Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Writer's Rules of Engagement.

(Morguefile) The author is a big fan of Luc Besson, and films like 'The Professional,' (hence the milk,) and 'The Fifth Element.'

Here are the rules of engagement for writers.

Money flows towards the author, not away from them. Otherwise, it's just vanity publishing. While the industry is in a state of flux, and the situation is such that major publishers have fewer and fewer production slots for new and unproven writers, to blow big chunks of cash in the hope of beating the odds is a kind of vanity publishing. And in my opinion, Amazon is the king of vanity publishing.

How many times have I heard it?

“Get yourself a good editor.” A good editor might cost you $2.00 a page, or it might cost you $35.00 an hour. Either way, it adds up pretty quick and this cost will have to be recouped by sales of your book. The more books you write, the more your costs go up. People are writing 40,000-word young adult books in three days, and then they spend a lot of money trying to make this work.

Amazon and other service providers want you to do this of course, because they have no gate-keeping system in place to ensure quality. Much has been written about ‘spam’ books put together by copyright-free, license-free content skimmers. What I would suggest here is ‘buyer beware.’ I would also say, ‘author beware,’ because people who figure out that they got ripped off will remember your name.

“Pay for a proofreader.” If you use spell-check and grammar check, they will not catch all errors. However, they will catch 99 % of them, which is close to industry standard, and you can pick off the rest by carefully reading and re-reading your manuscript four or five times. Learn to write clean copy the first time around, and you will save yourself a lot of money. Also, the average self-published author sells less than $500.00 worth of books. Don’t load up your book with a lot of overhead before you even start.

“Pay for formatting.” Use the Smashwords Style Guide, read the Amazon formatting FAQs, or grab a free copy of a book by a professional author during a promotion and learn this simple and valuable skill on your own and for yourself. At some point, you will be good enough that you can begin offering a service to other authors, and this might be a valuable revenue stream. If nothing else, you will save a lot of money over the course of time. Right now, I have ten or eleven books in the Smashwords Premium Catalogue, and I formatted them all myself. If each one cost $50.00, I saved $550.00. This cost does not have to be bought and paid for out of book sales. It makes it easier to make a profit. I also have four PODs on CreateSpace, and these files are also used to upload books to There may be other free service providers out there, and most likely there will be more coming along very soon. So I saved another few hundred there, and with more PODs in the works, more savings will ensue. Any good businessman will tell you that a dollar saved is a dollar earned in profit. Ben Franklin said it too.

“Pay for a professional marketing image.” This is a tough one to argue against, but here goes anyway. You can download copyright-free, license-free images from websites like Morguefile. You can learn to use Photoshop, or Paint.NET, or Nero Photosnap, and come up with marketing images that rival professional images. Work on it for an hour a day for a few days. Don’t settle for the first one you come up with. I often go through ten or twelve images before publishing. If I come up with a better one, I upgrade my image. My first covers were admittedly crap. Now look at them, for example this one for 'On the Nature of the Gods.' Not only that, they can have the stamp of individuality that is lacking in many of these images. Without getting too heavy here, your individuality is your brand, and quite frankly, there are a lot of clone covers out there. Until July 27/12, you can use coupon code WM65R and get 25 % off the cover price on all e-book formats from Smashwords for 'On the Nature of the Gods.'

My only costs to date are internet service, and I have the cheapest service I can get. I pay about $30.00 a month, and with a little Hollywood accounting, it goes under my personal expenses as entertainment. That’s because I don’t have a TV set, and I spend a lot of time on the internet. It is my only real form of entertainment, and since I love my job, that’s okay.

Another cost is in ordering proofs from Createspace. I only order one proof. If I need changes, I use the digital proofer, but I have the book in my hand to prove to my own satisfaction that there is nothing else in the book that needs changing. As an example, I read ‘Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,’ and there were exactly three small changes, none of which were formatting. They were typos. This meets or exceeds industry standards, and it also meets or exceeds the standards met by all those other authors who paid a lot of money for services the experts are telling you are essential. Case closed.

Do not pay for promotion, or blog hops, or whatever. Swap blog posts with friends for free if you must. No one has proven to my satisfaction that they actually work, or justify their cost in any way, shape or form. Do not pay for Twitter followers. Walk away from anyone charging fees to use their service platform. There are a lot of them, and lots of people will tell you they work. But if someone is actually selling a few books, they may be erroneously convinced that a certain technique or strategy worked when really it didn’t. Figuring out exactly what sold a book is almost impossible. See this article for more.

Do anti-aging creams actually work? Women spend billions annually on cosmetics. What an anti-aging cream actually does is to temporarily moisturize the skin. The wrinkles look smaller. You are exactly the same age as you were before you put it on. This is vanity, and the same holds true for all of the vanity publishing enterprises out there. I’ll say it again. “Buyer beware.”

My total cost to produce all of my titles, except for the internet, is about $50.00. My business is profitable, and sales are slowly creeping up. This is the only true test. If, like so many authors, you are holding down a day job and have $100,000 a year in household income, you are not a professional writer. You are easy meat for the vanity sellers because you think that throwing money at it is the best way to save time and solve problems. It is the easy road to success in the minds of the uninformed.

At one time, persistence was the key to some small success in this field. That’s not good enough anymore. Now you’re going to need some endurance, and an ability to look ahead and think clearly. You need to learn how to play the long game. You’ll need a thick skin and be able to let the bullshit roll off you like water from a duck’s back.

Just as a Dodge Ram 1500 is one of the world’s safest and most effective penis-enlargers, for some, writing books is all about ego, and vanity. They cannot accept that it takes a very long time to train a good writer. It’s learn on the job. You have to take a lot of pain. Most people really aren’t suited to it, and that’s tough love, but it is the truth, ladies and gentlemen.

It takes many years to become an overnight success. It requires patience, ability, and a lot of hard work.

You heard it here first.

Comments are always welcome.


  1. Thank you. I didn't have this kind of counseling when I published. I wish I had so why would I (or anyone) be angry with you?

  2. Thank you so much for writing this. I'm am such a newbie and so much of what you are saying makes sense. I have learned many things from this just in time to begin the final editing of my first manuscript and publish. Great advice.

  3. My perspective is due to the fact that I don't have any money. It's the only way I can even do it. I've been writing for 29 years. Controlling costs is very important unless you have bags of cash.

  4. Well said. I have started to classify real authors not as those who have/had traditional publishing contracts, but those who are determined to write, keep writing, keep learning and keep publishing, whichever way they can.
    The other kinds - the 'make a quick buck and the latest craze is Kindle' kinds - are annoying, give us all a bad name but will move onto the next craze eventually.
    Meanwhile, we keep scribbling!
    PS Your covers do not look home-made! Mine would. I have as much artistic ability as my dog, I think I'll ask him to have a crack at them.

  5. Thank you, Michelle, you are very kind. My first covers were really bad but I keep messing around with them.

  6. This was quite helpful, and I appreciate the mention of actual website to assist with the creating and publishing aspects of writing. "On the Nature of the Gods" cover is very good. It reminds me a bit of "Clockwork Orange". Thank you for sharing the wisdom of your experience.


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