The poor quality of many self-published books comes up with some regularity. The most discussion has been started by Chuck Wendig who makes a point that self-publishing isn’t “amateur hour.” You should always put your best foot forward when you’re making a thing you’re going to charge money for.
Interestingly, a lot of people are either attacking him (I’ve read comments calling him a bad writer) or outright dismissing him (because he’s such a “bad writer”). People do seem to get defensive when self-publishing is called out for poor quality works. And it isn’t because they’re arguing that self-publishing books aren’t bad, more like they’re arguing for being “bad” because readers will suss out what’s bad and what is good which will then, hopefully, teach an author what doesn’t work and what does. Their next book will be better, and the book after that will be better.
Some thoughts I always have:
The people often talked about are not reading these discussions. There are plenty of people who write crap or have written crap and just throw it up online because why the hell not? Some people hope to make a little money. Some think they are honestly good and won’t hear talk that they aren’t. The people who don’t give a shit exist. But see, they don’t give a shit, so do you think they’re going to care about the call to stop publishing crap? (No. The answer is no.)
The beauty of self-publishing is that it’s open and anyone can do it. This is also the ugly side. I always say that our greatest strength are often our greatest weaknesses. The same goes for self-publishing. I can post whatever I want for whatever reasons I want. But so can the previously mentioned non-shit giving author.
Readers are not “gatekeepers.” They are customers. And customers make decisions. They can download samples of stories that sound interesting, and they can read it before purchasing. If they are not aware of this, then I don’t know what to think because the preview button is right next to the purchase button. Amazon also gives you seven days to get your money back, so if you pick up a book with a good preview that falls apart after you’ve read it, you can get money back. (At least you could last year. I feel like I’ve been gone forever. You can still do that, right?)
There are shitty publishing house books too. Sometimes a shit book is a shit book. It happens. I don’t think I’ve ever really read a crappy book– because, you know, previews– but I’ve read some books where I got to the end and I just said, “What the crap?”
These discussion are going to continue of course. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but I’m going to keep on not caring what my neighbor is doing (unless they’re my friend and they’ve asked for my opinion). I don’t really believe it matters. Readers will find what they like, they’ll call out what they don’t like. If they swear off self-published books because of one book they read that was really terrible, well then, they are probably not your audience. There are plenty of other readers to go around, just like there are now plenty of writers.
I suck at marketing: I’d like to tell anyone happening across this blog who might be curious about how terrible or not terrible I am that I’ve placed Ruin free on Smashwords. Okay, not exactly free. It’s set to, pay what you want which means you can get it without paying anything or you can use it as a chance to tip an author. 🙂
No, new author, what do you think? Do you only want to sell to Kindles? Do you realize that Kindles don’t read epub? That it’s a proprietary format? That those books can only and forever be on Kindles and Kindle products and programs?
An author can choose to go that route if they want, but I would hope that they have reasons for doing so other than, “Someone once told me…” or “People say…”
I’ll come out and say it, no, you probably won’t make much money from Smashwords. Yes, you do have to wait forever for their extra distributors to pay. And yes, Smashwords only pays you like once every six months. So why would I suggest going with Smashwords?
Freedom. I only buy indie books from Smashwords. You can download in any format (usually, unless the author has severely limited the formats the book will appear in). Generally I go for the epubs. Why? They’re DRM free, and that’s awesome. That means I can put it on any device. Why, I used to read books on my DS back in the day before I got a proper ereader. Plus, say I do decide to get a Kindle. I can download the book in the .mobi format needed for the Kindle.
I’ll admit that if a book isn’t on Smashwords, I skip it. There are a lot of good books put out by small publishers and self-publishers. I don’t need to work that hard to find a good book to spend my money on. Granted, I’m only one sale is a sea of sales, so that might not concern an author. There are plenty of authors who do great on Amazon.
So that’s freedom for me as a reader, but what about as an author? One of my favorite aspects of Smashwords is that the site allows for me to experiment. I can generate coupons, I can post things for free, and I can even use the “reader decides the price” option, which I will probably test out for the next story or something. I was tempted to try it out for this story, and may even do that later on.
