Welcome to 2020!

It’s a brand new year! What will you do in 2020? What will you change? What will you accomplish?

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions but I’ll take any opportunity to review and revise. The start of a new year is a good time to do that. First, let’s take a look at things I learned in 2019.

Bad Case of Loving You, book #6 in the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances by Deborah CookeAccomplished in 2019
• I published four new books last year: Bad Case of Loving You, Under the Mistletoe, Maeve’s Book of Beasts and Dragon’s Kiss.

• I also published revisions of three titles: One Knight’s Return, Unicorn Bride and Pearl Beyond Price.

• I published four new Dragonfire boxed sets: Dragonfire Quest, Dragonfire Elixir, Dragonfire Reunion and Dragonfire Triumph.

Under the Mistletoe, a contemporary Christmas romance and #4 in the Secret Heart Ink series by Deborah Cooke• I started to initiate translations of my historical romances and published my first two Italian translations. (You can find Claire’s translations here.)

• I attended two conferences, a reader conference (Romancing the Capital) and a writers’ conference (Romance Mastermind). I taught a workshop at RTC.

Lessons from 2019:
Unicorn Bride, a medieval romance by Claire Delacroix, 2019 new edition• A year ago, I was wondering where my days were going. It seemed that I didn’t have much time to write, even though I planned to do so every morning and spent all day at my desk. So, I started a spreadsheet, documenting exactly what I did every day and how long it took. The answer became clear very quickly: I knew that being my own publisher took time, but those publishing jobs were taking a lot more time than I’d realized. Part of this was because I’ve republished a lot of older books in the last couple of years. I’ve been streamlining my publishing processes, experimenting with timing – either a publishing day per week or a few publishing afternoons in a row seems to work well.

Dragonfire Quest, volume one of the Complete Dragonfire Novels digital bundles including Kiss of Fire, Kiss of Fury and Kiss of Fate from the Dragonfire novels series of paranormal romances by Deborah Cooke• I experimented again with KDP Select and was underwhelmed again by results. Switching between wide distribution and exclusive-to-Amazon distribution is a lot of work, so I’m sticking with wide distribution for the foreseeable future. I may write some projects specifically for KDP Select, but we’ll see.

• Recognizing that my focus had shifted from writing to publishing, I started a creativity journal last winter. I bought a planner and a lot of stickers, then tracked and celebrated how much I wrote each day. Having it open on my desk helped me to write first, then turn to the other jobs after the writing was done. I really like the stickers, which is silly but it’s effective. I wrote 700K words last year, which is really a lot for me. I’ve already set up my new journal for 2020. (And it has stickers in it already!)

One Knight's Return, book #2 of the Sayerne series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix• Those are pretty big take-aways from 2019, but there was another big one. A year ago, I thought I could republish some older Claire Delacroix titles easily. I knew I had a full schedule with launching DragonFate, plus finishing up Flatiron Five and Secret Heart Ink, and didn’t want Claire’s readers to be neglected. I chose three books that had been published by Harlequin, blocked in a week to proofread the scanned book files, and scheduled them for publication. That plan had worked well for the Bride Quest and Dragonfire. It didn’t work for these books. They needed revisions to the point that it would have been easier to just write new books. Those revisions added a ton of stress to my year, because I miscalculated and hadn’t left enough time for them. There isn’t a lot of upside to doing these revisions either – while it’s nice to have the books available again, they aren’t the stories I’d write now and they don’t have a huge following. My time really would be better spent writing new books. At this point, four of Claire’s eleven Harlequin Historicals have been revised and republished in new editions, and there won’t be more in the foreseeable future.

Pearl Beyond Price, book two of the Unicorn Trilogy of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix• Another milestone from 2019 was initiating translations of my books. My Italian translator and I are making good progress on the Jewels of KinfairlieThe Beauty Bride is available and The Rose Red Bride is publishing, while she is translating The Snow White Bride. I’m waiting on the Portuguese (Brazil) translation of The Beauty Bride and will have the German translation this winter. It’s been a very interesting process, with lots to learn, and many new connections to make.

The Year Ahead
Dragon's Kiss, book two of the DragonFate novels, a series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeFor the past year or so, I’ve been aware that I’m coming to the end of existing series for each of my author brands. Last year, I launched DragonFate for my Cooke paranormals, and I’m really pleased with Dragon’s Kiss. I’m having fun with that series and looking forward to its continuation. I’m in a similar place with my contemporary romances – Secret Heart Ink is done and after Some Like it Hot, Flatiron Five will be done. (Maybe. I’m not sure where Nate’s story fits yet. It might be a novella at the end of the series.) And Claire needs a new series, too. So, I’ve been planning and dreaming. The hardest part is always deciding between competing ideas.

Here Be Dragons: The Dragonfire Companion by Deborah CookeRight now, these titles are scheduled for publication in 2020:
Here Be Dragons: The Dragonfire Companion – January
Flatiron Five: The First Collection – January
Some Like it Hot – February
All’s Fair in Love and War – March
Dragon’s Heart – May
Dragon’s Mate – October

That’s about 300K of new words right there.

Some Like It Hot, book #7 in the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances by Deborah CookeI really want to get ahead of the publishing cycle this year, and get back to having books done and uploaded at least a month or two before their publication dates. I also want to publish linked books more closely together. That means the calendar is going to look empty for a bit as I write and work to get ahead of the curve. (You can see that gap in the schedule above.) The plan is that by the time you see the cover reveal and the pre-order, the book will be complete.

I’ll be filling some of those inevitable gaps with boxed sets. The new Flatiron Five bundle Flatiron Five: The First Collection comes out this month, at a special price. Claire has a new boxed set, All’s Fair in Love and War, coming in March and there will be other trope-based bundles. I’m hoping to write and publish some shorter works, too, to keep you reading while I write away.

Dragon's Heart, book three of the DragonFate Novels, a series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeI’m also revising my schedule to keep my focus squarely on writing. I’m not teaching anymore or making treks to writing group meetings. I attended two conferences last year and while they were great, this year, I’m staying home to write.

This year, it’s all about the words—and the self-care. A year and a half ago, I started walking 4 km every day and that’s become a habit. I really miss it if I skip a day. I’ve added yoga at least three times a week, too. I’m still not very good at it, but it does make me feel better. 🙂 I’ve cut back on social media commitments, too.

Of course, there’s still knitting and crafting. I’ll show you a new sweater tomorrow on Fiber Friday.

I hope you have exciting plans for 2020. Let’s make it a great year!

Checklist for New Authors

Wyvern's Angel, book #9 of the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeIndie Thursday is back! I’ve met a lot of authors lately who are starting out on their publishing adventure, so thought it would be a good idea to create a checklist (rather than saying the same things over and over again). This also works for new author brands.

This post looks like a wall of text, so I’ll pop in some of my book covers to brighten it up. 🙂

First, you need to make some choices.

Decide where you intend to publish your books and in what formats.
Most authors who are indie-published create digital editions of their books first. You can also create print-on-demand print editions – in mass market size, trade paperback or hardcover – and audiobooks. For each format, you’ll want to choose where to make your books available. There are two big options: exclusively at Amazon through Kindle Unlimited, or at all portals (commonly called “wide” distribution). There are marketing advantages to each choice, and what you decide will depend upon your genre, your preferences and what other authors in your genre tend to do. Following the established pattern will help you to find new audience. Some niches, for example, are very well-represented in KU, which means the readers are there. Because they are subscription readers, they are more inclined to try you as a new author if the book is available in KU. Here’s an article from another blog about KU and how it works, geared to consumers. There are other subscription services that don’t require exclusivity: Kobo has one called Kobo Plus, and there are subscription portals like Scribd that you can reach via aggregators.

Assess where your strongest market is likely to be.
For many new writers, this will be the American portal of Amazon (.com), but if you are in Canada, for example, like me, you might have strong sales in Canada. If you’re a Canadian writer and a new writer, you might not expect strong sales at Barnes & Noble/Nook which sells only in the US. If you’re a new writer, you might not expect strong print sales – unless you’re going to do a lot of booksigning events. If you write in German and live in Germany, you might expect strong sales at Amazon.de and Tolino. Every author has a unique footprint in the market and the better you understand yours, the better you can market to it. You’ll want to make decisions that ensure the availability of your titles to consumers in that territory so give this a think. At the very least, you can use it prioritize what you do first. Keep an eye on your sales as they come in and refine your idea of your strongest market, making changes to serve that market as necessary.

One Knight Enchanted, book #1 of the Sayerne series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixDecide how you will get your books to each retail portal.
You can create accounts and publish directly to Amazon via Amazon KDP, Apple via iBooks Author, Kobo via Kobo Writing Life, Barnes & Noble via NookPress and (sometimes, when they’re allowing new accounts to be opened) to GooglePlay.

You can also use an aggregator, like Smashwords, Draft2Digital or PublishDrive, to deliver your ebooks to these portals. Most authors go direct as much as possible – it means more uploading but also more control and faster changes to pricing and meta-data. If you choose to use an aggregator, I’d strongly suggest that you upload directly to Amazon at the very least. Your target market may influence your choices here – again, for an author in Canada, it’s a very good idea to publish directly to Kobo. There is a promotions tab on the Kobo Writing Life dashboard and you can’t apply for these portal-specific promotions if your content is delivered to Kobo from an aggregator. In contrast, Apple will merchandise any books in their store, regardless of how they’re delivered. If you want to reach libraries, aggregators are an excellent choice. I keep life simpler by using one aggregator for all library feeds. All three of these aggregators let you cherry-pick which portals should receive your content from them, so you can ensure that your book has only one delivery path to each portal.

