Friday, August 28, 2015

What to Know before Self-Publishing – Part 3 – Producing a Quality Product

There was a time when self-publishing meant writing a book, then paying a subsidy publisher to print it.  The author had to cover the costs of editing, cover design, printing and marketing before the book was available to the public, often paying thousands of dollars to sell just a few books. 
However, while authors can still bypass the traditional agent/editor submission route, now they can also create a direct market online through print on demand and eBooks.  So while they still have to put together a quality product, there aren’t any up-front costs to print it.  A book is printed only if someone orders it, and the printing costs are taken out of the royalties the author receives, rather than as an up-front cost.

This article is part three of three on self-publishing.  We’ve already covered the advantages to self-publishing in part one, and the disadvantages in part two.  This article will talk about the importance of creating a quality product.
After weighing the pros and cons of self-publishing, hundreds of writers make the decision to forge ahead.  In fact, self-published books accounted for 31% of eBook sales on in 2014.  And the number keeps growing. 

There are many reasons authors decide to self-publish.  Here are a few:
  1. Make their backlist available – Many writers today entered the publishing world long before there was such a thing as eBooks.  They published through traditional publishers, and once the life cycle of the book was done, the books were only available through used book stores or sales.  Luckily, most  This is a way to not only extend the book’s life, but to make them available to new readers who didn’t have access to them years before.
    publishers granted rights of these backlist books to the authors, who then converted them to eBooks.
  2. Writing outside the genre – Some authors write outside the box.  That is, their book may not fit into any specific genre, they have elements of different genres crossing each other, or their book is too long or too short for traditional publishing within their genre.  Also, it may not have the broad appeal that most traditional publishers look for when reading manuscripts.  The broader the potential audience, the better the sales.  Some authors write their books outside those parameters anyway, because they believe in the book and need to tell their story.
  3. So close, but not quite with traditional publisher – Face it, nobody likes rejection.   And in the publishing world, you’d better have a strong backbone, because odds are, you will get at least one, if not one hundred, rejection letters in the mail.  They may come after the query, they may come after the partial.  The most painful ones, though, are the full manuscript rejection letters.  You’ve made it that far…  So close…   And there may be several publishers who ask for that full manuscript, only to reject it for whatever reason.  Authors feel it must be good, if it gets that far that often.  And sometimes, they are right and have a successful run at self-publishing.
  4. No need for validation from others – Believing in yourself is your strongest motivator.  While humans understandably crave acceptance from others, unless you believe in your own work, you won’t go far.  It will show in your writing, in face-to-face interviews and at networking events.  When you believe in yourself and your writing, you don’t need agents and editors validating that you have produced a quality product.  Authors can bypass that validation by self-publishing.
  5. Traditional publishing is a slow-moving process – Once a book is written, it can take months, or even years before a publisher makes an offer on the book.  Then it goes through all the traditional steps of edits, re-writes, copyedits, proofs, cover art, etc., until the book hits the shelves anywhere from nine to fifteen months after the contract is signed.  That can be a long time, depending on the timeliness of the material.  Self-publishing goes much more quickly, often hitting the ‘shelves’ within three months of finishing it.  It should still go through the editing and art work phases, but you are more in control of that, rather than waiting on someone else to finish.
But even after making the decision, the most important part in this process is the book itself.  Unless you produce a quality product, you won’t have success.  Keep in mind:
  1. You should pay an editor to read your manuscript.  As polished as you think it is, a pair of professional, subjective eyes should take a look at it. 
  2. A bad reputation isn’t easily overcome. If you write an amazing book, everyone will be talking about it.  If you write a terrible book, everyone will be talking about it.  And they probably won’t pick up the next one you write.
  3. You need to hire a graphic artist to design your cover.  Even though there are templates and free   You need to stand out, even if you aren’t on the bookshelves.  A cover is always the reader’s first impression of your book.
    software online for creating covers, that’s exactly what they look like – boilerplate covers.
  4. Marketing is all on your own.  And it begins months before the book is even published.  Add it to your signature in your emails.  Talk it up on Facebook.  Create a page with a short synopsis and excerpt to tease readers.  Schedule a blog tour.  This can all start months before the book is ready, and will create a buzz.
  5. You won’t get rich off self-publishing.  Even though your royalties are higher, the sales aren’t usually as high as a traditionally published book.  And when you consider that there are many multi-published authors out there who couldn’t support themselves merely on writing books, well, let’s just say if you’re looking to get rich quick, it probably won’t happen.
  6. You won’t get distributed to major retail outlets.  Your book won’t be in brick and mortar stores around the country where loyal readers spend hours browsing shelves.  Even if you book is printed, as well as epubbed, it still won’t have the large distribution numbers because retail stores usually purchase books from major publishers and not so much indies.
  7. It may cost more money to produce it than you will earn back in royalties.  Plan to spend about $2000 for producing a quality product.  You’ll have to sell a lot of books.  That isn’t to say it won’t happen.  You believe in your book, otherwise you wouldn’t be self-publishing.  And authors are ‘discovered’ every day.  But as in everything, be prepared to spend money before making it.
Yes, this can be a truly adventurous and rewarding process for you.  And oftentimes, that’s all an author needs - is to go through the process.  Because the intangible rewards often outweigh the monetary.  Good luck on your adventure!

