Publishing My First Book

Okay, this blog's title is a bit of a misnomer. Let's go ahead and get that out of the way upfront. My first published work was a non-fiction instructional book called The HTML & ASP Handbook that was intended to teach newcomers the fundamentals of building basic or complex web pages using those two common languages. It was poorly formatted and edited and was released in 2005, the wild west days of self-publishing where literally anything could be printed for a fee. The book has since been retired though it may still live on somewhere in the bowels of the Internet where things that should have died remain as immortal reminders of our past.

No, this article is about getting my first book published with Newman Springs Publishing. I want to share a detailed accounting of my experiences going through the publishing process with this group so that others may know what to expect or to have as a comparison to their experiences with maybe other publishers.

I won't bore you with the details around the dozens of submissions I made to the numerous publishers out there. Instead, I will start from the point where Bob from Newman Springs reached out to me to talk with me more about what I had submitted and from there through the release of my first book, The Ascension Legacy - Book 1: The Shamed Ranger.

The Beginning

It was February 2019. I was leaving the capitol building in Austin where I had just met with one our state's elected representatives to discuss some potential changes to our state's laws regarding individuals with special needs. My phone had been on silent for the duration of my time in the capitol and it wasn't until after I was on my way home that I realized I had a voicemail from a number that I was not familiar with.

Half expecting to hear some automated message about my car's warranty, I let the message play over my car's stereo speakers.To my surprise it was not someone calling about my car's warranty but rather from someone named Bob who had received my submission and wanted to talk with me about my work more. I was flabbergasted and frankly happy that I had waited to play the message while I was sitting in a parking lot and not on the highway where the shock and surprise might have caused a wreck.

I called Bob back that day and we discussed at length about Newman Springs, my submission and the other works associated with it, and just random details about ourselves. It was a very friendly and informative call. I had no qualms discussing things with Bob and at no point in time did he say anything that seemed shady or questionable. I came away at the end of that call comfortable with the initial contact between us.

Now, I still did my research on who Newman Springs Publishing was. I didn't just look at their website but I scanned through their social media pages. I checked them out with the BBB. I Googled them to see what I could find out about them. Everything Bob told me on the phone seemed to check out and was consistent with what I found.

The only thing that was cause for pause was the financial obligation to me. Bob was very honest that Newman Springs was a self-publishing type service and that I would essentially pay for them to do editing, typesetting, cover design, and all of the other administrative work that goes into registering books for ISBN numbers and converting my written work into both a printed book and an eBook. This is pretty much the standard for most self-publishing service providers so I was prepared for that because, let's be honest, self-publishing was always the most likely avenue for me if I really wanted to see my work published at any level.

Bob explained what the process of being published through Newman Springs would entail, both from a cost perspective to me and from a procedural process of their services. He explained in that first call what the standard price was and that it could be paid out over the course of the process but that my book would not be released to retail until the price was paid in full, which seems reasonable when you think about it. He went on to explain that the average turnaround time to go from draft to retail release was nine months so the payment schedule to pay out the cost of their services would be spread out over nine months, again reasonable.

Over the next few weeks Bob and I exchanged a few emails and phone calls as I continued to ask him various questions that sprang to mind from day to day. Bob was always very informative and seemed to happily answer my questions without hesitation or frustration. By mid-March I had decided that wanted to pursue things further with Newman Springs but that I wanted to take a little time to talk things over more with my wife and to complete the purchase of our new house before taking on anything new. Bob understood and waited patiently for me to make the next move. He provided me with a copy of the publishing agreement, i.e. contract, and told me that when I was ready just to send a signed copy of that back to him but that when that would be was entirely up to me.

It was late May of that year, a full 3 months from my first conversation with Bob, before things settled down and I was finally ready to look at that contract again. When I finally sat down to read the contract I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was nothing in the contract that Bob and I had not discussed and that its contents matched perfectly with the expectations Bob had given me. The contract was good.

By the end of May I had signed the contract, sent it back to Bob, and established a payment plan to go for the next nine months while the people at Newman Springs and I worked to refine my work into publishable material. Bob introduced me to Adam who would work as my liaison and would communicate any feedback or instructions that had I to the appropriate teams working on my content. Adam and had a few phone calls and emails to get both of us on the same page and kick off things.

Things looked to be on the right track and I could not have been happier.

