Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Week in the Life of a Self-Published Writer

Here's a glimpse into the life of an indie publisher, with the caveat that this is not a representative week but it was my last week of writing-related activity!  

Wednesday, July 6: First NYC reading with Alethea Black and Celine Keating at the Cornelia Street Cafe. The space was packed to standing room only and the crowd was absolutely lovely. Earlier, the Poets & Writers magazine article that we'd written together was published in the July/August issue. P&W was kind enough to give us copies to share with our guests at our reading.
Thursday, July 7:  Evening phone call with a friend to discuss self-publishing as she has a book she wants to publish by September. Discuss whether there's a fit with (sixoneseven) and agree to follow up in a couple of weeks. 
Friday, July 8:  Kindle sales start inexplicably climbing. I google to try to figure out what's behind it, but no luck. Later learn that has included Annie Begins in an email promotion, and the book approaches the Top 100 in the Kindle store.  
Saturday, July 9: Annie breaks through the Top 100 in overall products in the Kindle Store and at its high point is ranked about #59 in literature and fiction and #7 in contemporary romance.  Book party for Wendy Dubow Polins forthcoming indie-published book, Fare Forward.  Interview with Steve Almond at The Nervous Breakdown is published.
Sunday, July 10:  Meeting with prospective author for joining (sixoneseven) and agree on a plan forward. Excited to have a collaborator. Separately, receive first mixed/negative review on Try to develop thicker skin. Realize reviewer makes some good and fair points.
Tuesday, July 12: First book club visit! Many thanks to my friend Laura for hosting and for the others who offered such valuable perspectives. Fascinating to hear their takes on various themes. Invited to San Francisco and Boston book clubs; gladly accepted.

I'm not expecting this all to continue at this pace, but it's been a great week!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Knew You'd Be Lovely

I Knew You'd Be LovelyCongratulations to Alethea Black for the debut of her story collection, I Knew You'd Be Lovely. These stories are beautifully crafted, commanding, and a delight to read. I find when I read Alethea's writing it motivates me to write -- she inspires me with her ability to capture small moments and relationships and especially dialogue on the page.

Here is some of the early praise for this wonderful book of thirteen stories:

“This debut reads like a dream, with nary a false note…a well-balanced collection filled with low-key charm and notable talent.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Alethea Black is downright brilliant at capturing the restless striving for a self that we all are feeling in this parlous and unsettling age. I Knew You’d Be Lovely is a splendidly resonant debut by an important young writer.” – Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain
“With humor, honesty and wary hope, Alethea Black’s stories capture the pain and power of loving fully—and celebrate life’s small astonishments amid our shared human search for the divine.  I KNEW YOU’D BE LOVELY is thoughtful, entertaining and, ultimately, powerful.” – Daphne Kalotay, author of Russian Winter

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I Heart Harvard Book Store, and Grub Street

Last week was my official public book launch party in Boston/Cambridge, co-sponsored by Harvard Book Store and Grub Street, and it was one of the best nights of my life! The chance to share Annie Begins (now available at HBS) with friends, family, classmates, former colleagues, writer friends like Steve Almond, Chris Castellani, Jane Roper, Hank Phillipi Ryan, Lynne Griffin, Amy MacKinnon , Rishi ReddiDarci Klein, Wendy Polins, Sharon Bially, Sophie Powell and other Grubbies and friends of the bookstore was incredibly fun and absolutely a highlight so far in this experience. I learned a few things that could help other debut authors at their first readings:

1) If you are self-published (or perhaps even if traditionally published, if reading somewhere other than a bookstore), it is up to you to ensure you have enough books to sell at your readings. I did not, and my non-writer friends celebrated "you sold out! you sold out!" and my writer friends critiqued "you sold out (you idiot)!"  Of course the "you idiot" was silent, but I got the point:).
2) Don't forget your special signing pens in NYC that your brother in law and dear friends gave you as gifts, and do think in advance how you want to sign your books. I really think mine all ended up sounding like a slightly schmaltzy yearbook entry -- the literary equivalent of "you're such a wicked awesome kid!". My benchmark for book signing is Steve Almond, who writes things like "Your job is to love hard every day" or quotes Song of Songs. I even went so far as to print the lyrics of Anna Begins for inspiration, but forgot everything in the moment.
3) Be aware of who is in the audience when you decide to take a risk and read the one steamy scene in your novel. I was disappointed when my father, who is recovering from surgery, told me he couldn't make it to the reading. So, when I learned at the last minute that he was able to be there after all, it was too late to change my selection. And there he sat, in the front row, with his flip video camera that I gave him for Christmas, recording every word I said. Yep, every word.
4) Be ready for questions. In retrospect, I feel lucky that I'd done a lot of work with my publicist, Jocelyn Kelley, and with my writing buddies Alethea Black and Celine Keating, writing up my point of view on a whole host of topics related to Annie and self-publishing for various purposes. And writing this blog and teaching a session at Grub's Muse & the Marketplace conference helped me to organize my thoughts. All of this made it quite easy and enjoyable to answer questions about the writing process, the book, and self-publishing.

