Satisfaction and Frustration

I’ve been doing a lot of painting around the house the last month or so. I redid my kitchen because white cabinets are pretty but they get way too dirty way too easily. And I changed a wall in my bedroom from bright green to bright blue because I had leftover paint from the kitchen and there are more color combinations that go with a bright blue than a bright green and I needed a change.

Painting means thinking for me. I put on some good music and my mind wanders because it’s honestly a pretty mindless activity. (Which is probably why I usually get paint on the ceiling and floor when I paint.)

What I realized as I was doing all this thing was that overall I’m actually very satisfied with my life. I have a nice home, I have a dog I enjoy who actually leaves me to do my thing a large portion of the time, family things are stable at the moment, and I like how I spend my days lost in thought or writing. Even being locked down I really don’t mind. I still see family and most of my friends are out of state or out of country anyway. And I don’t mind being alone. I have books and TV and movies and music and honestly I like those more than most people.

But I had to think about it because I had a friend message me recently and say something about how I’d been on their mind a lot lately. Knowing this particular friend I knew that it was because they look at my life and think I must be miserable. No spouse, no kids, no trade-publishing deal, no “real job”.

(This is the sort of friend who when my trade-published friends announce a new release will automatically share on FB and congratulate them with exclamation marks but when I announce a new release will remain silent. Same friend who did read one of my early books and then informed me of that fact, told me they’d lost it somewhere when I went to visit, but did make sure to inform me that they hadn’t liked it that much. Which reminds me I need to reconsider my definition of friend.)

Anyway.

Their little comment made me stop and assess. Do I miss those things? Am I sorry I didn’t take a different path? If I won the lottery tomorrow would I change this?

Honestly, I wouldn’t. If I won the lottery tomorrow I might sell this house and buy a smaller one because I have two rooms and one bathroom worth of space that I really don’t need that just acquires stuff, and my street is currently festooned with signs that make me refer to it as the gauntlet of hate when I walk my dog.

I’d also probably put all my books out in audio and pay for really snazzy covers for some of them. (Maybe, if I could bring myself to go through the annoyance of doing so and because I wouldn’t care about the lost revenue from not publishing the audio through ACX.)

But when I put it that way I realized that I’m actually where I want to be, doing what I want to be doing.

The way I am in relationships I know that if I were in one right now I’d be the one carrying the emotional burden for my partner through this whole mess. Or my kids. I’d be shouldering 90% of their stress to help them through this. And I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to not have to do that. I have never been more glad to live alone than in this current mess of a year.

The flip side of that realization is that it doesn’t mean that life is perfect or happy or ideal.

Right now I have two new releases that aren’t live on Nook after five days because it’s currently a cluster over there. And I just regenerated about 50 ebook files that I need to upload to Amazon because they’ve now decided they don’t want people uploading .MOBI files anymore but would prefer an .EPUB even though .MOBI is their own damned format.

I’m also thoroughly convinced that Audible’s return policy that they push so heavily to users is just a way for them to take money from audiobook producers and put it in their own pocket.

So the money side of self-publishing is still highly frustrating to me and if I could live my life without those frustrations I’d want to. Each week it’s something. Scammers or dramas or ad issues or distributor issues. There’s always something flaring up or going wrong. And it’s almost always something that is out of my control.

Which most of life is.

So satisfaction and frustration. Doing what I want to be doing in the way I want to be doing it, but in a decidedly imperfect world. Which is much better than doing what I absolute hate in that same imperfect world. 🙂

Do You Engage Your Readers?

I have one writing rule: If it works, it works.

The only thing that should matter is whether what you wrote works for your readers.

Did you convey the story to them? (For fiction) Did they learn what you wanted to teach them? (For non-fiction)

Those are the ideals.

Often readers will read a different story than you tried to convey. And they will learn a different lesson than you tried to teach.

(For the record, I do not ever recommend using the automated keyword setting for a new AMS ad for a new book, as an example.)

But if you want a chance to get to that ideal you need to do one thing first: You need to engage your audience. You need to draw readers into your book and you need to keep them there.

This is where some of the one-size writing advice comes from like: Start with action! Have a clear conflict! Skip the prologue. (I actually agree with that last one 99 times out of 100.)

Those are all tips to help make a story engaging. But they aren’t requirements to make it engaging.

All you need to do (and I say this like it’s easy but it is not) is find a way to grab your target reader, bring them into what you’ve written, and keep them there until the end. How you do that is entirely up to you and who your target readers are.

So when you start to panic about “I write like this and it’s wrong” stop. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s the exact right way to engage your readers.

