Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December's End (WoE week 53)

Write at the Merge gives us 500 words as usual, but in honor of saying goodbye to 2013 and hello to 2014, there's a bit more to this week's prompt.

The first challenge is to experiment with the concepts of goodbye and purgatory.
The second includes the song Goodbye by artist Alicia Keys, and the following quote:

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present. 
Marcus Aurelius Antonius Meditations 200 A.D. 

I love the concepts and the images that are colliding in my mind, even now, after my response is completed. There's a lot to work with here, and so many directions to go. The grit of the grim appeals to me most, perhaps due to the films I've watched recently. The fire-breathing dragon in the old dwarven mountain, the corrupt capitol and the mandatory games designed to keep the population enslaved, even the epic struggle between angels and demons conducted in the shadowy underground of New York City, all these dark stories are bubbling in my creative cauldron.

This week, I had too much muse, my piece weighing in with over a thousand words.It doesn't even feel complete yet. I think there's potential for it to develop into a novel or two of some length. Which both excites me and frustrates me, because I've already got four fantasy trilogies in the works, and they all have to take a back-burner to the paranormal mystery sequels that I'm hoping to publish in 2014.

So I thought I'd cheat a little. This post carries the first 500 words. If you choose to, you can move on to tomorrow's post.

I offer the following in response:  A New Regime, Part One

The duke was dead. His ambitious widow claimed regency for her adolescent son that very hour, but the duchy council knew it was only a matter of time before she made a bid for Mad King Herold’s throne. The uneasy councilmen watched from the purgatory of palace shadows, waiting for the inevitable declaration of war.

Elise had more immediate concerns. As she helped her lady dress in mourning shift, she pinched her fingers twice in corset lacings and fumbled with the sleeve ribbons.

Brenna twisted her hair out of the way, “Mother insists I be rid of you.”

She sounded uncertain, distant. Elise paused, “Her Grace has insisted that for years.”

“But without Father,” Brenna’s eyes flickered in her looking glass reflection. “I have no idea how to protect you.”

They shared a disquiet silence. “Well, to supper,” Elise choked on the lump in her throat. “We will know our fates soon enough.”

Brenna hugged her tight, “Whatever happens, I’ll see to your family. Father made you a promise and I intend to keep it.”

“Thank you,” Elise closed her eyes against rising doubt. Brenna meant well, but the duchess would have her own way. Whispers existed in the darkest corners among the bravest servants that murder had been the duke’s untimely end. The rumor carried the threat of the gallows.

Supper was a tense affair. Already relegated to the sideboard like a memory discarded, the duke’s chair sat empty. Elise kept to her station, distress clenching her stomach so tight the smells of food soured her appetite. She could tell from what remained on refused plates that Brenna wasn’t hungry either.

The duchess noticed as well. “Brenna, you’ve barely touched your meal. Is something amiss?”

“Grief has made me unwell.” The silence amplified Brenna’s trembling voice.

The duchess tapped the knife she held, a sign of her displeasure. “It will pass. I have received the contract for your engagement, from House Glassen.”

Elise surrendered a captive sigh. It was no secret that Brenna and Pierre were fond of each other. The duke approved of the match despite Pierre’s lower title, placing his daughter’s happiness first. And they could be safe in Glassen’s traditional seat in Fernwood.

Brenna straightened. “I’m pleased to-“

“I’ve had to send our regrets, of course.”

Elise stiffened. Brenna’s voice was full of fear. “Regrets?”

The duchess nodded, “Well I don’t know what your father was thinking, accepting such a contract in the first place. But don’t you worry. I’ve corrected all that.”


“Is there an echo?” The duchess tisked. “Besides, I need Sir Pierre de Glassen to fill in the ranks I’ve promised to deliver to Mad King Herold. He needs fodder soldiers for his silly war against the Northmen.”

Brenna pushed back her chair, half-rising, and passed out. Elise darted, catching her mistress and the wrathful glare of the duchess.

“Now, what to do about you…” Rising, her Grace crossed the stone floor. Her shadow crawled onto Elise’s skin. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Spambox Sundays: It is Trump to Tell

Spambots are striking me again. This time they're after my Sticky's World story about  Podgy-Warbles. Look at the gem I found in my spambox:

believed. It is endeavour to go either. If you seem comforted, do not retrieve out when sales are natural event by requesting that dwell searching for it. It is trump to tell on straight from a digit verbalise legal instrument eff a greater investiture of $200-$400 for a fooling top. You Michael Kors Purses Outlet quadruple quotes when your purchase since you can feature colour later on the someone ahead offset. hence, you are or how diligently you think you can have discounts and deals. If you are making their monetary system locomote if they are comparison prices online, spend a penny Tues your day on sites equal Target, on Podgy-Warble (WoE #11 Bubble & City Hall Challenge)

This was a straight cut and paste. I did not alter anything about this comment. All irritation aside, it's still extremely entertaining. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Christmas!

I wish you the best and brightest of the season and joy and love beyond measure through the coming year.

Love Always

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fear Monsters and The Christmas Carol

Aspects of Independent Publishing Part Six - Fear


I'd like to take a moment and discuss something that affects us all, and right now is affecting someone I hold dear to my heart.

A friend of mine is experiencing fear of what finishing and subsequently publishing her first novel might mean. 
  • Where to next? 
  • What if no one likes my book? 
  • What if no one buys my book?

It breaks my heart when a fellow artist is struggling to pull words from the abyss of fear. Not to say I haven’t experienced it with The Trouble with Henry and Hagatha Kittridge Must Die,or that I'm not struggling with it while writing their sequels. Deep down, at the root of all this fear, is the voice of our self-doubt. The voice that tells us we are not worthy to write. That voice that tells us we are stupid for even trying. That same voice that screams at us in our sleep, giving us horrendous nightmares, giddy at the notion that we are helpless and lost in a sea of sharks.

Our own personal poltergeist, 
the Ghost of Novels Yet-To-Be.

This voice will defeat all of us at some point in our lives. It is the strongest voice that authors and other artists have in our internal arsenal. It’s the same voice that mothers have, the one telling us to wrap our children in bubble-wrap and lock them in the basement so that nothing ever happens to them. The fear that our children might come to harm, or experience heartbreak so profound that the innocence within them cracks, will cripple us. We want to protect our novels, our artwork, our children from the big, bad, scary, and ever-changing world.

But we also want them to have the best opportunities possible: to laugh like hearts can't be broken, to love without reservation, to reach and obtain each impossible thing they dream before breakfast.

We can’t allow them a care-free life and keep them wrapped up in the basement.

We know this. But still the fear that something will happen plagues our actions.

But Shel, what can we do really?
Where is the magic talisman
that will protect us from Fear?

Um, I'd like to say there was a talisman, and that I knew how to find it. I'd be seriously beyond-filthy-stinking-rich if I knew.

Instead, all I have is an allegory.

Story time?
 Oh dear Universe,
not again!

Oh suck it up. It's almost Christmas. You can sit through a little allegory.

