An Observer's Tale - 10 Things I've Learned About ePublishing

As we race toward 2012, I thought it would be a good time to share my observations on e-Publishing. The publishing world is evolving at lightening pace. A bevy of attractively priced new reading gadgets *cough* KINDLEFIRE *cough* and a huge commercial push promises to make 2012 the year of the eBook.

I keep up with tons of self-published (and otherwise) authors on the Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the like--trying to learn what I can. As such, I thought it would be appropriate for me to regurgitate my knowledge in the form of An Observer's Tale - 10 Things I've Learned About ePublishing  

This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive tutorial on the process, nor should it be taken as gospel. Just my take.

1. eBooks are like so hot right now: 

 This might be the understatement of the decade, but this digital media stuff is a big deal. In the last ten years we've witnessed the digitization of every major form of entertainment from music to movies. Now it's time for written entertainment to share the stage. Some have labeled it a fad, some a revolution. Whatever your take, I think we can all agree that this is now at the very least a movement--a shift--to a new way of "doing" books. Who knows if paper and pixels will be able to coexist, but I'd bet the family farm that the pixels aren't going away.  

 2. Fit and finish don't just apply to car shopping: 

Hop over to your local online monster retailer and browse the eBooks. Do it like you would browsing for cars at the auto dealership. Why? You'll quickly get into the head of the average book shopper, that's why. It's the shiny exterior (i.e. the cover) that draws them in, the awesome stereo and smooth interior (blurb or back jacket verbiage) that gets their imagination going and the salesperson (reviews) that seal the deal. In an increasingly cluttered book market, presentation makes the difference. 

 3. It's a slow burn, baby:

That tune doesn't apply to ePublishing. There are no golden tickets. Much like in traditional publishing, there is a constant effort to figure out the purchasing habits of fickle readers.  eAuthors are scrambling to try to figure out how Amanda Hocking, John Locke, etc., etc. managed to become Kindle millionaires seemingly overnight. 

I follow both of the afore mentioned authors on Twitter and blogs (One of them follows me, but I'm not namedropping or anything... OK, it's JL and I nearly blew a gasket when I saw his name pop up as a new Twitter follower! Name. Dropped.) and I can tell you neither of them truly claims to know exactly how it all happened. One thing both say: it took some time and they worked hard to promote their stuff. They didn't instantly sell 10,000 books a month. Word of mouth had to build. The Interwebs had to weave its magic. Just like in traditional publishing, expect to have to pay your own dues before you get much payment in return.  

4. Skinning cats and publishing electronically have a lot in common:

There are many, many ways to get a book published electronically, and many more yet to come. 

Total DIY: You can study Kindle/Apple/Barnes & Noble/WhatHaveYou and learn to format and upload yourself. You can get free pictures online and create your own covers with free photo editing software. It's not rocket science, but it's also not without frustration. If budget is a concern, you can definitely do it on your own. Knowing your limits is important, however...

Hire out some of it: Don't have an artistic eye? Cool. There are oodles of folks online that will design a good cover for you. Got a great cover, but don't care to format? Cool. Lots of folks out there will format your book so it reads nice and pretty on the nook, iPad, Kindle, Kobo reader things. See # 2 if you're not sure why it matters.

Hire out all of it: Specialty ePublishing companies are ALL freaking over the place. Go to any online writing community and you'll see their ads. Hangout in the writing dens of Twitter and you'll get a half-dozen follows a day from someone offering to publish your book for a fee. (That and maybe a few unwholesome offers, but I digress ...) Heck, some of them even promote your book in various places. Prices vary. Quality varies. Choose wisely.

5. One is fun, but 8 is great:

Only got one great story in you? I'm sorry to inform you that self-publishing isn't going to pay your next electric bill. Nor will it likely pay any electric bill. Ever. Here's the thing, just like in traditional publishing you have to build a readership in the eWorld. That typically doesn't happen with one great book. It takes several. It takes building a reputation. 

eReading is like any other electronic media thing, which is to say it's about consumption. Unlike Sam the Business Man who buys one non-fiction book every year at the airport to read on layovers, the owner of that Kindle plans on getting her money's worth. When she finishes one book, she's going to immediately jump into another. If you only have one book in the store, she can't buy your next. It's science--or math--or something. 