To everyone who came out last week, thank you! Special thanks to Harvard Book Store and Grub Street, and to Eve Bridburg for her lovely introduction. I am looking forward to the NYC equivalents, starting on July 6 at 6 pm at the Cornelia Street Cafe.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Better with Friends

Alethea Black, Michelle Toth, Celine Keating at Medi (photo by Miguel Rocha)
Months ago, my friend Alethea Black emailed me asking if I'd like to join up with her and another writer friend, Celine Keating, on a project to document our individual paths to publication (Alethea's book of stories was the most traditional, through Broadway Books/Random House, Celine's debut novel was to be published by a small press, and I was self-publishing). What emerged was a highly enjoyable months-long process of comparing notes and interviewing each other and writing and editing to produce a non-fiction article on our varied experiences leading up to our publication dates, which were all within a couple of months of each other.  That piece was subsequently accepted by Poets & Writers, and will be published this month.  Along the way we agreed that it would be fun to pitch our threesome to other venues, and we will be reading together at the Cornelia Cafe in NYC on July 6th.  Easily as important as these wonderful outcomes has been the cameraderie of collaborating with fellow writers on a shared mission to connect with readers and other writers, and I've seen this approach work beautifuly for other groups of writers who were debuting at the same time. I highly recommend finding 2-3 other writers with books coming out in close succession to act as a built-in support system for the inevitable questions and issues as well as opportunities that arise.

PS: Recently, Alethea, Celine and I met at Medi restaurant to plan our Cornelia reading and to take a photo that we could use in the promotional materials. We were planning, by necessity, to use our low-tech cameras and make due, but when we arrived at the restaurant, we found Miguel Rocha, of Medi, taking photographs, and discovered he is a photographer. Miguel took several pictures for us. What serendipity! One of my favorites is posted above.

Alethea's book of stories: I Knew You'd Be Lovely
Celine's novel: Layla

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Muse and the Marketplace

Last weekend marked my first foray onto the speaking circuit specifically for writing and publishing. Luckily for me the venue was the superbly conceived and equally well-run Muse and the Marketplace conference organized by the world class team at Grub Street Writers. My first session was sharing with aspiring self-publishers the lessons of my journey so far, and was filled with interesting, accomplished people contemplating a similar route to publishing as the one I've taken. The follow-up questions have been great and I'm soon going to address them here, starting with a topic I've been wanting to cover for a while: pricing.

I also moderated a panel on literary agents that featured four terrific agents sharing their views of the role of the agent and the state of the industry, and taking questions. One comment from the agent Joseph Veltre stood out for me (not surprisingly): he encouraged anyone who'd been trying to secure an agent for years to contemplate self publishing, acknowleding that sometimes the traditional path won't be an option, but getting your work into the world is within reach to everyone these days due to the evolution of technology and its impact on production and distribution. I thought it was an honest and encouraging statement. I also took away from the panel (and other conversations with agents over the weekend) that they are bearing quite a bit of the load of this industry in transition. It's astonishing to me how much work agents do, essentially for free, for the love of a book. The agent Stephanie Aboud was describing a project that she'd done six complete edits on before even sending it out to any publishers! I think we writers need to keep this in mind the next time we feel frustrated by how long it takes agents to respond to our queries.

The other part of the conference that I loved was connecting with other writers who are in similar places as I am in terms of their publishing efforts. For example, Sharon Bially, whose novel Veronica's Nap will be out soon, Jane Roper, whose novel Eden Lake will be published in early June by Last Light Studio, and Wendy Dubow Polins who is at work on Fare Foreward. I encourage you all to follow these talented storytellers -- they are each sure to continue to make their mark in the literary world.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Publishers Weekly Review

As part of the semifinals round of ABNA, my  book has received an official Publishers Weekly review. And here it is!