Imagine, Mr. Scrooge, if you will, that three specters will visit you, one at the top of each hour beginning at midnight. The first, the Ghost of Novels Past. She is an aging, wisp of a thing, confident in her sorrow, and she looks at you with pity. Because you wrote a novel and you spent all that time tweaking the phrases and the words and the structure and the plot until there is nothing left of the original thought, and you let life pass you by in the meantime. Friends and loved-ones have moved on, publishing their own words with reckless abandon.

“It’s not even edited,” Scrooge says with a sneer. “Not by a professional, at any rate. And they need a lot of glue to patch up those unsightly plot holes. And the people that buy those books don’t know what they’re doing.”

“But the authors worked on the next books,” says the Ghost. “And they improved their skills.”

“Well, I’m doing it right the first time,” says Mr. Scrooge, even though he knows it's more excuse than truth. “My manuscript is going to be perfect before I allow the world to see it.”

“Perfection will never be achieved, and in the meantime, look what you lost,” she says and points to the book signing party of Scrooge's nephew.

And the hour strikes One, and a jolly, irreverent Ghost of Novels Present arrives. He is full of cheer and snark and drags you from the warmth of your bed through the snows of San Diego. “Your friend is struggling with a plot,” he says, pointing to a small boy with a crutch. “He has no one to support his dream.”

“But he has potential,” Scrooge says, puzzled. “Why does he still receive rejection letters from publishers? Why are vanity presses circling around him like vultures?”

“Are there no self-publishing outlets?” the ghost laughs. “Is there no room for his genre?”

“What becomes of him?”

“If he is not found, if he receives one more rejection, I see an abandoned crutch hanging by the hearthfire.”


And then the stroke of Two, and a terrifying poltergeist, the Ghost of Novels Yet-To-Be extends a bony finger and points Scrooge to a lonely grave. As Scrooge brushes away the ice, he reads the working title of his manuscript.

And Scrooge knows then what a life of fear and regret costs.

Shel, we've seen
The Christmas Carol
a million times.

Okay, so maybe I’ve been hitting the eggnog a little hard this year. But there’s something about ol’ Ebenezer that I find appealing. Despite the darkness he surrounded himself with, despite the angst and the worry and the hatred, and the holier-than-thou attitude, at the end he was a changed man. A redeemed man. And Scrooge became known for keeping the spirit of Christmas in his heart.


Okay, fine. To bring this back to relevancy, the message of this Christmas Carol is HOPE. Fear cannot tread where hope lives, but hope is still a fragile, fleeting thing. I’ve heard it said that the beast we feed will be the beast that grows. If we feed our doubt, if we nurture our fear, that will be the monster that survives. That is the voice in our heads that tells us we shouldn’t do a thing, that we should give up because we do not have the talent or the strength to persevere in the face of challenges.

But if we feed the voice of hope. If we allow her grace to fill our thoughts and our dreams, then fear will become diminished, and will have no control over us.

So what if I published The Trouble with Henry and Hagatha Kittridge Must Die, and I only sold a handful of ebooks. So what if this blog is only read by a handful of really supportive people and hackers from China and Russia. When fear of hitting the publish button reared its ugly head, I chose to feed the voice of hope instead. I chose a carefree life for my child instead of a basement prison. I hope I can help others choose the same.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or says or does. My child is still beautiful, and talented, and full of promise. He doesn’t need to win a Hugo or an Agatha, or reach a million copies sold. It would be nice, but I'm proud of my work, my children, just the way they are.

I wish my friend could feed her hope right now. She’s got life fighting her every step of the way, and some extremely serious challenges than simply the fear of being finished, but fear feeds off of that type of stress. And she’s beautiful and talented and her book is worthy of bookshelves across the globe. She’s just losing her writing heart to her fears.

And if her fear monster wins, then the true tragedy is that no one will have had the chance to read her book. And I cannot bear a world in which a story failed to exist because hope died. 

Do not feed the fear monster, my fellow writers. Make it starve to death, nevermore to grace your computer screen. There are many, many things out there to be afraid of, but our own children need not be a part of them. If there's one thing I've learned about self-publishing, its that you can't break it. If you upload mistakes, you can fix them. If no one buys your book, it's okay, Really. Screw them all and write your next book. And publish it. And write the next book. And publish it. If you build it, they will eventually come. But first, you've got to nurture your faith. You've got to feed your Hope Monster. 

If you have other questions of a non-legal nature about publishing independently, or if you would like a cheer squad to help you walk through the process, feel free to ask me. I’m willing to help where I can. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not a community to publish a book?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Solstice Song (WoE week 50)

Write at the Merge seems particularly festive this week, challenging us with the word Sparkle and the song Sleigh Ride as performed by John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra.

I couldn't help but think of Sticky-Tagger and his pixie friends. I've been away from them too long, me thinks.

I offer the following in response: Solstice Song

“Sticky, it’s winter!” Glowing, Sellamina twirled beneath the falling snow. Her wings shimmered in the pale triumph of the waxing sun.

“It’s still too slushy,” Sticky held out a disappointing handful of wet, white sludge. “It’s close, but it’s not ready yet.”

Sellamina drifted towards his perch. “Can't you feel it?”

Sticky closed his eyes and listened to the hush of their woods, hoping to hear the hum. Gone were the familiar sounds of the woodland creatures as most of them hid in the warmth of their dens. Snow dampened the song of the world. Even the trees refused to break the morning calm with their chatter. He opened his eyes and sighed. “No. Not yet.”

She sat beside him on the branch and wrapped her golden wings about them, sharing their warmth. She stifled a yawn. “I know we stayed up all night waiting, but I’m still too excited to sleep.”

“Do you think it’ll come from the north this year?” He knew the answer, but the question came from habit.

“It always comes from the north,” his sister breathed, huddling closer.

Sleigh bells chimed several miles away, a mere whisper tickling Sticky’s ear from that distance. His mind wandered. He remembered those bells with laughter and the spiced, heady vapors of mulled cider and wine. Humans were predictable, arriving with the snows and collecting white berries in bunches. “Sella, why do you think humans collect mistly-toes?”

“Ug, you had to ruin it,” Sellamina growled beside him. “Can’t we just once not speak of humans and their stupid rituals?”

“Okay.” Sticky frowned, racking his thoughts. With his recent Fetcher training, he’d become quite adept at collecting roasted chestnuts from human kitcheries. It was his new favorite food. Well, favorite nut. Punkin pie crumbs and that wiggly food that was colored and transparent like gemstones but melted into soup in his mouth were his favorites. Oh, and the sweet and sticky corn…his tummy rumbled. “But you don’t think they eat the berries do you?”

“I don’t think so. Wouldn’t it be poisonous?”

“Well, someday, I’m gonna find out,” Sticky said. “You know what else humans do?”


“They bring trees into their homes and dress them up.”

“What, whole trees?” Sticky caught her sideways glance as she leaned forward. Her mouth crinkled to one side. “That makes no more sense than the mistly-toes.”

