Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Editorials: Dos and Don'ts and Xmas Deadlines

Why is this time of the year so crazy busy? Each year I promise myself that next year will be better. And it NEVER is.  The problem is that here in New Zealand the long school holidays - a whole six weeks - coincide with the Christmas break, so not only is work closed, schools are also shut. This makes this time of the year a time of deadlines.

This post is about editing. I thought, rather than provide a long summary of What to Do, I would instead provide a list of Top Tips, in the hopes that you, dear reader, do not make the same mistakes as I. Because I am in a seasonal mood, you may find this list rather random. For this, I apologise.  If you have questions, feel free to post a question on twitter or Facebook. (Or here, if you must).

I've set this out as DIY editing - things to do yourself. Then suggestions on how to engage a professional.

DIY Manuscript Editing 

  1. I roughly follow the practise set out in this earlier series of blog posts. I do my first draft, set it aside for about six weeks, take a deep breath and then read it again. I start a new folder called Draft Two_Structure. 
  2. I move events and characters around to make sure the narrative flows. This is the Structural Edit and is filed in the new folder.  I set it aside for a few weeks.
  3. Take another look. Check for consistency, continuity. Word repetition, sentence structure, clarity. Changes go in another folder: Draft Three_Copy. 
  4. Set it aside again. After about two weeks I look at it. Now I consider at the whole thing. Is it any good? Do I like it? Characters make sense? Is it funny? Is the voice engaging? Does it read well? At that point, I find myself a critique partner. I make the changes he/she recommends. Decide on US or UK spelling. Do a spell-check. Set it aside again.
From Inky

Professional Editing

  1. Use as good an editor as you can afford. Do not try and do it yourself; do not try and cut corners. Smashwords says 'spend money on your editor before your cover'. Basically, if you're self publishing, you'll need an even better editor than a trad publishing house. That's partly because traditional publishers do a lot of vetting at the acquisitions stage, so there's less editorial requirements. It's also because reviewers do look very critically at indie books. You want as good a review as possible.
  2. With traditional publishing, you don't have to pay an editor - the publishing house does. But if you're self publishing you're now a quasi-employer. This comes with complications. Especially money ones. My editor lives in Australia; I do not. A small business-person who likes books, she doesn't have a paypal account. I can't pay her by credit card. This meant I had to figure out how to do an international transaction. Allow for foreign exchange and transaction fees in your budgeting.
  3. Stipulate your deadline to your editor. They need to know your urgency factor so they can juggle other jobs. If it is actually urgent, tell them. Publishing houses often have contracts and so on that enforce compliance. Usually, you won't, so you need to be very clear on your requirements. 
  4. Speaking of contracts: You can ask a lawyer to draw up an agreement, heck, you can draw one up yourself using an on line template. But even when I worked for a large government agency our editorial contracting was fairly adhoc. Common practise seems to be basically an email saying 'Can you do job X by time Y and I will pay you this much'. Technically, this is probably okay, although personally I think it's risky. But you don't want to alienate your amazing editor by insisting he/she signs an ten page agreement for a three hundred dollar job. Plus, it will cost you more than that in legal fees for the drafting. So just be aware that with editorial services it's probably wise to spell out your expectations, your time frame, your payment rates in advance and make sure your editor agrees to this in a return email. Editors usually appreciate this, too, as it offers them just as much protection as you.
  5. Most editors seem to charge per hour, although some charge per word count. If you have an editor on an hourly rate you might want to say 'I'll pay you up to a maximum of say ten hours and then if you need more than that, please let me know first.' That way you'll know in advance how much you'll have to spend.
  6. This might be obvious, but be POLITE to your editor. Apart from this being just ordinary human courtesy, remember you may wish to use their services again. In the self-employed sector, reputation is extremely important. If you develop a name for being hard to work with it's very possible you'll find it difficult to source good editors. 
  7. Good editors get booked up real fast. One way of finding a great editor is to keep an ear to the grapevine: which publishing houses are disestablishing their in-house editors? That way you may be able to grab an amazing editor who's just starting out as freelance, so is looking for clients. Fortunately for us indie authors, there's an awful lot of publishing houses doing just that. Failing that, ask your writing buddies. Usually they'll have a few people that they would recommend. (Sometimes, they won't. Sometimes they want to keep the good editors to themselves :))
  8. You might want to consider two editors. With Inner Fire I used a structural editor first, then used a copy editor to check for spelling errors/typos. I found this helpful, as after I'd looked at the manuscript so many times I couldn't spot the mistakes, but a fresh pair of eyes did. Alternatively, you can give the final(ish) manuscript to someone who's a really, really slow, critical, reader.  Although this can be problematic, especially if you don't appreciate their feedback, because at this stage in the game it is a little late to be making major changes.
  9. Then, BEFORE THE MANUSCRIPT IS FORMATTED FOR PRINT, do a final proofing. (I say this in capitals is because I never listen to myself.) The reason I emphasise this is because editing after the manuscript is formatted into a print-ready proof is expensive.  I ended up paying an extra $200.00 for CreateSpace to do exactly that. Check chapter headings are formatted consistently, that they are spelt correctly. Write your back matter (the bits after the book is finished, like 'About the Author') and your back cover description.
  10. You'll find things that need to be changed at each step in the process. There are always typos, always sentences that aren't right, often spelling mistakes. My editor at harperCollins told me once that it's impossible to be a hundred-percent error free. But ideally, you want to have as few mistakes as you can.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Getting Social

In my post, Steps to Self-Publishing, I set out a list of the key things I'd done prior to putting Inner Fire on the virtual book shelves.

