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. 

23 thoughts on “Ask Catherine: The Answers

  1. andy1wishart says:

    All good advice Catherine and, as always, very entertaining. Sometimes you waffle on a bit about dieting, coffee drinking etc. but that is all part of the entertainment. Good stuff.

  2. Shah Wharton says:

    Thanks Catherine… as always, immensely helpful and I’m loving sharing the doubts and insecurities with everyone who’s asking these questions. Reminds me I’m not alone in my novice status 😀 X

  3. Experienced Tutors says:

    My last post was one of someone elses I reblogged. It 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.

    What are your thoughts on that?

  4. shereenielsen says:

    Great insight into what I have been considering with my essay collection with photographs, and another photography book I’ve completed. I had a publisher approach me that I freelance for to offer me a ‘deal’ that would cost me $5,000 to start; when I sent back my questions via email, he never responded. I’m still freelancing for him but we haven’t spoke of our meeting.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I’m just really concerned that in the last year or so especially, every cowboy on the street is starting up his own “one-stop” self-publishing service, even though the prices are astronomical and he has no qualifications, experience, etc. I really think that hiring someone else to self-publish for you is kind of like hiring someone else to give your friend a hug—it won’t work as well and it’s a needless expense. ;-D

  5. sophiagreene says:

    love this post, so informative! what do you think would be a good ballpark figure if it was ONLY e-books?

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Going on ballparks, that would only bring it down to around $2,000, because the only difference is (a) you’re paying for just a front cover, not the full POD paperback and (b) you don’t need to order proof copies. You still have the major expenses, which is editing, etc. and a cover design. Honestly it doesn’t add that much money to the process to do a POD paperback; it’s time that’ll add, mostly. Again though, this figures are just approximations.

      • sophiagreene says:

        ok thanks 🙂 I had this idea in my head that print books would be super pricey to do also.

        • marilynslagel says:

          Sophia, I was very naive with my first book and paid a FORTUNE – a bit smarter now, thanks to people like Catherine, I’ll pay for the big things next time and leave the rest behind. Editing and fabulous cover are worth every penny.

  6. ahenig says:

    As always, great advice. Although, every question you answered could have easily been found in your 2nd edition book. Does it have to do with laziness or, simply, being cheap?

  7. Crissi Langwell says:

    You almost make it sound too easy, lol! I know that it isn’t, though. I just published my first book, A Symphony of Cicadas, in March. I thought it would be easy to get my book out there since I actually write for a newspaper. Let me be the one to tell you, it hasn’t helped at all. I have been stressing out about what I need to be doing to improve sales, particularly what local arenas I need to be exploring. But I also have to work my full time job and raise my family. Where is the time??? It’s actually a relief to read what you wrote here – that enough online promotion can help, that local bookstores aren’t necessarily the answer, and that it’s just going to take time for things to grow. My ego would still like to see my book on the local bookstore shelves, but I can at least stress less about it. At any rate, I’ll probably read this post at least 5 more times to absorb what I need to do, because, you know, that will totally help. LOL! But seriously, I totally appreciate this advice. Thanks!

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