From Publishers Weekly
This warm-hearted and atypical romance takes place during the dot-com bubble of the mid 1990s. Recently minted MBA Annie leads a complicated life between putting in long hours at a start-up internet dating service and trying to catch the eye of Paul, a college friend going through a messy divorce. Meanwhile, Annie's loving -- if slightly dysfunctional -- family schemes to set up their romantically unlucky relation with kindly used car salesman Eddie, even as a medical crisis hits them hard. As Annie struggles to make her romantic and professional dreams realities, she is forced to come to some hard conclusions about her behavior, both to those who love her and toward herself. Although the book's romance and some of its larger plot points are predictable, its fast pace and memorable characters, from romantically levelheaded roommate Elke to Annie's precocious young cousin, make this a most enjoyable romance. Annie is as appealing and fully-realized as any recent romantic heroine, due to her balance of professional competence, confidence, and vulnerability.

Annie advances to the Semifinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

On Tuesday, Amazon announced the 50 semifinalists in the General Fiction category of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and Annie Begins is on the list! (There is a second Young Adult category with another 50 semifinalists.) There were 5,000 entrants in my category to start with, so I'm proud to have made it this far. The next round will narrow to three finalists, in late May, chosen by Penguin editors.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Library Journal Review Friday, April 15

I had a happy surprise on Friday when I saw that Annie was reviewed by Jane Jorgensen in Library Journal. The review opens like this:

Though the blurb for this self-published title suggests a lighthearted “girl in the city searching for love” story, it has more depth and heart than that description implies. 

And wraps up like this:

VERDICT Toth’s debut continues the genre’s trend away from glam life chick lit and toward a more realistic view of a young urban woman mastering life. It will appeal to Harriet Evans fans. [Toth is blogging about her adventures in self-publishing at—Ed.]—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

I'm pleased as can be to have been included (not to mention compared to Harriet Evans, the talented and successful London-born/based writer of commercial fiction that women love, like the wonderful A Hopeless Romantic).

The challenge is, of course, because Annie is a self-published book, it isn't as easy as it should be for a librarian to access it. I spent part of the weekend working on distribution issues and options, specifically looking into Baker & Taylor, a leading distributor of books, videos, and music products to libraries, institutions and retailers. Issues of distribution -- especially for physical books -- are among the biggest I face because the Createspace options for libraries have restrictions that I didn't like (specifically, I would have had to use a Createspace ISBN rather than a (sixoneseven) books ISBN).

So my likely solution now is to either publish a separate library edition via Createspace, or to set up a direct relationship to Baker & Taylor (which takes time to put in place and requires that I handle shipping and returns, like any publisher would). As I analyze and make this decision I will report on it, as it may be helpful to others to hear how I sort this out!

In other news, I attended the lovely book launch party for the fabulous Kathy Handley yesterday for her new books, both self-published through Riverhaven Books, which has a great model of supported self-publishing. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

She's Here! It's Annie's Debut...

Annie Begins
Today is Pub Day for Annie Begins!

Annie Begins, a 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award quarter finalist, is now available at Here are the links to sample or buy and following that is more information about the book. I hope you enjoy it! 

Click to sample or buy Annie Begins as an eBook for Kindle
Click to buy Annie Begins as a Paperback

Praise for Annie Begins: 
"Rarely have I encountered a debut novel that manages to pack so much heart into so much pure entertainment. By turns hilarious and poignant—and always compulsively readable—this novel was impossible to put down. The characters were so vividly drawn that Annie Begins felt less like reading a novel and more like spending time with people I already knew and loved. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up!" —Gwen Cooper, New York Times bestselling author of Homer's Odyssey and Diary of a South Beach Party Girl

"Beautiful, moving, sweetly seductive."
Alethea Black, author of I Knew You'd Be Lovely

"Annie Begins is not only a delicious, fast-paced comedy, but a deeply moving exploration of life’s constantly shifting kaleidoscope of emotions and events, in particular the different mechanisms, or avoidance strategies, for coping with loneliness and loss as well as the myriad ways we find love and connection, even in the most unexpected of places.”
—Sophie Powell, author of The Mushroom Man

