Composing a Writer #12. What True Self-Publishing Means

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told I was destroying my life. It started in high school where every choice carried potential doom; if you don’t go to college, if you don’t go to the right college, if you sleep with your boyfriend, if you try drugs. I’m sure there are still people waiting for my unplanned pregnancy forty-five years later. Meanwhile, I did have an adolescent crush all right. On Shakespeare.

Choosing to self-publish started the doom threats again. Some literary folks believe not finding a publisher will destroy any credibility you or your book could ever have. That there’s a vain glory in waiting ten or twenty years, suffering for art like an unrequited lover. Balanced against that the fact that the average number of sales for a self-published work is a measly 250 over the lifetime of the book.

Publishing can feel hopeless but perhaps the way you can tell you’re ready is that you’ve completed the millionth edit of your book and you’re at a place where it’s harder to not publish than it is to go forward. Confidence has slipped in with the editors, beta readers, and re-writing. You got stronger through the process, you think you can survive the leap.

[Reminder: This is a series about writing; a map of the paths and stopovers that I made in my book process. I’m no literary expert but as a way of saying thank you, I’m sharing my attempts to navigate all the usual roadblocks.]

Self-publishing starts innocently. Someone asks if you know that Amazon will publish an ebook for almost no money. It’s true and it takes less than twenty minutes to become a published author. There are no quality checks –part of the reason eBooks get a bad name. You can publish without so much as a spell check. If you think your family and a handful of friends will be your only readers, it might be good enough.

Here’s the catch. Amazon is working on a plan for world domination. They have nearly put Barnes and Noble out of business and Barnes and Noble were the biggest booksellers in history, having already threatened to put indie bookstores out of business. It’s that big fish eats little fish model of capitalism. So, it makes sense that indie bookstores don’t buy CreateSpace (Amazon’s publishing branch) books. Better to not use their ISBN number as it catalogs your book forever as Amazon’s and you don’t get to support your local bookstore. It seems like a quick publish but is it worth the limitations and politics and ongoing royalties involved?

Then you research self-publishing on the web and find a range of options. Some are vanity presses that print for money. (Think bottom feeders.) They accept all books and then sell you services like editing and cover design for various amounts of money. You might even recognize their brand names. Some authors don’t want involvement in publishing “details” and are happy to pay for the convenience. Be aware that it’s generally over-priced with a large up-front investment from the author. Editing is included and there will be a required investment of a few thousand dollars. In the end, you get a percentage of the sale but so do they –forever. Do you really want to pay them a percentage going forward for work that you’ve already paid for?

Here’s the tricky part, where the sharks live. Vanity presses frequently call themselves self-publishers.  Those are two different things but it’s very hard to figure that out doing the research. It’s an industry secret of sorts. There are varying sales pitches with lots of gray areas. Some of those vanity press books are beautiful. Not to mention, they’re great at selling themselves to authors. It can sound reasonable because traditionally published authors get a few cents a book. If you sell like Stephen King, it adds up but for small fish, not so much. A true self-publish should mean that you get all the money.

Here’s where I say again, be aware. First-time authors are like fat trout in the stream, easy picking because we’re inexperienced and tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves. There is an industry of businesses who prey on our naiveté and passion and they work right beside professionals with ethics and knowledge to help us. It’s hard to tell the difference in the beginning.

Most confusing for me was a hybrid press that asked for submissions just like an indie press would. I got the thrill of being accepted, along with a flattering phone call, only to find out that it would cost almost $10,000 to get my book to press. Sure, they offered a bit more than the cheaper vanity presses but that was an impossible amount of money. They tried to make me feel guilty or uncommitted but the money wasn’t possible. Once I verbalized that, their enthusiastic interest in my book evaporated.

A big deciding factor for me with Stable Relation was that I’d paid for three professional edits in the process of writing. It was a wonderful and educational investment. The quality of my manuscript was a direct result of that but why pay for it again, as most so-called self-publishers or vanity presses required?

The family story goes that my first sentence was, “I’ll do it myself.” As a kid, I quit the Brownies after a month because I thought they were sissies, gluing macaroni on paper when there were horses to ride.

