Tag Archives: book marketing

Does Anybody Really Know What Marketing Works?

I spent my morning writing about marketing for a thing I am obligated to do because I promised. I don’t know how many times I’ve written about marketing. Feels like a lot.

Feels like I’m done.

Chicago is in my head.

Does anybody really know what time it is
(I don’t)
Does anybody really care
(care)
If so I can’t imagine why
(about time)
We’ve all got time enough to cry
Oh no, no
And I was walking down the street one day
Being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock,
oh, so I just don’t know,
I just don’t know
And I said, yes I said
Background Vocal:
People runnin’ everywhere
Don’t know the way to go
Don’t know where I am
Can’t see past the next step
Don’t have to think past the last mile
Have no time to look around
Just run around, run around and think why

For one thing, I’m totally insecure about this right now. Like, more than usual. About the fact that my second book was just shy of cracking the Kindle top 1000 but didn’t quite make it. And now it’s hovering around 3000. And my first book, even though it sat in the 400-500s for a long spell, even though it recently peeked back into the 2000s, is once again in freefall and hovering around 10,000. And looking at it now you really can’t tell what an awesome run it had once upon a time.

And I’m left going: I’ve never even made the Kindle top 100, why are you even asking me? Half the time I feel like a fraud. At least half the time. I am just starting to get the point where I feel like it’s okay to use the term “bestseller” in my marketing, even though I didn’t make that overall top 100 list. But I see other respectable people making that claim, so… maybe I’ve been unreasonably hard on myself. (What? Me? Hard on myself? Shut the front door.) Kait and I agree that I have no reasonable perception of reality. She’s mainly talking about the sales stuff, but I see this as a general rule of thumb.

I’m being asked for marketing advice when I haven’t even taken advantage of a term like bestseller.

But I don’t know that most people really care where the advice is coming from. Just like everyone gives out writing advice before they’re published, everyone passes around marketing advice too. And I’m not ragging on that. I’m just saying that this whole thing I have where I’m so uptight about whether or not I even have credibility to answer these requests is probably unfounded because it seems like people don’t really care anymore where their information is coming from.

And then I start to think that if they don’t care, why am I bothering? Why do I feel obligated to step up to these requests when no one really cares if these techniques actually yield results? Just, if  someone has some free time, go write a Wikipedia article on it and we’ll all go cite that as Truth and be happy.

After all, the real truth of it is:

Nobody knows.

There. I said it. When someone invites you to come talk about marketing, that’s about the last thing they want you to say, right? But that’s how it feels right now. No one knows what works because what worked this time last year or even last month doesn’t work now. What worked for Author A doesn’t work for Author B.

The truth part B:

Write a good book.

Do you know how hard it is for me to say that? Because to say that is to suggest that I did and someone else didn’t. Which is to invite the Universe to come and smite me. But this obsession with marketing just seems to be out of control and I gotta say something.

Five years ago, all the blogs were talking about writing. Now how many of them are devoted to building a platform? And I get how building a platform before the book would be really helpful. I do. But if my fellow writers are spending the kind of time learning about that and doing it that I have been in the last year, I have no idea how they’re getting the time to put into learning to write a novel. Which explains how many very unfortunate books I come across.

I know that wishing isn’t particularly useful, but I wish we could go back to the time when we could just learn to craft novels. I’m tired of talking about marketing to people who aren’t ready to market stuff yet and will do it anyway, and don’t care if the advice-giver has any credibility, or if the information has any validity. Which it kind of doesn’t because nobody knows.

/frustranxiety-powered rant

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Know Thyself- or at least thy concept

This is probably all a bit ironic, in that Alanis Morissette, situational irony kind of way.

One of the things I harped on with myself when deciding what kind of a writing project I wanted to commit to was getting into something different. Something that wasn’t what it seemed like everyone else was doing. In my head there’s this voice that sounds a lot like Iago, the parrot from Aladdin. It says, “If I have to choke down one on one more of those moldy, disgusting crackers vampires, I’m gonna…”

So that’s when I decided to embrace my superhero thing, my Buffy leads the X-Men in Smallvillian high school drama thing. It was something that I had wanted for some time, but was afraid to tackle, both because the series thing seems so big to me, and because it was something that I just wasn’t seeing out there in books. Maybe no one wanted it.

It is, apparently, not nearly as different as I think it is, because the most consistent feedback I got from NY on the series, as most of you know by now, was that the concept was too familiar.

So let’s just sit with that for a moment, without any judgement about the publishing industry, because that doesn’t help us. For those reading this who are indie, rejoice, because we can have concepts that are maybe not the most original ever, and still get readers for them. For those who are planning to pursue traditional publication, realize how very original your concept needs to be.

Now, what is the deal with this pitch having to be soooo original? The answer has to do with marketing. We often hear that NY turns down books, even books editors want, because the marketing department doesn’t know what to do with them. And then we wail and moan and gnash our teeth.

But what I’m thinking lately is, you know what? As an indie, it would certainly behoove me to think a bit more about marketing on the front end. Because if marketing is all up to me, why on EARTH would I want to make my job harder?

I need to be able to answer the question, “What makes this book different?” Anyone who’s got a book out there and who’s done a few interviews knows that those bloggers ask the darndest things. And they’re things we should know.

I know so many writers who flip out over synopses, blurbs, pitches, who don’t believe they can boil down their 100k words of awesome into anything less than 7 pages. What? Then I may as well read the book! Tell me what it’s about in three sentences, 100 words, 500 characters.

What I believe, without judgement because I know it’s hard, is that if you can’t boil it down to the barest essentials, then you might not have a very tight book.

But this whole idea of boiling it down is kind of backward. You may get to run on pure inspiration and take 5 years to write the first novel, but once you’re doing this professionally, that’s probably not going to work anymore.

If you start with an idea that’s kind of played, but what you do with it, around it, is what makes it different, great. But if you can’t express that succinctly, how are you going to get other people to understand why it’s uniquely awesome and something they should read (m-a-r-k-e-t-i-n-g)?

That’s probably my big issue with the Talent Chronicles right now. I’ve got industry people telling me it’s not original enough, and readers telling me it’s like nothing else they’ve read. And I’ve got no idea what to pull from the latter group’s responses to use in my marketing, to say –>This is why!!<–

A novel takes a damned long time, and freakin’ lot of work to make happen. Once it does happen, it would be swell if someone else would read it. What I’m coming around to these days is that we’ll have an easier time with the marketing if we start there, with a very clear idea what the story is about and what makes it different–right from page 1.

That’s why NY keeps demanding high-concept pitches. Because books written to a high-concept idea have that answer to “What makes this different?” automatically. No boiling it down to figure out if you managed to hit uniqueness at some point in the writing. You know because you did it on purpose.

Now, here was my bit of fail: “High concept” basically has to do with genre expectations. So I’m putting two things together that don’t normally go– superheroes + relationships that work out. Within the superhero genre, if such a thing exists, such might qualify as high concept because it is not a genre norm. BUT, turns out, I’m not in the superhero genre! I marketed myself at YA paranormal romance. And guess what: Relationships that work out? Not so unusual there. And people with supernatural abilities? Um…not so unusual there.

So, what is your genre? What is it about your story that is super-original within your genre? What are you writing into your novel, that you’ll easily be able to tell the masses to make them snatch that sucker up and read it?

And, by the way, if you happen to be able to articulate why everyone should read my series, feel free to leave a quotable in the comments. 🙂

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On Choosing Indie…Again: An Epic Journey

How can I possibly break this down to be a single post? The decision is part of a journey, and I can’t figure out how to yank out the reasons and present them out of context. I’m not a bullet-points kinda girl; I’m a novelist, for Heaven’s sake. So I’m hoping that if you’re interested enough to know the whys, the what I’ve been through, the what I’ve learned, that you’ll be willing to sit through the tale, backstory and all. I’ll provide you some headings if you want to skim and maybe someone could write up the bullet points for me later.

Backstory beginnings

About 13 months ago, I released my first novel, Hush Money, independently. It’s a short, YA novel of about 50,000 words, the first in a planned series called the Talent Chronicles. The series is about people with supernatural abilities who are trying to hide what they are amidst governmental abuses of their kind, and yet they keep finding themselves in situations in which they have to embrace and be what they are in order to win the day.

