Guest Blogger – Elaine Calloway

Welcome to June’s Guest Blogger, author Elaine Calloway. I first met Elaine online over five years ago. I was just getting started on Twitter and she was one of the first to welcome and “follow” me. I’ve followed her progression as a writer and watched her success unfold over the years. She’s worked hard to achieve a solid reputation (as we all know being an Indie Author is an undulating path), and her Elemental Clan series is garnering high praise. Elaine and I have some things in common – New Orleans, love of cemeteries, things strange and ethereal, and good seafood. I firmly believe she is part gypsy moth whose blood runs in sepia ink. She makes magic with her imagination. I’m proud to have Elaine as this month’s guest and I present her insights on Self Publishing with some solid advice.

As always, Elaine will monitor and respond to all comments and questions thru June 30.

Tips for Indie Publishing

Ah, Indie Publishing, more commonly called Self Publishing. It’s the craze these days, on Twitter, Amazon, Wattpad, and all the social networking sites. Authors prefer it because they can take control of the reins from “The Big 6” in New York and put the responsibility for success or failure on personal shoulders. 

Many like to make this process seem easy. It is easy, isn’t it? I can skip so many steps if I do it on my own! 

Wrong.

Don’t mistake what I’m saying. Choosing to upload a book yourself and handle all the cover art, editing, promo, etc. on your own is a wonderful feeling. But it isn’t necessarily easier, and you definitely still need to have professionals work on part of the process. 

Step One. Make sure you have written, rewritten and edited your book. Make sure you’ve had people besides your family read and comment on your book. Your mom may be your biggest fan, but she likely won’t tell you that your plot has holes or your heroine isn’t believable. An objective person can. 

Besides, those amazing plots that sound wonderful in your head may not make sense to the average reader. You need a good critique partner or group to tell you where your strengths and weaknesses are. We all use certain phrases too much, forget to add in emotion in some scenes, cause more confusion than clarity on occasion, etc. We’re human. We need feedback. 

I can’t stress enough that writing is also a solitary process. You need to connect to others for support, whether it’s in-person at a local writers group or a virtual option like Twitter chats or challenges like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). 

The point of writing is to enjoy the process. Writing is solitary; we live inside our heads with our characters. Make sure you’re getting some objective feedback before you upload your book to the world. Then edit, edit, edit. And then edit again. 

Step Two. You need a cover artist. Yes, a professional. Even if you know a thing or two about graphic design, I still maintain you need a pro to design your book cover. And let me dispel a myth for you. You CAN get a cover design done for less than $1,000. When I first began researching cover art, many writers said that a decent graphic designer costs at minimum $500 and up to $1,000 was not out of the question. 

But wait! I don’t have that kind of money! 

Relax. You don’t need to have that much money in the bank. There are plenty of pros as well as art students who upload images to Deviant Art (www.deviantart.com) and often will charge reasonable rates for book covers. Also, Amazon has creative people who can do book covers for you. Some top-notch authors have their covers done for less than $300. Start browsing the site. Sign up for a free account so you can download your favorite images to reference later. 

One good tip is to gather Web links for a few images you’re fond of, and ask some friends what they think of say, 3 or 4 images. Find out which is their favorite and why. 

To my surprise, the image I fell in love with, no one liked. But everyone seemed intrigued by the close-up of an eye. I took that feedback, browsed Deviant Art some more, and began to contact those artists whose work I liked. You can send notes to artists on the site easily. 

One thing to remember: in addition to looking for visual talent, you also want someone you can work with. Some of the artists on Deviant Art have still not even opened my note or responded (from 8 months ago). Those people, regardless of how beautiful their designs, will not make good subcontractors if you want to keep a schedule for your book release. 

Out of the six or seven artists I contacted, the one who responded the quickest is the woman I hired. She was prompt, I loved her work, and most especially, she was willing to work with my ideas, with shaping something that I only had a vague idea about. I could not be more pleased with the cover she came up with.  Take this link to see my latest! http://www.thewriterscanvas.com/waters-blood-book-one/ 

Another thing to watch out for is that some artists don’t have the rights to the images they make on Deviant Art. The professionals do, but some just play with images and don’t ever intend to sell them for professional purposes. Be aware. I found quite a few artists whose work I loved, but I learned they didn’t have the rights to the images, and not only that, the person who did have the rights (or the stock photo company they took the image from) had gone out of business. Not a place you want to be in. 

