Saturday, January 25, 2014

So you want to write a book!

I bet you're thinking you should write a book. You've had one in your head for years, right? All it takes is for you to write it down. In these days of self-publishing (or indie publishing) and with a computer in front of you, books are a snap!

Okay, write the book. I'll wait. (taps foot)

Yeah, it's kind of hard. I started writing a book because I had this Cool Idea and I'd never seen any book like it on the stands. Heck, I was inventing an entirely new genre!

Well, there were about two other books a bit like it back then, and since then there've been a few more, but over-similarity was hardly a problem. In those days if you were in a niche-y genre, publishers didn't buy your stuff. How would they market it to their audience? Nowadays we have indie publishing where more and more, niches are the rule! Yeah!

I'd read copiously throughout my life, and knew I could write better than most of the stuff out there. Well maybe, but that's not saying much. Remember Sturgeon's Law. I got to the end of my first book, said, "Ohmigawd, it's a romance!" I mean, I didn't even read romance books.  Romance books were icky, right? Bodice-rippers. But I knew some people who were in this organization called Romance Writers of America, so I tried it out and eventually joined. (And discovered that romance books can be FABULOUS!)

Good move. RWA has THE best writing workshops around! You don't even have to be a romance writer to benefit from them. The members are very open to mentoring and advice-giving and just plain getting your back. I learned that I really didn't know how to write, but over the years and through many, many workshops, I have learned the craft. I'm still learning. Everyone is.

So I wrote a book. You've done that too by now, right? I mean, I waited. And you're going to skip trying to get through to a publisher, big name or small. You've read all about this new self-publishing indie stuff; that's for you! Just send it off to CreateSpace or Smashwords and go, right?


You can do that. That's certainly what I did. Now in 2013-2014, I'm redoing everything I have out there. The market is glutted with amateurs. Some of them you can even tell by their book descriptions: misspellings, bad grammar, inability to get to the point… (Thank heavens for "Look Inside," which will also quickly show the quality of the writing.) The Big Thing these days is to get your book published with professional quality.

That means you send your book through professional editors, professional cover designers, professional formatters, etc. It doesn't mean you can't do some of the work yourself. I'm a graphic designer, so I design my own covers. I just hire professional illustrators to do the pictures for them. (If your genre isn't as way-out as mine, there are lots of stock photography places catering to the romance novel market. My Burgundy and Lies has one of those photos on its cover, and it's about to get another one added, maybe two.)

Shuffling your .doc file off to Smashwords to become an ebook only costs a couple bucks, if that much. (It's been a long time since I last did that.) Creating a professional book package will take a bit more.

There's editing. The costs for this run the gamut, but I think the median figure runs about $400-$600 for a book. (Most places figure it at such-and-such fraction of a cent per word.) What kind of editing do you need? Every level is available, from helping you concoct your basic book to line editing to a kind of super-critique.

Have you used some song lyrics, like I have? You'll have to make sure you get permi$$ion to use those lyrics. Most people say that anything over two lines needs permission, but some people have been taken to court for less.

If you're like me, you want to have Complete Control. (rubs hands: BWAH-HA-HA!) That means purchasing ISBNs, which is that long number in books that allows distributors to find your title in various catalogs and sell it. Amazon has its own kind of ISBN (of course) called an ASIN, but that's free. At least it is at the present. Some services give you free ISBNs if you publish through them and some charge a nominal fee, but this means that you won't be listed as the publisher. That may be fine for you. It's just us grabby folks who want The Supreme Power who need to buy ISBNs.

It's just a number; how much can it cost? You go through to get ISBNs. One costs $125. Ten cost $250. One hundred cost $575. When I was redoing Touch of Danger last month I thought, "I have seven books coming out in the next year. I'll buy ten ISBNs." WRONG!!!!

Each version of your book needs a different ISBN. That means print version, but it also means each type of coding for your ebooks gets a unique ISBN. (Some people say one ISBN for print and one for digital, but this is incorrect.) I issued one apiece for ePub, pdf, and mobi versions. So that meant that one book used up four ISBNs, and I may need more in the future for other digital versions. If I make an audiobook (I'm thinking of this for Applesauce and Moonbeams), that will need its own ISBN as well.

