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. 🙂

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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.

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Read More, Read BETTER

This is going to be part author tip, part lecture (not the boring, preachy kind, I hope) and part recommendation list. It will likely be on the long side, but bear with me, there is a point to it, I promise.

THE LECTURE

We’ve all heard the saying that in order to be a great writer, you have to be an avid reader. Want to improve your writing? Read more.

That saying in and of itself is an example of the problem with the saying. Yes, if you want to be a great writer, you definitely need to read a lot. But there is nuance to that, which you kind of have to intuit. The act of reading in and of itself isn’t enough. The trick is in how you read.

You’ve heard about active listening, right? It’s the concept of listening to understand, not to form a response. See, when you listen with the intent of forming a response, you’re not really listening to what someone is telling you. You have an agenda and you automatically fit what is being said into what you want to hear so you can respond. By doing that, you miss the message. Active listening means paying attention to what is being said and how it’s being said. You then repeat it back to the speaker to confirm that you understood what they’re trying to say, and only then do you respond.

The same applies to reading. In order to hone your own writing style, you need to practice active reading (and I totally made that term up, but it’s the most fitting term for what I mean). You need to not just read the book, but also absorb the technical details about it. Analyze the voice, appreciate the diction, trace the story arc, dig deep into the characters’ psyche. Think about why the author wrote what they did, how it fits into the overall whole of the book.

It’s a lot less fun than reading for pleasure, I’ll tell you that. And it will absolutely ruin you as a reader because, once you see behind the curtain, you won’t be able to close it back again. You will start to critique every new book you read, even the ones you absolutely love. That’s the sacrifice you make to become a good writer. Because you need to be able to identify things you like and dislike in the books you read in order to be able to identify them in the books you write.

THE AUTHOR TIP

That concludes the lecture part of this post. Now on to the tip and reading list.

I propose that every author brings something unique to their books. Sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on it, but when you see it, you recognize that, “Yep, that’s definitely a John Smith book.” That’s what you want to find–in other people’s books, as well as in yourself as an author. What makes them special? What is your own something special?

A while back, I put together a list of books I thought every writer should read, for various reasons. I want to share that here with you now. If you’ve already read these books, try reading them again, while keeping these notes in mind. You might notice some things you missed before.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR VOICE AND STYLE

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Ms. Austen had an earworm of a writing style. I’m not even kidding. Why do you think it’s been emulated so much? Read one of her books and then try to write one chapter in that same style. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to do, and how hard it is to stop.

When I got this assignment in high school, I ended up writing a 40-page novella, rather than just a chapter, and it’s influenced my writing ever since. Austen’s writing style is so sophisticated and lyrical, but not pretentious at all. It flows through your mind and makes you feel like you’re wearing a period costume and reclining on a drawing room settee. It’s beautiful. Plain and simple.

The Dust Lands Series by Moira Young

In contrast to that, I present to you the Dust Lands series by Moira Young. Compared to Austen, the voice of this series feels like a train wreck in the beginning but, like Austen, it gets under your skin. The style of this series is very deliberate. It speaks to the theme of the books, and is basically written as if someone from that book was telling you the story. It shoves you face first into this dystopian world and at first you hate it, then you want more, then you can’t get back out.


The voice and style of your book is extremely important–it sets the stage and paints the world you’re describing. But it doesn’t have to be grammatically flawless and poetic to make an impact. Sometimes, going against the grain is the best thing you can do.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ATMOSPHERICS

The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

This book changed the way I thought about books, and it required a brilliant English teacher to point it out to me, because I would have missed it otherwise. That’s how brilliant this actually is–you don’t realize the brilliance of it because you’re so engrossed in the scene you’re not thinking about the writing anymore.

Conrad is very good at telling the story from a specific character’s perspective. You see, hear, and feel what the character feels. That means, when he’s eavesdropping on someone’s conversation and those people move away, their dialogue fades out and you strain to try to hear more. You catch pieces here and there, holding your breath so you don’t get noticed. You’re no longer reading the book, you’re inside the story.

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas

I’m including this book because it’s one of my all time favorites. There are plenty of things I love about it, but one of them is the way Ms. Kleypas describes her settings. Like Conrad, she puts you into the scene. When Sara is chasing off Derek’s attackers, you can feel the cold damp of the London night. When she’s hiding with Derek behind the curtain of the music room, you feel the heady heat of the scene, and your heart beats faster hoping no one pulls that curtain back.

