2015-12-27

Interview with Linda Nagata

Updates
Last week, I mentioned that I was unsure of what my next project would be. After thinking about all my options, I decided to finish Dragonverse Origins. I was nearly 75% complete when I set it aside to work on re-editing and reformatting my already published works. Although I've had several requests to write another Galactic Alliance book, I don't have a complete enough plot laid out to feel comfortable starting another book in that series. So, I started from the beginning of Origins and I've been re-reading, editing, and altering that story. I hope to have it finished in a few months. Once that's done, then I will work on another Peacekeeper.

For anyone out there who has purchased a new computer with a super-high resolution display -- be advised that Scrivener will not display properly unless you make a few changes to your system. If you have this problem, I've included the fix at the end of this post.

I also have a tip for anyone using Createspace for their print books. The files are reviewed by a live person and some of the people doing these reviews have a very strict stance on Createspace's rules. When I first published the Galactic Alliance books, I entered the name of the books in Createspace as "Galactic Alliance book x - Title". This was before I really understood what I was doing. When I uploaded the newly formatted interior for Chroniech, I put the name on the title page as "Chroniech". I received a reply from Createspace telling me the interior cover does not match what I named the book in the dashboard. True, it wasn't exact, but it was clear they were one and the same. My solution was to upload the exact same interior again and resubmit. This time, it was accepted.

Linda Nagata
The topic of this week's post is a short interview with Linda Nagata. Because it was the holiday season and I know Linda is a very busy person, I kept the questions to a minimum and focused on self-publishing.

I first met Linda Nagata in 2012 while attending Launch Pad, an intense one-week course on astronomy and astronomical science held yearly in Laramie at the University of Wyoming. Ever since then, I’ve stayed in touch with her via Twitter and email. I was pleased to spend some time with her earlier this year at the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) which was held in Spokane, Washington. I had the honor of sharing my first-ever panel with her during that convention.

I decided to interview Linda for my blog because she has managed to gracefully straddle the line between being traditionally published and self-published. She began her writing career as a traditionally published author. After a long break, she decided to publish her back-stories as well as her new ones as a self-published author. Her novel The Red – First Light is the first self-published novel to be nominated for the Nebula award as well as the John W. Campbell Memorial award. Following the nomination, she was contacted by her old agent and successfully negotiated a contract for the entire Red trilogy (The Red, The Trials, and Going Dark) with Saga Press.

She currently lives on the island of Maui. For more information concerning Linda, please visit her website. The following interview was conducted via email.

============================ 

You were a traditionally published author, what made you decide to self-publish your next major novel when you began writing again?

I had lots of reasons to self-publish The Red. First, I’d already self-published other novels, most recently, two fantasy novels--the Puzzle Land books—and I enjoyed all phases of the process. I loved the control self-publishing gave me. Being responsible for every aspect of a book means you have no one else to blame when things go wrong, but it also means you’re in a position to correct mistakes when they happen. And they do happen, in both self and traditional publishing.

Another great perk of self-publishing was that I didn’t have to wait on anyone else’s schedule—and schedule was important to me. It had been ten years since my last major science fiction novel, and I didn’t want to wait another year, more likely two, to see The Red in print.

So impatience was one factor in my decision, but there were others. I’d been listening to grumblings out of the traditional field and I kept hearing that typical advances were terribly low, and that publishers were supposedly hesitant to publish science fiction by women. The Red is high-tech, military, hard science fiction, by me...a woman, writing under a woman’s name, with no military background. I thought I could probably sell it, but I couldn’t see it snagging a big advance, and I wasn’t willing to take a small one. So I figured, “Why waste time waiting on an offer that I’ll turn down anyway?” And I published it myself.


If “The Red – First Light” had not been nominated for a Nebula award, do you think you would still be totally self-published?

If we’re talking only about novels, then yes. I think most readers don’t pay a lot of attention to award nominations, but agents and editors do. And the Nebula nomination gave The Red enough credibility that editors were interested, and my agent was able to get me a good offer on the trilogy in just a few weeks. If I hadn’t gotten that offer, I would have self-published the other two books in the trilogy. I was literally a week away from releasing the second book when I was asked to hold off, pending the outcome of the auction.

But novels are only part of the market. Then, and now, my short fiction continues to be traditionally published. And looking ahead? I’ll probably be self-publishing a collection of recent short fiction sometime in 2016.


You managed to negotiate what is, in my mind, a unique and rare contract with Saga Press. With the signing of the contract, you are now officially both traditionally published and self-published because you’ve managed to retain the UK rights to the Red series. In your opinion, do you think these types of contracts will become more common or did your past influence the type of contract you were able to negotiate?

Well, first, I didn’t negotiate the contract. That was my agent, Howard Morhaim—and he’s done a terrific job. But historically, it was very common to retain UK rights when selling to an American publisher. Every traditional contract I ever had did just that. These days I think it’s increasingly common to sell world rights, but I don’t think that retaining UK rights is unusual. At any rate, we shopped the trilogy among UK publishers, but the offers were disappointing. So I decided to publish on my own in the UK market. Having the option to do that is simply revolutionary. But will the practice become more common? I don’t know. It’s certainly easier to sell world rights and not to have the worry of putting the book out on your own in a limited market, but for me, it’s been utterly worthwhile to do so.


There are pros and cons to both traditional publication and self-publication. Having experienced both sides of the publishing industry, do you have any advice for an author who is on the fence as to how to publish their first novel?

I try to refrain from giving advice like that. Everyone is going to have to find their own path, and the question itself isn’t really fair, because it assumes you have a choice. A better question might be: Can you sell your first novel to a traditional publisher? The cold hard truth is that, for most of us, the answer is “no.” But even if you believe you can, do you want to? And if you do want to, how much time and effort and angst are you willing to invest in the process of seeking an offer? And if you do get an offer, what is the minimum you will agree to? (Not just the advance, but the other terms as well.)

Some writers will do very, very well going traditional. Others will have their hearts broken by the process, and will never have a good thing to say about the traditional market. So the only advice I will give is to make sure you know your options, seek current evaluations of self versus traditional because the industry changes all the time, understand your contracts, and never sell yourself short.

================================ 


Here is the email I received from Scrivener support containing the steps necessary to get Scrivener to display properly on my Microsoft Surface Book: 


Unfortunately, Scrivener for Windows is not yet optimised for high-resolution displays, although this is something that we hope to address in a future major upgrade. I'm afraid we can't be more specific about the timescale for this, other than to say that the developers are working on it. I believe that the problem stems from the way in which Microsoft has implemented scaling in Windows for high-resolution displays, which requires applications to be rewritten extensively at a low level in the code to accommodate the mechanism used.


In the meantime, please refer to the following article for advice on a workaround: <https://scrivener.tenderapp.com/help/kb/windows-troubleshooting/scaling-on-hidpi-displays>.

2015-12-20

Happy Holidays!

Updates
All of the books in the Galactic Alliance series have been reformatted and are going to be uploaded to Amazon this morning. Translight and Chroniech also received an editing pass to fix problems from my earlier writing. This has been a long project and it is not quite complete. I am waiting on a new cover for Peacekeeper 2. The Kindle version of the PK2 is ready for upload, but the Createspace version will have to wait until the new cover art arrives.

This entire re-editing/reformatting project was the result of how I felt about being a writer after attending WorldCon earlier this year. My novels are a part of how I am perceived as a writer. Unprofessionally formatted novels indicate that the writer is not completely serious about what is presented to the public. When I first began publishing novels, I didn't know anything about formatting and my writing skills were undeveloped. Those skills continue to evolve and my knowledge of proper formatting has grown considerably. It is only right that I go back and fix my earlier books.

But, the itch to get back to writing has been scratched until it is raw and now that I'm bleeding all over the floor I need to get back to writing. My re-editing/reformatting project is not complete, but my other books can be done as time permits. I must return to writing. I am not abandoning the project -- I will continue to work on the remaining books in between getting some writing done.

