Tag Archives: self publishing

What’s in a name?

Title page from the first edition of Jane Aust...

Title page from the first edition of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

First of all, my apologies for not posting last Monday. It was the end of a long weekend – away, no  less – and I spent most of the morning throwing up. As such, social media and networking was, unfortunately, not really on my radar. Sigh. Anyway, I’m back now and hopefully won’t be having any more days of being AWOL. :(

Today I want to talk about one of the banes of my existence – titles.

I am rubbish at titles. I don’t shy from that fact. Every story I’ve ever written has either had between six and ten titles, or landed the first one I thought of (and hated from that moment onwards). My working titles are as changeable as the weather, and perhaps as reliable too. So I am in absolute awe of anyone who can seemingly pick a brilliant title out of thin air and stick with it, because as you can appreciate it’s not something I’ve ever achieved.

Some of the best stories in literature have amazing titles. Jane Austen, for example, is someone who was incredible at titling her works; the Bronte sisters likewise seemed to have a talent for it. More recently people like Jodi Picoult or Neil Gaiman have impressed me, among others. Or, really, just about anyone who has a book out there – chances are, if it’s published (via a publishing house or by yourself), then it’s got a better title than I could come up with.

Now, I know there are tricks to it. Some people use song titles or lyrics, or variations thereof. Some use lines from well known literature, such as the quote that comprises my title today. Some can just grab a phrase from the book itself that really lends itself to that purpose, like Lee Fullbright did with The Angry Woman Suite, which I reviewed on Friday. But the thing is, when it comes down to it, I can just never seem to get it right. Am I too fussy? Perhaps. Maybe I’m just a perfectionist. But it’s something I wish I could do. Because let’s face it, people judge books on their titles. Without a snappy title, many otherwise excellent books just get put aside or ignored for their flashier rivals. And without an edge to get people to check out my work in the crowded marketplace, what chance do I have?

So here I am, asking for advice. How do you choose your titles? Are you enough of a masochist to title your chapters as well as your books, or do you leave it at the main heading and just number any segments? What tricks or ideas do you use? Because really, I’m getting a bit sick of changing my working titles over and over again until I find something that I don’t necessarily like, but just hate less than the last one. To be honest, I have quite enough on my plate just at the moment, so if I can get the hang of titling, then that’s one less thing I have to think about.

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Author interview and novel excerpt: Chris Ward

Today I’m very happy to welcome Chris Ward, a native of Cornwall, England, who currently lives and works in Nagano, Japan. He is the author of 33 published short stories and the novels The Tube Riders and The Man Who Built the World. Chris has very kindly offered to answer a few questions for me and even given a preview of his novel, to whet the appetite of all who read it. So, let’s find out what the fuss is about!

Chris Ward

Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it? What has the response been like?

I always had a rule in my writing never to write the same book twice.  While it looks like this is going to leave me poor and unknown forever, when I came to write Tube Riders I decided I wanted to write a big, epic sci-fi adventure because, while I had often written short stories in that genre, my novels had always been more mainstream.  I didn’t have much inspiration, so I looked through my short stories and came across one about a group of kids who hang from the side of trains for fun and get in trouble with a rival gang.  A couple of hours of brainstorming later I had expanded it into a sprawling dystopian novel.

The response … well, the handful of people who have read it have loved it.  I’ve had rave reviews, and I’ve even had fan mail.  However, so much stuff is being self-published that it’s been utterly buried under a slag heap of junk.  I’ve sold perhaps 40 copies.  I’m hoping it’ll be a slow burner and that by the time the second and third parts come out (tentatively summers of 2013 and 2014) it will be starting to catch on.  I guess time will tell.

How did you go about creating the dystopian landscape and atmosphere for The Tube Riders? Is it cautionary – it could happen if we take a couple of wrong steps along the way – or purely fictional?

Parts of it are very fictional, such as the scientific advances made by Mega Britain’s scientists.  I’ve very aware that it is impossible to cross a dog with a human due to the difference in number of chromosomes, but this is where it goes into Star Wars/X-Men territory and suspension of belief.  However, the world itself, with the perimeter walls, the restrictions on travel, the secret police, is very much based on real situations.  I live in Japan and am very influenced by the situation in North Korea.  We in the West can barely imagine living in a society where you fear for your life every moment of every day or are born into slavery because your grandparents dared to criticise the government, but there are hundreds of thousands of people currently in that situation.  Mega Britain is a kind of reflection of that and I tried to make it as realistic as possible.  That’s also why everything is in a state of disrepair – the Huntsmen don’t work properly, practically everyone is corrupt … I wanted readers to see beyond all the jumping on and off of moving trains to the dark underbelly of the world beneath, to understand what life is like in a failing society.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?

