Category Archives: Amazon

Strategies for Success

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.


Strategies for Success

Now that I know what I’ve learned from experience in the self-publishing game, if I were to start Plain & Simple Press or Camptown Races Press anew, here is what I would do today that I did not do when I started the enterprise.

Hire an experienced marketer with a proven track record—up front

A marketing person would be my first hire. That is where I would put most of my start-up money, and it’s also where I would invest the most effort in recruiting and personnel assessment. I would hire this person before doing anything else.

The woods are full of people who will tell you they can market books. Most of them haven’t the faintest. Some are so hungry, they will lie just to get the job, saying they understand how to engage this or that tool to attract readers and sell books. In addition, a lot of popular ideas about what strategies work are simply wrong, or are outdated.

Where do you find a paragon among book marketers? Ask everyone you can think of, in and out of book publishing.

Track down authors whose books resemble yours and that are selling well. Send each author an inquiry asking if they can recommend their marketer. Most will not respond, so you’ll need to send out quite a few queries. But sooner or later you’ll probably find someone who will refer you to their marketing agent.

Contact the local Public Relations Society of America chapter. This group’s members are working professionals in marketing and public relations. They have a jobs board and invite job postings from prospective employers.[30] Be prepared to budget some money to post an ad and to hire someone for a gig that lasts long enough to produce results.

If there’s a publishers’ association in your state, along the lines of the New Mexico Book Association,[31] attend a meeting and ask members for suggestions. Many of these groups are very active and include publishers and authors with successful track records.

Attend regional and national book fairs. Network actively and inquire among the people you meet to see if anyone can refer you to a good marketing agent.

Attend regional and national writers’ conferences. The larger, better established ones attract New York literary agents. These people do know effective marketers. They may (or may not) refer you. Nothing ventured: while you’re there, you can also ask authors who seem successful.

Budget a substantial amount of money to pay for marketing services and campaigns, which should begin before the book is published. In retrospect, it’s clear this is where the largest share of a publisher’s or author’s budget should go.

Hire a virtual assistant to handle the social media time suck.

Although the effectiveness of social media marketing is, in my opinion, questionable, it cannot be neglected. And it is very time-consuming.

This is another task to which I would dedicate a fair slab of the budget.

You or an assistant should write blog posts every day having to do with subjects related to your books or your readers’ interests. Each of these needs to be optimized for and posted at Pinterest, and then you need to post each one at Facebook groups, on your Facebook business page and on your personal Facebook timeline, at Goodreads, on Twitter, at Google+, and to the extent appropriate, at LinkedIn.

Exclusive of the blogging, which you should be doing anyway, the ditzy social media tasks can easily soak up two hours a day. That’s two hours when you’re not writing, two hours that you’re not out on the town networking, two hours that you’re glued to the computer unable to exercise or take care of your family or read or think or do anything else. And two hours is a conservative estimate.

Unless you truly love passing your time on social media, hire someone else to do this stuff.

Crowd-fund or take out a business loan to pay these contractors.

It’s always better to use someone else’s money than to throw your own down the drain. Platforms such as Kickstarter,[32] Publishizer,[33] and Unbound[34] help fund and market your publishing project. Obviously, you have to share the revenues. But these outfits can generate revenues: a share of something is a lot better than a share of nothing.

Some such organizations function like publishers, but they seem to be more flexible in terms of the kinds of books they’ll chance their money on.

Put books on Ingram right away.

Ingram provides distribution services needed to circulate books to retailers, educators, and libraries. It offers a wide variety of marketing and fulfillment services, as well as a partnership with CreateSpace, a PoD service whose reviews are mixed but which is internationally known.

I would not use Ingram’s CreateSpace for printing, because I want more control over that process than you can get by working through a gigantic faceless corporation that outsources its jobs overseas. However, I would get my books into their distribution system as quickly as possible.

Focus on person-to-person and business-to-business marketing

Early on, I discovered that the 30 Days/4 Months diet plan and cookbook sold easily and in gay abandon when I talked it up to groups in person. Campaigns to sell it on social media generate plenty of “likes” but not many sales.

Acquaintances made in writers’ and publishers’ groups report similar experiences. Almost everyone who is making any money on their books will tell you that speaking in front of groups and arranging author-signings and bookstore presentations sells more books than any amount of virtual jawing on social media.

The next stage of my marketing campaign will be heavy on presentations and in-person networking. If I could have started out knowing then what I know now, I would have hit the ground with personal presentations, radio talk-show interviews, podcasts, and YouTube videos.

Set a Target Income and Ignore All Other Metrics

No amount of “awards” or “Amazon Best-Seller” ego-stroking status changes the real measure of a business’s success: the bottom line.

At the outset, decide how much you believe your book sales should earn: $NNN per year.

Keep accurate records of your income and expenses, in Quickbooks, Mint, Excel, or a similar tool. Nothing else matters in terms of your book’s success. Many “Amazon best-sellers” earn next to nothing for their authors, and many books that do not appear in Amazon’s specious best-seller categories earn well. Pay attention to this fact.

No other device works as well to make you scam-proof.


[2] Here’s a good place to start:





















[23] Victoria Strauss, “Awards Profiteers: How Writers Can Recognize and Avoid Them,” June 9, 1915. Writer Beware. . In late 2016, the Writer Beware blogsite remains at Don’t miss this valuable resource.

[24] “Confession: I’m a #1 Best-Selling Author…and a Nanny,” July 18, 2016.

[25] Rachel Deahl, “New Guild Survey Reveals Majority of Authors Earn below Poverty Line,” September 11, 2015.

[26] “ February 2016 Author Earnings Report: Amazon’s e-book, Print, and Audio Sales,”

[27] Jay Yarow. “How Many Kindle Books Has Amazon Sold? About 22 Million This Year,” July 20, 2010, Business Insider.

[28] Claude Forthomme, “Only 40 Self-Published Authors Are a Success, Says Amazon,” February 7, 2016, Claude Forthomme-Nougat’s Blog,

[29] Jennifer McCartney, “Self-Publishing Preview, 2016,” Publisher’s Weekly,






Scams for Every Writer

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.