 "Readers will root for sweet, relatable Annie as she struggles to learn how to push work aside in favor of searching for her “good match.” When she trusts an unlikely matchmaker, her brave little cousin with challenges of her own, Annie Begins becomes a story as much about the meaning of family as it is about finding true love."
—Lynne Griffin, author of Life Without Summer and Sea Escape

"A winning debut—a moving and engaging novel that will have you rooting for Annie from page one."
—Jennifer Sturman, author of the Rachel Benjamin and Delia Truesdale series

About the book: At almost 29, Annie Thompson is as brilliant in business as she is disastrous in relationships. It’s the dawn of the dot-com boom, and Annie is determined to make it big. But her single-minded focus on work is put to the test when the man of her dreams announces that his wife is divorcing him, and designates Annie “the best listener he knows.” Suddenly she’s juggling his mixed signals and her entrepreneurial ambitions—not to mention a complicated friendship with her new supervixen of a roommate.

Annie's pursuit of Mr. Tall, Dark and Barely Available takes a turn for the unexpected when her young, terminally ill cousin, April, makes it her mission to find Annie a husband. But the fiancé April picks is definitely not the kind of man Annie would have chosen. Now, Annie has to ask herself what exactly she wants and values most deeply in a man—and in herself.

Click to sample or buy Annie Begins as an eBook for Kindle
Click to buy Annie Begins as a Paperback

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Early Lessons Learned on Book Cover Choices

Back to the topic of covers for a moment. When I was thinking about cover design I was fully aware that book covers needed to not only look good on a physical copy of a print book, they need to look good as a thumbnail online as well.  I will advise everyone against a sleek, minimalist, and especially white book cover. It just doesn't work well online, and online is going to be the most important mechanism for people to discover indie published books. Here's an illustration of my problemo:
Book cover as it appears on the physical book:

 The obvious critique is that the white of the cover fades into the background white (and white is the color of most backgrounds on the web, including at But the font is also too small to be read as a thumbnail, so I have some issues to work out. Therefore, I've modified my cover image for the web to look like this:
Now cover is outlined and I added a shadow (which causes it's own challenges, but I think it gives it some needed depth), and I also enlarged the font size of both the title and my name. So, this is better, but next time around I intend to have a cover that looks more like the following covers (sorry, I cannot figure out how to get them horizontally arranged...):  

Water for Elephants: A Novel
A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second ChancesAttachmentsAnd Then Everything Unraveled

Book Promotion: The Art of the Giveaway, Facebook and Amazon Author Pages

On Sunday, March 20, Annie Begins will be the featured book on Stephanie Elliot's phenomenal "March Madness" book giveaway, where she runs a bit of a lottery every day of this month giving away the books of writers like Emily Giffin, Allie Larkin, Laura Dave, Allison Pearson,! It surely goes without saying how excited I am to be in the company of these great authors, many of whom are Stephanie's personal friends. (I recommend checking out Steph's various blogs, one of which includes an excerpt of her novel in progress; she's a terrific writer.)  I've noticed that giveaways are a popular form of book promotion and it makes sense--readers love discovering new work and writers are eager to get the word out about theirs. But what I especially like about how Stephanie is approaching this is that she chooses a question that relates to the theme of the book and asks her readers to answer it as part of their "entry" into the daily drawing. The result is a lively discussion and a sense of community, and also a way for potential readers to get into the spirit or theme of a book while deciding whether to read it. I had noticed an interview by Catherine MacKenzie talking to Emily Giffin on this topic that shares additional insights about book promotion. Check it out for other excellent ideas.

I am somewhat dumbstruck by the sheer number of profiles, book pages, author pages, websites, blogs, twitter accounts, etc. that writers are utilizing to manage their interface with readers online. I myself am, just as of tonight, the proud owner of a new Facebook Book Page (which has precisely two friends so far) and an Amazon Author Page (which I am in the process of updating so that you can actually *see* my all-white book cover against the all-white background!), and I await the completion of my website while relying on the temporary one I built. Once my book is available I will create an author page on GoodReads and Shelfari, and I am sure I am missing something (feel free to comment on what that might be!). One thing I am not doing is Twitter -- I don't already tweet, and believe I need to master the proliferating venues I've already committed to before trying to express myself in 140-character spurts. This seems a little out of control right now, the different ways we provide essentially the same information to readers, but at the same time, I don't want to miss someone who prefers Facebook to, say, Blogger. So, at least until the whole online universe rationalizes itself or someone makes the master app that lets you manage everything from one central location, I will be updating across platforms just like everyone else! There is much more to be said on the topic of promotion, so with the recognition that this has just scratched the surface, I think a good next step for me is to produce the definitive list of places to have an online presence for a writer. I tend to start lists like this at Google, guessing someone else has already done it. I'll post here whatever I find. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Writing Back Cover Copy, or Turning 90,000 Words Into 150

