Thursday, May 27, 2010

Self-publishing through Lightning Source

Yesterday, as I walked down my very long driveway preparing for a run, I found a strange package by my front gate. I didn't remember ordering any books from recently, but it was the right size and shape. I picked it up and, yes, that was my name on the label. Then I saw that it was from Lightning Source. In one of those surreal moments, I plied open the cardboard wrapping. Inside was the proof of my very first printed copy of The Crown in the Heather, The Bruce Trilogy: Book I. So I eased it out and . . . oh my gosh, it was pretty in that new-car sort of way. The pages were crisp, the layout neat and consistent and the cover looked way better in real life than it did on my computer screen (thanks a million to my cover artist, Lance Ganey!). It not only looked like a real book fresh off the shelves, it was a real book.

I had uploaded the interior and cover files just before last weekend. With real life being crazy-busy (having a graduating senior tends to dominate your time), I had put it out of my mind and only checked my book's status on LSI's web site once in the interim. Honestly, I hadn't expected it so soon.

I can't even begin to tell you how many unexpected little glitches I've hit along the way in the process of getting my book to this stage. It has been a learning process and taken months (primarily because I'm very cautious and a perfectionist, not because any of it is that difficult). Having gone through the steps now with The Crown in the Heather, I know that my next book, Isabeau, will take me only a fraction of the time to format, as I'm sure will be the case with the cover and uploading to Lightning Source.

Now it's time to order some review copies and start beating the drum. Marketing is neither familiar nor comfortable territory to an introvert, but just like the rest of the process, you learn what you need to and in time it becomes second nature.

When I started on this journey of self-publishing, I studied my options. I knew I wanted to put out a paper book first, because that's still the format most readers prefer, myself included. Subsidy publishers seemed to take too much of the profit. CreateSpace was a possibility, but distribution was limited - plus, if I ever wanted to do a short print run to sell my books locally or at Celtic festivals, then financially that wasn't the best choice. Ultimately, books by Michael N. Marcus (Become a Real Self-Publisher) and Aaron Shepard (Aiming at Amazon, Perfect Pages and most recently POD for Profit) convinced me that using Lightning Source for online POD sales was the way to go - not only because it provided the best profit margin for print-on-demand, but also because it gives the widest routes of distribution.

Don't let it scare you that on Lightning Source's web site in places it may sound like if you're a self-publishing author, then you ought to slink away. They are a professionally run business that works regularly with small presses. Do your homework beforehand and the process will go more smoothly and seem less mysterious. I had a couple of questions that I was afraid would sound like dumb newbie questions, but at every step LSI's reps were both polite and prompt in answering me. Between Shepard's and Marcus's books, LSI's manuals, the POD and Self-Publishing discussion lists on Yahoo!, and the guidance of my friend and self-published author Ali Cooper, I managed just fine. You can, too.

That book that I started writing almost a decade ago and rewrote several times, that a reputable agent diligently championed, and that garnered interest from editors but never quite cleared the final hurdle, it's a real book now.

Do you know what the coolest part is? My son sat down and read a chunk of it yesterday. Yes, I'm an author now. And I have proof.

[A two-time Amazon Breakthrough Novel Quarterfinalist, The Crown in the Heather is the first in a trilogy about 14th century Scottish king, Robert the Bruce. It covers the years before he was king and up until the year he was crowned, from 1290 to 1306. It will be available from and other online retailers beginning in June of 2010.]

Until later,

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Change is coming - but from where?

If you follow writing blogs at all, you'll find many of them foretelling the imminent death of the traditional publishing model. They say the system is broken, that it focuses too much on celebrity tell-alls and not enough on finding and grooming the great writers of tomorrow. Some even say it's too commercially focused. To which I reply, "Well, it is a business, isn't it? And businesses need to make money in order to survive, right?"

Perhaps it isn't so much that the old model is broken, but that the world around it has changed? We're all scrimping. We still want entertainment, but are always looking for cheaper and cheaper ways to be entertained. And in tight economic times, we all learn to become more particular about how we spend our money --- this also includes publishers, who (if they are going to survive) must find ways to minimize risks and maximize profit margins.

So, a lot of bloggers out there - and even a few industry bigwigs - have been telling us that a digitally-based model will be the wave of the future. Like who? Check out this Publisher's Weekly article about comments made at a recent gathering of the Book Industry Study Group in New York City.

Barnes and Noble, creator of the Nook, recently announced the upcoming launch of its new digital self-publishing service PubIt! - its answer to Amazon's Kindle service for authors.

If I kinda, sorta wanted a Kindle before, now I drool everytime I see an ad for Apple's iPad - and I'm not even a techno-geek. But wow! It's so slim and shiny and can do so many things, including store e-books. Through Smashwords, independent authors can now publish to the iPad.

