How to get ahead in self-publishing: never stop dreaming

23 May 2017

From The Irish Times:

We all have dreams. For many, writing a book and seeing it on the shelves of bookshops is a dream come true. The next best thing to fulfilling your own dream is to help someone else to fulfil theirs. Such was my opportunity when my father wrote his dream book.

31 Years Of Hell! 1914-1945 ( is a concise history of the two world wars and the interwar years. I undertook to edit and produce the book, then I self-published it. The process was very intensive and the lessons I learned should help indie authors to maximise potential distribution and revenue.

Long before your book goes to print, it’s important to think about how to attract readers’ attention and generate sales. Key factors include professional editing, design, print styles, publicity strategy and understanding readers’ habits.

We’ve all studied English grammar in school, right? So why would you need an eidtor editor? If you misplace an apostrophe or insert a comma splice, will the grammar police come after you, lock you up and sentence you to two weeks in punctuation prison? Maybe not, but while your freedom is not at stake, your book’s distribution options are. Most of the book buyers I approached were very welcoming. However, some were a bit cagey when they heard the phrase “self-published”. They told me that many self-published books offered to them are not well produced and contain spelling and grammatical errors. A great editor won’t just weed out typos, misspellings and punctuation errors; they will elevate your writing and “make it sing”.

. . . .

 Once your text is punctuation-perfect, it’s time to choose the style for the interior pages of your book. With my background as a content creator, I had the capability to design the interior of my father’s book myself. However, if this is not within your skill set, I recommend hiring a professional designer. In addition to adding necessary text elements such as page headings, dedication page, table of contents and acknowledgements page, a talented designer will add flourishes to separating sections of text, choose appropriate fonts and create eye-catching page layouts.

. . . .

 In order to get your book into bookshops, you need to submit to Easons, Argosy (which supplies most of the independent bookshops) and Dubray. The era of self-publishing has led to a huge increase in the number of submissions they receive, so it’s very competitive. Alternatively you can approach independent bookshops directly. When doing this, I emailed an “advance information” document first then followed up with a phone call saying my father would call in to show them his book. This strategy worked: the response was overwhelmingly positive. I also supplied “sale or return” invoices on headed paper, which was described by many book buyers as “very professional”. Sale or return is the standard arrangement: bookshops will stock your book but will only pay the percentage agreed on stock sold; unsold books are returned. The percentage that bookshops take varies from 33 to 45 per cent. Because of this, it’s more lucrative to sell from your own website or directly through personal contact, for example after giving a talk, so it’s worth putting effort into those avenues.

Link to the rest at The Irish Times

Here’s a link to 31 Years of Hell. It’s too bad the creators apparently didn’t know about ebooks.


Why We Are Self Publishing the Aviary Cookbook – Lessons From the Alinea Book

20 May 2017

From Nick Kokonas:

One of the most opaque industries around is publishing, not here online, but good old-fashioned print-books and their digital and audio spin-offs. Poke around and try to find some hard sales numbers and you’ll quickly find that it’s near impossible to do so. You can find bestseller lists from reputable sources like the NYTimes, Amazon and others but tying those rankings to an actual number of books sold at retail is simply not doable. Publishing costs, deals, and profit lines are even harder to shake loose.

About a decade ago, in 2007, book agents and publishers began approaching chef Achatz and me to gauge our interest in creating an Alinea cookbook. Ever since that process started I have wanted to write this post. Having never published a book before I was fairly mind-blown by the terms of the offering and my inability to properly and easily research the process, costs and revenue potential of a cookbook. In the intervening decade I’ve ranted privately to dozens of chefs, restaurant owners, writers of fiction and non-fiction alike, and even a few screenwriters that they should avoid traditional publishing deals if at all possible. I’ve pushed the case in private, but have always been afraid to fully burn my bridges.

Until now.

