3 Self-Publishing Mistakes I’ve Made

A little over a year ago, I published–with much fear and trembling–my broken fairy tale collection, Shattered. (I felt sick to my stomach after I clicked the Publish button. If it hadn’t been for the fact I’d had other people working with me on it, I’d have unpublished it within the first few minutes.)

Since that time, I’ve gone on to self-publish a few more books and made some mistakes along the way (which I did so you don’t have to!). So, without further ado, I present my top 3 self-publishing mistakes (cue the trumpets).

The Downside of Diversifying

Earlier in the year, I talked about putting my eggs into lots of little baskets rather than the one big one (*cough* Amazon*cough*). To that end, I’ve started serializing my science fantasy novel, Quartz, and written short stories for specific anthologies and magazines. Unfortunately, this meant that I haven’t published an e-book since the launch of Mourning Cloak, at the end of January. Once Mourning Cloak fell off the recent releases lists on Amazon, sales dried up (Ouch, April. Ouch.)

Solution: I should be publishing an e-book (novel, novella, short story, collection) every 2-3 months. Right now, I’m working on a follow-up to Shattered. The fairy tales I’m breaking? Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid.

Scared of Sequels

I’m not a sequel writer.

There, I said it.

I know, I know. I’m a fantasy writer. But still.

I write a novel or short story or novella and instead of reusing my world or my cast, I simply move on and build another world and cast from scratch. Barring a handful of short stories featuring the same character, I don’t do sequels.

But readers like sequels. They ask me for them. I’m thrilled that they’re so invested in my characters that they want more of their story, but I’m terrified of breaking the first story or disappointing my readers’ expectations.

That’s a block I need to get over.

Solution: I wrote the first draft (zero draft) of a follow-up novella to Mourning Cloak. I’m determined to get Ironhand into shape and out to the world by late summer/early fall. After that, I’m going to write Flare, the sequel to Quartz. Once the sequels are out of the way, then I’m going to give myself permission to play in a new world (looking at you, Riven!).

Low Productivity

It’s a rare author who hits it out of the ballpark with their first book. In the indie world, especially, most writers are successful because of their big backlists.

I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I was tracking my raw first-draft numbers. They aren’t impressive.

Look, I’m going to be brave and post them up here:

  • January: 5,661 words (really pathetic)
  • February: 16,683 (much better)
  • March: 13, 817 (okay, why’d I backslide here??)
  • April: 15, 533 (and this after being sick and undisciplined for the first half of the month!)
  • May: 10, 548 (better than January, in spite of going to a con, testing for school, and getting ready for vacation).

Ideally, I’d like to write 25K worth of raw first draft words a month (a half-NaNo).

Solution: All right, this is the tricky part, isn’t it. Sure there are all sorts of motivational tricks to get you writing, but what it all comes down to is this: How much of my other activities am I willing to give up to make this happen? How much is writing worth to me right now?

Is it worth giving up sleep over? Worth giving up the time I spend researching, thinking about, and doing school with my children? Worth giving up my RSS feed and Dr. Who episodes for?

It’s a decision that’ll be different for everyone. For me–well, I’ve done NaNo. I know what it is to breathe, eat, sleep your story. I know what it’s like to have it spin through your head constantly and how hard it is to emerge from the story zone. And that’s not what I want in my life right now. I have young kids who deserve a mom who’s not checked out for most of the day. I can give a few hours a day to writing, but I can’t let it take over my life like that.

Simply put, writing isn’t my day job. Mothering/homeschooling is. It’s within these limits that I need to work on increasing my productivity (which I’m not doing too badly with now that we’re back from Disney and it’s summer vacation).

What about you? If you’re a self-publisher, what mistakes have you made? What mistakes have you seen other self-publishers make?

proofs! and a release!

My proofs for Rainbird and Mourning Cloak arrived earlier this week.

Aren’t they pretty?

Proofs

They look EVEN BETTER in real life.

