Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Getting Started: Network with Other Indies

Last weekend I spent a fantastic couple of days with my group of author friends. We browsed through a historic Kentucky town, enjoyed a fantastic lunch hosted by one of our very own, and toured a famous horse-farm. And that was just the first part of day one! Throughout the weekend we laughed, learned, talked, brainstormed, ate, and just generally enjoyed our time together. And you know what I noticed? We are all SO different! We all ordered different things at dinner. Some drank water, some soft drinks, others a glass of wine. Some saved room for desserts, others passed. During our writer workshop, some dressed casually in jeans and flip-flops (me!), others wore slacks, skirts and the like.

The differences are what make us such a unique group of writers. The differences keep our times together interesting. Our differences UNITE us.

Our experiences, preferences, and processes for independent publishing are also quite varied. While we’ve helped each other and supported each other, each author’s journey into Indie Publishing has been unique. That’s one of the things I love about Indie Publishing… it allows for the differences that exist between writers. We are free to make the decisions that work best for each of our individual situations.

For example, several Indie authors I know do their own formatting for e-Book and print versions. Kudos to them! I am envious of their patience and ability! For me, the formatting was something I did not want to tackle on my own. I didn’t feel confident in my ability to do it right the first time, so I opted to use a formatting service. The money I spent having my manuscript professionally formatted was worth every penny! When my book was released, the formatting was correct from the get-go, something I doubt I could’ve accomplished had I chosen to go that route alone.

There are lots of other decisions Indie Authors must consider. Do I purchase my own ISBN numbers or let the retailers I use assign identification numbers for me? Do I hire a cover artist or am I “techie” enough to try that on my own? Do I pay for an objective edit or trust the critique group I’ve already established to do all my editing? Do I price my book according to word count or take advantage of a program that allows for free or discounted versions of my book? I could go on, but you get the picture. These are just a few of the things Indie Authors consider when preparing a book for publication. And for each author, the answer to each question is a unique and personal decision.

But one thing is constant: the authors in our “circle”. The authors here on this blog supported me every step of the way, and continue to do so. There is never a question too stupid or too huge. There is never an idea too preposterous. There is never a moment when they are not there. We are different. We are unique. And we are united.

So, my advice to all who may be considering the idea of Indie Publishing is to find a network of authors with whom you can share your journey. The camaraderie you’ll experience will be invaluable, and as you make each of those decisions mentioned above (and countless others) the authors in your circle will be there to answer your questions, calm your fears, and cheer you on.

Writing is a solitary venture… but it so much more rewarding when we share it with each other!

Post by author, Amy Durham

Monday, March 19, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Authoring Paradox: How long should a book be?

The following blog post link is from a site called Book Riot. Here's the link to the post author's bio if you are inclined to learn more about her background and why she is saying what she is saying about book length. Her recommendations are nothing new, but she tells them cleverly. Though she offers the advice she uses in the title, at the same time she admits the length of her blog post at 676 words exceeded her original goal of 500 words. She concedes novels sometimes do the same.

Every Book I Read Needs to be at Least 50 Pages Shorter

More interesting, or at least as interesting as the post, are the 30+ comments and the widely varying viewpoints about book length. We frequently talk about this in our group because some of our writers are writing shorter pieces (short stories, novellas, novelettes) and others are writing lengthier ones of 100-140K words. Many are writing pieces with averages of 55K, 75K, or even 90K words per novel (I'm in this group). Book length is handled humorously because we try not to judge each other's goals.

When you start asking "What is a correct length for a book?" then it gets to be a debate, evidenced by the 30+ comments to the Book Riot blog post. Frankly, I'm not sure there is a such a measurement as a correct or even "ideal" length in the real world. I read articles like the one above hoping that I can gain some illumination on standard thinking and practices. Yet many successful authors in our group routinely produce work in a range of 10k to 100k. Even within our small writer's group, there are successful marketing strategies for all lengths.

In the traditional world, the limits still seem to be based on the cost of printing books of a certain length, hence the restrictions set by agents and publishing houses. Limits seem to flex more in the Indie world which is why I think this topic comes up in blog posts so often. Independent authors often break rules, but first they want to know what the rules are.

Most of us have learned that the key to the best marketing you can do as an author is to keep your reading audience happy with what they are buying from you. For an Indie, it is up to the author to make that happen. Guerrilla marketing tactics that favor sacrificing future sales to make a lot of quick current ones do not seem to be a good thing for any author or publishing house to be doing these days, especially in the age of "free" and "99 cent" books being readily available on the same retail sites. While there are exceptions to every rule, this is just mostly common sense about staying competitive.