This post covers the second item on that list: Social Media.

Writers seem to either love social media and embrace it wildly, or they run from it, only interacting when they have to.

Do you need to have a social media presence as a writer? No. Of course not.  Does it help you be a better writer? Probably not. Does it help you sell more books. Ah, well. Yes. Probably, it does. Note the probably.  This is because measuring Return on Investment (ROI) in social media is always an approximation.  Even large companies struggle with calculation of investment return. That's why it's really helpful to have a website with google analytics; you have a tool that allows you to see the outcome of any social media presence. (Funnily enough just as I type this I'm also listening to a pod-cast by Joanna Penn exactly on this point).

Most people know how to use twitter, Facebook and so on so I won't do a huge post on how to do posts, because I am so definitely not an expert on this. However, I thought I'd note a few things I've found that have worked well - unlike my kids I'm not in a native child of the internet, so social media is not a space I play in naturally.

Tips for Using (and Enjoying) Social Media

  1. Stop focusing on the 'likes'. I don't know why people get so obsessed by how many followers they have. I hate to say it, but most of your followers are probably not going to buy your books. Actually, probably a lot of your followers are not even real. You can usually tell the non-real ones; they offer you a 'good time', food that contains strawberries (for some reason instagram bots seem to have a thing for strawberries. Maybe the red shows up well or something), and generally, they are young women wearing bikinis.  
  2. Focus on engagement. I like social media because it allows me to talk to people. I like it because it helps other people to find out about me; it allows me to find out about other lives. I'm way more interested in how many people comment on a post (except my blog. I don't ask people to comment here, because I'm too lazy to reply).
  3. Cross-post and save time. If I post on instagram I can put the same image on twitter, tumblr and Facebook. I pin images from this blog onto pinterest; this allows other people to find this content. I tweet about my new blog post; I tweet about my old blog posts. One day I might turn this blog into a book. Who knows? 
  4. Content is king. Maybe I'm old, but I kind of hope that real content is way more useful and interesting to readers than cat memes. And personally, I feel more comfortable sharing things that are actually useful. So hence this series of blog posts on Things that I Have Learnt. Besides, if you provide good content it can re-purposed (thanks, Joanna Penn, for your podcast!).
  5. Social Media is not about advertising - it's about sharing. Social media is a very valuable tool. For example, I use pinterest a lot because it's a very easy way to provide content that readers, librarians and teachers love.  I have boards that I've pinned background research to. This includes videos or books, and readers seem to enjoy being able to watch sword fighting and stuff. I can add this link to my website, so students reading my book can easily access the research that sits behind it. As an example, here's the link to the pinterest board for Inner Fire
  6. Social media is exciting. The use of hashtags and the ability to comment allows really creative play on words, which as a writer I find fascinating. Social media is really innovative. At the moment, I'm very interested in instagram and how instagrammers see the world. The novel I'm currently planning has an instagram hashtag as a title.

The trick with social media is not to let it overwhelm your life, to spend a little bit of time on-line regularly and to content check with your (real-life) friends and relatives. It's always alarming when people I actually know comment on my blog or my Facebook page, but it's also a relief, because then I have confidence that what I'm saying is interesting! And quite often, people I've met through social media have become real-life friends. (Much to my teenagers' amusement - 'you are meeting someone you met online'?)

Through social media, the separation between virtual and physical is becoming increasingly blurred.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Writing: Creation of an Art

I just watched an amazing video: Ursula Le Guin's acceptance speech at the National Book Foundation. "We need writers who know the difference between the production of a commodity and the creation of an art."

So, as I embark on this next series of posts - the steps to bringing your book into the world, it seemed apposite to remember - writing is, first and foremost, an art. Words have power; words can change a world.

Neil Gaiman - Fragile Things

In an earlier post 'Steps to Self Publishing' I listed the things I did before Inner Fire hit the Amazon shelves. I'm going to cover them sequentially, in detail. The purpose of these posts, dear reader, is help you in the creation of your art.

Step One: Tax Number

Witholding tax is tax that is deducted from your earnings ('withheld') by the vendor you have listed your book with. If your book is on Smashwords, Smashwords have to deduct tax on behalf of the US government. Amazon does the same, as does Draft to Digital.  These witholding tax rates vary depending on your country of origin and the country of earnings, however it can be quite significant. (You can find a lot of information here.)

However, if your country has a tax treaty with the US you can be eligible for the standard US withholding tax rate, which is currently only about 5 percent. New Zealand has a tax treaty, and it's definitely worth the tax deduction it allows. To access these lower tax rates you need to have a number.  Amazon will now accept your domestic tax number - for New Zealanders this would be the IRD number - but other vendors are a little less flexible, and seem to still require a US tax number.

Therefore, if you want to sell on a number of platforms currently it's way simpler if you have a US tax number. Basically, there's two types of numbers - a number for an individual (ITIN) or a number for an entity (EIN). Writers are both: an entity (i.e. we write for generating profit so therefore we are a business) and an individual. Therefore, we have a choice of number types.

Well, dear reader, following my own long and bitter experience over the ITIN, I can tell you now - it's a lot lot easier to get the EIN. Here's a brilliant blog post which explains it much better than I can. Amazon also has useful information.

From Dilbert
I do recommend getting your tax number early in the process. As any interaction with the IRS is fraught with complexity, its a wise idea to get it out of the way soon as possible. Besides, the rest of the steps of getting your book to market are pretty much under your control. So, once you've got your tax number you can proceed with a fairly good idea of when your book will hit the virtual shelves.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Tangled in the World Wide Web

In the last post I set out a list of things I found I needed to do in the process of getting Inner Fire out to market. However, there's one thing I left out.