Friday, August 21, 2015

What to Know before Self-Publishing – Part Two – The Disadvantages

There was a time when self-publishing meant writing a book, then paying a subsidy publisher to print it.  The author had to cover the costs of editing, cover design, printing and marketing before the book was available to the public, often paying thousands of dollars to sell just a few books. 
However, while authors can still bypass the traditional agent/editor submission route, now they can also create a direct market online through print on demand and eBooks.  So while they still have to put together a quality product, there aren’t any up-front costs to print it.  A book is printed only if someone orders it, and the printing costs are taken out of the royalties the author receives, rather than as an up-front cost.
This article is part two of three on self-publishing.  Last week, we posted the advantages of self-publishing.  But as we know, everything has two sides.  This week's article covers the drawbacks.  Yes, there are always drawbacks. 

Here are some disadvantages

1.      Finding readers – If you go with a traditional publisher, especially series, they usually form a loyal fan base.  These readers buy time and again because they know what to expect from the series.  If you self-publish, you can’t draw on this built-in fan base.  You have to find your own readers.

2.      Competition - According to Bowker, 458,000 books were indie pubbed in 2013 in the US. That’s up 437% from 2008.  I would say that’s a little competition.  That said, if your book is quality, it will rise above the rest.  It’s important to hire an experienced editor who will help make your book the best it can be.

3.      Low sales as  result – Sales on eBooks and POD books aren’t as high as traditionally published books, partly because they don’t have the marketing dollars behind them that big publishing houses can offer.  If you understand going in that your book will probably not sell 50,000 copies, you’ll better accept your sales rates.  That isn’t to say it can’t happen.  But only you can decide how much marketing is worth the end result, since it’s all on you.

4.      If your book is bad, your reputation is ruined – Everyone is proud of their finished product.  But as the author, it’s difficult to step back sometimes and admit the writing or the plot may not be your best effort.  If you put a poor quality product out there, it’s difficult to overcome the bad reviews, even if the second book is markedly better.  Make sure you have other eyes (not family or friends) look over your book before you produce it.

5.      Marketing is on your own – While many large publishing houses are leaving more and more to the author, when you self-publish, it’s all on you.  You have to create swag, set up a Facebook page, schedule a blog tour, contact book stores for signings, and find speaking engagements.  None of this will be done for you.  So be prepared for some hard work.

6.      Distribution is on your own – Major publishers have a large distribution list.  Your book would automatically ship to major outlets. However, when you self-publish, your book will not be in retail stores.  It will only be available online.  And you will be responsible for finding some of those outlets.

7.      Everything is on your own – Yes, everything!  You are the writer, editor, publisher, marketer and all around go-to person.  There is no support staff to answer phones, respond to emails or make decisions on art work.  You are everyone in the process.

8.      No advances – Most publishers offer an advance to authors when they contract them to write a book.  The amount varies, depending on the author and sales history.  The advance can be used to start marketing your book, money you won’t have if you self-publish.  The costs are all on you.  Which brings us to the next point:

9.      It costs money – And we’re not talking a few hundred dollars.  To hire a quality editor, a good graphic artist, a photographer for your head shot, etc., all costs money.  And unless you sell thousands of copies, you may not make that money back.

