Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How to host a guest blog series--Lessons Learned

Over the last month, I ran a guest blog series called Letting Someone Else do the Talking. This is the first time GPS has involved guest bloggers here so we learned a few key things about hosting. Read on to see the three most important things I learned.

Network Network Network
Ask people if they want to do this, seriously, anyone relevant you can think of... you’ll be surprised by the results you get. People will be flattered you asked THEM to be a part of your series. I was shocked about that.

If you want to do a series as opposed to an ongoing random assortment, get all entries in your hands before you start posting. This lets you do two things. You can present the series in the best order and also gives you plenty of time to get them all nice and formatted track down pictures etc... It also lets you plan how long you can run the series and coordinate the timing with all associated parties for the most effective publicity.

For instance, if someone has a book release coming up you want to know about it so you can have your post go live around the release date.

Nag Nag Nag
Remember how flattered those people were? How willing and excited they were to participate, add their content to your series? Well, maybe they didn’t quite plan on the actual work. So give them plenty of lead time, and a solid deadline and nag them. It can be fun!

NOTE: It might also help to not ask for submissions just before or during a major Con. I started soliciting for my series without a serious plan. This was the week before Renovation, the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention. So a lot of people I asked were busy making preperations or traveling or participating at the con. Not good timing to get content from busy writers. Sorry about that guys...

Other than those three things it’s all about getting off Facebook and taking the time to do it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

And that's a Wrap!

Yesterday's post concluded our month-long guest blog series "Letting Someone Else do the Talking."

First off, GPS gives a Tremendous Thanks to everyone who participated!

You can view all the entries posted in this series, just click here. Drop a comment below if you learned something new about epublishing. And next week, I'll post what I learned about running a guest blog series.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Letting Heather Albano do the Talking

Taking The Crazy Option
In September, I will be releasing my first novel in e-book form--a time-travel adventure about a girl, a pocket watch, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and giant clockwork robots taking over London. (If this sounds intriguing to you, you should come on over to my website and put your name down, and I’ll e-mail you as soon as TIMEPIECE is on e-shelves.)

Why have I chosen to electronically self-publish rather than follow the traditional model of seeking an agent and publisher? There are a few interconnected reasons.

1. I have an MBA, and I know a disruptive technology when I see one. The e-book reader has opened up opportunities that may remain open for the long term or may shortly close; either way, the time to take advantage of said opportunities is now.

2. I have some professional contacts in the publishing industry, so I have an idea of the timeframe inherent in following the traditional model… and it’s not a quick timeframe, and the time to try electronic self-publishing is now.

3. I used to be in marketing, so I know something about brand management and loss leaders and how to manage an advertising campaign. Before that, I was in software, so I also know how to handle HTML editing.

4. I have historically been about as risk-adverse as it is possible to be, which means I tend to let opportunities amble past me while I calculate and recalculate the cost-benefit analysis. I never did start a podcast, for instance, despite researching every possible angle on the things. I need to make a different mistake this time--plunge in, take the crazy option, course-correct in real time, and learn something from it.

I don’t necessarily agree with the “e-books are going to replace traditional books in five years’ time” view--I think that’s one of the things that could happen, sure, but I think the horizon is farther out than that, and even if the five-year prediction is true, it does not follow that electronic self-publishing is going to likewise replace traditional publishing. That a) confuses the technology and the industry surrounding it, and b) implies the editorial and marketing functions provided by a publishing house are without value, which is manifestly untrue. Editors make books better. Professional marketing gets books in front of larger audiences. Of course these functions have value.

So while electronic self-publishing might replace traditional publishing in a new-world-order, no-barriers-between-writers-and-readers, publishing-houses-will-join-telegraph-operators sort of way, I’m not sure that’s where I’d put my money. That publishing houses will someday (soon) produce more electronic than paper products? Yes. That the publishing industry as such will disappear? Less likely. After all, blogs and podcasts and indie films and indie bands have been around for a while, and they haven’t replaced editorial columns, the traditional publishing model, Hollywood, or major labels.

