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Monthly Archives: March 2010

>What Pitch?

>I’ve been having a great time reading the threads over on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Community.  There is such a good vibe over there right now.  Understandably, the forum is full of nerves and regrets but it’s made me keen to enter next year, just to be a part of it.  The main thing stopping me was how the whole thing is judged, first by a pitch then an excerpt but thinking about it, it’s the most realistic and efficient way of doing things.  Some people don’t think it’s very fair but a good pitch is important.  Still scary – it’s hard to put everything you have into a few short words.  Yet, not as scary as a face to face pitch in my opinion.

Alan Rinzler has a timely post entitled Insider Tips for Preparing and Delivering a Winning Pitch.  Good post and even the comments are bound to be interesting.  Learning to deliver a good pitch is important, whether you are trying to sell your book to an indie book store or attract the attention of an agent.  It is something I find difficult.  I’m not good at selling and delivery of a pitch is basically an attempt to sell your story.  Even people who are advertising their books on online forums often use a pitch to entice readers.  An original, interesting one gets my attention.  There are lots of sample excerpts on Amazon at the moment from those still in the competition.  They aren’t long, I personally can’t tell anything from them but some of the threads in the community have revealed more than a few gems if the pitches are anything to go by.  Personally, I’m certain I’ll have a manuscript ready to go next year but a decent pitch?  That might take me a bit longer.  🙂

>Updates at Smashwords

>I’ve been working on paper all day so only read the email from Smashwords a while ago.  First of all they have signed a new distribution agreement.  From the 1st of April, their premium catalog will be sent to Apple for inclusion in the iPad iBookstore.  On the 31st, we’ll have to select the option to opt in but no worries there.  They must have a unique ISBN attached.  Prices must end in .99 so if yours don’t, they will probably adjust them automatically to the nearest .99.  Get on it, if you want control of your own price.  Royalties are 60% of the list price.  The eBooks have to cost less than the print versions.  Crack-a-lacking as it should be.

Smashwords are providing ISBNs as of now.  Even if you live far, far away.  They are providing free ISBNs – the catch being that Smashwords are listed as the publisher.  This is not a problem for me right now but I know plenty of people have a problem with this.  Fear not, they also offer ISBNs for under a tenner and you can list yourself as the publisher and Smashwords as the distributor.  You can pay for this out of your future earnings, if any.  Freebies can’t use this option at the moment.  And if you already have an ISBN (a brand new one that has not been used) you can assign it to your eBook on the site.

I’ve been over there, the ISBN newness occurs immediately if you choose an option.  Also, note that these particular ISBNs are only intended for the e-pub versions of your manuscripts.  Different formats may require further ISBNs in the future.  For now, these ISBNs will ensure inclusion in the shipments to Sony and Apple.  I am pleasantly surprised by how quickly this has been settled in the end and we’re all included in the joy.  And don’t forget, an ISBN means your book is included in Books in Print.

>A Plan, A Plot and Some Structure

>I’ve been reading up on different methods of novel planning, 3 arc, 5 part, snowflake, hero’s journey, etc, etc, etc.  I’m far too unorganised for my own good so I thought a little planning and structure might not go amiss.  While bits and pieces of various methods are very useful, sticking to a strict plan is not for me.  Even the thought of it is making me bored and tired and meh.  But I decided to try out some stuff.  I keep seeing the Snowflake Method being talked up everywhere I go this week so I thought someone out there must be trying to tell me something, I’ll try this first.  First of all you write a one sentence summary of your book.  This one sentence was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write in my life.  Seriously.  (And when the first step is oh crap kind of hard, then the rest is probably not going to be any easier.)  How can I not know what my story is about?  Problem is, it’s about too many things at the same time, so it’s hard to pigeon hole.

That makes me think that my story is not specific enough.  Recently on Nathan Bransford’s blog he talked about querying and he said the one mistake people make is not being specific enough.  This is me.  I cannot put a label on things, I can’t condense, I can’t summarise, I cannot be specific.  Which leads me onto that other novel planning point – the question.  Your story is meant to ask one big question.  The story ends when you answer this question.  So you better make sure you’re answering the right question.  (Example being, in a romance novel, the question might be does the boy get the girl?  Boy gets the girl – end of book, ta-da!)

This is also a problem for me.  One big question is boring.  And limited.  (To me.)  I don’t like formulas and I don’t like knowing what to expect.  I like lots of relatively important story arcs that build up together into some kind of a resolution and yes maybe I am interpreting the One Big Question badly but the idea of planning everything is not flexible enough for me (and pretty soul destroying).  I had a bit of a freak out at 5am yesterday, worrying about my writing being “different” and conveniently forgetting that I’m not trying to be like anyone else.  I’m writing for me and I’m enjoying it at that.  A very sensible person reminded me of that, just in time.

