Using Sidelines to Fund Self Publishing Ventures

I finally think I’ve narrowed down the most stressful aspect of self publishing — at least for myself. Writing isn’t hard. Promotion isn’t hard (when I’m not being excessively lazy). Formatting isn’t even that hard.

You know what is hard? Coughing up the dough needed to publish the most professional product possible. In the grand scheme of things, $300 isn’t really that big of an investment. But when you’ve got a baby on the way and are living off only one stable income, the idea of parting with any chunk of cash is insomnia-inducing at best.

Unfortunately, getting a job while nine months pregnant without a car and while living on the economy in Germany is much easier said than done. So I did what I always do when I get the sudden burst of ambition to up my income: consulted Dr. Google and circled the drain for a few hours contemplating jumping head first into dangerous sideline projects like stock market investment and domain flipping. Of course, diving into those kinds ventures without experience is a great way to break your neck — er, bank.

What’s a girl to do?

I briefly contemplated returning to the soul-sucking world of freelance writing. One click on Elance and the disillusionment came rushing back. Yeah. No thank you, not interested. Finally I’ve settled on two work-from-home ventures that so far have become promising prospects:

  1. Short Romance Writing: Yes, I’m funding my writing by… well writing. Romance, especially steamy romance, has this weirdly lenient readership that is willingly to pay $2.99 for a 3-6k word story. I tested this theory by releasing a hot and humorous romance short of 5k words last week. It’s already sold four copies. That’s $8.36 in royalties. That’s right, this piece that took me less than a day to craft has earned more royalties in direct sales than my novella that took me a month to write. Want to know how much I invested in my short story? Four dollars on a stock photograph. That’s it. It’s already profitable (even if marginally so). Now I’ve set aside one day a week to publish a new short (serialized with the intention of bundling, of course). Sadly, that one day will probably be more lucrative than the six others I dedicate to writing what I love.
  2. Cover Designing: (This is where I do that lovely shameless plug thing. Don’t judge me too harshly.) A couple of days ago I was doodling in photoshop, as I often do whilst I’m suffering from a bout of procrastination, when I got the idea to turn my mouse scribbles into pre-made cover art for other self publishers. I took the idea to my favorite forum and was encouraged enough by the feedback to open up yet another website: I can usually create 1-2 designs a day and am selling the covers at a flat rate of $35 per. The beauty of the whole thing is that the doodles are something I do for fun anyway when I’m in that distracted stage of writing. Even one sale will make the venture profitable (and joy, I’m currently working with my first potential client).

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In total, I spend about two days a week on sideline projects and the other five dedicated to working Piper’s Peace. This minimal investment of my time has actually done wonders in to liberate me from the writer’s block that was dropped on my wrists. Turns out it wasn’t a writer’s block at all, but merely a mental block that couldn’t get around the looming fear that my expenses would eventually out weigh anything I might reap from this project. Now I can get back to writing for the love of it (and leave my shorts to writing for the monetary gain).

My Writing Process – Or Lack Thereof

2073fa81c928202ce0d5ab38d81be551Because, Sherlock. I miss you in my life.

Lately I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of talking, but very little writing. I’ve chopped it up to simply being a part of my creative process. (Shh, that’s not an excuse, it’s a valid point. I’m pregnant. I win.)

So in honor of procrastination and distraction, I’d like to invite you all in on a glimpse of my process and the long journey from idea to finished product.

Amber’s Ten Step Writing Process:

  1. STEP ONE: Think. For hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Sleep on it. Dream about it. Digest it. Write it at least five times in my head before anything comes out on paper. Have conversations with myself about it. Talk to my characters. Pretend that I am my characters. Be judged by the neighbor.
  2. STEP TWO: Outline. Begins with word vomit ends in a semi-coherent beat sheet broken into loose scenes.
  3. STEP THREE: Work up the motivation to flesh out beats. Usually involves re-reading and editing the beat sheet half a dozen times, great way to circle the drain for a week or two. Sometimes involves reversion to step one. Always involves talking and lots there of. This is the step that my husband likes least.
  4. STEP FOUR: Write. Eventually find the momentum to turn beats into chapters. Talk big. Claim to get three done a day. Get maybe one. Be satisfied with baby steps. Force self not to rush exposition for the sake of finishing. Rush exposition anyway. Self-edit and double the writing time.
  5. STEP FIVE: Edit. AKA send work off to editor and try to suppress the compulsive urge to check email every five minutes for feedback. Sometimes occurs simultaneously with step four. Always results in returning to step four.
  6. STEP SIX: Polish and format. Purchase cover art. Fix indents, page breaks, and copy right page. Nit pick chapter titles. Consider learning how to integrate html links. Don’t bother learning how to integrate html links. Find reasons to delay the inevitable.
  7. STEP SEVEN: Publish. Upload to Amazon. Think of a witty blurb. Re-write blurb five times. Publish even though dissatisfied with blurb. Destroy nail beds while waiting for book to go live. Find every little error in the meantime. Impatiently wait for error free version to upload.
  8. STEP EIGHT: Mental collapse. Refresh report page every five minutes. Fall into crippling self-doubt when sales top out at 3. Second guess everything. Consider walking away. Distract with computer games and Netflix binges.
  9. STEP NINE: Rebuild. Get first review. Feel validated. Slowly gain confidence. Decide I’m a little better than sub par. Come to the conclusion it’s not time to give up quite yet.
  10. STEP TEN: Start over. Take a deep breath. Ignore the daunting task ahead. Starting thinking again.

How about you? What does your writing process look like?


Wednesday Weigh In – Week Four

*numbers do not include family/friends

Project Details
Running for: 24 days
Published Works: 1
Current Work: Piper’s Peace
Anticipated Launch: Late September

Published Statistics
Samara’s Song – published 08/05/2014
Current Price: $0.99
Sales: 5
Free Downloads: 208
Reviews: 0

Twitter: 141 followers
Project Self Pub: 34 followers, 243 hits
Personal Website: 13 followers, 160 hits

Domain names: $32
WordPress themes: $18
Cover Art: $95
Editor: $214.73
Total: $359.73

Sales: $3.49
Lends: $2
Total: $5.49

Overall: -$354.24

The One and Done Conundrum

What’s the easiest way to sell your book? Write more books. New material will always promote the backlist. I’ve even read arguments against utilizing any other form of promotion before you manage to put at least 5 things out on the market. I happen to disagree with that notion, but the point can’t be ignored. Being prolific pays off.

It’s for this reason that I always find it so surprising when authors simply give up on their self-publishing ventures after the limited success of only one novel. Enter the One and Done Conundrum (because that’s just fun to say).

We are coming up quickly on the one week mark since the release of Samara’s Song, and guys – I get it.

I’d be lying if I said the thought of “taking a break” didn’t pass through my head. In fact it did, as I spent the past two days lost in hours worth of Civ V, happily letting my creativity atrophy during a gaming binge.

I’ve been able to breakdown my hesitance into the following three lines of thought:

  • My expectations were too high. Pff, yeah they were. We both know they were. As writers we get this naive, egotistic thought in our head that if we just get our work out there, it’ll sell like hotcakes. It’s easy to get sucked in by the success of the 1% and feel like a miserable failure in comparison. In two and a half days of paid sales, I’ve moved 6 copies of my first book. Why on Earth am I shaming myself about that? That’s awesome!
  • I’ve already wasted a significant monetary investment in this thing. When you look at the numbers, it’s discouraging initially. A $300 investment with a $5 return? Yeah. The thought of setting out to invest more in a sequel seems a little questionable. But the fact of the matter is that the book is out there. It’s done. Passive income forever. Returns may be slow, but they will come eventually and once the investment is met, it’s all pure profit – or rather capital to reinvest in more books. (Help. I’m trapped.)
  • The thought of writing another book is exhausting. Physically and emotionally. I’ve already put so much energy into the first piece and I got very little in return. So sure, let me bleed all over my laptop again for just the same. It only hurts a little. I had to give myself a few days to breathe before even thinking about the project again. Does the idea still exhaust me? Hell yes. But it also excites me. Cue high expectations and starting this whole business over again.


Despite the slightly pessimistic tone, I am actually satisfied with the progress of this journey thus far, and rest assured I have no intention of joining the mountain of One Hit Non-Wonders overflowing on the Amazon market.

Publishing, Proofreading, and Promotion

First of all, WOOHOO – the novella is now live. This post shall begin with a shameless plug, but it’s a free one. Since the free promotional period is a go. So I don’t feel so terribly guilty.


Or don’t.


On to the stuff you actually care to read.

