Everyone in this business has a business–Be careful what you pay for!

When I was looking to hire out for my trilogy covers, I became overwhelmed. Very quickly. We all look for products and services that won’t break the bank, but will maintain some level of quality.

Finding that balance is harder than keeping a kid from screaming in a candy store after you tell him no.

Quality that won’t break the bank that is delivered in a reasonable amount of time. Ugh.

quality cost and time I’m a part of various groups on Facebook, and I’m not going to divulge any groups here. (I don’t want to embarrass anyone, nor do I want to get banned.) Not necessarily to look for products and services, but to keep my ear to the ground and learn tips, tricks, and obscure rules that may never occur to me know in the first place. Like, apparently it’s against Adobe Stock’s terms of service to use their stock photos on romance/erotica book covers. Who would ever think of that? (And who determines if it’s romance vs. women’s fiction?) When I went onto the Adobe Stock site, there was nothing that mentioned photos could not be used in this manner, but it seems to be common knowledge among the Facebook group I’m involved in. After a quick Google search, I did come across this discussion thread, and it appears the questions were answered by an Adobe Stock employee. Luckily, a lot of their pictures of kissing couples, after a quick perusal, seem to be available on other sites.

And that’s the point.

When you hire someone, you are hiring not only their skill, but their knowledge. It’s their job to know the rules, the guidelines, the terms of service.

skills-3371153_1920

Not long ago I was scrolling through my feed, and a post caught my eye. A woman was explaining that she and her husband were starting a premade book cover business. It turns out that they had used free photos from stock sites like Pixabay. I’ve only learned this recently myself that you shouldn’t use free photos on a book cover because the people in the photo may not have signed model release forms. Also, a lot of these photos have name brand items in the photo that cannot be used on a for-commercial-use item, like a book cover. So if you purchased a premade from someone who used a photo that shouldn’t be used–you’ll be the one to get into trouble, not the person who made the cover. I’ve heard other stories like designers on Fiverr who steal images to incorporate them into “original” covers.

Looking for someone I could trust made my head spin and my checkbook cry . . . and I gave up.

The indie publishing rush has opened up the arena for cheats and thieves, scam artists and simply people who think they can do something and charge you for it when their skills are less than adequate to get the job done.

In the case of the woman using free photos for her premades, that’s insulting anyway. Anyone can get their hands on a free photo and shove some text on it using Canva. Part of a designer’s fee should pay for a stock photo that hasn’t been around the world wide web a few thousand times. {Insert crass whore joke here.}

girl reading

We’ve all seen her before. Would you want her on your book’s cover? No matter how pretty her hair is.

But how do you know what you don’t know? Maybe I can help.

There are three major things an indie pays for:

  1. Covers for their books.
    Don’t simply pay and walk away; even if you’re extremely happy with what you’ve been given. Especially if you’re extremely happy and maybe want to make this person part of your publishing team.
    Ask where they purchased the photos. A cover could have quite a few elements that make up the whole. If you are in doubt if any image is okay to use, look at the terms of service and make sure the photos were used in a legitimate manner. It could take some digging but better to know now, than after your book is published. Copies of your paperback may never be recovered.
    Ask where they found the font. There’re plenty of places that offer free-for commercial-use fonts. Your designer could have purchased a font suite, or picked them up singly as the need for them arose. If you’ve hired someone to do your cover, it never hurts to be sure the font is okay to use.
  2. Editing.
    Someone really can’t, well I was going to say someone really can’t cheat you with editing, but of course they can. They can charge you for a shitty job. I’ve been a victim of that. Note to self: a writer does not an editor make.
    Editors are human–even traditionally published books are published with typos. But not all editors are created equal and some will be better than others. Always ask for a sample. Some will do it for free, some will charge you a small fee and then put that sum toward the total if you hire them.
    If they won’t give you a sample, steer clear. After the sample, take a look at it. Does it look like they ran it through Grammarly? Used the Hemingway App, or ProWritingAid? Does it look like an actual human read it and made real-life comments? And do those comments make sense? Did they maybe give you a link of proof to back up their edits? (I do this with my friends, especially if I had to look it up myself to make sure.)
    If this person’s rates are reasonable and you don’t have to wait five years to have your manuscript back, maybe it’s a good idea to get a second opinion on his or her work. Because you’re ultimately building a team to help you publish your future books. And someone who can do the work and charge a fair price is worth their weight in gold.
    You want people around you that you can trust to do a good job. If she gives off a good vibe, and the second opinion of her work pans out, you may have an editor you can trust for many years to come.
  3. Formatting.
    This one makes me mad. You know why? Because Vellum has made it super easy to format books–both ebook and paperback (they offer large print, too!). It will generate files for Kobo, Nook, iBooks, and a generic epub for places like Draft2Digital and Smashwords. They will also give you a fabulous interior for paperbacks with dropped caps for chapter starts, and options to have the name of the chapter in the headers, which will change with each new chapter title! Trying to do that in Word would make me an alcoholic! There is a small learning curve, and I had to Google a couple of questions that popped up when I did a friend’s book, but after a couple of books, you can get the hang of it pretty quickly and format a book in less than an hour. Especially if you have all of your front and back matter written, and your links are already gathered together into one place.
vellum formatting ad

