5 Important Things to Know About Self-Publishing–Part 2 … by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Part 1 of Laura's post was published on Friday, January 27th.

The Work Has To Be Competitive.

There’s a common refrain, heard around writers conferences and discussion forums, that runs something like, “If I can’t sell it traditionally, I’ll self-publish.” While there are some perfectly legitimate uses of this phrase, quite often it’s either meant or interpreted as, If the work isn’t good enough to sell traditionally, it can be self-published.

Well, it can. But it shouldn’t.

A self-published book should be indistinguishable from a traditionally-published book in quality, from cover to editing to layout. You know how you can spy the self-published book in a roomful of books for sale? That’s not good.

I will be among the first to say that self-published books can be just as amazing – or perhaps better, since they don’t have to be edited to a lowest-common-denominator committee – as any traditional book lineup. But the truth is, the off-cited tsunami of crap does exist, and we’ve no one to blame but ourselves.

The first time I made a piece of clothing, it wasn’t good enough to sell at a mall retailer. My early music lessons were in no way good enough to press an album. And my 5k time will never earn me a spot on the leaderboard. So why do we think early, developmental, or subpar writing should be published?

Imagine a boy, maybe 17, who isn’t sure he likes movies. He had to watch a few for school, stuff that never really caught his fancy and just didn’t connect with him because it was not his style or because the teacher made too much of the symbolism and camera angles and he hated writing the papers, but now he’s hearing from his friends that movies are really good. But he doesn’t want to drop $15 on a theater ticket to start, he’s going to try something cheaper first to see if it’s worth the investment, right? So he goes to Amazon Video to find a free or $2 flick. And he finds somebody’s basement-shot action wannabe with party-store costuming and bad sound obscuring the lame dialogue and whatever fight stunts their sixth-grade kid brother wanted to do before Mom got downstairs. (There are some… striking self-published movies on Amazon streaming video.)

Maybe that fledgling filmmaker will be the next Spielberg. But his current work isn’t impressive. And not only is he turning off his current audience (and setting up a hilarious retrospective to surprise him during his big talk show interview once he’s a household name), he’s probably just convinced our kid that movies really aren’t worth his time.

Okay, I know it’s hard to imagine anyone not familiar with movies in today’s society. But the truth is, a lot of people think they don’t like to read, because of bad school experiences or because reading was never valued in their family or whatever, and when they finally go to pick up a cheap book, they get something which just turns them off further.

Put out work which creates more addicted readers. Have a good critique group which constantly pushes you to be better. Make sure your stories are well-edited – both for structure and for grammar/typographical errors.

We Don’t Have to Be Competitive.

Look, we authors are not competing against each other. We’re really not. We’re competing against television and streaming movies and phone games.

No reader buys just one book a year; getting a reader hooked on another author just creates a bigger market for all of us. Promote other authors whose work your audience will also appreciate. But note that last phrase – I don’t promote just anyone I want to owe me a favor, I share stuff I think my readers will also enjoy. That does everyone good – other author gets a boost, my readers get something they like (they can’t spend all their time just waiting for my next release), and I gain a bit of additional reader trust so they’re more likely to stay with me. Pushing unrelated genres at readers will just confuse and annoy them. (And while I may or may not tell another author when I’m enthusing about their work, I never do it in anticipation of a favor owed. That’s not the point.)

I do several live book fairs a year, and I always if possible do a circuit before it starts to find out who is selling what. Then if I get someone at my table looking for something else – a Western romance, perhaps, or a middle grade adventure – I can point them directly to another author. They’re happy, the other writer is happy, the book fair organizers are happy, and I don’t have to deal with frustrated or disappointed shoppers. Everybody wins. (Well, except I didn’t make a sale – but then, I wasn’t going to, anyway, if they weren’t looking for what I sell.)

Help other authors with their writing craft and their marketing. (And just as important – take critique and advice professionally, not personally.) And remember, there isn’t really a divide between traditionally- and self-published authors. In fact, many of us are hybrids, doing both! It’s all about creating readers, not outselling the guy at the table or website next down from yours.

Enjoy it.

Okay, this is sixth in a list of five, but it’s true – self-publishing is more work than traditional publishing, but it’s also much less constrained and carries a great potential of fun. If you keep your eyes open and your hand to the plow, you can create an enjoyable career following your dreams.

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Laura VanArendonk Baugh writes fantasy (epic, urban, and historical), mystery, and non-fiction. She enjoys helping other authors and will be teaching on writing craft and self-publishing with Ireland Writer Tours in August 2017. Find her at her website, on Facebook, and Twitter.

