The Business of Self-Publishing

This past weekend, I attended Book Expo America, the largest publishing event in North America, in New York City.  Specifically, I went to the uPublishu Conference for self-published authors and as a Power Reader, a public pass for access to the Exhibit Floor.  I came away with a couple totebags full of books (a good number for the kids) and pages of notes and useful tips from the industry experts leading the conference sessions.

FFatBEAFor authors or aspiring authors who are considering self-publishing (a growing number, these days), I would suggest that you arm yourself with industry information.  Not necessarily a conference in New York City, but check in your local area for workshops, read websites and blogs and books about the business side of self-publishing, in addition to honing your writing skills. Self-publishing is, afterall, a business, not merely an extension of writing your book.

Self-publishing business vendors had information booths at the Conference. Companies that will help you with your editing, marketing, printing – everything you need to get your book on paper and out into the world. “I’m self-publishing – what do I need all those folks for?” you might be thinking. Here’s the point – you are an aspiring author; you’re not an aspiring copyeditor or illustrator or PR professional. One thing I’ve decided in my own venture is that I can’t do it all – I don’t have the skills nor the time, and it’s a better investment to pay a professional for a job-well done, than to save the money and do an amateur-ish job myself.  Of course, each person has to inventory their own skills, time, money and figure out what they can do for themselves and what they need to hire someone to do.

I attended workshops on consumer demographics (did you know women account for 60% of physical book purchases, about the same for e-books), social media, and niche marketing.  Guy Kawasaki, author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, was the luncheon keynote speaker – a great speaker and a lot of useful information jam-packed into lunch.  My husband has seen him speak at tech-folk conferences, too, and agrees that he’s a really good speaker. Check him out if you get the chance, in the meantime, you can read the book.

You know a workshop session was good when you can’t wait to put something you learned into practice.  I’ve already tried out two or three tips from the conference.  Here’s a few notes that you might also find useful.  (Note, I’m a blogger, too – so I think some – all? – of these are useful in that arena, as well.)

  • Know your audience. This was a workshop itself in which they reviewed industry data, but the message is pretty much right there – who are you targeting? Other than perhaps a dictionary, most books are not for “everyone.” What is the profile of your reader – male/female, age, income, buying habits, eBooks/paper books?  Your marketing plans will be determined by this information.
  • Engage in social media. It’s not just about having a Facebook page or opening a Twitter account, but using those media as effective marketing tools.  Cindy Ratzlaff is a digital brand marketing expert and lead a wonderful session about enhancing your Facebook page, maximizing your 144 characters, and interesting author uses for sites such as YouTube and Pinterest.  Speaking of which, you can check out my Pinterest page – follow along, pin to my boards, or share some of your own pins.  From her session alone, I have a long list of homework; you can take advantage of some of her Twitter Tips available on her website.
  • Be your authentic self. As a writer, as a blogger, in your presentation on social media – be yourself.
  • Be creative in marketing your book, be willing to try out a new idea (that fits with your audience profile).  Something a little out of the box?  Author Maria Murnane, one of the workshop presenters, has a Facebook page for her main character, Waverly Bryson.  It’s a different way to interact with her readers and potential readers.  It might not work for everyone, but it does for her character.  Consider your book, your characters, and figure out what marketing tactics work for you.
  • Do not become an author to make money or become famous, do it because that’s what you want to do. Guy Kawasaki gave this advice as one his “Top 10 Tips” for self-publishing, but I think you could replace “author” with any other thing – doctor, actor, ditch-digger – because the bottom line is, all of these things take a lot of work and you may or may not become rich and famous doing those things, so you are better off doing something you really enjoy and if the riches and fame come along eventually – wonderful!

One of the other ideas I picked up?  Using Animoto to make video collages of your photos.  Here’s the one I made this morning from my Spades Night and Book Launch for Life in Spades. (Note – there is music, so lower the volume if you are at work or in the library or in the Quiet Car on the train.)

Make a video of your own at Animoto.


Throwing a Spades Party

Enjoying my Spades Night & Book Launch

Enjoying my Spades Night & Book Launch

You can’t have a book titled “Life in Spades” without actually playing spades at some point.  With about 50 friends and associates, we held our first event, a Spades Night & Book Launch on May 21.  Yes, on a Tuesday night, of all days of the week.  Why?  Of course because that’s when Gina, Sherry, Laura, and Cookie play spades.  And, in keeping with their tradition, we had delicious munchies – crabcakes, pork sliders, egg rolls, and a full cheese platter – and plenty of drinks.  With brand new decks of cards, we got down to the spades games, folks pairing off with friends and new friends.  We had guys vs. gals, and couple vs. friends.  All in all, I think everyone had a great time.  So much so, that several guests mentioned that I need to have another one soon.

To throw your own spades party, here’s a few simple suggestions.

  • Have plenty of drinks and easy to grab with one hand munchies
  • Divide up the “experts” and the “novices” to help keep the peace as much as possible (you know these things can get a little heated sometime)
  • Have a winning score (200 for a shorter game, 500 for longer) and a maximum time to play
  • Offer a fun prize.  We had Sangria drink mix, crystal ice buckets, shot glasses, and gift certificates to cater a party from Savory Gourmet on the table for the winners.
  • Provide the rules of the night – everyone plays spades slightly differently (nil bids, blind bids, overbidding are all up for negotiation), this will make sure everyone is in agreement as to what’s allowed

And do you need to be reminded to have fun?  Enjoy!