I was about eight years old the first time I remember writing anything.  Through my early teens I dreamed of being a young sensation, but I was eighteen before I finished a novel.  It wasn’t very good and has never been edited.  Nor has my second or third.  I started collecting rejections on my fourth novel, written when I was 22.  By that time it was my dream to be a famous writer, however I’ve always been someone who liked trying new things so I kept my options open.  That’s how I ended up living and working overseas.

Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?

It was pretty much a last resort.  I’d been collecting agent/publisher rejection letters for fifteen years and always saw self-publishing as a vanity way out.  I was at the point where my writing was good enough to sell to professional magazines and it was this that gave me the confidence in my work to try self-publishing, and the belief that had I been born thirty years earlier I would probably have broken through.  I still feel strange about it, because for me it was always about walking into a bookshop and seeing my books on a shelf.  That might never happen now.

As for my experience, it’s been slow.  I don’t sell much.  One thing I’ve learned is that quality has very little to do with what sells and what doesn’t.  Luck, coupled with a marketing brain seems to be far more important.  I’ve read poorly written rubbish that’s selling hundreds of copies a week.  A lot of the bigger selling authors I come across are retired or don’t work, meaning they have the hours to put into all the boring stuff.  As someone who works full and part time I have time for the writing but not much else.  Plus, I enjoy the writing whereas spending an hour trawling through Twitter kills me.  I’d much rather write five pages of another book than bust my gut trying to get one person somewhere to click on my book link.

What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?

Write and publish, but don’t get all whiny when it doesn’t work out.  Quit complaining about not selling and getting bad reviews.  The only way to make sales is to work hard to get your book noticed, and the only way to get good reviews is to get better.  Even then, you’ll occasionally get canned.  One of the best books I’ve ever read, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, has something like 500 one-star reviews.  That book brought me to tears and the story broke my heart.  I thought it was a masterpiece, but clearly at least 500 people strongly disagreed.  Now, with self-publishing, you get people publishing five or six years before they can even write properly, then jumping up and down and having a fit if they get anything less than a four-star review.  It’s very childish.  Along the same lines, it’s really poor form to be jealous of someone else’s success.  Some of the arguing I see on author’s forums borders on playground behaviour.  These are supposed to be grown adults attempting to be professionals and they’re writing bad reviews of each others’ work, arguing, stalking, and basically acting like little kids fighting over who gets to go first on the slide.  Just don’t do it.  Switch off the internet, grow up, and use your time to write more, write better.

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Excerpt from The Tube Riders:

As the others said their goodbyes and left, Marta stood for a moment, looking out across the park towards the huge elevated highway overpass that rose above the city to the south. Half finished, it arched up out of the terraces and housing blocks to the east, rising steadily to a height of five hundred feet. There, at the point where it should have begun its gradual decent to the west, it just ended, sawn off, amputated.

Years ago, she remembered her father standing here with her, telling her about the future. Things had been better then. She’d still been going to school, still believed the world was good, still had dreams about getting a good job like a lawyer or an architect and hadn’t started to do the deplorable things that made her wake up shivering, just to get food or the items she needed to survive.

He had taken her hand and given it a little squeeze. She still remembered the warmth of his skin, the strength and assurance in those fingers. With his other arm he had pointed up at the overpass, in those days busy with scaffolding, cranes and ant-like construction workers, and told her how one day they would take their car, and drive right up over it and out of the city. The government was going to open up London Greater Urban Area again, he said. Let the city people out, and the people from the Greater Forest Areas back in. The smoggy, grey skies of London GUA would clear, the sirens would stop wailing all night, and people would be able to take the chains and the deadlocks off their doors. She remembered how happy she’d felt with her father’s arms around her, holding her close, protecting her.

But something had happened. She didn’t know everything – no one did – but things had changed. The government hadn’t done any of those things. The construction stopped, the skies remained grey, and life got even worse. Riots waited around every street corner. People disappeared without warning amid tearful rumours that the Huntsmen were set to return.

Marta sighed, biting her lip. Her parents and her brother were gone. Marta was just twenty-one, but St. Cannerwells Park was the closest she would ever get to seeing the countryside, and the euphoria of tube riding was the closest she would ever get to happiness.

She gripped the fence with both hands and gritted her teeth, trying not to cry. She was tough. She had adjusted to Mega Britain’s harshness, was accustomed to looking after herself, but just sometimes, life became too much to bear.

—————

Thanks Chris! If people are interested in reading more, you can find The Tube Riders (and Chris’ other works) at Amazon. Chris himself can be found on Twitter as @ChrisWardWriter, on Facebook, and (naturally) his own blog.

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Giving it away for free

Fan fiction in the making ?

Fan fiction in the making ? (Photo credit: Kalexanderson)

I had a comment on my latest blog entry this morning, asking my thoughts about publishing fiction online. This isn’t self publishing – you don’t do book sales and you don’t need an IBSN; rather, you find a blog or a fiction website and publish a story, novel or whatever on that.

