Archive for the ‘Self-publishing’ Category

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!

Why Self-Pubbed Books Get a Bad Rap

I always mean to read more self-published books. I’ve meant to for years. I feel like it’s important to be aware of what’s out there on the self-pubbed, indie, and traditional levels so I can be more informed and not look like an idiot when I talk to other people in the industry.

In that vein, I’ve been downloading free Kindle ebooks for years. However, I don’t use my Kindle very often and I haven’t touched a one of them. (I also download classics and the occasional free traditionally-pubbed book, and pick new books to read based on my mood.)

I may have never actually gotten around to it except I finally got around to looking at the Goodreads groups that I belong to, and I discovered that a couple of them offer read and review programs for all authors, self and indie and traditionally-pubbed, provided you can find a way to get an ebook copy to the volunteer reviewers for free. (I have Shards up for March.)

It’s a wonderful idea–authors get much needed eyes and feedback, and readers get free books. Now, I like free books as much as the next person, so when the group mods release the new books for the programs, I’ve been taking a look and volunteering when something catches my fancy. I’m in the middle of my second book that I’ve gotten through these programs, and both have been self-published.

And the editing is terrible. Both have editors mentioned on their copyright page, so I assume the authors paid someone to edit their book, and I am just horrified but how bad it is. Like, distractingly bad. I’ve read fanfiction with less punctuation errors. Some of it is content editing errors, such as saying the same thing two different ways, one right after the other, but most of it is grammar and punctuation. I don’t know if I’m more sensitive since I am an editor myself, but I can only take so many comma splices or improperly used semi-colons before I kind of want to set something on fire.

Part of me wants to write to the authors and implore them to find a better editor, someone who knows when they should use a comma versus a semi-colon and can discern if you’re using the right to/too/two.

But on the other hand, the guilt may not lie all with the editors. It’s why I almost prefer the authors I work with to not name me in the finished product. The thing about self-published works is that the author has the final say on everything. As an editor, I’ve made suggestions to authors that they’ve ignored. I’ve had authors who have rewritten all or part of stories after I’ve proofread them and published them without having them proofed again.

So maybe these people have perfectly creditable editors and just didn’t bother to go through a proper editing process before publishing their books. I don’t know. All I know is that if it were me, I’d be a little embarrassed at the quality of the book.

If you are self-publishing your book, please please please have someone proofread it before you publish it! I’m sure there are plenty of self-pubbed books out there that are just as clean as traditionally-pubbed books (which usually have a couple missing quotation marks and periods in them and are by no means perfect, but are mostly perfect), but my sampling thus far bodes ill.

How about you, Squiders? Do you read self-pubbed books too? What has your experience been like?

Looking Forward to 2012

Well, Squiders, now that we’ve got the year-end administrative stuff out of the way, we have a whole glorious new year in front of us, full of potential and hopes and dreams.

I’d like your feedback on what you’d like to see this year.  I’ll stick in a poll for ease, but if you have anything else you’d like to add in the comments, don’t be shy!  The Landsquid doesn’t bite, he has no teeth.

I’ll admit that I’m about out of subgenres, so I don’t know how much longer that will continue, but I have some ideas for fun things for the year.  Have at it!

Ebook Formatting for Self-Publishing

Ebooks!  Wave of the future!  Whether or not you prefer your novels cheap and virtual or paper, if you’re self-publishing these days you need to have your book on as many platforms as possible to reach the widest readership.  Ebooks are an excellent way for an unknown author to get their name out there, because it allows readers to try you out without investing a huge amount of money on you.

I spend a lot of my time formatting ebooks, as it’s one of the freelance services I offer.  (As you can see if you click the lovely ‘editing and formatting services’ tab above.)  Admittedly, formatting is a bit frustrating because the oddest little things will throw your book into chaos, but!  It is doable if you are patient and willing to spend time trolling internet message boards.  Or you can hire someone (like me) to do it for you if you are short on time/patience and don’t mind spending some money.

There are three ebook publishing venues you should be using (all are free, so if you’re not doing this you’re only cheating yourself):

1. Smashwords
Smashwords takes your Word document, converts it to a gazillion different formats and, as long as your book meets their standards, they’ll allow you not only to sell your book on their website, but will distribute it to pretty much every other ebook retailer out there, including the iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Sony, etc, etc, et al.  They’ll even create a version that will run on Amazon’s Kindle, though last I checked, it will not list your book on Amazon for you.  (Note: Smashwords is one of only a few ways to get into the iBookStore.  Lulu.com is another, and something you should look at if you are publishing a print version through them.)