Back in March of 2007 we received this exact offer from a major cookbook publisher in the US, the first of several such offers that were remarkably similar. I’ve redacted only the publisher’s identity, the rest is verbatim:

Advance against royalties: $125,000

Royalties: hardcover: 8% of cover price on first 15,000 copies; 10% of cover price on next 15,000 copies; 12% on all copies thereafter; trade paperback: 7.5% of cover price on all copies (note that we are not envisioning this as a paperback but nevertheless want to secure the rights)

Territory: world

Subsidiary rights secured by publisher: first serial (90% author/10% publisher); second serial (50%/50%), book club (50%/50%), permissions (50%/50%), other book publication (50%/50%), British (80%/20%), translation (75%/25%), electronic (50%/50%), audio (50%/50%), paper products (50%/50%)

Subsidiary rights retained by author: video, commercial and merchandising, performance

Deliverables: 100 recipes and supporting text by 8/31/07; 150 color photographs delivered as high-resolution digital files with match prints by 8/31/07; recipes must be fully tested and photographs are subject to [redacted’s] approval.

Option: on next cookbook; proposal may be submitted 90 days after publication of the contract work

Buyback: Author will purchase 5,000 copies for resale within 12 months of publication subject to the following terms: non-returnable; orders of a minimum of 500 copies; in carton quantities only; subject to [redacted’s] inventory requirements; at a discount of 50% off the retail price; royalties payable; delivered to a single US destination; to be sold through the author’s own restaurants, businesses, and website only.

For a first book this is considered a great offer. It’s super rare for any chef or restaurant to receive a solid book deal, let alone a restaurant that was less than 2 years old. $125,000 and the guarantee of editing support, printing supervision, and distribution would have ensured that the book would reach a wide audience and be of relatively high quality.

But then I started doing the math. And negotiating. The offer was soon doubled to $250,000 (perhaps too quickly). But it still didn’t add up to me. At a $60 cover price we would net $4.80 per book sold of the first 15,000 units and have recouped only a $72,000 credit of the advance. On the next 15,000 copies, $90,000. For every book sold after 30,000 — and let’s be clear *very* few cookbooks sell more than 30,000 copies — we would recoup at a rate of $7.20 per book and need to sell another 12,222 books before we saw another dime. The advance is just that — an advance against royalties — and just like a record deal the publisher keeps all of the revenue until the advance is fully recouped, if ever.

Out of that $250,000 we would be required to spend the money on all photography, graphic design, pre-press, editing, recipe testing, writing and proofs. With a team of 4–6 professionals contracted for the book this would typically use 70% to 85% of the advance. It could easily end up being more than that for us as we intended to shoot every recipe, its steps and the final dish… something that the vast majority of cookbooks do not do for several reasons.

The photography, color correction, layout and proofs are exacting and time consuming. As important, pages that are full-bleed, 6-color printed drive up the printing costs. That is why most cookbooks — even the best — do not include photographs of every recipe. The pages that are only text, be they recipes or essays, are far cheaper to print and work to save money on the overall production costs. If you unbind a typical cookbook (we dissected a dozen or so with an X-acto knife), you’ll find that pages 20 / 200 (for example) are printed on the same sheet… and don’t include pictures. Multiply that by 40% or more of the book and you’ve saved a great deal of money. Next time you pick up a cookbook try to estimate how many pages are all or mostly words, then page through the book. You’ll be surprised. And now you’ll know why there isn’t a picture of every recipe and dish, even though the ones with pictures tend to be the only recipes readers actually cook.

There is, baked into the structure of the publishing agreement, a mutual incentive to reduce costs. For the authors it is to cut corners on photography and design production to retain more of the advance money. This helps the publisher to keep the printing cost as low as possible. But what were those costs exactly?

I still had no idea what it actually cost to print a major cookbook. That was as hard to figure out as sales numbers. So our team started calling printers in China and Korea, print brokers in the US, and any publishing contact I could find to ask a very specific question: “How much does it cost to print 30,000 copies of a [Very Famous and Successful] Cookbook, do you think?” I was met with responses that were akin to me asking for state secrets that were highly classified. No one would talk.

Until one-day I got lucky. Just by chance I spoke to the print broker who actually worked on the exact bid for that famous book. And he told me precisely: that super amazing cookbook that I truly loved, which at the time retailed for $50 and had won every award imaginable, cost $3.83 per book to print, shrink wrap, and ship to the US. I thought he must be mistaken and I said so. “No way.” He replied, “well that was the first edition, I’m sure the cost has gone down since then.” He thought I was implying that $3.83 per book was too high!

