Arial’s Author Toolbox

I’ve been doing a LOT of reading lately, but not fiction. This year (2015), I’ve been spending a lot of time honing my craft and doing my best to be a more efficient writer. In addition to that, I’ve been focusing on how to best market myself as an author.

Self-published authors – and actually most authors these days regardless of who publishes their books – have to devote a portion of their time to marketing. More and more publishers DON’T do marketing for their authors or the marketing is very broad (e.g., specials on a genre versus pushing a certain author).

So how does an author find the time to write AND market? THAT’S the big conundrum I’ve been putting nose-to-the-grindstone effort to find out. And guess what…you all will get to benefit from my efforts! UPDATED 2/9/16: I’ve just updated this post. See changes noted below. Also, though I’ve changed some pricing and removed other, please check pricing before you buy. They change all the time. Continue reading

3 Dangerous Book Marketing Ideas which Drain Your Bank Account

Bookmarks…jewelry…spa items…promo items in general…

You can put your book cover or author name on anything nowadays and though these items do get a lot of attention (Who doesn’t like free stuff, huh?) are they a worthy investment? Are you wasting your money on these items and not seeing a large return on sales?

Here are 3 Dangerous Book Marketing Ideas which Drain Your Bank Account...followed up by suggestions on how to better invest your money, get more attention for your books and still get the write-offs. Continue reading

Self-Publishing Earns Authors More Money

Author Earnings
My friend and fellow author, Genella deGrey, shared a wonderful article called The 7k Report, written by Hugh Howey of Author Earnings. It’s a long read, but WELL worth it. Go ahead. Go read the report. I’ll wait. *Arial gets up and grabs a cup of coffee, peruses her e-mail and does a little marketing while she waits*

There! See? Very informative and pretty thorough = wonderful. There are two reasons I’m sharing this article, and I will thereby summarize the article for those who aren’t ready to spend the time to read the entire entry:

  1. Actual Data – Finally, we authors can see a fairly reliable source of information that lets us know whether or not writing for ourselves is worth the plunge.
  2. Prove a Point – I have always touted to my author friends that traditional publishing is not worth anyone’s time or effort unless the publisher is willing to do the work to sell your books for you. My explanation to follow.

Admittedly, today is a bit of a rant. Many representatives of the Big Five1 have been quoted as saying eBooks and self-publishing are killing the publishing industry2. At a minimum, many articles in general have been waving that colored banner rather vehemently. I will say such chatter has died down as of late, especially from the Big Five…but that’s because everyone has definitely called, “Bullshit” on their claims. Wasn’t it just last year that Amazon announced eBooks outsold print?? I’m just sayin’.

The article above illustrates just how much money publishers are making on the backs of authors. What has always burned me is how those publishers have complained like a whiny kids at a lemonade stand that their sales have dramatically declined and they blame eBooks and self-publishing. What specifically ticks me off is it’s completely UNTRUE!!! Well…in all fairness, it was a twisted truth. Their PRINT sales dramatically declined. But while they were whining and wailing to the world about their woes, tons of money was coming in through the back door of their digital sales. Self-publishing didn’t invent eBooks. It just made it more lucrative and accessible for the author. Publishers were already putting out their own eBooks. Self-publishing just made it a popular purchase.

Summary of Article

Like I said, the article is long but well worth the read. However, a quick summary of the post is the co-author of the article created an application that combs the internet (specifically for rankings and sales figures. The article then goes in depth with charts and information generated from a sample of book data – the top 1000 or so bestselling books – then breaks it down into which of those books are ,”Indie Published, Small/Medium Publisher, Amazon Published (from imprints like 47North), Big Five published, and Uncategorized Single-Author.” Honestly, I’m not sure how they are defining “Indie Published” versus “Uncategorized Single-Author.” I’ve sent them a message to get clarification.

As it turns out, even though the Big Five publishers are getting the lion’s share of the sales, the amount of money the traditionally published authors actually pull in from the haul pales in comparison to the royalties gained from self-published/indie authors.

