Category Archives: Self Publishing

Notes on self publishing

What’s the point?

It’s been months since I’ve written anything for this blog. The reason is, there’s not much to say. As far as my writing goes, I’m in a bit of a slump. For several months, I just can’t seem to muster the energy or focus my concentration. First, there was the quintuple bypass operation I had in October. And then my dad died in November (coronary artery disease), which, despite his advanced age (93), came as a surprise. And then our tiny dog died in December (kidney disease). The last few months of 2018 kind of sucked for me.

I’m feeling much better now, with just a few lingering minor medical annoyances, but getting back into my daily writing routine is proving difficult. I suspect I may be suffering from a mild case of ‘What’s the point?’.

I was very excited when an agent asked to see the full manuscript of my novel Troubled Space back in September. I sent it to her immediately, of course, but I haven’t heard back. I sent a polite follow-up a few weeks ago. No response to that, either. I don’t know why. Maybe she didn’t get it. Maybe she’s backlogged and hasn’t yet opened it. Maybe she didn’t like my manuscript and lacks the common courtesy to let me know. Whatever the reason, it’s kind of depressing, and it’s probably the main cause of my current deficit of enthusiasm.

But I still think Troubled Space is a great novel, so I’ve sent a query to one of the few reputable publishers who accept unagented submissions. They want three months to look at it before I send it to anyone else. So, until the end of May, my queries are done. I expect no more replies from agents, not even from the one who asked to see my manuscript. I do expect a reply from the publisher, and I’m hoping for the best, but I expect another rejection.

Advice to prospective authors: Writing is not a good hobby to take up if you need positive reinforcement to maintain a sense of self-worth.

But getting back to my current case of ‘What’s the point?’. Well, for me, the point is that I enjoy writing stories. Yes, I wish other people would enjoy reading them, and I can’t say that’s not important to me, but it’s not the main point. I simply like creating stuff….

Speaking of which…. At some point in the not-too-distant past, my dad decided he wanted to take up painting as a hobby. He bought paint, brushes, easels, and canvases, and, in the course of three years, he produced one small painting. When he died, I had to decide what to do with the unused canvases and art supplies. It seemed a shame to waste them, so I tried my hand at painting. I’m not very good at it, but it’s a creative hobby that I find I enjoy in the same way I enjoy writing. One advantage it has is that it takes nowhere near as long to complete a painting as it does a novel.

Status on My Agent Search

With completion of my ninth novel, I decided to try turning my writing hobby into more of a vocation. After all, my previous books are doing all right. Reader reviews (for which I am immensely grateful) are averaging above four stars, and I am receiving small but consistent royalties. I wondered if it might be time for me to go from ‘indie’ to ‘pro.’ I figured the first step is to find an agent.

So, rather than jumping into designing a cover and reformatting my latest completed manuscript for publication, I began searching for an agent. There aren’t as many as I had thought. I found only 28 that: a) were open to new submissions, b) represented the types of books I write, and c) are seemingly reputable. I may have missed some, but using the resources available to me, that’s all I could come up with.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve sent queries to all of them. The last went out yesterday. So far, I’ve gotten six responses, all rejects. I appreciate those because about half of all agencies advise authors that they only respond if they want to see your manuscript, which means you end up maintaining false hope far longer than you need to.

It’s difficult not to feel discouraged by this process. If you’re an author, you know what I mean. You work on your story every day for a year or more, preparing outlines, writing draft after draft, revising, editing…. Finally, you’re done. You think your completed novel is great. You’re proud of it. You are certain readers will love it, but first you have to get literary agents, the gatekeepers to traditional publication, to look at it, and they won’t. And what’s worse, you don’t know why they won’t. If they grace your painfully crafted and personalized query letter with a response at all it’s a normally a generic form letter that politely says thanks but no thanks. They don’t even want to look at your book. Your work is rejected without anyone actually seeing it.

I suppose agents receive a lot of queries. There must be millions of people like me who have completed novels. Agents can’t possibly read them all. I understand that. I don’t like it, but I understand it, which is why I’m grateful to those agents who respond, even if it is only with a form letter. It’s better than nothing.

 

 

Alpha/Beta readers for An Android’s Dog’s Tale

I haven’t been blogging much recently. I’d like to excuse this by saying I’ve been busy, and I have, but part of it must be attributed to priorities. I’m not really a blogger. I’m a fiction writer, and a dad, and several other things that all take priority over writing book reviews or posting updates to my blog.

Most of my behind-the-keyboard time over the last few months has been devoted to completing two novels. The first is the Gelfling Gathering, a short (52,000 word) young adult novel that I wrote for a contest being sponsored by the Jim Henson Company. It is a prequel to The Dark Crystal and takes place about nine hundred years before the events in the movie. My novel is complete, and I am ready (and eager) to submit a 10,000 word extract when the contest submission period opens in two weeks.

Once I felt satisfied I had done all I could in preparation for the contest, I resumed work on the book I laid aside when I learned of (and decided to enter) the Dark Crystal Author Quest. I completed the first draft of that novel a few weeks ago. I was only three chapters away from finishing when I stopped work on it to focus on the Gelfling Gathering, so this was not some kind of super accomplishment.

This novel, An Android Dog’s Tale, is also a prequel. It precedes the events that are related in the two stories that together comprise my lighthearted epic Defying Fate (The Warden Threat and The Warden War) and, of course, the novels that come after (Amy’s Pendant and Disturbing Clockwork).

This is the book description I’ve come up with for An Android’s Dog Tale and the ‘back cover’ blurb for the paperback edition.

Book Description:
The Galactic Organic Development Corporation searches the galaxy for primitive sentient species to save from extinction, and then transplants colonies of them to Corporation agricultural planets where they can live happily and safely. The transplanted species survives, and the Corporation Project planets produce some of the most expensive and sought-after food in the galaxy, which it sells to developed worlds with this guarantee:

Caringly grown, cultivated and harvested by simple sentient life forms.
No artificial ingredients, pesticides, herbicides, or mechanical equipment used in processing.
Guaranteed 100% organic.

 Of course, keeping the primitives primitive enough to ensure the Corporation’s promise of natural purity can be a challenge, especially when they’re like those it found twenty thousand years ago huddling in caves and scraping a meager and precarious existence on a pale blue planet in the Milky Way’s Orion–Cygnus spiral arm. The humans keep trying to change things.

From the Back Cover:
His job is to observe humans and make sure they aren’t doing anything that will upset either their simple lifestyles or the profitability of the Corporation. But MO-126 is not a robot. He is a Mobile Observer android, albeit one in the form of a dog of no remarkable pedigree or distinction. Still, he has free will. He can make choices. After millennia of observing humans, he questions whether the Corporation’s plans for them have priority over those they might choose for themselves. His decision will determine how well he does his job as well as the fate of humanity on this planet.

When I posted on Facebook that I finished the novel, I was thrilled that several people living in different countries around the world offered to give it a test run as alpha/beta readers. I can’t thank them enough for volunteering to do this for me. I eagerly await their feedback, positive or negative. This novel is a bit different from my others. It’s shorter (about 72,000 words), and it follows a single character over a 15,000 year period through ten different stories. I was a bit hesitant about writing a book structured this way. It’s not revolutionary, but it is uncommon. I remain anxious about how it will be received.

I also did a bit of work designing a cover for the book. The one below is formatted for the paperback edition.
DogTalesPB1
How much editing needs to be done will depend on the feedback I receive from my kind volunteers. I look forward to doing the final revisions.

In the meantime, I have begun taking notes for future books. I have at least three ideas I would like to develop over the next year. One is loosely related to my previous novels. The other two are (as in the immortal words Monty Python’s Flying Circus) something completely different. One of the latter will probably be the basis for my next novel, but it’s too early to say more. All I will say is that I am still writing and more books are planned.

I offer my thanks to all who have read my stories and even more to those who have written and posted reviews. I really appreciate these. Reviews are probably the best way for obscure, independent writers (such as me) to become noticed… well, that and an outrageous number of sales. Most of all, thank you to those brave alpha/beta readers of An Android Dog’s Tale. I hope you like it.

A Book and Its Cover

As you may know, my first two novels, The Warden Threat and The Warden War, are offered together in one volume exclusively for Kindle under the title Defying Fate. Recently, a reader submitted the following unsolicited review, which was titled “Good characters, good story.”

 This somewhat quirky, somewhat light sci-fi/fantasy story was just what I was looking for. The characters were interesting and believable, and it made for a really fun, well-written, well-edited book. Have to say that I just hate the cover and if I had seen it before buying the book I probably wouldn’t have gotten it. I could so picture our hero doing his ‘resurrection dance’. There were some loose ends that I would enjoy seeing tied up and I hope there is another book to follow.

 She liked the book enough to give it five stars, but she hated this cover.

DF Cover4 (comp)

I have to admit that I was not entirely pleased with it, myself, but I didn’t hate it. But if it is so bad it is deterring people from downloading and enjoying this book, it must go! I spent a fair amount of time this morning coming up with something different. This was the result.

 DF Cover5

My concern with this one is that it may appear too… dramatic. The book is fun. There is a good, exciting story, too, of course, but what sets it apart is the lighthearted tone throughout the story. I’m just not sure how to convey this in the cover. I suppose this is also a problem for other authors who mix genres.

There is a simple convention for some story genres. If the book is romance, put a young, shirtless guy in a dramatic pose of the cover. If it’s epic fantasy, include a sword. Space opera — a spaceship…. But a lighthearted science fiction story in a fantasy-like setting? There’s no standard for that, so you have to wing it. The closest well-known books to mine might be something like The Princess Bride or the later Discworld novels, but neither of these have a science fiction element.

This revised cover reuses part of the background I bought from a professional cover designer for the cover of The Warden Threat (which I decided not to use because it made it look like an angst-filled romance novel). I hope it will meet with approval, or at least not scare away readers.

(As for the loose ends, yes, those are tied up in the next book, Disturbing Clockwork, which will be available any day now.)

A Quick Summary of my Self-Publishing Adventure

SelfPubAdv0My brother sent me an email this morning, part of which said, “I have a friend who is interested in publishing poetry (sonets). He is elderly and doesn’t have a lot of cash to try this. How did you go about self publishing:  costs, web sites, etc.”

So this is what I wrote back to him. I figured I’d share it on my blog because it summarizes much of what I’ve discovered so far.

An author can turn to several places now if they want to publish but still keep full rights to what they create. That’s always been one of the biggest problems with traditional agents and publishers, at least for the author. Amazon is probably the biggest and overall best because there are no up front costs and they have a wider distribution than any other single self-publishing outlet, such as Barnes & Noble, Sony, Apple, or Smashwords. (Smashwords, however, I find the friendliest and easiest to use. I just don’t sell much through them. Most of my sales are eBooks for Kindle from Amazon.

Authors can publish their works digitally for Kindle through Kindle Direct Publishing (https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin). This uses your regular Amazon login information, and allows you to upload directly from ‘.doc’ files. It’s fairly intuitive to use, but there are guides available about how to do it.

Creating paperback editions can be done through Amazon’s Create Space (https://www.createspace.com/). Formatting for paperback is a bit more difficult, but it can be done. I did a post on one way to do this not long ago. It’s here if you want to see it: https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/my-self-publishing-adventure-episode-nine-formatting-your-book-for-paperback-publication/. The paperbacks you order for yourself for ‘proofs’ come at a discount, but you do have to pay for all but the first.

Once you have your books available for sale on Amazon, you can do a quick check of your status through Amazon’s Author Central (https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/home). I will caution that the reports you get from Author Central are not as accurate as those you get from KDP, for some reason.

As I said, all of these services through Amazon are free of up front costs for the author. Amazon does take a cut of sales, though. These are still considerably less than a traditional agent and publisher would take, and, of course, you retain full rights to your work, which I think is the biggest reason so many authors are now self-publishing.