Goosiepimples climbed up Sticky’s arm as the breeze shifted. It came from the north and stirred the crystalline drifts of the woodland floor. The ground sparkled bright with energy.

“Ooh." Sellamina squeaked and jumped to her feet, fluttering her wings. “Sticky, it’s here!”

Sticky forgot his hunger, his lack of sleep, and the chill that seeped into his skin. As the first magic of winter kissed his face, he drank it in, feeling raw bliss swell around his heart. The drowsy woods sparked to life and hummed, sweet and low, and eternity was once again possible.

And with that, my dearest readers, I wish you a very magical season overflowing with wonder and merriment.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Week of Thanks and Giving (WoE #48)

Write at the Merge gives us 100 words to explore the word Gratitude.

I could not eloquently list everything I'm grateful for and keep it to 100 words.

Therefore, I will keep it simple, as if I received an award and had 30 seconds to give a speech.

Among other things, I am most grateful for the opportunity to participate in the stories each dawn brings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Best Laid Plans...

I apologize for radio silence.

I wish I could say it was because I've been so deep in NaNoWriMo, that I didn't know what day it was.

Unfortunately, I had a slight mishap.

Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder. Treason. And Plot
I see no reason the Gunpowder Treason
Ought ever be forgot

Well, for me it was the 8th of November, the day to remember when my husband was late to an appointment and rushed to leave. I was in another room and I heard a crash followed by a stream of my husband's obscenities. In his haste, he knocked my computer off of its perch and the action caused the prong of the power cord to bend. 

So, my laptop was fine, thank God, but I had no way of recharging spent power. 

My husband still looks at me with guilty eyes and showers me with apologies, even after a replacement cord was ordered and delivered today. 

But accidents are just as they seem. And if I had taken the extra few moments that 8th of November, to ensure that my laptop was put away before I stepped from its side for a bite to eat, it would not have been there for my husband to collide with.

So you see, owing blame where blame is due, I look upon him with guilt as well. For he feels guilty for something that is not his fault, and I feel guilty that he feels guilty...

And now it is ten days later and I am well behind in my word count for NaNoWriMo. 

Last year, however, I was even further behind and I still managed to cross the finish line, and I didn't have so fine an excuse as I have this year.

So, in my next NaNoWriMo Journal entry, I will hopefully have a more substantial update for you. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Party in the SKDunning Household!

Today, I received the Certificate of Registration for The Trouble With Henry from the United States Office of Copyright.

I am now a public record. Woot!

I am breaking out the bottle of Anniversary Whiskey my husband and I purchased on our honeymoon in Ireland eight years ago to celebrate. 

To give you a timeline, I paid my filing fee and submitted the request on May 10, 2013. 

And it's here. And this is awesomesauce. Pardon an unprofessional "GO ME!" moment.



Friday, November 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo: Day One

Yes, I'm participating in the craziness of National Novel Writing Month. The 30 days of November were created for just one thing: 50k words.

No tricks, no weapons. Skill against skill alone.

Sorry, I just channeled The Princess Bride there.

50k in 30 days equals about 1667 words a day. Today, I've logged in with 1627. So I'm 40 words behind. At this rate, I'll finish 50k on December 1st.

If you want to see what I'm up to, check out www.nanowrimo.org.

This year, I'm tackling the sequel to The Trouble With Henry. Tentatively titled The Cold Side of Trouble, this installment will hopefully be packed full of suspense and snarky humor.

If nothing else, I'm going on a roller coaster ride this month, and my intent is to cross the finish line with a workable 1st draft. Now, November is also a busy month for me, and I'm already starting with a bit behind the eight ball. I'm working the Renaissance Faire in Escondido, California this weekend, and I'm staying at my in-laws, so I'll have to squeeze the next 3370 words between faire, travel, and visiting with family.

Nothing like burning the candle at both ends. Please forgive me if I'm radio silent for the next few days. I'm going to try to keep you updated with my progress, not to pester you or brag or anything. If I make a commitment to keeping you in the loop, then I'm more apt to keep typing words until I cross the finish line.

So cheers! I'm off to bed now. It'll probably be the last sleep I get for the month, so I plan on making the most of it.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Autumn's Death (WoE #43)

Write at the Merge gives us the word pine and the following picture for inspiration.

Photo courtesy unsplash by way of Write On Edge

I have a renaissance faire to attend this weekend, in Escondido, California. With the recent weather and my thoughts colliding with another century, I wanted to return to my Anastasia and Arik, the Count of Monteschell. We last learned what a true beast Anastasia's brother is. The stakes of the game of power and royal favor are about to get more risky. This week's post, more than the seasons change.

I offer the following in response: The Death of Autumn's Reign

Trees pined for winter and dropped their scarlet and golden tears on the weathered gazebo deck, in requiem for its forgotten ash grove. Children played nearby under the scrutiny of the waning sun, oblivious to the end of autumn as if seduced by a piper clad in a pied cloak. Anastasia knew the moment autumn died; she felt the seasons shift in her bones. She drew her shawl closed and tasted snow on the eastern breeze.

A bad omen, withal. The season turned too early.

“M’Lady,” her footman said, leading her steed to her. “We should return.”

“We are waiting.”

He shook his head, “Twilight is approaching. His Grace will not come at this hour.”

Anastasia shivered. The footman was right, of course, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave. Something felt off. “We are waiting.”

“M’Lady, your teeth are chattering.”

Her breath rose in smoke-like tendrils. “We are still waiting.”

The children abandoned their games in a slow exodus from the field, the heartiest soul among them the last to leave. The footman bounced in his place. “M’Lady, this cold isn’t good for the horses. Will you not think of them?”

Ground-born thunder rolled through the meadow before the royal standards appeared through the tree line. “Damn,” she whispered as the King’s horsemen rose into view. One soon broke from the train, leading the others in formation and panic squeezed her heart as she realized the men had been sent for her. And her Arik rode among them. “Please, don’t leave me, Cullen.”

The footman was a beacon of fear. “Yes, m’lady.”

A nobleman dismounted and joined her count as he crossed the empty space between Anastasia and the circled soldiers. She dropped into a low curtsy, at their approach, uneasy at the display of force. Why was Arik riding with the King’s men and why were there so many of them?”

“My Lady Dumarche,” Arik extended a hand to help her rise. “I apologize for the show of force. I bring you grim news.”

Blood pumped in her ears. “I am your servant, Your Grace.”

“I am on King’s Business,” he continued. “His majesty has taken ill and your father has been arrested. Your brother is acting on behalf of your lands and requests that you return to your home at once.”

If her brother controlled her fortune, she could very well end up the next morning dead of poison, or worse, discarded in the old oubliette. She sucked in a stiff breath and stared against Arik’s hard gaze, seeking silent his guidance. “Your Grace, I beseech you,” she said, choosing her words carefully. There were too many witnesses to be informal. “As it is a long journey back to my father’s palace, and as the cold is unbearable, might I impose upon your custody and weather the night at Monteschell?”

