Tag Archives: selfpub

Stalled, but only briefly

wpid-0626152133.jpgSo it’s been a minute or two since I last updated (ha ha). It’s turned out to be a seriously busy summer. So far I’ve been to San Francisco, NYC, Madison, Bar Harbor, Buffalo and coming up there’ll be a short trip back to NYC. There’s been a bit of life upheaval (nothing major, don’t worry) and as a result I’ve had to spend a lot of time and energy on things that aren’t what I’d like to be spending my time and energy on.

The result? Most of my personal creative projects – a TV pilot, a couple of ideas for plays, my Agent Carter suit, this blog – have been shoved to one side to make time for the things that need to get done. And even when I do think I’m going to set aside some time and dig in, something keeps coming up.

wpid-0712151318-1-1.jpgI spent a very large chunk of my writing life – which is now hovering around 20 years, if we go back to my first paycheck – adhering to the strict rule of writing every single day. Creative writing, every day. I gave myself deadlines, I banged out first drafts, I ran a successful scripted web series (back when everybody was on dial-up, so basically that meant managing eight or ten people, editing, planning plot arcs and then posting scripts on a regular basis), I wrote more fanfic than I can actually even remember…and I kept pushing myself to do more. And more. And more. This carried on into my late teens and then my early-to-mid twenties.

And then, one day, something changed. I think it was when I moved back from Scotland and down to New York City. I was going through a period where I didn’t feel particularly inspired, I was getting settled in a new place, and I decided it was time to refill my creative fuel tank, so to speak. It was a difficult choice, especially for someone who didn’t (and still doesn’t) believe in writer’s block. To willingly put down my pen and go out to experience life, instead, was a really difficult thing to do. But also a very necessary one. And I’ll never forget the time I was walking through Brooklyn with a friend and another woman (a friend of the friend), and we were talking about creativity. “Are you working on anything right now?” asked the woman, who I think was some kind of junior producer at a music television channel (not the two you immediately thought of).

“No,” I said, “I’m just absorbing life at the moment.”

“Oh,” she said, in a tone that let me know exactly how much respect she had (or didn’t have) for this decision.

The break ended up only lasting a handful of months, but when I went back to my keyboard it was clear that taking the pressure off had been a smart idea. For me. For my mental health. For my writing.

I’ve talked about the pressure writers put on ourselves in the past, and every so often I have to remind myself that those few months I took off from work resulted in some really great projects that I probably wouldn’t have completed without that time. I learned about myself, about my writing, about how to create the optimal conditions for creativity. Sure, I can still sit down and pound out 500 words if I have to, but feeling like you “have to” when it comes to creative writing is never a good feeling.

All that said, writing fiction is liberating (to me, and to at least a few of you) in a way that other writing and other activities aren’t. So I know it’s something I have to do and have to make time for. But it’s nice to have the confidence to put the pen down from time to time, as well, without the fear that ALL THE WORDS WILL BE GONE when I’m ready to pick it back up again.

So, while life at the moment has sped up and creative output has slowed (though it’s still trickling), I’m trying to feel okay about that, reminding myself that sometimes life takes the wheel and my plays and pilots have to ride in the way back for a while. At least we’re all in the same car. Though they are getting suspiciously quiet back there…

My guess is, they’re plotting against me. Or life. Or both.

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Using Canva to Design Your Own Book Covers

Some time ago, Hugh Howey wrote about canva.com, a tool authors could use to create book covers for their Kindle and other e-book releases. (The site offers plenty of templates for other online uses, as well.)

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you already know: cover art is the big hold-up on pretty much all of my e-books (not to mention the print versions). And if you’ve tried creating a cover on your own, you know the complications go far beyond coming up with an image to represent your story – there’s also sizing, resolution, thumbnails and more to consider.

