The Truth About Self-Publishing

The truth about self-publishing is simple: it’s hard work, and it can cost a lot of money. What’s the advantage? You, the author, maintains absolute control over every element of your story, book, and marketing. If you know what you’re doing, this is a good thing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, this can be overwhelming but not impossible. Let’s break it down.

  1. Write the novel
  2. Revise the book
  3. Self-edit
  4. Beta readers
  5. Revise
  6. Edit/proofread
  7. Format
  8. Bookcover
  9. Publish
  10. Promote

The first two parts you do on your own, and #2 you might do multiple times. Once you’ve done that, then do #3 on your own, and again you might do this multiple times before moving on to #4 where you allow other people to read it and give you feedback. Once you get that feedback, you go back into the story, revise and self-edit accordingly, and then you send it on to an editor who checks for any errors. Once you’ve fixed your manuscript based on what they found, you send it to a proofreader, who looks for anything out of place.

When that is done and you have once more edited your novel, you can begin the formatting process or you can send it to someone to format for you. Around the same time, you’d want to contact your graphic artist to begin a cover for your book.

Once the book is formatted and the cover is completed, you are ready to send it to whichever self-publishing venue you wish. And then the promotional stage really kicks off although even before this, you should have already begun building your fanbase through Author Facebook Page and any other social media means you wish to use. You can find more of that topic in the post discussing ‘The Etiquette to Self-Promotion’.

Now though, let’s discuss costs, breaking it down in the steps above:

  • Write the novel: free
  • Revise the book: free
  • Self-edit: free
  • Beta readers: free
  • Revise: free
  • Edit/proofread: $100-$700, depending on the length of your novel
  • Format: $50-$100 (sometimes more)
  • Bookcover: $80-$400, depending on the artist
  • Publish: free-$$$$, depending on the publisher you use. Kindle Direct is free. Draft2Digital is free, CreateSpace is free although it is about $10 for a proof of your book, which you look over for any errors before publication. WARNING: avoid any publisher that requires you pay a few hundred or a few thousand dollars for them to publish it. You will not have absolute control over your book. They may offer to help you promote it, but usually it’s not worth it.
  • Promote: free-$$$$, depending on what you use. Word-of-mouth is free. Posting on Facebook and Twitter and on your blog and website is all free. Using Thunderclap and HeadTalker campaigns are free. Paying for ads on Facebook or Twitter costs. Some sites will promote your book (especially if it’s at a discounted price lis $0.99 or free) for anything from $5 to $15 all the way up to $200—depending on which site you use and which package you use. Other sites can cost up to $3,000 or so because they take promotions to a much bigger level. I wouldn’t recommend those unless your budget can handle that expense.
  • Reviewers: free—$$. First, let’s note that you should never pay someone to leave a review. Never buy reviews! Why does it cost at all then? It’s simple really, but let me explain why it could be free first. If friends or family agree to review the book for you, you can send them a free copy of your ebook. This is entirely free but with the understanding that they will leave a review. If you have to send them a copy of your book, there is the cost of shipping to take into consideration, which can be about $3-$20, depending on where you’re sending it. Now, some sites offer review services, and they charge about $15-$40 depending on the package you get. However, with this, you must understand, you are not paying the reviewers for their reviews. You are paying the business, which has bought together and organized all these reviewers and will send your book to them instead of you having to do it all yourself, for the service. There is a difference. Please keep that in mind. You want honest reviews. If you pay for reviews and the person doesn’t even read the book, Amazon can crack down on that, and that will have dire consequences for you.
  • Copies of Your Book: $10-$$$ This depends on how many pages your book is and how many books you purchase in a bulk. You will get an author discount, but then there is shipping as well. All of this are expenses to keep in mind.
  • Author Swag/Merchandise: $5-$$$ Bookmarks, business cards, magnets, keychains, charms, gift cards, pens, notebooks—basically anything you sell or give away in order to draw more interest to your book. The big secret is, as a self-published author, if you want any swag made, you need to put in the time and money to have it made. You can use sites such as Vistaprint for bookmarks, business cards, and a few other stuff, but then you can check out Fiverr or Etsy for unique ideas. All of this is more money out of pocket.

