Category Archives: review

Use the Muse to Write Your Business Plan

Are you overwhelmed with the “business” aspect of writing? Do you even have a business plan? I don’t know about you, but I had no idea what I was getting into when I began this journey seven or eight years ago. What I’ve learned since then should have equated to at least a Masters Degree in something! Yet, writing a business plan has remained on my to-do list for years. Why? Because every business plan model I’ve ever seen is filled with language I don’t understand or information that appears to have no bearing on the business of writing. Until NOW!

PJ Sharon here, visiting today with Amy Denim, who writes business books for writers and pens contemporary romances in her spare time. She loves hot heroes (like chefs and cowboys) and curvy intelligent heroines (like chefs and cowgirls.) She’s been a franchise sales coordinator, a lifeguard, a personal shopper, and a teacher of English as a Foreign Language. But now she spends her days reading and writing at her local library or in her book cave.

Amy started out her writer’s life scared out of her wits because she didn’t have a business plan, hadn’t yet created an online platform, wasn’t on twitter, didn’t have a Facebook fan page, and had never even heard of Goodreads. Sound familiar? She just wrote books. So

AmyDenim-for-webshe spent a year becoming a publishing industry information fiend and now does consulting for creatives on how to take control of their writing careers. She started Coffee Break Social Media to help writers and artists learn to use SM (social media) platforms effectively (without the scare tactics) but still have time to create. She believes business plans and social media can be every writer’s friend, sometimes they just need an introduction.

Welcome to the Scribes Amy! I’ve been reading your book, THE COFFEE BREAK BUSINESS PLAN, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t wait to get started on creating one for myself! Can you share with our readers how you’ve found a way to use your muse, activate both sides of your brain, and give us a peak into what they can expect in your book?

I’d be happy to, PJ. Thanks for having me today. I would like to start by asking the question, have you thought about putting together a business plan? “But, oh,” you say. “It’s such a long and complicated process.” Ugh. Why bother, when you could spend your valuable time writing.

But, wait, what’s this? A guide to help authors write a business plan on coffee breaks?

Coffee Break Guide to Business Plans copy

Okay, so I find when things get boring and staid that some humor and creativity makes it all so much more fun. And let’s admit that a traditional business plan is anything but fun. But having one can be an important part of taking control of your writing career.

Never fear, we’ll start with your creative side.

The first part of writing a business is often to put together a mission statement. Doesn’t that sound super, umm, boring? Yeah, I thought so too.

So I transformed this dull, no fun task into something I could relate to. I understand the muse. Well…when she’ll talk to me. Best way to get her feeling chatty is to strait up ask her for help. I asked her to help me write something to keep me inspired about my writing career.

Here’s what she told me.

Write one or two sentences that sum up you and your goals for a successful writing career. Think of this as your mantra, or the logline for your writing career. Your books have loglines, why shouldn’t you?

Whenever you’re stuck, feeling down about writing or getting published, or need a jump start to your day, get this sentence back out and see if it doesn’t get your imagination running again.

Try to give your muse value. That can mean financial value, but can also be personal values — like family or life philosophies. If being able to support your family financially is an important value to you, include that. If you need to write just to stay sane, include that. If it’s important that your friends and family are proud of you, say that. These are your core beliefs as they relate to your writing career. Include them in your muse statement so that it is valuable to you.

The name of the muse game is inspiration. If you think it, you believe it. If you believe it, you are it. If you use the present simple tense, i.e. I am instead of I want, I will be, or I can, then you’re one step closer to believing you are the writer of your dreams. Another part of inspiration is to use those big dream goals. If you want to be a best-selling author, include that in your muse statement. Whatever your true aspirations are, use them here.

Okay, put your thinking cap/top hat/beanie with the helicopter rotor /tiara on. It’s time to think about what you really want from your writing career.

Here’s an example:

I am a financially successful author who shares award-winning stories of love and adventure with readers around the world.

