Category Archives: self-publishing

The Money Issue: Creating a Book Budget

The Money Issue: Creating a Book Budget

Scrabble word BUDGET is a key for indie book publishing

Key to any book publishing, indie or otherwise. CC image “Budget” courtesy of airpix on Flickr and stubblepatrol.com. Some rights reserved.

Books don’t come free. In addition to your blood, sweat, and tears (am I being melodramatic?), you need to have a plan in place to conquer the hard financial costs that are part and parcel of publishing. Like any other business, your book has operating expenses, and it deserves a budget. Continue reading

Don’t Make Your Book Cheap — Why comparing on price doesn’t add up

Don’t Make Your Book Cheap — Why comparing on price  doesn’t add up

piggybank next to a calculator-are you counting pennies for your book

Counting your book pennies? CC image “Investing” courtesy of 401Kcalculator.org.

April is the month that everyone in the U.S. thinks about money—which makes this an appropriate time to talk money and indie books.

Although comparing dollar amounts is an easy way to try and compare services for your book, including editing, this practice gives you an incomplete picture at best. At worst, it leads you to make a choice you later regret. Being cheap often leads to looking cheap, and may actually cost you more in the long run. Let’s go over the top parameters your editor considers—and why these are more useful than price.

Key information your editor wants about your book

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typewriter keep the self in publishing

Keep the “Self” in Self-Publishing: 
Steer clear of shady providers

Keep the “Self” in Self-Publishing: Steer clear of shady providers

typewriter keep the self in publishing

In self-publishing as in life, be smart about who you work with.

If you’ve tried self-publishing, you know how much work it is. While the benefits are great, we all want help sometimes. Publishing companies that promise to do the work for indie authors sound like a great deal.

Careful. Not all of these are legit, and the terms of the agreement can have big repercussions for you—notably a poor product (book), and a big price tag.

Anytime you ask someone to help you, be wary of what you are giving away. Below I outline shady practices to watch out for, and how to protect yourself. Beware of offers that sound too good to be true.

Why vanity presses and self-publishing “package” deals are a bad option

Vanity or subsidy presses publish your book for a fee. They offer to cover editing, layout and cover design, and printing. The promise: to make your life as an indie author easier by streamlining the publishing process.

Great, you think. You’re already self-publishing and paying for it. What makes this model bad?

The answer boils down to three things: the fees, the quality of work, and the rights.

The fees: these outfits charge high fees for work you can get at better prices through a legitimate small press or by hiring individual service providers.

The quality of work: if the price looks lovely and low, it means they are saving money somewhere, usually with dubious editing, restrictive and generic cover design options, and up-sell options for marketing (typically not included in the package price).

The rights: a traditional publisher pays publishing costs, and retains rights to your book in exchange. This is how they (hope to) recoup their costs and profit. Vanity presses ask you to pay for the publication costs, and yet retain the same rights. Um, what?

Avoid this arrangement. Vanity presses and “assisted self-publishing” offer low-quality, low-value options for a high fee and the privilege of keeping all your rights.

A note on rights: if you decide to publish another edition, or an eBook or audiobook version, or you want to do ANYTHING ELSE with your material, like distribution deals—you need rights to your work. If giving them away to a for-fee company sounds like a bad idea…it is.

How to tell if a “publisher” is shady

  • They charge you a fee, and yet they take royalties from the sales of your book. What? A traditional publisher PAYS for your book, and makes its money back through sales. These assisted self-publishers haven’t risked a dime on the production of your book, and should receive no royalties.
  • They give you budget editorial and design at a markup price. You pay more for less.
  • They charge you a “setup fee,” which is a sneaky way for them to cover their costs. Why are you paying a setup fee? Your package deal is meant to cover the cost of production.
  • Sales: They require you to purchase your own books. They want you to “guarantee” a minimum number of sales prior to publication. They pressure you to buy copies of your own book in other ways, such as through an Author Guide or special discount offers.
  • They offer/pressure you to pay for “expedited” editing, or special website placement, or inclusion in book fair catalogs, or “enhanced” marketing.
  • They usually retain rights to the cover art, typesetting, and digital assets. If you back out of the contract, you’ll have to start from scratch with a word processing document (and a lighter wallet).
  • They don’t disclose fees upfront (a HUGE givewaway).
  • You can’t get a human being on the phone (or email).

What’s in this package “deal”?

When you purchase a bundled deal, always, always, ALWAYS know exactly what’s part of the bundle. What is included? What is extra? What do the individual items cost if you were to purchase them on an “a la carte” basis?

When they say marketing, what does that mean? When they say editing, what does that entail? (Go here for descriptions on types of editing.) When they say cover design, how many looks are they giving you for that “special price” (with a designer you haven’t chosen)? Make them get specific.

Marketing promises especially give me the heebee-jeebies. Are they talking about radio, TV, print, digital? Are they going to do your social media management? Are they going to add you to a speakers bureau? Are they only “listing” you on Amazon? Marketing comes in a LOT of flavors. Not all will be relevant or useful to you. Don’t pay for what you don’t need.