The Money Hiccup

As I said earlier, going through self-publishing means that as the author I have to put up some money to pay for certain services like editing and cover design and I had opted to pay that balance out over the life of the project and not as 1 lump sum upfront. Partly because I did not want to spend that much money at one time and I wanted to make sure that Newman Springs delivered. If the project soured and they weren't doing what they said they would then I could theoretically pull the plug on those payments and keep them from getting more money but luckily it did not come to that and they delivered.

However, there was an instance where it turned out that I did not deliver.

In August I got a call from the accounting department at Newman Springs. My payment that month had not gone through and it had put my project on hold for non-payment. My card had expired and I had not updated my record with the new card. We corrected the information over the phone and by the end of the day the money had been paid and my account was in the green again. All seemed to be back on track but it would later turn out that it had caused an unintended side effect that would rear its ugly head months down the road.

You see, the contract and payment agreement that we setup called for automatic payments of my charges to be made on the 1st of each month. But when my card expired and we updated things with the new card, the system was changed to charge the new card on the 15th of each month and nobody realized the impact that had until it was much later in the process.

Basically, each month on the 1st my account had nothing paid to it so it was put in a past due state and put on hold until the 15th when the automatic draft kicked in to bring the account current. There were no bills or notices sent to alert me to the issue but at the same time there is an online portal that I could have logged into to check my account status to see that it was not in sync which could have prompted me to reach out and make a change to rectify the situation.

It was February of 2020 before that little hiccup was noticed and sorted out with some effort and frustration. But at the end of the day, the issue was mine and not Newman Springs technically. It started with an issue with my payment information and was perpetuated by an honest error made during the process of fixing that issue. Would it have been nice to have figured that out sooner and fix it? Sure. Would I have liked for Newman Springs to take notice of the issue and reach out to address it? Sure, but I'm just one of who knows how many authors in their system and I'm not even real sure how such a situation would appear on their end. I mean, my account would show past due for a few days each month and then magically fix itself. I'm not sure how much attention that would catch since it fixed itself each month before it could draw too much attention.

Either way, the fault was mine and in the end it was fixed but it would have been better for me had I fixed it sooner.

Editing & Typesetting

From May to roughly October, during with time the money hiccup happened, I worked with Adam and the team at Newman Springs to do heavy editing and typesetting of my manuscript in preparation of my rough written word becoming a refined printed work.

The editors were focused on spelling, punctuation, and applying different publishing standards like when to use single quotes versus double quotes or how individual thoughts should be done in italics whereas standard dialogue is not. It was basically copy editing and not developmental editing where they identify plot holes or other parts of the book that need reworking or revising. They took what I wrote and made sure it was spelled correctly and used proper grammar and punctuation.

The process was the editors would take a few weeks to apply their standards to my work and then an edited copy would be sent back to me for review. I could accept or reject individual changes, make suggestions or changes of my own in place of the ones they provided, and even make new suggestions of changes to things that I found that may have slipped by under the radar of the editors. Adam would take my feedback to the editors and process would start anew. A few weeks later a new revision was slide into my Inbox from Adam and the circle would continue.

We did go through a few rounds of editing. I found a number of things that I wanted changed. Some were legit errors that the editors missed for some reason and others were just things that I found during review that I wanted changed just because. This back and forth in the editing process meant that this initial phase in the publishing process took a few months. Each time I sent it back without full approval, for whatever reasons I had, it would take a few weeks before the next revision was available.

Eventually, the editing process was deemed complete and we moved from editing to typesetting. This is where the team at Newman Springs takes the revised copy and applies the formatting standards to create a file ready to be printed. Basically it is converting a normal word doc for portrait orientation to landscape orientation and then applying fonts and margins so that when the pages are printed that the text is on both sides while leaving enough of a gap in the middle of the page for the book binding. Sure, that's an oversimplification of the process but it give you the gist of what happens.

And just like with editing, the typesetting takes weeks between each rendition so if there is a problem that needs to be corrected it delays the process several weeks while you wait for the changes to be made and resubmitted to you for review and approval.

For me, this process ended up being problematic. The first time they sent me the typeset version I sent it back because I found several corrections that needed to be made that had slipped through during the editing phase somehow. This meant the copy had to go back to the editors and be fixed there before going back to the typesetters to reapply the settings.

The second attempt was also rejected. Not because there was anything wrong that I noticed with the typesetting at that point but because I found one of the chapters of the book to be partially missing. Somehow during the process someone managed to select and delete the second half of a chapter leaving it to end abruptly in mid-word. It wasn't even like it was just missing a paragraph but just stopped like I had quit typing and hadn't even bothered to finish the current word. I pointed out the error to Adam who went back to the typesetters to have it fixed which meant it would be a few more weeks before we could wrap up this phase of the process and move on.

