Friday, November 30, 2012

Ten Thousand Hours

I watch American Idol and the X-Factor.  Some  mock people who do.  Well, mock on.

Some years back Carrie Underwood was on American Idol and I loved her.  I kept saying "How do you learn how to do this?"  She was a girl from a small town in Oklahoma.    Is it that you sing better than the other 56 kids in your school so you think "Gee, I'll go on American Idol.  I could win."

A lot of people do go from their living room to the stage and make fools of themselves.   But I'm talking about the people who "go from their living room" and stagger the audience with their talent and brilliance.

Here's the audition of Carly Rose Sonenclar, 13, from Westchester.  You look at it and say "How do you learn how to do this?"

You learn it the same way you learn anything.  You put in ten thousand hours of practice. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Vanity Publishing v. Indie Publishing

Don't. Do. It.

What's the difference between vanity and self?  Well self publishing is indie publishing.  You do it yourself.  If you need a book cover you HIRE someone to do the cover for a FLAT FEE.  If  you need editing help, you HIRE someone to edit for a FLAT FEE.  Then you publish your book and you get ALL THE MONEY the book makes, if it makes anything.  These strangers don't make money off you in perpetuity.

What's vanity?  It's when some scamster takes advantage of your desperation and ignorance to be published to charge you up the wazoo.  Like $2000 for a cover when you can easily find someone to create a respectable cover for 1/10th or even 1/20th that.  Ditto the editing.  On top of charging you for everything, they will also take a cut of the money your book earns.  Forever.

In other words, you're being taken for a ride, scammed, stuck, ripped off, played for a sucker.  Those are the polite terms for it.

This happened to a friend of mine.  I couldn't talk her out of it and $5000 later she had several thousand books in her garage that she would have had to hand-sell and that was frankly not a topic many people would care about.

And this is what Simon & Schuster has just come up with as a way to make money.  It seems like Simon & Schuster is a reputable company and we'd all love to be published by them, right?  They're trading on that good name and reputation to rip people off now.  They probably would spin it differently, saying they provide legitimate services and guide newbie authors through the process.  Yeah, maybe they do but they're so overcharging ($25,000???) for the privilege of being taken in by them, that I just have to ask one question of anyone thinking of doing this.  No, it's not one question.  Is it worth it?  When, seriously, do you figure you'll earn the money back you've invested and get in the black?

I was contracted to write a book for Penguin.  They gave me an advance of about $16,000.  Out of that I bought a camera, all the supplies, paid for the illustrators, paid the agent and what all.  I still "owe' Penguin $16,000.  I made NOTHING on that book because I haven't made a penny back on the advance.

In Big Publishing, most books don't earn back their advance.  It's writers like Stephen King and Nora Roberts paying for everything. 

If you've invested $500 in your indie published book, you do have a chance that you will make your investment back and then start turning a profit.  How are you going to make back the $25,000 you pay to Simon & Schuster/Author Solutions/"Archway"?

I know I couldn't reason my friend out of it.  She could do the math and imagined how great her book would sell.  She was a positive thinker.  I am a realistic thinker.  I've seen things go right and I've seen how things can go really wrong.

Don't.  Go.  There.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Photoshop Friday

Still learning, still experimenting, still watching tutorials.  I saw a photograph, actually the product of a malfunction, and spent hours trying to recreate it.  Didn't.

If there's any takeaway it's to keep growing, expanding, trying new things and hope that it all eventually comes together.

Maybe life is like that photo.  You do everything to the best of your ability, it all malfunctions and what you wind up with is something beautiful.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Script Fonts--Yes or No

I am completely against using a script font on a cover since it's difficult to see in a thumbnail.

So how do I explain this?  It's quite large.  That's all I've got.  It's a beautiful font and I keep trying to use it.  I don't recommend it or any atypical font.  The good thing is that nothing is permanent.  It's all a test, you can try everything out and if it doesn't work, you can always change it.

I suppose some people can't live with this state of flux.  They don't enjoy self-publishing and want someone to do everything for them.  I don't care how many times I change things around, there are always new people coming on board who have never seen it before.

What did I do to this image?  It's something I got at a stock photo site--the girl in the hat, for a bargain price.  You don't have to pay an arm and a leg for a pretty good image but unfortunately you'll probably invest hours looking for it.  Some sites have more commercial type images and others, usually more expensive, have more artistic shots.  At some point someone will realize there is a market for images created with ebooks in mind.  Hasn't happened yet.

I blew the image way up not caring if the photo became unsharp or not.  There is post processing involved with the image and she's nowhere near that saturated originally.  Then I layered a photo I took of a little orange flower with a cobweb on it which diffuses the background/woman.  The dew is real since it was first thing in the morning.  There are other layers involved  but that's mainly what's going on.

