Friday, July 13, 2012

Time & Materials for Self-Publishing

Or what I would call a T&M metric.
Actually, this blog post is more personal than that because there’s been questions, and perhaps my answers are falling short.
I’m an idea person.  For years, I would think of alternate versions of stories, shows and whatever, and when I was laid off in 2009, I read fanfiction, then wrote some.  I did not convert any of that into original fiction, but there’s some similar ideas and themes.
Then I heard about NaNoWriMo in 2011.  At the time, I was back to working full-time, and still kept my part-time job from my unemployment phase because my pay was drastically reduced.  However, I was good at spitting out large amounts of words so I was undaunted by the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.
I wrote the first draft for The End of the World Sucks in November 2011.  Some NaNoWriMo participants call it quits on Nov. 30th – mission accomplished or not.  It’s the writing that’s important, not who sees it.
From my fan fiction, I knew that some people liked what I write (though there’s others who set up troll accounts to keep voicing their hate continually – I’m that much of a literary force?).  I could post it for free to the internet, and point people to it.
But there’s also the possibility that it was a publishable idea/story.   To ask for money though, I felt the story needed to be stronger and improved.  It’s a two-way street – I invest time into the writing and making it better, and someone pays for the diversion and hopeful enjoyment of reading it.
So I entered months of critiquing, editing and finally proofreading. Why did it take months?  It wasn’t that the manuscript was that big a pile of crap, but I have limited free time.  Besides working, I also do volunteer work, and at times, my teenager needs me for parental things.  
During this period, I tested the waters regarding traditional publishing.  I understood it would take time, but I was getting the feeling that what I had was not genre-specific enough, but drew enough on the horror elements that it couldn’t be a mainstream novel.
I’m ok with that.  I don’t feel like rewriting the story with a kick-ass, unreal hero(ine) with all sorts of mad survival skillz.  She’s intentionally normal … or somewhat normal. Vanna’s not me, but I have observed some young ladies at my part-time job that could be close (the client’s employees, not my colleagues), and I’ve also watched enough television and news stories to fill in more details.
I also did not want to rewrite the disaster that put her in this situation – Vanna hiding in her house for a month after a zombie outbreak can be dramatic, I suppose, but I was interested in what happened after that.  That’s what the story’s about. Many other tales begin with the outbreak, and then the search for other survivors.  I wanted to investigate what happens once someone survives to that point.
Also, I don’t have enough zombie action.  Since I intentionally have Vanna as the main character, and she’s rather normal, why would she want to head towards zombies?  I’m leery of storylines that have characters continually putting themselves in danger, without good reasons to do that.  I’m even more critical when during their repeated attempts to do stupid things, the skilled characters martyr themselves to save the idiot.  Good going, idiot.  Now who’s going to save you from yourself?
Then the final straw was zombies and vampires don’t mix.  I wouldn’t say they’re mixing in my book, they coexist.  I feel that zombies would present a problem to a vampire if they need living human blood to survive.  What’s a vampire to do?  That leads into a secondary problem that some people don’t like which is other characters having motivation that may not mesh with the main character.  I’m writing crazy ass plot with everyone having an agenda.  Most start with ‘stay alive’, but it diverges after that.  I don’t think that’s such a big deal because even in a simple sounding murder mystery, it’s not as easy as everyone versus the killer.
So, when I decided on self-publishing, I had to learn what was what.  I’m not in this profession, and less than a year ago, I didn’t even know people doing it.
I have to spend time on ‘the author platform’.  That means this blog/web site, Twitter, Facebook, and trying not to spend too much time on GoodReads.   I’m supposed to be talking about what I know and what I’m working on.  Well, I’m not labeling myself as a professional writer, but I don’t mind sharing what I’ve found out.  A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.
On top of that, and getting the manuscript text polished, people started talking about costs.  I didn’t spend anything on the author platform, except my time.
I had a coupon for CreateSpace from NaNo – 5 free copies of the novel, but I needed to pay for shipping.  I won a second coupon with the same offer.  Expiration date: June 30th.  Shipping costs $11.90, and I have ten printed copies of my novel.
Before that June 30th deadline though, I had some other expenses like editing and proofreading, and I also wanted to have a certain look to the cover so I licensed some images from Shutterstock.  I also licensed some extras of the same female model to use because one of the writing groups I had joined suggested that I put back story for the novel on my web site.
I also opted to officially copyright.  Work is copyrighted from the moment an author writes it, but the $35 seemed a reasonable price.  It’s certainly less than buying my own ISBNs.
Once I had my cover image, I splurged on Vistaprint and ordered some business cards with my book cover and social media list, and also some postcards.  Vistaprint may be in what’s considered a dying field – business cards and other marketing items – but they’re keeping it alive with their great pricing.  If I break it down, a color postcard cost me six cents.  Between both sides, it lists my book title, July publication, a blurb, and sets the expectation that it's about 'Zombies, a vampire, and human social drama.'

That leads to the three-part question that spurred me to write this post – “How do you expect to make money as an author when you are spending so much to self-publish, especially when it takes you more than six months to get a novel to market?  Additionally, how can you consider yourself successful if no one is waiting to buy your book when it first comes out?”
I’m going to answer the second part first, since to me that seems like the no-brainer – I’m not quitting my day job, or even my part-time job because I need that income.  Once I begin making ‘real money’ as an author, I can reconsider that possibility.  I don’t believe six months is an unreasonable period of time to work on editing my first professional novel.  If I had pursued the traditional publishing route further, and was successful, it may be 18 to 24 months before the book was scheduled to be published.  I hope to become quicker as I practice good writing habits.
How do I make money with this?  Well, I have a spreadsheet listing my costs to date because if I have income, I should deduct business expenses.  Since I’m tight-fisted in this endeavor, I spent $141.  Some people may spend more, and there’s less expensive ways to do this.  I am comfortable risking this investment. 
During the first week, I sold a few copies through the kindle format, one through the Nook format.  Some people have said they ordered the paper version of the novel, but Amazon/CreateSpace is not reporting those sales yet.  My best royalty rate is roughly $2 and that’s for the Kindle version.  So if 70 kindle versions are bought, that’s my breakeven point.   I also have extra paper, physical copies in my possession that I could sell for $10 each, if I join a local author talk circuit.
My business plan is to wait for positive reviews and word-of-mouth.  I believe the early orders are from people that know me, but I have no definitive proof except for the person who has the novel on her Nook.  The forward-looking part is if there are no sales through Smashwords, and B&N/Nook is stagnant, I will opt to go exclusively with Amazon for a 90-day period.
And BTW, I think that line of questioning is a deterrent to everyone considering in investing in a better, self-published product that saw them posted @Sharon because I recommended self-published authors invest time and money in editing and proofreading.

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