How about that cover? Getting a stock photo from a company that will give you permission to use it on your ebook and print version will cost, oh, $30 or so. YMMV widely. If you use illustrations, like I have, you'll pay the artist's going rate. I know people who use uncopyrighted photos (meaning really old stuff) and Photoshop them a bit. Others take their own pictures.

Note: The photographer and/or illustrator retain copyright on that visual. You need to make sure you have permission to use it on your cover, in advertising, etc. Get this in writing. Credit the person inside your book.

You'll need a designer to make that photo into a nice-looking cover. Too many indie covers out there are instantly recognizable as coming from amateurs. Make sure your covers are classy. Make sure that even if a site portrays them at tee-tiny thumbnail size (look at iBooks and see how small those are) that they still catch your eye. Go to Top 100 book lists and check out the cover competition in your genre. If you're going into print, you'll need a back cover and spine. CreateSpace offers rather generic cover-making capabilities, or they let you upload your own. They'll furnish you a correctly-sized template.

How much do designers cost? No idea. I design my own.

Now you'll need to format your book. Smashwords has their own program that will mash up your doc or pdf (It's been a long time, folks; I forget) and you'll hope everything turns out okay. Most of it will. But I can pick up ebooks generated from the Big Five NYC publishers and spot where formatting has seriously screwed up. (I usually notice such coming from Avon. What's up with that, Avon?) If you go through Amazon reviews you'll occasionally find a bunch that say, "Couldn't read because of bad formatting." You don't want your book to get one of these.

I'm paying about $100 for three format versions of each book. That's mobi (Kindle), ePub (trying to be the industry standard), and doc formatted to Smashwords' very specific requirements. I can take that doc, take out the one line that says it's for Smashwords, and run it through various sites who use their own conversions. I can "save as" in Word to create a pdf version. I can also use this form on CreateSpace's template as the basis to produce the print version of the book.

One note: For ebooks, keep all the usual "front matter:" acknowledgments, copyright, review blurbs, etc., in the BACK of the book. When potential readers use the "look inside" features, you don't want them wading through all that to get to what they want to see. In the print version, of course, the front matter goes in the front.

(Another note: Although Amazon automatically makes their keen "look inside" feature for ebooks coming in through KDP, you'll have to go through an only slightly painful manual formatting process to get the same for your print version, even if you submit your book through Amazon's Createspace.)

Then with everything done professionally, you submit your book to wherever. CreateSpace does print books and is an arm of Amazon. You may want to submit your book elsewhere for print as well to get better service on some sites. Smashwords does every e-version known to mankind, PLUS gives you the ability to make $-off or free coupon codes for when you hold contests, etc. Amazon will troll the Internet to see if you've priced it lower on other sites than they have, so the ability to make one-time-use (not noted in your retail advertising) coupons comes in VERY handy.

How far do you want your book distributed? You'll pay about $35 more dollars for wide e-distribution.

Kindle and Nook get submitted to separately, of course. You get better service that way. Not sure about other services, but if they offer it, take them up on it. (If you know they're a legit business.)

I'm trying out Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select, which is different from plain vanilla KDP), which makes you be exclusive to them for 90 days with your digital books (not your print), but offer various marketing perks including a bit of publicity that they don't really tell you about when it happens. If you want even more, you go join Amazon Marketing Club for (I think) about $100/year. Again, there are a few perks, a few engines you can utilize there that you can't anywhere else. Since I'm releasing so many books this year, I figured it would be worth the membership fee. It looks like a good deal for a beginner. Maybe.

What to price your book? You'll have to figure this out. Most people go by Amazon's (all hail!) royalty structure and price from $2.99 to 4.99 for optimal results. Higher prices usually won't garner higher author profits because ratios are figured differently, but there are exceptions. Free books and 99¢ books are now being seen by buyers as signs of amateurishness (though this is not always true). People will gobble up free and cheap books but never read them, much less review them. You want (1) reviews and (2) word of mouth to sell your book.

