Category Archives: Self-publish

Before You Publish Your Book, Read . . .

51MCjhgAmaL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-70,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_I just finished reading APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki, former Chief Evangelist at Apple, and Shawn Welch, an app developer. I heard Guy give an inspirational talk many years ago at a national conference and it was memorable. He is still on the cutting edge of entrepreneurship. Shawn Welch is a skilled technician/developer providing the explanations of how to convert files to the varied specific formats required for electronic sales at Amazon, Apple, Nook, etc.

If you are writing a book or have written one, you may already know the frustrations of trying to find a publisher and an agent. Kawasaki has written more than a dozen books and has had many of them published by mainstream publishers. He explains why that is not the most viable option these days. Even major publishers often will not promote your book to get sales. Unless you are already a well-known name, your mainstream book can still languish without readers. And even if you are well known, publishers may not find your book to be a priority. In that case there is little you can do except promote it yourself.

Many writers have observed that the creative act of writing a book, designing the cover, and going to print can be more rewarding when they do it all themselves or at least oversee it all. Kawasaki refers to this as “artisanal” publishing, rather than self-publishing. He points out that writers such as Walt Whitman and John James Audubon have done this in the past. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that publishing became the province of large companies or corporations.

I have read half a dozen books about self-publishing this past year. I am aware that we learned much of this the hard way by trial and error.  APE is the best of those I have read in terms of being readable, comprehensive and great advice. Guy’s portion was the most useful to me. I imagine that the technical advice from Shawn Welch on formatting and related matters is good, but we have preferred to contract with others to do the technical work. I am fine with the “Do it yourself” business when it comes to website design, merchant services and fulfillment, but the more technical application of Indesign software is still somewhat mystifying to me and not what I want to spend time learning. Others might enjoy this portion of the book.

414+iPgRf0L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_The authors point out the varied ways to work with diverse electronic publishing platforms but land where I have landed. The Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) by Amazon is probably the right starting place for a person publishing her or his own E-book or printed book. You can upload your own Word file on the site and preview it to make certain it looks like what you expect. It can even have color photos, since many of the new E-reader devices can handle color. If you place your book in the KDP Select program, you must exclusively keep your e-book at Amazon and not place it with Apple or other options. They give you five free days every three months to give away your book as a promotion and this really builds reviews, if you promote the book well through the many sites that keep readers informed of free books.

Dan Poynter’s book, KDP Select: Navigating Kindle’s Freebie Day has also been helpful. It explains the ways that “free days” can be effective in putting your new book in front of lots of readers. He also explains how to get promotion on varied free day websites. Author Marketing Club has made that even easier. They provide one page with all of the best connections to having your free book day listed.

Even if you are fairly experienced at publishing your own book, you may read APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book and still garner some new ideas. It is rich with suggestions that will make you more successful as an author, publisher and entrepreneur. It is good to read as many resources as you can find, but I can highly recommend APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book.

 

–Tim Merriman

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Personal Interpretation, the Kindle Version Released

PI-CoverTen years ago Lisa Brochu and I wrote Personal Interpretation: Connecting Your Audience to Heritage Resources. National Association for Interpretation (NAI) published it as a printed book after a thorough review and approval by the NAI Board for use as the official text for the Certified Interpretive Guide training program. When it was written, Lisa had not yet come to work for NAI (though she did shortly after). Both of us worked on it at home on our own time, and the manuscript required a publishing contract spelling out the rights of all parties, that was approved and signed by both the NAI president and vice-president for programs at that time, in accordance with the NAI publications policy that regulates any staff involvement with publishing at InterpPress.

More than 10,000 copies have been sold and it has proven to be a useful resource over that period of time, connecting readers with other written resources and NAI’s programs. The book covers the history and theoretical underpinnings of the interpretive approach to communication, as well as providing clear guidance on improving delivery techniques and employing thematic interpretation as a way to accomplish specific objectives.

NAI continues to own the print rights to the book and sells copies of the paperback book through interpnet.com and Amazon.com. The publishing contract allows the authors to retain rights to publishing the book in languages other than English and Spanish and in other formats, including any electronic versions. Currently, NAI has published the book in Spanish and English. Additional translations may soon be available from Heartfelt Publications in Greek, French, and Mandarin as well.

