Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sticking My Toe Into E-Publishing

This past week I released a short story titled THE RABBIT DIED.  It's the first in a series of short stories I plan to write for my new Holidays from Hell short story series. These short stories will be in e-book format only for the pittance of $0.99 each.  Right now THE RABBIT DIED is available for Kindle only, but soon it will be uploaded for you Nook readers. 

The Holidays From Hell series will follow protagonist Zelda Bowen, a 30 year old single woman living in the suburbs of Los Angeles, from one holiday to another with her dysfunctional family. 

I first conceived the idea for the Holidays From Hell series on a plane ride back from Birmingham, AL in February.  I had gone to Birmingham to attend two back-to-back events - Murder in the Magic City and Murder on the Menu.  While there, I got to know author CJ West, who has self-published his books.   I had been following all the hoopla about e-publishing for a while, but CJ really lit my interest in it.  With several series already under contract to a publisher, I didn't have time to write a novel for e-publishing, but I did have time to write a short story here and there.  I also didn't want the story to be disconnected, just words thrown on a page standing all alone in the world. Thus, the Holidays From Hell series was born.

As with my novels, I had lots of help.  Several friends read the story, gave comments and found the typos. It went through several drafts, just like a novel, before I handed it off to my manager, Diana James. Diana formatted it and got it up on Amazon.  She and I collaborated on the cover design, but she did all the graphics.  I love the cover.  I had wanted something simple and clean, whimsical and a clear brand for the series.  I think we succeeded.

One of the biggest problems with self-publishing of any kind is the lack of quality control. It's the old garbage in, garbage out syndrome. Would-be authors get excited over the idea of doing it themselves, write something in a flurry and upload it without giving much thought to the finished product. In the end, those stories and books are full of typos, grammatical errors and poor story construction. The author just killed their first chance at making a great first impression. Even worse are those who attack reviewers for honest opinions on the work in question.  They not only killed the work, they have now killed their career.  All because they didn't take the time to put out a professional product and behave professionally when it came under scrutiny.

I was self-published years ago and I took great pains then to have my work as perfect as possible before I published it.  It was one of the reasons it sold well and grabbed the attention of a traditional publisher.  I did no less with this first e-book short story.

E-books and e-publishing are here to stay.  Many authors are leaving their traditional publishers and heading into it almost daily. It offers authors more control and a lot more income than they enjoyed before. But these authors are professionals. They know what works and what doesn't.  They aren't sending their work willy-nilly into the black hole of self-publishing.  They are hiring editors, formatters, cover artists and proof readers.  Although putting a book up on Amazon is free, doing it properly is not.  Just a word to the wise, folks.

For a great view into the world of e-publishing check out Lee Goldberg's blog.  I spent quite a bit of time chatting with Lee this spring about this topic.  Lee used to throw mud on anyone self-published. He's now self-publishing his out-of-print books with glee and sharing the information with everyone. 

So far THE RABBIT DIED has enjoyed steady sales.  I hope that continues, setting the stage for the 2nd story in the series, MOTHER MAYHEM. View and buy THE RABBIT DIED

For now I will continue to e-publish my short stories, but in the future I plan on bringing out a novel in this format.  It won't happen this year, but maybe in late 2012. I will keep you all posted.


Lee Goldberg said...


I am glad to see you jumping into ebooks and wish you enormous success. I appreciate the kind words about the advice on my blog, but I have to take issue with one of your comments:

"Lee used to throw mud on anyone self-published. He's now self-publishing his out-of-print books with glee and sharing the information with everyone."

That's not true and makes me sound like a hypocrite, which I am not.

That was almost three ago and I didn't "throw mud." What I did was strongly advise aspiring authors NOT to self-publish, that most of the time it was a costly mistake that would hurt your career and your pocket book. Self-publishing would also not get you the prestige, reviews, or recognition essential at the time to selling books.

I was absolutely right then...and stand by every single word that I said on the topic.

For the vast majority of writer, it was a foolish to self-publish. Vanity presses preyed on the desperation and naivete of authors, who had no virtually no chance of getting their books into stores or into wide distribution on the Internet, the publishing costs were high, the books usually looked terrible, and you were marked you as wanna-be who had neither the talent nor the backbone to be a professional.

But times have radically changed.

In the last 2-3 years, there have been massive changes in the publishing industry. The rise of the ebook thanks to the Kindle, the opening of the Amazon and B&N store to authors, the extraordinarily generous royalty terms, the ability to publish for no cash out-of-pocket, the fall of the big box bookstores, etc. have made self-publishing viable, lucrative, and respectable.

I was right then...and I am right now.


Lee Goldberg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee Goldberg said...

...and if I may give you some unsolicited advice.

1. You should imbed a link to the Kindle edition of your book in your blog post. Here it is:

2. Your cover is virtually unreadable as a thumbnail on Amazon, which will absolutely kill you in terms of sales. It's barely readable in the "larger" size on your listing. I urge you to rethink your cover so it's clearly readable in the smallest possible thumbnail on Amazon...which is how most readers/customers will encounter it for the first time.

Look at the thumbnail of your book...

...then check out the thumbnail covers of mine..

or Joe Konrath's

...and you will see what I mean.


Lee Goldberg said...

Sorry for all the typos, missing words, etc. in those comments. I'd like to blame lack of caffeine, allergy medication, and my dog for it...but I was just inattentive.


