The Moonwalking Bear, and why you’re not done when you’re done

Disclaimer: I told myself when I started this blog that I would never cross the line into trying to tell writers what or how to write. I’m about to toe that line very closely, but for what I hope is a very good cause. Proceed at your own risk. 

I have this friend...

I have this friend, who’s also a writer. I distinguish these two titles for an important reason: Past experience has taught me that if I don’t, one overwhelms the other, and the relationship suffers. So when I say I have a friend who is a writer, it’s because I place the importance on the friendship part, with the writer part being an afterthought. This is important for the story I want to tell. 

My friend recently finished writing a new book. He was super excited about it. It’s a new genre for him and he put in a lot of hard work to get to The End. He texted me as soon as he did, and I could practically see him bouncing in his seat with happiness. He jokingly asked me, “What do I do now?” 

I answered, “You put it away for a month and think of something else.” It’s something I learned very early on, and it’s been my mantra for as long as I myself have been a writer, so I said it out of habit. But in the back of my mind, I also wanted to say it to underscore the importance of taking a break, because my friend, as much as I love him, has a bad habit of jumping the gun in many aspects of writing and publishing. 

He replied, “Right! I’ll do that.” 

A couple of weeks later, we were texting again (I’m very much not a phone call person) and he randomly mentioned that he didn’t know what to do with his time now, since his book was with the editor.  

Record screech stop. 

“Wait, which book?” I asked. “Not the one you just finished, right?”  As far as I knew, he didn’t have anything else ready for editing, unless he was re-editing one of his older works. 

He sheepishly replied, “Yeah, that one. I know, you told me to wait, but I just didn’t see the point.” 

Not gonna lie, that hit a very bad nerve in my brain. 

He went on to explain his reasoning behind it, but none of it made any difference whatsoever to my mind. It sounded to me like he was making excuses for not doing his job, not delivering the book his readers deserved. As a reader, what I heard was, “I got tired of fixing it, so I sent it off to someone else to fix it for me.” 

Taking a deep breath, and reminding myself that this was my friend, not a writing partner, I said, “This is one of those times when I have to give it to you straight, no sugar coating.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I know you’re disappointed because you told me to wait.”

“You just wasted your money and your editor’s time.” Honestly, that is the nicest way I could put it. I tend to not mince words when it comes to quality control, and I have some very strong opinions on the matter. Which kept me talking even when, in the back of my mind, I knew I should shut the hell up. “Your editor is not there to fix your mistakes. They’re there to polish the best version of the book you can possibly deliver. And the first draft of anything is never the best version. Not for any writer.”

What followed was me trying (and failing) to explain my reasoning, and him trying (and failing) to defend his, saying something that sounded to me like, “At a certain point I just don’t care anymore.” Not his words, but that’s what I heard and I pounced on that telling him, “As a reader, when I hear you say that, I think, you don’t care about your book, so why should I?”

Something that gets under my skin in a bad way is when authors throw out editions like it’s perfectly acceptable to use readers as proofreaders. Like it’s okay to make them pay for a book that they know for a fact has errors, have them point out said errors in the reviews, so the writer can then go back and fix them, and rerelease as a new edition in the future. No faster way to lose my respect for you, and ensure I will never read one of your books again.

My friend tried to tell me that wasn’t the case at all. He wasn’t asking anyone to fix his errors, and of course he delivers the best book he can. It’s just that he goes over it so many times that he eventually can’t see anything else to fix and needs a second set of eyes.

At this point, I realized we were both talking about the same thing, just on completely different frequencies. He wasn’t grasping that what I was saying was, in fact, the solution to the problem he was describing. 

I said, “YES! Exactly. That’s why you need the break. If you just keep going over it and over it, you lose sight of the big picture. Can’t see the forest for the trees.”

He tried to explain that that wasn’t it, and then proceeded to repeat the same issue in a different way, adding, “Would I be able to see more errors after a break? Maybe. But I doubt it.” He didn’t get it. I didn’t explain it well enough. All he kept saying was that he loses sight of the story even while he’s reading it, so by the time he finishes going over it, he’s in the same place he was before.

