Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Author Interview: MeiLin Miranda

MeiLin Miranda was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her adventures in self publishing.

KR:  Could you tell us more about crowdfunding?  How did you learn about it?  How did you do it?

MM:  "Crowdfunding" is when the fans or supporters of a project put money behind it to make it happen, rather than hope a gatekeeper--a publisher, film studio or record producer, for instance--picks up the project. Sites like or allow musicians, artists, filmmakers and writers to organize crowdfundings; some people offer premiums there, rather like NPR offers tote bags for certain levels of donation.

I first ran into a form of crowdfunding while reading the online serial Tales of MU. Its author, Alexandra Erin, was then using a donate-for-chapter model; if readers met a fundraising target, she'd write an extra chapter that week. She's since stopped doing that, but for a long time it was the most common model of crowdfunding support for online writers. I used it when I first started, and did pretty well with it.

But I needed to raise a whole other level of money to make the first IHGK book happen. It needed editing, and the closer I got to finishing what I thought was book three, the more I realized how badly the whole thing needed to be rewritten from the top--and how unsustainable it was as a serial. I needed to convert it into books, which meant money for an editor and for professional design services. I think my readers helped me puzzle out what would be attractive to crowdfunders, and this is what we came up with:

For $50, you got
--an autographed paperback
--your choice of ebook format
--an acknowledgment in the book
--and most importantly: the final unformatted hot-off-the-laptop raw manuscript before anyone else got to read it, the moment my editor (Annetta Ribken) and I decided it was done. I finished the book on August 31st, 2010 at 9:30 pm; the manuscript was in the hands of its funders the morning of September 1.

I raised about $2,500 this way from 48 people, some of whom bought two packages and some of whom bought an ebook-only version for $25; they got everything in the $50 package except the autographed copy.

I'll be doing the same thing again for book two as soon as I come close to sending a draft to Nettah the Edittah. Netta is fabulous, by the way:
KR:  Did you have any interest in going the traditional publishing route?  Did you do the agent/publisher hunt?
MM:  I very half-heartedly looked for an agent. I think I sent out three queries. I really didn't want one, but thought, well, now I can say I tried, I guess. The material I sent was atrocious enough that it's no surprise I got turned down, and I did it having already decided to be independent.

That said, I do have two short stories coming out in different Circlet Press anthologies (; in fact, one of them goes on sale December 28th, 2010: "Like a Moonrise: Shapeshifter Erotica." Not sure when the second anthology I'm in is going on sale yet. And I just submitted a short story to a major online outlet, mostly for fun. If it gets rejected, I'm not concerned; I can put it out there myself. I'm just curious at this point.

KR:  You have a book trailer video, has that been an effective marketing tool?

MM:  I have no idea! :) The "Lovers and Beloveds" trailer has been viewed close to a thousand times, and the Scryer's Gulch trailer about 250 times. The funny thing is, the Scryer's trailer is about a billion times better than the LaB one!

KR:  Who did your cover art/trailer?

MM:  I did both my trailers, and it probably shows. :) I do the covers for the Scryer's Gulch books, since they're just compilations of the serial. Alice Fox ( did the cover of "Lovers and Beloveds." Alice has been the official artist for that series for some time now. She is amazing. Fellow writer and all around cool guy MCM did the typography design for LaB.

KR:  How many copies have you sold?  What has been your best marketing tool?

MM:  Speaking strictly of "Lovers and Beloveds," since the book's release in September 2010 I've sold about 75 paperbacks between direct sales, CreateSpace and Amazon. Ebooks, I've sold about 150 so far among Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and direct sales on my site.

My numbers are not that high compared to people like JA Konrath, but as Netta is fond of saying, it's a marathon not a sprint. And compared to the vast majority of self-publishers, I'm doing pretty darn well. I expect things will only get better as my catalog grows.

KR:  When is the next book due out?  Does it have a title yet?

MM:  The next book is tentatively due out in October 2011. The working title is "Mothers and Fathers," though that may not be the final one. I'm about 10,000 words into the alpha draft. (I tend to "name" my drafts by software convention: alpha, beta, release candidate, final.)

KR:  Lastly is there anything else you'd like to say about self-publishing?

MM:  Sure! If you self-publish, take it seriously. Invest in your work: hire a professional editor (not your friend who was an English major in college). Hire a professional cover artist. If you're going to print, get a typographer to design the book block if you can; if you're staying ebook only, you can do the formatting yourself for the most part. There are a lot of good guides out there on how to format for Kindle and Smashwords.

Most important is to commit to writing. Finish the book. Put the time in, get it written. If it's finished and languishing in a drawer, pull it out, dust it off, give it a good shake. Then let someone who isn't invested in being nice to you read it. Revise. Design. Put it out there.

If you'd like to know more about MeiLin Miranda you can check her out at

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Indie Book Review: Lovers and Beloveds

Lovers and Beloveds: An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom Book One

A while back an email popped up in my inbox requesting I read Lovers and Beloveds for review.  I did my usual routine of checking the book out, looking at it's reviews, reading the back page copy, and bits and pieces of text.  It looked good.  My initial impression was steampunk erotic fantasy.  It sounded right up my alley.  

Then another interesting factoid hit my radar; it was groupfunded, a major plus.  If that term means nothing to you, prepare to learn.  Groupfunding (more on this in a later article on is a technique where you get a bunch of people to give you money to pay for you to do your project.  Call it modern day patronage.  On a practical level that means this book was good enough, in the bits and pieces released by the author, to get total strangers to give her money to hire an editor, artist, etc.  While total money generated is not a definitive ruler for a book's quality, I've waded through a lot of self-published fiction that no one in their right mind would buy, let alone decide to patronize.  I was thrilled to get into this book.  

It turns out my initial impressions of Lovers and Beloveds was off, but not in a bad way.  It is a coming of age tale wrapped around a story of sexual domination (a story within the story writing technique is used to good effect in this book) exploring how the one story furthers the other.  It's a tale of a young man preparing for his eventual kinghood and the paths he may take to get there. 

It is set in a fantasy land with an 1890's-1910ish technology level.  But the technology is just in the background.  To call it steampunk would be similar to calling Sherlock Holmes steampunk, sure it's the right era, but to do so misses the point of steampunk.

It is erotica: coming of age, realpolitik, intelligently crafted with layers and story lines beyond the sex, and wrapped up in the sexual politics of what it means to be a man or a woman erotica.  As such, if you don't happen to enjoy reading explicit sex or sexual violence, just put the book down and head for the next one on your list.  Assuming such reading does not bother you, go get a copy, you'll be well rewarded.

