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384472_10150370255946867_270838901866_8795042_317292409_nNow that spring is here, things are starting to pick up for me. I can look at my calendar and see more speaking events and weekend signings and festivals appearing. It seems odd that my first outdoor event for the year is in a couple weeks and we just had snow in Gettysburg yesterday (April 2)!

Here’s how the numbers increase:

  • March – 5 events
  • April – 8 events
  • May – 10 events

As my events increase, my free time begins to disappear. I still need to do the writing that I was doing earlier in the year, but now dozens of hours each week are being taken up by events. I don’t mind all of the activity because I can see the results with increased sales. It also gives me a break from my writing without feeling guilty that I’m not working. I just have to watch myself so I don’t burn out.

This is all part of an indie author’s marketing efforts. It takes a lot of effort to get your stories out there when you’re a one-person show.

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thSo it’s tax season, which sucks. I work on my taxes a bit at a time because I have to gather tons of documentation to do them. When I look at my final business income, I often wonder could I make more at a steady job instead of as an indie author.

The problem is that it’s hard to compare apples to apples.

As an indie author, I have the pay the business side of FICA taxes as well as the individual side. I don’t have an employer who matches my 401(k) donations, pays sick time, or picks up most of my insurance premium. I also regularly work more than 40 hours a week, which reduces what I make on an hourly basis.

On the other side, I don’t have to pay unemployment taxes. I also get to take deductions for my car, phone, internet, and home office that I wouldn’t get to take as a regular employee. Then, there’s the fact that I don’t have a commute, which saves me hours each week that adds to my hourly rate.

I’ve never been able to try and make an accurate comparison without taking more time than it’s worth. I haven’t even been able to make a ballpark comparison between the two that I have thought was worthwhile.

One thing that was nice was that I am responsible for what I make. When most regular employees were seeing little to no pay raises a few years ago, I was making double-digit increases in my income.

In the end, I have come down on the side that I love being an indie author, and with that, I have to take the bad with the good.

Still, if anyone has a worthwhile way to compare indie income with employee income, I’d love to hear it.

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audiobooks.jpgLast week, Rosemary Hutchison spoke to the Gettysburg Writers Group about audiobooks. She is an avid listener of audiobooks and researched how indie authors go about producing audiobooks. She and her husband, author Will Hutchison, were considering turning at least one of his novels into an audiobook.

I had my first novel turned into an audiobook years ago. How long ago, you may ask? Well, it was so long ago that the audiobook was put out on two cassette tapes. Also, I was given the task of cutting my book down to fit on three hours of recording time, so needless to say, it was not an unabridged version like today’s audiobooks are. I’m not sure I even have a cassette player in my house to play that old audiobook.

My, how things have changed!

According to the Audio Publishers Association, the audiobook market totaled $2.1 billion in 2016, which was up 18.5 percent from 2015. It was the third consecutive year that the market grew by nearly 20 percent.

Here are seven items that Rosemary came up with when considering e-books.

What type of audiobook do you want to do? The typical audiobook is narrated by a professional reader. You pay for and download the audiobook to your device and you can listen to it at your leisure. The most popular site for this type of book is Audible.com. The other form of an audiobook is a podcast that you stream on the internet. This is generally a free service.

Is it a good idea? Rosemary said one very attractive aspect of audiobooks is that the market is not overcrowded. This means it should be easier to attract readers than it is for print and e-books.

How much does it cost? This could be why there aren’t as many audiobooks as print and e-books. Rosemary estimates that at the low end, it will cost $5,000 to produce an audiobook. While there are royalty sharing options that reduce the upfront expense, the audio engineer cost is a separate fee. Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) is a popular site that matches authors with narrators. It will also provide audio engineers for the books.

How to choose a narrator? Some fans of audiobooks look for books narrated by their favorite readers, according to Rosemary. This makes the choice of a narrator very important. Will your narrator need to do accents or both male and female voices? “A truly great narrator is an actor who can make every sentence, regardless of how banal, sound exciting and appealing,” Rosemary said. As you listen to narrators auditions, think about whether you would want to listen to that voice for hours.

What happens after the book is recorded? Having the narrator record your book is like writing the first draft of the book. Then you send it to a sound engineer, who serves as an editor. The engineer polishes the recording to regulate the pacing and volume. The audio engineer charge can range from $500 to $15,000.

How about the cover? If you are making an audiobook of an existing book or e-book, use the cover of that book.