Coupons are awesome because they cost me no money. It’s an easy way for me to mark a book down while still showing it’s value. And who doesn’t love a sale? (Well, except for in-store sales because those usually involve waiting in line.)
In the next year, I’m going to try pushing Smashwords a little more when I go out to sell the book. I’m planning on getting tables at the local anime conventions, and one of the things I’m hoping to do is have a QR code that points to the Smashwords site while handing out coupons. I really haven’t used Smashwords much because I haven’t really been marketing. These are just my thoughts on why I love the site.
Anyone else have thoughts? Hate Smashwords? Like Smashwords? Have a horrible experience with the site?
One of the assumptions I run across very often about self-publishing is that you do it on your own. That is SO not true. I will fully admit that I have done nothing on my own. My friends have been with me every step of the way. It’s difficult to list all of the things they have done for me since I decided to publish and the things they’ve done for me over the years by just being there, sharing their stories and playing a game with me. They’re like a support group for people who hear voices and have wacky ideas, and I’m very blessed to have them in my life.
Especially because if I didn’t, I don’t think this blurb would have gotten done and this cover wouldn’t look nearly as good!
I’d like to announce the next release, The Two Brothers, the first companion novella to Ruin.
Cover art by c.r. Favre.
Thirty years ago, there was a Revolution. Born in the aftermath, Jimmy was the first child from a human experiment to demonstrate unnatural abilities at a very young age. In the same incident that tore his family apart, he found his salvation and surrogate father in the tribe’s leader, Henri Smith.
Now Henri’s daughter from the Neutral Territory has arrived in the Southlands, stirring up memories of a girl Jimmy once worked to protect– memories tied to another child of Henri’s whose arrival precipitated an event that would define his adult life.
The Two Brothers is the second story released in the Ruin series, a web of interconnected stories where the lives of the people are as important as the world they live in.
This book will sell for 99 cents starting December 20th and will only be available as an ebook– for now.
I gave it a try. There are plenty of people who vilify the .99 cent price point and others who praise it. Per my nerd girl directive, I wanted to test it out. Here were the questions I wanted answered and the answers I got:
How easy it is to do a sale by changing the price?
I had already hypothesized the answer to this one, and I was right. Not very. I don’t think that changing the price is a good way to go unless you’re going to leave it this way for a very long time. The issue is that it takes a while for distributers through Smashwords to update their prices. In the mean time, even though the prices have been raised elsewhere, like on Barnes and Nobel, Amazon will still be price matching the other distributers (but not Smashwords).
I think it is much better to offer coupons through Smashwords. (This is just my opinion.) For one, Smashwords lets you see stats like how many people visit your book page. This does sound a little obsessive, and I hate what I’m going to say next, but it is something I think about. You can sort of guess, using these stats, if some action of yours is having a direct effect. Are people looking? Are you reaching anyone? Are they downloading samples? This is stuff I do think about in the back of my mind, especially now while the numbers are low and I can easily compare spikes in the data to any effort on my part.
Does a low price for a very limited time lead to more sales?
I had a lot of people interested in the first giveaway, so I thought I would try to encourage any of those people I could with the sale. I made it a clear after giveaway sale, mentioned it on Goodreads, and put text mentioning the length of the sale in the book’s description and on the website.
I did get a few more sales than normal, and since it is still .99, I find I’m still getting sales. But I can’t be sure that’s because of the price point. Any number of things could have happened. In the end, my sales are actually too small to acurately get any data.
How did it make me feel?
Not good. While it was nice to see sometimes two books a day move, I still felt I was under valuing my own story. In my head, $2.99 is cheap. Unless you’re making $6 an hour, $3 is not even half an hour of work, and for $3, you get hours of entertainment. (With a dash of the writer’s blood and soul to boot, let’s not forget, so that has to be worth a few pennies.)
At $2.99, I’m getting close to $2 per ebook sold. Doesn’t that seem fair in a non-greedy sort of way for a newcomer? But at .99, I only get .35. That doesn’t look poor enough, let me type that out. I only get thirty-five cents.
