Monday, October 6, 2014

Adventures in being your own publisher

So I decided to take a year off from traveling and teaching. My goal of doing that this past January was to focus on writing and publishing. To quote the Grateful Dead, "What a long strange trip it's been."

The publishing world has been thrown on it's heads with the advent of "Indie Publishing"  What a wonderful title that... Independent Publishing. Sounds way better than 'self-publishing.' Which if you remember back in the day that term had an equal sign attached. As in 'self-publishing = crap.'

On the plus side -- from a writer's standpoint -- things like Amazon, Nook and print on demand technology have been a complete godsend. Starting with payment. Not too long ago I heard a number quoted that in the old style publishing house system 98 cents of each dollar went to someone other than the author. (Which when you find out that Stephen King is the richest writer in history, makes your jaw drop over how many of his books have been sold.) Yeah, well with e-pub you're talking about 75 cents on every dollar  Less with print on demand, but still way more than publishers pay. And while there are still every six month programs out there, monthly payment is common.

Another super-sexy element is print on demand. See back in the pterodactyl days when I was first published there was serious financial risk faced by the publisher. Tens of thousands of books were printed and shipped to distribution centers. Then they were shipped to the bookstores. If those books didn't sell, the publisher ate the cost. Having said that, books collecting dust in a warehouse could trickle out slowly and sell. Then Uncle Sam did some funky shit with the tax code and instead of those books being a deduction they were turned into something the publisher had to pay taxes on. So now any book that isn't selling fast enough to pay it's own taxes and rent gets dropped faster than an annoyed scorpion. Now this pressure was passed onto the authors. You have the A list authors who make publishers rich. You have B list authors who manage sales high enough not to end up on the chopping block. And the C listers who end up on the dinner table.

Enter new technology, print on demand. You order a book and guess what? It doesn't exist until the night you order it. Oh sure it's in files and jpgs, but those are electrons Basically the order is routed to a printer who -- that night -- prints 10,000 books. But, 10,000 different books -- all on the same run. Then they're bound and shipped to the customer. Stock? The only stock we go around here is paper and ink. Now this puts authors into liver quivering joy, because it flushes the old ABC list way of doing things down the toilet. If you as an author sell 10,000 copies a month or two, it doesn't matter. It's no longer a matter of having to sell thousands of a title to stay in print.

Equally cool is e-pubs. Which really is causing the publishers kaniption fits. See with paperbacks you have production costs. Depending on the size of the book it costs this much to print it and ship it, then comes paying the electricity bill, hence a minimum price.  On the other hand, the cost of an e-book is paying the electric bill and maintaining the equipment. This naturally brings up the question of why should you -- the customer -- pay the same price for an e-book that you do for a paper book? That's not a question the publishers want you asking.

On the other hand, indie authors are happy to sell e-pubs for less because they're still making more money than if the publisher is handling things. That's why my book "In The Name of Self-Defense" costs $17.99 in paperback (450 plus pages) and $7.99 in Kindle/Nook (600 plus pages)

So those are the upside points of indie publishing.

On the down side ... well let's just say that with a publisher, things are magic. You write a book. You send it off. There's some editing and back and forth, yada, yada. And then one day ~ Poof! ~a box full of books appear at your doorstep.  In a very real sense it's like a bunch of brownies have come and done all the work. Then the royalty fairy shows up ever six months and leaves a check under your pillow.

Ever heard what happens if you don't leave cream out for the brownies?

See when you decide to take the independent route. The publishing brownies flip you the bird, knock over a few buckets and abandon you. Leaving you to discover -- the hard way -- all those little details they took care of.

First there's editing. Well fortunately for me I cheated and I married my editor. So that helps. Then there comes all the fun things like formatting, cover design, back cover copy, ISBN numbers and bar codes.

You know, it was a pretty good idea I took a year off.

It turns out the publishers actually did a lot of things. Not only don't you necessarily know them, but do you know the tricks, short cuts or pitfalls? Here's a hint, they're out there waiting like a Lego piece  waits for your barefoot on the way to the bathroom at night.

Then comes marketing. Now on this one I have to admit I had a bit of an advantage. See long ago I realized that that most publishers treat their authors like chum. Not chums, chum. Chopped up chunks of fish, guts and blood that are throwing out behind the boat to attract big game fish to the fisherman's hook  The publishers aren't going to pour money into authors who
a) don't have a good track record of
b) someone inside decides to seriously pimp and unknown author.

See the problem with dealing with big named authors is they have the clout to demand more. A pimped unknown is a bigger risk, but the returns are better because the new writer doesn't know to demand more. 

On the other hand, someone who has some experience in the writing world knows that unless he or she wants to be treated like chum, getting out there and hustling is needed. You need to keep your name and out in front of people by things like blogging, social media presence and appearances. Yeah okay been doing that for years -- although I'm going to be launching a Youtube channel soon. At first you'll end up spending more time marketing than you did writing.