Of course none of this mentions the expense of travel should you decide to do a book tour or attend conventions in order to sell your book. Publishing and selling a book can become quite expensive, but this is why it is important to budget. If you have a good handle on the finances, you will come to see what works for you and what doesn’t, and when it’s time to promote again, you can put into action only what you have determined benefited you.

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The Benefits of Writing Fan Fiction

Fan fiction is a controversial topic. Some people say are totally against it while others are absolutely for it. Let’s first identify what fan fiction is.

When someone creates a piece of fiction, if a person takes that work and writes something based off it (keeping the names of characters, locations, and events), this is fan fiction. It could be set in an AU (Alternative Universe, which means the events of the canon story either didn’t take place or had different outcomes), and it could include OC (Original Characters—creations of the fan fiction author). These stories are written in the universe of the original story. If you’re a Star Wars fan, and you wished Obi-Wan Kenobi and Padme got married instead, that would be a fan fiction story in the Star Wars universe. If you wanted to find out what was meant when Black Widow said, “It’s like Budapest all over again,” and Hawkeye responded, “You and I remember Budapest very differently,” you could write an Avenger fan fic based on that to explore it.

What’s the catch? You cannot sell this work or attempt to profit off of it. Since you do not own the rights of the original story, you can’t do that. However, you can post it on sites like www.fanfiction.net or so forth. When you do this, fans of the original story will see it, read it, and likely comment. This feedback is useful for your journey into becoming a writer and helps you hone your skills.

One of the issues about writing your own original story as the first full-length novel you ever write is you may not know how to develop characters well, you might not have a full handle on description or scene setting or dialogue, and on top of that you have to create an entire world. If you’ve never done that before, it can be daunting. This makes writing your own novel all the more difficult.

If you write fan fiction first, you don’t have to worry about creating whole new worlds or characters. It’s like a pre-set story for you to just fill in the blank and twist however you want. You already know the characters because of the story/book/film/show, and you can readily imagine them in your mind. You already have an understanding of their world, so it’s easy to grasp. You won’t have to worry about all those fundamentals of a story while you’re trying to learn your own writing style. The foundation is already there. All you need to worry about is perfecting the specific elements (character development, dialogue, description, plot structure, etc).

The more you write, the more you’ll start flexing your writing muscles. It’ll likely start with you taking the characters to unfamiliar places, and this gives you the chance to create an original setting in a safe environment. As this becomes easy, you begin introducing more major original characters into the cast. Eventually those original characters completely replace the fan fiction characters, and as you add more twists and turns and get further and further from the original source of the story, you’ll realize you have something that’s totally different from the original story. This is where you can begin writing your own original story.

When this happens, you won’t be so stressed out about all the different elements of writing because you already have a good handle on them. Instead, you can press on and write your own original piece of fiction, and you have a good chance of publishing it.

Consider fan fiction the playground or training arena for writing. You can’t sell the work, so you don’t have to worry about promoting it. Instead, you are writing it for you (and maybe a few fans you pick up along the way). You are growing as a writer, and you learn so many lessons in a safe environment. Once you start breaking the mold and flexing your writing muscles as creating your own worlds, the world becomes a scary place, but you’re ready for it.

This is why I recommend writing fan fiction if you’re a beginning writer. Of course, some people may view it a waste of time, and I understand that. However, if you’re struggling with writing, writing fan fiction is an option you have and should consider.

The Essentials of a Chapter

A lot of writers ask, “Should I keep this chapter or not?” and “How long should chapters be?” However, before I address those questions, let’s identify what exactly chapters are, and this will help us answer those questions.

Before we get started, you should know the difference between a ‘scene’ and a ‘chapter’:

Scene: is contained within a chapter. You cannot have multiple chapters in a single scene.

Chapter: may contain one or more scenes

Scene: separated by white spaces or paragraph breaks

Chapter: separated by titles such as ‘Chapter 1’, ‘Chapter One’, etc.

