Tag Archive: self publishing

3 Book Categories that Should Benefit Under the New KU

Reader KUToday starts the first day of the new Kindle Unlimited royalty program. As with so many things in life, there will be winners and losers. I gave my thoughts on the biggest KU losers last week and now I have the winners. Remember, this is just my prediction for the books that will fare the best under the new Kindle Unlimited per-page royalty system. Only time will tell if I’m right or I’m wrong.

Young Adult can do no wrong. I suspect this will not hurt young adult and longer length middle grade writers. Teens who read, read constantly! And if they’re paying for any portion of those books themselves they are going to be budget minded. That makes KU ($9.99 a month for all the books they can read) a good choice for them. Younger readers are open to new writers, and they like discovering something their friends don’t know about. Teens are also great at creating the next big book wave out of otherwise unheard of titles. Teen readers know what they like, and if a writer can deliver the goods, they will read a whole series of books cover to cover. In other words they are loyal and steadfast fans. Plus it’s summer. Teens in the zone between summer camps and summer jobs will spend some of those too hot days reading in the shade.


Romance should come out ahead. Let’s face it; romance is a publishing super star. They have devout and hungry readers and they exist in numbers too vast to ignore. Of course, the biggest winner in the romance category is going to be the historical romances. Those fat books packed with descriptions of castles and gorgeous gowns really plump up the page counts. It’s not uncommon for a historical romance to top 150,000 words. Although shorter than historical romance, new adult (NA) romance should also thrive. They were an e-book smash already and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

Mystery seems like the leader. Mystery titles have an advantage because once you start one, it’s hard to turn back. You want to know who the murderer is, or why they did it. Even if the book is a bit lackluster in the middle, you will keep going just to find out the ending, unlike a romance, where a reader might skip the last 50 pages since they know the couple is going to end up together in a happily-ever-after moment. Mystery is by nature a full book commitment, crime in the front, clues in the middle, solution in the back. Aside from some odd skimming, or too much gore making the reader set the book down, I think mystery writers can expect a book started under KU is a book most likely finished.

If you’re not an e-book author, you still need to pay attention to these changes. Book sales are about supply and demand. Since the e-book explosion took off, the supply has been growing. The market groans under the weight of all the new titles. Today the seeds of a whole new crop of indie writers gets planted. And these writers are going to know if their readers stopped reading. By necessity, many of these writers will adapt. They will rewrite those slow starts and mushy middle. Their readers, by the act of putting the book aside unfinished, will become the harshest gatekeepers of all. Indie writers will learn what it takes to keep readers riveted to the pages because it’s going to pack a monetary punch they can’t afford to ignore. It means everyone will need to write stronger books, or they should expect to get left in the dust by the writers who chose to step up their game.

What do you think? Will this change the overall quality of indies? Will KU readers become the next publishing gatekeepers?

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/the-road-to-publication/3-book-categories-that-should-benefit-under-the-new-ku/

4 Book Categories that may Suffer under Restructured KU

Kindle-UnlimitedLast week I wrote about the royalty restructuring of the Kindle Unlimited program. The new system goes into effect July 1, 2015 and it’s going to drastically change how authors are paid when a program subscriber borrows their participating book. This new system only affects writers in the Kindle Unlimited program and authors are given the option of taking their books out of the program should they choose. Currently everyone is arguing over how these changes will effect participating authors. Some writers are convinced every author will benefit under the new system. They believe the new royalty split will help remove some of the authors currently manipulating the system for higher gains, thereby leaving more funds for the remaining authors to share.

I’m less convinced and I’ve picked four groups of authors I predict will suffer under the new system. However, in the interest of fairness, there are some groups I think stand to gain, and I will have my predictions for that group next week.

Now my best calculated guesses for the writers that stand to lose under the new system.

  1. It will hurt anthologies: Prior to these changes, if a small press (or indie author group) talked one hugely popular author into contributing a story, everyone benefited from a KU loan. The anthology creator could count on the full loan revenue from every rental as long as the readers read past the 10% mark. Under the new system anthology editors looking to take part in KU are more likely to skew page counts toward the most popular writers, if for no other reason than to help recover their production costs. However, this sort of defeats the egalitarianism of making an anthology, the whole point in the past was to give unknown writers a leg up by using the star power of one or two respected authors as bait to entice readers to buy the book. I’m sure anthologies will still be made, but now the organizer behind the anthologies are bound to perceive unknown writers as an even greater liability, especially if they’re under pressure to earn back costs or turn a profit. It also might shove anthologies out of the the KU program altogether.

  2. It will weaken payouts for children’s ebooks. This one upsets the mom in me the most. School is out so the kids are home and bored. Summer is when they can and should power down some books. Yet younger kid’s books from picture book to beginning chapter books are (in deference to their fledgling readers) shorter, often just 16 to 50 pages long. Also the cost associated with image heavy books in all forms are fairly high, and these books get the double whammy of paying higher Amazon downloading fees, something that comes out of the author/publishing side during a sale. They didn’t need to pay the downloading fee on a KU loan, letting those authors keep a bit extra with each unit borrowed under the old system. I’m also concerned that under the new KU universal page count system, a 16 page picture book might end up counting as only a few pages. The current Unlimited picking for younger kid’s books has never been fantastically large, I can’t see how reducing these author’s payouts is going to help that situation.