Some More Writerly Thoughts

As I mentioned before, I’ve been reading a lot this year, which has involved buying books I wouldn’t normally buy but I’m so desperate for good reading material I’ve been branching out even more than normal. And that means that I’m bumping up against more books that are outside my comfort zone, which has prompted some writerly thoughts.

So here goes.

Issue One:

I’ve decided that there has to be a certain amount of common viewpoint or perspective between reader and writer to achieve the type of full immersion that pulls the reader quickly through a book.

As an example, this week I read a book where someone was being poisoned and they were trying to figure out who it could be. At the same time a neighboring ruler was massing troops on the border as part of military exercises. Now, me, I’m thinking that person who wants to invade your country is the first person to suspect.

But instead the character in this book kept dismissing the ruler of the other country in favor of suspecting their bodyguards and anyone else other than the leader of the other country because the leader of the other country wrote them a nice letter that said of course they weren’t poisoning them or trying to invade their country.

And it kept happening. At least three times in this book others would say, “Don’t you think it’s that leader of that other country?” and the person would be like, “No, of course not. I knew them once.” (And they were driven and manipulative even then, by the way.)

This annoyed me as a reader so much that not only did the book get banished to my “I’ll never read this book again, so you’re welcome to it” room, it took book one of the series with it.

I have no doubt that other readers would’ve skimmed right by that issue. Not a problem to them. Either because you don’t doubt their friends so would’ve never suspected that other ruler or because they really just don’t have an issue with characters doing something like that. But for me, it was a deal-breaker.

That’s where I think alignment between reader and writer comes into play. It didn’t work for me and what I need in a book.

In other books I’ve been turned off by priorities a character had in a given situation that didn’t match what my priorities would’ve been. Or things they did that were incidental to the story that just didn’t sit right with me.

But if someone says they had linen in that particular culture when it wouldn’t at all have been possible, that’s going to slide right by me.

So alignment. There’s really nothing as authors that we can do about this, but I think it’s important to keep in mind. Because sometimes a bad review is down to bad alignment and when that happens you need to be able to set aside that reader’s opinion and focus on the readers you do have alignment with.

Issue Two:

I often see newer writers ask if you can do X. Can you have a series where the viewpoint character changes in each book? Can you use really short chapters? Can you use really long chapters? Can you use a non-linear story technique? Can you use a prologue? Blah, blah, blah.

And when that happens there is almost inevitably someone who chimes in with “Author X did it” and the implication is that because Author X did it that anyone can do it.

And in one sense, that is true. My golden rule of writing is that if it works, it works.

There are brilliant books out there that have broken accepted rules. Les Miserables is the king of info dumps, but it’s lasted hundreds of years because it’s compelling. I wanted to read about the sewers of Paris if Victor Hugo wanted to tell me about them.

The problem is, just because someone else pulled it off successfully does not mean that the average writer can do so. And sometimes it doesn’t even mean that it was the best choice for that writer who seemingly pulled it off.

I’m reading a book right now that I think somewhere below the surface has really interesting world-building and a gripping story. But it’s told in two alternating timelines and uses footnotes, both of which detract tremendously from the story.

So if someone asked, “Can you use footnotes in a novel?” I am sure there would be someone who answered, “Oh yeah. Such and such did and that book was a Kirkus whatever whatever.”

But the honest answer should be, “You can. Such and such did and was a top release of their year, but honestly, the book would’ve been better without that and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone else try to do it. At least, not using that as an example of success.”

Even if this author had pulled it off–and I want to say that I’ve read a novel that did–the advice should probably be, “I’ve seen it done well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.”

It’s tricky, because you don’t want to discourage someone from being unique and original. But at the same time, just because Famous Author X did that in the tenth book they wrote, doesn’t mean Joe Average Author can do that in the first book they write.

Issue Three: This is just a personal one, but I need to start reading the preview for books before I order them. More than once this year I’ve started to read a book that appeared to be a pure fantasy book based on the blurb but the first chapter revealed it to be something else.

In one case it turned out the first chapter was like a computer report so I assume it was actually some mild version of litRPG. In another case the first chapter showed it to be set in the contemporary world when I’d been lead to believe it was alternate-world fantasy.

For me personally as a reader both of those put the book at a disadvantage up front because it was immediately jarring.

Now, granted, 2020 is just a year so I as a reader am probably being much more cranky than normal. But I do think there are lessons to be learned in my rants above for any author.

One, seek readers who align with what you write. Two, represent your book accurately to readers so that you can effectively find those readers. Three, make sure any writing trick you use actually enhances the story rather than detracts from it.