My problem now is -- what shall I work on? I recently received another very positive response from a reader of the Galactic Alliance series. As with most of these types of unsolicited feedback, I've been asked if I plan on writing another book in the series. I now have many requests to produce another GA book and no requests to add to the Dragonverse series. I've spent about 7 months working on Dragonverse Origins and the book is about 75% complete. Do I set aside all that work to start another Galactic Alliance book? This is not an easy decision to make!

I am a big fan of dragons and I love the Dragonverse universe. Origins will provide a link to one of my stand-alone science fiction novels (Off Course) linking it into the Dragonverse. This will create a science fiction based fantasy series with an opportunity to add many more books. On the other hand, my Galactic Alliance series is my best seller. If I set Origins aside and start a third Peacekeeper, it's going to be at least 8 months before I put out another book. That will make it around 2 years from my last release. In my mind, that's too long because readers will move on and my name will fade from their minds. What to do?

I haven't made a final decision yet, but I will have to do so by Christmas Eve. That's when I plan on starting writing again. I will let you know when I post my next blog.

I have come up blank with anything new to discuss on the self-publishing topic. This is probably due to my focusing on the re-editing/reformatting project as well as the busy time around the holiday season. If I come up with something by next week, I'll put it in the post -- but don't count on it! Next week is Christmas and things get crazy around here this time of year.

I hope everyone will enjoy themselves during the holiday season.

2015-12-13

Self-Publishing: Formatting Step-By-Step

Updates
Honor Thy Enemy (Galactic Alliance book 3) and Peacekeeper (book 4) are ready for upload. I've been working so hard at getting the books ready for upload that I haven't actually uploaded the latest versions yet. Starting with Peacekeeper, all of the other books will be formatted without any re-editing. These later books have been proofed by my wife and I believe they are in good enough shape to remain as they are. With four books behind me, the rest should move along rather quickly and then I will be able to get back to writing. The itch has become very strong.

I'm also happy to announce that I've been invited to speak at the February 6th meeting of NEORWA (North East Ohio chapter of the Romance Writers of America) in Kirtland, Ohio. I know exactly what you're next question is and it is the same one I asked when I got the phone call. Why would a science fiction writer be invited to speak at a romance writer's meeting? It turns out that romance writers are interested in world-building. I'm also a self-published author and I'm sure their members are interested in hearing about how I've done as well as I have. I'm looking forward to this opportunity.

Step-By-Step Formatting
I thought I would share the details of what I've been doing the past few weeks and what I've learned. I use Scrivener to produce my first draft and then I transfer it over to Word for the final work. Word's default font and settings puts the entire manuscript in Times New Roman font with the style set to Normal. I'm not going to rehash what I wrote about in my post about formatting. If you haven't read it, you can do so here.

First things first - make a backup copy. I start with the Kindle version first because it can be easily used to build the Createspace version. I name the copy something like "Peacekeeper (Kindle).docx". The first thing I do is to remove all of the standard styles from the style gallery. I then import my specially created styles and then add them to the style gallery toolbar at the top of Word. I also turn on the feature to display formatting marks. This sets the stage for the rest of the formatting.

If you want a baseline to begin with, you can type CTRL+A to select the entire document and then change everything to the style you've created for the main text. This might have unwanted side effects such as removing italics etc. Since my formatting is already fairly close, I don't do this step anymore. Starting at the top of the manuscript, I highlight each group of paragraphs and then click on the appropriate style.

For Kindle, it is important to watch out for manually entered page breaks. These are ignored by the Kindle converter. Chapter headings use a style that instructs Word to insert a page break before the heading. I remove all manual page breaks as I work my way through the document. I pay particular attention to the first paragraph after a chapter heading or scene break, making sure I set that paragraph to the flush-left style. Scene breaks and the text just before a scene break also get their own styles.

I work my way through the document paragraph by paragraph, highlighting large sections where possible, and selecting the appropriate style. Make sure you periodically save your work! When I'm done, I'll take a short break to let my eyes (which by now feel like they're bugging out of my head) rest. I will then go back over the entire book using CTRL+Down-arrow to move down one paragraph at a time while keeping my eyes focused on the font indicator at the top of the application. Everything should be set to Georgia. If not, then I missed something and I make sure that missed piece is formatted correctly. To finalize the document, I make sure the header pages and ending pages are appropriate for the Kindle version (I use slightly different text for Kindle and print versions).

I then go over it one more time putting Word into multi-page view. This gives me a large view of entire pages allowing me to spot formatting errors. I double-check that all paragraphs after a chapter heading and scene break are flush left and I make sure my chapter numbers are correctly sequenced. After a final save, I convert the document to a "Web page (Filtered)" file. I do a final quick check to make sure the conversion didn't do anything strange and call the Kindle version complete.

To make the Createspace version, I make a copy of the Kindle version and name it something like "Peacekeeper (Createspace).docx". The first thing I do is to right-click all of the styles and change them to match the desired print formatting convention. I use Garamond font and also set the text to be justified with auto-hyphenation turned on and line spacing set to "at least 15 pt". I change the page size to match my printed version making sure to set the margins appropriately and turn on mirror margins. This should take care of the vast majority of the changes you need to make.

Next, I locate the start of the first chapter and insert a continuous section break at the end of the previous page. I pull up the header and footer editor and create the page headers and footers. I don't use footers but you might. I use different headers for odd/even pages because I want my page numbers to appear along the outside edge of the page. You must turn off the "like previous" setting and make sure you set your page numbering to start at page 1 on the page where chapter 1 begins.

Save these changes! Since all of the styles I use in Kindle are named the same as the styles I use in Createspace, modifying the style settings takes care of the majority of all reformatting. I put Word into the multi-page view setting and start flipping through pages. Chapters must start on a page on the left-side of the screen. If not, I must do one of two things: Insert a manual page break, or alter the line spacing to shorten the previous chapter. The choice depends on how many lines are on the last page of the previous chapter. If there are more than 4, I insert a page break. If the previous chapter is quite long, I can often move 5 or 6 lines up.

To move the lines, select several pages of text in the previous chapter making sure you don't cross a scene break, right-click and select paragraph. Make a small change in the "at least xx pt" setting. I typically don't drop the setting by more than 0.3 points. If you change it too much, the reader is going to notice. Scroll down to the bottom of the chapter and check the results. If the lines are not entirely on the previous page, hit CTRL+Z to reverse your changes. You can then highlight more or use a slightly larger change in line spacing. After doing this a few times you will get a feel of how Word behaves.

Once this is done, I go back over the entire book making sure I have not missed something. I look at page numbers and the formatting of the headers as well. One thing I missed and had to fix was a missing underline in the header of the even pages. I don't know why it didn't appear, but I had to fix it after an upload. Once I'm satisfied, I make sure the header pages and trailing pages are set for the print version.

The Createspace version is saved in PDF format using the ISO 19005-1 compliant or PDF/A formatting option. This is the type of PDF that Createspace prefers and if you don't use it you will receive a polite warning from them. I then load the PDF into Adobe, set it from side-by-side view, and look at each and every page to make sure the formatting is correct. Word does not always output a PDF in the exact same format as you see it in Word! If you find errors here, you'll have to make the change in Word and export it again.

Finally, I can build a new cover using Photoshop. I use the page count from the PDF to have Createspace build me a cover template. I use this template to make the final cover. I flatten the file and output as a PDF. One word of caution, if you use Photoshop do not flatten the master copy! If you do, you can no longer edit the elements. I made this mistake once - never again.

Using the finished cover, I display it as large as I can on my monitor then use a screen copy program such as the Snippet tool to grab just the front part of the cover. I use Photoshop to make the cover at least 1560 by 2500 pixels in size and save as a high-quality JPG. I write a blurb and then upload everything.

It's a lot of work and it takes a lot of time. But, it's what a professional writer would expect from a publisher and since you are your own publisher, it's what is expected of you. Take the time to format your books properly. Take the time to read up on how this is done. Read widely because there are differing opinions out there. Document your fonts, your settings, and your other formatting choices so your books remain consistent.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me. I'm not an expert, but I have learned a huge amount over the past few months and I'm always glad to help out.

Happy holidays!

