Publishing platforms interview #4, featuring A.M. Leibowitz

AM Leibowitz

For this installment, I thought I’d take a slightly different direction. A few weeks ago, when I was asked to talk about writing to a middle school class one of the questions that came up was, are you going to do an audiobook? The honest truth is that yeah, I’d love to do one, but I seriously doubt I can afford it. I am so sure, I haven’t even looked into it. As part of trying to understand the various avenues for self-publishing, I thought I’d try to learn a bit more about this format. It is, after all, my favorite way to consume books. I can listen while I commute.

With that in mind, I reached out on Twitter to see if I could find any other indies out there who’ve done it and what their experience has been. Fortunately, a mutual connection got me in touch with A.M. Leibowitz, who has agreed to answer a few questions.

D: Before I launch into my questions, I wonder if you could tell us a bit about who you are, what you write, and maybe what you’re working on now?

A.M.: Sure. I wear many hats–social media manager, freelance editor, spouse, parent, and author. My life is kind of a patchwork of odd jobs in writing. I mostly write contemporary slice-of-life fiction for adults, but I’ve also written some YA. Most of my work has LGBTQ+ characters and themes. Currently, I’m wrapping up a manuscript for the last part of a series set in Boston. But after I send that off, I’ll be working on the sequel to my YA novella–the one I have in audiobook format.

D: Before I wrote up these questions, and I know I asked you here for audiobooks, especially, but I did some digging to learn more about you, and I found you’ve got quite a few titles out there, some through Supposed Crimes (Acquitted books) and Beaten Track Publishing with some independent (I think –you can correct me if I’m wrong there). Could you talk a little about how you decide to publish through imprint vs. independently?

A.M.: I wrote a novel, Lower Education, primarily taking shots at my state’s educational system. It was done for NaNoWriMo, and I had no intention of publishing it, pretty much like every other NaNoWriMo novel I’d done before then. But I was doing some beta/pre-reading for a friend, and she said, “I’ll pitch it to my publisher.” I absolutely love writing for Supposed Crimes because I think it’s the best of both worlds, indie and trad pub. I get covers, editing, and promotion, but I also maintain a lot of control of my work. I have to provide a cover for Beaten Track, but everything else comes with the territory there, too.

The indie thing…well, I had some old works. My spouse suggested putting them out there, low-cost, to get some nibbles before my first novel went live. It worked. Now I enjoy having a mix of methods. My shorter stuff, despite the lack of reviews, sells well and pays for itself, pretty much. And new short works do nicely to feed interest in the longer ones. Win-win.

D: So on to the audiobook questions. What title did you do this for?

A.M.: Year of the Guilty Soul, my YA coming of age novella. https://www.amazon.com/Year-of-the-Guilty-Soul/dp/B07K2J41ZB/

D: Was this a totally independent publication or did you work with a press, like Supposed Crimes?

A.M.: It’s published through Beaten Track, originally part of the Seasons of Love anthology. But I have all rights to the audio, which I produced on my own.

D: Where is it available, and why did you choose that platform?

A.M.: Amazon, via Audible. I chose it because it was the easiest for a newbie like myself. They walk you through the entire process. And if you put it exclusively through Audible, you get higher royalties.

D: There are a ton of companies where you can have a book printed with all levels of quality, is the same true for audio books – or is it more complex than that?

A.M.: There are fewer options for audiobooks, but most of the big companies have a sales platform for them. The issue is more whether you want to or are able to produce it on your own or whether you need more guidance.

D: As an author wanting to produce an audiobook, where might I start?

A.M.: ACX, which is Amazon’s audiobook production room. You can find a narrator there or provide the audio files from an independent narrator. They have step by step instructions.

One thing I would say is, start with a shorter work. I haven’t had any success finding a narrator for a whole novel. But I had five auditions for my novella within 3 days of putting it up. Also, I think it’s easier to find a female narrator than a male one and easier to get YA narrated than adult fiction.

D: Leading up to this interview, you said it went super well and loved the narrator.  That sounds pretty awesome. Did you get to work with the narrator on inflection, tone, and pacing to get the flavor of the work?