Link to the rest at Nick Kokonas


Grade five students at Muriel Clayton set to self-publish book on Syrian refugee

14 May 2017

From The Airdrie Echo:

Nick Stabler’s fifth grade class is set to self-publish a book on a Syrian Refugee and him finding his way in Canada.

The 26 young authors all sat down to brainstorm ideas for creating a novel under the leadership of Stabler. The students decided to write about Ammar, a Syrian Refugee whose house in Syria was bombed by terrorists.

Ammar lost his family, and gets into Canada to try and find his family. Along the way, Ammar learns about Canadian Identity, which has been a focus for the fifth grade students in Stabler’s class.

The story of Ammar and learning about Canada and its subcultures relates back to Canada and its sesquicentennial. The class is planning on self-publishing the book and thanks to some volunteers, each student/author will get their own hand bound hard copy of the book.

“We’re starting to learn the basics of what’s going on [in Syria] because it’s very confusing, which groups are fighting who and trying to keep it all straight,” said Stabler. “We’ve tried to keep it age appropriate, so there isn’t a huge amount of focus on the actual events, but rather the boy’s journey coming to Canada. There is lots of humour and funny little Canadian things that happen.”

Stabler has done this sort of exercise with classes in the past, and has students working together to write and edit the novel together.

“It has been a good experience about how to write a book,” said Eva Dooks, a student in Stabler’s class. “I’ve wanted to be an author when I grow up and I wouldn’t have thought I’d be writing a book now. At first I was like ‘Whoa, I never knew this was happening,’ and after I’ve learned about it I’m happy to tell people about what is happening.”

Link to the rest at The Airdrie Echo


The One: The secret behind a self-published novel’s success

10 May 2017

From The Express:

They say everyone has a book inside them waiting to be written. Back in 2012, there was a story dying to break out of me. I’d read an anonymous letter to a magazine from a woman whose husband had vanished 15 years earlier, leaving her to bring up their four children alone. All police investigations failed to find any trace of him.

I was touched by her vivid descriptions of the lows and highs of being both parents to her confused brood and never knowing why her husband vanished or if he’d ever return.

I decided to write a fictitious version of her story, but told from both hers and his perspectives. I stretched it over a 25-year period with each chapter ending on the day he returned to explain why and where he went. A year and a half and 110,000 words later, The Wronged Sons was complete.

I assumed that with more than 20 years as a journalist behind me, writing for national magazines and newspapers, I might have had a slight advantage over other new writers on the hunt for an agent. How naive I was.

I began by highlighting 80 agents listed in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook who accepted author inquiries. Each had an individual criteria; some required an introductory letter only, others a brief synopsis, some needed the first three chapters and occasionally the whole novel. After two weeks and a well-trodden path to my local post office counter, I sat and waited.

The first few rejection letters trickled through the letterbox within seven days. More came within a fortnight and by the end of the month, my hope of becoming the next publishing success story deflated like the slow puncture of a tyre. Over the next four months, the rest of the rebuffs appeared in dribs and drabs.

Their content varied. A few only contained the words “not for us” scribbled on a “with compliments” slip; there were many photocopied generic refusal letters and, on rare occasions, more detailed notes explaining why my book wouldn’t work for them. Even as a thick-skinned journalist, it was hard not to feel a little rejected.

The novel sat in a folder on my laptop for the best part of six months before I decided to self-publish.

. . . .

But in 2007, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing changed the entire self-publishing landscape. It enabled any hopeful to upload their original work, charge a fee of their choice and sell it online to readers to download on their Kindle or tablet. Both you and Amazon receive a cut of each sale.

. . . .

I was fortunate that enough family and friends of friends bought The Wronged Sons for it to make an impact on Amazon’s charts. Then, once visible, people I didn’t know began downloading it, too. Recommendations also came from members of online book clubs.

Link to the rest at The Express and thanks to Dave for the tip.


The Bestseller List Box Set Gig

28 April 2017


Why does it seem like lately the heavens are raining down hundreds of brand spanking new bestselling authors? They’re everywhere, man, like, it’s contagious and we need a vaccine.  New York Times, USA Today, heck, it’s no big deal anymore, thanks to a handful of individuals who have figured out how to make a ton of cash and inflate sales numbers to shoot 20+ author box sets onto the lists. (Yes, you read that correctly; 20 books from 20 authors in one massive box set). Has anyone ever heard of the authors in these mega-sets? Do they ever go on to sell any other books after “getting letters”? A few shining stars have emerged, but for the most past, the answer is no.

