Do you know the scene in the 1931 movie Frankenstein? The one that includes the famous line uttered by mad scientist Henry Frankenstein, who exclaims ghoulishly when his creation of a monster starts to move: “It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive!” Well, except for the mad-scientist part, and the part where the monster (Boris Karloff) hurls Frankenstein off the top of an old mill, that’s how I feel now that my first creation in the book series The Manhattan Novellas — 1609 — is out in the world. It’s alive!
But a lot of things went on behind the scenes before this book’s release. Here’s a peek behind the curtain…
Because I’m also a designer (and pretty good with Photoshop), I decided to do the covers myself. And I had been tweaking this cover for more than a year. Initial ideas were scrapped and new ones started. Titles, subtitles, my author name, and the background image I had licensed (of the way Manhattan actually might have looked on September 12, 1609) all came under scrutiny. I used some old design tricks to take new looks at the cover versions: squinting my eyes, looking in a mirror, converting to B&W to check “brightness contrast,” and thumbtacking prints to a hallway bulletin board so I could glance at them as I walked by.
When I thought I was ready, I posted the cover to a couple of Goodreads groups I’m on and asked for feedback. Most folks liked it a lot, but a couple had trouble with its “emptiness” and “nonfictiony feel.” I thought long and hard about that, but in the end, I confirmed to myself that I liked the final cover and the mystery it conveys. Because Manhattan is one of the most famous islands in the world now, I wanted to contrast its early emptiness (on the eve of change) with what we know it now to be. I’m currently working on tweaking the same cover design to evolve across the other books in the series.
I was wondering about a map from day one. The historical fiction I like to read (Michener, Follett, et al.) has maps at the front of those books. And I noticed that I was always referring back to them. So I wanted a map. But how to do it? I can design, but my drawing ability is limited. I thought about hiring an illustrator, but once I saw the fees from the good ones, I nixed that idea. Why not go full DIY (do-it-yourself) with this, too? Come on, Harald, you can do it!
So I bought one of those small, digital “pen tablets” (for drawing with a stylus), taught myself how to use it, and just jumped in. I scanned reference maps and started drawing over them. And when it finally dawned on me that the maps didn’t have to be perfect; that they could be a little “free-form,” I felt better about my decision.
Formatting the Book
There are lots of ways to do this with an ebook that’s going up on Amazon (or other online bookstores, although I’m sticking with Amazon for now), and I had started early studying up on them. Many authors shy away from this technical task and just pay someone else to do it. Or they upload a Word document and hope for the best. But I wanted complete control, and I knew that this was something I could do. And when I realized it would have to be done many times (The Manhattan Series alone comprises four books; plus all the future books I’d be doing), the decision was made: I was going to learn how to do this. DIY all the way, baby! In the end, I was able to use my HTML/CSS skills—ebooks are really just little websites—along with the open-source application Sigil to create an ePub file that I checked and “validated” over and over until it was perfect.
Uploading to Amazon
Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is the process for getting ebooks up onto Amazon (for independent self-publishers like myself). Once I had set up my KDP account with Amazon, I carefully went through their online forms and checked all the right boxes and uploaded the cover and inserted the book’s final ePub file. I had to hold my breath for several minutes as the spinning ball turned and their system went through its processing paces. Suddenly, everything stopped and a big ALERT window appeared! It said they had found nine spelling errors in my file. What?
Somehow, they had automatically gone through the entire text of the book and were now questioning me on these “errors” and wouldn’t let me continue. So I had to go back to all my references and check each one of them. It turned out that eight of the nine were unusual (but correct) spellings of places or people’s names. But the final one—#9—was an actual misspelling of a common word! I couldn’t believe it. I had had two different editors, myself, and my word-processor’s spell check all make sure things were as they should be. And still a silly misspelling had slipped through.
Once that was out of the way, I was astonished at how fast the rest of the process took. The time from Submit to Live was under 5 hours! And I’ve since uploaded a revision of 1609 in 4.3 hours! I remember how I had to pull teeth and wait about a year to get a revision up the old way with a traditional publisher.
Marketing, Revisions & Reviews
I’m now in the post-launch marketing phase for 1609 while at the same time finalizing the next book in the series. And as I catch small mistakes or minor things to fix on 1609, I’ll keep uploading new versions of the book. The way it works is that the new version overwrites the old one on Amazon seamlessly without any downtime. Pretty amazing. And if you purchased any of the older versions, you can simply download the latest one to your reading device. Nifty, eh?
I managed to acquire three, very nice (5-star) reviews soon after launch—two on Amazon and another on Goodreads. And even a testimonial endorsement from historical fiction author M.K. Tod. All those are up on 1609’s book page on Amazon.
So if you haven’t purchased 1609 yet — it’s only $0.99, folks! — please do. And if you have but haven’t reviewed or rated it yet, please do that. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a certain castle on a certain operating table under the penetrating eyes of Dr. Henry Frankenstein!