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How I’m Reigniting My Creative Spark During the Time of COVID

What has it been like to launch a post-apocalyptic book that takes place following a period of economic collapse and mysterious pandemic during an actual economic downward tailspin, series of stay at home orders, and side of civil unrest to boot? Well, let me be the first to tell you it’s been as rewarding as you would expect it to be.

In short, my book launch flopped.

Don’t worry. I’m not asking for you to send me a slew of sympathy notes. It’s okay. If you are reading these words, I already assume you are an empathetic soul who appreciates the arts or at least a supportive friend. Also, this wasn’t a surprise. I expected this outcome. I made my peace with it before I hit the publish button.

Lies and LegacyI could have waited for market conditions to improve. That’s what a number of traditional publishers have done. I didn’t, though, because who knows when that time will be and the series had already gone on long enough between volumes. I decided, if nothing else, I owed the readers who’d kindly given me a chance, closure. I owed myself closure too.

However, what I didn’t expect was the absolute loss of my creative spark following this decision. I’d written before that Lies & Legacy was the book that almost broke me. In the weeks following its publication, I found myself wondering if perhaps there was no ‘almost’ about it.

I’ve been seriously considering giving up the dream of achieving literary success to free up my time to focus more on my commercial non-fiction writing. It would be the sensible thing to do. Not only does my non-fiction efforts pay more reliably (and better), but it is also exponentially less stressful to produce. There is no lying awake dwelling on a one-star review or agonizing over how to address a stubborn plot hole. However, between you and me, it is not nearly as satisfying.

I found I couldn’t do it.

Still, it is one thing to say you eventually want to return to writing novels. You have to have the overwhelming determination and desire to create in you too, and mine was gone—just gone—and there was no telling when it might come back. And so, instead of writing, I spent the first half of the year doing what so many other people have done during this time. I baked (I now make a great soft pretzel). I gardened (I recently harvested my first potato). I pretended I was okay with everything when I was in front of my kids. I randomly burst into tears at the slightest provocation when I wasn’t. I did what I thought I had to do.

However, I realized one day, if I didn’t force myself back into the chair, then I might as well admit giving up the dream was no longer my choice to make. I could no longer wait for inspiration to strike—it was clearly practicing safe social distancing. Instead, if I wanted to return to fiction, I had to reignite my creative spark myself.

I returned to the basics. I cracked open one of the first craft books I’d ever purchased: the 90-day Novel (affiliate link) and followed instructions. I wrote for five minutes that first day. Five minutes was enough. I did it again the second day and the day after that. I was on a roll. Until I wasn’t. Days went by. However, a funny thing happened during this time. I wasn’t writing, but I’d planted a seed and it seemed the smallest fragment of a story had taken root in my brain.

I tried again—much to my other half’s chagrin as he’d rather enjoyed me not waking up with the sun for a pre-dawn writing sprint. Before I knew it, I had 1000 words on the page. Then 2000.

I now have over 20,000 words on the page of my latest WIP, and the start of a brand new series, which, one day in a not too distant and brighter future, I hope to share with you. It’s far from a steady blaze, but my creative spark is once again breaking up the night, and for the first time, in a long time, the dream doesn’t seem nearly as far away.

How am I reigniting my creative spark?

Simple—one word at a time.

How to Set Your Self-Published Book’s Price

The following is the last installment in my I Want to Self-Publish – Now What? series.

How to set your self-published book's price - www.alliepottswrites.com

Let’s be clear, convincing people who don’t know you or haven’t followed your exploits on social media to buy your book is hard. I mean really, really hard. Luckily, self-publishing allows authors to do something those who have pursued other publishing paths cannot. Namely set your own price, which on the surface sounds easy enough, but there are a few steps you should take before advertising your book to the world.

1. Determine Your Book Pricing Strategy

In theory, you can set any price you want. Unfortunately, just because you can set it equal to your monthly rent or mortgage payment, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. You need to be strategic. Speaking of pricing strategies, there are three that dominate in the self-publishing industry: permafree, 99c, and full-price.

