self-publishing

open books, grass

Creating and Fulfilling Expectations: Books as Products or Works of Art

The book as product: specific word count, story arc, number and types of characters, type of ending, and a cover suited to the genre. It may help its author make a living. Or it may not.

The book as work of art: whatever gives the writer the feeling of having a hand on the lever of creation. It may or may not become a “classic.” A posthumous one.

This is what happens when I’ve been reading too many “how to do it right” posts for writers. (Snarky aside: Judging by the vast amounts of advice we need, we writers are self-indulgent, impractical airheads, fumbling our way through the real world.)

The author of a recent such post expressed acute distress (“I almost cried!”) when a writer admitted they didn’t know the target audience for their book.

OK, all you writers hiding behind your computer screens, is this you? You don’t write your novels for a defined demographic? Well, I suppose YA authors do, but what about the rest of us? I certainly don’t. I feel a ghostly reader peering over my shoulder as I write, but I don’t know anything about them except they’re reading my book and I owe them a good experience.

I write from a need to embody in written language the stories churning in my brain. That’s what makes me sit down and crank out the words, not a market survey that indicates a taste for a specific type of novel in a particular slice of the population.

“What if they find out that … ?” and “Let me tell you how it happened. There was this thing–” These are the sources of story. Not market studies.

Many indie authors see their writing and publishing as a business. Authors with contracts to traditional publishers are nudged to deliver the correct book-shaped products with cover images accurately labelling their genres. Products must be packaged to match customer needs and expectations. That’s totally fine and logical.

Trouble is, not every writer thinks of the books they write as “products,” even if they publish them using the same platforms as do businesslike, marketing-oriented indies. Today, publishing takes many forms.

As they prepare to publish, writers may find it helpful to examine their intentions and expectations. In private, in secret if necessary. Do you want to sell a million copies? Be #1 on some list? Connect with a few readers, a secret society of people like you? Achieve perfection? Become famous? Just be able to call yourself a “published author”? Produce a printed book you can hold in your hands and post pictures of on social media? Every writer fits into one of these categories, or the infinity of spaces between them.

As in other areas of life, it helps to know what you want and act accordingly, with your expectations set to “realistic.” Then you can read and absorb only the advice that’s relevant to you, and cheerfully ignore the rest.

Despite all the expert advice, there are many indies who don’t conform, whose books straddle genres, or mix them up, or don’t belong to any genre at all. What about all those off-beat or zany cover images? (Airheads, right?) From experience I can say those books aren’t all terrible and worthless. Some are excellent, but prospective readers have to be adventurous and take a chance. Think farmers’ market or craft fair, not big box store. Spend a dollar or three and maybe discover a new and wonderful reading experience.

Until the end of July you can do just that at the Smashwords Store. The Summer/Winter Sale continues until July 31st. My books may be found here.

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gargoyle grumpy

Retread #2: Editors and Credibility

Several years ago I read a lot of spirited discussions on a LinkedIn writers’ group which no longer exists. I suspect it self-immolated. Here’s a post from early 2013. Grumpiness warning!

Since joining LinkedIn’s Fiction Writers’ Guild last year, I’ve wasted — er, spent a lot of hours reading and occasionally commenting on several discussions. They are all about fiction writing and increasingly about self-published fiction. Inevitably, the topic of editing comes up. Someone opines that of course a self-published work must be substandard if the author has skipped the all-important step of having their work “professionally edited.” In the throes of one of these debates, someone said, “A writer who edits him- or herself has a fool for a client,” echoing a similar opinion about people who represent themselves in a court of law.

I found this statement quite provocative and felt a Rant coming on. Several weeks have passed and now I can offer a few temperate observations.

First of all, I will say that a writer who has contracted with a “traditional” publisher to publish their work has no choice in the matter of being edited. Since the publisher is investing their time and treasure in the work, it is entirely logical that they should shape the product in whatever way they believe is necessary. I’ll say no more about this. This screed is entirely about self-published works.

