Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday - Cyber Monday Sale

I am trying to capitalize on the Black Friday crowds this weekend for my titles by running a sale on my books on both CreateSpace and my website.

I am also going to give away all my currently published e-books on Cyber Monday.

And I currently have a Goodreads Giveaway and will run another one in December.

I admit, I have not put as much effort into advertising these as I should have, but if I get any response from them, I will let you know.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Goodreads Giveaways

So this week in honor of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, I will be giving away several of my books on Goodreads.

I have found Goodreads giveaways to be a great way to get reviews for your books (expect about a 50% return - 4 books given away should give you about 2 reviews).

With these reviews, I am going to try a new tactic I learned from participating in other people's reviews - the nudge. I will include a "packing slip" that has technical information and a note to please provide the book with a review.

There are dangers in Goodreads giveaways. On person, upon not being selected by Goodreads to win immediately gave me a 1 star review of my book - I hadn't even sold one copy so I protested - there was no way this person could have read the book to have reviewed it.

Also, the reviews you get are usually only posted on Goodreads.

Limit your reviews to the United States. The first two giveaways I had were international - I opened them up to all English speaking countries. For one, this is very expensive. It cost more than $10 each to send the books to most of the people who won (not sending prizes will get you banned from future giveaways). I was giving away 10 books, so I spent a lot of money (not including the cost of the books). Second, people in other countries do not always "get" American literature. I have had my  children's book reviewed by several teachers and child educators - all of them thought it was great for the 5 - 7 year old age target. Those from the international community felt it was too difficult for small children to read. My inspirational, historical romance (set in 1739 U.K.) received bad reviews because it was "Christian." One British person gave me 3-stars because I accidentally left one Americanism in the last chapter of the book. I received great reviews from the American community and ho hum to bad reviews internationally. In fact, several people did not seem to understand that "inspirational" MEANS "Christian," which brings me to my final point:

Be sure to spell everything out in your Giveaway (and in your book blurb for that matter). Not everyone knows what inspirational means in the romance community. If you have written a book that could even remotely be skewed as "Christian" be sure to spell it out. If your book contains offensive material - add that to your description. Even if you don't find it offensive - if someone,  somewhere could find it offensive, let people know. In general, people are squeamish about violence, foul language, sex, drug and alcohol use, etc. Basically, go to a movie store and see why movies are rated above "G" and that will give you a good list of things to check for in your book.

As a final note - If you give away 10 books and only have 20 people sign up, you really haven't lost anything. All you needed was 10 people. The number of people who signed up for some of mine were 700 - 900, but I am having far fewer people signup for my latest ones because I am trying to use my description to weed out those who won't like the book's subject matter or writing style. Really, you do not want reviews from people who hate reading fantasy books if that is what you have written.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Should I publish my writing on Amazon or on a blog?

In order to answer this question, you need to answer another: Why are you writing?

If you are writing because you want to build a writing career through self-publishing where you are planning on marketing your own books and constantly developing new books and promoting them, you should edit the book as best you can afford and self-publish it on Amazon.

If you are writing because you enjoy it, or somebody told you that you should write a book about your life and you don't care if you have to give it away for free, you just want it to be available to other people, you should blog your writing.

Here is the problem- when authors who want to make their living from their writing are at a disadvantage because of those who just want to write. These authors will still probably need to give away their books for free in limited supply, but instead of reaching a target audience, they will reach many people who are addicted to collecting free books. These people will never pay a penny for another book no matter how good it is because there are so many free ones. Yes, I have actually met these people in real life. Publishing a book just to give it away free indefinitely is counterproductive. For one, a lot of time, effort, and money go into publishing a book - even if you do if for free on Kindle or CreateSpace. Maintaining a blog does not require as much work.

Some people are interested in making money off their writing, but instead put in on a free blog. If you post your material on a blog, you will not be able to sell it. If people are getting it for free, they will not then pay for it. (Unless you only post part of it, such as a first chapter that grabs their attention.)

Blogs are a great place to start writing, though. The most frequently posted Guru jobs are along the lines of "finish my book." If you are not in the habit of writing, a blog will make you or break you. Blogs also get people interested in your writing before you publish - which is what you want. If you are not sure what category you fit into, you should start with a blog.

What if you have been writing a blog and now you want to turn it into a book? Save all your blog posts in a Word file and remove them from you blog. Removing or reducing the access works just as if you never published it. The posts could still be accessed (probably) by computer savvy individuals, but the number of people going to that trouble would not be great. You should leave a teaser of your work to attract others, and by all means keep blogging - just adjust your theme or focus.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Avoiding Scam Publishing Companies Part II

Now, on the Automat homepage, you can see the submission button loud and clear. This should also be a warning sign. (We are not accepting submissions so you don't need to look for ours- and probably won't unless I decide to go through the headache of royalty reporting.)

Harlequin's is buried. In fact, most major publishing companies highlight the books they are selling and hide submission buttons or bury them in the footer at the bottom of the page (like Simon and Schuster or even the smaller Quirk Books). Thousands of people submit to real publishers every day. Thousands (or more). If you want to submit to them, they are certainly not going to make it easy on you. On the other hand, scam artists, vanity presses, and those who make money off other's ambitions without offering much in return WANT thousands of people to submit to them - that's how they make money. They will have it right out in front.

