Mambo No. 5

It’s not so much a rule as a repeated observation. While the plural of anecdote isn’t data, there comes a point where something happens often enough that one has to believe there’s something other than divine intervention at work.

The observation is that many authors don’t begin to get traction until they’ve published five novels. More specifically, they’ve published five novels in the same recognizable niche—ideally, in a series.

There are two reasons why this observation is important.

First, the goal is to gain an audience for your work. Having an audience means people like to read the stories you like to tell. Everything else comes from that basic premise. Fame, fortune, or just seeing your name on the cover of the book a stranger is reading, you can’t get very far in publishing without an audience.

To gain that audience, you need to be putting books in the places they look. For the average indie author, that means in a sub-sub-cat on Amazon. This creates a problem if your five novels are all in different categories. Sure, go wide if you want. Kobo and Nook and iBook, oh my, but the same observation holds across vendors and even formats. (Can you say "audiobooks?" Of course you can.)

For an example:

In the old days, science fiction was on the Science Fiction shelf. Today it might be on the Space Opera shelf or the First Contact shelf or the Colonization Shelf or the Military SF shelf. If I want to gain an audience, I need to know who that audience is with a much greater degree of specificity than I might have had to in the past—and what kinds of stories each of those shelves hold. I write science fiction, but if I want traction, I need to pick one of those shelves to focus on because that’s where the most likely readers will look.

Which is not to say I need to run up the demographics on those people who have bought my books. I already know their most salient characteristic: they read space opera. Sure, they might read other niches as well, but in order to get their attention I need to have a big enough footprint in one niche to show up on their radar.

Second, amortization of your promotional investment becomes easier when you have more properties. As I wrote last September, backlist is your lever. The five-novel rule provides a rule of thumb for how long that backlist might need to be to effectively amortize your promotional investment in time, money, and focus across your catalog. When you can realistically expect buy-through on your catalog—because the books are in a series or at least all in the same niche—then justifying giving one book away for free becomes a lot more palatable.

This second bit is why I generally don’t recommend that new authors spend time, money, and attention on paid promotion. A Bookbub is great when you’ve got five books, but not so great when you spend $500 to give away a few hundred copies of your only title.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t work on gaining some early fans, but more like maybe focus on what matters most—having your five novels in play—and work on building relationships with the other authors in your chosen niche.

The career path for indie authors involves a different kind of dues. We don’t have to ride the query-go-round, but we have to look past the sales levels of our earliest works and grit through to at least five novels in order to find traction. While it’s true that some people capture lightning in a bottle on their first time in the rain, the odds of winning the lottery are still pretty small.

Somebody cue up Lou Bega. Suddenly, I want to mambo.

 

As an aside, what would you like me to write about as 2018 unwinds? Leave a comment or email me at nathan.lowell on the gmail.com and I’ll see what I can do.

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

What is it worth to you to be published?

Is it worth a Saturday and about $75? Is it worth having great food, sitting amidst lots of excited (and exciting) writers, and listening to interesting, informative, amazing presentations?

If it’s not, then you should stop reading now. And maybe think about how badly you really want to be published. Because on April 29, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers will be holding the Annual Education Event in Golden, at the Table Mountain Inn. The website has more info, but here’s why Pub-Con (catchy, right?) is such a fantastic opportunity:

We start with breakfast. Always a good sign.

The morning session has an Editor whose publishing house was just purchased by Simon and Schuster, the Owner/Agent of a multi-agent literary agency, and a multi-traditionally published author. This panel will give you tons of information, stuff you REALLY need to know, about getting traditionally published. The before, the during, and the after. The dos and the don’ts. The whys and the why nots.

Then we have lunch. Another good sign. And even better, we have an Editor-in-Chief of a small Denver-based publishing house to talk about the different publishing options out there and how you can determine what might be best for you.

 The afternoon session will include a multi-self-published author, a best-selling author who started a publishing house and works with self-publishers, and a graphic designer who specializes in book cover design. They will give you as much information as you’ll be able to absorb on the process of self-publishing. They’ll help dispel notions of how hard, or easy, it is and you’ll have the advantage of knowing the mistakes they made and shortcuts they found, to save you from yourself. And we all need that, right?

So, is it worth $75 give or take? Can you give up 8 hours of your precious time? Only you can decide, but if you want that WIP to see the light of day, this might be the best time and money you can spend to make that happen.