Be aware that if you change your method of distribution, you may lose consumer reviews at the portal. This is especially true at Apple – they consider an ebook coming via another delivery route to be another product and will not transfer reviews between products. The other portals will link editions, so that reviews are displayed for all editions, but sometimes you have to nudge them to do it. So, it’s a good idea to choose your distribution plan and stick with it.

For print editions, many indie authors choose print-on-demand options. Both Amazon and Nook offer POD options through their dashboard (for paperbacks and hard cover editions). These editions will be available only at that portal – and at Amazon, they may not be available at all geographic stores. Another option is Ingramspark, which offers wide distribution for print-on-demand titles. For those of you in Canada, Ingrams is an excellent way to get your POD titles distributed to Chapters-Indigo – they may not order your books to stock in their stores, but they will list them on their website for sale. (Ingramspark also offers ebook distribution as an aggregator, but I don’t know anyone who uses this service, mostly because it’s all-in: you can’t choose which portals receive your content and opt-out of those you wish to reach in another way.)

For audiobooks, you can use ACX to contract with narrators, produce audiobooks and distribute them to Amazon, Audible and Apple. You can also distribute audiobooks through Findaway Voices and Listen Up, among others. This niche is expanding right now and you can expect to see a lot more options appear. There are also subscription services for audio and you can opt in (or out) of them at the various aggregators. You can also use these aggregators to make your audiobooks available to libraries.

Decide how you will do business.
If you intend to incorporate, this is a good time to do it. If you do it later, you’ll have to open new accounts (since publisher accounts are keyed to the tax information) and transfer everything over. Set up your banking and your tax identification, too. If you are a sole proprietorship, you’ll use your personal identification for your taxes. It’s a good idea to have a bank account for your writing income, to keep it separate from your personal stuff. You may need a sales tax number in your jurisdiction, too. You might want to use a P.O. Box to keep your home address more private, and if you intend to do business under another name, you’ll need to register that, as well. Get it all sorted out in advance. If you’re going to use a pseudonym, check the availability of the most obvious domain name.

Going to the Chapel, a short story and #5 in the Flatiron Five series by Deborah CookeAnd now, we get to the checklist.
1. Open accounts at the portals selected above and fill in all the forms. Supply all the tax documents. Set up all the payment information. You only have to do all of this once.

2. Buy your domain name, get your website hosted, and start building it (or hire someone to build it). Remember that domain name registration is public and can be seached on sites like WhoIs, unless you buy the privacy option. You might want to use your P.O. Box as the address. As for your website, you may want to have a blog. You may want to have a store on your site. (Okay, there are more choices to be made here.) You can set all of this up before you have a book published, and start gathering followers and newsletter subscribers. A blog is a good way to generate interest while your book is on pre-order or before it’s available – you’ll see some suggestions for that below. If you’re going to have a store, you’ll want to compare options and decide how you’ll deliver your ebooks to customers. BookFunnel offers a number of integrations to do this.

3. Choose your social media, set up your accounts and brand them to match your website. You don’t have to use all social media, but should focus on the services most popular with your target audience, or the ones that you enjoy the most. (It shows when you have fun!) Put the links on your website for readers to follow you. Some obvious choices are Facebook (you’ll want to create a page for your author persona), Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. If you have audiobooks, you might want to have a Soundcloud account, where people can listen to samples. Some authors (esp those who do podcasts) have YouTube channels. I share my Ravelry link. Your website template may have widgets to display any or all of these in the footer or sidebar. If you have a blog, you can have your posts automatically be shared with your social media. One word to the wise, here – begin as you mean to continue. It’s really easy to over-extend yourself, but you need to defend your writing time. Start small instead of trying to do everything.

Serpent's Kiss, a paranormal romance and Dragonfire #10 by Deborah Cooke4. Sign up for a newsletter service, build your sign-up forms, and get them on your website. Popular options are Mailchimp, Mailerlite, Constant Contact, and Mad Mimi – among others. They all have pros and cons, and most have a free option. You’ll want to add a welcome email that goes out automatically to new subscribers, or even an onboarding sequence. You may want to offer some special content for signing up. One tip – build a template that you can use for each newsletter, with your social media links and other info. It’ll save you time. Also make sure that the branding is consistent (and appropriate) between your social media profiles, your website and your newsletter. Again, start as you mean to continue – don’t promise a weekly newsletter unless you think you have enough news to share weekly and enough time to create a weekly newsletter.

5. If you are going to use ISBN numbers, then purchase a block of them. If you are in Canada, you can get them free, once you open an account with the Canadian ISBN service. Ensure that the ISBN is in your book interior when it’s formatted.

6. Create affiliate accounts. Affiliate links pay you a teeny tiny bonus for directing a consumer to a portal’s website, if they make a purchase after following your link. You can open affiliate accounts at Amazon, at Apple, at Rakuten for Kobo and at B&N. (I think it’s run by Rakuten, too.) Again, your idea of the location of your target market will affect your choices here because affiliate codes are a bit of a pain. If you’re going to make three cents a month, you might not want to bother. Once you have an affiliate account, there will be instructions on modifying your buy links to include the affiliate. Smashwords gives you an affiliate code automatically – once you’ve published a book, log in to your SW account and scroll to the bottom of that book’s product page to find the affiliate link. Here’s Amazon’s affiliate program – if you apply for them, you’ll get a different code for each Amazon geographic store. You also can only use Amazon affiliate links on your website, not in newsletters or on social media, according to the Terms of Service. Here’s Apple’s affiliate program, run by Performance Horizon, which you can use anywhere, plus here’s Apple’s nifty linkmaker. It’s very handy for building links for any product in any territory. And here’s Rakuten’s Linkshare, which is the affiliate program at Kobo.

7. The book! Get your book edited professionally and commission a professional cover. Either buy Vellum to format your own books or hire a formatter. I love Vellum. You can use it for format ebooks and print books, and it makes it easy to update book files quickly. I did use a formatter for years, though, and I learned a lot from her. Either way, make sure your book interiors look good. You’ll also need to decide if you’re going to create generic ebook editions or tailor the end-matter to each retailer. Vellum will support the use of your affiliate codes in all links. There’s more on that below.

8. Upload your book at the portals of choice. Ensure that your metadata is consistent across all platforms. It’s a good idea for your pricing to be consistent, too. Each portal has its idiosyncrasies, but the uploading process is fairly easy. It will take 24 to 72 hours for your book to go “live” in the store if you upload directly, and may take longer if you use an aggregator. (Check their site FAQ’s for info on that.) You’ll want to add the buy links to your website for the book.

You can use your newsletter and social media to start building interest in your book. I don’t share covers until I have buy links, but you might choose to do otherwise. For a first book, I probably wouldn’t bother with a pre-order, but the sooner you can get your pre-order up for book #2, the better.

Abyss, #4 of the Prometheus Project of urban fantasy romances by Deborah CookeYou may notice that I use a service called Books2Read for links. This is because Amazon doesn’t re-direct buy links based on the geographic territory of the consumer. Apple, GooglePlay and Kobo all do, and Nook only sells content in the US. What does this mean? Amazon has a number of different geographic stores that exist as separate entities. for example, I live in Canada. I can look at the Amazon US store (Amazon.com) but it always suggests that I shop in their Canadian store (Amazon.ca) because it detects the location of my ISP. The problem is that when I follow a link to a book in the US store, Amazon might just tell me that the book isn’t available to me, instead of re-directing me to that book’s product page in the CA store. This is happening more and more often for those of us who live outside the US. I can then search for the book in the CA store, but people don’t. They want to click to the book product page. (You also can change the url, since the book will have the same ASIN in all Amazon stores – just change the om in Amazon.com to an a to get the Amazon.ca link.) Books2Read is a free service from Draft2Digital, which allows you to create a product page for your book that includes all of the buy links, including those to smaller portals. This is important for readers outside of the US. Even better, when the reader clicks the Amazon link, Books2Read will send them to the product page for that book in their geographic Amazon store. The other really nifty thing is that Books2Read supports affiliate codes – so instead of having numerous Amazon links on every landing page of my website, I can put the .com link there with its affiliate code, and let the other geographic affiliate codes work through B2R. Ha.

9. Register your copyright on or before the on-sale date of your book. (It costs more if you pre-register it.) Some authors don’t register copyright, but it gives you defense in any instance of plagiarism. You should register your copyright in either the nation of first publication or the nation in which you reside. Here’s the website of the Library of Congress for US copyright registration.

10. Once you have one book uploaded and published, you can add some additional links to your website and your books. (Remember your affiliate links.) Claim your author profile at Author Central, in order to customize your author page at Amazon. You can include an RSS feed from your blog on your author page. Readers can follow you on Amazon and Amazon should send them a notification of any new releases from you. And yes, Amazon supports author profiles in other territories (FR, DE, UK, Japan) so if you expect to have a strong audience in Germany, for example, you’ll want to claim your author profile on the DE Author Central. (Other geographic stores will display some information from your US Author Central page.) You’ll also want to claim your author profile on GoodReadsAmazon now feeds book information to GR directly, so your book should be there – and you can add the RSS feed for your blog to that page, too. Claim your profile on BookBub, too. This is a different account than one you might hold as a reader – it’s called BookBub Partners. You can customize your author profile to some extent and check that your books are listed. BookBub will send a new release notification to your followers. Add all these links to your website. If you click on your name in the Apple Bookstore, you’ll also discover the link for your author page there.

11. Alternative editions of your book (audio, paperback, hardcover) should automatically link with the ebook edition and share reviews at all portals. When you’re starting out, though, you might need to give the portals a nudge. There are no print editions at GooglePlay or Apple, and the Kobo ebook will be linked with the print edition at Chapters-Indigo. (From Chapters-Indigo, you can see both, but you’ll only see the ebook on Kobo.) If they don’t link up at Amazon within 72 hours of publication, check that the metadata is identical on both. If it is, send a message to KDP Support requesting that the editions be linked. They’re pretty quick. At any portal, if your books aren’t linking up correctly, contact Support.