There really is nothing like seeing your name on the cover of a physical book. I had an ear-to-ear grin on my face for about an hour after they came.

Right now, David’s checking them for errors (I know, I know, I’m spoiled). They should be ready to go in a week or so. Keep an eye on this space!

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One Small Step

One Small Step: an anthology of discoveries launched last weekend at Conflux. Jo Anderton and I have a story in there. “Sand and Seawater” has already gotten some nice shout-outs on Goodreads, and the anthology as a whole has been favorably reviewed in places like Publisher’s Weekly.

Next week, I’ll post about our experience collaborating on this story.

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I’ve been busily working away on some short stories for the past couple of weeks, including some broken fairy tales for a follow-up to Shattered. I’m hoping to get that out in June and then buckle down to Ironhand and release that a couple months later.

What are your writing plans? Do you have any new or upcoming releases? Let us know in the comments!

cartoon jaguars talk art and business

Last week, I talked about what I’ve learned from my favorite how-to freelance book, The Freelancer’s Survival Guide by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The week prior to that, I shared 4 things I’m doing as a working writer.

Now that I have a writing-as-business theme going, I’m going to continue it.

Back when I first self-published Shattered, I had little clue about how to go about running my brand-new business. Luckily, I stumbled on to another of my favorite art business resources, this time by author and artist M. C. A. Hogarth. She uses three cartoon jaguars to illustrate business principles, first in her columns and most recently in a webcomic. What I love about Hogarth’s approach is that she puts both the right and left sides of the brain to work for the professional artist.

Hogarth separates the roles of a working artist into three: Artist, Marketer, and Business Manager (hence, the three jaguars). This trichotomy (oh look, it’s actually a real word) makes it easier to put needed walls between the various roles–and also the doors that act as communication channels between them.

Hogarth has a ton of great insights, but my single biggest takeaway from her columns (we’re talking about fireworks going off in my head, people) is this one.

Ready?

copyright M. C. A. Hogarth, used with permission from the artist

copyright M. C. A. Hogarth, used with permission from the artist

Every artist should internalize this principle–preferably before you bring your work into the marketplace (or else the economic realities might well crush your very soul).

Every piece of art–a one-of-kind costume, a story, a musical composition–has inherent value. Its value is in what it means to the artist and/or the emotional response it evokes in someone who experiences it. This is not a value you can put a dollar price on.

However, what you put on the marketplace is not art, but a product. A short story that sells to an anthology is a product. A song available as a digital download is a product. The handmade doll on the vendor’s table at the Renfest is a product. And products are subject to economic realities like demand and supply to determine their prices.

Making that distinction is helpful because it separates artistic merit (or value) from monetary compensation. It keeps the Artist part of you from sinking into a funk because you put the novel that took you a year to write on sale for 99 cents. It keeps you from tying your artistic identity too closely to sales and money.

It also helps to realize, as Hogarth explains in a different column, that a single piece of art can be the basis of many products.

Before reading the three jaguars columns, I had the attitude that once I sold a story, it was gone. First rights had been all used up, and there was nothing else I could do with it.  If I was very very lucky, and the stars were aligned just so, an editor might ride up on a white horse contact me for reprint rights, but I wasn’t holding my breath.

Hogarth’s examples showed me how limited my thinking was.

Today, thanks in large part to a changing industry, I can create many different products from that one short story I sold to the anthology. I could bundle it with other short stories and sell it on Amazon. I could license its audio rights to a podzine. I could have it translated into different languages. I could sell it to a magazine that accepts reprints.

Each time that one story is re-released in a different format or venue. One story becomes many products.

I’m currently serializing Quartz, a science fantasy set in a sunless world, using the same model Hogarth uses for her serials. Quartz updates weekly on Tuesdays, but a $5 donation gets you an extra episode on Saturday. Once the serial is run, I’m going to have it formatted into an e-book and put it up on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo and all. Someday, I might even hire a narrator to do an audio version. One story becomes three products–each reaching a different market.

