Guest Post: A Year of Self-Publishing Mistakes

Today’s guest post comes to us from author Jason Christie.  Jason’s been featured on A Few Words before.  I asked him to come back to talk with us about his experiences over the past year as a self-published author.  This article is a honest, insightful view into the process and a definite recommended read.  

Jason’s novels are available through Amazon and his blog, Write to Life, is another great place to hear more of his thoughts on the industry and read more of his writing.

A Year of Self-Publishing Mistakes

by Jason Christie

I’m not really comfortable trying to tell people how to write. So I’ll probably just talk about book stuff and maybe work in some random writer things along the way.

I confess to doing everything wrong when I first self-published. I sort of edited and published four novels in a month, trying to get online before Christmas of 2011. Mistake number one. Well, a whole subset of mistakes in that alone. Rush books out in a month, pay for it all year long…

But another problem with that approach is that you get a real boost from releasing new books. A book a month would have a been a much more effective approach. Most of the impact I could have had with my debut was squandered.

Of course, I also had no blog, website, or, well, any sort of support infrastructure in place whatsoever. I did have various pockets of notoriety to draw upon, having achieved some levels of fame in the underground rap and metal worlds, been published on Slashdot.com and Boingboing.net. I was already listed on Wikipedia, Internet Movie Database and other sites. None of those things really translate into book readers.

Previous to publishing, my idea of social media was reminiscing about Usenet, and the days of flaming and trolling. I would much rather insult people than try and befriend them, believe me.

Oh, my covers were pretty crap, too. Now, the muse and I can look at the old covers and point out all sorts of significant imagery that is quite relevant to the book itself. But what you see and the reader sees are worlds apart. Forget what you think is good, early on in the book cover design phase. Look at what is eye-catching from a sales standpoint.

Because I’m sort of ashamed to say it, but once you’ve poured your life and soul into a book, it becomes a commodity. Unless you are independently wealthy or enjoy your day job, you need to look at selling books. Not above art, but parallel to it. The art of selling, as it were.

Now, after my first year here in the indie publishing trenches, I’ve pored over most of my books ten times since then, at least. I found more errors in Stephen King’s UR  than in most of my much longer books. That’s progress, for sure. I’m to the point where I don’t feel the insane urge to reword every sentence. A good feeling.

Along the way, you start to discover weak points in your writing. Like, glaring weak points that you’re too close to to see. Adjectives and adverbs start to stand out as deletable material, along with the 33% overage in commas that seems common to new writers. Things like that.

Now, it’s to my advantage that I’m sort of tech oriented, so at least the book formatting was simple enough to me that I could learn it on the fly. Except I’m terrible about having multiple files and revisions, and just sort of losing track of what’s what. Expect problems in the future if you don’t settle on a sane dating and numbering system for manuscripts, or some other workable method. There are few feelings worse than losing an entire round of edits to a simple mistake.

This is compounded when you make multiple versions for different ebook sites. At one point, I forgot that while I was uploading .DOC files to Smashwords, I was uploading filtered HTML to Amazon. Something like that. Suddenly things went awry when I swapped formats on them one day.

Of course, all the while, you should also be writing and editing more books, bear in mind. Oh, and promoting. And getting reviews.

But like a twelve-step program for recovering author screw-ups, I’m proud to say I have turned things around to a large degree. And one of the biggest steps was biting the bullet and paying for a few cover designs. Money well spent. The price of decent book covers has really come down, and there are many talented artists on the market.

I keep telling people, “Don’t wrote ebooks. Sell covers to people who write ebooks.” It’s a growth market.

But if you plan on writing more than one book, and I really think most people are, I believe your name should be developed as a recognizable logo. That’s what I did in my case, and I’ve never been happier, cover-wise. I won’t clutter up Gwen’s blog with a bunch of my covers, but you can follow the saga at http://jasonzchristie.blogspot.com.

I will include one I did myself, because I am encroaching on the fantasy genre next…

This was stock art from shutterstock.com.I’m relatively sure it’s been used before, maybe more than once. But I really liked it, and did a little to make it my own. I played with the text placement a lot to get it just right. Her hair and lips are enhanced to correspond better with the storyline.

Buying the logo sort of gave me the confidence to try and make some quality covers myself. Just start with a good template, and try to find the perfect stock photo or other elements you need. You’d be surprised at how cheaply you can acquire some very expensive looking images. If you amortize the logo design across ten books, the above cover cost me $6, total.

I don’t recommend going all gangsta with your cover art like I did on my first round of covers. I do still have an image that came from worth1000.com, and I’m seeking a replacement for that one. The rest are all legit, which is sort of good to know. Until Don Henley catches up to me about his lyrics…

By the way, my daughter says my uncharacteristic new cover is a trojan horse, a trick. “They’re going to think it’s a real fantasy book,” she says.

It is. So what if there’s a time-traveling wizard who snorts ground unicorn horn, and a academy for princesses where the economy is based on… Nevermind. Sounds like fantasy to me. But I guess it’s probably closer to Terry Pratchett meets Quentin Tarantino than Tolkien waltzing with Anne McCaffrery.

Let’s see, what else did I do wrong?

Oh, yeah. I launched a series with only the first book written.

After the Dark Tower dark years, where many of us waited in dread for Stephen King to bother to pick up a pen and finish his epic gunslinger saga, some people are reluctant to buy into a series unless several or all of the books are published.