  3. Nonfiction of every kind stands to lose out. It’s hard to know how the page count system will effect image-heavy books. Will a graph or table count as a full page? What about an illustration or photo? As I mentioned above in kid’s books, image heavy books get charged a different download rate, making the KU loan program attractive to both fiction and non-fiction authors with larger graphic loads. However, non-fiction books are notoriously under-read or skimmed. It’s not uncommon for me to get a cookbook and only look at a few recipe categories. Other readers might read only one or two chapters of interest. Granted, as other bloggers have mentioned, nonfiction has seen some heavy abuse from writers trying to game the old KU system. Reports of repackaged Wikipedia pages or books (where only the first 10% of the book is legibly written) show up as common complaints. Obviously, everyone wants to see KU abusers weeded out, but even if the new official page count system fairly takes into account images, this change could adversely impact many nonfiction writers.

  4. We may witness the end of the serial fiction boom. Readers will still want serials, they’re hooked. But writers who relied on the profitability of serial installment are in for a big shock. Before the Amazon loan program, serials (and most short stories) grew in popularity because of their sale price, usually under one US dollar. It was easy for readers to sample unknown writers without a huge financial commitment. For authors, that under-a-dollar sales price means about .35 US cents for each copy sold. Not great unless you sold a ton of books. Under the old KU payment structure, that number skyrocketed to over a US dollar per title borrowed. Remember, short stories were getting the same pay rate per title as a full length writer was getting on each book. Writers jumped into the format, creating a boom in short works. The profitability of short fiction created resentment with longer fiction writers and led to claims of widespread abuse, namely writers carving up single novels into parts in order to create more borrows. I think it’s safe to say popular short format fiction writers will still do okay under the new pay structure, but only if they don’t lament the advantages they’ve lost. If you are one of those people who thinks longer books should have the royalty advantage, you might not be too worried about this one. But I enjoy reading a tightly constructed short story or serial and I would hate to see the format lose all its steam.

So what does this all mean to you?

If you’re currently publishing (or planning on an ebook career) in one of these areas and counting on the Kindle Unlimited program to power the bulk of your revenue, you might want to rethink that! I don’t see any of these types of books doing particularly well under the new system. Come back next week when I’ll announce the 3 types of books I predict will be big winners under the new system.

What do you think? Will some authors take a larger hit with the new KU royalty rate? Will it drive some authors out? And if so is this still an acceptable loss so that book length writers can enjoy a better royalty ratio from the program?

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/the-road-to-publication/4-book-categories-that-may-suffer-under-restructured-ku/

The New Kindle Unlimited Royalty Scale

Kindle-UnlimitedMonday morning, June 15th, the self publishing world absorbed the shock wave from the latest Amazon announcement. In case you haven’t heard, Amazon revealed a major monetary restructuring of the royalty calculations on their Kindle Unlimited program. Unlimited is the program that allows Amazon shoppers to pay a subscription fee to borrow an unlimited number of books from a list of over 600,000 titles. In the past, authors of ebooks in the Kindle Select program received a flat rental fee once the borrower read past the 10% mark of the total pages. The new system, effective July 1st, will create a per-page-actually-read pay scale. That means each author will only get paid for the number of pages a borrower actually reads in their book.

Feel free to pause and have a Big Brother Is Watching moment if you didn’t already know Amazon was keeping such a close eye on your page counts.

First some history: Amazon launched a rental program about two years ago, revising it to the current Unlimited system last year. At the launch, there were a lot of upset publishers and authors. They didn’t want the program tied to KDP Select. They were doing fine and they didn’t want any changes at all. Almost everyone hated the idea of a fixed payment rate set by Amazon. And that the amount had no relationship to the book’s sale price, or the length of the book. Many authors found their sales and their revenues plummeting after the loan program launched. Avid readers, the backbone of all book sales, loved the Unlimited program. For the cost of buying one or two e-books they could read as many books are they wanted each month for $9. 99 US dollars.

Amazon Ad

Once the uproar died down, some authors embraced the system and tried to create higher profitability by shifting away from book-length fiction, the superstar of the first indie boom, and moving into creating novellas, short stories and serials. The growth of short fiction offerings in the last two years was exponential. However, since readers could consume four times as many 50 page titles as they could 200 page titles, the pool of money being used to pay the authors had to spread to more titles, and the amount paid out per title started to fluctuate and shrink. Amazon pumped money into the pool to inflate the payout, but many established writers still pulled out of the KDP Select program so their books would not be part of the loan system. The remaining book length fiction writes have been upset about the system ever since.

