Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What I Learned from Self Publishing: My Love/Hate Relationship with Amazon

Amazon is certainly not the only player in the self-publishing game, but it is dominant, and it does offer a print option, which is rare. Smashwords is a great way to get into ebook publishing on every platform except Kindle, but they don't deal with print. Barnes and Noble recently announced they would also offer print on demand via Nook Press. It will be interesting to see if that goes anywhere. Unlike CreateSpace, B&N offers a hardcover option as well as paperback.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is pretty easy to use, and I have put out eight books with it. CreateSpace is the name of their print self-publishing platform, and I have used it only once for my latest book Saronna's Gift. CreateSpace is possible because of print on demand (POD) technology; the book is uploaded to a database, and when someone shopping on Amazon orders a copy, that copy is printed individually and mailed to the customer. Authors can also order multiple copies directly from CreateSpace to sell themselves, or to give to reviewers.

The two platforms have separate set-up requirements, although you can publish a CreateSpace book to Kindle, with no additional set-up, if you're willing to convert the PDF. I don't recommend that, by the way. PDFs are difficult to convert reliably. For one thing, you can end up with excess hyphenation. Also, using the print PDF doesn't allow for a a difference in the elements in the ebook. Because ebooks can't be flipped through in the same way print books are, it's important to offer a clickable table of contents as a navigation aid, whereas in print, it's not that big a deal for novels—especially if the chapters only have numbers and not titles. Also, because of the free sample feature, you might want acknowledgements, blurbs, and lists of your other books in the back of the ebook, instead of in the front.

My Amazon wish list:

  • Add a way to connect KDP and CreateSpace so that the author can specify that the two books are the same thing. This would not have to be automated. It could just notify Amazon to do whatever linking up they do, but at least it would save having to send an email, and hopefully it could happen faster than it does now. Alternatively, the CreateSpace set-up could let you load the digital file that KDP currently uses, instead of using the PDF.
  • Stop requiring ebook exclusivity for almost every marketing benefit (making a Kindle book free or on sale, participating in Kindle Unlimited, etc.)
  • Add a button to the CreateSpace set-up pages to include the “Look Inside the Book” feature; Amazon already gets the PDF, so this should be easy to do
  • Change the set-up protocol for CreateSpace so that you can switch between glossy and matte covers without having to upload the PDF again. 
  • Add X-Ray to KDP. I know from having had it happen to The Sixth Discipline that Amazon can create the file needed for the X-Ray feature to work by using the Book Extras information (lists of characters names and descriptions, places, etc). Currently, this info is entered via Shelfari (accessible from each author's Author Central pages). It would be nice if the author could create the X-Ray file info this way and click a button to submit it. The X-Ray feature is something only Kindle has, so it would make sense to do this.

What I liked about Amazon:

Conversion: In the past, when I had a day job, and time was more of an issue than money, I relied on paying a conversion house to create the ebook digital file, and didn't bother with print at all. Now that the time/money equation is reversed, I decided to try print, and to experiment with creating my own ebook file. I tried using Scrivener and Calibre to convert the MS Word file, and was not happy with either result. Scrivner offers the advantage of being able to keep the book elements (title page, contents, dedication, chapters, etc) as separate things and assemble them different ways, but I didn't like the look of the resulting ebook file. Calibre creates valid files, but it doesn't translate any of the print style features. Imagine my suprise when I tried loading the MS Word file directly to KDP, and found that their conversion had radically improved! 

Kindle Bookmatch: Finally, a feature that doesn't require Kindle exclusivity! If you publish your print book via CreateSpace and have the same book in the Kindle store, you can opt to have the Kindle version be free or very, very cheap to anyone who buys a print copy.  As soon as they order the print, they get a button to download the ebook.

No DRM: Some people seem to think that all Kindle books have DRM because Amazon requires it, but in fact, they don't all have DRM. It's a publisher's option, not a requirement. All KDP authors have the option to leave the DRM off. 

So you see, I love that Amazon makes it possible to publish my books, and to reach readers, I just don't like everything about Amazon. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Just released!

Now for sale at Amazon, Saronna's Gift, is available in both papaperback and ebook formats. If you buy the paperback, the Kindle Matchbook feature will let you "buy" the ebook for free! The ebook is also available to borrow for free from both Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. KU is a subscription service Amazon offers. The KOLLis a benefit for people who have Amazon Prime and also own an actual Kindle or Kindle Fire device.

