Thoughts On the Long Game

book page turn

There’s one part of publishing no one likes to talk about: when the book sales dry up.  Let’s be honest: a lot of us writers go to bookstores and we see all the perennials on the shelves that we can always trust to be there: the books by Gabaldon, King, Tolkien, and Martin (not to mention the 9,485,682nd book by Patterson, Robb or Grisham…how the hell do they keep cranking those out every couple of weeks, anyway?).  We’d like to think we could get in on some of that as well.

The grim, sad truth is that it rarely happens.  We’ll show up on a few shelves for a few months and then disappear.  And we’ll fall so far short of our dream numbers.  Even grimmer that the title stops getting printed due to lack of demand.  Not to mention suffering the indignity of having fans wondering where they can find Book 1 in your trilogy and having to tell them to look in a used bookstore, because your publisher isn’t making it available.

It almost makes one wonder just how antiquated and out of date the publishing business might be, how many of these rules and guidelines no longer work in this day and age.

But that’s another blog post for another day.  Me, I want to talk a little about how I look at this conundrum as a self-published author.  [Mind you, I’m not dissing the publishing business as a whole; I know many authors who do just fine with it, frustrations and all.]

See, I have three books out that I’ve self-released as POD trade paperback (through CreateSpace) and ebook (through Smashwords), and at present they’re just sort of…sitting there, not doing much.  I did sell a few as they were released, of course.  Not that many, more than I’d expected.  And they’re still up there, available and ready for whoever wants to buy them.  I don’t plan on pulling them from availability any time soon.  I might revisit the books and do some cosmetic editing sometime down the road, but they’ll always be out there for anyone to read.

The Balance of Light has been out for what, a good couple of months now?  The e-book was released in February, and the trade a month or so later.  I think it’s fair to say I got as much as I could get out of the three for the time being.  It would be kind of silly to keep flogging these books to virtually the same audience over and over again.

So what do I do with them, then?  One of the things I’ve thought about, in particular is how to let potential readers know that they’re still out there.  I mean, aside from the occasional tweet or blog post or shameless plug?  That’s the rub.  No one’s really been able to figure out how to do that for self-published books.  I’ll put out some of my self-made flyers when I’m at conventions.  There are some websites and platforms I could advertise on if I so desired.  But is it the right time to do that at the moment?

At this point, I’ve been thinking less about the Short Game — flogging the books while they’re still fresh — and more about the Long Game.  And by Long Game, I mean coming up with ways to push the trilogy on new readers in the future.  Plugging the trilogy as an Added Value when I release my next book.  Continuing to join in on the various sales that come up on Smashwords and elsewhere.  Using them as props when I’m on convention panels.

Meanwhile, this also gives me more time and brainspace to focus on writing my current projects and planning future ones.  [Current status: writing one, prepping another, and two, possibly three on the back burner.]

Do I feel let down a bit that the trilogy didn’t do as amazingly as I’d hoped?  Well, sure.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me a bit, and that I feel that I’ve failed myself for not following up on publicity as much as I should have.  But what’s past is past.  I also know that the themes of the trilogy are rather dense and they’re not for everyone.  I’ve made my peace with all of that.

My thoughts on this are:  always look forward. Always find the positive.  Always find a way to make all of this work for me.  And above all, learn from my own mistakes and missteps.  The trilogy isn’t dead, far from it.  It’s just in stasis.  I can certainly bring it back to life if I so choose.

I’ve said it before…I’m in this writing gig for the long term.  It’s more than just writing a large body of work, though.  It’s about knowing what to do with it all over time.

 

Why I self-publish

dead poets society
from Dead Poets Society

Well, that’s a good question.

It’s a question that came to me the other day when I received an email response to an agent submission that I’d completely forgotten about.  I’d forgotten about it because I’d sent it out early in March of 2015, over two years previous, for A Division of Souls.  One of the last times I’d submitted a manuscript before deciding to self-publish the trilogy.  The response was a rejection, but a nice one…they explained why they felt they couldn’t connect with my book.

I’m totally fine with that.  In fact, I’m totally fine that it was rejected, and that it took two years for them to respond.  I’m actually kind of touched that they not only took the time to finally respond, but they read my submission and gave a reason why they didn’t accept it.  That doesn’t always happen.