5 Important Things To Know About Self-Publishing–Part 1 … by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Self-publishing (or indie publishing) is a big deal this days, as more and more authors use it exclusively or to supplement their traditional publishing catalog. But while self-publishing can be surprisingly fast and easy – one could take a Word document to retail ebook in about three minutes, if pressed – it’s definitely not a fast and easy path, and there’s lot of effort and knowledge required to be successful. Here’s what you need to know before you get started.

Self-Publishing Is An Industry.

There’s a thing about this industry that many authors fail to realize – it’s an industry. That means work. You can’t just vomit some words on paper, check that your mom likes them (“Lovely, dear, I’ll magnet them to the refrigerator”) and expect them to be profitable. That’s not how any industry anywhere works, and not here, either.

Authors write. That’s what they do.

Publishers publish. That means they are responsible for (including contracting for) cover design, distribution, marketing, ISBNs, layout, ebook conversion, audiobook production, front matter, back matter, ARCs, reviews, tracking sales, tracking expenses versus income to ensure profit, tracking and reporting sales tax, etc. (Oh, yeah, sales tax. You are doing that, aren’t you?)

“But I heard you can self-publish without an ISBN!” Maybe, yes, depending on your goals – but you’re missing the point. There’s a lot to do to publish a book, and more to do to publish a book successfully.

I keep hearing from self-publishing authors who are unhappy with their sales but are either unskilled at the above tasks or just plain don’t like them. You know what? That’s fine. If you don’t want to take on all the responsibilities of being a publisher, then don’t be a publisher. That’s what traditional publishing does. That’s why they get a larger percentage of profits, because they’re doing all that work you aren’t. And that is fine. If you want to be a writer and not a publisher, be a writer! Self-publishing is not the best choice for everyone, and there’s absolutely no shame in choosing a traditional path.

But if you choose to be a publisher, and then you do only a few of the publishing tasks or you do them halfway, then there’s no complaining at low profits. There’s no profit without work, because this is an industry.

Self-Publishing Costs Money.

Like other business ventures, capital is required.

Even after POD has eliminated the enormous upfront cost of printing, self-publishing has real expenses. An author-publisher may need to pay for editing, cover art, cover design, layout, ebook conversion, and probably also ISBN and copyright registration. You’ll also want a decent website and probably some business cards or promotional bookmarks, perhaps a banner for fairs. A versatilely-skilled author-publisher can do many of those tasks on her own (I actually like doing print layout and ebook conversions, though apparently I’m in the minority, and I have a lot of website background) but will still need to pay for tools, such as layout or graphics software, graphics resources and typefaces, web hosting, etc.

Most of us do not have a professional background in graphic design, so we’re better off hiring covers. A $10 cover is likely to yield a $10 sales quarter; save up and buy something professional. If you can’t afford a great cover to start, go ahead and work on the cheap, but then put your royalties right back into your writing career, making your next cover better (or going back and adding a new cover to an existing work).

A cheap cover or a bad website will hurt your sales; paying a little more for professional work will yield disproportionately greater sales (if your book quality supports it). You won’t save money by going cheap or doing yourself a job in which you aren’t trained. Learn the skills (there’s more to cover design than Photoshop!) or hire someone who has.

Vanity publishing still exists – and it’s dangerous.

The terms “author-publishing,” “self-publishing,” “indie-publishing,” and “vanity publishing” are often used interchangeably – the last usually with a distinct tone of disapproval and condescension. These are not all synonymous, but there can be considerable overlap in their Venn diagram, and it’s important to know the difference for your own protection.

“Author-publishing” and “self-publishing” are largely identical – it describes the author as the publisher of the work. The key here is that the author is responsible for publication and all its many tasks, from cover design to copyright registration to distribution arrangements (more on that later).

“Indie publishing” can be used to mean author/self-publishing, or it can refer to a small (“independent”) press, perhaps putting out ten titles a year from various contracted authors. This can occasionally be confusing – “What do you mean, you aren’t happy with your pricing? I thought you were indie?” – so ask if necessary.

“Vanity publishing” was once an author paying a printer to publish a work, and because it was not traditionally purchased work, it was often (not always) viewed as a lower tier of literary quality. Traditionally this author was recognizable by the full print run of boxed books in his basement or car trunk, but POD (printing on demand) has relieved that burden. While a number of classically famous authors have utilized vanity publishing (Edgar Allan Poe for one), it was usually because they couldn’t sell the book traditionally and it often didn’t fare well (Poe put out Tamerlane and Other Poems and moved 50 copies).

