No. I’m Fine by Howard and Sandra Tayler

Posted by John Brown on September 13th, 2014

Robison_Wells____Green_Hills_Photography_0-201x300Sometimes it’s the small things that make the most difference.

Like sharing an issue you might be dealing with.

I was once at a writer’s retreat at a home above the Sundance ski resort. I’d be asked to present to some of the other writers there. Robison Wells, who writes awesome YA,  was also presenting. He talked about marketing and plot, but the presentation that was probably most memorable was the one he gave on the obsessive compulsive disorder he deals with.

He started off by telling us folks really didn’t know what they were talking about when they talked about obsessive compulsive disorder. He described it this way. He said he and his wife were sitting on the couch watching TV one evening. She said she was craving some ice cream, orangesicles, I think. He replied that he was craving banging his head into the wall. She anticipated some delicious ice cream. He anticipated some delicious head whacking. He then pointed at the wall behind all of us and said that it would feel so good to bang his head on the corner of the wall behind us. Needless to say, he had our attention.

He went on to explain more about this condition and mental illness in general and urged us, when we wrote about it, to get it right. To be accurate. To not turn such conditions into happy-happy super powers, nor to make them into things to be feared.

By the way, Robison had a fine little dog with him. Not some yapper to carry about in a purse, but a nice little companion. I keep wanting to call her Abby, but I know that’s not its name. We learned that his dog was trained to watch him and remind him to take his meds. It appeared that Robison would sometimes rationalize away doing that.

Robison isn’t crazy. We didn’t have a dangerous wild man among us. He’s just a guy who has to deal with some kinks in his hoses.

HowardTayler2So what happened next? Well, nothing. We had a great retreat and went home. But the story doesn’t end there. See, if an issue is taboo, it becomes very difficult to deal with it. As an individual, a couple, a family, a community. In fact, hiding something like this only creates more problems. For example, if Robison ever says he’s going out to pick up some hammers, we  now know that we probably ought to have someone go with him (grin). So Robison not only wanted to educate us, he also wanted to help bring mental illness out of the dark. And he’s talked about this issue in a number of different places.

Howard Tayler, the cartoonist, heard him talk about the self-harm once. He saw the good being open did and decided to write a bit about some things he has to deal with. Howard’s got a tricky bit of depression he has to manage. Sandra, Howard’s wife, decided to add to it what it was like being married to someone with such an issue.

Now, I didn’t know the Taylers had written anything up until last week at Comic Con. During the event a woman talked to me. In our conversation she indicated that she’d been wrangling with some mental crap, but that Howard’s comments about his had helped her. We continued with our discussion, and she left. On Friday evening after the expo for the Salt Lake City Comic Con had closed, I walked around the event floor, chatting with some folks I hadn’t had time to visit during the event. I stopped at Howard’s booth and said hello to him and Sandra. They were busy, and I didn’t stay long, but as I went to walk away, I thought I should pass on what the woman had said. So I did. I didn’t know what comments she was talking about. All I knew was that Howard had helped her. And I wanted to make sure he knew it.

SandraTaylerWe talked some more as they tried to clean up their booth before Howard had to run off to a panel. Then Howard handed me “No. I’m Fine”.  It’s a little 15-page booklet that contains the title story, written by Howard, plus the essay “Married to Depression” by Sandra, his wife.

The story is an excellent short that gives you the feeling of what’s it like to be dealing with one form of the bugger. The essay reveals a bit of what it’s like as the spouse and recommends some action. But the thing I found so wonderful about both the story and the essay was the example of tender love in the midst of adversity.

I’m a writer. I can’t help but be drawn to potential characters and stories. The view we get of these two in this booklet is good stuff to build some characters on. Of course, that’s not the reason to read the booklet. The reason is because what they share is fascinating and tender—it’s good drama—and, if you or someone you know is dealing with these issues, it just might help.

Go read “No. I’m Fine” and “Married to Depression”. You’ll be glad you did.

While we’re talking about this, those of you who have been following this blog know that I’ve had a few dust-ups with depression myself. I wrote about it and the tools I used to deal with it then and when it tries to come back to town. After reading the Tayler’s stuff, you’ll want to look at it as well.

