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Dark Days: The Monster Within, A Post-Mortem (Self-Publishing)

When a software project is finished, often small companies and teams will release a post-mortem. This is a report on what in the project went right, what went wrong, and lessons that can (hopefully) carried by others without the pain of making the same mistakes. As Dark Days: The Monster Within has been unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace like a giant lizard-beast, I’ve decided to do a post-mortem of my own, detailing the creation, editing and publishing process for any authors thinking of taking the self-publishing route.

The decision to self-publish

The first big decision I had to make was whether or not to self-publish. On paper, the strengths to self-publish seem pretty strong – you get a higher percentage of each sale, you don’t have to risk someone altering the text of your manuscript without permission, and there’s no worry about someone buying the rights only to not publish the work. What is less talked about is the strengths of using a publisher, ready access to a pool of expert marketers and editors, a commitment to print a certain number of books, and the reputation that helps gets you into brick and mortar bookstores. I debated over this for a while, but in the end, I opted for the creative control. I’ve never traditionally published, so I’ll let other authors comment on that journey.

Choosing a self-publisher.

The self-publisher options aren’t as wide as one might think. Most ‘self-publishing’ companies are vanity presses that just offer to print any number of your books you buy yourself and don’t offer anything beyond that. Following Chris Kennedy’s advice, I looked for a self-publishing partner that would help me maintain that critical link to both independent bookstores and Amazon’s virtual storefront. Strangely, this is where I found the big difference between the two major players in the field. CreateSpace (now Amazon publishing) is run by amazon, is slightly cheaper (for that store front), but is also rejected by many bookstores that don’t want to provide their biggest competitor with more cash. Ingram-Spark is much more independent bookstore friendly, but doesn’t have as friendly of a user interface. I decided to go with Ingram Spark because if it wasn’t for independent bookstores, I wouldn’t be a writer. They also are a big supporter of NaNoWriMo, which doesn’t hurt. I appreciate the irony in that, for an author that avoids overt politics, this was practically a political decision. 

Working with Ingram-Spark

I wish I could say that working with Ingram-Spark was seamless, but it is pretty clear they are in transition from an older enterprise-style model to a more independent author friendly model. Reports still tend to come out as downloadable excel files, terminology is often full or publisher jargon, and there’s a fair amount of hurry up and wait. On the plus side, the price controls are easy and powerful, there is a pretty good help desk system, and the final product is very high quality. I was also able to order a set of my own books to both sell/give away fairly cheaply. 

I still believe Ingram Spark is the right choice, but would advise every author to start the submission process at least two weeks before your release date. It can take up to 24 hours for problems in your submission to be reported, and another 24 hours for the changes to be confirmed. Thanks to a cover typo, I only made the book release date by 48 hours. That was cutting it close! It has worked out well however, while no independent bookstores have picked up the title yet, we have shipped a few out via amazon, and I’m available in several non-US based eBook stores via Ingram sparks management software. The shipping times to get my personal copies was insanely good, but that might be because they have a printer in my home state of California.

Direct Self-Publishing

I directly self-publish to two eBook stores, Google Play and Amazon Kindle. The reason for this is pretty simple – they are popular, provide easy to use interfaces, and I wanted to make certain the books looked correct on those services myself. Google Play is a little more user friendly in the upload, but amazon provides the better reporting. In the end, Amazon kindle sales have outstripped googles, but I suppose that was inevitable. In both cases, I simply had to upload the ePub file, provide a release date and cost and then everything was set. It means having another couple websites to log into if I want to view sales results, but knowing my readers are getting the right formatting was worth the trouble.

Future Release

I’m still debating the IngramSpark vs. CreateSpace decision. If anyone has experience from the CreateSpace side of the fence, let me know in the comments. I’d be very interested in knowing the results. Otherwise, I think our other publishing decisions were correct for Dark Days. It is a very unique setting and benefits from the more direct control of self-publishing. I don’t know if other series will be self-published, but the experience has been beneficial so far.

Opinions? Questions? Have a different experience? Comment below!

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