A Special Book and a Special Guest Star: Jane Travers and Tweet Treats

Today Catherine, Caffeinated has the honor of being the very first stop on a blog tour to celebrate the launch of a very special book for a very worthy cause. 

Last year you may remember seeing oodles of tweets tagged with “#tweettreats” – the search was on for complete recipes in 140 characters or less, and even celebrities were getting in on the act. Jane Travers (@janetravers) was the brains behind the operation and now O’Brien Press have published those recipes in the most gorgeous little book, Tweet Treats: 140 Characters, 140 Celebrities, Recipes for Every Occasion. With a forward by Marco Pierre White and all royalties going to Doctors Without Borders, it’s a worthwhile addition to your cookbook shelf – especially since it makes rustling something up for dinner easy, quick and simple. To explain how this all came to be and what you can expect from Tweet Treats, I’ll hand you over to Jane… 

One wet, miserable Thursday night in April of 2010 I was standing in my kitchen, staring blankly at the packet of chicken thighs that was mocking both my lack of culinary ability and my time-keeping. It was already 6.30pm, the child was eyeing the smallest dog hungrily, and I hadn’t even decided what I was going to cook yet.

Who has time to go scouring through weighty cookbooks, reading reams of flowery prose about how the author found the best tomatoes for this recipe in a little village in Sicily, when they’re under such time pressure? So I did what I always do when frustrated by life; I tweeted.

‘Anyone have any idea of what I can do with a packet of chicken thighs? No rude ones, please!’

Within a minute I’d received five perfect little recipes, each one complete in just one tweet, each different and lovely. I almost got an electric shock from the lightbulb that pinged on over my head as a mad idea formed. How many such twitter recipes could I collect? Could I get enough to fill a book? Could I donate the royalties to charity? How badly could I fail, and how stupid would I look?

A few months later I was completely mired in #tweettreats, as I had called it. I had been bombarded with hundreds of recipes, had been helped by dozens of friends, many of whom I’d never met except via Twitter, and I had received recipes from my coveted number of 140 celebrities. Vanessa O’Loughlin from writing.ie introduced me to a couple of publishers, and O’Brien Press pounced on it.

Tweet Treats took a year and a half of my life, and I now hold the results of all that work in my hot little hand. It’s a tiny book, a size that greatly belies all it contains. It’s crammed with recipes for every occasion, teeny ones, easy ones, cheap ones, vegetarian ones, as well as recipes so luxurious and indulgent that you gain five pounds just by reading them! I’m donating all the royalties to Medécins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), a fantastic organisation who are on the ground in places like Somalia and Haiti. I feel incredibly humbled by their gratitude for this, given all that they do.

I’ve learned a lot from pursuing this project, both about how the publishing world works (such as the fact that it is way easier to get a non-fiction book published than fiction) and about the world in general. I’ve learned that if you don’t ask, you won’t get; but that if you do ask, you might be very surprised by what people are willing to give you. Regarding Tweet Treats I asked for, and received; recipes from 140 celebrities, including my own idol Neil Gaiman; generous sponsorship from Knorr (Unilever); and a foreword very kindly donated by Marco Pierre White, rockstar amongst celebrity chefs. I also asked for representation from an agent, and got it.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/29140671]

This was my donation to the cause: a book trailer. Please watch and pass on!

It’s been a huge amount of work, so would I do it again? Hell yes, but it’d be really nice to make some money out of it myself next time! For now, though, I’m focusing on getting some of my fiction published, given that I’ve developed a relationship with a publisher. For me, this has been a really good way to gain a foothold in the publishing world.

Tweet Treats is published by O’Brien Press on 10th Oct 2011, and will be available from the following stores/websites:

and all other good bookstores! Click the blog tour banner (<–) to see a larger image and find out where the Tweet Treats blog tour is heading to next!

Thanks, Jane! 

To be in with a chance of winning your very own copy of Tweet Treats, leave a comment below. No words required; a smiley face will do. Or a “Me!!!” I’ll pick the winner on Monday.

Find out more about Tweet Treats on www.tweettreats.org where, in a feat of perfect blogosphere blog-touring synergy, I am launching my Results Not Typical blog tour today with an interview about Weight- Watchers, writing books and the Black Gates of Mordor… 

Guest Post: Mick Rooney, author of THE MEMORY OF TREES

Today we welcome author Mick Rooney to Catherine, Caffeinated, as he kicks off his blog tour for the release of his novel, The Memory of Trees…

Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, Mick. Tell us about your new book, The Memory of Trees.