Amazon gives 70% of the sale price for self-published books priced at $2.99 – $9.99, and 35% outside of those price ranges. Whereas the average royalty an author gets from the Big Five is 25%. Howey says what I say…it’s worth it to self publish! And he even goes into three scenarios of the self-published author who…

  1. doesn’t make anything and their book(s) get lost in the plethora of books in Amazon’s catalogue.
  2. sells enough to at least pay their bills.
  3. is hugely successful.

All three scenarios – even #1 – sound better than a contract with the Big Five.

My Two Pence

To Traditionally Publish or Indie/Self-Publish? No Question for Me

I use indie and self-publishing as interchangeable terms, for the record.

So why I am all down on the Big Five? Would I ever turn down a contract from them? It depends on the situation, which I’ll ‘splain in a sec. Would I actively seek a contract with them? No. There’s no reason for me to do so…and many authors are in my boat. In all honesty, no publisher would approach me right now because my novels don’t have the kind of sales they’re looking for. So the only kind of contract I could hope to get from the Big Five is the no-money-down, 25% royalty rate AND I do all the marketing. As such, why would I want the contract?

I have many author friends I know personally who have Big Five contracts and they’re getting little-to-no advertising or marketing through their publisher – especially from the new digital imprints. For clarification: These are contracts where the author receives NO book advance and a 25% royalty rate. As mentioned above, any publicity for such contracts are usually through genre-related ads or blog posts on the publisher’s website.

Sheldon Butternut

That’s nice.

When was the last time any of you went to Random House’s blog – or the blog for Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan or Penguin – and checked out their latest releases. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

Sorry, authors…you can’t count the times you went there to see if your own or your best friend’s announcement was posted. This is specifically if you went there because you find the blog entertaining and want to know the latest releases so you can run out and buy them, being an avid reader. TOR might qualify, though…it definitely has such an appeal.

I also have friends who have Big Five contracts, which included a cash advance and a sometimes better than 25% royalty rate. And each of them are definitely successful. Why? Because the publisher pushed their books.

Please note: Of those author friends of mine who are EXTREMELY successful, every one of them were successfully self-published first. Now, that’s just in my world, but it says a lot to me. The only advantage of a traditional contract these days is the book advance. If the advance was enough to cover my expenses for at least long enough to write the next book, then I would go for it! Otherwise, it’s not worth my time. I give the same advice to other authors. It’s not that we should reject the Big Five…we just need to be smart with our choices. Being an author is, after all, running a business.

Catherine Bybee (left) &      HP Mallory (right) – Successfully Self-Published FIRST, then publishers offered a decent contract

My Publisher of Choice: ME

Self-publishing is a great testing ground for publishers and agents. If a self-published book is hugely successful, then the publisher has less to gamble in giving away a book advance with no guarantee they’re going to make that money back. And I get it…it’s business. They don’t want to fork over four to seven figures and not have some confidence they’ll get an ROI. IF a publisher gives an author an advance, they’d be stupid not create specific or focused ads for that book. They want to make their money back, so if an author is going to get a Big Five contract, my recommendation is, “Show me da money!” Their investment in an advance proves they’re going to push the sales of your book. And today, publishers are only going to give a large advance if they have a guarantee.

As such, there is absolutely no reason NOT to self-publish…period. If I’m the one who has to bust my tukass to get my books out there on blogs, go to conferences and peddle my POD (Print On Demand) books and throw ads all over the place – all at my expense and time, which takes away from my writing time – I’m going to want 70% of the cut because I’m doing 70% or more of the work. If the same efforts are going to get me the same sales, I’m going to want to make sure the money is coming to me. Make sense?

