More on Smashwords

This is a post in response to Ruth’s post of 2/6 re: Pricing and Smashwords. I’m not addressing the pricing but would like to share my experience about SW’s. It seems more appropriate to do it as a post here than a comment there so here it is:

My experience with Smashwords has been quite different from what it seems has been shared in Ruth’s post and subsequent comments. From the beginning, my goal was to qualify for their Premium Catalogue.  If your book qualifies, SWs provides a free ISBN. I didn’t much care if the ISBN was free or not in that $9-10 is not a deal killer for me but since the goal was to be in the PC I just decided to see what happened and see if January Moon qualified, which it did. Unlike Ruth, however, I believe in ISBN’s for my purposes so I would have bought an ISBN if necessary (if January Moon wasn’t placed in the Prem Cat).

[OOOPS! Stop! Editorial insert for a correction here! (Is there such a thing?) Ruth didn’t say there was a time lag between uploading on SWs and seeing the book go live for sale. Someone did somewhere but it wasn’t here. She was only referring to the delay in re: the Premium Catalogue. Sorry for the confusion; please blame it on the Nyquil.]

So, anyway, January Moon qualified for the Premium Catalogue, was given an ISBN, and that part is history.

However, when I uploaded my book to Smashwords at the very end of September the book was almost immediately visible on SWs site as a new book. I don’t think it took any more than 12 hrs. So, I’m clueless as to why anyone would wait days or weeks to see their book on SWs. That seems odd to me. Has something changed? Perhaps someone needs to write to Mark Coker and ask him. I’m a big fan of SWs because I’ve found Mark Coker to be the singularly most responsive businessperson in the world.

Anyway, my dashboard told me that the book’s acceptance into the Premium Catalogue was “pending” approval; however, even as it was pending acceptance into the PC I could clearly see that January Moon was available for sale on the SWs site. I checked back several days in a row and then probably 3 or 4 days later I saw January Moon had been approved & placed in the Premium Catalogue. If I waited even as long as a week I’d be very surprised; I honestly think it happened within days — 5 tops.

I opted into ALL of the distribution channels. Almost immediately I saw when the book would be sent to those channels or when it was sent. There was no undue lag time.

I made several changes to the ms and watched how they were handled. The distribution chart clearly indicated when each new “version” would be re-sent to B&N, Apple, Sony, etc. It was very efficient and clear cut. I uploaded new versions that weren’t really new documents at all — the exact same ms each time — and I watched what happened each time. Each time I uploaded a new ms I was told it once again had to be approved for the PC but sometimes this “approval” happened within hrs, once or twice a few days but never more. Then I’d see how it changed on the distribution flow chart; I could see the date each version was sent to B&N, Apple, etc. I could see the last time a version was sent. Again, it was very professional and easy to follow. Testing it as I did made me really understand the process and establish confidence in it.

I opted into Amazon right from the getgo but after several months watching SWs still fail to resolve what they called the “meatgrinder” issue I decided to opt out and go over to Amazon directly and using their DTP program I uploaded January Moon to Amazon. I don’t think their program is as easy as SWs but it wasn’t necessarily terrible. (Warning here: you CANNOT use the same document you use @ SWs for the upload to Amazon or the formatting will be screwed up. I’ve already written about this and will mention it again at another time but consider this the heads up.)

After I went to Amazon I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t do the same for B&N (and use their PubIt! program). I had no real reason to do this since SWs was sending January Moon there already but I decided to explore the options. That was an unmitigated nightmare. B&N is one of the most internally confused companies I have dealt with and, trust me, I’ve dealt with many. In brief, PubIt! is not as user-friendly as Amazon and NOWHERE near as easy to use as SWs.  If you have a problem — well, fat chance you can even locate the department responsible for handling it. After none of their emailed answers even addressed my question I spent hours on the phone trying to track down a human and when I finally located one — who assured me the problem would be fixed instantly — I learned 10 days later it wasn’t resolved at all and whomever I had spoken to had given me completely incorrect information and getting that bit of info took another 2 maddening hours trying to slug through the byzantine corridors of B&N’s many departments (none of whom wanted to take responsibility for anything and none of whom interact with one another; I actually spoke to someone in marketing who knew nothing about PubIt! She thought it was owned by Amazon!).

If things goes well for you and B&N, God bless. If you have a problem, however, be prepared to wallow in Corporate Hell.

