlight. I thought it was finished, ready to go. But as I started laying it out in InDesign, I started re-reading bits and pieces. The sensation began to creep up on me that, no, it’s not finished at all. What I did this fall was only the first draft. More needs to be done to make the story work.

If I hadn’t tried using InDesign, I might not have discovered that. It’s possible something similar might happen with cover design. In trying to discover the best possible focus, image, and tone for a cover, I might learn something about the story that would prod me to return to the writing stage.

This is called synergy. You don’t get synergy on an assembly line. A cover designer, no matter how professional, would be unlikely to nudge the writer into that sort of revelation. Hell, my fantasy epic is 450,000 words long. No cover designer is ever going to read the silly thing. I’m supposed to come up with ideas, which they will then execute. So really, I’m the cover designer already.

I take refuge in a reminder that I used to have on a 3×5 card that was thumb-tacked to the wall above my synthesizer and tape deck, back in the days when I had a reel-to-reel tape deck: “There are no rules for how to play with the toys.”

Fun with Drop Caps

I seem to have found the right way to do the interior design of my novels — a necessary precursor to print publication. After thrashing around for a couple of days, I downloaded the 7-day trial version of Adobe InDesign. It’s a complex program, and I’ve gotten more than a bit frustrated at least three times over the past couple of days trying to arm-wrestle it into compliance with my evil schemes. But it does the job, and very nicely. Learning how to use it takes a little time, that’s all.

I’m always a little reluctant to spend money, and Adobe magnifies my reluctance with their subscription-purchasing setup. InDesign is $20 per month for as long as I have it, or until I cancel. (And I don’t think I can cancel for the first year. That’s a discounted price if you subscribe for a year.) But that’s only $240 for the year. Buying interior design for half a dozen books at $350 each — no, InDesign is a bargain.

Fortunately, I have some vague background with page layout software. I never actually laid out a page in QuarkXpress, but during my years at Keyboard I spent many, many hours doing page proof corrections in Quark. I understand the basic concepts — things like tracking a paragraph in slightly to remove a line or tracking it out to add a line so that the chapter doesn’t end with a single line of type on a page by itself.

The keys to InDesign happiness seem to be Master Pages, paragraph styles, and character styles. Also the object inheritance model. These are not things most writers think about. When you’re writing a book, you just write. If you want your chapter heads to be bigger, you just select that line of text and make it bigger using the point size drop-down on the toolbar.

This is exactly the wrong way to work in InDesign. You can do it that way, but you’ll live to regret it. In a nutshell, the correct method is to define a paragraph style with the larger-than-normal type (and possibly centered or with no indent, and with extra space above and below). Then you use that paragraph style on all of your chapter heads. Having done this, if you later decide you want a different font for your chapter heads, or a larger point size, or flush left rather than centered, you only need to make the change in one place (in the paragraph style definition window) and it will propagate through your entire book. This not only saves lots of time, it reduces the chance that you’ll introduce errors (such as putting too much space below one chapter head, or getting the type too small on one).

Pretty much everything in InDesign benefits from this idea. You define your margins, for example, in your Master Pages. You can have multiple master pages and apply any of them as needed to any individual page in the book, but if your other master pages are derived from the primary master, they’ll all have the same margins. Change the primary master, and all of the pages that are based on its children will also change.

When it comes to running heads at the tops of pages, drop caps on the first lines of chapters, and various other niceties of design, InDesign does the job. Your word processor just won’t. Don’t even think about trying to design your book in Word or OpenOffice, that’s my advice.

One tricky bit of workflow was starting to trip me up, until I noticed it. I was making a few tweaks in the text of the novel directly in InDesign. If you assume you’re never going to go back, this is sensible enough — but I’m not sure InDesign is the best choice for ebook formatting. There’s a risk that some of my edits might appear in the print book but not the ebook! Like, oh, correcting a misspelling of the main character’s name, trivial stuff like that.

After realizing what I was starting to do, I took a step back. I copied the entire text out of InDesign and saved it as a .txt file. Then I did the same with the two most recent .rtf drafts (which were already not quite identical) and used a handy program called WinMerge to compare the two .txt files. WinMerge highlights all of the differences, making it quite a simple matter to reconcile the texts.

Moving forward, I’ll have to make a point of editing the .rtf draft whenever I tweak the text in InDesign. Going back and adjusting the Scrivener version, though — I don’t think I’ll bother. Scrivener is wonderful for writing, but when the book is complete it’s time to move on to other tools.