Although Amazon hasn’t released too much information, they did say the new payment rate will continue to change month to month based on how much money is in the payment pool and how many pages the borrowers read. Currently a number of self publishing bloggers are wildly overestimating how much that per page payment will be, perhaps their optimism comes from Amazon’s own press release. Capture

I suggest you run these numbers. Do the payouts represented here look remotely plausible? They don’t to me. And they don’t take into account the vast number of books that are put aside without finishing. Or that readers may take several months to finish a book. Although there are too many unknown variable, like what Amazon considers a page, I think it’s pretty safe to say the payout for many authors will go down. However, we will not know the facts on how this development will effect indie writer’s bottom lines until we see the August 15th KDP sales reports.

Before you wipe your brow and happily dismiss these changes as irrelevant to you, think again. These changes could affect all of us in one way or another. This isn’t just a monetary restructuring of the Kindle Unlimited program, but a publishing development that might cause some serous ripple effects. We have never seen book royalties tied to the number of read pages before. It’s truly shocking.

Next week I’ll be talking about how these changes will affect all fiction writers. And giving my predictions for the types of books that will suffer the most under the new program.

What are your thoughts? If you write indie books and have them included in the Unlimited program, are you concerned? Or are you optimistic?

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/the-road-to-publication/the-new-kindle-unlimited-fee-scale/

6 Tips for Author Crowdfunding

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Lulupinney

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Lulupinney

As we head into Week three of 2015, I’ve seen many writers talking about their yearly goals and most have included a publishing benchmark on the list. Some are looking to become the next big Indie success story and chasing that publishing dream may require more money than these writers initially expected. Believe it or not, there is a cost to self-publishing. In a tight marketplace, it often takes a successful looking product to be a successful product. That means new authors may need to cover the costs of editing, buying an ISBN number, acquiring cover images, hiring someone to design and layout the cover. And lastly, one really should have the EPUB professionally formatted, an expense too many new writers try to skip with mixed results. And that is not addressing the costs associated with print books, especially those with lots of color images. Even if the author manages the production expenses, they will still need money for marketing to sell at books.

So where will all that money come from? Well, many authors are turning to Kickstarter, Pubslush, IndieGoGo or one of the other crowdfunding facilitators to pay for it all.

If you don’t know what crowdfunding is you can learn more here. In short it’s a way for anyone to raise capital through organized social media campaigns.

According to a recent Publisher’s Weekly article, in 2014 the publishing category at Kickstarter had 2,064 successfully funded campaigns and they raised $21.9 million in pledges. That may sound like a lot, but the number of winning campaigns was on the low side, only about 28% of projects found funding. The numbers are higher for comic book writers and lower for journalists, but you can read more about that here.

There are advantages and disadvantages to going this route and the results for each author are going to vary. This is considered a controversial alternative. You are asking friends, family and total strangers to help get you started as an author. Is this option right for you? That’s for you to decide, but if you are considering crowdfunding, here are six tips to help you prepare.

  1. Do your homework.
    Spend time learning about the crowdfunding process. Look over the site facilitator options. Kickstarter is one of the biggest and best known crowdfunders, but it’s not the only game in town. Do your due diligence. Know how the site will handle the money, and what they will expect in terms of a percentage of your take. Learn the tax issues, and plan accordingly for those extra costs. Ask questions before you sign up. Think about how easy (or hard) the site is to use, and if it has technical support features to help you.
  2. Look at other author’s appeals.
    Read some author success stories. Figure out what you like and don’t like about how other book projects were presented. You may start to notice the well-funded appeals are carefully created pages. They’re well-written, error free and easy to understand. The author has clearly shared and sold their story idea in a few paragraphs. Good campaigns often feature quality images and video elements to help the potential backers get to know the writer and their work. Data suggests campaigns with videos are more likely to get funded than those without. Of course, creating a video adds extra work. More info about adding videos here.
  3. Review your assets.
    Establish which aspects of your background, social media platform, personal contacts and portfolio of work represent your strengths. If you have no social media platform, you’re in for a challenging campaign. Think about your negative aspects and weaknesses. If you see any red flags, fix them before you launch the campaign. This is the time to redo the old author photos, update that glitchy website, and write a new fact-filled, yet fun bio. Think about how you want to present yourself to the public. Revamp anything old, tired or ugly and make it shine.
  4. Figure out the bottom line.
    Create a project budget and don’t leave anything out. Remember some sites require you meet the minimum funding goal, or you don’t get any of the money. Set realistic goals. You don’t want a budget that looks bloated, but you’ll need enough resources to finish the project. Talk to people with experience, and get help if you’re math challenged. A good campaign should include the budget in the appeal. You’ll need numbers you can stand behind.
  5. Start planning incentive.
    Never overlook the power of prizes. I attended a charity action where someone paid $10,000.00 (US dollars) for the opportunity of naming the villain in an author’s next book. And when the winner’s friend complained about the bidding ending too soon, the author gave away a second character naming and earned the charity another $10,000.00 dollars. Granted, this was a big time author, but the theory is the same. Unique prizes trigger something chemical in the human brain; people get a high off getting a goodie no one else has. Arrange for a large number of small prizes for pleaders at the lower pledge levels, but have something fantastic at the top levels too.
  6. Clear your calendar.
    Really clear that sucker back to the bones. You need a huge amount of time and energy to manage a crowdfunding campaign. You may need weeks of advance planning just to get the word out, and gather commitments from your friends to help promote the project. Once you launch the appeal, you will need to keep it running with email updates, promoting on social media, answering silly (or serious) questions, and cooling off any nasty trolls. Once the campaign ends, you’ll need to keep your backers updated on your progress, prepare reports for your crowdfunding partner company, and most important of all, deliver the finished project and incentives by the date you’ve promised. The campaign will be your whole universe for a while. (On that note, leave yourself extra time to complete each phase of the process.)