Arik’s face relaxed, a spark of hope danced in his eyes. “That is a reasonable request. Come. Mount your horse. We will to my father’s stead.”

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Precipice 2013 is HERE!

Announcing Precipice 2013!

"You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from."  
Cormac McCarthy, "No Country for Old Men" 

 In the second volume of Precipice, twenty-four authors from the Write on Edge community explore the concept of luck in twenty-six works of poetry, short fiction, and memoir.

I am proud to be a part of such a wonderful, supportive community and I am equally proud that my work has been selected for this publication. My sincerest thanks goes to the dedicated editorial staff at Write on Edge, whose encouragement and advice help me improve as a writer. 

Check out Precipice 2013, available from these fine retailers:

The ebook will become available on iTunes, Kobo, B&N over the next few weeks, and at some point in the next week, the two editions on Amazon will be merged. Watch the FB and Twitter feeds for updates.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cost and Value: Print Books

Aspects of independent publishing Part Five: Pricing, continued.

Dead-Tree Overhead!

So far we’ve discussed the power of 99, and the fluid pricing for ebooks. For those of you, like me, who want to see their novel in actual print, on actual dead-tree paper in perfect-bound glory, this next segment is for us.

Let’s face the facts folks: It can literally cost nothing to produce an ebook except the time required to sit before a computer screen and type. That's why there are so many of us jumping into the DIY ocean. For a physical book, there’s more to consider than public reaction to the price point. The publisher (that’s you) now has overhead.

And the publisher has to know their market.

Print on Demand printers like CreateSpace and Lightning Source are cost effective because you don’t have to worry about storing thousands of copies of your book in your basement while trying to establish a sales channel through your favorite Independent Bookseller. But some decisions can negate this effectiveness.

Like what font you’re using.

Oh, we know that Shel.
That’s why we went to FontSquirrel and searched through
the free of cost and use fonts for the perfect font.
We’ve got that covered,
so let’s get on with it.

Not so fast. Yes, it is extremely important to have a font that is easy to read and almost as important to have one that doesn’t look like the standard font from your word processor. However, the choice of font could mean the difference between profit and loss. The size of your font, not just the interior layout, affects how many pages are in your book. The number of pages in your book affects the bottom line of printing your book.

If you can cut out a hundred pages simply by adopting a new, mass-paperback-friendly font, you’ll be in a different pricing block, and will have more room to turn a profit.

If you’re going the DIY route, or if you're struggling with layout, there are lots of helpful sites that will give you free advice and examples, and even quality, low priced templates to use for your project. Will it look as professional? Maybe not, but it will look pretty damn close. Take a minute, do some research, decide what you’re comfortable doing and what you want to hire a professional for.

Research the professionals you hire, too. I can't stress enough the need to take your time with this. Your research will help you locate a trustworthy person who will deliver you a quality product. Establishing a budget early and sticking with it will keep you from getting taken by someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

Shameless plug: I have navigated the layout waters, and I am in a position to help you for dirt cheap, depending on your project. While my advice or lunatic ravings are free, my labor no longer can be. My fees, however, are extremely flexible and negotiable.

Okay, we get it Shel. Can we discuss pricing now?


Okay, so let’s pretend we’re all set to go. We’ve got the layout, exterior and interior, all ready for print. If you don’t know anything about paper stock, again, I urge you to do some research. There are some confusing terms regarding paper, like point and weight. Like with all things, the higher the quality, the more it costs. This is where you learn the true meaning of compromise. CreateSpace has a pretty decent calculator to help you establish the “per each” cost of your print book.

We’ll use my books Hagatha Kittridge Must Die and The Trouble with Henry as examples. The assumption is that we’re printing with 10pt color stock and laminated cover, and 60# cream interior. Our final trim size is 5.5 by 8.5 inches or 13.97 x 21.86 cm.

Hagatha is 164 pages, including front and back matter. CreateSpace says the cost for 1 is $2.81 + $3.59 for standard shipping and handling.

So to get a “proof” copy, it will cost me $6.40.

Trouble is 346 pages, including front and back matter. CreateSpace says the cost for 1 is $5.00 + $3.59 for standard shipping and handling.

So to get a “proof” copy, it will cost me $8.59.

See what I mean about font affecting your page count? If you can cut even 50 pages extra out, it's worth it in the long run.

So that’s it Shel? That and sales tax for the bookstore?

No. You want to earn a royalty and the bookstore you’re courting wants to turn a profit. You want a EAN/UPC on your cover. Bookstores won’t carry your book without it. The UPC barcode will need to have the suggested retail price.

And just so you're aware, once you set the Retail Price, it costs time and money to change it.

You really want to give some thought about your suggested retail price. Not only do you want the price to compare to other books in the same genre, but you want to make sure that bulk prices and retail/distribution don’t cut into your royalties.

And here is where we begin to understand how a traditionally-pubbed author may only see $0.80 royalty on his book priced at $15.99. Not that I’m defending the archaic business practices of a Big-6 5 publisher, but they do have a lot of people working under their roof that have families to support. They are interested in profit, as they have every right to be in a capitalist society.

Okay Shel, we’re on the same page.
How do we determine our Sales Price?

We'll use Hagatha Kittridge Must Die as an example. 

Assuming we're printing on demand one book at a time, $6.40 in the above scenario is our break even point. If I'm selling the print book through my own site, I could, say, price the book at $8.00 and be done. I sell a book, I make $1.60 profit. It's slim maybe, but it's still a profit.

But, if I want to sell through a bookstore, I need to allow for things like Standard Trade Discount, and I want to be competitive here, not stingy. Keep in mind, self-publishing, indie-publishing, author-publishing, no matter what name you give it is still experiencing some prejudice and bookstores are not going to be willing to risk shelf space for something that won't give them a profit.

So a professional, not-stingy Standard Trade Discount according to some non-stingy industry professionals would be set at one of the following:
  • 15-20% to Libraries and College Bookstores
  • 40% to Independent Bookstores
  • 50-55% for Large Chain and Distributors
  • and a bulk discount for anyone from your website who may want to buy more than one of your books at a time, a courtesy that your readers will appreciate, especially around Christmas.
Now, I don't know how the rest of you feel about your local library, but I personally think libraries may be getting the short end of the stick. And I don't see why Independent Bookstores should be shafted because they're not a big name store. And with that in mind, I'm more inclined to give a 55% trade discount across the board here. Why not? It's my book, right?

And since my readers are buying direct from my website, I can give all kinds of discounts or bundles or extra bits that help me stay connected with them. 

But if I was to sell Hagatha to distributors with $8.00 retail in mind at the 55% discount, they would be purchasing Hagatha at $4.40. That's a Net Loss of $2.00.

So my break even point is off. By at least two dollars. I want to sell Hagatha for as inexpensive as I can and still make a profit, and still have the price point be competitive in the market with all the other books on the shelves, I have to look at bumping up the retail price to make this work.

