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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.

Making barcodes

Posted in Just for Writers, and Publishing

Image of a barcode
For more information: http://www.mobiliodevelopment.com/ean-13-global-trade-standard/#gref

What are barcodes and how are they used?

All manufacturers and merchants assign tracking numbers to their products. The generic term for this is SKU (Stock Keeping Unit). Each firm has its own SKU codes and conventions, private to the firm or perhaps shared among a few partners. For the book trade, the ISBN is their SKU and, unlike almost every other industry, that SKU is used throughout the trade, from the manufacture of the physical edition all the way through to the retailers.

The ISBN is a set of numbers that uniquely identify an individual book product (title, format, size, edition, etc.). The old ISBN was 10 digits long, but that was replaced by a 13-digit standard in 2007. Technically, the 10-digit version is called “ISBN” and the 13-digit version is called “EAN”, but colloquially they're both referred to as “ISBN”. The name for the new standard is “EAN-13”.

Barcodes are for machines to read, using scanners. They were introduced in the 1970s and are now ubiquitous. When you look at the bars, each cluster of lines (bars) above a number represents that digit to a scanner, The contrast and exact widths matter.

Different international standards for different uses have different barcode layouts. (Look at your groceries or other purchases for examples.) In the book trade, only the layout for EAN-13 is relevant.

The big cluster on the left is for the SKU (the ISBN, for the EAN-13 standard), and the small cluster on the right is for PRICE, mostly. The value “90000” for the price means “no price”, that is, the retailer's own system will be used to lookup the price when the barcode is scanned in at the register. This allows a retailer to set whatever price they want, sometimes by slapping their own barcode sticker over the book's barcode, or sometimes by just reading the price printed elsewhere on the cover, or a discount applied to it. Most indies use “90000” as the price, for the convenience of the retailers.

Every human-readable bit of text in a barcode is just for humans — the scanners pay no attention to those letters/numbers.

How do you get a barcode?

Many companies want to sell you a barcode, and some try to get as much as $25 for the service. Don't fall for this, as an indie author — it is never necessary to pay for a barcode.

To begin with, both Amazon KDP and Ingram will supply a barcode for your book for free. When you use their templates to design your cover, you will see a space marked out for the barcode, and you can shift that to wherever you want it to appear (along the bottom of the back cover).

But what if you want to print your book via some other POD supplier, or do a short-run print locally? You will need to give them a barcode to use. There is nothing proprietary about the barcode that Amazon or Ingram have added to the back of your book, but just copying that won't deliver a very clean image. Instead, you want to use a fresh image generated by a barcode service, and there are many free ones out there.

I use a UK company for this: https://www.free-barcode-generator.net/ean-13/.

Image of a barcodeOne of the things I like about it is that they look up my ISBN and accurately decompose it (I have a range of 1000).

I also like that the height and layout is identical to that used by Amazon. The only thing Amazon does differently is to add the text “ISBN 9781629620633” above the left block, and we can do that, too, if we want to. Remember, that's only for humans to read, not machines.

I can output the barcode into any number of formats and give it to any other printer to use, or stick it on the back of my cover image myself.

There's no reason to ever buy these from someone else, not for our simple needs.

 

Updating covers for The Chained Adept series

Posted in Artwork, and The Chained Adept

For quite some time I've been thinking the covers for The Chained Adept series could be improved. To my eye, they signal more of a juvenile flavor than I had intended.

Michal Wojtasik, my new cover artist, agreed to do a new version. All but the first book are treatments of the same scenes as before.

What do you think?

It's a lot of work, changing the covers of 4 books and all the sets and bundles they participate in. I still have to generate the 3D and bookstack images, and then replace them on all the retailers for both paperback and ebook, not to mention my three websites. I want to get that done in time to announce it for my next newsletter, on the first Monday of the month.

