12/26/2012 03:13 pm ET Updated Feb 25, 2013

And Then What Happened? More of My Self-Publishing Diaries

Chapter 2: Font, Cover, Action!

"When your book gets bought by a publishing house and they need to design the cover, do you think I can design it for them?" My husband, Brett, asked one night over dinner.

Brett is an amazing artist. Of course I would want him to design my novel's cover. How cool would that be, right? But I laughed in his face.

I may have even spurted food from my mouth, so preposterous did I find the idea.

"Darling, dear, deluded husband of mine," I began, "there is no chance in hell that a publisher would let us do that." I wiped my chin with a napkin and continued. "If I get a publishing deal, I think we just have to nod and smile and let the powers that be do what they do."

Not that I am at all an expert in these things, but I do have several friends who have published books through big houses, and they did not get a say in the cover design. Barnes and Noble did.

However, six months after that dinner conversation, I began the process of self-publishing my first novel. And Brett -- my darling, dear, delighted husband -- got the opportunity to design the cover.

Welcome to my self-publishing diaries. The first installment explained my decision to self-publish. In this second installment, I will walk you through some of the initial steps I took to prepare the manuscript for publication.

For me, this process began in a novel-writing workshop near my home. I was almost done with a first draft and was ready to share. Strangers -- other writers, including the course's two teachers -- critiqued my book and asked me questions about plot and character. I also shared drafts with Brett and a few trusted writer friends.

Once the manuscript was completed, I went about looking for an agent. Now, I know you are going to say, wait a sec, Julie, this column is about self-pubbing, which means you can skip right over the finding-an-agent part. And that's true. But you may be the type that wants to give it a go with an agent first, which is fine too. Two years ago, I was new to the process of publishing and wanted an agent to help guide me. And I was lucky enough to find a few who were interested in working with me.

I signed with an agent who showed great enthusiasm for my book and who helped me edit it before showing it to publishing houses.

So, this was my Grand Round Two of editing: I did it with the help of my agent. She went through the manuscript and found inconsistencies within the plot and helped me bring out the distinct qualities of each character through sharper dialogue and clear descriptions. She also pinpointed small annoyances that I had missed.

"All of your characters shrug too much," she told me. "And, weirdly, all of the men have dimples. Not possible. Pick one guy."

Also: "There's too much cursing in your novel. Take it down a notch so that Target and Costco can buy it."

Goddammed effing Target, I thought, as I went about de-fuckifying my novel.

At last, we submitted the manuscript. Long story short, I got antsy waiting for a publishing deal and eventually broke ties with my agent.

I think it is incredibly important for those of us who choose to self-publish to step up to the role of publisher as much as possible. That means hiring an editor and spending time and money the way a traditional publisher would on readying the manuscript for readers. If you don't have some money to throw at these important issues -- as well as some stock in Tums for the rough days -- self-pubbing might not be the way to go.

If you want to use the services provided by Lightning Source or CreateSpace or other bigger companies, great. Just be prepared to wait 6-8 weeks. Because I wanted the book out for summer readers by Fourth of July weekend, and because it was already late April, I needed to turn this thing around quickly. I spoke to a few freelance editors and selected Caitlin Alexander, who my agent had mentioned to me in a passing conversation months before. And because Brett is a designer, he knew a graphic designer who specializes in book jackets, who then recommended an illustrator to team up with. We knew they would work at an incredibly high level, and we hoped that they could work as quickly as we needed.

When I began this journey with my agent, I thought some publishing house would buy my novel and I'd get a nice $10,000 advance and take my family to Hawaii. Instead, I spent about $5,000 to create the book I wanted and vacationed at my town's municipal pool.

It's actually very nice. For a town pool.

So, once my editor was busy with the nuts and bolts of the manuscript, Brett and I got to do the fun stuff: create the cover. We perused bookstores and compared what we liked. We then went online and studied thumbnail images, since that's what readers would be seeing on websites. Brett sketched an idea that combined the illustrated look and feel we liked with our concept: what if the cover featured seven symbols, representing the seven days of the character's journey?

Upon returning home, Brett raided our six-year-old daughter's art supplies and, armed only with Crayola watercolors, made a mock-up of what would very closely resemble the final cover design.

We proudly hung it up on our kitchen cabinets and sent the sketch off to Gary Tooth, our designer, who, with illustrator Liz Starin, made a beautiful cover.

Those few weeks, when Brett and I worked frantically with a creative team we had assembled ourselves, under a deadline that mattered to no one other than us, were some of the best in recent memory.

I mean, we got to pick a custom font!

It was all so much effing fun.

Do I ever doubt my decision to self-publish? Hell yeah. Just about every other Tuesday I wonder if I made the right choice. In fact, perhaps that'll be the topic of chapter 3. But just when I'm about to wallow in self-pity, I remember those moments of true creative freedom, and the joy that brought us last spring, and I feel content for a little while.

Plus, the novel won a cover design award in October.

"Mommy, your book is published, right?" My ten-year-old son asked me the other day.

"Yes, why?" I asked.

"Because you said that we'd go to Hawaii when it was published. So, when are we going?"

"Not yet, my friend." I said, smiling a bit nostalgically for some trade-off I think I have made that wasn't ever mine in the first place. "Not yet."

Today's word count: 1142
Today's motivational quote from a Broadway musical:
And there's no limit to
What we can do
Me and you...
But mostly me!

From: The Book of Mormon, "You and Me (but Mostly Me)"