I Have Done My Job

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Idealised workspace, 2011

A a writer there are very few things I want more than to have my writ­ing read. That sounds sim­plis­tic, but it does touch on the gen­er­al gist of what I mean. Cer­tain­ly I want my read­ers to like what they’ve read, to write stun­ning reviews, tell all of their friends about me, there­by caus­ing my sales to sky­rock­et, caus­ing me to make lots (not insane amounts, just lots) of mon­ey, so that I can pay off my house, give in char­i­ty, give my chil­dren a great life and quit my day job so that I can cre­ate more tales that peo­ple want to read, BUT none of that is as impor­tant to me that my writ­ing is actu­al­ly read.

I would be a writer even if I nev­er made a sin­gle pen­ny doing it. (Which isn’t that far off the mark right now.)

Like most writ­ers, I have some­thing to say. As an intro­vert, since I rarely actu­al­ly say these things out loud, writ­ing is my mode of expres­sion. I write the kinds of sto­ries I would like to read, sto­ries that res­onate with me, and that hope­ful­ly have deep­er mean­ings. I’m not try­ing to con­vert any­one to my way of think­ing or teach any­one a les­son, (preach­i­ness in fic­tion is a big no-no), but I do hope that when read­ers have com­plet­ed my tales they walk away with lin­ger­ing impres­sions about the char­ac­ters and sit­u­a­tions, that they con­tin­ue to think about the sto­ry for days or even weeks in an effort to suss out the deep­er mean­ings, or at the very least because they’ve grown attached to a char­ac­ter and they miss her.

Recent­ly I received a very unex­pect­ed heart-warm­ing email from a woman who had just com­plet­ed my book. She’d down­loaded it for free dur­ing one of my past Ama­zon KDP pro­mo­tions. She said:

I have sub­se­quent­ly told friends about An Unpro­duc­tive Woman and what a won­der­ful insight into anoth­er part of the world and cul­ture as well a mes­sage to all of that we are so very alike in so very many ways.”

and

While not a Chris­t­ian, I do believe in a pow­er greater than myself.  The absolute every­day faith depict­ed in your book caused me to down­load the Qur’an too, I have my read­ing cut out for me for some time to come!”

The very fact that she took away the mes­sage of ulti­mate same­ness across cul­tures and faiths from my nov­el despite the sup­posed diver­gences there appear to be and that are played up by our media absolute­ly took my breath away. Even more, in spite of the fact that An Unpro­duc­tive Woman is not a reli­gious read, the fact that she made the con­scious deci­sion to learn more about peo­ple (Mus­lims) who are often made to seem oth­er and alien is the great­est val­i­da­tion and the great­est pay­ment I could ever receive for my writ­ing.

When I received her mes­sage I near­ly cried. It let me know that I have done my job.

*****

Thank you for the email S.V. You made my year… prob­a­bly my career as a writer.

Thank you Kin­dle Buf­fet for post­ing my book on your site so that peo­ple would know I exist.

Thank you to any­one who has ever hon­ored me with the time it took to read my book and write a review… even if it wasn’t favor­able.

Hap­py Ramadan to EVERYONE

There Are No Mistakes

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The four capital mistakes of open source

Almost five years ago, I self-pub­lished my nov­el An Unpro­duc­tive Woman with Xlib­ris.

If I knew then what I know now… well, let’s just say I would have hung up the phone when they called me and offered me a pub­lish­ing pack­age.

Once the book was in the world and pub­lished the first three years with them were fine. They real­ly were. Xlib­ris did exact­ly what they said they would. They helped me design a cov­er (which I lat­er changed), they helped to edit a man­u­script that was already amaz­ing­ly pret­ty clean, and they made it avail­able at mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent out­lets.

Fol­low­ing pub­lish­ing I was busy with school and fam­i­ly so I admit­ted­ly did very lit­tle in the way of self pro­mot­ing, but once I made up my mind to actu­al­ly pay atten­tion to the An Unpro­duc­tive Woman I real­ized a num­ber of unfor­tu­nate truths.

