Tag Archives: indie publishing

Choosing Your Path

Happy Tuesday, Scribe’s followers. PJ Sharon here, sharing my thoughts on a topic near and dear to my heart—choosing your path. I love being the Captain of my own ship!

My fellow Scribe sister, Sugar, did a great post yesterday on reasons why one should consider pursuing a traditional publishing career. She had some excellent reasons for doing so. You can read about them here. For as many reasons as there are to seek a traditional publishing contract, there are just as many on the side of going Indie (the PC word for self-publishing).

But how does one know which path is right for them? How do you choose your path to publication?

First, let’s happily recognize that there are now many options open to writers for getting their stories into the hands of readers. Up until five or so years ago, that wasn’t the case. A writer had to jump through hoops and pound on a lot of doors, hoping to sneak out of the slush pile and onto the shelves through a series of death defying strokes of luck. If they grew weary of the chase (and the dozens of rejections), they could pay thousands of dollars to have someone publish their work for them and end up with nothing more than a trunk full of books. This soul-sucking practice, called “vanity publishing”, was more or less a scam to bilk writers who were desperate to see their work in print and couldn’t make the cut with traditional publishers for whatever reasons.

For some writers, the reason for rejection was as simple as having their books not “fit the market”. Traditional publishers were in that unique position of having thousands of “applicants” vying for the ten slots they might have available. They were the gate keepers who decided what books got published, where they were distributed, and what types of books readers were likely to buy based on what was currently selling on the market. Those parameters left a lot of amazing writers out in the cold with no way in.

Fast forward to the digital age of Amazon, e-readers, and the new world of publishing. Writers could now bypass the query-go-round, skip fighting for an agent, and jump into the fray with the hundreds of thousands of other writers making their books available to the masses. Yes, there is crap. Yes, there are still poorly edited books that shouldn’t see the light of day, and yes, the market is so saturated that it’s a wonder that anyone can sell more than a single copy of their book these days. But over the past few years, the quality of books being produced by Indie authors have steadily improved as they’ve learned to hire good editors, cover artists, and formatters to help them in producing a competitive product. And the avenues through which to sell those books continues to grow daily.

For those not interested in handling all of the fine details, there are a plethora of small press publishers cropping up to take those chores off the shoulders of the author.
But buyer beware. Anyone attempting to handle their career on their own without the advice of an agent or the backing of a reputable publisher, is in for a bumpy ride with lots of pot holes. I’ve had a few missteps, but have managed to avoid many of the big pitfalls myself by participating in yahoo group loops where Indies congregate and share information. They have been an invaluable resource in navigating the shark infested waters of the publishing world. Honestly, I haven’t seen that small press publishers do much more for authors than they could do for themselves, but if you are looking to get a foot in the traditional publisher’s doors, and don’t want all the responsibilities of creating your masterpiece, a small press might be a good first step.

As Sugar mentioned yesterday, many authors are NOT making buckets of money, whether they are DIY’ers or traditionally published, but there are also many in both camps who make a good living. There seems to be no tried and true way to guarantee success, and I’ve come to the conclusion that success in publishing requires dogged determination, perseverance, and a huge chunk of luck. Timing is everything and no one seems to know what will sell tomorrow or why some of the crap that comes along the pike sells like hotcakes. But one thing is for sure, the doors are open and it’s as good a time as it has ever been to be an author…no matter which path you choose.

If you’re still on the fence, I’ve created this short list of pros and cons that might help you decide.

Traditional Publishing
PROS: See Sugar’s post from yesterday. If you want the name recognition and backing of a reputable publishing house, a support team of editors, cover artists, and marketing professionals, and access to distribution and space on store shelves, this might be the route for you. It can take considerable time and effort to break in, but if you are lucky enough to be a top seller, your path will be paved in gold, the red carpet rolled out for you, and your tiara awaits! Kudos for making the big time!

CONS:  If you know that your story is a tough sell with a traditional publisher, you have a time sensitive topic that needs to be published NOW, or you aren’t willing/able to work to someone else’s deadlines and demands, this might not be a good fit for you. Also consider that negotiating contracts can be tricky and getting the attention of a good agent to help you navigate the process can be daunting. In addition, if you aren’t a top seller, don’t expect a second contract, and your dismissal may mean that it will be tougher to get contracted with another publishing house.

Small Press Publishers
PROS: Generally speaking, it’s somewhat easier to get in the door and you’ll have a faster turn-around time getting your product to market with digital first publishers. They will handle the editing, cover art and formatting for your book, and may even give you some tips for effective marketing…or not.

CONS: Depending on the sales of your e-books, you may never qualify for a print version of your book. And let’s face it, most of us still want to see our books in print and on store shelves. Royalty rates may be higher than larger houses but getting those royalty checks within a reasonable amount of time and having access to your sales numbers is hit or miss. It also seems that small press publishers do very little to help their authors with marketing, (please feel free to let me know if I’m mistaken), which for me would be one of the few incentives to move on over to traditional publishing. The other is the coveted ADVANCE, which you will likely NOT get from a small press publisher. Or if you do, it will be well…small. As it stands, it wouldn’t make sense for someone like me who has established myself in the Indie realm to jump on board with a small press. They really can’t offer me much that I’m not already doing for myself.

