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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Each year, I set goals for my career as a published author. In December, I’ll examine these writing goals and take stock of what I’ve accomplished. January is the time to set new goals for the year. It’s important to perform these tasks so you have a path to follow. I divide my writing objectives into two sets – Creative and Business. We have to work on both of these in our careers as professional authors. So let’s see what I’ve gotten done. I hold myself accountable to you, my readers.
The following Author’s Editions were released this year. Each one takes a couple of months to complete with manuscript preparation, proofreading, formatting and cover design.
Died Blonde – March 5, 2019
Dead Roots – March 26, 2019
Perish by Pedicure – April 23, 2019
Killer Knots – May 21, 2019
Write and publish A Bad Hair Day Cookbook – DONE; released on Nov. 19, 2019
Any new book release requires a lot of work, from launch parties to blog tours to social media to reviews. A couple of weeks at least should be reserved for the prep work. The blog tour carries on for a couple of weeks past the release date and involves guest posts, interviews, articles and excerpts. These have to be written as part of the launch sequence. Reviews have to be recorded, reviewers thanked, and quotes added to online sites. Once all this is done, social media posts need to continue even as you turn your attention to the next book.
Write and publish Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries – IN PROGRESS
I wrote the book, revised it, did the edits, and sent it to beta readers. My cover artist almost has the cover done. This release is slated for March 10, 2020. Meanwhile, I’ve written the posts for a virtual book tour. Final proofreading and formatting come next before the book will be ready for pre-orders.
Publicize Large Print edition of Trimmed to Death from Wheeler Publishing – DONE; released on August 7, 2019
Enter latest releases in writing contests – DONE
Carry on with newsletter, blogs and social media – DONE
Update website – DONE
This year, we converted my site to Managed WordPress, updated the theme, switched over my blog to my website, and added Office 365 email. These are things that hopefully don’t have to be done too often!
Bundle books into box sets – NOT DONE
This has turned into a bigger project as I have my cover designer updating all of my earlier mystery covers to be compatible with the later ones. At a glance, the covers need to have the same overall appearance in terms of font, text placement, color palette and series logo. Plus, there was an unexpected development with Five Star announcing they’ll be returning rights at the end of this year. That means we’ll have four more books to do. So this project has to be carried over to next year.
As you see, some things got done and others are incomplete. These will be added to my goals for 2020. And that’s the subject for another post in the new year. How did you do with your goals in 2019?
Setting goals is critical if you want to get things done. For a writer, making a list of what you want to accomplish each year will put you on the right path. In an earlier blog post, I reviewed my goals for 2018. We discussed what got done and what didn’t. Authors can break down their goals into creative and business oriented tasks. So now let’s take a look at 2019. This might seem less ambitious than last year, but revising and reissuing my backlist titles is my main goal. That project could take the entire year, because I go through each book to tighten the writing and then do a full read-through once for any further changes and again to check for conversion errors after formatting. It takes time, because I want each book to be the best possible version. So I am not going to set myself too many tasks beyond this one. CREATIVE GOALS Reissue remaining backlist titles (6 romances + 4 mysteries) Write and publish Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries Write and publish a Bad Hair Day recipe book BUSINESS GOALS Enter latest releases in writing contests Carry on with newsletter, blogs and social media Update website in terms of hosting and other behind-the-scenes decisions Bundle books into box sets Consider wider distribution for audiobooks LEARNING GOALS Learn how to use various book production tools as new opportunities arise Learn how to plan and promote book sales after all my backlist titles are under my control <><><> Five years ago, I wrote a list of long-term, five-year goals. I am pleased to say that I am on target with most of these items. Once this year’s goals are met, it will be time for a career reassessment. Only by resetting our overall goals periodically can we gain clarity on the best path to take next. What is the main item you want to get done this year? GIVEAWAY Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN Gift Card atBooklovers Bench.