What blogging and podcasting have done is provide additional platforms that people early in their creative careers can use to differentiate themselves. Some people are hitting the jackpot doing this, making millions on their own and/or being approached by representatives of the traditional model. Others are never approached by said representatives, but they never need to be; they quietly make respectable amounts of money doing everything themselves in what we might call the “small business” model. Still another model is that of the loss leader—those people whose podcast, blog, downloadable app, or self-published e-book did not make them rich, but whose download rates and/or follower numbers gave them additional street cred when they shopped their subsequent project to the representatives of the traditional industry.

Any of these three models would work fine for me. My goal is to spend my time writing things and selling them to people who want to read them, ideally making a living wage in the process. I’m agnostic as to distribution mechanism.

And a new distribution mechanism has presented itself, and the time to try it out is right now. If it turns out to be a true disruptive technology, changing the structure of the industry from the foundation up and relegating the output of traditional publishers to the same dustbin as Western Union’s highest quality telegram, those who get in on the game early stand to reap the greatest profits. If electronic self-publishing turns out instead to be the fad some people predict, that’s an even greater argument for trying it now. I’ve got this steampunky book, you see. Right now. If I try the traditional route and the traditional route doesn’t accept it for publication—by the time I can definitively say that the attempt has failed, i.e. by the time it’s garnered half a dozen or a dozen rejections, three years or more could have passed, and it would be foolish to wait that long. Electronic self-publishing has a greater likelihood of being a good decision now than three years from now. If I wait until then, I risk a decrease in demand for steampunk-flavored products, and perhaps also a decrease in demand for self-published e-books, and I get to wonder about the e-path not taken.

Whereas if I go the e-pub route in September, the possible outcomes are 1) jackpot model, 2) small business model, 3) loss leader model, 4) it doesn’t do well enough to even be a loss leader, in which case, oh well, I tried--and I’ll know what happened when I took the crazy option, and I will have learned something from taking it.

Heather Albano is a writer of speculative fiction, historical fiction, and roleplaying games. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the 2009 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop.

Her short fiction has appeared or will soon appear in Electric Velocipede, Aoife’s Kiss, Spectra Magazine, Midnight Times, and the More Scary Kisses anthology from Ticonderoga Publications. Her first novel, TIMEPIECE, will be available in electronic format in September 2011. Additionally, she works as a game designer for Choice of Games, producer of award-winning text-based multiple choice games for the iPhone/iPad, Android, Kindle, Palm, and web.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Letting Deirdre Saoirse Moen do the Talking

Thoughts on Self-Publishing by Deirdre Saoirse Moen

The brave, new world of self-publishing your work electronically has given a lot of writers hope they'd lost after hearing tales of editors, agents, slush piles, and long publishing lags. But is it false hope?

There's no question that it's a rush to click send on your book and have it appear in the store within a few days. It's also a rush to be in some trendy coffee shop and have a friend of you show you that she did, indeed, buy your book. I remember the first time I did that with an author, back in 2005, as a relatively early e-book adopter. As the author, this first happened to me in August.

Question is: how many people who don't know you from Adam (or Eve) will be buying your e-books?

Let's look at some of the common scenarios leading to becoming self-published:

Re-Publishing Your Backlist

You have works for which you've either still got the rights to re-publish or you've gotten the rights reverted, and you're going to re-publish works that are out of print or were in print in overseas markets. A number of established authors are doing this; one of the best I've seen is the co-op Book View Caf'e. Obviously, this is relatively easy money if you're in a position to take advantage of it, but the process of getting to this point is long and arduous.

I recently re-published my short story, "A Sword Called Rhonda," in an e-book of the same name. To give you an idea of how long the process can be: I wrote the first draft of the story in summer, 1997 when I attended the Odyssey writers' workshop. It was overwhelmingly disliked, with 17 of 20 people in a row giving it negative feedback. Ouch!

