Friday, December 6, 2013

Snow, more snow and ... Twinkle, Twinkle!

I posted the school-yard photo on Facebook but the animation won't work there. Because the animations added to these pics is way cool, I couldn't resist the temptation to insert them into a blogpost.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Friday, November 29, 2013

A few thoughts about the month after ...

People my age are not known to like change. (Might this apply more to women than to men? On second thought, I shouldn't suppose this at all to keep from being accused of being sexist.) Now it's not been a complete change, this going from being a part-time bookkeeper/part-time window cleaner to becoming a full-time window cleaner. But it has felt odd to not drive to Freeburg every other day to print checks, balance books, enter/catalog other financial information, etc. I mean, I would have been an MFA Freeburg employee for 8 years as of January 2014. Maybe if I was only in my mid-30's or so, starting my own business would not be so stressful. Actually, it hasn't been very stressful at all ... thanks to Father God providing so many dirty windows to clean this month!

To refer to a previous blogpost, my bookkeeping position at the MFA cooperative in Freeburg was eliminated as of Oct. 31. Since then, I've been a full-time window cleaner.

And how has this first month of full-time operation been?

The monetary goal set for November 2013 back in September was met around the middle of the month. Even with having to reschedule a few window jobs because of rainy weather, as well as purposely not scheduling any on Thanksgiving or today, Black Friday, that goal was wonderfully doubled by the 27th.

Ain't God good?

Because of this wonderful blessing, Wifey and I were able to tuck the overages into our savings account in preparation for the not-so hospitable to window-cleaning weather to come.

A few days ago, I called one of my regular window clients whose windows I usually clean earlier in the fall to ask if she would like me to schedule her windows for a "pre-Christmas cleaning." She expressed amazement that I was cleaning windows this close to Christmas. So I replied that I clean windows 12 months out of the year, weather permitting, or course.

And why shouldn't I? The forecast for the first week of December shows lows only in the 30s with highs reaching into the 50s.

And that's nearly perfect window-cleaning weather for me!

Even though Dave's Window Cleaning had a tremendously-successful first full month of operation, something I had planned on doing concurrently was moth-balled.

Yes, you might have guessed it: NaNoWriMo for David E. King, Author, was a wash-out.

And how do I feel about that? A little disappointed, I guess.

But as I look forward into December and even further into January and even February, there will be lots of time for writing ... even if there's nothing like NaNoWriMo in any of those wintry months.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Major Life Change and NaNoWriMo 2013

It's not like it arrived unexpectedly.

Maybe it's like knowing that during the winter someday that big snowstorm is going to arrive. Sure, most sane people hope that it never comes, but honestly, in the back of our minds, even as we are dreading it, we know that it can come anytime. That's right! What are we supposed to expect during winter here in the Midwest? Warm, sunny days?

The crash of 2008 was a wake-up call for the MFA in Freeburg. The co-op posted a $120K loss that fiscal year because of it. Yes, it was nice that the wholesale cost of fuel fell more than 100% in less than six months. But the big problem was not moving the over-priced fuel fast enough to make room for the cheaper stuff.

It's not like it wasn't unexpected.

In fiscal 2012, Freeburg MFA posted a modest $17000 gain which was a bit of a surprise to those interested since gross sales of feed and fuel had either remained constant or had decreased from the previous year. Management attested the profit to major reductions in operating and overhead costs. It made sense at the time.

Last month, in September, the accounting firm told Freeburg MFA's board to expect a loss of close to $80K for fiscal 2013. Feed sales were down ... the fuel business had been sold to MFA Oil a few months before ... there was nothing else left to cut. Or was there?

Staff reduction ... that's what it is called. It even sounds nicer than "layoffs." But with a layoff, there's the essence of hope that when business picks up, the laid-off employees would be welcomed back with open arms.

But this is not a lay-off.

As of October 31, a mere two days from now, I will no longer be employed as the book-keeper of the Freeburg MFA. Come January 2014 I would have been working in Freeburg eight years. Is it simply coincidence that the 31st is not only the end of my tenure at the co-op but is also the cut-off for fiscal 2013? I don't think so.

So, as of October 31, I will be a self-employed window-cleaner, a job that I was doing since January 2011 in conjunction with my book-keeping duties at the MFA in Freeburg. The beauty of this new situation is I will not have to arrange my window-cleaning schedule around the days required to be in Freeburg to take care of "the books."

It also means that if I don't want to battle the cold wintry weather that's coming to clean windows, then I don't have to! Yes, the cash flow will be a little tighter, but it's not like it wasn't expected.

It also means, for the entire month of November, I can arrange my window-cleaning time around something I have been looking forward to since last winter: NaNoWriMo!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Oyster: what novel reading has finally come to

As I'm prone to do a few times a month, I started skimming The Writers' Cafe forum. And what did I happen to stumble upon?

Oyster, an e-books distribution system that many have compared to Netflix, that's what!

Now if you don't know what Netflix is, then I suppose this blogpost won't have much to offer to you. (Actually, if you don't know what Netflix is, I'm more than astounded that you are even reading this blog!)
But if you haven't rented (or even watched) a DVD in the last 12 months but have been streaming movies to your HDTV, etc. then read on!

Oh, but wanting to learn more about Oyster implies that you actually read something ... read books, for the most part ... since that is what Oyster is all about.

Basically, if you own an IPhone, you can easily download the Oyster app, agree to Oyster's terms of usage, give the company your credit card info, and SHAZAM! you'll be able to browse over 100K books much like you browse over 100K movies via Netflix (hence the strong comparison).

For a measily $9.95/month, Oyster users can access and read as many ebooks they want ... as long as the ebooks they want are available in the Oyster system.

Sounds amazing, doesn't it?

Here's a bit of the official Oyster announcement in September:

"We created Oyster to evolve the way people read and to create more of the special moments that only books can offer. From anywhere a mobile device can go—a bustling subway car, a quiet coffee shop, or lost at sea with a Bengal tiger—our mission is to build the best reading experience, one that is both communal and personal, anytime, anywhere."

Mark Coker, the brains behind Smashwords' global ebooks distribution system, communicated in September as well his plans for collaborating with the Oyster folks:

"Smashwords authors don’t need to do anything to enjoy Oyster distribution other than ensure their books are Premium Catalog-approved."

Recently, like about a week ago, Oyster decided to offer an app to IPad owners:

"Oyster launched to much fanfare in September as an app for the iPhone but almost immediately many began asking when an iPad version of the app would launch, since many users prefer using their tablets for reading e-books. It didn't take long for Oyster to move to Apple's tablet."

Since I don't own either an IPhone or an IPad, signing up with Oyster ain't gonna happen. But from an indie-author's perspective, who happens to have an ebook available via Smashwords, I have to say that I'm a bit leery about Oyster's business model.

And what about the fine folks who frequent The Writers Cafe? Let's take a look at what they have to say:

"If I can get my books in front of more people, make money doing it, and at no additional cost...well, I'm all for it."

"It sounds cool to me, but I didn't see any info on how much you would make per 'borrow'."

"Oyster? Really? What a dumb name.  Roll Eyes Opting out until we get more information."

"You mean I no longer have to sell my first born to cover my reading addiction?  I can read as many books as I want?  And it's not just western romances like my local library seems to stock to the exclusion of all else?  Where do I sign up?"

"Oyster isn't doing the automatic opt-in. Smashwords does that with ALL new channels and everyone who is on Smashwords should know that. The problem is we're often opted in before we're notified and there isn't a SINGLE SUBJECT email - rather it is frequently buried in with the regular newsletter and I don't want to scroll past the monthly Amazon bashing and non-scientific surveys in the newsletter to get to something that's actually relevant to my business."

"Apparently they buy at full price the book that is being rented if the reader reads more than 10% (ie more than a standard sample size), so I don't think we'll be losing any money on this as authors. As a reader, I don't know. I'd have to see what books and authors were available and if the selection was good enough and in my tastes enough to be worth it."

"Money issues aside.  I will not be joining Oyster because of the way they are treating authors.   It should be you have the option to opt in not contact us if you want out."

"It seems to me that they have no obligation to pay the copyright holder anything, under the First Sale Doctrine. It would be exactly the same as Netflix. Although they may make deals with distributors to get large quantities of product, Netflix could just as easily buy the DVDs and rent them out to their heart's content. That's what Blockbuster and all the independent stores did for years."

"I honestly don't see how this could possibly be a bad thing. It sounds like it's pretty much an online library. I'm thinking the payment for 'borrows' will work similar to how it does in Select."

"Keep in mind, services like this one make their money off non-readers, not heavy readers. $10 a month is a lot to me, but to many in America its nothing. They spend more that in a day at Starbucks. So it becomes a nuisance charge. Not enough to make them drop even if they do not use it all that much because "next month they will find time to read" Its just like the big gym chain that charges $10 a month for membership and sits mostly empty most of the time... small reoccurring charges for a large volume of people who will likely not use the service much at all."

