“Mining Your Backlist” at NJRW

Since the publication of their first book in 1995, Jim and Nikoo McGoldrick (aka/May McGoldrick, Jan Coffey, and Nicole Cody, among others) have published over 30 books.  On Saturday, September 17, Jim and Nikoo spoke to the New Jersey Romance Writers in Iselin, NJ about their writing journey.  Their workshop’s title was Mining Your Backlist and they presented a wealth of information about self-publishing.

In this entertaining and highly informative session, Jim and Nikoo walked us through the reasons for self-publishing and the steps required.  Using hard facts and figures, they shared their own story and what worked for them in re-publishing their books.

In 1995 Jim and Nikoo’s historical romance The Thistle and the Rose was a double NJRW Golden Leaf winner for Best Historical and Best First Book.  They went on to publish more historicals, contemporaries, suspense novels, and thrillers.

In recent years they’ve struggled to get their rights returned on out-of-print works. It has been a long and arduous process, five years with one house.  With another, it has now been seven years and they’re still working on it.

In addition to their backlist, the pair have self-published other books. One of these, Ghost on the Thames by May McGoldrick, is a Charles Dickens sort of book, complete with ghosts, set in Victorian London.  Another work by Jan Coffey is Step Write Up, a workbook for hands-on teaching of 21st century creativity skills. Three thousand copies were purchased by the New York Department of Education.

Jim and Nikoo now have 21 works available on the Internet. For roughly every one hundred e-books sold, they may sell one print on demand.  Their e-books are available through Smashwords, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and others.  Print on demand are mainly through CreateSpace.  There is money to be made in self-publishing but the author needs to be aware of piracy.  And there is no guarantee that the profits will last into the future.

A writer looking to self-publish backlist title/s must first get his/her rights back.  After that, the process is about the same for a published author or a newbie.  An ISBN number is recommended, available either through Bowker’s or an indie distributor (i.e. Smashwords).  A cover follows.  Hiring a professional or someone experienced in cover design is preferred since a good cover can make or break a book’s sales.  The book must be typed on Microsoft Word and well-edited then formatted according to the requirements of the distributor. Pricing must be decided.  And finally, an author must determine “what’s the plan?”.

Self-publishing isn’t easy but by following the guides available online, it gets easier.

Nikoo and Jim shared many marketing tips, such as putting teasers in the backs of books and offering coupons. Traditional methods still apply. You must get your name before the public but without being obnoxious.

In the afternoon, the pair stayed for a Q & A.  “Ask us anything,” they said.  And we did. 🙂

A phenomenal presentation from a pair of knowledgeable, experienced, and amazing authors!  Thank you Jim and Nikoo!  

e-Publishing Adventures, Part II

It’s been a strange few weeks.   Since first hearing and appreciating the buzz about Indie e-publishing I’ve been immersed in exploration, in more reading, writing, and learning.  I’m writing this to share tidbits gathered in my own fledgling effort.

Initially I wondered – could I publish on my own, at no cost?  A simple goal.  Success would motivate.  It would propel me forward with my longer works.  In Mary Stella’s words, it would empower me.

I chose my collection of blog musings about writing because it was relatively short (14,800 words). Also, with some enrichment and organizing, the essays were ready.  Musings or poetry are often too personal to sell more than a few to family and friends, but in this trial run at publication my goal wasn’t money.  I simply wanted to see, could I do it?

We all know that with anything published, traditional or indie, the writing must be the best the author can make it.  It must be complete and well-edited, not just by you as writer but by those whose opinion you value.  Polish, polish, polish.

To counteract this, I’ve also learned that if you’re a procrastinator (guilty!) or a perfectionist (ditto), you may never publish.   At some point, your work will be as shiny as it’s going to be.  An advantage in e-publishing is that you can pull it back for corrections in a week or even a year.  That won’t fix the sold versions but anything going forward will be correct.  Understanding that has helped.

A title should be fresh and appropriate for the genre.  Also, not too long.  It should fit on a thumbnail size cover and be readable.

Separating the hype of Indie Publishing from the hard facts isn’t easy.   Before you start, I wholeheartedly recommend  reading Zoe Winters e-book –  Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author.  Winters offers common sense answers to the whys and hows of Indie publishing.  No million dollar hype, just sound and solid practical information.  Another book I recently downloaded is called Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should by David Gaughran.  I’m about a third of the way through Gaughran’s book and am finding it incredibly helpful.