Lovers and Beloveds uses erotic sex as a vehicle to explore the paths of power and the relationships of dominance and privilege.  All things a boy needs to learn to become a man who will be a king.  The sex is well written, very hot, and it's easy to see why the main character, Temmin, finds himself aroused and dismayed by that arousal when seeing the main character of the inner story raped.

I think calling this book fantasy might be a bit misleading.  There is magic in this world, but it's use is minimal.  My guess is that in later books in the series it will become important, (perhaps there will be a magical coming of age in the next book?) but for the opening book it's just sort of there.  Really, this reads more like historical fiction than fantasy.  Take out the few brief magic bits, and this could very easily be set in a fictionalized 1890's Colonial India or Hong Kong.

Temmin reads as a genuine young man.  He's spoiled but trying to be a good person.  He can be self-absorbed and whiny, but he's an eighteen-year-old who just had his world turned upside down.  He's earned his whininess, and there's something wrong with a person who isn't self absorbed when his entire reality shifts.  Basically, the fact that he is annoying on occasion is entirely in character and should the annoying bits be removed, he wouldn't read true.  

The writing is tight.  Scenes flow from one to the next with no major issues.  If there were grammar errors, I didn't notice them.  Dialog and voice may not be exceptional, but they were more than competent and worked with the characters.  I never found myself thinking, "There's no way Temmin (or any other character) would say that!"  There are bits where as a reader I found myself wondering why we were meeting certain characters and plot lines, but the quality  of the rest of the story and knowing this is book one of a series makes me think they are the seeds of future plot points.  The story within the story may have been a bit longer than strictly necessary, but that's my own personal taste (I tend to skim epic battle scenes), and for all I know in the next book the bits I thought were long may be vitally important.
I look forward to seeing how Temmin will mature into his future.

Lovers and Beloveds is available on Amazon as a physical book for $14.95, a good price for a book that length, and it's a steal on Kindle download for $2.99.  You can get it at Smashwords for most other eReader formats. MeiLin Miranda has offered me a free copy to give away, so if you want a shot at it for free, leave a comment, and I'll hold a drawing to see who wins it. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas To Me: Sylvianna is Live!

There was only one thing I wanted to get for Christmas this year, and with a day to go, I made it.  Sylvianna, my book, is online and available for purchase.

So, this is a, shall we say, less than objective book review, but I'll try.

This is the single most brilliant piece of writing you will ever read.  As soon as you devour the first sentence of the first page you'll be hooked, and by the time you finish the last line of the last page, you'll be ready to build shrines to my brilliance and will have started to fill out the paperwork to change your children's names to the names of my characters.

Hmmm... that might be a tad hyperbolic.

It's good.  I feel like I can say that honestly, not just as the person who wrote it, but as a person who reads a lot. 

Sylvianna is the first book in a three book series.  This one is a modern day set tale of magic, the search for redemption, tying up loose ends, and true love.  It's a story of some basically good people who made some very bad decisions and how they deal with the fall out of those decisions.  It took me eight months to write the basic story, and another eight months to edit, re-write, re-edit, re-re-write, and then edit one more time that first story into a book I'm proud I wrote.

I loved Harry Potter.  I even loved (well, really liked) Deathly Hallows on the first read through.  Then I started to think about it critically and disappointment crept in.  It needed a real editor.  It needed someone to explain to JKR that it's not okay to suddenly introduce all the pieces of the puzzle in the final installment, especially since a good two thirds of them really should have been introduced in earlier books.  (Like, I don't know, when Harry is learning about wands for the first time, maybe that would be a good time to talk about how they work and wand mythos.  Or just possibly in one of the early Christmas scenes Beedle the Bard's stories could have been mentioned as say, I don't know, a present for a little sibling not yet at school or something.)  And most of all, someone needed to read that book, give it back to her, and say, "There is no purpose to the Deathly Hallows even being in this book."

I loved the first two books of His Dark Materials, and loathed the third book.  Not only did the story suddenly go off the rails when Pullman decided he wasn't going to write the story he set up, but he also wrote the least romantic romance in the history of best selling novels.  If romance was the temptation that was supposed to give Will and Lyra second thoughts about closing all the cuts, it would have been nice if that romance had actually developed more than ten minutes before they had to close the cuts.  He spent two novels getting us ready for a massive battle of good and evil, God v. Man, and then pulled the rug out from under us by devoting less then ten pages to that battle.  After the set up of the first two books, readers did not want to spend hours wading through an anthropology lesson about Mulefa.  Once again, the idea of the Dust is pretty cool (just like the idea for how wands work in Harry Potter was cool) but diverting away from the climax of the story to tell that tale is not a good writing technique.

I didn't love Twilight.  I tried.  I can't get past page 115.  There's not a single character in that book I had any desire to spend another minute with.  I can deal with unsympathetic characters, as long as they have some redeeming qualities (House for example.)  If the Twilight characters had redeeming qualities, I couldn't stick with the book long enough to learn about them.

So, why is that important?  After all this is about Sylvianna, not those books.  I had a story I wanted to tell, and quite a few ways to go about telling it.  But as I went through I kept the things I learned from reading those series in mind.   And I kept things in mind from reading books I adored.  You probably have to be me to see what I learned from Lonesome Dove in Sylvianna, but it's there.  You don't have to be me to see that Sylvianna has a romance that matters to not only the characters, but to the people reading it.  You don't have to be me to notice that forays into the forest of useless plot are non-existent.  (If you ever find yourself thinking, "Why on earth am I reading this?" just keep reading, it will be relevant sooner or later.)  And you don't have to be me to like the characters.

As I said, I think the book is genuinely good.  You can get it from Amazon at the above link.  That's the 4.99 Kindle version.  You can get it on Smashwords for 4.99 as well, and they offer basically any electronic format you could dream of.  Or you can get it at CreateSpace in a physical book edition for 14.99.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Author Interview: Jason Halstead

I was able to ask Jason Halstead some questions about his own adventures in the land of publishing.  Instead of the more traditional self publishing route, he went with the very small press Fido Publishing.  

Here are his insights on working with a small press, and getting his books into the hands of readers.

KR:  Did you do the agent routine?

JH:  No. I'd love to find an agent, but thus far my luck has not been with me. To be fair, I've only attempted a half dozen or so agents and publishers (combined), so my rejection count is pretty minimal.

KR:  How did you come in contact with Fido Press?