Well, this got me thinking, not least because I have already done that. I’ve written before about earlier novels which will never be published; well, one of those is online, albeit under another name. You see, that novel was fan fiction, which is not something I talk about much in the writing community.

Publishing online is a great way of getting feedback on your work from total strangers and giving you an idea of the range of people your writing may reach.  Fan fiction probably has a lead over original fiction here, though, in that if someone wants to read fan fiction they don’t have much choice but to scour the Internet. If they want to read original fiction, they can get a cheap book or a freebie from Amazon, or go to the library. However, there are a lot of fiction websites out there and people do read and review the stories on them, so I very much doubt it’s a waste of time. You can build up a fan base with a novel published online, and gauge whether your writing is good enough to try to take that next step – write something for publication offline, that people can buy.

There are a couple of things to bear in mind, though. If it’s a book you are thinking, however remotely, of getting published in the future (other than self published), then it would be my advice not to do it. A book that has been previously published online is not something most publishers would be interested in. Sure, there are exceptions (Fifty Shades of Greywhich was pulled from the Internet before it was published externally, springs to mind) but generally it’s not a goer.

Also, think very carefully about where you want to put it online. If it was me, I’d be looking at one of the many  fiction websites that specialise in this sort of thing. These websites attract people who are looking to read fiction online and would therefore probably get you more of an audience than, say, doing chapters serially on a blog, which may flounder unseen in cyberspace for months or even years. You could well get more comments/reviews on a fiction site, simply because more people who are inclined to read online would find it. If you’re not familiar with fiction websites there are a lot out there – wattpad.com and figment.com come to mind, and there’s also gluttonyfiction.com, though that focuses more on fan fiction than original. There is an original fiction section there, though, so it might be worth looking at. (Disclaimer: I have had bad experiences with both Wattpad and Figment, though I know other people who have had nothing but positive experiences with them so perhaps I just got them on a bad day. I have never used Gluttony. Any other sites I haven’t mentioned are omitted simply because I don’t know of them or can’t think of them just at the moment.) There is a downside, though: online publishing leaves you much more open to plagiarism, which I have experienced. Just be prepared to Google your story title or opening line occasionally to make sure that no one has published it elsewhere under their own name.

So, would I publish online? Sure! But not if it was something I wanted to take further. If it was just to be an online story, it’s a great way of getting feedback and finding out where your writing is at. It’s also an excellent method of connecting with people who like your work, and who may buy it in the future given the opportunity. But I would be very wary about publishing anything that I may want to publish externally at a later date, and I would be very aware of the possibility of being plagiarised.

What do other people think? Publishing online or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Guest post: Online Self Publishing (part III), by Peter McLennan

Hello all! Today I’m thrilled to be bringing you the third and final installment of Peter McLennan’s guide to self-publishing. If you missed the first two, you can find part one here and part two here, and I thoroughly recommend checking them out. If you’ve ever considered self-publishing but didn’t really know how to go about it, then this series is a must-read. So, without further ado, here’s Peter.

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eBook printing experiments

eBook printing experiments (Photo credit: proboscis)

Part III: After Uploading

In previous articles I’ve talked about laying the foundations  and formatting your manuscript  for on-line self-publishing. In this final article, I’ll outline some tactics to help with checking the results of your efforts.

Checklist

Checking multiple document formats multiple times is obviously repetitive. To speed things up and help me focus on likely problem areas, I produced a checklist of issues to look for. If I get enough encouragement, I could be convinced to put it up on my web site.

In general, you need to look for errors in font, text size, page alignment, paragraph spacing and alignment, indentation, line breaks, pagination, character formatting and special characters (eg, ellipses, m-dashes, non-breaking spaces and ‘smart’ quotation marks).

CreateSpace

CreateSpace produces hard copies, but you can check the contents well enough using on-line tools and/or the .pdf download.

Unfortunately, the only way to be sure that your cover is okay is to actually buy a proof copy of the book. If you order a proof copy, you aren’t permitted to continue with publishing until the book has been printed and dispatched to you, so if you’re in a hurry you might want to risk-manage this.

Kindle Direct

Checking your KDP conversion is easy, since Amazon provides a free program for this. You should see what your eBook looks like in different versions of the Kindle (which the program lets you do), since not all Kindles are created equal.

Smashwords

Smashwords eBook conversions are the hardest to check because of the plethora of possible formats and the limitations of the Smashwords converter. I found it best to look at each format in at least two eBook readers since the readers themselves can be idiosyncratic: if you only use one reader, you can’t know whether an anomaly is inherent in your eBook or just the reader being quirky. Here are the readers I used and the formats they handle:

Some file types and viewers do not allow the use of multiple fonts, and some are unable to render bold and italics. If you’ve used such formatting to emphasise or clarify things in your text, you need to ensure that your meaning remains clear in the absence of such cues. Alternatively, you can opt not to publish your work in those file types that don’t meet your needs.