Every hour you spend preparing for your crowdfunding appeal will be time well spent.

More resources and links:

Publish Your Next Book with Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding Books

4 Top Tips on Crowdfunding for Authors 

How to Make a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

Pubslush: Crowdfunding Just for Books

Five Essential Tips For-a-Successful Kickstarter Campaign

Kicking Ass Taking Donations 9 Tips on Funding Your Kickstarter Project

Next Up from Robin… I’ll be giving some tips on landing grants, fellowships and residence programs.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/6-tips-for-crowdfunding/

DeJa Vu Blogfest 2014

deja_vu_2014Much thanks to DL Hammons for setting up this blogfest.

Once a year it’s nice to reflect and take stock. In accordance with the blogfest rules we give you a post that didn’t receive as much blog love as we thought it deserved.

We hope you enjoy it.



Every family has some honored holiday traditions, and pulling out a dusty copy of a favorite Christmas film often numbers among them. In my house, we watch that movie snuggled under blankets, with big bowls of popcorn and mugs of frothy hot chocolate. My kids will likely choose It’s a Wonderful Life to be our film; they usually do.

This enduring holiday classic stars Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful lifethe type of role that defined him, the ordinary man who is profoundly extraordinary in every way that matters.

It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t love this film and its uplifting story, but few know how close it came to never seeing the bright lights of Hollywood or the adoration of millions. For this story, with all it’s big heart, memorable characters and a message of unerring love, is a 1943 self-publishing success story.

Greatest gift

Philip Van Doren Stern dreamed the bones of this tale one winter night, and crafted it into an inspirational short story. After finishing it, he did what every other author does, he sent the project to publishers, all of whom quickly rejected it. Stern took his own money and printed 200 copies. He called his book The Greatest Gift and it numbered under 50 pages. Stern wanted to share his story and hoped its message of redemption and community would resonate with others. He decided to send out all two hundred copies to his family and friends as a Christmas card.

A few years later, one of those two hundred copies landed in the hands of filmmaker Frank Capra and he loved the little unknown book’s story. It sparked a deep passion inside Capra, and he quickly bought the rights, and adapted a script and filmed it.

Capra finished the movie just in time for release at 1949 Christmas season.

It’s A Wonderful Life captured five Academy Award nominations, including one for the Best Picture category and still ranks on many fans’ favorite movie lists. Plus, it holds the American Film Institute’s number one spot for most inspirational American film of all time.

Not bad for a story no one in the publishing industry wanted.

So in honor of Christmas, I give the world back Philip Van Doren Stern, an author with a story no one wanted to buy, who somehow, even after bitter rejection, found the faith to send his story out into the world, and watched as it changed lives.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/friday-inspiration/deja-vu-blogfest-2014/

Could Your Book Make the 10% Mark?


Love it or hate it, the new Amazon Kindle Unlimited just made it easier for avid readers to sample a huge number of books while paying a fraction of the total cover price. The new program will give subscribers access to over 600,000 titles, many of them Indies, but also some big name authors. This is an all you can read buffet program, with no unit cap, a marked change from the Prime lending program. All this access will cost readers $9.99 a month in the US.

Some writers are thrilled; you can already find them using the URL in their marketing campaigns, others not so much.

The thing I noted about this new program is authors only get paid if the reader gets past the 10% mark of the book. That’s right, downloading the book is no longer the defining act; it’s reading that counts toward achieving a royalty payment. This is another big change from the Prime program where the loan of a book always resulted in a small author payment, usually about $2.00 in US dollars per each loan. This means how a novel opens and if it manages to hold the reader’s interest just got even more important.

Novel beginnings aren’t a new topic for this blog, from prologues to opening sentences the Sisters have a lot to say about literary first impressions. And we’re not shy about the books we don’t like or why in our reviews.

However, this time I’m doing something different.

I decided to give a group of authors I’ve never read before a test drive. I wanted to see how many of the books I picked at random would stand a chance of getting me over the 10% threshold for their share of the money pie. I’ve selected some Indies, and some traditionally published books from a few different genres. After reading the first 9% or so, I tried to honestly evaluate why I would or would not want to read beyond that point. I selected only books that appealed to me from their descriptions. I did not read the samples, or any reviews before selecting these books. I had no preconceived notions about this group of authors; and I gave each one of them a fair chance at converting me into a fan or critic. I’m not revealing the names of the books because I have no desire to cause these authors problems just because I wouldn’t finish their books.

