In the past, a large publisher’s most profitable strategy was to publish a relatively small number of different books with wide appeal, those for which they believed there was a large market. The large volume offset the cost of editing, cover design, printing, and promotion. This made perfectly good business sense. There were a few predefined genres, and books that fit the currently popular trends in each of those were what ended up being published and displayed on the limited shelf space in bookstores. This model worked well for the publishing business, but it didn’t provide much variety for readers.
When I was a kid, I read mostly space operas and sword and sorcery epic fantasies. That’s what the stores sold, and for speculative fiction, that was about all they sold because that is all the traditional publishers were publishing, which they did because they sold…
These books were often very much alike. If you tore out the title page, there is a good chance you would not be able to guess who wrote the story. They were as generic as fast food hamburgers and for the same reason—mass appeal, low cost, predictable content, and reasonable quality.
It seems that traditional publishers are still working to this model, and if you really want to read a new post-apocalyptic, dystopian, paranormal, vampire romance with demons, zombies and a teenage wizard, they’ll have one for you.* They’ll probably have dozens, in fact. That kind of stuff sells. They know this because they’ve already sold a bunch much like them. This doesn’t mean any of these books are good, nor does it mean all of them are bad, but it does mean that readers who want something completely different are going to have a hard time finding it.
Fortunately, the constraints of limited shelf space and mass appeal no longer apply, although I don’t think traditional publishers know this. Many authors and readers may not, either. Things are changing, though, and the change is good.
Online retailers do not need to be concerned about shelf space. This allows them to follow a different model. They can offer a wide variety of items to suit different needs and tastes rather than focusing on a relatively small number of currently popular items. Amazon may have been one of the first to adapt this idea to books, and they quickly came to dominate the book market because of it.
Then they went a step further by creating the Kindle, which made them the leader in digital books as well. They further expanded their eBook selection by encouraging writers to bypass traditional publishers and sell their books directly to readers (who had Kindles). I’m sure this wasn’t out of some altruistic concern or even due to some sense of duty to rescue the art of fiction from the doldrums. They are a business after all, and the primary business of business is, as we know, to make money, and I suspect Amazon is making a respectable profit from digital book sales. I have no idea how many eBook titles they now have available, but I imagine it’s a lot. They probably don’t sell many copies of most of these, but a few here and a few there can add a very large pile of nickels and dimes to their bottom line.
I did not realize how truly limited my book selection had been until I received a Kindle as a gift two years ago. In the years BK (Before Kindle), I got books from the library, brick and mortar bookstores, and online, but all of those books were published on paper through the gateway of a traditional publisher. I had no idea what I was missing. In the years AK (After Kindle), I have found many books that were fresh, different, that defied genre and convention, and, because of this, they were great reads. But they didn’t come from traditional publishers, which are still working to the old model of formulaic fiction for mass audiences. Many of the most enjoyable books I read last year came from small, independent publishers or were self-published by the authors.
The rise of indie publishing makes more books available to readers. But quantity is not what makes indie revolutionary. If all it did was increase the number of new vampire romances or zombie apocalypse stories released each year from a hundred to ten thousand, it would hardly be important. The greatest contribution of indie publishing is that it makes many different kinds of stories available to readers.
For a publishing business, the purpose of producing books is to make money. For many (but not all) indie writers, the purpose is simply because they have a need to create and share stories that are not like those coming out of the big publishing houses. Sure, indie writers would love to make piles of money, but few expect to, and I don’t think it’s why most of them write, especially those who are consciously not following the mass-market book trends. What this means for fiction readers is greater variety, more books, lower prices, and a better chance of finding a book that is fresh and wonderfully different.
I used to read about twenty new books a year. Now I read about seventy or eighty. The main reason for the increase is that I can now find more books that appeal to me. And, if this wasn’t enough, ‘indie’ eBooks tend to be much cheaper than their traditionally published counterparts. Many indie books are free. Not all of them are good of course, but not all the books published by traditional publishers are, either.
I have come to view traditional publishers as something akin to fast food chain restaurants. They offer items with wide appeal and consistent quality. I’ve found that some traditional publishers of speculative fiction tend to do this better than others do, but their variety remains limited and the difference between them is like that between Burger King and McDonalds. Indie publishers are more along the lines of local mom and pop diners. Some are good and some are not, but a few offer great things you cannot find anywhere else.