Be even more specific, and make your goals attainable and measurable. Now try your hand at writing your own. Your muse statement can go through lots of drafts and incarnations. If you add a new dimension to your business plan, you might need to update your statement.

You can have more than one mission statement, too. If you find creating a mission statement motivational, consider creating them for different parts of your life and career. You can have one for your writing career, your marketing efforts, your financial goals, your family life, spiritual life, your health, or anything else that is important to you.

The following questions are to get you started thinking about your goals, but don’t go crazy and spend hours making lists and/or daydreaming about your success as a writer.

I call this the Coffee Break Business Plan. This is all about basic goals, which you can expand on to create a full-blown business plan, so spend only a few minutes thinking about each of these questions. Write a couple of sentences to answer them, or make yourself a nice bullet-point list. If you’d like a template to print out to help you with this exercise, you can download one at www.coffeebreaksocialmedia.com/Books/Resources.

 Grab a cup of coffee and a pen

Write down the answers to these questions.

  • How many books do you plan to write? In what genre?
  • What’s your projected word count?
  • When will you finish each project? Or, how much time will you need to complete each project? (Don’t forget to build in time for critiques, beta readers, editing, and all those other activities… besides actually writing the book.)
  • How will you publish these books? Traditionally, self-published, a hybrid approach?
  • If you’re self-publishing, what services will you need and how much will you spend on those?
  • Who is your competition? Who else writes books like yours?
  • How will you sell and market your books?
  • How much money will it cost you to publish and market? What services might you pay for to help you do that?
  • How much money do you plan to make, and when will you see that revenue?
  • When do you plan to achieve these goals?

There you go. You just created a basic business plan. For real. Laminate that sucker and put it up big and pretty in front of your computer. Every time you sit down to write, take a look and focus on writing to achieve those goals. If the IRS comes knocking, you can wave it in their faces.

If you’d like help expanding your business plan, I can help with that too. Leave a comment on the blog today, ask questions about business plans, mission statements, or anything else you’d like, and one lucky commenter will win a copy my new book The Coffee Break Guide to Business Plans for Authors: The Step-By-Step Guide to Taking Control of Your Writing Career. But, if you can’t wait to win it, it’s available now on Amazon.

Thanks, Amy! And here’s my review of this little gem:

Amy Denim takes the mystery and fear out of writing a business plan.

As a writer, my right creative brain is clearly dominant, making things like business plans and marketing strategies sound like foreign languages. Amy Denim’s step-by-step guide, which focuses on business plans specifically for writers, is set up to be done in small increments…literally on a coffee break. She makes the process simple and totally do-able. Her clear, concise, and entertaining style makes this a must-read for anyone considering writing as a business. Highly recommend!

To Select…or not to Select. That is the question.

PJ Sharon here on this chilly New Year’s Eve Day. Since I’m in the process of re-evaluating my first quarter marketing plan for 2014, I thought I’d share the results of my latest promotion. Most of you are familiar with KDP Select, Amazon’s 90 day exclusivity contract that requires authors to publish only with them for that time period. The perks of putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket are paid borrows by Prime members (average $1.94 per borrow), entry into their new “Count Down Deals” program, and/or the ability to run FREE promotions for five days of the 90 day period. A year ago, all of this was very attractive. Now, not so much.FREE promo

Most Indie authors agree that running free promotions has been much less effective than it was a year or two ago. Now that the market is flooded with freebies and bargain books, it’s getting harder and harder to sell at any price—even FREE! Sales of my last published novel, WESTERN DESERT, book two in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy, which released last July, reflect the drastic change. I’ll preface these results with the caveat that YA Dystopian is a hard sell across the board lately since that market is pretty much glutted. I also believe that book two in a trilogy is often tougher because folks won’t buy/download book two if they haven’t read book one, and readers don’t want to get hooked into a trilogy with no guaranteed release date of the third book.

