Secrets of Self-Publishing: Exclusive Interview with Cyer Law

Friend of the site Cyer Law (Eric Sanderson, Prolocutor for LoreFolk) has done what many talk (or dream) about: taking his own nearly 500-page novel all the way through from concept to execution, including print copies and multiple ebook formats with creative custom illustrations throughout. We sat down to talk with him about the process, and he provided not only a step-by-step narrative of his own means, methods, trials and tribulations, but also a spectacular set of resources (skip to the very end for this must-bookmark list for would-be self-publishers!). But before we begin, be sure to check out The Novel: Aeternae Aetatis by Cyer Law (and view the Book Trailer).

WebUrbanist: How did you decide to pursue self-publishing and did you consider approaching mainstream publishers first?

Prolocutor: From the beginning, during a dark and stormy night, I was looking at my options.  Publishers to my eyes, when I read first hand accounts on the internets, appeared monolithic in their formality. I studied advice on query letters, publisher requirements, and tried to wrap my head around how much work I would have to put into trying to get someone to notice my baby.  You should understand, that the entire process of writing, revising and editing The Novel, just to get it to it’s preeminent form took nearly a decade.  By then, I was completely exhausted with writing, and staring at what looked like another year or two years in writing and sending query letters, along with every other internet citizen with a careful and mediated word to spread, was too daunting.

On the other side, the technology for self-publication, was developing into an efficient Print On Demand solution. What at first started with vanity presses, where a self-publisher would have to pay a press to do a run of a thousand books, for thousands of dollars, has morphed into a smaller investment, for a printed product. And of course, along came Kindle, which was the first killer-ebook device, which led to the Nook and the very open market of direct publishing on either KDP (Kindle) or Pubit (Barnse & Noble).

Lastly, I’ve always been an old hack with software, which allowed me to do everything a publisher could do from the technical stand point. I found and paid artists and other editors myself to finish up portions such as the interior illustrations (Jeremy Ney!) and the map (Adam Schmidt) for The Novel.

WebUrbanist: Once you chose the route of self publication, what criteria did you use to determine your best option?

Prolocutor: The hard copy had to be cheap to print. The vanity presses, no matter how large a run, could never compete with the full-scale publication industry.  That was the deal breaker, really.  I looked at two options for the hard copy, Lulu and Lightning Source.  At this point, I had already incorporated LoreFolk LLC as publisher and moniker, so when I reviewed the Print-On-Demand costs, and took some advice from JoeThePeacock, Lightning Source came out the winner. They won’t take self-publishers, but if you’re incorporated, even as an LLC or owner-proprietor, they won’t care.

Of course, trying to play with the big boys has it’s rewards, and draw backs.  Lulu will offer every service under the sun, from editing, to designing, to marketing, for anyone, any time, anywhere.  If you have the cash to burn and lack the technical know-how to format your content, then Lulu is where the train is likely to end.

WebUrbanist: What were your biggest surprises in the process, both good and bad?

Prolocutor: The biggest surprise is how good quality Print-On-Demand (POD) books are currently.  Everyone I’ve showed it to is either stunned or simply does not question its orgin. If you picked it up in a store somewhere, you’d be hard pressed to discern that it was not mass produced. Some of it is my ability to navigate the various facets that make a book a book (the touch, the feel, the fabric, the book of our lives) but mostly, its the latest and greatest technology that make it possible.

The most challenging surprise was how impractical publishing extraordinary content on the Kindle is.  I spent a good deal of time getting my EPUB ebook formatted for the Nook, requiring downsizing the quality of the various images, and let the device handle more of the basic formatting. Once I finished with that, and retained 95% of the presentation aspect (The Book), I went to Amazon to try and convert the EPUB to the Kindle format, and was suddenly shattered in how archaic their Kindle format was.  It was as if I had entered a time warp into the early days of Netscape. Despite being the forerunner of the ebook market today, they had adopted the premier and non-killer-app format of yester years, theMOBI format. Tl;dr, another 30-45% of the presentation quality had to be further reduced. So if you want the best presentation, the physical copy, is your best choice.  I would say the EPUB from Barnes and Noble is the highest quality ebook I can produce, and the Kindle is just enough to not destroy my faith in humanity (I should try to not phrase it like it’s plague to the earth, as it’s the primary destination for most ebooks).

WebUrbanist: What advice would you give to someone else who is interested in potentially publishing their own novel or other book for print and/or web?

