There’s a new paperback edition of Dr Huxley’s Bequest out tomorrow, Monday 15 January. This new edition has exactly the same content as the first edition, but the print size has been increased slightly (so it has 342 pages, rather than 270). I think the larger print will make it more enjoyable to read, especially for younger readers. This is how the new paperback looks:
And there are illustrations inside:
Dr Huxley’s Bequest is also available in various ebook formats.
Wait, I have only just heard of this book. What’s it about?
Dr Huxley’s Bequest is a history of medicine for thoughtful readers aged about 12+, in the form of a mystery story, full of jokes and fascinating facts. It’s also a thoughtful look at the beauty, creativity and power of scientific reasoning and it’s especially for girls (particularly girls who’ve been told science is difficult, dull and only for boys).
Which edition of Dr Huxley’s Bequest should I buy?
This second edition paperback has illustrations, author notes, a bibliography, a comprehensive index and a pretty cover. The first edition paperback is now out of print. (If you’d like to know why there’s a second edition coming out just two months after the first edition was published, see this very long blog post.)
The ebook versions are available in two formats. There’s a Kindle (mobi) version for Kindle readers and other devices that have the Kindle app installed. There’s also an ePub version, for iPads, iPhones, Nook readers, Kobo readers, and pretty much every other sort of ebook reading device. The ebooks don’t have the illustrations or the index, but do include the author notes and bibliography and they have a search function if you want to find keywords.
Where can I buy the book?
Here are some of the places where you can buy Dr Huxley’s Bequest online. I’ve listed stockists according to geographical region, because delivery costs are cheaper and you won’t have to pay currency conversion fees if you buy locally.
Maybe, if you ask them to order it for you! Bookshops are often reluctant to stock books that are self-published or published by small publishers. However, all book retailers will receive the same trade discount for this book as when they buy books from large publishers and any unsold books are returnable. Booksellers can order the book from Ingram Spark. (For more information, including ISBNs, see FitzOsborne Press.)
In which I tell you all about the mistakes I’ve made, so you don’t make them yourself if you decide to self-publish your own book. It’s a very long blog post. (If you’re not interested in the technical details of self-publishing, I recommend you skip to the end of the post. Or read another blog post instead. For example, here’s a post about scones.)
I found the editing and cover design stages of publishing Dr Huxley’s Bequest pretty straightforward, probably because I’d had experience in these areas through my traditionally-published books. I’d then planned to ‘typeset’ the book myself, using a template. ‘Typesetting’, in the digital age, means turning the edited manuscript into a pdf, with the print arranged as it is in printed books, with a title page, chapter headings, page numbers, appropriately-sized margins and so on. This wasn’t something I’d done before so I’d need to learn a lot first. However, I really wanted the book out by the end of the year and I was getting closer to my planned publication date. Also, the book had illustrations and an index, which I thought would complicate matters. I figured it would be easier and quicker to pay a professional book designer to do it and that’s where I made my first mistake.
There are two options if you want to contract out this sort of work: large companies that specialise in all aspects of self-publishing, from editing to marketing, and freelance graphic designers. I began by looking for a local freelance book designer, but lots of them preferred not to work with self-publishers or else they claimed on their website that they welcomed self-publishers, then didn’t answer my emails asking them for a quote. One book designer with lots of relevant experience sent a quote and agreed to do the work, then didn’t respond to my subsequent emails (she did eventually email a month later to say she was ready to start work, after I’d already found someone else). Grrr. (I should point out here that all the editors I approached for quotes responded within 24 hours. What is it with designers?)
Anyway, with my publication date looming, I turned to the big companies that specialise in assisting self-publishers. I’m generalising here, but most of them exist to make money from first-time authors with no publishing experience. And there’s nothing wrong with that! These companies are providing a service that’s very useful to many new authors, but they do charge a lot of money for things that these authors could easily do for themselves. For example, it takes about fifteen minutes to apply online for a pre-publication National Library of Australia cataloging number (which you’ll need if you want your book to be stocked in libraries and appear on the National Library database). This is completely free of charge, but self-publishing companies will charge upwards from $100 to do this for you. Again, that’s fine, especially if the first-time author doesn’t know anything about the National Library and needs a lot of support at every stage of the self-publishing process, but all I wanted was someone to turn my Word document into a print-ready pdf and format it for ebook publication.
One thing I will say about these big self-publication-service companies is that they have informative websites and they respond immediately to queries. I decided to go with the only Australian company recommended by Ingram Spark (the printer/distributor I planned to use). The staff at this particular self-publishing company were always polite and responded quickly by email and phone to sort out the problems (oh, so many problems) that arose. Also, I got a discount on Ingram Spark fees through them. However, there were major issues from the start. I’d explained what I needed over the phone – someone to format my manuscript for print-on-demand and ebooks – and they assured me they could do that and the finished product would look just like my traditionally-published books. But when their quote arrived, it was twenty-one pages long(!), full of expensive options I didn’t want (such as a thousand-dollar ‘book coaching’ package) as well as ‘free gifts’ that were worthless to me – and the quote didn’t include ebook formatting, which I’d specifically requested.
