Tag Archives: indie publishing

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!

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Filed under NaNoWriMo, Publishing, Self publishing, Writing

Amazon logarithms and being a ‘best seller’

As of right now, Solomon’s Throne is #5 on Amazon’s Action/Adventure list! That’s super exciting, obviously, and it’s happening because I put it as a free download on Amazon over the weekend.

Now, what that means in practical terms is that KDP Select, which is Amazon’s lending library for Amazon Prime members, allows authors to have 5 “giveaway” days during each 90 day enrollment period. When you borrow it from KDP Select, of course it’s free, but you don’t get to keep it — they whisk it away from your device when you indicate you’re done, so you can borrow another book. But with the giveaway days, you can download it to own, and it doesn’t cost you anything.

I don’t get any royalties from the free downloads, so from a purely financial standpoint, it’s a loss. (With KDP Select, Amazon has a set amount of money for the month, and divides that by the total number of “borrows” across the whole program, and then multiplies that by the number you had for your royalty.) But what it does is get my book in people’s hands. And hopefully they’ll like what they read, and want to read more. Conveniently (okay, it was planned), the sequel to Solomon’s Throne, The Hoard of the Doges, will be coming out in the next couple of weeks. What that potentially means is that all (or a percentage) of the people who download the first Quinn book for free will like it enough to want to read the next book, for which they will be happy to pay.

I have 3 more free days, and I’m planning a second free weekend either just as, or just before, I release the sequel. The sum total of the KDP borrows, the regular purchases, and the 5 free days will be in the thousands. And my marketing strategy is to have a place to point them… I’ll let you know if it works!

One of the problems of writing in different genres is the backlist. I wanted to get the 2 Quinn books out close together, so that readers who enjoy the treasure hunt/adventure would have a second book to read. But my other published novel, Undaunted Love, is a Christian historical romance.

Some of the people who read Solomon’s Throne will also like Undaunted Love – Solomon’s Throne has had great appeal to women because of the strong female main character, the marital relationship between the Quinns, and the fact that, while there’s excitement, body parts aren’t flying around. So some of those reader will like Undaunted Love. Probably more readers of Undaunted Love will like the Quinn books, truth be told. My current work in progress is a Young Adult dystopian low fantasy… It might appeal to the Quinn lovers, and probably won’t to the romance lovers. I have an idea for my NaNoWriMo book, which, if it works out, would be published next spring. It will be a Christian historical romance/suspense set in WWII. Again – those readers will like the Quinn books, and certainly Undaunted Love… But vice versa, probably not.

You see how complicated it is? I could make it easier by writing in one genre, but I can’t seem to do that. I couldn’t write another Quinn book right now – I don’t even want to think of a plot – although people have already asked me when the next one is coming. I wrote a dystopian screenplay in April, and now this dystopian YA, but I don’t want to write another dystopian for awhile. I was leaving the genre open for my NaNo idea (and also leaving open the fact that I might not have a NaNo idea!), but I think this one could have legs.

What this means is two-fold:  I have a lot more marketing cut out for me than a lot of authors who only write in one genre, get a following, and can pretty much guarantee to sell their next books to those wonderful readers. And even with that knowledge, I still like to cross genres, and will continue to do so.

What my books all have in common is good research, interesting plots, language that’s clean (even the Quinn books have only a little swearing, and nothing “bad”), and I leave the sex to your imagination. I want my kids to be able to read my books and be proud to recommend them to their friends. I want them to be entertaining, and for the reader to enjoy the plot and maybe learn something about history they didn’t know, and not feel like they have to take a shower afterwards. When someone says, “Is your book okay for a 9th grader?” I want to be able to say, “Yes” confidently.

I hope you’ll find something in my work that you like. My goal is to entertain, not write the next great American novel, but I work hard at them and try to present a great story and characters for you to fall in love with. Let me know how I’m doing!

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Semantics…Why authors are really small business owners

In my attempt at doing marketing research yesterday, I came across a comment on a blog (unfortunately I didn’t save the link) about self publishing. The commentor, whose only identity was his/her name, which indicated someone in the publishing industry, said not to use the terms “indie author” or “indie publishing” because (paraphrasing, since I didn’t copy it down) “it has a negative connotation in the business.”

Well. Guess that settles it, huh? Um, no.