JH:  At the risk of inserting my foot into my mouth, I ran across a writer's work on an independent website and found it somewhat lacking. I checked out the writer's profile and saw that they had something coming out on Excessica. I thought, "Wait a minute, if writing like this can be published..." I checked out the website and threw something at it. It was rejected for various reasons that I don't agree OR disagree with. I accept them, and decided to try something longer (Voidhawk) and definitely not along the typical vein of what Excessica takes. It was accepted. As we progressed through the acceptance talks, I became aware of a sister publishing company being launched that caters more to mainstream writing. We agreed Voidhawk would be a better fit for that company, so we moved it over to be one of the initial launches. Fido was the name of that company.
KR:  Would you walk us through the small press publishing routine?  How exactly did getting your manuscript into a book go?  What services (editing, cover art, publicity, etc) did they offer?
JH:  It's pretty simple really. I submit.  They accept (hopefully). Then comes the legal forms that have to be signed off. I suggest a variety of things (blurb, excerpt, any ideas I might have for cover art, etc.). Then they farm it out to an artist to design some cover art. Somewhere along the line (timing varies) it typically hits an editors desk. My editing experiences have varied, I'll admit, but I've yet to be disappointed. I've also met [through Fido] an exceptional editor who I continue to keep in touch with on the side. When the editing and cover art is complete, it becomes just a matter of waiting for the book to be released on its scheduled date. Voila! And with Excessica and Fido there is no vanity charges, they are legit and offer up great contracts to the author.

KR:  Is your book available at any brick and mortar bookstores?  
JH:  I don't know. What? Yes - it's true. I took several books down to a retail establishment when I lived in Moab, Utah, for them to consider purchasing but they had a campaign going where they were accepting book donations for the troops overseas. My books were accidentally sent there instead of purchased and put on the shelves. It's a good cause so that tempered the frustration I felt for the lack of organization. I've also taken part in a campaign called Operation: E-drop, which offers free ebooks to overseas troops.

So, with that snafu behind me, I have all of my books made available through a variety of channels that might make it possible for a brick and mortar retailer to purchase and make them available. I don't think any have done so though - the Createspace POD model is so expensive it is rather cost prohibitive to offer them thusly.  [KR: Fido publishes through CreateSpace.  They get the book ready to go, but farm out the actual printing and distribution.] They can be picked up on Amazon, however.
KR:  How many copies has it sold?  
JH:  Well, that's a tricky question too. I retain full rights to my books so I have them listed both on Fido (or Excessica, where applicable), and in a few other self-publishing locations (,,, Plus some I have personally sold at a book signing event. All told, I'm in double digits for Voidhawk sales, with only a single one coming from That has a lot to do with limited marketing and advertising (I think). I'm still learning that aspect of the business and I have not had any spare money and very little time to assign to it.

KR: Will you continue to work with a publisher either Fido or a different one in the future? 
JH:  I plan to continue with both Fido and Excessica. I have unbeatable deals with them so there's no reason not to do so - especially if I can boost my own presence and advertising to draw people to their sites. It's a win-win, I get more exposure and so do they, which helps the sites and other authors listed on them.

KR:  You mentioned that you traded IT labor for keeping the rights of your stories.  Can you expand on that a bit for the readers?  (Who would probably be interested in finding ways to get a professionally published book without having to give up ownership of their characters.)  Because of how well the book has sold, do you think it was a decent trade?
JH:  It's a painful story, to be honest. Over the span of a couple of months I developed a totally self-sustained web site for Fido that could handle everything necessary. I was quite pleased with it - but I would be since I wrote it. The owner liked it as well, however the ISP they were using did not support the technology I built it on. They had their own solution for an e-store, a canned package that could be customized. We decided to go that route with it and, after another couple of months of struggling with trying to adapt some particularly difficult code, was born. I still remain confident my design was superior, but mine was customized for the business rather than something off the shelf that had to be shoehorned into the necessary role.

Was it a decent trade based on sales? Not yet - but I remain optimistic that it will be in the future. After doing that for Fido I did the same thing for Excessica and I have some books coming out in a matter of days and months (two of 'em). Between the two sites and my own ambitions to get more PR going, I remain confident that it is an investment in time and resources that I will be appreciative of.

And if it's not, I still learned a few things along the way so it's been a win-win all along, even if at times it felt rather frustrating.

If you want to learn more about Jason, go check him out at  He;s got a sequel to Voidhawk and a few other interesting bits out. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Indie Book Review: The Voidhawk

"Take my love, take my land,
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don't care.  I'm still free.
You can't take the sky from me!"

Pardon me while I hum along.  Why I'd have the theme song to Firefly in my head after reading Voidhawk will be readily apparent to anyone who's ever seen the show and read the book. 

In fact, let me really geek this out.  Imagine a Firefly-Spelljammer crossover.  You now have a pretty good idea of how Voidhawk is set.  For those of you who didn't spend an unwholesome amount of time debating the merits of stone dice versus plastic, and who can't tell me why Fireball is a more effective zombie deterrent that Melf's Magic Arrow, let me do a little explaining:

Spelljammer is a not too well known role playing game set on space going sailing ships.  Instead of the Millennium Falcon sweeping through space, think the Black Pearl.  Firefly is probably the best TV show in the history of TV and definitely the best Sci-Fi TV show.  A band of unlikely people crewing a space ship, going from port to port, job to job, getting in interesting scrapes and adventures and becoming a tight knit family as they survive each new peril.   

Now, put those two things together, and you've got Voidhawk: a swashbuckling fantasy of sword and pistol, spell and sail.  This is fantasy in the Star Wars (New Hope) mode, fast, lots of action, not a lot of introspection.  The characters don't get into long deep discussions about the morality of killing the bad guys, they, like Leia, grab a gun and start shooting.  They don't have long conversations about how they feel.  The reader does not have to slog through pages of internal monologue in which the characters debate their place in the universe and the nature of man.

It is, in a word, fun.  The action sequences are especially well done, blending ship to ship combat with hand to hand and magic in a way I've never seen before (and I've read a pretty good collection of fantasy novels over the years.)  A very quick example:  Hordes of zombies are attacking the ship.  The wizard is holding a protective circle around the ship.  The hand to hand specialists will have to get the zombies off the landing struts before the ship can lift off.  The pilot is in charge of a split second lift off.  The Captain and a few of the crew are soaking the ground with oil so that, if they can get the timing right, they can drop the protective circle, have the zombies storm the ship, take off with minimal zombies clinging to the ship, knock the ones that are off, and then drop greek fire and light the ground under the zombies so they all go up in flame.  In one scene we've got high magic, hand to hand, real world tech, flight fighting techniques, and zombies.  Seriously, what more could you possibly want in a book?