Canva eliminates about 95% of these worries. Work with their premade templates for font placement and selection ideas, drop in your cover art (easily created with Pixlr and a few copyright-free art searches) and click “download.” You’ll be stunned at what you can create. For example. see the comparisons below: the covers I originally posted for PIC, Mousewings and POST, compared to their Canva-created replacements. (Click on each thumbnail for a full image; if you want to make a purchase, use the links on the right-hand side of the blog)

Evidenced by the above, even the least graphically gifted among us can create something worth showing of with Canva. Think you’ll give it a try? Leave a link to your designs in the comments!

Cleaning Up A Sweepstakes Mess

The first point where I knew something had gone wrong was when I signed into my email and saw a note from the winner of my Short Frictions/Think Geek giveaway.

After a brief sweepstakes entry period, I’d Rafflecoptered for a winner and sent a $15 gift code to a reader who’d faithfully liked, shared, tweeted and retweeted a brief message about the book almost every day. Now, she wrote, she was having trouble redeeming the code. The Think Geek site was telling her it had already been used. Which it hadn’t, because she’d been saving it to shop for the holidays.

My heart sank. I logged into Think Geek and checked the code, and sent it to her again to confirm there hadn’t been a typo, but she was right – the balance on the code was showing up as zero. I really didn’t know what had happened, especially since another code I’d sent out the same day had been redeemed without a problem.

Finally, I decided to check in with the Think Geek team. I’m always hesitant to start talking to customer service. I find it incredibly stressful and frustrating, particularly after some of the experiences I’ve had with other companies this year, but without getting in touch with them there was no way to figure out what had happened.

It took two tries to get a customer service rep to respond on the Think Geek site. I’m not sure what happened the first time, but I spent several minutes typing in an explanation of what had happened and waiting for a response that never came. I logged out, logged back in, and tried again. This time, after five or so minutes, a rep came online and asked me to describe my problem. After confirming she could read and reply to my messages, I explained, and she started to investigate.

My hope was to confirm with Think Geek when the gift card balance had been used, in case there had been some kind of technical glitch; I wasn’t sure if they’d tell me the date and amount of whatever purchase tracked back to the giveaway gift code, but I figured the best idea was to get as much information as I could before I sent the sweepstakes winner an update.

After five or ten more minutes, the customer rep sent a message that far surpassed my expectations: she had added the credit back onto the gift code. I’m not sure if she found a glitch in the sale or if there was some kind of error, or if Think Geek just decided that such a small amount wasn’t worth haggling over (which I’d already decided was going to be my approach if it turned out they couldn’t reinstate the credit, because the giveaway winner had put a lot of effort into spreading word of Short Frictions on social media). But I was relieved that the matter was resolved so easily.

Once I had confirmation from the customer service team, I emailed the winner and let her know that everything should be up and running and she could make her purchases; I haven’t heard from her since, so am assuming everything went well.

From start to finish, resolving the situation took about half an hour, but I was shocked at how stressful I found it.  As self-published authors, being in charge of marketing and PR is a huge part of what we do – and when something goes wrong, there’s no PR rep to hide behind, no publishing house to help defray the cost of issues like lost prizes and credits. Plus, it’s our name out there on the line. This contest winner was extremely understanding and patient as I worked to resolve the gift code issue, but just as easily could have been someone far less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.

I’m lucky enough, currently, to be in a position where I could have afforded to replace the prize if need be – but what if I wasn’t? What if the prize was something bigger, or Think Geek had turned replacing the credit into more of a production?

When you self-publish, you’re taking control and ownership of every aspect of sharing your work. The buck stops with you. Making sure you’re mentally and financially prepared (not to mention knowing you have enough time on your hands) to represent your work to the best of your ability is an important part of being a self-published author. And it’s not something to take on lightly.

Thankfully, in this case, the mess that had to be cleaned up wasn’t a big one. Hopefully (knock on wood) it never will be. If and when future issues arise, no matter what area of self-publishing they might be in, I’ll handle them as quickly and smoothly as possible, and hope for the best.

Cleaning up when something goes wrong is something every self-publishing author has to be prepared for, whether the hitch happens in writing, editing, publishing, art directing or publicity. Be prepared, keep your cool, and think your options through, and hopefully your next hitch won’t throw you for a loop.