“Editing” is not a monolithic process. There is structural or developmental editing, in which the editor suggests getting rid of characters or giving specific characters more important roles. Entire scenes or chapters may be cut, or new ones written. The entire novel may be rewritten. This is huge and fundamental stuff. To me it makes sense that structural editing happen[s] early in the writing process. A writer who is having trouble making their story come to life as envisioned may well need a structural edit.

Line and copy editing happen in the final stage of a manuscript’s life, to deal with things such as typos, grammatical problems and continuity.

Freelance editors with connections in the traditional publishing industry may be worth paying for, but I suspect they are in a position to command high prices and be selective as to which writers they take on — just like agents.

So who is a “professional editor?” Anybody. There is no accrediting body or degree-granting authority for editors. Like writers, they create their reputations by pursuing their craft. Success comes in the form of recognition by readers, writers and peers. And as with writers, just because someone calls themselves an editor doesn’t mean they are any good at it. Writers who want to hire an editor to help them structure their work or provide the professional polish are advised to use a process similar to that of hiring a contractor to do renovations on their house — request references and ask to see samples of their work. Someone suggested getting test pieces edited and going with the one you like best, but given some of the opinions expressed on LinkedIn, my suspicious self wondered if the opposite approach wouldn’t be better. We writers are a self-castigating bunch.

Here I’m getting into Rant territory again. Perhaps because the current abundance of self-published fiction includes quite a lot of naive, or unpolished, or — to be quite frank — “bad” writing, some people have decided that all self-published writers are childish, self-indulgent seekers of adulation, brainlessly inflicting half-baked textual travesties on the overburdened reading public. They need to be whipped into shape by Editors.

Like all sweeping condemnations, this bugs me. Which is why I’m writing this.

Back to that “fool for a client” remark. I disagree with that 100%. I think anyone who wants to call themselves a writer should also know how to edit. It’s part of the package.

Another thing to keep in mind is that independent, self-published authors are just that — independent. Unlike editors who work for publishing houses, they are not obliged to create a marketable “product” that will show a return on investment in a limited time. The self-published writer decides how much of their time and treasure they are going to invest in their work, and what constitutes success. Options for editing include critique groups, beta readers and endless rewriting.

In the end, what is the worst consequence of publishing a flawed, unpopular or obscure piece of writing? If it’s an e-book, it will cost the reader no more than a few dollars (less than $5 in many cases) and however much time they are prepared to spend reading until they decide a book isn’t for them. That happens all the time with traditionally published books — even so-called “best-sellers” — bought for considerably more money. And at least an unwanted ebook can be disposed of with the push of a button. It won’t be cluttering up anyone’s shelf or taking up space in the landfill.

Happy Holidays greeting, robins at cotoneaster

Good Wishes to All

To all the bloggers I’ve grown to know over the past few years — you’ve visited, liked, commented, and reblogged. Some of you have read and reviewed my books, and I’ve read and reviewed some of yours.

To writers — inspiration, time to write, and success with the WIP.

To bloggers — ideas for great posts, and lots of likes and follows.

To self-publishers — good (or at least decent) reviews. And sales, of course. And to those of you who dare to do your own editing, formatting, and/or cover design, success with your DIY projects.

To readers — a TBR pile full of delights, and time to read them.

To gardeners — enough sun, enough rain, and may your garden be blessed with earth magic.

To everyone — peace, good health, and good will.

2 free days for the KDP how-to books

The first of these 2 books is one I cited in my recent post on formatting your book for print publication. It’s really helpful, so here’s your chance to acquire it for free!

Meeka's Mind

I should probably stretch these promotions out but…meh, let’s have some fun. 🙂

Okay, from October 23 to 24 [2 days], the ebook version of How to Print Your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing and How to Print Non-Fiction with Kindle Direct Publishing will be free on Amazon:

The difference between the two books is that the How to…Novel is pitched at absolute beginners while the How to Non-Fiction is for self-publishers who have to deal with lots of graphics. Oh and the How to Non-Fiction has a new Index of Links at the very back. You can find it by looking at the bottom of the Table of Contents.

If you’re just interested in the KDP side of the equation, both books cover the same information. This includes three appendices that contain information specifically for Aussie authors.