We sorted that out and I got started with a designer who had ‘ten years experience with [major Australian publisher]’. He sent me three chapter samples so I could choose the font I wanted. Two of the samples were inappropriate for this type of book; the third was okay, but the font seemed a bit on the small side. I figured the designer knew what he was doing with font size, though, so I didn’t interrogate him about it (BIG MISTAKE). In any case, I was distracted by all the other problems, the major one being the end-of-line hyphenation. There were hyphens all over the place, in the most ridiculous places, which made it difficult to read the text smoothly. For instance, single-syllable words like there’ll (which shouldn’t be hyphenated at all) were hyphenated as the – re’ll. Compound words weren’t hyphenated between the component words, so a word like courtyard was broken up as cour-tyard. They told me that this was how books were printed these days (no, they’re really not) and that if I wanted words at the end of lines hyphenated in my required (that is, normal, conventional) way, it would have to be done manually (I later found out this was untrue) and I would be charged per hyphen.
Then when the first-pages proofs arrived, they were a mess. There were sentences and paragraphs missing, illustrations placed upside-down, chapter headers in the wrong places, and of course, there were all those hyphens I had to check and correct. Once that was fixed, I manually located all the page numbers for the index, the index was added to the back of the file, and we went through the whole proofreading process again. Then it was time to turn the book into ebook files, which involves stripping out all the print formatting (including hyphens at the end of lines) so the text is ‘reflowable’ and can be read on any reading device, with the reader choosing the font and size. Of course, they’d only removed about half the hyphens … This whole formatting process only took about four weeks, but was immensely frustrating. I’ve proofread all my traditionally-published books and believe me, it doesn’t have to be this stressful.
I sent the final files off to Ingram Spark to print a sample copy, and when the first paperback copy arrived I realised, with a terrible sinking feeling, that I should have spoken up about the font size at the start because the print was just too small. The book was readable (I own books with print that size or even smaller), but I thought a larger print size would provide a more enjoyable reading experience, especially for younger readers. (An experienced book designer should have known that. But as I wasn’t an experienced designer, I hadn’t picked up on it and made them change the size.) Rather than halting the whole publishing process, which would push the publication date into the next year, I decided to release the paperback as it was, then do another edition with larger print as soon as I could.
I then did what I should have done initially and discussed it with Nada, who designed the book’s cover. (I hadn’t even considered getting her to design the book’s interior, because I thought she only worked on really complicated books with diagrams and text boxes and other fancy design features. But if I’d asked her to do the interior design, it would have cost less and would certainly have saved me a lot of stress.) She was astounded at how messy the file was but was happy to increase the font size for me, except she happened to be overseas, which would make things difficult. She gave me the contact details of a local designer she knew, who, of course, didn’t respond to my email. Neither did another designer I emailed, but I finally found Diana Murray, who did an excellent job of sorting out what she politely called “unconventional typesetting” in the print file (apparently some of it was in Spanish). She increased the font size and her hyphenation was perfect – and the new hyphens didn’t need to be done manually! As this new edition had more pages, it needed a new ISBN (that’s the thirteen-digit number on the barcode) and I had to redo the index page numbers (ugh), but finally, it was ready to be uploaded to Ingram Spark.
So, Dr Huxley’s Bequest now has a new, larger-print edition of 350 pages (compared to 270 pages for the first edition, which is now out-of-print). It will be available to buy from next week (Monday, 15 January, to be precise), in all the same places the first edition was sold, for the same price. For those nice people who bought the first edition – rejoice! You own an extremely rare first edition of Dr Huxley’s Bequest, one of less than two dozen in existence! However, if you think the print is a bit small and you (quite reasonably) don’t want to buy the second edition, then email me some proof that you purchased the first edition (for example, a scan of a receipt showing the book’s ISBN) and I’ll send you a free ebook edition in epub format, which you can read on your iPhone, Nook reader, Kobo reader or other ebook reading device (unfortunately I can’t send you a free ebook in Kindle format, for Amazonian reasons).
Oh, and the other big mistake I made was setting a publication date in mid-November, just before the whole of Australia goes on summer holidays. This was a ridiculous time to start doing marketing and publicity (so I haven’t done any of that yet) and it made the process of issuing a new edition extra-difficult because Ingram Spark pretty much closes down in December. So, hooray for me, again. I’ll do a post about marketing and publicity once I’ve figured out how to do it.
In conclusion, here’s my advice for other self-publishers:
– allow loads of time for each stage of the process. The more stressed you are about looming deadlines, the more likely it is you’ll make unwise decisions.
– if you’re contracting out work, use someone who’s been personally recommended to you. At the very least, they should belong to an appropriate professional association.
– if you’re worried that something’s not quite right, speak up straight away! Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and make (polite) demands. You’re paying and you’re entitled to professional service.
– sometimes it’s better just to do things yourself. It’s certainly cheaper and you’ll learn a lot of useful skills along the way.
