Self-Publishing


This is the third installment of my self-publishing series. This week I’ll cover formatting and cover art.

To check out information on traditional publishing vs self publishing, click HERE and my post on editing and proofreading can be found HERE. And now that you’ve got that manuscript polished and ready, it’s time to put the package together and formatted for uploading. Many authors choose to do their own formatting. I always tell authors … if you typed the manuscript, you can do your own formatting for upload.

Before your manuscript is ready for formatting, you will need to add the FRONT MATTER for the digital book. Following is information I include on its own page.

Optional Pages:

  • REVIEWS: Many authors choose to include reviews of the current novel or prior published novels
  • DEDICATION and/or acknowledgments

An acknowledgment is a special thank you to anyone who may have helped you with your novel, whether it’s a professional who helped with research, a critique group who helped in development or a special nod to your editor or cover artist. That would be included in the acknowledgment section.
 
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iStk_Paper_LgeThis is the second week of my self-publishing series. Please check HERE for the first installment where I talk about the costs of self-publishing.

The decision to self-publish can feel daunting. But you’ve decided to make the leap and now what? Well, the first step is to prepare your manuscript and chances are … you’ve probably already done it.

When I first started writing a decade ago, email and digital books were just beginning to take off. It was customary for an author to format their Word document in Courier New font, double-spaced. This format most emulated a typewriter and averaged 250 words per page. When printed, the number of pages in the manuscript gave the publisher an idea of the number of pages in the finished print book. We tabbed our paragraphs and underlined anything that was going to be italicized so it was easily recognizable by the formatter. Manuscripts were printed and sent by snail mail to the publisher who hand edited them with a red pencil. (I mention this, because there may be some of you looking to re-release previously published books in this format and your manuscript would need to be stripped of all that formatting before your novel can be published digitally.)
 
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sellerSo you’ve finally finished the novel you’ve been talking about all these years and it’s sitting on your computer. Now you’re wondering about the next step … publishing.

There has never been a better time to be in publishing.

There has never been a more difficult time to be in publishing.

No, really, it’s true. The technology explosion has created an industry that is in constant flux. By the time you figure out how to ride the wave of success, it fizzles and another new wave is generated in a different direction, leaving you stranded on a surfboard in the middle of a calm sea, wondering where the heck the rest of the surfers went. That being said, there has never been a more exciting time in this industry with so many avenues to publication. From traditional publication at one of the Big Five publishers to small presses who do digital-only to self-publishing your own novels—there’s a path that fits every author’s goals.
 
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In this crazy world of publishing it’s getting harder and harder to know which way to turn. There’s confusion over which road to take or even whether we should stop, take a look around and maybe change direction completely.

Yeeeeah, that’s kind of where I’m at.

Eight years ago, at the end of December, my first book was published. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Liquid Silver Books had taken a chance on an unknown author, held her hand through editing and cover design and released this book:

 
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So it’s time for another update on my self-publishing journey. Mostly because a lot of people have been asking me questions about the process and what I think of putting my books up by myself.

This post is about money … and how much it costs to self-publish.

A lovely writer was asking me about book covers for her new book that Createspace (the printed book arm of Amazon) said should be out in 2-3 months. Wai … What? *hear a needle scraping across an album* Before I could tell her about a wonderful cover artist, I needed her to explain to me about what Createspace had to do with when her book would be released.

Well, she’d paid them $1400 to “self-publish” her book. I almost fell over backwards. After I recovered I asked what was included in that price. Well, they were giving her an ISBN for both print and ebook … umm, both are free from Amazon. Okay, what else? Well they’d format her book. This is definitely something many people pay for because they don’t want to worry it’s not done right. But the fee I’ve found tops out around $30 per format. So this brings it to about $120 (epub, mobi (kindle), nook, kobo). And it included some editing which you can purchase for upwards of $.01 per word, so about $750 for a 75,000 word novel. It did NOT include a cover.

