Tag Archives: independent author

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Publishing an Audiobook pt 2

This post is about the review processes and the work required to get it to the ‘finished’ stage.  Read the previous post here for information about getting the process started.

Any self-published author can tell you: self-publishing is hard.  It’s not just getting the novel ready, it is also doing the edits, getting the cover set, and even typesetting.  Then there’s the requirements for epubs, which makes it a severe pain for any images you have (such as maps or diagrams), inserting bookmarks and smartlinks… it is an additional quantity of time which most traditional authors don’t need to worry about.

Self publishing an audiobook is like that, only worse in a way.  First off, you have to do all the same stuff as above.  You need a cover, you need to prepare, edit and arrange the text.  After you select a narrator, you then have to discuss pronounciations, listen to the first fifteen minutes, and then, after they finish, you have to review the entire thing.  This is not as much fun as you might first imagine.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a sense of wonder when you hear the voices of your characters take life.  I can only imagine the feeling of excitement to have a book made into a movie (done well, at least).  Still, when you have to listen to twelve hours or so of narration, focused to hear errors, mistakes, and areas to make corrections… it’s work.  That’s twelve hours where I can’t write.  I have to be focused enough to listen for any issues.  I personally suck at multitasking, so during that time, I really can’t do much else besides listen.

Twelve hours doesn’t seem like much, until you factor in working a full time job.  I barely have time to write… finding time to review an audiobook is tough.  Then on top of that, I’ve got to find time to review the second version.  That said, the audiobook still won’t be perfect.  I’ll almost certainly miss a few things, in twelve hours of audio.  Also, some of the limitations are just that my novel has a huge cast of characters, set in a far future with aliens, people raised speaking strange dialects, and lots of odd names.  It won’t be perfect, not to what I pictured it, anyway.  But it will, hopefully, be good enough.

My whining about the hard work aside, producing an audiobook is a serious investment of time and money.  You can save money by narrating it yourself, but then you simply increase the time investment. My advice, be sure you have a market before you invest all this into it.  As far as hard data on earnings, I’ll give my analysis of that when I get enough data on that.  Of course, I have to finish the second review and have it go live first.

Independent Author Toolbag: Publishing an Audiobook Pt 1

This is mostly aimed at other authors, but for those who are interested in what goes into it, perhaps this will be entertaining.  This first part is about the process I went through to market my books, The Fallen Race and Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption to a producer all the way through to the selection of a narrator/producer I wanted.

It all started, for me, when I got an email from amazon about ACX.  The email informed me that it made it fast and easy for authors and publishers to find narrators and producers for their books.  It seemed relatively straightforward, so I dove in. One thing ACX does well is that it sets everything up in a simple order to follow. I claimed two of my books, but the next part stumped me… I had to post what pay bracket I wanted to pay in.  Part of my confusion, at the time, was that I didn’t realize that it is pay per finished hour.  Luckily, after reading through the help section, I figured that out.  Still, what’s a ‘fair’ price for this?  I’m doing SF, so there’s lots of weird names.  Also accents and strange dialog.  So I finally just selected one of the brackets in the middle $50-100.  ACX calculates the rough novel length for your stuff, so that put the production cost at between 600 and 1200 dollars for the work.  Still, it seemed a good price to pay if I could get someone good to narrate.  Out of curiosity, I looked at audiobook pricing.  I was somewhat annoyed to learn that ACX establishes a price that they think is fair.  Thus, I’d have no control over the sale price.  The last part of the process is where you upload a sample section for a narrator to read, it suggests the first few pages, and I went with that. That was my first mistake.

I got my first reading the next day.  The narrator read it well, though not quite what I was looking for.  That’s where I made my first mistake.  I figured that since this guy was pretty good, I should go with him first.  I made an offer right away, and got a response right away, they wanted more money, or a share of the royalties.  I balked at the latter.  Then came several other readings from other narrators.  The thing is, I couldn’t give them offers because I had the outstanding one.  Until it was rejected, accepted, or expired, I couldn’t make an offer to one of the others.  In the meantime, the first narrator was willing to work down their price somewhat, but I just didn’t know if they’d work for the project as well as some of the others.  I talked with them, and suggested they read for my other project.  This is where my first mistake came in, the narrator read that part well, but the first pages didn’t have much dialog with other characters.  I picked that narrator for that project, then selected a different one for the first project.

If that sounds confusing… well, it was for me as well.  I had around a half dozen narrators read for the part.  Apparently I picked a good bracket.  Still, most weren’t near what I wanted.  The lession I learned there was that I should have waited a few days, listened to the various ones, and then selected after some time to think.  I should have also have either written a section of text that includes a variety of characters in discussion or selected that from the novels.  That part came back to bite me later.

