Thursday, July 29, 2010

Your Author Website

Today, I got an unexpected surprise, courtesy of Tripod. I've used Tripod for a few years to host my author website. It's web-based site building that's easy to navigate and understand, especially for someone like me who has minimal experience with HTML. Lately, some great features with Webon integration have been added to improve content for site builders. In a recent newsletter, my site was nominated as one of four "...very strong examples of what you can do with Webon."


Nice. I put a lot of energy and effort into my website because I know it is important tool in building a readership and promoting a career as a writer. I've learned many valuable lessons in developing my own website, but two stand out: even unpublished authors should have a website and your website should always be up to date. Even before I self-published On Falcon's Wings, I kept my website going. It helped me build an interest in my work among visitors to the site. When the book was available, I already had a list of people whom I knew might be interested in reading it. Also, I kept the site updated with current projects, links to writers' groups, etc. An active site with fresh content promotes your writing, regardless of whether it's available now or still a work in progress. 

Don't have an author website? Time to get one.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Opinions Are Like…


Oh, you know the rest, don't pretend.

During my usual weekend chat on Skype with dear friends Anita and Mirella, we started talking about book reviews. I told my friends that, in true masochistic fashion, I wanted to request a review of On Falcon's Wings from The Self Publishing Review blog. Here's a bit on how it works: 

"You send me a copy of your self-published book, and I'll read it. If I like it I'll review it here, and will be generous with my praise.
 
What's the catch? I'm an editor, and expect published books to be polished. I'm going to count all the errors I find in spelling, punctuation and grammar and when I reach fifteen I'm going to stop reading. I'll work my way through up to five pages of boring prose or bad writing before I give up. And I'll list on this blog every single book I'm sent, including the books I've not completed, along with how far I got through each one."

Sounds like fun! I figure, what do I have to lose? It's just one opinion, right?

Except, authors live and breathe for others' opinions! We need constant validation from our friends, readers and reviewers, some confirmation that we're not just wasting our time. Lacking those opinions, we wallow in misery, or maybe that's just me. When I told Anita I'd sold some copies of my book on Kindle, but hadn't seen any reviews, I could hear the sigh of exasperation coming all the way from England. Yes, Anita, I know that you're too much of a darling to tell me to get over myself. Point taken.

I regularly contribute to Historical Novel Reviews, which Mirella started two-three years ago. The blog has grown to include several contributors. Guess what we review? If you said, all historical, all the time, you are right. I tend to snap up browbeat the other contributors until they back off all the books with medieval settings. My review of Gemi's Crown in the Heather is up next month. Want to see what else is on my list?


(Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth is missing, but that's because I downloaded it to Kindle for Blackberry)

My summer reading is all set.

After I've read each book, I post a review on the HNR blog and others sites, like Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Goodreads. I have to make a confession, though. As much as I love reviewing books, and hope for criticism of my own work, the opinions of others don't influence the books I read. Hypocritical, isn't it? I'm happy to share my opinion of other author's books, want opinions on mine, but ignore those same opinions when I choose books to read. Oh well, I never said I was a very logical person.

When I browse online or in a bookstore, my purchases reflect my mood. Something about the cover, the blurb, or the first few pages has hooked me and made me want to read more. I rarely read a book just because someone recommends it. After all, it's just an opinion.

What are your thoughts on book reviews? Do they influence you? Do you rely on the opinions of friends versus other readers and books reviewers? Why or why not? How often has your assessment of a book differed from its recommendation?

Happy reading!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Looking Fear in the Face: Lisa Yarde


One of my favorite First Ladies once said, "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do." For me, this Eleanor Roosevelt quote has never been truer than when I think of my experience with self-publishing. At first, I rejected it as an option because of doubt and fear of disappointment. I believed I could never do it nor do it right. Finally, I went into it with a great deal of trepidation and uncertainty. In the process, I’ve gained more than strength and courage. I’ve meet wonderful friends and readers who support me. For them, I am eternally grateful.

Now that On Falcon’s Wings is available, I wish I could say life has returned to its normal rhythm, like Gemi. If anything, it’s become more demanding and chaotic than ever. I’m blogging and promoting more than I ever anticipated. In doing so, I’ve overcome a huge hurdle: the natural tendency to shy away from talking about my goals and my passion for writing. Michelle, you're not alone - I’ve always found promoting myself very difficult to do. I know other challenges will come. Indie authors have it a little harder than our traditionally published friends do, in the additional responsibilities we take on but our goals are the same: to build a readership. Kristina’s post yesterday was very inspirational. I share her determination, but could do with a good dose of her patience. I’ve gone from worrying about whether sales would ever come, to wondering what readers will say now that they’ve started buying the book. As with Peter, I still hope to achieve the goal of traditional publication where my work can be more widely read. For now, this is my start and the experience can only benefit me in the future.

I’d like to thank my four fellow authors for their guest posts. Gemi, Michelle, Peter and Kristina, I’m impressed by your ambition and dedication. I’ve learned a lot from each of you. I hope visitors to the blog have gained the same respect and knowledge.