Indie authors rely heavily on reader word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat business. You want the reader to love your writing enough to follow you and buy all your future books. Any author's goal should be to build trust relationships with his or her readers.  Good marketing as an Indie author means keeping your attention focused on future sales so that today's success rolls into tomorrow's.

Like many authors, I was trained at the knee of traditional publishing whose lines often rigidly limited romance novel submissions to 55k or 75k.  So it was surprising to me that the lessons I took away from studying book length ended up having almost nothing to do with actual math. Instead, they were just validations of good practices I had heard many times from many writing teachers, and lately from all the really successful Indie authors.

  1. Write a piece so engaging that readers never notice length.  It's a lofty goal, but a worthy one.
  2. Advertise fairly and in a way that reader knows what they are buying. Some in our group publish what is tagged as "a short" or "a bit". Some describe their book as a "novella" if it is under a certain length (varies with understanding). Many sales channels automatically offer word or page count to purchasers, so it is public knowledge before purchasing at those sites. Be cognizant of how your work is being presented to the consumer.
  3. Listen with an open mind if readers take the time to comment about book length. Maybe as authors we think about this issue more than our readers might. And maybe our tendency to do so goes back to the 15 years of collective writing experience within our group and how we crafted our first pieces of serious writing way back when to fit traditional publishing lines with fixed ideas about book length.

Here are some additional sites that offer discussions and advice concerning word counts:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Getting Started: One Indie Author's List

I've had several writers tell me they have no idea where to start when it comes to self-publishing their own work. And I understand the sentiment, because I was the same way not too long ago. I'll let you in on a secret. Deciding to self-publish is one of the hardest hurdles. Once you decide to go through with it, your tension will immediately ease. A friend mentioned this as well the other day on one of the loops I am part of. I don't know if it's because you gain confidence by having a direction or what, but you will soon be overcome by a drive to get your work out there. Immediately. Yesterday. But that enthusiasm needs to be tempered. You have several things to do. Now mind you, this is for beginning writers and this is only a list of suggestions.

1) Decide on WHO you are

Are you going to write under a pseudonym? Or do you want the fame (and potential privacy issues) attached to your actual name? You need to seriously consider these issues. Whatever name you use will be seen, possibly, millions upon millions of times, over the life of your career. Yes, you can change your pseudonym, but your digital footprint will already be out there. Good or bad. I know of several authors that can not go to the local grocery store because rabid fans try to follow them home. If, by chance, you make it big, how would you deal with this?

Many writers take several names according to the genres they write. I, personally, have two, although I know others that have taken several. Just remember that however many names you write under is that much more promotion you have to do to build that name and its following.

Part of deciding what name to use is availability. You need to purchase your domain name at some point, and with the way things are exploding in the writing community, I would say sooner is better. There are several websites, such as Godaddy.com, where you can check to see if the name you want is taken. Blogger also has a service. The domain names usually only cost $10-12, but they're good for a year. If you're undecided, buy a couple of variations.

2) Build Your Platform

Though this sounds a little ass-backward, you need to something you build your writing credibility upon before you put out a book. It may be a blog you update once a month, a website space you've staked out as your own, or a review site where you talk about other people's books. Most people start out with blogs, either at Wordpress or Blogger, to talk about their writing journey. Readers sympathize with struggle and everyday life, so even though you may not think so, your journey may be interesting to other aspiring writers. I talked about my animals a lot when I started blogging, and I still make updates on things that happen, but I've gradually focused more on writing and my books.

A blog also gives you an outlet to write. It makes you sit down and organize your thoughts, and will ultimately make your fiction writing better.

3) Hone Your Product

Your book. Your pride and joy. Your mother loves it, your sister loves it, your neighbor's second-cousin's wife loves it. That's fine. But if you are going to approach being an independent author as a professional, you need to take the steps to present a professional product. That means going through the process of writing a good book, then making it better by learning more craft and rewriting it. And possibly re-re-writing it. Some authors work years on one masterpiece, then are too terrified to let it into the world. If you are confident in your skills as a writer, it will be easier to release the book. There are many craft workshops listed everyday, surely something will appeal to you. You know what your weaknesses are, so take the steps to make them better.