Today, vanity publishing has rebranded itself as “self-publishing” but with more predatory tactics: an author pays a company to produce his or her book, and the company makes money not from retailing the book but from the author. These books are often poorly produced, receive little to no distribution or marketing despite promises, and cost up to hundreds of times what self-publishing may have cost. While there are legitimate self-publishing services, be very cautious of all-in-one packages – and particularly of those with inflated price tags. Considering that the vast majority of self-published authors make less than $1000 in a year, how likely are you to make back that $4,000 publishing package cost? $8,000? $12,000? I know a couple who nearly lost their house via a vanity press con (“we just need a little more this month, and we’re projecting big sales of $100,000 in half a year”).

An author, receiving not the round of expected congratulations but a collective gasp of dismay when she announced she’d signed with a big name predatory vanity press, protested, “But how was I supposed to know they were bad?” I hit Google and found that while the first search result was their own website, the next five were pending lawsuits against the company. Do your research with any company you sign!

Part 2 of Laura's post is scheduled for Friday, February 24th.

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Laura VanArendonk Baugh writes fantasy (epic, urban, and historical), mystery, and non-fiction. She enjoys helping other authors and will be teaching on writing craft and self-publishing with Ireland Writer Tours in August 2017. Find her at her website, on Facebook, and Twitter.

Living The Dream

Beach DreamingThis month I want to talk a bit about living the dream. As a full time science fiction author, I’m in the sometimes unenviable position of working for myself. Like most things indie, it comes with good points and not so good points. It means the boss always knows when I’m goofing off and my employee is a bit lazy. It means I need to take responsibility for deadlines—or not. It means I need to decide—well—everything, really.

But here’s the thing.

My job as a writer isn’t really different from someone pursuing a traditional path. I have a little more flexibility in what I write. I don’t need to write a specific kind of story because of contract, or the kind of story my agent needs in order to interest an acquisitions editor. I can write the stories I want to read but can’t find, secure in the knowledge that my publisher—me—will accept it.

The flip-side is that I never know if the book is any good.

Of course, that’s the same problem Orbit has. Tor and Baen and the rest, too. Nobody knows whether the next book will sink or sail. Every publisher tries to publish the best books possible, but no publisher can predict—successfully—which book will be a hit.

As a publisher, I need to have a few different skills from other writers. I need to know how to put a book together, how to get my books into distribution channels, and how to get readers to find—and buy—them. I need to have a little more knowledge about the various markets, how they work, and what changes I should expect. I need to accept that not everything will work and to trust that enough things will. Generally, my publishing process is the same as any other press.

None of the skills are difficult to acquire when compared to the craft of writing. None of the knowledge is more complex than what I need to master in order to tell a story that people might want to read. None of the work is more complicated than tracking submissions, rejections, synopses, agents, publishers, and sales over the months and years that writers on the traditional path have to do.

As an indie, I control the vertical. I control the horizontal but still don’t know if we’re going to the Twilight Zone or the poor house. I have to trust that we’ll wind up someplace interesting with a landing I can walk away from, because I’m living the dream.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Decisions, Decisions—Formatting My Ebook

html is so confusing...
html is so confusing...

I’ve been in the process of moving from Colorado to Illinois, which is very time- and energy-consuming, so I haven’t spent much time on the next stages of getting my book ready to submit. However, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I need to do for the next step and ways to give the book the best possible chances once it hits Kindle Scout.

It occurred to me that good formatting might give the book an edge. I have no idea what criteria KS uses to determined which books to publish—other than the crowdsourcing part—but there’s mention that the more complete and ready a book is, the better its chances. I’d been thinking of this in terms of finished text and quality editing, but then suddenly realized formatting could be a part of the equation as well.

There are many ways to format your ebook. Probably the easiest is to upload a prepared .doc file (or similar) to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Kobo and let their auto-formatting take care of it. However, I got curious and downloaded the html markup for a book I’d done this way and discovered it had been formatted in probably the most convoluted way possible. It had, for example, style tags on every individual sentence. Just looking at it gave me hives.

So I started looking into other ways to do final formatting for upload. There are numerous articles and series of blog posts, etc. discussing different ways to approach the task. One way is just to use straightforward, clean html markup, but you have to put it all in there by hand, more or less. Amazon offers a guide on their KDP site.

Some other approaches are presented here:

You’ll also find guides at Barnes & Noble and Kobo, Draft2Digital, and probably any other e-book outlet providing information on how to format in the best way for their particular system. There’s a lot of overlap, though some places are pickier than others *cough*ibooks*cough*.

I’ve been self-publishing for a few years now, so I figured I had all the formatting stuff down pat. However, as I’ve been reading (and looking at the markup actually created when I upload my books to KDP), I’m starting to suspect I’m not going about things in the most efficient or effective way. So I’m going to look into some other options.

