Category Archives: Adventures in Self-publishing

A more personal and up-to-date companion to the Incomplete Guide to POD Publishers

E-publishing and the race to the bottom

As I prepare to release another book I find myself grappling once more with the question of what to do about e-books, a question that becomes more relevant with each and every passing day, as more and more readers eschew the printed world altogether to switch to electronic versions instead. The thing is that while a part of me would love to join this trend, there is another one that can’t help but to hesitate.

To begin with there is the fact of just how fragmented this market happens to be. You can choose a publisher, have your book printed and distributed by signing a single contract in such a way that you know what you are getting, but when it comes to e-books each bookstore requires what amounts to a different agreement, with most outlets claiming for themselves the right to modify the terms of the agreement. This creates a maze of shifting legalese few self-published authors can realistically hope to untangle, or even keep track of, where the possibility that the evolving contracts would at some point collide with each other cannot be entirely ruled out… and the more distribution options you seek, the higher that risk becomes. Continue reading E-publishing and the race to the bottom

Waiting for the proofs to arrive

And we are done! That project that was almost there the last time has officially crossed the finish line, including cover design and interior layout. That means that all that’s left to do is to wait for the proofs to get here, and then, if no major issues pop up, it will probably go live on November 2.

As for what that one is about: it’s a ghost story (hence the decision to release it on the Day of the Dead if at all possible). Will it sell?

Who knows? The truth is that I’m not particularly optimistic in that regard (not considering that I have a marketing budget of exactly $0.00, and would much rather be writing anyway), but I’m not particularly concerned about it either. Yes, being able to make ends meet would be great, but my needs are simple, and no matter what happens I had a blast writing it, so I’m just tossing another message in a bottle, waiting to see if someone -anyone- will pick it up…

Two down three (at least for the time being) to go

Well, one/two of the five projects I have been trying to juggle are all but done (they are two versions of a single title, that’s the reason behind the iffy numbering. The English version is done, and the Spanish one has less than a week to go, though there are also some design issues that I’ll also have to take care of… still, the end is near). A second/third project (the one that was being a bit of a brat), has effectively been shoved to the back burner. It’s not happy about it, and at times I hear it grumble so I have to go in there and stir it a little to keep it from turning into a charred mess, but on the back burner it sits. Whether or not it will agree to stay there remains to be seen.

As for book three of Citlalli (that would be the third/fourth project depending on how one counts the one that is almost done), the first draft of that one  is coming along nicely, and with a little luck it will be done before October is out… not that I don’t have half a dozen rounds of corrections to go, but I should have the rough draft by then.

Once that is done I’ll finally  be able to turn my attention back to the sort-of-history book I have been neglecting for the past few months (that would be project four/five… the problem with that one is that it was supposed to be something like 25,000 words, but last time I checked it was 90,000+ and counting). It should also make it possible to go back to my preferred kind of insanity (that would be one where I have two active projects, where I revise one while writing the other one)… okay, so that’s supposed to be the theory.

Of course, that only works if no other projects come knocking (okay, so for the most part they don’t knock, they just barge in and make themselves at home, knowing that they are welcome and that the door is always open), or if the one that is currently on that back burner doesn’t get too bratty in the meantime. Still, having some semblance of order, even if it is only for a little while, makes for a nice change of pace!

Crowdsourcing your book

I’ve been going over the Pubslush site for the past couple of days, and I have to say that this is a trend that could actually be interesting not just as a means to secure some financial backing, but also as one that can help authors fine-tune their sales pitch. No, I’m not too sure about their publishing arm (they mention the fact that they have one, but there is little to no information about it), but the basic concept seems to be solid.

The basic premise is the one you would expect from a crowdsourcing site: you create as project, set some goals and rewards, as well as an allotted time frame, upload some content, and wait. There is a minimum $500.00 threshold, and if you reach it, you get the funds (minus 4%, plus processing fees), even if you fall short of your stated goal.

Of course, the question of whether crowdsourcing a book using what is, at least for now, a relatively obscure site can hope to reach all target audiences is a valid one, but seeing how the service is free it may well be worth a shot.

Free to write whatever I want

Is it odd that I find the fact that my books aren’t selling oddly liberating? That was a thought that hit me as I worked on the third book of the Citlalli series, and I found myself confronted with the need to make some hard choices when it came to a few critical aspects of the plot. It is a choice I have known I was going to have to face at some point pretty much from day one, and that was one of the main reasons I switched from Virtual Bookworm to CreateSpace in the first place, but still I know that, if the book had been selling, I would have found myself wondering which plotline would play better with my readers… I would have found myself trying to play it safe. That is human nature, but as things stand I am free to make my choice with no external influences. In fact if the books had been released by a traditional publisher I might well have found myself deprived of the right to make that choice at all. More often than not, that freedom is one of the first things authors working on a series have to give up when they sign on that dotted line.