Why Indie The First Time

The negativity on the internet surrounding traditional publishing had become so prevalent and so disheartening, that I had actually given up writing. Every article I read about why your query letter will suck, why you will never make it out of the slush pile, why your chances of being struck by lightning are better than your chances of ever selling your book were personally directed at me, and I took them to heart. That’s  just how I am. I’m working on it. The point is that I became certain that Bill, sitting there on Capitol Hill, should stop his whining, because he had about a million times better chance of becoming a law than I did of becoming a published author.

Long story shorter, I decided that I needed to stop torturing myself and find other avenues for my creativity. I wrote for other purposes, I continued to do critique and editing, but I quit the novel-writing thing. When I started to learn about indie publishing, that’s when I got excited again. At the time I had had a successful run with an Etsy shop, but I got in over my head with a popular design and I was just burnt out. Everything I learned about indie publishing seemed so analogous to everything I loved about my Etsy business, and I became crazy eager to dive back into writing and catch up with my friends who were building audiences of readers.

Releasing the First Book and Living Indie

When I released Hush Money, I had no expectations. I mean, I didn’t know what to expect, so I tried very hard to keep my wishes and dreams in check. By the time the book was six months old it had sold 10,000 copies. People were writing to me to thank me for doing something that I loved. People were commenting on instructive articles I wrote and asking me for advice, like… Well, I don’t know if I’d ever in my life felt like I’d earned anyone’s respect before.

Living within that indie publishing community, I began to identify very strongly with being indie. There was certainly a component at the outset in which I would introduce myself as an “indie author” or “self-published author,” simply as a disclaimer. I’ll be clear up front about what I am so you don’t think I was trying to style myself as “published author” when I’m not publisher-vetted. Or whatever notion. I was happy to be indie, and proud of my accomplishments, of my work, and all I’d learned and done. But my view was still that others would see it as less, even though I, myself, came to a point where I truly didn’t. I was truly, deeply, passionately, devotedly indie.

It wasn’t all perfect. There’s a lot to keep up with. And there’s a lot I was keeping up with that I should have just let go so I could write more books. I got very caught up in being indie, and that was part of what was keeping me from writing. (Lots of stuff was going on that was keeping me from writing, and most all of it was me.) I’m not a multi-tasker. I focus passionately on one thing at a time and my focus was not on writing my book. Anyway, I don’t beat myself up for this. I watch it happen to other people, and I think it’s a phase a lot of us go through.

The Case of the Mysterious Foreign Agent

Also relevant to mention is an incident in which I had a foreign agent contact me about the translation rights to the book. This freaked me the f out, as anything legal does. I didn’t even know how to respond to the email I received, and I found next to nothing on the internet to help me. Which is rare. You know, usually you can find the answer to anything on the internet, and usually when you’re indie you don’t even have to go that far. You can just ask someone. So that was my next thing. I wrote to the two people I knew to be indie, with whom I had had some kind of brief contact in the past, and asked their advice. Both of them were unable to tell me what to do. Their agents handled that stuff. Their advice: get an agent.

But a) I didn’t have time to query an agent, so I just continued to freak out about the foreign thing. I ended up having to find an intellectual property attorney. Which means I had to TALK ON THE PHONE, which you know terrifies me, especially when I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. And then I went in and talked to a VERY nice man who was interested in my story, seemed genuinely excited to learn about my successes, gave me good advice on how to respond and how I might go on if anything came about, and sent me on my way with the suggestion that maybe I should really think about getting an agent.

Well b) as indies we’d been practically beaten over the head by others with the notion that no reputable agent would ever touch us. Kind of amazing how things have changed over the course of one year, but my impression was that most might just be insulted that I wasted their time with a query. I did spend some time researching agents, but I found practically none who stated that they had any interest in representing self-published authors. So I threw up my hands and walked away, very unsettled by the whole incident.

Representation

Jane came to me in the spring. In my inbox was a message with the subject Representation. I could not have been more blase about this. Seriously. Months after the foreign rights incident, after finding no help with that, after having given up on the notion of any agent ever coming to me (Kait Nolan had already accepted representation, as had indies well ahead of me like Amanda Hocking and HP Mallory and who knew who else), I was probably a little bitter and had set this firmly aside.

It didn’t take long for me to get excited about Jane’s offer to talk. And by “get excited” I mean “totally freak out and spin up into a whirl of dramarama,” because that’s what I do. I was in IM with Kait, had told her about the email. I think then I got up to get a drink or make a snack or something and she had to demand I open the email.

When I did, Jane was complimenting me on my Amazon success, mentioning her interest in the possibilities of electronic publishing, inviting me to call her to discuss print publication. She also mentioned that her agency represents Joe Konrath, of whom I may have heard. Um, yeah, just been hanging on his every word for the last year. So already there’s a certain amount of Wow-factor. I go to her website to look at the client list. James Dashner, Richelle Mead, Carrie Ryan…NYT bestseller this, NYT bestseller that…

Holy shit, why is this woman writing to me?

Talking to Jane spun me up to drama-level magenta. I was still working on Heroes ‘Til Curfew, deeply, hopelessly mired in Second Book Syndrome and absolutely consumed by doubt that I could produce a second book that wouldn’t disappoint. I was creatively paralyzed by fear, with a million brain-eating voices in my head, from every review of Hush Money I had ever read, every time I opened my file. Jane was offering to help me make the best book I could make. And when Heroes ‘Til Curfew was the best book I could make, she would take it and Hush Money and try to sell the rights to a traditional publisher.

In a way, Jane was an answer to prayers. I didn’t want to go unrepresented. I didn’t EVER want to go through again what I went through with the foreign rights thing. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but trying to seem like a grown-up professional and handle my own shit when I’m just a clueless kid (inside) who has no fucking idea what she’s doing or how to get the answers she needs to act how she’s supposed to act on the outside was very affecting to me. And as a writer who wants to make a living and help my family, I’d be a special kind of idiot not to jump to say yes to Jane.

Temptations Toward Trad

And yet I hesitated. What Jane was talking about was taking my two books and selling both the print and the ebook rights. While I could do something else on my own, the Talents would belong to someone else. I would no longer be free to do whatever I wanted with them. I might have restrictions on length, content, language, who knows. I might not be free to give stuff away when I wanted to. I would be giving up my carefully chosen cover art that was really working for me. I would be pulling Hush Money off the market and putting the building of my readership on hold for the next 1-3 years, while postponing the release of my already delayed second book for years.

Lots of stuff to consider. And on the other side of the coin: opportunity. Indies have done a lot on our own and will continue to do more. Opportunities will continue to open for us. But they’re not all there yet. One very real thing I had to consider was the possibility of a sizable advance. Konrath talks about not taking a contract unless the advance is “life changing money.” Well, it wouldn’t take a whole lot of money to change my life. That’s my reality. If I thumbed my nose at the opportunity to bring my family security, wouldn’t that just be plain wrong?

And look at all the stuff I could learn? Haven’t you wondered about all the stuff that goes on between the time a writer finishes the manuscript and the time it comes back as a bound book? Haven’t you ever wanted to be on the inside of that? And the possibilities for mentoring. I will always be a work in progress. I hope that I will always be a work in progress. My writing improved exponentially when I started getting critical feedback from peers at my own level. They pointed out weaknesses for me that I couldn’t see on my own. How much could my writing be improved with feedback from the kinds of professionals I’d be exposed to under contract? I know there have been a lot of negative things said about this, and I get that. But that’s not all of it, and I could choose to see the possibility as exciting.

Then the extras. Yes, it is possible that indies are making movie deals and I don’t know what else. But right now at this moment, cool stuff like that is a lot more likely (though perhaps still quite unlikely), with the backing of a traditional publisher. If those opportunities were possible for the Talents, I did want them to have that chance.

Paperback and Bookstore Relevancy

Finally, and most obviously, distribution. I mean, forget vetted validity. I believe that in the numbers game, that’s practically a non-issue. If a few people on the internet are still saying they won’t read a self-published book, if they’re actually checking for the publisher imprint to make sure they’re not getting indie when it looks like every other good book on the surface, I don’t think those people represent enough “lost readers” to get upset over. Non-issue. Distribution: still an issue. Right now, at this moment, paper books and book stores are still entirely relevant.

