Plans for 2019

A new year is always an excellent opportunity to review. I took some time off in December because I felt due for a break. During that time, I thought about what was working for me—in terms of writing, publishing, and life in general—and what wasn’t working so well. From that, I made a plan for the new year. Some things are new and some are changing.

Bad Case of Loving You, book #6 in the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke• My main goal for 2019 is to add time into my publication schedule. This will reduce my stress. 🙂 Once upon a time, when I was traditionally published, my books had to be delivered to the publisher one year in advance of publication. The editorial process consumed the next eight months or so, then the book was formatted, packaged and ready to go by 90 days before publication. Paper editions were printed and shipped, and digital editions were uploaded to the portals. Although I’ll never have that prolonged of an editorial process again, my goal is to have each book uploaded 90 days before publication. It will probably take me most of this year to catch up and achieve that. This will be pretty much invisible to you, but it’s a huge change for me.

Right now, my only pre-order is for Bad Case of Loving You, which is coming out in March. Job #1 is to get that book file ready and uploaded.

• I’ll also be closing my online store. I’ve had the store for four (maybe five) years. When I opened it, there were few options for authors to sell their work directly, but gradually other services have added functionality. I don’t need a second storefront because my websites are essentially storefronts. You’ll still be able to buy directly from me, but the new buy links will look like this one, on the Champions of St. Euphemia Boxed Set page – the prices will be in US dollars, the transaction will be managed by Paypal, and the ebooks will continue to be delivered by BookFunnel.

Simply Irresistible, a contemporary romance by Deborah Cooke and first in the Flatiron Five series.• I’ll be running fewer free and 99-cent price promotions
Scheduling and managing promotions is a job in itself, and the tail or halo (the sales that result from people buying the other linked books) from those promotions is much shorter than it used to be. I think this is because the ebook market is maturing. Those specials were great for people who had just bought their first e-reader, but have become a less reliable way of ensuring discoverability. Right now, Simply Irresistible is free so is The Beauty Bride. That may change. I have my sights set on creating more front-list instead of marketing back-list.

Here Be Dragons: The Dragonfire Companion by Deborah Cooke• I’ll be doing MORE writing (YAY!)
This market skews in favor of frequent publication. I want to focus more on writing and publishing new content in 2019. (2018 was the year of republishing Dragonfire; 2017 was the year of republishing the Bride Quest.) I’m excited about adding to my existing story worlds and creating some new ones.

• I’ll be offering exclusive discounts to newsletter subscribers
I’ve had good luck with this mechanism in the past so it’s a strategy to keep. These sales will be promoted to my newsletter subscribers instead of to the world at large. If you haven’t subscribed to one of my lists, you might want to do that. I only send newsletters when I have a sale or a new release to announce. I’d also like to make some new content available exclusively to subscribers this year, too, and you’ll find out about that in my newsletters. My newsletters are:

Dragons & Angels for my paranormal romances
Knights and Rogues for my historical romances
Heroes & Bad Boys for my contemporary romances

If you don’t like to subscribe to newsletters, you could also follow my blogs:

DeborahCooke.com/blog is mostly about my contemporary romances
DragonfireNovels.com/blog is for my Dragonfire series
DragonsofIncendium.com/blog is for that PNR series
Delacroix.net/blog is for my historical romances

Wyvern's Wizard, book 11 of the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeYou can also follow me at Amazon and BookBub to receive new release announcements from those portals. Be aware that Amazon doesn’t always send new release announcements on (or even that close to) the publication date. Sometimes they don’t send them at all. Also, BookBub now offers a new release announcement that authors have to pay for, so I’m not sure if their free version will be retired.

follow Deborah Cooke at Amazon
follow Claire Delacroix at Amazon
follow Deborah Cooke at BookBub
follow Claire Delacroix at BookBub

• I’ll be creating more free guided tours
These are newsletter automations that take subscribers through the works set in one of my fictional realms. Each week, subscribers get a newsletter featuring the next book set in that world, along with a peek behind the scenes and some notes about my research. There are special offers in these tours, too. I like these tours as they’re fun ways to integrate my research and Pinterest boards, then share that with you.