I guess it’s no surprise that in the end I’d self-publish but at least I’d taken the time to become well-informed about the process. I could write a book about publishing, but instead, here are the Cliff’s Notes:

I searched for a cover artist whose work I liked and found Jane in England. I chose the cover from a group of designs that I had input on. She has a great eye and got all the details in place. She was knowledgeable and made the process of cover and interior design quick and easy. The cover needed a bold visual and with my art background, I was picky. I wanted my true self-publish to stand proudly on shelves next traditionally published books. Hiring a professional achieved that.

Jane returned the finished covers and interiors, both paperback and ebook, in digital file format, along with bookmarks and PR images, and a bill for a few hundred dollars instead of a few thousand. The rest was easy:

  • I filed a business name for my publishing company. Prairie Moon Press was born for a few dollars.
  • I bought my ISBN numbers from Bowker in the name of Prairie Moon Press.  I bought a group of them; each book and eBook need its own identification number.
  • I set up an account with Ingram Spark. They are the largest international distributor of books; the place that Barnes and Noble and all other independent bookstores buy from. Uploading my book’s files was as easy as posting on Facebook and within a week, a proof of Stable Relation came in the mail. The cost for set-up is $49.
  • I set up free eBook distribution on Smashwords for international availability.
  • After that, I opened an account on Amazon CreateSpace, because I knew the vast majority of my sales would be there. They can buy the books from IngramSpark but they charge me more and availability is spotty. Meaning Amazon likes to do business with themselves best. I uploaded both paperback and eBook there, and again, a proof arrived in a week. No charge to set up with your finished files.
  • The books become available when the proofs are accepted. The whole process is fairly simple and although IngramSpark and Createspace take a small percentage for distribution, your royalty is much higher than you’d think. You are now an author and a publisher.
  • Finally, it’s time to promote your book. During this part, to beat a dead metaphor, you gasp for air like a prehistoric catfish landed in the Sahara. And you have only begun!

This is the last post of this series, and probably the least interesting –being more technical that creative. Please understand that I take this task seriously. There’s always business required for art to succeed and I respect that. I’ll continue to write about writing and I’ll tag to this series. I’ll toss out writing challenges from time to time. Thank you to everyone who’s played a part here. I want to end sharing the words we started with –a call to your craft:

“Writing is the art of molding our voices to say just the exact thing we mean, with honesty, vulnerability, and hopefully a little humor. Take your writing seriously. Whether the world ever reads us or not, it’s past time that we give our own words the respect they deserve.”

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Yodeling, Yapping, and Ya-hoodling: A Book Trailer.

melaniesuebowlesIf you follow my farm blog, you know about the Corgi Men. There’s Walter who came from a rescue in Wyoming, along with a warning that he had no inside voice and wasn’t afraid to use it. And Preacher Man, from Texas. Preacher was named for a condition discovered on the way to the rescue from the dog pound…it seems he liked the sound of his own voice just a bit too much. Since when is it a crime to communicate bluntly and honestly? Since when is that a bad thing–I ask in a surly growl?

Walter has a grumpy old bass voice, like somebody’s weird uncle who is always muttering about something just under his breath, until it percolates up to a full rib-spreading bark–an operatic bark. Preacher Man has a high, staccato Irish tenor of a bark. Like glass shattering; like an ambulance howl.

I don’t turn a deaf ear to their outlandish barking. Friends are getting used to it; or maybe losing hearing in certain ranges. It’s like they say, we have freedom of speech in this country, but it comes with a price.

Why brag on about corgis caterwauling day and night? With a shrill yap, short gray hair, and a bunion, I have joined their ranks. It’s all I ever do, like a corgi in a cat house, I ya-hoodle on and on about this book. You can’t shut me up.

Please buy it. Now’s a good time; Amazon has it marked down. Maybe they’ve given up on me already, but it’s a few dollars cheaper now. If you’ve already read it, please consider leaving a review at Amazon, Goodreads, and/or Barnes and Noble. It only takes a minute to jot down a few words, but the difference on this side is huge. I’d appreciate it–and I say that in the heartfelt tone that Walter uses when it’s pizza night.

WEEKLY UPDATE: Stable Relation has been out just less than a month. This week 31 books sold, taking the total to 319. It’s a strong number for a dark horse like us, but barely a raindrop in the ocean. (Our Amazon rank is 24,325.) Three book talks are in the works and I’m hoping for more. And everyday I get comments and emails that let me know this book has struck a chord with a wide range of people. I am very grateful, thank you for reading and recommending it.

