This year, I made the decision to become fully self-published under my company, Sagido Publishing and I recently released the 2nd book in the 7 Scorpions Trilogy, 7 Scorpions: Revolution under said label. I made this decision knowing that there are, unfortunately, many self published books that are garbage and us Indie Authors have to work that much harder to show that we are the real deal. That’s fine, I don’t mind a challenge, it keeps things moving and keeps us on our toes.
When I made the decision to do this, I also decided that I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure that what I published would at least be of the quality that a large publisher would put out (of course, seeing what some of them are publishing, that wasn’t the stretch I thought it would be). One of the steps was to attend the Self Publishing Expo in New York City back in October. I attended with a friend and fellow author of the Last Witch Series, Liz Kolodziej. For the price tag of $125, I figured it was worth scoping out but I will admit to not having high expectations going in.
I attended three presentations (Liz and I each attended different ones so we could compare notes, the whole divide and conquer). The first one was presented by a representative from Lulu, which is a company that offers services to self-publishing authors. Interestingly enough, the presenter had a Macbook and the projector was not set up to interface with it so I let him use my netbook for his presentation (probably should have had a Plan B but I don’t mind lending a hand). To be honest, it was probably a good thing because I would have left within the first 15 minutes if I hadn’t lent it to him. The first half of the presentation was really about the company and, though some of the history was interesting, it was really irrelevant to what I was there for. The second half, however, became interesting. Apparently, LuLu has decided to open up their platform to programmers who wish to create apps (not just web based apps but also iPhone, Blackberry, and Android apps) by releasing an API (Application Programming Interface). What’s nice about this is that you can use their services and distribution with your own apps. The power behind this is really cool. There are more details on their site so check it out. There are plenty of phone app developers out there who don’t charge all that much if you wanted to go this route. I actually had some ideas as a result of this but they don’t have anything to do with my sci-fi publishing.
The next presentation I went to was the complete opposite. The first half was good, the second half I ended up leaving because I almost fell asleep. Literally. I was actually going to be grumpy if someone woke me up, hence the pic above. It was a panel discussion. Typically these are good but two things went against it:
- Has anyone ever told you that there is no such thing as a stupid question? Well they lied. There are stupid questions, and, like a lot of panel discussions, this one was plagued by them. They weren’t ignorant questions, I can deal with those. They were questions that could have been answered if the people had listened to the presenter in the first place. That pisses me off.
- The majority of what the presenters were saying was either them patting themselves on the back for a job well done, or information that is available on about 1000000000000000000000 different blogs out there.
It wasn’t all bad though. Some of what I heard was nice, simply because I’m already doing it so it was good confirmation that I have done something right because, like many writers, I assume I’m screwing everything up. Among these are:
- Author Partnerships: Strength in numbers everyone. That was one of the reasons for founding WMD.
- QR Codes: I’ve been playing around with this for awhile. QR codes are intriguing and most of all, you can create them for FREE. I’ve actually got labels that I print them out on and stick them to packages I send out. I’ve also put them on posters, bookmarks, cards, etc. Smartphones are on the rise and pretty much every carrier out there is pushing their customers to get them so take advantage of it. Also, young adults tend to have these so if your writing appeals to this group, you should be incorporating these.
- Mock interview with myself: I did something similar to this with my FAQ on my website. It reads a bit like an interview. I’ve done some updates as I’ve gotten interviewed. Often times members of the media, including bloggers, are looking for content for their website. If you have a ready-to-go interview, it cuts down on their workload and yours. They may want to tweak a few things or add a couple of questions but, for the most part, the content is prepared.
- Book Trailers: This one I have mixed opinions about, which I have already posted about here. Needless to say, despite my doubts about it leading to sales, it is another way to get the word out, especially in release preparation and I have created some for my own writing just for fun.
