Finding the Time

Traditionally, winter has been my writing season. The days are cold and rainy, with not so much to do outdoors. This winter has been different! After a blazingly hot and dry summer, winter has been what I wish summer was – mild days with just the right amount of rainfall for things to grow. It’s meant feeling the need to be outside working, however. Getting caught up on everything I couldn’t do in summer because conditions didn’t cooperate. Trouble is, I’m getting nothing done book-wise. And when I let my writing sit unattended for days or weeks, I’ve lose my train of thought. When I get back to it again I almost feel like I’m starting over. No good. I need to carve out some time every day and stick to it.

Promotional Gimmicks – Have They Outlived Their Usefulness?

I’ve held a number of book giveaways since I started publishing. I’ve always considered them a good way to get the word out and certainly worth the cost of a book or two. I never considered them gimmicks, however, it was just a straightforward opportunity for someone to win a free book. After all, word of mouth and a personal recommendation is a better promotional tool than advertising’s fanciest bells and whistles.

When I finished publishing the Critter Tales Series eBooks, I had the idea to ask readers to hold giveaways. They would get free copies of the volumes they wanted to give away. They simply had to host the giveaway and email me the winner’s email address so I could send them a link to their prize. It seemed like a win-win. It has been interesting that none of these giveaways have generated a lot of interest. One gal told me she’d pretty much stopped doing giveaways altogether, because they are a lot of work but no one really seems interested in participating.

I think what’s happened is that giveaways have turned into gimmicks and everyone knows it. To enter most giveaways you have to sign up, follow, like, and sometimes jump through a few other hoops. I never asked readers to do any of these things, because I don’t collect email addresses, don’t do a newsletter, and don’t try to follow up to see if I can get them to buy since they didn’t win. I’ll usually offer a discount code for anyone who wants to take advantage of it, but that’s their business.

Marketing experts say you need to get an email list going by offering a freebie in exchange for an email address. As a website visitor and reader, I know this means I’ll start getting regular emails, almost all of which are advertising for whatever they’re trying to sell. Don’t get me wrong, I think being able to have an internet business is a great way to work from home. I’m all for that. The trouble is, most sales approaches are way too pushy.

I do a lot of research on the internet, follow a lot of links, and read a lot of articles. Nothing is more annoying than just getting started and then having a pop-up block my view because it wants me to sign up for their email list. I’ll get a free copy of thus-and-such and be the first to know about all their special offers. But I haven’t even read the first article yet, so how do I know they have anything to say that’s worth signing up for? Then the same pop-up appears on every page I visit. It’s rude, annoying, and it doesn’t take long before I’m outta there. Unfortunately, this is another common gimmick.

I reckon I’m just a square. I believe that good information on my bookshelves is worth paying for, and that’s what I try to offer. I’d rather give a straightforward description of what the reader can expect and then let them make up their own minds. The trouble with modern marketing is that making money has become more important than offering a quality product or service. The consequences are that almost everyone is becoming immune to advertising and its gimmicks. I know I no longer believe the hype I read or hear in the sales pitch. The challenge for someone like me is how to get straightforward information out there; how to compete with all the marketing “noise” that fills the web. I can’t say I have it figured out, but this is what I believe in, so this is how I’ll keep doing it.

Inconvenient Quirks of LibreOffice 3.5

Firstly, let me acknowledge that my operating system is somewhat dated. Not outdated (as in obsolete), but not the newest and brightest version. Consequently, some of my software are older versions. I’m not sure if what I’m about to write has been corrected in an updated version of LibreOffice or not. I certainly hope so, because for eBook publishing as .doc files, it’s the best Ubuntu has to offer.

The problem? This

LO culprit1It’s that little paragraph mark that you wouldn’t even see unless I clicked on the “Nonprinting Characters” button before taking my screenshot.

LO_culprit3

This is actually a very useful tool for an author, because it shows me the formatting of my document: spaces between words (or extra spaces), paragraphs, tabs (a no-no in eBook publishing, we’re supposed to use styles), stuff like that.

