Tag Archives: novel

Thinking outside the book cover

I’ve had not one but two completely new and possibly brilliant ideas and I have two brilliant people to thank for them. If they work, they will help me sell more books, but more importantly, they will be the two new shots of adrenaline I need to keep going. In this preoccupation with trying to sell books and land a publishing contract, I’d forgotten that there are other creative ways to express myself while getting my name “out there.” At least one of them is comedy-specific, but I hope they make you think outside of the confines of the book covers.

The credit for the first idea goes to Josh. He’s about to get up on stage for the first time in twenty years and try stand-up comedy again. He’d done it in his youth and had some success, but ultimately had to stop because the experience was so stressful and literally gut-wrenching. He’s been talking about an open mike night at the bar around the corner for nearly two years, and now that he has a looming deadline, he wants me to do it with him. I’ve said “no” before because while I love comedy, I feel that my calling is to write it, not perform it and because I don’t have any standup material to perform. But for some reason today, maybe because it’s so stinking hot and my brains are melting, it suddenly seemed like a great idea. First of all, I have tons of material – two books worth of it. All I have to do is take the one-liners I’ve been tweeting and put them together with some intro and transitions. Secondly, if I started doing that with any new material, still in draft, I can get instant feedback on what is funny and what may fall flat. I have just over a week to put together a five-minute routine, and I’m so doing it. There will be video evidence posted shortly thereafter and I hope it prompts me to do more open mikes in the future.

The second set of credits goes to my friends, a lovely creative couple who have genuinely “made it” by transitioning from acting and theater directing in their spare time to now running a successful children’s theater company. They are also involved in a monthly event in Melbourne called Crash Test Drama, which brings together scriptwriters, directors, and actors. Imagine this – as an actor, showing up one Saturday morning, receiving your one-sentence audition piece, practicing it for about fifteen minutes, and then getting up on the stage in groups of four or five, for an opportunity to say that sentence in some novel way. A group of writers and directors would then cast you (if you are lucky) in one of 10-minute plays chosen for the day. You’d have about an hour to rehearse and then would have to perform the play in front of the others (you’re allowed to read from the script). Talk about pressure!

I’d participated in Crash Test Drama before, but only as an actor. It didn’t occur to me to submit an excerpt from Shizzle, Inc, until a few weeks ago, when we were having a couples dinner out. We were talking about the next event, and for some reason, maybe because of the relentless heat or too many margaritas, it suddenly seemed like a really good idea to submit an excerpt. I’ve just submitted two – the scene in which Isa and Dad argue about science, housing market, and computers before he helps her with Yomama merger, and the one in which Mr. Hue spouts his dubious business advice while Isa tries to come up with a blame strategy for her failures. I should know by the end of March if I get to be on the other side of the audition game on 22 April.

What do you think? Are there any other ways to blow off humor steam? I’ve been doing it in meetings, too, but the problem is that I can’t follow a laugh with “Oh, you liked that? Then buy my book!” And that’s exactly what I plan on doing at the end of my standup routine. I won’t try to sell it to actors, they are notoriously broke, but in my previous dealings with Crash Test Drama, I was once approached by a TV program director. She wanted to know how she could find me if she ever needed Ukrainian actors instead of Australians trying to fake a Russian accent, and nothing ever came of it, but you never know. This time she may want to option Isa and the gang for a pilot. It could happen.

Hope this prompts a brilliant idea of your own.

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Quick How-To: add bold and italic text to your Amazon book description

I’ve promised a hurricane of activity leading up to my Literary Speed Dating date on 24 June, and one of them is updating book blurbs. Content is king, of course, but even a king could benefit from a little mascara. Just ask Johnny Depp.

So, speaking of using the equivalent of a Kohl pencil to give your book description that extra impact, have a look at Shizzle, Inc’s updated book blurb. What do you think? Have you always wanted to bold the hell out of your tagline but never knew how to do it? I have good news – it’s easy.

As it turns out, KDP’s supports some HTML for book descriptions. I’ve only used bold and italic so far, but it’s good to know where to go for reference if I ever want to add a horizontal line or something else fancy. If you’ve come across a beautifully composed book blurb, please share!