I use Scrivener as my main writing software, and I’ve heard that it also does an excellent job of exporting manuscripts into various e-book formats. I haven’t tried it yet, mostly because I do my drafting in Scrivener, then export to Word for final edits. I’d have to pull the manuscript back into Scrivener and divide it up again to make use of this functionality (at least that’s the way I understand it). I want to try it at some point in the future to see how it works and how easy it is.

Here are a few articles about how to put your final e-book together using Scrivener:

What I’m really intrigued with right now, though, is Vellum. It costs money ($29.99 for a single book, or $199.99 for an unlimited license), but people seem to be raving about it. I’ve downloaded and fiddled with it, though I haven’t paid the licensing fee yet, and so far it seems to be easy to use and also allows you to easily add visual elements that give your book a very polished look. It’s Mac-only (sorry, PC folks), but it appears to be turning into an automatic go-to for a lot of self-pubs.

Some information about Vellum:

So basically, right now I’m wavering between using Scrivener, which I already own, or spending money for Vellum, which may or may not make the process smoother, easier, and prettier. Whichever way I decide, I hope a nicely formatted book will give me a little bit of an edge when it comes to being chosen for publication.

Go ahead and laugh at me…

So, as many of you know, I’ve been going to comic cons across the country, from Seattle, Washington to Hartford, Connecticut, to sell my books and to chat with people. Thank you, WordFire Press!

I found myself sitting on a panel discussing the various benefits and drawbacks of Indie versus traditional when someone said, “Above all, if you Indie publish, don’t make a fool of yourself.”

I immediately screamed to the heavens, “MAKE A FOOL OF YOURSELF! BE AWFUL! HAVE PEOPLE LAUGH AT YOU! DON’T WAIT FOR PERFECT!”

The other authors on the panel shushed me (I get that a lot) and the discussion continued. I should’ve screamed louder. I should’ve thrown chairs. I should’ve lit my guitar on fire and knelt before it’s burning remains.

Instead I shut up. Because I’ve been making a fool of myself for at least four years in the publishing industry and I figured I didn’t need to fight with my fellow authors.

But the truth? What I believe is the truth? No book is ever ready, talent doesn’t mean much, and you can keep yourself trapped in “working on your craft” for decades or more. Do all that, and you can avoid the fear of making a fool of yourself. Congratulations.

This is the big secret about the writing industry. It’s not about who knows the most about the writing craft, or the one who has the most talent. Nope, the person who wins at the writing game is the person who DOES it.

Lots of people talk about writing books, few people do it.

Lots of people finish writing books, fewer publish them.

So this game is for people who conquer the fear and do it, and who do it over and over.

Am I a better writer than when I started thirty years ago? Maybe. I’m older, and I think that helps. But what about the ten years of critique groups, ten years of reading writing craft books, ten years of writers conferences. Haven’t those made me a better writer and someone who knows craft?

Maybe. Probably. But in the end, it comes down to the fact that I did it. Over and over again, I took action. I wrote books, I edited books, I published books. Over and over. That’s the important thing.

Am I glad I didn’t publish the first thirteen novels I wrote? Even the bad ones? Sometimes I am. But I don’t think it would’ve mattered. I think if I had Indie published my bad novels along the way, it wouldn’t have mattered. Some people would’ve loved them, and some people would’ve hated them. That’s just the nature of the game.

I spent twenty years writing thirteen books no one will probably ever read, and I would rather have people read my not-so-perfect-books than not read them all. I wish I would've had the courage to risk people laughing at me sooner. But I was too afraid.

Rushing a book into publication might not be the smartest thing ever, but it's better than not publishing a book at all. And hmmm, I wonder how many New York Times Bestsellers were rushed into print? Makes me think of the Looney Tunes writers and animators. They were rushed and what they did was genius.

I don't rush books out the door, but I'm getting more courageous. Books need to be edited. To a point. But I can edit a book for years just because I'm too afraid to show it to other people because I'm too afraid of what they'll say.

But maybe I’m totally wrong on this. I don’t have an agent and I don’t have a big traditional publisher and I get some good reviews, but I don’t sell millions of copies.

I know some people are looking askance at me, wondering why I still try so hard every day, and I know some people have tried to read my books and couldn’t. For whatever reason.

So in that sense, yeah, I have mad a fool of myself.

But who cares?

Let ‘em laugh.

I will keep writing and publishing books, and they can laugh all they want. I would rather publish books that people laugh at than be trapped in my own fear.

