Falling off the Net – What happens when Life happens II

You last heard from me in August, when I had abandoned cyber-space to keep things together in physical space. I’m taking a short break to fill you in on what has happened, then I’ll be ducking out again for another while, but this time for different purposes.

In the last five months just about every member of my family has been ill in bed or in hospital, including me, and more than once. Our beloved cousin, Alon, went to sleep and never woke up. My sister gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. It’s an emotional time.

In between the warp and weft of doing what needed to be done to support all of us, other things continued (as they do).

In the publishing side of life, while I was in London ada enup joined IPR License and, for the occasion, I redesigned and updated the ada enup website to be cleaner and easier to navigate. Pretty, isn’t it? IPR is a rights organisation and I am hoping that all ada enup authors will benefit by having their works republished in many different countries, perhaps even being translated into different languages. My authors’ works are each quite particular, so I’m hoping that overseas publishers that specialise in each of those specific areas will be interested. It’s been five months now and ada enup has been showcased in the IPR magazine, so all that is left is to be patient. As IPR said to me, it usually takes minimum of nine months to be picked up. Time will tell.

I’ve been working with author Zuko Pokwana in between the madness and we are finally in the last edit before we publish the second edition of AmaZizi: The Dlamini People of Southern Africa. People are pressuring my author to get them copies so I’m feeling the pressure too. In between the kids, my top priority now is to get this book published.

There has been something else happening too. Something exciting and game-changing for me and likely for others, too. But I’ll save that for the next blog.

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‘Metaphors for Life’ – Repost with comments

What metaphors can you come up with?

Metaphors for Life – (Oct 28, 2014)

I started this blog using the journey metaphor, chatting about various publishing aspects and accomplishing them step by step, including dance steps! It seems to me that, like me, just about everyone has bought into the metaphor that life is a journey. I know it is a metaphor I took for granted. I don’t know what started me off, but the other day I started thinking about it: specifically, how it evolved into such a pervasive meme. It’s young compared to other, more biblical metaphors, such as life is a lesson we must learn from or a test we must pass.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of those metaphors. Life being a lesson sounds like I have to be diligent and hardworking all the time. There is no hint of play. I need to pay attention, memorise my subject and prepare for tests on which my future depends. (If you believe in a stern God, this may sound right to you). Life being a test, in which we are tested and must rise to the occasion (and if we haven’t learned our lesson – or even if we have – will be tested again), sounds like a challenge on the one hand and unrelenting hardship on the other; where an unseen hand will smack us with various unpleasantnesses at any time, and the consequences of failure are dreadful.

I think the journey metaphor became so popular because there’s a lot one can do with it. For starters, it is much more neutral and has the possibility of fun and excitement and newness in it, the ability to make our own way in the directions we choose. We can stay on the straight and narrow or venture into unexplored territory or roads less taken. We can turn back or travel with someone or travel alone. Also, if life is a journey, sometimes I need to stop traveling. There are different reasons for this – safety, rest, enjoyment of where I am are, waiting for others to catch up and so on. This metaphor makes us the hero of our own story. All of this is much nicer than lessons and tests. But just because nicer is nicer does not mean that it is, in fact, a good metaphor for all of us, all the time. You see, metaphors guide our behaviour. We live a certain way if we think a certain way.

How would my thinking about life – and therefore how I behave and act – change if I dropped ‘Life is a journey’ and picked up ‘Life is something else’? How would I live my life differently if I believed that life was a puzzle? Or a wad of cash? Or a river? Or cable TV? Or the internet? Or an algorithm?

What would change if rather than journeying, I was finding pieces that fit? Or choosing what I spend on, because I only have a certain amount of money? Or preparing for rapids? Or watching a hundred channels? Surfing which websites and using which software? Or fine-tuning my code?

Each metaphor gives subtle differences, differing from other metaphors in tiny degrees of the how of doing things, that can make huge shifts in my life, simply because my perspective changes.