Unfortunately, some eBook formats, or conversions thereto, are so crude as to be unacceptable. For example, .pdb turns all your smart quotes, ellipses and m-dashes into gibberish. I didn’t need any more gibberish in my book: I’d already written enough of it. Rather than further dumbing down my formatting (which would have detracted from the more popular eBook formats), I chose not to publish a .pdb version. Some writers publish separate versions for the less capable formats, whereas others just sell defective documents (check out a few .pdb files on Smashwords and you’ll soon see what I mean).

 

.pdb silliness: note the inconsistent font sizes in the table of contents and the incorrect special characters

In addition to eBook files, Smashwords also produces two formats for on-line reading. These often have formatting errors that are not present in any other format. Here are two examples:  the preliminary material on page one should be centred, and the first paragraph of the story should have the same font as the subsequent paragraphs. Such errors are distressing since this is the format that a prospective customer is most likely to view prior to purchasing, and they make the author look amateurish. Further simplifying the styles in the document would probably fix these problems—but at the expense of the ‘real’ eBook formats. I chose to maximise the quality of the latter.

.html silliness: note the inconsistent font face and size

 

Smashwords will automatically insert your cover image into some of the formats, but not all of them (most notably, .pdf). If you want your cover image to appear in all formats, you need to insert it into your Word document. Supposedly the Smashwords converter is smart enough to detect this and avoid duplicate covers, but I could never get this to happen. Ergo, I had to choose between having two covers in some versions or no cover in some versions. I opted for the former.

Smashwords strongly encourages the creation of a table of contents since some distributors insist on it. These can be especially problematic. Several eBook formats couldn’t handle the character formatting I needed for one chapter heading, forcing me to rename the chapter.

Repeat

When you’ve looked at every combination of format and reader and made appropriate changes to your manuscript, you need to upload the new version and repeat until you’re happy with the results. For Smashwords, I needed four such cycles.

Marketing

With over one million eBooks for Kindle, and 38 million hard copy books on Amazon, the odds of your book being discovered by a simple search are negligible. Judicious use of metadata to describe your work will help, but marketing is essential. Each self-publishing site provides some recommendations and facilities to help with this, and some other eminently sensible advice is here.

Shameless Advertisement

And speaking of marketing…

If you’ve found this information useful, then you probably wouldn’t like the novel that yielded it. But you might have kids, nephews, etc, who would! It’s about a fourteen-year-old named Jason who can’t work out how to get climate change fixed—until he saves the life of the mysterious and powerful Graham. Graham promises a reward, and Jason asks him to do something to stop climate change. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the man’s trapped and has to keep his word.

But Graham’s got other ideas.

Jason’s got a fight on his hands.

—————————–

Peter McLennan

Peter McLennan served for 28 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, where he focused on strategic planning. He has tertiary qualifications in engineering, information science and government, and a PhD in planning for uncertainty. He has had several non-fiction monographs and papers published.

Peter now writes fiction from his home in country Victoria, Australia. His hobbies include playing computer games badly and developing software badly. You can find Who Can Save the Planet? online in print versionKindle, and other eBooks.

Thanks, Peter! I certainly feel like I know a LOT more about self-publishing than I did a couple of months back, before I’d read these. If this has helped you out at all, I’d really appreciate if you left a comment thanking Peter for sharing his experiences, because let’s face it, the more we know about this sort of thing before going into it, the better prepared we are.

 

 

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Guest post: Online Self Publishing (part II), by Peter McLennan

Today we have Part II in YA author Peter McLennan’s three-part series on the hows and wherefores of self publishing. If you missed Part I three weeks ago, I thoroughly recommend you check it out if you have ever considered self publishing, or even if you are just curious to know exactly what’s involved. I know it was an eye-opener for me, albeit a welcome one should I ever decide to go down that path. Anyway, if you have read the first instalment you’ll be wanting me to skedaddle so you can read Part II, so without further ado … here’s Peter!

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English: A variety of laptops, smartphones, ta...

English: A variety of laptops, smartphones, tablets and ebook readers arranged. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the second part of my trilogy on on-line self-publishing. Now that you’ve laid the foundations , you’re ready to reformat your work so it can be digested by the sites that will convert it into things people can buy. (Of course, you should keep a pristine copy of your manuscript safely tucked away, and only work on copies for each submission.)

Documentation on how to reformat your work is available on each of the self-publishing web sites. I’m only going to mention tricks and traps that aren’t otherwise clear or are easily lost amid the eReams of information available.