Both how-to books are in colour and fixed layout:

Although you can…

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She Who Comes Forth book spine

Printed Book DIY

Okay, authors are advised not to do this — design your own cover images, especially for the printed versions of your books. But I did it. Maybe it was the allure of the forbidden. Or maybe it was inevitable, because this whole writing and publishing adventure started with me telling myself, “Think of it as an exercise, not a commitment. Try it and see what happens.”

When I published my first ebooks, almost a decade ago, my home made cover images were indeed lame. After a couple of years I commissioned excellent professionally designed images, which still grace the four books of my Herbert West Series. They were not inexpensive. (“Good, fast, cheap — pick two!”)

A couple of years ago, I started using Canva, just to see whether it was as easy as some said. After some experimentation, I designed cover images for the four short spinoff stories from my main series, published in 2016. Since I intended to make them perma-free, it didn’t make any sense to pay for cover images, and I was happy with the results, although compared to the professional designs, their amateur origin is evident.

She Who Comes Forth print book front coverBy the time my latest novel, She Who Comes Forth, was ready to come forth, I had designed more than half a dozen images for it. Fooling around with Canva is fun, and was a great way to do something related to my (then) work in progress when I didn’t feel like actually writing. After I finalized my final design, part of me could hardly wait to start on the challenge of incorporating it into a cover for the print version of the novel. This was while I was still waffling about publishing in print at all, and a bit apprehensive at the prospect of formatting the Word doc for POD.

So here we are, a couple of months later, and the print version of SWCF exists. I have ten copies right here, nine of which are still in the box with the Amazon smile. And all in all, I’m pleased with it. (I still have all my hair, too.)

The print book may be purchased at your preferred Amazon outlet. This one, for example. The ebook version of She Who Comes Forth will be available on November 7th, and may be pre-ordered now at a special price.

For those who might be foolhardy bold enough to attempt a similar project, here are a few things I learned that others may find helpful. One thing I’ve noticed about documentation, instructions and “help” pages — sometimes they omit tiny but crucial details. I don’t pretend to be an expert, and many of you may know all that stuff already, or have no desire to get into this type of project, so this is for the rest of you. FYI on DYI.

Word Document Formatting:

Amazon KDP provides a pretty good basic formatting guide. And you can usually find good help pages on the internet for most Word issues. This one, for example, tells you how to set up different headers and footers on odd and even pages.

Here are a few of my own personal tips:

First, find a trad-pubbed (or for that matter, indie-pubbed) book you like the looks of and use it as a model for interior design, preliminary pages, presence/absence of headers and page numbers,  etc. Then all you have to do is figure out how to get those effects in your Word document.

Second, make sure your text is perfect (or as close as you can get) before you start formatting. Adding or deleting more than a character or two can mess things up once you’ve inserted Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers.

She Who Comes Forth book chapter heading with moon glyphThird, add your preliminary pages (half-title, title page, epigraph and or dedication pages) and any “extras,” such as the moon glyphs I added to every one of the chapter titles. (They actually represent the moon phases in Luxor, Egypt in 1962 as the story progresses.) Decide on the trim size for your book (6×9 inches, for example), specify the paper size and set the margins. KDP’s “Build Your Book” guide has instructions for these steps, and even little videos you can view as many times as you need to.

Now for the ultimate challenge — Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers. Use the magic of “Save As” before you start, so you have a pristine copy of your document up to that point. If things go wrong, you can scrap the mess and start again without having to go through the process of adding the preliminary pages, setting margins, etc.

Really, once you’ve set up the headers and footers for Chapter 1 (or Prologue, if you have one), it’s a matter of selecting the right type of Section Break between chapters and breaking the link with the Header in the previous section when you want to do something different, like omitting the odd page header from the first page of the new chapter. (See why this can involve hair-tearing and profuse cursing?)

Actually, it seemed to me that the latest version of Word makes the process easier than previous versions. Or maybe it was just because I’d struggled through all this stuff before. Whatever the reason, I found I could rely on a specific sequence of checks and choices as I paged through the document, like a little mental flow chart. It was encouraging to be able to reproduce the desired pattern reliably as I went along.