Do you set New Year’s Resolutions for your writing career? I divide mine into creative and business goals and also decide what I need to learn next. At the end of the year, I review my accomplishments and see what has to be carried over to the next term. Here are my objectives for 2018. Any additions or suggestions? What are your goals for the new year?
Reissue revised ebook edition of Silver Serenade Publish revised Author’s Edition of Died Blonde Publish Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition Produce Body Wave Audiobook
Finish and Launch Trimmed to Death, #15 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries
If there’s time left, start on these projects:
Plot Bad Hair Day mystery novella
Revise Keeper of the Rings Revise Dead Roots Continue backlist title reissues and audiobooks
Prepare PowerPoint lectures and handouts for upcoming events
Enter Hair Brained in writing contests
Keep up with newsletter, blogs and social media
Learn how to do Facebook Ads
Learn how to put books on sale across various vendors
Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench.
What is a blog? And how do you start one? This past weekend, I gave a talk to a group of aspiring writers on “The Writer’s Life.” During the Q&A session, one person referred to my section on book marketing. “I don’t understand about blogs. Can you explain more about them?” So I thought this would be a good time for a review of the principles. I’ve been blogging for over ten years. I regard it as a live journal that includes glimpses into your life such as travels, hobbies, other fun activities or musings on life in general. Plus, as a writer, you can offer tips on writing craft and marketing and share the creative process. So here are some items to consider. Define Your Purpose. Are you aiming to build an author platform? Do you want to be recognized as an expert in your field? To engage with readers? Or to have other writers look to you for advice? Ask yourself why you want to start a blog. Determine Your Goals. Do you mean to increase book sales? Gain a substantial number of followers? Attract comments on each blog? Receive requests for guest posts? What’s your benchmark of success? Set Parameters. How often do you intend to post? What days of the week are best? What time during the day will more people likely read your post? How long should each post be? Check your analytics as time goes on and make adjustments accordingly. Brainstorm Topics. While you are writing a book, jot down blog topics related to your theme, research, and writing process. These will be useful either to show your story in progress or to provide fodder for blog tours when your new release comes out. Meanwhile, determine how your content can add value to people’s lives. In what way can your personal anecdotes inspire others? Some authors set certain days for specific blog topics. For example, one day they might post recipes. Another day they might bring in a guest blogger. Or perhaps they do author interviews. Excerpts, book reviews, or trivia related to a particular hobby or personal interest might fill in other slots. I like to do conference workshop recaps. Or you can write posts as they come to you. Acquire a Site. When you’re ready to start, register at WordPress.com or Blogger for a free site. Or add a blog to your website. Become familiar with the features and start posting. Link the Blog to Your Social Media Sites. Not only should visitors be able to tweet and share each particular article, but your posts can be linked to your Twitter and Facebook pages. Check your Settings for how to enable these features or ask your Web designer to add the proper Plug-In. What Pages Should Your Blog Site Contain? Keep in mind that visitors to your blog, if separate from your website, might not visit you elsewhere. So consider what Pages you’ll want to have. Here are some suggestions: Welcome or Home Page; About (Bio); Appearances; Book Trailers; Books List (with series books in order); Contact (your email); Giveaways. In the sidebar, you can show your book covers, a Blog Roll with links to other authors’ sites, a Search box, a Subscribe button, Social Networking Icons, and an RSS feed button. Include Photos in your Posts. Photos will draw more hits, but be careful of copyright issues. Upload your own photos. Obtain photos at royalty-free sites or at least make sure you provide attribution. Use Keywords. Use tags with keywords and put keywords in your text to drive traffic to your site. How to Gain Followers
Post often. Some people set themes, like “Recipe Monday” or “Guest Blogger Wednesday” or “Photo Friday.” Be consistent in your approach and keep your material current.
Have a clear and catchy headline for each post.
End your posts with a question to stimulate discussion.
