Writing about Writing


Getting an ISBN in Canada

Today I thought I would look back at one of the pre-publishing steps – Getting an ISBN.

Getting an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), is one of the final steps before publishing. Without one, it’s basically impossible to sell the book! For example, Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace will not publish a book without an ISBN (Createspace even gives you an option to get an ISBN directly from them).

Different countries have different processes for getting an ISBN. Being Canadian, I used The Canadian ISBN Service System (CISS), part of Library and Archives Canada.

The first thing I had to do was join CISS. Originally, I thought this would be something akin to creating an account on any website – 5 minutes and Boom, account created. Then I’d have to apply for an ISBN and wait who knows how long for that. But I was wrong.

Instead of just registering as an author, I was registering as a publisher. Then when I was done I received a notification that my account would need 5-10 business days to be validated and approved. Yikes, wasn’t expecting that!

As luck would have it, though, it took approximately 1 business day to validate my account. What? This is a branch of the government we’re talking about? I won’t lie, I thought 5-10 business days was going to be government speak for 1-2 months. So huge props to whoever is running CISS so efficiently! From that point, getting an ISBN was as easy as could be, thanks to some extra help from CISS in the form of a very detailed email.

It turns out the website is going to be overhauled in a few months, drastically streamlining the ISBN application process. This is a really good thing, because that form looked pretty complicated, and I would have had no idea what to put down for half of the questions.

Fortunately, CISS is aware of this, and sent out a helpful email letting me know I could ignore most of the questions and only needed to fill in a select few fields. I must say, I’m really happy they took the extra step to send that info out along with my registration approval because it made the ISBN registration very quick and painless.

An important note for anyone planning to release a book in both paperback and ebook – you need two ISBN’s – one for each version. This is super easy though, you just fill out a form for each one and the only difference is an ebook is “Electronic Book Text” in the Product Form drop down menu instead of “Book”.

And that’s it!  All done! The ISBN’s were generated immediately because I was already assigned an ISBN prefix when my publisher account was approved. As a result the entire process ended up taking far less time than I anticipated, was totally free, and I was able to publish earlier than I’d planned.


More Book Covers!

I received a lot of great feedback on my last post (Thanks everyone!) and spent the last few days creating some new mock-ups.

Option #4 was the overall winner last time, receiving far and away the most votes. I kept that one, with a few modifications: I darkened the red and changed the font size and adjusted the word locations on the page a bit.

As for the new covers, I made a few using blue as the title cover instead of red. The reason is thematic. Through the novel, depression is a major theme, and depression is often linked to the colour blue. When I did my initial mock-ups a month or two ago, I nixed blue because I didn’t think it jumped from the page enough, but with the changes I’ve made to font, font size, and word location I think I could get away with it now. I still have red as an option as well, it is still easier to see and there are themes of anger in the novel as well, and yes, there is blood. Not a lot, but it’s there.

I also switched my name from the bottom to the top and moved the title to the bottom. I like this idea because my name can fit into that convenient dark spot above the light at the end of the alley and the title and sit on top of the ground. I also tried switching from a sans serif to a serif font. You’ll notice between the last two options my name dramatically decreases in size, yet in spite of that, it stands out better than it did before.

And so, here are the 5 new options.


Revamped winner from last round.

Option 1: Revamped winner from last round.

New Beta Cover 3

Option 2: Swapped name/title and changed title colour.

New Beta Cover 1

Option 3: Blue version of all left oriented design, new fonts top and bottom. Also now all caps.

New Beta Cover 1.5

Option 4: Red font version of the previous cover.

New Beta Cover 4

Option 5: Same fonts as the previous two, title centered on bottom on two lines. I really like these fonts. Is it just me or does the title stand out *slightly* better on the previous option? It’s pretty close.

Remember to let me know what you all think, and thanks for looking!


P.S. I just realized I didn’t cut/paste the images perfectly so there are white lines in some cases. My apologies. I made the files in MS Word and since WordPress won’t upload Word or PDF files as images, I print screen/pasted the images into MS Paint and made jpegs. Feel free to ignore those ugly white lines :).

Book Covers!

Today I’d like to talk about book covers. I’ve been working on mine off and on for the last few months and I think I’m close to deciding on a final version.

When I started thinking about what I wanted to do for the cover, I didn’t have a lot of ideas. All I really knew was I wanted it to feel dark and moody, something that suited my novel title, What Dark Passages, as well as the content within.

