Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Indie Publishing Right Now

The week before last, I had the pleasure of attending the RT Booklover’s Convention in Dallas, Texas. And while this is primarily a reader event for Romance lovers, there were quite a few workshops and networking opportunities for writers. I’d never been to this conference before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I had a fantastic time, though, and more importantly, I learned a lot about what’s going on in the industry for indie writers right now, today.

Me gearing up for the book signing at RT Dallas

The short answer to “What’s the state of indie publishing today?” is that things are constantly in flux. But then again, the same goes for the traditional publishing industry. One of the workshops I attended was presented by a panel of agents and editors from the big five publishers, all of whom agreed that trends are flipping and shifting faster than they ever have before. Where once any given sub-genre would stick around for a couple of years at the top of the popularity pile, now sub-genres are cycling through in a matter of months. So if you write Paranormal Romance or if you write Political Science Fiction or Psychological Thrillers and they aren’t selling now? Wait a few months.

That was nice to hear, but this same panel—professionals at the very top of traditional publishing, mind you—disturbed me and the entire rest of their audience by demonstrating that they had an utter lack of understanding of what indie publishing actually is and what it’s capable of. I mean, they did not get it. Furthermore, they inadvertently advocated FOR indie publishing over submitting traditionally—without even realizing what they were saying. In a nutshell, the question of royalty rates came up. Indie publishers are paid roughly 70% of the book’s list price. The panel stated that traditional publishing pays 25% (which, frankly, is a gross exaggeration, as the usual rate is much, much less than that).

When a member of the audience asked what it would take for a traditional publisher to sign an indie author, after much guffawing and frowning, the panel agreed that that author would have to routinely sell 10,000 copies of a new release in its first week and 100,000 in its first month. To which the audience responded “But if we make 70% off of those sales and you’re telling us you’ll only give 25%, why would any indie author want to give up their earnings when they’re already a bestseller?”

The moral of that particular story and the reality of publishing today is that once you go indie, you can’t go back…and why would you? In conversations with authors at the conference, I found that more and more indie authors are making a comfortable living off of their writing with no regrets at all. Amongst authors who have already made the choice, there was a sense that traditional publishing is irrelevant. It has no impact on what we’re doing or our ability to do it. They do their thing (and good for them!) and we all do ours, and everyone is okay with that.

The other thing that stood out to me was a tiny part of one of four workshops that Mark Coker of Smashwords presented about indie publishing. The advent of indie publishing used to be seen as a tsunami of crap. And that attitude still persists: that the vast majority of indie-published books are crap. That’s just not the case anymore. Indie-published books routinely make up huge percentages of the bestseller lists. They have been nominated for and won prestigious industry awards. We’ve long, long passed the days when anyone has the right to say that indie authors only do what they do because they couldn’t get a book deal with a “real” publisher. Bury that notion right now (if you’re still holding onto it).

No, as Mark said, the problem these days is that there is a tsunami of great books being published. In fact, there are so many really good books being published every day that discoverability is harder than ever. Not because readers have to sort through trash to find the treasure, but because there’s so much treasure that they don’t need to dig and work and search to find it. Favorite indie authors are rising to the top, and newer indies have to work harder than ever to make a blip. The supply of great books is almost greater than the demand.

Not exactly cheerful news for individual writers, even if it’s great news for indies in general. Mark is more of a statistics guy than a “Here’s the solution to the problem” guy, but I did take away that persistence is key in launching and maintaining a career these days. Persistence and professionalism. And treating your writing as a small business, which means investing both time and money in it.

So that’s the state of indie publishing according to workshops and buzz in the bar during RT Dallas. I’ve got several more conferences lined up this summer, so I’ll report anything new I hear as the months go on.
Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tips for Managing Your Files

Spring has sprung and it is time to do a little spring cleaning. For me, that means sifting through and deleting old computer files I no longer need. The chore is made easier by having an organized filing system.

I’d like to offer the following tips on organizing and maintaining your precious manuscript documents. The tips apply no matter what platform you use: MAC, Windows, or Linux. Having an organized system makes it easier to find the document you are looking for and for finding the documents that need to be backed up.

Many users do not realize that you can create a folder on your Desktop (the screen that comes up when you turn your computer on with all of your program icons). If you want to get fancy, you can choose a specific icon to represent your project.

A program called Iconator allows you to create an icon from any jpeg image you have saved on your computer. You change the icon by hovering over the folder image, right click the mouse, select Properties, select Customize, select Change Icon and upload the desired image, then Save.

You can create subfolders in My Documents instead if you prefer. You can change the icons for those folders as well.

I start with making a master folder on my Desktop for each book project or group of projects, such as a book series.

