Thursday, March 29, 2012

The weekend

Michelle's memorial service is this weekend. I've been really struggling this week to finally put the words down that I would want to share, to say what she meant to me and how important she was. Last night, I was reminded of Tyler's words at my mom's service in September. "She was the sun in our solar system." Sometimes simple works best.

Michelle is the only person I've ever known who I felt knew me, really, truly knew me, and loved me for all of me, not just parts. She was the person that I most trusted in the world because I knew she would never hurt me, not by choice, not casually, not accidentally.

Even the dog would like me to stop crying.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Grief yet again

My birthday is in two weeks. Last year, we went to Red Lobster for dinner. Rory impersonated a giraffe and everyone laughed and laughed. It was the first family meal after Dad's heart attack and I remember reminding myself to treasure the occasion, because we'd only have a few more years worth of them.

I think it was the last family dinner we ever had.

I want so much to talk to my mom today. So much. And I try to imagine it, but all I can picture is how annoyed she would be with me if she knew how hard I was crying.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


I'm not allowed to say this on Facebook or Twitter, but I sent the kid out shopping yesterday to get some new clothes. He bought himself a bright yellow shirt with a little purple lettering, skinny jeans that are a deep royal purple-blue at the top descending to a gorgeous violet at the bottom, and black Converse sneakers with purple threading. I told him he was a total hipster, he told me it was all quite comfortable. I am more than secretly delighted that my kid has the confidence and security at age 16 to pull off such a look. However, commenting on his clothes at FB--where his friends might see--is NOT allowed.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Changing my mind

I just "unpublished" A Gift of Ghosts on Smashwords and re-enrolled it into KDP Select. I suppose I should make sure that my sister (the only Nook owner I know) had a chance to get it first, but maybe I'll just make her an ePub version and email it to her. As far as I know, it was never actually available anywhere. It sat for ten days in Smashwords' Pending Review queue which gave me plenty of time to wonder whether it really made sense to distribute everywhere. "Everywhere," after all, would probably meet my original book-publishing expectations, ie a copy or two a week, for the privilege (?) of selling at B&N and Apple. Meanwhile, Amazon's free days were great for sales after each free day. Chances were that I'd make more money selling only through Amazon.

I'm not sure what made the decision for me in the end. Impatience? Maybe. But I think it was also reading a lot of Amazon-bashing. Scott Turow's article about Amazon being evil might have been the turning point for me. I don't think Amazon is evil. I think Amazon is a collection of really smart, hard-working, creative people with an amazing focus on making the experience of shopping great for consumers and that as a company, its goals match mine. Much more so than B&N or Apple. B&N, in particular, is doing an incredible job with the PR what with all the "ooh, woe is poor B&N, the tragic underdog" stories. But every time I read one, it irks me. The story was a whole lot different fifteen years ago when B&N was doing its best to destroy the independent bookstores.

Maybe I'll change my mind again. But at the moment, going with an ebook Amazon exclusive felt like a smart decision. I also, though, paid the $25 to get extended print distribution through CreateSpace, so any indie bookstore can buy actual paper copies anytime they want.

Ooh, and someone bought a paper copy from Amazon (which I just found out by trying to look up the specifics of extended distribution). I wish I knew who, so I could tell them that they own not just the first edition, but the very first book in the first edition!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How to Self-Publish

(I posted this as a comment to a goodreads thread. Then I read it again and thought, hmm, that might be useful information to save or share.)

Sarah Wynde (Wyndes) | 1 comments Book already written? So here goes...
1) Revise and edit the book. Many people pay for good content editing, copy-editing, or proof-reading (three different things). Up to you to decide whether this is necessary or not -- readers will complain about errors, but it's still your decision as to what your work needs.
2) Create a cover. Many people pay for designers. I did mine with Powerpoint and public domain artwork. Whichever route you go, bear in mind that the thumbnail of the cover is the most important size -- make sure the thumbnail is appealing and does a good job of representing your book's genre.
3) Write a marketing blurb, a short paragraph of text that describes your story. Make it good. IMO, this is the single most important sales tool you've got, so make sure it both sells the book and doesn't have any errors.

There are lots of options from here. You can go the Smashwords route: personally, I am not loving Smashwords, but basically, you style your Word document in the Smashwords-approved way (using their style guide) and upload it to their site. Once you pass their review, they'll take care of distributing it to B&N, Apple, and other places in exchange for a share of your royalties.

You can also directly upload your file to Amazon through Kindle Direct and to B&N through PubIt. Amazon, at least, is a remarkably easy process. You download the free Mobipocket Creator software and use it on your document to turn your file into a Kindle file. You'll need to do some tweaking and reading to get it formatting properly and to make the table of contents work, but it's not difficult. Then you upload your file to Amazon and within a few hours usually, you're published. You can use a software called Calibre to convert your Kindle file to an epub to post to B&N.

