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Self-publishing Cover Shenanigans

27 Jul

If you say “shenanigans” three times in the mirror, Brian Cox will appear and ask you why he hasn’t won an Oscar.

This is a post about self-publishing, and why Maker Space has been available since March in ebook form but took until Thursday to finally become available as an actual book.

I’m aware that some of you reading this are traditionally published authors (hi Jean!), and I am assuming that some of you are self-published (are author-published, practice artisinal publishing, engage in the craft of putting out your own writing…Ugh. Some days you just want to hit the terminology with a baseball bat and use what’s left of the pulpy mess when you’re done.). If you keep up with the publishing community in any way, you’re aware there is some controversy over which method of publishing best benefits the author. This argument can be boiled down to money and control.

Money is a big one. Royalties, obviously, but there’s also who foots the final cost of the product. Self-publishing is not cheap. Rephrase: self-publishing where the end result is a quality product is not cheap. (If you have not yet searched for “dinosaur erotica” on Amazon, please do so.*) If you pursue traditional publishing, the publisher is responsible for taking your manuscript and creating a finished product. They are also responsible for advertising, shipping, and the other elements of successful books.

At first blush, the issue of control sounds fairly simple. It asks: who maintains control over your work? If you are traditionally published, you turn over control of your work when you submit the finished manuscript. Elements of control, such as who holds the copyright and when it reverts to you, are (should be) established in your contract. The publisher is also responsible for advertising, shipping, and… Yes. That. Money and control are entwined.

I come from webcomics, and I’ve been putting out content for the better part of a decade. This has worked out pretty well for me, because I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys the process of taking my product from raw, unfinished ideas and shepherding them through the final stages. If you just did that thing where you said, “control freak” and pretended to hide it behind a cough? Thank you! When you’re responsible for putting out your own content, you are your own quality control expert, and nobody’s going to buy your shit if it looks like shit.

There are so many challenges/problems with this I can’t even, by the way. The learning curve is steep and expensive and frustrating… There are products you’re so excited to make that you forget to assess costs (case in point: the saga of the Speedy plush). There are designs you send to press and then, years later, your husband takes That One Shirt out of the closet and now you’re embarrassed that he’d still consider wearing it. To do yardwork! So, yeah, it can be horrible, and if you’re not careful, you stand a very good chance of losing a lot of money on products that won’t sell.

MAKER SPACE was the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson was a maker, so this seemed appropriate.

MAKER SPACE was the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson was a maker, so this seemed appropriate.

But it also can be wonderful, as you get more flexibility to work within the scope of your own ideas. The Rachel Peng novels were intended as a series. Seven books, with one overarching plot driving events. With that in mind, I wanted a single thematic cover design to carry over from book to book, so they’d look like a set when sitting on a shelf. Rose Loughran, who does the webcomic Red Moon Rising, is the cover artist: each book features a different landmark from Washington, D.C. The jacket design reflects the colors in Rose’s landscape painting. DIGITAL DIVIDE was all reds and golds, with MAKER SPACE in blues, purples, and grays.

Rose does the painting for the cover art, but I do content, text layout, and everything else. The cover layout for DIGITAL DIVIDE was delicious cake, and I had no serious problems getting this first book through printing. Since MAKER SPACE was the same size and on the same thematic template, I didn’t think it would be different.

/casts summon problems

I use CreateSpace as my printer. It’s owned and operated by Amazon, so do with that what you will: hopefully, all self-publishers–heck, let’s go with absolutely everybody–is aware that using Amazon and its affiliates comes with baggage. Most of this baggage is tiny and maneuverable and needs very little management within the day-to-day of your busy schedule… but then there’s that steamer trunk that’s about to crush your grandma and her local bookstore. I’ve got my reasons for using it, and one of those is that CreateSpace generates high-quality books at a reasonable price. Copies fresh off of the CreateSpace press are as sturdy as anything you’d receive from a traditional printing press, and the cover resolution is high. My husband has a loupe left over from when he used to work in printing which we use to check for DPI resolution on my products, and CreateSpace does right by Rose’s paintings.

So, right before MAKER SPACE was supposed to hit, I submit the cover to CreateSpace and order a proof copy. Cue shenanigans.