For example, if I believe that life is a journey, then I am going to somehow meet the love of my life somewhere along the way. If I believe that life is a puzzle, I’ll be actively testing different pieces for the love that fits. If life is a wad of cash, do I believe that love is free or priceless or something I can buy? If life is a river, I’ll be careful to prepare for rocks and undertows in relationships, never expecting things to flow smoothly, suffering when the river runs dry, being overwhelmed when it floods and sweeps me away, but basking in enjoyment when the river flows in such a way that I can float. Did I realise that I could miss the love of my life because I was watching another program? Or that I could always rewind and catch up on what I missed? I can’t go back in time in the journey metaphor because there is a clear past, present and future, but I can if I’ve got PVR.

How do I feel about those?

I could go on, but I expect you get what I’m getting at: that we should not just accept the metaphors we’re given. It is worthwhile to choose them consciously, or even make up our own. Not only once, mind you, but whenever the old one no longer suits our circumstances.

You see, how we live our lives depends on it.

The Mysterious Cartoonist – Repost with comments

This satirical, short story fantasy initially downloaded more slowly than Cheery Red. Then it started picking up, and now I’m on 340 downloads. I have not yet discovered who the mysterious cartoonist is…

The Mysterious Cartoonist – (Oct 7, 2014 )

I’m giving a little twirl and some dance steps on my imaginary dance floor, celebrating the release of The Mysterious Jagg (a humorous, satirical short story, I had fits of giggles while writing it).

Publishing a short story or a book is such an exciting thing for an author. I wonder how the story will be received; I get happy when my friends congratulate me on the occasion. Facebook and e-mail becomes something I check way more often than usual. I keep an eye on Smashwords to see the downloads progressing. And I wait for the comments.

This is my favourite time of a book release, and it is gone so quickly!

Here’s the cover:

I think the cover is awesome. It is actually a modified page scanned from a diary I kept while travelling through the US during 1992/3.  The cartoon is one I copied at the time because I admired it so, with nary a thought to write down who the cartoonist was or the paper in which it was published.

When I was creating the book cover, I wanted to acknowledge the source, so I searched to discover the identity of either of them – without success. This lack of success is a reminder to keep on doing what I have done for over a decade now, which is to be meticulous about sources and references. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, not only because it is a legal requirement in many places, but because it is just and feels good to give credit where credit is due. I like being able to point others to someone’s work and say – see that? Isn’t it cool? That person is the one whose work inspired me and augmented mine.

Maybe one day someone will contact me and say, hey I did that, and I’ll be able to properly acknowledge them. If the six degrees of separation theory is true, it may be that a reader of this blog knows someone who may know the cartoonist – wouldn’t that be cool!

So, I invite you to spread the cover far and wide, to your friends and contacts. You might say: ‘Do YOU know who this cartoonist is?’

You could be the one to find him/her.

And in the meantime, you can enjoy the story! Download it for free from Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/481932

or check it out on Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23300826-the-mysterious-jagg

And if you enjoy it, remember to write a review!

‘Dance Steps’ – Repost with comments

More on publicity.

Dance Steps – (Oct 28, 2014)

Publicity is like dancing. Although you can dance by yourself, sometimes it’s more fun with a partner (so long as it is the right partner). Your publicity agent, if you are lucky enough to have one, should ideally love your work. Their passion and excitement will make them want to promote your product, and that is a cut above simply being paid to push a work. This is something money cannot buy, and if you find a partner who would be delighted to dance with you, you can consider yourself one lucky dancer.

Publicity can take a long time because of the preparation and groundwork involved. You know as well as I do that you don’t just get up and waltz, you learn the steps first. You have to find teachers and find a time to practice that also suits your partner’s schedule.

It is sad and true (you’ve probably experienced this yourself) that some people judge others by the way they dance, so if you care about what others think, you need to have practiced your steps, so that you can look good and enjoy yourself – especially if you’re doing ballroom or want to look cool in your crowd.

Your crowd is your genre and you want to make sure that if tango is your thing, you’re tangoing with people who tango themselves, who sell tango equipment, make tango music, provide tango spaces and know famous tango dancers / musicians. You need to show them that you love tango, can discuss intricacies of tango, get what inspires them and know what’s going on in the tango world with its competitions, scandals and trends. You don’t have to move to Buenos Aires to do this because that’s what tango groups and groups peripheral to tango on the Internet are for. The point is, long, long before you display your dance to the world, you have to make friends who will, if they like how you have contributed to their discussions, be the ones watching (and hopefully applauding) your dance.