Permafree

Permafree is a term publishers use to describe any book that is available indefinitely for no financial cost to the reader. I’m personally not a huge fan of this strategy because I’ve found it to be harder to give my books away than it is to sell them, but other authors swear by it as a strategy for gaining fans and email list building.

However, not all retail outlets will allow you to set a $0 price for your book. And why should they? They make their money by taking a portion of your earnings. So, by making your book free, you are costing them server space (as minuscule as that is) in addition to the manual resources it took to review your book’s files and maintain the listing on the site without any chance for profit.

To get around this minor detail, self-published authors offering their book for free on sites that allow it and then wait for larger sites, who like to be the low-cost leader, to notice and magically price check. Officially, the book will still be listed for sale at a price on the publisher-facing setup forms, but will show as $0 on the consumer/reader-facing pages.

99c

If you don’t want to go the permafree route, the 99c strategy can still make your book enticing for those who are less willing to spend their money on a relatively unknown author. However, it is worth noting that Amazon takes a larger cut of the sale for 99c books than it does for full-priced books, and by larger, I mean it takes the majority of the sale (65% plus delivery charge). In other words, 99c books, by and large, don’t make authors rich, they make Bezos (or the Bezos wanna-bes) richer.

That said, the average reader has been conditioned to expect a steep discount when it comes to self-published books. They expect to be entertained for hours for less than it costs to purchase and mail a greeting card. This conditioning is entirely on us and would effectively take a literary revolution to counter at this point.

As a result, 99c remains an effective pricing strategy, particularly for the first book in a series. You just have to hope that readers like book one so much they are willing to pay full-price for all the rest in order to make the loss worth it.

Full-price

This brings me to full-price. Full-price is a rather nebulous term that is the maximum value you, as the author, can expect a reader to pay for your work. I say nebulous because it can range widely depending on genre and, sadly, the publishing route.

The truth is there is quite a bit of bias against self-published books—they don’t get featured in round-ups in pop-culture magazines like Entertainment Weekly, and rarely get added to things like Oprah’s book club. Your book may be the literary equivalent of the Mona Lisa, but as far as some people are concerned, your book isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless you are signed by an agent.

Sadly, this bias has forced self-published authors to price their books below that of their traditional counterparts in order to make them more appealing to the average reader. But on the upside, you don’t have to worry about earning back your advance or splitting commission with a third party.

So what is full-price for a self-published book?

If you ask Amazon, they will tell you that a full-priced book is $2.99. They even have a ‘helpful’ tool that will produce a pretty graph that will show you can expect maximum conversions at this price point. It doesn’t matter that the average traditionally published book costs closer to $9.99 at launch or that your book is 500 pages—Amazon will always suggest you price your book at $2.99.

While you are absolutely, positively free to charge $2.99, I want to be clear—you don’t have to take this suggestion. I price all of my books higher than $2.99 and I still sell them. You also don’t have to keep it at one price for the rest of time eternal. You can go back into setup forms at any time and adjust pricing as you see fit.

2. Research the Competition

When determining what you should charge for your book, research the competition. Take a look at the bestsellers in your intended categories and see if you can detect a common pricing trend based on the number of pages or date of publication.

The reason I am suggesting you pay attention to the date of publication in addition to page count, is that often a book will be launched at a lower price point as a way to drum up initial sales or reward early fans, but then gradually increase as the book gains reviews. Then, setting your book’s sales price can be as simple as matching the trend. That said, don’t feel compelled to discount your book just because others have if you think it is worth more.

However, it is a good idea to end whatever price you choose with ‘.99’. For example, $0.99, $1.99, $2.99, etc. People expect to see 9s in prices. Prices like $3.43 or $13.48 weird them out and make it seem to the reader like you don’t know what you are doing, which in turn, makes them think you are an amateur rather than an expert.

3. Adjust for International Currencies

When you enter your sales price into the various retail site’s setup forms, the sites will often suggest international prices for you. However, these suggestions are based on that day’s currency exchange rates, and not necessarily what is best from a marketing perspective. For example, a $4.99 price could result in suggestions like €4.24 or £3.87, which appear random and are off-putting.

