Wherever You Go, There You Are

Written By: DonnaKeeley - Apr• 30•13

The above is from a cowboy poem and one of my favorite sentiments. I realized how very important it was to feel the location I was writing about when I made a recent trip to the Queen Mary cruise ship in Long Beach, California.

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Part of what I love about writing my books is the research I get to do about the locations. I love history as told through personal anecdotes because it humanizes the experience. When Ken Burns created his award-winning documentary about the Civil War it touched people in a profound way because it was told through the experience of those who were there.

I’ve been working on my next book for some time and, like Shannon, poured through the internet to find specific things I was looking for to include in the book – over and above the recorded paranormal sightings. I even found original deck plans for the ship from 1934. But I kept hitting road blocks as I tried to complete the first draft of the manuscript.

While being a writer and self-publisher sounds exciting, it does not come with paycheck and being the mere mortal that I am I must pay for food (which is a lot because I have two teenaged boys), transportation, housing, utilities, etc. So disposable income to travel to and visit the Queen Mary was always just out of reach. However I lucked out and got some taxes back which I used to do my location visit. My original plan was to have a friend join me (that artist I mentioned in another post, Sue Dawe) and we would stay overnight. Unfortunately the best laid plans of mice and moms were undone and I made a solo day trip to see as much as I could in one day.

In all the years I’ve lived in Southern California (I moved to San Diego in 1986, yeah I’m old), I’d never visited the ship. I’d read and heard a lot about it and it was always on my “to do” list, so having the excuse of doing research was perfect.

I took three tours: Her Glory Days which focused on the Queen as a cruise ship, Her Finest Hour which was about her service as a troop transport ship during WWII, and the Ghost and Legends Tour which was a cheesy, Disney-esque haunted tour with strobes, fog, and water effects. Unfortunately the areas I really wanted to see were covered in the cheesy tour because they are where most of the paranormal activity occurs. If I had the time I could have done a night-time paranormal tour of these areas without the special effects, but time and money (it costs $75) dictated otherwise.

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One very good stroke of luck was that I was the only person on the Glory Days tour, so I got a very personal experience with my guide Keith. I told him what I was taking the tours for and he tailored our walk for what I was interested in. He showed me the cabin (B340) that is no longer rented out at the hotel because there is so much paranormal activity that guests would request another room. He also snuck me into the First Class swimming pool for a few moments before the Ghost and Legends Tour went through. He was awesome.

Being on the ship, much like Shannon is in the story, really got me through my blocks and I’m happily back at the computer trying to finish up the book. Walking in the steps of history really energizes you when writing about a real location and helps you describe the location that much better.

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If you ever visit the Queen Mary and get Keith for your tour guide, tell him I said “hi”.

My Way

Written By: DonnaKeeley - Apr• 03•13

No blog post for March. Lucky you.

Actually, I had the good fortune to sit in on a panel by author Dean Koontz at WonderCon in Anaheim, CA this past weekend. Mr. Koontz was relating some of the funnier things that have happened during his long and distinguished career. One of his stories really hit home as to why self-publishing is becoming an viable option for many writers.

Mr. Koontz was telling us about a publisher he left because of massive interference with his work. He was already a well-known and well-regarded writer at the time, but this publisher decided he needed more help. In addition to a text editor, the publisher assigned Mr. Koontz a story editor because the manuscript was “too long” (600 pages) and there were “too many characters.” The publisher wanted to lop off 300 pages and reduce the number of characters by half.

Mr. Koontz tried to explain that all the characters were integral to the story and trying to remove some of them would be difficult. This advice was ignored and low and behold after about 3 months the story editor realized that all the characters were integral to the story and trying to remove some of them would be difficult. Imagine that.

Another problem the story editor had was the fact that there was a furnace in the garage of a house in the story and one the characters used this as a place to hide. The story editor told Mr. Koontz that the furnace had to be put in the basement because that’s where furnaces belong. Mr. Koontz tried to explain to the story editor that the furnace had to be in the garage because the house was in Southern California where they don’t have basements. The story editor then spent many days reading real estate ads for Southern California to confirm that houses don’t have basements and that furnaces can, in fact, be in the garage. No wonder Mr. Koontz left this publisher.

