Expectations Can Kill You

I’m reading a very interesting book right now called Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard. It essentially makes the argument that not everyone is wired to be immediately successful nor are they wired to be successful following the standard path of high achievement in high school, elite university education, and then wonderful high-powered career.

Ironically, because of my first career and my elite university education I don’t really fall into the “we” he talks about throughout the book. But as someone who stepped off that path the idea behind the book attracted me and I think it’s a good read and will probably recommend it to all of my friends with kids because I’ve been firmly convinced for a couple decades now that expecting your kids to attend college and become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, investment banker, etc. is very unhealthy for kids that don’t fit that path.

While the book is interesting and worth a read I’ve been thinking in broader terms about the argument it’s making and applying that to writing. Because I think we have that same unhealthy mindset in self-publishing. Or at least we did when I started out.

There was this expectation that you’d publish a book and it would just sell as if by magic and then you’d publish a couple more and you’d be killing it and able to quit your job and make six figures no problem. And behind that was this idea that if you failed to do that you were somehow flawed or lesser and just didn’t get it. You didn’t have what it takes to be successful.

There are authors who disprove that theory–Annie Bellet being one of them who has spoken about it publicly. She struggled for years before it finally all clicked and came together and she found tremendous success.

But yet there’s still this expectation hanging around of immediate sales and reviews and praise that makes any author who doesn’t find that kind of success feel like a failure.

And there’s a certain scorn that gets voiced at times by some of the authors who’ve made it. Like, “Oh, if only they knew…I mean, can’t they see what they’re doing wrong? That cover. And that blurb. And, oh, don’t get me started on the writing. Who doesn’t know the difference between reign and rein?”

Those two attitudes combined make it really hard to push through and persevere for those who don’t hit right away.

Not only are you struggling with your failure to meet your own expectations but then you’re also faced with this niggling feeling that people out there are looking down their noses at your pathetic attempts to make it. And with self-publishing you tend to be failing in public unless you use pen names and don’t tell anyone about them.

So you either toil in darkness and alone or you trip and fall on your face in front of the crowd. Neither option is fun.

The irony is that an author can actually be doing pretty well for where they are. They can be on the right path and headed in the right direction. Maybe they just need more books out there. Or a better understanding of marketing. Or just more realistic expectations.

But the problem is that no one likes to publicly talk about their failures and struggles, so it’s really hard to see that. Which means to succeed if it doesn’t happen immediately you have to have this gut level belief in yourself that basically defies everything everyone around you thinks.

That is not easy.

I’ll give a personal example here.

I had a Bookbub on my YA fantasy novel a few days ago.

It bombed. By Bookbub standards it was horrible. They said to expect 2,200 sales and I had about 1,000. Not even half of the expected average.

It really hurt to have it perform so poorly. Because I should’ve been able to hit the average, right? I mean, come on. At least close? I looked at the book and thought there was something wrong with it. I thought to myself that maybe I just can’t write fantasy even though it’s my first love. Maybe what I want to write just isn’t what people want to read. I had some dark moments of the soul.

But here’s the thing.

That promotion, which cost me $700, is already profitable after four days. I brought in a thousand new readers to that series. I made it into the top 100 authors in teen fantasy on Amazon for two days.

It was actually a really good promotion. If I hadn’t had that stupid average number to set my expectations, I would’ve been thrilled with how it turned out.

So if you get into one of those dark places where you’re wondering what you’re doing and why you suck so much when everyone else is doing so well, step back.

Ask yourself how realistic these expectations you’re trying to meet really are. As the book I’m reading mentions, reframe your situation.

Look at the positive reviews. Look at the sales. Look at the fan mail.

Or look at what you’ve learned. Look at what you now know about your writing or the market. Give yourself a pat on the back for taking one step closer to your goal. And remember that not everyone succeeds the first time out even if that’s what it can look like sometimes.

There’s Still Time…

KKR made a brief comment on her May reading list post that dovetailed nicely with a comment I’d made recently in a writer’s group about releases and that also fits with my current reading list.

Basically, the comment was about how people don’t always read a book when it’s released, they read it when they find out about it.

That can be years after a book was written and published, assuming it’s still available to be read in some way, shape, or form.

For example, I’m currently reading the entire J.D. Robb In Death series. I’m about halfway through. The first book in that series was published decades ago. But for me it’s a new series that I’m racing my way through. My mom happened to mention it for the umpteenth time (she buys the new releases as soon as they come out in hard cover) and I said, “Oh, let me try it. I’ll borrow the first one from you next time I see you.” Twenty-some books later I’m still enjoying it.