TLT-BaskervilleWe created Heartfelt Publications in 2007 as a way of publishing books in a wide variety of genres. We currently sell fiction and non-fiction titles under that imprint both as print books and Kindle books. The Leopard Tree is our award-winning fiction title published that first year as a print book and later as a Kindle title. In 2011 we released a non-fiction title, Put the HEART Back In Your Community in both formats, print and Kindle. Hard copies of both of those books, along with the Kindle edition of Personal Interpretation, are available on Amazon.com and on our Heartfelt Publications website.

We’re excited about the release of Personal Interpretation as an e-book. Dr. Sam Ham kindly wrote the foreword for this new edition. Sam’s legendary influence on the interpretation profession has been expressed through his 1992 book, Environmental Interpretation, exceptional research articles and keynote addresses over the last three decades. His new book will be available in 2013 and we look forward to that release. In the meantime, we appreciate his introduction to this unique resource that can be read on Kindles, iPads, Heart cover finaliPhones and other e-reader devices.

For students this creates an affordable option at $7.99 for the Kindle version. Many universities use the book as one of several basic textbooks in introductory interpretive courses. Students often prefer a digital resource book, easily accessible on a computer or e-reader.

We expect and hope many will still prefer the printed copy as we’ve been told that this is one of those books people write notes in and highlight extensively. The Kindle edition includes a few different photos and some slight updates in the text, which will eventually show up in the printed version when the third edition is printed by NAI, but is not substantially different than the currently available second edition print copy. We hope you will also want an electronic version of the book on your Kindle or iPad to make carrying it with you even easier.

– Tim Merriman

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Your Review on Amazon.UK Will Help

Many of us have come to trust reviews as a way of finding out whether we might enjoy a book from Amazon before downloading or ordering it.. And the marketplace for a book is no longer confined to one nation, waiting for export to another market that reads the same language. People in the U.K. can download any Amazon digital title easily to their digital reading device.

There’s just one little problem. Software at Amazon.com does not connect in some areas of information. Reviews on the U.S. Amazon site will not show up on the U.K. site or in any of the other countries through which Amazon sells – Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan. So a reader will really have to want a book to buy with absolutely no endorsements from other readers.

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 2.33.31 PMI recently put an ad for our novel, The Leopard Tree, on a UK Kindle Forum site and expected some sales, but no purchases resulted from a month-long ad. An ad of the same kind on any American site would have sold some books. After weeks of no sales, it suddenly occurred to me to look at the reviews on the U.K. site. We have 72 reviews with a 4.8 average on the U.S. site. We had none – 0 – zilch on the Amazon site in the U.K. Now we have four by asking some of our loyal readers to post both places.

Amazon is absolutely amazing as a vendor in that they empower authors and publishers to sell books through their sites easily. We sell both our digital titles and print books through Amazon and we handle shipment of the printed books to customers. It is all easy to do with their user-friendly software. When you have a question of Customer Support for sellers, it happens quickly in my experience, so I  asked them if they could link our U.S. reviews to the U.K. Amazon site.

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 2.50.54 PMTwo hours later I had answers – not NO, but we will work on it! They are always polite and helpful through a great feedback system. I made the suggestion that they figure out how to do that. It’s hurting sales of books in the U.K. for Amazon and American authors. Our books with great reviews simply do not show up there. The Amazon support staff assured me they will work on it but it’s a software issue and will not happen quickly. Three days later I checked our non-fiction book, Put the HEART Back In Your Community at Amazon.UK and they had four of our 12 reviews from the U.S. site and a small “Beta” test marker. They have already found a potential work around and it links to the twelve 5.0 star reviews for the book on Amazon.com.

If you review on Amazon because you want to support good books and tell others of clunkers so they don’t buy them, keep reviewing. Those of us who write or read appreciate thoughtful  reviews. But after you post your review on the U.S. Amazon site, use Google to locate UK Amazon and search for the book you are reviewing there. They have the same books for the most part, but you will see much smaller review numbers unless it is a book by a British author, who posted there first.