One Hot Summer Night, #3 of the Secret Heart Ink series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke12. When you publish a second book in a series, you’ll want a series page so that readers can find the next book in the series. This is separate from your author page. At Kobo and GooglePlay, this happens automatically if the metadata is identical. (The series name has to be spelled exactly the same.) NookPress has a series manager on their dashboard, as does Smashwords. At Apple, you have to request a series page if you upload directly. If you deliver via an aggregator, it should happen automatically. Once the page is created at Apple, subsequent books should be added automatically – again, if the metadata is identical. At Amazon, you have to request a series page. Sometimes new titles are added automatically within 72 hours of publication and sometimes you have to ask. You can share the series link on your website etc. – just copy it from the navigation bar on your browser – but remember that Amazon will change the url with every book added to the series. (Yes. Really.) Also, series numbering at all portals has to be in whole numbers. Although it’s intuitive (at least to me) to use a decimal for a short story or novella that appears between two full-length books, series pages will only accept whole numbers and the lowest possible number is 1. Remember also to go into Author Central and claim each new book you publish so it appears on your Amazon author page. You’ll want to double-check that your new book appeared on your BookBub profile, too.

13. Update your end-matter in your ebooks regularly. Most authors start out updating it with every new release, but as your list grows, you might come up with an alternate plan. You should have a newsletter sign-up in your ebook interior, as well as links to find you online. Each portal allows “neutral” links – your website url, for example – but will reject a book file with buy links for other portals. One of the nifty things about Vellum is that it allows you to build versions of your ebook that are customized for each portal. The Apple edition, then, has Apple buy links and Apple is good with that. You have to be uploading directly to use these versions, though – if you’re using an aggregator, you’ll probably want to upload a generic ePUB edition, which points back to the landing page on your website rather than product pages at retailers. The same is true of library editions. When you publish a new book, you’ll want to go back to your first book and update the file so that there are handy buy links for that second book, especially if the books are in a series.

Phew! That’s a good start for setting up your online presence as an indie author.

You can find this post again by either bookmarking it or by following the hotlink on the Author Resources page.

©2019 Deborah A. Cooke

My New Planner

As I’ve mentioned to you before, I took it as a challenge earlier this year to find better ways to  manage my time. By last spring, it seemed as if I was working all the time and that my work was running my life, instead of the other way around. Part of this is certainly due to my decision to indie-publish my work. There are a lot more tasks that are my responsibility, since I’m both author and publisher. Not only have I had to learn how to do them or find subcontractors to do them, but I’ve had to fit them (or their delegation and management) into my schedule. A couple of weeks ago, I completely forgot one of them. Fortunately, the portal in question sent me a reminder and everything was done on time, but it was a good warning that I need to be even MORE organized.

I belong to several writers’ groups and in one such group, there’s been a lot of discussion about planners and organizing tools. Many of these aids are printed books or sheets, and while I like the tactile experience of organizing on paper, I wanted a more fluid tool. I also want to be able to easily move a missed task from one day to the next. I was officially on the hunt for a digital planning solution. That way, when something goes wrong or unexpected obstacles appear, I’ll be able to re-adjust the schedule more readily.

The first thing I did was start a spreadsheet of what had to be done, and when. I listed all my upcoming projects, from those that are already scheduled and available for pre-order to those I’m dreaming about. I listed the projected length of the finished project (long book of 100K words, short book of 75k words, long novella 50K, novella 25K, short story 10K). I then set up a formula in the next column to calculate the number of working days it would require to complete this project. I took a low estimate of my daily word count to allow a little bit of wiggle room. Presto- each project had a precise number of days required to write it to completion.

Mr. Math pointed out to me that Excel has a multi-page calendar template. How wonderful! I created a calendar for 2016 and one for 2017. You choose the year, and it automatically populates the calendar so that the right date is on the right day of the week. Here’s what the page for January looks like, after I changed the template colour. (The other months are on separate tabs.)

Calendar Template from ExcelThis looked like a good solution.

Before I filled in the jobs for this year and next, I made some basic rules:
– no more working on Sundays
– I’ll work only every second Saturday
– there are other days like family birthdays and holidays that I won’t work
– I’ll take one day to clear my mind between writing projects
– each day that I write, I’ll write in the morning and do other tasks in the afternoon
– I’ll aim to have two tasks per day, a writing goal for the morning and an admin or publishing task for the afternoon.

Next, I marked out my travel days for next year. Even though I always have good intentions of working on airplanes or in hotels, I never do it. I blocked off the dates for the conferences I’ll be attending, added a travel day on each end and an organization day right after I get home. If there are booksignings associated with those events, I added a note to order books 60 days before the event, and another to post a pre-order form 150 days in advance.

Then I began to fill the calendar. The first tasks I had to fill in were the projects that were already listed for pre-order which aren’t done yet. I had to count back from the publication date to ensure that there’d be enough time for editing and formatting. I had to make some choices in November to fit them in, but nothing too drastic.

For new projects, I scheduled the writing first. Because I’ve worked with my editor for a while, I have a good idea of how long it will take her to turn a project around and send it back to me. I also know how many days I’ll need to do the edits and revisions. I counted out from these dates to establish publication dates. When I added in the second project, I had to skip the days when I’d be writing and editing the first project. I wiggled things around a bit to ensure that the publication schedule for each series was reasonable. I have some backlist titles to republish. Checking the files and packaging the books again will take some time (but not as much as writing a new book). I thought about release strategies and added those books to my schedule. I also intend to commission new covers for some books, which means that there are some admin tasks associated with updating them. I looked for gaps in my schedule and strategically placed those rebranding projects.

Then I put the production dates in. There are a lot of guidelines and hard dates. For example, the final file for any book has to be delivered to Amazon 10 days before the book goes on sale. A pre-order can only be set up at Amazon 90 days before the publication date. Kobo and Apple allow for pre-orders to be longer, so I marked them on my schedule for 180 days before publication. That means the digital cover needs to be done 180 days before publication, which means I need to contract a cover artist or contact an existing one 210 days before publication. Many of you like the free downloadable samples of my books, and I can upload them to Apple, so they should be done when the 180 day pre-orders are loaded. I’ll need the first chapter of the book done in order to create that sample. I set up the print edition of the book after the edits are final and the digital edition has gone to formatting. Once I have the final page count, I order the print book cover from the artist, upload it and proof it. I moved back and forth through my schedule, filling in these tasks for each book.

When the writing and the production were covered, I began to think about promotion. I usually send out my newsletter on the date of a new release. I can look at each month and choose a date for my newsletter. I can also see what other items to feature in that month’s newsletter. I often put the first book in a series on sale when the third or fourth book in that series is either on sale or available for pre-order. Those sales take about 30 days advance notice to set up. I looked through the calendar and noted when I should be setting up a sale and for which title. Right now, I keep Post-it notes reminding me when to return a sale book to its regular price. I added those dates to my schedule instead.

I was walking the dog when I realized I could add even more things to my schedule! There are still a few of my books under publisher control that will be eligible for reversion requests in the next year or two. I added those dates so I don’t forget them. I could add notations for payments or for sales reports, but Mr. Math tracks a lot of that for me. He can keep it on his schedule. 🙂

I’ve been using my new planner all week, and it works well. Looking at the tasks for the day first thing in the morning gives me focus, and that seems to ensure that I get them done. I also realized the spreadsheet opens to the month I last looked at—so, if I update  the spreadsheet at the end of the day to mark what’s done and save it, tomorrow, it’ll open right where I left off. There isn’t a checklist for completed tasks, but I’m just typing DONE or moving what’s undone to the next day. It’s already proven useful for working with subcontractors—both my editor and formatter asked for estimated dates for upcoming projects and I just looked them up on my planner. Perfect!

I still have a few stray Post-It notes on my desk and some details to corral, but by the end of November, I’ll be completely reliant on the planner. I’ll also have my pre-orders up for 2017 in good time, with complete confidence that the delivery dates will be met.

How do you stay organized? Are you a planner or a listmaker?

Evolutions

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post about the emergence of indie publishing called Six Years. One of the comments was a question about how digital publishing had changed my own work and writing process. The answer isn’t a short one – the answer is actually this post.

First, let’s talk about what changed behind the scenes of publishing, as well as out there in the visible world. The impact of evolving technology is huge on both sides of the proverbial curtain.

• The Publication Process
When I first started to work with a publisher, books were delivered by authors in hard copy. I wrote my book on a computer, then printed it out on 8.5″ x 11″ paper (double-spaced, in Courier so it looked like it was typed, with 1 inch margins), wrapped up the resulting manuscript with rubber bands and shipped it to my editor in New York. I used FedEx – a book manuscript was about the size of a ream of paper (one of those packages of 500 sheets) and fit in a FedEx medium box, which cost $75 to send to NYC overnight. When I signed with my agent in the late 90’s, I sent him one, too. The typical process was to deliver the ms to the agent, who would read it and then courier it to the editor, but time was always of the essence 🙂 so I’d ship TWO boxes by FedEx the same day, one to my editor and one to my agent. My laser printer invariably ran out of toner in the middle of this print-a-thon, and I learned to buy an extra cartridge before the book was done.

The editor would then line edit the book with a plain pencil, and the copy editor would copy edit the book with a red pencil, and the whole thing would be shipped back to the author to review the changes. It would be shipped back to the editor afterward, then the book (with changes) would be typed in by a typesetter and the page proofs would be shipped to the author. After review, they’d be shipped back to the editor.

