I’ve been a writer all my life. Since I was a little kid I remember creating stories in my mind, writing them down, and having everyone around me – parents, teachers, friends – praise them. I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember, but actually putting these thoughts out in a book, rather than a blog post, was far more challenging than I anticipated. I saw first-hand that creativity wasn’t enough, and that the hardest part was indeed the clerical work.
There’s a few things you absolutely need to know before you even consider putting your book on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, etc.
1. Writing Books is Very Different from Writing Blogs:
This seems obvious, but it can often be muddled in the heat of the actual creative process. You’re looking at a very, very different end-product. Your writing style needs to be a lot more formalized. People just have different expectations when they pick up a book (or read one on Kindle or any other e-reader). Drop any snark. Drop the tendency to try to meet your readers on their level. Drop the attempts at humor (unless the book is a comedy book, the humor is being used as comic relief in a fictional narrative, or you’re very, very good). You are writing as an authority figure. You’re telling a compelling story in any case, fiction or non-fiction. You need to hook your readers, and if writing a non-fictional story, you need to look like you know what you’re talking about.
Start with the mindset that you’re going to be an authoritative storyteller and writing a quality book will come more easily.
2. You Need Editors:
I was arrogant enough to believe I didn’t need any editors. When I handed the manuscript to people I trusted, my work was quickly torn apart. Since the book started as an expanded adaptation from a series of blogs, too much of that style seeped in. It required much revision. The revisions took a longer time to do (in terms of actual time spent) than the actual book itself.
When I talk about revisions, I don’t just mean spelling or grammar checks. The structure of your book itself could change rather dramatically when your editors look at it. The tone could be very different in the edited versions, depending on what passages remain, what gets shunted, and what gets revised. This is the most important part. Most writers don’t get that they can’t self-edit a book because they’re too emotionally attached to it. Other eyeballs are needed to catch things your biased ones will inevitably miss.
No, you don’t need to hire a professional editor for an unaffordable price, but you do need trusted beta readers that want to help and will critique you honestly. Good editors and beta readers can mean the difference between ruining what could otherwise be a good book and ensuring that the raw gem that is your work gets cut and polished to make it sparkle to the world. This is very important, so keep it in mind.
3. You Need a Good Cover:
You’ve heard that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Whoever says that is stupid. People will judge a book by its cover. As the cover is the first and usually only thing that people see about your book, it needs to capture attention fast. When copywriting, the old saying is to have a good headline or go home. In writing a book, the saying should be “have a good cover or go home.”
That being said, this desire to have a good cover for your book can easily make you overdo it. I had a number of cover ideas in mind to capture attention that I toyed with and got whittled down.
My first idea was what would have essentially amounted to a Ben Garrison cartoon – Donald Trump was going to plant his conquering heel over the downed GOP elephant with his Republican opponents and Hillary Clinton stampeding in terror. It was very shitlordy, which was what I wanted, but it was way too busy. I also didn’t want it to send the wrong message, as the media has promoted the narrative that “Trump supports violence.” No need to give them what they want.
I then came upon two subsequent cover ideas simultaneously. The first idea was an Art of the Deal sort of cover, with Trump looking tough in a boardroom but with a twist – his opponents and Hillary Clinton would be looking panicked and dejected, meanwhile, a red and white “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” banner would be hanging behind Trump above the window. While this idea was appealing, I deemed it too busy.
The second variation was where I toyed with various ideas of Trump, carrying the same banner in his hand, moving toward the White House with a massive crowd behind him. The final version of this idea was of Trump hanging out of his helicopter with it, smug look on his face, and with a road sign pointing to “PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” behind him. Shitlordy and provocative, but again too busy.
I then toyed with the idea of having Trump’s plane on the White House lawn, where you could see him through one of the windows, but only his unmistakable hair. The “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” banner was now hanging over the White House lawn. I liked it, but upon discussing it with my artist, it was again too busy.
Finally, I decided to go with something very simple and subtly provocative, which is probably the right balance to take with your covers in general. The cover would be unmistakably shitlordy, but not a clusterfuck. Trump would just sit in the Oval Office, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” plaque on his desk, with a smug or aggressive look. It was shitlordy and captured attention, forcing the viewer to imagine Trump as president and try to figure out how the hell he got there, which is the book’s subject. The image also unambiguously followed from the title of the book. The plaque was turned into a wall decoration by the artist, and I think it turned out better that way.