Back to the nitty-gritty. This is how Shizzle, Inc description looks in HTML, when I paste it into the “description” field of KDP form:

<b>What could possibly happen when a gloriously dippy millennial becomes the right hand of an equally clueless playboy billionaire?</b>
Be prepared to face-palm as you follow Isa Maxwell on a dizzying ride through the world of corporate intrigue; roll your eyes at the dubious business advice of Mr. Hue, the owner of Shizzle, Inc.; cringe as you are sucked into the Maxwell family drama.
Praised as “not only a hysterically funny romp through corporate practices but an astute satire on current American culture,” Shizzle, Inc. offers a hilarious escape from reality.

<b>Praise for Shizzle, Inc.:</b>

Writers Digest:
<i>”I loved this book. It has everything that we want to see in a great story. The situation is unique. The character is relatable and likable. The opening was fantastic. It drew the reader in and made them want to read more. The production values would stand up to any book being published by New York today.”</i>

<b>Independent reviews:</b>
<i>“Ana has delivered a fresh and completely novel, pun intended, novel. If you are up for a joy ride with all the bumps, crashes and with the characters running around like something right out of the Keystone Cops, this novel is for you.”
“This is smart kind of humor – blondes would not be able to understand it.”
“Funny beyond words! Sort of like Forest Gump but with a higher IQ.”
“The top-notch humor hides poignant critique. This is a very intelligent silly story!”
“Some of us fancy ourselves more evolved than Bridget Jones, others don’t. Either way, Ana Spoke got you.”</i>

Try it for yourself. If you make a mistake, it’s easy to change, but it’s a good idea to compose your text first in this Try It Editor to quickly work out any issues.

Have fun, but beware: just like with makeup, more is not necessarily better.

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Literary Speed Dating

Did you know such thing even existed? No, it’s not authors dating authors, although maybe that’s not a bad idea either. It’s an event organised by an author society, where about a dozen publishers get to hear 3-minute pitches from writers that want to traditionally publish their books. I’ve known about the one organised by Australian Society of Authors for years now, but it has always sold out in a matter of days if not hours. This year, however, I get to go!

How did I do it? As usual, with dogged persistence. When I missed out last year, I went ahead and put a recurring reminder into my calendar to check the website for the next year’s announcement. Because I was told it would happen “early next year,” the reminder started on 1 January and repeated every day until now. I kept checking the website and was starting to lose hope when voila! There was the announcement and the web form. I tried to submit it a couple of times, but it didn’t work. When I called them, the staff member was in shock because she did not know it was already published on the web, it was supposed to get her approval or something. She took my credit card details (the event costs $50 AUD) and after much begging from me, sent me an email confirming that yes, I’m in.

So yay! On 24 June I get to finally meet those elusive publishers who so far managed to hide behind their assistants and template rejection letters. I have four months to finish my new book and to plan my assault. Me thinks I will be pitching not only the story, but myself too – the doggedly persistent author of not one, but three books. Gimme a contract for three novels over two years! I will deliver!

I will be posting about my experience, of course, and whether the event was worth the $50 (plus the membership with Writers Victoria). If you live in Australia, you may want to put a reminder in your calendar for next January or get onto the waiting list. If you live elsewhere, contact your local author society to see if they are doing something similar, or suggest that they do.

I know it’s a long time away, but the deadline got me even more energized to continue writing, and that alone is worth the fifty bucks. So far I’d managed between 800 and 1,100 words per day over the first three days, and that’s after long, hard days at work. let’s just see what happens over the weekend.

Hope you are well and that the Muse has visited you too, if not in the shower, then maybe in your dreams, or in the long boring meeting. Whenever it is, invite her in.

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Saying goodbye to permafree. Or the 70% royalty. Or both.

Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus

Promoting and marketing

Only to see my sales tumble

The watched pot may never boil, but whenever I take my eyes off the sales charts for a few weeks, the algorithms bury my books in the bottomless pit of the millions of unknown titles. Even worse, when I run back to the kitchen and fan the flames with marketing, the download peaks last only a day or two. Just look at the Exhibit A:

free-downloads-in-october

Fyi, the companies responsible for the peaks you’re seeing are as follows:

5 October – I don’t know whom to thank for the 367 downloads as I’d applied for a number of free services and apparently got picked up by somebody without confirmation.

