Thursday, March 24, 2016

Getting a signed paperback

For readers who already have paperbacks of my books, if you would like to have them "signed," I can do the next best thing by sending you a bookplate.
  • A bookplate is a large, peel-off label that I can sign, inscribe, and mail to you. Once you've received the bookplate, you can stick it to the title page of your book.
  •  I will send bookplates to readers in the United States or internationally. Send me an email through the contact form on my website, and I'll respond with the details.


For readers in the United States only, I have a limited number of paperbacks available for purchase.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Fun times with self-publishing

In March 2016, I presented a lunch-time seminar about self-publishing to aspiring authors who work at my day-job employer.  Here are notes from that presentation. [Updated September 2017.]

Disclaimer: these ideas are based on my experiences, business goals, and temperament. You will bring a different perspective to self-publishing, so consider what resonates and ignore the rest. Also, this post is not financial advice or legal advice. Seek assistance from an accountant or an attorney for legalities and money matters. Every state has different statutes to follow for your small business.

Establishing a publishing house

By self-publishing your books, you have become a small business owner. You are selling a product that you create. Your publishing house is a small business; treat it with professionalism.

Name – Consider picking a name for your publishing house. I picked “FictionEtc Press” since my initials are ETC. I also recommend searching the internet and the US Patent and Trademark Office for your “publisher name” to ensure you don’t violate a trademarked name.

Type of business - Decide what type of business you are forming. Ask fellow authors about the pros and cons of LLC,the various categories of corporations, etc. I chose to be a sole proprietorship--which meant I had to research what was expected in my county/state for someone who was operating a doing business as (DBA) company. My county does require registration as a DBA, which cost about $35 and only took an easy, notarized form.

Banking – Retailers will want to send royalties on a periodic basis. Be sure to have your bank routing/account numbers or a paypal account ready. I have a separate bank account and credit card for my publishing house.

Snail mail address – If you don’t have a personal mail box, consider getting one for your author business mail. I’m paying $150 for a year’s lease.

Sales tax – if it’s possible that you’ll be selling books directly to readers, you should check with your state’s department of revenue to see whether you’ll owe any sales tax.

Income taxes – Keep good records for your business expenses and revenues. You may wish to consider a small business financial package for your computer or careful use of Excel. I hired a tax accountant to assist me my first year of self-publishing, but my husband and I have been managing it ourselves since.

Buy your own set of ISBNs. File for copyright protection.

ISBNs – International Standard Book Number is a 10-digit or 13-digit number that uniquely identifies a book. Having your own ISBNs is optional for some distributors, so this step is not required. I wanted my own ISBNs for my books, so I bought a block of 10 ISBNs from Bowker for $250. Each book format (ebook and print) needs a separate ISBN. Bowker periodically runs promotions, so watch for a sale and "stock up."

Filing for copyright – I recommend filing for copyright protection of your book. It costs $35 and takes about ten minutes to complete the application online at . It'll take a couple of months to get the document. This step is not required; your book is copyrighted as soon as it's in tangible form. But having the copyrights filed gives me peace of mind. YMMV.

Know your supply chain. Understand the difference between distributors and retailers.

Retailers – Retailers are the companies that sell your books to readers on your behalf. Retailers keep a portion of the retail price and send “the publisher” (that is, you) the rest on a periodic basis. The biggest retailers are Amazon, B&N, and Apple. Overdrive and Baker&Taylor are big for libraries. And there are thousands of other online retailers and independent bookstores—which is why you need a distributor

Distributors – Distributors give you a central place to upload your book and then they, in turn, distribute it to the retailers that you choose. Most distributors make it really easy to upload your book, get it ready for distribution, and receive royalties. For instance, KDP is the distributor of ebooks to Amazon. CreateSpace is the distributor of print books to Amazon (and potentially other retailers.) Ingram can distribute e-books or print books to pretty much everywhere. More on this later.

Preparing the book to sell

Produce great content – First and foremost, write a great book. Then I strongly recommend that you have your book professionally edited and proofread. If you, as an author, get the reputation for producing sloppy books, that impression can be hard to fight and could cost you sales. Freelance editors vary greatly in price. For a 70K book, you could pay anywhere from $500 to $2000 for developmental edits. (And the more expensive fees do not guarantee better edits.) Ask for recommendations. You should also consider line-edits, copy-edits, and sensitivity reads (if you are including diverse characters or issues that you don't have firsthand experience with.)