This game isn’t for people who talk about it. It’s for people who do it.

So let’s all go DO IT!

And damn those haters who love to laugh.

Publish Or Perish

Gutenberg_PressOnce you have a final manuscript, ebook* layout and design is easy. Keep it simple. Use default fonts. The readers will use the fonts they want anyway. Don’t get tricky with putting the text on the page because readers will change the size, the flow, the color, everything. Those hours you spend putting together the perfect layout to add that certain something to the story? Wasted as soon as the first reader inverts the text or changes the font size so they can read it on their phone.

Here’s the secret of good typography. Nobody notices it.

If it’s good – really good – it’s like the texture of the paper. It does its job by getting out of the way. Simple is better until you can learn enough to be subtle and elegant. Those purists who love books because of the scent of the ink and the texture of the paper? The feel of the book? No. I like books, too. While there’s something sensual about the feel of the book, that’s not why I buy books. I don’t keep a library of books because I like to periodically sniff them or take them down and fondle their leaves. I buy books for the stories. If the story is good, I don’t care what the ink smells like. If the story is bad, I don’t care how lovely the paper feels. A book is a box. A simple, utilitarian box – executed well – will do the job of holding your stories.

Formatting is easy with free tools like Sigil. Simply save your word processing document as an HTML file and open that file in Sigil. Save the epub. You’ll want to do some things like add cover art (a smallish version to keep the file size low), put in some front and back matter, and perhaps a table of contents. The file will be bloated and ugly on the inside because word processors add kruft but readers won’t know. If you’re fluent in HTML, you can clean it up easily with a few judicious find/replace commands.

There are a couple of gotchas to look for.

One is scene breaks. Many authors use a couple of carriage returns in their manuscripts to break scenes. Those get ignored in HTML rendering so you need to do something else. A couple of dashes, centered, serves admirably and doesn’t require any special graphics or formatting skills.

The other is the page break before a chapter heading. While it seems a bit silly to force a page break on an ebook, it really does make a difference in the reader’s experience. It’s not difficult. In Sigil, go to the top of the chapter heading, press control-enter. Sigil will break the HTML file at that point. Repeat for each chapter. Now each chapter has its own file within the EPUB framework and Sigil kept track of it all for you.

Yes, there are codes that you can embed in the files to tell ebook readers to break, but they are not universal—even within a single architecture. Putting each chapter in its own file is. It won’t matter what version of ebook device the reader uses, your chapter headings will always start on a new page.

One last step before uploading to KDP. Convert the file to .mobi using the Amazon Offline Previewer.

The previewer is a free tool that you download from Amazon. Run your epub into it and the Previewer will convert it to the current valid .mobi format unless there are errors. It’s much easier to find and fix the errors before you upload. Upload that .mobi output file to KDP and you’re on your way to publishing your first book.

The hard part's over and you've spent $50. Now all you need to do is sell it.

Next time: Making A Mark In Marketing

* The ebook market is where the money is. While you may want to publish a book in paper, let's leave that for the time being. I'll come back and address printed books in a later post. Hint: Saving your word processing document as PDF and uploading to CreateSpace is not going to give you the results you want.

Software Mentioned:
Sigil can be found at https://github.com/Sigil-Ebook/Sigil/releases
The Kindle Offline Previewer can be found at http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000765261

Bootstrap Your Book

BootsOne of the biggest problems facing new self-publishers is the capital investment required. Almost all the advice on how much it costs to self-publish suggest that it takes thousands of dollars. It’s no wonder that new writers turn to the scammers who promise success for mere hundreds (plus the hidden up-sell once they’ve hooked the mark).

Once an author has a few books out and earning, justifying the expense of self-publishing becomes a little easier, but how do you get that first book into the market without robbing the kid’s college fund or dining on ramen for a year?

First, start with a reasonable budget. A first time self-publisher has no gauge for what kind of return to expect. Generally speaking, that first book takes a long time to gain traction so shelling out cash that may not come back for years – if ever – is a hard nut. Start small and calculate your return on investment.

Example: A novel selling at $3.99 on Amazon earns around $2.50 per sale. It only takes forty sales to earn $100. A first time self-pubber with a good marketing plan can probably do that in a month. It might take two. It will certainly take less time than writing the next book.

Second, produce the best book you can within that budget. Three things sell books--cover, blurb, and sample.

The cover has to be eye catching, indicative of the genre, and clearly recognizable in thumbnail size. Too many first-timers make the mistake of creating their own covers to save a buck when they could be grabbing a pre-made ebook cover for as little as $50. In many cases that includes a paperback format cover, too, but don’t get hung up on the paperback. The market is in ebooks. You can add paperbacks once you have some cash flow generating revenue to invest.

