Two writers on worldbuilding, fantasy, and whatever else comes to mind.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part I

For me, self-publishing was an easy choice: I tend to enjoy managing lots of fiddly details. That doesn't mean, however, that the process itself is easy. Here's a smattering of things I've had to research or consider so far.

Disclaimer: I am a housewife, not a lawyer, publisher, or other expert. Information in this post comes from my own experience and (possibly flawed) understanding; if you take any action based on it, I am not responsible for the results.


Read all about US copyright law here. Writers own the copyright to their works from the moment they start writing (excluding some works for hire), but registering the copyright within three months of publication gives certain legal advantages, such as that 'statutory damages and attorney's fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions' (PDF). Posting a manuscript to oneself (so-called 'poor man's copyright') is legally meaningless and probably not much cheaper than the $35 fee for registering a single work (e.g., a novel) online.

It's legal to register copyright under a pen name, but adding a real name to the registration (instead of the pen name or in addition to it) usually gives longer copyright protection. Even if there's a real name on the registration, the copyright notice in the book can use just the pen name.  (PDF)

Cover art and fonts/typefaces

At this point, professional custom covers are outside our budget. After many fruitless hours spent looking at premade covers, I decided to make them myself with free stock photos and GIMP (which I've used a lot in the past). I would not recommend this to anyone who's unfamiliar with GIMP and doesn't have a lot of time and patience for its high learning curve.

It's simplest to work with public domain or CC0 (unrestricted) images; avoid Creative Commons licences with SA ('share alike', i.e., other people can use the resulting cover in their own work) or NC ('non-commercial'). Note that images of or from public domain works (e.g., scans of old books) may not be in the public domain (although they probably ought to be, at least under U.S. law; you will probably want to sell the book in other countries, however). If one uses a photo of an identifiable person, even if one has rights to it (e.g., it's in the public domain), one may need that person's permission (a model release).

For decorative typefaces less recognisable than Papyrus or Vivaldi, try Google Fonts (all free).

Fiction disclaimers

'This is a work of fiction' etc. may not protect one from accusations of libel, but libel suits over novels are extremely rare (a living person would have to prove that it's spreading lies that damage his or her reputation). Probably up to the author's taste. I've decided to use a modified disclaimer on Safekeeping to make it clear that the setting isn't historical.

Book length and size

Agents and publishers often restrict book-length to around 100k words. Self-publishing a print book is not a good way to get around this: the longer the book, the more it costs to print it, and therefore the more expensive it has to be to make any money. By my rough calculations, a 200k-word fantasy tome through CreateSpace might have to be $14 to get non-negative royalties on -- and $20 for expanded distribution!

A larger trim size makes for fewer pages, but too large and the book stops looking like a novel. Having measured various books on my shelf, I think 5.5" x 8.5" is probably the maximum size for fiction.


I'll keep posting in this series as I learn more useful stuff; internal layout will happen in July (the beta-readers will still have Safekeeping in June), so lots more to do then.

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