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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.

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.

What does your book look like to booksellers?

Posted in Distribution, Just for Writers, and Publishing

Print on Demand (POD) (versus short-run print jobs) is the typical method used initially by indie authors, and the two big providers are Createspace (owned by Amazon) and Ingram, either via Ingram LSI (Lightning Source) or IngramSpark.

The merits of Createspace vs Ingram is a common discussion topic among indie authors who produce paperback editions. This post is an update of this analysis and focuses on what your books look like to booksellers placing orders with Ingram.

The recommended practice these days is to use both vendors for print, if you can: Createspace (without their expanded distribution option) for Amazon, for inexpensive orders for inventory, for an online store, and for direct shipping; and Ingram for everything else. (The recent news about availability of print from Amazon KDP seems to signal that access to Createspace directly might change.)

Some authors create a separate Library edition, just to use that part of Createspace's expanded distribution with a Createspace ISBN.

If you don't want to go to the bother (and the expense) of getting your own ISBN (a whole separate discussion) Createspace will supply you with an ISBN owned by Createspace for you to use, for free. (If you have an ISBN, you can use your own.)

Since the common progression for indies seems to be to start with Createspace only, and Createspace has an expanded distribution option and a free ISBN that gets your books into Ingram (“Booksellers and Online Retailers”), the question often comes up: why bother going to Ingram directly?

Why go to Ingram directly, in addition to Createspace?

The manufactured products are slightly different (quality issues with a small and debatable preference given to Ingram), and unlike Createspace, the Ingram edition costs money: a title setup fee (circa $49), an annual market fee (to stay listed in Ingram's database) ($12), and a revision fee for any change in cover or content ($40 each). The fee details vary a bit between Ingram LSI (mostly for traditional publishers) and IngramSpark (mostly for indies) and coupons/discounts are not infrequently available.

And you need your own ISBN, a not-inconsiderable expense in the US.

But there are other concerns.

Bookseller-specific issues

1) Discounts

A bookstore with good credit and broad needs may use Ingram as its main supplier. Other bookstores use smaller, more targeted suppliers who get their list of offerings from Ingram (and charge a fee).

Ingram allows you to set the same standard discount that traditional publishers use: 55%. Createspace's maximum is 40%.

Here's what that means. Ingram takes 15% of that discount for its services. It subtracts that from the books you list directly with Ingram, but it also subtracts that from the books it lists that were given to it by Createspce via expanded distribution.

So at 55% (Ingram's standard), minus Ingram's 15%, there remains 40%. Some of that may go to an intermediate distributor. Whatever's left over is the bookseller's potential profit, which he may discount to push sales.

At 40% (Createspace's max), once you subtract Ingram's fee of 15%, all that's left is 25% for the intermediate distributor(s) and bookseller to share. That is unattractive to many booksellers. Some won't even order books to fulfill customer requests at that small a profit to themselves.

2) Free ISBN / Publisher name

Createspace offers its own ISBN, if you don't have or want to use one of your own.

The general rule is: whoever owns the ISBN is the Publisher, from the perspective of forms and databases. Some recent forms have separated the two things, so that the owner of the ISBN and the “Publisher of record” and the provider of the data feed on a form can be different things, but that is far from general.

For a while, the Createspace data downstream showed Publisher = Createspace, even if you used your own ISBN. Now that only happens if you use a Createspace ISBN. And even so, what shows on a form depends on what the form uses for data sources: if it shows ISBN and looks up the ISBN, then it would get the ISBN owner. If it simply assumes the supplier of the data feed (Createspace) is the owner, then it shows Createspace as the publisher. That's how audiobooks often show up as Publisher = AudiobookFeedProvider even when the ISBN belongs to the Publisher.

How booksellers see a traditionally published book when they order from Ingram

No ghosts here

Posted in A Writer's Desk

Click for larger image

Typically one speaks of being surrounded by ghosts. Where I live, however, the ghosts are surrounded by us. So are the ghosthunters.

We live in an log cabin, built by Christian Baughman. In 1812 he took out a warrant for a hollow tucked into the base of the Allegheny Front in central Pennsylvania. To convert a warrant on a piece of land, you needed to survey it and make improvements, and the cabin was part of those improvements. He patented the property in 1812 and Baughman Hollow Farm came into being.

Baughman Hollow Farm was originally about 400 acres that started at the head of the hollow and spread down to the south and east. In the next generation, the farm was divided among the children, and then Dr. Robert Piper (1865-1936) began reassembling pieces of it in the late 19th and early 20th century before he passed it along to Cosmo Mannino, the “Banana King” (1879-1965). By the time we acquired the place from the Mannino estate, in the early 80s, and did a bit of reassembly of our own, it was back to about 300 acres, though no longer a working farm.

The road originally ran up the hollow on the west, turned to the right to run along the base of the Allegheny Front, past the cabin and the barn, and then turned right again to run back down the hollow, to Van Scoyoc road, at the site of the famous circus train wreck. In 1840, John Baughman, son of Christian, donated a bit of ground just above that last turn, at the head of the hollow, to serve as a cemetery. Baughman Cemetery is currently run by an association founded in 1926, and it's still active despite its small size.

It's a tiny cemetery, dominated by the names of local families who are still in the area. Their relatives come by to visit on holidays or just to pass the time, some on ATVs from the adjacent hollows down the old part of the Baughman Hollow Road which is now an internal farm road.

Our farm surrounds it entirely, on all sides. The little patch with its slumbering graves is raised above the surrounding land and sheltered by the Allegheny Front. The cemetery is closed from dusk to dawn so that everyone can rest in peace. It's a quiet, tranquil, private place, as little country cemeteries tend to be.

Or it would be, if it weren't for the ghosthunters. Or the teenagers desperate for a place to party or make out. Or the transactions in illicit substances. Some weekend nights, it feels like we get all three simultaneously.

I'm not sure which is worse, but the ghosthunters are high on the list. You see, Baughman Cemetery is famous in the community of credulity.

    • Tyrone Ghost Hunters — note that this features both ghosthunters and teenagers, so it's a twofer.
    • Haunts of Blair County — it makes all the lists.
    • The Pennsylvania Ghost & Paranormal Research Team — I can't tell you how often I've wished we'd installed some microphones and speakers from the cabin so that we could respond to the flashing lights of the ghosthunters with some spooky wails from hidden locations. I know that my dogs who wake us up in the middle of the night to tell us about the shenanigans outside would agree.

      (We may do this yet…)

I have some sympathy for the teenagers — I was that age once — though I have to wonder about the sensibilities of bringing a hot date to a cemetery to make out. Drunken parties are more reasonable.

But I have to draw the line at vandalism. The maintenance shed was destroyed recently, and that requires real money from real people to repair. And then there was the sit-around-the-campfire-and-tell-spooky-stories party that ended up with a burning car in the midst of our woods. We were lucky it burned slowly.

Nope, haven't seen a single ghost. All the lights, moans, and hiccups have human origins.