Feel free to ask questions in the comments if you want my ‘expert’ advice on self-publishing. (Well, I do have a lot of expertise in making mistakes…)
The arrival of ebooks has made it much easier for self-publishers to get their work into the hands of readers, but I always knew I wanted to see Dr Huxley’s Bequest as an actual paper book that I could pick up (and be able to read, because I don’t own any kind of ereader). But how does a self-publisher on a limited budget, expecting to sell only a few books, go about turning their work into printed books?
At first I assumed I’d have to do it the way that traditional publishers print books, just on a much smaller scale – that is, pay a printer to produce a limited number of copies using a traditional press. But this means working out how many books you want and paying for all of them up front. I did consider using a crowdsourcing platform (such as Kickstarter) to fund a small print run, but the more I researched, the less attractive this option appeared. These companies take a significant percentage of the money raised and have all sorts of unappealing conditions attached. Anyway, I doubted I’d attract enough contributors to make it worthwhile. And even if I myself paid for a print run, where would I store all the books? How would I sell and distribute them to readers?
Then I did some research and discovered the amazing world of digital Print on Demand (POD) publishing. This means that you print only the copies that have been ordered, when they’re ordered. You can order just one book for yourself or hundreds of books. The POD publisher will print them in a couple of days and send them to you – or, even better, send them to the bookstore or library service that ordered them, charge them the price you’ve chosen for your book, deduct the printing and distribution costs, and pay you the remainder.
This is how it works. You, the author/self-publisher, send the POD publisher two pdf files – one pdf of the inside of the book, laid out the same way any printed book is, and one pdf of the cover art, with front, back and spine art fitted into a template that the POD publisher supplies. They store these files in their computer and whenever a book is ordered (either by you or by booksellers), this happens:
Isn’t that cool? You can choose from a wide range of book sizes. You can print paperback or hardcover copies with a range of binding types and jackets and types of paper. I can confirm that the printed paperbacks look just like the trade paperbacks you can buy in a bookstore. The only issue I noticed with the particular POD publisher I used (Lightning Source/IngramSpark) was that some of the colours on the cover were lighter than I expected, which I’ve heard isn’t uncommon with digital printing-on-demand. And you can’t do really fancy things with cover design, such as cut-outs and embossed lettering. It’s also more expensive to print per book than if you printed a thousand copies at the same time using traditional off-set printing. However, for a self-publisher, print-on-demand is an affordable and practical way to produce print books. You don’t have to pay warehouse costs and you don’t waste any paper if your books don’t sell.
The other good thing about IngramSpark, for Australian self-publishers, is that they have printing facilities around the world, including in Australia, and they can deposit your book sale earnings directly into your Australian bank account. That’s one of the reasons I ended up going with IngramSpark rather than Amazon Createspace, the other big name in the self-publishing world. I also thought IngramSpark would work well for me because they’re connected to dozens of online bookstores and library suppliers around the world. If you choose to distribute through IngramSpark, you give them information about your book (cover image, book summary, author information and so on) and they send it to all their affiliated booksellers, who then sell the book through their websites and catalogues. If you choose Amazon Createspace, the book is only sold through Amazon sites – which do reach a lot of bookbuyers, but not everyone wants to buy their books from Amazon.
For ebooks, a similar process occurs. The file is uploaded to IngramSpark in a different format (epub rather than pdf) and it doesn’t have to get printed, but it’s still listed and sold through a range of international booksellers, including Kobo, Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble. However, if you want your ebook to be available for Kindle readers, you need to format it as a mobi file, set up an account with Amazon, and sell it through them. I had no idea which ebook format was likely to be more popular with Dr Huxley’s Bequest readers, so I’ve made it available in both formats. I’ll be interested to see the sales numbers and how much I earn from each.
I have skimmed over a very important step, though. You can’t upload a Word document, no matter how pretty it looks, to a POD publisher. So how do you turn your edited manuscript into formats that will look good when they’re read in either print or ebook form? You either do it yourself, which requires a fair amount of technological and design skill, or you pay a professional to do it for you. Now, remember back when I started this series and I said it could end up being a What Not To Do? Yep, this is the bit where I made All The Mistakes. That’s coming up in the next post.
Dr Huxley’s Bequest is about two Australian teenagers, Rosy and Jaz, who live in Sydney and speak Australian English. I think most of their Australianisms make sense in context. However, when I uploaded the Kindle version, Amazon.com was VERY CONCERNED about terms such as ‘esky’ and ‘ute’. So, for those readers who aren’t Australian, here’s some additional information about the Australian terms and cultural references in Dr Huxley’s Bequest.
Firstly, an esky is a portable cooler or ice box, usually made of sturdy polypropylene. Inside is ice or those freezable ‘ice’ bricks, which keep your freshly-caught fish, barbecue meat or canned drinks nice and cold. Eskys are usually big enough to use as a picnic seat or, if your boat sinks, a flotation device. Apparently in New Zealand, they call them CHILLY BINS! New Zealanders have the best slang.