After that experience I RAN BACK to SW’s and decided that forever and a day they can deal with B&N. I discussed it with Mark Coker and one of the things about allowing SWs to distribute to B&N for you is that you then can turn the problem over to SWs. If they can’t solve your problem, trust me, you never would be able to solve it. SWs, one assumes, has some leverage. You? Honestly, I don’t think Dan Brown could get any satisfaction. There is a BIG reason that company is in financial distress and it’s not all due to the vagaries of the marketplace. They’ve given new meaning to the term “User UN-friendly.” 

SWs of course takes a small fee to distribute your book to B&N, Apple, Sony, etc. To me,  it’s a small and fair price to pay to have them serve as my advocate, accountant, and distributor. All my records re: B&N, Apple, Sony etc. are now consolidated with SWs and I can tell exactly how many books I’ve sold at each of those retailers in only one glance at my SWs report. 

I already have Amazon to track for the ebook and CreateSpace for the paperback so what the hell? Do I really need to also track B&N, Apple, Sony etc. if there’s a company like SW’s to do it for me.

I think not.

One more thing about B&N and SWs: I saw that B&N had some significant online advertising about ebooks for $2.99 and less. Mine wasn’t listed. I looked more closely and saw that no INDIE books were listed. I was pissed. I emailed Mark Coker. He was already talking to them about this and it seems they are now working out some concessions where B&N claims they will highlight indies in the future in some special ad campaign.  If you’re being distributed to B&N via SWs or are their yourself having used their PubIt! program you might want to pay close attention to this and work with me to keep the pressure up.

Amazon is the 900# gorilla in the business and I don’t know what control we as individuals have over them. Perhaps we need to form a collective of independent authors; dunno. It might be a good thing to look into w/the AiA.

The times they are a’changin’… 

Hadrian extolled his fellow Romans to rebuild Rome “brick by brick, my fellow citizens, brick by brick…”

I say to you we’re rebuilding the history of publishing “indie book by indie book…”

Have a nice day; ~mick

PS: This was bashed out in a huge hurry, no time to proof, miserable head cold, over tired, and drugged with NyQuil. You can either be charitable toward me or… well, I don’t give a damn about the altnerative. I’m a very nasty person when I’m sickie-pooh.  😦

Just a warning… 🙂

Feeling Overwhelmed? Join the Club

There is WAAAAY too much on my plate… I’ve gone from a plate to a platter to service for eight.

Yeah.

I don’t know how other writers do it… all the Facebook, Tweets, blogging (writing theirs and reading others), forums… when the hell do they get a chance to write books?

Hell, when do they go to the bathroom?

I know authors who do all of the above AND raise kids and hold full time jobs. I can’t hold it together anymore… Goodreads, Badreads, Noreads… whatever. There are hundreds of places on the internet for writers to gather and discuss and pour their blinking hearts out. Jeesh.

You know that old adage about your closet — that if you haven’t worn something in a year, throw it out?

I’m keeping the clothes in the closet because if I ever get my figure back (you know, like if I get a tapeworm or something), I’ll have plenty of clothes. With a little bit of luck they’ll all be in fashion again.

I am not, however, keeping any site that I haven’t visited in the last ten days. TEN DAYS. Yeah, I’m being aggressive about this; I mean it: ten days.

I like Facebook (every day I meet someone really neat); I definitely want to get my new  blog, The Windy City Author, rolling (I have all kinds of ideas and neat things to post) and I want to continue blogging at Author’s Lounge. Of course, I need to answer lots of daily emails and I certainly want to read the news and a selection of blogs every few days. I need to stay on top of my website (change the content from time to time) and I MUST get really, really serious about marketing January Moon… OK, that should probably be a priority ahead of all else: marketing January Moon.

Oh yeah, and then there’s the Historical Fiction Group over at the AiA (Association of Independent Authors) that I recently joined and promised to moderate and haven’t been back to in several weeks. 

And you know what? I also need to finish writing January Moon’s sequel and then start the next book to wrap up the Del Carter trilogy.

I’d like to also read the many excellent books on my Reading List and probably write some reviews and from time to time I want to continue to write and publish social commentary.

Damn. I’m getting hyper just writing this… OK, so where was I?

Oh yeah: SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE.

Tonite I went into a half dozen internet sites for authors and readers — none of which I had entered in the last 10 days (sometimes 30+ days) — and DELETED MY ACCOUNTS.

POOF! Shazam. No More. Whew.

Feeling better already.

What about you? What do you really need to make yourself or your career or your dreams grow? What can you live without?

