Another Lesson Learned

As I journey through the adventure of publishing with a new platform, I learned something new this weekend. First, the good news. My novella is done. Ebook available everywhere. The paperback is done and available … well, some places.

I set a publication date of August 29, thinking that meant the book would be available at on-line retailers that day. Nope. That just means that’s the day the Draft2Digital makes it available to retailers and those retailers can take up to a couple of weeks to put it up on their websites. So … the novella is up on one, waiting on another, and who knows on the smaller retailers that I don’t even know about.

With that done and out of the way, I moved to finalizing a collection of short stories I decided to publish as well. The process went so much more smoothly the second time around. Until it didn’t.

Here’s what I learned. Kobo and Apple will not accept any books that include reference to their “competitors.” So, when I uploaded the ebook and pushed publish, I got an email a couple of hours later letting me know that Kobo and Apple had rejected it.


Because on the “Also by” page, I include my social media references and I also mentioned that I now have a podcast and I described the podcast as being available on Spotify, Apple and other podcast platforms. I also mention at the very end of the collection a story I included that had previously been published as an ebook only for Kindle.

So … I deleted those offensive references and have pushed publish again. For both the ebook and paperback. I have to laugh at Kobo and Apple’s policies. Like it’s going to hurt their business if a book includes a reference to Amazon or Kindle or Spotify. Just kind of ridiculous.

And The Winner is …

Mark Paxson

My journey through new publishing platforms has produced a winner. To recap … I’ve used KDP (and the old CreateSpace) for everything I’ve published until now. But I wanted to give expanded distribution a try and get away from Amazon’s dominance.

Because Draft2Digital (D2D) is completely free to set up, while IngramSpark (IS) charges a fee for set up (unless they’re running a special, which they are this summer), I started with D2D. The e-book set up went remarkably easy, but it does over at KDP as well. For whatever reason, it is easy to accept a Word version of a manuscript, a PDF for the cover, and produce an e-book.

The advantage of D2D over Smashwords, is that D2D does all of the necessary formatting to be able to publish it in all of the different e-book formats. Just upload a Word document and it’s basically done. My e-book is now available on seven different e-book platforms with three more to come.

Which brings me to the paperback. Just as with KDP, it simply is not as easy to upload a manuscript and get to a suitable document for either D2D or IS.

When I went to the print book page for my book, D2D disclosed that their print book platform is in beta and that you have to send an email asking to be included. I’m not thrilled with a beta project, but sent the email anyway.

While waiting for a response, I started the paperback process over at IS. I did all the account set up stuff and arrived at a page that said my account setup was 100% complete and I could start the book process. So, I did, but it wouldn’t let me upload anything because my account set-up wasn’t complete! I tried it a couple of times without success so I sent an email to customer service. They responded and asked if I was sure the account setup page said 100% complete. I assured them it did and was told my issue required a higher level of customer support. So, I waited.

While I waited I got the email from D2D that I could do my paperback there. Ignoring my qualms about the beta aspect of it, I went over to D2D and started their process. I was able to get to the point of uploading the interior. And well…

D2D allows you to upload in several different formats. I started with Word. When I was able to review it on their digital viewer, there were a number of problems, including the page numbering was screwed up and they had monkeyed with the paging of the front matter, leaving the first page of the story on the left-hand page. There are some editing tools they have to address these kinds of problems, but none of those tools worked to change anything.

I tried uploading the PDF instead, thinking that a PDF is pretty much frozen in place, so the issues that cropped up with the Word version shouldn’t be there. Nope. Exact same issues.

So … another email to customer service with D2D.

And I waited. I sent an email to IS asking when I would hear something. I got no response for four days. Meanwhile, D2D got back to me and encouraged me to try the editing tools, which I already had tried. And while I waited, I finally heard back from IS that my account issue had been resolved.

So … with D2D blocked, I went back to IS. I uploaded the interior. I got an error message that there were embedded fonts that needed to be unembedded. I have no idea how to do that, even looking at Google. I sent it to my sister who unembedded them. I uploaded it again and got an error message that all fonts have to be embedded. Sigh. I mean, really … sighin’ sigh.