To do so: Pick a blank area on the Desktop, right click the mouse, select New, select Folder, name the folder the title of your project in the box that appears, and hit Enter to save.

The next step is to create folders within the main folder such as Characters, Setting, First Draft, and Research.

You can create subfolders by the same process, right click a blank spot within the folder, select New, select Folder, name the folder, and hit Enter to save the change.

For example, create a subfolder Characters and within it create a folder for each character. These character folders can contain a photo of someone you want to base your character on, clothes they might wear, things they might own, and a character profile document.

For Setting you can include images, maps, and a setting profile document containing all your notes about the various settings in your novel: worlds, cities, weather patterns, moon phases, rooms, layouts, chase routes, etc.

Research can contain documents supporting your story world, laws, technical information used in your story, articles, letters, etc.

Name a subfolder Drafts. Within that folder create a folder named First Draft which can contain individual chapter or scene files.

You can create a new folder for Revision 1, Revision 2, and so on up to Final Draft. This keeps your original documents safe if you decide you need to go back to a previous version of a chapter, you lose part of a chapter by accidentally erasing it, or the computer crashes in the middle of it.

If you self-publish, create a folder named Formatted Files with subfolders for Kindle, Nook, Create Space, Smashwords, etc.

Next time, we will discuss ways to back up your folders and subfolders.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Memos for Plotting

Among other things, today is "National Memo Day." A memo, or in its original, longer form, memorandum, is defined as "a short note designating something to be remembered, especially something to be done or acted upon in the future; reminder."

As a non-plotter, it's important to keep track of ideas, clues, story reveals, character development and all the myriad details that keep those dreaded plot holes and continuity errors at bay.

Some writers use lengthy outlines, some jot notes on legal pads, some use voice recordings (I know one author who dictates all his novels while hiking), some keep a separate document file, or use a program like Scrivener to help them keep track of their stories.

I use a foam core board and sticky notes, and it's as close as I can get to plotting.

There's no particular ordering of my notes. If I place a clue in chapter 6, I'll note it on my board. Then, when it's dealt with, I can toss the note. As the book progresses, my board gets emptier, unlike my story tracking board, which gets fuller. (But that's another topic.)

And, as a non-plotter, I don't know a lot about my story at the beginning. As I write a scene, or, more likely, when my critique partners give me their feedback, I might realize that Adam should have a laptop. Or that Derek's ranch is losing money. Or who put the envelope in Sabrina's coat pocket?
Character ideas get noted as well, such as Derek's love for big words, so I can remember to adjust his dialogue as needed. And, since I write mystery-themed books, there are always clues and questions that crop up. I don't want readers wondering what happened to that gun on the mantel in chapter three. (Chekov's gun rule).

Or worse, why there's a dog in chapter one, and he hasn't appeared again and I'm writing chapter thirty-six. My board will have lots of question notes, because I'm always asking myself why or how something could happen. Some of them need to be answered sooner than others, but at least there's less of a chance of me forgetting to deal with them. And, when the writing slogs, it's nice to have a reminder that you haven't mentioned what kind of a car Merry has, and that's a quick and easy fix.

I do prefer to keep moving forward, but I also prefer to fix problems before they're going to require dealing with a 350 page manuscript. There are always times when I'm waiting on research, or have only a short block of time to work. That's when I can look at my board, and go back and deal with some of my notes. Like getting Charlie the dog into a few more scenes.

How do you keep track of your story?

(And, on another note, I have a new release, Deadly Production, and I'm offering it at the introductory price of 99 cents through the end of May.)

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kindle Scout

My book, Indiscretion, has been on Amazon’s Kindle Scout program for an entire week as of today. It’s been on and off the “Hot and Trending” list, which I guess is natural. This is measured by how many people read the sample and nominate my book during a thirty-day period. I’ve done some promotion, but there’s a fine line between promo and overkill. I try to be cognizant of where that line is. That said, self-promotion has never been an easy fit for me.

So what is Kindle Scout, you ask? This is from the Kindle Scout website:

“Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing.”

Bloggers have debated the pros and cons of the program. From my point of view, the answer depends on where you are in the publishing world. I’ve self-published seven books with Amazon. The difference with Kindle Scout, besides the nice advance, unheard of for an indie writer, is the strength of Amazon’s marketing that I wouldn’t get otherwise.

No longer can writers just write. Due to the increased number of indie and hybrid writers and the plethora of free book promotions, we must now be creative to keep our books from falling into obscurity, in contrast to those days when I first started, way back in 2011. We now pay companies to advertise our free or specially priced promotions to their huge reader mailing lists, many times at high costs. The outlay is usually refunded by greater sales. We are social media experts, bloggers, promotional gurus, Pinterest pinners, LinkedIn joiners, Google+ members, and Twitter tweeters. We join groups to support each other and share writing tips and posts about the things we learn on our writing journey.

