Tag Archives: publishing

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.

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).

Updates, updates, updates

As you may have noticed, we have (the beginning of) a new look.

Anyway, the truth is that I’ve been working behind the scenes to shake things up and in the next couple of days those changes will gradually be going live. One of those changes is that this blog now serves as the homepage. A series of links that will get you to the older parts of this site are available via the menu above.

Also, my new books have been officially released. As soon as they are added to the amazon database I’ll be uploading the excerpts.

I hope you’ll like them, and sorry if things are a bit chaotic for the time being!

Er… update? Okay, the books are now live and the updates are done. Phew, I’m so glad that one’s over!

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.

Thoughts on amazon’s purchase of goodreads

NOOOOO!!! That about sums up my first reaction when I heard that amazon had purchased goodreads… at least as a reader. As a writer, and as an author that is actually published by CreateSpace, I know this may actually turn out to be a good thing, but the truth is that I was there mostly as a reader. In fact goodreads was the only social network I was sort of active in, now I am left to try to figure out what am I going to do about it all because the keyword in that statement is ‘was’.

As far as I am concerned there is a pretty big difference between connecting over books with other readers via a relatively small, independent network, and opening my reading nook to a large corporation. To me that’s a game-changer… and on top of that I have to admit that my experiences dealing with amazon properties have been decidedly mixed. As a customer I admit they are extremely effective, as a writer my experiences with CreateSpace have been great, but when it comes to their AuthorCentral, the property that most resembles goodreads itself, my experience was a total nightmare, so much so that I decided to end my affiliation with that service… only to be told that I was not allowed to do that, that once I had signed up, so I was basically screwed. It is that experience, that inability to terminate my affiliation with their program, that now makes me so wary of continuing my affiliation with goodreads.

So what am I going to do? The truth is that I’m not sure. For now I guess I’m going to be moving mostly to lurker mode, I may also choose to delete some of my personal information, not that that’s going to do me much good at this stage, and I will abandon the reading challenge. Yes, I will go on reading, and I would love to be able to keep sharing my thoughts on what I read, but I would much rather do this without the mighty amazon looking over my shoulder, so any comments I write will be now restricted to my own blog, where I can be certain I will remain in control of my content.

Still, in spite of everything, and of the fact that I am mourning the death of the goodreads I used to love, I consider this a lesson learned: small private networks may seem like a great alternative to behemoths such as facebook, Google and company, but successful, small. independent networks are also attractive targets for takeovers by large, greedy corporations, and that means that choosing to participate in a small network doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself suddenly in the clutches of a large one… whether you want to or not.


The past twelve months have been fairly productive ones –in fact they were great in that regard, so I’m most definitely no complaining about that– but today is one of those days in which I feel like I am being pulled in a dozen different directions. Right now I’m trying to put the finishing touches on last year’s projects. There are four of them. There is the sequel to Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind, a fully revised version of Scales at a Glance, and two translations (Laira and Scales… are about to be released in Spanish). Anyway, each one of these four books must be proof-read one last time, formatted (and believe me when I say that that is not and easy task when it comes to the two versions of Scales, which feature about a gazillion figures each) and then there is the whole cover design thing. Oh, and if that weren’t enough there is also a blog that has to be updated, not to mention that I’m already working on two new projects and those too demand their share of time (those would be the third part of Citlalli and a sort of history book). I know this is just the final push and that it will be over in a couple of weeks, but I freely admit that at times the balancing act gets to be a little too much for me… I mean, right now I feel like I could really use a twenty-eight hour day! That wouldn’t be too bad if it weren’t because today I got so overwhelmed that I would up getting distracted and didn’t even do the things I was supposed to do. That is one of my problems. As soon as I realize that there’s no way I’m going to get everything done I tend to get disorganized.

Well, there are worse things in this world. Here’s hoping that tomorrow things will work out a little better!

When things don’t turn out as you had hoped they would

Six months after my books went live in amazon I can honestly say that they haven’t sold well. Seeing how I am a writer, not a publicist, this is not entirely unexpected and I had originally thought I would let this particular milestone slip by unnoticed. That would have been the logical thing to do (we tend to celebrate our successes, not our failures), but the thing is that the fact that my books haven’t sold made me think about what this ‘failure’ means and to try to examine it more objectively… and then I decided that that was something that might actually be worth sharing in a world of ever-cheerful, self-promoting, self-published authors.

Continue reading When things don’t turn out as you had hoped they would

Price points, trim sizes and papers, oh my…

One of the tricky things when it comes to self-publishing a book can be choosing both a price point and a trim size… well, at least the trim size. In most instances the price point can be reduced to a nice little chart based on a couple of solid facts. Having said that I will try to explain what’s my philosophy when it comes to both of these issues.

The first thing you have to take into account is the nature of the book itself. Here I am going to be assuming that we are dealing with a literary endeavor (be it fiction or non-fiction) rather than with a more specialized book. In this regard you have some constraints based on the prices of most books in the market. Of course, specialized books can command a higher price, but I assume that if you know enough about a given subject to write a book about it, you are also familiar enough with that particular market to know what the prices are. Anyway, to begin with I try to follow a basic rule as a starting point, namely that I try to keep my printing costs under 30% of retail price. When it comes to POD that seems to be pretty much the standard. That makes it relatively easy, and using CreateSpace as a reference it also means that you get at least 70% off on copies you purchase, 50% royalties on sales through your CreateSpace page, 30% on sales via amazon, and if you have the expanded distribution option selected, 10% on external sales. That is pretty straight forward.

