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?