2015-12-06

Self-Publishing: Dedication

Update
The re-editing of Honor Thy Enemy (book 3 of the Galactic Alliance series) is complete. Formatting for CreateSpace is also complete. I will be working on the new cover and the Kindle formatting today. If all goes well, the newly revised book will be uploaded on Monday. During my updating of HTE, I found a few issues that also appeared in the first two books I re-edited. I will be uploading these corrections as well.

I have also dropped the price of the remainder of my books as well as enrolled them in Amazon's KDP program. This is still an on-going experiment and I will let you know how this pans out.

Lessons in Formatting
Before I jump into the topic for this week, I thought I would share a few lessons I've learned during this long re-editing / reformatting project. The overall lesson I've learned is: Pay attention to detail. I was looking at the PDF of Honor Thy Enemy and I noticed that the odd pages had a line at the top while the even pages did not. After fixing this, I went back and looked at the first two books - Translight was okay, but Chroniech had the same problem. How did I miss that? I also found that I had forgotten to switch the font from Georgia to Garamond in one of my styles. This wasn't very obvious when editing in Word but it stuck out like a beacon in the PDF.

After you've done your formatting, export your novel to PDF and switch the display to show pages side-by-side. Don't read, just flip through the entire manuscript and run your eyes down each page. The formatting should appear smooth and consistent. Make sure you are following your formatting rules and look to see that each and every page is correct. If you need a refresher on formatting, take a look at my past post on formatting.

Dedication
How long does it take you to read a book? Let's say you can read a 90,000 word novel in about a month. You read at home, during lunch at work, sitting on the pot, on the bus, wherever you can. That's a lot of time. Now think about how long it takes to write that novel. The initial draft might take a year, two years, or many more depending on the writer. But once the first draft is done, the editing begins. The writer now reads the entire novel again, making changes along the way. If she does what most writers suggest, the manuscript is set aside for a month to put some distance between the words and the writer. She will then go back and read it again and make more changes. This process is repeated several times. Often, another person reads the manuscript and provides feedback. The writer then reads the entire manuscript again and incorporates the changes. This entire process is repeated until the novel is done.

But wait - we aren't done yet! If you're a self-published author, now you must take the time to format your novel for distribution. Often, you will read the entire manuscript again while doing this. If you produce output for both Kindle and printed versions, you will have to at least scan the entire novel once for each output format.

Sounds like a lot of work - right? You bet! Since most writers also hold down a regular job, all this writing, editing, formatting, and revising is done when most people are out with friends, reading books, watching movies, etc. And, if you want to sell your book, none of these steps can be shortened. This takes a tremendous amount of dedication. How many readers ever consider what it takes to write a book? The next time you meet an author, thank them for their dedication and for the sacrifices they have made to put that book in your hands.

After attending WordCon earlier this year, I promised I would take the time to ensure that my currently published novels were as professionally formatted and edited as I could possibly make them. I set aside a novel I was working on and started my re-editing / reformatting project. There have been times when I wanted to set that project aside and get back to writing. But, I had dedicated myself to doing what I had promised. There is a price to pay for this.

Book royalties are based on a number of factors. To name a few: How many people spread the word; How many books an author has in print; And, how often an author puts out a new book. If you put out a book every year or two, people tend to remember you. If you take longer, your name and the name of the book they read by you will fade from memory. Sales of all my books increase when I release a new novel. I'm coming up on the one year point since I released my last book and I'm getting uncomfortable about not having one ready to release. Does that mean I'm going to abandon my project? NO!

The books I have in print right now are a reflection of who I am as a writer. If they appear unprofessional, then that's the opinion people will have of me no matter what I write in this blog. I will finish the project before I go back to writing. Dedication is not easy, but it's a way of life for a writer. If you want to be respected by your readers and other writers, you've got to have focused dedication to the art and craft of writing.

2015-11-29

Self-Publishing: Pricing

Updates
Honor Thy Enemy (book 3 of the Galactic Alliance series) re-editing is at 60%. I had originally decided not to do any editing but after a look through the text I decided I had better give it a quick run-through. I have found a number of major as well as minor errors and corrections. I hope to hit 75% by the end of the day. The reformatting process will not take long. Building a new cover takes a few hours. If all goes well, it will be uploaded to Amazon in about two weeks.

I also found a formatting mistake in both Translight and Chroniech. I’ve already fixed it and will upload all three new versions at the same time. I’m striving for professionalism here, not perfection, but the distinction is often a bit blurry.

Book Pricing
When I first started writing this post I had no idea what I was going to use as my main subject. I’m beginning to run out of self-publishing topics. Luckily, I came up with one at the last moment. This subject might seem like it’s based on common sense, but you would be surprised how many people don’t stop and think about how to price their books. The below discussion is about how to price a full-sized novel. Smaller works or works that would be less popular should be considered separately.

The other day, I noticed that Amazon had a beta version of a price to earnings ratio graph. According to the explanation, the graph is based on books that are similar to mine. I’m not sure how Amazon has made this determination though. Based on the graph, I decided to try an experiment.

I’ve dropped the price of all the Galactic Alliance books to $3.50. I will let the price remain at $3.50 for the next month or two and then check to see how sales are doing. There is a trade-off between pricing and income. If a book is priced below $2.99, your royalty income is limited to 35%. So it only makes sense to set your price at $2.99 or above at a minimum. So why not go higher so you can earn more?

If you set your price too high, you will begin losing sales. Readers want to pay as little as possible for a book. Yes, you will earn more per sale, but if the sales begin to drop off too much, then your royalty income begins to decrease. So why not just keep it low and hope the increase in sales will make up for the lower royalty? There are several schools of thought on this.

If you price your book low (say $2.99) you are potentially advertising that you’re a new author and you don’t believe your books are worth more than the bare minimum. Your book will also be competing with hundreds of others priced at the same low value. “I’m better than they are!” you tell yourself. So, you look at what a professional author charges for a typical book. (I’m talking about a well-known author who is published by a large publishing house.) Realizing you’re not as popular as they are, you take their price and cut it in half. You end up with a value of around $6.00. Good choice? I don’t think so.

I started off with my books priced at $2.99. Over the years, I slowly bumped that up until I was at $4.99 which seemed about right for a seasoned author. I have a fairly loyal following and my sales do increase for a time when I release a new novel. Does that give me the right to increase my price? Some authors will tell you yes. It takes a lot of work to write a book and an author must get a return on the time and effort they put into creating the novel. But, we live in an age when people expect to pay very little for online content – including books. If you have the clout and the following, by all means raise your price. But do so with caution! If you crank your price up too high, you’re going to lose readers. People will accuse you of price gouging.

As with everything you do in your writing business, the price you set for your books should be based on sound business logic. Set a price and keep track of your sales numbers as well as your royalty payments. Graph it out if you have to. Keep good records and make comparisons. You should be able to figure out what your sweet-spot is. But bear in mind that sales are an ever-changing target. You can go for a few days with no sales at all and then suddenly jump to selling 10 a day then back down to 2 or 3 a day all for no apparent reason. I’ve watched my sales peak and dip for years and I’ve never been able to figure out why the numbers are the way they are.

Something else to consider are your actual rankings. A low price could drive sales up which will cause your book to rise in the ranking system. Royalties might be down, but keeping your book high in the ranking might be a solid strategy if you want to maintain a steady royalty income. Sometimes, it’s not all about the money.

There have been long articles and entire books written on how to price your books. It’s a business decision and it should be done with a full analysis of the available data. You can price your book at $20.00 a copy and if you sell a few a month you might be happy. You can drop your price to $2.99 and sell 50 copies a month and be happy as well. But unless you know the details behind the numbers you can’t make an informed business decision as to the right price for your books. Maybe there is no right price. But you won’t know until you do the research.

My suggestion: If you’re a new author, set your price at $2.99 and read your comments. If sales get to the point where you feel comfortable about it, then increase the price a small amount. Keep track of what happens and make adjustments after a few months. Don’t go by only a week’s worth of data. It takes time for price changes to have an effect. If people like your book, they’re going to tell others about it. But, even if they like it, if you set the price too high, they are not going to recommend it or if they do, the person looking to buy it will pass.


Pricing is a business decision – treat it as such.