This concept also takes the pressure off me as an artist. I’m working on increasing my productivity (mainly by plugging my biggest leak, the Internet), but I can also enlist my Marketer’s help in finding new places for my existing work. Artist’s output may vary from month to month, but it’s the Marketer’s job to impose regularity in the production schedule.

All of Hogarth’s columns are well worth the read. Also be sure to catch the webcomic’s current storyline about why any artist being paid for her work needs to pay attention to the business side of things. It could save you a world of trouble.

business resource: the freelancer’s survival guide

I usually wake up on Thursdays with an extra spring to get me out of bed (and, boy, do I need all the help I can get!). Not only is Thursday past the halfway point of the school school (one day away from Weekend Eve) but it’s also the day that Kris Rusch updates her weekly writing/business column.

If you don’t yet subscribe to it, you should! Rusch draws on years of experience as a publisher, editor, and full-time fiction writer to talk about industry-wide changes and how to navigate them.

Rusch is also the author of The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, which is available free on her site as a series of blog posts as well. I’m on my third (fourth?) re-read of the book. Rusch wrote this book for all freelancers, not just writers, and the topics she covers are applicable to anyone working for themselves (or thinking about it). They include planning, discipline, money management, negotiating, advertising, and more. There’s so much information in here that I would be hard-pressed to write a thorough review of the book without going on for pages and pages.

Instead, I’ll focus on those areas that have jumped out at me on my current re-read.

I went back to the Guide because I was having serious discipline issues. At the beginning of April, just as I was congratulating myself for having avoided all the sicknesses that plagued the rest of my family this winter, I came down with the Sinus Infection From He** and lost a week to it. Then I lost several days because I’d gone into “I’m Sick” mode and my body had gotten used to being lazy and my mind had gotten used to letting it slack off. After that, I was faced with incredible resistance to finishing Ironhand, the sequel to Mourning Cloak, because it was just a hard project.

So I lost about half of April. I knew I needed a kick in the pants, because if I don’t write, I don’t sell. If I don’t sell, I don’t earn money, and if I don’t earn money, then I go back to writing for myself–which means I end up with lots of unfinished novels and short stories while I chase one shiny idea after another.

I went to the Guide for help and found that Rusch takes very serious steps to deal with leaks–those time sinks that we want to cling to and should be utterly ruthless about dealing with.  I needed to hear that she’s learned (through bitter experience) to never begin a book until after her day’s writing is done, that she keeps the Internet and games off her work computer, and that no fiction but her own is allowed in her home office.

My big leak is the Internet. If I’m not careful, it can take over my writing time, my prayer time,  and my housework time.

(Never school time, though. I’m very disciplined about my children’s schooling, probably because I was very disciplined as a student, too. Unfortunately for me, all being good at school is good for is… being good at school.)

This is why I’m downloading the Freedom app to try out.

Right now, I’m working my way through the money management section of the Guide, which is a real eye-opener. My most important takeaway from this section? Pay yourself.

Most freelancers are focused on making their business pay for themselves, ie: their income from the business covers their business expenses. Most of us, however, don’t include paying for our own time in the equation. We get our business to the point where it pays for itself–but not for our own personal bills. Not rent, not groceries, not clothes, not utilities.

Many of us have spouses who pay for all of that.

I’m still at the point where I’d consider it a milestone for my writing business to pay for itself, without including my salary. Last year, I ran at a loss. This year, I’m ahead, but I’ve kept my expenses low. For instance, I haven’t commissioned any covers yet (my biggest expense), but they’ll be coming. I also get a lot of unpaid help–for instance, my husband does my e-formatting and print layout. The business should be paying him for his time, too, but I can’t really afford his hourly rate (he’s an experienced programmer, and luckily for us his day job *can* afford him *grin*).

