Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Working with Booksellers

Another Read Through Bookstore
Many indie authors never do print books, so they don't build relationships with booksellers. I always do print books. Even though I sell considerably more ebooks, I know that a part of those sales are because booksellers recommend my books. 

I LOVE bookstores and booksellers. People who run bookstores do so not because they think they will get rich from their venture. They do it because they love books and hope to make enough money to live while getting lots of good reading time.

My print books are carried in my local bookstores and I've built good relationships with them to keep them there and recommending my books to their customers. So, it always makes me sad when I hear from a bookseller about the difficulties in working with indie authors. 

For the most part, I don't think that indie authors go out of their way to be bad partners. I think many people simply don't know what the expectations are. So, I thought I would share what works for me.

Booksellers Are Very Busy People

We all know that there are very few chain bookstores left and the chains that do exist aren't easy to get into. It is the small, family-owned bookstores that are willing to work with indie authors. Not only to actually stock their books (usually on consignment until a proven sales record is established) but will even provide author events (book signings, readings, talks) for indie authors.

These booksellers are usually owners of small bookstores--often selling both new and used books--with little to no staff. This means they are really busy, often working way too many hours, and barely making a living. Even though they love books and authors and their community, they have limits too.

So, put yourself in their overworked and underpaid shoes and ask these questions.

  • Would yow want authors showing up at the store without an appointment, asking to set up a book signing or to carry their books?
  • Once you have set up an event for an author,  how would you feel when the author calls several times a week or just shows up and asks questions about what you are doing for her?
  • Would you want authors demanding (even if it's a nice demand) that the bookseller do more advertising for the upcoming event they've scheduled for you?
  • Would you want authors demanding that you order all their books, including their backlist to be available onsite for your signing and to be sure to include all those books in all announcements and PR?

Obviously, the answer to all of these questions is a big NO.  You may be reading this and thinking, "Who would do that?" Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who do. And here is the key, booksellers talk to each other. Do you want to be THAT author who is difficult to work with and takes up too much valuable time? Or do you want to the author the bookseller tells all her friends about because she likes your book and you are actually helpful, professional, and think as much about the bookstore's needs as your own?

Yes, the bookseller is happy you are signing but he/she knows that the chance of making any money off this event is slim. Even well-known NYT Bestselling authors rarely bring in a big crowd to a booksigning. When it is your average mid-listi indie author the risk is even higher that few people will show up.

One of the ways that booksellers help to draw in more buyers is to not have single author signings. They prefer to have two or three people at once with the hope that it will triple the outreach. Consider that when discussing a potential event. Who else can you bring with you who will add to the fan reach?

If doing events is so much darn work, why do bookseller's even bother with authors? Especially indie authors with little to no following? The reason is because he/she genuinely likes books, and therefore most authors, and many of them have a policy to feature local authors.

It's An Equal Partnership

For those of us of a certain age, we still remember the days of authors getting big book tours from their publishers, a nice PR campaign, and a PR person interfacing with booksellers at each stop. Those days are gone, if they ever really existed, except for the superstars.  And for indies those days have never existed.

A partnership means the expectation is that both parties will share the work, and therefore the reward or lack of reward. It means that you agree to a specific date to get together and discuss what YOU plan to bring to this partnership. Unless you can guarantee sales, the bookseller is doing this as a gamble and he/she will not have a lot of tolerance for someone who is unprepared or unprofessional.

Your plan should minimally include:

  1. A description of your mailing list and how you are going to contact them about the event (e.g., I have 600 people on my mailing list, about 100 of them are within driving distance of the store. I will send out a special email to all of them a month in advance, followed by a reminder two weeks in advance.
  2. A social media marketing blitz including dates and times that you will post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or wherever you post. This allows the bookstore to know to keep an eye out and share your posts. You will, of course, do the same with their posts.
  3. A list of PR outlets you have a relationship with and can send a release to. The bookseller will also have her list of outlets. If the two of you work together, you might be able to really come up with something unique--something then the general press release.
  4. Advance planning for newsletter information. If you put out a newsletter, perhaps you'd like to include an interview with the bookseller prior to your event or some other way to make him/her shine. At the same time, you can volunteer to write a guest post for the bookseller's newsletter that will go out prior to the event.
  5. A description of your unique "angle" on the event so the bookseller can plan for that. Are you going to dress as one of your characters? Run a raffle for a gift basket? Giveaway a free book or something else? Read from your book? 
An event partnering with Kobo, Jan's Paperbacks, and 18 authors. All authors made it to top 50 on Kobo, the bookstore had best sales day ever, and authors worked hard to cross-promote each other and the bookstore. More can be better.

Other Ideas

Tonya Macalino Reading at Bards and Brews
Events don't always have to be at a bookstore. Partnerships with your bookseller can incude other venues. Here is one called Bards and Brews, a partnership with Jacobsen's Books at a Wine Store across the street and sponsored by Northwest Independent Writers Association.

A different kind of reading event involved five authors, five different genres reading for only five minutes each and then participating in a Q&A with readers.  Coordinated by author Ripley Patton with Another Read Through bookstore this event is good for drawing readers outside of one's genre.

I'm sure you can think of other ideas, but the key is to bring them to the planning meeting. Then both of you can decide what will work best with the bookseller and his/her customers and perhaps build a long term relationship with more than one event.

Stick to Your Commitments and Keep the Bookseller Informed

After the planning meeting, get to work on your end of the bargain. Update the bookseller by email as you begin to execute your part of the plan. DO NOT try to micromanage the booksellers part of the plan. He/She has done this lots of times and has procedures in place. If the bookseller needs your help, she will ask.

When the date comes, show up early (not two hours early, maybe half an hour or twenty minutes) to assist with anything you can.  When it is over thank the bookseller in person (be sure to stay and help with clean up as needed). It is also good to send up a follow-up thank you in a week or so and let him/her know how much appreciate what they did. You should do this even if only one person shows up to your event.

It is up to you to be a really good partner with the bookseller. Then TOGETHER you can both be successful. Maybe you won't have a great first event, but if you are a good partner you will be remembered and included in a future event that may be more successful.

Consider getting back together with your booksellers once per quarter and just checking in. Seeing how things have gone, seeing if there is something more you can do to help. This is a long-term relationship. If you want to sell books in bookstores, you have to work at it. 

There are lots of books competing for the booksellers time. When it comes to deciding what to feature, if you were a good partner then your books will get their turn in the sun--even if you aren't a bestseller for that bookstore.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why Not Me?

Maybe it's summer, or maybe it's that everyone I know is getting tired of the wait.  What are they waiting for? Success of course. Waiting for their book to take off and make them thousands of dollars every month. After all, they can name at least 20 authors who are doing just that. Oh, and of course their book is soooooo much better than [famous author here]. The refrain from these crabby writers is "Why not me? I work just as hard (or harder). Why not me?"

I understand. Really, I do.  I've been there too with EVERY book.  Doesn't matter whether it was traditionally published or self-published, the wave action is similar. High expectations, huge disappointment. A small surge followed by a long lull. Money thrown about based on a hundred plus ideas from marketing gurus. Nothing seems to work--good reviews, advertising, social media pushes and boosts, handselling. It's hard not to fall into the whine of "Why not me?"

For me, the only thing that works consistently is putting out a new book. With each new book sales increase a little, the baseline becomes higher. So far, not thousands higher, more like 50 higher or a couple hundred higher. The only thing that improves my success is writing the next book, getting good covers, getting editing, putting it out to the world, announcing it--maybe a little push to get some reviews, and then writing the next book and repeating that again and again.

