Publishing on Smashwords

I finally got around to publishing on Smashwords. And it’s only a month and a half later than planned!

Here’s what happened. I spent several hours yesterday reading Smashwords’ free style guide, and following the directions. If you want to publish on Smashwords, you definitely should do the same thing.

I write in Scrivener, so I had to export my file so I had a .doc file to upload. But sometimes the formatting ends up all weird, so I exported the document as a text file. Then I opened it up in LibreOffice, because I’m too cheap to pay for Word. Following the instructions in the style guide, I customized and assigned style settings, created bookmarks, and built a linked Table of Contents. But finally, around ten p.m., I had my file ready. I saved it, closed it, and uploaded it to Smashwords’ website. Then, still following instructions, I opened the book up in the web reader to make sure it looked okay. And it didn’t.

I had selected the wrong file. I could have sworn that I saved the file several times, and that I knew exactly where I’d saved it to. But I had the template I had downloaded, opened up, and decided not to use. I don’t know if I saved the template with the same file name after closing my Smashwords file, or if I deleted it or just put it somewhere really strange. Maybe it went to join lost socks and Lego men. Who knows?

The good news is that almost all of that time I spent on formatting last night was really spent learning. This morning I started over, flipping through the pages of the style guide to find the details I couldn’t remember for sure. This time, it only took twenty minutes until I was ready to start uploading. I used another ten minutes to upload, download the published copies, and check various formats to make sure they didn’t look weird. Pretty easy stuff.

I learned two lessons from this experience. The first, most obvious lesson is always make sure you save your files. The second lesson is that it really does help if your first self-publishing project is a small one, like a short story or a flash fiction collection. I found the first time around stressful enough as it was. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if I’d been trying to re-format and double-check a 100,000 word novel. The same was true of the Amazon process. Thank goodness I started with such a short book! And yet, I feel like I learned so much, and I will be better prepared and faster the next time I do this.

I know that some of my writer friends are set on traditional publishing, for various reasons. They’re not wrong. For instance, I really can’t afford to spend money on a professional cover or a professional editor yet. Those are both things that a traditional publisher would do for me, IF I could get my manuscript accepted by one. But to those friends, I would say, try self-publishing a short story, or a collection of short stories. Even if you only sell a copy to your mother, and maybe another one to your best friend, you will still learn enough from the experience to make it worth your time and effort. And nothing beats the thrill of being able to say that you published something.

My First Royalty Payment

Here’s another bit of exciting news. I just received my first royalty payment report from Amazon, and the payment should be arriving soon. It’s a tiny, tiny royalty payment, to be sure. But it’s still a big baby step for me. I’m starting to feel like a real writer.

I’ve only got one e-book out so far, and I had to self-publish that. It’s a collection of five flash fiction stories, that I wrote for Holly Lisle’s free course, Writing Flash Fiction That Doesn’t Suck. So far I have sold a grand total of six copies, and three of those were to family members. I only have one review on Amazon, which means it’s highly unlikely that anyone will accidentally stumble across my little book. I believe you have to have ten reviews before it shows up in anything but specific searches. But I have plans for that, too.

Writing the stories was just the first step. Then I had to get feedback, which turned out to be both helpful and discouraging. That’s one of the problems of posting a story on a forum for feedback, instead of giving it to a critique group or a group of beta readers. Through another of Holly’s courses, Publishing While Broke, I also had access to a free Gimp tutorial about designing my cover. But just to be sure it wasn’t too, too amateurish, I also took another e-book cover design course on Udemy.com, which gave me a more complete understanding of the elements that go into the design. This was intimidating and helpful at the same time, since I wasn’t about to pay a professional $400 or more for an e-book that would sell for $0.99.

Fortunately, I already have and use Scrivener, thanks to Nanowrimo winner codes. Scrivener makes it much, much easier to compile a novel or short stories into an e-book. For Amazon, I had to download Amazon’s KindleGen app as well as the Kindle previewer. I had to make sure that my stories were as good as they were going to get, add in front matter such as the title page and copyright page, and back matter such as my author blurb, and a link to my mailing list signup. I actually agonized over exactly what I needed, and now I feel like I just threw it together and need to do better on the next book.