Australians, including Rosy, are very fond of putting slices of pickled beetroot in their salad sandwiches and hamburgers. We also put canned pineapple on pizza.
A ute, or utility vehicle, is a pickup truck with an enclosed cabin for a couple of passengers and an open flat-bed platform at the back. According to Wikipedia, the Australian ute was “the result of a 1932 letter from the unnamed wife of a farmer in Victoria, Australia asking for ‘a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays’.” Traditionally, Australian utes have a couple of hay bales and some cattle dogs bouncing around in the back. In Dr Huxley’s Bequest, Jaz’s dad keeps his gardening equipment in his ute.
A eucalypt is a eucalyptus tree or a ‘gum tree’, native to Australia and to other parts of the world. You already know that, don’t you? I don’t know why Amazon.com had a problem with the word. Anyway, there are hundreds of different types of eucalypts, all beautiful and usually home to a lot of interesting and extremely noisy wildlife. Some of these animals are extremely possessive of ‘their’ gum tree:
While on the topic of big bullies, Ned Kelly was a murderous, racist thug who is inexplicably worshipped by many contemporary Australians. He was born in 1854, the son of an Irish convict, and started his criminal career at the age of fourteen when he bashed and robbed a Chinese-Australian farmer. He spent the next ten years stealing cattle and horses, robbing farmers and shops and banks, and killing people. He’s best known for his decision to make body armour and helmets out of old ploughs. This, he asserted, would be bullet-proof. It was, but it was also extremely heavy, which made movement difficult, and it didn’t cover his legs. So when Ned Kelly was finally cornered, the police shot him in the legs and he fell over and was captured, and later hanged. Captain Moonlite is another bushranger mentioned in Dr Huxley’s Bequest.
Finally, Rosy makes a brief reference to ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’. This was a very successful advertising campaign in the 1980s, devised by the Cancer Council of Victoria to encourage Australians to protect themselves from the sun. That’s because Australia is a very hot place and contains a lot of fair-skinned people vulnerable to deadly skin cancers. In the ad, a singing, dancing seagull tells people to Slip on a shirt, Slop on some sunscreen lotion and Slap on a hat:
If I’ve missed anything and you find something confusingly Australian in the book, feel free to ask about it!
My new book, Dr Huxley’s Bequest, is out this Wednesday, 15 November. I just received my author copies of the paperback. It has a very nice cover:
And there are illustrations inside:
It’s also available in various ebook formats.
Which type of book should I buy?
The paperback has illustrations, author notes, a bibliography, a comprehensive index and a pretty cover.
However, the font is fairly small*, so if you prefer large print, I recommend choosing an ebook edition, which you can resize to suit your reading needs. The ebooks are available in two formats. There’s a Kindle (mobi) version for Kindle readers and other devices that have the Kindle app installed. There’s also an epub version, for iPads, iPhones, Nook readers, Kobo readers, and pretty much every other sort of ebook reading device. The ebooks don’t have the illustrations or the index, but do have a search function if you want to find keywords.
*EDITED TO ADD: I’m planning on putting out a new, larger-print paperback edition in January, so if you’d like to buy a print copy but prefer large print, maybe hold off on ordering the paperback until January.
Where can I buy the book?
Here are some of the online stores where you can buy Dr Huxley’s Bequest. I’ve listed stockists according to geographical region, because delivery costs are cheaper and you won’t have to pay currency conversion fees if you buy locally.
If you’d like to know anything else about how to purchase Dr Huxley’s Bequest, ask away! (I am planning on continuing my Adventures in Self-Publishing series of blog posts so you can find out more about How Not To Make The Same Mistakes I Made.)
Oh, and Dr Huxley’s Bequest is also listed on Goodreads, if you feel like leaving a rating or a review.
I’ve updated my website with an excerpt of my new book, Dr Huxley’s Bequest.
There’s also a virtual tour of the real places explored in Dr Huxley’s Bequest, but it will probably make more sense after you’ve read the book. Teaching resources will be available for download in January.
Dr Huxley’s Bequest will be available in paperback and in ebook versions (epub and Kindle) later this month. I’ll put up links when it goes on sale.
The first piece of advice most self-publishers hear is that there are two areas in which they must get professional help: editing and cover design. I’ve previously discussed how useful a professional editor was in preparing my manuscript of Dr Huxley’s Bequest for publication. Now I’m going to talk about cover design.
A book’s cover is a vital part of selling the book to readers, so it’s important that it conveys the book’s ideas, genre and audience in an efficient but attractive manner. There was no way I was going to attempt to make my own book cover, because I have no design expertise whatsoever. I am, however, able to recognise bad book covers and I could see that a lot of self-published book covers were absolutely terrible. Most of the companies that offer services to self-publishers include reasonably-priced cover design, but cover samples on their websites are universally awful – cheap-looking, genre-inappropriate fonts, ineptly Photoshopped across generic images. I really think this is one area where you get what you pay for.