If you’re an aspiring writer or considering DIY publishing, I hope you’ve also learned from our experiences and will use them to make the best choices for your writing career. The road may be long and difficult, but often things that are worth having don’t come easily. If you publish your work, learn to expect and accept criticism. Not everyone will be a fan. Maintain your old friendships and gain new ones to keep you sane and motivated, when the critics come running. As Eleanor Roosevelt also said, "Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway." Above all else, keep in mind why you started writing in the first place and you’ll never lose your love for it.

Wishing you every success. Lisa

http://www.lisayarde.com/
http://thebrooklynscribbler.blogspot.com/
http://historicalnovelreview.blogspot.com/
http://unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @lisajyarde

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Grace & Perseverance: Kristina Emmons


For me, self-publishing was about starting a career in my own terms and timing. I thought I might as well push that boat out into the water, and maybe along the way larger publishers will decide to hop on board; but if they don’t, that’s okay too. I love being at the helm of my own adventure, one that I hope will affect others positively. I feel I should also share that arriving at the point of deciding to publish also meant facing my fears. Writing, for me, is so personal and transparent. I had to believe in myself in order to make my work publilc, even if agents and publishers had turned me away.

After the daunting undertaking of publishing Roeing Oaks, I excitedly awaited sales to shoot up like summer weeds. I’d told all my friends and family about my book and announced it on Facebook, where I have a couple of hundred acquaintances. They would be my launching pad. I had no doubt many of them would rush to purchase a copy, and of course after they read it they would tell all their friends and they would all buy a copy too. It would be like a wonderful, contractible virus. Well, one can fantasize.

Outside of a few initial sales (thanks to Mom and a couple close friends) my sales figures stayed low for several weeks. I could not understand it. In my mind, if someone I knew wrote and published a book, I would be excited to buy it. I felt cast aside, but it wasn’t that they didn’t care. For some, it took a while to warm up to the idea of me as a certifiable author, and others just don’t like historical novels.

I got all kinds of responses from friends and family members, from, I’d love to read it but I don’t buy books, to I’m so happy for you, but no thanks, even, I can’t wait to borrow it from so and so. Most of the family expected a free, autographed copy of Roeing Oaks, and I ended up giving quite a few as Christmas presents. One of them lent her copy out to several friends and neighbors. People were reading it but not buying it.

I learned quickly not to be concerned so much with sales figures, but to be happy that my book was being read and appreciated, and I had to get comfortable with the fact in some instances promoting the book also meant giving it away.

After sales grew and responses started coming in, the general consensus about the book was overwhelmingly positive, and I was told over and again it was a page turner. My readers, people I knew or didn’t, became passionately attached to my characters. That was the biggest compliment. It made me feel like I did the right thing embarking on this journey; I’d written something worth reading.

One of first things I did to promote my work was to ask for reviews through book review blogs. Some don’t accept self-published material for review, but the Historical Novel Reviews did. This is how I met Lisa. She was responsible for my first review, and it was glowing! She even asked for an interview, which excited me immensely. I went on to get other reviews, and hopefully there will be more to come.

Another avenue was getting a few copies of Roeing Oaks into a popular local bookstore. That was less successful. With each week they were moved further back in the store where they were difficult to spot, even for me. Recent sales have been through word of mouth or the internet.

I am still looking for ways to promote my book, and the time to do it. It’s a job in itself. One well known publishing agent/blogger said he doesn’t know how on earth a self-published author can be responsible for publishing and promoting their work, all while juggling life and writing the next book. He suggests traditional publishing. Yeah, me too, but he denied my query (ahem, he among others). I continue on my journey because I believe in my work, and I think I can safely say my readers do too.

For more information about myself and my book, please visit http://roeingoaks.com/.  I can be found on Facebook and Twitter, and I also have two fledgling food blogs, http://seesugarrun.blogspot.com/ ,and
http://dutchovendiary.blogspot.com/, which aside from being a great creative outlet, I can use to cross-promote my writing.

Thank you, Lisa, for the opportunity to share some of my story! It’s been a privilege.

Thank you, Kristina



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Motivated Multi-Tasker: Peter Johnson


My novel Grant's Indian appeared October 11, 2009 in three formats: audiobook, print-on-demand (POD) paperback and Kindle. The audiobook was published by audible (http://www.audible.com/), the download-only audiobook publisher, and the POD and Kindle versions by Amazon (which, happily, owns audible, so I have a nice 3-format listing on Amazon, with a link to audible: http://www.amazon.com/Grants-Indian-Peter-Johnson/dp/0981984207/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256679344&sr=1-1).

The steps I've taken to promote the book are no different from what I would have done had it been traditionally published. In fact, I've got various "Advice to our Authors" guidelines from traditional publishers, which I've followed pretty closely. These include:

A website http://www.peterjohnsonbooks.com/

Facebook group and page http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Grants-Indian-Peter-Johnson/137304910171

Twitter http://twitter.com/GrantsIndian

Pages on RedRoom, Shelfari, LibraryThing, WeRead, etc.

