There’s a prejudice in publishing that even those who aren’t on the inside have understood for years. Traditional publishers are “better” than independents. While that might still be the case for the most part, the tables are turning in favor of the independents, and those of us who have previously been published can take advantage of that shift in the industry. I am doing exactly that, and though I have been part of the publishing industry for more years than I wish to admit, the learning curve has been… well, incredibly steep to say the least.

all-that-glitters_front-coverMy first novel, All That Glitters, was published by Kensington and had great reviews (this was prior to Amazon’s long arms or the advent of Goodreads or even online newspapers) and was nominated for a prestigious award. The book was inspired by my own knowledge of antiques and dealers who bartered for some of the most precious items in the world. I spent several years ensuring my research was done, to write the best book I could, and then another year or so hunting for an agent. Long story short, the editor asked that I change the book’s original title and though I agreed, I wasn’t happy when my All That Glitters wasn’t the only book with that title that year. And the cover?  Don’t even get me started. The only nod to my original title (Amaryllis) was the actual flower on the cover, but it wasn’t large enough to mask the shadow of the nude woman on the bed behind it. I wasn’t happy about that, believe me.

Given the chance to republish All That Glitters now with a cover I designed was a gift. The story is about a woman who is orphaned at a young age and must care for a young brother. She has more guts and determination than most and her rise in the world of antiques is complicated by her need for the love and protection she lost. My choice of a cover gives the reader a view of a city street over the shoulder of the main character, Diana Colucci.

Now, you might ask, why am I telling you the story of a cover when the more important topic is the choice of leaving traditional publishing aside to take the self-publishing route. Well, the truth is there are several reasons why I made this decision.

Now, you might ask, why am I telling you the story of a cover when the more important topic is the choice of leaving traditional publishing aside to take the self-publishing route.

the-silver-dolphin-front-coverAll That Glitters was only one of the novels to which I had regained my rights. The book following ATG was The Silver Dolphin. Same publisher, but they convinced me to change my name, to write this second book under a pseudonym because they hadn’t received the sales they wanted for ATG. Another long story, but suffice it to say that I traveled all over the country and wrote more press releases than I can count, was interviewed on radio, TV and by newspapers (all planned by me, personally). The publisher put very little effort forth to market the book, which is not an uncommon theme. Most writers will tell you that a lot of the marketing falls on the author’s shoulders.

I received the rights back for both of those novels around the time when e-books had started to become an option for publishers. At first, there was a loud argument against the technology. At conferences, workshops were held that questioned whether New York publishers would be heading down that route. Most of them did not want to. So, as is the case when most change is made, a few brave souls started their own e-publishing companies and several beta readers were marketed. The problem became that each e-book reader had its own platform, so the publishers needed to adjust their product to meet each e-book reader’s needs.

after-always-front-coverI thought it was a great idea on many different levels and quickly got on the e-book wagon. My YA novel, After Always, was published by Avid Press and nominated for that year’s YA novel of the year at the Frankfurt e-book conference. The novels that I had lined up to publish with Kensington (Foxglove, Loving Marie, and Listening To The Sun) were sent out and published by other e-publishers. Since they were published by e-book publishers, there was never a paper copy of any of the novels published. That was a disappointment, even though I am one of the strongest proponents of e-publishing. There’s something about that heft of a book that I missed.

I liked what Avid did with After Always, but the covers for the other novels weren’t overly impressive, and there was nothing that tied all these books together for me, nothing that showed my readers that they were written by the same author who’d written ATG and TSD.

Though I was on the e-book train early, it was obvious that it was too early. The publishers all went out of business, and once again, I had the rights back to my books. To be honest, I don’t think I earned more than $20 from all of them total. Yes, I said total.

Though I was on the e-book train early, it was obvious that it was too early. The publishers all went out of business, and once again, I had the rights back to my books.

When I started seeing books published though CreateSpace last year (two of my friends published their works with the Amazon-partnered company), I was impressed by the quality. The covers were weighty, coated paper. The inside pages were clean, crisp, printed nicely. One of the books I saw had an artist-designed cover that would rival any that a NYC publisher might create.

One of the books had been edited; one had not. That is where lies the basic difference between a traditionally-published work and one that is self-published. The majority of self-published work has not had the benefit of the full editorial process that books like mine have, thus readers are unsure of the quality. However, that is changing because more writers who are experienced and may have already had an unsatisfactory experience with traditional publishers are taking control of their books and making their own choices.

I explored the various independent publishing platforms on today’s market and chose CreateSpace for several reasons:  it has a direct connection to Amazon, which means as soon as your book is satisfactorily designed and in acceptable format for CreateSpace to publish it, the book can immediately be sent to Kindle. In addition, the process is a fairly easy one that becomes more familiar as you play with the formats. There are many title and cover options, as well as an interior reviewer that I came to respect. And the best part, in my estimation, is their distribution services (not to mention their royalty rates, which are higher than the others I checked out).

I didn’t realize at first that I would create covers for my books that would make them recognizable as mine (i.e., the font is the same for each of my adult novels and each cover is a photo of a stand-in of the main character in the setting, never showing the character’s face). Though the stories have no connection to each other aside from the fact that I wrote them all, I like the consistency. It reminds me that I have a body of work, not one novel published as Dawn Reno, one as Diana Lord, and the others in a format that has not reached its popularity until now.

I am happy with the covers, but the best part of independent publishing is just that: I’m independent.

I found the photos for my covers through free photo sites (some of them came from CreateSpace’s offerings) and used the cover template designed through CreateSpace, importing it into Adobe PhotoShop. I had not used PhotoShop before, and I admit that I expected it to be easier to use than it was, but through a lot of trial and error (and a few phone calls to friends), I learned how to create a cover for each of the books.

Each of the interiors of the books had to be resaved into PDF format, which didn’t always keep the format, so I learned quickly to keep both versions: the MSWord version and the PDF, just in case I had to make changes. Uploading the files into CreateSpace is easy, but I had to admit I was surprised how many times the interiors were returned to me for changes and adjustments.

By the time I went through redesigning covers and interiors of the books, I learned what I’d been doing wrong, and I think I ended up with a final product that is better than the original.

As I said before, I am happy with the covers, but the best part of independent publishing is just that: I’m independent. I’m making decisions on not only the covers but also what’s used as a font for the body of the book, what messages are sent to the readers on the back cover, what the price of the book is, and where the book is sold. I’m happily in control.

Now, the next big subject is marketing. But you’ll need to come back and find that column next time, dear reader, for that’s a huge subject in and of itself, and one I’m still exploring!

DAWN RENO LANGLEY Ph.D., is a contributing editor to LitChat and an award-winning author of nonfiction books on art and antiques, novels, children’s books, short stories, poetry, theater reviews, and academic essays. Hire her for writing projects, read her blogs and Twitter feed, check out her Pinterest page, and book her to speak for your group.