2015-11-22

Self-Publishing: Recordkeeping

Updates
Chroniech (book 2 of the Galactic Alliance series) is almost ready to be uploaded to Amazon. Reformatting is complete. All that’s needed now is to modify the cover. I'm on vacation for the next week, so I should have time to work on the cover. I need to use my main system to do that since my little netbook does not have the screen real-estate or the power to run the older version of Adobe Photoshop Editor that I use. In the meantime, I will begin working on the reformatting of the other books in the series.

I also made a business decision to unpublish the rest of my books from Smashwords. A few months ago, I unpublished the Galactic Alliance series and registered them in the Amazon KDP Select program. I earned more in royalties from KDP Select than I earned at Smashwords. That made the decision to move the remainder of my books off Smashwords to KDP Select much easier. It’s a shame to, because I was a big fan of Smashwords. But, business is business and this was a business decision.

Smashwords sounds great on paper and it does a fantastic job of getting your books out to all the other markets. But, truth be told, the other markets are a drop in the bucket as far as Amazon is concerned. Enrolling my books in KDP Select allowed me to make more money than what I was making from Smashwords from all of my book sales through them. The cost benefit analysis was a no-brainer. My apologies to Smashwords.

Recordkeeping for Self-Published Authors
I would imagine that all writers (traditionally published or self-published) can benefit from this post. Self-Published authors, however, typically don’t have the benefit of an agent and a team of financial people helping them track sales and other expenses. Additionally, the IRS might want to look into your records someday and declaring yourself a self-published author could cause them to wonder if you’re treating your writing as a business or as a hobby. If the IRS thinks you’re writing as a hobby, you get no tax deductions at all—nothing—nada—zilch. Having a detailed record-keeping system is one way to avoid this problem.

Finances: Mixing your personal and business (i.e. writing) finances is okay, but keeping them separated is much better. I use Quicken to track my business finances. There are other programs out there, but Quicken has a huge user’s base and can track everything a writer needs. I’ve even found a way to track the number of sales as well as mileage; here’s how: To track mileage, create a cash account named Mileage. Every time you make a trip, just enter it into the register. One dollar equates to one mile. Make sure to exclude the account from the reports dealing with pure financials. To track sales, use the same approach. If you want to break things down by title, you can create a category named “Book Sales” and then add a subcategory for each title. If you enter the seller (Amazon and Smashwords in my case), you can run reports showing sales by seller by title or any combination you want.

Having a separate credit card and bank account for your writing business is also highly recommended. The activity of these accounts should be tracked in your financial register using as much detail as possible. Quicken also allows you to relate a tax form to a specific category making your end-of-year tax reconciliation all that much easier. If you spend money that you are later reimbursed for, make sure you have a separate category for this as well. An auditor might mistake the reimbursement for income (which it isn’t) and it also prevents you from accidentally charging it as a business expense (which it isn’t).

Business Log: You should maintain a business log of important events. For instance, my latest entry is about unpublishing the remainder of my books from Smashwords. You can use virtually any word processor for your log; Word, LibreOffice, OneNote, OpenOffice, etc. (you can tell I’m not a Mac person since I didn’t list Mac software). It’s also your choice as to how to arrange this log. I prefer to have the latest entry at the end so if the log is printed it can be read in chronological order. If you want to get fancy, you could even set up a database to store your log entries and then you can print them out in whatever order you desired.

Mileage Log: Once again, the list of applications is a long one. I prefer to use Microsoft Excel. I have columns for the date, which vehicle I used, starting mileage, ending mileage, a calculated column showing the miles driven, the purpose of the trip, and if the miles shown is for a round-trip or one-way. Excel works because I can quickly total everything, generate reports, and use calculated columns. I prefer to keep each year on a separate worksheet allowing me to house years worth of data in a single file.

Receipts: Keep all of your business-related receipts, no matter how trivial. If you want your records to survive a house fire, flood, tornado, volcanic eruption, or other natural event, you should scan your receipts and store them in the cloud. All multi-function printers come with scanning software. Set up a cloud-based storage account (or ensure you're data is backed up somewhere other than on a drive located in your house) and scan all your receipts into it. Labeling them with the year and date in the format of YYYY-MM-DD followed by the name of the company will keep things organized. Another alternative would be to use a commercial product such as NeatReceipts or NeatDesk.

Conclusion: Recordkeeping can be tedious, but it is necessary to prove you’re running a business. It is also a blessing at tax time, especially if you use software that can generate the reports you will need to fill out your taxes. You can combine everything into a single software package (Excel comes to mind) or use an approach similar to mine.


Writing all the above got me to thinking about an all-in-one solution. I'm a computer programmer and I write large, complex Microsoft Access applications. Everything I just talked about can be handled by an Access program. If I get the time, I might explore this alternative. But not everyone has a copy of Microsoft Access and getting one is not cheap. There are, however, alternatives. There are free open-source database programs that could work. There is also a free version of the Access database engine that can be distributed. Hummmmmmm – perhaps I will look into this. If I come up with something, I promise to make it freely available. I’ll let you know.

Another update: Frustrated with not being able to run Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 on my netbook as well as several Word restarts that happened a few days ago, I made a sudden decision yesterday in the middle of writing this post to go out and buy a better computer. I've been eyeing the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 but it does not sit well on a lap -- and I do a lot of writing on my lap. After looking around and doing some comparisons, I went out and bought a Surface Book. I'll be spending most of the day getting it set up.

2015-11-15

Self-Publishing: Putting it all Together

Updates
Yesterday, I finished the re-editing of Chroniech (second book in the Galactic Alliance series and the first book I ever wrote). Today, I start on the Kindle formatting pass. Once that's done, I'll do the Createspace formatting and then build the new cover. I fly to Charlotte, North Carolina today and I should have plenty of time to work on the formatting. From this point forward, I am not going to be re-editing any of the other books, just reformatting.

I had a short story idea pop into my head a couple weeks ago. It's not my normal genre (in fact, I'm not sure where it fits). I had a bunch of it stuck in my head and the only way to stop thinking about it was to get it into the computer. I read it at yesterday's writers group and there were lots of suggestions about where I could go with it. When I have time, I'll play around and see where it goes.

I've run out of self-publishing topics and so I asked the writers group for suggestions. Most, were things I've already covered. A few are aspects of writing I'm not familiar with. So, instead of a single topic, I'm going to throw it all together. If you have anything you want to hear about, please let me know.

Putting it all Together
Here is what has been covered over the past few weeks:

Writing is a Business
Establish Your Network
What Not to Do
Protecting Your Work
You as an Author
Formatting
Time Management
Tools of the Trade
Ups and Downs

Some of the suggested topics include:

  • Marketing your book - A subject that can take a huge amount of research and may or may not actually help to increase sales.
  • Resources - I'll cover this below.
  • The Power of Reviews - I've talked about this in other posts when I discussed the different philosophies of reading or not reading your reviews. I believe an author should read them.
  • The Amazon "Monopoly" - There is no doubt about the fact that if you want to make money selling books, you must put them on Amazon.
  • Synopses and Back Covers - This can be an entire book in itself and any post would have to cover many other aspects of writing. I suggest reading a lot of books on how to improve your writing.
  • Aspects of Building a Good Narrative - See the previous note.

I was asked how I managed to have such good sales back in 2012. I've done a lot of thinking on this and I've come to believe that it was caused by Amazon and how their secret algorithms work. Amazon is in the business of making money and if they can promote a single book and make a good return on that virtually free investment, then they'll figure out a way to spot such opportunities. Here is what I believe happened:

The secret algorithm tracks all purchases. It knows who bought what and when. One of the trends the algorithm searches for is how people treat an author's series. If I buy book one and then buy book two, the algorithm notices this. It I then go on to buy book three, the algorithm ranks that as a string of purchases. If this pattern is repeated by a number of people (even if it's a small number of people) the algorithm concludes that the author has a following because people go back and buy the other books in the series. Amazon may then decide to promote the first book of the series because doing so will result in the sale of not only the first book, but the other books in the series as well.