According to one box set Organizer, Amazon assures her that everyone at Amazon is perfectly fine with her methods, and the way she tells it, Amazon’s in her pocket with this gig, and Amazon has no problem with authors gifting thousands of copies of books to readers who then use those gift book credits to purchase the box set, making it look like a legitimate sale. We’re not talking about chump change here, either, folks. The “buy-in” for these box sets is anywhere from $500 -$2000 per author. At 20+ authors per sets, the Organizer is collecting between $10,000 – $40,000 per set, and self-reports 8 sets have made the lists (out of dozens of sets managed). Not counting the sets that did not make lists, 8 box sets have raked in $80,000 – $320,000.  Even more disturbing, the same Organizer says that she spoke with PayPal and PayPal is fine with her methods of asking authors to pay her thousands of dollars of business transactions via “friends & family” transfers (which PayPal does not report to the IRS as taxable income and are not covered by PayPal Buyer Protection), or even worse, Amazon Gift Cards so that customers can not get a refund via PayPal dispute, which has happened multiple times to the Organizer.

Link to the rest at

PG doesn’t know any of the backstory on this and he hasn’t consulted any of the relevant terms of service, but he will point out that, when everybody is a bestselling author, the marketing benefits from such claims decline substantially in value.


The Sky is Falling (Again)

24 April 2017

From The Crazy Chronicles by author  Elizabeth Barone:

I’ve been working in the indie publishing industry for five years, with a smattering of trad pub experience right before that. I mean a very tiny smattering; I had a couple short stories and poems published in journals before I got addicted to self-publishing, and I was with a small press for a year. But I’ve always been an introvert, and the thing most people don’t know about us introverts is that we’re super observant. We may not say much, but we see everything. And we pay attention.

Lately there’s been a lot of ugliness in the lit community. Some high profile authors were outed for attacking readers, there’s been a lot of mudslinging over diversity in fiction, and now I’m seeing a lot of authors griping about how “oversaturated” the industry is.

I get it. Amazon sales have tanked for everyone this month. In general, there’s been a decline in sales. The industry has been plateauing, trying to find its footing in the midst of this digital revolution. But I’ve noticed the panic really dig in to authors when Amazon changes something. And then things get ugly.

. . . .

For one, the market has always been full. Even before indie publishing took off—back when it was considered vanity publishing to go and print copies of your books and sell them out of your car—there was a vast traditional market. Book stores became more and more selective with who they gave shelf space to. It was a game of dollars—which publisher could pay the most to get their star author front and center in stores. And it still is.

. . . .

Authors, we’re not competitors. There are millions of readers around the world, with new markets opening up every single day. (Right now India and Nigeria’s ebook markets are booming, by the way.) Readers don’t play favorites. Sure, there are authors they love who they will always buy from right away. But most readers are just looking for something good to read that fits their tastes and their budget—especially while their favorites are in between releases.

Link to the rest at The Crazy Chronicles and thanks to A. for the tip.

Here’s a link to Elizabeth Barone’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.


It’s a great time to be a writer. Kind of.

21 April 2017

From ChicagoNow:

During last year’s NBA Finals, I wrote an article reminiscing about the times I guarded Golden State Warriors’ All-Star Draymond Green back in our high school basketball days. It was going to be super timely, especially as I watched Draymond knock down five threes in the first half of Game 7. He was playing like the best player on the court, well on pace to become the NBA Finals MVP.

The Cavs came back, Draymond didn’t win MVP, but I still published my post. I also reached out to the sports editor back at my hometown newspaper, sent the article to him in hopes they would run it. Maybe a big Sunday spread in the sports section!

I never heard anything back.

Fast forward almost a year later, and I saw the following post on LinkedIn from the same sports editor: Hi friends, I just want to let you know that my position of sports editor has been eliminated.

Not fired, eliminated. The role of sports editor at that paper no longer exists. And before I get into that, I’ve got one more related story.

