The eBook Anthill

It feels like you’re an ant, standing on the top of an enormous anthill, screaming at the top of your lungs, “Look at me! Look at me!” A tsunami of self-published eBooks has changed the literary landscape forever. 

In one sense the arrival of the self-published eBook has been beneficial for society; many writers who could not afford to self-publish just a few years ago, can now have their voices heard. And, their voices are heard on a global scale as eBooks are distributed through online bookstores. My latest eBook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat, was available through online retailers in Canada, the United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan within a week of its release. It has also been added to the digital collections of libraries in the United States, one in each of the following states: Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Nebraska and Texas.     

The greatest problem is the issue of quality; a book that’s released by a publishing house will be seen by an editor, and checked for grammar and spelling before it enters the market. If you edit your own manuscript, a basic program that checks for spelling will note if you’ve made a mistake by typing “therre.” It may not consider the misuse of “their” or “there” a problem, since they’re both spelled correctly. Whether a writer can afford to purchase a more advanced program to check for errors, will depend on his or her budget. 

Another consideration is the quality of the writing. Although all editors, to a certain extent, are influenced by their personal tastes, they strive to acquire manuscripts that are well written and have compelling prose. If a self-published author has relied on the responses of family and friends who don’t want to hurt their feelings, they may have a misguided assumption that their writing is much better than it actually is. It is true that many self-published authors hire freelance editors, but that isn’t affordable for all writers. Other options include sharing sharing you writing with a critique group, or a writer-in-residence at a library or university.   

One of the greatest challenges faced by writers who author self-published eBooks is trying to create a cover that stands out. Potential customers may never see the full size image; only a thumbnail, alongside dozens of other thumbnails on the same page. Once again, cost is an issue; not every independent author can afford to hire a graphic designer. Joining a writing community is essential for independent authors, because members of the group may be able to help you with the cover art, and provide beta readers to review your manuscript before it’s published.  They can also offer you advice regarding the best self-publishing platforms to use, and pitfalls to avoid. Self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to be alone.

A significant change for self-published authors in the last fifteen years has been the rise of social media, and the ability to reach thousands of people almost instantly. Unfortunately, new authors soon learn that when you post an announcement about your eBook, a “like” doesn’t mean they’re going to buy a copy. It’s really just a “good job” pat on the back. Social media is a good place to start, but it won’t replace other marketing efforts.

The self-published eBook has resulted in the democratization of publishing, because now just about anyone can be an author. That said, the playing field will never by truly level; self-published writers who can afford to hire freelance editors and graphic artists to help them create eBooks, will have better products to offer. Like traditionally published writer, however, self-published authors have to accept that regardless how much heart and soul they’ve poured into an eBook, regardless of how much money they’ve spent on editing and cover art, there is no guarantee the eBook will become popular. Fortunately, sales figures don’t keep writers at their keyboards, the love of writing does. 

As more authors enter the marketplace with self-published eBooks, the anthill is becoming overcrowded. I guess I’ll just have to jump higher, and yell louder. “Look at me! Look at me!”

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Suggestions For 2021

Some of these suggestions are ones I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, but good advice is worth repeating.

I recently finished listening to The Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin. I highly recommend this book, it offers practical advice and reminds artists of the importance of their work, and that sharing their work with the world is an act of generosity. The chapters are very short, so it’s ideal if you ‘re busy and need to fit your reading time into brief lulls in your schedule.

If you’re a new writer and want to learn more about the writing process, there’s no better description than a talk by Canadian science fiction writer, Robert J. Sawyer. It was recorded, in three sections, at the Ontario Writers’ Conference in 2010. The three videos combined only take about twenty-five minutes to watch.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Start reading screenplays. Three online sources are the Internet Movie Script Database, Script Slug, and The Script Lab. Learning how the screenwriting format works is important, because it will prepare you for potential opportunities in the future. If you have a great story idea, why not be ready to present it as a screenplay to a local film company?

Have a great year, I hope that you’ll find writing success in 2021!

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

P.S. I would really appreciate it, if you would suggest my eBook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat to your local library.

How Far is Your Reach?

If you’ve never tried this before, here are a couple of methods for finding out how far your writing efforts have travelled across the globe.

Do a search on Google (www.google.com) using your name in quotation marks. The quotation marks are essential; if your name is George Anderson and you don’t use quotation marks, you’ll get all the results for George, all the results for Anderson and all the results for George Anderson. Next, do the same thing for the titles of your published books, anthologies you’ve been published in, and the titles of short stories, articles and essays that have been published.

