Audiobook Etiquette: How Not To Piss Off Your Narrator

In case it wasn’t clear long before now, when it comes to anything other than actually writing the book, I’m a planner, not a pantser. I like to know things ahead of time and be prepared going into something. While I did as much research as I could going into audiobook production, the information available from my platform barely scratched the surface of what I really needed to know. As a result, I might have made some people very upset with me, solely because I did something I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do. And I couldn’t even apologize because, well, you’ll see why in a bit.

So I did the Me-thing. I asked around. I made an anonymous survey (which, admittedly, didn’t get a statistically significant number of responses) and I pieced things together into a larger picture that made me cringe remembering the things I did during my first couple of audiobook productions.

In the interest of hopefully preventing  such awkwardness and frustration happening in your current or future projects, I now share my screw-ups and some other important information you’ll want to know about proper etiquette during audiobook production.

PRODUCER VS. NARRATOR

One of the questions I asked on my survey was, “Do you prefer the title producer or narrator?” and I discovered there actually is a difference. A narrator narrates the content, then sends it off to someone else to process the tracks and complete the production. A producer does all or most of that on their own. Kind of like self-published authors do most of the work themselves. If you contract for your audiobook production through a service like Amazon’s ACX or Findaway Voices (the one I use), odds are the person you choose will be a producer, and they may be referred to as such in your communications. It may be a small difference to us authors, but a point of important distinction to the person creating your audiobook. Just sayin’, be respectful of that.

KNOW THE PRODUCTION PROCESS

Here is how Findaway Voices works:

  1. Author submits notes
  2. Producer records an extended sample
  3. Author approves and production begins
  4. Once the producer uploads completed tracks, the author is notified
  5. Author provides correction notes where needed
  6. Producer makes corrections
  7. Author approves when finalized, pays for services, and moves to distribution.

This is where I screwed up (a lot) with mine. I freaked out because I knew that, once the audiobook came to me for proofing, I would only have a week to get it done. It was a long audiobook, and I didn’t want to fall behind, so I was checking the site daily. It just so happens that my producer uploaded tracks as she finished with them, not all at once, which made me think they were ready for feedback, so I gave feedback right away. This likely drove my producer crazy, because she hadn’t even finished recording the rest of the book and I kept telling her to go back and fix stuff. I had no idea at the time how bad this actually was. You’re supposed to wait until they notify you that your book is ready for proofing, and then go in and comment.

I think that was a vicious cycle of miscommunication. I also wasn’t fully clear on what I could ask to have corrected. Mostly the issues were pronunciation or technical errors, which can and should be corrected. But there was a time or two I may have asked for a redo on a character’s voice, which you’re not supposed to do. *cringe* I know better now, but it’s too late to make a difference to that first audiobook project.

HOW TO COMMUNICATE

This is one of the most important points that some platforms make unnecessarily complicated. Findaway Voices won’t put you directly in touch with your producer/narrator except to provide notes on submitted audio tracks. From my survey, I discovered that authors rarely if ever have any contact at all with their producers/narrators. They might not even know who it is, and might not have a chance to offer notes or feedback. This is especially true for authors whose publishers contract for the audiobook on their behalf. There’s a long game of telephone going on behind the scenes, which I find ridiculous, to be honest. We’re talking about projects with price tags in the thousands of dollars. At the very least you should be able to talk to the person on the other end to get aligned on the vision for the project.

So… if/when you do get to communicate with your producer/narrator, take advantage and communicate everything clearly. If I had been able to reach out to mine, I would have asked them exactly what they needed. I would have been able to communicate my vision for the project and we could have collaborated much easier. I’m not an unreasonable person. I usually work well with people–when I can work with them. But Findaway Voices insists on all communication going through them, which means a lot gets missed, and a lot might get lost in the translation. This, in my opinion, is not a good way to do business. On the other hand, though, I understand that they’re trying to protect the artist creating the audiobook. It can’t be comfortable trying to flex your skills when you have a possessive author tugging on a leash around your neck all the time.

WHAT MATERIALS TO PROVIDE

Things your producer/narrator will want to know:

  • Is this a series? And if so, are there previous audiobooks for reference?
  • Are there specific accents you will need?
  • Are there recordings of proper pronunciation you can provide?
  • Are there recordings of characters from previous books you can provide?

Something that wasn’t clear to me was what I could/should provide. I received a document to give things like pronunciation and character notes. So, of course, I gave character personalities, because I’m a writer. Three books in, I now realize they meant notes on how the character is supposed to sound. Yes, I am that oblivious at times.

Another issue was that my book had a lot of characters that needed notes. That can get really hairy and, naturally,  things got overlooked. Producers are human, after all. This was a sore point for me, though, because one of the things I asked to have redone was something I’d clearly stated in the notes and the producer had overlooked it. I wouldn’t have bothered, except it was a character integral to the series so their voice was important to me. Note for future projects: Keep it short, and focus on the main characters in order of importance.

I also didn’t know I could/should provide recordings until another producer on another project told me I should have provided them beforehand. I’d had no clue, and probably upset her a lot when I asked her to redo something to be more consistent with a previous book. Huge no-no. But, again. I’m new at this, and no one told me. If I knew this was an option, of course I would have sent her everything beforehand. Just as I like to be prepared, I like to make sure I give people everything I can to prepare them for whatever they’re doing for me. 

BE SPECIFIC BUT NOT UNREASONABLE

When you’re providing directions for your audiobook, you want to be as specific as possible. By all means, provide audio files where you can, because they’re easier to process than pages of notes. Things get missed in notes. Audio files can be referenced quicker.

With that said, keep in mind that your producer/narrator is also an artist in their own right. At some point, you need to let go of your book and allow your producer/narrator to utilize their own creativity with it. It’s as much their project as it is yours, and they, too, want to be proud of their accomplishment at the end.

UNDERSTAND THE TIMELINE

Your producer may have projects lined up before yours. You’ll need to know not only when they can deliver your finished audiobook, but also how long it will take for your platform to make it available for sale. You’ll need to know which retailers allow pre-orders, which don’t, and how those pre-orders will be reflected in your sales report. You should not set a release date before you know you can honor it. I like to wait until all the chapters are ready for me to proof, because I know that I will only have a week to go over them, and the corrections will likely take another week, so I can estimate how far in the future I need to set the date.