Use your best judgment. You want someone collaborative, who responds in a reasonable amount of time to email, is willing to do PayPal or another easy form of payment, etc. A picture is worth a thousand words. Make your book cover count!

 Step Three. Formatting your manuscript. I’ll make this tip short and sweet: If you are familiar with Microsoft Word, creating and applying styles to various sentences/paragraphs/fonts, then my suggestion is to format the book yourself. I found the process took about two hours from start to finish, including going through the entire manuscript, removing extra paragraph returns, making headings into a bold style, etc. 

Every digital option (Smashwords, Amazon, etc.) has its own rules. If you are not comfortable applying styles, then hire someone to do the book formatting for you. I’ve seen prices from $50-$100 to do this service. Honestly, I didn’t shop it much because I was able to do it myself. 

One word of caution: keep a back-up copy of each type of digital format you complete! There’s nothing worse than having to start over. 

Step Four. Upload your book to the Web! This is the simplest part of the process, though I will mention that it usually takes 24-72 hours before the book is “live” and available for purchase online. If you’re marketing a book release for a specific date, be sure to keep this in mind. Upload the book 2 days early to promote a 5/1 release, for example. 

Step Five. Write more books & market your current one! Don’t overdo it. If you tweet about your book, make sure only about one in 20 tweets is about your book. Nobody likes a pest. Blog about it, mention on Facebook, definitely get the word out, but keep writing! The main way to gain a following is to keep producing the stories that touch human souls and make us want to read more. 

Hope that provides some insight to future indie authors. Now, go forth and write! 

Yours between the lines,
Elaine Calloway

Website: www.thewriterscanvas.com
Twitter:  www.twitter.com/writerscanvas

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17 thoughts on “Guest Blogger – Elaine Calloway

  1. DeAnn DuBose says:

    Good job Elaine….loved your book as well!

  2. jeff7salter says:

    Some very helpful instructions here, Elaine. Thanks.
    And it’s great to meet your N.O. friend Sherry. Sherry, I’m a Louisiana boy myself: grew up in St. Tammany Parish, across the lake from Jefferson Parish. We often went into “the city”. Also lived briefly in Hammond, Baton Rouge, Catahoula Parish, and then 26 years in the Shreveport area.
    Former public librarian … now novelist.

    • Sherry says:

      Hi Jeff, our shared love of NOLA is indeed one thing that I had in common with Elaine, but sadly I’m not from there. However, it is my favorite city in the whole world and I have been (and am) a frequent visitor. As for me, I’m a Yankee gal living in the south.

      Thank you very much for coming by. Don’t be a stranger. I’m happy to showcase and support all novelists. We are the magic carpet weavers of the future.

      • jeff7salter says:

        The thing about southeastern LA, including N.O., is that we’re pleased to see a few Yankees now and then. They’re the ones who ask about grits and sweet tea! LOL
        I’d love to have you mention any of my three published novels somewhere on your site sometime.

      • Sherry says:

        I don’t advertize individual books, Jeff. I would provide a link to your blog, once I look it over and see what kind of material you offer. I do see two of your ebooks on Amazon. 🙂 Congratulations. Let me know what your blog is in an email and I might add you to the list. I keep it small with people I have known for a while and can speak with some authority on their work. I know you understand.

        As one AF vet to another, job well done. Are you on Twitter or Goodreads? My connect info is listed. Look me up! That goes for any of the other writers listed here. I vouch for them.

      • jeff7salter says:

        Not on Twitter, but I do have a Goodreads listing which I hardly ever check.
        There should be three novels listed on Amazon, at my author page.
        I have two blogs and will send you those links in an email as you suggest.
        I certainly understand you vetting people before you list their links. I do the same thing.

    • Hey Jeff,

      Thanks so much for stopping by to comment! Yep, we NOLA folks need to stick together!

