Youngblood Blog

Writing weblog, local, topical, personal, spiritual

Insecure Writers: Self-publish Woes and Wows

Alex is at it again: another month, another post for his hugely supportive (and supported) Insecure Writers’ Support Group. And a bloghop –226 other blogs to visit, at time of writing!

I wanted to write about a couple more personal insecurities, but the idea got knocked sideways by a post from the prolific David Gaughran, a 34-year old Irish writer, living from time to time in Sweden, but spending a lot of his working life traveling the world, collecting stories, and writing about his adventures! How fortunate, you say. His advice behind the scenes comes with a punch, too. So it’s not all dancing in the tropical moonlight and storming into Valparaiso (although he does that).

His books are — like Amanda Hocking’s — all published in e-format. So he is an expert in the self-publish world.

While many of us continue to dream of being picked up by the ‘majors’, while we’re waiting, there is no harm whatsoever in self-publishing a few e-books.

Or is there?

CAVEAT EMPTOR

Book Country overhead costs do not amuse

There are pitfalls. And David (along with several other authors, like Joe Konrath, Katie Salidas, and Linda Welch), have picked up one of the real BAD GUYS. Ahem, yes, it’s Book Country — an arm of Penguin.

According to David, Penguin’s self-publish arm is ‘actively targeting inexperienced writers’. They say they are offering the lure, oops opportunity, for young writers to ‘make a name for themselves.’

Book Country began last April as a place for authors to post their work for critique. Then in the fall they announced a program to turn manuscripts posted on their website into e-books and paper books.

Warner Bros 'Happy Feet' penguins would not be happy

“A new kind of self-publishing that offers a more professional product and provides guidance that currently isn’t available to players.”

‘Our self-publishing process has been designed by a team of book industry professionals to make the experience as accessible, convenient, and affordable as possible’

Their ‘basic package’ is $99 for ‘user-formatted’ books. ‘User-formatted’ means you, the author do your own formatting.

But for $549 they will ‘help the writer’ format both e-book and print book, and then upload it to retailers.

Or for $299 they will let you do your own formatting, and then upload the book to retailers for you.

This is ‘affordable’????? Does it not sound a little like Vanity press?

Questions are now being asked about such huge fees; and about the massive royalty cut they take on top of that (after charges taken by retailers such as Amazon). If you are a newbie, it all sounds a bit much.

Let’s say you are a budding writer who has entered their site simply to share your new flow with other writers, to get some feedback, to know if what you thought you had written was good…and you saw their ‘suggestion’ to ‘share your work with a larger audience’; ‘signed in’ to their new offerings (small print: you have to agree to ALL their terms and conditions before entering — i.e. no backing out. It’s a contract.) It rather dents the newbie writerly ego a little to find that in the end, you have spent all that money and can be almost certain your royalties, if any, will be minimal.

There’s more. Penguin — because they have you ‘signed’ — keep 30% of your royalties. And although the beauty of royalties is that they keep on coming in when your book sells, in this ‘contract’ you keep on paying Penguin.

Here’s how it breaks down. For sales on the Book Country site itself, writers receive 70% royalties. This part, at least, is justifiable. Book Country are providing a retail platform, they are processing the sales, and dealing with the customers. And it’s a comparable percentage to the major retailers. Plus their name is a biggie.

However, through Book Country, you can also sell your book on those major retailers, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This is where the real trouble starts.

On pages such as this one, they claim that writers will “earn 70% on your sales when priced at $2.99 or higher on all channels.” This is an extremely disingenuous claim, as it is not 70% of your cover price, but 70% of the money Book Country receive from retailers.

How do new writers figure this out without testing the waters themselves?

There is a simpler way.

It takes a little time and application to learn the format process, but I’ve done it with my aging braincells, so if I can do it, you can do it.

After formatting, you should upload your books to Createspace, Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords on your own (takes about an hour) for FREE and you’re done. You’re published. That’s all there is to it. There seems to be no added reason why — after you’ve learned how to format and done all that hard work — you should pay Penguin to upload it for you. Now, does there?