While working on the book design, I whipped out a ruler to check the margins of a couple of 5.25″ x 8″ paperbacks on my shelf. My margins were too narrow, and the type was too large. I reduced the type size by a point and boosted the leading a bit. Now the book looks more professional. Of course, that change meant that my chapter head master pages were now on the wrong pages. I’m still learning to do things in the right order. Next time, I’ll know to figure out the big picture first and then fill in the details.

I’m not going to bore you by listing all of the tweaky little things I’ve learned about InDesign in the past few days. Suffice it to say, I’m making progress slowly but surely, and soon I’m going to have some nice-looking books.

And Now for the Bad News

It seems NaNoWriMo is becoming a cultural tradition. Every November, hundreds of thousands of people apply seat of pants to seat of chair and write a full-length novel. It may be a less bolted-down tradition than the Christmas tree lot, but it seems to be settling in.

So this year you wrote a novel during National Novel Writing Month. Congratulations! You may have found it inspiring and fun, or it may have proved to be a bigger challenge than you expected. Either way, it’s bound to have been a learning experience. You probably learned something about both your passions and your work habits. You may have learned a bit about the painstaking process of crafting a sustained narrative.

Today, if all went well, you have a complete novel on your hard drive. And you’re quite rightly proud of and enthusiastic about your accomplishment. You’re starting to think, “Gee, maybe other people will enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Maybe I should publish it.”

No need to be bashful. You know you’re thinking that! So it’s time for the crusty old curmudgeon on the internet to give you some wise and thoughtful advice:

Please don’t.

Please don’t self-publish your novel. Don’t even think about it. There are literally millions of self-published novels on the Web. Yours is certainly not as bad as some of them, but that’s the extent of the good news. The probability that yours is worth reading is close to nil. By publishing it, you will be degrading the taste and undermining the intellectual acuity of untold dozens of readers. Do you really want to take responsibility for having done that?

I have tried reading a bunch of self-published novels. Really, one feels compelled to quote from Allen Ginsberg at this point: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked….” With the caveat that the writers of self-published books are not actually the best minds of any generation. Not even close.

Most self-published fiction is appalling, dreadful stuff. Naturally, you feel sure your book is the exception! And maybe it is, but probably it isn’t. The Dead Sea of mistakes into which amateur writers wade and in which they then splash and thrash is wide and deep. And they don’t know they’re wading ever deeper. They think they’re walking on water.

Yes, you can spend a couple of thousand bucks hiring an editor. I can’t honestly recommend it, for two reasons. First, anybody can hang out a shingle and call themselves an editor. There are no licensing requirements. Some freelance editors are, I’m sure, quite good. But some will actively make your writing worse rather than better. And how will you know the difference? Second, in my experience aspiring writers quite generally ignore good advice when they hear it. Having poured heart and soul into their literary effort, they don’t want to be told that it’s in dire need of an overhaul (or a quick trip to the wastebasket). They tend to take any such observation as a personal attack.

Is there a solution? Sure. The solution is, don’t publish your novel. Not until you’ve learned how to write.

Want to learn how to write? Buy a bunch of how-to-write books. Read them. Underline salient passages. Work the suggested exercises. And learn to read the published work of other writers analytically. Pick up a few of your favorite novels and study how the scenes are constructed. Study how the characters are developed. Study the way sentences are nailed into paragraphs. Study how emotion is conveyed. Study conflict and theme.

And then, next November, or even sooner if you feel so inclined, write a better novel.

I’ve thought many times about writing a book called How NOT to Write a Novel. But there are two difficulties. First, somebody already wrote a book with that title. It isn’t very good, in that it doesn’t do what it ought to do. But it’s okay as a how-to-write book. Put it on your list. The second, and truly insurmountable, difficulty is that I would want to provide extended examples of bad writing drawn from actual self-published novels.

I would then get sued for copyright infringement, for libel, or both. Nobody would want to have their cherished work, the child of their soul, singled out for its awfulness, laid out on the dissecting table and sliced open for all to view in amazement its innumerable gruesome failures. But I don’t think I could produce the right book by trying to generalize about the problems in bad fiction. That would just be another how-to-write book. The point of studying bad fiction line by line is that every piece of bad fiction is unique. Every bad author finds new and awe-inspiring ways, in paragraph after paragraph, to go astray. It may not be true, to paraphrase Tolstoy, that all good fiction is alike but every work of bad fiction is bad in its own way. There are many ways to write good fiction! But the badness of bad fiction — being told what’s bad is one thing. Being shown what’s bad is a different thing entirely, and much more likely to be useful as a learning experience.