Joining various discussion groups on relevant topics, like Civil War, American Indians, Ulysses Grant, Historical Fiction, etc.

Sending review copies to likely publications, both offline and on (including http://www.historicalnovelreview.com/, whose kind reviewer Gemi Sasson introduced me to you and is joining me on this gang-blog).

Personal and media appearances. I joined http://www.booktour.com/, but haven't yet used it. Being in New York City gives me a huge advantage, because there are so many forums that crave authors: private clubs, book clubs, cultural organizations, city agencies, etc. Whenever I appear at one venue I usually get an invitation to another.

Personal e-mail list of about 500, culled from my various careers as an actor, lawyer and teacher. About once a month I e-blast the group with a review, appearance, blurb or something and ask them to pass it on. They do.

Bookmarks, which turn out to be a great publicity-tool-cum-business-card.

I've talked with authors who have traditional publishers, and they mostly tell me that, aside from a few initial bookstore readings, their publishers don't do much publicity. The only difference, really, is the wider distribution, both of books and of information, that a traditional publisher can offer. Also, it is hard for self-published authors to get reviewed in significant publications. (Although my audiobook is traditionally published, not many outfits review audiobooks. AudioFile Magazine is one, and they've got a copy.) I was delighted to read, shortly after publication of Grant's Indian, a neat New Yorker parody of a publisher's "Advice to Authors" ("Subject: Our Marketing Plan," by Ellis Weiner, Oct. 19, 2009) which I've been told is uncomfortably close to the truth. It includes nuggets like:

"If you already have a blog, make sure you spray-feed your URL in niblets open-face to the skein. We like Reddit bites (they’re better than Delicious), because they max out the wiki snarls of RSS feeds, which means less jamming at the Google scaffold. Then just Digg your uploads in a viral spiral to your social networks via an FB/MS interlink torrent. You may have gotten the blast e-mail from Jason Zepp, your acquiring editor, saying that people who do this sort of thing will go to Hell, but just ignore it."

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2009/10/19/091019sh_shouts_weiner#ixzz0taM6rFaj

Reactions from readers have been positive. My favorites are "customer reviews" on Amazon and audible from people I don't know. (Like everyone else, I've solicited reviews from family, friends and colleagues, who have obliged.) When someone contacts me through my website with a positive comment, I ask them to post it, and they often do.

Since I've worked freelance most of my life (actor, lawyer), I don't find the demands of publicizing the book very arduous, although I'd rather be writing something new. Except for teaching a Communications Law course at New York Law School in the fall semester, my schedule is my own. I've got another historical novel being circulated by a very reputable agency, so I hope soon to be able to compare the demands of publishing traditionally versus POD. One thing that's great, however, is, after years spent alone writing a novel, to have people actually asking me about it! I'm surprised how much I enjoy that.

Thank you, Peter.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Indie Rebel: Michelle Gregory


When Lisa asked me to blog about the aftermath of self-publishing, I couldn’t help but think of the events I usually associate with the word aftermath: Earthquakes. Tornadoes. Hurricanes.

Oddly enough, the aftermath of self-publishing has been a bit like each of these. It’s shaken me up, swept away my orderly life, and brought a flood of new opportunities. I’ve had to deal with readers, criticism, promotion, and my own self-confidence. Beyond all that, I’ve learned a lot about the publishing world and myself.

Since I like random lists, I thought I’d be random here. In no particular order, here are the things I’ve learned because I wrote and self-published a novel:

*I’m a rebel in a rule follower’s body. I’ve always followed the rules, but I enjoy bucking the publishing system and I love being part of the self-publishing/indie author movement. I’m going to be that rock in the stream of publishing, even if it’s just to remind people that if you only write for yourself, it’s enough.

*Despite the fact that being in charge also means I’m the typesetter and proofreader and editor, I enjoy the control I have over my content and cover art too much to ever try to sell my stories to an editor or publishing house.

*I’ll never get rich from self-publishing, but since that was never my intent, I’m happy to get what little I can. I gave away at least half of the 100 or so copies out there anyway.

*Although I’ve set up an author website, started a blog for my novel, and talked about my novel every chance I get on my blog, almost all my sales come because someone personally told someone else about my book.

*I’m horrible at telling people about my book. My kids and friends do a better job. Frankly, my mom does a better job. I don’t like drawing attention to myself, and I don’t like the thought of rejection if someone decides (after my impassioned description) to not buy it. (When I had a chance to try to sell it at a recent writers’ retreat, I couldn’t make myself do it. Thank goodness, my writing buddy bought 4 copies for gifts or I would have gone home with all 14 copies.)

*Online marketing is much easier. I feel like I don’t face as much rejection that way. I could do a lot more of it, but I’d rather just write.

*According to people who’ve read Eldala, I know how to tell a good story. It still surprises me when readers say they can’t put it down. Some readers have even said that the characters inspired them to be courageous. Those kinds of comments keep me writing when I want to quit.

*I love to talk about writing.

*I love to encourage others to write.