For print books, your service will have a comparison chart somewhere along the line that shows how much profit you'll make at different price points. If you're distributing overseas, you'll have to hike up your prices to make even a few cents on each book. Amazon uses a 99¢ price structure—and compares the prices you have on your book, making sure Amazon's version is priced equally if not cheaper—so make sure your price is $X.99. The funny thing with print is that your price as an author is a LOT cheaper than retail, so it's often a good choice to buy a box of your own books for taking to signings, conventions, etc., that you can sell at a lower price than retail and still take a nice profit.

Yikes, I almost forgot copyright. Sure, as soon as you finish your novel you can add a line: "copyright [year] [your name]" to the manuscript. (And yes, use "copyright" spelled out on your ebook at the least, because the coding software doesn't like the © symbol. You don't want to make that software angry.) It will be officially copyrighted. But not Officially-Officially copyrighted. If you ever had to go to court to try to prove that you really and truly own the original copyright to this piece, you're lightyears better off if you have an Official-Official copyright, something you applied for from the US Copyright Office and received.

For some reason if you apply online for a copyright it only costs $35, but if you fill out actual paper forms and send them into Washington, you'll get charged $65. Ouch! So do it electronically, then buy two copies of your work from CreateSpace to send to the Library of Congress's copyright office, and in a month or so you'll find your official-type certificate or whatever (I don't know; I'm still waiting for my first to arrive) sitting in your mailbox. Don't lose it. Add to your list of expenses about $10 for your books, plus shipping them to you and then shipping them (book rate!) to DC. Get one of those proof of receipt things from the PO.  And if you've had to hire an illustrator or designer for your cover, your contract may stipulate that they get a copy or two as well. Buy a box full of books and save on shipping. You can sell the extras at book signings. You HAVE kept out two for your personal permanent professional archive, haven't you?


One of the things AMC has is a way to search for possible Amazon reviewers. (Though I have yet to find someone who writes me back after I query them with an offer of review.) It's always best to get as many reviews as you can, no matter how they rank you. Now, you should also find sites who will promote you if you have a few days when your book is offered for free. (KDP Select gives you 5 free days that you can schedule.) (If you've submitted separately to, say, iBooks and take down the price of your book there for a day or two, Amazon will find out after a short delay [always best to warn them in writing of what you're going to do], take the price of your book there down as well, and then take their time about raising your price back to normal once the iBooks price has returned to normal.) About a quarter of these sites will only advertise your book if you have X amount of reviews and a 4-star or better rating. Other sites won't handle you if there's even the first curse word in your book, much less (bleah) kissing. Do your homework. And yes, some of these free-book advertising pages want you to pay to be mentioned.

Explanation: the reason you want to give your book away is because you want a wide audience to review that book, or tell their friends about it (on a day when your book is NO LONGER free).

There are lots of advertising opportunities out there. The trick of getting sales is to have people know your book is there to be read, for them to read it, and for them to TELL THEIR FRIENDS to read it as well. Advertising usually costs $$, if not $$$$.

Since I'm getting out so many books this year, I think it will be worth my time to investigate publicity agencies… NEXT year. We'll see. I hear bad and good about these, but I do have my eye on this one...

There's another trick to getting sales on your book. That's to write another. And another after that. I've read that for series writers, the magic number is three volumes of that series, and sales will begin to pick up. I've read lots of authors who say they don't do any publicity so as to save their energy for writing, writing, writing.

Me, I'm hoping for sales to pick up in the second half of this year. Be looking for new versions of my backlist to appear, as well as new books that have been waiting for quite some time for me to finish.

So you want to write a book. This is all there is to it: WRITE THE BOOK. That means from page one to the end. No, you can't quit after chapter 3. Make sure it hangs together well and is entertaining. Get it edited. Get a nice cover for it. Get it formatted. Get it out there, and then get it reviewed.

Simple, really.

Oh, one of the things AMC does is furnish cute little widgets. Unfortunately the coding for this blog won't allow me to put it in the margin, so I'll put it here instead. So cute! (No, I don't know why it includes the book score thingie.) Buy my book, please.