I had the same thing happen with Robin Hobb. I didn’t start reading her until she’d published three trilogies in that story world.

Which is why I sometimes find the self-publisher and trade publishing focus on strong launches so interesting. I get it. The odds of having a book that stands the test of time and gets word of mouth referrals are higher the better a book launches, especially with Amazon’s built-in bias for rewarding success with more success.

But there are so many books that have done well later as people started to read them and recommend them to one another.

I always think of Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft as a perfect example of this sort of thing. That series didn’t do well until he submitted it to the SPFBO. One of the fifty best fantasy novels I’ve read, but it was languishing in triple-digit ratings for a couple years before it got its break.

That doesn’t mean every book that doesn’t sell well right away is some work of genius, of course. Odds are more often on the side of a book not being that great. But if you have faith in what you wrote, don’t give up just because you weren’t instantly amazingly successful. Keep working it. You never know.

(I say with hope as I have two Bookbubs on two separate series coming up this month…)


Publishing Paperbacks with IngramSpark

After over $40,000 earned on paperback sales and almost six years of self-publishing I finally bit the bullet and decided to list a large number of my paperbacks through IngramSpark instead of just KDP Print (or CreateSpace pre-transition).

I just ordered the print proofs on my third batch of books and have one more to go. By then I’ll have uploaded about forty titles.

It wasn’t that hard to do although I’d say it’s a more involved process than just publishing through KDP Print, mostly because this is the first time I’ve used my own ISBNs.

The cost of ISBNs was really what had held me back from doing this before. If it had just been a matter of uploading the books with IngramSpark for free, I would’ve done it long ago. But when you consider the fact that you have to pay $125 if you want to buy a single standalone ISBN, it makes sense to hold off for a while until the cost comes down. When I finally bit the bullet I was able to buy a pack of 100 ISBNs, which meant that the per-ISBN cost was only $5.75.

A big difference. (Let me just say for the record that ISBN sales in the U.S. are a racket and that 98% of the emails that Bowker sends out if you sign up for them are services that will take your money and deliver almost no value.)

But since I don’t live in one of the wonderful countries where ISBNs are free, that’s the price I have to pay to play.

So a few thoughts for those thinking of venturing this way:

IngramSpark offers a free three-month membership with the IBPA. If you take advantage of that membership and then download their member guide it will (as of now) contain a discount code for IS that allows you to upload your title and make any file changes for free. That’s a savings of $49 per book that you upload and $25 per change you need to make. In my case, about $2.000 in savings.

The IBPA also offers a discount code for buying ISBNs. Well worth the effort of joining for me given the numbers of books I was dealing with and since it was free.

I also found that the best order to do things in was to identify the ISBN I was going to use for a title but to not enter any information for it yet on the Bowker website (https://www.myidentifiers.com/).

I then went to IngramSpark to add my title and worked my way through to the page where you upload the interior and cover files.

At that point I went to the IS cover creator (https://myaccount.ingramspark.com/Portal/Tools/CoverTemplateGenerator) and was able to generate the cover template for each book. (In PDF since I use GIMP).

Waiting to do the cover until I’d entered my information meant I didn’t have to re-enter all the book dimension information on the cover template generator. As soon as I typed the ISBN and tabbed to the next field all of that information populated automatically.

After I had submitted the files for review with IS and the title was listed in Premedia I would then set up the ISBN on the Bowker site. The advantage to doing this after the book had been submitted to IS is that I had the weight and spine width to input for the ISBN listing. It’s not required information, but I figure the easier I make it for anyone who wants to order my book, the better.

If you’re going to use a series name, you have to have the Bowker folks add it to your account. You can manually add it on IngramSpark’s site.

If you’re going to use an Imprint name you have to have IngramSpark add it to your account, but you can manually add it on the Bowker site.

See how those are reversed? Fun, huh?

Also, with IngramSpark if you click on the “Approve Title” option from the book listing that won’t automatically approve it. It will take you to a screen where you can download an eproof of the book and then choose to approve or not. If you want to review a print proof you need to approve the book just for you and then order the print proof.

(You can also pull up the book listing and see the eproof from there but then you have to go back to the main page to approve it.)

I’ve found the Bowker and IngramSpark people easy to work with and prompt at responding to my requests. Only thing is they don’t appear to work on weekends, so plan for that.