The major thing I'd left off my Get-your-book-to-market list is your website.

The reason for this brain fade is that Inner Fire is actually my second novel - my first to be self-published, though - so I had already organised a site at the time my first novel, A Necklace of Souls, was published. This post contains some of the many Things I Wish I'd Known about websites. This is pretty basic information and you can find out a lot more technical material on the web. If you're a designer or someone who works in IT you won't need all the information below. But since I'm neither of these things, I thought other folk as ignorant as I may find all this interesting.

Do I Need a Website?

Of course you don't. You're writing books, not selling furniture. Stories are art, not commodities, and  a website is not required to write a book. Time, persistence and talent maybe, but not a website.

But. Here's the thing. If you want to sell your books, well then, a website is a wise idea. Again, it's not mandatory; some writers I love do not have a web presence. Which is immensely frustrating, because I would really like to know what else they've written and what they're working on now. The hallmark of these writers is that they're pre-world wide web and/or they're all immensely famous so they don't really need the presence. Fair play to them.

But for me, a website has been a great investment. Why? Because a website isn't only about having your photo on the internet. A website offers you:
  • Discoverability
  • Analytics
  • Communication
  • Income
Set out below are my main learnings from my web building experience.

from Dilbert

What do I Need?

You need to have a thought about what you want in a site. Do you want one page or multiple page? Do you want a 'contact me' form? An FAQ section? Here's a link to a couple of sites with quite diverse looks and feels to give you ideas:
  1. Mary Winston Photography
  2. Rachael Craw 
  3. T K Roxburgh

Websites are not cheap. You can build one yourself, but if you're not a website person (and lots of writers aren't) chances are it will look and feel horrible. So personally, I suggest get a web designer to do it for you. Who? Look at websites of other creatives you like and see who their designer is. There will be a link somewhere in the footer of the page. Make contact with the designer and ask for a quote. You'll find they'll vary a lot and it will be dependant on what your requirements are. Here's the link to my web designer.

Don't forget that the website needs a domain name. is my domain name. Your domain name could be the title of your book, or your name or something totally random. Popular domain names trade hands for thousands; a domain name has a value. If you think you've got a best seller on your hands, register its title as a domain name before anyone else does!

Your website will need to be hosted. Hosting is where the software for your site sits.  Your designer can help you find hosting, or you can sort it yourself. Hosting isn't something we need to get too worried about as authors, but large companies do need to consider these hosting arrangements carefully, as they cannot afford for their hosting company to go out of business, or to be damaged in a fire or earthquake and take their data with them.

So the cost of your site will probably be development + hosting + domain name. I say 'probably' as the web world is always changing, so who knows what technology will bring. Currently, the usual process seems to be domain name and hosting is an annual fee; development is usually a one off cost, often a per hour charge. You may need additional development services if you want to modify your site.

Benefits of a Website


Search engine optimization (SEO) means how easily a site is found by search engines. Most people, if they're looking for me, will type 'Rachel Stedman' or 'A Necklace of Souls' or 'RLStedman' into their Google browser. Usually, my website is the first option on the list presented by Google. The idea of SEO means that people can find me easily. When you get your site, search yourself on Google, and check your site comes up. If it doesn't, the keywords may need to be changed.

Apart from SEO, your website needs to be kept current. Google can tell if the website's old, and if it's old it's not presented as a first choice to the searcher.  Therefore, to keep your website fresh, it's wise to tweak your content probably every 3 months. Some people have a blog attached to their site (I don't), which acts the same way.

If you're not particularly technical you can get your web designer to make regular tweaks to your site,  but then you'll probably have to pay them, so for me, I've learnt to do it myself. On a wordpress platform it's no harder than writing this blog. (Actually, it's easier, the blogspot software is very clunky).


Ask your designer to set you up with analytics to your site.  Analytics measure who is clicking on your site, where they're based and even, if they're linked up to google +, their demographics - age, sex and so on.  I can drill down into time periods, or country or referral patterns. This is useful because it helps me tell if say a campaign of Facebook ad has lead to any extra activity.

Analytics are the most valuable part of a website. They're the reason I wouldn't use a low cost alternative, like a tumblr page. I love knowing that readers in China and Russia and Brazil are interested in me. It's also encouraging; writing is a long term plan and I can tell, just from my analytics, that my presence and interest in my writing is slowly, slowly increasing. 

I find the analytics more useful than sales figures. Why? Because most people discover a book by reading it for free. Someone lends it to them, or they get it from the library, or they get a free download.  (Probably, this is why Scott Adams allows his awesome Dilbert cartoons to be used on blogs like mine).

Therefore, it's highly reasonable to assume that sales will lag significantly behind website analytics. It's the trend, though that interests me, and for me the trend is looking good. Not great, not amazing, but in the right direction.

Website Analytics: Number of hits per month


If I'm giving a talk about my book, often the convener will introduce me with the blurb from my website. 'Hello,' I think, 'I've heard that before.' Last year, when A Necklace of Souls was shortlisted in the New Zealand Post Book Awards, school children were looking at my site. Teachers also are interested. As are media outlets - if someone's doing an interview with you they'll definitely check out your site first. I have a page that's just for readers/media/teachers, and people can contact me through my site. You can add newsletter sign-ups to your site.