Right now, there’s a virtual tour available for Ravensmuir and Kinfairlie medieval romances. I’ll be adding new ones in 2019 for the Champions of St. Euphemia, the Sayerne medieval romances Rogues & Angels and the Dragonfire Novels. You can sign up for any (or all! LOL) of these now: the Ravensmuir one will start right away and the others will launch when I have them compiled. Your email will just be saved until then.

Phew! That’s my plan for 2019!

Under the Mistletoe, a contemporary Christmas romance and #4 in the Secret Heart Ink series by Deborah CookeWhere do we stand right now?
I didn’t stop working completely in December, but I certainly wrote less. This means that Chynna’s story, Under the Mistletoe, wasn’t written and published in December. On the other hand, I felt more like revising than writing, so I’ve been updating One Knight’s Return to prepare it for publication. It’ll be out in April and there will be pre-order links soon.

Right now, I’m working on the Dragonfire companion, Here Be Dragons, which will be published as soon as it’s done, and Theo’s book, Bad Case of Loving You, which will be published in March. I expect to fit Chynna’s book in there, too. (The timeline entangles with Theo’s book, so that isn’t as crazy a plan as it might seem.)

One Knight's Return, book #2 of the Sayerne series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixAfter that, well, I have a bunch of ideas. 🙂 I’ll be at a bit of a crossroads as many series will be finished up. The Dragons of Incendium series is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, and the rest of the series will be published there, too. Wyvern’s Wizard is next in that series, which is Peri and Nero’s book. I expect the next few books in that series to entangle a bit as the sisters set out on their quests. DragonFate is high on my list, but again, I want it all written before I launch the first book. There will be more Coxwell books – I think Annette is next – and more medievals – I’d like to publish the third Rogues & Angels book this year as well as The Stolen Bride, the third Brides of Inverfyre book.

I’m excited to dive into 2019. Do you have plans for 2019?

International Buy Links

At the Novelists Inc conference, I attended several wonderful workshops taught by Joanna Penn. In one of them, she talked about English-language markets outside of the US, and means of making it simple for non-US readers to buy books. Part of that facilitation comes from distribution, and part of it comes from website links. Many of the portals redirect you based upon the location of your ISP (server), but Amazon does not. Amazon has twelve regional stores, each of which has specific links for products like books. I used to have four or five Amazon links (US, UK, AU, CA and DE) but I thought those links cluttered my website pages. Joanna pointed out, rightly so, that it should be easy for non-US readers to click and buy a book at their portal of choice. Since I’m in Canada, it was particularly embarrassing to realize that I wasn’t supporting this on my sites.

And so, there has been a change. 🙂 I’ve been adding some more links to the website, specifically to make it easier for those of you (us!) who live outside the US. In most cases, my books were already available at those portals, but I didn’t have a direct link to them on my websites. That’s all changed.

When you look at any of my book pages now, you’ll see a group of links like this list on the page for Addicted to Love:

buy links for Addicted to Love by Deborah Cooke
What’s new is that the Amazon link is now defined clearly as a link to Amazon.com. It always went to the US store, but now the link says so.

You’ll also see that there’s a new link called Books2Read Universal Link. This is a pretty cool service offered by Draft2Digital, one of the aggregators I use to distribute my books. If you click on this link for Addicted to Love, for example, it’ll take you a page that looks like this:

Addicted to Love, book #2 of the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke, at Books2Read

You can see that there are more buy links here than on my page and that they’re outside the US, but that’s not all. First, if you choose the Amazon Kindle link, you will be taken to the product page for Addicted to Love in your Amazon store based on the location of your server. Yes! It will redirect! If you live outside the US, this could be any of the twelve Amazon stores. You won’t have to fish around to change the link for Canada or Australia anymore: this interface will take you to the right store right away.

