Category Archives: Publishing

When you want to just stop

The other day, a writer in one of the online groups I belong to posted that he was ready to just chuck the whole writer-thing because he hadn’t liked his first day sales (and he went on to give us the number of sales made). I’ll admit, my first reaction was to reach through the screen and shake him because the number, while not best seller level was higher than most indie writers will ever see in a single day. Then I decided that wasn’t the best course of action and thought I’d take a look at what he had just put out and talk to him from a reader’s standpoint.

This writer’s work falls into a very particular sub-genre, or at least that is what his titles suggest. So that presents the first challenge for him. He titles his books one way but the covers cue something completely different. That confuses the potential reader. Are they going to get a book about X, as the title suggests, or about Y, which is what the cover cues?

Then there was the confusion raised by his Amazon listing. Doing a search by his name turns up a number of titles. That’s a good thing. Even better is that the new book is the first thing showing. But the second thing showing is a compilation of his work that says it includes all of the series in question. Hmm. So is the first title really a new one or is it included in the compilation that is a better buy? More confusion.

All of which can be easily fixed by making some changes to the cover images for the series and the copy on the cover and in the product descriptions.

But what about his complaint about sales from an author’s standpoint. He had expected sales at least ten times higher than they were. His conclusion about why sales were so bad was that Facebook has changed its algorithm that determines not only who sees your posts but how many people see them. You see, he has a large and active Facebook page and he had relied on that in the past for his promotion.

The problem with doing this is multi-fold. First, as noted, Facebook has changed its model concerning who sees your post. You should never put your main promotion effort into something that you have absolutely no control over and that changes how it does things more often than you change underwear (okay, an exaggeration but not by much). Even if you knew our promotion posts were going out to every one of your followers, they aren’t all going to look at it. Either they won’t get notice that you posted something or they are busy and don’t go to Facebook that day or they scroll past it, etc.

But there is another problem with putting most of your emphasis on promoting to people who are already “fans”. (I put that in quotes for a reason. All too often, people who join an author’s fan group have never read the author’s work or read only one or two books and then move on to other authors. They hang around because they like the interplay in the forum.) You have, hopefully, already won over those people and they will buy your work whether you promote it on the page or not. What we have to do is look for new readers to expand our fan base. So we have to look for new ways to find them. Social media posts are one way but not everyone is on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Google +, etc. Blogging helps, especially if you can get guests blog gigs on other, more popular blogs than your own. Getting those who have read your work to post honest reviews on Amazon and elsewhere also help. But they have to be HONEST reviews.

And, when you see your sales for a certain title declining, you have to be able to look at it with a critical eye and figure out why. Is it the normal slump that happens after a book has been out for awhile? If so, that means you had better have another book ready to go pretty darn soon or your audience will move on to another author and they might not think to come back to you. Is your cover still cuing the right genre or sub-genre? This is something I’ve had to look at of late with regard to my Nocturnal Lives series. The covers were spot on for genre cuing when they first came out. Now, not so much. So the books will be re-released over the next few weeks with new covers. This will be done in coordination with the release of the next book in the series. Is your product description something that hooks the reader? Does it look professional (I see far too many where there is no spacing between paragraphs, leaving you to read a wall of text. Not good.

In other words, instead of throwing your hands up and threatening to walk away because a book isn’t selling as well right out the gate as you think it should, look at what you have done to write, edit, package and promote it with a critical eye. Writing is a business, something we tend to forget about all too often. We have to treat it as such. And, on that happy note, I need to get back to work. I have editing jobs to finish before I can write.

A New Twilight?

This past week, Stephanie Meyer, the best-selling author of the teen vampire series, Twilight, upon which the blockbuster movies were based, made a big announcement.

With the 10 year anniversary of the first Twilight books’ publication, Meyer has announced a new Twilight book, Life and Death – A Twilight Re-Imagining sold in conjunction with the 10th anniversary edition . Well, it’s not really *new*, it’s a new version of the first book.

This release is not like her unreleased and incomplete version that was leaked and then given for free on her site at one point, Midnight Sun, which was told from Edward’s POV. The new re-telling is the same story with – wait for it- gender swapped characters! (Cue eye roll).

In this new book, Meyer now has the teenage vampire as a female character and the love struck human as a male. Instead of Bella, we have a Beau. Instead of Edward, we have Edythe. Other characters are also gender swapped, like Carlyle, but the story is the same.

Meyer has said that this “new book” is not really a new book and she views it as more like “bonus material”, however new book or not, it will get a lot of sales I would imagine, given the series success.

Here I will admit I enjoyed the Twilight books. I know, the writing wasn’t good. I know she totally ignored the vampire tropes and gave the world the sparkling vegatarian vampire. (Cringe) I know the female lead isn’t the strong character I prefer to read about and see portrayed in film. I know. But I enjoyed them. Yes, part of this had to do with liking the British actor who portrayed Edward in the movies. (I love the Brits okay?) It absolutely had to do with the fun of the first movie and the great soundtrack. For all of the books’ (and movies’) faults, I enjoyed them. Chalk it up to guilty pleasures if you must. I’m coming clean here. I liked Twilight. Judge me all you want. 😉

Having admitted to that, I can tell you I think it is absolutely ludicrous to re-tell the same story with changes. I’ve seen her defense that it’s a response to the harsh critisism she’s faced with her ‘damsel in distress’ main character. I think the flaws with Bella go beyond a simple gender swap to play with the weakness not being female. If she wants to respond to giving us a weak female character, she should write something entirely new with a kick-ass female lead.

