Nontraditional publishing, part 2: E-books

Everybody seems to be talking about e-books these days. It’s Kindle this and Nook that.  Should I make my book into an e-book?

Yes, you should. The e-book is here, and it has changed how people read. Some people never buy print books anymore. They only read on the screen. They constitute a big share of the market that you don’t want to miss.

Ten years ago, I’d never heard of electronic books. Occasionally someone would send a book as a pdf that could be read on the computer, but it was so awkward I’d either never read it or print it out so I could carry the pages around and read them away from my desk.

Then came the Kindle, Nook, iPad and their various brethren. They were light, portable and easy to use. You could store hundreds of books on your e-reader, slip it into your purse or backback and read wherever you wanted to. They were expensive at first, but the prices keep coming down, and the books are way cheaper than print books. Click a button and poof, it’s yours, instantly. No trip to the store, no shipping fees, no worries about storing the book when you’re done.

The advent of e-books has not only changed the way we read but the way we publish. If you’re going to publish a print book, it needs to also be available as an e-book. And if you can’t find a publisher or can’t afford to pay to have your book printed, you CAN afford to publish an e-book. At this writing, it’s free. That’s right. It doesn’t cost anything except your time to publish an e-book.

So how do I publish an e-book?

Publishing an e-book is not difficult, although the formatting takes time, and it’s different for different kinds of readers. Online sites offer step-by-step guidance for each format. These include:

  •—all you need to know to publish for the Kindle
  •—guides you through the process of publishing for the Nook
  •—provides e-books for nearly all e-formats and offers its own free e-books full of e-publishing advice. Even if you don’t decide to publish with Smashwords, get the e-books. They offer great advice for all self-publishers.

Follow the directions, upload your book, set your price and voila, your book is published. The good news is that if you want to change something in the book, it’s easy to do, unlike with print books where your mistake remains in print forever.

Of course, there are things to consider:

  • You still need to provide a well-written and well-edited book.
  • You will need an attractive cover that will look good in ads online. If you are not an artist, don’t try to do it yourself.
  • You should copyright your book and you will need to purchase an ISBN number, the number which identifies your book. If you are publishing the book in different formats, you will need a separate ISBN number for each one.
  • E-publishing programs through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords put your book online and list it in their catalogs, but that won’t necessarily sell your books.You still need to market your book in the online and offline worlds to make people notice it among the hundreds of thousands of other e-books being published.
  • E-books are generally priced lower than print books. Although royalties are higher—Amazon offers 35 % and 70 % options—you’re not going to see big bucks for a while, if ever.

Is that it?

Pretty much. If you don’t own an e-reader, I suggest you get one so you can understand the e-reading experience. Reading books published by other authors will show what works and what doesn’t. And this is cool: You can copy your word files to the e-reader and read your own books as if they were already published. Suddenly it’s easy to see where you need to fix typos or do a little more revision.

Have fun! If you have questions, please ask.


If I’m not going to get rich, why publish a book?

For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about book publishing. Posts have covered making the decision to write a book, how to approach a traditional book publisher or literary agent, and how to self-publish with a print-on-demand company. Before we move on to e-books and other forms of self-publishing, let’s take a minute to talk about why we might want to publish a book.

Dick Lutz, an author/publisher, notes that publishing a book is like buying a lottery ticket. One’s chances of winning the big jackpot—fame and fortune–are small, but we love to try because there’s always a chance that this book is the one.

In a recent column, he wrote something that got me nodding my head and writing “Yes!” “Success at book publishing can be measured in many ways. It’s not only whether or not you make money. Many a book that didn’t sell well enough to break even is still a success in that it served a purpose or fulfilled a need.”

Lutz goes on to list reasons to publish a book besides getting rich, all of them valid. Most of us don’t write just to get rich and famous. We also write to tell a story that needs to be told, to inspire, inform, educate, or entertain. We might do it just for fun or as a stepping stone to building a career.

I’ve been thinking about all this as I try to figure out how to explain to my father why I just spent $2,500 to print copies of my new book, Childless by Marriage. I’m sure I’ll spend more to publicize and market it. I hope I make money at it. I believe that I will at least match the modest but steady income that I get from my other books.

