Friday, January 12, 2018

How (and where) to Publish an Ebook

     I answer questions on Quora, a site that lets you post any query – and often get a response. I generally respond to questions on writing and publishing. The week, someone asked “how do I publish an ebook?” Pretty broad question.

     I responded on two levels. First was the where you do it, second was the how. 

     Companies such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Google Play, and Smashwords make it possible to publish your ebook — for free.  You need to load honest information about who you are (even if you use a pen name) and how you will pay your taxes on the income. You also need to provide a bank account (or in some cases a Pay Pal account) so you can be paid.

     You could consider loading only to Amazon and an aggregator. Smashwords is an aggregator and they load your book to a bunch of sites, such as BN, Kobo and more. They save you a lot of work. Another aggregator is Draft2Digital, but I pretty much use Smashwords.

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
Nook Press for Barnes and Noble
Google Play Partner Program
     All of these sites have instructions about how to prepare your book, and how to load it to their site. Study these carefully.

     I learned how by relying on the Smashwords Style Guide, which is written in an easy-to-understand format. All style guides and instructions are free to download from their respective sites.Smashwords Style Guide, an Ebook by Mark Coker

     Instructions are largely similar, but there are some differences. For example, Amazon wants you to do the Table of Contents (required for most books) one way, and Smashwords another way. You can list links to your other books, but Smashwords requires that all links go to your own web page or blog. Why? Because the sites to which they publish don’t want you mentioning their competitors’ websites. I get that.

     I suggest you start with Amazon. It’s easy and you can preview your book immediately. You need to preview to make sure it looks as you expect.
     I have prepared a (free) short course called Thinking through Self-Publishing. Lifelong Dream. There is a second course (Writing and Publishing When time is Scarce) on the same site with lots of practical how-to info on writing, publishing, andmarketing ($29). However, you can learn what you need by studying free info at the sites. You can also go to this blog index, where you will see lots of how-to articles. All those are free!
      Sometimes it will seem like a lot of info to absorb, but you can do it. If you get frustrated, take a break and come back to it.
     One final point. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Do not publish the first draft of your book! Put it in a drawer and come back to it a bit later so you can be a cold reader. Ask others for comments, but do remember, all choices are yours. If you can, pay for an editor.
     Good luck!!
     For more of my articles on Quora, go to
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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Making a Commitment to Short Stories

Short stories have never been my bag. Not since high school. Guy de Maupassant's The Necklace had me spellbound, and I was convinced that O. Henry's Gift of the Magi would end differently. Jonathan Swift's Metamorphosis was not a fun read, but since I still remember it, clearly a superb one.

Given my relatively short attention span, I'm not sure why I gravitated solely to books for fiction. However, last spring I attended a conference at which we were given an issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and another of  Alfred Hithcock's Mystery Magazine. I devoured them on the long train ride from Washington, DC to Chicago. And then didn't pick up another short story until recently.

So, 2018 is going to be the year of the short story for me. I picked up a couple of articles on writing them, because I like to assess fiction as I read it. I don't know much about short story pacing. And I need to get away from the idea that everything I write (or read) has to be a mystery.

I went to the used book store and bought some short story anthologies, one classics and another of the wonderful books that Sisters in Crime does periodically. Lots of authors whose books I like to read.

Suggestions? I'll read a bunch and review them here. All ideas welcome.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Getting a Book to Readers through its Content

It sounds like a basic premise -- you reach a reader by letting them know what's inside a book. Another way to say this would be to focus on the subject matters the book addresses rather than emphasizing the plot or characters. Huh?

I pay attention to anything Joanna Penn says. She is a successful author and maintains a plethora of resources about publishing. Most are geared to self-publishing, but those who work with traditional publishers can learn a lot from her.

In a podcast on Content Marketing with Joanna Penn, she discusses how focusing on a subject matter can tell readers about fiction as well as nonfiction. As a nonfiction writer and editor for years, I understand how important it is to put work 'out there' in many formats, to many different audiences -- conference papers, professional articles, short newspaper pieces.

Penn talks about content marketing as attraction marketing. Write a (possibly free) short story, create a Pinterest board, or write an article about something that appears in your fiction. Those ideas struck home with me. I wrote a book set in the Roman Baths in Bath, England (Secrets of the Gap), and have visited the site and read hundreds of pages about it. Why not do an article on the baths? I'm not an expert on their history, but sometimes an informal article appeals to tourists.

Among her many ideas in the podcast, Penn suggests that authors publish largely on sites they own --- their blog, webpage, You Tube channel, etc. That is good advice, but sometimes you can draw people to your own pages by posting on someone else's, such as doing a guest blog post or an article for a trade magazine.