Plot, character development, and snappy dialogue.  Hmm... you're pretty picky aren't you?

There is plot coming out the ears of this book.  We call books that read like movies cinematic.  I'd call this book episodic.  It reads like a TV show, and a first season one at that.  We get to know the characters as they go on a series of adventures.  There's not much of an overarching plot, unless you want to consider the introduction of the characters an overarching plot.  However, each of the adventures is a nicely wrapped package of something interesting.  Yes, some of them will feel a bit, familiar, if you've watched Firefly, but just when you start to think that possibly the book is in danger of straying from homage into full out rip-off, it finds its own footing and differentiates itself nicely.

Character development is probably the weakest aspect of this book.  Most of the book is told through the point of view of Captain Dexter Silverhawk, and by the end of the book we know him pretty well.  His First Mate(s) and Arms Master are well fleshed out, too.  The other sevenish (the number of characters changes during the book) are more like character sketches than full characters.  But as a certain TV show from the sixties proved, you can get on pretty well with a few well developed characters, a few less developed characters, and a crew of revolving redshirts.  

Snappy dialogue: let me flat out say it, it's not as good as Firefly, but nothing else is either.  Joss Whedon does dialogue snappier and tighter than anyone else, and he's got an ear for how people speak that's astounding.  Jason Halstead doesn't.  Which doesn't mean the dialogue is bad, though there are moments when the desire to create a distinct style of speech for his characters mucks with the flow of the scene.  One of the reasons that accents and unique grammar structures are hard to pull off is because they trip up the reader.  Watching a TV show the viewer sits back and absorbs words, but a reader has to slog through those words, put them together and try to figure out how they sound and what they mean.  Since Halstead's characters speak in a sort of westernized-pirate patios, it can be even trickier to keep your eyes moving.  Most of the time it's not an issue: the language flows properly and sounds correct for the characters, but every now and again it slips. 

It is very clearly a first novel, and the writing gets better as the book progresses.  Though I haven't started it yet, I anticipate the sequel will be even better yet.  And, though I'd usually rather spend an hour grinding my teeth and wishing I was anywhere else, I'll enjoy the flight I'm taking on Friday because the sequel to this will make great plane reading.

At $15.99 the paperback is probably a bit over priced.  The $6.99 Kindle book price fits better with the length of the book and the quickness of the read.  Either way, if the rogue with a heart of gold and his cast of colorful misfits is your idea of fun reading, this book is for you.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ebooks As Far As The Eye Can See: Self Publishing With Smashwords

If you want to self publish your ebook in as many electronic formats as possible, then Smashwords is probably the best bet.

In a nutshell they take your .doc document and turn it into up to seven formats for you. They call it the meatgrinder conversion process.  And that's pretty much all they do. You can get an author's page and book pages, and you can embed your youtube book trailer, but when it comes to self publishing Smashwords is the least option rich offering.

Which is great if you already have your whole package together. If you don't need editing, a cover, book reviews, a physical book, etc... Smashwords is perfect. And since you can do Smashwords as well as other self publishers, there's no reason not to put your book on Smashwords.

So, how to get on Smashwords?  First off start downloading.  Get yourself a copy of Smashwords Style Guide.  It's free and goes through every single step you need to do to get your book ready for Smashwords. Following this guide is important because Smashwords is going to take your document and make it readable by virtually everyone.  So, if you want something that looks just as good on a computer screen, as a Kindle, as a Nook, as an iPod, you need to follow the guide.    

I thought the Smashwords website was a tad clunky when it came to finding the information I was looking for.  (Example: how do I get an ISBN?  Hmmm... it's not in the publishing section.  Typing ISBN in the search function brings up every book that has one, so that's not helpful.  Finally I checked Dashboard, and it was there under ISBN manager.)  But it is very easy for getting your book in online.  Fill out the forms, download the document, download your cover, (You only need a front cover image on Smashwords because they don't sell physical books.) pick your category, write up your description and tags, and hit publish.  Then wait while Smashwords does it's magic formatting, and eventually you've got an ebook.

Now to the part you really want to know about, royalties.  Smashwords does a very easy royalty calculation, take the price of your book, subtract the paypal processing fee, multiply that number by .85, and you've got your royalty.  Or, more plainly, your royalty is 85% of whatever is left after the processing fee has been removed.  You can chose to be paid by Paypal or paper checks mailed to you.  Payments are one month after any quarter where you've got more than $10.00 accrued, if you go with Paypal, or $25.00, if you go with paper checks.  Quarters end in March, June, September, and December, so payments happen in April, July, October, and January.

Royalties get a bit more complicated if you go with the Smashword Premium Catalog.  The Premium Catalog lists you with Barnes and Noble, Apple, Sony, and Kobo.  Each of these retailers has their own royalty set up: for example, Apple does a 60% royalty.  You control where your book sells, so you can opt in or out of any distributor you like.  Unlike CreateSpace, you don't pay for the Premium Catalog for Smashwords, but you do have to have a properly formatted book with an ISBN, (A new ISBN, the one you used for your print book won't work, but they can hook you up with a new one.) a proper copyright statement, and a good cover image.  But, I would hope if you are going to publish, you'd have all of those things already.

Unless you don't have a way to turn your manuscript into a .doc document, there's no reason to skip Smashwords.  It's free.  The royalty rates are the best I've run into yet.  Formatting your book properly may take a while, but having it available for pretty much anyone, everywhere is worth your time.  

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Interview with John Hartness

John Hartness was willing to answer some of my questions about his adventures in self publishing.

KR: Why did you chose to self publish? Did you try to get The Chosen traditionally published? Why did you pick CreateSpace, and did you self publish anywhere else?

JH: I chose to self-publish because I'm largely an impatient person. I don't have the patience to query agents for months and months, then if I'm lucky enough to get picked up by an agent, to have them query publishers for months and months, then if someone wanted to publish the book, to wait a year or more to hold a copy in my hands. Self-publishing is much better for someone with a miniscule attention span :).

I queried a few agents, got some polite and some very encouraging rejection letters, and then moved along.

I published a couple of collections of poetry last year using Lulu, and moved to CreateSpace because of the ease of getting listed on Amazon (since Amazon owns CS) and the lower price on author's copies. I figure at least for a while, most of the books I sell will be face to face at book fairs, so if I can get my price per copy down, my profitability goes up. I did use Lulu for the hardcover and to get the book on the iBookstore.