Having said all that, I’m trying not to take it personally or be embarrassed about such a poor sales record. The fact is, I don’t think the numbers reflect the quality of the book at all. What reviews I do have, are excellent, and feedback I’ve had from readers has been awesome. So what’s up with the numbers?

Coming June 24th!
Coming June 24th!

I enrolled WESTERN DESERT into the Select program in October, figuring I would promote books one and two through Halloween, running my first two day FREE promo around the time readers might be drawn to Dystopian/Sci-fi-fantasy stories. I was part of a group sale, advertised on the usual 20-30 sites that promote freebies (some charge a nominal fee of $5-15), and did a social media blitz, including some blog appearances. The best I did was had about a thousand free downloads and sold eighty or so copies of WANING MOON, book one in the trilogy.

Now, I realize that those results meant that my book was in the hands of potentially a thousand new readers, and it did wonders for my sales rankings for both books during the sale, but being that WANING MOON was selling for the .99 cent price point, I made about $30. I’ll add that there was no after sale bump in numbers (meaning my sales flat-lined again immediately), and I’d spent my budgeted $100 for advertising the sale, netting me -$70 for my trouble. Consider the amount of time it takes to set up ads on 20-30 sites, schedule blog appearances, participate in social media non-stop for two days, and well…you get the picture.

I waited a couple of months, planned my last three day FREE run for right after Christmas, hoping to catch all those new Kindle owners, and promoted both books like crazy. As in, “Two Books for under a buck!” “Buy WANING MOON for .99 cents and download WESTERN DESERT for FREE!” I joined with Awesome Indies for their Holiday Bonanza e-book sale, promoted on 30 FREE e-book sites (I’m hearing now that it takes 50 sites to make a dent), and I scheduled mega tweets, FB, Goodreads, Google+, Pinterest, and tumblr promos. I spent my $100 budget, and had the support of dozens of other authors who tweeted, posted or otherwise shouted it to the world for me. Here were the results:

Worldwide (including a few downloads in Germany, France, India, Canada, and Australia—a new market for me!), I had a whopping 543 downloads of WESTERN DESERT and 39 new sales of WANING MOON. Oy! Hours of preparation, insane amounts of marketing, and yes, I’m down about $85. I did reach the #1,026 mark on the Amazon rankings in the Free kindle store, #2 in the Sci-fi/fantasy/Genetic engineering category, and #10 in the Dystopian category, but numbers bounced right back to oblivion when the sale ended.

Granted, I was unable to procure ads on the really big sites like Book Bub and a few others which require as many as twenty-five reviews these days to even be featured and are very choosy about what they pick to advertise, but really? For the work involved and the investment of time and money, it feels like I’ve run a marathon and placed next to last. A far cry from last year’s FREE promo for SAVAGE CINDERELLA  when I boasted 40,000 downloads between my two day and then a three day promotion. The best part was the over 800 direct sales in the weeks after my free run. Yikes! What a difference a year and-a-half makes. Even HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES and ON THIN ICE promos last year at this time did much better than my 2013 efforts for my Dystopian reads.

It would be nice to get a few (hopefully good) reviews out of the promotion and getting my name out to new readers is always a good thing, but all in all, the Select program has little left to offer me with this book series. Perhaps when I publish another Contemporary YA romance, or when I have a boxed set of all three books in the trilogy, I’ll give it another go, but for now, KDP Select is a losing proposition for me. Of course, take all this with a grain of salt, because I’ve heard of a few other authors on my loops who are still pulling in good numbers with Select. Go figure!

What do you think? Have you had better results? How did you do it? Am I missing something?

Holiday Happenings!

Merry Christmas Eve!

PJ Sharon here, there, and everywhere, currently coming to you from the coziness of my living room.christmas tree I’m wrapping last minute packages and the smell of fresh baked cornbread is wafting in from the kitchen. I hope you’re all taking some time off during the holidays to spend with loved ones. I’m grabbing a few days off, but since writers are never totally on vacation, here’s what I’ll be up to until the end of the month.