The problem is that the paragraph symbol is supposed to look like this

paragraph_symbolCan you see the difference? In the first photo the circled paragraph symbol is underlined and dark blue like the links are. In the last photo it’s plain black. What I have figured out is, that when it looks like a link it creates problems with whatever follows. It’s not a link, but somehow it influences the next paragraph when the eBooks are published.

One problem I’ve had is that the entire paragraph following such a symbol will have blue, underlined text. It doesn’t link to anywhere, but the formatting is the same as a link. Recently I encountered a new problem. Smashwords sent me a notice flagging ePub navigation issues with the table of contents in one of my Little Series books. For awhile I was stumped. All the links worked in my .doc file, so what was the problem in the ePub version? I finally realized that it was one of those blue underlined paragraph symbols. One of them was in the table of contents and the chapters following were the ones with issues. Once I corrected that, the problem was solved.

How do those paragraph symbols get that way? They happen every time I hit “enter” after linked text. Usually I put the links in last, but it happens if I’m updating or correcting.

So I’ve learned to check all my paragraph symbols before uploading a file for eBook conversion. After many hours of frustration, it’s a relief to finally find the answer. Hopefully the newer version of LibreOffice won’t have this problem.

Of Fonts and Fractions

Until I started formatting the interior file for my first print book, I pretty much took fonts for granted. After all, choosing a font was simply a matter of going to a drop-down menu and clicking on the one I liked. What could be easier than that? What I didn’t realize was that a font set must be built, one character at a time: letters, numerals, symbols, in regular, italic, bold; they are each designed and crafted to become beautiful tools to enhance our writing.

Some fonts are designed for easy reading on a computer screen. Others are designed to read better in print. All of them come with a license for use, and many of them are copyrighted, which means it’s possible that a royalty must be paid to use them. The fonts that come pre-installed on our computers are included in the license we receive with our operating system. That license covers computer and internet use of the fonts, but not necessarily use in print.

I set about trying to find open source fonts for my books from the beginning. The license for these allow their free use in all media. I found beautiful fonts that mirrored the classic fonts used in print and have been using them happily until recently. What happened recently? Fractions.

My current project is a print version of How To Bake Without Baking Powder. The “problem” is that it contains 54 recipes, and that all of those recipes contain fractions.

There are several ways to deal with fractions. They may be written as decimals, for example, 1½ may be written as 1.5. That one’s easy enough to figure out in a recipe, but what about 1⅔? Would you be quick to use a recipe that used 1.66 instead? While most font sets contain the standard quarter, half, and three-quarter fractions, many of them do not allow for thirds and eights which are not uncommon measurements in recipes. I learned that when my fonts formatted like this in my desktop publisher:fraction font blank boxThe little blank box ought to be a ⅓.

Now apparently, both InDesign CS4 and QuarkXPress 8 can make OpenType fractions, but alas, Scribus cannot. That sent me scrambling for a font set which contained those much desired fractions. In addition, it had to look good with EB Garamond, my primary font.

After a little experimentation, I chose Linux Biolinum. It’s a rather classic looking sans-serif font, which seems to pair well with EB Garamond, my rather classic looking serif font. The only downside is that each fraction must be manually updated in Scribus, one by one, to the new font. It’s making some rather tedious going, but I’ve learned some important things about fonts and book design. Hopefully that’s worth the effort.

What Am I Worth?

I went to check my Kindle sales yesterday at Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. The numbers nearly took my breath away: 134 copies, 157, 142. Then I took a closer look and realized these were not sales, these were copies lent via Kindle’s lending program. This is where authors can allow those who purchase copies of their eBooks to lend them to others for free. Compare that with actual sales for those same days: 3, 2, and 2. Well, how would you feel if you were me?

The selling point for authors to join this program is that it lets others become familiar with your work in hopes that they might choose to buy it. But even after all those copies were borrowed, sales never went up. Sales remained consistent at 0 to 3 copies sold per day. So how am I, as an author, benefiting from this? I’m not.