If you’d like to know more about what’s bad, send me an email. I’ll send you links to a couple of Look Inside novel openings on Amazon, and we can have a personal discussion, not for publication, about what exactly qualifies them as bad.

If you ask nicely, I might even do it for free.

NaNoPubMo: Wrap-Up

It’s harder to publish a novel than to write one. That’s my experience, anyway. After more than 30 days — my NaNoPubMo exercise started in late October — I still don’t have book covers for my series, and nothing else is going to happen until I have covers.

I’m not blaming the cover artist! Just saying, these things take time. I did get a portrait photo done, and I’ve learned a fair amount about website creation. I’ve written the copy for my website, but haven’t yet hired anyone to design it. I’ve talked to a couple of friends about doing some low-budget video for the site, and I have a concept for the video. I’ve pretty much settled on Bookbaby for the ebook distribution and print-on-demand books, but haven’t yet signed on with them, because there’s no point until I have the covers.

Bookbaby charges $200 up front for a book, so my four-book series will set me back $800. That’s okay. I can afford it. Publishing is a business, that’s all. There are setup costs.

I’m still hoping to have the series out in January. But I still have unanswered questions, especially about website creation. It smells to me like the people who offer this service are over-charging. $2,500 for a WordPress site using parts that can be snapped together like Legos? Really? That seems excessive. Granted, they have the expertise. I don’t.

There are places that let you build your own site for free, but the results may not look professional. A website is like a book cover — you only get one chance to make a good first impression. You want the people who visit to say immediately, “Oh, cool! This looks like an author I’ll want to get to know better!”

Yesterday a friend mentioned that she has a site that her husband designed for her. I took a look. She says it looks fine on her Mac, but on Firefox on Windows there’s a problem with the banner. Her name is partly blocked by a band of color. Her husband evidently didn’t check the site on Windows. That’s one of the things experts know to do. (In theory, anyway.)

Some site creation service providers use their own content management system (CMS) rather than WordPress. Should I trust them, or should I run the other way really fast? I have no idea. I suspect that in the fast-paced Internet world, some companies are sure to become flaky or even die. A site based on their own private CMS would, in that case, become unmanageable. These are the kinds of things one has to think about.

Promotion and marketing? I haven’t yet started thinking about all that in any serious way. Once the books are available and the website is done, it will be time to put my brains in a vise and start cranking until promotion ideas pop out. Or dribble out.

I’m confident that I’m a good writer. (That’s a topic for another day.) But good writing doesn’t matter if nobody knows about your book, or if they can’t find it. That’s what the NaNoPubMo experiment has been about. If you’re following this blog, keep comin’ back (as they say in AA). More will be revealed.

Sometimes that cliche is altered to, “More will be required.” That too.

NaNoPubMo: Day 24

Thinking about how to spiff up the author website I don’t yet have. Yesterday I sat down and designed the site content, complete with most of the text. Marketing copy is not my favorite thing to write, but thinking of the content that way is a dandy idea. Starting off by being self-conscious — “Gosh, it’s my new website! Welcome, friends and future friends!” — would be a disaster. We want professional polish.

As I was describing this enterprise to a friend, he surprised me by suggesting that I add video to the site. He’s a video fiend. He has, you know, cameras and tripods and video editing software. I hadn’t considered it, but it’s obviously an idea that’s worth taking seriously. Not just because this is the Age of the Internet and everybody loves eye candy, but because it would help the site appear classy. High-budget. Uptown, not a do-it-yourself production.

But what to put in the video? The easy thing would be to shoot a few minutes of me reading aloud from one of the novels. From a marketing standpoint, though, this idea falls flat. The primary intended audience for the Leafstone series is teenage girls. I’m not sure it’s strictly a YA story, because it’s an epic adventure. It’s not about the travails of growing up, that’s for sure. I hope adults will enjoy the story just as much as younger readers! Even so, a video of a 68-year-old man with jowls reading aloud is just not the right image to entice that readership.

Here’s a better idea: Have a teenage girl interview me about the book(s). The video would show her smilin’ face alternating with mine. Also, I’m more animated when I talk about stuff than when I’m reading aloud, and animated facial expressions are good video. I happen to know a couple of girls; they’re my cello students. Whether they would be willing to do it — we’ll see.