In June, I am self-publishing a novel that I’ve been working on since the fall of 2008. I’ve wrestled with the self-publish vs. try to publish traditionally question for over three years (I’ll have many posts to come on this very subject). One of the reasons I decided to pull the trigger on the self-publishing route was the thought, “Hey, I won’t be able to get into Barnes & Noble, or airport bookstores, but maybe I could channel my door-to-door salesman side and get into local bookstores. And, since my novel takes place in my hometown, maybe my favorite hometown bookstore (Sleepy Hollow) would carry it.”

I Googled “Sleepy Hollow, ” and the top article was an article from July of 2016, “The final chapter. Sleepy Hollow Bookshop plans to close.” The next result was Sleepy Hollow’s listing on Yelp marked, “Sleepy Hollow Bookshop – CLOSED.”

. . . .

Twenty years ago, hell, maybe even just five years ago, an 18-year-old could’ve said, “I want to be a sports writer, so I’m gonna go to a great journalism school, get into a great graduate school, get an internship at a great newspaper, work my way up. At first I’ll be writing stories about grade school basketball, then middle school, high school, all the way up to the NBA. After 20, 30 years, I’ll be one of those people on ESPN’s Around the Horn. And THEN, once I have a big name for myself, I’ll write a book and it’ll be in every bookstore around the country, including my hometown store, where I’ll set up a table and sign autographs. I’ll tell a kid wearing a Chicago Bulls hat, ‘Now, make sure to study hard in school young lad, one day you can be right here.”

Where does that story fit into the 2017 landscape? Every step of that defined process is now in question. Newspapers struggling, bookstores struggling, many shutting down altogether. I mean even the value of a college journalism degree or graduate degree is in question.

. . . .

So yeah, I think it’s a terrible time to be a writer IF you’re using yesterday’s blueprint. It can lead to a devastating place where you’re left saying, “This isn’t fair. I played the game. I followed the rules. And this is what I have to show for it?”

. . . .

Would you rather…

Write a book, send it off to 5+ literary agents, wait, wait some more. Get rejected, send out another 5+, wait again, more rejections, then maybe, maybe, one finally takes a chance on you. They now try and sell your work to a publisher, the literary agent’s going to get 10-15 percent of the sales, the publisher needs to make money too, but that’s ok, because a year, two years, five years later they got you into a bookstore, you see the physical copy of your book on the shelf only to see out of the corner of your eye a sign reading, “80 percent off, going out of business sale.”


Start writing the book tomorrow. Tonight. Ask friends for editing help. Go on any of the hundreds of freelance sites to find some more editing help, grammar help, book cover design, formatting, etc., and then, when it’s all finished, throw it right up on Amazon. One click away.

P.S. Amazon is opening physical bookstores too… just saying.

Link to the rest at ChicagoNow


How a self-published author inspired by Stephen King knocked his idol from the top spot on Amazon

20 April 2017

From CNBC:

Dylan Jones, 39, started reading Stephen King novels when he was 11. He’s pretty sure he’s read all of King’s fiction, which is saying something: King is an impressively prolific author.

It was King who first inspired Jones to try writing. “He was, I think, probably the single reason that I started writing, to be honest,” Jones tells CNBC. “He’s definitely a role model.”

So it felt almost surreal when, on August 16, 2015, Jones’ novel, “Black Book,” the first-installment of an ongoing trilogy, passed King on the most popular list in the horror genre of And the triumph wasn’t a fluke: The novel, which Jones describes as a “time-traveling western,” has surpassed those of his idol a couple of times since then, too.

. . . .

That first time it happened, he was particularly excited. He was, as he says, “over the moon, of course! To see something I did on a laptop, not even with Microsoft Word, but with a free, open-source word processing software package — to see that climb above the reason that I started writing in the first place is quite a thing.”

. . . .

Nowadays, Jones reads and writes only fiction. “You read so much nonfiction online anyway everyday and in newspapers and magazines … if I am in a book, I just want to relax and escape,” he says.

. . . .

Nearly two decades ago, the Internet was still a novelty. He wasn’t able to use it yet to publish his work. So Jones bought research books to find the mailing addresses for magazines and he submitted paper copies of his short stories to them.