I had a similar experience last summer. I was contacted by a major magazine publisher who publishes several popular homesteading related magazines plus maintains a blog on their website. They wanted me to become a regular contributor to their blog, with the caveat that they could only offer exposure, not pay. As most hungry artists will tell you, exposure carries with it the hope of being “discovered” and hence finally “making it,” i.e. being able to make a living at it. I’m not immune to this thinking, even though 5 Acres & A Dream The Book has been very successful for an indie publication. One successful book, however, does not a successful author make.

Initially I was responsive to their offer. The red flag went up when they wanted me to sign a contract. If I’m working for free, then why would I need a contract? Since I was busy with Critter Tales at the time, I was told I’d only need to contribute one or two blog posts per week to start. To start? That didn’t sit well with me so I checked out their website. I found lots of articles by a few well-known authors, but what caught my attention was that none of these blog articles had any comments. That begged the question, was anyone reading them?

So who really benefits from things like this? Amazon and the magazines, of course. They build a reputation and following for offering extensive free resources, but at no cost to themselves. They invest neither money nor time into those resources, yet they profit from them.

But why should I be surprised? This is the work ethic of our time – to make money off of other peoples’ labors, not one’s own. Doesn’t it seem ironic that those who do the actual labor in this world get paid the least, while those who do the least work get paid the most? That’s true no matter what the business.

In “2016 Book Publishing Industry Predictions: Myriad Opportunities amid a Slow Growth Environment,” Smashword’s Mark Coker points out that a consequence of Amazon’s lending program and free books for Amazon Prime subscribers is that these are training consumers to expect eBooks for free, to the point where they complain about having to pay even a small fee for them. It’s true that there are no print costs for eBooks, but an eBook requires just as much of an author’s time to research and write as a print book. Why doesn’t that count for something? I daresay that the complainers would never dream of working for free, and likely consider themselves underpaid no matter how they earn their living.

I have no illusions that my own complaints will change a thing. If anything, the trend will not only continue, but get worse. I can only decide what to do for myself and my own work. Even if no one else thinks so, my time is valuable to me. My free work is on my blog, where I willingly share the ups, downs, lessons and how-tos of homesteading. For my books, well, if I ever hope to be a professional writer, then I’d better start acting like one now. If that aspiration fails, then at least I will have not cheapened myself and my work. I will have given it my best shot.

The Challenges of an International Giveaway

I was daring with my last giveaway, and opened it up to worldwide entries. The challenges to this not only include higher shipping, but also customs, duties, and import taxes. These must be paid on the receiving end, and there is no way to accurately calculate what they might be. Amazon offers estimates for them, but admits the estimate may or may not be accurate. (See “About Customs, Duties, and Taxes.”) That got me wondering if I couldn’t somehow order through a different branch of Amazon if need be, say in the UK or Germany. I queried the CreateSpace community, and heard from someone who had indeed done this. That was hopeful.

The non-US winner turned out to be in Australia. Australia, however, doesn’t seem to have a branch of Amazon, but the overseas shipping from the U.S. didn’t seem too outrageous. Still, I didn’t want my winner having to pay anything to receive their prize, so I looked for an online bookseller in Australia who took Paypal.

To find that I used GetTextbooks.com. It’s a great site for finding where any book is being sold online and for how much. It searches by ISBN, author, or title. The book I wanted to send was listed at TheNile.com.au, so I contacted them and they were very helpful. They accepted Paypal and had free shipping to the recipient from their US warehouse. Book price included import fees. All I needed was the recipients postal address and phone number to fill out the forms.

The total cost was a little more expensive than buying it in the US ($20 USD for a $12.95 book), but it was worth to me it because this was a giveaway prize. Plus with Paypal there are no currency conversion fees, and I’ll get a little bit of it back in royalties. So it all worked out very well in the end, and I would definitely do a worldwide giveaway again.

Update: I chatted with an Australian on the CreateSpace community forum and learned that import fees aren’t applicable for purchases under $1000. I also learned that since this was a prize, it was technically a gift, not a purchased item. Therefore it could be declared a gift on the Customs Declaration form and be exempt from import fees. I’m recalling that the same applies to gifts sent to Europe.