Secondly, if you create an account with Books2Read, it will remember what portal you prefer. So, the first time you click a portal on the page above, you’ll see this screen:

If you leave the box checked at the bottom, then every time you click a universal link, you’ll go straight to the product page on your portal of choice. That means that if you click on the Books2Read Universal link for In the Midnight Hour, right here on my website, after you’ve followed the link for Addicted to Love to Amazon.ca, then you will redirected immediately to the Amazon.ca page for that book. You won’t see that first page with all the little icons again. You can, of course, change your preference in your Books2Read account at any time.

How cool is that? I think this is really, really sexy. The other side of this is affiliate codes. Most authors use affiliate codes from the portals, which pay a teeny tiny bonus for sending a customer to their respective store. Amazon, of course, has specific affiliate codes for each individual regional store. (The other portals with affiliate codes use a single code for the entire planet.) This service through Books2Read also supports all of my various Amazon affiliate codes, so each time you use these links, you’re adding a teeny tiny bonus for me. It is literally pennies, but pennies add up.

The final bonus of this is that I get an author page at Books2Read (actually, I get two!) where you can browse my books by series. My Deborah Cooke author page is right here.

The Cooke books are done, and the Delacroix books, though I still have to sort out my dragons and angels at Books2Read. There also are some rogue titles on my book pages that aren’t appearing in their respective series (tsk tsk) but the good peeps at D2D will help me sort this out. It looks good already.

I’ve also signed up for another aggregator to offer my books in more territories and portals beyond the big choices, and will tell you about that soon. 🙂

Writer Resources

Once upon a time, I wrote a lot of blog posts about writing and publishing. When I went indie in 2012, though, I wasn’t sure how applicable those posts would be to our new world (which felt a little wild for a few years there.) This past weekend at my local writers’ group, though, we started talking about resources and I realized that a great deal of that information would still be useful to writers.

I’m sifting through it in my spare time (ha) and making it live again.

I will also be doing more teaching next year, and have started to muster my support materials. I use Excel spreadsheets a lot to track results, and I don’t want to spend workshop time walking through the set-up of each one. So, I’m creating some tutorials here on the site. These aren’t the only way to do things: they’re just my way, and might be useful to other writers.

All of this lives under a new tab called Author Resources, which you can find on the menu bar. You can also search in the blog for posts in the categories Wild West Thursday, Indie Publishing, Publishing, and Writing. There is also an archive here of the blog posts I did for the writer-in-residence program at the Toronto Public Library in 2012. You can find those in the Writer-in-Residence category.

Quiet in the Office

Notice how quiet it is around here this week? That’s because I’m in the middle of several nitpickity jobs.

I’m weeding and mulching my garden – when it’s not raining.

The Princess, book #1 of the Bride Quest series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixAnd I’m preparing the book files for the republication of the Bride Quest. This is the first time I’ve worked with scanned book files and it’s been an interesting process. I had the books scanned, which means that a single copy of each book was torn apart and put through an OCR scanner to generate a Word document (and a PDF, too, but I’m not using that.) The thing is that the scanner tries to recognize characters, but it’s not smart at all. It doesn’t look at context or grammar or anything beyond trying to identify each character. As a result, you end up with a file that’s mostly right but has some characteristic quirks.

I’m developing a system. 🙂 The scanner interprets the end of each printed book page as a section break in Word, and those section breaks have to be taken out. Page breaks at the end of each chapter have to be added in. Scene breaks are odd little interpretations of the dingbat used by the publisher, and can vary each time. The same is true of the drop caps at the beginning of each chapter. All of that gets addressed in my first pass through the book.

The Countess, book #4 of the Bride Quest series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixThen there are the misinterpretations. For example, the scanner might perceive rn as m. Fortunately, Word has a seach and replace utility, and I have a growing list of words that get mucked up. Burn might appear as Bum; ruin might appear as min; corner as comer. It might decide that I is 1, that an m is a w (we instead of me) or present a double quote (“) as two single quotes separated by a space (‘ ‘). We won’t even talk about what happens with italics. Each time I think I’ve found everything, I find something else to add to the list. Spellcheck has helped to find some things, Grammarly has helped with others, and I’m sure the proofreader will find some more.

I think it’s saving time over retyping the books completely but at the end of each day, I do wonder.

Two down, four to go.

What are you doing this week?

