What is coming up?

A little news post.

Sand & Storm went live on 24 June and the sequel, Sea & Sky, is set to release on 20 September. I’ve actually just received the final files today, but will probably stick to the schedule because the audiobook of Ambassador 1 should be dropping in August!

I’m writing the final volume of the Moonfire Trilogy, Moon & Earth, and should finish the first draft within a few weeks. I mean–I’ve “only” got 25k to write, and of course All The Freaking Plot Threads to be tied up.

When that is done (or, I should say, when I boot that one off to the editors) I will start on Ambassador 6: The Enemy Within. This will involve an ever-increasing party of varied people travelling to Earth for a trial. They will take two toddlers who get up to all sorts of mischief (no, none of them are Cory’s–yet). There will be spies (Klaus Messner), there will be shooting and there will be some very big ethical questions asked.

Tag line:

In order to save the earth, he has to betray it

There may or may not be New Zealand, and camels (you know I have thing for camels in books), but those things may also be moved to book 7, for which I lack a title. If I’m on a roll, I might write book 7 as well (providing I can come up with a title).

Anyway, I’ll start bugging Tom for a cover soon.

After that (and we’re talking 2017 now), I’m thinking to start the first set in my Ilk Urban Fantasy series. The book will be called The Hunter. There will be a Sydney setting, local councils, developers, corruption, murders and a guy who may or may not resemble Eddie Obeid 😛 There will also be “Ilk”: were-possums, were-ibises, were-frogmouths, were-fruitbats, were-kookaburras (basically, insert all obnoxiously loud local wildlife). And a journalist from Adelaide called Bindi Winslow who is looking for her slippery brother.

I’d like to start one totally new project every year.

Meanwhile, I’m taking part in some cross promotions, so don’t forget to sign up for the Ebookaroo newsletter.

The Definition Of Success

I’m going to be bold and I’m going to call myself a successful writer.

No, I haven’t made a million in three months and I’m not dripping in money. But I’m consistently making more than goes out, I’m consistently increasing my readership and I’ve got the means to invest in future projects (audio, ahoy!) without having to dip into my own funds. Within a few years, I expect to be able to pay all of our household bills from writing.

In the light of people whose names we see emblazoned across news sites, the word success has become poisonous. A lot of people, especially those who just start out, equate success with those crazy stories of the writer who hit on some kind of nerve and sold millions.

And the thing is: they’re often just crazy stories. Those stories often have a couple of things in common:

  • The author has no idea how it happened
  • The author has no means of repeating the success, or structures in place to capture those readers
  • The author probably won’t be around for very long

Hey, if someone offered me millions for a flash success of a single book, I’d take it, but the trouble is: you can’t plan for it, this is not a healthy career, and it’s not a long-term plan for a sustainable income.

Moreover, while these stories attract a lot of news flies, I believe they are damaging to the new writer, because it conditions them to believe that hey, they can do this, too! Even if the writers themselves often say: I’m a fluke, don’t listen to me.

Those stories are also damaging because they raise utterly unrealistic expectations, and skew beginning writers’ perception of what success even looks like.

New writers who publish become disheartened when, hey, this kind of success doesn’t happen to them, while the reality is that the more you believe this will happen, the less likely it will.

You can’t plan a career around that definition of success.

You have to define your own success with much more realistic goalposts. Success need not be about income. It could be about regular publication, or about other metrics.

Define what you mean by success for you. Don’t let other people define your success for you.

Milestone!

Ambassador set FB ad

Today, Ambassador 1: Seeing Red reached the milestone of 150 reviews on Amazon US. I have one book that has more reviews, and one that’s very close, but as you may all know, the Ambassador series is very close to my heart.

I love writing these books, they are easy to write, I know the characters very well and they’re always fun.

But I trunked the book for three years after the anonymous editor from Harper Collins at the Authonomy site so famously said “No one will publish this”.

Over the past two months, this series has done amazingly well.