This is a good time for fiction writers. They can write stories they believe in and offer them directly to readers. It is a good time for readers whose tastes do not match those of the crowd. It is still difficult to find great books that match our individual tastes, but, because of the rise of indie publishing, those books are far more likely to be out there. What is now desperately needed is a way to sort through the many thousands of indie books available to find those that we’ll absolutely love. Variety is great, but it can be overwhelming.
*This is a slight exaggeration. Most popular books won’t have all of these elements. There is only so much, um, ‘stuff’ that will fit in any one bucket.
My 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.
My Self-Publishing Adventure: https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/blog/my-self-publishing-adventure/
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.
- My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Six – The Importance of Book Reviews
- The Importance of Book Reviews – Part 2
- My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Seven – The Motivating Power of Readers
- A List of Indie Book Reviewers
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.
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.
My Self Publishing Adventure
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, scrumptious” The 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.
After spending far more time on this than I wished, I think I finally have a cover I can live with for the paperback edition of The Warden Threat. I thought I had this several times before, but I received multiple comments that previous versions looked too much like a Photo-shopped photograph (among other things). I hope this one overcomes that. Anyway, here it is. I welcome comments.
You may notice –how could you help not– that the title is in large font and bright colors. This is mainly so that it will show up well as a thumbnail, but it is also meant to convey that this book contains humor. The scene depicted, although not accurately, is one from about the middle of the book in which the protagonist, Prince Donald of Westgrove, is trying to animate the ancient and mysterious statue known as the Warden of Mystic Defiance. It sits high in the mountains of the neighboring Kingdom of Gotrox in a crater-like canyon with silvered walls. He is naked because the “spell” he has found, which he believes is the means to bring this huge enigmatic artifact to life and obey the commands of the caster, specifies that a prince, “naked to the Warden’s love,” must recite it. After his first failed attempt, Prince Donald reluctantly concludes that this line must be taken literally.
In other news, my edits and revisions of this book are now done. I would like to do one more proofreading before it goes to print, however. Look for the revised ebook in the next couple of months and the paperback shortly thereafter. The cover for the ebook will be pretty much the same as the front cover of the paperback.
I’m in the middle of editing and revising the sequel, The Warden War. I don’t have a cover for this one yet but I’ve been corresponding with the cover artist, and I am optimistic about it. I sent some files to her yesterday for her consideration.
The first draft of my third book is complete and awaiting additional work until I’ve put the first two to bed. It is more Young Adult oriented with a younger protagonist. She is briefly mentioned in the previous books but this is her first appearance. Some of the characters from the first books appear in it as well though. The third book is more clearly science fiction and reveals more about the now defunct commercial enterprise established on this planet several thousand years ago by the Galactic Organic Development Corporation. I have not decided, but I am considering attempting to go the traditional publishing route with this one. Self-publishing may be more advantageous to authors, but it is a lot more work, and these extra duties take time away from what I really want to do, which is write more stories.
“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.
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.
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.
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:
- Enter the Portal
- Kindle Book Review
- Maria Violante
- Novel Opinion
- Sift Book Reviews
- Rainy Day Ramblings
- Kate Policani’s Reviews
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.
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.
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:
- Attract readers’ attention.
- Get them to download the books.
- Persuade people to actually read them.
- 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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
Today’s post is about my own experience but hopefully it will be helpful to some of the people out there in cyberspace looking to publish their own ebooks.
One of the most frustrating things I had to do to self publish was to create ‘covers’ for my books. I am a man of limited artistic talent although I did take an art class once when I was younger to meet girls and no, I’m not saying how long ago that was. I got no dates but I did learn how to draw a banana in charcoal. If I ever write a book on bananas this will certainly come in handy but since I haven’t yet, I was at something of a loss with my book cover.
I did what most of us would do at a time like this. I searched the web and found all sorts of sites offering to sell me their software. I tried some free samples. They worked, more or less, but none was especially easy to use and none came with anything I thought was suitable artwork. I write speculative fiction so a stock photo of a pretty girl picking flowers, or sailboats or a landscape of green hills just won’t work.