I got into writing because I’ve always been a story-spinner. Even if I stopped writing, I’d keep making up stories in my head, because there’s no OFF switch for it in my brain. I keep writing because selling stories and sharing them with readers is a great motivator for me. Treating writing as a business keeps me focused on increasing my productivity and improving my craft. This is one of the reasons why a book like the Guide is more inspiring to me than a feel-good, Cinderella tale of making it big. The Guide gives me practical steps and realistic expectations, things I can apply in my own writing and business.

Read the whole thing. You can peruse the blog posts, buy the entire Guide or only the sections you’re interested in. I highly recommend this as a great starter book for any freelancer–whether you’re a writer, a house-cleaner, or consultant.

 

4 things I’m doing as a creative entrepreneur

Last year, I crossed the line from writing as a hobby to writing as part-time work. I get to wear a businessperson hat as well as an artist’s beret. Looking at my writing through an entrepreneurial lens has changed the way I do things.

Without further ado, here are 4 things I’m doing as writer-turned-businesswoman.

Tracking

This is the first year I’m seriously tracking my writing output from month to month. Right now, I’m only tracking raw, first-draft words, but it’s a start. I can’t come up with a realistic production schedule–nor can I increase my productivity–without first knowing how fast I write.

I also track my sales across all channels, my income, and my expenses. This will help me know which projects and which markets to focus my energies on.

Diversifying

So far this year, I’ve self-published a novella, written a paid non-fiction article, submitted short stories to anthologies and magazines, and started a serial on my site. I’m spreading my stories across lots of little baskets, so that if one gets stomped on or upended, it won’t bring my career to a screeching halt.

(Diversifying also means getting POD versions of Mourning Cloak and Rainbird ready: files are uploaded and I’m impatiently waiting for them to be verified so I can order proofs!)

Saying Yes

Part of diversifying is an attitude of openness. I’ve never had a problem saying no (I realize that many people have the opposite issue). “No” is my automatic response to anything I’m asked to do. I don’t have the time. I don’t know how. It’s out of my comfort zone. It’s inconvenient. I just don’t want to.

Well, no one got better by staying in a rut and refusing to experiment. Nowadays my policy is to say yes more than I say no. Work on a secret project with my best writing buddy? Yes! Get an invitation by an editor to submit to an anthology? Yes! Write a non-fiction article about creativity as a writer? Yes! Appear on a podcast to talk about my stories and self-publishing? Yes! Donate time to help another artist/writer put together an awesome giveaway for first-time self-publishers? Yes!

Building a List

I’m a big fan of permission marketing, so I’m working on building up an email list of fans. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you get news of my latest releases, coupons, and exclusive content. I use MailChimp, and I’m very pleased with it.

Are you a creative entrepreneur? Do you have any business/marketing tips to share?

friday this and that

Are you a NaNoWriMo winner planning to self-publish for the first time? My fabulous and generous cover artist, Ravven, is giving away a FULL publishing package to one deserving writer–complete with editing, proofreading, formatting, cover art, website graphics, and marketing help.

(And yes, yours truly is one of the volunteer beta readers!)

Go here to find out the details.

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The cover for FableCroft Publishing’s One Small Step is here!

One Small Step

This anthology contains the short story “Sand and Seawater”, co-written by Joanne Anderton and me.

Our tagline–brought to you by Jo–is Dolls are creepy, read this story!

(Better tagline coming soon…)

Aussie peeps, you can pre-order a copy here (you lucky things, you!)

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Links from around the web:

You Don’t Do Much Else Interesting and 25 Other Reasons Why No One Likes Your Art

More Insights on Sharpening Your Creative Mind

IndieReCon (posts, videos, chat replays)

Out, All of You! On fighting for your own voice

let’s talk serials

One of my goals for this year is to Try New Things. Not only does it mean writing out of the box, but it also means trying new ways of reaching readers with my stories.

Such as web serialization.

