Business, Publishing, writing, Writing Business

Should Indie Authors Write According To The Trends?

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Image Via Pixabay

 

It’s controversial advice that’s been given to authors since nearly the beginning of the printing press, and that is to write according to the trends.  Most authors scoff at the idea citing that by the time they write this trendy story, and publish it, the trend will be over.  Sadly, they’re mistaken, it’s traditional authors who are restricted by the time constraints of corporate publishing.  Indie authors are flexible and have time on their side, if we don’t catch the first wave, we can always catch the next.

Besides trends are usually patterns, patterns that have repeated themselves over and over since the days of the Greek bards and campfires.  Let me show you…

Trendy or Familiar?

The first modern romance novel made its debut in 1740, it was called Pamela, by Samuel Richardson.  Since that time the story has been retold by generations of authors such as Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, Daphne du Maurier and even E.L. James.  But why?  Why do authors keep writing the same story and more importantly, why do readers keep reading those stories?  The prevailing theory is that the reader is trying to recreate or recapture a feeling.  That makes sense because according to Psychology Today: “When evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, features, objective facts).”  This means readers gravitate towards the familiar but is that really a surprise?  If a certain book made you feel good about yourself or the world around you, why wouldn’t you want to repeat that experience over and over again?

Trends aren’t new to the publishing industry in fact, there are people who get paid big money to predict them.  There are patterns in every market whether it be real-estate, tech, or retail but if you are observant enough you can predict them too.

Everything Has Been Done Before—Everything!

Think your work is original?  Hardly, just ask any agent or editor who reads unpublished manuscripts for a living and they’ll tell you nothing is original.  They’ve seen werewolf billionaire erotica and even self-help books on sex in the afterlife.  Your book is probably not going to shock anyone let alone, surprise them.  Besides, they’re really not looking for originality, they’re looking for profitability.

Trendy or Cyclical?

Since the days of Homer and the Bible, salacious stories have been the norm in human literature.  E.L. James wasn’t the first to write about BDS&M try the Marquis De Sade or Anne Desclos.  Think thrillers are a bit too violent and filled with sex these days then, try the Iliad or the Cypria.

I’ll break this down even further: In 1990, vampires became huge when a series of Anne Rice’s novel Interview With A Vampire went to the big screen.  Then two of the biggest stars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, were cast as the lead characters and the movie made a fortune so a few years later Queen of the Damned, was released.  History went on to repeat itself in 2008, when Stephanie Meyer’s vampire novel Twilight, was release and made into a series of movies as well.

Around that same time in the 90’s several of Danielle Steel’s romance novels ruled the bestsellers list and were eventually made into television movies.  Today, Nicolas Sparks and Nora Roberts, are enjoying that same success in the 21st century.  Noticing the cycle here?

Here is a small list of the genres that become trendy over and over again.

  • Romance
  • Erotica
  • Horror
  • Sci-Fi
  • Thrillers

How Authors Can Use Trends To Their Advantage

If you’ve already published an erotic novel and that genre becomes trendy again, you could relaunch with a new cover and maybe even a new title.  Your book doesn’t have to be brand new, many indie authors have relaunched books from their back catalog and found great success.  Why not cash in on a trend when the opportunity strikes?

Another thing to consider is to anticipate reoccurring trends, we all know that vampires will eventually come back.  Ever since Bram Stoker published his novel Dracula, in 1897, they have been making their rounds.  The same goes with romance novels that feature rich men and virtuous (virgin) women, remember Pamela?  Sure these books get modernized but the basic elements are always there because the publishing industry won’t mess with a sure thing.        

A Final Thought

I believe authors recoil at trends because of the notion of selling-out but there is no such thing in the business world.  Remember as an indie author you are a publisher and you need to understand the industry or suffer the consequences.  Every year millions of people start businesses all over the world and most of them fail.  Don’t be that business, take advantage of all of the opportunities that present themselves.  Don’t be shy and don’t apologize for making money with your art.  *Stepping off soapbox*

Life

Why I Still Apologize to My Parents for Being a Writer

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Photo by Dullhunk via Flickr

Occasionally, I am forced to question my life and all the decisions I’ve ever made and after reading this disappointing article about the plight of authors in the U.K., I was ready to throw in the towel.  I’m just not cut out to be the next James Patterson or J.K. Rowling, I can’t mass produce (or pretend to mass produce in the case of James) books.  Noticing I was having a crisis, my mother did what any reasonable person would, she encouraged me to call my aunt who was an H.R. specialist about any openings at her company.  See, problem solved.

