Saturday, August 29, 2015


This is the third post in an ongoing series about 5 Secrets Every Indie Author Should Know.  The first two parts of this series are:

Copyright Registration

Excerpted from DIY Publishing, Chapter 14 by Maggie Lynch

Some writers mistakenly believe that getting an ISBN for a book automatically registers the copyright. It does not! They are two different processes. ISBNs are obtained in the United States through a private company, Bowker, that manages the database for all books identified by ISBN. The purpose of an ISBN is simply to have a unique identifier for a book so that it can be sold and tracked globally. Think of it as an inventory code that is the same for every retailer around the world.
Copyright registration has nothing to do with sales of your book or making it available to retailers. In fact, you can register a copyright for a book you never plan to sell or make available outside your immediate family. You are not required to have an ISBN to register a copyright.
Copyright registration is managed through the United States Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress. It is the official United States government body that maintains records of copyright registrations. It is used by copyright title searchers who are attempting to clear a chain of title for copyrighted works.
An analogy I like to use when describing copyright registration is the one most people understand for obtaining title for property. If you own a car in the United States, you receive title to that car from your state government. That title is in the form of a certificate which proclaims you are the owner. The title includes a description of your car, including the vehicle identification number (VIN). If you rent the car out or loan the car to someone else, you still own it and can have use of it. However, if you sell the car you must transfer the title to the new owner. Once that happens, you no longer have use of the car and no say in what happens to the car.
If there were no car titles, a thief could steal your car and claim it was his. You would have little recourse to get the car back because you would have no proof that you own the car. The proof of ownership is the title certificate.
Registering your copyright provides a certificate from the federal government recognizing that you own the rights to your book. In principle, your work is protected by copyright the moment it takes form. However, without this certificate of registration it is difficult to prove you are the owner if another person brings a copy of your work forward and claims it is hers.
As with holding title to a car, you have rights associated with your written work. Those rights allow you to “rent” your work to someone else. This is what happens when you sign a contract with a publisher. The publisher is paying for the right to use what you wrote to make a profit. However, you are still the owner of that work. Based on the contract, the publisher can only  make money from your work for a certain period of time. There may also be ways in which you can end your relationship so that the publisher can no longer use your work.
You also have the right to “sell” your work to someone else. This usually happens when you do a work-for-hire contract or a ghost-writer contract. In these contracts a publisher or individual is paying you for the work as though you were an employee. Once that payment is complete (e.g., a specific fee or royalties over a specified time period), the buyer owns your work. You no longer have the legal right to sell that work again or use it in any way.
In both of these examples—and in self-publishing—registering your copyright is what helps to establish that you are, in fact, the original owner of the work. If a dispute occurs, you will want that certificate of registration and the date it was filed in order to prove you are the owner. If there are two separate registration certificates issued for the same book, by two different people (yes, it does happen), the earlier registration has a better chance of being successful in a lawsuit than the later one.
  At this time I must provide a caveat. The above illustrations demonstrate how not having a certificate of registration may cause problems. However, I am not an attorney. Therefore, do not take anything I say as legal advice. As I discuss copyright law throughout this chapter, I will reference quotations from the United States Copyright Office or a website that provides legal advice.
If you are unclear about your own copyright situation or how copyright registration laws apply to a specific book, seek advice from an intellectual property attorney licensed to practice in the your country or jurisdiction. Do not rely on what you find on the Internet or in books such as mine to provide legal advice. The law is complex and interpretations change as cases are tried in court. It is important to analyze what the latest case law findings say when making a decision on your own situation. Only a licensed attorney can give you that advice.
Registering your copyright with the United States Copyright Office is voluntary. The copyright office summarizes the reasons for registration on their website:

“Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. However, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a work sold in the United States you will need to have registered. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. If registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.”

(See Circular 1, Copyright Basics

 In other words, even though your work is protected from the moment of creation, you can’t bring a lawsuit to recover lost income or assess damages against someone who steals your work unless it is registered.
In addition, registering within three months of publication is advised. According to NOLO, a publisher of legal information:

“You can register a copyright at any time, but registering it promptly may pay off in the long run. Timely registration—that is, registration within three months of the work's publication date or before any copyright infringement actually begins—makes it much easier to sue and recover money from an infringer. Specifically, timely registration creates a legal presumption that your copyright is valid, and allows you to recover up to $150,000 (and possibly lawyer fees) without having to prove any actual monetary harm.”