Forest for the freaking trees.  

So I tried again. Because this was too important for me to let go. I’m not my friend’s writing coach, and I didn’t want to cross any lines, but I figured I already did just by broaching this subject, so what the hell? In the interest of making myself clear, nothing more, I said, “When you keep rereading the same thing over and over without a break, your brain gets used to the patterns it sees on the page. You end up skimming the familiar shapes, but don’t actually read the words that are there. You just perceive what you think is there. Which makes it extremely difficult to find any potential issues. By taking a break, you rest your brain and get some distance. After a month or two of not looking at it or thinking about it, when you look at the book with fresh eyes, it feels like someone else wrote it. You have some distance to notice things you haven’t before. So it’s not so much about the art of writing, more of a technical trick that makes it easier to spot issues.”

He was replying in between my partial texts with things like, “Well I know that to be some TRUTH right there.” and, “OMG, yes!” Fully agreeing with what I was saying–what I’d been trying to say this whole time. When I finished he said, “Huh… when you say it like that it makes so much sense. People kept telling me to take a break but I kept thinking why? No one ever explained it this way. Ugh. Now I’m mad at myself.”

I could have done a happy dance. Not because I’d changed his mind, but because I finally managed to get on the same wavelength and explain in a way that resonated with him. Seriously, it just made me giddy. For all that I can tell a fantastic story (if I do say so myself) sometimes my communication skills fail me in real life. I can put my foot in it, and usually do more often than not.

Perception check

When people (myself included) advise to take a break, there’s a reason. It applies to anything you do in life, not just novel writing. Studies have been done over the years on how the human brain works, how we process, create, and imagine. I think the most recent thing I read, earlier this year, was in an article about how the work day/week structure is counterproductive to productivity. The human mind can only dedicate itself to full concentration on a task for about 3-4 hours max. After that, it just can’t focus right without a break. It was an argument for shorter work days and work weeks to increase productivity in the workplace across the board. 

It makes sense. Our minds are capable of so much, but we’re not robots. We weren’t built to do one thing for extended periods of time. It’s not healthy, and it leads to so many issues, for us, for our work, and for the people around us.

Another study I came across some years ago said this also applies to creativity. We like to think that all we need is long stretches of peace and quiet and that bestseller will basically write itself. Turns out, we are more creative and productive in our creative endeavors with periodic distractions. Who would have thought it, right?

So what does that all add up to? Perception. When you can’t (or won’t) disengage from a task for long periods of time, you get tunnel vision. You stop thinking of the task before you and switch to thinking about it being done and over. You might not consciously set out to do so, but your brain subconsciously switches gears in a bad way. Either you stop seeing the forest for the trees, get lost in the weeds, and can’t think yourself out of a wet paper bag, or you stop seeing the details, skim over the big picture, and fly right over some crater-sized potholes. 

Tunnel vision, one way or another. 

A very good example is this video. You may have seen it already, but in case you haven’t, I won’t spoil it for you. Just give it a quick watch. It’s not very long:

A very personal conclusion

That level of tunnel vision isn’t limited to certain tasks. It can apply to life in general. I get it whenever I focus so hard on the business side of publishing that I lose sight of the love I have for books and writing. It’s happened before, but over the last couple of years it’s gotten so bad I stopped reading all together and writing became a chore. I became disillusioned, bitter, and defeated. I started seeing all the bad, and my writing became a commercial failure, rather than my much needed escape from reality. I should have been able to sink deep into books and swim my way to sanity when COVID hit. Instead, all I could see was how nothing I did made even the slightest bit of difference.

I’d burned out. 

I’d burned out so badly, that even the thought of trying to write made me resentful. I started to hate the publishing industry as a monster that devoured talent, killed dreams, and broke spirits, all while dangling that golden carrot of “success” as an ever possible, but rarely achievable goal in front of my nose.