This is why you should always go through and manually tweak your book’s price for international markets, making sure that all your prices end in .99 no matter the currency.

4. Hit the Submit Button

Pricing is usually the last step in the book setup process. Therefore, assuming you’ve already uploaded cover and interior files, and updated your categories, description, and keywords, all there should be left to do is hit the submit button.

Once you hit that button, your book’s information will then be flagged for review by the various retail sites. This step is intended to ensure your book doesn’t violate any of their content policies. If there are no concerns, they will send you a congratulation email. From that point on, all you have to do is plan a launch, which is a whole other topic, and hit that publish button.

I hope you have found this series interesting, even if you have no intention of ever venturing down the self-publishing path. If you are considering self-publishing, but aren’t quite ready to make the leap just yet, I’ve consolidated all of these articles into a downloadable pdf, which I hope comes in handy when the time is right.

Best of luck!


If you prefer to navigate through posts instead of downloading the consolidated guide, the articles in this series include:

Author SEO: Easy First Steps for Improving Your Book’s Chances for Discovery

This is another installment of my I Want to Self-Publish: Now What? Series.

According to the United National Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2.2 million titles are published each year—and that figure is based on data pulled from 2013, so it’s likely even higher by now.  This means if you do decide to self-publish, it isn’t enough to write a great book, you will need to put in some effort to ensure it is discoverable and enticing.

Ultimately, this means creating a marketing plan (and then executing said plan) and establishing an author platform, but that’s a whole other series. However, there are also a few things you can do during the setup process as good first steps.

Don’t Neglect Your Book Description

Your book’s description is also often referred to as a blurb. This is the text that goes on the back cover of a print book and next to an image of your book’s front cover on the retail site. The retail sites let you use things like bold or italic text to catch the eye, but be careful to use this formatting sparingly. If you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing. In addition, as a best practice, keep it between 100 and 250 words.

Fiction Descriptions

In fiction your blur should contain a short introduction of your main character and status quo, inciting action that launches the plot, the stakes—or reasons readers should care about your character and his or her journey, as well as a hook that incentivizes the reader to buy your book. If you are writing genre fiction, you want to be sure to sprinkle in words or phrases that make the genre clear to the casual browser.

Non-Fiction Descriptions

In non-fiction, you should use the description to establish what your text is about, how a reader will benefit from reading it, and why you are a credible expert on the topic. In this case, it is also a good idea to use words or phrasing that gives the reader an indication of the overall tone of the work. For example, if you write your non-fiction with a humorous slant, it is a good idea to include a joke or pun. If your non-fiction is data-driven, consider including a statistic that supports why your text exists.

Research Potential Categories

Next, research your book’s potential categories. Think of these as the sections of a bookstore. Does your book belong in the science fiction section or the self-care? If you aren’t sure what category your book belongs in, go to the retail site and see what the top sellers are in each of the categories your book could belong in. Ask yourself things like:

  • Does my book’s cover look similar to the top sellers?
  • Does my description match the tone / style of these top sellers?

If the answer to these questions is no, consider another category or consider re-writing your book’s description so it is more in line with what readers in that category expect to see. Ideally, you want your cover to look similar to other books in the category as well, but as that can be costly step—I consider it more of a last resort.

Most retail sites limit you to one or two categories, which you establish during the book’s setup. However, your book may be listed in additional sub-categories if you use certain keywords or if you contact the retailer directly. Kindlepreneur.com provides a great summary of what these specialized keywords are.

Use Long-Tail Keywords

You will be asked to add your book’s keywords during the setup process. The word, keyword, is misleading because it makes it sound as if you can only pick a single word. In truth, you can use a whole phrase as a keyword. This is known as a long-tail keyword. Keywords are also the terms and phrases people type into a site’s search bar.

A way to come up with keywords is to pretend you are a book shopper who doesn’t know your book exists. Ask yourself, what questions do your book answer? Should your book be the number one result on the page when a person types in the phrase ‘writing craft books’ or ‘stories of personal resilience?’ The phrases I have bolded are examples of long-tailed keywords.

