Behind The Books:  The expected challenge – and the unexpected fun – of self-publishing on Amazon

When I completed my first novel in 1995, there was only one choice for an author who hoped to find readers:  commercial publication.  At the time, there were dozens of publishing houses – and no Internet – so the only real way to get a publisher to read your work was to get a literary agent to represent you.  I was fortunate enough to find an agent who thought my work was good enough to be published, but she couldn’t find a publisher who did.   When friends asked how my writing was going in those days, I told them “I’ve been turned down by eight of America’s greatest publishers, I’ll have you know!”  

The joke grew stale and ultimately grim, though, when I was unable to find an agent to represent me on either of my next two books.  When I finally struck [fool’s] gold again by getting the agent I mentioned in my blog on Death At The Howard – but not finding favor with any of the dwindling number of publishers still out there in 2012 – I was faced with four choices:  (1) give up writing altogether; (2) keep writing, but give up the hope of ever getting published; (3) keep writing and keep trying to get published; or (4) keep writing and publish myself.

The people who chose to publish themselves in the ‘90s and early 2000s usually did so by finding a “vanity publisher” that was happy to Print Your Book! for a fee, slap a cover on it, and mail you as many copies as you wanted to sell yourself.  The typical author would then pile them into the trunk of his car and appear in random local settings to hawk the book, almost always in vain.  Notwithstanding all those earnest efforts, the most common description of a self-published author in those days was Loser.  For most people writing novels at that time, the thought of putting in all the work and money required to get yourself in print only to be ultimately unread and stigmatized as a loser was more than enough to dissuade them from going the self-publishing route.

It took me, as I suspect it took many prospective authors laboring in that era, a long time to overcome that mindset and finally decide that publishing myself was the right choice.  When I made the decision to do it, I also made one other important decision:  to have fun with it.  Publishing on Amazon turned out to be a great way to take the stress out of the process and keep the fun in it — and, no, I am not their shill, but rather a satisfied consumer who thinks they have a process worth sharing with other souls who may harbor all the intimidating fears and unfulfilled dreams I did.

The main way that Amazon makes the process fun is by making it easy.  You upload your book to their server by pushing a few buttons.  You can design your own cover if you want or you can use their services to design one.   You get to see the book in draft online and submit as many re-drafts as you like before approving it in final.  Once you approve it, it ordinarily appears online in a few days, complete with cover image and the first chapter for readers to browse, and most importantly, becomes available to other people to buy, read, and, hopefully, enjoy.

Here’s the link to Amazon’s paperback publishing site, CreateSpace:, and its electronic book publishing site, Kindle:  

Besides making the process easy, Amazon also makes it affordable.  If you choose to design your own cover – or, like me – pay someone else to design it, the whole process is, in fact, free.  If you choose to pay them to design it, the fee is pretty nominal.

I wanted to provide my own cover designs because I had certain images in mind for both of the books I wanted to publish, but I had no idea about how to pull them together or find anyone who did.  I was apprehensive about working with a random designer I found on the Internet, so I turned to two of my most trusted sources:  my son, Ben, and my daughter, Annie.  

I knew that one of Ben’s roommates at Syracuse, Dan Meth, was a professional cartoonist who had designed the ketubah for Ben’s wedding, which I liked a lot.  I asked Ben if he would put me in touch with Dan, which he did, and Dan worked with me like the pro he is.   Specifically, after I told Dan the image I had in mind, he e-mailed several designs for my review and comment.  After not too many back-and-forths, he produced the great image that graces the cover of Death At The Howard.  Check out his work at

When I asked Dan to do the rest of the cover, he also worked with me like a pro – by telling me that I needed a graphic designer to do the complete layout of the book, including the back cover, the spine, the print work, and any photos I wanted to display.  My learning curve on the art of graphic design was an arrow pointing straight up, but once I had a grasp on what it actually was, I needed to find a competent, imaginative designer to work with me.  Enter Annie Tevelin.

Annie’s business ( brought her in contact with several graphic designers, one of whom was Leslie Williams, who I wound up engaging to do the graphic design for both books.  Death At The Howard was pretty straightforward, but what I wanted to see on the cover of Siege Of The Capital made it a very challenging assignment.  Essentially, I imagined a swirl of photographs that related to not only the siege, but also the murders of seven members of the family of Hamaas Khaalis, the man behind the siege, four years earlier.  It was also important to me not to exploit the incident by, for example, emphasizing bloodshed or demonizing Khaalis.  It required a delicate blend of technical skill, artistry, and persistence, and Leslie demonstrated a high level of excellence in all respects.  Her work can be seen at  

Dan and Leslie did not, of course, provide their services for free, but their charges were very reasonable, and both of them gave their time, talents, and commitment well beyond what I paid for.  

In sum, I met my goals of having fun, producing a quality product, getting readers, and most importantly now, being inspired to write my next Jake Katz novel.


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