Scams for Every Writer

Plus ça change . . . As a young journalist and book author, I was often invited to speak at writers’ conferences. There I first observed that people who yearned more than anything on this earth to be Writers with a Capital W were subject to the most astonishing scams.

In those days, it was harder to get yourself published. Still, if you couldn’t persuade a publishing house to take you on, you could pay a vanity press to print up your golden words, which would make you feel entitled to go around calling yourself a Writer. The fee was hefty.

There were various fake literary agencies, too, that would charge you a “reading fee” to tell you how brilliant your undistinguished novel was. Here a scam, there a scam, everywhere another scam.

But now, when anyone can “publish” by posting whatever they please on Amazon, publishing itself is a kind of scam. And it breeds scamlets as cats breed kittens. The entire book industry is overrun with scams.

The ego gratification game

At lunch the other day, a dear and talented friend, self-publisher of an urban fantasy that’s been getting good reviews and selling reasonably well, reported that she’d found a place where you could sign up to get free reviews. And hallelujah, sister! You could enter your gilded book in a CONTEST! For a small fee . . . Reader’s Favorite, said she: one of her friends won first place in his book’s category. So worth it!

ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding

The old scam alarm went off inside the head. Where had I heard about writer’s contests with big prizes and prestige that cost just a few bucks to enter your book? Yeah . . . that one is old as the hills.

A little snooping around on Google, that treasure chest for cynics, brought up a rumination from Writer Beware,[23] one of my favorite no-bullshit sites. As you might expect from a hustle that’s been around for so many years, there’s now a vast array of “contests” that will put you in the running for “awards,” in exchange for fees. Once you’ve won a Reader’s Favorite “award,” you get to spend more money flying to Florida, and you’ll have even more opportunities to spend money on any number of bits and pieces of merchandise.

These profiteering “contests” are only one of many types of grift aimed at wannabe writers.

Really, e-book publishing itself is exactly that: a form of vanity press that looks like it’s free but is not.

Back in the Day, my feeling was that if you couldn’t persuade someone else to publish a book, it likely wasn’t worth publishing. Never would I have paid somebody to publish something I wrote: people paid me to write, not the other way around.

That, you see, is the definition of a professional writer.

The self-publishing grift

Today the landscape has changed—publishing has been “disrupted,” we’re told. But how much has it changed? That still remains to be seen.

Out of curiosity, I decided to try self-publishing on Amazon and waypoints. It’s free, after all. In a way.

But it’s not free, because publishing and marketing, when you get right down to it, are publishing and marketing.

If you have half a brain and no real-world publications experience, you will hire an editor to advise on your book’s quality and to copyedit, and you’ll hire a graphic artist to design your cover.

Editors cost money. Graphic artists cost money.

If you’re not very techie or if your book contains even slightly more complexity than a table of contents and a few chapter headings, you will need to hire an e-book formatter.

E-book formatting costs money.

If you wish to publish your book in print, you will need the graphic artist to redesign your cover to accommodate a back cover and spine.

Graphic artists cost money . . . again.

And you will need a graphic artist or a professionally designed template to lay out the interior content.

Graphic artists cost money . . . again.

Alternatively, book layout templates cost money.

Then you will need to print the thing.

Printers cost money.

Once you’ve “published” the book (“posting” is probably le mot juste), you need to sell it. That means you need to let the world know it exists, through advertising, social media marketing, consignment, and face-to-face pitches.

Advertising costs money.

Navigating the shoals of the intricate and by and large opaque social media platforms requires a professional.

Professional social media marketers cost money.

Persuading retailers—especially bookstores—to carry your book costs money.

Amazon as scam

One could argue that, for most authors, the whole publishing industry is a bit of a scam, at least for those who don’t understand their real occupation will not be “author” but “ad copy hack and self-employed marketer.” That’s most egregiously true for people who style themselves “indie authors” and self-publish on Amazon.

Case in point: a report from Laura Jane Williams over at The Financial Diet.[24] She shares some straight talk about the economic facts of life enjoyed by a number-one best-selling author—that would be one published through a real publisher that pays a real advance (yea verily, a Big Four publisher). Without going into detail, let’s just note that she’s trying to support herself as a part-time nanny.

Very few writers ever make earn a living at their craft. Publisher’s Weekly, the sine qua non of trade journals for the publishing industry, reports that most authors’ earnings fall below the poverty line,[25] and what is more, author income has been dropping since 2008. reports optimistically that 1,340 writers earn over $100,000 a year,[26] and half of those are indies. This revelation is extracted from a mind-numbing aggregation of data gleaned from Amazon. AE claims, probably correctly, that the share of the market for books sold on Amazon is increasingly going to independent (i.e., self-) publishers. This is no doubt true: publishing on Amazon is the hot new thing to do. But that you are in a market does not mean you’re making any money in the market.

1,340 authors

Let’s think about that. It’s not very many, when you consider that Amazon has 14 million books online. If half of those six-figure writers are indies, then only 670 writers in the whole world are making a credibly good living at their trade.

Amazon sold 22 million copies of Kindle books alone in 2010.[27] Imagine. How many authors are required to produce 22 million sales?

Amazon itself deems only forty self-published authors “successful.”[28]

Between Amazon’s price-fixing practices and the enormous saturation of the book market, independent publishers and all authors face daunting challenges.[29] Getting a self-published book on the shelves of a real, physical store is not easy. The other day I learned that the pre-eminent independent bookstore in my state charges indie authors $300 for shelf space—and I can assure you, your chance of selling $300 worth of books there is almost nil. By and large, sources through which real-world bookstores order their stock do not carry self-published books. You can get access through IndieReader and Ingram Spark . . . assuming you can afford to pay for it. Additionally, attracting media coverage from recognized mainstream newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters is extremely difficult: indie authors just don’t get no respect.

I’m often told that instead of clinging to my pessimistic view of life—the view from which one is never disappointed—I should try to be an optimist.