Sounds good, right? What self-publishing means, though, is that the author does not get the support provided by traditional agents and publishers, and this is where the costs come in. Here are a few things someone considering self-publishing should consider:

1)      Editing – It is tough to edit your own work, tougher than I ever imagined until I tried it. A good editor is also hard to find and expensive. For a full-length book of 100,000 words, you should count on outside editing costing as much as $6,000. It could be more or less depending on the services you need. A quick proofreading can cost just 2¢ a word ($2,000 for a regular novel). My advice for poor authors is to know someone who has editorial experience and owes you a favor. Failing that, edit your book yourself and beg your friends and family to proofread it.
2)      Cover Design – This can cost as little as $100 to $200. I paid $200 for two covers. I got artwork for one and didn’t like it, so I created my own covers and ate the rest of the cost. I created my covers, which you can see on the “Novels” tab on my website, using the free image manipulation program, Gimp (http://www.gimp.org/), and Microsoft PowerPoint. Once you have determined the page count and size your paperback will be, Create Space can give you a template for the dimensions of the cover. Even if you only produce a digital edition, though, you still need a cover that can be displayed on websites.
3)      Formatting – This you can do yourself, honestly. It’s not that hard if you are proficient with Microsoft Word. From a good Word .doc file, both KDP and Create Space can produce quality products for Kindle and trade paperbacks.
4)      Marketing & Distribution – Now this is where the traditional publishers really have things sown up. They have access to book reviewers and to brick and mortar stores (those that are left) that self-publishers do not. They also may promote (advertise) your book, although I understand they don’t do this as much as they once did and now only really promote books they believe can be bestsellers. A self-published author, therefore, should have some online presence, such as a website, blog, Face Book page, Twitter account, and such. It also helps to establish a presence in forums such as Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/).

That’s a quick rundown of what I’ve leaned on my self-publishing adventure so far. Individual results may vary.

Related posts:
My Self-Publishing Adventure: https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/blog/my-self-publishing-adventure/

On Paid Book Reviews

About a month ago, a friend and former coworker emailed this Salon article link, The Dreaded Amazon Breast Curve, to the members of our informal discussion and self-assigned world problem-solving group. Despite the article’s strange title, it is about authors, specifically independent authors, paying for reviews of their books.

The Salon story begins like this, “The fact that many authors pay services to write positive Amazon reader reviews of their books…

Wait a minute! That’s not a fact! That’s the opposite of fact. It’s a fabrication, exaggeration, misinformation, politics, spin, a lie! It’s also not true. As it’s authority for this slanderous statement, the Salon article sites a report from the New York Times, The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy.

At the time, I told my friends that the examples provided in these articles must be exceptions. Very few self-published authors would stoop to buying good reviews. For one thing, it costs money, and that’s something most indie authors have in short supply. Another thing is that it’s dishonest. As someone who should know, I confidently informed our little group that the generalizations and extrapolations made by these articles were simply unsound. The idea of authors buying good reviews seemed so ridiculous to me, I thought little more about it…

…Until, this morning. I was driving one of my kids to school, when I heard this report on the radio — Five Ways to Spot a Fake Online Review (from NPR). Now this report specifically focused on restaurant reviews, but it began by talking about authors buying or posting fake book reviews.

I don’t know about restaurants, but obviously rumors about how widespread the practice of buying misleading book reviews is continues. I still don’t believe it is common. In fact, I believe it’s relatively rare. I’m a self-published author. I sometimes stop by forums and read blogs by other authors, and the consensus about this seems to be that the idea of buying positive reviews is repulsive.

I have never and I will never pay someone to review my books. Asking for reviews is fine. Providing an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) or a promotional copy of a book to a potential reviewer is fine. But this is the only form of payment I think an author (or publisher) should ever offer, and promotional book copies must be given without any guarantee that a review — good, bad, or indifferent is forthcoming.

I probably read (or reread) about one-hundred novels a year. Most come from the public library, others I purchase, and I sometimes grab a free Kindle book during giveaways on Amazon when they sound like something I would like. I’ve reviewed several from all three sources. Normally, I post my reviews on this blog, on Amazon, and on Goodreads. Where I got the book has no impact on the likelihood of me writing a review. I have never and I will never accept money from an author to review one of his or her books. It would be inappropriate.

I believe there is a place for professional reviews and professional reviewers. I have no problem with reviewers being paid for unbiased reviews if they are employed by a magazine, newspaper, or similar media outlet, provided that the funding does not come from the authors, publishers, or anyone else with a financial interest in the books being reviewed.

I understand how hard it is for self-published authors to be noticed. I know this painfully well because I’m still struggling with it. So what, you might ask, is wrong with an unknown author paying for an honest review? How else will a new writer get attention?

Second question first — There are many, well, at least a few dozen websites that will consider reviewing books by self-published authors. Some only review indie books, and they do this impartially and without cost or any expectation of return favors. Some do it simply because they like reading and reviewing stuff they might not otherwise see. Search the web. You’ll find them.

First question second — The main reason authors should not pay for reviews is a matter of perception. It’s a matter of how the general book-buying public will perceive what is happening. We are not talking about paying someone to give you, as the author, an honest assessment of your book. We are talking about the author paying someone to tell the world how good his book is. Do you see the difference? Can you honestly not see why this might provide an impression of bias?

Authors live and die by reviews, especially independent authors. Traditional publishers don’t promote most of their authors as much as they once did perhaps, but one thing they do provide, by the very nature of being professional publishers, is a stamp of approval. A traditional publisher’s mark on a book tells readers that someone, other than the author and perhaps a few of his closest friends and family members, thinks his books are worth reading.

Chances are an indie author doesn’t have an agent, promoter, publisher, or anyone else helping him spread the news about his books. He needs his readers to help him do that, and one of the best ways his readers can help is by writing reviews. When the legitimacy of those reviews is called into question, what is left to show the world that someone thinks an indie author’s books are worth reading? Pretty much the author’s word for it, and no one expects him to be unbiased.

This is why reviews are so very important to indie writers. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say they are precious to them, and I believe this is why most indie authors are appalled at the idea of purchasing biased reviews. Doing so undermines the best way we have to build a reputation with readers.

I personally see the purchase of biased reviews as unethical, inconsiderate, and selfish. It’s also likely to backfire on the writer. Once it is discovered that he has paid for reviews, (or loaded Amazon with biased reviews he himself has written under bogus names) his work will be tainted. No matter how good it might be, the reviews will be discounted, even the honest ones from regular readers. If that taint fell only on the guilty, it would be poetic justice. But it is not that well targeted. It stains all of us.

Related Posts:

 

On Rejection

As you may know, I submitted queries for my third book to three publishers a little over four months ago. I just heard back from the last one. Another rejection.

It would be a lie to say I’m not disappointed. Actually, it would be a lie to say I’m not surprised. I am surprised. I think Amy’s Pendant is a very good book and I was cautiously optimistic that it would be grabbed by one of the three.

It is difficult not to take this as a criticism of the quality of my book. A person would have to be exceptionally thick-skinned not to. Whereas I can be fairly stoic, I’m not a robot (although there are some in my stories), and it twinges. But I’m adult. I can take criticism, so I must consider that there may be a quality issue, something about the plot or characters or prose that don’t quite measure up.

I read a lot, quite a lot compared to most, and if there are flaws like these, I’m not seeing them. My books compare favorably to those I’ve enjoyed most. When I reread them now, I can almost forget I wrote them, and I find myself wishing there were more books like these. Then I think that perhaps I’ve pinpointed the problem. It’s a matter of taste, and when it comes to books (and, quite honestly, many other things) my taste often falls outside the norm. I have enjoyed a few bestsellers, but more often than not, I’ve picked one up and wondered why it became so popular.

If this is the problem, I may have an insurmountable obstacle ahead of me. Taste is personal. It tends to change over time, but I can’t change a person’s taste to match mine, nor would I if I could.

I could, I suppose, write books like those that are popular, but I won’t. I won’t write what I wouldn’t want to read — and reread. An author will end up rereading his or her own work perhaps scores of times before it is submitted to anyone else, so they had better like it or have a fondness for aspirin an antacids.

I could give it up and just not write. This is theoretically possible. But it would redefine who I am, and I don’t wish to do that. I’m good with who I am, for the most part, although I wouldn’t mind being a bit taller, a few years younger, and considerably wealthier.

No, I’m going to have to continue as I have, writing what I like, and making it available to others as best I can. They can judge my books for themselves. Not everyone likes the same things. What a dull world it would be if they did.

My next step is to query agents. I haven’t tried that yet, but I’m hoping I can attract the attention of a few. Agents have access to publishers that authors do not.

In other news, my fourth book is coming along well. I think I’ll be proud of it once it is complete, as I am the others. It may be done by the end of the year. When and how it will be published is another matter.

Related Posts:
My Self Publishing Adventure
Ode to an Overconfident Wordsmith

My Self-Publishing Adventure Episode Twelve – Is Free Too Much?

How’s this for a business model? An independent developer invests thousands of hours over several years creating a product. He pays hundreds if not thousands of dollars for testing and packaging. When the fruit of his labor is finally ready for the public, he gives it away free.

Insane, right? Yet this is what indie authors commonly do. It has almost become an industry standard. It is, in fact, one of the major selling points of KDP Select. Giving Amazon an exclusive for the digital edition of an author’s book for ninety days allows the writer to give that book away for up to five days — free — for nothing.

Of course, the author hopes that thousands of people will obtain a free copy and love it so much they will tell their friends and write glowing reviews. I mean, who would turn down a free masterpiece? The answer, apparently, is ‘most people.’

But back to the point of sharing my adventure, I’ll tell you what I did and what happened.

I decided to make Defying Fate, the combined digital edition of my first two books, available only on Kindle and therefore eligible for KDP Select. This allows U.S. Amazon Prime members to borrow it free. (As far as I know, no one yet has.) It also allows me to reduce the price to $0 for up to five days as a promotion. I decided to do this because I have taken advantage of these types of promotions when other authors did them. I downloaded several free books that I probably would not have purchased otherwise. Some I liked. Some I didn’t. I wrote reviews on those I did. The reviews were a kind of ‘thank you’ for the free book, and they may help both book and author get more attention. Who knows? Someone might see them.

I planned my free promotion for the first two days of July 2012. They fell on a Sunday and Monday. My thinking was that some people would be planning time off work that week in conjunction with the 4th of July holiday and might want something new to read.

I began promoting my free promotion (yeah, I know) a couple of weeks in advance on my blog, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Each day I’d send at least one tweet telling the world that my free days were coming, and I sent additional Tweets each day it ran. I got a lot of help from Twitter friends who retweeted my tweets to their followers to help me get the word out. They are some sweet tweeters.

The technical part worked well. The free promotion was simple to schedule from the KDP site, and when the day came, the price dropped to $0 on Amazon sites for the U.S. U.K. Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. When the scheduled promotion ended, the price returned to the regular $4.99 (or the applicable equivalent in Pounds or Euros).

There was only one glitch I heard of, and that came from a nice lady in the Netherlands who could not download from any of the Amazon sites. This may have more to do with Dutch law than Amazon policy. I really don’t know. I sent her a copy.

So how did it go? During the two-day free promotion, there were 186 downloads on Amazon.com (U.S.A.), 28 downloads on Amazon.co.uk (U.K.), and 4 downloads on Amazon.de (Germany). That’s it, just 218 worldwide. To be honest, I had higher hopes.

I am unsure what to conclude. For one thing, I don’t know how these figures compare with others who have run KDP free promos. I also don’t know how the promotion affected my book’s ranking. Actually, I’m not a big fan of rankings. It implies that books are in competition. They are not. I am not competing for readers. I don’t want people to read my book instead of a book by some other author. I want them to read my book in addition to books by other authors.

Still, 218 seems like a low number to me. I may be in denial about this, but I’m sure this is a damn good book. Of course, only those who read it will know that, and my promotion just might result in a few more people who will do that. This is a good thing, and the promotion could be considered successful if only one more person ends up actually reading the book.

