Musings about collaborative writing, storytelling, and the evolution of publishing
This is a guest blog post by Mark A. Sargent, author of the newly self-published novel Clockwork & Old Gods, which originated as a story here on Protagonize. Mark is promoting his book and was kind enough to share his experiences with self-publishing for the first time. You can check out his website for more information, or buy his book on Amazon.
Mark is also giving away free copies of his ebook to 10 randomly-selected Protaggers who take the time to post their thoughts on the following in the comments below:
“Are you working on a book or other project you hope to publish someday? Are you already in the trenches, either self published or traditionally published? Or are you just writing for fun? Tell us all about it in the comments! The best thing we can do for one another as writers is share information, tips, and tricks of the trade.”
Do you have something to say that might be of interest to our members? Feel free to contact us with blog ideas, and share your passion for writing with our readers.
Hi there. My name is Mark Sargent, and I’m a self-published author. My first book, Clockwork & Old Gods: Incursion, is a fantasy/steampunk epic. It went on sale in early February. I’ve been a member of Protagonize since 2009, and I want to thank Nick for giving the opportunity to write a guest post here.
In the beginning…
Four years ago I started writing a story on Protagonize. Clockwork and Old Gods wasn’t the first thing I’d ever started writing, but it would be the first I ever finished. It would eventually become the first book I ever published. I’m pretty sure I have Protagonize to thank for that. The ratings, comments, favorites and recommendations it got provided much needed motivation. People were actually reading my work. Not only were they reading it, they liked it! Over the course of the next two years I plugged away at it bit by bit until it was finally finished. That was step one.
Step one is always the hardest when you set out to be an author, but it’s the most important. If there’s any secret to being a successful writer, that’s it – just keep writing. The more you write the better you get and the more likely you are to finish a project.
So what comes next?
Once I had my book completed I had a choice. I could shop it around to agents and publishers, or I could self-publish. After doing a lot of research, I chose to self-publish for several reasons:
First, royalty rates. According to Wikipedia, a traditional publisher royalty rate is roughly 7% – 10% for paperback and 10% – 12% for hardcover. Rates vary by publisher, but from what I’ve read new authors almost always get the lowest end of the scale. Compare this to Amazon, which gives you 70% on every ebook sold no matter who you are, and to me the advantage was clear.
Second, marketing responsibility. Many traditional publishers tend to put most or all of the marketing responsibility on their authors (unless you get lucky and they decide to “go big” with your launch). If I was going to be doing it anyway, I might as well self-publish.
Third, rights. I’m going to go into a little more depth on this point because I think it’s important.
Negotiating a contract with a traditional publisher is notorious for being a labyrinthine nightmare. Often it can require a copyright lawyer in order to get a fair deal. Having successfully negotiated the labyrinth, you’ve essentially sold the rights to your book to the publisher for a certain amount of time. If you got a good deal, this time will have a decent cutoff date at which point you can renegotiate your contract or the rights simply revert back to you.
If you didn’t manage to get a good deal, the publisher holds on to the rights to your book for however long they wanted. This point bears special consideration, because it has some important ramifications. If your book did not sell, the publisher may stop printing it and even pull the book from bookshelves to make way for new books. With your book not actively selling, you still can’t do anything with it yourself. It’s in limbo, making you absolutely no money, until the rights revert back to you as stated in your contract.
When you self-publish all of the rights are yours, and will remain so. If your book isn’t selling you can change the cover art, change the blurb, fiddle with pricing, try new marketing tactics, even change text within the book and upload new additions. All the while it’s out there for people to see and buy at that 70% royalty rate.
OK, I’m self-publishing. Now what?
So I did the cost benefit analysis and decided self-publishing was the way to go. There was a lot of work yet to be done. When self-publishing the first thing you need to do is edit the ever loving hell out of your book. Write, rewrite, re-rewrite, add stuff, delete stuff, move stuff around. Hunt down spelling and grammar mistakes with extreme prejudice. I spent the better part of a year reworking Clockwork and Old Gods. The finished product is still the same story, but it’s a very different book, and better for it.
To make this process easier you can hire an editor. Contrary to what I thought when I started my foray into self-publishing, you don’t need a traditional publisher in order to get an editor. There are plenty of freelance editing services available out on the web. Trust me, they’re worth it. The biggest complaint you hear about self-published ebooks isn’t that the stories are bad; it’s that they’re poorly formatted and edited. If you want to stand out, make your work professional-quality.