When it comes to historical settings, authors sometimes have the tendency to go overboard with description in the interest of historical accuracy. Not so with Kleypas. She focuses on the story itself and the setting, while accurate (as far as I know), is only a part of it.


The beauty of descriptives is that they don’t have to drone on. In fact, their impact is far greater when they’re succinct and to the point. Both of these books are an excellent example of this.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Dickens needs no introduction. If you haven’t read any of his books yet, I highly recommend that you do. This was the first book I’ve read by him, and I loved it from the very beginning. The story follows a young boy called Pip as his life takes several unexpected twists and turns and what I loved about it is the unvarnished way in which it is related.

Pip isn’t perfect. He is a young child when all this begins and, as such, you get to see him grow up, make mistakes, form attachments and prejudices, etc. At times, I wanted to slap him. At others, I felt horrible for what he was being put through. By the end, though he was still a very young man, he’s already lived a life fuller than most people will ever have. His flaws are what make Pip such an amazing character. Because perfection is boring. As readers, what we relate to are a character’s flaws and shortcomings. What we want is to see them triumph despite them.

By the way, Pip isn’t the only character in this story written in such a brilliant fashion. The entire cast of characters is presented in a way that will leave a lasting impression on the reader, which is a rare thing in literature.

The Rule of Four by Dustin Thomason and Ian Caldwell 

These two gentlemen wrote a book that became wholly and unfairly overshadowed by the phenomenon of The DaVinci Code. It’s called The Rule of Four and I recommend it here for one reason: the main character. Not the narrator, mind you, but the main character driving the plot. Similar to The Heart of Darkness, this story is told by an outside observer (and, really, it overlaps my recommendation category to Atmospherics as well because of it). You follow along from an intellectual distance, so you never get the full feel of the tension, frustration, and passion of this quest, you just get to bear witness to it. It’s that distance which makes this book so brilliant. Because you feel the narrator’s dismissal and simultaneous intrigue. You want to know more but are denied almost to the very end.

This book is not an action-packed adventure, but when the action does happen, it grips you unexpectedly hard because of it and you realize how attached you’ve grown to this one character. And therein lies its brilliance: You care almost despite yourself, and for reasons that seem so flimsy on the surface, but run as deep as if it was your actual best friend in that scene.


In any given book, it’s either the characters who drive the plot, or the plot that changes the characters. You can choose one, or the other, or sometimes both, but whichever it is, it’s not the action that makes readers connect with and relate to the characters, it’s the emotional context. Subtlety is the name of the game. At least it is in my own writing.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PLOT AND DIALOGUE

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Have you read this one? Whether you say yes or no, you probably already know the story from somewhere. That’s how amazing it is. This book is not only well-written, it tells a story that sticks with you forever. It’s just so… big. It takes you to lots of different places, introduces lots of different characters, all of whom are in some way connected, but at the same time, it all centers around one man and his life. Edmond Dantes becomes the fulcrum on which all those lives turn. And they don’t even know it…

Seriously, if you haven’t read it yet, do. Take notes on how to tell a brilliant tale of love, pain, anguish, and revenge. Admire the genius of what Edmond has achieved and how. The behind-the-scenes machinations, the benevolence of his favor and the malice of his wrath. Absolutely nothing this man does is ever without an underlying reason. Whether it’s taking out a loan, or casually mentioning a medicinal tonic that can just as easily become a deadly poison.

This is a really long book, but it reads so quickly you don’t notice the page count. That’s brilliant story telling right there.

Dark Desires After Dusk by Kresley Cole

If you ask me who my favorite author is, right now, and for the last few years, it’s been Kresley Cole. She is a paranormal romance author and her books have never ever disappointed me. She has a singular gift for sarcasm and wit, and she brings that into her dialogue. A lot of times, writers adopt a very formal style with their dialogue which can come across stiff and unnatural. Ms. Cole writes the way people actually talk. And that can be a huge deal for a story, especially one set in present day(ish). You can see their conversations happening in real life, which makes the characters extremely relatable. Not only that, they’re also hilarious.

Dark Desires After Dusk might be my favorite of this entire series and it’s because of the hero, Cadeon Woede and his shameless sense of humor. This book is definitely worth reading, even if maybe you’re not really into paranormal romance. Just pay attention to the dialogue. I promise, you’ll appreciate the hell out of it. 😉 [just a bit of demon humor there]


I lumped the plot and dialogue in the same category because a great first chapter will hook a reader, but these two are what will keep them reading. If you don’t have your story plotted out properly, you will lose your readers in a heartbeat. They will spot plot holes from a mile away, and they may not be very forgiving. And dialogue is often times the hardest thing to get right. It requires a keen ear and a gift for listening. You need to be able to emulate natural speech from all walks of life in your chosen time period, but still make it relatable for readers in the here and now. But if you can do that, you’re halfway there. 


