Monday, September 30, 2013

Lessons from a first-time self-publisher

First off, I'll just apologize for the lengthiness of this sucker. I didn't mean for it to go so long, but felt that I should give the info I could on the subject...

For the longest time, I've wondered why publishers keep such a high percentage of an author's royalty, well, I'm starting to get it. Now, don't get me wrong, I love the publisher I've worked with so far. They're on the ball, have an incredible designer, and their editors are easy to work with. All in all, I love them. But that didn't stop me from wanting to try self-publishing.

Even before I signed my contract on my first novel, I've wanted to try self-pubbing. Getting a higher percentage of your sales and having the freedom to do what you want with your book (like setting promotional prices, etc) is really tempting. Would I change how I went through a publisher for my Primordial Guardians series? Nope. Not at all. I'm happy with the team I have at Evernight.

But, I mean really, how much does the publisher actually do? They pay someone to edit the book and pay for the cover, and that's it, right? That's not it.

So, how has self-publishing gone so far you ask? Well, I'll tell you some of the things I've learned on this journey, and how it has differed from my experience working with a publisher.

No matter if you're going the traditional publishing route or doing it on your own, editing is an integral part of producing a great book. Here is how, in my experience, the processes have differed.

  • Publisher: Your publisher will take care of not only paying for this, but they've also got editors on-hand that they know and trust to do a good job.
  • Self-publishing: You have options. You can decide if you want to pay for an editor (they charge a certain amount per word), which means, unless you know someone will do a good job, it's kind of a shot in the dark. If you don't want to pay someone? Just hope that you have some incredible critique partners to let you know what you need to improve on. Also, you'll want to edit, edit, edit yourself. Just to give you an idea of what it might cost to pay for an editor, let's just say that the average for one of my books would be around $500.00. We'll tally up these costs at the end and see where we're at.

Cover Art
Everyone knows that you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but let's face it...we all do. The cover can make or break a book in those first precious few seconds that a reader is trying to decide what book to buy next.

  • If you use a publisher, this is also something they pay for. Again, they work with designers they know will do a good job, and they strive to make it the way you want. They'll generally send you a cover art worksheet that you fill out with character details and the main theme of the story so that the cover artist has a good starting point. Some publishers allow you to reject a cover if you're not happy with it. With others, you're stuck with what they made, even if it doesn't really work with your book.
  • If you self-pub, you can pretty much do whatever you want. There are sites out there that offer completed covers, and when you order them, they'll fill in the Author Name, Title Name, Series Name, etc. for you and email you a high res copy of your cover. On the flip side, if you're a master at editing graphics, you can search through stock photos and piece together your own - just make sure you read the policies on what can/can't be done with the photos. In many cases, your cover/stock photos can only be used a certain number of times, so if you sell that many books (and let's hope you do!) you have to buy them again in order to continue using them. As far as costs go, you're probably looking at at least $20.00 for stock photos you put together yourself, vs. up to $150.00 (if not more) for completed covers. For our little tally, let's split the difference and go with $85.00.

What's that you say? Yeah, this one snuck up on me in the wee hours of the morning while I was getting ready to upload my file. An ISBN is a unique number that's sortof like a book's social security number. Each version of your book has it's own. So, if you're going to print your book, there's one ISBN, if you're going to do one for Kindle, there's another. Want to do one for Nook, well, there's get my point. In my research, some authors do not assign an ISBN for their eBooks. I'm not sure how they get around it, but it appears publishers do assign one for eBooks, so I followed suit. I also found that some print-on-demand companies offer a free ISBN for your print book. I did not go with that option though, as I found some cons I just didn't want to deal with down the road. Do your due diligence and see what's best for you. Here are the differences between publishers and doing it on your own:

  • Publisher: They pay for your ISBNs. The great thing for publishers is that they can order hundreds or thousands of these at a time, so they can get the numbers a lot cheaper than self-publishing authors (unless your well off).
  • Self-publishing: You're covering this cost yourself. When you go to the website (for those in the U.S. it's Bowker, or you'll want to check your local ISBN agency), you'll see options to buy your ISBN. You can buy one for $125.00 (I would not recommend this unless you are planning to publish your book in one version and one version ONLY), or it goes up from there, so you can get 10 for $250.00. For our tally, let's go with the $250.00 option.

This might not seem like that big of a task, but it adds up with all the different versions. Things I was able to get away with in the print book (fancy text), I couldn't do in the eBook. Not to mention that you might as well start over with formatting between each version because, so far, none of them are even remotely the same.

  • Publisher: They take care of this. Whether they do it themselves or they pay someone, it's not on your time, or on your dime (except for a percentage of your royalty).
  • Self-publishing: It's all on you, babe. If you're like me and you're trying to save money, you'll probably attempt this yourself. You might pull your hair out, you might not. Either way, you'll either pay someone to do it (I've seen sites that offer it starting at $50.00 for each version), or you'll spend hours figuring it out on your own. For this one, we'll just assume that you do it on your own for our tally, so it costs $0.00, just a lot of time.

Print-book cover art
Wha-wha-what? Yeah, this isn't included in the normal cover (unless you had the forethought to worry about it from the get-go and found a website or stock images that took care of it all in one swoop).

