MWA has announced the Lilian Jackson Braun Award for contemporary cozy mysteries. It’s gratifying that the cozy subgenre has finally been recognized by Mystery Writers of America. Ever since I’ve been a member, the Edgars have leaned toward serious crime fiction. Conferences such as Malice Domestic, Killer Nashville, and Left Coast Crime offered cozy writers a chance to win their own awards.
Books submitted for the Lilian Jackson Braun Award must be at least 65,000 words and be published by a traditional MWA-approved publisher in the year prior to the award. The story must feature an amateur sleuth in a setting with a sense of community, a lighthearted tone, and a crime to solve. Historical mysteries are not eligible.
While I applaud this recognition for the cozy mystery genre by our national organization, I yearn for the day that MWA also accepts indie published books into their contest. Fortunately, there are other competitions that indie authors can enter. Usually, these require an ISBN number and may ask for a publisher name, but they don’t distinguish between trad published and self-published titles. The Alliance of Independent Authors puts out a good list.
Do readers look for the publisher’s name when considering which book to buy? Or are peer reviews, the storyline, writing style, and price more important? How about contest wins? The well-known awards naturally garner more attention and respect, but how about first place wins at other sites? Do these influence readers in any way? What do you think?
Writing a book is like going to the doctor. You enter the office with nervous anticipation. You leave with a sense of relief. Writing a novel is similar. You begin the story with the same sense of heightened anticipation. When the first draft is done, you feel immensely relieved.
A doctor visit engenders several questions. Will he find something unexpected? Will the procedure hurt? Do I have to disrobe? What kind of follow-up will I need? And why is that poor fish swimming all alone in the waiting room’s aquarium?
We’re always afraid the doctor might find a disease we didn’t know we had. This question also applies to writing your book. Will you discover some unexpected plot twists as your characters take over the story? Will the results turn out the way you’d planned? New ideas may pop into your head or be inspired by things you see and hear around you. These may take your story in a whole new direction. For writers, the unexpected reveal is a pleasurable event. The more your story stews in the subconscious, the more chances of this happening. Embrace the unexpected and see where it leads you.
Will it Hurt?
Writing a novel can be painful. Not because it may dredge up memories from your past, but because it’s not easy to face the blank page every day. Will you be able to reach your word count? What happens if you write yourself into a corner and get stuck? Will this book be as good as the last one? We struggle with these demons and others as we sit at the computer each day. Nonetheless, we keep plugging away until the first draft is complete. Similar to a medical procedure, if it’s something that needs to be done, you just have to do it. Remember BICHOK – Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. That’s the key to writing a novel.
Do I Have to Disrobe?
Your novel, once published, exposes your vulnerabilities to the reader. This book baby is naked to the world. Reviews will be mixed, hopefully with the good outweighing the bad. It’s inevitable that you expose yourself as a writer when you publish your work. You invite feedback every time you put a story out there. Grow a thick skin and get over it.
What about Follow-Up?
Like the next doctor visit, fans will be anticipating your next book. You need to get started on it soon after you finish this one, while allowing yourself time to decompress, research, and plot the sequel. Marketing is essential at this stage, too. You can’t put your book out there and forget about it. If you slack off in your promotional efforts, book sales will lag, too.
The Lone Fish
Writing is a lonely business. We sit in our home office in front of the computer all day. When we’re not writing, we are working on promotion and marketing. Friends and family don’t understand the hours of dedication we need to get the job done. It’s a full-time career with no time off. The pressure is always on to produce more or to do more social media.
We have to remind ourselves that we’re not the only fish in the sea, and we need our families to support us. In return, we have to take the time to be with them because that’s what really matters in life. Writing a book is an achievement, but you want someone with whom to share it. In terms of understanding what you do, your critique partners and writing friends can empathize. Don’t feel you’re in the turbulent waters all alone.
Saturday, June 4, 2:00 – 3:30 pm, “Self-Publishing Made Simple” Writing Workshop via Zoom with Nancy J. Cohen sponsored by Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University. Pre-Register at https://bit.ly/3ytN1yn
Do you have a novel that doesn’t fit genre guidelines or a personal project you want to self-publish? Or perhaps you want to reissue backlist titles or become a hybrid author? In this workshop, award-winning author Nancy J. Cohen will discuss setting up your own imprint, buying and assigning ISBNs, preparing your manuscript, ebook and print distributors, and marketing tips.
