Monday, December 26, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 12...the Silver Bullet of Marketing

I wish a marketing silver bullet existed. I’ve seen ads, websites and books all touting they can get you big books sales. But I think what Joleene Naylor said in last week’s blog sums it up: If the product or service guarantees your book will be a success, walk away. No one can guarantee that.” 

But I can give you some of my thoughts.

Press Release. If you have a target, then a good thing.  I used a press release with a local newspaper that ran a feature of me and an upcoming book signing. Shot gunning news services without a clear goal, not a good thing.

Giving away books. It’s good PR. Trading free books for reviews never worked for me. They take the book and nada.

Discounting books. Yeah, it probably boosts sales but at what price?  It takes lots of sales at $0.99 to yield same profit at $2.99.  Still give it shot and see what happens.

Social Media. Not sure it will bring in sales, but it’s a great way to brand your name and your books.

Reviews. A good thing, although all five stars makes me wonder. Is the book that good or does the author have lots of friends?

Reviews on book blogs. I find most reviewers are swamped. Go for an interview instead. It takes less work for the reviewer and gets the same exposure. For the most fun, see if you can get a live interview.

Learn how to write. Putting out inferior work will not help futures sales. People will take a chance on a new writer once. But they will not keep buy clunkers.

Do a great cover. Eye candy sells. People judge a book by the cover.

Take your time. No one is an overnight success.

Most important: make writing your passion. This isn’t for the money. It’s for the reader.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 11...guest blogger Joleene Naylor

There’s an old piece of advice, “If you want to get rich during a gold rush, sell shovels.”

In the world of self-publishing this translates to “sell services to the authors.” This might be editing, formatting, book covers or even high-priced advice. It includes book trailers, and mysterious “associations”. It can mean websites, blogs, promotional services, advertisements, and in some cases even book reviews. Of course everyone offering these services just wants to help you.

Or not. While there are many legit people out there offering quality services, there are a LOT of scams, shysters and people who are just out for a quick buck. I’ve met authors who’ve paid $200 or more for a cover that shouldn’t have cost more the $35, or who pay $1,000 or more for editing or formatting services.

Recently, I ran into an “affiliate” group that cost $50 to join, then another $50 to enter each of their contests. It was packaged as a great promotional tool – but to who? As a reader, I’d never heard of them, and it’s a safe bet that 90% of the readers out there haven’t. Most readers don’t care whether your book has a pseudo award from someone they’ve never heard of. What they care about is that you have a GOOD book.

Unfortunately that means you might just need those editing, formatting and book cover services.
What’s the best way to navigate this maze of confusion and potential pick pockets? Research. Before you hire anyone, pay money to join any group, or sign up for anything, research it. Google search for the name of the person/company. Add the word “scam” after it and search again.  Did you get results? Check their webpage and look for the fine print. Talk to authors who’ve used them. It only takes five minutes to use google or post a query on a message board or to your author friends. 

Many of the authors who get taken for a ride ended up there because they didn’t do the above. As a book cover artist, I’m surprised at how many people hire me without checking out my work or my website and are willing to prepay. Though I’m not cheating them, they don’t know that going in. Yes, word of mouth gets around, but if you’re not listening, how are you going to hear it? 

Here are some simple tips to remember before you pay anyone for anything:

  • Never pay for something you can realistically do yourself.
  • Is this a service you actually NEED?
  • If it’s a promotion, is it geared at your target audience? Facebook ads and other broad tactics seem like a great idea, but their reach is vague.
  • If the product or service guarantees your book will be a success, walk away. No one can guarantee that.
  • Research others who offer the same service and compare prices of at least five companies/people.
  • ALWAYS check the company/person’s website. If they have an About page or a Frequently Asked Questions page then read it.
  • Before you pay to join a group, talk to some of the members and ask them what they’ve gotten out of it.
  • Before purchasing any How To books, check the reviews to make sure the book was actually helpful.
  • Before you pay to enter a contest see how many people have heard of it.
  • Check with people who have used the company or service. Were they satisfied?
  • Never pay for an Amazon/Good Reads review.
  • Never hire anyone if you haven’t seen a sample of their work.