Yes, ebooks are becoming more and more popular, as are ereader devices, as has shopping online every day for the last 15 years. Big pluses for us indies, for sure. These are things which make it possible for us to succeed financially on our own.

But what I’m talking about here is another level. Kristen Lamb, social media expert for writers, tells us that writers are often marketing to the wrong crowd. We love fellow writers and other avid readers. Of course we want to sell our books to those people. But the books that break out and become the ones that “everybody’s reading” are the books that…everybody reads. That person who picks up just a few books a year. Each of that person who picks up a certain book because they keep hearing about it over and over again. And where do those people go to buy a book? Often it’s the bookstore. Even if they buy it online, they buy print. And a mass market paperback is probably going to be a more attractive price point than what you can do with POD.

(Note: In spite of the price of POD trade paperbacks, the point is that print is still relevant and it’s not expensive for authors. 1% of my sales are print. But if I’d only ever sold 5 copies, I still believe it would be worth it to have it out there to offer.)

Anyway, there are so many higher levels that seem at lot more likely with publisher backing, and I wanted that opportunity.

Submission

I finished Heroes ‘Til Curfew at the end of June, got a couple beta reads to make sure it made sense, and then I sent it off to Jane. After the holiday she was able to start reading it. Ironically, she had no editorial suggestions. She and her partner, Miriam, approved the book as written. So score one point for the side that says Susan’s self-doubt may be overblown. After getting in touch with some editors to check on their vacation schedules, the book was submitted to the first round of her picks toward the end of July.

I’ve no idea how Jane goes about deciding whom to contact first. That’s her job and I never asked. I figure it’s some combination of what imprint and what editor she thinks are the best match based on what they’ve put out before, her contacts and personal relationships in the industry, who might be in a position to give us the most both in terms of money but also marketing and distribution and stuff like that.

Waiting and Rejection

The waiting wasn’t difficult for the first maybe two weeks. And then I’ll admit that I started to get antsy. Finally I asked Jane how things were going and she sent me the few rejections she had received.

They were awesome! I really got a charge out of reading them. By now there’s something you understand about me: I’m not full of self-confidence. I will probably always be surprised to find that someone else enjoyed my work. I got responses in which editors at this big label imprints that publish all kinds of really awesome books tell Jane things about me and my work like “engaging and compulsively readable,” “great, commercial writing,” “able to completely suspend disbelief and become immersed.” And these from people who have read everything!

Still, what we kept hearing was that the concept was not quite original enough for them to get behind. There’s that thing we keep reading where we’re told that you can have a swell, well-written book that people might love to read. But you might not be able to sell it, and it may never see the light of day because NY might not find it marketable. That phenomenon? Yeah, I haz it.

Wavering

Signing with Jane was hard. It shouldn’t have been, but it was. Because I had spent the last year of my life so excited about independent publishing, and the last several months embracing it and enjoying my success. It had become part of my identity.

It took a lot of soul-searching to become open to traditional publishing again. But when I made that decision, I embraced that too. All the stuff I said about the opportunities it offers are things I believe, continue to believe. They’re things I wanted and continue to want.

But I missed being indie. I missed having a current book out there. Hush Money sales began to fall at the beginning of the summer. I know that lots of people have experienced a dry summer, but this book’s rank plummeted. Because it was time for that. It had been out for nearly a year with no sequel. I had put out a free short story, but that’s hardly the same as putting out a new novel 2-3 times a year which is what we tend to see when we talk about big number indies. With one book out, it was pretty much a miracle that I saw 20,000 sales for Hush Money before it was a year old.

I felt out place. I felt like I never knew what to say. I continued to have to stall on the question of a release date for the second book because I didn’t know if I’d be releasing that myself or breaking the news that I had sold it and the release would be further postponed. I was carrying a lot of guilt about that, even though some rational part of me knows that my readers are both supportive of me and what I need to do for my family, my career, and the series; as well as people with full lives who are not actually suffering from the delay.

But beyond the guilt, I began to recognize what I was feeling as longing. I longed to share this book. That’s why I wrote it. Friends kept asking, “Well, what do you really want?” And I couldn’t figure it out. It was a big mess of what I want, what I need, what I dream, what I think I can have, what I should want, what I should be doing—aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!!!!

Why do I write? A hundred thousand reasons, intertwined with stunning complexity. But maybe, at the heart of it, because I have something share. And while I was tied up in submission and it had been over a month and there were still people we hadn’t heard from, and if it got sold and all kinds of stuff had to be done with it by a staff of people before it sat in queue waiting to be released for who knows how long–while all of that goes on, it’s not being shared. And I’m unhappy.

I Want It All, And I Want It Now

I wanted all the opportunities of traditional publication and I wanted the control and immediacy of going indie. And by this time, the dramarama has reached EPIC proportions. I’ve gone to Jane and I’ve dumped all this on her, told her maybe don’t want to go into the next round of submission with another handful of editors. I now get to be in the middle of the

epic guilt deathmatch of DOOM

as I contemplate that I can either

a) stay unhappy with what’s going on and what will probably be the result if I continue this path, ie, delaying the book for the current readers who say they’re waiting for it while we wait for a publisher to buy and then release it, or

b) be equally selfish by pulling the books from submission to release on my own, deny my family the potential for the security of an advance and career opportunities I might have with a publisher, and, AND, take Jane’s opportunity to earn a commission for this such that I have just asked my agent to work for me for free.

Oh awesome. Fuck. Me. Running.

YA novel, Gone, the third book in Lisa McMann’s Wake trilogy, talks about Morton’s Fork: a choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives. Morton’s Fork, I haz it.

OMG, Susan, snap the hell out it. You call that a Morton’s Fork? Did you learn nothing from the reading? You have a choice between two potentials for AWESOME in your life. And YOU’re the one who makes it about guilt. NO ONE puts that on you except you. So get your head on straight and figure it out.

“What do you want?”

I want both.

And somewhere in the muddle of feeling like everything was so absolute, that times are what they are and I’m looking at two mutually exclusive things, I came across this little thread of sanity that I followed to an understanding.

I can have both.

I can’t have both right now.

Nothing is forever. This is not my one and only shot. Part of this was finally accepting that Jane does want to work with me. That she’s not going to up and abandon me because I’m difficult. Because she thinks I have potential. Maybe things will come up, like that foreign rights thing, as the series progresses. And maybe that won’t be anything big enough for her to get excited about, but she’s got a whole staff of people to deal with stuff and a whole bunch of money-making clients and me needing to do this right now is hardly putting her on the food stamp line. (Not all agents will be able to be this understanding.)

Meanwhile, I’m going to be working to come up with a new idea. Something that’s not the Talents. Something to do on the side. I will get better at this. I will get better at writing and better able to handle the other stuff, and I will be able to do that. And Jane is going to work with me on starting from a marketable concept. But I’ll still have the Talents for my own. I’ll still have control over that to see what I can make of them on my own. Because that’s interesting, and another kind of opportunity. And I’ll have this other thing that Jane can be more involved in, that will allow me to learn more of what she knows, and I can have another shot at this trad thing and learning all the things that those guys know.

And certainly, if anyone wanted to go to Jane with an offer at this point, I’d be willing to hear it. I’m not closing this door because I want it closed. Right now I just really want to share this book so that I move on to other things. Jane just got John Locke a print deal where he keeps his erights. I’m no John Locke but things are changing and maybe something like that will open up for me someday with the Talents.

The Possibility of Failure

The possibility of seeming like an epic failure here is two-fold.

It is no small thing for me to be worried that a lot of people are going to see it as me having failed in NY and crawling back to indie. I don’t see it that way. A) Indie is not something you crawl back to. It’s a choice with its own awesomeness that I’m embracing after a lot of soul-searching. B) Yeah, I got a few rejections, but every one I read said positive things about my books, about the quality of my work. I got no indication that I suck. What I understand is that I do NY quality work, but that the concept is “too familiar” and therefore not marketable enough for any of these editors to take on. And while that’s surprising (I have no proper word for the amount of surprising) to me, it’s okay. I truly believe that Jane would have found a buyer for this, both because I believe in the series and because I believe that Jane is a BAMF of an agent who would not stop until she found the right editor.

