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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Best-selling author reveals budget, 6 self-publishing steps

Writing stars, I love the DIY approach to self-publishing, but as you know, I'm a stickler for quality. To compete with traditionally published books, indie books must meet or exceed the standards the big houses have set, and that's a good thing. From writing, editing, cover art, layout and design, indie books must raise the bar so that the differences between traditionally published and self-published books are barely perceptible.

Today's guest post by Libby Fischer Hellmann, best-selling crime author and self-publishing expert, thoroughly and thoughtfully lays out the process of publishing a high quality book.

"How much does self-publishing cost?" Writers ask this question with not a little fear and trembling. It's true, publishing companies have much deeper pockets than we do, but as Libby's article suggests, you must approach self-publishing like any other business. To put out a good product, you'll have to spend a little, but Libby shows us you don't have to break the bank to do it.

Donna Marie

Six Steps of Self-Publishing (Mostly for Traditional Authors)

I was at Printers Row this past weekend, the annual Book Festival sponsored by the Chicago Tribune, and I was struck by how many people wanted me to tell them about self-publishing. They were mostly traditionally published authors, some of whom have large followings, but they’re dissatisfied with either the pace of traditional publishing, dislike the lack of control, or want to try something that their current publishers don’t.

Those of you who already self-publish probably know these steps, but you may be interested in my process; it’s a little different, and, yes, it costs more money. In fact, I disagree with those who tout that self-publishing is basically free. I believe that if you want to be taken seriously, you need to invest. No short cuts.

Let me put it this way: I was hoping to go to Vienna, Prague and Budapest later this year. Um. That’s not going to happen now. I’m investing in my book instead.

I’m going to describe what I’m doing so far with Havana Lost. As some of you know, it’s coming out in September. And here’s the thing. Except for the actual production of the book, the process isn’t that different from the way traditional publishers approach the task. Btw, it’s now June, and all of the steps below I’ve done, except for the last one. If you’re self-publishing, and you want to pursue print as well as ebook opportunities, give yourself 3-4 months to accomplish all these tasks.


Step One – Editing

There are two types of editing, and you’ll need both.
  • Developmental Editing: Whether you pay a good developmental editor to read your book for continuity, character development, authenticity, and plotting, or whether you’re lucky enough to have discriminating readers or author friends who’ll do the job, you absolutely need another pair of eyes on your manuscript. In traditional publishing, you get it automatically (or at least you used to). But when you self-publish you need to factor it into your plans. And it might cost a bunch of money. I used to work with a developmental editor who charged about $1500. I now rely on authors and friends, but they have to be honest, and they have to be thorough. Believe me, it’s not always pleasant, but it’s critical.
  • Copy editing: This covers all the other stuff; grammar, punctuation, style, consistency and accuracy. If you are like most authors, by the time you approach the end of a book you won’t be able to see the forest for the trees. You will need fresh, expert eyes to add those essential finishing touches, smoothing any rough edges and turning something that is good into something awesome. Don’t sabotage your work by a shoddy presentation. As an editor once said to me, “a good writer deserves a good editor.”

Step Two – The Cover

Expect to pay at least $200 for a cover… and as much as $700. I’m not a fan of pre-designed covers or templates. I prefer a cover that says something worth knowing about my books. Marketers recommend that, too; your cover has a vital role to play in catching readers’ imaginations and compelling them to find out what’s inside. Not to mention creating or sustaining your brand.

So be choosy. If you’re paying, don’t settle for a design you don’t like. Tell the designer to try again. Pay attention to fonts, the arrangement of words versus images, the clarity of the images, and the overall design. Good design is pleasing on the eye, poor design isn’t. It jerks your eyes around, making it difficult to read, or includes illogically placed text that makes the reader work harder than they should.

If you’re doing a print version, which I recommend, the designer will need to do the back cover and spine as well. Here’s what my designers came up with for Havana Lost.