Joleene Naylor is an independent author, freelance artist and photographer for fun who loves anime, music and writing. Check out her vampire series AMARANTHINE and more at

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 10...Its what's inside that counts

A big thanks to Tony McFadden for his guest blog, sharing some of his thoughts and techniques on laying out the paperback. The inside of a paperback is going to be more complicated than the ebook. Things that have to be considered are margins, headers, page numbers and various parts of the book like the title page, copyright page, dedication and so on.

I am sure that a hundred writers will have a hundred ways to layout the book.  The front which is made up of the title page, copyright notice, dedication and credits doesn't get numbered, or it can get number in lowercase roman numerals. i...ii....iii...iv.... Either way, I suggest not putting a number on the title page. Generally the main body of the paperback books gets numbered. 1...2...3... After the last page that has THE END, stop numbering. Biography and post material does not get numbered. Leave them blank.  The back of the book is a place to some advertising.  (This goes for ebooks too.) Web address, blog site and plugs for upcoming books go here.  Its also not a back idea to include the beginning of the first chapter of the next book.

There's no one right way to format. I will give you my formula here. I put my name in the top left header and the book title in the right. I center the page numbers at the bottom.   My chapters start about 1/3 the way down with a chapter number and title in bold, larger than the body text.  Also somethings to consider are the margins and most tricky is the margin on the bound side as it must be slight wider than the outside margins.  Having a good working knowledge of WORD can be good when doing margins size, the gutter, mirror margins, section breaks and page breaks.

Now that I have scared a few people off, let me tell you about the easy way. Createspace offers templates that can be downloaded.  Pretty much I started with the template and cut/pasted from my working copy to the template. I still needed to do some tweaking, but it was a far less daunting task. 

When ready I converted the whole thing into a PDF which is later uploaded to Createspace.  The PDF is WYSIWYG. If it looks good, that is most likely the way it will look in the printed book.

Happy formatting!

Ron D. Voigts is the author of PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE and PENELOPE AND THE GHOST'S TREASURE, both are available from Amazon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 9...Why I Format for Paperback First.

This week’s guest blogger is Tony McFadden author of Matt’s War, Book 'Em - An Eamonn Shute Mystery and G'Day L.A. I recently had the pleasure of reading the pre-released copy of Family Matters. Please welcome Tony!

Ron has been leaving little nuggets all over the interwebs helping writers who want to self-publish get their heads around the ins and outs of it all. I’m happy to add my two cents worth.

I’m in the middle (almost literally) of writing the first draft of book number five. When the copy edits and structural fixes and all of the other clean ups are finished, my first formatting exercise will be for paperback.

Use whichever service suits you. I’m using Createspace and highly recommend them, but use whatever you’re happy with. 

Aside from the fact that taking a paperback format and converting it to a Smashwords/Kindle format is easier than the reverse, there are some things that magically happen when you have paperback production as your first step.

You are forced to create a high quality cover. As minor as this may seem, a good cover on your eBook draws eyes, piques interest and will get the casual browser to take the next step (reading the blurb – more later). You’ve all read the guidance about making sure your cover works as a thumbnail, since that’s the image most readers will see first. Working on a trade paperback (6” x 9”) cover lets you focus on those elements as a priority, and not as an after thought.

The back cover design is just as important, and that’s where the blurb comes in. Again, you’re forced to make this count. It’s going to be printed and you want it to be the second step to the interior. The front cover is the smile, the back cover is the caress. I found (and this may not be true with for all writers) that the blurb on my first book tended to be a five minute exercise to fill in a box when I was creating ebooks only. Hit a book store (if you can find a bricks and mortar establishment still standing) and read a couple of dozen back covers in the genre you are writing. There’s a pattern. Copy the pattern. (Don’t copy the blurb. That makes no sense.)

If we extend the metaphor, after the smile (front cover) and the caress (back cover) is the relationship. The story. The interior design. This is a “why I do it this way” post, and not a “how I do it” post, but a little bit of overlap is inevitable. When the interior is formatted (Createspace have dozens of templates to choose from), that’s where the magic happens. I’ll find I spill a few lines on to the last page of the chapter. These hangers are ugly and the only way to remove them is to go back in the chapter and tighten it. And this is after you thought it couldn’t get any tighter. Get it cleaned up, make sure the typography doesn’t overpower the story, and order your proof.

