September 26

Pen Names, Pet Peeves and Publishing

wrong way my way right wayI’ve been toying with the idea of doing a blog post about pen names for a while, but, to be honest, there’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said somewhere else about them. I will say that, when I was trying to make myself feel better about using one for my cozy mysteries, I discovered that some people hate them vehemently, while others assume that writers who use them have something to hide. I’d like to set the record straight on why I use them, and start a whole ‘nother debate about one of my other pet peeves, indie authors who argue amongst themselves.

I never set out to write books, at least, not at first. When I wrote my first non-fiction book about saving money by ditching cable television, I sold a handful of copies and thought I was hot stuff for writing a book that was probably 10,000 words long, if that. I used my real name, or at least my initials and real surname, because I was convinced that I was on my way to building a career as an internet marketer.

Later, I used my real name, no initials, on my children’s books, but linked to all the non-fiction books as well on my Amazon author page. I didn’t even consider things like Googling my name to make sure that nothing embarrassing came up when I typed it in, but lo and behold, I later saw some topless model with the same name as me, and I just hoped that if my children’s books became a hit, no one would confuse the two of us. (Though, to be fair, I’d kill for her figure, lol!)

When I decided to try my hand at writing grownup fiction books, I knew I wanted a different image and name for my books, so I set about choosing a pen name. My pen name, Ruby Blaylock, is my mother’s maiden name, and Ruby was just a name I liked that sounded sweet and southern. My grandmother’s name was Shelby, and Ruby always reminded me of that, so that’s how I landed on that particular moniker.

I know some people want absolutely everything they write to be under their one, true name, but I plan on crossing several genres, and to me, that wouldn’t be good business. I mean, would you trust a children’s book author who also wrote steamy romance or gruesome horror stories? Well, you might, you cheeky thing, but others might not. To me, some instances just call for a pen name, but I can’t fathom why some people get so wound up about NOT using a pen name.

I’ve heard authors say things like, “It’s more trouble than it’s worth,” and “it’s cheating or lying to the readers.” Um, hello…it’s not. For many authors, writing isn’t our only day job, and if bosses or coworkers were to find out about our writing habits, we might be called out or even lose jobs because of it. (For the record, I don’t have another job. I also have very little money, but that’s neither here nor there, lol!)

It just annoys me when indie authors bicker among themselves about best practices, like “you’re not a real author if you’re using a pen name.” And it irks me to no end when indie authors try to undercut each other, complaining about the way they do things.

I have had several other writers comment to me that they don’t feel ebooks are “real” books. They are so mired in the myth of traditional publishing, even though they self-publish, that they convince themselves that ebooks are just not worth it. Let me tell you, they most certainly are.

While it’s probably the dream of every indie author to see their books gracing the shelves of places like Barnes & Noble, the reality is, unless you are really good and really lucky, it’s hard to get noticed by these big bookstores if you are an indie author. For those of us just starting out in our journey, writing and publishing ebooks offers us a chance to grow and hone our writing skills in front of a “live” audience, improving with every book that we write.

I do offer my books in paperback, because I’m a sucker for a physical book, but the majority of my sales (and many other indie authors’ sales) are in ebook format these days. Ebooks are great for so many reasons, but I’d never stand up and say people are foolish if they choose to publish only physical books as an independent author.

I’ve begun to realize that this post is a bit of a long rant, so I’ll wind it up. I just wanted to remind you, my fellow authors, that we need to stick together. We’re all in this together, this storytelling lark. And we should be helping and encouraging each other, not bickering like my kids over whether cats or dogs are better pets. (And while we’re at it, we should stop bickering about things like which religion, sex, race or social system is better, but that’s a whole ‘nother set of pet peeves for another post, lol!)

So, whether you publish paperbacks or ebooks, use a pen name or lay it all out for the world to see, I invite you to comment and share your own links to your work in the comments section below. Let’s support each other and slowly make the world a better place, one word at a time.