The second possibility is that I sold over 20,000 copies of Hush Money merely because it was 99cents, most of those people didn’t read it, a lot of the people who gushed about it are over it now and will not rush to buy the second book. At $2.99 it might not make the charts to get the visibility it needs to really sell. Heroes ‘Til Curfew is a different kind of book from Hush Money. I have no doubt that some readers will embrace what it is, while I also know as a certainty that there will be people who won’t like it. And who will tell their friends and strangers how very much they don’t like it..

I doubt there are many people who don’t experience performance anxiety over a release. I’m trying not to make this too important. I’m trying not to attach to the numbers. I will try not to watch them. And I will try very, very hard not to put even more pressure on myself for things I can’t control in some effort to convince myself that I haven’t just made a horrible decision.

And yes, I’m not even close to being so big a person that I don’t want this book and this series to sell like MAD to prove that it was marketable. As an indie I want to be able to point to it and say “Look, here’s a series that was rejected in NY and look what’s done. So don’t give up.”

But as an author, ever so slightly, politely, complimentarily scorned, I would not mind hearing “I wish I had grabbed the opportunity to buy this when it was offered, would you consider…?”

As I come to the end of this epic post, I realize that this still isn’t everything I’ve learned. How is that possible? If you read all the way through, bless you. I hope you got something out of my long-winded share-a-thon of spew. I, of course, feel better for having written a story and shared it with you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some publishing to do.

Heroes 'Til Curfew Release Postcard

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#ROW80 update, upcoming release, and some recommended reading

Heroes 'Til Curfew postcard with release information

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So whew, it’s good to have this all settled and to say, “Thanks for asking, it’s coming out around September 2nd!”

Really good.

I’m still wrapped up in this book and not so much active in the next one. I continue to lack true multitask finesse. Once this week is behind me and the book is out, my new ROW80 goal will be to try really hard to leave it be. To not babysit my stats, to not read reviews, etc. To move on to the next thing and let this thing do what it’s going to because once it’s out, it’s no longer in my control anyway.

Been extremely busy this week, so my reading has been limited to my subscriptions. There was some good stuff, though.

Recommended Reading

Big News (Look! My agent!)
Yeah, ’cause it’s all about me, right? LOL. If you’re an indie and you missed this, what have you been doing this week, writing a book? When I read Konrath’s piece on John Locke’s deal with Simon & Schuster in which they’re going to print his books but he’s keeping his erights, I thought Wow, that’s something. And then, Jane, what a BAMF you are. Good job! I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say the end is necessarily nigh. It’s hard not to agree with Jane’s assertion that publishing is full of brilliant people who will find a way to turn things around for themselves. And I figure if she can do HER job every day and still think that, there must be something to it. (via subscription)

Konrath goes #MyWANA?
That’s what I thought when I read this post in which Konrath and Crouch have a back and forth about the future and who has the power in publishing. Where it gets particularly interesting is where they start talking about author to reader direct sales. I sell PDF sewing patterns and have some knowledge of how to set up to sell digital goods directly. I could do it tomorrow, in theory. Notice how I don’t. Because, as a small fish (without a 10K member mailing list), developing web traffic is a marketing issue I don’t want to deal with. And the idea of carrying other authors’ books, having to keep track of THEIR royalties and pay them out…accounting nightmare for me. Not to mention the fact that building a high quality brand means having to tell some people “no” and that’s just awkward. I need to write more books, not manage a store. Never say never, though. And I did like the idea that this post sort of represents a convergence of Konrath and Kristen, two smart people I always want to listen to. (via subscription)

I’m a sexist pig
Okay, not actually a pig, maybe, although I did participate in an objectification of Tom Welling on Twitter the other night. Again. My double standard about men should be men but women can be anything, is something I know about myself and am working on. Andrew highlighted that in his Girly Man post this week. He picks up a discussion about how the issue of fewer young male readers maybe shouldn’t be about the lack of “boy” books, and moves it into his take on life as an open-minded guy who doesn’t need gender bias to make his choices for him. Which is, undoubtedly, part of his charm. (via subscription)

#UnicornLoverz Unite
Beverage warning applies to this brilliant bit of hand-drawn comic goodness from Claire. Claire reveals what it’s like for an author and her unicorn when the author gets in “the zone” and the world is blotted out by her own awesomeness. A must read. (via subscription)

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All About You on TweetDeck

I<3 Tweetdeck. I couldn’t manage on Twitter without it.

This post is going to be about how/why I use it and a specific column to add, but to get the basics out of the way, TweetDeck is a desktop application (or you can download other versions for portable stuff) that helps you manage your TwitLife. If you don’t use it and you want to get started, here’s a nice tutorial video. TweetDeck organizes the tweets in your stream into columns so you can concentrate on one thing at a time, so now that I’m going to talk about columns, you can have an idea what I’m talking about.

My favorite columns that I display where I can watch them are:

  • Favs
  • #amwriting
  • All Friends
  • Mentions
  • Susan Bischoff

Favs is a must. I auto-follow. I got to a point where it just seemed like having to read bios and go to Twitter to click follow every time someone added me was just taking up too much of my time. It’s not like I’m innundated with followers, people, but those little bits of time add up. That does mean I end up following a bunch of people I’m not actually interested in following, but with TweetDeck this is absolutely not problem.

I maintain a list of people who interact with me and whom I actually want to follow. You can do this by clicking the + (Add Column) button in the upper left and choosing Groups/Lists in the box that pops up. TweetDeck will then show you all the people you follow and you can choose the ones to add to this list. Save it when you’re done. This way, you never have to exclude someone by not following them back. (You never know when someone who tweets about their business is a reader interested in you and your writing!) And when you feel like you need to cull some followers, you can cull them from your list and not lose someone awesome because they’re just learning or they’re away for a while.

I don’t go around keeping track of who follows me and who doesn’t, and I don’t un-follow people just because they don’t follow me, BUT it does really irritate me when I go to send a DM to help out someone I’ve talked to several times and feel friendly with, only to find out I can’t because they don’t follow me. WTF? But it’s probably just a result of a limited follow policy they’ve made to keep things under control. But possibly possibly alienating people in this way doesn’t need to happen and I think lists are a better way to go.

I edit this column regularly, whenever I need to add someone new because I feel like we made a connection and I need to watch for their tweets. Once the column is on your screen, hovering around the top of it will make an edit button appear.

#amwriting is good example of a hashtag conversation. Trying to follow one of these can have its annoying moments because not everyone thinks of hashtags in this way and will drop a lot of junk into the conversation. Adding a column and putting #amwriting or another hashtag into the search box causes a new column to pop up that will be updated anytime someone uses the hashtag. TweetDeck is awesome for this. I’ve found a lot of interesting links via #amwriting, and I like to send out the occasional random tweet to a writer I don’t know who needs encouragement or deserves a pat on the back.

All Friends is where I have all those tweets scrolling by from everyone, so fast that I would certainly miss everything if this was all I had to go by. I try to glance at this every once in a while to discover awesome people I’m already following so I can follow them more closely on my Favs list.

Mentions is pretty obvious, but that’s a column that updates when a tweet contains @susan_bischoff. It’s important to keep track of when people are speaking to you directly or going out of their way to mention you in a way they know you’ll see. That’s why this is one of the columns TweetDeck makes for you automatically.

Susan Bischoff is the one I really planned to talk about today. Sometimes people just talk about me. Either they don’t want to point out to me that they’re talking about me by using @, or maybe they don’t even know I’m on Twitter. In this column I find things like “I just read Hush Money by Susan Bischoff and it was awesome!” or when people link to my blog, it pops up in this column, I guess because my name gets embedded in the link somehow? I don’t know, but it happens. When people use Goodreads’ auto-tweet feature, I get links to reviews or reading updates.

Links to my books for sale on some sites pop up in this column too, and that’s why this column has been on my mind as an important thing to talk about. Because the two times I’ve found someone selling my book illegally, it’s been via this column. It’s not like they’re going to tweet, “Hey, I’m selling @susan_bischoff’s book, come check it out!” But they do use my name to sell my book, so I sometimes see it on TweetDeck before I get it from Google Alerts.

I know a lot of this is will be old-hat for a lot of you, but I hope it’s useful for someone.

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Writing to a Niche

So again this morning I find myself clicking from an Etsy newsletter to an article, and in that article finding so much that seems to pertain to us indie authors. I should probably have some kind of Etsyish Publishing category or tag on the blog.