But why didn’t more people grab a free copy? I don’t know. Maybe my cover sucks. Maybe the book blurb on Amazon is uninteresting. I don’t think either is true, but my opinion on this is hardly unbiased. I simply may be overestimating the number of people who would enjoy a lighthearted epic adventure. I can only speculate about why, but a few things come to mind, two of which have much to do with perception and little to do with reality.

Again, this may be another case of denial, looking for ways to point blame anywhere but at my own work, so let me say once again that I may be dead wrong. My book may suck like a fusion-powered vacuum cleaner. All I can say without qualification is that I like it.

Whether denial or a rational hypothesis, these things occurred to me as possible explanations for why there were not more downloads.

  1. Word of the promotion did not reach enough people. I am not a social media superstar. I don’t have thousands of followers or subscribers, and I didn’t buy any advertising. It is quite possible that fewer than a thousand people ever saw anything about my promotion.
  2. There are some people, perhaps many, who assume that free things have no value. I consider it a sad comment on our society that value is equated with monetary cost. There are many things that I believe have true value, but money isn’t one of them. It is good for buying stuff, but much of the stuff that can be bought has no real value either. Be that as it may, ‘free’ may be a sign to some that the book isn’t worth reading. After all, if it was, I wouldn’t be giving it away, right?
  3. Then there is the indie stigma. There is still a perception that indie published books are not ‘really’ published, that they have poor plots, lousy prose, loads of typos, and a random approach to punctuation. In short, if it’s indie, it’s bad. Even it is free, an indie book isn’t worth the time.

Unfortunately, the only one of these an indie author can influence is the first. I probably won’t. I don’t want to peddle my books or myself, and I don’t think I have much talent when it comes to marketing. There is only one way that an author can avoid all three of these problems — traditional publishing. This is why I have decided to pursue this route for my next few novels at least.

My Self-Publishing Adventure Episode Eleven – A Summary of What I’ve Discovered

Last year I completed my first novel. I thought I completed it, anyway. My work on it was not done, however, although I did not realize this at the time.

I began work on the story several years ago when I still had a day job, working on it at night and on weekends, seldom drafting more than a chapter each month. Often, not even that. This was not getting the job done, so as soon as I could, I left my job. I had to work my ass off and kiss a lot of others, but I got promotions and eventually qualified for early retirement and a pension I was fairly sure I could live on. I said ‘thank you’ to my former employer (well, I said good-bye, anyway), and I escaped from the land of PowerPoint presentations and office cubicles. Now I could devote more time to writing, and I did.

Within three or four months, I drafted the final chapter of what ended up being a 240,000-word tome. It was a great story. I thought so, at least, and I still do.

Before I submitted any queries, I researched what publishers were looking for. To my dismay, my masterpiece did not meet specs. It was far too long for a traditional publisher to consider, so I started cutting. I eliminated scenes and subplots. I cut out exposition. Anything that could be removed without sacrificing the central story or characters was slashed. I changed the prose to make sure every remaining scene was written as succinctly as possible (unlike this blog post).

I was left with about 170,000 words. Still too long for a first novel, I thought. The book had four distinct acts, so I broke it after the second act and made it into two 85,000-word novels. This also did not meet publisher requirements because I understood they wanted novels between 100,000 and 140,000 words. I couldn’t get there without either padding each of the two parts or cutting out things from the combined work that I thought were essential to provide readers with a satisfying story.

While I was struggling with this, I joined a writers’ group and learned more about what publishers were looking for and about something else — self-publishing. I had never considered this before, but the more I looked into it, the more I came to believe that my story was perfect for self-publishing. To be more honest, I suspected even more strongly that my story would not suit a traditional publisher. In addition to the length issue, it was cross-genre between science fiction and fantasy but not ‘science fantasy’ like Star Wars. It was pure science fiction but in a primarily low-tech setting, and it was humorous. This made it different and therefore risky from a financial point of view. Publishing professionals may claim to be looking for something different, but the only way they can predict what will sell is based on what has sold before. My book was not like any I knew of at the time, so I held out little hope that anyone in the traditional publishing industry would take a chance on it. Because of this, I decided not to search for an agent or a traditional publisher. I would publish the work myself. Self-publishing became my first choice.

Don’t let anyone tell you self-publishing is easy. If you want to put out a quality product, it’s not. You create your story the same way traditionally published authors do with thousands of hours spent on research and creative development. Self-published authors, however, are also responsible for all editing, cover development, formatting, promotion, marketing, and distribution. I’ve written separate posts on these so I won’t belabor them here, but all of these things are tough and require more time and money than you might imagine. And even after you have done all of this, you may still end up with a final product that is a good story, but still not up to ‘professional’ standards. Let’s face it; a self-published writer is only one person. Even if they write an exceptional novel, chances are they are less than expert in some other necessary area, be that editing, cover design, or whatever. Traditional publishers have teams of experienced professionals to take care of these things. Self-published authors do not. If a writer is rich and lucky, he or she might be able to find and hire qualified professionals for all of these tasks, but I doubt many of us are able to do so.

Getting back to my personal experience, I slogged through most of this. I spent a couple hundred dollars on a professional cover artist, but I was dissatisfied with the result and ended up doing the covers myself. I found a professional editor, but really got back little except something like, ‘looks good to me.’ Formatting wasn’t too tough, although it took a few tries to get it right. I’m still lost when it comes to marketing and promotion, and I’m doing little of that. I didn’t quit my day job in order to sell stuff. I did it so I could write, so that is what I’m spending most of my time on, trusting that a few people will find my books on Amazon and be interested enough to read them and, once they do, like them enough to tell others.

I published my first novel myself as both a single work titled Defying Fate and as two separate books, The Warden Threat and The Warden War. The combined story was still too long to make it available at a reasonable cost (which my frugal mind equates to less than $10 for the paperback), so I decided Defying Fate would be offered as a Kindle exclusive. The Warden books could be produced separately as paperbacks for less than $10 per copy, so I published them through Amazon’s CreateSpace. The e-books are outselling the paperbacks better than ten to one.

So, what have I discovered on my self-publishing adventure? What have I concluded? The first and most important is that self-publishing is hard, harder than you probably imagine. It saps your time and your energy, and it can be extremely frustrating. I’ve also learned that I can do it, but now that I’ve proven that to myself, I hope never to have to do it again.

Difficulty is not my primary reason for seeking traditional publication for my future work, though. Last Friday, a former coworker asked me casually if I had anything ‘really’ published yet. Really published? Yes, damn it! I worked my ass off and published two books by myself! And they’re f…ing good! Read the f…ing reviews! That’s what I thought. What I said was far more sedate.

The fact remains that most people don’t consider a self-published novel as truly published. It lacks legitimacy. It lacks a professional publisher’s stamp of approval. This may be unfair and unjustified, but this is what people think, and this is why I will seek traditional publication in the future.

I completed the first draft of my third book, Amy’s Pendant, in April. It is a Young Adult science fiction novel of about 74,000 words and therefore more in line with traditional publisher expectations than Defying Fate. I discovered three publishers that accept unagented submissions, and I sent queries to them. I’ve heard back from one. A rejection. I’m waiting to hear from the other two. If these are also rejections, I’ll start trying to find an agent.

I’m currently drafting my fourth book. It is another adult oriented novel and a sequel to The Warden War. When it is completed some time next year, I’ll send queries to agents and publishers. I believe my stories are good and I believe there are readers who will enjoy them. I hope to find a traditional publisher or agent willing to take a risk on me and to help me perfect and share what I’ve written. If I have no luck, I’ll self-publish if I must to make my stories available to those who like them, but it won’t be my first choice again.

Related Posts:
My Self Publishing Adventure

 

A list of indie book reviewers

Last week I posted about the importance of book reviews and I promised to provide a list. After data mining the internet, I found 87 sites that review indie books. The list of those is provided below. I have not queried all of these. Some are not applicable to my genre. Some are closed for new submissions, and others I simply have not had time to contact yet. Since I had the data, though, I’m sharing it because others may find it helpful.

One thing to keep in mind when contacting prospective reviewers is to be mindful of their submission requirements. If they only review Romance, don’t ask them to review your Fantasy novel. If they want a synopsis, provide it. If they want the first three chapters, send them. There is no “standard” format. Each review site will have different requirements. These reviewers are doing indie writers a favor, and we need to be courteous by not clogging up their email with things their submission guidelines say they are not interested in seeing.

Good luck to all my fellow indies. I hope you find this list helpful.

Since it does not show well in the HTML below, it is attached here as an Excel spreadsheet: ReviewSites