A.M.: Yes. We worked together every step of the way. I had to have some trust in her to get the voices right–it is, after all, partly her creative process. But I gave her some direction, such as name pronunciations and what I was looking for. She absolutely nailed my narrator’s tone and attitude. The story is set in my home city, and she even researched our local accent! I knew within three sentences of her audition that I wanted her because she just got it–understood what I was saying with the story and what it meant to me.

D: What responsibilities do you have, as an indie author, in getting a book produced and made available for purchase?

A.M.: It depends on where you produce it. Through ACX, it’s vital to have the book’s text match exactly with the narration so it syncs. That’s a lot of work. For a whole novel, it’s best to have an independent listener who can catch mistakes–a lot like how authors are best off not editing our own work. It takes hours, usually more than the actual audiobook duration. Both my narrator and I did the proofing since the work was short.

Besides that, you have to create the audition file, listen to the potential narrators, upload files, etc. ACX does the heavy lifting, fortunately, once it’s all finalized.

D: I think one of the biggest hurdles for indie authors in producing an audiobook is cost. What might an author expect to pay for an audiobook?

A.M.: So, mine was free. I chose royalty share with my narrator, so she and I will both continue to get royalties for as long as the title is listed. That’s another reason I chose exclusively Audible and the higher royalties.

It does make it harder to find a narrator for longer works. If I were looking for a narrator and paying for them up front, I’d probably already have one for a novel.

If you want to pay an independent narrator, it depends. Most will list their fees. I’m actually slowly saving up because I want a specific narrator for my series. It’ll cost me roughly $2k for all 4 books. I feel it’s worth it, both for this narrator’s gorgeous voice and because these are my best-selling novels. And for anyone reading this, please consider giving Vance your books! He’s not only incredibly talented, he’s super nice, and his rates are reasonable. http://www.vancebastian.com

D: What was the hardest part of making an audiobook?

A.M.: The proofing! It’s tedious.

D: The honest truth is that I know so little about audiobooks, aside from listening to them, that I’m not 100% sure what to even ask that might be helpful. What advice would you give to someone like me, who has yet to even start serious research?

A.M.: Start with the help section of ACX. That will at least help you know if it’s right for you. Do something small first. It’ll take up less of your time, and you’ll be able to see what the process is like and if it’s doable for a longer project.

If you want your own narrator, or want to pay up front rather than royalty share, then ask on social media who others like. Different narrators are good for different genres. I mentioned Vance Bastian above. I love him, but he has a warm, gentle tone that might be less good for an action-packed war novel. A person who would take that action-packed war novel to the next level is probably not a good pick for a romance set in a rural New England village. Ideally, you’ll ask people in your genre who they like.

D: That’s all of the questions I could think of. Do you have anything else to add?

A.M.: First, I want to give a big shout-out to my narrator, Finley Smith. She is absolutely a treasure. I believe she works independently as well as with ACX. Her voice is excellent for YA. Even though my next novella in the series has a male MC, I’m going to see if she wants to do it anyway so we can keep consistency.

And I think that’s the other thing. I’ve noticed that my other friends who have produced audiobooks tend to do this. They find a narrator, and they develop a working relationship. I think that’s probably the key to success, the human factor. Oh, and having fun with it. Making an audiobook was really a dream come true–my story is now accessible to many more people.

Thank you, A.M. Leibowitz, for taking the time to help me out! A.M. Leibowitz is the author of Year of the Guilty Soul and two series, Notes from Boston and Faithfully Yours, which are available on a variety of platforms, including Barnes & NobleAmazon, and you can check out their website at http://amleibowitz.com/

Publishing platforms interview #3, featuring Deby Fredricks

Deby Fredricks Revised

For this installment of interviews on publishing, I’ve reached out to Deby Fredricks. I first met Deby through WordPress and she has been a constant source of encouragement and inspiration. Without further ado, here’s our interview:
DK: Hi Deby, thanks for doing this, I really appreciate it. Before I get into my questions, I wonder if you could take a minute to tell us about yourself and your writing?

DF: Thanks for having me, Dave. This will be fun!