I think I ordered eight proofs in total over four months. Each time I got the copy back, there was something wrong with the cover. The color printed dark: the first two versions were purple-blue blobs. After tinkering to lighten it up, some of the colors didn’t match each other. And when I finally got the colors right, the whole cover had somehow jumped a quarter-inch to the left and the spine was misaligned.

These proofs weren’t free, by the way. CreateSpace charges me per item, same as you. I get a discount because it’s my content, but the endless proof-chain did set me back close to $70**. Now, if I were published by a traditional printer, I would have had a nice box of ARCs shipped to me prior to publication, free of charge and to distribute as I want. But I wouldn’t have had any say whatsoever in choosing the cover art, or its design, or the text on the back, or the pull quotes for the cover… Easier, less expensive (for me)? Definitely!

And I would have felt as though I had been excluded from part of the process.

Such exclusion is arguably a good thing. I might enjoy controlling the development of a product, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got specialized skills in cover design, font selection, or so on. I think the final layout of the book cover is solid; it could probably be better. In ten years, I might look back on the Rachel Peng covers like those ratty old embarrassing tee shirts in the back of the closet.

Today? I enjoy what I do and how I do it, and I’m better at it than when I started. Life’s a process, too.


*I am not suggesting that all dinosaur erotica is of terrible quality. I am merely saying that I have judged these books by their hastily Photoshopped covers, and by titles such as Turned Gay by Dinosaurs.

**Always figure in shipping and handling. Always.

Patreon bonuses?

2 Jul

It looks as though I’ll be starting a Patreon campaign soon, which I said I wouldn’t do until everyone and their sister had one, and since everyone and their sister now has one, I should really get my butt in gear. This means planning bonuses to entice readers to donate. Here are a few ideas I’ve been playing around with…

The Return of the Joshsmut

Josh has been married eight times (Mare was both Wife Three and Wife Eight… Look, they’re complicated), so there are seven novellas left in the series. I’d love to do these as some sort of serialized incentive program for Patreon donors, then turn these serials into a finished product for everybody.

The Disasterhouse Blog

This house, man. Today–this very afternoon!!!–a structural engineer will conduct an assessment of what must be done to keep the southern side of the house from collapsing. Guys, this house is literally falling down and the problems keep getting worse. We’re also trapped in it due to financial reasons: what was supposed to be an investment in cute structurally-sound fixer-upper has become a freakin’ nightmare. And we’re forced to live in it!So you can forgive me if I load up the home blog, look at all of the topics that would make a great (for you) update, and think, “NOPE.”

In addition to updating that blog at least once a week, Brown and I have been kicking around the idea of doing a podcast. Or, as he says, “I will happily argue with you in public if it means I get to review new tools.” Patreon donors would have access to this podcast before it goes live.

Speedy’s Kids

Speedy has over fifty kids throughout the United States, and will soon have a couple hundred more in Australia. None of his offspring can talk, and they aren’t quite as bright as he is, but they still have human-level intelligence. I’ve wanted to do a simple one-panel inkwash comic featuring four of these young koalas on Tumblr for ages… Think Chopping Block, only cuter and much, much darker. Patreon donors would have access to each comic before it goes live.

Other Stuff?

I dunno. What do you want from me?


None of this will happen immediately. Kickstarter fulfillment takes priority, and I need to also finish the thank-you gift for people who bought the serialized version of Digital Divide before it went live. Which was over a year ago and… ugh. Anyhow. In my opinion, it’s dickish to ask for more money before fulfilling prior obligations, so I’m at least going to get the bonus gift, the Digital Divide audiobook, and League Night (the .pdf of the Kickstarter bonus story) sent out before putting up a Patreon campaign.

Thank you for reading. Please enjoy these owls.



Where should I buy your book?

28 Feb

No no, not “me” “I”. I meant “you” “I” and…

Let’s try this again.

I’m now reading on a Kindle. A friend gave me his Gen 2 Kindle to test the formatting for Digital Divide. I expected to use it once and then stick it on a shelf to collect dust until the next time I had to proof an ebook; instead it has created a fundamental shift in my reading habits. Yes, it’s convenient; yes, it’s portable, but…

Okay, backing up again. I’m an avid reader, and run through at least two or three books a week. Until I got the Kindle, I made a bi-weekly trek to a used bookstore, filled up a shopping basket with whatever paperback caught my eye, and paid about $10 for the entire mess. I discovered a lot of good authors this way, saved a hell of a lot of money, and supported a fantastic independent used bookstore.