I know. Createspace allows you to proceed without a proof, but that is one of the craziest things you can do. Order it, just one, and when it arrives sit down with your feet up, red pen in hand, and read your book as if it were the newest release from your favorite author. (You are your favorite author, aren’t you?)

I guarantee you that you will find errors you would have never believed existed. There’s something about the words on a printed page that highlights all the silly stuff. Mark your book with a red pen until it’s perfect. That includes the cover and the back blurb. 

Added bonus: When the newly revised book is going through the building process at Createspace (or your POD house of choice) you can take that newly corrected doc file and strip the formatting and build the Smashwords and Kindle versions in about an hour. When your eBooks are available, so will your paperbacks. The full meal deal.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 8…Kindle is Different

In part 6, I covered how I put PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE out on Smashwords.  This positioned me to have the book also at Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, Sony and Diesel.  The fly in the ointment is Kindle.  Since the beginning of the year, Smashwords has had the following posted in their distribution channels for Amazon: “Ship date TBD. Smashwords and Amazon are working to complete technical integration.” My interpretation is if you want to be on Kindle, do it yourself.

Fortunately I had positioned myself well, having published on SW. The cover was already created. The blurb about the book done. The only thing needing attention was the .doc file and most of it was done.  I eliminated any mention of Smashwords and changed the copy right page from SW version to something generic. In later e-books I put on the first page “Kindle Edition” and created a generic copy right notice. Here it is:

Copyright © 2011 by <Author Name>

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrievals system, without written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.

Name, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imaginations or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

To publish on Kindle goto and create an account if you don’t already have one.  Click “Add a New Title” on the Bookshelf page and follow the instructions. They are straight forward.  The reports page gives a snapshot of how sales are going that includes Month-To-Date, Prior Six Week Royalties and Prior Months Royalties in .xls format.
When setting the price of the book, anything from $2.99 to $9.99 can participate in the 70% royalty.  Otherwise, anything from $0.99 to $200 can participate in the 35% royalty.  Basically too low or too high and the earnings go down.

For more information check out help at KDP.

Ron D. Voigts is the author of PENELOPE AND THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT still #1 on Smashwords Mystery & Detective list.   

Friday, November 18, 2011


Today’s guest blogger joining me for the Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing is Rick Bylina, author of ONE PROMISE TOO MANY and A MATTER OF FAITH. Like myself, Rick is swimming in the waters of self-publishing, learning to navigate. Please welcome Rick.

I want an agent. I want to have a New York publishing company distribute my novels to the widest audience. I want a major global marketing campaign to match the universality of the messages in my novels. I want Oprah to discover me, to dance with Ellen, to talk with Barbara Walters in a one-on-one interview, and to have Good Morning America make me a household name in ten minutes or less. I want every Santa Claus to sidle up to every mother of a kid in line and suggest my book for the adults on their shopping list. I want a lot, but what I'm left with as a self-publisher of my own novels is this: me.

The lesson I learned from self-publishing is that the dream of control over your published novel comes with the responsibility to manage that control, especially if you want to be successful. And the first step is identifying what you consider is success.

For some, just publishing the novel is success enough--the stick in the eye of the establishment. After 527 rejections, that's a huge motivation for me. But the truth is, after each rejection, the novels got better until I reached a point where suggestions for improvement dried up and a few innocent grammatical fixes remained. Those are issues every novel has sprinkled through it and are wiped away during the publishing process, part of the evolutionary reason for its existence. My errors have been identified and are being washed away with updates in November.

For others, having family and friends celebrate their publication is enough. I just had my first Book Launch Party. I wrote about it on Calamity's Corner and the fun that over 100 friends and family had at the gathering. Celebrating success is important. You should absolutely do that. You deserve it.