September 13

Rising Ebook Prices Make Independent Publishing More Attractive Than Ever

ebooks getting expensive

I was reading an article the other day that discussed a major deal that some traditional publishing houses had worked out with Amazon, which basically allows them to charge more money for their ebooks. At first glance, I was like, “hey, that sucks! I don’t want to pay more for my favorite authors’ books!” But then, I stepped back and looked at it from the angle of all the independent, self-published authors out there (of which I’m one, but I always seem to see things as a reader first), and I was like “Whoa…this could be good for us indies!” Here’s why, although it was a bit of a douchey move on the part of the big publishers, it was a great move for both Amazon and us self-published authors.

Their greed is good (for us)

When the big boys of publishing get greedy and try to charge the same price for their ebooks as their physical books, customers balk. We consumers of digital literature are not stupid. We know we can get ebooks at a dime a dozen, or less. Does that mean we won’t still rush out and buy the latest Stephen King or J.K. Rowling novel? Nope, but it does mean we’ll choose our formats more wisely. I’d happily fork over $15 for a paperback from my fave author, but for one of their ebooks? Nope.

As an informed consumer, I know my options. I’m lucky because I have an iPad with the Overdrive, Kindle and iBooks apps on them, which basically means that I really never have to pay for ebooks ever again, if I’m so inclined. Let me clarify, I’m not encouraging you NOT to buy ebooks, especially from independently published authors. But, I’m telling you that if your budget is limited, you still have options.

I’m currently reading The Shining by Stephen King on the Overdrive app, thanks to my local library’s digital lending policy. The app is free, the library lends me the ebook for free, and the publisher (and author) still get paid for the rights that the library pays for. It’s win for everyone, just like borrowing a physical book from a library is a win for everyone, too.

Picture this: It’s late at night and you want, NO, you NEED a good book to read. You can’t just run to the bookstore or library, and your library doesn’t have a digital lending service. So, you head on over to Amazon, and realize that you are flat broke because you ordered ten new books last week and already blew through them all. (If this is you, I’m hella jealous, because in my house, I barely have time to sleep, let alone read that many books!)

If you aren’t a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, and you haven’t joined Amazon Prime, you can still whet your reading appetite without spending a penny, thanks to independent authors.

Why we give it away

If you think we give our books away for free because nobody wants to buy them, think again. Self-publishing can be very lucrative. Like, six figures lucrative. Or more. But in order to reach that level of success, it takes more than just putting out a handful of very good books and waiting for the money to roll in.

Indie authors have to hustle to make the public aware that their books even exist. We spend hours every day, promoting and planning ways to get our books in front of you, so you can enjoy them and so that people will buy them. When we give away books for free, it’s an incentive to get more people to download the book, which in turn boosts rankings on Amazon, which puts our books in front of more eyes. The theory (which is really not a theory, since it’s been tried and proven) is that once people try your free book, they’ll come back and buy the others. But here’s the really cool (for you) part: our books tend to be waaaay less expensive than the books published by traditional publishing houses.

So, even if you buy your books from us, rather than getting them for free, you still save money and are introduced to an entire new range of authors that you might not ever have seen before.

Basically, if you are a reader and you buy books from independently published authors, you are saving money and getting great books while helping people like me earn a living.

And, if you are an author who self-publishes, you can feel smug that fewer people are buying ebooks from the big publishers, because they are going to be looking for less expensive books to download.

Do you buy ebooks from indie authors because they’re cheaper? Or, are you an indie author trying to sell more ebooks? I’d love to hear your thoughts and strategies in the comments section below!

July 14

Self-publishing Vs. Traditional Publishing: What's Right For You?

self publishing vs traditional

Recently, I’ve found myself chatting to several different people about the pros and cons of self-publishing. Having only ever self-published, and having not been “massively” successful thus far, I really have a limited personal view of the argument. For some genres, like children’s picture books, self-publishing is pretty much an act of love, whereas other genres can actually lead to far better returns for an author than traditional publishing.

