Using external help when going indie

 

The two musts

Using external help when going indie is mandatory for two tasks: the cover design and professional editing. Also, pay the right price to avoid having crappy results.
In Beijing I could not find the proper services but an Internet search produced good leads.

Cover page

For the cover design I had to use a two-step process.
I wanted to use a cartoon of a bar scene according to my specifications. After some search I finally ended up on a great platform where cartoonists offer their services and clients like me can call for quotes. It is called fiverr.com.
All exchange and payment is done through the website. That went very well and the cost was very reasonable.

Once I had the cartoon I searched for a cover design company to do the cover for the e-book and the covers for the print (front, back and spine). To choose a company and ask for a quote I used another website: Writers’ Cafe on kBoards: https://www.kboards.com/index.php/board,60.0.html

There I communicated directly with the companies.
Very happy with the design company I ended up working. For the front cover I provided the cartoon and the text; for the back cover I provided the picture and the text. The company then did the design and it took only one slight revision to have the end product.

The end result

See the pictures of the front and back covers, and the spine.

As explained in earlier post (https://www.damulu.com/2019/01/06/using-scrivener/), you need to have the estimate of the number of pages so the cover design company can make the proper size for the spine. See also the inside where I adjusted margins and headings in MS Word.

Both cartoonist and design company are quoted in my book.

Professional editing

I did however not use an editor. The reason: the language of “jokes” is not your Shakespeare type. So to avoid having endless arguments with an editor I did myself the review of the text, trying as much as possible to clean up the obvious wrong spelling, grammar and vocabulary all while preserving the juicy aspects of the jokes: how the Irish talk, among others. It was a painstaking job to verify some rather weird words and define a uniform formatting and spelling. For the non-jokes parts (very little) I asked some native English speakers for corrections.
For my book no. 3 I will however definitely require an editor.

The cost

So, how much did it cost to get my book of jokes written and published?

– Scrivener + cartoon design + cover design: total a little over US$500
– My weeks of staying in a nice Phuket hotel: difficult to give a correct estimate as it was also somehow a very enjoyable time… Guess yourself…
– Amazon: zero cost.

 

The giant of self-publishing

Why Amazon

There is little doubt that Amazon is the giant of self-publishing. One can hate the company, one can have so many complaints about them but in the end, one has to swallow pride and criticism as it has become difficult to avoid the giant. They can be arrogant, at times chaotic and messed up, their rules can be irrational and obscure.
They are difficult to ignore as they become bigger by the day. Yes there is Apple and some others but…

I considered my project of publishing my book of jokes as a learning curve: to produce the files for print and for the Kindle, to register as an author on Amazon and then publishing. I hit a series of walls, got desperate, persevered and finally succeeded. The book is out in Kindle and print, all through Amazon USA.
It was a frustrating experience… But in the end, success!

Sorry you cannot publish on Amazon

Here more details on the story, already mentioned in an earlier post.
Once I felt my e-book and my print file were ready I logged on the Amazon U.S. site to register as an author, the first step. 

See: https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/help?topicID=200620850.

I had prepared all I thought I needed, the description of the book, the keywords, the categories, the book blurb and my American ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number).

The registration process was pretty complicated. I did it all very carefully, including the “tax interview”. I gave my official address in Beijing as well as my ITIN, getting the message back I could take advantage of the USA-China tax agreement. Hitting the final FINISH button, the operation never succeeded. There was “an error”, I should try again or contact their service. After many attempts I had to give up and contacted the service. And they replied – simply stating Amazon did not accept authors “based in China”. Do note this “rule” is nowhere mentioned on Amazon! What the hell, I am a Belgian national, my banking is located in Belgium. No way. I saw my dreams of becoming an indie author shattered.

Finally I switched to my official postal address for my banking mail, an address I use in Belgium. That however implied I could not use my USA-China tax advantage and I was notified I would have to pay the full USA 30% withholding tax. Yes, you can be on the moon but you are subject to U.S. tax. Sigh. Well at least I succeeded registering myself as an author.
If you reside in the USA it is all much more easy.

Important to note: one could say, why not register on Amazon China and to submit your book there? Well, books submitted there are rarely if ever approved for publishing.
Clearly Amazon wants to cozy up to the bosses in Beijing.
Also, it is not possible to publish a book in Chinese on Amazon. See the supported languages:

Next frustrating step: uploading my Kindle e-book

That resulted in a painful rejection as Amazon (I guess their automated Internet robots) found out “some of the content of my book was (freely) available on the wide Internet”. Of course it was true, due to the nature of my book.
I replied and explained in detail the reasons and did change a little my foreword. After a few desperate emails came an enigmatic reply: “please upload again”. I thought it was a meaningless thing to do. Guess what, it worked and my e-book was soon online.
The same happened submitting my print file, it was rejected again but soon after explaining and reloading – online too.
So, while Amazon seemed draconian one must admit they do listen to your explanation and are flexible. Thanks.

My books are for sale

So, both Kindle and print are on Amazon USA, and then also on all other Amazon sites around the world – except Amazon China.
I also decided to opt for the KDP Select program, for at least 90 days. That means I cannot publish anywhere else during that period.
Another strange thing: on Amazon USA when I check my book it says “This item does not ship to Beijing”. Some friends had doubts about that. So I ignored that warning and ordered ten copies to be sent to Beijing. Guess what, they arrived well in my Beijing home… Of course only ten copies as this is the maximum allowed to be imported per book (Chinese customs regulations).

And yes, my two books are now on sale in the Beijing Bookworm! See the pic. Toxic Capitalism is sold for 200 RMB and the Jokes for 150 RMB.

 

More copies of my books are with my daughters in Belgium and in USA and are arriving in Beijing. See the former stock in Brussels.

How to self-publish

I want to publish my book!

Once an author decides to become an “indie”, the question is how to self-publish.
Why do writers end up there?
Basically there are 3 ways: the traditional publishing companies, the vanity press and self-publishing.

Indeed, for the great majority of aspiring writers the traditional publishing houses don’t work (again, read David Caughran). They rarely accept your manuscript and if they do, they take away most control over both your writing, the pricing and your net income. The other way is to be an “indie writer”, basically doing self-publishing by yourself and ignoring the traditional publishing companies. But there are two ways to do it.

What to avoid: the “vanity press”

There are a number of companies that claim to assist indie writer: the “vanity press”. They offer several “plans” to help the authors to publish their book, most often promising a lot and doing much less than what the author expected. The plans can be pretty expensive (easily over US$10,000). Some of those companies are real mafia-type and use deceptive tactics.

The most infamous and biggest is the group of Author Solutions, coming on the market with different company names to give the author the false impression they have a “choice”.
Unfortunately they are all the same working under the umbrella of the mother company.

Author Solutions

Author Solutions was acquired by Penguin parent company Pearson in 2012 and became part of Penguin Random House following the 2013 merger of Random House and Penguin. PRH has sold its Author Solutions division to an affiliate of the Najafi Companies, a private investment firm, in December 2016.

All those member companies of Author Solutions are to be avoided at all cost. For more, see the books and blog of David Gaughran who unmasks their shady tactics. See among others: https://davidgaughran.com/2014/06/03/the-case-against-author-solutions-part-1-the-numbers/

Those companies are also called “vanity press”, a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published; vanity publishers have no selection criteria to accept a manuscript as opposed to the traditional publishing companies.

What to do?

The obvious choice for self-publishing: Amazon. More about that in another post.

 

Why self-publishing

Why I write

Before answering the question “Why self-publishing?” I should explain why I write.
I felt an urge to write since I was a teenager. I wrote a short story when I was in middle school (Sint-Barbaracollege, Ghent). It was about a young man who invented some kind of beam (I called it then a laser I think) that helped him control the mind of other people. I forgot the details but it could be still somewhere in my archeological museum. Another short story was about an strangely-dressed lady I had seen on the tram when going to school. I shared it all with a Jesuit father of the school but received little or no encouragement, most probably because it looked pretty lame.

Later on I penned down a lot of personal thoughts, some kind of diary, all in scattered notebooks, mostly somber rambling. I have been trying to assemble the scattered notes into one computer file to prove to myself it was all repetitive garbage and how little has changed and how much has changed. Yes, because that is in essence the story of our life.

I have now published two books. I never think it will make me rich. I simply feel the urge to write, to get it off my chest. I never write with the idea to please the readership. I simply write what I feel and think. Don’t ask me why. It’s just the way I feel and do.

Why self-publishing

I can simply refer to the excellent books by David Gaughran:

His website: https://davidgaughran.com/Z
Main individual titles are, see https://davidgaughran.com/books-for-authors/:
Let’s Get Visible
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/149031041X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i3
Let’s Get Digital
https://www.amazon.com/Lets-Get-Digital-Self-Publish-Publishing/dp/1983680354/

I have bought several of the editions, and I have read them multiple times, considering it as my bible on the matter. I greatly recommend them to anyone who wants to understand self-publishing.

Another great set, not sure it is still available:
The Indie Author Power Pack: How To Write, Publish & Market Your Book
by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, David Gaughran, Joanna Penn
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23505393-the-indie-author-power-pack

One important lesson: if you think writing a book is difficult, well, that is just step one and the most easy one. Step two is getting published – for most an impossible dream. Then comes step three, the most difficult one: selling the book. An even more impossible challenge.

More about “Why Self-publishing”

There are quite a number of other books explaining the why and how. This one by James Altucher (ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SELF PUBLISHING) is freely available on his site: https://jamesaltucher.com/publish/

The “swindling tactics” of Author Solutions

Falling into the scam trap of Author Solutions

My (first) book, Toxic Capitalism, was published through AuthorHouse UK, which, as I found out later, is part of the global book publishing company, Author Solutions (AS).
In 2012 Pearson (who owns Penguin) bought Author Solutions, the parent company of dozens of self-publishing brands including iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Xlibris, Trafford and Palibrio as well as media companies FuseFrame, PitchFest, Author Learning Center and BookTango. Add to the club: Archway, Partridge, etc.
So, when I opted for AuthorHouse UK, I was simply falling into the scam trap of Author Solutions.
I was lucky to get this link:
http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/penguins-solution-for-authors-one-racket-to-rule-them-all/
The excellent overview is highly critical of all those AS self-publishing companies. “Author Solutions’ modus operandi is pretty despicable, and they’ve been badgering, swindling and confusing writers out of money—and lots of it—for years.”. “Author Solutions is incapable of handling day-to-day operations for their current customers. Erroneous royalty reports and non-payment of royalties are frequent complaints given by authors”. And so on, reads the review.

My personal major complaints:

–  Services they offer to “promote and market” the book are misleading, overpriced and largely useless;
–  The media promotions they announce are simply opening accounts at Facebook, Twitter etc. and making e-mail address. That’s all. Anyone can do that.
–  The editing work was somehow reasonable but far from being perfect; I agree that my book is difficult because of the specialized vocabulary.
–  The transition from the approved manuscript to the publishing version was a disaster: they built in far over 100 mistakes that I failed to see at first; most were removed in the e-book version.
–  I have to pay IRS tax for books that are not even that much sold in the USA; they are printed and shipped from the UK; were they not a UK company?
– They still pay by CHECK, who still uses that in the 21st  century? An send them by snail mail to China. Result: you get nearly nothing left of the royalties. As the sales lady made the mistake to promise me by e-mail payment by electronic transfer, they are now a bit in a bind; as for now payments are on hold.
– Their reports on sales/royalties are slow. Still waiting for their 4Q 2012 report.
– Overall the major problem is the lack of coordination. A writer has no single contact person who can guide him through the different departments. Instead, we are sent from one person to another, each time for a different reason or step in the process. Each new individual has no idea about the writer’s background and previous discussions.
– AS always asks us to call. As people like me are on the other side of the world, that is very inconvenient time wise, always troublesome to call internationally. E-mail addresses are mostly general, so one does not know whom to contact. It is like walking in the dark.
–  Any payments need to be done through the phone. This is so-called for “security reasons”. Seems Amazon and others are more advanced and you can simply execute the payments online. Once again, AS has not yet entered the 21st century.
So, be warned. Don’t fall for their trap.
I will have to look around for other options if I have a new book.