Speaking of covers and artists…
4. Get a Good Artist:
With your cover ideas in mind, it’s now time to find someone to do the job. I have zero visual artistic talent myself, so that was a given for me. A friend of mine is very good, and I wanted her to share in the glory with this book by having her do the cover, but she unfortunately has a penchant for withdrawing from the world, and now is one of those times. With Donald Trump on the verge of victory in a primary season that most pundits said he would never, ever win, I wanted to release the book in a timely fashion to fit the occasion (more on that below). So, I needed to get my cover done relatively quickly. In this, there was only one place to logically go…
Fiverr is a great resource to get a creative project done in a high quality without breaking the bank. It’s also a great way to make money yourself. I began searching, but I didn’t quite know exactly what to do at first, so I had to take a few days and learn as I went. Fortunately for you, I’ll now give you lessons which will save you time, and a link which will save you even more. When searching for a cover artist on Fiverr or anywhere else, here’s what you want:
- The cover artist should do original illustrations. There’s no need to pay an artist and then pay a second time to have someone make the art into a cover.
- Your cover art needs to be in a resolution of at least 300 dpi. This is so that when you print your cover, it doesn’t become a blurry, pixelated mess. This is something that’s generally understood by cover artists as a matter of course, but you should ask anyway.
- Your cover for the print vs. ebook versions will be different. For the former, you need a front, back, and spine (seen below). With the front, you want to capture the most attention. With the back, you want to basically write good copy regarding what your book is about. With the spine, you basically just put your title, subtitle, and author name. For the ebook version, however, you only need the front cover image (seen above). Upload your print cover PDF in CreateSpace at Amazon’s prompt, and similarly your Kindle (or other ebook version) on KDP, etc. The ebook cover won’t be a PDF, but a high quality JPEG. Make sure you ask your artist specifically for the front JPEG for promo work, again as seen above.
- Never be in a rush to finish your cover art. The cover took longer than I’d have liked for my planned release date, but waiting an extra week ensured the highest possible quality cover, which is what you want. Remember – you only get one chance to capture attention and first impressions are everything (a subject discussed in the book itself). You better make your book cover as captivating as possible. A few extra dollars and more days in wait time will be worth it.
- Your cover artist should allow you unlimited revisions and be willing to work with you to get the best possible outcome. Ultimately, the cover artist’s reputation is at stake in this too, so it’s a mutually beneficial exchange to get the highest quality finished work possible. Your artist will want to satisfy you. So ask, request, and ask again until you get everything right.
- The artists I ultimately chose to use were these good folks from Austria. They looked after my needs, were super-responsive, and ultimately gave me what I wanted and then some. Assuming my friend will be unavailable at any given time, I will use them for my future books.
5. Choose Good Colors:
The image alone is not your cover. You want good colors to highlight the “feel” of your work, so buyers can get a sense of what it’s about. I ultimately decided to go with an Art of the Deal-style cover with a black and gold/yellow theme. It conveyed a “rich” feel with pizazz in the bold, brash Trump style. Color theory is something I’ve taken note to familiarize myself with more on the future, though obviously your artist should already be familiar with it.
While irrelevant if your focus is only on doing an ebook, I chose the standard 6×9 size for CreateSpace. This accomplished two things. First, it kept the page count to a minimum, which would make it less heavy for shipping purposes (and therefore, more flexible with pricing). Second, 6×9 seems to be the more standard size for non-fiction works, while 5×8 has been said to be the standard for fiction. I don’t think it matters terribly much, but I went with what would allow me the most flexibility by keeping the weight down.
This is more important than you’d initially think. The study of typography is its own topic and now I see why that is. First things first, your font needs to be easily readable. That means the font needs to be both simple in form and of a good size (usually 11-12). I chose to go with Garamond 11, but if there’s one thing I can do over again, I would probably choose Times New Roman instead. Garamond is a bit smaller so it keeps the page count lower, but it ultimately wouldn’t make a terrible difference anyway. Garamond is a fine font of course, and perfectly acceptable. Ultimately I would recommend sticking with Garamond, Times New Roman, or Georgia. Part of why I continued to go with Garamond is because…yes, there’s our old friend again, the cover.
8. Your Cover Must Be Precise!
There’s another dimension when it comes to designing a cover…literally. You need to let your artist know the precise number of pages so that the cover…actually covers the book. Fortunately, CreateSpace has an easy guide. This accuracy is why I ultimately chose to stick with a Garamond font. Here’s a good guide from CreateSpace you can share with your cover artist. They should know this as a matter of course, but make sure you discuss it.
9. Formatting for Print:
CreateSpace gives a quick guide to formatting. This is important so your book doesn’t look like shit.
- Your page layout needs to be in the dimensions for your preferred book. Make sure you change it from Word’s standard 8.5×11.
