Tag Archives: author platform

Getting books ready to publish – the long haul!

CalvinAndHobbes plastic binder

I have published four books since last July. My latest, IXEOS, just got its official launch on March 10, 2013 (although it was technically published in mid-February, just before I left for Uganda). My husband has self published two books since last October, which I helped edit and produce. I have many more in the works for this year, and it looks like I’m already bumping production into next year with the addition of a couple of titles our publishing company is going to produce. All that to say, I have learned a thing or two about the process. And the one thing I can say definitively is, regardless of how long the actual process from writing to publication takes (weeks, months or years), it’s a long haul.

I am in the midst of editing book 2 of the IXEOS Trilogy, IXEOS: Rebellion. I am writing a nonfiction book about homeschooling. I am going to start writing book 3 of the trilogy, Darian’s War, on April 1 (or thereabouts – I’ll be out of town then, so not sure if I’ll be able to start til the 4th) for Camp NaNoWriMo. Meanwhile, I’ve got two other projects from other people that I’ve agreed to publish under Ross James Publishing. Not to mention promotion and marketing and all that stuff.

So what does it really take to get a book from your head to an ebook on a reader’s Kindle, or a paperback in someone’s hands at the beach?

1. Write. Obviously, the first step to writing a book is… writing the book. There are a lot of ways to go about doing that, and I’ve explored my own personal “do it really fast” style a’la NaNoWriMo here in other posts. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, no matter whether you outline and make index cards and use Stickie notes or a dartboard, the bottom line is you have to get the first draft done. Period. Until then, researching or spending time looking at self-publishing blogs is merely taking time away from your writing. Just do it!

2. Edit. The first draft is the F.I.R.S.T. draft. It’s not the final draft, or even the middlest draft. You will probably spend more time editing than you did actually writing, and most of us don’t think it’s super fun. But it’s super necessary, so you’ll have to do it. If you aren’t a good editor, you can hire one or find a friend or family member. There are different kinds of editing, though, so make sure you’re familiar with them.

  • There are content or story editors, who aren’t so much looking at grammar as at your story as a whole, at the characters, at subplots you might have left hanging. These editors can help you polish your story into a bright and shiny gem.
  • Then there are line editors (sometimes called copy editors). This kind of editing looks at dialogue, motivation, characterization, POV, showing vs telling, etc, and makes suggestions along the way, with a summary at the end.
  • Finally, you can get a proofreader, sometimes (confusingly) called a copy editor also. This is editing for typographical errors, grammar problems, misspelled words, and the like.

Word processing programs like Word and Scrivener have spelling and grammar checking tools, and you can use an outside program like Grammarly as well. NOTE that, if you run a piece through all three, you will get differing recommendations, and each program will catch misspellings and typos that the others didn’t. You still have to read and make decisions — don’t just take the program’s word for something, especially when it comes to grammar inside dialogue.

My editing process involves a quick edit after the first draft is completed, read-throughs by beta readers (a couple of whom are great at content editing), a pen-and-paper edit followed by putting those edits into the document, then at least two more edits, followed by all three grammar programs, followed by at least one more read through. Yes, it’s very time consuming and repetitive, and yes, you still have to do it!

3. Cover art.  I use a great company called Streetlight Graphics for my cover art and formatting. I am a nightmare at Photoshop, and am not a graphic artist, so paying one to do my covers is well worth the cost. After having a well written book, probably the most important thing you can do is to have a good, professional cover. Fair or not, people will pass over a book with an obviously homemade, unprofessional cover. That’s just a fact. If there’s one thing you should pay for, this would be it. Explore other books in your genre and decide what you do and don’t like. I’m really not a fan of people on my covers, other than in silhouette (and even then I don’t love it). If I have to have a person, I don’t want a head… I think the character should be drawn by the reader’s imagination, not the cover artist. You don’t have to agree with me — obviously, many don’t. But you do need to decide what you like, and then find a cover artist who will work with you to make that a reality.

