On Giving Away My Books for Free

btown trilogy halfpage ad front b2

First of all:  If you’re here visiting for the first time after downloading any of the books in the Bridgetown Trilogy from Smashwords during its July book sale, hello and thank you!  I’m thrilled that you wanted to check my books out!  I hope you enjoy them!  And by all means, if you like them, please post a review on GoodReads!  That will make this writer very happy indeed. 😀

SO!  I’m sure some of you out there are wondering…why did this weirdo, who spent far too many years writing this damn trilogy, give it away in e-book form for free a few years after he FINALLY released it?

Good question indeed.  I have a few answers for you:

  1. Some time ago I put A Division of Souls up for free and kept it free, as a way to bring people into the Mendaihu Universe.  This by far has been my most regular seller, for obvious reasons.  It’s the enticement product.  It’s the register endcap.  It’s the book that says ‘hey, check this out’ and ‘if you like this, there’s two more sequels’.  I regularly get at least a few downloads a month for this one.
  2. The Persistence of Memories and The Balance of Light are at an already reasonably low price of $2.99 each.  I think of this as an analogue to mid-price cds you find at record stores…back catalog titles that are no longer consistent sellers, but are consistently available at an affordable price.  Again, this is part of the ‘long game’ process, and it’s actually worked to my expectations.  I might not get a big payout, but I’ll get at least one or two purchases every month or so.
  3. The sale is only for one month, and I know there are readers out there who, like me, get involved in a series and want to either buy the entire thing in one go, or at least be able to find and download them easily.  And everyone loves free things, right?
  4. It introduces new readers to my work.  Though I only got a few purchases since it was released, I did get a bit of interest in Meet the Lidwells, with a few sample downloads.  That right there is a learning experience; perhaps it’s that they weren’t interested in the story I had to say there, or perhaps the formatting wasn’t to their liking, or maybe it’s just not a book that many are interested in.  I’m okay with that; it’s not a science fiction novel, but a straight fiction novel in the format of a music biography.  It’s up to me to work on new promotional avenues for that one.

I haven’t yet looked at the stats for July as a whole, but from the email notifications I’ve received, between all three books I’ve gotten a good few dozen downloads and even more sample downloads.  Not bad at all.

In the meantime, I’ve put the url for this blog both on the books and on the freebie cards I’ve made.  [That’s the front of the freebie card for the trilogy above.]  I’ve been doing my best keeping this particular blog on a timely and expected schedule — and crossposted to Twitter and Facebook at that — and that has helped me gain new readers as well.  I spread out my freebie cards at all the conventions I’ve gone to as well.  All in all, from what little I’ve done so far for promotion, I’ve gotten a hell of a lot more response than I ever thought I would, so that’s saying something.  I can only imagine what the response would be once I restart the email list and start upping my promotion game!

So yeah, I’d say even though I didn’t earn a single penny this month, I got a lot of new readers, and I think that’s pretty damn cool.

On DIY: More on the Long Game

doctor who brilliant jw
I feel the same way when I get a Smashwords Purchase Notification in my Inbox.

It’s been a little over a year since I released The Balance of Light, the third book in the Bridgetown Trilogy, and about three months since I released Meet the Lidwells.  The sales for all of them have been rather slow and dribbling, but I’m okay with that.  They’re still out there, available to anyone who wants them, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

In fact, since I’ve registered all the books into a month-long summer sale over at Smashwords (If you haven’t gotten them, WELL WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?), I’ve gotten an uptick of downloads, especially for the entire trilogy.  Which makes me quite happy indeed!  {If you just recently bought them and are visiting my blog for the first time, thank you and Hi There!)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m playing the Long Game with my books.  By this, I mean that I’m not looking for or expecting a large wave of purchases in a short amount of time, but a small but consistent wave over a much longer period.  This makes more sense to me, because my aim as a self-published writer was never to become a Huge Bestselling Author (although let’s be honest, that would be nice).  It’s about having a nice long and varied backlist that people can check out whenever they like.  By the end of this year I’ll have five books on that backlist, with one, possibly two more coming in 2019.  I figure in ten years I’ll have a nice fat catalog that potential readers can check out.

Granted, I’ve essentially traded a big payout for longevity, but I’m down with that.  In my own fanciful imagination, I’d like to think that ten years down the road I’ll still be getting the occasional purchase notification on A Division of Souls, especially once the next book(s) in the Mendaihu Universe surface.

And it doesn’t hurt that I’ll have a nice lift in sales every few months or so when I hand my postcards out at conventions or sign up for a sales event at Smashwords.  And whenever I give myself a bit of a sales nudge online now and again, I’ll get a brief lift there as well.  I admit I’d like to do better at the self-promotion, but I’m glad to say what I’ve done so far does work for me.

