Three Takes on Self-Publishing
by Gregory Murphy
This year, Old Man Winter has enjoyed turning Ontario’s sidewalks and roads into hazardous snow-and-ice-encrusted traps. Some of us editors come from afar to take part in our Kingston gatherings, and it would have been reasonable to skip out, planning to go to the next one, if Winter had been at it again on Wednesday, January 11. But he wasn’t. In fact, it was a beautiful day. What a slice of good luck for us, helping to ensure a fantastic turnout!
Our meeting room at Ongwanada Resource Centre was full, and many were jostling for space in any nook and cranny offering a view of our panellists and their presentations. We all came with an appetite to learn about self-publishing from our three knowledgeable panellists: Stacey Atkinson, who travelled from Ottawa, and Kingston’s own Bob MacKenzie and Carla Douglas.
Stacey has been a word lover for much of her life. After spending several years writing her first book, Stuck, a YA novel, she started her own self-publishing company, Mirror Image Publishing. While on this venture, Stacey found an affection for editing, among many other skills important to self-publishing authors, such as book design, typesetting, and marketing.
At first she wanted to publish traditionally. Then she chose to self-publish because of the control it allowed her to keep over her work. Quickly she realized that self-publishing, though rewarding overall, is no walk in the park. She promoted her work endlessly in person and online on social media, creating several websites as vehicles for promotion. To drive traffic to her websites, which also advertise her editing services, among others, she did her research, learning SEO (search engine optimization) techniques. (In response to a question, Stacey explained that SEO includes finding and using keywords and content that work together to help move her websites up the stack on search engine results pages when curious authors type search queries to find her.) She learned how to use InDesign and how to format manuscripts for sale online as ebooks.
What’s important about knowing all these skills, she said, is that many self-publishing authors who believe they are looking strictly for editing also need help with the many other processes through which their self-publishing journey will take them.
Stacey is the creator of the online course How to Publish a Book.
Bob has been self-publishing since his youth, in the sixties. With him he brought his first self-published work, a small white volume of poetry titled Reflections, which came into the world in 1966 and was sold for one dollar. He was nineteen. Bob regarded it fondly, pointing out the volume’s quirks, such as the old plastic spiral binding, which was, as he put it, “new technology” at the time.
Then he pulled out many of his other self-published works: more volumes of poetry, short stories, novellas, and novels, all created under his publishing imprint, Dark Matter Press. Bob was not only the writer of these but did much of the other work himself in bringing them to life. But he didn’t hesitate to ask for help from others when he needed it. This was one of Bob’s key takeaways of the night. For example, he acknowledged he isn’t a skilled artist, so it isn’t unusual for him to bring an artist aboard to help a project soar. His advice was to ask for help when you need it: there are many components to self-publishing; trying to do it all on your own, when you’re unfamiliar with something, may work only to the detriment of the project.
Carla, along with her colleague Corina Koch MacLeod (who has been part of the Editors Kingston community but wasn’t at this gathering), is an adept self-publisher. With Corina she has written literacy workbooks. Don’t Panic 2.0: On-the-go Practice for the OSSLT was one such book. The pair wrote and self-published it for sale as an ebook, and formatted it for use on smartphones and tablets. However, they found that students were instead gravitating toward its paper copies. Carla said the lesson learned was that certain projects work better in certain formats; it’s important to know the needs and wants of the readership.
Carla and Corina have also written, produced, and published The Ebook Style Guide and You’ve Got Style: Copyediting for Self-Published Authors.
Carla’s tips were to stay informed about developments in the publishing industry; to be aware that the worlds of traditional publishing and self-publishing are merging; to learn about fonts, typefaces, ebook formatting, and other essential pools of knowledge; and to be prepared, as an editor, to coach authors through the process.
Coming Up February 8: Changing Usage in Your World
How has the evolution of English affected your work lately? Let’s compare notes and share experiences.
- This year the Editors Canada conference will be in Ottawa in June. Keep an eye open for our upcoming webinars:
February 22: Introduction to Microsoft Office Word Styles
March 4 and 5: From Wordiness to Plain Language: Editing with Style
March 6: La correction d’épreuves de manuels
March 15: Good Grammar: It’s More Than Gut Feel
For more information on webinar synopses, scheduled times, and prices, see the Editors Canada webinars page.
- Editors Canada also recently held a free webinar hosted by Greg Ioannou on maximizing the impact of an Online Directory of Editors profile. (The ODE is a marketing tool that helps Editors Canada members.) connect with clients and employers.) A recording soon be available for streaming.
- The National Executive Council has struck a task force, led be executive director Paul Yip-Chuck, to explore the creation of a new Canadian dictionary. This is only the very first stages of what would be a huge, long-term project. But it looks like we’re not getting a new dictionary any other way, so we’re going to work on it.