I’m happy to announce that I now have two series, with two books in each, so far. It’s a start. Penultimate Hustle: Japan is the sequel to Radar Love, my romance/adventure title. Cure for Sanity is an off-shoot of Perfect Me, my funny sci-fi novella. PH:J might be my best work yet. On the other hand, so might CfS. You’ll probably have abbreviations for your novels eventually.

Check out the samples here. They sort of support what I’ve been saying about editing, formatting, covers, etc.

What I’ve been working on lately is trying to give a bit more with each book to make them a better value for the reader. Mostly, I’ve done it with art work. I have access to my own art collection and a very talented and tragic little brother, so I’ve managed to make nice title pages for four of my books so far.

But another way you can do it is to become a typography geek. Check out some of those ebooks that have about four pages of legalese in the front of them. Notice how subtle the typeface is, and how that feel is distributed through out the ebook itself. I would recommend studying some of those techniques and employing them. Not everyone can come up with great original art on the fly. Layout and typography can be learned.

I’m sort of utilitarian in that regard, and don’t pay that much attention to that end of things. But I’d love my text to at least look like literary fiction someday.

I find tables of content really add a lot, even though they are mostly unnecessary with ebooks. I like naming the chapters, and I like reading well-named chapter names in other books, so I try to make sure I always do that for the reader.

Once you have your title honed to a fine point, you can add other little things like a list of your other books, samples and previews of other titles, or even a list of other authors you recommend. Flossin’, we call that in the hood, fifteen years ago. Never.

In summation, it takes about a year to really get good at making quality ebooks if you’re making it up as you go along. I’m 10 months into it. Luckily, my writing has carried me through the initial learning phase of self-publishing relatively unscathed. It would have been career suicide for some less fortunate souls. Be warned. Don’t make things hard on yourself. Unless you love a challenge.

Now to do something about my terrible blurbs…

Author Interview with Jason Christie

I’d like to welcome Jason Z. Christie to the blog. Jason has written a number of e-books currently available through Amazon. He is probably best known as High-C, the nerdcore rapper, in the documentary “Nerdcore For Life”. In metal act Gortician, he was drummer Jason Gortician. He’s here today to talk about his most recent release, Zombie Killa.

High C

High C

Gwen: So tell me, Jason, you’re not only a writer but a musician as well. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into music and whether or not that led to writing novels (or vice versa)?

Jason:I think one thing definitely led to the other. Songs are little stories, right? I’ve always been interested in music, but the internet really enabled me to do things that weren’t possible before. I got to cut tracks and perform with a bunch of people from all over the U.S., then I wrote a novella about them. A clear example of music leading to literature.

I notice that a lot of my books have musical themes to them. Hurricane Regina is a Bjork/Sugarcubes novel. Radar Love is an Eagles novel. I’m working on another set in the 80s that has a thrash metal background. As a musician you can explore lots of dark concepts which you can then have fun with as a writer.

Gwen: Some readers may not be familiar with the term “nerdcore,” a genre of music that is the basis of Zombie Killa’s plot. Can you define it for us?

Jason: Nerdcore hip-hop is rap music written by and for nerds. They put out tracks about video games and comic books, math jokes, animated girlfriends. It’s really a lot more akin to the golden era of rap than anything mainstream you might hear today. The best of it combines the heart and soul of hip-hop with ultramodern song topics and wordplay, without being too self-conscious about the subject matter.

Gwen: What gave you the inspiration to combine zombies and nerdcore into this novel?

Jason: Well, all rappers are sort of actors already, aren’t they? I wrote this with the intention of making a screenplay out of it, and it’s really easy to visualize characters that are already fully realized. But zombie themes are common in nerdcore, not to mention Zealous1 has a track called “Zombie Killa”.

At A Comic Shop in Florida, they have Z.E.D. meetings, and go out to a shooting range monthly to shoot at paper zombie targets in preparation for the zombie apocalypse…

Gwen: Tell us about one of your favorite characters in the book. What makes him or her unique?

Jason: They’re all really unique, but I think I like Myf the best because he is the furthest from his character in the novella. For all of the other characters, I tried to find their voices and really capture their personalities. For Myf, I just let it all hang out. He’s probably horrified and delighted.

Gwen: If you were to create a soundtrack for Zombie Killa, what would be on it? (Bonus points for giving our readers a couple of links!)

Zealous1 – “Zombie Killa”
Nursehella – “Nursehellamentary”
YTCracker – “In My Time”
Benjamin Bear & Betty Rebel – “Beetlejuice and Metroid”

Gwen: What do you hope your readers will get out of the book?

Jason: A fun ride. I’d like to think that people will see enough depth in Zombie Killa, even though it’s sort of pop art, to want to read my more involved works. High-C is also in Perfect Me, so I’m hoping he’s a gateway character. And perhaps a few people will discover a new song they like.

Gwen: What’s next on the horizon? Any good projects coming up in either your writing or musical career?

Zombie Killa

Zombie Killa

Jason: It’s funny. There’s a lot more interest in my music, of late. Once I stopped focusing on that and devoted my time to writing novels, the music thing has sort of picked up a following on its own. So I’m pleased to announce I’m working with producer Kid Charlamaign on a split e.p. with MC Inadequate.

I’m currently about a third of the way done with three more novels, a construction murder mystery, a funny fantasy title, and Cure for Sanity, another novel in the Perfect Me universe. Penultimate Hustle, the mammoth sequel to Radar Love, is due to be released on March 23rd. Beyond that, I have about ten thousand words or so of poetry that I’m trying to edit into something nice.

Thanks for the great interview.


Zombie Killa is currently available in e-edition at Amazon. You can find out more about Jason and his work at his blog, Write to Life.