Video production is not something I know much about. My friend doesn’t have lights, because his camera work has for some years been devoted to documenting orchestra concerts. So I phone another friend who is into video — a guy I played in a rock band with back in the Dark Ages. He has lights, editing software, and a green screen. He suggests that my living room isn’t large enough to set up a two-person shoot. He recommends doing the shoot in front of the green screen and then adding the living-room background during editing.

I’m starting to see how complicated this could get. Oh, and I dare not forget the legal details. If a girl appears in the video, her parent or guardian has to sign a release form.

I think I need to get the website designed and built first, before I add video. Trying to do everything at once is a recipe for confusion. And whether anyone will ever see the video … how exactly am I going to entice folks to visit the website? I haven’t thought about that yet.

NaNoPubMo: Day 22

Trying to do things in a sensible order. Before I plunk down the big bucks to have someone build me a nice-looking website, I’ll need to have the raw materials in hand. Not just a book cover (that’s in the works) but a smilin’ portrait photo of the author.

This is a bigger challenge for some of us than for others. The camera has never liked me much; I tend to look like either a wax dummy or an inmate in a ward for the chronically depressed. So I picked a local photographer by looking at his website, and he did a fantastic job! Quickly, too. Tip of the hat to Adam Clark right here in Livermore.

I offer the results for your perusal not as a paean to my own inflated ego, but for their (marginal) educational value. If you’re in the process of publishing your own novel (I recommend against it, but that’s another story entirely) or indeed doing any sort of website that promotes your business, spend a little money on a photographer. You’ll be glad you did.

Adam took about 60 shots, and offered me a choice of 15. Of those 15, one seemed actually usable. (The hat and turtleneck were a suggestion by another photographer, Lauri Stephens, who ended up having to cancel the shoot because she hurt her back.) And then he did a little computer magic with it. For comparison, here’s the raw photo (in low-res). This is what I actually look like, about 1/60th of the time:

portrait_photo_raw

The hair is starting to get a little out of hand — it would have been better a week earlier at the shoot that had to be cancelled.

In processing the photo, Adam got rid of a few wrinkles. He also warmed up my facial tones. The warmer color made my face pop out more, and that left the rest of the image seeming kind of stark. I said, “Hey, can you turn the sweater green?” Here’s the final image:

ajcp-8339-edit2

Not too shabby. Heck, I’d buy a book from this guy, whoever he is.

NaNoPubMo: Day 18

Had to take a few days off after the election to recover my equilibrium. Today I’m getting back to National Novel Publishing Month, my personal (unofficial) project to wrestle with the self-publishing serpents during the month of November.

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Right now my main concern is cover art. I’ve been engaged in extensive dialog with one artist, and I like his ideas. I’ll pay him no matter what. But dang, there are some other artists out there who are doing very dramatic, eye-catching work. I might even hire two different artists, start with one set of covers for the series, and then try switching to the other set to see which covers boost the nearly nonexistent sales that I’m anticipating.

One of the challenges in choosing cover art, or even giving guidance to an artist, is that the story is complex. Capturing the essence of the story, even in a set of four images, would be impossible. What one wants to do, I think, is convey some of the energy of the story in an intriguing way.

The four titles are the names of objects — the first title is The Leafstone Shield. One approach would be to put these objects themselves on the cover. But a closeup of a green disk seems to me not energetic or intriguing enough.

Many cover artists use stock photos as elements in their cover designs. This saves them work and gives the author a nice crisp cover image at a reasonable cost — but I’m not sure how to show much of anything in my story using stock photos. Okay, the heroine is a 17-year-old girl, but how many thousands of self-published stock-photo-based covers use closeups of beautiful girls? That may not be the most distinctive route I could choose.

Cogitations are ongoing.

NaNoPubMo: Day 4

The process of publishing my novels would be so much smoother and less stressful if I could find a company that would do it all — the website, the book covers, the uploads to ebook shops, and so on. Maybe a little help with my social media promotion too. Wouldn’t that be grand?

A couple of days ago I found a site that promises exactly that. I’m not going to name them, because I don’t want to get into a wrangle. Sadly, what at first appeared to be a great option is starting to feel a little flimsy. Let’s look at a few details.