And wouldn’t you know…even though I previewed the e-book on the Kindle software, and put it onto my own Kindle, I still found errors after I uploaded it to Amazon. I promised myself I could “unpublish” and fix errors and republish once, and then I was done. I used that “unpublish” option too, right after the book went live a few hours later. I had to force myself to leave it after that, especially when my stories suddenly started picking up more critiques on the forum.

I shared the link on Facebook, and got nothing. Most of my friends don’t see my writer Facebook page. And I’m reluctant to be pushy or repetitive about promoting my book to my friends. Hence the six copies, and the royalties that might buy me a cup of coffee, if I drank coffee. But it’s all about getting stuff out there, and I am starting to have more confidence that my readership will grow, as long as I keep producing. It’s a learning process for sure. But it’s amazing to me how much I’ve already learned about self-publishing, compared to a year ago.

I plan to write another short story or two, about the characters in my flash fiction collection. Then my plan is to get my book on Smashwords, and give out free review copies to people who sign up for my mailing list. Those who email me with a link to anywhere they reviewed my book will receive the free story, which will be the only way to get it. I will also do the same thing for my Persnickety stories. Which of course means my next project is to get my mailing list sign-up back onto my web page. And then I need to get my second collection of stories out there.

So much to do. I’m feeling so overwhelmed with projects that I can’t keep from smiling about it.

Maybe I’m More Right-Brained Than I Thought

I just realized that maybe I’m more right-brained than I thought.

First, a bit of background. I am right-handed, but my high school English teacher once asked me if I’d been forced to use my right hand rather than my left. Apparently, she used to give us exercises where the right-handers tended to choose one side, and the left-handers the other. Except that I nearly always sided with the lefties. But the only thing I remember about that is that I used to be very proud of being nearly ambidextrous.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and I joined the Navy and spent nine months in a grueling training program that was very logical. By the time I finished, I had a hard time thinking creatively at all. Then in college, I took a (self-administered) test that showed I was nearly equally balanced between right and left brain.

Now, years later, I’ve been trying to write and feeling frustrated because I just can’t seem to put things together quite right. I’ve been trying to get in touch with the right side of my brain, and feeling like it just wasn’t working. Then I realized something. When I try to do the worksheets and the lessons in my writing course and put things together, I want to put it off…by playing. I want to play the Sims, where I can create characters with their wardrobes and their houses. (I get bored when it’s time for them to go to work, or have kids.) I want to read a novel or watch a movie or check Facebook to see if anyone posted anything interesting in the last two hours. And that’s when it struck me that maybe it’s my left-brain, my “Me” (as Holly puts it) that keeps going on vacation without me.

I have tons of ideas…for characters, for plots, for interesting little tidbits to put in my stories. I get them all the time, from the tiniest, most mundane things. What I struggle with the most is putting things together in a logical way. It’s much harder for me to figure out which scenes need to go where to create the story arc, and whether I have the right types and amount of conflict in the right places. And aren’t these the logical parts of writing, rather than the creative parts?

I love outlines; I am drawn to detailed outlines. And then I follow them carefully as I write. Unlike my brother, I can’t hold all that structure inside my head and then get it out when I need it. I need it to be written down, concrete, where I can’t ignore it. I’m starting to think that fits in with the right-brained thing, too. I NEED that structure, but I have to work to get it. It’s like putting up a fence around the yard, so the kids know they can do almost anything within that area.

Yes, I like fences. They keep people in their proper places. And I like rules. I like knowing what I can and cannot do, because that frees me up to do anything else that falls within those guidelines. I always thought of that as being a left-brained preference, but maybe it’s not. Maybe that’s my right brain wanting to know the rules so it doesn’t have to worry about figuring out what’s right and wrong each time.

What do you think? Does the right brain care about rules? Does it always want absolute freedom, as many of my creative friends suggest? And whether it’s the right brain that won’t come out and play with the left brain, or the left brain that doesn’t want to work with the right brain, how do I get the two to cooperate?