Changing your EAN barcode price gets expensive because you have to change the information on the cover of your book. You can always sell for less than your suggested retail price, but you can't sell for more. The chances of you getting tarred and feathered if you do rise substantially. Just saying.

So let's look at a different formula.

How about two and a half times that break even amount?

$6.40 x 2.5 = $16.00 new retail price
$16 x 45% = $7.20 the unit price for the Standard Trade Discount
$7.20 - $6.40 = $0.80 net profit.

Not much, right? $16.00 (or because we know the power of 99, $15.99) will net me $0.80 in royalty. Looks a lot like what I'd get from a traditional publisher if I was going that route. 

Now, before you go delving too deeply into my math formulas, I should probably let you know that I barely passed maths in school. And this is the price per each, based on one book ordered at a time. Theoretically, the more you purchase at a time, the less expensive the cost per each becomes, and you can adjust the numbers with that in mind, if you desire.

My advice to you?
  • RESEARCH THE DEVIL out of your cardstock choices, your printer choices, etc. Decide what you can afford to do, and what is necessary to do, with your final product.
  • RESEARCH THE DEVIL out of fee-per-sale website plugins to set up your own store. Sites like Gumroad and Wordpress have these things down to a science. Look at the fine print and make sure your comfortable with the arrangements.
  • Did I mention RESEARCH? Just checking.
  • Run the numbers. Look at your genre, your competition. Run the numbers again before you set your suggested retail price. If you don't, you could be shelling out more money than you have or want, and can and probably will be extremely disappointed with the outcome of your dead-tree exploration.
  • and last but not least: DO NOT LET ANYONE DISCOURAGE YOU.

I said it before and I'll say it again here: No one will believe in your book if you don't, and no one will believe in it more than you. If you want your book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, or at Waterstones, these are the sorts of things you need to be prepared for.

If you have other questions of a non-legal nature about publishing independently, or if you would like a cheer squad to help you walk through the process, feel free to ask me. I’m willing to help where I can. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not a community to publish a book?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Anticipation of Autumn (WoE week 42)

Write at the Merge gives us two words this week: Anticipation and Leap.

I'm going with Anticipation, and I'm going to give you something a bit different this week.

I offer the following in response: Autumn Means Pumpkins!

I have been sitting on edge for the last few weeks. Autumn is a season of preparation. We anticipate winter’s approach like loyal subjects for their queen, festooning trees with brightly hued leaves of gold and rust. The world seems to me like a child that cannot sit still at the midnight hour in wait for Saint Nick, watching the starry skies through frost covered windows, afraid to sleep because it might miss something.

For me, the wait begins with the planting of the pumpkin vine. I’m a bit obsessed with pumpkins, mostly because they each have their own personality, with warts and scars and farmer tans from sitting on the ground too long during their development. When no one is watching, I hug them.
Who am I kidding? I hug them even when people are watching. Don’t judge me. I never said I was normal.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the reason why I’m hovering over my pumpkin vines in wait for their perfect orange fruit. The following is my absolute favorite pumpkin recipe. 

Pumpion Pye
AKA: Baked Whole Pumpkin

Variations of this dish has been around at least since the colonies were established in the Americas, and was a known favorite of our founding fathers. George Washington himself was especially partial to Pumpkin Pie and requested it often from his own kitchen. Of course, the concept of pie has evolved over the centuries, from the waste not/want not use of yesteryear leftovers to the flaky crust and sweet fillings that we all know pie to be today.

For a very special holiday pumpkin dessert, give this flashback a shot:

WARNING: This is not for anyone on any form of diet for any reason. If you or someone you serve develops heart disease, diabetes, or other dietary malfunction, DO NOT BLAME ME. It is solely your responsibility to ascertain if you or those you serve are healthy enough to partake of this dish.

Now that the public service announcement has been issued, let’s begin.

Preheat the oven to 350*

Gather the ingredients:
·         A small pumpkin, 3 or 4 pounds, guts removed
·         3 whole eggs
·         1 cup heavy whipping cream
·         ¼ cup brown sugar
·         ½ Tbsp molasses
·         ¼ tsp nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
·         ½ tsp cinnamon
·         ¼ tsp ginger
·         Fresh Vanilla bean, scraped, or a few drops of extract, to taste
·         1 Tbsp butter (real butter please, no skimping)

After guts have been removed from the pumpkin, mix all remaining ingredients except the butter and fill the pumpkin with the mixture. Top the mixture with the butter. Place the top back on the pumpkin and place in an oven-safe dish (this is to keep leakages from spilling out into the oven) and bake for 1-1 ½ hrs or until the mixture as set like a custard.

If you can wait for the pumpkin to cool before serving, you win bragging rights for self-control. While amazing at cool, this pumpkin is positively sinful while hot. Serve from the pumpkin directly at the table, scraping the pumpkin meat off with each scoop of the custard. Family style suggestion: hand everyone a spoon and announce “dig in”. 

For those of you who are trying to do the vegan thing, some friends have suggested that cream of coconut works for the whipping cream, but I have no idea what to do about the eggs. You guys are on your own, but I wish you the best of luck. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cost and Value: eBooks

Aspects of Independent Publishing Part Five: Pricing

How Much is that eBook in the Window?

Today we’re going to discuss the root of all evil. Let’s face it, we haven’t gone this far and argued this much over and about our books without having some sort of financial goal in mind. And, in today’s economy, Money isn’t something many of us have an excess of. We have to have money in order to make money.

Does that mean we have to sell our souls to get our book noticed?

Eh, maybe. It depends on what your end goal is. And if your soul carries a bit more equity than mine does, you may even come out ahead. I’m not equipped to help you with soul-negotiation though, so you may want to seek professional help first.

But, I’m digressing.

The topic I want to discuss over the next two installments is Price-Fixing. And not in the Apple/Amazon/Big 6 5 publisher way. What is the magic number, the magic price tag that will cause a reader to buy my book?

There are a few muddled websites out there advertising convoluted formulas that make sense when the stars are aligned with Jupiter. It’s even kinda cool in a bean-countery sort of way to sit down and chart the what-ifs in relationship to the what-thens. Before we break down these magic components though, I want you to read the following and take it to heart.

  1. My book has value.
  2. My reader owes me nothing.

Wait, Shel. Aren’t these statements contradictory?

No. These statements are the Ying-Yang of your self-esteem and the drive behind your end goal. No one is going to believe in your book if you don’t, and no one is going to believe in it more than you do. Let Kismet or the Magic 8 Ball worry about the proper star alignment around Jupiter. A reader interested in your book will buy your book when and only when they feel like it, based on their own need to make ends meet and not on your needs to make ends meet. 

But... but... but…

Fine. You’re right. I don’t have all the answers, any more than you do. I’m definitely not a marketing expert. I’m not an accountant (although I majored in accounting for a whole semester in college) and I’m certainly not a Magic 8 Ball in league with Kismet.