 

 

Buy your own copy of Short Frictions on Amazon or Smashwords.

To Use or Not To Use a Pen Name

I have never used a pen name.

There have been a variety of reasons for this. At first, as a teenager, it just didn’t occur to me. After all, I was a writer. Why would I want to make it harder for people to find what I’d written?

Much later, I learned that Joanne Rowling had been advised to use initials – J.K. – to obscure her gender, because “boys don’t read books by women writers.” Using my full name on my plays and published stories became tinged by a feeling of feminism, although (obviously) I sometimes use my initials and last name for the sake of brevity (for example, the URL of this website).

In the last few months, however, I’ve started thinking about writing non-fiction, and that’s made me start to consider the use of an alternative name – either a variation of my own name, maybe the initials, or more likely a different name altogether – because the topics I’d write about are sensitive ones and not necessarily work I’d want to publish under my full name. Since I’m not making enough money to live off my creative writing (yet) and I still need a day job, not revealing details of my personal life while connecting them to my name might be an unfortunate but practical decision.

Writing under multiple names isn’t new (for example, Nora Roberts writes under her own name in romance, but as J.D. Robb when she’s penning a mystery, and Stephen King flopped as Richard Bachman – not to mention Rowling’s own forays into assumed names), but I feel like the practice carries pluses and minuses.

One plus would be the anonymity it affords; one minus would be that it would require setting up and maintaining an entire separate platform as a “second” author. A plus would be that it allows for easy separation by readers – someone doesn’t download a title thinking they’re going to get the genres I write in creatively, and instead wind up with a how-to book on putting up a shelf. A minus would be that that makes it harder for readers who like my work and might want to put up a shelf to discover that yes, I have indeed written a how-to book on exactly that.  (And please note, this is just an example; I’ve never put up a shelf in my life)

I’m curious about how other writers make the decision to work under a pen name. Why do you use it? Or why don’t you? Or why do you do both? Are there reasons in favor or against either option that I might not have thought of? If you’re not a writer, what do you think about authors writing under more than one name? Do you prefer the simplicity of looking for one author, no matter what genre they write in, or would you rather be able to compartmentalize the writings of your favorite authors?

Looking forward to your answers in the comments.

Advance Copies, coming up!

Woooo! Just got the manuscript for Short Frictions back from my editor, with some great notes. Now that I’m working through those, it’s also time to prep for a new stage in my new self-publishing checklist: advance reviewers.

Image from phys.org (http://phys.org/news/2014-01-google-machines-robotics-companies-involved.html).

Image from phys.org (http://phys.org/news/2014-01-google-machines-robotics-companies-involved.html).

About a month ago, I took a webinar from Writer.ly  that suggested ways of getting the word out about your self-published book. One of the ideas I loved was setting up a list of readers who would comment on the book before its publication, then leave reviews on release day!

Adding a new step to a self-publishing strategy is tricky, but one of the points @Kelsye (who gave the webinar) made that really stuck with me was that reaching as many advance reviewers as possible is important because of how it helps generate word of mouth, and gives people an incentive to read and review your work. While I’ve heard of some writers (specifically, Guy Kawasaki) crowdsourcing feedback, I’ve never tried this strategy myself – it’s a little nervewracking, but I think it will be worth it!

If you still want to sign up to be an advance reader and reviewer, there’s still time to get me your info! You’ll receive a thank-you in the final edition of the book, as well as a free e-copy. Interested? Click here for more information.

Thoughts on Succeeding as a Modern-Day Author

 Image by "Lynn Gardner on Flickr":http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandgrrl/5240360344/ and used with Creative Commons License.

Image by “Lynn Gardner on Flickr”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandgrrl/5240360344/ and used with Creative Commons License.

A couple things happened in the world of eBook sales the last few weeks, and I thought it might be useful to write down some thoughts on the matter.