If they don’t specifically say what they are offering, you aren’t getting it, and you may be asked to pay (a lot) more for what should be a basic service. Read the fine print.

The bottom line

Don’t give away the benefits of publishing your own book. As an indie author, you have control over the decision-making and the rights; plus you can earn much more per book sold than with a traditional publisher. Why would you give these away?

Stay away from companies that promise a lot for a little, retain exclusive rights to your book, pressure you to purchase copies of your own book, and ask you to pay for these “benefits.” Stay away from companies that don’t disclose their fees and spend most of their time up-selling you expensive products you don’t need, and that don’t deliver on basic (necessary) services such as editing and design.

Remember: it’s the fees, the quality of work, and the rights. Before you agree to hand over your rights and your cash, know what you are signing away.

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Any doubts? Ask me or another provider you trust, and use the resources at Writer Beware.

Writing About Real People: Making sure they don’t hate you or sue you after you publish

Writing About Real People: Making sure they don’t hate you or sue you after you publish

old word processing keyboard with Ooops button. writing mistakes

You don’t want to feel this way about your story. CC image “Oops.” courtesy of Marcin Wichary on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Writers of all stripes constantly draw from real life. Nonfiction and memoir material obviously depend on real people, and even fictional characters are drawn from what we know and have experienced. The question is: How much “real” information can we include in our work? Is there a limit, and if so, where is it? Can we use real names? What is OK to say, and how can we be both respectful and legally safe while maintaining truth and honesty in our work?

Not everyone is happy to find themselves portrayed in a book. Our writing has real-world consequences, some of them less pleasant than an uncomfortable holiday meal after we’ve aired our family’s dirty laundry to the world. There may be legal ramifications. Below I discuss best practices for writing about real people and factual events.

Note, this post is meant as a guideline ONLY. I am not a legal professional and in no way does the following constitute legal advice. Also, this article is not about journalism or journalistic ethics and obligations. If you have a question, please consult a legal professional.

Real-world effects of writing about real people

Negative fallout from telling real stories falls into one of two categories: people who never speak to us again, and people who sue us. Both of these are frightening for different reasons, although people who sue us can have a vastly broader impact on our lives.

And negative fallout typically comes because we share less-than-flattering stories. Let’s face it: if we’re being outrageously complimentary, who’s going to object to that? Legally speaking, compliments are a non-issue, while real or perceived insults need our more careful attention.

If you’re wondering whether you might face difficulties when you talk about real people, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can your portrayal be seen as unfavorable or slanderous?
  • Are you lying or being “malicious”?
  • Can the characters be readily identified by name or other characteristics?

Writing that is respectful and legally safe

Sometimes unhappy stories are the reason for your work in the first place. If you’re writing a memoir about overcoming a tough chapter from your life, that tough story is probably necessary. In nonfiction, real-life examples are important. If you’re writing fiction, your characters need to grow, change, and face obstacles, otherwise there is no book—and real experiences are great sources of fictional narrative.

In all cases, you need to maintain truth and honesty. However, this doesn’t mean you need to drag a specific person through the mud. Be respectful—even if you feel certain people don’t deserve it.

Think about the larger ramifications of what you’re sharing: what serves the story you want to tell? Do you need to identify your boss Jim by name, description, and personal habits? Or do you need to convey how his behavior affected you personally?

Strategies for how to write about real people in your book

Some writers are so concerned about reactions to their book that they wait until the affected people die before publishing. This is one way to avoid offending anyone and having them sue you, but it doesn’t suit everyone and I encourage you to explore other options.

Get permission.

This is the simplest way to include real information about real people. Get written permission from them to use it. Now, you may argue that this isn’t necessarily easy, but easy and simple are two different things.

Change the character name and other identifying characteristics.

You probably don’t want to name your awful character after your boss Jim. Re-naming your characters (whether real or fictional) is an obvious first step. Since we can identify people by more than names, make sure you also change other details, such as physical characteristics, habits, personal interests and hobbies, and so on.

Here’s where being honest to the story comes in. Fiction writers may have an easier time with this concept than nonfiction writers. Say Jim is obsessive: great, do we need him to obsess about baseball scores, the way live Jim does? How about making him a fiend for a perfectly mowed lawn?

Create composite characters.

Use professional back story from one person, the obsessive personality traits from another, a love of gardenias from a third, and so on. Jim could be a lawn-mowing-obsessed female mathematician. You get the idea. Use multiple real-life figures so that the new composite doesn’t match any one person. You can be faithful to the character’s agency in the story without insulting someone you hope to have Thanksgiving dinner with, or inspiring an erstwhile colleague to drag you to court.

The bottom line

Best practices to keep yourself safe and respectful, while staying true to the story that you need to tell, include asking yourself how unflattering your portraits are, how recognizable your characters are (or need to be), and whether you are making your characters ugly and stupid out of spite. Ask yourself: what serves the story? Get permission to speak about people if you can, and respect their privacy by changing identifying details that are not relevant to the lesson or insight that you want to share.

