How to Hire an Editor

Note: This post contains some excerpts from the infamous book 5 of my Publishing Gold Series, the one that can’t be published on Amazon. I’m offering a special price on that book since you have to go to Smashwords to get it. Use coupon code: QN34K  and you’ll get it for 99 cents. Coupon is available through June of 2017.

In the Practical Guide to Publishing, I talk about hiring professionals. Let’s specifically talk about editors.

Working with indie authors, I’ve worked with a number of different editors and they are mostly terrible at the job. There is nothing more disheartening than having to edit a book that an author has just spend thousands of dollars having edited “professionally.”

How did this happen?

Set Clear Expectations

Be very clear with the editor up front. Let them know what you expect and when you expect to have it done. I’ve also learned from others that it is best to schedule updates so that you can check on progress.

Spell out exactly what you want the person to do and when you expect to have it done.

Ask for Referrals

Talk with other clients or read reviews their clients have posted. If at all possible, connect up with a real person who has used this person’s services. LinkedIn is wonderful for checking references. Just as people will find you from your web presence and that carefully maintained brand you have created, you should be able to find out about this professional’s quality of work.

A referral from their aunt is not the type of referral you want. You want to talk to someone who has used their services.

Hire a Real Editor

If you were traditionally published, you would likely have several editors working for you. Let’s face it: there is a quality difference that shows when you have a team of professionals working on a project!

As an independent author, you’ll start out doing most of your editing yourself. I have a friend who works with traditionally published authors simply checking the facts in their books. Until you become successful, you will have to check your own facts! You may have to find your own typos, too. (By the way: it is almost impossible to find your own typos. Hiring an editor should be one of your highest priorities.)

[A joke I can’t resist mentioning: while reviewing this post, I found a typo that had made it through numerous spell checks and multiple passes by my editor. There is always at least one that gets through! And yes, I did stop everything and fix it! That’s a blessing of being an independent author!]

The first contractor you should hire is an editor.

Hire Someone Who Believes in You

Be careful if you find yourself working with someone who treats you like you are “not a professional.” My experiences with this type of individual have always ended in disaster. The quality of their work was substandard. Was it because they thought my indie publishing work didn’t matter? I don’t know. Was it that their snobbery was masking their own lack of professionalism? Possibly. If the contractor you choose is not going to treat you with respect, hire someone else.

Your editor can become a key to your process, someone who not only makes your work sparkle, but also helps you stay productive. Once you know that editor has your back, you can work with more confidence. Your editor is an invaluable part of your team.

One word of warning: I’ve noticed a few traditionally published authors are working as editors for indie authors to make extra money on the side. Let’s face it, mid-list traditionally published authors do need to make money to supplement their income. But these are not the people you want editing your books.

Why? Many of them are productive authors. You’ve read their books. The writing is solid and the books are well edited. Why wouldn’t you want that person to do your editing?

Because traditionally published authors have editors to edit their work. The books you’ve read are as well written and edited as they are not because the author is a good editor, but because the editor who edited them is a good editor!

I recently read a post bashing indie authors written by a traditionally published author who does this sort of work on the side. After reading her article (which I do not want new indie authors to have to suffer through), I finally understand why my indies have found such terrible editors.

The author of the post saw indies as hopeless. She edited them with disdain. I am certain that even if she is an excellent editor, she did not do good work for her indie clients.

Editing and writing are different skills.

Pay for Quality

A good editor is going to cost you money. Your book will earn more money if it is well edited. Just as a professional cover will help sales, a professional edit (or three) will encourage your readers to recommend your book.

Starting out, you may not have the money to afford a high quality editor. Raise money. Save money. Barter. Use GoFundMe.

A good editor is worth every penny.

The Book that Can’t be Published

I made a stunning mistake. I wrote a book that can’t be published.

It takes skill to be that amazingly shortsighted.

Especially given that I’m an indie publisher!

I’ve taught classes on indie publishing, both one-on-one and in group settings, for years. There are thousands of books out there on the subject. But I came to see that what my students needed—what most writers needed—was a simplified walk-thru, a step-by-step guide. As many times as I’ve gone through the process of helping an author turn their book from a newly conceived idea into something they can hold and touch and sell, I couldn’t believe there wasn’t one comprehensive book on the market. I decided to write a book to walk you through everything. One book that would cover how to get your book produced, published, and distributed to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and in print world-wide.

I thought it would be really helpful to have an ebook that linked you to different vetted sources for more information as well as showed you exactly where to go to sign up on each major platform, and then helped you know which buttons to push once you got there. It would be like publishing a book with your friend the publisher standing over your shoulder saying, “now push that…go there…you’re done!”

And that’s how I came to write a book that could not be published.

What Went Wrong

It is amazing to me that I didn’t see the problem before I went to all the trouble of writing the book. When I started to get it ready for distribution, cold reality hit.

Distribution is where the magic happens in publishing. Distribution takes the book or epub from your computer and delivers it to the vendors’ websites so that customers can buy the book. Amazon and iTunes are well-known distributors. Smashwords or Lightning Source (one of the most powerful in the business).