Front matter – Front matter is the first 3-4 pages of a book--before you get to the text of the story. You should always include the title page and the copyright page. You can also, optionally, include a dedication page, a list of your other books ("Also By"), your acknowledgments, and a "call to action" for signing up for your newsletter. Most retailers of e-books require that you have a Table of Contents in your front matter.

Back matter – Back matter is the final 4-10 pages of your book--after The End. Back matter provides a good location for any Author Notes, Author Biography, and an excerpt for your next book. The back matter may also include the acknowledgments and a list of your other books. (This is my preference--to have Acknowledgments and "Books By" in the back matter.) Additionally for e-books, you can include buy-links to your other books and links to your social media sites. Note: most retailers do not allow you to include buy-links for competitors. For instance, Apple does not surface any buy-links for Amazon. You'll likely produce multiple versions of your e-books, a unique version for each retailer with their specific buy-links.

The interior layout of your book provides the presentation of your book. You can go for a no-frills approach or invest in applying more care to the format. When making this choice, consider your personality, the costs involved, and the conventions for your book's market.

Making the interior pretty - The interior layout is all about making the appearance of the book’s content pretty. Some frills that you can add include fancy fonts, fancy chapter headings, scene break images, "left flush" or "drop caps" for the first paragraph of each chapter / scene, and maps (or enhanced content.)

Scene break images: I used scene break images for my first two self-published books, but I've stopped now because they are really hard to get right.  If you hire a layout expert, they should be able to handle scene break images for you.

First paragraphs: I left-flush the first paragraph of each chapter and each scene break. I played around with drop-caps, but decided I didn't like the way they looked.

Fonts: I limit myself with the fonts, mostly using 2 in a book, a serif font for regular text and a san-serif if my characters are texting. The Garamond font is used for 90% or more of the text in my print books. I use "free" fonts in my e-books. There are some weird legalities with "purchased" fonts in e-books.

Hiring a layout expert - I contracted out the interior layout for my first 2 self-pubbed books. I asked self-pubbed friends for recommendations. The going price seemed to be $75-$150 per book. Now, I do the interior layout myself (but I'm also a software developer, so I do this stuff at work for my day-job). Draft2Digital (a distributor) has good tools for turning WORD docs into pretty layouts. You may use them (even if you don't use D2D), and download the books. I haven't used their tools, since I do the work myself.

The text and images (such as covers) that you include in your book can be published in different publishing formats. You must check with your distributor to know which publishing formats that they accept and use.

PDF – the text and covers of print books are always uploaded to distributors in PDF. The distributors I use (Amazon Createspace and IngramSpark) have templates available to ensure that you get covers right.

ePub – nearly all retailers use the ePub format for e-books, except Amazon. There are plenty of tools out there to convert WORD documents to ePub. I use an open source tool called Calibre to create my ePub files and then upload them to the distributors. If you prefer, the distributors have tools to convert WORD to ePub; these conversion tools work very well, but you do lose a little bit of control over the interior of the book.

Mobi/azw – Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has its own proprietary format for distributing e-books to Amazon. You can hire someone to create this format for you, or you can upload a WORD doc, HTML file, or ePub and it will be converted. The KDP conversion tool does a nice, no-frills job.

Book covers – This is your number one marketing tool, so do it well! There are many cover designers out there. Ask for recommendations from your self-pubbed friends. Distributors often have cover designers available. There are also several crowd-sourcing sites that allow you to get “bids” on your book cover design. Prices can run anywhere from $150 to $1000 or more. I've paid $150 for covers and $500 for covers. The quality was good with both. It is possible to create your own covers, but take care that it doesn't look thrown together. Bad covers kill sales.

Licensing – your cover designer may ask you to pay license fees for stock photos and/or specialized fonts. I paid $10 to license fonts and $50 to license stock photos.

Releasing the Book


Let's look at e-books first.

Cost – once you have your interior layout and cover completed, it costs nothing to establish yourself with an e-book distributor. You just open an account, set up the royalty payments and your preferences, and upload your files.

Distributors – Each distributor has a website known as their "author platform." I have accounts with the author platforms on:
  • KDP (Amazon), 
  • NookPress (B&N), 
  • Kobo Writing Life (Kobo),
  • Smashwords (many small retailers),
  • Draft2Digital (iBooks, Overdrive, several international retailers)
I don’t have an account on the Apple/iBooks platform, because I think you need an iOS device to upload files to iTunes. Since I don’t have an iPad or Mac, Draft2Digital distributes to Apple/iBooks for me. I use Smashwords for numerous small and obscure retailers. I rarely get money from Smashwords and intend to close my SW account down this year.