CreateSpace

CreateSpace is the print-on-demand supplier to Amazon. Since the ultimate product is a hard copy, you need to reformat your document so that it looks like a book. This involves adjusting the page size, margins, pagination, etc. CreateSpace provides templates that you can use or refer to, but be careful: these can be defective, with inconsistent font sizes, etc.

While CreateSpace accepts uploads in .doc format, I found that this didn’t always get the page alignment right. The solution was to convert the .doc to .pdf using Word 2010, and then upload the .pdf.

The hardest part about using CreateSpace is cover design (unless you use one of their prefabricated layouts). Since the cover must be printed, it needs to be done in high resolution: at least 300 dpi. Worse, because it may not be printed and trimmed precisely, it has to be larger than your book, there are areas you can’t use, the spine width depends on the page count, there has to be a barcode on the back, and so on. Fortunately, CreateSpace also provides templates for covers.

I used PaintShop Pro (~A$45 here) to do the artwork, then PrimoPDF (free) to convert it to .pdf for upload.

eBooks—General

You’ve slaved over the formatting of your masterpiece until it’s perfect. Bad news: eBook readers (the gadgets, not the people) aren’t as smart as word processors. Worse news: they’re wilful. They’ll reformat your work as they see fit, they won’t get it quite right, and they’ll all do it differently. Regardless of the sophisticated formatting in your word processor file, eBook readers will happily place section breaks at the top of a page, start a line with an m-dash, make your block quotes look the same as the rest of the text, etc. While your aim is obviously to minimise such problems, you won’t be able to eradicate them entirely. If you’re a perfectionist (and you probably should be), this is rather galling.

The good news is that eBooks require smaller covers, so you can easily downsize your CreateSpace cover for them.

Kindle Direct

The main problem I experienced with the Kindle Direct conversion was that I wanted to use a sans-serif font for block quotes to distinguish them from regular text. However, Kindle refused to grant my wish so I had to resort to other tactics such as indentation, italics and font size variations. You can see an example on page 1 of the free preview here (compare the paperback and Kindle versions).

A block quote as printed: note sans-serif font

 

A block quote in Kindle

Smashwords

Smashwords is ambitious: it tries to create nine different formats of eBook from your source file. It’s also relatively crude, and may require you to dumb down your formatting and do things its way. In particular, you’ll need to master the use of ‘styles’ in Word. Unfortunately, I’d already mastered them too well and was using a sophisticated hierarchy; eg, my ‘para-first’ style was based on my ‘para’ style, which was based on my ‘normal’ style.

My first Smashwords conversions were poor. Distressingly, as soon as you upload something for conversion, Smashwords assumes the results are perfect: they go public straight away and are queued for distribution to other sellers (Apple, Barnes and Noble, etc). You don’t get to check them first. As a result, potentially defective copies of your work are offered for sale, only to be replaced with the next trial potentially within minutes. (Smashwords does provide an option to ‘unpublish’ your work which minimises the duration for which dodgy versions are out there, but there are dire warnings against doing so.) Because of this, I recommend that you be as prepared as possible when commencing the Smashwords publishing process, avoid excessive experimentation, and be ready to fix errors and upload corrected versions in quick succession once you’ve started.

To avoid spamming the world with defective eBooks (and there’s enough of them already), I quickly succumbed to doing things the way Smashwords recommends rather than trying to gently massage my masterpiece. This drastic process involves stripping all the formatting from your document and then putting it back in again—but in the Smashwords-approved manner.

Actually, I still cheated a bit. If you’ve already used multiple paragraph styles (and you should have), you can keep track of them by prepending the style name to the paragraph mark (¶ ) for the relevant paragraph; eg, ‘Chapter 1’ becomes ‘Chapter 1#CHAPHDG#¶ ’. This makes it much easier to apply Smashwords-friendly styles after you’ve purged the formatting, especially if you use ‘Find and Replace’ to automate the process.

In addition to applying styles, you also have to reinstate character formatting and some special characters.

Even after this radical surgery, my lean-and-mean document still confused Smashwords slightly. I suspect that it inherited some non-standard customisations from my Normal.dot template. If this may affect you, I recommend renaming your current Normal.dot (or .dotx) for safe keeping. Next time you run Word, it will create a nice vanilla one which will be more to Smashwords’ taste.

Part III …

…of this series will provide some tips for checking the results of your conversions.

Shameless Advertisement

Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan

If you’ve found this information useful, then you probably wouldn’t like the novel that yielded it. But you might have kids, nephews, etc, who would! It’s about a fourteen-year-old named Jason who can’t work out how to get climate change fixed—until he saves the life of the mysterious and powerful Graham. Graham promises a reward, and Jason asks him to do something to stop climate change. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the man’s trapped and has to keep his word.