Don’t use your blog solely to promote your books. You’re building a community of readers who want to get to know you, or else you are establishing yourself as an expert by offering useful material. Share new release info, reviews, and contests sparingly.
Comment on other people’s blogs.
Invite guests who have a following.
Always respond to comments and respect other people’s opinions.
On occasion, offer a prize drawing from commenters.
If you get a lot of comments on certain types of posts, steer your blog in that direction. Be responsive to readers. Note what engenders interest and what does not.
Be careful what you put out there. This is a public post. Avoid politics, religion, and any mention of personal business or issues you don’t want to share.
Always be respectful of other industry professionals.
Include links and images in your posts to raise visibility.
Index Your Blog When your blog is a few years old, you might want to reissue an updated article. Keeping records of the topics, categories, and dates will help you retrieve these files. I suggest you write your blog in Word and save the posts by month and year. It’s imperative to keep your own blogs on your computer so you don’t lose them if there’s an online snafu. Then keep a separate file that’s an index so you can quickly search topics. GIVEAWAYS Goodreads Giveaway, July 6 – 20 Enter Here to win a signed ARC of Hair Brained (Bad Hair Day Mystery #14). Hairstylist Marla Vail determines to learn the truth when her best friend is hurt in a suspicious auto accident. Booklovers Bench, July 1 – 18 Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench.
Occasionally, I’ll get requests from authors to review their books. Some of these I’ve accepted, but mostly I send a polite refusal. Here are some examples of what not to do when approaching an author, especially when you don’t know her personally. This also applies to guest blog posts.
Dear Nancy J. Cohen,
I noticed your review on Amazon for “Murder at the Seaside.” My book is a suspense novel set in Phoenix. It’s a bit outside the cozy genre, but the language is clean and amusing. Would you be willing to read my book and give an honest review? [When they start with my full name like this, I know they are unfamiliar to me. This book is outside my genre, and the author is an unknown who got my name off Amazon. No deal.] Dear Ms. Cohen,
I would love to have you interview me on your blog for my upcoming romantic comedy due for release from XYZ Publishing. See back cover blurb below. Please let me know what other information you need to consider reviewing it. [Is this person requesting a review or a guest blog spot? Either way, her book isn’t my genre, and the author is unknown to me. I’m not interested.] Dear Nancy,
I’ve finished my first medical thriller and would be honored if I can get a blurb from you. I love your romantic suspense novels. They keep me at the edge of my seat. I’ve really enjoyed reading Hair Raiser and hope to read more of your work. [This would be a polite, No Thanks. I write mysteries, not romantic suspense. And this person says “they” keep her on the edge of her seat, but she’s only read one. Thrillers are outside my genre, and while occasionally I do read them, I’d rather not be obligated here.] Hello Nancy J. Cohen,
I saw that you reviewed“The Stolen Queen.” My book has similar elements but more romance and intrigue. [Story Blurb follows]. This romantic adventure is so thrilling and unlike anything you’ve ever read, you’ll be hooked until the last page. My novel is a spine-tingling adventure with exciting twists & turns. [Bragging about how your book is a bestseller or how it’ll hook my interest is a turnoff.] Dear Nancy,
I saw that you reviewed the Alex Rider story, “Stormbreaker.” I am author of a middle grade fantasy titled “The Secret of the Oracle.” In this time-travel adventure, Eddie must overcome his fears and battle evil forces in ancient Greece to discover the identity of a sorcerer. Would you like to receive a complimentary digital copy of my book? [I accepted this one. YA Fantasy is a genre I like to read, and the story line intrigued me. The author didn’t make any braggart claims about how his story will blow me away. He was polite and concise in his request. I enjoyed this book and gave it an honest review.] Hello, I have a new release coming out titled “Murder in the Garden,” and I am organizing a book tour. I will provide excerpts and interviews. I’ll be running a Rafflecopter contest, and if you’d like to participate, I’ll include your social media links. (Story blurb follows) [I accepted this one and was happy to help a fellow mystery author. Why? Not much to do on my part except schedule a blog post on the set day. It’s the appropriate cozy genre. And I’d get social media links in her Rafflecopter. She sounds savvy and will likely show up on the blog to answer comments. This person made things easy.] <><><> My Advice · Request a review from an author who writes in the same genre or who clearly enjoys reading the type of book you’ve written.