10.  Stress – Considering all this, it’s not surprising that the process can cause a lot of stress.  Unless you are prepared to handle these roadblocks, then the self-publishing process may not be for you.  Consider both time and money involved.
Don’t think, after all this though, that the process isn't worth the effort. 

Join us next week to learn how to balance the good with the bad to put out a quality product.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What to Know before Self-Publishing – Part One – The Advantages

There was a time when self-publishing meant writing a book, then paying a subsidy publisher to print it.  The author had to cover the costs of editing, cover design, printing and marketing before the book was available to the public, often paying thousands of dollars to sell just a few books. 
However, while authors can still bypass the traditional agent/editor submission route, now they can also create a direct market online through print-on-demand and eBooks.  So while they still have to put together a quality product, there aren’t any up-front costs to print it.  A book is printed only if someone orders it, and the printing costs are taken out of the royalties the author receives, rather than as an up-front cost.
This article is part one of a series on self-publishing, and will discuss the advantages of doing it on your own. 
So why should you self-publish?
1.      You retain creative control – You decide the length of the book, you write your own cover copy, and you help design the cover.  Since the cover is a reader's first impression, this is an important marketing tool.  It can make or break sales.  What would appeal to you as a reader?

2.      You make your own schedule – You won’t be driven by deadlines you can’t meet.  If a family emergency arises, you can put the book aside and finish later.  And if you decide to write a trilogy or connected books, you can write them all at once and publish them together, or space them as far apart as you wish.

3.      You won’t get rejection letters in the mail – How many submissions have you sent to publishing houses for your manuscripts?  How many rejection letters followed?  Nobody  sends those letters if you publish your own book.

4.      There’s no wait list – You don’t have to wait until a publisher has a slot open for your title.  You can publish it when it’s convenient for you, not someone else.

5.      You earn higher royalties – Self-publishing takes away the middleman.  So there’s more money for you in the end because your agent and editor and publishing house won’t take their cuts.

6.      There’s no genre restrictions – Have you written a book that doesn’t fit into any standard genre?  Maybe it’s a mystery with paranormal elements, or a romance with an unhappy ending.  Traditional publishers tend to shy away from manuscripts that break the rules.  If you self-publish, you can write what you want.

7.      Your book gets produced faster – Publishers have schedules and you’re the victim.  You wait for copyedits, you wait for proofs, you wait for cover designs, you wait for permission to market your book.  Everything takes time.  With self-publishing, a book can be on the shelf within days once you have it edited and formatted.

8.      You retain rights – You wrote it.  You can do what you want with it.  You can use both the text and art work in your marketing materials.  You don’t have to worry about whether or not your cover can be reproduced on your web site or bookmarks.  You own it.  It’s your decision.

9.      You can track sales better – Publishers can tell you how many sales you had, but their stats don’t tell you how many sold in the first few days, who bought them, or in which country.  Selling your own book will allow you to track your sales more closely.

All that said, while it sounds appealing, it’s not an easy process.  You still need to produce a quality product in order to expect it to sell.  And that brings us to part two of self-publishing: the disadvantages.   Join us next week for the next segment in this series.

Click here to read Part Two - The Disadvantages
Click here to read Part Three - Producing a Quality Product

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Five Steps to Inspiration

We’ve all had it - the dreaded writer’s block!  Suddenly, our mind goes blank.  We can’t come up with ideas, and even if we do, we can’t get past the idea to the plot or outline.  All good writers know this is only temporary.  Inspiration will strike again.  Some time. 

But rather than wait for that moment, why not make it happen?  There are many different places to look for inspiration to get that story idea or to fill out that plot.  Here are five steps to get you started.

1.      Read the Headlines – Truth is stranger than fiction.  That’s the truth.  People are so unpredictable, I often find myself wondering – what were they thinking?  Capitalize on these stories.  Here are just a few headlines from today’s news: “Unidentified Man Found Dead Under Des Plaines Underpass” “One Man’s Life With 5 Identities” “Teen With Heart Transplant Dies After Broken Promise To Change”  Without even reading these stories, just imagine what you could create around one of these headlines.