On Resonance

Spellbound, a Regency romance anthology by Claire Delacroix, Jane Charles and Claudia DainHave you ever struck a crystal glass and heard it chime? That resonance lets you know that the glass was well-made. A book has a resonance, too, if it’s well-crafted. Over the years, I’ve developed an inner ear for my own books and their resonance. I don’t always know what’s missing from a work-in-progress, but when it’s right, I have no doubt of it. I can hear its resonance and know the book is done. Once upon a time, I never delivered a book to an editor until it had that resonance—now, I don’t publish one without it.

There are a lot of variables that influence the resonance of a book. The characters need to be fully dimensional and the story has to have a crisp pace. It goes deeper than that, though. Since I write romance, each book has two protagonists—each one has to have inner and outer conflicts, and best of all, each one has to help the other along his or her character arc. They have to become partners and be good for each other in order for their romance to be compelling, in my opinion. All the loose ends have to be resolved, and the bad guys have to get their due. When all of this is done and I review the story and its telling, I can ‘hear’ its resonance. *ping*

Wyvern's Prince, #2 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeThere are also factors that challenge resonance. A book that contains too many elements can be difficult to build into coherence, let alone resonance. A book that is a step onto a new path for the author can fight its resonance. For me, though, the biggest factor influencing resonance is my own health and welfare. If I’m sick with a cold, I don’t write well. If you took Psych 101, you’ll remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (You can read the Wiki on it right here.) According to this theory by Abraham Maslow, human capabilities are made possible in a hierarchy by the satisfaction of needs. For example, the base of his pyramid of needs is Physiological—if you’re hungry, cold, and/or naked in the dark, you’ll be focused on solving those issues to the exclusion of all others. Once your basic survival is assured, you begin to concern yourself with Safety. After you’re safe and fed and sheltered, you become concerned with love and social connections, and so the pyramid builds higher. Creative processes are in the very top bit of the pyramid, as part of Self-Actualization. Essentially, artists function best when all other needs are covered. Maybe that makes creativity a luxury in this theory. We could debate that, but I’d agree that if any of those lower levels of the pyramid are in jeopardy, then creativity is challenged. Resonance, at least for me, becomes harder to achieve.

The Crusader's Handfast, #5 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixA good example of this is that I’m seldom very creative in the summer. This used to frustrate some of my New York editions, but it’s a matter of physiology. When it becomes very hot in my little corner of the world, it also becomes humid and there’s an increased chance of thunderstorms. Thunderstorms cause changes in barometric pressure and I—like many hundreds of thousands of other people—get migraines from shifts in barometric pressure. I can tell Mr. Math when it’s going to rain, no matter what the weather forecasters say, if the storm is going to be violent. Nothing helps my migraines much, except the ultimate leveling out of the barometric pressure. These kinds of pressure changes are more frequent in the summer, and I build more time into my seasonal schedule to allow for the downtime.

Arista's Legacy, #2.5 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeThis year, we had heat for almost three months instead of a couple of weeks here and a couple of weeks there. We had a lot of shifts in barometric pressure, but not very many thunderstorms resulted. Resonance in my writing proved to be a little more elusive as a result. (I’m including all of the covers in this post of the books I did write this summer which found resonance!) I wrote Something Wicked four times before I was happy with it, and the story changed radically from the outset. I just made deadline on that one. Wyvern’s Prince had something keeping it from resonance until what seemed like the very last minute—then I figured out what it was, and made the change in time for the pre-order deadline. Phew! Arista’s Legacy is in final edits, so it’ll be good to go for November. I’ve finished the edits for The Crusader’s Handfast, which was a great review of the Champions series to date, so it’s all set up for October.

The Crusader's Vow by Claire Delacroix, book #4 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series of medieval romances.The issue is that I’m not happy with this current telling of The Crusader’s Vow. It’s written but not resonant. I need to take the story apart and re-envision it—I have a list of new avenues to explore and research to do—because Leila’s story currently isn’t adding enough to the book. Trust me. 🙂 I want the story to be resonant, and that can’t be rushed. I also don’t want to have the various portals pinging me with reminders of the final book file being due.

