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Spinning My Wheels

I’ve got a handful of people reading My Last Days right now. Not to tell me that I missed a comma or a closing quote or the like, but to tell me what they think of the story. I read through it twice when I finished the first draft and I’m not fully sure that I love it. I like the idea, I like the message I (think I) conveyed with it. But I’m just not sure that I’m in love with the whole thing.

So I’m hoping for some good feedback from those folks that are reading it now. So far, nothing either way, but hopefully soon I’ll get some feedback.

In the meantime, I feel a lot like I’m spinning my wheels. I feel as though if I’m not writing anything, I’m wasting time. Which is a weird feeling, given that this is not only just a hobby, but it’s not like I have a drove of fans waiting for my next book, or a publisher that’s hounding me to get something written.

I just feel like if I’m not doing something, I’m wasting the day.

Sure, I’m working my day job, I’m working on a website or two for fun. But other than that, every day feels more of the same. I wake up, eat breakfast, sit at my desk for eight hours and then do some chores and tasks, make dinner and watch TV. It feels very repetitive lately and I don’t know why I’m in this rut.

Maybe it’s because subconsciously I wanted A Sour Chord to do better than it has done. Maybe I wanted someone to email me, call me or write a review online telling me how much they loved it. Maybe, on some level, that’s done some damage to my mentality and it’s starting to hit me. Maybe the book’s not as good as I wanted it to be.

When I first started working on A Sour Chord, I didn’t tell anyone. I did that on purpose because I’ve, many times in the past, started things and not finished them. That’s sort of my motus operandi. I’ve started and quit so many things in my lifetime, I didn’t want to get anyone excited about this until I knew I was done.

Then when I finished, lots of people were excited. Friends and family wanted to read it. So I, foolishly maybe, started sending it out. I realize everyone’s busy and have their lives to think of, but some people that were so excited to read it still haven’t. It’s been almost three months since it was entirely done and for sale, and some of those folks still haven’t read it yet. Am I being sensitive about that?

I’m wondering if I should start working on something else while My Last Days is being read. I don’t know how long that whole process will take this time. From the end of the first draft through editing, through artwork, through re-reading, through reader feedback until publishing for A Sour Chord was more than a year.

I’m hoping, based on what I’ve learned from last time, My Last Days will go faster. I’m also hoping that once it’s published, I’ll sell some copies. While it’s not — and never has been — about making money for me, it’s sort of nonsensical to spend thousands of dollars on editors and artists to create the finished product when it’s only going make a couple of dollars.

Maybe I need to hire a marketing person. I’ve learned, quite quickly, that I have no idea how to market anything. I was hoping that I’d publish and people would just find the book, but that appears to be the wrong way to think about things. Maybe it’s time to regroup and rethink my strategy.

That’s all I’ve got for today. I realize this is mostly me rambling the thoughts I’ve been trapping in my head for the last couple of weeks, so I apologize.

My Last Days First Draft is Complete

It seems like it flew by once I started working on, it really did. Once A Sour Chord was published and for sale, I started hitting My Last Days again. And hit it hard I did.

The total word count is just over 92k, and the story seems to all warrant such a word count. I’ve read through it twice now since I finished writing — to do a rough edit for punctuation, grammar and spelling — and I think I enjoy it. I’ve got it out with a half dozen people to read and give me their feedback, so hopefully they’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

When I first started writing it, I was lost. I didn’t really know where it was going or what I was trying to say, but as I progressed the story sort of unfolded on its own.The characters told their own story and I was just their narrator.

One of the most interesting things about My Last Days, at least to me, is that it’s in first person. I don’t often write in first person, but it was a fun and unique challenge to do so.

From here, we begin the process of gathering feedback from people, incorporate any feedback into the story and then move on to the editing process. Once that’s done, we do artwork and then we publish. It really is pretty simple.

The hardest part, from here, will be the editing. It sucked my will to live last time and I really didn’t enjoy it much. Not even a little bit. But it’s necessary and has to be done, so we all do it, right?