Review Site Site URL e-Book? Genres
3 R’s Reading Den http://rjscafe.wordpress.com/ N Most – see guidelines
A. F. Stewart’s Blog http://afstewartblog.blogspot.com/p/my-amazon-associates-store.html Y ePub Fantasy, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Poetry, Mysteries, Historical Fiction, Historical Non-Fiction and other Non-Fiction.
Adarna SF http://adarnasf.com/ Y Science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, pulp etc.
Bab’s Book Bistro http://www.babsbookbistro.net/blog/ Y Mysteries, Cozy Mysteries, Thrillers, Western romance, Romance, Historical Romance, Some erotica, Suspense, Some dramas, Children’s books
Big Al’s Books and Pals (currently NOT accepting unsolicited review submissions – March 2012) http://booksandpals.blogspot.com Y All
Bonnie Humbarger Lamer – Author and Review Page http://bonnielamer.blogspot.com/ Y Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Political satire, Humorous fiction, Chicklit, romance
Book Vacations (Not taking new submissions – March 2012) http://bookvacations.wordpress.com/ Y All
Book’d Out http://bookdout.wordpress.com Y All
Booked Up http://www.tc-bookedup.blogspot.com/ Y All
BookedinChico http://bookedinchico.blogspot.com/ Y Literary fiction and world literature
Bookhound’s Den (NOT accepting books for review at this time – March 2012) http://bookhoundsden.blogspot.com/ Y Horror, crime, noir, suspense, mystery, and thrillers
Books are Better http://booksrbetter.blogspot.com/ Y Fantasy, Steampunk and Post-Apocalyptic
Books for Company http://www.booksforcompany.com Y Fantasy, YA, Dystopia
Books Like Breathing http://bookslikebreathing.blogspot.com/ Y Romance, YA, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Books on The Knob http://blog.booksontheknob.org/ Y Fantasy, SF, mystery and suspense. Check guidelines.
Bored Books http://zzzbooks.blogspot.com Y All but prefers Paranormal YA
Breakout Books Reviews (not taking new submissions – March 2012) http://breakoutbooks.blogspot.com/ Y All
Butterfly-o-meter (Submissions closed. Last checked 20 March 2012) http://butterflyometerbooks.blogspot.com/p/review-policy-submissions.html Yes Closed for submissions
Can’t put it down http://readitreviewit.wordpress.com/ Y Horror, Mystery, paranormal, YA, thrillers, fantasy, crime, detective. No erotica, prefer e-books
Clover Hill Book Reviews (not taking new submissions – March 2012) http://cloverhillbookreviews.blogspot.co… N All
CS fantasy reviews http://csfantasyreviews.blogspot.com/ Fantasy, speculative fiction
Cup of Tea Reviews (Not accepting requests -Last checked 20 March 2012) http://cupofteareviews.blogspot.com Y All, except novels with overly religious tone, won’t review erotica or any adult novels. Only review ebooks with PDF format.
Daily Ebook Reviews http://www.dailyebookreviews.com Y Science fiction, horror, fantasy, and thrillers – though we will consider all types of fiction.
Dark Readers http://www.dark-readers.com/ Y (but paper preferred) romance, supernatural/paranormal, fantasy, adventure, mystery and thriller
Dark Side of the Covers http://www.darksideofthecovers.com/ Y Steampunk, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Speculative Fiction
Dear Author http://dearauthor.com Y Romance
Demon Lovers Books & More http://www.demonloversbooksandmore.com ? historical romance, contemporary romance, erotic romance, crime/mystery, fantasy/sci-fi and young adult paranormal
Ebook Reviews by Elizabeth Swigar Stephen http://elizabethswigar.wordpress.com/ Y All – especially historical fiction
Enter The Portal http://www.entertheportal.wordpress.com Y SF & Fantasy
Everything to do with books http://everythingtodowithbooks.blogspot…. Y All but no pure romances, Westerns, and erotica.
Fantasy Book Critic http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com/ Y Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, YA/Children
Five Alarm Book Reviews http://fivealarmbookreviews.com N Limited – see guidelines
Flying with Red Haircrow http://flyingwithredhaircrow.wordpress.com/ Y SFF mostly – see site
Forbidden Passions http://forbiddenpassionsreviews.blogspot… Y Fantasy, YA paranormal, excluding Christian, Self Help.
Got Fiction? http://gotfiction.wordpress.com/ YA and Contemporary Romance
I Heart Reading http://booklog.eternalised.net/ Y Paranormal romance, fantasy or historical fiction. Check guidelines.
Indie Book Blog http://indiebookblogger.blogspot.com/p/review-sign-up.html Y Mainly SF/F but all except Romance or Erotica
Indie Book Podcast http://www.indiebookpodcast.com/ Y All
Indie Corner http://indiecorner.net/review-policy-rating/ Y steampunk, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, fantasy, dystopian, chick lit, mysteries and suspense
Indie Paranormal Book Reviews http://indieparanormalbooksreviews.blogs… Y Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy
IndieReader http://indiereader.com/author-promotional-opportunities/ Y All indie
Kate Policani http://katepolicanisreviews.wordpress.com/about/ Y All except Horror, Erotica, Manuals
Kindle Book Review http://thekindlebookreview.blogspot.com/ Y All
KindleObsessed http://kindleobsessed.com/ Y All
Letters Inside Out http://www.lettersinsideout.net/ Y YA
Livin’ Life Through Books http://dream-wish-live.blogspot.com/ Y Young Adult (No Fantasy)
Marie Violante http://violantewrites.wordpress.com/ Y fantasy, horror, science fiction, and magical realism
Milo’s Rambles http://milorambles.com/ Y Crime, Thrillers, Suspense, Mysteries, Historical Fiction, Historical Crime, Humor, Sport, Memoirs and Biographies
MotherLode http://www.gracekrispy.com/my-review-policy/ Y All
Night Owl Reviews http://nightowlreviews.com/nor/ Y All
Novel Opinion http://novelopinion.org/ Y All
Paper Mustang http://www.papermustang.com Y All
Papyrus http://papyrus.calebblake.net/ Y All
POD People http://podpeep.blogspot.com/ Y All self-published
Popcorn Reads http://popcornreads.com Y All fiction
Quills and Zebras http://quillsandzebras.wordpress.com/ Y All
Rainy Day Ramblings (Heidi) http://rainydayramblings.typepad.com/rainydayramblings/review-policy.html Y All except erotica, graphic horror and any book that pertains to animal cruelty or abuse, religious books, self help, business etc.
Reading Between the Lines (not taking new submissions – March 2012) http://cynical-believer.blogspot.com/ N All
Review Haven – Note: free reviews are not given for ebooks. http://sfandfantasyreviews.blogspot.com/ N Science-Fiction or Fantasy
Science Fiction Addiction http://sciencefictionaddiction.blogspot…. Y Science Fiction
Science Fiction and Other Oddysseys http://sciencefictionmusings.blogspot.com/p/request-guidelines.html ? Science Fiction & Fantasy
SF Book Reviews (not currently accepting new review requests – March 2012) http://sfbook.com Y SciFi & Fantasy
Sift Book Reviews http://siftbookreviews.blogspot.com/ Y science-fiction or fantasy
Soul Unsung http://soulunsung.blogspot.com/ Y Fantasy, young adult, sci-fi, steampunk, paranormal romance, dystopia, horror, urban fantasy
Stories of my life http://roncnofficial.blogspot.com Y Fantasy, Young Adult
The Book Buff http://thebookbuff.blogspot.com/ Y All
The Book Hookup http://thebookhookup.com/ Y Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal, Young Adult, Erotica, Historical Romance, Dark/Urban Fantasy
The Book Vixen http://thebookvixen.com/ Y Contemporary Romance, Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic, Erotic Romance, GLBT, Historical Romance, Mystery/Suspense, Paranormal Romance, Romantic Suspense, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult (YA)
The Canary http://thecanaryreview.com Y YA, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Romance,
The Consumption of Books http://consumethosebooks.blogspot.com/ ? YA
The eNovella Review http://enovellareview.blogspot.com/ Y 30k word max
The Fairytale Nerd http://thefairytalenerd.blogspot.com/ Y YA (mostly)
The Indie Book Blog Database http://hampton-networks.com/ Y All
The Literary Mind Bender http://theliterarymb.com/?page_id=12 Y
The LL Book Review http://llbookreview.com Y All
The New Podler Review of Books http://thenewpodlerreviews.blogspot.com/ ? literary, science fiction, fantasy, horror, suspense, humor, mysteries and the occasional thriller
The Novel Blog http://thenovelblog.com/index.aspx ? Site does not specify
The Scattering (Closed to new review requests – March 2012) http://thescattering.wordpress.com/ ? Speculative Fiction
The Secret Life of Books (Lucy) http://lily-bookhaven.blogspot.com/ ? Adult Fiction, Romance, Paranormal Romance, Historical Romance, Erotica, Young Adult, Fantasy, Humorous
The Write to Make a Living http://www.thewritetomakealiving.com/ ? All
This is from my Heart (Janiera ) http://janieraeldridge.blogspot.com/p/contact-me.html Y All except political, biographies, Erotica, and historical romance
To Publish or Not To Publish http://topublishornotto.blogspot.com/ ? Fantasy
To Read or Not to Read http://www.2readornot2read.com/ Y All except erotica
Tomes of the Soul http://tomesofthesoul.blogspot.com/ Y All except erotica
Tracy Riva http://tracyriva.com/guidelines-for-review/ Y All
Web Weaver http://webbweaver-zelda555.blogspot.com/ ? Almost All
Writer’s Fun Zone http://www.writersfunzone.com/blog/ Y YA novels by women about girl heroes

The Importance of Book Reviews (Part 2)

Perhaps the most difficult thing an independent author must do is try to get their book noticed. I don’t belittle the amount of DIY effort it takes to write, edit, create covers, and self-publish a book. Trust me. I know how much work these are because I’ve done them, but all these can be enjoyable and provide a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Promotion, at least for me, is different. It feels like work. I don’t enjoy selling, never did, and self-promotion is unnatural and even a bit embarrassing for me.

I’ve done the things I’ve heard you need to do. I have a website, Twitter, Facebook, and author bios on Amazon, Goodreads, and others. While all of those are probably essential to creating a ‘platform,’ what I think may help sales of a book most are book reviews on Amazon. This is where many readers look for new books and new authors, and the importance of potential readers seeing what others thought of your work cannot be overstated.

Reviews also can be quoted as part of additional promotions in blog posts, Tweets, Facebook, or wherever you have a presence. Here are some extracts from the few reviews my first book received. You can easily see how valuable these can be to attracting additional readers.

  • “one of the best self-published things I’ve ever read.” ~ Tweet from @ViolanteAuthor 23 March 2012
  • “enough smiles and insights to please both young adults and discerning adults … A very entertaining read.” ~ Review by more4math on Amazon
  • THE WARDEN THREAT is a lighthearted epic fantasy parody with a science fiction twist that kept me engaged and entertained from page one…the story is humorous and fun … It was fun to combine both the science fiction and fantasy tropes in the story.” ~ Review by Enter the Portal on Amazon
  • “it’s laugh-out-loud funny…the grammar is refreshingly precise and the vocabulary, well, scrumptiousThe characters are believable and well-rounded…the whole book is filled with little gems… Usually, when I am reviewing a book for my site, I highlight and make little notes as I go, so that I’ll have a lot to say. In this case, I was too busy reading it; I literally read the entire thing straight through in one sitting. ~ Review by Maria T. Violante “Write, Read, Review” on Amazon
  • “shows the influence of Terry Pratchett in style and current events in the overall plot. The book is easy to read, but hardly simplistic…Occasionally laugh out loud funny, this book is definitely worth picking up.” ~ Review by M. A. Goethe “Margaret” on Amazon
  • “a complex tale about adventure…filled with dry, ironic humor that adds to the sense of growing up and finding depth in the world…interesting characters, and a realistically broad country…The tone of the book is funny, but not giggly or “LOL” funny. Irony is thick. Silly and stupid things happen, but they have too much purpose and truth to really cut up about. The thinking stops the laughing” ~ Review by Kate Policani on Compulsively Writing Reviews

In addition to being a form of free advertising, reviews can provide you with a considerable amount of satisfaction, especially when they are positive. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you learn someone has wandered your fictional worlds, hung out with the characters you created, and enjoyed the experience.

Reviews are also the best feedback an author can get about their writing. They can be exceptionally valuable at pointing out what you did well and not so well and, in general, how your writing is viewed by people other than your friends and relatives. If you listen to what your readers tell you, your subsequent books can only get better.

Getting those first reviews, however, is work. Last November, I sent out seventeen requests to review my first book, The Warden Threat. Eight of those prospective reviewers wrote back saying they would do reviews, and three, so far, have done so. That’s a success rate under 18%, but I was more than pleased to see all of them. I have also received a couple unsolicited reviews, and these are like priceless treasures to an indie writer. Any positive comment on something you have worked so hard to create can be a real boost to one’s flagging optimism, which begins to fall after initial publication of your first book and declines as time passes, wondering if anyone will ever notice your masterpiece.

I spent the last few months preparing my first two books for print release. As of this month, both are available as trade paperbacks. High on my priority list now, is to try to get more reviews. I don’t look forward to this. Like I said, I enjoy writing, editing, and creating covers, but anything related to trying to sell what I’ve created is far less enjoyable, and I can’t help feeling the time I spend on it is time I don’t have for creating my next masterpiece. 🙂

Reviews are essential, though, so I sent out two more review requests this week. I also have identified about twenty other review sites to try. Since I know others are probably in the same boat as far as trying to find reviewers, I’m compiling a list of sites I find. When it’s complete, I’ll provide it on a later post.

 

Related post:
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Six – The Importance of Book Reviews

My Self-Publishing Adventure, Episode Nine – Formatting your book for Paperback Publication

Formatting your book for paperback publication can be something of a pain, but if you have written it in Word, or are at least marginally familiar with the program, you can do it yourself in a few hours. There is no need to pay someone else to format your manuscript. Unfortunately, I could find no comprehensive guidance on this, none that I considered clear, anyway. After a bit of trial and error, however, I think I have it figured out. I wanted to share this because I suspect other writers may find it helpful.

I initially self-published my first two books as e-books. Friends and relatives kept asking when they would be ‘real’ books so they could read them. Not everyone owns an e-reader and many people simply prefer to read a hard copy. Others who have read my e-books also asked about when the print versions would be released because they wanted to have them. I confess that as much as I love my Kindle, I too like the feel of a printed book, and there is a certain sense of ownership to having a physical book (or music album, for that matter) that I don’t seem to enjoy with having only the digital version. So, after some deliberation, I decided to publish my first two novels as trade paperbacks.

I’m doing so through CreateSpace, a self-publishing service affiliated with Amazon.com. This isn’t a plug for them, but they seemed to offer the best option in terms of cost and distribution. They also allow you to load your Word document directly, so the conversion is easy. The publishing is free, but other than your first proof copy of your first book, you have to pay for the copies you order, and, with shipping, the cost is not much less than what you will need to charge others for your printed books.