The hardest thing about it is that my brain refused to disengage from it.

I told myself 2021 was going to be the year I took a break. I’d finished Prince of Deceit and published it at the end of 2020, the final book in a trilogy I’d been working on for over a decade, and it felt like the end of an era. Even my afterword at the end of the story somehow came out like a fond farewell to fantasy, and fiction in general. I was just done.

In January, I put all three novels into a hardcover tome so I could have something epic on my bookshelves. 

During summer, I got that last book produced on audio to complete the set.

A month ago, I logged out of my author social media because it had become so toxic I didn’t want to be there anymore. And now I’m here, writing this blog that feels like I’m saying good-bye. 

I’m subconsciously putting my writing affairs in order, even while I tell myself this isn’t the end. Each action is a period and hard break where there should be ellipses. 

I don’t want this to be the end. But at the same time, I’m not healed enough yet to start over. I resolved to read 2 books a month this year, and I’m happy to report that I have already hit 24 books read in 2021. It’s rekindled my love of reading, but writing is still dormant. I do still put a few words on the page here and there, but it’s sporadic, and I don’t do it with any sort of publishing goal in mind. I’m doing it only when I want to, when I feel the words clawing to be released, because that’s when it feels the most rewarding. Otherwise, I don’t even open a word document to try. The effort is no longer worth it. 

My break hasn’t been long enough. And it hasn’t been as complete as I need it to be. So yes, I am putting my affairs in order with this blog post. It’s been great while it lasted, but I’ve run out of helpful advice to share. I’ll keep it active, but I doubt there will be many updates going forward. Mostly because it perpetuates the problem: focusing my brain on the industry and not the beauty of writing.

To everyone who’s read this far and followed my blog, I send a heartfelt thank you. To everyone who’s read this blog and got curious enough about my books to buy one, words of gratitude will never be enough. 

I hope, if you’ve read this far, that I haven’t completely ruined your opinion of me as a writer. I hope you don’t think of me as someone who’s just giving up because she can’t hack it. I’m not giving up. I’m simply sorting out my priorities. The stories I tell are my priority. How I tell them is very much a priority. How well they sell simply isn’t and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be. If my focus is more on how many books I sell than how well I told the story, I haven’t been doing my job.

Some people can do both at the same time. I’m not one of them. I’ve never compromised quality at any step in the writing and publishing of my books. But trying to also be a rock star promoter is not something I am capable of doing, and pushing myself to do it is what got me to this stage.

I’ve been publishing works of fiction for over ten years, and have a healthy backlist to show for it. If I never publish another story, I won’t be mad. I’ve left my mark on the world and I’m happy with that. From now on, I write for the love of it. And I sincerely hope you’ll come along on the journey. It’ll be long, and you’ll have to be patient, but one thing I can promise you is that the wait for the next book will absolutely be worth it. 

Until next time (whenever that may be...)

Alianne Donnelly is an avid lover of stories of all kinds. Raised on a healthy diet of fairy tales in a place where they almost seemed real, she grew into a writer who seeks magic in the modern age and enjoys sharing a little bit of it with the world through every story she writes. Her books span the spectrum from fantasy to science fiction with varying degrees of romance sprinkled throughout. Alianne now lives in California, where she spends her free time reading, writing, and daydreaming. To read more about her books and works in progress, visit her author website: aliannedonnelly.com

Continue Reading The Moonwalking Bear, and why you’re not done when you’re done

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

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

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 Rant and a History Lesson in Publishing

Being in the publishing industry, you come across a lot of stigma and negativity about self-publishing. Right off the bat, I have to be 100% honest here and agree that not everyone who self-publishes should do so. But, I also have to point out the snobbery that usually underlies the argument that “self-published authors are just people who weren’t good enough to get a publishing deal.” Yeah, I’ve heard that song and dance before. Lots of times. It’s practically a chorus on constant loop in the background. You don’t always hear it said to your face, but you can tell by what the person is saying and not saying that they’re definitely thinking it.