I am convinced that this is what happened to the Galactic Alliance series in 2012. Based on this, if you are planning on writing a series, you might want to consider setting things up so that at least 2 of the books are released very close to each other. The algorithm might also have an expanded view in that it might look at all the books an author has written. If I buy a book from someone and like it enough, I will search for and then buy another book by that same author. I'm sure Amazon's algorithm will notice that as well especially if the books are in the same genre. So, even if you're not working on a series, if the books are in the same genre, then perhaps you should wait and release them together.

I've had a lot of people ask what kind of books I've been reading to help me improve my writing. Reading is just one way to improve your skills -- actually writing helps as well. Our writing group leader made a statement yesterday that makes good sense. The reason it's a good practice to wait until you finish a story before you start editing it is that you will be a better writer after finishing the story than before you started it. I couldn't agree more. Writing improves your writing. To back that up, read.

My library is full of books. Most of them I've read. Some I've glanced at and others I haven't gotten around to yet. I am the type of reader who reads a book from cover to cover. This includes books that are normally used as reference manuals. I read them that way because if I don't, I don't know what's in them. Instead of listing all my reference manuals, Here's a series of pictures of my shelves:





Some notes:

  • Power Struggle is not another book written by myself. It is Chroniech as it was originally published. Don't buy it!
  • The last shelf was purchased so I could gather up all of my signed copies in one location. It also has become my overflow shelf for my reference library. I will be moving the copies of my own books to this shelf and use the space on my reference library to house more reference books such as the massive Chicago Manual of Style sitting by itself in the last photo.
So there's my wrap-up. Please let me know if you have any additional topics you would like for me to discuss. I'll keep thinking about it as well.

2015-11-08

Self-Publishing: Ups and Downs

Update on my Commitment to Professionalism
I have passed the 75% point on re-editing Chroniech. If all goes according to plan, the editing will by done my the time my next blog post comes out. I then begin the process of reformatting for both ebook and print versions. Each one requires a full pass through the novel.

Next Sunday, I will be traveling to North Carolina (Charlotte) on business. I develop Microsoft Access database applications as part of my day job. One of my applications was instrumental in helping us reduce the number of maintenance activities we perform every year. Next week, my supervisor will be making a presentation of this work at a nuclear work management conference. I'm tagging along to answer any questions concerning the programming and setup of the database. This also means I will have a lot of time on my hand to do editing and formatting.

I rarely get ideas for short stories and it's even rarer for me to have one that is not science fiction or fantasy. The other day, I had such an idea and -- after bouncing it off my wife -- I'm seriously considering working on it. The idea is (as far as I know) unique. It will be a difficult story to write correctly and I'm still working out the details in my head. What's strange about this story is that the ideas keep popping into my head. That tells me, my subconscious has a reason for wanting me to write this story. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Ups and Downs
You hear it all the time: “Don’t let a bad review get you down”, “Don’t worry, sales will pick up”, “Rejections are a fact of a writer’s life, accept them and move on”. The truth of the matter though is that writers are human and bad reviews, rejections, and poor sales bother us. Nothing anyone will say can change that. Pretending that such things don’t bother you creates tension and can lead to headaches, ulcers, and all sorts of other problems. Walking around the house with a dark cloud over your head, kicking the cat (or dog) out of the way, and telling your wife to leave you alone certainly isn’t the proper response either. So what is a writer to do?

The first step is to realize that you are going to be bothered by all the negative things a writer encounters in this business. It’s okay to feel bad about being rejected. It’s acceptable to worry about sales. You’re human and there’s nothing you can do about that. The human mind, however is a powerful instrument that is capable of shaping its own destiny. Here’s an example:

I have a large stack of books I want to read. If fact, I want to read them all right NOW. If a couple of days goes by and I don’t get any reading done, I begin to get that ‘antsy’ feeling about not reading. My wife likes me to spend the evenings with her and when I start to feel “unread” I’m tempted to grab a book and read while we sit together. But this is being rude. If I’m reading, I’m not paying attention to her and she begins to feel ignored. Not conducive to a good marriage!

So how do I handle this? I take a few minutes and talk to myself. I tell myself that there will be plenty of time to read in the future – after all – I have many more years to live. I also remind myself that reading is not as important as I think it is and I’ll be much happier if my wife is happy. After a self-discussion like this, the need to read is reduced and I can enjoy the evening with my wife. The urge is still there, but it’s not so overriding as to put me into a bad mood. If things get too bad, I’ll swap out my writing time for some reading time. There’s always a solution to the problem.

I would imagine that all writers have these problems, but I tend to think that the self-published writer has even more to worry about. We are responsible for writing, editing, cover art, formatting, proofing, marketing, and promoting. That’s a lot! I often wonder if I’m spending enough time promoting my books. But that is a very time-intensive activity that takes away from writing and reading. It also has only a small impact on sales. I don’t believe I’ve ever purchased a book because of what the author has said in a forum or blog post.

Recently, a few of my author acquaintances have made significant sales to publishers and/or magazines. Their books are getting good reviews in multiple publications, blogs, and websites. I’ve been spending my time making my past works more professional-looking instead of promoting my books or writing more. I’ve begun to question my decision to do so. This is a bad road for me to start down. I made this promise to myself after attending WorldCon because I realized my books do look like they were produced by an amateur. Backing away from my promise is not the professional thing to do and I won’t.

There is one emotion though that all writers must be on the lookout for: Envy. It’s one of the worst human emotions and can lead a person down a horribly self-destructive path if allowed to grow unchecked. Envy can cause all sorts of issues and it must be stopped long before it takes root. If you detect the warning signs, do whatever it takes to keep it from growing because failing to do so can ruin your life. No one is immune. If you pretend you’ve never been envious, you’re fooling yourself and potentially creating an emotional problem that will be hard to get rid of.

I am acquainted with a number of very successful authors. I’m very happy to see them doing well and getting nominated for awards. There are times though when I am a little envious of their success. I get pissed off when I feel that way because I recognize it as envy. I value my relationship with other authors and when envy begins to rear its ugly head, I feel I have to beat it back down into the depths of hell from where it originates.

There are a number of ways to deal with this when it happens. The first is to be able to recognize it. Everyone can’t be nominated for an award. I am convinced that envy was the cause of the puppy scandal during the last WorldCon. Sales go up and sales go down and there’s never any rhyme or reason to it. I’ve had fantastic sales in the past, but at this moment, sales are down. Instead of feeling envious for those authors who are doing well, I realize I must put forth more effort to promote my books. But, I won’t do so until I know I’m promoting books that look like they are from a professional author. And that takes me back to my promise.

The commitment I made stemmed from the simple fact that if a reader were to look at a preview of my books on Amazon, they might see them as being from an amateur writer who has little regard to what their books look like in print. I promised to fix that. It’s a lot of work and it means no reading, no new writing, no watching television (except Agents of Shield of course), and no spending time on the internet in forums, Twitter, and chat rooms. Sales are not as strong as I would like and I feel I should be promoting my books, but that takes time away from writing.

I have a plan and I’m going to stick to it. If it means a few months of lower sales, then so-be-it. I do not want to be seen as an amateur. I am a member of SFWA with 9 books published. I’ve sold tens of thousands of copies of my books. My name might not be recognized by the public and I don’t see my books in large full-page ads paid for by a traditional publishing house. But, I am a professional author. I’m happy with my decision because I know it is the right thing to do.


Envy has no place in my life. I’m better than that – and so are you.

2015-11-01

Interview with Andi Lawrencovna

Re-editing Update
The re-editing of Chroniech has passed the 50% point and is moving along fairly well. The itch to get back to work on Dragonverse Origins is growing but I'm sticking to my plans of revising, reformatting, and re-releasing all of my current books before I move on. I have had a couple of requests to write another Peacekeeper novel. My Galactic Alliance series is my money-maker and I will have to seriously think about putting Origins aside so I can satisfy my readers by writing another Peacekeeper novel. As of right now though, my focus is on making my books more professional. This means that this will be the first year since I started self-publishing that I have not released a new book. Hopefully, this will pay off in the long run.