If you’re interested in reading My Last Days to give some pre-edit feedback, I’d love to have you check it out. Just drop me a line either on Twitter, Facebook or via the Contact page and let me know which format you’d prefer (Kindle, PDF, Nook, iOS) and where to send it and I’ll get it over to you.

I look forward to finishing this up and picking what I’m going to write next. I’m thinking, after two of them, maybe it’s time to write something a little less dramatic. Maybe a suspense novel? I’m not sure I can pull that off, but I have an idea and am willing to try.

The End is Near!

Perhaps that’s not the best title for a blog post, but it’s true. The end is, in fact, near.

The end of the first draft of My Last Days, that is. If all goes according to plan, I should finish this week and start my first round of edits either this weekend or early next week.

I’m really excited about it and think that it came together quite nicely, though I fear it’s going to need quite a bit of editing. When I write, I tend to just go and go and go without thinking too much. Sometimes that works in my favor, sometimes it means I have a lot of word chopping and scene re-arranging to do.

The story, as a whole, really works. I think I can say that honestly without any bias. But I think there’s some reworking that needs to happen and some more emotions that need to be put into the story near the beginning and middle (the bits I wrote in late 2013.) When I picked it back up again this year, I had a really good sense of where I was going, so I think that helped me stay on the right track.

I’m really stoked to finish this up and get on to the second draft. I hope you’ll check it out when I’m done! In the meantime, grab a copy of A Sour Chord if you haven’t already. It’s on sale everywhere for just .99 cents and that’s a bargain you can’t beat!

A Real Website is Important

Over the past year and a half, since I started this journey, I’ve been to countless websites, blogs, Facebook pages, GoodReads profiles, Amazon Author pages and a zillion other services for authors. What’s the most surprising to me is how few authors have real websites, on their own domain.

As someone who works a day job building and maintaining websites, this causes some great concern. Not just because that’s my bread and butter as I sell copies of my book, but because it’s not always safe to do that.

Here’s some reasons why having a real website is important.

You control your data.

With a hosted service, such as a WordPress.com website, a Facebook page, or a Blogspot blog, you don’t own your content. If you read the fine print carefully in the terms of service, the service you’re publishing through owns everything you publish (in most cases). Which means you’re basically giving away your bread and butter.

More control over aesthetics

When you run your own website, you (generally) have much more control over how it looks and what features you can use with it. Granted, this can be limited by your personal skills, the skills of the person you hire to manage it for you, or the budget you have to spend on it.

I realize that most people go with a hosted service for one of three reasons: 1) Cost. 2) Easy. 3) It’s all they know how to do.

Security

It’s usually more secure to run your own website, because you have more control over what’s allowed. When you have an account with a hosting service (such as GoDaddy, 1&1, etc.) you can run your own software of choice, opting to keep it up to date and make sure that your content is as secure as you want it to be.

When you use a third party service, let’s use Blogspot for example, you have no control over the availability of your content. What if Blogspot goes down right as your book goes on sale? What recourse do you have for a service you’re getting for free? You can complain, but ultimately it’s not in your control of when your page will come back up.

If you run your own site you’ll have as much control as you want over that outage. In most cases you can get your site back up pretty easily, usually with just a call to your webhost.

A domain name

This one should be a no brainer! How much easier is it to tell someone you meet at an event or a book signing that your website is yourname.com or yourbook.com?

It’s easier to tell them and easier for them to remember. If you have to tell them it’s mybook.blogspot.com or mybook.tumblr.com, they’ll be less likely to remember when they get home. Having a custom domain name means that you have something more memorable.

Not to mention that the .book domain is coming in 2015. That means you can have title.book as your book and have it direct right to your website.

There are countless other reasons why you should have your own website and these are just meant as examples. In this self-publishing world where we all want to appear like we’re professionals with years of experience, dozens of books, and a literary agent that’s a big deal, having a real domain name with a real website is a must.

Back to Work on My Last Days

Now that A Sour Chord is fully done and for sale in the various market places, I’ve decided to put off all of the other real-world tasks that I have to complete and get back to work on My Last Days.