A special note on Findaway Voices and Amazon: If you want to distribute your audiobook to Amazon from Findaway Voices, they require that there is another format of the book (print or digital) currently available on Amazon so they can link the audiobook to it. If you don’t have this, you won’t be able to distribute the audiobook to Amazon. I don’t really  understand why, but there you go.

SOME SHAMELESS PROMOTION

I say that, but really, it’s for the producers as much as for me. I wanted to include a sampling of audiobooks I’ve commissioned, because each one was done by a different producer. I was very particular about how I wanted my books to be voiced, so each producer was a researched and considered choice on my part. Audiobook production is a pricey proposition. It’s not something you should jump into without planning or forethought. A good narrator can turn your book into magic. An unsuitable one can make the process sheer hell (I’ve heard horror stories). I can personally vouch for every single one of these narrators so, if you’re looking for a talented voice for one of your books, don’t hesitate to look for them and request them.

Also, if after you have heard the samples below you want to check out the full audiobooks, or even read the eBooks, click on the book title to see the full detail book page with links to major online stores. I humbly thank you in advance for your support.

The Royal Wizard (Dawn of Ragnarok, book 1)

Narrated by Rachel Hine, who was a true wizard in the making of this audiobook. Her voice is fresh and bright, but with a warm quality, and her British accent gives the story the feel of an ageless classic. That’s exactly what I wanted for this fantasy novel.

Dragonblood (Dawn of Ragnarok, book 2)

Narrated by Charlotte Sanderson, who was incredibly patient with all the foreign accents and made up language in this book. Her voice is a little higher and younger, more spirited, which fits the heroine of this story so well.

Function:L1VE (Stand-alone)

Narrated by Kristin James. This was the third audiobook I commissioned, and I got hooked on female voices, but science fiction is a different animal than fantasy and, in my mind, sounds American, rather than British. Kristin did a fantastic job on this novella. I couldn’t have asked for better.

Virtual (Stand-alone)

Narrated by Steve Campbell. This is my most recent audiobook, scheduled to release on November 23, 2020. It’s another science fiction, which means American accent, but this time I wanted to hear a male voice. Steve did so well, listening to the audiobook in proofs made me giddy excited to share it with the world.

Continue Reading Audiobook Etiquette: How Not To Piss Off Your Narrator

A Tale of Four Apps

Hi there! It’s been a while. COVID has done a number on the world and on my plans for this year. My apologies for having neglected this blog. I am trying to keep it going but, as you can imagine, other priorities often take precedence. But, since I’m currently chin-deep in getting a book ready for publication in multiple formats, I thought it might be a good time to go over some of the tools I use and how they compare to each other in terms of what they can do and how easy they are to use. If you’re a DIY fanatic like me, you’re always on the look-out for ways to do things better. It’s with this mindset that I share my thoughts and experiences about these apps.

CANVA

COST: Free or $9.95/month (Pro)
TYPE: Online App
LINK: https://www.canva.com

I’ll be honest, I only recently started using this app, mostly for work. I was highly skeptical at first, but it’s kind of growing on me. However, it does have some limitations…

PROS
Canva is an excellent tool for quick one-offs. They have pre-made templates for anything you can think of, print or digital. Social media posts are sized to the exact specifications of each platform. Flyers and posters have an option for full bleed. You can share your designs directly to your accounts, or export and save them for other uses. An extensive library of free or paid stock images, videos, and music is already built in, and you have an option to upload your own. Multiple options for export file formats. Animated elements, and videos available, so you could potentially create a simple book trailer video right in Canva. AND they have a built-in custom print service for certain things, which is a very nice feature.

All of your designs are automatically saved in your account so you can go back and make changes, or copy a design and update elements to have a full stack of brand-consistent designs. It’s very user friendly and intuitive, which means literally anyone with internet access can use Canva, and learn it quickly. A truly handy tool for your every day promo needs.

CONS
While it has some excellent features, Canva was not built for more complex design work. It’s limited to stacking elements one on top of the other, but much of the nuance gets lost. For example, if you have a text box, you can only apply one font style per paragraph. If you want to mix and match fonts and sizes in one line, you need to create a separate text box for each new style. The snap to alignment feature isn’t as nuanced as I’d like it to be, especially if you have too many elements on one page. Every so often, things shift, too. Despite elements being grouped in a specific arrangement, I’ve had templates look out of alignment when shared with others (Pro account feature) and in an exported PDF, which means I don’t trust it.

You’re limited in what you can do to an image. There are some pre-built filters and color adjustments, but you can only crop to pre-defined shapes. There is no masking option so blending is essentially nonexistent.

While Canva has some great chart/graph features, the color schemes are limited to what Canva provides, which isn’t always ideal. And there is no table option (which I found out the hard way). Text layout is good for small things like social media posts. But when you get into multi-page territory of flowing content, it starts to become more work than I’d like, and nowhere near enough control.

FINAL VERDICT
Canva is great for creating quick little designs, but it wasn’t meant for bigger, more nuanced projects. Use it for your promotional graphics, but if you’re trying to create a book cover, or format any kind of publication (especially for fiction or anything that has a specific look and feel), look elsewhere.

GIMP

COST: Free
TYPE: Desktop App
LINK: https://www.gimp.org

GIMP has been my go-to art/graphic manipulation app for a decade now. It’s an excellent tool for learning and exploring digital art and graphic design because it won’t cost you anything and it’s really fun.

PROS
Have I mentioned it’s free? GIMP is an open source competitor to Photoshop. It has a lot of the same functions, and there are thousands of free brushes and scripts/plugins you can download to make it more robust. In terms of complexity, it has a lot in the toolbox, so it can be a little overwhelming when you first start using it. With that said, I still prefer GIMP to Photoshop. I’m pretty tech-savvy, but after 3 years of having Photoshop, I have barely figured out its most basic functions. GIMP is much more user friendly and intuitive, so the learning curve is smaller. It’s extremely powerful when it comes to creating digital art and manipulating photos, which means it’s excellent for creating your book cover art. It can also create animated GIFs, which is a nice little bonus.