It’s Not All About the Deaths

Sometime today the United States will “officially” cross the line to over 200,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s sort of an arbitrary milestone because I’m pretty certain that we’re not really capturing all of the excess deaths that have happened this year as a result of the impact of this illness. But it’s going to happen and there’s going to be lots of discussion about all of the people who are dead who didn’t need to die this year.

I’ve written about this before and I will continue to write about this: it’s not all about the deaths. Those are bad and my heart goes out to each and every person who lost someone this year that they didn’t have to lose. Absolutely horrible.

But this country is in for a much bigger reckoning and that’s around the long-term health consequences for those who get COVID19 and survive.

Craig Spencer has an excellent Twitter thread about this very issue here. It was also turned into a Washington Post article here but that’s behind a paywall.

As horrible as it is to say, we will likely adjust fairly easily to the lost lives. It’s what humans do. Losing my father when I was 18 was devastating to me but I’ve managed to live a life for 25+ years without him.

Is it as good a life as it would’ve been? No. But humans are largely resilient and so we carry on and move forward.

But the societal impacts from those who survive but have lasting health consequences are going to be significant. I already mentioned this one before, but I’ll mention it again because it’s one I know well: kidney failure.

There are definite impacts on kidney function from this illness. And there are hints that the type of impact this illness has on kidney function could, long-term, lead to kidney failure. It may not be immediate. The gap between impact and outcome with kidney failure can be a decade or more. My dad got sick around the age of six but didn’t lose his kidneys until his early twenties, for example.

When I was young and my dad was dialyzing (which is what you do when you don’t have kidneys, you spend four hours three days a week having a machine filter your blood for you, see more here) there weren’t widespread dialysis options.

When we lived in the mountains of Colorado my mom had to dialyze my dad at home. And when we lived in the Denver Metro area my dad had to drive thirty minutes each way to reach Denver Presbyterian hospital which I believe was the only dialysis center available at the time.

Planning any vacation was contingent upon there being available dialysis wherever we were going. We had one memorable vacation where we got to our destination and my dad had to take all our spending money to fly home because the dialysis center he’d scheduled with couldn’t dialyze him after all.

That’s changed in the 20+ years since he passed away. There’s now a dialysis center that would’ve been five minutes from the last home we lived in. I don’t know this for a fact but I would assume the increased availability corresponds to the increased levels of diabetes in this country which can cause kidneys to fail.

So dialysis is more readily accessible now as demand for it has grown, but as that demand increases even more due to the fallout from COVID19 this country will need to increase the supply of dialysis centers and nurses again. And there’s a huge cost to dialysis.

My dad grew up believing he would die when he lost his kidneys because there was no way that he would be able to afford those treatments. Fortunately for him there were changes made (to Medicare I think it was) that made it possible for him to dialyze without needing to pay the full expense of doing so. According to the link I provided above, 80% of the cost of dialysis is subsidized by the government.

Which means a reckoning is coming because increased demand for dialysis means increased governmental costs to provide that care.

That’s just one of the long-term health consequences of getting this illness. Add in heart problems, chronic fatigue, and reduced mental capacity that impact individual productivity and you have a society-level crisis coming.

The more people who get this illness, the more people who are going to need a higher level of long-term medical care, many of whom will not be able to hold the types of jobs that can provide that care through private insurance.

Which means we as a society will have to make a decision.

Either we decide we’re heartless bastards and that those who got sick due to a failure of government are on their own to suffer and die. Or we finally bite the frickin’ bullet and start talking about real baseline universal medical care and social services.

(You can tell from my wording there which I believe in. I’m alive only because our government provided enough support for my dad to dialyze and I grew up with one of the best fathers in the world because of that continued government assistance. I like to think that between my dad’s contribution to society as a business owner and father as well as my brother’s and my contributions we’ve more than made up for that.)

It would be nice if we were the type of country that believes in stepping up and helping our fellow man out, especially when we have the wealth in this country to do so.

But I expect that we’re not. I expect that we’d rather see images of someone with a fifty-room mansion and a million dollar Maserati and pretend that’s possible for everyone than agree that maybe taxes should be raised on that Maserati owner so that children aren’t orphaned because their parents can’t afford adequate healthcare.

But whatever way we go with this, I expect COVID will be the final push that means people can’t politely ignore that choice we keep making. We won’t be able to keep pretending that people deserve what they get and that society has no role in creating that outcome.

So, yes, 200,000 or more people have died in the United States this year than needed to. And that is a disgusting travesty.