Yes, writers can bypass the middleman and get their works out there all on their own now, BUT... what does that mean to readers? Good question. There are several scenarios:

1) Ambitious indie authors (or self-publishers, if you prefer) with good stories will market themselves ruthlessly (but preferably not obnoxiously so) online. Readers will gradually become aware of them. Word-of-mouth will further promote their books. And the more books they sell, the more visible they'll become. How and where readers find new writers may very likely change, as well.

2) Ambitious indie authors with subpar stories will make themselves visible, but if readers don't sing their praises, sales will reflect the lack of enthusiasm and eventually fizzle out.

3) Unambitious indie authors with great stories will make feeble attempts at marketing. Relatives will buy it. Maybe, if they were frugal with start-up costs, they'll make their money back, but fame and fortune will be elusive. There's always an outside chance that some influential reviewer or perhaps an editor will trip across it, but the less word gets out, the fewer those chances are.

4) Unambitious indie authors with subpar stories will self-publish and fail to market their books. If the few who do know about the book aren't impressed, sales will be practically non-existant.

With all the options I mentioned above now being available, yes, more and more writers will self-publish through print-on-demand and e-books. Call me optimistic, but I really believe the cream will have a tendency to rise to the top - provided the writer backs that up with some marketing. If readers don't know a book is out there, they won't buy it.

So will the digitally based model be the wave that changes traditional publishing for the future?

Only if the DEMAND for it comes from readers.

We can speculate as much as we want. The technology is there, writers are jumping in and now even publishers and online retailers are getting involved. But maybe, just maybe, rather than some drastic change to the world of books, digital publishing will serve as a testing ground for evolving reader tastes and the commercial potential of emerging authors.

What do you think?

Until later,

Friday, May 21, 2010

Interview with Paul Reid, author of A Cruel Harvest

Last year in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, I sifted through many of my fellow Quarterfinalists' entries and commented on a dozen or so that caught my attention. My favorite was a historical fiction called A Cruel Harvest by Paul Reid. I was sadly disappointed to only be able to read the first 10,000 words.

So I was elated when Paul later posted more of his story on Authonomy. It didn't take me long to ask to read the whole thing, which he graciously allowed me to do. It was only a few months after the end of the ABNA contest that Paul was contacted by AmazonEncore, the new publishing division of, whose objective is "to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors". They wanted to publish his book! Paul's and three others had been plucked from the ranks of the ABNA entries. AmazonEncore has since also added several other titles to their lists (some of which were previously self-published).

Without further ado, here's the interview I did with Paul which first appeared over at the Historical Novel Review Blog:

How long have you been writing and what made you want to write historical fiction?
I enjoyed crafting stories from a young age. Even before I could write I would sketch out stories by drawing pictures. This developed as I got older. I remember going through a period in my teens when I was fascinated by westerns – there’s probably over a dozen unfinished cowboy stories lying around somewhere in my parents’ house. I had always enjoyed historical stories in particular, and I studied history in college. A love of history and storytelling eventually culminated in the publication of a novel.
What was your inspiration for this particular book?
Some years back I was in the village of Baltimore on the south coast of Ireland, and I came across a pub called the Algiers Inn. When I inquired about the unusual name, I discovered a real-life incident in 1631 where over a hundred local people had been seized from the village and taken to Algeria to be sold as slaves. I was amazed that this had happened in an area so close to where I live, so I did further research and learned of many such episodes where Irish and British people had been taken as slaves for the North African market. It wasn’t an area hugely touched on by historians, and I certainly had never learned about it in school. My interest quickly led to a plot forming itself in my head, which eventually became ‘A Cruel Harvest’.
What do you hope that readers will carry away from this story?
I hope they will enjoy the adventures, the human dramas, the big landscapes. I would like to think that the reader may find incidents, characters, states of mind, etc, that they can relate to. I think this is true of the Moroccan and Irish characters, as they are similar to each other in many ways. I’ve long believed that, while societies differ hugely, people are pretty much the same everywhere you go. This story hopefully shows that. I also hope it will renew a sense of faith in the resilience of the human spirit.

Every author has a unique path to publication. Can you tell us a little about yours?
My route to publication wasn’t entirely typical. I tried many times to get an agent to represent ‘A Cruel Harvest’ but I had no luck. In 2009 I entered it into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, admittedly on a last-minute whim. It made the semi-finals in that competition, and some months later an editor from AmazonEncore got in touch with me to discuss the book. This ultimately led to a publishing contract with AmazonEncore in the USA. It has since also been bought by Random House for publication in Germany. All very unexpected in the end, really. I still don’t have an agent!
What other books have you written? What is your current work in progress?
‘A Cruel Harvest’ is my first published novel. I have others awaiting completion, though I keep warning myself that I need to focus on one only, otherwise none of them will get finished! I’ve been working of late on a story set around the conflict between the British and French in the Ohio River Valley during the 18th century, but before that I am hoping to finish a novel set in Dublin and London during the Anglo/Irish War 1919-1921.