"But yeah, it is kind of fishy why everyone is so secretive about things and they aren't going to send out an email until days upon the release of this new program. This doesn't give authors enough time to decide if this is something that will work for them. I'm also curious to know what Mark has to say about this..."

"I'm not sure.  I'm wary about it to be honest.  I tend to see subscription services as being about making money for the service at the expense of content providers, though I confess I'm under researched in this area.  I'm actually rather surprised to see that big publishers are taking part!  Given that they seem to hate giving libraries access to ebooks, I'm amazed that they've agreed to a subscription service! I'll wait to hear the royalties and a bit more about how it works.  If I'm still unsure, I'll opt out until I hear from others how it's going."

"So, three groups that can't seem to get it right, get together with people who used to work for a group that used to get it right, but these days not so much, to do something with other peoples work to make a profit for themselves? And they aren't going to give the providers of that content the information they need to make an informed, thoughtful decision about whether or not to REMAIN opted in until the last second? I suggest everyone opt out immediately, and force Smashwords to disclose the details. I wouldn't touch this with a ten kilometer pole."

"I wonder how it works? Strange that SW is keeping the royalty piece a secret, makes me think perhaps subscribers won't be as thrilled as they say and that Oyster requested they keep it quiet until after the launch to avoid any negative publicity. Yes, feeling a bit cynical maybe. That said, this could be interesting if you can pick and choose which books you'd like to include, such as the first in a series so you'd get the same benefit many qet with giving it away free."

"Hmmmm let's see 100,000 books on who knows what for $119 a year. For that I would go with amazon prime and save $40. I can find plenty of books in my preferred genres for much less than $10 a month. Ok so truth be told my TBR is as tall as a couple of authors."

" if Amazon let me read as many books as I wanted in one month, I would stick with prime too (or even a more reasonable number than one) and pay more for it too.  But for right now, at the rate I go through books it's an expensive pastime, even with prime and a library card.  This seems awesome for me anyway. But yeah, if amazon takes notice, I'd definitely stick with prime.  Especially because this Oyster program seems apple product only at the moment with no plans for other platforms at the moment."

"Yet another thing the publishers should have thought of and done themselves years ago."

"I am intrigued and would be more than happy to participate should the terms prove acceptable, and I would be grateful to Smashwords for the opportunity. That said, it is WRONG to automatically opt authors into a distribution network, especially without giving them any details first. I'm not okay with that."

"Time to bust out those back-of-the-envelope calculations...
Each customer is worth $119.4 per year. Year one they have 1 million customer and make $119, 400, 000. They take 30% of this as profit ($35, 820,000) and leave $83,580,000. They spend $5 million on servers, customer service etc and have $78, 580, 000 left over. Each customer reads (a read is counted as merely opening a file) 500 times per year. This is 500,000,000 reads. Divide the $78 million royalty pool and you end up with $0.15716 per read. I'm guessing the actual setup will be that a 'read' is only counted once a reader gets through 1/4 of the book or some such. I'd expect also the royalty pool to not be as high as listed here and eventually the per-read amount to drop down to what Spotify/Pandora apparently pay (fractions of a penny). As a reader, I'm interested. I don't want to own most of my eBooks. I read them once and move on to the next thing. As a writer I can see that a subscription service like this could dramatically reduce my income. Instead of making ~$2 per sale I could be down at a few cents per customer. There would have to be a radical increase in reads to make up for the loss in income. If they go with a 'read' being merely an 'open' then we're going to see a lot of linkbait type stuff happening. If they go with it being 1/4 or so then we'll probably see a bestseller list emerge with a sharp spike and not much width down below. I'm very interested to see what the terms are. Also, I would like to know how this affects the TOS at places like Amazon. At $0.05 per read it could be argued I'm selling my work for five cents and Amazon has the right to price-match that."

"According to MY TOS, Amazon can only price match based on the sale of my book. Oyster does not sell books. It sells a subscription service. They can no more 'price match' a subscription than they can price match a library loaning my ebook for free. What Oyster actually pays me has no bearing on the issue, because my royalty from them is not the basis for price matching."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

NaNoWriMo #2: Responding Responsibly to the Distractors

In my first NaNoWriMo blogpost, I focused on how I plan to average close to 2000 words/day starting Nov. 1. To summarize, I figured that I could sacrifice 2 hours each day, cranking out 800-1000 words per hour. The plan that seems to be the best is to log the first hour of the day early in the morning -- before going to work -- and concluding each day with the second hour -- before hitting the sack. And what will be sacrificed at those two times? Browsing the Intrawebz, that's what!

Yuppers, it does seem so easy ... maybe even too easy ... choosing to set aside the electronic distractions in order to meet the goal of writing a 50k+ word novel in thirty days or less.

But what about the human element? Even if the distractions appear to be taken care of, what about the distractors? What about the people who will -- by no fault of their own, with no malice intended -- attempt to get my mind focusing on things that I generally read about when I'm burying my face in the Intrawebz!

Let's pretend for a moment that it's already November ... that NaNoWriMo has already begun ... just for a moment ...

"Hey Dave! Did you happen to catch that Cards game last night?"
"Uh, no, Bob, I didn't."
"Man was that great! There the Redbirds were, one game away from elimination, when they ended up beating the Pirates ... in their own stadium even!"
"That's very nice, Bob, but I am in the middle -- "
"What? You can't be serious, Dave! You didn't watch the game? Oh, that's right. You don't have cable ... or even dish."
"Thank you for remembering that, Bob."
"But you do have a radio? DSL? You could have at least listened to the game on the radio? Or even on the Internet?"
"I suppose I could have, Bob, but I really was busy last night."
"Busy? Too busy to keep up on the Cards? What could you be doing that is more important than that?"
"Writing a novel."
"Oh, that's right. You're writing another novel. What? Didn't you just finish your third novel a few weeks ago?"
"May, Bob. I finished the last book of the trilogy in May."
"Never mind ... but it's the Cards, Dave! Where's your Redbird spirit? They're in the playoffs, man! The playoffs! And they were one game away from elimination!"
"I made this commitment to write 50000 words in the month of November ... to write an entire novel before the month is over."
"You did what? Write a book ... the whole book ... in a month? Now that's just nuts, Dave! Why did you decide to join this ... this NannyMoNaNooNaNoo thing? Now wait just a darn minute here! What about the NFL? Fantasy football? Aren't you keeping up with your fantasy football teams?"
"Yeah ... I guess I am."
"So how are your teams doing?"
"Fine ... I guess ... "
"It's bye-week time, Dave. You are making good adjustments for bye-weeks, aren't you?"
"Oh yeah ... bye-weeks ... I hate bye-weeks ... "
"Aw, c'mon Dave! You can't be serious? You're too busy writing a silly novel to fix bye-weeks holes?"
"Well ... I suppose I could be -- "
"What about the federal government shutdown? The Obamacare debacle? The budget mess? The debt ceiling crisis?"
"I think I've heard something about that ... "
"Oh no you don't! You definitely gotta be pulling my leg now, Dave! Seriously? All of Washington ... the whole bloomin' country ... is in an uproar! And you think you've heard something about it? War memorials have been shuttered ... World War II vets in wheelchairs have torn down those barriers ... "
"I'm trying to write at least 2000 words a day, Bob. And to do that I have to sacrifice the time I spend on the web."
"My oh my oh my! This is not like you, Dave, not at all like you! Aren't you the guy who teases everybody about their knowledge of current events? Aren't you the guy who has always taken pride in being on top of who's hot and who's not in the NFL? Aren't you the guy who by now has memorized KU's men's basketball team roster?"
"Am I really that crazy about the Jayhawks? Oh never mind ... It's called NaNoWriMo ... writing an entire novel of at least 50000 words ... in the month of November ... "
"Yeah, yeah, I've already heard that, Dave, but this is -- "
"I have chosen to sacrifice ... to give up my time ... to stay away from the Intrawebz ... I have chosen to write ... chosen to write ... chosen to write ... "

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I took The Plunge

I've decided to take the NaNoWriMo plunge.

I went to and signed up to participate in this year's National Novel Writing Month ... even though the idea of committing myself to averaging close to 1700 words a day for the entire month of November makes me cringe!

But what's to be afraid of? All it will require is committing to stay away from Facebook, Google+ and a few other websites that suck away my free-time. From writing/publishing three novels and nearly a dozen short stories already, I know I can crank out 800-1000 words per hour -- as long as can I force myself to not backtrack to revise/edit!

Yes, that's the ticket! Just slap as many words into that textfile as fast as possible, throwing concern for quality out the window! Nah, just kidding about not wanting quality.

Pursue a balance ... that's the real ticket! What ends up as a first draft each day (or writing session) must not be garbage ... must not be sentences and paragraphs thrown together just for the sake of generating 1300 words per day.

Seems reasonable enough, right?

