2015-09-27

Self-Publishing: Protecting Your Work

The re-edit of Translight is complete (138,000 words in 3 weeks). Now, I can concentrate on reformatting for Kindle and then reformatting the interior of the printed version. Cover re-dos are also planned. I hope to re-publish Translight next weekend.

I attended a meeting at a different writer's group last week. This one, Water's Edge, tends to be more focused on open discussion and networking although there was one person who brought a piece to be critiqued. The group had some very good suggestions and the author accepted them with open arms. They meet monthly in the Kirtland Public Library at 6:00 pm on the 4th Wednesday of every month. You can find them on MeetUp. The time does not work well for me, but I might return for another visit. If you live in the area and the time works for you, consider joining.

Protecting Your Work
You're hammering along on your keyboard, chapter 15 is nearing a climactic end, and suddenly -- the power goes out. After peeling the paint off the walls with your blistering curses, you realize that you are using a modern word processor that saves your work as you type. A frustrating hour later, the power returns and you hit the power switch on your computer. You are presented with a blue screen saying the operating system cannot be found. Now what?

I am the geek in my extended family and I've seen dead hard drives on at least 2 computers in the past few years. One was caused by a dog running by and catching the power cord to a laptop. It hit the floor and crashed the hard drive. Another simply quit for no apparent reason and would not respond to my recovery program. Hard drives do fail and when they do, everything on them is gone -- everything!

"But my computer has a solid-state drive--it can't crash," you argue. Oh, but they can. They are immune to G-forces and head crashes, but electronics can fail. Sorry, try again. "Okay, I backup to a memory stick at the end of every editing session." Much better, but still not good enough. If you forget to back up and you start editing on another computer, now you have two different versions of your book. Fixing that can be a problem. Losing your memory stick and having it found by an unscrupulous person is an even bigger problem, especially if you keep important financial documents on it.

The safest thing to do is to store your manuscript and other critical files in a cloud-based storage location such as DropBox. Using a cloud-based word processor is also a good choice. But what if the company holding your data suddenly goes out of business? This happened not too long ago. A cloud-based backup service went under and everything they had stored for thousands of users was suddenly unavailable. At least with DropBox, you have a copy on your hard drive as well as in the cloud. I use DropBox. It works very well with Scrivener and Microsoft Word. But I don't stop there.

Backing up your data to another cloud-based backup site is strongly recommended. I use CrashPlan for this. Why am I pushing a cloud-based backup solution when the fastest backup possible is to backup to a removable disc? Unless your removable is fire-proof, water-proof, and theft-proof, you're still vulnerable. Insurance will not recover your data if your house burns down and your primary, secondary, and emergency backups are all melted. You've spent years working on your masterpiece -- why take any chances at all?

The hard drive in your 2-year old computer has died. "No problem!" you proudly declare. I read Doug's blog and I have everything backed up. Do you? Did you make a set of system recovery discs for your computer when you bought it? Most computers these days come with a backup partition loaded with the operating system. It's there in case you want to reset your computer to factory specs. But -- here's the key -- it's on the same physical hard drive as your data. If it crashes, you're out of luck. Let's say you did make those discs. how long will you be down?

After installing a new hard drive (about an hour if you take your time), it will take you about 2 to 3 hours to reinstall the operating system. The first thing you're going to have to do is to reload all the updates. I have a very fast internet connection and bringing a 2-year old PC I was given to fix back up-to-date took an entire day. Then, you're going to have to reload all your programs and restore your backup. You could be down for 3 or 4 days at least.

So what's the best solution? Let's start with a brand new PC. The very first thing you want to do when you turn it on is to burn a set of recovery discs. There should be a menu item to do this. You can skip this step if you have a set of discs from the manufacturer. Next, uninstall all the junk that comes with your computer. For the next step, you will need to know something about partitioning a drive. If you don't, find a geek who knows. What you're going to want to do is to split your hard disk into 2 separate partitions. If you have a second hard disc then you can most likely skip this as well.

