Tag Archives: indie

Russell Blake’s Six Things Successful Indie Authors Have

Great post the other day by indie thriller writer Russell Blake, who manages to earn six figures a year with his self-published books. This is how he distills the habits of a successful indie author:

What do all of these authors have in common, though? All these indies who are making serious, and in some cases, insane, bank? First, they publish regularly. As in once every few months, and in some cases, once every month. Second, they work in genres that will support them. While most of the top earners are in romance or one of its offshoots, others are in science fiction, which voraciously consumes indie work; some are in my genre (action thrillers), some in mystery, some in fantasy. Third, they all work long hours and take this extremely seriously. Fourth, they operate their publishing businesses like businesses, not like hobbies. They have production schedules they stick to. They market and promote. They invest in professional help when necessary and grasp that you have to spend money to make it. Fifth, they write books readers enjoy reading, as opposed to books their muse dictates they write. That’s an important distinction, because what we as authors often want to write might not be all that marketable. So we compromise based on our understanding of the market. And sixth, they’re constantly adjusting their sails to best negotiate treacherous water and ever-shifting winds. They’re pragmatic. And most have great senses of humor, as well as a keen appreciation of irony. That goes with the gig, I suppose. As does pragmatism.

Of course, your mileage varies. It all comes down to how much you want to
1) devote to writing, and
2) devote to the market (which might involve giving up on that beloved project involving atheists colonizing a planet in space to flee fundamentalists …)

I’m not condoning all of Russell’s opinions in this post. I’m just offering it up as food for thought.

You can read the entire post here.

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Starting out as an indie author: Using keywords for getting into niche categories on Amazon

Starting out as an indie author

When you publish an ebook through Amazon’s KDP dashboard, you are allowed to select two categories, such as Fantasy/Historical or Fantasy/Epic. But not all of the browse categories on Amazon are available through the dashboard. I’ve written before about how important it can be for sales to get into the right categories here and here.

Much of what I wrote in those posts, however, is now obsolete, at least as far as strategies on how to get into obscure categories is concerned. But it is still true that for the sake of visibility, it’s important to be in categories where the competition isn’t as strong (unless you’re selling hundreds of copies a day, that is). Some of the subcategories for ebooks that aren’t options in the dashboard are wonderfully intimate little niches that will keep you book visible even with a much lower sales ranking. Because if your book drops out of the top 100, it is officially dead (believe me, I know).

But whereas once you had to write Amazon directly in order to be listed in the categories, now you need to use keywords.

When you publish through KDP, one of your options is to type in seven keywords. Little information is given as to their purpose, and it is easy to underestimate how important they can be. In the KDP help pages, however, there is extensive information on which keywords to use to get into various categories that can’t be chosen directly. Here are some examples that in my own experience have proven useful:

Science Fiction & Fantasy Keywords

Literature & Fiction Keywords

Teen & Young Adult Category Keywords

Of course it makes no sense to aim for a category just because there isn’t as much competition. But if you can find some niche categories where your book would fit, I highly recommend using keywords to get into them. It just might give your book the edge it needs.

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all

Starting out as an indie author: Creating your own covers

Starting out as an indie author: Interview with Kate Sparkes

Starting Out as an Indie Author: Getting Your Books into Google Play

Starting Out as an Indie Author: Getting Your Books into Google Play

Starting out as an indie author

In an earlier post in this series, I mentioned that since I’d heard so many horror stories about Google Play randomly cutting prices of indie books, and Amazon subsequently following suit — with serious consequences for the incomes of the writers involved — I decided not to try to sell my books through that venue.

But then I learned (on Kboards of course) that the stories I’d heard, while true, could be avoided with creative pricing. Apparently Google discounts all books in pretty much the same way. But while the percentages hover around a 23% discount, the discounts jump around a bit, and don’t apply to the lowest price points (supposedly). Luckily, the smart folks on the Internet have figured out what you have to do to get your book priced the way you want it. This in turn will keep Amazon happy and they won’t discount your book below the 70% royalty sweet spot of 2.99.

Here is a compilation of some of the suggestions I’ve found around the Internet for how to price your book on Google Play to make it end up the price you want:

Desired price / Price you need to enter on Google Play:

99c / 99c
1.49 / 1.49 (Apparently Google does not discount these)
1.99 / 2.54
2.99 / 3.93
3.99 / 5.18
4.99 / 6.48
5.99 / 7.78

I don’t know if all of these are actually 100% correct; you might need to experiment a bit within the price range to get the results you want.

Becoming a “partner” on Google Play

You cannot publish with Google Play without a Gmail account, so if you don’t have that yet, it’s the first thing you need to do. Once you’ve signed up, you can go here to get started publishing:

https://play.google.com/books/publish/

The Google Play dashboard is much less intuitive than Amazon, B&N, Draft2Digital and Kobo, the sales sites I have primarily used until now. On the left you have the following options: book catalog, analytics & reports, promotions, payment center, and account settings. Today I will only be going into “book catalog” and “payment center” since that is what you need in order to publish a book. (The “account settings” automatically gets populated with your Google account info and any publisher info you add when you sign in.) You do the actual publishing from “book catalog”:

Google Play

But although it is farther down in the list, I suggest starting with the item “payment center”: if you don’t, your book will not be published. The fist couple of times I tried to publish Part I of my serialized version of Yseult, I kept getting the error message “PRICE MISSING OR NOT APPLICABLE” which didn’t make a lot of sense to me, since Google allows you to set the price to free. Finally, I googled the error message and found out that Google Play would not allow me to publish until I entered my payment info. So maybe that should be first in line … ?