The next part, after selecting a narrator, is the first 15 minutes is generated.  This is to make sure the narrator/producer and the author are all seeing the same vision for the project.  Project one, The Fallen Race, was going well.  Project two, Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption went well… right up until the author tried to do Anubus’s voice.  It wasn’t what I wanted, but there were options for that.  In this step, the author can ask for corrections, sometimes multiple times.  If it works out, then everything proceeds to production.  This one didn’t work out.  I tried to discribe what I wanted, but it didn’t work out.  It was mostly my fault, I’d admit, I should have had dialogue from other characters in the sample, but I hadn’t.  The narrator tried, I tried to adjust my expectations, but it just didn’t work.  Thankfully, since it’s a relatively small amount of time spent between one another, both parties can cancel the contract at this point.  I did that, and I’m started over in the process to get Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption as an audiobook.  The Fallen Race has continued to production, and my goal is to get that one out near the end of March.

So, this is what I’ve learned thus far: think carefully, very carefully, before you make an offer.  Do some research on pricing and don’t be afraid to haggle a bit.  Overall, I’m happy with how things went, preproduction.  I do caution other authors to read the contract terms carefully and to only enter into it with the best of intentions and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish.

Part 2 here, part 3 here.

Taxes for Writers, Part 1

In writing, as in many things, there is no getting away from the absolutes: Death and Taxes. The good news, such as it is, is that writing can have a number of perks, chief among them is making you a bit of money.  The bad news, of course, is that you’ll have to pay taxes on that money.

Even if you’re not earning money on writing just yet, your writing can save you a bit come tax season.  Writing, so long as you are making a sincere effort at publishing or getting published, is a business.  As a business, you can take deductions from expenses common both to general writing and genre fiction.  Those deductions can really start to add up and can be a real benefit when you go to file your taxes, hoping to get a little bit more money back.

If, like me, you’ve earned money writing, those deductions can help you to keep a little bit more.  As a business, you need to keep track of receipts, invoices, and other expenses.  That part can be the most frustrating, particularly when you return from a convention tired, travel-lagged, and of course with a case of the con crud.  Still attention to detail here can save you a lot of money when it is time to file those taxes.

The big thing is to know is what you can and can’t deduct.  Remember, this is the fun part because deductions are expenses that drop your earnings so you pay fewer taxes.  There are a lot of viable areas for business expenses that you can deduct.  Attending conventions, both writing and genre is a networking and educational event.  The convention fees, hotel room charges, and even your meals are tax deductible.  If you’re attending conventions, you also probably have business cards or some other means of marketing, these too are tax deductible.

There’s more than that, though,  Your travel to and from the convention is deductible, both in whatever mileage you drive (keep a record of miles you drive in your car for such events), as well as airline, train, or bus tickets.  That new computer you had to buy, that’s deductible, though you may have to depreciate it because it’s something that should last more than a year.  If you’ve bought Microsoft Office, that’s a tax deduction too, as you need it to do your writing.  Most meals for business are only 50% deductible, however, that’s still 50% that comes out of your taxable income.

If you’re meeting with an editor or artist over lunch to do your cover design or illustrations, not only is the travel to the location a deduction, so is the meal.  So, in fact, is the expense of the editing and the artwork for the cover.  Any kind of entertainment meals are 100% deductible, so keep a log of what is just a business dinner and what is entertainment.  Any time you conduct business during the meal or the discussion is going to take place immediately before or after, you can consider it an ‘entertainment’ expense and you get the 100% deduction.

There’s also deductions you can take towards research that you do as a writer.  If crucial scenes in your book are set in a specific location, travel to that location as well as any expenses towards researching it are deductible, within reason, of course.

All these deductions can add up and that’s important because, as we’ll see later, as an author, you are self-employed and you’ll have to pay more taxes, the Self Employment Tax, on top of what you would normally pay.

So, save those receipts and try to save as much of that hard-earned writing money as you can!

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Reviews and Book Sales

This post is as much addressed to readers as it is to authors.  Many readers might feel that they are pestered, one might even say harassed, to provide reviews.  Why is that?  Well, it’s simple.  As a reader, when I browse through books on Amazon or B&N, I’ll take a few minutes to glance at what other people said.  Especially if it’s a book from a new or unfamiliar author.  I’ll check what the 5 star raters say and I’ll check what the 1 star raters said.  Why?  Because what irritated someone else about the novel often says more about the author than what someone who loved it might have said.  Also, especially in the era of self-publishing, if I see complaints about poor grammar, awkward sentence structure, or bad plot, I can steer clear.

Apparently, from various market research, ebook sales are highly driven by reviews and ratings.  There are a variety of readers, high consumption readers, who filter by number of reviews.  There is also a prohibition, from Amazon, on ‘reveiw farms’ of authors giving one another incestual reviews.  As an independent author, receiving reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, and other locations can be the difference between selling well and not selling at all.  Full reviews at blogs and websites also help to channel some traffic, but the impulse buyers, the ones who need their reading fix, are browsing for their next fix right now… and does your ebook have the reviews to garner their attention?