4. Formatting. I read all the time, and do not doubt that it’s true, that you can learn to format your own books for print and ebook, and that, after a few books, you can do it in an hour. As I said, I don’t doubt it, and, if I were on an absolute shoestring budget, I’ll probably try and tackle it. Fortunately, my budget isn’t that tight, and Streetlight offers a package price to do the cover art, formating and an ad piece, so I let the experts do what they do. If you do it yourself, find some bloggers who do it and ask questions. Dean Wesley Smith does his own, and you can read about it on his blog. I think you can do all the ebook formatting using Calibre, but I don’t honestly know. If my life gets less crazy, I may look into it one day… but maybe not!

5. Promotion.  When my first book, Solomon’s Throne, came out, I really didn’t do any promoting ahead of time. I didn’t know about the “start promoting six months in advance” thing, and even now, I don’t do that. I do promote ahead now, a little, but not six months, although I talk about my upcoming books on my blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. If you have the money and can run some ads, you can do some “coming soon” promotion. A good use of funds might be a blog tour that will build anticipation for the book. My feeling on it is, there’s no time limit on books now, not like with traditional publishers who have a six-month window to call you a success or not. I published my IXEOS in February, knowing full well I wasn’t going to start promoting a hard launch of it until March. Why? Well, why not? It didn’t cost me a thing to put it up online on either Createspace or Amazon. And I had some sales just through word of mouth. My promotions started March 10, and I am promoting it hard for the first couple of months with two blog tours, a lot of advertising, and the like. Promotion is never-ending, really. So start, learn, ask questions (I’m in two Facebook author groups that are amazingly generous with information on what they’ve done that works, what was a bomb, etc, and I’d suggest joining them or ones like them. They’re Fostering Success and the Alliance of Independent Authors/ALLi.)

6. Upload the book. You will definitely want to upload to CreateSpace or Lightning Source to have a paperback copy of your book. I use CreateSpace and have had no problems with them, and they are owned by Amazon so getting your ebook up is pretty seamless. Both have a good reputation, though, so research which looks best to you, but only do one, because you only want one ISBN out there for paperback. CreateSpace takes a couple of days to get a proof to you. Many people order print proofs to go through; I use the digital online proof. Either way, check it and make sure it looks like you want it to, especially if you didn’t hire someone to format the print version for you.

Next you’ll want to upload to Amazon. Amazon and CreateSpace are incredibly easy to use. All you need are your covers, your interior files, a blurb for your description, and your author bio. They lead you through the rest. You’ll be asked to decide if you want to participate in the KDP Select program. If so, you’re done uploading, because your ebook has to be exclusive with Amazon while you are participating. It usually takes about 8-12 hours, but can take up to a day or two, for your book to be live.

If you are not enrolling in KDP Select, you’ll want to upload to the other ebook platforms. My suggestion is to do Barnes and Noble and Kobo first, because they’re easy. Smashwords will enroll in them for you, but you have more control of price changes, and more royalties, if you do them yourself. Smashwords is more challenging in terms of formatting, so if you aren’t hiring someone, make sure you follow the guidelines. I would enroll through Smashwords to Apple, because the Apple iBookstore sight is a nightmare. (I love all things Apple… except that. That is a worm-hole-filled piece of rotten fruit!)

What is KDP Select?  If you are an Amazon Prime member, you’ve already noticed that you can “borrow” ebooks. I think it’s one per month. It works like a library – you borrow a book, and, once you “return” it, you can borrow another. For authors, what this entails is:

Making your ebook exclusive to Amazon for a 90 day (or longer, if you choose) period.

Getting paid from the Select Fund for all the borrows of your book. Amazon has a fund, usually about $700,000, that is divided by the total number of borrows for the month. Each author is then paid that amount times the number of borrows they had. So if you had 100 borrows, and the fund payout was $2/borrow, you’d get $200.