It’s still a learning process, but I’m glad that it’s going in the right direction!

On Self-Publishing: Creating Book Covers

050418 shutterstock outtake 1
Picture credit: Shutterstock/Jose AS Reyes.

I’ve said it before, I love doing covers for my books.  It’s another creative avenue that I get to play around in that I don’t otherwise have much time for.   Every now and again I’ll go through my own pictures and create one just for practice.  [I’ve even come up with a few pseudonyms for certain styles; for instance, all my fake mystery novels are all written by Chase Johnson, and my fake lit-fic and women’s fiction is by Joanna Chase.  Why? Because it’s fun!]

I’m still sticking with the above image for In My Blue World, so if I’m going to use it, all I need to do is purchase the rights from Shutterstock, fiddle around with it a bit, slap the title and by-line on it, and call it done.  I still use Adobe Photoshop to crop it to the right size and adjust the image.  (I’m probably going to lighten it a bit so the title and by-line will pop out more.)  And I still use the PicMonkey website for the text.  Sometimes it takes a short amount of time, sometimes it’ll take a few days before I get it to how I like it.

One thing I’ve learned from doing covers — aside from enjoying the process immensely — is that I should always make sure the cover ties in with the novel in a specific and important way.  It’s not enough to get a badass lady with a katana on the cover…there has to be a reason for it.  In this case, I chose this cover for a few reasons:

–The first half of the novel takes place in forest land.
–I didn’t want the girl to be in an Attack Mode pose, but an I’m Ready for This pose.
–I didn’t want her clothes to be stereotypically frilly or flashy (or steampunk or goth, for that matter).
–I wanted there to be at least some hint of blue sky in the background.
–It needed to have a decent amount of space for the title; in this particular instance, I like how the text not only balances it out, it intermingles with it.

This is also why I used the cover for Meet the Lidwells! that I did; it was a straightforward concert poster-stapled-to-lightpost image that is pretty much universal for any band starting out.  They say that the cover often pre-sells the book, especially if it’s eye-catching enough from across the sales floor (or legible in thumbnail online, for that matter).  Don’t think of that as needing a flashy action shot, or a crafty written-in-chalk image.  Look at other covers you thought were innovative or creative.  Look at the ones that made you stop and pay attention to it; then look at the cover as you would a piece of art…why did it make you stop?  And how can you use that on your own covers?

Just like my writing, my cover art has changed and evolved and advanced, little by little.  The more I practice, the more fake covers I make, the bigger my portfolio that I can use later on if I so choose.  And I would like to expand on it as well; for the Apartment Complex story I’m thinking about commissioning an artist — specifically a webcomic artist.  I already have a few images in my head that could work.  I’d still do the text, but I’d like a unique image this time out.

I know there’s a lot of self-publishing advice out there stating that you should never do your own cover, but I’d probably amend that: don’t do it if you don’t want to do it, or if you don’t have the ability.  On the other hand, if you have the artistic chops?  Go for it!  It’s a hell of a lot of fun and you can get really creative with it.

Putting On a Show in the Barn, Or: Adventures in Figuring Out How to Self-Promote

rooney garland
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in Babes in Arms (1939)

How the hell do you self-promote your self-published book, anyway?  That’s a damn good question, because I’ve heard so many different and varying (and often conflicting) answers that I sometimes wonder if anyone knows at all.

So I’m doing a bit of everything, to be honest.  I’ve created flyers for the trilogy.  I’ve posted hither and yon on social media.  I’ve sent copies to various websites like BookLife, NoiseTrade, and so on.  I’ve posted to GoodReads.  I’ve submitted to legitimate novel writing contests.  I’ve created a mailing list.  I’ve promoted myself at cons.  I’ve read a lot of different blogs and listened to various podcasts.  I’ve done a lot of it in one way or another, to varying degrees of success.

This isn’t to say no one knows what they’re doing, far from it; it’s that there’s a hell of a lot of different ways to do it, and they’re doing what works for them.

When I uploaded A Division of Souls as a pay-what-you-want e-book on NoiseTrade a few years ago, I didn’t get much money out of it, but I certain got a hell of a lot of downloads, over 250 of them.  And even though I haven’t done any major promotion on the trilogy for quite some time, I’ll still get the occasional download hit either on Amazon or on Smashwords.  [Those might be few and far between, but they still put a smile on my face when I get an unexpected payment!]

Right now I’m planning out how to self-promote Meet the Lidwells!, and this time out I’m thinking of being a bit creative with it.  I’ll reach out to the websites I tried before, with a focus on music-related blogs and sites (such as NoiseTrade) as well as any other bloggers who might be interested in doing a review.  I’m also thinking of doing some minor advertising in some of the writing magazines I read as well — maybe a one-column thumbnail ad or something.  The book will drop later this month, so I’ve got to work on getting all this out pretty soon!