Anyway, 4 Ways to Make Your Products More Niche on the Crafting an MBA blog is a great article for indie authors to read because it carries some of those same messages we read all the time: you can’t be all things to all readers, write the book you want to write and you’ll find the readers like you who have been waiting for just that… So click on that title and give it a read-through. Will just take a couple minutes, and as you read, think of parallels to what you’re trying to do as an indie author.

My early designs were average and unimaginative.

How are we going to stand out and get found? That’s a big thing with us, and it’s part of the reason I continue to click on these Etsy articles, because I know from

Everyday jeans and tees for an everyday doll earned me low wages and only a few very kind fans.

experience that it’s a big thing there too. When I started on Etsy, I really had no direction, except that I was going to make doll clothes, starting with Barbie. I knew they would be better quality than most of what was out there–because that’s part of what handmade is–and that they would fit well, but in terms of design I was very much average in my thinking.

My Blythe doll

When a friend pointed me at Blythe, showed me the doll’s increasing popularity, the higher price points for the indie clothing that was coming into the market, and finally sent me a doll to get me started, she was sending me into a niche. After all, I’d wager that most domiciles in this country have

I moved into the Blythe niche, but my designs were still nothing to get excited about.

seen at least one Barbie doll within their walls at one time or another, while most people still don’t know what a Blythe is.

My early designs for Blythe were boring, just like what I’d done for Barbie. I made more money per piece, because of the niche. A dress for Barbie could get $3. A similar dress for Blythe could get $10, and was more likely to sell (eventually). This was due to the increasing popularity of the doll (or genre, if you will), the demographic (adult collectors vs. children), and the lack of Blythe-sized clothing on the market.

So already I’m hoping that you’re seeing similarities. When you’re selling just another epic fantasy or just another apocalyptic thriller, it may be hard for you to get found. And this is true even if you move into a hot, trendy niche, as I did with Blythe or you might do with vampire romance.

Since Blythe was a growing trend, my friend wasn’t the only one who noticed the premium prices people were paying for her clothing. Soon, more and more Blythe-centric clothing shops opened up on Etsy. And this is very much like with indie publishing: anyone can try to do it. So we saw people who knew how to sew (write) who had been sewing completely different items like baby quilts and children’s clothing (writing in a completely different genre), buy dolls and start turning out Blythe clothes. We also saw Blythe enthusiasts who were just learning to sew opening up shops and trying to sell work that just wasn’t ready for a pricetag (and we’ve all seen those indie writers too).

All those listings flooded the Blythe market on Etsy. Literally thousands of items tagged Blythe or coming up in a search. Even if you were doing quality work,  putting out nice items at a reasonable price, how were you going to get seen in the deluge?

I was enjoying creating for Blythe, but I wasn’t making any real money at it. It was worth doing because I love to sew and play with my dolls, and even if I made $20 a month, it was $20 more than I had before. And then, and I know I’ve talked about this before, so just bear with me, I wanted to do

My first commissioned order.

something different. Something kind of crazy. I wanted to see if I could smock in miniature and make a smocked dress for Blythe. This was taking an embroidery technique that is usually done for babies and very young children on an area say 12″ x 4-6″ and reducing it to an area of about 2″ x 1″, and then crafting that finished embroidery piece into a garment that was somewhat more complicated in construction compared to most of the handmade Blythe garments being sold at that time.

I was really nervous about this. This won’t be much of a surprise to my regular readers as I seem to be nervous about every damned thing, but really, I was actually scared to put out something so different. In retrospect, I see what a ninny I was, but there’s a certain level of comfort in doing what everyone else is doing.

Overindulgence was my most expensive design ever.

Next thing you know, I had more interest in my work than I knew what to do with. My inbox was flooded with compliments and special requests. I had a waiting list of at least 20 special order clients for months, even though I was asking more than twice as much for these dresses as I did for the original smocked design.  I had started out making quality yet boring dresses for Barbie for $3, and these dresses were earning me an average of $45-$50. The most expensive dress I ever did went for

The design had 6 of these detailed floral spray embroideries

$120, and making the second one of that ridiculously detailed dress just about killed me. Let’s retire that design!

Why did this dress and all the others command such high prices, and why was there so much interest in my work? These were doll dresses for Heaven’s sake. Because I was in a popular niche, yes, but doing something that no one else was doing (people started referring to me as “the crazy smocking lady”) and doing it well because it was something that I loved.

I’ve wanted to write the Talent Chronicles because for years I’ve been loving the superheroes and having to sit back and say: That would have been awesome if they hadn’t screwed it up. The kinds of stories that I really wanted just weren’t part of the genre. Hell, the format that I wanted to work in–novels–really hasn’t been part of the genre. The book category is NOT Comic books, Graphic Novels, and Superhero Novels. There’s no place for me there. Which I’ve decided is fine. I don’t think I really belong there.

Your niche doesn’t have to be something that no one’s ever done before. I certainly didn’t create meta-humans. I want to come to be known for superhero romance, but I didn’t come up with that idea either. Superheroes have had all kinds of love stories, just mostly the kind where someone ends up dead or abandoned. And I’m certainly not the only one working on this. So you don’t have to re-invent the wheel here.

But there are tons of books out there and there are going to be more and more–because anyone can do it now. So now, more than ever before, I think we really need to think about what makes our concept different from everything else that’s out there, and we need to think about how we’re going to use that difference to market our fiction. And if you can’t come up with a difference, maybe you’ll want to take a harder look at what you’re working on. (Maybe not. Your call.)

Same sh!t, different doll. Oh no, wait, that's the same doll too.

Your story is so very special to you. Even my boring dresses and t-shirts were special to me because they were lovingly crafted and I spent a lot of time on them. But I look back at these photos and I can totally see how uninspiring they are. Part of why a lot of indies get angry with traditional publishers is because the publisher says they just can’t see how this is going to stand out and sell. And they know that it’s not enough to have a good book, you’ve got to get some people to read that thing. It’s not enough for us either. We have

My special sh!t for a special doll

to have some sense of what we can say about this book, about what makes it different and better than the sea of books already out there, in order to get people to look at it.

Maybe the hardest thing to accept about a niche is that it’s often small, and that often means small growth. It also means that we’re not always going to be able to make reasonable comparisons between our successes and those of our peers, when our peers are writing for a different audience.

I honestly think I’m writing for the same people who read Twilight (whether they loved it or not), and are still talking about Buffy. But I write vampire-free (I’m thinking of starting a tagging trend on that, btw), so I’m never going to get seen on the Vampire Romance Bestseller List on Amazon, and I’m never going to get found in vampy tag searches. I don’t even have any kind of normal demon/angel/shifter/witchy paranormal anything in my books, and how many people are out there searching “superhero romance”?

Not a lot.

Yet.

Hey, I’m just sayin’.

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Formatting for Print on Demand

Ok, so last week I started talking to you about getting started with CreateSpace. We talked about some things you can do and think about before you really dig into formatting. The last step we talked about was doing one last, careful, super final pass to make sure that text is completely typo-free and just the way you want it.

I should preface the rest of this by saying that there’s actually a lot you can do with interior layout, and if you want to be fancy, you’ll want to find references beyond what I’m going to talk about. This post is about get it done, get it out there, and quit being held back by fear or perfectionism. What I’m going for is a nice, clean, legible read, because I really believe it’s your story that matters. But if you want to dive into the fancy stuff on your first time out, go for it. One book I’ve seen recommended may times is Aaron Shepard’s Perfect Pages. That book deals a lot more with the ins and outs of making Word do what you want it to than it does about design type things. I’m sure there are tons of books and blog posts out there if you poke around long enough.

Hopefully you’ve been looking through some books to see what the insides look like, and to think about what kinds of extra information you’ll add. This is your space. As long as you don’t wind up costing your customer too much money, you can add promo for your other works, the works of your peers, a bio, etc. You should definitely leave a little room to tell the reader where to find you online so they’ll know where to go for more info about your future work.

A quick word about margins, which we didn’t get into the other day. I used equal margins on each side, partly because I had read somewhere that just in case the printing got a little off, it seemed a safe thing to do. In retrospect, I think I might have a wider inside (gutter) margin next time around. If you want to do that, in Word, you’ll go to File, Page Setup, Gutter Position Left, set the Gutter amount that you want (1/4″?), for Multiple Pages select “Mirror Margins.” Don’t be surprised if you page count has changed.