Today I saw the article by Nick Thacker, The Wake Up Call: What it means to be a self-published writer, that I think hit the nail on the head. Actually I think it is true for a traditional career or a self-publishing career. I wish I had been able to write those words back in emails for the past month as a bevy of writers have asked the "Why not me?" question. Now I can just send everyone to Nick's post. I like the tone--straightforward with no apologies.

If you get to the end of the article and have laughed a bit in recognizing yourself then it did its job.

If you get to the end and you want to strangle Nick, then you definitely need a reality check. If you really can't handle it, that's okay. Your fantasy world of muses that mysteriously visit and the writing gods randomly choosing a "lucky one" will still exist. Who knows maybe I just don't have enough faith in them.

Big Sigh. Trudge back to the computer. Superglue butt to chair. Return to writing the next book, paying my cover designer for something wonderful, paying an editor to tell me where I went wrong, revising, proofing, formatting, uploading, announcing availability, giving a few away to generate reviews. Then as Johnny B. Truant says Write, Publish, Repeat.

The only way I know for sure I will never be a writer who can make a decent living selling my books is if I don't keep plugging away.

click...type, type, type....click...type,type, type, type, type...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

iTunes Producer Revisited

Since I published my book on DIY Publishing, iTunes Producer was upgraded to a 3.0 version. This happened in February.  As usual,  I never download the most recent version until it has gone through a few months of bug fixes.

I downloaded it a week ago to help a friend get her book up on Apple and BOY IS IT SLICK!  They really improved the interface and it is actually intuitive now!

Rather than reinvent the wheel on instructions, let me refer you to this great video the Book Creator did. It really is as easy as the video shows.


I highly recommend downloading this new version, it is so much easier to use.  One caveat. You must be running Mac OS X.8 or higher.

How to Upload a REVISED Book File to Replace a File Already On Sale

While we are talking about iTunes Producer, I'd like to answer a question I got today from an author.  It reminded me that I didn't tell anyone how to upload a revised book. It is obvious in all platforms EXCEPT Apple.

The author had uploaded her book to Apple previously and it had been for sale. Since that time, she has made some revisions and wanted to upload the new version to replace the old version. This is not something that is well documented. When she tried to get support from Apple the tech person told her to download iAuthor. Um...no. Completely different program and not one I recommend using. No need to do that.

So, here are the steps.

  1. Open iTunes Producer
  2. Open your ORIGINAL book file (just like you would if you hadn't already completed it)
  3. Go through the steps to make sure all the metadata is still what you want.
  4. In the Assets section, select your new revised files to upload. This is how the old files get replaced.
  5. Complete the other steps, pricing and rights. 
  6. Click DELIVER.

Your new revised book is now at Apple being processed and will replace the previous version.

NOTE: Because it has to go through processing again, you may see that your book is taken off sale until it is processed.

Happy Uploading!

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Best Indie PR Help Ever!!!


Price $67 by Monday end of day, then it goes up. If you could never afford a PR person for yourself, or understand PR but don't have ready-made templates to use, this will save you hours of research and thinking. http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com/mediakit/

If you are anything like me, you say the words "marketing" or "PR" with great disdain.  Not because I don't believe in them, but because it goes against everything in my brain to do it.  The whole "never brag on yourself" was deeply set in my upbringing. Yet, I know it is required in order to get my books noticed. I know that my books are product and I am a brand.

I've done lots of marketing (Twitter, G+, Facebook, Pinterest, Blogs, blog tours for books, Goodreads, giveaways online and in person, readings, book signings, etc.). But Public Relations (PR) is different. It's more about letting people know you exist and who you are as a brand rather than selling.  And I admit, I have little understanding of it.  So, when Joel Friedlander and Joan Stewart offered a free one hour webinar I jumped on the chance to attend.

Though the webinar was interesting, it wasn't amazing. Because I've worked with a couple of friends who majored in public relations I knew, intellectually, a lot of the points Joan made. But understanding the points and implementing the points in actual copy is a completely different thing.

Enter Joel and Joan with an offer no smart person can turn down. They put together a "media kit package" that has Word templates for every type of PR you would want to do AND the 60 page guide that goes along with the templates is a reminder of what the webinar covered. More than that, it has completed examples of each of the media kit template types. Then you get some extra goodies too if you do this early ordering by Monday.

These templates are not only the usual variety of bios and headshots, but also press release templates, sell sheets to take to signings or sent to national events, and story ideas to get journalists to pick you up. This package through Monday, Memorial Day, also gets you bonus materials. The most useful one to me is the bonus stuff on How to Write Good Headlines. Headlines make a difference not only in building your media kit but in everything you do: blog posts, pitches, sell sheets etc.

Right now the cost for this kit is $67 through Memorial Day (this Monday). After that it goes up to $97 without the bonus material. Of course I  downloaded the kit for the $67. That's less than one hour of a good PR persons time. Are you kidding me?

Honestly, when I started opening the files I was flabbergasted. It is truly individual formatted templates for what to write, what size images (including exact pixel sizes) should be included in what types of PR, and all in a nicely formatted Word template with instructions. I plan to be working on mine, in between writing jags and getting EXPENDABLE out. Then I will post my media kit on my personal website. At some point I will also work on one for Windtree Press. Anytime someone can make my life easier I am a very happy gal. Thank you Joel, Tracy, and Joan!

Bottomline, I highly recommend you take advantage of this yourself at the current pricing. I don't see media kits on most people's websites and I think it can make a difference. Even if you don't put it on your website, you want to have it ready to send out whenever you do a book release or just want to remind the media that you still exist. The sale only lasts until Monday. Then the price goes up at least $30 and you don't get the bonus materials.

The media kit package comes in a zip file. When you unzip there is the guide (the webinar in narrative form with sample completed forms) and 12 other files--each it's own template--plus links to two additional webinars where you can download the slides and the handouts--like the headline tips one. It's rare I highly recommend that people buy something and I know that $67 is a good chunk of money, but I truly believe it is worth it. It's like having a PR coach telling you how to do all this stuff.

Unless you already have a media kit and know it works for you, you should fork over the money for this. I suspect you will regret it if you don't. No I'm not sharing mine. They already let each person use it for as many books as they want for themselves. To share it with my friends and colleagues would be like pirating a book and putting it up on one of those pirate sites.

Buy it now! Feel free to thank me later. :)

Friday, May 16, 2014

How Long Should My Book Be? (formatting considerations)

In the previous two posts I talked about reader expectations for genre and story telling. Assuming you've met those criteria, then you need to determine how you are going to present that book in both printed and e-book form to meet those expectations.  Now we get much more into formatting, page count, POD sizing, and all those geeky things.

Remember, though, even if you tweak the "size" of the book using some of the techniques discussed here, some readers will still not have their expectations met because it "feels" too long or too short. That all goes back to the previous blog posts on reader expectations of genre and story--mostly story.

Also, I won't be discussing e-book length because there is no "length" with an e-book. It is all dependent on the e-reader device size and the way the font sizing is configured. It is important, however, when completing the metadata for your e-book to fill out the information about number of pages (this is the number of pages the book would be printed). Because readers still use that as a gauge prior to purchase.

Traditionally, the mass market paperback sizing used the formula of 250 words per page.  With the typical double-spaced manuscript using Courier 12pt font, that means that 85,000 words would yield a finished book of about 340 pages. If you are self-publishing and writing at that length I would definitely suggest using the 6 x 9 inch format.  You want to keep your print costs as low as possible in order to competitively price the book.  At 6 x 9, using a TNR 12 pt. font the formula is about 350-400 words per page depending on the leading (space between lines).  So, that makes an 85,000 word book come out somewhere between 214 and 244 pages.  Significantly different from the 340 pages using the traditional MMP formula and a savings of about $1.00 per book in printing cost.

What Impacts Printed Page Count?

