A Shot to the Foot — Or the Head? (Cautionary Lists for the Self-Published)

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

This is a sad story about self-inflicted damage to my recently published e-book, WAS IT A RAT I SAW, a psychological thriller involving split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.

I’ve always been a decent copy-editor, but things went terribly wrong with RAT. I thought it would be my easiest e-publishing experience. After all, I have the hardcover version, published by Bantam-Doubleday-Dell after mind-bogglingly extensive editing by their professional crew. All I had to do was retype it; and typing is easy for me.

Yeah. Well. My first e-version had hundreds of typos that I failed to notice. Not an exaggeration and not a … typo. Hundreds. I thought I had reviewed it carefully: professional-quality self-delusion! Below I itemize what I think went wrong, in case it helps another self-published writer avoid a similar nightmare.

It turns out that there are readers who ignore typos, and readers who are personally offended by them. My first several reviews were from the former group – so warm and enthusiastic! Five stars and raves from strangers – awesome! I started to get a steady trickle of sales. Then the latter group of readers posted reviews. All those typos opened the door for some nasty attacks. My trickle of sales stopped on the day the bad reviews appeared.

(Don’t get me wrong – I hate typos and don’t blame readers for hating them also. Probably because I support indie writers, I would never write an attack review because of typos, though … especially when I got the book for free. But if I didn’t absolutely love a typo-riddled book, I would avoid other works by that author.)

RAT’s problems may yet worsen. More than 2000 patrons of Amazon and Smashwords downloaded the typo-riddled version (mostly during free promotions). My initial elation about all those potential readers has mutated to fear of typo-phobic reviews, and misery that I created a situation where I may have attracted then repelled so many readers.

I’ve now spent the last couple weeks doing nothing but proof-reading and contacting reader-reviewers who were about to read the typo-riddled version and exchanging emails with Amazon and Smashwords to find out whether they can notify their patrons that a new, cleaner version is now available. (With Amazon, the answer is maybedepending on whether Amazon thinks the changes matter; with Smashwords the answer is no.)

I see sentences from RAT when I close my eyes. I induce insomnia imagining that the newly uploaded version is still full of typos that I somehow still missed. I yearn to return to editing FRAMES, my fantasy detective series. The FRAMES manuscript is dusty now, and covered with paw prints because this fellow has taken to sleeping on it:

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site.

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site when you don’t care about typos.

I can only hope that I will be able to restore trust and momentum with the newly uploaded, corrected version of RAT. Tune in later to find out whether I have shot RAT in the foot, or the head.

Many things seem to have gone wrong during the creation of  that first e-version of RAT:

  • Software conversion glitches? I used the Apple word-processing software Pages initially, then converted to Word. At some point, one of these stripped away certain “end paragraph” markers and adjoining dialog quotation marks.
  • Rogue auto-correct? Auto-correct is a headache-inducer so I always keep that “feature” turned off, yet some of the substituted words in RAT were so bizarre! Makes me wonder if an auto-correct got engaged, clandestinely, for a time.
  • New glasses prescription needed? Many of the typos were invisible to me until I magnified the text above 300%: for example, single quotes where double quotes should be; sign instead of sigh, i where l should be.
  • Past my bedtime? In some chapters there are clusters of typos in sections that I recognize as places where I pushed myself to do just one more page before I stopped for the night.

Here is what I will do differently from now on:

  • Stick with Word. It pains me to type that. I so hate Word. However, a Word doc is a required step to prep a file for Smashwords and Amazon, so that format cannot be avoided. And with every format change, problems can multiply. If I only use Word, I limit the number of format changes.
  • Remember, humans are the real spellcheckers. The spell- and grammar-checking functions of word processors only catch easy, obvious problems. Most of my typos were subtle punctuation errors, or mistakes that produced words that were real, but wrong.
  • Save the most careful read-through for the end. I did my most careful read-through early on. I’m still uncertain how many problems I missed and how many I introduced later.
  • Blow it up. To do a serious typo hunt, I need to magnify the text to 400% zoom, then resize my window so I can only see a couple lines at a time. This minimizes the chances that my eyes will bounce, jump, or slide past overly-familiar text.
  • Learn patience. Damn, I thought I would sneak through this life without it. When I finish a book I am so eager for people to read it! But if I can get myself to set the book aside for several months, I will regain perspective and a fresh set of eyes.
  • Print it on expensive paper? At the office this works like gangbusters: nothing like printing a “final” document to spot mistakes in it. This technique may only work when racing to meet a deadline, however.
  • Read it aloud? Other writers suggest this and it sounds like a great idea — maybe to evaluate the flow of sentences rather than copy edit? Anyway, the technique didn’t help me. When I read the words aloud I missed punctuation and syntax errors.
  • Read it backwards? This is another great-sounding idea that I couldn’t get to work for me. I found fewer mistakes when I severed the words from their context by reading backwards. Maybe I failed to select the right length of prose to read backwards.
  • Hire somebody? In principle this sounds good. Of course, one must check the checker (Horror stories abound regarding hired-gun mis-fires.) Anyhow, for the foreseeable future, I do not have the $800+ that a copy editor charges for a full-length novel.
  • Offer readers a free ebook if they report typos back to me? I have made this offer to a group of LibraryThing reviewers. Maybe they will like the offer, maybe it will piss them off and guarantee more bad reviews. Sign. (<- joke typo)

Indie authors and indie readers, I would love to get your input about any or all of this!

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Confessions of an Ignorant Book Marketer – Advice Sought!

photo from michaelfruchter.com

Am I making this harder than it should be?

Leave it free or stop the freebie? That is the question.

A detailed recap of the situation so far: a couple days ago, I was surprised to discover that Amazon was offering my ebook, WAS IT A RAT I SAW, for free. It turns out this happened because Amazon will not be undersold, and Sony-US (also unbeknownst to me) was offering the book for free … That, in turn, happened because Sony-US did not update its price after a free promotion ended on Smashwords (which distributes to Sony-US). Sony-US  has now  updated its price, so Amazon has no reason to continue the free promotion.

If that recap is confusing and doesn’t seem worth the time to sort out, here is the bottom line: it is now up to me. Do I continue the free promotion on Amazon?  Answer: I dunno. So: anyone with experience or opinion, please weigh in!

Here are my conflicting facts and questions:

  • In a couple days, there have been more than 1000 free downloads (to me that seems like a lot)!
  • Are these downloaders readers? reviewers? Or simply hoarders of free stuff?
  • My first priority as a writer is to have people actually read my novels.
  • My second priority is to get reviews on line.
  • Third priority (yet still a priority!) is to have people purchase my novels.
  • My “sales” ranking among the free ebooks has moved from infinity to measurable.
  • The “sales” rankings seem quite sensitive to minor variations in totals. Mine now  fluctuates between #200 and #400.
  • How long might it take to break the Top 100 Free Ebooks list?
  • Is there value in doing so?

What do you think about maintaining the freebie? I’m inclined to let it ride for a few more days and see what evolves. Is there a downside I’m not seeing?

P.S. To download your own free copy of WAS IT A RAT I SAW, start here.

P.P.S. Photo from michaelfruchter.com.

Free Ebook: WAS IT A RAT I SAW

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Until the end of October, 2013, get a free e-copy of WAS IT A RAT I SAWmy psychological thriller involving split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.

I’ve recently distributed some copies for readers’ reviews and I am thrilled to report that so far the ratings have been great!

Here’s how to get your free copy:

* Go to RAT’s page on Smashwords,
* Click the blue “Add to Cart” button.
* Proceed to checkout, but instead of paying, use coupon code KX86E.
* Let me know (via a comment on this page) if you encounter problems.

After you read it, please write a review! (Readers’ reviews are incredibly important to indie authors.)

RAT is online! P.S. I Know Who Got the Design Genes

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

At last (yee haw!) I have finished retyping Was It A Rat I Saw, my psychological thriller involving split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle. It is now available in serial on this blog and as an ebook in various formats at Smashwords. FREE FOR THE NEXT WEEK!