This has been a long time coming, and I have learned a lot from the process. In a few days I will post about the it. Meanwhile, here's the opening of the new book:

A warm summer breeze caught Saronna’s veil and almost pulled it loose. She stopped to tuck the folds around her face, to ensure nothing showed except her eyes. By the time she had picked up her valise, her father had almost disappeared into the crowd. She hurried to catch up, darting in and out among the throng as fast as she could without attracting notice.
Where were they going? Her father had told her to pack her belongings. That had to mean he planned another attempt to sell her, but he had given her no clue whom he planned to visit today. 
Even after their earlier trips to New Jerusalem, the city still disconcerted Saronna. Vendors’ cries, chattering voices, ground cars rolling past, and countless footfalls were enough to distract her, let alone the sight of so many strangers. Faces flashed past, some veiled, some bearded, and disappeared into the mass of humanity, never to be seen again.
She caught up to her father just as he turned suddenly, moving through the tall steel supports of the Strangers’ Gate, into the off-world quarter. Saronna had never been there. She gripped her valise tighter as a shiver of apprehension ran through her. Would her talent work as well on an off-world man?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Almost there!

I finally finished the corrections on the proof copy of Saronna's Gift, and uploaded new files to both CreateSpace and KDP. I decided to get the next proof copy with a glossy cover, though, because I am not entirely happy with the look of the matte version.

I am getting excited!  Here's the blurb and front cover:

Saronna Maynard never expected to be sold into an off-world household. She and Duncan Trushenko, her new protector, have very little in common, except for living in the same house. Saronna grew up in a small village outside of New Jerusalem, the largest city on Krueger’s World. Duncan grew up on many worlds, and has traveled the galaxy. He is dumbstruck to return from a business trip and find that his father has purchased a companion for him.

Saronna is terrified by the strangeness of the house and her sense of powerlessness, but in a very short time she realizes she might be better off—and safer—in Duncan’s house than in her father’s. For one thing, Duncan doesn’t believe in witches. Also, the more she’s with Duncan, the harder it is for her to believe all men are as evil as her mother taught her. But safer or not, Saronna is still intent on keeping her secrets. After all, she’s still on Krueger’s World. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy New Year! Looking forward to 2015

End of year sale on MS Word templates

If you are interested in self publishing in print, you really should check out the sale at BookDesignTemplates.com. When you buy a Word template from them, you not only get the templates, with all the necessary styles and fonts needed, you get really good written instructions on how to use the template to create a PDF that can be used for a print book. The only thing I don't think was included in the directions was a reminder to change the hyphenation settings, if needed. The first time I generated a PDF, the hypenation was funky (e.g., fa-ther). MS Word lets you set a length for minimal hyphenation, and also control how many consectuive lives can end in hyphenation. Changing that setting really made my book look better. 

The templates are incredibly useful for printed book, because the styles handle things like making the page layout different on the first page of a new chapter. Unless you're a real expert in Word, it's a total lifesaver.

The sales ends 12/31/2014, so check it out NOW!

Saronna's Gift has been proofed!

I have the report back from the proofer and will be ordering a new proof copy soon. I think I will try the glossy cover this time, to see which one I like better. 

I have discovered I am terrible at proofing, so it was a good thing I had help. Also, if you're interested in procnostication, this site has some predictions for self publishing in 2015. We'll see in a year how they did. 

Happy New Year, everyone! 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Proof copies are here!

I got my proof copies of Saronna's Gift today! I don't care what publishers say, publishing in print is much, much more work than publishing ebooks. And since you can't tell a reader to re-download a print book, proofing for errors is much more wearing.

Here's how it looks so far.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Weddings versus marriages

I make stuff up a lot. My stories are generally set in a possible future or in a nonexistent time and place. And one of the things I consider in making up a culture is, how people pair off. I am off the opinion that marriage might change over time but will probably not go away completely. The urge to formalize a union is ingrained in our culture. That's one reason why gay people fought so hard for the right to marry. My daughter likes to watch wedding shows on so-called reality TV, and it amazes me to see the money and time people spend on getting married.

Weddings are big business right now. Some people make a enormous production out of getting married. They spend thousands of dollars on the clothes, the food and drink, and sometimes the venue. Destination weddings, which take place at faraway location not lived in by either the bride or groom's family, are an actual thing.

For our family, this was the year of the three weddings. My husband and I between us have a total of 12 nieces and nephews. Four of them were already married, but three more got married just this year. We went to all three weddings, and I noticed something.

All this year's weddings have some things in common:

  • All three were outdoors. One was on the beach, one was on a rooftop terrace, and one was in a backyard.
  • All three brides wore white dresses.
  • All three ceremonies were performed by a friend or relative, rather than a minister or government official.
  • None of the ceremonies were at all religious. 
  • All three couples took a chance on the weather, and all three were in luck.

