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Category: Just for Writers

What is Self-Publishing?

Posted in Just for Writers, and Publishing

Image of logo for Pennwriters.orgA presentation for The Inkwell,
a gathering of writers from Pennwriters.org.

Introduction

I’m a writer of fantasy and science fiction stories. I wrote and published my first novel in 2012, and I currently have 9 novels in 3 series, short stories, and book bundles – 23 titles now, with 3 more novels expected for 2018.

I have always been a self-publisher – what is known as an “independent author” (indie) – and wouldn’t dream of mortgaging my ordinary rights to an agent or traditional publisher. I publish in ebook, print, and audiobook, and I’ve just commissioned my first translation. My books are published worldwide through dozens of retailers and a handful of distributors. You can find my books online anywhere.

I’m just an ordinary author with an ordinary following in my genre, making ordinary proceeds – not any sort of superstar or major bestseller. I started this business while I was employed full-time, and now I’m retired and able to devote more time to it.

Books as manufactured goods

You can take 200 of your family’s recipes, do them up in a word processor, and take the file to your local book-printer and have them run up 100 bound copies for you to sell or give away to friends and family.

Church groups do something like this all the time, to raise money. Corporations publish their annual reports in glossy hardbound editions for handouts at meetings.

Your collection of recipes — that’s a book. But it’s not part of the book trade. No one can order it online. It’s not in any bookstore (unless your local shop decides to take a few on consignment and add them to the “local region” section, because you asked them to.) It doesn’t have an ISBN number, that fundamental identifier that distinguishes one book from every other book in the world and lets it be ordered from anywhere.

This is not what we mean by “self-publishing.”

Vanity Presses

Vanity publishers, like the notorious Author Solutions, are predatory organizations that take advantage of would-be authors. They make their money by selling services, including unnecessary ones, at tremendous markups, upselling as many of their service offerings as possible, and then producing some form of book product, often badly-edited, poorly formatted, and ill-covered, distributed somewhere obscure.

Helpful tips for new writers: 4

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.

I 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:

* The dubious romance of being a starving artist
* Your first million words
* Read like a writer

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 nine novels in three series and several shorts stories and bundles for a total of twenty-three titles. I produce three or four novels most years, when I'm not concentrating on other aspects of the publishing business. (This year, I'm producing my first translated title, into German.

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 translations and 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've started publishing other authors in 2018.

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.

The romance of being a starving artist

Look, I get it. You'll do anything to get your first short story or novel or poem into print. We all understand. “Maybe if I give it away for free, someone will enjoy it and look for other things I've written. It'll be great publicity.”

Bad idea.

Image of Starving Artist posterIt's much more satisfying to be a paid professional than a starving artist, as any starving artist will tell you.

Using Schema.org for books – an example

Posted in Just for Writers

This topic came up in conversation elsewhere, inspiring me to do an annotated post of how I use Schema.org information to partially control how my book's metadata is presented on the Internet.

Intelligence for search engines

In an ideal universe, search engines would understand the context of the data that they retrieve. They would just know that a recipe is a recipe, that a book is a book, that a business location is a business location, and so forth. To the degree that they have gotten as far as they have, it's because of metadata — data about the data that they retrieve — that allows them some intelligence about presenting the information that they find.

To do this requires a combination of descriptive metadata from the data owner, and collation and presentation work from the search engine presenter. As in most such things, Google seems to be leading the way.

Google's Information Cards

When you search on a restaurant using Google, you get not only ranked links scrolling down the screen — you also get a nicely formatted “information card” on the top right of the screen that collects the information you would find most useful in an intelligent way.

Invest in your business

Posted in Just for Writers

A version of this article was first published here.

There’s more to being an indie than the writing

We come to self-publishing out of a love of writing, but if we stop there, and go no further, then we risk never developing our writing into a full-fledged business. Writing itself can be such a challenge that it’s tempting to postpone dealing with some of the other challenges in becoming a fully-developed self-publisher.

Certainly, without the writing, you have no product. But without the rest of it, you have no business. Now, not everyone wants to build a business, and that’s fine, but for the rest of us…

I published my first book 5 years ago. As I look back, I can see all the places where I invested in things beside my writing. If I had done nothing but write, I’d have several more books – but then, I’d probably be selling fewer of them, in fewer places, in fewer formats, and I’d be less prepared to support my new books as they emerge. On the whole, I recommend balance between the writing and everything else.

It helps that I have a technical background and some experience with professional photography, so investing in things like learning how to format my own books and make my own covers (out of someone else’s background art) came relatively easily to me. So did building my first websites, one as a publisher (Perkunas Press) and one as a platform for other writing friends (HollowLands). That held me for the first couple of years as I tooled up and kept my costs down.

But I face learning curves, too, just like all of us, and my biggest are:

  • Product availability (format & distribution)
  • Marketing
  • Learning the deep processes of the current (traditional) book trade

Amazon AMS Ads – A Case Study

Posted in Just for Writers

Introduction

I'd like to focus on my own experience with Amazon AMS ads over the last 9 months.

For information about Amazon AMS ads in general, look for free introductory courses online, and I recommend some of the for-fee courses by people like Mark Dawson for in-depth guidance.

For context, here are some basics. (If you're already familiar with AMS ads, you can skip this.)

  1. You can only run ads for your own book and, at this time, only for the US. Other regions are anticipated, e.g., the UK.
  2. There are “Sponsored Product” ads (which show up at the bottom of product searches and below the “also-boughts”) and “Product Display” ads (which show up near the “Buy” button and on Kindle screensavers) — I'll only be talking about Sponsored Product ads
  3. Each ad is a “campaign”. You supply up to 1000 keywords or keyword phrases for each campaign, and a maximum price you're willing to bid for the ad. You compete with other advertisers to show your ad prominently in its display area.
  4. I call a cluster of campaigns for a single product (to use more than 1000 keywords) an “ad farm”.
  5. You supply a 150-character ad copy, and Amazon supplies the book image from your book listing. There are restrictions on what you can claim in the ad (e.g., “Bestseller”).
  6. Amazon will suggest some “automatic” keywords of minor usefulness, but I will be talking about the “manual” keywords I supply
  7. You are charged the bid amount each time someone clicks on your ad, whether or not they buy your book once they look at the book's page. You are not charged for impressions (the display of your ad).
  8. You set a daily budget for each campaign which caps the maximum spend. Raising the budget for a successful campaign does not necessarily make Amazon display the ad more frequently — it is difficult to really maximize the use of successful campaigns, once identified, aka “Amazon won't spend my money”.

Why Amazon Ads?

This post arose in response to an innocent question on a forum about “Why should I care about Amazon Ads?”

This is why.

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.

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.