A picture of what using Vellum looks like. Taken from their site.

And this what drives me INSANE! People are charging for this. I realize that everyone deserves compensation for their time. And if you purchase a Mac so you can use Vellum, you’re investing 1500 dollars right off the top for your business. But holy cow, if you hire someone to format your book and you know they are going to use Vellum, maybe you can network a little bit and find someone else who will do it for trade. Or if you already have a Mac and you know you’ll be producing a lot of books in the future, buy it yourself. You can take a look at it here.
Another way you can format your book is to use Draft2Digital’s formatting tool. You don’t have to publish with them to use the tool, but you do have to create an account, which feels like they are locking you in to use them to publish, but they aren’t. They format both paperback and ebook and there is no charge to use their service.
If you like Word and have a little knowledge about how to make the page numbers and End Section features work for you (the template adds them, but inevitably you’ll have to add chapters), you can try the template KDP Print offers you. This used to be the way to do it when you didn’t want to pay for a formatter, but it’s no longer the best way. Still, if you’re stuck using this, it’s better than not having a paperback option at all. There are scammers I’ve run into on Twitter who charge to do for this for you. I don’t know if they still do being that Draft2Digital offers you a free way, and almost anyone can find someone who uses Vellum because it’s that good. Once I pinned a tweet cautioning against paying someone to copy and paste, and a woman who did indeed charge for this simple formatting thought I was singling her out. I wasn’t, but she retaliated by giving me a poor review on a book of mine on Goodreads. She also charges for website building through Wix, and Wix, I’ve heard, is one of the easiest websites for a beginner to use. My friend Aila has a blog post about it, and she made Wix sound so good, I was tempted to change!

So, just be careful who you pay and for what. If you’re paying someone simply so you don’t have to do the work, that’s one thing, because we’re all willing to pay for convenience in one way or another. But sometimes it’s just easier to learn how to do things on your own.


Everyone from huge vanity presses asking you  to “invest in your book” to the person charging to copy and paste your book into a template provided by KDP Print for free are happy to take your money.

Trust doesn’t come easily to me, and I’d rather learn what I don’t know to stay in control.

There’s nothing wrong with charging for a service, just as there is nothing wrong with paying a fair price for that service.

Just be sure that the price balances the skill and you both walk away happy. Maybe a lovely business relationship will develop.


As a silly side note, I used a photo from Pixabay in a blog post last year. I said in the post I found the photo there, and since Pixabay offers photos free for commercial use, I was safe in using it for my blog. But I found an email in my author email (I rarely check that account) and this gentleman had emailed me about a photo I had used.

Hi there, 

Thanks so much for including one of my pictures on your page. I love seeing my work featured around the web.

This is the image the page is on: https://vaniamargene.com/tag/fear/

And this my image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/158456412@N05/40174218953/
Could you please link to https://www.mytradingskills.com as per my attribution credit request on the image?
Thanks very much and have a great day!
XXXX

Name: XXX
Title: Creative Director
Website: www.XXX.com

Imagine my surprise when I found that in my box. Of course, I changed the attribution in my blog post, just to keep feathers from being ruffled (who knows if he’ll even check), but could you imagine if his email had held any weight? I was scared for a second. So always make sure that the photo is safe to use. And that is your job, whether you hire someone or not.