For most of us, the dream is larger, and therein lies the rub. Are you prepared to make your dreams of success come true? Whether your goal is to earn enough to buy a latte, a computer, or make writing your new profession, lay out a plan BEFORE you publish. Plot the incremental steps necessary to reach your goal. Figure out BEFOREHAND the time you will need to market your book and don't underestimate it. Identify the key resources UPFRONT to help you reach your goal. Learn from those who have gone before you. Being prepared can lead to success.

I'm not going to rehash all the ways there are to market your book. Free information is out there. Books identifying the keys to self-publishing success are available. Websites float suggestions. Some are helpful; some are plain BS. I'm writing about the commitment to do the marketing for the self-published book and to get the message out there that you have arrived and are worthy of attention. 

After the initial flush of success as friends and family drink up your book, don't get cocky. That is the first port in a long voyage. Identifying the steps along that voyage to success IS the first step before you throw your book into the sea of self-published books and end up drowning because you forgot to pack your water wings.

I am an agent, publisher, marketeer, promoter, and adult whisperer in large shopping malls that my book is just as good as a traditionally published novel. And it is. Don't whine, don't despair, just plan ahead to dedicate the time necessary to achieve your success. Oh, and buy my book!

-Rick Bylina
The only rule:  writers write! Everything else is a guideline.
Tweet at: @rickbylina

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 6…The Smashwords' Meatgrinder

The most daunting and perhaps most time consuming task of self-publishing was preparing the book for uploading to Smashwords.  I spent weeks studying the Style Guide from Smashwords trying to digest everything that was important.  My fear became I’d do something wrong. Uploading a newer version of the book is allowed on Smashwords. But what if I couldn’t fix the problem?

The reality was that thousands of people were uploading their books on Smashwords and creating readable files.  Surely I fit somewhere in that range of intellect. Perhaps not at the top, but surely not the bottom either. I could do this.
It took me five tries to get Penelope and The Birthday Curse. Some of the errors I should have caught during proof reading became obvious when seen on the screen of an e-reader.  BTW, I have the black Pandigital 7” e-reader that can read epub and pdf.  For reading the other formats, I downloaded Calibre which can read just about anything, and that is scratching the surface of its capabilities. Some of the problems beyond typos were large blank areas and blank pages. How it looks to the eye and readability is important. When I did Penelope and The Christmas Spirit I ended up with two sizes of font which looked funky.  Here are my suggestions to getting a great looking book.

First read the Style Guide and get a basic understanding of what is required.  You probably don’t need everything that’s in there unless you have special requirements in your book. The front end is important. First page has title, author name and declaration of Smashwords Edition. Second page has copyright with verbiage per Smashwords requirements. Get these right. After that you can do dedications and reviews and anything you like.
Learn to use Styles when working in MS Word. Word defaults to Normal Style at startup.  Typically people modify on the fly when writing like adding an indent or perhaps italics.  Creating a custom style throughout will keep everything the same. A simple change in the style will affect the document

Use .doc format. That's what the Smashwords converter, which by the way they call the Meatgrinder (nice, huh?), understands.
Although the Style Guide suggests two blank lines can be used and no more than four, I suggest one only. Anymore than that and it is possible to have a blank page at the end of the chapter if next page ends on these multiple blanks. Too many blank lines and large open areas can occur.  At the end of chapters, I use CNTRL-ENTER which forces a new page and use no blanks before it.

Between scenes I use little dividers like ++++ or ~~~~ with no blank line. You can use whatever you like. If you use something from a symbol font be ready to replace it should it not look the same once printed on the e-reader. Personally I believe in keeping it simple.

I set my line spacing to 1.5X.  1.0X can be used, but I think spreading it out slightly makes the reading easier.

For my books, I start every chapter with CHAPTER XX – TITLE. The Meatgrinder will automatically create a table of contents. The format I suggest comes out looking nice. If you don’t use a chapter title, it will just have the CHAPTER XX in the TOC. My guess is the Meatgrinder recognizes the hard return followed by the word CHAPTER.

Keep the formatting simple. Bold. Italics. Centered. If you do have a special need read the Style Guide and try it.  If something doesn’t work, you get another chance to fix it and submit to the Meatgrinder. I also stick to Times New Roman 12 pt.   I tried a fancy font and found the Meatgrinder defaulted back to making it look like Times New Roman.