The bottom line is there are close to five million books for Kindle, and readers won't be drawn to yours solely through "buy my book" ads or posts. Without consciously using it as a marketing strategy, I've done some Pinterest boards on subject near to my (writing) heart. One has beach photos that inspired my books, another has nature photos. My settings usually start with images I've seen.

Get creative. I plan to do more articles or photos that relate to my books rather than talk about the books. Feel free to post links to some of yours in the comments section.
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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Holiday Books Make Fun Reads

In the age of television and movies, many have a favorite holiday film, often a Christmas film. Some of us are 'mature' enough that the film is It's a Wonderful Life (Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart), a black and white icon. You could add Miracle on 34th Street, Charlie Brown Christmas, Elf, and Home Alone. And dozens more.

Many children were read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Clement C. Moore). You could add Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mommy (Selino Alko). Two older books that jump into my head are A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) and The Gift of the Magi (O.Henry). Both of these have an  element of discovery, if not mystery. When I looked for the author of Night Before Christmas (sorry, Mr. Moore, didn't know your name), I found a beautiful list of thirty popular Christmas stories.

In my cozy mystery genre, holiday books abound, especially for Halloween and Christmas. Mary Higgins Clark has a mystery every Christmas, and Canadian Vicki Delaney writes the Year Round Christmas Mysteries. I'm very fond of Meg Muldoon's Christmas River series. Not all of them are set in December, but the spirit is there. If you want a book for almost any holiday, follow Kathi Daley.

I've had Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and Fourth of July in my books. Other than Holidays in Ocean Alley, the festivities are not usually the center of action. I did a Christmas short story this year, on the spur of the moment. (Mildred Mistletoe Fixes Christmas) I had so much fun with it that I'll do more.

To write a really good holiday book an author starts months before the date. I'll have to ask author friend Karen Nortman if she wore a Santa hat as she wrote A Campy Christmas (part of the Frannie Shoemaker campground mystery series).

You can find holiday stories in any genre -- mysteries, literary fiction, romance, even science fiction. If you are tired of fighting traffic, pick up a good book and settle in for a treat.
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Monday, December 11, 2017

People and Pets in Books

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that while pets sometimes have roles in my books, they don't think for themselves the way pets do in some books.

Then I got to thinking about it. I'm not about to have a gerbil solve a mystery, but in my own life I ascribe feelings to my cats. They can communicate with me. I have been trained to know that when they look at a doorknob I am to open it. When Phoebe puts a paw on the bag of food I'm to feed her.
Stella and Phoebe

My true affinity is for black cats. Stella often sits within a foot of me when I write and (I hate to admit this) when I roll over in bed she may be at my head. She waits until I'm asleep to select her spot.

To experiment with writing from a cat's perspective, I created Mildred Mistletoe. Born under the family Christmas tree, she is very protective of high school twins Fergie and Freddie. And she needs to get some things fixed before Christmas.

I found it challenging to have a character who could not speak. Suddenly a flood of pet memories jumped into my head. My sister's cat swatting my dad as he walked by if the food bowl was empty (or perhaps just on principle), my former black cat Magic jumping into a bag of fireplace soot just to see what was in there, a neighbor's cat (Chowder) jumping on my kitchen counter to drink from the sink. All of these animals communicated very well.

Mildred Mistletoe finds ways to point things out to her humans, and they have no idea they are being led around by the tail, so to speak. I don't think I'll create crime-solving characters in my mysteries, but Mildred will appear in some additional short stories. She came into my head fully formed, so it's not likely she will leave.
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Why is Everyone Writing a Memoir?

Okay, not everyone, but a lot of people.
We tend to think of memoirs as the work of older people, but anyone can have something to say. Some people have incredible life experiences to share. Others have overcome tremendous adversity and their story proves it can be done. Still others have had more ordinary lives but want to be sure family and friends have a record of them. 
    Why not just type an essay about your life and put it out there? You can, of course, but memoir readers have expectations, just as science fiction or romance fans do.
    Your piece has to convey a story, or perhaps a series of stories tied together and concluded in some way. This usually doesn’t happen without a lot of work.
Don’t be discouraged, just be willing to learn how to present your story in an interesting way.