It all started in my senior year of high school. The bus got me there an hour before my first class. So where would I go but the library, and what would I do besides write? It taught me to make writing part of my routine. I was able to stick with it through college and into my “Real Life,” flitting from project to project without really finishing anything.
During this same time, I was intensely role-playing Champions, the superhero RPG. I also got involved with a Dragonriders of Pern fan club that involved a ton of writing. Between those two influences, I built my skills and eventually finished my first novel since college. The Magister’s Mask was published in 2004.

DK: How would you describe your target audience?

DF: My stories are like fudge brownies — thick and rich and chewy. My audience will be readers who enjoy chewing on issues and aren’t thrown off by non-standard resolutions. I always try to leave space for the readers to make up their own minds about some of the story problems. Although I write High Fantasy, my emphasis is on ordinary people rather than the great and powerful. Questions around the nature and purpose of magic often turn up, and so do situations between family members. After all, who knows you better than family? Who else knows how to hurt you as badly, or have your back in dire situations?

DK: Are you exclusively self-published, or have you gone through a publishing house before?

DF: My first publication was by the fine people at Dragon Moon Press, and later I worked with Sky Warrior Books. These are both small presses.

DK: Why did you decide to self-publish?

DF: The plan was to keep climbing the ladder and eventually be published in New York. However, I am not a fast writer, and my work is too complex for those snappy one-line pitches the editors like so much. In addition, I’ve realized I wouldn’t enjoy being under deadlines and such. So I’ve shifted to self-publishing more and more.

DK: Do you make your books available in print or are you just focused on e-books?

DF: I try to do both, though the material has to be long enough to work as a book. There have to be enough pages for the spine to hold a printed title. With a standard novel, that isn’t a problem, so I do them in print, Kindle, E-pub and PDF.

DK: Your book The Gellboar: A Dark Fantasy is only available as an e-book. Why did you decide to stick to an e-book format for this work?

DF: As explained above, The Weight of Their Souls and The Gellboar both are novelettes and would be too small for a print edition. If there was enough interest, I could look at publishing them together in print. My next two e-books will be novellas, which are slightly longer, and I definitely plan to publish them together in print.

DK: Thinking about publishing, what would you describe as your biggest challenge?

DF: Publicity, marketing, and getting attention in a crowded marketplace. It’s a constant effort, which I haven’t always kept after as much as I should. I’ve been blogging for years — and thanks for mentioning Wyrmflight — but didn’t pay much attention to my author newsletter. Revitalizing that is my main foal for 2019. Anybody can subscribe, by the way!

DK: What is your process for editing?
DF: After I finish the first draft, I ask my husband and my good friend to read it. They aren’t writers themselves, but they’ve read a lot, and their comments are always on-point. I read and consider those remarks before starting the second draft. When it’s time for revision, I print the thing out (even if it’s huge) and read it. I don’t know why, but the text looks different on paper than on a screen. So I try to read it without marking anything and get a sense of where there is a loss of tension or how to account for the things my critiquers brought up. Then I will re-read and make corrections, enter them in the computer, and print it again. I keep reading and revising, then correcting and printing, until I don’t find anything else that needs fixing.

DK: How do you produce your covers?
DF: I have a membership on Shutterstock that allows me to search for images. There’s a particular artist I like, and I always search for their stuff first. It takes a while (and a lot of eye strain) to search through the catalog and winnow it down until I find the one I want to use. With that downloaded, I go to a program called Canva and lay out the cover. I make my title on a different web site and import it to Canva. I do some online browsing to check out what other fantasy book covers are looking like currently. I’ll then make between three and five different layouts to see what I like. Eventually (after more eye strain) I choose the one I want and download it to my system.

DK: How do you advertise/market your books?

DF: I mention them frequently on my blog, in my author newsletter, in my e-mail signature, and so forth. I try to keep bookmarks with me so I can hand them out to people I’m chatting with. I also make several appearances a year, at bookstores and conventions, and I always bring copies with me to those.

DK: Your books are available on Amazon, are they available anywhere else?

DF: They sure are. I actually do only the Kindle publication through Amazon. For other formats, I use Draft2Digital. There’s an author hub there with my books in every format except Kindle. You can also reach a number of online booksellers, such as I-tunes and Barnes & Noble, through that hub. The one thing that’s up in the air is where I’ll get printed copies of my books. I did have them through CreateSpace, but Amazon has now taken that over. The transition was fairly smooth, so no grudge there, but Draft2Digital has also begun offering print services. I’ll be comparing the two before I decide about my next printed editions.