I put a picture with my bio in the second book Penelope and The Ghost’s Treasure and it came out nicely.  Again suggest reviewing the Style Guide.

Next time Rick Bylina will be the guest blogger. Ron D. Voigts is the author of the Penelope Mystery series available on Amazon and other booksellers on the Internet.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 5...The Wraparound Cover

The back cover, aka the wraparound, was necessary to publish a paperback version of the book PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE.  I decided at this point to have someone do it for me.  I had contacted a number of book cover designers and was quite surprised by the range of prices.  They fell in the range of $30 up to $299. The amount of work required can vary too. At its simplest, the cover is a stock photo with the title and author name dropped on top. Sadly that’s what some author’s get for their $299. 

After contacting a number of designers I decided to have Joleene Naylor do  the wraparound cover. Not only is she a designer but an artist and author.  This gave me the idea to create an image of Penelope.  Joleene did a superb job.  She created the character as described in the book with lots of nice touches.  Even down to subtle details, such as the untied shoe lace. 

 Then the original front cover from Part 4 of this series was combined into a wraparound with Penelope on the back by a text window and the knife from the front cover was added to tie the front theme to the back. Here is a picture of the cover. The detail may not be discernible in this blog picture, but it gives an idea of what it looks like. The white box is for the barcode and ISBN.

Page count is an important detail that helps determine the cover’s size.  More pages mean more cover in the center for the spine. Another thing, page count comes in multiples.  I will give you my spin here.  Big publishing companies use large sheets of paper that can have 8, 16 and perhaps 32 pages per sheet. Once printed the whole thing is folded and cut. The packets created are assembled in the correct order and the cover is attached. CreateSpace used somewhat smaller page, but gets 4 printed pages per sheet. For my book which is 6 x 9, the cut sheet size becomes 12 x 9 and then is folded in half. That means a fixed amount of pages depending on what is needed. PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE has 184 pages, which meant 46 sheets before folding. To add more pages would require increments of 188, 192, 196, 200, etc.

If you are a diehard do-it-yourself type, you may be interested in How To Get A Cheap Book Cover available at Smashwords. Subtitled: “From tips on how to woo your cover artist to DIY”. Best $1.50 you’ll ever spend!

Cost for Penelope rendering was $20 and wraparound cover $30.  

Ron D. Voigts is the author of the Penelope Mystery series. His current title PENELOPE AND THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT is now out.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lessons-Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 4...The Front Cover

The cover is important. The old saying goes never judge a book by the cover, because that is what people actually do. Remember the last time you walked through a bookstore and saw something you liked? Most likely it was the cover that grabbed your attention.

From the beginning I chose to go with a tradebook size of 6 x 9 which seemed to be popular. I let this guide on how big to make the cover.  For paper publishing 300 dpi is recommended, so my front cover image was 1800 x 2700. The image is saved in png format which is less lossy than a jpg. Don’t ask me to explain, but I certainly don’t want to lose anything.

The next step was deciding what the front cover should look like. The most popular thing to do is go with a stock image that can be licensed. For a book cover design this can be relatively inexpensive. I chose to go with iStockphoto. The one thing I wanted to do was have something that feels askew.  I finally decided on a birthday cake with a bloody knife lying next to it. Typically a knife is used to cut a cake, but the blood instantly says this is not right.  And the cake also had a certain eerie quality. 

My daughter, a graphic designer, helped me with the cover. Some mundane sounding things needed to be done, such as removing background from the images. Originally the cake sat on a table cloth with a pattern, but looking at the book cover that is all gone. Also, the lighting had to be adjusted to make the candles look like they were illuminating the knife. Some things could not be fixed.  The knife looks like it is floating. I believe this has something to do with perspective. No matter how my daughter maneuvered the images, the knife stayed afloat.

The original title of the book was THE BIRTHDAY CURSE, but I wanted to brand the series so that all the books could be identified as belonging together.  The new title became PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE.  My daughter originally picked a font that had an edgy feel as she put it. Unfortunately it was not common, so I eventually went with one called Fluffy Slacks BTN.  (Who thinks up these names?)

