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?