Last week I started re-reading everything I’d written so far, so I can be familiar with my characters again, as well as the story lines I’d written. I probably could have skipped this process, but it’s actually pretty beneficial for a few reasons. Primarily because I’ve already found mistakes and inconsistencies in the first draft, but also because I’m getting back into the head of my main character, which is important for this particular work.

My goal is to finish reading the last 40 pages by Wednesday and get back to writing later in the week or early next.

This is such a fun journey and one that I’m glad that I’m able to do without very much effort or money. (Though, let’s be honest, I spent more than I thought I would on A Sour Chord, but that was worth it.)

I’m shooting to finish the first draft, first round of edits and a second draft by the end of the summer before turning it over to an editor. Then, this time, I’ll do a bigger group of beta readers than I did with A Sour Chord. Hopefully that’ll spark more interest.

I’m also hopeful that a second book will inherently draw more attention than the first anyway, now that I’m not an “unknown” anymore.

If you grabbed a copy of A Sour Chord, thank you! If not, it’s still on sale for 99 cents through the end of June across all platforms. Grab a copy before the sale ends and read it whenever you’d like. Once it’s yours, it’s yours! Also, if you have grabbed a copy, thank you so much. I hope you enjoy it enough to leave a review on the site you purchased from. I’d love that very much!

Published Author: Three Weeks Later

I clicked the “Publish” button across all three of the major publishing platforms three weeks ago today, at least what I thought was the three major platforms.

It was quickly requested to be published to Google Play, which I hadn’t even thought about, as my sister has an Android device now. And I figured I’d publish to Smashwords, too, since that seems to be big amongst the indie author scene. Why not, right? The more places people can find the books, the more likely someone may be to buy it.

Last week I ran one of Amazon’s free book promotions for the full 5 days (Monday – Friday), and got a huge number of free downloads.

So let’s sum up where we are after a long week of pushing hard to get people to buy the book on both Twitter and Facebook:

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Of the 87 sales on Amazon, 77 of them were free copies during the promotion week (which speaks volumes for the free promotion tool Amazon gives you). Which means I’ve sold a hard total of 19 copies so far. Not as great as the the 96 total downloads, but I’m overall pretty happy with that number. Given I have no idea how to market this book and am basically begging and pleading with people to buy it and read it at this point, I think I’m doing a-okay.

I’m hopeful that as these people get free copies and read it, that they’ll like it. And they’ll leave reviews of it, which will help other people to want to read it as well. That’s my hope anyway.

If you’ve grabbed a copy, please leave a review (though an honest one) when you’re done reading. I’d appreciate it.

Some annoyances with Self Publishing

It’s been a full five days since A Sour Chord has gone on sale through various publishers, including Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, and Smashwords.

If you’ve been following along with my blog this entire time, you know that I’m not only doing this because I wanted to write and publish something, but because I was curious to learn about the process of doing so.  I’ve learned some incredible things since I started this process in March of 2013.  Over the past two weeks, though, I’ve learned quite a bit more about actually publishing.

Getting the book online

Once you get the book ready to go — you’ve checked it on your iPad and Kindle a hundred times, mucking with formatting, deciding on a price, making sure everything’s perfect, you’re only halfway there.

Actually getting the book online is a journey not for the faint of heart, though some publishers make it easier than others.

For example, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Google make it incredibly easy to get uploaded.  You create a “project” or “book” (the naming convention varies based on what platform you’re on), type in some information and upload your ePub file.

Smashwords, a lesser known publisher – often frequented by people who want to buy books from a third party but still be able to read their books on their eReaders, is kind of a nightmare.  They have their own formatting rules and guidelines that don’t jive with the same formatting regulations for other publishers.  To be honest, I’ve ignored their warnings and will likely just pull the book down from there as I don’t see any real benefit in having it for sale there.  The actual publishing process is easy, but their special formatting requirements are a bit clumsy when you’ve already got your work formatted perfectly fine.

