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Category: Just for Writers

Book Catalogues

Posted in Just for Writers

Image of a book catalogueIn this day and age, we generally refer interested buyers to our online catalogues, either on our publisher sites or our reader sites. Some potential buyers, however, still want paper catalogues, and we need to learn to accommodate them. They also make nice additions to your table at a book fair, or to have stashed away in case you spawn a commercial opportunity with a distributor or other professional.

Now, if you're trying to contact dozens or hundreds of such outlets — perhaps you're trying to reach every music shop in America — it can make sense to use a commercial service, where for quantities of a few hundred, you can pay a dollar or two for each catalogue (depending on page counts, etc).

For example, the high-quality printers I use for business cards offer catalogues, designed for all kinds of retail needs, not just books. Play around with the pricing options here to get some ideas about the costs for an 5.5×8.5 inch catalogue, on the sort of paper stock that you typically receive from quality clothing retailers.

I don't find this helpful for my needs, myself. For one thing, I haven't got a mass distribution list that I can use for my fiction titles (unless I want to do a mailing directly to indie bookstores). More importantly, my catalogue:

  • Adds new titles frequently, multiple times/year
  • Never closes backlist titles
  • May need to address foreign languages

This means that I can't benefit from the economies of scale inherent in a professional mass print job.

Evaluating your business

Posted in Business, and Just for Writers

Image of financial tools and resultsAs authors and publishers, we hear a lot about new tools intended to improve the performance of our business in areas like marketing, formatting, distribution, outsourcing, and so forth.

What I'd like to see more of is articles about how to evaluate our businesses, to look upon our activity as authors and publishers just as if we were a small factory.

What that means is being able to ask questions like these:

  • Is our business model sound?
  • Is it improving over time?
  • Is it covering all of our costs, including those not specific to individual titles?
  • Are we actually making a profit, and how long should we expect that to take, after starting the business?

It's not just a matter of counting our sales at the end of the year.

What's the point of financial analysis?

An Income Statement isn't just a tedious document that old-style businesses put together — when done right, it's vital and important information to help you direct your spending and efforts.

I've been a Chief Operating Officer and a Chief Financial Officer for several small-medium businesses, both public and private — all of them young (1-10 years old). I'll use accounting terminology from the USA business world, but all countries do similar things though the terms may vary.

I'll focus on three ways to look at our businesses, and the data we need to support that.

1. Gross income — your business model

When we start as indie authors, we generally focus on the creation of work to publish (I'll call that “books” or “titles”, whatever you may be writing), and the delivery of that work to distribution and retail publishing channels.

Over time, many of us develop additional ways to earn income. As an example, I have the following channels today, in various stages of maturity:

  • Creation and sale of 24 titles (my own books)
  • Publication of titles for others (publishing work, several imprints)
  • Consulting work for colleagues
  • Speaking engagements

Each of these is a “line of business”, with its own costs and income. Some are relatively predictable while others are not, but all can be grown by marketing, if that seems like a worthwhile investment.

Using ONIX as an Independent Author

Posted in Just for Writers

Image of computer screen with dataIntroduction

I've learned something about how the systems of traditional publishing work, since I started in 2012. As a career systems technologist, I've paid particular attention to the data systems, standards, and tools that I've been able to learn about.

While it's a truism that traditional authors who have gone hybrid or converted completely to independent publishing have shared a lot about traditional publishing with the indie community, by the nature of things we don't get a lot of conversations from the techies in the book trade, so it's not terribly easy coming up to speed on the technical systems used by traditional publishers.

Why do I care?

Common Problems

I can't help but notice, whenever I compare my own ebook listings at a retailer with a traditional publisher's listings, that theirs are often cleaner and more complete. Combined with the knowledge that they have large catalogues to maintain, I want to know how that's done, so that I can achieve the same effect. My own catalogue is now 24 titles, so it's not just a matter of data quality but also data quantity.

Managing and Updating Metadata for Many Titles

Whenever I have a bright idea about a better way to manage keywords or categorization, or how to adjust pricing or format book descriptions, I often find myself facing my catalogue and shaking my head about 24 titles times all my distributors.

Today my ebooks are widely distributed. I go directly to Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords, and I use PublishDrive and StreetLib for Apple and Google Play, and for dozens of international retailers. That's in effect 6 retailer/distributors, for each of whom I might have to update 24 titles.

It would be so much better to have a single database for all my titles and just use that to update all my trading partners, so that they could update their own trading partners or international sites, wouldn't it? My massive spreadsheet can marshal all the data, perhaps, but that just sits on my computer and doesn't communicate with anyone.

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


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.



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 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 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


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.