3 Useful Books on e-Publishing

Maybe it’s because I’m involved in e-publishing, but every news item I see lately is about how great independent publishing is, or how horrible it is, or a debate on the topic. Most of that debate is preaching to the choir. Still, as part of that choir, I pay attention. I’m always interested in learning new tips. What is writing about, anyway, if not continuous improvement and [self] exploration?

Along the way in my exploration, I’ve picked up three e-books that each take a different tack on the subject of self-publishing. The first is John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! With a title like that, who can resist? I’ve read criticism on Facebook’s Indie Author Group that he’s not sincere and such. I don’t really care; I’m not adopting him, I’m reading his book. His background is business. His approach to e-publishing is analytical and, well, businesslike. It’s an interesting read with useful advice. The main takeaway for me is the idea of knowing who your audience is and marketing to that audience. He says that if you’re doing it right, you’ll get negative reviews from those readers who are not your target audience, but they should be balanced by positive reviews from those who are your die-hard fans. I think part of my problem with Second Death is I’m not quite sure who the audience for it is. If I care about selling more copies of it, I need to figure that out. He also emphasizes caring about your fans and cultivating them by being accessible.

The next e-book on self-publishing is less of a how-to-publish guide and more how-to-market. I discovered Jon F. Merz several years back when I started on Twitter. I won a contest of his after buying one of his e-books (before Kindle). He seems like a genuinely nice guy who cares about his readers. His book is How To Really Sell EBooks: Practical Steps to Increasing Your EBook Sales. I haven’t had time to implement his suggestions yet, but the book is, as the subtitle says, above all practical. The big discovery for me was TweetAdder, a program he gives step by step instructions on how to use to increase your sales. Marketing is the key to success in self-publishing (or traditional publishing, for that matter). And Jon F. Merz knows marketing.

The third book is one I just bought the other day and started last night. Michael R. Hicks is a seasoned tweeter whom I’ve followed with interest for several months. His self-help title is The Path To Self-Publishing Success: How I Left My Day Job Behind for a Full-Time Writing Career. Now how could I resist that? It’s my dream! In what I’ve read so far, Michael emphasizes the journey. Self-improvement is key to success, he says, and recommends several books that helped him. Having been on a journey of self-rediscovery myself, this advice is right up my alley. The tone of the book is friendly and casual, but the editing is good so far (in fact is in all these choices). I look forward to reading more.

Three books, three different approaches to e-publishing. Great, now it’s completely MY fault if I don’t sell more books.

[Speaking of selling more books, pick up The Color of Darkness and Other Stories, hot off the computer!]

Five Challenges Indie Writers Face (and How to Overcome Them)

Independent publishing is not easy. Oh, it may seem that way at first. Kindle and Smashwords make the process quick, but quick and easy aren’t the same. I know I’m appreciative for any advice on self-publishing I find; maybe you’re the same. I offer these challenges and some ways to deal with them.

Challenge 1. The Donna Syndrome (aka IWIAIWIN)

I’m known among my family and friends for developing obsessions about particular consumer goods and wanting instant gratification of said obsessions. I saw a cool netbook last year. No, I couldn’t wait for Christmas. “I want it and I want it now.” I don’t really say those words, although my husband ascribes them to me, but the effect is much the same. Let’s just call it the “Donna Syndrome” for short.

How does the Donna Syndrome affect indie authors? I upload a manuscript to Smashwords. Why is it taking so long? Now I wait for it to go into the Premium Catalog. Why is it taking so long? I WANT IT AND I WANT IT NOW. Smashwords is an amazingly fast system of publishing, given what it does. Think about the number of formats the “Meatgrinder” produces your work in. How much the system has improved just in the past five months I’ve been using them. The responsive customer service. But I see complaints all the time about how slow it is, or indirect complaints about how it “finally” is ready.

How to deal with the Donna Syndrome? Be patient. Spend the time while you’re waiting working on your marketing plan, so that by the time your manuscript is ready for sale, you’ll know exactly what your next steps are.