NOTICE ANYTHING WEIRD?

So now you’ve read the whole list. Notice anything special about it? Every single category has one classic and one contemporary title. There is a reason for that. The classics are, of course, classic for a reason, but if you’ve ever actually read them, you’ll know that not all of them are all that well-written or enjoyable (coughFrankensteincough). I think it’s because the stories and the message they convey transcend time, but the books themselves do not. Not everything written 100+ years ago will appeal to modern audiences. We can appreciate them in the context of their own time period, but sometimes they become more of an intellectual exercise, rather than something to savor for its own sake.

There are scores of modern books that are well worth reading and learning from, both for their ability to connect with their own audience, and for their unique, timeless qualities. Will these modern books be taught in schools a hundred years from now? I have no idea. But, as a writer, I can say I’ve developed a deep appreciation for them and what they’ve done for my own writing.

That’s all I have for you today. 🙂 Until next time!

GOT A LIST OF YOUR OWN? SHARE IN THE COMMENTS!

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Lessons From A Book Signing

So, you may not know this, but I actually write books. 😉 I know, shocking… I’ve been a writer for a long time, published for the last 9 years, but this year marks the first time I have ever stepped out into the world of author events as an attending author. I just came back from my very first group signing in Indianapolis, IN, and wanted to share with you how it went and some lessons I learned from the experience.

The nerve wracking “before”

It all began two weeks ago when I got a notification on my phone that a major runway at my take-off airport was closing down for repairs. The airline told me there would be significant delays and/or cancellations and advised me to fly a day earlier or later if my plans were flexible. The story was picked up by the local news which reported on Monday that there had been “dozens” of cancellations already that day.

Cue bone-deep panic. My plans were not at all flexible. There was only one direct flight out per day, and I couldn’t get the extra day off work, or the extra night at the hotel. If my flight got cancelled, I’d be screwed. Hell, if my luggage got lost, I’d be screwed, since I was bringing all my books for the signing with me. I spent a week stressing over it so much that by Thursday (the day before I was scheduled to fly) I existed in a state of constant anxiety over it. I checked and re-check everything. I packed as many books as I could fit into my carry-on, just in case my luggage got lost. I set multiple alarms and scheduled my ride to the airport so I’d get there super early.

Then I got the official seating chart for the event and discovered that I would be sitting with my back to the main entrance, and I didn’t have a two-sided banner. This might have been a small issue for some, but it was a big deal to me, so I ended up ordering a rush printed second banner at a local printer so I could double up and be visible from both sides.

Happily, my flight was on time, and the only hiccup I had was that I’d left my lip balm at home. I arrived in Indianapolis a half-hour early, with all my luggage accounted for, and checked in at the hotel. Did not sleep a wink that night, but I was on-site, so all was good.

Also happily, it turned out I misread the seating chart and was actually facing the entrance. But I still used both banners, just because I could. I regret nothing, except that I could have gotten that second banner much cheaper if I had bought it along with my first, rather than doing it last minute. But that’s done now. Moving on!

The Setup 

I will say the wait was the absolute worst. I made it a point to wake up early and have a huge breakfast because I knew I would not be leaving my table once I got there. Our set up time started at 9am and the doors officially opened at noon and closed at 5pm.

I had my table layout all planned out, but ended up changing it because of some silly technical difficulties. The plastic stands I got for my bookmarks were too unstable, so I nixed them and just laid out the bookmarks flat. My business cards are unique in that they are half matte and half raised gloss finish. Turns out, that gloss tends to stick to itself so my stack of business cards became a solid, inseparable brick. I had to separate them by hand and lay them out in a long row so they could be grabbed easily.

A last-minute addition to my table was a tablet that played my book trailer videos on loop (or so I thought). I checked it throughout the event to see if it was working, and laughed because each time I checked I caught it at a specific moment in the video. Yeah, turned out that was because for some crazy reason, the loop function got stuck on only the last 40 seconds of the 7.5 minute video.

