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Friday, 20 November 2015

Things I've Learned About Indie Publishing and Promo So Far

It occurred to me, while I was actually responsibly working on my next novel (and adding to my NaNoWriMo word count), that maybe people were looking for an update on how things were going with my first novel, and possibly looking for some tips to help them. While I have learned a great deal, it's been less than a week since the release so nothing is a hard-and-fast truth when it comes to anything that's happened since then. I only really know what has happened so far for me, and what I learned about the technical aspects of publishing through Createspace and Kindle Desktop Published (or KDP as it's usually referred to).

I was admittedly paranoid and anal about the technical aspects of submitting files to Createspace, because so many people seemed to be confused about it. Then there were all those fear-inducing articles written on a competing company's site, talking about how terrible it was to publish through them. They are, of course, biased, because they offer the same services, and it was their smear campaign that turned me off using their services. I'm Canadian, and don't hold much with those sorts of business practices. Doesn't seem very professional, and that's my same moral basis for not naming the company that does it. If you ever look into self-publishing you'll find it, I'm sure.

There were no complications with submitting my files, however, so I don't have a clue why people had a hard time with it, but I am a former accountant and administrator so I tend to be detail-oriented. Not everyone is geared that way. And believe me, getting lost in details is not always a positive thing, so if you're not like that you can feel grateful for it. When I ordered proofs (I got five of them...just because), the books were put together fine. No two books will ever be identical, particularly in self-publishing, because this isn't precision German engineering we're talking about. It's a book. Even the best traditional publishers have variations in individual books. Some so bad that they have to be returned. Happily that was not my experience with Createspace.

The Kindle segment was much easier. I chose to start with Createspace, because then it can be put through to Kindle after the main part is done, and I wanted to be absolutely certain that people would see both options on the same page when they saw the listing on Amazon. When it comes to royalties there isn't much difference in my case. I only get eighty cents more for the paperback than I do for the Kindle, and so far only one paperback was ordered. Granted, I've got a bunch of people asking for signed copies, which means plenty of orders to come. I just haven't tallied them.

The big surprise for me was the lending library. I checked off the box to participate in that with a sort of shrug. I didn't think it would be a big part of my royalties, but I'm really, really glad I did it now. The last time I checked, authors were getting paid approximately $0.0058 per page. When you're having thousands of pages read per day, it can really add up. In fact, I will probably make more money from that than I will from purchases, and people who subscribe to the service get to read the book for no extra cost above their monthly fee. More readers means a better chance someone will leave a review, and from what I'm seeing it actually impacts my book's ranking on Amazon. I almost cracked the top 100 (in a specific genre, not the main list) yesterday and today, which was pretty exciting for me. Once you manage to do that, apparently Amazon starts promoting your book for you, so I'm doing what I can to make that happen.

Being pretty much broke, I haven't spent a lot of money on promo, though I have found some really great bargains there, including sites that include and promote your book for free because they want to get books out to their readers. One such site is AUTHORSdb, and another is iauthor. I mean, when you're broke you sometimes have to spend more time on promotion than you would like, if you want to get your book out there, but it's worth it if you ever want to not be broke. Struggling for art is fine, but who actually wants to if they don't have to? I've got a promo through SweetFreeBooks coming out on November 29th (it'll be free for a day!!) and they only charge $5 right now. Your book either has to be 99 cents or free, but free promos can really get your ranking up if people know about them. Sure there's no return on investment on the day the promo runs, but the ROI after-the-fact can be huge according to every other author I've spoken to or read.

Other free promo ideas include eReaderIQ, Content Mo, Hot Zippy, BeeZeeBooks, Choosy Bookworm, PeopleReads, ReadFree.ly, and Booktastik. A lot of those are for when you're promoting a giveaway or contest, but well worth it if you're trying to boost your numbers with a free Kindle deal.

Another suggestion, which I was reminded of by my business partner and host of the show I produce, is to do radio shows and podcasts. Now, I'm lucky because I've already been able to do one of those without even asking, because Steve Kovacs chose to have me come on and talk about my novels, along with the very real possibilities behind it that were the inspiration for writing it. We don't normally have fiction authors on the show, though we've had some, so I didn't want to change the format just to be able to plug my book. He was nice enough to suggest an hour-long show, but I said it wouldn't work. Hey, I'm Canadian. I can't help it.

If you decide you're up for interviews, a good option is to use Radio Guest List to find potential shows. You can sign up for their free e-mail that's meant for guests, or you can choose to go directly to their listings where you'll get a lot more possibilities than what they send out to you. I know most writers are probably introverts, and it may not be easy to do interviews, but the majority of the ones you'll find that pertain to authors will be podcasts rather than vodcasts - audio-only, as opposed to video. You also don't have to leave your house. Technology is a wonderful thing. Just watch for any shows that request a donation, though they're few and far between.