About once a month every month for years, Jones received rejections in response.

. . . .

He wrote, marketed and published “Black Book” over about six months in 2013 while maintaining his day job of building mobile and web applications. He self-published the novel on Amazon towards the end of the year. In the summer of 2015, a year and a half a year later, “Black Book” generated buzz online and started creeping up the charts.

Link to the rest at CNBC


Writer seeks Kindled spirit: Six novelists reveal how to self-publish successfully

16 April 2017

From Mail Online:

The dawn of the digital era means that authors can self-publish their books – and make a fortune. Laura Silverman asks six independent novelists to reveal the secrets of clicking with your readership.

. . . .

WHO: Mel Sherratt, 50, Stoke-on-Trent

EBOOKS SOLD: 1 million

SELF-PUBLISHING SUCCESS: The former housing officer had spent 12 years trying to bag a traditional deal, but was continuously turned down for being ‘cross-genre’ (her writing is a mix of women’s fiction, crime and thriller). At the end of 2011 she self-released her debut Taunting the Dead which reached No 3 in the Kindle UK fiction chart, topped the police procedurals category and has been downloaded 200,000 times. Mel has written 12 more ebooks – six of which she has published herself.

KEY ADVICE: Get to grips with your marketing. ‘I often review my backlist and produce a yearly marketing schedule to offer my books at different prices,’ she says. ‘I can put the books on promotion whenever I want.’

THE PAYOFF: ‘I started self-publishing five years ago and have made a six-figure salary in each of the past three years.’

. . . .

 WHO: Janet MacLeod Trotter, 59, Northumberland

EBOOKS SOLD: 800,000

SELF-PUBLISHING SUCCESS: ‘My success has only come about because I self-published,’ says Janet, who had 12 of her novels published in the traditional way but was dropped by her publisher in 2010. She turned to self-publishing to raise money for her brother after he was injured in a bike accident.

The Vanishing of Ruth went to No 1 in the Waterstones crime and romance categories in 2011. After the success of her first ebook, she self-published her backlist and now has 22 books to her name. The Tea Planter’s Daughter was one of the top ten bestsellers of 2012 for a self-published author.

KEY ADVICE: Judge your book by its cover. ‘Give your books a new look every so often,’ she says. ‘I’m currently revamping the covers for my Jarrow trilogy. When you’re self-publishing, the design and look of your book or series is all down to you.’

THE PAYOFF: ‘For the first time in 30 years, I’m making a decent living from my writing.’

Link to the rest at Mail Online and thanks to Mike for the tip.


Amazon’s Third-Party Sellers Hit By Hackers

10 April 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Hackers are targeting the growing population of third-party sellers on Inc., using stolen credentials to post fake deals and steal cash.

In recent weeks, attackers have changed the bank-deposit information on Amazon accounts of active sellers to steal tens of thousands of dollars from each, according to several sellers and advisers. Attackers also have hacked into the Amazon accounts of sellers who haven’t used them recently to post nonexistent merchandise for sale at steep discounts in an attempt to pocket the cash, those people say.

The fraud stems largely from email and password credentials stolen from previously hacked accounts and then sold on what’s dubbed the “dark web,” a network of anonymous internet servers where hackers communicate and trade illicit information. Such hacks previously have favored sites such as PayPal Inc. and eBay Inc., but Amazon recently has become a target of choice, according to cybersecurity experts.

. . . .

While the precise scope and financial impact of the Amazon attacks is unclear, some sellers say the hacks have shaken their confidence in Amazon’s security measures. Such third-party merchants are critical for Amazon’s retail business, with more than two million sellers on the site accounting for more than half of its sales, including more than 100,000 sellers who each now sell in excess of $100,000 annually.

. . . .

Margina Dennis, who rarely uses her seller account, discovered she had been hacked late last month when she started to receive notifications to ship Nintendo Switch videogame systems. She notified Amazon immediately that she hadn’t listed the device, but Amazon still tried to charge her for unreceived items, she said.

“This has been a nightmare,” said the makeup artist, who said Sunday afternoon she was still waiting for resolution.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

PG is going to increase the password security for Mrs. PG’s KDP account. If you need help generating a strong password, LastPass has a free service for doing so.

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