Archive for February, 2017

Troubleshooting: Avoiding Scams

So, Squiders, this is our final post about submitting and publishing for the nonfiction book. I’ll take a few weeks off of the nonfic books after this, and then we can talk about whether or not we’d like to do another one or not.

So, today, we’re going to talk about how not to get scammed. There are a lot of prospective authors out there, and, unfortunately, there are also plenty of people willing to take money to prey on people’s dreams. While the rise of the Internet has helped authors immensely (usually a Google search can be enough to avoid some of the worst), there’s still some points to be salient about to keep yourself safe.

In Traditional Publishing, Money Flows to the Author

If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, this is essential to remember. If a publisher or an agent asks for money up front, this is a big red flag. There is no such thing as a “reading fee” or a “printing fee.” In traditional publishing, nobody gets paid until a book is published. Then the publisher takes their cut, the agent takes their cut, and the author gets their royalties.

Authors will occasionally get emails from various companies promising to publish them, but these are almost always scam companies. Legitimate publishers don’t have time to pull every author email they can find. Additionally, some agents may have connections with vanity publishers or editing services that can constitute a conflict of interest.

If you’re looking at an agent or a publishing house and something looks fishy, ask other authors. Many writing communities have spaces where authors can ask if people have used a person or a company and what their impressions were. There are also sites that keep track of potential scams, such as Writer Beware.

In Self-Publishing, Make Sure You’re Getting Your Money’s Worth

Self-publishing requires the author to be in charge of a lot of different aspects of publishing, and it can be a good idea to hire a professional for different aspects to help put out a quality product. But there are a million and a half companies out there that offer services to self-published authors, and it can sometimes be hard to tell legitimate companies from scammers or people who just simply don’t know what they’re doing.

The best way to make sure you’re working with someone with the necessary professional know-how is to ask other authors for referrals. Happy authors are more than willing to share the contact information for someone who’s done right by them, especially since many cover artists/editors/proofreaders are also one-person businesses and they like to see them succeed. You don’t need to talk to other authors directly if you don’t know many; many authors will talk about services they used on their blogs or list them in their books or on their website. Writing communities are also a good place to ask for recommendations.

Once you have some referrals, check out those people/services in depth. For cover artists, look at other covers they’ve done and see if you think their style will work for your book. For editors or proofreaders, you can ask for a sample page (or three) and see if you like their editorial style and if you think they’ll be good to work with. If you’re looking at hiring someone for a blog tour or another marketing campaign, you can normally look at campaigns they’re actively running and see how they’re going. Make sure you’re informed and know your costs/budget up front.

Self-publishing is also pretty easy to DIY these days. You’ll find services that will take over the “technical” aspects of publishing for you, such as uploading your book on to Amazon, but these are unnecessary, as it is pretty straightforward to do this yourself. A cheaper and better alternative, if you feel you can’t manage on your own, is to hire a self-publishing coach who will teach you the process so you can do it yourself in the future. Companies are willing to take money for just about any aspect of the self-publishing process. A bit of research to see if a service is needed, or if you can do it yourself, can be very helpful.

It also doesn’t hurt to be generally aware of the range of price for various services. That way if someone is much higher (or lower) than average, it can be a sign of something being a bit off. This is not always true; some highly experienced service providers may charge more because you’re getting a higher quality service, while many artists and editors who are starting out may not be aware of market prices or may be starting out at lower prices to build their client base/portfolio. Again, this is where talking to other authors can be beneficial.

Contests

It can be hard to pick out scam contests from legitimate ones, since many contests do charge some sort of entrance fee (which at least partially goes to paying out the prizes for said contest). Again, doing your research is key here. Ask other writers, make sure the organizations running the contest are legitimate and not tied to previous controversies, make sure there’s no strings attached to “winning” (a common scam is to make buying a certain number of copies of the “winners’ anthology” a requirement of publishing, and then charging $50 a book), see if they list previous years’ winners on their website, etc.

Avoiding scams across the board involves doing your research, reaching out to other authors, and paying attention to potential warning signs.

Missing anything, Squiders? Anything confusing?

Troubleshooting: No One’s Buying

Self-publishing can be a lot of work–not only do you have to write the book, but you have to be in charge of editing, proofreading, securing a cover, distribution, and marketing. So it can be depressing if sales are slow or non-existent. What are some things you can do to try and help boost your sales?

Check Your Product

The first step is to make sure you’re putting out a story that is in good shape, not one that’s riddled with typoes, stray punctuation, obvious plot holes, bad formatting, or anything else that makes your book look low quality or amateur. If you find yourself consistently getting bad reviews, or if reviews are consistently pointing out the same issue, it may be worth it to take your story off of being on sale and do another round of beta reading or editing. Some distributors will let people who have bought your book know when you put out a new version.