      Appreciate your thoughts and your stopping by –

      Elaine

  3. Myas says:

    I do want to throw this in… this is the second time Smashwords was mentioned but my experience with them was not good. I submitted my manuscript to them and there were things to be fixed – technical things – in my submission so, I asked how I should go about it, their system is different than what I’d worked with and at the time I couldn’t open their instruction manual. The first person to get back to me was very – how can I say this, snippy with me. He spoke (wrote) in technical language and used symbols and abbreviations I had no clue about and after a long response about how technically challenged-up my submission was, he dissed my last chapter because I’d titled it “Epitaph – El Condor Pasa”. He wrote along the lines of “…shouldn’t it be titled Epilogue. An epitaph is something that’s put on a headstone…” I was flabbergasted! I had to say “well, if you’d read the book, you’d understand the humor / purpose of why it’s titled that way…” I am new at this, true, but even if I just fell off the banana boat, there might have been a better approach in case I did know what I was doing or was trying to come up with a good idea.
    I stuck with them a little longer, after him I was fortunate to come across one or two who were actually interested in helping me understand the Smashwords system, and the manual finally appeared on my desktop so I’d refer to it, but then my I’m-smarter-than-you’ll-ever-be friend came on the scene. That did it for me – my piece had been approved by the system but I had to add hyperlinks which I did that suddenly rendered my submission below standard although the hyperlinks turned out perfect, were verified that they were perfect and functional, and I didn’t alter anything else that might’ve caused a problem.

    Although paragraph returns and hyperlinks weren’t an issue before with two publishers I’d worked with, I can thank Smashwords for the education and practice, but I’ve unpublished my manuscript and will contact them in a couple weeks about closing my account altogether. Ouch!

    • Sherry says:

      Wow, I’m sorry you had such a horrible experience with Smashwords.

      I will say that in today’s world, the writer seeking to be self published needs to – no, must – have a fairly strong background in Word because most publishers use it or convert from it. Also, the writer must be strong in personal editorial skills and this is a learned thing, not an intuitive one. Today’s Indie authors are responsible for quality as never before and unfortunately there is so much out there from places like Lulu and Smashwords and other small presses that just isn’t high quality — and that is because the publisher can only print what is given (after requisite recommendations and/or professional edits). This is why self publishing is still struggling for a solid reputation – the lack of consistent quality.

      So it is important for the writer to learn how to be a good editor (and the lingo that goes with it unfortunately), as well as a strong Word (or some other approved program) user.

      Still, as your guy from Smashwords has forgotten, everyone has to start at the beginning and learn. If we can teach as we go, why not? The lessons learned benefits you, him, and we, the readers. Shame he forgot that.

      There are other publishing houses out there that have editorial assistance, just remember it costs you by the page. My recommendation? Learn to be a tight and proficient editor who knows the grammer rules inside and out. It will save you time and money and make your work stand out among the fray.

    • Hi Myas,

      Like Sherry, I’m sorry you had such an experience with Smashwords, too. The Smashwords formatting is intense, and if you couldn’t access the manual, that must have been so frustrating.

      So far, I’m using Amazon, Barnes/Noble PubIT/Nook, and Smashwords for everything else. Smashwords doesn’t pay as often (quarterly, vs. every 2 mos) and their formatting was definitely a challenge. However, I will note that in March, Smashwords hosts their “read an ebook week” and basically, with little to no advertising from my end, I sold a lot of books that 1 week alone, with Smashwords doing most of the promo on all the authors who reduced prices on their books. Granted, it lessened my royalties, but I gained many new readers.

      I haven’t tried the exclusive Amazon KDP Select option yet. May do that for a few short stories to try it out. I know many like them the best.

      Bottom line, use what you like and what works for you 🙂

      Thanks!
      Elaine

      • Myas says:

        Thanks Elaine. I might check out Barnes & Noble. Recently I used Amazon. They are very easy to get along with. Through them my book was in paperback and eBook for Kindle. It’s automatically submitted to Kindle through the system, but the manuscript needs to be submitted as PDF for paperback which isn’t optimal for Kindle so although Amazon automatically submits it through the system, it’s best and shortens the wait if you resubmit the manuscript in Word. It’s all very simple. For Amazon you also have to include the copyright/ISBN page manually. My first experience was through Booktango and they do it for you.

        Maybe I shot myself in the foot by withdrawing my book from Smashwords but these issues didn’t arise at all with either of the other publishers. Publishing was almost a breeze. The dig about my chapter title was out of line. It took away from “your book, your way”. With Amazon and Booktango I’m allowed to be a first time author, learn from my mistakes and am given a chance to fix them. I’m good with that and appreciate it.

  4. Appreciate the comment, Myas! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

    Elaine Calloway

  5. Myas says:

    Thanks for this. Like I’d told Sherry, I am a sponge.

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