Friday, December 31, 2010

My ebooks now available on Smashwords and Nook

This week I worked on getting Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds and Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance up on other platforms besides Amazon Kindle.
I manually formatted Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds for epub and you can buy it for Barnes & Noble Nook right here. Boy, was that epub formatting a chore. But, I got it to look good. If there’s any interest, I might post about the epub formatting process. It is a long and laborious process.
Then, I went to Smashwords and used their system. It’s much easier. Just put your book in Word, make sure it complies with their style guidelines, upload it, and your done. The Smashwords MeatGrinder converter tool converts your Word doc to HTML, Javascript, mobi (Kindle), epub (open industry format), PDF, RTF (most word processors), LRF (Sony Reader), PDB (Palm reading devices), and text. Nice! Unfortunately, some of the converted types have little problems in how the book looks.
Smashwords is also good to use because they have a deal with B&N and other sellers that the Smashwords price will not be discounted. This prevents B&N from discounting my $2.99 novel to $2.00, which will prompt Amazon to also discount my book, which means that I go from making $2.00 per sale on Amazon to only making $0.70 per sale. That was the only reason I was reluctant to put my books up on B&N. But, that won’t happen now so I can go ahead and publish everywhere.
As soon as each of my books is approved for the Smashwords Premium Status, they will start appearing on other ebook sites.
But, you can buy my ebooks in all places now:
Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds
Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

There's a new career in town - self-pub authors

In his blogpost "Should You Self-Pulish Your First Novel?", Jude Harden has advised that authors should get a print publishing deal before trying to self-publish.

I don’t disagree that getting a print deal is a great thing. For many authors, it might be the right path. However, at least for me, self-publishing is better.
I'm a new author and I just self-published my first full-length novel, Dead Dwarves Don't Dance, I've sold 72 copies in 5 weeks. Nothing to jump up and down about, but I'm confident sales will continue to increase.
My novel is a science fiction cyberpunk action-adventure. Not something NY is looking for. But, it’s what I wanted to write. NY wants vampire romances. I don’t want to write that. Why should my creativity be forced to comply with the demands of a few people in NY? I want to write what I want to write. Then, let’s see if the reader, not NY, thinks it’s worth reading.
To Jude’s points:
1.       A print publishing deal proves you’re writing is good. I don’t know that my writing is good enough to be print published. But, it is good enough to be self-published. I’ll let the millions of Kindle owners decide how good it is, instead of a few people sitting in New York. If I fail on Kindle I wouldn’t have made it through NY. However, I don’t have to wait 3 years while print publishers consider my work.
2.       Print publishing = notoriety. I agree. However, that notoriety will arrive in 2-3 years when the print publisher finally gets my book on shelves. Instead of waiting that long, I can self-publish now and start building my own notoriety. The question is: can I earn more notoriety by myself over time than the print publishers deliver 2-3 years hence? I guess I’ll find out.
3.       In-house editors = better writing. I don’t need print publishers to work with an editor. Instead of paying a print publisher 85-94% of my revenue for all time, I can pay a professional editor $1000 to edit my book now. I still work with an editor, so my writing still improves.
4.       Print publishing deal acceptance call is nice. Yeah, that would be cool. But, I’ve learned that I don’t need the validation of one agent or publisher to boost my ego. I much prefer the validation of the readers. I sold 101 books so far in December. Not much, but it’s only my third month selling. You know what? It felt great! And it’s all thanks to 101 readers. I’ll get another thrill when I sell 200 books in a month, and then 500, and so on.

Another difference between print publishing and self-publishing is the revenue path.

Revenue path with print publishing: If I find an agent and publisher within a year, I can (probably) get an advance of a few thousand dollars. Definitely nice, but that’s a year away, minimum. Then I have to earn it back. Is my book a best-seller, probably not. So, it could take some time since the book won’t hit the shelves for 2-3 years. So, in a good case scenario, I get $3000-$5000 a year from now, and 2 years later my book comes out and I might start earning some more.
Revenue path with self-publishing: I have an initial outlay of $1500 for cover art and professional editing. That’s a big hit right up front, and it is a bit hard to swallow. But, then I am selling books and making money. I’ll need to sell 750 books to recover those expenses. After that, it’s all profit. Question is, can I start making a profit within a year? Can I make a better profit self-publishing at 70% royalties than at print publishing with 6-15% royalties? If I can sell 3200 copies in 3 years, I equal the print publishing revenue stream. I’m betting that I can do better than that.
Up till now, if you wanted a career as an author you had to go through print publishing and the gatekeepers in NY. That’s the print publishing author career.
But, there’s a new career in town. The self-pub ebook author career. It takes more than just writing skills, but it’s full of opportunity. Many authors will flourish in that new career (like JA Konrath and others).

If you're an author, the question is: which career do you want?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Authors trading short stories in ebook anthologies?

Option #1: Trade a short story in each other’s collections
In the comments section for another post, KevinMc suggested that indie authors could trade short stories to include as samples in each other’s anthologies.
For example, I could give my short story “Angel” from Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds, to another author to put in their short story anthology. In return, that author would give me a short story to put in my Dead Dwarves, Don’t Dance anthology.
In this way, we could cross-pollinate our audiences.
Option #2: New short story collection with multiple authors
A bunch of us indie authors each contribute a short story to a new anthology. The goal would be purely to expand our audiences. An indie ebook author sampler.
If we get a dozen or so contributors, we could have a nice book. Maybe we could arrange with Amazon to let us give it away for free. If not, we could charge $0.99.
I volunteer to do the formatting for Kindle (and hopefully Smashwords once I get the hang of it).
We can hammer out some basic requirements for length, editing, etc.
If anyone is interested in either of these options, or if you have suggestions, comment below.