Let me walk you through what I’ve done, why I’ve done it, and where to go next. Today, we’re starting with the magic number 99.

Have you ever wondered why things are priced at $0.99 and not simply $1? $9.99 instead of $10? $99.99 instead of $100?

Consumers have a really bad habit that has been proven by every psychological experiment dealing with economics and statistics. Most consumers do not typically round up when looking at a price tag. Gas stations tap into this at a deeper level, pricing things at 9/10 a penny. The 9/10 never changes even though the cost of crude does. 


Because $3.75 9/10 per gallon looks more attractive than $3.76 per gallon. 

Same thing goes with books. An ebook priced at $0.99 is going to sell more copies than if it was priced at $1. Psychologically, we think we’re getting a bargain.

I know this to be true, because every time I shop with my BFF, she drops off the cent side of the price tag. “It’s only 13 dollars,” she says. I look at the price tag. It reads $13.85. It’s closer to $14 than it is $13. “What’s the big deal?” you might think. “It’s just $0.85.” Well, if I buy 10 items, the cost is $138.50. My BFF’s $8.50 short in her estimate and I’m $1.50 over with mine. Who’s more prepared for the checkout total? My BFF looks at the receipt each time like she’s been overcharged, when really, all she’s done is underestimated.

But most buyers pay even less attention than that, and retailers know this.

So what you’re saying is I should price my books at $0.99 instead of $1?

No. Wait, yes, if you’re planning on selling your book at $1 and you want volume of sales. But no, that’s not specifically what I’m saying here. What I’m saying is set your price officially with the $0.99 in mind. If you want to sell your book for $5, mark it at $4.99 or $5.99.

Since the publishing outlet everyone is familiar with happens to be Amazon's KDP, I will use their module as an example.

My short story Hagatha Kittridge Must Die is 32k in length, 303kb.  I set this story at $2.99. Why?
Amazon takes 65% of all titles listed at $0.99 or less.  At $0.99, I would make only $0.34  (rounding down). If priced at $1 even, Amazon takes 30%, and I make $0.70. 

I have to sell twice as many books at $0.99 than I would at $1 to net the same amount.

Except, unless you’re enrolled in the KDP select program, there’s a little delivery fee Amazon tacks on depending on the size of the download. At 303kb, that’s a charge of $0.04. So really, I’m making $0.66 at the straight dollar price.

But, I’m less likely to get noticed at $1 than I am at $0.99. So what’s a girl to do?

First, I’m not a big fan of the $0.99 price-point anyway, especially as a reader. One reason may have to do with how much Amazon believes they’re entitled to and that knowledge has jaded me. Mostly though, it’s got to do with quality.

I’m not saying that you can’t find quality books at $0.99. But take a look at other things that are priced that low. Like what you might find at the nearest Dollar Store or $0.97 Heaven. Shampoo for example, priced that cheap, is made of mostly water. I end up using more of it to gain any use of the bottle. Stack five bottles of the stuff against say, one bottle of Suave from Target…How much money are you truly saving?

Shel, that’s a bogus comparison and you know it.

Okay, so maybe it pushes the boundary of believability. But it’s what I had to work with at the time. And there’s still a ring of truth to it. As a consumer, these are the sorts of things I make decisions on every day. So do you. Can we afford to buy the bulk? Will the veggies go to waste before we can use them all? How many hot dogs to hot dog buns?

And the quality of random books isn’t really what I want to discuss here. Why did I price Hagatha Kittridge Must Die at $2.99? Because readers definitely won’t pay me $20/hr for the book. My talents are worth at least that. (See me ooze with confidence?) Seriously though, I feel it’s a good price for a 30k story from a reputable author. It’s a price tag that I as a reader would feel comfortable in paying. As I want to be considered as a reputable author, that’s the price I went for.

The stigma of self-publishing is eroding, but there are still many pockets of deeply-rooted prejudice in readers and even other authors. What works for me, what I'm comfortable with, may not work for you. And that's okay.

My best advice on ebook pricing? Don’t undermine your talent. Be aware of what books/short stories/novellas/flash fiction in your genre is going for. Price the book to fit your conscience. But most of all: be consistent.

Like if you price all your flash-fiction or shorts that are less than 8k words at $0.99, don't write a 4k word piece and publish it at $30.99. Make sense?

Since the ebook publishing world is fluid, it might also be a good idea to experiment until you find a mix you’re comfortable with. Don't just jump on the "it's-got-to-be-$0.99-or-no-one-will-buy-it" bandwagon. Again, this is where I'm going to urge you to do some research, and adjust your plan as you see fit.

Stay tuned. Next week we discuss pricing dead-tree books. 

If you have other questions of a non-legal nature about publishing independently, or if you would like a cheer squad to help you walk through the process, feel free to ask me. I’m willing to help where I can. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not a community to publish a book?

Monday, October 7, 2013

DRM Bandwagon

Aspects of Independent Publishing: Part Four - DRM

DRM Bandwagon

Spoiler Alert: I'm about to get on my soapbox.

Uh-oh, Shel. You’re moving into a political debate. You feeling okay?

I’m fine, thanks for asking. And just so we’re clear, I’m not looking to start a fight here. I’m not asking anyone to do what I say nor am I even trying to say that I’m right and everyone else is wrong. DRM is a controversial topic that at some point in your writing career, you will need to make a decision on how you want DRM to effect you. I just happen to have an opinion. I personally don’t support DRM, but my readers understand by now that I don’t generally support anything that restricts freedom and makes criminals out of law-abiding citizens.

Wait, we thought you were talking about DRM?
Why are you discussing freedom infringement?

Because, don’t let Big Brother fool you. DRM isn't about protecting rights, especially not the rights of the individual. It's about money: who has it, who wants it, and who’s making it. It’s about restricting consumers’ rights for monetary gain.

This is a good place to discuss what DRM actually is. Digital Rights Management – or in some circles Digital Restrictions Management - is a policy, technology, software, app, or other digital doohickey designed to deter or circumvent copyright violations. 

That sounds relatively harmless, right? 

Part of the problem is that for each digital platform available, DRM takes on a different set of rules and operates under a different set of restrictions. You can do a Google Search and see for yourself. There is no universal guideline, no blanket “DRM means this and that”, and any policy left open to that much interpretation is bound to see abuse.

The companies benefit. The governments benefit. The determined criminal still breaks the law. In each frustrating scenario, no matter how you look at it, the consumer - the one spending actual money - loses.

We saw it happen to the music industry. MP3s were downloaded faster than anyone could say MP3 on file sharing sites. Then the government stepped in as an outcry was raised in the producers' homes. What were the producers so angry about? Exposure? No. Publicity. Nope, not that either. They were upset because they weren't getting any money from it. They saw a potential goldmine there and wanted their share. 

Don't get me wrong. As a business, as an author, I can certainly understand the desire to limit exposure to potential wrongdoers and turn a profit off of those who are looking to do things the honest way. This is, after all, America, and who doesn’t want to be rich and famous? I understand why we beg our readers Please, please, if you enjoy our work, please don’t download our stories willy-nilly and pass them out to your friends. Buy a new license for each article you pass along. Respect how we make our living.