Here’s the thing… I’m not the only one who has seen, and who predicts, tension between the traditional publishers and the new wave of authors foregoing them and going out on their own. It’s been happening for several years, and, as time goes by, it’s going to continue happening as the traditional publishers figure out if they are going to adapt or die. I don’t say that flippantly – companies like AT&T adapted and thrive. Companies like Circuit City didn’t. We don’t ride around on horses anymore, and I expect a good number of people lost their livelihood in the shift to cars (blacksmiths, feed providors, tack manufacturers, carriage houses). It’s just how things work in a free market economy. Sure, it’s sad to wave goodbye to Kodachrome film or to know there’s no more Saab dealers who can service my car. But companies that survive know they have to change and adapt, or they’ll follow suit.

Not that they don’t fight it… Hence the above mentioned comment. One tactic is always fear – fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of being wrong. So promoters of the old product (in this case publishing) try to scare a fairly easily scared group – artists. It’s hard enough to put yourself and your work out there for others to see and judge (and perhaps find lacking). Keep the rumor going that doing it yourself will make you even more of an outcast, and you can keep a lot of people from publishing and promoting their own work.

Not that you, the publisher, will swoop in and help them out. No, you’ll do what you’ve always done and let many a good, maybe even great, writer pass you by because their work doesn’t fit in a genre, or because they’re not already famous. You’ll continue to give the ones you do choose one sided contracts that make it virtually impossible for them to make a living writing. You will cite the economy and budget cuts and hand the reins of marketing over to introverted writers who know nothing about it, then complain because their books didn’t make back the investment. And then you’ll wonder why you have a bad reputation…

I am not against publishers, contrary to what the above paragraph my indicate. I’m against their traditional business practices, which have been heavily weighted in their favor. And I’m glad that technology has now caught up to the point where writers have an alternative, or a bargaining chip. I’ve always been an outside-the-box person anyway (homeschooling before it was “in,” traveling to Africa for my non-profit with no outside support, fashion, whatever…), so I don’t really care much about labels. But a lot of people do, and a lot of great writers may be afraid to self-publish for fear of tarnishing their future potential, while not ever being picked up by an agent or publisher because of the random and convoluted nature of the querying process.

What I hope, and situations like this contribute to that hope, is that the traditional publishers will adapt to the current market. They will figure out ways to help indie authors, change their contracts to allow for more ownership of the product by the author, perhaps divvy up the rights better so that the author has the right to pursue avenues that the publisher will never pursue but that might be open. John Locke has made a deal with Simon & Schuster to distribute his books. He’s still self-publishing them… but they’re getting them in bookstores. Now that’s creative, adaptive thinking. And it’s a win-win.

So really, it boils down to semantics, your belief in yourself, and your willingness to work hard. I saw but couldn’t click the link on a Twitter post yesterday, unfortunately, because the title was something like “should authors pay to publish”, and I wanted to see what it said (and Twitter is like Pinterest – you’d better click RIGHT THEN or you will never see it again!). My feeling is that, at least these days, being a writer is the same as any other small business owner (and I have a lot of experience as a small business owner!). You don’t start a business without putting in your own money, sweat, time and tears. What makes selling books any different? If you believe in your book(s), sell it like any other product. Don’t sit around and wait for money to come to you – go out and build your business. Work hard. Work smart. Learn by research, trial and error.

I haven’t gotten there yet, but I will. Marketing will be the hardest thing for this introvert… But I’m going to figure it out. And I’ll share it with you, if you promise to work hard and believe in yourself.

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Editing Frenzy… Now what?

This week was, admittedly, a little bit nuts. I finished the first draft of The Hoard of the Doges, the Quinn sequel; got the ebooks up and running on Kindle and Nook; did the first quick edit of The Hoard of the Doges; did the final edit of Undaunted Love; emailed the agent who suggested the romance that it was done; did several hours of plotting for the August Camp NaNo novel (working title is “Where the Ducks Went” but be assured that’s not the title!); and started figuring out about marketing.

I’ve written about my editing process here before, but it seems to be a frequent question, on all forums (and in person), so I thought I’d share it briefly again. Keeping in mind that, for whatever reason, I write very clean first drafts, here’s what I do:

*  Print it out. There is something really satisfying about a couple hundred sheets of paper, filled with words that your wrote.

*  Quick edit. This is my first run through, as I do zero editing during the writing phase. Zero. My inner editor is on vacation. This edit is for typos, name changes (I always have at least one secondary character whose name has changed mysteriously during the writing process), and anything obviously flawed. What I am not doing is checking for grammar, sentence structure, perfect word placement, etc.