Check Your Market

It can be hard to know where to put your story when there’s fifteen million different categories available. It doesn’t hurt to look at books that are similar to yours and see what categories they’re listed in, and whether or not they’re performing well in those categories. With online distribution, it’s easy to test out different, related categories to see which ones work the best for your story. You can also tweak your keywords to see if that helps you gain traction. Getting your book where the right readers can come across it can be a lot of the battle.

NOTE: If you do marketing research, you’ll probably hear advice about putting your book into more niche markets to increase its rankings. While this can be a good strategy, make sure the categories are still appropriate to your book or you’re not going to be doing yourself–or your book–any good, and you might actually do some harm.

Check Your Marketing Strategy

It can be helpful–and some people would argue essential–to set up a marketing plan before you release a book. This is a place where you keep track of your different marketing techniques as well as how successful different things have proven to be. You can also keep track of reviewers and your budget, if you have one.

When I make a marketing plan, I often do waves of marketing, such as indicating which activities are pre-launch, during launch, or post launch. I also keep track of activities to try if my initial efforts don’t seem to be working the way I’d like them to. If your sales aren’t what you’d like them to be, it may not hurt to follow some book marketing podcasts or blogs, or to take a webinar or two on techniques that sound interesting to you. That way you can tweak your marketing strategy and hopefully find something that works for you.

Many authors consider marketing to be the hardest part of self-publishing, and it can be hard to find which strategies work best for you. Be open to trying new things if they appeal to you. And when doing research, try to stick to articles and books that aren’t older than a few years, as what works in book marketing changes relatively quickly.

NOTE: If you really hate some aspect of marketing–like, for example, Twitter–don’t force yourself to do it. You’ll be miserable, it’ll be a waste of your time, and your dislike will come through to the readers you’re trying to reach. It’s better to focus your time on something you like to do.

Am I missing anything here, Squiders? Anything else you’d recommend checking if your sales are low?

See you on Thursday!

Troubleshooting: How Many Rejections are Too Many?

All right, Squiders! Let’s get into the troubleshooting portion of submission and publication, which will be the last section included here on the blog. Please let me know if this book blogging thing is working for you, and if you’d like me to continue with the other books.

Today we’re going to talk about how many rejections are too many. Rejections fall into the following categories:

  • No response
  • Form rejection
  • Personal rejection/Send others
  • Revise and resubmit

As a quick recap,  no response means exactly what it sounds like–you send your story/query off to a publisher or agent, and never hear anything again. Emails to follow up go similarly unanswered. A form rejection is a basic rejection that agents/publishers send out when it’s a definite no. These two kinds can be very discouraging, because they give you, the author, no information. Was your query/story bad? Was it good but not a good fit? Did they like aspects of it, but they’re too busy to send feedback along with the rejection?

A personal rejection means the publisher/agent took the time to go off-script from their form rejection to give you some feedback. This can be things like aspects they liked about your story along with things they didn’t, it can be a note that they liked the story but do not have room for it in their current line-up, etc. In some cases, the agent/publisher may ask you to consider them in the future for other stories.

A revise and resubmit means that the agent/publisher will seriously consider picking up your story if you make some specific changes to it. This is very promising–it means you’re close–but you will have decide if you’re willing to make the changes asked for, especially since this isn’t a guarantee of representation or publication.

So perhaps the question shouldn’t be “How many is too many?” but “What kind of rejections are you getting?”

For a short story, if you’re regularly getting personal rejections or requests to send other stories, that’s a good sign. You may just need to keep trying. For novels, if your query is regularly getting partial requests, that’s also a good sign, because it means that your query letter is working.

With a novel, you can often tell where, if anywhere, the process is falling apart. If you get partial requests with a query but not with a query plus five pages, then your beginning may need tightening. If your partials are spawning fulls regularly, then your writing is probably fine, but your plotting may be off. Many agents/publishers will send feedback if they’re rejecting a full, however, so this can be helpful.

If you’re routinely getting the same comments, that might be something to consider updating.

But if you’re getting no responses or form rejections, you may need to consider that something might be wrong with either your querying materials or your story itself. If you haven’t had the story critiqued or beta read, you should consider doing so. Critiquers or beta readers can be invaluable for helping figure out if there’s problems with a manuscript. If it’s the querying material that’s getting you rejected, many writing forums have areas where you can get help and feedback on queries and synopses. Going to a local writers’ conference can also be helpful for that, as oftentimes these offer the opportunity to meet with agents or editors one on one.