KR: How many copies have you sold? What marketing has worked best for you?

JH: I've sold about 50 copies, ebook and hard copies. So far my biggest marketing successes have been through Facebook pages and book fairs. But the book just came out in August, so I feel like I'm just getting started.

KR: Who did your cover? Did you come up with the idea or did he/she?

JH: I have a great friend, Lindsay Birmingham, who did the cover to The Chosen and my new novel, Hard Day's Knight. She's a photographer and Photoshop whiz, and I gave her a rough idea and she came back to me with the cover. We tweaked font colors, and then we were good to go to print. She's been great to work with and I highly recommend her.

KR: Why did you call it The Chosen? (as opposed to The Choice, say.) There's already a very famous book with the same title, and it's not precisely similar to yours.

JH: I'm not terribly bright, and didn't Google the name before I titled the book. I was not familiar with Potok's novel, and I thought The Choice (which was the original name) sounded too much like a romance novel. I thought The Chosen felt a little like Dean Koontz's book The Taken, so I went with it.

If you'd like to know more about John and his works, go check him out at

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Indie Book Review: The Chosen

There is a tiny subgenre of fiction that will make me squee with delight like a Twilight Fan discovering Robert Pattinson is coming to her high school and she will be showing him around.  It probably doesn't have a specific name, but I'd call it Theology for the Well Versed and Irreverent.  Up until now it was such a small subgenre that I had only found three examples, Good Omens, The Life of Brian, and Dogma.

Make that four now.

The Chosen by John Hartness is an example of all that is good and joyful in fiction.  I love this book.  It's fast paced, very well voiced, and genuinely funny.

In a nutshell, Adam, as in Adam and Eve, Father of Humanity, has to gather up his family, and head off with the Archangel Michael (described as a skinnier version of James Marsters) to find the human who will make another Eve level choice.

What's an Eve level choice?  Well, there's where some of the irreverent theology comes in.  Every so often one human is picked to make a choice that will effect them all.  Eve made the first one, and others have followed, and now it's time for the final massive, humanity altering choice, and everyone who was there for the first choice has to show up for this one.

So, Adam, Eve (his very ex-wife), Cain (can't you already feel the how much fun this family reunion is going to be?), Myra (Adam's latest girlfriend), and Emily (their 23 year old daughter and stand in for Able, who, for obvious reasons, can't make it) need to find the man who will make the choice and get him to the place of choosing.  Along the way Michael and Lucypher (This is my only quibble with this book, Lucypher?  Really?  There's no need to muck with the spelling on that one.) lend a hand (or fiery sword).

Along the way expect fist fights, lots of booze, guns, and the ever present voice of Adam, done with perfect pitch and tone.  It's easy to believe this character has been around since literally the beginning of time and has seen it all. 

The plot is fairly simple, find all of the main characters, get them all into the same place, and then make the choice.  If it was a role playing game, it'd be called linear.  It's the characterization and voice of these characters that make this book so much fun.

The theology is light-hearted and likely to annoy the true believers.  Call it Eve was set up, rather than Eve was framed.  If you liked the theological precepts of Good Omens, you will like this book.  Actually, let me go further here, if you liked Good Omens for any reason, you will like this book.

The first link goes to the book form of The Chosen.  The second link takes you to the Kindle edition.  At $9.99 for the book and $3.99 for the Kindle edition, both versions are priced well for the content.  It's two hundred pages long, so in addition to being fast paced, it's also a fast read.  I easily finished it in two evenings, and wished it was longer.

So, here is is, my first five star review.  Please, go buy this book and then review this book.  Link to it on Facebook and tweet about it.  There's only one way that self published books get attention, and that's when everyone who liked them lets everyone within the sound of their voice know about them.  So, go give it a read and give John a hand getting the word out.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Interview with Hank Quense

Hank Quense was kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding his adventures in self publishing.

KR: Why did you self publish?  Did you attempt to have Tales published by a publishing house?  What service did you pick for self publishing and why?  
HQ:  I did send it to a few publishers.  One of them expressed interest and reviewed a few of the stories.  The editor wanted extensive revisions which I did to the example stories and with an idea of she wanted, I revised the stories I hadn't sent to her.  She reviewed the edited stories and wanted more edits which I did.  The changes she suggested really improved the stories and I was happy to do them.  By now six months had passed.  I subbed the selected stories again as she requested and after another several months she wanted still more changes and told me not to resub for six months or so.  This time the edits were trivial and didn't improve the stories.  I declined to spend more time on the stories.  It old her they was as good as they would ever get, so that was the end of that potential publisher.  Meanwhile my efforts to get an agent were just as frustrating.  I sent out a number of queries, but only one agent had the courtesy to reply.(negatively) 
I picked Createspace and Smashwords because they don't charge authors (if you don't need help) and most of the sales revenue flows to the author.
KR:  How many copies have you sold?  What marketing has worked best for you?  How did you set your price points?
HQ:  So far, the book hasn't sold as well as I had hoped.  Since it hasn't, I can't advise on what works best.  I set the price points by finding similar sized books in the marketplace
KR:  How did you get your cover?  Who did your art?
HQ:  I shopped around for a cover artist and was fortunate to find Gary Tenuta.  I told him what I thought the cover should look like (i.e. The three characters on it) and he got it right on the first try.  Gary is a great cover artist and I highly recommend him.
KR:  Anything else you'd like to say about self publishing? 
HQ: It ain't easy going it alone, but I doubt having an agent and a publisher is any easier.
If you want to know more about Hank and his writing, you can check him out here:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Indie Book Review: Tales From Gundarland

Imagine for a minute an alternative universe where Terry Pratchett and Monty Python could produce a love child.  Now imagine that child had inherited both parents' skill at seeing a situation and sizing it up for satiric treatment but neither parents' talent for executing that satire.  If you can hold that idea in your mind, you'll have a pretty good idea of how Tales From Gundarland reads.  I have a crusty, old memory of an English teacher telling me to use writing to show, not tell.  You probably have a similar one.  Where Monty Python and Pratchett would show, Quense would tell. 

