Friday, February 24, 2012

Self-Publishing and Kindred Spirits

In my effort to establish an online presence through social networking, I recently joined a self-publishing group. Self-publishing is a subject I could, I think, get into and share (and grow) my limited expertise. I’m not talking about an “independent publisher” per se, but self-publishers who write and publish their own stuff. I’d like the focus to be on fiction--not because I have anything against non-fiction, I read lots of it, but because when it comes to marketing, the paradigms will be different, and in my opinion, once the focus becomes too broad, well it’s too broad. The focus gets lost.

Independent publishing includes self-publishers, but not all independent publishers are self-publishers. Small publishers are also independent in that they’re not part of the big publishing consortiums headquartered in New York. But small publishers still have editors and typesetters and cover designers, etc., and they publish other people’s stuff, just like the traditional publisher. They are traditional publishers.

What I envision is a group of people, each of whom is "responsible" for every aspect of their respective books. People interested in exploring the facets of typography, fonts, interior and cover design; digital books and upgrades to digital book software programs (i.e. Mobipocket and Epub...and KF8); people interested in following the International Digital Publishing Forum and the intricacies of various digital book structures and how the files work to make the book display on the screen. Learned knowledge, shared by all. I’d like us to explore building websites and online stores and using social networking such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin to market books.

What I don’t want this group to discuss is writing. I want it to be about self-publishing--the physical act of publishing--words on paper, words on screen--words heard on CD.

I thought that was the focus of the group I recently joined, but it turns out, its goal is to improve the image of self-published work--the argument being, and the point is valid, that poorly written, edited, and produced work reflects unfavorably on us all.

A worthy cause, but how can it be done without putting in place the same roadblocks to publication already present in the “traditional publishing” world? I don’t believe those roadblocks are there to guarantee good writing (which is subjective).

Theoretically, traditionally published works are better because “experts” guarantee the reader that the writing is “right.” Truth is the “experts” are schooled in what they think the reader wants to buy--editing, interior and exterior design, marketing, and distribution are the perquisites provided with the traditional paradigm--a paradigm set up to publish, distribute, and sell books, not create literary masterpieces--though I’m sure an editor is happy when one crosses her desk. Nor do I believe the paradigm is designed so that only certain authors “make the cut.”

The model was established long ago with the realization there was money to be made from the publishing and marketing of books. It has evolved to where it is today to meet that objective--by necessity there is room for only so many. And yes, the publishers had the power to decide who played the game and who didn’t. The companies belong to them, after all.

Computers and the internet have broadened the playing field, allowing others to play the game--with a different paradigm, which is, admittedly, in flux. Given how fast technology is changing, it might always be in flux.

Personally, I just want to write and publish. I don’t want to regulate or even speculate on regulating content provided by a fellow “self-publisher,” who needs to concentrate on his own writing, not the writing of others.

Thanks for your visit.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Thoughts on Social Networking--The Beginning

I have a website; it's been with me almost as long as my first book. I learned .html and Paint Shop Pro 8, and I created it from scratch. I update it from scratch, too, which probably explains why I don't update it more often than I do. I know people visit it--not in the thousands or even hundreds. "Scores" over several months is probably close. My point is that it's not a viable avenue for communicating with readers.

My blog--this blog--on the other hand is something I am determined to post to weekly. So far it hasn't proven a viable avenue for communicating with anyone, but I'm determined to keep plugging away. A friend, another writer who is weighing the advantages and disadvantages of starting a blog, said he'd read that it takes an average of six months to establish a blog following. I'm going to give it at least that long--I'm into my third month, but I think I have some interesting and even valuable information to pass along to others--probably a limited number of others--but others none the less. But once a week posting to this blog takes a good work day; it's an investment in time, and I want it to be a success.

I understand I have to bring people here; they aren't going to visit if they don't know about this site. That requires reciprocating interest in others' efforts to gain a following. I'm attempting to do that by participating in writing groups on Linkedin and tweeting on Twitter. I also have a business page on Facebook, but haven't done much with it yet.

Speaking of an investment in time, those Linkedin groups are one. Part of the problem is my not knowing how to "manage" the system. Nightly, I end up re-reading the same comments I read the night before. There is a way to advance to recent posts on the Linkedin groups, and that helps some, but I think the real key to success is to narrow the discussions I follow. My interest these days deals more with self-publishing than "writing," but writing groups appear to be more popular. That's not to say I'm not interested in writing. I'm a writer, but I don't want to critique other's work nor am I compelled to ask for another's advice regarding my craft.

The other connection I need to make online is with readers. That is my ultimate goal--to get my books into the hands of readers. Trying to elicit interest in one's books via an online writing forum is like trying to sell books at a "book fair." A writer's primary interest is his own book.

In a nutshell, I haven't mastered "social networking, but I certainly haven't written it off. I'll keep you posted."

