Visit Homepage
Skip to content

Author: Karen Myers

Karen Myers is a fantasy and science fiction author, best known for her heroic fantasy novels. Her stories feature heroes in real and imagined worlds filled with magic, space travel, and adventure.

Helpful tips for new writers: 3

Posted in Just for Writers, and Tips for New Writers

At the request of a colleague, I'm spending some time talking to some writers far, far away that she's working with, and I thought it would be useful to collect the presentation in a blog post for them, and for anyone else who might be interested. You can find all the posts in this series here.

Image of confused womanI can't possibly touch on more than a handful of topics in a single session, so I'll just mention a few that I think are important:

* Evaluating Advice
* Priorities
* Marathon vs Sprint

As question/answers are added during the talk, I'll update this.
 

Introduction

I'm Karen Myers, and I've been a writer of fantasy and science fiction books for five years. I came to this late, after an official career building computer software and services companies that lasted four decades.

Today I have eight novels in two series and several shorts stories and bundles for a total of twenty titles, and I'm just finishing the first book in a new series. I produce three or four novels most years, when I'm not concentrating on other aspects of the publishing business.

I'm an independent author — all my books are available worldwide, in ebook, paperback, and audiobook formats. I expect to bring most of the audiobook editions out next year (only one is currently available).

As an independent author, I'm in charge of all aspects of publishing, from writing and editing, to layout and formatting, covers, audio recording and production, distribution, marketing, and all the finances of the business. Almost the only thing I don't do myself are the cover backgrounds and titles (though I do the Photoshop work that adds my author name, imprint, and blurb to the work from my cover artist and I make all the output formats). Independents work with various third parties for those parts of the publishing business that they can't or won't do themselves, and different authors have different needs for those services. My publishing business is evolving, too — I'm adding new imprints and authors in 2017.

This is not the only time I've taken on serious work in the arts. I picked up a violin for the first time in my 30s, and a camera in my 50s, so I know what it's like to go from nothing to reasonably competent. I'm finding it's no different for writing fiction, now that I'm a few years into it. You can see some of my other interests here.

Just about all the best advice I've ever gotten came to me from people just a little further along on the same path, and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to do the same in my turn.

Evaluating Advice

So, you know what this blog post is? It's advice.

And you know what you should do with advice? Treat it very carefully.

No one has all the answers, and that includes me. The most well-meaning person in the world may be completely honest about telling you what to do, and the advice may be completely wrong for you.

Why can’t I format book descriptions properly?

Posted in Just for Writers

Image of cat lying on keyboard
You know you typed it correctly. What happened afterwards to turn your text into ill-spaced gibberish?

Over the years you've learned all the tricks to producing good-looking text in end-user applications like Word and Facebook. You know how to use <shift><enter> instead of <enter> to trick Facebook into giving you a line break without ending your message. You know how to use special keyboard control key clusters to enter non-English accented characters directly, instead of looking them up tediously in some sort of character-set chart and selecting them by mouse click.

And now you feel betrayed. All the beautiful text you enter into your book descriptions, add to your ebook's internal metadata, offer to Bowker, and use for author bios, editorial reviews, and all the rest at retailers and distributors… all of it loses paragraph breaks, turns smart-quotes into garbage, and generally looks like a pratfall.

Going up the learning curves

Posted in A Writer's Desk, and Goals

Image of girl studyingIt's been quiet on my blog here lately because I've been heads-down going up a bunch of learning curves. I've dedicated 2017 to moving up a big level in marketing, and it's been a larger task than I expected. (That always happens, and I'm always surprised.)

Psychologically, I'm an analyst, and I am attracted to and comforted by a deep knowledge of the tools and systems I use. This usually means I have a pretty good idea of what I don't know. The flipside of that is that it makes me anxious to fill in the gaps.

I wanted to keep the effort this year focused on marketing initiatives but that has a way of spreading.

Here's what I've managed so far… (you can expect specific articles on some of these in the Just for Writers section).
Image of a toolkit

Tooling up

This stuff is like catnip to me. I love to figure out how it works, but it takes time…

Google Analytics and link sources

On the principle that you can't improve what you don't measure, I've experimented with and set some standards for wrapping links to reference articles from my sites that I post elsewhere in UTM codes masked by PrettyLinks. In other words, I pinned down how to use Google Analytics to track particular articles depending on whether the clicks came from the website, Facebook, various groups I participate in, etc., without the links themselves looking ugly.

Background website improvements

All three of my publishing-related sites (see below) are now SSL-enabled (they use https:// instead of http://).

I'm tracking all my sites in ManageWP.