But Graham’s got other ideas.

Jason’s got a fight on his hands.

—————————————–


Peter McLennan served for 28 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, where he focused on strategic planning. He has tertiary qualifications in engineering, information science and government, and a PhD in planning for uncertainty. He has had several non-fiction monographs and papers published.

Peter now writes fiction from his home in country Victoria, Australia. His hobbies include playing computer games badly and developing software badly. You can find Who Can Save the Planet? online in print versionKindle, and other eBooks.

Thanks Peter! This is all really interesting information. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say in Part III (due for publication on Friday 27 July).

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Guest post: Online Self Publishing, by Peter McLennan

Hello all! Today we have a guest post by YA author Peter McLennan, who has recently entered into the foray of online self publishing and has volunteered to share his experiences. This is something that a lot of writers will find very interesting and, I hope, most informative, as it gives hints about the best way to go about things, pitfalls to avoid and the like. Useful stuff, right? I thought so too. Peter’s Australian, so this is from an Australian’s perspective; however, it’s relevant to everyone I think. This is the first of three parts, the second of which will be posted three weeks from today, and the final three weeks from then. They’re separated because Peter wrote too much for one post and I didn’t want to cut it down, and the three week gap is so (a) you don’t get overwhelmed by having them all together, and (b) to keep you coming back to see what’s up next. :) So, without further ado, here’s Peter.

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English: Photographic composition of Granmata ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

On-line Self-Publishing: Some Gory Details

I recently self-published my first novel, Who Will Save the Planet?, via CreateSpace (Amazon print-on-demand), Kindle Direct (Kindle eBook) and Smashwords (other eBooks). Since there are a lot of overviews of the process already out there, this series of articles will concentrate on some specific tricks and traps I encountered (some of which are relevant to those outside America and, in some cases, specifically Australia). It’s divided into three parts:

  • I: Laying the Foundations
  • II: Formatting and Uploading
  • III: After Uploading

Part I: Laying the Foundations

For non-Americans, publishing through modern high-tech channels requires some ironically Draconian steps, such as snail-mailing forms to America and handling cheques. These things can take months to organise, whereas uploading and distribution can take only minutes. Therefore, you might want to get some of these preliminary steps started before getting your hands dirty with your manuscript.

Selecting Distributors

Unlike traditional publishers, many on-line self-publishing sites don’t insist on exclusive rights for the distribution of your work. As a result, you can publish simultaneously with more than one of them, and this obviously maximises your sales. There are exceptions, such as Kindle’s Select program, so check the fine print.

Factors to consider when selecting distributors include reach, royalty rates, payment arrangements, attitude towards DRM and ease of conversion.

Study and Mindset

You’ll need to study the documentation provided by the site(s) you’ve chosen and be prepared to learn some new skills. It isn’t really hard, but does require some diligence and perseverance.

Tax Evasion—Legally

The longest lead-time task, and therefore that which should be started first, is sorting out the payment arrangements. It sounds like counting your proverbial chickens, but if you start making money before getting a few things in place, the US tax department (IRS) will happily take 30% of your earnings and you may not be able to get it back.

Australia, like many other nations, has a tax treaty with USA. This can be invoked to reduce the IRS’ cut to 5% (although why it remains above zero, when the local taxation department is going to tax you on it as well, remains a mystery). To avail yourself of this, you have to get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Some of the advice you’ll read on this says that you have to send a Form W-7 and your passport(!) to America and wait a couple of months. However, it can actually be done over the phone—or, better yet, Skype or Yahoo! Messenger Voice so you don’t have to pay a fortune. For details, see here and here, as well as the advice on the publishing web sites. Before calling the IRS, I recommend filling in the form W-7 so that you won’t be caught by surprise by any of the questions asked.

Once you’ve got your magic number, you have to fill in another form (W-8BEN) and snail-mail it to your distributor(s). Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to short-circuit this. If you wish to proceed with your publishing without waiting, CreateSpace and Smashwords will let you defer their payments to you so your royalties will just accrue while the paperwork catches up.

Cheques and Balances

Amazon (CreateSpace and Kindle) will only pay international authors by cheque. Since banks (at least those in Australia) typically  charge AU$25 or more to process an overseas cheque, you could find yourself paying about 25% of your royalties to your bank. CreateSpace lets you defer payments until you’ve accrued enough earnings to justify the fees, but this isn’t possible for Kindle.

Some other sites, such as Smashwords and Lulu, provide the option to pay via PayPal—but unfortunately they don’t have Amazon’s coverage.

A possible way to get the best of both worlds, at least for your eBook version, is to publish via Smashwords only in the first instance. Once your sales reach US$1000, Smashwords can then sell your eBook via Amazon, but could still pay you via PayPal. Unfortunately, most of us will never achieve that level of success, but hopefully Amazon will relax the $1000 threshold in the near future.