  • Publisher: They take care of the costs and design of this.
  • Self-publishing: Here again, it's on you. Based on the costs tallying so far, you might just do a plain cover with some fun fonts or even a gradient (like me), or maybe you'll get some more stock images and do a fancy one. Either way, you're going to need good graphic design software (can we say something along the lines of PhotoShop?) because of the requirements on dpi/ppi, sizing, etc. Don't do what I did and assume that you can get away with making one in Paint or PowerPoint, because that was just hours wasted. For the tally, let's go with the $0.00 route and assume that you found a good, free software that can export to print-quality PDF for your cover.

No matter which way you publish, you'll be doing your own marketing. Yes, publishers have a good following of people, as well as other authors that support you, but that doesn't mean you can sit back and wait for the money to (hopefully) roll in. Social Media, swag, conferences, book signings, blog tours,'re doing it all. I won't break down the differences between self- and regular publishing since I just listed how similar the two are.

Now, that I've listed the points (I apologize if I've missed anything) let's tally up our totals.
Right now we're at $835.00 on costs to self-pub. To re-coup those costs, here is a fun little breakdown of how many books it could potentially take to earn your money back based on a 70% royalty (this excludes other distribution fees you may incur, and just acts as an example):

Sell price         # of books
$2.99              400
$3.99              299
$4.99              239
$5.99              199
$6.99              171
$7.99              149
$8.99              133
$9.99              119

So, hopefully this little (cough, cough) list of differences will help you decide which route is best for you.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ideas into reality

I first started writing my novel years ago. It was a skeleton of what it is now. Actually, less than a skeleton, it was the femur, a few carpus bones and maybe a rib.  I had an idea of what I wanted and I wrote it down. It wasn't until a few years later that I got more serious about it. My commute to work at that time was somewhere between 35-45 minutes, I used that time to really focus on what I would write and how I could build upon my little idea. I would figure out what scene I would write that night and think of dialogue, plot building, character reactions, what characters would be present in the scene, etc. Then I would get home and get to work writing. Its interesting to me to see how that tiny, little idea has now become something that I simultaneously hate and love at the same time(if you are a writer, you understand the love/hate), but also something that once its done, I will want to share with everyone.
Ideas are easy to come by, they are around us every day, all day. I sometimes meet people and think, "Oh my gosh, they would make a phenomenal character." Or I hear a story and I think, "Man, that would be really cool if this (this, being whatever I think would be cooler) would happen." Also, some ideas are stupid. That's some truth for you, right there. Thats why when you have those ideas, you have to follow through with them and try and build upon them. Usually you get stuck or hit a dead end or everyone of your family and friends are telling you that its a stupid idea, thats the time you should probably quit and find a new idea to work on. Its weeding though all of your crazy ideas and picking the ones that make you excited; the ones that make you want to tell the whole world. 

I once went to a conference and in one of the panels, I remember the author talking about the "zing". Its a feeling you get when something strikes your artistic brain, or it hits home to something that piques your interest. Whatever it is that gives you that "zing", I say write it down. Some ideas will never go anywhere, but then you have others that could become the next big thing. Every great project starts with a little idea. Its the amount of work and effort that you put behind that idea that determines the outcome. Tracy Hickman, a famous author from Utah, once said, "Talent without discipline is a waste of air." I agree, sir. As writers, we all have some talent to write. We just have to take our ideas, be disciplined, and make them a reality. Lets face it, thats the only way its going to happen. Go team! 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Focusing Your Thoughts

Once the idea has cemented itself in your brain that you are going to write a book, then what?  Do the words spill out of your head onto the pages effortlessly?  (You might want to see a doctor if something is spilling out of your head.)  Does the plot come packaged and ready to go, complete with subplots, character development, backstory, climax, and resolution?  All you have to do is lock yourself in your room for two days and you walk out with a completed manuscript?

I doubt it.  Most of us don't have it that easy.  What we usually have are snippets of the story that we try to write during the snippets of our day that we can spend writing.

As a stay at home mom, I have about two hours a day when I can work on my writing.  That precious time is called nap time.  Once I sit down and have taken a few deep breaths to focus myself, I get to work.  I had a problem though: I couldn't get my thoughts off the list of daily tasks and on to creative, irresponsible thinking.  For a while, the time I spent "working" on my book was actually spent staring at the last sentence I'd written months ago.

I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere at that pace.  So, after one of the above described wasted periods of time, I decided to try to focus on my book during other times of the day.  Pushing around my vacuum, I thought of where my current plot point was going.  As I folded the laundry, I thought about my antagonist's motivations.  While driving around doing errands, I brainstormed about the climax of my work in progress.  And when naptime came the next day, I knew exactly what to write.  I got more done in that writing session than I had in months.  So I tried it again.  Trotting (it can't really be called running) on the treadmill at the gym, I thought about how the secondary characters wove into the protagonist's development.  Washing the dishes, I worked through an idea I loved, but didn't really fit in with the rest of the novel.  And then I sat down and wrote.