There are also a multitude bloggers on the topic and their numbers are growing daily.  The classic, the guy who started it all, is Joe Konrath’s Newbies Guide to Self-Publishing.  I’ve also discovered and enjoy the practicality of Lindsay Buroker’s E-book Endeavers.  Both are now on my sidebar of blogs.

As you approach your big step, you must read through the Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble PubIt guides, at least twice.  The Smashwords Style Guide is particularly helpful. Then keep them available as you prepare to publish.

Earlier version of cover

You can publish your e-book without a cover but it won’t appear complete.  Your cover, product description (start with a blurb then expand), and reviews all help your sales, so make your cover the most professional looking one you can afford, or design.  You can hire a pro, or a friend with skills, or you can do it yourself for free.  As mentioned, this was a trial run learning curve for me.  I wanted to see if I could do everything myself, at no cost.  So how did I make my cover?

First I read the style guides from Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble PubIt to learn their requirements.  I’m not a graphic artist.  Far from it, but I know what I like.  So I studied other covers – hundreds of them.  I wanted simple.  To me simple is easier on the eye.  You can get away with more, if it’s simple.

I was drawn to two best-selling novel covers.  Inspired by them and by my new profile photo (by Photographer Marti Corn), I created my own.   A green beaded necklace  lays over a piece of red fabric.  Actually the fabric is a vest from my closet.  I liked the color combination.  I’ve used clothing before as backdrops for photos in my blogs.   Depending on the material used, it can work well in close-ups.

Final copy

I shot several photos of the beads then pulled them into Photoshop Elements.  I’ve read that GIMP is also a user-friendly program (and free) but I have Elements on my computer, and sort of understood it.  Once I adjusted the photo to  the correct size,  based on cover specs and dimensions from the style guides, in a layer above the photo I added the title and my name.  I used the Papyrus font and made it white to stand out.   As stated earlier, covers appear small in the catalog so the font needs to be readable.

After preparing the cover, the final step before formatting preparation was to write a brief product description, and an author bio.  I learn best by example then doing.  Reading dozens of others on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble helped me get a feel for what seemed to work and what was right for me and my work.

I was now ready to begin manuscript formatting and publication.  Please share your comments about your experience or your thoughts on Indie e-Publishing.  ♥

e-Publishing Adventures, Part I

Since childhood I’ve been intrigued with The Twilight Zone, the TV series hosted by Rod Serling.  In it, sci-fi, fantasy, ghost story, and social commentary merged and blended, tossing the characters into a different dimension.

That’s how I’ve felt since late June, ever since I stepped through the door of the NYC Marriott Marquis.  It’s as if I’ve moved into Serling’s land “of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas.”  I feel as if I’ve just crossed over into a 21st century Twilight Zone.

E-publishing by author has been around for a few years.  Amazon launched the first generation e-reader in late 2007.  In 2008, Mark Coker launched Smashwords.

Writers began not only to write and edit their books, but also to format and self-publish them electronically, thus reaping the lion’s share of the royalties.  They began to shout out their success at conferences, workshops and on social media – blogs, FaceBook, Twitter.  Others took notice.  Over the past year, these matters in publishing have reached critical mass.

RWA’s 2011 National Conference in New York City buzzed with electric energy about e-publishing.  e-Energy I’ll call it.

Before the conference I mostly ignored it all.  Arrogantly.  Naively.  But I couldn’t ignore the buzz at this year’s RWA National.  Nor the stories of folks like Joe Konrath, Courtney Milan, and others.   Writer friends like Mary Stella (and others) have stepped up to self-publish their out-of-print books.   Multi-pub authors are turning down NY offers in favor of author e-publishing.  Eyes open, they launched books and are generously sharing their experiences.

After I came home I talked about the RWA e-Energy buzz with my family.  They encouraged me to go forward, to put some of my work out now, to learn about the process.  To keep the project a manageable size that could be accomplished quickly, I pulled a selection of favorite musing type essays from this blog, Stringing Beads, enriching and updating as needed.  I created my own cover, edited the small book and formatted it according to specifications.

And thus, Stringing Beads – Musings of A Romance Writer was conceived, and born.  This 15,800+ word e-book is the first child in what will be a large blended family.  If you are interested, the e-book is available on Amazon or Smashwords.  I’m keeping the initial price low.  If you don’t own an e-reader, did you know Amazon has a Kindle e-reader you can download on your PC – free?

In my next post I’ll write about the steps I’ve taken as an author e-pub, and what I’m learning along the way.  As others have before me, I’ll post regular updates of my progress.

Keep writing, dear friends, and keep reading.  Can’t have one without the other.   ♥