How to Self-Publish: An Interview with Hans V. von Maltzahn
Before we get started today, I need to say thanks to Paul Little for putting me in touch with today’s author and thanks to Hans for agreeing to answer my questions.
The interview you are about to read is a detailed account of how how one man self-published his book for real, without wasting money on a vanity press like iUniverse or Author House. Although some of the specifics of his story deal with self-publishing in Canada, everyone will benefit from the author’s advice. He’s also graciously allowed me to publish his PowerPoint on the subject, which you’ll find at the end of the interview.
ES: Can you explain the self-publishing process you used?
von Maltzahn: Essentially, I began the self-publishing process by writing a novel the usual way, one chapter at a time. When the novel was finished after the fifth year and after another year searching for a “legitimate” publisher or literary agent to take the manuscript with no luck, I decided enough-was-enough, I would publish the book myself.
I edit each chapter approximately four or five times before moving on to the next chapter. Each chapter starts out on paper, written in pencil and eventually ends up on the computer. (I can’t look at a blank computer screen, so the paper is like my sketch pad where the computer is my canvas.)
After a good many chapters are completed I do what I call a draft, i.e. a full re-edit of the manuscript as finished to that point, line-by-line. (I read line-by-line from the beginning of Chapter 1 to the end of the chapter that I have just finished). I guesstimate that I read THE BLACK SUN ASCENDANT: An Assassin’s Tale approximately 900 times over six years.
I looked for photos on the internet that I could combine and redesign on a good photo-software program, and then experimented with a variety of looks before choosing one that suited the flavour of my book. In truth, my wife checked out the choices and said that the simplest was the best and she was proved right – everyone loves the cover.
So that my book would have the look of a traditionally book, I studied and copied the styles I liked for my book.
Other things to consider after your manuscript is finished are obtaining an ISBN number, Catalogue In Publication (CIP) and Copyright registrations for your manuscript. Include the ISBN number on your copyright page of your finished manuscript. You’ll need a different ISBN number for each incarnation of your book (i.e. in physical book, eBook, graphic novel, or audio book format). ALSO, you need an ISBN for each eBook distributor that you use. I have one ISBN for my Amazon.com eBook listing and a different ISBN for my Smashwords.com listing; not to mention the third ISBN for the physical copy of The Black Sun.
I would suggest that you keep a copy of your finished manuscript in both Word and Adobe Acrobat (PDF) formats. This way you will have both formats available to you when you settle on one of the many FREE ePublishers out there, and will be able to upload the appropriate format of your manuscript into their system.
For printing the physical copy of my book, I decided on a local printer who specializes in printing books. The proximity of the printer enabled me to meet regularly with my contacts at the company and see the progress of the book’s publication. I also had direct contact with their layout person, and we both got together regularly to see samples of my book and discuss the final layout. It’s nice to be able to talk face-to-face with someone rather than have to play phone tag or email tag, which can lead to costly mistakes.
When it came to ePublishing, I followed a friend’s advice and listed with Amazon.com (for sheer size and brand awareness), and Smashwords.com for their distributor network worldwide. BOTH ePublishing companies list your book for FREE. If you are paying someone to list your book as an eBook, then you’re using the wrong people!
With Amazon.com I was listed and selling my eBook within approximately twenty minutes of filling out the online paperwork and up-loading a PDF copy of my book. Smashwords.com was more involved and took one-and-a-half months to be accepted into their premium catalogue that allows for worldwide distribution. With Smashwords, because they need to reformat your manuscript into every conceivable eBook format, you need to fully strip your manuscript of all unnecessary formatting and send it to them. They have a Style Guide that you can follow that is comprehensive in its explanations, but the process is frustrating. The resulting worldwide sales exposure, however, is well worth the month or more of reworking the manuscript.
ES: How much did it cost you to self-publish?
von Maltzahn: There should be no cost to upload your book to an ePublisher. I didn’t pay anything to Amazon.com or Smashwords.com to take my book, and they are listing it for only a percentage of the royalty. Their royalties usually stay within 15% to 20% of each of your book’s sales, and the terms are clearly laid out in the agreement section of their respective websites. The royalties are deducted from the returns on sales of the book.
I paid about $15.00 per book to print the physical copy of my book and ordered only 200 soft cover copies, because I wanted only a limited edition printing. The printer could have given me a discount for one thousand books or more, but what would I do with one thousand books sitting in my home?
I told the printer that I wanted “the look and feel of a hard cover for my soft cover” and so we went with higher quality paper and a stiffer cover board with inner flaps for a book synopsis and rear cover bio. I love the quality of the resulting book and so do those who have obtained copies from me.
ES: How do earnings (royalties) work on the books you sell?
von Maltzahn: For the physical copy of The Black Sun, I get 100% of the sale price ($20.00 CDN) since I paid to get it printed. I market it and distribute it myself.
The royalties for me from Amazon.com and Smashwords.com, as mentioned above, are usually between 75% and 80% per sale of each eBook. This is much better than going with a traditional or vanity publisher where the royalties, as I understand it, are much lower because they say they will help market your book.
ES: What was the most difficult part of the self-publishing process for you and why?
von Maltzahn: Editing the manuscript was the hardest, most tedious process for me, as it is for most authors. I also hired an editor for the sixth draft of The Black Sun. However, polishing The Black Sun took more of my time than writing it!
The other difficulty was preparing the manuscript for Smashwords. I literally had to produce a twelfth draft (line-by-line edit for all seventeen chapters) before I was accepted into their premium catalogue for worldwide sales.
ES: For authors with a manuscript who feel overwhelmed trying to get their book out there, what advice would you give?
von Maltzahn: Self-publish! Look to get your book on the internet and sold in as many eBook formats as possible and through as many distributors such as Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, Kobo, etc.
In addition, the authors should do their homework: research eBook distributors on the internet, talk to others who have published their books online, and be willing to learn about the process of getting your book into an eBook format. As you’ll notice from my PowerPoint presentation, the bulk of the work is producing a finished, polished manuscript and only the last bit is bringing it to the ePublisher.