Well, maybe I’m not quite a wizard, but I’m certainly more proficient than I was three days ago.
Smashwords, an online multi-format ebook publisher, uses a “meat-grinder” to process book files. The author submits a word document; it goes through the meat-grinder and out comes a variety of ebooks that can be read on many types of platforms. You’re probably familiar with pdfs. Other formats Smashwords can produce, and then publish, include but are not limited to mobi for the Kindle, and epub for Nook.
This whole ebook business can be pretty complicated. But it’s all about what file types a particular software can open.
For the past two days I feel like I’ve been in a meat-grinder.
I used Scrivener, a terrific writing program and file system, when I wrote Where Memories Meet. Files in Scrivener have to be exported into a particular file type to be used in some way: as a printable document, as a shareable word document, as a pdf, etc. Scrivener is able to produce some ebook formats this way, epub (Nook) and mobi (Kindle) included. And that’s what I did.
I compiled my book in Scrivener and saved it as a mobi file. Then I uploaded it to Amazon for publication as a Kindle ebook. But if I do nothing more, I am limited to only making my book available for Kindle users. Nor can I give away free copies for review, which is a nice feature Smashwords allows.
Smashwords requires a “clean” Word doc (not to be confused with Word docx, which I learned the hard way). I spent nearly every waking moment in the past two days producing the “clean” Word doc.
I think it was worth it. Hopefully WMM will look better across most if not all platforms this way. I think it will.
I ended up having a lot more control of where my page-breaks are, which is important to me because of all the images I have in my book. And I believe I had more control of fonts and overall paragraph styles. The Scrivener software made a lot of those decisions for me when it produced the mobi file. For example, the first file I published on Amazon had a nightmare Table of Contents running about three pages on my Kindle. Who needs that?
So, although it took time, required some reading, and was tedious to do, I think producing a clean Word doc, and then uploading it to both Amazon and Smashwords is the way to go.
I’ll tell you what I did next time. You could do it too.
I know, I know. It’s been so long since I wrote about self-publishing that you might have forgotten. Occasionally it slips even my mind.
I wanted to share two things with you: a interview and my book sales.
A few months ago, Beth Ann at It’s Just Life, suggested I request a review from TBM who blogs at Making my Mark, and is the author of A Woman Lost. TBM graciously read and reviewed Dancing in Heaven. A few days ago I answered interview questions for her.
Have I always wanted to be a writer?
What writers have influenced me the most?
When did I decide to write the memoir?
How difficult was it to write about my sister’s death?
I answered these and other questions about what I learned, my family’s support, and my current project. I know I’ve written a lot about Dancing in Heaven and my writing process, but I think there are new things in this interview. You can read my answers at Making my Mark. Stop over if you get the chance.
Now for the sales. Amazingly enough, considering my almost complete lack of regard or effort for marketing, sales for Dancing in Heaven continue to dribble in. At random intervals I receive a royalty check or a notice that money has been deposited into my account from a miniscule amount of $12 to a somewhat respectable amount of $320. That always reminds me that I’m still selling books, or at least that Amazon.com is still selling books for me.
I think Dancing in Heaven has made enough in royalties to pay for my publishing expenses which include setting up my business. I didn’t take the time to do the math and calculate the exact amount of money I’ve deposited, but I did add up how many books I’ve sold. As I approach the two-year anniversary of publishing Dancing in Heaven, I’ve sold about 770 books. Although initially I sold more print copies, over the two years the print copies amounted to only 18% of total sales. The lion’s share, 67%, of sales are from Kindle e-books. The remainder is from a combination of Nook, Smashwords, and hand-sold books. All things considered, I’ve been selling about one book a day. I’m okay with that.