Physical book size. The page count has everything to do with the format size (Trade paperback sizes are typically (in inches) at 5.25 x 8 or 5.5 x 8 or 6 x 9). The difference of 1/2 inch or one inch can be the difference of 50-100 pages in a book.

Line spacing (single, 1.5) also makes a difference. Taking your manuscript from the usual double-spaced lines to single-spaced cut it in half. Most authors select 1.5 spacing, but others might make it slightly less or slightly more depending on their need to limit or expand page count. If you use a great page formatting software, like InDesign, you can effect this line spacing significantly with what is called leading. You can tweak a line to be slightly more space or less space than the line before it in order to control page breaks completely.

Fonts. Any user of a word processor knows that all fonts are not alike. A 12pt font in Times Roman is a very different size from a 12pt font in Garamond or Courier.  The fonts you elect to use for headers, subheaders, chapter numbers, quotes, etc. are all variables you can manipulate and will make a significant difference in the number of pages. I've helped an author with a very long book, cut out 50 pages by simply changing the header font from 18 pt to 14 pt.

Blank Pages. Traditional book publishing designed book interiors so that new chapters always began on the right hand side of the book. (the odd page number). This means if your previous chapter ended on an odd page number, that a blank page would be placed following that chapter end (the backside of the chapter page) in order to have the next chapter open on the right hand side. Depending on the number of chapters you write, these additional blank pages can be significant. For example, someone who writes many short chapters (say 50 chapters) could easily gain 25 or more pages in the book. The elimination of these blank pages, either by not using them or by deleting content to make sure they don't exist, can make a significant difference in overall page count.

Front and Back Matter. Word count of your completed story is not the only thing that impacts overall page count. Beyond your story, a book has front and back matter (e.g., title page, copyright page, dedication, acknowledgements, excerpt for another book, request to join mailing list, list of other books by the author, etc.).  I usually figure 0-15 extra pages for this stuff.

Why Would I Want to Change Any of These Parameters?

The short answer is to meet expectations of the reader. Another reason is to be able to more competitively price your POD book. The book's heft, perceived length, and overall size can meet a reader's expectation and thus get her to pick it up; or turn her away if the perception of value is not sufficient.  By the same token, if your book is so long that the price to print it is closing in on $7 then your price for expanded distribution (beyond the printer's catalog) is over $20 which is a difficult sell for fiction.

For example, in the genre expectations section you learned that reader's expect a longer book for Historical Fiction or Historical Romance. What if your book came in at 70,000 words and the expectation is 85,0000 to 100,000? You can still make the book "feel" longer by choosing a smaller physical book size, or making the font larger (go from 12 pt to 14 pt), or adding more interest to your headers, or making sure you use the right hand chapter openings and add those blank pages. You can also add more back matter, such as a longer excerpt of the next book.

It is important to understand that though you can manipulate page count, that in the end it will be how the reader "feels" about value versus time and money. No matter how hefty or spare the book feels, the reader must believe that the time and money cost was worth it. If your reader is not satisfied with the story in the end, any manipulation of the size will only be seen as a huge negative. If the reader is very satisfied with the story, it won't matter the length.

As with all perceptions of value, you want to present a product that meets expectations of look, feel, and size to get the reader to try the book. However, the choices you make also build an expectation (a promise) of the reading experience. Because reader trends are to look for shorter books, having a longer book carries a burden that is more difficult to meet. Presenting a longer book tells the reader that the experience is going to be worth the additional time and money. If you don't deliver, the reader will be likely be more upset than if the book didn't cost as much or take as long to read.

Of course, these are generalities. Every book, every genre, and every reader combines to create a unique experience. No book can meet every reader's expectations. Obsessing over making sure your book is perfect in every detail leads to madness. You can only write the best book you can, get it edited by the best editor you can afford, and then package it in a way that meets genre and reader expectations as best you can. Then let it loose in the world and write the next book.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How Long Should My Book Be? (Story Expectations)

In the previous post I talked about genre expectations and length trends.  All of those numbers are based on the "average" reader experience of a story.  Overall, readers are a pretty forgiving bunch. They don't expect every book to be their favorite. They don't expect every book to be a five when they rate it in Goodreads. In fact, most of them expect it to be a three. That means "I liked it." They didn't hate it, they didn't love it, it was average. For a voracious reader, they expect average and laud above average.

An average book has average expectations, and that means a reader doesn't want to spend extra time reading it or figuring it out.  That is where those genre length expectations come from. If the reader just "liked it" she will be more likely to notice if it was too short or too long.

But here's the big secret.  That length expectation is completely negated by a really good story--one that a reader gets caught up in and doesn't put down until she gets to the end.  If the reader stays engaged, likes the characters, and gets to the end feeling satisfied that you delivered on the promise of the story, then you've done your job. Whether you did that within 55,000 words or 100,000 words the reader won't care because whatever time was spent reading was worth it.

Though every book has its detractors, I want to use two examples of books at opposite ends of the length spectrum. Very few people who love Diana Gabaldon's Outlander book would suggest it is too long. It is a very long book at 850+ pages. But the reader immediately comes to care for Jamie and Claire and sticks with it because she wants to be sure they are okay in the end. Many readers report reading the entire book in three days because it moved so quickly. Hard to imagine an 850 page book moving quickly.

On the other side of the spectrum, few would suggest that 1982 National Book Award winner, William Maxwell's , one hundred thirty five page book, So Long, See You Tomorrow is too short. One reviewer wrote what I believe is true of this story: "...it can seem at times that whole paragraphs of unwritten backstory are suggested by every line, every image." Though it is novella length, those who love this spare book can't forget it. It "felt" like a longer book because of how well-written it is.

Could Outlander have been written in under 300 pages if the author had only been more spare with her words? No, it couldn't because it was of epic scope--covering history, time travel, and a grand quest. It worked because of the characters AND because of the universal themes of honor, betrayal, vengeance, love, and forgiveness. Should So Long, See You Tomorrow have been expanded to 250 pages or more? No. Though the themes are also universal--coming of age, innocence betrayed, grief, guilt, loss--the story setting is small town in the 1920's. In other words, both books are the proper length for the story.  Neither book has let down it's readers because the underlying craft is superior and that trumps length every time.

Though most of us will not write a bestseller or win a book award, we should still pay attention to good craft. It is that craft that keeps a reader engaged and negates length expectations. It is also important to know that storytelling expectations change from generation to generation and certainly from one century to the next. The classics you may have read in English class, written in the 19th or early to mid 20th century, does not meet modern story telling expectations today. For the most part readers expect to be constantly driven forward from the first page to the last, with the promise of the first pages being delivered in the end. Also character, particularly in genre fiction, is the primary driving force. It used to be that setting or theme was enough. Not anymore. When competing with television and movies that can display visual setting and deliver theme through musical pathos, it is only character that stands apart.

How does the writer meet story expectations?

Depending on which craft book you read or storyteller advice you follow, the elements can range from the three most important to hundreds of interweaving elements and structures that can make the story better. In the interest of brevity, I am not going to reiterate all the typical things you can read in any good craft book (setting, plot, climax, structure, etc.). All those are important. I will assume you've already done all that to the best of your ability. Instead, I've chosen what I believe are the big storytelling expectations of readers. The six big things often conflate setting, plot, structure, and character together in service of the story expectations. I believe these six items are what make a reader forgive small mistakes, suspend disbelief, and in the end recommend your book to others.

  1. Have something to say (often known as the central premise or primary theme). The more that your book can relate to a theme/message that is larger or more universal than the story you are telling, the more most readers will like it. In other words, though your story may be about one individual unraveling a mystery in a small town, it needs to be more. Is it about the corruption of power? That love conquers all? That good and evil are the same? My themes tend to be similar and interrelated no matter what I write. They are: "Everyone is wounded and can only find their true path by overcoming their past;" and "We all have good and evil inside us; life is about constantly choosing which to favor."

