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WRITERS' PAGE

Clare will be delighted to speak to your book club, writers' circle, convention or literary gathering 
on topics such as writing and independent publishing.
At present there is no charge except for any significant expenses incurred.
Contact: silvertrees@eircom.net

Content

Why did I publish Independently?

Publishing on Kindle

Product names in writing

Editing

Exposition

How to market your book

How to get your book reviewed

Questions and Answers


Independently Publishing on Kindle

Why did I publish Independently?

I published independently because Irish publishers were not interested in publishing an unknown author.  I did meet professional and friendly publishers in Wolfhound Press in Dublin some years ago, who sent my Young Adult work out to readers of the appropriate age and returned their comments to me - very helpful. The work was not accepted because the publishers were moving in a different direction.

Then I wrote a mystery series over eighteen months, five books, thoroughly researched, just right for marketing and bookstore promotions. No worries for the publishers about whether a new author would deliver a second book.  I wrote up the cover letter with care and adherence to all best advice, enclosed photocopies of my magazine work, prizes won, presented everything well. Over a period I sent my series to various publishers who invited submissions in fiction and crime, in large padded envelopes with stamped addressed envelopes for return, in pre-broadband days. Each package cost me twenty euros and the only ones that got returned were from two firms which had just closed down. (Sign of the times?)
 
I visited one major firm twice, a few years apart, politely asking for my work to be returned if they didn't want it. I got blank looks and "it must be out with readers, leave your details." But you know, that's my money. I could use the envelopes and contents again.

More recently, e-mailed updated submissions received no better treatment. With a science fiction story ready to send, and nobody in Ireland currently publishing science fiction, my body of work needed a new attitude.

It had become obvious that the only way forward was self publishing; this is how I did it.


Publishing on Kindle


I had been reviewing books for years. I started reviewing books online and was invited to review on Fresh Fiction, a site based in Texas; they send me e-books. I had a short romance written, intended for an e-book, when an SF story took over my life and I spent a year researching, writing and revising it.

First you need to decide which provider to use. I decided on Amazon.

Amazon had to be the way to go for me as in Ireland we do not have Barnes and Noble stores; nobody has a Nook. So if you live in America you should get other opinions on which provider to use.  You may release your book on many sites if you wish, though there may be restrictions on pricing and special offers. By now I had a Kindle and that helped me see how to present my work. 
On the Amazon site, go to the bottom, "Independently publish with us". Try it out.  Doesn't cost anything to look. 

You may need a proof-reader - I don't, though one or two errors will slip by everyone. A friend or book club will help. When you are published on Kindle, you can always take your book down and correct something.  If someone points out an error I thank them and the book is corrected by the next day. Take responsibility for any legal issues such as libel. A disclaimer is not sufficient by itself.

I'd taken photos of the locations in my books and my techie husband made covers with them. You can either go for BIG lettering, or small.  The big ones take up half the cover so are immediately seen by the buyer. The small are placed so as not to obscure an interesting artwork, in most cases.  I went with the smaller titles and nice image, as online the writing is already up in front of the viewer. The cover has to look good as a thumbnail! 

You should browse a few book publisher sites and look at covers. Harlequin are an excellent example as you can see immediately with which line a title belongs, just from the cover - modern western romance, inspirational, suspense, historical. These are called 'cookie cutter covers' in pro terms. I knew from this that I wanted all my books to have covers which would identify them as belonging with my other books.  

A tech savvy person can download free software to make covers. They can learn it in an hour if they have made a website. YouTube is a source of free video instruction in using these programs. The result is whatever you ask them to do. Make sure you do not use a copyright image without permission.

Amazon has two short books on-line free to download.
Building your book for Kindle and Publish on Amazon Kindle.
One book takes you through the formatting needed - use the newest version of Word you can get, use paragraph formatting instead of tabs and hard returns.  An image like a diagram, map or table, which reads fine on your monitor, will not come across perfectly in every mobile device so you should try out the pre-pub viewer on the Kindle pages and see if you need to shrink it. Everything looks perfect on an I-Pad but not on a phone.
The other book takes you through how you get your work up on line.  This includes a guide to the screens you will see, which I had already been through by the time I read the book; they were not hard to understand.

An ISBN can be bought by sending away a mail to the firm which sells them - in UK Neilsen charges 120 pounds for ten.  You don't have to have one for Kindle as Amazon will automatically give the book a catalogue number, called ASIN. But when you have bought and affixed an ISBN you are legally the publisher. If you want your book to appear in other channels than Amazon, the ISBN is required and will follow it everywhere.  This was the only cost I incurred.