You can do a cut and paste from your review on the Amazon site easily and put the very same review on the British site, no matter where you purchased or downloaded the title. This gives your reviews greater exposure all over the English-speaking world and authors/publishers/readers will appreciate your extra effort.

We hope you will keep reviewing, but expand your efforts in the U.K. for English readers all over Europe. If you have read The Leopard Tree, please review it at the U.S. Amazon site and UK Amazon. Thanks for reviewing.

–Tim Merriman

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Two Stories of Cambodia and Great Reads

We were seated in Happy Lucky’s Teahouse in Old Town Fort Collins just a few days before Thanksgiving and Kari Grady Grossman, co-owner of the teahouse, stopped by. We were chatting with a mutual friend, Dr. Bill Timpson, and he introduced us to Kari. Our book, The Leopard Tree, came up in the conversation and we gave her a copy. She then gave us a copy of Bones That Float, her book about adopting their child from Cambodia. We had heard that a percentage of profits at the Teahouse go to support of a school in Cambodia but did not know the deeper story.

I was already started on the Kindle book, In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree by Vaddey Ratner at home on my iPad. Raami, a 7-year-old girl from a Cambodian royal family, narrates the story. She walks with a brace due to polio and is the apple of her poet father’s eye. When the Khmer Rouge overrun Phnom Penh in 1975, she and her family are placed on a forced journey to a remote village, while hiding their identity as privileged royalty. To be discovered is certain death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. The book tells the story of four years of desperate struggles with hunger and abuse. Raami is a survivor despite her disability, but she ages emotionally as she is forced to grow up and live without parental protection.

In the epilogue to the book the author explains that the book is fiction that closely parallels her actual growing up years in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge domination. The poetry of Vaddey Ratner’s language is charming and offsets to some degree the pain of the story. People suffered greatly and died in great numbers form 1975 to 1979 in Cambodia. I finished the book with a sense of relief and appreciation of the arduous journey many people have had in that nation.

Bones That Float: A Story of Adopting Cambodia is not a Kindle book so as soon as I finished In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree, I picked up the hard copy Kari gave us and began reading. For two days I could only put it down to do chores and necessary work. Her non-fiction story follows her own journey from unsuccessful attempts to have a child with her husband, George, through their decision to adopt a boy from a Cambodian orphanage. They would slowly find they were adopting a very troubled nation as well.

Kari learned that many orphans in Cambodia are actually the child of a family or parent who feels ill-equipped to raise and feed the child. She learned her son might have living family in Cambodia. Would he want to know them one day? Would his sister end up in a brothel for the lack of opportunities now available to her younger brother living in Colorado? Kari reveals her inner thoughts throughout the book, which follows her journeys to Cambodia to find their son’s family. In the process she becomes friends with an endearing taxi driver, who helps them as they start a school in rural Cambodia.

Bones That Float is a braided story of Kari’s search for her son’s family, the hardships faced by friends from Cambodia before immigrating, and the challenges of starting a school in a nation where corruption is the norm. Some names were changed to protect people in Cambodia, but the story is true, compelling and important.

The story is shared in local schools in Fort Collins in a reading program under an appropriate version for young people entitled, Teacher Absent Often. Sales of the book help with support of the school in Cambodia through the nonprofit, Sustainable Schools International.

Happy Lucky’s Teahouse is a regular stop for us to meet friends and talk. It has an even more special feel with the knowledge of the journey behind the family and their work in Cambodia. Healing is a process that does not end in months or even years after genocide, but people who help with the healing and restoration are a treasure.

– Tim Merriman

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Self-published – Vanity or Artistry?

Fifty Shades of Grey is a runaway hit book by E.L. James in the familiar genre of romance, with the edginess of dominance and submission as a major theme. It has outsold Harry Potter books with a record 40 million copies purchased in its first year. Moreover, it was originally self-published, though print publishers have now snapped it up. Its viral success has been the talk of the publishing world. How could a self-published book with very little marketing and promotion beyond book blogs run away with the biggest new seller title? And can a self-published novel be good, maybe even great?