The author platforms for KDP, Kobo, and D2D are amazingly easy to use. Very author friendly. NookPress and Smashwords, not so much. It is a pain to go to so many platforms. Every time you add a new book, you have to publish it multiple places (in my case, 5).

Royalty – review the royalty percentages carefully with each distributor; percentages change with differing price ranges. I have my ebooks priced at $2.99 or $3.99. Amazon and Kobo give me 70%, B&N - 65%, Smashwords - 50%, and D2D - 60%.

Release date – Amazon and Smashwords allowed me to set the release date in the future and accept pre-order sales. On the release date, everything magically worked. With the others, you just click "publish" and it releases immediately.

Now, let's go over releasing print books.

 Cost – Amazon CreateSpace charges nothing to set up print books. IngramSpark charges $49 per book. If you need to upload changes to your book after it is established, CreateSpace charges nothing. IngramSpark charges $25 to take changes. I did pay $20 to both distributors to ship a proof copy. Both distributors allow authors to purchase “author copies” at approximately $5 per book plus shipping&handling.

Distributors – I use CreateSpace to distribute paperbacks to Amazon. I use IngramSpark to distribute to everyone else. The quality of Ingram books is a little better, and their worldwide shipping is faster. CreateSpace has better domestic shipping plus you will make much more money per book.

Royalty – review the royalty percentages carefully with each distributor. I make about $2 royalty on my Createspace books and less than $1 with Ingram. (I may drop Ingram because it's a lot of work for lower royalty. But it does potentially reach libraries and indie bookstores.)

Release date - Createspace releases your book immediately once you have indicated that the proof is acceptable. Ingram allows you to set the release date. If you accept the proof in advance, they will treat it as a pre-order until the actual release date.

The good and the bad with self-publishing

Let me close these notes with a brief discussion of my opinions about being self-published.

My business goals - Before you make a decision about how to publish your books, be clear about what is important to you for your writing career.
  • Do you write because you have something to say?
  • Do you like the research and potential travel opportunities?
  • Do you want to earn a living as an author?
The answers to these questions could change the choice you make about self-publishing. In my case, my primary goals are to enjoy the research and to share a story with readers--giving them a new perspective. My day-job (which I love) relieves the pressure of earning an income. So making money is great but not as big an issue for me.

Consider your unique situation - As an author, I love to collaborate with a publishing team to help produce my books. I love knowing that there are editors committed to improving my story. I lean on the expertise of marketing teams and cover designers.  A traditional publishing experience works best for me when, of course, I can get a contract.

Another factor that I have to consider is my target market. I write teen fiction, in a narrow sub-genre. Since teens prefer print books over e-books, I have to sell paperbacks, which are harder to produce as a self-pubbed author and make a smaller profit margin.

Self-publishing works especially well for genres with a strong e-book customer base and for authors who can produce quickly and steadily. Neither is true for me.

What I like about self-publishing:
  • Faster release dates (you publish when the book is ready)
  • Higher royalty rates
  • Faster data (it's instantaneous)
  • Faster receipt of earnings (usually every month)
  • Controlling my own price points

What I don't like about self-publishing:
  • The time I spend writing versus publishing "biz"; I'd really rather spend 100% of my "author" time writing the book
  • Making decisions about factors that I have no expertise with (such as book covers and promotion)
  • Working on my own (I love collaborating with a publishing team!)
  • The correlation between social media presence and earnings

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

YA book covers with faces?

Here’s an article with a blogger's choice of the 30 Best YA Book Covers from 2015. Only 6 of them had a photograph of a face on them.

A high school teacher mentioned once that she polled her literature students each year about YA book covers. Consistently, her students (male and female) said they preferred it when a book didn’t have faces on the covers; they’d rather imagine what the characters looked like.

Are her students the exception? Or is it true that most teen readers (or readers of YA) would rather not have faces on covers?


This post first appeared on ; Julia Day is the pen name I use for my YA contemporary romances. The first Julia Day is The Possibility of Somewhere, and it will release in September. Please join my on these Julia Day social media accounts.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

If you were expecting swords and sorcery...