She Who Comes Forth book title page

The title page. I used Canva to create the picture in the middle (a separate little project). Then I inserted it into my Word doc.

Again, do NOT fiddle with anything that affects the space taken up by your text after you insert your Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers. That would be trim size, margins, font size, line spacing, adding or deleting more than a tiny amount of text. Get all that stuff finalized before you start on Section Breaks. If you really need to make any of those changes, return to your “before Section Breaks” document and make the changes there. Once you’re done, Save As, and start over. (Trust me, “Save As” is your friend.)

 

Finally, before you upload your document to KDP, save a copy in PDF form. That will show you exactly what your printed pages will look like. If there are problems (usually with headers and/or footers), you’ll spot them immediately and can return to your Word doc to fix them. Once everything looks good, you can actually upload your final, perfect PDF to KDP.

For a really thorough how-to guide on the entire print publishing process, I recommend How to Print Your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing: a step-by-step guide for absolute beginners, by ACFlory. It takes you through the formatting process in detail, with screenshots. This ebook is available on Amazon.

Cover Design:

Anyone who’s comfortable with Canva (and designing images) can create a credible print book cover. You probably wouldn’t want to make this your first experience of Canva (unless you’re a really quick study). Experiment first, getting used to layering images, using transparency, adding text, and moving stuff around. Create some ebook cover images. If you don’t actually have an ebook that needs a cover image, make some for books you mean to write. (The exercise might inspire you.) Once you know you can construct attractive images with the degree of complexity you need, you’re ready to tackle a print book cover.

Before starting, you need an interior book file that’s complete, perfectly formatted, and ready to upload, so you know how many pages your book will have. That determines the width of the spine. Once you know that and have selected a trim size, download a print cover template from Amazon KDP. Go to Canva and start a new project, with customized dimensions exactly right for your cover.  I found these instructions by Katherine Roberts very helpful, especially the calculations to set the custom size for your Canva project.

One of the cool things about Canva is that you can upload your own images to use in your designs. This is also where you upload your print cover template from KDP. By incorporating it into your design (temporarily), you can make sure to adhere to KDP’s specs for bleed and barcode placement.

If you use free images from a site like Pixabay for your cover design, remember to download the highest resolution versions. Images that don’t meet Amazon KDP’s fabled 300 dpi standard may cause your cover to be rejected. (This didn’t happen to me, I’m happy to say).

Select a background, and then layer the cover template over it.  (My background is that textured ochre colour on the spine.) Then proceed as usual, adding whatever elements you need for your front and back covers. Set the transparency so you can see the cover template and its all-important red border lines. For my cover, the spine was the only place where the cover template was the topmost layer (well, just below the spine text). This was important, because after I was finished adding all the elements, including text, and was certain nothing important was on or outside the red lines, I easily deleted the template. Don’t forget to do that, and do NOT move any text or important image elements once the template is gone. You can change filters, transparency, or colours, but don’t change fonts at this point, because that might change the size of text areas. When you’re done, download the image as a printable PDF, and upload both it and your text PDF to Amazon KDP. And rejoice.

 

 

Our Golden Age?

The early decades of the twenty-first century saw a great flowering of the literary arts, due in large part to the advent of self-publishing on the Internet. The writers called themselves Indie Authors. Many of them were members of the so-called Baby Boom generation, born between the end of the Second World War and the nineteen-sixties. With a high degree of literacy and egos inflated by the conviction that they were the first humans to experience anything worthwhile, many of them used their retirement years to write. Literary agents and publishers were overwhelmed by a flood of submissions from these eager wannabees. Mail rooms overflowed with manuscript boxes, fat brown envelopes and SASEs. Rejections issued forth, provoking incredulous disappointment. Technology came to the rescue, providing online publishing platforms that allowed the indies to elbow the weary gatekeepers aside and publish. Millions of ebooks and POD print books issued forth. Savvy entrepreneurs stepped up to provide services to the indies. Blogs multiplied and online literary salons proliferated.