These differences may not seem like much, but I don’t want you to be confused by the terminology. Scenes aren’t usually an issue, but they are part of a chapter, so I mentioned them. Our primary focus is on chapters, so let’s discuss some questions that accompany that.

How long should a chapter be? This is a common question, but, as it always is with writing, there is no written rule for the length of chapters. It is recommended for chapters to be more than a few paragraphs long—at the very least a page long or 1,000 words long. As for now long it should be, chapters can sometimes go up to 6,000-8,000 words long. However, the longer you make the chapter, the more you run the risk of losing your readers.

How do you know when you should end the chapter? This is when knowing the point of the chapter is important. Each chapter moves the story along. If you could remove the chapter (or even the scene) from the story, and this does not affect the story at all, that chapter is unnecessary. If the chapter has already accomplished its purpose yet you keep writing more and more and more, you may want to consider looking for a natural breaking point in order to end the chapter and begin a new one. Otherwise it can be longwinded and a huge distraction from the rest of the story. So, as you’re writing a chapter and if you see it’s becoming lengthy, ask yourself what is the purpose of the chapter, and have you already accomplished it? If the chapter hasn’t done what you intended for it to do, step back and determine what’s getting in the way (it could be that the story wants to go a direction different than you planned). If you find a lot of meaningless though fun conversation between characters, consider cutting back on that and getting to the point. Or it could simply be that’s how the chapter is supposed to play out.

One last thing I will say on the topic of chapters is this: if the main purpose of the chapter is character development, this is a weak purpose. I once attended a workshop taught by a screenwriting agent, and he said if a scene in a script was only about character development, they would cut that scene altogether. This applies to stories as well. Characters are developed through conflict and whatever it is they encounter. Merely introducing two characters and having them sit down and chat for the sake of backstory isn’t the reason for a chapter. Yes, that backstory may be important, but you can hold off on revealing vital information until it is absolutely necessary.

One way to do this is to get your characters into a situation where they naturally ask the questions the readers are asking. For instance, let’s say you have a character, Eleanor, who’s adopted, and she suspects it’s her adopted brother who’s behind the recent attacks in town although she has no way to prove this yet, and she knows she can’t say anything because people in the town are very loyal to him. If she’s right, and if he gets winds of it, she might be his next target. So you, as the writer, knows this, but the readers don’t know this yet, and neither do the other characters. But you introduce a new character, Hector, a detective who’s investigating the attacks. Eleanor has been tagging along with his investigations, claiming to be a reporter (maybe she actually is), and she ends up being helpful, so Hector ignores her but lets her in on the case. Then one evening, they’re sitting at a bar, sharing drinks. Not much is happening, so they’re just talking. Someone who wants mere character development as the plot for the chapter might have Hector ask Eleanor about her background and her family, and Eleanor would just spill all the info. However, Hector doesn’t know that he should be curious about her family. He doesn’t know that’s where he should dig. He’d likely just ask what her job is, might ask about her family, but Eleanor would likely skirt the issue. This makes things intriguing. If the readers know about Eleanor’s suspicion of her adoptive brother, they would be yelling at Hector to ask about her brother, and they’d get frustrated when he moves on with the conversation to another topic, but you have to understand, he doesn’t know. You have to keep the conversation natural for him. If the readers don’t know about her suspicions, they’d likely suspect something as well but wouldn’t know where to dig either, so they’d go along with it.

As you can see, this conversation cannot be the main point of the chapter. Yes, it’s good information, but it can be very shallow. There needs to be something that happens that pushes the story forward. It could be that in that moment Eleanor’s adoptive brother, Ryan, walks into the bar, and the entire atmosphere changes. He could approach them, tease her like brothers do, but then he could say something that’s a veiled threat. Eleanor would get the message immediately, but Hector wouldn’t completely understand though he’s wary of something. As soon as Ryan leaves, Eleanor could make an excuse saying she forgot she had to be somewhere, and before Hector can stop her, she’s out the door. A moment later Hector just can’t shake a bad feeling, so he follows after her, and who knows what happens after that?