Oh, that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like it if my books were a source of income. Like everyone else I have to eat, but the bottom line is that at the end of the day I have a roof over my head, I am reasonably happy, I can publish what I want, when I want, and my dogs are fed, so I have no reason to complain.  It is a matter of perspective, of keeping my priorities straight, and figuring out what matters to me… and of feeling grateful for the fact that I am in a position to follow my dreams, to write and publish my books on my terms, and to live my life more or less like I want to.

Heads I win, tails you lose

Contests are one of the best vehicles for aspiring authors out there… or at least so goes the conventional wisdom, and there is no denying that  in some instances they can be a wonderful opportunity. The only problem is that there are also a whole bunch of other instances.

Now, I’m not knocking all contests, but one of the first things you have to do before you enter one is… to make sure that you can turn the prize down. Why would you want to do that? Well, let’s face it, the main draw of some of these contests is that they offer you a way into the walled garden of paid authors without having to go through those dreaded gatekeepers, known as ‘the agents’. That’s good, except for the fact that you don’t really know the terms you are agreeing to. Granted, in the real world a new author doesn’t really have that much bargaining power either, but at least you get to read the contract before you sign on the dotted line, and if there is a clause in there that you really can’t live with, well, you can always choose to walk away. Beware of the fact that by entering a contest you may be giving up that particular right.

Another thing I find hilarious is that the people arguing contests are an unknown author’s best friends are all too often the same people who argue against self-publishing and reading fees. Money should always flow towards the author, they say… but they make an exception for contest entry fees. Okay, I understand that organizing a contest does entail some expenses, but let’s look at the deal those organizers are getting out of this: they get hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions plus fees that more than allow them to recoup any expenses they may have incurred in in the process, and they also get their pick of hundreds/thousands of works… with the added benefit that authors don’t even have a right to see what kind of terms they are agreeing to. Oh, and while they are at it they also often claim exclusive rights to the entry while the contest is underway (something that can translate into more than six months), meaning that the authors are effectively frozen in place until they deign to come down with a verdict. That is ridiculous.

Is self-publishing ideal? No, nowhere near it, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. It is hard work, and chances are that your book will languish in obscurity for all times no matter what you do, but the thing is that right now authors can have their book published with some pretty favorable terms for less than what it would cost them to enter a single contest… and the sad fact remains that writing contests, just like publishing and self-publishing, is a field that is rife with scam artists. You may not be getting much out of self-publishing, but at least what you get out of it is a known quantity.

It’s a tough world for authors out there, and the bottom line is that whether you are looking to enter a contest, publish your book, trying to find an agent, or trying to determine what your best option for self-publishing happens to be, you have to be very, very careful… that, and to keep typing.

The attack of the renewal fees

Yesterday I received two e-mails from authors complaining about the newly instituted renewal/storage fees that some POD publishers are charging, and some of these fees seem to be as high as $50.00 a year per version, so what’s going on here?

Well, as far as I know Lightning Source, the printing company used by most publishers, does charge a $14.00 a year fee, and while a number of publishers have a clause in their contracts enabling them to recoup that fee, they may have chosen not to enforce it  up until now to avoid alienating their customers (VBW, for instance, has such a clause). What I suspect may be happening here is that some of these publishers have reached a tipping point where they can no longer afford to absorb this loss. $14.00 may not look like much on its own, but for a publisher that has one thousand titles in its catalog that would translate into a yearly expense of $14,000.00. The fact that some publishers may have decided to start passing this fee on to their authors may not be a pleasant development, but it is an understandable one. On the other hand a $50.00 fee (that one was reported for Aventine Press) is excessive no matter how you look at it, and to me it hints at desperation. That one makes me think of a company that used to rely on setup fees rather than book sales for its bread and butter that has suddenly found itself in a position where new authors just aren’t biting like they used to, so it has decided to go back to milk its captive audience instead. If I had to guess, I would probably chalk that particular development up to the rise of epublishing and of the  juggernaut commonly known as CreatSpace, two developments that have made it very difficult for the little guys to compete.

The thing is that I see the advent of these fees as a sign of a shift in the industry, one that I suspect will see a number of small publishers going out of business over the course of the next few years. That may not be a bad thing (if the scam is no longer working like it used to, maybe some of the scammers will decide to cut their losses and run, leaving us with a cleaner field), but it does mean that betting on a small publisher may come back to bite you if that publisher winds up being among the ones that go belly up.

As for the fees themselves: I would describe a fee of up to $15.00 as a legitimate operating expense (for the print version, there is no reason it should apply to ebooks), but the higher above that threshold the fee is, the more troubling it becomes… and if you are looking for a publisher, and you don’t want to go the DIY route, my advise remains the same it has always been: look for a publisher that offers a full service package where your setup fee doesn’t exceed the royalties you would get for external sales of two or three hundred copies, make sure the contract is non-exclusive, that it has a nice termination clause, and that the rights revert to you should they go out of business, otherwise you may wind up losing a lot more than your setup fee if the company does go under.