If she wanted to capitalize on her well-loved existing series, she could take one of her other characters in the world she has already created and explore her story. Alice was a cool and capable character that she could make the heroine in a new series. It could still be in the same world people are already plugged into and could be either before Bella or after Bella.

She hasn’t done that with this new “book/bonus material”, so I have no interest in reading it. I hope for her that she gives her audience a better option in the future. Better yet, perhaps all the readers who fell in love with Twilight can continue enjoying all the great books that have been published since in the same young adult category that are really worth the read. Susanne Collins’ Hunger Games series is fantastic and has a kick-ass female lead. Marie Lu’s Legend series is a great read. Ally Condie’s Matched series is also great and her prose is beautiful. Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices Series are both captivating. (The Infernal Devices series was my personal favorite between those two series, by far.) I also enjoyed the very popular Divergent series but didn’t like the writing as much as others. The YA audience has a wealth of strong options to choose from, so I would say, let’s just skip this “new” Twilight book and look nearby on the shelves for another instead. 😀

What do you think? (Amanda and AJ you don’t get to chide me for my Twilight guilty pleasure! 😉 ) Is a re-tooling of an existing story ever a good idea? Does her gender swap accomplish anything? Should successful series ever be re-visited? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. (No, Amanda, nothing about the Twi-Hatred you may have haha).

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!

~CJS

Release your inner geek

A writer friend of mine this past week suffered one of the worst things that can happen to any writer — her laptop decided 1) it would present her with the dreaded BSOD (blue screen of death) and then 2) refuse to boot once she managed to get past the BSOD. Now, fortunately for my friend, she is a wise woman and she had almost everything backed up. That is the first rule of writers when you look at the tech end of our business — always back up your work. The first caveat of that rule is to back up in multiple locations. You never know when that thumb drive you use will find its way into the wash.

Now, my friend is, as I said, wise. She instantly started asking around for help. Did any of us know what the problem might be and if there was a work-around. At the same time, she broke out her old computer — but it is old and cranky, so it isn’t reliable. Wise woman that she is, she immediately started looking for a replacement for the retired computer even as she decided who to take her laptop to. (The final verdict isn’t in on it but best guess is the hard drive died although it could also be an issue with her motherboard.)

I use my friend as an example because we, as writers, rely upon our tech and gadgets to get our work done these days. Most publishers require electronic submission. We have multiple drafts of our work, each one a different stage in the creative and editorial process. If we don’t have them backed up and something happens to our computer/laptop/tablet, we could be in deep doo-doo.

This is where I am going to tell you to do something you might not want to do. After all, your spouse/partner/kid/brother/sister/best friend are much more tech savvy than you. Besides, you bought that extended warranty to cover whatever might happen to your work machine. So you’re good. Right?

Wrong.

Let me give you an example from personal experience. I’m fairly tech savvy. I have built my own PCs from the ground up. I’ve upgraded PCs and laptops as needed. I like me some new tech — after the bugs have been worked out for the most part. So I’m not scared of tech and enjoy working with it.

My main work machine is also my gaming laptop. It’s one of the best Asus Republic of Gamers laptops that I’ve had for about two years now. Great machine. But, just before my initial manufacturer’s warranty ran out, the “w” key quit working. Well, drat. It’s hard to be a writer — and a gamer — and not use that key. Before contacting Asus, I did some research. It seems this is a known issue with these laptops and Asus is usually really good about taking care of it. So, half an hour later, I had my claim filed with Asus and everything was in the works to send the laptop in for service.

Now, because I’m a techie, I do have backup machines. So it wasn’t as though I was going to be without a laptop for the two – three weeks the repair would take. Still, I missed my rocking ROG laptop and was thrilled to get it back.

Until, a few months later, I started noticing another issue with the laptop. Overnight, the battery quit charging. Then the keyboard started lagging and skipping not just a letter here and there but entire words and phrases. That is problematic for a writer. So I called Asus and, while they were really nice, they reminded me that I was out of the manufacturer’s warranty. The best they could do was have me send it in — at their cost — and they would look into it and let me know how much it would cost to do any needed repairs.

Crap! No way.

Then I remembered that I had bought the extended warranty through Square Trade. So I called them and thus began my frustration. Several calls and service reps later and all I knew for sure was that they would send me a box and mailing label and that they would do the repairs, not Asus. Oh, I had the option of finding someone local to repair the machine and then I could submit my bill for the repairs to them for reimbursement but there was no guarantee they would pay it all.

Double crap!

Feeling I didn’t have much of a choice, I told them to send me the mailing box and I’d be sending them my laptop. When the mailing box arrived, I was not happy. Unlike the box and other material I had received from Asus, this was a think cardboard box with no packing material, nothing to help protect the laptop. I was seriously doubting my decision to send them anything, much less my laptop.

So, still not happy because they hadn’t even given me a hint about what might be wrong with the laptop, I went back to the internet and some of the computer fora I frequent from time to time. It didn’t take me more than an hour or so to narrow down what the problem was. It seems that this sort of letter and work skipping happens when you have a malfunctioning battery in place. Hmm. My battery no longer charged. Could it be that simple?

So, knowing I had nothing to lose, I removed the battery from its housing and plugged the laptop back in and wow! No more problem. I’d lost almost a week of working on the ROG laptop because of the skipping letters and words thing but now I knew what the problem was. Take the battery out and everything works just fine.

That left just finding a new battery and getting it bought and delivered — which was another joy in trying to find one for less than a hundred bucks. But I did and it works perfectly.

The moral of this story is that I saved myself money and frustration by simply taking some time to research the problem. The steps I took to see if the problem was easily solved were such that they couldn’t have damaged the laptop and voided the extended warranty. But I also listened to my gut which was telling me that the warranty folks might not be the best place to send it (full disclosure here. I had no such issues dealing with Square Trade when I had to replace my Kindle Fire HDX. That was as simple as Amazon simply telling them to authorize the replacement at no cost. But for the laptop issue, well, that was something else.)