You’ll want to go through that section at the beginning of the book before the story actually starts, the “front matter.” Use Insert, Break, Section Break Next Page to make each page a new section. Use this method for any blank pages you want to add to make text fall on odd or even pages.  For example, the title page is on the right-hand side, or an odd page. The copyright info is usually on an even numbered page. Page 1, the way CreateSpace is counting, is the first page of your document. You can’t print anything on the inside cover (save it for your autograph).

When you start Chapter 1, make sure that’s the start of a new section. All Chapters should be the beginning of a new section (meaning there should be a section break, not a page break.) Continue to scroll through your document. Now you’re looking to make sure each chapter starts on an odd page, and if it doesn’t you’ll add extra section breaks as above. Remember to always work from beginning to end of your document. Each blank page should be its own section, and each new chapter should be the start of a new section. This is probably the most tedious part of the whole thing. This is about page numbering, which we’ll get to later.

Once you’ve added all your blank pages and you’re SURE about your page count, you can go back to CreateSpace to make the cover template. That’s as easy as entering your book size and number of pages and downloading a zip file. What you do with this, I don’t know. I sent mine to Robin and she sent me back a cover. (I ❤ Robin.) CreateSpace has some kind of cover creator thing for you DIYers. Remember to look at some books on your shelf to see what goes on a cover. You’ll probably at least want a short blurb for the back. CreateSpace will take care of your barcode, and the blank spot you leave for that is on your template.

Now you’re going to add headers. Go to File, Page Setup, Layout tab, and under Headers and footers check the box for Different odd and even. Also check the box for Different first page. In your document, skip to the Chapter 1 page. Select View, Header and Footer. A menu bar pops up and so does a text box where your header should be. Page down to the header of the next page. Use your regular old alignment buttons to center the text and type your name. Page down to the third page of your book, center the text and type your title. Now page through the rest of the section. You should have your book title on the odd pages and your name on the even pages.

Hover over the buttons on that little menu bar until you find the one that says Link to Previous. When that button is live, the section that you’re in takes the information from the section before it. Go through and click that button for every section. Go back to Chapter 1 and make sure that what you have is

  • your title on odd pages
  • your name on even pages
  • no headers on blank pages or “Chapter” pages

All of the headers and footers in the “front matter” section should be blank (but only if you’re doing it my way–you can actually do whatever you want). If they’re not, check those link to previous buttons and make sure they’re not activated.

Next step is to add page numbers. Go to the first page of your story, Chapter 1. If you’ve lost your footer box and menu, go to View, Header and Footer to get it back. Click in the footer and click the button for Format Page Number. Select Starts at and put in 1 so that this is where you start counting pages (story pages, for the reader, not actual pages for the printer). If you find there’s a 1 in the footer box in your document, delete it.  Go to the next page’s footer. This time, click the Insert Page Number button. Use the alignment buttons to center the number. Check page 3 and see if there’s a page number.

Page through your document. You should have no page numbers on blank and “Chapter” pages (because those are all the first page of a section). All other pages should have consecutive numbers. If this is not the case, play with it.

If you want page numbers on your “Chapter” pages (I have them, because the convention of not having them annoys me as a reader, but it is more common not to have them), that’s doable. You just have to unlink your sections and insert page numbers on the “Chapter” pages. It’s a pain in the butt.

Double check your front matter section and make sure all headers and footers are blank. Double check that all your headers and footers on blank and “Chapter” pages are empty. Double check, again, that all blank pages fall on the left, or even, and that all new chapters start on right or odd pages. And when you’re done checking, check again.

Another thing that’s worth mentioning is your curly quotes and apostrophes. When characters interrupt each other, as they often do, Word has a habit of making the end quote turn the wrong way. (“Hey, wait a min–“) Additionally, make sure any apostrophes at the beginnings of words are turned properly. When you type a word like ’cause, Word always puts the apostrophe the wrong way. These are things I now fix as I type, but had to go back through and fix when formatting for epublishing and print for Book 1. Make sure your double hyphens became em-dashes (the long, unbroken ones). There are probably other common things to look out for, but these are the ones I can think of and you probably worked a lot of this out when formatting for e anyway.

Once you’re all done, you should be able to Print to PDF. If you don’t have a program installed that allows you to do this, you might try something like PDF Creator or other free program. Google is your friend. Then you’re in for another round or two of just get your eyeballs on it and make sure it’s perfect before uploading.

We’re running long, but if you’re actually doing this, I know you just want me to finish it out.

Once you upload your PDF and your cover, it takes a day or few for CreateSpace to look it over and make sure it’s not going to be crappy in some way. Basically they’re checking to make sure you’ve followed the submission requirements, that all your text is in the printable area, stuff like that. Once it’s been accepted by them, you’ll order your proof.

What you pay for your proof is the cost you were quoted based on the page count. You’ll probably pay about the same for shipping via media mail. This should take about 7-10 days depending on how the mail is, although the site quotes longer. Once you get your book, after you’re done oohing, ahhing, stroking it, taking pictures of it, etc., you’ll want to actually crack it open and make sure everything turned out ok.

Go back to CreateSpace and approve your book. Make sure you’ve got your price set the way you want and that you’ve enrolled in ProPlan if you want (you can go free right now and add that later if you choose), and that you’ve opted into the Expanded Distribution Channel if you choose and have done ProPlan. Your book should show up on Amazon within a few days. If you entered your title exactly as your DTP title, your Kindle and paperback versions should link up automatically. If your page finishes building and they don’t, contact DTP customer service and let them know.

There’s a lot more that can be learned on the subject than what I’ve told you, which is mainly the highlights of what I remember having to learn when I did this, only once, about six months ago. But I hope it helps move you toward getting a print edition out there.

My book uses 12pt Times New Roman with 1/2″ margins, no gutter. Headings, headers, and footers are done in Engravers MT. I did no kerning of the text at all. The text is left-justified. If you’d like to see how that came out, you can Look Inside the Book on Amazon.

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Filed under self-publishing

Running At An Artificial Pace

At the top of the email it reads, “To: Susan”

These emails I get from Holly Lisle, I so often wish that I could find them and link you to them, because they’re so often very wise. And, of course they are. Holly’s been putting out great books and teaching writers for how long now?

Since I can’t show it to you and I can’t copy/paste it for you, I’ll give you the gist. Once upon a time, Holly decided, based on some extrapolation of daily page count and faulty thinking, that she would be able to write 12 books a year. An agent whom she queried with this plan shot her down, explaining that he wouldn’t rep anyone who wrote twelve books a year, because they would all be crap.

Now it is true that everyone writes a different pace, and I think that a lot of people can write more than the one or two books a year that NY will publish for you. Some people can write twelve good books a year, witness Amanda Hocking with 6 out of 12 in the Kindle top 100, last I checked.

And you know, that’s what I wanted to talk about. They’ve been talking a bunch around the indie blogs lately about what some are even calling the “Amanda Hocking Effect.” (Poor thing, I wonder what she thinks of all this.) I first heard this theory from Kait, and then the term itself a few days later from Zoe. The basic idea is that one of the ways to climb quickly and build a very excited, involved fan base is to keep feeding those fans new work. Amanda hasn’t let two months go by without a new release. She doesn’t have to worry about her fans forgetting about her, and when she comes out with something, it goes to the top of the list for those fans because they’re still reeling from the last Hocking book they loved.

So in addition to having a backlist available, feeding your readers new work without too much time lag between releases now goes into our theory about how things work.

Since that came up, a bunch of indies I know are talking about ways to do that. More short stories and novellas, the possibility of serialization. I don’t like serials. Cue Queen: I want it all, and I want it now. I don’t read many short stories. I like novels, I understand the…physics of novels, and that’s how my brain works. And yet this recent talk has made even me think about these things. I don’t know if that’s me being open-minded, or just plain wacky.

But this was all still stewing in my head when I read Holly’s email because I’m just trying to remind myself that it has to be good. I know everyone who’s thinking about doing shorts knows that. We all know that. But I needed to remind myself that it might be better to play to my strengths. There was the idea that maybe I could dash off some shorts and that would take some of the pressure off, make it easier to ask people to wait for the next novel.