It is important to realize that when you format for print, what you see is what you get. The pages in your book will look exactly like the pages in your formatted document. This is entirely different from formatting for e-books, which will adjust the lines and size of the displayed page to the device being used and the options set by the user.

One of the first things you will need to do to prepare your book for printing is to decide the trim size (the physical size of the book) that you prefer. I went with 8”x5” because I have several traditionally published books of that size on my shelves. All the guidance I’m sharing with you now assumes you will be using this trim size. If you are not, some modifications may be necessary. I am also using an older version of Word so some of the screen shots may be different from what you see when you format your own document. So, with those qualifications said, let’s begin.

Open your manuscript and save it under a different file name. You don’t want to risk messing up your original in case you need to start over.

Now select ‘all’ (Edit/Select All) and apply the font you want. The default for CreateSpace seems to be Book Antiqua 11. I went with this and I think it looks fine.

Easy so far, right? It gets trickier, but you can handle it.

Select ‘all’ again and then Format/Paragraph. For print publication, you will need to justify alignment, single space the text and apply indents of 0.2” to the first line of each paragraph. This is how it looks in my version of Word.

Now go to the Line and Page Breaks tab and check the Window/Orphan control box. Unselect all the others.

From here on it gets a little more complicated. Go to File/Page Setup… Here you will need to make several changes. I applied the following margin settings for my books: top 0.7”, bottom 0.6”, inside 0.1”, outside 0.5”, gutter 0.75”. These seemed to provide the best overall appearance. The Gutter will vary depending on the length of the book. Mine are about 340 pages. Books with more than 600 pages will need a larger gutter. Also, be sure to select a portrait orientation and mirror margins. Apply these settings to the whole document.

Now go to the Paper tab. This is where you select your trim size. If you are going with 5”x8”, this is what is will look like. Don’t forget to apply this to the whole document.

Go to the Layout tab. By starting sections on odd pages, you ensure each chapter will begin on a page on the right side of the book (odd numbered page). Headers and footers should be different between odd and even pages and different on the first page. Apply these settings to the whole document.

You are almost there, but the last things you must do are the trickiest. Insert section breaks where you need them. For mine, I did this between the front matter, between each chapter, and after the last chapter. To do this, just go to the spots where you need to create a break and select Insert/Break – Section Break, Next Page.

Once you have done that, it is a good time to make some cosmetic changes. If you applied the same font and alignment to everything, you may wish to change this for things such as your book title, dedication, and chapter headings. You can change the font and alignment as you wish. I chose a 22 point font and center alignment for my chapter headings. I also created four blank lines above and below each chapter heading so that the final version looks like this. (The image is low-resolution, but you can see the spacing.)

Now apply the appropriate headers and footers to each section. Do this with care to make sure these are linked to the previous ones where needed and not linked if they should not be. You will use these to add text and page numbers. There seems to be no standard convention for this, so I opted to center the author name in the header of even numbered pages, the book title on the odd numbered pages, and the page number centered in the footer of each page. Again, this low-resolution screen shot from Word is not good for reading, but you can see where the headers and footers are placed. You may choose to place these differently in your books.

The last step for formatting your book for print is critical. Some of your chapters will probably not begin on odd numbered pages, although they will be numbered as such because we told Word that each section begins on an odd numbered page. Check page numbers and insert blank pages where needed. Go through the entire document and locate any section breaks that are not preceded by an even numbered page. Another thing to look for is gutter placement. It should alternate from left to right on each page. You will probably note some errors. To fix these, just insert a page break (Insert/Break – Page Break) before the applicable section break to create a blank page.

Now just review the file to make sure the book looks they way it should. Remember, what you see is what you get.

Now that you know your trim size and the number of pages, you can finalize your cover. I won’t go through this in detail because this post is already long and people use a wide assortment of different tools for creating covers. CreateSpace provides a template to help you make sure your cover is sized right, though, and this is very useful. Note that CreateSpace only allows PDF files for the cover so you will need to convert your ‘.png’ files (or whatever you have) to PDF format and they should be 300 dots per inch (DPI) or higher. I used Gimp and PowerPoint to create my cover art and then imported it to the Open Office Drawing program to create the PDF file. There may be an easier way to do this, but probably not with the software that I have.

That’s it. When you are done, you should have a book ready for final proof reading. Make sure to do this before you publish!

Good luck.

Relaunch of the Warden books is a go!

The revised editions of the first two Warden books are out now in e-book formats. It’s been an educational experience and an enjoyable one, for the most part. Okay, there were a few times when I wanted to bang my head on the keyboard and more than a few times when I swore at some of the software for having less than intuitive interfaces. In those cases, I got peeved when the programs did what I mistakenly told them to do instead of what wanted them to do. I believe I’ve conquered them all now or we’ve finally come to a mutually satisfactory agreement. Basically, this amounts to me not asking them to do anything terribly complicated and them not annoying me.

I can’t say how often I went through each of these books. It has been a few dozen times, at least. I would love to say that I have caught and mercilessly squashed every typo, misspelling, and grammar and punctuation error. I will tell you I’ve eliminated all of those I saw. However, I have come to suspect that such things are both sentient and malicious and reproduce once I close the document because they have a mysterious tendency to reappear. I did catch one error in one of the dictionaries I was using. The word is crenellated. Yes, it does have two Ls. The dictionary provided with Open Office has it with one, and it is WRONG!

With the revision of these books, I’ve updated a few other things. There are new blurbs and author bios for the books at both Smashwords and Amazon. Based on several articles and posts I’ve read, it I have finally been convinced that $2.99 is the appropriate price for them. Some suggest it should be higher, but I am resisting.

Another new feature with the relaunch is a dedicated page for each book on this website. You can find them under the “Novels” tab. Each of these provide a brief summary, pictures of the covers, some questions and answers, and the first scene from the book. There is also a tab called ‘The Warden’s World.’ Here you can find ‘wiki’ type information on some of the places and things mentioned in the novels, including maps, flags, and descriptions.

As for the books themselves, nothing is new and everything is better. The stories have not changed. All the great characters, insights, and humor that my first readers found so enjoyable remain. There is no change to the plot or the ending. What has changed is how the stories are told. The prose is tighter and more professional, and the manuscripts have been thoroughly edited and repeatedly proofread. The covers are also new, and I’d like to thank my son Alex for posing for the picture. He says he looks goofy, but I think he looks great! 🙂

My plan now is to make both of these available as trade paperbacks. I’ll post more on how that is going when I know.

In the meantime, I invite you to sample the first scenes, new covers, and other information I’ve provided here. If you’d like to see longer previews, they are available on Amazon.

Promotional copies are available for book reviewers. Please let me know if you are interested.

Writing Tips – Commas and Editing Checklist

 There are two things I’ve found useful that I’d like to share today. The first is on comma usage. I have noticed there is a lot of inconsistency not only in how commas are used by different writers but also in guidance on how to use commas. The link below is for a tip-sheet from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry Writing Program. I like this one because it is clear, succinct, and (I think) correct.

http://www.esf.edu/writingprogram/tipsheets/comma.htm

The second thing I have to share is a self-editing checklist I made using guidance from multiple sources and my own experience. One of the people on Goodreads asked if I would share this, and I am more than happy to do so. It doesn’t provide rules of grammar or punctuation, it doesn’t tell you how to write tight prose or how to “show” rather than “tell,” but it does help me check my final draft for areas in which these things might be improved. One more caveat — I created this for my own use, so it is written for how I write. I use MS Word. I’ve tried programs such as Scrivener designed specifically for writers, but I’ve reverted to Word for my manuscript and for my character, setting, and special item sheets because I find it easier. I use separate Excel files for my timelines and statistics. Still, except for the first couple of steps, I think others may find this useful. I’ve simply pasted it below to make it easy for anyone who wishes to copy and tailor it for their own private use. (Please excuse the proofread checklist. This is an embedded spreadsheet in my form, which doesn’t paste well to HTML.)

One other thing I should mention — If you do use something like this, expect it to take several days (weeks or months) to methodically go through your book-length manuscript.

 ~*~

 Prose and Grammar Self-Editing Checklist:

1. Compile work into one document. Read for content and story flow. [__]

2. Run spell and grammar check in Word. Correct obvious errors. [__]

3. Run spell and grammar check in OpenOffice. Correct obvious errors. [__]

4. Reopen in Word.

a. Search for the following words and ensure each is the best fit for the prose. Eliminate or reword if not:

  • “had” [__]
  • “was” [__]
  • “were” [__]
  • “up” [__]
  • “down” [__]
  • “that” [__]
  • “then” [__]
  • “as” [__]

b. Search for “-ly” adverbs. Do not overuse. Consider changing prose. [__]

c. Search for generic physical action words to see if these need to be more descriptive.

  • “went” [__]
  • “walked” [__]
  • “moved” [__]
  • “ran” [__]

d. Search for generic cognitive words to see if these need to be more descriptive.

  • “watched” [__]
  • “wondered” [__]
  • “realized” [__]
  • “knew” [__]
  • “thought” [__]
  • “saw” / “could see” [__]
  • “felt”/ “could feel” [__]
  • “heard” / “could hear” [__]

e. Search for generic descriptive words to see if the prose needs to be more specific.

  • “looked” [__]
  • “appeared” [__]

5. Repeat #2. [   ]

6. Do a slow proofread from page 1 to the end. Watch for scenes that require more detail to visualize adequately, repeated words in paragraphs, POV errors, dialogue flow, and punctuation. Especially look at dialog tags and comma usage. [__]

7. Repeat #2 and #3. [__]

8. Do a final proofread. [__]

 Proofread Checklist:

First Proofread Second Proofread Final Proofread
Chapter 1 Chapter 1 Chapter 1
Chapter 2 Chapter 2 Chapter 2
Chapter 3 Chapter 3 Chapter 3
Chapter 4 Chapter 4 Chapter 4
Chapter 5 Chapter 5 Chapter 5
Chapter 6 Chapter 6 Chapter 6
Chapter 7 Chapter 7 Chapter 7
Chapter 8 Chapter 8 Chapter 8
Chapter 9 Chapter 9 Chapter 9
Chapter 10 Chapter 10 Chapter 10
Chapter 11 Chapter 11 Chapter 11
Chapter 12 Chapter 12 Chapter 12
Chapter 13 Chapter 13 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 14 Chapter 14
Chapter 15 Chapter 15 Chapter 15
Chapter 16 Chapter 16 Chapter 16
Chapter 17 Chapter 17 Chapter 17
Chapter 18 Chapter 18 Chapter 18
Chapter 19 Chapter 19 Chapter 19
Chapter 20 Chapter 20 Chapter 20
Chapter 21 Chapter 21 Chapter 21
Chapter 22 Chapter 22 Chapter 22
Chapter 23 Chapter 23 Chapter 23
Chapter 24 Chapter 24 Chapter 24

Proposed Cover Art – Need Your Help

At this point, it looks as if I have two choices for the new cover art for The Warden Threat and I’m seeking input. The art is supposed to represent the scene in which Prince Donald is attempting to animate the Warden of Mystic Defiance. These are the two images I have. Please let me know if you think either of these, 1- are eye catching, 2- reflect the genre (humorous science fiction parody of epic adventure), or 3- capture the idea of the story.

I have until the end of the month to decide and I would really appreciate any comments.

 

My Self-Publishing Adventure – Episode Eight – Self-Publishing is Too Easy

The most recent thing I have discovered on my self-publishing adventure is that it is too easy.

“What?” I hear all the other writers shout. “It is most certainly not easy! Not only do you have to write, you also have to edit, revise, work with the cover artist and editor, maintain a web presence, build a platform, get reviews, market… Then, there is the cost! You have to fund everything. After all, if you have chosen the self-publishing path, you probably do not have an agent or traditional publisher to help with any of this. You have to do it yourself.”

Yes. This is all true. My point is that it is too easy to publish your book before you have adequately done these things. I know. I did.