I’d committed an unforgivable sin in the eyes of not one, but all of my distributors: I’d written a book that talked about all of them, weighed their pros and cons, and linked to useful information.

The links caused the problem. You see, each distribution contract forbids linking to other distributors.

I understand that in the terms of selling books. Of course they don’t want links to other vendors in their books. I would never include a link to buy a book on Barnes and Noble in a book intended for sale on Amazon. That is just obvious. But it turns out the “no linking” policy extends to linking to other vendors even if you aren’t suggesting buying from them, but selling through them.

Now my all-in-one guide will be a series, with parts of it only available on my website. I’ll also make a master set available on my website for the highly motivated souls who want all the puzzle pieces in one box.

Stay tuned. Cover reveals coming soon.

Update: the series of books are available individually or in a set from Smashwords.

Publishing 101

publishing 101 graphic

Prerequisite: Publishing 99. If you haven’t done those things, you don’t belong here. You aren’t ready to be published yet—regardless of method.

publishing 101 graphicIn college creative writing classes, I learned how to get published. The steps were deceptively simple:

  1. Write a good book.
  2. Get an agent.
  3. Get a publisher.

No one ever promised I’d make money, and I didn’t expect to. What they didn’t predict (or teach us how to handle!) was the industry-rocking industrial revolution that would change publishing forever. I remember the first time I published a story on the Internet (actually an intranet at the time). Something clicked in the back of my mind: This changes everything.

I wish I’d listened to that little thought and not spent the next 20 years continuing to follow those steps.

I’d like to offer a new approach to publication, based on the options available today, in the hopes of helping authors navigate the publishing maze.

Start by defining success.

suc·cess: noun | suhk-ses

the accomplishment of one’s goals

You can’t know if you’ve accomplished your goals unless you know what they are, so start here.

What does success look like to you? Your idea of success will be unique. Don’t take the question lightly, because it is the heart of where you go from here. This one question will influence your next moves in the industry. I’m going to review the most common categories of answers, but there are thousands of others. Feel free to send me your definition and I may use it for a future post. I’ve helped more authors than I can count successfully navigate these waters.

I want to see my work on the NYT bestseller list.

How do you feel about self-promotion?

If you hate self-promotion, then you should firmly consider the traditional route to publication. There’s no guarantee, but this is your best bet. You may not have to do all of it yourself, but you’re still going to have to do a good amount of promotion.

If you are not afraid of self-promotion, then you might be okay going indie — either with a small independent publisher or on your own. Regardless of the publication path you choose, you’ll be doing a lot of promotion—that’s why you got your platform ready before moving forward—but you’ll be doing more of it if you go indie.

Either way, you’re in for a lot of work, so consider taking public speaking classes or spending time with a counselor to get to a place where you can put on your happy face and go do it. I’m a big fan of Laurie Wheeler’s dolphin method.

We’ll look at the indie steps in a moment. The current how-to for traditional publication looks something like this:

  1. Study the market, learn what agents and publishers are looking for.
  2. Write a great book that they want.
  3. Create a strong, demonstrable platform for selling your books.
  4. Sell your platform and your book to an agent—check all contracts carefully with your attorney.
  5. The agent sells the book—check all contracts carefully with your attorney.
  6. Edit as directed by your publisher.
  7. You write the next great book while promoting the first one heavily.

Don’t trust that just because you land a contract with a large publisher you’ve got a good deal. Read all contracts carefully. You aren’t actually selling the book, you’re selling your rights to sell that book, and those are valuable and varied. Many authors have regretted signing contracts with missed clauses to cover epubs, etc.

I want to write my own stories, but I want people to read them.

If you aren’t willing to write to the market, you may find your sales limited. You are the classic indie.

The good news is, modern indies are finding they can make a better living at writing than they could in the past.

A caution for indies: there may come a time in your career when the traditional market comes looking for you, so don’t burn that bridge with anti-establishment blog posts and nastygrams on your social media platform. You may fall in love with indie publishing, but accept that there are different paths for different writers—and there may be more than one path for you, at different times or under different circumstances—and which path is “better” is highly subjective. Comparing the various paths is a waste of time that should be spent writing.

You need to make a decision: How much of the production are you going to do yourself? The industry is full of graphic artists, editors, book doctors, etc., and they are all available to you. Depending on your inclination and financial resources, you can hire these professionals to help you. (By the way—if you think you can’t afford these professionals, research Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Your fans are willing to pay you to do it right.)

Remember, this isn’t vanity press. Your goal is to put out a quality product.

Here are your steps to publication as an indie:

  1. Write a great book.
  2. Hire a content editor. If you can’t get a content editor, have a good friend help. Make the book strong.
  3. Lay out the book yourself or hire a book designer.
  4. Hire a cover artist. People will judge your book by the cover. Make it amazing. Make it scaleable so it works as a thumbnail.
  5. Hire a copy editor to review the final product for errors before it goes to the vendors.
  6. Choose quality POD and EPUB vendors with an eye to distribution and pricing options.
  7. Distribute to vendors. Epub is a great way to start and then you can add print later. Or you can do both at once.
  8. Promote.
  9. Repeat.