CJ West said...

Sue Ann,

Congratulations on taking the plunge! It's been a pleasure getting to know you and I hope this dip into the epublishing pool is a resounding success.


CJ West said...

Sue said, "Lee used to throw mud on anyone self-published. He's now self-publishing his out-of-print books with glee and sharing the information with everyone."

And Lee said, "That's not true and makes me sound like a hypocrite, which I am not."

Sorry Lee, I have to agree with Sue. Your famous quote is that 99.9%of self-published books suck. Is than not throwing mud?


Lee Goldberg said...


Actually, I *still* say that. I'm not the only one, not by far. Author Zoe Winters, for instance, said this last August in a discussion on Writer Beware:

I agree that most self-published books suck. And I AM self-published. I think that for us to deny most self-published books suck calls into question the quality of our own (indie authors) work. Most of the bad stuff most people don't see because it doesn't rise to the top. But... acting like it's not there, or it isn't the majority of what's out there makes little sense.

[...]I mean go on Smashwords... most of what is there is appallingly bad. I can understand why indies would want to fight against the assumption that their work is like that, but denying the crap doesn't make the crap not exist, it just makes those who deny it look like they can't tell quality from crap.

I agree. But that's not the same thing as "throwing mud on anyone self-published." Surely you can see the distinction.


CJ West said...


That's true. You are only throwing mud on 99.9% of them. And in the next breath you call this viable and respectable - because you are now doing it.

How silly of me not to see the distinction.

Lee Goldberg said...


Again, you are miss-characterizing my views. Since I'm sure it's not intentional, let me be as clear about this as I can be so there's no confusion:

Two years ago I said it was dumb, expensive and foolhardy to self publish and that most self-published books were horrendous crap.

I was right.

Today I am saying that, thanks to massive changes in the market place and bold new technology, self-publishing is now a viable alternative that more and more established and aspiring authors are tackling with success...and that most self-published books are horrendous crap.

I am right again.

Let me remind you what Sue said, and what I took issue with:

"Lee used to throw mud on anyone self-published. He's now self-publishing his out-of-print books with glee and sharing the information with everyone."

I didn't throw mud on anyone who self-published...I said that most of the time it was a costly mistake to self-publish and that most self-published books were awful.

Now I am saying there are many benefits to self-publishing...and that most self-published books are awful.

I don't see the hypocrisy there.

What I do see is a world where the technology and marketplace have changed and made self-publishing viable in a way it wasn't before. be continued

Lee Goldberg said...


But hey, don't take my word for it any of it. Look at what other successfully published, professional authors are doing. There's a reason why NOW authors like Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, Brett Battles and JK Rowling are moving into self-publishing and why they WEREN'T two years ago...why they wouldn't even have conceived of it. There's a reason why now Amanda Hocking could become a millionaire in six month self-publishing ebooks and couldn't have accomplished the same feat two years ago.

C'mon, CJ. Isn't it obvious?

Two years ago, I said that 99.9 of self-published books were awful. Today that is even more true. Now that all it takes to self-publish is an internet connection, there is a tsunami of hideous swill hitting Amazon, B&N, etc.

But again, don't take my word for of it...the rise of self-publishing, as well the parallel rise of horrendous crap, has been widely reported on in the media.

For example, take this excerpt from the June 16th Los Angeles Times

Spam has hit the Kindle, clogging Inc.'s top-selling e-reader with material that is far from being book-worthy and threatening to undermine the company's entry into publishing.

Thousands of digital books, called e-books, are being published through Amazon's self-publishing system each month. Many are not written in the traditional sense.

[...]These e-books are listed for sale — often at 99 cents — alongside more traditional books on Amazon's website, forcing readers to plow through many more titles to find what they want. Aspiring spammers can even buy a DVD box set called Autopilot Kindle Cash that claims to teach people how to publish 10 to 20 new Kindle books a day without writing a word.

This new phenomenon represents the dark side of an online revolution that's turning the traditional publishing industry on its head by giving authors new ways to access readers directly.

[...]In 2010, almost 2.8 million nontraditional books, including e-books, were published in the United States, while just more than 316,000 traditional books came out. That compares with 1.33 million nontraditional books and 302,000 conventional books in 2009, said Albert Greco, a publishing industry expert at Fordham University's business school. In 2002, fewer than 33,000 nontraditional books were published, whereas more than 215,000 traditional books came out in the United States, Greco noted.

"This is a staggering increase. It's mind-boggling," Greco said. "On the positive side, this is helping an awful lot of people who wrote books and could not get them published in the traditional way through agents."

But Greco listed downsides. One problem is that authors must compete for readers with a lot more books — many of which "probably never should have seen the light of day," he said.

So what is Greco saying? Self-publishing is booming...but so is the amount of crap. Self-publishing is booming because now its easy and potentially profitable in a way it never was before. And the numbers bear that out. But for all those same reasons, the amount of unreadable, God awful swill being self-published is increasing, too.

To deny that, my friend, is to have your head in the sand.


PS - I can't help but notice you aren't jumping on Zoe for saying the same thing as me about how bad most self-published books are. Gee, why is that, CJ?

I believe your negative reaction to my comment has less to do with facts (or you'd be jumping on Zoe, too) and more to do with the widespread resentment in the "indie" community against all of the successful, traditionally published authors who are now enjoying success self-publishing as well.

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