Anyway, in the payment center, click “Payment Profiles” and enter your bank account info. GP does not allow PayPal, unfortunately. If your bank is in the US, for Sales Territories select “WORLD – US/USD” and under “CURRENCY CONVERSION” TURNED ON.

Once you’ve saved your payment information, you can go to “Book Catalog” and actually publish your book. Click on the “Add book” button. If you already have an ISBN for your book, enter it here, otherwise check the box that you don’t. The “Book details” pane opens, which should be largely self-explanatory. One thing that bears mentioning, however, is that for GP you have to enter you bio for EVERY BOOK. Interesting, huh? The leading search engine in the world can’t find the biographical info for for a single author account …

Once you’ve entered the book details, in the next pane you upload your ebook and cover. The book itself can be either EPUB or PDF. In order to save yourself grief and repeated uploads, if you are uploading an Epub file, I suggest testing it with EPUB Validator first:

http://validator.idpf.org/

The next pane is for pricing. No dropdown menu for the currency, unfortunately, so if you’re in the States, enter USD manually. The box after “for” should be WORLD. For the price, see the list above. 🙂

The “Settings” pane is for metadata. The format is of course “digital” and for the subject, enter keywords that will get your book into the appropriate categories, such as “fantasy” and “historical.” The form then makes suggestions that you can choose from. For most of the other options, you’re fine with the defaults, at least as far as I could determine.

The final pane is for publishing, where you can decide whether to publish only to Google Books or also to Google Play as well. Seems a no-brainer to me to choose both. 🙂

I have only just started publishing with Google Play, so I can’t say yet whether all the work will actually be worth it. But it was fun finding the free book with my smartphone and downloading it. If you have Google Play, please do so as well! There don’t seem to be any Nestvolds other than me in the GP store, so the free book should be pretty easy to find.

Once I’ve been on Google Play longer, have published a few more things, and understand the system better, I will post more.

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all

Starting out as an indie author: Creating your own covers

Starting out as an indie author: Interview with Kate Sparkes

Starting out as an indie author: Creating a welcome page for your newsletter with free tools

Starting out as an indie author

My goal for today originally had to do with redesigning my blog and adding progress bars, using the wonderful tips I’ve received in the comments here. But before tackling the whole adding-progress-bars / blog-redesign challenge, I wanted to make what I thought would be a simple change, from a tip gleaned on David Gaughran’s blog on building a killer email list.

As a result, I have to share some experiences regarding my own email list before they disappear out of my tired old brain. I thought I would “start” my marketing day off today by adding the incentive of a free ebook to my newsletter signup widget. As soon as I started writing down the steps I would need to complete in order to do so, it began to occur to me that it would take me a bit longer than I originally expected. But even then, I totally underestimated the time involved.

Um, like — hours???

I realize that I have not yet posted about setting up a newsletter in the first place, but this particular aspect of the whole business is a response to immediate experience and fresh in my mind. Which is why I decided to tackle the subject on my blog arse-backwards. 🙂 (Not that I’ve ever done that before …) I promise that when and if I put these posts together as an ebook, I will sort the chronology out to make it more logical.

Here’s my original to-do list for the simple task of adding a free ebook to my newsletter signup:

– Make PDF of Never Ever After

– Upload PDF

– Make welcome page for free download

– Set up automated response for Mailchimp

– Edit widget for newsletter signup

And this is how it went:

1) Make PDF of Never Ever After

This proved to be more complicated than anticipated. Scrivener has an option to compile a book as PDF, but when I tested the file, Acrobat wouldn’t open it. So I compiled the collection as a DOC file and made a PDF from that.

Which looked kinda cruddy, without page numbers or table of contents and with single-space tiny font. All things that do not matter in a mobi or epub file — TOC is generated automatically, page numbers are unnecessary, and font is adjustable. (This step would not have been necessary if I already had a PDF for the book for Print on Demand publishing, but I haven’t published any of my short story collections for print yet, except for the one I did with Jay Lake.)

Anyway, it was back to the DOC file to add a TOC and page numbers, and reformat the text. While I was at it, I updated the links in my back matter — which also ended up giving me a lot of grief, which I won’t go into here in detail. Let’s just say, it took me over an hour until I was happy enough with the PDF to upload.

Upload PDF

Make welcome page for free download

These two steps were simple enough. I originally intended to make a hidden page for the download, but since that option wasn’t available via WordPress, I decided to go with password protected. You can read here about how to do that.

Set up automated response for Mailchimp

Another roadblock encountered. I find Mailchimp extremely difficult to navigate, about as counter-intuitive to my way of thinking as things get. But it’s one of the few free options still out there, and I already started my list with them, so I’m committed for the time being. When I first tried to find a way to send automatic response emails, I ended up on the “Automation” page — which is only available to holders of pro accounts.

A comment on this blog post sent me in the right direction. From the “Lists” page, click on the dropdown menu under “Stats” (for some reason). There you will find the link to “Signup forms” — which also include automated response, opt-in, and welcome emails. You can learn more here.


Creating my Mailchimp “Thank you” response email.

Now I have an automated welcome email and a page for the freebie set up. 🙂

Edit widget for newsletter signup

The last step only involved editing the widget for my newsletter (which on my page is a WordPress link) to add the cover of the story collection and change the description to emphasize that something FREE is involved. Part of me still has a problem with all these incentives I have to keep adding here and there, but I am slowly accepting the fact that I am never going to be a bestseller on the basis of my personality and my blog alone, unfortunately (unlike John Locke — right).

Lesson here: Everything takes way longer than you expect.