At the very least you should be prepared to offer them an electronic review copy, along with a media kit. Don't worry. I haven't put together an actual media kit yet myself. It's something I'm going to have to do soon, because I'm trying to get proper book reviewers to take a look at it, which means professionalism will be required on my part. Especially as an indie author. I luckily have my own company, and I used it as my publisher, which might make them more likely to take a look at it.

Just as you would with your book, try to make sure you have a well-edited review request. When I was editing my book I used a program called Natural Reader (there's a free version, though it has some downsides) to read my chapters out loud to me, and you can do the same with any of your official correspondence. (I have the free version, and the third voice on the list of available ones was even better than the paid voices I found, so I'm happy to use the free version of the software for now.) Even when we read our writing out loud to ourselves, we often read out what we think is there, rather than what actually is there. One of many compelling reasons to have your book professionally edited if you can afford to do so.

I had to put my money into promo, so aside from my daughter reading the book, as well as a friend of mine, I used Natural Reader. Windows has something built-in that does the same thing, but I got irritated trying to set it up because the voice kept telling me every button I was hovering over, when that wasn't what I needed at all. It's meant for blind people, not authors, so I can't say I blame them. It's just not its true function.

In case you're wondering, I'm not getting paid for any of these links. This is all stuff I found on my own and I'm actually using. None of these sites have any idea I'm linking to them. In fact, I don't get paid for this blog in any way, shape, or form. It's just too random. The only thing I have on here are linked images to animal shelters I personally donate to, and hope someone else will choose to as well.

As for paid promo, aside from SweetFreeBooks, I've used a few different ones without really thinking it through and being critical - probably because I wasn't spending much money with each of them. Since then I've found a site that offers some advice on that sort of thing, called eNovels Authors at Work. The link I've provided is the first in a series of articles on promoters they've found that are good and bad. I haven't even read all of the series yet, since there are at least five parts to it. I've already found a lot of good information, so if you go through their blog I'm sure you will, too.

Something weird that I noticed about pricing for a lot of book promotion services is that they charge more when your book is free. Not all of them, but most. For instance, BookBub charges less when the Kindle is free, but sites like FreeBooksy charge more. I used their BargainBooksy list, which was only $35 to promote a $2.99 book, but the other list can cost anywhere from $40 to $200, depending on the genre (since some genres have more people subscribed to them, which means the books go out to more people). I understand the reasons, of course, because there are a lot more subscribers for the free lists, which means way more exposure for an author, but it's confusing when BookBub does the opposite. Of course, they have everything all on one list. They're also a lot harder to get on, for good reason. They have a huge list of subscribers.

I've done massive amounts of research on all this promotion stuff. Many, many hours of it that I would rather have spent writing. When you're a novelist, however, there's little choice. Unless you're Stephen King or something, even traditional publishers don't provide much in the way of promotion for their authors, which was my reason for heading straight to the indie route. I get much higher royalties, with no difference in work, except for the formatting and cover stuff - it's a very good thing my daughter is skilled with Photoshop, because I suck at graphics. Even opening a proper graphics program gives me a splitting headache. Every single time. I can use MS Paint, and I can crop or resize photos, but that's pretty much it.

I really wish I could afford someone to do all this stuff for me, because I just don't wanna. Hopefully I've managed to save my fellow authors a bit of time with this bunch of information. It really is worth it, though. I got my first review yesterday, and it was amazing. It was five stars, with a great deal of praise in the comment section, and I don't know the person who left it (unless they used an alias). I also didn't pay for it, which you can find someone to do if you go on fiverr, but I'm hoping to get real reviews as opposed to paid, ergo biased, ones. It just didn't seem very honourable, though I was admittedly tempted. Now I'm really glad I held off, because I've got two (honest) 5-star reviews on there, and I'm pretty sure I don't know either of them. There's criticism within them, but they still liked the story, so that gives me something to work with for the next book. I'm quite thrilled to see that one complaint was that there wasn't enough detail on something, which means they would rather I had left in some stuff I took out because I thought it would be too boring.

[WARNING! *Shameless Book Plug Ahead!*] If anyone reading this is interested, Tipping Point is available on Amazon here at this link. If you're from a different country, it will tell you where to go (and it's polite about it). It's the first of a pre-through-post-apocalyptic trilogy that's based on a very real possibility. I was actually warned by a former Ontario Hydro executive that the power outages were going to get much, much worse, and that warning turned into a novel. Hopefully we can figure out a way to avoid it in the near future, but we'll have to wait and see.

The first book takes you up to the apocalypse. The second will take you through it. The third will show you a possible new beginning for humanity. The man who reviewed Tipping Point said it was terrifying, but there's action, romance, suspense, adventure, and science fiction. You can read it for free if you're a subscriber and have access to Amazon's lending library, or the Kindle's regular price is $2.99. If you read it and enjoy it (or even if you have a criticism of it), please leave a review - they're vital for indie authors. I honestly want to know what people think. It will help me improve as a writer.