Have you noticed how the size of your favorite brand items in the stores have shrunk while the prices remain the same or are higher? You’ve probably observed how your grocery bill has increased while portion sizes have gotten smaller.
While I was writing A Bad Hair Day Cookbook, I had to adjust recipes that called for box sizes no longer available. For example, cake and pudding mixes come in smaller boxes than in the past. This means less dry ingredients for your recipe. Take a look at your older cookbooks or family recipes and you’ll see what I mean. For other items, the bottle sizes have shrunk or the items inside are no longer as large or as plentiful. The manufacturers benefit while we get less and pay more.
Does this also apply to book lengths? Do readers today, with short attention spans, prefer shorter works?
I looked at a few books from popular indie mystery authors and came up with these averages:
My books – 291 pages
Author A – 336 pages
Author B – 163 pages
Author C – 171 pages
What does this say? Those last two averages are considerably lower than mine. Does this mean readers prefer shorter and more frequent works? My books come out an average of once a year. If I wrote short, how many more stories could I produce? Being prolific isn’t my goal. I like to write a meaty story and that will take as long as it takes.
Another factor I noted is that all three of these authors have their e-books exclusive to Amazon in Kindle Unlimited. They are successful with this choice, but I don’t care to keep all my eggs in one basket. I’d rather offer my e-books wide. I do get sales from these other venues, including libraries, so it’s been worthwhile for me. My print books, too, are available wide through IngramSpark and KDP.
But this still begs the question – Do readers prefer shorter books that are quick reads with more frequent releases? A subscription service like Kindle Unlimited? Or books that are available from a variety of sources in varying lengths? What’s your opinion?
Launching a series all at once can be a daunting task. You have to plan the promotion campaign with tight deadlines. This release schedule was a new venture for me. With two backlist trilogies, it made sense to book the releases close together. This meant getting all the titles ready before the pre-order dates.
Once I’d completed my revisions, here is what came next:
Assign individual ISBN Numbers and add to Copyright pages (optional but recommended).
Mention this title was previously published by your former publisher if it’s a reissue.
Add new front and back material.
Complete formatting for each book.
Add updated book covers to website.
Convert book into digital and/or paperback formats.
Set release dates.
Add book to vendor sites and schedule as pre-order.
Create memes for series as a whole and for each individual book.
If running a sale, create memes for sale book(s).
Write tweets for each title and for overall series.
Schedule a newsletter.
Book ads if desired.
Write blogs for Cover Reveals and Reissue dates.
Add distributor links to scheduled blog posts and website.
If a reissue, decide if you want to link to earlier versions to retain reviews.
Claim your titles on BookBub, Goodreads and Amazon Author Central.
I decided to run a pre-order sale. With the titles respectively at $.99, $1.99 and $2.99, this would give readers a saving of $6.00 over the regular retail price of $3.99 each.
There appeared to be a spike in sales for each book on their release dates, presumably due to preorders. The first book in each series had the most sales. I’m experimenting with these books on Kindle Unlimited and will evaluate the results once the royalties start coming in.
Would I do this again? Not for original titles. You’d have to write all three of them first and then promote your books to the next millennia. It gets tiring fast. There’s a reason why publishers produce one book a year in a series. You need time to contact reviewers, plan a promotional campaign, schedule ads, write copy, and so much more. It’s easier for backlist titles when you already have reviews, but you still want to attract new readers with fresh covers and added bonus materials.
In conclusion, a back-to-back publication schedule may work for more energetic writers, but I wouldn’t do it for my original works. I need more time for advance planning. In this case, though, with all three books in each trilogy already written, it was easier to get them ready for a fast launch.
If you are not planning to be exclusive to Amazon, you’ll have several choices on where to publish your work in e-book format. You can either upload directly to the book distributors or go through a third-party aggregator. Other blogs compare these choices more thoroughly, so consider this an overview. This post will help you decide where to upload your self-published book.
Publish your book directly to these distributors for maximum royalties and promotional benefits that may not be available otherwise. It really isn’t hard and you’ll like getting monthly royalties from these vendors once you learn the ropes.
Amazon Kindle –Since the majority of e-book sales are through Amazon, it’s best to go direct through KDP. If you go exclusive in Kindle Select, you can take advantage of certain promotional opportunities such as Kindle Unlimited and sales options.
