We had hoped to publish Across the Doubtful Sea at the beginning of December. It didn’t happen. Why?
We had the manuscript . Its 52 chapters had been through two complete drafts and many little subdrafts, along the way, by mid-November.
If we had been willing to be part of the older book-writing world, we would now have begun the long and painful process of trying to interest a publisher (through an agent, if we could persuade one to take us on, or not, which was much more likely). Because we decided to publish the book ourselves, however, we entered a new and even more complicated universe, in which we were not only authors, but editors, sub-publishers, and publicists, as well. It has provided a wonderful “behind the scenes” education, but it has taken a good deal more time that we had ever imagined.
We were still in the editing stage when we decided to become publicists. That way, we hoped to begin to build an interested audience some months before the appearance of our first book. “So we need a blog,” we said to each other, “and Facebook. And Twitter. To start.”
WordPress provided the basic blog, for free. (Without sounding like we’re receiving a commission, we can also recommend them enthusiastically: very smart, creative people and very easy to deal with.) The basic blog, however, suggested that, if we were serious, and looked upon our work as part of a greater commercial enterprise (our 19th-century author ancestors, like Scott and Dickens, would certainly have said that it should be and that, while art for the sake of art was nice, profits were nice, too), we would need a “domain name”. This would then allow us to list ourselves as http://www.Doubtfulsea.com. So we bought—or, rather, rented–one, for a year (renewable).
Then, there was the matter of setting up the blog. Fortunately, one of us has electronic art at her highly-talented fingertips and, after a few tries, produced the beautiful site on which you are currently reading us. (Those tries included picking and replacing an appropriate background image, as well as type face—tricky against the image–and formatting.)
After that, we had to figure just how many posts we could do, balancing them against the rest of our lives. We had read about people who began a blog as a way of talking about a project and eventually found that time for the project was gradually completely consumed by the blog, so we decided that we would do one post per week—but—every week, without fail. So far, we’ve managed to do this from the very beginning: this is post #16 and it will even appear during Christmas week. (Readers who currently struggle to maintain blogs have our permission to roll their eyes and say, “Just wait!” under their breaths, if necessary.)
Then there was Facebook, which came a little later. It was easy to set up, as it was more basic, but it came with the same hunger for posts. The point was exposure, of us and our ideas and thoughts and experiences. This meant, we decided, doing what we were already doing with our blog and so we were committed to two posts per week, one for Doubtfulsea.com and the other for Thedoubtfulseaseries@facebook.com.
So that we didn’t repeat ourselves, we decided that the blog would deal specifically with the Doubtful Sea series (including the other two planned volumes, Empire of the Isles and Beyond the Doubtful Sea) and further books in other series (we already have a complete first draft of one and half of another). We would devote our Facebook page to essays and discussions about reading and writing and creating in general—ours and other authors’.
At the same time, we added Twitter. This was—and is—much trickier. The common wisdom was that you should use it to advertise only 20% of the time and devote the rest to catchy sayings, thoughts, and images from our daily lives. So far, we feel that we haven’t used it enough for anything and, once the book is actually published, we’ve decided to do a lot more research in how to employ it more successfully.
Then we thought the manuscript was ready for the next step.
We are fervent book people, and one of us has even written a scholarly article on a 19th-century Irish poet publishing his first book (a disaster and most copies were eventually recycled for trunk linings), but we had no idea of what we were getting ourselves into.
As modern people, we began with internet research, of course. We typed in “self-publishing”, and quickly discovered that there were multitudes of people eager to help us out there, some for a price, others for free, others for free, but with sales pitches thrown in. We quickly learned, however, that there was a longer process ahead of us than we had ever thought.
First, after surveying the field of self-publishing services, we decided that we would use Amazon, in part because of its access to Kindle, in part because of its liberal profit-sharing policy. (A hint: if you are following our path, be sure to do a little extra research, when you do your googling to pick a publisher, and type in “reviews of ________________________” to try to provide a more balanced view than the self-publishing service is willing to provide.)
Advice from various sites had convinced us that we needed to have an ISBN. Why we—or anyone—might need it would require a separate post, but, in brief, it forever identifies the book as yours, as well as providing potential sellers with a convenient stock number, among other reasons. Only one is needed per book, but, if, as in our case, we wanted to use e-book form, as well, then we needed two—and, if we wanted it available on other media, like phones, we would need more. The main supplier, Bowker, has a deal for a pack of 10, and we decided to use that.
On the actual formatting of the book, we’ll refer you to the upcoming post on our Facebook page, which talks in some detail about everything from proofreading and correcting to number of words on the page to placement of the text on the page. We will say something about the cover, however.
We were doing research on Pacific exploration when we happened upon the work of William Hodges, who was the main artist on Captain Cook’s second Pacific voyage. We quickly realized that one of Hodges’ paintings, often called “The Waterspout”, was absolutely perfect. We traced it to the National Maritime Museum in London, inquired, and found out how to rent the image (dealing with the very kind and helpful Emma Lefley, who is the Image Librarian—what a wonderful job!). It had to be formatted to become the front and back covers, of course—but see our Facebook page for that.
We said, at the beginning of this post, that we had had a “behind the scenes” education. And that it had taken more time and energy than we had ever imagined. It would be more accurate, in fact, to say that we are continuing to have that education. We had known about the back-and-forth aspect of author and publisher and its complications from the experience not only of 19th-century authors, but also from the correspondence of Tolkien and Unwin from 1936 on, but there was so much more. A professional publisher would handle renting the cover image, the actual physical creation of the book, and the advertising, all of which is now in our hands. Sometimes, it has seemed like more work than writing that first novel, but it has, on the whole, been a wonderful experience and we’ll be talking more about it in future blogs.
Thanks, as always, for reading!