It was time to go back to the web. I found sites offering to create a unique cover custom designed for my books for a surprisingly wide range of prices, from less than a hundred to over a thousand dollars. But I’m also a fairly cheap, I mean frugal man and this writing habit was already costing me money. I was reluctant to shell out much cash to support it unless it started paying me back. So what is a frugal writer who is only marginally adept at drawing a banana supposed to do?
I did more research. Research is free. I looked at my bookshelf first; the physical one with the paper books. There were some lovely covers there but most were far too complex for me to have any chance of using as a template — with one notable exception; Thud by Terry Pratchett. A copy is posted above. There are a couple of things about this I like but the first thing that attracted me was how simple it was. And since it was by my favorite author, I knew it had to be good. (That’s a Pratchett plug by the way. Remuneration from his publisher will be gladly accepted — preferably before the next mortgage payment is due.)
I also researched the covers of books on Amazon and one thing became clear right away. Covers that look good in a bookstore do not necessarily look good when they are shrunk down and displayed on a computer monitor. Those that did were much like the cover for Thud. They were simple and had bright colors and large letters. But I still couldn’t do the art. Yes, it was just a cartoon drawing but the best I might manage would still probably look like a banana.
I went back to the web. I searched for free stock photos, clipart and cartoons. There are some but none that really grabbed me. But while searching, I hit on something I wasn’t really looking for. Avatars. Those little images people use for Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Apparently avatars are also used by online gamers and I found a few sites where you can make your own. And best of all, they were free.
So that’s what I did. I went to a few of them. (You can do your own search to find the ones you like best.) Most are pretty limited and you can’t do a lot of tailoring of the images you create. Some were also fairly difficult to use but I managed to make some JPG files that could be used as raw material. The image on the home page of this blog came from one of those.
I took the JPG files and opened them in a program on my computer called Paint. It came with my Microsoft Windows software so I didn’t need to buy anything new. There are also free programs like Gimp that can edit JPG pictures but I used Paint. I won’t say it was easy to tailor the images to what I thought would work for my covers and it wasn’t quick but it was possible. I cropped, touched up, altered, recolored and resized.
So I finally had some JPG art that I thought might work. Now I had to turn them into ebook covers. This is when inspiration hit. I already had a program on my computer that might be able to do this and, best of all, I knew how to use it. I just didn’t know how to use it to make book covers. I had used Microsoft PowerPoint for years to make slides for briefings and reports; not as part of my real job as a writer but as part of my paying job. It took me a while but I think I finally figured it out. It’s really rather simple, especially if you are familiar with PowerPoint.
The first thing you need to do, and the thing that eluded me the longest, is to change the orientation of the slide. On my version of PowerPoint you do this by gong to the “File” tab and selecting “Page Setup” from the dropdown. A window opens up with radio buttons. Change the “Slides” selection from “Landscape” to “Portrait” and this will give you a template ideal for an ebook cover. Delete any text boxes that automatically come up so you have a blank page to work with.
I’m not going to go through how to use PowerPoint. I’m sure Mircosoft has guidance out there on how to do this but I will list what I did. These are in no particular order and you can do them in any sequence you want.
After I finally figured out how to change the orientation of the slide, I selected a background color and pattern. There are a lot of combinations to choose from.
Then I inserted my JPG file images. You can also use the clipart that comes with the program to add things like vines or frames or other doodads. I decided not to after playing with some of them because it detracted from the clean and simple look I wanted that would show up well as a small icon next to the “order now” button.
I positioned the images, set the transparency color (the one you want to be invisible), and brought them forward or back behind others as needed. You just right click the image for this option.
The last thing was the text. Again I wanted it simple; just title and author. I tried a few options for the text but using WordArt provided the best result in my opinion. PowerPoint gives you the same kind of options for WordArt as you have for any other kind of picture you insert.
Once I had a cover I thought looked good, I simply saved it as a JPG file. It is already the correct size for an ebook cover so you don’t have to do anything else unless you want to do some minor tweaks using Paint or a similar program. I had to do this if my transparency color made some things invisible that shouldn’t have been.
That’s it. The covers I came up with are the ones you see on my Warden Novels tab. They have what I was looking for; bright colors, simple design, and large text. If you have a moment, let me know what you think of them. Or if you have a better way of doing this for free please let me know that too.