It's amazing.  I finally know what works for me.  Instead of letting my mind wander aimlessly while engaged in mundane tasks, I try to control my thoughts and put them to work.  Even though I can't sit down and write for hours, I have the outlines of work ready to be written when sleep gives me the break I need to write.  The more I focus my thoughts on my book, the more progress I make, the better my ideas develop, and the more motivated I become.

So, try it.  Focus your thoughts on your work in progress while you're doing things that don't require all of your brain power.  Hopefully you will find that you get more done and you get to see your whole story come together.  And that's exciting.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ignite your passion

Like Jayne said in last week's post, anyone can write. No one thinks they can do it when they first start. Heck, I hadn't read a book in almost a decade before I finally picked one up and got hooked on the romance genre. What right did I have to write one? When I started typing up my first book, I really hadn't planned on anyone seeing it except for family and a few close friends. Little did I know, I was about to write an entire novel. I ignited that passion for writing by continuing to do the two things, which, to this day, motivate me more than anything else:
Listening to music and reading those incredible books I fell in love.

So if you're not sure you can write, or you think it'll suck, just remember that everyone goes through that. Whether you're green or a seasoned author, those doubts will happen no matter what. Just make sure you continue to do things that motivate you. Cultivate your passion and see where it takes you.

Here are a few authors and songs I've used to motivate me (in no particular order):
Kresley Cole
JR Ward
Gena Showalter
Richelle Mead
Karen Marie Moning
Diana Gabaldon

Muse - Exogenesis: Part 1 (and, well, pretty much any song)
Christina Perri - Almost any song, but mostly Tragedy and The Lonely

What songs and authors/series motivate you?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Idea Factory

How do authors come up with such crazy, brilliant ideas? They all have secret built-in Idea Factories of course! Only the most exceptional, special, talented people have this hidden weapon inside their mind and only they can unleash it's power to the world. Muah ha ha ha. Not!

Honestly, I'm a firm believer that anyone can become an author. You've just got to practice being creative. Everyone has a unique way of looking at the world and if you can just convey your take in a way that people can relate to, you've got yourself something to write about. Take me for example. I have the most bizarre dreams imaginable and often times I would stay awake thinking about them and trying to remember every possible detail. I finally got smart and immediately wrote my dream down the moment I woke up. It was a snowball reaction and I now have to keep a notebook and pen at my bedside so I can keep up. And what started as just a dream has now become my most precious project. My first novel. Thanks to my nocturnal habits, I now have over a dozen ideas that I plan on turning into stories someday. 

Point of all this is, you've got to build your own Idea Factory by writing down any and all of your ideas. They may seem stupid or underdeveloped, but once you write it down and get it "cooking" in your head, the more you think about it over time and create a story.

So, like I seem to do lately, I'm going to give you one of my examples. I've copied it word for word out of my dream notebook. Don't judge, this may be a best seller someday.

One of the Gods decides to strike a deal and beyond all odds loses to a mortal who requests the payment be that they switch places. He has no choice and is made mortal, while the mortal takes all and becomes a God. Forced to live on earth, he despises and resents the other humans for their weakness. He meets a woman named Slynn who is extremely beautiful. She's the kind of woman he, as a God, would have just taken and he expects her to fall for him. She wants nothing to do with him and he gives up hope of ever having the luxuries he once did as a God. Gradually he learns more about the mortals and he comes to appreciate their hard work. He falls in love with Slynn and somewhat becomes adjusted to life on earth. But the mortal who took his place as a God learns that the switch can still be undone while the once God still lives. He decides to send hounds and lesser beings to kill him. While the once God is no longer immortal, he knows everything about the creatures sent to hunt him and is able to defeat them. One of the lesser beings was actually his friend when he was a God and pretends to go hunting for him, but when he finds him he tells him that the switch can be undone and how to accomplish it. The once God decides to leave at once, but hesitates when he sees Slynn. He's not sure what he wants anymore: the immortality and power he once had or the woman he's fallen in love with. She tells him he should claim what was rightfully his. Not fully understanding the new emotions he is feeling he thinks she does not return his love. He sets out on the journey to regain Godhood. After going through more trials and suffering than the once God ever dreamed possible, all the while missing Slynn and feeling empty, he finally defeats the man who stole his life. A God once more he thinks his life will go on as normal, but he still feels the emotions he did as a mortal and regret is a completely new feeling for a God. Upset, he decides that because he is a God again he can just take Slynn. He goes to her, but when he sees her sleeping he has no desire to force her to do anything she doesn't want to do. He remembers what it felt like to feel weak and helpless and he decides to never do that to anyone again. He goes to leave, but Slynn wakes up and is so happy to see him well and alive that she jumps into his arms and kisses him. He is so stunned and confused at her reaction that he doesn't move or respond and she is embarrassed at her actions. He finally realizes that she did return his feelings and he's made a mistake by choosing Godhood because it's forbidden for Gods and mortals to be together permanently. But he will always feel that emptiness when she's not with him. He decides to break all the laws of the Gods and make her immortal. 
*Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*

HOW Contest Finalists!

Congratulations to Katalyn and Leesa on being finalists in the 2013 HOW (Heart of the West) Contest! Good luck you two!