Swimming Lessons for House Slaves: The Buddy System

In my last swimming lesson post, I pointed out that tradpub professionals like to convince writers that creating ebooks is far too complicated for any normal mortal to accomplish. For them, it is. These professionals have a) never done the job and b) remain willfully ignorant of the technology’s capabilities. As far as they’re concerned, you’d need a double-doctorate in mechanical engineering and chemistry to be able to shoot a gun. (Murder stats and the lethality of AK-47s in brushfire wars among preliterate kind of shoot that idea in the foot, pun intended.)

It’s been my position all the way along that creating ebooks isn’t difficult and that anyone who can a) go through a copyedited manuscript and b) has mastered the intricate art of “cut and paste” on the computer, can put together an ebook. Moreover, there are plenty of people in the world (including other writers) who are willing to lend a hand in getting you started. This is the buddy system.

I’ve mentioned that I use Legend Maker as my software of choice for creating ebooks. It’s for the Mac only. Full Disclosure: I helped develop it, but I have no financial stake in its sales. I just like helping out Michael Zapp, who created it, and other authors because it’s a simple program that kicks out epub and mobi versions of books, ready for upload. Once I’ve got my book in final form (proofed for errors and hotlinks), it takes less than an hour to paste in the code and make the book work.

Other authors swear by Calibre or Scrivener. (Scrivener was designed for the Mac, but is undergoing a PC beta test now.) These are both free or low-priced software alternatives to the complicated programs tradpub mavens are lost inside. And, yes, you might have a bit of learning to do, but writers like Rick Novy have gone ahead and produced free documents that will get you started and explain the ropes.

Moreover, we’re always willing to share solutions to simple problems. For example, when uploading my most recent book to the Barnes & Noble site, I had trouble getting it to accept my epub file. I knew the file worked, I’d tested it. Then I dimly recalled that when I was uploading other books I’d also had a problem with that site. Turns out, the file “MurderousMagick.epub” appears to be too long a name for the B&N database. I shortened it to “MMagick.epub” and the same file went up perfectly fine. So, I made a note: when sending a file to B&N, 7-8 letters for a name will do. Now you know that, too.

Other folks always want to know where to find art to use for covers. The first thing you do is to search “royalty free art” on the web and you’ll find plenty of places that have it. Always read their terms of use, even if the art is free. Or you can go out and buy collections of royalty free art from Dover and other companies. Go to any computer or office-supply store and you’ll find at least one archive with nine bazillion images in it. Istockphoto.com and Dreamstime.com are two sources I use for the cover shots I put on my ebooks.

Special note about ebook covers: remember, they have to look stunning as a postage stamp. That’s the size most folks will see them at. Iconic images and high contrast, easy to read lettering are the ticket. If you don’t feel confident in your graphic abilities, find someone who is more comfortable as a graphic designer. Barter services, since they might need copy written to advertise their business.

In an upcoming post I want to address the canard that writers need tradpub because tradpub has a publicity machine that they will crank up in your favor. For now, just remember that in the world of ebooks, the most effective sales tools are a well-maintained website, and the “People who purchased this book also bought:” lists at the ebook retailers. What this means is fairly simple: if you don’t put material up for sale, you won’t have any “also bought” listings. If your publishers have already put some of your books up for sale, you might as well be there to reap the benefit of your backlist sales and author searches when readers come looking for your material. In making your stuff available, you become your own best buddy.

Tradpub advocates point out that not all authors involved in digital self-publishing agree on everything, therefore none of them can be trusted talking about anything. In this way they are like Creationists who claim that just because different scientists have different theories of how evolution took place, that the very fact of evolution can’t be trusted. It’s idiocy and malignant. It’s deliberately deceptive argumentation designed to frighten and confuse.

Pricing for ebooks is a prime example of a point where not all authors agree. For example, I think .99 cents is too little for a full novel by a professional writer. $5 for a novel that will give the average reader 8 to 10 hours of pleasure per read is fair. I can see selling shorter novels for $4, and I just released a collection of short stories for $3. Other novelists believe that $3 is the sweet spot for novel sales. I know of yet others who won’t go below $6. Truth be told, I think $3-$6 mentally get folded into “around $5” in most readers’ minds; and since they can grab samples for free, if someone finds they’ve shelled out money for a stinker, that’s not the author’s fault. (Yes, I download free samples of authors I have not read before.)

Tradpub masters would suggest that because we all can’t agree on a price, there’s no solid data for making any sort of business plan based on ebooks. But that’s another canard. We may not agree on the best price for selling ebooks, but we all agree that ebooks are selling. That’s the take-away point, and you know the tradpub masters agree with it, otherwise they’d not be making such colossal attempts at grabbing up so many book rights. (Note to the wise: whenever someone insists that he wants to buy something from you, but tells you there’s no real value in it yet, two things are happening: he’s lying, and you’re being taken.)

So, house slaves, not only do you need to learn how to swim, not only is learning a lot easier than you have been lead to believe it is; but there are plenty of your fellow writers out here willing to help you get started. Just put together one collection of short stories, a five-pack (maybe 30-40,000 words). Get a cover slapped on it, and get it out there. Consider it a project for a rainy day, when you want to revisit some of those old stories you’ve always loved. Make it your “Best of…” collection (but label it “Vol. 1”). Put it out for sale.

I promise you two things:

1) The prep work will be easier than you imagine and even fun.

2) Your collection will sell.

And whether you believe those promises or not, just remember: there’s more truth to them than in all the promises that your tradpub masters have made to you throughout your career. And if that isn’t enough to make you reconsider you life as a house slave, I hope you grow gills really fast.


Writing up this series of blog posts is cutting into my fiction writing time. If you’re finding these posts useful, and haven’t yet snagged books of mine, please consider making a purchase now. Nice thing about the new age of publishing is that you become a Patron of the Arts, letting writers know what you’d like to see more of simply by voting with a credit card. (Authors charge less when they sell direct, so you save, we make more, and that frees us to write more.)

My latest paper novel, At The Queen’s Command, is available at book retailers everywhere.

Once A Hero is undoubtedly my single best stand-alone novel. It’s a fantasy that tells the story of Neal, a hero slain doing battle in a genocidal war to destroy the Reithrese. To save humanity, he abandons everything, including the chance to spend the rest of his days with the love of his life. And then, five centuries later, he’s pulled back from the grave to undo something he did and, quite possibly, unleash a horror greater than any he’d known. It’s full of action, adventure, romance, twists, turns and philosophical themes dealing with genocide and prejudice. Though I wrote it a long time ago, I was hitting on all cylinders when I wrote it. If it is the only book of mine that will survive the ravages of age, I’ll be quite happy. It’s available for the Kindle, and for sale directly off my website for any epub compliant ereaders.

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