Books & Writing

8 Essential Indie Publishing Tools

Where To Invest Time & Money for Maximum Adventure

Introduction

AAre you trying to self-publish a book? Or maybe just curious to get a closer glimpse of all the work that goes into indie publishing? Then fire up a cup of coffee, and read on! While many articles detail the pluses and minuses of indie publishing, precious few give a technical overview of the tools and technology really required to make it happen. This article aims to do just that using the book “The Lost Direction” by Timothy S. Boucher, and published by Lost Books, of Quebec, Canada.

1) Alphasmart Neo2 for Text Input

I’ve found that if you want to be REALLY productive as a writer, you need to minimize all other distractions. That means no internet. No chat. No other nonsense to get in your way. The best tool I’ve found for that is an amazing and weird device called the Neo2 by Alphasmart. According to Wikipedia, the first model Neo was released in 1993, and the Neo2 (pictured below) was released in 2007, and discontinued in 2013.

It features eight “files” (see file keys at top). It saves automatically, and takes only two AA batteries, which have an enormously long life (as in years) due to low power draw from the device. There’s a USB cable that when connected to a computer turns the device into an external keyboard. You press the “send” button, and it transmits the text word-by-word to your receiving computer. It’s weird but it works like a dream. I think I paid around C$60 or so for it on Amazon, but in US it’s significantly cheaper.

Alphasmart Neo2 Word Processor
Alphasmart Neo2 Word Processor
Alphasmart Neo2 Word Processor/Keyboard

2) Scrivener for Organization

When I push my text out of the Neo2 word processor, I need somewhere to store it, do initial edits and organize. The tool I wound up choosing for that is something called Scrivener, which you can see in screenshot below. For C$67, you end up with a fairly powerful tool to organize and even output digital and print-ready files.

To be totally honest, I don’t even know the full range and flexibility of this program. It seems easy to get lost in, so I basically just stick to folders and files, which you can easily re-order as needed. For sure you could use MS Word, or even Google Docs for this, but there’s something handy about having the text split up and so easily manipulable as file units.

Anyway, once I got my manuscript to a first draft level of readiness, I ended up then pushing the text out to Adobe InDesign.

Scrivener Writing App
Scrivener Writing App
Scrivener App from Literature & Latte

3) Adobe Stock for Book Templates

I’ve used InDesign before to lay out a couple editions of a small newspaper, but never anything as big as a book. I figured rather than sit around and struggle forever, I would just buy a pre-made book template. As I’m already a committed Adobe Creative Cloud member (at a little over C$600 per year), it wasn’t a far leap to plunk down the extra ~$50 or so to buy a one month Adobe Stock membership on top of that, and use it to download a couple pre-existing options.

I did find a cool template which I based my book on largely. But it was the wrong size, and was intended to contain many illustrations, etc. It took a lot of noodling to get it into the format that I wanted, but it was a good way to learn from an existing template, rather than have to go completely from the ground up.

Adobe Stock Book Templates
Adobe Stock Book Templates
Adobe Stock Features Many Pre-Made Book Templates

4) Adobe InDesign for Layout

Adobe Creative Cloud is probably the most worthwhile online subscription on the planet — at least in my eyes as a creative person. Even though it’s over C$600/yr at this point, it’s worth every penny due to all the tools and capabilities you get in exchange.

Again, I purchased an existing InDesign template from Adobe Stock, and then watched video after video on YouTube to get up to speed on how to turn that template into the shape and format that aligned with my vision for this book: a “pocket size” fantasy novel like the ones from the 1970’s and 1980’s that I grew up reading as a kid.

I believe it’s the Creative Cloud subscription itself which gives you access to all the fonts you can imagine, including the ones used in this template.

Image for post
Image for post
Adobe InDesign Book Layout

5) Micron Pigma Liners & Photoshop for Line Art

Like any classic fantasy book, “The Lost Direction” contains line art maps of the worlds contained within to orient the reader. To make those, I used Micron Pigma Liners, which have been my favorite pens for possibly 25 years (give or take).

Those drawings, along with separate hand-drawn calligraphic labels get scanned, and then boosted and combined in Photoshop before being pushed out as an element in the final InDesign layouts.