I daydream about a major publisher picking it up and zooming it to number one on the bestseller lists. But even if that doesn’t happen, I needed to tell this story. I needed to open the discussion of what it’s like to be childless because the man you marry is unable or unwilling to have children with you. If I never make a cent, I’ll still be glad I published this book.

Childless by Marriage has been available as a Kindle e-book since Mother’s Day. Yesterday, I picked up nine boxes of the paperback version. I’m not sure where to store them yet. I could have used the print-on-demand method, where the book is stored in digital form on a computer somewhere and copies are only printed as orders come in, but I’m an old-fashioned writer. I wanted books I could hold in my hand, carry in my car, sell at talks, meetings, fairs, conferences, etc. I didn’t want another company to come between me and my readers.

This book took more than a decade to see print. I will spend years marketing it and talking about it. Like a child, a book becomes a permanent part of your life. Before you commit to such a project, know why you’re doing it. If money is your only object, think again.





The Joys of Birthing a Book

(If you read my newsletter, you have already read this. If so, skip to the last paragraph and follow instructions.)

When all I can think about is the book I’m currently producing, it seems logical to write about the birth of that book.Childless by Marriage has been on my desk and in my heart for decades. I started interviewing and researching childlessness about four books ago. It has been so long that some of the people I talked to have died and others have had babies, making them no longer childless. Many of us have gone through menopause.

Why has it taken so long? Selling books is a crazy business. I have submitted variations of this manuscript to agents and editors by mail and e-mail and pitched it at numerous conferences. An agent took it on and offered it to all the major publishing companies. The result was always the same: She writes well and it’s an interesting topic, but I don’t see a market for it. To which I wanted to scream, BUT I DO. I know there are people out there who will read it, and I can tell you where they are.

When I started working on this book, e-books/aka electronic books did not exist. “Vanity” publishing was a shameful option and the fledgling print-on-demand industry, which would house your book as computer files that were only printed as books when orders came in, wasn’t much better. The type of self-publishing where you hired pros to set up and print your books cost too much for ordinary people.

Times have changed. Now readers are walking around with Kindles and iPads, and you can publish an e-book for free. That’s right, free. All it takes is a little time. And, with the advances in digital technology, most of us can afford to publish a print book, either through one of many print-on-demand companies such as Authorhouse, Lulu or CreateSpace, or working with a printer on our own. We can download programs to format our books at our own computers. It’s not free, but it’s doable.

Publishing your own work does not have the same stigma it had even 10 years ago.A little over a century ago, self-publishing was common. With the industrial era, big companies took over publishing books to make a profit, and they became the only acceptable option. But now, with the big publishers refusing to take on anything except guaranteed blockbusters and with so many other options, we can take our careers back into our own hands.

That doesn’t mean we all should. Publishing a book does take a lot of effort—they should have Lamaze classes for author-publishers. Trying to get page numbers where they belong makes me crave an epidural for the brain. If a traditional publishing house wanted to take this job away from me, I’d be happy to let them.

Also, the reason self-publishing has had such a negative reputation for so long is that if anybody can publish a book, there’s no guarantee it’s any good. You have to weed through the garbage to find the good books. But if your book is good and you can get people to read it, the word will spread.

Let me be blunt about self-publishing. If your book isn’t well-written and professionally edited, with an eye-catching cover, and professional-quality layout, don’t do it. If you have no idea where or how to sell it, don’t do it. If you’re not ready to put in a lot of work with details such as headers and footers, ISBNs and platform-building, don’t do it. If you are not sure you can trust the company you’re thinking about working with,  don’t do it.

If you’ve never published anything else before, don’t do it, at least not yet. Spend some time building your career first. I wouldn’t dream of self-publishing a book if I didn’t have a long track record.

That said, if you feel that you’re ready, you can publish your own book.

The publishing world is full of advice for self-publishers these days. I’m not going to repeat it all. Visit the website. Jane Friedman’s No Rules blog,  is loaded with practical self-publishing advice. There’s more at The Writer and Poets & Writers. Google self-publishing and prepare to be overwhelmed with information.

