It was the Fourth of July, early on a beautiful Saturday morning of a holiday weekend. So why was a room full of people taking a break from the holiday at the monthly meeting of Mystery Writers of America’s Southwest Chapter? We’d come to hear four longtime writers, veterans of the business, talk about the topic dear to all our hearts – getting published.
Fiction writers Sandy Steen, LaRee Bryant and Susan May, and computer how-to guy James Gaskin (who also dabbles in fiction) found most of their audience’s questions were about self-publishing, which was OK, because they’ve gone both ways, self-publishing as well as the traditional variety.
Although audience questions started with how to format books for self-publishing, panel members emphasized that the quality of the writing has to come first. “There’s one thing I see about self-published books,” Steen said, “it’s that there’s a lot of dreck out there. Anything you submit, from a query to a full manuscript, needs to be as clean as possible.”
Bryant, who is a professional editor as well as author, agreed. “If you’re going to do it yourself, you need to be sure you’ve got the aptitude to do it.”
So just hard is it to prepare a book for self-publishing, an audience member asked. Is it worth doing yourself, or is it better to hire someone?
Susan May: “I’m a firm believer from many years in business, that you do yourself what you do well. Otherwise, hire it out.”
That said, the multiple options available for self-publishing, such as CreateSpace, have made the formatting the questioner was concerned with one of the easier parts of publishing. (If in doubt while at the self-publishing site, ask for a guided tour, which will explain the concepts as the author goes along.) Pick a standard font (typeface) such as Times New Roman or Courier, in a 12-14 point size.
Steen prefers Garamond, a family of typefaces, which also have a familiar look for most readers. It, as well as Times New Roman and Courier, are all serif typefaces, meaning they have ornamental extender lines, typically at the bases of letters. An audience member asked about the use of the Arial typeface, a sans serif font. But although sans serifs have what some consider a more modern look, Bryant advised against them, finding that they don’t show up as well on e-readers.
However, panelists recommended checking any unusual typefaces to be sure they are no longer under copyright by their creators. Otherwise, authors may find themselves billed thousands of dollars for use of a copyrighted product. (And about copyrighting your own book? That’s the easy part, panelists agreed. The U.S. Copyright Office charges about $35 for the process.)
“What’s the most popular size for an e-book?” was another audience question.
Mass-market size books, the old ones small enough to fit into a pocket, are going out of style in paper because their pages are more difficult to cut. Again, to keep formatting the same for both paper books and e-books, panelists recommended what’s called “trade” paperback sizes, six inches by nine inches, or 5 ¼ by 8.
Bryant suggested that with the slightly larger 6 x 9 inch size sometimes decreases the number of pages, which in turn may decrease the publishing costs. In no case would any of the panelists recommend trying to scrimp on costs by using smaller typefaces. Bryant would never go smaller than 12 point; May typically uses 13 point.
With self-publishing also comes the need to make decisions about marketing, including how to price your own books. At this point, the discussion took a sharp turn into questions about book promotion, to be continued next Tuesday.