But it’s important to also think about the 7 million* or more who’ve likely already been infected and will have long-term health consequences from this.

(*Right now the stats show just under 7 million reported cases in the U.S. but there’s pretty widespread agreement that we’ve drastically undertested and that the number of actual cases is anywhere from 6-20 times that number. Factor in the fact that perhaps 30% of patients are going to see life-impacting long-term health consequences and 7 million becomes a conservative estimate.)

Bottom line: Stay safe. Take this seriously. And if you’re American perhaps consider who you want in power if it turns out you’re one of the ones who gets this and needs dialysis or heart surgery or can’t work the way you once could.

Latest COVID Thoughts

I just put up a post on my personal FB page reminding my friends and family to continue to take this COVID thing seriously and shared with them an article that I thought was excellent by Ed Yong at the Atlantic.

I’m in the United States and I’d say that to most people it’s pretty clear that we have not handled this whole thing well. We’re closing in on 200,000 deaths from this (perhaps higher when you look at excess mortality) and the truth is we could’ve probably had only a few thousand deaths if we’d handled it differently.

Things like acknowledging the fact that a virus does not care what country you are from so a travel ban that does not prevent or isolate Americans coming from a geographic region with high-risk is going to fail to contain spread of the illness.

Or really locking down for a short period of time to prevent spread instead of what my state at least did which was still have takeout delivery and road construction and all sorts of other activities that were not in fact essential but did allow for potential spread.

(My state has actually done fairly well but I think that’s more down to population density and travel patterns than anything else.)

But what I wanted to throw out there in this post is how this illness plays into a number of human weaknesses and how we really have to actively fight against them to understand what we’re dealing with and to do so effectively.

For example, it’s very hard to see what isn’t there. So when a health measure, like a temporary lockdown, works we can’t see that it worked. Because the fact that it worked creates an absence of the event it was trying to prevent. I know some people, for example, argue that MERS wasn’t that big a deal. But perhaps it wasn’t that a big a deal because all of the health measures that were meant to contain it actually contained it.

Because those measures worked, we don’t see what they prevented. And we then inaccurately draw a conclusion that whatever measures were used to prevent that spread were not needed.

This has happened with the lockdowns. They were needed. They helped slow things down so that we didn’t have five NY/NJ/CT-style outbreaks going on at the same time early on.

That leads to the second issue most of us face with this illness. And that’s the issue of exponential spread. I pointed out on FB a few weeks ago that while it wasn’t making the news Hawaii was experiencing the highest growth rate in infections based on reported data. But that was at 50 cases a day so no one much cared. But they were doubling cases every two weeks at the time. Unchecked that 50 becomes 100 becomes 200 becomes 400 becomes 800 becomes 1600 becomes 3200.

It’s very hard to look at a low number and think that if you do nothing it will become a very big number. We can understand doubling. But get much past that, and we just don’t go there naturally.

It’s also very hard to understand the delay between cause and effect with this illness.

Recently some idiotic Stanford professor said that the U.S. fatalities were going to hit 170K and then just stop. I posted on FB that I wished the man would shut up and stop devaluing my degree because it was clear that he was wrong.

Why was it so clear when we were sitting around 150K fatalities at the time? Because, given the number of daily cases that had been reported prior to that point in time we already had enough infected people who were going to die to bring that number above 170K.

And we were infecting 50K new people a day still. Some of whom were going to become ill, get hospitalized, and die.

That man was completely missing the delay between infection and death that comes with this illness. I’d bet that delay can be as long as 45 days in some cases but is probably more like 25 days in a more typical case. So anyone focused on case numbers instead of death numbers is a month behind reality.

Also, most of the models being used fail to account for the interaction between human choice and disease spread. People are trying to use a basic regression approach to something that is more like game theory. (And I’m not a stats person so I may have just phrased that very wrong. But basically the idea is we can’t take what’s happened over the last two months, plug it into a model, and say this is where we’ll be two months from now without factoring in psychology. Because the outcome two months from now is driven by the actions of millions of individual actors making personal choices. Any good model of future outcome needs to factor in human behavior choices not just disease metrics, something that is very challenging to do.)

I also think most humans tend to approach crises in a linear fashion. A hurricane hits, it’s destructive, we rebuild, done. A wildfire burns, it’s destructive, we put it out, we rebuild, done. But that’s not how this illness works. It’s not: illness strikes, we lockdown, it goes away. It’s ongoing and cyclical.

I have yet to come up with the perfect imagery on this one but on FB I mentioned it’s like having a leaky water balloon and every time you take your finger off the hole in the balloon it starts leaking again. Until we can get this disease to low enough levels within the population, every single time we let up too much there will be a flare up.