If I’ve learned anything over the past three years that I’ve been self-publishing, it’s that this field truly is all about the DIY, where the long-established rules don’t always apply.  Sometimes your attempts at self-promotion will fall flat, other times it’ll catch on and grow far beyond your expectations.  There’s a lot at play here:  the kind of book you’ve written, the people and businesses you interact with, the people you’ve hired for production work, right down to the price you decide to give it.  And you can do exactly what professional self-publishers (such as David Gaughran or Joel Friedlander) suggest, and it might work for you, or it might not.  It really is a bit of a gamble each and every time.

It’s a learning experience every time I release a book.  In a way, it’s like the classic Babes in Arms trope: ‘Let’s put on a show in the barn!’  You’re out to show that you can do it, and that you want your audience to enjoy it, but you’re really not sure if it’ll work unless you actually do it.  But regardless, the payoff is still worth it.

 

Looking Forward to 2018

bleach fireworks
Credit: Bleach

I’ve got a busy 2018 ahead of me, that’s for sure.

A good busy, though.  I’ve given myself a lot of goals to hit, and I’m sure I can hit most if not all of them.  A few will be harder than others.  Some will most likely roll into 2019.  A majority of them will take most of the year.  And I’ll be juggling it all with the Day Job, of course.  But I think I can pull it off.

The trick here is to have a long-term schedule going, which I’ve been playing around with over the last few days.  It’s a little like how I write novels: multiple threads going at the same time, fully aware of how to orchestrate them, put them in order, and make them flow.  It’s only taken me how long to figure out that I can (and should) do this with the non-writing part of my writing career?  Sheesh.

Anyway…I’ve got a novel to prep for self-publishing (Meet the Lidwells!), a new novel to start writing (untitled Apartment Complex story) and one, maybe two others to outline when I have the time.  I’ll be going to three conventions, with the plan of being on a few panels and possibly a few readings.  I’ll be resuming my photography for book cover and image library purposes.  I desperately need to do restart the document scanning (it’s something I’ve put off for far too long).  I’d like to record some more mp3 demos, maybe pull them together into full completed tracks.  And most importantly, I need to move forward with the Mendaihu Press entity, using it as an umbrella for both my self-published novels and cover artwork.

This is going to be a very complex symphony to orchestrate, and I’m quite sure I’ll hit all the typical obstacles along the way, but I’m in it for the long haul and I’m too stubborn to quit easily.

This coming year is going to be one hell of a challenge for me, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.

On Self-Publishing: Quality and Perseverance

jim carrey typing
IMMA BE A BESTSELLING AUTHOR

Okay, I’ll grant you that.  There are some self-published books out there that aren’t really all that high on the quality.  There are some books out there that are little more than web scrapes of sites and blogs with horrible cover slapped on it and sold as supercheap Kindle ebooks.  There are others that are a bit better in quality that mean well, but…well…

But I’m not really going to talk about those.

I’m going to talk a little about the Little Novels That Could.  The ones passed over by agents and editors because it didn’t catch them on the first couple of pages.

I always feel a little bit of a twitch when I read about writers who’ve plugged along, wrote multiple books but never received a bite from agents or publishers for years.  I always think, but what if those books were actually good, but the author gave up on it because of rejections?  There’s always that little bit of me that can’t stand that publication bottleneck.  That gets irritated by reading articles by agents and editors who dismiss a submission after two pages.  [To be honest, I think it partly stems from my deep irritation with faulty teaching methods, in this case the ‘I want you to do X but I’m not going to show you how to do it or give you any context’ method that I’ve encountered many times in my life.  Again, that’s just me.]  I always feel bad for writers who go their whole life trying to get published only to fail time and time again.  I can’t help but think it’s not because they’re bad at it, just that their work doesn’t fit into the pre-cut shapes and expectations that mainstream publishing wants.

I know part of this twitch is also the indie nonconformist in me waiting to scream out oh yeah, well we’ll show them!  I know it’s a lot more than that.  It’s showing them by way of writing the best damn thing you can and putting it out yourself.  It’s the payoff when you get new readers and fellow writers telling you they enjoyed your work.  It may be a much smaller readership, maybe a few hundred readers instead of a few thousand, but it’s still worth it.  Your story is out there, and someone, or several someones, have deemed it enjoyable.

Why do I keep harping on about how awesome self-publishing is?  Well, one of the reasons is that I’m trying to help get rid of the stigma that’s been placed on it.  Another is that — yes, I’ll say it yet again — it’s become a more respected outlet, especially over the last few years.  And most importantly, I’m trying to tell other authors out there that it really is worth a try.  That story that the pros weren’t all that into might be the same story that avid readers love.  It may be a bit more expensive, it may require a lot more work, but the end result is more your vision, and something to be proud of.

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!