What I’ve Learned So Far

Renowned Filipina author and indie publishing advocate Mina V. Esguerra asked me to talk about my first ebook. Truth be told, I’m not so fond of my initial attempt which I affectionally call an “experiment”. Sure I could string some sentences together and come up with something cohesive and logically sound but let’s get it out early on:

I’m no author…more so, a professional one. Though I do have an ebook catalogued among the hundreds of thousands titles in Amazon’s library which makes me, dare I say it, a professional author? Never in my wildest dreams did I—okay, so it’s not really that big of a deal. It’s as easy creating a Facebook account. Or frying hotdogs. How can anyone mess up frying hotdogs, right?

So instead of talking about my book, let me simply share my experiences on writing and publishing.

Rejection & Gov’t Woes

Once upon a time…a publisher, who shall remain unnamed, ignored the manuscript I sent. They had a backlog of submissions and it would take nine months—yes, very much like conception, pregnancy and childbirth—for my book to be reviewed. Well, screw that. Instead of letting it shatter my dreams of international fame and fortune a.k.a. delusions of grandeur, I decided to take the unconventional route of self-expression: I’m going indie.

I’m going indie! For a moment there, I did sound like a foolish one-man band in a small garage with a big dream. Though I had an idea which channels to approach in distributing the book, the thing was, printing was too expensive. The minimum no. of pieces printing presses required would take forever to sell and recoup. Stores would ask for an official receipt which meant I’d have to go through the process of registering my own business. It was all taxing and time-consuming (esp. if you live in Estrada-land, San Juan). Did you know that the Philippine National Library will only give you an ISBN if your work is licensed to a publisher? If you want to self-publish, you’d still need an official business permit. And you can forget registering online. Only a few countries (okay a lot of countries excluding the Phiippines) offer this service.

All this trouble for one book. Yes, I went through all that. And I will never do it again. So being a studious student of life, I googled researched the best possible alternative to my predicament and saw: The Future. Like a wide-eyed kid watching Aladdin for the first time soaring, tumbling, freewheeling—it really was a whole new world. I had chanced upon a magical lamp where a genie granted a lifelong dream: A Ford Shelby GT500. Just kidding. Hold your breath it gets better. Now come and sing with me.

The Amazon Jungle

The internet practically democratized the process of selling and distributing your work of art to the world. Around this time last year, I discovered independent Ebook Publshing. Amazon had finally opened its doors to the East. Unlike mp3s, they had no restrictions for uploading your own content. You decide if and when your book is good enough for the world. No deadlines. No stories of rejection and unworthiness. You have control over pricing and get a big chunk of the royalties.

Mistakes are fine. In fact, they’re welcome. Found a typo or a paragraph that seems out of place? No problem. Upload the corrected file and voila! Your book is as good as new. Same goes for book covers especially when you realize that the “cool” design you put together with your limited Photoshop skills needs the touch of a real artist. You’ll see these changes implemented in less than 24 hours. How’s that for speed?

Eventually I plan to branch out to Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and other aggregators to reach a wider audience. For now Amazon’s Kindle Select Program contract restricts me from doing so. Hopefully I can discuss these things, together with formats, writing apps and other information useful for writers in another post soon.

Community

Ever heard the saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”? Well in Philippine shores, teaching a man how to fish makes him your competitor! Most are hesitant to share their knowledge—well, usually not without a hefty price. Fortunately, in the literary arts, when your market is the world and there is almost always a demand for “fish” and its many varieties, then helping each other out is not only crucial. It’s beneficial.

I started visiting author sites, created a Twitter account, and stumbled upon the most helpful people in the planet. Ironically, the same publisher I mentioned earlier sent me an e-vite to one of Mina’s “Publishing in Pajamas” talks. (Maybe this was their polite way of issuing rejection letters, I am not certain.) Mina was already two years ahead in the game and it was inspiring to hear how far she’s gone and how passionate she was in sharing her knowledge.

While others enjoy the banter in writers forums, I steer clear from it. I realized that being an active voice sometimes gets in the way of getting things done. I do keep tabs on certain authors in Twitter who provide a wealth of writing tips. “Shut up and write.” is still the best advice I’ve heard.

Niche-ing

If you’re serious about pursuing a writing career, then being genre-specific at the beginning of your journey is highly encouraged. It will develop and influence your writing style. Your research will be more focused and helps you become credible and an authority over certain topics. From a commercial standpoint, it also keeps enthusiasts of your work anticipating your next release.

The genre I chose? Historical fiction. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? It’s quite an odd choice because I’ve always hated history classes. I never saw the point of studying dead men. I mean, they’re dead! Who cares, right. But after seeing many excellent movies, documentaries and books give the past a different spin, I was up for the challenge. Amistad, Blood Diamond, The Last Emperor, A Beautiful Mind, The Motorcycle Diaries—are but a few examples of historical fiction at its finest! Oh were you surprised that the Titanic really did happen and wasn’t just a movie? Shame on you, millennial. Good job, Mr. Cameron. A sappy romance-drama with NatGeo flair.

With reference books and other literary materials as basis, I love to humanize what we otherwise know as “just a bunch of facts” and expound on that human element that makes it relatable. Admittedly, it’s a dangerous genre to write. People will always have different interpretations of certain events that happened. One study says this, another study says something contradicting. As a guideline, I always employ the 70-80% rule. If you are able to satisfy 70-80% of your market, that’s good enough. You can’t please everyone. And I always view criticism as a good sign. Something blatantly terrible is never worth criticizing.

The research process also fascinates me. It’s fun. It’s the perfect excuse to buy more books, watch (relevant!) movies and get a well-deserved r&r as a reward for all the hard work. And not like a social studies class, I’m not being graded. Make that double the fun.

Aside from focusing on a particular genre, it would do you well to select a particular niche. It makes your book unique and more interesting to readers. Of course there’s no stopping you if you want to write another fictional, young-adult, fantasy, romance novel about blood-sucking vampires. It seems the market for this is, like its main characters, undying.

Ka-ching

Unless you’re a rich mogul who can afford to write as you please, I am assuming that the author in you would love to see his/her masterpieces translate into something financially rewarding. Since starting last October, my book revenue has increased. I say “revenue” because book sales (the actual number of books sold) went down 60% when I increased the price early this year. But I am earning 300% more now. Pricing strategy is altogether another story. And, like Mina mentioned in her talk, the ability to monitor your sales on-demand is addictive. It’s like watching the stock market, but with the figures rarely going down!

Help

Publishing ebooks are inexpensive. Not exactly free, mind you, but very very cheap. Internet connection, time, artwork, editor fees (unless you ask friends to edit for you)—these things cost money. I do a lot of my writing and reading in Krispy Kreme or McDonald’s so it’s taking a toll on my personal budget…and waistline.

If you’re clueless and need assistance in publishing your first book, the internet has everything you need to know. But you can also employ the e-publishing services of entities such as Bronze Age Media to fast track your progress and come up with a book that meets professional standards.

Biggest Lesson

The more books you have available, the more “credible” an author you are! At the very least, this is what most readers and consumers believe. This is one of the reasons why I’m hesitant to promote my one and only ebook. I also feel I have yet to write my best work (don’t we all?) and improve my writing immensely.

So until then, here’s to all aspiring indie writers out there. Keep writing and join the #pinoyebook revolution!

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