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Self-publishing surprises

Perkins_D_cylinder_printing_press_in_the_British_LibrarySelf-publishing can be rewarding, but also overwhelming. You have to be the author, publisher, and promoter all in one.

Turns out this works pretty well for me. I like the control of hiring my own editor, cover artist, and proofreader, and having complete discretion over my book release timeline—subject to my ability to write the books, of course! That also means I have to take time away from writing to find and work with the aforementioned professionals.

I also have to front the money to pay them.

For me, it’s been worth it so far. Here are a few of the things I learned along the way to releasing my first self-published novel.

1. Every online retailer has their own time delay before your book goes live. Amazon had BLIND FURY up within 24 hours, Nook and Kobo were close behind. CreateSpace took 3-4 days, iBooks almost ten. So plan for that when determining your release schedule.

(According to the iBooks rep I spoke to last weekend at my chapter retreat, someone actually reads through every book to ensure quality of formatting, etc. Their timeline is usually 5-10 days.)

2. It takes time to line up and schedule editors, artists, and proofreaders. My editor—whom I adore—usually needs about three weeks to get me on her calendar for each round, so I have to build that into my plan. The cover artists take 10-14 days. My proofreader about three.

What I’m doing now is working with the cover artist while my editor goes through her second round of suggested edits. This will allow me to have a cover reveal before the book is fully polished.

3. It takes me longer to write than I think it will. (Duh, right?) I recently wrote 25K in a week in order to meet a date I set with my editor for round one. Mistake. Next time, I’ll have the book finished before I scheduler her. That way the manuscript can simmer and I can look it over before turning it in, but I won’t be tearing out my hair and turning in crap that I’m paying her to look at.

On the plus side, I found that I can write 25K bad words in a week.

4. Even though I don’t have to meet a publishing company’s deadlines, my goal is still to publish books. So I’m setting my own long-term publishing goals to keep me on track. But I have the benefit of being able to move the dates up or back as needed to save my sanity (what’s left, anyway).

5. For some reason I didn’t expect to get returns on my ebooks. After talking to a friend, I found that my return rate (which is under 2%) was at or below normal rates for my subgenre. Apparently some genres (like Young Adult) have really high rates, so you might want to check before you hit Publish so you can be prepared.

6. Amazon reports are addictive. Big surprise, right? But they’re beautiful because I get up-to-the-minute sales info. I can immediately see whether something I did had an impact on my sales.

Of course, it can be frustrating to have an increase in sales and not know why too. If I don’t know where they came from, how can I repeat that performance in the future?

7. Keywords are key, at least at Amazon. According to the iBooks rep, when a reader searches, Apple doesn’t use keywords, only title, subgenre, and author. But Amazon uses keywords. So think about how someone might find your book and enter that word or phrase as a keyword.

For example, just to test this out, I added the keyword phrase “best friend’s sister romance” (which only counts as one keyword). Now, if you type that into the Amazon search bar, my book will show up in the list. I’ll also show up under “pararescue romance” and “special ops romance.”

You get seven keyword phrases, and you can change them at any time to experiment. I recommend you use all of them. It takes about 12 hours for Amazon to make an update any time you revise your metadata.

That’s a quick hit of things that I learned. Please share your own!


Image credit: By takomabibelot [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

From big, scary goal to big news

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I’m ready to jump off a metaphorical cliff here because…

I’m excited to announce that my first romantic suspense novel BLIND FURY will release at the end of the month!

A risk-averse programmer must rely on a thrill-seeking mercenary to keep her safe when her quest for the truth about her brother's death makes her a target.

Last year I shared a big, scary goal with you: to independently publish my romantic suspense series, starting with my 2011 Golden Heart® finalist, BLIND FURY. Well, friends, I’m doing it. My little book baby has been edited and polished and is in the process of being proofread and dressed with a hot cover.

The process so far has been exciting, exhausting, and a bit overwhelming. And it’s only going to get worse. But also better. 😉 Sure, I self-pubbed that little booklet on productivity tools, but this is a whole other ballgame.

I’ll have more news—as well as a post about the process—in the coming weeks. So, stay tuned.