Note: nowhere in there did I say to count your sales. Let’s be real: unless you’re very lucky or very talented at promotion, your initial sales will be horrible. You’ll be building your readership slowly over time. There is no place on your path for depression. When it creeps in—and it will!—shove it away. Accept that it is a normal stage in the publication process (even traditional authors face these creativity-destroying doldrums) and get back to writing.

For those who wonder where Heart Ally Books fits in the spectrum of publishing, we’re in this indie-publisher gray area. We help writers with all of those pesky details—so they can keep writing and producing—without stealing the bulk of their profits.

Be careful when you hire anyone to help with your novel. Read the contract. Check it with your attorney. Make sure you have an escape clause. There be dragons here.

I want to tell my story and give copies of my book to the significant people in my life.

You are in an ideal position to indie-publish. If you can do it yourself, you’ll save a lot of money. If you can’t, there are a number of ways to get where you want to be. While I’m not a big fan of templates, and even less of a fan of Microsoft Word, there are templates available that will do a lot of the work for you.

Your basic steps will be:

  1. Write an awesome book.
  2. Get it edited — you don’t want to be remembered for your bad spelling.
  3. Make the book beautiful with a good layout. Pay attention to readability.
  4. Design a cover or hire a designer. People do judge books by their covers, so take time with this step.
  5. Find a good print-on-demand printer. CreateSpace is free. Lulu is improving. LightningSource is still the gold standard in the industry. There are others. Research each one, and pay attention to distribution options. (Distribution is getting your book from the printer to the buyer.) Even though you aren’t all about sales, you won’t turn them down, right? Don’t make it impossible for someone to buy your book.
  6. Give the book to those you love and cross this item off on your bucket list.

I’ve heard “lifers” talk disparagingly about this class of writer. Your goals are different from theirs. Don’t compare your path with theirs. Don’t compare your success with theirs. You are in a completely different industry than they are. You aren’t a threat to them, and you aren’t going to take their readers. Once upon a time, this niche was full of vanity press publishing companies. Okay, it still is. They’ll take your money and give you a sub-standard product. You can do this yourself. Save your money for that trip around the world that is next on your list.

In my next few blog posts, I’ll be covering these options in more detail along with additional links, steps, and helpful hints to avoid the pitfalls of the publishing industry. You can subscribe to be notified of each one using your favorite feed reader.

Publishing 99

kids at lemonade stand

kids at lemonade standWriting is a business, and it requires more thought than setting up a lemonade stand.

Writing isn’t magic.

It’s a craft. You need to learn it, hone it, polish it. You may have a gift for storytelling, but if you can’t use the language—your brush—you can’t paint the word pictures to bring the story to life. Problems with grammar, punctuation, spelling? There are good editors in the world: use them. Is your story losing cohesion? There are writing classes: take them. Learn your craft and practice it. The Bible has already been written: God’s next literary effort will not be to dictate your best-seller. You’re going to have to sit down and work. Resources are available—affordable, even!—to take basic writing talent to greatness. Use them. Become the best writer you can be, and then keep growing.

Writing begins and ends with readers.

Writing is about the story and how readers engage with it. Readers buy books—not agents, not publishers. Word of mouth sells books. This is not new. If you can get readers talking, you’ll have a shot at making it in this industry. It’s writers who took large bonuses from traditional publishers and failed to follow up with promotion and the next book who have injured the traditional publication market. They’ve made publishers wary, afraid to take risks. Publishers and agents want to find the next best seller. They want you to be that power-commodity, but don’t expect them to snatch you up based on a typo-laden query. They no longer have the time or money to throw away on anything less than pure gold.

Connect with your readers—and stay connected.

Build a social platform and a website to centralize your fan base. We’ve all heard readers frustrated by writers who don’t stay in touch. “Do you know when ____’s next book is coming out? I can’t wait.” That’s a sale. And if that reader can’t find out when your next book comes out, that’s a sale lost. You set up this ability to communicate with your readers before you publish. Call it author branding. Call it a mailing list. Or just call it good business sense. But it needs to be uniquely yours, a place where readers know they can find you. Would you set up your writing office in a stranger’s house? Why not? Because it’s your business. You want to have control over the rules, the schedule, and the product. Trad, indie, or lone wolf—all publication routes require you to connect with readers. End of discussion.

The industry isn’t going to stop changing.

This is our modern world. Things change. Fast. What works today may not work tomorrow. What works tomorrow may be the crazy idea you tossed away today. Be flexible. Don’t waste time arguing the superiority of one publication method over another. Write. While you’re at it, stop throwing money away on snake oil salesmen who promise instant, six-figure sales. Have money to spend? Perfect your craft. Connect with readers. Build your business.

A much needed thank you.