2.      Study Your Family – Whether you write historical or contemporary, your family is full of inspiration.  When did your family emigrate to America?  Where did they settle?  What were their occupations?  How about today?  Who has an interesting profession?  An unusual one?  A dangerous one?  Is your family dysfunctional?  Of course, if you use a family member as a central character, make sure to change enough that the person won’t be easily identified, especially if the description isn’t flattering.

3.      Read History Books – History is full of colorful figures.  Some changed the world, whether it was through ill deeds, or charitable acts.  There are criminals and heroes.  There are those who broke barriers, and those who dared to think outside the box.  You can use their life story as your core plot, or build your characters around that event in history.

4.      Read Biographies – While these are similar to history books, biographies give a more in-depth look at what life was like during the time period.  They usually offer insights into the emotions of the day, as well as the current events shaping their lives.  What can you glean from their lives that would be appropriate for your characters?

      5.      Meditate – While this won’t actually fill your head with ideas (you’re supposed to rid your mind of thought during meditation), studies have shown that daily meditation (as little as ten minutes a day) will help you concentrate and focus.  Also, the more you meditate, the less anxiety you will have.  And when your mind is clear of stress, it can fill up with inspiration.

These are just a few ways to find inspiration for your writing.  What’s your favorite method of finding ideas?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Organizing Your Research Books

Writers often hear, “Write what you know.”  That sounds plausible.   I’ve lived in the Chicago area my entire life.  I know the seasons, the slang, the popular foods and the stops on the elevated train.  I know my characters can order a deep dish pizza with a locally brewed beer.  I know they wouldn’t be walking on the beach (yes, there is a large body of water along Chicago’s east side) in February unless they were dressed in snow boots and parkas instead of shorts and sandals. 

And yet, when I started writing, I chose London as my setting.  Not modern London, but rather, Victorian London.  What did I know about Victorian London?   Absolutely nothing!  Except what I’d read in history books and other historical romance novels. 

That didn’t deter me, though.  As it wouldn’t any writer who felt passionate about a character or setting.  It just meant that I would have to do some research.  Well, not some.  A lot of research.  That didn’t deter me, either.  And I’m not alone.  Many authors write about places they’ve never visited.  And like me, many authors love the research aspect to writing a novel. 

Research wasn’t as easy when I began writing as it is now.  The internet was in its infancy.  I did most of my research at the library – fingering through catalog card files, thumbing through books, and dropping dimes into the copy machine when I wanted a photo or large amount of text.   I also bought whatever books I could find on the topic, especially on sale through libraries or catalogs. 

With all this research came another problem – how to keep track of this information when I needed to access it again.  Back then, technology meant a spreadsheet.  I didn’t even know how to use one, so I kept track of my books and resources on plain sheets of paper, numbering the sources, and writing notes to myself on what the source was and where I’d found it.  It wasn’t the easiest to use, especially when I was looking for something specific.  It meant scanning all those pages until I came across the entry I wanted. 

Technology has made life so much easier.  I know how to use spreadsheets now.  And the internet and bookmarks have made tracking a breeze.  But I still have my extensive library of research books, as do other authors.  It’s the nature of the business.   If we aren’t collecting research books, we’re collecting novels or inspirational works. 

So what happens when you need one of those books?  Could you find it on your shelf?  Would you remember what you owned if you were at the store and saw it on the shelf?  That’s where today’s software comes in. 

With programs like Collectorz and All My Books, it’s all automated now.  Just scan or type in the bar code, and the book’s information automatically populates the fields.  You’ll even get a photo of the book’s cover.  You can then search files by genre, plot, publisher, etc. 

Some of these programs are free downloads, others have a nominal cost.  And you have to take the time to enter all your books.  But when you consider the convenience, it’s well worth it.  Start by scanning anything new that you bring home, then slowly add the rest of your titles.  Do a shelf a day, or maybe one a week, depending on your available time.  Eventually, your entire library will be catalogued. 

What is your favorite book cataloguing system?    