I’m grateful for Amazon who basically does free marketing for me by suggesting my book to shoppers who are looking for similar titles. Dancing in Heaven only has a bestsellers rating of 90,589, which sounds like it might be at the bottom of the barrel. But when I consider there are more than 1 million Kindle books for sale, that puts me in the top 10%. (Something Mark pointed out.) Which is somewhat amazing to me. I had read somewhere early out that the vast majority of books don’t break 100 copies. So at least I’ve done that.
I also have given away quite a few books, which means more readers for Annie’s story, which is what it is all about for me.
I’d do it all again.
In fact, I am doing it all again.
You can read more posts about my self-publishing journey, including things I learned in a self-publishing workshop, on my self-publishing page.
Where do I go from here?
When I decided to write about blogging, I did what I often do, I went online to find out what I could.
That’s not entirely honest. I googled it and check two links.
I found an article in New York magazine on line called The Early Years by Clive Thompson which was basically a timeline of the history of blogging. Did you know that the first blog, ever, was created by a college student in 1994? Almost twenty years ago.
Quite a few years ago my oldest son told me I should start writing a blog. I didn’t listen to him at the time, much to my chagrin. If I had maybe I could have proftted from being one of the early people in.
Did you know that people actually made money off of blogs? You probably did. I’m always the last to know.
But like so many other things, it helps to be popular if you are already famous. We like to follow people who have been proven to be well-liked by other people. The same goes for authors. We like to read authors who are the best sellers. They don’t have a problem getting an agent or a book contract. Same goes for famous people. Just check out the tables in your local B&N. But you already know that.
Clive Thompson talks all about it in Blogs to Riches: The Haves and Have-Nots of the Blogging Boom also published in New York magazine.
I never intended or expected to make money with my blog.
That’s probably a good thing, too.
I started the blog to encourage myself to write regularly, even every day, and to start creating an online presence. Just a little over two years ago on January 21, 2011, I started my blog with a short post, A New Start with Clean House, that mentioned both my mom and Arthur. Arthur is still with me. Mom is not. I still write about both.
My second post, Missed Opportunities, was about the red fox that I saw run through our yard, but failed to capture on camera. I still have missed opportunities, but now I keep my camera on a shelf in the kitchen where I am sometimes able to catch the wood ducks, the pileated woodpecker and the owl, the groundhogs, my most recent good catch – the scarlet tanager, and even a red fox.
I saw this female wood duck this morning. I think she was looking for her mate. They’re usually together.
My third post, Fiddles radio broadcasts, signing off and iPads, was one of my all-time favorites. Very few people read it.
I tried to find the stats. I went to “all posts,” and then filtered for the date. I clicked on the miniature bar graph in the column that says “stats.” I had one “syndicated” view. I have no idea what that means, but it can’t be good. Truthfully, after rooting around a bit on my stats page, I don’t have any idea how many hits that page actually got. I’m not going to obsess about it.
I continue to tell myself I shouldn’t be concerned with my stats anyway. I continue to not listen.
But a blogging acquaintance, compatriot, friend (what are we to each other anyway?) named Sue Dreamwalker commented on that post and continues to comment occasionally to this day. She has a nice post up today about May Day. So while some followers come and some go, she has stayed with me. I’d like to say thank you to Sue and all the rest of you who joined me early and have stuck around. Another shout out to Nancy at Spirit Lights the Way for lighting my way early on. And while I’m at it, I have to mention the amusing William at Speak of the Devil who continues to hold the esteemed position of being my number 1 commenter.
But I digress.
They say to have followers you have to be a follower. Which sounds a lot like friendship to me. And over the months, now years, that I’ve blogged, I continue to contemplate how this approach can possibly work unless you are satisfied with a static, relatively small, but loyal group of bloggers. A little blogging community. I’m not criticizing that, I’m just saying that if it becomes nothing more than a quid pro quo, your reach with your blog is limited to the amount of time you have to read and comment on others’ blogs. Which also depends on how long-winded your blogging friends are. You can see I will not fair very well in this system, because it becomes fairly obvious fairly early, that you can visit many photographers’ blogs in the time it takes you to read one lengthy, well-written or not, story on a writer’s blog.
