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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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Taking Care in Naming Characters

I spend a lot of time naming characters -- but perhaps not quite enough. I was recently writing a scene in a new book (Demise of a Devious Suspect), and had four characters meeting in a diner. One was the protagonist, Melanie. The others were Sandi, Syl, and Stooper. And the food server was Shirley.

Gee, four people whose names begin with S. It's not a crime, but it's not helpful for readers. In my (weak) defense, I named them at separate points in the series, and this is the first time they've all been in one room. But how did I not see this?

Though I'm not sure another writer should take advice from an author who puts four S named characters in one scene, here are some things I consider in naming characters.
  • Does the name fit with the client's nationality or residence? For example, Lars could be a name to use in Minnesota (where many people descend from Swedes) but it might sound out of place in Mississippi.
  • Is the name so hard to pronounce that readers will stumble over it each time they come across it? Conversely, you could do that deliberately, so a character can be irritated that people don't say his/her name correctly.
  • Similar names can be confusing. Rob and Bob should generally not be in scenes together. Nor should Mary and May.
  • Are you considering a name that also happens to be that of a close relative or friend? You might not think of your friend as your write, but they may wonder why you used their name -- especially if the character is a bad guy.
  • Does the name have such historical significance that your reader will envision that person instead of your character? Personally, I wouldn't name anyone Margaret Thatcher, Hank Aaron, or Benjamin Franklin.
There are no hard and fast rules in creating character names. Do avoid using the same first letter for four people who will sit at a table together.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Getting Comments from Family and Friends

Close friends or family are not only aware of an author's work, they may be their biggest cheerleaders. Some of them may have adjusted their schedules to help a writer find time to work. 
Often authors turn to friends and family as first reviewers of a draft. However, they may be so impressed that we finished a book they are not sufficiently critical, in the literary sense. 

It is natural that those close to you are among the first to read your work, perhaps even chapter by chapter. A spouse or best friend may have the interest or talent to comment on character or plot development. 

More likely, friends and family will provide general reactions. My sister's reviews always lead to at least one forehead slap, with me asking, "How did I not see that?"

Once you have comments from family and friends, you—and only you—decide which to incorporate or which to disregard. You may have a friend who thinks because they took the time to read your project that you should take their advice. Not so, though it's important to thank everyone who offered feedback.

After you make revisions based on the friendly fire, approach someone with expertise. Perhaps a librarian, English teacher, or local journalist will be willing to read a draft. This is a major request, so you need to be professional in how you approach them, and you need to make it easy for them to decline.  

What?! I’m serious. I don’t believe in guilting people into something. Let them know they are seeing a second or third draft. This could encourage them to read your work.


We wouldn’t start a book or blog post if we didn’t think we had something worth saying. No matter how modest we are, we like that first draft or we wouldn’t be passing it around for comments. 
Even so, our work can always be improved. An author is too close to a project to see its flaws – perhaps even to spot inconsistencies or inaccuracies.  

That’s why we ask for input. 

Stay confident in your work. When it comes to comments, take what you like and leave the rest.

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Adapted from Elaine's course, Writing and Publishing When Time is Scarce, copyright 2017.

Friday, October 6, 2017

PTSD: A Family Affair in Falling Into Place

Some books rattle around in your head for years. The idea for Falling Into Place grabbed me more than a decade ago, and I wrote perhaps 10,000 words. It is the story of Everett, a father of four who prefers his gardens to a lot of people contact. In the 1970s, he's a stay-at-home dad before it was a choice.

And he has a secret.

Since readers see the world from Everett's point of view, they know he used to be an electrician, but can no longer work because of the 'qualms.' His wife, Sue Ellen teaches, and has been pretty good at not showing resentment. His four children don't understand his passive interactions with the world.

Readers have the vantage point of the 21st century. Everett's memories of airplanes and poppies in North Africa during World War II and ensuing anxiety seem to be PTSD -- a term not used to describe World War II veterans who had difficulty coping with the world.

N. Africa, as Everett saw it.
I remember my father using the phrase shell shock to describe someone, I don't remember who. Such topics were not discussed. Nor are they in Everett's home.

Falling Into Place opens as Everett's world turns upside down. His wife's cancer battle doesn't look winnable, and his four twenty-something children aren't sure he'll be okay on his own in their town of Burlington, Iowa.

As an author who usually writes light mysteries, I found Everett to be his own mystery. I made the puzzle, so I had to figure it out.

Through the years, pieces of his life -- present and past -- came into focus. So did his wife, children, and a precocious granddaughter. But how to reveal his secret? If I had tried to force the discovery, something less than perfect would have emerged. Not to say the book is perfect now, but as his past surfaces, the influence of his World War II experiences becomes clearer. To him and his family.

