February Writers' Forum

In my journey through the steps of independent publishing, refining my writing skills, and most recently completing a successful agent search, I’ve come across some excellent information, tips, tools, and shortcuts that I think would be beneficial to any writer. Once a month, I’ll share the “best of” information and news from the publishing industry as well as feature other authors and writing instructors with tips to share. I am incredibly thankful for the assistance and advice given to me from writing and publishing professionals and am happy pay that forward.

General Publishing News

March 1: Book Release from Wisconsin writer Angie Stanton. She discusses her inspiration for her newest novel on her website. (FYI -- It's really cool!)

Waking in Time is published by Capstone and available for pre-order here.  If you are interested in reading this book and having the chance to talk with the author, she will be the guest of honor at the Columbus Books and Beer gathering on May 18. Learn more here.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Still mourning the loss of her beloved grandmother and shaken by her mysterious, dying request, Abbi has just arrived at UW Madison for her freshman year. But on her second day, she wakes up to a different world: 1983. That is just the first stop on Abbis journey backward through time. Will is a charming college freshman from 1927 who travels forward through time. When Abbi and Will meet in the middle, love adds another complication to their lives. Communicating across time through a buried time capsule, they try to decode the mystery of their travel, find a lost baby, and plead with their champion, a kindly physics professor, to help them find each other again ... even though the professor is younger each time Abbi meets him. This page-turning story full of romance, twists, and delightful details about campus life then and now will stay with readers long after the books satisfying end.


Sara Dahmen (author of the award-winning Dr. Kinney’s Housekeeper) recently released her new romance novel “Wine and Children“ – available for purchase here. To learn more about her other books and projects visit her website. (I highly encourage a visit to her website . . . what other author do you know who starts her own line of cookware after researching authentic cooking implements for a novel??)  

ABOUT THE BOOK: Single and still smarting from her divorce, Charlotte Paggo takes a sabbatical to meander through California's wine country in an attempt to rebuild herself. Her travels lead her to meet Sam, a budding garagiste wine maker and a divorcee himself. Neither of them have any illusions about what it takes to make a relationship work, and romance is complicated by Sam's pre-teen sons. Issues surface, from ex-spouses, children and medical emergencies. Underlying everything is the battle of Charlie's insecurities that stem from her irrevocable infertility. Like so many real life couples who hope for second chances, Charlie and Sam need to work together to discover what it might take to find comfort and happiness once more.

Pre-Publication Information

KDP Select . . . what is it and why does the Smashwords’ founder call it “a cancer?”  

Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, writes his top ten predictions for the book industry in 2017.  Number 4 really jumped out at me: “The publishing industry will begin to recognize KDP Select as the cancer that it is.”  

I wanted to talk about this a little bit for those of us in the indie publishing world. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is the powerhouse of sales for our e-books. That's just a fact. And the more we can learn about the ins and outs of the Kindle world, the better off we'll be. Knowledge is power . . . so let's walk through a few things.

First, you need to know that Smashwords as an e-book distributor is a direct competitor to KDP Select . . . even though Smashwords will distribute some titles via Kindle. But this doesn’t automatically discount Coker’s words. Coker knows a lot about the industry and his statement is worthy of discussion.

Second, a quick definition of the following (somewhat familiar) acronyms will help avoid confusion.  

KDP = Kindle Direct Publishing is the platform that is used to manage/upload Kindle e-book content for Amazon.

KDP Select = Once you have books with KDP you can further choose to make that title exclusive to Amazon/KDP by enrolling it in KDP Select. You cannot have this e-book available through any other channels. When you choose this options your book becomes available to readers through the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners Lending Library programs.

Kindle Unlimited (KU) = An e-book subscription service which allows readers access to an unlimited number of books for $9.99/month – unlimited number of reads but you can only have ten books on your device at a time.

Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) = A benefit of the Amazon prime membership and allows the reader/enrollee to borrow one book per month with no due date.

So onto Mark Coker’s prediction: I think that many writers who have enrolled their titles in Kindle Select have already begun to realize the precarious position they were in when KDP changed the payment system from a per-book fee to a per-page-read fee. (There are tons of articles written about the payment structure change made in July of 2015 – both in favor and against.) 

Although many authors continue to have success with KDP Select enrollment, I think that the changes to payment structures can make it difficult for authors to gain the royalty share that they deserve for their work. (Again – many articles written on this topic.) I say can, because many authors continue to do well with the per-page payment and even if there was some loss of revenue, many authors are willing to stick with their exclusive Amazon arrangement because of the market share Amazon commands over the other e-book platforms. That means that authors (especially those with e-books only) are often completely reliant on Amazon and have no predictability on revenue given that Amazon can make payment structure changes at any time. The “What will Amazon do next?” question is what scares me. The good news is that Kindle Select enrollment periods are only 90 days in length and you can opt out after that. So it is a limited commitment if you find it is not for you.

To dive further into the pros and cons of Kindle Select. Check out this column via Jane Friedman's blog. 

DRM – Digital Rights Management and Protection Against Book Piracy

Yes, another technical topic, but this is going to be quick, and I include this here because I wish I had understood this four years ago. When you get to the point of uploading your e-book, you will have to make the decision to engage DRM or Digital Rights Management.