*If it didn’t mean taking time away from writing, I wish I had the money to help struggling mom and teen writers get their stuff out there.

*I love to write novellas for myself and whatever I write is almost always fantasy.

*I love the first draft and hate to edit.

*I’ve never had problems being a self-starter, but I almost always have trouble finishing. Now that I finished something as huge as writing a novel, I know I can apply that to other projects in life.

*I’m still horrible about managing my time as a mom, homemaker, homeschooler, and writer.

*When I don’t write, I’m miserable.

Eldala on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Eldala-Michelle-Gregory/dp/0615148182/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279150209&sr=8-1

Eldala on Lulu (e-books): http://www.lulu.com/product/file-download/eldala/1674912?productTrackingContext=search_results/search_shelf/center/1

Website for Eldala: http://www.eldala.blogspot.com/

My website: http://www.michelledgregory.com/

My blog: http://michellegregory.blogspot.com/


Thank you, Michelle.

Monday, July 19, 2010

In Her Own Words: N. Gemini Sasson


Lisa graciously asked me to blog about my experience as an indie author with my first book, The Crown in the Heather, the Bruce Trilogy: Book I, and I’m more than happy to share here. I truly believe in paying forward and I hope that by sharing what I’ve been through so far, it will help others consider whether or not this is the right path for them.

In regards to promotion, I believe maintaining an online presence is the most powerful factor that an indie author can utilize. At the urging of some of my fellow critique group members, I’d started a blog, My Dog At My Manuscript (http://ngeminisasson.blogspot.com/) well over a year ago. Initially I mostly wrote posts on the writing process, but there are so many good blogs out there on that already that I didn’t see the need to reinvent the wheel. So, I figured that while I couldn’t claim to be an expert in any certain field, I could serve as a filter for information: on the publishing industry in general and on self-publishing in particular. As my readership builds, I plan to slowly shift toward a focus on the history of the eras I write about. I also write reviews for The Historical Novel Review blog (http://historicalnovelreview.blogspot.com/) which helps keep me current with what’s being published. The part I love about that is discovering new voices. I also participate in various forums, like Historical Fiction Online, as well as dip in on the publishing and writer chatter on Twitter.

Promoting your book isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. If your writing is engaging and the story worth reading, word will gradually get out and spread from person to person. At the same time, you can’t hide in a corner and just hope that sales will magically rocket skyward. You have to be willing to seek out honest reviewers and take the lumps along with the praise. I’ve sent off a few review copies, but I also plan to contact Scottish societies and retailers and let them know about my Robert the Bruce trilogy. Target your niche market, but also hang out where your genre readers congregate – just try not to be overly pushy about your books! You want to be social, not obnoxious.

Another thing I did was to set my web site up well in advance: http://www.ngeminisasson.com/. The advantage to doing this before your book comes out is that it’s one less thing to worry about as you deal with all the book-launch craziness. Another plan is to create a book trailer – although I want to make sure I have other things out of the way first, because I could waste days playing with Windows Movie Maker.

The most surprising thing for me has been to have readers finish The Crown in the Heather, say how much they enjoyed it and immediately ask when the next book will be available. That’s a shot of adrenalin. For so long, as a writer of historical fiction who often spends years going from research to finished product, you’re ‘writing into a void’, as I say. It’s strange to finally get that story into readers’ hands and have them clamor for more. Once it sinks in, you realize that being a writer isn’t about who publishes you or how much money you make, it’s about reaching readers and, for a few hours, taking them away to another world. That gets me excited about getting back to writing and getting the next book into print.

Of course friends and my fellow critique partners have been enormously enthusiastic, but more than anything, I’ve been amazed at the support offered by many traditionally published authors. A lot of them seem to have respect for any writer who has the guts to launch a book on their own – and it’s astounding to discover how many of them started out the same way. You do run into a few naysayers here and there, but I believe most of them are either well-intentioned and just don’t want to see someone they care about fail to hit it big, or they tend to be faultfinders by nature who could never dream of taking such a risk themselves. I just deal with that sort by acknowledging that my journey is mine, not theirs – and I say you can’t get anywhere in life if you’re standing still.

Writers these days have to do more than just write. Many of us would love to be recluses like J.D. Salinger, but if you want to be widely read and make a career out of writing, you have to find ways to let folks know about your stories – and that does take time away from writing and family. As an indie author, you also have to see to additional fine details, like formatting the interior layout, coordinating with a graphic artist for cover design, and listing your title in all the appropriate places. After the initial crunch, it does even out and life begins to return to normal – although I’m not sure what ‘normal’ is, because my life goes in about a dozen directions every single day. Now, only a month after the publication date of The Crown in the Heather, I can happily report that life has returned to a more normal rhythm. One benefit to being an indie author is that you set your own schedules and deadlines – and you can adjust them on a whim.

If I had one bit of advice to share, it’s to not try to do everything all at once. Don’t make yourself crazy. Plan, forge forward, learn from mistakes, but make room for real life. And always, always remember why you began writing in the first place – so you could share a story with readers, transport them to another place and time, and communicate about the human experience. No matter what road you take to publication, that is truly what it’s all about.