I thought about it some over the weekend, and realized that if I had heard back from the few agents I’d submitted to then, and if, in a stroke of luck, my manuscript had been accepted, then I’d have most likely gone a different route in my writing career altogether.

Instead, I’d given them all three months to respond — a generous amount of time to be honest — and after a no-response from a fly-by follow up, that’s when I chose to self-publish the books.  A Division of Souls would be self-released that September, and I’ve stayed on that course ever since.

Over the course of the last two years, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s multiple reasons why I self-publish.

  1. Quick turnaround.  Let me be clear on this: I totally get that it takes a long time to go from submission to finished product.  I’ve done my homework; I completely understand what goes into releasing product via an established company.  Self-publishing on the other hand means that it’s all on me, which means I don’t need to worry about my release conflicting with someone else’s.  It also means that the wait for the end result is all on me; I assign my own deadlines and schedule my production work and release dates.
  2. The DIY attitude.  In the process of learning the ropes from the pros, I’ve also learned a secret: I can take those same steps on my own.  As I’ve stated before, I’ve treated all my books as if I were a punk band self-releasing my new single.  It won’t have the high gloss or the artful editing, but it’ll be something I think is pretty darn cool (and from what I’ve heard from readers, I think others feel the same way).  This has become one of my favorite reasons for self-publishing.  It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s work I absolutely love doing.
  3. I’m a loner, Dottie.  A rebel.  This is the reason for self-publishing that I’ve been thinking about lately.  I know that my stories don’t exactly fit into a specific mold.  I know of professionally published authors who have this issue, where they are unable or unwilling to work on a project due to its possible inability to sell commercially.  Some of them have even stopped writing altogether, or have written in a completely different genre (and even written under a new pen name) to circumvent the failure of their chosen career path.  This in particular caused me to think about how that would play out, had I gone the professional route.  To be quite honest, I’m sure it would have frustrated the fuck out of me and might have even caused me to rethink what the hell I’d done with my life.  [And on a personal note, it most likely would have thrown me into a long and deep funk.  Definitely something I prefer not to deal with again in my lifetime.]  I’m not a commercial writer; I’m not the best at that style, and mainly because it doesn’t interest me.   As soon as I’d self-released A Division of Souls, I knew I’d chosen the right path.  I can write what I want and not have to worry whether or not the publisher will be able to market it.  Again, that’s all on me, and I love being creative about stuff like that.

Self-publishing is a hard (and sometimes expensive) road, but it’s the road I’m best suited for.  It excites me on almost every level, from the writing to the editing to the cover art, and even to the release.  My only constraints are of my own making.  I may not be pulling in the dough, but I’m putting my work out into the world, and I love getting responses about it.  Plus I’m paying it forward by telling you about the process here at my blog, and now at a growing number of conventions.

It’s a hard road, but it’s the one I chose, and I’m glad I chose it.

Budgeting for Self-Publishing

Lupin III
In a perfect world, us writers would be like Lupin III here.

When I was on a FOGCon panel about self-publishing a while back, one of the things I felt I had to point out — something that everyone else was skirting around but not really touching upon — was one of the most important parts of being a self-published author.

If you’re going to be serious about self-publishing, you’re going to have to be willing to fund it to some degree, out of your own pocket.

It’s a tough thing to admit, I know, but it’s true.  You’ll need to budget to some degree.

I knew and understood this going in when I decided to self-publish the trilogy.  It’s part of the reason I wanted to try my hand at doing as much of it myself as I knew I could: the editing, the cover art, even the various promotional avenues.  [I should state now that some people aren’t interested, willing or able to do any or all of that — and that’s just fine.  This is part of what I mean: you need to budget for those things.]

As it happens, the uploading of documents to Smashwords and Createspace is free if you’re doing most all of the work yourself.  For the production, the only costs I had were the Shutterstock picture package (five for $40), and trade galleys from CS (~$60 for five).  The cost of course will go up if you need to outsource your art and/or editing and formatting.*

*There are many legit sources out there for these things…caveat emptor, of course, but a lot of fellow writers and editors online can steer you in the right direction.