Five free days are available to you for each 90 day period. This means you can offer your ebook to Kindle users for free. This apparently used to lead to a lot of follow-up sales, although the algorithms had changed a lot by the time I published my first book and I’ve never found that to be terribly true. But I’ve had a book get in the top 50 on Amazon’s free list, and that gets it a lot of exposure. I use the program as a loss leader, a business term meaning a product on which you are willing to take a loss because it drives sales to other products. Because I have two Quinn adventures, I enrolled the first one in KDPS twice, using the free downloads as a way to drive people to book two, The Hoard of the Doges. I’m doing the same with IXEOS, since it’s the first book in a trilogy. I do not recommend perpetual enrollment in the program, nor do I recommend an always-free title, but some people swear by both, so you’ll need to research and make your own decisions there. Joe Konrath has some great insights into KDPS on his blog.

7. Promotion and Marketing… Again. See #5 and repeat! When it comes to “building a platform,” my suggestion is to do only those things you love. I enjoy Facebook, and while I don’t love Twitter, it’s fine. I blog on this blog and two others which aren’t writing related. That’s it. I don’t enjoy Goodreads (I find the site very difficult to use) so I don’t use it often. I joined Triberr and couldn’t figure it out. I don’t get Google+ and have no interest in Linkedin. Find what works for you and focus on those things. Leave enough time for writing!

8. Write the next book, and the next, and the next, and keep working through this list with each one.

There’s a lot of heavy lifting (metaphorically speaking) in indie publishing, but the rewards are tremendous. We aren’t all Joe Konraths (yet!), but he shows us what is possible. The focus, as writers needs to be on writing first. You’ll sell more books the more books you have available, so always keep that your first priority. As with most things, the internet is great, but it is a huge time-sucker… Stay focused on your goal and your writing, and you’ll do great!


Filed under NaNoWriMo, Publishing, Self publishing, Writing

Is Self Publishing Really the Wild West?


As an indie author, I try to keep up with trends in the industry. Since self publishing is so new, it seems like a “trend” is anything that’s been going on for a month or two, or at least that how it seems. There are some really good people doing some really good research into what’s happening in indie-author land, and these people are certainly more in the know than I am. You can read Joe Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Self-Publishing, and get a ton of really useful information, plus Joe is incredibly open about his sales figures. Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rush have very different ideas on self publishing than Konrath does, especially when it comes to offering (or not offering) free promotions. All of them are successful and full of information, and the indie author needs to take away what suits their personality, style, and willingness to work on areas other than writing.

I read this article yesterday written by Jane Friedman, which was posted in my Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) group, called “5 Industry Trends Requiring Every Writer’s Attention.” One of the suggestions is counter to most advice these days — she suggests that writers do NOT work to build a platform. Here’s the pull quote:

“If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. I think it’s causing more damage than good. It’s causing writers to do things that they dislike (even hate), and that are unnatural for them at an early stage of their careers. They’re confused, for good reason, and platform building grows into a raging distraction from the work at hand—the writing.

Therefore, build your platform by writing and publishing in outlets that are a good fit for you, lead to professional growth, and build your network. The other pieces will start to fall into place. It might take longer, but who cares if you’re feeling productive and enjoying yourself? Go be a writer and take a chance on the writing. Writing and publishing good work always supports the growth of your platform—and I’m willing to bet more valuable platform building will get done that way, especially for narrative-driven writers.”

Today, Jane’s friend Dan Blank posted this article called “The Dirty Secret of the Author Platform (Hint: It’s Difficult)” and while he doesn’t totally disagree with Jane, he says this, “No one is more motivated to communicate the value of your book more than you, the author. Why should you consider building an author platform now? Because it takes time to develop meaningful relationships and trust with others.

Should this only be pursued by serious writers? Yes, because this is hard work. Establishing an author platform is about ensuring your book is not just “published,” but finds readers and has an impact in their lives. It is about thinking about a book beyond just an object whose effect is measured by a publication date or a point of sale. That the book is something that lives in the hearts and minds of readers long after it is read.

This is what an author platform delivers.”

So… Platform or no platform? Free books or no free books? Sell only on Amazon, or put your book into every possible outlet the world over? These are only a few of the conflicting questions out there; they barely scratch the surface of the debate going on in this new wild, wild west arena of indie publishing. And don’t even get me started on the vast and varying opinions of Amazon and their ever-changing algorithms.