So here’s what I’d like everyone to consider to protect themselves from catastrophic tech failure:

  • Back up all your work on more than one device.
  • Do not rely solely on cloud backups.
  • When you upgrade your work machine, if your other machine still works, keep it. You never know when you will need a backup.
  • Learn the basics of your machine. Print out the list of hardware and OS version or make note of it somewhere.
  • Keep all your drivers up-to-date.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your machine and how it works.
  • Listen to your gut when it comes to your work computer. If you think something might be wrong, pay attention. If you catch the problem early enough, you can often avoid having something major go wrong.

Now, I’m off to find coffee and finish an editing job that is way overdue but had to take a backseat as real life decided to use me as its soccer ball.

And don’t forget the 2nd Annual Indie Author Labor Day Sale is still going on.

2nd Annual Indie Author Labor Day Sale

(I will be back tomorrow with a “real” post. In the meantime, I’m taking part in the 2nd Annual Indie Author Labor Day Sale along with some friends of mine.)

Indie Author Sale Banner

A curated list of authors selected works and put them on sale, just for readers like you. If you’ve been waiting for the next fun read, or for a reason to Read Indie, this is that time. All the books are priced between $2.99 and $0.99, affordable ways to explore new worlds.

You will find this a list spanning genres from Fantasy and Science Fiction to Thrillers and Romance. Something for every reader in your life, if you are looking for back-to-school gifts.

Enjoy!

Take The Star Road (The Maxwell Saga) (Volume 1)

By Peter Grant

Sale Price: $0.99

Blurb:

By facing down Lotus Tong thugs, Steve Maxwell earns an opportunity to escape orbit and become a spacer apprentice on a merchant spaceship. Sure, he needs to prove himself to an older, tight-knit crew, but how bad can it be if he keeps his head down and the decks clean?

The interstellar trade routes are anything but trouble-free, with local wars and plagues of pirates. Also, the jade in his luggage is hotter than a neutron star. Steve’s left a world of troubles behind, only to find a galaxy of them ahead…

Amazon Author Page

The Long Way Home (Sequoyah Book 1)

By Sabrina Chase

Promo price: $.99

Blurb:
Moire Cameron ran to protect her secrets — ran to the heart of an interstellar alien war. Her fellow mercenaries care only about her fighting skills, not where — or when — she got them. You’d think that would be good enough…

But a false name and fake ID can’t conceal her dangerous lack of contemporary knowledge, and they won’t help fulfill her last order, given by a dying man eighty years ago. To do that she must find a reason to live again. A cause worth fighting for, comrades to trust, and a ship to sail the stars.

Amazon Author Page

Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1)

By Sam Schall

Price: 99 cents for the Labor Day Weekend, down from $2.99

Blurb:

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.
Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

Amazon Author Page

The Grey Man- Changes (Volume 3)

By JL Curtis

Sale price $2.99

Blurb-

When Texas Deputy Sheriff John Cronin thwarts the Cartel’s plan to get paid to smuggle Muslims across the border, he becomes the target of the Cartel once again. One try fails, but the cartel isn’t about to give up. With his granddaughter, Jesse, still recovering from her last run-in with the Cartel and now far away with her Marine husband on a military base, Cronin only has to worry about the innocents around him.

One way or another, this old school law man plans to end this cat and mouse game for good. But, this time, the Cartel is playing for keeps; ending this war might just cost the old man his life.

Either way Cronin plans to go out on his feet, fighting tooth and nail.

Amazon Author Page

Survival Test

By David Burkhead

Price: I’ll set it at $2.99 for the promo.

Blurb:
War!
A series of diplomatic crises precipitate a limited nuclear war on Earth. Missile defenses block access to space. Nothing goes up and nothing comes down.
The people of the various space stations, the moon base, and a space colony whose construction had just begun must find a way to survive until the war is over.
The ultimate survival test.
Amazon Author page

Pam Uphoff’s Wine of the Gods Universe 

99 cent Labor Day Sale!

Genetic engineering enabled psychic abilities in the test children. And the ability to control the machinery to open portals between parallel Earths. But prejudice turned into exile across the dimensions, and the escape of the most powerfully “magical” to a world of their own.

It all starts with the stand-alone Outcasts and Gods and continues with twenty (so far) loosely connected stories in the same Multiverse.

Amazon Author Page

Zoey Iver’s YA Adventures

By Pam Uphoff

99 cent Labor Day Sale!

The AI war was deadly—and invisible. Until two teenagers found themselves in the middle of it.

Amazon Author Page

Eyes of Osiris: A Kayara Ingham Novel (Architects of Lore Series Book 1)

By Anita Young

Price: $2.99

Blurb:

Thanks to the curse of foresight, Dr. Kayara Ingham has had a vision of her husband’s death. While she desperately tries to avert the grim future, she meets a mysterious Osiris Corporation man who gives her an impossible ultimatum. When Kay is forced to choose, she learns that Osiris Corporation is not what it seems. The company is made up of a people that call themselves the Architects of Lore and, like many powerful organisations, their reach is extensive—one might say inescapable.

Amazon Author Page

Acts of War (The Usurper’s War Book 2)

By James Young

Price: $2.99

Blurb:

August 1942.  Adolf Hitler is dead, Great Britain is surrendering, and the Royal Family is fleeing to Canada.  In this critically acclaimed alternative history novel, James Young details a World War II that is far different and much worse than the terrible conflict we all know.  Follow the Cobb family as they, and the nation they love, are confronted with horrible events while being swept away by war’s chaos.  If you are a fan of historical fiction, or just like a good yarn with mortal heroes, Acts of War is for you.