So, 150 reviews today, another book later this year, a raspberry to Authonomy. Long live Cory, Nicha, Thayu, Veyada, Sheydu and the ever-expanding gang.

Writing or Marketing?

If you poke around the internet, you will find posts by various wise writers exhorting you to spend x amount or proportion of your time marketing and the rest writing. Often it comes down to 80% writing and 20% marketing.

I think these sorts of enforced schedules miss a really important part of being a writer:

Marketing is not some evil thing that should be avoided at all cost, nor is it something that takes you away from writing, or something that needs to be rationed.

Marketing augments your writing. Marketing sells what you have already written, increasing the value obtained from your intellectual capital. Marketing can also help you decide what to write next: see what sells best, and then write more of that.

How much time do I spend doing either? However much is necessary. If I’m in the middle of an early draft of a book, I’ll spend next to no time marketing, but when I need to think about how plot threads fit together, I move to do more marketing, because most of it involves interacting with people and it takes your mind off thorny plotting problems, and that ironically helps you see the solutions that have been staring you in the face all the time.

The Ebookaroo lives!

Ebookaroo

Ever since I nicknamed my mailing list “The Beast” I got a lot more people joining. That mailing list is my personal author list, and has information about my books and my writing.

I take part in a lot of giveaways and cross promotions, and those attract another group of readers: people who like promotions.

These are really two groups of people, although there will be some overlap. People who are waiting for the next Ambassador book (it’s coming, I promise!) don’t want to receive all the emails about cross promotions. People who want bargain books don’t want to hear about my 5th book in a series they’ve never heard of.

So, here is the Ebookaroo, a list especially for those who like to hear about author-run promotions and giveaways which may or may not include any of my books. It will definitely include books of a lot of the awesome peeps I’ve met around here.

Click here or on the image to read more.

Crazy Science Fiction and Fantasy ebook sale on this weekend!

JulyPromo

Click here or on the image to go to the promo (opens a new tab).

This weekend, I’m taking part in a crazy promo with 166 authors, where we have lowered prices to 99c. Unlike so many other promotions, this is NOT a purely Amazon-centred event, and you will find a page for each retailer. I’m looking to expand this co-op to become more international. About a third of our visitors are currently not from the US.

Adventures in audio

As some people already know, I’ve been getting ready to move into audio books.

This is not a decision to take lightly, because 1. it’s expensive, and probably only worth it if you have books that sell, 2. I’m in Australia, and I don’t have direct access to ACX, 3. You have to spend some time selecting a narrator and listening to examples to know what you want, 4. Quality really matters, taking us back to point 1.

In short, it’s not without risk and you don’t want to have to mortgage your house to do it.

ACX (the audio book exchange) is your gateway to audio. You upload a sample and narrators send in auditions.

First, you have to set up an account. If you’re not in the US or the UK, you can do this through this company.

Then you have to decide how much you’re willing to pay per finished hour of narration. A finished hour of narration will in general take the narrator a couple of hours to finish, record and edit.

You can also opt not to pay outright but share royalties with the narrator. Professional narrators are not interested in this option, because anyone who’s got money (= who sells well) will be paying outright.

Aggregated wisdom says that you should expect to pay at least $200 but probably more like $300 per finished hour for professional level narration.

Armed with all this wisdom, I uploaded a snippet of text from chapter 6 of Ambassador 1. Why this snippet? Because it includes dialogue and you want to see how the narrator handles it. It includes some made-up names and I wanted to see how the narrators interpreted those without pronunciation guide (if they’re close, they’re likely to be on my wavelength).

I was also happy that the snippet includes a bunch of swear words, because as it turns out–and I had no idea–there is a lot of difference in the capabilities of narrators to swear convincingly.

Accents. Aggregated wisdom said not to be too esoteric, but I flipped that the bird and asked for a New Zealand accent, and said in the comments that I figured it was unlikely to happen, and I was happy with a general British or American accent.