The article from Bookworks explains that “DRM is a form of protection for eBooks that ties a purchased book to a specific user account. By doing so, only the purchaser of the eBook will be able to read the eBook. If the DRM protected eBook were to be shared with someone else, they would not be able to access or read the eBook due to the DRM protection.”

You would think that this is a no-brainer to check this box, but actually this analogy from the Magnolia Media Network makes the case against DRM. "DRM is like putting a lock on your book, but it only keeps out the honest people not the content pirates. Those who pirate book content have ways around DRM anyway and DRM can prevent those who buy your book from accessing it on multiple devices." (More pros and cons here.)

NOTE: With some e-book distributors, you will not have a choice to chose DRM or not, but many of the e-book platforms will enable some sort of safety checks to protect book content anyway. If you upload directly to the Kindle Direct Publishing, this is a choice you will have to make and once you publish your book that choice CANNOT BE CHANGED.

And on the discussion of book piracy, please make sure to officially copyright your book through the US Copyright office. Certain studies are referenced saying that book piracy (which does occur) has little to no negative impact on book revenue. My internal radar makes me wonder if that is true. Please protect yourself by at least obtaining a copyright registration. (I hope no one reading this has had one of their books pirated, but if you have and are willing to share the experience and what you did, please let us know.)  

Using Song Lyrics and Other Copyrighted Material in Your Book

Using Song Lyrics & Other Copyrighted Material in Your NovelI never thought that I was going to have to worry about this, but I had this awesome idea to include some Bob Dylan lyrics in a novella I was writing. Let’s suffice it to say that this is a difficult road for an author to navigate. In the end, I paraphrased the lyrics within dialog and only used the song titles—which are NOT copyrighted. If you cannot find a “work around” such as this and feel the copyrighted material is essential to your book, you must get permission from the copyright holder. This is not a quick process in most cases and may come with hefty use fees. Learn more from Galleycat here.

Here’s how I ended up referencing copyrighted material without infringing on the song’s copyright in the Circle of Nine Novella – Phoebe’s Mission:

Mack set down his beer and reached for the guitar. He strummed a few chord, making some tuning adjustments. “Here’s one of my favorites. Do you like Bob Dylan?”                   

Phoebe nodded and let her head rest back against the rocker as Mack began. His voice was very good. Combined with Dylan’s amazing lyrics, Phoebe was in for a treat as he sang “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” He continued on with more Dylan, obviously his favorite. When he got to the suggestive lyrics of “Lay Lady Lay,” Phoebe’s eyes flew to his face.

He stared right back at her, shamelessly challenging her with the words about lying across his big brass bed. The last line, imploring the woman in the song to stay, hung in the air.


Create Your Author Central Page on Amazon (US/UK)

Here’s a new checklist for authors who need to set up their author central page on both Amazon US and Amazon UK. And, no, the information you enter on the Amazon US page does not cross over to the UK page. You’ll need to enter that separately. This was a good reminder for me to update my UK author page with my new-ish biography.  

Post-Publication Information

Quick and Manageable Book Event Info

I like the simplicity of this five-point check list for successful author events. I agree with all of these . . . but acknowledge that number 1—which says “bring a buddy to help you talk up your book” is sometimes a luxury. 

On the organization side of things, I’d add “get a credit card reader” to this list. Do not lose sales because you cannot take a credit card. The fees are less than a lost sale. The two most often used options for this are Paypal and Square.

And another list of creative book promotion ideas was so well done, I wanted to share it here, too. Some of these are genre or book topic specific, but worth a look to see if they might be adapted to what you write. The best general advice: “Always have a box of books in your car.” I have missed opportunities for sales by not always following this advice. Don’t miss out . . . hike that box of books out to your car today. Throw in some of your other promo materials like bookmarks and postcards. You never know when someone will be interested or you might find yourself in place that would be a perfect fit for a stack of bookmarks or postcards. 

MORE INDUSTRY INFO & WRITING TIPS: If you’re looking for other author/writing/publishing round ups. Here’s a list of those blogs that provide a nicely comprehensive service on certain topics of interest to us in the crazy industry. I subscribe to a few of these already – and you might notice that I’ve already featured info from one or two of these here. 

Please let me know if there are topics you would like to see addressed or if you have some advice you’d like to share. I’m happy to announce new book releases or upcoming events (see below.) You can comment at the bottom of the article or reach out to me directly here.  

Happy Writing, Valerie


February 25 –Author Slam featuring authors from the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute at Mystery to Me bookstore, Madison, WI from 4 pm to 8 pm. Learn more

March 24 to 26 – The Writers’ Institute: The Midwest’s Premier Writing Conference. Three days of education, entertainment, and writing inspiration. Learn more

April 15 – Madtown Author Daze 11 am – 4 pm at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (in the Overture Center) Madison, Wi. Learn more

April 28-30, 2017:  Green Bay “UntitledTown” Book and Author Festival. This will be Green Bay’s first-ever Book Festival, with readings, panels, craft lectures, and live storytelling. 

May 12 – 13 – The Lakefly Writers Conference, Oshkosh, WI. Learn more. 






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