Amazon Author Page 

Pixie Noir (Pixie for Hire Book 1)

By Cedar Sanderson

Price: $0.99

Blurb:

Lom is a bounty hunter, paid to bring magical creatures of all descriptions back Underhill, to prevent war with humans should they discover the strangers amongst them. Bella is about to find out she’s a real life fairy princess, but all she wants to do is live peacefully in Alaska, where the biggest problems are hungry grizzly bears. He has to bring her in. It’s nothing personal, it’s his job…

Amazon Author Page

Farmhand (Bluehills Book 1)

By Lilania Begley

Price: $0.99

Blurb:

Wounded veteran Dev Macquire needs some farm help until he recovers. When his father, Gray, brings home a new hand, he’s dismayed to meet Irina. How can a woman do the rough, heavy work they need? As she works her way into their life, and into his heart, he’s faced with a new dilemma. Can he persuade her to stay, and to accept a new role in his life?

The Cunning Blood

By Jeff Duntemann

Price: $2.99

Blurb:

Caught violating Earth’s Zero Tolerance for Violence laws, Peter Novilio is sentenced to a one-way trip to Hell, Earth’s prison planet in the Zeta Tucanae system. Hell is forever: Two centuries earlier its ecosphere had been infected with microscopic nanomachines that destroy electrical conductors, condemning its inmates to a neo-Victorian steam-and-gaslight society without computers, spaceflight, or any hope of escape.

Amazon Author Page

One more thing. If you enjoy a book, please consider leaving a review. I know I speak for all the authors listed when I say we really do appreciate the reviews.

Amazon Author Page – by Cedar Sanderson

(Today I’m reblogging a post by my friend Cedar Sanderson over at Mad Genius Club. She has some very good advice for all writers.)

Author page front end

It’s come to my attention that some of you… *looks over her glasses at the desks in front of her* are neglecting a powerful and easy marketing tool. I’m talking about the Amazon Author Page.

Listen up, class, because this is so simple, and it can really help.

Imagine you are a reader who has just learned about a new author. They tried a book, and they want more. This is what we all aspire to. But when they search Amazon for the author’s name, they find very little information, out of order books, no clue as to the rest of the series…

Let’s make it easy for them and collect all the information in one place, shall we? In the process, we may be able to take a casual reader and draw them closer to becoming a fan, someone who will interact with an author and pass the word on to others about that author. Again, let’s make that easy on them. The less clicks, the better. In addition, you see the yellow follow button on that image of my page? When readers click that, Amazon notifies them as soon as I release a new book. It’s like a mailing list, without all the work and time and cost.

Sure, you may have a website, or a blog, or both. Facebook fan page, even. But the Author Page on Amazon has a huge advantage. All the stuff you have for sale is right there. And it’s sortable by publication date, etc. Also, if you don’t have a website, this can be a great place to send people who want to learn more about you (and buy your books). If you’ll recall a while back I mentioned using QR codes on promotional material like bookmarks and business cards, this is one place I send the QR code to, the Amazon Author Page.

You can set yours up from the back end, at the Author Central. If you weren’t already aware of that, you should familiarize yourself with it. There are important tools here, like rank tracking, sales graphs, and all your reviews in one place. Today I’m going to talk about the basics, though.

When you first login to Author Central, you get a homepage with tips and news articles. You want to click on the Author Page tab at the top, and start filling in the blanks. I’m going to tackle the biography in a minute, so we’ll start with the blog section. If you don’t have a regular blog, this can also be your author website. If you do twitter, then you can add that, although there seems to be some uncertainty about the display of the twitter feed on Amazon at the moment.

author page

 

Two important things are the photo, and the bio. I know that most authors hate both of these. Unfortunately, I’m going to tell you that you need both. No, you can’t get away with a cute pet photo unless you only write books about cute animals. Ideally, you will have a professional headshot to put in here. At the very least, a good, crisp, amateur shot will do. Don’t use a grainy cell phone image. Don’t use an old photo that was taken 20 years ago – we can tell. That shirt hasn’t been in style since at least the 80s. (yes, I am thinking of a real example). If you cannot stomach having your face in public, or have reasons that make it unwise, as an alternative you could use art from a book cover or series you write. Not a book cover itself, that’s limiting. But a piece of professional level (not a child’s drawing, unless, again, you are writing children’s books) art would work.

The biography. I suspect all of us dread these. Where to start? How much is too much? How much is too little? I didn’t write mine. I have other versions I did write, but my First Reader wrote mine (and in return, I wrote his) and if you have a partner or friend who is skilled with words, this can be a reasonable compromise. You don’t feel self-conscious about puffing yourself up, and you have something to put out there. How long? Well, as long as it needs to be. You don’t need to include a lot of personal information, but some makes you seem more human to your readers. I recommend injecting a touch of humor into the bio, if you can manage it, or if you must, make it over-the-top funny. You’ll have better reactions to a warmth of personality showing through than to dry facts.

I have three bios I cut and paste as needed – the long one written for me, a shorter version I wrote which is about 200 words long, and a very short 50 word version I originally created for a convention guide and keep as it’s handy. If you’re totally stuck, ask in the comments, and myself, or someone will help out with it.

The bio is just as important as the blurb of a book. Only here, you are the product. You’re selling yourself (hike that skirt up and show a little leg, if you dare…) and you shouldn’t sell yourself short. You are uniquely you, with the voice to back it up, and with some work, that will shine through in the bio.