Havana Lost Cover


 Step Three – Preparing Materials

  • Your publishing imprint – I recommend coming up a Publishing Imprint, the trade name under which your book will be published, especially if you create a print version (which I’ll talk about in more depth next week). You’ll need it if you want to establish an account with Lightning Source for print copies, and if you are planning to use Ingram Spark (which seems like an efficient, quick way to print books). My imprint is The Red Herrings Press.
This is NOT to hide the fact that you’re self-published. In fact in my query letters to reviewers, I make sure to tell them I self-publish; an imprint is simply something that makes you look more professional.
  • ISBNs - You’ll need at least 3 different ISBNs per book. One for your ebook, one for print, and one for audio, if you plan to produce one (I am producing an audiobook through ACX.)  Yes, ISBNs are outrageously expensive. But they’re worth it, particularly if you plan to use more than one platform to sell your book. You can split 10 with a friend or even buy ISBNs  in bulk for a lower cost. Head over to Bowker.com, the official US and UK ISBN provider.
  • Jacket copy/Book Description – You need to to craft a couple of paragraphs that describe the novel. Keep it short and punchy. Get some help from other authors or writers whom you know and respect. Research other authors’ books in your genre and see how they do it. The same as your book cover, the aim is to seduce readers to such an extent that they can’t resist finding out more.
Here’s mine:

On the eve of the Cuban Revolution, headstrong 18-year-old Francesca Pacelli flees from her ruthless Mafia-boss father in Havana to the arms of her lover, a rebel fighting with Fidel Castro. Her father, desperate to send her to safety in the US, resorts to torture and blackmail as he searches the island for her.

So begins the first part of a spellbinding saga that spans three generations of the same family. Decades later, the family is lured back to Cuba by the promise of untold riches. But pursuing those riches brings danger as well as opportunity, and ultimately, Francesca’s family must confront the lethal consequences of their choices. From the troubled streets of Havana to the mean streets of Chicago, HAVANA LOST reveals the true cost of chasing power instead of love. 

HAVANA LOST is award-winning author Libby Fischer Hellmann’s tenth novel and third thriller that explores how strife and revolution affect the human spirit. HAVANA LOST is a testament to Hellmann’s gift for authentic historical detail as well as her talent for writing compulsively readable thrillers. 

How will you use it? Your jacket copy will inform the query letter, the sell sheet and all the platforms through which you distribute your work. It will become ubiquitous, so make sure it’s powerful.
  • The sell sheet - This is a single sheet of paper with full details about your book. It should go out to all your reviewers and possible distributors, and it’s handy to have as an at-a-glance reminder. Here’s my Sell Sheet for Havanna Lost
  • The query letter - This is a simple query letter for bloggers and reviewers, politely asking them if they’d like an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) to review. The better you make your book sound, the more people are likely to be interested. It is another small but critical marketing job that can make a difference in how influential people perceive your book and how many of them get around to reading and reviewing it.
  • Interior design for print books - If you are creating a print version, as I recommend, someone needs to design the inside of the book. You can do it yourself, but I choose not to. It’s above my pay grade.


Step Four – Print and Distribute ARCs

  • Bound galleys – Just like traditional publishing, you need some bound galleys to send to reviewers and bloggers. I used CreateSpace, which is fast, efficient, and doesn’t cost a lot. I ordered 35 copies— the rest of my ARCS are pdfs.
  • Assembling a list – Assembling a list means capturing the contact details of professional reviewers, bloggers, and other potential influencers. If people/organizations have reviewed you favorably in the past, approach them first. There are lists all over the Internet, and at KindleBoards to help you find reviewers. It helps if you have an email list because you can canvas your contacts, asking if they’ll review your book in exchange for an ARC.
  • Paying for reviews – If getting the book into bookstores and libraries is important to you, consider paying for a review from PW, Kirkus and/or Foreword Magazine. They still have enormous influence and they are important enough to receive a bound galley.
  • Simplified covers – If your permanent cover isn’t ready yet, you can use a simplified one for the ARC. Here is the cover of my ARC:
Havana Lost ARC


Step Five – Formatting and Uploading

  • Self-formatting – Plenty of writers format their ebooks themselves. I don’t. I’ve found people who will do it for me very reasonably. However you do it, You’ll need an epub, mobi and .pdf file, each with a cover embedded.
  • Forward and end materials – You will need acknowledgements, a dedication, a list of your other books, snippets of reviews, etc, and a call to action at the back; something like “If you liked this book, would you consider leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads?  Thank you so much.”
  • Multi-platform upload – Upload your book to every available platform, unless you intend to go exclusively with one vendor. This is probably the simplest step of all. Essentially it’s just pushing buttons and filling out forms.


Step Six – Promotion and Marketing

Marketing is the black hole of time and money. You can spend as much or little as you like, but one thing is certain; you need to do some promotion Here are a couple of essential basics.

Solicit blurbs from other authors in advance – You’ll use them on the front and back cover, in descriptions on Amazon and Kobo, within your website pages. 

Promotion Budget - I suggest you prepare to spend at least $1000 on various promotional activities, mostly advertisements on blogs with a broad reach, eg. Book Bub, ENT, and Pixel of Ink. Ads on Facebook can also work well when you get them right. 

