eBooks and Self-publishing @ the Henley Literary Festival

Now, I almost didn’t go to this talk; the travel wasn’t a problem, it was the timing: ten-thirty on a Sunday morning. I haven’t seen ten-thirty on a Sunday morning in years.
Still, I managed to roll out of bed, into the shower, into yesterday’s clothes, into the car and into Henley – on time.

The talk was a chat and a question/answer session with three authors:

Angela Levin – journalist and author of the eBook Diana’s Baby – Kate, William, and the Repair of a Broken Family
Clive Limpkin – an award-winning Fleet Street photographer who has just published his memoirs, Lost in the Reptile House
and Emma Clare Lam, author of A Sister for Margot

It was a very entertaining and very informative chat, during which each author skillfully matched their own experience and perspective against each question. It was light on technical detail, which was fine by me; I’m equally blessed and cursed with a background in IT,  so I probably know a lot more about the nerdy bits anyway.


What I was interested in was the difficulties and stigma they encountered in self-publishing. Clive pointed out that the term ‘vanity publishing’ had been coined in the 1940’s, and literary endeavour had been set back ever since. I wasn’t sure I was convinced until he pointed out that both Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain were self-published authors. I did not know that.

Emma went into considerable depth on her writing process, and talked about how difficult it was to find time to write her second book because of the effort needed to market her first one. This I can relate to; I should blog more and tweet more, but it gets in the way of the writing, which always seems a little self-defeating to me. Angela came up with a possible solution: eBook publishing houses. In return for a percentage of the sales, they’ll handle the formatting, the cover design and the marketing for you. It did sound a lot like vanity publishing to me, but since there’s no upfront fee to produce the book, then maybe not. Worth a look anyway.

The real takeway for me that morning was the realisation that there are a lot of people in the same boat as me: no agent, no publisher, but still keen to get their work out to an audience beyond friends and family. That does take hard work, dedication, effort and unfortunately means taking time out of your writing to put your name (or pseudonym) about.

So then the question is, what do you really want?

A while back, I got discouraged after a couple of ‘near-misses’ with finding an agent and the collapse of a television pilot project , and so I decided to put the writing on the backburner and get out of the study for a couple of months. The cats were pleased; they like the study, but don’t like sharing it with me. And I was pleased because I’d forgotten what ‘outside’ looks like. I came back to writing a few months later with a different attitude, and it was only after listening to Clive Limpkin speak that I realised what the change was.
Clive just wanted to write. He wasn’t too fussed about setting the autobiographical world alight or getting a guest spot on Chatty Man. Clive spent forty years writing his life story and just wanted to see it ‘out there’, and I think a lot of people moving into eBooks and self-publishing feel the same way.

I like stringing words together, and seeing if I can invoke an emotion while I’m doing it.
That’s it. That’s what I do. That’s why I wrote stories when I was a kid, and that’s why I write them now (though hopefully, I’m a lot better).

Beyond that? Well, what else is there?


Anyway, it was a great session, and I’m glad I got out of bed to see it. If you see a talk by any of them at your local Lit. Fest then it’s well worth an hour of your time to go along.
If not, buy their books (I’m especially looking forward to reading Emma’s).

A Sister for Margot by Emma Clark Lam

Diana’s Baby by Angela Levin

Lost in the Reptile House by Clive Limpkin (also available on the Kindle).

Diving into CreateSpace

Believe it or not, there’s a subclass of humanity that prefers real books over Kindles and iPads. I should know; I’m one of them, which is why I decided to give Publish On Demand a shot. To be honest, I think I saw it more of an adventure: I’ve always been a little curious as to what goes into putting a printed book together and, without too much outlay, this seemed like a pretty good way to find out.

There are a couple of well-known POD outfits out there. I think Lulu is probably the most well-known, closely followed by the Amazon-owned CreateSpace. As far as I can tell, when it comes to POD there’s not much between them, but Lulu also covers eBook publishing so has the advantage if you’re looking to do the whole thing from a single service. Since I already had the Kindle and the iPad covered I thought I’d give CreateSpace a bash. From looking at the instructions (and you must read the instructions), CreateSpace looked like much less hassle for a good result. I also thought as they were owned by Amazon then it would be much easier to get the book into the Amazon store – that was mistake number one.

Both services offer a set of Word templates to help get your book into the correct format (I picked a 6×9 because I wanted to show off the cover … :-)), and as long as work slowly, don’t bugger about with the template’s formatting,  and save often then you shouldn’t find the process too difficult. Tedious, yes, but not too difficult.

You should only worry about the cover design once the book is in print format. Why? Well, you need to know how many pages the finished book will contain to work out the width of the spine. Your cover designer will know all about this, but if you’re doing the cover yourself, both Lulu and CreateSpace have onsite calculators to help with this.

Incidentally, I’ve never seen an author-drawn book cover that I’ve actually liked. If  you’re taking the time and trouble to go to print then you may as well stump up the money to get a decent cover designed.

Once I’d uploaded the book interior (pages) and the exterior (cover),  I ordered the proofs. And this is where I realised I’d made something of a mistake. Although it is attached to Amazon, a company with an almost galactic reach, CreateSpace is very US-centric: the proofs had to be shipped from the States (not cheap). What’s more, even though CreateSpace is attached to Amazon, there is no guarantee that your book will appear in any Amazon store other than the US one.

Bizarre, I know.

Although I haven’t tried them, I understand that you may have better luck with Lulu if you want to sell on Amazon UK. That’ll teach me to read the small print.

Anyway, a couple of weeks(!) later, the proof arrived.

If there comes a time when you feel like jacking it all in, here’s what you do: get a single copy of your book made up.

Hold it in your hand, caress the paper, drop it onto the dining room table and listen to the sound it makes. You can even read it again if you want to.

Trust me, you’ll feel renewed.

Speaking of reading through, CreateSpace will allow you to order the books without ordering the proof first. This is madness, I tell you, sheer madness! I cannot imagine why anyone would order a boxful of books without a thorough proof-read beforehand. It’s a false economy; don’t do it.

And if you are new to self-publishing then you could do a lot worse than spending a few hours on Catherine Howard’s extraordinarily useful, extraordinarily honest and extraordinarily pink website. In my case, not doing so was mistake number two; if I had, I wouldn’t have made mistake number one.

Or would that make it mistake number…well, you get the idea.

You don’t need a Kindle to read Kindle books

I’ve been hearing this a lot over the past few weeks:

‘Would love to read your book, Dom, but I don’t have a Kindle.’

Which makes a change from this:

‘You ate the whole cheesecake?’

One of Amazon’s best kept secrets is that you don’t need a Kindle to read books from the Kindle bookstore. You can get a Kindle reader application for the price of a download (free), and they do versions for just about every platform (no Linux version but apparently the Windows version runs under WINE).

And if you happen to have a Kindle anyway then you can happily swap between it and your laptop/phone/whatever with your current page updated between all of them. That’s right, with the Kindle connection switched on, Amazon will keep track of the book you’re reading and make sure your other Kindle applications keep in step. Very clever and only a little bit sinister.

So, if you’re an eBook author with a website, it might be a good idea to link to the Kindle apps. It can only help.

Kindle for the Mac