If you can open an account with a US bank, or possibly even a local bank that has a retail branch in USA (if there are any), you may be able to avoid the cheque fee problem by receiving royalties via direct deposit.

If you decide to go with payments via cheque, consider opening an account with a bank that will process your cheques relatively cheaply. I’ve found charges ranging from AU$15 to AU$60. Shop around!

ISBN

Some distribution channels require your work to have an ISBN, and it can take a few weeks to get one organised.

Some self-publishing sites can provide you with an ISBN for free. I eschewed this option because I didn’t want the distributor to be registered as the book’s publisher and because it would have complicated my publishing of the book through other channels: an ISBN obtained from one site can’t be used elsewhere.

The DIY route requires you to buy an ISBN (tip: they’re a lot cheaper if bought in bulk), assign it to your work in the official ISBN database, then tell your distributor(s) about it.

Marketing

You might also want to get a head start on some marketing activities so that, when your masterpiece goes live, interested parties will be able to find out more about it—and you. Each site provides some recommendations and facilities to help with this.

Shameless Advertisement

And speaking of marketing…

Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan

If you’ve found this information useful, then you probably wouldn’t like the novel that yielded it. But you might have kids, nephews, etc, who would! It’s about a fourteen-year-old named Jason who can’t work out how to get climate change fixed—until he saves the life of the mysterious and powerful Graham. Graham promises a reward, and Jason asks him to do something to stop climate change. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the man’s trapped and has to keep his word.

But Graham’s got other ideas.

Jason’s got a fight on his hands.

——————————–

Peter McLennan

Peter McLennan served for 28 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, where he focused on strategic planning. He has tertiary qualifications in engineering, information science and government, and a PhD in planning for uncertainty. He has had several non-fiction monographs and papers published.

Peter now writes fiction from his home in country Victoria, Australia. His hobbies include playing computer games badly and developing software badly. You can find Who Can Save the Planet? online in print versionKindle, and other eBooks.

Thanks, Peter! This has been most informative. I’m definitely looking forward to the next instalments.

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Author interview: Shayna Gier

Today I’m interviewing Shayna Gier, author of Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse. Shayna is both an author and book reviewer who is just as dedicated to helping other authors promote their work as she is to promoting her own, and she very generously set out some time to answer a few questions. Here is what she has to say.

Shayna Gier

Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it? What has the response been like?

Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse is a really fun book, at least the first 30 times you read it. I must admit that while I love the characters as much as ever before, after all the read-throughs I no longer find it as fun, but I highly doubt that anyone but me and my editor will ever read it to that point.

It’s about a young bartender, Marti, who is married and, due to an increase in medical costs and such, chooses to go off of the birth control shot. Within three months her body has still not returned to normal, and what’s worse is that despite having a series of negative pregnancy tests (once she figures out how to actually take the test correctly), her body is showing all the signs of pregnancy. To make matters even worse, between frequent trips to the bathroom and unexplained exhaustion, she’s definitely developing cravings, and not just for food. Despite her happy marriage to her husband, Spencer, Marti finds herself more and more flirting with the cute and young new bartender who has just joined the team… and her best friend, who thinks life is to short to stay with one guy, just doesn’t help any at all.

What inspired me? Basically, I wanted to write a book in which the doctors were all wrong. Around 1/3 of the way through the book Marti goes to see her gynecologist, to see if the tests are faulty. Dr. Duck (I love that name!) tells her she’s experiencing a perfectly normal “puberty” maturation, just a bit earlier than it usually hits women. This  happened to me, only it took me over 500 dollars worth of doctor bills to be told that. In the meantime, I was searching the internet and trying to figure out what was going on. I ran into a ton of stories about people not finding out they are pregnant, despite frequent testing, until well into their 2nd trimester. Then, when I was told what was happening, about the effects of estrogen and how it controls both the puberty stuff and pregnancy, I looked into the science of what else estrogen does to women, and used that as a framework for Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse.

The response has been overwhelmingly good if you don’t include my inner circle. A lot of people find Marti entirely relatable and really enjoy the book. My inner circle goes either way – my friends love it; my family…well, most keep equating me with Marti and advising that I don’t drink when/if I get pregnant, or else are “disappointed with what (I’ve) made of (my) life” based off the decisions of Marti and her friends. They don’t seem to understand fiction is made up, or how the writer’s mind works, or any of that.

I can see that the book was a collaboration with another author. What made you decide to co-write it? How did the experience work for you?