That’s why we’re seeing rolling outbreaks across the country. Because one area gets an outbreak, takes the steps to get it under control, and gets things back down to something manageable but at the same time another area that hasn’t been seeing much of a problem lets up on its controls and gets a surge in cases.

That’s going to continue as long as there’s enough of the disease in the population to spread easily across geographies.

Which leads to another issue we’re all facing. It’s hard to give up your old habits for something so nebulous. Like a summer vacation. I had multiple friends on FB take out-of-state vacations this summer. They just couldn’t give up what they were used to doing for something that they weren’t experiencing personally. Here in Colorado they’re talking about having fans in the stands for Broncos games this winter. Football is more important than containing this illness.

I mean, really? Is it so hard to let go of something non-essential that you’d risk endangering your entire community for it? (Answer: Obviously in America it is.)

And that’s a big part of the problem. Even though almost 200K people have died this year that didn’t need to, this illness is very nebulous for most of us.

I don’t have friends in healthcare. I don’t have friends who work grocery store or meat packing jobs. My social circle is one that has a fair amount of privilege. Meaning that most of the people I know are working from home, able to order in grocery delivery, and hiring au pairs or tutors to homeschool their children.

They (and I) do not personally know the people who are dying. Because society is stratified enough that it’s not obvious to the average suburban upper middle class white person that this illness is killing as many people as it is. It doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t seem significant unless you are the one treating the ill patients or in a community that has been significantly impacted.

And that brings me to the final issue. Which is that people are too focused on deaths and not focused enough on long-term health consequences. We aren’t considering what happens in a society where millions become infected and perhaps as many as 1/3 of those people have lasting heart damage or lung damage or kidney damage or brain damage. We aren’t understanding what happens to a society where that many survivors struggle with long-term fatigue that impacts their ability to work.

It’s like what I said in an earlier post about skydiving. I thought it was die or have fun. Only when I realized the far bigger risk to me personally was a significant injury with long-term consequences did I truly understand the risk I was taking every time I jumped out of that plane.

So, bottom line here. We’re not naturally equipped to mentally understand the scope of what we’re dealing with. It requires concerted and ongoing effort to grasp the potential effects and the impact. And it’s a challenge to remain vigilant for as long as we’re going to need to remain vigilant. But we need to try. Because letting this thing burn out of control is going to create the type of damage that lasts for generations.

A Few Writerly Thoughts

I was over on one of the writer forums today and someone had made the comment that telling people to advertise their books was “predatory encouragement”.

I wrote up an entire post in response to this person and then I got to the end and realized that I had spent twenty minutes trying to provide a helpful, informed opinion in response to a bitter, angry person who didn’t deserve my time.

So, since I already wrote the response, I figured I’d come here and share it with you guys instead. Here goes:

Just my personal opinion, but telling someone they need to advertise to reach readers is not “predatory encouragement” it’s business. And if you self-publish and want to make money from that you are in fact running a business. It is the very rare unicorn who can just put a book out, do nothing else, and see good results.

For me, at least, publishing and then running ads to see if anyone had any interest in what I wrote was the best way for me to learn what people wanted and what they didn’t want. It’s a constant feedback loop between content creation, packaging (cover, price category, etc.), and advertising and the more I do all three the more I dial in on what works for what I can write and what readers want.

It doesn’t have to be expensive, though. I started running AMS ads with pennies spent a day and only scaled up when I found books that sold well enough for that to make sense. I didn’t pay anyone to learn AMS, I just put in the time and effort. Authors who don’t want to spend money can do the same.

Authors who’d rather spend money than time can pay for a course. It’s their choice about where their efforts are best spent. This year I paid for a FB ads course with Skye Warren that was not cheap, but I decided I’d rather learn from someone doing well with the ads than try to start from scratch. I haven’t paid off the cost of the course yet, but using what she showed me I’m steadily selling four copies a day of a fantasy novel published in 2015 and priced at $4.99 so I’m pleased. I just started an ad on a romance novel also priced at $4.99 and had two sales the first day which is also promising. I would not have ended up with the ads I did without that course.

There are always going to be people who see a market like self-publishing and try to make money off of providing services or advice to that market. Some of them are going to provide bad services or bad advice. And it’s a good idea to be skeptical about what someone tells you about their success. Earlier this year I took a course someone was offering on writing in one of my genres. Halfway through I realized that they were very likely getting their USA Today titles and good ranks by spending almost every penny they earned on ads. I’ll never take another course from that person again because I value making a profit over ranking well or getting my letters.