I hope to see you there. Here’s the link to the page on RMFW site: http://rmfw.org/pubcon/ . Seating is limited and I do expect to sell out with this kind of presentation lineup.

In the meantime, Write On! and get your WIP done. You’ll want to take lots of notes at Pub-Con so you can get that puppy published!

 

We Disrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program

One of the things I keep hearing is that Amazon is disrupting the publishing business. That disruption is what allows independent authors like me to make a living in a field where - in the past - only a handful of superstars could quit their day jobs.

I've been looking at this for a couple of years now and I think we're focused on the wrong end of the paradigm.

Disruption is a technical term and happens when an innovation changes the marketplace for a new and under served populations of customers.

Who are the customers in publishing?

Certainly not the authors. Publishing has long see the authors and editors and artists less as customers than as piece work laborers, a necessary overhead cost in producing the books that they sell to the real end customers - readers.

I would argue that the disruption that Amazon has caused is in reading and they did it by changing the distribution model that a few (and shrinking) number of companies have controlled for decades. Ebooks in general and Amazon in particular gave people with limited means and limited mobility access to the community of letters in numbers that were unthinkable before. Those readers, and our ability to reach them, is what makes it possible for me to make a living writing novels.

So when the Wise and Powerful Wizard of 'Zon changes the rules, like trying out new subscription models or altering what authors get paid, remember one critically important distinction.

We're not the customers that their disruption serves. We're only the beneficiaries of that disruption.

Cash the checks and keep writing.

Image Credit:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

[This post originally shared with the Writers Discussion Group on Google+ - Aug, 2015. Nothing has changed since then.]

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

Current Climate in Publishing: The Sky Didn’t Fall, So Now What?

After the recent Colorado Gold Conference, I found myself wondering about indie/self-publishing and traditional happy-b-day-picpublishing. When I joined my first Gold Conference back in 2008, I/S publishing was the DEVIL. No, really, like the actual end of the world four to five horsemen. (I first typed horsemint, which is, according to word, any various coarse mints. Thought you might enjoy my overeagerness about just how bad it once was to I/S publish, that or my fat fingered typing ability).

This past conference, the vibe was MUCH different, and in fact, most of the I/S pub workshops were filled (I should know, our Rejection Panel went up against Nathan Lowell’s Amazon workshop Saturday morning. Thank you to the five people who joined us). Also, for the first time, iPAL the independently published version of PAL, was awarded a Writer of the Year (Lisa Manifold, who deserved it greatly for a) successfully writing and marketing great books, but more so b) being a leader in our community).

So my question to you, dear readers, and for once, comment dang it!, how do you feel about publishing these days? When you think of your current WIP, is it slated for traditional route or a more indie one? Have you come to the dark or maybe light side (depending on who you ask) of publishing?

Right now I publish with both. I see good things and bad for each. Nothing is ever going to be simple or perfect in publishing. Yet this is the first time I see I/S publishing tipping in favor to traditional. Or maybe just with my tribe. So let’s hear it. Good and bad. Beautiful and ugly. What say you about today’s publishing format climate?

Rocky Mountain Writer #60

nathanlowell_400x4001-300x300Nathan Lowell - A Field Guide to Amazon

At the Colorado Gold conference last month, Nathan Lowell gave a workshop called "A Field Guide To Amazon." Not surprisingly, the room was packed. On the podcast this time, Nathan offers the highlights from that standing-room-only session. He talks about Amazon rankings, about the possible advantages of going all-Amazon, about e-book promotions, the importance of your Author Central page and the difference between your sales rank and your popularity rank—and more.

Nathan, a 2016 finalist for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Independent Writer of the Year, knows his stuff. He’s an Amazon guy, with a many published works in two major series.

One quick glance at Nathan’s Author page and you’ll quickly be aware that he has a sizable audience of enthusiastic readers.

For more about Nathan’s writing, check out Episode 27 of the Rocky Mountain Writer, recorded last January.

Nathan Lowell

On Facebook

On Twitter: @nlowell

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

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

Fraud Spotting

Various conversations around the internet lately have made me think that numerous misconceptions exist about self-publishing. One of the odd confusions seems to center on what’s known as Yog’s Law—a rule originally laid out by SF writer James D. Macdonald stipulating that “money flows toward the writer.” Specifically, some people find it confusing because the self-published author pays for publishing services instead of getting an advance. Many feel that it this violates Yog’s Law.

