Friday, March 30, 2012

The Ever-Evolving Publishing Paradigm

The major misconception I had when I began self-publishing six years ago was the delusion I would operate my tiny publishing house using the same pattern that had evolved for the big publishing houses. Mine would only be smaller. Much smaller. With some modifications. Much smaller, modified, and regional. The path of Loblolly Writer’s House’s books would be manuscript → editor → print/book construction [Hardcopy only–ebooks were a glint in somebody else’s eye, not mine–a book was print on paper.] → Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) → reviewers → warehousing/distribution → fame and fortune.

Okay, not the “fame and fortune” part. Seven years of rejection had left me with no illusions, but I did figure on the other steps. Creating a book was a given. After all, there was no “published author” without one, and despite the fact I sporadically submitted my ARCs to the big five reviewers (Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, USA Today, Foreword, and Library Journal), knowing the odds were great against getting a review, I did count on some sort of recognition here and there from local newspapers and magazines. I even got a couple–in small county papers.

I have to laugh when I read a positive and upbeat “how-to” piece created by a book promoter, speaking in generalities and telling me magazines and newspapers are always looking for locals to highlight in their periodicals. Maybe, but my experience tells me those local editors have more takers than they have time and space. As it turns out, the features editor at my local newspaper doesn’t (and didn’t then) believe in reviewing or even highlighting self-published work, and the big reviewers still want books with broad distribution. Today, “features” sections across the nation are disappearing along with their newspapers, and with my fourth book, I didn’t even bother to produce an ARC. No, I’m not giving up; I’m taking a different route.

More on this later. Next week I want to discuss distribution...and how its significance has changed for Loblolly Writer’s House.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, March 23, 2012

Old Goals and What the Digital World has Done to Them

Recently I updated my website. It’s something I do periodically, but not as often as I should. It’s a time-consuming task, even though, as a rule, there are just a handful of pages that need a re-write.

I built the thing in 2006, the same year I self-published my first book. I took an online “Creating Web Pages” course from Ed2Go via my local community college. Have I told y’all I love Ed2Go? I next took a course on Paint Shop Pro 8. I still use it for modifying pictures, making my web graphics and creating my covers. Once I’ve sorta mastered something, I cling to it. But I digress.

In the course of this most recent upgrade, and my growing involvement with the digital world, I realized both the marketing plan and business plan I created six--maybe even seven--years ago, are woefully out of date. And the goals and realities I set forth years ago no longer apply--and it dawned on me not only how much had changed in the challenge I set for myself seven years ago when I started this self-publishing venture, but how much my lot had improved relatively recently.

I knew back in 2005 that if I went it alone, I would not have the infrastructure set up that a traditionally published author has. She will, until her name becomes a household word, have to do her own marketing, but in the interim she’ll still have someone to edit her work free of charge, someone competent to typeset her words, someone talented and creative to produce an eye-catching cover. The LCCNs and ISBNs and copyright concerns are all taken care of...

I knew I had taken on a big job. And I knew I was going to have to put out some money, but I also knew there were some things I could learn to do myself. So I learned Quark and I typeset my books. I bought a high-resolution camera, activated my old faithful Paint Shop Pro 8, then combined it with Quark and produce my own covers. I have a good and capable friend who edits my books for grammar and usage (and, yes, for continuity), not for free, I want to keep her, but certainly less than what I’d have to pay a professional editor.

And I paid the printer. Even if I could afford one, which I cannot, I have
no place to put an offset printing press. Have y’all ever seen one of those things? They take up an entire warehouse.

For my first three books, I have paid the off-set printer a substantial sum. I’m years from getting out of debt and the books do not sell as fast as the monthly interest payments roll around on the loan.

All that changed with book four and Lightning Source and ebooks. The digital world, whether for a print on demand (POD) paper book or bits and bytes forming words in an e-reader, has changed my beleaguered future. Yes, a digitally printed book costs more per copy than offset, but I don’t have to print 2,000 of them anymore. I can pay as I go and not blow five cases worth of books on a year’s worth of interest payments. And I do want to continue to produce printed books...but I’ve gone ebook, too.

Over the next few weeks, I want to highlight how these changes are affecting Loblolly Writer’s House, and in some cases, compare my goals of six years ago with my goals today.

And I haven’t even broached distribution yet, but I will.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Book Two in Mobipocket Didn’t Prove to be the Charm, But It Is Closer