If you decide you want a dead-tree version, you again have choices. I went with CreateSpace. You download their template, apply it to your document, tweak a bit to make sure your pages are as you'd like them, download a cover template and revise your cover so that it's a traditional print book cover (front and back) and then upload the files. CreateSpace will send you a proof of the book -- in my case, it took about five days. If it's okay, you click the button and two days later, Amazon will have a record for a print version of your book that links to your Kindle version.

As for the marketing, eh. I personally think the best marketing you can do is to write another book. And then another. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

That said, KDP Select is a worthwhile 90-day investment, IMO. I published my book three months ago, and I would have expected to have sold maybe 30 copies by now if I was doing well. I know that sounds small, but that's how it's supposed to work -- you start off small and slow and write steadily and sales grow over time. I had hoped that five years from now (or from September 2011, really, which is when I decided to try this) I could earn $1000/month from my writing. So far in March, I've sold 675 copies at $4.99 each and earned something around $2000. I haven't done any marketing except KDP Select, so yeah, I think it was probably worth letting Amazon having my book exclusively for 90 days.

So far my total costs are 0 -- I've done everything myself, paid for nothing. Total sales are about 1250, total giveaways are about 17,000. I'm not sure how much I've earned, but definitely over $3000. Given that the average advance for a first-time author is $5000, I'm on a pretty good track to earn more through self-publishing than I would through traditional publishing -- not to mention that if I'd started looking for an agent in December instead of self-publishing, I'd probably be getting my first rejections back right about now.

People talk a lot about how hard it is and how much effort marketing and promoting is, but it really doesn't have to be any harder than you want it to be. If you're in it for the long haul, just keep writing. Make your writing as good as you can, keep improving, try not to obsess about your sales numbers, and trust that over time--years possibly--you'll build an audience. And enjoy the freedom and the fun of it -- really, that's the most important part.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Oh, Smashwords, how I wish I could smash you. Such an annoying site! Gah. I shouldn't complain, you get what you pay for, and since I'm paying nothing at the moment, I'm getting what I deserve. But I just uploaded my fourth version of Ghosts, trying to make it past their review cycle so they will distribute it. This morning, the note said, "requires modification" and an empty box with a single bullet let me know what the modification needed was. Do you suppose it meant add bullet points? Because my text doesn't really support lists. Or maybe it was complaining about my punctuation? It's not exactly a lot of info to go on. If it turns out in the end that they insist you include their ridiculous and insulting licensing statement, I'm going it alone. I refuse to tell my readers that they're not allowed to loan the book or guilt trip people who are reading it on their sister's Kindle. Plus, I'm finding the process so ridiculously inefficient that I don't even want them to have the 20% of nothing that they're currently getting.

That rant over, here are the simple instructions for formatting a file for Smashwords. They insist you read a 72-page PDF to learn this, but if you have a straightforward fiction book with basic needs, all you need to know is the following:

Smashwords Instructions

Your file must be a Microsoft Word .doc file (not .docx).

Starting tips: Use Tools > Options > View > Formatting marks > All to see Word’s hidden codes, and turn off AutoCorrect and Autoformat to avoid Word helpfully screwing up your formatting.

Rule One: Do not use tabs, more than one paragraph return between paragraphs, headers, footers, automatic page numbers, H1 style on more than a single line, chapter breaks, page breaks, section breaks, or more than 4 paragraph returns in a row. If you need to know why not, go read the 72-page PDF.

Format the entire document using Normal style

In the Home toolbar, right-click the Normal style and choose Modify. In the dialog box that opens, use the following settings:
  1. Under Formatting, choose Times New Roman, Garamond or Arial, at a size of 11 or 12.
  2. Click the Format drop-down menu (in the bottom left of the dialog) and choose Paragraph.
  • Under General, leave the Alignment on Left and the Outline Level on Body Text. In the Indentation section, set the Special menu to First Line and the indent to .25 or .3”.
  • Set Line Spacing to Single or 1.5.
  • All other numbers fields should be set to 0. Don’t use before or after spaces, right or left indentation, or tabs, or any of the other line spacing options.
Format chapter titles with Heading 1

Modify the Heading 1 style using the following settings:
  • Fonts: Use Times New Roman, Garamond or Arial, at a size of 12 or 14. (Note: never use a font size larger than 14 anywhere in your document.)
  • Alignment: Can be centered.
  • Before and After spacing is set at default to 24 and 12pt: leave as is.
Create a Centered style for formatting front matter (the cover and copyright page) and/or *** separators

Create a new style based on Normal. (Open the Styles dialog and choose the New Style button. In the paragraph window, change the alignment to center. Remove the first line indentation, by setting Special to none.) Apply the style to the text you wish centered.