I would be extremely grateful if anyone so inclined would click on the link, help me test the process, and report your results in the comments below. I promise I won’t be offended when you unsubscribe. 🙂 And even if you don’t, you’re pretty safe from spam from me. Although I set my Mailchimp “campaign” up as a new release newsletter, I haven’t even sent out an announcement of my last book yet, which was months ago. :/ As much as I enjoy being an indie writer after my experience in traditional publishing, I still have a lot of internal blocks regarding marketing that I need to work on. Wish me luck!

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all

Starting out as an indie author: Creating your own covers

Starting out as an indie author: Creating your own covers

Hire a cover artist or make it yourself?

Ruth Nestvold covers
Some of my covers*

I’m starting this post off with a random selection of my covers — what came up when I searched for covers in my Flickr account, since I just don’t have the time to put together a banner specifically for the purpose right now. Still, it’s a pretty good selection for what I want to explore today: how professional do you want your covers to look? What are you willing to invest to ensure that your covers don’t scream thrown together in an hour with free art found on the internet? (That was the basis for the only cover above that I did completely on my own, in response to a challenge on Joe Konrath’s blog, to write, create the cover, and publish an ebook within 8 hours. It shows. *g*)

Aside from the cover I slapped together just in time to make the 8 hour deadline, I think the differences between these covers are most obvious in the typeface. My daughter — the architect with all the Photoshop expertise who helps me with my covers — can manipulate images wonderfully, much faster than I can, but when we work on a cover together, we often seem to spend much of our time tweaking fonts.

Those who follow this blog probably know which of these covers were designed professionally, and which I designed with my daughter. But if any random visitors want to pipe up in the comments as to what they thought, I would be very interested to see if it’s as obvious as I think it is!

I already talked a little bit about covers and how to find cover artists in my post on the cost of self-publishing. In this installment, I would like to go into covers in a bit more detail, in particular, resources for those who want to try to make their own. But a word of warning up front — if you don’t have any background in design (or someone to help you who does), it will very likely show when you make your own covers.

Then why even bother if you can get a cover on Fiverr for five bucks? When you buy stock art on Dreamstime or Shutterstock, it usually costs more! Here are a few reasons for doing it yourself:

– First off, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to like that five buck cover. Most of my experiences with cover artists have been great, but one of my forays into hiring someone turned out to be a waste of time and money — and it was quite a bit more than five bucks. After that experience, I stuck with making covers with my daughter for a while, since I really didn’t feel like throwing any more money out the window.

– Another advantage of making your own covers is that you can tweak the information on the cover without having to go back to the cover artist, possibly paying more. Let’s say, for example, that you win some big award, and you want to add that information to the cover. Or you decide to make a book into the first in a series, and you need to add “Book 1.” If you created the PSD file in the first place, it’s much easier to do.

– It’s almost as much work finding a cover artist as it is making a cover. It takes plenty of time to go through lists of cover artists, look at examples of their work, and decide which one might fit the tone and genre of the work you need a cover for.

– Perhaps you’re a bit of a control freak, and you have very precise ideas about how you want your cover to look — and you don’t trust anyone else to get it the way you want it.

– You have a background in design, photography, art, or something else along those lines. You enjoy making covers, and for you it’s a part of the creative process. Bestselling indie author H. M. Ward even does the photography for her covers herself. You can read about her cover making process here.

Stock Art

So if you decide to get creative and attempt to make your own covers, where are the best places for getting stock photos? And how much will you have to pay? And is it possible to find stock that isn’t already being used by everyone and her sister?

Some of the main stock art sites:

Shutterstock

Canstock

Dreamstime

iStock

Bigstock

123rf

Depositphotos

Fotalia

Envato

Razzle Dazzle

On most of these sites you can either buy packages of credits for the purchase of stock images, or you can subscribe and download a certain number of images a day. Prices for individual images vary from site to site and also according to the size and start at a couple of dollars. For larger images, however, you can easily pay $20 for a single photo. So if you are going to be making a series of covers and you have a general idea in advance of the kind of images you’ll be needing, it can worth it in the long run to subscribe for a month and download your daily allotment of images during that month. I did this about a year ago, and now I have an excellent collection of images for use on covers, in banners, on my web site, you name it.

Unfortunately, most of these sites do not tell you how often an image has been downloaded, and you just might find the image you wanted to use on another cover in your genre. The license you buy from these sites is not exclusive. As a result, it makes sense to search by popularity and skip the images on the first page.

Another possibility for finding cover art is through Deviantart. This would involve contacting the artist / photographer directly and working out terms and pricing.

A reminder: make sure that the license you are purchasing allows you to use the art in ebook covers, and if you intend to make a POD book, print as well!

Fonts

When making your own covers, you may also want to use fonts that you don’t by default have on your computer. Here are some places where you can get new fonts:

Dafont.com

1001 Free Fonts

Font Squirrel

What if you decide to hire a cover artist after all?

There are a couple of threads on Kboards which I mentioned in this post which include links to cover artists and premade covers. The article also has a couple of other links to help you find a cover artist to do all the above work for you. 🙂

* The professional covers are the first and the fifth in the row.

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all

Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all.

Starting out as an indie author

Why hire an editor?

Hiring an editor or proofreader for your manuscript before you publish is one of the costliest pre-publishing expenses you as an indie writer can incur. For a lot of us who aren’t selling thousands of copies of our books each month, the temptation might be great to skip booking any kind of editing services for our ebooks.

But the thing is, it’s very, very important to have (at least) a second set of eyes go over your manuscript. Yes, we all have spell-checking in our word processors these days, but what about those pesky typos that happen to be a word too (like “to” and “too”)? When the words came out of your own fingers, it’s often very difficult to see the mistakes. Someone with more distance to the writing and the story is also more likely to catch all those bloopers you and your beta readers missed. Who tend to be friends and fans, after all, and thus by definition might not have the necessary distance.