This is something I've only just realised - your blog or website can generate income for you. Not a lot, but still. You can put google adsense on your site (personally, i haven't because I think it looks tacky), but I have here on my blog. Look to the right, under the 'about me' section. You'll see an advert for something, probably self-publishing. Dear reader, if you click on that advertisement, I receive a small payment. Something like a dollar. Thus far, I have made TWO DOLLARS. So not retirement material. 

Also on my website is a link to a 'buy now' for Inner Fire. This will take you to the amazon entry for the book. This is an affiliate link - if someone clicks on this link and purchases something from amazon over the next several hours (I forget the timeframe), a receive a small renumeration. Thus far, I have made ZERO DOLLARS.  However, large book buying sites such as BookBub, can receive serious money from their affiliate links.  

And of course, you can attach a paypal to your site, and people can purchase your work online. Do put this in. True story: I heard a wonderful singer/songwriter on the radio, an audience of probably 50,000. When asked 'Where can people buy your music?' she said, 'Oh they can send me a letter.' A letter! Don't make it hard for people to find your work. I've only just added the paypal function and I haven't used it yet, but it seems crazy that I didn't have it up earlier. It isn't hard and doesn't cost you anything unless you make a sale.

From Dilbert


When A Necklace of Souls was published in 2013 I was nervous about having an online presence. I thought people would stalk me or something. I was so wrong. A website allows people who are interested in you to contact you (I love getting emails through my site) but also, and I really had not anticipated this, a website allows you to be creative. 

You can have a website page for a character, or a page for a story, or a page for the pictures you've drawn for your story. Some writers have whole websites devoted to their worlds (check out Ben Aaronvitch's site). In a very strange way your site reflects your personality; the colours, the layout, the images. A well designed website feels, rather weirdly, like an extension of yourself.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Steps to Self-Publishing

Steps to Self-Pub

In my last post I warned about driving while under the influence of writing. Now, I'm going to talk about the steps I followed in to getting a book onto book shelves.

A little disclaimer: these are the steps, and the order, I've used. It isn't necessarily the only correct sequence, and it's not necessarily what I would recommend. It's just how things have played out. And my book, while on virtual shelves is not yet on physical, so there may be learnings yet to come.

Because I'm also using bricks and mortar stores to distribute my book, I have encountered more complexity than other self-pub writers. However, I wanted to use real bookshops because:

  • I wanted to see how the process worked
  • I really like seeing my book for sale!

Set out below are the steps I took. I will go through these in more detail in the next series of blog posts, as some are quite involved.  But in the meantime if you're wanting more content, try Head or Heart by Nina Harrington. There is also a lot of information on the web - provided you have the time to search for it.  To make it easier for me (and for you) I have pinned a lot of self-pub resources to my pinterest board. Feel free to have a rummage.

from wikimedia commons

Pre Release

  1. Get a tax number - an EIN or ITIN
  2. Increase social media presence
  3. Source editor
  4. Purchase or design the cover art
  5. Complete the editing
  6. Plan marketing strategy
  7. Copy edit
  8. Proofing
  9. Format print proofs (if doing a print book)
  10. Source distributor and printer (if selling to bookstores)
  11. Source marketer/publicist
  12. Develop the Advance Information Sheet (AIS). An AIS is a summary of your book. Here is the AIS for Inner Fire and here is a brief summary of what it should contain.
  13. Formatting for e-book
  14. Finalise on pricing, distribution and platforms for e-books
  15. Build pre-release buzz. Finalise which platforms you'll use. Begin pre-release advertising.
  16. Release

Post Release

  1. Quality check your product
  2. Advertising
  3. Press release
  4. Interviews
  5. Enter competitions/blog tours
  6. Special offers or further advertising
  7. Prepare for next book
And that's it! So far, anyway. I might add more steps as I get further into the process.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Full On - The Rush to Self-Publish

This week has been really crazy. My son was ill, work was busy and...I crashed my car. Driving out of the garage. Yes, you wouldn't think it was possible, but I can tell you now, it is. So I have a massive dent in the side door and damaged plasterwork on the side of the house.  Why did I do this? How did I do this?

It was because my head was full.  The kindle format had not uploaded properly and I was worrying about a plot point in the novel I was planning, and my son wanted to watch a video because he was feeling poorly and I needed to write an overdue report for work. Unfortunately, little things like steering just went out the window.

So, here's a warning. Your first trip to self-pub land will take longer than you think. It will be more complicated than you'd realised and you'll spend more time worrying about it than you had thought you would. But on the plus side - there will be more fun times and excitement than you'd planned for, too.

The Trip to Self-Pub Land

Today, I have just pushed the 'Publish' button on my first self-published novel, Inner Fire. Very exciting! In my next series of posts I will discuss the stages I've gone through to get it out into the world. I will try and give you pointers about What Went Well and What to Avoid. (Believe me, there are a lot of things to avoid.)

However, before even pushing the 'publish button' there's an important decision point you have to reach.

Will you, or not, do it yourself?

These are the steps I took to reach this decision.

Quality Control: You can purchase Inner Fire here . And if you buy it you'll be able to find out if all the things I talk about later in this blog have been worth the effort!

Before Self-Publishing

1.  Write the book. This sounds obvious, and of course it is, but my point is more the sequence. Experienced self-published authors begin with marketing this new, yet-to-be-written book well in advance of writing it. I did not; partly from a superstitious fear that to do so might somehow jinx the process, and partly from a reluctance to commit to a deadline too early on.