Publicity can be expensive and you do not want to waste money on buying space on a fancy dance floor that no one who dances your style visits. Figure out where your crowd goes before you pay for anything on Amazon, Google adwords, Goodreads, NetGalley, Library Thing, BookLife, storycartel.com and so on. Beware of high prices. And remember that word of mouth is, very often, the truest tune you can dance to.

So I’m waiting for my dance partners to come up with times in their schedules, I’m working on my various dances and in less than an hour I need to pick up my daughter from nursery school. As I start to finish up this blog post, I am thinking that it’s a good thing for me that dancing is only an extended metaphor that I have played with. I am an atrocious dancer. Although I did learn the first steps of the tango, for an hour during a weekday lunchtime, with a one-handed stranger in Buenos Aries many years ago. And it was fun!

Authorship and Publicity – Creating Your Market

Publishing a book in the 21st century is not only no longer a solitary endeavour where you write a book and find a publisher, it will never be so again. Publishers now expect many more of the authors they publish to bring an already created market before their first book is printed. If you are publishing your own work, it is an expectation you should have too, if you expect to sell any books. I discovered this first hand last year, while experimenting with my first international publishing project, Innerone.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back – (Sep 23, 2014)

Authors usually think that once they’ve written a book and it is there, in long hand or their computer, that they are done. Then they think they’re done when they’ve had it edited. Then proofread. Then they finally publish, either as an indie author or through a publishing house. At each stage, when they think they are finished, they are wrong.

At the beginning, when the work is first crafted, it is a rare author who thinks, who is my market? Where are they? How will I get my book to them? Publishing houses like to get books that sell to large markets. Usually when I ask fiction authors who their market is, they say “Anyone who likes my genre!” I am as gentle as I can be when I contradict them, because that market does not exist. It does not exist because an unknown author is just that – unknown. Your market is your platform – people who know you. So while authors are writing their opus, they should be blogging, joining internet and local groups interested in their genre, following others and becoming followed in turn, building a reputation and creating their own market. This can go on for years. Then, as they write, they can tell their followers what they are doing, get opinions, and find ways to reach out and fulfill the needs of their market within their text. That’s more than a smart author, that’s an empathic author whose chances of prospering have sky-rocketed. It takes time and courage, but, what’s worth doing is worth doing well; and if some authors are shy, at least their keyboards will shield them for a while, so that they can build their confidence and their platforms simultaneously. Then, when they are ready to publish, they need to put the book out as a pre-release, drum up interest, let the libraries know about it and release with fanfare. You only have a short period when your book is new, as Judy Hertzl reminded me (see below for more on Judy). You have to maximise the impact and need to strategic about it, as Lee Woolf emphasised (see below for more on Lee). We are living in a world where a determined author can live in the middle of nowhere, yet have an international market. Make the most of it.

In the build up to the Innerone release, I thought a few months of publicity build up would be enough. But I was thinking local, not international, because local has been my market for almost all of my company’s life; I was thinking internet, not radio and TV. And I was lucky.

Let me explain. While I have been publishing books for fifteen years, very few of my authors have had books that required publicity. The few authors that did often lectured, and as experts in their subjects are interviewed in newspapers, magazines, on TV and radio anyway. My company, ada enup, does not do any marketing, although I give what good and steady advice I have to my authors.

When it came to my own book, I thought a few months of promotion would be fine for a fiction book. (Actually, it is a bit of a rush even for our little South Africa. Four or five months are better for press releases and interviews. International requires nine months, at the least, with someone on the other side pushing for you.)  As you know, I’ve been working hard to do all sorts of internet-related promotion, such as Goodreads and Smashwords, blogging, a short story and coupon codes. I was so busy on the internet I quite forgot about actual papers, radio and TV. The day I realised I needed to do this too, I contacted a few people.

As I said, I was lucky (in the way that you make your own luck). I met with Lee Woolf (no relation), a South African producer, who I met at Chai FM while promoting one of my albums in 2010. Over coffee, I explained that I knew some basics but needed an expert to guide me, someone who knew the industry and who liked my work. She said, it’s more than who you know and who they know – it’s who they are. I thought this was quite profound, and told her I would quote her, which I have just done. Lee does seem to like my work, something that is very important to me, so hopefully we can get things together for a November launch in SA. I then contacted a platform creator in Santa Fe, Judy Herzl, who I’d ‘met’ in a Linkedin publisher group. I really liked what she had to say and how she said it, so I asked her for a Skype meeting. Fortunately, she was happy to meet with me and confirmed what I already knew – you have to build a platform and in the US it takes longer. I have not been building a platform for long enough.