CONS
GIMP is fairly RAM-heavy, so if your computer doesn’t have enough memory, it may run slow, freeze, or crash with complicated projects (think big file with many layers). Also, while it’s comparable to Photoshop, the two are not the same. If GIMP has a “smart object” feature, I haven’t seen it yet. It also doesn’t have editable filters. What I mean by that is, when you apply a filter to a layer, you can no longer change the filter settings. You have to undo it, and reapply with the new settings. This can get frustrating and tedious if you’re used to Photoshop. And, while there are many plugins/scripts available for GIMP, they likely won’t rival the actions and templates available for Photoshop.

FINAL VERDICT
GIMP is a fantastic tool for beginning graphic artists, or those who can’t afford Adobe’s products. If you have never used Photoshop, you won’t miss it. Learning GIMP is, in my opinion, much easier, and you’ll be creating beautiful works of art in no time. If you’re a long time Photoshop user, I wouldn’t recommend GIMP. You’ll hate the limitations and the foreign UI layout. I’d call this an intermediate tool between Canva and Photoshop. Like any tool, it’s only as good as your use of it, though. I firmly believe it can create graphics to Photoshop’s quality level. It’s just not always a straight/easy process.

PHOTOSHOP

COST: $20.99/month (standard license)
TYPE: Desktop App
LINK: https://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html

And that brings us to the graphic design standard-setter, Photoshop. I’ll be honest, I still get lost/confused using this app. I’m more comfortable with GIMP so I  only use Photoshop for things I can’t do in GIMP. But I will admit, it has some really nifty features…

PROS
This is as robust a tool as you can get. If you can think it, Photoshop can probably do it. And if it doesn’t have a ready-made action pre-installed, you can probably find one online. It’s honestly overwhelming in everything it can do. Smart objects are my favorite, and I use them a lot. If you have a template of a 3D rendering of a book, for example, the cover will be a smart object. You paste your cover art into it, and Photoshop will apply it to the 3D model and make it look seamless. Layer effects can be applied to text without losing editability of the text (something GIMP can’t do). Not to mention tons of online resources, guides, tutorials, etc. It’s the work of millions of professionals over decades, and it shows.

CONS
Massive learning curve with this one. The simplest of tasks can seem impossible at first because just looking at the UI is overwhelming. There are so many menus, settings, options, and tools, it really does take an intensive course to learn it all, and even then it’ll probably be just the most common functions. It’s also very pricey. Adobe switched their platform to a subscription model some time back, so you have to pay a monthly fee just to have access to the app. Gone are the days of one-time license costs that could last you a decade if you were cheap. If you want to use Adobe products now, ya gotta pay through the nose for the privilege.

FINAL VERDICT
Photoshop may be the golden standard, but not every project needs that. If you do graphic art and design on a daily basis, then you absolutely need this tool. It helps you create magic, pure and simple. But if you just want to do some quick things here and there, it’s not worth the time or money. You’re better off trying your hand at Canva or GIMP, or paying a professional to create it for you. It’ll be cheaper and less painful in the long run.

INDESIGN

COST: $20.99/month (standard license)
TYPE: Desktop App
LINK: https://www.adobe.com/products/indesign.html

GIMP and Photoshop are purely graphic design tools that don’t deal with print layout. Canva straddles both areas relatively okay. InDesign was built for publication formatting. It’s in a league of its own, but kind of dips its toes here and there, too.

PROS
There is no better tool for creating professional publications. Lots of different options for specific things here and there, but nothing that is as all-encompassing as InDesign. It gives you complete control over every single element in your document, down to the pixel. Text controls, fonts, alignment, all of it is leagues above and beyond what MS Word or Publisher can do. If you’re formatting the interior of your book or magazine, you will want InDesign to do it. Things like paragraph styles, standardized headers and footers, page numbering, bleed, and gutters are a breeze. I was iffy about diving in, thinking I could do what I needed with MS Word. Now it’s all I use, and I’d never go back. It’s just too good at what it does. And it’s not just limited to print publications. It has an EPUB export function. You can create social media graphics, flyers, posters, banners, business cards, brochures, booklets… the list goes on and on.

CONS
Back to the cost and learning curve again. I think in this instance, the cost is a bigger con than the learning curve, because InDesign lets you create templates. So, while it might take you a week to create a template for a paperback book, for example, once you have it, creating another book from it is the work of 2-3 hours. I say this from personal experience. But, as with Photoshop, it may not be worth the cost for one or two projects.

FINAL VERDICT
InDesign is an absolute MUST if you’re going to be formatting your own print publications. Its versatility also makes it useful for various digital projects, too. But, again, if you’re only going to be using it once a month, it’s not worth the cost. This is one tool for which I don’t have a suitable, cheaper alternative, and that is because there is so much precision work that goes into formatting for print that the alternatives I have come across either fall way short, or they’re Apple-only products that don’t have a PC alternative. Therefore, if you want it done right, and can’t afford InDesign, I recommend hiring a pro.

ADOBE FINE PRINT

I want to add a few words about Adobe, because they have so much going on that, if you need multiple tools, it can actually be worth while. I personally have found reasons to use at least three: InDesign (most often), Photoshop (sometimes), Illustrator (rare instances, but very helpful). And if my computer wasn’t 4 years old and lacking a proper graphics card, I’d be using Premier Pro, too. Things I use these tools for:

  • Print layout for novels
  • Graphic work for promotional  media
  • Logos/scalable elements
  • (potentially) Book trailers

I say it’s potentially worth it because, while one app will cost you $20.99/month, if you want/need access to their entire suite of 24 apps, it will only cost $52.99/month. And whichever plan you choose, you will also gain access to Adobe Fonts, which is just awesome. I think this is why so many creative professionals swear by these apps. But there’s probably also an element of commitment cost involved. If you have put in so much time and money to master these tools, you’ll be less inclined to stray.

I hope you found this post helpful. Is there another tool you use for your projects? Share in the comments below! I’m always looking for fresh ideas. 🙂

Until next time!

Continue Reading A Tale of Four Apps

Opinion: Revisiting the Concept of FREE

Boy, 2020 is turning out to be some kind of year, huh? Not surprisingly, everything going on with the world at large has had a massive impact on every part of my life, from my day job, to my home life, to my writing. As you have noticed, it’s basically put my blogging on hold. To be honest, I debated for days about whether to even write this one, given the circumstances. I decided to go ahead, because it might be even more relevant now.