And then the Gin Blossoms came in and said, Susan,

How you gonna ever find your place, runnin’ at an artificial pace?

I know, it seems odd, but people be showin’ up to tell me all kinds of stuff all the time. It’s part of why nothing gets done.

Do you know what occurred to me the other day as I read my piece on Hush Money at 6 months?

It’s only been 6 months. It seems like so much longer to me, but it’s only been 6 months. Jesus H. Washington Christ, what I have I been flogging myself for for the last few months? I’m totally new at this. I set myself an unreasonable deadline. I made a mistake. Criminy, how long am I going to make myself pay for that?

I’d guess that most trad authors get at least a year to write book 2, and probably longer than that to get it all polished up and ready to go. I dunno. It just seems like Holly was giving me a wake up call. Wake up and listen to what you friends have been trying to tell me.

The top of the email reads, “To: Susan,” and it’s like she wrote it just for me.

If you’re a writer and do not get Holly’s newsletter, please consider doing yourself that favor.

That segues pretty well into this week’s

Recommended Reading

Why I’m a Fandrew
Actually, I’m not just any fan of Andrew Mocete, I’m Fandrew #1. And if you want to see an example of why, check this out. Andrew’s writing a Love Series on his blog, about loves that have shaped him as a writer. Who gets the first spot? His wife. In a charming and heart-felt post, Andrew talks about the importance of support, how rare it is, along with some good ideas about why it’s so hard to find in My Wife: Love Series Part 1. (found because you know Fandrew #1 subscribes)

I’m a speshul snowflake too!
Ok, this is a bit of ramble, but stick with it, because it’s full of sincerity, and drizzled with beauty. It may inspire you a bit, and open up your brain a bit, as Larry Brooks so often does for me. Writers, Give the Gift of “Getting off the dime” is Larry’s answer to that every-person who casually says “Yeah, I’d like to write a book someday.” (found via subscription to the Storyfix blog)

I don’t wanna sully my art by doing what I love in any way that’s less than…
If you’re on the fence about going indie because of the stigma factor, here’s a post to think about. Another from Larry Brook’s Storyfix blog, this is a guest post by Carol Tice. (via subscription)

ROW80

I’m a bit backwards this week, and I’ll admit that ROW80 hasn’t been much on my mind. I wrote a lot on the short piece this week. In both the stories I’m working I’m now at a point where I will have to break down and write an action scene on something. Damn.

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Filed under Recs and Links, ROW80

Hush Money: 6 Months and 10,000 copies

I’m a real boy!

As I begin this post, a few days before it will go live, days before Hush Money turns six months old, I’m still looking at the number on my spreadsheet. Marveling at it. Recording the numbers from the previous day is usually one of the first things I do in the morning. Seeing how many potential readers I gained overnight is generally a pretty awesome way to start the day.

So let me tell you why I’m posting this, even though I said I wasn’t going to share numbers anymore. Let me tell you why this is a special occasion.

Deciding to self-publish isn’t easy for most people. Even for someone like me who was more or less “it’s indie or nothing” because I didn’t feel like I wanted to get involved in the traditional industry, even for someone who believes in the tremendous potential of independent publishing, etc, etc, it was hard. It was hard to get over that concern of being called a “fake author.”

Now I’m a nice person (right?) and probably,  hopefully, no one’s going to say it to my face. But they’re out there, saying it, saying it about us. And even if it’s not directed at you, you know, you still kind of carry that.

You ask yourself, “Am I going to regret this use of a manuscript that I believe in so much? Am I going to wish I would have at least tried to shop it in a traditional manner?”

So something I did was I picked a number. (You may not agree with my number. You don’t have to. It’s MY number.) They say that many books don’t earn out their advances. I looked around and figured my advance as an unknown would be $6k. I had read that with a standard royalty, authors generally earned about 64cents per copy. So… 10,000 x .64 = more than a $6,000 advance. And that’s how I picked the number of books I wanted sell by the time Hush Money was 12 months old.

That was the number of books that would make me know that I wasn’t a fake author. Because sometimes, the hardest person to convince is yourself.

Now there will be some people who will come across the post and say, ten thousand copies in six months? Why are you even bothering to mention that? Have you seen the cavalcade of stars Konrath has been parading on his blog?

Yeah, I have. And I admire those authors. I’ve loved reading their stories. They’re selling more in a month than I have in six, and I couldn’t be happier for them. They’ve earned that. Maybe when I’ve earned that, I’ll get there too. But this post, this goal, wasn’t about out-performing anyone else. This is about me, something I hoped to get for myself, and how incredible it is to not only pass that mark, but to do that in half the time I thought it would take. No one else’s success takes away from that.

(Dudes, every time I write else’s–and I do that a lot–spellcheck hates me. Is that not a word?)

So that’s where I am today, feeling like Pinocchio, Version Shrek 2, flying through the air yelling, “I’m a real boy!” and waiting for something to strike and turn me back to wood.

Meanwhile, I owe you a ROW80 update, so here it is:

My goals were to spend at least an hour a day in my world and write at least 3 scenes per week.

I’m still spending lots of time in the Talent Chronicles world. Not a problem. I’ve written a number of scenes and thousands of words.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I wasn’t writing. But I wasn’t terribly worried about that. I said that when I was ready to write, I would write, and the words would come. And that was pretty much true.

Something happened this fall as I worked, or didn’t work, on Heroes ‘Til Curfew, as I let my mind fill up with the personal problems that cropped up, and then tried to squeeze in a brand new full-time career as an indie author in on top of that. I tried too much, pushed too far, and pushed those words right out of my head.

I know that there are a lot of people out there waiting. I value all those readers (I know there should have been a paragraph above thanking all the readers and friends and stuff, but if you guys don’t know by now how grateful I am, then I just don’t know what to with you!), and I’m sorry to have to keep saying that it’s just not ready, and no, I don’t know when it will be. But I do know that since I really owned that, since I made up my mind that it’s okay for me to say that and to work on my own schedule, it has been so much easier.

My ROW80 update for this week is that I’m finally starting to feel like when I’m ready to write, the words will be there.

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On CreateSpace

On my to-do list for some time has been to talk to you a little bit about print, how I came to choose CreateSpace for that, and my experience with it so far. Hopefully this will be just an overview and informative while mercifully brief.

Question #1: To print or not to print?

Print! Yes, ebooks ARE the future. I buy digital whenever possible, don’t even like to buy paper books anymore, and I absolutely believe that’s where we’re going. But I also understand that I am not Jill Every-Reader. While more and more people are trying out ebooks and embracing them every day, there are still plenty of people who prefer paper, or who are simply not ready to take that plunge.

For me, print is about customer service. If I were running a retail store (which I have done), part of my job would be to stock the types of products my customer wants and needs. I know from experience that customers can get pretty peevish when you don’t supply what they want. If it’s within my power to give my customer the type of product that best suits their need, why would I not do that? This is as true for providing both print and ebook formats as it is for providing your customer with a variety of file formats for various devices.

Question #2: DIY or Author Services Company?

I think of Author Services as those companies that offer to do this for you. Names that come to mind are AuthorHouse and Xlibris. Companies like CreateSpace and Lulu also offer author services packages in addition to the DIY stuff. This is something you’re going to have to answer for yourself. For me, and most of the indies I spend time with, it’s DIY as much as possible. We simply don’t have the money to shell out hundreds of dollars for someone else to do this work, and it just doesn’t have to be a big deal.

In fact, I think that, especially when you’re talking about fiction which is primarily text without images, print can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. A simple print edition is no harder than formatting for e.

I have read some scary-ass things put out by Author Services Companies. I’m not saying they’re all charlatans, and I’m sure that some of them provide great service which the authors feel is worth the price. I get that they need to make their services sound important, worth the price they’re charging, etc. I have seen some claims that lean toward un-truths, and some really bad “science” when discussing sales numbers. If you’re going that route, beware. Read a lot. And keep in mind when reading testimonials that many people have a need to justify their own choice, sometimes by making it seem better than it is.

Question #3: Which company should I choose?

Keep in mind from this point on that I’m talking about my thought process, my choices, and what works for me. Your mileage my vary. Because we’re obviously going to talk DIY, the conversation usually comes down to three: Lulu, LSI, or CreateSpace.

