Monday, December 8, 2014

One Down

By Lisabet Sarai

Our topic for the coming fortnight is “Realizing Goals (or not)”. The theme could hardly be more timely, for me. This past weekend, I realized a goal that had been on my list for a quite a while. Finally, I self-published a book.

It’s not much of a book, mind you – just a 5K holiday short story – but I’m still feeling pretty proud of myself. For years I have been trying to avoid the whole self-publishing issue. I told myself that I didn’t have the time to futz around with formatting and cover creation. That I should be spending my time writing new fiction as opposed to worrying about mechanics. That I needed a publisher to support me via marketing, promotions and cross-over from other authors. That nobody would read my indie books anyway because the whole world knows that self-published fiction is crap.

Excuses, plain and simple. The main reason I didn’t self-publish earlier is that I was scared it would be too much work.

I was wrong. Aside from the inevitable frustration of trying to beat Microsoft Word into submission, everything went smoothly. The Smashwords platform turned out to be amazingly intuitive, with lots of information and guidelines for newbies. Amazon KDP isn’t nearly as well-designed, but after getting things set up for Smashwords, the extra effort required to convert the book for upload to Amazon was almost trivial. The whole process, for both sites, took about half a day, including creation of my cover.

Of course there were extenuating circumstances. I’d already written and edited the story. I’m confident enough in my technical writing skills that I don’t worry too much about grammar and spelling issues. I’d previously found a cover image, too, a single photo that I knew would be easy to convert to a cover simply by adding the title and author text. (When it comes to graphic arts, I know my limitations!)

Other factors helped me realize this goal, too, especially my recent experience publishing through Excessica. The Excessica co-op is halfway between a traditional publisher and self-publishing. The author is responsible for her own editing, formatting and cover. On the other hand, Excessica handles the format vetting, uploading, distribution and financial arrangements.

I started working with Excessica when several of my erotic titles went out of print due to a split with the previous publisher. Both Bangkok Noir and Exposure don’t fit the mold of erotic romance. The first, in particular, is one of my darker, more extreme works. Excessica seemed like the perfect venue.

So I’ve done some book formatting in the past few months, and I’ve made a few simple covers. To go from there to full self-publishing wasn’t such a major step.

However, more important than these concrete experiences, I’ve undergone a change of attitude. I’ve been pretty annoyed over the past year as my erotic romance royalties have dwindled, to the point where they didn’t even cover my marketing expenses. Meanwhile, I often find romance conventions a Procrustean bed; I’m forced to slash, stretch and contort my initial ideas in order to make them acceptable to the romance audience (or the publisher’s perception thereof). The process of editing my most recent romance novel, The Ingredients of Bliss, was especially painful, as the editor required me to suppress my heroine’s (admittedly rampant) sexuality in order to make her more faithful and committed. I did more rewrites on that book than on anything else I’ve written in my entire career.

The book was released in September. I wrote dozens of blog posts. I had articles on national news sites. I did two blog tours. I gave away gift certificates and even a few free copies.

A few days ago, I received my royalty statement for October. Want to know how many copies of The Ingredients of Bliss I sold?

Zero. Zilch. Nada.

As I’ve joked on the ERWA Writer’s list, I’m thinking of changing my tag line. My new slogan? “Too raw for romance, too sweet for smut.”

In any case, I’m ready to try some new approaches, because I’m not getting the benefits I expect from working with a traditional publisher.

Does that mean I’m going to self-publish everything from now on? Probably not. The amount of work involved in self-editing and self-publishing a novel far exceeds what I spent on Slush: A holiday romance. To some extent, this story was a throw-away effort, an experiment. I’d originally planned to give it away free, in fact, a kind of gift to my readers. Then I figured, why not give self-pubbing a go?

I don’t expect to get rich from this. In fact, the royalty percentages in self-publishing are not much different from what I get from publishers. (The only way to get 70% from Amazon is to publish with them exclusively.) I plan to promo this story like crazy, though, then see if it affects my other sales.

Probably my current feeling of self-satisfaction is my greatest reward from this endeavor. I managed to overcome my internal resistance and do it.

The next goal up? Trying to write a series, something else I’ve deferred for a long time due to laziness and fear.

Wish me luck!

[I don’t want to turn this post into promo, but if you’re interested you can see the cover I created for Slush, and read an excerpt, on my blog.]


  1. Lisabet:
    Congratulations. Is there anything more satisfying than breaking through a self imposed barrier?

    I think your platform is high and wide enough that you'll get good penetration (hee hee).

    You underestimate your abilities.
    I gave up on Smashwords in complete frustration over a year ago, beating down Word is a difficult first step. Your ability to do cover art and to act as your own editor are also big factors in your favor. I've realized I couldn't think about self-publishing without paying for professional editing-my sins against language are too many.

    Still I d' like to escape the orbit of the female gaze which dictates the parameters of anything labeled romance.

    I've purchased and read a copy of your story. I think our fellow OGGers will be impressed by how much story you fit into 5,000 words. Short is the new long.

    1. Hi, Spencer,

      If I were doing a longer book, I might well pay for editing. One is blind to one's own faults.