So I began to scour stock photo websites looking for an image I could use. Not wanting to do anything illegal, I made sure that I only searched images with explicit open licences or ones where a licence could be purchased. There are a lot of options out there, both for paid and for free. Finally, after searching through what seemed like thousands of images, I came across one that evoked exactly the kind of feeling I wanted: a dark alley filled with shadows.

This is the original image:

Original Image I found to use for my book cover.

Pretty cool right?  After finding the image, I set about making the cover. I won’t get into the steps here, as there are a number of helpful sites out there that cover those (I used them), and it was surprisingly easy!

The next step was to try and find a cool font for the title and my name. A lot of guides I found online recommended against using the stock fonts in Word, something I definitely agree with. Word is great, but the fonts included can be…lacking in emotion.

A few dozen downloads later, I had a series of options. Once again, I had to check the licence info for every download and for anyone else using fonts I recommend you read up on it too. Some websites may host a font for free, but don’t actually have the right to distribute it. The best place to ensure you have the right to use a font is to get it directly from the source.

Next up was playing with where to place those fonts, what size to make them, and what colours to use. I experimented with a white font for the title but realized that simply wouldn’t work, as I wanted the title to be at the top and name at the bottom.

Tried the title in white, didn't like it.

Tried the title in white. Didn’t like it. This was also with a boring stock font.

The white light at the end of the alley negates any attempt to use a white font for the title. I needed to pick a colour that would stand out. Red was the obvious choice. Eventually I came up with a series of covers, some I like, some I don’t. I’ve decided to post them all here for your perusal. Here they are:



Beta Cover 1

Option 1 – Title near the bottom, was worried about the light at the top being a problem.


Beta Cover 2

Option 2 – Decided to spread the title over three layers. The alley light isn’t as much of a problem as I feared, but it still interferes with the ‘a’ in Dark a bit.

Beta Cover 3

Option 3 – This one seems to work really well. I don’t think the light is a problem, and I kind of like the messy writing. Almost looks bloody.

Beta Cover 4

Option 4 – Tried another font, also tested reducing font size across the three layers.

Beta Cover 5

Option 5 – Darkened the red by about 30 points to get out any orangish hue, also added a slight dark to light gradient. Font is cleaner than the other messy one, but still has similar elements. Probably my front runner.

And there you have it – 5 different cover options, ending with my current favourite. Feel free to let me know which ones you like (or don’t like) and why.

Finding and Selecting an Editor

I’ve reached the stage of my self-publishing saga where I need to find an editor. And, like most things, it’s turned out to be more complex than expected.

I have a few qualities I am looking for in an editor.  First, I want someone who is interested in the genre of book I’ve written.  Getting a children’s book editor to copy-edit a psychological literary fiction isn’t necessarily going to be a good fit.  You would prefer someone with experience in your genre.  So that’s my first qualification.  Second, I would like to find someone that either lives in, or has spent time in, the Vancouver area.  A lot of my scenes are based on real locations in the area and I think it would be useful to have someone familiar with the actual location to give input on my descriptions.

Initially, I went to the BC branch of the Editors Association of Canada (EAC) for my search.  They have an online directory of editors where you can input some specific qualities and it spits out a list.  I did this, and picked out 3 editors who looked like they’d be up my alley.  I sent them emails and awaited their replies.  I received responses and, unfortunately, all of them were booked up.  However, one editor was kind enough to direct me to another resource listed on the EAC webpage that I’d managed to overlook – the BC Editors Hotline.

So the gist of it is: I email the hotline my request and key information about my project, the hotline coordinator sends the request out to all of the members, and anyone interested is free to respond to my post.

I didn’t know what to expect with my post, but the response was far greater than expected.  I received 18 emails within a day and a half.  Yay!  People are interested!

So I set about the task of separating out the editors who sounded interesting to me and the ones who did not.  Cutting the list down was easy to begin with.  Three people spelt my name wrong.  My name! How could I ever trust an editor who can’t even spell my name correctly in the email they send asking me to hire them.  It’s not like it wasn’t right there in the hotline post, right above the email address which, by the way, also includes my name.

Boom, down to 15.

Next up was availability.  I posted the date I aim to have the manuscript back by, but a few folks still put their hats in the ring for a later date.  I’m ok with that, and if anything changes they could move up the list, but as is their ranking dropped relative to those who were more likely to complete the editing in the timeframe I need it by.

Next – experience.  Some people directed me to websites, others listed relevant experience in their email.  I tried to pick out the ones who looked like they’d worked on a similar genre.  That relates back to the first quality I posted above.

