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The Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre of Self-Publishing

Kenneth G. Winters, author of the YA novel The Lost Crown of Colonnade, served as a Navy chaplain; a few years ago, he retired from full-time ministry. After investigating several Christian self-publishing companies, he published this first novel in 2011. He shares here, in the fifth of our Write2Ignite author interviews on self-publishing, what he learned in the process.

1. Don’t sign to self-publish until your book is totally ready. I learned this the hard way. In 2010, I committed with XULON Press to publish my WIP (Work in Progress). They were offering quite a good deal, including some publicity that was not a part of the normal package, so even though I wasn’t totally satisfied with the book at that time, I signed a contract. After that, I had one year to get my finished file (manuscript) to them. One year is plenty of time, right? I was working full time and writing in my spare time. I put myself “under the gun” in terms of having a self-imposed deadline. When I publish book two, I will definitely have my finished and fully proofread file ready to submit.

2. Unless you pay extra, self-publishers provide no proofreading or editorial suggestions. I knew this when I signed, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, if you have a peer who will be honest with you about troublesome paragraphs (or chapters), and an outstanding proofreader(s). I did have a fellow writer to help recognize character development weaknesses and conflicts or weaknesses in plot or narrative. I also had good proofreaders. But what I didn’t have were proofreaders who knew the nitty-gritty final manuscript format requirements of XULON Press. [Though I was aware of those requirements, I didn’t catch format errors, and my pre-publication readers didn’t know to look for them.] As a result, the first printing of my book was double spaced, taking twice as many pages as it should have.

3. Every time the self-publishing company sends a sample copy, you must proofread it again before it goes to print. On first glance, my sample copies looked correct. However, Tammy Doherty, a talented self-publishing author, noticed that the title on the header of every page was incorrect. Instead of The Lost Crown of Colonnade, the title read The Lost Sword of Colonnade. The cover, title page, and publishing page with the ISBN all had the correct title. I had to return the books (at no charge to me) for correction of the title on each page header.

In the second sample, the title was correct on the cover, title page, and page headers. However, once again, we found an error. On the ISBN page, the title now read The Lost Sword of Colonnade. Fortunately, we detected the problem. I proofread the book both of those times. My correct final draft/file was used in both of the first two samples.

The publisher made that one small correction, showed it to me in the file, and sent me two printed copies of the book with the correct title on the cover, headers, and ISBN page. After this “minor” change (just one word), I failed to proofread the book in this final format. I assumed (no comments) that the book had been prepared from the same draft . . . used the previous two times. Wrong. Somehow, someone had gone back to my next-to-last draft, which had a number of formatting errors and about 25 typos, including one interchanged sentence. I gave my approval without proofreading or having anyone else proofread the book one last time. In most self-publishing houses, the author is responsible for all editing. When he or she gives final approval, the book is set up and printed that way.

A few weeks later, I received 1,000 copies of my book printed from the next-to-last draft, with all those errors. This wasn’t a total disaster financially, because I sold most of them and gave away about 100 to Christian schools. I was honest about the errors with people who bought the book, and most were gracious enough to buy the book anyhow. I more than broke even, which is pretty amazing. Even though [the double-spaced] printing meant each book was about 460 pages, my costs were quite fair. The initial “Bestseller Package” was $1,799. For printing and shipping, the 1,000 copies cost me $4,899, so my initial investment was $6,698. If the original printing had been single-spaced (232 pages), I would have saved about $1,000 on printing.

I did contact XULON about the mistakes. Although I was ultimately responsible for this major mistake, XULON admitted [some responsibility] in it and gave me a significant [price] break on making the changes. I really appreciated this. Those who buy the paperback or e-book are now receiving the version I intended to release.

By the way, XULON provided me with what I consider a beautiful cover (front and back).

Now, I am preparing to publish book 2, The Enchanted Bride of Colonnade. I believe I am better prepared to avoid the [problems] I fell into with The Lost Crown of Colonnade. (I was tempted to put the word sword in place of crown, just to see who would notice.)