Apple’s publishing process, for someone who’s never done it before, was quite frustrating.  The entire time I’d been researching how to do this, I had sworn I’d seen that their process was the same as Amazon’s — you just upload your file and you’re done with it.  How wrong I was.  Apple’s publishing process requires using a specific publishing application called iTunes Composer, only available for the Mac.  Not a big deal for me, as I’m a Mac user.

The problem is that if you’ve never used it before, it can be quite daunting to figure out.  It took me a good three hours to get my book uploaded through it, having to fight through a number of cryptic error messages and timeouts while uploading. Not to mention that version 3.0 of their software locked up my computer multiple times before working.

Once I finally got my book uploaded, that was just half the battle.

All of the publishers go through a review process to make sure your book looks right on their devices, is formatted correctly, and doesn’t contain anything hateful.  None of them tell you how long this process should take, and some of them don’t even tell you there is a review process until you click the “Publish” button.

Amazon’s review took about 6 hours.
Barnes & Noble’s took just about 80 hours.
Apple took almost 96 hours.
Google took about 4 hours.
Smashwords took the better part of a day (though I didn’t keep an eye on it diligently, as it was an afterthought.)

My only annoyance with this was that I wanted to have the book “go live” on all platforms at once.  Without knowing how long this process would take, it was impossible to do that.  I had to wait for the process to complete, then unpublish the book and wait for the other publishers to be ready to go.  The only problem with this is that the only publisher that notifies you when they’ve approved your book is Amazon (which they do via email).  The others require you to check back through their website to see if your book’s for sale.

Which brings me to my next point.

Support

Throughout the process I had to reach out to the support teams at most of these publishers, for a variety of reasons.  The reasons aren’t important, but the response times varied greatly, so I thought I’d document them here.

Barnes & Noble

Between email and their live chat support, I contacted Barnes & Noble a total of 5 times over the course of the three weeks when I was getting ready to publish.

The two live chats I had deferred me to email and assured me that someone from the email team would follow up with me in “two business days”, which is the same time frame that they give you when you fill out their “email us” form.

The first email that I sent them got a response after 8 days.
The second email that I sent them got a response after 7 days.
The third email still hasn’t been responded to after 11 days.
The two emails that were generated by the live chat agents (supposedly) haven’t been responded to either.

All of the replies from Barnes & Noble’s email team were frustrating. They deflected the problem, asked questions I already provided the answers to in my initial email, or flat out didn’t understand the question.

The one email that they replied to saying that they didn’t see the problem anymore, was simply because enough time had elapsed between my sending the email and their response that the issue had resolved itself.

Apple

I emailed Apple twice asking for help, both about the same issue.

The first email was responded to in less than 8 hours.  I replied back to that same email four times in that same day, and the Agent handling the case responded to every one of those four emails within an hour of me replying to it.

The second email was responded to in about 2 hours, simply saying something to the effect of “It looks like my colleague is already helping you with this on another case.”

I was okay with that second email’s response.

Google

I reached out to Google to ask a question once I’d finished publishing.  Their website said that my book was live in their store, but I couldn’t find it through their search.

It took them about an hour to write back and say that they simply had to wait for the new book to be indexed by their search, and to “check back in a few weeks”.

While I wasn’t stoked to hear “a few weeks”, they were at least quick about writing back to me.

Note: the book showed up in search results the following morning, not a “few weeks”, like they said.

Smashwords

I’ve said it a bunch of times here — I don’t really care or understand Smashwords.  I don’t think many people will buy my book through there, so I didn’t really have much interest in this.  Some folks on Twitter suggested using them, so I gave it a shot.

I reached out to them asking a question on Monday May 19th.  I’ve yet to get a response.

Amazon

Amazon was the only company I didn’t have to ask for help from.  Their UI was easy to use, the uploading process, territory selection process, and pricing was simple enough that I didn’t need help.

Reporting

The biggest frustration for me was that the various levels of reporting through these five publishers varies enormously.  None of them appear to be real-time at all, though some are updated more frequently than others.