In terms of quality, I’m not sure I see a huge difference. I do like the fact that I can have spine text on shorter titles with IS than with KDP Print. It’s tiny print, but they’ll do it. Much better to have that than all these blank spines on all my books. (You’ll notice with the Excel titles that I use colors to distinguish because of that. Blue is beginner. Red is intermediate. Then green and orange. And all of the Easy Excel titles have distinct colors as well. Those, unfortunately, are still too short for spine text.)

I think the IS review process is actually less robust than the KDP Print one. For example, I uploaded the wrong interior file for one of my titles and they didn’t catch it in their review. (I had a nagging feeling I’d done it so I checked that immediately.)

Also, KDP Print gives you the ability to flip through your book as if it’s a real book. The IS ebook preview does not, so I think my overall process will still be to upload to KDP Print first, use their previewer to really review the title, and then deal with IS as a secondary step.

Also the cover template that IS gives you is trickier to work with than the KDP Print one. And they are not directly interchangeable so I had to create new covers for each print book I uploaded. (Since I use a very basic format for print, that wasn’t all that hard to do. If I decide to upload my fantasies I’m going to have to go back to the cover designer and have him do it.)

No need to buy bar codes either. The IS template provides one for you. You can cut and paste it easy enough.

I think that’s about it. I don’t think I’d recommend that most fiction authors do this unless they have free ISBNs and do their own covers, not until they have at least ten books out that they’d want to put into print. Or if they’re selling so well that people are asking for their books at the local bookstore since IS lets you set a discount for bookstores.

For non-fiction it’s a little trickier. If you have enough titles to bring down the cost of the ISBNs or can get them free, then maybe. Depends on sales and if you have to pay someone for all the cover work.

I figure I need about 250 print sales to breakeven on this. Given my prior expanded distribution sales averages I should hit that after a year of sales. Hopefully I’ll hit it faster, but you never know. And taking time to learn a new platform is always taking time from writing the next book. Sometimes that trade-off is worth it. Sometimes it isn’t.

I have heard people say that going through IS upped their overall print sales, but it’s too early for me to judge that one yet. I went with a 40% discount and no returns. I’m not sure what those others used.


Easy AMS Ads 2019 Edition

I hadn’t intended to update Easy AMS Ads because the pace of change with respect to AMS last year was so fast and furious it seemed like an impossible task to keep the book updated. But things hit a critical mass this month and I decided I either needed to update the book or unpublish it entirely because so much has changed with AMS in the last twelve months.

And since I’d just published the last cozy and needed a project before I started the next one, I figured why not go ahead and update the book.


Easy AMS Ads – 2019 Edition is now live in ebook format and will soon be live in print as well. This one has some pictures in it and is also about 50% longer than the first edition which may give you some idea of just how much things have changed.

For those who read the first edition I’d say the information on portfolios, reports, and the new bidding options still make this one worth checking out if you haven’t already dug into those on your own yet.

Easy AMS Ads 2nd Ed V5


It Should Not Be This Challenging

I hate inefficiency. It really, truly drives me nuts. And when I have the ability to control situations, I fix the inefficiencies that I find. But unfortunately with self-publishing I’m at the mercy of the distributors and their whacked out notions of how things should work.

Which is why I spent about an hour this morning checking the blurbs of my books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and fixing them.

See, with Amazon when you used to publish through CreateSpace if you just typed in a book description like I’m typing this post right now everything would show up on Amazon as one big chunk of text with no paragraph breaks. But when you published an ebook through KDP it showed up just fine.

Same text, different outcomes.

Now, you’d think that when they migrated print books to KDP Print that they’d fix this issue, right? I mean, it’s the same interface you’re using. The description book looks identical for the print and ebook versions.

But they didn’t. So you type in your description and use your little Enter key for paragraph breaks and for an ebook everything looks just like you wanted it when the book is published. But for paperbacks, it publishes as one big wall of text.

It looks fine on the screen where you entered the information, at first, but come back to that screen later and all your paragraph breaks will be gone.

You need to use HTML tags <p> and </p> around each paragraph to get it to display in paragraphs on Amazon.

I know this, but sometimes I forget. Or sometimes I used bold and italics for a header line and then don’t put the paragraph mark around it as well and that first line scrunches up against the next paragraph. So, fifteen or so revisions later, I’m finally done with fixing all of my paperback descriptions.

Barnes & Noble’s NookPress is it’s own version of hell.

Because it has an input screen just like Amazon and then there’s a little tab you can click that lets you see a preview. Great, right? No guessing. You can see what it will look like before you publish.