Now ... when's the best writing time? First thing in the morning is a possibility (since I'm usually up by 5 anyway). But for many years, that's been a great time to "browse" the web! How can I possibly resist the temptation to fire up Chrome to check out the early-morning pulse of the Intrawebz?

So ... wow about after the duties of the day have been completed? On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, that's been around noon each day. But after working hard all morning cleaning windows, won't it be hard to force myself to not fire up Chrome once again, rationalizing that I need time "to recuperate" after working so hard?

Then there's the early evening hours ... between 6 and 8? Now there's a possibility. After stoking the wordsmithing-furnace with Wifey's wonderful home-cooked dinners, I should be able to force myself to not fire up Chrome, right?

I'm beginning to notice a pattern.

If the goal of typing at least 1300 words per day, of writing a novel of at least 50K words in the month of November is going to be attained, "firing up Chrome" will have to happen a lot less-often than it happens right now.

Yes, if being a part of NaNoWriMo 2013 is a worthy goal, then I must also have a goal of not spending so much time exploring the Intrawebz.

But how to accomplish such a feat?

I've heard/read of people turning off their DSL/cable modems while they are writing. But does that actually work? I mean, how hard is it to turn the thing back on? I suppose I could actually disconnect The Beast and give it to Wifey an hour each afternoon and evening. She wouldn't mind not being able to get online during those two hours, right?

As a related thought, a few of us CIA'ers (Christian Indie Authors) have been "word-warring" to prepare for NaNoWriMo and plan to WW once November finally arrives. For a word-war to take place, at least two of us agree to write for an hour, starting and stopping at the same time, and this "war" is discussed via the Nano Word Warriors Facebook page.

So, if the plan is to shut-down/disconnect the modem during my writing times, how can I set up a word-war with any of my fellow Nano Word Warriors?

Realistically, turning off the modem is not going to happen. The only way I'm going to beat this thing is to force myself to stay focused on writing and not browsing.

After all, it's only, on the average, 2 hours a day, right?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Are pirates giving away your book?

Know what DRM is? Digital Rights Management is an software encryption system that is suppose to make ebooks, digitized music and even videos safe from digital pirates.

Amazon, via its Kindle Digital Publishing division, gives authors a choice. Want to help Amazon to keep pirates from selling or even giving away your book(s) without your permission? Then allow Amazon to insert some DRM code into your ebook and viola! It's piracy-protected!

Or is it?

Some disgruntled authors have googled the titles of their precious offsprings only to discover them being sold/given away via obscure websites. And they are more than a little tiffed about it!

A few months after uploading Betrovia to Amazon's KDP servers, I thought it would be interesting to search the Intrawebz for it. And yes, even though I allowed Amazon to attach DRM code to the ebook, I found a few websites offering it for free.

So what could I do? What did I do?

I knew that anything placed within the insecure confines of the Intrawebz would someday end up in the hands of those hoping to make a quick buck from it. For me, writing has become a fairly impersonal activity: I slap stuff onto my blog, my Facebook page, even my Twitter feed without much reservation about what someone might end up doing with it. And I have hardened my conscience to the feel the same about my stories.

But what about getting official, US government copy-writes for my stories?

I read a few weeks ago that over 500k ebooks will be uploaded to Amazon within the next 12 months. That's over 1/2 million ebooks! And how many of those will be copy-written by the US federal government? How many have been copy-written in the last year? The last five years?

How about not getting all worked up over somebody "stealing" my story and think of it as "spreading the word"?

Let's check out what the fine folks 
who frequent The Writers' Cafe think about this problem!

Send a DMCA notice to the place hosting the PDF (works everytime). Though you will find some sites state they have it in PDF ( other formats ) but they dont. Their end goal is to get people to their site and click on their adsense ads. Nothing more. Crazy but it happens.

Double check to see that they really have your book.  Most of these sites just 'scrape' the publicly available info off of Amazon (cover, blurb, reviews) and package that as the book.

DMCA takedown requests won't necessarily be honored. The Pirate Bay, for example, would laugh in your face (if they bother to reply at all). Reputable sites like Scribd should honor such requests within a few days, but that won't necessarily prevent your work from being pirated there again in the future. It's also very possible that the sites have simply scraped your metadata to lure people into clicking useless links. A shocking amount of the internet is worthless garbage written by robots. Personally, I would encourage you not to worry about this sort of thing. My belief—and I say belief because I can't point to any empirical studies, but it's a belief shared and encouraged by luminaries such as Neil Gaiman and Hugh Howey—is that the visibility is helpful, and you're likely to gain more than you lose from being pirated (assuming you lose anything! I wouldn't assume that you do). Setting that question aside, you would probably have to work on this every day or every week just to keep up, and there's no guarantee that you'll gain anything from that effort—you might simply be wasting your time, or even be losing readers who you could've sold to otherwise. People will still be able to share your work for free, without your permission, if they're determined to do so. The only way to prevent piracy with certainty is to never publish at all.

If it's a torrent and you can't get it taken down, one alternative is to upload your own, better-formatted, version with links to your other books. These people are rarely your customers/readers anyway, and you might convert some along the way.

Every author should have a 'Pirate-Friendly' version and seed the internet with them. A kind note, thanking people for 'borrowing the book from the grand library that is the internet' with a note on where to paypal if they enjoy it and links to other works.

Pirates are in the minority, and they're never likely going to buy your book in the first place, so I think trying to engage with them, and perhaps *give* them a reason to buy from you in the future is better than worrying about it, because realistically, it can't ever be stopped.

Most of those sites do not actually have your book. They tend to be bots scraping data off Amazon or Books in Print. They scam is to get people to sign up for the site and provide their contact information, which is then sold to spammers. Often, they include having you jump through hoops before you can 'see' the book (sign up for three newsletters, watch two videos, sign up for this free 30 day trial, and then stand on your head and sing America the Beautiful). If someone is actually stupid enough to go through all of that, they usually end up with spyware installed on their computers.

"Dear white-collar pirate,
Attached please find my latest contemporary fiction book..."  

While I don't go out of my way chasing pirates because I don't like playing internet whack-a-mole, I sure as hell am not going to go out of my way to reward scum for their behavior, either. I'm not going to grovel at the feet of selfish, entitled punks and beg for donations when I have honest, legtimate customers who actually respect authors. I think it disrepects honest customers who play by the rules to give scumbags books for free. I don't reward bad behavior.

One other point that may help as a salve: People who are committed to getting all their entertainment free in pirated form aren't your potential customers anyway. They're not buying anything from anyone.

There's a difference between pirates and scrapers. Pirates just want to get stuff for free for a variety of reasons, from just not wanting to pay to avoiding DRM related problems (including DRM that hacks your freaking computer or makes the product unusable), to digital product ownership issues that have not been and will not soon be addressed. They're not evil or scary monsters, they're just folks. Whatever harm these people do to creators is negligible, limited mostly to ego. Scrapers on the other hand are people who take other people's work and then try and turn a profit on it for themselves. They're a kind of pirate, but not the end-all and be-all of pirates and they are both malicious and a detriment to creators because they really are stealing paying customers from them.

I once posted my free KDP giveaway on Reddit, and one guy came out of the woodwork to spit in my face and brag about how he can get any book he wants for free. He actually acted as if he were offended that I'd shown my face in there, trying to make a living from my hard work. So yeah, there are plenty of entitled morons in the pirate community. That said, I was in high school when I discovered MP3s. I made 2 bucks allowance every first week, and 5 bucks every second. So in my case, the notion that I wouldn't have bought the music anyway was absolutely true. I had higher pursuits (pop and chips) than spending a month's worth of cash on a CD, on which there were 2 or 3 songs that I actually liked. MP3s actually allowed me to cultivate a love of music where I wouldn't have before. Once when volunteering in the library at the homeless shelter, a down-on-his-luck guy held up his smartphone and proudly showed me all the books he had downloaded from Pirate Bay. I don't know what happened to him since, but I think it's safe to say he wasn't going to buy anything anyway. And I won't begrudge his reading. Becoming an author gave me more insight into this kind of thing than I had previously. And I do take measures to safeguard my work. That guy on Reddit still stands out in my memory, but I have to assume he doesn't represent the majority.

Write more. Worry less.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

How might indie authors be like carney barkers?

The 1970s -- the decade in which I evolved from being an overly-self-conscious elementary-school pupil to a fairly-self-assured college student. What an amazing ten years! One of the more-curious rituals of many of those years was heading over to the Kansas Free Fair fairgrounds (which amazingly enough was but a few blocks from my boyhood home there in Topeka).

A couple times during the Fair (which ran for at least a week the first part of September), I remember helping out at the 4H hamburger/hotdog stand. I suppose I could add it was from within that hot, cramped greasy and smoky 10'x 12' screened-in enclosure that I both learned how to grill hamburgers fit for human consumption. (The tales of my fast-food and other restaurant experiences is slated to be revealed in yet another blogpost.)

