When Medium isn’t the message

Somehow I missed this new policy sent out to writers on Medium last August, and I am slated to be removed from their Partner Program because I do not have 100 followers.

When I joined Medium and began writing there, I was charmed by the idea of a site supporting writers through micropayments. A bunch of people read my post, I get a few pennies. Obviously it wasn’t something I was doing for money. And I posted about both history and online teaching, as I do, and even contributed to a magazine there about history. Several of my posts, mostly the ones to do with online teaching, got a significant number of views, but I have only a handful of “followers”.

I’m miffed, for several reasons. The first is that I thought micropayments for authors were the point, and obviously they don’t care if you’re not allowed to earn any without 100 followers. The second is that they couched this as being better for authors. And the third is that it conflates the writer with the writing.

Since I posted articles in different topics, it’s unlikely anyone would follow me. Instead, they might want to follow the topics they’re interested in (online teaching or history) which, on Medium, they do. The fact that my work may have brought people to subscribe to these topics is in no way accounted for.

Instead it has to be a personality cult, the following of one author. The fact that this is more important than what the author is writing seems indicative of the celebrity bent of the larger culture, where “influencers” have “followers” and the content is irrelevant. My content is relevant.

Last, I am in the process of publishing a book where my bio notes that I have posted on Medium. I am now sorry to have advertised the platform. Perhaps I shall post this there.

3 comments to When Medium isn’t the message

  • Vanessa Vaile

    Well, rats. Just because they’re too cheap to spring for an algorithm that will track users that click from your account to another — or just don’t care. Is it too late? You’re already on my feed reader — since POT. Happy to pop into Medium, clap a lot, share from there, etc.

    • Lisa M Lane

      Aw, thanks, Vanessa. So nice to see you! I won’t be an influencer any time soon, but your vote is appreciated. 🙂

  • jmm

    This is such a transparent money grab for Medium, too. They obviously just want to collect more users’ data to sell.
    The purely transactional nature of contemporary America is so depressing.

Considering World History

Is it more important for students to know the facts and themes of the world’s separate national histories, or to learn the more global commonalities among peoples?

When I was hired at the college over thirty years ago, the problem was simple: world history wasn’t about the world. It was designed as a “West and the Rest” course, and it was my job to teach it. Even though my training was in European and American history, I knew this was wrong. So I got heavy into curriculum development, established the North County Global History Project, and brought together as many practitioners of world history as I could to learn how to globalize the course.

We did well, although there were few textbooks to support the approach, because we happened to be at the epicenter of global history. The leaders were scholars like L. S. Stavrianos at UC San Diego and Ross Dunn of San Diego State University (who spoke at one of our conferences).

The central difficulty is that it is impossible to “cover” the history of whole world in one year (to 1500 in the first semester, then 1500-present). It’s too big. So historians, scholars, and teachers developed different frameworks to teach it. Most tried to retain some sort of chronological structure, although a few were thematic. Ross Dunn’s World History for Us All project remains a great example of how to expand eras of time so they become more thematic.

But by then it didn’t matter much to me, because I had hired world historians (good ones, who understood global history) to teach the course, and I went back to doing European and American history, including History of England and History of Technology. My efforts turned toward online teaching instead over the last two decades. But now, with enrollment declining, History of England and History of Technology no longer draw enough students. So I’m designing courses in World History.

I wish I could say redesigning, but the way I was teaching it before isn’t how I want to teach it now.

I wanted the setup to be similar to my other online classes, which all have readings, a discussion of primary documents using social annotation, lecture notes or quizzes to check comprehension, student collection of primary sources, and writing assignments based on those sources. But it became clear early on that this wasn’t a good idea.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

This is because the textbooks (both traditional and open) still try to hang onto regional and national narratives, meaning you get a “touch down” version of history, where you first touch down in Europe, then China, then India, etc. The book may be really good at making connections among societies, but the fact is that if this week your chapter is on India, and next week on China, you’re not going to get those connections.

So I designed a Discussion Board to bring together larger themes. It takes a bit for students to get used to it, since I’ve asked them to consider events and people from the textbooks as examples of certain thematic dichotomies, or concept sets, that I’ve created. Their job is to choose one side and present an example, then present a counter-example for something a colleague posts. The concept sets are:

  • individual achievement / community values
  • environmental degradation / respecting the environment
  • justifications for war / actions toward peace
  • expansion of trade / emphasis on local needs
  • racial distinctions / promotion of diversity
  • technological change / traditional technologies
  • political power / political opposition
  • short-term goals / thinking of the future
  • secularism / spirituality
  • search for knowledge / acceptance of limited understanding
  • creativity / suppression of creativity
  • outsider being accepted / insider being rejected

I am doing this instead of what I usually do: provide primary source documents for each chapter and have students comment on them in Perusall. I intended to do that at first, setting up documents, this one from Meiji Japan, this one from the English Civil War, this one from Qing China. But then I realized that undermines what I find important about teaching world history.