Invest time – Time is just as important as money. Figure out how much social media you can get done without going crazy; Twitter, your Facebook fan page, Google Plus, Linked In, etc. This is, of course, above and beyond what you do on your website. But that’s another story. And blog post.

I’ll probably do another marketing post later, because it’s a huge subject all by itself. And, of course, marketing is much more of a journey than a destination.


The green stuff

Before I leave you, I want to give you an idea of my costs. Clearly, not everyone wants or needs to go this route, but here’s my ballpark:
  • $500    Cover
  • $200    Print ARCs
  • $600    Reviews (PW, Kirkus)
  • $450    Interior Design/Ebook Formatting/Print production
  • $500    Copy edit
  • $150     ISBNs
  • $100     Mailings
Total investment $2,500. Give or take.

Check out Libby's site for her next post on the importance of producing a print version of your book.

Libby Fischer Hellmann writes the Ellie Foreman mysteries, the Georgia Davis thrillers, and several stand-alone thrillers. Her Ellie books are a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24”, but the Georgia Davis PI thrillers are more hard-boiled. Her stand-alones include a “trilogy” of thrillers set during the revolutions of Iran, Cuba, and the turbulent late Sixties in Chicago.

Libby's forthcoming book, Havana Lost, will be released August 16. Let's support a fellow indie author and pre-order today on Amazon!

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Stretching as a writer

Writing stars, long-term experience is a double-edged sword. On one hand, clients, readers, and employers like it when you have in-depth expertise and years of experience. On the other hand, you can get stuck in a rut.

I've been writing and editing for a LONG time, and yes, over the years, I've gotten stuck in a couple of ruts. This usually happens when I'm in employee mode and have to produce corporate-speak on schedule. During these periods, my writing gets the taste and feel of stale, moldy bread. 

I was a business development writer in my former job, and sure enough, it didn't take long after my start date for my writing to become as gray as my cubicle. 

So for inspiration, I sometimes go to the most unlikely places — MediaTakeout.com for example. The writers at this African American celebrity site use exclamation points and the caps lock button with abandon. They make up words and come up with some of the most brilliantly funny metaphors and similes. They have their bad moments, but they don't seem to care. They are totally uninhibited (a clue to making your writing more fun to read). The reader comments can be just as insane.

Now that I've been laid off (thank you very much), I've thought about this issue of stretching as a writer. I've always wanted to write fiction, but didn't have the confidence to try. I mean, who can be as good as Toni Morrison, or MediaTakeout for that matter?

The Celebrity Editor takes the plunge

A few months ago, Huff/Post 50 (The Huffington Post department for readers 50+) invited writers to submit short stories. I wrote one about a year ago as an exercise, but filed it away with the idea that it would never be seen by human eyes, ever. 

In an irrational act of courage, I gave it a shot. It was now or never. I dusted off my story, closed my eyes, and emailed it. 

To my surprise, and terror, Huff/Post 50 accepted my story, and yesterday, "The Mattress," was published. I've written a lot of fiction that I ultimately filed or deleted, but this is the first time my fiction has seen the light of day. Whew! 

Now for a dose of reality. When I read "The Mattress" in print, I cringed. There were a million things I should have fixed, but hey, it is what it is. 

Writing stars, I would really love it if you would read "The Mattress," post a comment, and let me know what you think. In your opinion, how could my story have been improved?

Here's something else I'm doing to stretch myself. Over the summer I'm taking a comedy writing class at Second City, the famed training camp that spawned such alumni as Stephen Colbert, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, and so many more. I'll definitely blog about it for you.

I fear I'll be the least funny writer in the class, but hey, that's what stretching is all about!

Donna Marie

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Monday, June 17, 2013

One way newbie writers, editors can get practical experience

Writing stars, we had an interesting discussion on a message board recently about how difficult it can be for newbies and recent college graduates to get writing and editing jobs. It's the classic catch-22: if you don't have experience, it's difficult to get a job, and if you can't get a job, how are you going to get experience?

If this is your predicament, read Corey Eridon's article, "How Small Businesses Saved Me From Living in My Parents' Basement" (love the title).

Corey got a job fresh out of college, and instead of having just one role, she ended up juggling a few, including blogging, email marketing, and copywriting and copyediting—all necessary skills for building your online author platform, by the way.

I especially liked what she had to say about her positive attitude and work ethic: 

"When I first started, I figured it was my job to say "yes" to everything. I wanted to prove my value, make myself useful, and above all else -- keep the job. I assumed if someone asked you to do something, you just said you would do it, and figure out the details as you go -- even if it's not in your job description."

