Clare Writers’ Festival: Update 2

My last post covered the start of my adventures at the Clare Writers’ Festival, including the Saturday morning sessions on “Creating Memorable Scenes and Characters” and “Family History.”
Lunch consisted of sandwiches and a variety of fresh fruit, which was unfortunate since I’ve recently cut gluten (mostly) out of my diet. However, I signed up to the festival (listing no dietary requirements) well before I made the change, so it didn’t seem right to complain. And actually, the sandwiches were freshly made and quite nice. I did walk down to the bakery to supplement lunch with a “real” coffee, though (yes, I’m a coffee snob, and proud of it!).

Session 3: Publish or Bust – panel discussion

Authors Astrid Cooper, Trisha Stringer and Karly Lane talked about their publishing experiences in both traditional and self-publishing, and answered questions from people. There wasn’t a great deal there that I hadn’t already read online or figured out myself, but it was really good to hear confirmation of some things or to hear advice from people who have been there. Here are a few gems of wisdom I wrote down, hopefully in a more organised fashion than I had in my notes:

1. How do authors get noticed? (applies to both trad and indie)

1) Have an online presence

Having an online presence goes a long way to being noticed and to finding a traditional publisher. Apparently publishers do trawl the interwebs looking for new talent! So it’s worthwhile having a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog, a website, a Wattpad account etc etc, and it’s also worth proofreading what you put on those sites and being careful with your public image on these! We all know (some by bitter experience) that nothing on the internet is private. Actually, as an aside, I know employers and people on audition panels for musicals who google the names of applicants to see what pops up (and having a very private, secure Facebook profile is a plus to them, by the way). The bottom line is that everything you put on the internet is potentially an “audition” for a publisher. Scary thought, isn’t it?

Astrid Cooper mentioned that she spends two hours every day on promotion stuff, and I’ve heard other authors say similar. One thing that stands out to me over and over again is how self-motivated and organised writers have to be, as they usually work from home and don’t have specific office hours. I might come back to that in a later post. As a teacher and a former homeschooler, I know all about self-motivation!

2) Enter competitions

This is a good way of improving your skills and challenging yourself. Some competitions offer feedback as a prize, or you get published in a magazine. And publishers also look at these things. I think the challenge here is to not spend all your time working on competition entries, otherwise you’ll never get your novel finished (assuming that’s what you do). I personally haven’t really entered any competitions yet, as I struggle to have time to even work on my novel and update my blog! But I believe I will eventually. It’s just not a priority for me right now.

2. Self-publishing platforms (I didn’t write down the original question, but it had something to do with this)

The panel seemed to have their doubts about the effectiveness of putting your book up on Amazon, mainly because it’s an extremely crowded marketplace (have a quick look and you’ll soon see what I mean). I guess the fact that you can put anything up there for free has something to do with that. I’m personally not so quick to discount Amazon though. True, I wouldn’t just toss my book into the swirling vortex that is Amazon and wait to become famous, but I think a lot of people (myself included) go there first when looking for someone. And, of course, the Kindle market is huge. I think that it is good to have your work on Amazon (and other places), but find genre-specific avenues of advertising.

3. Traditional publishers

All of the members of the panel agreed that it is a good idea to approach publishers who specifically focus on your genre. In my notes I wrote “DO RESEARCH” (with underlines and an asterisk), which seems like common sense to me, but apparently it’s not to everyone. They stressed two things:

1) research what the publisher is looking for. In other words, don’t just google a heap of publishers and send them your manuscript without even checking that they publish your genre. It is a waste of time and it’s lazy, and it won’t look good. And if the publishing world is as small and well-connected as the musical theatre world (and I suspect that it is), all these publishers talk to each other. And if that’s the case, you don’t want to get a reputation as a lazy application writer who doesn’t bother to do their research before contacting a publisher.

2) research the publisher’s reputation and exactly what they offer. Sadly, there are quite a few scam publishers out there, who will take your money and give you a poor quality product (this actually applies to indie publishing sites as well). But the good news is that with a little online research you can find reviews that point out these fake publishers, and there are also websites dedicated to naming them. In other words, don’t take them at face value. A few minutes of research could potentially save you thousands of dollars and a heap of embarrassment.