     As promised, I’m updating y’all on what transpired when I created my second mobipocket book using the templates I created back in December 2011/January 2012.
    I’m pleased to announce that I uploaded Epico Bayou to Amazon’s Kindle Store this week. I’d given myself a week to get it done, but it took me eight days from beginning to actually building the .prc, but most of that time was spent formatting the book in .html.
     The good news is that the templates for my .toc.ncx file (navigational table of contents) and the .opf  file (open package ebook format) that I created with River’s Bend worked beautifully. All I had to do was copy them into a new document, change the name of the .html file embedded in them, and make any other necessary changes. For example: River’s Bend had two more chapters than Epico Bayou, so I removed a couple of the “nav points” from Epico Bayou’s toc.ncx file.
     The same was true for the embedded Table of Contents (TOC). I copied the entire .html formatted beginning of River’s Bend down to Chapter One, then pasted it into a new document. Then I added the text of Epico Bayou. That I got by taking my Smashwords Word.doc and converting it to a filtered Word (.html) document. I started formatting from there. That aforementioned beginning to all my books (and I imagine most of you out there are like me) is generic and includes the .html document head, style sheet, title and copyright pages, and Table of Contents. Again, it was simply a matter of changing the references from River’s Bend to Epico Bayou.
     Now that only works if the “copier/pasterer” [yeah, I know it’s not a good word, but you get my gist. I’m talking about me] and her subsequent modifications do not corrupt the .html. The .html code does not take kindly to errors--and oh, those errors can be so hard to find in all that code. But in this particular case, it wasn’t the code that got me.
     When I first built, or tried to build, Epico Bayou, Mobipocket Creator told me, in its extremely aggravating, abbreviated manner, that the cover link was missing and the TOC couldn’t be built. Darn it! The toc.ncx was fine and there was a link to the cover in it. And as for the TOC embedded in the book? Well, I not only could “see” it--I could click on it and it worked. There was no link to the cover, but there never had been, and Rivers Bend didn’t have one in it’s embedded TOC. Things like that are easy to see. I could not figure out what The Creator’s problem was. I kept tweaking, looking, then clicking the build button over and over with the same result. Finally, I pulled up the original .html for River’s Bend [not for the first time, but I could not see any difference in the two files], did a search on “cover,” and sure enough, right after the closing of the style sheet and the </head> there was a link to the embedded cover (which shows up in the toc.ncx, but not the embedded TOC at the front of the book). That link was missing in Epico Bayou. I re-added my cover link, which I assume I’d inadvertently deleted; Mobipocket Creator dutifully “built” my book; then I uploaded it to the Kindle Store. There was a glitch there, too, but that was on Amazon’s end, thank goodness, and they fixed it.
     For more information on how I created my mobi books for the Kindle Store, go back and look at my blog posts between 9 December 2011 and 27 January 2012. My point was to create the mobi files without the help of the Mobipocket Creator (The Creator’s files appear messy and confusing to me). I can now take the files I create, place them in the “build” window, then let The Creator build the .prc, which I upload to Amazon’s DTP.
     My goal is to create my mobi book without a hitch. The third time’s the charm, right? That would be Wolf Dawson.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Decision not to Traditionally Publish

I’m a member of a number of on-line groups, several of which discuss self-publishing to exhaustion. Inevitably, such discussion leads to a comparison of self-publishing with traditional publishing and the advantages of one over the other. I am often amazed at the number of self-published authors who “decide” to self-publish vice taking the traditional route.

Before I go any further, I need to point out that I am a fiction writer, and it is widely accepted that an author has more difficulty marketing and selling a self-published work of fiction than non-fiction (self-published how-to/self-help books sell especially well). This post applies to works of fiction.

I tried to break into traditional publishing for seven years. I am now a true self-publisher, meaning, I own my books’ ISBNs.

As a self-publisher, I am responsible for each phase of the publishing process. This paradigm differs from a “so-dubbed” vanity press, where, for a price, the publisher-for-hire handles all facets of the process, leaving the author to “proof and pay.” Those publishers provide the ISBNs. I have nothing against vanity publishers, nor traditional publishers for that matter. I only draw the distinction for the purpose of my post.

I am responsible for editing/copyediting, typesetting, cover design, printing, marketing, and distribution of my books. Printing/book manufacturing and copyediting I farm out, but the other tasks--typesetting, cover design, and marketing/distribution I do myself. And despite the fact that I pay an editor to edit my book, I do a lot of self-editing—reading and re-reading the manuscript over and over, correcting, changing, and tweaking until I’m sick of it—an evolution that in time makes me immune to my own errors. Those I repeatedly read through. This is why a self-published author, in my opinion, needs another competent set of eyes to look at her baby.

In fact, the main problem that I see (and this is just my opinion) with self-published fiction is that all too often we independents put our books in print before they’re ready. But I digress.

For my first three books, I handled distribution myself. That’s a euphemism meaning there was no distribution. I chose Lightning Source (LSI), a print-on-demand printer, owned by Ingram, as the printer for my fourth book. Ingram will now serve as a primary distributor for that book nationwide. That does not mean it will be sitting on bookstore shelves from sea to shining sea. That merely means if an individual wants one, theoretically, he can walk into his favorite bookstore anywhere and order one. LSI will, with little delay, print the book up and send it to the store. This is lightyears better than what I had before.

I didn’t take on publishing responsibilities lightly; I had some inkling of what was in store for me, when, after those seven years, I forsook efforts to find either an agent or a publisher. And I’m here to tell you that the only choice I had was to either take matters into my own hands or run the risk of passing to glory before finding a publisher willing to take my work.