How do you promote an e-book? Your author platform becomes the basis of your marketing efforts. Audiobooks do have some drawbacks. For instance, you can’t do an audiobook signing or sell them at a festival. On the other hand, you can stream clips to websites. Play to the strengths of audiobooks as you market them and be creative.

In the end, Rosemary and her husband chose not to do an audiobook because it seemed that thousands of copies would need to be sold to begin making a profit.

If you’re considering adding audiobooks to your offerings, ask Rosemary’s questions about your book and see if it will be a good fit for you.

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a_team_20My dad used to watch The A-Team when I was a kid and the main character. The main character, John “Hannibal” Smith, was known for chomping on a cigar and saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

I know how he feels. I’ve had this historical novel project in mind for at least five years, probably more. I knew I wanted to do a novel set around the 1922 national coal strike set in Western Maryland. I’d written about the strike in a couple articles, and it had come up in a non-fiction book that I’d written. It seemed like a rich setting for me to work with. The strike seemed like it would have a lot of action and drama.

Previously, my efforts in historical fiction have either been my family saga, Canawlers, which is set on the C&O Canal or action-oriented books as in The Rain Man or October Mourning. This novel I envisioned as being more action-oriented. However, I’m beginning to wonder about that now. It may wind up being a very character-driven story.

I had many false starts with the book. I’ve probably written the opening two or three times. I’ve written different scenes. I’ve got it outlined, and have done a lot of the research I needed. Yet, they didn’t work. Something was missing. It wasn’t coming together.

Every time that I put the book on my schedule as a project that I wanted to finish, I’d get started on it and then get distracted by another project. For me, when that happens, my belief is that if I’m writing something that I can’t stay interested in, I’m not going to write something that a reader will be interested in. Plus, I need to maximize my time, and if I’m struggling to push through writer’s block on a project, that is time I could have been doing something that pays.

I actually had this project on tap as one that I wanted to release this year as a herculean effort to produce four books in 2018. I’m putting the first book on the schedule to bed now and doing work on the second book.

Then all of a sudden this past weekend something clicked inside my head and pieces started falling into place for how I could structure the story, which has a working title of In Coal Blood. However, even though I’ve loved that title for a while, I’m not sure it will fit the book that I’m writing now. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe my title caused me to think of the book differently.

I spent all weekend writing notes about characters, outlining section of the book, and writing scenes. I’m really liking what I’m coming up with. I think this has been the turning point for this project. I believe that this year will finally see the publication of the story. I think that I may even switch it with the project that I should be working on.

I had this happen once before when I hit a major stumbling block with my first historical novel. I actually got about halfway through the draft, and it just wasn’t going anywhere. I banged my head against the wall for a long time before I finally laid the book out chapter by chapter on postcards. That’s when an epiphany hit me that a major character who was supposed to survive the story needed to die. Once I wrote that into the story, the floodgates opened, and the book was easy to write from that point on.

That’s how this has happened. I think the key point this time was that I needed to make the story more personal for my main character. Originally, he had no ties to where he was. He was being sent as an undercover Pinkerton agent into a community to infiltrate the miners’ efforts to unionize. It was a job and that was pretty much all it was. Then I decided to connect him personally to the community and have him face some of his demons.

He was always a WWI veteran, but I began to think of him as a man who had joined the army at the beginning of the war to escape the mining life. After the war, he did not return home because his parents had died from the flu. He had missed their funeral because he was still in Europe. He still works for the Pinkertons in Baltimore as an undercover agent. However, now I have him returning home because he was offered a job that would pay more than usual because of his connection to Western Maryland. He is also trying to get away from the memory of a failed romance in Baltimore.

By connecting him to the community, the book is now so much better for it. It is all coming together. I’ve created new characters and fleshed out the ones I already had.  This is giving me a better understanding of who these characters are, and with that better understanding, I am so looking forward to writing this book. I’ve got so many ideas. Now my problem is getting my other work complete because I’m spending so much time on this story.

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UntitledHere’s the cover for my next book, Secrets of the C&O Canal: Little-Known Stories and Hidden History Along the Potomac River. It is also the third book in my “Secrets” series.

Secrets of the C&O Canal contains 29 true stories about the canal and 67 photos and illustrations. My favorite stories include:

  • The chapter about where the original destination for the C&O Canal was. Hint: It wasn’t Cumberland, Md., or the Ohio River.
  • The sad story of the Spong family and how they met their tragic end on the canal. This one might give you nightmares if you’re a parent and even if you aren’t.
  • My third-favorite story is the one of about the connections between the canal and the JFK assassination. Let that sink in. The C&O Canal closed in 1924, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and this story takes place in 1964.

