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Blog > Writing a book, part 2: DIY self publishing

>> Writing a book, part 2: DIY self publishing

Thu, Mar 6th 11:40pm 2008: Writing

DIY self-publishing is where you do everything yourself, which is what I did for the first edition of How To Build A Website And Stay Sane. And when I say everything, I mean *everything*. The actual writing is just the start of it. I'm not going to go into the process and techniques of writing: that's a huge topic in itself, so I'll gloss over what is probably the single biggest task and assume that when you sit down at your computer the words just flow out. What follows is typically three stages or types of editing: structural editing, technical editing, and copy editing. Structural editing takes a macroscopic view of the text and ensures that the overall sequence provides a logical flow, and that necessary content is included and unnecessary content excluded. It can involve moving large chunks of text around until everything fits where it should. Technical editing (or technical review) generally involves having subject experts look over your work to pick up any mistakes and make suggestions about alternative approaches. Copy editing takes a microscopic view of the text to check every sentence for correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. When the writing approached completion I printed hard copies, put them in folders, and distributed them to about 12 people to review. As it turned out the only feedback I received was a couple of off-the-cuff comments - I suspect that being landed with a heavy folder full of text was a bit daunting, and unless people are paid to do it they won't bother. In the end I did all the writing, structural editing, fact checking, and copy editing myself, going over the text so many times I thought my eyes would bleed. I still missed quite a few problems: it's almost impossible to edit your own work because when you are reading text that you wrote yourself your brain will tend to interpret the words as you intended to write them, not as you actually wrote them! After that you have to do the internal page layout. I wrote How To Build A Website And Stay Sane entirely in OpenOffice.org over the space of a couple of years, taking screenshots as I went and trimming them with GIMP. In fact it took me so long to write that during the course of writing I took screenshots with 4 different browsers and several different window managers on two different Linux distributions, and when I got to the end I had to go back and retake them all so they were consistent! I did the book's internal layout directly in OpenOffice.org as well, using its very cool style management system extensively so that I could apply changes globally rather than applying text-level formatting. One mistake I made was to start the formatting too soon and do the writing in a visual mode, with the document formatted as I thought it would finally appear. That gave a sense that I was writing a real book, but the problem was that the formatting dictated the text in some cases. I modified some chapters that ran over a page break by only a few words so they would fit the page size more neatly, for example, when I should have ignored formatting while writing. In fact later after the formatting was altered those chapters would have fit neatly anyway, so ultimately the text was compromised for formatting that wasn't used. Bad move. At this point I needed an ISBN for the book so it could be entered into the central Books In Print database, so I registered with Thorpe-Bowker as a publisher and applied for the minimum block of ISBNs. With the ISBN issued and the barcode generated I paid a designer a few hundred dollars to do the cover design, and had a few hundred copies of the cover printed by a local printing house on matt laminated cardstock. I spent about $3500 on a very nice die-sublimation printer with a duplexer, bought some expensive 100gsm high-brightness paper, and printed 100 copies of the internal pages. I then took the pages and the covers to a large printing house where they were bound and trimmed. At that point I had boxes full of the actual physical book, so the final step was getting the bibliographic data into Books In Print so that a month or two later it would be visible in bookstore databases. I also sent copies to the state and national libraries as required of all publishers. You'd think that's the end, but it's just the beginning. Next the book needed to be promoted, payment terms negotiated with bookstores (who expect at least a 40% discount off retail), invoices generated, and orders processed, packed and shipped. I'm exhausted just remembering it. Next installment: the trade publishing process.

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