Now, I go to Amazon, locate the book I want to read next, download it, devour it, and repeat the process a few days later.

You could argue that changing my habits might have hurt some people: yes, I’m now supporting Amazon instead of a used bookstore; yes, there are repercussions for the publishing industry because fewer print books are in circulation. I would argue that an in-law worked in that used bookstore and I got mad store credit, and that sales of those used paperbacks weren’t tracked by the publishers.

I would also argue that changing my reading habits now means I’m supporting authors. There are (enormous) flaws in the ebook pricing model, but for every traditionally-published book I download, the author gets a cut. For self-published books*, the percentage the author keeps is higher. This was not the case with my used paperback habit: I might have been keeping the stories alive by reading used books, but I was doing no favors to the authors who created them.

There are other hidden benefits in how self-pubbed ebooks are purchased. Speaking for myself, I make the most financial profit through .pdf sales through the store, because the third-party cuts are smaller. However, purchasing my books through Amazon or another online vendor gives me free advertising. Ranking is everything; the more sales that a self-pubbed book gets, the higher it climbs in the lists, so its exposure increases, which results in more sales… It’s a lovely circle of profitability. It’s also an indicator that a self-pubbed book is good–or at least readable–as there is the very real problem of the self-publishing shit volcano.

If you’re a reader of mine and you want to know where to purchase my books, use the purchasing service that best benefits you. I will get different benefits, financial and otherwise, no matter which method you use. But if I were asked about my ideal book-purchasing scenario, I’d say: (1) Download from Amazon; (2) Read, read, read!!! (3) Post an honest review; and (4) Tell your friends if you’ve enjoyed it.

With this in mind, Maker Space should hit on Monday. See you later! I’m off to the Anxiety Pantry for some cake mix, and then I’m spending the weekend in the Weeping Closet sucking that cake mix through a straw.

*Or author-published, or whatever you want to call it. Lately I’ve been saying I practice “artisanal publishing”. Check back in June for my hand-crafted slow-brewed Summer Wheat fanfics!**

**Totally kidding about the Summer Wheat fanfics.


Kickstarter Update!

12 Feb

The Kickstarter is going great, at more than 100% over goal and a little more than a week to go. Two stretch goals have been unlocked. The first was hard copies of the audiobooks:

spiffy, so spiffy, love that spif!

spiffy, so spiffy, love that spif!

This business card version is more expensive than traditional dangle-fob flash drives, but not by enough to make me hiss and crawl backwards up a wall, Exorcist-style. The next stretch goal item has been unlocked, and if we make $17K, will be available to Backers.

The Speedy Challenge Coin!

The Speedy Challenge Coin!

A little bit about the design on the back: it’s modeled directly after an ancient Roman coin, and the motto translates to “I saw, I fucked until exhaustion, I came.” Because there is an actual word for that in Latin. The Latin academic we ask for help with translations recommended “futuo” as that’s much more common, but that’s just “I fucked” and I think Speedy would be happy with the attention to detail.

I hope we make it to $20k, because that unlocks a bonus story. It’ll be written by me, but illustrated by my sister. I’m crazy-excited about that one. It’s a Speedy and Avery story, and I really want to turn Brie loose on those two. Her art is amazing!

Not quite sure what you call this. I'm going with "Peapig" because the other way around is not right at all.

Not quite sure what you call this. I’m going with “Peapig” because the other way around is not right at all.

Anyhow, more updates as they come!

Kickstarter is live!

21 Jan

Here is the link to the Kickstarter!

This is my first crowdfunding project, which is apparently exactly like self-publishing your first novel, in that you think that every new donation or purchase is a fluke and you obsessively monitor your stats while trying to not lose your shit completely or think about what might happen if you fail (oh God oh God we won’t be able to afford dog food and the monster will eat me…).

It’s not really that bad.

(it’s totally that bad…)

I know not everyone likes audiobooks, so over the past month I’ve been working on different products that would be worth the purchase price, as it were. The first of these is a new Rachel story, where she takes Shawn for his first social outing. Shawn’s getting better, but “getting better” in the OACET mansion and “getting better” in a public place are two very different things.

The second is a laser-cut custom name plate:

Can be customized!

Text can be customized!