In the past, partitioning a drive erased everything on it. This is no longer true. There are a number of free hard disk partitioning programs available. Use it to split your main hard drive into at least 2 drives. One is for the operating system and programs only. The other is strictly reserved for your data. Make sure the operating system partition is big enough. Next, download a good system backup program and burn a new set of recovery discs. Better yet, use an inexpensive portable drive to store your system backup. Put this in a fire box, safe deposit box, or your desk at work. Set up your cloud-storage and your cloud-based backup to backup everything on your data partition. The system partition is backed up separately. Now you're safe.

You should periodically refresh your system backup. This will minimize the time it takes to reinstall your entire operating system and bring it back up to date. Your backup software should run in the background, automatically saving your precious data to the cloud. If you want, you can also make a second backup to a local drive to make recovery hum along at a fast pace instead of having to download it from the cloud. Having your data backed up in more than one place is never a bad idea.

Almost done. Now that your electronic data is secure, you need to protect your actual writing. When your novel is done, copyright it! This is not necessary for a short story you intend to submit to a magazine. The magazine will usually take care of that. Copyright law does say that the moment you say something is copyrighted, it is. But, if someone steals your work you will have a difficult time getting any compensation if you do not file with the copyright office.

Here's another, even scarier scenario: You write a novel; you spend $300.00 having it edited; you pay an artist $350.00 to create a knock-out cover; you upload your book to Amazon; some nut pulls your book, converts it into a Word document, and sends it to the copyright office as if they wrote it. A few months later, you get hit with a $50,000 lawsuit for copyright infringement. The plaintiff has a copyright paper in his name and you do not. The court battle is going to be expensive and take a very long time.

For an additional $35.00 (just over 5% more than you've already invested in the book), you could have saved all this trouble by copyrighting your work before you uploaded it to Amazon. The process is very simple. The government has a very easy to understand PDF file that explains the entire process. You can see it by clicking here. The copyright office homepage can be accessed by clicking here. I encourage you to take the time to read it.

One more thing before I close. I've had people tell me they're afraid to use DropBox or other cloud-based storage systems because they're afraid someone will steal their work. These services take security seriously, otherwise they would not be around. The data is typically stored using bank-level encryption and even they cannot get to your data if you lose your password. Cloud-based storage is safe. Just make sure you have your data stored in multiple locations.

Be safe and write often.


2015-09-20

Self-Publishing: What Not To Do

Last month, I was at WorldCon -- a weekend that changed how I view myself as an author and a publisher. While I was there, I took a number of pictures which I have posted on my Flickr account. You can view them by clicking here.

I am about 75% complete with my re-edit of Translight. I've also recently finished reading two books by a successful self-published author that I recommend to anyone who is thinking of or who has self-published. These are:


The author has a whole series of books on self-publishing that are easy to read and filled with useful information. His advice sometimes conflicts with what Amazon puts out, but that's because he has done the research and he knows what does and does not work.

Self-Publishing: What Not to Do
This is the third post in my new series on self-publishing. If you missed the first two, you can find them by clicking on the following links:

By now, many of you are probably wondering when I'm going to get around to telling you how to actually publish your book. I'm not, and here's why: Every book is different. Internal formatting is important and the look of the book is a personal choice. The actual mechanics of publishing your book are quite simple -- you upload it to Amazon. There, my part is done, you know how to publish. The part that's difficult is making your book look professional. For that information, I will ask that you read the above books and then read some more.

When you publish your book, you're making it available for the world to see. The reading public will judge you by the quality of your work. If you want to be viewed as a professional, then you need to produce a professional product. Some authors will tell you this means spending hundreds of dollars on having your work professionally edited and formatted. I call bull on that. Yes, it's an important part of publishing, but if you don't have the money, then you shouldn't go into debt just to pay an editor. That's not good business practice. But you should do the absolute best you can. Become knowledgeable on how to format your book, have others look at it with a critical eye, and then publish. You can always go back and fix things as your readers point them out to you and if you make money on your book, by all means have it professionally edited when you can afford it.

So, the first thing you should not do is release a poorly formatted, poorly edited book. The second is to put yourself in debt to have your book professionally edited and formatted.

