Seriously, UPS, You Suck

For regular readers of the blog you can skip out on this one. I’m just sitting here too angry to write anything I wanted to write today so thought I’d make a public post about why I think UPS sucks.

Backstory: Last week my pup had fresh red blood on her eye. I took her into the main vet and then a specialist vet. Fortunately, it’s not the disease that will blind her if untreated, but it’s still something that is impacting her eyes. The vet prescribed a medicine that has to be custom manufactured out of state. That prescription should’ve gone through last Friday which would’ve put it here Monday, but the vet messed up and didn’t put it through until I called to follow-up on Monday. So I was already cranky before UPS got involved.

Company that was shipping the medicine charged me $10 for the shipping and sent it 2nd Day Air, which meant it was out for delivery yesterday. Because of how they shipped it I was emailed a little link that let me follow my package. This link basically lets you watch where the delivery truck is throughout the day and tells you when they’re getting close.

Weather was fine yesterday until about 2 PM when it started to snow. I had a package delivered by UPS at the normal time they deliver to my house around 10 AM. It was a package of books that had been sent via normal delivery so had taken four or five days to get here.

But that air, priority package? The one I really cared about? Did it come on the regular delivery truck? No, it did not. You’d think if you knew bad weather was coming in that might impact deliveries that you’d prioritize the priority packages. Not if you’re UPS, though.

Yesterday I checked in throughout the day and watched as that delivery truck came within one block of my house but then never delivered to my house. It was out doing its work until 6 PM (a full work day, no weather stoppage there) when I finally got an email that they had failed to make the delivery due to weather.

Yeah, no. You failed to make the delivery because you failed to prioritize packages that you were paid to prioritize. You had plenty of time to deliver a priority package before the weather turned and even after it had.

But it gets worse. Because today I got another little tracking link.

Now you would think that if a customer had paid for priority delivery of a package and you had failed to deliver it on the day it was supposed to be delivered that you would then make it a priority the next day to deliver that package, right? Wouldn’t that be good customer service? To come somewhat remotely close to doing what you’d been paid to do?

Not if you’re UPS.

It’s almost the end of the business day here. I have watched that stupid little truck come within five blocks of my house to the north, to the east, and to the south and then go twenty blocks away and start working its way through the neighborhood it worked its way through yesterday before not delivering to me.

I assume that maybe at some point today they’ll actually show up here. But, seriously, how do you run a business that way? How are you so tone deaf to what you’ve promised customers and then delivered them? How do you deliver a non-priority package and yet fail to deliver the priority one?

(Let’s not even get into the wastefulness of sending two trucks to the same address on the same day…Oh wait. They didn’t really, did they?)

Ugh. So annoyed.

(comments disabled because I just wanted to rant not have any sort of conversation about my rant, especially not with UPS who make it impossible to submit a complaint on their website which is why I ended up making this post because I couldn’t email them instead)

 

New Release Checklist

I’m always forgetting at least one thing I’m supposed to do for each new release, so I figured I’d try to put together a checklist to use for the next release and I’d share it here for anyone who needs one themselves.

Keep in mind that I am wide with most of my books and that I usually publish in print at the same time I release in ebook so there will be far more on my list than on some.

PB=Paperback, EB=Ebook

1. Upload PB to Amazon and proof with previewer. Make changes until final.

2. Upload EB to Amazon and proof with previewer. Make changes until final.

3. Upload PB to IngramSpark and submit.

4. (Next day) Proof and approve PB on IngramSpark.

5. Publish PB and EB on Amazon. (Write down foreign currency prices for use with other sites.)

6. Upload and publish EB on other sites. (D2D, Kobo, Nook, G+, Apple)

7. When published on Amazon, claim EB and PB versions on Author Central.

8. Create listing for book on Goodreads. (This prevents the book from being listed incorrectly under authors with the same name.)

9. Update Books2Read link when all major retailers are in. Give custom name to URL and review Author page for positioning of new title.