My primary motivation for writing is to create books I would like to read. My main qualification for doing so when I began was limited to having read many books and believing I had a good idea of what I liked about them. If you find yourself in the same situation, let me warn you. This is not enough. Thinking you can write a great novel simply because you read a lot of them is like thinking you can build a car because you have done a lot of driving. It does not work that way.

Writing is something you have to learn, just like any other skill. There are tools and processes, procedures and steps you have to take to produce a novel. Unfortunately, these vary from writer to writer. You can learn from the experiences of others but creating a novel is not a science. It is an art. I do not mean to sound pretentious about this, but writing is a very individual experience. What works for one person may not for another. It is not as simple as being a “plotter” or a “pantser.” The only way to find out what works for you is to write, and then write some more.

This takes time. It takes practice. The first novel you complete will not be ready to publish. Nor will the second, if your experience is like mine. The problem is that you will probably think they are and, because it is so easy to self-publish an e-book on Amazon and Smashwords, you will. Your first two books may be great stories but they will not be the best you can produce.

I am about to sound pretentious again, but if you read a lot, you are most likely a fairly intelligent and well-informed person. If you are motivated to write, chances are you are creative. If you act on that desire and actually create the first draft of a novel, you are definitely someone who can remain focused and see a difficult and complicated task to completion. This may make you think your book is ready. After all, you wrote it and we have already established how exceptional you are.

Compared to many, this is true, at least as far as novels go. It does not make you a potential surgeon or plumber, but it does make you a potential novelist. Keep in mind that there are tens of thousands of us and we all share the same attributes that qualify you as a member of this group. Pat yourself on the back but do not think this means your first book is ready. When you think it is, my advice is to put it aside and write the next. When you are done with that, write another. Now go back to your first book. Edit and revise it again using all of the experience you have gained since. It may be ready to show to others at this point but it is still not ready to publish. It is time to get professional help. (Take that any way you want.)

What I think I have learned is that my own judgment is not enough. I mistakenly thought that knowing a good book when I saw it made me qualified to create one on my own. I was not. My artistic abilities to create covers are inadequate so I need a cover artist. I need an editor. I need beta readers. I need proofreaders. In short, I need all of the things a traditional publisher provides if I want my books to be as good as they can be.

I am basing the advice I offer here on my own experience, of course. Feel free to ignore it. As I said, writing is an art. You may be a quicker study than I am. You may have stronger qualifications. Personally, I do not feel I became minimally qualified to produce a book ready for publication until after I completed the first draft of my third novel. Something clicked at that point and I realized how many things I could have done better with the first two, things that would have improved the stories and made the process easier. This does not make me an expert but it does make me more confident that I am ready to take the next step on my self-publishing adventure.

 

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My Self Publishing Adventure

My Self-Publishing Adventure – Episode Seven – The Motivating Power of Readers

 I have been feeling pumped recently.

Pumped: synonyms – inspired, encouraged, stimulated, motivated . . .

Sorry. I’ve been doing a lot of editing recently and the reason for that is the subject of this post.

I mentioned previously that I got my first “professional” reviews, and I said how pleased I was with them. Who wouldn’t be? I put out a completely DIY ebook, and its first reviews by people unrelated and unknown to me were four and five stars. But something since has motivated me even more.

I maintain a modest presence on Twitter, with a few hundred followers. I try not to do much book promotion there anymore but I do talk about my writing, what I’m doing, what I’ve discovered, and things like this. I’ll also Tweet about my health, the weather, a random observation, a favorite quote, or whatever comes to mind. I guess I’m an eclectic Tweeter. What I have been focusing on recently, is following and engaging people who seem to share my tastes, fans of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams especially. Both of these great authors have influenced my writing style because I so greatly enjoy their work. I wanted to write books I would like to read, so it only seemed logical to use them as unwitting mentors.

Recently, some, well, a few people on Twitter have told me they read and really enjoyed my books. These weren’t reviewers. I didn’t ask them to read them and I didn’t send them a free copy. They picked them up on their own, read them, and liked them enough to tell me about it. They are also fans of my favorite writers, and I couldn’t help thinking, I’d done it! These people saw in my books something similar to the ineffable magic penned by two of my favorites. I can’t tell you how much of a rush it was when I got a Tweet from a gentleman who said he was 70% through my first book and laughing his ass off. I ran straight out to the patio and told my wife and her mother who were downing a few (or more) beers after Thanksgiving dinner.

It was also something of a surprise. And a shock.

The books I enjoy most are not mainstream bestsellers, or even mainstream genre fiction. If it’s dark, I probably won’t read it. If it’s littered with dead bodies, guns, or drugs, it’s not something I want to spend my leisure time with. I can watch the news if I want things like that. If zombies, demons, vampires, ghosts, or others who look at people primarily as a good source of protein or some mystical nutritive energy are a central part of the plot, the book is probably not for me either unless the beasties are conveyed satirically or with humor. I don’t find such stories enjoyable, so they aren’t the kind I write. They do seem popular though and mine have little in common with them.

I understand my books are outside the norm. They are science fiction set in a fantasy-like setting. In a way, they are almost anti-fantasies, and they poke a fair (or unfair) amount of fun at the genre. No one reads stuff like that. There is no stuff like that. Gaining much of an audience seemed unlikely.

A few people I hesitate to call fans can change that. Once one person, and it only takes one, says he or she really likes your book (the really is important), your outlook changes. At least mine did. Perhaps I’m too easily encouraged, but if one person is enthused about it, certainly others will be. This is great, but it leads to a new feeling of responsibility. There is a big attitudinal difference between “maybe someone might like it” to “OMG, someone really likes it!” Suddenly, your book can’t be just a fun read, now it has to be great. A DIY cover and a self-edited book with random commas, some less than stellar prose, and a breeding population of mutant typos (what else can explain how more appear after you are sure every one has been found and squashed) may be good enough for a casual reader, but certainly not for someone who really likes your book.

So, this is where I’m at now on my self-publishing adventure. A few people like my book enough to actually promote it for me. They are Tweeting about it to friends. I am humbled because it’s not good enough (yet) for people like this. But I shall make it worthy.

I am currently reediting and revising the manuscript of The Warden Threat, eliminating stubborn typos and tightening the prose. I have engaged a professional technical editor and I have commissioned custom art for the cover. I intend to find at least a copy editor and proofreader early next year to ensure I provide a professional quality product. I also plan to make it available as a Print On Demand paperback so anyone, even those few who still do not have ebook readers, can get a copy if they wish.

If my blog posts come less frequently over the following months, this is why. Once I have completed the revised edition of the Warden Threat, I will go through the same process for The Warden War.

The first draft of my third book, Amy’s Pendant, is complete. I have not yet decided if I will try traditional publishing for this or not. If it appears as if the first two books are gaining a following, I may continue with self-publishing for this one as well. It puts more of the work on the author as well as all the risk and upfront expense. The thought that a traditional publisher could  share some of this is tempting. I never tried traditional publishing for my books so I can’t compare based on any firsthand experience.

I will try to keep you posted on how this all goes. Until then, I hope you enjoy your holidays and I wish you all a very good new year.

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My Self Publishing Adventure

A Quick Update on My Self Publishing Adventure

A few things have happened since my last post on this, so I’m writing a quick update. The first is that I’ve gotten a second review on my first book, The Warden Threat. This one is a four star rating done by Meg Peticolas for Enter the Portal. I’m quite happy with it. A five and four star review for my first novel are encouraging and I am very grateful to the reviewers who have taken the time and trouble to read and comment on my work. I am also exceedingly pleased that both reviewers not only completed their reviews as quickly as they did but also asked for a copy of the second book in the series.

The second thing that happened since my last post is that I’ve decided to commission professional artwork for my first two books. I’m not unhappy with the Do-It-Yourself covers I’ve created, but I think that now that I am beginning to get reviews, the books should have covers that better represent the stories. After all, people may actually consider reading them now. I won’t disclose the name of the cover designer until I see the final product, but I will say that they are less expensive than I feared, about $100 each. If I like the results, you can be sure I will sing the artist’s praises on this blog.

The third thing that has changed is that I am now seriously considering making my first two books available in paper formats. I was reluctant to do this at first partly because of the covers and partly because I was not certain what impartial readers would think about my writing. In anticipation of that, and because it’s a good story, I’m rereading my first novel now. Although it was edited (several times), I’m still catching some typos, missing quotation marks, commas, and a missed word or two. I can’t understand how those got by. I see typos in even traditionally published books, so I’m not entirely bewildered. If typos can get by the pros, it’s understandable that they could get by me, but I am a bit surprised. I would swear those typos were not there before. I’m beginning to suspect that there are malicious typo fairies inserting them when I’m not looking.

That’s it. I’ll write a new episode of My Self Publishing Adventure when circumstances warrant. In the meantime, if you have read my books or this blog, I’d be more than happy for you to comment to tell me what you think.

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My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Six – The Importance of Book Reviews

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Six – The Importance of Book Reviews

 It has only been two weeks since my last post in this series but I have some updates to share.

Last time I said there were two things I needed to try. The first was to get more Twitter followers, not just anyone, but people who might enjoy the types of books I write. The second was to find people willing to review my books.

To accomplish the first, I used Twitter to search for people who read e-books by some of my favorite authors. My books are not “like” theirs but there are commonalities in style and genre. My assumption is that people who like the books I like to read will also like books I write. The authors I picked were Terry Pratchett and George C. Hines. Both write humorous fantasy. My books aren’t fantasy; they’re science fiction but they share the more important factor of a satirically humorous tone. I used Twitter to find people who have tweeted “Kindle” and “Pratchett” or “Kindle” and “Hines.” I followed those who seemed appropriate and some followed me back. I have gained over fifty followers in the last two weeks (315 from 253) but none of these contacts resulted in any book sales as far as I can tell. One thing I am beginning to suspect is that Twitter is not a very good way to promote books. It seems to be a good way to connect with other indie writers though.

The second thing I said I would do is search for people willing to review my books, or at least the first one. On thing traditionally published books have that indie books don’t is the publisher’s implied guarantee that their books are quality products, that they are coherent, consistent and relatively free of typos and other errors. The only thing an indie writer really has that is comparable is book reviews. Even these are no assurance of quality because reviews can be bought or traded but I think they are the best we have at this point. So, with that in mind, I searched the web and Goodreads for reviewers. I avoided any that charged for reviews or any that implied they would provide positive reviews in exchange for other positive reviews. I wanted only objective reviews. I found sixteen sites that indicated they might be willing to review e-books by indie authors on this basis and I sent requests to all of them.

Most of the sixteen sites had specific rules to follow to request reviews. A review request should be treated much as a query to an agent or traditional publisher. If you are requesting a review, you need to follow those guidelines. I used a draft query letter I had prepared before I decided to self publish as the basis for my review requests. All wanted a free copy of the book, which I was more than happy to provide. So far I have received seven positive replies. Here is a list:

Although most of these indicated that it may be months before my book reaches the top of their queue, one has already completed theirs. I was extremely pleased to see it was a five-star rating. It is here if you would like to see it: Marie Violante’s review of The Warden Threat. Shortly after this review was posted to Amazon, I got one sale at the list price of 99¢. I don’t know if this is directly attributable to this review or not but the timing suggests that.

My plan forward from this point is to put less focus on Twitter as a means to promote my books and keep an eye out for additional reviewers. I am also continuing work on my third book. The first draft is almost complete.

Two things I am still debating are the prices for my already published books and the publication strategy for the third. At this point I plan to delay increasing the price of The Warden Threat and The Warden War until next year and leave the introductory price of 99¢ in effect until then. What I am less certain of is whether to self publish the next book, The Warden Pendant, or send queries to agents and publishers. Fortunately, I still have a few months to make that decision. Much depends on whether the first two books gain any kind of following.

 

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My Self Publishing Adventure
Beyond Genre – Tone And Mood

The Stigma of Self Publishing – Et Tu Writers?