Finally, make sure that all your books are properly connected to you by clicking on the Books tab. Also, make sure that your series are marked clearly in KDP because Amazon will helpfully link them on their sales listings if they are. Do not, for goodness sakes, list yourself as an editor on your own book if you are the author. Unless your book has multiple illustrations inside, don’t list your cover artist as the illustrator (you can, and should, accredit them in the front matter of your book, instead). Don’t list your editor as an editor in the KDP listings unless it’s a collection of some kind and they were instrumental in pulling the stories together. Ahem… this soap box just appeared under me… *steps down*

Go forth, children, and having learned your lesson, implement it. I want to see links in the comments!

You’ve finished. Now what do you do?

Unfortunately, that’s a question you need to ask yourself long before you actually finish your novel or short story. It used to be that while you were writing your novel, you were researching the market and deciding what agents or publishers you could send it to once you were finished. But, with the advent of e-books and small presses, that has changed. Now you have the options of trying to go the traditional route, trying to find a small or mid-sized publisher for your work or bringing it out yourself. The ultimate decision is yours but there are a number of factors to consider in making that decision.

Ten years ago, traditional publishing was really the only game in town. Self-publishing wasn’t a viable option for most authors and it brought a really bad taste to the mouths of readers and others in our field. The reason was simple. Most of those going the self-publishing route were really simply falling victim to the vanity press scams that had been around for so long. Authors who had tried finding a traditional publisher and who couldn’t understand why their wonderful work hadn’t been accepted would fall for the promises of the vanity press. It wasn’t until they wound up with a garage full of books the author herself had to buy and now had to go out and try to sell that they realized they had been taken. It was expensive and very few ever managed to make their money back. Going this route was considered the death knell for anyone who really wanted a publishing career.

Then along came e-books and Amazon’s Kindle. Smashwords and a few other sites had been around before but none had captured the market the way Amazon did. Then Amazon did the one thing traditional publishing still gnashes its teeth over — it opened the Kindle Digital Platform to indie authors and small presses.

And thus began the publishing revolution that is still causing ripples and waves throughout traditional publishing and reader buying patterns.

So what do you do to get your book out there if you are going indie?

BookBub has a pretty good article about the various sites you can use to distribute your books as an indie author. (Note: the same information is valid for small presses.) I don’t agree with everything in the article and there is one piece of information that is a bit misleading, but it is a good place to start looking for information.

a bookbub-distributor-comparison-chart

The misleading information in the chart is where it says Amazon pays every 60 days but that Draft2Digital pays every month. Both are correct but with explanation. Amazon basically pays two months after sale. So, when Amazon pays royalties at the end of this month, it will be for sales made in June. But, and here is where the chart is misleading, if you have sales each month after the initial 60 day waiting period, you will be paid every month.

Regarding Draft2Digital, it pays every month — once it receives payment from the outlets you have said to distribute your work to. That doesn’t mean you get a payment the first month you are with D2d. It depends on the rules of those outlets and I’m not familiar with any of their affiliates that pay out the first month you are in the store. So, be prepared for the same 60 day delay you get from Amazon.

I will admit that, for my e-books, I am exclusively with Amazon right now. The reason is simple. After looking at my sales from the other outlets, I realized I was basically losing money by having to deal with the conversion and accounting for the other outlets. A minimum of 95% of my sales were coming from Amazon and those few sales I was getting everywhere else simply did not justify the time and effort it took to convert to the appropriate formats and the time and effort it took to keep track of the financial end of things.

Yes, I know I could upload a DOC file and let Smashwords or D2D convert it to the appropriate formats. The problem with that is you have no control over the conversion and you have to be particularly careful with checking every page after they convert it to make sure everything look good. By converting to ePub myself, I had full control and I could tweak the file as needed before uploading it to the site for distribution. Yes, I still had to check to make sure nothing went wrong — always assume Murphy will come visit — but not to the detail that I had to using another format.

For print, I use Createspace. Part of the reason for that is the ease of use. Part is the lack of cost — unless I buy an ISBN from them. Then it is only $10 — and the ease of getting the book listed with Amazon. I am considering trying IngramSpark and will update everyone if I do. However, as an indie, the vast majority of my sales come from e-books and that is where my focus remains, at least for the time being.

All that said, the BookBub article is a great place to start when considering how to get your book into the hands of your readers. From there, it will be trial and error as you upload your files, check them and then track them for awhile to see what sales outlets are best suited for your work.

What to do?

The past several days have been exhausting but enlightening ones both on a personal and on a professional level. Our local library has been holding its annual book sale and I’ve been doing what I could to help out. Now, before you start thinking I’m a socially-minded gal who loves to volunteer, remember, books. Thousands and thousands of books I get to play with. Some new and some going back to the early 1900’s. It is a bibliophiles playground.

One of the parts of helping at the book sale I love the most is being able to talk with the people who come in looking for bargains. Some come in with detailed lists of what they are looking for. Others bring in lists of what they have already read so they don’t duplicate what they already have in their library. There are even dealers who come in with their bar code readers or appropriate apps to see if we have anything they can snap up for a bargain and sell for a profit.

Those folks are fun to work with but the ones that get my writer’s brain to working are the folks who come in looking for recommendations for a new author or a title they haven’t read before. Sometimes they are wanting to return to reading a genre they left years ago because of the way the genre had changed. Most often, those folks once read every fantasy and science fiction book they could lay their hands on and then, in the 80’s and 90’s — and later — left the genre as it became more about writing to the message than writing to the story. Now they are hoping there are authors writing to the story again and come looking for such books — or books from the time when they still enjoyed reading the genre.