    Can you articulate your central premise in a single line? If not, that's a problem. It means you either don't know it or don't have one. Knowing your primary theme will help you look at every action your characters take, every setting you have them in, and the arc that needs to occur for the characters and the story. Every element of your story should have some echo of this central premise.
  2. Ambition through character development. All craft books talk about character arc and development--the need for three-dimensional characters, to articulate the character's goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC). All of this is true and important. Beyond that, though, the character reinforcement in the reader's mind is directly related to the writer's "ambition" in character development.

    Great books connect the theme/central premise to the reader through one or more characters. Those characters provide an example of something the reader can use in her own life and how to get there. It is never easy, and the reader may not know until the end that it's happening, but it leaves the reader satisfied. A reader will forgive a number of faults, suspension of disbelief errors, if she identifies with your character(s) and can use what she learns in her own life--not in a literal way, but in a metaphorical way. For example, why do readers love paranormal books? It's not because they believe they can solve problems by fighting a literal dragon. It is because the character must overcome the fear of fighting the dragon, of not being good enough, of perhaps not being allowed to fight, or many other obstacles that a reader can relate to her own life. That is what "ambition through character development" creates--a direct connection to the reader's life, no matter where the story takes place.
  3. A single over-riding through line (character motivation). When I beta read a book for new writers and provide a critique, the most common mistake I see is a fractured storyline. That is where there are too many bits, or scenes, that do not move the story forward, do not solve the primary question.  Instead writer's go off on tangents with two many other characters, settings, backstory, and in the process the reader also loses her motivation to continue reading. This is not to say your plot or characters need to be simple. However, if you are not always marching forward and reminding the reader that your character will get what he/she wants, you are not meeting expectations.

    The concept of a through line was first used by method acting teacher, Stanislavski, as a way for actors to better understand their characters. He believed that actors needed to go beyond what the character was thinking or doing in any particular scene. In order to fully embody the character, an actor needed to understand the "through line"--that which pushed the character forward and thus linked everything the character did. Even if your character is having a cup of coffee in a scene, the reader wants to know that having this cup of coffee with this particular person, at this particular moment, is critical to that character getting what he/she wants in the end. If it is not important to that motivation, the scene should not be there.

  4. Nothing comes easy (character torture and change). Another area where reader expectations are not met by the story is when everything happens miraculously. In other words, the character never has to fight for what she wants. Good stories not only show the character changing from beginning to end, but they also make it torturous for the character to change. This also goes back to ambition. If your protagonist is an alcoholic and your through line is overcoming wounds of the past, then she needs to end the story being sober. More than that the journey to sobriety needs to be fraught with pain--moving forward, sliding backward--and times when the reader will wonder if she can really pull it off.

    Taking the alcoholic example again, too often a character will act the alcoholic until the climax when a single event miraculously turns her around (meets the guy who accepts her, reconciles with her mother, almost dies in a car accident). Though these events may be ways in which someone changes, it doesn't meet the "ambition" requirement. A reader cannot easily identify with a sudden miracle. (Even in Inspirational fiction the character still has to work at believing, at making life move forward without miraculous intervention) A reader can identify with the character working at it throughout the book, having problems, backsliding, moving forward, getting closer and closer and then the "miraculous, life-changing event" caps it. But without all that lead up and trying and getting closer, the reader says "Meh. Unfair. Not satisfied."
  5. A page turner (some call this pacing and tension). You often hear a satisfied reader say something like: "I just kept turning the pages. I couldn't put it down."  Authors often mistake this need to create a page-turner with external conflict. They create tension by starting a fire, throwing in a bomb, killing off a character, shooting somebody, giving her amnesia--in other words making something big and horrible happen. Though that is a technique, when it is overused it becomes silly and obvious to the reader because the fire, bomb, killing, etc. has nothing to do with the central premise and the reader feels manipulated instead of satisfied.

    Readers will turn the page if you are driving the through line. Readers will turn the page if they care about what happens to your character. Readers will turn the page if they are invested emotionally in the final outcome. Just as in a great mystery, a good writer lays clues and red herrings, works in both internal and external tension, may even find the solution at the climax only to learn they were wrong, there is more work to be done until the end. This is a good recipe for all other fiction. Whether a romance, science fiction, a fantasy, or a thriller it moves in a similar fashion. There are clues as to whether the character(s) are moving toward their goals or not; there are times the reader believes everything is fine when it's not; there are times the reader believes the character will never make it but the character still does not give up; and so the reader does not give up.
  6. Deliver on your promise. The opening of each book makes a promise. It sets up expectations--partly based on the genre the reader believes she is encountering and partly based on what happened in your opening hook. Anytime you move away from that promise, the reader becomes insecure. Sometimes that is good, most of the time it is a chance for the reader to put down the book. Most important, when the reader closes the book, she will be satisfied if you deliver on that promise.

    For example, if you open with a big event (like a bomb in the middle of town that destroys your heroines family) then the reader is going to expect that book to be equally exciting throughout and that your heroine is going to suffer from that event. If you did that just to have a hook but it had nothing to do with your story, your reader will crucify you in reviews. You don't have to open big, but you have to start where change is occurring. Then make sure you realize what the promise is that you are making--what will you have to deliver throughout the book.

    One of my favorite SF authors is Octavia Butler. Every opening of her novels meets both the genre promise and the novel promise. Every ending delivers on that promise. For example, in Dawn, the first book in her Xenogenesis trilogy, it opens like this:

    Still alive.
    Alive . . . again.

    Even if I didn't know the author, I would immediately be drawn in. What is happening? Did she die three times? Is this about death? time? confinement? control? Within the first few pages, the reader learns the human protagonist is a captive and in a strange, alien environment that questions time, death and life, and control. That means the reader now expects that one or more of three things will happen: 1) the protagonist will find a way to escape her captivity and punish the captors; 2) the protagonist will find a way to make a life within captivity; and/or 3) the story will define what it is to be human and how one chooses to retain or give up one's humanity.  If none of those promises is delivered, the reader will be lost and feel dissatisfied. If anywhere along the way the heroine is not either trying to escape captivity or learning to live a fulfilled life within it, then the reader is dissatisfied.

    Check out one or more of your favorite books. Read the first paragraph and ask, what is being promised? Was it delivered? Read the first five pages and ask the same thing?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

How Long Should My Book Be? (Genre Expectations)

I recently corresponded with a writer whose fear was that her 85,000 word novel was already too long, which she translated to mean too many pages.  She wanted to know if her book ended up at around 240 pages was that too long.

You would think this question would be one of those easy-to-answer-in-a-couple-hundred-words type questions. Unfortunately, it is not. In fact, there are so many considerations that I've decided to break up this answer into three posts in order to cover it all. :) The posts will include: 1) genre expectations for length; 2) story telling expectations that can override length; and 3) formatting decisions to give an appearance of shorter, longer, or just-right length.

First let me say that with e-books, length has no meaning. This is because e-book length changes from one device to another. It changes depending on how the reader configured the device for font and size. Even though you may have used Garamond 12 pt font when you compiled your EPUB or MOBI file does not mean that is what the reader sees. Some e-readers translate all fonts to Times Roman. Others provide a selection that the user may select. Then, of course, readers can enlarge the font or make it smaller. If there are images, tables, special headers, etc. that also changes from one device to another and form one user to another. Maybe one day the ubiquity of reading electronically will put the perception of length as it relates to value and price to bed. Personally, I would love it if we--the reading public--would stop tying value to length. I think it's moving in that direction but we are not there yet.