While I am not saying that editors aren’t important to the publishing process, this was going a bit too far. They were second-guessing the creator of the work and interfering with his creation. Publishers, like movie producers, like to think they know what people want but they don’t. When something becomes popular, like Harry Potter and Twilight, just look at how many similar books there are on the topic. Suddenly publishers are pouring out volumes of vampire romances and magical kid books. JRR Tolkien is responsible for almost every fantasy quest story out there, and there are a ton of those.

This is the imaginary conversation I would have had with a publisher if my book had gone the traditional publishing route:

PUB: So your book is really great but there are few things we need to change.

ME: Oh?

PUB: Yeah. First of all, it’s too short. You need to pump it up to at least 300 pages; more if you can.

ME: Why 300 pages?

PUB: Well people aren’t going to buy a small book. It’s about volume. And speaking of volume, you need to break the story into 3 to 5 different books.

ME: But there isn’t enough material for…

PUB: Sure there is. Anyone can pad a book. Just write 10 pages on what your character ate for breakfast. And make sure you have a cliff-hanger at the end of each book so we can count on people buying the next one.

ME: Why can’t I just write a complete book in one volume?

PUB: Are you nuts? How can we sell books if there’s only one volume for each story?

And then it goes downhill from there.

It really comes down to what our individual goals are. A publisher’s goal is to sell books. The more books they sell the more money they make (technically, although many, many books end up being sold to bargain outlets and the publisher takes the loss as a tax write-off). The writer’s goal is to craft a story they are proud of. Sometimes the goals are the same, but many times they are not.

The current publishing business model is built like the old music industry model with agents, producers, and lots of other people in between the creator and their audience. Digital downloading changed the music business drastically in the 1990s, and it is my firm belief that self-publishing will do the same to the book industry.

Although like most things on the internet, you’ll sift through a lot of coal before you find a diamond but those diamonds will shine brightly so that writer and reader can share the wealth. Just keep digging.

digging

Cover Girl

Written By: DonnaKeeley - Feb• 18•13

I know I wrote briefly about this in a previous post, but it bears repeating.

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A big reason I publish for myself is because I can control the cover images. Front and back. The image above is the back of my book where I really, really wanted a cat to sit on the bar code box. Not just sit over it, but actually sit ON it. Big publishers don’t go for these little details because it costs them more money to produce the book.

Let’s face it, most book covers today don’t really give the reader a clue about the contents. Of course this isn’t exactly new, just look at some of these science fiction books from the 60s and 70s (courtesy of the Cheezeburger site’s Set Phasers to LOL – WTF Sci-Fi Book Covers):

WTF Sci-fi Book Covers: I Sing the Body Electric

WTF Sci-Fi Book Covers: The English Assassin   WTF Sc-Fi Book Covers: Six Stories by Heinlein

In my opinion, the covers do nothing to help sell these books, and I’ve read two of them. I know for a fact there is no weird centaur in Bradbury’s classic collection of stories.

Now let’s look at some of the current offerings on Barnes & Noble’s web site:

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Granted, Dan Brown is a terrific writer and people don’t need a fancy cover to know it’s a good book. But unknown authors? Authors who aren’t on the New York Time’s Bestseller list? Wouldn’t a good cover help sell the book?

You’d think that would be the case, and you would be wrong. A very close friend of mine is a fantasy artist who is best-known for her artwork with unicorns and pegasi (pegasuses?). She is often approached by fantasy writers to design covers for their books; but she has never, ever done a book cover. Why? Because she knows that publishing houses want to use their own art department and not someone from outside the company. This is sad for everyone because she does beautiful work.

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(Please visit her site at suedaweart.com)

The design of my cover was very important to me. I wanted to feature a picture of the place I was writing about and then get Styx in there, as he’s kind of the “mascot” for this literary adventure. In fact, I’m sure just having the cat on the cover helps sell the book; he’s a central character after all. Having a set cover pattern for the series helps sell my books because all the covers are purposely similar, as shown by the cover for the first book and a mock-up cover for the second (coming out the summer, I hope).