Tales From Gundarland is a selection of two novellas and six short stories, most of them satires, set in a rather generic fantasy world of elves, dwarves, humans, and something called yuks (a modified ogre).  The stories range from retellings of Shakespeare's greatest hits staring dwarfs and elves, to a Zorro/Lone Ranger (or Zarro and the Lone Stranger as they are known in Gundarland) crossover.
Bits of the stories are genuinely laugh out loud funny.  There are moments where you see great insight into human nature.  But on the whole the stories are competent and plain rather than exceptional reading. The use of language is solid but not brilliant.  The occasional clunky line is offset by the occasional very well done image. The characters are likable but generic.  Several of them are rather easily confused with each other because most of the main characters are somewhat young, unsure of themselves and their place in the world, adventurers looking to find their fortune and place.

Quense did come up with some unique details for setting his elves, dwarfs, and humans apart.  His guild system requires adventurers to learn useful trades as well as how to bash in heads, so we run into a Warrior/Cooks looking to advance onto the Hero/Chef level.  Likewise, the leader of his anti-pirate group is a caftan wearing dwarf looking to go legit by getting into women's bespoke fashion.  Things like that are really cool, but we don't get much out of it because these things are mostly just mentioned as part of the background.  Green leaves on the trees, babbling brook, Warrior/Cook armed with his trusty frying pan and razor sharp spatula ready to go off and save the princess.  Tell me more about the guilds, tell me more about how he trained, write a novel about it, because there's a seed of a great story there, but...  But it's just background. 

Quense is good with voice.  His characters speak differently from each other, which is a nice touch.  The yuks speak in a sort of dumbed down mafiaesque English.  The other main characters use different tone and vocabulary in a way that matches with their stations well.  Unfortunately, voice is often the only easy way to distinguish one main character from the next.

Though I was kicked out of the feminist club a long, long time ago, I did notice his female characters, save one, are one dimensional, shallow, and annoying.  Annoying in the sense of people you don't want to spend any time with, not badly written.  Basically the reason there are women in this book is to be objects of love or lust.  And, while I normally couldn't care less about the gender of the various characters I'm reading about, the fact that almost every woman in the entire book was a twit was grating. 

The top link leads to the $17.99 softcover version.  The bottom to the $3.99 Kindle version.  While there are books I'd be willing to pay 17.99 for, this isn't one of them.  However, the $3.99 Kindle version is priced just right.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Useful Tidbits

I've been a bit busy lately and haven't had the time to really research my next self publishing platform.   So, instead of a the lowdown on (Coming soon, I promise!) I've got a few bits and pieces that may come in handy.

First off, my roving correspondent (okay, my buddy Gail Lewis) has returned from the James River Writer's Conference with some useful information for those of you looking for an agent.  Gail is also in the midst of the glorious fun that is the agent hunt.  If it weren't for the fact she already has three jobs and is working on writing a book, I'd try to cajole her into writing this herself.  But, she's swamped, so here are her useful bits through me:

Agents do not want to see stories that start with dreams.  More precisely agents see hundreds, if not thousands, of dream opening sequences a year and toss them all.  So, if like Gail you did a ton of research on the kinds of book you intend to write, noticed no dream openings, thought, "Hey, here's a good way to differentiate myself," you've fallen into the same trap she has.  Basically, it's a cliche, but a cliche you haven't seen in print because it never gets that far. 

Next up: Query Letters.  Agents want to see what your book is about.  Do not leave any mystery here.  They are not pleased when you are coy with what is going on.  Those letters get booted.  Remember the five W's?  Make sure it gets into your query letter.  (But in a pleasant, engaging, and unique way...)

Finally: What you think is important about your book may not be what the agent is interested in.  Gail is writing fantasy fiction.  Her's is a real world set YA about a group of magic users who stumble on someone who may be from their past and how they all interact and relate to each other.  (She will write about her story here one day and do a better job of describing it.)  Anyway, the main character, Penny, has an alcoholic father who moves them around constantly.  He shows up like four times in the book and is more or less a vehicle to put Penny in the right place at the right time for the action to start up.  Amid wizards, multi-dimensional monsters, a religion versus science theme, moving into a new school and finding out that you too are a powerful magic user, it is alcoholic parent that the agent was interested in knowing more about.    

On my own fact finding this week I have learned the following things:

The find and replace function on Word is a very valuable editing tool.  Due to recent developments I am going over my manuscript with a fine tooth comb and editing away.  Here is a technique I've found that is good for making you see what you actually wrote, as opposed to what you thinkis on the page.

Locate an issue.  The first one I tried was sentences that start with an introductory clause that starts with If.  If blah blah blah, then blah blah blah.  I've probably got 150 sentences that follow that basic pattern.  Maybe fifty of them had a comma after that first clause.  So, I searched for If, and all of those sentences popped up, and I was able to read each one by itself and add commas where warranted.  I did that for every other common word that begins and introductory clause.  A whole lot of commas got added.  

Pleased by how well that was working, I tried conjunctions.  I like conjunctions.  I like long windy sentences with seventeen clauses, lots of commas, and lots of buts and ors.  (I am rewriting, shortening, and tightening up most of them these days.)  However, there are 6183 ands alone in my story.  Probably 5500 of them are used correctly.  The find function was painfully slow.  I had images of still checking away three years from now until I noticed the find function has a subprogram called Highlight.  For locating every conjunction on a page, so you can quickly check and drag your eyes to the next one, it's brilliant.  The only thing I don't like about it is every time I change the document the highlighting vanishes and I have to redo it.  Even with that, it's still much faster than manually finding each and, checking it, and hitting the find next button.

My other great nugget of wisdom this week is a grammatical one.  No comma goes between and if.  So, the correct form of this sentence is.  We're going to the park, and if the weather is especially nice, we'll eat lunch outside. 

The next installment of the Indie Book Review is due up soon.  I'm almost done reading Tales From Gundarland, and will be expounding upon in the next week.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Working With Thomas Hill of Launch Pad Press

Back in August I wrote a post about the editor I hired, Thomas Hill of Launchpad Press.

Here is the follow up.  Now, some of you may notice this post is rather... dry.  There's a reason for that.  While it is always acceptable to write the truth and facts, it is not always acceptable to write opinions or draw conclusions.  So, since I have no interest in a business libel case heading my direction, I will stick with the facts.

As Joe Friday would say, "Just the facts, Ma'am."

On July 25th I returned the contract to him.  It stated Thomas Hill of Launchpad Press would be "Copyediting for grammar, punctuation, word usage, style; adjustment and manipulation of text for clarity; conform manuscript to Chicago Manual of Style; style sheet for commonly used terms."  This would be finished by August 24th.