  I went to an Orlando Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers group meeting last night. It was our first get together in a few months because our organizer (Sarah Fisk) had to abdicate for job reasons and it took a while to replace her, although she has since moved back to Orlando and rejoined the group.

We held it at the food court of a local mall, an ideal place I thought because it easily accommodated our group without any expectation that we should be quiet or buy anything. Of the seven people at the table that night, one is a traditionally published author (Owl Goingback), one is a self published author (me), and the others are either writing speculative fiction books or have written some and are currently exploring their publication options.

Because we had a new organizer and a few new members, this was more of a chat session than our normal meetings, which focus on review and critique of members’ work. One topic that came up was self publishing. I suppose I was guilty of raising it because when publishing options came up, the implication seemed to be that the preferred option was traditional publishing. I wanted to point out that in the digital age there is another option and that it was my first option rather than a fallback position.

I was surprised that the other members seemed to either not consider this or thought of self publishing as the last, desperate act a writer would take and that books were only self published if they couldn’t meet the exacting standards necessary for traditional publication.

Obviously I don’t believe this to be true but the incredulous stares around the table made it clear just how pervasive this belief is, not just among readers, agents, and publishers, but among writers as well. Unfortunately this is not without cause.

Self publishing has some great advantages. For writers, these include retention of all rights to their work. They control everything from content to distribution. They control the cost of their books and they receive higher royalties as a percentage of sales.

For readers, self publishing means that there are more books in more subgenres than ever before. Books don’t need to fall into mainstream categories or follow whatever may be popular in their genre at the time in order to be published. A publisher’s impression of profitability does not enter into the equation. Self published books, especially ebooks, are almost always much cheaper than traditionally published books as well so readers have greater selection at lower cost. What could be better?

Well, there is the quality issue. The problem with anyone being able to publish is that anyone is able to publish anything. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t even have to be coherent or readable or, in the case of nonfiction, even accurate. Now I won’t say this is an exclusive problem with self publishing because we have all seen traditionally published books that had these same flaws but if a major publisher’s logo was on the cover, a reader could be assured that it had at least gone through some editing process.

With self published books, there is no such guarantee and books can be released before they are ready. Some people, dishonest, scummy, and disreputable people who should be publicly flogged, tarred, feathered, and sent to their rooms without supper, have been known to scam this new openness by plagiarizing the work of others or intentionally throwing out dozens or even hundreds of short, poor quality books. There is currently no way to prevent this and it helps perpetuate the myth that all self published books are bad. I have seen other self published authors claim that readers can still tell quality books from reader reviews on sites such as Amazon. These certainly help and I don’t discount them but reviews and ‘likes’ are not necessarily a guarantee of quality either. Just as anyone can publish a book, anyone can write a review and writers can swap positive reviews and ‘likes’ with other authors as part of their promotion efforts, often with honest intent simply to help their peers.

There are a few disadvantages to self publishing for writers as well. They have to cover all of the up front costs themselves including editing, cover design, and formatting. Self published books are difficult to get into brick and mortar bookstores and the authors have to do all of their own marketing and promotion, which can be extremely difficult without the resources of an agent or traditional publisher to support them. Writers need to be willing to take on these challenges before they decide to self publish but their biggest hurdle may be the continuing stigma hovering over self published books.

I think there may be a fairly simple solution to this although it means readers will need to do a little research themselves. But since they are receiving the benefit of more options and lower costs, I don’t think this is asking too much. Actually my suggestion would apply to any author whose work you have not read before.

Before you decide to buy a book by an author unknown to you, read the sample pages first. If it still looks good, go to the author’s website. All legitimate self published authors should have one. There is probably even a link to it on the author’s page on Amazon or whatever online retailer sells their book. Look at the content. Keep in mind that self published authors may not be expert at web design but if the layout is logical and the content is good, chances are their books will be as well. If the book description looks like the type of book you would enjoy and the author’s website suggests that he or she is a competent writer, there is a good chance you’ve found something that will appeal to you. I know this is more work for readers but I think this inconvenience may be outweighed by the benefits readers receive in price and selection.

As always, if you have thoughts on this subject you would like to share, please leave a comment.

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My Self Publishing Adventure

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following

   In February of 2011, I decided to turn my writing hobby into a vocation. In addition to spending time completing the two novels I had in draft, I joined a writers’ group, read several books on the craft of fiction writing, and I did some research on what publishing is like in the 21st Century and how it is changing. Based on what I had read and heard, I decided that rather than seeking a traditional path to publishing by querying agents and publishers, I would self publish my novels as e-books. The advantages seemed to outweigh the disadvantages although this puts extra responsibility on the writer. Whether this was a wise choice or not remains to be seen but one of the first things I learned was that I needed a “platform.”

Writing books is only part of a new writer’s job and, I have learned, not the most difficult part. The hardest part is letting people know they are available, attracting their attention and encouraging them to give them a try. This is where traditional publishing seems to excel but I felt confident that once people read my books, they would spread the word about them and want more. After all, my books are good. I know. I’ve read them and I have very discriminating taste.

But this strategy relies heavily on gaining those first readers, which means the author has to somehow accomplish four things:

  1. Attract readers’ attention.
  2. Get them to download the books.
  3. Persuade people to actually read them.
  4. Encourage them to write reviews and tell friends about the books.

I seem to be stuck at steps 1 and 2 right now. To attract attention, I started this blog and opened a Twitter account in May.

The blog has evolved since then. I began by writing short posts on some of the things that influenced my writing. Then I began sharing my experiences on writing and self publishing thinking these may be of interest to others who may be contemplating this path. Recently I’ve also been posting short reviews of books I just finished reading if they warrant four or five stars (on Amazon’s five star scale). Occasionally I also do a post on other topics as well. I try to do at least two posts a week. If I get comments on any of these, I try to respond.

The blog seems to be gradually attracting some following. These are the stats on the number of ‘hits’ it has received since it began.

  • May – 26
  • June – 42
  • July – 83
  • August – 96
  • September – 226
  • October – 308
  • November (so far) – 180

Twitter, the other major focus of my platform building effort, is less focused. I try to do at least ten tweets a day but these are fairly random, from clever quotes and quips to blatant self promotion of my blog or my books. As of today, I have 253 followers. I try to engage those I follow by retweeting tweets I find interesting or clever and I try to thank anyone who comments on mine or follows me.

So, has any of this turned into book sales? The short answer is, “No.” This table shows my book ‘sales’ to date.

 

 

 

 

By making a few assumptions, what I have leaned from this is that attracting attention, step 1 on my list, is difficult but not impossible. I have Twitter followers and people are visiting my blog and these numbers are gradually increasing.

Step 2, getting people to download my books can be done by offering them for free. My ‘beta’ version of the anthology Defying Fate came out in July and I offered it to friends and relatives for free. None had e-readers but some did download PDF versions from Smashwords and commented favorably. In September, I published the two books separately and offered the first for free on Smashwords for a month. During that time, 157 copies were downloaded. I then raised the price to 99¢ on Smashwords to match the price on Amazon. There were no sales after that on Smashwords.

Step 3, getting people to read them is where I’m stalled. I have no idea how many of those 157 free copies have actually been read but I have seen no comments or reviews on Smashwords as a result so I am assuming few, if any, have been. One five star review has been posted to Amazon though and I am extremely grateful for it. I am hoping it is the first of many.

I have learned that a low price by itself does not attract buyers. I thought it might but there are many books by new indie authors priced at 99¢ and mine are just two out of thousands. Because of comments I had received from other indie writers saying mine were priced too low for what they were, I had planned on raising the prices of my books this month but I am putting that off for now. Raising the prices, I fear, might make them less attractive and I’m really not in this to make money anyway. The main reason to charge anything at all is to give me a way to explain to others why I spend so much time with this.

My plan forward in addition to completing my third novel, is to try to attract more Twitter followers by targeting those I follow. I will also look into seeing if I can find book bloggers who may be interested in looking at my first book and doing a short review. If you are a book blogger or reviewer and would like a free copy in exchange for an honest review let me know.

For all of the other new writers out there, consider this encouragement not to give up. Once your first book is done and available, it is likely to take quite some time to get noticed. If you find yourself frustrated that it has not been, don’t be discouraged. You are not alone.

 Related Posts:
Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations
Ten Things For Aspiring Fiction Writers To Consider

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations

   I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with this adventure in self publishing so far and I’m trying not to be disillusioned about it all. This post isn’t to gripe about that though. My intent here is to share my experiences with other new writers so that they might know what to expect and give them an opportunity to assess how they are doing by comparison with how I have done.

I have always wanted to write fiction. I knew I would be something of a niche author because I am a niche reader. I like books that provide social commentary, philosophical insights, and do so without being heavy or taking themselves too seriously. This is hard to pull off although Sir Terry Pratchett normally can do it and others can occasionally as well. These are the kinds of books I like to read so they are the kind I wanted to write.

I found that Young Adult (YA) books are often better at this than those targeted for adult markets because they tend to be more hopeful, more idealistic, and less focused on sex and violence. If I want to see the darker side of humanity, I can watch the TV news. A few hours of that could convince anyone that humanity is doomed, and quite possibly deservedly so.

I want something different for my leisure reading. Something that will allow me to pretend, at least for a moment, that there is a bright future for humanity. For video entertainment, this is what draws me to both Star Trek and Doctor Who. They both show people being able to overcome prejudice and superstition and they portray people, as a whole and individually, as creatures with value and potential. Apparently this is not a popular perspective so I never expected my books to be bestsellers. I never expected them to appeal to a very large audience. I have to admit that I did expect some feedback on them though, some indication that they are at least being read. So far, except for personal friends and family, there has been none.

From what I have heard anecdotally, my expectations, low as they were, may have been too high. I have found no reliable statistics on this but I’ve seen claims that it is not uncommon for a blog to attract only a few select followers its first year. Mine was established the end of May and here are statistics on how it has fared in terms of the gross number of views since then:

May – 26
June – 42
July – 83
August – 96
September – 226
October (so far) – 172

Clearly readership has grown, and hopefully will continue to do so as I write more of these wonderful posts, but so far this has not equated to book sales. This may also be common. Again, my only means of comparison for this are anecdotal comments from other writers from their blogs but I get the distinct impression that most fiction ebooks by unknown authors don’t see any appreciable sales – ever – but those that do don’t until they’ve been available for a couple years. Mine have been out a couple of months.

I began by making an anthology of my first two books available on Smashwords and created a coupon to allow them to be downloaded free. Most of these went to friends and family who did provide feeback on them, all of it positive. But then, what else would you expect from friends and family? (By the way, thanks, Dad.)

A couple of months ago, I published my first two books separately. I made the first free on Smashwords for a month and then raised the price on both Smashwords and Amazon to 99¢. I priced the sequel at 99¢ as well and the anthology at $1.99. The following shows how this pricing strategy has fared.

 

 

 

The summary for this table is that I’ve given away 174 copies of my books (all on Smashwords) and sold two (both on Amazon). I assume the one sale of The Warden War, the sequel to The Warden Threat was to someone who got a free copy of the first one, liked it, and was willing to spend 99¢ for the next one. This may not be the case but it makes me feel better to think so.

So what does this mean to others like me who may just be starting out on their own self publishing adventures? Just this. Keep your expectations low. You may have written the best book ever. It may have the potential to brighten the lives of millions, bring enlightenment to the masses and usher in a new and hopeful era for humanity. And all of these things may be true even though you don’t see many sales and don’t get any feedback from readers right away. The only opinion that really matters is your own. If you believe in your work, continue. Keep writing.

So, what is my next step? I have heard from others that my low prices, which I hoped would attract readers, may be having the opposite effect. Many people mistakenly associate cost with value. The low cost of my books may imply that they have little value. Personally I believe this to be untrue but to charge what I really think they are worth would mean only millionaires could buy them and they really aren’t the market I was trying to reach, not that I would mind them buying them as well.