Cover for The Chained Adept

Cover for Mistress of Animals

Cover for Broken Devices

Cover for On a Crooked Track

More on eBook Bundles

Posted in The Chained Adept Bundle (1-2), The Chained Adept Bundle (1-4), The Chained Adept Bundle (3-4), The Hounds of Annwn Bundle (1-2), The Hounds of Annwn Bundle (1-5), and The Hounds of Annwn Bundle (3-5)

Image of Hounds of Annwn Bundle 3-5 - BOX SET - Ebook CoverSome belated news about ebook bundles…

In 2016, I created and released ebook bundles for The Hounds of Annwn series:

  • Books 1 & 2
  • Books 3 & 4 & the story collection
  • Books 1-5

They're great deals for my readers, especially the last one, which is a savings of more than 50% over buying the ebooks separately. I recently broke down and included that last one on Amazon, despite the disadvantage of how Amazon penalizes royalties for books priced higher than $9.99.

But I realize I haven't made the equivalent announcement for ebook bundles for The Chained Adept series:

  • Books 1 & 2
  • Books 3 & 4
  • Books 1-4

Image of box set of ebooksThose are now all available everywhere, and with the same great savings.

They haven't been out for long, but I find that a significant percentage of my readers are taking advantage of the savings. Better for them, and better for me, too.

I'll be doing the same for The Affinities of Magic series, lagging a bit behind the publication of the individual books, so that by, say, book 4 there may be a bundle for books 1-2, etc.

 

Integrating technical systems

Posted in Just for Writers, and Marketing

Image of puzzle piecesLast year I spent many months upping my game with regard to building technical engines around marketing. I tackled a lot of new tools and systems, but I ran out of steam before I got to Facebook Ads, the most complex system of them all, and one that's critical to international and target marketing.

Well, I'm paying for it now. I got revved up, re-listened to my Mark Dawson “Ads for Authors” course for Facebook (highly recommended) and started putting mailing list (subscriber) ads together.

I have a new series coming out circa year-end and a German translation in the works, and I've been unserious about my mailing list (200 people), so I'm way overdue for winding this all up again and getting back on the newsletter horse.

I'm not going to complain about the general complexity of the Facebook ads system (and it's equally impressive power as a platform for ad management). No, today I'm going to rant about the integration of technical systems that's required to actually make all of this happen.

Last year, before I wound down, I made some tool choices which I didn't put into use, but I did the research well and now I'm, as it were, unwrapping the packages and digging into them. I feel fortunate, a year later, that I'm still happy with my choices.

But look at what it takes to run a simple mailing list ad for Facebook, from the perspective of all the pieces required, esp. if you're as obsessive as I am about tracking as much data as possible.

Tracking your book sales

Posted in Business, and Just for Writers

An image of chartsOne frequent question from new independent writers is “What tool can I use to track my book sales?” They're looking for the right tool to fetch and consolidate all of their sales data.

In genealogical circles, a similar question is “Who can tell me about my family's ancestry?” and it's the subject of an amusing and sardonic tall tale that tells of the search for the file that contains all the answers.

The same answer applies to both: “Sorry, buddy, you gotta do all that work yourself. Nobody's already done it for you.”

If you're only distributed by one retailer, like Amazon, or you're using one of the current tools that make a serious effort to capture some (but not all) of your unit sales — and that satisfies you — then this is not the article for you. I won't be critiquing the currently available tools because none of them can provide a single platform for tracking ALL your sales in ALL your channels, nor provide you with all the information you want to track, if you can.

You're going to have to build that yourself.

Let's start by exploring what, in an ideal universe, you would want to track about your book sales over time, and why.

Goals

The devil's in the details…

Sales by month (units and $)

Surely it's not too great a burden to go to each of your channels just after the end of the month to get your basic numbers. For me, that's

  • Direct: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords
  • Distributors: (Kobo, Smashwords), PublishDrive, StreetLib, IngramSpark, and AuthorsRepublic (audio).

But that doesn't really tell you much except what to expect on a royalty statement when you get paid. Nor does it account for other kinds of sales, such as direct sales at a book fair, books sold on consignment in local stores, or your ecommerce sales. So that's incomplete.