10. If there are followers for that name add book to BookBub profile to qualify for new release email.

11. Announce new release on website.

12. Announce new release to mailing list.

13. Update Also By section for EB of any related books with links to new title. Upload to sites.

14. Update Also By section for PB of any related books with new title. Upload to sites.

15. Update EB files for new release with links to new title. (If applicable.) Upload to sites.

16. Wait two days and if EB and PB versions are not linked on Amazon, request that they be linked via Author Central.

17. Add listing for new title on website.

18. Post to FB or other social media about new release, if applicable.

19. Start an AMS ad on new title in US and, if warranted, UK.

 

 

New Releases: Microsoft Access

Access for Beginners and Intermediate Access are now live in ebook on Amazon and making their way to all the usual places. (Paperbacks should be live soon, too, but will take a day or two to link up to the ebook.)

I’m pretty sure these are books I said at one point that I’d never write because even though I use Access on a regular basis and find it essential to tracking all of my publishing results I never quite felt I knew it well enough to write a book on it.

So I finally went out a bought a book that someone else had written on Access to see how much beginner/intermediate knowledge I actually had. And it turns out that I knew about 95% of what I needed to write the books.

And, more importantly, that the way I think about how to use Access is completely different from the way the author of that other book thought about Access. It literally made my brain hurt to try to follow the way that person presented Access. Which made me realize there might be a need out there for the way I think about it.

So I wrote it.

These ones are longer than the ones on Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. And I’d recommend being familiar with Excel before you start them. But hopefully they help at least one person out there to master Access, because I really do think it’s an incredibly useful tool (for those circumstances where it makes sense, which in my opinion are somewhat limited these days).

Enjoy.

Writing: Point of View Matters

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. I mean, I always am reading, but I think I’ve been diving into more new-to-me authors lately which means I’m running across more writing approaches or styles than normal.

And I’ve realized as part of that exploration that the point of view the author chooses to use can make or break a story.

I’m reading a novel right now that’s written in first person, something I personally have no problem with. My cozies are written in first person. But as a writer reading this book I am annoyed at the author for making that choice.

Because they chose to write in first person but they included at least six different points of view. ALL of them in first person. NONE of them identified in any way at the start of each section. And they change point of view within chapters. So you have on first-person point of view starting the chapter and then another picking up at the section break halfway through. It feels like I’m constantly playing catch up in each new section, trying to figure out who is talking now.

The story itself is fine. But I know because of the point of view choice this author made that my mom won’t be able to read it. She’d never be able to make those switches successfully.

And what annoys me so much is that the author could have simply used a deep third person point of view and accomplished the exact same thing but had it work better for the reader.

This is not some new author. This is a trade-published author with I think 11 books out. (All in first person, though, so maybe that’s the issue. But by now you think they would have read enough to know that deep third can be very close to interchangeable with first person.) And they have an editor who should’ve seen this, too.

So that’s one. And probably the one that prompted this post. But another I’ve been thinking about lately is that I just don’t like to be in the point of view of nasty human beings. It’s like immersing myself in slime. I don’t mind reading stories that have nasty human beings in them (as long as they get their comeuppance at the end), but along the way I really really don’t want to sit in their head for any length of time.

I read all the JD Robb books this last year and there was one (of the fifty?) that I really did not like for this reason. She’d included the killer’s point of view in a certain number of chapters and I just didn’t want to read them. I didn’t want to see some self-centered asshole murderer justifying their actions.

As a writer reading something like that I then step back and ask, “Did that help the story? Did the story gain anything by having an insight into this character’s thoughts?”

And my personal answer there was no. That was the only book of that series that I really didn’t like, but it wasn’t the only one that included the POV of the killer. But I don’t think any of the books I read in that series that had the POV of the killer benefited from having it. And I think in some cases it actually took away some of the suspense because we already knew things about the killer that the detective hadn’t yet discovered so false paths we might’ve gone down as readers were taken away.

Now, those books are so good that I’ll keep reading them anyway. I think she is a master of her craft and does so many things so well that she’s well worth studying.