2.  Approach traditional publishers. There are advantages to trad publishing, as discussed earlier in this blog, but at some point you need to make a call as to whether you will continue to approach them or not. Because my last experience with traditional publishers involved manuscripts sitting on editorial desks for 8 - 12 months, I was hesitant about approaching trad publishers. I did not want to wait nearly a year before putting a book on kindle. So instead I compromised and sent copies of Inner Fire to five agents. One was semi-interested, but said the market was for contemporary drama at the moment (The Fault in Our Stars, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and so declined it. The rest took either a long time to respond or declined within four weeks, which was great. Agents are a lot faster than editors about rejecting material!  However, the first agent I approached, whom I already knew personally, has offered to assist with promotion, so who knows where that might lead. That's the beauty of self-pub. You continue to own the rights.

3. Really think hard. Is it good enough? There might be a reason why agents have declined it, quite apart from the market not being right. Use critique partners; give the novel to a trusted friend; use a manuscript assessor. In my earlier posts I discussed how to find critique partners, and you can access assessors from the New Zealand Society of Authors. There are two reasons why you need to consider the quality of your work. The first is because if the novel is bad, it won't sell, and you could spend a lot of time and effort for no return. The other reason is because it is horrible horrible horrible to get bad reviews. The beauty and the problem with the world wide web is that everybody's opinions can be shared in an unfiltered and unbiased way and when it's your own creative work, this can hurt. The worst thing, I find, is when a reviewer picks up on some flaw in your work that you really wish you'd seen and corrected. So do think hard before self-publishing.

I had just won a major award and had been shortlisted for several more, all of which gave me a little more confidence that yes, I might actually be able to product a quality work, regardless of whose brand was on the cover. So I decided that hey, what do agents and publisher's know? I liked the work. And I thought it was worth trying the process with it.

4. Decision point reached: Yes or No.

Best Moments so Far?

  1. A box of fantastic-looking books arriving by courier.
  2. My first sale. 
  3. An email from a reader in the Philippines who said she 'loved it!'. 
  4. And my first five-star review.

Over the next few weeks I'll talk through the steps I've taken to get Inner Fire onto book shelves. I'll let you know which steps went well and which did not. So stayed tuned.

And in the meantime, drive safely.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Getting Personal

It's hard to move from the elevated world of strategy to the up-close and personal worry of betting my own time and money on a marketplace.  It's also hard to publicly admit failures so I'm kind of nervous about this next series of posts. But, as I said last week, it's all very well to analyse the market, but the test of success only comes by playing in it.

So this next series of posts will be about the process I have taken to enter the self-pub marketplace, and what I have found in doing so.

I've found two books to be really useful:

Both of these writers are established self-published authors of commercial fiction, and put their experiences and learnings into these books ('In a gold rush, sell shovels,' said my MBA lecturer). 

There's also an interesting article in the Economist which is worth looking at (plus, it has a pretty cool interactive graph).

And before even starting on the self-pub route, there's a few skill sets that you need to have. Here's a list of questions to ask yourself.

Do I have these 10 Attributes ?

1.  Can I write? 

I had just won a major prize - Best First Novel at the New Zealand Post Book Awards for my first novel, A Necklace of Souls, so I thought yes, I probably could. 

But if this is your first manuscript the chances are that, no, you probably can't. Sorry. Most writers have a few failed scripts in boxes somewhere. If this is your first manuscript, and its your first draft and you are planning on self-publishing I really suggest that you DO NOT ask people to pay for it - i.e. don't put it onto Amazon or ibooks. If you really think the idea is good (in between the normal 'it's crap' feeling that every writer has) I would try and get a Critique Partner, or put it onto WattPad or Fan Fiction - anything to get feedback. And do a course of study. Believe me, study really helps.

My last series of blog posts deals with the writing process, and includes tips on how to find a Critique Partner.


2. Do I understand the publishing process?

Commercial publishers are very unlikely to publish even your final draft. Before it is set to print your book will have at least three edits - usually by three different people:
  • a structural edit - where the structure of the plot, the characters and so forth are analysed and recommendations made on how to strengthen them 
  • a copy edit - where the spelling, grammar and so on is checked
  • a proofing edit - check for final errors

If self-publishing, you would be wise to follow this process. Otherwise your book won't be as good as it could be. Which is bad for reviews, bad for your reputation, and just bad for the reader. But be warned, professional editorial input is not free. It's worth it, in terms of product, but you may not get your money back in sales.

3. Are you comfortable with the internet?

If you're reading this on a blog site, chances are you are quite comfortable on a browser. Just be warned: self-publishing is a global industry and unless you want to pay someone a lot of money to do everything for you, you'll probably need to do it yourself. This means that invariably, you'll be on the internet a lot.

4. Are you comfortable with e-books?

Self publishing is really about e. The future is p, too, I think, but we're not there just yet. So if you're planning on self-publishing, make sure you enjoy and are familiar with reading on an e-platform. This means you'll have a greater understanding for the importance of layout, and you'll be more careful when it comes to formatting. Also, you'll be making purchasing decisions similar to your readers.

5. Do you have a kindle account?

Currently, Amazon is the dominator of the self-pub industry. According to Gaughran, this is because their algorithms don't favour established publishing houses - they only favour reader choice. Which means that self-pubs have an opportunity to compete. iTunes is coming on strong, too, but more people still read on Amazon apps or kindles. Nook isn't really a favourite of self-publishers. Gaughran says this is because its algorithims favour publishers, as they pay more for the opportunity to use the platform. So if you're really wanting to self-publish, I do suggest you become familiar with the Amazon store. Understand how books are presented to purchasers and download a few yourself. Get a feeling for what you like, and what features you don't. It is different to navigating your way through a bricks and mortars store.