The least costly and quickest copyright registration method is through electronic registration at the United States Copyright Office website: The cost for this is only $35.00 per book, and you may send an electronic copy of the book with your registration. You can pay by credit or debit card, or by electronic funds transfer using check routing and account information. Once the payment is accepted you will immediately receive a tracking number and a temporary registration number. Approximately 30 days later (depending on how many registrations the copyright office is processing) you will receive the official registration certificate in the mail.
An alternate registration method is through the mail. The cost to do a mailed registration is $65.00. You may download the form from the copyright office, and you must pay by check or money order. The office does not accept credit card payments through the mail. With the mailed form you must send two printed copies of the book to the copyright office. The processing time for this is significantly longer—often taking several months.
Even authors of commercial publishers should check if a copyright has been registered on their behalf. Most small presses, and even some large publishers do not do any copyright registration for their authors unless they are bestsellers. Check your contracts. If your books have not been registered, it is recommended that you register them now.
My personal process is to register my copyright within one week of release. Though I have not yet had a need to file an infringement lawsuit, I want to be sure the registration is as early as possible.
I’ve heard authors tell me they aren’t going to register their work because they don’t want to pay the fee, or they don’t believe their “little, unknown work” will be stolen, or because they are not in a financial position to hire an attorney and bring a lawsuit if it were stolen. Certainly, registration is voluntary. Personally, I look at it as inexpensive insurance.
I wish we lived in a world where no one plagiarized written work, or outright stole books and put a different author name on it. Unfortunately, it happens far too often, and electronic document transmission has made it even easier for criminals to do this.
In addition, the likelihood of infringement increases with the popularity of a book or an author. You never know when you will become popular. You may work in obscurity for six years and then suddenly a book hits the New York Times list or it wins a major award. Once you become popular, not only is the bestselling book a temptation for criminals, but your entire backlist is targeted as well.  Criminals have been known to put a new author name on a book and immediately register the copyright. They will even keep the same title (titles cannot be copyrighted). If you have not registered, what recourse do you have? None.
For me, spending $35.00 and a little time online is a small price to pay for the assurance that I can bring a lawsuit to prove infringement.

Convinced to register? Let’s go through the online copyright process.

NOTE: Because the next instructions involve a number of screen shots, I've created a PDF file that you can download with the step-by-step instructions.  It will save me time in uploading all the  images to this blog, and I know the images in the PDF will be much more clear than they would be here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Top Craft Reasons That Get a Book Bad Reviews or Not Even a Look

This continues the series on 5 Secrets Every Indie Author Should Know.  The first secret was Craft Does Matter.

#1 Book blurb is boring, too long or doesn’t meet genre expectations

In today’s technological world, readers make a decision very quickly about whether to try a new author or a new genre.  Internet research tells us that the average purchaser spends all of 3-6 seconds on a product page before making a decision whether to click on a larger description or take a chance. Assuming at least two of those second is deciding if the cover is intriguing, that leaves only four seconds to read your blurb. If you don’t catch the reader at the very beginning, they won’t take the other ten second to finish reading and then make a decision .

You’ve probably seen the blurbs that follow all the “rule of four parts.” Describe the situation. Describe the problem. Provide hope. Summarize the mood/theme.  Um…I don’t agree. All of this is tell, tell, tell and you see millions of blurbs that follow this direction. And too many are long—three or four paragraphs. Today’s online shopper will never get through that. You need to stand out. Grab the reader by the throat and say “Look at me. You’ll rue the day you passed me by.”

Your book’s first line needs to say “I’m intriguing. I’ll give you more than you can imagine. Do you dare to try me?” 

How do you do that? Some people do it with what is known as a “logline” or “tagline.” That’s a single sentence that encapsulates your story.  Here are some of my loglines.

Forgiving yourself is the first step, but helping others forgive may be just too hard.” – This is a character problem line that summarizes the entire arc of the protagonist. This tells the reader this is a character-driven book.

“Children with no birth records and a soldier with PTSD together must define the value of human life.” – This is a plot logline. It summarizes the entire plot and the thematic question. It tells the reader that this is going to be plot driven but also have characters who will strive to answer the thematic question.

You don’t always have to use a logline as your first sentence. But trying to come up with one is a great exercise.  If not a logline then start with the most intriguing part of your story. It may be the character. It may be the setting. It may be something that immediately tells the reader the genre.

Here is an example from my first book in a YA Fantasy series.

Camryn Painter is a 16-year-old freak of nature. Or possibly the savior of a civilization that isn’t supposed to exist. She’s a human chameleon… one who transforms into the image of whoever she sees.”

In these three short sentences an intriguing character is established. The over-arching problem she faces is established. And the reader immediately knows it is in the fantasy or paranormal genre.

There are many more parts of writing a blurb. I would challenge you to try getting the most important part of your blurbs down to 100 words total. Make every line count. Make it so that the reader must pick up that book.