For the past four to five decades the use of mass market paperback (MMP) for most genre authors put forth a standard calculation of 250 words per page.  In that case an 85,000 word book ended up around 340 pages.  Up until about 10 years ago, a 340 page book was fairly average for most genre fiction in MMP. Today, 340 pages would be considered long by many genre publishers. All reader analysis in the past five years suggests most readers prefer shorter books now, around 250 pages or 55,000 to 75,000 words with many publishers looking for books in the 60,000-70,000 words range. In addition, MMP is used less and less by traditional publishers and is almost non-existent for self-publishers. Trade paperback (U.S. sizes are 5.5 x 8.5 inches or 6 x 9 inches) is the "norm" now which means the page count will be lower than it was in MMP.

When it comes to books, everyone has an opinion as to what is too long, too short, too hefty, not enough substance, and everything in between. For my own books I've had reviews that say the length was "just right" and "wished it were longer" and "wished it were shorter." All for the same book. Every reader brings expectations to the story, and a complaint about length is more often a complaint about not being fully satisfied with the story. However, there are some "average" expectations of length dependent on genre. But even then the range is wide.

Note: My follow-on posts on this topic will relate best to fiction. Though I also write non-fiction, questions of length and perception of value are very different from fiction and not as easily manipulated. A very slim non-fiction self-help book can command high prices if the readers believe it made a big difference in their life or they learned something the could not learn elsewhere.

Regarding Length Expectations, the statements below are not statistically sound. They are gathered from several blogs by agents, editors, and publishers. The numbers reflect a preponderance of agreement among them.

Note: An adult or YA "novel" is defined as 40K and up.

Picture Books - Picture books are generally less than 1000 words. About 500-700 words is he norm.

Middle Grade - Early middle grade (age 7-10) you’ll want to stay around the 20k-30k word count range. The average middle grade (age 9-12) is 30k-40k. Upper middle grade (age 10-13) can hit in the 50k word count range (possibly longer, if it's something really unique e.g., Harry Potter).

Young Adult - Young adult fiction allows for a lot of flexibility in word count. And as more than 50% of YA readers are actually adults, the expectation is often for higher word counts. Though it can be as short as 40K for the younger set (12-14), it tends to range from 55K to 90K with 65K-70K being the average.
  • Mainstream YA - 45-75K
  • Paranormal/Fantasy YA - 55-120K, but most often in the 75-80K range.  If you are writing a popular series, the second or third book can go higher than the norm and readers will be okay.
  • Mystery/Thriller - 75-90K

Adult Fiction - This one is the most difficult to get right because the pundits are all over the place. I suspect that is because of the huge variability among genres and types of offerings. In general, anything above 70k but less than 115k seems a safe range. The sweet spot for general adult fiction appears to be about 85- 90k. However, almost every genre has a "category" or subgenre of slimmer books. For example, cozy mysteries are significantly shorter than suspense mysteries, and procedurals are somewhere in between the two. In Romance, there is an entire sub-genre called "category" romance which run 55-60K and have few, if any, subplots outside of the primary relationship. And with reader trends tending to favor shorter books as a whole, it seems that the 55-75K range sells really well.

Below are some general word count guidelines:

  • General Contemporary Romance - 65-100K, with 75-85K being the most desired
  • Chick-Lit or Women's Fiction - 65-80K
  • Paranormal/Fantasy Romance - 85-100k, again closer to 85K the most desired
  • Category Romance - 55-75K with most often bought in the 55-60K range
  • Historical Romance - 75-110K with most coming in at 85-90K 
  • General Crime Fiction - 90-100K
  • Cozy Mysteries- = 65-90k, most in the 65-70K range
  • Light Paranormal - 75-90K
  • Historical - 80-100K
  • Noir - 70-90K
Westerns - 75-100K, though there is a "category" western as well that can run in the 55-75K range

SF/Fantasy/Horror - 75K-120K However, this is the hardest category to lock down and the subcategories often cross over, but below is a best guess.
  • Hard SF - 85-110K
  • Cyberpunk - 75-90K
  • Space Opera - 75-120K, but tends to stay closer to 80-90K
  • Epic Fantasy/High Fantasy - 85-120K
  • Contemporary Fantasy - 75-100K, with most in the 85-90K range
  • Urban Fantasy - 80-110K, with most close to 90K
  • Slipstream - 75-90K
  • Dark Fantasy/Horror - 65-10-0K, with most around the 80K mark
  • New Wave - 70-90K
Literary - 65-100K.  Like all adult fiction it is hard to categorize. It does appear that in the last three to five years, like other genre fiction there is a trend to shorter lengths.

Being Indie means you get to determine what is the right length for your book, instead of pleasing an editor or agent that provides averages that meet their combination of cost and trends before understanding the needs of the story. 

However, also keep in mind that readers have been trained to expect certain lengths over decades. Those expectations tend to shift with whatever are the bestsellers that year.  Before Harry Potter, no publisher considered accepting a Middle Grade book that was so long. After Harry Potter every publisher was looking for longer fantasies.

Though reader trends do show that shorter books sell well, a good book will always outweigh length considerations. There are also other ways to offer a longer book, such as serializing it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Global E-Book Report for 2014 is Now Available

The Global Report for April 2014 is out!  For those who have that analytic addiction like I do, I always look forward to this report released at the London Book Fair every year. The broader statistics combine both non-fiction and fiction, so keep that in mind if you are scanning. Non-fiction is a much larger piece of the pie around the world--but particularly in places like China, India, and Russia. This comprehensive report takes information for many sources. Reading it is as much a study in politics, culture, and global money flow as it is in specific ebook data. I personally find it fascinating.

You can get the 180 page report FREE until May 9th at http://www.global-ebook.com/ After that the charge is 9.99 pounds sterling (about $17). What I like about it is that it evaluates markets around the world, and compares them and talks about changes.

I know that those of us in the U.S. often forget there are other markets, but it is important to understand the global nature of publishing now and to make sure your business plan takes that into account. I've always believed in distributing widely. Even if you don't see a lot of revenue (or no revenue) right now, I believe you will see it growing significantly over the next few years.

For example, in my most recent Amazon payment, the money gained from International sales (combined) was more than the money gained from U.S. sales. In 2013 I would occasionally see $10 here and $10 there from sales outside the U.S.  However, this year each month I've seen it slowly rising. My Kobo and Apple sales have always included international sales (though primarily in Canada and Europe) and I anticipate these to increase as well. Where the U.S. ebook market is now settled into a more normalized growth pattern (2-3% per year), other countries are just beginning their e-book growth pattern which can mean increases of 10% or more in overall revenue each year.

The book covers changes, trends, device usage, self-publishing versus traditional publishing revenues, and product evolution. The best part is that it analyzes individual country markets which certainly lead me to rethink some of my pricing and marketing strategies for certain markets.

I really advise picking it up. It's free for the next four days and and it doesn't hurt to have a PDF sitting in your market analysis folder for review when you are feeling particularly analytical.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Scrivener Experts


Full webinar replay, free Scrivener training videos, and special pricing all available right now: Scrivener webinar replay and bonus video content

 Thanks to Joel Friedlander and Joseph Michael for making this available to the world, along with a discount on purchases.


I know several people who follow this blog are Scrivener devotees or are thinking about Scrivener.

Joel Friedlander is partnering with Scrivener expert, Joseph Michael for a one hour instructional webinar.  Below is Joel email to everyone. If you want in on this (even if you can't do the live event), register so you can get the archive.  You MUST register today, as the event is tomorrow.

Below is what Joel sent out:

It will take place on Thursday, May 1, at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

I'll be joined by Joseph Michael, The Scrivener Coach, and we'll be hosting a one hour instructional webinar called:

How To Use Scrivener To Effortlessly Write, Organize, & Export Your Book Into Various Formats For Printing, Editing, Publishing & More!