When I got to Clarion in 2002, I re-wrote the piece from scratch, keeping only the main character Karma, the sword, a few concepts, and the first three paragraphs. I axed a major character, the entire plot (which was, as you might guess from the title, based on the odd plot of the film A Fish Called Wanda), I changed the setting from Southern California to Northern, and I struck the ending, which was the primary thing people hadn't liked before.

While it was more favorably received, it still had issues. Leslie What worked with me on developing the piece, and I learned a lot from her. Still, I trunked the story when I got back home because I was in the middle of writing a novel and needed some time to unpack what I'd learned at Clarion.

In 2003, I heard that Esther Friesner was looking for stories for Turn the Other Chick, so I pulled out all the Clarion critiques, really worked on the piece, and sent the story through the local critique group. I made some more changes, then sent it out. A few months later, a check arrived along with a contract. Baen published it in hardcover in 2004, then in mass market paper in 2006. I re-sold the short to This Is My Funniest 2, edited by Mike Resnick, published by BenBella in 2007. Submitted twice, bought twice.

A few months ago, I noticed that Chick wasn't listed in stock anywhere, so that's when I thought I'd look into e-publishing Rhonda. I found a cover artist, did the markup myself, and submitted it to iBooks, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

In this era, it's likely that any new work will be available in some e-book format, so it's not something you need to do yourself until your work goes out of print.

Publishing New Work as an Established Author

Authors who've published some titles via traditional means forge out and release one or more new titles via self-publishing. An example would be Shelley Adina's book Lady of Devices. Shelley's a well-published novelist, but this book is in a different genre, so she self-published the book.

Publishing New Work as a Never-Traditionally-Published Author

Of the recent boom of authors publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, PubIt (Barnes and Noble's Nook self-publishing venture), iBooks, etc., most of the authors have never been traditionally published. Unfortunately, many of the works that have been published this way would never have been published traditionally for quality reasons. Let's assume that that isn't one of your issues, and that your prose is crisp and clean.

Let's also assume you're able to find a cover that works for you rather than against you, and that you're able to get an ISBN for the sales outlets that require it.

Given that, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing your work?


  • Quicker route to publication. This has both a plus and a minus to it: though your work will be available more quickly, you will also develop as a writer during the traditional long submission process, so it's entirely possible that, by the time the novel reaches the right desk, you may be able to edit it into a stronger book.

  • A bigger share of the pie. No question about it, royalty rates on self-publishing are higher.

  • More control.

  • Ability to address niche markets (e.g., anthropomorphic fiction, paranormal erotic comedy, steampunk murder mystery, regional sf/f) that may not be large enough for a publisher to be interested. Back when I started, the Catfantastic series was very popular, but other markets would say, "no cat stories." Although Catfantastic stopped after several volumes, there was still a market for new cat-related sf/f fiction -- just not big enough for publishers to be interested, apparently.

  • You can write (and publish) what you want.


  • Left out of major recognition venues of most kinds. You'll find it more difficult to get speaking engagements, major awards, and other perks you may care about.

  • The pie is smaller for nearly all self-published writers. Sure, there are the exceptions who sold a million books, but they are exceptions.

  • More decisions rest on your shoulders. If you are not a decisive person, this may be paralyzing to you.

  • Need for a wider range of skills. Even if you don't do your own copy editing, artwork, cover design or book style, you'll need to make decisions about how these are done and what your budget is for getting them done.

  • You don't have as much information about the market as an established publisher does. In some cases, this may work to your advantage, though.

  • While sales of e-books are increasing, they are still a minority of the market. In 2010, e-book sales from major publishers accounted for 6.4% of the market. I've been told that number has doubled in the first six months of 2011, but I don't have a reference I can link to for that. That's still 1/8 of the overall book market, though.