Some keywords have more competition than others. This means that there are more authors attempting to get their book discovered using the same word or phrase. Longer keywords tend to have less competition than short words or phrases, which is another reason to use them. However, you don’t want your keyword to be so specific to your book that only one or two people are searching for it.

You can test keywords by entering them into a retail site’s search bar and paying attention to how many results the search returns. That said, I highly recommend a tool called PublisherRocket, which can help you analyze how competitive a keyword is while also providing you an estimate as to how many people are searching on a word or phrase.

Purchase an ISBN

If you are only publishing an ebook, then this last step isn’t as important. However, if you want brick and mortar stores (or libraries) to discover and order your book, you want your name (or publishing company) to be listed as the publisher of record—not KDP, which they view as a competitor. To do this, you will need to purchase an International Standard Book Number (ISBN).

Why ISBNs Matter

ISBNs are the ID number that booksellers use to track sales of your book. The other reason purchasing an ISBN is a good idea is it allows you to set up your book with multiple printers and still be able to centralize reporting of your sales. If you do not own your own ISBNs then you will have to regularly review multiple sales reports and track your performance on a spreadsheet.

While you can use a single ISBN with multiple printers, be aware you have to have a separate ISBN for every print book format. That means that if you want to have a paperback and a hardback version of your book, you will have to purchase and use 2 ISBN numbers.

Where to Purchase ISBNs

You can purchase an ISBN from Amazon or IngramSpark, but this will cost you more than if you’d bought them directly from the source. In the US, the source for ISBNs is Bowker (www.myidentifiers.com). Canadians get these numbers for free. Lucky them.

You can buy a single ISBN or bulk ID numbers.  I take years to publish books because I keep getting distracted by other shiny objects, and yet I have yet to regret buying 10 ISBNs at the same time.

If you are starting to feel a little overwhelmed by the setup process, don’t be. As a self-publisher you can change your book’s description, cover, categories, and keywords at any time. You can even add or revise the subtitle. So, don’t lose sleep if you don’t get it right, right away.


However, if you would prefer not to navigate through a number of posts, I have also consolidated the entire series into a single downloadable PDF, which you can access by clicking here.

The Key Terms You Need to Know to Set up Your Print Book

This is the fourth post in my ongoing I Want to Self-Publish series and picks up on where I left off on print books and book printers.

The Key Terms You Need to Know to Set up Your Print Book - www.alliepottswrites.comIn most cases, ebook distributors allow you to upload a word doc file, which they will then convert into a file format that will work on a variety of reading devices. Sadly, book distributors are not nearly as accommodating when it comes to setting up your print book. As a result, you will be asked to supply two separate print-ready files.

Print-ready Files

In order to publish your book, almost every distribution platform requires you to supply one file for the interior of your book and one for your cover. They also prefer these files to be flattened and in PDF format. In addition, all images need to be at least 300dpi among a number of other rules, which is a whole other article. It’s fun. IngramSpark, however, has recently introduced a new tool that lets you build your book from within its website, saving you from this hassle.

Generating these files requires formatting. Luckily, there are a few ways to get this done. For example, several people in the writing community swear by a product called Vellum, which will magically transform your manuscript into a print-ready file complete with page numbers, margins, and headers while also balancing your text across the page so that there are no annoying hanging sentences or short pages. There are also a number of less-costly competitors, which have their pros and cons.

You can also create these print-ready files yourself as many of the major self-publishing book platforms (Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark, for example) offer downloadable templates. These templates can help ensure your words don’t get squeezed in the middle of an open book or otherwise run off the page. That said, while these templates can be used to format your book with a word processor like Word, I really don’t recommend using them with one.

However, before you can use a template or export a print-ready file from specialized writing software, you will need to determine what your book’s trim size will be.

Trim Size

Trim size is the printer’s way of saying, how big do you want the book to be in terms of length and width. Services like Vellum or Reedsy make it easy to create your book’s interior print-ready files, but only feature the ability to export or download your files for a limited number of trim sizes designed for trade-sized paperbacks. This does not mean that your book can’t be printed using a custom trim-size. It just will take a little more work on your end.