I want to be sensitive to what’s happening, and what everyone is going through (some way more than others), so right off the bat I want to acknowledge two important truths:

  1. People all around the world are struggling right now.
  2. Authors are people.

I also want to acknowledge that what I have to share comes from my personal experience and may not be the case for others. Therefore, I present it all as an opinion piece, and not gospel truth. Use what I have observed as a factor in your decisions, but try it out yourself and make up your own mind.

Part 1 – How I got suckered into a tired old chorus of FREE (again)

When the pandemic first hit, everyone got on the PR bandwagon and started their CRM engines full blast. You may have received dozens of emails from “concerned” businesses assuring you they were there for you, working together to stay safe and healthy in these uncertain times. Seriously, it was so bad someone wrote a poem of the most overused phrases in those emails. It got tired very fast.

But one email caught my attention. Smashwords sent out a notice that, in an effort to help everyone struggling financially because of COVID-19, they would be doing a special sale and authors were invited to participate by discounting their eBooks as much or as little as they wanted. The email advised to be sensitive when marketing this sale, to come from a place of caring.

So there I went, discounting my 3-book erotic romance series all the way to free for the duration of the sale. Because yeah, the situation sucks big time, and if I can help brighten someone’s day with a steamy read, why wouldn’t I? My more mercenary hope was that if it didn’t get me more royalties from sales of non-free books, at least it would get me some readers, and maybe a few reviews.

I didn’t push the sale very much. I posted once or twice on Facebook, and then let it run.

The result, shockingly (but not surprisingly) was 217 freebie downloads in 20 days. Not one single sale, or review.

Part 2 – Okay, I messed up. Let’s fix it.

You know how they say free books supposedly lead to sales for related books in the series? Yeah, I set the entire series as free. Didn’t quite work as advertised. So when Smashwords sent another email saying they had such an amazing response to the sale they decided to extend it for another month, I decided to do things right. I kept the first book of the series as free, and discounted the other two by 50%.

I figured, hey, the response was pretty good for the first freebie run. Clearly people out there are liking what they see. I was watching those downloads. Some people got the whole series in one go, but far more of them got one, then came back for the others. That tells me the books were judged to be worth checking out. And if they’re worth reading, they should be worth paying for, right?

Remember, authors are people, too, and royalty income is money that puts food on the table. As much as we want to be supportive and helpful in a time of crisis, we need some support and help ourselves, too. The news all over the web was that eBook sales have spiked with people stuck at home with nothing to do. I have not observed that to be the case. And, before someone feels it necessary to set me straight, I am fully aware that there are a lot of other factors affecting this trend, including (but not limited to) the fact that I haven’t had a book release in a couple of years, I don’t promote my books as much as I should, I am Indie published and therefore pre-judged to be trash, etc, etc…

But anyway, if the “rock solid” advice “proven time and again by bestsellers all over the world” was really true, then my freebie book 1 should definitely have led to sales of books 2 and 3, especially if they, too, were discounted. Stands to reason…

The actual result after a month of this madness was 6 freebie downloads. Not one single sale, or review.

Part 3 – What the f*&%, yo?

So here’s what no one tells you: Freebies do actually work to gain more sales. Not as much for the author who discounts to free, though. Mostly for the platform doing the sales. Because they can offset those freebies against sales of their bestsellers, who sell even more as a result of the platform shoving them into reader’s faces with increased intensity to cash in on the sure thing. And you sell what you promote. So the more they promote bestsellers, the more those bestseller sell, and the more invisible every other book becomes. It’s a full circle that way. A closed one.

Freebies don’t work on their own (in my experience) because of one reason: People who download freebies generally do it out of an impulse to possess, not to read. That freebie will sit on someone’s device for years before it’s opened, if it ever is. Readers prioritize books they want to read more than anything in the world. So they will read their favorites first. Most likely those they went to the trouble of paying for.

Adding to the frustration is how invisible books can be on the device itself. It’s not like looking at a bookshelf of spines where you see 50 of them at the same time and your eye picks out the most interesting one. You see titles. Maybe 6-9 front covers in thumbnail. Scroll through a hundred titles and try to remember what they were about… not likely to happen. That’s why covers are so important to make a good, lasting impression.

But I digress. Basically, the whole thing is a two-fold effect. First, if readers want to read a book, they’ll be willing to pay for it. Second, if they paid for it, they’ll feel obligated to read it to get their money’s worth. It’s a full circle that way. A closed one that tends to exclude freebies.

Part 4 – So what now?

Since “common wisdom” failed me, I decided to fall back on what I knew worked. Word of mouth. In social media form. What I did was open every book-related Facebook group I am a member of (about 50 of them) and started posting promos. Images and videos with links to the book’s page on my website.

With FB’s new restrictions, you can’t post the same thing into different groups too many times or they block you for 24 hours. Luckily, I have folders full of promo graphics that I’m able to cycle so I can post in all groups and promote all my books in a relatively short amount of time. Took me about an hour to hit all 50 groups.

I did that twice in about 3 weeks. It really should be done more often to have a proper effect. I used to do this on a regular basis a few years ago and it got me steady sales. Now, it’s too much time I don’t have, and there’s no way to automate it so it’s gone neglected for years. Another factor of low sales recently.

I also shared choice reviews on my own page. That seems to have stronger impact than any promo graphic I could make, because it’s one reader speaking to another. Word of mouth is what gets readers interested. Personal recommendations, or at least ones that feel personal.

The result was about 5 sales (that I was able to track) over the next two weeks or so. I admit, it’s not much, but it’s more than the freebie sale got me. And the sales (again, those I could track) weren’t from just one retailer. I got sales from Amazon, Apple Books, and Barnes & Noble. Audiobook sales reports lag a month or two, so hard to tell yet what impact it had there. Same with print titles through IngramSpark.

Part 5 – The bottom line is this:

You sell what you promote. If I learned anything over the last decade of being published (holy crap, time flies!), it’s this. If all you promote are your Amazon links and then you get upset that all the other outlets aren’t selling, you only have yourself to blame. If you go too long without promoting and you get upset because your sales have dropped, you only have yourself to blame.

If you keep pushing freebies in hopes that people will notice your other, full-priced or discounted books next to them, I hate to tell you, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Another piece of ancient wisdom used to be that when you promote your book on social media, you should share a direct link to a storefront where people can buy it when they click. For better or worse, I have bucked that trend from the start. Why? Because I can’t control or monitor what people do in someone else’s kingdom. I could share a link to Amazon, but if the person who clicks it is a Nook reader, it won’t do me or them much good. And even if they do shop where I send them, that store will bombard them with paid ads and suggestions for a whole lot of other books to distract them from mine.

