Monday, 3 December 2012

INDIE ‘L’ PLATES: MY YEAR OF TECHNOLOGY & SYSTEMS - Sheridan Winn


As fellow members of Authors Electric will know, I have a sometime tricky relationship with technology: it doesn’t always do what I expect it to, although pressing the wrong button might reasonably be regarded as just plain dim. Since technology and business systems have played a greater part of my working life in 2012 than in any other year of my career, I thought I would review the trials.


THE KOBO ISSUE

KOBO, bless ‘em. Are they really geared up for self-publishing authors? Their website is pretty, in a twee kind of way, but their customer care people don’t seem to have a clue what’s happening when you have a problem. In November, I uploaded the first of my Sprite Sister books. On the basis that it all went through okay, I uploaded the other five titles – except they didn’t upload. They got stuck somewhere. I had filled in and ticked all the boxes: have uploaded and re-uploaded my e-titles numerous times on Amazon, so it’s not unfamiliar. Then nothing. You are 75% of the way through, the system told me. But I filled it all in!

Round and round I went. The customer care department were of little help. Please would you explain what has happened, they kept saying. I have, I repeated, and why can’t you see? Are you not connected to the system? I spent three weeks waiting for their website department to unravel the mystery, then deleted the titles (see Amazon).

THE BLOG NIGHTMARE

I want to find a way to write about my big, complicated family, but it would have to be anonymously. My mother has Alzheimer’s and there’s a lot to say, some of it hilariously funny – though probably not to my sisters – and some poignantly sad. ‘I need a voice!’ I kept telling myself.

On a sweltering August afternoon, my daughter tried to set up a new blog account for me, under a new name. She galloped along and I tried hard to keep up, but somewhere, somehow, a button was pressed and suddenly all my blogs and my entire Google identity vanished into cyberspace. I was too shocked to speak. My poor daughter left the house very quietly.

I tried to tell Google, ‘I am who I say I am!’ – but the door would not open. I was locked out of my own account. I no longer existed on Google. After hours of confusion and panic, I managed to create a new blog. I was able to re-load the text and photographs on my Sheridan Winn blogs. However, I lost the photographs on all my Authors Electric blogs.

In terms of sheer panic, this experience felt as if it took years off my life.

PRINT ON DEMAND AND SUPPLYING THE LIBRARIES

Well you can’t. It’s as simple as that. Libraries buy their books from Peters’ Bookselling Services. Lightning Source, my print-on-demand publisher, supply to Bertram’s and Gardner’s but they do not supply to Peters, nor will they, they tell me.

If you write series fiction for children, as I do, you’re pretty much dependent on library borrowers. I can probably persuade Norfolk libraries to order my books, as it’s home turf – but what about Taunton or Aberdeen? You don’t think of this as you set out to self publish: but you should.

We might be able to order them from Amazon on this occasion, Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library told me. My local library, this is the one with the highest footfall and borrowing levels in the UK. The librarians wanted the ‘new-look’ Sprite books: it was just a question of how to acquire them. I offered to supply the books, but this method was declined. As a special request, and for this one occasion, they would order them from Amazon.

I think libraries are amazing and Andrew Carnegie a far-sighted human being, but I wish, as a self-published author, that library purchasing systems would be more flexible. No doubt this will change in time as readers ask for the books of self-published authors, but in the meantime this was possibly the biggest single blow, financially, of 2012. The prospect of my ‘new-look’ series not being in libraries is depressing.

SUPPLYING THE BOOKSHOPS AND HOBSON’S CHOICE

Lightning Source, which supplies my print-on-demand paperbacks, allow me to set the bookseller discount, so I thought I would give 25%. But, as print-on-demand books, my titles would also be non-returnable. Would the bookshops stock them? No, I reckoned, but they would order them in for a customer.

Henry Layte, owner of The Book Hive and a long-time Sprite Sister supporter, told me he’d be happy to stock the new-look Sprite Sisters, but the standard discount was 35%.

