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Posts tagged ‘indie publishing’

On going indie and an announcement

When I sat down in the much too early hours of the morning to write this post, I found myself at a loss. My brain is fried and the ability to come up with something new seemed beyond me. So, as I will often do when I’m unsure what to blog about, I started checking out a few writing-related sites to see what they had to say. Nothing really jumped out at me until I started scrolling through The Passive Voice. One article in particular caught my eye. I’m not going to actually discuss the article, so I’m not linking to it. However, the idea behind the article did set me to thinking — something that might be dangerous since I’m pre-coffee. Read more

Why should we look at the entire industry?

This question came up recently in comments – why should we, on MGC, report on what The Big 5 (4?) are doing, or on B&N?

1. There’s scope and scale. What business are we in? We’re in the entertainment business. We’re competing with every other entertainer out there for Joe Sixpack’s beer money – and for Jane Doe’s attention span when she wants something to take her mind off the fact that she’s in a waiting room. Read more

Reader Expectations: What’s Inside

This popped up at the Passive Voice the other day: https://booklife.com/create/art-design/06/28/2015/top-five-diy-book-layout-mistakes.html

Do your books look like books? No, not as in they have cover, pages, copyright info, table of contents, but if you borrowed someone else’s e-reader and compared your book to a Big 5 or small press book, does yours scream “Hi, I’m a bad Word to HTML conversion?” Read more

On formatting for print and digital

I want to thank everyone who took the time to tell us what topics you’d like to see us cover over the next six months or so. It really does help us to have that sort of input. While we don’t guarantee that we’ll get to ever topic, or in the exact way it was suggested, we will do our best to cover as many of them as possible. I’m still pulling the list together and I’ll be sending it out to the other bloggers later today. In the meantime, Dave kicked us off with his post about prologues yesterday.

One topic several of you requested was formatting. There were variations on the topic and a request for exercises. I’ll figure out the best way to do exercises over the next few days. I might go back to a workshop I did on formatting several years ago and update it for the purpose. But, while I figure out the best way to do that, here are links to some recent posts I’ve done on formatting for both print and digital editions.

Formatting Revisited

Formatting for Print Revisited

Formatting for Print Revisited , Pt. 2

These posts are targeted for those who are planning on going indie with their work. For those of you who are wanting to go traditional, formatting is a bit easier. The first thing you need to do is check the agent’s website or the publisher’s website you are submitting your work to. If they have special formatting requirements, they’ll be listed.

For example, Baen lists the following as its requirements:

  • Attach the manuscript as a Rich Text Format (.rtf) file.
  • Send the manuscript as a single file (do not break it into separate chapter files).
  • Synopsis and contact info needs to be in the file with your manuscript.
  • Minimal formatting, please. Do not format text boxes or sidebars into the manuscript; use block quotes. Indent paragraphs; center chapter headers and scene break indicators (###, ***, etc.); use page breaks only at the end of chapters. For emphasis, choose either underline or italics and use it consistently throughout.
  • Do not use “smart quotes”/curly quotes or single character elipses, mdashes, etc. Use straight quotes and apostrophes, . . ., –, etc.
  • Avoid non-standard fonts, and unnecessary changes in font face, size, etc. Publisher likes CG Omega and Lucida Bright.

For hard copy submission, here are some of the requirements for Baen:

  • Standard manuscript format only: double-spaced, one side of the page only, 1 1/2″ margins on all four sides of the page. We will consider photocopies if they are dark and clear.
  • Font must be readable, or we won’t read it. This means seriphed or at least semi-seriphed, 12-point or greater. Publisher likes CG Omega and Lucida Bright. Typesetter likes any standard bookface, Times Roman or Courier.

You can find the submission guidelines for Tor/Forge here. Actual formatting requirements are as follows:

  • Standard manuscript format means margins of at least 1 inch all the way around;
  • indented paragraphs;
  • double-spaced text;
  • Times New Roman in 12 pitch.
  • Please use one side of the page only. Do not justify the text.
  • Do not bind the manuscript in any way.
  • Make sure the header of the ms. includes your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number (on every page).

So you can see the two publishers have similar, if not identical, requirements. But that’s not always the same, which is why I say to check the sites for wherever you are submitting if you are going the traditional route and trying to find an agent or publisher. That is especially true if you are submitting to a small or mid-sized press because some of them want the author to submit their work in a format that will be easily converted into digital formats (in other words, they want the author to do that part of the work for them).