So she paid $1400 for services that she could have gotten for $870 … tops. I was so sad for her. I wish she had done just a little more research before jumping in. (Keep in mind … in the publishing world money should flow TOWARDS the author. That one piece of advice should be in the back of your brain as you’re making all your decisions.)

Then on the other end of the spectrum I’ve had more than one person mention they can’t afford to self-publish. But with a few really good beta readers (one to read for story consistency and a couple to read for typo/grammar), services you can trade with another author … you may be able to skip the editing fee. With patience, uploading to Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Smashwords, even getting your book ready for print is easy enough. And if you’re not tech savvy, there are pre-made book covers for as little as $25.

There have been many bestsellers I’ve read in the self-publishing realm whose covers aren’t intricate. Yes, a cover is a reader’s first impression, but people will buy a book on a list even if the cover didn’t roll off the NY presses. When you make some money, switching out covers is a simple process. I’ve switched out several original covers for something that better fit the genre.

Let’s face it, this whole thing is a learning process. My feeling if you’re toying with the idea of self-publishing is that it’s better to have a book up and making some money than having it sit unpublished on your computer making nothing.

And to catch you up on what’s going on with me (because I think it’s important for people to share their numbers) … August Sales were amazing and I thought I’d finally found a formula that works for my books. Unfortunately my sales are pushed by the first book in my romantic suspense series being free. Amazon has decided they are no longer going to run the “free” book list next to the top sellers in a category. I have no doubt many of the readers who downloaded my free book saw it because they were perusing the paid books in the same categories.

Guess what happened in September … sales plummeted.

Amazon:
Blind Her with Bliss: Free 9079 downloads (16% drop)
Deceive Her With Desire: 360 sold = $711.30 (43% drop in sales)
Cheat Her With Charm: 282 sold = $563.75 (45% drop in sales)
Shadows of Fire: 14 sold = $34.38

Barnes & Noble:
Blind Her With Bliss: Free through Smashwords
Deceive Her With Desire: 18 sold = $34.92 (32% drop in sales)
Cheat Her With Charm: 14 sold = $27.16 (33% drop in sales)
Shadows of Fire: 4 sold = $9.71

Kobo:
Blind Her With Bliss: Free (no report)
Deceive Her With Desire: 10 sold = $20.90
Cheat Her With Charm: 2 sold = $4.18
Shadows of Fire: 1 sold = $1.23

Smashwords:
The report is difficult to sort through in its current format, it appears I’ve made apporximately $150 in September across all vendors.

I am sure Amazon’s changes had a huge effect on my sales. I can’t say exactly what happened with B&N. Perhaps that’s just the ups and downs of sales. But the fact is … I wouldn’t change my decision to jump on this crazy ride. Feel free to ask me any questions. I’m an open book!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Publishing is a tough gig! Since I’m only in my adolescence when it comes to writing and publishing I can’t tell you if the days of the typewriter and printed manuscripts were harder than publishing is now. I really don’t know if the number of digital publishers and the ability to self-publish is making life easier or harder for the author.

What I do know is that there are a TON of books being released every day. No, I didn’t look up the exact numbers. (Feel free to google it.) But just think of all the traditional publishers, then add in small e-presses then add in self-published books and you have a lot of authors trying to find readers. It’s a regular cacophony of word music and it’s definitely hard for an individual instrument to stand out among all the overlapping songs.

There are only a few soloists who stand out, which means most authors are trying to find that one little trick that gets them heard. What will make their melody resonate above the river of music? Figuratively turn up the volume.

Okay, enough music metaphors. LOL! You get the idea.

Let’s face it, we all tag and like each other’s books. Why? Because there are rumors that the “likes” on Amazon affects the algorithms for a book and possibly give it a little extra to get up on the lists. (Since no one knows for sure, that information can’t be verified.) At the very least, when a reader pops over to a page and only 6 people have liked a book, it doesn’t quite have the psychological boost that a book with 231 likes gets. People wonder what they’re missing if that many people like a book. Is this gaming the system? Could be.