Edit 9/14: Addeded links to “Married to Depression”


Tags: ,

New Release Sale for Raveler!

Posted by John Brown on September 8th, 2014

RavelerCoverEbookThe War with Mokad Begins!

Folks, I’m so happy to announce this. First, I love the cover. As you can see, no big-bosomed, bikini-clad, fluff bunnies need apply here. Click on the image to take a gander at what’s reflected in the sword and then the symbol she’s etched into the collar of her armor.

Next, I get to share Harnock, who was a blast to write. And the woodikin they call Chot. There are revelations, wasp lords, battles, a poignant scene with Argoth I’ve been waiting since Servant to write, plus plenty more.

To celebrate, we’re putting the book on a huge discount Tuesday and Wednesday.

Big trade paperback + free ebook: $9.99!

(normally $18.98 if purchased separately)

Big paperback edition

I double-checked the price. When I posted this, it was $9.99 on Amazon. Get it before Amazon dinks with the price.

Ebook: $.99 cents!

(normally $3.99)

Kindle (USA)
Kindle (outside the USA)

Happy reading!


PS To get the free e-book with your paperback, purchase your paperback, then go to the top menu bar and select Shop By Department > Kindle E-Readers & Books > Kindle Books. Click Kindle MatchBook in the left sidebar, and then the Find your Kindle MatchBook titles button. It should list Raveler along with all of the other MatchBooks available to you.


Salt Lake City Comic Con!

Posted by John Brown on September 2nd, 2014


This Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I will be at Comic Con at the Salt Palace Convention Center. I can’t wait. There’s going to be a huge crowd (100,000+) with lots of great panels, events, celebrities, and artists, including Bruce Campbell, Danny Glover, Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride), and Patrick Warburton (the guy who played Kronk!)

It’s going to be a blast.

Here’s my panel schedule.

Time Thursday, Sept 4 Friday, Sept 5 Saturday, Sept 6
A.M. 11:00 a.m. How to Write Great Science Fiction & Fantasy
P.M. 3:00 p.m. Katniss Revealed: A Closer Look at The Hunger Games on Film and in Print 1:00 p.m. Build a Story 1:00 p.m. How to Win Writers and Illustrators of the Future Competition
Evening 7:00 p.m. Writing Suspense

The rest of the time I’ll probably be at my booth in the Artist’s Alley, chatting with folks and selling and signing books.

I’ve invited two other awesome authors to join me in the booth. Eric James Stone is a Nebula award-winning science fiction writer. Cheree Alsop is a paranormal and urban fantasy indie.


Please feel free to come by and say hello.


The Curse Honor Roll

Posted by John Brown on August 29th, 2014

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, mistakes make their ways into the text. Omissions are common. For example, a missing “the” or “of” can be hard to see; your magical mind just fills these tiny words in.

Some omissions are hilarious. I was editing Raveler a few days ago and ran across a howler that made me laugh and laugh.

In one scene Shim is angry about the Bone Faces. When he sees their ships, I meant to have him exclaim with some indignation that they were “Coming to plunder under our noses while we’re tied up here.”

What I wrote was “Coming to plunder our noses while we’re tied up here,” which is a different type of threat altogether.

And then there are the aaarg! omissions. Like leaving the names of awesome folks who provided valuable input out of your acknowledgements. (Head smack!)

Yes, I’m guilty of such an idiocy.

I’m very recently guilty. Like, today guilty.

The good thing about indie publishing is that I can make changes and upload them immediately. I have already fixed the ebooks. The big paperbacks will be fixed on Monday. But these folks deserve better. To make amends, I’m going to spotlight them here, right now, for all posterity.

For excellent feedback on the full manuscript, I want to thank Stephen and Liesl Nelson.

A few years ago, I posted on this website, asking if anyone would be willing to read and report their response to a beginning I wanted to test. These folks stepped up and responded in grand fashion, helping me make the beginning better.

Adam Teachout
Alexis Cooper
Cameron Wilson
David West
Eric Allen
Hyrum Grissom
Justin Fisher
Krista Hoeppner Leahy
Laurel Amberdine
Lindsey Tolis
Mark Holt
Martin Cahill
Melanie Goldmund
Merrill Nielson
Nick Dianatkhah
Ray Solomon
Wes Amodt

All of you rock. And may the Bone Faces never come to plunder your noses.