24 October – BookHippo featured author, 102 downloads for FREE.

25 October – BKNights with 226 downloads for $11.

29 October – My Book Cave with 117 downloads for FREE.

As you can see, the “normal” downloads between promotions are just 3-5 books per day. What makes this even more frustrating is that I’m trying to give the first book away FOR FREE. Not only that, the permafree strategy has been in place since May, and yet instead of the snowball effect, what I have is that proverbial boulder, freefalling back to zero the moment I stop pushing. Wait, it gets worse. I jumped into permafree hoping for 2% “buy-through” of the second book, but so far it’s been less than 1% with the second book priced at $2.99. And for whatever reason, my KENP pages for Indiot have completely disappeared. Here is the Exhibit B for the same time period:

paid-sales-in-october-2016

This sucks big time, which means that I need to do something about it. Considering that I don’t want to “write to the market” or go on yet another cover redesign go-round, I’ve decided to change my pricing strategy. Radically. Like, smash it into pieces. Here are the two strategies I’m considering:

  1. Make both books $0.99 and available only through Kindle Select. Promote both with paid ads.
  2. Keep Shizzle, Inc as permafree and make Indiot $0.99 and promote only Shizzle, Inc as a freebie.
  3. Make both books free. Well, not really, but what the hell, how do I get Isa to go viral? She is destined for the big screen. I’m even more convinced of that having just suffered through “No Stranger Than Love.”

I’m thinking of trying both strategies 1&2 in stages. For starters, I am about to run a Countdown Deal on Indiot, before I make it perma-$0.99. Then after a month or so, make Shizzle, Inc $0.99 as well. Wait another month. Finish the third book. Send it to a hundred literary agents. Give up on Isa and write something along the lines of “How To Sell A Ton Of Books Without Really Trying.” That has worked for some.

If anyone has any better ideas, I’m all ears. Thank you in advance.

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My experience with a NetGalley co-op by Patchwork Press

If you’ve seen my Super-Duper List of Book Advertising Websites, then you may have noticed my moaning about the $399 NetGalley signup fee. That’s just so you can give your book away for free to book bloggers and other professionals, in hopes that they will post a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Needless to say, I was in no mood to take that big of a financial hit, until I came across another author mentioning Patchwork Press and the NetGalley co-op service they provide. Basically, instead of paying $399 to list one of your books for six months, you get to try the service for much, much less – in fact, a year-long listing through the co-op would cost only $360. You can try NetGalley for one month for just $50. It sounded too good to be true, but I can spare a fifty, so I was willing to try it.

I listed Shizzle, Inc for one month from late July to August. To simplify things, I’ve decided to break my review into two parts: my experience with Patchwork Press and my opinion of NetGalley.

Patchwork Press:

  1. First of all, the co-op is not a hoax! Yay! Shizzle, Inc was listed on Netgalley as promised (the listing is now archived). The reason you pay less is that (I assume), Patchwork Press (PP) pays a publisher fee and gets to list a large number of titles, at a fraction of a cost for each.
  2. PP has a responsive customer service – all my emails were answered promptly. There was a glitch when Shizzle, Inc was not posted on the day I wanted, but I got a prompt apology and the listing was extended as a bonus.
  3. Great customer service continued throughout, not just until I paid the bill – something was wrong with my epub file, but PP offered to sort it for me. I was given an option to provide a Word file, which they converted.
  4. PP did all the assessments of requests and chose who should or shouldn’t get a copy of my book. You may prefer to have control over this aspect of the service, but I was happy to let them use their experience and judgement.
  5. Every time a review was posted, I got an email from NetGalley asking if I wanted to have it added to the book’s page. I had to forward this email to PP if I wanted the review to be added, and they did so very quickly (in less than a day).
  6. There’s no option to use NetGalley’s marketing services, but I’m about to ask PP if that option exists but is not advertised by them.

NetGalley:

  1. I don’t know how many requests Shizzle, Inc had, but I got 5 reviews in the span of a month – 4 positive and 1 negative.
  2. Turns out that people have the option to vote on the cover. This was an added bonus, as I’ve designed the cover myself and continuously worry if it’s good enough. The cover got 9 “thumbs up” and 1 “thumbs down.”
  3. I can’t weigh in on the marketing option (which is an additional $200 for your book to be included in a newsletter). NetGalley claims to have 30,000 subscribers to the newsletter, so I would imagine it would be a huge difference in the number of reviews.
  4. You may choose not to add the negative reviews to your book listing (as I did). However, you can’t control what gets posted on other platforms, so I got one negative review as a result. Bummer. But I did get four positive reviews, including one after the listing was archived. That’s an average of $10 per review, via an acceptable and perfectly legal platform.

Overall, I would recommend trying a co-op service. Apparently, there are others out there, such as Victory Editing for as little as $40/month. If you know of any others, please let me know!

