Scared Money Don’t Make Money: Investing In Your Writing Future

This blog was inspired by a recent conversation with a potential publishing client. During our initial phone conversation, when she described what she needed to bring her book to fruition (and it was a lot :/), she made a comment that she was looking for someone to work with her so that both parties can succeed together. Or, to use a more descriptive phrase, she wanted one hand to wash the other, and both hands to wash the face. To put it more plainly, she didn’t have a lot of money and wanted stuff done for free, in exchange for a future cut of royalties.  In short, she wanted to allocate her funds to areas where she thought they were better served, and things like editing and book layout weren’t among them.

When I was a full-time editor, I noticed that a lot of my self-published clients cut corners in order to get their book out into the public eye. As I may have mentioned before, self-publishers don’t have the luxury of an advance upon which to fall back. Sure, we reap all of the benefits but before that happens, we have to pay all of the costs up front. Self-publishing has indeed gotten easier, and in some ways less expensive, but there are still costs involved. It’s tempting for independently published authors to skimp in certain areas in order to have the funds for what is deemed most important: the final product, the book, that commodity that is to be sold.

This is not the move.

I learned the hard way that when I cut corners, it came back to bite me in the assets (literally and figuratively). I’ve also seen this play out in the literary lives of others. The main place I see skrimping is in three areas: professional editing; website; and book covers.

Professional editing is more than making sure every word is spelled correctly. Yes, grammatical and typographical errors are addressed, but so are story flow, fact checking, punctuation, etc. An editor will go through your manuscript, line by line, and find out what is wrong, and tell you how to fix it; this is called content or line editing. The process is rather involved and time-consuming, and most professional editors have some professional training: certification by a reputable body and/or  valid industry experience. Your high school cousin who got straight As in English isn’t going to have the requisite training to polish your gem of a book; reading a book on self-editing isn’t going to get you what you need either, especially if you don’t think that anything is wrong with your work (which is a failing of many authors; we are too close to our “babies” to notice anything wrong).  i strongly urge writerss to holler at Evette Porter, who is a dynamic editor and will get your book public-worthy.

Next up: websites. There are a whole lot of “free” websites out here, that are more on the do-it-yourself (DIY) tip. Weebly and Wix are just two popular services that offer people the chance to establish a web presence for free. I can see why they get a lot of business, when a professionally designed website can run at least $1,000 (and usually around $2,000 and up, depending upon how many bells and whistles you’d like).  Again, you get what you pay for. Now here’s a caveat: I have seen one author’s site, done by Wix, and it looked pretty decent. This is more the exception, and not the rule. Websites are how the world sees you, before they even buy your book, so make it count. You don’t necessarily need a Flash intro, music in the background (unless you are a musical artist), lots of video, etc. But you do have to make people want to stop by your site and hang around for a while. Also, in this age of social media, connection through various platforms is key for helping get the word out about your project. Don’t forget e-commerce, if you are selling your book through avenues other than Amazon or Barnes & Nobles (Nook). To include all these things, It’s usually best to let a professional handle it (I recommend Cix Designs. Ask for Micah.). If you really want to make your presence known on the cheap, then start a blog.

“Cheap” is a word that should not be used when pursuing your publishing dream (or anywhere else, for that matter); this goes double for book covers. Your book cover is your calling card; it needs to make people want to pick up your book and want to take it home (please note that a good book cover is worth nothing if the content of your book is not up to par). I strongly suggest that authors avoid the free covers offered via publishing packagers; they are deliberately terrible in order to encourage you to spend more money to hire designers to do a custom cover. Since this is the case, why not just hire a graphic designer off the break? A good designer will not only have experience in doing covers (both e-book and physical book), but will also align your covers with your book visions and growth. Two folks to check out are Ad-Lib Designs (ask for John) and The Little Orange (ask for Diana).

Investing in yourself, your business, and your brand are extremely important. As a self-publisher, you are all three, so act like it. If you want people to take you seriously, then you must first take yourself seriously. You have to figure out if you are an author who has a day gig, or a ____ who does writing on the side. The answer you choose will determine the trajectory of your success, since we put our energies into those things which we most value. If you don’t value  yourself and your work, and how both are presented to the public, then no one else will.

Thanks for stopping by.

Resistance is Futile: Amazon and the Strong-Arming of Corporate Publishing

There has been much ado about Amazon‘s attempts to get Hachette Publishing to lower their book prices. Some come squarely down on one side (Yay, major publishers!) or the other (Yay, Amazon!). Most don’t really give a flying fig, unless they are authors of the books being “delayed”, or people trying to purchase said books; the only concern is their God-given right to discounted prices.