So, I guess here is where I give you the first “assignment”. Look at your current work-in-progress (or the work you just finished and are trying to figure out what to do with). Decide whether you want to go indie or trad with it. If going trad, decide if you are going to try for publishers where you need an agent or if you are going to a publisher that has open submissions. If the former, start looking at agent requirements. (For example, some agents have you send the first few pages as part of the body of your email while others don’t want to see anything but your query.) If the latter, find their submission guidelines and figure out, based on those, what you have to do to get your submission packet ready.

We’ll get more into the nitty gritty of it next week. Until then, if you have any questions or if you want input on your formatting decisions, post them in the comments below.

Edited to Add: Let me know in the comments which OS you use to write in and what programs you use for writing and for conversion (if any on the latter). That will help me as I put together the next couple of posts. 

 

Later!

Indie does not mean Alone

I was talking with my mother the other day about writing and publishing. Mom is a good writer, and has nonfiction articles published, but not yet her fiction. I’m looking forward to her fiction being complete, and it’s not just that I’m biased toward my mom. But the conversation, and another comment I’d seen on social media, got me thinking. I’ve chosen an independent career, but that does not mean I operate alone.

As I am preparing a book for publication, it has already been read, commented on, edited, and not just by one or two other people. For this book I had an unusually high number of alpha readers. It had three, my First Reader, and two others I could trust not to blow smoke in my *ahem* but to tell me if they saw real problems. Most books don’t need that many – may not need any at all – but for this one where I was struggling with my confidence and inability to distance myself from the story, they are the only reason I finished it.

Once the book was finished in rough draft, I sent it off the beta readers. The comment I’d seen another author make, about only ever using two to three readers, always the same ones, and ones who wouldn’t steal the manuscript, rather boggled me. One, that height of paranoia bordering on arrogance… The manuscript is worth stealing, really?! And further, stealing when there is an easy record of who sent it to whom and when? But besides that pathology, there is a pitfall to using that few beta readers, and never changing them up. If life happens, and it will, you the author are left with even less feedback. And two to three readers is insufficient. Sarah Hoyt taught me years ago that you don’t make significant changes to a manuscript unless three people independently tell you of an issue. And you aren’t going to get that with a tiny reader pool. Also, solicit opinions outside your usual readers. If you can get someone who has never read your stuff before, that’s great! They are less likely to suffer from confirmation bias towards your work and can objectively assess it. I’m not saying send your book to all and sundry. But I am forever grateful to my beta reading pool, who have helped my writing more than they can ever know.

But it doesn’t stop there. From a cover artist, to editors, the Indie Author team is often made up of hired professionals, networked and bartered services, or some combination of those. But rarely does the author work completely alone, and when they do, it handicaps their work. If none but them see the book, they are going to be blindsided by bad reviews.

James Young, a great mil SF author and occasional guest post here, put out a terrific post on cover art, but the process he outlines for working with an artist, from price settings to contracts, is good stuff for working with any professional. I’ve been on both sides of that equation, as author and artist. Let me tell you, it’s not fun to shell out money you can’t really spare for work that never gets done. What he says about the PayPal friends payment, and no recourse? Ever wonder why I wound up becoming a cover artist? I didn’t have a choice – that money was gone, and I needed a cover, but couldn’t afford it at the time. It was a great lesson and led to good stuff for me, but it hurt. I’d rather you learn from my mistakes than repeat them. On the flip side, as an artist, I’ve done work, not collected a deposit, and been out money for supplies and a bunch of time when the author suddenly backed out. Lesson learned: don’t work with certain people and always collect a non-refundable deposit before starting work.

It’s a collaborative effort all the way, what we do. From writing groups to, well, the Mad Genius Club, the great thing about Indie Publishing is that you’re never alone. That’s why I don’t say I’m self-published. I may be pressing the button, but I have a team at my back. Sometimes I am part of that team behind an author. I get silly proud when I see my covers on great books hoping them sell well. I will always be there when someone who is struggling with their confidence about being a writer wants an ear to listen. I have friends who put up with me moaning about how this book is horrible, terrible, no good and will never be finished. In the past I’ve had writing groups and critique groups where I was anonymous (great for developing thick skin towards criticism) and prompt groups… All those people are a part of my path to publication. I’m not alone, and neither are you.

 

How fast is slow?

…And other indie myths.

When talking to indies, one of the first pieces of advice you’ll hear is to have a lot of volume, putting out X stories per year. (I’ve heard anywhere from 4 to 12 on this one.) While this is good advice, it’s neither mandatory nor the only way to succeed, and “You have to write fast to succeed as indie” is fast on its way to becoming a myth masquerading as a bedrock belief in the indie universe.

Let’s break down the reasons why.