There’s NO adjustment of the colors on this image. Our buddy Steve took a photo of a nameplate on a black satin background with a light above it, and removed the stands and some dust specks in post, but otherwise this is an untouched image. We’re working with a local laser cutting shop on these. Brown and I have been to the shop a couple of times, and the design’s been tweaked so the detail glows. We’ve had some of the samples out on the counter and when the sunlight hits them, you have to move them or they’re distracting.

The next is the Cuddly Hippos t-shirt:

Brad says: "We can kill it!"

Brad says: “We can kill it!”

I thought long and hard about using Rosie the Riveter as the basis of this design (feminist icon > and is also ≠ to gang of assassins), but you see that Latin motto there? It translates to “underestimate us at your peril.” So, the spirit of the homage is consistent, and if anybody makes a joke about how hippo = woman, just don’t hang out with that person and maybe let a little air out of their tires when they aren’t looking.

Finally, the badges. I talked about these in the last post. All in all, I’m pretty happy about how it’s going, but I’ll be happier in a month when it’s over. And then I can freak out about releasing MAKER SPACE…

I think I lied. It’s never over.

More Heads-inna-Jar!

11 Nov

Back in August (Wait, that can’t be right… Holy crap, yeah, August) I made a Futurama Head In A Jar template.  And then I started working on heads-inna-jar. I finished and posted two of them, and then worked on a bunch of others. Two of these I sent to author Seanan McGuire when I sent her a copy of DIGITAL DIVIDE.

Portrait of the Author as a Severed Head

Portrait of the Author as a Severed Head

And her alter ego, Mira Grant.

I love (seriously love) how the nose-fin turns into her hair. BRUSH AND SNEEZE AT OWN RISK.

I love (seriously love) how the nose-fin turns into her hair. BRUSH AND SNEEZE AT OWN RISK.

Seanan has been amazing. We’ve been chatting back and forth since I featured her book cover in a comic strip. At the time, I hadn’t read any of her works and picked the cover of a popular zombie novel off of Amazon at random (because what the hell else would undead pixy Ben Franklin read?). Man, I am glad for that chance landing on Feed.  Seanan has been nothing but awesome. She’s funny, helpful, and willing to say “Yes, that thing you are doing? Do not do that,” or “That other thing? Do that more.”  And today she wrote up a hell of a fantastic review for DIGITAL DIVIDE.

I’m unbelievably appreciative both to Seanan and to her (insanely prolific) writing abilities, because I’ve been devouring her October Daye series like the scrumptious treats they are. BUY HER BOOKS!


Hold on International Shipping

29 Oct

NOTE 1: This post does not apply to international orders purchased from the store prior to 10/29.

NOTE 2: I am aware there are other methods/options/opportunities/fish-in-the-sea. I am looking into these.

International shipping will be discontinued from the store until I can find a method that doesn’t screw negatively affect me in terms of my time and money.

90 minutes writing out forms + 48 minutes in line + 8 packages = huge net loss

90 minutes writing out forms + 28 minutes in line + 9 packages = huge net loss

I mailed the first batch of international orders of Digital Divide today.  This was my test batch. I have another, much larger, batch to do tomorrow. A total of 7 international packages and 2 domestic packages were mailed today, for a total of $127.40 in shipping.  I’m rounding down to make the math easy, so let’s say it was $7 for domestic shipping with $120 for international shipping, or $17 on average per international package.

This was not an anticipated expense. I had weighed the packages and priced out shipping, and costs came to approx. $9 for the UK and Canada, and $14 to Australia. The price for shipping and handling in the store reflected these expenses.

This was also not the first time I went to the post office to mail these books. It was the third. The first time, I was told it was now policy to complete my custom forms online. The second time, I was told the online custom forms were invalid and needed to be submitted manually. Today, I went with a stack of old forms, the ones where you have to write out your information, the buyer’s information, and a tiny bill of lading to tell inspectors what’s in the package.  The clerk took those seven forms, then painstakingly entered this information in the computer.  It took her nearly thirty minutes to finish my transactions.

It’s not like the final total was a surprise–I had watched the numbers climb as the clerk worked, and I knew something was off when the Canadian shipping costs came back at $10.55 and the UK costs at $16.95.  They continued to go up from there.  I had a lot of time to think (pulling out a book and reading at the counter seemed like a dick move), so I did math instead: It costs me $5.05 to print each copy, plus $35 to have them shipped to me, plus $0.60 for packing materials, plus at least a dollar of my time for handling because I’m not using that time for paid work, I’m doing brainmath instead, whee goodtimes, so that’s an investment of $6.95 in each book… I was charging $8.95 for shipping to Canada, so that’s not too bad a loss, I’m still ahead by a few bucks, but outside of Canada… aw hell.