But some service providers are incredibly useful in helping authors do better. I love Vellum and Bookbub. I am highly grateful for their existence. I am grateful that when I choose to I can spend a small fortune for a gorgeous cover. And that there are tons of authors out there giving away knowledge for free even if I sometimes have to sort through the confusion or inconsistencies to get to the nuggets of truth that will work for me and how I write.

So there you go. The response I wrote for someone who didn’t deserve a response.

In other writerly thoughts, it occurred to me today that the writers who get the most attention from me are not always the ones that have the best things to say. But they are often the ones who talk the most. Because when I’m sitting here trying not to work and decide to go to Twitter or to check blog posts to kill that ten minutes, I usually go to the authors I know will have content. So that author who lives on Twitter daily and has new tweets every few hours is far more likely to be the one I visit than the one who says really interesting things once a month. Same with blog posts. I’ll hate-read someone who blogs daily before I go searching out that author who blogs irregularly but says really useful things.

(This could have something to do with the fact that I never subscribe to anything so I have to manually check blogs and also I no longer have a Twitter account so have to see tweets by looking people up one-by one. But still. Something to think about. Sometimes consistent production is better than quality production.)

Back To School Sale

Since the world is still on fire and many people are dealing with back to school craziness, I thought I’d do what I could and put a bunch of school-friendly titles on sale for a couple weeks. Each of the below titles is on sale for $2.99 USD.

Click on any of the images below to be taken to a Books2Read page for that title that has all the stores listed. (If you’re already set up with them you’ll go straight to your chosen store.) Or you can use any of the store pages on the right-hand side here and get to the books that way.

Excel Essentials

Excel for Beginners open sans boldv2 Intermediate Excel Open Sans50 Excel Functions open sans

50 More Excel Functions open sans

 

 

 

 

Word Essentials

Word for Beginners open sansIntermediate Word open sans

 

 

 

 

PowerPoint Essentials

PowerPoint-for-Beginners-Generic    Intermediate-PowerPoint-Generic

 

 

 

Access Essentials

Access for Beginners 20200202Intermediate Access 20200202

 

 

 

 

Data Principles & Budgeting

Data Principles for BeginnersBudgeting for Beginners open sansExcel for Budgeting open sans

 

 

 

 

Keep in mind this is only for the ebook versions, but all of these titles also have paperback versions and most have hardcover versions as well that are, I think, reasonably priced.

And some of these are very good deals indeed, because I was being lazy so I priced everything at $2.99 which means that Access for Beginners, for example, which is usually $7.99 is on sale for the same price as Excel for Beginners, which is normally $4.99. (USD. But equivalent discounts in your local currency.)

Enjoy.

 

 

Two Paperback Versions on Amazon

Just an FYI for anyone looking for my books. Right now Amazon seems to be showing a delay of five days to print and ship books that they distribute on my behalf. But most of my books also have another version distributed via IngramSpark that will ship sooner. The IngramSpark listing is rarely the primary listing, so you have to go looking for it.

Here’s how. This is the main page for Excel for Beginners. You can see on the right where it says it will normally ship within five days:

Main Amazon Page

Right above where all the prices are listed for the different formats it says “See all formats and editions.”

Click on that and you get another screen. There’s a little > next to the paperback listing. Click on that and it will become a downward pointing arrow instead and you’ll see two listings for the paperback.

E4B Paperback options

The May 2019 version is the version that’s coming from IngramSpark. If you click on “Paperback, May 9, 2019” you will be taken to that version’s listing.

And voila, there are six left in stock and you can get a copy in your hands within as little as two days.

IS Version Listing

It will also have text on the spine which the Amazon version doesn’t.

Amazon does allow resellers to do weird things on their site so I always approach book listings there with a certain amount of caution. But for any listing of my book that’s coming from IngramSpark you can scroll down to product details and if it’s mine you should see a publisher name of M.L. Humphrey and an ISBN-13 that starts with 978-1950902 and then three numbers that are specific to that particular book, in this case 002.

Product Details

And, of course, you can also order the books from other fine retailers that carry print books like Barnes & Noble.

 

 

 

 

New Release Misstep

I received an email today from a writer friend who had just published their first novel on Amazon. And the email was basically asking friends and family to buy the novel and leave a review.

Which sounds like a great idea for a new release, right? Get some sales and some reviews.

Except, especially on Amazon, that can be the kiss of death. Because Amazon is all about the algorithms. What is this book you have published and who can I shove it in front of to generate sales?