However, even before we could get the corrected version back with the full chapter included, we ran into another issue. I noticed in the online portal that it flagged my book as being 194 pages. Now, when I submitted my book initially I had formatted it to the documented submission standards I found online which pushed my page count to roughly 550. The drastic difference between 550 and 194 caught my attention so I called it out to Adam. We had a phone call about it and tried to persuade me that it was good thing but I wasn't a believer. I demanded that the typesetters fix the formatting to increase the font and line spacing. When I looked at what they had done more closely and not just at the words I had written, the content seemed squished together more than I felt comfortable with.

Of course, if you opt to do self-publishing you have to understand that the price of you book is not your choice. The price is dictated by the publisher based on the calculated cost to print the book + their commissions + plus the royalties owed to the author. This means that the more pages a book has then the higher the cost of the book is. Going from their target of 194 pages to the comprised page count of 316 meant an increased cost to print so that led to an increased retail price. The change in price was no substantial and I felt the changes helped to make the book easier to read than the more compressed format but just like the other changes, it would take weeks for the format to be applied to my liking and submitted for my approval.

Cover Design

After the typesetting phase came cover art design and, if I'm honest, Newman Springs and I both got lucky here with my first book.

I suck at art. I mean I can't even draw a stick figure correctly. But I knew from my conversations with Bob and Adam that as we approached the part of the project that involved developing the cover art for my book that I would need to provide the art team at Newman Springs with a description of what I wanted artistically so they could try to create something along those lines for me.

Knowing my artistic skills are horrid, I reached out to a good friend of mine who is VERY talented when it comes to both digital and print art. This man can literally create anything and it always looks spectacular. My goal in contacting him was to bounce the description I had prepared for the Newman Springs team off him first to make sure that it was adequate. Being an artist himself, I figured he would be a good person to give the details to and see if he had any comments or suggestions on how I could improve it or what it might be lacking to better describe to someone else the vision I saw in my head.

John, my friend, did way more than expected. He had me email what I had described over the phone to him since that would be how I would communicate it to Newman Springs and that would be a good trial run. I sent what I had to him that morning and that afternoon he sent me back a complete art workup based on it that was damn near exactly what I had envisioned. When I told John how nearly perfect of a representation it was he graciously gave me permission to use that art for my book's cover design.

I sent the art concepts from John to Adam who confirmed that they could use them. I made one suggestion for the team to change, basically taking the original helmet off the character and replace it with hair. They had only to take John's work and tweak it to fit the format and measurements needed to be used for my book's cover.

The process still took a couple weeks because my cover art was not the only cover art being worked on and I had to wait my turn. Unfortunately, all of the delays during the editing and typesetting phases and the standard turnaround time in the cover design phase had now pushed us well into November. We were still well within the nine month average project range but with Christmas right around the corner those early delays were pushing us closer and closer beyond that point.

Printer Proofs

With the editing done, typesetting in place, and John's cover art applied with my requested tweaks, we were ready to move to the final phase before release. In this final phase, the fully revised and formatted body of work is sent to the printers. The printer prints several copies of the book as a demo run and the copies are mailed to the author for one last final review and approval. That's the great thing and the worst thing about this process is that you, the author, have final say when something is approved to move to the next phase. Its awesome to be so involved in the process but it also sucks because you can approve things with errors that that really shouldn’t out there in a finished product that represents you in the literary world.

At the onset of the project I was told that it would take 4-6 weeks for the printer’s proofs to be printed and delivered to me for my review. Unfortunately, because the editing and typesetting phases had taken longer than expected, it was practically Thanksgiving before everything was sent to the printers. That time of the year is the busy season for the printers for those 4-6 weeks that it normally takes gets increased to 8 or more weeks. In the end, it was practically the end of January before that box of books showed up on my doorstep.

With this being my first book (aside from the book that shall not be named again), I was ecstatic to see the box arrive. I rushed to cut open the box and pull out each copy. I had to see John’s cover art on a physical book and it was glorious. Of course this led to an obligatory photo shoot of the stack of books that included my name across them. 

After taking my photos, I grabbed the top copy and settled into the chair at my desk and began reading. I was determined to make sure the inside of the book looked as good as the outside. But it was not meant to be.