Also on my table was a stack of two-sided book lists with all the covers on one side and an actual list on the other. The list included all my titles and ISBNs for all the formats they’re available in, as well as genres and tropes for each series. I handed these out to everyone who had me sign something for them, if they didn’t grab one on their own.

Lastly, I had a clipboard with a newsletter sign up sheet. I offered a free audiobook to everyone who signed up for my newsletter at the event. I ended up with 27 sign ups, which I think was a little over 10% capture rate. Not bad!

The Event

I was super nervous, but I took it as a learning experience so, no matter what happened (or didn’t happen) I was going to be happy with the outcome, learn from it, and move on to the next.

If I remember correctly, there were about 250 attendees and 70 or so authors at the event. I shared the table with another author who, it turns out, was also a book signing virgin like me! We had a fairly steady stream of people come by. Many had seating charts, tote bags, and other things for us to sign, so we weren’t just sitting there twiddling our thumbs. I had 7 people pre-order books from me and all except one of them came to pick them up. Aside from that, I had a few people buy books on the spot (I forget how many, it’s becoming one big blur) and one of them was the author at the next table over who couldn’t resist picking up a copy of Wolfen. I think that might have been my favorite moment of the whole day.

On the whole, I did not sell out. But I definitely made an impression and I left the event with only half of what I’d brought in, and it would have been much less, if I hadn’t made a couple of mistakes.

Speaking of…

Lessons Learned

If you don’t plan on selling it or giving it out, don’t drag it along. 

I had brought a full set of my paperbacks as a display piece. They were an unnecessary weight I could have spared myself. My half table was such a small space I could only stand them up with their spines showing, which was useless. Besides, I already had all the book covers on my book lists.

If you bring it, sell it or give it out.

Very early on, I had someone stop by asking about a series of books I didn’t have in stock. Except I did, because I’d brought a backup copy for all my early pre-orders in case my luggage got lost. I totally forgot about it in the moment and let the reader walk away. I am still kicking myself for that. I ended up hauling that extra set back home.

Plan your inventory prudently.

One piece of advice I heard was to wait for pre-orders to come in and then double what those are as your inventory. That’s tough when you have a long backlist and not a lot of table space. Or when you get no pre-orders at all. Another piece of advice I heard was to bring 8-10 copies of each book. That seemed like a bit much to me. Some people say shorter novellas sell better, others that readers prefer full-length books. Several said to bring more of book 1 in the series.

What I can tell you is that when I put out a last minute notice about extra sets of a series of novellas, I got as many pre-orders in that one day as I got the previous 2 months. No idea why. But since the lost sale at the event was for this series, I think I should have stocked those. I sold 3 copies of book 1 of a series, and only 1 of book 2, so the part about bringing more copies of the first book actually checks out. As for novellas vs. full length book, I brought 4 copies of my longest book (almost 600 pages) and 3 of them sold at the event when no one had pre-ordered it. The companion novella that went with it only sold 1 copy. The 3 series starters were also full-length novels, but most of the pre-orders were for novellas, so the length of the book didn’t appear to make much of a difference.

Check your setup.

The damn trailer video is still pissing me off two days later. I spent 3 weeks working on it and was so excited to have something unique to draw attention to my station, and then I went and got it stuck on a tiny fraction which made it a moot point. I had 2 hours prior to the start of the event in which I had nothing to do. I could have taken 15 minutes to watch it loop and make sure it was working correctly.

Go big or don’t bother.

I still think the book trailers were a good idea. But the problem (besides the loop glitch) was that the tablet screen was too small to make an impression. I was thinking, if I do it again, I should bring my laptop and have it playing on that. The 14″ screen should show much better. But it does mean more weight to carry to and from the event. And if it gets damaged or stolen, I might cry.

Bring an assistant.

Luckily, I had one. My dad was a last minute addition to my plans, partly because he was so excited for my first ever author signing, and partly because he’d done something similar to this himself and knew I would need help. He wasn’t wrong. Even with only half a table, I still had a lot of stuff to carry, set out, and break down again. Having him with me meant I could bring my books along, rather than ship them ahead and pay a storage fee to the hotel. He gave me feedback on how everything looked, what I was missing, what I should be doing and wasn’t. Also, having a friendly face next to me helped relieve at least a little anxiety.

Be ready for various payment methods.

Most of the purchases I processed were with a credit card, and all of those were chip cards. Which makes me glad I ordered a chip reader in addition to my swipey credit card reader before the event. I don’t even know if the new chip cards have a magnetic strip anymore. But the reader I got worked brilliantly, and it made each transaction a breeze. I also had a supply of small bills for cash purchases. I didn’t need as much as I had, but I was glad to have it, just in case.