Or, you can purchase a skinny book that tells it all in plain English. I won Katie Salidas’ Go Publish Yourself! last month in a Goodreads giveaway ( It wasn’t the book I really wanted, but it turned out to be the book I really needed. I’ve got a shelf full of fat self-publishing books, but they’re complicated and go out of date before I can read them. Everything I need is in Go Publish Yourself!, with lots of practical advice and links to resources that will help you produce either an e-book or a print book.

Which should you do, e-book or print book? Well, I think one should do both. I don’t plan to publish any more books without making an electronic version available. Amazon is selling more Kindle books than print books these days. Why should we leave out all those readers who have stopped going to bookstores because they’d rather read on the Kindle? Or the Nook? Or their iPad or smartphone?

But what about those people who prefer traditional books? And what are you going to sell at book-signings, talks, festivals, in the stores, or out of the trunk of your car? In my opinion, it’s best to have both. Remember, producing the e-book is free. Also, you can take it offline and revise it anytime you want. So, if nothing else, do that and see what happens.

Again, I don’t want to repeat the advice you can find all over cyberspace and the print world. I’m just saying that with the changing times and countless revisions, I can now present Childless by Marriage to the world. Ten years ago, it wasn’t ready. I’m glad those editors said no. The e-book came out on Mother’s Day. You can get it for $2.99 at the Amazon Kindle store. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle reading app on whatever you do have.

Three of my previous books, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, and Stories Grandma Never Told, are also available as Kindle e-books you can download and read today. How cool is that?

The print version of Childless by Marriage is getting a pretty new cover, and I’m almost done wrestling with page numbers, headers, typefaces and such for the inside. I’m thinking it will be out in July, August at the latest.

Come back here for weekly discussions on the various aspects of this book-birthing process and other topics for writers. You can keep up with the latest on the new book at http:/ Blogging is another thing I never dreamed of when this book first started. Who knew? It’s a great new world.

But, beware. All this talk of publishing can distract us from the most important thing. Without the writing, there’s nothing to publish. So, go write. Write now.

Book Sales Slow at Frog Jump

Shoes Full of Sand, the book, came out Friday. Marketing is intense, taking lots of time  and energy. When I picked up my books, I told my printer, “It looks like I can either be a publisher or a writer.” She laughed, but it’s true. If you’re thinking about self-publishing, consider how much of yourself you want to give to the process of preparing and marketing the book. I love most of it, but I’m still working on balancing my various jobs.

Don’t do what I did Saturday afternoon. Although it was fun in some ways, making a four-hour round trip to sit at a table with my books at the Jefferson Mint Festival and Frog Jump (so Oregon!) was not profitable. The rain did not help, but people were there to play with frogs, ride rides, eat humongous elephant ears and corn dogs, and flirt with the opposite sex. They showed little interest in books.

It wasn’t all a loss. It turns out my boothmate and I both  worked for the same newspaper chain in San Jose and knew some of the same people. This writer, Elizabeth Fournier, has published a delightful book called All Men Are Cremated Equal. Don’t let the title put you off. She’s a mortician, among other things, but the book is about going on 77 blind dates in one year, and it’s funny. I started reading it at the festival and had to bring a copy home.

My second event of the day, the Nye Beach Writers Series, yielded far more book sales. I recently rejoined the board of directors, and I read at the open mic after poet/songwriter Moe Bowstern entertained us. People liked what they heard and bought my books. The moral: If you want to sell books, go where people are interested in buying books.

You can find out more about mine at


Enough advertising.  Have you visited Erika Dreifus’ Practicing Writing blog? She has good advice advice there. Every Monday, she offers a list of opportunities for writers. Check it out.

Happy writing!

Self-publishing can be a challenge

Well, I held my new baby in my hands last week, and then I had to send it back because it was flawed. The baby, of course, is a book. Shoes Full of Sand was printed and bound and delivered, along with a substantial bill. We loaded up my Honda, and I drove home with a carload of pride and possibility.