· Mention a deadline if you have one for the review.
· Be gracious and accepting that the author might not have the time or interest.
· If you’re proposing a blog post, study the type of posts on the host’s blog and then suggest several relevant topics. Also note, while on her site, if she even hosts guests or has a submission policy.
· Be modest. Don’t make braggart claims about how your book is a bestseller, will keep readers riveted until the end, or is a laugh-out-loud funny story. Readers can judge these things for themselves.
· Mention your website or the Amazon page for your book so the author can find more information there.
· If the author declines your offer, thank her politely for her consideration.
Note that a book review request differs from an endorsement request. What else would you add to this list?
Halfway through the year, we should evaluate our status regarding the goals we’ve set for ourselves. Back in January, I listed these objectives for the year. I divided them into Writing Goals and Career Goals. Think about doing this if you’re an author. Let’s see how I’ve done in this progress report. If you’re wondering what I’ve been doing with my time, this will update you on my current projects.
Finish and Submit Hair Brained, #14 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. Ongoing. I finished this story at 85,000 words and submitted it to a freelance editor. I am working on these edits. This title will be published by Orange Grove Press in 2017.
Publish Author’s Edition of Permed to Death, #1 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. Done and published in March.
Revise backlist mystery titles Highlights to Heaven, Died Blonde and DeadRoots. Ongoing. I’ve completed revisions on Highlights to Heaven and need one more read-through.
Learn how to write short fiction. Done. I wrote “Haunted Hair Nights,” a Bad Hair Day mystery novella, which will appear in the Happy Homicides 4: Fall into Murder Anthology. Release date is Sept. 2016. I plan to issue this novella separately in a print edition, hopefully in October.
Enter Peril by Ponytail in writing contests. Done.
Learn about box sets. Consider bundling books 1-3 as a special offer. Postponed.
Hold Facebook launch parties for each backlist Author’s Edition and audiobooks. Ongoing. Next party will be to celebrate my first audiobook release.
Plan a promo campaign for Facials Can Be Fatal (Bad Hair Day #13) to be released by Five Star in Feb. 2017. I have put together the book trailer except for special effects and music. Waiting for cover art and ARCs.
Keep up with quarterly newsletter, blogs and social media. Ongoing.
I edited and published Florida Escape by Harry I. Heller. This is my father’s account of his 1935 true-life adventures in South Florida, where he encountered dismal swamps, sneaky skunks, black panthers, isolated beaches, and hidden chests buried in sand.
Revise book one in a new mystery series. This book is written but needs polishing.
Learn how to put my lectures on Power Point.
Learn how to put books on sale across various vendors.
So there you have it. Readers, what would you have me work on next? Writers, have you reassessed your goals lately?
Romance the Summer Contest Enter June 7-21 to win a gemstone necklace from Effy plus a signed copy of Shear Murder, my wedding mystery. Two runners-up prizes of signed proof copies Permed to Death Author’s Edition.. https://nancyjcohen.com/contest/
Once you get the rights back to your earlier titles, what do you do with them? Try to resell these books to a new publisher? Put them online as ebooks for sale? Offer them in a new trade paperback print edition? Go through an intermediary such as Draft2Digital or publish them yourself directly to vendors? And should you revise and update the stories first?
When I got my rights back from Kensington for my earlier Bad Hair Day Mysteries, I decided to tighten the writing, update the technology, and add back materials to the books. Now was my chance to hire a cover artist and get the design I’d always envisioned.