(Oh man, if you all could see your faces. If I could only see your faces too.)
I know that there are authors who make a living off of .99 cent books. I’m not here to judge. Everyone has a different spot they’re comfortable at. It’s just that .99 is not for me unless I’ve purposefully written something out that is meant to be short and cheap– like the next story coming up. I’m going to sell it for .99 cents, not because I think it’s bad, but because I think that is a worthy price point for it. The story will be short and able to be read in a day, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be a good one worthy of that dollar.
A limited time sale is awesome. I have picked up books I’ve loved at .99 and discovered some new authors that way. But I feel it is also important to note that if I’ve already discovered an author I know I like (as in one whose stuff I have read before and loved), a sale will actually discourage me from purchasing and I’ll wait until the book is back at its regular price.
So I guess I won’t ever say that I’ll never try this again. I have the next few releases in this series planned with other ideas emerging for future books and stories. Plus I have stuff in my head that has nothing to do with the series I’m working on now. Anything is possible. I’m all about experimenting.
So I’ve been in my cave fixing up the next story. It involves (as always) a lot of chocolate, some cheeseburgers, and plenty of rolling around and moping. Editing is a pain in the ass, but there’s no way around it. I’m going to have to read and re-read this short story until I’m absolutely sick of it. The hope being that I will get this thing closer to what it’s meant to be in comparison to the Beta version, which was just a structure made out of straw. (Appropriate considering that one blog post.)
As I’ve been working on the story, it occurred to me that there are stages to editing that seem to occur every time I start this entire process. So for your entertainment, I present to you my stages of editing.
Stage 1. Denial
*looks over suggested edits* “What? That? No, I can’t change that. That’s genius. They just didn’t understand that bit. I’ll fix it.”
Note: Be careful writing email responses in this stage.
Stage 2. The Turn around
*still looking at edits* “Yeah, I’ll fix it. This thing over here wasn’t clear, and this thing, why the crap do I keep saying that?”
Stage 3. The Dead Stop
*looks at project again* “OMG, did I send this out? To people? To read? This is horrible! Who said I could be a writer? What possessed me to think this was something I could do?”
Note: I wonder if this is where people just flat out stop? At this point, writing and fun no longer co-exist. There’s nothing but a huge gaping hole where the ego used to be. It’s very lonely at this stage.
Stage 4. Burgeoning Hope
*looks at project and edits side by side* “Hey, you know, if I do this, and then that and end with this, it might not be so bad. Let me try this.” *grabs something fun– like scissors, colored index cards, a white board– and starts a new project*
Note: I think this is where writers fails at failing. It must get fixed– if possible. And in that crazy writer’s brain filled with voices and images of another world, it totally is possible.
Stage 5. Acceptance
“Okay, so maybe they were right about this and this. And this and this and this. Also, I seem to have an issue with commas, hyphens, and paragraphs which still make me question myself, but I can do this thing.”
To everyone out there editing a story, hats off to you! Know you’re not alone.
Also, have I mentioned that Great Minds Think Aloud is having a giveaway? Yes? Well, I’m mentioning it again. Enter using this contest form. Lots of free books to be had. There are other book giveaways going on as well, so be sure to check it out.
I have a clear vision of what I want to do and what I mean to do with my stories. My idea is different from almost anything I’ve seen or read– at least book-wise. I think the only thing that comes close are the various anime and manga stories called A.D. Police which is connected to Bubblegum Crisis. Even that’s not exactly what I’m doing here, but it’s pretty close.
This is why I chose to self-publish– because the idea behind this “series” of stories crossing-over, yet standing on their own, is sort of a strange one. There are a lot of complex character relationships and these relationships spread out into other stories. There are events which are out of order. Some events you may learn the outcome of before you read about the actual event. My hope is that I can make an engaging story that stands on its own and hints at more in other stories.
It’s a crazy idea, and I need my beta readers and my poor unpaid editor to tell me what they honestly think. But what happens when the suggestions received make me question my vision? How do I deal with the edits and suggestions without becoming a prima donna? (“You just don’t understand my vision!”)