Providing such sources encourages a focus on detail in an individual country or culture, but does nothing to emphasize the commonalities among all humans. Our view of the world needs to get bigger, not smaller, and the less time students spend on their schoolwork the more we have to be efficient about our goals. In a time of increasing divisiveness, emphasizing our common humanity is more important. And since I believe taht global understanding is furthered by working on what we have in common rather than trying to accept our differences, my pedagogy should reflect that.

 

2 comments to Considering World History

  • jmm

    Shouldn’t history be history and anthropology be anthropology? Or sociology sociology? I think if we try to teach everything, we end up teaching very little. (And of course it’s ridiculous that World History is reduced to two courses.)

    • Lisa M Lane

      Disciplines interact with each other continually. History as a discipline is centuries old, sociology and anthropology newer, but all inform each other. All disciplines contain a form of bias or perspective, and thus not only the evidence but the needs of society change how it is taught over time. This is true of anthropology, which arguably set up the concept of race, and sociology, which nimbly adapts to what it perceives as society’s needs. No discipline can afford to ignore its social context. Some might teach history to provide civic education within their nation’s norms, and even world history has been used to serve this purpose by comparing the host country to the rest of the world (favorably, of course). While I respect that perspective, my view is that it should be inherent in world history that we do it to increase global understanding, precisely because it is impossible to teach everything. I actually don’t have an argument with teaching the history of the world in a year (H.G. Wells tried it in a two-volume book); rather I have a distaste for disciplines in general, which divide knowledge more than they combine it.

The “M” word

That would be marketing. Now that I am independently publishing my books (Murder at Old St. Thomas’s is due out March 6), it is time to look at how to get them noticed.

Let me say first that I am a terrible customer. I do not respond well to marketing. When I want to buy something, I go find it. I do not enjoy the feeling that I am being manipulated. I use an ad blocker on my browser and the mute button on my remote. I find advertising interesting as a sociological demonstration of society’s concerns, but the last vendor I’d consider for anything is someone whose ad I’ve seen. I figure their company is spending too much on advertising to have a good product.

But now I have something to sell. This brings up ethical and personal considerations for me that many authors just don’t bother with.

The prejudice against independently published books

Everyone agrees that marketing books is amazingly difficult. With a traditional publisher, one would think it might be easier, but even there today’s authors are expected to market themselves. In fact, the only advantage to a traditional publisher seems to be the name recognition, and possibly getting ones books in bookstores.

Independently published books are of highly varying quality. So, in fact, are traditionally published books, but somehow no one blames the publisher for that. But it means that self-published books get a bad rap. Sometimes this is totally valid: I am reading a mystery right now that has so many errors it should never have been printed. But I’ve also just finished several that were wonderful, and better than some of the traditionally published books I’ve recently purchased.

Doing it on one’s own, all sorts of advice is available, and I’ve spent some time learning. Here are some recommended ways to market my books, and why I’m struggling with them.

Make it free

It is advised that if one is writing a series, one should make the first book free. Prices are already ridiculously low (99 cents for an e-book), and few authors talk about how this devalues books. My first book is literary fiction. It does not deserve to be in a 99 cent junk pile with a “non-fiction” book on how to talk to your cat.

It is also recommended that if one is publishing an e-book, it’s a good idea to enroll in Kindle Unlimited. KU, as it’s called, is a subscription service. Customers pay a monthly fee and get to read all the KU books they want. The author is paid in tiny percentages based on how many pages are tracked as being read. Trouble is, enrolling as an author means a contract where you cannot sell your e-book anywhere else, for 90 days at a time. Plus, it’s Amazon, who ran out all the other bookstores in the universe. So there’s an ethical problem here.

Take returns and give a 55% discount

Photo by Ashley Byrd on Unsplash

To get your books in physical bookstores, you must agree to accept returns. This means that if a bookstore orders, say, 20 of your books, and sells one and that’s it, they return 19 to your printer. The printer refunds the bookstore’s money, and you have to pay for these books. That can be incredibly expensive, and it seems to happen quite a bit. It’s kind of ok not to make money because one’s books don’t sell, but to owe money is a different story.