I got 42 auditions, all male, because I asked for it. Not to be sexist, but Cory is male, and the book is in first person. A woman would be just… weird.

Out of the 42, most were American. A good number were British. One or two I suspected of being Australian, and one stated that he was from New Zealand.

At this point, I found that a lot of other factors come into play. Voice quality varies a lot. Things like age, tone, speed of speaking all determine the type of character, and some just didn’t mesh with Cory. He’s of slight build, thirty-five, so you can’t have a narrator with a very deep voice who sounds like a gruffy detective of sixty. Just doesn’t work.

In the book, I also make a point of de-Americanising the world, and some had American accents that were just waaaayyyy too strong. I did put some Americans on the shortlist.

When you have voice quality, age and accent sorted, you need to consider the sound quality of the sample. Are there hisses or echoes and is the speech clear? This is determined by the type of equipment the narrator uses, and it needs to be professional.

After listening repeatedly to the best audition samples, I chose one, and I’m happy to say that he has accepted. He’s a Brit from London, trained as actor and his sample was near-flawless, the sound quality is great, his voice is not too deep, he speaks clearly without missing syllables (this is really common, by the way), and he knows how to fling an f-word or two without making it sound like a hot potato. He responds to correspondence in a professional way, and has assured me that the first book will be done by 19 August.

Watch out for further news!

A newbie writer’s guide to getting your first Bookbub ad (or other major advertising)

In conversation.

GH = Grasshopper
VA = Veteran Author

GH: Soooooo, I hear Bookbub is all the rage, but is that site even open to us indies, because I submitted my book once, and they didn’t want it.

VA: *loud belly laugh* You submitted ONCE? Mwahahahahahahaha!!!

GH: But they didn’t even tell me why they didn’t want it. The whole site is a stitch-up between the trads and the people who already sell well. Those people don’t even need it. Look at meeee. I’m down in the rankings and no one is seeing my book. It’s a conspiracy.

VA: OK, so let’s look at your book.

GH: *blushes*

VA: Is your cover the best you can make it? Is it appropriate for the genre? Is is skilfully made?

GH: Well, it was made by a friend who has a design business–

VA: Book cover design?

GH: No, she designs business cards. But it’s all the same, isn’t it?

VA: No, it isn’t. The format is too wide, making the cover look odd. The type is far too small. The picture is OK, although the photoshop skills could be better, but it doesn’t represent the genre. Get another cover.

GH: Okaaayyyy.

VA: Let’s look at your blurb. Is it short and snappy? Does it give a clear idea of what sort of story we’re going to get? Does it support the genre indicated by the cover?

GH: Well, I got my friend and her mother to review the book, so I copied those reviews into the blurb. I don’t want to give too much away about the story.

VA: Get rid of those reviews. They’re already in the review section. Don’t be too coy about what happens in the book. Lift a corner of the story and entice readers. Look at blurbs of successful authors.

GH: Okaaayyyyyyyy…..

VA: What about your sample? I see that you start the book with a dedication to your dog, a poem by another writer (do you have permission to use this?), a glossary of terms and a long prologue that’s a condensed history of the world. Get rid of those things, or at the very least move them elsewhere. The back of the book would be a good place.

GH: But why?

VA: They’re cluttering up your sample. People downloading the sample get hit with a wall of irrelevant stuff–

GH: But they need to know–

VA: Trust me, they don’t.

GH: Okay, but tell me, I asked why lowly indies like me never get featured on the big sites. What does that have to do with all this?

VA: Hear me out. What about your formatting? I see that your book uses HUGE indents and sometimes has empty lines for no reason.

GH: Formatting is the easy part. You just upload a Word file.

VA: That will work, if you have your Word file correctly formatted. You DON’T EVER use tabs for indents.

GH: You don’t? Really?

VA: Learn how to do it properly.

GH: Okaaayyyy, but I still don’t see–

VA: Reviews, how many do you have?