  • Publishers bring distribution; in the e-book world, they also bring recognition and trust. Because I know anyone can upload to Smashwords, I don't trust manuscripts from Smashwords as much as I trust books from Tor. I'm more likely to pay $11.99 for a major publisher's e-book (in fact, I just did, for Charles Stross's Halting State) than I am for a Smashwords book that costs $2.99. Without an excerpt, there's a 0% chance I'll buy the Smashwords book.

What Skills Do You Need?

To paraphrase Jaym Gates, in a talk about marketing and promotion, "You learned to write. You can do this."

These days, getting a book into good e-publishing shape is easier than ever. I've never made a Kindle file from scratch, but here's the elements of an EPUB file: it's a set of XHTML files (one per chapter is common), a cover image, any CSS and Javascript, as well as some XML manifest documents, all in a specific order in a ZIP file. It's technical but not especially difficult if you've managed to wrap your head around HTML already. That said, I would recommend using existing tools if you don't already feel comfortable in XHTML and XML, especially as distinct from HTML.

Threepress Consulting has two excellent articles: the first discusses using Apple's Pages for generating an EPUB file and the second is about using Scrivener. I tried Pages layouts, but I'm not particularly familiar with creating new layouts within Pages and I felt a bit constrained with the templates I had, so I used Scrivener to generate my EPUB file and my Kindle file. I was able to use the same EPUB file for both Apple's iBooks and Barnes & Nobles's PubIt.

Beyond that, you need the ability to upload those files using your web browser of choice. You also need the ability to fill out all the numerous little boxes for each of your potential markets. Compared to the EPUB file, this part is easy-peasy.

After that, it'll take a few days (or, in the case of Smashwords Premium, possibly a few weeks) to go live, then you get to check back obsessively for sales numbers like the rest of us.

How Many Sales to Expect?

This is the big question, isn't it? Unless you've got a substantial following already, the biggest issue is going to be getting sales. I have had a web presence since 1998, and began blogging in 2002 (though my blog archives only go back to 2004). I have been active in some corner of the net since early 1994. I volunteer at conventions, everything from regional to Worldcon, and have been doing so for ten years. In other words, my presence is as known as it can be for a writer who's published so little fiction under her own name.

So far, I've been self-published for six weeks. My total sales? 16 copies of my story: 4 on iBooks, 9 on Amazon, and 3 on Barnes & Noble. As I haven't signed up with Smashwords, I haven't yet penetrated other markets. So far, my royalties total $7.15, which is enough for a Peet's mug and a cup of coffee to go in it. An interesting point, though: as iBooks pays the highest of the three royalty rates, 39% of my royalties are from iBooks even though only 25% of my sales are; 44% of my royalties are from Amazon, but 56% of my sales are from there. Some people think these sales numbers are good; I disagree, but I also realize Rhonda is a niche story that has sold through to much of its potential audience through hardcover, book club, and paperback sales.

Absolute Write's forums have a number of people self-reporting sales, some less successful than I, many more successful than I. That's the point, really: there's no predicting sales, except that people who have multiple titles get more repeat sales.

Obviously, there's the promotional basics: mentioning it on your web site and facebook page, adding an e-mail signature that includes your book's information, and linking to your web site in your online profiles.


Only you know what your career goals are, and therefore only you know how self-publishing fits in that overall scheme. For me, I'm still seeking traditional publication for new work, though I may make the occasional related piece available solely through self-publishing.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen helps make the web safe for mere mortals. Her most recent short story publication, "A Sword Called Rhonda," appears in the Turn the Other Chick anthology from Baen and the This Is My Funniest 2 anthology from BenBella. Her other hobby is photography, where she's thus far managed to resist the lure of SLRs in favor of rangefinders (some vintage) and mirrorless cameras. She lives in Menlo Park with her husband, their cat-who-is-not-a-kitty, and a large plush crab.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Forbes is paying attention to ebooks!! Well, as far as some of the top sellers are concerned... and that's like saying "Hey ebooks are selling now."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Letting Rob Hunter do the Talking

On Self-publishing

Typically the afterlife of a published tale—we are talking literary ephemera here, the books, the magazines, the websites and e-zines over which you, the author, have no control—consists of gathering dust until the writer’s heirs and assigns shred it for packing nick-knacks and other writerly impedimenta. Not quite the half-life of linoleum. And what of the loves, lives, hopes and aspirations of its citizens? Must they float forever in a shimmering noƶsphere playing whist and watching the flights of eidolons? Boring.