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Now, not every writer has experience with graphic design but at least they should have a say on how their cover looks. The nice part about self-publishing is that there are companies that offer design services, some as part of the publishing/printing business and others as stand-alone businesses. Or maybe you can have an artist friend design the cover (but be sure to pay them for their time, it’s important to be professional).

Hopefully as self-publishing grows we can look forward to cover art that really says something about the story, like these impressive covers for the Tarzan novels in the 1970s (I have the entire series of course):

 

  

 

Vindication

Written By: DonnaKeeley - Jan• 10•13

Part of my marketing strategy is requesting reviews of my book by bloggers. I always offer an actual book even though it costs me money; it shows I’m serious about getting people to review my book. I understand these bloggers are offering a service, so I try not to be demanding or arrogant. Because of the ease of self-publishing, ANYONE can publish a book so these free reviewers are obviously inundated with review requests.

My ratio so far is about one acceptance for every 8-10 requests. I never send anything unless the reviewer specifically agrees to read the book for review. That’s just being polite and considerate, which all authors should be towards people who are doing them a favor. And reviewing a book for free is a favor, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative. Many high-profile review sites want payment for review, which is hard when you don’t have the financial capital that a large publisher has.

Recently, a respected mystery review blogger agreed to accept my book. In her corresponding review, she noted that she doesn’t often do this for self-published works.

I’m not sure if any remember the review policy I use to have posted, but if you look, you won’t find it. The main reason is that I was getting too many books to review and wasn’t able to keep up. Another was that not all the authors I reviewed were easy to deal with. Some left such a bad impression that for the longest time I refused to review any book that wasn’t published by one of the Big 6 or by an author or small publisher I already had a working relationship with.

The “not easy to deal with” attitude I’ve seen in action. I attend a lot of small science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction conventions in San Diego and I’ve seen/heard/talked with these authors. They have what I call an “entitlement” attitude; they feel they are entitled to awe and reverence because they have published an e-book so that makes them a legitimate author. When I ask about a marketing plan, ownership of ISBN numbers, or other business questions about publishing, I just get a blank stare; they just expect the adulation and wealth to pour in because they have written and uploaded a book.

The best part of the recent review was understanding my reason for self-publishing a small (under 100 pages, although that has more to do with text size and getting the most text on a printed page) book.

…unless it can be put in an anthology, many publishers shy away from small books, hoping to keep in the black by selling voluminous tomes or marketable series that have movie tie-in potential. (The last sentence having a lot of my opinion in it as much as the author’s).

Exactly. A good book is a story that you enjoy, regardless of the page count. I read a lot of Young Adult fiction because the stories are complete (most of the time) and I can finish them in a couple of nights.

My sincere thanks to J. C. Montgomery of Biblio Blogazine for the review and understanding why I took the hard road with self-publishing.

Catching Up

Written By: DonnaKeeley - Dec• 28•12

I read a newspaper article the other day about how e-books aren’t “exploding” as predicted a couple of years ago. I think I can see why…as in “Why would I pay $12.99 for an e-book when the printed copy is the same price?”

If you read my earlier post about the settlement on e-book price fixing (Ch…Ch..Ch…Changes in E-Book Purchasing) you’ll understand my complaint that publishers want to charge the same price for an e-book as a printed book. While many thought that Amazon would lead the way in lower-priced e-books, it has yet to happen. Digital consumers understand that it costs much less to produce an e-book than a printed book, and they expect the price to reflect that.

That was the exact mindset I used when pricing my e-books. While they don’t exactly generate 100% profit due to the cost of web space and advertising/marketing, at least there is a better return even at half the cost of the printed version of the book. And while Amazon offers many e-books for free, I’m still too proud of my work to offer it for free. Lots of books out there are poorly-written fan fiction and yet people are paying for the privilege of reading them (50 Shades of Gray, the Twilight series, and most of the Star Wars books fall into this category in my opinion).