Friday, January 23, 2015

Six Ways Meditation Can Boost Creativity

Meditation can be beneficial for anyone.  It gives us an opportunity to become more present with ourselves just as we are.  When we are mindful, we show up for our lives.  We don’t miss them in being distracted or in wishing for things to be different. 
Drawing on this sense of mindfulness can boost creativity.  By finding happiness in every moment of your waking life, your mind opens to wonders and possibilities.  Conversely, when you are living in fear, anger, regret and worry, that is all you know.
Taking away the negatives boosts creativity.  Here’s how:
  1. De-stressing – Being mindful of your life forces you to concentrate on something other than your worries.  As writers, we put ourselves out there, risking rejection and criticism on a daily basis.  Meditation soothes these rough edges and creates a safe, stress-free place. 
  2. Clarity/Focus – Focusing on your breathing teaches you to focus on your projects.  Once you get rid of the mind clutter, you’ll see everything else more clearly.  This will take time, though.  As time goes on, the more clarity you will realize.
  3. Perspective – When you spend time being aware of nothing but your breathing, thoughts and feelings, you’ll begin to see how trivial your daily worries really are.  Life will be put into perspective.  So let go of the small stuff. 
  4. Patience – We are bombarded with messages every waking moment of our lives, whether it’s driving to work or watching television in the evening.  Thinking about nothing is difficult.  It takes patience to bbe successful in training your brain to resist thoughts. 
  5. Eases Anxiety – With meditation comes a calmness of the mind.  Internal chatter will eventually ease.  And when internal chatter eases, so does anxiety.
  6. Improves Concentration -  Meditation strengthens cognitive control.  By quieting other brain functions, your ability to concentrate is enhanced.   
There are many benefits to derive from meditation,  But like anything else, it takes practice.  Be patient.  Be consistent.  Set aside a time every day to meditate.  Don’t break from this time and don’t let anything distract you.
Do you meditate?  What is your favorite time of day?  Where do you meditate? 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book Review - Victorian Fashions for Women and Children: Society's Impact on Dress

I recently had the opportunity to review Victorian Costume for Ladies 1860-1900 by Linda Setnik, a fascinating look at fashion through photographs from the era.  I am pleased to say that the author has followed up with another wonderful resource - Victorian Fashions for Women and Children: Society’s Impact on Dress.  This new book covers the same years, 1860-1900, but looks more closely at children’s fashions, and how society influenced styles for both women and children. 

What I found particularly interesting is the way fashion magazines criticized the contemporary woman of the day for sticking to impractical styles, yet continued to feature them in their pages.  Saying we are slaves to fashion was never more prevalent than in the Victorian Era.  Women wore layers and layers (sometimes as many as ten) no matter what the weather.  Tight lacing and corsets forced organs into places they shouldn’t be.  There are amazing examples of abnormally small waistlines in the photos accompanying the text.

Sadly, women not only followed these fashions, but inflicted the same upon their daughters at a young age.  Children dressed like small adults except for shorter skirts and less ornamentation.  I was surprised to learn that boys dressed identical to girls for longer than I thought.  They normally wore dresses until the age of five or six, and sometimes even until their teenage years.  Their hair, while usually short, was parted on the side, while girls parted their hair in the center, which is sometime the only distinguishable feature in a photo.  The wealthier classes kept boys in dresses longer.  There were no gender distinctions, as a result.  All were simply children whose mothers didn’t want them to grow up. 

In addition to fashion trends, Ms. Setnik covers leisure wear, which would hardly be considered ‘leisurely’ by our standards, since it allowed for little movement.  Also covered are hairstyles and accessories like jewelry, stocking and sashes. 

Each chapter covers several years, explaining the sometimes subtle changes from season to season.  Waistlines dropped or rose, went from straight to pointed, hemlines of overskirts rose and fell, skirt and bustle sizes changed shape and size, sleeves puffed, and silhouettes slimmed.  The photographs can be dated by identifying these changes.

Some additional features are an extensive bibliography to continue your research, and a price guide for valuing the clothing. 

This book shows that Ms. Setnik thoroughly researched the topic, and is an expert in the field.  I enjoyed seeing the photographs of contemporary women, rather than perfect models, and learned many new facts and details from this fascinating era.