DK: That’s all of my questions, do you have anything you’d like to add or advice you’d like to offer to authors?

DF: Realize that in publishing, everything takes a long time. When you’re traditionally published, it takes even longer. You have to be prepared for that. My advice is to have another project to work on while you’re waiting to hear back. This is a career. You should learn about it, and have a business plan. Even when you self-publish, there are expenses. However, try not to become fixated on money or sales. Instead, focus on the writing itself and have fun with that. Writing will give you more satisfaction than watching your sales figures. And don’t forget — if you subscribe to my newsletter, I’ll give you a free e-book!

Thank you, Deby for taking the time to respond to my questions. Deby Fredericks is the author of The Gellboar and several others. Check out her author pages at Amazon or Books2Read. You can also check out her website at www.debyfredricks.com.

Publishing platforms interview #2, featuring Vania Margene Rheault

VMR Interview Header

For this installment of interviews on publishing, I’ve reached out to Vania Margene Rheault. I connected with Vania Margene Rheault through Twitter, originally, and find myself enjoying her Facebook meme game daily. Not only that, Vania has some really good posts on the process of publishing on her website (https://vaniamargene.com/). Here is our interview:

D: Hi Vania, thank you for taking the time to respond to my questions. Before I get going, could you say a little something about yourself and your work?

VMR: Thanks for having me, Dave! I appreciate the opportunity to chat!

I think the one thing that sticks out for me right now is how lucky I am to be in a place in my life where I can write. I see lots of people trying to write while they have little kids, or demanding jobs, or unsupportive spouses. I don’t have any of that holding me back. I found writing again when I was older, I have more time to put into it, and honestly, more wisdom and respect for the profession and the work that needs to go into it. I’m also fortunate in that I love what I write, and it’s marketable. I’ve managed to meld writing to market and loving what I write together, and I’m not kidding, it’s a daily relief.

D: You’re fairly prolific. I counted 11 romance titles on Amazon under your name. Is all of your work published by Coffee & Kisses Press?

VMR: Yes.

D: Why did you decide to create your own imprint with D.R. Willis?

VMR: Back then, because it was cool it felt to have your own imprint. David and I were talking about how difficult it was to find an imprint name that wasn’t already taken by another author or publishing house. We were lucky that Coffee & Kisses Press wasn’t taken. We share it because it was easier to come up with one rather than two. He writes mystery/suspense, so while that genre doesn’t really fit the tones of the imprint, we thought pairing up would be smart going forward.

D: What advantages do you see to having your own imprint as opposed to self-publishing without an imprint?

VMR: I used to think there were a ton of advantages. I thought no one wanted to admit they’re self-published, and having your own imprint seemed like the thing to do. Now, with so many more books in my back-list, it a small thing compared to what’s more important–writing and publishing good stories.

The biggest takeaway from having your own imprint, I would say, is buying your own ISBN numbers. There is a lot of argument about this–some authors do, some don’t, and in the USA they are very expensive–but just for my own peace of mind, I buy my own and attach one to the e-reader file and one to the paperback. Those books are mine, and I have the numbers to prove it. Listing an imprint under my ISBN numbers is just a small bonus.

D: Except for D.R. Willis, the co-owner of Coffee and Kisses Press, have you considered publishing any other authors under this imprint? Why/Why not?

VMR: I haven’t. I don’t have the time. There are certain obligations a press, even a small press, needs to fulfill for their authors. Covers, editing, formatting. Those are big things, but the biggest thing is distribution. Authors expect their presses to get them distributed worldwide, and hopefully into bookstores. Translation, audiobooks. I know absolutely nothing about any of that. I don’t know how (or can’t afford) to do it for myself, so there is no way I would say I know how, or could pay, for someone else. If I help an author with a cover or editing, or if I format for them, I do that for free, and that’s it. I don’t want to deal with royalties or advances. I know some big-time indies have gone that route, and they have the resources to do it, but it’s not for me.

D: What do you do for editing prior to publishing?