Beta test pricing.

Okay, so this wasn’t so much a mistake as it was a trial run which didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. I had really cool stainless steel dog tags made for these signings. They are book-specific, with a neat design, and a bit of heft to them. I’d done them before as giveaways and they were such a big hit I thought I would sell them this time around. Turned out, I set the price much too high. I only sold one. But I will say that one was very determined to buy. Had cash ready and waited for me to finish talking with someone else so she could get it.

The other thing I was hoping to sell were foldable tote bags. In retrospect, those would have worked much better as giveaways, and I did give one to everyone who bought anything from me, but I could have just handed them out at random. I brought way too many of them back home.

Extrovert like you’re being paid to do it.

I will admit this is not my strong suit. I’m not used to being the one to initiate conversation, and you kind of have to when you’re at an event like this. Since I have no basis for comparison, I can’t say I screwed up, but I definitely could have done better to engage the people who browsed by my table. I just don’t know yet how to strike the proper balance between making conversation and making a sales pitch.

It’s not a profit center, it’s a marketing event.

The most helpful thing my assistant (or, as I like to call him, Dad) said to me is that it’s not so important how many books you sell, but how many people leave your table knowing your name. If you’re doing an event like this, especially one you have to travel to, you can pretty much count on taking a financial hit. No matter how thrifty you are with your travel and setup, it’s still a big cost just to attend. Odds are, you will not sell out. Hell, odds are, you will not sell much at all. Go into it with that assumption and then ask yourself, “What should my main goal be?”

The main goal is to get your name out there. So, more than huge stacks of books, you need things people will want to take. Things that will remind them of you and your books. Things they won’t just throw away the moment they leave. If you’re handing out printed things like bookmarks or business cards, don’t cheap out. Make them count. Make them so beautiful and unique people will want to take them. Definitely have a printed book list. Mine were a big hit and the readers who took them were really appreciative and impressed.

And don’t forget newsletter sign ups! Offer an incentive like a free ebook or audiobook, and get those email addresses. That’s your golden ticket right there.

Give yourself time to throttle down.

This also wasn’t a mistake on my part but more of an “it is what it is” sort of deal. I had originally planned to fly back home the day after the event in the late afternoon. I’d planned for this by adding a late check-out to my hotel reservation. Unfortunately, my flight was cancelled and rescheduled for 6am that morning instead. I had no other choice but to take it, so I rushed through packing everything right after the event and going to bed early so I could wake up at 3am and go to the airport heading home. I was already exhausted from stressing over the event and the lack of sleep and crazy travel times didn’t help matters. I crashed hard when I got home and was still tired the next day at work. Next time, I think I’ll stay a bit longer, maybe take in the sights while I’m there, so it’s not such a big shock to my system.

What’s Next

My second book signing will be the Sweet as a Peach event in Cumming, GA on October 5, which is less than 3 weeks from now! If you’re in the area, come by and say hello, you can check for yourself what my setup looks like and whether I’ve improved on the last time. 😉 Also, if you are coming and planning to buy books from me… you know what I’m gonna say, right?…. Please use this handy dandy pre-order form to reserve your copy by September 17. I will not be stocking all of my backlist and the books I will have in stock will be limited quantities.

Hope to see ya there!

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How to Record an Author Reading

In the interest of constantly exploring new avenues of “getting out there”, I have ventured into the realm of two things with which I have very little experience: audio recording/editing and book reading (as in, out loud). There are potentially significant benefits to this endeavor:

  1. It exposes my books to a new audience in a new way
  2. It helps me hone my audio editing skills
  3. It forces me to confront my own speaking voice and all that I hate about it
  4. It provides practical training for a day when I might choose to do this live

It’s also surprisingly easy to do with the help of modern technology and costs nothing, except my time and effort. So, since I have now recorded my own voice a couple of times already and plan on doing it some more, I thought it was time to share my how-to with fellow writers who might find it useful.


DisclaimerThis method is reserved strictly for casual recording. Any professional-level work (like narrating your own audiobook) involves a much more sophisticated studio setup to meet distribution requirements.


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On eBooks and DRM

The buzz stories from the last month are all about the state of the publishing world. Kristen Lamb did a series of really well-researched and written articles:

If you’re serious about becoming or continuing to be a published writer, do yourself a favor and read both of them. Trust me.