  1. I nev­er need­ed Xlib­ris.
  2. I could have done all of this myself for far less mon­ey.
  3. Xlib­ris is a busi­ness, which explains why they kept try­ing to sell me one new ser­vice after anoth­er.

I wasn’t angry with Xlib­ris because of truth #3. They are a busi­ness and as such they were doing what busi­ness­es do. Try­ing to make mon­ey. They did. While very lit­tle, I did ben­e­fit from their ser­vice. Using them made things very easy for me at a time when I had none to spare. Because of them, I didn’t have to wor­ry about the details.

A year and a half ago I decid­ed that the time had come when I need­ed to take a more active role in my writ­ing, that I would net­work and pro­mote and try to make more sales. About this time last year I also made the deci­sion to join Amazon’s KDP pro­gram. While not extra­or­di­nary, I did notice an increase in sales. An increase in sales is great. I mean, I nev­er thought that An Unpro­duc­tive Woman would make me wealthy, (One can hope, right?), but no sales turned into some sales and some sales are def­i­nite­ly bet­ter than none. Then I start­ed to have prob­lems.

KDP kicked me out of the pro­gram at least three times because my ebook kept pop­ping up at oth­er out­lets, thanks to Xlib­ris, even after I’d asked that they remove my ebook from all mar­kets. Need­less to say, they didn’t. Each time I thought things were a go again, Ama­zon would find it some­where else. I’d get kicked out of the pro­gram again. I noticed a drop in sales as a result. That’s when I got annoyed with Xlib­ris.

$3.99

$4.95

Two weeks ago I noticed that Xlib­ris snuck their ebook ver­sion of An Unpro­duc­tive Woman up on Ama­zon and actu­al­ly set it for a low­er price than I have it list­ed for. They were com­pet­ing with me for sales of my book. I have asked and asked them not to make an ebook avail­able any­where because I’d for­mat­ted and pub­lished the ebook ver­sion on Ama­zon myself and because it is a req­ui­site of the KDP pro­gram. And still, there it was.

At that point I was more than annoyed. I was incensed.

Last week I draft­ed a brief let­ter and faxed it to Xlib­ris telling them that I want­ed to with­draw my book from them 100% in all forms on all out­lets post haste. It hasn’t hap­pened yet because appar­ent­ly it can take up to six weeks. I’ve turned into the cus­tomer from hell because I have emailed them on a dai­ly basis ask­ing the equiv­a­lent of “Are we there yet?” It’s just that I am cooked and want to be done with them.

I rarely admit to mis­takes. This isn’t because I’m so arro­gant that I don’t think that I ever make them. I don’t often admit to mis­takes because I think that doing so miss­es the point, which is that there is always some­thing to learn from almost each mishap, tragedy and flub. To call these things mis­takes negates the good that can come from them. I also believe that some­times our per­son­al tragedies aren’t always for us. Some­times they are for oth­ers to learn from as well. With that, allow me to share some lessons I’ve learned from this.

  1. If I’m bright enough to write a book, chances are I’m also bright enough to self pub­lish said book with­out the help of ser­vices like Xlib­ris.
  2. I have more time than I think I have. Its bet­ter to real­lo­cate my time in order to do the things that are real­ly impor­tant to me.
  3. The indie com­mu­ni­ty of writ­ers are gen­er­ous, smart, and savvy. Net­work, ask ques­tions, and ask for help.
  4. Nev­er pub­lish with a van­i­ty press. You give up your mon­ey, your con­trol, and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn how to do some of this stuff your­self.
  5. Don’t get angry.

Just remem­ber. There are no mis­takes.

What choic­es with your writ­ing have you made that you wish you’d done dif­fer­ent­ly?

Little Annoyances

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Tapping a Pencil

Ren­nett Stowe via Comp­fight

 At the end of last month I received an email from Ama­zon in which I was informed that my KDP Select title, An Unpro­duc­tive Woman, was in dan­ger of being nixed from the pro­gram.  Appar­ent­ly, against KDP guide­lines, my nov­el is still avail­able on iTunes.  Ama­zon fur­nished a link and they were, of course, cor­rect.