If you saw a customized car that you just loved, would you ask the owner/customizer if he did the work himself or hired all of the painting, upholstery and design work done by professional car people? If you saw a painting that you loved immediately, would you ask the artist if a REAL artist helped her or him plan and execute the work? If you looked at a home to buy and you loved the craftsmanship of it, would it worry you to know it was designed and built by the owner/architect and not a big firm that churns out homes by the thousands?

We value originality in most forms of artistry. We know that big companies produce consistent but somewhat bland products through mass production of many items and services. How do we feel about self-published and self-produced books and music? Vanity presses and music studios have existed for decades.  Their published works have often been considered inferior for being self-published, self-produced. The personal creator producing his or her own book or record was looked down on as someone who was unable to attract the attention of one of the larger publishing houses or recording studios.

All that is changing for the better. There are some very well known stories about authors of great books being rejected a hundred or more times before landing with someone who helped them publish a book – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Chicken Soup for the Soul are notable examples. We don’t know how many great writers and musicians have simply given up for lack of self-promotion skills, despite their other talents.

When you see a traditionally published book selling for $20, the author gets only a small fraction of that – 7 to 15% in most cases. The publisher and agent get their shares also with the largest share landing in the publisher’s or distributor’s accounts. Writing is not all that different from farming. The farmer who produces the crop, the author who writes the great book and the musician with incredible skills receive only a small fraction of the total sales amount. Usually, the middle-men make more than the creative artist who writes, sings or plays music.

Self-publishing through Amazon, Apple, Smashwords and other companies is fairly easy for digital books. Amazon is the easiest of the group and most sales return 70% to the author in most price ranges. Artistry is definitely evident in many books and missing in others. Vanity is always there. We write because we feel we have something to say, to share. But any artist, composer, car customizer, custom homebuilder or creative craftsman shares both vanity and art.

An author can now publish his or her own book and promote it to success simply because others choose to read it. Readers now control the marketplace, not publishers looking only at their bottom line. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and found the story compelling and very readable. I did not care for either character, a self-absorbed wealthy entrepreneur exploiting a naïve young woman or the young woman lacking the self-respect to say no to gifts and exploitive advances. Whether the book is great literature or not misses the point. It has a vast market and has proven to be enjoyed by most readers. I read the book knowing it was not my preferred genre, so I will not review it formally.

If you’re a reader, keep sharing your thoughts through reviews on Amazon and goodreads.com. If you write, you have wonderful places to publish at little expense. See if there’s a market for your creative work. It’s a new day in publishing and exciting to get involved in as a reader or writer. Vanity alone will not sell your book but great writing and careful promotion will. There are lots of people in this new world of publishing willing to help and great new writers to be discovered.

– Tim Merriman

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The Problem with Publishers

 

Many years ago, I wrote a short children’s book and submitted it to a publisher. I was surprised and pleased when I received a letter of acceptance and a contract almost right away. The book was about what it’s like to be the child of a museum curator in a natural history museum, something that my own children know way too much about. I titled the book “My Mom Dusts Dinosaurs” which coincidentally, was the first line of the book. It went on to describe other activities common to curators and was intended to interest children in a potential career path, a sort of behind the scenes look at the people who work in museums as curators or interpreters. I thought I would create an entire series of these sorts of books for the offbeat careers that most kids don’t think about, but would love to do (park rangers, naturalists, living history characters, etc.).

 

Unfortunately, my second book in the series was not accepted, but I began to believe that was okay after I saw the first book in print. The publisher had changed the title to “Who Cleans the Museum?” Curators are not janitors. The publisher’s change of title completely changed the complexion of the book, even though they didn’t change the content of the book. The book is still in print and I’m still proud of it, but this change of title still bothers me. The publisher decided it would make more sense and be more “marketable.” While I can appreciate that thought, the new title completely misrepresents my intent in writing the book.