The other part of this is sales ranking.  Amazon does this most visibly and has the highest volume of ebook sales in the US, so I’ll use it as the primary example.  As an author, you want your sales ranking high for a number of reasons.  The first reason, of course, is high sales means more people buying your book.  This is good for a variety of reasons.  The next reason is that high sales means that your book will appear higher on the lists when someone searches for ebooks in your genre.  That’s less of other people’s stuff that someone has to filter through before they find your work.  paradoxically, this means that in order to sell well… you need to sell well.  However, there are ways to ‘game’ the system.  Amazon tracks sales over time rather than total sales.  The good part about this is that if you can sell even a relatively small number of books in a short period of time, you can books yourself higher on the book sales ranking… which is good, because when a reader sees your book is #23 on some listing versus #230,000, they’re more likely to read what you’re putting out.

How do you do that?  Larry Correia uses a term called a ‘book bomb.’  When an author releases their new book, the author has everyone they know, who’s interested, buy the book around the same time.  The author’s book sales spikes and their book rises up the charts.  How effective is that?  A solid spike can guarantee that other people will see your book.  They might not buy it, but they’ll at least have the opportunity to make the decision… whereas if they never see it, they’re never given the opportunity.  This is an area where networking, developing loyal readers, and communication are essential.  You can seriously help your book sales by organizing loyal readers (also known as herding cats) to get them to buy your stuff.

What does that mean for readers in general?  Well, keep in mind that the authors you read and enjoy don’t just publish out of the goodness of their hearts.  Authors want their works to be appreciated.  We spend thousands and tens of thousands of hours on writing something to entertain you for a day or two.  We also like to eat, so getting paid for it is a nice form of appreciation.  If you really like what someone wrote, post that, write what you liked and didn’t in a review on Amazon or Goodreads or whatever.  A detailed synopsis like your teachers wanted in high school isn’t necessary.  A one liner “I liked this book, author X is my favoritist person EVAR!” isn’t particularly helpful, either.  A couple sentences such as “X writes with strong characters and a vivid setting.  His story hooked me with the first words.  I really enjoyed the dynamic between Character X and Character Y” tells a potential reader much more, without giving away anything that might spoil the read.  Ideally, if you really liked something, you can take five minutes to write three or four sentences about what you liked.  The same goes for something you didn’t like.  If you bought a book and it was the skunkiest piece of drivel you ever stumbled across, post a review about what you didn’t like.  If the author clearly wrote about a subject they didn’t understand, they had “teh worts grammer evar,” or if they wrote a preachy diatribe about some subject in which you disagree… give warning some other folks.  There’s nothing I hate more than spending some of my hard earned money on a book that isn’t worth the time spent in reading it.  And, believe it or not, some authors want that kind of feedback, so we know what to improve upon.

Here’s a link to Larry Correia who wrote a better article on the ‘book bomb’ subject:

http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/book-bomb-variant-today-get-a-good-book-for-a-good-reason/

And he’s apparently doing a book bomb for an author right now as well, so check it out:

http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/next-book-bomb-chuck-dixon-feb-18th/

 

 

Kal’s New Year of Writing

So, this is more of an update on my current writing schedule than anything else.  I’m a bit behind on getting things out (for which I deeply apologize).  On the other hand, I have the minor disclaimer that life has been extremely busy, between me transitioning from one duty station to another in the Army, getting married, the honeymoon, and a variety of other things.  Frankly, I’ve had to prioritize, and since my wife is very well armed and knows how to handle knives, swords, guns, and other dangerous items, naturally, my priorities have focused on the wedding and honeymoon planning.

Thankfully, she also reads science fiction and fantasy, so she’s understanding and tolerant of my writing.

That said, here’s what I’m working on, and my best guess as to when I’ll have it out, as far as I can see over the next year.

Renegades: Ghost Story is the fourth novella of the Renegades series.  I should have that out in early January.  Right now I’m waiting on a cover from the awesome Robert Brockman, who somehow finds time for that kind of thing on top of his normal job.

Echo of the High Kings is an epic fantasy novel, set on the world of Eoriel.  I’m doing the final(ish) rewrites on it right now.  My goal is to release that in February.  As something of an experiment, I’ll enroll it in one of Amazon’s programs and do a free release, so if you’re looking for an epic fantasy to get your teeth into, well, it’s hard to beat free, right?

The Fallen Race is the science fiction novel set in the same universe as The Renegades.  I’ll be releasing it once I complete the final edits, hopefully in the next month, possibly as early as mid January.

I’m also working a compendium of the Renegades novellas, complete with some additional content which I’d like to release sometime in February.  This will include the first four Renegades Novellas as well as three new short stories (to include one set from the perspective of Anubus) and will be released as paperback and ebook.