You may need to have Firefox on your computer to upload the book. This takes about a minute.  Kindle will check spelling.  The cover is uploaded separately and Kindle will merge them.

You give Amazon bank details for payment and they report to the tax officials. So will you of course.

Next you decide what royalties you want. Seventy percent, how does that sound?  That's what I thought too. In certain countries or to achieve certain deals you can opt for thirty-five percent. If you want to have free days as a publicity stunt you have to opt in to a special programme. Amazon stores in each country  send the money to your bank, after a sixty-day wait.  A few countries require an earning of ten units of their currency before forwarding.  

I uploaded my SF book first, Dining Out Around The Solar System. I clicked the button that says to publish. Then over a few days I got The Mensa Mystery Series on line, followed by a romantic suspense story, Silks And Sins. Inside each book I've listed all my titles and my author's website.  When I got a few reviews, I added a couple of lines to the front of each book.
Books sell books.  Remember that.

I have since made some of my books available as print copies. These are ordered from Amazon and their system CreateSpace prints each book on demand to post to each purchaser.

Have fun! That's why we do it!


Product names in writing


My SF book only uses a couple of brand names. I am not prone to using them generally.   I deliberately use the name 'Duchy Originals lemon shortbread', to demonstrate that the people who have these at home are well-off and respectable English people, and moreover, that organic farm products and the Duchy of Cornwall are still being well-regarded in the future. I make it plain that this is a type of shortbread, for those who are not familiar with the product. At a further point a country estate is shown being managed in an organic manner.

I introduce a family electric car called the 'Amazon Rio', to demonstrate that cars are being manufactured in South America and imported to Europe. At a further point I explain that Bolivia has sixty percent of the world's lithium, which is used to make the light car batteries. These are all used, in one way or another, as part of the plot.


I dislike reading books which are littered with brand names. They often seem to serve no more purpose than a shopping list. Remember that different countries and cultures have different names for things which you think are obvious. For instance.in Ireland we don't have Spackle, Popsicles, Wendys and a multitude of other American product names, while soda is something we Irish add to bread. People can look these up if they wish, but do you really like interrupting your reading time to type product names into a search engine to learn if the hero just ate or drank or chewed gum or wiped his hands? (Example: 'John popped an Advil.') The vast majority of readers will not bother with searching for translations, they will simply put down the book. If we actually think about product names and why we are using them, books should read effortlessly and either current or invented names should help the story, not clutter it.



Editing


Many young writers who want to self-publish have been watching visual media, reading graphic novels and watching internet material of various sorts... so they have a less than ideal grasp of spelling and grammar.
The concepts may be wonderful, the characters realistic, but if the writing doesn't reach a good standard the young author is letting him or her self down. They don't know about getting an editor - they can't afford to pay, their teacher wouldn't like dark fantasy or time travel, and they may not even realise that there is a problem.  More time spent reading quality writing would be the best step they could take in my opinion. 

I can tell you what helped me a lot. This was writing and submitting short stories and articles for a society newsletter which had a tight word count. Maybe one A4 page, maybe half that length. First I would write my story or item. Then I would go over it to eliminate repetition and to see if I could use one good word in place of two or three weak ones.

I started doing things like beginning a story at a point of tension instead of with a descriptive lead-in. Finishing the story when I had made my point. I might eliminate a character or just their lines. Articles had to be the bare facts and no opinion. By the end of this process I could have removed a third of the original length and created a much tighter, better written piece.  

Some persons submitting to the same newsletter would send a rambling few pages' worth of words and the editor had to edit them down for space. As you may imagine some of those writers took umbrage at having their beautiful prose butchered, as they saw it. So an editor might have to send the edited item back to them before printing to check they would not complain. 

A journalism tip is to encapsulate your article in twenty words as the first sentence under the headline. See how often you'll find this done in news items. You do not need to go anywhere to learn about editing, but you do need to know what to learn and you need to practise. If you start with the tips above, you can get a long way.


Exposition


This term is used to describe how the writer explains matters to the reader. In some cases a narrator explains, but it's often better to let the characters talk about or demonstrate matters that the reader needs to understand. However, in real life people do not go around explaining how their job works to people who already know this; which is why many stories introduce a newcomer who has to be shown the ropes.  Science fiction does run into this problem because people in the future or on a spaceship know about their lives but the reader does not.  This can produce famous lines beginning with "As you know, Captain..."