But for today, I want to focus on another article:

Ebooks Purchased From Microsoft Will Be Deleted This Month Because You Don’t Really Own Anything Anymore

First of all (and shame on me), I had no idea Microsoft started dipping its toes into the eBook business. But from the looks of it, that’s all they ever did, and they quickly regretted the choice. My guess is, they had no idea what they were getting into and weren’t in the least prepared for it. And now a lot of their customers are going to be very, very upset.

So here is where I put in my two cents’ worth.

Something many people don’t know about eBooks is that when you buy one from a Big Name store (Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble), you don’t actually purchase the book, you purchase the license to read the book. That has always been the case, and it means the article is very much correct: You do not actually own the content you purchased. You basically just own the right to access and read it whenever you want for as long as the store that sold it to you is in business. You are placing your faith and buying power behind the idea that your chosen store will remain in business indefinitely (or at least as long as you live).

These days, with the publishing landscape constantly shifting the way it is, there is a certain level of risk involved in doing that. But it’s the price we pay for convenience. You want your content delivered instantly to your device? That means giving the store access to your device and all its content. You want your content accessible anywhere from the Cloud? That means entrusting your content to someone else’s servers.

This is very much a faith-based business and sometimes, as in the case of Microsoft, that faith ends up being misplaced.

I know, it seems really unfair, but there is actually a good reason for things being set up the way they are.

Digital files work differently than physical copies. It’s time-consuming and expensive to make even ten copies of a printed book. Not really worth the effort when it comes to redistribution. But with an eBook, you can redistribute the file to an infinite number of people with just one click. That’s an infinite number of pirate copies of someone’s hard work just floating around the Internet for anyone to download without paying for it. It’s potentially several fortunes’ worth of royalties the author has just lost with the simple click of a button. Years and decades of hard work flushed right down the toilet, and back to square one.

This is where Digital Rights Management (DRM) comes in. It’s a piece of code that effectively locks your eBook so you can’t share it illegally. It’s there to protect authors as well as bookstores against illegal file sharing (piracy). It’s restrictive, but well-intentioned, and well within the store’s rights to protect its bottom line. After all, they’re not in the business of giving stuff out for free.

But with every lock, there will come a day when someone makes a counterfeit key. So it is with DRM. People everywhere are now sharing tips and tools for removing this piece of code, as if it’s a matter of course. They usually have valid reasons, like protecting their content from being taken away, or converting it to a different format so they can read it on a third party device. Mostly it’s due to a lack of understanding (you didn’t buy the book, but a license to it) or misguided entitlement (“I bought the book, so I should be able to do whatever I want with it!”)

But regardless of their reasons, removing DRM from an eBook is still against the eBook store’s TOS and (I believe) illegal, to boot.

Side Note: This is why I am staunchly against proprietary software, file formats, and monopolies in general. Big Name stores forcefully create loyal customers by making it convenient for readers to buy their content and highly inconvenient to “cheat” on them with other platforms and content. Think how impossible it is to transfer the songs you bought on iTunes to a different brand MP3 player. Same concept. Once you start using one proprietary platform, you sort of lock yourself into it. They don’t play well with others.

So what can you do to make sure your investment is protected?

As an author:

#1 Publish as wide as possible to give your readers options for buying your books. This not only makes the buying experience more pleasant for your readers, it protects your book from being uploaded to a store by someone else.

FYI: This happens a lot, especially to authors exclusive to Amazon. Someone will take a book, strip the DRM and upload to another store under their own account to illegally rack up sales for themselves. If/when Amazon find out, they can flag your account for having published elsewhere against their TOS. So not only do you get robbed of sales by a pirate, you also lose your legitimate royalties.

#2 Direct readers to all the places where they can buy your books, not just the ones you prefer. You never know where your readers like to shop. Giving them a link directly to a variety of stores makes it easier for readers to find and buy your book.

#3 If at all financially feasible, set up your book in print as well. If you can’t afford IngramSpark, go for LuLu. If you are a die hard Amazon fan, you can also use their KDP platform to create your paperback but I hear it’s gone down hill quite a bit since the days of CreateSpace.

As a reader:

#1 Take the time to understand what you’re paying for when you shop at a particular store. Microsoft is not the only store using DRM. They are not the only ones that can go under at a moment’s notice. Having a Big Name does not guarantee a store’s future success.