Back to D2D … I had an two day conversation with several writers on Twitter. Each of whom have used D2D and/or IS. Yesterday, I decided to strip out all of the page and section breaks from the Word document and put them back in only where they were really needed. I converted that new version to PDF and uploaded to D2D and … bingo!!! It went through. The page numbering is correct. The first page of the story is on the righthand page.

But now I needed my cover re-sized. I just got that new cover and uploaded it today. Everything was accepted and the proof copy is on its way to me.

Why does this have to be so hard? What publishing horror stories do you have? What do you do to try to avoid this pitfalls?

Oh, and one other thing. At the same price point, my royalty on the paperback from D2D is $1.00 more than from IS.

Another Publishing Journey

Mark Paxson

Last year, I put up a few posts about my efforts to get an agent for a novel I published last year. None of those efforts were successful and I tired of the process rather quickly and went with self-publishing. I used the KDP platform for the e-book and paperback, like I’ve done with everything I published (except for one book I’ll discuss more below).

Chalk me up as one of those writers who isn’t happy with the Amazon monopoly. While it’s great that Amazon provides such access to indie authors, it comes at a price. Almost complete exclusivity. Whatever it is that their expanded distribution network does, it’s never produced any sales for me. And their exclusivity doesn’t do much for my bottom line.

Yes, I’ve had some page reads through the Kindle Unlimited program, which I believe you can only access as a writer if you commit to Amazon’s exclusivity. But it’s never been enough to make a huge difference.

I recently finished a novella and I’m also putting together a collection of short stories that will be published shortly after the novella. The platforms I’ve considered using to break out of the Amazon rut were Smashwords, Draft2Digital (which is merging with Smashwords in a few months), and IngramSpark.

I know writers who use Smashwords exclusively. I tried it once with one of my early books and found the process of formatting a manuscript to be able to feed it into their program that produces an e-book in all the different e-book variations to be mind-numbing and complicated. I didn’t really want to go through that again. But … I did think about it.

Audrey Driscoll recommended Draft2Digital, or at least suggested looking into it. So, I did. I liked what I saw. No charge to setup and they produce both e-books and paperbacks and even have an audiobook option (sort of). Added bonus — they take less than Amazon does for e-books.

Smashwords promises wide distribution of e-books across the various platforms. So, too does Draft2Digital. And IngramSpark. Here are the platforms Draft2Digital can send an e-book to:

BorrowBox, Vivlio, Baker & Taylor, Tolino, Scribd, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Hoopla, Bibliotheca, and OverDrive.

You can select whichever of these you want your e-book to be marketed on. I selected all of them. Preparing the manuscript and uploading it along with the cover was remarkably easy. Even easier than KDP, which is ridiculously easy when it comes to an e-book. And 1000% easier than Smashwords (unless they’ve improved their process since I tried it around ten years ago).

Within a few hours, the book became available for pre-order on half of those platforms. The interesting thing is that Amazon requires documentation and information that none of the other platforms do. I hade to answer several questions, describe my previous publishing experience on Amazon (in terms of publishing there) and indicate that this book was not already available on Amazon. And then, eventually send an email to Draft2Digital that confirms everything I said in response to the questions asked on their website.

Once I submitted all of that, the approval from Amazon came pretty quickly, but the book still doesn’t show up there. So … we will see.

The easy part was over. I switched to the paperback and … learned that Draft2Digital’s paperback publishing is still in beta and you had to send an email asking to be let in to the beta. I sent the email, but then decided I wasn’t sure I wanted to publish during the beta.

I switched over to IngramSpark to publish the paperback. They have an equally wide distribution for paperbacks and one advantage to both Draft2Digital and IngramSpark is that bookstores are more willing to take paperbacks from them. Some bookstores refuse to take paperbacks from Amazon. So … I started the process.

I went through all the account set up and got to the page where the site confirmed my account set up was 100% complete and I could go to My Dashboard and start working on the book. I did that, went through a couple of screens that are similar to KDP’s and Draft2Digital’s and just before I got to the point where I could upload the manuscript and cover, I got a popup. “Thou shalt go no further until you complete Account Setup.” Okay, it wasn’t quite that biblical, but it was close. I clicked on the link to complete setup and it took me to the page that says my account setup is 100% complete.