And it also doesn't provide the information you need to draw trend and analysis data, unless you keep such details as Title, Format, Price, Language, etc.

For marketing and promotional purposes, you also want to see the details of “which retailer” for the distributors, as well as the country.

Financial Systems

Then there's the question about what level of detail should get into your actual accounting system, vs tracking and analysis. After all, when royalties arrive, you have to record them somewhere. Your accounting system is where you track money, but it's not a good place for all the non-financial detail. It cares about monthly sales by royalty payer, not the details about individual channels.

You need two levels of information:

  • Simple per-royalty-payer financial information and physical inventory tracking (those book boxes in your garage)
  • Highly detailed sales information at the deepest level available from your channels and distributors

Fortune cookie

Posted in A Writer's Desk, Just for Writers, and Marketing

Image of a fortune cookie I'm currently knee-deep in improving my complete mailing list and newsletter setup so that I can start to launch improved marketing via Facebook ads. This requires all sorts of retooling for digital stationary, branding, automation, landing pages, onboarding… the whole megillah). Lots of learning curves and emails-to-customer-support to clear up the messy details.

The result will be better newsletters for everyone, significant incentives and offers for signing up, and hopefully a larger group of more engaged readers. If you're already a subscriber (one of my select few) I'll be telling you separately in more detail. (Once I figure out how to, using all-new tools…)

In the midst of all this productive diligence, just the sort of message that every writer of fantasy likes to receive was sent my way via dinner tonight:

“A way out of financial uncertainty is discovered as if by magic!”

It's not magic — it's bloody hard work!

Bears, orchards, taigans — part 2

Posted in A Writer's Desk

Image of sitting black bear

Yesterday afternoon, the mama bear put in an appearance and our taigan leaped into “defend and insult” mode again.

Alas, this is not my own picture — I never seem to have a camera handy when wrangling dogs and bears — but it's close. Instead of woods, picture the edge of the mowed ground around the buildings. She was so full of stolen apples and pears that she didn't want to move and was calmly sitting below the first row of the overgrown orchard, admiring the view down to our cabin.

And ignoring the dog, restrained (miraculously) by the underground dog fence not 25 yards away. And the human, who added her own “Get out of here, bear!” to the ruckus.

Finally, slowly, she shoved herself up and walked upslope to the tall grass, and out of sight. I've had overindulgent dinners like that myself.

I don't mind their depredations in the orchard — we're not using those apples and the critters might as well eat their fill — but I'd be happier if her family kept a bit more distance as they ravaged the apples. What happens in the tall grass stays in the tall grass.

Maybe I should give her something to read inbetween meals.

A quick look at the news — writing and publishing

Posted in Artwork, and Publishing

Cartoon of a busy writerI haven't been able to produce much in the way of blogging for the last couple of months because I've been buried in writing and publishing work (and that's the way it should be).

Writing

On the writing front, I'm just about done with the Fragments of Lightning, the second book of The Affinities of Magic. The webpages will be updated when the final scene is written and I have time to do the book description, images, and so forth. I plan on writing the third book, and starting the fourth before I begin releasing them in quick succession, starting circa December/January.

Publishing

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm also beginning to publish the works of some colleagues of mine and tooling up as a small publisher. This means, in several cases, the creation of new imprints, since the works aren't necessarily appropriate for Perkunas Press, not being fantasy or science fiction. Last fall saw the first release for Bent Twig Books, a memoir My Bipolar Life.

Right now, I'm working simultaneously on publishing two works. One is a bit of Christian visionary fiction for Sound the Trumpet Press, called Comes a Redeemer, by Tolkien scholar Jared Lobdell. And the other is a work by the great naturalist writer, Steve Bodio for Behind the Ranges Press — his first novel, Tiger Country.

In each case, these three works are the first for their imprints, so there's very little information for the imprints and, in the latter two cases, the book pages are under construction pending release. But you can take a look at the draft covers (mockups), and there will be more to tell you as each book is published this year.
Image of 2 draft book covers