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Posts tagged ‘publishing’

Blast from the Past: What is “legitimate” in the 21st century publishing environment?

(Brad is away from his keyboard today so I pulled this post of his from January 2017. It is as timely now as it was then. — ASG)

Not very long ago, the intarwebz — or at least that part of the intarwebz which is fascinated with all things authorly — became infuriated over this toss-off commentary from the Huffington Post. Now, toss-off commentary is not surprising at HuffPo. In fact, one might say that toss-off commentary is HuffPo’s raison d’être. Articles like this are supposed to inflame. HuffPo wants clicks, and caterwauling. That’s how HuffPo functions. And while men far better than me have taken the commentary to task, I think it’s worth pointing out that the article does bring up a very valid question, which lurks in the shadows at every author workshop, convention, kaffeeklatsch, and bar conversation: when will each of us know we are legitimate? Read more

Are you really sure?

One of the most frequent comments you’ll hear when you ask someone why they want to sign a traditional publishing contract has to do with the “services” they get from a publisher. Next to distribution to bookstores, probably the most often quoted reason authors want a publisher is so they have an editor. They trust the publisher to make sure their book goes through not only content editing but also copy editing and proofreading. Because of that, they don’t worry as much about turning in a publication ready manuscript as they would if they were going the indie route.

It doesn’t matter if they are talking about a small press, mid-sized press or one of the Big 5. Too many authors believe the hype publishers try to sell – that they will get the kind of attention you see the Castles or other fictional authors receiving. Unfortunately, just as they won’t get the sort of promotion and push they see in fictional settings, they also aren’t guaranteed the level of editing they believe they’re going to get. Read more

A little of this and a little of that.

I have a problem. There are simply too many things to blog about this morning. Between the return of Author Earnings to the creation of Bookstat, from Createspace closing down its editing, marketing and design division to more idiocy at SFWA (and elsewhere), how could I choose just one topic? So away we go. As they say at the amusement park, buckle up and keep your hands inside the car. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Let’s start with the welcome news that Author Earnings has returned. It’s been a long time, almost a year, since their last report. It seems they’ve been busy behind the scenes, trying to improve their system and, from my quick scan of the report, it’s been time well-spent. There’s a great deal of information involved in the report, too much to try to digest it all this morning. But the bottom line is, despite the push-back indies have received from traditional publishers and the gloom and doom predictions for indie publishing, the bottom hasn’t dropped out.  Read more

In Defense of Fandom By Kacey Ezell

So I read Cedar Sanderson’s lovely piece entitled “To Thine Own Self Be True”, and I found that I agreed with much of what she had to say. I, too, have zero tolerance for those who would sexually abuse others, particularly children. Actions like that are intolerable, and have no place in society, any society.

Furthermore, I join her in rejecting the idea that you have to be part of some clique or club in order to be successful in science fiction and/or fantasy.  I think success is largely a matter for self-definition.  Success for one author may mean winning a Hugo.  For another it may mean buying a mountain.  For a third, it may mean finally publishing the story they’ve had rattling around in their head for twenty years.  Success is personal, and it’s honestly none of my business.  But I do know that unless you decide that being feted at WorldCon or any other con is your definition of success… it’s not. Read more

It’s a Business – A blast from the past

(Brad is still busy with life, family and writing. So I thought I’d do a blast from the past. In this case, from last year.)

There are times when I feel like I’m the crotchety parent sitting the kids down to tell them the facts of life. No, not those facts of life but the facts of life about business. It seems like almost every week there is a blog post or newspaper article about a bad contract or troubles in publishing or writers thinking about hanging up their keyboards. Why? Because all too many forget that publishing is a business and it needs to be treated as such.

I’m not going to discuss, at least not much, the publisher side of writing as a business today. Oh, there is plenty out there. Bad publishing decisions coming back to haunt the publishing company abound. But that’s not the point of today’s post. No, today I’m back on my soapbox reminding everyone who wants to be a writer that you have to remember that this is your business and you have to treat it as such.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked with writers, some traditionally published and others indie published, who went into this business with stars in their eyes and rose colored glasses firmly in place. The ones traditionally published just knew that once they signed the contract, the publisher would be spending all sorts of money to promote their book and make it into a best seller. The indie writers who are now wanting to go with a traditional publisher because — duh — they will get this huge advance and will be sent on tours to sign their books and will soon be playing poker with other best selling authors ala Castle.