This time, I will be using Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP), [which allows me] to create the e-book and paperback file for free, paying only printing costs. KDP offers stock graphics and guidance on creating front and back covers. However, I will pay someone to do the cover.

Initially, I plan to give Amazon exclusive rights to the e-book version. Doing so [allows me to] include the book in what is called “Kindle Unlimited Free Books.” [Subscribers to that service] can download any book [in] it for free. [Those who are not . . . Unlimited subscribers] . . . pay the normal Kindle price of $2.99, and I receive the full royalty. If an individual selects my book on Kindle Unlimited, I receive a much smaller commission. However, [Unlimited] is a great way to build an audience and gain reviews. People will click on a free book from an unknown author to check it out. They might not pay $2.99 to do so.

I am still studying KDP procedures to understand all of the details of creating and producing the paperback version. In any case, I retain full rights to my work for both versions, and I may cancel my agreement for either version or both with five days’ notice. The printed version will be available for sale through all book outlets. XULON [set the price for my first book], but [with KDP], I set my own price for the paperback.

I hope my lessons learned are helpful to other writers. There is certainly a place for the self-publishing companies, but I’m going to try this less expensive approach.

Contact Information
Author name: Kenneth G. Winters

Phone: (774) 922-4144
E-mail: winterskn@gmail.com
Amazon author page for Kenneth G. Winters: https://amzn.to/2IlR9I7

Barnes & Noble link: https://bit.ly/2Io8zQ9

Interview series by Deborah S. DeCiantis, director of Write2Ignite Conference

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A Case of Grace at W2I!

In this post, author Kristi M. Butler shares how her new books about Groundhog Day and groundhogs emerged from attendance at Write2Ignite Conference, a vacation cabin, and meeting illustrator Samantha S. Bell.

Write2Ignite is one of my “happy places”! Perusing the website and blog brings back sweet memories and never fails to bring a smile to my face. Ah . . . the scrumptious Italian smorgasbord with the W2I team on the night before the conference . . . chauffeuring well-known authors from the Sleep Inn to NGU . . . belly laughs with friends, old and new . . . hanging out with faculty and attendees over coffee and cookies . . . listening to and learning from some of the best in the business . . . being encouraged and encouraging others . . . growing in my walk with the Lord . . . watching God work in lives to further His kingdom as [participants] write and illustrate for children and young adults!

I was privileged to be at the first Write2Ignite conference! As I had the joy of watching W2I grow and develop over the years, little did I know that God had been at work since that very first meeting to forge a relationship—a friendship and a working partnership—to bring fruition to His plans for our futures.

If you’re a follower of Write2Ignite, you should be familiar with my sweet friend Samantha Schweizer Bell. She’s a part of the W2I planning team. She’s also a fabulous artist and has written and/or illustrated over one hundred books for children!

Now, long before I met Samantha, groundhogs started running amuck in my brain. That craziness began in a mountain cabin named “Amazing Grace.” I’d actually never given much thought to groundhogs until the weekend I spent there, but since that time, my life has been forever changed! A groundhog burrow and its inhabitants just outside the door quickly became fodder for stories that led to adventures I’d never dreamed of . . . traveling not just once, but twice, to Punxsutawney, PA (the home of the famous weather prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil), and cuddling cheek to cheek with North Carolina’s own predictor of winter’s length, Sir Walter Wally! These events gave a new meaning to Habakkuk 1:5, which says, in part, “Be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”

The groundhog playground in my mind and in my writing is called Amazing Grace Acres. Samantha has brought that place and its many creatures to life through her beautiful artwork. Guardian Angel Publishing has contracted with us for the series of Amazing Grace Acres books.