And the problem with having friends and family be the first people who buy your book is that it’s very confusing to those algos. Because your middle grade fantasy is being bought by someone who reads 90% mystery and also by someone who reads 85% non-fiction and by someone else who reads gritty books across fantasy, sci fi, horror, and mystery. So what reader can Amazon find that fits all those categories?

None.

Now, granted, I myself have made this mistake. Because who wants to publish a book and have no sales? So you tell people about it. And because they like you (hopefully) they buy it even though they may never actually read it and generally don’t read things like it as a general rule.

Which means you end up trying to swim against the current to get to your actual audience. And you don’t have a lot of time to do it in because Amazon is relentless with its 30-day, 60-day, 90-day cliffs. It’s an environment where your book either proves itself or it sinks. Fast.

Better is to not tell friends and family about your new release until your also-boughts have populated. Also-boughts that you have hopefully helped craft via advertising towards your actual target audience, so that when those friends and family come by to show their support Amazon already knows what you’re selling and who it will sell to.

It’s a bit counterintuitive to a lot of businesses. When I was a broker you were encouraged to find friends and family members who’d invest with you first and then move out from there as you did well and got word of mouth. Lots of businesses are built that way. But books don’t work quite the same. Because people will pay a dollar or five for a book but it does you no good if that sale doesn’t help build towards more readers. Better to have people share links on your behalf with people they know who might be your target audience and hope those people buy it.

Anyway. Something to think about for the brand new author with no established audience.

 

 

Some Thoughts on Book Covers

I have friends who swear by using professionally-done covers. And some of those friends do very, very, very well. Much better than I do. (Although I suspect that’s down to writing skill and speed of publishing more than cover quality.)

Me, I tend to do my own covers. And I’ll tell you why. Because coming from a corporate background it drives me absolutely batty to deal with cover designers.

This last week I redid two series’ worth of covers. It was 20+ covers and I was able to create them and upload them and be done within a few days. At the same time I’ve been paying to have the covers redone for my YA fantasy series by one of the really good cover designers out there and it’s taken six weeks (?) so far to get three covers done. If I’d gone with one of the other top designers out there I’d still be waiting for them to get started because most have waiting lists of three to six months, assuming they’re taking on new clients.

So let me walk you through my cover designer experiences. I’m not naming names, because that’s not the point there. The point is to understand some of the challenges of dealing with cover designers and why, if you can do it at all, it might make sense to do your own instead.

Cover Designer #1: Pre-Mades

As with all things self-publishing, I ventured into paying for covers the cheap way by buying a couple of pre-made covers. One was for a romance novel, one was for my SFF short story collection. And they looked good. I have no complaints about the appearance of the covers. I mean, I chose them after all, they were a completed product before I paid for them.

The cover designer was also easy to work with and provided my files within a few days of my placing my order. I had no complaints about that designer’s responsiveness or professionalism.

All good.

Until I started poking around on some stock photo websites and realized that the cover designer had literally taken existing stock photos and just slapped text on them. No edits to the photo whatsoever. It was the same exact image, not zoomed in or cropped in any way. No extra border. No combined images. Nothing changed.

Which means that the pre-made they slapped up on their website probably took ten minutes to create and another ten to customize it when they got my order. They needed an eye for placement and font choice, but that was pretty much it.

Now, granted, that’s probably all you can expect when you spend $35 for a cover. But it made me realize that I could probably do that myself. And when I did the next romance cover I did buy that original stock photo and put new text over it to match my second romance novel cover rather than go back to that cover designer and pay for them to create a custom cover to match the first one.

So decent to work with, decent result, but something anyone could slap together with minimal design skills.

Cover Designer #2: Custom Cover

When I published my first fantasy novel I decided it was time to quit playing around and do things “the right way”. I’d seen a trade-published cover designer’s work that I thought was really good and I reached out to them about what it would cost to have them do my covers. Turns out the answer was $650.

That was a lot to spend, but I wanted to give that book all the chances in the world, so I paid it. And the cover is gorgeous. The artist actually did a photo shoot with a local girl who worked at Starbucks and turned her into exactly what I was looking for. It was an illustrated cover and that artist nailed it. The first draft had a bad font and the image needed moving a bit but we fixed that easily enough.

I really had no complaints about that first cover. (Later when I had that book on display at a convention I realized it didn’t look as good from a distance. My homemade covers on other books on that table drew in far more readers than that very expensive cover did.)

Of course, there was no way to do the second cover in that series without using the same artist. So I had to go back to them a year later and see if they were available and what timeline I was working with. They said it would be a month to get the cover done, but they missed the deadline and I had to delay my release while I waited for them to finish.