I've just had fun writing a section of my second SF book in which the conversation is barely sufficient to explain events and context - would be sufficient if it was film dialogue - but my protagonist has also thought about some background information.  I figure SF readers are sharp, and may not need the background, but it feels more natural to have someone think the extra few lines than to force my characters to recap what they both already know.


How to market your book


I am an independent publisher so my advice, learned from my experience, is to forget the lure of your book on the shelf in every shop. Now go and write the next book. A series will sell better than standalones. However try to ensure that each book in your series can be read as a standalone by a new reader. Readers don't always pick up the first book first. Each book should carry a backlist and an ad for some of those books, because this is your best chance to reach people who will buy more of your work. When you have a few books out you can drop the price of the first one, to lure readers in to the series, and give readers a free book now and then to start them off on your series. This is something that traditional publishers will not do for you. Some e-books are priced at six dollars on Amazon and compete with thousands of e-books priced at two or three dollars. But if the trad publisher drops the price of the e-book it will wipe out the sales of the paper version of the book, so they don't do that.

Make a website, keep adding to it and updating it. Join Goodreads as a reader first, then an author, and participate there without pushing your book. The same can be said for any other social site you pick. Make bookmarks carrying the cover of your book and a QR code for your website. Hand them to everyone you meet who might read, or their son or daughter might read.

Go to relevant local conventions and make yourself known to the organisers in advance, offer to help them. Don't expect them to be impressed by your work. They won't want you as a guest until you are halfway famous. But they might buy your book, or feature it in a fanzine, and they'll let you leave bookmarks around the hall.

If you, like an author I know, have written a book about living as a farmer's wife and can gather instant fans by blogging on the topic weekly, do blog. Otherwise blog no more than once a month unless you have huge bestseller news, because nobody is that interested in you so you are wasting writing time.

Keep editing: six months after I'd published my second SF book which I'd thoroughly proofed, I read it through and found a couple more spelling mistakes. You need to leave it that long if you are doing it yourself. The reason is that this gives your brain time to forget what it thinks is on the page. As a reviewer I'm used to finding errors in early editions, but if there are about thirty spelling errors plus pet hates like incorrect use of discreet vs. discrete, you should sort it out faster, by giving the book to a friend to swap services perhaps. One author added a note at the back of his book asking anyone finding errors of spelling or fact to contact his e-dress. A trad publisher is not going to take down your book from sale and correct errors. They generally get the proofreading done online in India or the Philippines, because it's cheaper. If you want any corrections made after that process, you will usually have to pay the publisher (maybe above ten corrections). Spend far less time on your marketing and social media than you do on writing your next book. That is my best tip.

How to get your book reviewed


I accept books for review which interest me. If you write about zombies, serial killers and flesh-eating bugs, or golf, I won't accept. This is the main distinction I make - not whether a book has been self-published or trad published. I review at present about 50% of each kind of publishing.

I'm actually more inclined to be critical if a book is trad published, because the support systems involved should do fact checking and proofreading for the author. Like a Regency novel which said that the English gentry ate ham and eggs for breakfast. I pointed out that no, they had a more complex system of breakfasting.

I'm an Amazon UK Top 500 reviewer and about 1,200 on Amazon.com - these ratings are decided by the reading public, not by publishers. They find a review helpful or not. However, I'm not that worried about ratings. I have to be unbiased in my review, and if I do not like a book I will explain why and say the kind of person it might suit.

I make not a penny from writing reviews. I'm in fact losing money because this is time I could be using to write my own material. I do this because I love reading, and to help other writers and readers.

I suggest you look at reviews on Amazon or Goodreads of books similar to the kind of material you are writing. Then click on that reviewer's details. Some will have a contact e-dress on the profile page or you can send a Goodreads in-mail - if so, you could ask politely if they would have time to review your book. Publicists do this, so why can't you? I know it can be hard to be brave enough when it is your own work, but all they can say is no. Be careful that your mail doesn't come across as spam. If you're lucky they'll accept. You'll be in a queue, get used to it and do not keep asking when the review will appear.

Try sending your book (paper or e-book) to sites which actually want to help authors, like Fresh Fiction.com where I send reviews. FF does not charge for placing your book on the site and does not charge for a review if a reviewer decides to accept the book. Self-pub is more than welcome. As an option you can take out an ad.