Now, I’m not a big reader of serialized fiction, which has a lot to do with not liking to read fiction on a computer screen. Last year, though, I got into Lisa Ahn’s wonderful flash-fiction-sized Wing-Feather Fables and Liana Mir’s short-shorts and her serial, City of Glass.

And then I came across M. C. A. Hogarth’s work, including her serialized fiction (and the Three Michas, cartoon jaguars that explain art business principles), and Wattpad–and had an epiphany.

Hey, not everyone is like me! Some people actually like reading stories online, in small doses spread over many months!

(I wonder if these are the same people who also like listening to audio books, something else that I haven’t been able to get into).

So, here’s want I want to do. I have this awesome (well, yes, I think it’s awesome) novel called Quartz. You may have heard me talk about it a million times, or two. It’s kind of steampunk, a bit of science fiction, a lot of fantasy–and all adventure.

Here’s the blurb (culled from 15 single-spaced pages of a document entitled Quartz Query):

Rafe Grenfeld, Oakhaven diplomat and spy, has problems: his embassy’s been arrested, he’s trapped in the hostile totalitarian state of Blackstone, and he’s just learned of the discovery of a massive pillar of quartz from an informer who died before revealing its location.

Once, quartz powered magical devices, but the mages who created them are long gone. Now, desperate states vie for rare veins of quartz that provide light and heat, and mean the difference between starvation and survival. Determined to return home with the news, Rafe forms an uneasy alliance with Isabella, a demon slayer with undisclosed loyalties.

Riven with internal strife and facing war with Blackstone, Oakhaven is not willing to pursue a rumor. It’s up to Rafe to find the quartz he believes is vital to his people, even if it means defying orders and collaborating with the mysterious and maddening Isabella. Unfortunately, they have competition: Karzov, chief of Blackstone’s secret police and architect of a plan to resurrect magical weaponry, is also hunting for the quartz—and he has help. But it’s not enough for Rafe to dodge mind-destroying demons and allies-turned-enemies. He must also overcome his quartz-induced disability—the one that leaves him writhing in agony—and tap into powers long thought lost, before his world is torn apart by famine and war.

And I’d like to serialize this, right here.

But, Rabia, you might be thinking–why not just self-publish Quartz, like you did Mourning Cloak and Rainbird and Shattered?

Good question. And in no particular order, here are my thoughts:

  • I’ve never serialized before (except for that one time, with Wired). No time like the present to try.
  • I haven’t self-published anything longer than Rainbird, which topped out at less than 32K words. Quartz is 101K words and I’m intimidated by the idea of self-publishing it. The line-editing and the proofreading passes are a lot of work. I’d rather spread them out over the many months of serialization than do it all in one go. It’s the whole how-to-eat-an-elephant thing: one bite at a time.
  • I want to bring readers to a place that is unquestionably mine–my website. Right now I’m selling through e-tailers, which means I don’t have direct access to my readers. I hear rumblings that Amazon might–bad move!–take away the 70% royalty rate unless you enroll in KDP Select. Therefore, I want to have lots of little baskets for my eggs, to make sure that all my readers–and income–aren’t coming through one channel.

So, how are you planning on this serial thing working out?

Well, so far the tentative plan is–I’m still working out the kinks of this–following a model similar to Hogarth’s (hey, I’m teachable).

  • I would post a scene (less than 2K words) once a week, probably on Tuesdays.
  • If I get enough donations ($5? $10?), they would pay for an extra episode per week, probably on a Saturday. What this means is that if you like the story, you can pay to read it faster. Without donations, the story will continue to run at its weekly pace.
  • The money I get for Quartz will go towards paying for cover art for the ebook. If I get more than that, I’ll hire a copyeditor/proofreader (oh, yes, please! My eyeballs are still bleeding from the 354 rounds with Mourning Cloak). And if I seriously overfund (along with getting my own pony, a castle made of candy, and rainbow kittens), I’ll pay myself.
  • Anyone who donates to the serial will get an ebook version for free, and their name–if they choose–in the Acknowledgements.