What exactly do I mean by “distance”? As I see it, distance in this respect means being able to judge your writing as a reader, and not as the author. We as writers tend to be invested in the words we write, the characters we create, and the stories we are telling, which can make it difficult to judge them objectively. But not only that, when we are still to close to what we’ve written, our brains have a greater tendency to translate an actual mistake on the screen or the page to what it is supposed to be. As an example, in one of my books, the word “lucking” for “luckily” went through nearly a dozen beta readers and critique partners before it was caught by the editor I hired.

Types of editing

Proofreading – Checking for spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes. This is the most superficial level editing which only looks for the most basic mistakes.

Copy editing or line editing – General proofreading plus checking for consistency and stylistic errors. Some editing services separate proofreading and copy editing, but I’m not quite sure how an editor would be able to correct only consistency and style and not spelling and grammar.

Content editing – All of the above, plus feedback on the structure of the story as a whole.

Developmental editing – Substantive feedback on the “big picture” elements of the work, including plot, character, style, and pacing. Editing of this sort should be done separately from copy editing or proofreading, since the whole point is for the editor to help the writer fix the story — and that in turn will require serious rewriting. Most writers with a completed manuscript will not be looking for developmental editing, which is very expensive. Rates for an 80,000 word novel start at about $500.

Here’s a list of editors from the Kboards site. As I implied above, there is some fluidity to the editing terms I listed. For example, some editing services refer to content and developmental editing as the same thing, while others differentiate between copy editing and line editing. When deciding on an editor, you also need to decide exactly what kind of work you think your manuscript needs and book accordingly. As I mentioned in my last post in this series, if you have never worked with an editor before, I would suggest first trying a few with good referrals or testimonials who offer free samples of their editing work.

When can you get away with not hiring an editor?

In “The Costs of Self-Publishing,” I listed editing and cover expenses (whether in stock art or hiring a cover designer) as the only two price points I think a writer starting out seriously needs to consider. Can you skip this price point? In my experience, it tends to be the biggest expense pre-publishing. As with all rules, there are exceptions. While I think most beginning indie writers should invest in an editor, there are a number of cases where the expense can safely be skipped, and several more where it’s a toss-up whether or not you really need to invest in an editor.

Your book / novella / short story has been previously published elsewhere, where it went through a professional editing pass

This one to me is a no-brainer. Most of my ebooks were previously published before I brought out my self-published editions, and I trust the editors of the magazines and publishing houses where they first appeared to have done their job. Of course, no one sees all the mistakes in a manuscript, and I’ve gotten “needs an editor” reviews for some of those works which very definitely did have an editor. But they are relatively rare.

So if you are publishing your backlist or anything else that has been previously published, you can safely skip hiring an editor or proofreader.

The book has been workshopped extensively and/or gone through several beta readers, at least one of whom took the time to also do line edits

While this was the case with Shadow of Stone, I hired an editor anyway because I wanted to make the book as good as I possibly could. At the time, however, my ebooks were selling quite well. With the sales I have now, my decision might have been different — but I believe the quality of the book would have suffered.

You have editing experience yourself and you are willing to lay the work aside for at least three months (preferably more) before doing a final editing pass

While I have not actually used this method yet on any of my own self-published works, I could imagine it would be effective in combination with critique partners or beta readers. I have a Ph.D. in English, I’ve taught both literature and grammar, and in my former life as an English professor, I helped edit a number of scholarly papers and collections. That, of course, is not the same thing as fiction (something painfully brought to my attention when I was at Clarion). But I do have the professional editing skill set.

I have often set fiction I’m working on aside for several months, and I am always astonished how, after such a break, I can see my own work with fresh eyes. What also helps me to see what I’ve written more critically is to print it out and read it with pen in hand. Mistakes I don’t catch on screen I might catch on paper.

You have a friend / critique partner with editing experience who writes in your genre and is willing to trade manuscript edits with you

This is also a method I have not yet tried, but it is something I’ve discussed with friends and can imagine would work — as long as both sides take the editing seriously, and neither one is too inclined to take edits personally — with the subsequent danger of ruining the friendship …

Possible alternative: read the book out loud

So what if none of the above applies and you absolutely do not have the money to hire and editor or proofreader? On a couple of blogs, I have seen a method the respective authors swear by: either read the book out loud to yourself, or have it read to you by text-to-speech software. I have never used this method, so I have no experience to relate, but by all means, read the blog posts I linked to and give the method a shot.

I would love to hear of any experiences you’ve had with professional editors — or any other editing methods you’ve tried — in the comments.

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author

A couple months back, a certain Charlotte Ashley took issue with something the wonderful (and wonderfully successful) SF indie and KBoards author Hugh Howey* said, and in order to prove how wrong he was, she posted an amazingly inflated list of the expenses involved in self-publishing. She came up with a total publishing cost for an 80,000 word novel of $1900. Her numbers have already been taken apart by the good folks who follow the The Passive Voice. If you are inclined to do so, go and read her post and then the comments on PG’s blog. My more modest estimates will be waiting here when you get back. (BTW, if you have not already done so, I recommend subscribing to PG’s (Passive Guy) blog, and signing up for KBoards as well. You will learn much in both places that will help you as you move forward in self-publishing.)

While I have no interest here in joining the battle regarding Ashley’s numbers, her list offers a simple point of departure regarding potential publishing costs. This probably should have been my first post in this series, since when it comes down to it, in this post I’ll be going into a bunch of the things you have to look into before you start formatting your manuscript and deciding where to publish it. These are the questions (and expenses) to consider when you’re sitting on that brand-new potential world bestseller and wondering how to get it to all the millions of readers who are waiting for your stunning work of staggering genius. So with no further ado, here are the main price points to look into before publishing your novel.