But another author that I’d recently started reading I’ve stopped reading for also including the bad guy’s point of view in the story. In that case it was a lazy user-type who starved his kids and beat his wife. He gets killed in the end but about half of the book felt like it was in his head and I just did not want to be there. Especially since it was a world that should have killed him much earlier on.

I’m sure there are other POV changes I could think of given enough time, but those were the two that were top of mind for me just now. But I guess in a sense they both boil down to the same issue: don’t do something with your writing that pulls the reader out of the story. And if that seems to be happening, then check you POV choices.

 

A Few Good Posts on Critical Voice

I bookmarked this post yesterday to share at some point: Confessions of a Hate Reader…by Jeannette Ng and then realized today that Dean Wesley Smith has been talking about critical voice the last couple of days as well. Here and here. Also, this has been a bit of an ongoing discussion I’ve been having with a bunch of writer friends.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the most successful rule-breaking books are ones that were an author’s first book. Because often that book is written before a writer attends a bunch of writing conferences or joins writing forums or joins writer Twitter and is told what isn’t allowed or what’s passé. (Sparkling vampires? What are you thinking? English boarding school books? Been done before.)

It’s also before they’re actually published and have to contend with negative reviews of their work, some that are quite strongly-worded.

I wrote my first draft of my first novel in six weeks with no one else’s opinion involved. I’d been reading fantasy and other genres for thirty years so I knew basic story structure and I just did it. It wasn’t good. I had to revise it to make it work, but I did it because no one told me I couldn’t. And it went so fast because there were no road blocks in my mind about what I should or shouldn’t write.

I gave a character blue eyes, because I like blue eyes. I didn’t think if that was something that’s overdone. Or if it made me racist. I just wanted that character to have blue eyes.

But as I became more steeped in writing circles I found more and more criticism and objection to so many things. (Like characters with blue eyes.)

It wasn’t directed straight at me. It was directed at other books. But I heard it. I saw it.

They weren’t judging me directly, but they didn’t have to. I applied those judgments for them to my own words.

And eventually it stopped me from writing my next fantasy novel when I was about six books in. (Medieval settings are so boring…Who wants a love triangle…Am I just writing the same story again…Are my sentences and paragraphs too short…)

I pivoted to non-fiction for over a year.

And then I switched to writing cozies. A completely different genre.

I’d had a story idea for ages that I wanted to write, but honestly I think part of the reason I decided to write that series is because I hit my breaking point with all the criticism.

I figured if people were going to hate me for what I wrote I might as well be writing a version of myself onto the page so there’d be no ambiguity about who they hated. Hate that character, you’re going to hate me, too. We’re not identical, but we’re close enough for that to be the case.

I’ve always been okay with the fact that not everyone will like me and that for some of those people nothing I do will change that fact. I learned that lesson in middle school.

But I had to relearn it with my writing: Not everyone is my reader.

It’s not possible for everyone to be my reader. The world is too diverse for that. What someone loves about my writing, someone else will hate. That is a given. And the key I think to surviving as a writer is to either be like DWS and not care at all what anyone thinks or to focus on your readers and give them more of what they want and ignore the people who don’t want it.

(Which is hard to do. I don’t want my writing to cause harm to others. But if I want to keep writing at all, I have to at some point put those other voices aside and write my stories, flawed as they may be.)

Anyway. Something to think about. I’m off to finish the next non-fiction book. Haha.

Some Days I Can’t Even…

There is a writer’s forum that I refuse to post on anymore after I watched a discussion of a fairly controversial topic where information was provided from more than one source on a topic most people aren’t well-informed about and then two posters basically said, “I chose not to read that information that was provided but here’s my outdated, uninformed, insensitive opinion on the matter.” I’m simply done with helping people who don’t want to be helped.

But I still drop by and read the posts.

And today…

Oh my.