Need more help with constructing your blurb?

Check out Mary Buckham’s section of this Open House. She’s talking about Writing Active Hooks, which is key to getting that important first line in your blurb.

There is also an entire course on this. Beth Fred’s course, Blurb Writing Made Easy is being offered in December.

#2 Nothing Happens in the First 20-30 pages

You know that “Look Inside” feature that several distributors use? Or the “sample pages” in the case of Apple? If a reader gets past your blurb, the next thing she’ll do is click on that sample. That sample is 20% or less of your book.  That means with every page turn the reader is evaluating if it’s interesting enough to continue. If you use those first pages to set up the book, tell the backstory, give a walking tour of the location, it is highly likely the reader won’t even get through the entire sample.

You’ve probably heard, “start with action.” That doesn’t mean start with a bomb blast or someone dying (though you can). What it means is start with the point at which everything changes for your protagonist. There’s a phrase called “walking to the story” that some editors use. It means you are doing a lot of writing before you actually get to where the story starts.

Even though all that information is important to your process, or to trying to let the reader know how your protagonist found herself in this mess, it is not doing you any favors in getting someone to pick up your book.

AllWriter Workshops has several courses on craft to help you with this.

A series called Your First Book with professional editor Jodi Henley. Right now she is offering Part 2 and Part 3.

Next spring multi-published author and award-winning author, Laurie Schnebly, is offering a class on Overcoming That Fatal Flaw. This is for experienced authors who write good manuscripts but can’t determine where they are going wrong.

There are also a number of good craft books to help with your story development. My favorites are:

Break Into Fiction by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love
Practical Emotional Structure by Jodi Henley
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Brown and Dave King. 

I admit the last one is the one I go back to at the end of every first draft manuscript I write. I use it as a checklist for both developmental editing and good writing techniques. After I do that next edit (and sometimes a third edit), then I finally send my manuscript to a professional editor.

#3 No Story

I know that every writer believes she has written a great story—one that does everything she wanted it to do.  And it is probably true. The problem comes when someone, other than the author, reads the story and doesn’t see the same thing the author sees. This happens more often than I can count.

I’ve read entire 300+ page manuscripts that on a sentence-by-sentence level were beautifully written, had no typos or grammar problems, described and set up scenes and had decent dialog.  But, after slogging through 300 pages, nothing really happened. The plot may have moved from point A to point B, but there was never real conflict or no one was really in jeopardy. The hero and heroine may have ended up in-love or married, but I never saw the relationship build and it all came too easily. The detective figured out the mystery by page 329, but it was all obvious to me by page thirty.

This is why no author should ever edit her own work as a final edit. By the time I finish a book, I am the last person who knows whether I really got everything across. In my mind I did. In my mind the stakes were high, the conflict was real, and the emotions were undeniable.

After more than 30 short stories, 15 novels, and 5 non-fiction books you’d think I had this down. Um…No…Not really. Yes, most of the book is okay. However, EVERY time I send it to the editor there is more than one place where things are not so obvious to her as a reader. EVERY time I send a book out to Beta readers, there are several places where things are not so amazing as it is in my mind.

Books that fail to find an audience often have story craft problems. Some of those are addressed in the classes and resources I mentioned in item #2. All of them can be addressed by a good Developmental Editor. A developmental editor can identify problems with things like story and character arcs, themes, emotion, plot, pacing, scene and sequel, dialog, genre cookies, and many others. Do remember that not all editors are created equal. Also that, particularly in fiction, it is critical that your editor knows your genre inside and out. Reader expectations for romance books are very different from reader expectations for mysteries and those are different than science fiction.

In my opinion, if you have to choose only one editor, a good Developmental Editor is your best choice.

If you cannot afford a developmental editor then try to barter with someone. At least be sure to send your book at to critique partners AND Beta Readers. Beta readers are people who read regularly in your genre. They are people you do not know personally and therefore will give you there honest answers.

There are also two advanced writing books I would highly recommend

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein – the most comprehensive book on actual techniques from plot to character to pacing and everything else that I’ve ever read.

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks – this goes beyond the basics of plot and structure into the parts that make it hang together or not

#4 Typos and Obvious Grammar Problems

If you succeed in getting to that purchase stage, and then deliver a book riddled with typos and grammatical errors you will be called out on it. Believe me, there are many readers who go looking for that and immediately post a review about it.

There are several ways to deal with proofreading. One way is to pay or barter with a professional proofreader. This is different from a developmental editor or a copy editor. A proofreader is someone who looks at every word, every punctuation mark, every verb-tense agreement and finds the problems. She doesn’t look at character arcs or plot development or make comments on whether there is enough emotion on the page.