I think the breakdown comes by not understanding that a self-published author needs two hats. He or she wears the Writing Hat while creating the manuscript. The author must still pay out for writing implements and such, but the expenses aren’t terribly onerous even when buying a new computer every few years. When the manuscript is finished – that is, when it’s had a couple of drafts, perhaps been seen by a few beta readers, and had a spell check or two run on it – then the writer takes off the Writing Hat and puts on the Publisher Hat.

Publishers have to invest in order to produce a book. They hire editors. They hire artists. They hire layout people and book designers. Some even publish catalogs and hold up release for months while they wait for the stars to align and their promotional efforts to take root.

It doesn’t matter if you’re self-published or being served by Orbit. The process remains the same. Some self-publishers invest in skills, knowledge, and tools that help keep their direct costs low, but they follow the same path.

More than a few people have suggested that this investment on the part of the publisher means that money does not flow to the writer if the writer self-publishes his or her opus. Certainly the hats occupy one head, but not at the same time. Writers and publishers play different roles with different expectations in the creation of a book. Writers invest time and effort. Publishers invest time, effort, and money.

Writers recognize this when they pursue contracts with publishers. They don’t want to incur the direct costs of publication. They choose to reach the market indirectly, trading direct production costs for a percentage of future earnings. They want the publishers to invest and a portion of the the revenue money flows toward the author.

The fraud comes in when unscrupulous operators inject themselves into the process.

Some of these bad actors literally hang out a sign telling the potential customer that they’re going to cheat. They put themselves forward as “self-publishing companies” – the moral equivalent of Dante’s admonition “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.”

The diagnostic definition of a “self-publishing company” is “a publisher that publishes only one author’s titles.” Typically, the same person who wrote the story runs the publishing operation which the phrase “self-published” implies.

Most of the bad actors follow the same patterns. They charge an exorbitant upfront fee for services like editing, cover design, and marketing – which is where the “money flows to the author” caveat actually applies – but then they fail to support those promises. They run a spell checker and make a pass with a grammar tool for editing. They use a default cover design which attracts more derision than attention. They’ll put an advert on a web page that nobody ever sees as a marketing plan, then place the books in various online bookstores at prices that all but guarantee no sales. They fulfill the letter of their contracts while charging the author for the privilege. They do this because they know the book will never earn them any money in sales so they have to get it up front.

By comparison, some companies provide self-publishing services. These companies may broker an editor and cover artist for a small finder’s fee. They may offer layout services. They’ll charge a one-time fee for their services and return the completed files for the owner to publish. Any company that keeps the file and publishes it is a publisher. Period. Beware of those organizations that claim otherwise.

Vanity presses can be a little tougher to spot, because too many people don’t understand how much it costs to publish a book. Historically, vanity presses left the author with cases of books that cluttered up the garage or basement with no hope of selling. Today, these houses don’t make it easy by claiming to be a “self publishing company.” They offer al a carte services at the same high levels as the straight-up scammers. They ask the author to pay the upfront investment for producing the book and add a hefty commission for undertaking the work. They frequently offer additional services like promotion and web pages. They then publish the books—again with stupidly high prices—and often claim the lion’s share of revenues leaving the writer with an empty wallet and no book.

Straight scoop. You can self-publish a high quality book in both ebook and paperback for less than $2000 in direct costs. Very good freelance editors charge around $1500 for a novel length manuscript. You’ll pay a bit more if you need development as well as copy editing. Excellent cover art costs much less than $500. With a little ingenuity and elbow grease, you can do the ebook layout yourself. Creating a well laid out PDF for print-on-demand publishing takes a bit more effort but it’s not rocket science and free tools exist to handle the conversion.

It’s not like these resources are hiding. The best way to find an editor is ask around. I have a couple I regularly recommend — same with cover artists. Some of the same editors and artists that work for the Bigs — or used to — are available for indies to hire.

While you’re considering publishing your next work, remember that the money flowing toward the author comes from the publisher even when you publish it yourself. If your publisher cheaps out on production costs, you’ll ultimately pay the price out of your writer’s wallet, regardless of whose head wears the Publisher Hat.

Image credit: Pictures of Money
Licensed under Creative Commons-BY 2.0

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.