When I told my friends and relatives I had finally embarked on my life long goal to write fiction and had actually published something, they said, “Great! Where can I get it?” When I told them, their responses were much different. You see, my books are self published and there is still a stigma about self published books. Many believe self publishing is what you do when your stuff isn’t good enough for a “real” agent or publisher. My books were also ebooks and everyone knows “real” books are made of paper. My friends didn’t even have ebook readers and had no plans of getting one. I myself didn’t have one until this year so I couldn’t really say much.
When I tried to explain that I chose to self publish rather than seek a traditional agent and publisher, I was met with skepticism. “Yeah, right.” (This is the only case I know of in which two positives make a negative.) “You chose to do this?”
But I did. When I decided to begin writing seriously rather than just as a hobby, I initially intended to shop my work to agents and try to get my books published in print. I had compiled a list of agents, what they said they were looking for, and their submission guidelines. I had draft query letters prepared using the best guidance I could find from established agents. I did my homework and I was ready to go. I wanted two books completed before I approached an agent so I could prove I could deliver but when the time came, I had changed my mind.
Maybe it’s a mistake but rather than send out queries for my first book, The Warden Threat, to traditional agents and publishers, I chose to self publish. Why would I make self publishing my first option rather than a last resort? I know many other writers are struggling with the same decision so I thought I’d share the five main reasons for mine (in no particular order).
1: I’m unknown as a fiction writer. My paying job had nothing to do with fiction, at least intentionally, although some of the reports I had done did contain things that were fairly speculative. But the point is, in the world of fiction writing I had no name recognition, no following, and no brand. I assumed it would be very difficult and frustrating trying to get an agent to even look at my work. Agents turn down 99% of the submissions they receive, and all the time the author is waiting to hear back from them is time their book is not available to readers.
2: Self publishing is easy. With the rise of ebooks, there are several places that will allow authors to turn their manuscript into an ebook and publish it. The process is fairly easy and free. I chose Smashwords and Amazon because they seemed to be the industry leaders. Smashwords is the simplest. All you need is a Word document, suitably formatted, and a cover image. Smashwords creates ebooks in multiple formats for you, assigns an ISBN and distributes your book to multiple ebook retailers. Amazon required conversion of the Word file to HTML and then to a PRC format using free Amazon software. Both processes were well within my capabilities. The hardest part for me was coming up with covers but I eventually created some that I thought were simple and eye-catching using no special or expensive software.
3: The popularity of ebooks is growing. Amazon now reportedly sells more ebooks than it does paper books and the popularity of ebooks is still growing. I don’t see paper books going away (I hope they don’t), and I would love to see my books eventually become available in paper because it means more people will be able to read them, but I feel that ebooks are the future and it is good to get in on the ground floor. I see this as analogous to what happened in the music world with the rise of MP3 players. At one time I bought vinyl albums, tapes, and CDs. Probably more than I should have. But I have since converted my CDs to MP3 files and now normally only buy new albums as MP3 digital downloads.
4: With self publishing, authors can choose what compromises to make and what ones not to. I think authors, good authors anyway, write because they have things to say. Traditional publishing is a business and publishers have books they want to sell. There can be an inherent conflict in these two goals and I have heard that authors are sometimes asked to make changes to increase sales at the cost of their intended message. With self publishing, no one will tell you, “You can’t say that.” As your own publisher, you can decide if your story the way you want to tell it is more important than additional sales.
5: Self published ebooks can be the best bargain available for readers. Let’s face it. Times are tough for a lot of us and we have to stretch our budgets. As far as my reading habit or obsession went, I stretched mine by increasing the number of books I borrowed from the public library. I still buy hard copy books from my favorite authors as soon as they are released. I just preordered the latest book by Terry Pratchett for example. But for authors I never heard of, well, I might buy a paperback if it sounds good and the library doesn’t have a copy. But now there is a third option. Ebooks are cheap, normally less than the paperback version, if there is one, and many, especially the works of self published authors, can cost less than a buck. I wouldn’t expect readers to be willing to pay eight dollars for a paperback version of one of my books if they never heard of me and I’d feel guilty asking them to. But $2.99, $1.99, or even just 99 cents is probably affordable and worth the risk. I’m comfortable asking prices like that for my works. I think they are worth much more although my opinion is hardly objective. But until or unless I obtain a following, I doubt I will ever ask for more. My personal goal with my writing is not to make a lot of money. I don’t expect to. Most authors don’t. I just want my books to be read. Making them cheap seems a good way to do that.