The next novella in the series, currently titled “Renegades: A Murder of Crowe’s” will be out not long after that.

The next three Renegades Novellas after that aren’t written yet, but they are outlined as “Out of the Cold”, “Assassin”, and “Privateer” and will be arriving between March and August of 2014.

I’ve projected the novel Fenris Unchained for a summer release, though that may shift dependent upon the rewriting I’ve got to do on that.

The sequels for Echo of the High Kings and the Fallen Race will finish up the year, and if I find the time, some additional Renegades novellas.

So, that’s what I’m up to.  Along the way, I’ll be moving, transitioning to yet another job in the Army, and generally trying to balance everything.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Self Promotion

So, I’ll preface this by saying that I hate self-promotion and I’ve got a long way to go to be good at it.  That said, it is an essential part of being successful as an author.  There are two important things to remember, however.  The first is that you will only ever sell books to your mom and your best friend if you don’t find some way to reach a larger audience.  The second is that if you alienate that larger audience, you’ll still only sell books to your mom and your best friend.

Successful authors, both independent and those who write for a big publishing house, have to self promote.  The publishing houses can put some effort into it, but it falls back to an author to make time to push their book, and to do it in a fashion that doesn’t come across as crass or whiny.

Self promotion is an art as much as writing.  Successful authors do it well, and the job of any aspiring author is to sell themselves as much as they sell their books.  What I’ve seen, however is two extremes.  Some authors hesitate to even mention that they write, to name their books, or tell you anything about their characters or stories.  This makes it hard for someone to take them seriously as a professional.  If you’re going to write, you have to have a sense of self confidence about that.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum.  The desperate, pleading, buy-my-book barragers.  You sometimes see them at conventions, when they step out of the audience to ask the panel a ‘question’ which comes across as a shameless whine for attention.  These authors are online as well, and let me confess, when I’m bombarded by nothing but demands to buy their book or accolades of how wonderful one of their friends think their writing is… well, I either tune them out or shut them off.

So where does that leave an independant author?  There’s a variety of ways to get attention without being, well, annoying.  Establish yourself, write interesting articles, do interviews, go to conventions and get on panels (do not attempt to hijack panels from the audience, please).  Network, get to know other authors, editors, agents, and publishers.   Talk to people, not about your book, necessarily, but normal talk.  As people get to know who you are, they start to care that you wrote a book.  They might not be the target audience, but they’ll remember your name.  Word of mouth sells more books than flash banners on a website or advertising flyers in mailboxes.  Build your audience of readers, maintain your writing standards, and be sure that your writing is professional enough that you feel confident in promoting it.

Self promotion is a lot of work.  At the end of the day, whether that work pays off is as much down to you, the author, as it is to luck, or fate, or what have you.  Still, since the only other option is to establish world domination and to force people to read your books, you probably better get after it, eh?

Independant Author’s Toolbag: Smashwords

As an independent author, I’m not setting in my basement cranking out books on a printing press.  That would be cool, but it’s not really feasible (Trust me, I crunched the numbers).  What I am doing is going through a variety of distributers to reach readers, mostly through ebooks.  The nice thing about ebooks is that they effectively cost nothing to distribute, and that the big publishing houses have still yet to really figure the whole thing out.

Everyone has heard about Amazon and kindle.  Amazon has their Kindle Direct Publishing, which works just fine.  Amazon is the common approach taken by most independant authors.  That said, it isn’t everything.  There are a number of ebook retailers out there, some are selective to their platforms and some have their own loyal customer bases.  How do you reach them?

I use Smashwords.  It’s not the be-all, end-all, but it does allow you to reach a number of booksellers who would otherwise be difficult to reach.  I use Smashwords to go through Smashword’s website, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony’s ebook reader site, and even Apple’s iBooks.  I also distribute on Smashwords.  It is not the best platform, to be certain, but it does allow me to reach a much wider audience.

As far as pro’s and con’s… well, the positives are pretty obvious.  More platforms are reached, presumably it makes you open to a wider audience, and you can consolidate efforts spent on self-publishing (that non-trivial time spent formatting and checking for content errors).  The downsides are somewhat less obvious.  As a platform, Smashwords doesn’t seem to get sale data from the other outlets in any fashion, beyond actual payments, which you get once a quarter.  Also, if there are errors with formatting for one distributer (Apple is notorious for this), you may not find out for a month or two, while your book doesn’t get sold.  They also have issues with specific formatting errors, which if you aren’t tech-savy, can take a long time to fix.

Still… for an independant author, I think Smashwords is an excellent tool, and one that shouldn’t be ignored.  As a reader, I’ve found a very interesting selection of books there, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking for new authors to read.  The nicest thing about it?  Authors get 85% of the money from book sales, it seems to be the largest of any of the distributers I’ve found yet.