When you decide your price, you decide what discount bookstores will get when buying your book. This discount is set for all the print versions, not just those going to physical bookstores. If you choose less than 55%, bookstores won’t carry it. So your profit from a $10 book is $4.50 minus the amount it costs to print it (in my case, $4.44). The minimum at Ingram is 30% even if you don’t care about bookstores.

Sell them yourself

The alternative to bookstores and aggregators and Amazon is to sell the books yourself, ordering boxes of them and keeping them in your garage, mailing them out. Then you have to charge/pay postage, package and mail your orders, take returns (or not). This is a job in itself.

And, if you’re going to sell them, you need a seller’s license in most cities, so that’s a thing. Plus you must charge and keep track of sales tax.

Publish it at Amazon

I actually took this advice, to a point. I am publishing the e-books at an aggregator, Draft2Digital, but without allowing them to distribute to Amazon. Then I am publishing the e-book separately with Amazon for them to sell.

Amazon also offers publication of paperback, and now hardback, versions. When I chose to publish with IngramSpark instead, Amazon started screwing around with my book, first posting it, then a day later fobbing it off to BookDepository with a huge markup, then another third-party vendor with an even bigger markup. No matter what their price, I get the same amount. Amazon clearly makes it difficult, deliberately, for you to sell any book versions not published through them.

Get reviews

The only way anyone will notice your book is if it has reviews. The only way to get reviews is if you are already noticed.

Money, of course, gets around this conundrum. You can buy reviews. The most respected reviewer is Kirkus, where the price starts at $425. For those with less cash, you can use a site like Book Siren, where an account costs $10 and each copy of your book downloaded by a potential reviewer is $2.

Note the word “potential”. It is illegal/ill-advised/crass to pay directly for a review, because it’s assumed the review wouldn’t be honest. Book review sites get around this by not promising a review. So you offer free books to a certain number of people, hoping for a review. A rate of 60% is considered damn good.

What you really want is a review by Someone Who Matters, so you can quote it. People do this even on the cover, which I think is really tacky. To get a review by Someone Who Matters, you need to kiss up to them in groups of mutual interest (see “Join a community” below), or write and beg.

Win a prize

There are zillions of writing and book contests out there. Big organizations, like Mystery Writers of America, hold their own. Many do not accept independently published books; only major publishers can enter works. Some that are more inviting charge money to enter the contest, and may create the contest to collect entry fees, some of which are given as a prize. Others don’t charge to enter, but you have to buy the product if you win. I published a story in  a collection for one of these contests, and had to then purchase the collection to see my work in print.

Have a website

This was the easiest thing for me to do, so I did. It’s here. I’m not sure anyone knows it’s there. But it’s supposed to be connected to . . .

Start a mail list and newsletter

This is touted as the absolute “must have” for authors, especially independently published authors. You dangle something out there, like a short story, as a prize to get people to sign up for your email list. Then you send out a newsletter occasionally, but you wouldn’t want to be crass and just advertize your next book, so you need to have content. This content might be fun things about yourself, or your writing, or your dog.

I looked into this. I got a free account at MailerLite. I set it all up, and put the code on my new website. Then I read in one of the communities I joined (see below) that there is this interesting law called CAN-SPAM, and that you must have a lot of provisions to get around it legally. I don’t like getting around legal things, especially those that are protecting me from spam. I don’t want to receive email advertising. Why would I be ok with producing it?

Then there’s the content. The idea is to get known, to connect with readers. As I’ve mentioned before, this is not a good use of my time. I want readers to connect with my work, not with me. I hate to be all Hemingway about this, but it’s one thing to market my books, and another to market myself. I’m actually a very private person. I am on all the social media outlets and hardly ever post about my family or my personal life. My work is out there, not my self.

Buy ads

There is some disagreement as to whether Facebook ads or Amazon ads are more effective — some swear by one, some by the other. They don’t cost much to run a few ads over a week or so, but cost much more to actually have them work. And we’re talking those horrid little square ads that pop up everywhere, the ones I complain about, and skip or block with my ad blocker. Again, subjecting others to something I won’t allow myself to be subjected to seems unethical.

Go social

I’ve been advised to post on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. Post what, I ask? About yourself, what you’re writing, what you’re working on. Who cares, I ask myself. Then I look and see that what people are posting is just their book, an image or video (some professionally produced) to get people to buy their book. Could I do that? Yes, I could. Would it sell books? Well, I have “friends” lists in the mere dozens, so not likely. I will consider focusing on hashtags of people who buy books, but I have noticed that most of those are just filled with authors trying to sell books.