Ah. Right. So that means I sell the book at £7.99; the bookseller takes £2.80; Lightning Source takes £3.42. And I’m left with . . . £1.77. Hm. Bit less than I’d expected as author and publisher.

THE PROOF ISSUE

Beware the print specs! Should you colour correct the jacket or not? Lightning Source’s media department has very specific requirements. If you don’t meet them, you may flounder. It took weeks of going back and forth with the artist who’d drawn my new jackets and Lightning Source, to get the files for my six titles absolutely spot on.

Also, I urge anyone publishing as print-on-demand to get a physical proof before signing off the print run. Yes, it costs £21, but you will see things there that you won’t see on the electronic proof. For instance, I didn’t spot that the text for Sprites Vol 1 was grey, not black, on the electronic proof. I’d loaded the wrong file by mistake. However, not realising, I approved the proof and ordered a box of copies at £160. Bad move. Thankfully I was able to reload the text with the correct file for another £27.50. More cost.

THE DISAPPEARING EMAIL NIGHTMARE

Where did they go? Where are the hundreds of mails that were in my Inbox a minute ago? Argh . . .

In October, with an unerring ability to press the wrong button, it transpired I had somehow switched to another mail identity within Entourage on my iMac. With the help of my trusty Mac man all was restored, but it was, to say the least, a little worrying.

ALL MY E-BOOKS FREE ON AMAZON PRIME!

What? Not just one, but all six? I didn’t say you could do that! Or did I? Was was it I agreed with Amazon . . .

Then I remembered I’d signed up for Kindle Select – and one of the conditions was that Amazon could offer your books thus. Quickly, I unselected that option but it won’t come into effect until January.

Thanks to Valerie Laws and her blog of 1st December, I was reminded that, with Kindle Select, I shouldn’t have e-books on any platform other than Amazon. So quickly to KOBO to delete Sprites Vol 1 and the other titles ‘In progress’. Phew.

WITTERING

Twitter has the effect on me similar to flashing lights. I want to turn away.
I know I should do it, but I just can’t summon up the enthusiasm. I realise I am Grumpy Old Woman at last.

FACEBOOK

Non starter (see Twitter).

EIN OR ITIN? UNRAVELLING THE US TAX SYSTEM

In the early summer, I decided to apply for a US tax number. Ex-Authors Electric blogger Simon Cheshire advised me to call the US Embassy in London. Apparently that department gives you another number to ring, and, when you get through to that department, they will give you an EIN over the phone. I waited an hour to get through then hung up.

Leave it, I thought – and did until I tried to register with NOOK last week. This e-book platform, owned by Barnes & Noble, requires you to have a US Tax ID Number to register. But now that I have a company, do I need an EIN or an ITIN? Perhaps my accountant can sort this – for a fee.

WRITING

Way behind. Been too busy with the business and technology side of things and now have 40,000 words to write by the end of the year. Ha.


HOWEVER . . .

Early this year I set out to:-

  •  buy back the Sprite Sisters book rights from Piccadilly Press
  • sell my sixth title direct to Fischer Verlag
  • commission new jackets for the original five Piccadilly titles
  •  re-publish the six stories as print-on-demand paperbacks and as e-books
  •  start writing a blog for my website
  • write a humorous blog anonymously
  • write and publish the seventh Sprite Sisters book
  • find an agent to sell my books in Japan

It took months to re-edit and re-format the six books, and it cost a bomb. But it’s all done and I now have a terrific set of paperbacks and e-books to send to the US and out to film production companies, as well as sell.

I managed six out of my eight aims, which is not bad going considering the multiple challenges faced this year.

Next year I’ll aim to be more techno-savvy – but that may be a bit of a long-shot.


My best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013 to you all!




Sheridan Winn is the author of the bestselling Sprite Sisters books.
You can find out more about her at: www.sheridanwinn.com




12 comments:

Chris Longmuir said...

An amusing summary, I loved it. I approached my friendly local bookseller! And he said the standard discount is 40% but because I was local he'd do 35%. I declined!

Charles Christian said...