Just the idea of lying, I mean, exaggerating my way through another interview was not an option.  My last job interview ended in disaster, when I was asked by the HR manager what my dream job was, and I answered: writer.  P.S.  I was applying for an admin job.

Instead of arguing with my parents, I have learned to just apologize.  It saves time.  Here are just some of the things I have to apologize for…

Reason #1:  I Walked Away from a Good Okay Job

I’ll never forget the look on everyone’s face when I announced I was going to be a writer.  The forced smiles and the crack in my mother’s voice when she asked, “So who you gonna write for?”  When I told them I was going to start freelancing, those smiles became even more strained.

You see, when I was 17, I thought I wanted to write and even took a few adult writing classes but was told it was impossible to make a living as an author.  So, after high school, I took computer classes (to everyone’s relief) and learned everything you could about Microsoft products.

P.S. I never bothered showing up on graduation day.

P.S.S. I still couldn’t find work even with my new skills. Apparently, you need to have 5 years of experience to get an entry level job.  Funny, they never mentioned that in school!

I wound up getting a crappy office job making $1 more than the people at McDonald’s.  Whenever I would complain, my dad would say, “Well, it’s better than nothing!”  But in actuality, if I had just crunched the numbers, I would have discovered that I’d been better off on unemployment.  At least then, I could’ve had 24hrs I needed to build my business and would’ve been paid by the government to do it!

Reason #2:  I Can’t Even Sell My Own Book!

Not long ago, I found myself telling someone not to buy my book even though that person was my target audience.  Keep in mind, I’ve created online ads, done book tours, and even did interviews but I just can’t bring myself to scream, “Buy my book!” at unsuspecting people like a crazy old bag lady.

Reason 3:  I’ll Probably End up on Government Assistance 

Recently, on Facebook the question was asked, “What one piece of advice do you wish someone had shared with you before you started to write?”  Answers included things like:

1.     “Don’t do it for the money”

2.     “Run!”

3.     “Don’t quit your day job”

4.     “Have a backup plan career wise.”

Notice how it was all money related?  Even authors who were doing well decades ago, are having a hard time making money these days.  With no advances, small royalties, and no control, traditional publishing is becoming an impossible environment.  Back in the day, authors were selected and groomed for the industry but now, I face the same mentality I did during the recession, which is: “What have you done (sold) already?”

Reason #4:  I Talk Like I’m Crazy!

This past summer I was interviewed on a podcast where we discussed character development and intuitive writing.  The host asked, “Did you ever have one of your characters just take over?”  Me being me, answered, “Of course, sometimes I have to fight with them.”

Yeah, nobody will use that one against me in a mental competency trial!

In Closing…

There’s plenty more I need to apologize for like blogging when I should be working on my novel.  However, the fact of the matter is, I’m not sorry, never was.  If this turns out to be some silly pipe dream then I’m okay with it.  The biggest crime any dreamer can commit is wasting time, whether it be in a cubicle in corporate America, or in relationship that’s long dead.  Forbes did an article called 25 Biggest Regrets in Life and most of the people surveyed regretted not trying things that really matter to them.

Granted, no one wants be Don Quixote who comically fought the windmill, but don’t forget, he originally set out to restore chivalry.  Yearning for the days of knights, damsels and dragons he left it all behind to search for something he felt was lost.  And like Don Quixote, we all long to be something more, right?

So back to you, what are you apologizing for?

Business, Publishing

The Argument for Spending Money Part 5: Book Covers for Indie Authors

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Photo via Pixabay

It’s one of the biggest mistakes I made as an indie author, and I’m not the only one.  Many self-published authors design their own covers in PowerPoint or Adobe PhotoShop and guess what?  It looks like it!  There are so many indie books look God awful!  Today there are several sites dedicated to mocking lousy book covers by both indies and trade publishers.