I wanted my book to look professional, so I searched the professional directories of Australian book designers and eventually found Nada Backovic, who had lots of experience working with Australian publishers, was willing to work with a self-publisher and could fit into my publication schedule and budget. My first task was to prepare a design brief for her. This contained technical specifications (for example, the width and length of the book and the text that needed to go on the front and back cover and the spine) but was mostly about the information that the cover needed to convey. I sent Nada a one-page synopsis of the book, a sample chapter and a description of who the book’s buyers and readers would be. My book, Dr Huxley’s Bequest, involves the characters embarking on a quest to identify thirteen objects, so I gave Nada a list of these objects and included photos of those that might look good on the cover. I included some of the illustrations from the book, photos of the real-life setting, and some book covers that had appealed to me, for books about similar themes or for similar readers.
This was the stage when I began to understand the concerns of traditional publishers about marketing this particular book. It wasn’t that I’d doubted them when they said it would be too difficult to market (presumably, they knew more about book marketing than I did). It was just that I didn’t fully comprehend all the practical implications back then. I have to admit, Dr Huxley’s Bequestis a weird book. It doesn’t fit neatly into one marketing category, the way a Regency romance or an action thriller or a paranormal horror novel would. This meant that I ended up with a design brief full of contradictory statements. It’s non-fiction, but it’s a mystery story so it needs to look entertaining and fiction-y! But it’s full of history and science and ethical questions, so the cover needs to convey thoughtfulness! But also humour! And it should appeal to teenage girls, but I don’t want it to look all pink and glittery and stereotypically feminine! Oh, and it also has to appeal to parents and teachers! And I hate yellow covers! Don’t make it yellow!
It is a measure of Nada’s professionalism that she did not run screaming into the night when she received this brief, but instead quickly produced eight attractive, appropriate, non-yellow cover roughs. Four of the covers featured lots of images, effectively conveying the idea of thirteen historical objects. But these covers looked a bit cluttered and the book’s theme was already being conveyed by the subtitle, A History of Medicine in Thirteen Objects. So I concentrated on the other four covers, which were based around a single illustration of a cross-sectioned skull, with a pink tongue sticking out. It was a really good, strong image that related to the book’s themes, but I worried it might look a bit too serious and gory and put off some potential teenage girl readers. Then I noticed that some of the other covers included a composite image of two of the thirteen objects, a stone bust of Hippocrates and a skeleton illustration from Vesalius. Nada had cleverly combined them so that the Enlightenment skeleton was leaning upon the Classical bust, looking down on it with fondness and some amusement. That was it. That was the image I wanted for the cover.
But there was also the font to decide on. It’s amazing how the lettering for a title can convey so much information about the book’s readership. In the end, I thought an elaborate Victorian-style font would fit the title best, once some of the flourishes had been removed to make the lettering easier to read. The subtitle and author information would be in an old-fashioned, slightly wonky typewriter-style font that helped to convey the non-fiction nature of the book. I considered fonts that looked more ‘junior readership’, but ultimately, I didn’t think they worked. Readers drawn in by a wacky, zany title font would expect a light, fun, super-easy read and that’s not really what the book is like. It does have jokes and pictures, but it’s also fairly long and aimed at thoughtful readers.
Then came a series of small tweaks to the placement and colour of the images and text. For example, at one stage the bust of Hippocrates was staring off the page, which I thought drew the reader’s gaze away from the title, so Nada tilted Hippocrates slightly on his base, which also made the image look a bit more dynamic and amusing. I’d initially wanted the colours to be plain red, white and blue, but Nada correctly pointed out that the cover would look warmer with a cream background and more red. (We even experimented with pink text and then a pink background. It didn’t work.)
Then there was the back cover. There wasn’t much space once the text was in place, but it needed some pictures. I wondered if one of the medicinal plants mentioned in the book might suit and fortunately found a lovely red opium poppy from a historical botanical collection, as well as some vintage bee illustrations (honey also makes an important appearance in the book). Nada had the good idea of adding the poppy to the front cover, weaving it through the beard of poor long-suffering Hippocrates, then she stuck some bees on the book spine, and then we were done!
One thing I forgot to mention, which is important for self-publishers on a tight budget – if you want to use fonts or photos or illustrations, you may have to pay licence fees, unless you’re very careful and clever about your choices. In the case of Dr Huxley’s Bequest, I was able to locate appropriate historical images that were in the public domain or covered by Creative Commons licences (that is, free of charge but I needed to acknowledge the licence holder in the book, which I did). The only image I paid for were the vintage bees, which cost $36 from iStock. It’s important to note that some photos, even historical ones, can cost thousands of dollars to use. I have no idea how much it cost my American publishers to use the beautiful Frances McLaughlin-Gill photograph on the cover of The FitzOsbornes in Exile, but I’m sure it was a lot. (It was totally worth it, though. That gorgeous cover was responsible for a lot of readers picking up the book and then reading the whole series.)