As an end-user, this gets stuck in my teeth and becomes hard to chew. If I buy a stand-mixer, it’s mine. I own it. I can use it to make cupcakes and I can give those cupcakes to my friends. Or I can sell those cupcakes at a church social bazaar to help raise money for the local bobsled team. The Stand-Mixer company isn’t going to slap a cease and desist on me for using the product in a way that allowed other people to benefit from it without cost. As a matter of fact, the Stand-Mixer Company may prefer I invited my church over to my kitchen and allow each parishioner to use the mixer to make cupcakes to sell at the bazaar. The parishioners will all see how wonderful a product the Stand-Mixer Company makes and maybe go purchase one of their own.

That’s free publicity. That’s free marketing. That’s 20 sales the company didn’t have before the bobsled fundraiser happened. I’m happy I made cupcakes. The parishioners are happy they made cupcakes. The bobsled team is happy they got to eat cupcakes. The company is happy because they have more money and they can pay for health-care for their employees.

Aunt Edna will refuse to buy a brand new stand mixer and insist on purchasing one from the goodwill, one that the Stand-Mixer Company has already earned their $4k on. It’s okay. It’s Aunt Edna. Aunt Edna also refuses to turn her air conditioner on in the summertime because she’s cheap and doesn’t want to pay for a high electric bill. So she has a heart-attack because she’s dehydrated and…this parable is getting away from me, sorry.

But, Shel, you can hardly compare a kitchen small appliance to a book.

Can’t I?

If I buy a physical, dead-tree book, I have purchased the book. It’s mine. I own it. I read it. I enjoyed it. The royalties are dispersed by the publishing company and maybe the author gets his 20 cents. I loan the book to 20 parishioners, telling each of them Oh My Go-er-Heavens, you HAVE to read THIS book by THIS author. And out of those parishioners, 15 of them say eh, we’d rather have cupcakes, but the other 5. The other 5 parishioners say Oh My Go-er-Heavens, you’re absolutely right. I must read THIS book by this AUTHOR. Oh, and all the AUTHOR’s other books too. So each of the 5 goes out and buys the next three in the series. That’s 15 sales the author didn’t have before. It’s marketing. It’s advertisement. The publisher didn’t have to finance another campaign from the marketing department, but there’s enough money to buy health insurance for their employees now. And, it’s a whopping $3.00 the author gets after royalties are dispersed.

And Aunt Edna goes to the library and checks out all the books, books for which the royalties - $0.80 - have already been paid.

How is my dead-tree book-loaning any different from the library lending in this scenario? Everyone benefits. Everyone is happy.

Except maybe the author, because he only has $4.00 when the publisher made $4k. Honestly though, that’s between him and his Big 6 5 publisher.

Ah, but Shel, digital copies make it so much easier for criminals to criminate.
Something has to be in place to protect the author.

As far as I’m concerned, they already took care of that, those digital companies, in the most restrictive way possible. I buy a digital copy of a book. I read it, I enjoy it. I do not own it. It’s not mine. I can’t will it to my first-born non-existent son. I just paid a fee to rent it for my lifetime, or rather, for the lifetime of my terms and agreements with my digital reader company, subject to change without notice. If I decide I no longer want to use Banana’s reader and now I want to use Spark’s reader, I cannot just up and transfer my library. And unless I pay for rental space somewhere in the sky, if my reader/computer/digital device experiences the blue screen of death brought about by the four horsemen of the apocalypse, I’ve lost all the reading material I was saving up in case I wanted to on vacation when the apocalypse happened. My insurance company will replace my house and reader, but not my pumpkin patch, or my digital books.

It’s the end-user that suffers. The end-user that has to make the sacrifice. Because Banana, Sparks, and Bricks & Snowball are going to force the end-user to repurchase something he never actually owned to begin with, making more money off of the misery of the end-user just fighting to be whole again. And the New 3 keep dangling that 70% royalty check in front of the author’s nose to keep him complacent. Because hey, at least the author’s making way more with the New 3 than he ever did with the Big 6 5.

Come on, Shel, it’s way more complicated than that.
There are protocols and the like, and if you had ever been a victim of piracy, then you would understand the need to keep it from ever happening to anyone ever again.

You’re probably right. If I ever experience someone stealing my work and claiming ownership, or distributing said work illegally and making a profit on it, I would probably feel pretty stung. I might even pack up all of my cupcakes and refuse to sell them at the church bazaar for the bobsled team fundraiser. You may even find a public recanting linked to this very post where I scream I WAS SO DUMB!

Nevertheless, I would like for you to think about what's at the conception point of all this paranoia. The author is a business, a small one, but a business nonetheless. The publisher is a business, small or large, but a business nonetheless. DRM is the government and big business, small business way of maintaining their ability to make money, plain and simple. In order for businesses to have rights, consumers have to pay for the privilege of sacrificing their own. .

I am but one person. I can hardly write more than one novel a year. There are laws already in place for me to exact justice against those who abuse me. The end-consumer, my target audience, is anywhere from 2 (Thanks Mom and Dad!) to 2 gazillion (Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?). As an author, I do not fear my audience, I fear never being discovered. Why would I intentionally sabotage my potential for exposure?

So far, on all the platforms I have published to, all that have given me the choice if I want DRM, I check the box to opt out of the DRM. A determined pirate is going to violate me anyway, if he decides that’s what he wants to do. Criminals break laws. That’s why they’re criminals. I’d rather empower my law-abiding audience with the right to choose what to do with their purchase than tell them they can only read my stories on Wednesdays at the gym, or displayed on roasted banana flavored bricks because there are pirates in these here waters.

And as flippant as I’m sure this post sounds, I did not come to this opinion/decision without a hefty bit of research. I have come to the conclusion that I want to treat others the way I want to be treated. I choose to trust others the way I want to be trusted. Is it risky? Yeah, sure, but so is crossing the street.

I told you at the beginning that this foray into the independent publishing journey was going to be more soapbox than substance. I want to reiterate that I neither insist that you follow my lead, nor do I believe that everyone should feel the same way I do. 

Because I believe in the individual freedom of expression and the rights to both dish out and ignore advice. That’s just how I roll. 

If you have other questions of a non-legal nature about publishing independently, or if you would like a cheer squad to help you walk through the process, feel free to ask me. I’m willing to help where I can. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not a community to publish a book?

Monday, September 30, 2013


Aspects of Independent Publishing: Part Three - ISBN


What’s with the alphabet soup, Shelton?
We already know what these are.

Okay, so you do. I won’t argue with you. I’m not offering revolutionary information here. Just what I’ve learned through my journey into the independent publishing world. Stick around if you want: I’ll try not to make this too dry a read. 


