Writing and The Conundrum of “Free”

I love “free”.

Food samples? I’m on it. Giveaways on the corner? I’m widdit. Free items via shopper’s card at a grocery store? Yes, indeed.

I’m all about that something-for-nothing life….except when it comes to books.

I suppose this makes me a hypocrite because I check Bookbub and Choosy Bookworm every day to get ebook deals and if it’s good and free, I usually partake. The upside: I sometimes discover good authors and I didn’t come out of pocket. The downside: I have a glut of ebooks across Kindle, Google Play Books, and Nook that I still haven’t read from two-plus years ago, and I keep piling on more.

The “write/don’t write for free” debate has raged across the literary landscape for years. It’s especially more pertinent now, with so many authors choosing to self-publish. Some self-proclaimed experts insist that giving away books is one of the best ways to build your audience. Others ignore that advice in an attempt to preserve the value of their work.

Which is the best path?

I can’t say for sure. I was always taught that people don’t value that which they didn’t have to work to obtain, be it via money, time, or work. This value statement applies to physical objects, relationships, goals…you name it. If you don’t put some skin in the game, some kind of way, it won’t matter to you once you get it. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “In it to win it.”

I have written articles and book reviews for free, especially when I was venturing into a new area outside of my comfort zone. Each time, I parlayed those free writings into paid gigs–which was my end game (I’m an unapologetic capitalist). Writing for free doesn’t mean you have to keep doing so; if your writing is good, it will get noticed by people who are willing to pay for what you have to say–unfortunately, this sometimes means giving a larger sample of free writing so that the lucrative gigs can get a better measure of your writing style and determine if you are worth the cash and will enhance their media brand. I get it: it’s good business sense, particularly for internet-based companies without the resources and reserves of more established brick-and-mortars. And while I implore all writers to value their work, make sure you are actually writing something of value–boring, trite, repetitive, error-filled, cookie-cutter writing may work for those fly-by-night, clickbait-laden sites, or for those whose reviews/follows were purchased, but won’t cut it for the major players. and/or serious readers.

I’ve given away my books for free. Usually, there is “payment” in the form of an email address so that I can increase my mailing list, or an agreement to provide an honest review, or some other sort of mutually profitable arrangement. All to increase my book sales some more (sales are lifeblood to the professional author, whether traditionally or self-published. The love of the art is the catalyst, but in the end it’s about cold, hard cash, continually increasing sales, and ending up in the black.). Likewise, when I’ve won books via a giveaway, I had to pay in the form of providing my email address; answering questions (anyone who has entered a contest via Rafflecopter feels me on this LOL); (re)tweeting my entry into the contest; following the author on Twitter or liking a Facebook page. There was a payment involved, an exchange of energy that made me look forward to getting that book–which I read almost as soon as I received it. In the end, I paid for those books somehow, and I valued them more because of that, even if it was just an Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) and not the finished, shelf-ready product.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

I think of those hundreds (and counting) of ebooks clogging up my platform apps. I also look at the books (e- or otherwise) ¬†I tend to read and re-read: the ones I actually purchased, even if it was only for 99 cents. To not read them, after I bought them, would be a waste of money and that is counterintuitive to my personal beliefs. The free ones? I’m not so pressed about, which is why they continue to stockpile. I have no incentive for reading them NOW. I recently went through a bunch of books I had in storage. Most of these I’d gotten free from the Book Expo of America (BEA) over ten years ago. Most of them I still haven’t read and don’t know when I will. I didn’t pay for them: I lived in New York at the time and my entrance fee was paid for by a publication for which I used to write reviews. So they will continue to gather dust and be relegated to the “I’ll get around to it” zone. And before you ask: I’m keeping them because most of them are out of print, or have original cover artwork (and have since been re-released, perhaps as a movie tie-in or as part of a move to a different publisher), so that makes them more valuable to me. And they were…well…FREE. ūüôā

This is my personal conundrum: give away books with no type of “payment” from potential readers in an attempt to bolster my audience and sales, or charge money? I’m all about building my audience (and sales), but I also don’t want to end up in anyone’s (e)book glut, either, to be discovered one, five, or ten years down the road…or never.