That sound you hear, that slow thud-thud-thud is my head pounding against the wall.

It would be wonderful to live the life of Castle — less the murderers and other crooks trying to take pot shots at you every week. But that isn’t reality. The reality is that the vast majority of writers who have signed with traditional publishers see little if any real push from their publisher. In fact, the publisher — and the author’s agent — expect the author to do their own promotion. Oh, you might get reimbursed for your expenses if you go to a con or do a book tour but don’t bet on it. Don’t believe me that publishers aren’t spending as much on promotion of those authors they haven’t pegged as best sellers or the newest “best thing ever”? Think back to the last time you saw a book signing at your local bookstore. Now ask yourself how many times a year your local bookstore has such signings. How many of those are authors who aren’t best sellers or local authors?

Now, look at your local newspaper and tell me how large the arts section is and how many book reviews appear per week. Oh, wait. Sorry. Part of the reason there aren’t as many reviews is that there aren’t as many people reading the newspaper. Reviews, especially book reviews, were some of the first things cut when newspapers started cutting costs to make up for the lower advertising revenue and lower subscriptions rates. Few newspapers have their own book reviewers any longer and the books being reviewed are either best sellers or the newest best thing. Hmm.

But, Amanda, you get those huge advances and you don’t have to work any longer.


And this is where you have to remember that this is a business. Most advances, especially for “new” authors fall in the four-digit range. Yes, some new authors get more but they are the except and not the rule. You don’t get the advance all at one time and you aren’t going to see any more money from the publisher until you have earned out the advance and, believe me, that doesn’t happen very often. How can it when publishers use Bookscan to determine how many books are sold instead of a simple inventory tracker program?

That means you have to make sure you have a way to pay your bills between advances. This is why the vast majority of writers aren’t full-time writers. They have families to feed and are like me. They like having a roof over their heads and food in the fridge. Even if your first book is a success, you don’t know that the second book will be. More importantly, if you are publishing traditionally, you have no guarantee that the readers will remember you two years or more after your first book by the time the second book comes out. Remember, when you publish traditionally, you have no control over when your book is released and you are just one of many the publisher is having to slot into a finite number of slots per month.

I can’t repeat this often enough. Writing is a business and the writer is the business owner. Yes, you might sign a contract with someone to distribute your work (a publisher) and promote it (publisher or someone else) but it is still your responsibility to make sure the job is being done. You can’t just sign the contract and sit back and wait for the money to roll in, trusting the person you contracted with to do the job. You need to understand the supply chain for bookstores and the reality of how long a book is left on the shelves before it is pulled. You need to understand the financial aspects of the business and you need to study the numbers when it comes to sell through, resigning authors, etc.

What started me thinking about this again today was this article. The author in question signed a contract with a major publisher for her first book. It was critically acclaimed and not long before it was released into the wild, she quit her job. Yep, you read that right. The author quit her job — the job that helped support her family — so she could promote her book and write full-time. She did so after signing with the publisher for only this one book. There was no second book that would bring in additional advance payments. Nope. Just the starry eyed vision of living the life of a writer.

Now, I don’t want to kick this woman when she’s down but her story is illustrative of the problems so many writers — and folks who start their own businesses — face. They get a great review for a product before it hits the shelves and based on those reviews, quits their regular job to do this full-time. The problem is that reviews don’t always turn into sales and sales, especially for books, will slow down if the author doesn’t bring a new title out in fairly short order. For those authors going the traditional route, that very likely means no payments after the book is released because the advance isn’t earned out. So what are you going to do for money?

This particular author did finally go out and get a job — for awhile. But what struck me is that she doesn’t really seem to want to work. She would rather be writing but the worry and stress of not having enough money has shut down the writing. But a job makes her too tired to write. You see the circle. I feel for her but, to be honest, she needs to man up — or woman up — and realize that the situation she is in is the same one so many of us face on a daily basis. We face it and learn to live with it as we continue to write and put our work out there.

The lesson to be learned is that if you don’t have at least six months — preferably a year or more — of living expenses in the bank, do NOT quit your day job. If you are worried about putting food on the table for your kids or if you are worried about how you will pay the bills, do not quit your day job. It makes it more difficult to write, yes. But this is a business and you learn to adapt. You find the way to carve out time to write. But having all the time in the world to write isn’t worth anything if you are worrying about losing your home or having your utilities cut off.