Earlier this week, I came across something that got my hackles up:

Witers

Can you feel the condescension? I spent an hour mopping up that dripping sarcasm and my floors will never be the same, I tell you. Obviously, whoever wrote this doesn’t know anything about the history of publishing, nor do they care to. Therefore, this post is not for them.

This post is for every self-published and aspiring author out there who might come across bullshit like this and get discouraged before they’d even had a chance to excel. So let’s break this cesspool of a superiority complex down to its elements and translate.

WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, WE RELIED ON EXPERTS AND EDUCATORS…

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Safe to assume, I think, that this is referring to an age before the Internet. Because these days, we still rely on experts and educators. We just don’t have to drive out of state to find them and talk to them. You can literally Google anything and get a flood of results. If you’re any good at distinguishing pop culture crap from academic works supported by a bibliography of legitimate sources, you can learn anything about anything.

WE ALSO NEEDED CONTACTS TO OPEN DOORS WE NEVER KNEW EXISTED

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Yes, this one is sadly true, networking back in the day was difficult and a lot of talented authors never managed to get their foot in the right door. But you actually still need agents, industry contacts, and networking to get published by one of the Big 5 today. The difference is there are now smaller publishing houses, too and most of them accept direct submissions by authors. The difficulty now is not “how to get a publisher” but “how do I make sure my publisher is legit?” Also, “what happens if/when my publisher goes under?” Because that happens. Which is why you should always read your contract very carefully before you sign.

AND THE NOTION OF SELF-PUBLISHING…

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Welcome to the modern age, where every tool you need in order to put out a quality product is actually accessible to anyone. There are freelance professionals with those same decades of experience who can format and cover your book without the need for a publisher. There are print-on-demand companies that can produce your book to market standards and ship them to stores, or directly to your readers. And get this, these same companies… also work for publishing houses. :O What is the world coming to?!

BUT TODAY’S WRITERS ARE APPARENTLY EXPERTS IN ALL THESE FIELDS.

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the fact that I didn’t have the tools to do what you do, and that had to struggle to get someone else to do for me what has now become so easy for you to do for yourself, so I will belittle everything you do so you never forget your place: beneath me. Because I had people to do it for me, and you have to do it all yourself.

Yes. Some self-published authors actually are experts. Because they spent the money on the right tools, took the time to learn, and went through years of trial and error to get their books on par with traditionally published books. These unicorns who are not only gifted enough to have written a book, but multi-talented enough to master the business aspects of publishing exist–and they’re not as rare as you might think. The fact that these options were not accessible to older writers, or that those older writers didn’t want to take advantage of the options they did have does not in any way diminish the accomplishments of today’s self-published writers. In fact, their accomplishments are bigger and go much deeper precisely because they did it all (or mostly) on their own. An added benefit or two: We now get to control how our books look and feel, and we can do it in our own time. No more deadlines or delays while we wait for our turn on the waiting list.

HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED…

Translation: I am resentful of the fact that I can no longer use my publishing deal as a status symbol and jealous of your many skills, which I never had to learn.

Yes, things have changed. Quite a bit, actually. And believe it or not, it’s only a bad thing if it threatens your own delusion of superiority. Do bad books and badly put-together books get published? Absolutely. But that goes for self-published and traditionally published titles. The backing of a publisher’s reputation might help ease the marketing burden of selling books, but it is no longer a mark of higher quality books. The playing field is more level now, and that’s what this ugly, sarcastic rant was about all along: fear of competition. It’s easy to become a best selling household name when there are 1,000 books published every year. But when it’s 1,000 every day, the equation changes. Today’s  new authors have a good sense of what they’re getting into and they’re prepared to fight the battle to the top. It’s the older ones, who started out when times were cushier, who struggle to come to terms with the here and now. And it’s usually the ones who cannot or will not change with the times who lash out the hardest at those of us who do.

THERE, NOW THAT’S FIXED. MOVING ON!