You see how that one moment pushed the story forward because without Ryan stepping in and prompting that response from her, the story wouldn’t have moved forward. This is what I mean when I say that you need to make sure each of your chapters have a purpose to them.

What is Thunderclap?

Thunderclap is a promotional opportunity not limited to writers but can be for events, artists of all kinds, and anything really where you need to get word out. There are different packages offered, but the basic one is free, so it is no cost for you or anyone who supports you, but what exactly is Thunderclap?

Before I explain what Thunderclap is, let me illustrate what social media is. The internet is full of noise of people posting about every detail of their lives and every thought they have. It’s a loud and noisy place. It’s really hard to get word out. I often compare it to being in a crowd and saying something. You can yell all you want, but if you’re the only one saying whatever it is you’re saying, no one is going to hear you. Sure, some might notice your attempt and look at you strangely, but they’re not quite sure what it is you said because of all the noise of the crowd. However, if a bunch of people start saying the same thing, people take notice. This is where Thunderclap comes in.

The important factor with Thunderclap is the social reach of everyone who supports a campaign. Using Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, everyone has a different group of followers/friends. When someone supports a Thunderclap campaign, they’re allowing Thunderclap to post on their social media platforms (you can choose which platform you want used) a one-time post written by the creator of the campaign. This is posted only once, and that is on a specific day and time set by the creator of the campaign. In other words, if you sign up with Thunderclap to support someone’s campaign, Thunderclap will not continue to post random things on your platforms. It will only post whatever you support. Let me break it down:

James’s social reach is 489 people.

Kasey’s social reach is 952 people.

Nathan’s social reach is 1,204 people

And Sandra’s social reach is 1,321 people

Now, Hannah is the creator of the campaign, and her social reach is 692. She is friends with James, Kasey, Nathan, and Sandra, and when Hannah begins a Thunderclap campaign, all four of those support her campaign. This gives her a social reach of 4,658—a number she wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for everyone’s support.

When you create a Thunderclap campaign, you have to choose the number of supporters required in order for the campaign to be launched. You also set the date by which you must have that number (or not) for it to be launched. The least amount of time recommended is two weeks. If you fail to get the number of supporters you chose within the timeframe that you chose, the campaign will not be launched at all. The least amount of supporters you can choose is 100. The next amount is 250. And it goes up from there.

Now, how do you make a Thunderclap campaign successful so that you reach the number of supporters you need in order for the campaign to be launched? First off, share it with your family and friends and ask them if they’d support it. Don’t expect too many of them to do it because they’re unfamiliar with Thunderclap and may have some reservations, so you will need to look elsewhere. There are Thunderclap groups on Facebook that you can join and post your campaign there, but it’s a ‘clap for a clap’, meaning they’ll support yours if you support theirs.

However, the most successful way I’ve found is to have a good support group around you prior to any promotions. For instance, I have a Facebook group of almost 500 people (at this time). They’re fans of mine, and they’re big supporters for what I do. When I discovered Thunderclap and created my own campaign, I shared it in that group, and I tagged a bunch of people I knew would back my campaign. Within 6 hours, I had reached my goal of 100 supporters for my campaign although I had a month before my campaign went life. Once you’ve reached your goal, you can overshoot it and continue getting more and more supporters. The main trick is informing people what Thunderclap actually is and asking for volunteers that you could tag when you want your campaign to be supported. Once you get a list of people, create your campaign then share it, tagging all those people who volunteered, and encourage them to share as well.

You have to push this. You can’t just sit by and hope that someone notices. Social media is far too fluid, and posts sink into oblivion all the time. If you want it to work, you need to work it. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. When I’m pushing a Thunderclap campaign, I make it like a game or a sport. I aim for 10 supporters at a time, and each time we get more supporters, I announce it in the thread, “We’re at 45 now! We need 5 more to 50! We can do it!!” This gets people excited, and they want to be a part of the movement which makes it succeed.

And that is what Thunderclap is, and it can be found here: www.thunderclap.it.