The big part of the cost for me was after that — I had to be willing to budget for promotional things over the last few years such as flyers ($60 for 100 half-page cardstock flyers from MOO.com, which I created and mocked up myself), short-term advertising on a website ($100 at NoiseTrade.com to feature on the landing page and a mailout for a week), and cut the cost of the book for a site promotion (books 1 and 2 free for a month on Smashwords).  Recently I’ve spent some money signing up for a few local science fiction conventions (FOGcon and BayCon over the last few months), where I will be using that time to plug my trilogy as well as talk about the writing biz.  I also paid a graphic artist friend of mine to create my Mendaihu Press logo (see my blog site header, courtesy of MeaganHealy.com) that I will be using in the future.

I’m quite sure I’ll be spending more funds in the future — the occasional advertising, more flyers, and so on — but so far I’ve been keeping it reined in pretty well.  I know well enough that I shouldn’t be creating thousands of flyers or having hundreds of copies of my books printed.  I’m notoriously cheapass when it comes to the creative part of it; if I can pull it off well with minimum cost, then I’m happy.

Point being: if you’re going to do it DIY, do it responsibly, and be aware that you’re going to have to prime the pump a bit in order to start making any money out of your endeavor.  Whether that’s hiring an accountant or learning how to do it yourself, as long as you do it well and do it right, the end result is almost always worth it.

Fly-by: finishing off a project

yowamushi-pedal-grande-road-finale-1

Heya! I’m taking a few weeks off from blogging so I can get The Balance of Light completed and ready for self-publication!

I’m extremely excited to be within spitting distance of one of my biggest goals, to see my trilogy out in the wild like this.  It took a hell of a lot of learning, hard work, and stubborn dedication to get to this point, and it was totally worth every minute.

I’ll post once more when the book is ready to drop, and then we’ll be back to our regular blogging schedule.

See you soon!

 

More Thoughts on Self-Publishing

I’ve been seeing a few articles here and there lately, both old and new, about the business of self-publishing.  They’ll come from both sides of the conversation.  Some say the field has never been more robust and user-friendly, so it’s worth checking out; others will admit that it’s a viable avenue, but hint that you’re probably better off building up patience and going pro.  [I usually avoid the oh god don’t do it, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot and will NEVER BE A LEGITIMATE WRITER EVER articles.  In fact I usually avoid any article that hints that Everything Is Ruined Forever.]

I’ll admit, it’s not for the weak, and it’s not for the Day Tripper either.  You’ve got to dedicate time, space, and money to it.  You’re doing most of the work yourself, or at least farming it out to freelancers, and that doesn’t come free.  You’re essentially producing, funding and recording your own album, in musical terms.

But that’s not to say that the non-writing part of it is like pulling teeth, especially if you’re going it completely alone like I am.  It’s career knowledge, and it will definitely come in handy down the road, even if you end up going pro and signing with a publisher and/or an agent.

Formatting can be a tricky bastard, both for e-books and physical books.  Both have their own idiosyncrasies that need to be ironed out and tamed before they should be sent out into the wild.  Editing is just as tricky; there’s a reason writers joke about reading their own work using their Editor Brain rather than their Writer Brain.  The cover may not be tricky to put together, but you certainly need to have an artist’s eye (and again, not the Writer Brain looking at it).   In essence, you’re looking at the same object from multiple and often conflicting angles.

As I’ve said here before, I haven’t been doing all the work on the Bridgetown Trilogy on my own because I don’t trust outsiders toying with my work (or worse, that I think I can do it so much better than the pros).  I’ve been doing it because I want to.  I want to learn how to do it, and how to do it right.  Okay, I admit, there’s a streak of selfishness there, that I enjoy being self-taught rather than shown how to do it, because that’s how I understand it more fully and completely.  But the point remains:  it can be done, if you’re willing to dedicate the time and faith to it.

After all, that’s the whole trick to writing, isn’t it?