During this webinar you'll learn—among other things—how to import documents from Word, and how to export your books to ebook formats, right from Scrivener.

But I have to tell you 2 things:

There are only a set number of seats for the live event. Keep in mind that as long as you register beforehand, you'll get a link to the webinar replay and any bonuses or special offers made on the webinar. But,

If you really want to participate on Thursday, I strongly advise you to log in early to make sure you've got a space. Once they are full, we'll have to "close the doors."

Click this link to register, but please do it now. I would hate for you to miss it because all the seats were taken.

All the details about this free training and bonus are on the registration page. But do go over there and register now.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Signing Up Expert Guests

I've been in my web development cave for the past month or so, and trying to squeeze writing in there too.  So, I haven't been as vigilant on the blog.

However, I wanted to let you know that I am signing up some good expert guest posts for the next couple of months.  I'm also looking to do some Google Hangout broadcasts that allow for a little longer interview time. The links to those will be posted here.

It seem that everyone is an "expert" these days.  The people that will guest post here are people I know personally or have used their services and can vouch for their expertise.  Particularly, if I am interviewing someone who sells a service that self-publish authors might use, I want to be sure you are not disappointed should you try them.

So stay tuned! I'm looking forward to learning some things myself.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Ingram Spark Experience So Far

As I posted yesterday, I decided to bite the bullet (and the extra costs) and give Ingram Spark a try to see if it increased my print book sales. I chose my Sweetwater Canyon series for this test.  When I changed cover designers and decided on a new series look and feel, I had already decided to change the format for the books to the larger, traditional trade paperback 6 x 9 size. I reformatted the interior of the first two books and will do the last two books in this larger size.  With the final two books releasing this year, it seemed like a good time to give it a try.

One thing to note. I am NOT doing any  e-book distribution through them. The royalties on that are only 40% and it's to all the same places I already distribute for a 65-70% return (Apple, Amazon, Kobo, B&N).  I know some will choose this because they like all their reporting in one place. Not me, I like the extra money. I have other ways to bring all the reporting to one spot and run my analysis of markets and distributors.  :)

So how did it go?

I loaded my first book three days ago. First thing to know is that before you can even attempt to load your files you have to give up your credit card information and agree to pay the fees. This means there is no backing out.

I knew that the Createspace expanded system already used Ingram POD printers; so I made the assumption that the PDF interior file and PDF cover file I would normally use at CreateSpace would work. Bad assumption!  Ingram has some VERY exacting specifications.  I can only assume that CreateSpace does some manipulation on their end before sending it to Ingram for printing.

So, here are the differences.

Interior Pages. Ingram REQUIRES that the interior page margins by .5 (that is1/2) inch all around on all pages. Createspace doesn't care what you do with the margins. You can set them at 1/2 inch or 2 inches. All they care about is that the text fits within the safe space for trim. The templates I use from The Book Designer (which I love) vary the margins for left and right pages and for top and bottom. The template I use had the top at .83, the bottom at .7, the left at .92 and right at .75 in order to provide an allotment for the gutter and the binding.

Okay, not a big deal. I just went into the layout tab in Microsoft Word and changed all the margins to .5 (that is left, right, top, and bottom).  It didn't take long. It looked strange to me after formatting 8 print books, but it's a small price to pay. In the future I'll just set it this way whenever I begin a new book.

Cover Design. Ingram has a template they want you to use (just like Createspace does). Of course, it differs slightly in terms of the bleeds and safe spaces. It requires CYMK colors not RGB. Createspace let's you upload in RGB or CYMK. It accepts the upload no matter what and leaves it up to you to decide if it looks good to you or not.  In the past if the cover was slightly off, the Createspace support folks let me know by email and asked if I would like them to fix it. Yup. It's free.

Deep breath. Nothing is free with Ingram. This required going back to my cover designer and asking her to make sure it all fit the Ingram template. Again, not a big deal. It's a learning experience for me. If she had known I was doing Ingram from the start it would have been done that way. So, this will cost me a slight additional expense for her time, but worth it if it pays off in the long run. And future books will be right from the start.

PDF File Generation.  This is the one that had me tearing out my hair.  Just like CreateSpace, Ingram requires both the interior file and the cover file to be in PDF format.  My cover designer sent me the redone cover file in PDF like she always does. I took my Microsoft Word newly reformatted file, with 1/2 inch margins all around, and generated a PDF like I always do.

All stop! Wrong! Error. Error. Error.

The error generated on my interior file is an ICC profile error. What?  I've never heard of this. My interior has one image and it is a greyscale (because it's required not to be color) Windtree Press logo. After an email exchange with technical support (which is good and quick at answering questions by the way) it ends up that when Microsoft Word generates the PDF it creates this error because there is no way to tell Microsoft Word not to include ICC Color codes when it generates the PDF file. It also turns out that Ingram does not support Microsoft Word at all.  Specifically they "support InDesign, Photoshop, Acrobat ,and Quark as file creation applications."

However, they are happy to correct the problem for me for a $10 fee. Ugh! Now my book will cost $71 to get up at Ingram. That's another 5 books sales difference.  Can I sell 5 more books? Probably, but now I'm frustrated that this process has been not at all the easy experience I had with Createspace.

I do not own any of those software products. I do not want to buy them. Of the options Adobe Acrobat is the least expensive at $100. Yes, I'm technically inclined, but coming up to speed takes time away from my writing. Again!

But now I'm stuck. I've already paid my $61 to Ingram. I've already incurred additional costs from my cover designer. My books have been uploaded to their system. I don't know if there is a way to get a refund at this point. (Refund processing is not in their FAQs)  I have a deadline to meet. It's either pay another $10 or use hours of time finding a different way to generate the PDF.  With some anger at myself for not checking this out more thoroughly, I clicked on the yes-i'll-pay option.

So now I wait and see how quickly my books get into the catalog and how quickly they show up on online sites. Amazon Expanded gets it immediately into the Amazon store and within a week to B&N and Amazon UK. It's another 4-6 weeks before it's every else and often without cover images for another month beyond that.

My expectation is that it gets into U.S. store catalogs within a week (my local booksellers say their systems update weekly). As for outside of the U.S. it will be interesting to see if it is quicker than Amazon (as Amazon obviously uses the Ingram system).

Will I still go ahead with the rest of the series?

Yes, for now.  Here is what Ingram distribution offers me:
  • 35,000 independent and chain bookstores, libraries, and online retailers in more than 190 countries (this includes Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and other partners around the world).

    Libraries are big to me. I can only get library distribution from Createspace if I use the free Createspace ISBN (Doesn't that sound crazy? I'd love to know the real story there).
  • Automatic loading to Espresso Book Machines (previously I was doing this myself, more time saved for me)
  • Ability to provide the expected discount to bookstores so they can order in advance before I come for an event or signing--no more lugging cases of books with me from store to store.
  • I don't have to handle any order fulfillment on my print books, which saves me shipping costs. The only time I pay for shipping is for my own copies that I use for giveaways.
Now, the big question. Will I get more print sales to make up for the costs? If so, how long will it take to make up the difference to cover the $71 cost per book. Will it be worth maintaining each title in the catalog beyond the first year? At $12 per year, it doesn't sound like much. That would represent 6 book sales to me.  I'll post again in a couple months and let you now how it is looking, if everything rolled out around the world as expected and if it appears I have any sales yet.

If you've been doing LSI or Spark distribution, I 'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why I'm trying Ingram Spark for Print Books

For three years, I have been using CreateSpace for distributing my print books. The positives are it is easy to use. It is free. It is forgiving of small formatting errors. For example, when the spine for one of my books was slightly off for the page count, they fixed it for me for free. The PDF file I generate from Microsoft Word is completely acceptable which means I can use the templates I like and not have to learn Adobe InDesign or Quark--the premier page software used by professional interior designers.