Knowing the impact of reviews, last year I began writing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for the books I’ve read. And guess what? I read a lot of self-published writers because that’s who I’m hanging with these days. If readers wanted to start pointing fingers they could say I’m padding the reviews of my friends … even if my reviews are totally honest.

The internet is a buzz about authors buying honest reviews. Yet, publishers (and authors) buy advertisements in romance magazines and books get reviewed. Isn’t that the same thing? There are stories of bestselling author buying thousands of copies of their own releases to have the new release climb the charts. So is all this gaming actually cheating the system? How far does it have to go before it steps over the line?

Is offering a book for free as a loss leader considered cheating? Some say yes. I don’t think so. What I think is that it’s one of those tools that’s allowed my books to actually stand up in front of readers and scream “Try Me!“.

I’ve had three self-published books out for nearly a year. And you can see March Sales, May Sales and June Sales were nothing that could be called a living wage. But after several backflips (which ain’t easy for a woman with MS) and lots of groveling (see the post with the June sales), I finally got Amazon to price match BLIND HER WITH BLISS, the first book in the Tilling Passions series for FREE.

And guess what? I can actually say my writing is starting to make the kind of money I’d always hoped it would. Here are sales for the last six weeks.

Amazon:
Blind Her With Bliss: 80,000 Free, 14 sold = $30.00
Blind at UK site: 4663 Free, 0 Sold = $0.00
Deceive Her With Desire: 760 books = $1550.40
Deceive at UK site: 34 books = $35
Cheat Her With Charm: 563 books = $1148.52
Cheat at UK site = 22 books = $23

Barnes and Noble:
Blind Her With Bliss: Free
Deceive Her With Desire: 47 books = $91.18
Cheat Her With Charm: 39 books = $75.66

Smashwords:
Approximate sales for Apple, Kobo, Sony and Diesel = $480.33

As many of you know, I released a 4th self-published book this week. I’m hoping with an excerpt at the end of the third book that readers will begin buying that book and sales will only go up.

Will this last? I don’t know. I’m really pleased after all my back-breaking work last year that something is finally falling into place for me. All I can do is keep writing the best books possible and hope the readers continue to enjoy them.

So, what do you think? Do you think there’s too much “gaming” going on in the book business? Are the truly great books rising to the top or is it the author who knows how to play the system that comes out ahead? Let me know what you think, I’m curious about stuff like this.

Any of you who stop by my blog on a regular basis know I’m an over-achiever. I always have been. I blame it on being the middle child of five and my mother. (Aren’t all problems the mama’s fault?) Just kidding mom. I have no idea what drives me. I just know that when I decide to do something I learn everything I can about it and plunge in with both feet fully expecting to succeed! Failure is not an option. It’s not just a motto … it’s how I’m wired.

And so it was with the writing career I began 7 years ago. In anticipation of leaving my teaching job I took a “Writing Fiction” class at the local university. No sense going into something new without having the tools to do it right. (It would take me a whole year of writing to figure out I’d spent $400 on a class that wasn’t worth the cost of paper the syllabus was written on. But that’s a rant for another blog …) My point is, I was ready to buckle down and write! I had dollar signs in my eye. After all I wanted to replace my teaching salary.

I won’t repeat the road I’ve travelled since most of you already know so let’s fast forward.

After years of publishing books with traditional digital publishers, I was discouraged by my lack of sales. Regardless of what sub-genre of erotic romance I wrote or what marketing I tried, I just couldn’t seem to hit the same numbers as other successful authors with the same publisher. After watching the success of so many writers who went before me, I decided to self-publish three previously published books whose contracts had expired. (It will be a year at the end of the summer that the books will have been available.) I mean, the money is in self-publishing, right? Well, okay, not for everyone. I’ve been very open about my numbers. What’s worked for me and what hasn’t. I do this because I’m hearing so many authors making HUGE money. Like, win the lottery kind of money. In light of that, it’s hard to stand up and say “I finally got a check this month from B&N”. (Minimum payment $10.) That would be THIS post.