At this point, you might be thinking, "But I don't have the time to read all those books on self-publishing!" You might be tempted to go with one of the publishing companies listed in the back of a magazine or one that pops up on a Google search. Most will charge you for the privilege of publishing your book. Some will do it for free. Most will tell you they will have your book edited and proofed by their staff of professionals. Please -- do not do this!

I know people who have handed over thousands of their hard-earned money to a publishing company that has promised them the world. They've signed a contract giving the publisher the rights to their work. Their book was published, but it was never professionally edited or formatted. They took what the author gave them and stuck it into a book. For an extra fee, they will promise to promote your book. Don't believe them! Item number three on the never to do list is: Pay money to have your book published.

There are some exceptions to this rule. There are some very good publishers who will ask for a small fee to print your book. Ingram-Sparks is one such company. Their rates are reasonable and you retain full rights to your book. There is one member of my writers group who is planning to go this route. Do your research. If a publisher wants you to hand over thousands of dollars and promises you all sorts of great returns, shy away from them. I've never met anyone who's actually made any money on a deal like this. A small fee to have a well-known printer produce your book is not unwarranted. But, if this is your first novel and you're short on cash, go with Createspace -- it's free and you can always change your mind when you learn more.

Okay, your book is live on Amazon, a stack of printed copies is on the way. Now what? Promote! You hop on Twitter and blast out your news, next stop is Facebook, then Google+. Oh my, it's been 15 minutes, someone might not have seen your first posts so you repeat them. Then you hunt down all the discussion boards you can find and... STOP! You're going about it all wrong. People, especially other authors, are going to see you as a pest, a loud advertisement, or worse. You'll be tuned out, blocked, unfriended, and ignored. Don't be a pest!

It's okay to be proud of your accomplishment. Let people know. Put out a short tweet, or a message on Facebook and other social networking sites. That's fine. Just don't repeat yourself. Over-promoting will get you a bad reputation. People do not respond well to this. You can be banned from most forums if you engage in this type of activity. If you've been a presence on a forum for some time, it's probably okay to let people know you've released your first book, but do it in a subtle manner. Hitting people over the head with a billboard is not subtle. By all means tell your friends. Post a sign-up sheet at your work for anyone wanting to buy a copy of your book. Politely ask people to share the news with their friends. Be proud, yet humble.

Finally, you're going to get feedback, treat it as such. There are some authors who will tell you to never read your reviews. I disagree. Do not ignore your readers. You will most likely get a few very negative reviews from people who get a kick out of trying to humiliate others. Ignore them. What you're interested in are the meaningful reviews from people who have a specific comment to make. If you get more negative reviews than positive ones, then perhaps it's best to pull the book until you can fix the problems the readers are pointing out. Listen to what your readers have to say. I do, and I've benefitted from their comments. I know it's hard, but don't take these comments personally. If a reader is honest, they will be reviewing the book, not you as a person.

Do not engage in a war of words on the comments you receive. Remember, the entire world can read what is said. Flaming someone because they wrote a negative review is a sure way to end your writing career. I have replied to a review asking for additional information if it seems as if the reader could provide it. If you simply can't resist the urge to reply, do so in a professional manner. I recently had a 4-star review on Chroniech and the reviewer mentioned that the editing was poor. I replied, telling them that the first 3 books of the series (my first published novels) were being re-edited. I thanked them for the review.

There are more items that can be added to the list, but I will refrain from turning this post into a small novel. The bottom line is you want to present yourself as a professional author. Someone another person would love to meet. You should also have good business sense. I know you're anxious to publish, but take a step back and think about what it is you are about to do. You're making something you spent a lot of time creating available to the entire planet to read and comment on. Is it ready? Are you ready? Is your publisher betting they can take your money because you're too anxious? Slow down, take a deep breath, think about the future, and then, when you are absolutely confident in your decision, publish.