4) Have a Professional Support Team

Editing-- I don't mean your family or neighbors or post-man. I can't stress this enough. You may think you are a good writer, but until you go through the editing process and see how many things you missed, you've got your head in the sand. Everybody makes mistakes. You can read your manuscript 500 times and still miss letters or commas and sometimes complete words. Our minds fill in the gaps of what we read, so that the manuscript looks right.

With the rise in authors self-pubbing, so too are those stepping forward to edit. Take advantage of them. Most editors don't charge very much, sometimes as little as a dollar a page, especially if they are starting their own business, and the investment is worth its weight in gold.

Consider the revisions you receive back with an open mind. Ultimately, you are the one who decides what goes out in front of the public. If you rush to get the product out, and don't take the time and attention that your book needs, you will have reader back-lash. Honestly, there's a lot of crap on the internet right now that has not been edited, or correctly formatted, or properly covered, and readers are tired of wasting their money on it. Visit any reader forum and you will get an earful about trash littering Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Unfortunately, ANYBODY can publish a book. It's up to you as an author to put something out that you can be proud of and can stand behind. And will bring the reader back for your NEXT book.

The Cover-- The cover sells the book. Period. Spend the money to hire a professional cover artist that will take as much pride in your work as you do. If you are a newbie author, you will not have as much insight to a buyer's mind as an artist who creates covers everyday. If you are a graphic designer and do this for a living, fine, try your own cover. But make it look professional. I am building lists or service people right now. I have a huge list of cover artists here.

Formatting-- If you are not at least computer literate, you may want to hire somebody to do the formatting to the distribution channels for you. It can be very confusing. Every channel, Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, takes a different format of your manuscript. I thought I was fairly savvy on the computer, but I had issues I couldn't work out. My buddy Donna McDonald saved my butt and helped me format my first self-pubbed book. She's indie pubbed 10 now, or thereabouts. Will I try it again? Yes, probably, because I hate failing to be able to do something. But if you know you can't do it, hire a formatter. Again, they only charge about $50 bucks and up.

5) Decide Where to Upload

You need to decide where you want to sell your book. If you want to sell everywhere, your best bet is to go through Smashwords. Download their style guide and follow the steps. Once you've had your manuscript formatted, you upload a version to smashwords and their 'meatgrinder' churns out all the different format variations for Kobo, Sony, Apple, Diesel and Barnes and Noble if you want it to. Amazon you have to load to directly, and Barnes and Noble gives you that option as well through Pubit. For the most part, I hear that the meatgrinder does ok, although it does seem to take several weeks to distribute to the other channels. All Romance Ebooks is another valuable seller for your books. The channels Smashwords distributes to pay out quarterly. Amazon and Barnes and Noble( I think) pay out monthly.

For my first book, I chose to go with the Amazon Select Program. It targets their Prime members and gives you the option to run 5 free promotional days. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it actually boosts your ranking incredibly, leading to more sales after the promotion is over. You are required to stay with the program for 90 days, but after that you can upload to Smashwords and distribute everywhere. My 90 days will be up in the middle of May, and I plan to distribute then.

Unfortunately, there are advantages and drawbacks to either way you choose. But, the advantages and disadvantages seem to be different for every author.

6) Write your next book

You thought I was going to say promo, huh? Well, not exactly. The general consensus with indie authors is that the best way to make an impact in the market (more money) is to have multiple books for sale, particularly series. Yes, go ahead and announce on all your loops and social media that your book is available, but don't spend hour upon hour on promo, to the exclusion of writing. Having product available is the most important thing.

Imagine this: Jane the Housewife goes to Amazon and downloads your book, reads it and thinks it's the best thing since microwaveable veggies in steamer bags. She LOVED it. She tells all of her friends, the ladies at the playdate, her hairdresser, her dentist, everybody she knows. Then she goes back to Amazon hoping to find something else that you've written, and is so incredibly disappointed when she can't find anything else. Will she remember you in 6 mos or a year when you release a new book? You hope so.

7) Promotion

Promotion deserves pages of info, but I'm going to keep it relatively short. Become proficient at social media is the biggest thing I can tell you. This includes Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Youtube, and more other options than I can list. Get all of your author pages, personas set up, and learn to streamline. I use Tweetdeck to keep Facebook and Twitter together, so that I'm not bouncing everywhere all day. It's all on one page, as well as several streams of tweets that I keep track of.