Indie Publishing
Love those 70% royalty rates! (Even at the 35% royalty rate for lower priced books, I can charge .99 cents and still make more per unit than trad authors whose books sell for $7.99). I can change my price point at any time, update my covers, or change my categories and descriptions on retailer sites, which is enormously helpful when running a sale or promoting my books. Love the control I have over every aspect of my product. Love setting my publication schedule and not worrying about meeting someone else’s deadlines. Love the real time sales numbers so I can easily keep track how my promotional efforts are working…or not. Love the flexibility and freedom!

Hate that I don’t have access to mass distribution of print books. Hate that I have upfront costs of a support team, ie: editors, cover artists, etc. and NO ADVANCE. Hate the stigma of being “self-published”, although this is slowly becoming less of an issue and I’m not one to be too concerned about what others think of me, anyway. Hate that I am solely and completely responsible for everything—including writing, producing, and marketing a high quality product that may or may not sell based on a market that is constantly changing.

Hybrid Authors
I have not wrapped my mind around how anyone can do this without being able to write full time. To have multiple projects, deadlines, and demands from more than one publisher as well as self-publishing would make me insane! Fast and prolific writers are doing it every day, and if you’re writing in more than one genre, this makes sense.

For me, the best of both worlds will be when authors and publishers can be on equal footing and work together to create great books and put a system in place to get them into the hands of readers; when authors are paid fairly for their work with contracts that reflect the best interests of BOTH parties, and when marketing becomes a joint effort that takes into account that a “target audience” doesn’t necessarily live in a box.

Then everyone will be happy and there will no longer be “sides” to the issue. Publishing will simply be publishing, and whichever path you choose, it will be the right one for you. You’ll gain the respect you deserve from peers and industry professionals, there will be rainbows and butterflies, and we will all live happily ever after.

What do you think?

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?

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!

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!

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.

Oh, how-the-times-they-are-a-changing!

Happy Tuesday, Scribe’s readers. PJ Sharon here, recalling how not so long ago, the idea of self-publishing was as taboo as wearing stripes and plaids together—a fashion statement to be strictly avoided. Today, it seems anything goes!

I was told I was crazy, that I shouldn’t do it, and that I was ruining my chances for a traditional publishing contract. These days self-publishing (preferably called Indie publishing to avoid confusion with Vanity publishing-an icky and antiquated model where authors pay exorbitant fees to shady publishers and get little in return for their investment), is just one more avenue for great writers to share their stories with the world. No longer considered a “last resort,” but now thought of as the “right path” for many writers for dozens of reasons, “Indie” publishing has become a buzz word that is changing the face of the publishing world forever! Can you say “print only contracts?”

Whether you do it to be more in control of covers, editing, and production schedules, or because your stories are awesomely written but are different enough that traditional publishers would never pick them up, or simply because 70% royalties sound a whole lot better to you than 10% or less, the bottom line is that it’s a viable career choice today.

What this means for readers:

1)      A variety of books to choose from that are often different than anything that NY has published before.

2)      Lower e-book prices and tons of free books to choose from.

3)      More personal interaction with authors since Indies have truly embraced social media as a way of connecting to readers. (Without “publisher” support, authors are more on our own than ever before, which goes for trad-pubbed authors as well).

What it means for writers:

1)      More freedom to write what we want to write and be in control of our product and our careers.

2)      The opportunity to set our own production schedules and write what is selling in the current market.

3)      Higher royalty rates but less distribution opportunities. Big publishers still have a major advantage here with both distribution and name recognition/legitimacy with retailers. Hopefully this will change over time as the industry evolves.

4) Realize that along with total control comes total responsibility, which can be overwhelming at times. For people like me who like to be their own boss, it’s really kind of awesome!

A perfect example of how quickly the field is growing and how the perception has changed is the RWA National conference I attended last week. Having Indie published my first title in 2011, I skipped last year’s national convention in Anaheim in part due to the fact that they had little to offer for Indie-pubbers. This year, there was an entire track devoted to everything from formatting to marketing your indie books. It included panel discussions and author chats with some fabulously successful Indie authors as well as focus sessions with all the major e-retailers.

I was amazed to see the shift. The energy and excitement were electrifying! I was also ecstatic to see that they opened up the RITA awards to Indie authors for next year. How cool is that? Obviously RWA was listening to our feedback. They may have been behind the fast moving curve, but they are working hard to catch up. Not that they have much choice, lest they risk being left behind by a good number of their members. Talk in the Indie camps the past year or so was that many were either jumping ship because the organization was treating them like the red-headed step child, or because successful trad-authors who had gotten the rights to all their back list of books were jumping on the Indie train in droves and RWA didn’t want to lose them. Wise decision on their part IMHO.