In summary here is what you should not do:
  • Release a poorly formatted, poorly edited book.
  • Put yourself in debt to have your book professionally edited and formatted.
  • Pay money to have your book published.
  • Be a pest when it comes to promoting your book.
  • Ignore your readers.
  • Reply to a bad review meant to illicit such a response.
  • Be unprofessional.
Next week's post will be on Protecting Your Hard Work (copyrights, electronic storage, etc). This is different than what I originally planned 3 weeks ago because protecting your work is important. 

2015-09-13

Self-Publishing: Establish Your Network

I just had a 4-star review of Chroniech. The reviewer enjoyed the story but said the editing was horrible. I agree. Chroniech was actually the first book I wrote even though it is the second book of the series and it has never been properly edited. My wife is my grammar-checker and proof-reader, but she did not begin doing this until later in my writing career.

This review highlights why I've put Dragonverse Origins on hold to go back and re-edit the first 3 books of the Galactic Alliance series, reformat the text, redo the covers, and re-publish the series. I have learned plenty in the years since I started writing and it's time for me to present myself as a professional writer.

The editing of Translight has hit the 50% point. I am continuing to work my way through the book, making changes to improve the quality of the experience without changing the scope of the story. When that's done, I will reformat for Kindle and create a new cover. Then the book will appear in its new form.

Establish Your Network
Last week, I wrote about treating your writing as a business. The number of people reading that post is among the highest for any past blog post I've written. Apparently, this is what people want to hear; not random thoughts about writing in general or my progress on various projects, but down-to-earth advice on how to become a self-published author. This week's post talks about establishing a network of writer friends and acquaintances.

Up until July of 2012, I did not know or have contact with any other writers. I self-published my first book in early 2009. That's a long time to be involved in something and not know anyone else in the field. It was too long a time. Writing is a lonely activity, there's no doubt about that. But that does not mean you should become a hermit. For a writer to progress to the point where they can be called an author, that person needs to have a network of people interested in the same thing to converse with.

A network will also give you a sense of being. It's a hard feeling to describe, but it's real. If you love to fly model airplanes, you want to share this experience with other people so you join a club. If you like to read science fiction, you find friends who also like to read those types of stories and you spend time talking about them. Being able to talk about what you love to do is part of the reason why you do it and why you search out others with similar tastes. Writing is no different.

I have learned and grown by more than I can possibly explain to you because of who I know in my personal network. I feel as if I am part of a larger community and I'm involved in something I enjoy doing. No single person can know everything there is to know about any subject. That's why people form clubs and gather together at conventions. Each encounter with another author is a learning experience even if it doesn't feel like it at the time. Humans are social animals and we tend to socialize with others of like interest. Having a personal network of writing-related people will satisfy this primitive desire to feel like you are part of a community.

 So, where to start?

I started building my network when I applied for and was accepted to Launch Pad. That was when I learned the importance of knowing others in the field. Launch Pad didn't just kick-start my network, it opened my eyes to the world of writing. I learned more about what it is to be a writer during that one week in July of 2012 than I did of astronomy which was the purpose of the workshop. But getting accepted into Launch Pad is difficult. Out of 90+ applications this year, Mike Brotherton was only able to accept 14 lucky individuals. Most of these were award-winning authors or editors. If not Launch Pad, then what?

Look around your area for writer's groups and join one or two. Stick it out over several meetings and see if you feel comfortable with them. If not, find another group. You're looking for a group of people you enjoy being around and are willing to provide you with meaningful feedback on your work. Make friends with them. Stick around after the meeting and talk about writing. Find out if any of them have publishing experience or if someone has gone to a convention. You might only find 2 or 3 people you gravitate towards, but that's a start.

Go to conventions. A good place to look for upcoming conventions is con-news.com. Or, you could ask you new friends from your writer's group. Don't do what I did! I started out small and I went to a local convention called MillenniCon which is held in Cincinnati, about a 5-hour drive from my house. I attended the panels (Mike Resnick and David Drake were on one) and learned quite a bit. I spent too much time in my room writing. I should have been hanging out talking to the other people who went and trying to establish contacts.