The cover of your book is too important to leave up to personal taste.  For example, when my favorite blogger came out with a book, I was stunned when I saw their cover.  It was literally a rainbow of purple, I immediately thought, how can I take this book seriously?

Your cover is literally going to be the first impression that readers get of you.  It needs to be professional, as well as eye catching in order to compete with the millions of other books out there.  You have to understand readers spend literally seconds deciding whether they’ll bother clicking on your book.  The cover you chose with either draw them in, or repel them.

Money Issues

The reason why I and most indie authors choose to design our own covers is lack of cash.  Many designers charge hundreds, if not, thousands for their services and they deserve that kind of money.  Sadly, we indies can’t afford those prices unless we bleed our retirement accounts dry, or max out our credit cards. But never fear, there are ways to get cheap book covers that are professional and gorgeous.

Project Bidding Sites:  Freelance Designers

Here’s how it works, you launch a “contest” or project telling the potential designers what you want in a cover.  You can even submit a sketch or photo to give them a better feel of what you need.  The designers then jockey for your project by submitting their work.  It generally costs $299 for a book cover.

99 Designs is one of the most popular and well known cover designers to indie authors.  They create not only book covers, but business cards, t-shirts, and even web page banners.

Similar sites where you can hire freelance designers are; Elance, Odesk, and Guru.  You post a job, and freelancers from all over the world will then bid on your project.  At these sites, freelancers are paid by the hour or per project.  You either have to set a budget or agree to someone’s per hour rate by coughing up the cash and putting it in “escrow” as a sign of good faith.  There may also be fees to post on the site, contracts that you have to sign and 10-99 tax forms.

Direct Hire:

There are agencies either ran independently or consisting of several book designers that can help indie authors with their covers.  Some create unique art while others use stock images that they’ve altered according to the theme of a book or the specifications of the author.

  • The Scarlett Rugers Book Design Agency uses royalty free stock photos and does ebook, print and can even design banners for Facebook, or your website from $350 to $1095.
  • Robin Ludwig Design (GoBookCoverDesign.com) creates book covers using stock photos as well, prices here range from $80 to $120 depending on the time and turnaround.
  • ExpertSubject.com offers unique book covers starting at $150 and going up to $224 for print.
  • Indie Designz that provides basic book covers at $75.  They also do print covers and format ebook covers for print as well.  The first two drafts are free but those afterward, will cost you $5.

Premade Covers:

It’s just what it sounds like, here authors purchase book covers based on work already completed by a designer.  Here what you see is what you get, after the purchase it’s up to the author to add text, and font.

If You Must do it Yourself!

I know some of you are thinking, “Why should I pay someone to format a stock photo?  I can do that myself!”  Really?  That’s what I thought too!  But if you are determined to do it, read on…

 Stock Photos/Art:  Licensing

When purchasing a stock photo or illustration, you are purchasing a license to put an image on your product.  The image will still be available for sale on the site, leaving open the possibility for a copy cat cover popping up somewhere else.  However don’t fret, many big publishers also buy stock photos for their ebooks, just check out this Goodreads thread and see for yourself.

It’s so common in fact, that blogger Danielle Perez, of Book Whore has a monthly feature called Cover Wars it’s like a who wore it best, only with book covers.

The Perils of Stock Images: Terms of Use

It’s imperative that an indie author reads the conditions in the licensing terms very carefully before putting down any cash.  Not all images are being licensed the same way.  For example, an editorial license may forbid you from altering an image.  Also, there are licenses that limit the amount of times you can print an image.  If the restriction is 5,000 then you’ll have to go back and purchase a new license if you sell over 5,000 print books.

Too Good to be True Prices

Be weary of prices, I’ve seen pictures advertised as .20 cents but you have to buy “credits” on these sites which come in packages ranging from $9.00 to $1,000.  So that .20 cent photo is really gonna cost you $8.80.  Go figure!