Except that preview requires that you use HTML coding to get paragraphs in your text. The only way to get that preview looking “right” is to use not just paragraph breaks but a <br> break as well. But…

(And here’s where it gets fun.)

When you then go to the Barnes & Noble website it looks like crap if you actually did that. Putting in paragraph and break HTML to get it looking good in the preview when you’re submitting the book results in the book description on the website having something like three extra lines between each paragraph.


It does not have to be this f’ed up.

Amazon: Just make it consistent. And let people know how it works, whichever way you go.

Barnes & Noble: Line your frickin’ preview up with how the page will actually look when it publishes.

Alright. Rant over.

Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who are mothers. Condolences to those of you missing a mother today. (And for those of you thinking I’m nuts because it’s not Mother’s Day, for some reason there is not agreement on which day Mother’s Day should be celebrated around the world. Today is the American one.)

A Reading List for Writers

I’ve continued to play around with the new Books2Read reading list option and put together this reading list of all of my favorite writing books. These are the books that are physically on a shelf in my office that I really liked. Definitely not all the writing-related books I’ve read over the years, but the ones I really enjoyed and found valuable.

There were a few that I couldn’t link to because they don’t exist in an ebook version, which I find strange in this day and age. But it is what it is.

I went ahead and created a separate account to do this because I have so many of my own books in my main B2R account, which means pretty much anyone could create an account as an “author” and then put together a list like this.

So, check it out if you’re looking for ideas on more writing books to read or if you just want to see how it works.

A Reading List for Writers


Ah, Life

I think one of the biggest challenges to this whole writing journey has been managing my ego. It’s one of the awful little side effects of having gone to really great schools (Stanford and Wharton). You’re puttering along in your life doing your thing and suddenly one of your classmates is appointed CEO of Yahoo! or wins a SAG award, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe for their incredible acting. (Both went to Stanford at the same time I did.)

Or another classmate casually mentions that they sold their firm with $10 billion in assets under management and are now taking a sabbatical to travel the world. (A Wharton classmate. And, ironically, that description may be too generic for you to even identify a specific individual.)

Now, I know in my heart of hearts that their paths are not ones that would interest me. I don’t look at them and say “that could’ve been me”. (Although I do think it would be fun to act. That’s one of those paths not taken for me.)

I know I’m not playing the same game they are. But when your peers have net worths in the hundreds of millions it can make it really, really hard to take pride in your own efforts. Especially when you know that you could be much more financially successful doing something other than what you’re doing.

A couple months ago a classmate at Wharton reached out and asked if I’d submit a class note about my writing. I almost said no.

One, because what I’m doing probably makes me the poster child for how not to use your Wharton degree. (You make your millions first, then you take up skydiving and writing novels. You don’t walk away from a good career without having paid off all your student loans to do those things, which is what I did.)

And, two, because as much as I’ve accomplished with my writing, I don’t view it as a success. Most of those class notes are people who’ve done something worth bragging about and for some reason I don’t feel what I’ve done is something to brag about.

Which is somewhat absurd. I have written ten novels and who knows how many non-fiction titles. And I’ve made a profit on them, which is actually saying something.

There was recently a thread on one of the writing forums where people were saying you should never expect to make $5,000 a month from writing. By that standard I’m a raging success.

(I think it’s a horrible mindset those people have when there are authors out there making $100,000 a month, but that’s another post altogether.)

But the problem is, I don’t apply the normal person in the normal world standard to my efforts. I don’t apply the “average writer” standard. Fuck average.

I apply the Stanford/Wharton standard. I look to my “peers” to judge my worth.

(And then I quickly look away, because holy shit.)

But that’s the thing. The people who’ve made it are in the news or in the class notes. No one writes in and says, “Since we all graduated I lost my job, declared bankruptcy, got divorced, and spent three months in a clinic for substance abuse issues. But now I’m living in a halfway house and getting by day-by-day.” Or, “Well, I got married, put all my dreams on hold, quit my six-figure job to raise kids I’m not sure I even like, and am now self-medicating with wine and Facebook while my husband spends inordinate amounts of time with his secretary.”

I have to remind myself that there are probably just as many people like that in my peer group as the superstars. Not that it helps. Because ego. I still think I should do well at whatever I do. Well being top 2%.

So, anyway. I submitted the note. With a good dose of humor included. And now it will forever sit there next to my classmate’s note about his very successful venture. Really, I think that combination pretty much says it all.

Oh, and for any Wharton classmates who find their way here, the skydiving comment was not in fact a joke. This is me doing a sit-fly over Taupo, New Zealand back in the day.

6- Me 2