UPDATES: The following authors have expressed interest in participating:
Kevin Mclaughlin
Tara Maya
Edward L. Cote
Manley Peterson
Tony Lavely (website?)
BC Woods
John Hartness
Kelly Gorman
Brian Drake

Total authors = 10 so far, 2 more to find

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is it worth spending $$ to advertise a self-pubbed ebook?

I’m advertising on Bing, Google, and Project Wonderful. Project Wonderful is by far giving me the best impressions, clicks, and cost-per-click so far.

I am not, however, selling enough books to pay for the advertising yet. I spent $205.34 on advertising, but only earned royalties of $135.27. Hopefully, that’ll switch to a profit someday.
I am not experienced in online advertising, so I’m probably not optimizing my search or image ads as much as I could. However, here are my numbers and evaluations of the 3 ad efforts I’ve made.
Google Adwords
It took Google 3 weeks to approve my 13 image ads. That’s way too long!  I contacted support and they basically said “you’ll just have to wait.”
The cost-per-click for my Google image ads is between $0.38-0.49. This is too high since I only make $2 per book sold. A click only means someone went to the Amazon purchase page for Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance. It doesn’t mean that they actually bought the book.
The cost-per-click for Google search ads is also too high. It ranges from $0.09 to $0.86.
I have suspended my Google advertising because it is too expensive per click.
Bing adCenter
Bing has better cost-per-click numbers than Google, but it’s still a lot compared to Project Wonderful. Therefore, I suspended my Bing advertising.
Project Wonderful
PW gives me the best impressions, clicks, clickthrough rate, and cost-per-click. However, it takes a lot of effort to stay on top of all the bids and make sure that expensive sites are winnowed from my campaign.
Also, the average clickthrough rate and cost-per-click don’t tell the whole story. My CTR ranged from .01% to .48% and cost-per-click ranged from $0.03 to $0.78. By monitoring my ads closely, I can advertise on websites where my clickthrough rate and cost-per-click are very good.
Project Wonderful has excellent customer support. I found a bug and PW customer support responded to my email in one day and fixed the bug in 2! They are very responsive, helpful, and friendly. The customer support rep I worked with, Linden, even provided suggestions and solutions above and beyond what I asked in my questions.
Advertising is expensive, especially for low profit products like my ebooks. Google and Bing are not optimized for tiny $ advertisers like me, so I probably won’t do much advertising on them.
Project Wonderful has a vast number of participating publisher sites, and thousands of tags ( to find a relevant website to advertise on. I can target specific sites and closely monitor my cost-per-click to visit the Amazon book page down below $0.10.
But, did I actually sell more books by advertising? I have no hard evidence that I did. Amazon does not provide conversion rate numbers for originating websites. However, my sales did seem to increase a bit when I started advertising. Was this due to my ads, or due to the Christmas shopping season?  I don’t know.
I spent $205.34 advertising Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance.
Over 2 million people saw my ads.
Over 2,300 people clicked on the ads to visit my Amazon book page.
I sold 53 copies of Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance.
Just looking at the numbers, it doesn’t seem like advertising is worth it. I mean, 2 million people saw the ad and I only sold 53 copies? That’s pretty grim.
However, just because 2 million people saw the ad, doesn’t mean that 2 million people read the ad. Also, most of those ads were on relatively untargeted websites not specifically dealing with cyberpunk or science fiction. I’m sure I could improve the clickthrough rate by better targeting. But, then I would get fewer clicks, because cyberpunk sites don’t have as much traffic.
For the time being, I think I have to continue advertising. One month of advertising won't give me a full picture of how well it's working. And, hopefully, as people who saw the ad and bought the book finish reading the novel, they'll tell friends and sales can snowball.

And, hopefully, my advertising skills will improve.
Someone once said "you have to spend money to make money". 

Merry Christmas to all!

PS: Here are some examples of the image ads I'm running (click to see full size):

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

November sales, total revenue and expenses so far

 (Amazon November sales reports came in today.)
Here are my sales numbers so far:

I hit my goal of selling 30 copies of Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance in the first month on about Dec 15! Excellent! I’m average 2.3 books sold per day in December! Mucho excellent!
The release of the DDDDance novel has definitely increased my DDDDeeds anthology sales. Since the novel was released, sales of the anthology have tripled! I frequently see sales for each go up at the same time. I’m guessing that people are buying both because of the low price of the anthology ($0.99). That’s a good omen for when I get more full-length novels published.
My revenue since I started epublishing
49 copies of Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds = $17.15
53 copies of Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance = $108.12
Amazon Associates earnings = $33.49
Total Revenue  = $158.76
Unfortunately, my expenses far exceed that:
Production costs for Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds = $612.50
Production costs for Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance = $1,477.50
Miscellaneous expenses = $30.84
Advertising expenses = 205.34
Total Expenses = $2,326.18
Net Loss = $2,120.84
Still in the red, but at least now I’m also making some money. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to break even. If I don’t spend any more on advertising (freezing my expenses), I would have to sell 1060 copies of the novel to break even. I’m hoping I can sell that many in 2011.
As you can see, the self-publishing route has a lot of up front costs that can take a long time to earn back. If you take the traditional publishing route the publisher pays those expenses, plus you get an advance (generally up to a few thousand dollars). However, it takes a lot longer to get published, and the author has to give up a bunch of rights - the publisher sets the book's price, chooses the cover art, chooses the title, and pays the author 6% - 15% royalties on the cover price (compared to the 70% that Amazon pays ebook self-pub authors).
On the plus side, I have two books in the pipeline. A how-to book on formatting ebooks for Kindle and a YA action-adventure novel. The former has zero production costs, so it’ll be a good way to increase my profit. The latter, however, will require another $1,500 or so to publish.
So, here’s hoping that all those new Kindle Christmas gifts will provide a good boost to ebook sales!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Quick sales update