A good reason for "volunteering" to help out with the annual 4H fund-raiser was to gain free access into the Kansas Free Fair. (Yeah, I know; what's the sense in calling it a "Free Fair" when it cost a few bucks to get inside?) It was fun to visit the different agricultural pavilions as well as the rather-curious side-shows which included "The World's Hairiest Man," etc.

But the area I really wanted to visit was the arcades

Ah yes ... the arcades! That multi-colored strip of Rust-oleum-covered steel, cracked and faded plastic and gaudy and obtrusive neon lights! The arcades ... where for a quarter softballs were thrown at bowling pins for the chance to win a 5-foot teddy bear!

And who worked at the arcades? Why none other than the carnival barker! And what did the carnival barker do to entice young teens try their luck at their amusement stands? They yelled, screamed, cajoled, teased, bantered, hollered, shouted ... all of these combined! Too often than not, the loudest, crudest, cruelest ... even the rudest ... barkers seemed to attract the bigger crowds. The booths were all the same size, the prizes similar and the results, pathetically enough, too-often identical. The lights, the noise, the personalities ... all three combined to make the arcades an example of Americana unlike any other.

"Crass advertising"? "Pandering to the basest element of the human psyche"? You could say that. But it worked. And how do we know it worked? Because the carney barkers returned ... year after year after year.

Now on to the business of marketing books.

Are successful indie authors approaching the marketing of their wares like a carnival barker? Should they? How about we take a look at what those who populate The Writers' Cafe think about this topic!  

"I imagine many writers face this dilemma: you have created a book. You are (at least relatively) satisfied with it. You are not rich and you have no 'connections.' You are not on the inside track of Culture Merchantry. How do you rise above the Cosmic Slush Pile, whether at Kindle or an agent's office? And, like so many artists and writers, self-promotion, hustling your book, carnival barking, and all go against your very genetic make-up, which is to not obnoxiously push yourself on people. And it does not appear to matter whether your book is good, bad, or anything along the grey scale in between: what matters is raw salesmanship."

"If you aren't interested in promotion, don't do it. Start writing the next book instead. Repeat this cycle until something catches on. It's a perfectly viable path to success. Lots of 'overnight' successes are 10 years in the making--so you've got a while to go before declaring success or failure if you just finished your first book. You are mistaken about raw salesmanship being the only/primary thing that matters, though it certainly doesn't hurt. Your book may or may not sell whether you don't promote at all, or you're a killer salesman. No one promised you (or me, or any of us) a career in publishing at all, but it's nearly always a marathon rather than a sprint if you luck into one."

"The way I look at it, a combination of writing the next book (and the next) and a moderate amount of self promotion is probably the most practical approach. You don't need to knock yourself out or play the shill. Go places online, like this one or Goodreads, and post about your book where it's permitted. Then join the discussions elsewhere on such sites. Make yourself known, talk to people, and stay within the rules for author participation. It actually makes a pleasant break from writing."

"Yes, it's necessary to be something of a carnival barker. And like a carnival barker, 99% of the people will ignore you. But you need that 1% that listens and gives you a chance. You have to respect their time by providing something that will knock their socks off - so quality IS paramount. Coming from a marketing background, I'm comfortable with the tools available, the strategies, etc. But I'm uncomfortable marketing myself. I'm used to being paid to market other people, or their products. It's more nerve wracking when I'm the brand and my baby is the product. You have to choose your target audience and find ways to reach them, at least to get the ball rolling. Save up some money and throw it at a narrowly-targeted audience. A lot of this promotion stuff is trial and error, so you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. Personally, I've found Twitter to be a dud. Now, with a mere 50 followers, I expect MY tweets to die empty deaths. But I've had others tweet on my behalf to thousands, and while there's an occasional retweet or favorite, they don't appear to do anything for sales. Not enough to show on the radar, anyway. I'll still do it, because it costs nothing but a few minutes of my time every few days. Facebook has worked for me, at least to a degree. You can target specific Facebook groups. There are genre-specific fan groups, groups for writers and readers. Using KDP free days, if you're in KDP Select, may or may not work. It seems to work well for some people, to get their book shotgunned out to a wide group of people, some of whom will actually read it and may talk it up (especially if that quality thing is there.) Myself, I have no intention of giving away my hard work. Now, there could be something that changes my perspective on that, but that's where I am now. I'll take the long view and be patient. Pricing strategy may also help. On the advice of some fine folks here at KBoards, I'm keeping my price higher than the 'Cosmic Slush Pile' which may provide separation from the chaff. Subconsciously, price = quality (but to get people to spread the word, I have to DELIVER on that quality. Remember when I said quality is paramount? I meant it.) I ran my book at $2.99 for two weeks after release, then ramped it up to $4.99 and sales only increased. Google AdWords was a bust, but a cheap one. I hit a deal where if I spent $25 on AdWords, Google would credit my account another $100. I've burned through it all, and there's been exactly zero evidence of AdWords increasing my sales, despite ample clickthroughs. Publicity articles placed on blogs may or may not impact sales, but at least they provide added material for search engines and therefore, credibility outside of Amazon. Inexpensive advertising is available, if you target it. I wrote a zombie apocalypse novel, so I put together an ad to run on a zombie-themed online game I play, There's not a lot of people playing it these days, but it reached a few thousand. I can't say whether many people there bought the book (though I know some did), but at least it was exposure. But it absolutely matters whether the book is good or bad. A bad book will always be bad and could taint your brand for future endeavors. A good book may be overlooked, but will take on a life of its own once it is discovered, even if it takes months or years. An eye-catching cover and a concise, sales-oriented blurb are vital. They speak to the quality the reader can expect. They get people to read the sample, and if the sample is good enough, they'll buy. I have anecdotal evidence of that working. As an unknown, first-time author, however, the main thing I'm after is reviews. The more reviews, the more credibility is built. I've only got 7, and I'm always begging people for more. Obviously, begging isn't working as I have so few. But I'll keep working at it. There are several more reviews that should be showing up soon, as I've gifted the book to some reviewers, but many of them have months-long backlogs before they'll get to mine - some as long as a year. That's fine; I'll gift copies for reviews. I get 70% back and it counts as a sale. The long and short of it is, there is no magic bullet. If there were, everyone would do it. I've taken almost a month off from writing, just to try and get the ball rolling on my first novel. Then I'm going to forget it's there and focus on book #2, and let my novel sink or swim on its own. I might juice it with an ad once in a while, but mostly I'll leave it to word of mouth. (Cool story: my niece was talking to a friend, who recommended my book, not knowing my connection to her. It was a very cool feeling when I found out, as it personalized my work.)"

"If you feel like a hawker, then you're doing it wrong. Using Twitter and Facebook as megaphones not only doesn't work, it annoys the crap out of everyone. If you think you should be selling your book, you're doing it wrong. The product, in the promoting game, is you, not a single book. You want people to recommend your name, not your specific book, to others. You are the brand. You do this by writing more books and by being engaging and involved on social media, not by spamming."

"It's the American work ethic, isn't it? -- keep on working, working, working, working and good things will happen. But there is an central problem: there is only so much time in the world and every contributor the Kindle system is a competitor for that time and for that audience. Isn't it a giant pyramid? Whether by genuine quality work or by simple hustling, a few rise and the masses remain the stepping stone, the backdrop, for them."

"Study the successful authors in your genre. See what they do and mimic them. Odds are they are not carnival barkers."

"I'm not in favour of carnival barking. The bottom line is you need some personal motivation for writing fiction. You need to get a kick out of doing it, a buzz from the creative process. If you are doing it only for the money, then there are easier ways to make a fast buck. I'm not saying we don't want the money, but you have to be motivated to write, or to play music, or to go on stage, or to create art. You get my drift. If you are writing to become the next bestselling indie, then you may soon become discouraged. If you write because you love the sound of the words and phrases in your head, the touch of the keyboard as your story unfolds, the emotions you feel with your characters as you read and rewrite each draft, and the heart pang you feel when you know that you've finished and are ready to share it with others; then you will not be disappointed regardless of how your books sell. This is not to say it's not nice to sell well and make money. But perhaps writers driven to write by the inherent satisfaction of it are more likely to appear enduringly optimistic, because they love what they do."

"One piece of advice I'd give you moving forward is this: consider that some of your best promotional opportunities will come through fellow authors and cross-promotions."

"There's a lot you can do to build awareness of your book. None of it is overnight and all of it requires time and effort. If you're not optimistic about your book, who else will be?  The most successful people have a tendency to be optimistic, to expect success and to then make sure they 'get lucky' by putting in the hard work ... they make their own luck."

"Being pushy isn't effective promotion; it turns people off fast. The best ways to sell your books are the ones that appeal to you. With everything else, your distaste or discomfort will inevitably bleed through. So if the only thing you're comfortable with is writing and publishing, you're better off just sticking to that. If it ends up taking you longer to sell books than someone who's doing brilliant promo? Well, that's the trade-off for not having to do something you find gross."