- Google Alerts: If you haven’t signed up for Google Alerts, you really need to, well, right now. This allows you to enter search terms to create bots that will send you alerts anytime your keywords pop up in a newly indexed page. This includes blogs, news, etc. At the minimum, you should have your name, the name(s) of your book(s), unique terms from your writing (like unique character names or names of fantasy locations), series names, and the name of your publishing company, whether you are self published or traditionally published. This is a great way to keep track of what’s going on. I also use terms such as eBooks so I know what is going on in that world, since almost all of my sales have been in electronic format.
- Website: If you don’t have a website yet, you need one. Along with that, a blog. Realistically, you can create these for free but I would recommend you get a professional web designer to design your site (they can do it in WordPress) with custom graphics to really make you stand out. I did this and the feedback I’ve received has proven to me time and time again that I made the correct decision.
Another item mentioned was Facebook Ads. I’m not sure how I feel about this, because formal advertising in general has mixed results in the publishing industry (as well as pretty much every other industry), especially now that there are so many ways to block ads. It can also get expensive and if you’re anything like me, your marketing budget isn’t all that big. Liz had actually made a good point. A more targeted approach may be better so advertising on a site such as Goodreads, which targets readers specifically. I believe it’s also cheaper but I’m not 100% sure about that. One piece of advice the panel gave, and it’s so simply that it’s genius: When advertising, compare your writing with someone well known or the premise of your book with something that is already well known. For instance, I’ve had reviewers compare 7 Scorpions to Terminator, Mad Max, and Star Wars (which was actually a huge honor), so I’ve actually quoted that. One of the reasons is that when people search out those subjects (or if you compare yourself with another author, the name of that author), your work might come up.
The presentation was not a complete waste, but it was good that I got out of it. Besides, my bladder was about to burst and I know you wanted to know that. Yes, I’m out of my mind and I make no apologies for it!
The final presentation itself was worth the entire trip. It was presented by a literary attorney out of New York, Renee L. Duff, Esq. I used to work for lawyers and, though I am not a lawyer nor do I profess to be any type of legal professional, it has been a side interest of mine and I have some level of understanding (which also means I’m the first to tell someone to hire a damn lawyer and not rely on a random person’s opinion). Realistically, legalities are a huge concern to the self published author because that person is responsible for his/her own work entirely. There were several subjects covered here and I would urge you to pay attention and/or seek legal council to make sure you are covered:
- Copyright mailing myth: When I first got started in this industry, I found out that you automatically have a copyright on your work when you complete it. However, you really have to be able to prove it’s yours to legally protect it. One method that has been perpetuated is mailing a copy of the manuscript to yourself, keeping it sealed. It will have a time and date stamp from the post office so if there was ever a question, you’d just have the judge unseal it. Has this worked? Yes. Is it dependable? Not at all. Matter of fact, pretty much anyone with experience in this field or with copyrights will tell you that your only true protection comes from registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office (or the country you reside in). I have registered both of my published books with the copyright office. It was only $35.
- Copyright/Trademark Enforcement: The responsibility for enforcing copyrights and trademarks, even the ones that are registered, rest on the party who holds said copyrights and trademarks. In other words, you. It is up to you to keep your feelers out for violations. That is one reason to get Google Alerts (which was also mentioned in this presentation). Keep in mind that there are cases of copyright infringement that probably wouldn’t go anywhere if you challenged it. First of all, you have to show that there is some type of damage being done, whether it’s to your profits or to your reputation. For instance, if a blogger gives you an unsolicited review using your cover image and some quotes from your book, that is a copyright infringement. They did not have permission to do that. However, if that review is absolutely fantastic, it not only isn’t damaging, it’s probably helping you make money so you wouldn’t fight that. If someone decides to post your book image up and tell the world that you stole the idea from them, then you may want to do something about that.