Darkfire Kiss, a paranormal romance and part of the Dragonfire series by Deborah CookeThis process of shipping large bundles of paper back and forth didn’t change in a hurry. By the late 90’s, authors had to deliver a diskette with a file of the book as well as the printed version. This saved the house from having it typed in again, but the paper went back and forth until it was time to typeset the book. The first book I delivered electronically, without sending a paper version, was Darkfire Kiss in 2010. It was also the first book that was edited in digital format. (Each publishing house must have had its own timeline on making these changes, and I’ll guess that digital-first houses were way ahead of the big traditional houses on this.) Instead of shipping the physical book back and forth, we emailed a Microsoft Word DOC file back and forth, with Track Changes enabled. Each editor worked in a different color. The file got bigger with each pass – it started out at 800k, but was 1.5mB by the time the edits were done. Working in this way required authors and publishers to upgrade their processing capacity and their internet connections. I remember the house doing a series of IT upgrades during my time writing for them, and I certainly upgraded my hardware, software and internet connection. (Remember dial-up?!)

Kiss of Fire, first of the Dragonfire series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeDigital Editions of Books
My first book to be published in simultaneous print and digital editions was Kiss of Fire, the first Dragonfire novel, in February, 2008. This was front-of-the-curve stuff. NAL believed that the Eclipse line of paranormal romances was more likely to be read by readers of a younger demographic, who would be more likely to read in digital format. It was one of their earliest programs to be offered this way. In contrast, Fallen, my urban fantasy romance published by Tor in October 2008 was not made immediately available in a digital edition. Tor was acquired by Macmillan during this time, so there were a lot of internal changes as systems were integrated.  Either way, that house wasn’t so quick out of the gate on this—in fact, my next book with them, Guardian, published one year later, would be my first with that house published in simultaneous digital. They then published book #1 in digital before book #3.

Fallen, book #1 of the Prometheus Project of urban fantasy romances by Claire Delacroix, out of print mass market editionWhat’s interesting about these early digital books is the number of formats. In 2008, most people reading digital books were reading them on their computers, so PDF was a popular format. (Ironically, I was assigned a publicist who sent out hundreds of PDF files of Fallen. That book was all over the place in PDF, before there was even a print edition, never mind a digital one.) There was a Microsoft reader that used a format called LIT. Early Kindles used MobiPocket. There were still RocketBooks out there, and some people even wanted to read in HTML. There were others, too. It wasn’t clear what format would triumph, so the early books were made available in seven or eight different formats. At that point, each was assigned its own ISBN #. The dust eventually settled and EPUB (a variation of HTML) was the winner. MOBI is Amazon’s proprietary version of EPUB.

Writers who wanted to digitally publish their books had choices to make with regards to formatting. Some portals – like Amazon KDP – offered conversion engines on their dashboards, to convert a DOC file to the format they chose to distribute. (They still do, but the conversion engines are more sophisticated. Most portals offer a preview option now of the converted or uploaded file, and KDP has a spellcheck integrated into theirs.) There were also aggregators – like Smashwords, founded in 2008, and later Draft2Digital, founded in 2012 – which would convert a book into multiple formats and distribute it to multiple outlets. At first, digital books looked a lot like print books, in terms of the order of the interior, but a new protocol quickly evolved. A clickable table of contents (a TOC) became key to navigating the digital book. As e-readers became more prevalent and more sophisticated, digital book interiors became prettier, with more flourishes beyond basic functionality. Some writers chose to keep it simple, others chose to learn how to format their own work, and a number of formatting companies appeared on the scene which work on a freelance, contract basis.

Wyvern's Mate, book #1 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeThe latest wrinkle is the formatted sample. Many portals offer a free sample of a digital book to a prospective customer. It’s often generated as some % of the actual book – 5 or 10% is typical. Now, there are portals like iBooks that permit an author/publisher to upload a sample book file in addition to the book file. This means that the sample won’t end in the middle of a sentence. It’ll end (ideally) with a nice hook that induces the reader to buy the book, and have clickable buy links in the end matter to facilitate that purchase. That means more functionality and more formatting to be done. (I also make free downloadable samples available in my online store, in both EPUB and MOBI formats, right here.)

• Discoverability and Search Engines
Search engines – either in online bookstores or on browsers – look for answers to queries. They find answers based on information provided by publishers and website owners. How well this information has been compiled and organized, and how consistently it’s presented, will affect results and thus discoverability. The importance of this has grown astronomically in the past couple of years.

For books, the key is metadata. Metadata is literally data about data. It’s always existed – even without the cool name – but has become significantly more important since the rise of digital publishing. The metadata is the information about a book which helps it to be found by search engines. Traditionally, there was metadata that rode with the ISBN#, like the title, the author name, the publisher name, the date of publication and maybe the genre of the work. In the world of digital publishing, though, metadata has become much more sophisticated. It needs to be, for a proliferation of content means that search engines have to sift more and more finely to deliver a reasonable suite of results. (4 million matches isn’t useful.) So, metadata now can include the title, the author name, the publisher name, the ISBN#, the publication date, the series information (Dragonfire novel #3), the subgenre of the work (Scottish romance, medieval romance), and in keywords, it can contain tropes (fake rake, beauty and the beast, etc.) and popular search terms for readers (reunion romance, second chance at love, etc.) The book rides into the world with its cover and its metadata, and with any luck, both are baited well enough to help readers to find it.

Metadata is a moving target and one that will continue to become more detailed as processing capability increases. It’s one area where indie authors have an advantage, because indie authors tend to regard their books as fluid products. They update the book itself, the front and end matter, the links, the cover, the metadata on an ongoing basis to address changes in technology or the market itself. Big publishers tend to consider a book to be done once it’s done. Nothing will be revised after publication, unless the book subsequently goes into a new edition. This is a good management technique – you don’t have thousands of dockets that are perpetually open – but it means less agility in a changing marketplace. The metadata on my books that have been traditionally published is inadequate at this point, mostly because it was set up before the uses of metadata evolved to their current point. As the books revert to me, that’s one area I’m looking to improve dramatically.

The concept of SEO is the same but it’s for websites not books. SEO or search engine optimization is a suite of techniques that improve the likelihood of a website being listed in the results by a search engine when someone somewhere types in a search query. It also influences how high in the listed results that site will appear. Ideally, an author’s website should appear on the first page, if not in the first position, of any search upon that author’s name. One way to improve SEO is to include keywords and searchable terms all over a website. The Princess, book #1 of the Bride Quest trilogy of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

This has changed in recent years, like metadata. Once upon a time (ha) publishers mailed printed cover flats to authors and we scanned them to create jpegs for our websites. Little tiny jpegs, ideally less than 30K so they’d load fast. Here’s one of those old ones, for my book The Princess. It’s 99 pixels wide. The file is called tp.jpg There is no SEO associated with this image. It’s actually a bit big.

The Beauty Bride, first book in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix

This is the new cover of The Beauty Bride. It’s 200 pixels wide, still comparatively small, but the name of the file is ClaireDelacroix_TheBeautyBride200px.jpg. The alternate text on the file is The Beauty Bride, book #1 in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix. I should have my publishing credentials in there, too, but I got tired of typing. Even though the image is not tracked by search engines, every place it appears, the title and the alternate text feeds the SEO for the site. It’s just one of many techniques to improve SEO.

Managing the metadata and the SEO for an author’s book list and website, and optimizing both, is another comparatively new task for authors that has grown in importance at the same time as these other changes. It’s also something that is best managed at the author’s end, IMO, for the sake of consistency.

• Changes in Consumer Habits
As consumers began to be more likely to shop online, they became less likely to frequent a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. We know this happened because chain bookstores have been closing for the past decade—although indie bricks and mortar stores are said to be increasing over the past few years. This may mean that the change is more important for authors of genre fiction than those of literary fiction. Publishers have always bought display space in physical bookstores to highlight books, but if readers don’t see those displays, they aren’t very effective. Although similar space can be bought on digital book portals, readers may not even see the home page on the site. You can bookmark a genre page (Top 100 in Medieval Romance) and go straight to it every time you want a new book, whereas in a physical bookstore, you always have to walk through the entire store to get to the Romance section at the back. So, promoting a book with an end cap display or a position on a feature table or at the front of the store, physical or virtual, has become much less effective. This is one way that it became harder for publishers to market books well.

To address the void of the bookseller who handsold books in those bookstores and made suggestions to avid readers (you can’t really fill that void, but if the consumer isn’t in a bookstore, that bookseller isn’t able to facilitate reading choices) social media sites like Goodreads began to provide a conduit for readers to make suggestions to other readers as to what to read next. Communities of readers evolved, and it’s really cool how easy it is now to discover another reader with similar tastes to your own on the other side of town or of the world. Word of mouth, which was always a great force in selling books, became much much more powerful. When portals like Amazon added the ability for readers to post reviews about books right on the product page that took it a step further. Mr. Math calls this “the democratization of popular culture” – you didn’t need a major newspaper to tell you whether the book was good or not. You could ask your friends on GR, or check out the reactions of other readers like you on Amazon and other portals. There’s not a good way for a publisher to manage this organic reference network, so the shift to bloggers and readers everywhere instead of a few choice vehicles was another change that made it harder for publishers to market books well.

I don’t think we can leave out the growth in the importance of social media for the promotion of books (and other things) over this same time period. I’ve had a website since the early 1990’s, plus a newsletter and a blog for years, but social media like Facebook turned my interactions with my readers to a conversation. While I used to get some cards at Christmas from readers (yes, written on paper and mailed in an envelope) and I would answer them in kind, now I socially interact with my readers online daily. No advertising or publicity can compare in power to these personal connections, but they take time to develop and to maintain. When I was with Warner in 2005, they expected authors to have websites. By the time I sold to NAL in 2007, they wanted authors to be building social media platforms. That’s another big change in this era, and it’s a result of the accessibility of technology. It also shifted the responsibility for marketing an author’s books from the publisher to the individual author.