Great piece Sheri - I think the key lesson here is that if you want to be an author in the digital age, you can't rest on your laurels but have to keep continually honing your technical skills (that includes IT + epublishing + marketing + business development & commercial negotiations).

You also need to be continually monitoring the epublishing scene, for example Amazon seems to be rewriting its Kindle rules on a daily basis. Here's a link to a recent story (not by me) http://ht.ly/fKTGb

Final comment: well done Sheri for not saying "This is more aggro than it's worth, I'd be better off running a tea-shop in Bognor."

Simon Cheshire said...

I think you did very well to get six items from your list of eight done. Being an indie author requires so many skills and activities beyond actual writing it's a wonder any of us ever write anything any more. 40k words by the end of the year? Easy peasy.

Debbie said...

We're not supposed to write as well, are we? Nobody told me that...

Kathleen Jones said...

Thanks Sheri - you made me smile. I'm in my second year and I still press the wrong button. We've also had the same issues with Kobo that you had. We deleted the books, waited for a few days and then re-loaded. Customer care were useless, unlike Amazon. Didn't think you could publish on Nook unless you had an American address?
Or have I missed something?

John Worrall said...

Well, Sheri, it beats doing Sudoku.
On the book retailers’ discount, it was always 35% when I was flogging mine around the bookshops which makes ebooks in particular, with their 70% (Amazon) author’s royalty and smaller (possibly even zero) production cost, look a reasonable proposition for self-publishing writers IF they can raise awareness sufficiently and if tablet sales are anywhere near matched by a move by readers – and in your case, young readers - to reading that way. But right now, ebook, POD or upfront print run, or which combination, for the greatest return? Give it another decade and we’ll all be wiser – or dead. Revolutions never hurry up when you want them to.
But on POD, Lightning Source and library supply by Peters’ Bookselling only, Bertram’s has a department called Bertram Library Services, known as BLS in the trade, which supplies libraries and claims to be the largest outfit doing so. Look on their website and then ask Lightning Source about that.

Sheridan Winn said...

Thank you for all your encouraging comments!

Chris, yes 35% is heinous, but what to do if you want the be in the bookshops?

Charles, I will note down the Bognor Tea Shop Idea as Plan B.

Simon - such wonderful optimism!

Debbie - I do wonder! It's the focus that I find difficult with so much going on. I need a clear space in which to write.

Kathleen - that's interesting about Nook. They seemed to have a scroll-down bar for a UK address and accepted my postcode.
I can't upload the titles though until I have the flipping US tax number and have come off KDP Select. Uh!

John - we're the crazy vanguard! My great-great-great aunt Eliza crossed the Rockies in the wagons and lived to 101. I am not going to be beaten by e-publishing!

Rosie Winn said...

Well done for all the hard work and sorry I lost your blogs, Mum!

Daisy in Brighton said...

Sheridan is a really good writer and definitely knows how to entertain children. I would recommend her books to any girl who would like to pick up good vocabulary,and also to girls who want something very imaginative.
Well done Sheri!!!
best regards from your NO1 reader,
Daisy

julia jones said...

Speaking as a former bookseller you'd be surprised how hard it used to be to make any profit at all on 35%- rent and rates and heat and insurance and (possibly) staff and fittings and equipment and tax and theft and damage and the books just just sit there, looking sad. And those were the happy days of the Net Book Agreement. I'd have no chance of surviving now

Sheridan Winn said...

Thank you, daughter mine: we got it sorted!

Thank you Daisy, My No 1 Sprite Sister Fan! I'm delighted to know you are following Authors Electric!

Julia, thanks for your comment. From my perspective the 35% seemed high when Henry Layte told me, but he made the point that this was what he had to charge to survive.

He has a wonderful bookshop in Norwich, The Book Hive, which we all try to support - like a rare species. Fingers crossed.

I also had a mail from Sarah Salmon at Norwich Library, who tells me that Peters now have a deal with Gardners, which is encouraging!


Hils said...

An amusing and well-written piece. Keep it up!