6. Do you have a basic understanding of finances?

Here's a lesson for you. I have an MBA and I buy products professionally for a living, so I thought, well, no problem. I'll be fine here. And yet - I forgot about the exchange rate! I can't believe it, but I did. The problem is, Amazon presents all its prices in USD. For some arcane reason. Like, yes, everyone in the world uses USD. So when I calculated the costs of CreateSpace, I forgot to convert. This meant a price inflation of around 20%.  

7. Do you have time?

Self publishing your first book will take you ages. Well, it's taken me ages. Everything is new. I don't know how to use the technology. This is what I have had to learn so far:

  • how to download a mobi file
  • how to read a mobi file
  • how to format to a print-ready proof
  • how to format a word document to smashwords requirements (don't believe them when they say their Style Guide is easy to use. It isn't)
  • how to organise a press release
  • how to create, and edit, an .html document. 
  • What is bleed?
  • How long are delivery times?
  • What does a book distributor do? What does a book marketer do? How much do they cost?
  • What is an ASIN and what is an ISBN?
  • What paper thickness do I need? Do I need matt or gloss cover? What is a laminate?
  • How do I get an EIN?
  • How to organise a blog tour
  • What is a marketing plan and what should it look like?
  • How much should I price my book?
  • How many copies should I order?

8. Do you have a healthy dose of scepticism?

In this industry - in most industries, really - there is no 'get rich quick' scheme. Yet, when you read the websites of Smashwords or Amazon, they say just upload your manuscript and click the 'publish' button and voila, your words in your way, ready to be read by the world. Don't believe them. Don't believe anyone when they tell you that it's simple. By the time I get to book number 5, it will be simple. Unless, of course, the industry changes, which is very possible. But right now, I'm on a steep, slow-climb up the learning curve.

9. Do you have a background that includes any or all of the following?

The following skill sets are really, really helpful. If you have some or all of these, you'll find the route to self-publishing so much easier.
  • Scientific/Analytical
  • Commerce/finance/marketing
  • Legal
  • Project Management
  • IT
10.  Do you have enough money?

Self-publishing is not free. Well, I don't think it's free. Costs include time, of course, but there's also editorial, book covers, printers (if you get printing done), marketing and anything else you care to spend. You can do it on a really tight, tight budget of perhaps $500 USD, but some people pay a lot more. I have allowed for about $5000 for my first self-pub. The following novels will be less, because I won't do everything I've done on the first one. But the good thing is, these costs are all tax-deductible. One bonus of writing - you might not make much money, but pretty much everything you do can be claimed as a deduction.  

And on a Positive Note

The ten qualities above are mostly personal qualities. They do not involve spending enormous amounts of money, or hiring employees, or building plant or buying expensive equipment. They do, however, involve spending large amounts of time. 

Next post I'll go through the first steps to self-publishing - actually putting these skills into use.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Am I An Oracle?

To use Business-Speak, my last few posts have been a situation analysis: a review of current state of play of an industry and a prediction of what is to come.

I do this all the time for work, and I love it! And as I have said so many times in this blog, wow it is so scary when you are proved right! Makes me feel like I'm some sort of oracle or something.

Of course it's nothing like that, it's just understanding basic business models and economic theory. Most industries are fairly predictable.  It's just that people get swayed by emotion (also predictable) and hope that they can get onto the next best thing before everyone else can.

Want to hear a definition of an economist? Someone who won't bend to pick up a dollar on the sidewalk. Why not? Because he knows that someone else will get there first.

I think this is really funny, but then I know a lot of entrepreneurs, all busy bending for the dollars.

economist cartoon humor: Careers advice centre
From Jantoo

Okay, so here's my final industry overview, and my predictions for the future.

Predictions for the Future of Publishing

1. The shake-up for traditional publishers will continue

I do not see, both as an outsider and a supplier to the industry, the changes required by trad publishers  to survive. And yet their pricing remains high (one of the arguments by Amazon in their ongoing dispute with Hachette), they are not developing new talent and there is a definite trend to outsourcing their supply chain. Access to available substitutes (e-books or POD) is increasing. Trad publishers of mass-market fiction have limited Unique Selling Points (USPs).

Personally, I think this is sad. Publishers do bring a lot of benefits - for one, they ensure the reading public receive a quality experience. They are arbiters of literature, and literature both defines and shapes a society.

2. The business model for publishing will change

Traditional publishing houses do have some competitive advantages and these will continue in the longer term.
  • Access to high performing authors
  • Rights 
  • Competitive printing costs
  • Distribution channels
However, the relationship between author/publisher will change. It is likely that there will be a shift to partnership models. Author-as-venture-capitalist. The author may part fund the publisher. This would be a massive shift for the industry, taking the writer from supplier to partner. There are signs this is emerging already: Ingram has announced a joint model with Barbara Freethy

Other organisations may also enter the market. Printed books are still the widest form of reading and are still where the margins are, so companies with strengths in print and distribution when combined with a high-performing author's stable could do well.

I think it will be an interesting time.

Similarly (as discussed earlier), there will also be a rise in indie publishing houses. The innovative will survive. Note to self: Keep an eye on IPOs for these ones - there are likely to be some very smart operators emerging in this space.

3. The demise (or plateauing) of Amazon as a digital publishing platform

I'm nervous about this prediction, as I'm also aware that Amazon is one of the smartest companies around. But Google is nothing to be sneezed at and increasingly, authors are looking at Google books.  Similarly, the new iOS from Apple included ibooks as a standard app. And with the rise of tablets and smart phones as reading devices, kindle is loosing its edge. The irritation by authors with Amazon should not be understated; the perception in the industry that Amazon is 'arrogant' and 'in it for the money' (Duh!) has been stated by a number of very influential opinion-leaders. At best, this is massively bad publicity. At worse, this could lead to anti-trust suits.