The legal ramifications of talking about real people in your book can be more complicated than you think. When in doubt, please do seek professional advice.

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What are some of your concerns when you write about real people?

12 Things Every Self-Publisher Should Know

12 Things Every Self-Publisher Should Know
(before publishing)

christmas tree made of books with ornaments

CC image “Boekenkerstboom” courtesy of Bibliotheek Kortrijk on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

In this day and age, where it seems like everyone is publishing a book and a lot of them are touting how easy that is (ha!), it’s important to remember that none of those books was published by magic. In tribute to the “12 Days of Christmas,” below is a list of 12 things every self-publisher and independent author should know.

Traditionally, the holiday season means a barrage of tips on how to market-slash-use-the-holiday-to-promote-your-book. While tying your marketing to the season is a great idea, your publishing plans should not begin and end with this fixation. Continue reading

Where do you begin? The Foreword, the Preface, and the Introduction

Where do you begin? The Foreword, the Preface, and the Introduction

Where do we start a book? To quote the King in Alice in Wonderland, “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

If only it were so simple.

Fiction needs to consider the prologue. Nonfiction books have introductions often, prefaces sometimes, and occasionally forewords. Do we know how to use them well? An introduction, preface, and foreword serve different purposes, although we tend to mix them up. Below are some tips to help you separate these three beginnings, and suggestions for how, or whether, you want to use them.

The Foreword

The most important distinguishing feature of the foreword is that it should be written by someone other than the author.

I’ve seen authors writing introductions or prefaces and calling them forewords. The foreword is not for you, dear author. The foreword is an opportunity for you—a marketing opportunity.

Your foreword plays in much the same space as your back cover copy: it helps you sell the book. Contributors to forewords are experts in the field your book is about, or authors of similar books. A foreword adds credibility to your book by offering a stamp of approval that other people will recognize: bookstores as well as individual consumers. You are after the name recognition and esteem of your contributor.

Because someone else writes your foreword, and they should have read your book before they do so, you need to complete your manuscript and send them an advance reader copy. This means you must be done with your book and budget extra time to incorporate a foreword.

The Preface

Think of the preface as an envelope. The preface is about the book itself—not the contents of the book.

This is your opportunity to talk about why you wrote this book. What brought you here? What are you trying to achieve? You may use this space to establish your credentials—indicate your experience in a topic or the professional expertise that makes you well-suited to talk about it. Often, authors muddle this together with the material in the introduction. They are best kept separate. Give your book a clean start and make it easy for your readers, who need to know what part of the story kicks off when.

What you include here should NOT appear in your introduction, and vice versa—avoid duplication.

The Introduction

Most familiar to us, the introduction is also for the author. If the preface is the envelope, the introduction is a cover letter to the manuscript: you get to explain how to use the contents of the book itself.

The introduction can be simple. You introduce the topic of the book, and leave it at that. You can also use the introduction to set up the themes you are planning to address, establish any definitions or methodology you use, or point out the structure of your book and any exercises or resources you include and how the reader may want to use them. What you do NOT want to do is repeat content that already appears in your preface.

Although an introduction appears at the front of the book (after the foreword and preface, if they are also included), you should write this content last, after you have completed your manuscript. You need to know what your book is about in total, and how it ends, to write a good introduction.

The Bottom Line

Your book structure should be clear, and so should the way you use your foreword, preface, and introduction (if you choose to include them). Although none of these are required components of your manuscript, each of them can add value or interest to your book. Remember to use them for their distinct purposes: they exist to guide the reader where you want them to go.

Be clear. Don’t knock your reader around with three or four beginnings to your book and ask them to sort it all out themselves.

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This post is adapted from an article published in the September 2016 CIPA Signature, the newsletter of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association.

Do you REALLY want to self-publish?

Self-publication: a viable option

spine of rumpled book pages

CC image “publishing” courtesy of Sam Churchill on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

You have a great story. You know it would make an excellent book—or maybe your friends and family are always telling you you should write a book. Perhaps it’s a work of fiction. Perhaps it’s useful, actionable advice and insight. It may be from your own life experience, or could be someone else’s amazing story that has fascinated you.

In the past, there was only one way this story would ever see printing: what we now call the traditional publishing industry.

Today, we have choices. What was once spurned as “vanity press” has become a vibrant industry. Self-published books make it onto best-seller lists, are sometimes picked up by traditional publishers for a second printing, and are broadly recognized as a valuable way to increase your business reach. Professionals in many industries see the value in sharing their idea, process, or expertise Continue reading

Quick Guide for Self-Publishing Writers: Am I ready for an editor?

Are you ready for an editor?

dog reading a book with glasses

CC image “Lucy-Book” courtesy of Nickkay on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The advantage as well as the challenge for self-publishers is that you are in charge of the entire publication process, including aspects with which you may or may not be familiar. It’s all up to you. Including editorial work.

Which is great, if stressful.

Below, please find an extremely abbreviated guide to the three main types of editing which I introduce all my clients to, and what you need for each type of editing to apply. I’ve included tips on when each scenario is or is not for you. Continue reading