For the past ten days, I’ve been part of the Sleigh Bells Ring, Are you Listening, giant audiobook giveaway hosted by Rita Award winning author, Wendy Lindstrom. Today is the last day to enter if you want to be in the running for a chance to win some awesome audiobooks, an MP3 Player, or even an iPod Nano! Just click here to bring you to the Sleigh Bells Ring are you Listening contest page where you’ll find a Rafflecopter entry form. It’s super easy, and only takes a minute, I promise!Sleighbells ring promo pic You might even win an audiobook of HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES.

I’m also participating in the Awesome Indies Holiday Book Bonanza, where dozens of e-books are on sale for only .99 cents between December 26-30th.aia_holidays (1) If you aren’t familiar with Awesome Indies, it’s a great organization of Industry professionals who read, rate, and review books by Independently published authors. They have very stringent criteria that have to be met, so you can rest assured that approved books are top notch! I’m proud to say, WANING MOON and WESTERN DESERT made the cut and are now listed on their front page! For my writing friends out there, check out their website at http://awesomeindies.net/ for some invaluable resource material (check out their criteria for submission info).

While WANING MOON, book one in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael is only .99 cents, WESTERN DESERT, book two in the trilogy is up for FREE from December 26-28th.

Available NOW!
Available NOW!

 Bookmark this page and come back during the sale for easy links to the books on Amazon or find links on the Awesome Indies Holiday Bonanza Book sale page. With all those new Kindles under Christmas trees everywhere, I couldn’t think of a better time to offer WESTERN DESERT up for FREE! If you’ve got teen readers at home or enjoy reading YA dystopian romance yourself, here is your chance to get both books for less than a dollar. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Please help me spread the word about this great opportunity by sharing this post on your Facebook page, twitter, or other social media. Simply click on the social media button of choice below and add a note of encouragement for friends to download WESTERN DESERT for FREE from Thursday to Saturday this week. Promotions like this are the best way authors can give back to readers, and readers can show their support of their favorite authors by spreading the news, leaving reviews, and chatting about the books with friends and family. As always, your support is greatly appreciated and means the world to me. May you be blessed with good health, peace, prosperity, balance and harmony in the coming year!

So that’s where I’ll be and what I’ll be up to for the next week or so. In the meantime, enjoy the holidays, squeeze in some “healthy” food choices, and plan a nice hike for after your Christmas dinner.

I’m making our traditional spiral ham. How about you?

Audiobooks

Good day, PJ Sharon here, coming to you from the snow-carpeted Berkshires. The first snow fall is always so pretty.  First snow picI have a couple of questions for all of you. Do you listen to audiobooks? How do you listen to them? And where do you find them? Best seller’s lists? Specific authors/narrators you love to read/hear? Let’s chat.

I’ll confess that I’ve only listened to a few audiobooks–and always in the car with a tangible CD (or 29 CD’s as is the case for OUTLANDER  which I’ve listened to five times). I’m afraid I haven’t made the leap to the next technological step in the evolution of how we read books and hear stories–digital audiobooks. As in–downloaded them onto my i-pod touch or my android phone, or listened to them directly from my computer. As hard as I try, I’m still resistant to learning/using new technology.

I often feel as if I’m being dragged forcibly into the future. I’m trying not to scream too loudly about it since I know that many people are having great success with audiobook sales. According to the world of publishing, audiobooks are in. Bob Mayer admits to having spent over $35,000 having all of his books turned into audiobooks, and I know Bella Andre thinks they are as untapped a market as the foreign marketplace. I’m pretty sure their audiobooks are selling…I’d love to ask them.