Helping others up the thorny ladder to publishing success: Marian Youngblood

All that said — thank you Alex for allowing a rather irritable insecurity to be voiced — I need to encourage all new/young writers at least to TRY the self-publish method.

I published my ‘Phantom’s Child’ (sidebar right) that way and its historical/suspense theme seems to be catching on. It is beginning to take off. Last week author Pat Bertram kindly interviewed me on the process.

She, like our Ninja host, is an author who holds out her hand to help others up this thorny ladder we’ve placed in front of ourselves.

In the daunting milieu of what the publishing world is becoming, every little bit helps.

So, as we wend our way into the depths of winter — shortest day is only two weeks away and then it’s all going to look better –solar flares, radiation storms, power blackouts notwithstanding (next blog down on this page)– we do have much to look forward to when the light returns: this publishing business is gradually, slowly, finally, starting to give a little back to the hard-working author… fingers crossed.
©2011 Marian Youngblood

December 7, 2011 Posted by | authors, blogging, fiction, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Going it Alone: the Self-Publish Author

First printrun in 1450 using wooden blocks and metal lettering: Gutenberg's Bible

When I decided to go the self-publish route for my historical ghost novel, ‘Phantom’s Child’, I really thought I was venturing alone into an uncharted wilderness. A few months down the line, I now realize I was mistaken. Where writers and authors in the past had to navigate the choppy waters of the publishing world on their own, often (if they were compulsive enough) without the support of family and friends, now the world of publishing has had to open its doors to contemplate other ways, wider avenues of communicating with its public. The internet has moved the goalposts.

With this more immediate form of communication come angels-in-disguise: I mean writerly sites in general (AmWriting, SheWrites, Facebook, MySpace, OmTimes, Google-plus) and the brilliance of sci-fi master Alex J. Cavanaugh in particular.

Alex Cavanaugh’s monthly sharing platform
Alex is the proud author of space adventure CassaStar, published by Dancing Lemur Press, with its sequel, CassaFire being launched early next year. But his heart goes out to those of us who haven’t yet made it in the Big (publishing) World, or who have struggled long and hard to jump through its hoops.

So he has initiated a ‘bloghop’ combined with an Insecure Writers’ Support Group, just so the rest of us can benefit from shared information, dos and don’ts of fellow authors who have been there, done that, and most altruistic, a network of help and moral support for those (recurring) moments when we feel like throwing in the towel.

His Insecure Writers Group page gives a full list of 121 authors already participating. I am just thrilled that I find myself no longer alone — that others have trodden this road before me and we are all together treading it right now.

So, Alex wants us to reveal — on the first Wednesday of the month — what troubles us most in these tricky times where publish-or-die is the option chosen by only the most crazy among us.

I admit to such crazies.

Releasing one’s inner fears
Having written for years (and continuing to follow that route dictated by my taskmistress, the Muse), I no longer have a choice in the matter. My fear is that, if my success as an author depends on my being agent, marketing director and girl-in-the-street selling my books, I shall fail miserably. There, I’ve said it. I know writers (according to Myers-Briggs) are perennially better bloggers than self-promoters, but I believe I must be the worst. I just can’t get the words together to say: ‘look at me; look what I’ve done’.

So is there hope?

With Alex’s new support group, I believe there may be, and I welcome his wonderful new arena.

While I am several years down the road taken by all serious authors: trawling the world of submissions, query letters and pitches to agents, editors, and publishers; entering publishing contests; I have only a little to show for the hard slog. One fantasy novel of mine has currently been accepted for publication by a Michigan publisher; I wrote a small history years ago which has had some success, but my current projects (my WIPs) are all still out to tender. From that perspective, and given that my educational background was historical mixed with linguistics, I braved the self-publish world.

Only to discover that my worst nightmare — my lack of marketing skills — would return to haunt me.