What authors were your early inspiration and who are some of your favorite current books or authors?
I will read pretty much anything, though I do enjoy historical fiction in particular. Authors whom I read a lot of include Bernard Cornwell, Robert Harris, Wilbur Smith, Joseph O’Connor, Sebastian Faulks. I also love a good detective story, especially anything by Ian Rankin. ‘The Year of the French’ by Thomas Flanagan would rank as my number one favourite novel of all. He’s an American writer but the story is set in Ireland, around the attempted French invasion of 1798. It is, in a word, extraordinary.
What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some advice
which may help others get past similar problems?
I guess my biggest problem has always been trying to stick to a routine. Usually once I sit at the desk, the ideas start to flow. The problem is getting to the desk in the first place! It used to be that I would write whenever I had some free time, but that doesn’t really work, not for me anyway, as I would nearly always get distracted by something else. So I try to stick to a rigid routine of writing now, certain days, certain times of the day for certain periods, etc. Writing a book requires discipline, after all. It’s not something I’ve ever had in abundance, but I’m working on it!
Where can readers find more information about you and your books?
They can find some information about both myself and ‘A Cruel Harvest’ on I hope to add to the information there over time, and also to develop my own website which will have a lot more incorporated.
What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?
I am a reader before I am a writer. I love books, love losing myself into a good story. I also come from a people with a long history of spinning tales and yarns of all kinds, and indeed Ireland has produced a rich literary culture over the centuries and many famous writers. I’m just trying to make my own small contribution to this!
Thanks, Paul! You can find my review of A Cruel Harvest here.
Until later,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Reviews: How important are they in influencing your book buying habits?

This past week the discussion arose in a group of writers I belong to about what is the best way to let readers know about your book? This led me to ponder not only what really influences readers to buy certain books, but also where they learn about them in the first place.

In considering my own book buying habits, one recent event has changed them drastically. Not only is money tighter in our household due to the economy, but the three bookstores in my hometown (two chain stores, one independent) have closed their doors forever. The only place to physically find and leaf through books now, besides the library (where the hours have been reduced by budget cuts), is at a handful of chain retail and grocery stores. Needless to say, the selection is limited and favors bestselling, established authors and those rare newcomers that the mainstream publishers have chosen to pour their marketing budget into. If I want to browse in a brick-and-mortar store, I have to go to the next town over, which I do only once very few months.

With a background in scientific research and statistics, I know how valuable marketing surveys must be for publishers to hone in on where to target their efforts. I found a collection of surveys compiled by the Booksellers Association of the UK with the results from several different surveys conducted from 2008 to early 2010. There are more things covered in these surveys than I can do justice to, but one thing they do highlight is how important word-of-mouth recommendations can be.

So, I tossed out a few open-ended questions over at the discussion boards of Historical Fiction Online. Ten people responded. Keep in mind this is by no means a scientific survey and purely reflects a sampling of a very well-informed, avid sector of historical fiction book buyers. Random readers passing through Wal-Mart may have given entirely different responses. Anyway, here goes:

1) Where do you find the books you buy? (At a bookstore, at a general merchandise store, second-hand bookstore, or online?)

More than half said they buy most of their books online. Many mentioned that their book buying habits have changed over the last few years, shifting toward online purchases.

2) Do you generally browse to find a book that might interest you, and if so do you take a broad approach or do you hone in on a particular era or subject matter first?

Most said they tend to target-search for a particular subject first, but will browse if time allows.

3) How important are reviews in influencing what you do or don't buy?

Responses varied from not at all (especially if the review is by another writer), to somewhat (depending in particular on the reviewer), to very important (but ultimately relying on their own tastes for final determination).

4) How important is word of mouth endorsement - for example, from a friend or on a discussion list such as this?

Most said that recommendations were important, but how much so depended on the source, and some added again that ultimately they make the final decision based on their own tastes.

5) Where do you generally learn of books that you later end up buying? (Advertisements, random chance, discussion lists, blogs, friends, etc.)

Most said blogs (6) and genre-specific discussion lists(7), but also friends (4), random searches and browsing(3), genre-specific periodicals (1), bookstore e-mails (2) and advertising (1).

So, now I'll ask my blog readers in general:

*** 1) How important are book reviews (blogs, newspapers or reader reviews) in alerting you to particular books or influencing what you purchase?