Thank you, Gemi.

New: Crown In The Heather - Book Trailer
 
Book: Kindle:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Living the Dream: "They're Making My Book Into a Film!"

Don't get all excited now. That's just the title of this post. Trust me, if Hollywood ever adapted what I write for film, I'd be too busy squealing like a little girl to blog about it. At least for a few days.

EDIT: Ok folks, THIS DID NOT HAPPEN TO ME. Oh, boy. Moving on.

I am eagerly awaiting the July 23rd Starz premiere of The Pillars of the Earth, and not just because of Ian McShane, one of my favorites from HBO's Deadwood, or the undeniable fact that both Rufus Sewell and Matthew MacFadyen are hot. Author Ken Follett is living the dream many of us writers entertain. It's the one that comes a distant second behind, "God, I wish someone would publish my book" - it's "Wow. It would be so cool if someone made my book into a movie!"

Since I know nothing about the process of securing film rights to a book, I'll instead talk about what we all see: the end result.  Unfortunately, film adaptations always tend to be less faithful to the source material in the book. It's probably just a difference required in the presentation of visuals rather than in print media. I always prefer to read the book before I watch the film. Guess what I just downloaded to Kindle for Blackberry and will be reading before Friday? My friend Gemi says this a huge book, but I bet I can complete it in time. The only novels I didn't read before they were adapted for film were the Harry Potter series; I had seen the first three films before I started obsessively reading the J.K. Rowling books last summer. Yeah, I was little late to reading Harry Potter. Oh well.

Back to Ken Follett - God, he must be so thrilled. And every single one of us who writes fiction has an inkling of how he must feel. When we write such intimate details of these people who live in our heads, it's almost impossible not to imagine what they look like, how they move and dress. It must be an amazing moment for a writer to see their vision unfold on the screen, peopled by characters they know so well.

What do you think about books that have been adapted for film? Have you ever found the adaptation is even better than the original? If you're a writer, who do you envision playing your lead characters in film?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Indie Publishing: Lessons Learned

Unlike this photograph, knowledge doesn't spring from trees. In my opinion, the best knowledge comes from experience, and in particular, the things we often do wrong, rather than what we do right. I asked Gemi, Michelle, Peter and Kristina to sum up their experiences, and the one thing they would have each done differently when pursuing self-publishing.

Gemi: "I’d have to say write all the steps out in advance and time it better. I had read a lot about the process beforehand and then went step by step, but it all did eventually fall into place. One thing you’ll realize as an indie author is that for awhile you have to set aside writing as you learn the ropes. It can seem overwhelming at times, because with control comes responsibility, but it’s really not worth freaking out over. As it is, I’m still so fresh to the world of self-publishing that I don’t have enough perspective yet to answer that. Probably, a year from now, I’ll suddenly get it and go, “Oh yeah, I should’ve…”

Michelle: I would have had a book signing party, but I was shy about asking people to buy it, and instead, I referred them to Amazon. Later, I started ordering 10 copies at a time, at cost, and sold them little by little. It would have been more cost efficient to order 100 at a time. I’ve sold or given away at least that many since it first became available.

Peter: I would have preferred the book to be published by a traditional publisher, but that’s not really something I could have done differently (I sure tried). Nothing else I can think of.

Wouldn't we all have loved to be published traditionally? Thanks, Peter.

Kristina: "If I’d had the money to spend I would have used a professional editor. Instead I had the manuscript read through by a few competent non-professional editors. I also would not have offered three versions (two paperback versions in different sizes and a hardcover), but that happened because of a mistake I’d made in the first place with sizing. The worse regret is not using a certain friend for the cover design, who later told me she would have done it for free!"

Hmm, what would I have done differently? That's easy. The one thing would have been buying my own ISBN. Remember when I mentioned that CreateSpace's setup included a free ISBN number, and that On Falcon's Wings is exclusively available on Amazon? There's a not-so-good aspect of that: for all intents and purposes, not only is CreateSpace the publisher of record, but my book is only available through Amazon and its subsidiaries. Yeah, they are the online, bookselling giant, but trust me. Do what Kristina said in her initial thoughts on DIY and what I'm suggesting now: if you do decide to go the non-traditional route, buy your own ISBN.

Thanks again to Gemi, Michelle, Peter and Kristina for discussing some of the issues facing indie authors, and I wish each of you great success in your writing careers. I also want to thank all the readers who stopped by today and left comments. I hope you found these posts informative and helpful.

Learn more about each of our indie authors featured today, when they'll be back with guest posts at The Brooklyn Scribbler, July 19 - 23.

Indie Publishing: Let's Talk Sales

For the indie author, once your book is printed, another hurdle remains: how to sell it.


But before we get into those details, I just had to talk about one of a book's great selling points - the cover. The cover of a book is like that inviting stranger across the room - you're drawn in, or curious. You like what you see on the outside and you wonder whether it's worth it to find out more. The cover is important; most book buyers won't immediately be able to judge whether you're a brilliant storyteller without sampling the writing, but they do make assumptions based on the quality of your cover.