Oh, so I guess I’d better show you the cover of Dr Huxley’s Bequest. Here’s the front:
There is a stigma attached to self-published books. Book buyers are often wary of these books. Self-published books are rarely found in libraries and bookstores, and they’re explicitly banned from entering many literary awards. This is partly due to the perception that self-published books have all been rejected by traditional publishers and therefore must be rubbish – even though we know that publishing houses are interested in commercial potential, not literary quality. Unfortunately, there are a lot of terrible self-published books out there and that’s because a lot of self-published books aren’t professionally edited.
In a traditional publishing house, there’s an editorial team who do their best, within the limits set by the book’s budget and the team’s workload, to make sure the book is a satisfying read. Typically, a structural editor will edit the manuscript for clarity, coherence and cohesion, then a copy editor will look closely at issues such as spelling, grammar and punctuation, and finally a proofreader will check the typeset pages before the book goes off to the printer. There might be specialist editors for certain subjects or genres, and big publishing houses usually have a legal expert to look at possible defamation or copyright issues.
Editors are professionals, often with university qualifications and years of experience, so they deserve to be paid at professional rates. That makes three rounds of editing prohibitively expensive for most self-publishers, including me. Still, there was no way I was going to let a book of mine anywhere near the public without at least some professional editing, so one of the first tasks on my To Do list was to find a suitable editor.
This was made more complicated by the nature of my book. It’s non-fiction, but it’s told in the form of a story, so I needed someone with experience at editing both fiction and non-fiction. It’s also for thoughtful readers of about twelve years and up. I figured its audience would be a mix of what the US publishing market calls ‘middle grade’ (although that term doesn’t really exist in Australia) and Young Adult (which can mean anything from thirteen to eighteen years old in Australia) – as well as some adults who read the sort of books I write (I think the Montmaray books ended up with more adult than teenage readers). Plus, I figured it would be helpful to have an editor with educational publishing experience, given the potential for this book’s use in the classroom. And naturally, the editor needed to be Australian…
I scoured the directories of Australian professional editors’ societies and came up with a small list of names, which became even smaller when I contacted each editor and explained the project’s complexities and my timeline. And of course, I needed to find an editor who would fit my budget. Luckily, I found someone just right. Helena Newton did a thoroughly professional structural edit, marking up the manuscript with hundreds of queries and useful suggestions, and writing me a detailed editing letter and style guide, all within a couple of weeks.
Helena also suggested I should get legal advice about a couple of issues, so I contacted the Arts Law Centre of Australia. They provide free (or very reasonably priced) telephone advice to creative professionals, as well as lots of free written resources in areas such as copyright and defamation law. I found them to be very helpful.
I’m now almost ready to send my manuscript off to Helena to be copyedited. After that, it will be ready to be typeset into various formats for print and ebooks.
Although I did say earlier that this series of blog posts on self-publishing wouldn’t be Expert Advice, I will pass on any really valuable lessons I learn along the way. And the first of these is this: if you can possibly avoid it, DO NOT WRITE A BOOK THAT REQUIRES AN INDEX. (Does my book have an index? Ha ha, of course it does! Also, a seven-page bibliography!) Professional indexing costs a mint, so you won’t be able to afford that. You’ll have to do it yourself and it will make you want to tear your hair out by the handful. (Don’t think you can just use the automatic indexing function in Word, either. You can’t. Although it will help a little bit.) It feels as though it took longer for me to compile the index entries and track down all the references in the text than it did to write the book in the first place. And my book’s index isn’t even finished yet! All those entries will need to be cross-checked and the page numbers changed once the book is typeset!
I cannot even bring myself to contemplate the potential horrors of typesetting at the moment (given that I have chosen to write a book with not just an INDEX, but also ILLUSTRATIONS and yes, I did them myself, too), so I will talk about social media next.
Next in Adventures in Self-Publishing: To Tweet Or Not To Tweet
Way back in 2012, I wrote this on Memoranda, in response to a reader’s question:
“Shannon asked me about the new book I’m working on, so I composed a long blog post on the subject, complete with jokes and a cool photograph of a turtle. But then I read over it and realised I didn’t feel comfortable revealing that much detail about a writing project that’s at such an early stage, it doesn’t even have a title, let alone a publisher.
So I deleted the post.
But it wasn’t a complete waste of time, because I also realised that writing that post had made me feel more confident about this new book. After I finished ‘The FitzOsbornes at War’, I flipped through my mental catalogue of Ideas For Books and decided I needed to write something that would not be the start of a series, would not be a complicated family saga, would not include scenes of heart-rending anguish, and would not require much research. This next book would be fun and easy to write!
Of course, it hasn’t turned out quite the way I’d expected. I’ve spent the past six months compiling a vast folder of notes and diagrams and photocopies, but feel I’ve barely started on the research. It isn’t a complicated family saga, but at the heart of the story is a mystery that requires far more complicated plotting than I’ve ever before attempted. It was supposed to be a stand-alone novel, but I already have ideas for a sequel and I’m not even sure the book would be best described as a ‘novel’. Plus, there’s at least one scene of heart-rending anguish…”
And five years on, I’m still working on that book, although at least now, I know what it’s about.