I have to admit I did my own editing on Clockwork & Old Gods. I think it came out well despite this, but I put a lot of effort into it. This is not a mistake I will make twice. My next book will be dutifully handed off to an editor for scrutiny.
After the inside of the book is looking good, it’s time to see to the outside. Cover art is important, as it’s the reader’s first impression of a book. Don’t just throw one together in MS Paint and call it a day. Find somebody who knows what they’re doing. Some places, like Smashwords, have an index of cover artists with varying rates. Me, I got lucky. My wife Audrey has an art degree and agreed to do the cover.
About that marketing thing I mentioned…
Figuring out how to market my book has been the hardest part of the whole self-publishing adventure. I created a Facebook page, a Goodreads account, a Twitter account, and a website. I also had an existing Google Plus account, and I’ve started using it to get involved in various writing communities.
Of those I think I’ve been using Twitter and Google Plus the most. They’re great networking resources, and the more people I network with the more people there are to see my book and share it with their friends. Facebook is just a billboard for me so far, a place where I cross post things that show up on my other social media or that I put on my website.
I even experimented with purchasing ad space. I targeted a webcomic that was steampunk with magic – just the sort of thing my book had. The price was pretty reasonable. I think I only spent ten or twelve dollars for a one week ad run. According to the data, that ad got roughly thirty hits, but resulted in few sales. I’m still trying to figure out why that is. After I’ve tweaked a few things, I’ll try another ad run, but only because the price is so cheap. A lot of analysis I’ve read suggests that ad purchases aren’t worth the money – you pay more for the ad than you get back in sales, but I figure it’s worth a couple of shots.
Another aspect of my marketing efforts is garnering reviews. I’ve submitted Clockwork & Old Gods to several review websites. When those reviews go up, anyone who reads those blogs will see and hopefully purchase the book. Many review blogs will also rate the book on Amazon and other bookseller websites. The more positive reviews a book has, the more people are likely to give it a chance and purchase a copy.
Giving it away for free. Wait, what?
There’s also the free marketing method. As in, you give stuff away for free. This may seem counter intuitive if you want to make a living as a writer, but hear me out. The purpose of giving your book away for free is to get more attention. The more people that know about your book the more people there are to tell their friends, or come back and purchase a copy later. Either the book can be priced as free for a limited amount of time, or you can do book giveaways (such as the one associated with this blog post!). Some authors I know who have written series give the first book away for free to entice people to buy the rest of the set.
There’s one additional aspect to this free method of marketing, and that’s DRM. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and it ostensibly protects a creator’s work from the dreaded scourge of internet piracy. Needless to say, I disagree with DRM on ebooks.
The reason I disagree with it is this: piracy basically boils down to people getting your work for free. As we’ve already discussed, more attention on your work is better. Your work can be so secure that nobody can get a copy without paying for it, but if nobody knows it’s there who’s going to be doing the paying? If you let as many people as possible see your work you’ve got that many more people who might actually pay you for it.
Actually, there’s two reasons I disagree with DRM. In this age of digital content, we often times find ourselves renting content when we thought we were purchasing it. Case in point was last year, when Amazon locked a Norwegian woman, Linn Nygaard, out of her Kindle ebooks for no apparent reason. If she’d had DRM free versions of those books it wouldn’t have been an issue.
For those two reasons I made sure my ebook was available DRM free. Share it around. Tell your friends. Ask them to make my day and buy a copy if they liked it.
Wrapping it up
My adventures in self-publishing have only just begun, and I’m still learning and experimenting. Having the freedom to do that experimenting is one of the great things about being self-published. I’ve started writing my second book, a sequel to Clockwork & Old Gods, right here on Protagonize. Currently it’s unimaginatively titled Clockwork Book Two, and making the rough draft in progress visible to everyone is part of my marketing experiments. So is keeping the original Clockwork and Old Gods available. If you like the rough draft you’ll like the finished product, right? Enough to buy it, maybe? Well, that’s the theory anyway.
If I had any advice for someone hoping to self-publish, it would be this: remember step one. Once you have your book written the rest is downhill from there. So keep writing, and keep getting better at it.
You probably know Charles Dickens as the author of holiday favourite “A Christmas Carol.” He was arguably one of the most influential English authors of the Victorian period, and retains that influence today. Other notable works of his include “The Adventures of Oliver Twist,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” and “Great Expectations.”
But did you know that Boz – his pseudonym for a time – was a big fan of collaborative writing? It’s true!