• Author as Publisher
Spellbound, a Regency romance anthology by Claire Delacroix, Jane Charles and Claudia DainThe indie author is also a publisher. This means that in addition to writing the book, the indie author must oversee its production process and get it published. Because I have long roots in traditional publishing, my process echoes the routine I know so well. So, in addition to the tasks I’ve always done as the author, I’m also the production manager who hires the cover artist and oversees the creation of the cover, who hires a freelance editor for the project, who hires a proofreader and a formatter for the digital edition, and a typesetter for the print edition, who keeps everything on time and on budget (or tries to do so). I’m the production manager who books ISBN#’s, updates the public record on each one, registers the copyright of each work, compiles the metadata and publishes each version of each book to each portal. I am the sales manager who tracks sales, who books promotions, who manages the author brand, who schedules price changes and tabulates results. I am the finance manager who manages the interface with each portal, who gathers financial reports, compiles an overall report, and tracks payments due and received. I curate editorial opportunities for myself (like Spellbound) and chart the course of the future years of my publishing career. I do all of this in an environment which continues to evolve.

It’s kind of dizzying to look at this list of changes. It has been a wild and crazy six years, but it’s been very, very interesting. If I wasn’t fascinated by it all, I’d be worn out! The thing is that a great many of these responsibilities would be mine, regardless of how I chose to publish my work. Social media and the optimization of SEO on my website would remain my concern. Promoting my books would be primarily my concern, as well as writing them. I’ve learned a tremendous amount, because I believed I needed to understand things (like formatting) before I could subcontract them, and I think that’s been a good exercise.

Nero's Dream, a short story in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeTo get back to that original question as to how my work rhythm has changed, the answer is simple: I work a lot more hours than was once the case. I work every day of the week. Despite so many more hours at the desk, the toughest thing for me to do is protect my writing time and my dreaming time. It’s so easy to see both nibbled away by other tasks. I remain fascinated by the changes and evolutions of this business, and excited by the challenges and opportunities. I’ve built a team of subcontractors, each of whom I can rely upon and each of whom I admire. I’m excited about the future, because I believe the rate of change has slowed. I like being an author/publisher. I like being nimble in an evolving marketplace. A very big reward that comes to me as a result of going indie is choice. I can choose which stories to develop into books, and I can decide how I want to tell a story. I love that, and I’ll never give it up willingly. There’s no going back from here, and I wouldn’t want to. It’s onward, to new adventures and new opportunities, to finding new methods and rhythms.

 

Six Years

RWA National conference 2016 San DiegoThis week is the Romance Writers of America annual national conference. This year, it’ll be in San Diego, but I’m not attending. I don’t always go to RWA, but I always think about it while it’s going on. This year, they’re showing a documentary called Love Between the Covers, about the business of writing and publishing romance. It’s an excellent piece, which I saw a few years ago – if you have the chance to watch it, do so! – and discussion about it is making me think back.

Whisper Kiss, a Dragonfire novel and paranormal romance by Deborah CookeOne of the time stamps RWA members use for events and memories is the location and date of the annual RWA conference. Accordingly, I remember that it was the 2010 national conference in Orlando where I first encountered the team working on this documentary. Another time stamp writers use is the publication date of a book – my Dragonfire novel Whisper Kiss was going to be published in August, as well as the finale of my Prometheus Project urban fantasy romance trilogy, Rebel.

Rebel, book #3 of the Prometheus Project of urban fantasy romances by Claire Delacroix, out of print mass market editionSix years ago today (more or less) I flew to Orlando for the conference. As always, the industry discussion started at the airport in Toronto. There were other writers on my flight headed to conference and we started to talk shop early. Kate Bridges and Anne Lethbridge both shared news of changes at Harlequin – we had all written for Harlequin Historicals, although I no longer did so. Editorial had moved to the UK for that line and Harlequin was also offering more content in digital-first. By the time I got on the flight, I was already thinking about changes in the business.

Discussions at RWA conferences since 2005 (Reno, The Jewels of Kinfairlie trilogy) had been primarily about changes in the business that negatively impacted authors, like the trimming of the midlist, the shrinking print market, the closing of bookstores and resulting loss of shelf space, the diminishing popularity of certain sub-genres (like historical romance), the conglomeration of publishers and the impact of that upon each house’s list. The tone of conferences had been informative, but not always uplifting. I thought I was in for more of the same, but that wasn’t the case in 2010.

There was a woman entering the conference hotel ahead of me, who looked a lot like Julie Ortolon. I hadn’t seen Jules since our days at Dell, probably ten years before, so I surreptitiously read this woman’s luggage tag to confirm that she was Jules before I tapped her on the shoulder. After many happy greetings, Jules began to talk about digital self-publishing and Amazon’s new KDP portal. I was fascinated. We dumped our bags in our rooms and met up in the bar, and she talked more about the opportunities and possibilities. Her enthusiasm was infectious. We talked about pricing. We talked about rights reversions. We talked about packaging. This was an excellent example of the open sharing of information and ideas between authors that would come to characterize the indie movement. It was exciting! The bar had a strange location in that hotel—it was along one side of a corridor—but that meant that people caught a few words in passing and stopped to join in. The group kept growing and the exchange of ideas became faster and faster. It was wonderful to talk about the opportunities becoming available to us. It was wonderful to see people sharing email addresses and giving advice about requesting reversions of book rights and much more. It was wonderful to feel this kind of electricity and excitement. There was good news!

This was when we met the film-making team working on the documentary. I don’t think they were prepared for the energy of this group, and the lead film-maker clearly was more interested in writers pursuing a more traditional path. She left us fairly quickly – but the conversation carried on. It was revisited and expanded over and over again for the next few days.

That 2010 conference was amazing because it marked the beginning of a major shift in thinking for me and many other writers. In the PAN (Published Authors Network) retreat – a full day of sessions geared for published members – Lou Aronica spoke about indie publishing and its possibilities. I still have the notes from that discussion. There are a lot of exclamation marks in them. It was so exciting to think that we had choices, and choices that might prove to be financially viable.

Kim Killion was working full time in those days and writing books, too. I remember we had a discussion in their room as to whether authors would pay for cover art for their digital books. Kim’s design business, Hot Damn Designs, now The Killion Group, was established after that conference.

Once Upon a Kiss, a Scottish paranormal romance by Claire DelacroixI had the rights to my time travel romances already, but began to pursue more reversions when I got home. I remember telling my husband about the conference when I got home and what I’d learned, and him reminding me to breathe. 🙂 I published my first digital edition of Once Upon a Kiss that August, with my own cover. (I soon realized I needed Kim’s services! The cover to the left is her design.)

When I look back, I see that the people who did best in the emerging market were the ones who leapt right in, either starting new series or republishing books that had never been available in digital format. I was “hybrid” before we knew what it was called. I had just signed two new contracts with NAL before that conference – one for the books that became Flashfire and Ember’s Kiss, and one for the Dragon Diaries trilogy – and spent the better part of the next two years delivering those contracts. Leaping in wasn’t an option due to time constraints, but I did re-publish backlist titles during that period and learned a lot about digital publishing. I left traditional publishing in March 2012, on the twentieth anniversary of my first book sale to a publisher, a choice that would have been unthinkable just two years before.

Wyvern's Mate, book #1 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeSo, here we are, six years later. (San Diego, Wyvern’s Mate and The Crusader’s Handfast.) It’s amazing to look back and realize how much has changed and how quickly it’s changed. I’m very glad to be working the way I do now. I love the camaraderie between writers now, and the sharing of ideas and suggestions. The writing community on the indie side is warm and supportive, because there’s room for everyone to succeed.

The years have gone by in a flash. Thank you, Julie Ortolon. Thank you, Lou Aronica. Thank you to everyone who helped to open eyes to the possibilities. Thank you to all the writers who generously shared their expertise and even their mistakes. And a big thank you to readers, who followed me from print to digital, and who kept reading my books. The next six years will be even better!

The Mini-Books

Wyvern's Mate, book #1 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeI’ve had a couple of questions about the print editions of Wyvern’s Mate, so it’s clearly time for a post on them.

The Dragons of Incendium series has a different format than Dragonfire. It’s a different series, set in a different world, so can be based on a different premise—and have a different structure. The main stories in this series are novellas, and each novella is a romance. In between the release of each novella will be a short story. Because there are lots of characters in this world—twelve dragon-shifter princess sisters, to start with, never mind those eleven princes of Regalia—there are a lot of interpersonal relationships to explore. There’s also a fair bit of worldbuilding. So, my idea is that each novella or story will reveal a slice of the world, but that you’ll build an understanding of Incendium over the series, as well as see those interpersonal relationships develop and evolve. I’m hoping that this will be a very long-running series, with a novella published every quarter and a short story in between each novella.

This is the kind of storytelling adventure that is well-suited to digital publication, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to experiment like this. (I’m having a lot of fun writing the stories, too.) The trick is that many of you like print editions, so I had to consider how best to present these stories in print editions.

Many of you like the mass market format, but that is only available through traditional publishers, who have distribution relationships with bricks-and-mortar bookstores. The only option available to me right now is print-on-demand. The cost structure of POD is such that it works best in trade paperback format.  A full length book of 100,000 words, for example, can be formatted into a trade paperback of 300 pages or so. The POD book can be priced at $14.99US which is comparable to a trade paperback edition from a traditional publisher. Although there are smaller trim sizes available in POD, the costs are consistent—even when the size is closer to a mass market paperback (the exact size isn’t an option) the price is very nearly the same as for a trade paperback. I doubt that anyone would pay more than $10 for a mass market book, which is why I and many other indie authors favor the trade paperback size.