May the positive reviews be with you.

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Filed under Self-publishing and marketing, Shizzle, Inc.

Happy belated birthday to Shizzle, Inc!

With all the recent health drama going on, I completely forgot that on 4 September was the one-year anniversary of Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell Escapades Book 1) hitting the Kindle “shelves.” My brain is slowly returning to its usual programming after I finally heard the three sweetest words in the English language – “it was benign.” While I’m facing several more weeks of tough recovery – I still can’t stand up straight or walk for more than a few minutes at a time – it’s nothing compared to the agony of anticipation and anxiety.

I’ve been a published author for just over a year. How crazy. I have a bottle of champagne in my fridge, which will pop as soon as I’m off the cocktail of painkillers. Too bad I can’t have a sip right now, because I do have quite a few reasons to celebrate. I transitioned from a decade of dreaming about being a published author to having two books self-published. I took a massive five months off work to pursue this writing dream. I started #ComedyBookWeek and saw the inaugural event soar with 117 participating titles. I have made lots and lots of connections with other authors, have learned from them, and shared my experiences in turn.

Speaking of experiences, few things compare to the joy ride of getting your first book published. The high of seeing it on Amazon. The low of pathetic sales. The high of doing something about the low sales, be that paid advertising or trick after marketing trick. The low of realizing this is one of the worst ROIs you’ve ever had. The high of the first 5-star review. The low of the first (and second, and third) 1-star review. It doesn’t end, and it doesn’t get old, and eventually you learn to accept it for what it is. The learning curve is very steep in that first year, and I have learned lots, namely:

  1. I have improved as a writer as I continued to work on the second novel, so it’s been difficult (but necessary) to let go of the first book and stop trying to fix it. I did hire the fourth (!) editor to clean out Australianisms, but will not worry about it again. I will move on and write more, because Ana’s opus is yet unwritten.
  2. I have learned A TON about marketing a book. From cover design to launching, to which paid advertising sites work, and which don’t. If you haven’t seen my Super-Duper List of Book Advertising Sites, check it now. It may save you a few bucks. I haven’t hit NY Times list yet, but while Shizzle, Inc sold 12 copies in it’s first week, Indiot sold over 100 in the same amount of time.
  3. Speaking of sales, Shizzle, Inc sold a total of about 800 copies in its first 8 months, at $3.99, then $2.99, and finally $0.99. Its permafree now and thousands of free copies have been downloaded (I wish I kept a better eye on the numbers, as I can only look back at the last 90 days). It was hard work to push these sales along – I have not made my money back on all of my paid advertising experiments, and even the free downloads have withered down to nothing over the last few weeks, without ads. Just for fun, here are the last month’s charts: Shizzle, Inc free downloads shizzle-on-12-sept …and Indiot paid sales indiot-on-12-sept
  4. Going permafree was a difficult, but exciting decision, and one I still stand by. No, it’s not helping to pay back the investment, but Shizzle, Inc now has 73 reviews, and I am inching my way towards that elusive BookBub promo. Indiot is not doing too shabby, either, with 12 reviews in its first two months of existence.
  5. Speaking of reviews, I’ve learned to accept them as they are. At first, the 1-star reviews hurt so much that I’d even written A Simple Guide to Overcoming 1-star Review Grief. Now I just make sure that I read those bad reviews only once. The 5-star reviews, however, I read again and again. Kid you not, some of the early positive reviews I’ve read at least twenty times, and will undoubtedly read again. They have been a healing balm and a fuel to keep me going.
  6. I’ve learned that moving a book in a brick-and-mortar store is practically impossible. It was a thrill to see my book on a bookstore shelf and then into the bookstore’s front window, but I sold just two copies that way. From now on, I will concentrate on electronic book sales, until one of the big publishing houses offers to take this chore off my hands.
  7. Social media. Oh, boy, what have I not tried with social media? I went wide, and now there are dead accounts on just about every platform. My main lesson there was not to spread myself thin and to concentrate on just a couple of venues, which are this blog and Twitter for me. I did learn a lot about Goodreads, but Found Instagram and Facebook to be too much of a chore with little return.