For the first few hours of its e-publication, I used a cover that I made all by myself. I liked it when full size, but as a thumbnail image on Smashwords, it was murky and uninviting. Previously, my son has made my e-book covers, and I love his artwork. But I felt like I was railroading him into making the covers, so this time I resolved to do it myself. Fortunately, as he watched me struggle with a new and alien version of Illustrator, he offered to take over.

Here’s my original effort:

My version of the cover. Looked like mush at thumbnail size.

My version of the cover. Looked like mush at thumbnail size.

And then there’s the artist’s cover from the Bantam-Doubleday-Dell edition. She put a lot of effort into capturing the book’s details, which I much appreciated:

Cover of "Rat"

Jacket from the original hardcover edition.

More Words about Murder and Brains

With relief, enthusiasm, and sheepishness, I announce that more chapters are now on-line in my serialization of  Was It A Rat I Sawmy psychological thriller involving real-life split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.

Baa.

Baaa.

I’m making progress – a mere 70 hardcover pages left to re-type! – but am way behind my original self-imposed deadline to digitize this  novel. Hence the sheepishness.

Do not be misled by the photo. There are no sheep in Was It a Rat I Saw although I do have great fondness for sheep. In fact, my daughter’s first word was “Baaa.” We were visiting a farm at the time.

Was It A Rat I Saw was previously published in hardcover by Bantam-Doubleday-Dell. For the first time, I’m publishing it electronically, first as a serial and then as an e-book.

Here are some Rat Reviews on Goodreads.

A New Introduction to a Previous Self

I continue to limp deeper into the retype* of ?Was It A Rat I Saw?, my psychological thriller involving real-life split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle. I haven’t read the book in years and retyping also means rereading, which holds surprises for me:

  • I’m always my harshest critic but I like ?Rat? although I would do everything differently now.  I have resisted the urge to rewrite – that way lies madness.
  • The real brain science still shocks, chills, excites me.
  • I don’t remember much of my own book and the retyping gets derailed when I read ahead to see what happens next.
  • I couldn’t write this book today. I am not the same person. This book captures a slice of my life, perspective, attitudes at a particular moment that is now long gone.

I had a plan to publish each of the four sections of ?Rat?, chapter by chapter, to this blog during the four weeks in August. There are several chapters in each section. This week, I published one chapter. Not one section. One chapter.

I call it a sign of psychological health that I no longer calculate how behind I am.

I believe the retype should now pick up speed. First, I have adapted to being back at my day job and getting All Else done in scattered shards of time. When I started the re-type, I was home lounging around after hip replacement surgery, with nothing but time. Second, I have just finished a first draft (yahoo!) of my latest novel, the fantasy detective series opener Frames. That is written in a different style than ?Rat? and I backed off from retyping when I realized it was influencing the style of the new book.

Good excuses for the slowdown, eh wot? No doubt next week I will have occasion to manufacture yet others.

*?Was It A Rat I Saw? was previously published in hardcover by Bantam-Doubleday-Dell. Now I’m publishing it electronically, first as a serial and then as an e-book.

Here are some ?Rat? Reviews on Goodreads.

The Sound of Two Hands Limping

imgres Okay, whose brilliant idea was it to set a deadline for my retyping* of ?Was It A Rat I Saw?, my psychological thriller involving real-life split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle?

I had a plan is to publish each of the four sections of ?Rat?, chapter by chapter, to this blog during the four weeks in August.

Half empty: I am behind by an entire section.

Half full: I have finished Part II and am almost at the midpoint.

Two more chapters on line this week! If I had no self-imposed deadline to make me feel behind, I would be better able to enjoy that accomplishment.

I feel a Life Lesson coming on…

*?Was It A Rat I Saw? was previously published in hardcover by Bantam-Doubleday-Dell. Now I’m publishing it electronically, first as a serial and then as an e-book.

Here are some ?Rat? Reviews on Goodreads.