Editing services – First you have to decide whether you want straight proofreading, (checking for spelling and grammar mistakes only), copy editing (generally proofreading plus consistency and other small errors), or content editing, which includes feedback on the structure of the story as a whole.

Most freelance editors charge per word; some charge per hour, making it very difficult to estimate what the cost of a complete manuscript would be. In the latter case, it’s very important to find an editor who will do a free sample in order to get an estimate of the final cost.

Prices for editing services vary wildly. Editors who are just starting out tend to offer their services at lower rates in order to attract customers from whom they can get referrals and testimonials for their web pages. Here again I would suggest signing up for Kboards and checking Writers’ Cafe for people offering editing services. At the same time, I would not recommend booking anyone just starting out who doesn’t offer a trial of at least the first 2,000 words.

From a quick glance through my bookmarks and Kboards, it looks like the minimum cost for proofreading a 80,000 word novel would be about $200.

I will go into whether or not you can safely do without editing services in another post in this series. But just a hint: most people should probably hire a proofreader — unless they have multiple, talented beta readers who are willing to do line edits. 🙂

Minimum proofreading cost for 80,000 words: $200

Book cover – Book covers can be a lot cheaper than you might think, given all the cover artists out there who sell pre-made covers at barely above cost. Like with the editing services mentioned above, this can be an attempt on the part of a designer starting out to find initial customers and build a reputation. A number of cover designers also offer designs rejected by customers as pre-mades — which doesn’t mean they’re bad, but they just weren’t the ones the authors liked best.

Here’s an example of what you can get when you buy a pre-made cover:

Island of Glass
Pre-made cover from Littera Designs

The cost of pre-made covers starts at about $25. If you’re interested in looking around to see what’s out there, I would once again recommend checking the threads of the Writers’ Cafe on Kboards for cover artists. There is a thread for pre-made covers here.

Of course, you have to have the perfect story for the cover. And buying such a cover might entail additional expenses. I have since hired Littera Designs for two more books in the series. 🙂

Other inexpensive options for getting a cover for your book are through Elance and Fiverr. I have not used either before, but I know several people who have used Fiverr and were quite happy with the results, for example Beth Camp and Christiana Miller.

Finally, if you have some Photoshop or Gimp skills, you can make your own covers. In that case, the only expense would be in time and licensing fees for stock art.

As with editing, I plan to go into cover options in more detail in another post in this series.

Minimum cover price: $5

Layout & Design – As I mentioned in “Preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers,” it’s getting progressively easier to create your own EPUB and MOBI files for uploading to the various ebook retailers. You may have to spend some money initially for software that will help or speed up the formatting process, but not even that is necessary if you can learn how to use the free tools. Naturally if you find yourself utterly defeated on the formatting front and/or you are a perfectionist swimming in money, you can have your ebook professionally formatted. As with editing, the cost tends to go by the length of the manuscript. As I have never used an ebook formatter, I’m unfamiliar with the prices they charge. This is also a service that can be booked through Fiverr, however — simply search for “ebook formatting.” (Layout for paperback Publish on Demand books is another level of difficulty entirely; for that reason, I intend to devote a complete post to POD formatting and options.)

Minimum layout cost: $0

Publicity – How are you going to get anyone to notice your book once you’ve thrown it out there into the cold, cruel world? Blog about it? How many regular readers do you have? Who will notice?

One option (which I have not yet tried) is to book a blog tour with someone who will arrange guest posts on book blogs in your genre. (If I ever dare the waters of a paid blog tour, I will be sure to post about my results.) Organized virtual book tours start at around $40. If you have writer friends who blog and write in your genre, you can trade cover reveals at no cost to either of you. Another marketing strategy is to try paid advertising. This is rather difficult, however, when the book is newly published and reviewless, since most sites that advertise ebooks have minimum review requirements.

Of course, you can always go with Charlotte Ashley’s suggestion and pay for a Kirkus Review for $425.

Minimum publicity cost: $0

Website – Some people maintain that it’s not professional to have a WordPress blog that is obviously free, like mine (you can tell because “WordPress” is in the URL). Better would be to have www.ruthnestvold.com. Well, I have that too, and it costs me about $60 a year for hosting. Personally, however, I doubt if it is really necessary. I know a number of successful writers who use free blogs as their web presence. Perhaps there are readers out there who decide not to buy a writer’s next book when they see that he or she has a free blog, but I suspect they’re in the minority. So it’s up to you whether you want to pay the money for your own domain or not. The important thing is that readers can find you if they want.

Minimum cost for a website: $0

Minimum total cost of self-publishing (subjective)

Seeing as the only expenses that I find absolutely necessary are an editor and a cover designer, that puts the minimum cost of self-publishing at a little over $200 for an 80,000 word novel. Some people would disagree with me that a self-publisher needs an editor or proofreader, which would leave cover design as the only necessary expense. Editing and covers can, of course, also be much more expensive. My pre-publication expenses for Shadow of Stone came to well over $600 — admittedly, a long book, making the editing price point more expensive. But I also wanted the same cover designer I booked for Yseult, and he had since raised his prices. I also did not want the embarrassment of publishing an unedited manuscript. (And yes, I did earn all that back.)

Such things, however, are naturally for each individual author to decide. When it comes down to it, it’s possible to spend absolutely nothing. Skip the editing, make the cover yourself with the free program Gimp and free stock art (but make sure the licensing allows you to use it for ebook covers), format it yourself with free tools, upload it to ebook retailers, and you have an ebook.

Nonetheless, it’s important to be aware of the professional services available that might give your book an edge among the many self-published ebooks on the market. A book that has been professionally edited and that has a professional cover may just have that edge.