1. Respect the opinion. If someone is nice enough to share their thoughts, I listen. I’m terrified to hear it, but another view is always helpful.
2. These are just suggestions. The final decision is always mine, and I own that decision. If the experiment goes down in flames, then I’ll stand off to the side with a shrug of my shoulders and be thankful it wasn’t the house. (If it wasn’t the house, that is. Oh crap, it was the house?)
3. I’m not perfect. This is something I’ve come to accept in recent years. In school, I’ll admit I was used to being one of the best, but the bar was set pretty low. All you had to do was show up, be the weird quiet girl, and everyone pretty much assumed you were smart. But now I’m having to actually work, and it’s really difficult. Plus, I’m lazy.
I feel like I should add a final thought here. Something wise and insightful about how you have to trust yourself and your vision and also trust the people whose opinions you’re asking for. Also, if you do set the house on fire, own it.
Amy Rose Davis has this wonderful post on confidence. I love that she looks within her family to try to understand the issue. Because when it comes down to it, I do think it is partially a personality thing. Like my niece. The girl has the most shining personality that just draws people to her. She’s beautiful, but I always make a point of telling her that her beauty is so much deeper than her skin. She never judges people or talks bad about them. She also seems to have an innate sense that she is awesome without ever having to say it.
That’s not to say she won’t have bad days. But her natural state seems set on, “Yeah, baby!”
Confidence is a strange and slippery thing. It’s important and at the same time it can be dangerous. Too much and it’s a turn off, too little and you get run over by anyone willing to take advantage of you. Overall, I think confidence is necessary in anything you do. If you aren’t feeling confident about something, then it’s a good idea to figure out why. Is it just you or is it what you’re doing?
I started out this post by saying that I’m awesome. Today, I really believe that. I wish I could explain how that comes to be. It’s sort of always been that way with me and also not always been that way. I suffered through a strong lack of self-esteem for a large part of my life, and yet I still can write this post.
At some point, my gut just takes over, like it has a mind of its own. When I hit on something I feel is the right path for me, I know it, and I hold on and don’t let go even when the doubts hit and I start to wonder what the hell I’m doing. That’s happened to me already with this first book. Sometimes I’m scared to look at it, but I’ve also said that I read through it and found it to be exactly what it needed to be. So I just continue pushing forward, doing what comes next, letting my gut lead me.
So here’s my secret: I really have no clue what I’m doing. I have no credentials, no writing degrees or business degrees, no real business experience (unless you count working on the sales floor which I kinda do), no publishing experience, no attempts at publishing. What have I got? I started a blog and shared stories and got a small readership and some great friends. So what makes me think I can do this?
I don’t know, but I know I can. I believe in the story more strongly than I believe in myself. Maybe that’s the secret? Focusing on the specific aspect of something rather than looking at the entire picture? So instead of seeing me + the book + my efforts + my marketing + whatever else goes here, I only see The Book and soon, The Books/Stories, and I latch onto those and decide to believe in them no matter what anyone can tell me. So far, I haven’t really been put to the test. No one has come along and said, “UR DOIN’ IT WRONG.” I’m waiting for that so I can go, “Maybe, but I’m doing it my way, and my way feels right.”
The one thing I love and hate about indie publishing is reaching out to artists.
It’s sort of like dating, and I never went on very many dates. (The ones I did go on were so awkward because I’m an awkward person.) A piece of art catches the eye, or maybe a whole gallery, and I think, “Man, they’d be perfect for this book.” Then I have to contact them, and start whatever little game has to be played. Will they like me? Will they want to work with me?
So far, all of my contacts with artists have been very positive. Even the one who told me she charges $1,000 for book covers. If everything goes well, then I’m dependent on the artist to come through for me and produce a stunning piece of art for me before the due date. The last thing I’d want to do is hold off on publishing because I don’t have a cover. I tried to think of ways around such an issue, like a temporary cover, but I quickly shot that down.