As a new author — my first book won’t be a year old until July — I can, at times, feel overwhelmed with all of this advice, certainty, even dogma. It’s a lot like when I first started homeschooling my kids. There was so much conflicting information out there, and everyone was sure that they were right. What I came to learn over the years is that a lot of them were right… For their own family and children. For mine? Not so much.

We have to sift through the vast, amazing, and generous treasure trove of shared information out there and seek out those nuggets that really speak to us. Just like we don’t all write the same books, we also can’t run our indie author business the same way. For some people, only listing their books for sale on Amazon works. 99% of their sales come from Amazon, the advertising and promotion outlets for any other book platform is sorely lacking to non-existent, and it’s one thing to check each day. For others, they can’t imagine not having their book on B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, iBookstore, their own website, and print copies available to drop off at libraries and independent bookstores within a two hundred mile radius of their house. They don’t look at low sales on any one channel as a nuisance, but rather see those small numbers adding up to large ones.

Neither one of these is wrong. The Amazon-only person is happy because they don’t have so much to keep up with, and (potentially) they can spend more of their time writing. The be-everywhere author is happy because there is virtually no corner of the globe where his or her book is unavailable.

The same goes for platform building. For me personally, I do three things: this blog, Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I am on Goodreads, too, but I check it about once a month. I find the site difficult to use both as a reader and as a writer, and, at least in my genres, the forums not very active. I do Giveaways on them periodically, and am thrilled they let me do that, and I accept all friend requests, but that’s about it. I joined Triberr and couldn’t figure it out. I get asked to do things on Linkedin all the time, but I have no interest there. Google+… I just don’t get it. I know there are other things that people have had great success with, but for me, either the learning curve is too high (like Triberr) or I just can’t get into it. Even the few things I do sometimes seem like too much work, so I’ve decided that I’m okay with my three things.

But if you love social media, and keeping up with a large author platform is fun for you, then you should do it! Just because I don’t, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Marketing and promotion? Same thing. Blog tours work for me. I know writing guest posts and doing interviews is a big time committment, but I genuinely love to teach and explain and clarify, and blogs let me do that much better than a 140 character Tweet. I don’t put a lot about my books on Twitter or Facebook, mostly just status reports on new projects and word counts, cover reveals, and free day promotions. The rest is about writing. I’m not great at selling things… hopefully, I’m okay at selling myself. I do paid advertising pretty aggressively, and spend a good amount of time on it. Could I find more free stuff? Probably. Honestly, it’s just too much work, when a guaranteed feature is only $5 on so many sites. But is it the wrong way to go? Absolutely not! Free is great when you can get it, and there’s a lot of ways to do it if you’re patient and persistent.

Okay, one caveat. Please, please, please… Do not use Twitter as a scrolling billboard. Honestly. I, and most others, will unfriend you. I try to retweet a couple of things a day, and sometimes it is next to impossible to find something, anything, that isn’t an ad. Do us all a favor (including yourself) and save 90% of your ads for places ads are supposed to go!

The bottom line? No matter what you do, success isn’t a sprint. As my fortune cookie so wisely said, “Success is a planned event.” And true success doesn’t come overnight. It comes with perseverance, with days and weeks and months, and yes, even years, of consistent work. It comes with writing the best books you can write, putting the best covers on them you can find, and doing the best you can to get it in the hands of readers. Amazon change their algorithms just before you were going to put your first book in KDP Select? If you have another book coming soon, do it anyway. It won’t generate a lot of follow-up sales these days, but you’ll get some people who love your work and will buy the next one. If someone tells you not to do it, and you still feel like it’s the right thing to do, then do it! What’s the worst that can happen? You get a bunch of free books into other people’s hands, and you tie up your ebook for 90 days with Amazon. That’s all. The sky won’t fall. The indie author police won’t come to your house.

Be brave and courageous, and stay true to yourself. After all, you published a novel! How awesome is that? You’ve already done an amazing thing by following your heart. Keep doing that, keep taking the advice that speaks to you, and forge your own path. You’re as unique as your book!

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Filed under Publishing, Self publishing, Writing