You can buy all sorts of images like; cartoons, art, and even photos from these sites:

Book Covers on a Shoe String Budget: Freebies

There are photo sharing sites that allow you to use a photo free of charge because it’s either a public domain work, or the owner wants free publicity, which means you gotta give them or their company credit somewhere in your book.  Again, read the conditions carefully!

Jazzing Up Your Stock Image: Software

There are all kinds of software that help you edit photos Windows for example has Paint and it’s standard with most home versions of Windows.  Also, there’s the standard Adobe PhotoShop and even Corel PaintShop, but if you don’t have these programs, you can always get the same photo editing capabilities for free.

Free Downloadable Software:

There are plenty of places that offer free software but you have to be careful about updates and read their privacy terms.

Free Websites:

I’m a huge fan of these websites because they’re user friendly and there’s no software taking up space on your hard drive.  Here you just upload your photos and alter them on the website itself.  No fuss, no muss.

One Final Word…

I hope I showed you that you don’t need a ton of money to have a professional and gorgeous book cover.  If you know of an indie author who needs to read this, please pass this along.  Maybe one day, we’ll be able to put that “self-published look” to rest.

Now it’s your turn to sound off, do you know of any designers/artists that we should know about?  If so, give us a heads up and a link to their site.

Business, Publishing

The Argument for Spending Money Part 4: Book Formatting

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Image via Pixabay

The big problem most indie authors have is how to format their book for either print or ebook.  Honestly, there are many methods that range from free and irritating to expensive and not worth it.  When given a choice like this, it’s always best to learn what you can and whatever you can’t, farm out to a professional.

Ebooks

Despite what you may have heard, ebooks are not easy to produce especially, if you have images, or live links in them.  Though you wouldn’t know that by the accounts of some authors who’ve described the process as, “Just click publish!” I can’t tell you how wrong they are.

I ran into several issues uploading my Word document to Kobo and Barnes & Noble.  For some inexplicable reason, the darn thing wouldn’t upload.  So I had to convert my .doc to an .epub file however, in order to do that, I had to get Scrivener, a type of software that converts Word documents into .epub, .mobi, and .pdf files.  Scrivener cost me around $40 and I soon discovered why it’s so cheap.  Apparently, Scrivener doesn’t read its own compiled (converted) files!  To read the .epub or .mobi file you just created, you’ll have to get an extension on your web browser, or download some free ereading software.  See, I told you, it was a pain!

Resources:

If you must try to convert your own files, here are a few resources to help you get started. Be warned, paid services generally have customer service, so if something goes awry, you can get help.  The free sites however, don’t always offer those options so read the conditions carefully.  P.S. I am in no way affiliated with any of these companies, their products, or their websites.

Downloadable Software that Help Convert Word documents to eBooks

Websites  That Convert Word Documents to ebooks

  • Press Books (Free Website to convert files but if you want distribution to stores like Amazon, B&N and Apple it’s $99 and it’s done through BookBaby.com )
  • Smashwords (Website 20% cut of royalties).
  • Book Tango (Free Website)

Ereader Extensions for Your Browser in Case You Want to Read Your Darn Book!

Print Books

I published my paperback on CreateSpace and regretted every second of it.  First, I’m no expert in book design or layout.  I didn’t know which size I should choose, 6×9, or 8 ½ x 11?  I had no idea which would look best.  When you can’t make a simple decision like this, you know you’re in a lot of trouble!  Foolishly, I listened to the advice of the self-publishing gurus and made the size of my book too large, which made my book appear too short, like a novelette.

I spent days adjusting gutters and formatting the cover, when a professional would’ve had my book done in hours.  I even tried using the templates provided by CreateSpace but it just turned my text into all caps.  Even when I got my book looking somewhat decent, I still wasn’t very happy with the results.  There were still obvious rookie mistakes like starting a chapter on a left page instead of a right one, headers on the chapter pages etc.

To add insult to injury, after fixing my mistakes, the print books didn’t sell nearly as well as the eBooks.  That wouldn’t have happened if I had done a little market research.

If I could do it over again, I would skip the print book, or at least pay for a professional to do the interior.

Resources

Paying Someone to Format Your Print Book

Paying a freelancer or professional designer is going to cost you anywhere from $35 to $375.  Many services charging per page or even according to genre.

