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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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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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Smashwords kicked off its 8th Annual Read an Ebook Week yesterday. It’s a giant promotion of ebooks published on its platform. Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of ebooks are discounted anywhere from 25 to 100 percent from March 5-11.

It’s a great opportunity to get a great deal on ebooks from new authors. Because Smashwords is an aggregator, meaning they distribute their books to around two dozen ebookstores, you can find an ebook that fits your ebook readers.

I checked the promotion and saw that 10 of my books have been included. I’ve got history, historical fiction, biography, young adult, and horror titles that are part of the promotion. So if you are looking to stock up on some of my titles, here’s your chance.

50% Off Books

Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town ($4.00 promotional price)

9f2a936d3ba79285caad2a928ffd477705b98828-thumbIn fall turned to winter in 1949, the residents of Shallmar, Maryland, were starving. The town’s only business, the Wolf Den Coal Corp. had closed down, unemployment benefits had ended and few coal miners had cars to drive to other jobs. When children started fainting in school, Principal J. Paul Andrick realized the dire situation the town was in and set out to help.

 

 

October Mourning: A Novel of the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic ($3.00 promotional price)

cabd7e2edf73bcd3295d24eba5d467e89829e78c-thumbIn October 1918, Spanish Flu left behind 40 million dead. In Cumberland, Md., Dr. Alan Keener wants to take steps to prevent its spread, but he is met with resistance from old-school doctors who believe that the flu’s deadliness is overblown and easily treated. His work is complicated as a street preacher named Kolas aids the flu’s spread.

 

 

Beyond the Battlefield: Stories from Gettysburg’s Rich History ($4.00 promotional price)

58bc7189378b3328a38ab711142c5868a7e9cef2-thumbBeyond the Battlefield is a collection of 47 true stories and 56 photos that tell the history of Gettysburg and vicinity beyond the famous Civil War battle.

 

 

 

A Byte-Sized Friend (Hackers #1) ($3.50 promotional price)

e0da6fbdc837e571342e9880a63a6abed1279ea2-thumbChris Alten’s world is limited to the wheelchair that an accident has confined him to. He is lucky, though. The same accident killed his father. Chris also has a mysterious new friend whom he meets online and shows him a brand-new world where he can once again walk. This new world comes with its own dangers when it is discovered that Chris’s new friend is an artificial intelligence program.

 

 

25% Off Books

Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy ($5.99 promotional price)

096b0d8946bc2b824034ba68d473b09b647f2bb2-thumbChuck Caldwell is a WWII vet and Purple Heart winner who has met Civil War soldiers, fought at Guadalcanal and Tarawa, and studied atomic bomb explosions in Nevada. Through it all, he painted and sculpted miniature figures that have become sought after by collectors around the country. Clay Soldiers is the story of a man who became part of the history of America and chronicled it through his art.

 

FREE Books

My Little Angel

e64185333e93433b9b7be9da00c1e7585bd02946-thumbJanet Sinclair is not looking forward to her first Christmas without her daughter. Janet still doesn’t know how she will go on without Danielle. Then Janet receives a beautiful porcelain angel that looks so much like Danielle that she can’t bear to look at it. As Janet tries to deal with Christmas, she finds out that the angel is more than just an ornament.

 

 

When the Babe Came to Town: Stories of George Herman Ruth’s Small-Town Baseball Games

85d5ff6c190421c86439ef06e7dfef0c142737f0-thumb“Babe” Ruth was a baseball legend. You can find out why in “When the Babe Came to Town.” This book shows how the Babe connected with the fans through his many exhibition and barnstorming games.”When the Babe Came to Town” is a collection of some of these stories highlighting games that Babe Ruth played in Emmitsburg, Maryland; York, Pennsylvania; Oakland, California and Cumberland, Maryland.

 

The Race (Canawlers, Book 4)

295dc0e85e623c2c13f705aa78fdc5168b1c4bc3-thumbFollow the lives of the Fitzgerald family on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal as Tony and Thomas Fitzgerald race their canal barge against a train. If you enjoyed “Canawlers” and “Between Rail and River” by James Rada, you’ll want to follow this adventure set a few years after the Civil War during the canal’s heyday. Originally published as a limited-edition chapbook for CanalFest 2003.

 

 

Welcome to Peaceful Journey

8c8a7ab5d44d5d8a40c59c4f008be84ed971912b-thumbA collection of short stories featuring the most-unusual funeral home you will ever see. Welcome to Peaceful Journey Funeral where the journey from life to death can be anything but peaceful.

 

 

 

Kachina

ae894698c3f44c84c60a38c4864370d5cea5158c-thumbDavid Purcell was on his way to meet his girlfriend when he fell into a cave. Now he can’t remember the five weeks he spent in the cave. With the help of Adam Maho, a Hopi, David discovers that he must remember that lost time if he if he going to stop the ancient Hopi evil, the dark kachinas, from being released into the world again. To do so, David will have to find his way back to Kuskurza.

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The cover for the first book that I will be releasing in 2017.

So a book that I had hoped to have published later next year just isn’t going to happen. I’m still finding too many gaps in my research that I need to fill in. If that turns out to be impossible to do, then I will have to reframe the story to minimize the need to have those gaps filled in. Either way, I’ve got a lot more work to do than I thought I did.