However, Smashwords requires you to strip your book down, getting rid of almost all your formatting, to ease the conversion between platforms.  If you have something formatting-intensive, you might have issues meeting their standards, or you might find you cannot get your book to look like you want.

Smashwords offers a comprehensive formatting stylebook to help you meet their standards.

2. Amazon
The Kindle still owns a good majority of the ebook-reading public.  Plus it’s something to see your book listed for sale on Amazon.  Amazon offers authors a 70% royalty rate within a certain price range, which you really can’t go wrong with.

The Kindle is kind of a pain in the butt to format for, however.  Each Kindle book is, at its base, an HTML file.  (Not unlike a website.)  If you know how to program in HTML, good for you.  You are good to go.  There are some programs that you can use to convert your book to HTML (or .mobi or .prc, the other two file formats Amazon will accept) though they are a bit buggy and I recommend fixing the HTML after you’ve done so.  There’s Mobipocket Creator (which I prefer to use, because although it’s buggy, it’s easy to get into its guts to fix things) and Calibre (I honestly think it’s easier to program your entire document from scratch than use Calibre, but your mileage may vary).

If you want NCX files or a lot of pictures and you are not HTML proficient, I recommend hiring someone.  You will spend a lot of time trolling the internet and it will be full of sad, confused people.  (Luckily, if you have a novel, both are usually unnecessary.)

3. Barnes and Noble
The Nook is the easiest of the three basic platforms to use.  You can pretty much just upload your Word document, no changes needed, and it will look pretty and be readable. Barnes and Noble holds about a fourth of the ebook market these days, so even though Smashwords will eventually get your book listed on B&N.com, I’d recommend going ahead and uploading directly to PubIt!  You won’t have to eat all your formatting and it will go live faster.

So there you have it, a very basic overview of ebook formatting for your self-publishing needs.  Have at it, Squiders.

Working on Multiple Projects

Perhaps you’re one of those sane people who works on a single project at a time.  You sit down and work on a one thing from start to finish and then, when you’re done, you move onto the next project.

This post is not for you (and I will be sending the Landsquid to TP your house later).

If you’re anything like the writers I hang out with, you’ve got multiple projects you’re working on.  If you don’t, it might be because life is trying to eat you and you barely have time for any projects, let alone more than one.  Or you’re in your first.  Good for you!  It all goes downhill from here.

(Note to self: do not read Ian’s blog before you write your own.)

It’s a complication of time, honestly.  Once upon a time, I worked on a single project at a time too.  You write one novel.  Then you write the next, and the next.  Then you realize you’ve got to edit the things, and then there’s reader comments to incorporate, and then perhaps you decide you’d like to sell them…next thing you know, you’re up to your shoulders in stories in various stages of the process, and nothing’s getting done.

So how do you dig your way out?

The answer is simple: compartmentalization.

The real issue with working on more than one project at a time is that it’s difficult to get your brain to switch between them.  It’s hard to work on your horror short story when, the day before, you were writing fluffy romantic fanfiction.  Your brain gets into these grooves and wants to stay in them, leading to frustration.

The solution is to give each story their place.  This can work a number of ways, and you’ll probably have to experiment to see what works best for you.  You can compartmentalize by location: write one novel at home, a short story at a coffee shop, fanfiction during your lunch break.  Or by time: mornings are novel, afternoons are short stories, weekends are fanfiction.  Or by the color of fingerless gloves you’re wearing.  It’s up to you.

The idea is that you train your brain to expect to work on something specific under specific circumstances, so when your brain finds itself in those circumstances, it knows what to do and it becomes easier to get into the right frame of mind.  It’s the same idea behind creating a writing environment.

Any tricks to share, Squiders?  What works for you?

The Ease of Self-Publishing, Part II

To continue from this entry in October, where I was commenting on the useability of CreateSpace and Lulu to self-publish.  (On a side note, every time I link to one of my own entries, WordPress gets all excited and tells me a new website is linking to me.  No, just no, WordPress.)

When we left the story, I had successfully updated my listing on Lulu with the new edition and was awaiting my proof from CreateSpace.  This is where the trouble starts.

I was in the process of moving at the time, so I sent my CS proof to my mother’s house, as I didn’t know where I was living, had no address, and figured my mother’s house wasn’t going to go anywhere.  It never showed.  Eventually, some weeks later I called CS (really, had them call me – they have no customer service number.  You give them your number and then they call you after a specified amount of time) and asked what had happened to it.