International Standard Book Number, developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) identifies a book or book-like product. This is the number that reflects globally. An ISBN obtained in the US does not need reissued in the UK, for example. Once an ISBN is assigned, it cannot, should not be reissued since its function is to identify a specific book and a specific publisher. For Canadians, this number is issued by the CISS (pronounced “kiss”), or Canadian ISBN Service System, part of Library and Archives Canada, free of charge.

Lucky ducks.

Americans have a several options we can take advantage of. However, each country has only one distribution point for their numbers. For the United States, that distributor happens to be Bowker. All ISBN issuing sites, including those self-publisher touted “free” ones, originate from this company. Why is this important to mention? I’ll come back to this. First, I wish to break down the ISBN and show you the four parts that make up the 13 digit number.* Why? Because I want to know if anyone out there is as confused as I am about what exactly this number says. And because it's my blog, I can do it if I want to. 

Pick up a book and look at the number, for this purpose we will use one of mine.

The first part – 978 – represents the Universal Product Number (UPC). Well, actually, it represents the Bookland/EAN. A UPC is assigned to anything that is sold around the world. Books get special treatment. Here, the 978 says: this is a product from the non-existent country of Bookland, and so it is, therefore, a book-like product.

Confused yet? Bear with me, it gets worse. 

The next digit – 0 - represents language. In this case, English. This is probably the most straightforward of the parts. Oh, but just to keep it in line with the rest of the post, I’ll confuse you here. This part is actually named The Registration Group Element, and it could be up to 5 digits long for rarer languages, like Ancient Sanskrit.

But wait, does that mean the ISBN is longer than 13 digits?

No. The other sections are adjusted as need be. Don’t ask me why. I didn’t invent the system. If I had, well, knowing me, it would probably be way more convoluted and the resulting number at least 40 characters long.

The next section is The Registered Element, or the publisher. This is very important. This section points to who actually owns the whole rest of the number, and can stretch up to 9 digits long. In my example, I think the whole section between hyphens – 9896698 - is Oldewolff Prints.

Wait, don’t you know?
Didn’t they tell you when you bought the number? 

Actually, this number appears to be quite the guarded secret. You can buy a list of registered publishers and their corresponding code from the International ISBN Agency if you have a spare $2k burning a hole in your pocket. I don't. At least, not right now. And even if I did, is it worth it to me to spend that much money on something that changes constantly? Eh, probably not. It's not something I need to know after all. 

But on to why this section is important. If I were to switch publishers, i.e. drop myself (because Oldewolff Prints is my imprint) and sign on with a different publisher to publish my book, the ISBN would have to change because it doesn’t belong to the new publisher, it belongs to me, er, my publishing company.

So remember when I spoke earlier about the “free” ISBN? It’s free for you, certainly, in that it didn’t cost you anything to get from your self-publisher. However, it doesn’t belong to you either. It ties your book to the publisher. When looking The Trouble With Henry up in the International Bookland Title Magical Database or whatever they’re calling it these days, 9896698 is going to say Oldewolff Prints, not Shelton Keys Dunning. So, that “free” number from CreateSpace? You guessed it. It advertises CreateSpace, and doesn’t mention you at all.

Maybe it’s not important in the scheme of things to you. Maybe you believe having your own ISBN is not worth the cost. But if you plan on printing your book through Lightning Source, you have to have your ISBN already. They do not have numbers, free or otherwise, to assign to you. And it's probably not too hard to figure out if you, say, have a hundred books on your shelves from the same Big 6 publisher. I'll bet the savvy employee of a bookstore could look at the number and tell you who the publisher is. Which led me to ask myself, did I want a savvy employee of anywhere looking at the ISBN on my book and saying "Oh...Another CreateSpace DIYer. Wonderful." I believe in my product, and I decided to put that belief in my own publishing company. And...wait, I'm getting sidetracked now.

If I still have you as a captive audience, you deserve a nomination for sainthood. Just saying.

The fourth section is the item number, or the title of your work, and you guessed it, will be exactly as many numbers as it needs to be to fit the 13-digit profile. I believe, in my above case, the magic number here is 0.

But what about that last number? What’s it do?

That’s the checksum, the Check Number, and it's always only one digit. It doesn’t mean anything. Except, it means absolutely everything. There’s a long, complicated-looking algorithm that the rest of the numbers are put through, and if the number was generated correctly, the sum of the process will equal that last digit. If it doesn’t match, there will be all kinds of errors, from distribution to turtles running willy-nilly, to catastrophic tidal waves the likes the world has never seen before…okay, so I’m exaggerating because I’m not a math person and I don’t understand a lick of the formula.  I just know that for the likes of me, the number isn’t there representing anything in relation to the publisher or the title of the book.

So, Shel, you said Canadians are lucky ducks. Why?

You mean, apart from living in an absolutely gorgeous country with the world's most polite and heartwarming culture? Because ISBNs for Americans aren’t cheap. They’re an expense at $125 a piece that most struggling writers and independent publishers can’t afford. True, like most things in bulk, the per each gets cheaper the more you buy, but you have to be willing to invest a chunk of change to get to that $1/number rate.

If you do decide to buy your own, you can do so as an individual. You don’t need to go through the additional headaches that I did to establish a publishing company first. My humble, non-solicited, un-rewarded recommendation would be to go through the main source at Bowker. They’ve got a few different ISBN packages that make it a tad more affordable in the long run, even linking to a company that will convert your manuscript into eBook format ready to go through the New 3. (Amazon, Apple, and B&N).

If you are planning on releasing your book on more than one platform, you will need more than one ISBN. Convoluted numbering system aside, these numbers are unique to the platform as well as the title. So for each edition: Kindle, Smashwords, Lulu, Kobo, etc., you need to have an ISBN that corresponds. This goes for your print book as well. If I haven't said this enough already, never EVER use an already assigned ISBN for another platform, even if it's the same book. It's not worth the headache.

Now, all of this nonsense aside, the Bowker website is fairly easy to navigate, and the purchase and registration of ISBN are fairly straightforward. The registration process breaks down into small modules, each affording you the option to save and exit without submitting, so if you come across a field that you need to research, you’re not stuck.

A quick note about Amazon before I let you go. The Amazon Standard Identification Number, or ASIN, is something that Kindle Direct Publishing will assign to your book, whether you have an ISBN for it or not. It's assigned for free, and gives Amazon a way to keep track of your metadata. As I understand it, Apple has a similar feature. Apple also has ready to go book templates that you drag and paste to keep it clean and neat. No fuss, no muss. If all you plan to do with your book is to publish it digitally and only make it available through KDP for Kindles, or through iBooks for iPad, then you don't need to buy an ISBN. If, however, you want to market your book through other bookstores, virtual or real, then you'll need to purchase an ISBN or opt-in for a free one from each of your publisher platforms, if offered. 

As with other posts in this quirky series, if you have other questions of a non-legal nature about publishing independently, or if you would like a cheer squad to help you walk through the process, feel free to ask me. I’m willing to help where I can. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not a community to publish a book?

*Since January of 2009. Originally, the number was only 10 digits long.