But I see the value of planning and plotting and organising everything.  And I see that I need to do something more structured than sitting down and typing away without a care in the world.  I’ve been working on sorting out the chapters in one particular novel.  The time line wasn’t working out and there were things I had meant to add all along but I wasn’t sure exactly where anymore. I’ve been writing out chapter summaries and including info on time which has made things ten times easier to organise so go me.  It’s also taken the fun out of it but I’ll ignore that for now.  Point is, that little bit of a plan really helped organise things properly.  Some people have the sense to get organised before they get into their first draft but I think that would inhibit me completely and stop me from finishing anything.  I’d rather fix what I’ve already written. 

The only problem with, erm, hard work when you have no organisational skills to speak of is that my brain keeps throwing new ideas at me and I end up being completely unable to ignore them.  I don’t know how many times I had to stop what I was doing earlier to quickly write down whatever inspiration was smacking me on the head.  My next lesson to learn should probably be focus.  Especially when the fun stuff is over and the hard work begins. 

>Beta Readers

>I realised yesterday that I’m going to need beta readers soon.  I have no idea where I’m going to get them from.  I haven’t had the best luck with beta readers in the past.  I seem to be inflicted with people who send me a two line email saying yeah, great story, you should be a writer – cue my head imploding.  I feel like I’m begging to be criticised which probably doesn’t do much for my self esteem at some level. 

In case you aren’t sure, beta readers are like guinea pigs and free slaves all rolled into one.  You can test your manuscript on them, find out if the plot is believeable, get them to check for continuity, flat characters, scenes that drag.  Some, and these I find amazing, even check for spelling errors and grammar mistakes.  They have their own strengths and weaknesses so you tend to need a couple of a good, even assessment of your work.

I am jealous of people who have a perfect set of beta readers.  You know those writers who have used the same group of people for years and have no worries?  I want that to be me.  But I’m starting to think there was a finite supply of beta readers and now they’ve all been taken.  It’s hard to get anyone willing to invest that kind of time into something.  Aside from reading the story, they have to communicate their concerns about it.  A lot of beta readers are also writers so finding them at a good (non-busy) time is next to impossible.  That’s hardly surprising, I’m constantly working on my own things, I would take forever to finish going over someone else’s manuscript with a fine tooth comb.  Finding people willing to read is no problem but for some reason, a lot of people seem to have a hard time being critical.  Hard to believe when you read some Amazon reviews…

Expect to see me float around the Internet soon, begging people to tell me what’s wrong with me.  *sigh*

>Smashwords ISBNs

>I knew it wouldn’t bode well for me.  So, there is a survey in the site updates section of Smashwords asking things like do you already have e-ISBNs, what would a fair price be if Smashwords sold you an ISBN and if you would prefer for the fee to be taken out of future sales at Smashwords.  And they said they can’t provide ISBNs for people outside of the States.  And you can’t use the ISBN that was used for the print version if any.

Ebook ISBNs are going to be required to be part of the Premium Catalog at Smashwords even for free stories.  They mention that they can’t ship to Sony without them.  I was interested if there was a way Smashwords themselves could provide them but now that’s gone (for people like me) then there isn’t a lot Smashwords can do for me.  I hate when things get messy and complicated.  ISBNs are great as long as someone is buying in bulk.  I can’t exactly do that.

I see that they have to fall in line and all that but once again, I feel like I’m going to be punished for my location.  I liked that my stories, even the free ones, were in the Premium Catalog and in line to be distributed to other sellers like Barnes & Noble.  Some of my work has already been sent to Kobo (apparently) but if things are changing then will everything that has gone before be removed? 

I’m not sure if I’ll keep adding my work to Smashwords.  I’ve gotten a lot more of a response elsewhere in comparison and nowhere else requires me to have ISBNs – yet.  The main thing holding me there were the coupons, the distribution options and the lack of need for ISBNs.  Now that one is on its way down and another soon to follow, who knows what will come next.  I like change but change that I can be a part of is preferable.  I would rather change to come in the form of quality control.  I suppose Smashwords was just too good to be true, or at least to stay true for long.

>It’s a Girl

>First off, this is of no interest to anyone but my own little family but we found out today we are having a little girl so I am on a bit of a natural high right now.  She’s perfectly healthy as far as they can tell so I’m having a lot of good news this month!