I can’t dictate what’s best for each writer. You have to do what you feel is best for you and your career, and blessings be to you on whatever you decide. ¬†But as for me and my house, I prefer to get paid.

Thanks for stopping by.

One wall, coming up: NaNoWriMo/NaBloPoMo day 10

Total word count goal: 50,000

Total blog post goal: 30

Today’s word count: 1,769

Today’s blog count: 11

Total words written: 19,347

Total blog posts: 11

 

I am exhausted.

I just released my second book, Blizzard, today. Normally, I don’t write anything for at least a month (or, at the bare minimum, two weeks) after I finish a book. I use that time to mentally recharge, and I do everything but write: read, watch movies, catch up on TV shows, play video games. I admit to thinking about my next book, and I may take notes for future reference (on a note application on my smartphone, NOT my laptop), but that’s usually as far as it goes.

Now, due to my commitment to NaNoWriMo, I’m still writing in what would normally be my mental vacation. I didn’t realize how much of a toll it was taking until I had to literally push myself to reach my word quota for today. As in, writing and checking my word count every few hundred words, and pep-talking myself into finishing. “You can do it…good, you’ve gotten started…ou’re halfway through today’s quota…only six hundred more words…only 350 more words…only 200 more words…”

I’ve written a bit over my daily word count since I started NaNoWriMo this y ear, and it has been so tempting to just blow off today’s writing. But I know that if I do that, I’ll be tempted to blow off tomorrow…and maybe the next day…and then my vacation mindset will creep in and take over, and I won’t finish this year’s NaNoWriMo. Last year was the first time in seven years that I’d finished and “won” NaNoWriMo, and I’d like to continue that trend this year. So I’ll try to keep pushing myself to write, and hopefully I’ll drag myself across the finish line…with 50K words.

Also, this is my second post today for NaBloPoMo (the first was earlier today, about my book release).  Can I get extra credit?

Thanks for stopping by.

 

Aside

The Weight of The Brand

I’ve been kicking around a post on branding, and how it’s affected me, but the draft I thought I’d saved is not there. This post isn’t flowing the way I’d like, but I’d better get it down before I forget the gist of what I want to say.

ANYway…

Not too long ago, I told a sorority sister on Facebook that she had built a brand without even realizing it, and that she needed to utilize this brand as she moved forward with writing and publishing her inspirational book. By virtue of her Facebook statues, she had created an association between her faith in God, the sorority, and her strong family ties.

Just the other day, I heard the COO of a nonprofit speak on branding , and how it was important for people to develop their personal brand. As an author,especially a self-published one, I see how true that is.

Branding goes beyond appearance. By dint of the nature of the job, most authors are pretty reclusive. We aren’t identified by what we wear (unless we look a hot mess at public book signings, in which case we will be known as “that author who can’t dress him/herself”), and prefer to be identified by what we write. Most authors who have come into their own have a signature style of writing, and avid readers can usually identify said writer (or a clone) just by reading a few passages. Few of us authors, however, give a lot of thought to how we are perceived overall. This is crucial for self-published authors to do.

We are in an increasingly visual society. It’s not enough anymore to write a good product. Now, more than ever, we need eye-catching book covers, thumbnails suitable for attachment in social media, a significant internet presence. Video is even becoming a must-have for some pages. The transparency afforded by social media means that authors can only be reclusive to a certain extent. Readers want to see you, hear you, know who you are before they pick up your book.