Here’s what I have found to be true about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing,  so you can decide for yourself if one is better than the other for you, or even if a combination approach is the best way to get your book into the hands of ravenous readers.

Self-publishing

If you have a book in your hands, ready to be published, you may be afraid to send it off to an agent or publisher in case it gets rejected, which, sadly, many books do. Again, and again, and again… The publishing industry likes for authors to be highly marketable. Your work has to rock hard, and you need to ideally have some sort of fan-base in place to prove that people actually like what you’ve written.

Because publishers are less likely to take a risk on an unknown quantity, you could face years of rejection, even if you are a really awesome writer with a solid best-seller on your hands. It’s just the way it is, but it doesn’t have to stop you from getting published.

Self-publishing is easy. In fact, some would argue that it’s too easy, because a glance at Amazon will show a glut of really crappy books by authors who throw up a few thousand words and a cheesy cover and call themselves authors. (Raises hand guiltily about the cheesy covers, but I stand by my short nonfiction, thank-you-very-much!) Do these less-than stellar books turn a profit? Some do. Many fail, while some aren’t really put up to turn a profit at all, but to help establish the author as an authority figure in their niche.

Self-publishing has made it possible for unknown authors to earn a very good living without the need for an agent or a publisher stepping in and taking most of the profits, and if you publish primarily in ebook form, your overhead is practically non-existent, meaning everything you earn in 100% profit.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

So, if you, Joe Schmoe, want to publish your own book, it has every chance of being just as successful as a traditionally published book, but only if there are certain things in place to make that happen. Here’s the bit that many self-pubbers don’t want to hear. Unlike in traditional publishing, where you typically have a team of marketers, advertisers and other support team members in place to help push your book baby out into the big, wide world, self-publishing is just you. That’s it.

You have to learn how to market your books, price them competitively, promote them to the right people in the right places, and interact with your readers to establish a relationship that will help sell your books and build your “brand.”

Traditional publishing

What’s that you say? You are an artist, not a salesman? How can you possibly be expected to learn the dirty details of how to sell your darling books when you’re obviously the creative type, not the business type? Umm, after you get your head out of your own arse, please be advised that although traditional publishing may be the route for you, you’ll still need to learn some things about promoting your work. Authors are expected to do some work for sales, even if it’s less effort than going it alone.

If you long to be the next JK Rowling, staring lovingly at your books in all the bookstore window displays, traditional publishing can be a good way to make that happen. However, it’s not the only way. Self-published authors can still have their books distributed through major bookstores, but it takes (surprise, surprise) a little more effort.

To start with traditional publishing, you’ll need to find an agent willing to take you on. Depending on your book’s genre, you may be able to send in an unsolicited manuscript, even via email, and you might just get lucky enough to land an agent quickly. From there, your agent will deal with trying to get you accepted by a publishing house.

Both self-publishing and traditional publishing

Don’t freak out if you still haven’t figured out what you want to do. I mean, on one hand, you may have to learn a ton of new things, and your book still may not sell all that well, but you’ll have full control over the results. And, on the other hand, you could spend years waiting for a publisher to take on your book, and still earn far less than you realize.

There is a third alternative, and one that I have seen result in some really great results. Using a combination of both methods, or self-publishing first to build an audience, then use your newly-built platform to engage an agent and publisher, can be a very lucrative option for some authors. Who would have thought that John Grisham couldn’t get published at first? Not me, but it’s true. He self-published first, but kept trying with traditional publishers until one accepted him.

Whichever of the three methods you choose, there are some things you can do to help boost your chances of your book being a success. I’ll talk about these in a later post, in detail, but just know that regardless of how you’re published, you need to know how to get your book seen by the right audience, and you need to be your own biggest supporter.

How are you choosing to publish your next book? Please let me know in the comments below!