I am not advocating self publishing for anyone. I have no idea if it will gain readers for my books. This is my first try and I haven’t been at it long. The start of my self publishing effort began the end of May 2011 with the creation of this blog. I published a “beta version” of my first two novels as an anthology in July and got some good feedback from beta readers. After a little more editing and polishing, I updated the anthology and released the first two books separately this month (September 2011). I will provide updates from time to time on this blog and probably on Facebook and Twitter on how well (or poorly) my books are faring. You are more than welcome to check back to find out.
Please let me know if any of this has been useful to you. I’d love to hear back from readers and writers about how they see ebooks and self publishing. Have you bought self published ebooks? If you have, what did you think? Do they provide good value for the money?
Here is what I’ve discovered.
Writers know their stories. This is the first reason they cannot be objective editors for them. They are too close. The story the writer reads when editing is the story he or she meant to tell. It may not be the story that was actually written.
Scenes cut from the final version are still known to the writer. If information provided in them is essential for readers to know, the writer may not realize the final draft fails to provide it.
Characters and settings are so well known to the writer, they may fail to describe them sufficiently. This can be a flaw when some aspect known to the writer is important but not mentioned. This can be especially true with character motivations.
Writers know what each line of prose is supposed to convey so when they read it, it does — to them. It may not to others. The wording may be vague or confusing.
The writer wrote each word. He also made each typo. This is the one problem I was most surprised to find in my own work. I’ve edited the writing of others before and was normally quite adept at spotting typos. However I failed to notice about seventy-five such errors in my own first book. Why? Because I knew what each sentence was supposed to say so that is what I saw.
Before showing my first novel to anyone, I went over it many times, confident in my own ability to spot flaws. When I was sure it was ready, I self published. About a month later, someone contacted me to tell me how much they were enjoying the book but pointed out a number of typos. Impossible, I thought. I went over that manuscript dozens of times. There were no typos. I checked again. There were typos.
So I read it on my Kindle and was surprised and embarrassed to find even more. How could these have mysteriously appeared in the Kindle version when the manuscript was flawless? Obviously malicious typo fairies were to blame. What other explanation was possible? They’re probably related to those nasty creatures who steal my socks out of the laundry and hide my daughter’s car keys.
Or maybe not. I’m still not dismissing the typo fairy hypothesis but I’m not going to make life easy for them and you shouldn’t either. So here is my advice.
1: After you’ve completed your manuscript and you’re sure it’s flawless, reformat it as an e-book (Kindle, PDF, or EPUB). Don’t publish it yet.
2: Ask others to read it and tell you what they think. This may be hard to do if you don’t have a lot of favors to call in but you may be able to guilt friends or relatives into it. Just remember, now you will owe them. This is one of the burdens writers must accept for their art.
3: Don’t look at it again yourself until you hear back from them, or failing that, a month, or two, or three later. Start writing your next book. Catch up on your reading. Paint a picture. Clean your garage. Do whatever you need to do to distance yourself from your book.
4: Now open the book in the ‘finished’ format. I used a Kindle because I have one but even PDF on your computer should do. Your book should look as much like any other e-book in your library as possible. Don’t reread your double spaced manuscript using your word processing program. Trust me on this. You need to look at your work as objectively as possible and going back to your original manuscript will prevent that.
5: Read your book as if it was the work of someone else. Make notes on any flaws you see but do not try to correct them. Just note them and keep noting them until you’ve read the whole thing.
6: Now take your notes and those of the people kind enough to comment on your book and to whom you now owe your soul, first born child, or favor of their choice, and make corrections. Format the manuscript as an e-book, wait another month and read it again.
7: If you are wealthy (it’s possible–even for writers) consider hiring a professional editor. If not, wait another month or two and reread your book again. If it still looks good, submit it to agents, traditional publishers, or self publish it, whatever route you have decided to pursue.
Now for the promised apology: To all those who have read the first published version of my book with the uncaught typos, whether you have provided comments back to me or not, I’m sorry for them (they typos, that is). I appreciate the time you have taken to look at my work. I would especially like to thank those who brought errors to my attention. I have learned from your feedback and will endeavor to make my next books even better.