I’m throwing out Lulu right off the bat as too damned expensive. A big part of the decision-making process for me was: how cheaply can I sell my book? Answer from the Lulu calculators? Not cheaply at all. In just the manufacturing costs, the exact same edition I got from CreateSpace prices out 70% higher on Lulu. (To be fair, I have to say that they price out about the same, except that I’ve added an option to lower my CS price, which I’ll talk about later. As far as I know, Lulu could have something like that, but I don’t know.) Lulu has more format choices (coil-bound, hardcover), but for fiction and a first novel, I don’t see any need to get fancy.

LSI (Lightning Source) is favored by many indies as the most professional way to go. And likely it is. It certainly seems moreso in the way they don’t put a lot of information on the website and expect you to do a lot of talking on the phone. (Oh yeah, you know that’s an issue for me.) Most of going with LSI is about having more options and maintaining ultimate control as the publisher. The trade-off in that seems to be having a somewhat more complicated process with a bit more to learn–although I’m not sure because I haven’t actually worked with them, and shelling out a good deal more up front.

ISBNs and ownership are an issue for some indies. They want to have their own imprint, to have everything in their own name, they have their reasons and they’re willing to pay for that. I’m not right now. Unlike the other options, LSI doesn’t offer free ISBNs and requires you to set yourself up as a publishing company. And while that may look really spiffy, I’m just not into the added hassle right now.

LSI has other initial costs that are greater than CreateSpace. I don’t know if the books cost appreciably more like they do at Lulu, again because LSI isn’t upfront about that stuff. I do know that most of the LSI books I’ve seen are priced higher than mine, but then, most of the books I’ve seen are priced higher than mine.

LSI has some other benefits with regard to distribution and you can find people talking about these all over the web. Most of them don’t apply to me as a beginner, and those benefits don’t outweigh the added hassle and expense.

After I have progressed in my career, if I feel I need to have an LSI edition, there’s nothing that says I can’t go do one later. I still own all my stuff, right?

My choice was CreateSpace and I’ve been very happy with it. And since this is running long, I’ll try to just bullet the pros and cons for you.

Pros:

  • No up-front cost. Nothing. You can go print your book with CreateSpace today for free. Free ISBN (but you can bring your own if you’re into that), no setup fees. We like free.
  • ProPlan- Lowers your cost. You’ll want to add this. It’s an up-front cost of $39.00 (for each book). For this you get a lower manufacture cost which allows you higher profits and/or the ability to lower your retail price. Since you pay the manufacture price for any copies you personally buy, this will pay for itself pretty quickly in your copy for your mom, giveaways, review copies, and the ones you sell out of your knitting bag to sweet people who are just excited to meet someone with their name on a shiny cover.
  • ProPlan- EDC: Just as important, this gets you into the Expanded Distribution Channel which I believe gets your book into Baker & Taylor (but I don’t think into Ingram and I cannot find that info). Don’t get excited. This does not mean B&N is going to order your book to stock in their stores. They probably won’t, even if it’s doing well. I’ll discuss that in the Cons. But it will allow your book to be listed at B&N’s website, at Book Depository (which has free international shipping), and allows registered booksellers (like your local indie bookstore that carries books by local authors) to order your book at wholesale prices.
  • You will find VS. posts around the internet that talk about CreateSpace books not being able to get into Baker & Taylor, not being available to resellers, etc. Be advised that the EDC is a new program, so check the date on those posts when you’re doing your research.
  • Oh! You should also know that renewal of ProPlan is only $5 per year. My annual fee was waived in December, I assume because my book was out less than 6 months. I believe LSI does charge an annual fee to list your book in its distribution network. I read somewhere that it’s around $13, but that may be old or inaccurate info.
  • Easy as print as PDF. Really. That’s all there is to it. Now, getting that PDF just right might make you pull out a few hairs, but you don’t HAVE to get super fancy in your layout to produce a good book. MOST people don’t care about fancy book interiors. What’s important is that your book is readable. With a little thought and care, you can do that. You did it with e, you can do it for print.
  • It’s pretty fast. Once you’re done with your part and you upload your book, it take a few days for them to review it. They’re not proof-reading it for you, but they are making sure you have the right margins, stuff like that, and that nothing’s going to get cut off or anything. After that, you order your proof copy for the price they’ve quoted you as your cost. From my limited experience, I’d say expect to pay about the same amount as your book’s cost for media mail which generally takes a 7-10 days unless it’s a busy season. Expect to pay exponentially more for expedited shipping options. Once your proof is in-hand, all you have to do is log on and say yes! I approve! Go sell that bitch! And then it goes live on Amazon pretty quickly, like within a day or two, if I recall. Other sites will pick it up eventually.
  • Low cost means low price. You know how I feel about low consumer prices. CreateSpace, and some fudging with fonts and layout stuff, allowed me to put together a book that sells for $8.99, the same as what the mass-market price seems to be right now. Not being more expensive than my vetted counterparts is important to me.

Cons:

  • Borders doesn’t list it. I’m at the point of thinking this is more Borders’ problem than mine. I mean, It’d be cool if they would pick it up and I could sell a few more, but whatever. I don’t think I’m losing that much by not being at Borders.com. They’re losing more by not embracing indies in general, that’s for sure. Anyway, I think this may be because I’m not in the Ingram catalog, but like I said above, I’m not sure about that.
  • This edition will probably never be in the brick and mortar chain stores. Doesn’t matter who it’s listed with, CreateSpace does not allow you the option of making the book returnable. Essentially, the bookstores want to order a bunch of books, put out a few for however long they decide to try them out on the shelf, then box them up and send them back for credit. So think about it like this: maybe one day you have orders for a couple hundred or a couple thousand books. Awesome. And then in six months you find that all but six copies were returned. And all the “profits” you’ve been waiting on, that couldn’t be distributed to you because they’re held against possible returns, are now gone, and you get a check for $3. Possibly it’s better to have loved and lost, and certainly I’d like the opportunity to be browsed in the chains, not saying that wouldn’t be a great thing. Just it’s hard to work up a lot of upset about it, and the hassle/expense vs. potential benefit ratio just isn’t impressing me right now. (Ok, who am I kidding, if B&N calls me up and tells me they want to stock my book, my laptop and I will be on Zoe’s doorstep begging her to help me put together an LSI edition ASAP. I will bring a Firehouse Sub to get me in the door. I’m crafty that way. But I just don’t see as a likely scenario right now.) I know there are people who go with LSI for reasons of ownership who still don’t want to exercise the option to make the book returnable.
  • I’m not the publisher. Like I said, I don’t really care about that at this point. CS puts their name on it. I think this may be because I went with the free ISBN, and I think it might also be a requirement of expanded distribution.

I think a lot of the point is that I’m happy with CreateSpace because it was cheap and easy for me to just get it done now without adding fees I couldn’t afford or stresses I don’t need. If I get to the point where it’s no longer the right choice, I figure I can go with something different at that time, when I’ve grown into it.

Sorry about the lack of merciful brevity, and I’m going to continue for a bit because indies like numbers. It’s been absolutely worth it for me to put out the print edition. Extra costs for me were $80 for the rest of my cover and a new title page from Robin (a title page I also put in my e after that), and the $39 pro plan from CS.

I make 5xs more in royalties on Amazon than I do when I have sales through the EDC. Which is fine. The royalty from EDC sales isn’t much less than I’d get from a standard royalty if I had a trad publisher. So I’m not really losing anything, I’m just getting 5xs more from Amazon. Since I put the book out at the end of September (actually 4 months exactly from the day I’m writing this. Print was several weeks behind the ebook version because I thought it would be harder and I was learning a lot of stuff at once), I’ve sold 45 copies through Amazon and 38 through EDC (most of those I believe are via B&N), for a total of 83 paperbacks. I’ve pretty much just cleared my expenses. And that doesn’t count any of the ones I sold to local acquaintances. Having print also gives me something more to offer as a giveaway, which is nice, as people seem to get more excited about a $9 item than a $1 item. Go figure. And it’s cool to know there are people out there who are actually willing to pay that much to read my book. Yay!

So, in conclusion (finally), totally worth doing, really happy with CreateSpace as the cheap and easy alternative, and looking forward to reaching over 150 paperback sales soon so that I can rub Brad’s nose in it. I’d love to hear your experiences, addendum to this info, and will try to answer questions in the comments. Hope this was helpful.

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