For the cover art, I also vectorized a line drawing of the inestimable Tob Gobble using Adobe Illustrator.

Adobe Photoshop Map of Ancient Quatria
Adobe Photoshop Map of Ancient Quatria

6) Lulu.com for Print-on-Demand Fulfillment

There are many print-on-demand (POD) companies out there, and many articles comparing the options and results available. I looked around a lot myself, but found very few companies offering the pocket-size book that I wanted. So Lulu.com was an easy choice in the end, and I’m overall pretty happy with their system.

One thing I dislike about modern indie publishing landscape is how strong controlled it all is by Amazon via things like CreateSpace, Kindle Direct publishing, and GoodReads. Depending on your book size, Lulu still lets you plug into Amazon distribution, while allowing you to work with an independent company. However, there are long waiting periods for submitting a work and revisions through Amazon. I have not done it quite yet, but believe it’s something on the order of 6–8 weeks, which I hear is radically longer than if you just go through CreateSpace.

A word about ISBNs: Many/most POD publishers have an option for cheap or free ISBNs. But there may be differences by country in terms of what’s available. For instance, Canadians can get free ISBNs from Collections Canada. It’s so easy that’s a bit surprising — you don’t even need to verify your physical address (which is slightly concering in this day of “fake news,” but I digress).

On Pricing: While Lulu’s self-service tools are mostly fairly easy to figure out, resolving international-pricing is still a bit weird and confusing. Lulu’s base pricing is a function of format and page count. Presently, I’m only selling through Lulu directly, because I can make C$10 per book sold at the price I’m setting over their base price, versus under C$2 if it gets sold eventually through Amazon. A Canadian cover price of C$25.95 (which seems very high for a paperback — even of 346 pages) is automatically translated by Lulu to be $17.95 USD for American audiences (which seems a bit more reasonable). Though I live in Canada, I recognize that book markets are substantially larger in the US, so this is an acceptable trade-off for now. But it’s clear there are still some kinks to be worked out here, but this is good enough for a first version as I learn the ins and outs.

Lulu.com Admin Control Panel for Books
Lulu.com Admin Control Panel for Books
Lulu.com’s Book Details Admin Controls

7) Regular Camera for Promotional Photos

I’ve been experimenting with my just a regular (not even DSLR) camera to take “bookstagram” style promotional photos for the book. I’m really happy with the results so far, as they help to show it’s an actual solid book you end up with when all is said and done, not just a lot of intangible digital files.

For now, I’m only releasing a pocket-size print edition. No digital epub/mobi or PDF etc. I want to capture the magic and mystery of the printed book format, and Lulu’s printing job succeeds well in that. The feel is indistinguishable from a “real” book.

Book cover: “The Lost Direction” by Timothy S. Boucher (lostbooks.ca)
Book cover: “The Lost Direction” by Timothy S. Boucher (lostbooks.ca)
Book cover: “The Lost Direction” by Timothy S. Boucher (lostbooks.ca)

8) WordPress for Book Landing Page

One thing every indie author/publisher quickly learns is that writing a book is different from producing a print version is different from promoting and finally selling that product. I’m still working on the promo/sales part, but the final puzzle piece for me was setting up LostBooks.ca, a WordPress site with a single page I can use as a book landing page. It acts I think as a better focal point/front door for prospective readers than just the Lulu shopping page which is a little lackluster. On the WP install, I can easily add custom photos, a PDF preview, and contact form.

“Lost Books” (or Livres Perdus in French) then as the “publisher” acts as the container for both “The Lost Direction” book itself, but also the other books which are currently in production as part of The Lost Books of Quatria series.

“The Lost Direction” Published by Lost Books of Quebec, Canada
“The Lost Direction” Published by Lost Books of Quebec, Canada
Lost Books of Quebec, CA Is The Publisher of “The Lost Direction”

Thanks for joining me on this publishing adventure!

If you’d like to see the results for yourself, head on over to Lost Books, and pick up a copy. And as always, let me know what you think!

Canadian Author & Historian of Quatria https://lostbooks.ca