VMR: I have a very strict editing process. I like to let the manuscript sit for a little bit, a few days, maybe a week. I take a break, and blog, do my social media I ignored while writing. Then I read through it on the screen, fix obvious typos, that kind of thing. Then I print it out. I don’t write with chapters, so this is where I chunk it, create chapters. Maybe it’s the paper, but this is stage where I either take out the big sections that don’t need to be there and/or I add where I see scenes need more. I do most of my huge editing this way. After I put those edits in I have Word read it to me. This is great for finding more typos and correcting syntax (and maybe if I can ever afford audio, it’s a great way to hear how your book will sound narrated). After I’m done with that, (and if you do it right it can take a few days) I’ll pass it on to betas [beta readers] who find the rest of the typos that have slipped through. This stage is new for me because I don’t like to wait on people. When I didn’t have betas, I would proof the proof (in paperback form) and hope I would catch the rest of the typos that way. It’s amazing what pops out at you when your book looks like a book. But the last two times I’ve published I had betas help me, and for better or worse, I’ve skipped proofing the proof. It’s a lot of editing because I don’t pay out for an editor. I don’t want to wait in the queue.

D: Your covers are pretty good. I’m not much for romance as a reader, but these covers absolutely grab my attention. How do you get your covers?

VMR: I make my own covers. I buy stock images from canstockphoto.com and use canva.com (I pay for the professional upgrade) to create them. A long time ago I taught myself how to calculate the dimensions for a paperback cover, and experimenting figured out how to make a full-spread in Canva with the downloadable templates from KDP Print. Now that’s what I do in my spare time. I make fake covers so I can get better and develop my eye. There is a lot to a cover: correct DPI, bleed lines, font choice. I think with every book I get a little better, but I don’t know how to use Photoshop, and I’m very limited in GIMP, so I know my skills could be better.

D: What would you describe as your most successful marketing strategy?

VMR: I don’t have a marketing strategy. Right now I’m concentrating on building a back-list and writing more books. The indie environment is more pay to play than ever before, so when marketing you have to know how to use Amazon Advertising, Facebook ads, BookBub. Free social media doesn’t work anymore. Anyone on Twitter knows how annoying it is for authors to tweet their book links all the time, or find private DMs in their inbox with a blurb, cover, and buy link. I read somewhere that 50,000 books are published every month. That’s not even every year. Every month. It’s definitely a pay to play environment now. Pay for ads, pay for promos. And those only work if your book has a fantastic cover, a good blurb, a good first 10% [Amazon calls this the ‘look inside’]. And then after someone buys your book because all that is top-notch, then the rest of your book has to be fabulous so the reader will be blown away and leave a review. Marketing begins with a good product, and lots of indies forget that part. They worry about [their] platform, marketing, and author brand before they have written their book, never mind if it’s even a good book. You can sell a bad book, of course, you can, but you can’t build a readership on it.  

D: I feel like a lot of writers who aren’t involved in romance sort of look down their nose at romance, yet it is a tremendously popular genre. What would you say to folks who disparage this genre?

VMR: This isn’t fair, yet . . . the people who look down on romance, they almost have a point now. What was going on with #copypastecris and now the huge scandal with #ritasowhite. Publishing is a mess, but indie romance is a huge Dumpster fire. Amazon hasn’t helped, not doing anything with bookstuffers, or letting plagiarism pass through their screening system.  It takes them months, if not years, to take down accounts that do things against their terms of service. And now there’s a new thing where a group of romance writers sell[s] their book rights to each other so they can publish their books under different titles and covers –but it’s the same exact book! How can romance writers be taken seriously when all this is going on? Sure there’s money to be made –and these scammers know it.

It’s one reason I’ve taken my books wide. I don’t want to be associated with Kindle Unlimited. While taking your books off Amazon would be cutting off your nose to spite your face, I’ll still sell my books on there but distance myself. I put my books wide [wide meaning other retailers like Kobo, iBooks, Nook], just recently, and I don’t use KDP Print for expanded distribution. While dealing with IngramSpark has been a pain in the neck, I’ll use them for expanded distribution now. Maybe I’m leaving money on the table pulling my books out of KU, but going wide just seemed to be the right move for my business, and every time I hear something else going horribly wrong in the romance indie-industry that has to do with KU, I’m glad I’m out of it.