 

Post-Release: Remastered Edition

One aspect of writing and publishing (self, professional or otherwise) that doesn’t always get talked about is the subject of editions.  To tell the truth, it’s kind of a boring subject, not to mention it’s one that the writer and publisher doesn’t always want to talk about, for various reasons.  With professional publishing, the idea of a second edition is sometimes seen as a distant hope; the publishing house only goes into multiple editions once it’s seen that the book is a big seller, and that the original run of however-many copies has been accounted for.  This happens with much less frequency than one expects; this is also why writers are often super-paranoid about possible errors before it has its first print.

With the self-published writer, especially for one like myself that’s just starting out, one might not want to tell one and all, “Hey, I have a new edition of my book/e-book available!”, for the reason that it could be read as “hey, I just uploaded the latest version of my book, which doesn’t have bad formatting and other embarrassing mistakes!”  It’s better just upload the new version and just keep it on the QT, and hope no one noticed.

 

But new editions of your self-published e-book don’t necessarily have to be a bad, embarrassing thing.  Well — for the first edition of the physical book you should at least make sure that the formatting is tight and there’s no weird errors, but that’s another post entirely.  [This is the main reasons A Division of Souls is still e-book only at this time.  I’m about to start in with the Big Galley Fix starting today, so hopefully within the next few weeks it will finally be available at Amazon.]  But future uploaded versions of your already-released book doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.

So many ellipses, so little time...
So many ellipses, so little time…

Upon finishing her reading of the ADoS galley, my wife stated that I have to go on a strict diet of NO ELLIPSES.  I will totally cop to using that punctuation WAY too much (that, em dashes, and italics), to the point that I’ve trained myself to cut them nearly 99% of the time in future editing projects.  The Persistence of Memories doesn’t have nearly as many as ADoS did, but I’ve managed to quash nearly all of them.  Most of them are hiding in dialogue, where I want the client to…well…you know…kind of avoid having to reveal something they need to reveal, but it can also slow down the flow considerably.  I’ve learned to use when and where necessary, and only then.

She also mentioned that, since it contains a large cast, some of which are mentioned early on but not mentioned again for some time.  I’d been on the fence on this one, to tell the truth.  Luckily, among all the notes and outtakes for the Mendaihu Universe is a solid dramatis personae that I can add before the main text.

The next edition of ADoS will contain a few formatting errors I missed (such as the Case of the Curiously Vanishing Pilcrow), some minor edits, a dramatis personae, as well as the deletion of a number of said ellipses.  The cover will remain the same for the e-book, but still want to toy around with the spine for the physical book, as I’m still not happy with it.

Will this lessen the worth of the book?  In terms of self-publishing: not entirely.  The mistake made here is the belief that once you have the book out there, for good or ill, it’s out in publish and any mistakes will be points off your credibility.  I made peace with that some time ago; I still find glaring formatting and editing errors in professionally published books, which just goes to prove we’re never dead-on perfect the first time out.  While it’s great to want your best work out there, focus on the story and the execution mostly, and do your best with the editing and formatting.  We readers will forgive you if your character’s name is spelled Rbfrit instead of Robert in exactly one place on page 276.  It happens.

Again with the music parallel:  you’re re-releasing your album because it’s been remastered, not because you hated your vocals on a few tracks and chose to completely rerecord them.  You’re reuploading the album because Jimmy hit a bum bass note on Track 8 and a quick ProTools edit made it go away.  In short, you’ve already uploaded some of your best work to date; you’re just making it even better this time out.  [And believe you me, there are some fans out there who will buy the ‘remastered’ version — and I’m talking books now, not music.  If they enjoy the story that much, they’ll have your back.]

So yes — don’t be afraid if you see a minor error in your self-published book.  Go right ahead and make those fixes and reupload the file to whatever platform you’re using.  It’s totally up to you if you want to make it publicly known that it’s a new edition, but don’t fear it.  Use it to your advantage.

Current Status: Forward! [Plus Sneak Preview!]

So!  It’s been two months and change since I released A Division of Souls, and it’s been quite an interesting road so far. The movement of ADoS has been fascinating.  I’ll be adjusting the price again pretty soon, and looking for more avenues in which to advertise or share it.  We shall see.  On the plus side, my decision to make it available at NoiseTrade Books has come up trumps!  It’s leveled off a bit, but I’m still getting maybe one or two downloads daily.  Go me!