I do understand that many writers on a budget, have to choose between the type of editor they can afford to pay (usually only one). If you spent your money on a developmental editor then I would suggest a couple of options for proofing. 1) Find a friend who loves you and is the one who always catches typos in other books; 2) Use a service like Autocrit or Pro Writing Aid. This isn’t as good as a human, but it does a decent job, and it is definitely better than doing nothing at all or relying on yourself. The key to using these tools is understanding how to fix the things it finds or when to ignore the advice.

#5 Reader Cookies

All readers come to a book with a set of expectations, and if those expectations are not met they are disappointed and either leave middling to bad reviews or simply don’t come back for other books. Fulfilling these expectations are white I call “reader cookies.”  Those expectations are formed by three things: 1) Your promise in the blurb; 2) The categories/genres you select when you load the book; and 3) Tropes of the genre.

Your promise in the blurb. When you read the loglines I presented for three different books, it is likely that you formed an idea in your mind around what that book might contain. These ideas are based on your previous reading experiences with similar themes or ideas.

Though you cannot please every person who picks up your book, you also have to be very aware of what expectations you are setting up with your blurb. And then you MUST deliver on those expectations in the story. If you are setting up an emotional, character-driven story in your blurb then you better deliver that story. This means you have to have a strong sense of your protagonist and that character drives everything, from plot to black moment to resolution.  If you are setting up a world, as I did in my fantasy blurb, then you better deliver something that is an entire world with a set of rules and societies, economics and power distribution, that is consistent throughout your book or series.

The Categories/Genres You Select. When you load your book to distributors you have to choose the categories that best fit your book. This is often hard for writers because many writers have a hard time deciding where it really fits.

Readers search based on those genre categories. If a reader is looking for a romance and your book is categorized that way, then you better deliver some romance tropes and have a happily-ever-after (HEA) at the end. If you fail to have the romantic relationship at the center of the story or you don’t deliver an HEA, your reviews will reflect that problem and it will get around this really isn’t a romance.

Every genre has “rules” about what belongs in that genre. Even non-fiction has these breakdowns. Expectations in a self-help book are different than expectations in a memoir.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

5 Secrets Every Indie Author Should Know

This is the first post in the this series that was originally offered at an Open House, August 8-10 with All Writer Workshops. Continuing classes are available on these topics. You may view all currently scheduled classes there by clicking on the All Workshops tab.

5 Secrets Every Indie Author Should Know

This week I'm doing the overview of the topic. Over the next FIVE weeks, I'll be posting several times during the week relating to that topic. Sunday will be my "lecture." Monday-Friday will be responses to questions asked relating to that topic. 

Please do not keep these secrets to yourself. Share them with your author friends. The more indie authors understand, the more successful they will be. Better yet, sign up with your email so that you get every post delivered directly to your inbox.

1. Craft DOES matter. 

Yes, I know everyone can cite a bestselling author who made millions even though her book was riddled with typos and misspellings and didn’t follow many of the rules for story. The point is that you cannot base your career on the outlier—the lucky one, the one created a character who overcame the reader’s notice of problems, or the one who hit the zeitgeist the first time out.

Sure, it MIGHT happen to you too. And I hope that it does. More likely your book will have to compete with the millions of books out there, and TV, and movies, and video games. To do that your craft needs to be better than average or readers will crucify you. Even if you get them to buy the first book—because they didn’t see the craft—they will not come back for the second book if they get distracted by a lack of good developmental and copy editing.

I’ve been writing and publishing for nearly 40 years—starting with short stories and then moving to novels and non-fiction books. I still take craft classes. I still have things to learn and I know I can always improve.

I’ll be sharing some of the key writing craft problems that get books stuck at the bottom of the discoverability chain. I’ll also talk about the different types of editors and how you can use them to best help your book succeed while still keeping within a reasonable budget.

2. Understand Copyright and Licensing. 

It’s more than legal mumbo jumbo. It is key to your entire career. You must have a good handle on exactly what your copyright means, how to protect your intellectual property, and how you to exploit it through licensing your work.

I’ll be sharing basic information that explains copyright and licensing, as well as a step-by-step instruction sheet for how to register your copyright; and a tip sheet with a checklist of items to consider when someone wants to license your books.

3. Think like a publisher. 

If you are an indie author, that means you are now a publisher. You need to wear two hats—your writing hat and your publishing business hat. If you are unable to do that, your long-term profitability is in jeopardy.