So who are you? What do you want the world to think when they hear your name, your publishing company, see your face? It’s sad to say but once you have put yourself out there as a public figure, EVERYTHING you say can and will be used against you. This is doubly true for current local and world events. While readers primarily pick up your book for entertainment (if you are a fiction writer), or edification on a specific subject (if you are a nonfiction writer), they will be paying attention if you are seen to take a stand (or not) on something other than publishing-related issues (e.g. Amazon/Hatchette).¬†I’ve found that even on my personal Facebook page, I have tempered my normal “I say what I want, it’s my page” speech laissez-faire. Yes, most of the people on my personal page are friends and acquaintances, but they are also readers, and readers talk to other readers. And, on the business end of publishing, my job at the end of the day is to sell books. While I will not curtail my sentiments for the sake of selling a book, I can temper the way I say them. I do this with the understanding that some people will or will not read my books for whatever reason, regardless of what comes out of my mouth/keyboard. Still, for those who are willing to purchase my books, there is no need for me to deliberately antagonize them. In contrast, I keep my public fan page clean, as well as my “formal” FB account.

Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s maturity, wisdom, or business sense that makes me pause at the keyboard. I do know that it can become wearying to self-censor. However, that’s the price to be paid for entering the public arena.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Business of Writing and Publishing

I have been caught up in the pre-release, and now official release, of my book The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille (informally known as The Camille Chronicles). As part of that pre-release, I’ve had to step out of the writer zone and into the business zone.

As creative folks, we don’t really sweat the details of the business side. Indeed, that’s what makes signing a publishing contract so attractive: someone else deals with all that other stuff (marketing, accounting, etc) while you create. If we as artists (as a writer, I’m definitely addressing other writers but the same applies to other artistic media) are to really gain control over our work and reap the monetary benefits accordingly, we have got to get into the business of things.

From calculating shipping costs, to the amount of discount I could give without going broke, ¬†to¬†how could I compete with Amazon…all this required a stretching of skills I didn’t know I had; ¬†there was a reason I wasn’t a business major in college! ¬†Even the cost of publishing: purchasing ISBNs (even if you do it through Amazon), the cost of graphic design, the cost of editing, the cost of website design…these things add up, and since writing is my primary livelihood right how, I have to figure out how to make it pay the most to cover my basic needs, and then some.

God forbid if I need an attorney, for whatever reason. Attorneys need to eat too and while I probably won’t hire anyone who bills $500 and hour and up, even $100/hour can be daunting, especially when you tack on the price of a retainer.

Then there’s the question of hiring an accountant. I am a writer, but I am also a small business, publishing under my own imprint. I need to be aware of various tax breaks,¬†the benefits of forming a corporation (or not), and things like that. Business accounting is ¬†a lot different than personal accounting, especially when it comes to tax time in April. And I am not trying to end up on the wrong side of an IRS audit.

I don’t yet know how successful my fledgling business acumen will prove to be; I am just focused on getting the book out there and hoping that people like it enough to 1) recommend it to others and 2) want to buy the next one. But this is definitely an education, and I am understanding now why publishing services, etc charge what they do.

 

Thanks for stopping by.

Could It All Be So Simple…

I spent yesterday making changes to the print copy proof of The Camille Chronicles. Then I did a bit of writing, and set up some merchant accounts, and lined things up for the pre-release next week. Then I watched back episodes of NCIS (the Ziva days!).

That was it. And it felt strange.

Perhaps it’s a holdover from my days in Corporate America. Perhaps it’s our societal culture that mandates that doing is more important than not doing, even if you’re not doing anything significant. The confluence of both influences leads to a feeling of guilt when I take time to rest, or do something fun…something not work-related.

The strange feeling also comes from the fact that my “work” is now writing (it took me fourteen years to get to this point, so I’ve got a lot of personal deprogramming to do LOL). And while creating the book is key (you can’t really be an author if you don’t write anything), writing is also a business–at least, it is if you want to last as an author, and make money from your craft in the process. So since I’m starting out as a self-published author and don’t yet have anyone do to the grunt work for me, it’s left for me to do pesky things like setting up merchant accounts, maintaining social media sites, marketing, and anything else that positions my current and future books for maximum positive reception from the public. It’s things like those that remind me that the publishing and media business is, indeed, a business, and I must treat it accordingly. No creative person, in whatever media, can afford to play the dillettante artist and only focus on the craft. Even if you sell and distribute work through more traditional channels, you still have to look out for your best interests because you can’t depend on those around you to do it for you. Yes, this includes those whom you hire to do just that.