Personally, I’m not seeing it. Maybe because I’m not on any best sellers lists or because I’m not out “finding my audience” as diligently as is needed, but I don’t see my readers buying audiobooks. Whenever I mention that my book is available on audio, I’m asked where they can buy the CD so they can listen to it in their car. Um…sorry…no CD. These are friends and family I’m talking to, however–the folks like me who are always one step behind the latest tech trend. No problem, you say. You write books for teens, and teens in general are glued to the latest and greatest electronic devices. Surley, they must be listening to audiobooks. But once again, they don’t have the buying power of adults. And let’s face it, none of them is likely to spend $17.95 on a digital download of a book unless it’s someone they really want to read/hear.

When I decided to dabble in the realm of audiobooks, I figured I would start with a book that had universal appeal. Many adult readers loved HEAVEN IS FOR  HEROES for it’s sweet military romance, family drama and Thanksgiving theme. It seemed like the right story for an audiobook audience.HeavenisforHeroes_audiobookcover (2013_06_07 00_53_00 UTC)

You can hear a sample of Erin Mallon’s awesome narration of HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES here. Just click on the little “listen” arrow beneath the cover picture on the sales page.

With companies like ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange), it’s much easier for authors to have professionally produced and fabulously narrated audiobooks. ACX offers two plans. You can either pay up front, which will likely cost you between $1,500-2,000, depending on the length of your book (mine was 78,000 words and would have cost me $1,000). Or you can do a 50/50 royalty share, where you pay an upfront cost (usually half) and then split the royalties until the complete cost of production is paid and I’ve sold a certain number of copies, at which time, my royalty rate increases.. Basically, I paid $500 for an awesome narrator who I found on the ACX site, and I split the royalties. It comes out to a nice little chunk of the $17.95 per copy price through Amazon, Audible, or i-tunes. If you want to read more about ACX and how it all works, the WG2E has several excellent posts here.

On the consumer’s side, If you’re an avid audiobook fan and decide to become an Audible Member, which is around $14.95/month, you’d get the $17.95 price point OR you can use the 1 Credit you get each month and download the book for FREE–or even gift it to someone else. You can also purchase the file from Amazon and get it FREE with a 30-day Audible Trial Membership.

Now, the other difficulty I find with audiobooks is getting people to review them. I don’t know if people who have bought the book have downloaded it and simply haven’t listened to it yet, or if they aren’t inclined to leave reviews on audiobooks. Either way, I can’t even give a copy away to get an honest review. ACX provides five free download codes to give out to reviewers or as giveaways, but finding reviewers for audiobooks seems to be a bit of a challenge. It’s a market that is getting increasingly flooded and some reviewers are backlogged for months. If anyone is willing to listen and review the book, I’d be happy to gift you a copy along with instructions on how to download from Audible, Amazon, or i-tunes. All I ask in return is that you give it an honest review.

If anyone has any suggestions on where’s a good place to market audiobooks or how I can get some reviews, I’m wide open! I’ve even tried to join a Goodreads group of romance audiobook reviewers, but those groups are pretty persnickety about authors promoting themselves. If you aren’t part of the discussion every day, it’s not really cool to just jump in and ask for reviews. And since I hang around mostly with the characters in my head and not the characters on Goodreads, I haven’t found an “in”.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on audiobooks. Questions are cool too–if you’re wondering about the process or have questions about working with ACX. I’d be happy to answer them. Have a lovely day!

It’s my second Indie birthday!

Hey Scribblers!

PJ Sharon here. Today I’m celebrating two years since I first published my debut novel HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES. In honor of the occasion, I’m giving away an audio book copy to one random commenter. Chance to enter ends Monday, September 30th at midnight.

So what’s it like being an Indie toddler?very-excited-girl (2013_06_02 00_59_02 UTC)
Believe me, there are days when I want to have fits like a two-year-old. But there are also days when I can’t imagine a more exciting pursuit. It seems like just yesterday I was posting my first novel onto AMAZON, B&N, and Smashwords, taking the giant leap of faith that I had done enough to ensure it was as close to perfect as possible. Five books and a zillion lessons later, I’m still working to improve and streamline my process. Everything from formatting, cover art, editing, and marketing, to managing the business end of being an author, is constantly changing, making me feel like a perpetual newbie.