Self-publishing takes either a lot of money or a lot of work. You’re a writer, right? You are in this for love. If it was the money you’d be an investment banker or a plumber. You daydream of that big Hollywood agent calling you up and asking if you’d like to option off your book for a film. How does he know there is a book? Oops. Barring the cash to hire someone else to format your book, record your readings, convert your words into acceptable audio files, this means it’s time to roll up the sleeves.

Formatting a book. This is one of those things that you thought happened Someplace Out There where the Keebler elves cluster about a polished tree stump as they gaze awestruck at your manuscript. Your book. Book, ahh, the sound of it. You've taken your book through many drafts, re-edited, reworked, recast, shortened, lengthened, and found that by the time you were halfway through your book—in my case a 480 page opus—that you had forgotten where you were at. At which time you hit Enter and leave the friendly elves to enter the Forest of Frustration. Here we ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?” Hopefully to get your work into as many hands as possible. Writers want readers. offers free templates. There will be a learning curve, but you can format it yourself.

There is so much (free) help on the Internet, and free applications as well, that what you will get from virtual self-publishing can become an excuse for putting off your writing. Remember—anything you do is writing, particularly re-writing and editing. That said, let’s get under the hood.

1.) Self-publishing, the first step-The Website.
You can, with a semester at your local Community College and a stack of books, build your own website—a piece of virtual real estate where folks can find you—with only a text editor (Notepad, Notepad++) as I was taught at the University of Maine at Machias. I eventually chickened out and sprung for Expressions Web, a Windows application. If you are a Mac person, there is a plethora of excellent WYSIWYG media out there for both PCs and Macs.

2.) Self-publishing the second step—Podcasting.
Why record? You don’t like the sound of your voice anyway, and studio time is prohibitively expensive. You can do it at home with a mid-line desktop (dual Pentium 4 plus and a USB sound card with a couple of gigs memory and Audacity, a free program). I regularly record stories (at the local radio station, later at home as I saved up the $800.00 for a condenser microphone and an external USB sound card.) as they became available and copyright reverted back to me. The stories and MP3 downloads are distributed for free here, under a Creative Commons license. I started my uploading career with a trip to Feedburner, now owned by Google. Feedburner is free and will do your conversions into the conflicting technologies that clog the Internet.

3.) Self-publishing the third step—e-Books.
One of the most time-honored practices of the author promoting his or her work is the public reading. This is fine if you have a publisher with an ever-eager crew of public-relations folk out there beating the trees and coercing a few church groups, literary reading circles, and independent booksellers to free up a Wednesday evening for you. This is necessarily local; there is no drawing account, but you may want to save your expense vouchers. (And going local is a warm, wonderful human experience—see Big Hollywood Agent above) Going national? Go virtual (see Big Hollywood Agent again).

Here are some free or cheap names to remember—Calibre, Mobipocket Creator, Reader Works Publisher (for Microsoft Reader, of the 3500 eBook downloads from my website only 0.9%, but it sure makes a pretty file), and if you don’t have Adobe, Open Office makes a dandy .pdf for free. For wrangling those finished audio files, check Chapter and Verse.

Here's something to look up—just write it down and Google it sometime: M4b. That’s M4b. Don’t worry, be happy. This is the same audio format albeit with some DRM exclusionary bells and whistles that Amazon uses at Just don't worry about it; it's something you will want to look into later. iTunes can convert your files for you too—and right on your desktop computer.