Also the fact that a lot of people don’t read as a hobby is probably responsible for a downward buying trend. I know I can’t get either of my boys interested in reading; an irony since their mother is a writer. The type of book also dictates pricing. Non-fiction is always a better seller than fiction since non-fiction books are quickly produced and feature the latest pop-culture/political/tabloid fascination at the moment. Just look at the sales of No Easy Day regardless of the author’s possible criminal act of revealing what should have been classified information. He struck a nerve and people responded by buying. And they probably paid the same price for the e-book as the printed book.

Maybe with this tabloid mentality there never will be lower e-book prices. If readers are willing to pay, then sellers are certainly going to go with what the market will bear.  Time, and readership, will tell.

Location, Location, Location

Written By: DonnaKeeley - Nov• 30•12

I grew up in a small town and one of my favorite places was our local book shop. I loved browsing through the stacks and spent a good chunk of my teens years (and allowance)  in the science fiction/fantasy section. After I left for college my mother told me the owner was retiring and the shop was closing. It made me very sad.

While bookstores have mostly been replaced with Amazon.com online and Barnes&Noble in the malls and shopping centers of larger cities, there are still independent book stores to be found. One of them is here in San Diego: Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. They have survived the disappearance of most book store corporations – B.Dalton, Walden Books, Borders – and they even thrive. Just this year they opened a second store in Redondo Beach, CA. They specialize in mystery and science fiction/fantasy.

One of the things they do very well is help promote local events and local authors.Being a science fiction/fantasy fan I attend (and often served as a panelist) local conventions. Mysterious Galaxy always has a table in the dealer’s room and they stock it with books by the Author Guest of Honor and other authors attending the convention. It’s a great marketing strategy.

On December 1st the store is having a Holiday Party with local authors invited to promote and sign their books. I’m happy to say that I have been invited and look forward to the marketing opportunity. Marketing, as in letting people know my book is “out there”, is a large part of trying to make my self-publishing profitable. While I do focus on promoting to people interested in mystery books I also have a second way to market my books – by location.

Since each book takes place in a real location it is easy to add this to my marketing plan. I hope to engage San Diego readers by writing about a legendary home in the area and recalling pieces of the era when the Whaley’s first occupied the home. I’m currently trying to sell some books to the gift shop next to the Whaley House. The second book is taking place on the Queen Mary cruise ship in Long Beach, California; again, I will offer the book to the company that runs the gift shop.

Having two ways to market my books is helpful in getting a larger audience to read them. While there is a glut of mystery books on the market, the inclusion of location-specific historical facts in my books makes them slightly different from other mystery books. A difference that I hope my readers appreciate.

Biblio-Stigma: The Stigma of Self-Publishing

Written By: DonnaKeeley - Nov• 11•12

To help with my marketing, I’ve been contacting book review blogs to see if they would be interested in reviewing my book. Now I understand that many of these bloggers get overwhelmed with requests so I try not to take it personally when they decline, if they even respond to my request. However, I had an interesting e-mail conversation with the “ombudsman” or gate-keeper of one blog.

When I stated my book was self-published, he said they would only review small press and university press. I countered that technically I was a small press – one person is about as small as you can go. His response was the it was against their ethics to review self-published books. I was speechless; literally, I couldn’t respond to that statement it was so outrageous.

My mind was reeling with the implication of that statement. Did he mean that self-publishing was unethical? That supporting self-published books was unethical? If it is unethical for his blog to acknowledge self-published books do they also ignore YouTube (self-created videos), iTunes (songs marketed from artist to consumer), and independent films (the ultimate do-it-yourself medium)? All of these have by-passed the middle-man to get a creation directly to their audience. Why is it different for book publishing?

Granted, I will be the first to admit that a lot of self-published books are crap. So are a lot of YouTube videos. So are a lot of “legitimately” published books.  As I’ve stated many times, the book 50 Shades of Grey was self-published until it was “discovered” by readers who began requesting it until a big publisher (Random House) noticed. What is the difference?

If your book is so awesome, why didn’t you go through the regular publishing process? you may ask.