So, what do you think? Would you read serialized novels? Any tweaks you’d suggest to this system? Comment away!

Mourning Cloak’s here!

Mourning Cloak

Kato Vorsok is a man deserted by his god. A failed hero living in exile, he wants nothing to do with his old life.

Until the night he encounters a wounded mourning cloak—a demon that can walk through walls, dissolve into mist, and spear a man’s heart with a fingernail.

She calls him by name. She knows his past. She needs his help.

And she is his key to redemption.

Mourning Cloak is a science fantasy novella of about 22,000 words.

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

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To celebrate the release, a number of bloggers are going to be talking about Mourning Cloak for the next week!

Today, I’m at Snarky Bird Book Reviews, talking about the cover design process.

The Next Big Thing

Many of you have seen the Next Big Thing meme going around, in which we writers hold forth on our latest books (either works-in-progress or newly-released). Thanks to Jo Anderton, who tagged me, you can find out more about (one of) my newest project(s)!

1. What is the working title of your next book?

The working—and final—title of my novella is Mourning Cloak. 

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was on a family hike over Memorial Day weekend in 2011 when I saw dozens of gorgeous dark butterflies, with blue spots and cream edging along the wings. Being the kind of nerd I am, I pulled out my Audubon field guide to New England and identified the butterflies as mourning cloaks. My muse instantly pounced on the name and insisted that mourning cloaks would make great fantasy characters (and it was right!).

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Since there’s both magic and nanotechnology–but no steam-powered anything–I guess I’ll have to call it science fantasy.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I have no clue. Isn’t that the director’s job, anyway?

Actually, I think this world and story would work better as a video game than a movie. It has strange races like mourning cloaks, eerie men, and wind swifts; battle-suits and mecha; prayer magic and blood-formed wards; passion and faith and betrayal and clashing armies. Definitely video game material.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A failed hero deserted by his God and living in exile encounters a wounded demon who offers him a chance to regain what he lost. 

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published, and coming out in January 2013! (Not 2012, like I’d originally said. Thanks for the catch, Alina!)

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Um, I have no idea. I did it in bits and pieces over the course of a really busy year in which my husband got a new job, we sold our house in Vermont and moved to Virginia. 

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I beta-read Suited by Jo Anderton around the same time I wrote the first draft of Mourning Cloak, so I know similarities abound. (Battle suits, anyone?)

But really, I think this story is more like role playing games of the Final Fantasy bent than any novel I can think of at the top of my head. Amnesiac characters? Check. Strange races? Check. Fantastical magic swords alongside science-fictional bots? Check. Transformation? Check check check!

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

You mean besides the butterflies? *wry smile*

I wanted very much to write a story about faith. My failed hero has lost his. My altered assassin clings to hers. What they have faith in. How the faith helps–or doesn’t help–in the face of adversity.

I also wanted to write about older characters weighed down by their past. As I grow older, I’m less interested in the blank-slate, youthful protagonists and more intrigued by characters who have been worn by life, who have seen darkness both inside and outside their own souls.

 10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

A man transformed from within to become a battle machine. A woman so altered that she can dissolve into mist and drip through the ground. A cold, mountain city of steel and electricity, warding bells and safe roads. A hot land of deserts and plains, of bronze arcana and prayer magic. Nano-tech and string theory in fantasy trappings.

 

I tag Liana Mir, Lisa Ahn, and Miquela Faure. And if anyone else would like to play along, just leave a comment below and I’ll add you to this list!

Wired, out now

A cybernetic Rapunzel in a post-apocalyptic world has plans of her own

Now available at Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

A few things about Wired:

  • It’s a short story, about 4600 words long
  • You can read it for free on this site. Just go to the Works page and look under the Onsite Fiction heading
  • It’s free on Smashwords, but 99 cents on Amazon and B&N. That’s because those sites don’t allow me to set the price at zero. They may price-match, but I have no control over that.

And, last but not least, I hope you enjoy it!