For indie authors, great writing and a terrific cover are only part of the consideration in how to sell the book.  The pressure is on, if only to recoup what we've spent. How have Gemi, Michelle, Peter and Kristina made their beautiful books available among the millions of available titles?  

Gemi: "Since my book is print-on-demand through Lightning Source, this is all taken care of via Ingram. The majority of my sales are carried out online through the various Amazon outfits and Barnes and Noble. I do have a small supply of books for signed copies that I can mail directly, but for the rest I don’t ever have to physically handle a book that I’ve sold. The biggest difficulty I’ve encountered is that various components (like the cover image, the product description and Amazon’s Search-Inside feature) go up in bits and you do have to keep track of where and how to follow up on them. Aaron Shepard’s POD for Profit was particularly helpful in that regard. I’ve recently uploaded The Crown in the Heather to Kindle and will also make it available in other e-book formats."

Michelle: "I used Lulu’s distribution package (ISBN, entries in Bowers Books, listing the book on Amazon, etc.). In order to get a copy in our local library, I had to donate a copy and it’s in the local authors section, but I don’t know how visible it is."

Peter: "Available through Amazon, audible.com and IndieReader. I signed up for the Amazon service that distributes to bookstores, but I don’t think it works very well. It also took Amazon some time to integrate the paperback and audiobook listing, but that’s solved."

Kristina: "My book is currently only for sale through Lulu.com. I have a direct link on my website, RoeingOaks.com; otherwise a search has to be done on Lulu using my name and/or title. I have had difficulties with other distribution channels. If I were to use another channel it would be Amazon.com for the sake of getting my name out there, but it’s much more profitable per book to sell it through Lulu.

I did have a few books placed in a local bookstore, but by the time my eight week contract was up, they’d been moved to the very back shelf where even I couldn’t find them!"

As for me, On Falcon's Wings is now available exclusively through Amazon; the Kindle version began selling on June 25 and the paperback will be ready shortly.  I've made links or the book available on my blog and website. The Kindle publishing was a logical step - digital books are the future. Last night, I was bemoaning this with Michelle via email. I see electronic publishing as a wonderful and inevitable tool, but I will miss the printed word when it becomes passé. There's something about opening a brand-new book; the crisp feel of those pages in your hands. It's one of many pleasures for me whenever I read. I wanted the same feeling with my own paperback.

Self-publishing has been an exciting journey for me and my fellow indie authors, but also a learning experience. We gained valuable experiences as much by what we each did right, as the things that we did wrong. Later today, Gemi, Michelle, Peter and Kristina will blog about their most meaningful lesson - Indie Publishing: Lessons Learned

In the meantime, share your comments on book buying - where do you obtain most of your books; online or in brick-and-mortar stores? Are your books mainly in digital or paper formats? How do you feel about digital publishing?

Indie Publishing: What About the Costs?

I hesitated for quite a while before I decided to self-publish. It wasn't just because of the otherwise obvious fears - "I'll never be thought of as a serious author, just a wanna-be";"No one will ever like my writing enough to buy it, just because I'm promoting it";"What do I know about marketing and promotion anyway?" I'm happy to say the response to my efforts has proved me wrong on all these worries (Thank Jesus!)

So, why the delay? THE MONEY! And, because I didn't want to end up like this guy:


Worries plagued me daily. "I can't afford that! I'm not paying to be published! Shouldn't a publisher pay me for my work?" It made me wonder, what were the true costs of self-publishing, not just in fees, but in the author's time and energy. I knew many other independent authors must feel the same concerns. Gemi, Michelle, Peter and Kristina are back to openly share the costs of self-publishing their recent works.

Gemi did a great blog post recently on the topic of Lightning Source's costs. Here, she talks strictly about the money involved:
o Setup fees - $75 + $12 annual catalog listing
o ISBN - $25 (per title, but purchased a block of 10 @ $250)
o Copyright registration – None yet
o Professional editing - None
o Cover design - $220 total (included my imprint logo)
o Proof - $30
o Review copies - $119 (for 20 copies, some given as gifts to beta readers, others review copies)
o Business cards, book marks, press releases and other promotional materials - $0
o Other publicity, including hiring a publicist - $0

Michelle paid:
o Setup fees – N/A
o ISBN $ 50? x 2 (for a paperback and a hard cover printing)
o Copyright registration N/A
o Professional editing - $250
o Cover design - approximately $160, for two cover spreads
o Proof - $13.95 x 3 paperbacks and $23 x 2 hard covers
o Review copies- N/A, but I did buy a hard cover to have put in the Library of Congress so I could have an LOC number in it.
o Business cards, book marks, press releases and other promotional materials – I’ve printed my own business cards using Avery Business cards that I picked up at Staples, so that cost is minimal. -- $13.95 x 7 copies – 4 for book giveaways on blogs and 3 for independent book publisher contests.
o Other publicity, including hiring a publicist - N/A

Peter also shared his costs:
o Setup fees $325 for website design, $100/year for web hosting. $200 for domain name registrations.
o ISBN $130 for 3 ISBN numbers (paperback, audio CD, audio download).
o Copyright registration $130 for 3 registrations (paperback, audio CD, audio download).
o Professional editing $600 for page layout design. No content or copy editing.
o Cover design $630.
o Proof $15.
o Review copies $7 each.
o Business cards, book marks, press releases and other promotional materials Bookmarks $100 (for 500, including design).
o Other publicity, including hiring a publicist Besides my own website, nothing that cost any money. Facebook, twitter, e-mails, RedRoom, Shelfari, LibraryThing, GoodReads, etc.