Facebook? Blogging? Twitter? Goodreads?

What’s essential and what’s not?

The “Expense” of Self-Publishing (My Experience)

I’m republishing something I wrote about my experience with the cost of self-publishing (it was a reply to my post titled “Let’s be Serious Now, Shall We?”). I’m doing this because   I happened to read at least 3 comments (@ blogs) about the “high cost” of self-publishing today.  My experience might provide some counterpoint to those remarks.

The following has been slightly re-edited from the original:

“I’ve been astonished by how INexpensive it’s been to get quality professional assistance for my cover and formatting. Mark Coker suggested people I could hire for the cover and formatting (for ebook); I thought it was wonderful to have recommendations from an expert like Mark. The lists for formatting and cover weren’t long and I looked into cover design first. All of the people were obviously talented but one more than the others struck a chord with me and I contacted her (bear in mind this is very subjective; the others were outstanding artists but I was looking for a specific “feel” so this is no negative reflection on the others). I chose DigitalDonna.com (Donna Casey) and I could not have been happier; working with her was a joy, her ideas were wonderful, and she’s fast as lightning. Further, she worked with a friend of mine who provided a picture. The story about how the cover came to be is a short story in itself but let me tell you what I thought was going to be a long drawn out painful experience was nothing of the sort. And her fee knocked me over; I thought I read wrong. I’ve spent more on a fancy lunch in Chicago. When I realized I was going to publish a paperback I needed a back cover and Donna expedited that and made enhancements I never thought about and I had the cover in hours (I should have asked for both when I asked for the ebook cover & she did offer it but stupid me declined; I should have listened to her). The cost of that was again so nominal it was amazing.

For formatting I went “down to New Zealand” and worked with Pat Rosier and she was also a true pro; rapid turnaround time, perfect product, and inexpensive. When I had weird formatting problems that showed up on downloads from Amazon Pat said I needed a “Kindle specialist.” (There’s another story here and it’s very odd; I’ve mentioned it elsewhere but if anyone is interested let me know — I’ll share.) So, this cost me a bit more money but I was desperate and I found a gal named “Hitch” owner of Booknook.com and she was another absolutely delightful person and she bailed me out quickly and her fee was more than fair and reasonable.

I’ve figured it out and the cost for an ebook cover and formatting came in under $175 (US).

Now, I’m the kind of person who learned a long time ago that time is money; when I was a paralegal and the attys saw me doing anything my secretary should have done they hit the roof. As a paralegal doing legal research they billed me out to the client at about $150/hr. (incredible, but true and this was 8-10 yrs ago). If I was doing what they hired the secy to do (which was easy enough for me to do because I was a legal secy yrs and yrs ago) then that meant I wasn’t working as a paralegal and billing clients! I still use this model, believing my time is money so I need to find areas where it’s better spent and leave other things for people to do who have the skills I may lack or who function in areas I don’t need to enter. In other words, sometimes spending money is quite cost effective.

I have no art talent and know nothing about how it’s digitalized so it would take me a year (at least) to create what would only be a really lousy cover. I’m more comfortable formatting documents but that’s a lot more of a specialized skill than formatting a business letter and would take me at least 5-6 hrs to probably get the hang of it — so I had to ask myself if I couldn’t find a more productive way to use my time than mucking about with formatting… I decided my time was far more well spent writing content for my web page or reading about promotion & marketing. 

Authors need to think about these things and know they can get great services for less than several people enjoying a big night on the town — and that’s almost any town. My “major” expense (and I hate to use the term “major”) came with the paperback but I caught a $100 discount offer at CreateSpace, brought over my own cover (that Donna Casey created in about 2 hrs once she already had the front and the CS team said I needed to allowed 4 weeks for them to make!) and by bringing over my cover (formatted for paperback, front, back and spine etc.) I knocked off another $150. I was really frugal when shopping at CS and purchased their minimal services but opted into the ProPlan for only $39 more (to expand distribution). My paperback, which I have to tell you looks FANTASTIC, cost slightly over $500 because of the savings re: the discount offer and that I had a cover already made (and this price includes the slight charge for Donna to create the cover CS needed for the paperback).

BTW: I formatted the ms for the print book; that was well within my comfort range.

I know the term “very expensive” is relative but my experience is that you can self-publish an ebook with a pro cover and pro formatting for a truly nominal amount and even go into print for less than you might pay for an average 3-day vacation at an ordinary hotel in a ho-hum city and cheap airfare.