I say all this to say that, work doesn’t have to be a struggle. Life doesn’t have to be a struggle. Too often, we make it so because we think we have to (I am guilty of this). So much that when we enter an easier way of life, it feels strange. Life is too short for the madness, and madness takes its toll–make sure you have correct change. ūüėČ

As the character Lydia Grant once said in the movie (and eventual TV show) Fame: “You want fame? Then fame costs. And right here is where you start paying…in sweat.”

 

Sweat is an essential part of building anything from scratch, but there is something to be said for working smarter, not harder.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

The Camille Chronicles: Quick Announcement and A Favor, Please…

Hi all, I am putting the finishing touches on The Camille Chronicles: A Bastille Family Novel, and I am so excited! *Snoopy dance* ¬†While I have previously contributed to anthologies, this is my first solo effort. It’s fourteen years in the making, so I want to make it the best it can be. ¬†The Camille Chronicles will be released in August (yep, I’m moving up the release date), and a book tour will follow shortly.

¬†The Camille Chronicles is the story of Dr. Camille Bastille, a forty-something top-notch neurosurgeon in a family of surgeons (and one nurse). Camille is a classic overachiever who bends over backwards to display her intelligence, even as she struggles with the formidable legacy of her surgeon grandfather. Unfortunately for her, she becomes the target of a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) audit led by Andrew Paxson, a DEA field Agent turned Diversion Investigator. Andrew is fighting demons of his own after getting shot while undercover, and tries to piece his life back together in the aftermath. A little suspense, a little romance, a little humor….there’s something in The Camille Chronicles for everyone!

I like to know who my readers are, so that I can make sure to give you enjoyable content that you would recommend to friends, family, a stranger on your morning or evening commute, and in a format that is most comfortable for you. To do this, I need your help.

Please take a few minutes to answer this short survey, about your reading preferences.

 

As a special thank-you, I invite you to meet the Bastilles. ūüôā

Thanks for all your help and, as always, thanks for stopping by.

Overload: The Devil’s in the Details

I was checking my spam folder when I came across an email from a POD publisher I’d once considered. I re-read the pitch, the benefits, the ratings, etc. Then I thought about the various things they offered versus the price, and all of that versus what I needed to do (Ingram distribution? Production file ownership? Amazon and Nook? What about Kobo, Sony, Etc? Smashwords?) And how am I going to start my PR stuff for maximum exposure? Will my graphic designer get what I need done in time?

AAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Make_It_Stop

This mental mash-up reminded me of a similar state of mind last night, when I agonized over the date of a scene setting. It had to be correct, and I did calculations to make sure it was. I was so obsessed with this one small detail (and since it was only the first draft, I had plenty of time to correct it down the road), that I almost missed a deadline.

Self-publishing, while rewarding in the end, is a hard road. Unlike traditional publishing where you sign a contract, deliver your manuscript, and more or less keep it moving until time for the first author event, a self-publisher has to do EVERYTHING–and often on a less-than-shoestring budget.

Then there’s the fact that, as I mentioned in a previous post, your book needs to be good enough to encourage someone to not only buy this book, but future books. It’s imperative to bring your A+ game, especially if you’re a first-time (solo) author, as I am.

I know all this. I’ve researched various self-publishing options for the past year. Upon further inspection of the POD publisher’s package, I realized how the fees broke down and how I could achieve the same results without killing myself.

In short, there was no reason for me to freak out.

Except my publishing date draws nearer every day, and that is a scary yet exhilarating feeling. As the day draws closer for me to put my baby out there for all to see, criticize, ridicule, and hopefully enjoy, it’s easy to find something–anything–upon which to vent my anxiety. Whether it be a small plot detail or the price needed to make a decent profit, freaking out is becoming more the rule than the exception.