During his time editing a weekly magazine called Household Words, Dickens wrote collaboratively with numerous magazine contributors. In some cases, these stories included up to five or six authors! Sounds a little like our beloved Protagonize, right?
Well, the similarities don’t end there!
Published weekly, Household Words was the perfect vehicle for serialized fiction. Dickens’ novels were always serialized initially, published chapter by chapter, until the story was complete and a full volume could be released. This weekly or monthly publishing format allowed him to gauge the reactions of his readers, and Charles was known to change the plot and characters based on feedback received. Just like we do!
If you want to read one of his collaborative works, check out “A Haunted House,” published in 1859. It contains chapters by Dickens, Hesbah Stretton (a children’s novelist), George Augustus Sala (a journalist), Wilkie Collins (a novelist and playwright), Elizabeth Gaskell (famous for her ghost stories), and Adelaide Anne Proctor (reputedly Queen Victoria’s favourite poet). You can download a free copy in ePub or Kindle format from the University of Adelaide, as well as read it in its entirety from the same site. Enjoy this example of Victorian collaborative writing!
Which authors would you jump at the chance to collaborate with if given the chance? Let us know in the comments!
Welcome back, Protaggers.
We’ve spent the last few posts here on the blog talking about new features available to everyone on the site with the launch of Protagonize 2.0. This evening, we’re launching a new feature specific to Plus subscribers (and believe me, they’ve been patient in waiting for subscriber-specific features.)
So, I’d like to introduce the newest subscriber feature on Protagonize: the ability to Send to Kindle. This new option lets you send any work on the site (in PDF format, for now) to your Amazon Kindle e-reader, provided you’re a Plus member.
I’m sure a few of you are thinking to yourselves, “hey, I don’t have a Kindle, how does this help me?” — let me clarify:
- You don’t need to own a physical Kindle device — the Send to Kindle option works with the (free) Kindle software readers for your PC/Mac, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone devices as well. Don’t have a Kindle app? Grab it here.
- The reason we’re not supporting any other e-reader devices right now is that they don’t offer the option to easily send books or PDFs to your device via email. If other e-readers offer up the option down the road, we’ll be happy to add support. Just drop us a line and let us know, we’ll look into it right away.
With that our of the way, let’s walk through how you can get this feature configured to work with your Kindle. It’s not super-complicated, but thankfully you only need to follow these steps once.
- First off, you’ll need to set your Send to Kindle email address. If you don’t already have one (and if you have a Kindle in any form, you should already have one, whether you know about it or not), you can get it by going to Amazon’s Manage Your Kindle page and finding it in your list of Registered Kindle Reading Apps.
- While you’re there, go to your Personal Document Settings page, and scroll down to Approved Personal Document E-mail List. At the bottom of the list, click the Add link and add
email@example.com your whitelist. This will allow you to receive the works you send to yourself from the site without them going into an approval queue.
- Next, you’ll need to go to your Edit Profile page on Protagonize and paste your Kindle’s email address into the Send to Kindle field at the bottom of the form, then hit Save profile.
That’s it! You’re all set to send works to your Kindle from Protagonize. Now let’s take quick look at how you can send yourself a story from the site. Don’t worry, this part is a snap. :)
Pick any work on the site, and open the Options menu. Right beneath where you’d normally see the Export to PDF option, you’ll now see a new option to (see below):
Click the new Send to Kindle link from the menu, and you’re set. You’ll see a small dialog letting you know that the PDF is being generated, and once it’s finished (which can sometimes take a few seconds), you’ll see another dialog confirming that the document was sent to your Kindle successfully. Poof!
One caveat — keep in mind that sending documents to your Kindle can take a little while as Amazon’s servers process submissions. They warn that it can sometimes take up to an hour for items to be delivered. In practice, it’s usually no more than five minutes or so; sometimes faster. Either way, be forewarned that there may be a delay.
Once the item is delivered to your Kindle, you should see something like this (screenshot is taken on an iPad, so your experience will definitely vary.)
If you have questions or comments about how this works, feel free to ask in the comments below, or contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any issues.
That’s all there is to it. Enjoy!
You may not have noticed this feature yet, but there are already a few of you who’ve started using it.
What’s this about “embedding” stuff?
Media embedding, you say? Let me explain.
Something I’ve always thought would be helpful and entertaining on Protagonize would be to allow audio and video files to be attached to works or pages within them. So while working on the new site, I took the time to devise a way to make this happen.