"The counsel to just write and let sales take care of themselves is akin to telling publishers not to worry about marketing, promotions, pricing, etc. and just hope for the best. It's the worst sort of silliness, in my opinion, if you're talking about operating a book selling business. Contrary to that wisdom, books do not sell themselves. Nothing really sells itself, so if you're in the selling business, you need to get good at selling, not just writing, which is a TOTALLY different business. FYI, effective sales and marketing is not carny barking, but that's a whole different topic. If you're going to try to brave the trad pub slushpile, you are marketing your wares to a different audience. So you need to decide whether you want to market to those who are supposed to sell your product (agents, who sell it to publishers, who sell it to readers), or ignore that as well, and simply write more. I think it's pretty clear that ignoring whatever your target market is, whether trad or readers, is a lousy strategy for selling a product. There is wisdom in creating a substantial body of work. Wisdom in the sense that it gives your bookselling business more products to sell. But having more products, other than getting you more virtual shelf space in a limitless shelf space environment, only does so much."

"A good chunk of this job is actually business administration. Secretary work. Lists. Spreadsheets. Emails. Work. Sending emails. Keep track of what you're doing. It's much easier to 'refuse to be a carnival barker' than to refuse to do business administration, because that just sounds ridiculous, right?"

"Some seem to embrace an idea that writers are too delicate, sensitive, and special to work in the market place like everyone else does. I don't see any basis for that."

"I'm a firm believer that the overwhelming majority of your 'work' time should be spent actually producing new, completed works. For me, this involves 3 stages of a product (plotting, drafting, editing)--and it's my goal to spend the majority of my time on one of those tasks. You can spend a lot of time on marketing. You can spend entire days learning what to do, devising a strategy, executing the strategy, and reviewing the strategy. The problem, especially for new writers, is that you don't have a backlog of products that are going to benefit from your marketing prowess. Spend an hour a day on marketing--or two hours if you've churned out a huge number of words--and get more familiar with the marketing landscape of your genre. In that hour a day you can: research what others are doing, develop a marketing strategy, and begin implementing that strategy. All the while you should be working to produce more and more products that said strategy will sell. Keep the pipeline moving. You don't know which books are going to resonate with readers, and marketing doesn't guarantee success. Building a following and producing a steady stream of new content, along with slowly and steadily improving your ability to market that product, will lead you to your goals, whatever they may be."

"There's another consideration for the new author: do you want to be a published author or a financially successful published author? I have a friend who put up a non-fiction book on Kindle, with a suggested retail price of $5.99. One book. No author profile. No reviews. Guess how many sales? But he's a published author!Then there are my friends who do careful genre and sub-genre research, crank out books and series of books like sausage makers and make some money from them. Some use cool marketing stuff. Some just keep their butt-in-chair and write the next book. All are profitable, because, eventually, one of their books took off and then the rest got noticed and took off, too.The main marketing device that the profitable ones use is at the end of the book: 'Visit my profile, take a look at the other stuff I've written, leave me a review so I can improve my next work.' All of these folks have writing talent. The financially successful ones concentrate on writing more books. Eventually, they will be able to retire, if they choose, and live off the fat of their waffle-butt, so to speak."

"It's all in the attitude. Treat it like it's fun, and it will be. Treat it like it's a chore, and it will be. Treat it like carnival barking, and you'll come off that way and probably never sell a thing because you're being a hard-sell jerk about it. Personally, I never buy from hard-sell jerks. I go out of my way to avoid buying anything from them. If I encounter someone willing to answer a few questions I already have? That's good. If I encounter someone in a mall who picks me out of a crowd, gets in my face, and says, 'HEY! WANNA TRY PRODUCT X?' I will NEVER buy from them, even if it's something I need (and usually it's not). If I'm in the market for a widget, the last thing I'll do is buy from in-your-face-guy. I'll go somewhere else where Product X is sold and buy Product X from someone with basic manners. But you don't have to be hard-sell-jerk-guy to market your books. You just have to seek out opportunities to talk about yourself and your work to folks able to spread the word."

"I'm not afraid to admit that I do write to produce an income. For 'the money,' as some put it. Does that mean I shortcut the reader to maximize profits? No, I'm not one looking to shortcut anyone. Does that mean I write in genres that I'm not passionate about, simply to increase my income? Again, no: clearly horror isn't necessarily the hottest-selling genre of late, and yet that's what I've spent the last year and a half writing in. I could make more money doing the 1,394th version of YA vampire romance and how some mousy, quiet, surly girl starts believing in herself because she's secretly the queen of some other dimension and before she knows what's going on, she has two incredibly hot guys competing for her attention, because mousy, quiet, surly girls are SO hot. To vampires. I could make more money doing new adult, or romance, or, heck, even erotica. But none of those genres are my thing, either. I like horror. I enjoy Stephen King. My stories are influenced by everything I've learned by reading his books, about how to tell a story. It's hardly original to like King; any horror writer worth their salt would love to be comparable to him. I don't think I'm King, per se; I'm just influenced by his work. But that's the sort of stories I like to tell, too. So that's generally what I tell, within the filter of my own background, experiences, and voice. So, all that said... yes, I want to make money off my books. I want them to be found, bought, and (ideally) enjoyed by as many people as possible. In the best of all worlds, I reach enough readers to do that and make a decent living at it. Maybe not rich; maybe not Amanda Hocking-level income and sales... but enough to be able to pay bills and rent and buy the necessities of life? Abso-fricking-lutely. I think wanting to make a living at your craft often gets denigrated by idealists, but is as fully a legitimate goal and aspiration as 'I do it for art's sake,' or 'I write because I have to,' or 'I just do it for the kicks.' There's nothing wrong with any of those motives. Just as there's nothing wrong with 'doing it to make a living/for the money.' I mean, let's be honest: did Steve Jobs start Apple only because 'he loved technology' or because he wanted to make a living off his love for technology? I suggest the most honest answer is: both. After all, isn't it the definition of the American dream to find work you love AND make a living doing that work? So yeah, in that sense, I absolutely do it for the money. Doesn't make me any less of an author, either."

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Drone news from around the world!

Yesterday I drove a bit north of town to bid on cleaning some house windows there and was startled by what sounded like a plane about to crash-land. The house I was looking at was surrounded by some pretty tall oaks so for a few minutes I couldn't make out what was happening. Then, as I heard the plane come back closer to me, it dawned on me that it was probably a crop-duster, spreading herbicide, etc. over a corn field just beyond those oak trees.

And this got me thinking about UAVs.

Without researching the topic much, I'd have to guess that more than a few crop-dusting adventurers have died in the process of ridding cornfields of nasty weeds and assorted creep-crawlies. It should not be hard to control a crop-dusting plane much like Predator drones are being controlled in Afghanistan, etc. Oh sure, that old prop-plane can't be used for much besides sight-seeing and spreading chemicals, but what's the point in endangering one's life when it simply is not necessary anymore?

Anyway ...

Things are getting interesting in the Great Bear state.

Pranksters are going to great lengths to install road signs that warn drivers of aerial drone surveillance. Of course, it just isn't true. But the fact that the steel signs have been made to look and feel just like the ones installed by the highway authority begs the question: who's got the cash laying around -- as well as the time -- to propagate such a practical joke?

Have "drone wars" really been going on that long?

A few weeks ago the 23rd annual International Aerial Robotics Competition commenced in both China and in the US of A. What made this year's contest a bit more interesting is something called "Mission Six." This UAV-centered activity entails creating havoc in the Eurasian banking system. Scary stuff, right?

I don't know ... with the news of the National Security Agency keeping tabs on nearly everything that's hit the Intrawebz in the past five years, nothing related to the over-reaching arms of technology frightens me anymore.

Back in the late '90's, I agreed to help a guy get a handle on his lawn-care business. This summertime adventure offered me a little extra cash as well as some much-needed exercise. It also required that I do battle with a boisterous gaggle of Canadian geese that would not relinquish control of a suburban sub-division small-lake dam. Each week upon arriving there to mow the grass on that dam, those infernal beasts protested mightily, a few of them even to the point of chasing me down! Needless to say, I looked up into the hot summertime sky and pleaded for intervention ... but it never came.

Too bad this guy wasn't around at the time!

Flocks of Canadian geese, along with seagulls, have been causing problems around airports for decades. Of course, it would not be a good idea to use UAVs in those places to control these pesky creatures. But to curtail their evil practices any place else they choose to congregate?

What a great idea!

Now to wrap up this little "drones-around-the-world" post ...

Wasn't there a James Bond movie that had some robotic dolphins in it? Or did they make an appearance in one of these wonderful films?

Not the same as aerial drones, marine drones (not really robotic dolphins) have been in the news lately. A half-dozen or so European countries have colluded to engineer some unmanned underwater robots. According to the director of this venture, underwater robots aren't new; developing a fleet of self-thinking, problem-solving mini-submarines definitely is!