The skills it takes to write long-form fiction are most definitely not the same as those required to write snappy, attention-catching back cover copy. I knew this instinctively, and the belief was fully confirmed when I attempted the task for myself. Fortunately, I have a clear strategy that includes hiring experts to do the things I am not great at, and even more fortunately, I already knew of a tremendously talented resource in the form of Jane Roper, whom I ultimately hired. Jane is herself an author of wonderful fiction and non-fiction, and her "day job" is a freelance copy writer. I know Jane through Grub Street, and she'd always been superb at coming up with headlines, event titles (she coined The Muse & the Marketplace, for instance), and the like -- anything requiring pithy brilliance. So here's how it played out for Annie Begins:

I started here, which was my own best attempt to summarize the novel:

At almost 29, Annie Thompson is as brilliant in business as she is disastrous in relationships. Determined to set the emerging Internet world on fire and rise above her modest beginnings, Annie’s also a sucker for charming men who want something from her. So, when her ideal man announces his wife is divorcing him and designates Annie “the best listener he knows,” the sudden emotional intimacy and mixed signals threaten to disrupt Annie’s single-minded focus on work.

In pursuit of Mr. Tall, Dark, and Barely Available while juggling an intense start-up schedule, Annie is halted by a young cousin named April, newly diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, who makes finding a husband for Annie her dying project. With the clear-eyed insight of a truly old soul, April handpicks a fiancé for her cousin, but he’s most certainly not who Annie would have chosen. Only with April’s death and the help of an unlikely additional matchmaker does Annie realize the wisdom of the little girl’s choice, which challenges every assumption that had driven Annie so hard in the first place, and reveals what she most deeply values in a man—and in herself.

And with Jane’s expert help, we ended here:

At almost 29, Annie Thompson is as brilliant in business as she is disastrous in relationships. It’s the dawn of the dot-com boom, and Annie is determined to make it big. But her single-minded focus on work is put to the test when the man of her dreams announces that his wife is divorcing him, and designates Annie “the best listener he knows.” Suddenly she’s juggling his mixed signals and her entrepreneurial ambitions—not to mention a complicated friendship with her new supervixen of a roommate.

Annie's pursuit of Mr. Tall, Dark and Barely Available takes a turn for the unexpected when her young, terminally ill cousin, April, makes it her mission to find Annie a husband. But the fiancé April picks is definitely not the kind of man Annie would have chosen. Now, Annie has to ask herself what exactly she wants and values most deeply in a man—and in herself.

Shorter, better, and something I would’ve struggled to achieve on my own!

Karen McQuestion has a great blog post on this topic and offers these basic tips for formulating a book description, which I think are super useful:

1) Establish the main character and his current situation
2) Tell about the change (or the happening, or what have you)
3) Allude to what happens next in vague, but exciting terms
4) Don't be afraid of hype
5) Use strong verbs and specific nouns.

This book description is used for back cover copy, on your web site, author page, in promotional materials, and myriad other places so it’s critical to get it right. Good luck!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Preliminary results are in!

The voting has primarily taken place over at Facebook, where I originally posted the link, and here are the preliminary results:

Red Coat Girl: 14
Blue Butterfly: 2 ties (from people who liked both)

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and FishingI heard from many people who thought that the Red Coat pic is reminiscent of the Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing. I definitely see the similarities. I'm a fan of those stories and of Melissa Bank, and Whitney makes an excellent point in the comments about the popularity of that book.  But the most, most important factor in my decision to keep this photo is that I pored over stock photo sites for -- no joke -- at least 8 hours and this was the ONLY photo I liked! (What am I going to do for Book 2?!) So Red Coat Girl it is...I will be making a few changes, however, so the final will look slightly different (my name will be smaller, for one thing!). Now, I'll be moving right along to finalizing back cover copy and eliciting fabulous blurbs from wonderful writer friends. Thanks everyone! Michelle