I imme­di­ate­ly con­tact­ed Smash­words, as I’d pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished with them, to report this.  To my shock, as I’d total­ly for­got­ten, I was informed that Smash­words had removed their copy of my book from iTunes.  The cul­prit was Xlib­ris. It is their copy of my ebook that remains avail­able on iTunes.

When I first pub­lished An Unpro­duc­tive Woman in 2008, I did so through Xlib­ris, believ­ing their pack­age offered so much for so lit­tle, believ­ing they would pro­vide the great entrance I need­ed into the “writ­ing life”.  (I know.)  I try not to live my life with regrets. I make deci­sions that I am will­ing to live with.  Even if things go awry in the end, I will­ing­ly, if not hap­pi­ly, chock it up to a les­son learned and am able to move on.  That is how I feel about my time with Xlib­ris.  In fact, Xlib­ris, as cost­ly as it was for me, taught me what the “self” in self-pub­lish­ing is all about and what it is def­i­nite­ly not all about… if that makes any sense.

In 2008, I was work­ing full time and back in school so once An Unpro­duc­tive Woman was offi­cial­ly pub­lished, I did absolute­ly noth­ing to pro­mote it, until about a year ago when I remem­bered that I had a book some­where out there lan­guor­ing in the land of noth­ing­ness. I start­ed net­work­ing and learn­ing about self-pub­lish­ing and real­ized that I nev­er need­ed Xlib­ris and also that they have done lit­tle else for me oth­er than make my book avail­able via dis­tri­b­u­tion to the pub­lic at large, and ask me for more mon­ey.

In May of this year, when I decid­ed to enter Amazon’s KDP Select pro­gram for a three month “let’s see if this will make any dif­fer­ence in sales” tri­al, I con­tact­ed Xlib­ris and asked that they remove my ebook from all oth­er dis­tri­b­u­tion chan­nels.  I did the same with Smash­words.  Once all looked clear, I signed on and… tada!  I’m sell­ing thou­sands of copies a month.

Just kid­ding.

Actu­al­ly, I’ve gone from sell­ing a copy every cou­ple of months to a very mod­est few each month.  Very mod­est.  Extreme­ly mod­est.  Painful­ly mod­est.  But, nonethe­less this is an improve­ment.  I nev­er expect­ed my efforts, the few that time allows me, to bring about overnight suc­cess or over decade suc­cess, to be com­plete­ly hon­est.  I like writ­ing and I’d do it even if I wasn’t get­ting paid.  Which is not to say that I don’t want to be paid, only that I write because I must.

In any case, between May and Octo­ber my nov­el appar­ent­ly was nev­er removed from iTunes.  And, when I con­tact­ed Xlib­ris a cou­ple of weeks ago, I was assured they’d clear up the sit­u­a­tion.  In the inter­im, I’ve con­tact­ed iTunes direct­ly.  Did you know they have NO call cen­ter and even send­ing an email is a pain?  And when you do send emails it is almost always to the wrong depart­ment and you almost always get a form email back that lists a half a dozen oth­er links to help you solve your prob­lem.  Of course none of those links will address your issue either.

My book is still on iTunes.

I called Xlib­ris back again today.  Do you know how aggra­vat­ing it is to speak to a dif­fer­ent per­son each time and have to repeat your prob­lem each time?  Have you any idea?  Yeah.

So, as I write this post I sim­mer… but only a lit­tle.  My point here, oth­er than a tiny bit of vent­ing is this:

  1. If you ever decide to self-pub­lish, know that you can do it on your own at lit­tle to no cost to your­self.
  2. The online com­mu­ni­ty of indie authors is enor­mous and enor­mous­ly gen­er­ous.  If you get stuck, they will help you, coach you, befriend you, con­grat­u­late you, sup­port you, encour­age you, walk you through process­es, and com­mis­er­ate with you and none of it will cost you a pen­ny.
  3. When you have a day where some lit­tle annoy­ance makes you feel like you may tip over the edge, stop and reflect.  I guar­an­tee that you have so much to be grate­ful for.  It could always be worse.

There.  I feel bet­ter.  How about you?