This is a dilemma for me.
I started my blog when I was researching how to publish my memoir Dancing in Heaven.
After reading articles online, I realized that to publish a book, either by agent and traditional publisher or by myself, I needed an online presence. After I wrote Dancing in Heaven, I fully intended to seek an agent and publish it through traditional means. My mind changed. But the journey gave me a lot of fodder for my blog.
The advice I heeded was that I needed to build a platform, which at the time I read it was a completely foreign concept to me.
I started a blog.
I’ve read other advice more recently, that if you are a writer, you will serve your goals better by not spending time blogging, but writing instead. I think there is probably some truth in that position.
But I’ve also read that if you are a published author, you need to have a blog where your readers can learn more about you and communicate with you.
But then, I’ve read that if you want to have a successful blog, you need to pick a topic, carve out your niche, and stick to it.
If you’ve ever held a digital camera in your hands, running around a sunlit garden or walking through a park filled with birdsong, you already know that snapping photographs is a lot more fun than sitting at a desk doing the hard work of translating your thoughts from your brain through your fingers and the keyboard to a computer screen. Just saying. So maybe I get a little distracted at times.
I organize and generate pages, primarily for my own use, and simply because it feeds my OCD nature, but the occasional visitor finds them useful at times. Particularly the bilateral knee surgery documentation we did. People have thanked me for that one.
What I really think is that there is way too much advice out there on the web, well-meaning though it may be. My head is spinning. Yours may be too after reading this disjointed post.
My solution is to do what I usually do in these cases. I trust myself. I trust my judgment. And I trust my heart. And thankfully I am married to an outstanding provider, so I am not obligated to make money from my writing in order to be able to feed myself. Which I should be doing a lot less of anyway if I want to listen to the advice about weight, health and nutrition.
I started blogging to force myself to write everyday. I’d grade myself at maybe a C on that one. Because, like I said, the photography has been enticing. And I don’t really consider my photography blogs “writing.”
The commaraderie and support that I received from followers, friends, and commenters I found invaluable as my family entered crisis control in the beginning of December with the diagnosis of my mom’s cancer and through the next intense weeks before both of my parents’ deaths in January.
I struggle with keeping up. I question what it’s all about. I wonder about the best use of my time.
My world was turned upside down when my parents died. I had devoted a lot of time and concern to their care. My foundation was badly shaken. And even though Mom and Dad were well past the days of doing anything of consequence to aid or assist me, they were two people in my life who always loved me no matter what, who always believed in me. And they were gone. That is a tremendous loss.
As I try to make meaning out of my life, I’m asking the question. Where do I go from here?
Several months ago I was contacted by Richard von Hippel, author of Not Again: “My body’s a write off but I’m all right.” Richard was putting together an online library of memoirs and invited me to participate. Richard has worked hard at adding content to this site called “Memoirs Only.” I am grateful for his efforts and for including Dancing in Heaven in this library. If you have a minute, I hope you will check it out.
Advisory: This post disregards, violates and otherwise ignores all advice to self-published authors regarding professionalism, such as: Be professional. Or if you can’t do that, at least act professional.
Thursday, November 15, 2012 — afternoon
You’d think I’d know better. I mean, after all, I was a high school valedictorian and managed to earn a bachelor of science in Chemical Engineering. You’d think I could manage to to update my Amazon.com book page. But then I haven’t done that in over a year. Maybe if I were 25 or 30, or whatever age one is at the prime of one’s mathematical ability, which I correlate to analytical ability, or a basic ability to think oneself out of a paper bag, I could have figured it out even if it was a year later. But, no.
I sure hope I haven’t inadvertently unpublished my memoir from Amazon.com. All I wanted to do was update my book description.
Give me strength.