Friday, February 11, 2011

Please, judge my book covers

One of the things I've been most looking forward to is creating the cover design for Annie Begins. Book cover design combines everything I love most about art -- graphics, fonts, and (mostly) abstract images. I discovered the Book Cover Archive and became an instant devotee -- poring over page after page of fantastic, inspiring design. I particularly loved the work of Henry Sene Yee who turns out to be the creative director of Picador. His work is amazing but he didn't respond to my email asking if he does freelance work. (In the small world department: the latest cover on his blog is for a new book by Wesley Stace, also known as John Wesley Harding, who is a musician as well as a writer and performed tonight at the City Winery. I'm a big fan of his, too.)  Through the Book Cover Archive I clicked my way around and eventually found a boutique design shop and fell in love with their work as well. Some indie or self publishers do their own book cover design or rely on the templates provided by the author services companies. I think some of these present fine options, but I am sticking to my strategy which is to replicate the quality of a traditional publisher and for that I needed some skills. And I don't  have them. (Evidence: my default graphic design program is, ahem, PowerPoint.)  The design boutique could do a custom, from-scratch cover that would in my estimation compare favorably to any Book Cover Archive entry and likely cost $2500-3500.  Yikes! (I knew it would be an investment...these guys are artistes.)

Then I discovered a really exciting option through  Tangent Covers which would allow me to customize from a selection of 21 extremely well-designed template covers for an order of magnitude less than a custom option. I thought it over for a day and, as precious as my project is to me, I concluded this is not a baby, it’s a book, and hopefully the first of many, and I needed to start making smart economic decisions with my calculator and not just my heart, and decided that the Tangent Covers option was a truly excellent one, especially since they were having a 2 for 1 deal.  I asked them to produce two covers for me so that I could have some choice. And here, to the left, are the first round covers from that process.  So now I'm in the process of gathering feedback and getting ready for the second round of edits with the folks at Tangent Covers. Comments welcome!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Look! My first author photo

I've just completed Step 47 (give or take a few) in pulling together everything one needs to produce and promote a book -- the author photo. Ta da!  Here it is:
I must say, I have such a strong appreciation for B&W photography. I just love it.  My photographer is Seth Block at Block Photogaphy in Cambridge. A terrific, talented guy. Here is his website:  A high school friend who also does heads shots is Mark Wilson, and he's here:

Ah, progress!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Amazon's eBook Sales Surpass Paperback

Check this out: Amazon announced on Friday that it is selling more eBooks than paperback books for the first time!!  Here's what they reported: 
" is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books.
"This is across's entire US book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher."
With the info provided, if you do the math and add hardcover and paperback together it indicates that Amazon is still selling more paper-based books that eBooks (120:100). And it is possible that this after-Christmas rush to load up newly gifted Kindles with eBooks will subside, but it is nonetheless huge news. And highly motivating. It is also true that eBook pricing is generally a lot lower than paper, so top line sales are surely higher for paper, still. But this is super encouraging for us book entrepreneurs who mostly need to make it work in eBooks. (I've noticed over and over in all of the indie success stories it isn't about print -- it's all about ebooks.) Exciting stuff!!

Building a Book

To get my book ready for an April 4 publication date, I'm using the simplest marketing framework I know of: the four Ps -- Product, Price, Placement (or distribution), and Promotion.

Starting with Product: this is everything about the nature and quality of the book you're writing. In all of the most helpful blogs on self publishing I'm picking up on a theme -- without the third-party arbiters of quality that can be found in agents and editors and traditional publishing houses (whether large commercial or small press), it's up to us as self publishers to ensure we meet the quality standards of our category. Knowing what the standards are is relatively straightforward (one word: read!), but judging our own work against them can be difficult. We're often too close to the writing, biased, impatient.

I remember when I first showed my manuscript to an agent friend years ago, when I thought it was close to ready, nearly done. She told me candidly that she thought I had three or four rounds of revision more to do, and my heart sank. I was so ready to be finished! But, this will come as absolutely no surprise, she was right. So, I highly recommend getting an informed, independent opinion about the state of your work. It can come from a pro in the business, other writers, as in a writers group, a writing class with a knowledgeable teacher, or a professional paid consultation. It's great if you have a network of friends and resources who can provide unbiased services for free, but if you don't, I'd seriously save my pennies as this is a really important part of getting a good product out there. 