Good question. Here are my answers:

  • It is nearly impossible to get published as an unknown author, especially in fiction. You either have to be established or be famous for something else (actor, singer, politician).
  • The return on your creation is very low. The majority of the profit goes to pay the publisher who in turn pays for editors, designers, marketers, etc. The traditional publishing process takes in great creative effort and spits out mass-market paperbacks. This is not necessarily bad, but the decision to publish a manuscript comes down to how much money it will generate not if it was a good read.
  • And lastly, the most important reason I went with self-publishing was this:

    I wanted a black cat to sit on the barcode box on the back cover of the book. I thought it would be awesome and it’s what I wanted to help promote Styx as the icon of the series. It was important to me. But I found out that publishing houses don’t really want cover designs created outside of the company, they want their people to do it.

This explains why many book covers give you absolutely no clue what the book is about. Go look at some of the crazy covers done for science-fiction books in the 1960s/1970s; the Cheezburger site Set Phasers to LOL has some great examples. Also, a good friend of mine who is an artist told me that while many authors want her to create a cover for their books the publishing houses have the last word.

So is it worth all the rejection from book review bloggers just to have a cat on the barcode box? It is to me, and that makes it important. I don’t want to give my readers just words, I want to give them distinct images so that when they see one of my books they know it is mine. I’ve made my mark and it is unique to me and my work. That is reason enough to make my own way through the jungles of self-publishing.

Ch…Ch…Ch…Changes In eBook Purchasing

Written By: DonnaKeeley - Oct• 25•12

A lot of people read their books electronically these days. A lot.

In 2011 Amazon.com reported that they had sold more e-books than physical books. So obviously a good marketing campaign should include e-books alongside the physical books, for old people like me. (Although, I do own a Nook because I’m gadget-crazy.) But the one thing that really, really, really bothers me is that the e-books are the same price as the physical books. Why is that?

E-books cost next-to-nothing to produce, other than space on the web. They are almost pure profit for the publisher. So why charge $8.99 for George R. R. Martin’s latest tome as an e-book when you can buy it at your local bookstore in paperback for the same price? Yes, space can be a factor for many of us bibliophiles but can the publisher really and truly justify charging the same price?

In my pricing plan I deliberately cut the price in half for e-books, and both physical and e-books are less when bought from my own store. It just makes sense because on Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble I only get a fraction of the price but on my own store I get most of the price – minus the cost of the online store and merchant fees for credit cards. But that’s the cost of doing business and making it easy for the customer to purchase.

So why hasn’t anyone complained about this price manipulation?

Actually, they have. A lawsuit has been settled between the Attorney Generals of 49 states and three major book publishers for basically “price fixing” e-books. Here’s the explanation from the web site for the lawsuit:

The antitrust lawsuit was filed by Attorneys General of 49 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories and commonwealths, and claims there was a conspiracy involving three of the nation’s top publishers and others to fix and raise retail prices of E-books.

These three Publishers (“Settling Publishers”) have agreed to settle the lawsuit.  The Settling Publishers deny they have done anything wrong but have agreed to settle to avoid the cost and risk of trial.  The case is in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  It is called Texas et al. v. Hachette Book Group et al., Case No.12-cv-6625.  (“Et alia” is a Latin phrase that means “and others.”) This Court has preliminarily approved the proposed Settlements and will consider whether to grant final approval on February 8, 2013.

And this is only the first of the lawsuits filed.

A separate case continues against two additional Publishers (“Non-Settling Publishers”) and Apple, Inc. This separate case is called Texas et al. v. Penguin Group, (USA) Inc. et al., Case No. 12-cv-03394, and is scheduled to go to trial in 2013, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

So what does this mean to you, the reader? Well if you bought any qualifying e-books between April 1, 2010 through May 21, 2012 you should be receiving a notification. If you haven’t already received notice from Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble, check out the web site for the lawsuit to get information. This type of practice was a collusion between publishers on how to better separate you from your money.

As a reader I am outraged.

As a writer and self-publisher, I would never do that to you – my audience. Although in this case it is the publishers and not the writers who made these decisions.

One of the items in the settlement agreement stands out to me:

  • Train appropriate people in their companies about antitrust laws and regulations;

We have people running a very large business and no one in the company is familiar with antitrust laws and regulations. I don’t know about you, but that scares me. It makes me wonder how many other large companies that take our money are doing things that are illegal.