And because I am a woof-tastic, yodel-ific corgi for PR work, (it isn’t a lie so much as an affirmation) I’ve followed the “I’ll do it myself” tradition and made a book trailer. It was totally within my publicity budget, by the way. What do you think?

Stable Relation Book Trailer

Crowdfunding–The Old-fashioned Kind.

Coy's helpMy friend Coy is on vacation with Stable Relation. Here they are at the airport.

I admit I came a little unglued last Friday when Michelle, half-way across the country, posted a photo of the book on a tablecloth that did not belong to me. I got nervous, like it had broken in to her house or something. Now it’s getting easier. This airport photo only made me snort tea, but in a good way. *Book-as-traveling-Gnome*

Really, it’s time for me to let go. It’s up to all of you now. Time for me to kick back and just nag and yelp from the sidelines.

When I was in production, lots of people asked me if I was going to crowdfund the project. To tell the truth, the idea made my throat close a bit. If marketing makes me uncomfortable, asking for money would make me pass-clean-out. Part of it was habit. After 35 years of funding my own gallery work, I guess I think it’s my job. Well, the buck stops here. Literally. This is where I ask–well, grovel really–for your help. Here’s how; it’s kind of like a pyramid scheme.

First, please read my book. It’s available right now. If a certain number of books sell within a relative period of time, then Google and Stable Relation start to have a thing. If it’s more than a one night stand, it might turn into a long term relationship. Google is the dream boyfriend.

Maybe after you’ve read it, you’ll think, “Dang, she didn’t just ramble on for 240 pages about nothing but horses. When the surprise wears off, you might think your non-horse friends would like it, too, because it’s a story that’s pretty universal. If so, then please tell your friends because there is nothing better than word-of-mouth. Consider it verbal crowdfunding–the very best way to sell anything.

And then, as if that isn’t enough, please consider taking a moment to write a review. Be honest, even if you don’t like it, (and I know some people won’t.) Be as honest as a horse. I can take it; this is not my first rodeo. Love it, or give me one star and say, “Ick.” But reviews, good or bad and just a sentence or two long, make a huge impact. It’s a numbers game on the other side and numbers draw attention. Post the review on Amazon and Goodreads, pretty please. Cut and paste works fine. If I can manage to get 50 reviews, there are people trapped in dark offices in basements who will lift their squinty eyes up toward a flickering fluorescent light fixture and say, “Huh?” Sometimes it’s even followed by a yellow-toothed grin. It’s a huge deal for me and the book. Please write a review and post it twice. Then drop by Barnes and Noble for good measure. I will be embarrassingly grateful.

Are you an Influencer? I just recently learned the term; they are people who are willing to be a Boss Mare; meaning willing to move other people’s feet and encourage groups of people to read my book. You could suggest it at your book club or send an email about the book to your contact list or post about it on social media. I’m available to talk to groups; you could invite your friends and associates to a reading/book signing like Lauren is doing in Denver.

I did recently receive invitations to both New Zealand and Norway. It’s very flattering but it’s hard to figure out the math; having me to book club gets expensive on other continents. Besides, I have to keep an eye on a couple of elders here at the farm. For now, I’m looking into online and local opportunities so I can get back in time to feed. How hard can a podcast be?

Help with whatever you are comfortable with, but please vote for Stable Relation early and often. Every mention and every book sale helps. Every. Single. One.

Weekly Report: At this point, 109 books have sold. Thank you! It’s great news considering its release date is next week. (Right now Amazon and Barnes & Noble have it, but the eBook is only at Amazon. I working to get the listings complete.) But it’s wonderful to have these sales. I don’t have that many friends, so it means that more than my locals have bought it. Yay! At the same time, I am fairly sure there are worlds of possible readers I haven’t found yet.

Bmark with dogs (621x640)Because you asked, yes, I’m happy to sign your book, if you want to mail them to me. It costs about $4.00 each way, but I promise to send it right back. The other alternative is that I had some printed bookmarks made up. They have the cover image on one side and room on the back to sign. I am happy to sign one of those and mail it if you like. Use the contact form above for information on either option.

Finally, send me a postcard from the road. I mean it; if you travel with Stable Relation, even if it’s just out to the barn, send me a photo. Let’s have some fun.