Writing without an editor is dangerous. I’ve been blessed to have Lori Brown-Patrick, also known as the Grammarwitch, as my editor on these blog posts. A good editor is invisible, but she shines a light in the dark corners of your work so you can see where it still needs a good scrubbing behind the ears.

Self-Publishing is Dead

Sad toddler in a library

Sad toddler in a libraryThere. I said it. Self-publishing is dead.

But before you all scream and throw fire balls at me, read on.

The publishing industry is changing. Dramatically. Daily. I’m not saying anything that everyone doesn’t already know. But I see a lot of folks trying to describe what is going on in terms of a model that worked 20 years ago. The vocabulary of publishing needs to change to match what the industry is doing now.

Self-pub·lish·ing: noun |sĕlf-′pŭb-lĭsh-ing

  1. see vanity press.

An acquaintance of mine self-published a book about 20 years ago. He paid around $10,000 to have a bunch of books printed and placed in his garage. He had sent it to me for “editing” before it went to the printer and I was horrified. When I made suggestions, he explained that he didn’t need proof-reading because his non-native-English-speaking wife had already proofed it. She was smart, so clearly her edit was sufficient and my comments were just picky. So, I limited my comments to developmental edits. Again, he explained that the beta readers had all loved it. I surrendered and never worked with him again. I have seen it referred to online as one of the worst books ever written.

What he wanted was for me to tell him it was wonderful. That is vanity press.

He self-published. He did everything himself. He did have a “publisher” of sorts that helped him format his book so that it came close to the way it should look. The publisher didn’t read the book. They did no edits. I think they hired a kid to draw the cover—because it looked like a child’s drawing of an 80s video game.

I’m not sure whatever happened to all of the books. I know he sold less than 50.

That is self-publishing. That is vanity press. If you are still using a vanity press in today’s publishing world—stop. Self-publishing is dead.

tra·di·tion·al adjective trəˈdi-shən-əl

  1. a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time

Of course, by that definition, traditional publishing is dead as well, but work with me.

I see many articles that discuss self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. That is an over-simplified view of a field that is expanding and evolving. This isn’t a dark time for writers—it’s a renaissance!

Traditional publishing is not what it once was. There are five major publishers in the United States. Yes, they have a number of different imprints, but really, it is down to five solid traditional markets. There are hard-working agents who want nothing more than to take your book to the next level.

in·die noun |΄ĭn-dee|

  1. an obscure form of rock publishing which you only learn about from someone slightly more hip than yourself.

Writers today have options that were not dreamed of 20 years ago. A modern book is a team effort—regardless of how it is published—if you are doing it right. Developmental editors, content editors, line editors, graphic designers, book design artists, agents, publishers, distributors, and even marketing professionals—to name just a smattering of available associates—all make up the tribe necessary to raise a book to maturity in today’s market. And modern writers have real, valuable distribution options regardless of how they publish—traditionally or independently.

There are indie publishers, small presses like the one I run, eager to help new authors. Writers can shepherd their own projects all the way from idea to publication without the help of a publisher at all. The spectrum from indie to traditional press is not cut-and-dried, and there are pitfalls and risks for writers in every colorful phase of that spectrum.

geek noun | geek

  1. The people you pick on in high school and wind up working for as an adult

  2. a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken.

  3. an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity <computer geek>

Who am I to be so bold as to say that I can tell writers how to succeed? Well, first of all, I’m generally a very quiet geek. I watch. I listen. I read. I work with the technology. I test. I play. But I also have friends who have succeeded in every form of publishing—and many who have not—and I watch and study what they have and have not done. Over the last few months, I’ve been slowly formulating my thoughts on what has made the difference.

Here are some of my conclusions:

Traditional publishing isn’t dead. It isn’t even sick.

Small publishers and indie presses are doing fabulous work.

Indie authors are thriving.

But self-publishing is dead.

Long live the indies!

note: definitions stolen or adapted from the Urban Dictionary, the online Webster’s Dictionary and

Introducing Daniel Ottalini

Daniel Ottalini

Sorry for the long silence on the blog, folks. Lots of exciting things happening and some revealing posts coming this week.

Daniel OttaliniI want to introduce you to the newest author in Heart Ally’s line-up. I met Daniel Ottalini at a publishing conference. We were both a little overwhelmed by all of the folks at the first social, both a little shy — Daniel less so. He came and sat down next to me and we started chatting. I quickly came to respect and admire this young man. For many of the sessions, we sat together and talked about the industry. I may have said what I do, but I doubt it. I don’t advertise for new clients.

Daniel was doing great on his own. He had a book up for an award that year, another one just about to come out, and more in the works. At the final banquet, where he won the 2013 EPIC award for Brass Legionnaire, I was surprised to discover that he was looking for a publisher to take some of the mundane work off his hands so he could focus on writing.

That moment was like a school of sharks with raw meat thrown into the water. The publishers were circling, fighting over who would get him. I sat back and watched in horror.

And yes — this is me bragging.

We’d already exchanged contact information, so after the conference I sent him an email suggesting that he should check out what they had to offer and then review my program and if he was interested…email me. I already knew Daniel was a smart writer. Guess who he signed with?