What this means is that authors can now embed or attach audio and video files to works or individual pages, depending on the original work’s settings. The work’s primary author can determine whether or not media embedding is allowed, and who can add media.
What exactly can be embedded?
Both audio and video clips can be embedded, but they need to be hosted elsewhere. I didn’t think re-inventing the wheel was in order here, so we only allow you to embed clips hosted on larger media hosting sites. For now, we’re restricting things to three major sites: YouTube and Vimeo (video), and Soundcloud (audio). We may add more later, based on user request, as long as they support the oEmbed format for standardized media embedding.
The other neat thing is that you can choose a label for the media you’re adding — it can be inspiration, a reading of the work, a soundtrack, or you can choose from various other options (see above.) The label you select will be displayed above the embedded clip when viewing the attached page.
So, how do you embed media?
Well, first of all, the original author of the work has to allow you to do so. This is done via the Work Options dialog (see above) — by default, any participant in the work can add media, but the primary author can choose to restrict this to only themselves, or nobody.
Assuming you have permission to add media, there’s a button on the byline box (see right) on each page in a work that allows you to trigger the Add Media dialog (see above.) Then it’s just a matter of pasting in a link to the video or audio clip you want to embed, and hitting Save.
You can always edit or remove the attached media by clicking the Edit Media Settings link directly above the clip. Also, the work’s original author can edit or remove media clips on any page in their work, so they retain control if someone adds something they don’t like.
Note: I realize some of you are going to ask about embedding static images like photos or illustrations in your works and pages, but that’s something we’re going to do differently down the road, and will be tied into the Protagonize Plus account upgrade. This option is strictly for audio/video accompaniment.
Have any questions about adding media? Want to show off some creative uses of embedding? Feel free to ask or let us know in the comments.
We’re back today with another Protagonize 2.0 feature overview!
A couple of days ago, we talked about page markers and how they’ve been revamped in the new interface. Today, we’ll talk about another major new feature that is quite intertwined with page markers, as well as recommendations, favourites, and the authors you follow: the Reading List.
What is the reading list?
I teased you about the new reading list feature back when we announced the Protagonize 2.0 launch date, but I didn’t explain what it is or how it works. If you’ve been exploring the new site’s features since we launched, you may have noticed a new tab on your profile and in your author menu (“You” in the top navigation.)
The reading list is meant to be a helpful pointer to stuff you might be interested in reading on the site. It’s an aggregation of your marked pages, your favourites, and your recommended works, as well as what authors you follow are reading. Think of it as a new type of activity feed or “timeline” that only contains stuff you might be interested in reading — no other distractions.
Unlike on the old site, where a lot of those items were hidden to anyone other than you (i.e. you couldn’t see the page markers or favourites of other authors), the reading list is now a public part of your profile. This means that you can go and check out what your friends and authors you follow are reading, too, and use the lists of others as inspiration for your own reading.
How does it work?
Using the reading list is quite straightforward. Your default view, the “All” filter, is a merged view of everything that’s going on between yourself and the authors you follow. Think of it as the “fire hose”, which you can then sort and filter to your heart’s content.
You can then filter on page markers, favourites, authors you’re following, or works you’ve recommended.
You can also narrow the listing by work type (story, poem, exercise, etc.) and sort the list by various orderings, using the drop-down menus on the right-hand side. This gives you a good amount of control over what you see, and how you want to see it. Items from authors you follow are limited to the last 90 days in order to keep things reasonably fresh all the time.
The anatomy of a reading list entry
Wondering what each reading list entry consists of? Let’s look at an example.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the title of the work or page in question is shown first, along with the author’s portrait. Below, you’ll see the work summary, as well as the originating work’s title, if you’re looking at a work page.
At the bottom of each entry, you’ll see the actions that took place (i.e. whether the item was recommended, marked, or favourited), the user who referred the item (if it’s coming from an author you follow), and the date the item was published. Depending on your filters and sort criteria, the fields below each entry will vary slightly and show different pieces of information.
There are still a couple of kinks we need to work out with duplicate entries, but overall it should be a major improvement over what we had previously. The reading list is meant to ideally be a discovery tool to let you jump in and see what your friends are reading, as well as keep track of what you’re reading at the same time.
I encourage you to spend some time checking out not only your reading list, but those of other authors on the site. I’d love to hear what you think about it in the comments below!
Coming up next: We’ll discuss another awesome new feature, embedded media in work pages. Haven’t discovered it yet? You’re in for a treat. :)