With expanded distribution, CreateSpace gives the option for bookstores to purchase direct, though I have not found a single one that will order unless begged by a customer. It does get your book into the catalogs of all bookstores (via Ingram distribution) and it does appear in all Amazon and Barnes and Noble online sites, as well as others within about 4-6 weeks.

It is the bookstores not being willing to order direct that has always bothered me. The truth is that Amazon's sales of my print books are paltry (20 all of last year across all books). The over 200 print books I've sold are because I distribute directly to them. I purchase the books at my cost from CreateSpace and then drop ship them to the store, and give the bookseller 40% discount. This is the ONLY way I've been able to get booksellers to order in my books. It is this for advanced orders or consignment.

Why Do Booksellers Not Order CreateSpace Books?

Outside of the we-hate-Amazon feeling among most booksellers, the immediate economic reason they will not order direct is that their discount (through Ingram's where they order ALL their books and can get free shipping on orders of certain numbers) on CreateSpace books ends up to be only 25%. I know some of you wonder how that could possibly be when you are giving up 60% to do expanded distribution. Well, here is how it works. CreateSpace takes 20% for their profit before they send it to Ingram's distribution network. Then Ingram takes 15% before they release it to their catalog where a bookstore can see it. It's pretty easy to do the math. With 35% already taken, that leaves only 25% for the bookseller.

Some people may say, well 25% should be enough. It's not. With only 25% the bookseller cannot afford to discount the book at all which puts them at a competitive disadvantage. Amazon discounts print books by 20% or more on a regular basis. How can they afford to do this? Because the Amazon discount from CreateSpace is 40%. Yes they are all one big company together, but accounting wise they are separate. So when CreateSpace takes their 20%, that gives Amazon a 40% discount. Yes, Amazon is part of the "expanded" distribution. So, where Amazon and it's subsidiaries are getting a 40% discount, booksellers end up with a 25% discount. That means if the bookseller attempts to match the 20% discount in order to keep customers coming in the door, they end up with a 5% profit. That is not enough to keep the lights on.

So Who Cares if Booksellers Are Getting Screwed? It's All The Same Money to the Author.

I care! I care because booksellers have been good to me. They review my books. When they like them they tell other booksellers who then try me out. They tell their customers. They include me in their newsletters to their customers, extending my reach. They order my books when I come for events. Even if I didn't already consider many booksellers my friends, I would still care because they are my street team to thousands of readers.

So, I decided to bite the bullet and try Ingram Spark (the service that was designed to replace the Lightning Source interface with something easier for the small press or independent publisher).  I already decided I would go for the 55% discount (norm for booksellers) but that I would not offer returns. With a 55% discount (after Ingram takes their 15%) the booksellers get the 40% discount I offer when I do direct sales to them. Why not offer returns? Let's face it, I'm not a bestseller--at least not yet-- and I have no illusions about bookstores automatically buying 50 of my books in hopes of selling it and then returning 10. I just want them to order them in as their customers make requests and to order them in when I come for an event or develop a relationship with them. Bookstores are much more lean these days and they know what will sell and what won't when they place their orders. It's not worth it to me to worry about returns.

I knew there would be a $49 setup fee for each title. I also knew there is a $12 per year per title catalog fee.  In other words, each book costs $61 to get into the Ingram system (that's over 28,000 bookstore outlets).  Okay, I am willing to do that if it helps booksellers order and sell my books.  That extra cost represents 30 additional print books that need to be sold to make up for that $61 price. If I take away my cost for shipping books from CreateSpace to booksellers, it reduces the break even point to 20 additional books that need to be sold to make up for that $61 price. With over 28,000 bookstores and libraries in their system, it seems likely I'll sell at least 20 additional books AND I won't have to handle all the direct drop shipping functions myself. It seems like a no-brainer to me.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about my experience.  It is not as easy as I had hoped. Now the question is will I see a return on my investment of both time and money, and will I change the way I prepare my print books?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Scrivener Does Create Good EPUB and MOBI files

When I wrote my DIY Publishing book, I documented my personal process for both print and ebook formatting, publishing, and distribution.  That process includes using Joel Friendlander's Book Design Templates for the interior design in print, and then Jutoh for the formatting of that Word File into good MOBI and EPUB files.  I will still continue to do it that way because I love the options I have for presenting my stories.  Also, my creative process involves Microsoft Word has the foundation for my writing.

However, many readers have asked me about Scrivener.  There is a large contingent of authors who absolutely love using Scrivener and have given up Microsoft Word, or other word processing programs, in favor of creating in Scrivener. Invariably, they ask my opinion of the EPUB and MOBI files that Scrivener creates. Not having used it, I had no opinion.

I still haven't used it. However, I have spoken with several authors whose technical abilities I respect. Each of them have told me the EPUB and MOBI files are excellent. They say that Scrivener is particularly easy to use for the more technically-challenged writer and they like having all their research and notes, pictures and chapters in one place that can easily be rearranged as needed.

The test for me happened when I recently helped an author upload her files to the various distribution vendors. It was my first upload of Scrivener generated EPUB and MOBI files. They validated in all venues and uploaded easily. I loaded to Apple, Kobo, B&N, and Amazon as well as for direct sales on Gumroad.

So, I admit that all of you who love Scrivener are in good hands with your file exports. I'm sure there are some configuration things you need to know for the compile to go well, and I can't help with this. However, I will look at getting a guest blogger to talk about his/her experience with Scrivener in more detail in the future. In the meantime, I found this article on how to article for exporting the various file types. Scroll below the table of contents links and start reading at the first narrative paragraph.

Thank you to the many authors who shared their love of Scrivener and provided great information on their use of its file export capabilities.

I am ALWAYS open to learning about new software and new writing processes that are helpful. Every author makes choices about where to spend their time, and when to take the time to learn something new. I'm not in a position at the moment (too many books to get out in the next few months) to learn something new. If you have things to share from your personal journey, please contact me. If it makes sense to share on this blog I'm happy to let you do a guest spot too.

I'm open to recommendations on a Scrivener guest for the future.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Write, Publish, Repeat

Over the past four years I have read a LOT of books on self-publishing. Yes, I've learned from them. But I must admit that most of them say the same thing about marketing, gaming various algorithms (mostly Amazon) for higher rankings, and price manipulation techniques (free or 99 cent suggestions). Each one purports to have THE  "secret" to making the high dollars the author did.

Perhaps I'm a curmudgeon, or reliving personal issues around trust, but I've never bought into the whole secret handshake concept.  Before making the decision to go indie, I published traditionally in both non-fiction and fiction. Over the past 15 years I learned that a book does what it does and there wasn't a lot I could do to make a difference except write a good book that met the needs of my readers. In non-fiction, it's easy to identify who my readers are. In fiction, not so easy because I write cross-genre stories. My fantasies have some SF too, not to mention possible love interest. My adult romances are too much women's fiction to fit straight into the romance category, and too much romance to fit into the women's fiction category. Then there are the romantic suspense and SF adult stuff. In other words, I still haven't identified "my people." Also, most of these marketing secrets are shared by people who "made it" with their non-fiction book (yes the one about marketing secrets that you just paid $10 for), yet are aimed at the multitude of fiction writers. Many of them have never written a fiction book.

Here's the thing. Non-fiction sells better than fiction because it is based on an easily identifiable readership for the book.  Fiction? Not so much. It's squishy. Readers move between genres, have streaks of reading and then times of less reading, and can be extremely loyal one year and then move to the next big thing in another year. In other words, marketing fiction is a different animal.

http://selfpublishingpodcast.com/write-publish-repeat/Consequently, I rarely rave about a book that purports to finally give you the secret. I have never told my peeps that one of these books is THE one for making sure you become a successful fiction writer. 