The past and its impact can't be erased. But awareness can lead to understanding. I describe the story as one told with humor and grace. To me, that's Everett's world -- when he lets people in. I think you'll find him worth getting to know in Falling Into Place.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Grab a Chair and Enjoy Pompeii

Someone asked me to recommend a few books, and the first one that came to mind was Pompeii, by Robert Harris. I've read it two or three times, which is unusual for me. 

We all know how the story ends, right? What makes this fascinating is the forewarning from the aqueduct that brought fresh water to a quarter of a million people in towns around the Bay of Naples.
A young engineer (who oversaw the water supply) realized that whatever stopped the flow into some of the towns was caused by a lot more than a broken pipe.

Marcus Attilius would have a huge task if all he had to do was find and fix the source of the problem on Mount Vesuvius. The bigger personal threat is a corrupt "real estate developer" (to use a modern term) who has benefited from special access to all that water. (Think bribes.)

I love books where science and engineering have a role, especially as they relate to water. Background about Roman engineering feats mixes well with intrigue and a touch of romance. I highly recommend it.  Kindle   Barnes and Noble  
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Finding Ways to Share Books with Readers

What's better than sharing a good book? Reading it. I was reminded during a hospital stay, when working with an occupational therapist. (No big problem, knee is fixed.) We hadn't been talking two minutes when we realized we both loved to read. We talked books nonstop until we were done.

In the pre-ebook days, I traded books often with friends. A good book could get tattered.
Remember the huge tables of used books at garage sales and bazaars? Or library sales of used books? Books cost something, but not much. Sales continue, of course, but it will be interesting to see if they have fewer books over time.

Ebooks are easier to share -- you can do it across continents with a couple of keystrokes. You can also get a number free just by searching retail sites for such things as "free cozy mysteries." Authors can also choose to let purchasers lend an ebook, usually one time only. (Not true for all books.)

What if an author wants to share books with a bunch of readers? We like to sell books, so why share for free? The primary reasons are to encourage reviews and create enthusiasm (a.k.a. buzz). Though authors are the primary audience for these ideas, readers can use them to ask an author for a book.

Popular methods authors use are:

1) A pdf sent to the reader's laptop. Clunky but functional, and works for everyone willing to read an electronic book.

2) Copy (in one of several formats) sent directly to a reader's Kindle. Every Kindle has a 'free' address that can receive documents from approved senders. If you aren't familiar with this terrific sharing method, check out my earlier blog post.

3) Smashwords coupons. Authors who publish on this site can create coupons for free or reduced priced books, in any format. I create them with long-term effective dates so I don't have to remember to check expiration dates.

4) Instafreebie lets authors load a book and give it away as a mobi, pdf, or epub. The site can be used for books published anywhere, as long as the person providing them to Instafreebie is authorized to do so. (Here's a sample of one of mine, Falling into Place.) FYI - authors can use Instafreebie for (dare I say it?) free, or pay a monthly fee to publicize a free book and garner names for their email lists.

5) Book Funnel also lets authors provide copies of their books, in multiple formats, via a link to their site. Books here can also be published anywhere. While Book Funnel has no free option for authors, fees are less than Instafreebie if an author provides relatively few books per month. This site is also integrated with programs that provide authors with recipient email addresses.

6) Goodreads Giveaway is still for paperbacks only, and prizes are by random drawing. Generally it has newer books. Unlike Instafreebie and Book Funnel, readers can peruse a list of free books. However, no guarantee they'll win one.

7) Author group giveaways are generally tied to Instafreebie or Book Funnel, but some are run independently and can be found on Facebook, or referenced on Twitter. Readers can choose one or all of a group of books promoted together.

8) Bookshare is a site for individuals with a print disability -- such as low vision or difficulty holding a book. There are requirements to be certified to use the site (and who can certify), but if you have difficulty with print books, the site is worth checking. Annual fee required.

9) Ebook Discovery lists free books daily, generally organized by subject or genre. Links are usually to a site such as Instafreebie. I hesitated to mention them, because there are many such sites, but I've used them and found it a seamless process.

Some sites have lists of available books, some simply give authors a place to direct readers and authors publicize the availability. You can search some of these sites passively, but you can also email an author to see if they have books on sites such as Instafreebie or Book Funnel.

Readers are most likely to get books if they say they will review them. Free books do not require you to leave a good review (or leave one at all). Sites such as Amazon require that reviewers indicate if they received a free copy.

As one who sells books, I love buyers. The hope is always that a reader may borrow or receive free one book and choose to buy others by the same author. Bottom line, keep enjoying books!
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Thinking Through Writing Options

      When I was about twelve, I had a lot of ideas for stories, but no idea how to share them. This was the 1960s, so books were in the library or you could buy them at school under the Scholastic Book Program. It didn't seem that kids wrote them.
Back yard games. No wonder I didn't finish anything.
     Still, I'd take a notebook and go into the backyard -- wearing my charm bracelet -- and think about the stories in my head. But I was afraid they were dumb, and I tore up what I wrote. Not to say they were good, but it would be fun to look at them now.
     Regret that I didn't have the courage to put my ideas into stories may be why I write books with titles such as Words to Write By: Putting Your Thoughts on Paper. I honestly believe that any of us can write -- maybe not always sell, but write. And maybe get good enough to sell.
     Writing is not a lifestyle, it's hard work. That hard work can lead to a flexible schedule, but any busy person (especially parents) will tell you that working at home does not mean you can drink coffee all morning.
     Perhaps you have a specific idea for a novel or want to share the method you used to pay off student loan debt in only five years. Maybe you worked in retail during college and have ideas that would help managers motivate younger employees more effectively.
    Some might say writing is the height of arrogance. Why should we assume anyone cares about our stories, experiences, or how-to guidance?
     A lot of people won’t. But if you’re writing books to sell, you need to reach a relatively small audience to earn a hundred dollars each month. If these readers tell their friends, you have a larger audience.

     New subjects mean learning a lot and meeting new people. I find it boring to write what I know, but it can be a good starting place.Familiar topics mean less research and faster completion.
     If what you have is the idea of writing but aren't sure what to write, think about the following points.
  • Games you play
  • Kinds of books you read
  • Music you listen to
  • Movies you’ve liked
  • TV documentaries you watch
  • Sports you play
  • Hobbies you enjoy
  • Things you collect
  • Places you have visited
  • Places you want to visit
  • Comic strips that make you laugh
  • Teachers who inspired you
  • Things you have been complimented on
  • People you taught to drive
     People you taught to drive? That’s in case you want to write about how you handle frustration so others can model (or avoid) your experiences.
     The bottom line is, no matter what your life experiences, they can inform your writing. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction.

     Some print magazines pay for articles, or your local paper may pay small fees for freelance articles. Web content is always needed and many writers are freelancers. A search for online writing opportunities turns up dozens of sites. (A couple references are at the end of this post.) Finding opportunities is the easy part. Studying their guidelines and writing to them take time. Handling rejection takes guts.

      Because of sites such as Amazon, itunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble (Nook Press) and other retailers, literally anyone can write a book and publish it themselves. That doesn’t mean you should, but at least you have options. You can also seek an agent to help you get a publisher.

     HOWEVER, unless you are passionate about an idea for a novel, I would start with something shorter. Writing 60-80,000 words of high-quality content takes time - much of it in the rewriting phase, which could frustrate a novice.
      Revisions are essential. You only get one chance to make a first impression with an agent, publisher, or readers. Do you really want to spend several thousand hours on your first project?
     If the answer is yes, find a critique group and go for it. Buy stock in a coffee company. Avoid snacking when you aren't sure of the next plot point. Smile.
     If you aren't sure you want to invest that time for an uncertain outcome (a.k.a. rejection letters), visit the library to browse the magazine racks. Google "blogs that deal with [insert favorite topic]" to see what's on the web. Don't be discouraged if your ideas are already out there. Your take may be different, and each publication has its own audience.


     If you are considering a writing career because you're fed up with your day job, that's fine. But  don't quit. Consider how long it took you to learn what you needed to know for your current job. You don't need years of post-high school education to write an article or book, but you will want to read how-to articles or perhaps attend a local writers' conference.
     Finally (really) nothing makes it into print or to the web until you put your tailbone in a chair and begin to write. Set up a schedule (even an hour per week) and don't stop.


How to Make Money Writing for the Web, Brian Klems, Writer’s Digest Blog, July 19, 2013. Good overview of places to find opportunities and how to approach them.

For an example of providing good content and monetizing your blog, look to: The blog posts are useful, but they also lead you to the blogger’s books and courses. If you see yourself making money as a blogger, keep in mind that blogs like this are full-time jobs!

Every Writer’s Resource lists the 50 best places to publish literary fiction.

The Write Life publishes a list of 20+ magazines that pay for short stories.

Mark Coker founded Smashwords, a site that permits self-published authors to load a book once and have it appear on multiple online retail sites. His books on ebook self-publishing and formatting are free at Amazon or his site, Don't read these until you are close to finishing a book or article.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.