Satisfied with MillenniCon, I decided to go to DragonCon - one of the largest conventions. I had a great time, and it worked out very well for me, but I don't recommend it for new writers. I had lunch with several authors I met at Launch Pad and they introduced me to a couple other people who are now my friends. But, if I had not known those authors, DragonCon would have been an expensive waste of my time. Stick to the smaller, local conventions. Go to as many as you can. Spend time getting to know some of the people who attend. And, if at all possible, introduce yourself to the panelists if they make themselves available. Some won't, but many will be available for you to approach either after the panel or later during the convention.

Another way to establish your author network is to join online groups or get yourself a Twitter account and follow some authors. I'm not a big fan of this technique unless you are particularly good at long-range relationships. Being able to sit down and chat with a person face-to-face is a much better way to interact than tweeting or messaging a person you've never met. But, if that's all you can manage now, then by all means give it a try. It might lead to something.

There are other ways as well. Attend a writing class and get to know the people in the class with you. Go to an author reading and interact with those who also attend -- some of them are most likely authors. As a last resort, see if you can locate one or two local authors and invite them to join you for coffee or lunch. Explain to them that you're a writer looking to find other authors to interact with. Most writers are more than willing to share their experience with you.

If you happen to get lucky and your network of writing-related friends includes award-winning authors, magazine editors, or movie producers, don't think for one minute that you can use these people for your own gains. These individuals are your friends and acquaintances, not your ticket to publication. Treat them with the respect they deserve. If you know a magazine editor, do not ask for a special review of your story--submit it through the proper channels. If you want to be respected by other authors, earn your place among their rank by doing the work yourself. Don't be afraid of rejection. It happens to all writers. Accept it and move on.

My personal network includes award-winning authors, a movie producer, a Hollywood animator, script-writers that have written for popular television series, magazine editors, and blockbuster game developers. I know people who live in the UK as well as Australia. Some of these people are good friends. Most are acquaintances I stay in touch with. If I ever need help on something or if I have a question that only a seasoned author can answer, they are there to help. But, and more importantly, we all have learned something from each other. I may not be able to list the specifics, but without this network I would be a very poor writer indeed. In fact, I would be just a writer--not an author.

2015-09-07

Writing is a Business

The Translight re-edit is coming along well. I am about 15% done and I’ve been making a lot of little changes. Although Translight is the first book in the Galactic Alliance series, it was actually written after Chroniech. Heather Zak, my cover artist, has sent me the art-only she used to make the Galactic Alliance covers. I plan on using them to redo the covers.

I’ve created a closed Facebook group named “Self-Publishing Authors” to promote discussion among people looking to self-publish and those who have already done so. This new group is dedicated to answering questions and passing on new ideas concerning self-publishing. Promoting your book is prohibited. Please consider joining if you are interested in or have experience with self-publishing.

The topic for this week  --  Writing is a business
Let me start out by saying that I am not a tax expert. Everything I am about to tell you has been learned from reading various books as well as the IRS publications. Believe it or not, the IRS publications are not at all that hard to read and they’re freely available from their website: http://www.irs.gov/

Unless you are writing for your own pleasure, or you never expect to profit from your writing, you should treat your writing activities as a business. You should do this even if you have not yet finished your first manuscript. Why? First, because when you do begin to make an income from writing, you are going to want to have some tax deductions to offset the taxes you are going to pay to the IRS. Secondly, why not start taking those tax deductions now?

If you write as a hobby and you’re not serious about earning a profit from writing, the IRS will not believe you have a valid business. Be very careful about this. If you are ever audited and the IRS concludes you write as a hobby, they can, and will, invalidate all of your past deductions. This is spelled out very clearly in IRS publication 587 (as well as others I’m sure). How are you to avoid this? Easy, keep reading.

As soon as you form your business, you should begin planning for tax time. One of the first things you should do is get yourself an EIN. This is an Employer Identification Number and it’s available instantly from the IRS through their website. To get one now, click here. You should use this number in place of your SSN for all business-related transactions. When you publish on Amazon, you can use your EIN in place of your Social Security Number. It will link back to your SSN and it keeps your SSN private. It also helps show that you are serious about treating your writing as a business.