My sales have continued to grow as can be seen HERE and HERE. I credit the growth of my sales to offering the first book in my series BLIND HER WITH BLISS, free across all retailers in February and March. I stopped the free promotion at the beginning of April and sales plunged.

Just as I was trying to offer that first book free once again, Amazon made a mistake and price matched the second book, DECEIVE HER WITH DESIRE at the beginning of June. For a week it was given away free. A huge advertising site picked up the promotion and before Amazon corrected the mistake 20,000 books were downloaded. (I would have been ecstatic if it were the first book as that was my plan, but if I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck. LOL!) I also learned during all of this that Amazon has changed its terms of service. Even if it price matched in error you are NOT due royalties from lost sales. Bummed me out it took them 5 full days to find out they had made an error. Fortunately, when it came off free this time the book continued to sell (as you can see on Amazon). The sales at B&N on the other hand, haven’t been the same since BLIND was offered free. And I’ve figured out why my books aren’t selling through Sony … I discovered the first book in the series is completely missing in their listings and the book descriptions of the other two are missing on the book pages. (Lesson learned: periodically check book pages at all vendors to check price and book info.)

So here are the approximate sales for May & June:

Amazon:
Blind Her With Bliss: 140 books = $240.00
Deceive Her With Desire: (20,000 free) 160 books = $310
Cheat Her With Charm: 137 books = $265

Barnes & Noble:
Blind Her With Bliss: Distributed through Smashwords (so it can be offered free)
Deceive Her With Desire: 56 books = $109
Chear Her With Charm: 39 books = $77

Smashwords (approximations since reporting is inconsistent here):
Apple: 186 books
B&N: 1187 (free and $.99 Blind Her With Bliss books)
Diesel: 12 books
Kobo: 43 books
Sony: 2 books
$700 across all venues

Self-publishing these books was a great decision for me. I don’t regret it at all. With formatting and uploading becoming more user-friendly it’s getting easier to publish direct. I don’t see any reason why an author wouldn’t want to include self-publishing in their marketing plan. My sales are steadily growing. And yes, self-publishing is a marathon. But this impatient over-achiever always wanted to be a sprinter even if it meant jumping a few hurdles.

Check back next month to see how my sales are going. If all goes well (and luck is on my side) Amazon will stop being so stubborn and finally price match all the other sites and the first book in my series will be offered free at all retailers boosting sales for the other two books.

When a book is put up on Amazon, whether directly by a traditional publisher or an indie author, Amazon offers the opportunity to make the e-book “lendable”. Unless you choose the 70% royalty option and then it’s not an option … it’s required.

I’ve always thought this was a great idea. What better way for a new reader to find my books than to have someone “share” it, even from their kindle?

When I first published with a digital publisher, kindles were a mere twinkle in Amazon’s eye. A high majority of readers enjoyed their digital books on their laptops … e-books they received via email. Even back then authors were aware that legitimate readers forwarded files to friends and vice versa. Was it illegal? Of course. Did it stop them? Nope. And you know why? Because these friends generally went out and bought other books by that author. Thereby taking one sale and turning it into several. (I did hear from one author whose over-enthusiastic reader actually emailed an ebook to every person in her address book … oops. Okay, so that didn’t work out for that author. And therin was the problem. One file could be forwarded an unlimited number of times.)

Lending is a little different. And lending is not pirating. Let me repeat. Lending is very different from pirating. Pirating is uploading a book to a torrent site and making unlimited copies available to anyone for free. It is illegal and authors lose thousands of dollars a year to these thieves. (Though many argue that those frequenting pirate sites wouldn’t buy a book anyway. So it’s not really a sale lost. Either way, we’re not talking pirates today…)

Lending allows a reader to purchase a book and loan it ONCE to one person for 14 days. During the lending time the book is not available on the purchaser’s kindle. Again, this sounds like a great perk for kindle owners. As an author, I can only hope that the person borrowing the book will love it so much they’ll buy their own copy for their “keeper” shelf or perhaps buy another couple of my books.