Another thing about my blog is its appearance. I like this template with the books on the shelves. Appropriate, yes, but it's not really mine. I'd like the blog to look more like my website...or maybe I could put "my" books on the shelves. Good idea, huh? I need to pull out Blogging for Dummies and figure out how best to go about that.

Thanks for visiting,


Friday, February 10, 2012

From Early Marketing to Online Presence

It’s late, I’m tired, but I really need to get this post done. Several weeks will have passed before you read it. I leave for Israel the end of the week (I have a pregnant daughter there), but I want to maintain my weekly blogging schedule. That means scheduling my post for publication at a future date--something I haven’t done before. Neat.

I’m new to the blogosphere--well, not real, real, new. I think this will be my twelfth post. Despite that, I’m still learning Blogger. Just yesterday I had to pull out my Blogging for Dummies by Susannah Gardner and Shane Birley to recall how to update my template (I wanted to add links to the resources I used in building my first Kindle book.). Blogging is my latest attempt at marketing.

Last week, I broke down and threw away two full boxes of the “advanced reading copy” (ARC) of my first published novel, The Devil’s Bastard. The book bears a copyright of 2007, but it hit the streets in September 2006--and my brain-child, the 100+ copies of a plain, white-covered ARC--was even earlier than that. One of those boxes had never been opened, but I needed space, and that brain-child had proven a non-starter.

That large inventory of The Devil’s Bastard was an idea I had back when I first started self-publishing, a delusional attempt to market my books across the states that once made up the Old South. I was going to send ARCs to every independent bookstore I could google from Virginia to Texas and north to Kentucky and Missouri.

The idea fizzled in my home state of Mississippi. Truth is small independent bookstores don’t have the manpower (or the interest) to review a distant stranger’s self-published book--particularly one with an ugly white cover.

I was a classic “newbie.”

Additionally I did not have the time or logistics to drive and promote all over Dixie, then follow up with those stores on a “routine” basis--assuming they agreed to take a few copies of the “finished” book to begin with. Odds are very good--I know this now, I didn’t then--that if you leave a few books with a store, and those books eventually sell, that store owner isn’t gonna call you up and ask you to send more. He might take more if you ask him, but unless those suckers flew off the shelves--and beginners are unknown so they probably didn’t--you more than likely won’t be receiving a call. The author has to drive the sell, first to the bookstore owner. Once the book is in the store, she has to get the buyer in there, too, to buy the book. The latter is another story and I’m not going there today.

I did purchase plain, white-covered copies of my second book, Wolf Dawson, but wiser for those boxes of white-covered copies of The Devil’s Bastard still sitting on my shelves, I bought only 25 (the minimum from a digital printer), and those I used in the true spirit of an ARC. That was to request prepublication reviews from the standard biggies: Kirkus, USA Today, ForeWord, etc. Never got one, but I’d already learned from my attempts with The Devil’s Bastard that I probably wouldn’t. More practically, I passed out a number of those ARCs to writer/reader buddies to check for typos/usage prior to my offset print run.

With my third book, Epico Bayou, I did a full-color cover with an “ARC flag” across the top. I didn’t request one prepublication review that time around. I’d learned that lesson. But my writer/reader buddies still helped out with the proofing. If I hadn’t done the ARC, I’d have gone straight to offset and that’s too late to proof.

This fall, when I published my most recent novel, River’s Bend, I printed with Lightning Source (LSI) and forwent the ARC altogether. LSI is a digital printer and though the cost per copy for digital printing is more expensive than offset, I can order as few as one book. Once again, I sent copies of my initial short run to my writer/reader buddies for proofing. Errors fixed (most of them anyway, I hope), I uploaded the corrected .pdf to LSI and purchased a larger run--but not too large.

So far, I love dealing with LSI. No huge inventory sitting around and no hefty charge on the credit card to pay off. And by hefty, I mean several thousand dollars. Now I pay as I go.

I know much of this sounds discouraging to prospective self-publishers (and familiar to others), but things are not as bad as they sound. I’ve gotten four five-star post-publication reviews from Midwest Book Review, and I’ve found my niche in Mississippi selling primarily at craft fairs. I do have my books in independent book stores within the state (and as time passes, and my readership grows, the rest of the Old South is still on my list). LSI (owned by Ingram) provides access to the big chains across the nation. Barnes and Noble now carries the print copy of River’s Bend in its online store, whereas before Amazon was my only out-of-state retailer for print books. That new connection with Barnes and Noble would not have happened without LSI. Right now I only have one book at LSI, but one of 2012’s goals is to get all four of them there. Smashwords and Kindle have made my work available to all the major ereaders and gotten them with the major online digital-book stores.