I always give attribution to the photographer and print the photo ID in my front matter of my books. That causes some extra work for me because I had to swap out my files when I redid the covers for my trilogy. But I feel it’s best. I also credit using Canva.com to make those covers.

Cover all your basis, guys and gals, because we are in BUSINESS, and other people are in business too. Never think for one moment that someone will give you a pass if you make a mistake.

Happy and SAFE publishing!

Publish Safely!

photos taken from Pixabay and/or taken from and made in Canva.

 

How Free is Self-Publishing?

It costs absolutely nothing to publish a book. Nothing.

free

There are free word processing programs like Google Docs. You can use a library’s internet and computer. Platforms like Draft2Digital and Amazon’s KDP will provide you with some kind of book identification number so you don’t have to buy ISBNs for your books.

All you need to do is write, make a cover in Canva using their free website, use a free for commercial use picture from Pixabay, Pexels, or Unsplash, and you are a published author. All for free.

But when isn’t that a good idea?

Do you know Amazon has over 7 billion books in their Kindle store? And writers publish more every day.

So not only are you competing with everyone you know on Writer Twitter, you are competing with writers who are not on Twitter, big time indies who don’t have much time for social media. You’re competing with traditionally published authors, and those authors range from anywhere between The Big Five to tiny university presses.

You’re competing with writers from the US, Canada, (do you know how many writers I know who live in London, Ontario? A lot!) the UK, Australia, and many other countries.

Over 7 billion books.

Okay. What what is this blog post really about now that I’ve made you feel like crap?

Spending money.

Self-publishing is free.

Until it isn’t.

I do everything myself. For my trilogy, and Wherever He Goes, I wrote them, edited them. I formatted them and did the covers. The orangy hue on the third is my fault. I didn’t have the skill to fix it. It doesn’t look bad on screen, but the paperback could look better. That’s just the way it is, and I accept that.

What can you pay for when you self-publish?

  • Editing
  • Formatting
  • Cover

Those are the three big ones. But we can go further:

  • Beta Readers/Critique Partners/Book Coaches/Book Doulas
  • Blurb writing
  • Reviews/Arc review services like NetGalley
  • Advertising, ie, Facebook ads, Amazon ads, Promotions
  • ISBNs
  • Paperbacks for giveaways
  • Giveaway fees like on Goodreads

No one is saying you have to pay for all of that–or any of it.

It’s up to your discretion how much money you want to pump into your books.

See, this is the problem. No one wants to admit that they publish their books to sell them. Which leads an author not spending one dime on their books.

They are publishing for themselves. I repeat this over and over again like a broken record:

If you only publish for yourself you have no right to complain if your books do not sell.

But if you can admit you want people to pay to read your work then you have to take a hard look at your book.

Is the cover you made yourself doing the job?

Is your blurb up to snuff or is it confusing and off-putting?

Are there typos in the first few pages of the Look Inside?

If you can’t put out quality work yourself, then you’re going to need help.

It’s that simple.

And that difficult because saying you need help is a lot easier than being able to afford said help.

That being said, you can teach yourself how to do these things.

If you just shut down on me, it’s because you don’t want to take the time to learn. That’s okay. I wear clothes every day. That doesn’t mean I want to learn how to sew.

But what I’m trying to tell you is that you must find a happy medium between doing things for yourself and hiring out the help you need to make your book desirable to readers.

Because remember, readers have 7 billion choices.

Listen, my books aren’t pretty. Use the look Inside Feature for any of my books and you’ll see basic formatting. The embellishments are non-existent.

That’s fine. I taught myself enough to get by, and that’s good enough for me.

Readers aren’t going to care if you have fancy chapter headings if your story sucks.

So, being I’ve published a few things, I can suggest where you should put your money–if you have any, or where you should ask for favors from friends–if you have any. Just kidding!