You will find that you will have a preference where you hang out. A chaptermate, Kallypso Masters, has developed a rabid following on Facebook. She takes the time to respond and interact as much as she can, and it has been a boon to selling her books. She actually spends very little time anywhere else. Facebook is her niche. And it works for her.

Personally, I am published at 3 e-publishers, as well as self-pubbed. I will probably continue to submit to e-pubs simply because it broadens my reader base. As my e-pubs grow, my backlist titles are discovered and more people connect with me on FB and my website.

8) Develop your own Path

Other authors can tell you what has worked or not worked for them, but everybody's experience is different. We're all different people, different authors. We write about different things. So it's only logical that all of our career paths will vary. Find what suits you. Ask questions. I can honestly say that the indie authors I have met are so much more forthcoming than traditionally pubbed authors.

The advantage that we have as indie authors is we drive our own careers and can change what we are doing at any time.

I hope you find this information useful. It's certainly not all-inclusive, but it should answer some questions. Over the coming weeks, I'll try to develop posts for each of the 8 suggestions. If you have questions, please list them in the comment section.

Authors, post your suggestions as well. Was there any 1 thing you really wish you had known before you started on your indie journey?

Post by author JM Madden

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Interesting links: Comparison of Ebook Royalities

This blog post does a fairly good job of comparing the most significant sales channels for ebooks.  Thanks to Publish Your Own Ebooks for the info.


Interesting Links: Press Releases

The link below was found and provided by Teresa Reasor.

6 Ways to Help Your Press Releases Get Found

There is additional helpful information about what press releases are and what you can accomplish with them in the Smashwords Marketing Guide.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Interesting links: Pinterest Debate

 ddk portraits: Why I Tearfully Deleted My Pinterest Inspiration Boards -- This blog post is a by a photographer who is also a lawyer by trade. She goes over the legalese of the Pinterest user agreement. She does not outright say Pinterest is bad and no one should use it. She cautions that there are many open questions remaining about copyrights and "fair use". She explains that she took her boards down because she wasn't willing to keep taking the risk.

I was intending to pin my covers and create a board for each of my series. Do I have this right?

Well, my artist provides me covers in many sizes with full knowledge I am going to use them on websites, book covers, etc. The art she uses to create them carries with them the type of usage license that is broad enough to support my book marketing efforts. If it wasn't, I'd have to go back and get her permission every new place I used the cover she made for me. I did ask her about printing them to personally frame for hanging in my house. At this time, I have the cover of Dating A Cougar on business cards, on all my sites, and upload it to each and every ebook retailer in the size they require.

That said, I found a photo of Helen Mirren on the web that was amazing and I would have loved to have used it in a blog post I'm doing about an upcoming heroine in her sixties, but I didn't because it was from the site of the magazine that used it in their article. Using it seemed to cross a border to me, so I opted not to do so. I have done some professional photography and just don't do that sort of thing lightly. I did link to a web shot of Buddy Holly in one post that seemed to have come from an old record album archive.

I follow lots of romance sites that provide male model shots of "eye candy". Is that unfair to the model? Or is it marketing? Is it a boost to them to have a great pic of them shared? I agree with the blog poster above that the legal part of the debate is very fuzzy.

I used to use a lot of poplar content in my teaching work, but felt quite protected under the most common of "fair use" understandings of it being allowed for education purposes. Yet of the five colleges where I taught one decided that I could only use borrowed work for a single semester, then I had to remove the copied pages from their servers. They were exercising great caution. Another insisted I stop putting up copies each semester and permanently catalog the borrowed work one time in their library so that the entire university could use it. They were willing to take the risks.

Last year, a Bloomberg Business Week article used my Dating A Cougar cover without me or the cover artist knowing about it. Was that wrong of the magazine and reporter? Maybe from some hazy legal notion, but it was also wonderful marketing for my work. I did not mind in the least. My artist and I were both thrilled. We have been linking to their use of it all over our sites. We considered it a compliment and good fortune to have our creation favored enough to share.  Now I might not have been so generous if they were using my content so freely. That's what book pirates do, right?

How do we make decisions about this in our business? I think it comes down to personal convictions and how much personal risk you are willing to take. I would personally not pin anything to Pinterest that I didn't want to share without thought with the world at large which is my personal philosophy about anything I put on the web. I would hate to miss out on the ability to reach a ton of people via the Pinterest membership.  Strictly from a marketing standpoint, they seem a hot place to reach a lot of people quickly, but they also discourage flagrant marketing. Like most social media, you have to provide value and entertainment, not just ask them to buy your work all the time.