Then I opened the boxes. It’s not a big thing. The glossy cover is wrinkled along the spine. But considering what I paid and considering that readers are expecting perfect, unwrinkled books, it is not acceptable. I already had orders, which I filled with the least wrinkly copies, then took the rest back to be re-bound. Now we’re waiting until next Friday. Phooey.

At that point, I no longer wanted to be a publisher. If someone else were publishing this book, I wouldn’t have to deal with wrinkly covers. This book has been eating my writing time for weeks, but I do enjoy most of the process. When the unwrinkled copies arrive, I’ll be delighted to sell them far and wide. I know I was born to make books. In elementary school, I put together little books made of cardboard and typing paper, lettered by hand and illustrated with crayons. This is just a grownup variation.

Working as Blue Hydrangea Productions, I previously published two booklets and another book, Stories Grandma Never Told: Portuguese Women in California. I have almost sold out the second printing. It can work, but if you’re considering self-publishing, think about whether you’re ready to take on a whole new job.

Unless you have a strong desire to be a publisher, always try traditional publishing first. Send out those queries, synopses and proposals to agents and editors. You may strike gold.


Thinking about self-publishing?

Ready to publish a book? In the old days, you had two choices, the acceptable route of securing an agent and a publisher via queries, proposals and synopses, hoping your manuscript would stand out among the thousands and earn you a contract, OR the not so acceptable route of paying a “vanity publisher” to produce copies of your book. Today, major publishers will not take on a book unless they’re confident it will earn them millions of dollars. Most books don’t fit into that category, even if they are wonderful books. Therefore, authors are taking their futures into their own hands. Thanks to modern technology, we can publish our own books affordably in print and/or digitally, and they can earn the respect they deserve.

Of my six books, four have been published traditionally. Publishers have paid me advances and royalties and handled all the distribution. One, a novel called Azorean Dreams, was produced by as a print on demand book. I paid them a minimal fee to create a book for which copies are printed only when someone orders them. Frankly, I haven’t made any money on that book, but I’m glad it’s out there. I knew there was a market among my Portuguese-American fans, and they bought it.

When the original publishers of Stories Grandma Never Told decided after nine years and three printings that it didn’t “pencil out” anymore, I published a new edition myself with a local printer. Four years later, it’s still selling. I mailed out 14 copies this week.  I’m about to go for a third printing.

I have just published my latest book, Shoes full of Sand, as a Kindle book through’s self-publishing program. The cost? Only my time. It’s already selling, and royalties will be coming each month. Meanwhile, I plan to produce a paperback with my local printer and also to get it into other e-formats via Is this the best route for this book? We’ll see. At least people have a chance to read it. It won’t make me rich, but I will make some money.

There’s not just one way to publish a book anymore. Getting a traditional publisher to handle your book is still the best way to go. You will earn more money, have better distribution, and be reviewed in important publications. But if you’re not having any success at that, want to have more control over your work, or know that an audience is waiting to read your book, you can do it yourself.  However, and this is very important, authors who want to publish their own books have two huge responsibilities:

First, they must produce the best book they possibly can. Vanity publishing and every other kind of self-publishing have gotten bad raps in the past (and some folks in the industry still won’t consider a self-published book as a real book) because some of the books people put out are terrible. Even the most experienced authors need professional editing. It’s not optional. We cannot see our own mistakes. I edit manuscripts for other people, but I still need someone else to look at my books. The average reader doesn’t really care how a book gets published, but she does care if it’s not well done. The quality is up to us.

Second, the author has to not only write and publish the book but sell it. That means marketing through every possible avenue, including websites, blogging, blog tours, speaking engagements, mailings, and whatever else it takes to let people know the book exists and convince them to buy it. If you have never done this before, it can be overwhelming. And if you can’t identify a market for your book, you’re not ready to publish it.

I still have a lot of work to do for this new book and for the ones published earlier. Meanwhile, here’s the commercial. You can buy Shoes Full of Sand for the Kindle at for a mere $2.99. If you don’t have a Kindle reader, you can download the free Kindle program on your PC or Mac. For information on the print version, visit

You can also go to the site to find out how to produce your own Kindle book.

I welcome your comments and questions. Let’s talk about this. I’ll be providing some resources for self-publishers in future blogs.