Their basic price for a do-it-all package for your book is about $1,600. Since some companies charge $2,500 or more just for a website, this seems like a good deal. Their sales rep phoned me and we had a nice chat. He seems to know his stuff — I didn’t get a sense that he was ducking and weaving. He then sent me an email with a few more details, such as potential cost savings if I use their service for a four-book series.

Their site has a page describing their book cover design services. On this page are thumbnails that open to reveal collages of dozens and dozens of book covers. Wow — a busy, active company, right? So I jot down the names of a few authors and books and head out to Amazon to take a look at their books. Yes, these are real authors with real books. Last week I did the same thing with another company and found that the “book covers” were actually mock-up designs for nonexistent books. So far, so good.

I use a search engine to look at the authors’ websites. I send messages to five of them asking about their experiences with this company.

The email from the sales guy mentions that his company will be the “publisher of record” of the novel(s). This is a phrase that has a legal meaning, which I have asked him to explain. Being curious by nature, I went back to Amazon and looked at the front matter of those novels using the Look Inside feature.

Curiously, none of them mentions this company as the publisher. However, three of the half-dozen I looked at did mention a cover designer in the front matter. Their covers were designed by a different company.

Then I get a reply from one of the authors. He has never heard of the do-it-all company. How interesting.

I look at the site of the company that is credited with those cover designs. Aha. Their pricing for covers is exactly the same as the pricing of the do-everything company I’m considering. What I’m guessing is that the do-everything company farms out their cover design work to the specialty cover designer, and is using the cover designer’s work on their own site without being clear that that’s what they’re doing.

But wait — there’s more. On the do-everything company’s page explaining their website design service, there are only six thumbnails showing individual sites. Only six, when there are dozens of book covers? That’s odd. Of the six, one is under construction and one seems not to exist at all. So in reality, as far as can be determined, this company has engineered a total of four websites.

That’s two strikes. They only get one more. One of the follow-up questions I asked the sales guy was this: His company collects royalties for the books they handle, and then passes the royalties (100%, they say, with a $49 per year charge for the service) to the author. So I asked him, what happens if his company goes out of business or is perhaps acquired by a larger company that decides unilaterally to change the terms of the service? How exactly would I go about withdrawing from this arrangement and receiving my royalties without an intermediary?

This is likely to be a tough question for him to answer. I’m betting it will be Strike Three. We’ll see.

It’s all about due diligence. In order to find a company that I want to work with, I have to know which cup has the pea under it. What fun (not).

NaNoPubMo: Day 2

For many years, I’ve maintained the attitude that my job is to write. Marketing, promotion, and distribution are not among my areas of expertise. This idea worked well for me while I was an editor at Keyboard. That was a business, and I was just an employee. But a self-publishing author has, sad to say, responsibility for everything.

Also, as I’ve gotten older (I’m now 68) I find that stress is more difficult for me to manage. I don’t like stress. I like relaxing and being creative. By mid-morning today, I was ready to bite the head off of a squirrel. I just do not want to be doing this stuff. It’s insane.

I sent an email to the web design company that I mentioned yesterday, the one that said they would do the “wireframe” first. I suggested that that was sort of backwards — that I thought I’d like to see the design first, before they put any time into coding. The guy emailed me back and said, “What I hear is that you’re uncertain about our process and the considerable expense, which I can completely understand, especially if you’ve never been through something like this. I will say that I’ve used this methodology to build 50+ websites, so it’s pretty tried and true.” He said, “I’m not really a hard sales guy — I only want to work with clients who are 100% comfortable with our work and confident that we’re going to deliver what they want.  I’m going to set this one aside — let’s not move forward at this time.”

In other words, it’s his way or the highway. Okay, fine.

I found a company not far from me that specializes in author website work. Their portfolio looks highly professional. The person who responded to my query mentioned a price range from $5K to $25K. Considering that most firms are charging from $1,000 to $2,500 for this service, I won’t be pursuing a business relationship with them.

There are some firms, it turns out, that will do the whole thing as a package deal — book cover, website, ebook formatting, and assorted promotional activities. This could be a brilliant solution, if I could find a good one. But how does one evaluate them?

One has a $3,000 package that includes all of the above, plus editing (which I don’t need), plus mysterious items like “Book Launch Strategy,” “Amazon Bestseller Status,” and “Author Branding.” That’s the $3,000 package, and covers books up to 30,000 words. Additional words are $150 per 10,000. For a 100,000-word novel (one book in a four-book series) I’d be paying them more than $4,000. My guess is that those mysterious but perky-sounding items in the package are designed to sound sexy to first-time authors who are very vague about what they need. Of course I could be wrong! Serious interrogation would be needed to learn what exactly their services are.

