Book Reviews, Writing & Publishing Articles

Indie Book Review: Bootstrapping for Indies: Self-Publishing on a Budget by Simon Whistler

bootstrappingBootstrapping for Indies by Simon Whistler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Bootstrapping for Indies by Simon Whistler is a quick, informative guide to help beginning and/or would-be indie authors find cost-effective and/or free ways to publish their books. To give a frame of reference, the book took me roughly an hour to read. The book is divided up into concise sections, making it just as easy to read out-of-order as it is to read it chronologically.

Despite the brevity of the sections and entire book, Bootstrapping for Indies does provide a comprehensive overview of all aspects of indie publishing. Whistler provides tips for cover design, editing, formatting, marketing, etc. In each section, Whistler gives multiple options for how to accomplish the stage of publishing cheaply or for free. He also warns authors about ways in which they may end up spending more than their budget in each area. This transparency helps authors choose the right methods for them as well as avoid costly strategies.

Likewise, Whistler gives several outside references for authors. These either direct authors to services that may interest them or explain in greater detail the concepts discussed in the book.

Most importantly, Whistler helps authors prioritize where to spend their budgets. His general ethos is to spend what you can in vital areas and then, once your book starts earning money, reinvest in the areas you did not spend (as much) money on originally. This mentality may be difficult to embrace, given that authors want to put out a fantastic book right away, but Whistler makes a compelling argument, especially in the spirit of saving money.

I only had two criticisms about Bootstrapping for Indies. First, most of the information in the book will be old hat for authors (even unpublished authors) who have done research on indie publishing already. However, for those who have not done much research, it is a great starter guide. Second, the last section of Bootstrapping for Indies cautions authors to the risks to “bootstrapping.” Specifically, it warns authors that bootstrapping may not always create the best impression for readers, which of course, could result in poor sales and/or reviews. On one hand, this honesty is necessary and well-placed. On the other, it is a bit intimidating and could, in many readers’ eyes, undermine the “perfect it later” mentality that Whistler tries to instill in his audience.

Overall, Bootstrapping for Indies contains several clever cost-cutting strategies and resources for new indie authors. It is a clear, concise read that indie authors can digest all in one sitting or refer back to section by section as needed. I recommend it to any new indie authors who are on a tight budget and looking for creative ways to make their dreams come true despite financial restrictions.

View all my reviews


bootstrappingMy normal associates store message will not appear today, because Bootstrapping for Indies is entirely free! If you are at all interested in reading it, there is no reason not to grab your copy today!

 

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

Building Your Author Platform: How to Choose Your Pen Name

Once you have decided to start building your author platform, the first thing you need to do is select the pen name under which you plan to publish. This is an extremely important decision, and for some authors, it will be more difficult than others. Your pen name is likely the first impression of you readers will receive (beyond your book–but more on that down the road), and you want it to be something that sticks with them and easily identifies you out in cyberspace.

The first decision to make is whether to publish under your real name or a pseudonym (fake name). There are valid arguments on both sides, and only you can make the decision that is right for you.

Publishing Under Your Real Name

  • You get all the glory associated with your books and author business.
  • It’s easy for you to remember and embrace when speaking with readers.
  • It makes you more transparent as an author.
  • It makes the business and legal aspects slightly easier.

Publishing Under a Pseudonym

  • You can separate yourself from your work. (This is especially nice if you fail miserably or write in “controversial” genres like erotica.)
  • It provides a layer of protection or privacy for you.
  • Certain genres, especially romance, have a long-standing tradition of pseudonyms.
  • It can help avoid readers’ prejudices against certain genders writing in genres considered to be dominated by another gender.

Google Your Chosen Name and Potential Connections to the Industry

While it is nearly impossible to avoid sharing your name with someone in the universe, try to avoid having an identical name to someone who is well-known in the writing industry. For example, if your name happens to be John Kenneth Rowling, publishing as J.K. Rowling probably would not be a smart idea. When your readers tried to find you online (once they realized you were not THE J.K. Rowling) they would be bombarded with search results for Ms. Joanne and struggle to find little old you.

Of course, this could also work in your favor and bring some “accidental” traffic your way. Maybe these readers would stumble upon you and be pleasantly surprised to find a new author. However, they could also feel “duped” or “cheated” to discover you are not THE J.K. Rowling and drown your book or website in bad reviews.

Personally, I chose to publish under a variation of my real name. My first choice was to publish as “Kate Colby.” However, a quick Google search told me that a relatively successful poet was already publishing under that name. By throwing in my middle initial, “M,” I was able to separate myself from her, thus preventing confusion and allowing me to dominate any Google searches that were meant for me.