I also worked on some of the initial graphics and used a program called GIMP.  I recommend it, although there is a learning curve here.

For the e-book version, the original image was shrunk down to 600 x 900.  That seemed to work well with Smashwords and Kindle format.

Things I recommend. Make sure that the title and author name are fairly visible.  Remember on the actual  e-book these will be little icons. I think the cover for my first book is a bit too dark and may not be the eye catcher I had hoped for. Also, the bloody knife says horror, while the book is more mystery-thriller. For now it is what it is.

Cost at this point for the front cover was $39.50 which covered the credits from iStockphoto to license the images and had some credits left over for another cover.

Next time I will explain how the wrap around cover came about for the paperback version.

Ron D. Voigts is the author of PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE AND PENELOPE AND THE GHOST’S TREASURE, both are available at Amazon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 3...Paperback Writer

Since my target audience is tweens, I initially reasoned that having a paperback book would be a good thing. I could not imagine a thirteen year old having a Kindle and figured a good old fashioned book the first priority. Looking around the Internet I found lots of companies that would get your book in print. Most had upfront fees in the hundreds to over a thousand dollars. Then after that you still had the cost of the book. My budget did not allow for that much of an investment.  

My first thought was Lulu. Basically you can publish your book for nothing and that includes an ISBN that they manage.  They offer plenty of hand-holding for the DIY publisher or they will do it for you.  Currently their Best Seller Publishing Package costs $629. Ouch! That hurts my pocket book.  

If I did it all myself, what would the Lulu book price to me be?  Let's say I am printing a 6 x 9 tradebook with 250 pages using white paper and internally everything is black and white. Cost using the Lulu calculator is $9.50.  As quantities go up the price goes down. So 100 copies go for $7.60.  If I priced my book at $12.99, my profit is $3.49. Actually there's a lot more to their pricing, but you get the idea.

My other choice was CreateSpace. Again you can DIY or buy a package. Their Total Design Freedom Standard costs $728. And the prices go up from there!

Pricing the same 6 x 9 book with 250 pages using the CreateSpace calculator comes to $6.50. But there also is the pro-plan that brings your cost $3.85. At 100 copies, there is no change. The pro-plan cost $39 per year.  

This also sets up the marketing of the book.  I am not going to explain the higher math that follows, and you can run your own numbers at CreateSpace. For my earlier example of the $12.99 book, sell one yourself and you make $9.14. Sell one through them and your royalty is $6.94. For Amazon it’s $3.94, and a sale through someone else gets a whopping $1.94. For an investment of $39.00, I went with CreateSpace.

Some indie-authors may only want to go with e-book format, but having a paper copy has advantages.  Carrying them around in your car trunk and when someone says, “Are you really an author?” pull one out and offer to autograph it for $12.99. Throw some on the coffee table. Keep a few around at work. Get some into local bookstores and libraries. In fact tomorrow I am doing a book signing The Book Center in Cumberland, MD. Just having that physical book in your hands is a good feeling.
Ron D. Voigts is the author of PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE and PENELOPE AND THE GHOST’S TREASURE, both available at Amazon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 2…Know where you want to be

First thing I needed to know for self-publishing: who’s my audience for the Penelope Mystery series? This sounds like an easy question, and one that I should readily know.  It ‘s important for any writer to consider.  If you think, I’m writing this book for everyone, it’s probably time to rethink it. A twenty year old will have one interest as compared to a sixty year old. Men and women have different interests. (Yeah, I know I’m being sexist.) Is the reader a professional or blue color worker? Lots of things to know.

My reader for the Penelope Mysteries is eleven to thirteen year old girl who’s an avid reader, probably carries a book around with her for those lulls in the day. She likes mysteries, thrillers and probably has read most of the popular books that are out like Harry Potter and Twilight.  I anticipate a secondary audience of young adult women who follow many of the YA novels, reading vampire and paranormal romances. Finally I wanted to reach adult readers who enjoy a mystery and humor.