The best anecdote I've read on the subject relates virtual shelf space to actual store shelf space. The more space you occupy the better chance someone is going to 'find you' and buy you.    

6. Traditional rules don't necessarily apply...:

Suburban cat vampire fantasy doesn't sell you say? WRONG! There are no hard rules when it comes to ePublishing. All those agents and editors in the traditional world aren't wrong (just aggravating) when they shoot down your 'Hamster Falls In Love' picture book idea. In the paper world there are all kinds of upfront production costs that force the publishing machine to make hard choices about what they invest in. That doesn't exist online. If you want to publish it, you can. If you can connect with the people who are interested in what you've written, you'll probably even sell a few copies. And unlike a paper bookstore, even if you're only moving 6 copies a month it'll stay on Amazon's shelf forever.

Heck people are even publishing poetry again. That should really be all you need to hear to understand that up is now down, and that cats now sleep with the dogs.  

7. Well, except for these:

Don't read 6 and assume everything has changed. These basic principals must be observed for any kind of publishing success:

You must have a great story.

It must be extremely well-written.

It must be gleamingly edited. And edited. And edited. And edited ....

You can never shortchange a reader with a poor product. Readers will drop you like a bad habit, even if your book is only .99 cents. 

8. Merchandising! Merchandising! Merchandising!

I'm not talking about action figures (but that would be AWESOME!); I'm talking about selling your story and yourself. Understand where your story fits in terms of genre. Make sure your cover looks better than those 'other books' that pop up in the product search. Know where your readers hangout online--go to them. Use Twitter, Facebook, etc. to their full potential. Learn and heed the rules of responsible, non-D-Bag marketing. Make friends by promoting other authors more than you promote yourself. Make sure your story is available to every kind of reader for every kind of reading device. Make sure your website, Twitter page, Facebook, etc. say, "I'm a pro, not a schmo." 

Self-publishing means you're now a small business owner. That business will sink or swim based upon your effort and nothing else. 

9. All the cool kids are doing it:

ePublishing isn't just a game for the little guys to dabble in. J.K. 'I could buy your country' Rowling is self-publishing her Harry Potter books electronically. So too are many, many highly successful traditionally published authors. Some are completely abandoning the traditional route, others are simply supplementing their paper efforts, using it as a vehicle to explore things that wouldn't normally fly in the trad-world. Regardless of the reasons, don't assume that your too big or too small to make a go of it. It sure looks like there's room for everyone.

10. No one has THE answer:

There is a lot of advice from super-helpful authors out there. They might tell you to Tweet this way, never pay for XYZ, or never use XYZ font--you get the idea. They're all right to an extent. ePublishing is still very much a baby in the grand scheme of things. As such, each individual experience is a valuable learning tool. However, I've learned you'll find more conflicting answers than definite methods of success. Does this mean you should tune them all out? Absolutely not. Just understand that the path to success seems to be different for just about everyone. 

Keep your ear to the ground and be willing to adjust your expectations and tactics as needed. That should keep you on track at least until next year. :)


BTW, big WAY TO GO for all of you who reached your NaNoWriMo goals! I'll buy you the frosty beverage of your choosing should we ever cross paths! :)

Exposing Your Soul

Yeah, it's like that. 

Now it's YOUR turn.


Word Searching - It's Hard. It's Important.

You open your eyes. Darkness. The utter absence of light, devoid of any sense of space and self.

A deep, if shaky, breath. You close and open them again. Still nothing. 


You really squeeze them shut this time, knowing that you should at least see a few brightly colored floating orbs of light. Suddenly those floaters are no longer a physiological nuisance. They're an essential connection between your physical and mental self. If you can see, they'll be there. If you're alive, they'll be there... 