Thanks for having me along here, Catherine, and it’s great to be able to start out the blog tour for The Memory of Trees on Catherine, Caffeinated.

The Memory of Trees has been a part of my writing life for many years. The novel actually began as three short stories written between 1994 through 1998. Up until then I had been writing a lot of short experimental stuff, doing readings, and setting some of my work to music. The three short stories sat uneasily with the rest of my work at that time. I sensed my style of writing was changing, and while much of it retained a highly poetical element, the three short stories had strong spiritual and adventure themes, linking a single character. I remember showing the short stories to a couple of experienced writers and they encouraged me to rethink and rewrite the stories into a more substantial work.

Right then, because I was doing a lot of research into spiritualism and magic realism in literature, I felt unprepared to fully undertake a larger project like a novel based on a spiritual theme. In many ways I was still undergoing my own learning curve and I wasn’t quite ready for the kind of self-exploration writing the novel would entail. I think a lot of authors begin their writing journey with stories containing or based heavily on very personal experiences. For me, that didn’t really start until I’d written several books. So, after about a year of research, The Memory of Trees took hold of my life as a novel.

The Memory of Trees is the story of Carlos, a shepherd boy, who travels from his simple village in Cyprus, following in the footsteps of Saint Paul and his uncle, into the Middle East and along the road to Damascus. Carlos is a teenage island boy, bright, thoughtful and passionate, brought up on the traditions of his village elders. After experiencing personal loss in his life and exile from his village, he sets out on a journey of knowledge and adventure, embracing the spiritual wisdom of the trees and a quest to explore the path his mysterious uncle once took into the Middle East.

I wrote The Memory of Trees very much in the style of a parable. It’s deceptively simple. A parable about listening to the voices in our hearts, seeking our truths, no matter how lost we are. It’s about daring to allow ourselves to be guided along a path filled with pain, loss, love and passion and the inevitable choices we must all face.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

One of the central themes in The Memory of Trees is the idea that our most precious memories can be ‘remembered’ or ‘entrusted’ to the trees for safe-keeping. Initially, I thought this was a belief exclusive to the Druids, but as I researched the idea more, I began to find similar beliefs were held by the native American Indians, tribes of ancient South American, and even with cultures and religions in the Middle East and Far East. So, the tree as a very powerful symbol of growth, strength, knowledge and spiritual protection and preservation, permeates throughout the book. For Carlos, in The Memory of Trees, the forest becomes his ‘leafy cathedral’. The same idea can be developed in so many different ways; after all, the book itself, as a tool of learning and recording our experiences in life, is made from the pulp of the tree. The forests of the world are fundamental to the very air we breathe, and, I also think, an infinite source of ideas in literature, science and spiritualism.

Sometimes it is the most subtle ideas that can lead a writer into writing a book. For you, Catherine, it was a trip to Florida which led to Mousetrapped. I’ve fond memories of several holidays to the USA, Florida included, and I experienced all of the wonder of Disney World and witnessing the Space Shuttle launches. But unlike you, I’ve actually never been to specific locations where The Memories of Trees is set—Cyprus, Israel and Syria. That led to several years of writing and researching these places, and I’ve derived as much pleasure in doing the research as writing the novel itself.

Whenever those of us aspiring to publication hear of a book deal being signed, we all want to know: how did you do it? Tell us a bit about your path to publication.

My path to publication began many years ago, in 1990. I’d always been fascinated with writing, books and the publishing industry. All three went hand in hand, with equal passion. Back in 1990, there was no such thing as POD (print on demand), and self-publishing meant handing thousands of pounds over to a vanity publisher and having hundred of boxes piled up in your garage with no means or traditional channel of selling those books to readers. We didn’t have such things as ‘social media’, and your circle of family and friends was often the only means of getting your book out there. The world seemed a lot bigger a place back then!

I knew very early on when I began writing that what I wrote wouldn’t appeal to the general reader. Firstly, outside of Beckett and Yeats, all my reading and writing influence was primarily European. Where my fellow writers were reading and raving about Banville, McGahern, Atwood, Rushdie and others, I was reading a lot of translated European literature like Robbe-Grillet, Perec and Gustafsson, as well as the classics of Hemmingway, Hesse, Kafka and Poe.

