Looking for an epic post-Christmas read? Hoping to explore a fantasy world unlike any other? Well, The Tree of Life trilogy could be exactly want you need!
The Tree of Life is set in a world dominated by the Mother Church and its sinister leader, Prester John. The Mother Church demands total loyalty - disobedience is punished by death. But in the darkest of times, comes hope…
Fourteen-year-old Elowen Aubyn lives a miserable life in an orphanage. Bullied and lonely, she dreams of escape and adventure, little realising her dreams are about to come terrifyingly real. When the mysterious Tom Hickathrift gives Elowen an ancient map, she is plunged into a desperate and deadly quest - to discover the Four Mysteries, ancient artefacts of great power. Elowen must overcome many perils and defeat the greatest of evils, for if she fails, the only chance of freedom will be lost, forever...
For the first time, the three books of the trilogy are now available in a single ebook boxset. Priced at just £1.99 / $2.99, The Tree of Life trilogy boxset will give you a story to get lost in, with rich characters, and a plot full of surprises, magic and adventure.
The Tree of Life trilogy boxset is available via the following weeks:
When publishing their ebooks, indie authors face a choice – to KDP Select, or not to KDP Select.
It is clear that KDP Select offers many benefits to authors, such as earning when customers read your books from Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and using promotional tools such as Kindle Countdown Deals and Free Book Promotion.
However, there is a drawback. When you enroll your book in KDP Select, you are committing to making the digital version available exclusively through KDP - you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your own website or blog.
And I admit, when I came to publish This Sacred Isle and republish my Tree of Life series, the idea of exclusivity concerned me. I understood the many advantages of KDP Select, but felt that restricting my books to just one distributor rather went against the concept of being an ‘independent’ author and publisher. Therefore, although I published Kindle versions of my book through KDP, I opted out of KDP Select, and decided to use Smashwords.
Smashwords is an ebook distributor – once you have uploaded your book it is soon available via multiple retailers (for example iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo). This means you can manage your book centrally rather than co-ordinating across numerous platforms. For royalties, you receive 60% of the list price for units sold through the major ebook retailers and up to 80% of list price for ebooks sold through the Smashwords store.
Smashwords – the publishing process
In general terms, publishing with Smashwords has similarities with KDP. You upload your interior and cover file etc., but be warned that the Smashwords ‘Meatgrinder’ (their automated file conversion technology) is well named: it shows no mercy to any file that does not meet its requirements.
I spent many frustrating hours preparing files for submission, only for them to be repeatedly rejected – a painful experience. But (and this is confession time), once I read the Smashwords Style Guide (and I mean really read it, rather than just skim reading) then the steps to take were obvious, if still long-winded. Yes, it’s dull to read a manual, but if you are prepping a file for Smashwords, the Smashwords Style Guide is essential.
Why are the formatting requirements for Smashwords so demanding, especially in comparison to KDP? Well, unlike KDP, Smashwords converts your file into a number of different formats, so any odd or complicated formatting will cause problems. I eventually went for the ‘nuclear’ option, i.e. stripping all formatting and then rebuilding my file according to the specifications set in the Smashwords Style Guide. Once I did this, the file was accepted and the process worked well. So, to repeat – don’t make my mistake, read and follow the Smashwords Style Guide!
Pricing / distribution
Once your book is approved (and you’ve done a little jig of celebration and relief) you can set the price / distribution etc., which I found to be a straightforward process with clear onscreen instructions. There is plenty of advice on pricing within the Smashwords FAQ page, and I think that would cover in some detail any query you might have. One key point is that if you want to make your book free you can – no fuss, no problem, and as you can amend pricing at any time (note that Apple usually updates same-day, other retailers are generally 2-3 business days), this is something authors might want to consider if, for example, they want to offer the first book in a series as perma-free.
Distribution is handled through the Smashwords Channel Manager - it takes up to five days for books to appear across the main external retailers (your book will appear in the Smashwords store within minutes of publishing). Smashwords allows you to set a publication date (along with pre-order distribution), and as long as this is done sufficiently in advance, this will be applied both to their store and the external retailers. I found this part of the distribution worked very efficiently and I encountered no problems.
Tools and other support
One of the beauties of Smashwords is that you only have to update your book’s details (or metadata, if you’re talking tech-speak) in one place and the updates are then cascaded to the other retailers. This does save time and I feel gives the author an impressive level of control.
Smashwords offer a range of additional features to support authors. For example, Smashwords Coupon Manager (as the name suggests) allows an author to generate custom coupon codes for readers, reviewers etc. I haven’t used this feature yet but I am planning to experiment with it – you should note that the coupons can only be used at the Smashwords store.
Another interesting feature is Smashwords Interviews, through which you can create and publish a Q&A-style interview – you can select from a range of standard questions or add your own. The interview becomes part of your author profile on Smashwords and acts as a decent introduction to your work. Does it drive sales dramatically? No, but it’s a fun, easy-to-use and free feature. For reference, you can view my interview here.