Apparently it had been returned as undeliverable. 

I’m not sure why they wouldn’t deliver to my mother’s house – I send things there all the time – but I was more annoyed that they had not sent me an email or something to tell me that this was the case.  Apparently we were hoping I would just psychically be aware of the situation.

So we got that hammered out.  Eventually the proof shows up.  It looks brilliant, except for the fact that the back cover is not ideal for reasons covered in the above post.  Really, I am very pleased with the quality.  Everything looks ready to go.

My husband and I go back into one of the CS menus to doublecheck something.  We change nothing, but CS decides that we must have and demands that I order another proof copy.  Oh, hell no.  I am sick of the entire proof copy process.  It will not let me approve the book for sale until I buy another copy.

After several phone calls that generally went “I did not change anything, I like the book as it is, can’t we just reset something for the love of Landsquid?” things finally got straightened out.  The book went live.  It is EXCELLENT to see yourself on Amazon.

Overall opinion of CS: Nice quality product, INFURIATING processes.  I would/will use them again, because it has proven to be a very good thing to be listed on Amazon, but they really need to work on their interface.  You should have to save something before it tries to force you to approve a new copy at the very least.  But in their defense, everyone I spoke to on the phone was very helpful and honestly did the best they could to fix my issues.  And I got a free proof out of the madness.

We also went ahead and did both the Kindle and the Nook.  There’s really no reason not to.  It is SUPER EASY to use both.  Kindle wants you to upload an html file, which is a bit odd, while PubIt! will take a Word doc.  Both sites let you preview how it will look on the physical ebook reader.  The website interfaces are user-friendly and easy.  If you want to include your cover/pictures in your Kindle file, you do need to do some funky html thing in the file and then include the graphics as a zip file, but overall, I have no complaints with either service.

I decided not to use SmashWords based on some advice I found across the interwebs based on an unreliable royalty issue.  For the time being, I am not planning to expand to any other platforms, though that could change with time.  I will keep you apprised of any relevant updates.

Turtleduck Press and Hidden Worlds

First of all, I apologize for the snow if it’s bothering you.  I am physically incapable of ignoring the option to put falling snow on any website.  Complaints may be taken to the Landsquid.  Bring Cheez-Its with you.  The Landsquid loves Cheez-Its.

Actually, it has come to my attention that perhaps that option just makes it snow on all blogs for me.  I am uncertain.  The thing about the Cheez-Its remains true.

Moving on.

I would like to announce the launch of Turtleduck Press.  TDP is an independent publishing label designed to deliver quality works that fall between the category cracks.  This can be because of length, genre, format, etc.  Between major releases TDP will also have shorter works available (for free!) and an on-going blog.

TDP came about kind of strangely.  All members of TDP have been submitting shorts and novels traditionally, but one of our members had been getting several personalized rejections on requested material that basically summed up to “Love it, but can’t sell it.”  So she said, “Screw it, I’ll self-publish then.”  Some of the rest of us said, “Actually…” and hence TDP was born.

The world of self-publishing and Print on Demand is an odd place, inundated by works.  It’s hard to get over the stigma that all self-published works are of poor quality, poorly edited, not worth reading, what have you.  We figured that by consolidating into a publishing label, limiting membership, and making sure everything we put out has been read, edited, reviewed and is something that we, as a collective, are willing to get behind and stake our careers on.

That brings us to my first contribution to the madness, a fantasy adventure novella called Hidden Worlds.  HW was never something I intended to go a traditional route on.  I wrote it for fun, and then, because there was enough interest, I edited it and self-published it last year, just before Christmas.  I offered to bring it under TDP, did some edits to get it up the standards of the group, and have released a second edition.

Here’s a quick blurb:

“Margery was lucky enough to stumble across upon the Spork Room, a magical writing community where writers from across the globe could gather as they wanted.  The Spork Room has many useful writing tools, but the crowning one is the Door, through which all their stories come to life.  Margery is writing a story about a pirate queen trying to bring her dead lover back to life.  She goes through the Door to watch this occur, but she breaks the number one rule of the Door – don’t go in without letting someone else know.  She and her main character manage to release an unspeakable evil, unbalancing the Door and making escape from it impossible.  Someone, a jack of all trades character used by the sporkers, makes it in just before the Door unbalances and manages to find Margery and her main character Cass.  Now, to set everything right and return to the Spork Room, they must find the Light Chest before it’s too late.”

TDP has a lot of good things going for it, and I’m excited to see where the label gets to go in the future.  Check us out!  Give us a read!