RWA (and most of NY) may be finally catching on and realizing that Indie is not synonymous with “inferior.” With the mega amounts of competition in this new market, Indie pubbers are quickly learning that quality products are key to selling successfully, and they are putting out some superior products–a reality gaining notice with agents and editors. There will always be the folks who upload an unedited, unprofessional, poorly written document that they (and their mom) think is the cat’s meow, but I believe that those will become fewer and farther between as the market continues to become more competitive.

Like any business, you have to be willing to invest in creating a quality product. Hiring cover artists (which I learned after a few missteps), editors, formatters, and even PR help might be what it takes for an Indie to stand out in the overcrowded book market of today, but there are so many opportunities for growth, it’s just crazy! From audio books to foreign translations, and the growing number of distribution channels offering pre-orders to getting our books into bookstores and libraries, Indies can now compete on equal footing with Big Six (or five) publishers. It means tons of work for the mom and pop publishers like me, but the sky is the limit! I suspect I’m one of the many Indies who are eking along at a crawl in terms of sales, but I can see a light down that long tunnel and I expect as with any new business, it could take me 3-5 years to see the financial success I’m working toward.

I’m still waiting for RWA to change their PAN (Published Authors Network) requirements for Indies, however, as this is still an inequitable measure of professional success and would exclude me from entering the RITA’s. As it stands now, traditionally published authors only need to earn $1000 to be eligible for PAN, while Indies need to earn $5000. Although I’ve earned out twice that amount and more on my first five titles, I haven’t quite earned it yet on one single title, which excludes me from eligibility. I’m oh, so close though!

I’m not saying that Indie publishing is right for everyone. It requires a lot of self-discipline, hard work, and some business savvy, but if you are sitting outside the traditional mold and thinking “I’ll never get published,” there is now another way. Do your homework, get educated about the process, and make the choice because it fits the career model you want. And if you still want a traditional contract, there is always the “Hybrid author” model. Like I said, the sky is the limit and it’s a brave new world in publishing. Be BOLD, and go after your dream, however and wherever the spirit leads you!

So what do you all think about this new publishing paradigm?

Blazing a Trail by Frankie Roberston

Welcome to another Friday at the 7 Scribes. Casey here. Today, Frankie Roberston is my returning as my guest and she’s sharing her self-publication journey with her latest book BLAZING A TRAIL.

Take it away, Frankie!


http://www.dreamstime.com/-image8529767Thanks for inviting me to guest post, Casey!

When I started thinking about self-publishing way back in 2010, I had a lot of questions.

Should I find an all-in-one author service, or hire separate vendors?

How much would all this cost?

Could I really make any money at this?

Would self-publishing destroy any hope of respect for my writing?

I didn’t know anything about it, but I knew a few people who were convinced that the long predicted transformation from paper to digital books was finally about to become a popular reality, so I started learning. The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know, but I finally reached a point where I had to leap in and start swimming. Within a year of publishing a novel with a small press, I had also self-published three novels and a novelette. It was exhilarating, but I was still learning and muddling through as best I could.

I didn’t intend to set myself up as some kind of expert when I began blogging about my self-publishing journey. I was just sharing my experience, and my experience was that I was finding several college courses’ worth of information out on the web, posted by people who had already blazed a trail before me. People who often didn’t agree with each other about the best way to deliver stories to the readers.

I figured there were probably some other people as overwhelmed as I was, so I began posting about how I made my choices between divergent paths. At the urging of various readers, those posts (much revised) became BLAZING A TRAIL: Your Self Publishing Journey. I also included a bunch of interviews with other Indie authors, because I love reading about how other Indies are getting the job done. My way is far from being the only way, and I wanted readers to know that, too.

One thing many of the authors I interviewed agreed on is that one of the primary pleasures of self-publishing is the greater control we have over our careers. We decide about our covers, our editing, our release dates, and our promotions. Self-publishing is a lot of work, and it’s not for everyone, but as several authors said, being an Indie author is a lot of fun, too.

Now that I’ve learned a lot about self-publishing, I’m struck by a powerful truth: there is still so much more to learn. I’ll never feel like I “know it all.” Even the people I’ve learned from have changed their minds about various aspects of the industry as the publishing environment has changed. None of us can afford to stop learning, because the possibilities and opportunities keep changing. New data is coming to light every week. That avalanche of conflicting information can be overwhelming to the beginner. What I tried to do with BLAZING A TRAIL is to offer my experience as a guide for making decisions about the self-publishing process, to draw a rough map and point readers toward the best practices today.

Thanks for letting me share this part of my journey with you! I hope you’ll join me over on FrankieRobertson.com, where I’ll keep writing about what I learn on my self-publishing journey.


For anyone interested in a copy of BLAZING A TRAIL –  http://www.amazon.com/BLAZING-TRAIL-Publishing-Journey-ebook/dp/B00BVUWONO

Scribesters, if you have questions for Frankie, ask away. Don’t be shy!