Sales reporting is handled through the Daily Sales Reporting feature, which gives daily reporting from iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, OverDrive and the Smashwords store. Generally I find the reporting a good element of Smashwords, with simple charts and other analytics to help you understand how sales are progressing.
Despite the challenges of formatting an interior file for Smashwords, I am glad I opted to use Smashwords. Is it for everyone? I think that depends purely on your view of KDP Select. If you’re happy with KDP Select, then by all means follow that route. But if you want to avoid exclusivity, then I suggest you seriously consider Smashwords. Set aside a weekend to format your book – you might need it – but it’ll be good use of your time. I like Smashwords and hope it will continue to develop. I believe it has a lot to offer indie authors – don’t be afraid to give it a try!
Have you used Smashwords? Does it work for you? Add a comment and join the conversation.
Many indie authors now predominantly publish their work in e-book format and there is a sound logic to this: it keeps costs down and provides an easier way to reach a wider readership. E-books are wonderful for readers and authors, but as a lover of paperbacks too, I really wanted physical copies of my books to complement the electronic versions.
Initially, I did consider a small / medium print run with a local book printing company – I am sure they would have done a good job, but frankly the costs were too high. Therefore, I decided to take the online, Print on Demand (POD) option. A number of companies offer this service, foremost among them CreateSpace, Lulu.com and IngramSpark (and many others).
After much research and consideration, I decided to use CreateSpace. The Amazon-owned company have become a major player in indie-publishing but is the service they offer authors a good investment? In this post I am going to describe what it is like for an indie author to use CreateSpace.
Before I used CreateSpace I had previously published paperback books through Lulu.com. On the whole, my experience with Lulu.com was positive: the print quality was high, the distribution outlets worked well and the publishing process was relatively straightforward.
So, why did I switch?
A couple of factors attracted me to CreateSpace and they were both areas I perceived as weaknesses with Lulu.com’s service.
The first was cost – in comparison, I found it cheaper to publish paperbacks through CreateSpace. Like all indie authors and publishers I have to keep a close eye on the bottom line, so CreateSpace’s cheaper production costs were a benefit. Admittedly Lulu.com regularly holds offers and special events, which reduce unit costs, but this can be tricky to tie in with publishing schedules. CreateSpace’s shipping costs are a little on the high side (I’m based in the UK) but the overall unit cost is still cheaper than other providers. I wanted to price my latest book (This Sacred Isle) at £7.99, which I felt was in line with similar books in the fantasy genre. The CreateSpace production costs made this possible, while still allowing a small royalty on each copy sold - had I used another POD provider, I estimate I would have had to price my book at £8.99 or higher.
The other attraction of CreateSpace over Lulu.com was the ability to print a paperback in my preferred trim size of 5.06 x 7.81 inches (standard, in the UK at least). My earlier books were printed in a 6 x 9 inches and while I know some authors / readers like that format, for me it feels too large for paperbacks and is seldom used by traditional publishers. There was a drawback to using the 5.06 x 7.81 trim size, namely that (with cream paper) it does not qualify for CreateSpace’s expanded distribution. This was disappointing and a little frustrating but I viewed it as a trade-off I was willing to accept. I wanted a paperback that looked and felt right, and I was willing to compromise on distribution to achieve that – of course, others may disagree with my decision!
So, I decided to switch to CreateSpace, both for my latest book and for shiny new editions of my Tree of Life fantasy series!
And I must say I have found CreateSpace publishing relatively pain-free! To create the interior file, you download a Word template for your chosen trim size, and it proved an easy enough task to transfer my story into this format. There are more than ten printing options (trim sizes) for black and white paperbacks (and a similar number for full-colour books) so you should be able to find a size to suit your needs and preferences.
For your book’s cover, you can make use of CreateSpace’s free online tool – this looks rather limited but I guess if you’re looking for a simple cover this would be suffice; I doubt it will give you a fully professional appearance though. The other, and I think best, option is to upload your own cover. The submission requirements for doing so are clear, and you can download the CreateSpace template (a format that will match your books’ trim size and number of pages) for you or your cover designer to work from.
Once your book’s interior file and cover are ready to go, you simply upload both files to CreateSpace. The files will then be ‘reviewed’ and you should hear back within 24 hours as to whether or not they meet the technical requirements for printing. If you have taken some care and followed the instructions up to this point, you shouldn’t have any problems. After CreateSpace reviews your book files, you will sometimes get the following message:
“The cover contains transparency which is flattened during our processing and may result in a slight change in appearance.”
Although this looks a little alarming, in my experience, even when I have received this message the proof has printed without any issues at all. So if you do get this message, I wouldn’t worry too much.