Here are the five books I would gladly put down before the 10% mark and why I feel the author failed me as a reader. Please note, I read more than these five books, however I’m focusing on these as the best examples.

Book 1: I was so excited by the blurb on this adventure book, and I couldn’t wait to read it. However the book starts with a 53 word sentence so convoluted I needed to read it twice. It followed that with a second sentence of 41 words. The two massive run-ons created the first paragraph and managed to insult women, as well as the English language. I am not a short sentence snob. I do read a lot of classics, so I know (and love) long sentences. However, 53 words is a tad long even for me. To make sure this wasn’t a fluke I kept reading, although I found the protagonist’s disrespect for the women characters distasteful. I couldn’t stop myself from counting the longer ones as I read. In the back of my mind I kept wondering if I would find a sentence that broke 60 words. Sadly I did, a 65 word mess showed up. When I read back-to-back overly long sentences I start feeling like I’m reading a text book. I can’t enjoy myself when I need to reread for clarity after every few lines.

Book 2: The concept on this mystery blew me away, and I went into it with high hopes. It started with “Once upon a time” and I wanted to stop reading right there! I made myself press on for the sake of literary science, but honestly even if the author meant this as quirky and ironic, the line left me cold. I love it when a writer knocks me down with a great original first sentence, however it’s not usually a deal breaker for me if they don’t. After this unpromising first line, the book’s prologue consisted of a rather long info dump. For newer writers, an info dump is when books use pages and pages of exposition to fill the reader in on backstory details before a single bit of action takes place. It’s a bit like trying to cram an elephant into a shoe box; the pages are densely packed with facts the reader has no context for or any reason to care about. Without regrets I moved on.

Book 3: This time I picked something from the historical fiction group. This book was set in an era and location I love to read about. Unfortunately the author started using modern terms almost immediately. The writer coupled this stylistic decision, with some faulty historical research (wrong century), and this bad fact played a small but consistent role in the main plot. I write historical fiction too, so I know it’s easy to make a mistake. However, I do expect most writers to keep it together and try to stay in the target historical era. At least for the first few chapters. For me the best part of any historical novel is it immerses me in another time and place, if I’m constantly being jerked out of the fantasy by the writer’s modernism’s or research mistakes, I move on.

Book 4: Of all the books I picked up for this post I wanted to love this one the most. The idea of this book, a paranormal thriller, seemed interesting and original, something that’s not easy to do in paranormal. However, it opened with one of the big cliché opening no-nos. It started with a battle, the protagonist is cornered, things look bleak and it fizzled. The protagonist wakes up. That’s right, it’s all a dream folks. Ugh! This is more common than it should be, there are tons of advice posts out there warning people to avoid a fake opening hook, so why oh why are we still having this problem? Of the five this is the one I might still finish, that is if I can forgive the overused, unoriginal opening that promised something it didn’t deliver: action!

Book 5: I picked up a contemporary romance for this last one. I don’t tend to read romance, but I’m trying to read more of them. The story felt predictable, a Romeo and Juliet vibe, but the couple seemed okay, ordinary but likeable. I read to the 10% mark mostly waiting for something more to happen. In the end what really got to me was that about 75% of the sentences started with the pronoun I. Of course in first person point of view you do see a lot of these, but I found myself bored by the lack of sentence variation. I don’t expect every book to read like a literary masterwork, but this one is too predictable and simplistic for my taste.

And there you have it, five book openings that couldn’t hold my attention as a reader.
How about you? Would you read past 10% or would you move on knowing another 599,999 books awaited you?


Read more posts by Robin here.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/archive/4114/

Use KDP Changes to Help Promote your Children’s Book

Public Domain Reading WebIf you haven’t already published a juvenile book with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) you don’t know they announced a big change on June 2.  In a letter to all their children’s book publishers they wrote:

“You can now set age and grade categorization refinements to help readers discover your books.”

Okay maybe this doesn’t sound news worthy to some of you, but every independent children’s book author cheered wildly. Or at least they should have if they understand anything about marketing. Before this announcement age and grade classifications (in all but a few cases) were restricted to the big named publishers. Now Indies can compete on an equal level, getting their books onto those all important children’s book recommendation lists, and it may be a game changer. This is Amazon handing out the marketing equivalent of a golden ticket. It immediately gives authors the opportunity to position their books perfectly, maximizing their chances of finding buyers.


There is a downside. Unless they already know a lot about education and child development, some authors may have no clue where their book falls in the Amazon brackets.

The categories are:

  Baby to age 2 – Board books
  Ages 3-5/Preschool – Picture books
  Ages 6-8/Kindergarten-2nd grade – Early level readers; first chapter books
  Ages 9-11/3rd-5th grade – Middle Grade chapter books
  Ages 12-14/6th-8th grade – Teen and Young Adult chapter books (mainly aimed at middle school readers)
  Ages 15-18/9th-12th grade – Teen and Young Adult chapter books (mainly aimed at high school readers)

These categories may sound like arbitrary distinctions, we all know readers who let personal preference dictate their selections more so than age or grade. However, that’s not how the book industry sees things, and most educators and librarians share that view. Educational buyers are traditionally a big portion of the children’s book buying market and are professional groups with little spare time, small budgets and high user demands. Every bit of information the author can provide these circumspect buyers will help them make good decisions. Plus once educators know and love your books they tend to be solid repeat buyers for years to come.