Fortunately for you, as a self-publisher I cannot do this type of trick. Every self-publisher sets their price, and if they do their research it will be similar to other prices. Before I picked a price for my physical book, I took a stroll through my local Barnes & Noble to see what the pricing was for other trade paperbacks (larger softcover format that is 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches. They ranged from $12.99 to 20.99. For the e-book, as stated above, I went with half the cost of the physical book.

Pricing has nothing to do with quality. There are books I’ve paid a lot of money for and hated, and used paperbacks I’ve bought for a buck and loved. That decision is entirely up to you.

Why Self-Publish?

Written By: DonnaKeeley - Oct• 19•12

See this picture? This is a book liquidation store.

I never, ever want to see my book in such a place.

Liquidation companies buy out warehouses of leftover, non-selling books for pennies on the dollar and then open very bare-bones stores to sell the inventory. I actually bought the first two Harry Potter books in softcover at one of these stores; it was before the first movie came out and the frenzy hadn’t started. So even JK Rowling wasn’t spared at the beginning of her writing career.

And while the bargain-hunter in me admits to loving these stores, I want to keep my own creation from falling into this trap. The trap where the publishing house prints thousands of copies of a book – something that someone worked very hard on – only to have them not sell very well and then shuck the whole print job over to the liquidator. So a work that a writer spent years agonizing over ends up in the $1 bargain bin.

Not gonna happen with my works.

That is where self-publishing and Print on Demand (PoD) come in. By dictating how many copies I personally want of my book I can control the inventory flow. Also, with the group I self-publish through, I can set up a service that prints my book whenever someone orders it. Check for yourself on my Amazon.com page; there is a list of places you can order my book. And they all do the same thing – put in a request for a PoD copy from my printer who supplies them with a physical book to send to the person who ordered it. Neat, huh?

Now for the down side.

Because I don’t have thousands of copies of my book, the price is slightly higher because the print run is smaller. Like buying in bulk; you get a lower cost per piece the bigger your order. So the cost of my book is $12.99 ($10.99 if you buy it directly from my web site), which is more expensive that similar books from a major publishing house. The difference is, I won’t sell my stock to a liquidator and take the loss as a tax write-off. I will hold onto my books even if it takes 10 years to sell them.

This is my work. I value it. I put a lot of time and effort into it and I don’t think it deserves to be in the $1 sale stack.

In the Beginning…

Written By: Styx666 - Oct• 16•12

…there was the blank page. And the Author wrote words upon it and saw that they were good.

That was the easy part.

Once the words were edited, revised, edited again, sent to friends and family for draft review, edited again, proofed and formatted they were sent to the Printer to be bound in a book with a cover design that actually matched what was in the text.

That was the second easy part.

Now the Author could survey all that she had created – 3 large boxes of 300 printed books that needed to be spread among the masses so that they could enjoy the words of the Author.

That is the hard part. And the purpose of this blog.

Join me on this quest as I navigate the waters of self-publishing. I firmly believe publishing is changing in the digital age, much like the music industry did back in the 1990s. Although just because anyone can publish a book doesn’t necessarily mean they should. You can bypass the Agent and Publishing House but that doesn’t mean you can bypass the process that makes a published book look and feel professional.

The best advice I ever received was to think of this as a business; and  it is. It’s the business of being a publisher. Yes you want to write the books but if you are going to self-publish then you have to treat the business part with as much dedication as the creative part. That includes wearing many, many hats like Marketing Director, Public Relations Manager, Chief Financial Officer, and President of the company.

Fortunately there are many sites that offer help for these tasks, but their quality ranges from exceptional to scam-job. I started with a site that seemed to do most of the work for me, other than writing the book, and offered attractive packages for printing and marketing. Then, after reading some posts on the site’s forum, I found out the disadvantages of the nice, neat packages that may end up costing the creator in the long run. So, being the rugged individualist I am, I decided to do this the hard way by exercising complete control over my creation. Yes it’s more work, but the rewards are that I keep what I create.

So grab your fedora hat and come with me as I take you through Adventures in Self-Publishing. 

[insert Indian Jones theme music here]