We also had some back and forth on that one that was a bit painful. But I was stuck with them at that point. Fortunately design of the third cover went smoothly but I do seem to recall that they were late on that one, too.

The bigger problem was that when I wanted to change the back cover copy on two of the print versions a year or so after that I was told it would cost $200 to do so. I don’t sell enough in print on those books for that to make any sense.

So gorgeous covers but production delays and high costs to make edits.

Cover Designer #3: The Designer That Never Was

When I decided to publish my first cozy mystery I looked a the covers in the genre and found that most of the best in the genre were a style I couldn’t replicate myself. So I looked around to see who did covers in that genre.

One top designer was booked out six months but another said they just needed a month’s notice and to let them know when I was ready to go. They were about $250 a cover I want to say, so reasonable for what they did and available in a workable timeframe.

Great.  I reached out about a month later, and…nothing. They never replied to me again. Not via email, not via their website. They were just gone.

Fortunately I hadn’t paid them so I wasn’t out any money, but it frustrated me enough that I just went ahead and did my own covers for the cozies.

So one man shop, disappeared without notice.

Cover Designer #4: High End Cover

This year I had some money to spend on my business so I figured it was time to try new covers on the fantasy series. (Even though it took two and half years to pay off the first set of covers. I sometimes don’t learn my lessons.)

I poked around and most of the top designers were not available or had a long wait time, but one had a website that said they’d send through options within a couple weeks, so I submitted with them.

They don’t have a series option so I had to do each cover one at a time even though my ultimate goal was three covers for a completed trilogy. Again we were in the $600 range.

First, I had to chase them down after that two weeks passed without any response. It took a few more days but then they sent through some ideas which were…okay? But not worth $600.

I had specifically said I didn’t want a cover that looked muddy from a distance like my first fantasy one had turned out to be. I even gave them the link to that cover, but one of the options they sent through was mostly brown colors that would be muddy from a distance.

I ran the options by a private group I’m in and those folks agreed that, no, not worth continuing if that’s what I was going to get. I could’ve paid a third as much to a different designer and had covers on par with what they sent me in that first round.

I gave them one more try with much more specific guidance based on work I’d seen them do for others and they finally came back with something much, much better, so I stuck with them.

After that little hiccup the first cover was fine.

But then the second cover–which was part of the series–was done as if the designer hadn’t thought “hey, this cover needs to fit with the other two”. It was fine on its own, but not as part of the series. It was like someone hadn’t liked aspects of the first cover so had decided to fix those aspects with the second cover. But that didn’t work because the two covers had to sit side-by-side and I already had the first cover.

(My other expensive cover designer actually changed the font on my on my second book, too. It was a better font, yes, but it meant anyone who already owned the first book was stuck with books in a series that didn’t match.)

This lack of continuity with the first cover really frustrated me. This is the type of thing that if I’m paying you $600 for a cover I expect you to handle without my guidance. But I was stuck in at this point because I’d already paid for the first cover. So I told them all the fixes that needed to be made and they were done.

But now we’re on cover three. There were some fixes to the central image because the first round of choices were not good, but that was pretty simple. And they made a basic error they shouldn’t have, but that got fixed, too.

When they sent me the print proof the coordinator pointed out something to me about the text on the back cover that I agreed needed changed. It was a simple fix and since they’d pointed it out to me, I figured it would be done within the day and done right. But the next proof I got they’d fixed the wrong thing. It was even worse than before. And it took three days to get that first fix back. And then another two days to fix the bad fix. So five days for a change that literally was a five-minute change that they identified first.

And I’m still waiting for the final files.

So beautiful work but long delays in getting it and challenges in getting a product worth what I paid for it and in having to manage someone who wasn’t managing themselves well.


Those are my cover designer experiences. I’ve also had a few cover designers I reached out to who said they couldn’t do the type of cover I was looking for, which is fair enough. I hold nothing against them for saying that. It is what it is.

I do believe that covers matter. My mom is one of those people who will buy a book just for the cover. But I also believe there’s a “good enough” standard for most genres and that there are ways to do good enough covers in most genres that don’t require massive design skills.

Just like with writing, I think it’s a process of leveling-up over time as you see and think about what works and find ways to get the appearance you want. And, this will sound sort of strange, but I figure all of it has to work together and sometimes a non-million-dollar cover is actually the better choice because it more accurately conveys to the reader what they’ll find inside.

(One of the reasons I gleefully use alright instead of all right in my books is because I know that the Strunk & White purists will be turned off by that and leave my books alone which is a good thing for both of us.)