It should be no surprise that the C&O Canal is a favorite topic of mine. I’ve written three novels, a novella, and dozens of short stories about it. I’ve even got an outline for another non-fiction book that I want to write about the canal.

One thing that I find fascinating about the canal is that although it closed in 1924, we are still learning new things about it nearly 100 years later.

Secrets of the C&O Canal will retail for $19.95 when it is released next month. You can pre-order a signed copy and get it shipped free to your home (U.S. addresses only) at this link.

If you’d like to take a look at the other books in the series, take a peek at their Amazon pages.

3 Secrets

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I don’t really like having my picture taken, mainly because I don’t like the way I look in pictures. However, as I continue to develop my author brand and do more events, I find that I need one more often. Here’s the one that I am currently using. Review: Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card & Aaron JohnstonProfilePic

It works well enough, and I was happy enough with it. However, a couple years ago, I started writing under a pen name, J. R. Rada, for horror, fantasy, and young adult novels I write. I have been using the same picture, but I ask you, does that picture really work for a horror novel author photo?

That is when I started thinking about having professional author pictures made. I put it off because the last thing I wanted to do was to go to a studio and pose.

I even thought about not using an author pic. That idea quickly went out the window because I continued to get requests from hosts where I was speaking to submit a picture. I also started publishing hardback books where the author’s photo often takes up the entire back cover. I resisted that trend, but I still needed a smaller picture for the back cover flap.

Luckily, I know a talented photographer who is also an author. Will Hutchison talked me into letting him take some author headshots of me. He promised me that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

I still wasn’t comfortable going into a studio, but that wasn’t his fault. He worked to put me at ease and explained what he was doing. I just didn’t like trying to smile or not smile on cue. It’s something I don’t think about, and when I did think about it, it always felt forced.

Will turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse, though. Thank heavens for the after-shoot editing.

Here are the two that I will be using in the future. The white background will be used on my James Rada, Jr. books (history, historical fiction) and the black background will be used on my J. R. Rada books (horror, fantasy, young adult).

RADA-6RADA-1

Even I can see the improvement over my old headshot. They look like author headshots. They make me look professional (which can be a challenge). I definitely think they will look better on book covers, too.

So, if you’re using a snapshot for your headshot. Think about making the change.

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2061471151-rijagd4irI love being a writer. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was in kindergarten, and I have evidence to support that. I’ve often written about the advantages I see of being a writer.

That said, there are some things I don’t appreciate. One of them I was doing this morning, which is why I decided to write this post.

I don’t like the bookkeeping. It can get frustrating at times because different clients like to be billed in different ways. I mail invoices to some. I e-mail invoices to others. Some I sent to the editor who receives the story when I submit the story. Others I submit to different person at a different time. Then there are those clients (God bless them!) who don’t need me to do anything at all.

With all these invoices and checks going back and forth, I have to make sure the incoming checks are matched to the correct invoices. This is usually easy, but sometimes I might have multiple invoices out with a client, and a check for an article comes in without a reference to the article or invoice it covers.

Associated with this are taxes. As a small businessperson, I have to pay quarterly income taxes—state, local, and federal—and quarterly sales taxes—Maryland and Pennsylvania. And they all have different due dates.

I could farm out most, if not all, of this work to an accountant. Maybe I will someday, but that’s a lot of extra expense. Also, I must be a bit of a control freak because I want to be able to do these frustrating tasks because it gives me a better feel for where my money is going. I can see if I’m spending too much in one area and take actions to curb.

So, it’s a trade-off. Does my frustration at doing bookkeeping outweigh my need to know where the money is going and my reluctance to pay for a bookkeeping? Right now, the answer is “no,” but I look forward to the day when the answer changes.

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13124561_934180136695000_1905670189327281884_n

The keynote speaker at one of the annual writer’s conferences sponsored by the Washington Independent Writers.

For a job that relies on connecting with readers, writing can be a lonely profession. To start with, I have no workmates. I work in my den in my house. Now, that’s not the case for all writers. I have worked for businesses and newspapers where there were desks next to mine and I could speak and joke with the person sitting next to me.

 

Writers do a lot of talking to people for interviews, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to relationships. I do get to know some of the people well. These are people in the geographic areas that I frequently write about or experts on topics that I frequently write about. The vast majority of people I speak with, though, I only talk to once for a single article.