From A Snapshot of Reading in America, 2013
4. The smartening of authors

Twenty years ago, only the desperate or the marginal thought of self-publishing. Now, it's accepted practise, but you need to know how to navigate the process. Authors will have to become business-savvy to survive. There will be more people entering the market, and competition will increase. Already, most of the best sellers (including the traditionally published) are extremely smart business people. So, in addition to the smartening-up, I predict an increase in self-help tools for authors, including quasi full-service publishing houses.

5. Mainstreaming of Indie

Books are sold through personal experience and through word of mouth. And if good writers are self-publishing, good readers want to find them. Mainstream arbiters of taste, such as Publishers Weekly, are now offering reviews to self-pubbed authors. Goodreads, purchased last year by Amazon, offers the social media experience, directly connecting readers with writers.  My prediction is there will be more 'established' platforms reviewing indie works and that the quality of indie works will rise. The term 'indie' will truly mean 'independent'.

This isn't a comprehensive list. I haven't talked here about pricing models or changing platforms (audio, streaming) or non-English speaking markets, although these are also trends worth watching.

Up Close and Personal

So where does this leave me, in my quest for financial security?

This is the last situation analysis post. From now on, it will all be personal. Because analysis only takes you so far. I have a feeling for where the opportunities are now, and I need to try it for myself. Stay tuned!

PS - if you're interested in reading more about strategy and industry predictions, have a look at Porter's Five Forces, a business model developed by Michael E Porter in a seminal paper in the Harvard Business Review.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Show Me The Money

Over the last few posts I've made statements about the future of publishing, the risk to authors, the rise of the self-pubbed industry and the decline and reshaping of the fiction market. It's easy to make such statements; harder to support it with proof.

However, I have been reviewing some data sets, which I'm going to share with you. Feel free to click on the links to get more details.


The market share of indie writers to trad publishers appears to be increasing.

When I say market share, I mean the percentage of dollars going to indie authors. This was reported by (click on the link to read the report), although they note that this is just based on two data points and two data points does not a trend make. It does, though, make an encouraging sign (if you're an indie publisher. Not so fab if you're a traditional publisher!).

Also of note is the rise of the small to medium publishing houses. As I've already stated, they have many advantages in this brave new world.

Mark Coker from Smashwords also reports similar findings. You can download his dataset and have a play with the figures if you feel so included.

Of interest is that while number of titles in the best seller lists are increasing in the indie and small or medium groups, they are decreasing for the big 5. This suggests that the smaller, more nimble sectors are replacing the larger incumbents. They are competing and winning.

Again, it will be interesting to see if this is just a blip or if its a trend. My gut feeling is its a trend, but I'd need to dig into the annual reports of the big 5 to see this and right now I don't have the time.

A quick aside for the non-financially literate: companies that are publicly listed on a stock exchange have to product annual reports. There are often little gems in these reports, and if you're seriously interested in a sector, it pays to have a read of them. Note to self: get the Amazon one.


The big 5 make their money from only a few authors. This is hardly startling news - I said at the beginning of this blog that writing is a tournament market place and in a tournament the 80:20 rule definitely applies; 80 percent of the earnings will be derived from 20 percent of the population (look up Pareto's Theorem for more information).

If you are not in that crowd, your opportunities to earn a living wage are low. You may be better off in the self-published group.

Furthermore, if you have a backlist to which you have the rights, you might be even better placed to consider self-pub, at least for your backlist. Why? It's off the backlists that the publishers make their money. Why shouldn't you?


The reason so many of us are thinking of moving to self-publish is because the earnings in trad are not that stunning.

Take a look at this graph from Author's Earnings

If that were to change, its possible that many of us would shift back. So, here's a thought for publishers to consider. Perhaps more innovative ways of payment - such as profit sharing, co-investment, rebates/discounts, supply chain partnership - might be worth considering

A note of caution:

As more and more people begin to self-publish, it's inevitable that opportunities for profit will drop off. Glory days of double digit growth always, always come to an end. That's what markets do, remember?  So don't go thinking that self-pub is a get rich quick scheme. There is no such thing. But there are always opportunities. Personally, I think it's worth digging into the data to know what and where these are.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Shifting Sands

The Rise of the Hybrid

In my earlier posts I discussed the changing marketplace for fiction, and how the changing technological platforms will shift the power balance away from traditional publishing towards smaller publishing houses and towards the author-acting-as-publisher.

I also said that before this happens, there will be a marked period of uncertainty, where traditional publishing houses, seeking to reduce costs, are likely to downsize, amalgamate or acquire. As part of this uncertainty, publishers will also seek to offset risk, by increasing the liability clauses in their agreements - pushing liability onto the author - and requiring un-met advances to be paid back.

It's a very scary moment when you see your predictions coming true.

I presented at a writer's workshop last week (the reason this blog post is a little later than usual) where two highly respected writers presented. (I presented, too, but I don't include myself as up to their calibre!)

Both writers, Philip Temple and Jackie Ballantyne, have decided to self-pub. Philip, who has been writing professionally for over forty years, has had multiple residencies, holds the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Literature and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Otago.  Clearly, he has a long and respected literary career. And yet, and yet... Philip has experienced first hand a number of examples where publishers have been acquired by a larger house while a novel is coming out - to the detriment of the novel. He also reported that he has found terms and conditions are harsher; payments to authors are decreasing while expectations on them are increasing. So therefore, he has decided to self-publish his novel, MiStory, about climate change.