Then comes learning the ins and outs of how Amazon operates. Let me tell you, that one is going to have you reaching for the bottle. Mostly because if there isn't someone who is there to walk you through it you're going to discover all kinds of Legos in the dark.  Now mind you, after you get the hang of it, it's great. It's in the interim that will have you alternatively swearing, pulling your hair and reaching for the bottle. Little things like having to wait 72 hours to see if you pushed the mandatory three buttons or only two for your books cover artwork to show up and there's the whole that department is on the other side of the planet

I just had that one happened with my latest, "Writing Violence #1: Getting Shot." It took a week to get the whole problem ironed out. And it all started because of a pdf instead of a jpg

Now the fact is, I'm kind of like a married man who's bitching about his wife, but when someone brings up divorce the answer is an unequivocal "NO!"  That's because Indie publishing is way better in so many ways. (And yeah, the money makes it worth it.)

I'm going to leave you with two things to chew over. Take a look at Writing Violence. First off, it's only $2.99. That's because it's only 50 or so pages.  It's not a book, it's a booklet on a specific topic. For a specific audience. I got sick and tired of movies and books where a character get shot and either flies backwards or falls down and dies right there. I also got fed up with magically disappearing bullets that miss the character and don't hit anyone or anything behind the character. So I sat down and decided to explain how getting shot works for a specific audience, writers. Viola! Instant and cheap resource for authors.

Now granted in the middle of trying to get it published I got a visit by the Angel of DUH! That's when I realized that people who carry guns for self-defense need this information too. For example have you ever heard of the Deadman's Ten? That's really important if someone is close enough to stab you. Because odds are good if you don't do something else than just shoot you'll be trading lethal damage. (That's why I say a pistol is not a defensive weapon. While it works wonders for stopping an attacker, it sucks for stopping an incoming attack)

Now "Getting Shot" is one in a series, but an author doesn't have to buy the 600 plus page beast  that is In the Name of Self-Defense.  Short, sweet to the point. You want specific information? There it is for a half hour investment and three whole bucks.

I tell you that to ask you: What kind of information do you know that people need? If you're daunted about writing a whole book, then ask this question:  What can you do a 30 or 40 page booklet on?  It's not that big of a deal to write a booklet.

Booklets are cheap to buy. Which hey, something I learned a long time ago.  I'd rather have a million people giving me a dollar than 3 people giving me $50,000.  If it's a topic that people want to know about, it's easy to get something out there these days.

The second thing is paying people to do this stuff.

The first thing I'm going to warn you against is finding someone who promises you one stop shopping. They'll do everything for you. They'll edit  it, format, design the cover, market it and make you millions -- all for the small price of $5,000.

No. Forget the one stop shopping idea -- especially when it comes to marketing. The only people who will do everything for you already have a name, a publisher. Now while you end up having scrapped knees and an aching jaw to get published, it should not cost you to be published by a house (although some houses are insisting that you provide pre-edited works). Publishers get paid by sales and they pay you. You don't pay them up front. (There's similar information about agents who charge fees to review your work.)

This brings us to paying reasonable fees for different people to provide reasonable services. You'll need to pay someone -- who knows what they are doing -- to design either front cover art (for e-pub only) or a full cover (front, back and spin) for print on demand. It also doesn't hurt to pay a professional copy writer for a back cover blurb.  You on the other hand are going to have run around and get your colleagues, friends and grandmother to say nice things you can use on the cover. You can pay for Amazon, Smashwords or CreateSpace to format your file or you can pay someone.  Let me tell you a trip through the US Copyright Office is fun.

Then turn your attention to marketing. There's a lot of stuff you can do on your own. Like social media. You may want to start a small webpage (many servers have web design services you can use).

Grab some books and acquaint yourself with these terms. You don't need to know everything. For example, doing a web page. That's a hireable skill. Hell odds are good that your internet provider has templates you can use. That's not what you need to know about. Keywords, meta-tags and things for getting your site higher search engine ranking, that's where you need to put your attention (if not money). A teenager with basic computer skills can design a webpage. It's the knowledge about getting that placement that you need to be paying for. I've seen way too many beautiful (and expensive websites) that have lousy search engine placement.

The really nice thing about indie publishing is you can do this over an extended period. You do the basic stuff first, then when royalties start coming in, you expand your marketing. You don't put all your eggs in one basket. If one venue isn't panning out, don't poor good money after bad. Change venues.

But most important pay for specific services. You're buying a book cover design and art. Not an editing service, book cover design and marketing promotion that will net you millions. Places that offer you everything often don't do a very good job of it and they make their money off aspiring writers. They promise you the moon, but the only people make money is them.