I paid more to AT&T for my web design and shared hosting package than I paid to self-publish my ebook and produce a paperback. 

Art Mills (who wrote the very compelling book “The Empty Lot Next Door”) told me he had a totally different experience with his print company, XLibris. He would not recommend them to anyone and freely says so. I was appalled when he told me his experience. So if I’m giving a plug for CreateSpace, so be it; my experience was great (and I love their author support and tracking system that goes with even their most nominal package and their people are top notch when it comes to customer service and response time). CreateSpace has treated me as if I was the most famous and successful author in America; really, I’ve been so impressed with them.”

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m excited about the New Year; 2010 ended on the upbeat for me and I have great plans to keep the Big Mo rolling.  I don’t particularly remember what my plans and resolutions were for 2010 but I know writing my first novel certainly was definitely not one of them.  Given that, it’s quite obvious that publishing my first novel in the same year wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. 

Hmmm…. is that an old expression best reserved for references to making babies?  Twinkle in the eye? To hell with it, I’m using it because… well, because I’m too lazy right now to go back and change it.  I have things to do and a ham to cook.

My friend and fellow author Kathleen Valentine wrote in Facebook today that her home is filled with the smell of sauerkraut. That sure wouldn’t be anything that tickles my culinary fancy or tugs at my heartstrings but then I saw other folks responded to her post, all saying they were doing the same.  I’m from Chicago and that’s a city rich in cultural holiday traditions but I never heard about the sauerkraut tradition before… not even from my Polish sister-in-law or any of my German friends.  And just to layer on my cultural bona fides,  let me add my novel is so ethnic in various spots that I can boast I have a character in January Moon named Stanley Poiczyvoyczkym (Py-chee-voy-kim, which is something like “Smith” in Chicago). How many people can boast that?

Kathleen is from Pennsylvania and I asked her if eating sauerkraut was a family tradition on New Year’s Day. Kathleen said it was and that she ate it every New Year’s Day of her life. I’ll quote her further:

“My mother would roll over in her grave if we didn’t eat sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. When I lived in Texas my ex always had to have black-eyed peas and I always had sauerkraut. It made for an interesting meal.”

Black-eyed peas? 

Now I’m not stupid; I know if Pennsylvania is a nation removed from Chicago (which it is, trust me) that Texas is in a whole other galaxy — so I’m not going to claim any surprise about what they do in the Lone Star state. Frankly, nothing coming out of Texas could surprise me.  (See, if I had a publicist she’d be apoplectic right about now: “Oh my God! Now how the hell are we going to sell your books in Texas!?” Is this one of the benefits of being indie? Naw, it’s probably one of the downsides – you know, that I don’t have someone running herd on me.)

So, anyway, this started me thinking about the New Year’s traditions – which were really superstitions — in my own family.

My father insisted we eat herring on New Year’s Eve. It was supposed to assure good health. He never claimed this was an Irish tradition and we weren’t Norwegian, so I have no idea why he labored under such burden but eat herring we did. My mother always insisted it was good luck to have a tall man with dark hair be the first person to cross our threshold New Year’s Day. Specifically, it would keep us safe. She and my aunts and grandmother always said this was an Irish custom. If the right sort of man didn’t seem forthcoming my mother solved the problem (thus preserving our family) by shoving my dad out the back door and making him re-enter through the front.  Being over 6’ tall and at least originally in possession of dark hair, he did nicely in a pinch. I can’t imagine why such a tradition/superstition ever arose in Ireland except that maybe the place was overflowing with short, red-haired men, thus making the tall ones with dark hair seem more “lucky” to find — like pots o’gold and leprechauns.   

Ya’ think? Your guess is as good as mine.

Then there’s my Bohemian mother-in-law who makes everyone in the family put money (coins) in the window wells. This, she assures us with great solemnity, guarantees prosperity (not that any of us have ever really seen any, mind you).

What do I do?

Well, here’s how it’s worked for me:  first, I always feed the herring to the cats and they feel prosperous, then I double bolt the doors to make sure no strange men of any hair color sneak in and this makes me feel safe and, finally, I’ve decided to keep my hard-working Bohemian husband because he always seems to have a few coins in his pockets and that means I don’t need to worry about the windows.    

Did I mention that I’m feeling pretty smug with myself lately?

Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to continue the conversation, I have to cut it short… if I don’t cook that ham I first mentioned I’m afraid my legs might grow together.