It’s a business, damn it, and you need to look at it that way. Have your business plan. Have your promotion plan. Know that you aren’t going to get a regular salary that is the same from paycheck to paycheck.

And since I am a working writer, check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Dagger of Elanna, the second book in the series will be released soon. You can check out snippets from the book starting here. (Edited to add, Dagger is out and you can find it here.)

It’s not your ancestor’s Vellum

Brad asked me to fill in for him this morning, so I thought I’d continue the formatting and publishing series I started last month. In this post, I mentioned a Mac-only program a friend used that I’d downloaded and would review later. That program, Vellum, isn’t cheap. But, having played with it enough to be comfortable with it and having used it to convert the extended version of Vengeance from Ashes, I have to say, it is well worth the money.

For those of you with a Mac, you can download the entire program as a “trial” and use it. The only limitation on functionality is that you can’t actually export an e-book or print-ready PDF file. However, as I noted in the earlier post, the preview function of the program lets you see what you have without actually doing the export.

So, what is Vellum?

Vellum is a program designed to convert your word processing file into e-books and, in the last version or two, into a print-ready PDF file. There are two pricing levels for the program. As I said, it’s expensive. To get the e-book only version, you’ll pay $199 and for the e-book and print version, you’ll pay $249. Unlike earlier versions of the program where you could buy a license that would allow you to convert a single title or in increments of 10 (if I remember correctly), there is no limit on the number of titles now. And, to be honest, that is the only way I managed to convince myself it was worth the money.

Like many other conversion programs, you can write in Vellum but I wouldn’t recommend it. That’s not where its strength lies. However, that ability to write in it means you can edit in it which is a huge plus. That’s especially true because you don’t have to open a text editor and edit the underlying HTML of an e-book like you do with other conversion programs. It even has a spell-checker which can be nice or annoying, especially if you are writing science fiction and fantasy.

Once you install and open Vellum, you’ll see something like this. You’re given the option of viewing the tutorial or opening the Help Overview. Below that, you have the option of importing a Word file. I recommend you view the tutorial first. The program is really pretty simple but the tutorial will help. Also, there are some pretty good — and short — Youtube videos about the program as well. The one I watched was only about 10 minutes and it gave all the important information I needed to put together a project using the program.

Once you import your Word file, you’ll see something similar to this. As you fill in the blanks in the dialog box in the center of the screen, you will see the changes happening on the right side of the screen. That is your previewer pane and you can set it to show what your book will look like on the Kindle Fire, the Oasis, the iPad, etc. You can also set it to show what your print file will look like. Note the far left panel. That’s your table of contents that’s been generated by your use of Headings in Word (or similar program). You can change those, including their attributes.

While we’re on the TOC, at the bottom of that pane is an *. If you click it, a dialog box will open. One of the options is to add an element. This is a handy tool because it means you no longer have to type out your copyright page, etc. It has one on file and all you do is fill in the blanks. Choose where on your ToC you want it to appear, add the element and it is there, not only in the ToC but in your preview as well.

Once you’ve finished filling in the book details, click on the Ebook Cover tab and upload your cover. That will embed your cover with the book file. If you’re like me, this is great because it means you don’t have to worry about it later.

Now it’s time to move to what I see as the real strength of the program. One of the banes of the indie author has been making the text of our ebooks look like that of traditional publishers. Unless you had access to programs like InDesign, doing things like true drop caps and even something as simple as true small caps was beyond many of us. So we found workarounds that didn’t quite do the trick. With Vellum, you don’t have to do that. It has different options built in and all you have to do is choose which ones you want.

Here is a screenshot of what I did with Vengeance last night. This was one of, if I remember, six or eight options available. There are different elements you can add — if you want — after the chapter heading. Since this is a science fiction novel, I didn’t want anything too fancy. It also has the first letter looking like what we are used to with traditionally published books. I could have opted for a different font or small caps or no fancy effects. But this is what I thought looked best for the book and genre.

It also handles scene breaks if you want it to. By using the standard  asterisk to break your scenes, you indicate to Vellum that there is a scene break and you can then choose what you want to happen. As you can see here, I chose to use the same basic first line layout that I do for the beginning of a chapter. I chose a simple line between scenes, again because of the genre. I didn’t have to do anything except go to the styles tab on the far left contents section and tell Vellum what I wanted it to do. The nice thing is you can preview everything before you make your decision. Better yet, you don’t have to go through and insert these changes at ever scene break or new chapter. You set it once and it is done automatically.