When I share, I share a link to the book on my website. This accomplishes a few things.

  1. I control how the page looks
  2. I can provide direct buy links to as many stores as I want on that page
  3. I can display related books and content that will keep readers in my universe, exploring my books, not someone else’s
  4. I can look at the stats and see how long people stayed, what they clicked on, and can extrapolate what’s popular, what works, and what needs to change or update

But I think I’ve rambled on long enough now, so I’ll stop there. You get the idea. 🙂

I sincerely hope everyone reading this blog is healthy, safe, and doing well (or as well as can be expected). Here’s hoping there’s a light at the end of this long, crazy, dark tunnel, and that it isn’t another train.

Much love to you all, my friends. <3 Until next time!

Continue Reading Opinion: Revisiting the Concept of FREE

IngramSpark Authors Take Note

This morning, I received an email notification from IngramSpark on their new policies going into effect in April. 

THIS IS IMPORTANT for anyone who is currently published or is planning to publish through IngramSpark. See the full text of the notice below:

INGRAM SPARK SERVICE ALERT

IngramSpark is taking a necessary stand to uphold the integrity of and reduce bias against independently published works. To align with our industry’s needs for content integrity, we will actively remove print content from our catalog that does harm to buyers and affects the reputations of our publishers and retail and library partners.
As of April 27, 2020, the below criteria describes the types of content that may not be accepted going forward:

  1. Summaries, workbooks, abbreviations, insights, or similar type content without permission from the original author.
  2. Books containing blank pages exceeding ten percent, notepads, scratchpads, journals, or similar type content.
  3. Books or content that mirror/mimic popular titles, including without limiting, similar covers, cover design, title, author names, or similar type content.
  4. Books that are misleading or likely to cause confusion by the buyer, including without limiting, inaccurate descriptions and cover art.
  5. Books listed at prices not reflective of the book’s market value.
  6. Books scanned from original versions where all or parts contain illegible content to the detriment of the buyer.
  7. Books created using artificial intelligence or automated processes.

We reserve the right to remove content that fits the above criteria without prior notice to the publisher. Any fees paid on behalf of publishers for titles removed due to the above criteria will not be refunded. This change of service is effective April 27, 2020 and is reflected in our IngramSpark User Guide V4.

You can find more information about what kinds of titles will be under review here.

We are committed to supporting authors and publishers for the quality content they’ve produced and continuing to provide our retail and library partners with high quality, trusted catalog feeds.

The bolded, highlighted item #3 is of potential concern here. I understand the spirit of what IngramSpark is intending, and I applaud their efforts to curb intellectual property theft in a proactive way. I know there is a lot of copycatting going on in the world of fiction, especially in certain genres, so this measure is very much a good thing. 

The problem I see is that we have no way of knowing how far these measures will be taken. Many books out there have the same or similar title but are completely different books on the inside, sometimes in completely different genres. Will they be affected? Genre categories have unspoken rules for cover design. Fonts tend to “trend”, as do certain elements, styles, and designs. How close is too close for comfort? And you know how they say there’s no such thing as an original story, only original retellings? How will that affect books with similar themes and plots? 

Also, the affected books will be removed without prior notice to the author/publisher. Again, a good measure in terms of efficiency, but sucks for authors whose books just disappear from circulation one day when they didn’t do anything wrong. 

The bottom line is, when April 27th rolls around, keep an eye on your books and if you can’t find one where it should be, reach out to IngramSpark immediately for a resolution. 

Continue Reading IngramSpark Authors Take Note

For The DIY Author: Where to score freebies and deals

It’s been a while since I’ve done an author tip of any kind, so I figured it was time. This is for all my die hard DIYers who love to explore and who know well enough to know that making things costs money, but it doesn’t always have to cost a fortune. 

If you’ve spent any time at all on my website, you’re already familiar with all the tools and resources on my Resources page. These will be in addition to that. I’m not including them on the page because they work a little differently than the others. There are freebies, yes, but not always the ones you’re looking for, necessarily. There are deals, true, but you have to be vigilant to snag them before they are sold out or the time to claim runs out.

The list below is for resources you get by signing up for their newsletters. I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, there are times when giving someone your email address is a really, really good thing. If you’re paranoid about getting hacked, I suggest creating a separate email account just for these subscriptions. Just don’t forget to check it on a regular basis so you don’t miss out. 😉 

There are two components to this website: FontBundles and DesignBundles. As their names suggest, FontBundles offers fonts. DesignBundles offers design elements that can be used with PhotoShop and other image manipulation programs. Sometimes, the deals include things like backgrounds or images that don’t need special software at all. 

Both of these parts work on the same concept. You sign up for the newsletter (you only need to sign up for one) and they send you weekly emails with freebies that you can download at no cost then and there. On top of that, they have periodic deals on bundles, which pack a number of fonts or elements together at a much lower cost than you’d get if you bought them individually. And every once in a while, they have $1 events, where a selection of fonts/designs only cost $1 each. All of these deals have an expiration date. If you miss it, they’re gone and you have to pay full price again. 

But the best part is, everything on these two websites comes with a commercial license, so you’re free to use it on anything you want without worrying about licensing. If you’ve ever looked for any kind of stock online, you know full well how important that is. 🙂 You’re welcome.

Think of Envato Market as a catch-all for anything and everything you could possibly need. Fonts, icons, logos, graphics, videos, audio, even website templates and elements. It is huge. Every time you think you’ve explored it all, you find something new. 

Much like FontBundles, when you sign up for the EnvatoMarket newsletter, you get monthly freebies in your inbox. It’s usually one thing from each category: A font, an audio track, a graphic, a website template, etc. They last a month, during which time you can download these things at no cost, with the proper licensing included. Once the month is up, the deals are replaced by something else. 

If you want to explore the website beyond what’s free, please do. Their price range from very affordable to somewhat pricey. You’ll see an immense variety of products available. Some may not be of the same high quality as you would find on specialty websites like iStockPhoto, or DepositPhotos, but you might get lucky and find exactly what you’re looking for. I did, more than a few times.  