Let’s do the math and let the numbers speak for themselves:

Author A – Traditionally Published

This author has a Big Five contract with no advance and 25% royalties. As described above, the author has to do most, if not all, of the promoting. They have three books under their belt with said publisher and sell 25 copies each of their books – a total of 75 books by the end of the month. The sale price of each book is $3.99 (Big Five publishers usually price their books more than this – as noted in the aforementioned article – but let’s compare apples to apples for the sake of argument).

Also for sake of argument, we’re going to say the author gets 25% of the $3.99 shown here. They actually get it off the wholesale price which is less, but since publishers charge higher AND that elusive “wholesale” price is hard to nail down, the solid 25% should not only make up the difference, but even put the traditionally published author in a more favorable bracket of figures.25% of $3.99 = $0.99 ($0.9975 to be exact – ouch) x 75 books = $74.81

Author B – Self-Published

This author has created her own cover, has a reliable editor friend and the author knows how to do her own formatting (we’ll get into expenses in a minute). She also knows how to publish her books in the various formats and posts them on the various venues – Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc. (which means she has a more limited retail outreach than trad. publishers). She has 3 books under her belt priced at $3.99 each and has also sold 75 books at the end of the month.70% of $3.99 = $2.79 ($2.793 to be exact) x 75 books = $209.47

Wow! Quite the difference, no? That right there should have authors clamoring to get their books self-published. At least that’s how I felt once I saw this explained to me. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and my own income from my books has definitely been an enjoyable bowl of succulent pudding…comparatively speaking. And I look forward to enjoying more than just dessert as I continue to write and promote.

Self-Publishing Expenses

The biggest argument people have against self-publishing is the author doesn’t have to put any money into their books when they go through a traditional publisher, and self-publishing has expenses. Granted, those expenses are up-front, but authors most certainly pay for the editing, cover art and the publisher’s contacts with retail stores through the huge royalty cut they take, so don’t think traditional publishing doesn’t cost you anything. You do pay. It just comes out of your back end on the sales…uh…I mean your sales through the back end. (Heh…even that sounded bad.)

The more you can do on your own, the less expensive it is to publish your own book. All-in-all, I will say you can easily spend anywhere from $100 to $2000 per book if you pay people to edit, format, publish and design the cover for your book. Definitely shop around and if you have skill to offer inside or outside of publishing, you might be able to exchange services. Example: An author friend of mine needed some editing and we needed some construction work done on our house. He helped my husband and I tear down and put up drywall and I edited his short story collection. We both saved each other a lot of money and accomplished our goals.

Now, I will never be the one to advocate a book going out there without any editing. I’m a firm believer in getting your book edited before the public sees it. But don’t let that expense stop you. Fifty Shades of Grey was HORRIBLE in structure, grammar, storyline and character development and collectively the series has sold over 15 million copies. I’m just sayin’. I’ve seen plenty of grammar, spelling and typing mistakes in Big Five books, so they aren’t perfect either. If you can’t afford an editor now, afford one later. Get your stuff out there!  BUT a good cover is crucial! Spare no expense into a getting professional-looking, quality cover. THAT will be your primary point of sale. If your cover looks bad, you won’t sell books.

Read my article on To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish for more information on what it takes to self-publish.


I don’t know about you, but I can pay my car insurance and gas bill from that income mentioned above…and I do! Not only does self-publishing offer greater returns, the self-published author has more flexibility. The author can experiment with pricing, can give away as many copies of their books as their little heart desires and can even do the “loss leader” where at least one title is perma-free or at a discounted price (I’ll have to do another post on that one and other marketing strategies). Though some digital imprints are letting authors give away as many copies as they want, most publishers (even small presses) limit how much you can give away. And some do experiment with pricing, but you have to ask them. Call me a control freak, I want to price my book my way. It’s working for me so far.