For the last few months, we’ve been hard at work on Antioch Burns, a novella that takes place in his Steam Empire Chronicles.

It is my delight to introduce you to Daniel Ottalini.

HA: What made you decide to go indie?

DO: I’m an impatient person! Honestly, I wanted to be done when I was done, not wait around for submission letters to be reviewed. Also, with all the new ebook technology, I figured I should give it a try. I had heard horror stories about traditional publishers, but I also liked having the control that being an indie provides.

HA: Congratulations on winning the EPIC award for Brass Legionnaire. How did that feel?

DO: It was pretty amazing! My mom sorta spoiled it for me in that she called me on the first conference day to tell me a package from EPIC had showed up at the house (that’s something she does) but it was definitely a surprise and an honor.

HA: You knew the whole time and didn’t tell me! I noticed that there were publishers hovering after you won. Why did you decide to stay indie?

DO: Well….I suppose in the end I am a control freak. I like being in charge of things, and I really challenged the very nice editor who was looking to acquire BL & CC – Plus, as the novels are really my second income stream (and primary one during the summer since I’m a teacher), it would be hard for me to lose them while they went out to be ‘retrofitted’.

HA: Tell us more about your books and the themes you are focusing on. You have said that Brass Legionnaire was an inside joke — care to elaborate?

DO: It was an inside joke between my girlfriend and myself about how and what people from a merger of our two backgrounds would look like – her Brazilian and my Italian – Britalian, which lead me to think about Romans in modern times, which lead me to Brass Legionnaire. Not very coherent brain processes for me, but there you have it.

HA: Anything else you’d like to say?

Thanks so much for having me, and why aren’t you bragging that you signed me for Antioch Burns, a novella set in the world of the Steam Empire Chronicles?

HA: Thanks, Daniel. And thanks for your patience with me for delaying this interview — because I wanted to brag with product to sell!

Antioch Burns is out now — available from all major epub retailers at $1.99. Get it. Read it. Leave a review!

Antioch Burns

Whaddaya Want

When Leaves Fall Cover

I’m inspired by the strength of New Yorkers recovering from Sandy. Poet Elise Skidmore considers herself fortunate: she only lost her roof — and she was able to get gas today! In her recently published book When Leaves Fall she wrote a poem honoring her native New York City. Share this to encourage the New Yorkers you know.

Whaddaya Want?

This is New York,
the Big Apple–
We got it all.
You could eat in a different place
every day for ten years
and never have the same thing twice–
and that’s not even counting the street vendors.
Gotta love those dirty water hot dogs,
smothered in mustard and kraut,
and the smell of roasted chestnuts
when the shows let out.
You want fancy,
we got fancy,
but nothing beats
pastrami piled high on rye at the Carnegie Deli
or Lindy’s New York Cheesecake.
So Whaddaya want?
We got it all.
But don’t forget your wallet–
This is New York, after all.

Note: Elise’s first book Poems from the Edge of Spring is a poetry finalist in the Epic Book Awards for 2013.

You can learn more about Elise’s writing and purchase her books here. Profits from the sales of her books will help repair her roof!

When Leaves Fall Cover

Introducing Deleyna Marr

Deleyna Marr

Why did you decide to indie-publish? Why now?

About 3 years ago, I went to yet another writer’s convention. I met with yet another agent. She loved my writing but said there was no way she could help me publish it…and she was sad about that. I took some time and really got to know the agent, and heard her sorrow over the industry, how sad she was to turn down great books and how disappointed she was when she saw writers taking her turning them down personally, as if the rejection of their writing meant that it wasn’t any good. She taught me a lot that weekend. When I came home, I realized that I didn’t want to fight that battle any longer. I know me. I know my passions and my drives, the story-lines that feed my creativity…and they will never be mainstream. I simply don’t fit in the traditional industry.

Once I reached that point, the “when” became “now.” I took my time researching the industry and learned the ropes. As soon as I felt comfortable with the process, I published Sisterhood.

What motivates you? What themes run through your writing?

Sisterhood has a number of themes that show up in my other books as well. One is the concept of freedom, of free choice, free will, and how that plays out in our world. I believe that freedom is at the very core of our existence as humans, and slavery takes many forms. As a young person, I met a woman who was a slave living right next-door to me in my upper-middle-class neighborhood. The paranormal aspect of the book comes from my own worldview belief that our lives in this temporal plain of existence are only a part of reality, that there is more to life. I’m a big fan of Ransomed Heart Ministries and a firm believer that we live in a world caught up in the midst of a mighty spiritual war. This view impacts every area of my life, so it comes out in my writing as well.

Tell us more about the story.

In college, three young women meet and find that they share a very special psychic bond. As adults, they’ve each chosen their own paths: one is a housewife, one is a witch, and one is a industrial spy. When Dana (the housewife) has a dream that Marie (the spy) has been shot, she seeks out her friend. From there, Dana’s world unravels, her husband is murdered, and she becomes caught up in Marie’s life, becoming a spy herself. They are joined by a rogue spy, Kevin, who has vowed to protect them. In the book, the three women have to sort out the story of their origins and learn to work together again. A side note: the entire story did not fit in one book, so there is more to come. I have barely touched on Lara (the witch) and her life.