There was a discussion on there about how a trade published author that someone hadn’t heard of (who has been a highly successful author with two to three trade pub releases per year for the last thirty-plus years and sold at least 20 million copies) must not be very successful because of their Amazon US rank. The individual making this claim said that he was just as successful as this author because their most recent releases were basically ranked the same on Amazon US.

First, I’m not sure what the commenter was comparing, but when I looked at the latest release by the self-pub author and the trade pub author, this is what I saw.

Trade pub author with a rank of 26K for an ebook priced at $13.99.

Self-pub author with a rank of 49K for an ebook priced at $4.99 and in KU.

Let’s just stop right there for a second. Because if a book is in KU and it is borrowed, Amazon gives that book a rank boost equivalent to a sale. Someone can open that book, decide it is pure drivel, return it, and that book will still get the benefit of the rank boost.

So to claim that a book that is ranked purely based on paid sales and a book that is ranked based on paid sales and KU borrows are equivalent in terms of their performance is absurd.

Also, setting aside the borrow issue, look at the price paid for each sale. One is selling at $4.99. One is selling at $13.99. More than double. And I do not believe that the one selling at $4.99 could continue to sell if it were priced at $13.99.

But there’s more.

Because the self-published title in KU doesn’t even have a paperback version. So all sales of that title are happening on Amazon in ebook.

Compare that to the trade pub author who is published in print. And well-established enough and popular enough to be carried in pretty much every single physical bookstore. And in libraries. Something that will not show on an Amazon US ranking.

The number varies widely for different genres and authors, but the most recent estimates I’ve seen thrown around were that print is about 65% of the overall book market.

This is the part that so many indies miss. Because most indies publish POD which comes with higher costs and therefore higher price points, we tend to miss the print market.

I can hit it with my non-fiction but not my fiction. That’s because my $15.95 YA fantasy has to compete with $10.99 YA fantasies or, worse, $7.99 mass market fantasies.

Print is an incredibly big part of the pie and especially in fiction it’s a part of the pie that most indies don’t get.

Sure, some indies make a lot of money. But it’s mostly in ebook or in audio. Dismissing print is like the authors making money in KU dismissing everything else. They’re making good money but it’s in a relatively small section of the overall market that actually exists.

Because indies don’t compete effectively in other portions of the market they forget that those portions of the market exist or they dismiss them as small because their ability to reach that part of the market is so limited that they assume it must be small.

Anyway. Bottom line. Honey, you ain’t anywhere close to touching the level of success of that particular author. But nice try, thanks for playing.

What Does It Cost to Self-Publish A Book

I tend to ignore the conversations where people discuss what’s required to self-publish a book. A few years back someone who’d done very well with self-publishing who I know and like posted a list of everything a new self-publisher should take care of before they publish and I remember staring at that list in horror and thinking I’d never have self-published if I’d thought it required all of that.

I always figure it comes down to a difference in philosophy. I long ago accepted that I will never be perfect and that the level of effort to reach perfection far outweighs any benefit I’ll receive from it. In school being perfect would’ve meant I couldn’t take all the courses I wanted to, play the sports I loved, and do the extracurriculars I enjoyed all at the same time. It seemed oddly limiting to me to spend all that time on one thing so I could get an A+ or up my shooting percentage in basketball when I could get an A- and still start varsity with a lot less effort.

I also long ago learned that arguing with the perfectionists is exhausting and a waste of my time and energy. And in self-pub especially where everyone thinks they can see and judge your performance it’s an even more obnoxious experience. Because, since of course I’m not perfect, if I say, “you can do it for free” then someone will call out my writing or my covers or my blurbs or my book rank.

But here’s the thing: You can do it for free. Or at least close to it. It just takes time.

I’ve published two books so far this year. One non-fiction title in an area of expertise I have. One cozy mystery.

I used GIMP (a free software) to create the covers myself. Will they win awards? No. Do they achieve their purpose? I like to think so.

The non-fiction cover had one stock image, the cozy cover had three. I’m still working through a DepositPhotos package I bought that came with something like 100 images for $50. So, let’s say one cover cost me 50 cents. The other cost me $1.50. And time. It maybe took me an hour, probably less, to create each cover.

