Archive for the self-publishing Category

Parallel Silver Linings

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

We discovered water in our bathroom wall recently, and the damage was extensive. My initial reactions were to first blame myself: How could I let this happen? Next, to be stressed about the time and cost of the repair.

Fortunately, my hairdresser (love this woman!) reminded me that insurance pays for things like this. The transition will be inconvenient and annoying, but in the end, the bathroom will be essentially remodeled for about the price of the deductible. A nice outcome.

I’m trying to keep that in mind as I go through a similar situation in my writing career. With my latest book, a standalone thriller, my editor wants me to make a major plot change, one that I disagree with. My initial reactions were the same as they were for the water problem—a sense of failure, then stress about a negative outcome.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize this could turn well. My beta readers (including a professional) love the story the way it is, and I’m not inclined to cut a plot element that ratchets up the tension on a global level. So, as much as I love publishing with Thomas & Mercer, I’m going indie with this one.

Even though I call it a standalone, the book features Agent Dallas—introduced in Crimes of Memory (Jackson #8)—and will launch a new series. Although publishing with Amazon has been great for my career, it’s not a bad idea to diversify and keep some control of my work.

Additionally, I’ll be able to bring the book to market sooner on my own, and I’ll earn a higher royalty. So this could turn out like the bathroom situation—more benefits than drawbacks.

In the meantime, I have to get my head back into indie mode and start thinking about marketing again. This transition will also be a lot of work and at times frustrating, but ideas are coming to me, and I think my wonderful readers will support me.

What do you think? Am I crazy for sticking with the story instead of the publisher? If you’re one of my readers, will you try the new book?

Amazon May Not Be the Bad Guy

The recent news about the IPG-Amazon struggle has people saying all the same things. “Amazon is flexing its muscle and hurting the little guys.” “Big bad Amazon.” Shelf Awareness ran the story with quotes from authors and publishers all complaining about Amazon’s tactics.

My understanding of the dispute is that IPG wanted better distribution terms for its ebooks—I believe it requested no discounting—and Amazon said no. Which the company has the right to do. Amazon already capitulated when the Big 6 publishers colluded to set their own high prices—a collusion that is now the subject of lawsuits and investigations.

So like all other retailers, Amazon wants to control the sale price of its inventory, and since it couldn’t get Independent Publishers Group to agree to its terms, it took IPG’s products off the shelf. (Caveat: There may be more to the issue than I realize, and if you know more, please leave a comment.)

The people hurt most by this are the authors whose ebooks are no longer selling at Amazon. But it’s important to remember that these authors have a choice. They chose to publish their work through a small publisher, which in turn, contracted with IPG for distribution. Or maybe some authors are working directly with IPG. Either way, these authors have chosen to hire middlemen for publication and/or distribution. Middlemen that take a chunk of the profit, and in this case, refuse to meet Amazon’s terms.

But this is the new age of publishing! Authors don’t need publishers, or distributors for that matter. Anyone can upload their ebooks to Amazon though Kindle Direct Publishing and to Barnes & Noble through PubIt. Granted, if you want to sell on Kobo and Sony, you need a distributor. But Kobo and Sony’s market shares are almost insignificant, and at the same time, they are the ebook retailers doing the discounting that, in turn, triggers Amazon to drop its price.

I pulled my books down from Kobo and Sony for that very reason. They caused me to lose far more money at Amazon than I ever made from either. And Amazon has never discounted my books except to match another retailer’s price.

I understand authors wanting to control the price the book is sold for, and thus, maximize royalties, but if your book is not selling on Amazon, you’ll never maximize your profit. From my perspective, it makes far more sense for IPG to pull its books from Kobo and Sony, and thus eliminate the discounting issue, than to give up its authors’ opportunity to sell on Amazon.

What is IPG offering its authors—besides getting their books pulled from the biggest retailer in the marketplace? I realize distributors may be able to get some print books into bookstores, but what can they do for ebook-only authors that those authors can’t do for themselves?

Of course, some—or many—may have signed contracts with small publishers (that in turn signed with IPG) and therefore, they no longer have the right to control their own work. But instead of complaining about Amazon, they should be contacting their publishers about finding a new distributor. Or if they work with IPG directly, maybe they should terminate that agreement and either find a new distributor, or better yet, simply join the indie revolution and upload their books to Amazon, B&N, and Apple themselves.