I have to keep reminding myself that everything will work out, that I’ve planned for this, and I am doing what needs to be done. I got this. Easier said than done, but infinitely preferable to curling up in a fetal position in the corner.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

Clarion Write-A-Thon Day 8

Target goal: 25,000 words

Target daily goal: 775 words

Today’s word count: 991

Total words written: 5,590 words

I almost forgot to work on the Clarion project today, as I was working on the marketing stuff for my upcoming book, The Camille Chronicles. When you’re self-publishing, you wear many hats–at least, until I can afford to have someone do it for me.

The story flowed pretty well today. I tried to figure out if my main character would really be that naive about office politics, or if it was a bit of a reach. Then I remember, from my days in Corporate America, that ¬†there were people who didn’t have a clue beyond their workloads. Such folks tended to be blindsided by various corporate decisions and were under the impression (delusion?) that all was required was to show up and do their work. I know; I used to be one of them.

Anyway, the way the story is flowing, I’m going to write a rather action-packed scene coming up. How much blood and gore will be included will be determined as I go along.

Thanks for stopping by.

Aside

Whose Font Is It, Anyway? Self-Publishing and the “Industry Standard” for Manuscripts

I’m working on a rewrite of my upcoming book, ¬†where I”m adding some stuff. One of those items is a prologue that gives some backstory on events further on in the book. The default setting of my documents are Cambria 10 pt. font. I automatically changed it to Times New Roman (TNR), 12 pt. font. Then, as I worked on it today, I asked myself: why did I change it?

For years– probably back since people cut down trees to make their own papyrus, and dinosaurs roamed the earth–the publishing industry standard for manuscripts has been, and remains: Times New Roman font, 12-point font size, one-inch margins, double-spaced, five-space indentation/tab for the beginning of each paragraph. I got used to making all of my manuscripts this way because of how my former literary agent schooled me, back when I was chasing a traditional publishing contract. The purpose of this industry standard format is to make it easier on the eyes of editors, agents, and whomever else in a publishing house may read your submitted work. ¬†However, since I’m riding indie for my publishing career, those parameters aren’t necessary anymore.

Old habits die hard, even when they fly in the face of my personal preferences. Being an independent publisher takes a complete rewiring of the brain, with regard to your writing career. I have to tell myself that it is no longer important that I use TNR; if I want to use Cambria, or Garamond, or Verdana, or Courier New–or even Sans Serif, then do it. As long as it translates well on the page for readers and doesn’t look too crazy, what’s the harm? Now I do agree with the 12-point font size, or at least an 11-point: anything smaller, you risk eyestrain on the part of your reader and anything larger just looks like you are trying to take up space because you don’t have much to say (this does not apply to physical book versions specifically made for the visually impaired, which have very large fonts). The one-inch margins are good, too; adjusting margins up or down to make your book look longer than it really is, is not a good look.

One thing I don’t like ¬†is doing tabs/indentations on paragraphs. When I took typing classes back in the day (on real typewriters, with the metal keys and everything, and the corrective tape on the cartridge), one of the formats we learned in business letter writing is business format: this format has no indentations, and is single-spaced. I like that format a lot and use it a lot in my writing. I also don’t like double spacing all that much, but it becomes more necessary as the books grow longer.

Independent/self-publishing is already seen as being out of the box, bold, different. Why should the way you write your books be relegated to the status quo? This goes against one of the core principles of rolling indie, on any front.

I say all this to say: it’s your book. Design it as you will. Just don’t go overboard and have the entire work in some unreadable font that requires a translator or transcriber. Be yourself in your writing,whatever that may be. Your readers will thank you for it.

Thanks for stopping by.

Scared Money Don’t Make Money: Investing In Your Writing Future

This blog was inspired by a recent conversation with a potential publishing client. During our initial phone conversation, when she described what she needed to bring her book to fruition (and it was a lot :/), she made a comment that she was looking for someone to work with her so that both parties can succeed together. Or, to use a more descriptive phrase, she wanted one hand to wash the other, and both hands to wash the face. To put it more plainly, she didn’t have a lot of money and wanted stuff done for free, in exchange for a future cut of royalties. ¬†In short, she wanted to allocate her funds to areas where she thought they were better served, and things like editing and book layout weren’t among them.