With that feeling of isolation, I find that it’s important for writers to have a support system in place. This includes family and friends, but it also includes other writers. I participate in a weekly writer’s group. It’s nice to meet with other people who share an interest in writing and talk about the craft or simply joke around.

This network comes with some benefits. First and foremost, it reinvigorates me for my work each week. This is important for me, particularly during weeks where I’m feeling very stressed out.

You also find the benefits that come with other networking groups. I hear about writing opportunities, and I can find people I trust when I need some help.

It also gives me a chance to pay things forward and help other writers when I can because I like seeing writers succeed. I might get a little jealous of their success, but I’m always happy for them.

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So I am just finishing up a long weekend of book signings. I had a signing every day from Friday through Monday. I also had a talk on Saturday afternoon that was filmed by C-Span. Luckily, all of the events were in Gettysburg where I live.

I’m always surprised by how much signings and festivals tire me out. For the most part, I’m just sitting around. There’s some physical activity with the set up and take down of an event. In between, though, I just talk with people and sign books.

When I get home, though, I am invariably tired. Then I have to do the unloading of the car, putting away all of my equipment, and unpacking books.

So is it a sign that I’m getting old? I hope not because I plan on doing this work for many years to come.

I especially like attending the festivals. Not only do I tend to sell a lot of books there, but I enjoy seeing what other people are selling. I have met some wonderful artists and craftsmen at these event. Plus, I can get my two favorite festival foods, Italian sausage sandwiches and funnel cakes.

It also gets me out of my den so I can meet my readers, which I enjoy doing.

I just wish I didn’t get so tired.

logo2xFollowing up on my previous post, here are some of the pros and cons that I have found working with IngramSpark.

.pdf Files

I find both IngramSpark and CreateSpace relatively easy to work with, especially if you upload .pdf files instead of .doc files. One author I gave this tip to, told me later that it eliminated 90 percent of the problems that he was having with getting his book published on CreateSpace. A .pdf file locks in your fonts and placement of text and images.

TIP: Upload .pdf files when publishing paperback books.

I found that even when I used a CreateSpace template and uploaded a Word document, the last line of text on a page might rollover to the next page, throwing off my entire document.

Cover templates

I like the cover template tool on IngramSpark. Rather than having to make calculations like I do with CreateSpace, I plug in the dimensions of the books, the number of pages, and the type of book I’m publishing. Then I’m sent a template via e-mail. That said, I’ve done three of four books using the template, but right now, I’m having some problems getting my new cover through the system. I’m not sure yet what the problem is.

Currency conversion

I wish IngramSpark automatically converted U.S. prices to foreign prices as CreateSpace does. I have to enter my U.S. price into an online currency converter four different ways and then enter the foreign prices into my IngramSpark set-up. It’s not a major inconvenience, but it is a pain to do.

ISBNs

The biggest headache that I’ve had with setting up my books on IngramSpark has been with ISBNs. I have my own ISBNs and ISBNs that I thought I had purchased from CreateSpace. There was a time, if you had a Bowker’s publisher code, you could purchase a $10 ISBN from CreateSpace that would show your company as the publisher. Thus, you avoided the problem of a free ISBN that showed CreateSpace as the book publisher, which some indie bookstores hesitate to support, or the custom $99 ISBN.

TIP: Set up a publisher account with Bowkers.com and purchase 10 ISBNs for $250. It’s cheaper than publishing a custom ISBN from either CreateSpace or IngramSpark, and you will own the ISBN.

To transfer my book titles to IngramSpark, the first thing you need to do is remove the CreateSpace book from any of the expanded distribution options you might have selected. Then you have to submit a Title Transfer Addendum to IngramSpark. This is supposed to only take a few days, but my experience with transferring half a dozen books, it has taken weeks. The transfer needs to happen, or you can’t complete the IngramSpark set-up process.

TIP: Set up your Ingram paperback first with your own ISBN. Then while the files are being reviewed, set up the CreateSpace paperback. I did this, and the process went smoothly with no delays.

I got a shock when I was told that I wouldn’t be able to transfer some of my ISBNs. These were the ones that had an ISBN that I purchased for $10 from CreateSpace. I thought were mine (they even show on my Bowker’s page), but I was told that these ISBNs are still owned by CreateSpace and won’t transfer.

To get around this, I have to set up a new version of my book using my ISBN and publish a new edition. Then I have to unpublish the other edition.

The end game

Transferring files and setting up a new edition on a new site is a pain, but my hope is that the end result will be that more stores are willing to carry my books. That will translate to increased sales, and that makes it worth the inconvenience.

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