As did Kristina:
o Setup fees N/A
o ISBN $450.00, one ISBN for each of three versions of the book
o Copyright registration $25.00
o Professional editing N/A
o Cover design: About $700, paid in traded services
o Proof N/A
o Review copies $10.00
o Business cards, book marks, press releases and other promotional materials $150.00 to date
o Other publicity, including hiring a publicist $50.00 to date

And me?
o Setup fees - $39; the CreateSpace Pro Plan for expanded distribution of the book
o ISBN – Free with CreateSpace. More on that later.
o Copyright registration – $35
o Professional editing - None
o Cover design - $420 total
o Proof - $23; two copies
o Review copies – Not yet, but they're coming at the costs of $4.93 per book and associated shipping costs starting at $4.85
o Business cards, book marks, press releases and other promotional materials – Not yet
o Other publicity, including hiring a publicist – I’m not there. Would love to be someday, but for right now, I'm actually with Peter: this is where Facebook, Twitter, Shelfari, Goodreads, my website and this blog come in.

Different approaches, different costs, but the inevitable cost to an indie author that can't be measured is time and effort. In the traditional publishing model, the publisher always controls the setup, including copyright registration, ISBN, etc. and sometimes (notice: sometimes), the editing and marketing. For an indie author, guess who handles each one of those considerations? Sure, you can go it alone and do it all yourself, if you have the creative know-how. Yet it's a tireless, daunting task.

Still, there is one consideration that unites all authors, whether indie or traditional: Now, you have to sell the book. Gemi, Michelle, Peter and Kristina will each share their unique perspectives on this issue. Later today - Indie Publishing: Let's Talk Sales.

Let us know your thoughts: would you pay to be published? If so, what do you consider a reasonable fee?

Indie Publishing: How Five Self-Starters Did It

rsFour indie authors, whose work I've grown to admire, have shared their perspectives with me on self-publishing. It's a great pleasure to have N. Gemini Sasson, Michelle Gregory, Peter Johnson and Kristina Emmons join me on the blog, to talk about do-it-yourself publishing, and the DIY services they used.

N. Gemini Sasson, who writes historical fiction, is the author of The Crown in the Heather, The Bruce Trilogy: Book I, published on June 1, 2010. I've known Gemi for a few years now through online critique groups, and from the start, I knew she was an amazingly gifted, naturally talented writer.

Gemi: "I went with Lightning Source, which allowed me access to Ingram’s distribution channels and online worldwide sales through Amazon. The set-up cost per title is slightly higher than if using CreateSpace, but if enough copies are sold, then using Lightning Source actually yields a higher profit per book sold. My biggest investment was in purchasing a block of ten ISBNs for $250, but I knew I was very likely going to release more than one title, and each in multiple formats. It can seem a little intimidating as an independent author to work through Lightning Source at first, but whenever I had a question they were always very courteous and professional."

Michelle Gregory, a fantasy writer, is the author of Eldala, which was published in 2007. Michelle's a prolific blogger, whose warmth and sense of humor always comes across in her posts.

Michelle: "I used Lulu.com. At first, it was because my husband suggested Lulu, thinking I might want to have one copy printed just to show I’d written a novel. But as I told more and more people I was writing, they all showed interest, and then I realized I would need to go with a good POD company. I did a lot of research about PODs and ended up with Lulu because I decided it would be the best fit, based on the ability to pick and choose their services. Also, their prices for the ISBNs and their commission from sales seemed reasonable."


Peter Johnson, who also writes historical fiction, is the author of Grant’s Indian, which was published in 2009 in paperback, on audiobook and for Kindle. When Gemi interviewed Peter earlier in the spring for the Historical Novel Reviews blog, she raved about his writing.

Peter: "I used CreateSpace because it is Amazon’s DIY service. Amazon owns audible.com, the publisher of the audiobook version of the novel. I wanted an integrated Amazon page that would link the print and audio versions. I suppose I could have done this using a different DIY service, but using CreateSpace seemed most practical. For the audiobook, I considered DIY, but that would have involved podcasting or some other technology I’m not happy with. As it happened, once I narrated the recording and had it professionally mastered, audible.com accepted it for publication as part of their own list, so the audiobook isn’t really an example of DIY publishing (just DIY recording)."