The purpose of legitimate presses is to make money off the books they sell, so those will always be highlighted on legitimate publishing company websites. However, you would expect even vanity presses would have some way of buying their books. Looking at Automat's doesn't impress me..."Please send check or money order" for $11 to... Uh, okay, that is an epic fail. If you are advertising your books online, you should have some sort of online method of allowing people to buy them. Dreaming Reality does (although I haven't tried it myself, so I really don't know if it works - however, people clicking on the CreateSpace links on the home page can purchase the books through Amazon - my preferred method of business anyway); Harlequin (HQ) allows you to buy from them; Quick books links you to the retailers where you can buy it; Simon and Shuster does both. NONE say - send your check or money order here... although HQ offers a "Bill Me" option, but hey, they also send people free books to get them to sign up to buy more.

In addition, the Automat offers 42 books - 7 of which were written by the Automat founder. Obviously, our website is the same - I have written or helped write all the books on it. Still, if the founder of the publishing company has authored most of the books, it usually means you are supporting their writing habit. And, if Dreaming Reality were accepting submissions as a vanity press, that is what we would be doing, too. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that HQ has so many books you could sink the Titanic with them.

If you further read Automat's submission guidelines, you will see that each book costs $10 (plus shipping and handling) and that you will have to market it yourself. Again - warning bells should go off if any publishing company says you need to do all your own marketing (most vanity presses will offer some marketing, even if it costs). All authors need to do marketing but publishing companies help with that. That is their job. If you want to do your own marketing, publish on Amazon. (Please note - Automat does not sell its books on Amazon - one of the biggest book retailers in the world.) Also, $10, for a paper bound - that's right not even a paperback, but a stapled together (that is what a chapbook is), B&W, light cardstock bound book I could print out and make with my home printer will cost you (and your customers) $10 even if its 50 pages long. Frankly, I could get better quality at Staples for less. It does seem the author will get a discount if he/she buys books to sell, but no royalties. Honestly, even at $7.50, you are going to have a hard time getting anything other than sympathy sales.

One final note: if you scroll to the bottom of the Automat's ordering page, you will see the covers of several (all?) of their books. They do not scream "buy me" or even make me want a cover like that on on any of my books. Some are quite good, but in essence they are all pretty much similar and some have really amateur artwork and design work.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Avoiding Scam Publishing Companies Part I

Someone today on one of my LinkedIn groups was moaning about how the publishing company he was working with had been stringing him along. He paid $20 for them to read his manuscript, they accepted it, and then he waited... and waited... and waited... until they just sent him a letter saying they were going under and couldn't print his book.

I got on and tried to explain to him that you should NEVER pay to have your book published (or read or whatever fee a 'publishing' company comes up with - that is a vanity press. I also told him vanity presses go under because they frequently do not have the funds and people frequently lose money.

He felt I was being condescending because I assumed he hadn't done his research. My husband, who frequently engages in equally risky attempts to contact "publishers" also ignores me when I yell at him about it. Please, Internet research is NOT research. Purchase a copy of the 2015 Writer's Market and submit to every traditional publisher, agent, and contest in there - but stay away from Internet resources.

Now, first, as an author - you are marketing yourself. You MUST learn to take criticism with grace. This is the only way. Yes, I am an epic fail at this, but I do try. In addition, if you criticize me and I realize I am wrong, I will admit it and attempt to do it right. Still, I know that my lack of grace (and refusal to act like a groveling slave around certain employers) is what kills some business relationships that could have been profitable. However, I really would not want to continue working with employers that treat me like scum anyway. On the other hand, when people rate my books poorly- I don't attack them. I have a feeling this guy would not be able to keep himself from getting the last word in - which is not good.

Second, he claimed to do his research. Thankfully, I think I have convinced my husband to stop his risky Internet behavior. I typed in the name of the last "agent" he contacted and the word "scam" into a search engine and let him see the results after the so-called agent sent us oodles of spam. But the problem is on the Internet, you may not be able to tell if the guy (or girl) is a scammer until it is too late. Scam posts only get posted after the fact. There were none on the LinkedIn guy's "publishers."

However, aside from the reading fee, there were several things that could have keyed the guy into the fact that these "publishers" might not be the best ones to go with. For comparison, I will use the website of the indie publishing company I share with my husband and Harlequin.

Here are the landing pages:
LinkedIn Guy: Automat
Mine: Dreaming Reality

Automat has 1 picture that is repeated on every page you click. Most of the pages are just text. Although the website domain was purchased - the design screams "I did it myself." A quick click on the about us page shows that, in fact, the website owner's son did it himself.

Obviously, when you click on my page, each page is uniquely designed. (Our website is a freebie site - that should be a warning if you were looking to submit to us. However, I cannot justify the cost of  a website when we are (a) not taking submissions and (b) prefer to do our sales on Amazon.) The pictures on our website are varied except for those beneath the "coming soon" books. (Shoot, I have two more books to put out this month... why am I not working on those instead of blogging and doing LinkedIn!!!)