Speaking of experts and years of study, I don’t think whoever originally posted that rant actually consulted either. Because, you see, a simple Goolge search showed me there is a very thorough breakdown on The Legacy of the Vanity Press and Digital Transitions in the Journal of Electronic Publishing. It’s long, so give yourself time, but you should definitely read it. Because you know what? It turns out author-subsidized publishing goes back to the 1800s. Back then, as today,  there were legitimate reasons and honest business models for author-subsidized publishing (what became referred to as vanity publishing). The stigma around it emerged early on, but grew over time and became exponentially worse with the advent of eBook publishing and self-publishing.

We (the self-published author population) have transformed the entire industry so quickly even some of us still have whiplash. The gates have been opened to all and, at the moment, it really is a bit chaotic. Fortunes have been won on the backs of Indies (*cough*Amazon*cough*) and we continue to adapt, improve, and in general move forward toward a new future. Traditional publishing hasn’t been the only game in town for a long time. My prediction is, now that the floodgates have opened, there will be no closing them. No one has any intention of going back to how things used to be, so you might as well get used to how things are.

AND NOW SOME TIPS

  1. If you are passionate about writing, write.
  2. If you are passionate about getting your work out there, find a way to do it.
  3. Put in the effort to learn and do it the right way. Make your book as professional as possible to meet market standards.
  4. Whenever possible, go one step beyond and do just a little bit better than you did last time.
  5. Save your pennies and keep that day job, because this path ain’t easy, or cheap.
  6. Support your fellow writers instead of tearing them down.
  7. Never give up on doing what you love.

And now I think I’ll get off my soap box and go do some writing.

Continue Reading A Rant and a History Lesson in Publishing

2019 Industry Predictions

I have shared one of Mark Coker’s prediction posts for 2018 in last January’s post, and I am sharing the 2019 post here. I am sharing it, because most of what he talks about in this post is something I’ve already seen, felt, and experienced myself as an author.

I think a few of my recent posts might already have illustrated how the stagnating market has been pressing on me personally. They have been downers, to say the least, and I suppose I should apologize for that. This blog was meant to be a place for education, not emotional ranting. But in a sense, it also illustrates what many, many, many other authors are feeling. Yes, times are tough. Yes, sales are down across the board. Yes, our market is oversaturated, and we’re all scrambling to pedal our feet a little harder, churn that cream a little faster so the resulting butter will allow us to climb out of the hole.

But even with all of this going on, I’m still not ready to give up. I’m changing my strategies, but I’m still moving forward, and fighting hard to look ahead, rather than focus too much on right now. Book publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. And because of that, we all must think long and hard about how we spend our energies.

For those interested in more details, you can read the full post of Mark Coker’s 2019 Book Industry Predictions.

A few things I will share from my own experience to add a personal twist to these predictions:

Audiobooks

Having had my first one produced last year, I can tell you for a fact it is not cheap. It is also not another get-rich-quick scheme. It faces the same marketing challenges as eBooks and print books: if you don’t promote, you don’t sell. But what audiobooks do is bring you to another potential market segment, and that is always a good thing. I had already planned to do more audiobooks, and now I think it’s time to move up my plans just a little. I think the cost will be worth it in the long run. For me, anyway. 🙂

Facebook

If you’ve seen my Twitter profile, you will see I haven’t tweeted anything in ages. Twitter has never been my preferred platform. It’s too fast, and I can’t ever keep up. I think I just gave up on it, to be honest. If you’ve visited my Facebook profile recently, you may have found a notice pinned to the top, saying I am on hiatus from social media until further notice. It’s true. I haven’t logged into Facebook since January 1, except to tack that post on there. It’s done miracles for my state of mind. I’m calmer, I have more time to read and write, I focus better, and think clearer. I hadn’t realized until I left Facebook how great, and how negative an impact it’d had on my life in general. I probably won’t shut it down all together–I can’t afford to, now that I have actual events to attend. I will need to promote the hell out of those in any way I can. But I don’t plan to ever spend as much time on it again. My time is better spent on more productive things. Like writing.