Want a chance to win a free copy of BLIND FURY? Click here and be among the first to join my mailing list to keep up with my romance-related news (existing Scrivener newsletter subscribers can update their current preferences to include romance news). List members are automatically entered to win books and other prizes.

My first newsletter—with the winner announcement—will go out on release day (hopefully February 25th). Good luck! 🙂

Anyone else here in the process of self-pubbing, or already a veteran? Any tips or thoughts?

Photo from Unsplash.com.

Self-pub practice (or, I made a book!)

PTFWCover2

I made a book!

Before I gave my “Ebooks Made Easy with Scrivener” workshop at the Romance Writers of America National Conference last month, I figured I’d better actually go through the entire process of creating a book, from writing to publication.

I’m so glad I did! I learned a few helpful tricks about how to set things up that never would have occurred to me had I not gone through it from start to finish. Plus, now I have a bit of street cred. 😉

The hardest part was coming up with something to publish. I figured if I was going to put a book out there, it might as well have value to someone. But my fiction’s not ready, I can’t write anything that competes with Scrivener For Dummies, and I didn’t have time to create something completely from scratch.

Then it hit me. I taught an online course for RWA University in June about writing tools for the PC and Mac, where I talked about free and low-cost software programs and apps that help you reduce distractions, collect research, manage your time better, organize your writing, and back up your work.

The five-day class received a positive response, so I figured that it was useful information. If anyone bothered to pay 99¢ for it, I didn’t want them to feel cheated.

So, I expanded and polished my lessons and compiled them into a short ebook—I’d call it an ebooklet, equivalent to around 30 pages—called Productivity Tools For Writers.

Voila! Instant book, (hopefully) worthwhile content, and good practice for me. And, hey, I’ve even sold a few copies. 🙂

Next stop: fiction.

Hail to the hybrid author

HybridAuthorsWhen I started writing romantic fiction in 2009, self-publishing was called vanity publishing. It was something only the desperate did. Or those who’d been suckered by some slimy, snake-oil publisher. It was something RWA warned us against: paying to get published.

We should be getting paid for our work.

What a difference four years makes. Sure, RWA still urges writers to get paid for their hard work, but now they’re helping us figure out how, even if we want to do it by self-publishing.

At last year’s conference in Anaheim, there were a handful of self-publishing workshops, but it was still something that many of us considered a last resort, or something only those who wrote “weird” cross-genre-hard-to-categorize books did.

This year was a whole different story. The self-publishing track in Atlanta was teeming with best selling self-pubbed authors like Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, and Courtney Milan sharing their secrets to success, along with the pitfalls. I even gave a workshop on formatting e-books via Scrivener. Many of the workshops were packed-to-bursting, standing-room-only affairs.

Four years after I started with a dream to get plucked out of the slush pile by New York, I joined the frenzy of writers angling to learn everything we could about how to make it on our own, how to take control of our writing careers.

I’m not saying self-publishing is the only way to go. There are many for whom the validation of New York—and seeing their book on a shelf at Target or Barnes & Noble—is a the most important thing. And that’s okay too. In fact, many of us would like to try both.

One of the terms I heard a lot at this year’s conference was “hybrid author”. A hybrid author is one who’s published in more than one way, some combination of self-published and traditionally or e-first/e-only pubbed. The beauty with self-publishing is that it doesn’t rule out a traditional contract down the road. And if you self-publish well, it might even bring New York to your door with a print contract.

On the other side, many traditionally published authors are leveraging their print audiences by self-publishing. They might not sell as many books, but their royalties are higher. I heard over and over from hybrid authors that they were making more from their self-published titles than their traditional ones.

I think for many of us, hybrid is the future.

Original photo by: By Mariordo Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

My big, scary goal

I couldn’t talk blithely about my goals today without stopping to mention the tragedy in Boston yesterday. My heart hurts for all those affected. It also swells at the stories and pictures of those who raced in to help just seconds after the bombs went off. After such devastation, we need a reminder that most people still care about their fellow humans.

♥♥♥

Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can. ~ Unknown

LadderLast week I talked about being bold and setting big goals. Not just big, but scary goals that represent what you really want out of life in the long term.