As I said before, formatting was fairly easy. Wednesday evening I put my game face on and my little heart got to racing when I finally hit that “Publish” button. Holy goodness, I’d done it. It was on the market. People could search my name and find my work. It is a woefully intimidating feeling. Terrifying. I was suddenly afraid to have people read my work. Enter self doubt and insecurity. Which was only further emphasized when I sold one single copy in that first 24 hours. One.

Then again, it was pointed out to me that I had MISSPELLED MY OWN TITLE. Trust me. There were tears.

After all the minor errors were fixed, I started working on the promotion side of things. First, I posted Samara’s Song on Goodreads. Then I set up my free promotional period for this weekend. I’ll discuss why I decided to go the free route below. Then I got in contact with dozens of book bloggers and queried them for reviews. I’ve heard back from three. Two are interested – one of which I am quite excited about and is slotting me for a post this month. One rejected. But at least they were kind enough to let me know instead of leaving my request to rot, so that was sweet. I’m still waiting to hear back from a plethora of others. Lastly, after social media was hit (excluding facebook – see crippling insecurity), I listed my book on pages such as SnicksList.

Below are some of the hard lessons I’ve learned over the past couple of days.

  • Publishing is not instantaneous. It took about 8 hours for the novella to go live. During which time your book goes into a sort of limbo – it can’t be edited at all. Not the price. Not the manuscript. Not the minor spelling error in your title. The same is true every time you submit a minor change and republish. Right after the novella was published, I decided to change the price. Cue another 8 hours of bashing myself with the keyboard when I realized I had forgotten about the title. I blame pregnancy brain. Which leads to:
  • Proofread all the minor stuff before publishing. Please don’t make my silly boo-boo. It’s embarrassing and unnecessary.
  • Contact book bloggers and promotion sites before your promotion begins. The exception is SnicksList and other sites that only allow you to submit once the book is actually free. If I could go back, I would’ve contacted a dozen sources last week to let them know Samara’s Song would be appearing free this weekend. There’s simply not enough time for them to do anything about it now. Same with blog reviewers, who easily quote 2+ months for a review. While building a platform is obviously something to start early, it’s now been made clear to me that promotion is as well.
  • Free promotion only appears to be a useful tool if you don’t have sales. Free downloads do not affect your sales/borrow rank. In fact, they will hurt your sales rank (if you have one to speak of), because during the promotional period your book isn’t selling. In fact, I’m not entirely sold on the benefits of Select and will likely to be dropping it when my 90 days are up. My main reason for launching the weekend promo is to try to get on an “Also Read” list and hopefully pull in one or two reviews.
  • Refreshing the KDP Report page will drive you crazy. If you’re new and don’t have much of a following yet, just don’t do it. You’ll be more and more bitter with every click of that little f5 button.
  • Deciding on a price point is almost as painful as waiting for a sale. Amazon suggested I put Samara’s Song up for $2.99 – seems pricey for a one hour read, but the greedy side of me was smiling pretty big at that 70% royalty. I’ve now decided that the loss of readership isn’t worth the higher revenue (at least not yet). When the promotional period ends, I will be bumping the novella back down to that sad, sad $0.99.

Needless to say, it’s been a stressful 24 hours. I will check back in to let y’all know how the free promotion turns out and whether or not there is a payoff.


For Fear of Formatting

Today’s the day I’ve been dreading for almost a week – the day I tame the beast known as formatting.

I spent a good deal of the morning avoiding the task at all costs. There were plenty of chocolate milk breaks, two walks/waddles with the pup – I even got three loads of laundry done and five episodes in of Parks and Rec before I decided procrastination time needed to end. I opened my manuscript in word and proceeded to waste another thirty minutes just staring at it, waiting for it to magically convert itself into ePub or mobi.

Sadly that didn’t happen.

In the end, I decided to just wing it and upload the whole shebang as it was. I wanted to see how much of a mess I had on my hands. It was with great trepidation that I hit that little “preview” button, and much to my surprise it wasn’t that bad. The only issue? Indents. The bane of my existence. It took my husband all of ten minutes to resolve the issue. Ten minutes. The third attempt at uploading my .docx manuscript and voila, perfection.

Wait a second – clearly I’m doing something wrong. I’ve read through so many headaches concerning formatting that I was fully prepared to outsource the work to someone else. I even put up a job listing on Elance; I was that ready to not even try. But as far as I can tell, it’s not even near the realm of necessary. Hey, maybe I just got lucky.