Paying it Forward
Alex wants us to share our deepest doubts. Because I had already worked on this blog to share my experience in the self-publishing arena — something which many contemplate but perhaps need a little extra shove to make them try — I’ve chosen to tack on my blog below, because it seems to fit the bill his group describes:

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Alex J Cavanaugh

Please check out his page for a complete list of all the other authors participating. If you fancy, you can join in, too. It is an awesome throng.

Self-publishing: the Go-it-Alone route
Much has been said already about traditional publishing by bloggers more prolific and more regular than I. But there would seem to be a nouvelle vague in do-it-yourself. Dry-walling and combustion-engine-tinkering are so passé. The future is staring us in the face. They say anyone can do it.

It’s called Self-Publishing.

But it takes stamina. It takes drive–like nothing you’ve ever summoned before. And it takes time and patience.

This is one author’s small attempt to defuse and demystify the ‘rules’ of the game and to shed a little light on a brand new wave which is sweeping the Nation. Nay, I say it louder: It is sweeping the English-speaking world.

And while some say the e-book will eventually replace the old faithful hardbound or paperback novel, I believe the Jury is still out on that one.

There is something compelling about holding a favorite book, lovingly turning crisp pages to check out a piece of dialogue you may have missed, or — dread the thought — sneaking a peek at the end, that will always have more ‘reality’ than digging in your beach-bag for the Nook where you uploaded Amanda Hocking’s latest effort.

However, there is room for both. That’s the beauty of the new technology.

Merely ten-twenty years ago the publishing world on five continents went through the motions — much like newspapers and magazines before them — of typesetting, formatting, reformatting, checking ink supply and — usually with a sigh of relief — cheering when the first printrun came out all right. I used to work in that ancient industry. It had hardly changed since Johannes Gutenberg felt that first thrill of seeing his Bible come off the press in 1450.

I must still have a little Gutenberg in me, because I delight in choosing a new book from the shelf, smelling the quality of pages and ink (it’s still there), comparing page layout and print styles. It’s an artform. Academic monographs differ from fiction. Non-fiction has a different approach from poetry anthologies — but it’s the stuff of dreams: the miracle of writing and the printed word.

You don’t have to take my word for it. We have a classic rôle model to look to.

Leonardo's Notebooks --Codex Leicester, named for its patron-- one of the world's most sought-after books

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) kept notebooks of his inventions, his scientific theories and his sketches and in 1717 one of these — a 72-page Notebook — was acquired by Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester. When the Leicester estate was wound up in 1980, the Notebook moved on to a collector. That collector sold da Vinci’s Notebook to Bill Gates for a fabulous sum in 1994. He renamed it the Codex Leicester, after its original rescuer. It is refreshing to know that the founder of that electronic marvel, MSWord –like it or loathe it– takes delight in a unique manuscript dating from the 15th Century.

And, bottom line, as all writers know, there is something magical about seeing oneself in print.

Print-on-demand books
So, first the bones.

Old way: galley proofs checked before the print run

The Old Way
You were chosen by a Publisher in the Real World who screened you (with or without the help of an Agent) who has asked you to send in your completed MS to them. Your (approved) MS is run by the in-house Editor, the art department prepares artwork for your cover and the whole thing is sent to be printed at a Printing House of the Publisher’s choice and a print-run agreed upon by you both in a Contract is given the go-ahead. You may or may not receive galley proofs. (In the old days, galleys were always sent out before the final agreed version was run). The Publisher then markets your work at their expense to libraries, bookstores and chains, devising and orchestrating all publicity for your book. You are given a (negotiated) share of the sales of your book. You may or may not be offered a number of ‘author’s copies’ or ARCs (advanced review copies). You get to see your book on the shelves in mainstream bookstores. This will probably include a listing on Amazon.

The New Way
You do all of the above –yourself.