Jackie reports a similar experience. Her novel, The Silver Gaucho, has also been published this month.

Both novels are doing well, making the bestseller lists. Which, given the size of New Zealand, is unlikely to lead to fame and fortune. But it does represent something new, and something rather exciting. Jackie and Philip show that self-published novels can compete head to head in the bookstores and not only hold their own; they can do well.

These two writers represent an emerging phenomenon: the rise of the hybrid novelist.

Hybrid novelists are those writers who both self-publish and who publish through a traditional house. Some use their backlist, when their rights have reverted and discover a new readership (and income stream). Others write new works, and make a choice whether or not to self-pub.

This is the route I am interested in taking. Why?


Traditionally, publishers have been expert at:

  • identifying talent
  • quality control 
    • editing
    • formatting
    • project management
  • printing
  • distribution
  • marketing
  • talent management
These components, taken together, have constituted their brand.

But now, as we've seen, publishers have less focus on talent identification, and a greater focus on short term return. 

Editing, formatting and printing have been outsourced to freelancers. Distribution partnerships (with bricks and mortar stores) are decreasing. Marketing support is limited to the top sellers only; most authors are expected to manage the majority of their own marketing. Furthermore, much of the downsizing has meant experienced book publicists are now available as freelance. Talent management is almost non-existent.  Most publishers have outsourced almost their entire supply chain!

This means that many large publishers have only three points of difference
  • capital (money)
  • distribution
  • access to reviewers

What Does This Mean?

It means a massive brand dilution. Distribution can be replicated with technology or relationships. Reviewers are interested in the author, not the publishing house. Which leaves only money. And if the only thing differentiating you is money, you are highly, highly vulnerable. 


Because of how the business life cycle works. To survive in a declining marketplace, a business must be able to differentiate on quality. Anything else is too easily substituted by new, emerging technology.

Brand Dilution means New Opportunities

Writers are now able to purchase editorial, printing and project management support. We are able to do this in a multitude of configurations and for a competitive price. Hybrid authors like Philip and Jackie are at a particular advantage here, as they have existing relationships within the industry and their names are synonymous with quality. They already have a brand.

After all, what do readers want? They want a good product. Self-published authors are now able to provide that product. 

If what I saw this weekend is any symptom of the future, quality authors will be self-publishing quality books, and readers will be very interested.

So right now, I see definite advantages to joining the self-pub industry. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

New Ways of Doing Business

Indie Publishers

In my last post (sounds like the army) I talked about profits per player being greatest in a growth market. And I talked about indie authors. But I forgot that there's another group of players also taking advantage of the growth market; that's indie publishers.

Indie publishers are an interesting group. These are the smart players that always emerge in a growth market, taking advantage of new technology and new processes. New players have a significant advantage; unencumbered by bureaucracy, they carry relatively little overheads and they don't have the tradition that can act as a stifler to innovation. These start ups usually operate in niche markets and often have deep knowledge and relationships within that market. These types of players are not unique to publishing - they are a consistent feature of all growth industries.

Start-ups like this are often balanced on a knife-edge. A lack of capital means that they are vulnerable to reductions in cash-flow and they can be take over targets by the big boys. Sometimes, they even operate in the big boys' space and this is really where you do not want to be, not if you're a startup. Unless, of course, you're an entrepreneur and you're wanting to be taken over, in which case you'll be happy to have an offer thank you very much and you can retire rich on your earnings.

The strength of the indie business model is demonstrated by the major players who have set up quasi-indie publication houses of their own. Examples of these can be seen in both the 'vanity' press of X-Libris and the like and the e-publishing arms of HarperCollins, or Swoonworthy, an imprint of Macmillian. 

As the e-pub market matures, which it will do, it's inevitable as death and taxes, there will be amalgamation of indie houses; some will go under; some will be acquired. others will merge. If you're a writer, pick your indie publisher carefully. They could be a ticket to a gravy train or a road to oblivion.

My gut feeling is that for me, searching for financial stability in this wide world of writing, indie publishers are unlikely to offer significant advantages. I don't write in a heavily niched space that would make them a useful partner. And an indie publisher's margins are too tight and they are too capital poor to offer me the carrots of the big publishers: security, advances, accolades and wide-scale distribution. 

However, for the start-out writer, I would really recommend the indies as an option. Because they are small, communication is easier, and because they are passionate about their niche they will be passionate about your work. Besides, you can learn a lot about publishing from them.

Publishers as Partners

In an earlier post I discussed how markets that are reliant on social capital - skills, creativity, talent - are much more stable than markets that are technology driven. Because if technology changes, the market changes. Writing is a social capital market, because good writing, great storytelling, cannot be substituted by technology. Publishing, on the other hand, has always been dominated by the technology of the printing press and the infrastructure of the distribution channels. And this technology is changing, shifting from physical to digital. I think we are only just at the beginning. See this article by Mark Coker in the Huffington Post.

Publishers are becoming commonplace. Good writing, however, is hard to find.

Economists would call this a relative scarcity.

With a shift in scarcity comes a change in price. And a change in price means a change in power.

Over the next five years it is highly likely that more and more writers will view their publishers as partners; even as suppliers. Publishers who can work with this paradigm shift will probably survive; those who don't, may not.

This means that writers now have options. We now have a variety of business models to consider - will we be supplier? or purchaser? Or a combination of the two?

I guess it depends on what we want. In my next post I'll talk more about goals and wishful thinking.