I give Carissa Barker credit publicly, because if you saw my first draft (available on my website in the archives) you wouldn’t really recognize it. Marti started out as a teenager at Applebees. She was, of course, still going to struggle with pregnancy symptoms and the craziness of hormones, but that was really hard to write, even with her being 19. (I was 21 when this puberty thing hit me… and that was still really young.) So I wrote the actual story. Carissa is my editor, and was able to take my idea, and put it on the paper. It just wasn’t there in the first draft. It was apparent, to a point, in the second draft, and by the third and fourth draft we were working at what I’d consider a typical author/editor relationship. Before the final drafts started to show up, however, I commented to my husband that “I feel like a ghost writer. It’s my ideas, granted, and my words, but Carissa’s done all the work!” And so, in honor of all her work, I listed her on Amazon as having a collaborative part of the story. Because, really, she did.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?
I’ve always wanted to, and always have written something or other. My first “published” work was in kindergarten or first grade entitled Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk which was an assignment that everyone had to do, of course, but mine was good enough to get published in the district’s “outstanding literature” book they put together each year of the student’s works. So either everyone else sucked, or my writing was decent for y age even then. Take your pick.

After that though, I didn’t focus on writing until I was in 6th grade when I started turning out book after book (and starting even more) of fan fiction. Not yet confident enough to invent my own main characters, I thrived off writing my own Jimmy Neutron fics that were just as long as any young adult book at the time. (Now there’s more novels. But if you remember the days of Encyclopedia Brown, you’ll know what I”m talking about in length. I was good too. I didn’t think so, and I don’t know either, but others did. I actually received fan mail several times telling me how much they liked my stories. Some even follow me today as a writer. And, I suppose if I’m honest my fan fiction was at least a cut-above-the-rest of normal fan-fiction… I just compare it to now and squirm though.

After fan-fiction died off, I didn’t really pick up the pen (or computer as it may be) until I was 19 and my best friend, and then ex-boyfriend dumped me. That “caused” me to start writing Lilliana’s Story, and led to a bunch more incomplete works but that are now original fiction. Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse was the first to be completed and then published. I’m hoping that more of the current ones will make it to paperback and e-book as well… but at the moment I’m suffering a bout where my writing is painfully bad since my grandma’s death… so I don’t know if the others will make it or not. I hope so, because I love the characters so much!

Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?

Honestly? I suppose there are two reasons. The most important is that I cannot stand the fact that publishers want you to literally sell your rights to them. I love the idea that my book would be read by more people, but there’s a cost to that. In my mind, I don’t care if I get 50 million dollars from having it cooperatively published, it’s not worth selling my ideas and giving up my rights. I understand “risk” to them if I should decide I want to give my book away all around the internet, but as a writer, if I decide to do that, that is my prerogative. I went to a book fair with a ton of authors recently, and they announced over the intercom that “All authors can buy their books at 20% off.” And that itself almost made me lose it. They freaking wrote it. Without them you wouldn’t have the book to sell. The least you can do is give them rights to their own work and give them free copies.

Now, I do realize that most authors are given a few free copies, but if you ask me an author should be able to ask for as many copies as he or she wants, whenever they want. Again, it’s their work. I shouldn’t have to pay for something that comes out of my own head. And with self publishing, I do call all the shots. And while I have to pay for printing, I do get free copies of my work for all intents and purposes. I just pay shipping and handling and production costs.

I’d say the experience of self publishing has been about what I expected. It’s hard to get your name out there, and to market your book… but it can also be incredibly fun! I love having all rights to my work, and while, yeah, I’d love to sell a million copies, I’m seriously just thrilled when I hear of another person that I didn’t know before reading my work. That is awesome. And I love talking to the readers after they’ve read it as well.

What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?

Write. Simple as that. Participate in National Novel Writing Month in November, or otherwise turn your inner editor off. Personally, I wouldn’t listen to “don’t talk about your work” because that drives me crazy. Tell people the general idea, and then when you find someone that is just as excited about it as you are, release it to them chapter by chapter as you write it. I find that writers tend to be needy. If I’m the only one excited about my work, it wears off. But if you have someone there to bug you with “what’s next?” and “You have more, right?” Then you find yourself excited to answer their questions and share whats in your mind, with them. This is great motivation to actually writing it down. Just, at least for the first draft, tell them that while you want happy-feedback, it’s not time for constructive criticism — or criticism of any kind — yet. They can tell you that when you’ve finished the first draft, if you feel comfortable with that, or if you ask for it along the way (say you are stuck and you want to know when they think it “went wrong”). Better yet, after the first copy, read it over beginning to end by yourself, no asking others about it while you do so. Take notes. What do you love, what do you think “um… did I really write that?” Were your characters’ motivations clear? Questions like that. Then, start revisions, when you are done re-writing the second draft, have the same person that read it as it was written read it. This is the ideal time for criticism if you elected to not hear it at the end of the first draft. After this, go on to editing and such. But I think that if you follow the above (and nothing tragic happens in real life) then you can easily see your dream of being published come true.


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Filed under author interview, writing