Meanwhile, I’m about a third of the way through this final edit and it’s taking a little bit longer than expected, but I’m getting there.  Most of the fixes have been in deleting a lot of extraneous words and revising a few others.  No major issues…yet!  (knock wood)  I’m still aiming for early 2016 for the release of this one.  I shall of course keep you all updated!

So!  In the meantime, I’ve decided to let you take a peek at the first chapter of The Persistence of Memories while you wait, hiding just below the jump. It takes place just a few days after the finale of ADoS.  I hope you like it!

And again…thank you all for checking out the book. Y’all are still awesome!  [And a special shout-out to those from my hometown who may have seen my pasty face in the local paper a few days ago.  Hi there to you too!  And thanks for the well-wishes!]

***********************************

Keep Reading!

Onward and Upward!

*barely contains squee*
*barely contains squee*

I’ll be honest, just the mere fact that I’ve already got over two hundred downloads at NoiseTrade Books makes me an incredibly happy writer.  Thanks to each and every one of you!  I went into this gig knowing I had a good book that I think people would enjoy, but had little to no idea how well it would go over.  Seeing that many downloads over the course of one week confirms that whatever I did with the book, it looks like I did it right!

So, where to go from here?  Well, the subject line has been a bit of a mantra over the last few weeks for me.  The behind-the-scenes work for a writer (and especially for a self-published one) has been that there’s no downtime at all.  We’re constantly moving forward.  We’re juggling the writing with the promotion with the Day Job with the other mundane yet important things in life.  And let me tell you, the schedule has been rather busy as of late!

Fear not, dear readers, I am working hard on editing the book’s sequel, The Persistence of Memories, and hope to have it released via the same channels by the beginning of next year.  I hope you’ll enjoy the second book; it’s my favorite of the three, and there’s a lot of interesting and surprising stuff that goes on within.  Heck, I may even give you some spoilers once I’m further along!

What else do I have on tap?  Well, I do have my music book/personal memoir Walk in Silence, and I’m aiming for a late April 2016 release date for that one.  There’s quite a bit of work to be done on that one, so it’s going to need some serious TLC this winter.  [For those of you unfamiliar, WiS is about my love for college radio and how alternative music shaped me over the last thirty years.  I talk more about it on my other blog of the same name.]  I’m also working on the next Mendaihu Universe story in my spare time.  That’s been put on a brief hiatus while I work on self-releasing the Bridgetown trilogy, but it hasn’t left my mind!  I will definitely return to it once I’m caught up with the production end of things.

So yes…onward and upward!  I’m busy, but in an awesomely good way. 🙂

Physical Book Status: Almost There!

The trade edition flat, before a bit of back cover text tweaking
The CreateSpace trade edition flat, before a bit of back cover text tweaking.

[x-posted at GoodReads]

The physical book version of A Division of Souls is coming along, and let me tell you, formatting the text for physical consumption is a LOT different from ebook formatting.

Put it this way: With e-books, the text is a little more elastic. The book can be X number of pages long, but when the reader looks at it on their own hardware, that may change depending on a few things such as font style and size. While flipping pages, you may see “Page 3 of 500” three or four times before it finally ticks over to “Page 4.”

Physical books are different, and here’s why, especially if you plan on doing it DIY through something like CreateSpace: WYSIWYG. The text you format is the text you’re going to see on the printed page. It might be simplistic, in Times New Roman double-spaced and left-aligned with the page number in the top right corner, when you save the file, and that’s what will show up on the printed page.

Which is kinda not what you want in a print book.

You want the following:
–Page numbers on the outside of each page (left side for the left pages, right side for the right pages, natch), and starting at the right time
–Interesting and readable font and line spacing (I chose Garamond 12pt, 1.05-spaced and justified)
–Any text tweaking (size, shape, justification, etc) done correctly
–Any hyperlinks in the ebook taken out for the print version

…and so many more little fiddly things that can easily get forgotten.

This is why it’s taken me longer to get the physical book out. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve uploaded the file to the CreateSpace platform, only to find yet another formatting error that needs fixing.