After a few additional rounds of revision that addressed that early helpful feedback (including writing out a beloved character -- now that was hard to do! But again, the right choice), I hired a manuscript consultant through Grub Street Writers to read and critique my manuscript in its entirety, and got the green light that I was far closer to ready, in fact nearly so. I incorporated the latest feedback, then hired a copyeditor.  (Full disclosure: I'm a board member of the non-profit Grub Street, so I know them well and believe they have an extremely high quality service, but please judge for yourself!)

After making final edits, I hired a proofreader to ensure the entire manuscript was cleaned up. She's working on it now, and I get the document back on Thursday. Thursday!! My humble opinion: I would definitely utilize professional freelancers for copyediting and proofreading. (What's the difference? My freelancer describes it this way: Copyediting includes addressing awkward writing, suggesting organizational changes, commenting on repetitiveness, and generally improving the writing at whatever level it is needed/desired. And, in nonfiction particularly, raising questions about things that aren't clear. Proofreading is checking for typos, dropped words, punctuation errors, and grammar problems. Proofreading wouldn't be criticizing the writing, unless there was something extremely troubling.) Sidebar: I tried a number of potential sources to find freelancers that were the right fit for my project. Grub Street has been by far the most valuable source on the core writing, and I find Joe Konrath to be an invaluable and generous source of suggestions and leads to vetted freelance and independent professionals for things like ebook formatting and interior design. I also used LinkedIn, which was ultimately how I found my proofreader. Love LinkedIn! I was able to find someone with the skills I needed who was connected on LinkedIn to a good friend (also a writer) who could vouch for her.

Similarly, ensuring high quality formatting for Print On Demand and eBooks is another element necessary to match the standards of traditional publishing. I'm hoping I can do it myself, but if I cannot get it perfect, I'll hire a pro for that, too. I'd probably start with Joe Konrath's people and I also like the services provided by April Hamilton - her book, the Indie Author's Guide, is excellent. 

The last thing I'll mention on building the book is the all-important cover. I have much to share here but I will summarize for now: The Do It Yourself path seems fraught to me -- there are a lot of really bad covers out there! I say that with total empathy -- it is hard to be a book cover designer on top of everything else we self publishers are responsible for.  There are many decent templates available through author solutions companies and hybrid services (if you're using CreateSpace, their services for layout and design look pretty useful) and lots of freelance cover designers, but it is often very expensive.  I briefly considered overinvesting in a cover (the quote from one amazing boutique design house was for $2500-3500, and surely worth it given the quality work this shop does) because I think they're so important, but ultimately decided to go with a package deal targeted to self publishers at a fraction of the cost. It allows minimal customization but will hopefully be sufficient -- I will know on Thursday, when I get the first draft images back from the designer. Wish me luck! I'll gladly share my lessons learned on the topic of figuring out cover art in a future post. But for now, for summarizing the critical elements of building a great product, I would absolutely ensure a great cover -- one that fits the genre or category you're writing, is eye-catching, and that looks good small, since the virtual bookstores generally are utilizing thumbnail images.  If anyone has other suggestions for building the best book possible, please leave them in the comments. Next up: Pricing! 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Strategy is Choice

I've been thinking all wrong about this post on "strategy" -- I've been focusing on having a business strategy for (sixoneseven) books, conceiving of an approach to independent publishing that takes advantage of the changes in the industry, developments in technology, etc. All important, but what I really need and want is a strategy for my whole creative life -- all of it, not just the business side of it.

My general approach:
1) Keep my day job. This is the most consistent and important piece of advice for writers I've ever heard.
2) Replicate the usefulness of traditional publishers as best I can by assembling a team of freelance experts to perform the most important and differentiating services -- editing, proofreading, book design, publicity and promotion -- in the publishing process. Hire people to do the things I'm not good at, whenever possible.
3) Take advantage of the flexibility and freedom of being independent to do things cost effectively and quickly, and mostly online.
4) Invest disproportionately in developing insight about the market for my books and exploring creative approaches to reaching potential readers.

In addition to an overall strategy for my (sixoneseven) books publishing efforts, I also need a marketing strategy for Annie Begins, the book. The most critical aspect of this for me is focusing on the right audience, and to start I know that is women (though men are so very welcome to read AB, and the few who have so far have enjoyed it!) who read for enjoyment and connection (to characters, ideas) and who either own an E-Reader or who shop online for books. Simple as that, for now. As I get more insight about this group of people, I will refine my understanding of my target market. But an implicit part of my strategy, especially given how fast everything is changing, is to just do it: experiment and learn, experiment and learn.