Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The True Cost of Indie Publishing

Last year after parting ways with a literary agent I greatly admired, I began looking into Indie Publishing. My critique partners egged me on—they knew about the interest at Random House and New American Library my books had garnered, and how the Wall Street meltdown had put publication of many debut novels on hold.

So I took the plunge after reading posts on a zillion Indie author blogs.

If you’ve just completed your first novel and are new to the world of authors, here’s the good news: there are precious few cutthroat novelists in this tribe. Most writers arrive in the world with a chewy, nougat center. They’ll offer advice and tips. If you join groups on Facebook and GoodReads, if you tweet and connect, you’ll receive a wealth of useful information. You’ll also make friendships worth cherishing. In that vein, I’ve decided it’s time to write this post.

I released the e-book of my first novel Treasure Me, in April, 2011. The paperback arrived in November. In several weeks I’ll release both versions of The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge then follow up soon after with my third novel, Second Chance Grill. Needless to say, I’ve learned a great deal about Indie Publishing.

A side note: this isn’t my first foray into self-employment. In earlier incarnations I owned a public relations firm and helped build several companies. If publishing your debut novel represents your first attempt at financial independence, plan to work harder than you ever dreamed and enjoy your successes like never before.

Without further ado, the numbers:

Cover art: Yes, every cliché you’ve heard is true—people will judge your book by its cover. Unless you’re preternaturally gifted in both graphic arts and storytelling, plan to spend $300 to $800 on cover art. You can easily spend more. Select a graphic artist after previewing the gallery of completed jobs on her website. You’ll save money if you choose a designer whose finished works mirror what you have in mind for your page-turner.

E-book Conversion: Anywhere from $100 - $350 depending on the number of versions you request. Bear in mind that if you seek review on book blogs, one blogger might request epub for Nook while another wants Kindle formatting.

Paperback publication: My advice here is based on all those years building companies and freelance writing—I never seriously considered using anyone but Amazon’s subsidiary, CreateSpace. Why? I worried that Amazon’s mysterious sort protocol favored CreateSpace books over the competition, lifting those paperbacks to the top of the heap for easier reader preview.

No, I can’t prove this actually happens. But if I were lucky enough to stroll Amazon’s corporate offices in Jeff Bezos’s shoes, I’d certainly be tempted to favor my subsidiary’s paperback releases. In addition, I knew the quality of CreateSpace books was high—I didn’t want to release a paperback that “looked Indie.” If you decide to use CreateSpace, plan to spend approximately $400.

Publicity: Sure, you can handle this on your own. Consider: if you’re a one-book wonder, you’ll never build a backlist. If you don’t build a backlist, you’ll never earn a living in this field. No, I’m not saying your novels are a sure gateway to financial independence. But it is possible—if you continue to produce stellar fiction that draws an ever-expanding readership.

You’ll easily spend as much time promoting your books as writing them. If you plan to hire PR help, plan to spend $20 - $40 an hour for a qualified professional.

Website: This isn’t a “must-have.” Many successful writers work from a blog to build a following and sell books. My website won’t go live for a few more weeks—it was continually lost in the shuffle as I completed Tree. If you do make the leap, plan to spend $800 to $4,000 for website design.

If some or all of these numbers discourage you—chin up. Consider publishing in phases, with an e-book first. Build a social media presence long before your release date. Do whatever you can to minimize costs as you proceed.

If you have questions regarding this post but don’t wish to comment publicly on my blog, send your questions to I’ll help in any way I can. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Honoring Silence

Whenever I’m invited on a blog for an Author Q & A, one question invariably pops up: where do the ideas for my novels come from?

Birdie Kaminsky, the beautiful thief in Treasure Me, arose from my subconscious on a spring morning as I prepared to work on another novel. My four children were still tucked in their beds in the morning’s sweet silence. As dawn filtered a pinkish glow across the forest surrounding our house, I suddenly visualized an amusing sequence with a young woman dangling from a window trying to escape the man whose pocket she’d picked.

Second Chance Grill? I was in Child’s Pose in yoga class when a mischievous preteen, Blossom Perini, drifted into my thoughts with her tumble of corkscrew curls and fierce desire to survive. It didn’t take long to realize I’d conjured her from the despair buried in a forgotten childhood and the memory of losing my cousin, age four, to leukemia.

The plot for The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge arrived on a more circuitous route. After adopting my four children from a shelter in the Philippines, I spent the first year of motherhood teaching them to speak English. Not that my oldest daughter, Christian, and my son, Jameson, needed an entire year of tutoring before displaying a desperate need to share their most frightening memories. Instinctively I’d hand them dolls, which they’d used to play-act the abuse they’d endured. Listening to children recall beatings and starvation would test the soul of any caring adult. But I’d come to think of Christian and Jameson as mine. Listening to their stories filled me with impotent rage as if I should’ve been able to do something even though the abuse occurred long before I met them.