Here are four versions of Permed to Death, the first book in my mystery series. From the left to right: Kensington, Ereads, Open Road Media, and my new AUTHOR’S EDITION (Cover design by Patty G. Henderson at Boulevard Photografica).
So what should you do first if you’re interested in reviving your old titles?
Obtain a File
First you’ll need a digital copy of your book in one entire file. I wrote my early books in the days when we copied the manuscript and snail mailed it to our publisher. Each file was a separate chapter. I didn’t have a single intact file for the book. Nor did I have the edits that were done by my publishing house. In other words, my original files didn’t match the finished product.
What to do? These books came out in hardcover and then in mass market paperback. I decided to have the paperbacks scanned in since they held the most recent edition.
The Scanning Process
If you’re lucky enough to find a digital copy of your book online, you could buy it, download the file and work from there. You can use the free Calibre program to convert between formats. Otherwise, choose a scanning company. I used Blue Leaf. You’ll have to sacrifice the book you send because it’ll be destroyed in the process.
Once you get the files back from the scanner, make sure you have an editable Word document, if this is the software you use. Then you have to review the text WORD FOR WORD to look for scanning errors. You may see a strange squiggle mark. Note this excerpt from Died Blonde:
Shutting off the blow-dryer, Marla plunked it on the counter. “Did you see how Claudia looked away when I mentioned a power blackout? She knew about it Probably Carolyn went to the meter room to turn off my electricity.”
You have to turn on the paragraph reveal mark in Word to see the irregular mark in “probably.” It looks like a hyphen with a bar hanging off the end. You’ll have to go through the entire document looking for this weird symbol. It’s intense, eye-straining work.
Notice the period is missing after She knew about it. Missing punctuation is another problem. Or quotes pointing the wrong way, use of an apostrophe instead of a quote mark, or an extra space after a hyphen.
In revising and updating your work, one of the things to look for are “ing” sentences like that first one. More about that when we talk about revisions.
Here’s another example with a misspelling for Sun-Sentinel. That weird mark is also present in “released.”
“The medical examiner’s report hasn’t been released yet, but the SunSenlinel reporter is saying Carolyn died under mysterious circumstances.”
Here’s a guide on whatto look for after having your book scanned:
· Weird symbols when you turn on the paragraph symbol in Word · Missing or wrong punctuation · A number “1” instead of an “I” · Misinterpretations, such as comer instead of corner. Watch for words like this with “rn” coming out as an “m” instead. · Misspelled words such as for away instead of far away; “die” instead of “the” · The letter “d” instead of “tl”: Words like abrupdy. Or see this example:
Marla setded a cape around her mother’s slim shoulders.
· Check the spacing for italics that it’s normal and not expanded or condensed (Highlight the word, hit Font, then Advanced). · Make sure italics don’t come out as bold. · Replace two spaces between sentences with one space if necessary. · Format chapter headings properly with a page break and remove any section breaks. · Look for run-on paragraphs or paragraph marks too soon that split a sentence onto the next line. Example:
“Carolyn promised Linda she would inherit her collectibles, but we couldn’t find any items of value.” “Jewelry? If a collection exists, it makes sense
they were gifts from her private benefactor. I don’t see how Carolyn could afford anything else. Did she have a safety deposit box?”
This should read:
“Carolyn promised Linda she would inherit her collectibles, but we couldn’t find any items of value.”
“Jewelry? If a collection exists, it makes sense they were gifts from her private benefactor. I don’t see how Carolyn could afford anything else. Did she have a safety deposit box?”
You need an eagle eye and several read-throughs to catch all these errors. Regardless of which route to publication you take, you’ll want to present a professional product. So gear up to begin the next stage, which is revisions and/or formatting.(Coming Next!)
Have you ever had a dream that sparks a story? I used to have them more often. A dream is what inspired Circle of Light, my very first published novel. I woke up and didn’t want that science fiction adventure to end. So I wrote the rest of the story and sold the book. It went on to win the HOLT Medallion Award.