It’s especially important to search for your ebooks regularly, so you’ll know if your ebook has been pirated and offered as a free download. I would suggest that you don’t click the link for the download, because it might be a hacker using a “free ebook” as an opportunity to plant a virus or tracking software on your computer. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t recommend what you should do, if a website claims to offer a free download of your ebook.

During a recent Google search I learned that one of my published short stories has been referenced in a government document about culture. Another time I discovered a quote from one of my short stories on a science fiction website. I also found that an article I wrote for a magazine, was on the front page of a website. Since your published work represents your personal brand, you need to know where it’s being seen and commented on.

Another great resource is Worldcat (www.worldcat.org). This site allows you to find out which libraries around the world are holding copies of your books (or anthologies you’ve contributed to) in their collections. I did a search earlier today and was shocked to find out that one the anthologies I was published in, is available through Harvard, Princeton and Yale university libraries. If you don’t get a result with a title, try doing the search with the book’s ISBN.

With so many inter-connected distributors, it’s amazing how fast your book or ebook can move across the globe. My latest ebook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat was published three weeks ago, and it’s already available through online bookstores in Canada, the United States, Japan, France, Italy, Brazil, Germany and Australia. There’s no guarantee it will become popular in those countries, but since it’s available, it’s possible.

Take some time during the holidays and find out where your writing can be found, you might be surprised by how far it has travelled.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

The Procrastination Deception

One of the reasons you may be having difficulty with procrastination, is because you’re not aware that you’re procrastinating. Here are some ways that writers procrastinate. I know, since I have mastered several procrastination techniques.

PERFECTIONISM This trap has the potential to prevent you from ever getting your writing published, including self-published work. The only solution is to accept that what you write will never be flawless. No matter how many times you read through a manuscript, or how many beta readers you use, there’s always the possibility that you won’t notice a grammatical error, or a misspelled word. So what? I’ve noticed spelling and grammar errors in books that have been reviewed by professional editors before publication. I still enjoyed the books, and I’d read other book by the same authors.

NEVER ENDING PREPARATION By this I’m referring to all the things you can do that are related to writing, without actually writing. You can attend (in-person or online) writing groups, watch interviews with your favourite authors, read blogs about writing, read or listen to books about writing, go to conferences, and listen to seminars, but never make a serious effort to write. That’s a waste. What’s the point of accumulating all that knowledge, if you never apply it?

FEAR A hard, cold reality of being author, is that some people will not like what you’ve written. I recently noticed that someone had given my eBook, What If? A Collection of Short Fiction by J. Paul Cooper one star, out of a possible five stars. I also had someone who hated one of my short stories that was published by an online literary journal. Was the criticism justified? I don’t know, but it won’t stop me from writing.

Procrastination robs you of your most precious resource: time. If you’re serious about being a writer, you have to focus on doing the work. I recently had one of my short stories, “Just A Toonie” (A Toonie is a two dollar Canadian coin.) published on The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature website. The only reason that happened was because I wrote the story, and keep on submitting it, until I found an editor willing to publish it. Last weekend I self-published a young reader’s eBook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat through Draft2Digital. Will it be popular? I have no idea. Will readers find glaring errors? Possibly. What I do know is that I love writing, and it’s worth the risk.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

Writing Requires….

COURAGE: There’s no guarantee that your work will be accepted, so every time you send your work to an editor, you risk the disappointment of rejection. If you want to succeed as a writer, you have to strap yourself into the emotional roller coaster and go from the anticipation of seeing your work published, to the reality of reading rejection e-mails over and over again.

PATIENCE: One of the first lessons you learn through experience, is that if you want to be a published writer, you must be willing to wait. If you send a short story to a literary journal that’s printed four times a year, hoping that it will be published in the winter edition, but it’s accepted for the spring edition, you’ll have to wait an additional three months to see your story in print.

PERSEVERANCE: What happens if the first editor you send your story to rejects it? It’s going to hurt, because you’ve poured your heart and soul into that story. Unfortunately, editors receive many more manuscripts than they can actually publish, and therefore, they’re forced to reject some well-written stories. The best option is to search for another market for your story, and submit again.

DECISIVENESS: Only you know when a manuscript it ready to either submit it to an editor, or self-publish. Only you know whether your story will work best as a novel, screenplay, or a play for live theatre. Only you can decide whether it will benefit you enough, to allow your work to be published without receiving any payment. Some literary journals are staffed entirely by volunteers, and their limited budget does not include any money for writers, but the prestige you receive having your short story or essay included in their publication, will help your career. Note: Many editors will not accept previously published material, including self-published material. Having a short story or essay published for free, may mean you’ll never be paid for it.