Do Book Tours

A book tour online is apparently posting about your book on a “book blog”, a blog run by someone who reads and reviews books. I went looking, and most of these are authors themselves. You can hire a company that does book tours, and they slate a blog post spot on some book blogs for a period of time. Apparently people go to those blogs to look for books to read. You can pay to just have posts, or schedule interviews, guest posts, that sort of thing. The more you pay, the more you get.

Join a community

I have joined several online communities related to writing, but I only belong to two or three having to do with history. The ones related to writing are very useful for learning about the process, and there are a couple of groups where I really enjoy the people. But the people are all authors, trying to sell their books and help each other sell theirs. So you don’t meet readers that way, but rather get the kind of advice I’m listing here.

Join groups about your era of history, they say. Well, there’s nothing that annoys me more than someone joining a history group to advertise their book. So should I do that?

But here’s the kicker

I’m a voracious reader of books. I decide what I am going to read based on books I already have (I liked the book, or used the bibliography), recommendations by friends, and the London Review of Books. I have never bought a book because it’s free, on Amazon, gotten reviews at places like Kirkus, or won a prize (well, once, and I regretted it). Nor have I bought one because of an author’s mail list or newsletter (I didn’t even know there were such things), social media profile, ads, book tours (didn’t know about those either), or belonging to a common community or organization. Never.

Now some would say, I am not a typical book buyer. That is true. But I am the sort of book buyer that I would like to buy my book. I honestly don’t think that a person who relies on a relationship with me as an author, or wants my newsletter, or responds to advertizing is the type of person who would enjoy my work. I realized this sounds like not wanting to be in a club that would have me for a member. So I’ll just have to think about it some more.

2 comments to The “M” word

  • jmm

    …and this is why I don’t bother trying to get anything published. Or stand in my yard to catch meteorites.

    • Lisa M Lane

      I’m not against publishing things, but I do want to be clear-eyed about the process!

Six degrees of Wells

It’s odd how even when one avoids H. G. Wells, it’s hard to get too far. Here’s an obscure connection, just for fun.

I was listening to a half-hour BBC documentary program on the Hollywood Cricket Club, mostly because it mentioned David Niven and Errol Flynn, but also because Jim Carter narrated. It had nothing at all to do with H.G. Wells. I have been taking a break, the pandemic having curtailed much of my research.

Apparently the club was founded by Charles Aubrey Smith, and actor I’ve seen in many movies but whose name I didn’t know.

Look familiar? He was in such films as The Prisoner of Zenda, The Four Feathers, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and And Then There Were None. Plus dozens more.

Now take a look at him in 1895:

Aha, a cricketer! And this was the year he started acting.

So it turns out it’s less than six degrees of separation to Wells.

He was a bowler for Sussex County between 1882 and 1892, 20 years after Joseph Wells (H.G.’s father) had done his double hat trick for Kent (4 wickets in 4 balls). It’s a small world, cricket — he would have know who Joseph Wells was.

And according to Wikipedia, in 1920 Smith was in a British film called The Bump. It was written by A. A. Milne. If you read this blog, you know that H.G. Wells was Milne’s teacher at Henley House School, which was run by A.A.’s father.

So it could be serendipity. Or perhaps more things are connected to Wells than one would expect.

 

2 comments to Six degrees of Wells

  • Eric Kuniholm

    Years ago I became enamored of Patrick O’Brian’s adventures of Napoleonic era sail. Coincidentally, last year I happened to be Googling one of my old British schoolteachers (Eton House School, 1967), a Nikolai Tolstoy, nephew of Leo, himself a sometime novelist and historian, and what did I find but that Nikolai Tolstoy had been Patrick O’Brian’s step son, and had written a tell-all biography of his stepfather–two degrees of separation therefore from one of my favorite historical novelists. My takeaway from both our examples is that the such coincidences are rendered inevitable by the restricted world of the British upper class and all who come into contact with them.

    • Lisa M Lane

      LOL with the exception that Wells was lower-middle class, I’m with you. Perhaps it’s just in who is connected to them.

The centrality of the textbook

It is an axiom frequently ignored that any technology has to have a reason to exist in a class. The textbook is a technology. If one were to actually read it, that would be a huge investment of time in an era where attention is continually diverted. A chosen technology is either central to learning or it shouldn’t be there at all.