*** 2) Where do you purchase the books you buy now (online, bookstore, retail store, secondhand) and are your buying habits different from five years ago?

Until later,


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Mountain (a.k.a. Self-Publishing) is High

Today was supposed to be my publication date for The Crown in the Heather (The Bruce Trilogy: Book I), but, but . . .
No, no, put away the tiny violins. All's fine. I suppose it's like learning anything new, you can't foresee all that may possibly slow you down. Even if you do know the steps to take, 'stuff' just happens. At the moment, I'm waiting for my significant other to bring home my flash drive so I can correct a spacing/section break problem in my Word Document, which he is attempting to convert to a pdf at work for me. He can't e-mail it to me so I can correct it in 30 seconds because - even though we now have satellite internet, Glory Halelujah! - this computer doesn't run Word 2007, which the-document-that-will-become-my-book is in.

Before that, a sinus infection knocked me on my back for almost two weeks. I'm not one to sack out on the couch at noon, but that's pretty much what I did for over a week while Thor hammered at my cheekbones and icicles of pain stabbed at my eyeballs. Ten days of horsepills and I'm back to normal, relatively speaking. And before that, I had to re-format my book from a 5.25" X 8" to a 6" X 9" size due to one ancient computer and one newer one not speaking the same language - bad computers. Fortunately that turned out for the better, as it gave me more room to play with in the margins, although it did bump my schedule back a few days.

Anywho, I've faxed my final forms to Lightning Source, the POD printer; my full cover and imprint logo have been completed by the fabulous graphic artist Lance Ganey; and, as soon as I get the wrinkles ironed out of this pdf file for the actual book interior, publication will be imminent. Or at least that's the plan.

All these little glitches have made me realize that one thing that probably keeps many writers from independently publishing is that there are soooo many steps to the entire process, especially if you're an OCD control freak like me and you insist on doing 90% of it yourself. But don't let me scare you aware, because it really is fun. Seriously. Yes, the learning curve can be steep, but you do gain knowledge that you can share with others. I can't even begin to express my gratitude toward some of my fellow authors (Ali Cooper, Pd Allen and Lisa Hinsley) who've answered questions about the minutia of the process for me.

Despite all the work and decision-making that go into creating your own book - from the first blank page to the finished product - it is an absolute thrill to know that all the choices were yours, even when others helped to edit or design it. As I step past the occasional roadblock that presents itself and move toward my publication date, a little bubble of excitement wells up inside my chest. And when I can't stand waiting a second longer, I just go look at my pretty cover and think of how fantastic it will look on next month.
So if you're thinking of going this route yourself, but have no clue how or where to start, read and listen for awhile, ask questions and then just start somewhere. You'll get there eventually.

Until later,

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Cruel Harvest, by Paul Reid

Paul Reid’s debut novel, A Cruel Harvest, is an irresistible tale that intertwines romance and adventure in one breathtaking sweep. Reid’s book transports the reader to faraway places with striking realism: from the verdant, wind-blown Irish coastline, to the squalor of a slave ship, to the opulence of a sultan’s palace, and to the desolate sun-scorched deserts of Morocco. This book will not only capture your imagination, but your heart, as well.

The story begins with two young lovers, Brannon Ryan and Orlaith Downey, whose lifelong future together is clearly fated. But when Moroccan pirates raid the tranquil little village of Dromkeen, their courtship is cruelly interrupted as Brannon is seized and tossed into the hold of a cramped and filthy ship. For those captives who survive the voyage, the ordeal is far from over. Brannon’s trials begin with backbreaking labor and his plight increases tenfold when he is forced to serve in the sultan’s army. Through it all, we see a fearless and sometimes headstrong Brannon, determined to do whatever is necessary to return to his beloved.

Back in Ireland, even though Orlaith evaded capture, she soon faces her own grueling hardships. Even while trying to raise her son on her own and scratch a living out of a meager patch of land, she still clings to the faith that Brannon has survived. But as Brannon’s absence lengthens and starvation threatens her son’s very life, it seems her only hope is to wed the heartless and ignoble landowner, Randall Whitely. In her own right, Orlaith is both courageous and strong, a heroine to root for. It is impossible not to become emotionally engaged with both Brannon and Orlaith, as each battles their own moral dilemmas.

A Cruel Harvest is an ardent love story filled with majestic vistas, characters both frighteningly and heartwarmingly real and action so intense you’ll feel your pulse quicken. The contrast between the two settings, Ireland and Morocco, and the exquisite detail with which Reid portrays them guarantees that this will be a captivating read from beginning to end. This is one of those rare books you won’t rush through, simply because you’ll want to savor every word. The clarity of the storytelling and poeticism of the prose make it a truly memorable read.