*  Beta readers. I have a few people who are always my go-to’s, but if I’m writing in a new genre, I get more. For Undaunted Love, my foray into Christian historical romance, I asked a dozen people to read it. All they are reading for is the big stuff: characters, dialogue, plot, believability, etc. NO small stuff.

*  Word-by-word edit. Now we come to the big edit, first on paper. This is where I take (or don’t) suggestions by beta readers (my rule of thumb is that at least 30% need to comment on the same thing before I make a change, although I consider all the comments and decide for myself if I agree). I read for word placement. I do spellcheck. I fix grammar. I change the formatting if necessary (for instance, there are a lot of letters, and one song, in Undaunted Love, and it took me awhile to decide how to structure those from a formatting standpoint). I add chapter numbers (not always successfully, unfortunately!). In short, I am thorough.

*  Make all the above changes in the document. Sometimes I decide, reading it on the computer, that I like the original better. Sometimes I change it differently than I changed it on the printed manuscript. Basically, I’m trying to re-re-read, and polish it up.

And that’s it. That’s my editing. The writing takes me 3-4 weeks (usually), and the editing process, from first edit to betas to final, between 4-6 more. Most of that depends on how long I give the beta readers to get back to me – and I tell them up front what that deadline will be, and don’t bug them. Out of the 12 betas for Undaunted Love, I got detailed feedback from half, spotty from a couple, and nothing from the rest. And that’s OK – your betas are doing you a HUGE favor, for free… They have lives, and things happen! Ask enough that, if you only get 50% response, that’s workable.

So now what? My goal was to get Undaunted Love finished and the agent contacted by the end of the weekend. I was on a roll yesterday, though, and pushed through, so now I have two days. The August Camp NaNo doesn’t start until Wednesday, and I’m mostly done with plotting, just need to do some research on EMPs, the Enigma machine, non-viral WMDs, and some geography.

My thought is, marketing.  I know, it’s a bad thought. At least for non-marketing professionals like myself. But, other than word of mouth, an author has to do it (even if you’re published by a traditional publisher, anymore you have to do it). I’ve saved a lot of links in a folder, so I think this weekend is the time I get those out, see what I need to do next, and start tooting my own horn… Not my strong suit, by any means, but I believe in Solomon’s Throne, and the Quinn series, and I really think you’d like it. And your friends. And your neighbors. I just have to figure out a way to convince you of that, too! Hence my crash course in marketing.

Trust me, I’ll keep you posted!

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Busy busy busy all the time…

The recent 106 degree temperatures were a dead giveaway that it’s summer, and, as a 12 year homeschooling veteran, I take summer seriously. I am as ready for summer as my kids have always been, and we take a long one – this year my son (my only remaining child at home!) was done around April 26, and will not be back in full swing until after Labor Day. And yet, it’s already July 24! How did this happen??

In April I wrote a screenplay for Script Frenzy, and edited it, before the end of the month.

In May, we were in Uganda for 3 weeks (go here to see why), and while we were there I did a ton of Civil War research, which included reading actual diaries of young women from both the Confederate and Union sides. I researched battles, the way the military was set up, how they came to war… (Here’s my secret feeling on research: when I’m in the middle of writing and I do it, I think it’s pretty fun. When I am doing nothing but research, it makes me want to take a nap.)

In June I did Camp NaNo and wrote the Civil War romance, on which I am now doing the final edit before sending to the agent who suggested it. That was 88,370 words.

In July, I finished the sequel to Solomon’s Throne, called The Hoard of the Doges (about 84k words). I did a quick first edit on that yesterday. (Editing cramps my eyeballs…)

In July, my first novel, Solomon’s Throne, was published as well, and that involved a lot of work with Streetlight Graphics, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, VistaPrint (I had postcards made), and OvernightPrints (bookmarks). Initial response has been great, and I’m hoping the people who bought the books last week and over the weekend will start getting reviews up soon.

August 1 I will start August Camp NaNo, and I’ve been noodling through that storyline over the last week or so. As I’ve posted before, it will be a YA dystopian fantasy thing… I will also start work with Streetlight Graphics the week of August 27 to publish The Hoard of the Doges.

Additionally, my son will start a couple of co-op classes that week, will have his 16th birthday during the month, and is in full swing with football. And my daughter will go back to college for her senior year. And my husband is publishing his first book. And I might have laser eye surgery.

September… I think I’ll rest!

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