    When my nieces and nephews were younger, I wrote a series of humorous essays from an aunt’s perspective. Since I value relationships with them as adults, I would never consider publishing the essays – not even showing them to someone outside the family. But they were rewarding and fun to write.
Don’t avoid writing essays just because you don’t intend to publish them. Like all writing, the effort will hone skills you will need when you do write to publish.
If you want to write essays or a memoir for yourself or your family, you can prepare a paperback (using Create Space) and order (quickly) a bunch of copies for your family and then take the book off sale. The only problem with that is that the book will show up forever on Amazon, even if it isn’t available.
You can also make a dozen copies using a three-hole punch and a binder. What is most important is sharing your story or essays. The extent of the audience is up to you.
Too informal? Check out sites such as or 
     Always, always, always read the fine print. These firms are not trying to take advantage of you, but they know their lingo and you don't.


    The American Scholar published an article on memoir by William Zinsser, and republished it at the time of Zinsser’s death in May 2015.
My favorite quote from the Zinsser article is, “Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into.”
In a simpler form, Reader’s Digest has an article on the topic. Wise advice in this article is, “The challenge is getting started, coaxing the story out. (Indeed, there are those who say beginning is half done.) Since there is inherent worth to the endeavor beyond public acclaim, you don’t have to be a professional writer or someone with connections in publishing to succeed. You can write it for yourself.”
There is no one way to approach a memoir, but it can’t be a rambling series of life stories. The first draft can be, because what’s important is that you get the ideas on paper without worry about what people will think or whether something is written well. After you’ve worked for a while, you can polish and add or subtract.
Classes are everywhere now, in part because baby boomers have the time to write their stories and the computers to do it.
There could be a regional arts group near you that offers memoir courses or workshops, or the community college may do so. Search for online classes -- no need to find the most expensive course.
    Once you start looking, you’ll find other writers trying to balance living life with writing about it.
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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thoughts on Publishing a Paperback

A paperback copy of a book signals completion in a way no digital book can. Frankly, most family, friends, and colleagues won’t consider you ‘published’ until they see a hard copy.

Besides self-satisfaction, a paperback enables you to:
  • Provide review copies to local media
  • Donate (or sell) a copy to the local library – which is also a form of marketing
  • Conduct a book signing
  • Submit a copy to the Library of Congress (via their LOC Identifier Number)
  • Adapt the print copy to large print, which broadens your audience
  • Have more flexibility with photos (which can only be so large in an ebook)
  • And …ta daa..
  • Share your book with people who don't read ebooks
 As a self-published author, your first choice is probably going to be the size of the book. The cheapest to produce is 8.5 by 11 inches, because the printer does not have to cut the paper. That’s fine for a cookbook or family history, perhaps some children’s books, but it is not appropriate for fiction and most nonfiction

When I first began self-publishing, I used the 6x9 size for regular paperbacks, but for shorter books I have converted to 5x8. I find the smaller size closer to that of mass-market paperbacks.

However, because smaller books require more pages, they cost more and you may need to price them higher. Thus, I only do the smaller size for books less than about 55,000 words.


I do the paperback, at least in near-final draft, weeks before publishing the ebook. Since you aren’t rushing to get a book published (because that guarantees errors), you have time. Your formatting might not be perfect for the first round, but that’s why you order a proof.

You might choose to do the paperback (in draft form) even earlier so that you can use it as a tool to consider revisions. If my critique group and I are happy with my (probably fifth) draft, I may format the paperback before sending the book to a copyeditor. Usually I do it after editing is complete, but perhaps before proofreading.

You have a choice for a digital or printed proof. I have a proof printed, and it arrives quickly (at least from Create Space). I can review the proof to see how it looks and spot typos. Then I fix the typos in the ebook and paperback.

The discipline of doing this also means the revised paperback can be ready prior to the ebook. Some authors may have an ebook available for preorder but make the paperback available. That way, people can write reviews before the ebook (usually the bigger seller) is formally issued.


You are the publisher, your choice is which firm to pick to print and distribute. I prefer Create Space, an Amazon company. If you think you will sell a large number of paperbacks, you can consider Ingram Spark; working with them facilitates placement in bookstores.

Ingram Spark's process is a more complex one than Create Space's, and you need to price a book higher to make the same amount of money. I've used both. Most self-published books tend to be sold in local bookstores, with the author providing the copies, and online.

An important difference between the two companies is that Create Space has no fees.

Recently, Amazon began offering a paperback option after you publish a Kindle book. Because Create Space offers more sizes and additional flexibilities, I plan to stick with them.

Some people think Amazon (which owns Create Space) will eventually close Create Space and force authors to go only through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Though Amazon is ending customer ordering through Create Space, I find it hard to believe they would fully merge paperback publishing with KDP. They are different animals.

For more information on the two firms, check the help pages on their web sites. You can also download my paper on publishing a paperback with Create Space.\
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