Blurb in this context means product description, not the one-liner that somebody more famous than you gives you to promote the title. The purpose of the blurb is to convince the potential reader who has seen your cover and looked up your book on Amazon to grab the sample. If it convinces them to buy the book, that’s just gravy. Don’t try to sell the book in the blurb. Just hook them into the sample. Too many first-timers over do the blurb and turn off the reader before they even get to the story.

Sample is where the book needs to sell itself. A good opener, a solid follow through, and a decently formatted ebook will pull the reader all the way to the “buy me” link at the end of the sample. If you’ve done your work correctly, that link will be a siren’s call to lure them deeper into the story without making them feel like they’re being held up at the troll booth.

Third, wait! What about editing and formatting and layout and design and advertising and marketing and … stuff I need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for?

Purists might want to look away. I’m about to commit heresy here.

You probably can’t afford to pay an editor for your first book, but your book needs a copy edit as a minimum. You also should get a development editing pass and some line editing wouldn’t be amiss. Frankly, you can't afford it so here's what you do instead.

Beta readers can tell you if the story works. They can tell you where the story bogs down, or where it moves too quickly. They can tell you if your characters are believable or if the dialog is stilted. They can point you to the problem spots or tell you that the story is good. Unlike a developmental editor they can't tell you how to fix it, but knowing what's borked is half the battle.

Note: Let's be brutally honest here. At this point, unless you’ve got a million words behind you, this story is not Good. You may think it’s Good. You might be an outlier on the curve and actually have written something Good, but if it’s your first book, it’s nothing like the book you’ll write five titles down the road. That’s not a problem. That’s an advantage. You’re not aiming for Good. You’re aiming for good enough.

If that last bit of heresy wasn’t enough, here’s another.

Editing can be crowd sourced.

Not the cash-raising, gofundit kind of crowd sourced. The actual process of giving the book to about a dozen people who will send you back corrections crowd sourced. Ideally some of them will be fellow writers who have some idea about things like where the quote marks go and when you might use an m-dash instead of an n-dash. They’ll recognize realities like dialog shouldn’t be corrected for grammar, but might need you to add the missing word.

This will not result in a perfect book. If done properly, it can result in a book that is good enough.

So, give the manuscript to two or three colleagues to mark up for you. Get their feedback and figure out whether to accept it or not. Some you’ll agree with. Some will be in the class of “how did I miss that?” and some will be “Uh. No.”

Once you’ve got those changes in, send it out to two or three more colleagues to mark up and repeat this process two or three times. Save your better readers for the last pass. That’s where you can get the most benefit from the nit-pickers and analytical readers.

There’s actually a rationale behind this iterative, crowd source approach. From a quality assurance standpoint, more eyes mean higher probability to catch the errors. Nobody will get them on the first pass, but by correcting those before handing it off to the second and third and forth, each new reader will have fewer to find and will more likely find the less obvious ones.

You can also use beta readers for this. Most of them will tell you anyway, but if you ask them to look, you’ll get some typos along with the story feedback. It’s also a good way to get early buzz. Readers who liked your story and have an investment in making it better are more likely to tell their friends about it.

This can take a while, but don’t fall into the Perfect Trap. There are no perfect books. None of the Bigs publish perfect books. A librarian once said “I’m not that worried about typos and grammar. I still buy books from Harper and Random House.” If you spend all your time making it perfect, you’ll never publish and that is the fatal flaw. The reality is that you can’t prove there are no typos. You can only prove there is at least one more – by finding it.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this process is that it forces you out of your comfy spot. It makes you begin to forge connections with other writers in your genre and the readers who are most likely to be in your audience. These connections will make the difference when it comes to sales and promotion of your book when it’s finally released into the wild.

Remember you’re aiming for good enough and good enough is sufficient. In fact, I still aim for good enough, but I also look at better than the last one. You’re still on the first one and good enough is hard enough to hit the first time. Eventually your books will have earned enough--or sold enough--to justify hiring a real editor for the next one. This isn't the best way to publish a first book, but it's head and shoulders above many of the alternatives.

Next Time: Publish Or Perish

Image Credit:
John Lobb Boot by Robert Sheie
Creative Commons BY 2.0

The ‘Real’ Cost of Publishing: How to Publish on a Limited Budget

I’ve been rich (not really, but saying it sure makes me feel better and there’s always the lottery). I’ve been poor (stupid lottery). I’ve been traditionally published. I’ve been self-published.

Now for the big reveal…(drumroll, please).

Both options can be very expensive. No matter what my title implies.