I wanted to make the Penelope Mysteries available on platforms that would be available to the primary target audience.  My first thoughts were paperback book and the Apple iPod.  Getting the books out on other platforms such as Nook and Kindle would be necessary too.

Another part of my search was to get the most bang for my buck and if it cost nothing, the better. Smashwords popped up on my radar. It offered 85% net back on sales. Distribution to Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel and more. Free ISBNs. Conversion into nine formats. Marketing support. Coupons for discounts.  And most important it was free.

I’ll leave the discussion of how I chose the paperback publisher for the next installment and yes I did run into some caveats with respect to publishing with Smashwords.. That too is for a later date.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 1...In the beginning

I reflected on how much has happened in the past year.  How much I have learned. What I would do different. And what I could pass on to help someone else planning to self-publish.

About a year ago I was happily coasting along with my two tween books in the hands of the literary agent. Despite nibbles and almost an offer, the books remained unpublished. We talked about approaching small press and--the word that turned my blood to ice--self-publishing. The small press struck me as just a step above self-publishing. Granted the publisher would take responsibility for getting the book in print, the promotion was still up to me.

Like leaving home for the first time, not sure where I was going, I pulled the two books from the literary agent.  I spent the first four-plus months of the year researching how to do this.  I also watched mistakes others have made. My own mistakes would become evident later.

In May I launched PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE on Smashwords and followed up with Kindle. As of writing this blog entry, SW does not appear to have any working arrangement to put an ebook on Amazon. From the SW website: "Ship date TBD. Smashwords and Amazon are working to complete technical integration." By June, PATBC was out in paperback, published at Createspace and available just about everywhere. 

My next goal was to get PENELOPE AND THE GHOST'S TREASURE published.  By end of September, it is available on Smashwords and Kindle.  I am still waiting for it to show up on Barnes and Noble. By end of October, the paperback will be out.

I mention all this as over the next few weeks I will chronicle some of the lessons learned. The kind of stuff that may be good to know, but not self evident.. Basically how to become a pro at self-publishing.

Penelope and The Ghost's Treasure is available at Amazon. Be sure to check out Penelope's blog.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What’s the hardest part of being an writer?

Writing is a solitary pursuit. Although I know some writers who are good at multitasking, none of them can write and socialize at the same time. Sitting in a crowded room while writing doesn’t count.  For many, living a hermit like existence and writing go hand in hand. And all the while cranking the prose, the mind is saying, “Get published. Write another book. Get published. Write another book.” No thought is given to the social aspect.

So finally the book is published. The book is everywhere. Amazon. Barnes and Noble. And dozens of other book sellers. And there it sits like the proverbial wallflower at the party that no one asked to dance.  

Suddenly the solitary pursuit becomes a social experiment of how many ways can to whore the book. Carry some in the car. Go up to total strangers. Have you few in the desk drawer at work. Twitter about the book. Leave Facebook comments. Blog. Book signings. Blog some more.  Book reviews and interviews. Remind relatives and friends to buy the book.

And the wee voice in the back of the head is whispering, “All I wanted to do was get published and write another book.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Writing: Art or Skill

I’ve seen the debate before. Some argue that writing is a skill that can be taught and will improve with practice much like a trade.  Put in the time, write the prerequisite number of words, read all the right the books and you’ll arrive. You start as an apprentice work your way to journeyman and finally the day arrives when you are a master writer.

I lean to the art side of the argument. The English language has its rules, structure of a story for the most part follows certain patterns, but the finished product varies so much from author to author. I have read books that are music to my ears and observed prose that can be compared to the brush strokes on a fine painting.  My heart quickens. I feel a shiver. Those simple words I’ve known all my life suddenly take on a meaning I never before imagined.

Art or skill: what do you think?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

And then what happens?

The Perils of Pauline, a 1914 movie series, featured a pretty young lady who somehow managed to get herself into predicaments with no way out.  Tied to railroad tracks with a steam locomotive bearing down on her. Lashed to a wooden post while flames licked around her. Strapped to a table while spikes descended from the ceiling. At the moment when the audience excitement reached a peaked because poor Pauline would be killed, the film stopped with the words “To Be Continued…” And the cliffhanger was born.