It's funny how the edge of the leaf follows the brim of her hat so perfectly.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tooting Your Own Horn

Let me start by saying I've never been good at hawking myself.  "Let the work speak for itself" has been my motto.

Well times change.  Two years ago was an eon in digital publishing and the clammor for attention is fierce now.  I do feel somewhat sorry for readers.  If they're scrolling through a list of a couple thousand books, how can they tell the quality from the dreck.  And there's plenty of dreck.

Obviously a less than professional cover is a quick way to tell.  Then the potential customer should read the blurb and then the sample.  It's very time consuming.

I feel sorry for writers because even drecky writers can pay to have a pretty good cover done for them.  It doesn't improve their writing any but there you are competing with them.  Everyone shouting for attention.

It's rather demoralizing when you think about it, isn't it?

I just read what happened to Cora Carmack.  She wrote a book, self-published it and within 2 months was on the NYT bestsellers list and had a high 6 figure book deal. There's always going to be an outlier but she proves you can be heard over the crowd.  What makes her such an outlier is that it came so easily.  (Putting the book aside.)

Amazon search engine looks at all the words in your "Look Inside"/it's all metadata, so let's put that aside for the moment.

If all writers who haven't made it to the top of the charts are equally unknown, and equally doofusistic, if you have a legitimate horn--toot it.  Have you achieved anything?  Let the customer know.  Have you won an award?  And I don't mean a badge in Girl Scouts.  Let's tout real achievements and I mean real, not fantasized or invented ones because someone may decide to check just to prove you're fabricating your background.  If you're writing a novel with a boating background and you sailed in an America's Cup race, say that in your bio and the blurb.  If you have special skills or talents, mention that.  Make yourself look as bright and shiny as possible.  Rinse and Repeat as necessary.  Don't annoy people but remember that new customers are always entering the market and you are an unknown to them.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

High Concept

If you want to get noticed, the best advice I can give you or me is to come up with a great idea.

I remember when I lived in California the big sale was two advertising guys got on the phone and said we're not getting off until we come up with a million dollar idea.  They finally came up with "What if a nuclear weapon became sentient?"  I think Kevin Costner got attached to it and they got their million dollars.

I knew someone who was so angry with the way she was treated in tradpub she decided to make them pay by coming up with a million dollar idea.  She did and apparently is living happily ever after.

What's high concept?  Snakes on a plane.  Except that's bad because once you hear that, you don't need to know any more.  It got made so I suppose that's the point.

The other best advice is to look to the mechanics of screenwriting and movie making for high concepts.  Be able to explain it in a sentence.  Shout it across the parking lot and have it understood.  Some people say 15 words or less, some give you an extra 10. 

Then you, of course, have to, like Snakes On A Plane, have a title that conveys this idea.  How many words should be in a title?  I like 1 but obviously at some point we're going to run out of all the words people know.  I told a friend her 2 word title needs another word and she said "The rule of three?"  Which I admit I had never heard of,  so no, it was just that her 2 words didn't have impact or rhythm for me.  It has to have some kind of flow.

They say in Hollywood if it can sound like something someone already has heard of that's good.  What you probably don't want is something no one has ever heard of.  The Golblutz of Asyirya.  Sci Fi always baffles me.  I don't even know how to pronounce most of the words.  It's good in that community  if you're not in with the in-crowd, not so much.

The point is to connect with the audience/customers as quickly as possible.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Covers and Subtitles

I have a more difficult time with transitions in my life than most people (sometimes) so I understand why there are those positively CLINGING to traditional publishing.  Especially if you were treated well or are still treated well.  Like they are polite and pay you.  It's hard to see digital as anything but the enemy.

Digital is my friend, right? 

There are professionals who cannot see the difference between a digital book cover and a physical cover.  They continue to design and approve of approaches or design elements  that work in print that cannot hope to work in digital.

Let me restate what should be obvious.  The text should be readable on the cover.  The bigger the better.  This isn't art, it's a billboard to sell your book.

This isn't art, it's a billboard to sell your book.

So cutesy little phrases that people can't read without using their browser to zoom in don't work.  "A Novel of the Edwardian Era"  BZZZZT  Thanks for playing, see ya again when you recover from being slapped upside the head with a 2x4.

Keep your name relatively the same size as the title or larger.

Subtitles.  If the book is part of a series, that information should be on the cover.  If it's not you have room to include something like "A Cozy Mystery", "A Contemporary Novel" or some description.  This should be smaller.  If you're fortunate enough to be award winning you could include that.  

BUT you have to be smart since you DO want the image to be seen.  Don't include too much text.  Don't clutter up this small space.

I'm a lot happier with including the subtitle in the book's description--"Miss Grayson's Gambol: An Edwardian Novel"--than putting that on the cover.  The subtitle will appear in the listing and not clutter the image.