- Fair Use: Not every situation where quotes are used from a book are copyright infringement. You will want to refer to the Fair Use Act, which spells out what you can and cannot use legally without permission from the copyright holder. This mainly applies to the media, education, and situations with no commercial gain (like reviews). Also keep in mind that much of what is in law is based on precedent, and not necessarily YOUR interpretation of the law. In this field, it is generally acceptable for reviewers to quote from your writing, within reason, even if it is a negative review. In turn, it is generally acceptable for you to quote pieces of a review (so even a mediocre review may have a line or two that you take so when someone reads the quote, they feel as though the reviewer loved it). This is done all the time by the big guys with the New York Times and USA Today, as well as other major publications.
- Public Domain: These are works whose copyrights have expired. You see this a lot on older pieces. Does this mean you can grab the text and call it your own? Nope. Plagiarism is still theft. There are, however, more freedoms with this work than normal. Check with an expert if you want to use anything from the public domain in your own work, especially if it is for profit.
- Get Permission: Despite the Fair Use Act, if you want to quote someone else’s work in yours, especially if you are going to be making money (i.e. you are writing a non-fiction book and you want to reference another one), get permission from the copyright holder, in writing. Most won’t care because it’s free advertising for them but in our litigation happy society, you might as well be cautious. Keep in mind that emails are admissible in court so an email giving you permission to use something is enough, just make sure you keep the original email electronically so that it’s authenticity can be verified (a printout is not authentic).
- If you are concerned that your text may infringe on the work of another, there are services out there where you can upload blocks of text and have it checked against other sources. This is used in academia all the time. A great one for use for web sites is Copyscape.
- Trademarks: Trademarks are different from copyrights. The first major difference is that they can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to register. The second difference is that, unlike copyrights, you have to maintain them (i.e. show the government that you are actively using the trademark) or it will expire. The third is that it can take months, even over a year to trademark something because others have the right to contest your trademark if they have something similar. Finally, there are only certain things you can actually get a trademark on. In this industry, that would be your company logo, the name of a series (individual titles cannot be trademarked, but a series name, like the For Dummies series can be trademarked), and various symbols. If you have a question, you can refer to an expert or to the Copyright Office.
- Defamation: This applies somewhat to fiction but mostly to non-fiction. Defamation is liable slander. You are permitted to discuss facts. In the case of fiction, you can use landmarks and other such things in a fictitious manner (in 7 Scorpions: Revolution, chapter 2 takes place in the ruins of New York City and it is mentioned by name, as is the Empire State Building). You will need to be careful when it comes to individuals, or even private residences. For instance, if you have a distant cousin who you hate, you probably should not mention them by name and have them butchered to death in your fiction writing. In the case of non-fiction, you can write about provable facts. The rules are a bit different with public figures, but there is also not a clear definition of what a public figure is. Obviously, President Obama, major movie stars, etc, are all public figures and are the subject of all sorts of things that would be considered defamation if they weren’t public. You should definitely seek the advice of an attorney on this one if you have questions. A great protection for fiction (but not fool proof if you blatantly defame someone) is to put, at the beginning of your book, some type of text block that says the contents are either products of the imagination or places used fictitiously. You can see an example of the one I put in 7 Scorpions: Revolution on the copyright page here (yes, that was a shameless plug, deal with it).
- Copyright Transfers to Company: If you own your own publishing company (and you should if you’re self published, it’s easy to establish a LLC or S-Corp), you should consider transferring the copyright to the company. Realistically, you still own it but that takes any liability away from you and puts it in the business. I’ve already done this. When you register a new copyright, you will have to register it to yourself but in the registration, you can put in the transfer so it’s done right away. You will need to follow it up with some type of written and signed document, in case it’s ever challenged. If you have already created a copyright, you can do a copyright transfer (no formal process in the copyright office, just have a lawyer draw one up or grab one from a reputable legal site online, sign it, and submit it tot he copyright office, they have instructions on how to do this).
In summary, the expo was definitely worth it. There were other services available (appointments with agents and editors) but I wasn’t interested in them. If they hold it again in 2012, and you are either self-published or considering self-publishing, you might want to make your way there if you can.