Since the second book isn't going to write itself, and I have to catch up on my word count for National Novel Writing Month, I'm going to get back to it. Here's hoping my writer friends will attain the success that will allow them to do what they love for a living, rather than working to be able to afford to write. It's what we all dream of, isn't it?

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

I'm Either Livin' the Dream, or Dreaming My Life

Since the middle of September my life has been nothing but a fantasy. Now, I don't mean a fantasy where it's been a series of perfect events. Not at all. Though it's certainly been perfect in its own way. Of course, no one else can really see it happening, because it's mostly been inside my own head. That's one of the many joys and frustrations of being a writer. You can be as happy as a clam (decide for yourself if a clam is really happy), yet no one has a clue that you are.

Starting around September 15th I began writing a book. I finished it (technically) around October 12th. Now I've spent the last few weeks editing and revising that book. I dream about the characters, and my first thought when I wake up is about those 'people' and what they're 'doing.' I don't remember ever getting involved with my writing like this before, even when I was much younger and was getting those mad spurts of creativity that made me look like a female version of Dr. Emmett Brown. Oddly, my biological father looks a bit like Christopher Lloyd, but thankfully I don't look like my father - not that I'm really happy about looking like my mother either.

I actually wake up, roll over, and start working every single day. It's become my waking habit if you will. I live within my book, because it's the only life I have at the moment. Not that I consider that a bad thing, because I truly love fiction and its ability to zip us around through alternative realities. The places we can go, the people we'll meet, and the things we'll do in those books can never be duplicated in everyday life.

This year I decided I would join National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it's called. After writing 126,000+ words in less than a month, I realized that writing 50,000 words was rather like a walk in the park for me. (In case you're unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write 50,000 words in a 30-day period.) I'm three days into it, while still putting the final touches on the other book, so I'm just hitting the daily word count for that book, but since I'm also working on the other one still I'm not too worried about it.

The joy of writing this new book for the contest, is that it's the second book in a trilogy. Both books are connected, and everything is staying super-fresh in my mind. This is a very good thing, because I have a lot of characters to keep track of, and various events on the timelines, so I don't want to lose the details. The world has basically come to an end, a lot of people have died, and the survivors are limping along. I honestly never thought I'd write science fiction, as apocalyptic fiction is labelled, but my personal interest in off-grid living became a trigger.

The research, before, during, and after writing the book, has actually been a joy. It's all stuff I'm interested in for my own life, and I feel I need to know anyway, so the two-bird-with-one-stone thing makes it seem like half the work to begin with. Plus I have a genuine interest and get enjoyment from learning about pretty much anything. My head has been stuck in a book (if you can call online research a book) even when it wasn't stuck in my book.

You might be wondering why I would have to research after writing the book, but that's to do with revision and editing. I occasionally get to a part where my critical thinking skills finally kick in and ask, "Yes, but is that really how things work, or were you just pretending to be a know-it-all?" I've been schooled a few times since the 'completion' in mid-October. In fact, a friend of mine has introduced me to some knowledge on survival knives recently, that may find its way into the book even now when I'm about to format it for CreateSpace. I'm not sure if it's particularly relevant, but I'm keeping an open mind.

At this very moment I'm actually supposed to be rewriting the first two pages of the book, along with the epilogue. Both are rather ham-fisted at the moment, and not what I intended, but sometimes writing is like that. You just get the general concept down, and fiddle with it later. Not everyone wants to write like that. Often people who call themselves writers will refuse to write unless the blinding light of inspiration strikes. Most often those writers never finish a project. Believe me, I know. I was one of those.

I'll be fair to myself here and say that a good portion of the reason I wasn't doing my 'real' writing (also known as novel-length fiction), was pain. It can be very difficult to get out of your own world and into a fictitious one, when your body is screaming at you. I had to figure out a way to write so that I was as physically comfortable as possible, which isn't easy if you're trying to avoid mind-numbing narcotics. I don't want to be one of those writers that can only write if they're drunk or high. It's one point on which I'm in complete agreement with Stephen King. Substance abuse is substance abuse, whether or not you're using it to write. I feel the same about music, actually. I've never like listening to drug-infused garbage. I figure if they can't play it straight, then they really can't play it. Anything else is like being an athlete on steroids or blood-doping (ahem, Lance Armstrong).

Thankfully I've given myself a major deadline on my first book. I've told a whole bunch of people that it's coming out on Friday the 13th (yes, this very next one, here in November). It's most likely that will be Kindle only, because the paperback may take a couple of weeks longer to be finalized. Still, a promise is a promise, and that means there will be no more fiddling and procrastinating after I submit the formatted work.

I love Friday the 13th. It's my lucky day, and it has been my whole life. Back when I was a figure skater (the main cause of the pain I deal with these days), I always did exceptionally well during tests and competitions if they happened to fall on that day. Good things were attracted to me on Friday the 13th. A friend of mine (who actually knows and loves me) tells me it's because I'm the devil, and so I chuckle wickedly in response. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. It could all be an intricate plot. In my life pretty much everything is.