Students, understandably, won’t read the textbook without stakes (a quiz, a paper). Increasingly, many students cannot sustain the attention and access the vocabulary skills required to read one.

As a result, publishers and professors have developed ways to force students to read the textbook. Publisher’s courses read the book aloud to the student, provide embedded quizzes and pop-up vocabulary as they go, and assess performance before pushing the grades into the Learning Management System. Annotation systems like Perusall make it possible for students to annotate a textbook together. These approaches are far too much if we only want the textbook as background.

I confess that I’ve edited several textbooks of my own that I use in my classes. These are classes where I have substantial lecture material, so the book is context. For the first two years of the pandemic, I made reading them optional and eliminated book quizzes, but now that students are more accustomed to online learning, I’m bringing them back, with some regret.

             my new OER textbook

This regret is coloring my view as I design two “new” World History classes (I’ve only taught them in the classroom and that was many years ago). For the first, I’ve spend the last several months with the Cengage textbook I’ve chosen, and made it central to the short recorded lectures. In these lectures I explain the chapter, note its strengths and weaknesses, clarify points. The lecture itself is quizzed internally, using the quiz function in Canvas Studio. Class starts in a little over a week. I hope it works, but either way I’ve made the book central to the class.

Now I think about the other half of the course. For this one, world history to 1500, I have found an Open Educational Resource, a free textbook. Of course, it’s only free in its electronic form. So I’m thinking how to use it, since it must be central. I have no lectures prepared for the class, and am not sure I want them.

So, a new idea. Since it’s free and electronic, I could put it inside Perusall, the social annotation program. But instead of expecting students to annotate, or requiring that they do it (as I do with primary sources), perhaps I’ll put in the annotations little videos of me, glossing the text myself that way. Perhaps I’ll ask questions, invite participation, and grade it in Perusall.

In the old days we turned up our noses at “teaching from the textbook”, ridiculing those who tied their lectures to it. Perhaps we felt that we could leave students alone with the textbook, and they’d read and understand it. I doubt this was ever true, but in a world where we can chose to eschew the textbook entirely, create ungrading schemes, and have at our fingertips more resources to share than ever before, we should consider the textbook differently.

The WTF of publishing a book

Yesterday, January 5, was the release date for my first novel, Before the Time Machine.

It had been available for pre-order for a week or two, and during that time had taken its place on several vendor websites, including A-zon, at my suggested price of $9.99 for the paperback.

I got up in the morning and the price had been changed to $12.59, and the main page for the book had that price with the book sold by Book Depository rather than A-zon directly. An hour later, the price was over $16 with the same vendor. In order to get to the $9.99 price, you had to click the tiny “2 New from $9.99”, which popped up a window with A-zon itself selling the book.

I was irate, and posted in an author group for help. I was led to an article from 2017 about how upset publishers and authors were that Amazon allowed third-party vendors to purchase the “buy button” page. When I wondered why they would let another company usurp their sales, I was told that Book Depository is owned by A-zon anyway.

Now my paperback is printed by Ingram, so no matter what price a retailer sets I get $3.07 per sale. My profit doesn’t change regardless of the retail price. So Book Depository, if they sold anything at that absurd price, would make a clear profit of at least $13 for doing nothing but being the vendor ordering from Ingram.

But it gets weirder. Today, A-zon is no longer listed at all as a vendor for the book, and there is no $9.99 option. The paperback looks unavailable on the main page, and is only listed at $18.70 (!) with one vendor: a “californiabooks” with a residential address in San Francisco. If she sells any, that will be $15 profit for reselling my work.

I knew this wasn’t going to be fair, and I’ve read plenty of horror stories about the way booksellers mess with prices, and how the author can do nothing about the price of her book. I know that Ingram doesn’t allow the author to choose vendors. And I deliberately chose to publish with Ingram and vend at A-zon rather than have A-zon do the print publishing, and perhaps I am being punished for that (the listing for the Kindle version is okie dokie and at the original price). But I did not expect A-zon to refuse to sell my paperback all together, foisting it off onto a reseller who will sell nothing at their inflated price.

My whole intention was to get the book out there for people to enjoy, and like it or not, most people shop at A-zon and anyone who wants to buy my book will likely look there despite the fact that Barnes & Noble, Blackwell’s, and Bookshop.org (support your local bookshop!) are carrying it at the right price.

All I can say at this point is that this is disheartening in a whole twisty way compared to the disheartening experience I was prepared for.