And that’s where my paperback resides at the moment. I got a response back from Draft2Digital that I can enter the hallowed halls of their paperback beta and I have communicated to IngramSpark’s customer service to find out what’s going on over there. The first response asked me if the Account Setup page really told me that it was 100% complete. I went back and looked and said, “yes!” The next response was that this would require a higher level of customer care than he could reply. That was 24 hours ago. Here I wait.

I may start the Draft2Digital Beta and see how that works for me.

I’ll provide an update as things progress, but for now, even with the complication over the paperback, I’m cautiously optimistic about this path I’ve opted for with this book. Wider distribution (hard as it may be to believe, not everybody has a Kindle), ease of publication.

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

Mark Paxson

When I started my writing journey around 20 years ago, I came up with what I believe was a simple idea for my first novel. Since then, my ideas have become more and more complex. It’s one of the reasons I have struggled with writer’s block — the idea that I cannot see these more complicated stories to completion.

I have a half dozen half-completed novels that I struggle mightily with when I dip my toe back in every now and then.

And so it is today. I’m about to publish a novella and a short story collection. And with those nearing fruition, I started turning towards something else while I wait for that process to wind down.

A couple of days ago, I started reading a story I started in 2015. One that could be, should be, a novel. As I’m reading it, I love what I’ve done with the first 7 or 8 chapters, which span almost 20,000 words. I’m concerned though that maybe there are too many darlings in the story. Ultimately, however, my biggest concern is that I have bitten off more than I can chew with this effort. In two different ways.

First, can I write the path these characters are taking and get to the ending. I think I can do that. It’s the second issue that is problematic.

I start stories with a certain flow, a certain vibe, and then I become convincned that I can’t carry that flow or vibe through to the end. There are things I’m doing with this story that … well … it’s a dystopian story where I can kind of make up the rules as I go. It’s led to some fun stuff, a certain amount of freedom in the telling, but once started, I feel like that fun and freedom and rule-making needs to carry through each chapter. And it’s a hard thing to do.

I’m torn between cutting to the ending, which will leave it as a novella and with a whole lot of holes in the possible story, or gritting my teeth and grinding through a longer version of the tale. Something that has baffled me so far whenever I try to sit down with this story. Which way do I go? I want to tell the full tale, to not skip ahead to the ending. I want to fill those holes up with the kind of vibe I started the story with. But I don’t know if I can do it and, eventually, doing so might lead to this being an epic tale of many, many words. Requiring much more patience and effort than I may be willing to give.

Do you ever have this experience? You start a story. It’s going great and then something gets in the way and you begin to wonder if you can actually pull it off. If you can get your head around all of the details and the possibilities and the realities of the story itself?

If you do … what do you do about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts because I have to figure out how to finish this tale that I really, really like and do it right.

Speaking At A Conference

There is a slim chance I might speak at a local writing event in November. Slim because I’m terrified of public speaking. But a chance because I am committed to overcoming my fears.

I have an idea for what I would want to talk about, but I’m curious. If you had to fill an hour, including time for questions, and could talk about anything related to writing, what would you want to talk about?

Is It Vanity?

— Mark Paxson

I’m reading a book recently published by F.L. Rose, one of my favorite indie writers. The book is called The Point of Us. I’m waiting to complete it before I reach any conclusions about the quality of the story, but I’m pretty certain it’s gonna be a good one. I’m gonna skip the description of what the story is and go right to my question for this post.

One of the main characters in the story is a writer, a pretty successful novelist. At some point, there is a discussion of writers and why they do what they do and the conclusion is … that it is all about vanity.

So … that’s my question. Do we do this for vanity? Do we slave over our stories and put them out into the world for vanity’s sake?

I’m of mixed minds on this. On the one hand, I write strictly for my own internal reasons. I don’t believe it has anything to do with vanity. I write because I want to see if I can do it. Turn an idea that forms in my head into a story with a beginning, middle and end, and is … readable. I don’t know. I write because I want to and I want to see that idea through to the final words.