Once you’ve checked your work and are happy with how it looks, you can then generate your ebooks. Before you do this, if you have a section at the back of the book (or at the front) where you want to link to your other titles and you sell them in the different stores, you can actually input those store links into a separate dialog box for each title. What happens is when you tell Vellum to generate your e-books, it will automatically assign the right links to the appropriate store. That’s because you can choose to generate a book per major outlet and Vellum then optimizes the books according to those store’s requirements.

As you can see from the image above, I chose to generate versions for all the major stores but did not generate the generic EPUB file. That took maybe a minute to do. Once the process is complete, you get a new dialog box up that not only recommends you check your files but it will link you to a page that tells you how to check your new files. I sent the Kindle file to my Oasis and, damn, it looks good. None of the issues I’ve had in the past trying to use any of the “fancier” effects showed up. So far, so good. But we still had the print version to look into.

I’ll admit, this is where I held my breath. I’ve gotten to where I can take my basic manuscript and turn it into a decent print ready PDF in an hour or so. But it meant doing things like changing the the page size, figuring out the margins, etc. And then there were the headers and footers — oh, those headers and footers. They can be the bane of any author’s existence. But the headers and footers, as well as all the other special effects, can be set for print just as they can be for e-books. I’m still playing with the final product for the print version but the image below gives you an idea of what can be done.

As for those concerns about converting to print, Vellum surprised me and in a good way. It took my basic manuscript, considered what I had typed into the original dialog box when I got started and then all I had to do was choose which form of header and footer I wanted to use. That’s it. You choose the page size when you get ready to export the file. My only complaint (am I’m sure it is something I can fix but haven’t figured out how yet) is that it has page numbers on the bottom of the first page of the chapter. I want to lose the header and footer on those pages. But, if that is all I dislike about the program, that’s pretty darned good. As with the e-book versions, it took less than a minute to generate the PDF file.

I need to play with the program some more but, to get multiple e-book versions and the print version done in less than an hour with a program I am still learning is pretty darned good. To get one that looks closer to a traditionally published book at minimal effort is a very good thing. The final judgment, for me at least, is that Vellum is well worth the money. While I hesitate to recommend anyone spend that much for a program, I will do this. If you have a Mac (sorry, iPad Pro and iPad users, they don’t have a version for iOS), try the program out. As I noted above, you won’t be able to export the files but you can see what the program is capable of doing.

For me, until I see something better out there that is also easier to use, Vellum is going to be my go-to when it comes to converting and exporting files for both e-book and print publication.

It really is a business

Maybe it’s because taxes are due today. Maybe it’s something else. But, for whatever reason, the last few days have been spent looking at my writing from a business standpoint. I try to do this on a regular basis, but I know I don’t do it nearly as often as I should. Part of the reason is because I would much rather write. After all, I am a writer, not an accountant, etc. But the business aspect is a necessary evil.

It also includes much more than simply looking at sales and making sure taxes are paid.

But it does include numbers — ick — and looking at trends, seeing what other authors are saying about their sales and making determinations about what needs to be done, if anything.

So, the short version of what I’ve done over the last few days is simple:

  • Reviewed my sales for the last year
    • by title
    • by genre
    • by price
  • Looked at pricing for similar titles, including age of title
  • Reviewed blurbs and keywords
  • Reviewed covers and compared them with what is currently selling well, indie and trad published
    • looked at the art elements
    • looked at the font
    • looked at overall cover design
  • Reviewed my publication schedule for the next year
    • made determinations about what should be released when
    • made determinations about new titles (unrelated to current series)
  • Reviewed my meager promotion operation with an eye to expanding it

Now, don’t start running to the hills. I’m not going in-depth into what I did and what my plans are. For one, a lot of those plans are still being made. For another, right now a lot of it is subject to change, at least until I work some more on it. Still, some of the things that are factoring into my decisions are, I believe, things each of us need to look into when it comes to our writing.

