After the beta feedback, I revised parts of The Syndrome Diaries and re-read the manuscript a couple of times. Firstly, when you change parts of a novel, you often find that another part stops making sense so you need to read through for continuity. Secondly, I was typo-spotting – assisted by Dad.
The decision to self-publish
Although I’d originally considered sending The Syndrome Diaries to an agent, by this point I’d decided to self-publish. There are several reasons why it was unlikely to be accepted:
- The main characters aren’t particularly endearing. I think they’re interesting, but this doesn’t make them nice, so they’re difficult to sympathise with.
- The conventions of particular genres aren’t followed. In regular women’s fiction, Ben would get his comeuppance for his attitude towards marriage, and Becky would live happily ever after by getting hitched and having children. Of course, there are plenty of women out there who are having wonderful lives without children (I count myself as one of them), but saying so still provokes controversy.
- A female author and female narrator have led to the book being assumed to be women’s fiction, but the most favourable reactions among people who heard several extracts during its writing came from men. It’s a bit of a hermaphrodite of a book, so not commercial.
Additionally, if I was lucky enough to get a publishing contract, advances are small, timeframes are long and there’s no guarantee the book would actually get published, yet all my rights to the novel would be handed over. Writing would become a job rather than a hobby (my stint as a fitness instructor showed me what a bad idea that can be) and I love my academic career so don’t have any great motivation to be a full-time writer. On balance, it seemed better to head straight down the self-publishing route.
Formatting the manuscript for Amazon
I’ve read widely on self-publishing, and the most useful books I’ve found are Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self-printing and Ali Luke’s Publishing E-Books for Dummies. They’re both full of common sense and realistic advice rather than hyping themselves up to suggest you’ll be the next John Locke. I used Catherine’s advice on formatting the manuscript and Ali’s guidance on uploading and the various self-publishing options available.
Until the final proofing, I used Scrivener software with the novel template and a separate folder for each chapter. On several occasions, I compiled a mobi document from the manuscript for my Kindle so that I could read the book as an Amazon customer would (compiling a manuscript into a range of formats is one of Scrivener’s strengths). Scrivener made it easy to work through larger changes and edits, but once they were done, and the focus was on typos and grammatical glitches, it made sense to switch to Word. I followed Catherine’s advice in Self-Printing and stripped out the formatting, then applied styles throughout the document (this is a Word software function). I had different styles for chapter headings, for first paragraphs, for the main body of the text and for quotes (there are lots of extracts from a character’s diaries). The only change I made to Catherine’s advice was to use a 12-point font instead of a 10. Although you can adjust font size on a Kindle, it’ll adjust universally, so that if you are reading several books with differently-sized fonts, you have change the settings every time you switch between them. Size 12 font seemed to be more consistent with the other books on my Kindle. I also followed Catherine’s advice to produce the cover art: design it in Word, save it as a pdf and convert that to a jpeg.
I’d expected the formatting to take much longer than it did: it was done in a few hours. I checked it by pasting the entire manuscript back into a Scrivener document – not as separate chapters this time – and compiling it as a Kindle mobi. Most of it was fine, but some chapter headings weren’t formatted. I couldn’t find any reason in the Word document: they had the heading style attached. I got round the problem by pasting from a correctly-formatting chapter heading and changing the number.
At last…time to upload!
Amazon lets you upload a Word document and converts this to a mobi format for you. However, it has a reputation for misbehaving with the style formatting, and my experience was no exception. The first paragraph of a chapter shouldn’t be indented, and my Scrivener mobi was coming out fine. However, Amazon’s conversion indented every paragraph. I dealt with this by producing a Scrivener mobi and uploading that to Amazon instead of the Word document, and that got round the problem.
Apart from the formatting hiccup – which I’ll bypass next time by converting the doc to a mobi myself – uploading to Amazon is actually very quick and easy. The novel was available to download the next day. The final stage? Monitoring, marketing and moving on! That’ll be the subject of the final blog in this series.
If you’d like to look at the formatting of The Syndrome Diaries without buying it, you can download a fairly chunky free sample from Amazon by following the links on my website. Alternatively, for a couple of quid, you can have the whole book!