Navigational Control for XML (aka the NCX file) or Table of Contents (TOC)

Creating a table of contents is worth doing; readers like it and some resellers (Kobo and Apple) either require it or prefer it. The simplest method at Smashwords is to start your chapter names with “Chapter.” The automated software will then create the TOC for you. For more control, you can create a linked Table of Contents.
  1. Type out your Table of Contents. (Don’t use Word’s auto-generate feature; it doesn’t translate.) Use Normal or Centered style, not a heading style.
  2. At the beginning of each chapter in the text, highlight the chapter name, choose Insert > Bookmark and name the bookmark appropriately. (No spaces allowed, and do not use Word’s auto-generated H1 bookmarks.)
  3. In your table of contents, highlight an element name, ie Chapter One, right-click and choose Hyperlink from the contextual menu. In the Insert Hyperlink dialog box, choose Place in This Document. In the text box, select the appropriate bookmark. DO NOT use Word’s auto-generated names.
  4. Repeat for all elements.
  5. If desired, link the chapters back to the Table of Contents. In your table of contents, highlight the words “Table of Contents” and add a bookmark with the name “ref_TOC”. Then highlight the chapter name (in the body of the text, not the TOC), and insert a hyperlink that links to “ref_TOC”. Do this for each chapter.
  6. Test every link. Click (or Ctrl-click, depending on your version of Word) and make sure they all work.
  7. Clean up after Word! In the Insert Bookmark dialog, click the checkbox beside “Hidden Bookmarks” and look for bookmarks that are nonsensical and start with an underline. Delete them.
Front Matter Creation

On the first page of your book, insert a title and copyright page. Center it, using the centered style. It should read:


By Author Name

Smashwords Edition

Copyright Year Author Name

Smashwords Edition, License Notes (PDF says "encouraged" but this may be required. It was the only thing I could see that I might have done wrong on my third pass, except possibly having two H1s in a row. We'll see if it passes from me changing the H1s.)

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


And that's it. All the rest of the 72 pages is relevant for complicated files, repetition, background, or ways of making the straightforward confusing.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A KDP Select Success Story

Tomorrow will mark three months since I pushed the Confirm button at Kindle Direct Publishing and let A Gift of Ghosts go live at Amazon.

Today I hit Confirm at Smashwords and at CreateSpace. Within the week a print edition ought to be available at Amazon, linked to the ebook. It's already available at the CreateSpace store, supposedly, although I tried to link it and the link doesn't work, and I can't figure out how to find products at CreateSpace. (That strikes me as quite inefficient for a shopping experience.) Within a couple of weeks, assuming it passes the review process at Smashwords, Ghosts should become available at B&, Apple, Kodo, and assorted other places that Smashwords distributes to.

Yep, Ghosts is finishing its time in KDP Select. KDP Select, if you aren't familiar with it, is a program of Amazon's in which an author makes their ebook exclusive to Amazon in exchange for five free days in which to promote the book, plus the opportunity to be included in the Kindle Lending Library and get paid when people borrow the book. I never intended to keep Ghosts in the program past the first 90 days. Personally, I don't have issues with the exclusivity: if Michael Graves can sell his household goods only at Target without being demonized for not letting them be in Walmart, I think I can sell exclusively at Amazon. But five free days always felt like a good number. I don't really thinking giving books away indefinitely is a marketing strategy with long-term potential.

That said, I did want to sum up the experience.

My self-publishing plans were to post my book, have a fun week while all my friends bought it, and then forget about it while I moved on to writing A Gift of Thought. That was a really sensible position, with plenty of reason behind it. Both my reading on self-publishing and my own ten years in book publishing had taught me a few things:
  • First books by unknown authors don't sell well
  • Books with very limited distribution don't sell well
  • Almost all book marketing and promotion is meaningless and doesn't help a book sell
  • E-books are still only a fraction of the market
I thought I'd maybe sell 100 copies in the first year if I was lucky. I'm not sure what I hoped for from reviews, if, in fact, I hoped for anything. I assumed some people would like it and some people would hate it, because that's sort of the nature of people having individual taste.

When I made decisions about Ghosts, they were made with those facts and ideas in mind. I didn't pay for a professional to design a cover, because it didn't make economic sense. (I thought maybe for my third book, sometime late in 2012, I'd think about a professional cover.) I probably shouldn't admit this, but I didn't hire an editor or a proofreader for almost the same reason.* And I did next to nothing for marketing or promotion. I sent the book to two people who review books on their blogs, but neither one of them have reviewed it.

When Amazon announced the KDP Select program in December, however, I thought, hmm...and signed up for it almost immediately. So, yeah, that brings us to the title of this post...