This was an intense year, and I could probably go indefinitely with the dot-points, but I think the most important thing is that I’m still here and still kicking, despite now being well aware of the realities of self-publishing. It’s difficult, it’s often discouraging, expensive, time-consuming, and confusing. Good thing that it’s also liberating, empowering, educating, and inspiring. I’ve been a self-published author for one year, which is both a long time and not nearly long enough to count any chickens yet. I like to play this game sometimes, where the future me has something to say in terms of advice or encouragement. I’d like to think that Ana 2020 would thank me for not giving up on this dream the way I gave up on sculpture or breeding rare fish (okay, that one was a doozy).

Happy Birthday, Shizzle, Inc. I’m so glad to have you in my life.

 

 

 

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Whatever you do, keep going

So, life has served me a curve ball, followed by an uppercut, and then a short left. I will explain later when I’m able to put it in words, but for now, I’d like to share a personal blast from a past with you:

IMG_3250

This is a 12-year old relic of my attempt to become a professional sculptor – note the date in the upper-right corner. The numbers refer to the two miniature sculptures pictured, the one on the left is “-4” because I numbered #1 the first miniature I’d sold on eBay. The one on the right is #22 and once I finished it, it had won an honorable mention in an international doll competition:

22goodfull

The reason I wanted to show you the first photo, was to remind you (and myself) that the most important thing we, creatives, can do is to keep going. With each sculpture or draft, we are getting better and closer to that all-important goal of producing something beautiful, something of value, and something that can make us proud. When I made that “-4”, I thought I was pretty darn clever and good to make something that cute. My sister loved it. I now laugh at that memory. Nobody saw it, thank God, and I continued making more and more miniatures until I became a self-taught pro at making realistic faces that are no larger than your thumbnail. If you don’t believe it, have a look at my Purelines website, which somehow is still up. Yes, those dolls have real eyelashes, and yes, that’s my hand in the photos.

I went on to make more sculptures, with a burning desire to become a portrait sculptor. One of my favourites is of a famous actress I hope you can recognise:

Angelina in clay

I finally gave up when it became too obvious that people did not want to pay for sculptures, or rather to pay for the hundreds of hours it takes to make one. I hope to pick it up again one day when I have more time and less pressure to make a living. Until then, I will write books that don’t sell with the hope of one day becoming so damn good at this writing thing, my new release will become an instant success.

Even if it has to be a #22.

 

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#ComedyBookWeek review – Beaver vs. Beaver by Portia Porter, Esq.

I couldn’t help myself – despite going nuts with trying to figure out HTML and keep track of all the updates, I’ve read another book from the 117 funny books on offer at #ComedyBookWeek. This is not an ordinary event, and it features some not-so-ordinary books. It shouldn’t be surprising then, that Beaver vs, Beaver came out at me from the left field. It’s a humorous memoir of a divorce lawyer, striking out on her own for the first time, and landing her very first client – a multi-millionaire, no less. I don’t know what I expected, although it was probably something along the lines of Ally McBeal. It promised an insider look into the family law court, and I settled in, looking forward to some light reading and maybe relieving my dreams of being an attorney. ‘Cause I could totally do that. I work hard, and I can look adorable when in the right mood and viewed from the right angle.

Oh. My. God. This was so not Ally McBeal.

Yes, it’s an insight into the law practice, alright. And yes – it’s funny when Portia Porter pulls down the pants of the legal practice and reveals all of its warts. It’s like she’s the Julian Assange of family law, but without that rapey vibe. There’s the part towards the end of the book, where the narrative steps away from the main story and details some of the ways the lawyers go about screwing each other, the judge, vice versa, the client and vice versa, and various combinations of the above. Because of that, I see this book as a short course for potential clients, told in a humorous way. Portia is also a Malcolm Gladwell of sorts – educating you about something as painful and dry as divorce proceedings through storytelling and humor.

The story is told from the first person, but you get to understand what Portia in the story doesn’t yet know. It’s gut-wrenching in the way that makes people in movie theaters yell “Don’t open that door!” I actually had to stop in the middle of the book and take a walk when she did open that door – the pain of anticipating the ultimate swindle was excruciating. I don’t want to reveal too much, sufficient to say that I found the resolution of the story very satisfying.

The voice of the book is both intelligent and lighthearted:

“Lawyers on TV—at least the ones who play the good sort—never have the smallest problems with their memory and organization. All the exhibits are always at their fingertips, they never forget a date, they have the statutory Codes memorized cold, even when they must quote what is a five sub-paragraph deep citation.”