#2 Shop at stores that give you several options for file formats and don’t use DRM (Smashwords.com is an excellent example). Any time a store doesn’t have a dedicated reader device or app, they are more likely to give you options so you can use whatever reader or app you prefer.

#3 Purchase hard copies instead of eBooks. Yes, they are more costly but, if you’re like me and re-read your favorite books every year, it’s more than worth it. Plus, a bookshelf full of books is a beautiful addition to any home. 😉

Practicing what I preach: 

If you’re still with me, know that this is not one of those, “Do as I say, not as I do” things. I make my own books available worldwide, as eBooks and paperbacks (with only a couple exceptions), and I am slowly putting them into audiobook production, too.

You can purchase them at the Big Name stores (Amazon, B&N, Apple Books, Kobo) but if you want to have the freedom of eBook format choice, I recommend buying them from Smashwords.

For paperbacks, it’s always appreciated when you support your local independent bookstore and request a copy through them. It helps create some healthy competition in the marketplace and supports your neighborhood small business owners. 🙂 But if that’s not your thing, there’s always Books-A-Million as an online alternative.

If cost is an issue, I recommend checking with your local library. They may already have the eBook or even paperback version available and, if not, you can always request them. It saves you money, helps support the library system, and still gets authors paid. Win-win-win.

For those unfamiliar with my work, I write cross-genre, mostly science fiction or fantasy with varying degrees of romance. Each series is very different from the others, so buyer beware–you may love one and end up hating another. Here is a chart to help you navigate the different series:

You can always find more information and additional buying options on my author website: aliannedonnelly.com

Thanks for reading!

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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.

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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.

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Adventures in Amazon Advertising

Intro:

I’ve been playing around with AMS advertisements for a while. Mostly the wrong way. Why? Because I’m a really slow learner who just has to do everything the hard way. It’s a flaw I am well aware of, but it’s not the point of this post. The point is, I wanted to try an ad the “right” way and see how far it would get me. What follows is my full disclosure, total transparency about my results. I’ll leave you to be the judge of my efforts.

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Let’s Talk About Piracy

This morning, I woke up with a fun, catchy song in my head. I was in a good mood, ready to tackle the day, and then I logged onto Facebook. I write this for both authors and readers, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t address it on this website. It may end up a bit ranty (there may be profanity, too), but I hope you’ll forgive that. Every time this particular topic comes up, it feels like death by a million paper cuts with a bonus lemon juice bath. I hope you’ll read it, anyway.

For the sake of not making this go viral, I won’t post the image that completely ruined my good mood, but I do want to address the subject of book piracy. Everyone loves a freebie, right? There’s no harm in downloading just one book, right? It’s just a drop in the bucket for authors who make money hand over fist, anyway, and after all, it’s just one book.

The way I see it, piracy happens for one of two reasons: ignorance, or entitlement and apathy. The former is fairly easy to dismantle with just a bit of accurate (if painful) information. The latter, not so much. So let’s talk…


“But it’s just one book. I give away my paperbacks all the time. I paid for it, it’s mine. Who the hell are you to tell me what to do with something I paid for?”

You’d think the vehemence was exaggerated. It’s not. But here’s what many people don’t know, or consciously realize:

Print books and eBooks are not the same. A printed book is one copy of the product. Very cumbersome to replicate by copying or scanning, and why bother when you can just buy another one fairly cheap? eBooks are digital files–tiny ones at that, just a few kilobytes, all told. It takes two seconds to upload an eBook to a server and make it public. That eBook will live there forever and can be downloaded countless times by countless people, all of whom will have the ability to send a copy on to countless other people without losing access to the original. Printed books have a shelf life. eBooks don’t. That means there is literally no limit to how many people can get illegal copies them.

Here’s what that means for the author: Hundreds and thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars of lost royalties. In many cases, that’s a full-time income the author has just lost. Literally, a livelihood stolen right out from under them. And no, I am not exaggerating. In recent years, I have lost count of the number of authors I have seen hang up their writing hats because they just can’t afford it anymore. Many of them had to go back to seeking full time jobs, which is never easy, especially after you’ve been out of the workforce for a while.

To a reader just looking to pass the time, that one eBook is a few hours of entertainment. To its author, it’s hundreds of hours of work, not just writing it, but promoting it as well. It’s an on-going, full time job. Yes, we do it for the love of writing–for ourselves. But when we share it with the world, it becomes a product. It costs money to put it out there, and it needs to generate revenue, or it’s not worth continuing.