Every now and then, I wonder what future scholars of literature might say about us indie author/publishers. The mainstream of traditional publishing gets lots of attention, but over the past decade, vast numbers of writers have been quietly publishing, blogging, debating, opining, reviewing, interviewing, and ultimately creating a Thing.

Will anyone, in the future, study, write about, and analyze our Thing? What will they call us? The Early 21st Century Indies? The Tsunami of Crap? Boomers Unbound?

Really, though, think about it: we create, we connect, we write and publish. We’re serious and sincere. Aside from the fact that most of this activity is carried on via the internet, there isn’t much difference between the current phenom and the literary movements of history. Salons, pamphlets, feuilletons, little magazines, and literary societies all have their online equivalents. This blog on which I’m holding forth right now continues the tradition of writers and thinkers using whatever means are at hand to share their thoughts.

Who knows what posterity will make of us? We may represent only the very beginning of a larger phenomenon. Or we may be a brief spark that vanishes into the current of history. Will our works be curated and preserved, or will their survival depend on pure accident amid some global catastrophe? To us, right now, it really doesn’t matter. The true value of the indie author movement to us indie authors is the connections we’ve made with one another by creating and sharing our works and ideas.

mind movie image

Let’s keep on creating our Thing, whatever it is!

hammer and anvil

 

Book & Brains image created with Canva

Hammer and anvil image courtesy of Pixabay

The Indie Author Manifesto by Mark Coker at Smashwords

 

Writing While Old

I had another birthday recently and celebrated two years of retirement a couple of days ago. I’m starting to think of myself as “older,” if not actually old. It seems most of the writers in my corner of the blogosphere are middle-aged or older. Younger writers must hang out somewhere else.

I knew all my life I wanted to write. Scenes and dialogue snippets would materialize in my mind, no doubt inspired by all the reading I did at the time. I kept a journal for decades, starting at age 13. I wrote poetry in my teens (who doesn’t?) and a little novel as a school project. I wrote essays and assigned papers in college, and memos and reports for my job. But I thought the only way to become a real writer was to make it a career choice at an early age, get a creative writing degree, live in a garret, and do nothing but write and hobnob with other writers. I missed my chance to do any of those things, so would never be a writer.

Until November 2000, when I finally thought, “Why not? Who’s going to stop me?” I had been nursing an idea for a novel for a couple of years. One day I started writing and haven’t stopped. The thrill of creation helped me finish that novel and write four more while I was still working full time. After diligent attempts to get published traditionally, I decided the only way that would happen was posthumously. The self-pub option came along just in time, as did blogging.

Am I a real writer? You bet. Am I a professional writer? No. I am lucky enough to have an adequate pension, so I have no need to make a living from my writing. (A good thing, too.) I have the freedom to decide what I write, and how I promote my writing. With time at my disposal, I can draw upon the experience, insights and wisdom of a lifetime to explore relationships and situations and spin them into stories.

Like most writers, old and not so old, self- or otherwise published, I write for the love of it. Some of the benefits are:

Learning stuff. I’ve learned how to create plots and characters, do research, rewrite and edit. I’ve learned how to wrestle Word documents into forms that can be turned into ebooks and printed books. I’ve put together some half-decent cover images. And I’ve maintained this blog for several years.

Personal connections. I’ve been a member of my local writers’ society since 2003, and several critique groups. That gets me out of the house and face to face with other writers and gives me the opportunity to read some of their writing and offer (I hope) helpful suggestions. I’ve also met some wonderful people through their blogs. (You know who you are).

An Active Mind. To keep my aging brain active, writing beats watching television, doing crossword puzzles, or working “brain gym” games. See “Learning stuff” above.

Books. Written, rewritten, edited, published, and available to readers. Unlike my younger self, thinking how I would never be a writer, now I am one.

Spark the imagination! Light that fire!

 

Fire adj2

Electric Eclectic

Guest Post: An Alternative to Free Ebooks

Just before Christmas, I read this post on Paul White’s blog. As you can see, it sparked some fairly diverse comments. In fact, I was so busy formulating my comment, I didn’t read the end of the post as thoroughly as it warranted.