Alas, Amazon’s monthly sales reports for November are delayed until the 24th, so I won’t have exact numbers until then.
But, based on my estimates, it looks like I’ve sold 48 copies of each of my ebooks! That means about $115 in royalties since October. Woot!
After Christmas, I’ll post exact numbers with charts and also talk about expenses and advertising.
Have a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Broke the top 100 in Amazon's Bestseller High-Tech Scifi list

A bit of a milestone for me. Both  Dead Dwarves Don't Dance and  Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds are in the top 100 best-selling high tech science fiction Kindle books (#64 and #67). They've been selling pretty good this month (21 and 16 copies sold, respectively, as of the 13th). I should be able to meet my goal of selling 30 copies of the novel in December.

If you'd like to help me get in the top 20, why not go review the books on Amazon? Kevin and Burritoclock already did and thanks a lot! Reviews can help me get more readers which gives me the energy to write more books quicker! ;)

Thanks to everyone who buys the book!

Monday, December 6, 2010

How to stay motivated to write

Here are several ways I keep myself motivated to write novel-length fiction, in no particular order:

1. Have a dedicated location where all you do is write. You do not do anything else in the location. And if you find that you have writer's block, you leave the location until the block passes. You have to train your brain that the location is for writing, so when you go there your brain says "it's time to write!"

2. Have a music playlist that motivates you to write. I have a different playlist for both genres I write (YA fantasy and scifi).

3. Keep a great book that you would love to have written, or would like to emulate, in your writing location. Look at it often. Dream of achieving that level of success and realize that that author was once exactly where you are.

4. Keep a terrible book that you can't believe got pubilshed in your writing location. Look at it often. Realize that if that piece of rubbish could get published, you darn well know that you can!

5. Outline your novel. If you know where your chapter is going, it's so much easier to write the actual paragraphs.

6. Do not try to make the first draft perfect. This is a big one for me. If I try to make the first draft perfect, I won't ever get past chapter 5. I have to hammer through the whole story with minimal revisions until I finish the first draft. This usually results in my first draft being pretty bad. Don't sweat it. It'll get up to snuff by the seventh revision.

7. Don't get mired in difficult passages. If you have an outline, you can skip over difficult parts of the story and come back to them after you finish the first draft. It's so liberating to know that I don't have to spend days trying to resolve some dialog or minor plot point right now. I can skip past it and come back to it. If it's taking you too long for to get past a problem, ignore it and move on.

Does anyone else have any good advice to stay motivated and keep writing? If so, add it to the comments.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Examples of editing remarks from my editor

Stitch and Burritoclock requested some examples of the editing comments Joel made on my Dead Dwarves Don't Dance manuscript.

Of course, he made innumerable revision marks with respect to word choice, grammar, spelling, word repetition (I used shards and slammed too much, and reworded or deleted most of them), and so on. But, he also commented on a number of other issues. Here are some examples:

Referring to the conversation between Grue and Munk in the first chapter, Joel said: "This next section of conversation has a number of elements of exposition that seem more for the reader’s benefit than the characters’. It seems like these facts and speculations would be well-understand among the men, and not so explicitly stated." I changed the conversation to be less expository.
In reference to the sentence "He gazed through the cracked duropane, he looked down across Dresden Drive at a lone dwarf walking along the opposite sidewalk." Joel had this comment: "Is there a more precise word? In what manner was he walking?" I changed the sentence to: "...striding up the sidewalk."
In reference to the final words in the following paragraph: "Munk opened another case and removed an Akbar man-portable surface-to-surface missile launcher. He hefted the military weapon on end beside him." Joel said: "I'm not picturing this; suggest rewriting." I realized I didn’t' need the last sentence, so I deleted it.
Joel pointed out that I had no foreshadowing of what Noose had to tell Cori about Pamela. It came out of nowhere and it seemed like Noose wasn't concerned about it. He suggested I go back in and add some foreshadowing to Noose's behavior, which I did.
Referring to the sentence: "Smith stood in front of a dark blue BMW Silhouette aerodyne parked amidst the junkers." Joel had this to say: "Awkward. Suggest rewrite." I rewrote it to say: "Smith stood in front of his dark blue BMW Silhouette skycar." I didn't need the "amidst the junkers" because I had already described the junkyard.
When I first introduced District Manager Vanders, I did not include his first name or his district name as I did for the other two politicians in the scene. Joel noted this oversight and I fixed it.
In chapter 14, even though Wade Winthrop-Worrelly began the chapter inside his office trailer, I later said he "walked into the office trailer." Joel noticed this continuity error and I fixed it.
In chapter 16, the newsbabe originally spoke as if she didn't know who Chico was. Joel noted that she probably would have done the research about the Spitting Neurofrog band before the interview with BangBang. Joel was right, so I changed it. I also didn't give Chico a last name at first, but, again, Joel was right that the newsbabe would give his full name. (I actually used Joel's placeholder text, XXX, as Chico's last name! I thought it sounded good for a scum-sucking, racist, murderous rocker type.)
BangBang's name was originally Largo, but I changed it at some point. Joel found Largo twice in the manuscript and I changed it to BangBang. I was surprised because I thought I had done a global search and replace on "Largo" but I apparently had not. Just another good example of why we writers should always get editors to look over our content.
At the end of chapter 18, I originally had no explanation of how Munk escaped from the Niskey Lake compound after the shootout in Ulric's apartment. Joel was right, I need to explain how Munk would get out of the place since police would be swarming it in minutes. However, I did not want to spend several more paragraphs describing Munk avoiding the police. So, I decided to make it more like a complaint in the last sentence: "He'd probably have to spend another hundred grand bribing his way out of the compound before the real cops arrived." I thought this came out pretty good. Terse, believable solution to the problem that related back to the fact that Munk was carrying a lot of money. Also revealed that Munk was smart enough not to always rely on violence to solve a problem.
Joel provided a lot more revisions and comments. These are just a few examples from the first part of the novel.
I think Joel did a great job of helping me improve the entire book, from mundane grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors to word choice, plot inconsistencies, character behavior, and so on.
My advice to every writer out there is definitely get an editor before you publish!