Here’s the good news:
After publicly announcing I was abandoning all efforts at marketing my self-published book, I made personal record-breaking sales in October and am looking at a fairly good month here in November too (still a pittance for real authors, but good for fledglings like me). I don’t know how. I don’t know why. Maybe it has to do with some kind of fancy Amazon.com algorithm that pops my book up in front of the right eyes. Who knows? But I’ll take it.
In his infinite wisdom, Mark says I should keep doing what I am doing—nothing.
I also received a letter this week from the Midwest Book Review where I had requested a review of Dancing in Heaven in July. It read, “I’m very pleased to announce that the November 2012 issue of our online book review magazine “MBR Bookwatch” features “Dancing in Heaven.” (Along with a gazillion other books, but hey, I’ll take it.) You can read it here. It’s under “Greenspan’s Bookshelf” and you have to scroll to the bottom. But it made me all kinds of happy because I can add it to my marketing materials (which are largely nonexistent). And which brings me to the present crisis of the day.
I decided to update my book description on my Amazon.com page.
I read a good article at Catherine, Caffeinated, “The 11 Ingredients of a Sizzling Book Description,” by successful Kindle sales author Mark Edwards. I thought the tips looked good, so I spent all day sprucing up my book description, and attempted to update my Amazon page.
But I forgot (it’s been a whole year remember) how to make revisions and ended up, without fully realizing it, on the publish a book page. You know the rest. (If you aren’t trying to sell a book out there on the web, you can’t imagine what a mangled up mess of author pages, book pages, passwords, user names, web addresses, and a whole lot of other things I have to contend with. And clearly, I am not contending with them very well.)
Thursday, November 15, 2012 — night
I received an e-mail from Amazon.com stating, “Per your request, we’ve unpublished your book, ‘Dancing in Heaven—a sister’s memoir’ . . . It should become unavailable to buy withing 24-72 hours. . .Republishing requires approximately 12 hours.”
I read it aloud to Mark who said, “I thought you were going to keep doing what you had been doing — nothing. Are you trying the Cabbage Patch strategy and building interest by making your book unavailable?”
After two frantic e-mails to Amazon.com, I’m afraid to try to republish it, since it doesn’t appear to be unpublished yet. I know it’s just a matter of a day or two, but I just hope I don’t lose my “likes,” reviews, and tags. I sent a third e-mail.
Now I wait for 12 to 24 hours to see if I’ve made a complete mess of things, or whether the gurus at Amazon.com are going to bail me out.
Friday, November 15, 2012 — before getting out of bed
I checked my iPhone for e-mail messages and found this one from Amazon:
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience caused. Every time you make changes for your book in the bookshelf, it will go to the publishing status. (Who knew?) There is nothing to be alarmed as it’s a standard procedure. (Again, who knew?) I’ve republished your book on your behalf. It could take close to 24-48 hours for the title to appear as “Live” on the KDP Bookshelf. It’s common for a product description to take 36 – 72 hours to be fully updated on the web site, so yours should appear online soon.”
Good to know.
Read more posts about self-publishing, some of them actually helpful, at my Self-Publishing page.
One year ago tomorrow Dancing in Heaven-a sister’s memoir appeared for sale on Amazon.com. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported me on this journey. I’d especially like to thank everyone who read and reviewed the book for me. This has been a big help. You can find links to these reviews at my Dancing in Heaven page.
As I was looking back over my posts regarding my memoir and self-publishing, I came across the following:
“I know I need to write her story, but I am afraid I have waited too long and won’t be able to remember it clearly. I am afraid it is too soon and I will remember it too well.” October 5, 2009 – from Dancing in Heaven
I remember very clearly writing this in the middle of the night at our old house with Arthur, who was just a puppy then, at my feet, three years ago, almost exactly two years before I published the finished story.
Isn’t it funny that it all started at this same time of year?