“8:55 A.M. Judge’s bench still empty. It’s just me, Ms. “Human Coil” Boom and the sheriff.
9:10 A.M. No change.
9:20 A.M. No change.
9:25 A.M. Starting to lose hope. The judge forgot about us probably.
10:10 A.M. The back door opens . . . false alarm! It’s the Judge’s Secretary Tonya, the author of the cryptic email.”

Expertly written, flowing prose has been just as expertly edited, something that is too often overlooked. I’ve learned quite a few things from reading this book – for starters, that I’m not cut out for the court. That if I ever do have to hire a lawyer, I’ll make sure I won’t have to fire him or her. Oh, and that I will have to read her other books: Can You Stiff Your Divorce Lawyer? and Alienation of Affections.

Buy Beaver vs. Beaver to read just for kicks, and then to keep on your bookshelf, you know, just in case. Buy it if you or anyone you know is considering a divorce. And, for the love of God, buy it for that bright-eyed daughter or niece of yours that is nurturing dreams of being the next Ally McBeal.

You can thank me later.

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#ComedyBookWeek review – There’s been a Change of Plans by Amy Koko

Hey, it’s Day 7 of 8-day-long #ComedyBookWeek! It has been a surreal experience, and a hectic one, with emails pouring into my inbox every day, asking to add even more books to the participating list. Good thing I’ve been on leave, because all my energy went into making sure all the links work and all the emails are answered.

This has been going on for the last month or so, and to tell you the truth, I did not plan to review any of the participating books – simply no time. Still, one of the blurbs attracted my attention. The next thing I knew, I was reading “Look Inside” excerpt of There’s Been A Change Of Plans: A Memoir about Divorce, Dating and Delinquents in Mid-Life, and once I finished that, I had to know what happens next.

The author pretty much had me at the opening scene, in which she is admiring her brand-spanking-new washer and dryer and expecting an announcement about the overseas trip from her husband. Instead, she gets some unexpected news – there’s been a change of plans. No trip to Italy – Amy is about to embark on a rollecoaster ride through mid-life crisis.

I finished this book in two days. I would have read it in one setting, if not for the constantly dinging email notifications. It’s a true story, but told in such a funny, engaging voice, that I had to remind myself that this has actually happened to a real person and not to some fictional character. I was cheering along and face-palming with every twist and turn of the plot…I mean, the real story! I caught myself anticipating the reveal of the Other Woman’s hair style and body type; getting angry at The Husband; cringing at The Dates; and getting frustrated with The Job Search.

This is officially my very first review, so I am probably not following the Best Practice of Book Reviews. All I can say is that I loved it, and that the protagonist reminded me of Isa Maxwell, so I can confidently recommend this book to anyone who liked one of my own books. As mentioned, I found the voice of the author to be the best part of the whole experience, so I’d like to share a few of my favourite quotes with you:

“I pictured myself in the Pinellas County jail, my orange jumpsuit stained with sweat and maybe a little pee, eating beans from a tray with a spork and all bloated from not pooping in months.”

“No more drunk e-mails that now, for sure, had killed any chance I ever had at running for governor.”

“Think! I tell myself, think back to that day roughly thirty years ago when you made that brilliant decision to drop out of college. What was your career goal?”

“…for a moment I was temporarily blinded by a vision of me drinking champagne at gallery openings and exhibits, where the artist would probably approach
me and ask if he could paint me and I would have to politely decline and walk away leaving him standing there breathless and disappointed.”

“Yes, I went into divorce kicking and screaming and drunk texting with some slight stalking thrown in. But on a positive note, I came out stronger and with some great new underwear.”

All I can say is, give the “Look Inside” excerpt a go – I’m willing to bet you won’t be able to put it down.

After reading the book, I just had to learn more about the author, and luckily she was willing to answer my questions. Everyone, please put your hands together for Amy Koko!

amy cover photo

Hi, Amy, and thank you for your time to answer the questions that I’m sure will be on the mind of other readers. For starters, your book is hilarious, especially the comedic voice, which I’m sure took years to develop. When and how did you come to be a comedian? Is it genetic or learned? Can you recall the first time you’ve made an audience of at least one laugh?

I will be honest Ana, I never really tried to be funny, I just started writing and this is what came out, so I am going to say it is genetic. That being said, I definitely have my comedic idols that I turn to for inspiration, such as Nora Ephron, Helen Fielding and I adore Mindy Kaling and Amy Schumer. Jenny Lawson is another favorite.

Do you have other outlets for your comedy, such as acting or stand up?