All the sites have stepped up a level for SEO improvements (Yoast) and I keep an eye on Google's latest demands for mobile compatibility.

All the sites now have structured data for the basic entities (organization, person, etc.), and the new reader-oriented site has structured data for the book entities. This should result in better “knowledge cards” and other enhanced displays for Google Search results.

Image generators

I create all my own book images, even the full covers (based on background art & illustrated text from my partner artists). I found the simple flat 2D images boring for some uses, and didn't like my amateur versions of 3D, and I also knew I would want more sophisticated versions of the images for Facebook advertising, so I worked with a freelancer to create four separate Photoshop automation “engines” to supply sophisticated output based on flat image inputs.

One engine supplies basic 3D images, from two directions.

Another engine creates a display of all formats for each book page on the site.Display of available formats for To Carry the Horn, book 1 of The Hounds of Annwn. Written by Karen Myers (HollowLands.com). Published by Perkunas Press (PerkunasPress.com).

Image of Hounds of Annwn Bundle 3-5 - BOX SET - Ebook CoverA third engine creates book bundle images, useful for Amazon AMS or Facebook ads, or for newsletters.

The fourth engine creates a casual book stack for Facebook ads.

This sort of Photoshop automation is completely beyond my limited amateur use of Photoshop, but I can use the template provided by my freelancer well enough to produce the images, and the results look nice and professional.

Release Announcement – SciFi story bundles from There’s a Sword for That

Posted in Adaptability, Monsters, Monsters, And More, Release, Science Fiction - Short Stories, The Visitor, The Visitor, And More, There's a Sword for That, and Your Every Wish

I'm working on a scifi story collection called There's a Sword for That (using a fantasy motif in a scifi context — just for the fun of it). The tales come out of a weapons shop on a space station, which you can see on the cover.

The collection won't be ready for a while, so I've released a couple of two-story bundles in the meantime, for your amusement.


Monsters, And More — A Science Fiction Story Bundle

Monsters – Xenoarchaeologist Vartan has promised his young daughter Liza one of the many enigmatic lamedh objects that litter the site of a vanished alien civilization.

No one can figure out what they're good for, but Liza finds a use for one.

Adaptability – The Webster Marble Deluxe Woodsman, Model 820-E, has been offline for quite some time. Quite some time indeed.

Good thing Webster has a manual to consult, and a great many special functions.


The Visitor, And More — A Science Fiction Story Bundle

The Visitor – Felockati is anchored to his permanent location underwater and misses the days of roaming his ocean world freely.

But something new drops out of the sky and widens his horizons — all the way to the stars.

Your Every Wish – Stealing the alien ambassador's dagger is a sure thing for Pete — just what he needs to pay off his debts.

Until he starts talking to it. There has to be a way to get something for himself out of the deal. Has to be.

The Visitor was previous published in Strange Horizons.

Book Metadata, ONIX, and Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems

Posted in Distribution, and Just for Writers

Book Metadata

Maintaining the metadata for your books can be quite a chore. Joel Friedlander's overview covers some of the basics.

It takes me two pages of my multi-page management spreadsheet to hold the simple columnar data (ISBNs, Library of Congress (LoC) numbers, publication dates, page counts, etc.) and textual data (blurbs in various lengths, keywords, BISAC codes, etc.). Some of that data is static, but parts of it are changeable based on marketing experiments, temporary sales, and so forth.

When we go to a distributor site that caters to indies, we are usually presented with a form to fill out for each book. Since I strive for consistency, I always have to open up the form for a book I've already posted to that distributor, to make sure I fill out all the questions the same way across all my titles.

How do the big boys handle this?

Well, that's a question, isn't it? It's hard to get the details. The big traditional publishers have complex internal needs (moving a title from acquisition through edit, formatting, marketing, publication) involving different departments and requirements, and their management systems are crafted with that in mind to give them a shareable single complex record for the title that holds both in-house private data and public data intended for use with their trading partners (distributors, retailers, etc.)

The output of their systems these days tends to be in the form of ONIX records (see below) — this much I know. But exactly how they share those records with their partners is obscure to me. (Alas, trad-published authors who've added indie-publishing share insights with us, but we don't meet a lot of back-office technical types from the traditional publishing firms.) You can see how vague the specific details are for an overview on metadata maintenance that's meant to be helpful, or for a discussion about refreshing metadata as things change.

The big traditional publishers have much more complicated problems. As indies or micro-publishers, we get to choose what we want to deal with, and some of the industry tools are available for us to use, if we think it's important enough.

Release Announcement — Second Sight, a science fiction short story

Posted in Release, Science Fiction, and Second Sight

I have a few scifi short stories lined up for release, and here's the first one — Second Sight, a story about unintended consequences.