D: As an author, what do you feel is the largest challenge you face with respect to publishing?

VMR: Discoverability for sure. It’s very very difficult for readers to find your books. Especially if you go into it with the idea you can’t/won’t/don’t want to put money into your business (and don’t get me started on authors who don’t think of their books as a business). I’ve heard from authors who say they can’t spend 20 dollars on a promotion. And I’m just like, okay, but if you can’t pay, how are you going to get your books out there? I’ll let you in on a secret I’ve learned recently. Readers aren’t on social media. Not the way we are. So being involved in Writer Twitter, friending all your writer friends on Facebook, and having them all like your author page and follow you on Instagram . . .  all you’re doing is preaching to the choir. You NEED to break out of writer social media. But it’s hard for indies because you think, where do you buy books? I buy my books at Target [laughing] and my books will never be in Target. So if I want to sell my indie books to people who are willing to read indie, where do I go? What do I do? Tap into ads and target my audience, pay for promos on sites who have been at it long enough they have an enormous newsletter mailing list. If you can’t pay to put your book into the hands of readers, I don’t know what to tell you. When I did a Freebooksy ad for All of Nothing I gave away 6,000 copies (and it cost me 100 dollars to pay for that giveaway). VMR Ad.JPGThat’s 6,000 people who downloaded it and hopefully are reading it and HOPEFULLY like me enough to give it a review and buy my other books. It’s why a back-list is so important. You want a reader to like you and read through your library. But you do have to spend money, and lots of people just can’t wrap their minds around it. And that’s fine. You have to do what you can for your business. If you don’t create a quality product, if you don’t spend money on discoverability, then you can’t complain when no one is reading your book. 

D: Do you make your books available in print? What printer do you use? Why?

VMR: I do make my books available in print, though the number I’ve sold is probably less than fifty across all my books. As with going wide, offering print gives people another way to read my books. Why leave anyone out? KDP Print, with printing costs, forces you to price your books higher than some readers might like to pay, but the option is there. And right next to the ebook price, makes the ebook look like a good deal. Besides, who can resist holding their own book in their hands? Seeing it on a tablet just isn’t the same. Also, they are good for giveaways, and generally, handing out to friends. While giving an ARC away for reviews has turned into emailing someone an epub or pdf file, way back when it used to mean an actual paperback that could be turned into a keepsake. I still like to think that way.

I use KDP Print for Amazon and I’ve switched to Ingram Spark for expanded distribution. You don’t want Ingram Spark to supply your books to Amazon. You don’t want any printer to supply your books to Amazon because Amazon doesn’t play nice with anyone. I’ve heard of several instances where my friends’ books have been “out of stock” when, if they are print on demand, how can they be? I don’t have time to police my books, so I’ll play the game their way.
In the future, I plan to offer my books in Large Print as well. Joanna Penn says there is quite the market for that, that is largely untapped. But that means more formatting and different dimensions for covers, and I’ll need to fit in the time to do that . . . someday. 

D: That’s all of my questions. Do you have anything else you’d like to share or advice you’d like to give to other authors?

VMR: Just keep at it. The EL Jameses are one in a million. Writing and publishing is a long-game, and you don’t need a five-week plan or even a five-month plan. You need a five-year plan. Where do you want to be in five years? In ten? If you don’t know . . . Maybe you won’t be writing. Maybe it’s just a hobby. And that’s cool. But make sure you know what your goals are. What’s that saying? A dream without a plan is just a wish? What’s your definition of success?  Work for that.

Thanks for having me, Dave! It was fun. 🙂

I would like to thank Vania Margene Rheault again for her insight. She is the author of several titles including The Years Between Us which is on pre-order now,  and are available at these retail outlets.

The Years Between Us (on pre-order until May 1st) books2read.com/the-years-between-us
All of Nothing books2read.com/allofnothing1
Wherever He Goes books2read.com/whereverhegoes1
Don’t Run Away books2read.com/dontrunaway
Chasing You books2read.com/chasingyou1
Running Scared books2read.com/runningscared1
You can also visit her website at https://vaniamargene.com/.