Next week, I will go into more detail as to why I think editing is important — and who can probably skip the expense after all.

*If there is anyone who proves you can make money writing science fiction, Hugh Howey has to be it. So take heart, SF writers out there! There is still a market for visions of the future. 🙂

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author

In my last post for beginning indie authors, I went into the reasons you might choose to publish your books through an aggregator who distributes them to various sales channels for you. In this post, I will take a look at three such sites in more detail, Smashwords, Draft2Digital and Xinxii.

Smashwords

When I first started experimenting with ebooks, the main options for marketing fiction were Smashwords and Amazon. Since I was a bit intimidated by all the programs needed to create an ePub file, and Smashwords had the added advantage of a very long and detailed manual on how to create a doc file that would pass the checks of their “Meatgrinder” (Smashwords term, not mine), I began my foray into indie publishing there with my previously published novella “Looking Through Lace.”

While as whole epublishing has gotten much easier since 2011, in my experience, the same cannot really be said for Smashwords. Smashwords nominally accepts ePub files, but since they are not eligible for Extended Distribution (everything outside of the Smashwords store itself), if you want to use Smashwords for distribution to multiple retailers, you have to format your manuscript as a DOC or DOCX file according to the Smashwords guidelines.

And those guidelines are over 100 pages long. So you can imagine that it takes a while to get a manuscript prepared for Smashwords, especially if you haven’t done it before.

Once I finally got my first attempt at an ebook approved for Expanded Distriubution through Smashwords (after a couple of tries), I used that file to create a template for future uploads. But even despite the template, I have often had to upload a file more than once. The Meatgrinder appears to be very sensitive.

Some details regarding my experience with Smashwords: The “Smashwords Style Guide” suggests copying and pasting the entire text of your document into Wordpad in order to strip the Word document of unnecessary coding. I find this much too time consuming, because it also takes out all italics (among other things), which then must be manually put back into the document. I have the advantage that I still do a lot of my writing in that old dinosaur Word Perfect, which doesn’t add as much junk formatting code. So in order to get a clean copy of the text without losing the formatting I still want, I convert my Word Perfect document to html and open the html file in a text editor. Using search and replace, I get rid of all the unnecessary formatting commands. Here I also change underlining to italics and replace the scene break I usually use (#) with the one preferred by Smashwords (* * *). Once the html file is cleaned up, I open it in my word processor, copy the text, and paste it into my template.

Royalty structure – From the Smashwords FAQs (http://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq): “For most retail distribution partners, Smashwords pays the author/publisher 60% of the suggested list price you set for your book. These rates vary by retailer for sales outside the US. Apple, Barnes & Noble and Diesel are 60% of retail price, though for Apple’s UK, France, Germany and Australian bookstores, Apple deducts a Value Added Tax (VAT) from your sales price, so your actual earnings share = 60% of (Retail price – VAT). Kobo is also 60% for books priced between $.99 and $12.99 for US and Canadian dollar-denominated sales. Sales in other currencies at Kobo are at 38% list. For the Baker & Taylor Axis360 library platform, libraries purchase a single copy at list price, for which the author/publisher earns 45% of list, and then the library is allowed to lend the book multiple times, but only allows one checkout at a time (patrons who want to check out a book that’s already checked out have option to purchase the book).” Books sold directly through Smashwords earn the author about 80% of the list price.

Channels distributed to – Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Amazon (limited distribution), Apple, Page Foundry, Baker & Taylor Blio, txtr, Library Direct, Baker-Taylor Axis360, OverDrive, Flipkart, Oyster, Scribd

Pros – The largest number of sales channels; the potential for sales through the Smashwords store itself; coupons for promotional purposes; easy to opt out of individual sales channels

Cons – Very stubborn Meatgrinder

Draft2Digital

D2D is a newer site for distributing ebooks to multiple retailers, and they don’t support as many channels as Smashwords. In my experience, however, they are much easier to use. In addition to DOC and DOCX files, they also accept EPUB files, which they will distribute directly to their retailers, as long as the file passes their ePub check. You can minimize the chance of your EPUB file being rejected by running it through EpubCheck yourself.

Since I always start with a correctly formatted EPUB for the sales channels I upload to directly, being able to also upload EPUB to D2D is a huge timesaver for me.

Another advantage of D2D is that they also distribute to CreateSpace for POD paperback books. Since formatting paperback is one of the more demanding chores of the indie writer (for me at least), this could be another helpful shortcut. I have only used the service through Draft2Digital once, however, for a collection of stories I wrote with Jay Lake, Almost All the Way Home From the Stars, because I wanted the royalties all in one place for me to make it easier to send Jay (and now his heirs) their share of the profits.

In order to generate the PDF for CreateSpace, D2D requires a DOC or DOCX file with a linked Table of Contents. I talk more about my experience creating a paperback through Draft2Digital here. Once I approved the PDF generated by D2D, I had to make the wraparound cover for the paperback, like so:

A disadvantage of publishing to CreateSpace through D2D is that you do not get a discount for author copies. You are not the publisher of the book, Draft2Digital is. So if being able to order discounted books directly from CreateSpace is important to you, you will have to create the PDF and upload to CreateSpace yourself.

Royalty structure – 60% of the book’s list price. From the D2D web site: “We only make money when you do. Our fee at most sales channels is approximately 10% of the retail price (it’s technically 15% of the net royalties). Everything else is up to you. You choose the book’s list price, you choose which sales channels you want to distribute through, and we’ll make it happen.”

Channels distributed to – iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Page Foundry, Scribd and CreateSpace. According to the web site, they are currently pursuing distribution agreements with Overdrive, Flipkart, Ingram, Omnilit, Tolino and Google Play.