Right now though, I'm on the "waiting list" for Pinterest accounts and haven't been accepted. Now I understand why. They are having to figure this out. (UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, they allowed me into their membership. I have uploaded personal photos I didn't mind sharing, some of my book covers, and re-pinned many pins to boards I have created to collect them. I also visited a well-known self-help author's site whose work is frequently pinned only to discover she had created "pins" that could be shared. I thought this was a good way to say "you have my permission to enjoy and share this portion of my work".

Here's a link to  Clay Shirky: Why SOPA is a bad idea TED Talk  which I think applies to this debate because it about the laws being discussing concerning sharing content on the web.

Posted by Donna McDonald

Friday, March 2, 2012

Writer Inspiration: Storytelling

Though the speaker in this presentation is from the film industry, I found his perspective was not much different from mine about how he relates to and gets a thrill from the story he is creating. What he says about seeing the finished product and being a bit surprised by it resonated with me.

In this presentation, the presenter is asking: Do we write to inspire ourselves?

 It seems to me that maybe we do. I know I certainly fall in love with my heroes often enough to be convinced of it. I certainly create heroines that I admire and would like to emulate. I certainly feel uplifted when my characters and I have reached our happy conclusion.

I hope you find this 15 minute talk inspiring. More I hope this helps each of you appreciates how much of an artist you are as a writer when you create a story.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Huge List Of Cover Artists For Indie Writers

 One of the hardest things to do when you self-publish is find a cover artist that will understand your vision and create an eye-catching, cohesive representation of your story. The cover of the book sells the book, and you may have to change your cover several times before you find what reaches the most readers. I’ve been lucky in receiving several fabulous covers from my e-pubs, and I wanted the same thing with my self-pub titles.

As I was wading through sites trying to find what I wanted, I realized there was no one resource for indie authors, so I created my own list of book cover designers, many of which have pre-made covers available. This list was compiled from one of the Indie loops I am a member of, blog posts, websites, word-of-mouth and research.

The two most recent I have used are The Author’s Red Room for my erotic romance and Viola Estrella for the suspense novel I have planned. Be sure to give the artists as much lead time as possible to develop your cover. It will be worth the wait.

Fantasia Frog Designs- http://fantasiafrogdesigns.wordpress.com/premade-bookcovers/ Also have a huge stock selection.

Dara England- http://mycoverart.wordpress.com/premade-designs/ She did my two Decadent titles, but I do not think she is accepting new orders right now.

Delle Jacobs- http://dellejacobs.blogspot.com/p/my-cover-art.html

Razzle Dazzle- http://www.razzdazzstock.com/product-list.php?asc_action=Paginator_SetRowsPerPage/pgname=Catalog_ProdsList_68/rows=47 Huge stock selection.

Purple Ink Graphics- http://dreaminginpurple.net/PurpleInkBlog/store

Book Graphics- http://bookgraphics.wordpress.com/pre-made-ebook-covers-2/

Hot Damn Designs- http://www.hotdamndesigns.com/premade.asp Have a huge stock selection too.

Viola Estrella- http://www.violaestrella.com/BookCoverArt.html

Jimmy Thomas’ Romance Novel Cover Co.- http://www.romancenovelcovers.com/onlinestore/galleries.php?main_id=0&category_id=159 You may have to sign in, but it’s super easy and well worth it.

Tibbs Design- http://tibbsdesign.com/portfolio/portfolio-other/pre-made-covers-for-sale/

Spittyfish Designs- http://spittyfish.wordpress.com/category/contemporary/














-http://www.reneeromance.com/#!formatting She does covers, editing and formatting.





-http://anniemelton.wordpress.com/cover-art/ For Etopia press

-http://www.stygiandarkness.com/index.php/about/ The fantasy of Tim Lantz




The 15 above thanks to http://www.jennascribbles.com/self-publishing/ebook-and-paperback-cover-designers-for-self-published-authors/

http://www.bellamediamanagement.com/ebooks -covers and formatting


http://www.wickedsmartdesigns.com/#!novel-cover-gallery $75 for e-book covers


I don’t even remember where I gathered them all, but if you know of more, leave their names and sites in the comments section.

Thanks for reading!

JM Madden
http://jmmadden.com/ http://jmmadden.blogspot.com/