Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Indie Authors Spill on Self-Publishing: Jenn Cooksey

Today, I'm thrilled to have the hilarious Jenn Cooksey here, author of the YA novel Shark Bait, the first in the Grab Your Pole series. Welcome, Jenn!

I’d like to start off by saying thank you to my gracious hostess, Samantha, for giving me this opportunity. It’s not only a great pleasure to guest post on her blog, but it’s also a first for me! And just so everyone understands, my blogging skillz pretty much suck, as anyone who’s ever visited my (pathetic) blog can attest to. That being the case, I hope my contribution will meet everyone’s standards and I’ll do my poor best to keep my fondness for...er, “adult language” in check. Which will be quite the task for me as my journey in self-publishing could be said to lean towards the frustrating side, where often times I was swearing up a blue streak and ripping out my hair. Well, I didn’t actually rip out my hair, however badly I felt like it, but I did throw out some very colorful strings of profanity. I was actually rather impressed with my creativity and vocabulary at times.

I came to writing professionally late in life, and it was almost three years ago that I first began. Like I’ve mentioned in recent interviews, Shark Bait wasn’t the first novel I wrote. After completing that first manuscript, I did what every would-be author does; I queried literary agents. I’m sure you can imagine the table dance I did when, less than 24 hours after I’d sent it, the first literary agent I’d queried responded and asked for a partial. Yeah, I’m sure all the animals in the house either thought the end of the world was nigh, or that I was drunk. Maybe both. Regardless, my time on the table didn’t last terribly long as the agency politely passed, as was the result of the rest of my queries. I’d only just begun the query process though, and was planning on continuing my endeavor to find representation, but then something truly amazing happened; the first 3 lines of Shark Bait sprang into my mind one afternoon while I was driving my kids to our weekly park day. I counted the minutes until it was a reasonable time to drag my kids from their friends, then I went home and started writing. I never looked back.

As with that first novel, however, I had actually planned on trying to publish Shark Bait traditionally. In fact, self-publishing wasn’t ever something I’d given any thought to whatsoever. Not only that, I hadn’t intended to begin the process of legacy publishing until I’d written all 6 books in the Grab Your Pole series. I mean querying is a job in and of itself and I didn’t want to take away or pull focus from my creative process in writing until I felt I could spend the time and energy querying and researching agents requires so that I could do it properly. I was finished with 3 1/4 of the books in the GYP series this past spring when a little, yet insistent voice began whispering that is was time. Incidentally, that voice sounded not unlike my husband and one of my BFFs combined...and you don’t have to tell me that that’s weird. You try listening to that mash-up without laughing and/or thinking that you’ve lost your mind...

So, there I was again, looking at trying to find representation. I put book 4 on the backburner and started focusing on writing a killer query letter. I spent days and days on it, adding, cutting, editing, revamping, having it proofed, and yes, my husband, BFF, my oldest daughter and I all sat down one night to hold a kind of brain storming session/focus group; all just for one query letter. Just when we had all pretty much agreed my query couldn’t get any more fan-freaking-tastic and I was about ready to start sending it out, my husband read an article about Amanda Hocking. He then suggested I consider self-publishing. “I hate seeing you so stressed about this whole agent thing,” he said. “At least look into it.” So, I asked my bibliophile BFF what she thought, and she concurred. Enthusiastically, no holds barred concurred. Her stance was that although she adored my previous manuscript, she absolutely LOVES the GYP series and even if an agent were to pick me up and get a publisher on board, it would probably still be upwards of two years before Shark Bait would be available to the masses, which she felt was unacceptable. She wanted everyone to have a chance to read it and she wanted them to have that chance more than two years ago, right after I’d finished writing it.

From there I went into research mode. I first went to Ms. Hocking’s blog because I didn’t have a clue where to begin. Then I went to Joe Konrath’s blog and because he’s the end all be all in blogging (IMHO), I went to Nathan Bransford’s blog, a former literary agent turned author, knowing he would have something there that might point me in the direction of the other things I should be thinking about when looking at self-publishing. I was right and I discovered there’s quite a bit more to it than just slapping on a cover, uploading your manuscript file, and clicking publish.

I started looking into professional cover art; my search found that it would be a minimum of $400 for eBook and print covers. Professional manuscript formatting services? Anywhere from $200 all the way up to $1000+. Now, we’re a single income family of 5 and our oldest child is a high school cheerleader, so for those of you who have an inkling as to the cost involved in that, you’ll believe me when I say that 99.9% of the time, we’re broke. What all that means is that hiring any professional to help me publish my book wasn’t gonna be an option. I didn’t even get to the point of getting quotes for editors...with prices like I was seeing, it was a safe bet I was looking at the only editor I could afford every morning in my bathroom mirror. I was on my own. And it wasn’t pretty. I’m not a stupid person, but I am completely inept in terms of understanding computer lingo and HTML so following even the most basic of guides on formatting and self-publishing was an endless and nightmarish task for me. In keeping the profanity to a minimum, I won’t go into every issue I encountered, but let me just say, building a workable table of contents on Word for Mac to be used in a .mobi file is essentially an impossibility. At one point I was so incredibly frustrated, I web-stalked a guy for his email address and sent the following message to him, which I entitled: Researching My Way to Blindness and Horrible Confusion.