Understanding what type of information educators need to make informed selections is the first step toward building a lasting relationship. These sophisticated buyers must rely on a number of variables when making purchases, but one important piece of information is a standardized readability score. These are scores generated by specialized software that uses a mathematical formula to analyze written language and then awards it a number to represent the necessary skill level needed to read that book. The skill number loosely corresponds to a grade level. More specifically to the grade when the “average” student might attain that level of proficiency. This type of software is not foolproof, but it is a great place for buyers to start searching from.

One of the most common scores in traditionally published books is the Lexile system which is often printed on the back cover of popular children’s books. However, there are a number of other readability score systems. Remember, these assessment tools look at the language from the standpoint of readability, not content. Some children may read at a higher grade level, but lack the reading stamina to tackle a longer book, or the maturity for every subject.

You can find a number of readability calculators available for free over the internet or you can use the one built into MS Word. I ran this post through an index and generated this report:

          Reading Ease

A higher score indicates easier readability; scores usually range between 0 and 100.
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease    61.3   

Grade Levels

A grade level (based on the USA education system) is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. Scores over 22 should generally be taken to mean graduate level text.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level    8.7       
Gunning-Fog Score    11.3      
Coleman-Liau Index    12      
SMOG Index    8.4      
Automated Readability Index    8.9      

Average Grade Level    9.9     

Understanding the value of reader evaluation tools is important for all authors, even those who want to seek representation and a “traditional” book deal. While finishing up this post I happened to catch an agent on Twitter explaining in heated detail that a book cannot be MA and YA at the same time. And that by pitching it to her as such, the writer was proving they didn’t understand the market.

Don’t be that writer. Do your research, study the markets and use reader tools to help you get it right.
I understand many writers hate guidelines; they prefer to write their book their way. I respect that, but you have to think about the reader. There is nothing more frustrating to a child then getting a great book they can’t read comfortably. They need to find books that help them achieve a careful balance, ones that leave them with a feeling of accomplishment, not frustration. Placing your book in the right reading level category is the final step toward making a child’s reading experience with your book a magical one. And isn’t that why we all write for children in the first place?

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3 Reasons You Need a Pen Name

Image: Alan O'Rourke CC2.0

Image: Alan O’Rourke CC2.0

For some reason my parents gave us gender ambiguous first names. My middle sister has a name that is almost exclusively in the male domain.  Where as my eldest sister and I have names that lean toward the feminine side, as does my poor brother’s name. Although, he legally changed his name the moment he turned eighteen. All my siblings received gender correct middle names, presumable to minimize confusion. Whereas I got another name of no clear sexual ordination. I never gave much thought to my naming until I had my own kids. During that process finding the perfect baby names consumed me. I struggled so badly with my second child that the hospital staff called me everyday for a week. They urged me to pick anything, even if I planned to change it later,  just so they had something to put on a birth certificate.

Likewise, I never gave much thought to the process of author names until last summer when the publishing industry weathered a little firestorm over the realization that a small first time mystery novelist wasn’t so small, or so first time after all. There’s no need to go into that old history, let’s just say it was a personal and professional catalyst, and it started me wondering about pen names. I’ve been meaning to write about them ever since. I’ve even made sort of a study of them in the last year, marveling at the cleaver tongue-in-cheek ones, and scratching my head over the gosh darn awful ones, the ones where I can’t help wondering what in the world that writer was thinking (or perhaps drinking) when they adopted such a foolish handle.

Using pen names is by no means an uncommon practice, it’s been going on for as long as there have been writers wanting to mask their identities. However, anonymity is just one of many reasons modern authors choose to work under a different name. In this electronic, self-publishing age, selecting a great pen name could be one of the smartest and most career advantageous decisions you’ll ever make. This is by no means an easy decision, even my own blog mates disagree on this heated issue, but I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned, so you can make your own choice.

If you’re wondering what drives people to change names, or if you’re considering changing your own name, read on for 3 Reasons to Adopt a Pen Name.

#1 Marketing:
I think this is the best reason to take a pen name. Writing is a business; you must market and sell a product to consumers, and to accomplish that feat customers must to be able to find you in a crowded marketplace. And they need to find not just your books on a shelf, but your page on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter. How do people organize and search for books? They search by title and by author name. Short catchy titles and names with phonetic spellings are your best friends in the digital marketing war. If your name is too long, too complicated, too challenging to remember and spell, you’re going to baffle someone trying to locate you with a search engine query. Do you really want to risk that potential reader finding another fascinating author while searching unsuccessfully for you? Sure, technology and name recognition software helps, but realistically it takes the first half of the name to trigger a reliable result, auto correcting prompts can only do so much. New authors can’t count on building a following if no one can find them. Of course people can battle the long complicated name game and still win, but it’s a gamble. You need to make sure keeping your name is worth the risk? Some things to consider are: is your name frequently mispronounced? Do you receive mail with your name incorrectly spelled on it? Do auto correct functions kick your name out and deliver another suggestion? Don’t feel badly if your name isn’t measuring up in ease-of-use category, you’re in good company. When Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski started publishing he changed his name too. You’ll know him as Joseph Conrad.