4. Copyright and ISBN numbers

This is pretty important. If you don’t copyright your work, anyone could steal it and you’ll have no way to press charges against them. And that would be very sad 😦 (note the sad face for added effect. The words “very sad” simply weren’t enough here. And yeah, as a writer I should use words to convey it, such as saying that it would be “as devastating as having your grandmother’s canary eaten by your beloved pet cat, which is then run over by your new car driven by your boyfriend, who then accidentally crashes it into a tree, writing it off and landing himself in the ICU,” but that’s probably going over the top, don’t you think?). I didn’t get much more info on copyrighting except that Amazon’s CreateSpace will do it for free. Many places also give you a free ISBN number, which you need in order to sell your book (I know that both Amazon and Smashwords will give you one for free). You also need a separate ISBN for an ebook and a print book of the same title. There’s a great book called “Australian Writers’ Marketplace” that gives you all the info you need about it. It’s big and expensive, but you can probably find it in a library easily enough.

5. Setting the price

This is more for indie publishing, as I think traditional publishers generally have their own set price. One good thing about indie publishing is you can change the price whenever you feel like it (within the parameters of whatever platform you’re using), and have your own “sales” and so on. I like the idea of having a sale! People will buy things that are on sale that they might not normally buy. There’s something magical about the word “sale.” Just think of that hideous dress or pair of shoes that don’t quite fit right, but you bought it because it had the magic word attached to it. OK, maybe that wasn’t the best analogy, because you want people to actually like your book. Perhaps its more like that top you bought for $5 on clearance and now it’s your most favourite item of clothing ever, and you can’t help but tell everyone about it. But that’s enough clothing analogies…

Basically, if there are two books for sale, and you haven’t heard of the author of either of them, which one do you buy? The one that’s cheaper, of course. I think the best thing to do is look at what other books in your genre and a similar length to yours are selling for and use that as a guide. It’s a fine line between setting the price too high and selling yourself short. When my book comes out I’m planning to experiment a little bit and see how price makes a difference. I think I’ll start with $2.99 and go from there. It’s about average for books on Smashwords of roughly the length of mine, and to sell in iBooks it has to end in .99 for some reason. I’d like to hear from someone who has had some experience here. Post a comment below 🙂

6. Print On Demand (or POD, if you want people to think you’re talking about a Christian metal band)

Print On Demand is a pretty cool idea, and it avoids the issue of ending up with a spare room full of unsold books. Print On Demand is where people order a book, the printer prints it and sends it directly to them. There were a few that were spoken about by the panel:

Griffin Press. They’re Australian based, which is a big plus in my books, as I always try to support local businesses when I can. They format for you and you only pay for what you buy. You can also do really small print runs, which helps to avoid the unsold-books-in-spare-room scenario. Other than that I don’t know a lot about them, but you can check out their website at the link above.

Lulu. I briefly mentioned Lulu in an earlier post, and since then I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about the company. Some people I know have used it and thought it was great and really easy to use, and others have said the exact opposite. One of the panel members said they found the POD feature of Lulu to be quite poor quality and a bit pricey. I am going to avoid Lulu based purely on the fact that the reviews are mixed. In my mind, mixed reviews mean one of two things: the quality is inconsistent, or people have different standards when it comes to quality. Either way, that’s not great.

 

Session 4: Fantasy Workshop with Sean Williams

This was a pretty awesome session. Not because we went away with lots of knowledge or the secrets to writing a best selling fantasy novel. We didn’t. In fact, I didn’t really write down anything that will help me be a better writer. What we decided to do was have a group brainstorm for the plot of a Young Adult fantasy novel. We talked about the idea of “extrusion” (where someone from the real world goes to another world), which is a pretty common theme in YA and teen fantasy, and also about the definition of “speculative fiction” (pretty much anything that isn’t real, ie. fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc). But after that, we discussed a crazy plot idea involving twins separated at birth (Sean’s just a little bit obsessed with the idea of twins), which then turned into a conspiracy theory involving a parallel universe and babies being stolen from our world, which then turned into something called “Changeling Dragons,” set in China during the one-child policy. Who knows, maybe I’ll write this great novel after I’m finished with The Secret Of The Sword series…

Dinner and “On The Couch”

Over dinner time they had a sausage sizzle and book fair set up in the park next to the town hall. I took a few business cards and free bookmarks, including one from Dean Mayes, who has written a fascinating sounding book called Gifts of Peramangk. Go and check out his website and his book. I didn’t have the cash to buy it at the time, but it’s definitely on my list!