New Release Sale for Curse!

Posted by John Brown on August 29th, 2014

CurseCoverEbook1600x2400Curse’s long and crooked path to publication is now over!

And there was much rejoicing. To celebrate, we’re putting the book on a huge discount today and Saturday.

Big trade paperback, plus free ebook: $9.99!
(normally $18.98 if purchased separately)

Ebook: $.99 cents!
(normally $3.99)

I want to thank all of you who emailed and posted comments on the website expressing your anticipation for this book. I really hope you enjoy the story as much as I have.

Happy reading!


PS To get the free ebook with your purchase of the big paperback, purchase the paperback, then go to the Kindle store and click on “Kindle MatchBook” in the left sidebar. That will take you to your personal list of books you can get with the MatchBook program. Curse will appear there AFTER  you make the purchase.

PPS Look for a similar sale for Raveler soon!


How much does it cost to publish a book independently?

Posted by John Brown on August 29th, 2014

Is The Guardian right?

Does it really cost $6,000 to publish a book independently?

Is that the price to become Hemmingway these days?

Lots of commenters at The Passive Voice said the numbers were rubbish. Far too high. They said this was yet another thinly-veiled bit of  flimflam The Guardian cooked up to depress indies and send aspiring authors into the arms of the zombie traditionalists.

I actually thought the piece was good.


Because I like numbers. I did get a Master’s degree in accounting, after all.

But is it just that numbers are sexy?

It’s true the shape of the number 3 can be glorious. 9 is a stunner as well. But the slopes and curves of these digits is not why I like them. Numbers, even if they’re bad numbers, allow you to start thinking about costs. They allow you to question whether they could be reduced. Or whether you’re getting any bang for your buck in a certain category. Heck, numbers allow you to discover whether you’re allocating way too much in one area and far too little in another.

I thought The Guardian did a great job breaking the costs out into categories and starting an examination. The question is: are the categories and amounts political fictions or real?

Comparing My Numbers

One way numbers do all the things I mentioned above is by letting you do comparisons. So I figured I’d compare The Guardian’s numbers with a set of my own. I’ve published four books independently. How do my costs stack up?

Here are the costs for the latest.

Cover: $500

  • $500 for illustration
  • $0 for cover design (I have a friend who is so incredibly generous with his time)
  • Cover for some genres can cost less. Some folks do it themselves. Most of those do-it-yourself covers look awful.
  • The zombie traditionalists can sometimes spend a few thousand. And when they do it right, they get some amazing, AMAZING, work.
  • Verdict: The Guardian’s number seems reasonable, but I’m thinking the range is a few hundred up to a few thousand for something that doesn’t give the average reader worms.

Editing: $0

  • My wife, former technical writer, current language arts teacher, is my editor. There are some other folks I’ve tapped as well.
  • If I didn’t have her, I’d need someone. My experience is that if you yourself are not an editor, and you try to do this, you’re going to end up with a poorly edited book. Even with her experience, we’re still finding it hard, and are working to get the process down. We might outsource this in the future.
  • I’ve gotten reasonable quotes, and they’re all around $600-900. And that’s just for a copy edit. You want other kind of editing, you’re going to pay more.
  • Verdict: The Guardian’s number is high, but not if you tap into a bunch of pros for multiple edits.

Formatting for POD and ebook: $120

  • I do the interiors myself, so the labor is free. If I had to pay, it could run anywhere from $100-$300 or more.
  • I pay a subscription fee for InDesign. If I release two books a year, it comes out to roughly $120/book.
  • I spent $300 taking a class on basic interior design principles. But that was just the beginning. I must have spent 50-70 hours, maybe more, last October and November, banging my head against the wall as I learned this. Luckily, all that thrashing about didn’t result in any medical bills. I’ve had to spend maybe 10-20 more since then learning advanced techniques and keeping the basics fresh.
  • Verdict: The Guardian didn’t even include this.

ISBN: $0

  • I owe my friend; without him, this would definitely be a cost. I’m such a free loader.
  • Verdict: The Guardian’s number is good.