I saw a comment you posted on [REDACTED] back in March on Word and formatting for e-pubbing, and I hope you don't mind that I put my amateur stalking skills to work in locating you with the intention of picking your brain further...

First, a little background info... I have written three complete novels in Word for Mac - meaning the story is complete and in the final editing process - and I'm partially into the fourth book of the series. Originally I was going to try for legacy publishing, however, after careful thinking and conversation, I've decided to go with e-pubbing. I mean it's so simple, right? You take your complete story, you get some good cover art, you log into KDP to upload, and 24 hrs. later, BAM! You're published!

I wish.

I have now spent countless hours going blind on the Internet in researching the best way to e-publish and the result? Well, aside from a massive migraine, I'm horribly confused, dejected, and on the cusp of swapping out my dream for tackling my nemesis, laundry. And not that my husband won't appreciate having his dress shirts properly cared for, but he'd strangle me in my sleep (which is preferable to him killing me in front of our three children, of course), for walking away from something he's been supremely supportive of for close to 3 years now - with no return on our family's investment.

I'll now try to get to the crux of my reason for seeking you out... I'm your average [REDACTED]-year-old mom and housewife - I have zero experience with HTML, converting lines of code to produce a clean manuscript etc., ad nauseum. (Seriously, using the tab function is "dirty"?! Holy Hell Batman!) Honestly, I had no idea that what I was writing even had that stuff imbedded in it. I thought what I see on the screen of my laptop is what would be uploaded. I've learned, even if I were to put my work into Scrivener (which I just heard of), that won't be the case unless I spend some serious money paying someone to "professionally" convert it for me because I simply don't understand what everyone was talking about in this blog post.

My question(s) I guess is this; am I making e-pubbing too difficult, or is it really as tricky as I've read? I have no problem purchasing Scrivener if I like it after the free trial and using it to convert and then upload, but is that all I really need to do, or am I going to need to learn how to use all these other editing and conversion software programs like Calibre and Sigil in order for me to get my novels out of my Mac and into the homes and hearts of readers?  

There's just such a vastness to what I didn't know about e-pubbing - even with Amazon's seemingly simple KDP - and there still is. So, any easy-to-understand information would be greatly beneficial - Hell, I'd probably be inclined to re-name my firstborn child after you if you were kind enough to walk me through what I have to do, although being a 15 1/2 year-old girl, you both might find that rather awkward. I thank you very much and from the bottom of my heart for your time, and hopefully forthcoming response, as I am in desperate need of advice and Excederin.



The kind man did reply and quickly, too, and he pointed me back to Smashwords, a site I’d visited before but hadn’t ever downloaded the formatting guide for because I wasn’t going to publish with them. However, the gentleman above was very supportive and assured me that I could do it, and all the basics in Mark Coker’s book on formatting for Smashwords were fundamentals that I should be doing regardless of who I was going to publish with. So, I downloaded the free eBook guide. I spent days following it to the letter in regards to formatting my novel, and everything aside from being able to produce a workable TOC, looked to be good to go. I converted my Word doc into PDF—because that’s what KDP said I needed to do if I didn’t have a .mobi file—from there I used Calibri to convert it and the Kindle previewer to see what it would look like and voilà! Garbled formatting. Shit. Needless to say, I was bummed. I’d heard horror stories about PDF not playing well during the conversion process and now I had proof. I needed to find a way around using a PDF for e-pubbing, and I eventually figured out how to use a writing program called Scrivener to compile my work into an epub file and from there, I could easily convert it to a .mobi file. I’m making it sound easier than it was, and I’m sure it is actually easy, but you have to remember, I’m an idiot when it comes to stuff like this. The point is, I figured it out and got a nice converted file and BONUS! It even had a freaking TOC! Ha!