So, let’s say you’re getting fairly regularly personal rejections/partial requests, have had your manuscript looked at by someone else and have vetted your querying materials run by other people. Then, how many rejections are too many? Well, on some level, this is a personal decision. Some people are lucky enough to have a story picked up after a few tries, but others have successfully sold a story after 100+ rejections.

But never wait on a story selling. Work on the next one, and if the current one doesn’t sell now, it might later when you have some publishing credits under your name. Or you might find that, as you learn as an author, you figure out an awesome way to fix the story.

Tuesday we’ll talk about issues with selling, for both self and traditionally published stories.

Smashwords’ Predictions for 2017

Hey Squiders, we’ll jump back into the nonfiction stuff on Thursday to answer the question “How many rejections is too many?” but for today, I’d like to share Smashwords’ 2017 predictions for the book industry with you. It’s kind of a sobering read, but I’d love to hear what you guys think and any trends you’ve noticed the past few years. As I mentioned when going over City of Hope and Ruin‘s marketing results last year, some of my go-to launch activities, such as advertising on Goodreads, no longer work as well as they used to, and I wonder if some of it comes from the number of books coming out/available these days.

Mark Coker (who runs Smashwords) also mentions that KDP Select has been a terrible thing for authors, and Kindle Unlimited is only making things worse. I don’t have much of an opinion on that as of yet–I’ve always gone wide with the exception of The Short of It, and since it’s been a week, I don’t have many stats to look at. People who have used KDP Select, do you like it? Have the changes that Amazon occasionally makes hurt you?

Anyway, here’s the article. It’s long, but it is an interesting read. Love to hear your thoughts!

A Break from the Madness

Woo, I feel like this week’s gone at a breakneck pace, Squiders. Aside from getting The Short of It out, here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • I’m in a musical! I think I’ve talked in the past about trying out for a local community theater, and this time they let everybody in. (I’m not joking–they really did cast everyone who tried out.) We’re doing Godspell, and there was an expectation that a good majority of us would be operating as a chorus, just singing in the back on bigger numbers and not doing much else. Ha. Haha. Oh no. Let’s just say I got over 5000 steps at rehearsal last night. Between the music (a harder version than the original), the choreography, learning to sign a whole song (my “solo,” as it were), and dialogue, this is taking up a lot of my time. We open in a little over a month.
  • I’m still working on my query letter for my YA paranormal. Well, I’m on a break, because I feel like each progressive version was getting worse instead of better. So right now I’m re-reading the book again with the plan to work on the synopsis. And then we’ll go back to the query.
  • I am working on the rewrite of Book One, but it is going really really slowly. I think I’m at ~2500 words after two weeks? The beginning felt really terrible but I read back over it and it’s not actually that bad. One of the things on my To Do list for today is to make a definite plan about when to work on it, which will probably consist of setting a specific time each day and figuring out how to distract the children during that time.
  • My Lovecraft story for the anthology goes pretty well. I’m on the feedback stage, and then I hope to do a final revision and turn it in early next week. I even have a title more or less picked out, which is sometimes the hardest part.
  • I continue to work on my serial, though I’m not posting it up at Wattpad quite as often anymore. It seems really hard to get visibility over there, and it’s just not something I can spend a lot of time on right now. Anyone have any tips for using Wattpad or reaching more people?
  • I wrote a short story for publication over at Turtleduck Press. It’s in review right now, and barring rejection, it should go up on March 1st.

And, of course, we’ve been working on the nonfiction book series here at the blog. How has that been feeling, Squiders? On my end, it feels nice to be getting some progress done on that front (especially because I started in January of 2015!) though it does kind of feel like it’s eaten the blog. And I am a bit worried about writing the parts that I’m not blogging, and getting everything organized, but we’ll worry about that when we come to it.

How are you doing, Squiders? Anything new and/or fun on your end?

The Short of It is Out!

Good morning, Squiders! The Short of It: Speculative Short Stories is now live and available to buy on Kindle. In celebration, I’ve also got Hidden Worlds, Shards, and City of Hope and Ruin on sale for a dollar!

Short of It cover

You can pick it up here! (Just a reminder that I’m trying KDP Select out on it, so for the moment, it’s only available on Amazon.)

The Short of It includes five short stories:

  • “Time Management” (science fiction)
  • “Doomsday” (science fiction)
  • “The Knight in the Lobby” (fantasy)
  • “The Door in the Attic” (horror)
  • “To the Waters and the Wild” (magical realism)

And if you want to grab the rest of my books at 20-33% of their normal price:

  • Hidden Worlds (YA fantasy adventure) – Margery Phillips finds a magic door and then manages to screw everything up.
  • Shards (Urban fantasy) – Eva Martinez just wants to figure out what to do with her life. Instead she gets embroiled in a millennia-old conflict.
  • City of Hope and Ruin (High fantasy) – Theo’s City is infested with monsters, with nowhere to ruin. Briony’s home is threatened by the mutilated Scarred from the North. Their only salvation may be each other.