Oh my gosh no! I am horrible at telling jokes, I start speeding up as I get closer to the punch line and find people staring at me, mouths open, like, “What? I don’t get it,” as they head back to the humus dip.

Is your book mixing fact with fiction, or is it autobiographical? If it is close to the truth, how did you feel about a tell-all story – did you have fears or backlash from anyone?

Ana, this story is 100% true. Names have been changed such as my husband’s and my children and I also had to change Doritos to “chips” but it is all true. I did fear some backlash and long lasting effects on my kids, after all it does go into some very personal details of my intimate life with my husband, their father. Still, I felt like my story could help and hopefully inspire other women out there going through this gut wrenching experience so I had to get it out there, and I believe my kids are proud.

How long did it take you to create this book, from the first idea to publishing? How long did each stage take, for example, the concept, the first draft, and then preparing for publishing?

The book took me roughly a year of devoted writing. This includes formulating the book proposal which is actually harder than writing the book! It has to include your marketing strategy, stats and analytics, and WHO is going to actually buy your book and a completed table of contents. This 50 page document complete with the first three chapters, is what my agent was able to sell to the publisher. I met with my writing coach every two weeks which helped keep me on track and accountable.

How did you find the experience of selling your book to a traditional publisher?

The first step for me was finding an agent which is no easy task as any writer will tell you. Talk about low self esteem…wow! It’s not for the faint of heart that’s for sure. It was my agent who actually sold this book to a large publisher and I was thrilled beyond words. Imagine how devastated I was months later, when they told me that they had lost several editors and were no longer doing memoirs. I was able to keep my advance but they would not be publishing the book. My agent then sold it to a small independent publisher, Martin-Brown who published it in October.

What is next for you? Will we see more autobiographical stories, or will it be fiction? Have you thought of turning your book into a screenplay?

I am currently working on a fiction novel, although isn’t everything we write really based on things we know? I am excited about the concept and plan to have it finished in late September. It is a hysterical tale of a midlife woman who moves from a small town in Florida to New York City and becomes a…oops…you’re going to have to read it!

I would love to turn my book into a screenplay and as a matter of fact I have been looking for courses in screenplay writing as I have never attempted one before. I do think that Change of Plans, and my new book as well would do great as screenplays.

What do you wish you’ve done differently – or what were your biggest lessons learned?

As far as my book goes, my biggest wish is that I had paid for a professional editor. I now know I cannot edit my own work, it’s like trying to find imperfections in your children’s faces which we all know is impossible because they are totally perfect. So that is a BIG lesson learned for going forward. The other lesson I learned is to stop doubting and start doing. Life is short and based on the rate that my eyebrows seem to be disappearing, I don’t think I’m getting any younger.

Once again, please put your hands together for Amy Koko…I mean, put them on the keyboard and download her book:

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Save $150 and a week – quick how-to format a CreateSpace book interior yourself

When I published Shizzle, Inc last year, I paid somebody to format the PDF interior layout. It cost me about $150 and a week of back-and-forth with a reputable company, that did a good job. Eventually. The problem is, now I have to pay them again because I have had the book re-edited by an American editor. And again if I want to change a single comma – they did it on a Mac, and even though they were nice enough to provide the Word file, it looks like garbage when I open it on my PC.

In case you’ve never had to deal with an interior file and don’t know what it is – it’s a PDF of your book, laid out exactly the way your book will look, from the first page to the last. It includes the title page, page numbers, book name and your name at the top of each page, drop-caps (the first letter of the chapter being ten times bigger than other letters), the exact font, and all that. It sounds easy, but it takes time to make your book look beautiful, and that’s why the pros charge you for it.

So anyway, this time around, I was determined to tackle the formatting of Indiot myself. I mean, there are templates for this kind of thing, so how difficult could it be?

Try two days of pulling hair, yelling at your computer, and yelling “I’m busy!” at the phone when it dings just as you’ve discovered an odd blank page in your document. When you (I mean, I) do anything the first time around, it takes five times longer and hurts ten times worse than it should. I spent two days working on the file but, after an emergency nap, I can assure you that it could have been done in two hours if one (I mean, I) knew what they were doing.

The following is not intended to be a complete guide, it’s more of the step-by-step blueprint of what I will do next time to complete the file formatting process. Just so that I don’t forget how I did it or what lessons I’ve learned. It assumes that you’re using Word, and none of them fancy-shmancy designer thingamajigs.