Next obstacle was cover art. Seriously, UGH. I’m an artist with words and everything, but I can’t draw for crap. Not only that, but digital design? Forget it. Enter my sister-in-law, a professional photographer well versed in Photoshop. I had an idea, we tried it, we failed. I came up with another idea, we talked about it, and we threw it out. Then I came up with the idea for Shark Bait’s current cover and that’s when she worked her invaluable magic. I “designed” it, but she made it happen. She formatted it in every way I needed it and even when it came time to upload for certain devices and encountered a sizing issue, she clicked away and gave me the file I needed. She was a godsend, a true hero. The morning Shark Bait went live, I experienced a hurricane of emotion, all stemming from my Facebook news feed being filled with posts, pictures, and screen caps about nothing but my book and me for more than 3 hours. It was incredibly humbling to see such a vast show of love and support and to this day, I still tear up when I think about the post that kicked off—one that was from a dear friend who posted a screenshot of her buying my book on Amazon with the caption of: “WoooHooo... A girl’s dream coming true!!! So proud of you.

My other hero in terms of formatting (er...make that in terms of everything except providing for my family which credit goes solely to my husband) was my aforementioned bibliophile BFF. I’d published Shark Bait on Kindle and NOOK, and my next goal was print. Which meant back to the Word doc and more formatting. Again I spent days working on the file, I got everything done and ready, except the headers and footers. They were being a giant pain in my ass. Again because I’m inept and have no experience with that sort of thing, I needed help. My BFF stepped in and went to work, and I’m sure because of something I had done in my tinkering, what should have taken a mere 15 minutes for her to complete, actually ended up taking more than 3 hours and we’re still not sure why—I mean aside from the fact that God likes to laugh and he doesn’t mind my swearing. In the end, though, I had a properly formatted version of my manuscript that I was able to upload to Createspace along with the print cover art. And presto!

Although the headache from publishing in print wasn’t anything like it was for e-pubbing, I swear, pulling a rabbit out of a hat would’ve probably been easier. But, seeing my novel in physical print (with a barcode!!!) was more than well worth the time, frustration, and endless effort it took to get to that point. Truth be told, a group of us actually pet and stroked the proof copy the day it arrived, each one of us taking an intimate moment of soundless awe to wordlessly behold and glory in the result of our combined efforts and dedication. It was a moment I won’t forget for quite some time if ever...

So, for those who might be getting ready to delve into the depths of becoming an indie author and have doubts, or if you’re already pursuing that lofty goal and like I had, you’ve found yourself coming up with words even Urban Dictionary hasn’t ever heard of, I promise you, there’s light at the end of the tunnel and it’s so worth traversing what may seem like a dark and lonely road to reach it. Because you’re not alone, and...

You CAN do it.

Previously homeschooled Camie Ramsey is being shoved into the shark-infested waters of public high school, where even helium filled, penguin bespeckled arm floaties likely won’t help keep her inexperienced, fifteen-year old head above water in that rip current of hormones and emotions.

Camie’s worldly wisdom might be severely lacking (i.e., the closest she’s come to being kissed was sitting too close to the TV whilst Jake Ryan leaned in to give Samantha that fateful 16th birthday kiss), but she does understand her only hope for survival is if she’s thrown some kind of “social” life preserver before she sinks like a freaking rock. However, what will her fate be when she endeavors to flag down the only lifeguard on duty, the enormously popular and ridiculously beautiful Tristan Daniels? The most sought after and virtually most unattainable guy in school who not only makes Camie’s heart flatline on a recurring basis, he’s also the one guy who seemingly doesn’t know she exists.
Feeling like an inept piece of chum that could ultimately be swallowed by Jaws, can Camie get Tristan to rescue her from floundering in the treacherous deep, or is she destined to be Shark Bait?

Author's Note:
While the tales themselves are fictional, some of the events and characters are very loosely based in reality and on my experiences—but don’t worry, the names of the characters, most of their unfortunate fashion sense and/or questionable taste in music has been changed to protect the not-so innocent.

Due to language and some adult content, this book may not be suitable for readers under the age of 16.



Connect with Jenn Cooksey at

My Pathetic Blog
Twitter: @jenn_cooksey


  1. Ugh - the formatting - it certainly is frustrating and overwhelming. (And I even knew a bit of HTML code long ago, and used to format newsletters and whatnot.)

    But yes, it is doable! Congrats on getting it done!

  2. I have NO idea what ANY of this means. Even 'cut and paste' is beyond me. Why can't writers simply post books on sites like they do their blogs? Maybe every thirty five lines or so would constitute a new page. All that other stuff only points to poor design on the part of site operators, who obviously could not care any less about making it better. Indie writers are (for the most part) treated like 'worthless' self-indulgent kids playing school. The literary world is set up to ignore them, because if they ever get this thing 'right' the traditional literary world ceases to exist. You don't need to float on an inner tube once you know how to swim.......but something else VERY IMPORTANT------- What percentage of indie writers actually earn substantial sums of money..... from their books?..... Excuse the rambling, but I keep circling back to the same place. The agent -> publisher -> movie deal format is the way to go..... provided you have the requisite powerful connections/recommendations....... Anybody got a spare uncle?