Here’s a short list of what I’ve learned in my first two years:

1) Relax and Breathe-I really stressed out my first year and a half as an author. The past six months has been about letting go for me. I can’t control it all, I can only do so much in a day, and the to-do list will still be there tomorrow. Making time to write is non-negotiable. It’s what keeps me moving forward and brings me joy. I manage what I absolutely have to do each day, and try to remember that I’m the boss.

2) Hire as much help as you can afford-I’m a big fan of bartering services, but there are some things you just can’t do that with. Figuring out a budget and investing in creating a superior product is worth the effort and money. Hire a good cover artist and excellent editors, and pay for the RIGHT advertisement, and you will make your money back. Caution: BE SELECTIVE. Get references and do your research.

3) It’s good to have friends in the playpen- I would know nothing if I didn’t belong to such Yahoo Groups as IndieRomanceInk, Authors Network, and Marketing for Romance Writers. My local RWA chapter has been invaluable, and the contacts I’ve made through YARWA and the WG2E street team are like family. I am constantly amazed by the generosity of the writing community.

4) Patience grasshopper-  I’m only two, for Pete’s sake! We have to walk before we can run, right? Everything requires a process. In people years, a toddler is only just beginning their journey. I can’t expect myself to know everything, do everything right, or earn a solid income in only two years time. Every business model I’ve ever seen considers a profit after five years, a success. Most businesses will fail in those first five years. I take comfort in knowing that the only way I can fail is if I stop writing books. I’m more and more convinced that money comes with time and persistence. I’ll let you know how that theory works out in another three years when I graduate to kindergarten.

5) Perspective is everything- I originally set the goaI that I would sell 10,000 copies of my collective books in a year. I guess I didn’t necessarily mean the first year…or the second. Well, maybe I was just being optimistic. I could have been disappointed when I didn’t meet my mark in 2012, but it didn’t really phase me. Mainly because I knew that if I had sold 5,000 the first year, the second five would come eventually. I still haven’t quite reached the 10K mark yet (there will be cake when I do!). But I consider every sale, every contest win, positive review, or reader comment a measure of success. Most importantly, my level of enjoyment with the process is my biggest measure of success these days. I keep a copy of each of my books close at hand to remind me of what I’ve accomplished in just two short years.

There is so much more that I’ve learned, but I’d have to write a book to contain it all and my publishing schedule is booked for the foreseeable future. So instead of me blabbering on about my toddler years, why don’t you guys tell me about your journey.

How long have you been writing?  What has it taught you? Have you made the leap into the publishing world? How’s that going for you? Let’s chat!

Review of TL Costa’s PLAYING TYLER

Good day mates! PJ here, and I have an Australian accent in my head this morning. Does that happen to you? It’s pretty much the norm for your average writerly type. You see, we writers typically hear several voices in our heads every day. We’ve come to understand that ‘no, we aren’t crazy.’ We are creative. Writers hear multiple points of view, snippets of dialogue, crazy characters popping into our minds and saying the darnedest things. It can be maddening, but it can also be amazing. Translating those voices to words on a page is where magic happens and characters are brought to life. When an author does it just right, the reader is transported into the mind of the character and experiences the story alongside them.PlayingTyler-72dpi-1 Such was the sense that I had when I read PLAYING TYLER, by TL Costa. Here is my review:

Part thriller, part geek fest, and part sweet romance, PLAYING TYLER was the must read of the summer for me. The main characters, Tyler McCandless and Ani Bagdorian captured my heart from the start in this fast paced teen drama. Although on the surface, this book was about the slippery slope of Drone warfare and one boy’s journey to discovering who his real friends are, it was mostly about teens trying to find their place in the world. At seventeen, Tyler must face family relationships that are filled with tragedy and struggle, and the wonders/horrors of first love. TL Costa rocked the male teen voice and I was totally swept up in her stream-of-consciousness narrative style that put me squarely in Tyler’s ADHD brain. I found myself bouncing my knee right alongside him and anxious to see how he would negotiate the twists and turns that life tossed his way. Since the chapters were alternating points of view, I waited to see if any of Tyler’s dialogue would spill over into Ani, or vice versa, but each character was well-drawn and unique. A debut author to watch!