If you are willing to pay, and you are certain your book is top-notch in grammar, proofreading and so on, you could use Net Galley which has a mostly American base. This is best value if you have a series coming out as one review will get people interested in the other books. Librarians, class teachers, bloggers and industry people all use NG to find books, which they then have to review. If your grammar is poor, they will mention the fact.

Have a good time and great luck!


Questions and Answers


How do you deal with writer’s block?

I write a book review to get me started.
Summing up a book, adding my thoughts on it and editing for snappy presentation are all good exercises.
Then my mind is already set in writing mode and the words flow easily.


Calling a book a romance or not?

I review a lot of romance and these categories are currently understood by readers.
Romance by itself sounds very old-fashioned.
Erotic romance is the Fifty Shades, readers understand there will be a great deal of sex. Clean / sweet romance has a massive market and the emphasis is on relationship, context, challenges, personal growth. No sex. It may happen once but the bedroom door shuts. Usually not.
Contemporary romance - expect some sex.
Inspirational romance will be clean romance with a Christian theme.
Amish inspirational romance. As described, and a huge subset market.
Historical romance. Can be hot, clean, erotic, inspirational, western, etc.
Paranormal romance - usually some sex.
Science fiction romance - may contain sex or not. SF readers aren't in it for sex. But they'll be interested.
Romantic suspense - add a category above to this adventure.


Should I enter writing contests?

These days great writing contests are available for young people, unlike while I was at school. I would definitely advise a young person to enter all the story, essay and poetry contests they can enter for free. As well as learning about the form required, they will learn about the subject and research, even if just correct spelling. They might win some prize, large or small. A writing prize is a source of pride for the student's family and school. A local newspaper might be interested and the achievement could be put on the student's CV. I met a young lady who won herself a scholarship to an elite boarding school in America.
For three years I have been a judge on New Voices Young Writers; I have enjoyed this tremendously and read some marvellous pieces. This is a global youth contest with distinct age bands.
http://newvoicesyoungwriters.com
For adults, I would suggest entering free writing contests. If you haven't done this, you will learn. You may be spurred to create a new piece or to dust off and improve an old idea. The topic won't always be ideal for you, but that is good practice. Stories might be saleable to magazines or sites later. If you have sent off a book to a publisher or agent, enter story contests to give yourself something to do while waiting. Don't spend too much time on this process if you really want to write books. Pick your contests.
Beware of paying to enter contests. Try one or two paying ones, if the fee is small. A local contest will give you better odds. I saw on a contest held in Ireland that two of the top ten shortlisted entries were from Ireland; the other eight were from America.
Many contests specifically exclude independent publishers. The Sunday Times short story contest, for example, is a great contest only if you are trad published. Restricted to those who have had a book published by a major publisher, which is available in shops in print form (last time I looked). Publishing yourself does not count; e-books do not count. Try to get a story into a print anthology.
You do need to write to suit the judges. Look at what they have written. Read some material in a library or bookshop if you are unfamiliar with them.
Bear in mind that any contest will attract a certain amount of dross entries among the, we hope larger amount, of gold. The first thing you must do is make sure you are not eliminated for something silly, because judges can be swamped and looking to weed out the dross fast. Follow the rules exactly.
In a major contest, quite likely the judges are only going to read a selection, the longer long list. An admin person will do the weeding so as not to waste their time on entries that do not qualify. Handwritten or with the writer's name on if that is forbidden, excessive word count, received late etc. You want to make the longer long list. The judges will then read and form a longlist. Special academic software and Google will inform the judge if an item has already been published, which may be part of the regulations.
Sadly most of the book contests are limited to those published by major publishers. Those which are open to independent publishers as well, especially if decided by popular vote, usually don't benefit the indie writer because it's hard to get well known or get a book sold to enough voters in the same year as it is published.
Beware of contests run on a social site page and decided by votes from readers. These may be excellent or may come down to who can summon the most Facebook followers. Look at past years and use your own judgement.
Do not expect a contest win to influence a publisher, unless it is a Golden Dagger for your crime novel. In general, to get an award that publishers respect, your book must have already been published traditionally. You might get lucky if the publisher is sponsoring the contest. Otherwise, chances are they do not even read your submission if you are new, so they never know or care that you won a short story award. Write for yourself. Enjoy the contest. Getting on a longlist is fun, and on a shortlist even better. You may end up with a nice quote from a well-known author about your work, and who could ask for more?