Dr Huxley’s Bequest grew out of several ideas. One of them was sparked by my irritation at shoddy articles about health and medicine in supposedly reputable newspapers. One particular Australian journalist, who clearly had no scientific education whatsoever, specialised in what I came to think of as ‘blueberries cure cancer’ stories – that is, articles that misrepresented or ignored scientific research in favour of sensational, fact-free assertions by celebrities and self-proclaimed experts who had no medical qualifications. I have a science degree and have worked in health sciences for most of my adult life, so I could see these articles were utter rubbish, but what about other readers? People were spending lots of money on these useless ‘cures’ and sometimes putting their health at risk by following harmful advice.
I was especially concerned about teenagers who dropped science subjects early in high school because they hated maths or decided science was boring or difficult. Scientific literacy is just as important in modern life as being able to read and write and interact socially. Science doesn’t always have to be learned in a classroom, though. Some of my favourite reads in recent years have been popularsciencebooks – books written by experts who are good at explaining complex scientific ideas in an entertaining and informative way. But those books are all aimed at adults. Where are the popular science books for teenagers, especially teenage girls?
It’s not that there are no Australian books about science for young readers. There are thousands of colourful, interesting books for primary school students on a wide variety of science topics, from astronomy to zoology. There are science books for older students, too. There are well-written and well-designed text books used by science teachers in the classroom, but they’re not intended for general reading. I’ve also seen books with eye-catching titles and cartoon covers, along the lines of There’s a Worm on My Eyeball!, full of disgusting facts and clearly marketed at boys.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop girls picking up these books and some girls do like them, but I was interested in writing something more thoughtful and philosophical, although still entertaining – a book that would appeal to teenage girls who were interested in history and stories and people, but thought science was difficult, dull and only for boys. I decided a history of medicine, from superstition to science, might be a good way to introduce the beauty, creativity and power of scientific thinking. The book needed a framing narrative, so I came up with Rosy and Jaz, two very different thirteen-year-old girls who are thrown together one summer holiday because their parents work at the same college. A mysterious bequest sends Rosy and Jaz on a race against time to identify thirteen strange and wonderful artefacts – which turn out to tell the story of medicine, from the superstitions of ancient Egypt to the ethical dilemmas of genetic testing.
Rosy and Jaz find themselves arguing with Hippocrates, Aristotle and Galen, being horrified by the Black Death, body-snatching and eighteenth-century surgical techniques, and scrutinizing modern homeopathy and the anti-vaccine movement. They uncover the secrets of the brain’s anatomy in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings, and find a link between herbal medicine and Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpieces. They learn how the discovery of penicillin demonstrated the benefits of having an untidy desk, why an Australian scientist thought it would be a good idea to drink dangerous bacteria, and how traditional Aboriginal remedies might save lives when modern antibiotics fail. And there’s more:
What does aspirin have to do with secret agents, revolution, stolen treasures and explosions?
Can unicorns cure leprosy?
Who thought it was a good idea to use heroin as a cough medicine for children?
Is grapefruit evil?
Did a zombie discover the cure for scurvy?
Does acupuncture really work?
Did the bumps on Ned Kelly’s head predict his fate?
And how exactly did parachuting cats save a village from the plague?
It’s a little bit like Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, but about the history of medical science rather than the history of philosophy. (Incidentally, whenever I said this to publishers, I got blank looks. How can you work in the publishing industry and not have heard of Sophie’s World?! It was an international best-seller! It won awards! It was made into a film and a TV series and even a computer game! And by the way, it was the reason the narrator of the Montmaray Journals was called ‘Sophie’.)
Anyway, this is how Dr Huxley’s Bequest starts:
Afterwards, Rosy always blamed the turtle.
‘It wasn’t the turtle’s fault,’ said Jaz, as the two girls sat in the courtyard beside the pond, eating salt-and-vinegar chips.
‘You weren’t there, Jaz. You didn’t see his evil expression. He knew exactly what he was doing. None of it would have happened without that turtle.’
The turtle in question raised his head and turned his beady yellow gaze upon them.
‘Look,’ said Rosy. ‘He’s doing it again. Malevolent, that’s what I call him.’
‘How do you know it’s a boy?’
‘He’s got a beard.’
Jaz peered closer. ‘I think that’s a bit of lettuce stuck to its chin.’
‘After all that everyone here’s done for him, too,’ Rosy went on. ‘Feeding him. Cleaning his stupid pond. And how did he repay us? With treachery and disloyalty and, and … dirty tricks! Just imagine the disaster that would have befallen this college if we hadn’t come to the rescue.’
‘Well, considering there wouldn’t have been a problem if you hadn’t –’
‘Malicious,’ Rosy said quickly. ‘That’s what he is. Mephistophelean.’
‘That is not even a word.’
‘It is. It’s from Mephistopheles. Remember, that stone demon spitting into the fountain in Science Road?’
‘Oh, right,’ said Jaz. ‘Faust. The quest for knowledge.’