So, as you might have guessed, I’ve moved the publication date on The Crusader’s Vow out to March. That leaves lots of time to make sure the book is resonant and that you love Fergus (and his HEA) as much as I do. Currently, there are only pre-orders available at Kobo and iBooks—the others will go live when the book is done and off to be formatted. I’m hoping that giving the story some space will ensure that it’s ready for publication earlier than that.

Thanks for your patience and understanding! Next year, I’ll be sure to cut my summer writing schedule back even more. I should be able to take care of things like website maintenance instead.

This ‘n That

It’s been quiet on the blog this week, because I’ve had a deluge of things that need doing – when they’re things other than writing, we might as well call them this ‘n that. Once upon a time, there were never very many of these things landing on my desk, but now that I’m also my publisher, they seem to be breeding like the bunnies who lurk under my hydrangea bush. There are always more!

What kind of things qualify as this ‘n that?

• This week, there have been covers. Covers are pretty exciting to me, more exciting than most this ‘n that. I have covers for a new medieval trilogy to show you and also more Dragons of Incendium covers. Newsletter subscribers get to see them first, so you might want to subscribe. 🙂

The Crusader's Handfast, #5 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix• Covers mean pre-orders. I’ve been setting up a number of them at various portals – look! There’s The Crusader’s Handfast at Amazon live this morning! – which means a lot of uploading and processing. That means adding new links to the website, too.

• Covers also mean formatting. I’ve been sending book files and cover files and metadata to my formatter, and she’s been sending book files back to me.

• Covers also mean setting up interior files for print books. I used to be a typesetter, so I enjoy this flavor of this ‘n that.

• Covers also mean new swag! Yay! I ordered some new postcards and bookmarks this week, and you’ll be able to see them first in my August newsletter. (I hope they arrive by then.)

• New covers also mean new banners for the site, the newsletter and the Facebook pages. I should update some of the other social media banners, too.

Wyvern's Mate, book #1 of the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah Cooke, in audio• Audio! The audio edition of Wyvern’s Mate is available for pre-order for September 13 delivery. I had to think about the short stories and what to do with them. We’re going to keep it simple and record them individually. Nero’s Dream will go into audio production at the same time as Wyvern’s Prince, probably later this month.

• I like to hang charms on bookmarks for special occasions and had no inventory. I caught up on the Flatiron Five bookmarks and the Champions of Saint Euphemia ones, before the new ones arrive.

Spellbound, a Regency romance anthology by Claire Delacroix, Jane Charles and Claudia Dain• Then there have been edits, which technically are writing, but tend to feel like this ‘n that. I’ve finished my edits on Something Wicked This Way Comes, my contribution to the Spellbound anthology. I’ll give you some sneak peeks of that over the next few weeks. (You know what I’m going to say – newsletter subscribers will see more first. You might want to subscribe!)

• We’ve been updating digital book files with new end matter and front matter, as well as fixing some typos. The Jewels of Kinfairlie new editions went out with the new covers. The time travel romances have been updated in their print editions and the digital ones are half-done. (I’ll tell you when the new files are all uploaded.) And we’ve started on The Coxwell Series. The books need their table of contents moved to the front for Amazon now, and the end matter hasn’t been updated for two years. It’s also a good opportunity to change the covers, if I have plans to do that. I’m very happy with the new covers for The Jewels of Kinfairlie: The Prometheus Project will be getting new covers, too.

• I’ve been working on the newsletter, adding bits and pieces as I think of them. My VA Chelle is on vacation for part of this month, so I’m doing most of the newsletter. I’m always sure I’ll forget something! (This is going to be a long newsletter. Have you subscribed yet? LOL.)

• There’s a book sale coming up later this month, which means arranging for price changes to happen in time, and also booking some promotion to spread the news about the sale.

The Crusader's Vow by Claire Delacroix, book #4 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series of medieval romances.• And then there’s writing. I’m working on Wyvern’s Prince and having a wonderful time with Gemma and her unexpected ally. Next up, I have to finish The Crusader’s Vow. (Back to Scotland for the big finish of the Champions of St. Euphemia. Yay!)