Paul’s solution to the give-books-away-for-free marketing strategy deplored by the rest of his post is called Electric Eclectic Novelettes.

At this point, I’ll turn it over to Paul…

*~*~*

To quote that wonderful philosopher, Winnie the Pooh, “The beginning is a very good place to start.”

I was looking for a great book to read.

I finished reading the last book by my favourite author. It would be another year, maybe two, before his next book became available. This meant I needed to search for another book to read. I was even willing to stray from my usual genre to find an excellent read.

Easier said than done.

You would think, with over 45 million books on Amazon alone, finding a story to enjoy, a book you can immerse yourself in totally, would be a pretty easy thing.

But no, it is not.

You could look through the thousands of free books on offer. But… much of the time there are reasons books are offered for free, or heavily discounted, by their authors… and not all those reasons are good.

There is the uncertain quality and content of many of the full priced eBooks. Anyway, do you really want to commit spending your hard-earned cash to buy something you do not enjoy reading, or find the writer’s style is not to your taste?

It all makes choosing a ‘new to me’ author or selecting a book from a different genre a bit of a lottery.

That’s when I thought there must be a better way.

I asked myself, “HOW CAN YOU MAKE CERTAIN A BOOK YOU BUY WILL BE ONE YOU ENJOY?”

Electric EclecticThat’s when I had my eureka moment.

The result is Electric Eclectic Novelettes.

‘Electric’ because they are ebooks– digital, electric.

‘Eclectic’ for the various styles, genres and authors who write them.

And ‘Novelettes‘ to tell readers they are short, sample books, introducing readers to new authors and new genres.

Electric Eclectic (EE) books are written by various authors under the EE brand as introductory, sample works of each author’s writing style and narrative forms.

Each EE book is a short work of between 6k and 20k words.

A standardised price of just 1.00 (dollar/pound/euro) for each novelette, allows people searching for new reads to get to know our EE authors’ styles and narrative types before committing to purchase their full-length books and novels.

Offering these short works also lets people read examples of genres they may not have previously considered.

Electric Eclectic books are written by some of the best indie authors in the world. Each Electric Eclectic Novelette delivers wonderful and entertaining storytelling to a high standard.

All Electric Eclectic Novelettes undergo stringent assessment, ensuring the storytelling is of high quality, dismissing concerns generally associated with low cost or free eBooks. People searching for their ‘next favourite read’ can rest assured in the knowledge that Electric Eclectic Novelettes have undergone a rigorous selection process, ensuring the stories meet exacting standards.

This means you do not need to read through a bunch of substandard books, or spend money on a random book hoping you will enjoy its content. Say goodbye to ‘dodgy’, inferior writes.

Once you have found the right style of stories, the ones you love, you will have found your next favourite author and can start to work your way through their full-length books and novels knowing you thoroughly enjoy their writing.

Download a handful of Electric Eclectic Novelettes and give yourself a literary treat!

Electric Eclectic Novelettes are easy to find.

The first way is to visit the Electric Eclectic website where all the Novelettes are shown, along with author insights and links to their personal books and pages.

The second is to go to Amazon books and type ‘Electric Eclectic books’ into the search bar. (In the USA you will need the Amazon.com Kindle search page.)

Alternatively, if you are on Amazon.co.uk you can follow this link: http://amzn.to/2BnYe7u

Website link: https://goo.gl/q2zwTS  (This site is available to view, but not fully functional or edited. Estimated date of completion Mid-January 2018)

Email: EEbookbranding@mail.com

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More From Smashwords

A podcast series for writers intending to self-publish ebooks!

Details at the Smashwords Blog.

SmartAuthor Final Cover

Heads up. This Friday October 27 we’re kicking off the Smart Author Podcast!

Hosted by Mark Coker, The Smart Author Podcast guides writers step-by-step from the very basics of ebook publishing to more advanced topics. It’s a free masterclass in ebook publishing best practices.

Whether you’re new to publishing or you’re already a New York Times bestseller, the Smart Author Podcast will help you reach more readers. You’ll learn practical, no-nonsense advice on how to make your books more discoverable and more desirable to readers.