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: http://www.premade-covers.com. 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).

ButterflyF AppleF FlowerF

 

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).

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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?

 

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.

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?

What to do with that pesky author’s blog.

You have to build a platform. You have  to have a way of reaching your readership. It’s a line out of almost every self-publishing guide out there. Utilize your social media. Twitter. Facebook. Start. A. Blog.

Sounds easy enough, sign me up. In fact, that was my first step before even publishing anything: get my platforms up and running. This site was easy. It’s basically a running dialogue of how I spend my days (which if you were wondering is almost entirely researching, writing, and distracting myself from researching and writing). This blog practically writes itself and that’s fantastic. It really is.

On top of this site, I opened up the famous dedicated “author’s site.” You know, the one that’s a .com version of your name and everyone should flood to once you things start taking off (amberfeldkamp.com – in case you were excessively curious). I even spent $18 on a visually pleasing theme. And then I sat down to write a blog post. And… nothing.

I’ve managed to kick out two measly posts in a week and half: a little reflection on the beauty of my last name and the cover reveal for Samara’s Song (coming to an Amazon store near you on August 1st). Since then, I’ve started maybe six different posts that have wound up in the vast wasteland of draftdom. I just can’t figure out what to write, and surprise, surprise, the following has suffered for it. It’s the same issue I run into with Twitter (follow me anyway). What do you say to make people like you? (That sounds pathetic, but it’s basically the game we’re playing here.)

No. But seriously.

So of course, I went back to researching. The common suggestion? Write about what you would want to read about. I want to read about self-publishing. I want to know everything I can about it. And I plan on doing quite a bit of writing about it on this blog. Not my author blog. Besides, I don’t think that’s a subject my readership is particularly interested in anyway (not that I’m counting you guys out, you’re more than welcome to read my work. Seriously. Samara’s Song. August 1st. Amazon.).

As much as I like to think I’m a superbly interesting individual with a lot to say, apparently I’m actually not. In actuality I’m a superbly introverted individual who’s almost 8 months pregnant and living in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country without a car while her husband works 12-15 hours a day (that’s not an invitation to come rob me – I have a dog and a gun and a lot of neighbors who like to check in on the pregnant lady). Basically I do a lot of sitting. Sitting is prime right now. Occasionally walking, but mostly just sitting. And writing. And researching.

In the midst of all this exhausting sitting, I came up with an idea. Or stole an idea. Whichever works for you.

Disclaimer: I’ve done absolutely zero research on the viability of this option. Zilch. Which is uncommon for me and will be corrected the moment I finish this blog. But, hey, I got excited.

I’ve noticed a lot of recent popular works releasing companion material – Veronica Roth’s Four, Kiera Cass’ The Prince, even J.K. Rowling released a fun  new “article” for the World Cup.

I’m writing 1st person POV novellas with limited vision into this giant dystopian world. Why not fill my blog with free companion material, 1-2k stand alone shorts from other character’s perspectives? Personally, sounds like a fantastic idea to me. So that’s my current game plan. And after a reasonable collection of shorts have been posted to the blog, I’ll wrap them up and publish them in ebook format as a free anthology in the hopes of driving up sales.

 

So tell me, what do you generally post about on your author’s blog? What garners the most feedback for you?

 

 

(Side note: A heart felt thank you to Robert and Angela for the supportive emails, and to the 20 new followers. I couldn’t believe 2 people had any interest in what I had to share, let alone 26. You are a huge motivating factor in this thing and have my sincerest appreciation.)

To outsource or not to outsource… Is it even a question?

Did I mention the fact that as self publishers we are basically a one man business? Now we’ve got two options when it comes to running our business: do it all ourselves or outsource some of the workload. I’m personally a big fan of making life easier on myself, but if sharing the burden isn’t enough of a reason for you to go running to a freelancer, here’s a couple of more that just might be:

  1. Someone else can do it better. Regardless of how many times you read over your manuscript, there’s always going to be that one little mistake your eyes miss. My stance on the matter is that I know my story, inside and out. When I reread it, I’m already anticipating what’s coming next instead of focusing on going line by line to look for that misplaced comma. On top of that, I know next to nothing about graphic design (thank you WordPress designers for the premade themes, I’d be lost in the sauce otherwise). My master trade is writing. I could probably manage to at least be average at the rest, but who wants average? Certainly not my future readers.
  2. It will give you a competitive edgeThis is a biggie. The market is saturated with sub-par works all vying for the same readership. Amateur covers, minor grammar mistakes, poor formatting – all are going to cost you a significant share of that readership. With millions of other titles out there, if you can’t stand out for the right reasons, you’re already shooting yourself in the foot.
  3. It will free up your time, allowing you to be more efficient. Raise your hand if you’re an obsessive self-editor. *hand goes up* Yep. Me too. And it’s a great way to circle the drain and never get anything published. Enter the wonders of hiring an editor you can trust. I kick out a chapter a day, give it a once over, and ship it down the line to Dawn. And then she does all the obsessing for me so I can focus on the next chapter. Your time is valuable, and it’s best spent honing your trade and promoting your brand.

 

So who are the experts that I should consider outsourcing my work to and how much should I expect to pay?

 

  • Editor: Your editor is your last line of defense before publication. She will catch the minor errors that you missed, polish your writing, and offer insight as to what is and what isn’t working. There are a few levels of editors, starting at the bottom with proofreaders and standard copy editors and going all the way up to developmental/line editors. At the low end of the spectrum you can find freelancers willing to copy edit your work at rates as low as $1 per page (manuscript page, not Word page – a standard manuscript page is 250 words). Keep in mind that most often you get what you pay for in terms of outsourcing, and a quality editor is far more likely to run you at least $30 an hour or $3 per page.