Blockchain

This is one point on which I want to disagree with Mr. Coker. I see huge potential in Blockchain technology, especially when put into proper use. I think it would do wonders for the industry if the secondary market was opened up to authors. If readers can resell the books they don’t want to keep, and authors have a way of earning a portion of that sale, everyone wins. Right now, eBooks are pretty much a “final purchase” situation. As in, once you buy the eBook, unless you return it within the allowable time frame (if the retailer allows it), you will never get that money back. That is not to say that buying an eBook isn’t a worthy investment, by any means. But we’re allowed to sell our used paper books. Why not eBooks? It would eliminate the risk inherent in trying an unknown author’s work to know you can recoup at least some of your cost, wouldn’t it? And if authors can get paid along the way… But of course the retailers would never allow it to happen. It would cut far too much into their profit margins.

Amazon Algorithms

On this point, I agree wholeheartedly. Having experimented with Amazon ads over the last few months, I have seen the pay-to-play scenario first hand. It’s vicious, expensive, and unfair to all authors. (cue me stomping my feet and holding my breath) The fact is, if you have to pay Amazon for visibility, you are paying them back the royalties you ought to be earning. In my case, I was willing to take a loss on an ad to see if it would work. In the long run, it didn’t. I never recouped that investment from eBook sales, not even when I factored in sales of books other than the one I advertised.

Conclusion

All of this will have an impact on my business strategy moving forward. It’s always good to stay on top of what’s going on in the industry and, even though the news is pretty bleak, it’s pretty much what I expected. That at least tells me I’m finally getting the hang of this business. I can put two and two together, and make plans accordingly. Of course, no one has a crystal ball, but I tend to err on the side of caution, which has served me well so far. So, for 2019, my plans will be to keep writing, limit my time on social media, and focus on the long term.

Continue Reading 2019 Industry Predictions

Novel Writing: The Go Broke Quick Scheme

Every once in a while, I still come across writers who operate within the fantasy that all they have to do is put a book out there and the money will start pouring in on its own. It’s a fantasy perpetuated by a long, long tradition of putting best selling authors on a mile high pedestal and poking fun at the average Joes and Janes by painting them as talentless losers. Authors make it all look so easy by design, because we all want to celebrate our successes. Admitting our struggles and failures is something we keep for our closest circle of friends and colleagues who understand exactly what we mean when we say, “My sales are going nowhere. I think my career is over.” They understand because they have been there, or are right there with us.

But there are still those who are either unaware, or intentionally dismissive of how the world works. A while back, I saw someone post a complaint about how they published a book on Smashwords a year ago and it never sold anything. The writer was very bitter over this, and blamed Smashwords for hyping up Indie authors and not delivering on those grand promises. In response to that, here is where I completely shatter the delusion that getting a book out into the world is a get rich quick scheme.

Continue Reading Novel Writing: The Go Broke Quick Scheme

An Introduction to Blurb

A short and sweet post today introducing Blurb.com. 🙂

As you may have heard, CreateSpace, Amazon’s Print-on-Demand publishing arm has closed down. This has been a long time coming, and started with CreateSpace closing down its online store many moons ago. Now, the entire department has been merged into KDP, Amazon’s eBook publishing platform. Reviews are mixed for the time being. Some authors find the process of setting up a print edition easier when they do it in the same place as the eBook. Others find it cumbersome and run into problems, especially with the cover. Many have complained that orders process slowly and ship even slower, sometimes in strange ways. I saw one photo post showing the 5 copies the author ordered each packaged in its own envelope for shipment, indicating that each was printed at a different facility. My take on this is that the transition is overwhelming to their systems and they are working out the kinks associated with processing a large number of bulk orders. It may pass, but it will take time.