In the late eighties I began sending out manuscripts to magazine editors and publishing houses, but already by then the industry landscape was quickly changing and once prolific independent publishing houses were being snapped up by large media conglomerates and the competition to attract editors was increasing, while the avenues to those same editors was quickly decreasing. By the early 1990’s, you were pretty much barred from access to the big houses unless you had a literary agent, a writing friend who was a published author and could bend the ear of an editor on your behalf, attract an editor from the shrinking number of smaller publishing houses with a strong submission, or had built up a body of accepted short submissions with magazine editors.

I collected my fair share of rejection slips, but also some encouragement that my work showed a lot of promise, but that the ‘climate and market’ just wasn’t there for work like mine. I think it is important to empathise that when I decided to start self-publishing with my own publishing imprint, it wasn’t because I was rejecting the mainstream publishing industry, but rather, it wasn’t my time and I could achieve something else through self-publishing – not better, or as some form of personal fingers up to the industry. The best way I can describe my decision is something akin to working for nothing for a company – much as an intern would do. Except, this would be my publishing imprint I was working for, and all my experience would have to be self-taught through a process of trial and error.

I know back then why I didn’t go down the vanity route. I simply couldn’t afford it, and my research, instinct and growing business mind told me that someone was making money in vanity publishing, but it wasn’t authors. Even today, with unscrupulous companies offering self-publishing services, I’m still staggered by how little research authors do before embarking into this field of publishing.

I set up my own imprint in 1990, bought a guillotine, an electronic word-processing typewriter, cloth, print paper and boards from a wholesale book packager, and some books about typographical layout, bookbinding and self-publishing. I found books on self-publishing by Michael Legat and Peter Finch invaluable. Finch’s How To Self-Publish Yourself was originally published by Allison & Busby in the late 1970’s and was way ahead of its time – even now with the advances in print technology aside – it contains absolute nuggets of advice renowned self-publishing experts like Shepard, Rosenthal and Poynter are only just getting their heads around!

I did self-publishing for my first few books the old fashioned way – hawking books around bookshops and cutting deals with buyers. I tried everything, from ‘buy one to get one free’ (better than giving a buyer a huge discount) to even on a few occasions sneaking in and ‘depositing’ my book on the shelves of a bookshop or library if I initially got the door slammed in my face. I figured if a customer picked the book up and brought it to the till point, it was a sure way of a sale. The bookseller was hardly going to say, ‘Oh, that shouldn’t be out there, you can’t have it.’ Of all those first few books I self-published, I probably gave away half the books free, just to get the book into the hands of readers and buyers. If a modern day publisher or self-publishing author is not prepared to ‘give away’ at least 25% of that first print run, then frankly, they’re wasting their time. Book publishing at a small and cottage level of business is about long-term, long-haul investment and very small profits. If you do the simple things well, and take pride in what you do, and persist, persist, persist, the benefits come in the long-tale, and you have to accept that might be in name, prestige and industry or peer respect, and not always in profit margin.

With the advent of POD and social networking, I progressed to using Lulu to self-publish my books. Again, it was a second stage of the learning curve, and I also continued to operate my self-publishing imprint to do reprint and editions of some of my older books.

I’d long made my mind up when I completed The Memory of Trees in 2006 that it was the best novel I had ever written, and for the first time in many years, I began to research and reconsider mainstream publishing, believing that the book deserved the best I could do for it. The industry, while still in a process of considerable change, started to show a great deal of innovation and the rise of new dynamic independent publishing presses. I began to send The Memory of Trees out on submission, focusing mainly on those kinds of publishers operating with new models of publishing as well as embracing ebook publishing and social media, and not implementing a ‘lock and gun barrel’ gatekeeper mentality.

Around this time, I began to prepare a book on what I had learned by self-publishing over the years, and based on articles and reviews I did for The Independent Publishing Magazine, or as it was then called, POD, Self Publishing & Independent Publishing. Over about a year or so, my online presence and visits to writing forums brought me in contact with Jeremy Thompson, MD with Troubador Publishing in the UK, an independent mainstream publisher which started out publishing academic Italian work, and also ran a self-publishing service wing, Matador. Troubador had done what major US publishers Harlequin, Hay House and Thomas Nelson took until 2009 to do – acknowledge that self-publishing, whatever opinion you hold about it, had truly arrived under the umbrella of the publishing industry. It was here to stay and much of the stigma was starting to fall away. The deal with Troubador was my first commercial publishing contract and it meant a great deal to me that I had published a book about self-publishing through a mainstream publisher.

In early 2011, I submitted The Memory of Trees to Book Republic, a boutique press imprint of Maverick House Publishing. Without sounding clichéd, it was a case of right publisher, editor and book manuscript at exactly the right time. When I first looked at Book Republic as a publisher to submit to, I saw an awful lot of similarities to Bob Miller’s HarperStudio, an imprint of HarperCollins. Here was a publisher prepared to adopt a multiple of different methods of publishing a book – hardback, ebook, POD paperback, and using social media, the author’s own generated readership following, short print runs, full trade distribution, but without the trappings of very huge overheads and retail discounts and not shackled with 100% non-return on books.

The whole experience has been terrific and I got to work with a professional publisher and their team closer than an author normally gets to work with a mainstream publisher, right through from editing, design, production and marketing.

Your “other job” is being the man behind The Independent Publishing Magazine. Tell us a bit about how that came about?

It’s one of many other jobs, Catherine! Life is pretty hectic with research, publishing consultancy, and trying to grapple with the next novel. Though, more recently this year, I’ve had to put the consultancy work on hold for the publication of The Memory of Trees – not to mention I still have to find time to hold down a full-time job like most other authors.

I started The Independent Publishing Magazine way back in late 2007, and really, it was just initially an online portal where I could record some of the research I had carried out on the publishing industry, and in particular, the explosive rise of self-publishing services on offer to authors. Timing played a great factor in the success of TIPM (or POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing as it was then) and back then there were few online resources for self-published authors, and many just didn’t deal with the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of self-publishing, and truthfully, I felt a lot of them tended to accept everything a self-publishing service fed them, without asking the right questions or looking deeper into the whole vanity press history.

I knew instinctively the self-publishing service industry was a microcosm of the whole publishing industry, and the questions authors were starting to comment and email me where going to be the questions the industry itself would soon be asking. How do we negotiate different retail discounts? Can we sell out books and still survive without Amazon? Self-published authors were already grappling with ebooks and the relevance of them long before large publishing houses even took digital publishing seriously as a necessary part of their future business. Where heavy retail discounting and the issue of returns was crippling the trade, self-publishers had long accepted that those models needed to be changed and were busy embracing social media, direct marketing and innovation, when the publishing industry as a whole was sitting back and allowing large high street retailers and Amazon to take control and ownership of the industry.

There is of course the seedier side of self-publishing services and the exploitation of the naivety of authors new to the publishing world. It’s why I began doing extensive reviews of self-publishing services to a depth and extent no one else was doing in print magazines, books or the Internet.

There is a lot more now on The Independent Publishing Magazine and I have widened the scope of content to include digital publishing, industry news, innovation and publishing successes. I don’t see the magazine any longer as the sole home and resource for just self-published authors, but rather as a portal directly to the changes happening in the industry today. That’s relevant to all authors no matter what the means and path to publication is. I’ve also linked the magazine heavily to my Facebook page, and really the two now interact perfectly together through debate and comment.

Like the industry itself, I’d like to think TIPM is a constantly developing resource, never happy to sit still and be one thing for one reason all the time.

What are you working on now? What’s next?

Something completely different as they say! I treat all my book projects individually and each one takes its own shape over a lengthy period of time. I can work on more than one book project at a time, and I tend to switch back and forth from research to fiction depending on what I am working on. I’m half-way through with the next book, a dark and poetic suspense book about a serial killer, an alchemist and a great deal more! I’m also tentatively looking at a possible follow-up to The Memory of Trees, maybe based in Cuba, but I’m hoping to get to Cyprus first before the next great adventure begins!

__________________________________________

Mick Rooney is an author, editor and publishing consultant from the Republic of Ireland. He has published eight books since 1990, through his own imprint, using author solutions services, and he has also published through mainstream publishers. Several years ago he began researching the publishing industry, and in particular Independent, POD (print-on-demand) and subsidy/self-publishers. Many of the findings of his research can be found at his site, The Independent Publishing Magazine together with his own experiences in the world of writing and publishing. He is the author of To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish? A Seriously Useful Author’s Guide. He is also a contributor to many magazines and online resources including, Writers’ Forum, Publishing Basics Magazine, Publetariat, Carnival of the Indies, selfpublishingreview.com, Irish Publishing News, as well as many writing and publishing forums. In September 2011, he published his latest novel with Book Republic, The Memory of Trees, available in hardback and ebook.

Writing with the Door Open

Back in 2009 when I wrote the final version of Mousetrapped, I wrote it all for myself.

In On Writing Stephen King talks about writing the first draft with the door closed (i.e. just for you) and the second with the door open (with the reader in mind), but anytime I wrote or re-wrote Mousetrapped, the door was always closed. I wrote the book that entertained me, and didn’t worry – or even think – about anyone else. And at times, this writing-just-for-me strayed into self-indulgence. I thought things like, well, I’m interested in this, so why wouldn’t everyone else be? And isn’t this my book? Can’t I just write whatever I want?

Now if you liked Disney, NASA, moving abroad totally unprepared and my personality and perspective, then you loved Mousetrapped. Some people really did. But if you didn’t like one or all of those things, you didn’t. My voice grated on your nerves, or parts of it read like a Wikipedia entry (apparently!). While I don’t regret the way I wrote the book or how it reads – why would I? 8,373 copies sold and counting, baby! – I do see now that while I’ll always write the book I want to read, it helps my cause if some other people might like to read it too.

What I’m getting at is that at some point in the writing process, you have to open the door.

So when it came to writing Backpacked, I opened the door. Heck, I took it off its hinges and propped it against the wall. I kept the end reader in mind all the time and so when it came to certain things that I could’ve gone on and on and on about for pages and pages on end, I asked myself, am I writing this because I like writing this bit, or because it adds to the book/story? If it didn’t add something, I scaled it back or left it out altogether.

I also had some bad reviews of Mousetrapped to rely on for constructive criticism. (Lucky me!) A few unimpressed reviewers complained about the first chapter where I explain how events in my life conspired to land me in Walt Disney World at the age of 24. I thought this had to be explained, but it probably didn’t need to be explained so much (!). In Backpacked, we get backpacking as quickly as possible. I also refrained from dumping paragraphs of history into the book so while I describe the places we visited, I don’t fill you in on everything that’s happened there to date. And Backpacked doesn’t try to be two or three different kinds of books at once – it’s just the linear story of backpacking trip taken by someone who didn’t want to go backpacking, plain and simple.

I think my writing has vastly improved as well – as it should’ve, considering that I wrote the first draft of Mousetrapped in the summer of 2008 and it was really the first proper thing I ever wrote, and Backpacked three years later, this summer,  and I’ve written a 97,000-word novel in between, as well as approximately 250,000 words worth of blog posts and a self-publishing guide totaling 110,000 words. I’ve also worked with editors, whose corrections help me write better and of course, I’ve been constantly reading. So if my writing hadn’t improved from all that, I’d be in real trouble.

A few Fridays ago I told everyone on my mailing lists that Backpacked was out, and then held my breath. I knew people who already liked my writing would like the book, but I wanted them to like it in a very particular way: I wanted them to say it was better than Mousetrapped

And they have said it.

For instance:

“Catherine Ryan Howard is our intrepid traveller, someone who prefers chilling in a 5-star hotel to backpacking through South America. But with no job, no home and nowhere else to be, Catherine figures going backpacking is going to be an adventure. And she’s going with her best friend Sheelagh, who can save Catherine from all kinds of terrible things since she’s a seasoned traveller herself! What follows is a 9-week adventure that is highly readable. At times when I was reading Mousetrapped (the predecessor to Backpacked) I found myself a bit bored with some of the longer ramblings from Catherine (I mean that nicely; the ramblings just weren’t my kinda ramblings!) but in Backpacked it’s as if Catherine has stream-lined herself and it all flows brilliantly. I was thoroughly ensconced in the book and couldn’t wait to see where Catherine and Sheelagh were going to next. Catherine is an excellent writer. She’s scaled back on the more information-heavy paragraphs, only giving us the bare basics from books about the countries they’re visiting and it’s a much more personable read than Mousetrapped was. Catherine injected such humour into the book that I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions, particularly when Catherine travels up a mountain on a HORSE! There are many brilliant moments during Backpacked and every page was brilliant. I felt as if I was part of Catherine’s journey and she writes about the places she and Sheelagh visited so thoroughly and with so much passion that I’m tempted to hop on the next flight to Guatemala. Backpacked is just brilliant, I thoroughly enjoyed it and despite Catherine was indeed a reluctant backpacker, you can tell she did on some level enjoy it and I enjoyed reading all about it.” —Leah, I Love Books and Football

It’s been selling steadily – with Amazon.co.uk sales higher than Amazon.com, for some inexplicable reason; it’s always the other way around! – and all feedback has been positive (so far, anyway!).