Sometimes searching for the right word or phrase is like that for me. Probably why I write so slowly. If I don't see (on the page) exactly what I'm looking for, I risk losing my place in life (the story).What is normally an automatic, subconscious thing (putting a word into a sentence) becomes so much more important.

Contrary to common conjecture, writers aren't JUST fanciful dreamers who record their stream of consciousness and hope to coral it into a cohesive story. Unlike conversations with friends, writing requires perfect articulation. In the end, there's very little room for idle chat and boundless meandering. 

Effective storytelling is more akin to playing in a sandbox than on an endless beach. You begin with the understanding that you only have so much room to spread out and build. If your sand castle (story) is too expansive there'll be nothing to focus on. Doing too much runs the risk of creating something that isn't recognizable as a castle at all.

Effective writers are word surgeons, extracting the unnecessary and repairing the vital. In that way a perfect balance must be formed. A writer understands that the presence of one word in a story carries no more weight than the absence of the next. In story economy, the said and unsaid are of equal value.

I suppose that's why word searching can be so excruciating. While I'm not certain any story has ever entirely failed or succeeded on only one word, I do believe--like a misplaced stone in a wall--an ineffectual thought can severely harm the overall structure and integrity of a story.  

Do you feel any word-search pressure when you write? Has it ever gotten in the way of you finishing a story? At what point do you resolve to move on?

Also, BIG props to all you NaNoWriMo folks out there! I think you can read this post and understand why I might not be cut out to write 40K+ in a month. :) Best of luck to you all. I hope you surpass your goals!


The Spaces Between - Great Stories Are More Than Words

Ever notice how many of the most important things in life are often the things left unstated? How communication is more about the things you do before and after words than what you actually say? Sure, saying I love you is a big deal, but it's a lot bigger deal if it's followed by a kiss. You can tell someone you're angry or you can say you're angry and throw something at them. Which one do you think gets the point across more effectively?

I think good storytelling is a lot like that. 

It really struck me this weekend while talking books with some friends. The conversation consistently turned to a discussion of things implied by the actions of characters in the story rather than what was actually written on the pages. Don't get me wrong the words are important; without them there'd be nothing to infer from or to fuel the debate. However, I think I've underestimated just how much a reader likes to put themselves--and conversely, their own reasoning--into a story. 

I'll confess, the idea that what readers really get into is being able to fill in the gaps of a story rather than simply enjoying what is ACTUALLY written has probably been a tad complex for my mind to truly wrap around. I guess I've kind of had a rather simple, neanderthal-esque writing mindset of, "ME WRITE WORDS. YOU READ WORDS." 

Moreover, the concept of people intellectualizing beyond the words has always seemed a little highbrow or lit snobby to me. The stuff for writers, graduate programs, term papers and History Chanel specials to discuss. After all, the reader in me always really enjoyed the reading, appreciating what the author was communicating over implications. 

So it's not surprising that I reasoned that Twilight fan just consumed the story and could care less about deeper meanings and character intentions, right? 

W.R.O.N.G. You're everyday Joe or Susan reader loves to take stories to places beyond the margins. They constantly scrutinize Bella Swan's love choices and wonder what might have happened if Harry Potter had joined Slytherin instead of Gryffindor. Furthermore, the average reader loves to draw parallels between the lives of fictional characters and their own lives. 

As a writer here's the scary part; that's stuff that no author could contrive no matter how carefully they plot. J.K. Rowling could have had no idea that I'd be able to see my own family in the Weasley's. Nor could she have known that so many kids would feel Harry's pain and joy on such an intensely personal level to the point they write stories about his grandchildren in the form of fan fiction. 

I guess I'm saying that great stories are more than what they are on paper. It's those spaces between the words that hold the real power of a story. In the end, words are really just coal to fuel the fires of the imagination. Perhaps the real challenge in writing is learning how to create the spark to set it all off.