One other indie writer told me that pricing a book at 99¢ may cause a person to skim over it thinking it is a novella, rather than an 80,000+ word complete novel or one that is poorly written, unedited, and incoherent. Since none of these things are true, he said I should price them at least at $2.99. I hesitate to do this because I want my books to be available to as many people as possible and some simply can’t afford $2.99 for a single book. In principle though, he may be right so in the next month or so, I am going to increase some of the prices. I will keep the first book in the series, The Warden Threat, at 99¢. I will change the price of the second to $1.99 and price the anthology of both books (which includes a special prelude as well) at $2.99. These new prices will become effective early November. I will post periodic updates on how this goes and whether or not it seems to have an impact on sales.

In the meantime, keep reading, keep writing. If you’d like to share your experiences, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about them.

Related Posts:

Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following
Ten Things For Aspiring Fiction Writers To Consider

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three. Building a platform

  It’s been about a month now since I published my first two novels as separate ebooks and my self publishing adventure so far has been a rougher journey than I expected. I naively started out thinking my main focus would be on writing fictional stories to entertain and enlighten the masses, or at least a select subset of the masses. Oh what a simple, idealistic fool I was. Almost every day I find out something else I need to learn to be a self published or “indie” author.

The first not totally unexpected bump in the road was cover design, which required considerable research and several false starts and experiments with unfamiliar software before I came up with anything I thought was even marginally acceptable. But this turned out to be a comparatively minor obstacle. Today I want to focus on a major detour on my self publishing adventure, my “platform.”

So what is a platform, you might ask. I know I did when I first heard the word earlier this year. Roughly speaking, in today’s digital age it is your social media presence, which leads to name recognition among readers, writers, reviewers, agents, and publishers. Someone with a good platform will be a person these kinds of people have heard of.

This came as something of a surprise to me. I was under the impression that name recognition for a writer came from writing extraordinary books. Not so or at least not at first. Yes, writing extraordinary books is still part of it but if you want those books to be read by anyone, you have to have a platform to attract those initial readers. This sounds like a Catch-22 situation. Unless you are already famous for something else, how does a new writer build one of these platforms?

I was going to compare this dilemma to using your head to bang a rubber spike through several layers of concrete but that might me easier. It’s certainly more straightforward. A writer’s platform is a tenuous thing and there seems to be no clear formula for making a successful one. I’m going to share what I think I’ve learned about them though and what I’m trying. It may be of some help to others who are on similar adventures.

The organizer of my writers’ group told me that the first thing I needed to create a platform was a Twitter account. She told me this at the first meeting I attended before it even started so she must have thought it was both basic and essential. I went home that night and opened one.

Apparently I also needed a Facebook account. I was pretty sure I already had one of those but I’d never actually posted anything to it. I checked and I did have one. Okay, two down. I was building a platform. This didn’t seem terribly difficult so far.

The third mandatory thing for all new writers is a website and a blog. I know a lot of people consider these the same thing but I separate them in my mind. I think of the website as the relatively static pages about you and your writing and the blog as the collection of posts on other things you’ve chosen to write about. The website is the part that lets people know about your books and the blog part is what they actually come to see. But however you want to think of it, you need one. You’re reading mine now. Thrilling, isn’t it?

Still, not too bad. A week after my first writers’ group meeting, I had the three legs of my platform done. All I had to do now was, well, to be honest, I didn’t have a clue.

I quickly found out that just having accounts with Twitter and Facebook, and a website did not mean I had a platform. These were just the foundation of a platform. To have a real platform you have to have a following.

Building a following requires two things that sound simple in theory but in practice are fairly difficult. The first is to provide content. Now I knew what content was. At least I thought I did. It’s the stuff you read on web pages. It’s the articles in newspapers and magazines, either paper or online. That doesn’t sound all that hard. I am a writer after all. Sure, I’d rather be writing my next novel but how long can a few blog posts, tweets, and Facebook status updates take?

The answer is forever because you have to keep writing them. You have to keep posting interesting, helpful, or insightful new content. But that’s not all. You’re still unknown, remember? You now have the best content available on the web but no one knows it’s there.

Now comes the even more difficult part of building your platform, the social part of social media. You may have noticed that everything I’ve mentioned up until now is a relatively solitary effort, not unlike what you do when you write your books. You sit at your desk and bang your fingers (or your head) on the keyboard until coherent thoughts trickle out and beautiful words magically appear on the screen. And if all you want to do is write books, that’s enough. But if you’re an indie author and you want people to read those beautiful words, it’s not. You have to go where the people are and, uncomfortable as it may be for introverted writers, you have to engage with them.

“Wait,” you say. “Haven’t I already done that? I have great content available on the internet and millions of people engage with that every day.”

Yes they do. That’s the problem. Millions of people use the internet every day to find things. Millions also provide things to find. Do you see the problem? Your great content is mixed in with a bunch of other content and some of that might be almost equally as great as yours. Sure, your website may get a few hits from time to time and someone my retweet something you wrote on Twitter, but passively sitting back hoping people will notice you is probably not going to gain you much of a platform during your lifetime no matter how clever your content is. You need to draw people to your site. You need to engage them directly one on one, but it doesn’t need to be face to face.

There are a number of places online for people who love to read and write, including Goodreads, Library Thing, MobileRead, Shelfari, and Book Country. These are sites I know of that include groups, forums and/or discussions relevant to reading and writing fiction. There may be many more. You need to establish accounts with at least a few sites like these, join groups, and monitor their discussions. When you have the feel for what they are about, you need to join in, discuss topics, share your experiences or ask questions. Always respond to anyone who asks for help if you have something to offer. These are not necessarily places to promote your books, at least not directly. Think of them more as meet and greet sites. Occasionally a topic may come up that you just wrote a brilliant blog about. In cases like that, you can say so and provide a link.

Sometimes you will find yourself looking at other people’s blogs and Facebook pages. This is also a socializing opportunity. If you have something to share or ask, do so by submitting a comment to their post.

Respond to tweets. If someone tweets a question you can answer, answer it. If someone retweets one of your messages or follows you, thank them.

I have just begun this process of one on one engagement myself and I have not yet established a profile with all of the sites I mentioned above but my experience so far has been positive. It hasn’t increased my book sales as far as I can tell but I am getting more blog hits and Twitter followers and I’m learning a lot of new things.

I assume book sales will follow in the future. This is still speculative on my part, of course. I’m apparently not at the people-actually-buying-my-books stage yet but I do know that engaging with people directly can increase visits to your blog, either because of idle curiosity about who you are or to see a post you may have mentioned. While there, they may visit more of your website, the relatively static pages where you talk about yourself and your books. They came to see your great blog content but they may notice your books and may be prompted to actually sample one.

My concept of how it should work goes something like this:

1- You join groups and forums, on reading, writing, and the genre or subjects you write about. For me, these would be science fiction, fantasy, and young adult books. You can do this either physically or online.
2 –
You monitor what the people in those groups are talking about.
3 –
You engage with the people you meet there. Share knowledge, experiences, and opinions.
4 –
You respond to Tweets and/or Facebook status updates.
5 –
Eventually someone visits your blog to see your great content on a subject he or she is interested in, or because you like the same author or book, or because they share the same opinion on some subject.
6 –
They see your books. This is easier for them to do if your blog has a column listing them but as this is not a post on website design, a subject on which I am far from expert, I won’t go into that. To see what I mean though, look at the top right side of this page.
7 –
They click on the book and either like the cover, the description, or the price and buy it.
8 –
After they read it, they write a glowing review and tell all their friends about you.
9 –
Those people write additional reviews and tell their friends.
10 –
Repeat step 9 several hundred times and you have a platform.

You may have already seen the implications of platform building by now. It is a lot of work and it takes a lot of time. It’s also not something you can do once, complete, and move on. You have to devote time to your platform regularly, probably every day at first, time you would otherwise have to work on your next book. Some days you may find you simply don’t have time or are too exhausted to work on your book because of all the effort you have put in on your platform. This seems like another Catch-22 and it is the part of all of this I find most frustrating. I have books I want to write but I’d also like them to be read and they won’t be unless I take time away from writing them to build and maintain a platform.

Okay. Enough for that short rant. This is just the way things are. As indie writers we simply have to deal with it.

There is a plus side to platform building as well though. While you are engaging with people with whom you share common interests, you find yourself building online friendships. These people have many of the same goals, interests and frustrations as you do and just talking with them can make your job as a writer a lot less lonely than it otherwise could be. There is a community of writers and book lovers out there and it is a good community. I’m glad I joined it.

I was going to include statistics on how my sales and promotions were doing today but this post is already longer than I’d like it to be. I’ll provide updates on the numbers and my future plans in a future post.

In the meantime, if you’d like to share your experiences with platform building or have any suggestions on how to make the process less time consuming or painful, please leave a comment. Share your knowledge. We’re all in this together.

Related Posts:

Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following
How To Create Covers For Ebooks

Ten Things For Aspiring Fiction Writers To Consider

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two – Free or Almost Free

  My self publishing adventure continues. In the last five days, there have been twenty more free downloads of my first book from Smashwords, for a total of 157 since I made it available on 10 September. I find this exciting and I hope some of the people who have downloaded it will read it and write a review.

My plan was to end the free promotion at the end of the month and I have done so. The price for The Warden Threat  is now 99¢. I still have seen no sales from Amazon at this price. I will let you know how this affects the number of downloads on Smashwords. I expect it will dramatically. A free novel by an unknown author is a bargain but at 99¢, not so much. Many books, especially self published books, are available at that price. Free, mine stands out. At 99¢ it does not, even as a full length novel of over 80,000 words.

So why raise the price? My primary reason is not to make money. Few fiction authors actually seem to make money from their books and I don’t expect to be one of them, despite the fact that I would like to be. My primary reason for charging for it is to give it value in the eyes of readers. In our materialistic society, we often equate value with cost — no cost implies no value. As mistaken as I think this equation may be, it exists.

My plan forward is to continue as I have with limited promotion on social media at least through the end of the year and, of course, to continue writing. The third book in the Warden series should be available in 2012.

I’ll post an update periodically to keep you updated on how my adventures in self publishing ebooks are going. I invite you to share your experiences in the comments to this blog. You are also more than welcome to sample my writing either at this blog or on Amazon. If you do, please let me know what you think.

Related Posts:

Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One – Initial Release and Promotion

  As promised, here is a short update on my ongoing self publishing effort.

I published my first novel, The Warden Threat on Amazon and Smashwords on September 10 2011. The process for both was quick, easy, and free. I couldn’t be more pleased with that aspect of it.

My promotion strategy, such as it is, is to price my books as cheaply as possible and announce their availability on social networking sites. This includes only Twitter and Facebook, since these are the only ones I currently use.  I’ve been sending tweets about it a few times a week and I’ve posted a couple links on Facebook. I also put a link to my website on my email signature block so my friends and relatives will be aware of it. I’ve established accounts with Goodreads and MobileRead and I’ve introduced myself in their forums.

So how has it worked so far? Are people buying my books? Well, the short answer is “no.” At least not for money. The one success story is Smashwords, where I made The Warden Threat free until 30 September. In the two and a half weeks it’s been available, there have been 137 downloads. I don’t know if any of those who have downloaded copies have read them though. So far it has gotten no reviews or ratings. On Amazon, where the sale price is $0.99, there have been no sales and no reviews.

My plan forward it to continue what I’ve been doing hoping that some of those who have downloaded the book for free will read it, review it, and tell others what a truly amazing and wonderful story it is. That’s my hope. My expectation is that I’ll continue with what I’ve been doing and maybe get a few sales at $0.99 before the end of the year. I expect downloads on Smashwords to end once the free download offer is over at the end of the month.

That’s my experience so far. If you have self published your stories as ebooks, was your experience similar? Do you have any suggestions?

Related Posts:

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following
Why I Chose To Self Publish
Self Editing – Advice And Apology

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