GH (sigh of relief): All right, you’re getting to the problem. It’s simply impossible to get reviews. And then you do giveaways and people will only review on goodreads, where the reviews are of no use to me. Everything is conspiring against new authors getting reviews.

VA: Nope. Reviews are a function of sales. Sell more books, and get more reviews.

GH: But they’re saying you need at least fifty to get into Bookbub! That’s impossible. Everything is stitched up by the older crowd.

VA (annoyed): Stop blaming other people for your failure.

GH: *blushes* Sorry.

VA: Because reviews are a function of sales, you must sell more books. Have you done all the things I mentioned earlier?

GH: I’m getting to it.

VA: OK, when you’ve done them, lower your book to 99c.

GH: WHAT? Do you know how much all this cost me? *faints*

VA: Do you want to do this or not?

GH (weakly): I guess…

VA: Lower your book to 99c for a week every month and run promotions on it. Start with the cheaper ones. Sell as many books as possible. Offer your book free to people who want to review. This will take a while.

GH: But! FIFTY reviews!

VA: They will come.

Six months later.

GH: OK I have 45 reviews, but it’s really slowed down a lot. Should I apply again?

VA: Yes, you should.

GH: What if they reject me?

VA: You apply again, as soon as you can. And again, and again. And again.

GH: But what if they never accept me?

VA: It happens. But by doing all the steps above, you’ve ensured that you may not even need it anymore. And above all, stop obsessing and keep writing.

GH: That’s what I most enjoy doing anyway.

Ambassador 5 is out!

Ambassador5Small

The next Ambassador book went live!

Read about it and get buy links here.

With the previous book, Coming Home, I finished the arc that I started at the end of book 2, involving the ancient ship. Blue Diamond Sky is a complete story, but at the end you will see that it leads into a bigger arc that I will spend the next few books exploring. We are going back to Earth. There is an election looming and things are looking dicey.

I am really enjoying the series. The characters are like friends to me and I know them very well.

My favourite character? There are a couple, actually.

Veyada, because he talks no bullshit.

Sheydu, because she talks no bullshit either, and because she is an older woman with a penchant for explosives.

Thayu, because Cory does not quite know the depths of her previous experience. He doesn’t really know what she did before she came to his household. He knows she has upper level spy training, but he doesn’t know what she did with it.

Asha, because he leads the most powerful army in the galaxy, because he finds Cory curiously interesting and toys with him like a cat with a mouse, giving him scraps of information or positions not normally available to outsiders to see what he will do with it.

More news!

I’m auditioning Ambassador 1 for audio production!

Self-publishing with a very small budget

In my last post I spoke about how I spend about $1500 average on each book. That includes editing, proofreading and formatting and the cover. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes less. The biggest variable is the cover. Some covers I can make, others I leave to someone else. I find it easier to spend more money because I am far more secure that I’ll be able to recoup the cost. The pre-orders for Blue Diamond Sky have been extremely encouraging, allowing me to recoup my costs if not this month certainly next month, even if I spent–how much!?–on the cover. I’ve also recently added a developmental editor to my go-to team. But I started out a one-woman band.

The cost per book has climbed gradually since I first started self-publishing in 2011. My first books cost virtually nothing. This post will be about how I did that.

The ballpark $1500 amount is divided into three components:

  1. Editing
  2. Cover design
  3. Formatting

I’m going to show you how you can save money on these and still have a decent product.

Editing

The first books I published had already been edited. They were novellas and short stories that had been published elsewhere. Never assume that an editor–even a very good one–picks up all flaws, but if you’ve had the rights to an old novella returned to you after a year or so, you probably have enough distance from the work to read it through carefully and publish it. What if your work hasn’t been published?

Beg, steal and borrow.