If you indie publish, all the things a traditional publisher does are now on your head. That means you have to pay for cover art, editing, proofing, formatting, print copies, reviews from Kirkus and PW, on and on…

If you traditionally publish, marketing is on you. And often times review copies are too.

My next publishing adventure will be done all by myself (sort of). That being so, and me being a really BIG nerd with a love of spreadsheets, I created a budget for Cuffed: A Detective Goldie Locks’ Tale. Mind you, these are merely my own estimates. Some of it is on the cheap side, while other items are more expensive. Pick and choose the pieces that fit your project.

Here it is:

kazimer bannerBudget for Cuffed     Total  
Editing/Copy $25 per hour 18 hours $450
Cover design $200
Back Cover Copy $50 Since I suck at writing it myself
Formatting $150 0 Do it myself
ISBN $125 per 10 for $250 $250
Distribution
Print Copies $4.75 per book 50 $237.50
Pre- Pub Reviews
- Kirkus $425 $425
- PW $149 $149
- BlueInk $396 $396
Publicist $2000
BookBub $365 free promo $365 If accepted
Swag $200
Professional Marketer $45 per hour 10 $450
Other promo sites $300 $300
TOTAL $5,473

Now I don’t have five grand lying around, unless this Powerball ticket is a winner. So I’ll have to improvise in a lot of ways. Maybe try a Kickstarter, though I don’t have many fans, family or friends. You’re feeling sorry for me. That means it’s the perfect time to ask you, dear reader, for $5k.

If you noticed, I saved about $150 for formatting since I’ll be doing the layout myself. I possibly will save another $400 by choosing not to advertise with BlueInk or if Bookbub doesn’t accept my FREE promo.

You get the idea. I’d love to hear from other indie authors about additional expenses I missed or tips on overall budgets. Also, traditional pubbed authors, weigh in on what you budget for.

Now about that check…

GOING ROGUE – THE INDIE REVOLUTION OF AARON MICHAEL RITCHEY

By Aaron Ritchey

I have become like Kurtz in the Congo.

I have gone native.  I am living in a hut, out in the jungle, and I’m writing books that don't have the approval of the British elite in London.

The horror!  The horror!

But do you know what?  It’s awesome and scary and nerve-wracking and freeing and sometimes I feel like Prometheus and sometimes I feel like the eagle eating Prometheus’s liver and sometimes I feel like Prometheus’s liver.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 started like any normal day. I was struggling.  I’d gotten back some wicked, flesh-eating edits from an editor, and I’d gotten some ass-smacking criticism from one of my beta readers, and lastly, the small press who published my first novel The Never Prayer was going under.  On March 31, 2015, I was going to get my rights back.

I had always planned on going to another small publisher once my contract ended, and yet, on that Tuesday, I talked with my lovely wife and discussed the pros and cons.  Many of which I blogged about on this very blog – http://rmfw.org/get-big-by-going-small-the-top-five-reasons-to-publish-with-a-small-press.

Here’s the thing, a small press can be great—editing help, marketing help, cover help. But do you know what?  I think even more important, at least for me, was that it was another person in the world who believed in me.  Finding editors, cover artists, marketing help, all that takes only a bit of time and money.  But finding someone to believe in you?  That's priceless.

But how much is it worth?  Is it worth 30%, 50%, 70% of your royalties?  Is it worth someone else’s timeline?  Is it worth the waiting, the headaches, the general hassle of trying to squeeze yourself into someone’s else’s to-do list?  Because when you are with a publisher, you become a line item on someone’s to-do list, and unless you are bringing in fat stacks of cash, you aren’t their highest priority.  Even the ones that love your stuff.

No one will work harder on your writing career than you.  No one.  Unless, of course, you are making mad money, and then people will come out of the woodwork to “help” you.

On that fateful Tuesday, my wife and I decided we wanted to take hold of the reins. I still have other publishers I’m working with, but I am seizing control of my first three novels, including my newest novel which will hit the streets May 7, 2015.  You are all invited to the party at Hanson’s.

The name of my new publishing company will be Black Arrow Publishing because my stories have been forged by my father and his father before him.  The true king under the mountain.  And I aim to take down dragons.  Oh yes.

But in many ways, I have it easy.  I’ve had four publishers of various sizes like my work and want to publish it.  That really helps me.  I have huge respect for those authors who went Indie and they never had that kind of validation.  They have big ol' huevos of iron.

Still, it was hard for me to take this leap.

Part of it goes back to the original dream I had of becoming rich and famous.  I so wanted the huge literary agent, the six-figure book deal, the advance, the book tour, the Gulfstream personal jet, the whole Stephen King dream.