[Still wondering what’s going on? Here’s a quick recap of this publishing “Clash of the Titans”]

A friend of mine emailed me to ask where I sat on this whole issue. Having had my own tangles with mainstream publishers, and knowing of others who have as well, I’m rolling with Amazon at the moment. Granted, Amazon will eventually turn to a less-benevolent form of operation (corporations being what they are), but right now, they are the BFF of a writer. Why, may you ask? Get comfy, and I’ll tell you. 😉

As an author, I have long been dismayed with the direction of the major publishing houses. I know plenty of authors (especially those of color) who have left major houses and mainstream publishing contracts, in order to self-publish. Publishing houses don’t do what they used to; they don’t throw their resources (PR, editing, marketing, etc) behind authors (especially new authors) unless you are a Stephen King, Eric Jerome Dickey, James Patterson, Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West, Bill O’Reilly, or a big name that is guaranteed to earn back the six- or seven-figure advance given.  Some new authors aren’t given an advance at all or if they are, it’s relatively paltry. And, the mainstream publishing industry has a long-standing practice of showing preference to white authors, with the lucky Asian slipping in to give some diversity. This is a reflection of the people who make the decisions as to who and what will be published.

Amazon makes it very easy to get a book out there, as there is no one (usually a clueless , sheltered someone who believes in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of book sales/procurement) to tell an author that their work isn’t good enough to be published. Granted, that leaves the door open for books ranging from extremely crappy (by that, I mean disjointed plots, remixed plots, typos, grammatical errors, etc.) to very good to hit the market, but the purpose is that anyone can put their book out there, no matter how bad or good it is (“good” and “bad” being subjective terms. One’s man’s trash, and all that)
Now, Amazon has its own way of slipping a noose around an author’s neck. Case in point: CreateSpace  is the self-publishing arm of Amazon, where you can publish your books via e-book or physical book. When a book is published, it is assigned an ISBN (International Standard Book Number–the long number on the back of the book, right above the barcode). The barcode is associated with that ISBN, and that’s how book sales are tracked in stores. A true self-publisher will buy their own ISBN (you can actually get this through CreateSpace for an extra $10, or purchase it from Bowker [the company that distributes ISBNs] for $250 each, or a block of 10 for $325); this enables YOU to get the profits and sales records in YOUR name. You use a different ISBN for each book format, even if it’s the same title: an e-book will have one ISBN, a regular book will have another, an audiobook will have its own as well.  One can pay the $10 through Amazon and retain rights to use that ISBN wherever, because you are the publisher. Or, for those who have already purchased ISBNs, they can just add their own and still publish through Amazon simply because it’s so easy to get those books out there and ready. BUT…Bowker (the ISBN people) is just inflating the price in an effort to get people to buy in bulk: $250 for ONE ISBN, vs. $325 for TEN (which then comes out to $32.50/ISBN). They are counting on most people saying, “Wow, I might as well buy ten.” But for those who don’t have $250 or $325, Amazon is the best option (no one else is offering ISBNs for $10…as long as you publish through Amazon).

Another temptation for Amazon authors: the book can be for sale within 24 hours of uploading the PDF file of the book. Compare that to waiting nine months (at least) for publication through a traditional/mainstream publisher, or a few months for an independent publisher.
The kicker: most self-published authors are all about minimizing costs. They will take the free covers offered by CreateSpace, and the free ISBN provided (which makes Amazon the publisher, not you). When you do this, though, that ISBN can ONLY be used via Amazon; you can’t list your book on Ingram (which is the go-to and largest book distributor in the world; all bookstores are hooked into it, since that’s how they order books), can’t sell it on your personal website unless it links back to Amazon. So Amazon created this easy, comfortable space for authors, and many are content to swim in that comfort zone. Another way Amazon locks authors in is royalties. Right now, authors get 70% of the royalties from sales of their book through Amazon, but that will probably change. Still, it’s better than what an author (especially a first-time author) will get from a major publishing house. And, like I said earlier, a lot of the authors on Amazon either have gotten shot down by a mainstream house, or figure why should they do everything and let those publishers get most of their money? In this way, Amazon is garnering a lot of loyalty.
So both sides have their issues, but right now self-publishing is the way to go, and you’ve got to give it up to  Amazon for its hustle and one-stop publishing model. I encourage anyone seeking to write a book (any kind of book) to do for self, and Amazon just may be the easiest way to get your foot in the door.
Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments below.
Thanks for stopping by.


Oxygen Mask, Aisle 2: The Fear of Putting Yourself Out There

I help guide others through the maze of self-publishing. I edit manuscripts, walk them through the processes of ISBN purchases, book cover design, book distribution listings, marketing, etc.  I’m pretty good at it. One day, I asked myself how I could help others realize their dreams effectively, when I haven’t realized my own? So here I am, about to put my work out there to be praised, ridiculed, ignored, etc. via self-publishing.