In order to submit to the program, Amazon Scout insists on a professional cover, editing, and formatting. If my book is chosen by reader nominations and the Amazon Scout Powers-That-Be, it will receive a complete edit.

I created the cover for Indiscretion, but after 25 years as an illustrator, and eight book covers under my belt (one for my alter ego), I have no problem immodestly calling my covers professionally designed. I would have to meet the same criteria if I decided to self-publish, so I’m used to the parameters established by Kindle Scout. From what I’ve tracked, most of the books chosen in the first few groups are doing well.

I tried something new with Indiscretion. I incorporated an actual crime, Boston’s 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, with a fictional story. SO, unwilling to miss an opportunity, here’s my pitch for Indiscretion in 500 characters or less:

“Separated from her controlling husband, romance author Zoe Swan meets a charismatic art history professor on the beach and begins a torrid affair. But who is he really? By the time Zoe finds out, she’s on the run with her husband, his jewel thief brother, and a priceless painting stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. With the FBI and the murderer in pursuit, the trio heads to Boston. The only way to prove their innocence is to make a deal with the very people who want them dead.”

There’s a sample on the site. If you like what you read and would like to read more (if my book is picked, everyone who nominated it receives an electronic copy), consider clicking “Nominate me.” Sorry for the blatant self-promotion.

Here’s the link.

Thank you kindly if you do.

Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Manual Dexterity

So there you are, clattering away at the keyboard and filling page after page with enthralling dialogue and vivid imagery. Suddenly, your fingers halt as your brain wrestles with a question of grammar. You have a sentence in mind, but you’re not quite sure if the phrasing is acceptable.

What do you do?

Do you forge ahead, risking potential editorial wrath? Do you take the not-quite-easy way out and re-write the entire line, thus avoiding grammatical conflict?


You grab that coat by the lapels and consult the Chicago Manual of Style. Now in its sixteenth edition, the CMOS gives definite and definitive answers to your most pressing prose questions. Is the singular they acceptable, or is the more formal (if slightly stilted) he or she required? Are social titles always abbreviated? What on earth is an em dash, and when should you employ one?

Even a first-time reader will find that the CMOS is user-friendly, with clearly marked sections, a cross-referenced index, and a how-to section for editors. After a few consultations, you’ll have no trouble flipping to the correct page for the answer to almost any question.

While it’s not the sole authority on composition—publishers often have a house style, and other countries have established rules of their own—the CMOS is an excellent reference for novice and novelist alike.

Oh, dear. There is one thing that the Chicago Manual of Style can’t help with, and that is bailing out a flooded basement. Three and a half inches of rain in an equal number of hours? Sigh. Thankfully, my sweaters are stored in the attic. Have a lovely week, everyone. Stay dry, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Grateful that any bailing to be done does not involve jail, The Style Maven makes up for a chronic lack of sleep by consuming vast amounts of caffeine. You can read about the adventures of her alter ego, The Procraftinator, here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Late Bloomers

In 2011, the Oscar for writing was given to David Seidler for The King’s Speech. He was 73, and it was his first Oscar and first nomination. In his acceptance speech he said his father had told him he’d be a late bloomer. The audience laughed, since obviously his father was right. David Seidler also said he hoped that his record as the oldest person to win this particular award was broken quickly and often.

I’m with him. Some might say I’m a late bloomer too, because I didn’t start my writing career in earnest (that is, quit my ‘day job’ and went full time) until I was nearly 50.

My writing flowers may have begun to bloom in the autumn of my life, but I had plenty of other flowers blooming in the springtime too. Who says we have to plant the same flowers all our lives? Like tulips in the spring, sunflowers in the summer, dahlias in the fall, and poinsettias in the winter, we can bloom in every season of our lives.

As David Seidler and other late bloomers like him show us, it is never too late to bloom. We live in a youth-worshipping society, and that is so sad. Youth is beautiful, but it’s only one part of life. Age is beautiful too. If we denigrate age, we should not be surprised when we are denigrated ourselves when we’re no longer young.

It’s always struck me as silly that no one wants to die young, but no one wants to get old either. Yet, those are your only choices. If you don’t die when you’re young, you will get old. I think we need to adjust our attitudes. The David Seidlers of the world help us do that.

We writers are lucky. You’re never too old to write. Plus you just might have more to write about when you’re old than when you’re young.

Bloom early, bloom late – the important thing is to bloom.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 10 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit kimpearson.me.


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