BUT Wyvern’s Mate is a novella, which opens an interesting possibility. There is a format available in POD called a mini-book, which has a 4″ by 6.5″ trim size. They are cute little books. One downside is that this size can only be distributed through Amazon and Createspace. On the upside, the pricing works out in a more appealing way, given the length of the story. For example, the mini-book of Wyvern’s Mate (which includes the short story Nero’s Dream) is 188 pages. The spine is a little less than 1/2″ deep. This book is priced at $6.99 US. I really like the look of this format—here’s a picture of the mini-book on top of a copy of Flashfire:

Wyvern's Mate by Deborah Cooke minibook print edition

There’s about 1/8″ difference in size in each dimension.

Here’s another shot, this time of the spines:

Wyvern's Mate by Deborah Cooke minibook edition

The mini-book is thinner. Wyvern’s Mate is a novella, so the work is shorter.

And here’s a shot of the interiors:

Wyvern's Mate by Deborah Cooke minibook interior

It looks as if I chose a font that is a little bit smaller than that used in the Dragonfire novels. The POD edition is printed on cream paper, which improves the readability, and the paper used in POD is also thicker. The show-through from the type on the next page is much less in the POD book than the mass market one.

Now, I know that this format won’t suit everyone, but it provides a way to have each individual story available in print.With mass market unavailable as a format, we must find alternatives.

I will also compile anthologies for the Dragons of Incendium: each group of three novellas, with the intervening short stories, will be bundled together in print and digital editions. The print edition will be POD in trade paperback format, the same size as Serpent’s Kiss. Because of the length of the anthology, the pricing will likely be $19.99US or less for this anthology in print. I’d like it to be closer to $14.99, but we’ll have to wait and see how it works out once the page count is finalized. This trade paperback edition will be available from all online portals. You can expect the anthologies to be available several months after the last book in the series is published, probably concurrent with the first book in the next trilogy of novellas.

The mini-book print edition of Wyvern’s Mate is available now from Amazon and Createspace. The digital edition is available for pre-order at all major online portals and will ship June 14—buy links are on the Dragons of Incendium site, right here.

So, You Want to Indie Publish…

Most of you know that I belong to a local group of authors. We have a wide range of experience—from newbies to old-guard like me—and we get our books to market in a number of ways. Most of the members of our group have some experience with publishers, either digital-first presses, small presses or the big kahuna publishers in New York, but many of us also indie-publish our books. We have a few who have only ever indie-published their books, and still more who want to jump into that particular pond. I’ve been asked for a pre-release checklist from two different people this week, so thought I’d post it here.

When an author indie-publishes his or her work, that author becomes the publisher as well as the author of the work. That adds a lot of jobs to the To Do list. The interesting thing is that there are a number of ways to approach the publication of your work, so there’s no One Right Way to do it. You’ll have some decisions to make, too.

There are many steps to publishing a book independently. You can do all of them yourself, assign all of it to a service firm for a fee, or do some and delegate some. The choice is all yours.

• Prepare your cover
Your cover is the one thing that every potential customer will see. Spend some time on it (and some money.) Many people make their own covers, which works out better if they have a graphic talent and understand the licensing agreements for stock photographs. If you hire a designer to create your cover, research your genre thoroughly beforehand and provide some samples to him/her or what you like and what you’re looking for. Hire a designer who already designs covers for your sub-genre. I often have mine done several at a time, because I write in series and it’s the best way (IMO) to keep the look consistent.

No matter how you create your cover, be sure to size it down to a thumbnail (which is how most people will see it) and ensure it still conveys your message. Each portal has restrictions and specifications on cover size. Many designers are on board with this and will deliver a number of different sizes. Upload the highest resolution possible at each portal so the cover looks its best.

——>>>Ensure that you have a professional looking cover that is easily read in thumbnail (both your name and the title) and is clearly evocative of your sub-genre.

Decide upon your publishing identity
How are you going to structure your publishing company? This is the foundation of your business and will be a lot of trouble to change later. It’s better to decide upfront. Your business name, your financial data and your tax information all need to match.

Will you publish as a sole proprietor? If so, your personal tax identification will suffice. (Until recently, non-US residents needed a US tax number to collect revenue from US companies—which includes most of the book portals—without having tax withheld, but that’s no longer true. Yay for tax treaties!)

A couple of caveats here—your tax identity will be displayed on the book product page on some portals (iBooks)—so if you’re writing under a pseudonym, you might want to think about that. You might want to get a post office box to protect the privacy of your home address, and a “public” email account. Remember that domain name registrations are publicly searchable (unless you pay for private registration) and that ISBN# registries and copyright registries are also publicly searchable resources. If any of these items pose a concern, you may wish to incorporate or file a DBA to protect your personal information. There are a LOT of decisions to make in this arena.

——>>>Choose how to structure your business, and obtain the necessary documentation. Your tax identification must MATCH the legal name of your business.

Where do you want to sell your books?
You can make your books exclusive to one digital portal, or “go wide” and make them available in as many places as possible. Often, portals offer merchandizing and promotional opportunities for exclusive titles. Whether that’s worth the exchange of losing wide distribution is a personal choice and can be a strategic one.

An associated question—do you intend to publish directly to your portals of choice, or will you use an aggregator? Most authors publish directly to Amazon for Kindle. You can publish directly to iBooks and Kobo or go through an aggregator like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. I believe that GooglePlay is currently closed to new accounts. Barnes and Noble only allows US and UK writers to publish directly to Nook. If those last two are among your target markets, you’ll have to reach them through an aggregator. Sometimes aggregators can offer merchandizing and promotion opportunities to authors and books that are distributed to all portals through them. If you are writing romance, you might also want to publish directly to All Romance eBooks.

There are a lot of other portals and your book might end up in some of them without knowing how it got there. Kobo distributes to WH Smith in the UK, for example, and to FNAC in France. As aggregators, Smashwords and Draft2Digital allow you to opt in or out of a list of portals. Note that Smashwords is also a portal in its own right, while D2D does not sell to individual consumers.

One thing to keep in mind if you plan to start one way (perhaps through an aggregator) and later switch (to direct distribution) is that at some portals (iBooks) reviews and rankings will not transfer between editions of a book. You lose them all when you change distribution channels. Another thing to keep in mind—some portals don’t allow you to set a book to free when you publish directly. B&N is one of them. So, any book you intend to make free should go to B&N from an aggregator. Amazon doesn’t allow non-exclusive books to be set to free, either, but must be encouraged to price match the free at another portal.

——>>>You will need to create accounts at each portal where you intend to upload content, and provide your payment and tax information to each one. Some portals will allow you to publish works under multiple author brands via a single account, while others require each author brand to have its own account.

Do you intend to use ISBN#’s?
The ISBN is a tracking number for all book products. In traditional publishing, a unique ISBN# is assigned to every edition of the book. Most digital portals offer the option of providing your own ISBN# or using a portal-specific tracking code as an alternate.

Be aware that the portal-specific tracking code often cannot be used for distribution to other territories. Kobo, for example, offers such a code, but WH Smith in the UK will not accept digital books from them without an ISBN#.

——>>>If you choose to use ISBN#’s, you will need one for the digital book and one for the print/POD edition (if there is one). You can get ISBN#’s from some portals (Smashwords, Createspace) or buy them at Bowker. Canadians can get ISBN#’s free from CISS. You must register for an account, however you intend to get your ISBN#’s and acquire them.

• Compile your metadata.
Metadata is the information that travels with the digital book and is used by search engines to find that book. Metadata includes: the title, the author name(s), the date of publication, the series, the book’s number in the series, the ISBN#, the BISAC subject codes, the search keywords, and maybe more. It might include the cover, the author bio, and the book description. If you are producing a simultaneous print edition (or POD) some portals allow you to include the ISBN for the print edition in the metadata for the digital book. Different portals allow more information or less.

——>>>Collect your metadata and make it consistent with your other titles. It should also be consistent for each book across all platforms. I compile a lot of the metadata on the book’s product page on my website, then I can cut and paste from there into the publishing interface. Be sure to investigate key words in your genre and sub-genre.

• Do you intend to earn affiliate income?
An affiliate account allows you to earn a commission for sending shoppers to a digital portal. Amazon offers affiliate programs through their US, UK, CA and DE stores—the accounting is done separately—and iBooks’ affiliate program gathers commissions from all territories under a single umbrella. Rakuten offers an affiliate program for Kobo and I believe there’s also a program for B&N. When you publish a book on Smashwords, the product page that you can see when logged in includes your affiliate link.

If you are an affiliate, you add a bit of code onto the hotlink that takes the buyer to a product page on the portal’s website. Whatever that consumer buys after following your link in, is eligible for a commission payment. Each portal’s program has different rules and restrictions, so read the agreements before you click.

——>>>To become an affiliate at any portal, you must apply for an affiliate account. Usually, you must provide your website’s traffic numbers for consideration. Once approved, you will be given a code to add to your hotlinks. Some people choose to use a link shortening service like bitly when using affiliate codes. iBooks allows affiliates to also add a campaign code, so that various promotion methods can be tracked for their effectiveness.

• Do you intend to create portal-specific versions of your digital book?
People like to buy a book with a single click. It makes sense then to have buy links in your digital books for your other digital books, and (if you are an affiliate) to include affiliate codes in your links. The trick, of course, is that each portal wants only links to their own portal in the digital books distributed there—or “generic” links that go back to the author’s website.

——>>>Make a choice and a list of your formats and editions. You can create an EPUB that can be uploaded to every portal with links back to your own website; you can create portal-specific versions (with or without affiliate links) for every portal; or you can do something in between. Remember that if you’re going through an aggregator, you can’t have portal specific links, because the same file goes to all the vendors you select through that distributor. Remember that if you’re using Smashwords as your aggregator, they will take an EPUB for distribution but will need a DOC to generate other formats for direct sale from their site.

