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.

Before you publish, Part 12 – Talking books

Before you Publish - 12

In the initial post to this series, I had the following check-list item: I am prepared to talk with people about my work, my book, writing in general, and other books similar to mine or that helped me learn the craft. A lot of writers don’t have a problem with this, but some do. I certainly did, actually, I still do. When you mention that you’ve written a book, the conversation might dwell on that book for a bit, but if you’re talking with a reader, they’re going to want to talk books and writers will want to get into nuts and bolts writing. To state the obvious, everyone is a bit different and the topics that come up are going to vary a lot. I’ve got three examples to illustrate what I’m trying to say here.

To start, I was at a party this summer and was chatting with a reader. Not a reader of my book, but just an avid reader. I mentioned that I’d just published a book (Wine Bottles and Broomsticks). This took the conversation into a discussion of what the book was about and also other books, similar books and what I like to read along with various book-to-movie adaptations and the like. This, I think, is pretty typical of a conversation where my book comes up. This isn’t the sort of thing that is going to net you a sale or a new fan, but it’s an opportunity to introduce yourself, your work and then have a meaningful conversation with a real human person about a topic you’re both interested in. In my EXTREMELY LIMITED experience, this is, hands-down, the easiest, best and cheapest way to sell a book and yourself. People you can connect with on a personal level are much more likely to give your book a try. Not everyone you encounter will, but by discussing other books, you can (subtly) plug your own work and give some context as to why it might be worth their time. That said, it’s hugely important to watch out for circumstances where your new friend will not be interested in your book and don’t push too hard. As I see it, you’re not just selling your story, you’re selling yourself as a story-teller if you push too hard, you won’t get a reader. If you come off as that interesting person from the party, what was his/her name? who wrote a book, you might find yourself appealing to a new reader. Also, ALWAYS carry around business cards with your name, website, and where your work can be found.

The second example comes from work. A colleague read the book and liked it, then she wanted to talk about the book, the characters and how she’s seeing witches all over the place now. Actually, more than one person has had this reaction. On the one hand, this is awesome, because it’s exactly what I want. on the other hand, it was unexpected and I wasn’t truly prepared for it. I don’t mind talking about my book but didn’t expect someone who’s read it to want to talk about it. That said, if I had access to an author of a book I liked, I would absolutely want to talk about it, so I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised. My point is that if you’ve written and published a book and convinced people to read it, you need to be ready to talk about that work in the same way you might talk about any other book you’ve read by any other author. Also, listen to their critical observations, not just smile and nod, note that shit for future consideration.

The last example I’ve got to provide comes from my very first author event at Black Birch Books in Wasilla (this is really a pretty neat place to visit, for a very large number of reasons –it’s the sort of place every community should have). Two people came in for the event that I have never met before (along with some Twitter folk and friends), those two people wanted a book, and they wanted to talk with an author. More importantly, they wanted to say that they too were working on a book or have been for years. This is where preparation is critical. It can be difficult to approach these conversations well. This is, in part, because during these types of situations we are trying to sell books and it can be hard to be patient for someone who is still working on theirs and haven’t quite reached a point where publishing is practical. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that they are aspiring to be behind the very same author event desk you’re behind and it’s essential to be supportive, un-judgemental, sympathetic, and as encouraging as possible. Some day, they might just be behind that same table with something very special to share. By supporting your writing community, you are contributing to a vibrant, productive, and collaborative group. That’s a huge benefit for everyone. All that said, be ready to discuss local writing groups, resources, platforms, and general information –what worked for you, what didn’t, and what you might do differently if you were to do it again. Your network of writer friends is one of the most important things you can invest in as an indie writer.

The whole long point of this article is to say – be prepared to talk about everything writing and even the smallest details of your book. At first, I wasn’t really ready for this, and it took me by surprise. My job has taught me to be good talking on my feet, so I’ve done okay here, but not everyone is going to have that skill. So my advice is that if you aren’t good at BS’ing about any random topic, then you need to prepare yourself for all manner of questions relating to reading and writing.

What do you think, do you have a different experience?

Interested in the rest of the series? Click here.