Copyright Registration: $55

  • $20 bucks to mail 2 copies to the Copyright Registration Office
  • $35 processing fee
  • Yes, you do want to do this. For detail on why, see The Copyright Handbook by Stephen Fishman.
  • Verdict: Another miss

Print-on-demand fees: $0

  • I go with CreateSpace instead of Lightning Source
  • Verdict: Another miss

Notice what’s NOT up there that was in The Guardian article: reviews and review copies.

Why don’t I include them?

First, I would never pay for a Kirkus review. I wouldn’t because it appears such reviews mean little to readers. They don’t seem to generate much notice or desire to sample. Here’s what readers report matter to them. Such pre-publication reviews DO matter to store and library book buyers. But, as an indie, I’m not focusing on those channels.  Those channels are in the hands of the zombie traditionalists.

What about review copies?

You don’t need them to publish. All this review business is marketing. And you don’t need marketing to publish.

So what are my totals? I’ve included The Guardian numbers so you can see the differences.

Category My Costs Guardian Estimates
Cover $500 $750
Editing and proofing $0 $4,000
Ebook and POD Formatting $100 ?
ISBN $0 $125
Copyright Registration $55 ?
POD setup fees $0 ?
Reviews - $825
Review Copies - $300
TOTAL $655 $6,000

Whoa! The Guardian estimated a cost that’s ten times what it costs me. But I don’t think that’s a sign of some plot. If I’d paid an editor and cover designer and formatter and didn’t mooch my ISBNs, that could have added as much as $1,000-$2,000 to my total. I have friends who have paid more.

Furthermore, that’s just for the ebook and hard copy. Depending on if you publish an audio edition and how you do it, you could spend another $2,000-$3,000.

What does this tell you? It tells me that the reporter made a good start, but needed to do a bit more digging. It also tells me there’s a huge variability in the costs depending on the skills you and your friends possess. It also shows that this is a business. I doesn’t cost a gazillion dollars to publish. It’s not like the $200,000-500,000 you need to start some food franchises, but you’d better be prepared to fork over some cash and/or a lot of hard work.

In fact, when you consider that last point of sweat equity, the $655 is completely misleading because it does not capture the hours I spent, at least 20-60, doing my part of the cover, editing, and formatting. Nor the time spent by my wife or friends. There’s a huge opportunity cost there.

What’s the value of what I could have done with that time?

It’s for dang sure not reflected in the $655.


I didn’t include marketing in those costs above because marketing is its own beast. You can publish and do zero marketing. You can publish and do gobs. And just as with the publishing costs, marketing costs will vary based on what you can do in-house and what your situation is. It costs JK Rowling nothing to get covered in  every news outlet in the land. She sneezes, and we get a report about her. You and I are probably going to have to work harder to get noticed.

There are all sorts of marketing costs. Whatever those costs, marketing has a job to do. It’s got to pay for itself. It’s got to help pay for the cost of publishing. And it’s got to help me meet my goal of winning new readers and compensating me for my time.

There are lots of cost categories depending on what you decide to do:

  • Hard copies you sell at events
  • Travel and lodging required to attend events
  • Hard copies and postage for reviewers
  • Time writing blog posts
  • Promotions with folks like BookBub and BookSends
  • Giveaways
  • Etc.

The bottom line is that I think it’s good to separate these costs from publishing so you can measure their effectiveness against sales. Marketing is about revenue generation. These costs really have nothing to do with producing a book.

Books and Lemonade

I’m going to go off an a tangent here for a second. Some folks suggest that indie authors shouldn’t do much marketing. Especially if they only have one or two books out.

I find no evidence to support the idea that just writing the next book is all you need to do for readers to hear about you and beat a path to your door. It’s true you’ve got to write the next book. You must get new product out the door. Hey, I learned that when book 2 from the publisher fell into a black hole. But that doesn’t mean marketing and promotion are inappropriate,  wrong-headed, or a waste of time or money.

Let me ask you a question.

Let’s say Juanito is a no-name in the lemonade business. He’s just starting from scratch with dreams of becoming a big time lemonader. Who thinks it’s a good idea for him to open a lemonade stand in his back yard? Or better yet, in a closet in his basement? And when folks suggest that the stand might get more business if he lets the neighbors know about it or puts the stand in a place with a lot of foot traffic, who says, no, that’s a waste of time and money–the key to selling more lemonade is whipping more batches up in the kitchen?