Then there are those who are looking for certain authors, often names I remember from my childhood and early adulthood as authors my father enjoyed reading, as also eye openers for me as a writer because of why they want to find the likes of Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney and others. The reason they are looking for books by those writers or others like them is the ease of the story, the emphasis on plot and character and not on sex. The lack of f-bombs every other word.

And that all makes me, as a writer, think about what I should be writing. Yes, I have to look at what the market wants. But the market is much broader and certainly much deeper than traditional publishing believes. Who knows how many readers have felt left behind by the emphasis by traditional publishing on putting out books that are nothing but clones for Fifty Shades of Gray or the Hunger Games or the Da Vinci Code.

That is why the influx of quality indie published and small press published books has been so good for the reading public. For those who have made the transition to e-books, it means a return to affordable reading. Most indie and small press e-books top out at $4.99. That’s a big difference from the $13.99 currently being asked by the publisher for Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the somewhat controversial follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. Then there is James Patterson’s latest, Alert, that is currently selling in digital form for $14.99.

But even more important is the fact that the upswing in indie and small press publishing have brought back a lot of the sorts of books folks have been looking for and not finding. Science fiction, once viewed as the the very poor red-headed step-child of publishing has seen a number of indie authors not only making money but making good money writing space opera and military science fiction that celebrates things like honor and duty and gives the reader a story that takes them on a roller coaster of events and emotions. Sweet romances and those with just a hint of sex have returned to the scene and readers are celebrating because not everyone wants to have the down and dirty played out in graphic detail once, much less multiple times during the course of a book. They want the romance, that dance that sometimes goes awry before everything finally falls into place.

So, when I see articles like one that came across my feed this morning telling writers to write to the market, I frown and get ready to fisk the article. Most often, those articles tell you to look at the New York Times or USA best seller lists to determine what you should be writing. (Of course, those are also the articles that tell you you should be trying your best to be traditionally published before ever considering going the indie route.) My issue there is that those lists are not only manipulated by publishers and book sellers and determined by pre-orders and then by Bookscan numbers. Then there is the little fact that those lists are also completely at the whim of the publication putting them out. Remember how Ted Cruz was kept off the list for awhile because the publication in question accused him of bulk ordering his own book, or having others do it for him, thereby artificially inflating the numbers? Finally, after Cruz and his publisher as well as others came back and publicly denounced and denied the accusations, days later the publication allowed the book onto the list. (I won’t go into the possibly political reasons why the book was initially kept off the list).

However, when an article tells you to look at the Amazon best seller lists, I find myself agreeing, especially when you look at the sub-genre lists. Why? Because you are seeing what folks are buying in basically real time reports. Amazon updates those lists every hour or so. You can see what books and e-books readers want. That means if you want to write space opera, you can go to that list and see what sort of books are selling. You can even sample those books for free, no matter who the publisher is — unless, of course, the publisher has decided not to allow you to and that, usually, is a red flag for a bad book.

So, all of this is a roundabout way of saying that you can write to what is selling but that what’s selling now is a far cry from what traditional publishers want us to believe. Don’t give up writing that sweet romance or that cozy mystery where your heroine is chaste or whatever. There is probably someone out there wanting to read it. But, do your homework. Go to Amazon and check the genre and sub-genre lists. Just remember, the deeper into the breakdown of the lists, the easier it is to get listed in the top 100. Those books may not be selling more than a few a month.

However — and this is a big however — if you write a good yarn, if it is well edited and well formatted, if it has an interesting cover and blurb and if you tag it with the right meta tags AND IF YOU FOLLOW UP IN SHORT ORDER WITH THE NEXT BOOK IN THE SERIES OR ANOTHER IN THE SAME GENRE/SUB-GENRE the bigger the chance your sales will increase. It takes time but if you keep putting out quality work and keep rewarding your readers, you have a chance of building your readership. No guarantee but then there are very few guarantees in life, are there?

So go read a good book and write a better one.

 

Leave Well Enough Alone

Have you read To Set a Watchman yet? I haven’t read it yet, and the more I read about it the less I think I’d like to read it. I was excited when I first heard the possibility that Harper Lee would be releasing another book. I was To Kill A Mockingbird fangirling out, for a moment, until suspicions of possible irresponsibility of those who should be protecting the author began to arise.

Lee famously only wrote the one book (before this one) and had said she wouldn’t publish another.  The new book, Go Set a Watchman, was released on July 14th to massive sales but the reviews have been largely disappointing. One review I read in Entertainment Weekly suggested that if you love To Kill A Mockingbird, you may want to do yourself a favor by not reading this new book. The Atticus Finch we loved in Mockingbird is not the Atticus we see in Watchman.

Beyond the bad reviews though, there have been accusations of a blatant disregard for the author.  In a recent NY Times column, The Harper Lee ‘Go Set a Watchman’ fraud  Joe Nocera claims this publication “constitutes one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.” He goes on to detail examples of how those responsible may have taken an early draft of what turned into the beloved To Kill A Mockingbird and have published it as a lost gem.

One review from the Wall Street Journal by Sam Sacks said, “For millions who hold [Mockingbird] dear, Go Set A Watchman will be a test of their tolerance and capacity for forgiveness. At the peak of her outgrage, Jean Louise (adult Scout Finch) tells her father, “You’ve cheated me in a way that’s inexpressible.” I don’t doubt that many who read this novel are going to feel the same way.”

Whatever the reason for the publication of this novel, it seems a disappointing legacy for an author whose novel has meant so much to so many. I’ve chosen not to read it both because I wouldn’t want to add to the publisher’s bottom line if it is indeed a manipulation of the aging author, but mainly because I would like to keep my love of Mockingbird untainted by the new book.