First, the indie market (in e-book) is very young. It’s still shaking out of the initial gold rush mentality and into a mature market, and isn’t there yet. (Despite being online, it doesn’t move at internet news cycle speed.) When the bad old days of trad-only were, ah, ten years ago? This is still a brand-new market. Therefore, the people who’ve come in indie-only are, at most, only on their tenth year of this. (Most haven’t been doing it for that long, either.)

Having a lot of books out there not only has more ways for readers to find you, it also lets them binge-read once they do find you – which creates fans, and plenty of royalties. However, ten years (or less) isn’t that long a time for writing a lot of books, so the indie-only authors who naturally write very quickly, and the ones who had a lot of backlog ready to put up, were able to get ahead of the trad authors whose houses didn’t upload ebooks / didn’t have rights back yet, and the newer indies who write more slowly.

However, let me show you two examples of people who don’t have to write quickly, both midlist. First, our own lovely Sarah Hoyt. Sarah has put years of effort into writing a blog, and built an audience there, as well as building fans between her mystery books, her scifi, and her fantasy. She only has one indie book out, while all the rest are trad… and when she didn’t get a book out for two years (three since the last one in that series), she still had fairly good sales, as many of her fans were happy to read anything she’d put out. (Others may be mystery-only or fantasy-only.) However, when she gets the next shifters book out, despite it being three? four? years since the last one, I guarantee you she won’t be starting from scratch on building a fanbase or selling the series.

Second, my darling husband, Peter Grant. Despite his body’s best attempts to sneak out of this marriage by hiding six feet under the soil, I’m not letting him go (and he certainly doesn’t want to go!) However, medical misadventures have seriously slowed his production schedule from the hoped-for four a year to two a year, and then only one. He’s better now (yay!) and writing again (yay!), but despite all the dire warnings of “you must do mass volume to make it as an indie…” we actually didn’t. Now, the sales do drop significantly when it’s been almost two years between books in a series (Feb 2014 to Dec 2015), but you’re not restarting from scratch. If you keep in contact with your fans, they’re excited to get the new book in the series when you help them find out it’s available.

(Caveat: if you define “making it” as “making a living”, well, yeah. Peter did not make enough off releasing one book in a brand new genre to pay the bills for all of 2016, until the December launch of Stoke the Flames Higher. I got a day job last year, and it’s both awesome and helping offset medical bills and mortgage. This is the freelance life: money does not come in steadily, and if the reserve drops too low, it’s time to supplement the income with a job until the reserve is built back up, and you want to leave. Personally, I like this job; I’ll be staying well after the reserve is rebuilt.)

When you think about it, it makes sense: back when trad pub limited us to one book a year per author, there were still plenty of people who became fans of Terry Prachett, Mercedes Lackey, Patricia Briggs and David Weber. They all started publishing well before the ebook revolution, and they still have plenty of fans even at a slow release rate today. (Heck, there are new Heinlein, Anne McCaffery, and Prachett fans being made all the time, even though those authors are no longer with us. All it takes is a body of work and visibility, or word of mouth, same as with the living.)

So if you’re a slow writer, don’t despair. Just keep writing! And if you’re a fast writer, don’t feel you have to kill yourself to keep up a schedule if your life (or health) falls apart. Just keep writing, as you can! It does help to have a place where your fans can gather and converse, so they remember they liked you and so you have an easy way to notify them that your newest book is out when it gets there. It may take a lot longer, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. (Quick math – if the average time for word of mouth to spread noticeably for an author is about three years, how many books do you have that have been out long enough to start to get word of mouth recommendations?)

Think like a pro

This is a quasi-follow up to last week’s post. In this case, I’m not necessarily saying to think like a “pro” writer but think like a business pro. This means sitting back and considering how what you just wrote as a blog post or FB status post or Tweet or whatever the social media platform of the day is called — and doing so before you hit the enter button. It means looking at the long term as well as the short term benefits of any action you are considering when it comes to your career. It also means doing what is best for you in this ever-changing career of ours.

So let’s start with the elephant in the room: social media. Almost every author and editor, publisher and agent, has a Facebook page. They Tweet and Reddit and whatever else is out there. Because is it an election year, our feeds are filled with a number of political posts. Some are thoughtful and well thought out. They look at the issues and the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. In short, they are the sort of posts where debate are encouraged and personal attacks aren’t tolerated. Then there are the ones where the pro in question starts out by condemning — or worse — anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their political beliefs. They ridicule those who don’t think the “right” way. They will instantly block or unfriend those who aren’t as liberal or conservative or whatever as they are.

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy discussing politics — or just about anything else — with people who are willing to discuss and debate the issues with me. I also remember those who dig their heels in the sand, put their fingers in their ears and try to shout me down. In other words, online behavior can and does impact my decision on what books I buy.