But then … when I post it on my blog or publish something via the Amazon monolith, why am I doing that? The story hasn’t been blessed by the gatekeepers. No agent picked it up. No publisher. I am swimming free and clear of the gatekeepers and still putting my words out there into the wide, wide world … and why am I doing that?

Why do you do it?

In our last video chat we began a conversation about why we read. Maybe a better question for us indie authors is why do we publish?

Years ago, before technology turned the publishing world upside down, there were vanity publishers. Places a writer could go to pay thousands of dollars to have their book “published,” which typically meant getting boxes and boxes of copies of their books that the authors than had to try to figure out how to sell themselves.

Now, vanity publishers have been replaced with KDP and Ingram Spark and SmashWords and countless other platforms that allow us to publish our books with almost no cost up front. (And there are still companies like the old-fashioned vanity publishers — places that promise to publish your book for a small fee of several thousands of dollars and then leave you hanging with no support, no marketing, no nothing.)

The question remains though, regardless of how easy it has become to publish, why do we do it?

For me, I want to reach readers and hope to grow my audience and get more people reading my stories. But why? What does that mean to me if they do? Why should it matter? Particularly in the modern world of indie publishing, where there are so many books getting published it’s virtually impossible to be seen and to be read by anybody other than those who already know you.

I think there’s some truth to F.L. Rose’s thoughts as expressed in The Point of Us. There is some vanity involved. The first definition of “vanity” is “excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements.”

When I read that definition, I begin to reconsider the idea that I publish for vanity. I’m far from “excessive pride in or admiration” of my writing. But I typically do like the end result. My biggest reason for publishing and sharing my stories is to … just put them out there and see if readers like what I’ve come up with. But still, there is a feeling of confirmation when I get a positive review, there is still a good feeling in the cockles of my heart when somebody has something good to say about something I’ve written. If I were to publish and none of those good things were ever said or shared with me … if I just published into a void without reaction or response … I most likely would stop publishing. And if I stopped publishing, I’d stop writing. Because at the end of the day, I write to share and to get a reaction.

Is that vanity?

Is that why we write and why we publish?


Mark Paxson

A sneak peek into our next video chat, which will be recorded this coming weekend …

One of the topics we’re going to discuss is “why do we read,” which I saw somebody ask on Twitter several months ago. Hell, it’s one of those questions I see people in the Twitter community ask at least once a week over on Twitter. But I thought it was an interesting question so I added it to our list for our conversations about writing.


Because, well, I guess if we don’t know why people read, how do we know what to write? And maybe even as important a question that grows out of that opening question of why we read is … why do we write?

So … in advance of our weekend chat, is there anybody out there who wants to share in the comments why they read? And for the writers out there, does that play at all into why or what they write?

Choosing Your POV

Mark Paxson

I finished writing something and have pondered what to move on to next. This month started with me committed to writing a sequel to the novel I published almost a year ago. That particular story is told in first person from the perspective of several different characters.

The story I just completed is told in first person from one character’s perspective. About half way through, I decided to change it to third person and get some other character’s in the mix, to broaden the story a bit. But then I decided to keep in in first person because I wanted the story to be that character’s story and only hers. As a result, it makes for a much more minimalist of a story. We’ll see what people think.

Now I’m moving on to what’s next. I’ve decided to shelve the sequel above for another project. This morning I spent some time at a local books and music festival. I talked with a woman who has spent her life gathering historical tidbits of her ancestors and has spent the last five years putting those bits into stories. Kathy Lynne Marshall has written a handful of books in those five years. She includes information and resources about how to gather historical information about people from the past. So … I’m reading The Mystery of Margaret Booker now. About her great-great-great-great-great grandmother. Born a slave who walked to freedom 30 years later.

And an interesting thing happened when I got to the first page of the story. She tells it in first person. She is allowing Margaret to tell her own story in her voice.

That conversation and seeing the first person approach caused me to shift gears away from the sequel. I’m moving on to something that has been an objective for the last 4-5 years. A story about my grandmother, which I may have mentioned here a post or two ago. When I tried to launch the story back then, it was in third person. Which just seemed natural to me. How can I tell a story in first person from Grandma’s perspective? I can. Or at least I’m going to try.