Friends have asked me how I’m going to tie together the Ruin book series. Traditionally, the title is used to distinguish a book as part of the series. I’m not doing that. Not on the front covers anyway. My tie will instead be the cover art– each piece a vision of a character from Ruin as unique as the artists themselves.
So far, I’m two for two. The cover, for Ruin, is a stunning first vision. Sarah Ellerton really came through for me. This next cover, I just got the rough colored art from the artist for approval, and it is absolutely perfect. I can’t wait to see the finished piece and start touting that around!
I’ve already gone over my reasons for why I went with illustrated cover art rather than stock cover art. It’s just that as I work with more artists, it becomes clearer to me exactly why I want artists for this project which is so important to me. Good art forms a bond with the reader before the book has even been read. People get excited to read a book with great cover art. (Of course, this puts a little pressure on me. I better deliver, lol. It’s like my little relationship with the artist plays out in public.)
To make this post useful, I’m going to include some tips I think make the process a little easier.
1. Be open, but short on a first contact. If it isn’t clear if their commissions are open, I just email them and ask if they are. At the same time, I ask how much they would charge for a book cover for print and ebook. It’s important to get that out of the way first.
2. Always be honest and direct. If they’re out of a price range, either let them go or see if they’ll work within your budget. Maybe if they like the project, they will.
3. Be specific with the details. When an artist agrees to do my cover, I get super excited and want to share the story with them. They don’t need that. They just want to know specifics- what do I see on my cover, what does the character look like, and usually, a few words about their personality. This is tougher than it looks. The last thing anyone wants, especially a busy artist is a long email that wanders all over the place. So I actually write this in advance and work on keeping it brief but filled with details. Then I rewrite it when I have an artist interested.
4. Give lots of time, and at the same time push up the date needed by. Okay, you know how us artists are? Since school, many of us have probably waited until the last minute to get something done, right? Chances are high you’ll meet other artists like this. For this reason, I say never give an artist the actual due date. Give them a date that falls before the real date you need it done. This will help you not freak out when the due date is near and they haven’t even started yet. Also, remember to give artists time to get their work done. I’d say a couple of months, so I’m starting to request things ridiculously early and push up the needed by date.
5. Know how much you can spend and refuse to spend more no matter how tempting. Man, that one artist who charges $1,000 per cover looks so good I’d be willing to throw down money to get her. But the last thing I want to do is go that far in the red. Plus, for that price (less than that even!), I’m going to get about four covers done which will carry me through the year for this book series.
That’s what I could think up off the top of my head. I’m sure I’ll have more the longer I do this and the more artists I contact. (Sometimes I have to just shut my eyes and hit send, which is hard to do with your eyes covered. That button is small.)
Anyone else with tips? I know there are other artists out there.
For me, the most difficult part of a project isn’t the end but the beginning.
I’m lazy, by nature. So I see a long clear stretch before me where I can write anything I want now. It’s exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Do I start working on another companion book? I have almost half a story written out already, just there’s the whole question of, “Where is this story going and how does it get there?”, which still hangs over it, but it’s another short one that I can probably knock out in two months like I did with the most recent project.
Or do I start on the next novel which I already have plotted out with scenes on my mind? The problem here is that I can plot all I want, but once I get writing, I’m going to be a mess of disorganized scenes, and multiple notes to myself. I’ll have to break in a new notebook and drive myself nuts with the free writing about each character. I have three new ones to delve into deeply, new and untested ones too, which is different from the characters in Ruin who are all old characters I’ve been working on since forever.
OR do I try working on one of the random stories I have laying around my head, the ones I’ve partially written out or described in detail?
See my dilemma? I am standing at an intersection, and I need to pick a direction. Once I have a direction, things fall into place. None of the directions I have to choose from are bad, and once I pick a direction, I can always continue working on one of the other projects on the side. (That is sort of my plan at the moment.)