This is the beauty of God’s work to me. His grace. As the hymn “Come Thou Fount” says, “Oh to grace, how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.” Those words are so piercing. So profound. Yet, in my desperate need for grace, He sees fit to work in and through me to lead others to fundamental truths in His Word and to spiritual life lessons—even in the antics of two little groundhogs. Amazing Grace. The uniting of two women seeking to use His gifts to further His Kingdom, and the joy of working together. Grace upon grace.

I give thanks to the Lord for Write2Ignite and the case of grace He gave me there!

***

Kristi Butler has been promoted after over 20 years in the elementary classroom to full-time Grandmommy to the cutest groundhog-loving grandbabies you’ve ever seen! In her free time, she continues to pursue “putting pen to paper” and sharing the adventures of Gracie and Grover Groundhog. Two of her books, Groundhog Day in Amazing Grace Acres and Christmas in Amazing Grace Acres, have been illustrated by Samantha S. Bell and published by Guardian Angel Publishing. Samantha’s currently illustrating Kristi’s first nonfiction rhyming alphabet book, G Is for Groundhog! They’re also collaborating on Gracie and Grover Go to the Beach. Please visit Kristi’s site for all things groundhog at Amazing Grace Acres!

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Writing in a Wonder-Full World

“The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.”—G. K. Chesterton

When you see a mushroom in your yard, do you dismiss it? Or do you tap it with a stick to see it bounce? Do you think of fairies and smile?

And when you see the little snail in the garden, do you start fretting that the slimy thing will ruin your petunias? Or do you notice the simple beauty of its shell? Do you watch it inch its way across the leaf?

Do you stop to listen to breezes dancing through windchimes, stop to admire golden light falling through leaves and branches, or to smell the roses you walk by every day?

When you step out your door and are faced with a thousand little amazing things, how do you respond to each of them?

What G. K. Chesterton, an English writer and philosopher, so rightly realized is that our lives are filled with what-ifs and maybes, how-does and could-bes; filled with questions that could awake our imaginations, if only we would think to ask them. God has blessed us with a world brimming with beauty and touches of magic just begging to be noticed. As writers, it is our job to give these details the recognition they deserve.

This is especially true for children’s authors, as wonder is the natural state of a child. Children are the ones who think of weeds as flowers, who chase crickets, and laugh with the birds. To them, the world is wonder, and how on earth can we ask young readers to enter our worlds if we won’t enter theirs? In our stories, we try to create spaces for children to play and dream, but in order to craft these realms, we must remember to dream a little ourselves. We need to live with awe and curiosity and weave that wonder into our words.

But how can we reclaim our wonder?

Here are five suggestions:

Practice Paying Attention

Every day, make a point of finding at least one item of interest, whether it be a street musician in your path, a tiny flower poking out of the sidewalk, or a cloud shaped like a fluffy bunny. Just find one thing that makes you smile.

Ask Questions

Let your mind wander every now and again, contemplating the details you notice throughout the day. Wonder where the geese you saw this morning might be heading. Ask yourself why the Lord decided to paint the sky blue instead of brown. The questions don’t have to matter for you to chase them. Your imagination can always use the exercise.

Read

Read stories that capture your imagination and make you curious. A few favorite recommendations of mine are The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Both of these are stunning stories and ones I believe every children’s writer should read.

Keep Notes

If you are especially touched by something you see, or if you find a question interesting, write it down. You never know what might be useful in a story later.

Recognize the Creator

Remember that the world around us was created by the Lord, and it declares His glory on a daily basis. He shaped every mountain and every blade of grass, and not a sparrow falls without His taking notice. That fact alone should be enough to place us in awe of the work of our Father’s hands, and to create in us a never-ending sense of wonder.

Karley Conklin is a student at North Greenville University, focusing on Literature and Christian Studies. Currently, she is the editor of The Mountain Laurel, her university’s art and literary journal, the last issue of which can be found online here. If she could be any literary character, she would choose Samwise Gamgee, with whom she shares a love for old stories, good friends, and delicious potatoes (in any form).

 

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Money’s Tight—Can I Afford the Conference?