Do you have a publishing success story you’d like to share? Traditionally published or self-published. Do you agree or disagree with self-published authors making more money? I’d love to hear your comments.
That’s my two pence…

Arial 😉

1 For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term “Big Five”, be advised it used to be the “Big Six”. These terms refer to the largest players of the publishing industry. See Valerie Peterson’s article on for a more extensive explanation.
2 Visit the article eBooks are Killing Publishers, and Other Post Facto Nonsense at the Digital Reader Blog

To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish

I said I was going to post an article on how to convert your MS Word Document to any eBook format. However, as I started writing it, I thought some self-publishing topics deserved some facetime. “Should I self-publish?” is a question authors should answered first. If you’re only here to learn how to convert a file your publisher gave you, then go ahead and skip to the next article: How to Convert Your Novel into Multiple eBook Formats

What it Takes to Self-Publish

Self-publishing is NOT easy and anyone who has done it can testify how much hard work goes into publishing your own book. If you have all the technical skills and resources to do it, you can publish your book with little-to-no upfront costs. However, keep in mind that the less you know technically, the more it will cost you because you’ll have to pay someone to do what you cannot. If you’re really good at bartering and have other skills to trade, you might work this in your favor to save money.

This article ONLY covers the technical aspect of publishing a book. Whether or not you sell your self-published novel depends on writing a good book to begin with, writing MORE books (never stop writing) and then marketing those books.

But how do you know if you CAN do at least do the technical part? I ask you the following questions:

eBook Publishing Questions

  1. Do you have the money to pay for an editor OR the ability to trade services? Is it necessary to have an editor? In my professional opinion, ABSOLUTELY! So many authors are putting their work out their without being edited and it is the primary reason why many readers/reviewers/bloggers won’t touch a self-published book with a ten-meter cattle prod. If you want to be successful at publishing your book AND stand out in the sea of bad self-published novels, an editor is the first step to producing a quality product. NO author can edit their own book. We’re just too close to the material. Even Stephen King said, “To edit is divine.” At a later date, I will publish a list of editors that are recommended by authors who are also inexpensive/affordable.
  2. Do you know how to use MS Word? Most authors will answer “yes” to this question, and I know it seems like a no-brainer. This is the most common word processor used by authors for writing their manuscripts. Though does indeed create a free word processing tool, you still have to save your files in the *.doc file format. However, you should probably feel very comfortable enough with your word processor to know how to use Track Changes, page breaks and section breaks, modify page layout options, and change the metadata of your file.
  3. Do you know how to use Styles in MS Word? Styles will not only save you time, but they’ll help you keep your document free of clutter, from a technical perspective. In short, any formatting you apply to your words (e.g., italics, centering, bolding, font size, etc.) has a default MS Word Style attached to it. Styles will help keep that formatting uniform and if you need to make changes to the font, for example, ALL of your text will reflect that change if you do so in Styles instead of having to comb through the document to change all those instances. If you’re still submitting to publishers, editors will LOVE you if you know how to use MS Styles. A lot of this might sound like Greek, so I recommend visiting the tutorials to learn how to work with Styles in MS Word. If your file has a lot of clutter in the background (technically speaking), it will be rejected by KDP, Lulu and Smashwords and you can’t publish your book.
  4. Do you know how to create a professional looking eBook and/or Print Cover? All books have to have a cover and, whether we like it or not, readers usually buy your book based on the appeal of your cover. Good content is not enough. Your cover should look like your genre, be professional and capsulize your story. has a Photoshop-like graphic editing application for FREE. If you have some experience at graphics but don’t have the money to buy Photoshop, you should try Gimp. Incidentally, Adobe has a new service called Adobe Creative Cloud. For $49.99 per month, you can get MOST of the Adobe products. If you just need a graphics editor and PDF converter/printer, it’s probably not worth it. However, if you’re like me and use many of the Adobe tools (e.g., Photoshop for graphics, Acrobat XI Pro to create PDFs, Audition to create audiobooks, Premier to create trailers, Dreamweaver for web design), then the fifty bucks a month is a steal! (More on producing your own audiobooks and your cover in other posts.)
  5. Are you familiar enough with the Internet to upload files and fill out forms? One would think most people are, but one would be surprised to learn how many people are not. As an ex-software instructor, I’ve come to understand that most people actually know just enough to get by and do their daily tasks. If I ask the question, “What browser do you use to get on the the Internet?” MOST people answer, “Google.” Google is not a browser…it’s a search engine. My experience has taught me that the people who don’t know the difference will probably have a difficult time self-publishing their books due to a lack of familiarity with the Internet and understanding programs as a whole.