Pros – Very easy uploads, no extra formatting needed, except for CreateSpace; the option to self-publish in paperback through CreateSpace

Cons – Not as many sales channels

Xinxii

Xinxii is primarily of interest to authors who want to get into European bookstores. Based in Berlin, Xinxii distributes to a number of important ebook retailers in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Spain, as well as offering distribution through Amazon and B&N. Since the level of English reading skills in Germany is quite high, there is definitely potential for sales of ebooks in English, as an excerpt from my Xinxii dashboard shows:

xinxii

As the screen shot also shows, however, authors do not make as high a percentage on their works through Xinxii as through other aggregators. On the other hand, they distribute to international markets difficult to reach any other way.

I found publishing to Xinxii quite easy. They accept EPUB format, as well as quite a few others; according to their web site “a Word document, a PowerPoint presentation, an Excel spreadsheet, an audiobook or a document created in PDF or ePUB.”

Royalty structure – Approximately 40% of the list price of your book. From the Xinxii site: “Please check the information page in the “My XinXii > Manage Uploads”-section for the specific royalties on sales transacted via XinXii distribution partners. Generally, we pass on up to 85% of the amount, that we receive from them, to the author.” Or, as Patricia clarified in the comments below, “You keep up to 85% of net revenue through our retail partners (= 50% of net price) and 70% of net price for sales through XinXii.” It appears that 50% of the net price is a little over 40% of the list price.

Channels distributed to – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Casa del Libro, iBookstore, Kobo / Fnac, o2, Sony Mobile, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Thalia, buch.de, buecher.de, donauland.at, otto-media.de, derclub.de, Flipkart, e-Sentral

Pros – Distributes to European and other markets hard to get into; accept a wide range of file formats

Cons – Low royalty rate compared to other platforms

Next week in this series I’ll talk a little about the costs of ebook publishing. If anyone wants to contribute something in the comments about their own experience with the kinds of investments they’ve had to make before being able to self-publish, I’d be happy to quote you and link to your site. 🙂

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors

Aggregators and sales channels

In my last blog post for beginning indie writers, I wrote about various ways to format your manuscript for ebook publishing and some of the more important sales channels where you might want to upload your books.

The sales channels I mentioned there, however, are only a few of the very many online bookstores that have started cropping up in the last few years, such as OverDrive, Flipkart, Oyster, Scribd, Baker & Taylor, Page Foundry and more. Not to mention the genre specific eBook stores like All Romance.

The thing is, for every channel where you sell your books directly, you have to register, format your book(s) according to the store guidelines, and upload the file, cover, description, and whatever other information the site requires. That can be a lot of work for one measly sale a year. (I personally have never sold anything in most of the stores mentioned above.)

But if you don’t want to miss out on those possible sales, there is an alternative. A new business model that has sprung up since the beginning of the ebook revolution is what is now most often referred to as “aggregators” — an ebook publisher who will distribute your book to multiple ebook vendors, while you, the writer, only have to upload your book once, rather than registering at ten different sites and uploading your book individually to each one.

Some reasons for using an aggregator

Such a service naturally comes at a price, in this case, a percentage of what your book earns at the stores the aggregator distributes to. While Amazon, B&N and Kobo typically give the author 70% of the sales for books priced at $2.99 or higher, at the aggregators the return for the author is usually 60% or less. (By comparison, books under $2.99 on Amazon only earn the author 35%, and some aggregators make no distinction according to price, making the question of whether to use their services even more complicated …)

So assuming your book is priced at 2.99 or more, why would anyone want to allow a simple distributor to take a percentage off their profits?

1) Uploading directly is too much work for too little gain

As I implied in the first section of this post, where I described the service that aggregators provide, sometimes it just isn’t worth it in terms of time and effort to upload your books directly to every single store out there.

As an example: say you have a novel selling for 3.99. At 70% from a sale of the book (standard for Amazon at that price), your take is 2.79. At 60% from Smashwords, for example, it comes out to 2.39. If you sell one book a year each to Page Foundry and Oyster, you have handed over a total cut to the aggregator of 0.80 — and you have saved *at least* an hour’s worth of work, and probably much more — registering for and uploading to all those channels directly (since you had no idea where you might possibly make a sale). Of course, if you’re seeing hundreds of sales to these channels, it would be worth it to register and upload individually. But it is very easy to opt out of distribution on both Smashwords and Draft2Digital, if your sales on one of those channels start taking off.

2) You can’t get into the market otherwise (frex: iBooks)

As I mentioned in my last post about preparing your manuscript for various channels, some stores have high or even insurmountable hurdles for uploading your books there directly. The iBooks store only accepts files uploaded through iTunes Producer, which means you need a Mac running OS X 10.8 or higher (as of July 2014). As I do not use a Mac, I have to rely on an aggregator to get into the iTunes store. For authors with a greater sales volume, it might be worth it to buy a Mac in order to submit to the store directly. But when you calculate that you are handing over 0.40 to the aggregator for every sale of a book priced at 3.99, you would need to sell over 1000 copies of your ebooks on iTunes before breaking even on the purchase of a MacBook.

Another example of not being able to get into the market is Barnes&Noble. For a long time, only writers with a US address and bank account could publish directly to B&N. They have since expanded to the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, and Belgium. Nonetheless, that still leaves many writers who have to rely on an aggregator in order to reach readers with a Nook.

3) You can’t be bothered

I do not mean this in a snarky way. Some writers would much rather be writing the next book instead of keeping track of a dozen sales channels. They have no problem giving up 10% of their profits to an aggregator, as long as they don’t have to worry about uploading new versions of their ebooks to every single ebook retailer, and would much rather stick with only Amazon and one or two aggregators. This is a completely valid choice and something to consider when you start publishing.