Because numbers (ick) are involved, I’m still looking at my sales figures and comparing them with the last several years. In some ways, this is an exercise in comparing apples to oranges. In others, it is interesting. For one thing, I can definitely see a trend. Once I hit 10 novels, my sales across the board went up. Also, once I started linking my pen names with my name, sales across the board went up. Still, numbers are involved, so this will take several more days for me to winnow out all the information I’m looking for. (sorry, I’m a writer, not an accountant and numbers make my head hurt.O

The next thing I looked at happened to be my product pages. Oh my, there is so much there we have to take into consideration and we don’t tend to. At least I don’t. Sure, I want to have the best possible cover to draw the reader’s eye. I want a snappy and interesting blurb to grab the reader and make them want to buy the book. But I don’t tend to check the product page on anything other than my laptop. I forget to look at it on my Kindle Fire or Mom’s iPad. I sure forget to look at it in my phone. Or, more accurately, I used to forget it. After the last few days, I won’t. What I learned is that the longer blurbs will work on a tablet or computer screen but, on a phone, they are a pain because you have to keep scrolling. Not good. Scrolling for a screen or two is one thing but for screen after screen after screen — nope. Not gonna happen. Fortunately, most of mine weren’t that bad and those that were happen to be on two titles I am going to withdraw because they were supposed to be short term promo titles initially.

Another thing I don’t always do, and it is now on my list of must do, is check the preview function for my books. I’m not talking about the downloadable preview (although that should be checked as well) but the “click to see inside” preview. A number of readers, myself included, use this to determine if we want to buy or borrow a book. This is where they will get their first real impression of that particular title. It’s important to make sure the preview doesn’t appear to be poorly formatted. Even more important is making sure there are no misspellings or outrageous grammatical errors present. I can’t stress this enough. This is a free promo and so many of us don’t bother checking to make sure it is accurately representing our work and that, in turn, can cost us sales.

All that showed I have some blurbs to update. As a reader, one thing that will stop me from buying a book is a badly written blurb. If I find misspellings or poor grammar or punctuation in a blurb, I’m going to assume the book is written in much the same way. Also, look at the formatting of the blurb. If there is no white space between paragraphs, you are basically screaming one of two things. Either you are in newbie who doesn’t know how to format blurbs or you are careless and don’t care. Either way, it isn’t the image you want to put out for your readers to see.

I also need to update my keywords on several books. This is important because the keywords help with the search function. Also, in case you didn’t know it, keywords can also help determine what genres and sub-genres your work is listed under. Amazon is starting to crack down on what keywords you use because they had so many complaints by readers about searching certain keywords and finding books that were not “romance” or whatever. That means I need to go back and make sure I have not run afoul of the rule by mistake.

Also, the keywords change from time to time. So to sub-genres. That makes it imperative to regularly make sure we are using the best keywords we can. It helps sales by helping readers find out books.

While doing this, I also looked at my covers. Now, I’m not going to spend any time on the making of covers because, duh, I’m not an artist. I will say this. Don’t be afraid to periodically change your cover. Now, I’m not talking every month or even every six months. But, just as sub-genres change and expand, covers for those genres change as well. As indies, we need to be aware of what the trads are doing in our genres, both with images and with fonts. While we don’t have to copy them, it never hurts to at least have the same “feel” as they do. Why? Because if you write books with the same feel as the Mercy Thompson or Jane Yellowrock books, it will only help for your covers to have the same feel. Why? Because readers of those series will see something that is familiar when they look at your work and the cover might just entice them into reading the blurb and buying the book.

But there is something else to look at as well. If, like me, you write series, your covers within the series have to relate to one another. It is another way of cuing your readers that the new book is part of the series they are already reading and enjoying.

Finally, even if your cover worked when the book came out two years — or ten — ago, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will now. So look at what is selling well in your book’s genre and sub-genre and then look at your book cover with a critical eye. If it doesn’t feel fresh, if it looks and feels dated (or worse, amateur), then change it. But do your homework. Know what works — both in images and in fonts — in your genre and sub-genre.

Now you see why I said I wasn’t going in-depth today about everything. All this was just off the product page. More than that, it was off the product page of just one one-line store. More than that, it isn’t everything off the product page that I’m looking at as an author. By the way, I am also looking at it as a reader, trying to think about what strikes me and grabs my attention when I’m looking for a book to read. If you guys want, I’ll continue with this next week. Otherwise, the next scream of frustration you hear is me when I once again return to the task of looking at my numbers and trying to see if I can make sense of their arcane magic.