Print Publishing Questions

You should answer “yes” to all the above questions in order to delve into print publishing (e.g., CreateSpace or Lulu). Although you might not sell any print books, I highly recommend having your novella or larger in print so you have something to sign at conventions and book signings and for giveaways. Here are some additional questions pertaining to print:
  1. Do you have the ability to convert your book to PDF format? Let me clarify this question by asking, “Do you know how to format your eBook to print?” CreateSpace and Lulu have templates, but there is a slew of information to learn regarding how to get your book ready for print. Just visit this page as an example of the choices you need to make (e.g., trim size, full bleed, how many pages, the type of paper, glossy or matte for your cover, etc.).
  2. Do you know how to convert a PDF template into a working graphics file to create your cover? As an example, CreateSpace has an online tool to help you create a template for your book cover. You specify the type of interior, your trim size, how many pages and the color of your paper, and it spits out a ZIP file for you to download so you can create a cover that will have the proper trim size and spine width for your book. You then have to take one of the templates in the ZIP file and convert that in your graphics program to use it as a guide. You have to answer “yes” to question 1 in order to get the information to create your template. THEN you need to convert that graphic back into a flattened PDF file to be uploaded for publication. Whew!
If you answered “no” to most of the questions above, then you should ask yourself one more question to determine if self-publishing is right for you: Do you have the money to pay someone to do all the above? This can get very expensive.
Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. It takes technical skills, patience, resources and/or money to accomplish the goal of getting your baby into print. It’s one of the reasons why publishers were created. Everyone self-published prior to the eBook age.

What if Self-Publishing isn’t for Me?

If you still want to get your book published, you still have the wonderful option of going independent with small presses, ebook and independent publishers. And there is a plethora of publishers to choose from. This Directory of ePublishers is a great place to start looking for the right publisher for you. In another post, I’ll cover some guidelines on what to look for in a publisher and why you can afford to be picky. I’ll also provide links to some publishers with whom I’m familiar.
The small and independent publishers are easier to approach than the Big Six. Though they may not offer an advance, you will have an editor and they will format your book, give it a cover and distribute the book for you. But you’ll have less creative control. Not only will you NOT have to pay up front for their services as you would for self-publishing (more on that in a second), but you’ll have the invaluable experience of being edited. THAT is an education in your craft all by itself without having to pay for it up front.
By the way, ALL publishers charge you to publish your novels and don’t let anyone tell you any different. Even the Big Six charge you. Of course, they’ve been telling us for decades that they publish your book for free. NOTHING in the publishing world is for free!
The publisher does all the work to get your book produced. Then they sell your book. You get royalties. They get the rest. The money they get minus your royalties is how they get paid. Your royalties are only a small portion of the money your publisher receives for doing all the work, so don’t let anyone tell you publishers don’t charge you to publish your books. ALL publishers charge authors to publish a book, although they do take the chance that your book won’t sell. But then neither of you will be paid.
Self-publishing venues do the same. For example: If you publish through KDP, they pay you 35% if you price your book from 99 cents to $2.98 or $10.00 or more. If you price your book at $2.99 – $9.99, then you’ll get 70%. What happens to the difference? Obviously, it goes into Amazon’s pockets. Ergo, ALL publishing costs money…you just don’t feel it because it doesn’t drain your bank account.
I know this was a long article, so thanks for hanging in there and reading to the end. I hope this was helpful and put self-publishing in perspective. PLEASE let me know if you have questions by leaving a comment below.
That’s my two pence…
Self-Publishing Earns Authors More Money