Challenge 2. Marketing

And speaking of  your marketing plan, do you have one? I read recently the wise observation that the skills required of a marketer are not generally those of a writer. Marketing doesn’t come naturally to most writers. Even traditionally published authors have to market their own works these days. Marketing your book is an overwhelming prospect, and there’s no shortage of advice online.

How to deal with marketing? Create a plan. Make a list of all the “chores” you see in various blogs and e-publications that seem reasonable to you: Blog about your book, blog about a related topic, guest blog, promote another author on your blog (see Challenge 4). Assign a frequency to them, then arrange them into a schedule. That way you stay on track and hold yourself accountable. This idea isn’t original with me. Tony Eldridge wrote about it in an excellent blog post.

Challenge 3. Exclusionary Thinking

E-publishing opened up the world to people who wouldn’t have had the chance in the past. Traditional publishers are casting about, often aimlessly, trying to figure out what the future holds for them. Don’t fall into the trap of exclusionary thinking, though. By that I mean the idea that “E-publishing is only THIS,” or “You can’t do both e-publishing and traditional publishing,” or “Anyone who accepts a traditional contract after e-publishing is selling out.” Thinking this way limits your options, and reduces your mindset to an unhelpful “us versus them” mentality.

How to deal with exclusionary thinking? Remember that each author comes to publishing in her (or his) own way. Your path isn’t the only one. Gather up great ideas from both worlds.

Challenge 4. Isolation

Writing is usually a solitary activity. Even with a co-author, you put your own words down in pixels or ink. The problem with isolation is you miss out on other opinions and perspectives. Relying only on  yourself skews  your perspective as much as challenge 3 does.

How to deal with isolation? Join a group, in person or online. Read blogs about writing. Improve your craft at every opportunity. The Indie Book Collective has some great tutorials on publishing and marketing. Promote other authors on your blog to develop collaborative relationships.

Challenge 5. Good Enough

By “good enough,” I mean the temptation to publish your manuscript whether it’s really ready or not. You fall prey to the Donna Syndrome (see Challenge 1). Publishing is so quick that you may “want it and want it now.” I’ve read many comments lately about e-publishing to effect that “readers don’t care about editing, they just want a good story.” E-publishing suffers criticism because of this attitude. Careful editing and grammatical sentence structure enhance the reading experience.

How to deal with good enough? As I said in Challenge 1, be patient. Edit your manuscript, then have someone else edit it who knows editing. Spend the time and effort to make it the best it can be. I talked about that in another post.

All of these challenges are about your mental state. Improving your craft, approaching it as a professional, seeking the camaraderie and advice of others: these activities don’t just improve you and your writing. They contribute to a strong and vibrant independent writing community.

Please let me hear from you in the comments. What challenges that you face have I left out?

3 Steps to Organizing Your Book Marketing Strategy

I’m in the throes of marketing my indie book Second Death. If you have a book, you should be in the throes of marketing yours. If not, get to it!

Easier said than done, right? The problem I have with marketing my book is the plethora of choices. Good advice on marketing is everywhere on the net. I’m getting overwhelmed just thinking about it. Here are some ideas that help me when the embarrassment of riches threatens to unhinge my mind.

  1. Stroll through the web and find good ideas. Don’t worry about implementing them right now. One place to start is my StumbleUpon list. Save the links to the sites that seem promising. Personally I need something to jog my memory, so print off one page of the site.
  2. Organize what you’ve found. I sort the printed out pages into categories–blogs, communities, services, etc.
  3. Create your marketing plan. I debated about making a formal plan, but in the end, what’s most useful to me is a list. I listed all the sites and services, and what I needed to do at them. Then I indicated how often I needed to do each step. Blog at this site once a week, drop in on that community daily for 15 minutes, freshen my Amazon author page monthly, for example. I transfer these items to a calendar so I know what to do when.

Try it and see if it reduces marketing head-spin. Let me know how your efforts work out!