Friday, November 26, 2010

I'm a finalist!

An excerpt from my short story Angel is one of the four finalists in Gary Ponzo's November Strong Scenes contest.

You can vote on the best scene. Go to the website, read all four short entries, and then vote for your favorite.

Not to sway your vote, but my scene is option C. ;)

Better hurry though, there are only 2 days left to vote.

You can read the entire Angel story in my short story anthology Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dead Dwarves Don't Dance now available!

My first full length novel, Dead Dwarves Don't Dance, is now available for only $2.99!

It's an action-packed, hard-boiled science fiction novel of redemption and revenge.

Noose, a genetically engineered dwarf mercenary, is caught in an explosive terrorist attack on a neohuman dance club in Atlanta. Stumbling alone and injured out of the flaming carnage, he embarks on a relentless and violent pursuit of the perpetrators, determined to exact his own brand of 22nd-century vengeance.
The year is 2134. The nations of previous centuries are gone, consumed by the United Globe government. Citizens are confined to vast metroplexes while the rest of Earth is restored to wilderness.
Neohumans are grown in vats, each type genetically engineered to serve humanity – flawless pleasers for gratification and ecstasy, hulking goons for war and violence, accidental psykers wreaking havoc, and more of any shape and size imaginable.
Across the squalid underbelly of the Regional Atlanta Metroplex, through the desert wasteland of the not-so-pristine wilderness, and to the peerless towers of elite society, Noose’s brutal quest for vengeance leaves a wake of destruction and death.
Click here to buy it!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Writing update and Facebook/Twitter

I finally finished the final draft of Dead Dwarves Don't Dance! No time to convert it tonight, as I have friends coming over for board games. However, I'll convert it to Kindle and upload it to Amazon tomorrow. The book should start showing up for purchase by Tuesday!

You can also now follow me on:
Derek's Facebook page
Derek's Twitter

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Editing costs

Joel Palmer is my editor. I heartily recommend him if you need editing services. And, I definitely advise you to get professional editing on your ebooks. It only makes the book better.
My editing costs are listed below:
15,000 words
Total editing costs: $112.50
Editing cost per word: $0.0075
That’s less than 1 cent per word edited. Joel said that the manuscript was very clean and required very little time to edit. I would say this is the best cost you could hope for and you need to make a lot of effort to clean it up before handing off to your editor.
Dead Dwarves Don’t’ Dance
78,000 words
Total editing costs: $1077.50
Editing cost per word: $0.0138
Barely more than 1 cent per word. Still very reasonable, although the total hit for a full length novel is not a small sum of money.

After Joel edited the first 10,000 words, he told me that he was spending more time on the novel than on the short stories. He asked if I wanted him to lighten his edit pass to lower the cost. I thought this was very professional. I told him to maintain his depth of editing, because I liked the results. I just had to increase my editing budget. I’ll have to sell more books to break even, but I don’t want to skimp.
So, I’d say that $0.0075 per word for editing is the low end that you’ll be able to find. Unless you really like the editor’s results, I wouldn’t pay more than 2 cents per word.
Unfortunately, you won’t know the per word editing cost until the editor actually edits some of your work. Many editors provide a free edit sample on your work.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The cover art process

I contracted Igor Kieryluk to do the color cover art for my full-length novel Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance. Igor is a very professional artist and is very easy to work with. He charged me $400 for the finished piece, which I found to be very, very reasonable for the quality he produced.
Here is the process that I went through with Igor to get the finished cover art.

Agree on a price. At Igor’s request, I also drafted up an artist’s agreement so that he could keep it for his tax records. This agreement included the delivery date, licensing and use, price, basic description, and other details about the cover art.

I sent Igor my ideas for the cover. Here is what I sent:

Here’s the cover image I’m thinking about. I'm very open to any suggestions you might have to improve the cover design.

Background: Futuristic, cyberpunkish city skyline with a looming skyscraper (the Peerless Tower) that is far taller than any others. Some blimps and skycars flying over the city, neon signs, video signs, etc., whatever you think looks good.

Foreground: a tough, stocky, beardless, genetically engineered dwarf assassin in an overcoat and Fedora (or some other cool hat), smoking a short cigar, with a heavy pistol in his right hand. Despite being only 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) tall, he should look imposing/threatening.

Mid ground: The dwarf should be shadowing a trio of terrorists through the streets.

     A hulking genetically engineered thug, white hair, older, but still dangerous (over 2 meters tall).

     A very skinny, drug-addicted woman with no ears (they were cut off long ago), she also has neon rings implanted in her eyes. She was genetically engineered as a pleasure slave, but has become a mercenary/terrorist and is suffering from complications of her genetic engineering, including insanity and physical health problems.

     A rugged, muscular man.

I’ll need space at the top and/or bottom for the title and author name.

Igor sent me the following mockup for review. This image was for composition only.

I provided a bunch of feedback for this image, including the following:

The foreground character is a bit plain, with all that coat. I asked Igor to pull the gun out and break up all that coat.

Add a subdermal glowprint to the foreground character's neck.

Make the foreground character stockier, wider.

Make the three midground characters look like they are on the run.

Change club name to Stiltzkin's.

Igor sent the following revision.

I provided the following feedback:

The foreground character still looks too tall. Make him shorter.

Add a few bystanders on the overpass.

Igor sent the following interim image.

I asked that he add a police skycar.

Igor sent the following final image.

And there you have it. Igor was very amenable to all my requests. The final cover art is great!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Writing/Editing update

Joel my editor has edited the first 52 chapters of Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance. The cost so far is about $885. Hopefully, I’ll be able to resolve his edits this week, and get the book published next week.

(UPDATE: Joel sent me the final edited chapters last night. Only thing left for me to do is resolve all his edits. I'm running about 15 minutes per chapter, so I've got about 14 hours more work to do. Looks like Dead Dwarves Don't Dance will be published next week!)
I’ve also been working on advertising banners. I’ve created 22 of them so far. I’ll post about them after I publish the novel.
Over the weekend, I also wrote Format Your eBook for Kindle, a new ebook based on my Step-by-by step Kindle ebook HTML formatting instructions blog post. I’ll be posting this up on Amazon soon.

And, finally, I recently started looking for an agent for my YA fantasy novel. If anyone knows of an agent looking for new authors, please let me know.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How I found my cover artists

Here’s how I searched for cover artists for my two ebooks:
1.       I visited the Wizards of the Coast website and went through their wallpaper art galleries. For each piece of art (from Magic, D&D, or whatever) that I liked, I noted the artists name. WotC won’t give away contact information for their artists, so I searched for the artists online.
2.       I visited and searched for art. Again, I collected contact information for each artist.
3.       I went to a Barnes & Noble store and perused the books for cover art that I liked. I noted the artist name and then searched for them online.
I sent email to each of the artists, asking if they were available for commission work.
Here are the artists who responded and the fees that they charge for color cover art:
$400 Igor Kieryluk
$500-$1000 Les Peterson
$1500-$2000 Steve Argyle (for ecover)
$2000-$3000 Eric Deschamps
$2500-$4500 Stephan Martiniere
$3000 Raymond Swanland
$3000 Daniel Horne (website gone)
$3500 Dan Dos Santos
$5000 Todd Lockwood
Just like many other self-publishers, I don’t have thousands of dollars to pay for cover art. Happily, I found Igor Kieryluk who charges only $400 and I like his style more than many of the others. I also found Les Peterson, who actually lowers his price for debut authors. Both Igor and Les are great to work with and I emphatically recommend them to anyone who needs artwork.

I have heard that other authors have found cover artists who charge below $100. However, I think those are mostly photomanipulation artists. I prefer non-photo covers for my books. But, if you want to save even more money on your cover, you should look into photo artists.

If anyone has any artists of any stripe who they would like to recommend, please add them to the comments below.

UPDATE: Here's another artist recommendation from Tara Maya's comment:

I found the art for the cover of Tomorrow We Dance on Deviant Art. Because I knew I couldn't afford to commission a piece, I cheated and looked for a piece that was already done which perfectly captured the character and mood of the story. Then I made the artist an offer.

Because she was so approachable, next time I *may* commission a piece from her. (She is amenable.) You can see the cover on my site, or on Amazon. (Note: the story is included in the anthology Conmergence, so if you've already bought that one, you don't need Tomorrow We Dance. But if $2.99 is too much, Tomorrow We Dance is only .99.)

Here's her contact info:



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Formatting for B&N Nook – Ouch! This is painful

Over the past couple days, I’ve been trying to get Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds up on Nook.
First, I had to contend with Barnes and Noble hiding the Nook self-publishing system. I couldn’t remember what it was called, but the B&N Nook web pages don’t mention anything about publishing anywhere! At least Amazon puts a link on the Kindle Store pages that says: “Publish on Kindle”. On their Nook pages, B&N provides absolutely no way to find out how to publish on Nook. Ouch! I guess they don’t want more authors to publish.
However, I endeavored to persevere. I searched on Bing for Nook publishing and finally learned that their publishing method is called pubit! So, I go back to and look under all the Nook menus, but to no avail. There is no link to pubit! anywhere that I can find.
So, I use the B& search function for pubit. It gives me the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Sigh.
They sure are making this difficult for people to find out what is going on with publishing on Nook.
Finally, I search Bing again and find some article that gives me a link to the pubit! Home page. To save anyone else the headaches this caused me, here is the super secret hidden link that B&N doesn’t want you to find:
So, I create an account, which isn’t too hard and bookmark the My Titles page.
The next time I go to the page, it takes me back to the pubit! Home page. However, there is no Sign-in option. Only a Create a pubit! account and Sign-out options. How the heck do I sign back in to the site?
If I click Sign-out it takes me to the Sign in page.
Anyway, now I’ve created an account and figured out how to get back into that account. Next up, create a title.
The process to set up titles is pretty easy: title, cover, author, publisher, categories, description, etc. All of this is easy.
Until you get to formatting your ebook.
B&N uses the .epub system for their ebooks, and if you search their help you can find info on this open source, industry standard for publishing ebooks. Well, it’s actually composed of 3 open standards: OPS, OPF, and OCF. Don’t concern yourself with what these acronyms mean. It’s all garbleydegook.
B&N gives you an 11-page PDF, PubIt! ePub Formatting Guide.
Surprisingly, this PDF does not give you any specifics on how to format your ebook. It doesn’t tell you how to do the table of contents, or insert a page break, or center text, or insert line breaks. It doesn’t give any examples of how to duplicate how that Nook page looks.
Instead, it tells you about the file requirements and meta data needed for Nook ebooks, plus SIX pages of basic Latin Unicode characters. What?
This PDF tells you a bunch of annoying things about the annoying .epub format. Basically, it’s about 10 times more difficult to do things for Nook than it is to do the same things for Kindle. The PDF doesn’t tell you the correct names of files, uses unnecessary terms, and is generally a poor instruction guide.
It took me about an hour to figure how to format things the way I wanted in Kindle. It took me about an hour to find instructions on how to format for Nook! More ouch.
Nook really needs to hire some good technical writers, web designers, and marketing folks. They are making it way too hard to publish on Nook.
When I figure out how to format for Nook, I’ll post instructions. I do not expect to be in a good mood at that time. ;)

Monday, November 1, 2010

October sales numbers

I published my first ebook, the short story trilogy Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds, to Amazon on September 30, 2010. I sold 2 copies in September. In October, I sold an additional 13 copies.

Even with such low sales, I did get into the top 1.1% of book rankings with a rank of #8,627. Here are my rankings for the month of October:

Each of the sudden cliffs is a book sale. The three jumps on the right are each one book sold. It’s pretty interesting that selling one book will jump my rank from #129,557 to #29,131.
I must admit to being disappointed by these numbers. I was hoping to sell 30 copies in the first month. Part of this can be explained by my minimal marketing effort. I did no advertising and minimal marketing. I posted on JA Konrath’s blog, Kindle Boards, and the Amazon DTP forums. Not very much, I agree.
My original plan was to release the short stories as a test. I wanted to see how the ebook did with little or no marketing effort. I think this prooves that you can’t just put a book up and not market it.  The good news is that there is room for improvement. ;)
What is the lesson to learn here? Work harder to get on review and interview blogs.
So, if any of you know of a blog that I should be contacting about the impending release of my novel, please let me know in the comments below!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The long road ahead

My first full-length novel is currently in editing and I’m looking forward to releasing it on Kindle in early November.
Now that it’s almost done, I’m looking ahead to what comes next.
Other Kindle authors (most notably JA Konrath) explain that having more than one book on Kindle is better. If someone likes one of your books, they will buy others. If you only have on book out, they can’t spend any more money on you. Very logical. So, the wise author writes as much and as quickly as possible.
This is what I would like to do. However, I already work 40 hours a week at my technical writing job. It uses a lot of my mental energy, since I’m spending all day writing (albeit technical content). So, when I get home at night it is sometimes difficult to actually write creatively on my novels.
I can write about 1000 words per hour. So, it would take me about 80 hours to write the first draft of a full-length novel. Then, I iterate through seven or so revisions. Bottom line, I need to spend about 200 hours at the keyboard to get the novel ready for editing.
On good weeks, I can get 12-14 hours of novel-writing in. But, usually it’s less than 10. Let’s say if I can average 10 hours a week of writing. That means it will take me 20 weeks to get the novel to an editor. Add a few weeks for working with the editor. Say, 24 weeks from start to finish to get a novel written and ready to publish. This is a best case scenario.
That’s about 2 new books written per year.
I’ll make about $2 per novel sold. So, if I can sell 1000 per month, that’s 12,000 per year, and that’s $24,000.  That’s enough to cover my mortgage, which would be nice. Well, before Uncle Sam gets his greedy, taxing fingers on it.
But, getting to 1000 sales a month will take a long time. How long? I don’t know. I’ve read other newbie Kindle authors who said it took them 7 months to sell 1000 books. Will I do any better? Any worse? No way to know today. But, by this time next year I should hopefully have 3 full-length novels on Amazon and a year’s worth of sales data to extrapolate my future potential.
Anyway, if you are a newbie author like me, I guess all I’m saying is that it looks like a very long road from here. Don’t get discouraged, though. You have to dedicate a good year to your Kindle writing before you can find out if you can be successful.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Step-by-by step Kindle ebook HTML formatting instructions

UPDATE!!! (Jan 6, 2010)

I have just published these instructions in a new Kindle eBook:  Format Your eBook for Kindle in One Hour - A Step-by-Step Guide. It's only $2.99!! I've updated the instructions to be easier and hopefully quicker. Plus, it's only $2.99! If you found these instructions helpful, please consider buying the ebook to help support this blog. Thanks!
Some other aspiring Kindle authors have asked about formatting their books for Kindle. They’ve wondered whether they should pay a professional service to do it, or do it themselves. They lamented that Amazon’s conversion tool doesn’t do exactly what they want – such as extra line breaks, page breaks, starting chapters further down the page, and so on.
In this post I will give you step-by-step instructions on how to format your Kindle book.
For anyone with HTML coding experience, this is really easy. For those of you without HTML coding experience, I provide my own Kindle ebook HTML template file, which you can start from. You just need to replace some stuff in it.
I don’t do anything fancy in these instructions. No additional images, no cross-linking other than the Table of Contents, no enhanced content. If this post is popular and I get many requests, I may provide similar instructions for other, more complicated formatting.
It took me about an hour to manually format my ebook into a Kindle format.
I am using my first ebook, Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds, as the basis for these instructions. If you want your ebook to be formatted simply and cleanly like my ebook, then you can follow these steps.
It might be helpful if you buy the Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds ebook and review it while you are reading these instructions. It is available on Amazon for $0.99. It is NOT required to use these instructions.
(But, if these instructions are helpful to you, you can thank me by buying the ebook.)
Since most people probably have Word, I’ll explain how to format your ebook using Word 2007 and a simple text editor (like Notepad). You can also use more advanced text editors, such as Microsoft Expression Web 2.
And, off we go…
  1. Create a new folder on your computer, such as YourBookTitle.
  2. Save your book file in the YourBookTitle folder.
  3. Save your cover art file in YourBookTitle folder. Remember to comply with Amazon guidelines on your cover art.
  4. Save the following HTML file to the YourBookTitle folder: YourBookTitle.html. To save this file, right-click on the link and then click Save Target As. This will open the Save As dialog box and you can save the file.
  5. Rename the YourBookTitle.html file to whatever the title of your book is, such as DeadDwarvesDirtyDeeds.html. I will continue to refer to this file as YourBookTitle.html, though, so you don't get confused.
  6. Open the YourBookTitle.html file in Notepad or some other text editor or HTML code editor.
  7. The template file has all the formatting code already coded into it. You only need to replace some temporary placeholder text with the specifics for your ebook. For each item in the following table, locate the Placeholder text with the appropriate text for your ebook.
    Find this placeholder text in the HTML fileAnd replace it with this
    YourBookTitleThe title of your book, such as Dead Dwarves Dirty Deeds.
    This appears 2 times in the template file.
    YourCoverThe filename of your cover art, such as Deeds. You might also need to change the format extension from .jpg to whatever format you are using.
    YourNameYour name, the author of the book, such as Derek J. Canyon
    This appears 3 times in the template file.
    YourWebSiteYour website URL, such as
    This appears 2 times in the template file.
    YourCoverArtistWebsiteThe website of your cover artist, such as
    This appears 2 times in the template file.
    YourEditorThe name of your editor, such as Joel Palmer
    YourEditorEmailYour editor’s email address, such as
    Chapter001The code identifier for your chapters. Change the number for each chapter.
  8. Save the HTML file.
  9. If you don’t want to have a Table of Contents, delete everything between the START_TABLE_OF_CONTENTS and END_TABLE_OF_CONTENTS lines.
  10. If you DO want a Table of Contents, you’ll need to add entries for each of your chapters. I’ve only included entries for the first three chapters. For each additional chapter, replicate the existing chapter code lines and change the chapter numbers. Such as:
    <p align="center"><a href="#Chapter004">Chapter 4</a></p>
    <p align="center"><a href="#Chapter005">Chapter 5</a></p>
    <p align="center"><a href="#Chapter006">Chapter 6</a></p>
    And so on...
  11. If you want to change the text that shows up for each chapter in the Table of Contents, replace the “Chapter 4” with your new text, such as:
    Old: <p align="center"><a href="#Chapter004">Chapter 4</a></p>
    New: <p align="center"><a href="#Chapter004">A Short Cut to Mushrooms</a></p>
  12. If you do change your chapter titles in the Table of Contents, remember to do the same at the beginning of each chapter of the story, such as:
    Old: <h2>Chapter 4</h2>
    New: <h2>A Short Cut to Mushrooms</h2>
  13. Save the HTML file.
  14. Open your book in Word.
  15. Remove the Word headers and footers.
  16. Delete the cover page, title page, copyright page, and all other pages that are not actual pages of the story. You need to start with a clean file of just paragraphs and chapter headings.
  17. Click Replace.
  18. In the Find and Replace dialog box, in the Find What box, type the following: ^p
  19. In the Replace with box, type the following: </p>^p<p>
  20. Click Replace All. This will add the required HTML tags around your Word paragraphs.
  21. Notice that the first paragraph does not have a starting <p> tag. You must type that in now.
  22. Each paragraph must have a <p> at the beginning and a </p> at the end. Go through your story now and make sure this is the case.
  23. If you had blank lines in your story these will now show up as <p></p>. To clean up your HTML, you can replace <p></p> with <br />, if you want. The <br /> tag adds one line break, so if you want an empty space between two paragraphs, you’ll need to add two line breaks: <br /><br />
  24. Check the very last line of your story. There is probably a lonely <p> tag there at the end. Delete it.
  25. If you have any chapter headings, you’ll need to change each of your chapter titles from <p>Chapter title</p> to be the same as the content between the START_CHAPTER_1_HEADING line and the END_CHAPTER_1_HEADING line.  Of course, you'll have to change the relevant parts for each chapter.
  26. Copy everything in the book Word file (you can use Ctrl-A and then Ctrl-C).
  27. Go to the HTML file, put the cursor after the <!-- PASTE YOUR STORY CONTENT AFTER THIS LINE--> line, and then press Ctrl-V on your keyboard to paste your book content into the HTML file.
  28. Save the HTML file.
  29. You are now done formatting your book for Kindle.
  30. However, now you have to compress it into a zip file. This is pretty easy.
  31. In Windows Explorer, select the HTML file and the cover art file.
  32. Right-click on the HTML file, point to Send to, and then click Compressed (zipped) folder.
  33. Your book is ready to be submitted on your Amazon Digital Text Platform Bookshelf.
If you have any questions, use the comments below.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance handed off to editor

On Thursday, I handed off the manuscript to the editor, Joel. I was three days late, unfortunately, so I missed my self-imposed deadline. Curses!
Joel will be working on the 78,000 word manuscript in sections. He expects to be done with editing by November 5th.  This means that I’ll have to push back my original release date estimate from “late October” to “early November”.
Since Joel will be giving me his edits back in chunks, I should be able to get the edits resolved very soon after November 5th.  I’ll try to get it all done and submitted to Amazon by the end of that weekend. It takes up to 2 days to get approved and online. So, in a best case scenario, Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance will be available for purchase on Amazon by November 9th.
That’s all the gritty business detail. Now for some musings on the travails of creativity.
I broke my mind last weekend trying to get the manuscript ready for editing deadline on Monday. I worked on the manuscript a couple hours on Friday after real work (technical writing), four hours on Saturday, and seven hours on Sunday. By the end of Sunday, my mind was stuck in the “on” position, and I couldn’t stop thinking! I couldn’t sleep, even though I also couldn’t work any more on the story. After a while, I got up and watched some TV and played some Borderlands. Finally, I got exhausted enough to go to bed and sleep despite an overactive mind.
On Monday I was burned out and couldn’t work on the manuscript, even though I only had 24 pages left to rewrite. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I banged out those last pages. Whew!
From now on I’m going to avoid writing for seven hours in a row. Anything more than five hours is less efficient. And, it burns out my imagination. Three hours per day on the weekend seems like a good goal. Let’s shoot for that.
And now for some numbers:
The first draft of Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance capped out at 88,332 words. The fourth draft is 78,165 words. So, over the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th drafts, I pared away over 10,000 words. I’m not surprised. I always put too much content in the first draft.
I wrote the first draft 15 years ago, and it took me about three months. Rewriting this year took me 3 ½ months, and about 47 hours of sitting at the computer (plus unknown hours thinking about it).
Now, the end game is nigh, and I’ll soon have a full-length novel on Amazon. Woot!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

NovelRank – Tracking your ranking and sales numbers over time

I just discovered the NovelRank website. It provides free Amazon Sales Rank tracking of book sales on Amazon, including Kindle Edition e-books and printed editions.
It’s a very cool FREE service. You can review sales rank and sales numbers for various time spans (up to the whole year) and in different domains (uk, us, ca).
Disclaimer: Book sales estimates are still estimates, and for books selling a low volume ( less than 100 copies a month for instance ) the estimates are most likely accurate within 1%. In the end, it is all based on sales rank changes rather than sales numbers, and NovelRank should not be used to dispute hard sales figures from publishers or Amazon.
Anyway, here are my charts for Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds since yesterday (each dot in the graph is an hour):

Not much data yet, I know. But, with just 3 book sales on Wednesday, I got down to a Amazon Kindle Sales Ranking of #8,627 (out of over 700,000 ebooks).
Wow! That means that 98.8% of Amazon ebooks sell less than 3 copies a day, on average. Or, about 692,000 sell around 1,000 books a year or less. Maybe. Extrapolating out a year from a few days data probably isn’t too wise.
Another interesting feature of NovelRank is that you can see data for ANY book (as long as someone has entered the book into the NovelRank system). So, I can review the rankings and sales numbers for the best-sellers! Let’s do that.
The first one I checked was Karen McQuestion’s A Scattered Life, currently at #16.

So, Karen McQuestion’s success seems to indicate that you need to sell around 10 copies a day to break the top 20 in rankings (or thereabouts). Again, the book sales numbers are estimates.
I wanted to see the rankings for a title that’s been in the top lists for a longer length of time. I found Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, currently #22, and in the top 100 for 318 days! Good job, Abe!

Very nice numbers there. But, it looks like Abe had double Karen’s sales in September (600 over 320), but she got to #9 while he got to #12. Obviously, the idiosyncrasies of daily and hourly sales spurts causes fluctuations that cannot be explained by only looking at monthly numbers.
NovelRank also provides you with a Widget to put in your web page to show the up-to-date sales rank of your ebook.
You can also download the data to an Excel spreadsheet for your number crunching delight.
I heartily suggest that you use NovelRank if you are publishing on Amazon if you want to monitor your rankings over time.