The reason this particular program came to my attention last week is that there are now sites popping up like virtually libraries. A kindle reader can register at these sites and list books they have to “lend”. Or they can request a title to “borrow”. It’s still one purchase = one borrow, but much more global than immediate family or friends.

Some authors are feeling very noodgie about the this … others not so much.

What about you? As a reader do you borrow books from your friends? Have you found new authors this way? If you’re an author, how do you feel about the lending program? Of course I asked, I’m curious about stuff like this.

Have I ever mentioned how hard it is to write a book? I mean getting from Once upon a time to They rode off into the sunset is not only a difficult process … doing it well takes a lot of brain energy! (Well, for me anyway.)

There are all kinds of people who believe they have a book in them. Very few sit down to actually give it a try. A smaller number of those who try ever get to the end. A small portion of those that finish actually edit their story and send it out or publish it themselves. That’s an itty bitty bit of the population who actually have books available to readers.

And there are hundreds of thousands of readers out there looking for their next book to read. When they’re surfing Amazon or B&N do you think they care if it was published through a big NY publisher, a small press or if it was self-published? Okay, yeah so some of them do, but there’s a huge majority of readers with kindles and nooks and iPhones (and a whole bunch of devices I know nothing about) who are downloading books onto these devices and all they really want is to be entertained for a few hours.

And if the readers don’t care how the book they’re reading got to be published … why would another author?

I’ve only been in this publishing world for 7 years. In the grand scheme of things I’m just a toddler. I’ve never written a manuscript long hand. I’ve never typed my manuscript on a typewriter and piled the accumulated pages. I’ve never worried if the print on my computer was set so there was exactly 250 words a page (because a publisher wanted to know how many pages a book would be in the print version). I’ve never gotten my edits through the mail with red editing marks on my printed manuscript. My “call” came in the form of an email. I even signed my first contract electronically.

But even in the short time period since I began this journey, publishing has changed.

When I published my first full novel with a digital only publisher, many writers (and Romance Writers of America) felt I wasn’t really published. I can’t tell you how many people looked down their nose at me even as I cranked out eight books in two years. It took years for many people to realize e-books were here to stay. I think it began right about the day that Oprah announced on her television show that she’d discovered a Kindle. Oh, well if Oprah said …

Yeeeeah, I’ve already been through an “us vs them” attitude.

And you know what? It’s starting all over again. Only this time it’s “traditional” publishing (meaning NY authors who have chosen to sign a contract with an advance and a print book) throwing stones at the self-published (also called indie-published) faction. Oh, and don’t get me wrong, the name calling, hair pulling and clawing is going both ways. There are some big name authors who have blog posts claiming all self-published authors put out unedited drivel with no entertainment value. There are indie authors claiming all traditionally published authors are literary snobs.

Really? All?

Let’s face it, with so many people reading, everyone feels there is crap on both sides of the publishing aisle. And the fact is … what one person sees as crap another sends to the top seller list. (50 Shades? Twilight? Hunger Games? Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?) There are authors that are auto-buys for me, but a friend would never pick up.

This whole thing is really dividing the author community and I just want to scream WHY? On the one hand authors are some of the most giving people I know. There have been many who have helped me when I didn’t understand the publishing process. Many who critiqued and taught and took time to point me in the right direction. But they can also be some of the most stubborn, judgmental people I know.

Just this week I put out a long post about all the roads to publishing a book. Do I care how someone gets their book published? No. Do I feel they’re only valid if their agent got them a six figure advance? No. (Though I will be just a taaaad envious for a little while.) Do I care if an author’s success came from books they self-published? No.(Though again with a short pause to entertain my envy that they just bought a new BMW with their last royalties.)

I’m really sick of people pointing fingers and being angry and screaming that one way is more right than another and saying mean things about other authors. Really? What right does someone have to tell another author what’s right for their writing career. They don’t. And I’m not even sure why they would want to spend the time trying.