So it seems as if I need to have two different release dates, one for South Africa – hopefully mid-November, in print, where I sell enough books and generate enough good reviews for it to be marketed well in the States – and one in the US, later, after building a solid platform.

At this moment I am not sure about many things; the cost of the publicity, the actual strategies, which still have to be formulated, and so on. But I’ll keep blogging about the process and hopefully you who are reading this can learn from my missteps.

I said I was lucky and this is why: it is both the knowledgeable people I have met and that I still have time to change direction. So I will push the release date of Innerone back. I will publish another short story, a satire called The Mysterious Jagg, on the second of October instead. And I hope that readers who have been waiting patiently for Innerone will forgive me.

‘Three Steps’ – Repost with comments

Hard copy proofing never seems to end. One of the non-fiction books I am working on at the moment is so complex to create (even though I am working in InDesign) that I keep having daymares that I’m going to miss grammar, spelling, numbering and style mistakes. Nearly every sentence of the book has a Xhosa word. I don’t speak isiXhosa. The author and I are currently going through the process of hard copy proofing and correcting, outlined in the latter half of the post below. When we are done, the 2nd edition of AmaZizi: The Dlamini of Southern Africa will be a book to be proud of.

Three Steps – (Sep 16, 2014)

Three steps were taken in my journey to recognised authorhood in the last 24 hours. Only one was taken by me. The other two were propelled by Keg1901 and Anonymous.

Keg1901, bless her heart, wrote a review of Cheery Red – and gave it five stars. This is harder to achieve than some people might imagine, because getting reviews that are from people unknown to a new author, that are not paid for, is mostly random luck. You can ask people to post a review but they mostly don’t. Getting 5 stars when you didn’t ask for it or pay for it? That’s magical.

Anonymous paid $4.00 for Cheery Red, leaving me as gobsmacked as the first payment, because $4.00 is a lot of money for a 20 A5 page story. Anonymous must really have liked it. I am just as thrilled.

Thank you, Keg1901 and Anonymous.

Step number three was completed this afternoon. I finally managed to get the print version [of Innerone] ready for the printer.

If you are an author or in the publishing business, you will know that e-mailing the file is the start of the hard copy proofreading, not the actual printing of the book.

The process is as follows:

Once you’ve approved the quote for the print run, the printer sends you a hard copy of the text, pages folded in sections, for a format proof reading. The proofreader or publisher or author or all three go over the text carefully, checking for format errors – the wrong spacing, missing pages, text repeats, page numbers, font size or type mistakes etc. Text errors like spelling and grammar should have been sorted by this time, but usually more are spotted and corrected at this time.

Aside from the above, I make sure that the imposition is correct – that the proofs are aligned correctly on the page, that the headers are in line, that the spacing around the text is adequate, that the pages are cropped straight. If your book is skew, it’s not a quality, bookshop worthy item.

You then correct and sign-off errors that you found with the author (one and the same in this instance) and send the new hard copy to the printer. This usually happens a couple times. The cover is done at the same time; and again, all cover items are checked for accuracy, including the all important spine width. Get that wrong and your entire cover goes out of whack.

One of my big worries, using an overseas company to do print-on-demand (postage from South Africa is prohibitively expensive) for possible overseas orders, is that they’ll print the book any which way, knowing that their clients are too far away to oversee the printing quality; and that my reputation will suffer as a result. Ah well. I’ve chosen IngramSpark for that and we will see how good their print quality is, should I receive overseas orders for the book.

What to check for in hard copy and on the cover are detailed topics deserving blog posts of their own.

In the meantime, tonight, I am celebrating those three steps by writing this blog.

‘W8-BEN forms – the Non-US Meal Ticket’ – repost with comments

A few months ago, one of the groups I belong to on LinkedIn had a huge discussion about how tax works with e-books and print books in the US. It was so nice to be able to point to this explanation and say, read this blog and you’ll be able to assemble all your nuts and bolts easily. I did wonder for a time whether it did anything for anyone, then the lady who started the discussion sent me a message. The blog post had helped her. This felt great!