Since I’ve been challenging you, I figured it’s only fair that I set my own goals and share them here. Talk about scary. If I put my goals on the Internet for everyone to see and then fail…

Here goes. My overarching goal:

To make enough money from my teaching and writing activities that my husband can quit working when he’s eligible to retire from the Air Force in 2016.

(Excuse me while I go breathe into a paper bag for a minute.)

That’s my big, scary goal. It used to be just a dream, something that would hopefully happen one day after I finally got published. But wishing for something—which often means you think it can’t really happen—does not get help me get things done. Nor does it help me figure out which path to take. Goals, on the other hand, can be broken down into progressively smaller pieces until you get to something you can start today.

I’m already making some money from teaching—and from Scrivener For Dummies—but I really want to generate income from my fiction. With that in mind, I started thinking about the best way to do that.

Keep working toward traditional publication, or self-publish?

Even a year ago, this would have been a no-brainer for me. New York all the way, baby! But times have changed. While I would love to be on bookstore shelves—if there are any left in a few years—and would love the ego stroke that getting a traditional publishing deal would bring, I don’t need either one to consider myself successful. Neither is a guarantee that the money would follow.

So, my plan is to self-publish. I think for all but the best writers among us there’s more money to be made going it alone.

That said, I don’t want to self-publish just because I’m not good enough to get a deal. I’ve seen enough work by authors who should have waited a few years to upload their books to Amazon, and I hope to not be one of them. But the kind of feedback I’ve been getting tells me I’m close. With a little help from an editor, I hope readers will never even notice my book doesn’t come from Avon, Signet, or St. Martin’s.

Am I averse to risk? Oh, yes. But there are different types of risk. While I’m loath to plop down the cash (that I might never earn back) for an editor and book cover designer, I’m even more worried about giving up my rights indefinitely to a publisher.

I also like to be in control. By self-publishing I can choose my covers, titles, release dates, book lengths, and story lines. For better or worse, success or failure is all on me.

(Where'd I put that paper sack again?)

By defining my ultimate goal, and determining that I intend to reach it by self-publishing, something dramatic happened. My daily priorities changed drastically.

I dropped my current WIP cold. It doesn’t fit with my new plan to release a trilogy in the spring of 2014, so it had to be pushed aside so I can work on revisions for the first book in the series and get to work finishing book two.

Without defining my goals so carefully, I would have kept pushing really hard—25,000 words in January, for example—on the wrong thing. Productive, yes. Helpful, no.

I can now make more informed decisions about how to utilize my time.

Sign up for editor/agent pitch appointments at a conference? Nope.

Read a blog post on writing great query letters? Pass.

Take a class on self-publishing? Sign me up.

See? A month ago, the answers to those questions would have been very different. There’s the real value of creating specific goals and plans for achieving them.

There's no guarantee I'll succeed, anymore than there was ever a guarantee I'd get a publishing contract. But at least I know I’ll be heading in the right direction.

Photo credit: By SOIR (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The secret is out?

I recently read the following blurb in a free home decorating magazine that I get from my former realtor. The article was about trends for 2010, and the blurb was thus:

Thanks to iUniverse and other self-publishing companies, the path to authorhood is a click away. Even a single copy of the history of your century-old house is possible.

So far so good, right? I'm all for self-publishers for cases where you have a small, specific market for something that a traditional publisher would never print. Want to give everyone in your family a nice book with the family tree and great uncle Mort's diary from the Gold Rush? Want to print a history of your small town to sell at the local museum?

Then self-publishing might be the way to go. The problem I had with the article was this next line, because it perpetuates the vanity press and self-publisher's claims that a wannabe fiction writer can skip the slush pile and be the next NYT Bestseller if they pay to publish.

And the secret is out: This is where many six-figure book deals start.

The secret is out? Many six-figure book deals? How many? Whose? Where the heck did the author of this article get her info? I'm guessing she interviewed the happy sales folks at iUniverse and swallowed the bait whole.

All I can say is thank goodness I'm a member of a professional writer's organization whose aim it is to educate me about the predatory practices of such publishers.