So where am I now? Well, I’m currently awaiting a UPS box that should contain a few galley copies of the novel. Having that in my hands, aside from the excitement of it being MY FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK OMG, I’ll be red-penning it for any last minute fixes that I’ll need to make, if any. And only then will I finally hit that “Publish” button and it’ll be available to everyone.

So yeah, I’m getting there. Slowly but surely. 🙂

On Self-Publishing: Doing the Backstage Work – Self-Publicity in Social Media

This may or may not be how I enter Spare Oom.
This may or may not be what happens when I enter Spare Oom.

I’ve said it before, I suck at sales.  Or more to the point, I suck at it if I’m to sell something I don’t have much interest in. Furniture? A new car? Real estate? Monster truck rallies? Yeah, they’re fine and all, but if I’m not truly excited about them, I doubt I could talk you into into them.  On the other hand, I will shamlessly foist upon you the latest album I think is absolutely brilliant [This week: Tamaryn’s Cranekiss is pretty high up there], or a book I’d recently read and want everyone else to read as well [Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, which totally did deserve that Hugo].

But what about my own work?  Well, I’ll be honest, this is the first time I’m doing this at a professional level.  I’ve proudly shown off artwork and photography on my Tumblr and elsewhere, but my writing?  Totally new to me.  I don’t even have a solid and mapped-out ‘business model’ — in fact, I twitch whenever I hear business-speak like that.  Like my writing, I’m definitely a pantser.  I go with what works for me.

And lately, that’s taken all kinds of odd and unexpected avenues.  I’ll see other writers taking steps in social media and elsewhere, and I’ll think about whether it would work for me.  More to the point, I think of it this way:  if this particular kind of self-promotion got me to take a look at the product, even if for just a few moments, then maybe it’s a style I could try out myself.

Promoting yourself using social media is tricky, because there’s an extremely thin line between promoting yourself and just spamming your friends’ feeds. You don’t want to oversaturate yourself; the more annoyingly prevalent the advertisement, the more people are just going to skim over it, or worse, muting or unfollowing you.

Yeah, this might be overdoing it a bit.
Yeah, this might be overdoing it a bit.

On Twitter, there are a few ways you can circumvent that.  One is to mention it in your profile.  Another is to use a Pinned tweet.  You can create your own little mini-ad in just 140 characters.  Mine says the following:

A Division of Souls, coming 9/3/15!
All formats available at Smashwords!
[Smashwords link, plus embedded cover]

A blipvert of sorts, one you’ll see immediately if you happen to visit my personal Twitter page because it’s pinned up at the top.  I’ve only had it up for 3 days, but I’ve already made 156 impressions as of today.  That’s not too bad for starters. Nowhere near the thousands of hits some writers get, but hey, it’s pretty good for someone brand spanking new to this gig.  And note that I made sure to mention that all formats are available at Smashwords.  This will ensure that anyone, regardless of which e-reader they use, can come on over and download it.

You’d probably want to follow suit on other social media channels as well.  It’s visible, but it’s not obtrusive, and that’s the balance you want to strive for.  I’ve seen others do daily tweet ads, which is fine, because they only do it once a day.

Another Twitter idea, one I just saw someone else use this morning, is kind of a neat twist on the “shop local” idea.  There are many brick-and-mortar bookstores out there who work alongside Kobo to sell ebooks at their website, and this writer had come up with a brilliant idea:  publicize the book and the local store at the same time!  She aimed the tweet at the San Francisco area, mentioned her book was available at this store (complete with link), and made sure to mention the store using their Twitter handle, including the “@”.  That last part was genius: you’re not only getting others to check out the store’s twitter feed, you’re getting whoever is manning that store’s feed will see it as well, and may end up retweeting you.  I followed suit sometime after, mentioning Books Inc and Green Apple Books, two of my favorite local book shops.  I was duly retweeted!  Wins all around!

If anything, I’ve heard all kinds of responses to the question of how to self-promote on social media.  Some swear by tweetstorms, others by following anyone and everyone who uses the #amwriting hashtag, others still by picking and choosing when and where to insinuate your promotion.  Overall, though, the most common response I’ve heard is, go with what works for you.  Be creative and have fun with it!  But most importantly, remember to keep it balanced!