I used my first free day after I'd gotten my first dozen reviews or so. (A couple of those reviews were friends & family, but the majority were from people who knew me only through my writing and had found the book via CritiqueCircle or Fictionpress.) To let people know about that first free day, I mentioned it in an author note on a Eureka fanfic, and told my mom's group, WOW guild, and Facebook friends. The day went well. (Understatement.) Over 2000 copies were downloaded and at the end of December -- three weeks after posting Ghosts for sale -- I'd sold just under 200 copies. In my very first month of self-publishing, I earned almost $500. Not bad for a hobby!

In January, I used three free days, giving away another 2300 copies or so, and sold 125 copies. My only real marketing moment came at the end of January, timed with that third free day. Laurie, from the Stellar Four blog, made Ghosts her weekend read. Reviews were up to 30 on Amazon, I think, with another 10 or so on GoodReads, mostly five stars, some fours, and a couple of threes on GoodReads. I think perhaps some of the sites that list free books mentioned it, too, because sales definitely picked up. I started tracking them and on the first three days of February, sales averaged over 20 a day. Whee! Total February sales: 258.

On March 2nd, I used my fifth and final free day. I mentioned it here and on Facebook but I'm not someone with thousands of followers in either place. Apparently, though, one of the freebie sites did mention it. It was downloaded over 12,000 times. I didn't take a screenshot or remember to write the number down, but I know it climbed into the top 20 on the Top 100 Best Giveaway List.

And then people started buying it. A week into March, over 500 copies had been sold, bringing my total copies sold since release to over 1000. I made it to number 8 on the Books > Romance > Fantasy & Futuristic list before dropping back down. Not even a Kindle list -- a best-selling book list for a book that didn't even have a dead tree version!

I don't know a solid dollar amount because of the variables (changes in pricing and royalty rates), but I think it's safe to say that I've earned over $3000 dollars in my first three months of self-publishing. And yeah, that's not what I expected.

I don't know that I would have changed anything if I could have seen the future. Eh, maybe I would have done a more traditional dedication--if I'd expected a potential 18,000 readers, I might have gone the mother-father-kid route, instead of dedicating it to some strangers from a television show. But maybe not, too.

Meanwhile, though, I'm really happy with how KDP Select turned out for me. The free days gave Ghosts exposure, which in turn got reviews and links on Amazon, which in turn got more exposure. I don't know what will happen from here on out. Maybe sales will slow and then stall entirely or maybe word-of-mouth will keep it moving. Maybe I'll pay for a Kirkus review with some of the proceeds and see if that wider exposure keeps it going. Maybe I'll finally get back to writing Thought and forget all about Ghosts. Who knows?

But I am quite sure that KDP Select was a good way to start my self-publishing career and I wanted to say so for any other self-published authors out there who might be wavering!

* And also because I'm a damn good editor myself, plus had lots of early readers and critiquers helping me catch errors. Many thanks to all of them!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dead tree version

The dead tree version. After seeing it, I decided to switch back to the brighter blue with white letters, so this is the only copy of this style that will ever exist. Funny thought! Knowing me, I'll leave it out and the bird will find it and chew on it.

The pricing debate is a bit miserable. If I only distribute directly through CreateSpace and Amazon, I can set the price at $7.99 without losing money on every copy sold. I wouldn't make much either, but it'd still be better than the 35 cents per book that some indie authors are willing to take. But if I want to let it be distributed to other places, including libraries, independent bookstores, and so on, then the lowest it can really go is $9.99. If people buy it through Amazon, I'll still make $2 then, which is less than on an e-book, but is still pretty reasonable. Sales through those other places earn me next to nothing, though. But to raise the price to levels that earn me something on every just feels too expensive to me.

Eh. Dead trees are expensive, I guess. But pretty! Very pretty!!

Monday, March 5, 2012

In the middle of the night...

The dog is driving me insane.


I have no idea what her problem is, why she won't settle down, why she wants to go outside yet again at 2:30 when she was last out at midnight, why she insists on wandering the house with a click-clack of tiny claws on the floor.

And I can't settle either. The bed isn't comfortable, I wish I'd done laundry, no pillow feels exactly right and somehow my heart is racing as if I had too much caffeine. I didn't, though. Sushi dinner at Arigato -- no caffeine involved. I didn't even have chocolate for dessert.

So I let the dog out and I flip open the iPad. I'll play a little Pocket Frogs while I wait for the dog to be finished. But first, yes, I will check the Amazon ranking for Ghosts, because it was at 20 on the Books > Romance > Fantasy & Futuristic list when I first tried to go to sleep at 10 PM and even though it's probably dropped off, looking at it on the very first page of the list is gratifying. That's a book list, not even an e-book list.

And then, yeah, this...