That messes up my publishing schedule for next year. I had planned to have out a new historical fiction novel, a non-fiction history book, and a short historical fiction ebook all under James Rada, Jr. I also wanted to publish a paperback edition of a horror ebook that I wrote as J. R. Rada and a new ebook collection and the second book in a middle reader series as J. R. Rada. Postponing one of the books had a domino effect on the others.

Enter one of the nice advantages of self-publishing. It’s flexible.

I love the Marvel cinematic universe. Not only do I get to see the classic superheroes of my youth come to life, but I love the interconnected movies. However, Marvel Studios plans those movie release dates years and years in advance nowadays. I think I saw where they had some movies planned for 2020 releases and beyond.

So what happens if one of those movies of a particular superhero flops? What if the superhero movie dies off? What if they can’t get a successful actor to extend his or her contract?

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The Marvel movie schedule that was released earlier in 2016 and has already had to change.

They’ve already had some kinks in their well laid-out plans. The Inhumans movie got pushed back and may be cancelled for instance. On TV, they actually added a Punisher TV series to their plans because the character from the Daredevil series turned out to be so popular.

When you are a behemoth like Marvel, making those types of changes is like tossing a big boulder into a pond. It creates a big splash with a lot of ripples.

I know some indie authors who make far-reaching plans like Marvel, but what happens when they run into unforeseen problems?

I like to plan my publishing schedule out a year in advance, but I keep it fairly loose. It only starts to firm up as we draw closer to the end of the year. Meanwhile, I have a lot of projects partially written or outlined that I review every so often just to update.

Being flexible as an indie publisher means that I was able to move the project that needed more work into my unscheduled active project pile. I looked at what I had that might fill the gap while not totally sucking up so much of my research time that I couldn’t work on the delayed project.

I even looked at the other projects. I am trying to keep things fairly balanced between the two names that I write under, fiction and non-fiction, and the different geographic areas where I have strong sales. Removing that one book, caused me to make some other changes to my schedule as well.

My point is that I was able to do so. I have a new publishing schedule for 2017 with just as many projects that hits my goals. I think it is a version that will work because I’m feeling the excitement that I feel when things click into place. It’s an aggressive schedule that I can meet with new exciting books, and this time next year, I’ll have even more projects planned, some brand new and some from my unscheduled pile.

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Logans Fire

My first novel. It’s out of print now, but I hope to one day bring it back in print the way I envisioned it.

I didn’t start out to do indie publishing. My first two novels back in the 1990s were publishing with a small press and mid-size press. My small-press experience was that it was virtually worthless for me, and my mid-size press experience was pretty positive.

My problem with the mid-size press came when I tried to get the second book published in what I hoped would be a series. The company sent each manuscript out to pre-readers and had it reviewed by an editorial committee. All it took was one person to say “no” and the book wouldn’t be published. I kept running into that problem as the company also started to shift its focus.

Meanwhile, I was also shopping another manuscript in a different genre around and getting frustrated from the lack of response. It wasn’t that the publishing houses were saying “no,” it was that many of them weren’t saying anything even after six month!

Then in 2000, I decided that I wanted to write a historical fiction novel after I took a bike trip along the C&O Canal in Maryland. As I was writing the novel, I started to wonder if I wanted to go through all of the hassles that I was going through to get a publisher interested in the book especially since I couldn’t take it to the two publishers I had already used. They didn’t handle that genre.

I knew someone who had been self-publishing since the 1980s, though. I talked to him about what it involved. He published targeted books that were generally collections of postcards that he owned. He also did very well with it.

So I started doing more research and I realized that everything my publishers had done for me, I could either do myself or farm out to someone. The biggest obstacle I saw at that time was distribution. I wasn’t sure how I could go about getting national distribution. It wasn’t a big concern for me, though. I thought that my major sales outlets would be places near the canal, and I could visit them myself. Also, by the time, the book was complete, I had found a way to get into the Baker & Taylor catalog to get my national distribution.

As far as marketing went, well, the publishers I had used hadn’t done a lot of marketing. I knew that I could do at least the same level. Besides, who was going to promote my book more enthusiastically than me? I had invested part of myself in it. I wanted it to succeed.

Canawlers

My first indie-published novel.

I took the jump into indie publishing and Canawlers became my first project. It is still in print and selling 16 years later when my first two novels have long since gone out of print.

I discovered that I liked having the control over the project. If there was something that I didn’t like about a project, I could change it. By contrast, with one of my first novels, the publisher didn’t like the title and changed it without asking me.

I also started making decent money from writing. I remember that my very first novel sold around 10,000 copies in three years. It had a cover price of $10. I made an average of 50 cents a copy or $5,000 over three years. My first indie published novels has a cover price of $18 and I make an average $8 a copy, taking into account printing costs, shipping, and bookseller discounts. That’s a 5% versus a 44% royalty!

About half of my income is from my books and the other half is other types of writing. I wouldn’t have been able to make the jump to a full-time writer if I hadn’t taken the indie-publishing track. I have since found out that many popular authors with mainstream publishers still need other work, despite their books being successful (just not bestsellers).

Indie publishing is certainly not the easy way out for authors.

You take on more responsibilities and duties, so much so that I would say it’s harder than simply being an author. If you stick with it and work at it, though, the payoff both financially and with a book that is just how you envision it are worth it.

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