‘Exactly,’ said Rosy.
The turtle lunged at a passing dragonfly, snapping off its wing and a couple of legs. The unfortunate insect tumbled onto the surface of the pond and the turtle gulped it down, then twisted his wrinkled, serpentine neck in the direction of the girls.
It’s been five years since my last book, The FitzOsbornes at War, came out and occasionally readers contact me to ask whether I’ve written another book and if so, why it isn’t available for them to read.
There’s a long, complicated answer to that question, and there’s a short answer.
The short answer is ‘Yes, I’ve written another book! I finished writing it ages ago! It’s really interesting and funny! But it hasn’t been published because no-one wants to publish it!’
The long, complicated answer is … long and complicated. Firstly, for the past few years, my energy has not really been focussed on my writing career. I got really sick and was in and out of hospital for months, so I felt I was doing really well just to finish my manuscript and write some blog posts and answer readers’ emails. When I was better, I went back to college to update my (non-writing) qualifications and then found a new day job, and that took up all of my time and energy for a while. I pretty much handed my manuscript over to my agent and left him to get on with his job, which was trying (and, it turns out, failing) to get my new book published the traditional way, the same way my previous four books had been published.
The second part of my long, complicated answer has to do with how much the publishing industry in Australia has changed since I became a professional writer. When I signed my first publishing contract in 2006, ebooks barely existed. There were lots of Australian publishers, of all different sizes and types, all keen to take a chance on an unknown author, and there was much excitement (and money) in the Children’s and Young Adult section of publishing, due to the success of Harry Potter and then Twilight and The Hunger Games and all those other best-selling books for young readers. It was a good time to be writing YA, and I was lucky to get my start then.
However, in recent times, publishers have had to deal with a number of challenges. The Australian government keeps trying to push through legislation that would devastate the local publishing industry. Large publishing houses have merged into huge multinational publishing houses, and lots of small publishers have been swallowed up or disappeared, so there are fewer publishers accepting manuscript submissions. Digital piracy is now a massive problem and book sales are down. There’s a new generation of consumers who want everything on the internet to be free and available immediately – and why should they read a full-length book, anyway, when there are so many other things they could be doing online? It’s much harder for publishers to make a profit these days, so they need every book they publish to be a best-seller. When Fifty Shades of Grey sold by the truckload, I’d hoped this would give that particular publisher some spare money to spend on quiet, thoughtful, quirky, unlikely-to-be-a-bestseller books (like mine). But no, what Australian publishers are actually looking for is the next Fifty Shades of Grey, or at least a clone of whatever is currently on the New York Times bestseller list.
This is a problem for me as an Australian reader, and even more of a problem for me as an Australian writer. Australian publishers are still publishing books by Australian writers, including debut authors, but these tend to be writers who are easy to market – celebrities and young, attractive, gregarious writers with a huge social media following.
Given all this, it’s not really surprising that publishers’ marketing departments were not wildly enthusiastic about my new offering. “Wait, it’s about … science? And history? But in the form of a mystery story? With teenage girls as the main characters, girls being all clever and … solving problems with science? And there’s no romance? And you actually expect teenagers to read this? Wait, this is mostly set in Australia, are you serious, don’t you realise how useless that is for attracting international sales…” And so on. It didn’t help that the book doesn’t fit neatly into one marketing category or genre. I was told it would be impossible to market, and therefore publish, “because booksellers won’t know which shelf to put it on”.
(I should point out here that my new book does have lots of jokes! And cool illustrations! Also vampires, witches, werewolves, body-snatchers, unicorns and parachuting cats. I should probably also note that there’s quite a bit of what Americans call ‘diversity’ and I call ‘real life’, which tends to worry Australian publishers – although hopefully that is starting to change.)
Anyway, by the end of last year, it seemed clear that the only way this book was going to exist was if I published it myself. I did think very hard about whether it was good enough to be published. I mean, if more than one publisher had rejected it, it must be badly written, right? Except publishers are not making judgements about a manuscript’s literary quality, but about its commercial potential (see aforementioned Fifty Shades of Grey). And there are many examples of publishers getting it wrong (all the publishers who rejected Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, for example, or those who told Rebecca Skloot that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks wouldn’t find a readership). In any case, I think I’m my own harshest critic. I’ve previously abandoned one whole first draft of a novel, plus another half-finished manuscript, because I just didn’t think those particular stories were good enough for publication. When I picked up this new manuscript after a long period of time (it sat on one publisher’s desk for nearly two years), I was able to read it with a fresh eye – and I was genuinely interested in the story and the information, and even laughed out loud at one of the jokes. I think it’s the sort of book I’d pick up at the library or pay actual money for in a bookshop.
So, I’ll be running a series of blog posts over the next few months about my experiences publishing my own book. It won’t be all How To Publish Your Own Book expert advice, because I don’t really know what I’m doing. It may end up being a What Not To Do, which should be helpful for authors contemplating taking this path. As always, I welcome your comments!
Next in Adventures in Self-Publishing: What’s This Book About, Anyway?