#2 Branding:
Any name has the potential to become a brand. Still, when looking to establish your own career brand, there’s not much room for sentimentality. Names must be brand neutral at the very least, and in the best cases brand affirming and reinforcing. Think about your name objectively. Is your name dated and old fashioned sounding? If so it might work perfectly for you as a historical writer, but what if you write techno thrillers? Is a quaint little name going to help you win over young hip YA readers? Or will it sound clunky and awkward and make it difficult for younger readers identify with you? Is your name quirky or funny sounding? That’s great for helping you brand a quirky and funny book, but what about your literary masterpiece? And don’t even get me started on gender neutral names, a situation I know all too well from the standpoint of the perks and the drawbacks. Branding is not something to be taken lightly, even well-established writers protect their brands, and with good reason. When you hear the last name of many iconic writers you know what to expect in terms of genre and quality. So when many of those big names drift afield of their normal type of book, they often do so under a pen name. Remember you can try to brand your own name, and if you got lucky in the name lottery I say go for it. But if mom and dad stuck you with a clunker, don’t hesitate to jettison that baggage and pick up something that fits your needs. Likewise if you want to step into a new genre and test your wings, you might want to consider doing it without risking your current readership. Like when mystery icon Agatha Christie penned some romance novels, she did it under the name Mary Westmacott.

#3 Anonymity, or the lack there of:
Craving privacy is not a crime, and many writers simply want to create a separate personal and professional reputations. Perhaps they want to safeguarded a booming career in a totally separate and seriously competitive field. Or to protect their family from intrusive attention or comments.  Anonymity is a perfectly good reason for adopting a pen name, as is too much anonymity. This is the flip side of the too-complicated name. With a common name there are bound to be several people with your same name. There are tons of people with my name. I know first hand the agonies of not being able to secure anything with my name on it, not a domain name, not an email address or even a Twitter handle. It’s a devastating fact of life for many writers.  And you better hope your namesake is a social marketing savvy CPA because going head to head with another writer is a recipe for identity confusion. If they’re a bad writer, you should count on inheriting some of their negative press, and if the person is a huge, popular writer, that’s even worse. You just became the creepy grasping new writer who’s trying to steal the other writer’s good name. Having a too-common name is not the end of the world, but it’s another hurdle to leap over in a business that’s already full of hurdles.

Regardless of what you decide, do your homework first. Make sure you research and understand any legal issues. Search databases; look at who’s already popular in your chosen genre so you know if you’re treading too closely. Do test marketing of your real name and your pen name. Make sure you know what mental image your name creates. Talk to people in the same demographic as your target readership, but also get options from lots of sources.  Remember to think about your chosen initials, and the first three letters of your last name. Make sure they don’t spell out something offensive. Once you narrow down the list of prospects, take the time and make sure you can find a domain name and an email that’s as close to your new name as possible. If your new name is locked up tight, you might want to start the hunt over.

In the end, whether you plan to keep your own name, or chose a new one, make sure you’re doing it with a clear head and for the right reasons.

Just for fun here’s a huge list of some famous pen names.


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It IS a Wonderful Life!

220px-It's_a_Wonderful_LifeEvery family has some honored traditions at this time of year, and for many, pulling out dusty copies of a favorite holiday film numbers among them. In my house, we watch that movie snuggled up under blankets, with big bowls of popcorn and mugs of frothy hot chocolate. My kids will likely choose It’s a Wonderful Life to be our film; they usually do.

This enduring holiday classic stars Jimmy Stewart in the type of role that defined him, the ordinary man who is profoundly extraordinary in every way that matters.

every_time_a_bell_rings_an_angel_gets_his_wings_its_a_wonderful_life_redIn It’s A Wonderful Life, Stewart’s character, George Bailey begins to question his own worth. He’s crumbling under a tide of misfortune, and at his darkest hour, George considers ending his life. Instead, he meets a guardian angel named Clarence. Clarence hasn’t quite made the jump to fully-fledged angel by earning his coveted wings, and he hopes by restoring this one special man’s faith in himself, maybe he can save them both. In this film we learn that even the life of a small town nobody touches the lives of many other people, like ripples in a pond. Each life spreads outward, reaching into the far corners of the world, influencing the big picture in profound and surprising ways.

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know this film and its uplifting story, but few know how close this story came to never seeing the bright lights of Hollywood or the adoration of millions. For this story, with all it’s big heart, memorable characters and a message of unerring faith and love, is a 1943 self-publishing success story.