I was prepared to give them a chance–until I read the new terms of service. I had moved all of my print productions from CreateSpace to IngramSpark earlier this year, anyway, and pulled all of my CS editions out of distribution, so the change-over didn’t really affect my active distribution, but I had several titles set up with CS which had never been intended for distribution to begin with. They were titles I had set up for myself, just to have a few copies of my shorter works that aren’t really suitable for sale as a printed book. I was hoping to keep those still available through the new KDP platform. Unfortunately it turns out KDP took a page out of IngramSpark’s playbook and they no longer allow books to be activated without distribution.

This has yet again thrown a massive wrench into my plans, so I went looking for other solutions. I already knew about LULU, but I’m uncomfortable with their setup system, the cover print quality left something to be desired last time I tried them, and they are about twice as expensive for author copies as IngramSpark. That was not going to work for me…

And this is how I came across Blurb.

My study is still on-going but, so far, it appears to be the perfect solution to my needs. It’s a print-on-demand service that has several options for distribution (or not). They do soft and hard covers, photo books, and magazines, even eBooks. Their print trim sizes are very limited compared to KDP or IngramSpark, but the most common sizes are represented, so that should not be a problem for most authors.

But best of all, they have formatting tools available that promise to be a heavensent for Indies. The one I just downloaded and installed is an InDesign plugin that creates the template for you, based on the trim size you select, and gives you the ability to upload your files directly to Blurb without leaving InDesign. If you’ve ever formatted your own book, I don’t have to tell you how magical that is.

I plan to explore this platform a lot more, and will have a follow-up post on how it works, their print quality, etc. It probably won’t be any time soon, because I have too many pots boiling over on the stove as it is, but one of those pots involves me getting ready for my very first book signings next year, so I definitely need to get on top of this. For now, I present it to you as one more option for your publishing needs. 🙂

Because having options is good.

UPDATE (11.3.18): Naturally, I couldn’t not check it out, so I downloaded the InDesign plugin and started playing around with it. First time with anything, I naturally floundered a bit, took me about 4 hours to get my ducks in a row. I ran into an issue when I tried to upload my files through the plugin. 11pm, I sent a message to their tech support, asking for help and I went to bed. I figured I wouldn’t hear from them until next week at the earliest, anyway.

Imagine my surprise when I logged into my email this morning and discovered they’d already replied with specific instructions on how to get around the issue. The message was time-stamped 12:00am. Less than an hour after I’d reached out to them. To say I am gobsmacked is putting it mildly.

For anyone looking for Print-on-Demand services, you should definitely check out Blurb. 🙂

Continue Reading An Introduction to Blurb

The Hard Truth About Self-Publishing

The conversation I saw went roughly like this:

Indie Author: Everyone so concerned about Amazon removing reviews… They’re doing it to remove fake reviews. Reviews should come from strangers, not from your friends.

Other Indie Authors: You’re missing the point. They’re removing legitimate reviews for no reason and with no notice.

Indie Author: If Indies are so worried about Amazon, they should start their own Indie platform. You gotta spend money to make money. You should be doing ads to get more sales like I do.

Other Indie Authors: Dude, most Indies don’t have that kind of money.

Indie Author: Ha ha, then they should get a job. I figured a lot of people would disagree. You guys just don’t get it.

I’m still waiting for an explanation of what this “it” is supposed to be that Indies aren’t getting and a manual on how to do it “the right way.” I don’t think one will be forthcoming.

So let’s look at some facts, stats, and numbers from an AuthorEarnings and WorldOMeters report to see why Indies might not be getting the sales their books deserve, or why their net royalties might be less than they expected…

  • As of Feb 2017, Amazon accounts for 82% of English Language eBook purchases
  • Indie Publishing accounts for 34% of the U.S. market
  • Comparing Indies with Big 5 authors, 91% of Indie sales come from Amazon (this includes KDP Select exclusive), versus 70% for Big 5 authors
  • Amazon-exclusive authors are earning more dollars than widely-published authors earn at all non-Amazon retailers combined (this includes scammers, however)
  • As of April 2017, the per-page payout from Kindle Unlimited was $0.00488/page. At this rate…
    • A 250-page book would earn a royalty of $1.22.
    • Compare that to the same eBook selling as a stand-alone title at $2.99 and 70% royalty rate where the author would earn $2.09.
    • At $3.99, that royalty would be $2.79
  • In 2010, 328,259 new titles were released in the U.S. alone. That’s almost 900 new titles every day, and that number has likely grown since then

Where you publish matters. How you publish matters. But even if you do everything right, with proper formatting, a professional cover, several weeks on Pre-Order, and a vigorous marketing push through various outlets, that last statistic alone is a staggering hurdle to overcome.