6 Tips for your Writing Group

For me, and I believe most other writers, writing is a solitary process. In fact, there were only a handful of people who even knew I was writing a book at all. In the very beginning, I shared the first few chapters with a couple friends and asked them what did they think of this as a premise for a book.  When they gave me the thumbs up, I worked to finish my manuscript, a very long and slow process of writing, re-writing, deleting, and re-writing some more. It was too much to ask friends to read in their spare time, but I definitely needed another set of eyes to look things over.  Why? Because what made sense in my head didn’t always translate that way on paper. Hence, I formed a writing group with like-minded and similarly goaled writers to critique each other’s work.

If you are in the same situation of writing – whether you’re working on a novel, a short story, a script, a poem, or anything in between – you may also find a writing group to be useful.  Here are my tips in forming, or joining, such a group.

Identify writers who are working in the same general genre.  For instance, the other members of my Wednesday group are all working on fiction novels, although the particular niche is slightly different. We have chic-lit/romance and fantasy, but they are all women-focused fiction. You can determine whether it matters if some are working on short story versus novel, but I think poems and novels would be a bad mix. Why? Because the writing style is different, the length of the work is different. You want to be working on similar projects.

Preview writing to make sure you like the other group members’ writing.  Call it judgmental, but you have to like the others’ writing or each meeting, you’re going to be upset that you’ve got to read something you don’t like and who has time for that? Further, be sure you like the story and genre of the others.  Erotica, sci fi, and historical fiction aren’t for everyone.  There could be a great writer in my group, but if she’s writing horror, every week I’d be walking around scared out of my wits.

Find group members you like as people.  You’re going to be meeting with these people on a regular basis for who knows how long. My Sunday group has been meeting for at least ten years; although members come in and out, there has been the same core of people since I met them. My Wednesday group has been meeting for over two years, every two weeks. You spend a lot of time with these people, baring your writing soul to them. Why spend that kind of time with people you don’t like?

Establish ground rules. Discuss when you will meet, how you will decide who will share their writing, how long a submission can be, how you will critique.  My Sunday group allows everyone to share a few pages that are presented at the meeting and read out loud.  My Wednesday group requires those who are submitting to do so a week ahead of the meeting day, a maximum of 20 pages; everyone reads and makes notes before the meeting, to be discussed in person.  Your decisions on the rules may be determined by the writing genre; for instance, the Sunday method is great for poetry, short story, and essays. The Wednesday method is a great option for novels, so you can read a chapter or two in whole.

Have specific tasks for members. Have someone responsible for various tasks so everything gets done. Like what?  Scheduling, whether reserving a room or confirming the host.  Time keeping, making sure everyone gets equal amount of time for discussion of their work.  Refreshments, determine who is bringing the coffee and the cupcakes or bringing the delivery menu.

Be respectful and be constructive. No matter what you are writing, writing is a very personal task. Beyond that, letting other people read your writing and then sitting back while they pick it apart is soul-bearing. Be respectful of each other’s work. In both of my groups, it’s common for someone to say something like “this doesn’t work for me,” “I don’t believe the character would do/say this,” “I don’t find this part is plausible.”  But something like “this is awful!” would be way off course, it’s hurtful and not helpful.  If you have an expertise in an area, offer it, whether it’s professional knowledge or from a hobby.  One of the members in my Wednesday group sails, so when another was writing about a storm, she could offer some useful advice on how a barometer works and how sailors adjust to winds and waves.

With all that, let me add this. What your group says is not gospel.  If they say “your main character running off to a desert island would be more interesting” and you want her to stay put in New York City – stick with it. Your group isn’t there to change or re-write your story, they’re there to help you strengthen the story you want to tell.

Enjoy your group and the group process.  Writing and re-writing can be painful enough, why add something to the mix that’s not enjoyable?

Are you in a writing group and have other tips? Are you considering forming a writing group and have other questions?  I would love to hear about your experience.

Introducing “Life in Spades”

Every mother probably has experienced that nervousness of finally, after 9 long, growing, worrisome months, seeing her baby to be and introducing her to the world.  Even with the latest and greatest 3-D ultrasound imaging, we still wonder “what exactly will she look like?” And although we think he’s going to be a great kid, we agonize over whether everybody else will like him or will he get bullied on the playground? Will she get voted Homecoming Queen or be the top student in science class? We wonder, we worry. And we kinda close our eyes real tight and hold our breathe until the first person – friend or stranger – peeks into the bassinet and remarks “what a cute baby you’ve got there.”

So it is with being a new author releasing a debut novel. After writing and typing and editing and re-writing and re-editing for many months (years), a gestation period much like that of an elephant (or two), we finally close our eyes, push the final pages out onto the bookshelf, and see what happens.