BORROWING SOMEONE ELSE’S PERCEPTIONS FOR A POPULAR DEVICE CAN ONLY MEAN COMMERCIAL SUCCESS. RIGHT?

Samar Dix, the inventor of the popular DixOcular replacement eyes with their numerous enhancements, has run out of ideas and needs another hit. Engaging a visionary painter to create the first in a series of Artist models promises to yield an entirely new way of looking at his world.

But looking through another’s eyes isn’t quite as simple as he thinks, and no amount of tweaking will yield entirely predictable, or safe, results.

 


More information, including links to retailers.

Checking up on book distributors

Posted in Distribution, and Just for Writers

So, you've gone wide and international with your ebook distribution, and your print edition is in Ingram's database, making it available to a fair chunk of the world's bookstores, both physical and online. Your dashboards that list your titles with your various distributors all look fine and dandy. You given them your books, and they're making sure they're getting into the world's bookstores.

Time to sit back, proud of your books' availability in online stores all over the world, right?

If only it were that simple.

How are my distributors doing?

It’s not easy to figure that out.

I've been trying to sort out my various distribution options recently as I retire a couple of distributors and take on new ones. It's a confusing area, and the lists you can get of their channel partners are not always current or complete. I was focused on who had the best reach, or reached unique retailers, with reasonable returns and the ability to turn channels on and off to avoid duplication.

I get to retailers in a variety of ways.

Ebooks

  • Direct from my website (ecommerce). Gumroad (in several formats).
  • Direct upload. Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble. If I could (no Mac), this would include Apple iBooks.
  • Hybrid (storefront & distribution). Smashwords.
  • Distributor. PublishDrive, Streetlib (coming soon).

Of these, I use PublishDrive to reach every channel (including Apple iBooks and Google Play) that I don't go to directly. I restrict Smashwords to its storefront and its unique partners only. PublishDrive, Streetlib, and Smashwords all let you select or disable individual partner channels to avoid overlap.

Already there are complications — Kobo is also a distributor, so though I go there directly, it distributes my titles to its own partners. There is no ability to pick and choose among Kobo's partners, so it's up to me to avoid enabling one of Kobo's partners at one of my other distributors. (Perhaps that can be controlled at the manual level, via email requests to Kobo, but I prefer something more automated and reliable.)

Other complications — I have to manually request special retail pricing for Google Play, to keep its automated discounting from creating a problem with Amazon. Hard to find distributors that will let you set per-channel pricing, but I think that must be essential to adjust pricing in different parts of the world (like India).

Audio

  • Distributor. AuthorsRepublic.
  • Direct upload. CD Baby (coming soon).

Print

  • Hybrid (storefront & limited distribution). Createspace. (Not expanded distribution.)
  • Distributor. Ingram LSI.

Createspace only distributes to Amazon so there are no channels to disable to avoid duplication. Ingram can't provide a list of print partners — much too broad, and much of its reach is through intermediate distributors or aggregators. No telling where your books will end up at online retailers.

Where are your books, really?

I began by taking the lists of known channel partners from PublishDrive, Smashwords, Kobo, and AuthorsRepublic. I then went to each of those sites and tried to find my books there. That alone was an eye-opener.

What happens to my metadata when it leaves the house?

Posted in Distribution, Just for Writers, and Publishing

That's the title of an excellent if brief essay by Laura Dawson of Numerical Gurus. Her site is an excellent resource for the explanations and history of some of the acronyms that haunt the world of books.

Since I seem to be on a kick lately with what metadata exists and how it sloshes around through the book ecosystem, I thought we could all benefit.

How many of those girls are properly dressed (um, properly formatted data)? And how can you keep them clean, out there in the big ol' world? Where there are boys, and parties, and fast cars, and lots of dark alleys to wander into.

We've all seen it. We spend time perfecting the metadata in our feeds, send it out to our trading partners, and had to take complaints from agents, authors, and editors. “Why is it like that on Amazon?”

The truth is, data ingestion happens on whatever schedule a given organization has decided to adhere to. Proprietary data gets added. Not all the data you send gets used. Data points get mapped. So what appears on any trading partner's system may well differ somewhat from what you’ve sent out. There are so many different players in the metadata arena that can affect what a book record looks like. When you send your information to Bowker, they add proprietary categories, massage author and series names, add their own descriptions, append reviews from sources they license – and send out THAT information to retailers and libraries. The same thing happens at Ingram, at Baker & Taylor – so what appears on a book product page is a mishmash of data from a wide variety of sources, not just you.