BNNook– You can schedule price promotions in advance.
Kobo – Ask to activate the Promotions tab to participate in special deals. You can opt-in for Overdrive and get a royalty 50% of library list price. Kobo Plus is a subscription service.
Apple Books – Apple has a new platform for authors, making it easy to upload your books directly without owning an Apple device. Fill out the four steps at the Publishing Portal – Upload your ePub file & book cover; Add Title, Author & Description; Set Categories; Enter publisher & ISBN info. If this doesn’t work, if you only have a Word document, or if you need further instructions, see my advice here: https://nancyjcohen.com/publishing-direct-to-apple/
Google Play – They can discount your books at any time. This becomes an issue if Amazon does a price match. The solution? Raise your prices for this vendor.
You can avoid all the angst and publish your book through a third-party aggregator that has multiple publishing partners.
IS charges fees for uploads and revisions. Discount coupons may be available.
Distribution includes 60+ e-book retailers.
Royalties on e-books are 40% compared to 70% going direct to Amazon through KDP (depending on book price). However, KDP only allows you to reach Amazon customers.
You can also upload your books directly to some of the vendors above and use a third-party aggregator for the rest. One of the biggest advantages of the third-party aggregators is that they can reach the library market. Check out their partners and then make your own choice on which one you favor.
Disclaimer – This advice is based on my interpretation. Please visit each site to check for updates and to make your own evaluation.
Coming Next – Print Distributors
By the way, did you know the first four books in my Bad Hair Day Mysteries are available in Audiobook format? These stories are “funny, light, full of surprises and twists.” Go Here to learn more and listen to samples.
ISBN stands for International Book Standard Number. It is a globally recognized identification number for your book. As an indie publisher, you need to think about this option before self-publishing your work.
Why should you use your own ISBN numbers?
Control over metadata
More professional – Your imprint is the publisher
Better availability to retailers, booksellers, and librarians
You need an ISBN to get a barcode, which may include pricing information.
Certain book distributors may require you to have your own.
Some writing contests and library promotions require you to have an ISBN.
Your book’s information will be stored in the Books In Print
If you want your own imprint, create a publisher name and see if the domain is taken. If not, reserve the domain name. Register with your State as a “Fictitious Name” or “Doing Business As” company. You can do this online. Or establish an LLC. Check with your accountant to see which one is right for you. It looks more professional for your book to be published by “XYZ” Press than by the author. Apply for a county business license/tax receipt if required. Finally, open a business bank account so you can receive royalty payments through direct deposit.
This does not necessarily apply if your plan is solely to publish e-books through Amazon. Then you have the option of skipping this whole process and using the distributor-provided ISBN. But know that you are limiting your options for later if you choose to go wider with your books and take advantage of the opportunities listed above.
Click Assign Title next to the ISBN number you wish to assign.
Complete all fields marked with red asterisks.
Upload Cover Image
Title Information Book title, subtitle, main description, original publication date, language, copyright year, optional Library of Congress Control Number
Contributors Your author name goes here along with your bio.
Format and Size Medium, i.e. E-book, Digital, Print, or Audio
Format, i.e. Electronic Book Text
Subjects & Genres Primary Subject, i.e. Fiction, Mystery and Detective, General
Editions and Volumes Previous Edition ISBN or New Edition ISBN. This is when you issue a second edition, for example. Then you must manually change the Title Status on the older ISBN to Out of Print.
Series Title Info (name of series) and Series Volume Number
Total Volume Number – number of products in a multi-volume work (i.e. box set)
Sales and Pricing Where is the title sold? United States
Publisher and Imprint – Put your DBA or LLC company name as the publisher.
Title Status: Active Record
Publication Date: This can be in the future.
Target Audience, i.e. Trade
Price: Currency (US Dollars), Price (3.99) Type (Retail Price)
Hit the SUBMIT button.
NOTE: Except for the ISBN number assignments, you can change most of this material, including adding a cover image, at a later date.
Use CLONE on the Manage my ISBNs Dashboard when you wish to copy this information to the next available ISBN number. This is helpful when you’re registering e-book and paperback editions for the same title. Review the data on the new form and adjust accordingly.