I mailed out my first round of orders for Life in Spades today and tomorrow will host my first book sale and signing. And then it will be out there, in the pubic eye for public scrutiny. And I expect the critiques, both the good and the bad.  I’m waiting anxiously to see where the sales numbers go.  I look forward to my first book club discussion and hearing what people think of it. I’ll be scanning Amazon and Goodreads and book blogs for a review. No, I’m not waiting for Oprah’s call (dreams are nice, but let’s stay focused).

The past few weeks have been busy and I’ve slept little (even less than usual) in my multiple roles of author, second editor, publisher, marketer, social marketer, accountant, general project manager. Being an independent writer means it’s all on you – the good, the bad, the tiring.  But its been a unique journey, and one that, as a whole, I don’t regret. Not yet anyway.

My book is now available, on Amazon and here on my website, in paperback and Kindle. (Nook is coming.) I’m holding my breathe while I wait to hear somebody, friend or stranger, say “my what a great book you’ve got there.”



Enjoy World Poetry Day

Today is the UN’s World Poetry Day, a day set aside for the purpose of promoting and enjoying the world’s diversity of poets and their language.

I took African-American Literature in college and after one class, I took as many as the school offered. One of those classes was on poetry, particularly of the Harlem Renaissance.  I was and am forever fascinated with the way words are beautifully and lyrically put together.

I remember almost laughing out loud sitting in class one day, when I came upon these lines.

Ef you don’t git up, you scamp,

Dey’ll be trouble in dis camp.

These are in the beginning stanza of the poem, In the Morning, by Paul Lawrence Dunbar.  Written in dialect, it was hard to understand at first, but then I read it as you have to with such poems – out loud. And I heard, not my voice, but my father’s. My father had learned the poem as a child and recited the poem almost every morning to wake me and my brother up.

Although I can’t find a date that the poem was written, Dunbar died in 1906, so it couldn’t have been much more than thirty or forty years old when my dad learned it. I’m terrible at remembering things, but it’s one of the few poems recorded in my brain. And it’s one that my own children call to each other as they drag each other out of the bed. I love this connection of generations through words and poetry.

Judging a Book By It’s Cover

I know the old saying says not to, but I do it all the time – I pick books by their cover.  My friends have laughed at me when I am utterly surprised by the content of the book because instead of reading the synopsis on the back, I came up with a storyline in my own head based on the cover.  That’s not to say the cover design was incongruent with the story, but moreso, my interpretation was.  For instance, when I picked up Water for Elephants, I was sure it was going to be about elephant keepers in India.  I was wondering how the Cornell-educated veterinarian who runs away and joins the circus fit in.  Apparently, what I took for a sari-like material on the cover was a circus tent.  In the end, I loved the book, even if it didn’t take place in India.  Another friend refused to read a book because she thought the cover was spooky and she didn’t want to look at it.  I had no idea what was so scary, as I had read the book and enjoyed it.  Turns out, we had different copies and she happened to get the spookier cover. Despite my suggestions to cover the book or borrow mine,  she still refuses to read it (Tananarive Due’s The Living Blood).

Given all that, I feel like cover design is important to what we think of books.  It’s the first thing we see and in a quick moment, decide whether we even want to read the back cover.  Which, by the way, I rarely do.  But of those I have read, Chris Cleave’s summary on the back of Little Bee is my favorite (the yellow, paperback version).  This week, I’ve been reviewing designers’ submissions for my new novel, Life in Spades.  I never imagined I’d have so much fun looking at book covers – it’s quite a high to see my name on a (virtual) cover.  There’s been a number of “wow, great!” submissions and some “really, did you even read the summary of the book?” entries, too.   But they’ve all shown talent and creativity, and I appreciate the time and effort the designers put into their covers.  Just as I pick the definite one, another one rolls in that I really like, too.  I think I have narrowed it down to about 10 options.  Yes, I know – still a long way to go.  We should have a cover in the next few days.  It’s getting exciting, this publishing a new book thing!

By |February 27th, 2013|Book design|1 Comment

“If there’s a book that you want to read…”

There are many books already written that I’ve fully enjoyed reading; Song of Solomon and Hundred Secret Senses are two that I will name and perhaps no-one will disagree (actually, I’m sure someone will, but that’s okay).  There are many books that I did not enjoy so much which I will not name, perhaps you enjoyed them and I do not want to ruin your opinion of your favorites.  But in between those volumes, I have always felt there was room for more.  Room for another collection of imagination.  Room for another story to be told.

Toni Morrison, one of my favorite authors, is quoted as saying, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Thus, I was inspired to begin my endeavor to create another volume and add another voice.  I’ve spent many long hours with four new friends, getting their stories in ink.  They’ve hung out with me long after everyone else has gone to bed, shared many drinks and lots of potato chips.  They’ve hung over my shoulder with their comments, dealt cards to help me think, and ran behind me to tell me what they didn’t like (which was mostly the running).   For now, they are primping and putting on the final touches.  Soon, they will wander out into the world.

Follow us here on my blog, on FaceBook – Author Frances Frost, or on Twitter @FrancesFrost and be ready to meet Gina, Cookie, Laura, and Sherry this summer.

By |February 13th, 2013|Writing|0 Comments