Like a school of dolphins, these UUV's (underwater unmanned vehicles) can't rely on radio signals to coordinate their missions; they instead must use sonar. Right now, the largest squad of marine robots is only 5 but the plan is to have dozens -- if not more -- traversing the deep blue ... someday.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Ack! You spent HOW much to self-publish your novel?!

It was the winter of '84. Snow, snow and more snow. Even some ice, too. It was an excellent time for plopping down in front of the old Selectric typewriter to hammer out my first novel ... sorta.

From December of '84 through March of '85 I pecked and poked away on that wonderful beast of a typing machine before an early spring -- and the tall grass that comes with it -- forced me outside and behind a lawn mower. How far did I get? Close to 200 typed pages (double-spaced, mind you!).

About that same time I asked a fellow aspiring writer if he wouldn't mind taking a look at the book. As we talked about plot, characterization, theme, etc. we also talked about how to get the book published ... once it was fully written, of course. Finding an agent was discussed. Drafting query letters also came to mind. Now remember, this was early 1985 when the technology to "self-publish" centered around the utilization of expensive but somewhat-effective copy machines. There were no personal computers and therefore no digitized literature ... at least not available to the common man. Obviously, then, the only way to publish a novel was for it to be accepted by a publisher. The cost of hiring an agent, etc. along with the warm weather of spring forced me to tuck those type-written pages away for future reference.

Now flash-forward 20 years ... to 2005. That was when I began to sacrifice some of my computer-gaming time to draft Betrovia. And by August of 2011, the first book of the trilogy was done! So what did that cost me? For the most part, nothing. I formatted the thing myself (following Amazon's Kindle Digital Publishing guidelines), edited/proofread it myself (relying on my own editing/proofreading skills). I gave Createspace (Amazon's paperback division) $25 to enroll Betrovia in the Expanded Distribution plan. I designed (if that's the best word for it) the cover for the ebook and used Createspace's FREE! online cover-creation process to finalize the shell for the paperback. What did I know about launching a book, about publicizing its release, about advertising it once it was avaiable for purchase? Not a thing. And besides selling about 60 paperbacks to friends and family that Fall, very few ebooks were purchased via

So, to get to the point of this blogpost: what is a reasonable budget for publishing a book? Let's see what the folks who populate the Writers Cafe want to say.

(As a way to organize their thoughts, I've divided them into two groups: the Cheap Route and The More-Expensive Route.)

Cheap Route
"Zero. Ziltch. Nada. Nothing. Be a designer. Cover free. Yes! Who needs a website? It's on Amazon. Massive site anyway. Get your mates to read through and point out mistakes. Editor free. Spend years reading and writing to make your craft as good as it can get ... hours and hours, year on year, working out what sound like a pile of dunces ... and what sounds and flows well ... well it's your own ... time ... oh, hang on a minute. Cost is in the craft. Oops."

"It can cost as much as you want it to cost.  However, at the minimum:
$35 - Copyright Registration
$10 - ISBN through Createspace
$25 - Createspace Extended Distribution
The rest is variable.  You can trade for editorial services or just find some really anal first readers.  Cover art can range from $0 if you take a picture yourself to hundreds or thousands.  Formatting for print is a small learning curve, but not too hard.  Formatting for ebook is just a couple clicks with apps like Scrivener. Doesn't cost much unless you let it. ETA - Oh yeah, and you'll need to pay for a proof copy of your paperback, around $10 with shipping. Again, not much."

"Your cover is what attracts attention FIRST! Not your writing, not your formatting, your cover can make people pick up your book first. Later, after the reviews come in, word-of-mouth and those reviews will sell your book. You should spend as much on cover design and creation as you do copy-editing (and the publishers typically budget thousands of dollars for covers, far more than they pay their copy-editors to do the book).  And they spend many hours coming up with the designs they use. Yes, you can do it cheaper. And a lot of those cheaper covers look exactly that way, cheap. If you can find a very good cover at a reasonable price, grab it."

"For ebook only, usually $20 for stock art. Maybe more if I want a new font I don't already own. All other costs are monthly overhead (cs6, website, mailchimp). Maybe if I wrote in a genre outside romance I wouldn't do my own covers (especially if I did SF or Fantasy). No beta readers, editors, proofers, or formatters. I'm not sure there's a single title in my catalog that went live having had more than just my eyes on it. I did consider getting a formatter for the Createspace interior file and cover. When I was told I wouldn't get a copy of the base PSD/ID files (HUGE PET PEEVE OF MINE), I decided to try it myself. No sweat and I am satisfied with how they came out. Saved minimum of $150 (interior files) times 3. I don't think the time involved in performing these tasks was more than I would have spent managing someone else doing it. Totally think marketing/PR $ is a waste (beyond my mailchimp auto-responder fee and my monthly web hosting costs). Of course, before I self-published my fiction, I wrote, edited, formatted, marketed and published for a Fortune 500 audience."

"For novels, my budget usually looks like:
Copy-editing: 150-250 (depends on length of novel)
Cover: 30-325 (depends on genre)
Paperback formatting: free to 80 (I do my own ebook formatting and the paperback formatting is generally 30-50 but sometimes higher)
Everything else I do for myself.  For my short stories and such, many of them sold to magazines or anthologies, so I got free editing. Or I use my husband because he catches 98% of typos in shorter works (I could use him for longer works, but I feel that's putting too much on him and want him to read for enjoyment and to give me bigger picture feedback on the novels). Generally my rule on a book is that if I have to sell more than 100 copies to earn back what it cost to publish it, I've probably spent too much."

"For each of my 24 books I spent:
$35.00 for cover art - mostly from Book Cover Art
$150.00 for editing
$0.00 for author picture, took it off an old one I had
$0.00 for website, Google is free
$0.00 - do my own, a word doc works just fine
$200.00 in three years for advertisements that didn't do much.
$0.00 - blog"

"I'm lucky, because I get stuff like editing and cover design done for free. If I had to pay for it, I'd be out of business. (I do my own formatting. Takes like two minutes.) Most of my stock photos also come for free because reasons. Although sometimes I do have to pay for it, and I never spend more than 10 bucks for a stock photo. For my paperbacks I will buy the $10 CS ISBN. Otherwise, my only expenses are my yearly business fee ($50) and my webhosting, which I already paid for for other reasons. Except now it's a tax writeoff. I put out sometimes up to six titles a month, so I have to be as cheap and as economical as  possible. Paying more than $20 bucks a month is just not feasible for me. And I believe that my system works just fine for me, and for other people I help, so I would say that those figures in the OP are really, really high."

"All my money goes to feeding my family publishing – Under $50
Developmental edit  – free (Workshops, friends, class)
Copy editing - free (friends, family, fans, numerous time doing it yourself while constantly improving)
Cover Design – $0 (Public Domain photos, spouse as photographer, GIMP)
Book formatting and layout – free (I've gotten pretty good at this)
Printing – $33 (Print on demand, optional $25 expanded distribution, $4.00 proof, $4.00 shipping.)
ISBN – Smashwords/Kobo/Createspace free.
Author photo – free (Your Facebook profile picture is fine)
Marketing – free (Rely on social media and friends and family only)
Website – free (Use free WordPress option(or Blogger))
Mailing List - free (Mad Mimi for me)
All other labor - hugs (for the emo bunny minions)"

I spent $35 to register copyright, and about $12 in postage submitting my novella to a magazine which publishes novellas. I have almost recouped my costs. My husband and I made the cover in photoshop. I know of a guy who wanted to publish his first novel in print only, and in addition to the cost of an initial print run he wanted to hire a publicist for $5,000 or $10,000. All together he was looking at upwards of $30,000 in expenses. I think he didn't make the jump. I'm a lot more comfortable being out $45 or so than risking tens of thousands of dollars, but for my next self-publishing venture (still probably a year away, but maybe less) I plan to shell out for a line/copy editor (at about $25/hour) and possibly some professional cover art."

"If you do it right, $0. I've done 22 for $0 (both eBook and paper). But I'm lucky - I do my own covers and my editor works for sandwiches. We'll I guess I'd have to add up that up (okay $100 sandwiches). And no ... she's not my husband."