Andi Lawrencovna
I met Andi (not her real name) about a year ago when she decided to join our writer’s group. We meet once a month at the Mentor, Ohio Barnes & Nobles. She has a very outgoing personality and I took an immediate liking to her. I was surprised when the first story she read to the group was one with a dark twist. When it was my turn to read, I passed out my sample and watched out of the corner of my eye as she attacked my prose with an ultra-fine pen, furiously writing notes in the margins, between the lines, and along the top and bottom of the page. Her comments, however, were spot-on.

Andi and I have become good friends and she was kind enough to interview me for a post on her recently-built website (which she does herself). I promised to return the favor when her first book came out. I’m late on that promise, but – as the old saying goes – better late than never. You can read her interview of myself by clicking here

=====    Interview    =====

What was your inspiration for the Charming series?

I have always loved fairy tales. The magic, the heroes, the romance, and not just between characters but of how the worlds are crafted-- It’s an escape from the more mundane “real” world that we live in. And who doesn’t like a good happily ever after?

Okay, well, I don’t particularly like happily ever afters. Life is a bit more intense than that. People don’t fall in love in the span of a ball, no matter how much the romantic in me wishes that were true.  I think that’s where Charming came from, my need to find the story that happened between the ball and when Prince Charming rescued Cinderella from her wicked stepmother. Of course, the question then became what if Cinderella didn’t need to be rescued but was the one doing the rescuing?

You prefer to use a pseudonym instead of your real name – Why?

Well, two main reasons. The first is that I write a lot of different things, different styles, different genres, and each different story hinges on a different part of my personality. They’re all a bit on the darker side, I’ve never really managed being light and fluffy, but it made sense to me to keep those styles as separate as possible and using a pen name does just that.

The second reason is I really don’t like being in the spotlight. Using my real name…yeah, way too easy to stand out.

We attended WorldCon 2015 together. I know the experience changed how I see myself as an author. Did going to WorldCon have an impact on you as well?

Definitely. It was really an amazing experience for me, from meeting some of my favorite authors to the inspiration that came out of it, it just blew my mind. The panels alone were worth the price of admission. I just wish I was able to get a video of them all because my hand started getting tired from taking notes.

As to its impact on me, I don’t quite know how to explain it. You go to one of these events and see all these amazing people and think shark and minnow, and then realize you’re not the shark. It’s intimidating and it’s a bit disheartening. How did they make it and not me? Of course, they’ve probably been at it longer than I have, so something to strive for. That’s what really impacted me at WorldCon. Not only do I want to be a Big Fish someday, but I want to use that to help others reach that same level. My goal has always been to write a novel I can be proud of, that will represent me and my style and appeal to my audience, be it however big or small that is. But I also want to work with writers, hone craft, and build a community. And if that community grows as big as WorldCon, then all the better.

The professional reviews posted on Amazon seem to indicate that you could have agented your book to a publisher yet you decided to self-publish instead. What drove this decision?

Ha, really? I need to read those more often. I’m like a fifth grader who gets the test back and turns it face down before I see the grade. If it’s bad, then I’ll never need to know. Never worked out in school though.

Okay, but seriously, I am published with a publishing company on a romance novel I wrote a few years ago. That was a blast and a huge ego boost. I think a lot of that had to do with me being in school at the time. I took it as a form of vindication, that I had the chops for the world and could publish so I should do it. If I’d done a bit more research… Not that I have any regrets. I’m proud and stand by my work, but I’m not in that writing place right now, and I wanted something different.

For this series, I didn’t want to have to worry about a publisher or an agent. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have a heart attack and die with a smile on my face if one contacted me, but the truth is it is really awesome being in charge of my own writing. The time frames are mine, the words are mine, the rights are mine. And as troublesome as formatting Word documents are, it’s fun too. It’s a huge accomplishment and I’m so proud that I took that step to self-publish.  

You are an active member of at least two (that I know of) writers groups. In your opinion, does joining a writers group help an aspiring writer to improve their skills?

Three to four, depending on the month, actually.

Don’t ask.

But to answer the question:  yes. The most important lesson I learned in grad school wasn’t how to join nouns and verbs together in pleasing patterns, but that having a network of readers/writers to talk to helps to make your work better. Writers groups are formed by people all looking to get better, so even when you’re critiquing a story rather than reading it, you’re learning something more about your own skills. Every time you as a writer look at someone else’s work and can identify what’s happening in it, you grow and develop your skills. Every time someone offers advice on your work, your style improves and changes and gets better even if you don’t realize it. Having a group of people who are similar to you and believe in the same things and want those same things is hugely important to getting better.

Your writing tends to have a dark side to it that seems to be in direct conflict with your personality. If you don’t mind my asking, where does this come from?

I don’t know what you’re talking about. I only write about unicorns and sunshine…

Oh gosh, actually answering this question will make me sound like a nutcase which is kind of answer enough? No, not gonna let me get away with that? Shoot.

The truth of the matter is, angst sells. As children, we want to read about happily ever afters and fairy godmothers and angels who will save us. As adults, we know better, that the only one who is going to save us is ourselves. And sometimes to do good or be good, we have to be a little bit bad, and bad shouldn’t be overlooked, and the darker the saving, the more heart strings you can pull on.

Besides, I can’t help myself. I just really like being the heroine and saving the tortured soul, and as a writer, I get to do that but I need a little dark side to pull it off.

You have an MFA degree. Not everyone can afford to get one but, if they could, is an MFA something all writers should pursue?

I actually went for my MFA because I wanted, and still want, to be able to teach creative writing to people. But what I found was that the program was more about building a community of writers (as well as developing your own style).

So MFA, should or should not? Yes, you should, but not because you want the letters, but because you want to find that group of people who share the same love and passion as you. Writers are a different animal compared to readers. We’re self-conscious and terrified of others reading our work. It’s nice to have a community to turn to, who can be your support and you can support in turn.

If you had to give an aspiring writer one piece of advice to help them advance their writing skills, what would that be?

Find other writers to share your work with.

Depending on what I’m working on, I fall into one of two categories. The first is:  this is s*** and I should trash it now; the second:  thank God I have a day job. Oh, right, those are pretty much the same thing. Okay, the second is:  this ain’t half bad, maybe. The point is, no matter what stage I’m at, I’m not an objective reader. Your family, unfortunately, isn’t really objective either. I know, it’s a huge ego boost when your mom or your wife or your best friend reads your work and says it’s great, but we as writers don’t want a two word critique. Well, we do, but let’s be realistic here.

I really can’t express how important it is to have a good support structure for your writing and how important it is for you to be other writers’ support too. We’re a really solitary bunch of people, so it’s nice to know and have other people out there who are working for the same things you are.

Other than writing, what else do you enjoy doing (boating, mountain climbing, cave diving)?

Cave diving, for sure. Or not, the whole bats thing might freak me out a bit, or that’s because I watched Batman recently and have a newfound fear/appreciation for flying rodents, not sure.

I do a lot of reading, which is probably pretty obvious. I play volleyball. I spend a lot of time with my family. And I play the guitar. Not well, I might add, but I love being able to sing and play an instrument, even if it’s just the chords.

Do you have one author in particular that has shaped your writing and if so, who and why?

I’ve approached this question three times so far and still can’t figure out how to answer it. I don’t know how to choose! There are so many authors who have influenced me and my writing. Louise Erdrich, Edgar Allen Poe, Hemingway. And I know, they’re not fantasy or science fiction writers, not exactly, but they have such a great style with prose. Then there is Elizabeth Haydon and Anne Bishop, Sara Douglass and J.K. Rowling who create such vivid worlds that you just want to step into. But, since you’re making me choose, Robin McKinley. I hated to read as a kid but whenever I think of what I want to read and what I want to accomplish as I writer, I think of The Blue Sword and that’s who has most influenced me. 

2015-10-25

Self-Publishing: Tools of the Trade

 I am about 50% done with my re-edit of Chroniech. This was the very first novel I published and it needs a lot of work. But, I don't want to change the story or alter it too much because it's been in circulation since 2009. That doesn't mean I can't fix things that are just plain wrong. One of the complaints was that the story reads too much like an encyclopedia. There's not much I can do about that because I want to give the reader a large amount of history of one of the key races. I'm working on shortening the historical summaries, but there's only so much I can do.