I’m a scientist in my soul and a teacher at heart. I research and I share. I don’t judge. I answer questions when asked and support when needed. I’m not interested in taking sides. And I’m getting really tired of people who do.

***NOTE I guess I’m not alone. Check out this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and this post by Dean Wesley Smith and an open letter by Anna Elliot. Guess LOTS of authors are tired of this finger pointing and name calling.

Seven years ago when I began this writing journey my vision of how a book would go from my imagination to a manuscript to the readers’ hands seemed like a pretty well-worn path. The whole author —-> agent —-> publisher direction was the only avenue I understood.

Enter digital books and small presses and publishers who read manuscripts without having them submitted by an agent. Suddenly the publishing world opened up and more authors were jumping up and down over signing their first contract. Many (including Romance Writers of America) were appalled by the lack of advances. They felt authors weren’t making good business decsions or worse yet, that they were treating their writing career as a “hobby”. But the truth is, with a higher royalty rate, authors (including me) were pleased with their contracts.

Then along came a respectable way to self-publish (called indie-publishing by some) and the world exploded for authors. There were authors talking about leaving their jobs to write full time and others talking about making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Not just the NYT and USA bestselling, big name authors, but authors new to the publishing world (EL James anyone?) and exploding onto the scene.

Now, before I go any further, I need to explain that I’m one of those people who wants to have all the information I can gather before making a decision. I received 4 contract offers on the first book I published. I actually went through their author lists and emailed to ask several questions about their publisher. From the author’s responses (or lack thereof) I was able to make an informed decsion and signed a contract that fit me. This blog post is really just me sharing some current information. I would not presume to make any judgments about other author’s choices for publication nor am I trying to steer people away from traditional publishing. I’m just throwing out some food for thought.

As far as traditional publishing, there may not be a better time to have your manuscript read. Recently, I’ve seen several publishers putting out calls for submissions. I suspect it may be due to the fact that slush piles aren’t quite as high with all the authors self-publishing. And if you choose that avenue, just go in with your eyes open. Not all traditional publishers are created equal. Ann Voss Peterson gives a great run down of her Harlequin vs self publishing experience. And Courtney Milan also gives a great accounting of her Harlequin and self-published book royalties and expenses. It’s easy enough to find out information about other publishers by simply asking around.

Maybe the disadvantages of traditional publishing outweigh the advantages for you. And you’re wondering .. Why wouldn’t I self publish? The answers are as individual and varied as authors. I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of traditional vs self-publishing. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has done a great job in THIS POST blogging about the differences between the two publishing options. (It’s really a wonderful post and totally worth reading if you have a manuscript and you’re sitting on the fence trying to decide what you want to do with it.)

So why did I choose to go the self-publishing route? For one, I had books whose rights reverted back to me after their contract expired at my first publisher. I didn’t think they fit at my other publisher and frankly, I didn’t have any solid reason not to try. As it turned out, self-publishing has been the financial boon I hadn’t quite achieved with my publishers. Yes, I’m still submitting and publishing traditionally, but I’m also choosing to spread my business across the self-publishing venue. With my last royalty statement from my publisher it’s become apparent that sales of my Tilling Passions Series has prompted sales of other books. Readers around the world are finding my books and that’s a very cool thing. But mostly it makes me happy because, for the first time in my career, my ledger is running in the black and I’m only 6 months into 2012!

I’m not shy in encouraging authors to give self-publishing a try. I know it made my knees quake before I actually ventured into the waters. But now that I’m there I’ve got to tell you, the swimming is easy and the water is refreshing. Am I saying I won’t pursue a NY contract? I’m not sure. Right now I don’t seem to have the patience to sit and write that novel that would fit the NY market. With everything going on in my life, my muse doesn’t seem to want to settle down. But with all the changes in publishing, I’m willing to stay flexible enough to take my career in the direction that works best for me.

What about you? Are you comfortable where you’re sitting right now? Are you looking to make changes or is status quo working for you? You know me, I’m curious about stuff like that.

 

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