Happy National Small Business Week!

June 17 kicks off National Small Business Week, which is sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Association. According to the SBA, 

"More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year."

I launched my editing career at a very small publishing house in Chicago, and I will always be grateful for the expertise I developed there.

So sorry for the cliche, but where there's a will, there's a way!

Donna Marie

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Friday, June 14, 2013

The mercenary use of books: pros and cons

Writing stars, this blog began with the idea that I would share some of the tips and strategies I've used to help public speakers brand themselves and establish their reputations with books. The idea was to leverage books into lucrative speaking gigs. In fact, I believe all entrepreneurs should think about using books as a marketing tool (although I will always have a soft spot in my heart for public speakers.)

Granted, this is a mercenary use of books, and many purists will not have the stomach for it. As much as I love literary books for the sheer joy of reading, I have come to respect the fact that books can serve more commercial purposes—especially given the marriage between self-publishing and entrepreneurism. One company that sells information products even calls books "The Ultimate Business Card." 

So it's in that spirit that I suggest you run, not walk, to FastCompany.com to read, "Why Books Are The Ultimate New Business Card" by Ryan Holiday. Now Ryan likes to exploit his bad boy marketing ways, but he makes a good case for using books as a marketing tool. 

Yes, this is a self-serving, self-promoting use of books.

Yes, this approach bastardizes the original purpose of books, which has been to entertain, to teach, to persuade. 

Where I part company
On the other hand, there's no reason the "books as marketing tool" approach cannot encompass the best of what books have to offer: quality information, a good argument, entertainment, and strategies to make readers' lives better than they were before page 1. 

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurial self-publishers view the writing process as a necessary nuisance, so they seek to outsource this labor for cheap (don't get me started on that one), recycle "private label rights" books, and other schemes. In the rush to upload as many books as possible to Amazon, quality is sacrificed. Readers don't get what they expected, hoped for, and needed. And that's a crime.

So bottom line, I get that we writers need to make money, and as long as I have breath in this middle-aged body I will draw on my own experiences with clients, and I'll scour the net high and low, near and far to inform you. But I will never sign on to schemes that sacrifice quality. In that, at least, I'm a book purist.

Donna Marie

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Friday, June 7, 2013

The antidote for Internet sliminess

Since my recent lay off from the job, I've been spending my mornings, noons, and nights on the Internet, trying to find the best tools, strategies, and opportunities for writers (and myself, truth be told). I've listened to so many webinars (which are really poorly disguised sales pitches for products that come with ridiculously high price tags), that I've lost count. Some are so slimy... I literally got nauseous listening to one pitch and had to turn it off. 

In that spirit, I offer the following video for your TGIF amusement. 


Thanks, Chip Douché (the name is perfection). I needed that!

Have a great weekend, writing stars! 

Donna Marie 

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Hot topic: writer pay

Since I was laid off a few weeks ago, I've been searching the net for freelancing opportunities. This investigation has taken me to the dark side of writing for pay on the net. 

Content drives the Internet, yet writers, the producers of content, don't get no respect from certain sectors, as Rodney Dangerfield would say. And I mean none.

I've listened to webinars where gurus promised zillions from their self-publishing and marketing schemes. They say, "If you can't write, outsource. There are plenty of writers who will write your book fast and cheap." One guy even said, "Any monkey can edit a book." Oh really. 

A whole slew of net-based content development factories have arisen that pay writers mere pennies per word. You'd have to write night and day just to tread water, and still there are few financial guarantees. 

A couple of years ago there was a notorious case of a well-known novelist who paid unknowns to write his books for peanuts and a cloak of invisibility.

Why would any writer subject him/herself to such treatment?

Lately a friend has been talking a lot about how low self-worth can make you accept any old kind of treatment. I understand how desperation can lead to bad decision making, but maybe my friend is right, too. Maybe like Mika Brzezinski would say, we writers don't understand our value, and that's why we make such bad bargains with our talent.

Let's learn from writers like Amanda Hocking who took their writing destinies into their own hands. Despite all the rejections by publishers, she kept writing, and then she self-published her work. Now she has an agent and a great publishing contract with St. Martin's Press! She must have known her worth as a writer to keep going like that.

Writing stars, any and all deals should be open for negotiation. If they aren't, run! The most powerful word in your negotiating vocabulary is "no." The most powerful mindset in this age of digital publishing is "I can do it myself!" 

Donna Marie

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