Publishing Online – Not For the Faint of Heart

In 1993, I published my first book.  I was in the right place at the right time, with a finished manuscript—several to be exact.  I was waiting for preparedness to meet opportunity, which is what being in the right place at the right time really means for a writer.

At the time, I was a member of Romance Writers of America and was asked if I wanted to be the editor/writer of a regular round-up column, taking over for a writer friend.  The bi-monthly column involved me contacting editors asking for their current needs.  I climbed on board enthusiastically.  What a great way to place myself further in front of editors!

About a year later, Milburn Smith, called me.  He was the editor of Starlog Press, a publisher of magazines in science fiction and fantasy.  The company wanted to expand into the romance genre.  After all, at the time romance novels was the biggest genre share of all books sold and still is today.[1]

Milburn gave me all the necessary information I needed to include Starlog Press in the roundup column.  And then, he said, “If you know of any writer out there who has a romance manuscript in their bottom drawer, send them my way.”


I said, “Well, actually, I do know of someone.  Me.”

“Send me the manuscript,” he said.

So, I did.

A couple weeks later, he called me.  He told me that he liked my writing style but that the story wasn’t quite what he was looking for.  Did I have anything else?

As a matter of fact, I did.  He told me to send it.

A week later, he called.  He started with, “I just read the most wonderful book.”

“You did?”  I was hoping.  I held my breath.

“Yes, your book.  And I have to tell you I feel like I just discovered Karen Robards all over again.”  He went on to tell me how he had discovered her about twenty years earlier.[2]

I couldn’t believe it.  I was 42 years old and about to have my first book published.  About four years prior, I had vowed if I reached 40 and hadn’t published any book, I was going to stop writing.  I’d been writing for over a decade and wasn’t making any progress.  Even a close writer friend couldn’t understand why I wasn’t selling any of my books.  She claimed my heels were the only thing still on the edge of the cliff.  Why I hadn’t fallen off the publishing cliff was a mystery to her.

When I turned 40, I realized I was so close that I couldn’t give up.  So, there I was two years later achieving that dream.   What a difference my life would be now if I had given up.

Fast forward to a decade later, when I was able to get my rights back.  As the online publishing environment heated up, I thought I could reprint the book, making it available to a greater mass market than had been obtained on its initial 1993 release, which was magazine stands only.

Finally, earlier this summer, I began editing the manuscript.  I was a bit chagrined at the errors I found and no wonder.  Since its original publication, I had earned four degrees, which include creative writing and English specialties; my grammar and punctuation skills had definitely improved since that time.  Additionally, I teach writing so those skills are reinforced every semester.  While the errors I found weren’t that bad, *I* noticed them and now they weren’t acceptable.

I was delighted and surprised to find that my story still held up, that it was better than I had remembered.  I did have to make a number of corrections and clear up some wordiness or unclear meaning here and there; but overall, it wasn’t as bad as I had expected.

The Formatting

I always tell my students that good writing is always about the details.  Converting my manuscript to acceptable online formatting was truly about the details.  I combed through that manuscript as if I was looking for microscopic eggs that could hatch into reader displeasure.  I lost count of the number of passes I made through it.

To format the manuscript properly required that I read Smashword’s manual.  Any errors could prevent my submitted book from being sent out to retailers.  I wanted a smooth journey.

The Cover

And then, I had to include a cover.  Talk about a learning curve.  I could hire it out or create my own.  I wanted to see if I could create my own.  I was up for the challenge, and what a challenge it became.

Another learning curve on the cover creation software I had purchased a couple of years earlier but hadn’t explored yet.  That curve included another manual.

Many hours of online searching, looking for the perfect public domain photos, preferably free.  In the end, I purchased them.

I needed a new title.  While The Man on the Romance Cover was an okay title, I had never really liked it.  My original title had been Fuss and Feathers, but that title didn’t fit anymore either.  Eventually, I decided on Determined.  When I was talked to a writer friend about the title she commented that it didn’t describe a romance and suggested I add “hearts,” so Determined Hearts, it became.

The creation began.  Many attempts.  Many failures.  And then, finally, success.

The cover created, the bio, short, and long blurbs written, I submitted the book.  It was accepted!  And, hooray (!), it passed initial inspection with no errors.

A week later, however, I got the message that the cover wasn’t appropriate—not enough pixels.

Another learning curve.  How many pixels equaled an inch?  How many inches did I need to reach the minimum total required?

Finally, I discovered that I could create my cover using a PowerPoint slide—software that I’m reasonably experienced with, and that once I saved it as a PEG or PNG file, I could easily resize it in my PhotoStudio Expressions program, with which I was even more experienced.

I can’t say this journey of self-publishing was the easiest; it has had its challenges.  However, this challenge was educational:  I learned new programs, new processes, and found new websites.

Now, if I’ve done every thing correctly, I should be getting a notice that the book went into the Smashword’s Premier Catalog distribution.

I’m crossing my fingers just in case.


P.S.  Wouldn’t you know it.  I originally published this particular blog with a HUGE grammar error in the title–feint of heart, instead of faint of heart.    Yup, I still continue to make those dastardly little beastie errors.



[2] I’d like to hope that someday I’ll get to ask Karen about her side of the story—what it was like, how did it feel, what book did he discover . . .

About Diana Stout

Screenwriter, author, former English professor
This entry was posted in Motivation, Setting goals, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Publishing Online – Not For the Faint of Heart

  1. kendibanks says:

    Congratulations! I am 20 years old and am an aspiring writer. Your article has given me a lot of helpful information.


  2. As I’ve been self-publishing my magazine stories from the 1980s, I’ve been fortunate to have my son-in-law willing to do the formatting for me. I might have him teach me how to do it, but I guess I’d rather put my energy (which I seem to have a lot less of!) into the rewriting. But congrats on your self-publishing venture and wishing you much success. It’s a whole new world for sure.



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