Another blogger has offered some excellent alternatives for IPG as well. I expect to take some heat for this, so tell me, what do you think?

 

Invest in Your Own Ebook

Note: I wrote this guest blog earlier this year but it’s worth updating and reposting.

After publishing ten books—two with a small publisher, the rest without—I’ve come to two conclusions:

1) Digital self-publishing is a straightforward process that isn’t particularly difficult or expensive.

2) There is nothing a small publisher can or will do for writers that they can’t do better for themselves. I don’t mean literally do everything yourself, but a writer can contract for production services as well as a publisher can.

Why? Small presses are often run by a few dedicated, but overworked individuals. They typically contract out most services, and they often pay bottom dollar. I know this because I’ve worked as freelance editor and turned down all of the work offered by small presses because they simply don’t pay enough. Small presses are trying to profit and survive like everyone else and they cut costs where they can.

A large publisher can offer distribution and promotional backing, but most small publishers don’t offer either, so what’s left for the author is the label of being traditionally published and the convenience of having someone else contract the production work. Giving up most of the profit for these small advantages is a hard bargain that I don’t recommend. As the author, you have to sell the book no matter who publishes it, so you might as well make the investment, publish it yourself, and reap the rewards

The three main elements to producing a quality e-book are editing, cover design, and formatting. Many authors are tempted to do all three themselves to save money. But unless you’re incredibility talented and have all the time in the world, it’s probably not a cost-effective decision.

Editing can be expensive, especially if you contract for content evaluation, but you can keep the cost down by sending your manuscript to beta readers or working with a critique group to fine tune the plot and structure. You should, of course, print and read the manuscript out loud before paying anyone else to proof it. After carefully reading it yourself, send it to a professional editor for line editing and proofreading. Many editors charge $1500 and up, but you don’t have to pay that much. You can find someone to proofread or edit your manuscript for $300–$800. depending on the length of the novel. If you pay less, your editor will be in a rush and probably won’t do a good job. If you pay more, it may take a long time to earn back your investment.

A good cover is also essential. Most cover artists charge a flat fee, and you can expect to pay between $150 and $500. Some charge a lot more than that, but why spend that much if you don’t have to? One way to save money is to find the right image yourself, so you’re not paying the artist for that time. One of the great things about self-publishing an e-book is that you can revise it as often as you want, including creating a new cover down the road when the book is making money. The best way to find a cover designer  is to network with other writers, including joining listservs that focusing on marketing.

Formatting: I originally thought I would learn to format my own e-books to save money. Other authors make it sound easy. But I quickly decided that the time and frustration spent on the learning curve was not cost-effective. Time is money. For me, it made more sense to send my Word files and cover jpgs to a professional for formatting. The e-book I got back was gorgeous. In fact, I received two files: a mobi file to upload to Amazon and an epub to upload everywhere else. I recommend working with a formatter who produces these two types of files.

Readers’ biggest complaint about e-books is the formatting. Getting it right is essential. Rates may vary, but if you’re starting with a Word document, it shouldn’t cost more than around $150, depending on how clean your file is. For authors who have a backlist and novels that are in book form instead of Word documents, those books will need to be scanned, and the cost of e-book production will be more expensive. The number of errors from the optical character recognition is also much higher. It might be cost-effective to pay a very fast typist to transcribe your published book into a Word document before sending it to a formatter. You’ll end up with fewer errors too.

Taking the lowest rates I’ve mentioned ($300, $150, and $150), you can conclude that it will cost at least $600 to produce a quality e-book. I raided my very small retirement account to publish my first six books, and I considered it a small business loan to myself. I now treat my novel-writing career as a business instead of a hobby and it has paid off for me.

How long does it take to earn back a $600–$1000 investment? That depends on many things, including how many novels you have on the market. The more books you have, the more credibility you have, which is why I decided to do mine back to back in 2009. Assuming you’ve written a terrific story and produced a quality product, the biggest factor is how much time you’re willing to spend promoting. I spent at least two hours a day for six months, plus one exclusive two-week period during which I promoted eight hours a day (blogs, press releases, reader forums, etc.). I continue to spend at least an hour every day on promotional activities. For the record, I made my money back by the end of the year, and going forward is all profit.