What do you think of the experience of indie publishing so far? What were the hard/easy parts?

I love indie publishing. I loved having control over every aspect of the process. Working with my cover artist was a dream.

I don’t enjoy editing, and I really really really don’t like marketing. Did I mention that I don’t like marketing? I’ve learned from traditionally published authors that I’d have to do that even if I had been picked up by a major publisher, so I’m learning to live with it. Buy my book. Write a review. Please? See? I’ve got it down now.

Would you do this again?

Definitely. As soon as I get book 2 done, it will come out through Heart Ally. I also have another book that has been sitting on the shelf. “Dominion of Darkness” is a fantasy novel. I hope to have that dusted off and ready to go to print in a few months.

Introducing Alicia McCalla

Alicia McCalla

Here is my long-overdue interview with Alicia McCalla. Alicia has been a delight to work with and I was proud to publish her book, Breaking Free, in February 2012. She’s hard at work on the sequel as well as another novel that she’ll be self-publishing. I frequently use Alicia as an example of how to market. She’s out there making contacts and speaking her heart. Her passion drives her fiction and it shows. This woman simply can not write fast enough to satisfy the hunger of her fans!

HA: Why did you decide to indie publish? Why now?

AM: A little over a year ago, I attended a discussion at my local writer’s group that discussed the problems and concerns with traditional publishing. I listened to authors published by traditional publishers share some truly heart wrenching stories. That discussion along with learning how digital publishing has been changing the face of the industry led me to seriously consider indie-publishing. Last February, my dream became a reality when my debut novel, Breaking Free, became available in print and for immediate download. Exciting!

HA: You have a platform that motivates you, and led me to want to publish your book. Tell us about that.

AM: My platform in Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal in color. It’s my goal to encourage FFP authors to desegregate their fictionalized worlds and add protagonists of color as well as content that relates to people of color. It’s a sensitive platform but very important in the 21st century. If readers are interested in why I write my blog, they can visit my first blog post “Black People Don’t Read Science Fiction.”

HA: Your book is incredibly relevant to current events. You speak directly to the young people of today. My husband and I have had a debate over whether Trayvon’s death was racially motivated. I claim that it was not, but that the handling of the case by police was a horrific injustice that has hurt racial healing. I think of the many misunderstandings in your book. I’m curious about your opinions.

AM: The Trayvon Martin case was very sensitive to me. I’m not only an African-American but a mother of a teen Black male. Trayvon’s case rattled me. Stereotyping, racism, and weapons are dangerous. In our 21st century minds, we think of lynching and segregation as a thing of the 19th or 20th century but the vestiges of that dying mindset still remain. I was so pleased when I put the call out to speculative fiction authors to participate in Trayvon 2.0: A Creative Science Fiction response towards racial healing, I received many short stories on my blog from writers of all races, backgrounds, and sentiments. I’d hoped that Trayvon 2.0 could be a creative outlet for people to heal. It’s been an amazing project.

HA: What do you do for a living?

AM: Um. I’m pretty boring LOL! I’m a school librarian. I spend my days encouraging students to read, research, and use technology. I do enjoy working as a librarian. It’s really quite fun. There’s always something really interesting going on in libraries. Wink!

HA: Do you think that affected your portrayal of the librarian in Breaking Free?

AM: Yes and No. I really just wanted to make a cool character who was evil with a capital “E.” I’m hoping that readers sit on the edge of their seats when they read the fight scene. It’s both physical and mental. It was a tough scene to write but I feel that I captured the full battle. Violence and triumph all in one.

HA: Can you tell us more about the story?

AM: Sure. XJ is a 17-year old genetically-enhanced girl who must save her mother from a mind swiping procedure. Breaking Free is the first book in the Genetic Revolution series. This series is intense and controversial. There are issues of race, class, gender as well as sexual identity crisis. Did I mention that there’s an interracial romance? This series chalked full of current issues. Teens will have lots to talk about after reading it.

HA: Would you indie publish again?

AM: Yes. I am publishing more books. Readers can visit: to find out more about my upcoming books. Double Identity, the next book in XJ’s series will be available in February 2013. I’m so excited.

Why I think Amazon Select is bad for writers.


I’ve been busy the last few months with medical issues (not my own), so this post is delayed. Delayed, but important.

JungleAmazon has a program out for publishers called Amazon Select. They’re offering participants this month $600,000 in bonus money (divided up by how many downloads a book receives) if they will agree to publish only through Amazon for 90 days. I’ve read some statistics and on the surface, this looks like a good deal. Authors who are participating in the program are making higher royalties.

I’ve read some widely circulated articles on why every author should be participating in this program.

Why don’t I recommend jumping into this seemingly peaceful jungle pool? Has no one ever heard of piranha?