Today’s authors can take a cue from Pauline, although perhaps with less melodrama.  End a chapter with a well-planned cliffhanger and the reader will be certain to turn the page to see what comes next.  The end does not need to be some threat of loss of life, but it needs to pose the question in the readers mind: “And then what happens?”

Here’s the end of chapter twenty-seven from Penelope and The Ghost’s Treasure.

  Ploop. Clunk. Phizz.
  Short pushed his pincer glasses on and leaned close to the boiling, seething liquid. “Something has gone wrong.”
  “Should I stir harder?” Penelope picked up the pace.
  “No, it’s too late for that. Best we hit the deck.” He grabbed her, pushed her under the lab table and crouched down next to her.
  “Maybe it’ll be okay.” She leaned forward from their cramped quarters under the table and tried to catch a glimpse of the experiment.
  He pulled her back. “Best to let it run its course.”
  Ploop. Clunk. Phizz. KABLAM!

To Be Continued…

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Ghost's Treasure...almost there!

The past week or so has been busy.  Although a bit behind in my schedule, I've gotten Penelope and The Ghost's Treasure out on both Smashwords and Kindle. For anyone not familiar with publishing on Smashwords, the process takes a few weeks to reach other markets like Barnes and Noble, Apple, Diesel and so forth.  I am still not certain that Smashwords has its act together yet with Amazon and hence I went the direct route on the Kindle edition.

Next comes CreateSpace for the paperback edition.  I spent last three days creating the interior of the book on Word.  This poses a unique challenge to get it formatted correctly. For someone contemplating doing this on their own, I expect that a skill level of at least intermediate on Word is necessary,although advanced or even guru level is advantages. 

The real challenge with Word (I use both 2007 and 2010) is not to mess it up, especially with respect to headers and footers.  At one point all my even number pages vanished!  Another time, when I saved as PDF (which is needed for CreateSpace), I ended up with extra blank pages that didn't show up on the Word version. So much for WYSIWYG.

Next step and yet to be done is getting the cover design finished. Then marry everything together on CreateSpace and order the proof.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Penelope and The Wake County Library

PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE is now available at the Wake County Library.  I am happy and proud to have my book on their shelves. What's also exciting is when PENELOPE AND THE GHOST'S TREASURE comes out, it too will be available at the Wake County Library. I expect that should  be in about two months.

Penelope sends a big thank you to Cheryl and Tracy at the Wake County Public Library for making this possible. She throws her hat into the air and shouts, "Hip-hip-hurrah!"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Duality of a Writer…Writing and Promoting.

My heart wants to write.  My brain says promote and get the second book going.  I’m beginning to realize the day does not have enough time to do it all, especially while working full time, which actually pays the bills.

Already I lag a week behind getting the second book out on Smashwords and Kindle.  So close and yet I’m not ready.  I also wanted to have the paperback done by month’s end with hopefully a proof coming.  Getting PENELOPE AND THE GHOST’S TREASURE out on ebook and paperback before Halloween would be ideal.
Promoting a tween book is tougher than I expected. The trick is to get the book in the hands of young people, but they are not the ones that most promotion techniques reach.  One local bookstore owner suggested getting parents to put the books in their kid’s hands is the challenge.

Finishing the first draft of the third Penelope mystery is equally important, especially with a deadline to get it published next spring.  I already foresee many rewrites to get the book polished.
Maybe congress could pass a law to give me more time to get things done. Fat chance that happens.  The President and Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on anything.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Interview on Bittersweet Enchantment

Check out my Interview on Bittersweet Enchantment. I am excited about it for a number of reasons.  First, it gave me a platform to talk about my book PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE. Second, if you scroll down to the end of the article, there's a place to enter a drawing for two free copies of the book to be given away in a few days. Finally, the blog and interview are by daughter Beckie.

Beckie has done a fine job on developing her blog, reviewing books and making friends in the literary world. I have a great respect for book reviewers after seeing how busy she gets.  Almost every week someone sends are a book  to read and review.  How she keeps up with it is beyond me.

If you have time, stop by and check out her blog Bittersweet Enchantment, checkout my interview and enter the contest to win a free copy of the PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE.