Tag Archives: indie author

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Not Tell People How to Read #amwriting

Every so often, I run across an article predicting the demise of print books, or ebooks, or books altogether, critical thinking, libraries, and so on. Every time I see one of these articles, I read it to see which argument the writer has elected to trot out, whose numbers they’re paying attention to, and whether they have anything new to add to the conversation.

Spoiler alert: most of them fail at that last thing.

I have ebook and print versions of all my books. Here’s what I know.

Ebooks are cheap and easy to produce. Once the final proofing is done on a story, I can bang out a perfectly acceptable ebook in an hour. No fancy razzmatazz, but the story is there with all you need to enjoy it. I typically spend a few hours to make it a little prettier than that. For most of my ebooks, I make about 70% of what you pay, and the distributor takes the rest.

Print books are less cheap and less easy to produce, but still not a huge investment. My print books typically take about a day to format. I can do it in four hours or so with zero razzmatazz, but as with my ebooks, I prefer taking a little time to do it right. For most of my print books, how much I get of what you pay depends completely on where you buy it. Unless you get it directly from me at a show, a $15.99 book sale pays me anywhere from $1-6. The rest goes to pay for printing and those pesky distributors. (Before you get excited about how much I earn from a book sale at a show, remember that I have to pay to be at that show.)

Major publishers can charge less for the smaller-sized paperbacks because they can print 10,000 at a time, which makes them super-cheap. They make money because a $1 profit on 10,000 sales is still $10,000.

Like most indies, I get my print books from a Print-On-Demand service, which means my print books are not super-cheap. They are still relatively cheap, but I have to charge what I do because my volume is much lower and I like doing crazy things like eating food, using electricity, and sleeping in a bed.

Major publishers would like ebooks to die for a lot of complex reasons that boil down to the fact they don’t control the sales channels for ebooks, but they do control the sales channels for print books.

You see, indies price our ebooks cheaper than our print books because there’s no paper involved, and it’s easier to get ebooks distributed around the world than print books. If I want to get my print books into a Barnes & Noble, I have to convince a store manager that they want my books in their store, then go through some hoops and provide a method for them to return the books to me for a refund if they don’t sell in an allotted amount of time. And also not get very much money for them.

By the way, when publishers get those returned books back, they still counted as sales for the bestseller lists.

But I digress.

Even if I do all that for Barnes & Noble, that gets me into one (1) B&N store. Not all of them. One.

That thing you just thought upon learning this information is about how I feel about it, only tempered because I’ve known this for a while.

To get worldwide distribution for my ebooks, I upload the file to three different websites. That’s it. No haggling, no convincing, no crap.

An in case you happen to still think indie books are inferior, I challenge you to visit the bestseller lists on Amazon and pick out all the indie books in the Top 100 of any given category. Author services has become an industry. Artists of high quality have turned to cover art as a way to pay the bills. Editors have gone freelance. Indies are teaming up in collectives and co-ops like Clockwork Dragon to trade skills.

Ebooks aren’t going to die. Print books are also not going to die. Each has inherent strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to like one and not the other. It’s also okay to like both.

As they tell kids in school, what matters is that you read and support the people who make the things you love, in whichever format you prefer. When you stop supporting us, we stop producing it. Because we’re people who like to do silly things like eat, use electricity, and sleep in beds.

P.S. I left out audiobooks for a reason. Whole other topic.

Working the Table: Getting Started as an #Indie at Conventions

Someone asked me recently how much money it really costs to get ready to work your first convention. What’s a good level of investment to plan on fielding for that first show? They asked me because I do this a fair amount, and have even co-authored a book on the subject.

Shameless self-promotion works! Sometimes.

I gave an off-the-cuff estimate of $200-300, then started thinking about the real answer. What’s the minimum needed to work a table, and what’s the minimum needed to be successful working a table?

The minimum expenses:

  1. Books. It’s challenging to sell books that you don’t have on hand.
  2. The table fee.
  3. Transportation costs–gas, parking, airfare, etc.
  4. Food.
  5. At least one pen–for signing your books.
  6. Something to hold cash and some bills to make change with.

These six things are the absolute minimum. At many shows, you’ll be given a table with skirting and sign attached to the front with your name in block letters. You can get by with this if you’re on a tight budget. New vendors manage with this all the time. This minimalist option lets you squeak by on little more than the cost of your books. Your setup and teardown time will be short, and you’ll have little to transport.

To really succeed, you’ll need to invest a bit more:

  1. Some sort of promotional handout–bookmarks and business cards are always winners. An informal poll of other authors reveals these two are the best bang for the buck in promotion. This type of thing is cheaper per piece when you buy in bulk, so get as many as you can afford at once.
  2. A way to accept credit cards–I use and recommend Square, which requires either a data connection or internet on the device you attach it to.
  3. A reseller permit, which requires a business license in your state. This allows you to buy copies of your own books without having to pay sales tax for that transaction. (Obviously, if your state doesn’t assess sales tax, you don’t need this, but you’ll still need the business license).
  4. Some sort of large promotional graphic thing with your name and/or your series name. Many authors and artists get a retractable banner to put behind their chair and a second banner for the front of the table. Other options include a table banner of 1.5-3 feet in height, a backdrop with a frame, a custom printed table cloth, and a banner with a stand. You can find a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
  5. A trade show tablecloth like this one. This isn’t necessary, but it makes your display look more professional.
  6. Book stands like these or these. I highly recommend these two types as cheap, reliable, inconspicuous, stable, and easy to both use and store.
  7. Some method of transporting your stuff between the table and your vehicle. I use one of these, but it’s overkill if you only have a few titles. A foldup handcart like this one or this one is a good starting option, depending on how you store your books.
  8. A plastic bin or similar container to hold pens, bookmarks/cards, book stands, and other whatnot.

Keep in mind that the more you add to your display, the longer setup and teardown will take. At most shows, I have a complex display with ~40 titles that takes 45-60 minutes for both setup and teardown, and it takes me, on average, three trips to my car. By contrast, the minimalist with 1-3 titles needs 5-10 minutes, and an average indie with 3-5 titles will need about half an hour.

In total, aside from the table fee and transportation, a good, solid start needs about $400 for books, banners, bookmarks, and odds & ends. If you can catch sales for banners and similar items, you can keep the costs lower. The good news is that many of these items won’t need to be repurchased for every show, so your costs come down to books, table fees, bookmark/card replacement, and transportation for subsequent shows.

Good luck, and don’t forget to order your books well in advance!

The Dreaded Blurb #amwriting #writingtips

Most indie authors hate writing the sales copy for their books. Alas, we have to do it anyway. Part of being an indie means taking a DIY approach to publishing. Traditional publishing houses have a staff of people who take a basic list of facts from the book and churn out sales copy. Indies do the same, only at lower speed.

There are authors who like writing blurbs. I’ve met a few. Every bunch has its weirdoes, and all of us creative types are already weird to begin with. I’m not one of these individuals. I hate doing it.

What is a blurb? It’s a bit of text designed to make you want to buy a book. Authors spend hours poring over 3-10 sentences to tweak them for maximum impact without giving away the story while remaining true to said story. We take classes on this, float them with our fellow sufferers, and think hard about hitting things. Then we give up, barf the stuff out because we have to, and move on.

At this point, I’ve written or helped write blurbs for 20+ different books, stories, and anthologies. Some are great. Others are… I’m just not going back and fixing them, okay? I have other things to do and blurbs suck.

Why do we hate them?

  1. I’m a fiction writer, Jim. Not a copywriter.
  2. I just spent 3-9 months writing and revising this book, and now you want it condensed into a snappy few paragraphs? *rage-filled bellow*
  3. “Buy this book, it’s awesome.” doesn’t work. Damn you, reader. Damn you.

Some tips to help you get your blurb going:

  1. Make a list of all the words that might apply to your book’s theme, plot, and characters. Include nouns (proper or not), adjectives, and verbs.
  2. If your book has more than one main character, pick the most important one or two. If you pick two, be aware most readers will expect a romantic plot or subplot involving them, unless you make it clear that won’t happen. Mention they’re siblings, bitter enemies, or whatever.
  3. Avoid the verb “to be”. In fiction writing, you generally avoid this verb anyway, right? (Hint: you should. Only use it when there’s no better verb to express something.) This verb is nothing more than an equal sign. Your blurb needs action words loaded with meaning.
  4. If you write for an age category that isn’t adults, the main character needs their age stated. Such as, “Sixteen-year-old Claire wants her father back.” If, instead, you write for adults, do not include the age of your protagonist. Likewise, if you write about non-human beings, age is irrelevant.
  5. Go to Amazon and browse to the appropriate subcategory for your book. Read some blurbs. Get the feel for how they sound and look.
  6. Read this: http://graemeshimmin.com/writing-a-logline-for-a-novel/
  7. Use the logline from Step 6 and your word list as a starting point. Barf up a couple of paragraphs. Try to hit about 200 words. Anywhere between 100 and 400 is fine, but 200 is a good length. Avoid giving away spoilers, twists, or the plot. Don’t summarize. Instead, set the stage. Who is the protagonist? What are the stakes of their journey? What’s super-cool about that journey? What kind of book is it (mention the fantasy kingdom, the dragons, the space station, the backwoods resort, or whatever to give readers an extra clue about the genre)? Anything that happens in the first 3-4 chapters is fair game, but don’t bring up stuff from later in the book.
  8. As with all writing, let someone else read it. Preferably, ask veteran indie authors to read it and offer suggestions.
  9. Revise it 1-500000 times.
  10. Yay! You’re done!

Even though this is a short piece of work, I recommend setting aside an entire day to get to Step 8. Writing a blurb is like writing poetry, in that every word has to be deliberate and packed with meaning. It also needs to sell the book, which is hard work when you normally write fiction. Take your time and get feedback, even after you’ve been doing it for a while.

#CapitalIndieBookCon: A Book Fair in Olympia

This Saturday, July 16, 2016, my friends and I are holding a book fair in Olympia, WA, specifically in the Longhouse at Evergreen State College. If you’re nearby and don’t have transportation, bus routes 41 and 48 both go there and run normally during the entire duration of the fair: 11am-7pm.CIBCFlyer1

We’re hosting over 40 regional indie authors for the day, and it’s not restricted to any particular genre. You can find romance, fantasy, science fiction, children’s, horror, chick lit, literary, and more at the fair. This is a chance to meet authors from the Pacific Northwest who will be happy to sell signed copies of their books, and many of them have one or more bestselling titles, either on Amazon or the USA Today lists.

If you’re not in the area, please share this information with your online friends. Some may know local or regional folks who might be interested.

How to Write a Review

Because I, like many indie authors, need book reviews to prosper, it’s crossed my mind to wonder why so few readers write them. There are lots of theories.

1.Readers are lazy and/or can’t be bothered to take the time. They read books, toss them aside, and move on.

2. Readers don’t think their opinion matters; the pros do the reviewing, and no one cares what anyone else thinks.

3. Readers aren’t sure what to put into a review.

As for #1, there’s nothing I can do except implore you to reconsider. When you like a book, the only way other people get to share your joy is if you tell them about it. Likewise, when you hate a book, you can help others avoid inflicting the pain on themselves.

With #2, I’ve written about this before. There are professional reviewers out there, sure. They read what the Big 5 publishers give them. That’s it. The ones that lower themselves to the level of reviewing indie books require payment to spend their time doing so. That’s where you, the ordinary reader, come in. You read it, you have an opinion, and there are probably at least ten thousand people who will agree with exactly what you liked or hated about any given book. It’s a small way to help your fellow readers find something awesome or steer clear of something awful.

The issue then becomes #3: what the heck do you put in a review? If you were a writer, you’d be writing your own books, after all, and if you had the skillz to be a pro reviewer, you’d do that. Fear not. It’s not that tough.

What makes a good review?

It’s about how the book made you feel. Did you race through the story, eager to discover what happened next? Did the characters feel like real people? Would you pick up the author’s next book? Was there any point at which you thought something along the lines of ‘that’s just plain ridiculous’? Were there editorial problems bad enough that they distracted from the story (typos, confusing turns of phrase, continuity breaks, etc.)? How seriously did it take itself? Does it delve into controversial topics?

The answer to every single one of the above questions is good to put into a review. If you read my reviews, you know I take a little time and put some effort into it. No one is required to do that. A few simple statements suffice. For example, with my most recent review, of Strike, I had a few hundred words to say about it, but I could just as easily have put the following:

Entertaining, but a little empty. Not enough happened, and most of the characters didn’t feel real. Campy, cute, and a straight line from start to end. I liked it without being awed by it.

That doesn’t quite say all the same things, but it gets the message across. A review like that helps other readers set expectations. It sounds like a light-hearted summer beach read, probably best suited for those who aren’t looking for lots of depth and complexity. Which is useful information.

That’s it. Give others a hint of what to expect, and say what you think. Be brief if you want. Just please, please say something.