New eBook & New Approach to Discount Codes

gardening_for_goats350x233Here it is, book 6 of my eBook series, The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos. This newest one is entitled How To Garden For Goats: gardening, foraging, small scale grain and hay, & more. I find myself writing them whenever I take a break from Critter Tales, whenever I finish a chapter or section. Reception by my small audience has been great so far, and of course I’m pleased about that.

Regarding my discouragement from offering the introductory free code to my 5 Acres blog readers, I decided to take a different track. I announced it on my blog, of course, but this time I offered to code to a different audience. I’m a member of two goat email groups and figured they would likely be interested. So as a means of introducing them to the series, I offered the code to these groups. I didn’t get a lot of reviews, but perhaps trying to trade free copies for reviews is not the best reason for offering them. Perhaps thinking of it as simply a means of advertising the series is a better approach.

Expectations are often an emotional killer. I should know better, but find myself relying on them anyway. So much better to do for the doings sake with no specific expectations attached, especially when people are involved. That never fails to help me enjoy what I’m doing and take pleasure in the little outcomes whenever they occur. I like life so much better that way.

 

The Declining Usefulness of Social Media for Indie Authors

Once upon a time it was called Social Networking. The concept was beautifully simple – it was a way to keep in touch with friends and family as a group rather than individually. Then businesses caught on to it’s usefulness as free advertising, and it became what I called Social Marketing. It is now known as Social Media, which I suppose is meant to be encompassing. Unfortunately, the balance is definitely tilted in favor of those who have the most money to spend to get their word out.

I was never a big facebook fan. I signed up to be able to see all the latest photos of my granddaughter. That was all I was interested in. I set my privacy settings to private (which is no longer possible BTW) but kept getting “friend” requests. Turned out FB reset the settings every time they updated something, which was frequently.

Now I have facebook pages for my books, but I’ve really been questioning whether or not they are worth it. Certainly some followers prefer FB, but it’s usefulness to promote my books is questionable. Theoretically all my updates should go out to all my followers, whose feedback should go out to all their followers, which would really spread the word. When FB began to sell shares, that changed. Now they have investors to please, so true promotion of anything costs money. If I want my updates out there, I have to “boost” i.e. pay for them. That also means that in my own news feed, the things that pop up first and most frequently are paid-for posts. And I’m learning that these are misleading. Several times I’ve clicked a link for an interesting article, only to be taken to a website for which I have to click and click and click and then am finally given the true source for the article. To me, that’s deceptive.

Another problem with facebook is that there is no way to separate business and personal information. This is a continual complaint from those with business pages, because they see the melding of the two as unprofessional. And it is. Even common sense tells us that potential customers are not going to be interested in two dozen baby photos from 2nd cousin Jane by her third husband. But FB does not care. Keeping the two inseparable simply makes data mining easier for them and those to whom they sell (or give) information.

Twitter is another one. It’s now possible to buy something like 3000 followers for a mere $29.95. Buy followers? Unless one is glued to their computer or smart phone, who can keep up with all the tweets anyway?

Followers on all social media venues is another fiasco. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “more and more” follower frenzy, that it becomes ridiculous. In the early days I used to try to follow back out of courtesy, only to find I was soon dropped from the list of those they followed. In other words, some folks simple use it as a way to promote themselves. As a blogger, I know that lots of followers can be more of a liability than a help. I am continually targeted by individuals and companies who want to use my blog to promote themselves and their product (for free, of course because it’s such an honor to have them). Also it targets me for more spam, especially the nasty and vulgar kind.

Now that Pintrest has a marketing plan for businesses, I expect them to follow the same dodo.

For the Indie author, I suppose these can be useful if one has money to burn on promoting their book(s). Just be forewarned that it is easily possible to get so deep in the red as to never see actual earnings from your masterpiece. It’s tough because it’s hard enough to self-promote, and I’m not sure there are any easy answers for it. Word of mouth is always one of the best ways, it’s just getting folks to review it to get that help. (And then there are the trolls, but that’s another story.)