• Prepare your book
The two prevalent formats for digital books are MOBI (used by the Kindle family) and EPUB (used by other e-readers). Most of the portals offer a conversion engine, to convert your DOC or TXT file to the format that they distribute. This may or may not create an attractive digital book. You can also use an application like Vellum to format your own books, or you can hire a formatter to do it for you.

Here’s an interesting detail and option: you can upload a book file in DOC or TXT to Smashwords and their engine (the “Meatgrinder”) will create an EPUB for distribution. This EPUB, however, is proprietary – although you can download it to check it, you can’t legally upload it at any other portal. In contrast, you can upload a DOC file to Kobo (when you’re logged into Kobo Writing Life) and let their engine create an EPUB. You can edit this EPUB in KWL, and also download it to use it wherever you want. That’s another way to get an EPUB book.

When your book is formatted, you will have the option of adding other content to the book, like an excerpt from the next book in the series, the cover of this book or other books, an author bio, a newsletter signup link, a list of your published books and/or buy links for your other books. If you have the book prepared by a formatter, he or she may include the metadata in the book file. (You can do this yourself if you know how.) Draft 2 Digital has a new utility which will add the same end matter, book list etc., to all of your books and update it automatically.

——>>>Prepare all front matter, end matter, links, cover images and metadata for the book before sending it to a formatter or formatting it yourself. Ensure that your digital book includes a clickable Table of Contents (a TOC). Increasingly, Amazon prefers an NCX so the TOC can be displayed in the sidebar of a Kindle.

• Are you going to offer a pre-order?
A pre-order is convenient because you know exactly when your book is going to be available for sale. That can allow you to coordinate some promotion around the release date, and also to sell some copies of the book in advance of publication. Now, most of the portals offer a pre-order utility. Some are asset-less (that means you can make a book available for pre-order without a final book file) and some require a draft file. There are hazards in uploading a draft file, as periodically, one portal or another will deliver the draft file to customers instead of the final file. Those portals that accept draft files require that the final file be delivered by a specific date—Amazon, for example requires the final book file ten days before publication. There are many thoughts on the merit of pre-order, its pros and cons, so do some research and decide—or try it. YMMV after all.

Remember that there is some apparent skew as to the actual date of delivery of the book to consumers. The portals begin to ship out units at 12:01AM Greenwich time, so it appears to us as if they’ve shipped the night before. Depending on how many pre-orders you have, the deliveries will be scattered over that 24 hours period, AND some will disappear completely. Those are the people who pre-ordered the book, but whose payment information couldn’t be processed on the day of the transaction.

There are many pricing and promotion strategies for pre-order, so do some research before you choose your price and your on sale date.

——>>>If you intend to offer a pre-order, make the pre-order available at least two weeks in advance of the publication date.

• Upload Your Book to the Various Portals
This isn’t complicated but it’s time consuming. Log into each portal in succession and follow the steps to publish your book there. They all take the same information in a slightly different way. As the book “goes live”, add the buy links to your website, including your affiliate codes if you’re using them.

• Nits to Pick
Here are a couple of simple things that need to be done separately, after the book is published:
– when you publish a book on Amazon, you need to claim your book through Author Central so that it appears on your author page. Log into your Author Central account after the book is available for sale, search for it and add it to your book list. It may take several days to appear on your author page.
Check your series. All of the portals have started to add series information to their book product pages. This is comparatively new and not always automatic. Be sure you use exactly the same series title for each book in any given series. It has to be exact, because bots don’t see “The XYZ Series” as being the same as “XYZ Series”. At some portals, you must request that a series be created (iBooks) and at others, you have to request to have a book added to an existing series (Amazon). Some portals will provide a series page link: others won’t. If you write in series, double-check this.
Add your new book to Goodreads. To do this, you must be a Goodreads author under the same name as appears on the book. (Each pseudonym needs its own GR log-in.) Readers can be very helpful in adding this information for authors, but I find that adding it early myself ensures that it’s right.
List your book on your BookBub profile. To do this, you must first create a log-in at Bookbub and claim your profile (you might have one even if you’ve never run a BB ad.) Once you’ve been approved to claim your profile, you can add to the booklist that is automatically generated. You should also add new books to that list as soon as they’re published on all portals, because BB will send a message to your followers about your new release.
Register your copyright. A lot of indie authors don’t bother with this, but I think the registration is well worth the $35 fee. Register your copyright on the on sale date at the registration office of the nation of first publication. Because my Amazon.com edition goes on sale first in the US, I register mine at the US Library of Congress.

Phew! There’s a good start to an indie publishing checklist. Of course, I didn’t talk about having your book edited and polished, or about promotion, but just focused on the nuts and bolts. You can also think about publishing a print edition of your book or not, about producing an audio edition of your book or not, about exploiting other subrights to your book – like foreign translation – or not. When you’re the publisher, all of those decisions are yours to make.


Here’s the Tip Jar. If you found this post useful, please follow the buy links below to shop at your favorite portal, and make my day. Buy one of my books. Buy someone else’s books. Buy some new shoes if you’re on Amazon – but put a little something in my affiliate accounts as a sign of appreciation. 🙂 I thank you in advance!

The Crusader's Kiss, #3 in the Champions of St Euphemia series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

His dream of becoming a knight achieved, Bartholomew heads home to avenge his parents—only to find himself hunted and in need of the assistance of a most unlikely and unpredictable ally. Anna seeks justice with a disregard for the law that shocks Bartholomew, but the bold maiden’s tactics are as effective as her kisses are seductive. Does she truly wish to aid him in regaining his legacy, or is she using him as a pawn in some scheme of her own?
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At the Store

I’ve decided to scale back my online store and ultimately dismantle it. It was an experiment and a learning experience, and one which I began almost a year ago. It’s time to look at the data and make conclusions, then apply them.

What did I learn?

1. My readers don’t tend to buy digital content directly from me.
This might be because readers prefer to shop at a specific retailer, in order to have a record of what they’ve bought before. It might be because they don’t know how to sideload content onto their e-reader. (The number of times many people download individual free samples hints at this.) It might be because my store doesn’t have one-click buying, or a wishlist, or reviews, or who knows what other features.

I’ve also heard that readers think buying directly from the author should save them money—unfortunately, that’s not possible to do, because several online retailers require that the list price for any product has to be the same as at all other retailers or lower. That means my store can’t undercut my partners’ prices.

2. My readers like to download free content from me.
The store has proven to be a good mechanism for distributing samples of upcoming books, for example, and I could see that it might be good for bonus content. OTOH, there might be better options, if taking money isn’t an issue.

3. Free content and larger samples lead to sales.
The conversion rate (that’s what we call it when a reader buys a book after reading, for example, a sample for free, or buys book #2 after getting book #1 for free) is really good on those longer excerpts from upcoming books. OTOH, both iBooks and Kobo offer the option of my uploading those samples on their site, so readers don’t have to leave their online store to get them. I’ve done that for The Crusader’s Heart, and will continue to do so for upcoming titles. I suspect other retailers will add the same functionality, which means readers can stay in the shopping environment which they prefer.

4. Sales taxes are a pain.
Actually, they’re a nightmare. The sales tax on digital books, which changes by territory, is a huge complication and one I can live without. I’m actually very happy that so few readers bought books directly from me because it saved me a lot of bookkeeping. 🙂

5. My readers like to buy signed print copies of my books directly from me.
This is good to know – plus it’s fun to pack parcels for readers. (My assistant likes to hide temporary tattoos and signed bookplates between the book pages, for example, so they can be discovered while reading.) The sales volumes aren’t epic, though—bookplates work pretty much as well, and are cheaper to mail. Also I’m doing more reader events, so readers will be able to buy directly from me, in person. (That has to be even better, right?)

6. Postage rates are another nightmare.
Without a postage calculator integrated into the site – which looks up the rate, based on weight, origin and destination – there’s been a ton of fiddling to do. The site lets you set a flat rate for domestic or international postage, but that rate isn’t flat at the post office, even with the same weight and size of package. It’s also set per order, so the site adds the same amount whether the customer buys a single mass market paperback or five print-on-demand trade paperbacks (which weigh a lot.) My assistant looks ready to bite me when we get a print order because we either have to make a refund or ask the reader for another payment. I won’t be doing this anymore.

Instead, whenever I’m going to appear at a booksigning, there will be a pre-order form for my books so you can order, pay in advance (or know how much cash to bring), and just pick them up at the show. There will be special pricing, too, because that’s clearly popular. Readers can also request signed bookplates from me to put in books purchased elsewhere. These are always free.

For now, the store is there, but there’s pretty much only free content available for download, mostly samples of upcoming titles and family trees. I’m looking for another way to deliver that content to you and might just put it on the site here. That’s where the family trees resided in the first place and it worked well enough. The store costs me a monthly fee (because I use a premium theme) and another to accept Paypal but I don’t need either for free content. It’ll be shut down, probably by the end of October, so you can get your sample chapters of The Crusader’s Heart before it’s published. There are, of course, storefront options that have postage and sales tax calculators, but they’re more expensive applications. I wanted to see how my readers shopped before making the investment. Given these results, I won’t be making that commitment.

Thanks for experimenting with me!

Do you have any strong feelings, good or bad, about buying books directly from authors, about author bookstores in general or my bookstore in particular? If you’re an author with an online bookstore, have you seen similar results or different ones? Let me know in the comments below!

What I Miss About Traditional Publishing

Although I am now an indie author, I was traditionally published—i.e. published by big publishing houses based in New York City—for twenty years. It was almost exactly the twentieth anniversary of my first sale when I stepped away from traditional publishing. I sold my first book to a publisher in April 1992, and declined the offer from my last publisher in March 2012.