Creative Market is similar to Envato Market. Same concept, too. You sign up for their newsletter and they send you periodic emails with freebies. The website is well worth exploring, especially for fonts. I consider fonts the trickiest of all graphic elements to get right. By now, everyone knows (or should know) that you can’t just take an image from Google results and plop it onto your website or cover design. That’s how you get sued for copyright infringement. But fonts are gray area. Too many websites out there list hundreds of thousands of fonts “for free,” and I love those websites. But when it comes to my own designs, I’ve learned it’s safer to go the paid route. 

The great thing about this resource, which isn’t necessarily true for FontBundles, for example, is that when you download a freebie from them, it’s saved in your account and you can re-download at a future date. So, if you’re like me and download things on impulse on your way to work and then forget about it, you can go back into your account and it’ll tell you exactly what you downloaded when.

Bonus: This site includes things that can be used by the average Joe who’s never heard of the Adobe Suite. Like PowerPoint presentation templates. 🙂  

I’ve talked about AppSumo before, but it’s worth mentioning again. This resource stands in a league of its own. What they offer is subscription discounts. And I mean deep discounts that come with some awesome perks. For example, a basic level subscription to the social media management tool eClincher will cost you $59/month. I managed to snag a deal from AppSumo that cost me a one-time payment of $49 for lifetime membership. 

My favorite of their deals is for DepositPhotos, 100 photos for $49, which comes out to $0.49 per image at the highest possible resolution (which is like 4k now). And unlike the subscription deals you get on the DepositPhoto website, these credits never expire. If you do any graphics work at all, if you need images for your website, or your book covers, or any promotional graphics, this deal is worth your weight in gold. It comes around maybe once or twice a year, and sells out fast, so if you see it in your inbox, grab it. 

A word of caution on this resource: It is very tempting to buy amazing-looking deals you might not necessarily need. Always do your homework and consider your own workflow to see if you can actually utilize that thing you’re tempted to buy. When it comes to stock resources, all deals are not made equal. I can vouch for DepositPhotos because it’s my go-to site and I know they have stuff I can use. Something else might not be as helpful. Always check out the site first, search the things you usually use. if you find good stuff, go forth. If you don’t see enough things you’d want to download, save your money and wait for something else. 

I’ve been making my own graphics, covers, websites, and promotional things for long enough to appreciate a good deal when I see it. I’ve spent money I didn’t need to, missed out on deals by a matter of minutes, tried and tested different ways of doing things, and I’m still learning. What worked for me years ago doesn’t cut it anymore. I’ve evolved. I’ve outgrown the old and moved on to the new.

You may be just starting out, or you may have been at this for years and already know some or all of these tools. Wherever you happen to be on your writing/designing journey, I hope these resources make your job at least a little easier.

If you found this post helpful and want to show your appreciation, you can buy one or two of my books for yourself, or as a gift for someone else. 🙂 Check them out here. Thanks in advance for your support!

Continue Reading For The DIY Author: Where to score freebies and deals

Amazon’s New Rating System and What it Means for You

This is something I’ve only recently become aware of and, naturally, I noticed the problems first. Here’s my breakdown on what’s going on:

Amazon, apparently activated a new feature where users can leave a rating without a review. Meaning, you can have a book with 37 ratings but only 33 reviews, like my Wolfen:


On the surface of it, it seems like a good thing. A lot of people are shy about leaving a review, but don’t mind leaving a star rating. Plus, Barnes & Noble has been doing it for years and years so it seems like this is just Amazon catching up their review game.

But, of course, this being Amazon, it’s not quite that simple.

Amazon doesn’t show you the extra ratings like Barnes & Noble does. There is no way to see who left them (even if they were anonymous) or what they were, so the only way you have of knowing you got an extra rating is by looking at the percentage breakdown and, as I have recently discovered, those ain’t exactly what you’d call “good math”…

Here’s what happened…

While scrolling through my books on Amazon, I noticed my novella duo, The Beast Series only had a 2.7 star rating. :O Now, vanity aside, I knew for a fact that wasn’t the case because my reviews there hadn’t changed in months, and the last time I’d checked, I only had one 1-star review. The math didn’t add up so I clicked it to see what was going on, and I saw this:

5 ratings, 52% of which were 1 star, according to the breakdown. To say this was upsetting is an understatement, so I scrolled down to check on the reviews and saw this:

I know that’s a lot of tiny text to read, so let me break it down for you, with actual math. The book had 5 ratings and 5 corresponding reviews, so right off the bat I knew there weren’t any “extra” ratings screwing with the stats. What I saw was what I was supposed to get:.

  • Three (3) 5-star ratings, which accounted for 60% (not the 24% shown in the breakdown)
  • One (1) 4-star review, accounting for 20% (again, not the 24% shown)
  • And one (1) 1-star review, accounting for another 20% (definitely not the 52% shown in the breakdown)

The average rating, therefore, should have been 4.0 / 5, which is quite different from the 2.7 rating Amazon was showing on their storefront.

Now, math may not be my strong suit but I can still count to 5, and there is no way that a company as huge as Amazon could have goofed on the math, so the only other explanation is that this was done on purpose.

But why?

As someone commented on that Facebook post of mine, apparently, this is Amazon’s way of combating the growing problem of authors buying floods of 5-star reviews to game Amazon’s algorithms and improve their visibility/sales. Amazon decided to face this issue head on by devaluing 5-star ratings and increasing the value placed on low star ratings in some twisted attempt to level the playing field, I guess… (insert a cartoon WTAF?! face here)

And you might say to yourself, “Oh, okay, well we know the star ratings have been getting abused by unscrupulous authors. At least Amazon is doing something about it.”

Nope. Nope. Hell to the no.

What Amazon actually did was render their own rating/review system obsolete and turned it into false advertising (if not outright fraud) with two easy steps.

  • You can’t trust the reviews because you can no longer tell whether they’re genuine and organic, or just something the author paid for
  • You can’t trust the average star rating, because it’s not what it actually says
  • You can’t trust the number of ratings/reviews because there may or may not be hidden ones that Amazon won’t show you–and that means you can’t even verify what they are.

In short, YOU CAN’T TRUST AMAZON.