Serious interrogation = more stress.

And then we get to the virtual author assistant. There’s a website and an organization for these people, who are certified (though what the certification amounts to is anybody’s guess). The going rate seems to be from $35 to $80 per hour. As these people are virtual, not on-site, I can’t imagine it would be easy to confirm that they’re actually slaving away for the amount of time shown on their invoices. This type of service seems designed to appeal to busy executives who have written a book to sell or give away at high-powered business conferences. If you’re putting away $200 an hour in your day job, hiring an assistant to handle your book makes perfect sense. If you’re a retired guy on a fixed income, maybe not so much.

I spent the afternoon making funny noises on my synthesizer. I just do not want to deal with this crap. But the day is not over yet. I just got an email from a cover artist with four more comps that I have to look at.

NaNoPubMo: Day 1

Today we officially begin the grand experiment I’m calling NaNoPubMo — National Novel Publishing Month. NaNoWriMo is a real thing, held every November, but I already have five completed novels on my hard drive. I don’t need to write any more of them, not quite yet.

NaNoPubMo is a learning experience, for sure. And not a cheap one. This morning I’m contemplating a proposal from a web design company that specializes in author websites. Their design-and-implementation package costs $2,500. This is a bit high, but not unreasonable for professional website creation. The proposal is really quite detailed — and yet there’s not a word in it about whether I’ll have approval of the visual design.

This is an odd omission. I think I need to ask more questions. But possibly it’s an industry norm. Here’s a revealing quote from a different author website design company: “Step Three: Building Your Website. Upon receipt of payment [which is 50%, the usual deposit], our publicist will discuss the look and feel of your site.” Gee, guys — isn’t that kind of backwards? Shouldn’t I approve of the design before I send you the big bucks?

Meanwhile, on another channel, I ordered three hats for a professional portrait photo shoot, the intent being to wear a hat so I’ll look a little more interesting and a little less like myself. The hats (from Amazon, of course) weren’t on the porch last night, I know this because it was Halloween. This morning at 9:45, two boxes were on the porch — and the doorbell had not rung. Weird. Now I have to decide whether to get a haircut before the shoot.

Trying to nail down the right series title for my four-book series. Did a quick survey of a bunch of possible titles on a Facebook authors’ group. Got an idea or two for a new story, but decided not to use any of those titles. My decision (still tentative, as cover design is ongoing) is to put “THE ADVENTURE BEGINS…” at the bottom of the Book 1 cover, and then for the other three books go with “LEAFSTONE, Book 2”, “LEAFSTONE, Book 2”, and so forth. Book 1 is called The Leafstone Shield, so putting “LEAFSTONE, Book 1” at the bottom would be horribly redundant.

I rejected “Leafstone Chronicles,” “Leafstone Saga,” and such phrases. I don’t like those words, and they don’t add anything.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I’m starting to think about Book 5. That may or may not ever happen. I’m still doing the final edits on the current series — I’m now halfway through Book 4.

While researching cover design, I’ve spent considerable time on Amazon looking at the covers of fantasy novels. Along the way I noticed that many of them (presumably self-published) are available for Kindle for $0.00. These are mostly Book 1, presumably of a series, and the authors are using Book 1 as a sort of gateway drug. So I’ve downloaded more than a dozen of them, and glanced at the opening pages of two or three.

I’m not going to have any trouble rising to the top of the heap in the literary quality department, that much is blazingly clear. Here’s an example, not from a downloaded Kindle book but a prominently displayed line directly beneath the banner photo of an author on his personal site (not naming the author to avoid embarrassing him): “It was as if the pitiless flank of life had appropriated a deep gasp and obliterated the light that was once the engine of hope. They simply no longer existed…” That, including the pronoun with no antecedent, is the entire quotation. The pitiless flank of life — dang! This individual quite obviously feels that this is among the most inspired or inspiring lines in his oeuvre.

I rest my case.

The hard part will be getting readers to notice my books. Rumor has it that social media are a spiffy way to do this — or can be, if you’re smart and industrious. Unfortunately, the prospect of spending hours every day hanging out on Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, and God knows where else gives me wall-climbing, hair-pulling screaming fits. I do not want to do this.

Fortunately, I don’t have to think about it yet. Let’s get the books up on Amazon and iBooks first and worry about social media marketing later.