4) You want to make a book or story permafree for promotional purposes

Most ebook retailers will not allow you to set your price to free if you upload it directly. For some mysterious reason, though, this is possible when using aggregators. Thus, if you have a first book in a series or a short story in a fictional world that you want to make free, you will have to use an aggregator. (I have discussed some reasons why you might consider giving a book away for free elsewhere.)

In my next post, I will include more detailed info about the three aggregators I have worked with until now, Smashwords, Draft2Digital and Xinii.

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author

A dear friend of mine recently got the rights back to a novel she published some time ago, and she is now nearly ready to brave the waters of indie publishing with it. Many of the questions she had, however, were not things that I immediately and / or spontaneously had answers to. So I promised her I would try to organize what knowledge I had in a series of blog posts. Of course, my experience is not exhaustive, but I hope it will help others as a starting point for getting their books out there.

Ebook format

The most common format required when submitting an ebook to online distributors is EPUB. There are many different ways of creating epub files for ebooks, and this list naturally only includes a few of the many available options. The prices for the various programs are as of July 2014.

1) Scrivener – This is what I use. It is extremely simple to create an epub file with Scrivener — all you have to do is compile your manuscript as epub. Scrivener has the added advantage that it’s also a great writing tool. Windows $40, Mac $45 (more features). More on compiling epubs with Scrivener here:

Youtube Tutorial

Scrivener: The Ultimate Guide to Exporting Ebooks (Kindle, ePub, etc.)

– Note: If you’re starting from a fully formatted DOC or DOCX file, rather than a file you have been writing in Scrivener, you need to divide the file up into sections at each chapter (Ctrl+K) and make sure the compile options in the meta-data pane are all checked (Include in Compile, Page Break Before, Include As-Is).

2) Mobi Pocket Creator – I tried this long ago but never had much luck. Others swear by it though — and it’s FREE. 🙂

3) Atlantis – Atlantis is a word processing program that will also compile documents as ebooks. Worked pretty well for me when I tested it a while back, but I did lose some formatting. It also has the disadvantage that it is yet another word processing program, of which I have too many already. $35

5) Jutoh – I haven’t tried it, but check out this discussion for a lot of rave reviews. $39

6) Sigil – I have no experience with the actual conversion to ebook with Sigil, but I do use it for testing the epub format of the files created by Scrivener. FREE

7) Calibre – I have not used this method, but a tutorial can be found here. FREE

Whatever method you use, it is important to validate your epub file before you upload it. You can do that here.

Formats accepted by various distributors

While ePub is the most common format required for ebook publication, a number of retailers also accept other formats. Here a list of some of the most important, including guidelines and my experience (if any):

Amazon – KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing)

Formats accepted:
Word (DOC or DOCX)
HTML (ZIP, HTM, or HTML)
MOBI (MOBI)
ePub (EPUB)
Rich Text Format (RTF)
Plain Text (TXT)
Adobe PDF (PDF)
Guidelines: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A2MB3WT2D0PTNK
My experience: When I first experimented with publishing to Amazon, I uploaded a DOC file, since that was what I needed for the aggregator Smashwords. (I will talk about Smashwords and Draft2Detail in more detail in my next Indie Beginners post.) It was a mess. Luckily, soon thereafter Scrivener added the ePub compile option to their Windows version, and I haven’t had a problem with Amazon uploads since, with the exception of a bug with the Kindle Paperwhite a while back. I talked about that here.

Barnes&Noble – NOOK Press

Formats accepted: Word, HTML, Text, ePub
Guidelines: https://www.nookpress.com/support
My experience: After my experience with a Word file with KDP, the only file type I have uploaded to B&N is ePub. From what I can see on the Barnes and Noble store, my books there look fine. One problem with B&N for many writers is that it is so US-centric. For a long time, you could only publish if you had a US address and bank account. They have since expanded to the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, and Belgium. Nonetheless, that still leaves out many writers who have to find other means to publish there, such as through Smashwords or Draft2Digital.

Kobo – Kobo Writing Life

Formats accepted: .epub, .doc, docx, .mobi, .odt
Guidelines: http://download.kobobooks.com/learnmore/writinglife/KWL-Content-Conversion-Guidelines.pdf
My experience: I have only uploaded ePub files to Kobo, but that works fine. I sell next to nothing through Kobo, however, which makes me wonder if I should switch my books to an aggregator to earn the minumum amount for royalties to be paid out more quickly.

iTunes

Formats accepted: Only files uploaded through iTunes Producer
Guidelines: http://www.apple.com/itunes/working-itunes/sell-content/books/book-faq.html
My experience: None. I do not use a Mac, and since ebooks for iTunes can only be submitted through the submission app, iTunes Producer (requires OS X 10.8 or later), I have to rely on an aggregator. For authors with more serious sales, it might be worth it to buy a Mac just to be able to submit to the store yourself (and not give up the ~10% of your profits that aggregators take), but for me it is definitely not worth it at this time.

Google Play – Google Books

Formats accepted: PDF
Guidelines: https://support.google.com/books/partner/answer/166501?hl=en
My experience: None. I’m still wary of Google Play because of their policy of randomly discounting books. Lindsay Buroker has a good summary of why authors should still be careful about publishing to Google Play here.
I may eventually try and experiment with one or two of my short stories or collections that don’t sell all that well. That way, a deep discount and a price match by Amazon would not be a big loss of revenue. Naturally, if I do so, I will blog about that too. 🙂

For my next post in the Indie Beginners series, I intend to blog about aggregators (Draft2Digital and Smashwords), how you use them, and why you might want to.

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all

Starting out as an indie author: Creating your own covers