In retail, you must get folks to notice your product and then persuade them to try it. Now, maybe you’ve got something going that’s generating all the notice and sampling you can handle.  Maybe you lucked out.

What percentage of indies are in that situation? Raise your hands, please.

What? We’re not all inundated with hordes of readers? We’re not  all swimming in gold? Imagine that.

The fact is that it’s tough to get notice. It’s tough to get people to try. But there are some things we can do to increase our odds. Selling books is a retail business. Retail lives and dies by visibility. Yeah, you need word of mouth. But you need to be noticed and sampled in large enough amounts to keep that word of mouth going.

What would you rather have? 100,000 people all over the country in many social networks (I’m not talking about Facebook) noticing and sampling and talking about your product, or would you rather have five?

In the brick and mortar world, there are lots of ways to get visibility without doing much TV or internet advertising. Ways to get notice include things as simple as signage and a store’s location. For example, you get a ton of eyeballs just situating your restaurant in the parking lot of a big destination shopping mall. You get eyeballs putting a sign on top of a 100 foot pole next to the freeway exit saying “Gas & Eats.” Online retailers get noticed in other ways.

Without blathering on about that (this was a post on publishing costs), let me just say that until customers begin to line up and start throwing hundred dollar bills at me, it appears I’m going to have to do what every other retail business has done for hundreds of years–get my lemonade stand out of the basement and into the park with lots of thirsty kids and moms.

EDIT 8/30/2014

While a number of folks are assuming the article was written as part of some vast conspiracy to undermine indie authors, David Gaughran posted some criticism in the article’s comment section that actually make sense.


The reason I’m so annoyed by the inaccuracies in this article is that this kind of misinformation is creates an information gap which allows shady operators to flourish.

Vanity press operators thrive because inexperienced authors think that self-publishing is either difficult or expensive. It’s neither of those things, and articles like this only serve to reinforce this false notion. That’s why I think this piece is irresponsible as well as inaccurate.

Companies like Author Solutions specifically target the most inexperience authors, the ones who know least about self-publishing and the industry in general, the ones who have fallen under the spell of various myths (like that self-publishing costs $6,000).

As a commenter said below, saying self-publishing costs $6,000 is like saying houses cost $10m. You can spend that much, but you don’t need to.

It costs me less than a third of that to publish a book, and I use a Big 5 cover designer as well as an editor with over ten years experience working for traditional publishers. Anyone can look at my books and immediately see that they are produced to professional standards.

You don’t even have to spend as much as I do to get a quality product. If authors are on a tighter budget, they can purchase a pre-made cover design. There are some wonderful pre-mades out there for as little as $40. You will have to invest a fair bit of time combing through the sites to find something suitable, but if you are on a shoestring budget it’s an option.

Same goes for content editing/developmental editing. All manuscripts will need a thorough copy edit, but you can get by without a specific content edit with successive round of beta readers. Again, this will require a time investment – writers usually trade beta reads of each other’s work. But if you’re on a tighter budget, it’s another way you can save money.

This is why this piece is so off. Even going the “deluxe” route shouldn’t cost more than $2,000. And if you don’t have $2,000, there are plenty of options where you can achieve a quality product, spending far less, if you are willing to put in a little time.

There are ways you can save money in other areas too. It’s a waste of money for an author (especially a new author) to buy a NetGalley membership for themselves. Authors can (and do) form collectives to buy a membership between them – often spending just $20 per person. I got a NetGalley spot for a month, for free, by bartering with another author. (I didn’t think it was quite worth $20, by the way, let alone $400).

If you need reviews, there are much better and cheaper ways. Submitting to book bloggers costs nothing (we usually send e-book copies or PDFs, rather than hard copies). Doing an e-book giveaway on LibraryThing costs nothing. Giving out electronic ARCs in advance of your release costs nothing. And all of these are much more effective than giving any kind of money to Kirkus, let alone $425.

But I guess it doesn’t matter how many experienced self-publishers (and editors who work with same) tell you that your figures are off, or that you don’t need ISBNs to self-publish, you are going to stick to your guns.

Posted in On Writing