The sale on the novels is only for today, so grab ’em while you can!

Self-publishing Novels (Physical books)

Okay, squiders, today we’re going to talk about how to self-publish physical books–hardbacks and paperbacks. And then we’ll get into troubleshooting, and then I’m going to have to write the rest of this book on my own, ahahaha. But we’ll do a poll to see which nonfic topic we want to discuss next when we’re done with this one.

Self-publishing physical books falls into two categories:

  • Print-on-Demand (hereafter referred to as POD)
  • Batch printing

The names refer to the amount of books printed at any one point in time. In both cases, you will need for format your book for print, or hire someone to do it for you. It is easier to create paperback versions of self-published books, but some companies do allow you to pay for the added expense of doing a hardback version.

When formatting your book for print, you will need to determine the trim size, which is the size of the book. There are some industry standards, but there is also some variation and you can pick whichever you feel will work best for your book. For example, if you’d like to make a shorter book look more substantial, you could go with a smaller trim size to get more pages. You will also need to determine font size and type. Some fonts are more readable and considered more standard, though you can again get away with some variation as long as the font is easy to read. Mass media paperbacks tend to have smaller font, while hardbacks tend to have larger.

You will also need a cover. Some POD services offer cover creators, which allow you to create a cover on the website, but be aware that your options will be limited to stock font and images, unless the creator allows you to upload your own. You will need the full wrap-around cover (front cover, spine, back cover) so it’s important to do the interior formatting first so you know how many pages the book is going to be and can base your cover dimensions on that. Also be aware that you will need a high quality image so that it doesn’t look grainy or pixelated when printed.

You will also need to consider buying an ISBN. These can be bought individually or in packs of 10. Each new edition will need its own ISBN (for example, a hardback edition would need a different ISBN than a paperback edition) and if you plan to publish several books, the packs are a better deal. Some POD or batch services offer deals to let you buy ISBNs through them, though these may have some limitations as to where they can be used.

Print-on-Demand

How POD works is that your manuscript is uploaded onto a POD service’s website, complete with formatting and cover. When someone wants to purchase your novel, a single (or however many that particular order is for) copy of said novel is created and shipped.

You can work directly with a POD service, or some publishing services companies will deal with it for you. There is a minimum cost per book, usually based on how many pages your novel is, what type of paper you want to use, trim size, and whether you want color in the interior of the book. You must pick a sale price at or above this minimum price.

Some common POD services include, but are not limited to:

  • CreateSpace
  • Ingram Spark
  • Lulu
  • Lightning Source

Some services will charge a set-up fee for the initial set-up, or may charge a yearly fee to continue carrying the book. The quality of printed book also varies between different services. For example, CreateSpace is a popular POD option because they easily let you list your book for sale on Amazon, but there have been complaints about the quality of the books. Some authors use a combination of CreateSpace for its Amazon connections and then a different POD service for other retailers or for books for conventions or book signings.

POD is popular with many authors because it requires little or no upfront costs and because authors don’t need to keep a large stock of their own books on hand. Many publishers, especially small presses, also use POD technology for their titles.

Batch printing

The other method for getting physical copies of a self-published novel is batch, or bulk, printing. This is where several copies of the book are printed all at once, which usually results in a lower overall cost per book. Like POD, you will need to have your book formatted for print beforehand (though many printers also offer formatting services) and have a cover ready (though, again, this may be a service offered). Some printers may only offer books in select sizes, so make sure your formatting matches what’s available. Some printers may have a minimum number of books per order (such as 25 or 100). If you need a large amount of books, this is the way to do it.

There are many different companies that offer this service. There may even be local companies you can use, in which case you can avoid paying for shipping. If possible, ask to see a finished book so you can check binding quality, printing quality, and cover quality.

People who move a large amount of books will find this method much more cost effective. However, you will need to deal with distribution yourself unless you pay a service to do it for you, and if you buy more copies than you sell, you may find yourself having to store a large amount of books with no easy way to sell them.

Did I leave anything out, Squiders? Anything you have questions on?

Also, just a reminder that The Short of It comes out tomorrow! I’ve also got Shards and Hidden Worlds on sale at Amazon for tomorrow (and might have City of Hope and Ruin though I am checking with Siri before I do anything there) for a dollar. I’ll post specifics tomorrow.

Happy Tuesday, squiders!