Last night, I finished a re-write of a novel.  It was supposed to be a draft but it ended up being a near total re-write because I wasn’t happy with things.  The re-write wasn’t too bad because I’m so familiar with the characters and the main story arc but I’m definitely a lot happier with it this time.  I finished up two weeks earlier than I had planned so I am pleased about that – plus I had made a lickle bet with my OH and he now owes me a printer.  Next job is to start at the beginning and edit, edit, edit.  I have some padding out to do in some scenes and a bit more character development to get through but other than that it is looking good so this draft shouldn’t be too hard.  I enjoy adding to it, it’s the deleting of crappy scenes that always kills me.  I would ideally like it to be ready before the baby is born but there is a lot of work to go through before that so we shall see.  My kids have a habit of ignoring pesky due dates and showing themselves whenever they feel like it so I might not have as much time as I think.  However, I actually think this blog has kept me on track as strange as that may sound.

Still waiting for further information on the Smashwords ISBN deal – nothing yet but that hasn’t stopped me thinking about it. 

Did I mention it’s a girl? 😀

>Why and How?

>The whole family have been sick over the weekend so I’ve been doing more reading and floating about in forums than I have writing or anything useful.  I seem to see the same things over and over again.  People questioning why on earth anyone would want to self publish or people wondering what you have to do to get noticed and to sell some books.  The same questions are posed by so many people but there are no magic answers.  People have different reasons for going down the indie route just like success has come in different ways for so many indie writers.

Personally, I think I don’t have the personality for trad publishing.  There are so many traditionally published books that aren’t great but they are marketable.  I don’t think I could watch someone take my words and change them from something that means a great deal to me to something that means a little to a lot of people.  Some of the things I’ve written are aimed at a wide enough audience – teenagers, who are amazing by the way, talk about instant gratification and it is the younger generations who are being reared on digital formats.  Look at how many people use ebook applications and Wattpad alone has a massive amount of users, most of whom are in their teens.  They will be the ones supporting writers in years to come.  There is a huge market out there that is pretty much untapped at the moment, all things considered.  In fact, I’m thinking why wouldn’t you get an ebook out there right now when we’re on the brink of something huge?

But, not everything I write is aimed at such a large number of people and I would like to keep it that way.  The only way I can is by doing everything myself.  I love the control – probably says more about me than anything else.  I love writing for the readers rather than an editor or a publisher or a publicist.  I love that I can get feedback from anyone who has read my work and make changes any time I like based on this.  I love how interactive it all is and how much I’ve learned from trying every aspect of what is entailed in self publishing ebooks.  Which is more fun than you would expect.  Except for promoting and marketing your work which leads me on to that second question.  What do you have to do to get noticed around here?

Okay, I’m not as serious about it as other people.  I will never make money from this.  I’m like the little old woman in the shoe with all the smallies I have running around so I don’t have the time or money to invest in promoting myself properly.  I know that and I’m happy enough with it.  But for a lot of people, they only feel like they are a real writer if they are selling a lot of books.  And how are they doing this?  By making sure that their work is seen, for the most part.  Don’t expect to upload your manuscript and that hundreds of people will automatically find you.  How on earth are they supposed to get to your book?  And if they do find, why should they buy it?

There are lots and lots of communities for ebook writers.  The idea is for the writer to involve themselves in the forum and get a chance to read people who might actually be interested in their work.  Let’s face it, if someone who has amusing things to say on a regular basis tells you they have written a book then you are going to be a lot more curious about it than if a writer burst in, posts about their book once and is never seen or heard from again.  The internet is a rare opportunity to really reach people and I’ve seen people take new writers and books under their wings and really promote those writers and books even though they have nothing to gain from it.  Sometimes people invest a real interest in a book and want the writer to succeed.  You can’t fake this kind of thing.  It has to occur naturally.  And it can take people years to be really, truly noticed and valued. 

There are lots of other things you can do like join Authonomy or Inkpop or do a big press release or purchase advertising, do blog tours and the whole deal.  But there are lots of smaller things you can do to.  Like blog.  Such a useful thing to do.  But again, with a blog, you need to put the time in and you need to promote that blog.  You need to visit other blogs and establish relationships with people.  Trust me, it works but it takes time and effort and cuts into your writing time.  But it gets your name out there which ultimately is something you want to do.  There are also those places like Feedbooks that enable you to upload free stories.  These places get a huge amount of downloads so you are reaching a larger audience and if your work is good, they are more likely to look for more.  You can upload free stories on Smashwords and Wattpad and probably lots of other places too but Wattpad is for a certain type of story and Smashwords are bringing out ISBNs as a requirement to be eligbile for the Premium Catalog which might change the whole game over there.

The nicest places for authors that I use are Kindle Boards – who freely allow you to advertise within reason – and the Amazon Communities who now have a dedicated Kindle Author Community which is really nice.  There is also MobileRead, Author’s Den and probably half a million other places that are brilliant, I just don’t have time for them all!  And don’t forget about Twitter.  Although it doesn’t really feel me with joy, I have clicked on a lot of links to blog posts and short stories and even author interviews over there.  Every little helps.  Also potentially useful are social networking sites like Facebook and I think writing groups are often excellent although I’m not part of one at the moment.