Then there is attitude – in a tight field of what looks to be really skilled people, I turned to this.  Some emails were very business-like, and that’s ok.  Other’s seemed downright friendly and genuinely interested.  I like kind people, so I gravitated to these emails.

In a related note – I was disappointed with one individual in particular.  I’m not going to name names of course, but I just want to point out that I’m not a fan of overly pushy or rude people.  I’m certainly not going to work with someone who makes me feel uncomfortable just by reading their emails.

Finally – price.  One of the most important and hardest things to talk about is price.  It’s like when you negotiate a salary with a possibly new employer – it’s a little awkward.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much I like someone if I can’t afford them.  And the range of quotes I received has been nothing short of surprising.  The lowest quote was $650USD, while the highest was up to $3700CAD.  That’s a huge range!  And the worst thing is, based off what I’d heard at the self-publishing seminar I attended earlier this year, I was expecting to pay around $600CAD.  Basically, I wasn’t ready for how high the quotes would be, and my bank account wasn’t either.

That said, I slowly whittled the list down from 18 to 3.  And last night I made my final decision.  It wasn’t easy, and I’m really dreading contacting the people I didn’t choose to give them the bad news.  I would probably be a terrible manager – I hate giving people bad news.  And I hope they all know I appreciate their time and understanding.

But I’m looking forward to getting this done.  Judging from the samples I received, this editing is going to be huge for helping polish my novel and ensuring it looks as professional as possible.  And that is something that, in the long run, will pay for itself.

Name, Genre, and Finding Betas

The last time we talked, I provided a list of steps that I needed to take to get my book ready to publish.  Since then, I’ve trucked through the first few steps, but I may have gotten hung up on something I really didn’t expect.

First, we’ll talk about the small progress I’ve made.

The Name

The idea for this book came to me about 3 years ago.  I had just finished writing a short story about a man lost at sea.  I really liked the tone and wanted to explore those kinds of emotions in more depth.  One night I was walking home from work and a plan began to coalesce in my mind.  I wanted 3, maybe 4 characters.  They would be struggling through major emotional upheaval, and I had a great climax in mind that would bring all their stories together.  I even had two perfect characters I had created in the past, one from a prose-poem I had written in University, the other I had created while listening to a song by the band Bloodsimple.  The story would essentially be about the darkness in our lives, so I called it: Darkness.

As the idea took shape and I began to work on an outline, the story became not just about our darkness, but about emotional recovery from traumatic events and dealing with our past.  The name Darkness had always been meant as a placeholder, but as time went on it became harder to think of the book as anything else.  I was attached to it, and the idea behind it, even though the book had outgrown my temporary title.  One idea was to name it Through the Darkness, as a way to represent the emotional journey the characters take.  But a quick search on Amazon.com revealed at least 3 other books with the same name, so I scrapped that one.  Then my good friend Colin came up with an idea, and it sounded perfect.  It represented exactly what I wanted, and a search on Amazon came up with zero other books with the same name.  So barring any drastic changes during the editing process, I believe I’ve settled on a title.

I present to you: What Dark Passages

The Genre

Through this entire process, I never really thought about the genre.  I just wrote the book I wanted to write without worrying about fitting it into a specific genre.  Now that I have to classify it, though, I started to wonder just what exactly did I write?

I went to a couple websites that are supposed to help with classification.  One of them does a short quiz.  It listed my book as a Suspense Thriller.  I laughed and moved on.  Eventually I decided I would go to Amazon.com and search the categories to find out where mine fits.  I figured if I could find similar style books, then that should be my genre, right?

After a while, I started to zero in on Literary Fiction.  But I thought, if I’m selling my book on Amazon.com, I don’t want it to just be grouped in with 45,000 other books, I need to narrow it down even more.  And within the remaining sub-categories I spied the word “Psychological”.  I clicked it open and perused the available books and theme list.  That’s when I knew I had found my genre.

Genre: Psychological Literary Fiction

Beta Readers

I have to admit, when I was coming up with the list of challenges I would face “Finding Beta Readers” wasn’t at the top of the list.  I had this idea in my head where I would post my information in some of the various Beta Reader groups out there and helpful people would line up and everything would be just rosy.  Unfortunately, I was overestimating the interest my work would garner…by a lot.

There could be any number of factors involved, of course.  I tried to be very upfront with the mature nature of my novel, because I don’t want anyone surprised (in a bad way) by the content.  Could that have scared people away?  Or it’s possible I didn’t do a good enough job getting people interested.  This weekend I wrote up a proper description, the type of thing you’d see on a website or on the back of a novel and added it to one of my posts.  I’m hoping it helps.