(Keep in mind at this point I’ve created well over a hundred covers in GIMP. Probably more than triple that if we start counting paperback covers as separate.)

I also self-edit.

Yes, that means that there are people out there who will read one of my stories and tell me it could’ve been better. But every story can always be better. Every single one ever published. And no story will appeal to all readers. Ever. But the stories I publish are me. They are consistently mine. People may not like what my characters do or what they value or the level of action/emotion/exposition/etc. in my novels, but for those who do like my worldview they know they’ll get a novel that delivers what they like.

I did have three subject matter experts read the non-fiction title to make sure I wasn’t saying anything dramatically controversial but at the end of the day that was my take on a field where I have twenty years of expertise. It was delivered in my voice and with my opinions based on my experience.

And, sure, maybe I could pay a few hundred dollars and have someone find five extra typos, but I don’t think it’s worth the expense. It’s certainly not worth it on the fiction side to find someone who may not know any more about writing than I do to tell me what they think is wrong with my story.

I format my own files as well.

Nowadays I use Vellum for ebooks and for fiction print books. But before I purchased Vellum a well-formatted Word file worked just fine. (Styles are your friend.) I still use Word to format my non-fiction print books using the free template from Amazon. I’m not trying to deliver the most beautifully formatted book out there. I’m just trying to deliver my words in a way that lets the reader absorb them easily and without distraction.

I also upload the files myself.

And write my own blurbs.

(Again, my blurbs may not be the best blurbs that could possibly be written for each book, but they’re mine so they fit perfectly with what someone will actually get when they buy the book.)

Because of all of that I was able to write, prepare, and publish two books for $2.

And my time.

The reason you might pay someone to do these things for you instead is because there’s a learning curve. My first-ever cover was absolutely horrid. I did not know how bad it was. I thought I’d done a good job with it.

But that’s the beauty of self-publishing. A cover can be changed out in a day. It will only live on on Goodreads if you were unfortunate enough for it to make it there. (Which for that book I was not.)

As a new writer I had that time. And really, honestly, if I’d paid for those services back then I would’ve been throwing my money away because I didn’t know enough to judge what I was paying for.

I have no doubt there are “formatters” out there right now charging a couple hundred bucks to run a file through Vellum because there are authors out there who don’t know better and will pay them for that.

Now, of course, in any discussion about this someone will inevitably come along and argue that six-figure authors don’t do it all themselves and give that as proof for why new authors should pay for all of this, too.

But that’s a fallacy.

Because the decision a six-figure author is making is very different from the decision a new author is making.

My most successful title has made me a profit of $725 per hour it took to write. If I knew that every title I wrote would be that successful then I’d be a fool to do everything myself.

Better at that point to pay someone $250 for a cover than spend an hour (which is worth $725) creating my own.

This is why a number of the very successful authors I know pay for editors. Not because they can’t do it well enough themselves, but because that time they’d spend on editing can be better spent writing the next book. They can publish a couple more books a year by using an editor.

They have the ideas and the audience for that to make sense.

But for a new writer? It doesn’t.

The sad truth is that for most new writers that first book will not be a resounding success no matter how much money you spend on it. You can get the best edits, the most beautiful formatting, the perfect cover. You can even spend on blog tours and hire a publicist (which, really, honestly does not make sense for 99% of self-publishers). And you can put thousands into ads and develop a launch strategy and all of that.

But at the end of the day that book will still not sell.

Because most first efforts are simply not that good.

And what they generally do have going for them are the things that extensive inappropriate editing can destroy. (Voice, a unique perspective, etc.)

So remember: You really can publish for free. And if you’re new, that may really be the best choice to make.

Take the time, learn how it’s done. Get that first title out there. See what happens. Rinse. Repeat.

(And if that title does have legs, if you’re one of the rare early successes, then use your profits to buy a prettier cover or some paid ads. Just be sure you know by then what will work for the type of book you published.)