Likewise, “Kate Colby” as a username was taken on virtually every social media site. Other than Facebook, most social media platforms do not allow multiple accounts to have the same username. However, a quick search on my desired platforms showed me that “KateMColby” was available on every single social media platform I wanted to use, which leads into my next point…

Keep Your Author Platform Cohesive

Once you have found an original pen name for yourself, use it in as many places as possible! Keeping your entire author platform branded under the same name has several benefits:

  • It makes you easier to find for readers who are searching for you.
  • When readers find you, it increases their confidence that the account is truly yours.
  • It groups your entire author platform together in search engine results for your name.
  • It makes your pages/URLs easier to remember.
  • It looks more professional.

My blog, my email, and every social media platform I use are under “KateMColby.” This makes it easy for my readers to find me on whatever social media sites they use, and it makes them feel more confident that it truly is me and not some other Kate they are finding online.

Admittedly, using your pen name online may not work out as perfectly as it did for me. However, try to keep your author platform as cohesive as possible. If you have to throw in an “author” or “fiction” here or there (ie: AuthorKateMColby or KateMColbyFiction), that’s okay! Just make sure you keep your accounts as searchable and obvious for readers as possible.

In short, selecting and using your pen name should be your first step in creating your author platform. Without your pen name, you cannot brand yourself nor establish an online presence. But remember: your pen name is not just a name. It is the “brand name” of your author business, and it is a strategic tool you can use to make sure you are unique, genre-appropriate, and easy to find online.

For those of you who skipped to the end, here are the actions steps to take as you move forward:

  • Select your pen name (real or fake)
  • Test your pen name online (Do you have a lot of competition with your name?)
  • Test your pen name on social media (Are accounts with your name taken?)
  • Repeat until you find a good balance
  • Use your name universally across your entire author platform

For more on building your author platform, click here.


Resources

What J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith Can Teach Us About Author Platform – The Book Designer

Pen NamesThe Passive Voice: A Lawyer’s Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

On Using a Pen Name and Selling 1,000 Books a DayThe Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast


How did you choose your author pen name? How do you feel about authors using their real names to publish? Pseudonyms? 

 

Book Reviews, Writing & Publishing Articles

Feedback Friday, Review: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is full of fantastic writing craft tips, but the “life” instructions are unhelpful, and in many cases, toxic.

For years, I have heard the praises of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life sung by my fellow writers. Therefore, I will admit that I began reading the book with exceedingly high expectations. While this likely biased my reading of the book, even after a few weeks of reflection, I still have mixed feelings about it.

On the whole, Bird by Bird is packed with useful writing advice. Reading it felt like being back in my university creative writing classes, with an eccentric and slightly hair-brained professor. Most of the wisdom Lamott shares is evergreen and can be extremely helpful to writers. In fact, the piece of advice from which the book gleans its title, to take writing one small bit at a time (“bird by bird”) is incredibly helpful. Likewise, Lamott’s insistence that it is okay to write “shitty first drafts” is reassuring to writers and no doubt helps many get over their writer’s block.

Where Bird by Bird loses traction for me is in its advice on publishing, interacting with other writers, and living the writer lifestyle. I realize that the book was published in the mid-1990s, before the onset of professional independent publishing and the modern technological era. Therefore, I can forgive the obvious bias toward traditional publishing as the “only” form of publishing and the ultimate measure of a writer’s success.

However, what I cannot forgive is the way Lamott describes her relationships with other writers and her daily life as a writer. Lamott over-exaggerates the stereotype of writers as competitive and jealous, and if her references to mean-spirited daydreams and therapy are meant to be humorous, they fell on deaf ears here. Just because many writers are competitive and jealous does not mean that a writer needs to advocate this thinking (or encourage writers to stop being friends with another writer rather than work on their jealousy issues).

Likewise, Lamott relies heavily on the stereotype of the “suffering artist.” She describes her life as a writer as one filled with self-loathing, procrastination, and writer’s block. While it may be true that artistic professions are difficult, both creatively and financially, romanticizing the struggle only furthers these antiquated writing stereotypes and does not accurately reflect the experience of most writers.

If you are looking for time-tested writing tips and the reassurance that your writing, even if “shitty” at first is worthwhile, Bird by Bird will deliver. My advice is to soak up the craft tips and take the memoir-style musings on the writing life and how to interact with other writers with a dump trunk full of road salt.

View all my reviews


Bird-by-Bird-image1If you are interested in reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

I love making new year’s resolutions. If I were to claim two nerdy, organizational hobbies, they would absolutely be making lists and setting goals. There is something so intrinsically satisfying about writing down meaningful objectives and then crossing them off, knowing that your life is incrementally better for it. Needless to say, I’m stoked it’s that time of year again.