Oh, a little brag if I could: Along with that surprise appearance of the print copy of River's Bend on sale at the Barnes and Noble online store, there was a five-star review. No, I do not know who posted it, but if he/she is reading this, thank you and I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

But whether it be a digital store or the local brick and mortar store downtown, my challenge remains to get the reader to the store to purchase my book. Loading my car, setting up a booth, only to tear it down hours later, through summer heat and winter cold is getting, like me, old. That brings me back to where I started this post, my blog and its purpose. Online marketing is a new initiative for me, and that’s the subject of my next post--next week.

I’m doing it in advance, too.

Thanks for visiting,


Friday, February 3, 2012

Mobi "Build" and EPUB "Zip"

Last spring (2011), I put my then most recently published novel, Epico Bayou, into ePUB format. Elizabeth Castro's EPUB Straight to the Point was my guide. I never got to Chapter 4, "Advanced EPUB Formatting", which had been my real goal. You see, I have a Nook, and on that Nook, I have the free "classics" Barnes and Noble provided with the eReader. I want my ebooks to look like those classics.

At the time, Smashwords, where my books can be purchased in digital format for any eReader, had not come to an agreement with Barnes and Noble regarding distribution of Smashword's EPUB-formatted books, and Barnes and Noble was accepting uploads to its Pubit program, which converts books into EPUB for the Nook. I considered those good reasons to delve into EPUB formatting, with the added benefit of making my books as pretty as Barnes and Nobel's "classics."

Instead, my twenty-two-year-old daughter informed her father and me that she and her Israeli boyfriend were tying the knot, and they were coming home to Mississippi to do it. Needless to say, my goals involving Chapter 4 were set back, and I planned a beautiful wedding. By the time the dust had settled, my books could be purchased for the Nook from the Barnes and Noble Ebook Store, and I had my own web page at the Apple iTunes Store--like a rock star! Yessss. Mike Coker at Smashwords had been busy. See sidebar.

So completing that final chapter of Elizabeth Castro’s EPUB Straight... and making Epico Bayou as pretty as a Barnes and Noble "classic" faded in importance, and I turned my attention to getting River's Bend on the street (in print) and ultimately into the Kindle store as a mobipocket.AZW ebook.

Now, I spent a lot of hours with EPUB Straight to the Point last year, and I learned a lot--knowledge that proved invaluable when I started putting River's Bend into mobi format. From prior experience with Smashwords and its Formatting Guide, I knew how to format books in Word (.doc) for conversion to digital format, and I knew enough .html to convert that properly formatted Word document into .html, then clean it up. Converting Word to .html creates a messy .html document.

EPUB and mobipocket have a lot in common. In fact, from what this laywoman has been able to decipher from her internet research and the International Digital Publishing Forum (see sidebar), the former is an upgrade of the latter--or an upgrade from whatever the latter derived from. The EPUB format is more complicated in that it’s longer, the headers slightly more complex, and the content greater, but certainly manageable. The two biggest problems I had with EPUB were "validating" my EPUB file by downloading and running a java script in my "current" directory and "zipping" the EPUB files comprising my book.

I know what zipping is--compressing files to make them smaller so they take up less "cyberspace" when sent over the internet--or something to that effect. But I have trouble with it. I have trouble with the tools one uses to "zip" or "unzip". I dread dealing with either one, and every time I use one or the other, I am forced to relearn what I never really learned in the first place. I know it shouldn't be that hard. I have WinZip on my new computer. The program looks like it should be able to do everything one needs with one click of the button. Maybe some people can, but I can’t, which brings me back to what prompted this post to begin with: Mobipocket Creator.

I understand enough about the conversion of documents into eReader formats to be able to do it. More often than not I don't understand what the "converters" are doing to these carefully formatted .html, .txt, and graphic files during the conversion process, but I do know that EPUB files must be "zipped" together for the iPad/iPod/S4/Nook or whatever--the eReader--to display them as a book on the screen.

I know that with Mobipocket Creator, you put the files in the publishing window and click "build." That creates the .prc, which you can then upload to various places--in my case, to Amazon where the .prc is converted into mobi’s AZW format for Kindle.

In my mind, that "build" order is equivalent to the "zip" order. But I can't find anything to confirm that. Also, when you hit "build" in the Creator's publishing window, the Creator takes you to the next screen where you have to decide not only your encryption options but also your "compression" options--one of which (the one April Hamilton suggests you choose, as a matter of fact) is “no compression.” That rules out an inherent parallel between “build” and "zipping," right?

Whatever... If there’s anyone out there who knows what happens when you hit "build" and how that equates to what happens when you "zip" in EPUB, please let me know.

What I do know is this: If I find my new .prc book faulty in any way and need to correct it, all I have to do is go to my book's folder in the "My Publications" file on my hard drive, open the egregious file with Notepad++, fix it, close it, re-upload it to the Creator's publishing window, then "build" again. Everything is overwritten, and there’s the corrected .prc. None of that zipping and unzipping I dread so much.

And lastly, I need to download some information on that KF8 format for Kindle Fire--drop caps and embedded fonts. Now that's gonna be pretty!

Thanks for reading.