But when I start a project, I become completely consumed. I think about it all day, I write about it, I take notes on scraps of paper, my computer, even my phone. I can’t let go of it until I figure it out and unravel the puzzle of it and figure out how the story is meant to go. It’s an exercise in trusting myself and my subconscious, as well as an exercise for my brain. It’s a balancing act for me. I can’t have too much of one or the other, but both in perfect harmony. I guess I’m technically a pantser, but really I’m a -whatever-gets-the-job-done kind of girl.
What do you do at the end of a project and the start of a new one?
Half asleep this morning, I sat bleary eyed looking at my computer and a strange thing happened. It seems that for a certain amount of time everyone was talking about the same thing. Margaret Atwood at the Tools of Change for Publishing. (Hashtag #toccon.)
It sounds like it was really interesting. Apparently there was a slide show that included hand drawings. I’ve never gone to a writer’s convention, and I doubt I really ever plan on it, but that sounds like it was something to see and hear.
It seems one of the topics she touched on were self publishing, and as she’s an author who has been in the business for a very long time, I would have loved to hear her thoughts on it. The tweets going around are taken completely out of context and probably don’t help put her point of view into perspective at all. Some of the tweets (unattributed because they were all retweets of retweets anyway, everyone was quoting the same thing):
- “Do you want lots of ppl reading your book, or do you want a cheese sandwich?” @margaretatwood #toccon
- Margaret Atwood: The quality of literary output has always been questionable. #toccon
- “Only 10% of authors make their living writing full time,” per @margaretatwood “You have to work hard.” #toccon
- “E-devices are increasing reading, but not increasing author’s profits,” says @margaretatwood #toccon
- Atwood is pro-choice: “I want both options, ebook and paper.” Love her. #toccon
That first one- ouch! Though there was talk of an Atwood t-shirt with a cheese sandwich going on for a while between tweets. That would be awesome.
The next couple of ones make me curious about her point because it sounds like a general point that is often made about indie/self publishing. That there’s a lot of crap out there. Yes, it’s true. With anyone being able to publish, there is a lot of crap out there. That’s why book review sites are super important and other sites like Goodreads. Book bloggers probably will be our gate keepers. (See my friend Laura’s idealist post here, which I think is a great idea.)
And I’m okay with book bloggers being the gate keepers. Because they’re readers. Another blog I read made the point that when writers market, they usually hop onto twitter and market to other writers so they’re hitting up the same 300 people or so. And frankly, if I’m honest, other writers scare me in the same way other girls scare me. They’re just scary. (Sorry other writers who I haven’t met yet.) Writers are much pickier than readers and they read things much differently than a reader will.
On the e-devises increasing reader but not increasing profits, well I can only assume that’s coming from an author of the publishing world because e-devises are SO increasing profits– but only if you go it alone. Alone, you can make an e-book relatively cheaply (and it doesn’t have to look cheap contrary to popular belief), and you get 50% or more of the profits. But if you’re part of a publishing house, well they still shell out the exact same amount of money they would if they were producing a physical book, and so the profit a published author gets will be very small.
But there are things to consider with e-books. For one, I can’t buy e-books used. If I want an e-book by Margaret Atwood, I’m going to have to shell out to get it. (And I probably will.) Since I’m buying more e-books these days, that means my money will be going to her and her publishing house. In times past, if I wanted a book by Margaret Atwood, did I go to a major book store and buy it new? No way. I went to a used book store and bought it second hand, which meant she and her publishers were getting nothing from me.
As for the last point, yes, I want the choice too. That’s why I love the Print on Demand model of printing. If I loved a book enough, I would indeed buy the physical copy. (Two books I have considered buying a physical copy of just to flip through the pages? A.M. Hart’s Hungry for You and Joseph Robert Lewis’ Heirs of Mars.)
What’s my point here? Well, what do you lose by trying? This all comes back to the question of “why?” Why are you doing what you’re doing? Are you doing it because a famous author tells you this is the way it’s supposed to be done or are you doing it because you honestly feel you’ve found the right path for you? That’s what it should all come down to.
It’s a completely new era. Things are falling apart and rearranging themselves, so it’s a scary time for everyone, writers to be and writers who are, published and want-to-be-published. So the best thing to do is pick a road that fits and walk it the best you can.