These are ideas you should consider whether you design the cover yourself or have someone design one for you.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Formatting and Don't Think I Have A Solution

If you write in Word, you should understand/accept that Microscoff adds tons of proprietary coding.  You can see it if you view the document in html code.  Very messy and I'm not good enough with html to know how to clean it up.

So I updated that Her Cold Kiss book, gave it a new cover, a little bit of a new ending so that it ended and was no longer the 1st book in a series.  I added a Table of Contents.  Okay.  Uploaded it to Amazon.  Fine.  Lovely.
If it looks good on the Kindle Fire, I figure I'm set.

I upload it to Kobo.  Total and complete corruption.  Pages with 1 sentence.  Really bad.  Not just the indent is off.  Uploaded it to BN.  Same thing.

For the next week, all I did was strip and reformat this book.  Generally any small problems can be handled in Word itself.  There's an eraser icon (whatever it is) and you click that and it's supposed to put you back to square 1.  Not always, or not completely.  What you then try is to save the document in rtf, open it in wordpad, save, open it in Word and all the formatting is stripped.

Not this time.  I did that several times.  I  opened it in Open Office, saved, whatever.  Nothing worked.  I unpublished it from BN.  That happened immediately.  I tried at Kobo, it got stuck.  Apparently Kobo support doesn't work on the weekends.  Good to know.  They finally deleted it yesterday.  Meanwhile an adequate version made it through BN.

I don't quite understand why this has to be so difficult to the point where the average person can't do it.

I also have some confusion about the TOC/NCX file.  Amazon is beginning to nicely push publishers to include a TOC.  Fine.  We covered that here some months back.  Then this NCX file issue came up.  It's hidden, it stands for Navigational Control for XML.  It's what gets you around.  I started to hear about creating this blasted thing and all this stuff I couldn't understand.  I'm a writer not a coder!

If you download the free program Sigil and look at your document that you wrote in Word and created the TOC in Word, and then save as a html, filtered file, you can look at what's in your document.  You'll see the NCX file.  

You don't have to build it, or do anything.  Word has done it for you.  So relax, that's one less thing you have to worry about.  But you are going to want to put TOCs in all your books and start going back into your old ones and do them, too.  Sorry. 

You can do it in Sigil if you don't want to do it in Word.  It's even easier there.  Or you can pay someone to do it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lost Romance

Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers.  Sublime.


Someone I know (kinda) went to a seminar about self-publishing and many of the luminaries were there.

Make your name big on the cover.
Some people are reticent about this ie if you're not famous don't be so loud.
If my name has been small it's because I don't want text spread all over the image, then you have a clutter but I'm going to give it a whirl till the end of the year or I come up with something else to do.

Subtitle it.  Nothing Serious: A Romantic Comedy. 
I've heard Amazon isn't wild about that but I haven't heard they've threatened anyone over it yet.

Any word that is in your “Search Inside” segment will pop up on search engines.
Does that simplify life or what?  I don't see that it's done anything for me one way or another but it's good to know.   Since this came from someone at Amazon, we have to assume it's true and worthwhile to pay attention to what's in the first pages of the book.

Createspace wasn't mentioned and I'm on the fence about that one.  Some people love it.  Dream Horse does sell some books each month.  Murder is Exhausting never does.  You have to guess/figure out if it's worth the time and effort to bother.  It's not hard to earn the money back, but it can be like working for pennies an hour.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thinking, Too Much Thinking!

The last 6 weeks or so have been a lot about covers.

I don't know that anyone's opinion counts for anything except the customer and we can't interview them.

Here's logic.  Your book cover will appear in thumbnail size all around the internet.  If you are good with people not being able to read the title or your name in thumbnail size because you've designed it extra special artistically, that's your choice.  It's hard enough to see the thing in thumbnail even if you try hard you might not be able to read the text.

Some people will reflect on this point and other people will ignore it/defend their choice practically to the death.
It's not that important.  Do what you want to do.

Don't make it hard for people to buy your book.  It's hard enough to get people to the book's page as it is.
Have you made the book, the blurb, the cover as attractive as possible to THEM, not to you?  We don't care about you.  You don't really matter.  Or you can matter and have complete sway on another book.  What if you only have 1 book?  Do it your way.  This is a learning experience for everyone.  Either you will learn or you won't.

I'm changing Her Cold Kiss around because I don't think anyone understood it.  I'm not devoting vast amounts of time to it but the fixes are simple, quick.  Digital publishing means not only attending to what's in the future, it also means attending to projects in the past.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


There are very few Photoshop projects that don't include at least one texture layer.
You put them on top of everything else then back the opacity way down.

A couple nights ago I was running water into a bowl in the kitchen sink and saw all these great bubbles.
I said Wow!  Textures!

So I'm sharing it with you.  Use it well, don't let the soap get in your eyes.