Before you publish, Part 14 —The elephant in the room: Money

Before you Publish - 14

I had this whole other blog post prepared for today covering working with contractors. I even spent my few breakfast minutes before work cleaning it up. But as the day wore on and my anxiety level ratcheted up, for no apparent reason, I felt like that post wasn’t what I need to be talking about right now. What I want to talk about is money. I invested a substantial amount of money in The Dark Queen of Darkness. I’d hazard a guess as to say the amount of dollars I put into this project this far exceeds what most indie authors could afford by a wide margin, and I’m not done yet. I saw it as something of an investment, but looking back on that investment, I’m questioning it. Granted, I’m only a few weeks in, but the mountain I’ve got to climb just to recoup costs may not be surmountable.

This topic kicked off in my head last night during an exchange with a fellow author. I’ll leave their name out of it for the moment because it wasn’t the most upbeat discussion. To be clear: This person is helpful, present, and someone I look to for guidance. It really hurts me to see them in the place they are in as a writer. What it all boils down to, however, is dollars. More specifically, the dollars we spend, without seeing any sort of Return on Investment (ROI).

We all want to live the dream: be a writer full-time. I realized a few years ago, that it wasn’t practical for me, even going traditional. It might be for a lucky and persistent few, but not for most of us. My revised plan revolves around having a substantial catalog by the time I retire in some 15 or so years. I think most writers don’t think this way, and rightly so. We want to do this professionally, are willing to put in the hours and legwork, but can’t scratch up enough of an audience to make it happen —Even really quite talented writers fall into this category.

So. Is it worth it?

Some context first. I have two books currently in the universe two more in the pipeline for the next 12-24 months. More money will need to be spent to launch these and I want to know if it’s even worth thinking about. After all, I have a job, and it’s a rare good one. I don’t really need to jump into something else. The only thing I can say to this is that I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA. None at all. I often repeat the phrase “luck favors the prepared.” I say this because you can’t win the lottery if you don’t play, you don’t win the football game if you don’t show up, and you sure as hell can’t become a professional writer if you don’t write.

What I’m getting at is that it’s my belief, right or wrong, that not doing something you’re passionate about leaves you with 0 chance to succeed at that thing. Giving it your all, whatever that looks like, gives you the best opportunity to capitalize on a lucky break. You might never see a lucky break. Loads of people never do, but how awful would it be to get one and not be able to run with it?

So, to swing back around to dollars (or Pounds or Euros or whatever the hell spends in your part of the world.) Put in what you think you can, or what’s necessary. If you have $3000 to drop into a book and have a reason to —do that. Do it to make your work professional, findable, and something you’re proud of. If you have $0, it turns out that you too can publish. Your returns will stink, but know this: You’re $3000 up on some other ding-dong selling precisely the same number of books.

So, should we keep on throwing our work into the universe with no expectation you’ll attract enough readers to pay the bills? The answer, if you’re an indie, is YES. Do this. Don’t give it away, of course, get paid for your work when you can, but don’t not do it if you love it. In the end, you may be upside-down dollar-wise and will have proven to yourself that it was not, in fact, worth it,  but you tried.

To put one last analogy on this, and be perfectly frank with folks, I am the ding-dong who spent about $3K on The Dark Queen of Darkness, and I think the production value shows. But I will never make back that investment on this book. It simply can’t happen without a VERY lucky break. I’ll work my ass off to sell copies to try to at least break-even and get it into the hands of readers, but it’s not really in the cards here. However, if I had decided to open a home-brew supply store, one of my hair-brained ideas from years ago, I would have to invest TEN TIMES that much and might wind up in exactly the same boat. So, yes, you’ve put in the time and didn’t make any money, but literally every other investment you can think of is no different.

Best of luck, writer friends. If you’re thinking about publishing and you’re on the fence about spending money, spend if you have it, if not, don’t. Either way, please don’t give up, the odds are tall and you may never get to do this professionally, but tell your stories. The world needs them.

To see the other blog posts in this series, check here.

Before you publish, Part 13 —Launching a Second Book

Before you Publish - 13

It’s now almost two weeks after The Dark Queen of Darkness hit the world. This was a project some 4 years in the making. It’s an accomplishment, to be sure, and now it’s time to answer the question, ‘what now?’ It seems like it should be easy: Write another book! Practically speaking, that’s a back-burner project, but generally something I’m moving forward as I can. That said, before I can focus on getting Book 2 of the “Basket Case Files” rolling or perhaps finally get Deep Space Engineering Helpdesk in some sort of condition to publish, I need to do some other things first.

