It’s cold in Melbourne. Don’t know if you’ve noticed? No? The ice that covers the car windows? The chill wind that worms through your jacket and tickles your tummy when you’re not paying attention? Ring any bells?
When it’s cold, what should one do? One should, of course, close the doors, throw a blanket over one’s knees and hold that down with a cup of tea and a book.
But you’ve read all of them! There are no more books, right?
Because it’s… wait for it… Smashwords 10th Anniversary Summer (Winter in the Southern Hemisphere) Sale!
Wait, wait, it’s not on yet (sad trombone). It’s between 1st of July and the 31st (hopeful clarinet). So if you can hold on for a couple more days (resounding trumpet) you’ve got yourself a treat! Books will be heavily reduced across the board.
You get to write what you want to write. The subject matter is up to you. You don’t have a big bad corporation leaning over your shoulder, shaking its head saying, “No, no, no. That won’t do. You need to have more werewolves. Vampires are so 2014. This won’t sell.”
Who cares? It’s your book.
Pfft! Who cares…?
If you want to kill off your main character, go right ahead! If you’re stuck for a plot point, deus ex machina is a viable option. Who cares? It’s your book.
Pricing and distribution is fine, too. With facilities like Smashwords and Lulu, you can push out your book at pretty much any price that suits you to pretty much any distributor. Do you care? After all, it’s your book.
There are no deadlines except for those you impose upon yourself and, hey, if you’re out by a week or a year, who really cares? It’s your book.
Tell you what, it’s easy being an independent author.
No, really, who cares?
Who cares? Who cares? The audience cares. They care a lot.
If you are writing the book for yourself, then go right ahead and do whatever. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation and spelling. Ignore typos and editing. Ignore those tics, those cliches, those repetitions. Chuck everything into one great big sodding sentence, no breaks, and be done with it.
Writing for others means obeying conventions, like grammar and spelling, and it means putting a lot effort into editing, refining, sweeping, checking, double-checking, proofing, making sure the damn thing is what it’s supposed to be.
Sure, it’s your book, but it’s written for someone else and, when they’ve bought it and read it, it’s their book, too. That’s why they care.
Deadlines become real: If you say you’re going to have a book out by December 2016, then that’s what the audience expects. Sure, the audience can’t sue you or fire you if you don’t deliver, but they can get miffed if you keep pushing the date of release back.
Being an Indie means many things, but one of the main things is that the thick layer of abstraction between you and the audience is not there. It means you have to be the big, bad corporation. You have to be the one whipping yourself to get things done. You have to exercise self-discipline, take any issues on the chin, handle complaints and emails.
All marketing falls on your shoulders. You don’t get to have the big, bad corp telling you what’s currently trending, nor do you have banner ads, and YouTube videos, or sponsorship, or endorsements, or reviews, or Oprah.
All you have is you. And even if everyone else in the world doesn’t care, you should care.
When you publish your eBook, you can assign an ISBN to it. You know that butt ugly barcode that’s sitting on the back of a book? That’s the one. In digital format, you don’t need to worry about having a 13 digit set of numbers spoiling the view. After all, it’s just ones and zeroes, right?
In hard-copy format, it’s important to get it right.
Once you’ve got an ISBN, you it gets registered in a magical bucket in cloud-land denoting the title of your book and author and publisher and date. There are rules around them, and they cost money to get from Bowker, and they have a certain format and all of that. As an indie, I don’t particularly care too much for the details. All I know is:
a) I have to have one if I want to formally publish my title and
b) I have to have one if my book is going to live in a library or get distributed
Which are both things that I would like very much to do.
I can just use my eBook one, right?
No. You cannot. If you’ve gone to the Bowker website and purchased your own, that’s fine, and you can use that IF it hasn’t been tied to another book, even the ‘digital’ format of your book.
In essence, if it’s hard-copy, it’s not the same book as your digital copy. It’s a different, and therefore requires a different ISBN.
Publishers buy ISBNs in bulk, and get significant volume discounts, so they don’t mind the cost too much. Me? I can’t afford the price of a single ISBN for each book, so I use the free option available. That’s right: Smashwords and Lulu offer ISBNs to their authors for free.
What’s the catch? Well, you are still the author. You still own the book. You maintain all rights to it. What gets set is that SW or Lulu get put as the publisher. If you have a publishing house, or you want to become one, then a free ISBN is not what you’re after.
Do I have to have one?
No. You don’t. Smashwords will happily publish your book, but you cannot distribute it via iTunes or Kobo… they want an ISBN. It makes life easier. Which is fair.
The same goes for Lulu. You can make your book, print it, and have people buy from Lulu directly, but it cannot be included in libraries or pushed to all distributors.
Long story short: If you’re serious about publishing your book, you want an ISBN.
OK, I want an ISBN.
For Lulu, it’s important to have your ISBN before you upload your manuscript. Why? Because you need to follow format rules in order to be accepted for global distribution, and three of those concern the ISBN:
You must include the ISBN on the first page in from your title page
You must include the ISBN as a barcode on the back cover.
The ISBNs included MUST match those of the book (goes without saying, but, you know)
Lulu will offer, as part of the book setup portion, your choice of free or BYO. Personally, as an independent author, I’m up for anything that makes it easier to publish, so I hit the free option. Then, within a second, you’ve got it. This number will be tied to your book. Copy it, paste it into the first page of your book (straight after the title) and you’re set.
To repeat: Get your book ready to be uploaded to Lulu first, then start you Lulu project, get your ISBN, put that into your book, then export it and upload it.
That’s rule #1 out of the way. We’ll get to barcodes and requirements for printing and distribution in the next few posts.
The Print On Demand option is very attractive for indie authors. We’re not rolling in dough. We haven’t got the patience or time to go running after a publisher or go chatting to distributors to please purchase these titles. We don’t care too much for storing boxes and boxes of our goods in the hope that, one day, we might offload them.
Yes, there are many operators out there, including Amazon, who offer Print on Demand and distribution through the major channels. Why Lulu? I found it professional, easy to use and the pricing of everything is up-front and honest.
You can get an estimate on the cost by the number of pages, and, based on the size of the book, you can figure out finer details like the spine width and overall dimensions.
That easy. Select your book type, the size, put in the number of pages for a rough guide and you’re hot to trot! You don’t need to know the exact number of pages at this point, since this will be calculated when you upload the contents of the book. That’s later on.
Bulk orders are interesting. You’ll notice that for one, the base price is $8.25 per book. At the time of writing, if one orders a bulk lot of 30, the cost per book goes down to $7.60, that’s nothing to sneeze at. And for a run of 1200, the cost is down to $6 per unit.
One thing to note is that only a few formats can be used if you want to distribute through other channels like Amazon and B&N. They are the ones with the little green tick.
A5 and square go through all channels but the Paranormology Series has been set up for the 10.79cm x 17.46cm (Pocketbook) which can be handled by Lulu and Amazon (feelsgoodman), but not by Barnes and Noble (sadpanda). This is a real shame, because the Pocketbook size is really convenient for novellas.
The other another important note is that the form factor is note the same between sizes. If you’ve got your front cover for your ebook in a particular dimension, you may need to go back and redesign / crop / bend / twist to get it to fit to the book’s dimensions.
Do you see that little button on the second panel that says, “Download Template”? That’s your friend. We’ll look at that in the next post along with uploading the content, ISBNs , and pricing.
When it comes to defining success, context is king.
Status? Money? Power? Sure. If that’s the goal.
Sometimes it’s an all-or-nothing affair. Other times it comes in degrees.
Cider. As in, fermented apples. You see, last year I received a couple of boxes of mixed apples, fresh from their trees, ready to be stewed or eaten or turned into cider.
Now, I’m big on brewing my own beer – I might post a bit about that next run – and I’ve made an Irish cider from apple concentrate and malt, and I also have a copy of ‘The Practical Distiller‘ by Samuel McHarry, in which he describes how to get the best yield from those squooshy, overripe apples.
Armed with a knife, some muslin cloth, some big pots and a bit of spare time (ha!), I sorted, washed, sliced up and cooked those apples to a stew, then passed them and smooshed them and made a right mess of the kitchen.
Cutting up an apple ain’t so bad. Cutting up a couple of boxes worth makes your fingers curl up into little balls of angry cartilage. The juice gets into the nicks you make on your hand, stinging and biting.
I carried on, batch after batch, cutting and cooking and stewing and pressing and swearing all weekend, and, at the end of it, managed to scrape out about half a barrel of what might pass as juice.
Anyone who has tried to strain cooked apple pulp through muslin will know the error I made. The holes in the cloth are good at filtering fine stuff, but get blocked up after a second if you try and pass anything fibrous. Pressing it with a spoon only gets you so far, and squeezing the cloth ends up getting more apple bits into the brew than you intend.
Pith and pulp went everywhere. The kitchen is still a royal mess. Cupboards are stained. The floor is sticky. It’s an outside kitchen, not the inside one, but it’s still shameful to look upon.
Unsure whether I had enough to even make the effort worthwhile, I threw in several liters of apple juice. Yeah, it’s cheating. I didn’t care by that stage. I just wanted it all to be over. After that, I pitched some yeast I had on reserve, added the air-lock, swore a bit more and went inside to rest. Never again!
If the yeast didn’t take, I ran the risk of getting an infection in the brew, so I monitored it over the next few hours. It wasn’t bubbling much, being winter, so I gave it a helping hand with the warming pad. This got the bubbles going and it seemed that maybe, maybe I might have something worthwhile.
The next week, I poked my nose into the kitchen to perform the obligatory testing with the hydrometer. The fermenter had clogged up with all the precipitated pith, a thick gunk that had settled at the bottom. Great. I had to rack the liquid into the second fermenter (cleaned and sterilized), but the liquid was too viscous and the racking cane only got a little bit out.
Instead, I opened up the tap at the bottom, passing it through more muslin, losing more liquid in the meantime, making more of a mess. Eventually, the liquid was decanted, although somewhat aerated (oh, no) and the fermentation continued. I don’t think I ended up getting the reading from the hydrometer. Never again!
ANYWAY, after the next week the bubbles were all done, the liquid had settled some and I was at the point of ‘blow it, just bottle it’. So I did. Sugar, funnel, sterilized bottles, fresh caps, the whole works. More mess, more swearing as the little filling tube got clogged with pith, more throwing my hands up crying that it was a waste of time. It’ll probably turn to vinegar anyway.
Is there a point?
Didn’t I just say that context is king? Keep up! The whole point is that, I could have gone down to the store and bought apple cider, knowing that, when I got it home, it would taste as good as it should, there would be no mess to clean up, and I would have fingers that resembled chameleon tails.
Instead, I put my energy into creating something that didn’t exist before, something that ‘anyone can make’, but only one person did. Something that was potentially enjoyable, but could just as easily have turned out to be an utter failure – there was an element of risk involved.
Is that what success is? Reward from Risk? Perhaps that’s part of it. One doesn’t celebrate when one receives a paycheck every fortnight, the money that keeps food on the table, yet a small win on a bet gets legendary status.
And that brings me to the point of all of this. When you’re busting your hump trying to get your story written, and you’re banging your head up against a brick wall for ideas, and your fingers are gnarled from typing, and you can’t find anyone to help proof or edit or criticise, and you’re this close to packing the whole thing in, remember that if it was easy, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as satisfying.
Sure, the results won’t come straight away, and you’ll have to refine and rework all those bits you laboured over, and you’ll have to cop criticism on the chin when it finally arrives, and you’ll have to go back an apologise to those poor people who read your first draft, but, in the end, after the dust has settled, you can hold your head up proudly and say, “It ain’t perfect, it hurt like blazes, I never want to do it again but I did it.”
And that, to me, is success.
A win is a win, even if it’s not an earth-shattering, mind-blowing, trump-’em-all win. No matter how small it is, take the win. In the same way one has to learn how to fail, one has to learn how to succeed, too.
Take the win when it comes. Celebrate it. Crack open the lid and drink the success, even if it’s only a mouthful.
Oh, the cider? Yeah, I opened a bottle just now, which is what prompted me to write this. Turns out it’s not vinegar, after all. It’s very dry, and quite apple-y and surprisingly pleasant. It won’t win any brewing awards, for sure, but I learnt a lot and I’m keen to give it a go next year.
Only I think I might invest in an actual masher, like the one pictured above. Or build a mashing machine. Or buy stocks in sledge hammers. Anything has to be better than doing it by hand. Never again.
Artists are a crazy bunch. We spend our time complaining that we are tired, that we need a break, yet when a break comes up, we spend it… working.
I don’t know if it’s a compulsion, or an attitude, or some kind of psychosis or what, but it’s common among every musician, writer, painter, actor or developer I know. Any quiet time is time to get creative.
The brain kicks in, the hands get twitchy, the legs get itchy, and the burning desire to create becomes all-consuming. The Muse comes to torture one’s ears, sowing nonsensical, disjointed suggestions that spawn ideas that grow into concepts that fill every cavity of thought until there’s nothing but an overwhelming need to convert the concepts into reality.
The mouth mutters quietly. The pencil hits paper. Index fingers are pointed to nowhere in particular. Every ripple, ridge and scuff of paint on the ceiling is scrutinised. The toilet becomes as sacred as a library.
Then the thoughts manifest in the physical world, “Hey, you know what’d be really cool?”
Think of all the ideas that could be realised in a thousand lifetimes, then agonise as they are culled to leave only the most sensible, the most immediate, the most practical. Oh, for another lifetime…
Nothing burns like an itch that cannot be scratched. So many of us have to work at jobs, cook and clean for our families, attend social commitments and generally get interrupted by every man and his dog looking over our shoulder.
Like right now.
It’s a nightmare, sitting in a long-running meeting, thinking about all the possible projects that could be completed, all the ideas that could be explored, all the cool concepts that could be made into reality, if only I wasn’t stuck in this damn meeting!
Then, to top it all off, when finally there is a breathing space, one is just too damn tired to do anything – The Physical blots out the Metaphysical. The Muse has gone to bed. It’s a crying shame, but good luck trying to rev your creative engine at 11:30 at night after a long slog at work, cooking dinner, washing up and putting the kids to bed, taking care of that emergency support call, putting the kids back to bed again…
Ain’t gonna happen.
Yet it does happen. The desire is so strong that the artist actively, albeit grudgingly, pushes through the pain, past the fog of sleep-deprivation, out into the world of creativity, if only for a few minutes at a time, if only to make that next stroke of the brush, that next sentence, that next riff.
If you’ve ever tried to scratch your toe by rubbing it on the inside of your shoe, you’ll get an idea of what I’m on about: some satisfaction is better than none.
Go easy on your artist, yeah? Sure, they are crazy, but remember that they are doing it tough.
Just about tied up the Animation, so don’t think I’ve gone anywhere, and if you’ve been following along at home, you’ll know that I managed to get the music sorted with help from MixMaster and DJ Extraordinaire CRX – Christopher Besant.
And this brings up a very important point for you, my dear audience, for you are part of something special.
The other day I overheard at Coles, of all places, a couple lamenting that movie producers have run out of ideas. They were saying how movies these days are rehashed versions of old movies (looking squarely at you, Total Recall).
I think that isn’t quite right. What I do think is that a lot of fresh, crazy, awesome, inspiring, zany ideas are right there in the heads and hands of all the independent artists, authors and musicians out there.
Think about it: If one is forced to create something for a buck, then the end product has to appeal to the masses, it has to be marketable to a target audience.
If, instead, one is able to create art for the sake of creating art, and to hell with the monetary side of things, then one breaks the shackles on creativity, boundaries are pushed, ideas are cultivated.
How can you help?
These are the people who, despite financial, occupational and temporal commitments, spend their limited resources making stuff. Cool stuff. Interesting stuff. Stuff that you won’t find anywhere else simply because it came fresh out of a mind.
You can foster these minds by becoming supporters. Oh, great, a bid for money: Yes, but money is only one part of it. Hear me out.
Indie artists spend their time and money and sanity to bring their ideas to you. If you like what they’re doing, or if you can see where they are going, then you can help by funneling some of that love back in.
Time – Husbands, wives, friends and relatives, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, all of you have your own talents. OK, you may not be able to write your indie friend’s book, but you can help out by proofing, or designing a cover, or converting / uploading the book to distributers.
With work, family, emergencies and helping others out, time is a very precious commodity indeed, and anything you can do to ease the burden means less time juggling commitments and more time making.
Money – Buying an indie’s stuff is a true way to support an artist, but you can also support the wider community and it won’t cost the Earth. For example, Radio Rock 92.6 the Blitz is registered on Patreon. For only $1 a month, you can keep the radio on air which, in turn, support independent artists from around the world, so they can get their ideas out.
Sanity – You can help by supporting those creative minds, by saying to those indie musicians and authors and artists, “We dig what you’re doing!” The hardest part, speaking from personal experience, is the lack of feedback. A simple ‘like’ goes a long way or, better yet, a quick comment on to your fav’s YouTube post reminds them that people are listening, they are reading, that the world still exists.
The toll on an artist is greater than you might think – consider the rate of substance abuse among artists – and I truly think that letting them know that their efforts are not in vain does more than giving them time and money.
Go on. Be part of it. Support your independent artists anyway you can.