I grew up in Silicon Valley. I’ve watched big companies fight over profits, and I’ve seen a lot of little companies and individuals get eaten.

I have no doubt that the short term gain for authors from participating in this program will be significant.

But — why is Amazon doing this? Why would they want authors to publish only on the Kindle and not on…oh, say iPad, Nook, Sony or any of the other generic e-readers out there? Because the content from the Select program is free to readers who participate in the Amazon Prime program.

I seriously considered signing up for Amazon Prime. Free shipping. Streaming videos that might let me discontinue Netflix. The bottom line looked really good for my budget. And then they came out with Amazon Select.

I guess Netflix gets to keep getting my money.

Because this is Amazon.

Have you ever had to work with Amazon’s customer service? I have. The result was a shocking, “we don’t really care about an individual sale” attitude. I’d given someone a gift certificate to Amazon. The end result was: Amazon had the money and my friend never got their gift. Whenever possible, I buy from someone else.

Amazon Prime and Amazon Select are excellent tools for Amazon to devour their competition.

A $2.99 ebook I sell on Amazon’s regular program nets the author about $1.83 after the 30% discount and delivery fees. The same ebook sold on Barnes and Noble nets the author $1.94 because while they charge a 35% discount, they do not charge a delivery fee. Apple pays $1.92 through my reseller. When I sell to a generic e-reader through my reseller, the author gets $2.24.

The differences are small, but they add up. If you are buying your ebooks through Amazon, the authors are getting a smaller chunk of the profits, even though Amazon advertises having a lower discount rate. Why? Extra fees.

Amazon has a huge chunk of the market on the Kindle. Imagine what will happen once they’ve pushed the big competition under a rock. Is there any question they’ll lower royalties and increase their discount rate? We’re talking about Amazon.

Self-published authors are being forced to make a choice. Publish to Amazon Select and earn higher profits on a bunch of sales. Or, earn lower profits but allow customers more freedom to buy books through any retailer they choose. I’m recommending that authors give their readers a choice to buy their books in any format they wish, from any company they wish. Yes, this may initially mean slightly lower profits on some books. (I’m not recommending avoiding Amazon altogether, just avoiding the Select program.) In the long run, however, I think we’ll be giving Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc. a chance to respond to this attack.

And I suspect the results will be interesting.

Interesting. As in the old curse: May you live in interesting times.

As writers and publishers, especially independent writers and publishers, we do live in interesting times.

Introducing Elise Skidmore

Elise Skidmore

Elise SkidmoreI’ve known Elise for more years than I want to confess to. I’ve watched her incredible talent grow and mature over the years. It has been frustrating to see this talent mostly hidden away, so bringing this book into publication makes me blissfully happy. I’m so excited to share her talent with the rest of the world!

HA: Why did you decide to indie publish? Why now?

ES: I’ve been writing poetry for most of my life and even had a few poems published, but the truth is I hate the marketing side of the writing business so I haven’t pursued publication much. Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve been sharing my work with other writers and poets, mostly in private venues, and several of those colleagues have been pushing me to put together a chapter book of my poems. Other than random poems here and there, self-publishing is really the only venue for poets to put their work out there, and self-publishing in print doesn’t come cheap. It happened that a long-time friend, Lisa Norman, was starting Heart Ally Books and suggested we try to publish “Poems from the Edge of Spring” in Kindle format first, and depending on its success, we could print in hard copy later. With the recent increase in the popularity of digital books, publishing in digital formats seemed a good way to share the poetry without breaking the bank, so I decided to take a chance.

HA: Why not do it yourself?

ES: Partly because I’m lazy. (I mentioned I hate the marketing end of the business, didn’t I? And don’t we all try to avoid the things we hate?) But mostly because I’m what I like to call a “computer-duh”. I know how to use a computer, of course, and over the years I’ve become a bit less of a “duh”, but only about the things I actually use the computer for, like writing or surfing the net, and even then I probably take the long way around to accomplish things that others, more knowledgeable than me, can do more efficiently. Sort of like being able to drive a car, but other than checking that there’s gas in the tank, having no clue why it might not go when I step on the gas. The idea of trying to format a book for publication was way over my head, so I decided to trust the technical aspects to someone who knows what they’re doing.

HA: I know you write beautiful prose. What is it about poetry that draws and motivates you?

ES: Well, as I mentioned, I’ve been writing poetry for most of my life, much longer than I’ve been writing prose. I think it’s the idea that you can express so much in a few carefully chosen words. You don’t have the pressure to tell a story, though you can and often do, and yet if you do it well your reader will be able to relate it to their own experiences.

HA: Blueprint your work for me. What comes first, the rhythm or the verse?

ES: Most of my poems are free verse so I rarely think about rhythm in the sense of iambic pentameter and such unless I’m working on a poetry form that requires it. But I think all poetry has an internal rhythm to it, which is something that comes naturally to me and changes with each poem. Poems always begin in one of two ways for me: with a word or phrase that catches my attention, like “Mosaic of Joy” for example, or seeing something that sticks in my mind like a snapshot, the way the bird in “Avian Suicide” did. Once that spark has been ignited, it may smolder for a while until the poem is ready to be written (I usually jot down key words/phrases so not to forget them in the meantime.). Other times, the poem comes out in a single burst.