On any given day, your new release is competing for attention with about 1,000 titles. The next day, it’s 2,000, and the day after that, 3,000. This is just to stay visible at all, much less in any significant capacity. Authors who don’t have the backing of a Big 5 publisher are essentially tiny plankton particles floating around in an ocean filled with other plankton, pollution, and lots of much bigger creatures, all of which make them pretty much invisible without either a massive, pre-established audience, or a hefty advertising budget (and the expertise to make it work).

Believe me, every single Indie author out there with at least one book release under their belt is aware of the factors affecting their (lack of) sales. Every single one of them knows (or should know) that writing is art, but publishing is business, and it takes money to make money. The problem is, the vast majority of them don’t have the initial capital necessary to invest in that business. Many of them have limited resources to work with, and they often choose to spend those resources on making a quality product.

Here’s the problem with the publishing business: Quality is no longer the determining factor in book sales. It doesn’t matter how amazing your book is if no one ever gets to find out about it. It doesn’t matter if you have the most beautiful cover in the world if no one ever sees it. It’s not the best Indie authors who get the sales, it’s the ones with the cleverest advertising strategy and/or questionable ethics.

Here’s the other problem with the book industry: Publishing is expensive–for the author. Everyone takes a cut, everything costs something, and those costs add up fast, especially when the pressure is so intense to price books lower or free.

Helpful hint: If you give your product away for free, you’re not making any income. If you invested any money into its production, that money is now a net loss. If those hundreds of downloaded freebies don’t lead to sales of your other books, you’re dead in the water on that front, and right back at square one. Yet authors have been told to price their books free for so long, it’s now not only accepted, but expected as a standard practice.

Bottom line: Telling someone they need to invest more into their book business is like telling a drowning man he just needs to swim harder.

If you’re financially successful as an author, kudos. You earned it, and I’m happy for you. But don’t put down those who are struggling daily to make a go of their dream. That just makes you a jerk.

If you’re out there, making sacrifices, losing sleep, losing friends, ignoring loved ones, and hustling every free moment you have to not only write your books, but make sure they’re seen, you have my most humble respect. I see your struggle. I share it. I wish I had a winning strategy to share with you, but I don’t. All I can do is share what I know in the hopes that it’ll help someone else.

No one ever said it would be easy, but I don’t think any of us ever expected it to be this ridiculously hard. Stick with it, anyway. Write your heart out, give your book the strongest wings you can, and then let it fly. Your words are your legacy to the world. They deserve to be shared, and they deserve to be enjoyed.

I love you, fellow Indies! <3

 

Continue Reading The Hard Truth About Self-Publishing

Update: Publica

Hullo boys and girls, Alianne checking in again all quick-like because this was too good not to share. Remember this post where I talked about the new kid on the block, Publica? Well, I’m signed up for their newsletter and one of their most recent ones announced that they are looking for authors to publish their books through their systems now. Ground floor entry, if you have a book ready to release this year. For now, the process is to fill out an interest form here, and they’ll contact you with additional info if you’re chosen.

If you’re still not convinced, or if you’re as confused about the entire process as I was, check out the video below, which explains the technology in very simple terms. Hint: Pay very close attention to the resale capabilities, where readers can resell their copy of your book to others, and you get a percentage of that sale.

As authors, we’re always looking for new readers, but as self-publishers, we also have to look for better ways to sell our books. Call me a bright-eyed idealist, but I think this may be it. 🙂

Continue Reading Update: Publica