Given my experience, I wonder how long the majority of fiction authors who “decided” not to traditionally publish actually sought a traditional publisher. Truth is, like me, few self-publishers have such an option. With the traditional publisher, power is in his hands, not the author’s. I would venture that in very few cases does a fiction author “decide” to self-publish over a valid offer to traditionally publish. Odds are a better that he or she decides to self-publish/choose a vanity publisher vice “attempt” to find an agent or a publisher—and perhaps that’s what the individual really means when she says she “made the decision not to traditionally publish,” and I’m just splitting hairs. In truth, given the ever-growing ease of self-publishing—especially epublishing—maybe that is what those folks are actually refering to after all.

I can buy that, but to imply that one is self-publishing vice traditionally publishing as if it’s a matter of flipping a coin is either delusional or disingenuous. Simply put, except in very rare cases, there is only one decision made and that is the decision to “self-publish.” I say don’t even address the spectre of “traditional publishing,” especially if one “decides” to forgo the submission-rejection process completely.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, March 3, 2012

There’s More To Having a Publishing Company than Publishing Books

I’m a day late on this post. I returned from Israel just last week following a five-week stay with my daughter, her husband and my new grandson. I’ve spent this past week catching up on home chores. Today is the first day I’ve been into my Blogger dashboard since I began my journey to Israel at the end of January, though I have checked my posted blogs. Nevertheless, I was both excited and dismayed to see I have seven comments, most discussing the creation of my mobi book--excited to know folks are reading my blog and dismayed to realize I had neither published nor responded to the comments. I apologize--I didn’t know they were there. For some reason, I thought I’d be notified by the system. I’m betting I’m not looking in the right place, and it’s time to pull out my “Blogger Guide.” Now that I’m caught up with domestic chores, I’m gonna do just that. In the meantime, here’s this week’s post:

Yesterday I completed Loblolly Writer’s House’s end-of-year worksheet, which I will now submit to my tax person. She will take that data and record it on a Schedule K, then append it to our (mine and hubby’s) 1040.

Loblolly Writer’s House is a sole proprietorship. Its taxes are not complex, and I doubt it would make much difference in our tax liability if I simply “forgot” to submit the data (though Jane would probably miss it). My reason for bringing up this annual cycle is to point out what a nightmare keeping up with the books is.

Journals and ledgers, debits, credits, columns, rows--balancing all those totals! Geez. Accounting lasts all year--and ends--well, only sorta, ’cause it doesn’t really end--the year ends with the closing of “most” of the ledger accounts, then balancing the debits and credits--they have all gotta add up and equal one another. Then there are the adjustments. Now I’ve found adjustments to be very handy. In fact, I actually use “adjustments” to make the debits and credits add up.

More seriously (well, maybe only a little), legitimate adjustments have to do with perishable inventory like paper and ink cartridges. I wrote those suckers out of my accounting system two years ago. I now call such items office supplies and put them all under a single expense account. Works for me. I did simarily with “sales tax.”

Do I sound like I’m speaking to you in generalities--using keywords that sound like “accounting”? I could tell you it’s my writing style--divesting my narrative of detail so as not to bore the reader. I would not be telling the truth. I’m being simple (read as leaving out details), because when it comes to the accounting requirements of my company, I am a simpleton--or maybe just a “simple woman.” Unfortunately, I am unable to keep my accounting simple enough.

Each year at tax time, I have to pull out my course studies (I took a bookkeeping class online from Ed to Go years ago) and re-teach myself what I have to do to close out my books, gather tax data, and start up the new accounting year. I start dreading the process before I’ve got the Christmas decorations put away.

Okay, that doesn’t make me any different from a whole lot of Americans at that time of year. The point I’m trying to make is that there is a lot more to self-publishing a book than, well, publishing a book, assuming that authors are treating their book(s) as a business.

I’m sure some you are wondering, “Why doesn’t she use an accounting program?” I did use one in the beginning. [Still, I had to take time to enter data into the program. Time spent accounting is time spent, no matter how one does it.] Then one day, the software manufacturer wanted me to update--for a price. I didn’t have extra money I wanted to spend on a bookkeeping program I was happy with, and I didn’t want to update. I liked the program the way it was, and I knew it well enough to make it work; it did exactly what I wanted/needed it to do. I’m a writer for Saint Peter’s sake, not an accountant! I wanted to be left alone to enter (and print out) my information on that rare occasion (tax time) when I needed it, and I wanted to spend any free time I never came up with, writing.

Shortly after I failed to upgrade, the software program stopped working, and I did what I normally do when I feel I’ve become dependent on something taking advantage of me. I bought a journal, ledgers, and pencils, and I learned to do the accounting myself. Well...

The “disgraced”software program did do the end-of-year reports with the click of the mouse. For the past several years now, I’ve had to drag out my old school stuff and “re-invent the worksheet” so to speak. Maybe next year I’ll buy a new program, and this time I’ll keep up with the updates.

Thanks for reading,