I had a finished draft a year later in November of 2010 and started deliberating about what I should do with it. I’m not going to drag you through all that again, but if you missed it, you can find all my posts about Self-Publishing here. By June of 2011 I had decided to go forward with self-publishing and with a lot of help from my graphic designer daughter, had a proof copy in my hands before the end of September. I did a little video of that thrill to share with you in case you missed it. That was a high point of the journey.
After a few rounds of proof copies and edits, Dancing in Heaven went up on Amazon.com, and other sites as well, October 7, 2011. I was actually visiting our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson when that happened. I had prepared some excerpt posts in advance to be able to blog from St. Louis. For some of these I taped myself reading the excerpt as I sat out on our screened in porch where I sit as I type to you today.
Over the past year book sales have done little more than trickle in. I’ve sold almost or only (however you choose to see it) about 300 books to date. And I owe a nice portion of that to three individuals: my good friend, teacher, and mentor, Jeff Hillard who has made Dancing in Heaven one of the required books for his Cincinnati Authors’ class two years running; a good friend and high school classmate Nancy Henry Chadwick who chose it for her book club’s selection and hosted a book discussion; and Teresa Hutson Simmons, also a friend and classmate as well as the librarian at the Kettering College of Medical Arts, who shared the book with her colleagues and invited me to speak to students. Friends and bloggers who wrote reviews, interviewed me, or allowed me to guest blog also were very helpful in promoting the book. Again, links to these can be found at my Dancing in Heaven page.
At first I had a pretty good idea who was buying my book. Now when the sales trickle in, I always wonder. Who is it? Where did they hear about it? I sold one book recently in the UK — my first book sold out of this country. Is that one of you out there reading my blog? I’m happy that Dancing in Heaven has made its way into the right niche market at Amazon.com judging by what recommendations come up when I search for it.
I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve given away over the past year, but if I were guessing I’d say in the neighborhood of 50 — not all that many, but a fairly high percentage of those that I sold. I’ve debated doing mass giveaways, one of the Indie tactics to generate publicity and sales, but I’m not convinced that it will actually result in readers of the book. If anybody asks me for a book, I gladly will give them a digital copy. If someone offers to do a review, I send them a print version if they’d like. Many people have told me they’ve shared the book with someone else, so it’s hard to know how many people have actually read it. But I think 350 is a good, yet conservative, number. And I really don’t think that is bad.
Early out I made efforts to get reviews, to get involved with Indie organizations and support groups, and to try to promote my book. I quickly became disenchanted with what I saw as the Indie rat race, and soon stopped overt efforts. I know that my sales would be much better if I would promote the book with any regularity, energy, and enthusiasm. I just don’t want to spend my time doing that. I still occasionally make a lame effort or two at promotion, but mostly I have removed myself from that arena and will allow Dancing in Heaven to sink or swim on its own.
Would I do it again and self-publish another book?
I’ve thought about this a long time, and I believe I would. In fact, I probably will, if I ever finish my father’s story.
Would I show it to someone from a major publishing house if they came to me and asked to see my manuscript? Duh.
Will I spend a lot of time generating book proposals and summaries and query letters and wait perhaps years to try to get my next book accepted by an agent and then published? Not likely.
Will I do anything differently the next time? I will probably make every effort to keep my costs as low as possible. But I still will pay for good editing and cover/book design.
As disenchanted as I’ve been with trying to rise above the clamor and market a self-published book, I’m even more disenchanted with the notion of having to get that opening paragraph of a query letter so perfect that it will knock the socks off the agent who is buried beneath a pile of them. Did that agent have enough coffee that morning? Is she in a good mood when she opens my envelope? Was mine the last one to be opened at the end of a very long day? I just can’t deal with that kind of stress and dependence on luck and timing.
If I were a famous personality would I try to get an agent? You betcha.
Do I hope the world of self-publishing figures out a way to separate the wheat from the chaff? Of course. (Assuming my book/s fall into the category of wheat.)
Am I glad 350 people have read my sister Annie’s story? Absolutely. It’s made it all worth while to me.