>Submitting to Amazon – Part Two

>Next step is to Confirm Content Rights.  You tick a box to say that you have a right to upload the material. On a side note, if there is any suspicion on this then Amazon will email you and ask to confirm that that you are indeed the author or you own the rights.  You need to select whether you have worldwide rights for all terrorities or individual ones.  If it is the latter, you can select each country/territory.  Click save when you’re ready.

It moves on to the next step which is to upload your book.  The format must be MS Word, HTML, or PRC format.  This should only take a few seconds.  A little message will appear saying the document was successfully converted.  You can now preview it as it would appear on a kindle.  Always do this, it shows exactly how well (or poor) the conversion and formatting has worked out. 

The final step is to set the retail price.  It cannot be lower than .99c – at least for independently published writers.  Publishing houses are able to contact Amazon and set an Ebook as free for marketing purposes.  This can be a bit of a setback for indie writers but there are other sites that allow you to set your price as free, such as Smashwords.  I should point out that anyone who purchases a kindle book outside of the U.S. has to pay an extra $2.50 or so which means even a free book will cost something.  A .99c (a bargain in the U.S.) will be $3.51 for anyone purchasing outside of the U.S.  No longer an impulse buy, this takes a chunk out of the market for Indie writers so bear this in mind when you are pricing your work.  It has a value but building up a readership is vital for a new Indie writer.

Next you save the entries and then press publish.  Amazon will inform you that your work is being processed – I forgot to copy the exact text the last time I used it – but it has to be accepted before it can be published.  This takes a few days.  If it is accepted then it will say Publishing “Your Book”.  Your content is being published.  Most titles take 24 to 36 hours to become buyable.  Apparently this is because it takes time to set up a dedicated page and all of the information that goes with it.  Once the book is available to buy, it goes live and you can either edit it or click on the link to see the official Amazon page.  Remember that any updates will take the same amount of time to become available again.

You should seriously consider creating an Amazon Author page to link up with your books.  It makes it easier for people to see information on the author.  You can add photos, a bio and even a blog feed or you can blog on the author page itself.  It’s another handy marketing tool, take advantage of it, it’s free.

>One Night With The Fae

>I’m still waiting for it to go up on Amazon but my newest group of faery tales is already up on Smashwords.  It’s suitable for teens.

One Night With The Fae is a group of short stories focusing on one night at a faery festival.  A human girl is lured to the celebrations and to survive she must avoid attracting the attention of two warring Queens.  But the real danger lies in the underhanded attempts to break a fragile peace treaty. 
If that sounds like your thing then get a free copy throughout March by quoting this code before you check out – VA62C

>Submitting to Amazon – Part One

>I wrote about the Smashwords submissions so I suppose I should add what happens on Amazon too. It looks more professional than Smashwords but the time it takes to be approved even for additional updates is quite annoying. This makes it hard to have a simultaneous release on both sites. Smashwords is easier to use and from what I’ve heard about the emails people have gotten from Amazon when their book has been refused, it’s harder to tell why it hasn’t been accepted. Personally, I felt that the process at Smashwords was easier but I’m sure lots of people prefer Amazon.

Submitting an Ebook to Amazon’s Kindle is relatively simple using Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP). You create an account (or use your existing Amazon account) and go to your dashboard. It’s actually called My Shelf and any books or drafts you have remain here to be updated or removed whenever you like. Once you have fully uploaded a book, it takes a couple of days to be accepted and then another day or two to go live. Every time you edit a book here, it takes the same amount of time to go back on sale again which is a little irritating.

There are no real guidelines on DTP so you have to be aware of what looks professional and what doesn’t. Assuming your book is ready to be published, you need to fill out the Product Description first of all. You need a title, a description and the name/s of the author/s. It’s great that you can add author’s names to this very easy – handy if it was a collaboration. The actual description isn’t obligatory but it fills in for a blurb so use it and make it work for you.

Next up, you fill in the name of the publisher, the ISBN, the publishing date and the language. It is not necessary to fill in a publisher’s name or an ISBN which is handy for those of us who have neither. Keywords and categories are the next requirements. Be sensible, be relevant and don’t go overboard. You can now add an Edition Number, a Series Title and a Series Volume but again, you don’t have to.

Finally you choose your DRM options and upload an image. You either enable or disable Digital Rights Management. I didn’t choose to enable it. The image is your book cover – obviously. Use a decent cover and try to resize it like a Smashwords cover, as in book size. There is very little in the way of guidance on Amazon which I feel is silly because they should help those who aren’t in the know create the best product they can.

Once you are happy with all of the above, you click save entries and it automatically takes you to the next step.