      I hate, hate, hate Word. It behaves totally irrationally for me. However, I've learned to live with it as a final step in the process (I do most of my first drafts in LibreOffice) because the rest of the world requires it.

      (Thanks for your kind words about my story, too! Not to mention shelling out the 99 cents!)

    2. Re Word -- I bought a copy not long ago because I was tired of converting for people. I'd used Pages for years. At first it was nice not to have to export every file and take things back and forth. Then I started noticing certain weird and annoying quirks of Word. Small things, like not saving the position of my cursor when I close a file, but irritating things.

  2. Congrats! You've stepped into a new world of independence.

    Unlike your previous commenter, I find Smashwords a breeze.

    Best of luck!

    1. Suz:
      I fix toilets, wire outlets, just replaced the starter in my oven today but this computer stuff has me showing my age.

    2. It sounds as though you have fabulous talents! I also am a techno-dunce.

      The best way to format for Smashwords is to strip out all the prior formatting (which will mess you up) and then add the formatting that smashwords requires. The easiest way to strip out the old formatting is to save the document in MS notepad. It's really quite simple.

      I spend more time on my covers for Createspace than anything else I do in self-publishing. But when I'm in the right mood, I like to mess around on photoshop.

    3. Hi, Suz!!

      Spencer, Smashwords recommends what Suz just suggested as "the nuclear option".

      I don't have Photoshop, so I mess around with Gimp, Corel Draw and Corel PhotoPaint. Learning Photoshop is another one of those goals hovering around out there...!

  3. I only wish I had known more about 'how to produce a fabulous cover' when I was self publishing (through iUniverse) Their graphic dept sucked the very big one! Congrats Lisabet - I'll enjoy reading your branching out in indie world!

    1. HI, JP,

      I think it's a lot easier doing a cover now. The wealth of stock photos available is a huge plus. (Though my cover for Bangkok Noir, uses a photo I took myself.)

  4. Congrats Lisabet- the cover is different and cuddly. Love in the drifts.

    1. Hi, Daddy,

      Well, weather is almost a character in this story.

  5. Hi, Lisabet. I was just over on your blog reading the excerpt. I feel like I just had a delicious, heady, spiked hot beverage!

  6. I am in awe of your skill and enterprise, Lisabet. All that and writing too! Sometimes I think I should take a year off from editing and writing (and noodling around online) and try to catch up with a couple of generations of technological advances. Well, maybe six months. But of course six months is enough for a whole new generation of technology to pass me by. The way publishing is shifting under my feet lately, though, I may have no choice.

    1. Don't give me more credit than I deserve, Sacchi! If it had been really hard, I would probably have given up. I have a pretty low tolerance for frustration!

  7. Don't write a series! Don't do it!

    That is all.

    No, just if the first doesn't sell that well you're still married to the rest and you'll get sick of it and readers are starting to kick authors for cliffhangers, blah blah blah.

    I'm so glad you took the leap into self-publishing. That's what my post is probably going to be about (haha--as if I plan these things). You know the 70% at Amazon isn't to do with exclusivity but rather price point. $2.99-$9.99 gets you 70%. Everything outside that zone is 35%.

    I'm so glad you shared your experience of selling zero copies after altering a book to make it into WHAT READERS WANT. Guess not, huh? I fell into that trap a few times this year. No more.

    1. Oh really? YOu can get 70% without going to Amazon Select, or whatever they call their exclusive option? Thanks for the info.

      As for the series, well, I've been thinking about it for a while. It won't be one long story, but rather multiple stories about the same organization, "The Toymakers' Guild".

      And yeah, that struggle was an eye opener for sure. Won't do *that* again!

    2. I agree with Giselle about the series. But it sounds like "The Toymakers' Guild" could be open-ended, based on what you said about it before.

    3. My resolution for 2015 is to write what I feel like writing!

  8. Hi Lisbet!

    I'm getting to this late.

    I'll be keeping my eye on self publishing for the future. I figure on just writing all the stories I can for now, and then self publishing after I retire. So you;re sort of pioneering this for all of us.


  9. Hi Lisabet! Many congratulations on figuring out how to self-publish Slush and getting it out there! The book looks beautiful.

    One concern about The Ingredients of Bliss, though: I totally bought that book, back when it came out. I don't know what month exactly I bought it, but I know I was reading it while you were posting stuff for your blog tour. So I'm worried that your sales are delayed or weren't counted properly (That's not to undercut your ultimate conclusion, because I've long felt that the work of the promotion often expected from us these days outstrips its effectiveness. I guess part of what I've concluded is that the specific common types of promotion are of questionable efficacy.).

    In any case, if you'd like me to hunt for my receipt or something, let me know. I could probably figure out which platform I bought it from, etc. I think it was direct from the publisher since I think that included bonus content, but I can confirm if needed.

    1. Hi, Annabeth,

      You're so sweet. I stand corrected. I sold 0 copies in October, but 3 in September and 3 in August when it was on pre-order.

      Whoopee. ;^)

    2. Uuuugh. But, yeah, write what you feel like writing. Sounds like a good goal.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.