I confess I am amazed at how much time folks have to spend on social media. Even homesteaders who certainly have enough to do without it. I know that’s the case for me. I have more to do than time to do it, so social anything is pretty much at the bottom of the list!

I’m not the only Indie who thinks and feels this way. It was actually self-published author Catherine Howard who got me thinking about this in the first place. Her thoughts can be read here.

Of eBooks, ePub, and eReaders

Formatting eBooks is different from formatting books for print. The basics aren’t difficult; print books are consistent in that each page prints out exactly the same.  Not all eReaders are the same, so an eBook must accommodate for that. Much as website design must accommodate different browsers; each one “reads” and interprets the code with slight variations.

Even with Kindle, a book will look different on the various types of Kindles. With ePub for eReaders, I’m discovering it’s worse.

I have three eReaders for ePub editions. One is a Firefox addon, one is FBreader, a free open source download, the other comes with Calibre, also free and also open source. But what they do to an eBook seems to be nowhere near the same.

How-to_Firefox_reader

Firefox eReader

Firefox renders the text in different sizes. I’ve gone back and checked my original file, which is consistent in text size, font, and paragraph style. Can’t figure it out.

FBReader

FBReader

FBReader is quirky, as in the forward arrows don’t work. For the book itself, it doesn’t recognize the paragraph style (which should be indented). That annoys me.

Calibre

Calibre

Calibre seems to do the best job of interpreting my code. The font is different than the other two (serif rather than san-serif), but font and text size are adjustable anyway, to accommodate the reader’s preferences.

I will concede that I am no expert in the eBook writing and formatting department. ePub is important at Smashwords, because it is a format used by Nook and Sony (if I’m recalling correctly). Hopefully, I’ll figure it out with practice.

Writing eBooks, A New Learning Curve

About a month after my Kindle experiment for 5 Acres & A Dream, I was contacted by CreateSpace. They congratulated me on the paperback’s success (now over 2200 copies sold, pretty fair for an indie book) and asked if I’d be interested in publishing a Kindle edition. I explained why I hadn’t pursued that option, and learned that the newer Kindles can enlarge images. They offered to convert a sample.

I admit I’m not terribly enthusiastic about that. Now that I have my own Kindle, I have to agree with others that when it comes to this kind of non-fiction, I’d much, much rather have a hard copy in hand. Trying to research a topic on an eReader, for example, is a pain. True, eReaders have a search function, but I find it much more awkward and time consuming than simply looking something up in an index and flipping pages. And while I can highlight or bookmark something on my Kindle, it’s so much easier to simply stick a slip of paper between pages as a bookmark.

Still, there is an appeal to eBooks, especially in regards to price. They are great for buying and reading fiction, for which I wouldn’t pay a full cover price anyway (hurrah for libraries). And while I can’t see myself writing fiction, I’m still curious about learning how to format a book for a Kindle, or any other eReader.

That got me thinking about a book idea I’ve had rolling around in the back of my mind for awhile. I’ve thought about a companion volume to 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, a book of homestead how-tos. Perhaps I could try a series of short eBooks on on various how-tos, to someday be combined into another paperback?

There’s a lot to think about. Should I go with Kindle Select (making it an Amazon exclusive) or Smashwords to offer all eBook formats (including B&N Nook and Apple iTunes)? Both KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Smashwords provide detailed guides to formatting that look easy to use. The only issue here is that the guides use MS Word as the example, while I use open source LibreOffice.

Then there’s images. I like to use photos (especially with how-tos) so I can’t help but how these would do in various formats. I may need to experiment.

Pricing? That’s a subject all eBook authors seem to wrestle with. A series of how-tos would be shorties, but perhaps too short to satisfy even a 99 cents offering? The general consensus is that non-fiction pricing is different than fiction and that non-fiction works can be priced a bit higher.

So the experiment begins, and along with it a new learning curve. That doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned Critter Tales, it just means I need to carve out a little more time. The upcoming winter months will be the best time to do that on our homestead.