Massive Report On Amazon Sales Released

First, Hugh Howey, bestselling author of the Silo Saga, released a report on Amazon’s sales figures. If you’re trying to sell eBooks, particularly as an independent author, I highly recommend you read the report. The report goes into detail, examining how different types of authors do when selling their books on Amazon, including numbers of books sold, amounts of money made, and changes in which authors are walking away with the biggest slices of the publishing pie. In the end, the report (and other articles I’ve read that riff on it) make it sound as if, for new authors, self-publishing is the best way forward. Going with the big five only seems to benefit writers who are already established, particularly since (more and more frequently) marketing duties fall to the writer in both cases.

Apple Adds iBook App to iOS8, reducing purchasing friction

Secondly, I’ve just read an article on how iOS8’s inclusion of an iBook app does away with an important point of friction for buyers on the iBook platform. Knowing this, and having glanced a few times at my Smashwords sales reports, I took a moment to head over to my Buy My Books! page and enter in additional links direct to each platform that had reported sales. This included Kobo and iBooks,

Value Added By Traditional Small Publishers Continues To Lessen

The third point I want to mention is that a friend who works primarily in self-publishing, but also had a publishing deal with a small press for a horror novella, recently had an interaction with her publisher regarding their agreement and the number of copies that had sold during the two-year term of her contract with them. The email she received in return was disappointing: vague regarding actions they’d taken (which they were contractually obligated to undertake), nonspecific about the number of sales her book had seen over the past two years, and essentially tepid about continuing to sell and market her book. When she asked my advice about whether to keep or dump her publisher, my take was that they didn’t seem to be adding value.

Because value is what it’s all about, as an indie publisher, isn’t it? We spend our time and often our money finding ways to add value to our work: covers that pop, ads that reach our intended customers, giveaways that grow both awareness and mailing lists. While publishing houses might offer individuals with specific publishing expertise, if that only results in a few press releases being sent around a state – and no interviews or reviews – is any value really being added? If Smashwords can upload your eBook to numerous growing retailers (particularly those, like Apple, who are moving towards eliminating friction in the purchasing process), or Amazon actually pays you significantly more than a writer with a Big Five contract…what real value do you get from pursuing a traditional path to publication? One friend, who works closely with an Agent, even reported that if he couldn’t get his clients a good deal within six months, he recommended they self-publish then re-shopped their work once they had sales figures to back it up – and then got them much better offers. While we’re not all fans of marketing, and staying on top of the latest trends takes time many of us would rather spend in polishing our drafts, the reality is that self-publishing lets us make more money and saves the Big Five the problem of dedicating resources to authors who won’t sell.

In short, it’s looking more and more like writers who want to succeed have to be prepared to do so in a self-publishing space.

Tracking eBook Sales With Authorgraph

paring down my libraryIf you look off to the right of this blog, you’ll see a drop-down menu from Authorgraph, a service that lets authors sign digital books. I joined up after reading about it a couple months ago, but have been — shall we say — underwhelmed by the number of readers who want to take advantage of the service. As they say on Shark Tank, I’m not sure this is a problem that needed a solution. Whether this is because people are still being educated on what a “digital author signature” looks like or because my readers just aren’t interested, who knows, but I’ve definitely given some thought to taking the plug-in off my page in order to open up some valuable sidebar real estate.

The other day, though, I got an interesting email from the service. It let me know how my books were faring on the Amazon sales ranking lists. One had gone up by several thousand places, another had fallen – and since I haven’t seen other places where this tracking-over-time has taken place, I thought it was interesting that this has now been added to the service.

Amazon Sales Ranking is calculated every hour or so and can fluctuate wildly. Since most self-published books don’t sell over 200 copies within their lifetime (I’m happy to say all but a couple of mine have exceeded that level) selling just a few copies a day is enough to drive a book up by thousands of “ranks,” and checking in on a sporadic basis doesn’t guarantee an accurate picture.

So while its primary use – as a tool for connecting with readers – still hasn’t proven itself to me, Authorgraph’s ability to provide authors with ebook tracking data has definitely become a significant reason for creating and maintaining an account with the service.