Only writers knows how much time, effort and emotional cost is involved in the stories we create, and yet, we keep writing….

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

You’re Not Wasting Your Time

So far this year I’ve paid to upgrade my blog to a website, and I’ve also paid to renew my membership with two writing organizations. I’ve had one short story published and anticipate one more being published by the end of the year. I won’t receive any money for the stories, but in a very real sense I will still receive payment, because every time my writing is published, it helps me establish my personal brand.

Here’s a question that you may be struggling with: If you’re not making a profit writing, does that mean you’re wasting your time and money? No, it means you’re investing your time and money in your passion.

Many people want to keep their passions as hobbies. Once they’re required to answer to deadlines, and feel pressure to make a profit, it loses it’s appeal and it’s no longer enjoyable. Perhaps you want to keep writing separate from your day job, because it helps to keep your life in balance.

Some of us, however, dream of creating a living from our passion. We find no satisfaction in going to the office, warehouse, or store where our creativity is of little value. We make no use of our ability to craft stories, while we generate quarterly reports, operate forklifts, and serve customers. It would be great to make the transition from part-time to full-time status as a writer, but if we can’t afford to leave those jobs, we’ll have accept that the opportunity to write will remain confined to our free time.

Whether your writing is a hobby, or you’re working towards becoming a full-time writer, one thing is certain; writing is part of who you are. If due to some unseen event you were unable to continue writing, it would be a great loss. It would also be a great loss for everyone else.

Think of a song that makes you feel alive every time you hear it, a movie that tears at your heart strings and tickles your funny bone, or a novel that you couldn’t put down until you finished it. In those experiences, you were sharing another person’s passion. Can you put a price on those experiences?

What will you share with the world today through your passion? There are poems, short stories, novels, essays and screenplays waiting to be written by you. Whether you’re a full-time or part-time writer, whether or not you’ll be paid for your work, you can still decide to write, and share your passion.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

Reading Widely

If you’re like me, you may feel a tinge of envy when you hear a jet, wishing you had travelled more often. You may also have taken jobs to pay the bills, while you dreamed of a different career path. We’ve all passed up opportunities, made mistakes, and taken jobs, just because we had to pay the bills.

So what can you do if your knowledge of the world is limited, but you don’t want your writing to have a narrow focus?

I have never gone to a casino to gamble; the closest I’ve come to that is walking through a casino. I do, however have some knowledge of the industry through reading: Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich and Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom. How could this information be useful? If you write science fiction and a space station your hero visits has a casino, it could help you imagine a realistic setting.

While I was briefly working as a Background Performer for a Canadian science fiction series, I walked through a set that was built to resemble the Oval Office. That’s the closest I’ll ever get to the White House. Fortunately, I found an excellent book that offers insights on what life is like for Presidents: Marine One: Four U.S Presidents, One Proud Marine, and the World’s Most Amazing Helicopter by Colonel Ray “Frenchy” L’Heureux with Lee Kelly. What I found most fascinating were the descriptions of the logistics involved in moving the President from one location to another, and how various Presidents interacted with their staff.

Since I’ve never been an executive with a financial institution, or a successful stock broker, how could I ever understand what it’s like to be a major player in billion dollar industries? These three books have given me a glimpse into what their lives are like: Winner Takes All by Christina Binkley describes the brinkmanship between competing casino magnates in Los Vegas. Rigged, which is about the oil industry, and Once Upon a Time in Russia, which describes the rise of Russian billionaires, are both written by Ben Mezrich. If one of your stories involves your characters making multi-million dollar deals, wouldn’t it be useful to understand some of the pressures and dangers of working in that environment?

It’s important to read widely; if your knowledge is based only on stereotypes you’ve seen on television, you’re going to write stories that are no more that strings of cliches linked together, to produce either a lousy novel, or a screenplay for a B movie that isn’t worth watching. Reading widely helps you develop a depth of knowledge, that allows your stories to be both creative, and believable.

I should note here that some novels are based on completely unrealistic stereotypes, become bestsellers, and are adapted for blockbuster movies, making the authors extremely wealthy. Although I try to offer useful advice, you’re still the author and you have to follow your gut instincts. So, if you’re flying overhead in a corporate jet, on your way to a meeting with a Hollywood producer, just give me a wave.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

To Blog, or not to Blog….