Within just the first few pages I had already found multiple things that I wanted changed so my first reading of my printed book turned into an intense editing session. I went from finishing a relaxing read to spending a few hours a day over the next few days highlighting and marking each and every error and correction. By the end of the process I had identified around one-hundred changes. 100!

Now, it may sound really bad that after multiple rounds of editing that I found 100 errors that slipped past the editors but roughly half of the changes that I marked were instances of where I had used the wrong character name is several places. The copy editing the publisher performed didn’t check for things like that so I can’t really blame them for missing things that weren’t their jobs to catch. It was my job and I missed them, even in the dozens of times I read through the manuscript before I had even submitted it to Newman Springs for consideration.

The flip side to this story though is that the other half of the errors were things like bad punctuation, misspelled words, and just wrong words that don’t make sense in the context which they appear. Stats versus status and other similar missteps. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the number of mistakes that I would have expected the editors to have found but nobody is perfect and mistakes will happen. In the grand scheme of things, they found far more errors than they missed and I shouldn’t focus on only the negative. 

The end result was that I had to post several changes back to Adam to be incorporated at the 11th hour which would also require another printer proof to be provided. This meant that it would be many weeks more before the book could be released. We started the project on track for a possible October/November release that was then moved to January/February but now the delay was looking even worse.

The Final Obstacle

A few weeks passed and Adam sent back the updated electronic version for me to review before going back to the printer. Things really started to unravel at this point.

While reviewing the changes to make sure that they had been all incorporated I noticed that one of the corrections I gave Adam before contained an obvious error and that same error made its way into the copy I had received back. I expressed my great dissatisfaction to Adam that my corrections had been sent back and somebody simply cut/pasted them into the document without providing any validation on the changes to ensure that they were correct. It was a very tense moment in the relationship between me and Newman Springs.

February turned to March and March turned to April and I had not seen the final correction from my original feedback after looking at the first proof. And it was a matter of removing an errant apostrophe, nothing more. No major reworking of content or dozens of changes, just the removal of a single character from a specific line on a specific page but somehow two months had passed with no updates. My emails and phone calls to Adam had gone unanswered and my frustrations only grew with each day that passed with no responses or updated content.

Eventually my patience wore out and I reached out and complained to Newman Springs. I didn’t know what to expect at this point but Sadie appeared in my Inbox a few days later to advise me that she had taken over for Adam on my account and she would be new publishing directory. We spoke briefly about the current state of my book and Sadie promptly worked to get the very minor change that had been stuck in limbo for the last 2 months. Very quickly after that things got back on track and by May I had a newly printed copy of my book with all of the corrections in place.

Everything finally was in place. I gave Sadie my final approval and the book was ready for release. It took 13 months, 4 more than the original 9 I had expected but it was finally done. I’ll take ownership for 2 of those extra months from my learning curve of the publishing process, the extra changes that I wanted made, and the things I missed during the phases where they were suppose to have been caught. But the other 2 months I feel definitely fell squarely on the feet of Newman Springs and more directly on Adam’s desk. I don’t know how many other authors he may have been managing but his level of communication I felt contributed to some of the issues and since being replaced by Sadie I’ve had no similar issues. Book 2 has completed the publishing process and through it all Sadie has been the picture of perfection.

The End Result

Issues aside, Newman Springs Publishing Delivered on what was promised. I paid the exact amount of money I was asked to pay and they did exactly what they said they would. Could some of the issues been avoided? Yes. Do I think there could have been room for improvement on their side? Yes, but by that same token there was room for improvement on my side too.

My overall experience with Newman Springs was positive. Other than some communication breakdown between me and Adam which was resolved when I brought to their attention, things have largely gone smoothly. Smooth enough that not long after releasing the first book in the series that I submitted book 2 and have since completed the whole publishing process with the Newman Springs team a second time and am preparing to start it all over again with book 3.

I don't think anyone will always have a perfect experience and I think each author/publisher partnership is prone to issues and errors. To say that because one bad thing happened in the process is enough to discount or discredit the publisher as a whole is excessive. The value that I found with Newman Springs was the fact that when issues arose, especially issues from their side, that they worked to correct those issues and improve my experience as their client. I felt my feedback was respected and that my satisfaction was driving factor for their team. Even when we did not see eye-to-eye, the team at Newman Springs seemed devoted to finding a viable solution that would work for both me and them.

That said a lot to me about them as a company and is part of why I have enjoyed my experience with them enough to do not just one book but now three with plans to do even more.

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