  1. Download an interior template from CreateSpace. I chose a 6×9 preformatted template. I did try to use a blank template at first, but that would require more Word skills that I currently possess. The preformatted template already looks like a book, so you can understand what it is you’re supposed to do.
  2. On the title page, type in the title and author name, changing the fonts to match the book cover.
  3. Copy and paste the copyright page and the dedication. Make sure the ISBN numbers match that of the paperback edition, not the ebook format!
  4. Type in your name and book name in the header. Title font in header should match the font used for the body of text, for a clean look. I’ve tried doing the same title font as the cover, but it’s distracting.
  5. If you have few chapters, copy and paste each chapter in place of the “placeholder chapters” text using “merge formatting” option. DO NOT use “text only” – I realised only later that it meant ALL my italicised text became un-italicised and had to re-do it ALL.
  6. If you have lots of short chapters (Lord, Indiot has 44 of those), delete all chapters except for one, the copy and paste your entire book into one chapter. You now have to manually find each chapter heading, highlight it and apply appropriate style. If that’s a pain, just do each chapter manually.
  7. When adding more chapters, make sure to include section breaks at the end of each chapter – they keep the header from appearing above your chapter title. Go to Page Layout-Page Set Up-Breaks-Next Page. DO NOT USE “Odd Page” option. It’s supposed to ensure all your chapters start on the right-hand-side of the book, but it was giving my layout seizures – the pages kept changing places as I scrolled up and down, and even made the first page disappear, giving me repetitive heart attacks. I had to painstakingly go back and re-insert all those breaks to stop the nightmare. And in any case, I have now decided not to start all chapters on the right, as I’ve previously done – a quick scan of a few professionally published titles showed that only the first chapter has to start on the right.
  8. SAVE VERSIONS AS YOU GO. You’ll thank me later.
  9. Change font to a desired one, using Styles. DO NOT highlight the text and change any attributes of it from the menu, use Styles for ALL changes.
  10. I chose Minion Pro at 11pt for the body, as it’s a bit heavier and easier to read, plus I think italics look better in it. This font, along with the template’s original Garamond is one of the most common fonts used in print books. By all means, Google more about what fonts to use, but don’t use anything too quirky – you don’t want the reader to be distracted by the actual text, you want them to be lost in the story.
  11. Change paragraph settings. With Minion Pro, I chose to make spacing 1.1 instead of single at 1.0. Again, I think it’s just a touch easier to read. I made all first lines indent at 0.2.
  12. Make sure you’ve hit “Enter” enough times after the last sentence of the previous chapter, otherwise it will center on the page. Make sure that on all pages the first sentence starts at the very top of the page.
  13. Chapter titles – if you pasted each one separately, you should be okay, but if you did the whole book as one dump, highlight the chapter name text and apply the Chapter Heading style. Hit “Enter” 6 times to move the title down (or whatever number is appropriate for your font size). The idea is that each chapter starts a bit down the page – have a look at a professionally published book to see what I mean, or here is what mine looks like: Fist page of paperback
  14. Insert drop cap at the beginning of each chapter (you can opt for other ways to highlight the beginning, but I love the classic “big fat letter” look, as in the snapshot above.) Do it ONLY after you’ve done all paragraph editing, such as spacing, otherwise you’ll end up doing it all over again.
  15. Insert table of contents: the template used “chapters” instead of headings, so I could not do it automatically. I had to highlight each chapter title and click on “Add text” in the table of contents menu, then update the table. This also meant careful checking afterwards, to make sure all chapters made it into the table.
  16. DO NOT use automatic orphan/window control, instead adjust pages manually. Orphans and widows are the lonely, single lines of text either at the bottom or the top of pages. Well-formatted books don’t have those, but I allowed a few, when I thought separating a line made more of an impact with a punchline of a joke.
  17. Turn on the pilcrows and check through the whole document, making sure the section breaks are where they are supposed to be, and there are the same number of pilcrows before each new chapter, and that they are the same size and font (to make them start at the same spot on each page).
  18. Finally, READ THROUGH the entire PDF before uploading it – for some reason, italicising was dropped here and there anyway, and I managed to find even more tiny fixes. It took about eight hours, including all the fussin’ and fixin’, but was so worth it.

This is all. I will update this page if something else comes to mind, but I’ve been able to upload the final product and it looks fine in CreateSpace preview.

Now I have to order a proof copy. Wish me luck!

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Filed under Self-publishing and marketing