Prolocutor: There’s an explicit answer I must give, because of the route I took.  If you want to self-publish, you need to know the tools of the trade. The physical copy was produced all in InDesign. I would have liked to use an open source program, but I have used adobe software for about 15 years off and on, and I did not want to try to learn something new.  Everything submitted to the Print-On-Demand service, whether Lulu, LightningSource or other, will require you to have a PDF.  It sounds simple but the PDF has a whole host of various specifications, and you need to consult the POD service for the right settings.

From the Indesign layout, you can produce a rudimentary HTML file.  At this point, it should be noted that if you have HTML design skills, you can easily create an ebook.  And if you do not have nostaligia for The Book, then InDesign is a useless step.  The epub and mobi digital formats are merely just XHTML.  The following software is what I used: Sigil for compilation of the EPUB from HTML files, Calibre for conversion from EPUB to MOBI, then Mobi Pocket Creator & Amazon’s KindleGen. It can seem like a maze at time, but there are plenty of resources to be found on google that will get you to your goal.

Now for the other answer. If you want to publish, but do not understand any of the various links I posted to PDFEPUBMOBIXHTML, you can still get your material published. AWord Doc or RTF is acceptable to Lulu or Smashwords as distributors, they’ll convert the document to the required format, and push it out the door.  I did not try this, as the presentation of the material usually suffers.  As outlined above, I had to use several different programs to just get two versions of the ebook.  Lulu and Smashwords will offer you to distribute your book anywhere and everywhere, which sounds nices, but at the end of the day, I think presentation and content go hand in hand.

The last stage is registering your content for distribution, which requires purchasing ISBNs from either your distrbutor or Bowkers. This of ISBNs as a url to all the various outlets such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Any distributor or printer (Lulu and Lightning Source are both) will require an ISBN.  I chose to purchase mine through Bowkers, so I could claim a middle ground between vanity publishing and true publishers, as I would like to continue publishing not just my works, but others, if the chance comes along.  Slap the ISBN onto the barcodes and copyright pages, and suddenly, you have a book!


Formats to Know:

Word Doc – Either DOC or DOCX, the general format for Microsoft Word (Learn the style guides) can be imported into InDesign or directly to some of the distributor’s formats.
RTF – Rich Text Format:An open source text document with formatting capabilities.
]PDF – Physical copies and some eBooks (iPad size)
EPUB – Open electronic publication format, used by Barnes & Noble, et al.
XHTML – A form of HTML, that uses stricter open/close tags (XML compliant)
MOBI – An old ebook format used as the basis for Amazon’s kindle format (AZW) which are proprietary.
SVG/PNG/GIF/JPG – Various graphic formats (in order of preference)


Software to Have:

Adobe Illustrator/Inkscape (Free Open Source Software) – I used these to take advantage of the SVG format available on the EPUB.
Adobe Photoshop/GIMP (Free Open Source Software)
Sigil (Free) – EPUB layout software, requires XHTML files & graphic files (you can use this to open any .epub file, and see it’s guts.
Calibre (Free) – Converts various types of ebooks and works as a ebook library.
Mobi Pocket Creator (Free version) – Like sigil, it will take XHTML files and covers, and create a MOBI file. Definitely not as easy as Sigil (Possibly useless if you understand the next program.
Amazon’s KindleGen (Free) – A command line (ooo scary) program that makes a MOBI file from properly formatted XHTML files.
NotePad++ (Free) – A advanced text editor for HTML or XHTML, very handy for cleaning up DOC to HTML/XHTML conversions (For those OCD among us in presentation)


Distributors to Contact:

Lightning Source – Cheap POD service, no hand holding, and you should probably incorporate (for tax purposes).
Lulu – One stop shop for all your needs, from bare-bones to full service. I can’t say anything more than for me, it was useful to get a rough but ready looking physical copy.
Kindle Direct Publishing – Distribution for the Kindle available from Amazon, they take DOC or MOBI or other formats. I published on the physical copy through Lightning Source, then converted to MOBI and uploaded it to Amazon.
Pubit – Distribution for the Nook available from Barnes & Noble. They take an EPUB and other formats.
Bowkers – ISBN supplier and database (for distribution lists)


Recommended Reading:


The Absolute No-Bulls**t Guide To Writing, Publishing and Selling a Book


The Novel: Aeternae Aetatis by Cyer Law (Book Trailer)

Barnes & Noble (EPUB & Physical Copy) (MOBI/AZW & Physical Copy) also available in UK/DE/FR