Hi, friends! It’s Cathy Biggerstaff, financial director for the 2018 Write2Ignite Conference. Numbers and dollar signs dance in my head. In today’s economy, I’m always looking for ways to generate funds. This month, I’m concentrating on your side of the equation! Here are nine ways you can pay your way to the 2018 conference:

  1. Black Friday/Cyber Monday Super Sale. Save $30 off regular “Early” registration by registering by November 27. See our website for details.
  2. Your Christmas wish list. Let your family know that you’d like to attend the conference, and allow them a part in making your dream come true.
  3. Use your talents. A friend wanted to attend a week-long conference with a $600 registration tag, not including housing and food. She heard of a temporary job cleaning a house. She took the job and saved enough to go. Which of your talents could you use to earn all or part of the registration fee for Write2Ignite?
  4. Sponsorship. Get excited and share your vision/mission with others. They might want to buy into and support your dream. Give your church family an opportunity to help with this.
  5. Share a room. Invite a writing friend to come along for the fun and cut your housing cost in half.
  6. Start a crowdfunding page. A couple of crowdfunding pages cater to Christians in mission.
  7. Apply for a scholarship. Most years, both partial and full scholarships are available. Let us know of your interest when you register, and we’ll send you the forms and instructions.
  8. Skip a meal. If you refrain from eating out twice a month from January through September and put $10 aside each time, you’ll have enough to pay for your registration and housing (Friday supper and Saturday lunch are included in your registration fee), and you’ll even have some left over for a visit to the conference bookstore.*
  9. Save your change. Empty your pockets into a jar labeled “Write2Ignite or Bust” every day for the next 43 weeks. Saving just $5 each week between now and the conference will get you over your goal.*
Track your progress toward conference saving

Now, go grab your pen and paper, and exercise those creative muscles. Pray, put your plan into action, and we’ll see you on September 21, 2018!

P.S. You might want to design or download a savings thermometer to stay on track.

*Projections based on the Early Bird Rate of $125 (for adults) and double occupancy using last year’s hotel rates.

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Self-Publishing Series Part IV Author Interviews

Author and former Write2Ignite Team member Janice D. Green has a wealth of experience with self-publishing projects. Below, she shares information about the steep learning curve she experienced as she navigated different options, programs, and methods for publishing books herself.

  1. What book did you first publish using a self-publishing provider or system?
    I have self-published several books. My first attempt at publishing was with com, which I discovered when I decided to write a book about my father’s life. After that, I published a few more family books and attempted to publish an alphabet book that I hoped to market, but realized I would never get a competitive price using Lulu.com.
    A. Title/Genre/Target age: . . . [T]o publish my first Bible storybook, The Creation, I established my own publishing company under the guidance of Larry Carpenter, who helped me locate a printer and some resource people who helped me with the InDesign software the printing company required me to use. I later published a second Bible storybook, The First Christmas. These two books were written for early elementary children; however, my goal was to reach the parents as well with additional information at the end of the books [back matter] and a more thorough retelling of the biblical accounts than is generally found in Bible storybooks.
  2. What publisher or system did you use?
    The Creation was printed by Worzalla Publishing Company, which prints books for publishers only. I had 2200 copies of this book printed using offset printing.
    The First Christmas was printed by Lightning Source using print-on-demand.
  3. When was the book published? Length of the project from start to finish? How many self-publishing companies or products were investigated?
    The Creation was published in 2011, The First Christmas in 2012. Offset printing required a longer wait for [printing set up and completion] than . . . print-on-demand.

Larry Carpenter investigat[ed] for my first book and told me about . . . printing options. What factors led to your choice? Price was my main concern in selecting [a printer].