Printed! (or the ridiculous importance of scene separators)


I finally submitted the final (!) draft of my novella, Before the Time Machine, to IngramSpark for paperback printing and distribution, and Draft2Digital and Amazon KDP for e-book.

The process was interesting, and I need to learn it since I’ll be repeating it.

The companies

IngramSpark allowed me to upload drafts and check them until I was satisfied. Formatting the interior was easiest in Pages, with an export to Word and then PDF, and now I know it needs to go through Adobe Acrobat to save it again as PDF-X. I went through two dozen versions at least, in all three formats.

Draft2Digital wouldn’t allow my scene dividers to be font text, so I had to create images for scene dividers in Word to make them look like I wanted. I also had to use their title page to make things look right, and even then there were things I could do nothing about. Regardless of theme, if I had a non-indented date to start the scene (June 1883) then the next line indented no matter what.

Amazon was easier to use to upload the e-book, but I already had the Word copy from preparing for D2D so that part was fast. Again, they allowed multiple uploads until I uploaded the version that looked best in the Preview.

E-books: must we?

I’m doing it, but an e-book is still a mystery to me — it seems like the TV movie or Napster version of a novel. Although it is my creation, I cannot determine the font, layout, or size of text. That’s up to the reader instead of me. My e-book will have sans serif font, which is inappropriate for my story though I know it’s better to read on a backlit device. The “book” exists in ones and zeros, not the printed page. It’s more like a website than a book.

But, says fans of e-readers, I can have 1,000 books to carry with me! I have trouble imagining the circumstances where that would be important. I’m an inveterate reader of several books at the same time, but surely for a few hours I can read just one book? or if it’s a whole plane flight, perhaps two? Is my attention span so short that I would jump around different books as one would change channels on the television? How would I follow a sustained narrative? And I’d miss the sensual experience of book reading — the feel and smell and sound. All books would feel and smell and sound the same, impoverishing the experience.

Workflow

The workflow going forward will likely be:

  • Write in Scrivener
  • Export to Pages to do draft formatting
  • Export from Pages to Word for IngramSpark, then save as PDF, then use Adobe to make it PDF-X and don’t worry about my publisher logo being too big when it isn’t
  • Adjust Word file for e-book if necessary and save with different name
  • Upload to D2D and Amazon

Formatting

For interior formatting, both Vellum and Atticus made blocks of text look lovely but didn’t have fine enough control over themes or scene separators. Atticus was better than Vellum because you could customize themes and upload your own images, but I could just add them in Pages or Word and have more control over size and placement, so I couldn’t justify using it.  I returned both products for a refund within the 30 days.

I realize most people don’t care about scene separators (also called flourishes or dividers), but I do. My book is dual timeline, part modern and part Victorian era, so I wanted a suitable font for the text (Garamond), and suitable dividers. The few Victorian-ish ones I liked were too fancy, though they might be suitable for the Victorian mysteries.

I had used a special font originally, then later took a screenshot of it and edited the image out of sheer frustration at not finding anything as good:

I will say it felt like 1998 all over again to be spending the day searching the web for free clip-art.

A learning curve

I underwent unnecessary stress because people kept telling me the book’s interior had to be final draft, fully ready, so I got the impression I couldn’t make changes. But all three systems let me upload as many times as I wanted so long as I didn’t click “approve” or “submit”, all allowed me to save my place on the pages of form fields so I could come back, and all had some form of preview so I could see if things looked right.

My publication date is 5 January 2022, to allow time for fixes, which means the books are in “pre-order” status. After I approved at IngramSpark (~$3/book royalty on $9.99 price), Amazon had the paperback book up within hours on its websites, with the cover appearing the next day. Barnes & Noble was close behind. But that’s been all so far, 48 hours later. Supposedly, it will appear at Apple Books and Kobo, as well as others, but it hasn’t yet. I may have to do Google Books separately.

For the e-book submitted to Draft 2 Digital (60% royalty on $5.99), nothing has come up yet at a retailer after several hours. For the e-book submitted to Amazon (35-70% royalty on $5.99) it came up almost immediately, but the two versions of the book are on different pages and will have to be connected, or they may connect themselves within a few days.

None of the services were very good at letting the author know what happens in the process, how it happens, and how long it takes. You literally have to learn by doing, which in this case means doing the web forms and uploads. I had to ask at the Alliance of Independent Authors Facebook group for guidance and reassurance, and I may have to ask again if the book doesn’t show up everywhere it’s supposed to.