4.) Self-publishing the fourth step—Unscrewing the unscrewtable.
How will people know how to find me? I don't even know how to find them. Good question and, once again, if you were to Google “Podcast Directory” you should get hundreds if not thousands of listings. Many “podcast directories” act as link farms and they all point to you. How do they get your address? Well, use your imagination. Yep, cannibalism from other directories, and with it inordinate exposure for you and your offerings.

To test the proof of my next statement you will have to look at the statistics for your own website. My website is unimaginatively hosted by and cost me about $42 a year the last time I looked in 2010. And I get a lot of extras with it—that is “extras” for a smalltime operator, not recommended for the United States Government, General Motors or—like a stats engine that lists MP3 files.

5.) Self-publishing the fifth step—Running the numbers.
What will you see in those statistics and why look? Glad you asked. Here are mine as of August 2011:
MP3 downloads 326,547
HTML (the actual web pages) 221,077
XML (extensible markup language) 170,712
PDF (or Adobe/Mobipocket-friendly portable document format) 2,168
PRC files (the Kindle-friendly versions of my three books) 1,547
And LIT (Microsoft Reader) 328

The first list item is MP3 downloads and let’s note, over 100,000 more than the next lowest which is HTML, the actual webpages. Conclusion: people are not reading as much as they're listening.

How did this happen since the links of the audio files are embedded in the HTML pages? Referrals from podcast directories.

At this point I should remind you to put a wee advertisement at the end and beginning of each story or each chapter that you upload to tell people how to find the print version on your website. Without this the link may put you at number one with a bullet in the Billboard top 100 but will not send many people to your books. My first uploads were to Podcast Alley, Podcast Directory, iTunes and DMOZ and an audio file collection to the Internet Archive. And, of course FeedBurner as recommended by Jim Kelly. If this Sci-Fi writer is using any promotional tool, it’s worth investigating.

Next XML. XML is extensible markup language and the table of contents pages for your upload and/or content sites more about this? Google for this one—it’s tricky. In my case the XML file tells iTunes how (and what) to display of my stuff.

Here we’ll skip a line and go to the PRC files. Not to be afraid. These will be the Kindle/Mobi friendly eBooks.

The PDFs are the most popular of my downloads. I’ve got three books formatted for PDFs. I recently sent up the Kindle-friendly PRC links and am watching these play catch-up. There is one additional format—ePub, the dream of an (almost) universally readable eBook that I haven’t mentioned. I’m still learning; check back.

NOTE: If you Kindle-friendly format at home as I do, the Amazon Store will not display your book and the end user has some finagling to do on their desktop computer, i.e. drag-and-drop. Not to difficult.

You—we—want readers (see paragraph 3). Barring money by the wheelbarrow load (see Big Hollywood Agent again), this will have to suffice. Or is this all just an ego trip, maybe a few copies to send out to friends at Christmas? Answer—yes, it is an ego trip; what’s wrong with that? Get real. And don’t forget to call Mom, she’ll want one, too.

Find Rob's books here. (The covers are fun to click on!)

With the onset of late middle age Rob Hunter is the sole support of a 1999 Ford Escort and the despair of his young wife. He does dishes, mows the lawn and keeps their Downeast Maine cottage spotless by moving as little as possible. In a former life, he was a newspaper copy boy, railroad telegraph operator, recording engineer and film editor. He spent the 70s and 80s as a Top-40 disc jockey.

Rob's wife, Bonnie, is the secretary at a nearby rural elementary school. She is a gifted quilter who beguiled her new husband with the kaleidoscope of patchwork geometry.

The nearest town to the Hunters that anybody is likely to have ever heard of--because of Stephen King’s The Langoliers--is Bangor, Maine where there are real parking meters and a traffic light. They drive down every six months or so to watch the light change and see the trains come in.