In our household, we follow my husband’s new year’s resolution tradition. His rule is that you make one resolution for every year you have been alive. Last year, I made 21 resolutions and completed 12. The goals I failed to meet were ones where I ignored my own resolution-making advice. They were either out of my control (as in the case of immigration paperwork), difficult to measure, or unrealistic for my stage of life. This year, however, I believe I have crafted 22 resolutions that follow my criteria of intelligent attainability while still being challenging.

And of course, because it’s me, they are categorized.

WRITING

This section of my goals is probably the most important to me, as well as the most difficult. However, I think they are still attainable. After all, if I can write an 80,000 word novel in one month with moderate challenge, surely I can manage half that pace. Again, super challenging, but still possible.

1.       Write for 30 minutes at least 5 days per week

2.       Write manuscript – April CampWriMo

3.       Write manuscript – July CampWriMo

4.       Write manuscript – November NaNoWriMo

5.       Write manuscript – January to March

6.       Write manuscript – May to June

7.       Write manuscript – August to October

As you can see, I am centering my writing goals around the National Novel Writing Month events, because that is a proven method by which I can produce a manuscript. You may also notice that I am not including editing in my goals. This is because I want to focus heavily on production in 2015 and more on publication in 2016. Edit: Obviously I had no idea how long the editing for The Cogsmith’s Daughter would take. But hey, we live and we learn!

BUSINESS

While writing is the most important component of my author business, I have decided to separate these goals into different categories. These are the more “business-y” things I need to accomplish in 2015.

8.       Establish my LLC (opted for a sole proprietorship instead)

9.       Publish my first novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter

10.   Update author website and platform (and then revise each quarter)

11.   Write at least 3 blog posts per week (On average, I think I met this goal.)

12.   Send 2 email newsletters per month

13.   Read at least 40 books

MARITAL

Daniel and I have gotten off to a relatively slow start to our “real” adult lives (thanks immigration). Last year, I made the mistake of setting goals that were flat-out unrealistic for a recent college graduate and her attempting-to-immigrate, graduate student fiance. Therefore, this year, I am focusing on goals that are more within our reach.

14.   Go on a mini-honeymoon/vacation

15.   Sell/donate any belongings not moving with us

16.   Move into our first (rental) home

17.   Set up savings account or invest in a mutual fund

HEALTH/WELLNESS

These are the goals that are more for my personal well-being. However, I know that Daniel will join me in a few of them and that all of them will benefit my other goals by making me a healthier, happier person.

18.   Record 3 daily gratitudes

19.   Reduce migraines to under one per month (12 or fewer for the year) (SO close!)

20.   Exercise for 30 minutes at least 3 days per week

21.   Learn to cook (at least one week’s worth of meals)

22.   Reduce junk food intake to one serving per day

That’s it! Those are my 22 new year’s resolutions for 2015. I know that some of them will be a little easy and some of them will be really damn difficult. However, I also know that I have plenty of people in my life (you all included!) who can help keep me accountable for my goals. Seriously, though, feel free to pester me about any of these at any time. I need it! More importantly, I know that I have chosen goals that are challenging, attainable, and meaningful to me. And that’s all I can do for 2014!


What are your new year’s resolutions? Do you think 2015 will be a better year for achieving your goals? Share your thoughts below!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Updates

Why I Will Independently Publish

In my “Kate’s Publishing Crash Course” series, I gave a general overview of the three main publishing options: traditional, vanity, and independent. In this article, I want to share with you all my personal reasoning behind choosing independent publishing as my writing career path.

It is no secret that I am planning to independently publish my novels and run my own author-entrepreneur business. However, I realized that, while I have shared my plans with you all, I have not shared why I have made this decision. Therefore, in this post, I want to explain how my views on writing and publishing changed entirely in less than a year.

Kate and DanielTo his endless satisfaction, I have to credit my husband, Daniel, with planting the seeds of independence in my brain. You see, as I described in a previous post, I have known that I am a writer since I was a child. I began writing simply for the love of it, and then when it came time to “grow up,” I decided to pursue writing in university and as a career afterward.

During my time in university, I was a standard “wannabe” writer. I say “wannabe,” because outside of my creative writing classes, I barely wrote for myself. Everything about university creative writing was a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, I loved having creative writing classes to help develop my craft skills, give me constructive criticism from other writers, and provide me with a creative mentor. On the other, they also turned writing into a chore. I felt limited by the prompts and subject matter allowed in the university setting. In all honesty, I received a fantastic education and nothing was actually wrong — it just didn’t seem to fit right with me for some reason. Long story short, I did a lot more talking, whining, and lamenting about writing than actual writing.