 

2 comments to Printed! (or the ridiculous importance of scene separators)

  • Congratulations Lisa. The book looks lovely. What a lot of work!

  • Thanks for bothering with the e-book, which is a boon for elderly readers who need to adjust the font size, and who have trouble with a heavy paper book of large font, or a paperback with small font. Unfortunately still, the controls of e-books are ignorantly small and unusable.

A better workhouse (or the joys of doing a prequel)

You know you’re in sympathy with your protagonist when you need to put him in a workhouse, and the one to hand has horrible conditions and you want to move the whole plot to a borough with a better workhouse so he’ll be more comfortable.

I’m researching my fourth mystery, which is a prequel to the first one. It’s 1860. I’ve already set up that the character spent time as a boy in a workhouse, and that he was allowed to work in a gasworks, where the murder occurs. I’ve also set up that the policeman on the case is a Detective Sergeant who’ll make Inspector by the end of the book. So it all becomes about location: the Detective Sergeant’s station house, the boy’s workhouse, and the gasworks all need to be in proximity to each other.

Because the boy’s father is in Queen’s Bench Prison for debt, I initially looked at Southwark, and was able to find the Phoenix Gasworks on the river and St. Saviour’s workhouse less than a mile away. The Division M station, hard upon the prison, was a wonderfully rowdy place where the young constables living there raised a ruckus and were often told to pipe down by the police court next door, and likely frequented the brothel on the other side.

But that puts me in Southwark, where my first mystery is already set, and half the fun for me is exploring new parts of Victorian London in each book. And in 1860 most (possibly all) detectives were run out of Scotland Yard, north of the river in Westminster, so likely detective sergeants were too, although the whole detective division had actually begun in Bow Street, near Covent Garden. I just got some books on police history, so I’ll have an idea soon how it was set up.

As it happens, my first book puts the inspector’s old home in Covent Garden (it’s not published yet — I can change it). Covent Garden would be a new area for me, but the workhouse near there is St Martin’s in the Fields, which was so horrible that the Lancet ran articles about it and it was shut down a few years later. Children died there of preventable diseases because of the filth. I can’t put the boy there, can I? Especially once I found out that in Kensington there was actually a good workhouse, with a school and medical facilities . . .

Let’s just say it’s very strange when you start worrying this way about a character.

 

 

 

2 comments to A better workhouse (or the joys of doing a prequel)

  • jmm

    When I was 10 or 11, I came downstairs to dinner sobbing uncontrollably because Charlotte had just died. She was a spider.

    Books are amazing.

  • Lisa M Lane

    Now that’s even stranger, how I can totally see that for a character someone else created — in a sense they’re as real for me as E.B. White, whom I haven’t met any more than I met Charlotte. But when I created the character it feels somehow sillier. But maybe no sillier than being terribly concerned that one’s invisible friend also be served a cup of tea.

Learning curve: I never thought I’d . . .

As I stay up late nights trying to format my first novel for self-publication (Scrivener-Word-Pages-eek), I have begun a list of things it never occurred to me I would ever do. For example, I can’t believe that I:

1. spent 30+ hours going through every interior formatting program I could find, on and off-line, only to finally decide that I would

2. select a program based on how the scene separators and fonts look, then

3. spend $250 on Vellum, a formatting program that still won’t do everything I want, and

4. be so picky about how the e-book looks that I’d even bother, and then

5. replace my carefully chosen scene separators by hand, not once but three times, for each of 76 separators, then

6. actually consider selling my e-book on Amazon, and worse

7. consider letting Amazon print my book even though I’d already uploaded to Ingram to get away from Amazon (you can do both), then

8. make a bunch of accounts at Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. with an idea that I’d upload my e-book to each of these even though I will also use Draft-2-Digital, an aggregator that publishes to all of these, and

9. worry about how my website and images of the book appear, even though my website will likely have few visitors, and

10. finally upload a file for the paperback to Ingram, five minutes before I receive my Library of Congress number (which should be in the book).

No one told me this would be easy, but really, I had no idea.

2 comments to Learning curve: I never thought I’d . . .

  • Lisa – I have just finished reading Bernadine Evaristo’s Manifesto. She writes about her writing process, development and progress and includes quite a bit about the difficulties of publishing. She also writes about how hard she works. You might find it interesting.

My wildly inefficient workflow

So I start in Scrivener, which I love for its instant outline format, and write a book. I think that is the hard part. It isn’t.