  • CreateSpace has its own designers and professionals who will help you design the best book possible, but it’ll cost you around $249.
  • BookServ.com has prices starting at $250 for up to 160 pages and $375 for up to 500 pages.
  • TheFastFingers.com has a service starting at $100 for fiction, $150 for children’s and $250 for nonfiction.
  • IndieDesignz.com  has a book formatting service starting at $35 for short stories and $85 for novels.

Templates

If this is out of your price range, you can go with a template to format your print book and do a copy and paste.

  • Recently, Joel Friedlander of the BookDesigner.com created affordable and professional looking templates for MS Word starting at $37
  • Self-Publishing Inc. has templates that come in three book sizes for free
  • Book Baby has some very basic templates to help you with the layout of your print book also, for free.

Disclaimer:

Before signing up with any services, always read the fine print especially, when putting any money down.  Also, do your due diligence to find people who have actually used their services.  Google the name of the company and the words, “reviews”, “complaints”, and “rip off” to see if there are any dissatisfied customers.  Remember an educated author is a happy author.

Business, Publishing, Writing Business

Getting Others to Pay for Your Self-Publishing Expenses

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Image via Pixabay

This article was updated in 2016 in the post: Old School vs New School Crowdfunding: Which One Should Authors Consider? Please check that out.

It’s been called the no money, no problem solution in self-publishing, I’m of course talking about crowd funding.  Crowd funding got its start in response to a very dark past, when self-publishing was much like gambling since it was unlikely an author would ever recoup their initial investment.  In those primitive days, aspiring authors would charge all their publishing expenses on credit cards or withdraw from retirement accounts in order to make their dreams come true.  Not understanding how publishing works, many indies watched their life savings depleted by expensive vanity publishing contracts and unscrupulous con artists.

Since we indie authors are running a business, why don’t we raise capital like a normal business?  Just because some editor or agent says no, doesn’t mean a book should die.  There are several online sites that industrious authors can use to fund their self-published projects like; Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and RocketHub just to name a few.

The Dark Side of Crowd Funding

According to the rules of most popular crowd funding sites, there is 2-9% cut of all money raised.  However the fees don’t end there, some banks and middle men like in the case of Kickstarter, (Amazon Payment) takes another 3-5% for credit card processing fees.  Also, authors can’t forget the tax man because according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, all money raised on a crowd funding site is 100% taxable.  That means authors are going to have to carefully do the math and possibly raise their monetary goals to accommodate these additional expenses.

In this Ted Talk, performance artist Amanda Palmer, encouraged artists to “ask without shame.”  Amanda by the way, holds the record on Kickstarter for raising the most money for a music project with over one million dollars in donations.  The money she raises not only goes to fund the project but also allows her and her band to giveaway their work free of charge.  In an age where most artists discourage torrents and file sharing Amanda and her band actually encourage it.  This is blatantly counter intuitive to most corporate business models in which freebies are used only as a short term marketing ploy.  On the flip side, Amanda’s strategy is more long term, using digital music as a promotional tool, rather than a money making venture.  As the industry argues over .99 songs, Amanda and her band have successfully cut out the middle man and are setting up their next tour.

So how does an author repeat this success?

Social Media to the Rescue?

Many indie artists take to the web by guest posting on popular blogs, or even advertising on social media sites like Facebook to raise awareness for their self-publishing endeavor.  Those who have a larger social media following generally do better than those that don’t.  We’re talking about 25,000+ “engaged” followers.

Here are a few tips on how to run a successful campaign:

  • Successful campaigns are funded by tiny increments, so set the pledges to smaller amounts like $5 or $10.
  • Campaigns with videos explaining your project and enthusiasm seem to do better than those without them.
  • Have a compelling blurb explaining your project with a call to action.
  • Promote your project on social media because most projects are funded 80% by family and friends.
  • Fund other projects in popular niches like movies, gaming, or music to get visibility on the site as well as some good karma.

Crowd funding can be a viable path for the more savvy author who already knows how to promote a book since the steps are so similar, but even then, there are no guarantees of a successful crowd funding project.