So it’s the day you normally write your blog, but you’re scared that you have nothing left to write about. Here are some suggestions to consider:

Write a book review that’s related to your blog’s theme. It doesn’t have to be an exact match. For example, if you’re blog is about writing, reviewing a book like Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Habits still makes sense, because being productive is important to writers. It doesn’t have to be a new book, because what’s important, are your thoughts about its content, not the date when it was published.

You can compare a book, to the movie based on it. Is the author of the book, also the screenwriter? How much time was there between the publication of the book, and the release of the movie? Are there lines in the book, that were given to other characters in the movie? Are there scenes in the book you really enjoyed, that were missing in the movie? Is the movie an accurate representation of the book?

Another option is sharing resources related to your blog’s subject. You could tell your readers about feature-length documentaries and shorter videos you’ve discovered. Are there any new websites and/or blogs with good material? You could also provide links to articles and essays that will help your readers improve their knowledge of your shared passion.

If you’ve made any changes to your website, you could describe the changes, and explain why you made them. I recently removed two videos from my website, deciding it was better to focus on writing, rather than distracting visitors to my website with cringe-worthy videos. Instead, I listed the made-for-television movies I was a Background Performer/Movie Extra in, because they were an important learning experience for me.

Write about one of your accomplishments, and describe the time and effort required to achieve that goal. How long did it take you? What have you learned from your failures? If it was difficult, how did you overcome discouragement? Now that you’ve finished, do still feel it was a worthwhile goal?

You can also list those who you admire, and explain why. What did they achieve? What are the character traits that you’d like to emulate? Which obstacles did they overcome to achieve their goals? How are they remembered? If they aren’t well known, perhaps this is an opportunity to publicly give them the credit they deserve.

I hope these suggestions help you keep slogging and blogging.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

You Have To Decide

If you want to be a successful writer, you’ll have to decide to act on your story ideas. When you have a great story idea, you need to take the next step, whether it’s creating an outline, or writing the first paragraph. It does’t matter whether the end product is a short story, play, novel or screenplay, you just have to start.

You have to decide if you’re going to be a creator. Everyone is a consumer; reading books, watching movies, playing video games, but not everyone is a creator. Writers are creators, we take the ideas in our minds, and create novels that people read, screenplays that directors use to make movies, and plays that actors bring to life on stage.

When you have some spare time, you’ll have to decide whether to binge watch your favourite television series, or write. Time is a limited resource; how you use it will determine whether you’ll have the first draft of a novel at the end of the year, or you’ve just spent countless hours being amused.

You’ll have to decide if you’re prepared to have your writing criticised. Whether it’s someone in your writing group critiquing your short story, or an editor you’ve submitted a manuscript to, feedback is necessary for you to improve your craft.

The most important decision, however, is whether you’re prepared to actually write. You can read blogs about writing, attend writing conferences, read writing magazines, and watch interviews with authors, without ever making a serious effort to write.

So, what are you going to do right now? Do you have a good story idea? Are you prepared to invest time improving your craft? Are you willing to try, and learn from your mistakes? Everyone is a consumer, but you are a creator, and now is the time to start writing.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

Marketing Ideas For Self-Published eBooks

Traditionally when we think of alumni organisations, universities come to mind, but that isn’t accurate; elementary schools, high schools, and community colleges also have alumni groups. Although they might not call themselves alumni, former employees of companies also form groups to keep in touch. You can promote your eBooks by making announcements on their websites or through their magazines and newsletters. You could reach thousands of potential readers, and you already have something in common with all of them.

Another option is to write an article or essay related to the subject of your eBook, or about the experience of writing it, and post the article or essay on Linked-In. If you don’t feel it’s appropriate to mention the title of the eBook in the article or essay, you can always include a link to the eBook or your website at the end. You might attract the attention of people who are too busy to browse websites, in search of new books to read.

Do you have a Youtube channel, where you can promote your writing? This step requires swallowing your pride, because your first videos will probably be cringe-worthy. That doesn’t matter, because over time your videos will improve, what’s important is that you’re reaching more potential readers.

A labour- intensive approach that I tried with my self-published eBook, What If? A Collection of Short Fiction by J. Paul Cooper, was sending e-mails to libraries. I managed to convince several Canadian and American, and one Australian library to buy copies, but it required contacting hundreds of libraries. It was worth the effort, because many people discover new writers through searching library catalogues.

Self-published eBooks are flooding the marketplace like a biblical plague of locusts, and it’s getting more difficult to stand out in the crowd. I hope you find these ideas useful.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper