Saturday, September 29, 2012

Self-Publishing: Making Dreams Come True

As I write this, I'm sitting on my hotel balcony in Montana, looking at the mountains. I've been here for four days, researching, relaxing, reading, and writing. This trip is completely paid for from my self-publishing royalties, and I'm so grateful and excited to be here. I'm having a wonderful time, and I know I won't want to go home in two days.

The air has been a little smoky because of the fires, and the sky has been a pale blue-gray instead of vivid blue. Other than the smoke, the setting is beautiful, and thankfully, I've escaped the Southern California heat. Here's a balcony view, although the picture doesn't really show how beautiful it looks today.

Yesterday, I went for a run. Probably not the best thing to do for my lungs, but before I came here, I visualized jogging through beautiful scenery, and I didn't want to give that up. I ran/walked about three and a half miles, and probably would have gone farther, but the air was dry and smoky. and I hadn't brought water with me. Here's the hill I jogged up. It's one of the foothills before the mountains.

Yesterday was the beginning of the Montana Romance Writers Conference, and they graciously allowed a California girl to attend. It's the smallest conference I've ever been to--about twenty authors--which is nice because I have a chance to get to know everyone. The only person I knew before was Kat Martin, who's here with her husband Larry. I've known the Martins for years. Great people. They took me and Rita Karnopp out to dinner last night. Lots of food, wonderful company, and the best tenderloin ever! (And I'm not much of a beef eater.)

Listening to the speakers at the conference today, helped me dig deeper into the two Montana Sky stories I'm currently working on. I'll be able to add layers and characterization. I've been avoiding writing for the last month--just doing a little a day. Hopefully, I've caught the creative spark and will be able jump back in to a more serious page count.

A nice bonus was that (for some unknown reason) the Montana Sky Series took off yesterday. I had over 400 sales of Wild Montana Sky. Montana Sky Christmas (at only a month old)  overshot its previous sales record of 48 and sold 76 books. Yay!

 Even though Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky are Montlake's books now, Amazon has recently installed a dashboard that allows their authors to see their sales figures every day. So, I'm still able to keep track.

I haven't been to Montana since long before I wrote Wild Montana Sky, and it was always my dream to return. It never made financial sense to travel to the state when the Montana Sky books languished unsold, and I had plenty of other places in the country to explore. It was only about this time last year, when my self-published income took a leap, that I started telling myself I'd travel to Montana in September.

I didn't make any plans because in 2012, my personal life had far too much upheaval. I just kept the trip as a vague goal. The writers conference gave me an excuse to come here as well as a starting point for my research, even if Anaconda is south of where my books are set.

Tomorrow, we have a book signing, and for the first time, I'll sign Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky--another dream come true! Then I'll drive to Missoula to spend the night at Kat and Larry's house. They intend to pick my brain about self-publishing, which as you know from reading this blog, is one of my favorite topics. Larry's promised to grill his special salmon...

I've already been invited back to speak at a conference next summer in Bozeman, and I look forward to many more future visits.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Self-Publishing: Reflections on 2012 (so far)

Today I resolved to tackle the paper piles in my house, throwing out what I don't need and filing everything else--a task that's easier said than done. I definitely need to get one of those scan-to-your-computer gizmos. (I found an ad for one in one of my piles.)

The problem for me is that I'm self-employeed and have to save receipts, etc for my records. I have various interests and tend to collect articles that reflect those interests, especially if I might write about or speak on those topics. Then add to the piles the scraps of paper I write on whenever I have a story or article idea, or do some scribbled journaling about what I'm thinking or feeling....

As I sorted out papers, putting them into smaller piles, a stack of bulletins from church started growing ever larger. On Sundays during the sermon, I'm often jotting down quotes, Bible verses, and my own ideas about what's being said. Sometimes, story ideas come to me or a bit of a scene or dialogue. It might not even be about a work in progress, but about one of the future stories I have in my head. I scribble all these things down on the bulletin, which luckily has enough white space in the margins for me to do so, although you might have to turn the paper several angles to read everything.

On the bulletin for New Year's Day, one of my comments at the bottom of the page was: "This is where my heart is leading me. Trust that there's a reason."

Those two lines referred to my concerns about moving away from being a psychotherapist and corporate crisis and grief counselor to becoming a REAL writer. The challenge for me was (and still is) my deeply held belief that I'm a healer--that's my purpose in life. As a psychotherapist and crisis counselor, I touch many lives. I make a difference. And while I know my nonfiction writing also makes a difference, especially The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, I'm not sure my fiction does.

Yet, the doors to my former life seem to be closing. My practice is down. I haven't been getting as many crisis calls. And I don't care! I like having a small practice and only one or two crisis jobs a month. I like having more time to write. And my self-publishing income has made that possible.

On January 1, 2012, I couldn't know that in two weeks I would receive a call from Lindsay Guzzardo at Amazon Montlake, wanting to acquire the Montana Sky series. I couldn't know I'd say yes. I did know that in mid-January, I'd self-publish Stormy Montana Sky, but I didn't know how well the book would do, and that having a third book would lift the sales of books one and two.

On that New Year's Day, I didn't know my sales on Barnes & Noble would finally take off, that my self-publishing income would double and some months even triple, or best of all, that Wild Montana Sky would make the USA Today Bestseller List in April.

At that time, I hadn't conceived of writing a collection of Christmas stories. I didn't even know I could write short stories. But I self-published Montana Sky Christmas on August 27th.

I didn't know I'd make some changes in my personal life, such as breaking up with my boyfriend of six years, which would impact my writing career (more time to write.) Or that my young cousin would be hit by a car and killed, sidelining my writing for several weeks as I dealt with my own and my family's grief.

I didn't realize how much I'd absolutely love the wonderful team at Montlake who worked so hard to make my books a success. Publishing with Montlake has been a dream--so unlike the horror stories I often heard (or hear) about traditional publishing. For example, I never even conceived that the series could have an ad like they made. Wow.

My print books arrived yesterday, and I teared up as soon as I realized the boxes were from Montlake. Even though I've sold about 140,000 ebooks, holding my own print versions was a special experience--a dream come true. Here's the boxes as I've opened them.

The decision to self-publish my books has taken me on quite a journey, more wonderful than I could ever have imagined.

I've followed my heart all year. Sometimes, that's led to some bruising, but for the most part, I think I'm on the right path.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Self-Publishing: Making Mistakes

Recently, I had an author write me that she wanted to self-publish, but was afraid of making mistakes. I wrote her back that she probably would make mistakes--that's part of life. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes.

Even as I wrote that email, I was in the middle of coping with my own mistake--probably the first one (at least in my opinion) I'd made along the self-publishing path.

To give the backstory to the mistake...

For the last six months, I've had a series of unexpected life events that interfered with my writing time. When I could write, I concentrated on a collection of Christmas short stories--Montana Sky Christmas--that I wanted to self-publish about the time Amazon Montlake launched their versions of Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky on August 28.

I started writing these stories in February, and gave each one to my developmental editor, Louella Nelson, as I finished them. I knew she's busy teaching writing classes and working to self-publish her backlist, so I wanted to give her plenty of time.

As my schedule freed up in August, I was busy writing the last of the seven stories and revising them as Lou's edits came back. I also wanted a copy editor to look at the final version, and found one in a student of my online self-publishing class, Linda Caroll-Bradd. For the last three weeks before the launch of Montana Sky Christmas, Linda also edited the stories, sending me her corrections. So I was doing original writing, developmental edits, and copy edits, right up until a few days before the launch date.

Lou, Linda, and my new formatter, Amy Atwell, went above and beyond to make the book happen by my deadline, and bless them, they succeeded. Montana Sky Christmas went live on August 28. I immediately downloaded it to do a final read-through, and MY KINDLE DIED. I went back and forth with Amazon tech support before they determined this, and then I had to buy a new Kindle. So it was two days later before I read the stories, and of course found some errors.

Amy corrected them for me, and I uploaded the new version of the book. Or I tried to... I had problems because I had set a different price for Amazon India. This had NOT been a problem on the first upload, and I didn't realize it was now. I kept getting an error message that I was missing inputs.

Unlike the normal error messages which give you the section you're missing in red, I couldn't find anything wrong. Amy checked the book file, and she felt sure that wasn't the problem. I tried several times to publish the book, but nothing worked. None of my self-pubishing friends had ever heard of this error, although one suggested re-entering the book data. I did so, and still an error. I went over and over each box to make sure I wasn't missing anything, and couldn't see where I'd left something out. The time grew later, and I grew more stressed, frustrated, and tired.

Finally, I decided to change the India price to match the others. That worked. I grabbed the book file to upload it again. All okay. Relieved, I went to bed.

The next day, I started to get returns on the book, very unusual especially since I'd only sold about 30. I had three good reviews, but no one gave me a bad review. So I shrugged it off. At five returns, I checked the book product page and saw that Amazon had put a notice on the page saying something was wrong with the book and they were working with the publisher to fix it. That was news to me.

Of course I was upset and embarrassed. And it was the holiday weekend, so I couldn't contact anyone I knew at Amazon directly. (A nice thing about being a Monttlake author is I know people.) So I talked to customer service, who of course, didn't know anything about what could be wrong. But while I was on the phone with the customer service rep, I checked the book in the preview and saw that I HAD UPLOADED THE WRONG BOOK! OMG! I couldn't believe it. I quickly uploaded the correct version.

I told the rep what was wrong. She never really got what the problem was, but she drafted an email to send to KDP, telling them the error was fixed, to take the block off the product page, and to send a new version of the book to the people who'd bought it. She promised a response in the next 24 hours. It was hard to wait because I wanted it fixed NOW.

For the next days I kept getting various emails from KDP that they were working on the problem. At first I could tell that they didn't understand what the problem was. They kept focusing on sending out new books, while I wanted the block to come down first. Secondly, they could deal with sending new books out.

I was very relieved with Tuesday morning came and I could email and call Dan Slater at Amazon, asking for his help. But unknown to me, Dan was buried in work for the launch of the new Kindles and didn't have time to work on my problem.

So more days went by with several "we're researching the problem" emails from KDP and no response from Dan. My frustration level remained high. I couldn't be mad at Amazon because the mistake was my fault, I still fretted about how long the fix was taking.

Thursday, I put another call to Dan, and that afternoon he called me back. He told me about the launch of the new Kindles. (GGGGRRRR because I just had bought one to replace the one that died.) I explained the whole tale, and he said he'd get on it. By late evening, Montana Sky Christmas was again available for sale. This morning the book began selling again.

So.... what's my lesson? Perhaps it's not to push so hard that I'm trying to accomplish something when I'm tired and stressed. Or maybe realize that because I'm in that state, I have to be extra careful.

Since I'm not a person who usually makes stupid mistakes, when I do, I know means I'm over-stressed. I need to relax, unwind, and recharge--something I was able to do yesterday when I knew my mistake would finally be fixed.

So there you have it. Stupid mistake? Yes. Cost me some sales? Yes. Upset me? Yes. But in the long run, it's not a big deal. Under normal circumstances, I'd probably have been able to focus on the fact that the book would eventually be for sale. But I had enough other things in my life last week that upset and stressed me, thus I wasn't as centered as I would have liked. Maybe that's my lesson.

But I can pretty much promise...I'll NEVER upload the wrong book again. I hope other self-published authors learn from my mistake!