W8-BEN forms – the Non-US Meal Ticket (Sep 04, 2014)

Disclaimer: This is what I have learned, the basics, and I am sharing it with you in good faith. Since I’m not a financial or tax expert, just an author navigating financial and tax implications, I’d advise you not to rely on what I have written but to do your own research too, contact an appropriate tax professional, etc. etc. Having said that, here goes:

If you are not American and you sign up as an author on Smashwords or Amazon.com, you might sell some of your work. How do you receive payment and how much of that payment is taxed?

This is a big question for authors who do not live in the States. It became more important for me to face what seems like a daunting question when I was paid for my first story, as you can see from my last blog ‘A Cheery Surprise’.

However, it is reasonably simply to set up as you only need to do three things:

  1. Get an EIN or a TIN from the IRS
  2. Sign up for Paypal
  3. Post your W8-BEN form to Smashwords / do it automatically on Amazon.

Of course the devil is in the details, but it is a small and friendly demon. Let me introduce you.

What is an EIN / TIN?

They are tax numbers, the former for non-US corporations and the latter for non-US individuals.

EIN (Employer Identification Number)

TIN (Taxpayer ID Number)

I have a publishing company, so I asked for an EIN, when I went through this process a while ago.

Why do you want one?

  1. To get paid
  2. To benefit from withholding treaties that might exist between your country and the US (i.e., pay less or no tax)

How do you get one?

It is so easy to get a tax number that when I did it, I was astounded enough about the experience (it took 15 minutes) to post about it to my friends on Facebook in my ‘status’ box. And I seldom update my status on Facebook (although that might have to change).

Just call the IRS on this number: +1 (267) 941-1099

Explain why you want a number. They will ask you questions and fill in the form for you. They will give you a number. Wait two weeks and after that, the number ought to be uploaded in the IRS system and you can use it.

Note that you have to be non-US in every way to be eligible. You can’t be a US citizen, hold a US passport, have a business in the US or anything like that. The details about that are here:

What is a W8-BEN form?

A W8-BEN form is a form that you download, fill in, sign and send to US companies either electronically or physically, stating that you are a non-US citizen with a US tax number. This is the kind of form that you will sign and send to every company you deal with. It can make a great financial difference to you, this form, because if your country has a withholding treaty with the US, you benefit. You benefit because you would be charged 30% tax on any payment you receive otherwise. The US charges 30% tax – but it will charge less or nothing depending on the withholding treaty it has in place with the country in question. My country gets charged 0%; yay! South African authors and publishers, take note.

(Aside: The US might not tax but other countries may, if your work is bought from an Amazon site in another country like Brazil or the UK. More information here: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A1CTSIBPDAAJ0M )

If you are not from South Africa, go to table one on the following link to see if your country has such a treaty with the US and for what percent:

http://www.irs.gov/publications/p515/ar02.html

Send off the form

Amazon: You can fill in a W8-BENform on the website and sign it electronically. They will then pay you (after a certain accumulated amount) via cheque and your US tax will be less than 30%, or nothing. Sometimes they do want a physical copy and if that is the case, they will ask you for it.

More information here:

https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A1VDYJ32T5D3U4

and here: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=201274700

Smashwords: At the time of writing, the following details are correct. You need to email a copy of your signed W8-BEN form

to: keri@smashwords.com

Then post the actual signed form to this address:

Smashwords, Inc.
Attn:  Tax Compliance Dept.
PO Box 11817
Bainbridge Island, WA   USA  98110 

The good people at Smashwords will then pay you (after a certain accumulated amount) via Paypal.

How do I get a Paypal account?

In South Africa, you need to go to First National Bank and get an FNB account (get an account with the lowest bank charges that links to the internet), then link it to a Paypal account, which you set up on www.paypal.com. Get the people at FNB to show you how to do that. In other countries, I don’t know. Go to www.paypal.com and find out.

Do I have to pay tax in my country on my earnings?

You’ll need to find out about your country, but if you live in South Africa, most probably. You have to add what you’ve earned through book sales to your other earnings (for example, from your day job) and then you are taxed according to your accumulated earnings.

….and you’re done.