After you have an ISBN, you can apply for an optional Library of Congress number. This allows librarians to catalog books before they’re published and to add the digital record into their search program. If you have an imprint that buys ISBNs in bulk from Bowker, you can set up an account with the LOC. You have to buy at least 10 ISBNs and list a U.S. city as the place of publication. Get started at https://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/ about two to four weeks before you do the final formatting. LOC will ask for the book title and ISBN. They will email you the LOC number and tell you how to add it to the copyright page. Check for ineligible works here: https://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/about/scope.html
Now that you have assigned an ISBN number to your title and filled in the basic metadata, you are ready to put your book into production. Add the ISBN number to the copyright page and move on to final formatting. Next we’ll be discussing publication choices.
If you missed the previous posts on this topic, see the following:
Today we’re discussing adding front and back material to your soon-to-be self-published book. This is one of the advantages of indie publishing. You can add whatever bonus materials you want. In terms of Front Matter, less is better. You’ll want readers to access the first chapter as quickly as possible for the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon. So what should you include? Here are some options:
Front Material may include:
Cast of Characters
Map of Setting
Story Blurb with Review Quotes
Table of Contents
If you have a lot of characters, a cast of characters might be useful to the reader. Or it might discourage them from reading the book if they think it’ll be hard to keep track. I’ve had feedback both ways from fans.
The copyright page contains the book title, author, year of copyright, publisher imprint, statements about fair usage and permissions, ISBN numbers, and a Library of Congress number. Some of these are optional and some are not. We’ll discuss these choices more in another post.
Maps are always popular as are family trees. These could be offered in the back of the book rather than up front to save space. Same for the Dedication. A Table of Contents is critical for a nonfiction work. For a fiction work, this will be added when you upload your mobi or epub file to the different distributors.
Back Material may include:
About the Author + Social Media Links
Book Club Discussion Guide
Call to Action for Newsletter and/or Reviews
Excerpt of Sequel
More Books by [Author] with Buy Link
World Building Details
After your story ends, you’ll have the chance to add bonus materials, such as a list of your books in series order, an excerpt of the sequel, reader discussion questions, research notes and more. Here you can put a Call to Action for your newsletter and/or reviews. Regarding buy links, keep in mind that certain vendors don’t like you to mention other sites. You’ll be safe if you use the book page on your website. Otherwise, you’ll have to change the buy link for each distributor.
My personal preference for e-books is to format my work in Times New Roman 12 pt. font, 1 inch margins, indent first line 0.33 inches, Widow/Orphan off, single spacing. I put a page break at the end of each chapter. The first paragraph of each chapter or after a space break is flush left. Your formatting source might advise something different. You can also upload your Word file to one of the third-party aggregators like Draft2Digital and they’ll do the conversions for you. More on this option another time. Next we’ll discuss Buying and Assigning ISBN numbers.
In the previous post, we mentioned why you might choose to self-publish your work. You may have backlist titles to reissue or have a nonfiction project you want to publish or prefer to go indie to take control of your writing career. Depending on whether these are older titles or new ones, your approach to indie publishing may be different.
If you wrote your books back in the day when we mailed our works in, you might have to hire a scanning company such as Blue Leaf to scan in your published works. You’ll need a print copy to send in, and it won’t be returned. Send the version that’s the most up to date, i.e. later paperback instead of original hardcover.
After receiving your digital copy, review the story to correct formatting errors. Turn on the paragraph symbol in Word and look for weird symbols in between letters, missing or wrong punctuation, misinterpreted words, and misspellings. Search for ^- or an optional hyphen. Look for “die” instead of “the” or the number 1 instead of “I.” Italics might be missing or bolded instead. Look for “rn” coming out as “m”, such as “comer” instead of “corner.” In other cases “tly” might come as “dy”, as in “slighdy instead of “slightly.” Quote marks might be reversed, or there could be section breaks instead of page breaks.
If your publisher has provided you with a final pdf file, or you’ve downloaded an ebook file, you can use Calibre Ebook Management or Zamzar to convert it into Word.
However, the formatting may be messed up. In this case, copy the entire document onto a blank sheet and save it as a text file. Click on Clear Formatting symbol. You will lose italics but any weird justifications will be gone. You’ll have to read through the story adding in italics and space breaks as needed.
Determine if you will re-edit the work or make major revisions. You might find your writing has changed greatly in the interim, and what you’d published before, although professionally edited at your publishing house, isn’t up to your current standards. So go through and make corrections. Don’t forget to update technology and remove any dated references.