HA: Do you have a favorite poem in the collection? Can you tell us more about the story behind that poem?

ES: That’s a tough question. It’s like asking a mother to pick a favorite child—but they always want you to, don’t they? If forced to pick a favorite, I think I’d have to narrow it down to two that are closely related: “Counting” and “10:05pm”. The first was written three weeks after my father died, the other was written two years after. I was blessed with the best parents anyone could ask for and have written many poems over the years about both of them, but my father and I always had a special bond. My sister and I were by his side, holding his hands, when he passed. Letting him go was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. He was simply the best and will always be my hero.

HA: Oh, great. Make me pick. Well, since we share the experience of watching a parent take their last breath, I think I’ll pick “Counting” because that one has always touched my heart.


I can’t stop counting
the measure doesn’t matter
three weeks or
twenty-one days
it’s all the same
and time keeps ticking

memories come uninvited
and stay for tea
while I recall in minute detail
the moments leading
to our last goodbye

tear-soaked whispers
of love and assurance
letting go when
all I really want
is to beg you to stay

inhaled breath

I laid my head on your chest
knowing there were no heartbeats left
to count

I have done this before
days turn into weeks
weeks into months
months into years
always counting
until one day
tears subside
and I begin to tally
the many joys
of having you in my life.

HA: Poetry, by nature, is vulnerability. Why expose yourself?

ES: It took a long time before I was willing to share my poetry with other than a trusted few, because poetry always feels more personal, even when it’s about nature or politics rather than love or family. With age comes wisdom (or so they say), and I think that we all have these thoughts and feelings, whether we let others see them or not. We may experience them differently, but we do all experience them. By putting the work out there, I’d like to think I’m giving a voice to all the others who don’t know how to express those thoughts and feelings, but can relate when they see them.

HA: What do you think of the experience so far? What were the hard/easy parts?

Would you do this again?

ES: The experience has been a very positive one and I would definitely do it again, as long as I had someone I trust to deal with the technical aspects of production. Lisa had a heck of a time trying to maintain the poetic form in a venue that changes as the reader changes font sizes, but she managed it somehow, so that was the easiest part for me. The hardest part was deciding which poems and photos to include in the book and how to make it cohesive. Once I stumbled on the idea of using March and April as the “edges of spring,” it all came together.

HA: What’s one rumor you’d love to see spread about you and/or your work?

ES: Let’s see… How about: Elise is a stunningly beautiful woman, both inside and out, with a great sense of humor. Her poetry is not only accessible to the masses, but is turning poetry haters into poetry lovers.

HA: Well, that wouldn’t be a rumor – that’s the truth!

Patronizing the Arts

As a young writer, I wanted a patron: someone who would pay my way in exchange for the creativity I would then offer up to bless the world.

Reality can be a pain.

I was horrified to learn there are so few patrons these days.

Great, classical authors had patrons. Painters had patrons. But there was no patron for me.

Reality is changing. In our modern world, anyone can be a patron of the arts. Many of us already are, without realizing it.

If you buy books, traditionally published books, you’re paying the publishing industry. You’re actually supporting a whole slew of jobs, but only a tiny fraction of the cost of the book actually makes it back to an author. That number is probably around 10%. (May be less, may be slightly more, but that’s a good comparison number.)

If you buy a book from an independent author, that author will likely receive around 60% to 70% of what you pay. (The printer and distributor like Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc. will take their cut.) That’s a huge difference.

In the modern indie publishing environment, that’s the difference between a writer working as a plumber in order to live and being able to write full-time. More and more indie authors are able to support themselves off of the profit from their books. That means they can write more books, improve their craft, and provide you with a higher quality of entertainment.

As a bonus, these indie authors are able to explore a wider range of topics than traditionally published authors.

So, become a patron. Whenever possible, buy your books from indie authors.

How can you find them?

If you’re using an e-reader, look in your marketplace for books priced $5 or less. There’s no guarantee that these are indies, but most of them will be. Yes, that means you can read these books for less money than you can buy from a traditional publisher.

Any of the books I publish qualify as indie books. These authors receive 90% of the profits from each sale. I’m working on getting a good variety of books: poetry, fiction, memoirs.

Search for “Independent Authors” in your search-engine of choice. You may have to buy these books on-line. If you can buy them in a bookstore, consider asking your local independent bookstore to consider carrying your favorites. (Not all independent authors have set up the distributor relationship that allows this. Heart Ally Books authors have.) If you buy from your local bookstore, you’ll be supporting them as well.

Become a patron. Enjoy the benefits: new voices, creative approaches, entertainment that you enjoy. If you buy a hard-copy, don’t forget to request an autographed bookplate from the author. You will have shelf of books that you can look at and know you’ve helped support those writers.