  1. How many up-front costs did you incur to publish your book? How long did it take to recoup costs (if you have), or what is the projected time frame to recover them?
    My first book incurred many more up-front costs, beginning with the software purchase and the fees I paid Mr. Carpenter, and adding . . . the cost of printing 2200 books. I did not have to pay an illustrator, as I created my own illustrations with hand-appliquéd quilt blocks – though the fabric was expensive. I never recovered my costs on The Creation, and probably never will, though I hope I have learned from my mistakes. I have sold many of these books for less than what I paid to have them printed simply to get credit on my taxes for having invested the money in the first place. Until they sell (or I destroy them) I can’t claim the printing expense on my taxes.
    I got smarter on my second book and used print-on-demand. I have probably broken even on this book by now, as the upfront costs were about $150-200.
    How much control did you maintain over the process (editing, revision choices, cover design, illustrations, book type setup (font, size of print, etc.), book description for marketing purposes, etc.)?
    These decisions were all mine to make.
  2. Did you hire a professional or use services provided by the self-publishing company for any of the following?
  3. Cover design
  4. Illustrations
    I created my own illustrations for The Creation. I found an illustrator to help me with the illustrations on The First Christmas who was willing to be paid a royalty as the books sold. I regret that she hasn’t been able to recoup more for her work.
  5. Editing
  6. Layout/design
    A friend who does layout and marketing professionally helped me with the cover and illustrations as I struggled to understand the software I was using. Her suggestions were extremely helpful, and she didn’t expect to be paid.
  7. Did you self publish in print or e-book format, or both? Did the self-publishing company (if used) provide software services to create book files for printing or e-book conversion of your manuscript?
    What software or process was used?
  8. Did you do the typing in this system, or was it provided by the company?
  9. If you purchased software yourself, what was the product? What was the cost?
  10. How much learning curve and time were required for the typing/file preparation?

I have used Smashwords.com to create e-books. This is a tedious process and hasn’t sold enough copies to be worth the trouble. I need to consider other options on this.

  1. Is the book being marketed in stores (print)?
    . . . [A] few stores where I have connections . . . still carry The Creation.

Online only? If online only, what sites offer your book?
I have my books on sale on my blog, www.honeycombadventures.com. The First Christmas is also available on Amazon.com, but if you don’t know to look for it with my name [Janice D. Green], it won’t come up with a search for the title.

  1. From your first self-publishing project, what advice do you have for authors who are considering embarking on a self-publishing adventure?

 “Do this”
1. Do all in your power to find a regular publisher instead of self-publishing. Submit, submit, submit, and keep on submitting your manuscript.

  1. Use a bona fide, qualified editor who understands your genre before you publish your book – maybe before you submit it to a publisher.
  2. Use print-on-demand
  3. Find a professional illustrator who understands your genre.
  4. Get professional help with your cover. It is the face of your project, and if the cover doesn’t sell, your book is dead in the water.
  5. Plan to spend money on marketing your book. Make that a serious part of your budget.
  6. If you establish yourself as a publisher, join the Christian Small Publishers Association.

 “Don’t do this”                                

  1. Don’t assume you know what you are doing. Get advice from experienced people in your genre.
  2. Don’t print more than 50 copies at a time of your first book. That number may still be high.
  3. Don’t spend money you can’t afford to lose to get your book published.
  4. Don’t choose self-publishing as an easy way to get published. You will run out of friends to buy your book.

Author name/phone#: Janice D. Green (843) 621-1639

Author website/contact information: www.honeycombadventures.com

Interview series by Deborah S. DeCiantis, Ph.D., Director of Write2Ignite

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Pilgrim’s Progress theme Part III

Write2Ignite Conference 2018 theme series—by Deborah S. DeCiantis 

After his escape from the Slough of Despond, Christian meets Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, who convinces him that an easier way to get rid of his burden is to turn aside from the path to the Wicket Gate and instead climb the hill to meet Legality and Civility. Christian believes him and takes this detour until he sees the true height and menacing overhang of the mountain. Now in doubt about this choice, he sees Evangelist coming and immediately feels ashamed.

Evangelist brings a stern look and rebuke, but when Christian fears he has lost his chance to get back on the right path, Evangelist reassures him that the way through the gate to deliverance is still open.