That has now changed.

Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant is a must read by every indie publisher. Even traditionally published fiction writers will learn from this book. Whether you are just starting out or on your tenth book, you will learn something from this book--something that can truly make a difference in how you approach publication.

If you are truly serious about writing being your career and you are willing to learn the true secret about how to sustain that career, YOU MUST GET THIS BOOK.  The title completely gives away the secret. Write. Publish. Repeat.  Even if you understand that already (as I did), this book will still hit you over the head with how much more you can be doing by timing and releasing your work in a way that maximizes future sales.  And the things they suggest have everything to do with producing work, and nothing to do with luck or spending gobs of money or time to make your book rise above the hoards.

Yes, I admit the book matches my personal philosophy of publishing that I have been screaming from the rooftops for the past five years (write more books instead of spending hours, time, and money promoting one book). Yes, it satisfying that at least a few other people agree with me--actually I know about 30 people who agree with me. :) However, the book is much more than that. It also provides specific instruction on how to maximize all that writing by making good business choices regarding how to release your books in a way that will maximize profits. It also clearly delineates what part of the process is mandatory and what parts of the process fall in the twenty-percent-only-do-it-if-you've-already-done-the-other-eighty-percent category.

Everything you think you know will likely be debunked. Here are a few of the "myths" they tackle:
  • Only the lucky ones make it in this publishing environment. (I never believed this, but a lot of people do)
  • Stay in one genre, so you don't split your readers. (I believed this myth even though I didn't follow it in my own writing)
  • Make sure your book follows all the tropes, meets the largest number of reader needs. (Yup, I believed this one too and knew it was why I wasn't a best seller)
  • Make your book perfect before releasing it to the masses. (I know I'll never be perfect so ignored this advice)
  • Spend time, money, worry in a marketing and promotion scheme that ensures high rankings. (okay, I admit, even though I KNEW this one wasn't true I still tried because I questioned myself and had this niggling voice that said "you have to make more money now." Okay it was the voice of my DH--but it was persistent)

Of course, if you still believe there is a book that will reveal the one big secret--the easy way to get one book to become a bestseller, then do not buy this book. You will hate it. If you are looking for the easy path, do not buy this book. What they propose is far from easy.

Do I agree with everything they say? Nope. Will I likely buy their fiction? Probably not. I don't think it's my cup of tea. However, I will take advantage of their lead in book(s) to see if I'm wrong. (Part of their funnel approach to gain new readers) Here's the thing. I DO agree with more than 90% of what they say and that is very high for me. I can't think of any book about self-publishing (other than my own) where I can say that. Even my own book has its shelf-life of ideas--that shelf-life began deteriorating the moment it was published.

Please, run and buy this book. For only $5.99 in ebook it is well worth the price.

P.S. I've never met these guys. I've never listened to their podcast. I didn't even know they existed until another writer told me "You have to buy this book!"  Thank you, Elaura!!!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New Templates from Joel Friedlander

Most of you know I highly recommend Joel Friedlander's book design templates for creating professional quality print and ebooks in Microsoft Word.  The only difficulty has been going through the process twice to get from the print template to the ebook template.

Well, he has solved that problem now with "2-way" templates.  See his blog post about it and the 35% off offer this week.

Definitely check them out.  Being able to have your ebook look as good as your print is amazing. I know that I am going to try this on my next book release. Anything to cut down time is a good thing. He also indicates these templates are less complex.  Also a good thing for those who have struggled with too many formatting options.

Don't forget, my rule of thumb is to actually create my manuscript within the template to start. That saves a lot of time at the end, so I'm not doing cutting and pasting and reformatting from Word to the template.  If you already have a completed manuscript, then you have to do the cut/paste method.

If you try the new 2-way templates, let me know how it goes for you.  I'm always collecting information and data to share with others.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How to Upload E-books to Apple When You Don't Own an Appple Computer

It must be the after-NANO-books-come-to-fruition time.  It seems that lately I've had at least seven people ask me about how to upload their ebooks to Apple when they don't have a MAC computer.  My first response is always to find  friend with a MAC who will let you use it for a few minutes.  However, if that is not possible. Then, consider one of these three options.

  1. For a fee, you can rent space on Mac in Cloud and use a virtual Mac. If you’ve ever used a service like GoToMyPC or similar, this is what Mac in the Cloud is like. Once you "rent" your Mac, you can log in to your iTunes Connect account and download and install iTunes Producer in the cloud – it often is already pre-installed for you. Services start at $12 a week (3 hours a day – one day free trial), or you can buy 30 hours of prepaid time at $30. 

    Note: You want to have a good, solid Internet connection for this (not wifi that goes in and out) in order minimize your frustration.
  2. You can pay someone to upload for you. Most services that do this charge around $50 per book. One service I recommend is ebook formatting faeries
  3. You can upload to Smashwords or Draft2Digital and have them distribute to Apple for you. Both services take a percentage of every sale.

As most of you know, I'm a control-my-distribution-myself person. So, I would choose the first option if I didn't have a MAC. I would NOT go out and buy a MAC for only this purpose. You can load lots of books for the prepaid $30 (like 30+ books). Not to mention if you've used a PC all your life, the switch to MAC is not easy.
I personally don't load to a middle-man like Smashwords or Draft2Digital. However, I understand that many people like this middle-man option and don't mind paying a percentage of their sales for the convenience.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Possible Table of Contents EPUB validation Error - Case Study

Recently, a UK reader sent me a message with an epub validation error related to the table of contents file.  Without getting into all the reasons this can occur, let me provide you the most common reason and how to make sure it doesn't happen to you in the future.

By defaut, Jutoh generates a table of contents with links to all your chapters.  Most of the time this is great, but depending on your style sheet it can sometimes create a problem.  Specifically, when a level 2 or more heading was found, but not a level 1 heading, then Jutoh would add a level 1 entry using the first bookmark it found - which had already been used by the level 2 heading which creates a TOC error with two TOC identifiers sharing the same item.

As most of us flail about while using style sheets, or have many styles included that are not used, it is easy for this error to occur.  Just in case you are not perfect (I know I'm not), I suggest you do two things to make sure your table of contents is generated correctly.

First UNCHECK the  "generate table of contents" in your configuration file.

Second use the Table of Contents wizard to generate your table of contents from the sections you have defined in Jutoh. This will make sure that the TOC reflects exactly what you intend it to reflect. 

So, let's take a look at how to do these two steps.


Open a Jutoh file with your book. Then click on the Book menu item, and select Edit Configuration.

Scroll down in the configuration for building Epub files until you see Generate table of contents under Options.  There should NOT be a checkmark here. If there is, click on it and the checkmark will go away.

Click the OK button to save your new configuration. 


Go to the Book menu item and select Build table of contents.

The Table of Contents Wizard screen will appear. Click in the circle next to the first item, "Leave it to Jutoh." 

This will create a Table of Contents based on your section titles (see in the content section on the left side of your Jutoh screen). It will not search for styles or headers or anything. It will only take those sections as you have already defined them.

Click the NEXT button and it will create that for you, but it will NOT appear in your contents.

Now click the COMPILE button and a new EPUB will be generated with your table of contents.

NOTE:  In most e-readers this table of contents does not appear as the first or second page. However, when the user selects the Table of Contents option it does appear.  This means it is available whenever the reader wishes to access it but it does not take up a valuable page in the front matter.

Non-Fiction books where multiple level headings are desired may NOT want to use this "Leave it to Jutoh" option. You will instead want to use the advanced option in order to select what you want included in your table of contents and navigation.  See this Jutoh documentation from the Jutoh creator for more information.

Then click on COMPILE button again to generate a new EPUB file for your book without the table of contents generated as a separate item.