As I said it is when we come to the trim size issue that things get complicated. Most people tend to go with the most common trim sizes, namely 5.25×8 in or 5.5×8.5 in. Personally I try to avoid these trim sizes and go with a 6×9 in format except when it comes to very short books. My reasoning here is simple enough: POD published books tend to be on the expensive end of the spectrum, and those smaller formats are associated with books we just can’t compete against in that regard. The larger format, which does not really have an impact on your printing costs, is pretty much the standard for a hardcover book. It also enables you to keep down the page count and to charge a little more per page. In the end I tend to prefer a 5.25×8 in format and a retail price of $9.95 for books that are less than 150 pages in that trim size (that means up to something like 40,000 words), and then I start counting from $10.95 for the books with a larger format according to the following table: Continue reading Price points, trim sizes and papers, oh my…

A nightmare in the amazon (beware of amazon’s author central)

A few days ago I decided to sign up for amazon’s author central as I had heard some pretty good things about that program, it featured some interesting goodies and hey, it was free, so what did I have to lose, right? Well, it turns out that I had a lot to lose, thank you oh so very much, because almost immediately the response I got by clicking my name in one of my books was a nicer page… in which all of my recent work, the ones that were actually published by amazon’s own subsidiary CreateSpace, were missing. Still, I didn’t panic as there was a note saying that those books would be added in a couple of days, which they were. So far, so… well, I wouldn’t say that was ‘good’, but I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say it was ‘bad’.  In fact it was only when those books were added that things took a turn for the worse.

What happened was that the listing for Soulless, a book I had spent almost a year rewriting, defaulted to the old, out of print edition, though even after all this time amazon won’t list it as ‘out of print’, just as ‘out of stock’ (which is laughable for a POD published book, but that’s another story). I contacted them, asking them what I could do to fix that particular situation, and the reply I got amounted basically to ‘that’s the way our pages work, tough luck’… okay, not quite they did add a button that said that there’s a newer edition available, one I would have assumed would have been added by default when a new edition became available, but apparently it hadn’t been.

Also, as if their defaulting to the old edition weren’t bad enough, amazon had decided to link the old edition to the ‘look inside’ content of the new one… the fact that the content of both books is not the same is apparently irrelevant as far as they are concerned (to be fair, I have to say I’m not sure if this is a new development or if the problem had been there all along and I’ve just become aware of it as a result of this little SNAFU).

Anyway, back to the contact form I went. This time I clicked on the ‘I want to delete my Author Page’ option, as this seemed to be my only way out under the circumstances. Before I had even typed a single character that one had already gotten me a ‘he he, you are screwed’ message (okay, technically it read ‘In order to help customers better browse their favorite authors and find new ones, Author Pages are not removed’, but it amounted to the same thing). I wrote to them once more to try to explain once again what the problem was, and I am currently waiting for a response, but the thing is that, in light of the glowing reviews I had seen of that particular program, and how dismal my experiences with it have been in the short time I’ve been affiliated with it, I figured I might as well post this little heads-up, especially if you are trying to bring out a new edition of an existing title… or if there is even the smallest chance that you will someday have to do so.

Now to the obvious question: is this a real problem that is worth considering before signing up for this service, which does have some good things going for it, or is this just a one off fluke that is unlikely to come back to haunt most authors? Continue reading A nightmare in the amazon (beware of amazon’s author central)

At what price quality?

Hi guys, okay a fair warning, I am going to be asking a rather heretical question here, but first a little background: for over ten years now I have been maintaining a comparison of POD publishers and this past week I had a rather nasty argument with the owner of a particular outfit. In a nutshell, he claims that authors are better off paying him more than £3,500.00 to set up a book because he produces books that are of above average quality when compared to other POD outfits (and keep in mind that I only have his word when it comes to that particular claim). Anyway, seeing how you can have a book published via CreateSpace by paying something like $35.00, and that’s including both expanded distribution and one or two rounds of proof copies depending on your book’s length, I found myself wondering how much does quality really matter.

Oh, I’m not talking here about not having a nice cover design or a good interior layout (I do realize that those things are important), I am talking about the quality of the materials that go into making the physical object we know as a book. I mean when I think back to all the books I have ever read what I remember first and foremost is the plot, that is followed by the quality of the writing as such and maybe the cover. The interior layout only comes into play if there is a problem with it, but the manufacture and the quality of the paper? The truth is that that’s not something I, as a reader, have ever given much thought to (not as long as the thing doesn’t fall apart in my hands the first time I open it, and sometimes not even then)… and yet as an author at times I can’t help but to worry about it. Anyway the question I wanted to ask is this: would you pay more than £3,500.00 to have a book that’s a little nicer (and to be fair, that fee does include all design services and a few extras which you would have to supply on your own via CreateSpace), or would you prefer to either save your money or to have the freedom to allocate it as you see fit?