My Scrivener is a mess, with pages of notes. Plus all the research is saved on my hard drive, except when it isn’t and is saved in Shaarli (social bookmarking) using excellent cross-referencing (“mystery2”, “Wells”).

Already inefficient, I can’t figure out the complexities of Scrivener’s export, which they don’t even call export but rather “compile”. It is so complicated I can’t even get the size I want, or figure out how to fix things it won’t do.

So I save it as .docx and open Word. Then I edit it myself, twice, saving each version with a slightly different name. I have to print it out to do this cuz I’m old. Then I send the third (fourth? fifth?) draft to an editor, who sends me back an edited version (commented in Word) and a clean version.

I load the edited version into Word and try to click on Accept or Reject for each edit, but some really need to be batched somehow (because I want to change all of x back to y) and there isn’t a way to do that. So I do each change one at a time, then realize Word hasn’t really gotten rid of those edit boxes — they are still in the document, just hidden. Little artifacts pepper my document. So I open the clean version and try to change back everything I want changed back.

And while doing that, I see some things I want changed, so I change them. Then I think I don’t like a couple of the scenes, so I rewrite them. Then print again for another self-edit, and by this time I am getting a little lost. I am distant now from my research and my original book in Scrivener. As George Carlin said in A Place for My Stuff, supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain.

So I decide to focus on the publishing for a bit. I want to publish the e-book in one place and the paperback in another, and I don’t want either of them to be Amazon cuz, you know, Amazon. Lots of research later, I decide (though not absolutely) on IngramSpark for paperback and Draft2Digital for e-book, plus more places later if I need to.

I am done with changes (I hope), so I need to format it for upload at Ingram, and I want to do the final proof in the final format. Book size! How to decide? I would love to go small, but then it wouldn’t look like books look now, so I go looking at my own books, measuring for size. Ingram has a list of sizes, so I pick one I like. Well, sort of like. I don’t realize till later that cream pages (as opposed to white) only come in certain sizes.

I can’t make Word look good with the size I’ve chosen, and the kerning (letter spacing) doesn’t look right — it looks amateurish, like I’m doing a newsletter. So I look into formatting programs, and Vellum is $249 and only has eight formats, although it’s so easy to use I am momentarily enchanted. I surf around and some people use Pages. I’m on a Mac, so I import the Word file into Pages.

Take a break to think about the cover. It will be both e-book and paperback, so I need a cover. People design covers in Adobe InDesign, a terrifying graphics program for those of us who live in word-land. I go to Canva and get a free cover, but it is only one image so can only be used for the e-book. To do a paperback cover, I have to go to Ingram, download an InDesign template that’s exactly the size of the book. This means I need the final page count. I can’t do the page count unless it’s formatted already. And it isn’t. Back to Pages.

My scene dividers have been achieved in Word by using a wingding-type font, so Pages doesn’t see them and changes them all to the letter “k”. Find and Replace won’t work because it’s a different font, so I go through them one at a time (there are many) and replace each one myself (having just done the same thing in Vellum). Then I export as PDF.

Only then do I discover, via a Facebook author group, that Macs only export as standard PDF, but Ingram printing requires something called PDF/X, which this isn’t and Mac cannot do. I open programs to try, and finally borrow Acrobat and I think I’ve exported it correctly, so I can print it now for the final proof. And now I have the number of pages, so I can do the cover. Except it’s InDesign. I start scrolling Fiverr for someone to do it for me, and I find a good candidate.

He needs all the information, including the copy for the back cover. Is that the same as a blurb? Yes, I think so. But my blurb is lousy — I used it to try to get an agent and I didn’t get an agent. That’s not why, probably, but it still doesn’t make the book sound exciting. Trouble is, the book isn’t exciting. It’s kind of a quiet little novella about a historian researching H. G. Wells (so the genre is clearly Fantasy, because who would be crazy enough to do that?).

No blurb, no cover. No cover, no book. And that’s where I’m at, starting the final (?) edit. I haven’t written anything in weeks while I’ve been doing this self-publishing stuff by the seat of my pants. It’s getting a little cold in here, and I’ve been in the 21st century too long . . .

 

 

2 comments to My wildly inefficient workflow

  • jmm

    This is a charming essay, and it makes me think I’ll never ever ever try to self-publish. It seems like it would be easier to type-set it, or engrave the sentences on thin sheets of boxwood.

    • Lisa M Lane

      Hey, when I’m finally done, I will know enough to do it for you! But yes, at this point I’m considering learning how to use a linotype machine. 🙂