  1. Editing. If you’re a newbie writer, this means a developmental edit as well as a line edit and proofing. Plot holes, flat characters. Developmental editing can be more of a job for a critique partner or someone from your writing group. Ask someone who reads your genre so they have a handle on the tropes and feel for the type of genre your book is in. Once you have a stellar story and a solid look inside sample, you need a good cover.
  2. Cover. Canva.com offers design classes. You need to train your eye and learn what makes a good cover. It can make or break your book. Plus, if you push your book in any way, ads, promos, giveaways, your cover will be the selling point. Look at your genre on Amazon. Look at templates. Try to duplicate them yourself in Canva. You may need to spring for a photo, but that’s not as expensive as you might think. I buy mine on canstockphoto.com for seven dollars apiece. Photos are even cheaper if you buy a credit package.

    A word of warning though. I write romance, and slapping some text onto a smiling couple is a lot different than making a cover for an Urban Fantasy novel. Fantasy, of any kind, requires a certain kind of cover. Negotiating a price with someone on Fiverr is a lot better than publishing a book that does not have an appropriate cover. Your sales will stop before they even start. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

    Sometimes you can find a pre-made template that’s cheap.

    Sometimes you can even find a photo on a photo site that is already doctored to how you need/want it to be. Set aside hours, days, if not weeks, to click through pictures. I’m barely 20,000 words into my next book and I’m already looking at photos.

  3. Formatting. Formatting for Kindle takes five minutes. All you need to do is set the options in Word so when you upload it into KDP it converts correctly. If you go wide and you use Draft2Digital, you don’t even have to do that. (Smashwords is a different story, and your Word file has to be formatted correctly or it won’t convert through their “meatgrinder” and they won’t publish your book.) Draft2Digital seems easier to work with, but I’m in KDP Select and haven’t used either of those services.

 

What is the cost of self-publishing? It can cost as much or as little as you want to put into it.

Someone opening a business always needs to invest. Paying for services is investing in your book business.

I used to think that I didn’t want to invest in my books because I may never get that money back. But that was incorrect thinking.

If my books are well-written, have a nice cover, and are formatted as to not turn anyone off from reading it, eventually, I will see that money returned to me by way of sales.

My books will be sold for years and years.  As I slowly make a name for myself, my sales will increase. It will take time, but I’m in it for the long haul, and I have patience.

I’ve put money toward my books by way of taking the time to learn how to do things for myself. I read lots of editing books. I read tons of blog posts about what makes a good cover. I’ve practiced making covers. I’ve learned to format my files. It took time. But time is money. I’ll eventually see dividends on the time I invested in my books.

time is money

It’s a personal choice.


This blog post begins a self-publishing series about how you can do most of these things by yourself if you want, and where to look if you don’t. I’ll give you the resources I used to learn and you can decide for yourself if it’s easier for you to hire out, or if you can’t afford it, where you can spend time learning things on your own.

Look for my next blog post about editing resources.

Thanks for reading!

 

Results of my ad with Freebooksy

I figured with a few books out now, I should do a little marketing. I’ve been against it, claiming I needed a backlist before I started putting money into my career, but I thought since my trilogy was done, I could do a little promotion.

I’ve heard about various book marketing websites where you pay for exposure, and that’s what Freebooksy is. Essentially, you’re paying to advertise your book in their newsletter for one day. There are other promotions run by the people of Freebooksy if you don’t want to to go free with your book, but I did because 1) it didn’t bother me to give my book away and 2) I was hoping for a little read-through since the other two books were available.

My trilogy is enrolled in KDP Select, and I had never used any of my free days for any of my books before, so I went ahead and chose five days for my book to be free, then I went on Freebooksy and chose a day that I wanted my book in their newsletter. In the future, if I do this again, I’ll plan ahead to give myself time to promote the promotion.

A rep reached out to me, and she was very nice, but she wanted to put my book in the sweet category romance newsletter. I replied that it didn’t belong there as the book had four open door sex scenes. I’m not sure why she wanted to do that, unless she mistook my cover. Nikki and Dane do look cute together, but I didn’t choose to put a steamy couple on the cover because there is a fine line between contemporary romance with sex, and erotica. I didn’t want anyone mistaking my trilogy for erotica. I’ve written erotica, had my “taste” so to speak, and I’m more comfortable writing contemporary romance.