Let’s say you have completed your novel of 50,000-70,000 words, edited out all the passive voice, extra adverbs, made sure all the sentences end in a period, and generally done great re-writes, versions 1 and 2. You’ve had an editor friend read it and you’ve got a great cover design you want to use and you’ve gotten tired of the agent-reject circuit anyway, and still think you’ve got it in you to go it alone — because you love your main character and the storyline just ‘fell into place’.

That sounds about the right mood to approach one’s first self-publish (ad)venture.

Front cover, back cover all uploadable along with internal text: 'Phantom's Child' via CreateSpace POD

I decided first to try the CreateSpace route. The POD arm (‘print-on-demand’) of Amazon.com. To be honest, I was new to POD and had not yet heard of Smashwords.

I have subsequently done my homework on the Smashwords method. There are several positive points to both systems, depending on what you want for your final product; what computer you prefer and comp.language you are happy working in; also, how fluent you are in internetspeak.

It goes without saying, that afterwards you have to be a pretty good salesman of your own work.

Basically — while there are other systems out there, like Lulu — what appealed to me was that I thought I could get my head around the system.

Like Alex’s initiative, it was an experience in joining a community.

Plus Points
They offered help at every juncture along the way. You keep ahead of the learning curve and you’re mostly all right. The mechanism includes an author page where you upload your document in their specific (pdf) format. Your chosen cover design is uploaded separately. They approve these and you’re ‘live’ within three days.

Minus Points
CreateSpace is tailormade to fit into the Amazon.com system (but NOT into the Amazon.co.uk system except if you choose to publish in e-book format), so best to figure in shipping costs beforehand — if you live abroad — because your final books will only be shipped from the USA. International shipping, while offered in three forms (regular, superfast, and economy — superslow) adds quite a bit to shelf price.

You write your novel in a text document– .rtf or .pdf for CreateSpace; MSWord .doc for Smashwords.

Both systems have marketing support — nominally a List of recommended publications which they distribute to bookstores, libraries and wholesalers as part of their commitment to you. They do no active promotion on your behalf. That’s for you to do.

CreateSpace issue you with an ISBN in return for a share of any profit you make from sales of the book. The ISBN belongs to them. But this should not be a problem if you do not plan to sell your book commercially!! Beware of any company that asks for a set-up fee (some companies can charge hundreds of dollars), as you are unlikely ever to recover this money through book sales.

Lulu is upfront about what they do but they will charge $99, if you want your own ISBN.

If you can’t design your own cover, cover design assistance and marketing are offered for a fee. If you want to offer your book additionally in Kindle format, CreateSpace will charge you $69 to do this for you, but if you do it yourself on the Amazon interface, it is free. However the payment/banking/remuneration systems are held separately, so you have to enter your bank details individually for both systems. Mind boggles. It helps enormously if you already have an American bank account.

A friend used Lulu for a small project and found their interface simple, the cover designer easy to use (though not suitable for a large review on the back-cover). They were prompt and their delivery was affordable. Because Lulu has affiliates abroad you do not pay or have to wait for international shipping. However, she found paper quality not as high as CreateSpace or Smashwords.

Thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh for this helping hand along the way

If you don’t chose their inhouse help, both Lulu and CreateSpace encourage you to format the book yourself. This can be done in a text file and then converted to a .pdf file. These are also suitable for converting to an eBook. Smashwords e-book format is converted for you by them, but you must submit to them in MSWord. If you are an Apple-lover, like me, this may not be as easy as it sounds.

A few words of encouragement: the process is relatively easy if you set your mind to it — not daunting or over-techhie, or I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it. For those who want to see their work in finished, tangible form, it can be a revelation.

We probably all agree that the ultimate dream for a writer is to be snapped up by that great Publisher-in-the-Sky who will get us on the New York Times Bestseller list.

But, hey, we all have to start somewhere.

A big thank you to Alex for making the road-less-traveled a little easier.
©2011 Marian Youngblood

September 7, 2011 Posted by | authors, culture, fiction, Muse, novel, popular, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments