Ask Catherine: More Answers

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If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know that Mousetrapped, my first self-published bookis now out a whopping three years. This is just nuts to me, because visiting Lulu.com and discovering CreateSpace and wondering if I should release e-books as well—that all seems like yesterday to me. Or at least just a few weeks ago.

To celebrate, I’ve released a brand new hardcover edition of Mousetrapped (which you can read about here) and I’m giving you the chance to win either a signed copy of it for yourself, or a paperback of Self-Printed 2.0 instead if you prefer. Just leave a comment on this or any other ‘Mousetrapped Madness’ post before midnight Tuesday April 2nd for your chance to win. You can also download my other travel memoir, Backpacked, for free for your Kindle at the moment.

For this second Mousetrapped Madness Week post, I’m going to answer some more of your burning self-publishing questions in  the second installment of Ask Catherine: The Answers.

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Every post this week is going to contain one utterly irrelevant picture from my time in Florida and one sorta relevant one from my self-publishing adventures over the last three years. Above: Me, Roy O. Disney and Minnie Mouse getting ready to enjoy Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, December 2006. (And WHAT the hell kinda color is my hair? Bleached Floridian Blonde 103…?) 

Q: I was wondering about your experience with the second edition of Self-Printed. What problems did you come up against? (@SR_Summers) Continue reading

Introducing… MOUSETRAPPED as a POD Hardcover! And You Can WIN Stuff! More Exclamation Marks!

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It’s March 29th 2013, which means that I self-published Mousetrapped exactly three years ago today.

Three years. Three of them! Can you believe it? I know I certainly can’t.

To mark the occasion, I decided to quit slacking and do something I’ve been thinking about doing for ages: I made a POD hardcover edition of Mousetrapped with Lulu. 

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It’s bringing sexy(hard)back. 

Before we go any further, it should be noted that this making-a-POD-hardcover thing should be filed under Things We Do Just For Fun. It’s not a very good business decision. The hardcover edition is expensive to purchase ($33), and I’d say I could count on my hands the number of readers who’d consider buying it. But that’s okay, because I’ve done this primarily for me.

I wanted to see it in hardcover. And I knew as soon as I opened the Lulu box and saw it that it was totally worth doing.

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But this isn’t just the paperback edition with a hardcover. Oh, no. The paperback is 5.5 x 8.5, for starters, so I had to redo the interior to make it fit its new 6 x 9 size. I also had to get Andrew Brown, my cover designer, to make the original cover fit into the dimensions of a 6×9 dust-jacket, with the new addition of inside and back flaps. (A difficult job considering Lulu does NOT provide the same in-depth info CreateSpace does when it comes to making your own cover.) Hardcovers generally have the blurb inside, on the flaps, so the back cover had to be changed too. As you can see above, I stripped everything off it except for the background image. Continue reading

Why Hire an Editor?

Let me count the ways I have tried to get the point across that you—yes, YOU—need an editor: I’ve said so in my book, I’ve made a video, I’ve told you why I desperately needed one… I’ve tried it every which way I can. It does seem like the message is sinking in somewhat, but I still meet self-publishers who think they’ll manage fine by themselves and send their book out into the world without it ever passing by the eyes of a professional editor. Which would be fine, if it wasn’t for the price-tag they’ve put on it. So today, my latest attempt is a guest post from Robert Doran, editorial director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services, on why you should hire an editor. Read right through to the end for some vague hinting at something that’s, potentially, mildly exciting (at best) that starts here on this blog tomorrow. (Oooh, the mystery!)

Take it away, Robert… 

‘Here we go,’ I hear you say, ‘an editor telling us why we can’t do without editors.’ I would say that, wouldn’t I? Well, yes, I would. But I’m not only advocating for the editor here. Your readers deserve to get what they pay for, and your book deserves to be given a chance to compete successfully when you send it out to represent you in a crowded market. Hiring an editor to copy-edit your work is the bare minimum you can do to allow that to happen. But time and again authors decide to skip this step and to publish an unedited manuscript, hoping for the best. Let’s look at why.

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Lots of professionally edited books don’t sell. You’re right: having your book edited won’t guarantee you sales. There are thousands of professionally edited books published every year by traditional publishers that sell just a few hundred copies. A quick browse through any bookstore bargain basement will expose the truth that a book can be edited to within an inch of its life and still bomb. But that doesn’t change the fact that readers expect books to be edited in the same way that they expect cars to have wheels and beef burgers to have beef in them. It’s a basic requirement, not a selling point.

It’s not that readers spend much time thinking about the editorial process. They don’t, and that’s as it should be. The editing should be invisible, imperceptible. It’s only when it’s absent or shoddy that it becomes noticeable. And when readers notice it, they like to shout about it – just have a quick browse through a few of the gleeful ‘it was riddled with mistakes’ reviews that litter Amazon. When you open a book you have paid for and begin reading, you expect certain standards to be upheld, just as when you bite into a beef burger, you expect, well, beef. That’s what readers are used to, and they feel cheated when it clearly hasn’t been done.

But it’s expensive. Yes it is. You can reduce the amount of time an editor spends on your manuscript by sorting out as many issues as possible before you hire someone. This will help to keep the cost down. But editors are never going to be cheap, nor should they be. They offer a professional and often highly specialised service. Most editors have spent years studying and honing their skills, and they charge a fair fee based on their experience and expertise. When you get your marked-up manuscript back you’ll understand how much time, effort, and skill went into editing your work.

If you’re going to self-publish, you must, to some extent at least, act like a publisher. This means building the cost of editing, along with the other production costs, into the price of your book. Do you want a horse burger for 10¢ or a beef burger for €1? People do understand that higher standards cost more. Your book doesn’t have to be cheap, but it does have to represent value, and quality adds value to any product.

My friend read it, and she reads a lot. Great. Get as many friends as possible to read your book. Get your GP and your parish priest and Mary next door to read it. Every bit of feedback helps, and you should welcome it all and consider any suggestions your readers make. In particular, I think it’s worth joining a creative-writing group and having your work critiqued by your peers. But beware the nature of these relationships. People generally don’t want to criticise their friend’s work – they’d rather not offend. An editor will always take your feelings into consideration, but you are paying them to help you with your book and that will be the focus of your relationship. Even if your ego gets slightly bruised, your book will benefit, as will your readers.

Also, no matter how well versed your friends are in the rules of grammar, no matter how familiar they are with the vagaries of the English language, only an editor is likely to know and care enough about dangling modifiers, redundancies, hyphenation of compound adjectives, repetition, consistency of punctuation, presentation of numerals, elision, etc., to point them out and suggest appropriate corrections or amendments.

I can edit my own work. Certainly many authors can do a lot of structural editing without the help of an editor, and we’ll talk more about this in the next post. Structural editing can be fun, creative, and rewarding for the author; copy-editing, on the other hand, is essentially a technical task, more suited to those of us of a geekier persuasion. It is nigh on impossible to copy-edit your own work. You’re too close to it to pick up the tiny errors and the stuff that you don’t even know you don’t know. As an editor I have spent a lot of time studying obscure rules, semi-rules, and conventions-that-should-be-followed-unless-you-think-it’s-okay-to-break-them, yet I would never copy-edit my own work; I don’t know an editor in Christendom who would.

I want it to be all my own work. Naturally you want your work to sound like you wrote it. An editor is always conscious of the fact that it is your name that will be on the cover and that it is your work they are editing. They will intervene only as much as you ask them to. The editor’s aim is never to remove the author’s voice but to enhance it and allow it to shine by introducing structure and consistency, and by applying rules. It is when you get these things right that they become invisible to the reader, your message is amplified, and the quality of your writing is appreciated. Good times!

I always find mistakes in edited books. And you always will. Editors are not perfect, neither are proofreaders. The job they do is difficult, and, unfortunately, things will always slip through unless the manuscript is exceptionally clean in the first instance. It’s always worth noting the number of errors that were caught before going crazy over the couple that weren’t. And remember that a copy-editor’s job is much broader than catching typos – but more about that in a couple of weeks.

I’ll just download an editing program and use that. Go on, I dare you! These programs are so rubbish they make me want to cry. They might pick up a few typos but they consistently make odd suggestions on usage and, in my opinion, they serve only to confuse and delay.

Hiring an editor may or may not pay financial dividends: you will never know about the books you might not have sold or the bad reviews you didn’t receive. But the bottom line is that an editor will make your book better, no matter what point you’re starting from. Before you hire one, talk to a few and see who you’re most comfortable with. Ask them to prepare a short sample to give you an idea of what they can do for your manuscript and discuss the level of edit you feel would be appropriate. Ultimately, the author–editor relationship can be very rewarding for you, for the editor, and for your work.

Robert Doran is Editorial Director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services (www.kazoopublishing.com), a one-stop shop for indie authors who want to publish industry-standard books. He has nearly twenty years’ experience in bringing books to market and has worked as an editor, project manager, sales manager, and bookseller in Ireland and in the UK. He is a big fan of the Oxford comma. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEdits.

The mysterious bit: tomorrow is the three-year anniversary of a very exciting day in my self-publishing adventures, and to mark the occasion I will be (a) showcasing something new and lovely, (b) writing a new post every day for a week and (c) giving YOU the chance the win stuff. Be back here tomorrow with a coffee in hand for the start of… superfluous drumroll please… MOUSETRAPPED MADNESS! 

It Could Happen To You! (It Almost Definitely Will NOT, Though…)

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My absolute, all-time, number one favorite movie is The Truman Show. I just love, love, LOVE that movie, and I think that Big Brother and the age of reality TV, docu-soaps, etc. is the worst thing that ever happened to it, because it diluted its impact. It was soooo ahead of its time back in the mid-Nineties that still today, I watch it and am stunned—STUNNED— by screenwriter Andrew Niccol’s insight into where televised entertainment was going. Nowadays, the idea of being raised in front of TV cameras isn’t strange at all, it’s actually happening. (I’m looking at you, Mini Kardashians.) And then there’s its themes of exploring our world, reality being only what we perceive it to be, and the backdrop of the picture-perfect town of Seaside, and—

I just want to go watch it right now.

(It’s on the DVR. Totally watching it tonight.)

But back to this blog post. One of my favorite scenes in The Truman Show is when Truman finally plucks up the courage to get the hell outta town, and goes to the travel agent to book at ticket to Fiji or, well, anywhere really. Now if you haven’t seen Truman, everyone is conspiring to keep him in Seahaven, so the travel agency isn’t exactly designed to encourage people to travel. Hence the giant poster on the wall depicting a plane getting struck by lightning with the message “IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU!”

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Self-publishers—or pre-self-publishers, to be more accurate—seem to waste a lot of time worrying about a lot of stuff that theoretically could but in all likelihood will never happen to them. On its own, this unnecessary paranoia wouldn’t be so bad, except for the fact that nowhere near as much time is spent worrying about what they should be worrying about, like the quality of their book, whether or not there’s even a market for it, whether their cover design can compete with bestselling books in the same genre, pricing, marketing strategies, etc. etc.

I often use the example of a writer I saw on Twitter, who had “designed” the worst e-book cover my eyes have ever seen. It was terrible. Just awful. More the shame because she could write, and I thought there was a decent market for the book. But the cover would make corneas bleed. Yet her main concern? She was desperate to find out if publishing to Kindle would affect the sale of movie rights later on.

Um… movie rights?

How about a cover that bears at least A SLIVER OF SIMILARITY TO ANY OTHER BOOK?

How about we start with that, eh?

Admittedly, movie right concerns are an extreme case. Generally I find that pre-self-publishers, those writers who are on the cusp of deciding to self-publish but are still struggling with some of the fears they have about it, are concerned about one or more of the following things:

  • Copyright 
  • Defamation/libel
  • Piracy
  • How it might affect getting a traditional deal later on
  • Scare stories about Amazon.

Copyright

Please print out the following two sentences on a business card-sized piece of paper and stick it in your wallet to refer to whenever a concern about copyright crosses your mind.

  1. If you wrote it, you own it. 
  2. CreateSpace, Amazon KDP and Smashwords operate non-exclusive agreements.

There is no need to formally copyright your work by registering it officially or mailing it to yourself by registered post, á la Quiz Show. (Another good movie…!) A copyright notice at the start of your book will do. That notice merely states what is already true: that because you wrote the book, you own the copyright to it.

What you don’t own the copyright to are quotes, poems, music lyrics, images, etc. that someone else created. If you want to use them, you’ll have to track down the copyright owners and get written permission. Otherwise they can sue you for infringing on their copyright.

A non-exclusive agreement means that you can publish with, say, CreateSpace, and then publish that same book all over town, if you want to. The only thing CreateSpace owns is the ISBN, if they’ve given you it for free. That means you can’t re-use the same ISBN for, say, Smashwords. But you can’t do that anyway because each edition is supposed to have its own unique ISBN.

(I know someone will come along and leave a comment telling me why we should all be concerned with copyright above all else. And I just won’t understand it, because why are we worried about? Seriously, what do you think is going to happen? I’m honestly asking; I’m genuinely curious. But in the meantime:)

If you wrote the book and use CreateSpace, Lulu, Smashwords and/or Amazon KDP, you don’t need to worry about copyright.

Defamation/Libel

I’m always suspicious when soon-to-be-self-published writers bring up the issues of defamation, slander, libel, etc. because I fear they’re using self-publishing as revenge on those they feel have slighted them. But if you’ve written non-fiction and have genuine concerns about how real people, companies, etc. might feel about the content of your book, no one in publishing can help you. What you need is a lawyer. You especially need a lawyer if you live in the UK, because the courts there are famously on the side of the person who feels they’ve been defamed.

I would stress that this is only in extreme cases. It goes without saying that even in fiction, real people should not be included in books without their written permission. That’s asking for trouble, and why would do it? Even for Mousetrapped and Backpacked I sent copies to my friends prior to publication, just to make sure they were okay with their real names being used.

But if you do have any concerns, hire a lawyer. Or write something else.

So…

Only a lawyer can help you with concerns about libel, slander, defamation, etc. Save yourself the bother and take the real people out of your book. 

Piracy

Oh, piracy. Why are we all so obsessed with you?

I have a theory. Countless times I’ve met self-publishers who have had material lifted off their blog or website or from online articles, and seen it passed off as someone else’s work, included in an e-book that’s for sale or even published in a magazine. The idea of putting more work into a digital file that can be e-mailed, passed around, etc. is horrifying to them, and I get why they feel like that.

But we’re not talking about publishing things to the web. We’re talking about using online services to self-publish books, which is a totally different thing. And if your work is stolen or republished somewhere else without your permission, that’s wrong, and you can contact whoever is responsible and get them to take it down or, if they won’t, sue the arses off them. (Or in a more effective move these days, shame them publicly online.)

As for your DRM-free e-book getting passed around readers without it being paid for, all I can say is (i) yes, this does happen and (ii) CHANCE WOULD BE A FINE THING. Piracy is the scourge of the world’s best-selling authors. You, the self-publisher, will soon discover that it’s difficult to give your book away for free, let alone get people to pay for it. Convincing them to break the law to chance downloading an illegal copy? Again, CHANCE WOULD BE A FINE THING. Unfortunately no one is scouring torrent sites looking for our book, especially when we’re charging so little for it in the first place.

If you’re convinced it will happen—although it most likely won’t—set up a Google alert for the title of your book. Google will then alert you if it comes across it on a file sharing site, and you can contact them and make them take it down. Or sue the arses off them.

So…

Millions of people illegally downloading your book for free? You wish! Don’t worry about it.

What About My 6-Figure Deal?

If only self-publishers spent as much time worrying about editing as much as they do about phantom book deals…

Here’s a tip for you: the only people who have to worry about traditional book deals are the ones who currently have an offer of a traditional book deal on the table. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

If you must worry about it, think about all the people who’ve dabbled in self-publishing before getting a deal. Some of them had published e-books; some of them had published paperbacks. Some of them had published the actual book they got the deal for; some of them had self-published other books. Some had self-published with Kindle; some had stuck to Smashwords. Some had sold millions of copies; some had only sold a handful before their agent got them a deal. Some of them owned their own ISBNs; some had taken the free one.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? If not, let me spell it out for you. If you take the question will doing THIS blow my chances of getting published later on? and replace THIS with virtually any aspect of self-publishing, chances are there is a writer out there who did that and got a deal already. So don’t worry about it.

The only time a self-publisher might run into problems is if they’ve published with one of these evil vanity presses that claims copyright for the duration of the universe’s existence, and then a few more years after that. But if you publish with CreateSpace, Lulu, Amazon Kindle, iBooks, Pub-It or Smashwords, this won’t happen because—say it with me now—they operate non-exclusive agreements. And you can’t accidentally publish with an evil vanity press. You can only fail to properly read the contract they provided you. If they do something that wasn’t in the contract, sue the arses off them.

Another question self-publishers often ask is: how will self-publishing affect my chances of getting a traditional deal? This is impossible to answer, because it depends on how it goes. If it goes badly (no sales, bad reviews, general unprofessionalism displayed by you online) it will of course work against you. It if goes well, you might improve your chances, yes. But self-publishing success is far from a guarantee of traditional publishing success and because of the amount of work that has to go into it, it ain’t a shortcut either.

So…

As long as you don’t do anything silly, self-publishing won’t close the door on a traditional deal. Do it right and it will help you. But the only people who should spend longer than five minutes worry about this are people with deals on the table.

Amazon Scare Stories

Amazon is a mammoth global capitalist machine, and that can seem very scary when you’re just one, lowly self-publisher entering into an agreement with them. But you have nothing to worry about so long as you play by the rules. For example, set the same price for your e-book everywhere, i.e. charge the same on KDP as on Smashwords. Only publish work that’s your own. If you enroll in KDP Select, make sure that your e-book is ONLY for sale on Amazon Kindle for the 90 days of the enrollment period, because that’s what you’ve agreed to. Do this and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

But…

A ‘but’ which brings me to the reason for writing this post in the first place.

My tip for avoiding self-publishing paranoia is not to believe everything you read, and to go directly to the source for the more reliable information.

The blogosphere is such that the echo of a story can have much greater traction that the story itself. Take for example a comment left on my recent Ask Catherine: The Answers post by Experienced Tutors (not to pick on you but this was a really good example!):

My last post … concerned a lady who had found a publisher after her book on Amazon started to sell well. Amazon then offered refunds on her previous sales, which she has to pay for.

Your first reaction is probably something like: WHAAAAAAAAAAAAT?! Followed by shivers up your spine as you imagine a future in which your Amazon Kindle book, currently selling well, attracts a traditional deal and then you find yourself faced with a bill for refunds for every single self-published book you’ve ever sold.

It sounds TERRIFYING.

And it would be, if it were true.

But let’s examine what actually happened here.

The author and book in question are Jamie McGuire and Beautiful Disaster. After getting a traditional deal, Beautiful Disaster was no longer available as a self-published title, and the traditionally published version was on sale for $7.99, higher than what Jamie had been charging for it. Then one day, Amazon sends out a mass mailing to everyone who bought the self-published Beautiful Disaster, encouraging them to return it and download the newer, trad-published edition instead, with Amazon covering the difference in price (as in, the customer didn’t have to pay extra). Great for the customer, but Jamie believed she was liable for the refunds. She’d have to pay for them. You can read her post about it here.

Still terrifying, except more understandable, at least from an Amazon customer point-of-view. This isn’t the very first I’ve heard of Amazon customers being offered a newer edition of a book they’ve already downloaded, for free, when the newer edition becomes available.

(And let’s never forget, that’s who Amazon exists for. The customer.)

But three days later, the situation was resolved. Amazon admitted it was an error, and presumably stopped doing it. Jamie blogged about here. Now whether or not it really was a mistake or whether they just decided it was after Jamie found out about it, we’ll never know. It’s not clear to me still whether or not these counted as standard refunds and that Jaimie would have been liable for them. And I’m not saying Amazon doesn’t misbehave sometimes—it does.

What I am saying is that this story was still doing the rounds online AFTER it had been resolved. AFTER it was no longer happening. So that means that hundreds if not thousands of self-publishers are now worrying about having to cover refunds when they get a traditional deal, even though (a) this isn’t what happened and (b) STOP WITH THE MYTHICAL PUBLISHING DEALS ALREADY.

So…

If you read about something scary happening to an author online, go to that author’s blog to get the real story before you freak out. 

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Self-publishing is a lot of lot of hard work, with plenty of real concerns to worry about (the number one being, how are you going to sell any books?) without adding ridiculous ones to the mix. Yes, sometimes terrible things happen to authors, but that’s true in all walks of life: sometimes, bad things happen. But for the vast majority of self-publishers, the experience is trouble-free. If you do hear of something that genuinely concerns you, find the source and see what they have to say about it before you go into full melt-down mode.

Have I left anything out? What scares YOU about self-publishing? 

Ask Catherine: The Answers

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A while back I started Ask Catherine, in which I encouraged you to send me your burning self-publishing questions so that I could answer them publicly on my blog, where the answering would benefit all and not just drive me so insane with rage that I write three angry versions of this post before deleting them and writing something less enraged instead. Today we’d going to answer some of the first batch of questions… 

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Q: So I’ve created my new website, my Facebook page,and revamped my existing Twitter account. The problem is that my old blog on Blogspot (which wasn’t that successful) is still searching at the top when you type in “Seeds of Plenty” and “Jennifer Juo” while these other new pages are nowhere to seen. What should I do? Keep the old blog because it’s searching at the top or try to integrate it with my new WordPress website/blog?? If so how to do that without losing the great search capability of the old blog? –– from Jennifer Juo, @jenjuo

First of all, I think people worry too much about Google. Beyond using the name Catherine Ryan Howard, I’ve never really given it a second thought. I think your activity and content and engagement moving forward is far more important. It’s kinda like cellulite. (Why do I always revert to a dieting analogy, eh?) There are treatments for cellulite, from lasery things to creams to special brushes to peels, and they’re all expensive, time-consuming and more often than not, smelly. But if you started eating right and, say, running five days a week, the cellulite would take care of itself—and you’d get fit, slim and healthy. So rather than concentrating on the brain-melting specifics, consider the bigger picture instead. The little things will work themselves out. Your old blog is at the top of search results because it’s been active longer. In time, if you drive traffic to the new one, the new one will move higher and eventually overtake. In the meantime, don’t worry about it.

I actually had this exact same issue back in early 2010 when I switched from my Blogger blog to this one. And I just didn’t worry about it. I did leave the first blog up there though, but the top post and header says I’m over here now and please come and visit. Remember that when you’re building your blog readership, most of the traffic (we hope) is coming from Twitter and other places where people share links. Google will only start sending you visitors later, when this traffic has built pathways it considers valuable. This will happen naturally over time, so long as you keep producing quality content, tweeting, etc.

You can visit my original blog here, if you want a giggle.

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How do you handle page references in an ebook, where the references are to pages in the ebook, not other ebooks? Thanks. –from @dragonflyebooks

Simples. Go to the page you want to reference first, and add a bookmark. (In MS Word, Insert -> Bookmark.) Then go to the page where you want to place that reference. Highlight the text in question, e.g. for more on this see the section on teddybears, and click Insert -> Hyperlink. In the window that appears (above) click Document and then Locate in the Anchor section. In the menu that appears, click on Bookmarks and a list of the Bookmarks you’ve already inserted should be there. Select the one you want and—ta-daa!—you’ve linked the two. Just remember NOT to mention page numbers, as they aren’t any.

NB: I use MS Word for Mac, so it might look a little different if you’re working on a PC, but the steps are the same.

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I’ve just completed a short story collection that is now in the hands of a few publishers. If I don’t get any response I’ve decided to self-publish, but after some research I’m still unsure about how much it all costs (I’ve seen bundles ranging from $800 to $8000 etc.) What is a ballpark figure of how much it will cost me if I want to sell hard-copy books in bookstores? How much did it cost you when you self-published your first book? –from Thomas

First of all, don’t pay for any bundles. There’s so many “one-stop” companies out there offering all-in services you can’t move for them, and I’ve yet to see one that I think is reasonably priced. Also, they tend to have a production line mentality, where there’s no real checks on quality and if they say “our prices includes FREE copies of your book!”, slap them in the face because what the FUDGE are they talking about?! You’re paying them thousands of euro/dollars/pounds. Also, the clue is in the term SELF-publishing. You shouldn’t do everything yourself—you can’t—but you should at least be the project manager, I think.

Second of all, I’m against selling books in bookstores—unless you have a very good reason to, like writing a local interest book or being a local celebrity or something. It’s difficult to get your self-published book into stores, the process can be very time-consuming and bookstores take forever to pay (and most will only offer a sale or return deal, whereby you get back the books that don’t sell). Most importantly of all though, you won’t make much money, and if you want to pretend this isn’t about money, be my guest, but we’re running a business here, and our concern should always be the bottom line. Ultimately though it comes down to work smarter, not harder. Think of the effort that goes into selling a book in a store (ordering stock, meeting the bookseller, convincing them to take it, invoices, payments, etc.) and let’s say you make $2.50 on the sale. I make $2.03 every time someone buys Backpacked in e-book, and right now, I don’t put any effort at all into that. Your time is an expense, too. (But that’s just me—see this post for a different perspective.)

Anyway to answer your question, two paragraphs later, I think $2,500 is a good ballpark as the minimum you can expect to spend, if your goal is e-books and POD paperbacks for sale online. The biggest chunk of this will be editing/copyediting/proofreading, then cover design, then smaller, miscellaneous costs like proof copies. It’s extremely general, because of course it will depend on the length of your book, how much you want to sink into the cover, etc. etc. But I think you should expect to spend that at least.

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I don’t know if you posted this already, but how should a self-published author write a press release to the local media? I live in the US, and I would like to approach the small radio stations, websites and newspapers. Is there a format I should use? Furthermore, my book came out in September. Is it too late to try to get the media’s attention? I did blog tours, social media, free days on KDP Select, interviews on blogs, give book to reviewers. I would like to try another way to draw attention to my book. — from Megan Cashman

Again, I’m not the best person to advise on this because I’ve no interest in selling my self-published books in the “real world”, for the reasons I outlined above. But I did dabble in it, back at the very beginning, and I would say that if you can make yourself attractive enough as an interview subject (do you have a good story? Because “I self-published a book” just isn’t a good enough story anymore…) then local media WILL be interested, and hey, it can’t hurt. Rather than an official press release though, I simply e-mailed the features editors, etc. whose names I could find, and attached a PDF containing all relevant information to my message. Make it easy for them to find out what they need to know. The beauty of dealing with the media is that one things leads to another, so a feature in your local paper might lead a radio show producer thinking you’re interesting, and inviting you on the show. And so on and so on.

The problem is your book came out in September, and the media are generally only interested in things that are new—unless you can give them a good story. The peak of my media coverage for Mousetrapped came almost a year after it came out, but that’s because the focus was not “I self-published a book” but “I self-published a book that publishing rejected and now it’s done really well.” So get brainstorming about your story, and you’re all set.

A word of warning: if your books are only for sale online, media attention will not help. In February 2011 I was featured in The Sunday Times and interviewed on one of the country’s most listened to radio shows (400k listeners) plus a whole host of smaller radio shows, and it led to absolutely NO bump in sales. I personally think this is because there’s no reminder—you don’t walk into a bookstore, see my book and think, “Oh, that’s the girl I heard on the radio the other day. Let me have a look at her book…” If you only sell your books online, you should only promote online, in my opinion/experience.

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So what’s the magic key to get Amazon to put our book on sale again? They have a little sale going with my book right now but I want the deep one they were doing for a while. — from @hibiscusmoon1

Hello my old formatting friend! ;-D

There is nothing you can do to get Amazon to discount your book. They’re the retailer; it’s entirely up to them. I fear though you’re lending too much weight to the effect a discounted price had on your sales. For POD books, the discount is never huge, because Amazon wouldn’t make any money off it. Also a discounted book is only the tiniest of nudges in the final stages of a long process we call convincing someone to buy your book; it just isn’t that important unless it’s, say, 75% off, which would never happen. (I think the biggest I’ve seen is 25%.) The best thing you can do is stop worrying about what you can’t control, and get working on what you can, which is sending people to Amazon with your book in mind in the first place.

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Self-publishing and self-promo-ing means I get to do this. 

Self publishing and self promo-ing just sounds so exhausting. Is it…really worth it? — from Jessica Maybury, @cheilt

A few years ago I was stuck in a job that reduced me to tears every Sunday night and every evening when I got home, and achieving my dream of being a professional writer relied entirely on someone else saying “Yes” to publishing my work, based on how commercial that work would be to the masses. Now I write full-time, have money and am free to come and go as I please, because an opportunity came along to make more niche-market material available to the world’s readers for little financial risk. It sold—and I got related jobs like public speaking, consulting, etc.—only because I tweeted, used Facebook and started a blog, which are all activities I enjoy, can do while watching TV and in sweats.

So I’d say YES.

And so concludes the first installment of Ask Catherine. There were other questions but this post is already 1,600 words long so if you don’t see yours, I either (a) saved it for later or (b) threw it in my Trash folder in a fit of rage because all I DO is answer that question.

(It was probably (a) though.)

If you have a question for next time, ask me it here. If you have a question about the questions/answers above, ask me it in the comments below. 

How To Find Out Everything You Need To Know About Self-Publishing

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Last week I was in Orlando, and I met up with the lovely Duolit girls, Shannon and Toni, in Downtown Disney for lunch and a laugh. I love meeting my self-publishing friends in real life because we can gossip and commiserate and joke in a way we can’t on our blogs, in public tweets or via e-mail. It’s like finally getting a chance to get out of the cubicle and go to the water cooler or coffee machine and whisper to our colleagues, “Oh my god. Did you see that this morning?!” and “Really? That’s exactly what I thought! That was my reaction too…” and “I’m so glad you said that. I thought I was the only one! I was like, am I crazy pills here or what?”

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The aforementioned lovely Duolit girls

One of the things we talked about was The Dreaded E-mails. Every day—sometimes several times a day—e-mails arrive in our inbox from writers far behind us on the long path to self-publishing, asking us for help, advice or the answer to a specific (or sometimes, infuriatingly vague) question.

Reading over that last sentence, it sounds innocent enough. Right? Someone can’t figure out how to set their royalty rate to 70%, they know my royalty rate is already 70% and I have a blog about self-publishing, so they e-mail me. Seems like no big deal.

But imagine that you are so busy with your own self-publishing and writing career (remembering, it’s how you make a living) that it’s a struggle for you to find time to write your next book. (Or sleep even, at the moment.) And that you have already spent hours upon hours of your life writing a 120,000-word book about everything you know about self-publishing, which is available from just $4.99. And that even if you can’t afford to invest a pocket of change in your self-publishing research, there’s this blog, which has several times that word count worth of self-publishing info, all neatly arranged and organized both chronologically and by topic, all available for free, on demand, whenever you need it. And that these e-mails come in all the time, constantly, and range from things that can be answered in a minute to things that couldn’t be answered in a week (e.g. “How do I get people to buy my book? I mean, do people really buy books they just come upon on Amazon? That seems crazy to me…”), and that they come in on top of the usual internet fare of spam, review requests (even though I don’t review books!), link exchange proposals, and messages from readers that you actually want to respond to but struggle to find the time. And that despite trying various deterrents on your Contact page and even, recently, offering an “Ask Catherine” service where questions can be submitted to be answered publicly on this blog, people still e-mail, only now they add that they’d like me to answer the question privately, so I waste all my time just benefitting them.

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Can I please go back here? I promise I’ll bring my laptop… 

Just to give you an idea of how little time I have to spare, generally, take the last two weeks and the next fortnight. Two weeks ago, almost, I flew to London to do a workshop. Then I spent five days in Florida which, while supposed to be a vacation, wasn’t entirely, because I took an hour here and there to answer the most urgent e-mails and keep up with my social media commitments, which includes my own and other things I get paid by other people to do. Then I flew through the night back to Ireland, and spent half a day getting back to my house where I quickly changed out my bags, updated my presentation and went traveling again the next morning, up to Dublin, to do another workshop, and come back that night. We’re up to last Saturday now. The following day I crashed, zombie-like, because I was so tired, and on Monday it was back up to Dublin again to film a spot about self-publishing for TV3. Today is my first full day back at work, I’ve a To-Do list pages long, I’m two weeks behind e-mails, working on three different writing projects, organising something for Mousetrapped’s 3rd (THIRD!) anniversary at the end of the month and preparing for another weekend away at a writer’s festival in a fortnight’s time. I love it, because I enjoy my work and it’s how I make the money I spend on other people’s books, The Killing DVDs, Nespresso capsules, trips to Walt Disney World, etc. but you can see how, in the midst of all this, answering e-mails about how to get your ISBN from CreateSpace when I’ve already written a book about it, posted numerous blog posts about it and the CS website tells you how, can get a little annoying.

I have never in my life e-mailed a stranger to ask them a specific self-publishing question. This is partly because I read the information they have readily provided, on their blog, and then didn’t need to. But it’s also because I think their time is valuable. I recognize that their time is how they make a living. And so I don’t expect them to give it to me for free. I love helping out friends and if you’ve been hanging around their blog for a year or more and you still have a question, by all means, ask it. I owe my blog readers everything. But happen upon my blog and head straight for the Contact page? That’s just laziness, and I can tell. And your message is headed straight for the Trash folder.

On good days, I find all this mildly annoying.

On bad days, I find it downright rude.

So I was talking about this with Shannon and Toni, and I joked that I often think self-published/self-publishing bloggers should join forces to give themselves a Self-Published Bloggers Day Off, where we’d all publish a post with the header “How I Found Out Everything I Know About Self-Publishing” and nothing but an image of the Google search box in the body of it.

Because that’s how I found out everything I know about self-publishing.

I googled it.

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I googled it, I did it, I googled some more, I did it again and, abrakedabra, that’s how I found out everything I know about self-publishing.

But I get that nowadays, there’s a lot more stuff online than there was when I was doing my initial googling. With the ever-growing number of services and options, it can be more difficult now to decide on what’s right for you. And I know that for someone who’s new to this, the sheer amount of information, opinions, etc. out there can be overwhelming. But you can still find out everything you need to know about self-publishing without sending e-mails.

Here’s how.

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Step 1: Read a guide to get an overview

Full disclosure: I have one of these, for sale at $15.95 in paperback and $4.99 in e-book. But there are others, some much cheaper than mine. Mine is Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran is another good one. Read one of these to get an overview of the entire process, from start to finish. That’s the one thing that was missing from my own self-publishing experience: having someone sit me down and tell me, okay, this is what you do first, this is what comes next, this is how long it’ll take, you need to do this here because if you don’t it’ll come back to bite you in the arse later on, etc. etc.

If you don’t want to pay $15 finding out how to self-publish yet you plan to self-publish, I have some choice words for you which don’t belong on this blog.

(But the clean version is give me a [BEEEEEEP] BREAK.)

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Step 2: Read self-publishing blogs

Read self-publishing blogs. Thoroughly. Take your time. Make notes. Learn from other people’s first hand experiences. And keep away from the Contact page because if you do find yourself with a question, you can find the answer using Step 3.

There’s this one, The Creative Penn, Duolit Self-Publishing Team, The Book Designer… the list goes on and on and on. Each one will lead you to another. Take the time to actually read them.

Step 3: Type your questions into Google

If you do find yourself with a question, type the question into the Google search box. Literally. This is what I did. If I was wondering how long it would take my CreateSpace proof copy to arrive, I typed “How long will it take my proof copy to arrive from CreateSpace?” into the search box, and nine times out of ten got my answer in the first page of results.

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Step 4: Just do it

The first time I saw what I CreateSpace paperback looked like was the moment I opened the package they sent to my house with my first proof copy in it. You can only plan ahead so much. Then there comes a point where the best way to learn is by doing. So just do it. When a self-publisher wants to know how to use Goodreads as an author when they haven’t even picked a POD service yet—or even decided if they’re going to do a paperback at all—something’s off. Take it step by step and if you can actually do that step, then make like Nike and just do it! I’ve always said, the first proof copy that you order should not be your last. It’s not a waste of money; it’s an investment in the final product.

Step 5: If you want help, pay for it

If you genuinely need help self-publishing, hire someone to help you. Please don’t expect them to help you for free.

And so ends my personal Self-Publishing Blogger’s Day Out public service announcement. [*waves to Shannon and Toni*]

So what do you think? How did you find out everything you needed to know about self-publishing? Do you love that there’s so much info online, or do you feel overwhelmed by it? Have you read a guide? If not, why not? And has Google helped or hindered your search for information? Tell me in the comments below… 

Selling Books With Debbie Young: A Guest Post

It’s downright easy these days to self-publish. Companies such as Amazon KDP, Smashwords and CreateSpace are cheap and easy to use, and if you can’t figure them out there’s a wealth of helpful information online that’ll steer you in the right direction. Producing a good looking self-published book and doing it professionally has probably never been easier. But one thing is getting increasingly difficult: selling copies of that book. In a world where new books arrive by the second and readers are faced with more choice than ever before, selling even a handful of books is far from easy. Today we have an interview with Debbie Young, author of Sell Your Books!, who I hope will share some of her top tips with us…

Me: First of all, thank you for sending me a copy of Sell Your Books! I was most impressed with it because as you know I love books as physical objects, and SYB! is quite the lovely book indeed — the colours on the cover are so deep, for example. It’s very impressive. Tell us about its publication.

Debbie: Thanks, Catherine, I agree! Even though Sell Your Books! was published back in November, I am still bowled over by how beautiful the printed book is. I keep stroking its velvety cover, and I love the quality of the interior paper and typography too. Even my non-author friends want to pick the book up and handle it. A covetable cover is a great selling point, because once you’ve picked up a book, you are much more likely to buy it (a phenomenon known rather cutely as “puppy-dog selling”).

To be honest, the final cover design looks nothing like my original suggestion! I really wanted a cover that would tell you at a glance what the book was about – the old “does what it says on the tin” trick – but SilverWood’s designer came up with a very different starting point from mine. I provided feedback, and the design evolved till we were both completely happy. The simple, clear message and bright colours are cheerful and engaging, but the blue is calming too – just the right combination to raise the spirits of the nervous author worrying about the task ahead!

The book was commissioned by assisted publishing company SilverWood Books. Knowing I had many years of PR experience behind me, Director Helen Hart asked me for suggestions as to how she could help SilverWood’s self-funding authors promote their own books in an affordable but effective way. I was really impressed with how much she cared about her clients – absolutely the antidote to old-fashioned vanity publishers that took the authors’ money and ran.

It was a bit of a “Physician, heal thyself!” moment when I said “Why not produce a self-help book about book promotion, specifically written with indie authors’ needs in mind?” Helen immediately liked the idea. “How would you like to write it?” came her reply, and so my journey began!

Credit: Dave Betts

Credit: Dave Betts

After eighteen research-filled months, my manuscript was complete, and it was off to SilverWood to be turned into an e-book and paperback. The production standards of the finished product are representative of SilverWood’s service to its paying clients. Every time I visit the SilverWood office, I find myself ooh-ing and aah-ing over their latest titles, which are always beautifully designed and presented. This is my first book, and for me, this experience demonstrated the advantage of using a third party service if you’re not confident or knowledgeable enough to specify the finer details of your book’s production, which I’m not – though I realise that there are plenty of authors, including yourself, Catherine, who are happy to tackle the whole job!

You mention that the best person to sell your book is you, the author, which is absolutely something I believe. Why is this so and what would you say to a writer convinced that a PR company will do a better job while they sit back and relax?

Being an author who has spent a couple of decades in the PR business, I can speak from first hand experience on both fronts.

Any decent PR company will make a very good case for what a fab job they would do for you, and insist that they are keen to represent you. Up to a point, they can act as a facilitator, but only at a very high price. You would need to sell an awful lot of books to cover typical PR charges, which are calcuated per hour of executive time spent, rather than by results achieved (which may be nil). Book promotion takes a lot of time. You could therefore end up paying a lot of money for absolutely no increase in sales. You’d also still be required to put in a lot of time to support the PR people (talk about the tail wagging the dog!), approving press releases, revising copy, doing press interviews (the PR would only arrange them, not actually do them). So the time saving would not be as great as you might assume.

No matter how keen a PR purports to be, nobody is going to be as knowledgeable as you, the author, about your book or your subject matter, or as passionate about the book’s success. Even if you are shy or nervous of speaking to someone about your book, once you get going, you will be more eloquent and engaging than any third party. The media don’t want to interview a PR about a book: they want to speak directly to the author.Monkey and organ-grinder are the words that spring to mind here – because when did you ever hear a book programme on the radio, for example, where the PR, rather than the author, was in the hot seat?

As a writer, you have all the qualities essential in a promoter: you are articulate, literate and intelligent. With a book such as mine pointing you in the right direction, you have all you need to run your own successful promotional campaign. And you won’t have to buy a single banana.

Most of the advice we see given to self-published authors (mine included) focuses on online tools like Twitter and Facebook, yet in SYB! you also cover venturing out into the real world (!) for things like literary festivals, library events and school visits, and getting mainstream media coverage. Why is this useful?

These are relatively easy things to do at a local level, and they will cost you next to nothing, so it seems foolish, misguided and possibly even arrogant, not to bother with them. They are very easy ticks to get, and you’ve got nothing to lose by doing them. They’re also a good source of material to put on your website, so, if you’re smart about it, you’ll get far more mileage out of these events than just a splash in the local paper.

I think engaging with “real” people can also help a new author feel like a “real” author. If you go into a school or a WI meeting, for example, they’ll greet you like a celebrity. Being a big fish in a small pool is a great confidence booster. A modicum of local fame will make you feel less anonymous and worthless when you’re pitching against everyone else in the vast space that is the internet.

Local events are generally very small scale, enabling you to engage one-to-one (or one-to-small-group, anyway) and to gain useful feedback from individuals, including “quotable quotes”. And you never know who you might meet. When I put a notice about my new book in our parish magazine (and newspapers don’t get much smaller than that!) I had neighbours approaching me on the street to order copies for their mother-in-law, their aunt and even their cleaning lady who were all writing books. They’d never have known about my book if I hadn’t shouted out about it locally.

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If your book is good, and you do a lot of local PR, you’ll become well-known locally and be invited further afield. I’ve just been invited to address my first local conference (hurray!) to speak about blogging. I don’t think I’d have been asked without my local PR profile. People who have met you locally will also tell more distant friends about it, and spread your reputation further (think pyramid selling!) Before you know it, quite a big readership will have grown, all from your having planted a few small, parochial seeds.

For a self-published author who hopes to have their books stocked in stores, approaching a bookseller can be an extremely daunting experience. What tips do you have to put them at least a little bit more at ease?

To research this important subject for my book, I spent a lot of time chatting with a local bookseller who had been worn down by inappropriate approaches from eager self-published authors that had no idea of how his business operated.It was a real eye-opener, I can tell you, and I’m very glad to be able to share his advice.

Firstly, put yourself in the shoes of the bookseller. Understand that every inch of his shelf space has to make money. Your challenge is to convince him that your book will make him as much profit as every other book he’s chosen to put on his shelf. Think of it as a balloon debate – prepare to make the financial case for your book.

Secondly, respect the bookseller’s time. He doesn’t have hours to spend chatting to individual authors. The big publishers send in sales reps that pitch a book in ten seconds – and they’ll reel off dozens in the space of a single visit. Your book may be worth a long conversation to you, but the bookseller doesn’t have the luxury of time.

Finally, be as well prepared as if you were defending your book in a court of law. Take along evidence: Exhibit A, local press cuttings that show you’ve fuelled a local demand for the book; Exhibit B, reviews that demonstrate it’s a high quality, respected publication, not just a piece of typo-riddled junk dashed off in a spare weekend. And so on. There’s a whole lot more about how to butter up a bookseller in Chapter 8 of my book!

Give us three quick DOs for selling your books:

  1. Produce the best book you possibly can – writing, design, presentation. Any compromise on quality puts you at an immediate – and avoidable – disadvantage.
  2. Be realistic in your expectations. I don’t mean assume you’ll fail – just don’t expect your Picker’s Guide to the Wild Mushrooms of Hampshire, say, to be a national sensation.
  3. Engage with other authors online to learn best practice, lift your spirits and stop you feeling alone in your quest to sell your books. There’s a generous, supportive network of experienced self-published authors out there (naming no names, to spare others’ embarrassment, but some of them REALLY like coffee!)

And three quick DON’Ts:

  1. Don’t be disheartened if it takes a long time to achieve sales. Too many people give up too soon. This is tragic, because there really is no need. Unlike traditional publishers, who will give a book six months or so to prove its worth, you have as long as you are prepared to try. Books don’t have a sell-by date. E-books never go out of print. That is VERY EXCITING!
  2. Don’t send needy tweets and status updates saying “Buy my book! Like my Facebook page! Please RT! I’ll like yours if you like mine!” It makes you look like an amateur and turns people off.
  3. Don’t give away free copies of your book without very good reason. In particular, don’t post free copies to reviewers on spec, whether online or in print media, unless they have categorically asked you for one and you are sure they will read it. You’ve put your heart and soul into your work – don’t give it away, but SELL YOUR BOOKS!

Find Sell Your Books! on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, and find out more about Silverwood Books here

About Debbie Young:

During a career longer than she cares to admit, Debbie Young has meandered between journalism and PR, writing memorable copy about all kinds of things from ice cream to education, and from cat litter to continence (not so great a leap, then). Now freelance, she published Sell Your Books! in October 2012, in tandem with running a wide-ranging blog of book promotion tips at her Off The Shelf Book Promotions website. She also weaves wonderful WordPress websites for her fellow authors, as well as offering them general PR guidance. In keeping with her recommendations in this interview, she operates on the “teach a man to fish” principle, advising authors how to run their own promotional programme, equipping them with the necessary confidence and skills, rather than doing it for them. When time permits, she reviews self-published books on this website to draw attention to just how good the independent publishing sector can be.

To ensure she occasionally leaves her study for more than just cups of tea and the school run, she also works part-time for the national children’s reading charity, Readathon, helping to raise the next generation of eager readers, to the benefit of authors everywhere! She’s a volunteer fundraiser for JDRF, the leading charity for research into Type 1 diabetes, a serious condition which affects both her husband and her young daughter. 25% of the author’s royalties for “Sell Your Books!” is being donated to the JDRF.

And with her other hand… she writes a personal blog, YoungByName, about anything that takes her fancy, espcially life with her Scottish husband and small daughter in the small Gloucestershire village that has been her home for over 20 years. All of human life is there.

While keeping all of these plates spinning, she’s now working on a collection of short stories and a volume of the best posts from her YoungByName blog, to be published later this year.