Anyway, this is what the ad looked like that went into their newsletter:

freebooksyad

You’re the one who writes the blurb, and I was afraid I didn’t spend enough time on it. You only get so many characters, and it’s difficult to try to convey what the book is about and still make it interesting in that short space.

My book was free from February 6th to the 10th. I started getting downloads even before my book went out in the newsletter. In total, while my book was free, I gave away 4,458. Between February 6th and today, February 15th, I have sold fifteen of Book 2 and six of Book 3, so you can see there was a small amount of buy-through (not necessarily read-through), and I lowered the prices of those books to .99 to go with the free promotion. Also, my page reads for Kindle Unlimited for all my titles went up from 0 to this:

page reads for KU

It’s not the best, of course, since even all those lines only represent $25.00 in sales. If you do the math, that’s a horrible ROI, at least, on paper.

Return on investment comes in many different forms, monetary being only one of them. I’m hoping now that I’ve given away so many books, people will remember my name, I’ll begin to foster some lifelong readers for future books.

My sales ranking did go up for a little bit, and I can give you a snapshot of those, though I didn’t take a picture every time my book moved up in ranks. And as everyone congratulated me, going up in rank in *free* books looks nice, but it’s not the same as going up in the paid lists.

awesome stats!3

These are the best stats the book got. I don’t know if it did much more than earn me a few bragging rights, but there it is.

Amazon did a nice thing, too and put my books together in an ad on my Author page.

tower city box set

You can’t buy them that way–I haven’t created the box set yet, and that is on my to-do list after I figure out my stupid cover for book three. (Yeah, still wrestling with it to get it exactly how I want it in paperback.)

If you were to ask me the best part about this whole promotion thing, I would have to say that it’s that people are starting to read my work. We all want people to read our stuff, but when they actually do, it’s nerve-wracking. So far I’ve been getting decent reviews. They’ve been saying my editing is solid, and there hasn’t been a complaint about formatting, which is a relief since I do all my own formatting myself.

criticism-3083100_1920

Overall, I would say the experience was a positive one.

If I were to give any advice to someone doing this I would say:

  1. Have more than one book out. I did prove that if you spend money advertising one book, you’re really advertising your whole backlist. Not many people bought books 2 and 3 who downloaded book 1, but it was enough I was happy they were available.
  2. Having a good cover is no joke. It doesn’t seem like a big deal when no one is looking at your books, but the minute you realize people are going to be choosing your book among a selection, suddenly you’re hoping it’s good enough. Be sure it is.
  3. Have a decent blurb. I shortened mine from what I wrote for Amazon, and I worried I didn’t spend enough time on it. Had I spent more time on it, maybe I could have gotten even more downloads.
  4. Have people willing to spread the word. I don’t know how many downloads came from my Twitter followers, or my followers willing to tweet about it. I don’t know how many downloads came from the people who liked my FB Author Page. I was also naughty and told everyone on my personal FB page that my book was free, and I know it’s against TOS to do that. I only did it once, on the day the newsletter went out. And I was lucky a few people shared that post.

I won’t be doing this again anytime soon, but it was fun to try something new and to get my feet wet. A little snowflake can cause an avalanche, and I’m hoping this is true in my case. But now that my trilogy is over and done, I need to relegate it to my backlist and move forward. I’m 31,000 words into a new WIP, and I can’t wait to share with you!

Happy writing Vania Margene

What Draws a Person to Buy Your Book: A VERY Scientific Poll and Results

Your first pages do a lot of work for your book, and this blog post was going to talk all about it. This very scientific poll I ran on Twitter was going to lead the way. But it bought up way more than just first pages, and this post turned into an overall-type thing. I’ve always enjoyed knowing how others make decisions, and here’s a small idea of what attracts readers to your book.

twitter poll

What I found was that some people are really brutal with a book. You get the first sentence with some, others, maybe the first paragraph. That’s it–if your potential reader even gets that far.

If you have a typo anywhere, forget it. I have little patience for typos. I’m starting to feel quite agent-y about the whole book-buying thing. All it takes is one little nope, and I’m done.

this-is-the-cutest-nope-ever-5457814

I would imagine though, that if an author knew how many readers s/he was losing due to a small error, it wouldn’t seem so cute.