Once CreateSpace confirms your book meets their technical requirements, you’ll have a print-ready document you can view via an online previewer, which operates like a virtual book. This is a good way to preview your book and spot problems, though you are (correctly) recommended to purchase a printed proof copy for a full edit.
Adding key data about your book (title, description, edition number etc.) is simple, as are the processes for pricing and distribution. There is a royalty calculator as well as an online tool to work out how much it will cost you (including shipping) to buy physical copies of your book (for your own distribution). You are handheld through these stages (and you can save and return to them at will), so regardless of your technical competency with computers, you shouldn’t find it too taxing. In addition, there is an active CreateSpace Community, which is an invaluable source of advice and inspiration.
Professional services and distribution
CreateSpace advertises a number of paid professional services such as editing, formatting and cover design – I cannot comment on these as I sourced such services independently. CreateSpace also offers a Kindle e-book conversion service ($79, with a charge of $139 for a ‘complex’ conversion). Again, I did not use this service, opting instead to create my Kindle e-books separately through KDP, which was simple to achieve.
There are two distribution options – standard and expanded – and both are free to join, although as I referred to earlier, only certain books qualify for ‘expanded’. Both standard and expanded are decent options, as even standard makes your book available across the various Amazon platforms as well as the CreateSpace e-store.
The final product…
So, what is the finished article like? I was very satisfied with the print quality of my books. I believe they stand comparison with industry standard paperbacks. The interior paper feels of a good standard, and the cover colours are clear and vibrant. I did have an issue with one of my proofs – some of the lines in the interior pages were slanted. I queried this with CreateSpace support; they investigated the problem and found it was a printing fault and sent me another proof (which was fine) at no further charge – from a customer perspective, I can’t say fairer than that.
The books appeared on Amazon within a few days of completing the publishing process, although the ‘Look inside’ feature took a little longer. If you have a definite ‘release date’ for your book, you might want to publish at least three or four days in advance to avoid the embarrassment of your book not being available for the eager readers who want to buy it!
I have found CreateSpace a good solution for my publishing needs. The costs are reasonable, the process is user-friendly and transparent, and their customer support proved responsive and helpful. It is shame I cannot access extended distribution for my chosen trim size – I hope this is something CreateSpace will offer in the future!
I plan to use CreateSpace again for future books and would not hesitate to recommend them to indie authors. Of course, others may have different needs, but I think CreateSpace would cover most criteria for paperback indie publishing and at a cost that shouldn’t break your budget! Happy creating…
Have you used CreateSpace? How did it work for you? Post a comment and join the conversation.
Beginning again...a new story
Well, it's that time again - time to start a new story! Writing a book is often described in terms of scaling a mountain; at this stage the peak looks very high indeed and far, far away.
I’ve spent three years planning, researching, writing and editing This Sacred Isle. I dived deep into the Dark Age, and loved learning about the history, mythology and cosmology of the Anglo Saxons. It was fascinating (and such fun to write about warriors, dragons and Dark Age gods!) and I feel the novel stretched and improved my writing ability and allowed me to develop new techniques. Every book is a chance to learn new things – it is part of the experience, a good part.
As far as modesty permits, I’m very happy with This Sacred Isle – it’s the book I set out to write - but now it's time to move on. I cannot wait to start a new story, and this one is tentatively called: Second Sun. It is a SF novel set in an alternate Earth, where the destiny of humanity has been altered by alien visitation. It is a world like our own in many ways, but being a generation after colonisation by an extra-terrestrial race, also very, very different. The main character is something of an outsider, and he has grave misgivings about the alien 'benefactors' controlling the planet and the 'paradise' they have created. He leads a quiet, almost solitary life, but then his routine is shattered when he is approached by forces who secretly oppose alien rule...
Why write a SF story? The genre has long interested me as a reader, and some of my favourite books are SF (for example, Dune, 1984, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Day of the Triffids). Although I have written predominantly fantasy books, writing a SF novel has always been an ambition of mine and it's exciting to finally embark on this project.
I also believe SF, like fantasy, provides the author with a canvas on which to explore a range of issues and themes, and can hold a mirror to the real world. Within Second Sun, I want to write about inequality, about indifference to the suffering of others, and the effects of colonisation. And above all I want to write a compelling, exciting tale with relatable characters, a tale which will stay with the reader long after they have read the final page...
So, what stage am I at with Second Sun at the moment? I suppose the best way to describe it is ‘ideas gathering’ - my notes are filling up with thoughts, plans, inspirations and snatches of dialogue. I am researching a number of key subjects and developing characters. I also need to decide what format to use. I currently think that a novella is more appropriate than a full novel, but of course the tale can grow in the telling...
As with all stories, it's going to be tough at times. So many decisions: narrative, characters, tone, imagery - headspinning, but I love the process!
So when will Second Sun be published? Late 2017 is the aim but as Douglas Adams famously said,
"I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by."
The hard work has started though, and I'll keep you posted...