There are only a few things that were important to keep in mind during the whole process:

  • Page breaks: I inserted a page break at the end of every chapter as I was putting the novella together, so it was a non-issue when it came to formatting. Simply click and done. You also need a page break after the title page, copyright page, acknowledgements, etc.
  • Indents: Don’t indent using the tab button. They will be all over the place, and it’s frustrating to have to go back through and delete them all. Save yourself the headache. Pull up the paragraph settings menu under the page layout tab in Word. Under “Indentation” there should be a pull down menu titled “Special.” Select “First line.” Your indentations will automatically be set at .5 inches, but you can adjust them if you want. These indents will convert perfectly. Easy peasy.
  • Keep it simple: This is probably why I encountered so few problems when converting; I was converting mostly just plain text. Some italics here, a few bold face words there, marginally resized title and chapter headings. That’s it. I’d imagine an image heavy or stylish manuscript might be more of a problem.

In the end, I’m grateful I didn’t go running to a freelancer with this one – and that my husband is far more tech savvy than I am. Hopefully I don’t discover in the morning, when the book goes live, that my so-called success was actually a terrible failure. But so far, the water seems pretty calm on this one guys. What about you? What have your experiences been with formatting and ebook conversion?

A History with Writing

Well today was supposed to be launch day for Samara’s Song. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Thanks mostly to an adorable little 4.7lb monster who had mama laid up in the hospital for a day. No worries, we’re both in exceptional health now. But forced bed rest (“bed” being a euphemism for torture device in this instance) gave me time to actually step away from my work and come back at it with a much needed fresh perspective. I’ll now be releasing the book by August 7th, using the extra time to strengthen the weak points and hopefully make a good story into a great one.

10502422_101526572370176421_3456540849396388258_nBut, really. Who could blame that face?

So instead of today being an excited post about launching a new novella we’re going to shift gears and make it a narcissistic post in which I spend several paragraphs just talking about little old me. But we’ll do it in bullet format, because for some reason people really prefer reading lists and are intimidated by unbroken chunks of text.

  • I grew up writing: Kind of. I actually grew up thinking. I have this issue with a runaway imagination and decided to attempt transcribing my fantasies at a young age. It’s been a bit of a love/hate relationship since then. Yes, I said it. Writing is not always fun. Sometimes it’s down right excruciating.
  • I made attempts at journalism in high school: Funny story, I signed up for Newspaper my sophomore year. I raved about it all summer and then nearly crapped myself on the first day of class when I realized journalism involved interviewing strangers. You see, I forgot I was an introvert (which, at the time, seemed like a damn shame to be). I then subsequently forgot that fact three years in a row. Yep. I took that class every single year. Why? Because I discovered I was pretty darn good at writing editorial pieces. I may not have been able to form a coherent sentence face to face, but behind the pen, I realized I had a voice worth listening to.
  • I developed an elitist view of nontraditional creative writing in college: Oh boy did I ever. My main focus in college was on classic prose poetry: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarme. I adored the inaccessibility of Gertrude Stein. I wanted my writing to challenge readers – and if it was too challenging, that was your fault, not mine. The only word I can think of that accurately describes my writing in college is pompous.
  • Writing led me to dropping out of college: Look at me, using writing as a scapegoat. That’s only a slight truth. I dropped out of college after four years without a degree because I’m fickle. Because I wanted to bake. Because creative writing is a vanity degree. Because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Because I didn’t need a slip of paper for validation. Because. Because. Because… Because I made a mistake. One which I will be correcting this fall.
  • I spent the last several months working as a ghostwriter: I thought I had found my dream job until I spent two very long, exhausting weeks working on a romance novella for a client, only to submit the work and never receive my measly $500 paycheck. It’s funny how quickly disillusionment can set it. I had two main focuses: outlining and content. I was producing 60k words a month on top of developing the characters/concepts/plots from scratch. It took me four months to figure out that I was being duped. Why the hell wasn’t I running away with these stories and publishing them myself? They were entirely my babies and I wasn’t even making very much money giving away my right to them. It was that train of thought that led me here (and I must apologize profusely to the few clients that I just dropped willy nilly in a hormonal rage – Kevin, you included).
  • Ghostwriting led me to self-publishing: As I said, my journey over the last several months has landed me here. Ghostwriting has taught me some valuable lessons in terms of being an indie author: what sells, the need to be prolific, the discipline to put in the hours, etc. This is the latest stage in my history with writing and it’ll either be just another notch on the pole or the last first step to building a career out of something I love.

And there you have it – a very small glimpse into the ongoing affair I’ve had with writing and literature.