Another complaint was that the ending was too abrupt. Again, without changing the story there's little I can do. When I get to the ending, I will look for things I can do to make it better. When I'm done, if anyone has a current copy of Chroniech and would like a revised version, please let me know and I will gladly send it to you. I will remind everyone again when the editing is complete and the new version is released.

One more bit of news before I get to the main topic. Sales have been on a very slow decline over the past few months. Because I treat my writing as a business, this means I will not be making as many writing-related trips next year. I was thinking of attending WorldCon in Kansas City, but I'm almost certain I will not unless sales begin to increase. I will, however, be going to Launch Pad as long as it's still okay with Mike Brotherton.

Tools of the Trade
Ask someone to visualize a writer and some people will picture a person hunched over a tablet, pen or pencil in hand, scribbling away furiously under a naked lamp in a cramped, isolated room. Other see a person sitting in front of a keyboard in pretty much the same setting. For some writers, this is true. But, make a trip to your local bookstore or coffee shop and you might catch a writer sitting in front of a laptop, drinking a cup of coffee and occasionally looking up and observing the world around them. The person next to you on a plane making short notes or banging away on a netbook during the flight might be a writer. How about that person taking way too many pictures on his walk through Yellowstone National Park? Writers come in many forms and use many tools to perform their art.

I know authors who hand-write their first and second draft using the tried and true pen and paper. Most, like myself, do all their work on some type of computing device. Those who write by hand, must eventually transfer their prose into electronic form. These are the tools needed to get the words down and make them available to the rest of the world. They are the most visible tools of the trade and the ones people will always think of when asked to visualize a writer. But every writer must have a toolbox full of useful and often-used tools and most of these are invisible.

The first tool every writer uses is her brain. This massively parallel processing device has been shaped and honed by nature to learn and tell stories. Ancient humans developed language so they could communicate with each other and most early human knowledge was passed down from generation to generation in the form of stories. Modern man has invented writing so everyone can read another person’s story. That story begins in the mind. Our brain uses its senses and imagination to create memories which are split and recombined to create new stories.

But this is the 21st century and writers today should have modern tools in their toolbox. My toolbox is full of all sorts of things. Some I use every time I write. Others, gather dust but are within easy reach if I need them. The tool I use the most is Scrivener. This is my personal choice for writing my first and second drafts. Scrivener was built with writers in mind and–like any good tool–it pays to read the user’s manual. While writing, I will often use the internet to check facts and look up questionable ideas. I also make heavy use of Microsoft Excel. I have a complex set of equations I use to generate the numbers that appear in my hard science fiction books. I also use it to build my timelines.

After the second draft, I compile the Scrivener files into a single Word document. While I’m editing, I also use a program called TheSage to help generate different words and make sure I’m using the right word. All of these tools so far require another very powerful tool–my computer. I have a desktop machine with two monitors that I use extensively to keep reference material on-screen while I write. When I’m away from my home, I use a small netbook (10 inch screen). I keep the two computers synchronized through DropBox. In case you're curious, here is what my writing desk looks like:


Next to my writing desk, I have a collection of reference books as well as books on how to write. Writer’s Digest has an extremely large selection of very good books to help you master your writing skills. I always have at least one such book that I’m reading. Also in my collection, is the Associated Press Handbook of Style as well as a couple of basic grammar books. A new edition, The Chicogo Manual of Style, is on its way and will be on the shelf in a few days. Sometimes it’s easier to look things up in an old-fashioned hard-copy than on the internet.

To keep track of the business end of things, I use Quicken. I have a completely separate Quicken file just for my writing business. I use NeatDesk to scan in and archive all of my documents and I keep hard copies in my desk organized in folders by year. My writing area is also decorated with a large number of dragons. These are my friends and they are there to guide me if I get stuck. Other ‘tools’ include my friends and family as well as all the authors I’ve met through Launch Pad. They are there to help if I need it. I subscribe electronically to two magazines (Writer’s Digest and The Writer) that I normally read cover-to-cover on a tablet device.

There’s Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn to give me a social presence. I’m a member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s of America SFWA, I belong to Codex, and I occasionally poke around the SFF World forums. All of these, even if they are seldom used, are tools. A writer must use every trick available, every tiny source of inspiration, and every means to promote their work to be successful. It’s hard work!

Other writers have different tools. Some write their entire novel using Google Docs. Another very useful tool is Grammarly. If you’re weak on Grammar, a subscription to this service might be of benefit to you. There is also a free version available that works quite well with Google Chrome. Writer’s conferences, editors, agents, writing retreats, workshops, the list seems endless. When I first began writing, I thought a typewriter and a stack of clean paper along with my imagination was all I needed. No longer.

You might be wondering, all these tools apply to all types of writers. Which specific tools do I, as a self-published author, need? In this instance, there are no differences between a self-published author and one who prefers to publish traditionally. Self-published authors will need to find an editor and someone to do their covers on their own. These are normally supplied by a traditional publisher. The only difference between the two types of writers is how the books are published. Listing them here, can also give a new writer an idea of what they're getting into. When you stop and think about it, a writer's toolbox is packed full and is never complete.


Next week, if I can swing it, I’ll be interviewing a self-published author who is a good friend of mine. She writes fantasy and has recently released a new book. 

2015-10-18

Self Publishing: Time Management

Upgrade Status
I am making good progress on upgrading Chroniech to a more professional looking novel. The editing is moving along and I'm fixing little problems here and there. Following that, I will make a formatting pass for Kindle and then another for CreateSpace. I've also found a new possible cover for Peacekeeper 2 that is more in line with the other covers for the series. I need to see if it will work and then I need to get permission from the person who took the picture before I can use it. The problem is he's in space right now.

Time Management For Writers
All writers have this problem, especially if you are married and (as most of us do) hold down a day job: How do you find the time to write? Just look at all the things a writer has to balance in his or her life:

  • Spending time with your spouse (failure to do so can result in your becoming single).
  • Working your day job.
  • Doing all the little things around the house that must be done.
  • Watching your favorite television show.
  • Reading.
  • Blogging.
  • Social networking.
  • Eating.
  • Sleeping (something I wish I could eliminate).
  • Spending time or staying in touch with family.
  • And, as it often seems, last -- writing.
The problem is -- there's no secret formula that works for everyone. Each person's solution to this problem is going to be different. The trick is to sit down and create a plan that works for you and then stick with it. Getting your spouse involved will go a long way toward making sure your plan works. There are only so many hours in a day and the secret to finding time to write comes down to a single word: Sacrifice.

There've been writers who've written a best-selling novel 15 minutes at a time during their lunch breaks. These people sacrificed interacting with their fellow workers during lunch for time to write. Others get up an hour early and write before work - sleep sacrifice. You can also find time on the opposite end by staying up an hour later than normal. Instead of watching a television program, some people write. The biggest sacrifice of all is when you decide to quit your day job so you can write all day long. If you wait until you retire, then you're sacrificing time in another manner -- time spent working on your book before retirement.

Jamie Todd Rubin is a prolific writer I met in 2013 while attending Launch Pad. He uses a hand-crafted writing tracking tool to automatically record his productivity. This helps him because humans are competitive by nature and he's always striving to best his best performance. Tracking your daily word count can drive you to write every day no matter how little time you think you have. Jamie freely shares his writing numbers and techniques with the public and I recommend checking out his website. He also has a few tricks I don't use, such as listening to audio books while he jogs or on the drive to and from work. I use my drive time to listen to NPR news.

So how do I manage my time? My weekends are pretty much the same. I'm a morning person and my wife is a night-owl. I'm typically up before 6:00 AM giving me time to write between then and 9:00 AM or 9:30 AM when she gets up. I could watch some of my recorded television shows, or keep up with social networking, or any one of the other things I need to do. But, typically, I use the time to write. We usually go to Barnes & Noble on Saturdays. If I don't have a writer's meeting to attend, I will sit at the table and write.

Sunday's are usually spend doing household chores or catching up on other things I've sacrificed. One thing I constantly have to remind myself about is that our television shows are recorded and they can wait until I have time to watch them. Eventually, I'll have some time and I can catch up. I will often sacrifice watching a television show for writing. Sunday is also the day my wife and I spend together -- it's 'our' time and we try not to let anything interfere with that.