My book, I WISH, is YA magical realism. When I uploaded it to Amazon, they didn’t have a tag for magical realism, so I just left it at Fantasy&Magic.

I Wish is next to JKR!

Amazon has the book listed as Swords and Sorcery. There are no swords and no sorcery in I WISH. Anywhere.

The book was on sale last week, a lot of people downloaded it, but it may not have the kind of magic readers are expecting.

I think they’ll like the book when they read it. But if they were hoping to be introduced to a new author of Swords and Sorcery, that’s not what they’ll find. So I asked my friend Laura for her advice on s&s, and here’s what she recommended:

1) anything by Tamora Pierce (like her Song of the Lioness quartet or her Trickster's Choice duet )

2) Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown - “ long, sweeping training montages and stubborn independence and fighting dragons”

3) Sabriel by Garth Nix - “a perfectly-paced dark adventure involving several flavors of magic, enchanted swords, a menacing talking cat, and ‘two worlds side by side’ worldbuilding”

4) Sherwood Smith’s duet Crown Duel / Court Duel - “starts out as a straightforward rebellion but gets into the doubts and nuance of questioning the story that you tell yourself. Book two is a great piece of court drama with misunderstandings, romance through letters, and magic so subtle that most people in the kingdom don’t even know how it works.”

5) The Oathbound books by Mercedes Lackey - readers of any age will love them for their “most literal sword-and-sorcery pair: Tarma is a warrior priestess with a normal sword and Kethry is a mage with a really inconvenient magic sword.”

[Originally posted on]


My first YA contemporary romance, The Possibility of Somewhere, will release in September.  I'll use a new pen name for my YA contemporaries--Julia Day. As I move closer to September, I'll begin to use my Julia Day social media accounts more and phase out this blog.  Please consider following me on Julia Day's:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Who writes better - men or women?

[Originally posted on]

I’ve been reading a lot of articles on social media recently about who wins the most book awards: men or women. (If you don’t know the answer, it’s men.) 

In one blog post, the blogger/author (Nicola Griffith) had broken down the data further. She wanted to know not only who won prestigious awards but also if the award-winning books had male or female protagonists. Out of the six awards she studied,
  • men won 54% (which is actually kind of decent–but maybe it’s just the six awards the blogger picked)
  • men writers had 19% female main characters
  • female writers had 71% male main characters
So–if this sample is anything to go by, women writers feature male MCs far more often than men writers feature women.

As an added point of interest, one of the awards in this study was the Newbery, awarded to books of children’s fiction. It’s the only prize where women authors fared better than men. When I remove the Newbery data from the analysis (that is, the analysis is about adult book prizes only), the numbers change predictably. 

  • men won 61% of the awards (clearly, the children’s book prizes were skewing our data :) 
  • female authors had 77% male MCs 
  • male authors had 14% female MCs 

I think we can all conclude that, for a female author to have a prayer of winning, adding a male MC is nearly essential. 

Back to my original question: Who is better? (which is different than who wins more awards?) 

Now, I have a confession to make. I don’t know who’s better because I don’t read enough books by male authors to judge. I checked out my books-read-list from the past 12 months.  I finished about 80 books. Two (yes, 2) were by men. 

I can’t remember specifically excluding male authors because they are male. Maybe they just don’t write the genre of books I want to read. But the results show a distinct bias. 

I write YA, so I read a lot of YA last year for research as well as pleasure. But, yep, just one (of those 2 aforementioned books) was by a male YA author. I should branch out. Probably. 


My first YA contemporary romance, The Possibility of Somewhere, will release in September.  I'll use a new pen name for my YA contemporaries--Julia Day. As I move closer to September, I'll begin to use my Julia Day social media accounts more and phase out this blog.  Please consider following me on Julia Day's:

Friday, March 4, 2016

Sale on I WISH (book 1)

I have I Wish on sale for 99 cents until March 14.

The third and final book of the I WISH series will release this summer. Wish You Were Here begins four months after Wishing for You. Grant arrives to help Sara Tucker recover from the hardest year of her life.  (You'll also get to catch up with Kimberley and Lacey; they're around to support Sara, too.)

The e-book of I Wish (#1) will be on sale for 2 weeks. In May, I'll discount Wishing for You (#2) for a couple of weeks. If you know someone who hasn't read the series yet, at 99 cents, it's a great time to try.

He's a genie with rules...

Buy links: Amazon/Kindle   B&N/Nook    iBooks