Philip Van Doren Stern dreamed the bones of this story one winter night, and crafted it into an inspirational short story. After finishing it, he did what every other author does, he sent the project round to publishers, all of whom quickly rejected it. Stern took his own money and printed 200 hard cover copies. He called his book The Greatest Gift, it numbered less then 50 pages, but Stern wanted Greatest giftto share his story, hoping its message of redemption and community would resonate with others. He decided to send out all two hundred copies to his family and friends as a Christmas card.

A few years later, one of those two hundred copies landed in the hands of filmmaker Frank Capra, who loved the little unknown book. It sparked a deep passion inside Capra, and he quickly bought the rights, adapted the story into a script and filmed it. Capra finished the movie in time to release it for the 1949 Christmas season. It’s A Wonderful Life captured five Academy Award nominations, including one for the Best Picture category and still ranks on many fans’ favorite movie lists. Plus, it holds the American Film Institute’s number one spot for most inspirational American film of all time. Not bad for a story no one in the publishing industry wanted.

So in honor of Christmas, I give the writing world back Philip Van Doren Stern, an author with a story no one wanted to buy, who somehow, even after bitter rejection, found the faith to send his story out into the world, and watched as it changed lives.

Read more posts from Robin here!

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The Decision to Self Publish: Defeat or Triumph?

The decision to self publish can be tough. For some of us, it follows months of pursuing the traditional route, trying to stay buoyant through multiple rejections and dozens of rewrites, catering to the expressed or implied preferences of industry professionals and beta readers. A few authors eschew the big five and smaller independent presses before even attempting this gauntlet.

TinCanCoverFinal600x800Once I’d gotten my memoir, Tin Can Shrapnel, into the best shape I could, I looked at both options. Being an agent myself gave me a little leverage, but not as much as you might expect. I sent out a few submissions in the US but focused on major South African publishers. All of them expressed interest after seeing the proposal and sample chapters. But I knew the odds of one of them throwing their weight behind the book were slim, and made the decision to self publish anyway, for a number of reasons.

The memoir explores a year of history that few South Africans want to relive, a shameful time that reverberates still and reminds us of the often volatile, violent nature of that society. South African expats on the other hand, those who migrated to first world countries across the world, might read it and give thanks that they no longer live in Africa. This was confirmed by the rejections that came in. One house expressed the concern that it would be difficult to market a memoir to South African readers when the author is based in the US, as successful sales depend on physical presence. Another publisher, whose list includes many contentious titles, continues to review the manuscript, but I chose not to wait. I believe the story must be told, and I know too that it’s one of universal truth that transcends geographical borders.

Here are a few pros and cons of both traditional and self publishing options:

  • Perceived credibility. There’s no question that the backing of a reputable house boosts platform and confidence, both key elements to a writer’s success. This is changing though, as more good writers fall through the cracks of a saturated market and choose to manage their own careers. The stigma originally attached to self publishing is swiftly wearing off as readers and traditional houses begin to respect the authors who take up this challenge. Self publishing is not for the fainthearted, and the major houses, recognizing how many great titles they’re missing, have literally bought into this option. For better or worse, Penguin Random House now owns Author Solutions, a controversial vanity press that merits a blog post of its own.
  • Access to ‘heavyweight’ prizes and fellowshipsThis relates to credibility, and some contests are only accessed by or bestowed on traditionally published books. The National Book Award does not accept self published entries, unless the writer publishes the work of other authors too. The Man Booker Prize, originally only open to writers from Ireland, the UK and Commonwealth nations, is now open to authors who write in English from across the world, but novels must be submitted by a UK publisher. Across the board these conditions are changing too, and now even the Pulitzer considers self published work, as long as the book is available in paperback. There are many more awards which we can explore in another post.
  • Financial advances. It’s true that in order to write, we have to be able to breathe, and an advance of several thousands of dollars allows us to take a few deep breaths. Who would turn down six or seven figures? However, these types of advances are rare and some border on the paltry, challenging the writer to survive through weeks of rewrites and numerous months before the book comes out. An advance is also delivered in stages and must be earned out later through sales of the book. Essentially, the author must pay it back in royalties before any further money is earned. The self published writer can pay as little as zero to publish a novel and can receive unencumbered royalties within a few months.
  • Marketing and distributionEstablished writers continue to benefit from the backing of major houses who budget for books at the top of their lists to reach as broad an inter/national audience as possible. But these hefty budgets apply to very few, and much of the marketing is becoming the author’s province. More emphasis is placed on platform now than ever before. Where distribution is concerned, it’s hard to compete with the channels open to traditional houses, but even in this regard digital and print options are blossoming for the self published author; all you need is the skill to navigate the options (which can be acquired through accessing dozens of blogs on the subject by authors who’ve gone before us), confidence in your book and some access to affordable financial resources.

The good news? As more avenues open up for writers to develop a readership, gone are the days of an author’s book having to languish at the bottom of a drawer. Notwithstanding the challenges and choices that sometimes overwhelm us, the impetus to write can be stronger than ever before. Once we’re able to overcome or avoid the perception of defeat on the gauntlet most traveled, choosing our own path in the realm of self publishing can be acknowledged as a triumph.

Next up: The Writer’s Emotional Demons


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