On October 4th, 41 days late, the second half of my manuscript was returned to me.  As Thomas Hill said, the manuscript still wasn't finished, he needed to work more, especially on bits from the beginning, to fix mistakes he had made earlier.

By October 14th, I had finished reading through and working with all of his edits.  I did not think the quality was high enough and had lost confidence in his ability to fix the problems in the earlier sections.  I sent him an email severing our business relationship. I was rash in that email, asking for most of my money back or saying I would blog about this.  I realized that was a mistake and sent him another email on October 16, rescinding my request for my money back.  Thomas did not respond to either of those two emails, or the one that proceeded them, asking about a collection of sentences I thought were grammatically incorrect.

If you click here, you will be taken to twenty pages of bits and pieces of my manuscript.  They are verbatim copies of the Word final version he sent me.  Some of the mistakes are ones he made.  Some are ones I made that he didn't catch.  I don't think it much matters which is which.  And, while I did pick areas with the most mistakes in the smallest spaces, there is not a single three page long span of the entire story without an error in it.

The documents he sent me did allow for change tracking.  Word date and time stamps every change in the document.  There is not a single date or time stamp between August 20th and September 17th in any of the  three documents he sent me.  If he worked on the project between those two dates, he never sent me that work. 

Thomas knows that I am a blogger.  He knows that I am writing about writing and publishing.  He knows it was my intent to write about him.  He's a follower on this blog.  When our business relationship was just beginning I asked if he might want to write a guest post for me.

I will leave my comments field open.  If he so desires, he can respond.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Electronic Revolution: Self Publishing for Kindle.

Last week we explored how to use to turn your manuscript into a physical book.  This week it's time to check out Amazon's Digital Text Platform and how you can self publish for Kindle.

First and foremost, if you don't already own one or have it on your computer, go get a Kindle.  Kindle for PC is a free download, and it's worth the few minutes of time to have one.  Then as soon as you have one, download  Publish on Amazon Kindle with the Digital Text Platform.  It's free and has step by step instructions on how to go from logging in the first time to getting your book online. 

While the CreateSpace page is rather romantic, seducing you with images of your book dancing in your head, the DTP is rather utilitarian.  There's nothing to buy here, no spiffy packages, no offers of editing or illustration or publicity.  Just a simple service that lets you put your book online.  First things first they want you to sign in and provide tax documentation.

Once you've logged in and taken care of your tax information your next step is to prepare your text.  Unshockingly enough the way to get your text to look like it does in your book is to get it into HTML format and make sure it looks right.  Now, they will reformat if you start off in .doc or .docx (word), .pdf (doesn't transfer all that well), .mobi (works very well), and plain text.  If you're already working in word (like I am) save your document as a "webpage" and that will rewrite it into HTML.  You can then fiddle from there.  But, if you don't turn it into HTML first, then you have no guarantees that the spiffy format you set up will transfer from your original document into your Kindle book.

Next up, fill in the information for your book.  Title, author name, description, etc...  If it would be on the cover of your physical book, you'll fill it in here.  This is followed by the rights section, where you select what geographic region you've got the rights to publish in.  If you are the author, and you haven't sold any rights to the book, you maintain the rights to publish everywhere, so you can hit the world wide option.   

You'll pick your categories, up to five of them.  This is probably an area you want to spend as much time thinking about as your cover text.  What category is your book?  With five to choose from you've got lots of opportunity to get readers who may not usually look in your direction interested.  Granted, do not put your fictional tale of life in a kitchen in cookbooks unless it has recipes, but in addition to lit fic and food writing, you might aim for romance if there's an underlying tale of that, or possibly organic farming if you spend a lot of time talking about organic sustainable agriculture.  Still, of the five you have, make sure three are really close matches to your work, and if you can come up with two more close matches, get them, too.  Head out on a limb when you're out of close matches.

Next up keywords:  You get five to seven of them.  Obviously your name and the book title are good matches, but what next?  Here's the thing with keywords, you have two options: You can aim for words that will help to locate your book for people who already know something about it (character names, places, things in the book, etc...).  Or, you can aim for people who know nothing about your book with general terms.  I'd say how you do this will have a lot to do with how the rest of your marketing plan works.  If you expect a lot of people to know something about your book, ("I don't remember the title, but there were horcruxes, wands, and a school called Hogwarts.") then by all means use those sorts of keywords.  Most of the rest of us will need a combination of keywords, some very specific to get people who already know something about our book to it, and some very general to attract those who have never heard of us. 

Then up goes your novel and the cover image.  Make sure the cover image is a .tiff or .jpeg.  Once again the text should be .html.  Upload each and away you go.

Now comes the fun part:  Money!

How you get paid: you have two options, a paper check can be mailed to you, or the money can be deposited directly in your bank account.  Now, unless you are somehow allergic to technology, (And if you are, how are you reading this blog?) you want the second option.  Here's why: each month you accrue a certain amount of sales.  Those sales result in royalties.  If you chose the electronic deposit option, each month that goes by with more than ten dollars of royalties in your account results in a payment to you. (A payment sixty days post accrual.)  If you go for the paper option, not only do you have to wait for 100 dollars to accrue (on top of the sixty days for the check) but they will also charge you an eight dollar processing fee for each check they send out.

As for those royalties, you also have two options.  You can get a seventy percent royalty or a thirty-five percent royalty.  I assume most of you are thinking, why pick the thirty-five option?

Here's why:  The thirty-five percent royalty is good everywhere.  There is no "delivery fee" attached to the thirty-five percent royalty.  You can't charge less for your work elsewhere, but you can get the price down to $0.99 or set it as high $200.00.  So here's the calculation:  List price*.35 = royalty.

On the seventy percent royalty it works something like this.  You still cannot sell your book for less anywhere else.  If it goes for less elsewhere, Amazon will match the price and pay your royalties accordingly.  The seventy percent is only good in the US and the UK (No, this doesn't mean you can't sell elsewhere, it just means that you'll get the thirty-five percent royalty from your Canadian, Aussie, and French readers.)  You have to set a price between $2.99 and $9.99 and no more than the cost of the physical book minus twenty percent.  (If the physical book is $14.00, you can not set the price of the kindle book at more than $11.20.)  And your royalty is calculated by the price you set, minus the delivery fee.