But it gets worse…

For one thing, the ratings and reviews don’t show in your Author Central account, either, to verify from that end. You have to go by what’s displayed on the main storefront. So many ways to rig the game when no one can see you doing it…

For another, Amazon shoppers don’t know this. No one looking for a good book to read is going to whip out a calculator and double check the math on the star ratings. They’ll take what’s there at face value. How many people do you think will click on a book with a 2.7 star rating when there are literally millions of books with 4-5 star ratings? Do you think that might hurt an author’s sales?

But still…

You might say to yourself this is a necessary move. You have to fight fire with fire.

No. It’s one thing for a player within the system to game the system to their advantage. It’s another for the entire system to be changed to everyone’s disadvantage. This punishes authors who never had anything to do with fake reviews. Authors who worked hard to get a handful of ratings and reviews, who can’t afford to advertise on the platform and rely on those reviews and star ratings as a promotional tool.

I sincerely hope that this is still in beta testing and Amazon will eventually fine tune the rating-only system so they are seen and verifiable. At the same time, I don’t really think they will. And I have little faith they have any interest whatsoever to maintain a fair rating/review system.

Update on The Beast Series

As of my typing this paragraph, I received a new 5-star review and my average star rating for this title has, indeed changed. But the math is still wrong (should be 4.167, or 4.2, properly rounded up):

Just something to keep in mind going forward. I will be keeping an eye on this, and you should, too, whether you already have books published on Amazon or you’re still in the planning/prep stage.

One way to combat this:

If you use your ratings/reviews to promote your book, use individual reviews rather than the average rating. Keep choice reviews on your blog/website. Have a page dedicated to each book and show off your best reviews, and don’t forget to include links to all stores where readers can buy them, not just Amazon. Remember, your website is the only place where you control the content and how it’s presented.

If you have a note in your books asking readers to leave a review, or if you regularly ask your readers to review, give them multiple options (i.e., Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.) because those places count, too. You can also ask for testimonials on your website and use those to promote your book (this is something I just thought of now and will look into implementing on my own website).

Good luck, and…

May the odds be ever in your favor…

Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games)

Continue Reading Amazon’s New Rating System and What it Means for You

Smashwords Industry Predictions for 2020

Mark Coker has published his annual report of predictions for the book industry in his blog post: 2020 Publishing Predictions: House of Indie on Fire. This is one of the articles I go out of my way to look up every single year so I’ll know what I’m getting into.

This year, I won’t lie, the outlook appears pretty bleak. It’s no secret that Mr. Coker isn’t a fan of Amazon’s business practices, so you’ll see a lot of that in the post, but he makes good, solid points on everything he shares. Maybe with a bit too much drama, but still…

Here are the facts:

When you entrust the bulk of your publication to a single entity, that entity owns you.

When you allow another entity to set the price for your product, that entity owns your income.

When you have to pay an entity that offers free distribution to make your product visible, it’s no longer free distribution.

But here is another fact:

None of this was forced on Indies. Indies chose it on their own, over and over again. It was a choice that might have provided a slight edge early on, but has now become a shackle. And, for many, the cost of removing it is too great.

My thoughts on the whole thing:

You can’t control the breadth and depth of a global, digital industry that’s open to everyone and has very few rules of proper conduct. You might as well try to drain the ocean with a tea cup.

What you can control is yourself. Your actions. Your books. Your publishing strategy. What you can do is fight like hell to keep that control from being taken away from you. Because isn’t that control the reason you chose to self-publish in the first place?

I became an Indie author because I wanted to present my books to the world my way. That hasn’t, and will never change. So my personal focus for 2020 will be on what I do and how I do it. Because, at the end of the day, I’m an author, and my books are all that matter.

Sometimes you just have to get back to the basics, ya know? 🙂

Continue Reading Smashwords Industry Predictions for 2020

If You Can See This, Let Me Know

This is as much an announcement as it is a test of all associated services. I have outgrown my website so I upgraded. I went from a free WordPress.com website/blog to a WordPress.org website self-hosted on Siteground. Click around and check out the difference. The biggest one is the glaring absence of ads. Those used to drive me mad. It’s actually why I decided to make the switch in the first place.

But let me start from the beginning…

WHY DID I LEAVE WORDPRESS.COM?

Don’t get me wrong, I love WordPress, which is why I am still using their services, just in a different capacity. They have beautiful themes, they’re pretty easy to work with, and they’re structured so you don’t have to worry about what something will look like on a different-sized screen. Those are all great things.

The biggest con for me was that they started to get greedy. When I first set up my websites on WordPress.com, they displayed an ad at the bottom of each blog post, and that was it. It was a reasonable amount of ads, and my static pages remained clean, so I was content. But recently, those ads have spread to every page, post, and widget area in multiples. There are drop-downs in a top banner and pop-ups at the bottom of the page, and no amount of custom CSS cheating will hide them. The only solution is to pay for a monthly subscription plan to remove them and gain a tiny bit more CSS customization.

I should say this is not meant to deter you from using WordPress.com. It’s still 100% worth it if you only have one website to worry about. Unfortunately for me, I have several websites hosted with them and the total cost for monthly plans for all of them came out to more than self-hosting (which is usually the more expensive option). So, even though I cringed, I decided it would ultimately be for the best if I made the switch.

I’m a grown up webmaster now. Got access to codes I should never be allowed to mess with.

WHY DID I CHOOSE SITEGROUND?

I did look into several options, including Bluehost, which is the one WordPress recommends. I decided to go with Siteground for two reasons:

  1. It came recommended by a friend who has experience with them. Not only do I trust his opinion, but now I have someone whose brains I can pick if I run into issues with any of my websites.
  2. They offer a reasonably priced plan for people with more than one website. The plan I chose allows me to create unlimited websites, as long as they fit within my storage limit. For me, that shouldn’t be a problem. Better, since I’m not limited to how many sites I can create, it gives me room to grow.

HOW DO I LIKE IT SO FAR?

Well, it’s only been a couple of days. I took advantage of their free website transfer services to transfer my main author website. There were a couple of hiccups along that path, mostly my fault because I didn’t know what I was doing. That one is still in the works, because reasons.

For this website, I went the solo route. I did the transfer, and the install, and the configuration. Because I used a different theme, I had to redo a lot of stuff, but it only took me a few hours to get it up and running and I am very happy with the final result.