The picture above was just a poll, but there were a lot of comments, too:

first lines twitter poll 7

This is a great thing to keep in mind. Your writing style won’t hit home with everyone. I dislike first person present. There is only one author I will read who writes that way. I’ve turned down beta requests and review requests because of this. I might as well be reading something like, right?

first lines twitter poll 5

Reviews were one aspect of the whole thing that I didn’t consider. Mainly because I don’t look at reviews unless it’s a non-fiction book. Taste is subjective, and unless the reviews say it’s poorly edited, I don’t think someone’s opinion would have much weight with me. And I would know if it’s poorly edited by reading the first couple paragraphs.

first lines twitter poll 3

Liking the blurb makes sense–if that is poorly written, there’s a good chance the book will be too. But blur-writing is a skill in itself, and you need to either pay someone who has the skill to do it or learn it yourself.

first lines twitter poll 8JPG

Being swept away by a book is the best sign. If you’re reading on Amazon and you run out of the free sample and you want more . . . that’s the goal of every author right? Because it’s not such a long stretch from being sad the sample has run out to clicking the buy button.

first lines twitter poll 6

Some people give their books way too much of a chance–and I think this happens when someone has already bought the book and doesn’t want their money to go to waste. That’s one thing you have to watch out for when buying indie books from Writer Twitter. We’re all friends, but just because that person is a friend, that doesn’t mean what they’ve written is any good. It’s an unfortunate fact that some of your friends will publish crap. Be it because they can’t afford hire an editor, or didn’t want to take the time, didn’t take the time to have beta readers weigh in on their book, or because they don’t do anything in their non-writing time to get better, (reading craft books, reading other fiction) sometimes you just can’t trust the people you know are good writers (or know how to format correctly, either).

first lines twitter poll 4

While I was thinking of mainly indie books, Jamie brings up a good point. Trad-pubbed authors don’t control the book cover or the blurb. If you’re turned off by those two things, you won’t make it to the inside. Although, if you are trad-pubbed and have a little marketing power behind you, maybe a high number of good reviews or positive word of mouth would counteract a cover you don’t like and a blurb that sounds boring.

first lines twitter poll 2

Leanne brings up the book’s title, something else I didn’t think of, at least for this poll. I’ve lamented in the past about my title for On the Corner of 1700 Hamilton. I loved it then, not so much now. I don’t think the title has helped sales. *Laughs* But I bought the ISBN number for it so to retitle it I would have to trash the number, and that’s a waste of money. But anyway, to get back to Leanne, she likes the title and the cover.
If you want to laugh at some, look here.

first lines twitter poll 1

And last, but not least, Laurie likes the blurb as do most of us.

This poll surprised me, but it shouldn’t have because it’s a no-brainer to have a decent cover and a good blurb. But taste is subjective, and what you like for your own book may not be the best for your genre or your book’s content, so it’s always a good idea to research what is selling in your genre and try to fit in and stand out at the same time. Got it? Good. 😛

If you have a poor cover, some won’t bother with you at all. If you have poorly written-blurb, that’s probably a good indication the inside isn’t written well either, and potential readers will pass you by.

Publishing is a cutthroat industry; readers don’t have time for your poorly written book.

So, what makes a reader buy your book?

  1. A good cover. Something that fits within your genre.
  2. A good title.
  3. A good blurb. Hire someone. Learn how to do it and get honest feedback from people you trust.
  4.  Have awesome first pages.
  5. Format it correctly. Your book could have won the Pulitzer, but if you leave the automatic 8 pt. space between paragraphs, I’m not reading you. Simple as that.
  6. Decent reviews won’t hurt. At least one five star review so when you tweet the link to your book the five stars will pop in the tweet. I’m kidding. Kind of.

I rarely tweet my own books, but this is what it looks like:

never tweet my own books

Might not help if someone found your book on Amazon, but if you tweet it now and then, it can’t hurt.

This blog post was going to be about first pages, but I wanted to feature my Twitter poll, so I’ll write about first pages another day.

Thanks for reading, and tell me what you think!

Vania Blog Signature