So: phew! Mission accomplished.

If you’ve read Backpacked, I’ll be your best friend forever if you can spare five minutes to write an Amazon review. It doesn’t have to be an essay – even three sentences will do the job!

If you want to read Backpacked, find out where you can find a preview and copies to buy here.

E-book Stuff: Links Extravaganza

Generally I avoid doing link digests because I like reading them, not compiling them, but there is so much good stuff on the interweb at the moment that I was forced into doing this. So make yourself a cup of coffee and get reading these:

First of all, I am on a Proper Publishing blog. Futurebook is The Bookseller‘s digital publishing blog and if you don’t know what The Bookseller is (i) I hope you don’t write or sell books and (ii) it’s only the most important publishing trade publication on this side of the Atlantic. Futurebook is a must read for e-book self-publishers because although it’s about all aspects of digital publishing, it’s not written by self-publishers. We’re confined to guest appearances, as we should be on an industry blog. Therefore, Futurebook can be relied upon for the cold, hard facts about the current state of the publishing industry, e-book growth, e-book pricing, etc. without anyone talking out of their unqualified arse about how every bookshop on earth will be gone by the end of next week. It’s a nice – and informed – antidote to E-book Evangelist Overload Syndrome.

Anyway, I popped up there yesterday asking Am I Only Selling Books Because My Books Are Cheap? (Or, do I only sell e-books because they’re priced really low and, if the answer is yes, what does that mean for me, for other self-publishers and for publishing in general?) Kindly retweet it up the wazoo so that they might have me back one day…

My post How Much Work is Self-Publishing? was also featured on yesterday’s The Book Designer’s Carnival of the Indies along with a treasure trove of articles on all aspects of self-publishing. If you’re not already reading The Book Designer, you really should be. And what is it you’ve been doing with your online time, eh?

I wanted to cry when I read (via Taleist) about how Kiana Davenport’s publisher reacted when they found out that she’d self-published some backlist titles. I don’t know who these publishers are, but I cannot quite comprehend why they would react as they have. I do think that if you have a traditional publishing deal and you intend to continue to self-publish, you’ll have to work with your publisher to find a schedule that gives both avenues the best chance of success, but this reaction seems a bit extreme. Reading it also made me think about what I’d do if the Publishing Genies granted my book deal wishes. Would I still self-publish as a sideline? I don’t know…

Over on the Smashwords blog, something I’ve been fascinated to know for a long time: How E-book Buyers Discover Books. Mark Coker, Smashwords’ founder, analyses data collected from a survey he posted at MobileRead. The most popular answer (29%) was “Recommendations from fellow readers online forums, blogs, message boards”, although surely this is somewhat skewed as the survey was answered by people using such a forum? But then as Coker points out, 71% of respondents did choose something else. Randomly browsing was definitely a major player which is what I’ve always suspected drives most of my sales. (Which is a bit depressing, when you consider how much time I spend trying to spread the word about my books online!)  There’s a wealth of information in there, and some of it is quite surprising. Plus, I love me a pie chart.

Finally this is nothing to do with anything, but I’ve watched this video now more times than I care to admit. WATCH IT THIS VERY MINUTE. You won’t regret it. Everyone I’ve shown it to has been exceptionally impressed with it. Apparently it was done for some Australian tourist agent types but since it was posted two months ago has had over 6 million views. 6 million! And if you’re not thinking about the horror of having to edit it, you’ll be crushing on the very pretty boy on it. And if you don’t like boys, you’ll be experiencing an overwhelming desire to go see the world. It is just awe-inspiring.

You may also have noticed a new, bright green thing in my blog’s sidebar. More on that later in the week…

Insert Snappy Blog Post Title Here

Those of you with mediocre-to-good observational skills will have noted that I only blogged once this week. (The horror! The shock! The uncharacteristic quietness!) The reason I only blogged on Monday was because my week looked like this:

Monday

Hmm. I appear to have a headache.

Tuesday

Ugh. It seems I have contracted whatever icky stomach bug thingy my sister has. I’m feeling all nauseous and flu-y.

Wednesday

Blurgh. Me. On my death bed. And to make matters worse I’m now in caffeine withdrawal as well.

Thursday

Feeling better. Just in time for a box of books for CreateSpace. Pack those pre-orders!

Today

The fact that I get to see American X-Factor tonight is pretty much all I can think about. (If you’ve seen it, there’s no point telling it was crap. I’ve read the reviews. I’m still excited because between US X-Factor and British X-Factor on a double, there is a reality-based single competition on every night this weekend. AND the Singapore Grand Prix is on. AND The Kids Are Alright is going to be on the movie channel. Oh TV Overlords, how you spoil us!)

Normal service will resume on Monday. Maybe.

Lulu, I Love You

As regular readers of this blog already know, I’ve been having some e-book issues lately.

You can read about the whole thing in detail here, but to summarize: I lowered the price of my book Mousetrapped from $2.99 to 99c in an attempt to sell more copies of it and, thus, sell more copies of its sequel, Backpacked, when it came out on the first of this month, but when I went to put it back up to $2.99 a few weeks later, I was tearing out my own hair in frustration waiting for the change to take affect on Kobo. And, until it did, Amazon couldn’t increase the price because they have to offer the lowest price available.

(By the way, since I first wrote that post, I’ve added a number of updates. If you haven’t read it since it first went up, you might want to pop back to have a read of them.)

The good news is that the whole saga is now sorted, and I’ve been able to return Mousetrapped to $2.99 across the board. This means that I’ve now also been able to release a combination title, Mousetrapped and Backpacked Too, which is both my travel memoirs in one Kindle book for $4.99 (they’re $2.99 each individually). Click here to visit its listing in the Amazon.com Kindle store.

So that’s the good news.

The great news is that late on Thursday night, Lulu sent out a mass e-mail unveiling their new MS Word-t0-Epub converter and their promise that, if you follow their instructions, they’ll list your book for sale on iBooks and Barnes and Noble’s Nook book store. And that if you publish with them now, you’ll get to keep 90% of your earnings between now and January 1st.

Why is this such great news?

Well, I’m a great believer – as Michael Scott is – in KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. I don’t ever want to complicate things. I’m against complication in principle. For instance, I don’t want to abandon CreateSpace in favor of a digital print run and a distributor, because even though my profits would be larger, it’s just not worth the effort. Same goes for bookshops. Same goes for using InDesign to make my interiors; for moving to a self-hosted blog; for purchasing my own ISBNs. It’s just not worth it and there’s no need for it. Things should only be as complicated as they need to be, and then not a smidgen more. If all your books fit into a single Billy bookcase, you don’t need the Dewy Decimal system to organize them. If you sell some homemade jams at a farmers’ market one weekend a month, you don’t need Sage to do your accounts. And if you’re an individual self-publisher with not very complicated books, you shouldn’t have to hire anyone to build your book in code. A well-formatted MS Word document will do the job fine.

After the Kindle store (which is taken care of with Amazon KDP), the two places I want my e-books for sale are on iBooks and Barnes and Noble’s Nook store. To do this, you need an .epub file. Now if I didn’t want to use Smashwords, every other option involved rocking up to an e-book site with an .epub file ready to go, which meant hiring someone to convert my file to .epub or purchasing a conversion program, which meant expense, more effort (to find these people) and – say it with me – complication. Frankly I couldn’t be arsed, especially since I know how to format a MS Word document so that it converts well.

So now that Lulu will convert your MS Word document for you, you have a simple, non-complicated, free option for iBooks and the Nook store that isn’t Smashwords. And it’s really easy to use. They have a style guide (which is almost identical to Smashwords’ style guide) and uploading it is quite simple, although I had to resize my cover images a bit.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to have two different companies distributing the same books to the same retailer, so I’ve opted out of iBooks and B&N (and, after what happened last week, Kobo) on my Smashwords’ distribution channel manager. I’ll still publish with Smashwords because I find them handy for downloading files of your own book, and it’s great to be able to send people to one spot where they can download my e-book in any format they like. I’m also still going to use them for Sony and Diesel.

So now I have three different services distributing my e-books. Is that really the simplest solution? Yes, I think so. Each of them accepts MS Word documents, each of them requires no money upfront and each of them is covering a different set of retailers for me. Would it be nice if there was one place you could go to get the job done? Yes, but if there was then there’d be less competition, and then Lulu wouldn’t have to do things like offering a 90% revenue to attract new e-book publishers.

And I quite like the fact that they do.

Check out Lulu’s new e-book converter here

No Printed Proof: A Very Bad, Very Good Idea

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For a while now, many CreateSpace customers have been seeing this when they go to order a proof copy:

As part of a limited trial, CreateSpace are offering their customers the opportunity to skip the proof copy stage and instead make their book available immediately – without anyone ever having seen it in print. I think it’s a very bad, very good idea, depending on who you are and why you’re publishing your book.

Why It’s a Very Bad Idea

The obvious reason it’s a bad idea is bad self-publishers. They’re the ones who have apparently never actually seen a real book, and so use Cover Creator, put their text in point 16 Bradley Handwriting and start their book on page one. There was always the hope that when they held their book baby in their hands, they might actually notice that it looks nothing like every other book they’ve seen during the course of their life, but without a printed proof, that’s never going to happen. And thus the pool of self-published poop grows ever bigger.

This may sound strange considering the average proof copy from CreateSpace is under $10 and shipping, if you don’t mind waiting, only another $5 or so onto that even if you’re very, very far away, but having to pay for a printed proof acts as a deterrent against trigger-happy self-publishers. I know that if I had a manuscript in a drawer and discovered a POD site that let me get a book up on Amazon in mere hours without having to pay any money at all, I’d be so tempted to do a quick spell-check and chuck it up there now. But knowing that you have to pay for a proof (and shipping) is a little Stop sign in the road, a little pause button on your plans. Hopefully one that makes you reconsider, and do the POD thing properly instead.

The people I really fear for in all this though are the ones who work in CreateSpace’s customer service department. As it is, I’ve encountered plenty of self-publishers getting their knickers in a twist because “proof” is on the back page of their (wait for it) proof copy, who send death threats to CreateSpace HQ because one corner of one book in a shipment of fifty has a slight bend at one corner and who insist that the “you’re” that should be a “your” on page 6 was definitely a “your” in the PDF they uploaded and that the “you’re” in the finished paperback was all CreateSpace’s fault. Can you imagine what these people would be like if they could order personal stock without seeing how the book looks first, or if they could sell their book on Amazon without checking it themselves? Nightmarish, for sure.

Why It’s a Very Good Idea

One of the major benefits of Print On Demand is that you can update your book at any time and know that the only books without the update will be the ones on shelves in the homes of the customers who already bought them. You might want to update your books because:

  • You discover errors and want to correct them
  • You release another book (and so want to add it to your “Also by” or put an ad for it at the back of the book)
  • You need to update contact info, like a website or e-mail address.

The procedure for updating your book was:

  1. Put your book on hold so you could make changes (which usually listed your book as “Ships in 2-3 weeks”)
  2. Upload your new files and submit for review
  3. Order a proof and wait for it to arrive
  4. Check the proof and okay the files, so it becomes available again.

The problem was that (i) this cost a proof plus shipping every time and (ii) if you waited for your proof to arrive, your book would likely go to “Temporarily unavailable” on Amazon and so become unorderable. Normally I would order the proof, but as soon as it shipped, go back to CreateSpace and approve the files, “publishing” it again. I was taking a chance, of course, that everything was fine, but if I’d only changed a line or two I could be confident that it was. With this no printed proof option, I can make the changes, submit them for review and then as soon as they get the okay, approve them as is. It saves time, money and trees.

The Best of Both Worlds

I think CreateSpace will be making a mistake if they offer this option unequivocally, but I also think they’ll be making a mistake if they don’t offer it at all. I think they should make every customer order at least one printed proof per title but, once at least one printed proof has been ordered and shipped, changes can be made after which the files can be approved as is, i.e. with no printed proof.

That way, this is a win-win. It doesn’t open the floodgates for trigger-happy self-publishers, but it means correcting one word or adding a book title to a list won’t cost you a proof copy and ten days of no sales.

Have you seen the “No Printed Proof” option on CreateSpace? Have you used it? What do you think?