(The flat rate for international shipping begins at $19.95. Not-quite-ironically, none of the packages made it there.)

So, yeah. Today pooched me hard, tomorrow will pooch me harder. Nothing to do about it since these packages need to go out. However, until I can expect predictability in international shipping and charge accordingly, I have disabled international orders from the store for all products except digital downloads. I apologize for any inconvenience.

/angry rant off

More information about INTELLIGENCE

16 May

Ok…  Right.  This again.

A little backstory: in February, it was announced that CBS had purchased the rights to make a pilot based on an unpublished young adult novel by new(ish) author John Dixon.  This pilot was loosely adapted from the novel, and featured a government agent who had been part of a top-secret program.  Based on the very sparse information in the press releases, the plot centered on an agent with a chip implanted in his brain which allowed him to access the entire EM spectrum.

I spoke with my lawyer, who advised three things:  (1) Get the news of this series out to the readership, so we did not appear ignorant or  blindsided if/when the pilot hit; (2) Document everything, and I mean everything; and (3) Speed up publication of Digital Divide.  I did all of this.  I even had a brief but pleasant discussion with John Dixon on his blog, so he was aware that there were some concerns of trope crossover (I cannot find these posts to link to them at this time.  They were attached to this article, but the follow-up comments forming a nice conversation between Dixon, AGAHF reader Alexander H., and myself are no longer there.).

Now, we’re keeping the Kraken on a short leash, guys, remember?  We are not going off half-cocked and misinformed, remember?

With that said, CBS has just released the trailer to Intelligence, and now we have a little more information about the chip-in-head-meets-Secret–Government-Agency tropes in play.

I can overlook the tough-as-nails dusky blond hunk and the sassy brunette “minder” whose job it is to protect him.  Attitude + sexy = win.  I can ignore the whole “we gave a human the kind of power that was previously only seen in a machine” theme.  Been done before.  The shift from accessing the EM spectrum to controlling the EM spectrum (two very different things) is understandable as it makes for better action, and one can lead directly to another.  I can even overlook that they are portraying the agent and what he represents as “this generation’s Manhattan Project,” which is a major theme throughout the seven-plus years of the comic and Digital Divide, even though that trope is less well-established in the general sci-fi & government conspiracy theory literature.

But…. Guys, the uber-elite Secret Agent with the chip in his head makes constructs. He says that an “unexpected” side effect of the implant is that he can project what he sees.  “The intel I have access to… I can see it.  It’s like a virtual evidence wall.”  This is very unique and differs from other projection-type tropes, such as Gary’s in Alphas, where he translated what he perceived into images that only he could see. The Secret Agent in Intelligence can also perceive snipers from a distance, which is straight-up Rachel.  The more information that we get about these projects, the harder it is for me to separate the ideas in them as being unique from my own.

I am trying very hard not to cry right now.

More data is needed, but I have renewed conversations with my lawyer.

Got one, thanks.

10 May

Not that it wasn’t great to see this in my email, but…

I like how they're grouping webcomic authors together.  Rather like a quarantine! (click to enlarge)

I like how they’re grouping webcomic authors together. Rather like a quarantine! (click to enlarge)

A very nice way to begin the day.

Digital Divide and SciFi women authors

24 Apr

Cross-posted from the comic’s blog:

Hi guys! As some of you may know, Strange Horizons recently posted a critical piece on women SciFi novelists. The article addresses how women SciFi authors rarely get reviewed in the book community, and this reduces publicity and popularity for women authors. This article has led to a lot of attention/renewed attention for women SciFi authors who might have been overlooked.

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that I’m now one of those authors.  And a reader just emailed me to let me know that Amazon is pushing advertising for Digital Divide today.  If you haven’t yet bought a copy, please consider buying one from Amazon today.  It’s a measly $5 and this could be a make-or-break day for the novel.  Here is the Amazon (US) link again. Links to international Amazon sales sites are available at the Book page.

Thanks, guys.  I never expected to get here, and I’m starting to wonder if I can get somewhere else.

(And support women SciFi authors in general, because jeezy-peet!  Genitals don’t dictate who dreams of going to the stars.)


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