You will probably know that I am a big proponent of spending some time (like, a few years) in a writing workshop learning the ropes. This is free. Your fellow writers will give advice, and some of it will be BS and some of it will be great. Grab the people who are great by the horns and form your own little sub-group. Read and comment on each other’s work, and then, when you’re happy with it, swap a proofread with a meticulous different writer. It’s important that this isn’t all done by the same person who has already seen the book before, for the same reason you suck at proofreading your own work.

There we go! Instant editor.

No, it won’t be perfect, but if you’ve done your homework and learned your craft, the result will be acceptable, for now. The downside of course is choosing your editing partners and the time you have to invest in looking at their manuscript while they look at yours. There are all sorts of potential difficulties with this method, but it is a way to catch mistakes before they get published.

Once you feel you’ll want to pay for editing (and to be honest, you probably should do this sooner rather than later), you’ll find a wide range in pricing. Decent editing will costs you a few hundred dollars, and a bad editor is worse than no editor.

Red Adept Editing is an example of a reputable editing company used by many self-published writers.

Cover design

It is so easy to completely overboard with cost for cover design. Some artists quote thousands, and no, you don’t have to spend that much for an effective cover.

A couple of things are very important about your cover:

  1. A cover needs to convey genre and tone more than accuracy
  2. Covers that depict scenes from the book are usually bad and don’t work
  3. Simple is better. Keep the lettering readable at thumbnail format.

I asked the question about cheap cover design in the Writer’s Cafe on the Kindleboards (if you self-publish, this is your go-to advice think tank, so go and join already).

The consensus was:

  1. Your cover is always going to cost something, but it need not cost much.
  2. If you have no graphic skills and don’t know where to start, buy a premade cover. Remember the first point about covers. It’s about genre and feel, not about accuracy. On a premade cover site, the designer selling the cover will put your name and title on the cover, and that’s all the changes you’ll get. Don’t bug them for more. It’s a premade cover. Get a custom-designed one later.
  3. If you have some graphic skills, you can buy an image from stockphoto sites. A little-known fact is that these sites also sell artwork. Look for example at all the neat stuff I got when searching “fantasy landscape” at Dreamstime.
    Get some nice fonts from dafont.com. Typography is as important–if not more important–than the image. It can make or break your cover. Don’t use the fonts that came with your computer, don’t use any colours other than white, at least when you start. If you feel iffy about text and fonts, you can find layout designers on fiverr.com.
    But seriously, if you really don’t know what you’re doing, get a premade cover. They can be had for under $50 and won’t look too terrible.

Some premade cover sites:

Some resources for DIY options:

But, as someone on the Kindleboards said, book cover design is more about the designer than the tools. Read up on book cover design tips by designer Derek Murphy (at the time of writing this post, the ebook is only $1).

One of the most important things to remember about self-publishing is that upgrading a cover is easy and can be done later.

Formatting
Formatting is not hard, but it’s fiddly and time-consuming. You can do the DIY route and buy Guido Henkel’s Zen guide to formatting.

Or…

Get a free account at Draft2Digital and let them upload your books to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and a host of small sites. Upload a Word file. Download MOBI (for Amazon) and EPUB files. Upload those files to whatever sites you want to go direct. Done.

Or…

Polgarus Studio in Tasmania formats your ebook for $60-70. They also do print formatting.

Concluding remarks

There you go. I’ve mentioned some services and instructions. There are a lot more once you start to get a feel for what you should be searching. If any of these services are full or don’t offer what you want, it might pay to ask them where else you can get a service they recommend.

Most important is that in this case, Google is probably not your friend, because it will bring up a whole host of expensive vanity press options.

Once you start making a bit of money and want to invest it back into your book (as you should), decent services can be had for (current as of May 2016):

  • Line editing + proofreading: $400 – $700. Look for a service that does both
  • Custom cover design: $100 – $800. Less for photo-manipulation, more for custom art.
  • Formatting: $60-100 for ebook, more for print.

If you’re a beginning author outsourcing all these three things, you should not need to pay more than that. If you are, examine the reason why and whether you find it beneficial, in other words, whether it’s justified by your sales.