August 31, 2013

A Few Things I've Learned About Publishing

I've been indie publishing for four years now, and I'm continuing to learn.  My policy is as pictured below, on a story plotting board in my office.

I figured I'd share a few of my observations.  I hope you find them helpful.

1) I have a rather unorthodox way of writing...I write scenes that pop into my head, which in itself isn't all that unusual...except my ideas aren't necessarily for the book I'm working on, but for a future book.  I do this enough so that by the time I'm ready to sit down and write that future book, a good portion of it is already written. As I assemble scenes belonging to Secrets & Sins--a complicated story in terms of setup due to its multiple flashbacks--I find that the majority of the writing is done and that what I'm working on mostly is its structure.  If you follow this blog you'll know that structure is what hung me up on Something Real last year...that book with its main love story and a strong secondary subplot took me eight months to write and assemble.  This time it's not going to take eight months...I still expect to release Secrets & Sins sometime this fall.  The fact that this will be my third full-length release this year, after Man of Her Heart and Love Will Follow (there were also two ePubbed backlist titles and one prequel) tells me that this pattern is somehow working.  The lesson here is to do whatever works best for you, not what everybody else is doing.

2) Regarding cover art, just because a picture is expensive doesn't mean it's original.  Before you shell out a bunch of credits for a picture to use on your book cover, check to see if it is available at another site for less.  Doing a specific search can be very helpful at sites with hundreds of thousands of pictures (i.e., "fruit bowl").  I am presently having the cover for Save The Best For Last redesigned to more closely match the color scheme of the two books connected to it, Something Real and Man of Her Heart.  I nearly fainted when I saw that one site wanted 13 credits for a picture in the size large enough to meet Smashwords' new criteria...but then I went to another site and found the same picture for 4 credits.  It was a piece of cake...which not only describes the contents of the picture, but also the process to track it down on the other site.  I searched for "strawberry cake" and there it was.  Took less than five minutes and saved me a nice sum.
3) If you want expanded distribution through Smashwords, including pre-orders through Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo, you have to choose a cover photo that is vertically oriented, with recommended pixels of 1600 for width and 2400 for height.  You probably won't be able to find a photo with these exact dimensions, but use it as a guideline and go with more pixels, not less.  I forgot to do this with my recent releases and my cover designer made covers too small to go into expanded distribution.
4) Regarding releasing a new eBook...Since Amazon still does not allow indie authors to make their eBooks available for pre-order (unless you're selling hundreds of thousands of eBooks, in which case they will invite you to do this), it is very, very difficult for indie authors to zero in on a publication date.  The ability to do this, along with the possibility that strong first-day sales may propel your book onto the bestseller lists, are the two best advantages for Amazon pre-orders to become a reality (and why I keep pleading with them to offer it).  This can be frustrating, because having a definite publication date projects a more professional image than just saying it'll-be-published-when-it's-ready.  Many indie authors announce the availability of their books on a specific "official" release date, but the publication date on the product page usually reveals that the book has actually been on sale anywhere from one to five days prior to that (no doubt because authors want to make sure they don't run into issues in the upload process).  To me--probably stemming from my time being traditionally published--neither of these circumstances are ideal.  Problems with uploading aside--those will always be unpredictable--if you want your Amazon publication date to show as the same as the date you're announcing it will be available, upload the book after 12:30AM Pacific Time (which would be 2:30AM Central Time, 3:30AM Eastern Time.  I added an extra half hour in there, since the calendar date of course changes at midnight, but upload any earlier and the folks at Amazon will make your publication date a day earlier than you specified because the day has not yet changed on the West Coast.  I'm probably being nit-picky about this, but it drives me nuts when I upload an eBook with a publication date of, say, September 5th, and Amazon backdates it to September 4th.  This is especially irksome when I look at my Author Bookshelf and see upload dates that are a day later than publication dates (as if a book can be published before the manuscript has been uploaded).  That said, overnight uploads usually go pretty fast, I find usually going live within four to five other words, in time for consumers to download and read on the bus or train on their way to work.
5) Speaking of release dates, traditional books (and music as well) are released on Tuesdays, and many indie authors try to follow this model by giving their book an "official" release date that falls on that day of the week.  When I think about this, though, I wonder if closer to the end of the week might be a better choice, since indie authors can choose their own day.  Why compete with all those trad published books?  I also suspect that more consumers get paid on Thursday or Friday than do on a Tuesday, and you'd like your book to be purchased right away rather than go on a wish list.  A Thursday around the 1st or the 15th of the month would probably be a fabulous time to release a new book, because you've got all those consumers on a semi-monthly pay schedule in addition to those paid on that particular week.  This past weekend--the 29th or 30th of August--was a writer's dream in terms of a perfect time for a new release:  Not only did it work well for people who normally get paid that week, but also those paid semi-monthly, since the 1st is Sunday and the 2nd is a bank holiday.  But what really made it fabulous was that aforementioned holiday.  A three-day weekend is a wonderful incentive for readers to buy and curl up with a new book!  
I'll end with a prediction:  If Amazon does decide to catch up with Smashwords and offer indie authors the option of having their books available for pre-order, look for them to require KDP Select enrollment for any titles put in this status. 

Wish it...dream it!