I have other steps I can work on while I’m waiting for this to happen, but if I don’t find betas, it will eventually stall out the entire process.  Impartial eyes are one of the most important aspects of editing, because as much as I trust and value the opinions of my close friends and family, it’s impossible for them to be completely unbiased.

So now I’m reaching out to the WordPress community.  If you, or anyone you know, are interested in beta reading an 80,000 word Psychological Literary Fiction novel, give me a shout!  It just so happens I have one right here.  I may be biased, but I think it’s a pretty good read.

I can be reached at: journeyofawannabewriter@gmail.com

UPDATE 3/24/13 – One of the hardest things to have these days is patience.  I was so excited to get my book out there that, I admit, I was feeling a little down at the initial lack of  interested being beta readers.  But if I’d had just a little more patience, I would have been writing a very different section.  As of now I’ve had 4 different people contact me about being beta readers, so the ball is officially rolling and I’m excited for the feedback to start coming in!

Here’s the book blurb:

Alex’s parents died when he was eight.  Since then, he’s been on the outside looking in, wondering what his life could have been…what it should have been.  Now, crushed by unbearable loneliness, he looks toward one, final solution.

Melissa is tired of being a victim.  She wants nothing more than to move on with her life.  But she is still haunted by the man who attacked her outside a club five years ago.  A man the police never found.  

Richard is a paramedic who made a mistake that cost a little girl her life.  Now, fresh off a lengthy suspension, he can’t avoid confronting the mistake he made.  At the same time, his marriage is coming apart at the seams, and the only comfort he can find is at the bottom of a bottle.

Joel has made mistakes.  Horrible mistakes.  But turning the tables on his abusive father and putting a bullet through his hand isn’t one of them.  Now his father, looking for revenge, has found him. There may never be redemption for Joel, but he has a family to worry about now, and he must protect them at all costs.

Next Steps

Finishing my draft felt great.  It was like getting a monkey off my back that had been crashing cymbals on my head for years.  I wanted to do this for so long, and now I’m finally done, right?

Not even close!

There are so many steps to go, the list is almost discouraging to look at.  I’m a writer, a creative guy, this stuff isn’t really my bag, ya know?  I avoid lists like I avoid fist-sized spiders.  But it needs to be done.  Lucky for me I have a partner who is good at lists, tasks, and getting the type of stuff done that I consider boring.  That doesn’t mean she’s going to do it for me, it just means she’s going to harass me until I do it.  This is a good thing because otherwise it would take me a lot longer to get these things done.

So how did I figure out the steps?  I’m fortunate because I’ve been able to draw from two sources on where to go from here.  First is the fantastic website IndiesUnlimited.  They just published a piece called I’ve Written a Book, How Do I Publish It?.  In it, they run through a sixteen step process on how to take your book from first draft to published book.  The information here is absolutely invaluable.

I was also extremely lucky in that the Federation of BC Writers held a self-publishing fair just this last weekend at the Vancouver Public Library.  Among the list of speakers was best-selling author Martin Crosbie, who gave a very positive and helpful talk about what has and hasn’t worked for him in the jungle that is Amazon.com.

So, what do I have to do?  I present to you, not necessarily in order, my list:

  • Confirm a name for the book.
  • Figure out what genre it fits into.
  • Write a short description/”elevator pitch”
  • Second round of edits.
  • Find beta readers, send book to them and await feedback.
  • Edit from beta reader feedback, then send to new batch of beta readers.
  • Edit again.  If I’m happy at this point, find a copy-editor and send to him/her.
  • Final round of editing.  Should be finished at this point.  Or should I send out Advanced Review Copies and do one last edit, if required?
  • Create Amazon.com author page.
  • Get an ISBN for both physical copy and ebook.
  • Prepare ‘front matter’.  Copyright.
  • Figure out the front cover.  What do I want it to look like?  Hire someone to do it or do it myself?
  • Do I want a barcode?
  • Format.  Can hire a professional formatter, or try and do it myself.
  • Upload ebook, check formatting works.  Order physical copy to review quality/format.
  • Publish.
  • Promote.  Promote.  Promote.
  • Promote some more.

Whew.  There we go.  No problem.

I will, of course, provide semi-irregular updates on what’s happening as it happens, or sometime after it happens, as always.  This is, without a doubt, the ‘not fun’ part of putting out a book.  But it is absolutely essential, and I’m looking forward to getting through it and learning everything I need to know so that future books (I *do* plan to keep writing, you know) are easier to publish.

Like any process – the first time is always the hardest.