Going Indie meant having to mourn that dream all over again.  I wasn’t a princess in a castle adored by the big-five publishers.  I was just me.  Just a writer.

But who are my books for?  Are they for agents, editors, presses big, small, and in-between?

Not really.

In the end, my books are for the world and for the readers who read them.  I don’t know why I haven’t been loved and adored by millions.  I mean, my books seem to be well-written and people like them.  Goes back to validation.  Which I’m learning is cheap, cheaper than an empty Coke can in the gutter.

I still like the idea of the agent, the big publisher, the glory and teeth-gashing of that game.  And some of my projects will eventually go that route.

But other stories?  Man, I want to write books.  I want to write a lot of books.  And I’m tired of waiting on other people to help me get my books out into the world.

The time is now.

I’m going rogue.  I’ll get a developmental editor (Vivian Trask), a copy editor (Chris Devlin), a cover artist (Natasha Brown), and a formatter (Quincy J. Allen).  I’ll get help.

And with that help, I’ll shoot arrows at the sun, baby.

I’ll bring that star down and put it in my pocket.

Five Things You Might Not Expect Going Indie

By Kerry Schafer

I'm very nearly through my first venture in independent publishing, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I didn't see coming.

I'm not going to spend time on the things that are easy to see. Obviously you're going to need a cover and some sort of editing. But there are some other things you'll need when the manuscript is all polished and shiny that you might not have thought about in advance.

1) A blurb for the cover. In traditional publishing, often your editor will ask other authors at the publishing house to read and endorse your book. Or at the least, remind you that it's time to start looking. With independent books, it's up to you to track one down. You snooze, you lose. (And yes, when The Nothing comes out that little endorsement quote is probably going to be missing.)

2) ISBN numbers. You need these so bookstores and librarians can find your book. Some of the platforms (Amazon, etc) will give you one, but all of the research I did points to it being a very good idea to get your own. You do this at www.bowker.com. These are kind of spendy - $125 for one ISBN, and if you're doing epub and paper  you're going to need at least two. I went with the bundle of ten for $295, since I figure I'm likely to do more Indie books down the road.

At this cost, you might be wondering if you really need an ISBN. You do, and here's why. From the Bowker website:

"The most important identifier your book can have is the ISBN. As the U.S. ISBN Agency, Bowker is the ONLY official source of ISBNs in the United States. ISBNs provide unique identification for books and simplify the distribution of your books throughout the global supply chain. Without an ISBN, you will not be found in bookstores, either online, or down the street from your house."

3) A Library of Congress Control Number, or PCN. I'm told librarians will use this number to find your book, so you want one. Good news - it's free! It's just a little bit of a hassle to sign up for the account and request the number. It also takes about a week, so allow for adequate time. You can get started at http://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/. Click the link for Open an Account and get started. There will be an email you need to respond to in order to complete the process, so watch out for that! You will also need to send a print copy to the Library of Congress as soon as it is available.

4) Copyright Page and Application. Technically, your book is protected by copyright without actually applying for an official copyright, BUT it seems if there is ever any legal involvement with your book going to court you will need the copyright to have been registered, and that means you have to file with the copyright office. You can do this online here: http://www.copyright.gov/. The advice I've read is to wait until the book is published to file, so I haven't done this yet. I understand there is a fee involved - somewhere around $50. Once again, you will need to send in a print copy.  There is some terrific copyright information here, including what to put on the copyright page: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/03/how-to-copyright-your-book-2/

5) Paper and ebook Covers Are Not Created Equal. Your cover designer needs to make two separate files. The ebook one is straightforward. The cover for a paper book has some extra requirements. In order to finalize a cover that will fit properly across the spine of the paperbound book, your designer will need the exact number of pages of the book after it's been formatted and set in PDF. He or she will also need back cover copy and the aforementioned endorsement if you've been able to secure one.

6) Formatting. From all I've read, formatting isn't difficult so much as it is time consuming and nit picky. I fully intended to learn to do it myself, but time and life got in the way and I ended up getting some help. You'll need two different e-formats - .mobi for Amazon Kindle, and .epub for everything else. You'll also need a pdf of the interior of the book for paper. Since I didn't do the work myself I don't have a whole lot of advice here, except that my friends who have done this a lot advised me to stay far away from Calibre and to use Adobe InDesign. The ebook version of The Nothing was done in Scrivener, however, and it looks clean and professional.

And that wraps up this edition of what I've learned about Independent Publishing. Maybe next time I'll share what I learn in the process of getting The Nothing set up for print on demand and up on the various platforms.