During the week, I have to be a bit more flexible. I'm up at 4:30 AM and start work at 5:30 AM. I typically don't have any free time at all during work unless my two computers are tied up running code. That's my time to catch up on Twitter or read a work-related computer book. I also keep at least one book on writing at work. I read this when I have to use the restroom. You can get quite a bit of reading done in 10-minute intervals this way!

I leave work at 1:30 PM and I'm home by 2:00 PM. If my wife is home, we'll usually go for a walk. If she's out with a friend, I choose between catching up on a television show, writing, or other activities. Sometimes, I multitask when possible. Trying to edit while watching Agents of Shield is not a good example but checking Facebook or Twitter is possible. I can also watch TV and do household chores at the same time. I often find myself with 10 or 15 minutes of time when my wife is off doing something and I can use that time to squeeze in a few pages of reading or Twitter.

If you were to follow me around for a few days you would notice that I am never idle. I've been like this since I was a kid. I always had a book in my pocket and I would read at every opportunity. I can't stand to just sit. I must always be doing something. In today's world of tablets, pocket computers, and netbooks, I can always find a few minutes to catch up on something. I've never tried writing on my cell phone, although I know a couple of people who have done so.

My biggest problem is spending enough time with my wife. I've talked to other writers about this and they tend to have the same complaint from their spouses. Writers are driven to write. It's like an obsession. The story is in your head and it's clamoring to get out into the public and the only person who can do that is you. If your spouse works and you don't, then you have the time to satisfy that constant itch. If the roles are reversed, your spouse has all the time and you don't, making time difficult to find. In this instance, talk to your spouse about how you feel. It's best to come to an agreement than to end up in divorce court.

Next week, I'll be talking about the Tools of the Trade. Writers no longer need just a pencil and paper to get their work done. Although that is the bare-bones minimum, technology is pretty much a requirement these days. I'll be listing what I use as well as alternatives used by successful writers I know.

2015-10-11

Self-Publishing: Formatting

The newly revised Translight has been uploaded to Amazon. A new print version is also available along with a modified cover. I’m starting work on the re-edit of Chroniech.

I thought I would spend this week talking about formatting your book. I spent a considerable amount of time trying to find a computer program that could format my book interior for the print version. There are a number of programs available ranging from very expensive to free. After searching and trying a few of the free ones, I went back and used Microsoft Word. I’ll discuss how I did this in just moment.

My biggest disappoint was with Microsoft Publisher. In theory, it should be able to import a Word document without screwing up the page formatting. This didn’t happen. It inserted blank pages where none was before and began page numbering at the title page (which Word did not). When I deleted the offending blank page, Publisher would mysteriously reinsert it after a few seconds (presumably after it reformatted based on the page delete). I have been unable to find any good reference books on Publisher and how it can be used for actually publishing a book. Anyone have any ideas?

Formatting Your Book
Taking the time to format your book’s interior is a time-consuming activity. But, it's a step you should not forego. Failing to properly format both your printed and Kindle interior will brand you as an amateur among those who know. Right now, my books brand me as an amateur but I’m making the needed changes to correct that. If you’re just starting out, there are a number of important things you need to learn and keep in mind. If you’ve already published, perhaps you should consider going back and fixing your interiors as I have.

The details of how to format your book are easily found in many sources on the internet and vary depending on the type of book you're creating. For myself, the rules of interior formatting can be boiled down to a few items I keep in OneNote. I frequently reference this information while I’m doing my final formatting. You should do this final formatting after your final edit, just before publishing your book. If you later go back and make changes, you’ll have to check your formatting again before publishing the revision.

A very good reference I recommend is “From Word to Kindle” by Aaron Shepard. There are also free guides on Amazon’s website and scattered all over the internet. When you read these books and articles, read them with the intent to learn. Take notes, and then refresh your memory just before you begin the formatting process. It is also best to have a good working knowledge of how to use your word processor. Most people never take the time to read a single book on how to use Microsoft Word. It is well worth your time to do so!

Instead of trying to explain each and every setting, I will list my collected notes at the end of this post. I hope they will be a good starting point on your interior.

Formatting the interior of the printed copy of Translight was actually easier than I thought and I used Microsoft Word to do so. One reason I wanted to find a professional publishing program was so I could do micro-kerning to adjust the pages. If you can’t do this, you end up with a book that might have only a few lines on the last page of a chapter. Since chapters are supposed to begin on a right-facing page, this can leave your book with a page that’s mostly blank followed by a blank page and then a new chapter. It doesn’t look good.

To fix this using Word, select a page or two of the end of the offending chapter and make a tiny change to the line spacing of those paragraphs. Decrease the spacing by a couple tenths of a point. This change will not be noticeable to the vast majority of readers. View the results. If there are still some lines on the last page, use CTRL+Z to reverse your change and then go back and select some more. When you have the right number of paragraphs selected, your text will reformat to eliminate the offending page.

CreateSpace does a wonderful job of verifying that your interior meets their requirements. One of the most frustrating things that I go through every time I upload a new book to CreateSpace is caused by how Microsoft Word displays the pages in its two-page per screen view. CreateSpace always begins printing on a right-facing page. If you preview your book as I always do in Word using the two-page per screen view, the right-facing page is on the left!

There are slightly different formatting requirements for the Kindle and the print versions of my books. I generally format the Kindle version first and then make a copy of it for use in the print version. Making changes after you format your book presents a challenge because now you have two copies you have to make changes to. If your changes are extensive, it's probably best to discard the print version, make your changes in the Kindle version, and then rebuild the print version. This will take a lot longer, but you will be assured that your printed version is formatted correctly.

CreateSpace recommends that you download their template for formatting a book. I have never used any of their templates before until last week. I downloaded the cover template and used it to build my new cover instead of using CreateSpace's cover creator. This gave me better control over the final product. I used Adobe Photoshop Elements and the results were quite good even though I am far from a Photoshop master. Before you can get your hands on a template though, you need to have your interior formatting done because the template is built based on the number of pages in your book.

Below, are my collected formatting notes (in no particular order) that I’ve gathered from my various readings over the past couple of months. Some of these will apply to all books and some may only apply to books with no pictures.
  • My printed books are 5.25 x 8 with an interior font of Garamond 11. First line indent is set to 0.3” with line spacing set to “at least 15 point”.  Text is justified with automatic hyphenation turned on and window/orphan control turned on. Margins are mirrored with the following settings: Top – 0.7, Bottom – 0.7, Inside – 0.8, Outside – 0.5.
  • Chapters always begin on a right-side page.
  • Make sure the following Word styles are available for formatting: Before Scene Break, Chapter Text, Left Flush, Main Text, Scene Break. These styles are used to format the printed as well as the Kingle version. [NOTE: These are styles I created in Word. I import them into the document if they're not there. These are the only styles I use for all of my text. Small changes to the individual style to adjust typeface, etc. are done on a paragraph by paragraph level.)
  • Use of dash: It is always “space M-dash space”.
  • Do not use manual page breaks. Use “page break before”. This is built into the Chapter Text style.
  • Start off by selecting everything and formatting as Main Text. This eliminates all use of the Normal style which Kindle sometimes alters and it puts the text into a known starting configuration. Prior to doing this for the Kindle version, change the fonts of all the styles to Georgia.
  • Never use the “spacing before” setting in paragraph style. Use “spacing after” in the previous paragraph. This is built into the Before Scene Break and Scene Break styles.
  • The most common color for interior pages is cream. This cannot be changed in CreateSpace once a book is finalized.
  • Download and use the CreateSpace book cover template.
  • The first line of each chapter and the first line following a scene break are not indented. To ensure this happens when displayed on the Kindle, set the left indent to 0.01” otherwise Kindle will indent it automatically. This is accounted for in the Left Flush style.
  • San-serif fonts (i.e. Arial or Calibri) are to be avoided at all costs.
  • Make sure the text color is set to automatic. Setting it to any other color will cause problems with Kindle.
  • Use Georgia font for all Kindle text.
  • Make sure “Keep track of Formatting” is turned off.
  • Page numbering for print books begin at page 1 which should always be a right-hand page.