Likewise, my academic creative writing experience allowed me to attend national writing conferences. On one hand, these were great: they boosted my self-confidence, allowed me the thrill of sharing my work aloud, and helped me feel like part of a larger writing community. On the other hand, they forced me to face the fact that I am a small fish in large pond of writers desperate for publication and exposed me to a watered-down version of the writing industry’s competitiveness. While I adored surrounding myself with these creatives, I never felt 100% at home in their world.

As I neared graduation, I had my plan in place. I would take a year off to handle Daniel’s immigration to the United States and get married. Then, I would go back to university and get my Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. After this, I would be a creative writing professor and attempt to publish novels, creative nonfiction essays, and memoirs. For those of you who don’t know, while this plan sounds simple and straight-forward, it is not. Perhaps I’ll write more on that later. The point is: I was overwhelmed at the idea of immersing myself in a potentially hostile and definitely competitive MFA program and growing less and less enthused about the concept of teaching writing as opposed to writing myself.

Graduation 1 (2)As you can imagine, if I was this unexcited about the idea of competing with an MFA cohort and playing the academic game, I was even less excited about the process of traditional publishing. I knew my journey to publication would be long, arduous, and possibly never get me anywhere. Even if I wrote a great book, it could be passed over for any reason from it lies between genres (and is therefore “not” marketable) to someone else had a slightly better book or knew the right person. Then, even if I did get published, I would have to adjust my novel purely for the sake of marketability, accept whatever cover the company decided to slap on it, and maybe do something as drastic as re-title it or change the ending. BUT — traditional publishing was the only way, and if I did make it through all the gatekeepers, I would have the title of published author, which seemed worth the years of waiting, financial struggle, and heartache.

Then, in April 2014, Daniel introduced me to The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast. After listening to only one episode, I knew I had to reconsider independent publishing. You see, in the womb of academic creative writing, the words self-publishing were almost never spoken, and when they were, it was in relation to vain, talent-less authors who were too lazy, too arrogant, and too bad of writers to “earn” traditional publication. With this stigma beating around in the back of my mind, I kept listening to the podcast and went into further research.

I think it took all of two weeks for me to change my mind. That is how perfectly independent publishing aligns with my values.

Over the next few months, I listened to every single Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast episode as well as expanded my listening to include The Creative Penn Podcast, The Self-Publishing Podcast, and The Sell More Books Show. I watched YouTube videos, I began buying books, I read blogs and interviews. If you want to see more of my research, check out my resources page and my suggested independent publishing books.

If my mind weren’t made up before, after all of this research, it certainly was. The pros of traditional publishing were reinforced by my research, especially the prestige aspect, but my research also taught me new cons I had not thought about before. Previously, my hesitations about traditional publishing revolved around artistic control. However, when I learned that an advance is not a signing bonus, that the royalty rate is 10-20%, and that I would lose a whole basket-ful of rights, rights to the product that I slaved over, that represents my artistic center, I abandoned any notion of traditional publishing.

WriterFor me, independent publishing is the answer. It will allow me to retain all the rights to my creative products, control every aspect of production and distribution, and pursue entrepreneurship (another dream of mine). Yes, I will have to deal with the self-publishing stigma, at least until it changes. Yes, my decision has damaged my relationship with writers who want to traditionally publish. Yes, I will probably never see my book in a physical bookstore. And while those things suck, the fact that I get to protect the integrity of my creative products, be my own employer and source of livelihood, and live out my dreams on my own terms makes up for any negatives a million times over.

While my personal journey may romanticize it, I need to stress that independent publishing is not for everyone. Indie authors have to do it all: write, edit, hire contractors, make decisions, handle finances, produce, distribute, market. It takes a lot of time and even more work, and it is still a long road to full-time authorship.

However, indie authorship also comes with a few unique perks. The indie community is full of authors and creatives who want to help each other succeed. It is not plagued by the same competitiveness as traditional publishing; it is full of transparency and helpfulness. There are hundreds of indie authors paving the path for my generation by putting out quality work to break stigmas, maintaining an unparalleled professionalism, proving that indie authorship is more financially viable than traditional publishing, and generally being awe-inspiring superhumans.

I am chomping at the bit to join their ranks. I want to be the CEO of my own international creative business. I want to write and publish the novels that inspire me and bring joy to my readers. I want to establish an author brand that reflects the truest sense of my personality. I want to build close, personal connections with other writers and become one of the helpful, honest mentors that have helped me so much.

I want to be independent.

I’m going indie.