Kristina Emmons, is the author of Roeing Oaks, also historical fiction, which was published in 2009. I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing her book, and after eagerly sharing my praise, we struck up a friendship.

Kristina: "I used Lulu.com. I was looking at using a traditional publisher but found that Lulu was a better fit because I wouldn’t need a lot of money upfront or have to worry about what to do with boxes and boxes of inventory. Lulu is print on demand; there is no minimum order, so you can print one copy if you like, or hundreds. I especially like that I can go to my account to find a spreadsheet that tracks the number of books I’ve sold and how much profit I’ve made. Lulu charges a printing cost per book, which goes down with larger orders, and from there it’s up to me to set the price per book. They do take a percentage off the top of each sale as well, but in the end I am still able to make a fair profit per book.

I like that my customers can order directly from Lulu.com. This means I don’t have to go through a separate web channel to sell my material, which would cost me extra money. Lulu also has an e-book feature and a customizable product page where you can list your products. Lulu also offers services like professional cover design, professional editing, and marketing packages. I ordered promotional materials but I wasn’t happy with them.

There are helpful tutorials on the site for formatting and uploading your files. You can upload a refreshed file at any time if, for instance, you’ve had to make spelling corrections to your work, and that has been so helpful. The downside to Lulu is that shipping costs will be high on small orders.

One thing to be aware of is your ISBN number. You can independently file for your own ISBN so that you are the listed publisher, or you can use an ISBN issued by Lulu, which makes Lulu the publisher. It is more expensive to go about it independently, and Lulu will help you use alternative channels to sell your work if you use a Lulu ISBN, but remember that if you are ever offered a contract in the future by a large publishing entity, being your own publisher means that you are free to do what you want with your work without any legal hassles getting in the way. You have all the rights to it. I’m not sure if Lulu still offers this option, but I chose to independently file."

Well, I guess that just leaves me. Like Peter, I choose CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon to publish my historical, On Falcon's Wings in paperback, and Amazon DTP (Digital Text Platform) for the Kindle version, both available in the summer of 2010.

After nearly two months of comparing Lulu, Lightning Source, and CreateSpace, I decided on the latter for a variety of reasons. Amazon's status as the predominant, online bookseller and the development of its Kindle technology immediately made its CreateSpace subsidiary a suitable option. I knew I didn't want to publish only an e-book or just a Kindle version. I wanted to hold a paperback copy of my book in my hands, and Amazon allowed me to offer both. I pestered talked to Gemi in great detail about the process for her and bugged asked Kristina for advice. The ability to retain my rights, the length and terms of a DIY contract and the turn-around time were some of the most important factors in my decision-making, but one other huge consideration was the associated cost. That's the next topic the indie authors tackle - Indie Publishing: What About the Costs?

Thank you, Gemi, Michelle, Peter and Kristina for sharing your thoughts on DIY. Each of them brings varied approaches and reasoning to the process that I hope blog readers will find helpful. If you're considering DIY, please research all your options, and the benefits and disadvantages of the varying routes to publication before making a decision. This is a commitment to your future as a writer. Isn't it worth the same thought and dedication as your writing?

Please share your thoughts and comments on today's post. In particular, are you a self-published writer or considering non-traditional publishing routes? Also, as a reader, what is your perception of self-published books?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My First Sale



Since On Falcon's Wings became available for the Kindle, I have compulsively tracked its Amazon sales' ranking. If I didn't already know I have the perfect personality traits of a masochist, this little obsession proved it. Why else would I "subject myself to unpleasant or trying experiences", like writing and publishing something, while discreetly ignoring the fact that publication means someone might actually come across my little story and (gasp) read it?

Here's a little insight into how the crazed mind of a true masochist works, one selling her work for the first time on Amazon:

"Hmm...no change...no one's buying the book on Kindle... maybe people don't even own Kindles any more since that &*#$^*@ iPad showed up. What if no one ever reads the book? Oh holy Jesus. Have I totally wasted my time here? This is it – they hate me and they hate my book. Why else would they be ignoring it? It's right there! If I can see it, they can see it. What's the *&^$ problem? Goddammit all to hell. I knew I should have waited and did the paperback first. Aw, crap."

That all changed the day the sales' rank changed too, indicating that someone had bought my book. I don't know too many other authors as neurotic as me (well, yes, I do know one or two. Don't worry, your secret's safe with me), but here was my reaction. Not what you might think, or maybe if you know me really well, it's exactly what you'd think!

"OMG! Someone bought it! Someone really bought the book? OMG, that means they're going to read it. What if they don't like it? What if I get a bad review? Who is this person, who told them they could buy my book?! Oh holy Jesus. This is it – they will hate me and they will hate my book even more. How did they find it? From my blog, my website? What are they doing on my website or blog? Goddammit all to hell. It's probably just a pity buy from one of my family members…does anyone of them even own a Kindle? Aw, crap."

Do you notice any patterns here?

Thank you for seven great years

Today I looked at the newly revised ebook reports in Amazon KDP, to check out the enhancements made, including lifetime sales history. Sinc...