On the other hand, the three weddings were all a bit different in that they varied as to size, expense, and overall tone. The backyard wedding, catered by Chipotle, was the smallest. The beach wedding was the largest, and it was catered by an excellent restaurant.

I don't know how much longer people will go on spending the equivalent of a down payment on a house on a one-day event, but even if weddings get less expensive, I think they'll continue. Your family doesn't fly in from the coast when you move in with someone, but they do for your wedding because a wedding is a statement of intent, and a time to celebrate. The format, venues, and budget might change, but I think weddings will be around for a long time.

The photo above is of a wedding from a few years ago, when my nephew married a lovely young woman from Cuernavaca (it's not a destination wedding if your family lives there). That wedding was a blast! I will say that in Mexico, they know how to celebrate a marriage.

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's Capclave weekend!

DC-area folks, Capclave 2014 starts today at the Gaithersburg Hilton! The program is online, if you want to check it out.  This year they even have a special version for phones and other mobile devices.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How I spent my summer vaction

It wasn't actually summer, since we went in mid-September, but my husband and I just came back from a fabulous two-week trip to England, Wales, and Scotland. We spent about half the time in London and the rest on a coach tour (that sounds so much classier than a bus tour, doesn't it?). The tour took us to Hampton Court, Stonehenge, Bath, Stow-on-the-Wold, Stratford-On-Avon, Chester, the Lake District, Wales (just barely), Scotland (Gretna, Edinburgh, and Sir Walter Scott's home Abbotsford), York, and Cambridge.

We had a blast! I just hope we didn't do too much damage.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Another free ebook!

Updated to show this is now free on Amazon, too! 

It's actually not that easy to give away an ebook, at least not via a vendor site.  Amazon's KDP platform will only let an author make a book free a very limited number of days, and the ebook has to be exclusive to the Kindle store.  None of my books are exclusive to Amazon at the moment. I only do that for the first 90 days when I launch a new book.

However, Smashwords is another story. Smashwords sets no limits on making books free, and when it's free on Smashwords, most of the retailers they distribute to follow suit, eventually. Sometimes it takes them a while, though. But in the meantime, you can get the free ebook from Smashwords in any format, including Kindle and ePub, and always DRM-free. See this post if you want info on putting Smashwords books on a Kindle.

So, I wanted to make another book free. I happen to have one novella for sale, Where Magic Rules, my only fantasy. It has magic and a dragon! I decided to make it free wherever possible as a sort of "summer sale." I changed the price to be free on Smashwords, and the next day it was also free in iBooks!  It took a little longer, but eventually Nook (B&N) and then the Kindle stores followed suit. No luck in the Kobo store yet, but I am watching for the change.  The info on this ebook, my only fantasy, as of now, is listed below. I plan to keep it free for a while, a few weeks or even months.

Where Magic Rules
Joseph Andrews wandered away from an Army Reserve training exercise and into an alternate world where magic rules science and mages rule the land. He has learned the language and taken service with the kindest mage he can find, but he still dreams of the real world.    

When Joe rescues a wounded soldier in service to a dark lord, he finds he has saved not a young boy but a woman who calls herself Phillip and insists she's really a man. Joe is shocked when the Great Mage orders him to go on a quest with Phillip, but his surprise is mild compared to Phillip's outrage. 

Part road movie, part romantic comedy, this novella follows Joe and Phillip as they try to fulfill the Great Mage's demand without killing each other along the way.  

From the Amazon reviews:

“Whatever you have been expecting of a dragon, except for being large, winged, and reptilian, it probably isn't like this dragon. He's one of the most charming characters in the story. I won't reveal any more of the plot, except to say that I enjoyed the book and its twists. While its not a humorous tale, there is quite a bit of humor in it, which was one of the main charms of the story.”

“I've downloaded so many books lately that start off well, but disintegrate a little ways in - it's a real joy to discover a new author who holds her ground throughout.” (review by Janis Ian)

Currently this novella is free in the US Kindle storeand on SmashwordsiBooks, and the Nook store (Barnes & Noble).Hopefully it will be free in the Kobo store soon.  If you want it for your Kindle and you're not in the US, you can get it free from Smashwords and side-load it to the Kindle, or you can try clicking the "tell us about a cheaper price" link on the books Kindle page in your store, and then paste in the link to the Nook store.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Good news (I hope!) for Jane Austen fans and P.D. James fans

Some time ago I wrote a review of Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James. The novel is both a sequel to Pride and Prejudice and a murder mystery. PBS plans to air a dramatization of the book as a Masterpiece Theater miniseries that starts this coming October.

I really, really hope they didn't muck it up! It looks okay from the preview, but you never know.