 Highly recommend for older teens, especially boys who aren’t typically readers. I think this one will grab them! Great job, TL!

TL Costa pic DSC_3372T.L. Costa graduated from Bryn Mawr College, got her Masters of Teaching from Quinnipiac University and taught high school for five years before becoming a full-time mom and writer.
She has lived in Texas, New York, New Jersey and Spain.  Currently, she lives in Connecticut.
T. L. can be found online at her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/tlcostaauthor) and on Twitter (@TLCosta1).

Purchase PLAYING TYLER at the following outlets:

Amazon, B&N, and Indiebound

For more of PLAYING TYLER, check out sample chapters here!

Thanks for being here TL, and thanks for writing such a great book!

Adventures in Self-Publishing (more examples of what NOT to do)

PJ Sharon here. Last week I blogged about the changes in the new age of publishing and the virtues of going Indie. For those of you who were inspired by the post and feel ready to jump in with both feet, I wanted to offer a peek behind the Indie curtain to one of the ugly realities. There is a learning curve to EVERYTHING! And with the constant changes happening in the industry, it’s more than a little challenging to keep up. Since my most recent DIY debacle involved formatting, I’ll share the details here to assist your decision making process. If you haven’t run for the hills by the end of this post, you just might be cut out for self-publishing.

For some SP authors, formatting is the easiest part of the job. It’s generally a one-time event per book, there are VERY detailed instructions via the Smashwords Style Guide, Amazon’s Formatting instructions, and any one of the other individual e-retailer’s step-by-step guides, and it gets easier each time you do it—or so I’ve heard. For me, not so much. Since there are always several months between releases and there may be some new tweaks to the formatting guidelines from one effort to the next, it feels like I’m learning all over again each time I do it.

Fortunately, I have an assistant (my brilliant and handsome engineer husband) who is willing to take the chore off my hands. He’s walked me through it a few times, but clearly he is better at it than I am, and I’m happy to delegate.WM jpg 6x9 eBook UPLOAD 2013 (2013_06_07 00_53_00 UTC) I did the formatting for WANING MOON and nearly pulled my hair out. He seems to have mastered the art and brought the completion time down from sixteen hours with my first book to about three to five hours for my recent release, which was our fifth endeavor. He is well-suited for the task since it involves extreme patience and an eye for detail. But since he spent the entire month of June in Malaysia on business, I was forced to make a choice. Do it myself amid the chaos of preparing for my release date, or hire someone to format the book for me.

Many authors choose to hire out this tedious and daunting task, but the down side is that any time you want to make changes to your book—say, put in a new excerpt, change your back matter, or correct an error or two that some reader was kind enough to point out—you have to go through your formatter. It might cost you a few extra bucks and you’re on their time table.

Being that I was in the midst of a computer crash catastrophe in the weeks before my release, I chose to hire out the job. Now let me preface what comes next with stating the obvious. I SP because I like being in control of my product, my business, and my schedule. I’m a person who knows what I want and I have difficulty trusting that others will do the job to my specifications. After all, it is my name on the book and ultimately my success or failure depends entirely on me.

So here’s the problem. In today’s market, there are a ton of new opportunities for editors, cover artists, and formatters. The trouble is, how do you know which ones are legitimate and how do you pick the best person for the job? I belong to several writer’s loops and have access to lists of dozens of these entrepreneurs, but I still had to make a choice. I chose wrong!failed_stamp

It would be unprofessional of me to bash anyone publicly, so I’ll keep my ire in check, but I was disappointed to say the least. The woman/business owner was very nice, quick on meeting my deadline, and inexpensive for the job I wanted done. She also came recommended on one of the loops. Formatting can cost anywhere from $50-$200 depending on what services you need, and I was happy to find someone at the lower end of that scale. I’m once again reminded that you get what you pay for.