What about you? Have you read it? Do you plan to read it? What are your thoughts on this new book? How do you feel about sequels in general? Are there ever any good ones? Please share with us in the comments.

Have a great week.

~CJS

Is it time to worry if you have a Nook?

In my post over at Mad Genius Club earlier this week, I wrote about Barnes & Noble appointing a new CEO and how one of his first challenges would be to determine what to do about the Nook Division. From the beginning, B&N has been behind the proverbial 8-ball when it comes to the Nook. By the time it debuted, Amazon had already pushed out the Kindle and had a thriving e-book store. B&N’s ebook store was trickier to navigate and some of the restrictions on the Nook were enough to drive most geeks up the wall. But B&N continued fighting and, in the process, has lost millions of dollars.

Unfortunately for B&N supporters, the problems the company faces are numerous and go beyond the Nook. But the Nook, and the related e-book store, is a major problem and has to be dealt with as soon as possible. That is especially true after the roll out two weeks ago of a new website that was broken. A quick check this morning shows there are still problems. Of the top five best sellers in the Nook store, two will allow you t read a preview online. Of course, instead of opening up as a popup on the product page, it opens in a new window. That is a problem because it means you have to navigate back to place your order if you are looking at it on your laptop or desktop. The preview window is slow to load and I am talking very slow. Most folks aren’t going to wait for it to finally come up. Instead, they will do as I have, move on to something else. As for the other three titles in the top five, there is no preview. Whether that is a software glitch or the publishers deciding they don’t want to risk potential buyers seeing how bad a book really is, I don’t know. But it doesn’t look good when you can’t see a sample of 3 of the top 5 best sellers.

Now comes news that B&N truly is closing down its Nook operations overseas. As the article states, this isn’t too surprising. For one, Nook books were available overseas only via a Windows 8 app (the exception being in the UK). Here is the email, translated from German, that customers received:

Dear Customer,

We recently announced that Barnes & Noble and Microsoft have agreed to terminate their commercial partnership. As a result, payments through your Microsoft account no longer supported. In addition, the NOOK App for Windows will from August 7, 2015 are no longer available outside the United States. This means that your NOOK content can no longer open on a Windows platform.

Our records indicate that you are outside the United States and that you are using your Microsoft account as a payment method in your NOOK App for Windows account. Therefore, you may be eligible for a refund from Microsoft for any purchases you have made with your Microsoft account.

So, what does this mean?

Right now, no one really knows for sure but speculation runs from B&N leaving the e-book market completely to finding a buyer for the Nook division to the new CEO somehow managing to save it all. My guess is that they will continue to try to find someone to buy the division. That would be best for the customers because history shows us that B&N isn’t really dedicated to the e-book.

If you have books you have purchased for your Nook or Nook app, I highly recommend you back them up. In fact, back them up on several different media formats. If you want to break the DRM on them so you can read them on non-Nook apps/devices, there are instructions on the net on how to do that — that that I am recommending you do that (nope, not at all. Not saying you should break DRM which is illegal in some areas. Not at all. This is the disclaimer. Yep, it is.) The reality of the matter is simple. We’ve already seen B&N destroy one market when it took over Fictionwise. How many people lost their books in that transition? How many more will lose their e-books if B&N shutters the Nook division completely or if it sells?

As an author, this is when you have to seriously sit back and ask yourself if it is worth putting your e-books up on the site. First of all, they put out a new, and supposedly improved, website that was broken and that cost everyone money because customers couldn’t use it. But then you face the issues of what happens if they shutter the division or spin it off and then it goes into bankruptcy (also a possibility although a long shot). If someone buys the division, do you want to have your work automatically roll over into their new store or do you want to have a chance to see how things shake out there?

For me, it is a non-issue because I gave up on B&N long ago. When they changed their indie publishing program to the current one, I had trouble uploading files that weren’t broken in the process on their end. It didn’t matter what format I uploaded. Their process broke the files every single time. I finally gave up and went with Draft2Digital to handle the uploads for me. Of course, doing so cost me money and the low sales, very low when compared to my Amazon sales, made it not worth the time or money. So I pulled out of B&N and haven’t looked back.

But, if you have a Nook or if you publish through the B&N indie platform, I recommend you keep a very close eye on what is happening and start figuring out what your next move is going to be. Do not get caught unprepared if something does happen with the division.

Getting Graphic with Your Work

My friend and fellow blogger over at Mad Genius Club, Cedar Sanderson, has been doing a series of posts on cover creation. Today, she tackles not only that but postcards and bookmarks as well. So, with her permission, I’m reposting it here since it is something we all need to keep in mind as we look at ways to promote our work. You can find her other posts on the topic here and here.

Getting Graphic With Your Work by Cedar Sanderson

And I’m not talking about describing the gory bits in gruesome detail. No, I had planned to do a walk-through tutorial today about creating a logo for your writing business. I hadn’t anticipated two things. One, to do a proper logo you need to create a vector file rather than image or illustration. I’ll get into what that means when I do the post – for today it matters because a week ago I ended my subscription to the full Adobe Creative Cloud, dropping back to Photoshop and Lightroom, and that means I don’t have Adobe Illustrator for showing how to do a logo. Which isn’t a bad thing, because most of you don’t have that, either, or you wouldn’t be asking me to show you how to do this. I did a little research, and downloaded Inkscape, the cousin of my favorite freeware graphic program, Gimp. Then I ran into the second thing I hadn’t planned on. You see, I’m getting married next week. I’m also traveling for several days attendant to that. I am afraid I ran out of time this week to teach myself Inkscape and create a tutorial. So! I put together some odds and ends of graphic design projects that can be useful to you all, and one that I was specifically asked for. I will be around to chat in comments, so feel free to ask questions. Oh, and Amanda wanted me to point out that things I discuss in this post, like guides and flattening layers, are pertinent to those of you working on print covers. So pay attention!