- Your margins should be .5 for top, bottom, and outside, 0 for inside, and .75 for gutter. You also need to make sure that “mirror margins” is selected in Word.
- You should insert page numbers for the printed version but NOT for the ebook version. I chose to put mine on the top. If you do the same, make sure that the text box your number rests in doesn’t go below the header. It will mess with your formatting. Double click the number and see if the actual box extends slightly below. If it does, just make it smaller by dragging the cursor slightly upward. Voila.
- Some people don’t like the CreateSpace templates. I think they make formatting a bit easier, particularly when it comes to your book title and author name in the header. The only negative for me was that the templates have the words on the last page of each chapter start in the middle of the page.
- Your citations should be selected to appear at the end of your SECTION, not the end of the book. If you want to make an index after your notes section, you’ll be out of luck if you don’t do this.
- Insert page breaks to separate chapters from one another. Don’t hit enter.
- Don’t hit the tab button to indent parahraphs. That should instead be done from the “paragraph” prompt in word. .25-.5 is ideal. I went with .25.
- Even page numbers are supposed to appear on the left. Odd pages are supposed to appear on the right. I nearly reached my wit’s end trying to figure this out. CS templates actually ensure this for you. If you’re not using one, you may need to insert a blank page or two at the start. Keep in mind that when viewing your document in Word, it will be the opposite to how it should be, so odd page numbers will appear on the left and even on the right. Save your file as a PDF and view it with two page scrolling enabled to see if you’ve got it right. This is how your book will actually appear.
- Your PDF may have a tendency to be saved in 8.5×11, despite your formatting. To prevent this, download doPDF and save your file in the proper dimensions. I like to select for the text quality to be high and in 600 dpi also. This PDF will be the finished version you upload to CreateSpace.
- Don’t worry if CS says your fonts couldn’t be embedded when you upload your PDF. Everyone gets that error.
10. Formatting for Kindle, etc.:
Formatting for an ebook is fortunately simpler. Recall that the old rules about indenting and page breaks still apply. As I said before, there should be no page numbers or author name at the top of the page. You can start this in Word’s standard 8.5×11. You’re going to want to insert appropriate hyperlinks in this version. Do not double space between paragraphs in this version. Lines should be spaced in the paragraph prompt by 1.5. Make sure you insert a table of contents at the beginning that allows readers to click and go. Your ebook should not have an index.
Save your document as a single web page/HTML document. From that point it’s ready to be uploaded.
11. Your Release May be Delayed:
Once you’re finished with your ebook version, it’s basically ready to be released. However, I wanted to launch the print and ebook versions simultaneously. As remarked upon before, my initially-planned release date was on April 26th, the day of those northeast primaries that he swept. However, the cover was still being worked on, and it wasn’t actually done until the 29th. After that, I needed to order a proof copy of the book to see if it was all OK.
And before you ask – yes, you do need to order a proof book. A lot more errors can be found in one than you might initially believe, despite the fact that you looked at it on your computer screen over and over again. You really do need to have a physical book in your hands and go over it, line by line – it takes longer than you think. A lot of things stood out which I thought could be corrected or improved upon when seeing my physical proof book. Most notably, and annoyingly, the index was in need of a complete overhaul because of how the book actually looked on paper. I spent the better part of a day going over that.
Ordering a proof book will annoyingly set you back on your release schedule, especially if your subject matter is as timely as mine was, but it’s absolutely necessary. A digital proof isn’t enough. You need to see a physical one. After that, and when you’ve made all the corrections to your book, then you can check to see if it all lines up on the digital proofreader on CreateSpace before publication.
It all worked out well in the end, because I was able to release Stumped on May 4th, the day after Donald Trump’s decisive victory in Indiana, which made him the presumptive nominee.
Set an ideal release date and give yourself a couple of weeks to pad yourself and promote your book.
Publishing a book has never been easier, but that doesn’t mean you can make a sloppy mess. It needs to look professional, because you need to put a professional effort into it. Anything less and it not only won’t sell but it will mar your name. You should treat your work as Thucydides treated his celebrated History of the Peloponnesian War – as a work meant to last forever. That is the Homeric calling, the reason why we’re here.
Stumped: How Trump Triumphed is my first real mark on the world, and I intended it to be a splash for all to remember. I’m confident it will help you to make your name immortal as well, as Trump operates with the same calling. He has been a marvelous teacher, and Stumped will make him one for you also, one who will give you new tools to help you succeed that you never thought about before. Those tools are all an indispensable part of the journey of the masculine life – to reach True Glory or die trying.