The optimist, then, would say about those forty “successful” authors, Why shouldn’t I be one of those?

But I can’t get past the realist’s challenge: Why should I?


FREE READS, Amazon, and the Price of Beans

For SEO purposes, what is our subject? The rip-off that is Amazon Kindle Unlimited. There. Now that we have the keywords in the first graf, let us move on.

So…here’s the thing: You can come here to my site and read my golden words, FREE, any time you please. Not one, not two, but three of my bookoids are serialized here, for your delectation, as *FREE READS* — oh, hallelujah brothers and sisters. But if I’m going to give my stuff away for free, I am going to give it away for free. That would be I and only I. No one else is going to profit on it, except maybe you. And that would be in the sense that maybe you will be able to derive some mild pleasure from these scribblings, in an idle moment, without having to pay for it.

Amazon, however — that fine disruptor of the publishing industry — tries to arrogate that privilege to itself. It offers several plans through which you, the “author,” can make your literary properties available to the public. One of them is “Kindle Unlimited,” a sort of lending library, whereby customers pay a small flat rate to access as many books as they please. In theory, these subscription payments are aggregated into a pool, a part of which is to be divided up among the writers who agree to offer their books through the plan. Writers are to be paid, we’re told, according to the number of pages readers read in the books they download onto their devices.

Now, we won’t even get into the matter of how fuckin’ outrageous it IS that Amazon peers over its customers’ shoulders, spying not only on what they read but on how much of it they read and when they read it. To my mind, that is unacceptable, and it is one of several reasons I do not read books in Kindle or any other electronic format.

But that is a different outrage from the outrage at hand. The outrage at hand, delivered today in the form of a report of the amount of “royalties” Amazon direct-deposited to my bank account, looks like this:

You may have to click on this image to see the details. Or not: WordPress really does not want to reproduce it in a reasonable size. But here’s what the graph above shows in spreadsheet format:

The book that I posted to Amazon using this “lending library” scheme is a cookbook and diet guide called 30 Pounds/4 Months. Somebody, somewhere, elected to download it and look at it. (To my mind one does not exactly “read” a cookbook, although it does contain chapters on dieting and healthy eating that an enthusiast might sit through from beginning to end.)

On March 31, Amazon registered that someone (or ones) read 334 print pages. The book  contains 281 pages. Explanation? a) Amazon is counting the front and back matter as “pages”‘; or b) Amazon weirdly defines a “page” as something much shorter than the standard 220-250 words; or c) more than one person read the book during an arbitrary period measured by Amazon’s software and reported on arbitrary dates. Probably, I think, the second, but who knows? Certainly not the peons who write the content Amazon peddles.

On April 3, person or persons unknown read 61 pages.

On or by April 14, someone read another 346 pages.

That adds up to 742 pages. Since the book is only 281 pages long, it means the equivalent of 2.65 copies of the book was accessed and read on Amazon.

And how much did I earn on the rental of three books?


That’s right: $0.00.

Not that a tiny fraction of $9.99 would matter. But it would at least not be effin’ insulting.

To add injury to that insult, Amazon embargoes any book you post on Kindle Unlimited. Give it away for free at Amazon, and you are not allowed to sell or give it away anywhere else.

No. Not even on your own website.

So if I wanted to add 30 Pounds/4 Months to the *FREE READS* here at Plain & Simple Press, Amazon could (and very well might) sic its lawyers on me.

Why, you ask, did I choose to avail myself of this self-defeating merchandising plan?

Mostly out of curiosity: I wanted to see if it actually would move books.

And yeah. It does. But interestingly, that is beside the point.

Basically what it does is force me to give away my work for free, or next to it.

Well, folks, here’s how I see this:

If you’re going to give your books away for free, you might as well give them away for free yourself, on your own site or to your favorite charities or to your friends and relatives or to your business customers or to your local libraries.

Forking them over to a vast monopolistic corporation that has set its sights on pushing all its competition out of business, homogenizing retail in the US and around the world, and dictating what manufacturers, writers, publishers, and retailers will be allowed to earn on their products is, in  a word, self-defeating.

Working for free is nothing more than slave labor. You’d do better to teach college courses on an adjunct basis — bringing up another whole generation of sheeple to work for vast monopolies for free.

You can look at it through another lens: as a hobby. And that is how I do regard the three works I’m making available to you just now, here at P&S Press. I write as I breathe…it’s what I do. I can, in the same way that I can knit a sweater or cook up a pan of lasagne, make the product of that hobby activity available to one and all for free.

That’s pretty much the definition of a hobby.

Amazon is working to redefine publishing as a hobby. If that’s what you want to do — make a hobby of your writing skills — fine and good. But don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s anything else.


Self-Publishing: The Tsunami

Y’know… I’ve self-published a number of my own (lesser…) efforts. I do not make any pretenses as to their superiority or lack thereof. And I think it’s delightful that an independent, unknown author can take her beloved magnum opus to its audience of two (if she’s lucky) and tell herself that she’s “published.”

But… My god, there should be a limit!

Problem No. 1 is the same problem we’ve always had with this route to the public: in the absence of a gatekeeper, any kind of schlock can go to print and distribution. And believe me, it does.

Problem No. 2: Amazon et alii have made the self-publishing process so easy that we now have an indiscriminate flood of schlock. It saturates the book market.

It saturates Amazon to the extent that you can’t tell whether you’re ordering a decent book or not. People put up their friends and hire hacks to post glowing reviews, and so if you sort an Amazon search by customer reviews, a slew of apparently stellar volumes will pop to the head of the list.

They’re stellar, all right. In the sense that a red dwarf star is stellar. Dull and glowing by the light of spent radiation.

An example of this struck the other day, here at The Copyeditor’s Desk. We would like to offer proposal writing services through our little business. As a faculty member at Arizona State University, I wrote a few proposals, and in an earlier incarnation, my little business picked up a number of jobs by answering federal RFPs. And I spent several terms — nigh unto a decade — on the Arizona Humanities Council’s board of directors. All we did there was read, assess, and decide whether to reject or approve proposals.