 

  • Graphic Designer/Illustrator: Someone who specializes in book covers and is knowledgeable as to what covers are selling in your particular genre. There is a huge range in costs for a professional cover designer. You can get them as cheap as $10 on Fiverr, but again, you get what you pay for. You can come by a good, marketable cover for between $40 and $100.

 

  • Ebook Converter: You can also use freelancers to have your books converted into an ebook format. I’ll be honest and admit I have not done a lot of research on the market as far as pricing and the advantage of doing such. We’ll find out if it’s entirely necessary when I attempt the frustrating process of formatting my book for publishing next week, so keep an eye out.

 

So what if I can’t afford to outsource, but still want to have a competitive edge? What can I do? There are a couple of options:

 

  • Beta readers: Non-professional, usually unpaid readers who will give you feedback on your story before publication. Beta readers can be found on many writing forums and over the social web. Some offer their feedback for a trade, while others like to focus on a specific genre. The advantage of beta readers is that they are free and they usually know the genre they beta for. The disadvantage is that they do not have the professional background of an actual editor and they do not have the same incentive for quick turnaround times on your work. If going this route, it’s beneficial to utilize multiple betas, instead of just one.

 

  • Read throughs: If you can’t find a quality beta and just need a pair of eyes on your work, you can at least enlist the help of family/friends by asking for a read through. This is your least professional editing route, BUT it will help you find the glaring grammar errors that turn off most readers. Heck, even with an editor, I still use my husband to read over everything I write.

 

  • Design your own cover: You can use sites such as shutterstock and depositphotos to purchase cheap, royalty free images. It behooves you to do some research first – what do the covers look like of the currently best-selling books in your genre? A simple amazon search will give you an idea. Then see if you can’t come up with something similar. Choose a font that doesn’t scream self-published (you can find a nifty list here). And most importantly keep it simple – especially if you have limited experience with graphic design.

 

When it comes down to it, you want to put the best product possible on the market. Outsourcing is an investment in those who know a certain craft better than you do. The pay off is in giving yourself that much more of an advantage over your competition. If you can’t afford to hire a professional, it is still prudent that your eyes are not the only ones to see your final product before it hits the market.

Treating self publishing like a business, not a hobby.

First of all, thank you to everyone who’s already added this blog to their follow list. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do a small happy dance when I awoke to find I had 7 followers. I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t still doing a mental happy dance. So thank you. Again.

Moving on.

The issue that I see with a lot of indie authors – apart from the obvious disparity in quality flooding the marketplace – is that they don’t recognize themselves for what they are: entrepreneurs. We are basically our own one man company, and the job is not simply to write. Writing is the easy part.

My plan from the beginning has been to tackle this project head-on with the understanding that I am creating a business. My business plan focuses on the following:

  1. Budgeting for start up costs: Whoa, whoa, whoa man. Self publishing is a free enterprise. There are no start up costs. Technically, sure. You’re right. But unless you’re the jack of all digital trades, I’m gonna have to call bull on that one. The main costs that I have budgeted for pre-release include a professional graphic designer to kick out high-quality cover art, an editor (because even the best of us are blind to our own menial mistakes), and the funds to launch and manage multiple platforms.
  2. Launch and manage multiple platforms: Self publication means self promotion. There’s no way around it. I opened my first ever Twitter account two days ago (follow me @amberfeldkamp, but be warned, I’m dismally awful and awkward at tweeting). I’ve also launched http://www.amberfeldkamp.com as my personal author page and this website to document the process. Shameless plug. Shameless plug. Shameless plug.
  3. Know my target market: Before I even began outlining, I researched what niche market I wanted to write for. Based on my research, there appear to be three general genres with the highest readership: romance, thrillers, and erotic. I blush at the thought of writing erotica. Amber, your modesty is showing. I’m not keen on putting together thrillers and I’m a lover. Romance wins. But I want to target a more specific niche. I’ve noticed the general rise in the dystopian novel, particularly of the YA genre. There appears to be an untapped market for adult dystopian, however, and this just so happens to be a favorite of mine to write.  The end result? A conscious decision to write serial novellas in the adult dystopian romance genre with a focus on reaching an 18-25 year old female readership.
  4. Be ready to invest the time: I wake up (anytime between 7:30 and 10:30, contingent on either the whining of my dog or the kicking of my son) and the first thing on my mind is work. I feed myself, feed my dog, and then plop myself behind the computer and I write. I plan. I outline. I format. I send emails. And. I. Write. For at least seven hours a day. I understand working individuals don’t have the time advantage, but since I do, I plan to utilize that time to the best of my abilities and not allow myself to be passive.
  5. Be prolific: As far as I can tell, the best way to achieve success in self publishing is to have both quality and quantity on your side. One book is not likely to constitute a living. One book a month, on the other hand, and now we’re talking.

So that’s the bare bones of the business plan we’re working with right now. Time willing, the first novella will launch sometime this weekend.

As I said before, I want to be as transparent as possible with this whole process. That being said, there are a million and one cogs involved in keeping this thing turning. So if there is a particular topic you are interested in that I’ve failed to put on display, don’t hesitate to click that little “Ask Me Anything” button up yonder and shoot an email my way.