Books by Allie Potts - www.alliepottswrites.com
variety is good for the soul

For example, you may be tempted to pick a smaller book size like those that you find on the shelves of an airport gift shop (known as a mass-market paperback). You can absolutely do this—you may just have to do your own book formatting using a program like Adobe InDesign, Affinity Publisher, or hire a typeset designer.

I should note that as the publisher you are paying by the printed page so while a short, thick book is great for the ego, it’s not nearly as great for your profitability. That said, if a mass-market size is what your audience expects, then by all means, give it to them.

Also, keep in mind that Amazon’s expanded distribution program only supports a few trim sizes: 5″ x 8″, 5.25″ x 8″, 5.5″ x 8.5″, and 6″ x 9″. This means that if you do select a trim size that isn’t one of these 4 pre-approved sizes, you will need to set your book up with an alternative distributor to get your book into libraries or other non-amazon affiliates.

Paper Color

Thankfully, once you have your print-ready files, the hard part of the set-up process is pretty much over. The next thing you will need to specify is your paper color. In most cases, you will be given two choices: crème or white, however, some printers who also specialize in photobooks and yearbooks may also ask you to specify paperweight as well as color.

Generally speaking, crème is for fiction, white is for non-fiction.

Bleed vs No Bleed

This, like the term ‘widows and orphans,’ is another one of those phrases printers use that makes you wonder about the mental health of the pioneers in the industry. Bleed areas are important for books where an image is expected to line up exactly with the edge of the page. Bleeds are expected to be trimmed off, while allowing for some movement of the page during the assembly process.

No bleed, on the other hand, means your print-ready file does not include this specialized area, but often still includes a thin white margin around each edge. Home office printers typically print without a bleed.

Cover Finish

Lies & Legacy
A matte finish on my dystopian Science Fiction worked for me

Every book needs a cover (you will absolutely be judged by it). So the next thing you have to decide, when setting up your print book, is whether you want your cover to be glossy, which can make colors pop, or if you prefer the smooth, yet edgy appearance of a matte finish. You can make this decision entirely on personal preference, as there is no real rule of guidance here. However, it’s also not a bad idea to visit your favorite bookstore and see what cover finish is featured on the best sellers in your category.

And if you come home with a brand new stack of books to add to your to-read-pile, well, I suppose that’s the cost of market research.

Barcodes

Of course, you can’t sell your book in brick and mortar stores without a barcode. We’ll I suppose you could… it just wouldn’t be strictly legal. Your print-ready book cover may already have a barcode built into the design, depending on how you produced it, but both IngramSpark and Kindle Direct Publishing will place a barcode on your cover for you if requested, for no cost.

I point this out because I’ve seen some services offer to sell you a barcode. You absolutely should not spend money. If you’d prefer to add the barcode to your cover file yourself, a quick Google Search will point you in the direction of a number of free barcode generator service. However, before you can complete this step, you’ll need an ISBN, which is a topic for another day.


However, if you would prefer not to navigate through a number of posts, I have also consolidated the entire series into a single downloadable PDF, which you can access by clicking here.

Print Book Formats and Printing Options

The following is part three in my I Want to Self-Publish: Now What? series

print book formats and printing options

I love my kindle, but there’s nothing like the smell and feel of printed words on the page. That said, it takes a lot more work to transform a manuscript into something that people will be proud to display on their shelves than it takes to get your book into an ereader’s device manager. In addition, once you hit publish, your book is out there for all the world to see—typos and all. So if your publishing plan includes this format, be sure you are giving yourself ample time to get it done right.

Print Book Formats – Paperback vs Hardback or Hardcover

I will admit I take more pride in my collection of hardbacks than I do my paperbacks (shh – don’t tell them). However, the cost to produce a hardback is significantly more than the cost of a paperback, which means if you want to publish a hardback, you will have to charge your readers more to return a profit.

There are also significantly more service companies willing to help you produce paperback versions of your self-published book than there are print houses for hardbacks. As a result, as much as I love my hardbacks, I don’t typically recommend going through all the trouble of this book format unless you have an existing, proven fan base, plan to produce your book in bulk, which will help drive down the printing cost, or are publishing an illustrated board book for children.