The first thing I need to work on is marketing. This is not something I understand well and haven’t had any real success at, though I’m starting to develop some strategies. Really though, the most important thing I need to do is share my experience for the benefit of my writer friends. I always feel that going forward is more straight-forward if I can see what other folks have gone through first. When I first launched into the publication of my second book, I thought that by getting Wine Bottles and Broomsticks out the door first, I’d have a handle on what to do the next time out. That could not have been further from the truth. This particular experience was a LOT harder than the first time. While that was a bit unexpected, the results boil down to the following:

  • Better produced book (cover, editing, layout etc…),
  • Better visibility,
  • Sales are comparable to Wine Bottles and Broomsticks (so far),
  • I’m more satisfied with this work than my previous launch.

To stay brief, this post kicks off a continuation of my series on publishing insights from an indie author. Now that I’ve done this twice, I’ve not only had twice the experience but also learned twice as much as the first time around. As I did with my first book, I’m going to try to recap some of the things I did, why I did them that way, what I learned, and what I’d do differently. Rather than being a checklist of what you NEED to do before publishing like the first part of this series, I’ve got items to talk about that are more in the realm of ‘optional’ things. Most of these are not strictly necessary to self-publish, but they’re absolutely part of the landscape. The point is to relay how these worked out for me, how I might approach differently and my recommendation for anyone looking into it. I will also be reaching out to other authors to get their perspectives throughout this series.

Here are some of the topics I’ll cover; hopefully, I’ll be able to get one out each week.

  • Hiring contractors – what to expect,
  • Setting up your release date,
  • Creating an imprint,
  • Cover Design,
  • Internal layout,
  • Marketing and advertising,
  • ISBNs,
  • Copyright registration,
  • IngramSpark,
  • Barnes & Noble,

To accompany this series, I also plan to do a YouTube series on InDesign specifically for indie writers, once it launches (sometime in late March or early April 2020), they will be a set of 5-10 minute videos on:

  • Why InDesign, how to set up your project, and general book layout considerations,
  • Placing your material in InDesign,
  • Page masters & why it matters,
  • Styles explained,
  • Dealing with Images,
  • A bit of jargon and cleaning up the layout,
  • Final check on page-masters, styles, layouts and overall look,
  • Export settings,
  • Formatting for ePub – Table of Contents,
  • Formatting for ePub – Using Styles to organize your book,
  • Exporting for ePub,
  • Exporting for .mobi (kindle).

So that’s where I’m headed. If you’re interested, just keep an eye on this blog or follow me on Twitter @daveskoster. If you want a signed paper copy, they’ll be available locally in Wasilla and Anchorage or find me on social media and maybe we can figure out something with Venmo.

Breaking a Fairy Tale 

Except for my efforts to get Wine Bottles and Broomsticks published on inkshares.com I’ve got two major works in progress at the moment. The first is the Deep Space Help Desk – I really want to knock that out, but I got stuck -I have to back up a chapter or two and take a different angle. Really, I just need a solid day to focus on that project to get it put back on the rails again. The second project, The Dark Queen of Darkness, is in slightly better shape, even if I’m finding it a slightly more difficult project to write. 

The Dark Queen of Darkness is an unexpected project. It launched as a way to test out my new iOS version of Scrivener, and also an excersize in employing tricks learned (stolen) from Terry Pratchett. Not so much as taking his words or style as incorporating parts of his approach to story telling, it appeals to me and, as they say, what doesn’t kill you or get you sued for copyright infringement will only make you stronger. In any case, the story has taken hold because it’s got a fairly clear trajectory. At least, it has if I treat it like a fairy tale, albeit a seriously broken, yet true-to-form fairy tale.

With all that in mind, and some advice received after sharing the first part of the first chapter, I went back and pivoted slightly more toward a YA vibe, and starting working the fairy tale angle a little harder. Right now, I’m looking largely at Snow White, while brining in characters from other tales. This isn’t anything like a new idea, but it’s a new approach for me. I also happen to be fortunate enough to have in my possession a stack of books containing hundreds of old fairy-tales with a publication date of 1928, which I realize as I write this puts these books at nearly 90 years old – the oldest we have in the house by a considerable number of decades. The image up top features one of these books with the illustration of Snow White and Rose Red, which I only know because I read that one last night from the other book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

In any case, the idea with this story is to make it an upside-down fairy tale that takes on the well trodden tropes and re-uses them in a slightly bent or fully ironic manner. For example, there’s the huntsman. He appears in a bunch of stories, I’m going to work him in with a lead role. Prince Charming comes in all over the place, even if not by that name. He’ll appear, after all how could a good, epic fairy tale end without a kiss by a Prince Charming? I’ll also see about writing in some dwarves, trolls, elves, wizards, and other various characters. With that, I’m off to do a bit of research and plotting.