So I do know how a proposal works.

However, it’s been awhile. Given that times do change, I figured I’d better cobble together a DIY refresher course to bring my skills up to date before offering us up on the open market as proposal writers.

First off, I spotted a course offered through a national association of grant writers. It was pricey, but I could add people to it, so I subscribed for myself and my associate editor.

Result: middling. Apparently there’s not enough to say on the subject to fill several hours of video time — certainly not enough time to justify charging what that outfit charges — and so the instructor bloviates. On and on and eye-glazingly on. The content ranges from saccharine pep talk to entire segments dedicated to telling viewers what she’s going to say next.

I do not have time to waste like that (nor, truth to tell, did I have the money to waste on the thing…).

Insight: I need a book: a guide to proposal writing.

So I go to Amazon and see there’s really not much out there. Well: there is, but there isn’t. Most of the hits on searches for “grant writing” and “proposal writing” receive mediocre reviews. The ones that show near the top — one, for example, in the “Dummies” series — appear to have arrived there grâce à self-promotion of the most vigorous type.

I go back to the online course, waste some more time listening to hot air. Lose patience. Give up.

Drive down to the only surviving general bookstore in the city. They have exactly NOTHING on the subject, and the place is so over-run with Christmas shoppers I have to prize my way into a harassed clerk’s attention. She directs me to a) the business section (nooo…) and b) the wanna-be writer’s section (noooo to the power of ten).

Damn!  Back to Amazon. This time I filter the search in order of customer reviews. Several how-to books on grant writing appear, festooned with five-star decoration.

Order one that looks like it might be OK.

First warning sign: it takes for-freaking ever for the thing to be shipped: ten days or two weeks.

Now it finally arrives. I tear open the package to find this thing printed on the cheapest of all possible paper with one of those cheesy covers that curls up the first time you open the book and then stays curled for all eternity. Evidently self-published, despite bearing the name of a prominent East-Coast publisher.

Well, yes. Look closely at the copyright page and you learn that said venerable publisher has added self-publishing to its wares.

This outfit’s name on your copyright page looks grand, but evidently the author got no more publishing services than I would get running my copy through the PoD press I use. In fact, my guys produce a much better-looking book.

Oh well.

Now I start to read the thing.

First thing I come to is the advice that you must L-O-O-O-O-V-E your cause and your work to be a successful grant writer.




I’ve just sat through hours of the same kind of bloviation, transparently intended to fill space in the expensive video for which customers are charged a L-O-O-O-O-V-E-ly pretty penny.

When you’re trying to learn a professional skill, you do not need a pep talk. You need a road map.

Where was this woman’s editor?

Absent, apparently, along with her common sense.

Herein lies the problem: It’s too easy to churn this stuff out. It’s too easy to get it published on Amazon. It’s too easy to hire a printer to make a fake book out of it. It’s w-a-a-a-y too easy to put people up to posting bushels of ecstatic reviews at Amazon.

The result is, we have an ocean of trash out there, much of it deceptively packaged. I would not have purchased this book if I had realized it was self-published blather. Which, my dears, is exactly what it is.

Therein lies the problem with self-publishing. The tripartite problem, really: it acts on authors and publishing houses as it acts on readers. Videlicet: in the absence of a discerning gatekeeper’s eye — without an editor, a marketer, and a publisher who knows what quality work looks like and who has a decent sense what will sell and what will not sell — we are all awash in a sea of mediocrity.

For authors: we don’t know whether what we’re emitting is worth the hot air we expend on it…or not. We always think our stuff is wonderful. So does our mother. Our friends…maybe not so much, but you can be sure that they want to stay our friends and so they tell us that yes, yes, we’re so right: our stuff is wonderful.

This will happen even if what our stuff deserves is a one-sentence form letter reading “This is something that we cannot publish.”

It’s damn hard to blossom when you’re standing in a field overgrown with weeds. And how do you compete with someone who hires people or puts friends and acquaintances and customers up to blitzing Amazon with five-star reviews? Most writers hang out in the garret writing because they prefer their own company. We’re not  marketers. We’re not social butterflies. We’re writers. And that would be why we need publishers (real ones, that is), complete with marketing apparatus.

For publishers: they can bust their buns to put out the best books imaginable by the most gifted writers in creation. Good luck bringing them to a public drowning in schlock. Who wants even to be bothered to look for a decent book, at this point? Why, when I can find what I want online? No, it’s not all in one place, and it’s not all in a convenient form that I can pull off the six-foot shelf when I need a reference. But hey: it’s free, and I do know that something from the National Institutes of Health or PBS is likely not to be schlock.

And as for the public? One word. Schlock.

Exploring the Amazon for Obscene Riches…

“Obscene” may be the operative term, all right. “Riches” certainly ain’t.

The S-corporation’s May bank statement came in and then sat on the desk for some time waiting for the proprietor to get around to examining it.

Lo! Here are not one, not two, nay not three but four deposits from Amazon: Two from what I assume is the US branch of the empire and one from Deutschebank, whose provenance I do not understand and do not want to understand. All I know is that both sources reflect book sales.

The grand total of all four deposits? $14.06

Wowsers. At $14 a month, the annual revenues of my little company’s book sales would come to all of $168. A year. Yeah. Such a deal!

Let’s see…how many books does P&S press have up on Amazon right now?

If you enter my name as author, you get a series of books whose titles read “Have Victory” in Spanish. Then you find four books I edited but have no author’s credit. Then you come to Math Magic, which I cowrote with Scott Flansburg (actually, I wrote it, but it’s his story and his profits). Then one of my books and then another that I edited. Finally, near the bottom of the first of 8 pages of hits, you come to the Plain & Simple tomes: Slave Labor, 30 pounds/4 Months, and the second of the boxed Fire-Rider sets (???). Then ONE of the short out-takes of Fire-Rider. (??? I thought I took all of those down!).

Second page of hits: not one of them has anything to do with  me or with anything I’ve written or edited. Third page: the third volume of Fire-Rider followed by the second volume of Fire-Rider, followed by 9 of the 18 short out-takes that I thought had been removed, all of them listed “for sale” at $0.00. Isn’t that cute? Fourth page: a bunch more of those plus two old editions of Math Magic. The rest of it, far as I can see, all irrelevant.

How annoying. No wonder I can’t sell anything at that place.

At any rate: We have five full-length books with Slave Labor, 30 Days, and the three installments of the Fire-Rider saga, plus 18 throwaway segments of Fire-Rider as shorties. That’s TWENTY-THREE PUBLICATIONS. On average, on 23 books and bookoids, then, Plain & Simple Press has earned 61 cents a piece.

Talk about your minimum wage…

Banner image of the day: DepositPhotos, ©-stokato

Let’s Get Real…About Self-Publishing

Yes. Let’s get real. In self-publishing, a few people make a little money on their books. A very few make a lot of money on their books. But most self-publishers run in the red.

Tips to help make writing a priority when life is busy.

One of these days…

P&S Press makes a little money (very little) on its proprietor’s golden words. But most of the press’s revenues have come from helping others prepare their books for publication: that is to say, The Copyeditor’s Desk is the main driver of income for the entire incorporated enterprise.

In consideration of that reality, some time ago I stopped actively trying to sell Plain & Simple books. Revenues from Amazon have remained the same, whether I hustle as hard as I can or whether I just let the stuff sit there: about $15 to $19 a month.

Fifteen bucks a month…on over 40 titles. That’s combined Plain & Simple Press and Camptown Races output. And no, speaking of Camptown Races: soft-core “erotica” does not sell better than ordinary nonfiction or genre novels.

A couple new books of my own are in the works — but they get put aside whenever paying work comes in from a client.

That means, in effect, they’re always set aside. Every single time I sit down to format the boob book for print or finish off the guide to writing & publishing, someone shows up at the virtual door asking me to edit this magnum opus or to index that scholarly tome. So…I’m always busy, but rarely busy on my own stuff.

“My own stuff” is, de facto, no longer a business but a hobby.

Nor was it ever much other than a hobby, given that it ran the S-corporation deep into the red. If I land the indexing project presently under consideration, that fee will bring the bottom line back to where it was before I took to sailin’ the Amazon. But just barely. And it’s taken over a year to do it.

The plan now is to keep on writing, in idle hours, to publish the stuff on Amazon, to make it available in hard copy whenever there’s something to publish. But I’m not spending any more money on it. And it will always go on the back burner whenever a paying customer shows up.

My own writing will revert to hobby status, to be posted on Amazon much as one displays one’s quilts or needlework or pecan pies at the County Fair.

If I can get one or more of the local colleges to let me teach extension courses — the “lifelong learning” sort of thing — I may use the writing guide as a “suggested text” (we’re not allowed to require people to buy our own books). That will sell a few. But otherwise, that will be about it in the marketing department.

Marketing is what costs you money. And time.

Since time supposedly is money, you could say book marketing costs you money in spades. It’s a huge time suck, and unless you like marketing, have nothing else to do, and love diddling away your time on social media, it’s an ongoing annoyance.

If you enjoy sales and marketing, I’m sure it’s fun. I personally don’t: if I were good at marketing, as we scribble I’d be making a decent living selling cars or refrigerators or radio ad space. Writers don’t live in their garrets because they so love hustling wares, their own or anyone else’s.


Amazon to Writers: Screw You!

30 Pounds 4 Months - Diet Advice and Over 100 Delicious RecipesSo the saga of the count-down sales that didn’t happen continues. When I complained to Amazon that the BIG SALE I’d arranged for six books starting on Thursday, July 21st, never showed up online, I got an answer from an apparently living human being (that or a very clever piece of AI programming) stating that I had set the sale to start at 3:00 p.m.

I rather doubt that. I wouldn’t have done any such thing. Sure, I may be senile, but I still know the difference between a.m. and p.m. But…moving on, deeper in the message the Amazon CSR claimed that I had never set up a sale for the diet/cookbook, 30 Pounds/4 Months.

Meanwhile, I’ve been telling people for two weeks that they could get the book for 99 cents starting yesterday. That, then, comes under the heading of false advertising.

What to do, what to do?

Well, the work-around is pretty obvious: simply set the price not as a “sale” but as a permanent price at 99 cents. Leave it there for a week. Then take the book off of KDP Select, which obnoxiously embargoes your book so you can’t sell it anywhere else (not even from your own website) and return the price to $9.99.

You understand: to do this I have to drop the royalty to 35%. This means that for each 99-cent sale of the book I get less than 35 cents!

Minimum wage? Not quite. I have HUNDREDS of hours and HUNDREDS of dollars wrapped up in this book. A 64-cent profit means that I’m operating deep in the negative numbers. Not only do I earn less than minimum wage in return for months of research, writing, editing, design, and publishing work, I actually end up paying for the privilege of working my ass off.

But…I can’t very well be accused of falsely advertising a sale.

So I go ahead and set that up…or…I try to.

Even though Amazon’s KDP Select pricing section states you can set your price starting at 99 cents, it will not allow  me to do so!!! The lowest price the damn form will accept is $1.00.

Defies belief.

At this point I pass beyond frustration into outright anger. No. Make that into RAGE.

So. I set the price at a dollar, since that’s the best I can do. Then I use the “Description” section to post the following announcement to those who may have sought out the book expecting to get it at a starvation-wage price:

ENOUGH! Amazon is determined that this book is not going on sale. I advertised a count-down sale beginning at 99 cents, an arrangement that I set up here and checked twice and believed was in place, ready to go as of July 21. Now Amazon tells me no such sale was ever arranged, even though I know very well that I did set it up. In exchange for this financially oppressive marketing gimmick, I had to allow Amazon to embargo my book for as long as it’s in the KDP Select program: you have to sign up for it in order to price your book lower than about two bucks. That means I cannot sell it anywhere else, not even from my own site.

Amazon’s pricing program, which I’m in as I write this rant, states that you can set your price starting at 99 cents. But when I enter that figure, Amazon’s system refuses to accept it. The lowest figure it will accept is one dollar. This book took MONTHS to research and write, and it required a startling amount of time and money to prepare for publication. Giving it away for a buck apiece less a cut to Amazon is exactly that: GIVING it away. It means all the work I’ve put into this book is paid at sub-sub-sub-minimum wage. I’m not getting paid from sales of 30 Pounds/4 months; to the contrary, I’m paying through the schnozzola to sell it. This is not satisfactory.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been advertising that I would sell the book for 99 cents as the starting price in one of Amazon’s “countdown sale” promotions, starting on July 21. Since Amazon doesn’t seem to want to let me do this sale, I proposed a work-around: price it at 99 cents for one week. But Amazon won’t let me do that, either: even though the program says you can set your price starting at 99 cents, it will not let me do that. The lowest it will allow is $1.00.

So here’s what I’m going to do: I will price this book here at ONE DOLLAR EVEN, the lowest price Amazon permits, and it will stay at that price for one week, until July 28. That’s the period the count-down sale was supposed to run, with the price edging upward until it was back to $9.99 on the 29th. Thus you’ll be able to buy the book for a buck for the ENTIRE WEEK, not just for a day or two.

On July 29, I will remove the book from KDP Select and again sell it at my site, I will offer the electronic version here for $9.99, but for just 99 cents at my site. This will be a limited-time offer. So if you really want to get a bargain, plan on visiting come July 29.

Wanna buy this book cheap? Wait for a week, come back here to the website, and I’ll give the thing to you in .mobi or .pdf  for 99 cents. I may mark the paperback copy down, too.

How to Format Your Book in Kindle (and When NOT to…)

Here's how to format a book for Kindle using Word.An interesting conversation is going on at my favorite Facebook group of nonfiction scribblers. One of the members asked if it’s very difficult to format your own book in Word and upload it from Word to Kindle. The answers are “yes and no.” That makes sense, because the answer is “yes and no.”

First, let’s look at the “When NOT to” embark on a DIY ebook formatting expedition. You should hire a professional ebook formatter who knows HTML and CSS like a native language when your book contains any kind of graphics. ANY kind: that means tables, graphs, charts, maps, photographs, drawings…anything that is not plain narrative with one (count it, 1) level of subhead below the chapter heading level.

I’m not going to go into the  horrors here, but trust me: you do not want to try to get even one image or other graphic into a Kindle book from Word on your own.

But if what you have is a novel, or a piece of nonfiction that contains nothing but plain, unadorned narrative, you can get that up on Kindle as easily as the next guy. It’s really very simple.

Here’s how, assuming you’re working in Word…

Step 1: Set your program to save every five minutes. Word is squirrelly and fully capable of crashing at random (as you probably know by now…). Better to lose three or four minutes’ worth of work than ten minutes’ worth. In this process, loss of ten or fifteen minutes of work will be intensely frustrating, because it’s mind-numbing work and because you can get a fair amount done in that period and you will not feel happy about having to do it all over again.

The font does not matter, because Kindle readers can choose whatever font and size they wish and Amazon will arrogate your copy unto itself and use a standard font for the Kindle production. I have my Word set to default to Times New Roman 12 points, no space before or after paragraphs, because I dislike Word’s current default font and hate having air around my grafs. However, for your purposes, it doesn’t matter because your font formatting will go away in Kindle, so…use the plainest standard font formatting as your default.

Similarly, e-books do not have running headers and footers. Do not insert a running header with page numbers plus your name or the book title or the chapter title, because these will not appear in the Kindle version.

Step 2: Insert a table of contents field, if you know how. I personally like Joel Friedlander’s Word templates from Book Design Templates, because they’re extremely easy to use and they come with the TofC field built in. For best results, select one that switch-hits between print and e-book formatting.

Step 3: Format ALL content using Word’s “styles” function. Format the chapter headings (known as “level 1 heads”) as Heading 1 and any subheads under that (known as “level 2 heads”) as Heading 2.


Use Word’s “Styles” to format your MS for Amazon.

Word, which is extremely rigid, sets these things in blue type. Some of us find that annoying. You can either manually change the color to black, or you can reset the Heading 1 and Heading 2 styles with Format > Styles > [select the style to change] > Modify. Once in there, explore around: you’ll find commands to set the font color and size and the paragraph formatting.

Format the paragraphs as well as the heads and subheads using “Styles.” If you’re not using a template, use the style titled “Normal.” To format a paragraph, highlight it and go to Format > Style > Normal. You can highlight a whole series of paragraphs at once, or you can format one paragraph and use the formatting brush icon to spread the selected format around to other paragraphs.

Step 4. Format all italic, bold face, and small caps using “Styles.” Styles for this purpose come with a commercial template; if you’re using a plain ordinary Word document, you may have to create a new style. Format > Style > New. Be sure it’s set for the font and size you’ve chosen. Then, in Format > Style > New, click the down arrow in the “Format” box. In the pane that appears, under “Formatting” you’ll be able to choose whatever you like. If you want to create a style for italic, for example, simply click on the i icon for italic. Name the Style “Italic.” (Or bold face or small caps or whatever.)

What you can’t do:

Do not try to insert drop caps. Although it’s possible to do so, you need to know coding to make it work. Converting an ordinary Word file with drop caps will create a screw-up. If you want to decorate opening lines, set the first few words in all caps (not small caps!), and set the first line of a first paragraph under a heading or subheading flush left. This is ditzy, especially if your book is long, and it’s not necessary. Avoid if you don’t know what you’re doing or you have no design background at all.

Ditto images: they do not convert easily from a plain Word file to Kindle. They’re likely to come out in tiny sub-postage-stamp size and in weird places. If you have images or other graphics, hire a book formatter to do this job!

Don’t try to change fonts around. For example, don’t try to set normal paragraphs in, say, Times New Roman 12 points and block quotations in, say, Calibri 11 points. This can create a mish-mash. Set the entire document in the same typeface (what Word calls a “font”) and use only boldface and italic for variety.

Don’t lay out interior copy in standard print form — that is, with all first pages on recto pages. There is no recto and verso in an e-book.

Step 5. Update the table of contents. Right-click in the TofC field and in the pop-up menu, select Update Field > Update Entire Table.

If you are using a Macintosh you will need to update the table of contents on a PC!!!!!!!!! Endlessly annoying Amazon will not read a table of contents generated on a Mac or updated on a Mac. In that case, email the document to a friend with a PC and explain to the person how to to update the TofC, or else copy the file to a flash drive, traipse to a public library that has PCs, and update it on that machine.

Step 6. Proofread, proofread, proofread! Ideally, get someone else to proofread the document at least once, since you now are so accustomed to reading it that your mind subconsciously “corrects” errors as you trudge through the copy for the 147th time, and you will not see all of the typos.

Get the front matter right. If you do not know what a copyright page is supposed to look like, get a book from an established publishing house and copy the format carefully on your own copyright page. You probably will not have the Library of Congress data, but otherwise do not leave any of the copyright page elements out.

I will not go in to the question of whether you should get an ISBN or let Amazon assign its own inventory number to your book (that is not an ISBN; don’t let anybody tell you it is). All I can say is you’re better off to get an ISBN of your own, and yes, you do need a separate ISBN for each format in which you publish: .mobi, ePub, print, whatEVER.

Step 7. List your keywords and write a short, enticing description of your book. Save to disk, so as to be sure these notes do not disappear.

Step 8. Go to your author dashboard in Amazon and click on the box that says “Create New Title.” It’s at the top of the page next to “New Title Checklist. No Amazon page yet? Tsk. If you haven’t established an account yet, do so now. Here are some clues to that process.

Step 9. Fill in the blanks on the form. You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to select KDP Select, which is a program that supposedly gives you a little marketing boost and that allows you to price your book lower than $2.99. Its drawback is that Amazon embargoes your book for 90 days — you can’t sell it anywhere else, not even from your own website. Some people are not bothered by this; in any event, you can exit the program any time you wish.

Jump through all the hoops required on the first page, inserting the keywords and description you’ve thought through carefully and written out. You’ll upload your cover as a JPEG and then upload the content of your book as a .doc or .docx file. Where it asks if you want to enable digital rights management: Amazon suggests you do NOT choose this option because it annoys readers who would like to share your book with others. It also may complicate Amazon’s plan to use your work in its lending program. If you do not mind pirating — DRM does provide some protection against theft — select “do not enable.” If you care whether people steal your book, select “enable digital rights managment.”

Step 10. Preview your book and download a copy of the MOBI file. Amazon will suggest you use the online previewer. Do NOT do this. The online previewer gives you a very weak idea of how the book will look on a real Kindle. Download the computer-resident Kindle previewer that Amazon offers at this stage. It will take awhile — go have lunch and come back. Now download the .mobi file into your Kindle previewer. This will give you a rough idea of the book’s appearance on a reading device — it’s not perfect, but it’ll have to do. If you have an iPad, you can get the Kindle App and email the MOBI file to yourself as an attachment. Open the file on the iPad and it will come up in the Kindle app. This will give you a better idea of how the thing will look on a Kindle reader.

Get the MOBI file by downloading it into Amazon’s previewer on your computer, finding the file in your downloads, and saving to the desired folder in your records.

Step 11. Proofread, proofread, proofread! Do NOT imagine the file will go up without a hitch. It will not. Go over the entire document in the Kindle reader. Fix each glitch in your Word file.

Use Amazon’s spell check tool, which creates a list of what it thinks are misspelled words at the time you upload your file. It will choke on place names, unusual personal names, and foreign words…but it will catch typos. This is extremely useful. But you still must proofread the book from beginning to end before your final post.

When you’re satisfied with what you have, upload the final corrected file again. And preview and proofread it again. This process may take awhile. You probably will have to re-upload the file at least twice — possibly several times — to get it right. It can be time-consuming, so allow an hour or two. Once you’re  happy with it, click “Save and Continue” to move on to the next page to set your price and tell Amazon where you’re selling the book. Fill in the blanks there and click “Publish.”

Et voilà! You’re a “published” author. And now the real work begins: selling it…

You can see my own and our authors’ published works here at Plain & Simple Press and also at Camptown Races Press. Please be forewarned that Camptown Races publishes “Racy Books for Racy Readers” — they’re romantic erotica, not intended for minors or for adults with delicate sensibilities.

And remember: Every Writer Needs an Editor. 😉

Lose 40 Pounds in 4 Months

woo HOO! The finished product!

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Kindle “Preview” Tool

About two o’clock this afternoon I started on some of the publishing-related chores filling the To-Do list, after having completed some morning tasks that slopped over the noon hour. Several things really needed to get done today. None of them did get done, alas. Because… In the email came a notice from the Kindle folks bragging about their new “Preview” tool: a snippet of code that you can install in your website to direct readers to a fairly lengthy peek at just about any book published at Amazon.

Well, the sales potential is obvious, no? Since copying and pasting code into a WordPress page is fast and painless (usually…), I decided to belay the scheduled jobs and instead post “Preview” ads for key books I’m trying to peddle at Plain and Simple Press, at Fire-Rider, and at Funny about Money. This shouldn’t have taken longer than about 45 minutes or an hour. Max. With dawdling and Murphy’s Law figured in.

It’s now after 7:00. I never did get the Fire-Rider website updated or a page of reviews posted there. I’ve gone around in circles uploading data, making a horrifying discovery, and deleting data. And I. am. mad. as. a. CAT!

To make a long story short, after I had posted a “Preview” link to 30 Pounds / 4 Months, the new diet-cookbook that has been selling moderately well, compared to the other opuses we have online, I belatedly took it into my hot little mind to click on that link by way of testing it. What came up was a gawdawful formatting mess!

This, after I had checked, checked, checked, and re-checked that .mobi file in the large, clunky Kindle Previewer that you can download from Amazon and save to your hard drive. The one that downloads files and opens them in about half the time it takes for your hair to turn gray. In that Kindle previewer, downloadable from your Amazon Author “Bookshelf” — where you go to publish your golden words — the formatting appears to be PERFECT. But when you see it in Kindle’s fine new marketing tool, it’s sh!t.

The other books looked OK — I checked them at the time I uploaded the “Preview” links and foolishly assumed all was well. But this one is a screaming fiasco.

And of course, this happens to be the book that I expect will sell. Indeed, in hard copy it is selling rather briskly.

By the time I went back into all my websites, deleted all the “Previews” of the cookbook from every page I’d put them on, changed the links on the cookbook widgets away from the websites’ new PREVIEWS! pages and back to Amazon’s pages, and revised and updated a Funny about Money post burbling on joyfully about the new fine opportunity, I’d killed the entire afternoon struggling with this little headache.

If that weren’t enough to push the blood pressure into the ionosphere… At this point I have no idea whether 30 Pounds appears to be properly formatted when it’s loaded into a Kindle device or whether it’s a jumble of wacked-out heads, subheads, and wrong paragraph formatting.

I could, in theory, drop the price to 99 cents for a day or two or three (or however long it takes to return the price to the $9.99 that will return almost a whole dollar‘s net profit on the thing). Then I could pay Amazon for the privilege of letting me download it into my Kindle device so I can see what it actually looks like. But you wanna know what? I ain’t a-gunna do that!

My position is that Kindle should be able to provide publishers with a previewer that actually shows what our customers will see! And if they’re going to promulgate a previewer to be used as a sales tool, they should provide one that doesn’t make hamburger stew of formatting that looks fine in the previewer they claim shows what we’re publishing.

Ham and eggs? Or corned beef hash?

Ham and eggs? Or corned beef hash?

Coming Attractions!

Recently, having surpassed our short-term publishing goal, we decided to slow our production pace by about 50%, partly to allow the writing team to focus on longer, more interesting stories and partly to give me a break from the 14-hour days. Interestingly, the result has been that more projects of higher quality have blossomed.

Soon to appear, for example, will be a revised and much improved version of the ill-fated diet/cookbook, whose first incarnation was titled How I Lost 30 Pounds in Four Months.

The new version is renamed. Its new title is 30 Pounds: 4 months. Here’s a draft of the cover, still very much under construction:

Dark Kindle for post

I’m not nuts about this design. What’s really desired is one of my friend La Maya’s gorgeous original oil paintings, rights to which I wish to purchase…  She’s out of the country just now, but will return next week. At that time I hope to strike a deal with her. Possibly, for example, she’d be willing to share this one.

How I Lost was the first book I posted to Amazon all by my little self. The very first Plain & Simple Press effusion, Slave Labor: The New Story of American Higher Education, was formatted and posted by a professional e-book formatter, and it came out looking very nice. After I discovered, however, that one can upload to Kindle direct from Word, nothing would do but what I had to try it myself.

Naturally, I picked the single most difficult, complicated book we’ve emitted through Plain & Simple Press and Camptown Races Press combined. Not only is it plenty long, it has a complicated set of heads and subheads, almost every recipe contains a list, and at one point (no longer!) it was illustrated with graphs and jpegs.

With a little fooling around, How I Lost loaded right up into the Amazon store, and from what I could tell, it looked OK. When I reviewed it in Amazon’s previewer function, it appeared tidy enough: the paragraphs seemed regular, the heads and subheads appeared to be consistent throughout, the table of contents seemed to work well enough, the lists of ingredients in the recipes looked like…well, lists. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

So I sat back and waited for the vast wealth to roll into the Money Bin.

What rolled in was a squawk of rage from a dismayed reader. The fonts, she said, were all over the place, illogical and unpredictable. Heads and subheads were cattywampus; so were the ingredients lists. And by the way, she really, really, really hated the writing style!


Not everyone can love you. And by this time, I’d learned that on Amazon your competitors will often take aim at a new book and post reviews blasting it. So I wasn’t very concerned. Besides, after forty years in the writing biz, I do have a stainless-steel ego. Just spell the name right, Duckie!

When I had time — some weeks later — I downloaded a copy to the iPad and opened it.

I was horrified! It looked nothing like what I thought I had posted. The reader was right: the book was a dreadful mish-mash. Fonts  that I never knew existed popped up at irregular and illogical intervals — no rhyme nor reason to why some words would appear in italic, some boldface, some roman, some huge, some damn near submicroscopic. The only consistent rule was that all tables and images needed a magnifying glass to be viewed.

By then I’d put up about 35 bookoids and real books on Amazon, and, practice making something closer to perfect, I’d learned a few things. Relevant to this fiasco: what you see in Amazon’s on-line “Preview” tool is decidedly not what you get.

Amazon invites you to peek at your uploaded document with its “Preview” tool but neglects to tell you the result will bear no resemblance to what your readers see in a Kindle reader.

To view an even vaguely accurate rendition, you have to download Amazon’s Kindle reader software into your computer, fire it up, and then download your posted document into that.

PreviewerViewed in the computer-resident software, the mess that was my book became eminently visible.

And as I read the copy, I realized that yes…it was pretty bloggish. Many of the recipes had been tossed together for Funny about Money and bloviated with copious hot air.

So, I took it down from Amazon, making it unavailable to readers.

We slowed our production schedule  almost a month ago, but it’s taken this long to catch up with all the pressing tasks I couldn’t get done while trying to keep up with the unrealistic work demand. Now that the dust has settled, though, I hope to return the cookbook to the market within the next couple of weeks.

In addition to getting rid of all the jpegs and the re-flowing the entire 255 pages of fine print into a clean new Joel Friedlander template, I cleaned up a fair amount of the copy. The tone is still very casual, but the most bloggy passages were cut. It’s about ready to re-post in its new incarnation, but while I wait for La Maya to return and decide whether she’ll share a painting, I probably will go over it again in search of more hot air to delete.

So, watch this space: a grand new cookbook is coming your way! Sensible weight-loss advice included.