It’s your book and you’ve invested your money, you might as well invest your time too and make it pay off.

 

Looking for Logic? Not in Book Sales

Watching your digital book sales climb is exhilarating. Seeing them fall is heartbreaking and confusing. “What changed?” you ask yourself, feeling panicked. Did I slack off too much on blogging? Or forget to post in the forums? Did I take this success for granted for 24 hours? Frantically, you try to recreate the right combination of effort and luck that made it happen. Read more

Guest Blogs and Self-Publishing

I’ve been posting a lot of guest blogs lately, so I thought I’d share the links instead of writing a new blog here. Please check them out. 🙂

Joining the Indie E-Book Revolution: The story behind why I decided to focus on e-books and become an independent author.

In this Q&A, I ask the questions and provide the answers. Find out things about me you didn’t know before.

Here, I discuss the painful choice many authors face between respectability and earning a living. Read more

Writers as Salespeople

sales chartA question from my ex-publisher stimulated me think about the pay structure in traditional publishing. The question she asked was: Why couldn’t you sell all those books when you were still under contract? Many factors came into play at the same time to quickly boost my e-book sales. Pricing strategy, volume of books, and massive effort all played a part. But one of the biggest issues Read more

E-Book Self-Publishing Roundup

With Borders getting into the act, there will soon be four platforms on which authors can self-publish e-books directly to readers. I summarized them for comparison and thought I would share my findings.

Amazon: Digital Text Platform
This venture has been around the longest, has a reported 76% of e-book sales, and publishes content directly to the Kindle bookstore. Read more

Self-Publish Plunge

tse-frontcov-500px1I finally took the plunge! Many traditionally published authors have self-published their backlist titles and/or unsold manuscripts as e-books, and now I’ve joined them in this exciting venture. Why not?

Before I started writing the Detective Jackson series, I wrote several standalone thrillers, Read more

The New Gatekeepers

Laura Miller, founder of Salon, asks: “How do you find something good to read in a brave new self-published world?” She writes about the horrors of the slush pile and wonders how readers will fare if traditional publishers stop functioning as gatekeepers. She points out that gatekeepers are necessary to steer readers away from the “all the dreck.” Bloggers—who read and review a much wider variety of books than Library Journal or Publishers Weekly—are already doing this to a certain degree. Read more

Feeling Powerless

As the publishing industry evolves and new models are tested, it will be interesting to see if the role of the author changes. Specifically, I wonder if authors will gain more control over the product they create.

Currently, in the traditional publishing world, authors often feel powerless. They have little or no control over what the book is named, when it’s released, or how many copies are printed. They also have no guarantee that their publisher will pick up their next book. For non-bestselling authors, every novel feels like starting from scratch in the process.

This is the reason some authors self-publish. They want control over their product and how it’s presented to readers. They like to know their work will reach the market, regardless. They choose not to feel powerless. Who can blame them?

This subject is on my mind today because I evaluate manuscripts for a large self-publishing company. A few of the stories are good, many are unreadable, and many are written by doctors. Why are doctors writing and self-publishing novels?

My theory is they sometimes feel powerless too. Doctors’ novels are always about an individual MD making a dramatic improvement in the healthcare industry. I can only assume some physicians must also feel powerless to change a system they’re entrenched in and dependent on. So they write out their fantasies and pay to get their stories to the public.

This is the only power writers have: to create a story that entertainers, enlightens, or simply shares their way of looking at the world. For everything else, we must cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Five-Time Readers Favorite Award Winner!

LATEST REVIEWS

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were compelling, the procedural work was dead-on, and the story was enthralling. Definitely recommended.”
~Michelle Gagnon, author of Boneyard
The author expertly intertwines multiple story lines, presents readers with fully realized characters that readers will feel they know, and keeps the action and suspense levels high. That’s a lot to expect from an author but L. J. Sellers delivers.” ~OverMyDeadBody
WP Like Button Plugin by Free WordPress Templates