Likes:

  • No ads
  • Full control over layout and appearance
  • Hundreds of plugins (if I ever need them)

Dislikes:

You can’t live preview the themes. That frustrates me so much you have no idea. In WordPress.com, when you’re picking a theme, you can click on the preview and it will take you to a fully functional website so you can see how the layout works. In WordPress.org, that’s not the case. When you click to preview the theme, it takes you to a bare bones blog page that shows you text layouts, but that’s it. It won’t even show you a fully functional front page, and that’s the most important part!

This is why I haven’t finished my author website yet. The theme I have now doesn’t work the same here as it did on WordPress.com. I’ll have to find a new one and do a total makeover again, which is going to be a pain in the ass, but also probably a good thing. My plan is to knock out the small, easy sites and then I’ll be able to focus on that monster.

WANNA HELP ME BETA TEST?

I could really use some help on one part of this whole thing. See, when you move your website, you have to install a Jetpack plugin to transfer your subscribers and activate the follow via email feature. I did that, and I’m hoping my subscribers are reading this in their inboxes right now.

If you’re one of them and you see this, please leave me a quick Hello in the comments to let me know it’s working. That’s all. I just need to know if the subscriptions carried over. And if the discussion functions work! LOL

Thanks in advance. 🙂

Continue Reading If You Can See This, Let Me Know

How to Self-Publish and Not Go Broke

One of the core principles of communication they taught in my college business classes was: If you present a problem without offering a solution, you’re just whining. I started this blog with the intention of helping new and aspiring writers navigate the world of (self-)publishing, and that is still its primary focus, despite the occasional rant and whine.

With my last post, I presented a problem: Self-publishing costs time and money.

With this one, I would like to present a few workarounds and practical solutions that basically boil down to: It doesn’t mean you have to go broke to do it.

Be forewarned, this will be a very long post that essentially summarizes a large portion of this entire website, but I wouldn’t post it if I didn’t think it was important.

So let’s take it from the top.


The Process of Self-Publishing in 12 (Not So) Easy Steps


  1. Write a book
  2. Get it edited
  3. Copyright it
  4. Write your blurb and tag line
  5. Choose your distribution strategy and timeline
  6. Create your distribution accounts
  7. Format your book
  8. Cover your book
  9. Set your price
  10. Upload the files
  11. Click Publish
  12. Promote like the entire future of your writing career depends on it.

This list will be the basis for what’s about to follow. You’ll notice not all of the items on that list have a monetary cost attached to them. But I did say “time and money,” didn’t I? 🙂 That’s because your time is money. Free time isn’t really free. It’s time you could spend with your loved ones, or chilling out by yourself. Every hour you put into being a writer is work. Even if you don’t want to call it that. It’s work you expect to get paid for in the future through royalties, so it’s a cost that is meant to be recouped.

Continue Reading How to Self-Publish and Not Go Broke

A Hard Stance and a Line in the Sand: Editing

As a member of a couple of groups for authors and writers, I see things like this pop up all the time:

  • Does anyone know of a good app for editing?
  • Do I need to use an editor for my book?
  • How much does an editor cost?

Please kindly note that one of these questions is not like the other. I will answer them in order, and you will notice I am very much taking a hard stance on this. There are a lot of things you can DIY when it comes to writing and publishing. Editing is not one of them. This is the line in the sand that separates professional writers from hobbyists who just want to see their name on a book no matter what.

Editing Apps

I will temper this by saying up front that there are legitimate reasons for using an automated app to check your work. I hear good things about Grammarly. Haven’t used it myself, but it’s supposedly pretty good at finding grammatical and spelling errors. As a tool to help you hone your craft, it’s handy. But it has shortcomings that make it unreliable for any level of professional, multi-layered feedback. You should never rely on an app for final edits.

Working With an Editor

Let me be very clear on this one point. When it comes to getting your book ready for publishing, NO APP IN THE WORLD CAN DO WHAT A PROFESSIONAL HUMAN EDITOR CAN DO. No, you cannot rely on an app to polish your work into shape for publishing. There is so much more to editing than just grammar and spelling. An app will never be able to tell you if your characters are flat, if you have a plot hole in chapter seven, if you suddenly switched your character’s name from Adam to Alex halfway through, or changed the spelling from Erik to Eric within the same chapter. An app will not be able to gauge the tone of your book, or track the pacing, or any of the million little things that go into making a book the best book it can be.

When it comes to publishing your work, YOU NEED TO WORK WITH A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR.

Period.

Hard stop.

This is the absolute bare minimum you need to do before you put your book out there. It’s not just a matter of good business practice, but also respect for your readers’ time and money. They are investing both in the faith that you have provided them with a professionally put-together book. That’s what they’re paying for. If you can’t provide that, you should not be publishing.

Read that again:

If you can’t provide a professionally put-together book, you should not be publishing.

Period.

Hard stop.

Editing Costs

The follow-up I always get to this is, “But not everyone can afford an editor…” and I’m going to put a stop to this right here and now. I–do–not–care. Your readers do not care. It’s not my, or their job to commiserate with you on any financial hardships you might have. They’re paying for your book, not your sob story. A proper book is what you owe them.

If you are traditionally published, your publishing house is already taking care of this, so this entire blog post does not apply to you. But all you self-published authors out there, listen up.

  • You are your own boss.
  • You are a business owner.
  • You set your own timelines.

No one is holding a torch to your feet to publish a book before it’s ready. You’re calling the shots, so any decisions you make to cut corners and skimp on necessities are ultimately your fault. Readers will notice. They will blame you, and rightly so. You cheated them and deserve to be called out for it.

But I have no money for an editor!

Then you need to hold off on publishing until you have saved up for one.

There aren’t a lot of up-front costs for publishing a book. This is most definitely one of them. And there is no excuse in the world that would ever justify not paying it–it all comes down to ego and selfishness. By not having your book properly edited, you’re telling your readers, “Fuck you, I don’t care. I just want your money.”

Editing does not have to be expensive.

There are plenty of affordable options. Many editors will even do a sample edit on your book first to see if you’re a good match. Most will charge a per-word fee (something like $0.005/word would be standard for a professional, so a 100k book would come out to about $500). Some might be willing to barter their services in exchange for something else (like cover design, or swag design, something they can use in return). If all else fails, ask your friends and family to help you cover the cost. There’s always GoFundMe–as long as you’re reasonable in your request and don’t take advantage of people’s charity, of course.

The point is, you have options. Use them.

End rant.

Continue Reading A Hard Stance and a Line in the Sand: Editing