Because I was in a time crunch, going insane with last minute details for launch, and sans my regular computer, I took for granted that the formatting was done correctly and went ahead and uploaded to each of my distribution channels without doing a strict quality control review. Each retailer requires a different format, so I had different files for Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and Create Space. Amazon and B&N didn’t kick anything back, so as far as I know, those are okay. (Please contact me if you see any formatting problems with WESTERN DESERT on your Nook or Kindle).

Coming June 24th!
Available on Amazon, BN, and Smashwords.

The Smashwords edition, however, came back with auto-vetter errors. If you haven’t heard about what a pain the Smashwords “meat grinder” is to conquer, let me tell you, we have had issues almost every time. It usually has to do with the TOC (table of contents), also known as the NCX. The formatting guidelines tell you specifically NOT to use your Word program’s automatic TOC generator. They want you to build your own by individually bookmarking your chapter headings and linking them back to your manually created TOC using Word’s bookmark feature. My husband has also discovered that you have to go into your document and find all the hidden links, a mysterious phenomenon that I don’t fully understand. Apparently my formatter didn’t either. She “fixed” it three times and it still wasn’t right. I finally told her to forget it and waited for tech-spert hubby to return from his trip to reformat the document for Smashwords. It was accepted with no auto-vetter errors (yayyy!) but whether it is accepted for Premium distribution (to be made available for book stores and libraries) remains to be seen. This review process often takes a few weeks. I still depend on Smashwords to aggregate to Apple i-Tunes, Kobo, Sony, and a handful of other retailers. In the near future this will change and I’ll upload directly to i-Tunes and Kobo.

As if this isn’t enough to have you turning tail, I’ll tell you about my Create Space nightmare. Again, I trusted that the formatting was done correctly (huge mistake). I wondered why the page count was so high, ignored my instinct to double check the formatting, and didn’t notice that the trim size was set at 6 x 9 which is the standard book size. Since my husband usually does my uploads, I forgot that all of my other books had been custom sized at 5.5 x 8.5 inches. My cover artist didn’t mention the discrepancy and I overlooked it when I uploaded the book. It was midnight when I was doing all my up-loads (note to self: don’t try to do anything technical when you’re tired).

Since I had a book signing the first week after my release, I needed print copies fast. Without my usual due diligence of ordering proof copies, I went ahead and ordered thirty copies of the book. Grrr…it came back double spaced, not right justified, and it had a funky header with page numbers in the right upper corner. The book turned out to be HUGE and twice the cost of my other books to print. Really! So much for saving money on a cheap formatter.

I’ve since corrected the problems myself and ordered new copies, but will think long and hard before hiring someone again. And just to let you know, once you choose a trim size and have a specific page count with Create Space, they cannot be modified. I had to re-upload an entirely new version of the book including a new ISBN number and will have to wait a week or so before “retiring” the first edition. For some arbitrary and unknown amount of time, WESTERN DESERT will have two paperback editions and two description pages—just to confuse readers and make life interesting with Amazon. The silver lining, according to the senior customer service rep, is that I get to keep my reviews.

Oh, and the thirty copies? I sold two—yes, two—copies at the signing. So I have a couple of dozen first print copies of WESTERN DESERT I will use as review copies or giveaways with a disclaimer attached in the front of the book to ignore the crappy formatting.

Lesson learned! Buyer beware, or as my husband likes to remind me, measure twice, cut once.

Have you noticed formatting errors in e-books? Does it drive you crazy or can you overlook it if the story is good? Would you hire out the formatting or do it yourself? Feel free to share any other publishing nightmares, SP or Trad, that made you want to kick some butt and take names.