Harlequin also has unique pages and varied pictures. (And a newsletter sign up on the front page! Ours is on the "contact us" page - maybe I should move it?)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fantasy Football and Freelancing

Most of you would probably think its a no brainer, but Fantasy football and freelancing do NOT mix well. I am sure you could substitute any time consuming project - 4H, Candy Crush, FaceBook lurking, self-publishing, etc. - for "Fantasy football."

I would not have signed up for Fantasy football - nor asked to be signed up for it - but my husband of 15 years signed me up without my consent. Sigh. I always knew he was a football fanatic (and so am I), but he hated Fantasy football. Until last year...

So, this year he signed up the whole family and convinced me that it was a "family event." Yes, each of our four children are also playing in our league. However, I cannot just play. I am a highly competitive person. So, I had to develop notebooks filled with player stats to make sure I had the best players in the right positions. Then of course I stumbled across all the sub-games that offers. More notebooks appeared filled with even more stats as I tried to guess the best players, teams, etc. each week. Meanwhile, my blog and my freelancing business have gotten sluggish. The fact that I got sick and entered into a major depression in August/ September and am still trying to pull myself out of it hasn't helped.

Now, when I am putting out a book or posting to Facebook, I am at least being productive. However, when I am doing things on, I can't really justify them. Although I am limiting my time on there (and my team/ entries are suffering), I still am typing this with one tab open to watch my team going against my son's team. Believe me, if I ever think of a way to promote my books on there, I will let you know. But really, how many people watch football/ play fantasy football and enjoy reading fantasy, historical romance, medical non-fiction, children's books, postmodern fiction books? I would be willing to bet not many...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My book review matrix for self-published books for which I am exchanging reviews.

I am going to be publishing some reviews of Indie books on here as part of a series on the review exchanges I have be participating in on Goodreads. I hope to explain how this process has worked/ not worked for me, but before I do, I would like to share the matrix I have developed for this process. 

Initially, when I did these reviews, I reviewed the books as I would any traditionally published book or book I review for Reader's Favorite (where I receive a small amount of compensation). I will point those out when posting them. However, as I went along, I realized that this is not really fair despite the fact that one of the leaders of the groups said as self-publishing authors we should be tougher on the books we review. 

Traditional publishing companies have resources and marketing outlets unavailable to indie authors. For example, if a traditional publishing company wants reviews about how great their book is, they easily have the connections and staff to post hundreds of them – many from people who do not disclose they are paid or received the books for free. In addition, they can send out thousands of free books to targeted audiences for reviews. 

Also, each traditional publishing company sends books first to a professional developmental editor - who fixes plot inconsistencies, chops inappropriate material, and fills in material that needs more explanation or different voice. Developmental editors can cost up to $12 per page and an indie author has no guarantee that he/she will do a good job. Then the traditionally published book goes to another editor who checks it for grammar and spelling - this can cost the indie author up to $6 and again, there is no guarantee the editor is any good. Grammarly is an acceptable substitute, but it will cost you $30.00 per month. (I think. I have a yearly subscription.) Then the book is formatted by a professional layout person and send to a proofreader who will check to ensure the formatting is uniform, and there are no more typos. I charge $1 per page to format (unless it is tricky), and I charge another $1 per page if you want me to reformat a photo/ image intensive book for Kindle. I am sure this is probably on the cheap side. Proofreading - true proofreading and not editing/ formatting/ proofreading that someone is trying to get done for the price of proofreading (which many editors will charge more for if the author tries to slip it through or had the previous jobs done by an incompetent person) - can cost up to $8 per page. Add this all together and a 200 page book can cost more than $5000 - just to edit professionally and the author may not even get it done well. (Don't worry, I am going to be talking about ways to lower your editing costs in future posts.) However, when you also add in cover design (generally $50 - $100), and illustrations (figure around $50 per image) and marketing costs if you hire someone ($1500 per month) - you either need to be rich and well connected to put out a professional book by yourself or you scrimp in places (I belong to the latter group). 

Because of this unfair advantage that traditional publishers have, I have decided to use a different rating system on indie books that were given to me to review as a part of a review exchange. I do not want to write a glowing review, when I don't think the book deserves it, but I also want to take into account that indie authors have less resources than traditional publishers. Like my professionally reviewed books, these books will no longer be adjusted based on the rating systems where I am posting the reviews. To keep my star rating unbiased on books I receive for review exchanges, I have developed the following matrix which I am also referencing on my Goodreads profile page.

Editing:  Poor = -1 Okay (few mistakes) = 0 Clean = +1
Plotline:  Incoherent = -1 Some odd twists/ unexplained items = 0 Amazing = +1
Formatting/ images: Poor quality = 0 Okay, but with a few issues = +1 Looks good = +2
Liked: Disliked the story = 2 It was okay = 4  Loved the story = 5
Characters: Difficult to follow = 0 Easy to follow = +1
I add up score and divide by 2. To determine whether I will round up or down, I look at average of other ratings – if it is higher, I go up; if it is lower, I go down. If there are no ratings, I go up.