Do you have a favorite?

One question a few people have asked me is which one of my books is my favorite. That’s a tricky one , but my answer is mostly that while I try not to play favorites, that doesn’t mean I can’t give you a hint of where to start if you want to pick one of my books. To begin with let’s get Scales at a Glance out of the way. If you are interested in music theory then that’s the best bet. If, like most people, that is one subject you could hardly care less for, well, then you will probably want to avoid it.

Soulless was my first attempt at writing a full length novel, and I still think the concept is well worth it. At the same time there is no denying that it has a few of those kinks that are commonly associated with first novels(though I did fully revise it, so hopefully it’s not that bad any more).

Citlalli has its own set of issues. To begin with there is the fact that it is something of a work in progress, not to mention that it is long (something like 800 pages and counting, to be accurate), a fact that makes tackling it a prospect that may seem a little too daunting a starting point for those who don’t know me. It is a project I hold very dear, one I have been working on and off on for a very long time, but at the same time it is one I’m not sure anyone else is ever really going to care for. I would love for people to read it and enjoy it, but it may be too much of a commitment for someone approaching my books blind.

Finally there is Laira, I’m not sure I would describe it as my favorite, or my best, work but I do realize that it is by far the most accessible one of the lot. It is a straight-forward, science fiction novella that, if nothing else, can be read in a couple of hours.

So while I don’t really have a favorite, there is one book I can recommend as a starting point (unless you have a deep aversion to science fiction, that is)… make that two if you care for music theory.

Published by CreateSpace, printed by… someone else

Today I got the  copies of my books. At first I was really excited… then I saw them, and I knew right away that something wasn’t right. From the look of things, I suspect that they were not printed by CreateSpace, but rather by someone else (the copies I received today don’t even have a product id, something that is in itself a pretty big no-no). Anyway, the yellows seem to be MIA from the covers, while the reds are  much stronger than they were in the proof. The end result is that in two instances my name is almost completely unreadable, the contrast is shot in all of them, and all the covers look downright grotesque. As for the quality of paper, it is clearly of a different grade than the one that was used for the proofs. Its quality is not necessarily lower, but the paper is noticeably thinner (meaning that, for a book that is well over 400 pages, the spine winds up looking kind of funny). In addition to that there is the fact that the trim size itself seems to be something like 0.1 inch shorter than the one in the proof in all of the books, and that fraction of an inch was taken entirely from the bottom (the book’s width too is a little narrower, but the difference is not so apparent). That means that the pages are clearly off-center. It may sound like I am  nitpicking here, but the truth is that all these details do make a significant difference that results in a far less professional look. No, the books I received today are not entirely unusable, but I have to say that the end result leaves much to be desired.

On the positive side, when it come to the interior graphics, I have to say that the print quality seems a little better. As for the durability of the binding, well, the jury is still out on that one.

The thing is that if you have paid for the external distribution option you should probably be aware of the fact that, even if your copy looks fine, the quality of the end product is bound to be something of a Russian roulette, because no matter how you set your books up, the fact that there are two printing companies using what are clearly two very different  standards to produce the books basically means that the copies printed by one of them are bound to look like  crap no matter what you do. A serious problem that is well worth considering before you add that external distribution option… especially if CreateSpace is going to resort to that secondary printer to fulfill its own orders (or even those that are placed via amazon).

Now, to be fair, I have to say that most of the books I have seen  that are printed by CreateSpace have an acceptable quality (not great, but certainly good enough), and the same goes for those printed by Lightning Source (though I’m not even sure if these books were printed by Lightning Source… that lack of product id again). The problem is that there are clearly some differences in the way the companies that are printing books for CreateSpace work, but given that you are stuck using a single set of files the quality is bound to suffer.

UPDATE: I have contacted CreateSpace regarding these issues and they are currently being investigated. I don’t know what’s going to come out of this, but so far I am extremely satisfied with their response. This is a relief, as one of the things I had fretted the most over when I switched publishers last year was precisely the question of what would happen when something went wrong (what can I say, I am enough of a realist to know that it was a matter of when, not if).

I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE #2: okay, apparently some measures have been taken to avoid future issues (here’s hoping they will work).

News about Soulless and Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind

Well it looks like I am going to wind up with two versions of these two books. It may not be what I intended, but in a really twisted kind of way I think it may end up being for the best.