Use a program such as Smart Edit (https://www.smart-edit.com/) to look for redundancies and repetitions. Revise your work as many times as necessary to give it professional polish. Ask beta readers to critique your story. Make it the best it can be and don’t be impatient, or your lack of care will show in customer reviews.
For a full-length original novel, I strongly recommend that you hire a developmental editor and possibly a copy editor. Join author groups online and ask for names of editors who have experience in your fiction genre. You don’t want the local newspaper editor or English teacher who’s your friend. Fiction is about structure and pacing along with many other elements. You need an editor familiar with genre conventions. Experience at a publishing house is a plus.
The next step will be to solicit Beta Readers. These are fans who are familiar with your prior work or who volunteer if you send out a request via your newsletter or Facebook page. Write down what type of feedback you want and set a deadline for a response. It’s amazing what these diligent readers will find. They’ll also tell you what works and what doesn’t from a reader’s viewpoint.
The main point of this article is to make sure you have a polished, edited work that you’ll be proud to publish. Once you have the manuscript ready to go, you’ll need to add front and back material. Look for my next blog on this topic.
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Have you been wanting to self-publish your book, but you don’t know where to begin? Or does the prospective task seem so daunting that it paralyzes you into doing nothing? Is this even something you can do for yourself, or will you need a “village” to help you along the way? Maybe you’re afraid of the costs involved. Is it worth the risk to become an indie author?
I tackled this topic initially in a nine-part blog series called Self-Publishing Made Simple. These same questions keep popping up in writer groups, such as “Do I need an ISBN number?” and “How do I get my book in print?”
So let’s take a fresh look at the answers. First decide why you’d like to indie publish your novel and then we’ll move on later to show how to go about it. Here are some common reasons:
You have backlist titles and the rights reverted.
You want to publish work in between your traditionally-published novels.
Your book doesn’t fit into a particular genre category.
You have a nonfiction book or personal project you want to publish on your own. You want to direct the publishing process.
Pricing and discounts
Input on cover and interior design
Back cover copy, book descriptions, metatags
Loss of prestige
Difficulty getting reviews
Limited booksigning and speaker opportunities
Tougher standards to join professional organizations
Bookstores and Libraries may not stock your work
Pressure to Produce
Now that we’re clear why you want to self-publish your work, we’ll talk next about how to prepare your manuscript. In the meantime, please feel free to share why you are interested in becoming a self-published author.
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You may have noticed that I’ve been subtly rolling out cover changes for my earlier mystery titles. It’s important for author branding that series covers have the same overall look in terms of fonts, text placement, color palette, series logo and image style. My cover artist, the talented Patty G. Henderson, has been working diligently on these updates. So far we’ve completed the ebook covers. The paperbacks are more complicated because these also involve the book’s spine.
Some of the cover changes are subtle and some are drastic. Here’s the most dramatic one. Permed to Death really needed a makeover from the cartoony cover to a more modern image. Old covers are on the left, new covers are on the right. Don’t you just love this new one?
For Hair Raiser, we changed out the old logo for the new one and straightened the title. Murder by Manicure, however, has a partial new look with a spa pool on the image.
We removed the nurse on Body Wave. She served her purpose at the time but now she looked too cartoony to me, so we took her out along with swapping logos and straightening the title. We added my RONE Award badge to this one.
Highlights to Heaven didn’t get much done except ditto to above. The only other change was on Hair Brained, where my author name had been in all caps. It’s not that way on the other books so we changed this one to make things more cohesive.
The paperbacks are taking longer because the series and publisher logos need to be made consistent on the back covers and the spines. And I need them to be compatible with Ingram as well as KDP. That’s so booksellers and librarians will have access to order them. Alongside with the cover updates, I’m revising the back matter in the interior files. This is a book-by-book project to see what needs to be done. It’s also forcing me to clean out my files, getting rid of old versions and material that’s no longer useful.
I’ll be adding my four Five Star books to this repertoire when all the updates are finished. Since I’ve just received rights reversions, I need to get them back for sale online so readers can access the complete series. They will all be needing new covers and reformatting.
This is what I’ve been working on, with the help of my cover designer and formatter. What’s next? I still have six romance titles to do but those will be ebook only. And then there’s the audiobooks… But some day, I will finish all these updates and the entire series will have a fresh look. Yay! Then we can celebrate before moving on to box sets…