I carried those stories with me on quiet drives or while walking in the woods—the only times when I was alone and felt it was safe to cry. The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge took shape during those moments of isolation.

I’ve written other novels during the last thirty years, amateurish scribblings tossed out soon after the pages whirled from my printer. The characters and general plot of every one of those books tiptoed in through the quiet.

We’ve all heard about the health risks of noise. Most of my friends, by the time they reach middle age, complain of sleepless nights. And while you may know that noise pollution puts you at risk for coronary heart disease, here’s another reason to safeguard whatever silence you can build into your life: it will enrich the books you choose to write.

Unplug, disengage and ignore the ringing phone. Create tranquil moments. Give yourself a few minutes every day. That precious grey matter between your ears can’t supply you with the next character, or the next plot, without the fertile soil of silence.  

Monday, January 9, 2012

Writer's Block? Maybe Not

At the park with Barry

Since New Year’s opening bell, Facebook and Twitter have been abuzz with complaints of writer’s block, general ennui and a need on the part of many writers to lose weight—a lot of weight.

On his blog last week, Joe Konrath announced he’d put himself on a thirty day, beer-only diet to shed pounds. Earlier, I ran across an article on Amanda Hocking’s amazing rise in the publishing world. The story warmed my heart. But the photos of this attractive young woman—a dedicated novelist who was quite overweight—sent up the red flags on my maternal instinct.

What’s going on?

No doubt you want the short version. Here it is: the boom in Independent Publishing now allows writers across genres to make a living publishing and promoting their books. Dedicated scribes spend upwards to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, in front of the computer. No wonder complaints of writer’s block abound.

If you’re one of those folks strapped to your computer at all hours, consider the long haul. Frankly, you can’t build and nurture a fan base if you’re dead.

I’ve been writing professionally for thirty years. In between deadlines I raised four children, helped build several companies and managed a 12-acre farm. I began writing fiction full-time in 2004—the same year divorce dropped the bottom out of my world. Through it all, I’ve remained healthy. You can, too.

Here are a few tips to increase your productivity and safeguard your health:

Ignore the deadlines, self-imposed and otherwise, and get a minimum of thirty minutes exercise every day. Join the gym and become friends with the treadmill. Or take your neglected dog for a walk in the afternoon sunshine. Dance in your living room. Do whatever it takes to get in those minutes.

Upset tummy from too much stress? Drink ginger tea while you write. Trouble sleeping? Try an herbal sleep supplement that includes Chamomile. Unable to focus? Sit on the floor for several minutes and stretch. And for heaven’s sake, breathe deeply. If you’ve never learned Yoga 101, now is the time to get your Zen on.

Combine common sense with social media. Structure your workday to allow set times to check in with your fans and chat with your writing brethren on Facebook, Twitter and other sites.

Eat well—and, as much as possible, avoid eating while you work. Mix walnuts, cashews and raisins for a healthy afternoon snack. Ensure you have vegetables in at least two meals each day. If you find yourself craving sugar, you’re actually craving exercise. An overworked brain and under-worked body are a sure ticket to packing on pounds.

Your body is as sacred as your WIP or the novel you’ve just released. Treat yourself well and you’ll continue to pen compelling works for many years to come.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Welcome 2012

Happy New Year!

Great reviews for Treasure Me continue to arrive, along with mail from readers. To everyone who has read the first book in the Liberty series--thank you. Your sweet notes and posted reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and other sites mean the world to me.

The next book in the Liberty, Ohio series, Second Chance Grill, will arrive in late February. The "bad blood" between Liberty's feisty matriarch, Theodora and fluttery Ethel Lynn, will be explained in more detail. Let the fur and feathers fly.

For now, I'm busy completing the edits for a darker, stand-alone novel, The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge. Well, completing the edits and writing the Book-Group Discussion Questions. And tweaking the final cover art / cover copy with the marvelous Jan Marshall, designer of both book covers. And checking my edits because I'm a perfectionist and secretly worry that no book is ever truly finished.

Of course, this means I read most fiction with red pen at the ready.

The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge will reach the shelves in late January. Please let me know what you think of the cover design. Jan worked tirelessly for months creating a slew of alternatives.

On a private note, five of our six kids flew in for the holidays then flew back out to their respective universities. Note to self: clean the house. Well, clean the house after you finish the Tree edits.

Here's wishing all of you a joyous New Year Year filled with light, laughter and love.