But it goes beyond political discussion or diatribe. It is behavior in general. As noted in last week’s post, if a writer takes to social media to do a hatchet job on an agent or editor and doesn’t back up what they are saying, well, that author comes across as a prima donna and only does himself harm. When an agent or editor take to social media and make fun of an author, especially someone trying to break into the business, they are no better than the prima donna author. They go on my little list (that is getting longer with each month that passes) of folks I don’t necessarily want to do business with.

Then there are the authors — or anyone else, for that matter — who look at social media as their own private promotion train. You know the ones I’m talking about. Those authors or agents who Tweet constantly about their books. Every other Facebook post is about this book they have written or that book they are about to publish. They fill your feed with what are nothing but ads and, all too often, poorly written ones. I get the need to promote your work. Everyone in this business does. But there is a reason why folks love using their DVRs. They can fast-forward through the commercials and when you social media feed is little more than one ongoing infomercial, folks are going to do the FB version of  fast-forwarding. They will block your posts on their feed or unfriend you or both.

Even worse in some ways than the constant informercial postings are when authors (or others) create Facebook pages or groups and add folks to it without their permission. Guys, I can’t stress highly enough what a big no-no this is. I know it is easier and less time consuming to just add folks and let them then decide if they want to stay in the group or not but it isn’t cool. Instead of doing that, add a few folks you know want to take part. Ask them to help spread word about your page and then grow your fanbase that way. Most of all, when someone you have added without their permission calls you on the carpet for it, admit you screwed up and apologize. Don’t then be a dick about it and attack them. Man up — or woman up — and admit you made a mistake and ask them to hang around because you will do everything you can to make it worth their while.

There is more when it comes to social media but it all basically comes down to this: If you were talking to someone face-to-face, would you say to them what you are about to post on social media? A second question you need to ask is if you would say it to them in a crowded room where everyone can and will hear you say it? Finally, ask yourself if you would say it in front of your mother or grandmother, priest or pastor, or how about your child? If you answered “no” to any of this, you might want to seriously consider whether you want to put it out on social media where the world can see it.

Always remember, your social media presence is the only interaction most of your fans and potential fans will ever have with you. This is your chance to win them over to your side, not alienate them because you are being a douche.

Social media isn’t the only thing you need to keep in mind when it comes to acting like a pro. Some of us are more than happy to take the risk of indie publishing. We know we face an uphill battle getting our books into brick and mortar stores. We have to decide if we want to put all our e-book eggs into the Amazon basket or spread them far and wide with different online vendors as well. We have to deal with our own bookkeeping and making sure our work is edited, etc. However, we also know we can get our work out at our own schedule and not be limited by the number of slots a publisher has or working our way through slush piles. The indie route isn’t right for everyone just as the traditional route isn’t the only way.

However, there is a quote that caught my eye this morning that I’d like to share with you. It comes from an interview with agent Molly Friedrich. She has been in the game for some time now and represents such authors as Sue Grafton and Frank McCourt, among others.

When asked if ebooks and they way they have changed the industry has impacted her, Friedrich responded:

Ebooks have been very healthy for publishers. They have not been healthy for authors. Publishers are making a load of money — very little of which is going to the author’s statement.

I know that doesn’t surprise most of us, or it shouldn’t. We have seen publishers trying to claim they have to re-edit ebooks or redesign covers, etc. They have tried double-dipping on their so-called expenses to lower the monies they have to pay out to authors. Then we have the debacle of the price-fixing attempt some of them did with Apple in an attempt to hurt Amazon. The only ones hurt then were the authors and readers. It has become clear that publishers either don’t understand the economics of ebooks (or of customer demand and price points) or they don’t care.

At a time when most folks balk at paying cover prices for books, hard cover or soft, why do publishers think we will pay $12.99 for an ebook? When they should be realizing that more units could be sold if they would lower prices (even if it was simply to $9.99) why are they continuing to raise prices? New ebooks by J. D. Robb and David Baldacci are now listed at $14.99.

$14.99

Nope, this reader is not going to pay that much for a book, no matter how much I like the author. The only exception might be for research books but not for fiction. Not now and probably not ever. That is especially true when I can and have found indie authors and small press authors who sell their books at half that price or less.

The lesson from this is to recognize that even a pro on the traditional side recognizes the fact that the publishers are not working in the best interest of authors when it comes to ebook pricing. That means you need to take this into consideration when you are contemplating whether to go indie or traditional.

I guess what I’m saying is that, no matter whether you are looking at promoting your work or trying to decide which route is best for you, approach it like you would anything else in business. Look at the strengths and weaknesses. Look at what will best serve your needs and help you reach your goals. Then go for it. Just remember that this is your profession and you need to always remember that.