Phew! It’s going to be a busy fall, but a fun one.

• I also made a spreadsheet for myself of all the upcoming releases and updates to current book files. There are a lot of things in the works that I can’t tell you about yet – but the plan takes me through 2019 at this same kind of hectic pace.

Stay tuned. Things are starting to get interesting. 🙂

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.

 

New Covers for the Jewels of Kinfairlie Trilogy

One of the first of my book series that I repackaged and republished was The Jewels of Kinfairlie—which includes The Beauty Bride, The Rose Red Bride, The Snow White Bride and The Ballad of Rosamunde. That was in 2011. Since then, a lot more photographic stock has become available and the graphical branding on my historical romances has become more clearly defined. I’ve wanted to update the covers on this series for a while, and this month, that job rose to the top of my To Do list.

Drumroll, please! Here are the new covers!

The Beauty Bride, book #1 of the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix

The Rose Red Bride, book #2 in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix

The Snow White Bride, book #3 in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix

The Ballad of Rosamunde, book #4 in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

The Jewels of Kinfairlie digital bundle of Scottish medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

We’re updating the digital editions of the books at all portals this month, and you should see them at your portal of choice soon. The audio book covers have been updated, as well.

What do you think?

Where Have All the Dragons Gone?

This is a bit of a strange post, but it illustrates one of the big changes happening in publishing right now. A number of you have emailed me or left messages here on the blog or on my Facebook pages, asking why you can’t buy some of the Dragonfire or Dragon Diaries books. Most of you have thought there was something wrong at the portal or the publisher, but that’s not what’s going on.

When an author sells a book to a publisher, it’s for a finite measure of time. It’s not forever. Each publishing contract includes at clause that defines when and how the rights to publish the book return to the author. This is called Reversion of Rights. The trigger can be a number of different things – in the case of these contracts, when the number of units sold of a specific title drop below a defined quantity over a certain period of time (in this case, over a year) that title is available for reversion. Once that happens, the author or his/her agent asks for the rights to revert and the publisher has a number of months in which to reply. They might choose to promote the titles and give them new life so they sell  more units again, or they might choose to let them revert to the author.

Flashfire, #7 in the Dragonfire series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeRight now, Penguin’s rights to the Dragon Diaries, to Harmonia’s Kiss and to two Dragonfire books, Ember’s Kiss and Flashfire, have reverted to me. I’ve made Harmonia’s Kiss available in a new digital edition. The publisher has the right to continue to sell their existing print copies of these books – but not to print more – and they can’t sell the digital editions. That’s why these books have disappeared from online portals, at least in the digital format. You still might find print copies, either at online portals or at bricks-and-mortar bookstores.

Flying Blind, first of the paranormal young adult Dragon Diaries trilogy by Deborah Cooke, UK editionThere’s a bit of a wrinkle with the Dragon Diaries, as Penguin sold UK Commonwealth rights to Allison & Busby for Flying Blind and Winging It. You might find the A&B editions of either of those books – in both print and digital – available for sale in your territory. A&B never did acquire the rights to Blazing the Trail, so they don’t have an edition of the third book in the trilogy. (Nope. I can’t explain that.)

Firestorm Forever, A Dragonfire Novel and paranormal romance by Deborah CookeI will make new editions of the Dragonfire books available once the rights to the remaining six books revert to me. I’ve no idea how long that will take – in a real sense, that’s up to all of you. The fewer copies that sell, the faster the rights to the books can revert to me. When I do republish the series in print and digital, the print editions will very likely be in the same trade paperback format as the final three Dragonfire books, The Dragon Legion Collection, Serpent’s Kiss and Firestorm Forever. I’ll also produce the entire series in audio.Harmonia's Kiss by Deborah Cooke, a Dragonfire story

This is why the publication dates for both the Dragonfire Companion and Hot Blooded, book #1 of DragonFate, have been delayed. I won’t be publishing any new books about the Pyr until I have all those rights back. I’m still working on all of those upcoming titles, so we can have a real dragon celebration once I have the rights to Dragonfire again.

Thanks for your patience and understanding. 🙂