Publishers think like a business. They develop business plans. They think beyond one book. They think objectively about what the investment should be in the business and they try to predict how long it will take to get a return on that investment. Can you accurately predict how long it will take to make back your expenses? Do you know at what point your business will no longer make sense? Or when you should invest more to expand more?

Again, I will share some of the key elements you need to consider as a publisher. We will discuss ways in which you can build a basic plan and make critical decisions about profitability, output, and investment in the short-term so that you don’t end up spending too much or getting burned out before you actually start making money.

4. Distribute widely. 

 The fastest growing markets for e-books, right now, is outside of the United States. Japan, India, Germany, Latin America are really hot markets—even in English. There are many ways to reach these markets and it’s not always through the major distributors (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple, Google). You need to know how to get to your readers consistently, the pricing they expect, and which markets fit the books you are writing. The sales percentages may start out low (1% here, 8% there), but when you begin adding them up it can make a difference in your ability to do more than break even. That extra 10% or 25% outside of your normal distribution network can put you over the top in profitability or allow you to expand your business or afford help.

I’ll share some of the hottest markets outside of the normal five distributors and ways you can reach them. We can discuss at what point in your career it is worth investing a little more in distribution and marketing, and when it helps to go with an aggregator instead of uploading everything direct.

5. Indie Publishing is NOT an overnight success story. 

 It Takes Time. You need to be in this for the long haul. You make money by writing more content. Every new bit of content you put out—whether that is a short story, an article, a novella, or a full length book provides another chance for readers to discover you, to like you, and to buy everything you’ve written. The writer’s who are making the most money are the writer’s with many titles. This is because of the “long-tail” of e-book publishing. That means that books you published ten years ago can still be paying you today—especially if they relate to the new books you are publishing today.

Readers love to know what they are getting when they buy a book. That is why they return again and again to the same authors. That is why they often won’t even try you until you have three or four or five books in your catalog. They want to know you will still be there when they want another book by you.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Importance of Lifelong Learning

You've probably heard universities talk about lifelong learning, but did you know that making a commitment to continue learning is important in every career--including writing? The publishing landscape is changing every year now. Part of that is because of technology advancements. Part of it is the continued impact of digital reading. And part of it is what it has always been, the changing desires of the reader. That means not only how they read (print or ebook, library or subscription), but also what they like to read.

Last weekend I participated in a free open house at All Writer Workshops with five other instructors around a variety of topics relating to authors. Some of them were on craft--how to write better. Some of them were on story structure and editing. Yet others were on technology and the business of writing.

Over the next few weeks I am going to share some of my "lectures" from that Open House on this blog, as well as responses to some of the questions students asked. My segment was 5 Secrets Every Indie Author Should Know.  You might think, "Oh, that's just a bulleted list." And it can be a simple bulleted list. However, the execution of that list is complex and that is where the Q&A gets interesting. I hope you will check into the blog regularly to see what was covered.

If you want some one-on-one mentoring to get your career off to the right start, I am offering all of my classes online now too. That allows you to participate on your own time schedule each day. The entire schedule through 2016 is now available. We've tried very hard to keep the costs reasonable. All workshops are either one week or two weeks. And you have 20 days after the end of the course to still access materials and benefit from discussions.

Workshop Schedule

My current schedule is below. Class sizes are limited so that I can provide feedback to every student. Workshops include written step-by-step handouts, screenshots, cheat sheets and tips as applicable. Sign up soon so you don’t miss out.

  2015 2016
Course/Series Start Date End Date Start Date End Date
Indie Book Distribution Series

   Distribution Demystified $35 Aug 16 Aug 22 May 1 May 7
   Ebook Distribution Secrets $85 Sept 6 Sept 19 May 8 May 21
   Print Distribution Secrets $50 Sept 27 Oct 3 June 5 June 11

Indie Book Formatting Series

   Understanding Microsoft Word
Styles $35

Mar 13 Mar 19
   Formatting Ebooks $50
Mar 20 Mar 26
   Formatting Print Books $50
Apr 10 Apr 16

Online Author Marketing Series

   Effective Online Author
Marketing $35
Oct 4 Oct 10 July 31 Aug 6
   Mailchimp – Your Marketing BFF $50 Oct 11 Oct 17 Aug 7 Aug 13
   Become a Social Network Expert $85 Nov 8 Nov 21 Aug 21 Sept 4

Business Planning for Career

   What Career Do You Want? $35
Jan 10 Jan 23
   Licenses, DBA, LLC, Corps
Oh My $35

Jan 24 Jan 30
   Title Development Planning $70
Jan 31 Feb 13
   Career and Title Evaluation $50
Feb 21 Feb 28
   Planning for Success and Failure $35
Feb 28 March 5