When I was a full-time editor, I noticed that a lot of my self-published clients cut corners in order to get their book out into the public eye. As I may have mentioned before, self-publishers don’t have the luxury of an advance upon which to fall back. Sure, we reap all of the benefits but before that happens, we have to pay all of the costs up front. Self-publishing has indeed gotten easier, and in some ways less expensive, but there are still costs involved. It’s tempting for independently published authors to skimp in certain areas in order to have the funds for what is deemed most important: the final product, the book, that commodity that is to be sold.

This is not the move.

I learned the hard way that when I cut corners, it came back to bite me in the assets (literally and figuratively).¬†I’ve also seen this play out in the literary lives of others. The main place I see skrimping is in three areas: professional editing; website; and book covers.

Professional editing is more than making sure every word is spelled correctly. Yes, grammatical and typographical errors are addressed, but so are story flow, fact checking, punctuation, etc. An editor will go through your manuscript, line by line, and find out what is wrong, and tell you how to fix it; this is called content or line editing. The process is rather involved and time-consuming, and most professional editors have some professional training: certification by a reputable body and/or ¬†valid industry experience. Your high school cousin who got straight As in English isn’t going to have the requisite training to polish your gem of a book; reading a book on self-editing isn’t going to get you what you need either, especially if you don’t think that anything is wrong with your work (which is a failing of many authors; we are too close to our “babies” to notice anything wrong). ¬†i strongly urge writerss to holler at Evette Porter, who is a dynamic editor and will get your book public-worthy.

Next up: websites. There are a whole lot of “free” websites out here, that are more on the do-it-yourself (DIY) tip. Weebly and Wix are just two popular services that offer people the chance to establish a web presence for free. I can see why they get a lot of business, when a professionally designed website can run at least $1,000 (and usually around $2,000 and up, depending upon how many bells and whistles you’d like). ¬†Again, you get what you pay for. Now here’s a caveat: I have seen one author’s site, done by Wix, and it looked pretty decent. This is more the exception, and not the rule. Websites are how the world sees you, before they even buy your book, so make it count. You don’t necessarily need a Flash intro, music in the background (unless you are a musical artist), lots of video, etc. But you do have to make people want to stop by your site and hang around for a while. Also, in this age of social media, connection through various platforms is key for helping get the word out about your project. Don’t forget e-commerce, if you are selling your book through avenues other than Amazon or Barnes & Nobles (Nook). To include all these things, It’s usually best to let a professional handle it (I recommend Cix Designs.¬†Ask for Micah.). If you really want to make your presence known on the cheap, then start a blog.

“Cheap” is a word that should not be used when pursuing your publishing dream (or anywhere else, for that matter); this goes double for book covers. Your book cover is your calling card; it needs to make people want to pick up your book and want to take it home (please note that a good book cover is worth nothing if the content of your book is not up to par). I strongly suggest that authors avoid the free covers offered via publishing packagers; they are deliberately terrible in order to encourage you to spend more money to hire designers to do a custom cover. Since this is the case, why not just hire a graphic designer off the break? A good designer will not only have experience in doing covers (both e-book and physical book), but will also align your covers with your book visions and growth. Two folks to check out are Ad-Lib Designs (ask for John) and The Little Orange (ask for Diana).

Investing in yourself, your business, and your brand are extremely important. As a self-publisher, you are all three, so act like it. If you want people to take you seriously, then you must first take yourself seriously. You have to figure out if you are an author who has a day gig, or a ____ who does writing on the side. The answer you choose will determine the trajectory of your success, since we put our energies into those things which we most value. If you don’t value ¬†yourself and your work, and how both are presented to the public, then no one else will.

Thanks for stopping by.

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