Excuse me while I hyperventilate.

I’m a pretty private person, so the thought of putting something as personal as stories that I’ve created, out into the world, is terrifying. I’m like Erykah Badu: “Now keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my s**t.” Those are my children, and I don’t want anyone to talk ugly about my children. But therein lies the rub: if no one talks about it, then the books don’t sell, and I don’t get better as a writer.

Raegan Mathis of Untitled 1975 said it best in a recent blog post:

Sometimes, whether we want to or not, we have to lay ourselves bare and just put it all on the table.  

No one comes together with another person with empty pockets or bags.  It doesn’t happen. Unless we’re speaking of babies.  No matter how we come together – as friends or as lovers, everything needs to be put on the table.  At one time or another. 

Some things have to be laid out sooner than others.  Other things, they can wait.  Sometimes, we don’t have a choice but to lay it all out or lose. 

This isn’t cards.  We don’t need to hide our hands.  We lay them down and bring our hands together to form one hand.  Love is about bringing it all together.  

It’s like preparing a dinner with what you have.  My father is an expert at seeing things in the fridge and making a meal when no one can see how it all comes together.  Ever had a wonderfully unexpected dinner that wasn’t planned, wasn’t from a recipe but was from what you had left over? Putting everything on the table reminds me of those dinners.  

Sometimes we won’t lay it out because we think someone won’t like what we have.  But what if you learn they have some of the same things you do? What if they have the missing pieces you need to make your life better?

Meet people where they are, with what they have. “


This passage was a boost to my spirits. I will meet people where they are (as readers) with what they have (a discerning eye and search for resonance). To do that, and to do it now, I have to do it on my own terms.

I have my own misgivings about mainstream publishing (coming to a future post near you!), which is why I’m taking the indie route. It’s a risk: I’m coming out of pocket for pretty much everything: cover design, promotions, etc., in the hopes that I will reap it all back in the end. Go big or go home, right?

Yet I stay awake at night, thinking of the gamble. I am middle-class and single. I don’t have the luxury of having a spouse or significant other to fall back on, should this writing thing go left. I don’t have a trust fund to cushion my fall. Getting a “real job” would be an exercise in futility (see above comment re: laid off or fired), even if I could find a spot that wasn’t scared of having to pay me for my considerable experience and education, or afraid that I’d take some manager’s spot someday, or didn’t make me want to slit my wrists for having to sit behind a desk for eight hours a day.

What if my work doesn’t catch on? Am as good a writer as I think I am (and as others claim I am)? Where do I find decent help for navigating social media waters? Do I need to blog every day? Do I need to post to my Facebook page every day? What about Twitter? Instagram? Do I need a Pinterest account? Can my editor fit my project into her schedule in time for ___ release date? PR…I need someone to massage my image. Where? Oh Gawd, I need a book cover photo–who? Dang it–I have to write a blurb for the back cover. Do I want to release a hardcover edition for Christmas? How do I move the plot along in my book? Maybe I should work on ___ book/story instead. To include an excerpt from the upcoming book, or not to include? Should I post short stories online? If I do, will someone copy it and pass it off as their own? Is there a plugin to prevent that? Great, now I have heartburn on top of insomnia. I think I need another pillow. Maybe a banana.  Or a peanut butter sandwich. But I do have those granola bars…

It’s like having fifty browser windows open in my head, all at the same time.

Then it all circles back to perception. One of my greatest fears is ending up on the free book list on Amazon , which is the digital equivalent of the bargain bin.  While there are occasional gems on there, a lot of the books offered aren’t that great, for whatever reason. Not to mention the content of my books. In my romance-oriented books, as well as some of the mainstream fare, I have sex scenes. I was embarrassed to see the movie Monster’s Ball with my mother; knowing that she (and/or my grandmother) will read those scenes is a bit disconcerting…but not enough for me to omit them. 😀

Finally, I am not looking forward to the barrages of questions from friends and acquaintances, regarding characters in my books. As any fiction author knows, the assumptions that the characters are based on real-life people are automatic:

Person A: You didn’t have to make me so [insert negative attribute] in your book.

Author: What are you talking about?

Person A: Your character, ______.  That was me, right?

Author: No, it wasn’t. I made him/her up.

Person A:  Uh huh, whatever. I know it was me. You didn’t have to write me like that, though.

Author: *sigh*

That whole “any resemblance to characters living or dead, is completely coincidental” caveat on the copyright page of fiction books is nothing more than legal protection. Very few actually believe it, especially since writing is much less expensive than therapy. But that will be my story, and I’m sticking to it.

This is going to be a wild ride, so the only thing I can do right now is strap in and hold on…and see who’s going to ride shotgun.

Thanks for stopping by.


Next Newer Entries