Snippets from other scifi dreams have gone into my futuristic romance novels. To date, I’ve written eight books in this genre. But I seem to have lost the ability to have these dreams along the way. And never do I recall having a mystery idea dream like I did last night. Is it because I’m at a juncture in my career and seeking guidance on which way to go?
In dreamland last night, I had an experience that seemed so real, I felt a keen sense of disappointment when I awoke and realized it was merely a dream. I didn’t want to lose the wisps of this place from my mind, so I grabbed a cup of coffee and ran to write it down.
In this ethereal place, my husband and I were strolling along a shopping strip, and I noticed a store we hadn’t been in before. It was a day spa, and since the heroine sleuth in my Bad Hair Day mystery series owns a hair salon and day spa, I thought I’d drop in to see what this one offered.
It wasn’t like any day spa you’ve ever seen. This was more of a Zen-like retreat.
An attractive fortyish woman greeted us when we entered. We posed as prospective members and asked to be shown around. The place had an ultra-modern feel with open spaces and contemporary furnishings. Recessed lighting in high ceilings provided illumination along with wide windows. The polished wood flooring added to a soft ambiance.
Our guide explained that members used private trainers for physical fitness. They would help you devise a series of exercises custom-tailored to your body’s needs. There wasn’t any ugly machinery here.
Massage rooms were available, but that was the only concession to the traditional spa.
A serenity section, bordered off, was filled with water. Jagged white opaque glass pieces floated artistically over this pond to imbue a sense of peace, like at a Japanese rock garden.
We saw a wave runner section, where you stood on a room-sized inflatable mattress. It pitched and rolled like on a ship. Our guide explained that this got members accustomed to ship motion so they wouldn’t get seasick on a cruise. As we watched, a fellow dressed in a pirate outfit rode the motion on the blue mat, clearly living out his fantasy.
Another section was for folks working with their personal trainers, practicing yoga or whatever else they were instructed to do. Young men and women worked hard to condition their muscles and control their breathing. We didn’t see any older clients around. Where did they do their cardio? Outside, perhaps?
As we moved along, our guide pointed out a chair where you sit strapped in and your body temperature is lowered to acclimatize you to colder temperatures. This was popular with Floridians who were traveling north. Left alone in the chair, you could freeze to death. I feel my eyes light up and my face brighten. I nudge my husband. “You hear that? A person could freeze to death.” He knew exactly what I meant. Here was how the victim in my next mystery novel would die.
A shop by the front offered a dazzling array of items but nothing that appealed to me. The selections included wine glasses and accessories, New Age crystals and incense, jewelry and tchotchkes from around the globe.
Voices coming from the rear led us through a narrow corridor to a large hall filled with members eating like in a cafeteria. I overheard one fellow say to a friend, “You’d better sit on your towel in the corner like ordered, or you’ll forfeit your passes.” What did this mean? Was it a form of discipline? They had to get passes to leave the premises? Did these people live there?
An undercurrent of something not quite right pierced me before the owner found us and led us back to the front section.
This is great, I am thinking. Somebody can freeze to death in that electric chair. Sounds like a great way to commit murder.
Once a writer, always a writer.
How can I ever think of quitting? Stories are everywhere, waiting for me to pluck them out of the air. They beg to be written and read by the multitude.
This story wouldn’t suit a Bad Hair Day mystery. Marla has already been to an athletic club in Murder by Manicure, and a murder occurs at her day spa in Facials Can Be Fatal. But this would be a neat place to set my other mystery heroine waiting in the wings for her chance at fame. She could go stay at a retreat like this one if I set it in a more isolated location.
And then I remember one of my earlier unpublished stories takes place in the exact same type of setting. Could I adapt that mystery to a new series? Possibly.
You know what this means, don’t you? I answered it for myself in the dream. Retirement isn’t an option. As long as I breathe, there are more stories to tell.
Do you ever get story ideas in your dreams?
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