Book Printers for Self-Published Authors

Once you have determined what kind of print book you plan to publish, the next step in the process is to find someone who will actually do the printing for you as most of us don’t have a professional-grade printer in our home offices with appropriate binding equipment. The available options will depend greatly on your physical location.

That said, a few of the options in the US include:

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP): Amazon’s print book division used to be CreateSpace, but this separate organization has been dissolved and now print books are produced by the same organization that manages ebook production. While the service does not charge any fees for book setup or revision, it does not currently offer hardback printing and limits its global distribution feature to only a handful of book sizes.

IngramSpark (IS): great for selling hardbacks on Amazon or paperbacks online everywhere else. This service allows you to print both paperbacks and hardbacks, supports a large variety of book sizes, and will automatically distribute your book to several online retail sites. However, it does charge a setup fee and a revision fee unless you have a promo code.

Blurb: I don’t have personal experience with this service. That said, they do offer paperback, hardback, and photo book print options and have a partnership with Reedsy (affiliate link), which is a company that offers a free print book formatting program, plus hosts a network of editors and cover designers. While there are cheaper options in terms of printing costs, this could make it a great option for authors who want to keep everything related to their book project in one place.

Lulu: This service is very similar to what you can get with Ingram Spark, but does not require a setup fee. It also, in my opinion, has a better print quality than what is offered by Kindle Direct Publishing, but it costs more to actually print your book with this service versus the cost of printing with either KPD or IS. This means that while you might save some upfront investment using Lulu instead of IS, it will actually cost you margin in the long run. Still, it is another option.

BookBaby: I’ve not used this service to date, but BookBaby offers both on demand book printing service as well as wholesale book printing. It, like IS and Lulu, supports both paperback and hardback book formats, and can help you with book editing, design, and distribution in addition to printing your book. It also offers high-quality white paper that is specifically beneficial for photobooks and yearbooks with three binding options.

Local Print Houses: If you plan to stock your own inventory for resale, it is also a good idea to call around to see if there are any local printers in your area offering book printing service. While these smaller, local printers may charge more by the page than IngramSpark, they typically offer more design and formatting assistant services than what you can get from the national printers without paying significantly extra, and offer the benefit of face-to-face consultation.

Print on Demand (POD) vs Wholesale Book Printing

If you prefer not to hold inventory and plan to sell your physical books online then you want to set up an account with a print on demand (POD) organization. All of the printers I mentioned above support POD, with the exception of the local print option.

If you plan on selling books at speaking events or tradeshows then you need to use a print service that supports wholesale book printing. This means that the printer will produce your book in bulk, which benefits you by driving the individual book’s print cost down and allowing you to gain a higher margin on the sale. However, this model does require you to take possession of a carton of books at a time, so you want to make sure you are either comfortable housing that inventory in your home or are extra confident in your ability to sell it at an event.

Wholesale book printing can also benefit you if you intend to sell to brick and mortar bookstores, but unless you are a well-known name in your community, these stores typically will only stock your book on their shelves under a consignment model. This means that you only get paid for your book when it sells, minus their portion of the profit. They also might limit how much of their shelf space they are willing to let you have. As a result, you might be better off printing 3-5 books at a time under a POD model instead of ordering a full carton.

Bookstores aren’t the only option when it comes to brick and mortar sells. If you want to see your book on retail shelves, but wouldn’t mind a little less literary competition, I would encourage you to check out a book called An Author’s Guide to $elling Books to Non-Bookstores by Kristina Stanley.

Which is the Better Strategy?

You may start noting a theme here, but it’s worth noting that nothing I’ve discussed at this point is an either / or situation. You can set up your books with Amazon for online orders and still set the same book up with another printer to take advantage of bulk printing options. This is an especially helpful strategy if you want to sell both online and in brick and mortar stores as many independent book shops will not stock books printed by Amazon, who they see as a competitor.


However, if you would prefer not to navigate through a number of posts, I have also consolidated the entire series into a single downloadable PDF, which you can access by clicking here.