Postcards and Bookmarks

Having something to hand to someone who is interested in your book is a great thing. You can, of course, default to a standard business card, nothing wrong with that. You can do a lot with those. But today I’m going to talk specifically about the layout and requirements of the bigger, more art-heavy promo material. I take them with me to conventions to sign for people who own my ebooks but want a signature. I hand them out to… anyone who remotely looks interested when I say that I am an author. I give my local libraries packets of 50 bookmarks to keep with all the others on their counter. I can mail the postcards to libraries, schools, and other venues and promote myself and my books (I rarely actually do that, but it’s a possibility).

While you are shopping for a printer, you will discover that there are a lot of variations in size available. I’m using a 4×6 inch postcard, the standard size, for this batch. I may switch it up with the next one. Book marks can be laid out in the same way, so I won’t cover them individually now.

In Gimp, open a new file. Set the size to 4 inches by 6 inches (or what your printer requires), and then drop the Advanced Menu down, and set the dpi to 300 or 400. Do not leave it at 72 dpi, the default, as this will be rejected by any reputable printer and will look terrible if printed. Now that you have your new file open, pay attention to the print requirements for bleed. You will want there to be no live elements (important text or graphics) within 0.25 inches of the edges. You can click on the rulers at the left side and top and drag what is called a ‘guide’ to mark  your bleed area so you don’t put something there by accident.

I chose to lay out this postcard with three covers and represent my Pixie trilogy. I would not put more than four covers on a card, you don’t want it to appear cluttered. postcard layout

Open as Layers (found in the File menu dropdown) the covers or art you want to use. I generally use a jpg or png version of the covers so I don’t have to manage umpteen zillion layers in GIMP. Scale the covers to the desired size, you can do this easily with a right-click on the image and selecting Scale Layer. Using the move tool, place the art where you think you want it. Keep in mind you may have to move it again. This card was designed to have text on the front and a blank back, but you will note there is not a lot of text. This is a tool to interest them in what you have to offer, enough that they will take the next step. In the highlighted box, I have my website address. In the other corner, I have a QR code. These are scannable with a smartphone or tablet: this particular code will take them to Pixie Noir’s Amazon sales page, where they can look inside and read the sample. I want them there so they can buy as soon as I hook them.

When you’re ready to print, you will save this file as a pdf, just as you did for the cover for print. Make sure when you do so that you first merge all the layers, but save your work before you start this process. If you look closely at the screenshot above, you will see several layers of images, text, and other elements. All of those need to be flattened, or bad things can happen in the printing process. Right click on each layer thumbnail and select ‘merge down’ from the menu. DO NOT SAVE your xcf file at this point! You want to preserve all your xcf (Gimp) files for later. I’ll show you why in a minute. Now that you have everything smooshed, drop down the File Menu and select Export. Export your file as a pdf. Close your file and click discard changes.

Batch-Editing Art and Covers

This last week I had a chance to help out a friend who was in a bind. He had commissioned art for the covers of several stories, but they lacked a unifying element to tie the series together, and he wasn’t sure what to do to further signal his specific genre with the typography. This is not something many of you will ever have to do, most of us deal with one book at a time, but there are occasions when it’s a useful task, such as aligning covers for a series. And I told Dave I’d show how I did it, so he can tackle it himself if it happens again.

What I did was to open the first layer of artwork and lay the text out on it, along with the graphic unifying element (tentacles, to signal Lovecraftian cthuloid elements in the stories).

I’ll explain how I added the tentacles. After poring through the Dollar Photo Club for something suitable, I came up with the illustration below.

 

This is an illustration rather than a vector, which is better, but it will work.

The first thing you need to do is right-click the layer thumbnail in the righthand window, and look at the bottom of the menu, where you will choose ‘add alpha channel’ which allows you to have a transparency rather than white (default) background. Then I chose the ‘select’ menu, and then ‘select by color’ and clicked on the black around the octopus. Then I clicked on delete and eliminated all the black, leaving a suitable graphic.

The graphic element, I can now manpulate it without overlying it's background on the art.

Finally, I had one cover laid out with title, author name, and graphic unifying element (hereafter GUE).

Note all the layers in the righthand window.

Choose ‘Save as” from the file menu and name the file appropriately. Save it as an XCF file for now, you may need to manipulate it again. You will note the GUE is seen in the upper left and lower right corners. I had put just a little bit showing, and changed the mode (see top of righthand window, above opacity) of the layer to make it look like I wanted. Experiment with this, dodge, burn, lighten… powerful effects here.

Now that I’m happy with the fonts, layout, and this cover, I can move onto the next one. I simply click the little eye next to the layer thumbnail and make the art disappear. Eventually I will delete the unused layers, but I want all of them right now in case I need to make changes.

Layers

The art isn’t gone, it’s just not showing on the work area any longer.

I've already altered the title, and the GUE, the author's name I don't touch.

Now I go up and open the art for this cover from the File>Open as Layers menu. You may need to drag the art layer thumbnail in the righthand window down, until it is under the other elements. You may also need to scale it so it is the same size as the background you see above. Play around with your GUE layer some more, until it looks right on the art.

What the final product of another cover in the same series looks like

Using Save As, name and save this file, then repeat with changing the title and the art for each cover you are doing. Dave had six, but it took very little time once I had every thing set up to manipulate the art and GUE under the layers of the text and modifying elements (drop shadows and that sort of thing).