Apple’s reporting doesn’t update until the following day.
Barnes & Noble appears to be delayed by about 5 hours. (I only know this because a friend said she bought a copy, and I didn’t see it show up in “today’s sales” until around 5 hours later.)
Amazon’s appears to be delayed by about 8 hours, but does show you metrics for the same day.

I don’t know about Smashwords or Google Play because I haven’t sold any copies there.  However, Google’s reporting doesn’t really exist.  To be honest, theirs is the most frustrating of all, given the size of their company.

Their reporting interface doesn’t even show you metrics on screen. You have to download a CSV with your data and open it in Excel. Seriously. There’s no web interface at all like the other systems.  Even though the data might be outdated, at least you can see it online.

The last thing I want to do is download a CSV and open it to find out that there are no sales there.

Having to log into the five various publisher websites to see how many total copies I’d sold in a day was annoying me, so I sought out a service that would compile all of the metrics into one web interface.  I stumbled across Vook, which appears to do just that.  However, in the five days I’ve been using it, it appears to be wrong.  They’re not showing any Kindle sales (which their support team says is Amazon’s fault, because they don’t update the data very frequently) and the Apple sales are incorrect.

If they can help iron out those kinks, I think their service would be very beneficial, rather than logging into each of the websites every day to view sales metrics.

The Fifth Day

Today’s the fifth day since A Sour Chord went on sale.  It was finally approved to all of the publishing websites on Monday at around 8:30am EST.

The response has been bigger than I expected — not that much in terms of sales, but moreso in engagement.  Through my primitive marketing skills and efforts, in the course of this week, I’ve managed to:

Increase Twitter followers by 31%
Increase Facebook Likes by over 150% (not that I had many to start with!)
Have my Facebook posts seen by 2,478.6% more people than the previous week.

In addition to that, I’ve also sold a total of 9 copies, which is much more than I thought I’d sell during the first few days.  Nine may not seem like a whole heck of a lot to you, but I’m really really happy with that number.  I had set out a silent and internal goal of selling 100 copies in total, so starting with 9 in the first week is definitely a positive for me.

My hope is that over the coming weeks, those 9 people will rate and review the book and that’ll help with other people wanting to read it.  I think, like with much anything in life, no one wants to be the first to do something.

I’ve learned an incredible amount of things this week about the publishing process, including how amazingly frustrating some of the tools are (which I’ll detail more in a complaining post over the weekend), and I’m just incredibly proud of myself for seeing this all the way through.  That’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life and this book represents a new me, figuratively speaking.

If you’ve bought or downloaded a copy of the book, thank you.  I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing, editing, and publishing it!

It’s Official, I did it!

The culmination of a total of 440 days of work has finally come to an end.  The write, edit, and publish journey has come to an end.  What started way back on March 5th of 2013 has finally come to a close as of this morning.

I’m fully published on Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble as of this morning.  You can find the links to those specific providers on the A Sour Chord page.

What took so long? I’m glad you asked.

The first draft took me 17 days (looking back at my daily word counts is sort of astounding. I wrote just shy of 80,000 words in just over two weeks). I wrote another thousand words after reading the first draft over a few times, then handed it off to my buddy Austin for a first pass edit.

That process took close to three months to complete, at which point I hired Lauren to do my real edit.  That took way longer than both of us anticipated, and we didn’t get that complete until mid-February.

At that point, I contracted Scott Pond to do the artwork for the cover artwork.  After a few rounds of back and forth and a handful of iterations, we had the final artwork done last week.

Then the process of compiling the eBook, formatting to the specific publisher’s specifications and getting it through their review process took exactly a week (I submitted it to all 3 of the publishing platforms last Monday morning). And here we are, 440 days later.

I told my first copy last night through Barnes & Noble, and I’ve never in my life been more proud to make a $2.65 commission.

If you buy a copy — even if you hate it — please review a review on whatever service you bought from.  That’d be appreciated immensely!

Phase one is now over.  Phase two is marketing, selling, and re-marketing.  And then I’ll get back to My Last Days and go through this whole thing again.  Once I get some sleep.  Thanks for coming along on this journey with me, dear reader.  Without you this wouldn’t be worth it.