In the last five years, I’ve repackaged and republished a lot of backlist titles (because the rights have reverted to me from the original publishers) and also have published a good bit of new work myself. The last three books in the Dragonfire series were indie-published, as was the True Love Brides series of medieval romances, as was Tupperman’s story, Abyss. Indie publishing gave me the opportunity to finish series that wouldn’t have been possible in traditional publishing. Five years ago, I thought that would be my main use of indie publishing, but now I’m launching new series. It’s wonderful to begin fresh, and to have the freedom to play with some story elements, too. The Crusader’s Bride, first in my new medieval romance series, is a completely new project with a series structure I’ve wanted to explore for a while. I have two more series in work, also with an unusual structure, and am loving the creative adventure. I’m pretty sure that none of these series could have been placed with a traditional publisher with favorable terms. Indie publishing has helped me to rediscover the joy of writing and storytelling.

That said, there are things I miss about traditional publishing.

1/ Conversation
Most of the people I worked with in publishing were very clever and well-educated. They were interesting, whether talking about books or not. Although going to New York to meet with industry partners could be stressful, it was also often fascinating. I particularly miss talking to my agent, who had seen much and understood more. His insight was invaluable. I also miss the great gossipy chats I would have with some editors when we met in person, catching up on who was doing what and all the news in the tiny pond of romance publishing.

2/ Expertise
There are things that big publishing houses do well, and which they continue to do best. The multi-national release of a blockbuster book, for example, requires skill and timing, as well as a kind of synchronization that is pretty much impossible for indie authors to manage alone. Very few authors write international blockbuster hits, so this doesn’t have much to do with most of us.

One of the things even the newest debut author sees with a big publishing house, though, is their collection and analysis of data. Having a large cache of sales information in a particular market niche gives big publishers the opportunity to discern patterns, even in sub-genre niches, to compare packages and tropes and author voices to try to identify what contributes to success. They can shape what they buy based on what they know they can sell, and they usually can articulate this very well. Like all powers, this one can be used badly—an editor can either build upon a given book’s strengths to make it appeal more strongly to the market without changing its essence, or an editor can insist that everything he or she acquires for publication fits a specific template, whether or not that destroys the work (or the author.) In recent years, the latter perspective seems to have become dominant.

So, I miss the consultations and the expertise the way it was offered fifteen or twenty years ago. This is because I have too many ideas. I truly think of several story ideas per day. It’s just not possible for me to write them all. Even if I could write a book in a month (and I can’t) and do it every month, there’d be at least (365-12) 350 ideas per year abandoned beneath my desk to die. I love all of my ideas, and I could make them all into good books. Choosing which is the most marketable or the most likely to succeed is a skill I don’t have, because I’m not sufficiently objective about my own work when it’s in sharp focus. In five years, I could choose, but it would be irrelevant by then. Another variable to consider: sometimes the book an author has to write isn’t the one that will propel his or her career forward, but will build his or her writing skills instead. It’s good, though, to make an informed choice. I miss being able to tap into that wealth of expertise in order to make the best decision.

3/ The Production Cycle
The production cycle for a book in traditional publishing was at least partly driven by the steps necessary to print a physical book and distribute it. It tended to be about a year, from the final delivery of the book manuscript to its on-sale date. Of course, things have been stepped up (in some cases, at some houses) for digital publications to get to market sooner, but still, I miss the steady incremental progress of a book through the production cycle. Each book would come back to me at least three times for review, which gave plenty of opportunity to ferret out inconsistencies and typos. I would know a year in advance, if not more, what my publication schedule would be. That seems so leisurely to me now, like something from another universe.

In a way, it is. The current market demands that authors and publishers be more nimble, because trends come and go very quickly. I’ve used the past tense in the paragraph above, because I’m not sure that even traditional print houses work at this pace anymore. There’s still a big difference in indie, though. Indie authors often finish and edit a book, then publish it immediately.

There must be a happy middle ground between tomorrow and a year from tomorrow. I follow many of the steps I learned in traditional publishing, but they tend to be done more quickly. I’ve yet to entirely catch up. One of the reasons I’m on a big writing push this summer is to get ahead of the curve a bit, and stockpile some projects for publication in 2016. I’d like to be less rushed in the last month before publication and to be able to sit back, all ready for release day. I’d like to be able to let a story simmer for a while, sit untended while I review its logic.

I also would like to maintain good relationships with my current partners. One of the things that happens in traditional publishing is that authors who manage to perform a miracle and pull something together in a ridiculously tight time frame tend to be rewarded by being expected to perform miracles again. And again and again. It’s not pleasant to be taken for granted, or to know that your partner will always demand too much. I want to be kind to my partners and build even more time into my production cycle.

4/ Print Distribution
I have a considerable readership who likes print books. I like them, too, both as a reader and as an author. Print distribution gives a book visibility in the world beyond online sales portals. That visibility drives sales, by encouraging impulse buys and prompting memory. Granted, print distribution from traditional publishers is more difficult to gain than it once was, but it’s even harder to get physical distribution for an indie-published book.

Because most indie print books are print on demand, there’s no big print run of copies. You don’t need that when you don’t have print distribution: orders can be filled one at a time. But another issue for me is the look of the book itself. POD products are better than they used to be, but I miss the special finishes (like foil stamping or tinted varnish, rag edged pages, step-backs, printing on the interior of the cover, etc. etc.) that are only possible for traditionally printed books, produced in quantity.

I miss my ‘shiny’. I’ll keep looking for it.

5/ What’s Done Is Done
In traditional publishing, once a book is in page proofs (two or three months before the release date) it’s essentially done. It’s hard to make changes at that point, because it’s expensive to update typesetting and reburn printing plates. From that point, the book will be as it is. There won’t be revisions, even if a typo is found. There won’t be updates to the front and end matter. There won’t be a new cover, even if the first one doesn’t appeal to consumers. The cover copy won’t be revised. The book is made the best it can be at that point in time, then left to sink or swim. The machinery of publishing moves on to the next project. The author has already moved on to the next project. Only when there’s a new edition of a book some years later will any updates and revisions happen. Most books don’t go into second editions.

Of course, much of this derives from print publishing and the realities (and cost) of making changes to an existing physical book. Some of it also comes from big publishing companies needing to manage their lists and continue to move forward. Indie authors, in contrast, tend to update their book files (both digital and POD) much more aggressively, as well as their metadata. In essence, the entire list of an indie author can be always in transition. Front and back matter can be updated, typos can be corrected, scenes can be added, covers can be changed and links can be updated. The book is a fluid canvas and one that can always be revised. In a way, this is exciting. In another, it’s exhausting. As an author’s book list grows longer, the obligation of doing this upkeep can become quite burdensome.

I miss the finality of a traditionally published book’s publication date, and the ability to move forward instead of constantly revisiting the past. My formatter and I do an annual update of front and end matter in my digital books, although I don’t do the same with my POD book files. They are snapshots in time, like my traditionally published books. This annual update is becoming quite an exercise, given the amount of content I manage, so I might make it a biannual revision after 2015. We’ll see.

6/ Someone To Say ‘No’
This is the big one. It’s counter-intuitive to most indie authors, and even to many authors who come from traditional publishing. One of the things I love about indie publishing is the freedom. It’s very liberating to not have anyone to shoot down your ideas, to be able to play with different formats of stories or different genres, to take a chance on an idea and see how it flies. That power restores our ability to take a chance on an idea that just won’t let go of our imagination.

But who will tell an indie author if he or she has it totally wrong? As tedious as it can be to build consensus, there is merit in listening to other voices. Where will I find that voice? Everyone I consult in this market is being paid by me. I’m the client of my freelance editor, which reverses the balance of power between us. Just as in the traditional publishing market, I couldn’t tell my editor that I wouldn’t make change X to my book (or do it by Y date), my editor now can’t tell me to make change X. A freelance editor might believe she can’t tell a client indie author things that author won’t want to hear.

Power is held by the one who pays. We salute the ability of indie authors to write what they want, how they want, and publish it as they want, but the marketing of books is complicated. There are stories that can be improved—not changed into something else, but edited into better versions of themselves. There are covers that don’t appeal to the right consumer. There are stories that don’t build on the author’s established brand, and might even compromise it. The diversification of an author brand, the building of its audience, the management of the graphical branding are all careful balancing acts. It’s better to be able to consult with other experts before leaping forward with a choice.

So, I miss the voice of dissent, as funny as it sounds. I think we learn more from criticism. We might not make change X, but having someone point out a weakness can lead to a buttressing of that issue. The book can become stronger as a result of the exchange. It’s hard to see the merit and flaws of your own work, especially when moving from creation to publication really quickly, because we’re not objective about our own creations. Indie authors take on many responsibilities of their publishing career, many designing their own covers or writing their own copy among other tasks, which brings more under the umbrella of what might not be seen objectively. This is compounded by the fact that many indie authors have built communities of affirmation around themselves, so even when they ask for feedback, they might get only resounding approval—regardless of whether they’re right.

There’s a balance to be struck. I don’t for a moment imagine that if I returned to traditional publishing, I’d find all of these things again. Publishing has changed and what I miss are older industry patterns. I’d need a time machine to go back to 1998 or so to have these conversations again, and that isn’t possible.

At the same time, indie publishing isn’t perfect either. As the market matures and we all find our rhythm, the missing pieces become more clear. My freelance editor and I have had some great discussions this summer, for example. Because we have similar industry credentials and experience, we both understand the power of that dissenting voice in making books better. I’m still looking for my shiny, although shortly after writing this, a new means of print distribution for indie authors was announced. I’m learning more. The market is changing and evolving, and I’m optimistic that we’ll find a new balance. Traditional publishing demands too much sacrifice for what they might offer, so that’s not the right choice for me right now. The advantages of indie-publishing outweigh what’s lacking, at least for me at this point in my career. Things are changing, though, and I’m curious to see what the right choice will be—for me and other authors—five years from now.

What about you? Are there things you miss about the way your favorite authors were once published? Are there things you prefer about this current market?