"I'll give you an ACTUAL 'budget publishing' plan - Under $80.00:
Developmental edit  – $0.00 (find some volunteer beta-readers)
Copy editing – $0 (Trade copy-edits with another trusted author, and also be a decent self-editor to begin with. Obviously not everyone can do this, but it is done.)
Cover Design – $5 or less (License a photo or two from a place like iStockphoto or someplace, then do-it-yourself)
Book formatting and layout – free (Do it yourself using Scrivener or other free tools or even Draft2Digital)
Printing – free (use CreateSpace)
Expanded Distribution of Print Book via CreateSpace - $25* (*a luxury that can be cut, but a good luxury to invest in)
ISBN – Use the free ones provided by CreateSpace and Smashwords; use a free ASIN on Amazon or BNID on Nook)
Author photo – free (have a spouse or relative use your Galaxy S3 or S4 and make sure it's nice. Crop it and refine as needed in GIMP)
Marketing – free (rely on book blogger sites that accept ePub, .mobi and PDF files and don't require a physical copy)
Website – free (Blogspot and Wordpress work just fine, so the only investment is your time. Or maybe $10-12/year for a custom domain name)
US Copyright Office registration - $35 (this is one expense that I never go 'budget route' on because I actually know what's fact and what's myth about copyright registration... It's one luxury no one should cut. My total? $65 to $77. Sure, you're trading away a lot of credibility if you rely on a proofreader who's not good (but paying for someone isn't a guarantee of high quality, either), or if you can't proofread anything yourself, or if your cover design skills are subpar. But assuming you can pull some proofreading and basic cover design skills out of your background and experience, as some of us can... It's a LOT easier to turn a profit with a budget that doesn't even exceed $80. Am I suggesting one NEVER pay for pro editing or pro covers or pro formatting? NOT AT ALL. But if you have a decent skill set, AND have way more time than money... my only point is that you can spend WELL below $500 (about 13-16.5 percent of that, actually) and have a lot less overhead per book to overcome. I typically spend more. My three published books so far have covers I paid for and proofing I paid for, but I still spent a lot less than $500 per book. Probably around the $250 to $300 range, roughly. **NOTE: If one foregoes printing, and debuts their book as an eBook only, that $65-$77 can be trimmed back further. Don't need the $25 for Expanded Distribution if you're not doing print to begin with. So that'd cut the costs down to $40-$52."

More-Expensive Route
"Often, it's the covers that give the self published author away. The thing is, it doesn't matter if you're self published or trad published, what matters is if you're well published. And doing things on a shoestring, or all on your own because you can't afford to do it another way, is the WRONG way to do it. Doing it cheap because you have the skills, or have people with the skills to do it for free for you is FINE. Self publishing is not DIY publishing. You need to wear the hat of the author and publisher. If a publisher offered you a contract and told you, 'Oh, by the way, we don't have money to hire professionals, so I'm going to be the editor, and graphic designer and marketer...'  I'm pretty sure you'd run for the hills. I would. I can't think of anyone who has all those skills. Again, I'm not saying you HAVE to pay for it. If you can barter, or trade, or beg, or negotiate... heck, all the power to you. But most people can't do that. I pay for professional cover design because I'm not an artist. I pay for professional editing because I'm not an editor. And something to remember: Editor, is not an entry level position. It isn't a title you get from getting a degree in English, nor is it a title you get because you were pretty good at proofing work for a friend. Editors have specific skills that they've acquired through continuing education and professional training. They've worked under editors, and developed those skills. They're the ones who know when conventions have changed. It's not about knowing if it's 'who' or 'whom' because sometimes 'who' is technically wrong, but correct for the manuscript. Also, I like to think of editors like doctors. They're specialists. You don't find a line editor who does science fiction novels as well as children's picture books. Something to remember: your competition isn't other self published authors. Your competition is all the books beside you on the shelf. Most of those are trad. published."

"For editing and proofreading, cover and formatting, I budget a grand. Audiobook will cost you about $2500 unless you use the royalty share option, which you'll deeply regret if it sells well. The dumbest $2500 you'll have ever saved. Marketing, probably $500 to $1000 over the life of the book. All in, call it couple grand for the ebook. If it sells decently I'll recoup that within the first couple weeks. And before everyone starts in on how not everybody can sell that many in a few weeks, consider carefully that I used that exact budget when I figured it would take me a year per title to recoup it (assuming I ever did). My theory was that there might be a reason that well-edited, well-packaged, appropriately marketed books sell better than poorly or non-edited, badly packaged, poorly or non-marketed books. I frankly don't get the immediate gratification notion that you'll make your investment back quickly (no other business works that way, so why should one of the most competitive on the planet?). And I know, I know, not everyone can afford to invest in their work, and we'd all be poorer for it if we weren't lavished with their precious snowflakes in a glutted market. Personally, mmm, not so much. I find it just an excuse to cut corners, but hey, everyone's got an opinion."

"Developmental edit: Trusted beta readers
Line/copyedit: $600-$800 (generally $30-$50 an hour) (this is for two passes)
Proofread: less than $200
Formatting: $100 to $400 depending on what I'm after
Cover art: $450.00
LSI set up: $75
Total: $1500 to $2000"

Friday, August 2, 2013

Is this The Golden Age of Publishing?

"... there are only two essential components to publishing in the digital era: the writer and the reader." David Gaughran

One of the pastors of my church has been working for at least the last two years on putting together a "handbook" for ministering to older adults. That manuscript is full of thoughtful, thought-provoking activities, humorous anecdotes, attractive clipart and we don't want to forget those old-timers' jokes!

Her husband and her children know that she's been working on this massive (over 600 pages as of the last time we spoke together about it) manuscript as well as her co-pastors. (I think she's also shared this project with a few of the "50+ Group" that she is in charge of ministering to.)

Her biggest concern is how to publish this monstrosity? 

I've tried to encourage her to "go the indie way," but she feels that she wants/needs the "security" of having that book officially vetted by at least one reputable Christian publisher. I've asked her why she feels the need to have her work approved by someone whose main concern is: "How will I make any money from this book?" If I were to ask any of the fine patrons of MFA 280 they would laugh at me for even asking such a thing!

And what is wrong with that? Shouldn't Christian publishers be allowed the freedom to be in business to not only season the market with uplifting and encouraging literature but to make a little scratch in the process?

As it is with many things in this amazing technological age we now reside in, the freedom to "get your thoughts out there" is as easy as uploading a doc-file to Amazon's Kindle Digital Publishing server (with a nazzy-looking cover or not!). (Or you could even use Draft2Digital?)

But has this enlightening digital age given "the common man" too much freedom? Or are we living in the Golden Age of Publishing?

Let's see what the fine writers who frequent The Writers' Cafe have to say about it!

"In the age of 'Indie,' the modern author is able to publish instantly. But is this a good thing? Take the box of manuscripts I have in the basement. Bad novels. I know they are bad. They should not see the light of day. Or should they? I believe you have to write badly for a long time before you write well and I wrote badly for a long time. I have probably written ten novels and maybe half have made it into print. There was no choice. No one would publish you so you just had to work on your craft. Rewriting that would go on for years. So the question is: If authors can put out their writing instantly are they using the readers as first line editors? And is this a good thing? Or is it just inevitable in the age of the internet where anyone can cut a CD or write a book?"

"Yeah, we get it. To traditionally published authors, we (indie authors) are the great unwashed. An irritant. We've been hearing this for years now. Do you actually think you're telling us something new? Thank you for pointing out that you're not part of the problem, since you've spent years honing your craft, and all of your bad writing is behind you.  While we, on the other hand, have the utter gall to fling our crap out there to unsuspecting readers."

"YES. It is a wonderful thing. It is the best thing to happen to book publishing since book publishing started. It is the best thing to happen for writers since Gutenberg got the press rolling. It is the best thing to happen for readers and culture since we first figured out how to write."

"This falls into the category, can a singer be fantastic if they are not attractive or  fully clothed in their videos? Or would a princess be considered beautiful if she did not have the wealth to make her have the clothes/shape and makeup? I'm not convinced a 'bestseller' is free of typos, read books which aren't. BUT, I do believe it's all about referrals - if one person likes you and refers you then a whole bunch of other people will follow. Interestingly someone told me the other day they do not buy books by searching but purely on recommendations, that could be emails from Amazon or friends."

"No doubt some people are doing this. Others realize their first effort isn't awesome and keep slogging away till they produce a book worth reading, either by revision or by writing new books. Part of publishing is learning that everything you write is not golden, and that it's wise to use an editor or a beta reader. Some people figure this out right away, and unfortunately some don't. But there's nothing you can do about the ones that publish crud... you have no control over anyone's work but your own."

"I would think most on here use an editor as a first line editor, not the public. I get your point though, I downloaded a short story from Amazon last week that looked like it had been immediately uploaded to KDP by a person using a spoon attached to their forehead to type without error checking/editing afterwards."

"I think the marketplace can sort this one out. Books that are inappropriately published don't get purchased, don't get reviewed, or get reviews that kill them off. There is a lot of complaining out there about low-quality authors dumping their garbage onto amazon in the hopes of big bucks. Well, they don't get big bucks, because their lack of professionalism gets them in the end. Those people don't worry me."

"I think that it's a good thing because sure, you 'know' they're bad because you personally don't like them. But maybe someone else does. Maybe someone else is going to read the novel you thought was bad and see beauty that will inspire them or make them think; that will change them for the better."

"I often wonder how many great works have been lost because the author did not love it enough to let others read it."

"I think the experience of self-publishing 
will do the job of weeding people out."