“How is it entitlement if I just want to read and can’t afford the books?? You should be grateful someone reads your books at all.”

I’m going to pause here for a moment to take a deep breath and master my emotions. Okay. First of all, that is the definition of entitlement. You can’t afford it? But authors should be able to afford to give away their livelihoods for free? You can’t afford it, so it’s okay to steal? No. It’s not okay. I’m sorry for your personal circumstances that prevent you from being able to buy a book you really, really want to read, but that does not make it okay for you to steal a copy. There are these things called libraries where they actually make books available for free. They buy them on your behalf, so the author doesn’t have to skip a meal, and then loan them to you for a time so you can enjoy the stories without having to shell out a dime. There are these things called book sales where authors make their books available at a much lower cost, or even free, where you can grab a copy totally guilt-free.

It just so happens, I currently have one of these floating around:

Catch Me is FREE at Smashwords until 7.31.2018, so feel free to check it out. Click the title, or the image to go directly to the Smashwords product page. If you feel adventurous, book 2 of this series is also discounted until the end of July.

 

See how this works? I, the author, make this book available to the reader and invite them to download from a legitimate bookseller. I’m far from the only one. All you have to do is go to Smashwords, set your filter to FREE and you’ll find hundreds, thousands of free titles right there for your enjoyment.

“How’s that any different?” you ask. Here’s how:

When a library purchases a book, it’s a sale for the author. They get paid for that. When they discount their own book, it’s their choice as a marketing strategy. Even free downloads (if they’re legitimate) can help an author’s career. Those downloads are tracked; they affect the book’s ratings and visibility. The higher it is on the ranking list, the higher the chance others will want to buy a copy, and authors get paid for that, too. Pirate sites, on the other hand, do none of that. They’re basically a black hole of nothing for the author.

As for being grateful, please excuse the profanity, but in this case, there is really no other way I know to reply, except to say, “Fuck you.” That is all the answer you deserve for even thinking something like that about an author who puts their heart and soul into a book, much less saying it aloud, to their face. So, at the risk of being redundant, I say again: Fuck. You.


“I just want to check out the author first to see if I like them. I don’t want to shell out money on a no-name and end up hating the book. I’ll buy a legit copy if I like it!”

It may surprise you to hear this, but this is not actually a valid reason for pirating a book. Authors and stores go to great lengths to give you every opportunity to check out a book before you buy. If you don’t look at the sample, that’s on you. That’s you deliberately choosing to turn a blind eye to the legitimate option in favor of piracy. It may also surprise you to hear that those “no-name” authors you are so eager to sample are the ones who are hurt by piracy the most, because they depend on their royalty income the most. They don’t have a solid readership to keep them afloat, or side income from book merch, or movie or TV series rights. They literally depend on every single penny they get from royalties.

It may seem innocent, but this is just another form of entitlement. “I should be able to read it first and then decide if it’s worth paying for.” Well, no. The very fact that you do want to read it first means it’s worth paying for. You don’t go to a restaurant and say, “Serve me first, and if I like it, I’ll pay for my meal.” You don’t go to a store and say, “Let me wear this T-shirt for a few weeks, and then I’ll decide whether it’s worth paying for.” For that matter, no movie theater in the world will let you in to watch a movie without buying a ticket first. eBooks are no different. If you pirate one, no matter how you justify your decision to do so, you are stealing. You are supporting a system that robs authors blind. There is nothing you can say that will ever make that acceptable.


“Holy crap, this is really awful! I hate that my favorite authors have to go through this. How can I help?”

Now that is the right response. 🙂 Thank you. I mean that sincerely. You’d be surprised how good it is to hear that someone out there actually cares, and even wants to help. If you really want to help your favorite authors, buy their books. That’s all. Don’t look for them on pirate sites. If you happen across one, or someone sharing a link to one, report the person and tell the author. It’s not easy, but there are steps authors can take to curb piracy–if they know about it. Tell people about your favorite books and when you do, tell them where they can be bought. Share with your friends when you see an author has a sale or promotion going on. It helps both the author, and the readers who might otherwise balk at paying full price.

Authors are not unsympathetic, believe me. Many of them will go to great lengths to get books into the hands of their struggling readers. But please realize we’re human, too. We have families, and mortgages, and medical bills, and this is not a hobby. It’s our job. We work at it non-stop, without breaks, vacations, and often times without support or encouragement. We do our jobs well, and we shouldn’t have to justify our need to get paid for it.

Thank you for your time.

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