Several points related to our faith and writing journey emerge from this episode.

  1. Many sources offer persuasive words urging people to follow other worldviews, values, and self-help paths. These are often attractive, appealing to logic and human wishes (the “easier” way), and seem designed to help people achieve happiness and success. Those tempting alternatives, whether shortcuts or “new, improved” ideas, can trip up adults, too, especially when we are feeling vulnerable or defeated. Christian starts with good information (“the book”) and sound direction (Evangelist’s instructions), but his encounter with Mr. Worldly-Wiseman nearly derails his faith.
  2. Bunyan knew well through personal experience the dangers for a believer. His testimony includes not only struggles with doubt and discouragement, but one episode in which he heard the words, “Sell and part with this most blessed Christ. . . . Let him go if he will.” He tells [readers] that “I felt my heart freely consent thereto. Oh, the diligence of Satan; Oh, the desperateness of man’s heart.” For two years, . . . , he was in the doom of damnation. “I feared that this wicked sin of mine might be that sin unpardonable.” (Piper)
  3. Just as adults need to avoid these pitfalls in our own faith walk, children need to understand how temptations come and how easily they can fall prey to wrong ideas when people package them in nice words that seem to offer what they want or words that question what God says.

Bunyan continued in his state of fear and uncertainty for two years, but eventually he perceived the corrective and life-changing message “Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand” (qtd. in Piper). Although times of discouragement still followed, this turning point cemented his faith.

  1. Evangelist, in this illustration, fulfills a role similar to that of Christian writers who desire to help children establish their faith through finding and following the “narrow way.” Those who write Sunday school curriculum may present explicit spiritual counsel, much as Evangelist does for Christian. However, for writers of other genres—nonfiction articles, children’s stories, historical fiction—the challenge is to address these concepts while engaging children to enjoy the stories in which lessons (avoiding temptations to stray from what’s right) are embedded.

In Part II, we emphasized the author’s method of revealing background through the main character’s experiences (usually, mistakes) and explaining a principle the mistaken choice illustrates. This process is much like the principle often applied by both teachers and parents, known as the “teachable moment.” When things go wrong, people have a chance to take stock – to review the situation, words, decisions, and actions which led to an unwanted result.

Even young children can understand this principle: you know X is right, but in this situation, your words and actions went against X. Evangelist takes time, after rebuking Christian, to encourage him: “Thy sin is very great, for by it thou hast committed two evils; thou hast forsaken the way that is good, to tread in forbidden paths; yet will the man at the gate receive thee, for he has good-will for men; only, said he, take heed that thou turn not aside again. . . .”

Evangelist leaves Christian with a kiss and a smile – important signals that despite his failure, he will be welcomed at the gate. In fact, Good-will lets him in and directs him to find “The Interpreter,” who shows him many scenes of different characters and possible outcomes, good or bad. At first, Christian needs Interpreter to explain these, but as scenes continue, he begins to understand their significance.

Christian, who still bears his burden, is now encouraged and leaves to keep on the “straight and narrow” path which Interpreter has cautioned him to follow.

Contemporary stories may feature a spiny echidna’s adventures (real or imagined), a juvenile biography of Madame C.J. Walker, explanation of “How the U.S. Congress Creates a Law,” or a fictional teen’s struggles to deal with a family crisis. In each case, Bunyan’s model fusing truth principles and human experience with teachable moments offers Christian writers material for meditation and method for application.

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress in the Similitude of a Dream. 1678. All quotations from the online pdf at the desiringgod.org website © Desiring God 2014.

Piper, John. “To Live Upon God Who Is Invisible: The Life of John Bunyan.” Desiringgod.org. 2014. http://cdn.desiringgod.org/website_uploads/documents/books/the-pilgrim-s-progress.pdf?1417090573 .

Next time: More on Interpreter’s role, plus Christian’s encounter at the cross.