One thing the government is very keen on is detailed and accurate documentation. No matter what type of business you create, you should keep anything and everything associated with it in a separate location. You should also start and maintain a business log. This is required (I believe) if you form an actual company (such as an LLC). The simplest, and most common, type of business is the self-proprietor. It requires nothing more than a declaration to establish. Keeping a logbook is one way of showing you are serious.

If you qualify for a home office deduction, then you can also claim mileage. One thing you will note when you file your taxes is the IRS does not seem to think a small business can utilize more than one vehicle. I have two cars. I have an Excel spreadsheet that I use to track the business-related mileage. It identifies the following: Which car I drove. Starting odometer reading. Ending odometer reading. Total miles driven. Purpose and if it the mileage recorded is one way or round trip. When tax time comes, I pick the vehicle I use the most and put that on the form. I treat both cars as if they were one. Having the detailed log backs me up if I ever get audited.

Do you use a computer exclusively for writing? The cost of that computer is a business expense. Do you buy books to help you become a better writer, attend conferences, drive to a writer’s group, or take writing classes? These are all valid business expenses as are the miles you put on your car to travel to and from them. A word of caution here. The IRS views writers as being able to conduct their business anywhere. This means that unless you have a home office and you claim one on your tax return, you cannot take any deductions for travel even if you travel out of State. A home office must follow some very specific rules and I will refer you to IRS publication 587 if you want to set one up. If you do, take a picture of it and file it away.

A self-published writer is more than just a writer. You are a writer, editor, proof-reader, publisher, marketer, and many other titles. You are very often the entire package. If you pay to have someone create a cover for your book, that’s an expense. If you pay to have your manuscript edited, write it off. If you use the internet to do research, publish your book, or even check your grammar with a program such as Grammarly, it’s a valid expense.

But, if you do not declare yourself a business, none of these expenses (and many more) can be deducted from your taxes. Are you worried about reporting a loss? Don’t be! The IRS realizes that most businesses will report a loss during its first few years. In fact, reporting a loss for up to five years is okay. But, if you report a loss year after year without showing any appreciable income from the business, it could trigger an audit and the IRS will scrutinize your records. If you’ve kept a detailed log, have all your receipts, and can prove you are actually writing a novel, then I would not worry.

There are other types of businesses you can form. One of the most popular is an LLC. Unless you believe you can be sued for what you write, I don’t believe this is a cost-effective path to follow. I should point out that an LLC will not protect you if you plagiarize someone else's work. Most writers will do fine to simply file as a sole proprietor. If you have a tax professional who does your taxes, have a talk with them. Carefully read the IRS publications. If you are really worried, consult a lawyer although that can be expensive.

There are a few other things you will want to do:
  • Open up a checking account specifically for business use. If you do pull funds from this account for personal use, transfer it to your personal account and use a memo to identify it as profit-taking.
  • Get or designate a credit card solely for use by the business.
  • Print business cards.

If you are serious about being a writer and you plan on making money at it, now is the time to declare yourself a business. As with all my posts, if you have any questions about anything I’ve said please feel free to write me.

Future Posts:
  • Establish your network -- Writing is a lonely job, but you will need access to a network of writer friends you can interface with and call on if you ever need help. Most writers are eager to help other writers out.
  • What NOT to do -- There are many mistakes a self-publishing author can make, especially if you are eager to get your book out into the world. I will try to list the mistakes to avoid.
  • You as an Author -- Writers are a strange bunch. We spend hours behind locked doors hunched over a keyboard or notepad working furiously to create a masterpiece. Once your book is available, you become a public figure. This post will include my advice on how to present yourself to the public and especially your readers.
  • Conventions, Awards, and Professional Organizations -- There are a lot of them out there. What are they for, what benefit does a writer get out of them, and which ones should you go to. Awards are great to strive for. But, are they really worth it? There are many professional organizations available to the self-published author. There are many good reasons to join them.
  • Protecting your hard work -- Copyrights and electronic backups are discussed.
As usual, if you have any suggestions for future posts, please let me know. If there is enough interest in one, I'll move it ahead in the schedule.