The “On The Couch” session in the evening was a great Q&A session with all the guest speakers, and included various nibbles and desserts and local wine. It was pretty interesting, but due to the distraction of food and wine I didn’t really write much. The only thing I did write down was one thing PD Martin said about avoiding writer’s block, which I think is great advice. I’ve actually started doing it, and it works!

“Never stop at the end of a chapter: stop in the middle of a scene that you’re passionate about, so that next time you can sit down and be excited straight away about writing.”

Try it, I dare you. You’ll find that you can’t wait to get back to it, and you’ll get in “the zone” more quickly. Speaking of which, I last left my main character fighting for her life, so I better go and make sure she survives.

Happy writing!

My Journey Into Self Publishing: The Magic Word

Self publishing. The magic word. When I first heard of it, I felt as though a door was opening right before me, leading into a world of possibilities, or impossibility becoming reality. Maybe, just maybe, I could see my own novel, the words I had written, on a printed page, or even an e-page. The idea was, and still is, intoxicating.

If you’ve just heard the magic word for the first time, I encourage you to read on. I hope my experience can help you with the choices now in front of you:

1) Where can I get my book self published?

2) Will my book be visible enough to sell if I self publish?

3) What about editing?

4) Can I use the book cover I made myself?

Points 3 and 4 will be covered more in future posts, but I can give a short answer to number 4 now. Yes, as long as any images are legally yours to use. More on that later.

Here are the answers I discovered.

Question 1: Where can I get my book published?
Answer: Lots and lots of places! I heard of several sites through Wattpad, and on further research seem to be good places to go. Please note I’m mostly going to be talking about ebooks here, and not really go into print publishing. I might cover print in a later post when I know more about it myself.

Lulu

A friend told me about this website, and published his own book on there. I did a bit of research and found that although you can buy ebooks directly from Lulu it doesn’t get a great deal of traffic except from other writers. Lulu does distribute ebooks to the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble. You also get 90% of royalties through them, which is the highest percentage of anywhere I’ve looked.

Kindle Create Space

Amazon was a logical step in my search for information. I signed up to its “CreateSpace” site (free sign up) to see what it was all about, and I have to say that even after reading all the information and the FAQ’s I’m still a little confused. There are different percentages of royalties depending on what country you live in and what country the buyer of your book is in, and Australia is on the lowest ranking. Also, because I live in Australia, they will only send me my royalties via cheque (Direct Debit option not available) and only after I have accumulated over $100 for them to send me. I worked out that, at 35% royalty, an ebook that retails at $2.99 (a fairly standard price for a new ebook by an unknown author), I would have to sell 97 copies of my book before I see any money. Naturally I started thinking, “What if I never sell that many? I’ll never get any money from what I do sell!”
Quite frankly, I’m not too keen on that arrangement. While I’ve heard of others who have used it and found it fine, I don’t think I’ll go that way. It doesn’t seem to be the most user friendly site around, but maybe that’s just my frustration at the lack of Australian support coming out.
CreateSpace also has a “select” program, but I haven’t really looked into it, so I can’t really say anything about it. I just thought I probably should mention it.

Smashwords

I had never heard of this before, but I saw it mentioned on a Wattpad discussion board, and looked it up. It’s similar to Lulu in that it sells on its own site as well as distributing to other retailers. If you qualify for their Premium Catalogue (there are a list of quality control requirements) Smashwords will distribute to iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Baker & Taylor, Sony’s Kobo store, and a number of other smaller retailers I’ve never heard of. Their reach seems to be greater than either Lulu or CreateSpace, and they give you 85% of royalties regardless of what country you’re in. They use PayPal, which is pretty convenient, and will pay your royalties quarterly as long as there is a minimum of $10.
I’ve decided to go with Smashwords when my book is ready to hit the cyber shelves. However, I did just read on their website that they are limiting their Amazon distribution, so I might have to go directly through Amazon as well. Smashwords is not exclusive, so they don’t care if I distribute in multiple places.

So that’s what I’ve learned so far about self publishing platforms. If you google “self publishing” you’ll find a gazillion more sites that you can use, but these three are the most well known among the writing community.

Up next: Editing!