"There is a cream rises to the top element in writing and publishing and certainly this is the function of reviews and people talking about books. The good books get passed on."

"I've been going through all my old novels recently. I wouldn't even think of publishing any without a major rewrite, but some have good stories despite the bad writing ... there's no reason not to give them that major rewrite and then publish them."

"As to having a trunk full of bad manuscripts, you have to figure out what to do with these ugly babies.  You can either kill them and bury then in the backyard, give them up for adoption (i.e. publish under a pen name), put them in their Sunday best and show them around like a proud parent, or do a little plastic surgery. Assuming there's some redeeming value to them, I'd go with the last option.  (And if I remember correctly, John Locke said his work was terrible at first, but there were some jewels sparkling in the muck, so he plucked those and retooled everything, resulting in the Donovan Creed novels.)"

"I would assume that your old 'bad' novels followed the rules of the English language, and that the plot held together, and that characters acted in a believable fashion. If all of the above are true, then what magical power do you have that allows you to decide if a book is good or bad? The only thing that makes any art bad is poor craft. If the artist is competent in craft, then the decision on whether it is good art or bad art is totally subjective. The arguments you are making are elitist and would deny an audience access to valid cultural product simply because it did not suit your taste. The gap between King and Rushdie is entirely in their demographics. Both write well, both explore the prevailing social and cultural climate, and both have massive and dedicated audience. To say that Rushdie writes literature while King writes popular schlock is to totally misunderstand the role and value of art in a society."

"Rushdie is a brilliant writer but his work is difficult. King is a brilliant writer who has written both masterworks and failures. Both his good work and his weak work is easy to read. Both Rushdie and King are artists. The line between artist and craftsman is not so clearly defined, and despite what people have said in the past, genre does not divide artistry from schlock. Schlock for me is that which lacks mastery of craft. I went to graduate school with a lot of literary writers and took some flack for writing genre fiction occasionally (such as fantasy and magical realism, which I sprinkled in with the standard literary workshop fiction). Now I am writing and publishing fiction and my classmates, regardless of talent, don't seem to be doing it. They all became editors or vanished. Trying to be literary is a trap. Literary writers fall into a few main categories. There are the celebrated ones no one reads; there are good ones with modest followings; and there are mediocre ones whom nobody reads but who get published by their friends; and there are bad ones who never achieve anything at all. Best just to write well."

"How many readers does a book have to make smile in order to be considered a success? My count is one. If a book available for sale is purchased and makes ONE reader think it's a 5-star book, then in my opinion, it needed to be out there, available. Our world is short on smiles. Sure you could make a counter point about the people who frowned, but that's why you can return ebooks within 7 days. I know my personal feelings of where a book made me feel good were much, much more important than the slight inconvenience I had of reading an ebook sample I didn't like. It's as simple as pressing the cover, holding it down, and selecting Remove from Device. I've watched too many times with our sampler promotions and now our ARC program the EXACT SAME book make one reader go 'OMG, I loved it because I could totally relate....' and another reader go 'UGH, I hated the grammar mistakes and poor editing and the characterization was whiny.' The exact same book. You tell me, which reader is wrong? Which is right? I think they both are, and it's better in my opinion for the reader who didn't like the book to just avoid it and the author in the future so the reader who loved it can have a treasured tale in their collection."

"Most of the books that are like this do sink to the bottom pretty quickly, but it can muddy the waters. An acquaintance of mine who is trade published is horrified at the pace the indie world seems to operate at. He's dumbfounded someone thinks a book is as good as it can possibly be in the space of a couple months as he takes over a year sometimes to just write a project, not counting edits and rewrites."

"I've been saying it for a while: 
The best thing about self-publishing is anyone can do it.
The worst thing about self-publishing is anyone can do it."

"The question that must be asked is: What gives you the right to judge whether your earlier novels are good or not? What qualifies you to make that decision? What you could do is start a secret secret pen name, straighten out the grammar etc., and publish them and let the audience decide. Only readers are qualified to judge your books and even then, only as a collective. An individual, even if that individual is the author, brings far too much subjectivity to the equation, as do small cliques or groups within the overall audience. Online publishing has democratized written literature and, like in any true democracy, it is the voice of the collective that holds sway."

"Actually, writing manuscripts, having them rejected, and putting them in a drawer was one way of learning writing. There was also writing stuff and sending it off to someplace less well paying, but desperate enough to publish it. I am not a great writer, but I think I can tell a passable dirty story, particularly if there's some fetishy stuff tossed in. Loads of writers learned to write while paying the bills, or at least some of them, by grinding out similar stuff and selling it in markets ranging from porno mags, to trashy true confessions, to pulp paperbacks. In fact, the genres favored in pulp paperbacks are the very same genres where indies flourish today. If someone buys a "bad book," enjoys it, and you can go out to dinner or pay your cable bill on the royalties, I don't see this as anything but a win for everyone. The worst book I've read in 20 years sold about a squillion copies last year. I devoured it. I could not put it down. I went on to buy the two others in the series and devoured them. Is EL James supposed to be ashamed because the book is bad from the standpoint of ze artiste or happy that millions of us loved it and she's wearing money hats?"

"Yeah, this. Except the worst book I read last year was an over-written, over-edited trade published romance novel that I DNF at the 40% mark. It was awful in a far worse way than 50 Shades was - it wasn't entertaining, not even a little bit."

"You are assuming that your previous work is bad based on your own judgments, and that of publishers/editors/agents that were not interested in them. Other than yourself, none of the others are accepting or rejecting your work based solely on it's quality, but rather than the hope that they could turn a profit on it. In the end, they were making nothing more than a (supposedly) educated guess at what the public would like two years in the future when the work would likely make it to market. If an artist who uses paint and canvas as their medium creates something, they are free to put it up in their front yard with a 'for sale' sign on it. If someone likes it and buys it, does that make it art? If someone who owns an art gallery sees it and asks to display it in their gallery, does that make it art? If an art critic sees it and raves about it in their column, does that make it art? I think the answer to all of these is 'no'. It was art the moment the artist created it. Digital self-publishing, with all it's flaws, opens the reader up to a multitude of work, both good and bad. (Just like those paintings.) This explosion of available works can only be a good thing. The market will decide what they like, which is the very basis of capitalism, and should be the very basis in determining 'what' is art. It is supposed to be in the eye of the beholder, not the distributor."

"I'm all for readers deciding what gets read, but artists have to trust their instincts. It comes down to what you are passionate about and why you write. Chasing fads or throwing stuff at the wall hoping it gets some tractions is a turn off. I'd rather read the stuff that excites an author. That energy usually translates into a better story. Money grabs tend to look like money grabs. If your instincts say the book isn't good, then you'd be a fool to ignore them. I have a few failed novels that I think I might rescue, and rereading them is like thinking about ex-girlfriends. I have to ask my younger self, 'What the hell were you thinking?' When I was younger I filled pages with chatty dialogue, and I struggle to read it now because it's just filler. It doesn't advance the story at all. If I were honest, and tried to rescue them, I'd have to cut 80-90% and start over. The subplot lack structure, the ending is weak and takes too long to reach. There's a lot of reasons I found it easier to start a new project than fix the predictable boring character at the center of one of them. Recently, I had to trust my gut about starting a new book. I've got a dozen book ideas in development. I had to make a choice, and the one I chose was ready to become a manuscript. They are all decent ideas, but my instincts were to continue a series rather than start a new one. Again, it comes to passion and why I write. It was the right book to start next."

"I think each writer has to decide for himself if his work is good enough to publish, but he can't decide for anyone else. And for every reader/writer who thinks a story is crap, there's another who thinks it's brilliant. Look at some of the so-called classics, they've got a ton of reviews complaining about the bad grammar, the boring story and the fact that the writer can't write. Are the stories people hate art or not? I say yes, they are. It's just a matter of deciding if it's art you want to read. On the subject of craft...we can't all be special snowflakes or at the top of our genre etc. Each of us brings to the table different talents and skills. And craft is an ongoing process. Even if we all learn the same writing techniques, we will each execute them differently and at various levels.  That in mind, I don't think a writer has to be perfect or brilliant before publishing. By the way, how do rejection letters improve your writing? So many people say this but I just don't see how it could improve your writing unless the letters include a detailed critique."

"Having been a slush-pile manuscript reader, yes, traditional publishers do a LOT of rejecting bad manuscripts (like paragraphs without verbs in the sentences, chapters of unending exposition, books without a plot, plots with holes big enough to sink the Titanic, books without a main character, books written entirely in the passive voice).  At a typical slush-pile reading we would go through 200-300 manuscripts in a day and reject them all. Rarely we would find one we liked enough to send up to the head editor for a second read, and 9 out of 10 times, it got rejected. Do they sometimes let a stinker through? Yes, because office politics is office politics (what you think is a bad novel someone else thinks is great). Do great novels sometimes get rejected? ABSOLUTELY! Look at how may publishers rejected the first Harry Potter book."