Apple’s Publishing Platform is Terrible

Part of this whole “I’m writing a book” process has been to educate myself about how it works from start to finish — what it’s like to write a book, edit a book, have artwork designed, and finally publish the book.

I’ve been rolling with the proverbial punches since I started this journey in March of 2013.  I haven’t been frustrated at all, despite many parts of the process taking much longer than I wanted.  Until this week.

I was finally done with everything. Artwork done, book compiled into eBook format, ready to publish and start marketing myself and the book.

I uploaded the book to Barnes & Noble first, typed in a few bits of information, uploaded my file and had a button that said “Publish” in a matter of minutes.

Amazon’s process was similar — ready to publish in just a few minutes.

Apple’s process has been frustrating and confusing, to say the least.

I found out that you need their own proprietary publishing software, called iTunes Producer. After downloading 3.0 (the latest version), I had nothing but problems. Even on my brand new Mac Pro (one of the most powerful computers on earth), it just kept freezing.

Google suggested that it was the same for most people who’d upgraded. So I found an older version and used that.

After two, or maybe it was three, hours of confusing unhelpful error messages, I finally got the book to compile into their iBooks format, and started the upload process.

My 1mb file took ten minutes to upload. Ten minutes!

Once that completed I was happy. I was ready to go!

Wrong.  Then Apple’s “review process” began.  They, much like apps submitted to their store, review your book for quality — though it’s unclear what they’re looking for.

This was Monday morning, around 10am.  Cut to Friday, they finally approved my book and made it for sale immediately.

I wasn’t ready to be on sale yet, so I went in and turned off the “Cleared for Sale” option on the United States store, which then triggered an error message in their system.  It eventually fixed itself, but now I see a big error of “Not available in 51 stores” on my book’s management page.  I filled out the contact form yesterday asking for help, but I imagine it’ll be a few days before I hear back.

While the book was up for sale, the “Sample” file that was provided (which may have been my fault), was the entire book, not just a sample.  Clearly no one’s going to buy the book if they can get it for free through the sample.

I’m hoping I can get all of these issues cleared up next week and finally be on sale.

I do have to say, though, seeing the book on an iBooks page and in the iBooks app made me feel an extreme sense of accomplishment.  Even if no one buys it and no one cares about it or likes the story, I did it. And that’s the most important thing for me.

Uploaded and Queued Up

As of around 24 hours ago, I’ve uploaded A Sour Chord to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble were quick and painless.  After mucking around with my eBook format a few times and testing it on their preview systems, I got it right and had it queued up, selected what countries I wanted to sell in, and set my price.  All I have left to do there is click the Publish button on both platforms.

Apple, on the other hand, has a review process built into their system.  I won’t even get into what a pain it is to upload your book to their service if you’ve never done it before — they have their own proprietary app that only runs on OS X (not a big deal, I’m a Mac user), which the current version doesn’t work properly — but I managed to get that all sorted out.

I couldn’t find anywhere in their membership agreement, or documentation when I signed up that they can take up to 30 days to approve your book.  Apparently it’s the same review process that apps for the App Store go through.  I’m not sure if that means I have to wait for someone to actually read the book, or if they just download it, scan through it, and then approve it.

At this point, I’m at the mercy of the might fruit company.  My plan is that once they approve the book, I’ll flip the switch on all three services and be for sale all at once.  Then I’ll have some updating to do here on the website, including publishing the book details, updating the navigation menu, adding buy links, etc.  My task manager app is brimming with things I’ll need to do once I go live.

In case you’re curious, I settled on $3.99 for my initial price and will play with that over time.  It’s surprising how much of that money the companies selling for you take.  For example, of that $3.99, Amazon will give me $1.40.  That’s 35% if you wanted to do the math.

It varies by country, but given that most of my sales will be US based, I’ll get $1.40 per copy sold.

I’m hoping for, and will consider this endeavor a success, if I can sell 100 copies.  Fingers crossed!  Once this waiting game is over, it’s game on.  I don’t want to say that I’ll have to start pimping myself out, but it almost feels that way.

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