Delivery Fee?!?  I mean, it's an electronic document.  They aren't boxing anything up or mailing it off.  However, a fee of $0.15 per megabyte will be assessed to you.  If it's a tiny book, then not less than $.01 will be charged.  They determine how many megs your book is, and no I didn't see how they determine this, or if the cover image is part of the calculation.  But here's how it works out, if that fee ends up costing more than half of your cover price, go with the thirty-five percent royalty.  If it costs less then half, you come out ahead with the seventy percent royalty.  Here's the calculation:  .7(list price-delivery fee) = royalty  I want to price my book at $4.99, so as long at it comes in at under 16 megs (and, granted, its long, but not that long!) I come out ahead on the seventy percent option. 
And that's pretty much that on the publishing end of the story.  You hit the save and publish button and wait two days for the book to be reviewed.  Once it has, you get an email telling you it's gone live. 

Sit back, relax, check the reporting data to see how many books you've sold, and sooner or later, money shows up in your bank account!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Self Publishing With Amazon CreateSpace

Welcome to the future of publishing.  Self published works produced print on demand or electronic versions for our ereaders.  Write up a book, get it edited, turn it into a snazzy PDF, attach a cover, pick a Print on Demand (POD) service, and off you go.  You are now a published author.

And there are a whole lot of ways to go about doing this.  So, here begins the series on different services available to authors who have a manuscript in hand and are getting ready for the next step.

First off, CreateSpace. This is Amazon's self publishing arm.  It offers pretty much everything you could possibly want, and several things you probably don't, to the self publishing author.  When you first land on the CreateSpace page you have the option of Books, Film, and Music.  Since this is a book writing blog, we're going to ignore Film and Music and go straight over to books.  Once you click on books you have two options, both of which I hope you will use, Book or Amazon Kindle ebook.

Technically CreateSpace is only books.  Ebooks are handled on Amazon's Digital Text Platform.

Once you get into CreateSpace they have a slickly laid out pile of information ready and waiting for you to browse through.  You have the option of doing everything but printing the book for yourself, or paying them a pile of money and having them handle everything, or something in between.

CreateSpace starts you off with one of two options,  Standard Plan or Pro Plan.  The Standard Plan lets you sell books through Amazon and your own website.  The Pro Plan allows you to use the "extended distribution" channel.  This means that you can sell your book to bookstores, libraries, etc...  The Pro Plan costs $39.00 for the first year and $5.00 for each additional year.

Granted, in the last entry I mentioned not being a huge fan of paying for a service to let you sell your books to brick and mortar bookstores, but in this particular case, they've made paying the fee worth your while.  The royalty set up is different for the Standard Plan and the Pro Plan.  In both cases you pay a basic per book fee, a per page fee, and Amazon gets a cut of the final price.  Amazon's cut goes up depending on where you sell your book.

The basic formula for a book on the Standard Plan sold on your own site looks like this:

$1.50 (per book fee)+ $.02 per page + 20% of the price you set.  If you sell on Amazon that percent goes to 40%.

If you have the Pro Plan the formula looks like this:

$0.85 + $ 0.012 per page + 20% of the price you set.  Once more, on Amazon that percent goes to 40%, and for other retailers it goes to 60%.

Those are the formulas for books over 108 pages (they cost less for smaller books) and black and white type.  Basically, a generic novel.

Here's the difference between those formulas.  With the Standard Plan I can price my book at $18.50 and make no money on Amazon sales and $3.70 on my estore sales.   With the Pro Plan I can price it at $11.50 and make $0.29 on Amazon sales and $2.59 on my estore sales.  (Yes, on the Pro Plan I lose money if I price it at $11.50 and sell to bookstores.  I'm not going to sell to bookstores.  At least, not through Create Space.)  So, quick vote, how many of you are going to pay $18.50 for a trade paperback fantasy novel by a writer you've never heard of?  How about $11.50?  I am less than shocked to see more of you raise your hand for the second choice. 

Now, my book is long.  The per page price difference results in an almost $3.00 difference in the base cost of each book.  I'm unlikely to set the price at $11.50.  I'd like to make a tad more than $0.29 per copy sold on Amazon.  If I bump the price up to $12.99, a fairly common price point for a trade paperback the length of the one I'm going to put out, then with the Pro Plan I can take home $1.18 per book, slightly less than double the industry standard royalty for a first time author.  

CreateSpace has a nice little calculator to let you play with prices.  You set the price you want your book to sell for then they tell you how much you'll make.

They also offer another price for you to order your own books at.  Once again the Pro Plan price is substantially lower than the Standard Plan price.  (For example, I intend to buy at least ten copies of my own book to give to buddies.  The Pro Plan discount on that order alone pays for the price of the upgrade.)  You can order as many or as few of your book as you like.  The good thing about this is you can get three books cheep.  The bad thing is there's no bulk discount, so you can't get 10,000 books cheep. 

Once you've finished playing with the royalty calculator, you can take the time to see what else they offer. Which is quite a bit.  Editing?  They've got it.  It costs $175.00 for the first 10,000 words and an additional $0.0175 per additional word for basic copyediting.  If you want all the bells and whistles editing it costs $320.00 for the first 10,000 and $0.032 for each additional word.

Cover design?  Everything from DIY with their goodies for free, to hire their design team and get a $999.00 designed-specifically-for-you to your standards cover, to a 1499.00 illustrated-specifically-for-you to your standards cover.  Or you can use the cover you designed yourself.  If you use their free cover designer that cover can only be used on the Amazon version of your book.  So, if you plan on publishing the book on Amazon, Lulu, and Smashwords, you can't take the cover with you when you leave CreateSpace. 

Publicity?  Sure, they've got it.  You can buy anything from press releases to book reviews to business cards.  (The business cards, at $199.00 for 500, are a tad more expensive than the free ones you can get at Vista Print.  This is one of those areas where it's very likely you can get a better price on your own.)

Want it all together in a nifty little package?  They've got that too!

Need help getting it all figured out?  They've got blogs and community forums filled with advice.  Feel like spending money for the help and you can call them and have someone hold your hand through the publishing process. Want to show off a bit of your work and get some comments from other writers?  They've got that available, too.  Want to introduce your book to the other CreateSpace writers out there?  They've got a place for it.

With CreateSpace you keep the rights to your book.  You have a non-exclusive publishing contract with them, which means you can publish your book elsewhere. You can pull your book off of their service when and as you like.  The only thing Amazon asks is that you don't sell it for less elsewhere. 

Pretty much anything you can imagine wanting to have over the course of getting your story from a manuscript to a book they will happily offer to you.  If you want the help, they'll give it to you, all you have to do is pay.

But what if you don't want a physical book at the end of this process?  Or what if you want a physical book and an ebook?  Tune in next time for Amazon Digital Text Platform!