 

Water under the bridge, but it does make me think that the problem with traditional publishing methods, aside from the soul-crushing rejection letters from publishers who fail to see an author’s potential, is that the author loses control of his or her intent when the manuscript gets turned over to the publisher. Self-publishing certainly has its drawbacks, but at least the author retains control over the end product. If it fails, it is truly the author’s failure, not the publisher’s. There is no getting around that – self-publishing forces you to take sole responsibility for your work, from the initial idea to putting the final product in readers’ hands, but I think I’d rather have that problem than having a publisher alter the work for the sake of selling and losing its integrity along the way.

 

In all fairness, I’m grateful for the publishers I work with who have done good things for my writing career. For the most part, they are respectful, helpful, encouraging, and usually right on target when it comes to marketing and promotions. Now if they just wouldn’t change the title . . .

 

Lisa Brochu

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Stalking 5.0 Star Reviews (Honestly)

We wrote The Leopard Tree in 2007 and won two awards with it in 2008, but it languished with poor sales for the next five years. We both had demanding jobs with little spare time for promotion, so we took the “message in a bottle” approach to promotion. Throw it out there for sale on Amazon and wait for the flood of buyers. Unfortunately, that approach simply does not work. Whether your book represents the Great American Novel or just a weekend project, you still have to promote it to get it into the hands of readers. Getting great reviews early on in the process will help. Here are a few tips:

  1. Get draft reviews before you self-publish your book. Share it with friends who will give you an honest opinion – then LISTEN. When they tell you it didn’t hold their attention or had vague characters, figure out how to make it better and go back to work. Only put out your very best work.
  2. Hire a professional book doctor or editor who will be brutally honest in telling you what’s right and wrong with your book. LISTEN. Make changes and pass the book around again until both friends and professional editors tell you it is good. Not everyone will agree on every detail, but listening to comments and acting on those that make sense will only make you a better writer.
  3. Enter contests – We won $1000 for The Leopard Tree when it won Best Young Adult Novel in 2008 in the Writer’s Digest Self-published contest. Some contests include a professional review as part of the award. Ours earned a Midwest Book Review. Also, you can pull excerpts out of the judge’s comments, which will be very useful in promotions.
  4. Give a free copy of your book to friends and acquaintances who express a bit of interest and ask them to read it and review it. Do not tell them to “review it if you like it.” Ask for honest feedback. If you don’t have the confidence to do this, your book may not be ready for publication and it likely will not sell.
  5. Remind people who tell you they have read your book to post a review on Amazon. Some will immediately agree and some will not be comfortable doing that. If they say they will, REMIND. People get busy, and may forget to get this done without the gentle reminders.
  6. Ask other authors who write in your genre to review your book and offer to review their book in return. Local publishing associations are a great place to find people who are willing to participate in a reciprocal reading/review strategy. You each have an opportunity to learn more about each other, writing and reviewing.
  7. Read every review that goes up, and don’t forget to thank reviewers publicly in your Blog and on your book’s Facebook page.
  8. Encourage people to post a recommendation for the book or a few words from their review on their own Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Leopard Tree only had half a dozen reviews after five years on Amazon until we got serious about promoting it. It went from 10 5.0 Star reviews in May of this year to 38  5.0 Star Reviews this past week. Twenty-five thousand readers who downloaded it for FREE are now leaving unsolicited comments on Amazon and Facebook. Thankfully, their comments have been very supportive and positive and sales are growing..

We had 11 – 5.0 Star Reviews on our non-fiction book, Put the HEART Back In Your Community, in less than a year and went from one review to eleven in less than two months. We could have done better but simply did not work at it. Now we know we have to work at it and are learning how to do that more effectively. It is a niche market book about community planning so we were not disappointed with 1,400 downloads during three free days.

As an author, if you are involved in the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program with Amazon, you get five days every 90 days to promote your book by allowing a free download. By getting it in more readers’ hands, even though they haven’t paid for the pleasure, you are creating opportunities to get more reviews.

Reviews certainly help you sell your book, but they also energize you as a writer. When you begin getting reviews from people you don’t know and may never meet, and they clearly understand what you attempted to get across, there is no better reward. At their worst, reviews provide needed feedback. But at their best, they are rocket fuel.

– Tim Merriman and Lisa Brochu

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