What happened was that while I was working on the interior layout of Citlalli and the Shards of Light I decided to go for a different font and a bit more space between the lines than the one I had used in book one (in fact I decided to go for what was basically the same layout I had used for Laira). The obsessive in me wasn’t particularly happy at the thought that I was going to wind up with two different layouts in two books that were part of the same series, so I decided to update the layout of the first book while I was at it… and then I was made aware of the  fact that not only was there a fee for updating the files of a book that had been signed up for CreateSpace’s expanded distribution package, but also that if the page count changed by more than 10% I was going to need different new ISBN anyway (and seeing how that page count was going to jump from something like 372 to 436, that was definitely me). That was not a happy thought, and then the situation was compounded by the fact that I was going to have to increase the price of Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind from $17.95 to $19.95 just to keep the title commercially viable using the expanded distribution. Things were not looking good, and I was seriously considering the possibility of scraping the whole thing and just learning to live with those two different layout, but then I decided to turn CreateSpace’s update policy to my (and hopefully your) advantage. Continue reading News about Soulless and Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind

Pointless point sizes

This is a post that is meant mostly for authors looking to self-publish their first book using a DIY service such as Create Space, and it has to do with that pointless bit of insanity that is commonly known to as point sizes.

Let me show you what I mean:

a dozen font samplesNow what do these twelve samples have in common? Continue reading Pointless point sizes

The books are coming!

They are almost here! I know I’ve been talking about this since what feels like forever, but if everything goes according to plan Citlalli and the Shards of Light, Scales at a Glance, and the Spanish language versions of both Scales at a Glance and Laira will be released on May 23.

Oh, and did I mention that I’m already hard at work in two or three projects that will hopefully be released next year? (and here I had thought that once this batch was done I’d be able to sleep for a month!)

CreateSpace, an update

Almost a year ago, as I was getting ready to release Soulless, Laira, and Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind, I wrote a post in which I tried to explain my decision to switch from Vitrual Bookworm to CreateSpace.  I admit that at the time I was somewhat worried about how that one was going to turn out. Now, as I prepare to release the next batch of titles, I am happy to say that for the most part my experience with CreateSpace has been a positive one.

Yes, I still feel that if you don’t know what you are getting into, have never had anything to do with the publishing business before, and you want to have the comfort of knowing that there is someone in charge you can talk to, who will listen to your concerns, know your name, take care of the details, and who will actually be in a position to help you out if you run into trouble,  you may well be better off with a well-established, small to mid sized publisher that charges a reasonable fee, even if the they can’t match what CreateSpace  has to offer in terms of royalties. Of course, the key words in that statement are ‘well-established’ and ‘reasonable fee’ because this is one field in which there are way too many scam artists. In fact I would go so far as to say that this is one instance in which the belief that ‘you get what you pay for’ will probably come back to bite you. Remember that if your setup fee is more than five hundred times your royalties per copy sold via external channels chances are seriously against you ever breaking even.

Anyway, and getting back to the subject of CreateSpace,  I have to say that, in addition to the fact that you don’t get as much support as you would with a (good) smaller outfit,  I also remain convinced that the issues with CreateSpace‘s TOS (namely the fact that they reserve the right to make any changes they see fit) are a problem. In spite of that, at least for experienced authors who can supply their own cover and their own interior layout (and who are not above playing a round or two of contractual Russian roulette), they offer what is by far the best deal out there. They provide a very efficient service, and a finished product that has a reasonable quality (thought there may be some minor issues with curling covers under certain condition, and with the printing of interior images).  I can also say that, for the most part, the system works as advertised.

BTW, while I mentioned above that a personalized customer support is one of the big advantages of a more traditional publisher, that doesn’t mean that you have no recourse when dealing with CreateSpace. Their customer support is pretty reliable (for the most part), and they will (usually) do their best to help you if you run into trouble, so you are not entirely on your own. It’s just that you don’t have a specific contact you can address your concerns to, and that precisely because they have a such a large staff, you never know what you are going to get.

And finally, in the comparison I gave CreateSpace three stars out of four, but that was based on how they compared to other the other publishers, and it did include their layout and cover design packages, which may have distorted things a bit. If I were to evaluate CreateSpace based only the company’s own merits, without the design extras, and using a one to five scale, I would probably give it four stars for experienced authors, and three for newbies who are at least somewhat familiar with the basics of the publishing business.

Getting tired of apologizing (a sort of update)

No, this blog isn’t dead, it just looks that way.

The truth is that I am currently busy working behind the scenes (the new books should be available in about a month, though I don’t have a specific date), plus I am also working on an update to the POD comparison, and on a few other things. Seeing how I still haven’t figured out how to fit twenty-eight hours in a twenty-four hour day something had to give, and unfortunately that something turned out to be the regular blog updates, as demonstrated by the fact that it had been two weeks since I had posted anything.

I’m still reading, I’m still dismayed whenever I read the news… and I am also busy writing. Hopefully in June things will finally be back to normal.