More and more, it seems my stories are told in first person. My first novel wasn’t. Many of my short stories aren’t either. Most are told in third person, I believe. But lately, it seems like first person is the way to go. There is something about first person that I like. It’s easier to adopt a particular type of voice in first person. It’s easier to get inside a character’s head and see what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling.

But I wonder if that’s a good thing. Choosing a point of view or perspective because it makes the writing easier doesn’t necessarily make for a better story. Go back to that piece I just finishedd. I have no doubt that if I switched to third person and told the story from the perspective from multiple characters, the story would be more complex, with more layers. It’s what happened with my first novel — originally written in first person, but completely re-written in third person to allow for more details and more characters to have a place in the story. It definitely was a better story because of that change.

Occasionally, people ask how I decide POV for a story. I believe we’ve discussed it on video chats. My answer will always be … it depends. I still believe that, but I wonder what other writers think. How do you decide on the POV, or POVs, in which you’re going to tell a story? How do you decide between first person and third person? Is it a decision you can even describe? Because for me … it not only depends, it just kind of happens.

How Do You …

Mark Paxson

… write creative non-fiction?

Anybody out there do this? I’d love your thoughts on how you approach stories that are based on real life and real people.

I write mostly fiction. Almost entirely fiction. I’ve written a few short pieces that were “grabbed from the headlines” so they have a basis in reality, but were at the end of the day fictional.

One morning, I got to work to learn that the body of a man had been discovered to the east of our building. I went home that night and wrote his obituary, without knowing a thing about him. Around the same time, I also wrote a short story about a man trying to survive in Aleppo, Syria, as his country was torn apart by civil war. Completely fictional, but I’d like to think there were some elements of truth in what I wrote.

I currently have a barely started short story that is similar to Aleppo in that is based on one man’s efforts to survive in Ukraine as his country is torn apart by a foreign invader. I haven’t got that far because I want to make sure it is different than Aleppo and I’m still pondering that.

That’s about it, I think. I blog a lot about things going on in my life, but they aren’t really “stories.” But … I have a couple of real-life-based stories I want to write and I struggle with the “how” of writing a real-life story.

The biggest one, the most important one, is a story I want to write about my maternal grandmother. I have an opening scene that is based on a lot of facts I remember about her, facts I’ve uncovered on-line (like the manifest for the ship she came to America on when she was 18), and things my mom has told me. But once I get past that scene, I have no idea how to approach the rest of the story.

One more example. I had an assistant in my day job for more than ten years. She lived a fascinating life in her younger years — involving guns and gangs and casinos and well, all sorts of stuff. She kept insisting that I should write her story. To which I kept responding, “I have no idea how to write a real story.”

Part of the problem is that I’m a pantser, not a plotter. Creative non-fiction, or a true biography, likely requires more plotting than pantsing. If it’s based on real-life events, the story is right there before you. As a pantser, that’s just not how I write and typically, when I have figured out the “rest of the story” is when my block settles in.

Another problem, particularly with my grandmother’s story is that there is a lot I don’t know. A lot. As a result, I’d have to make up quite a bit about her life and that scares me. I want it to be as true to her and who she was as it can be, but how can I be sure of that if I have to make up so much of it.

I know that the solution to this, at least with respect to my grandmother’s story, is to use the facts that I have where I can and then be comfortable with fictionalizing the rest, while trying to be as true as I can to her. But … I haven’t figured out how to get over that hump yet.

My question for you then, if there are any CNF, memoir, or biography writers out there, is how do you approach writing a story that is real-life, based on real-life, or loosely reality-based. I know there are classes and programs out there that promise to teach a person how to do this, but I’m not much of a classroom-learner. I just need some ideas, some methods, some concept of how to approach this and then I can go from there.

A Writing Exercise

Mark Paxson

I just spent four days in Death Valley — one of the most desolate, isolated places in the continental United States. I take my camera on trips like this and take a lot of pictures of things.

Twice I stopped for pictures that had my wife questioning me. Both times I said the same thing. There’s a story there.

So, here’s your chance. Provide the story.

The first picture is of a car abandoned about 75-100 feet off the road in a place where I have absolutely no idea how it got there. I don’t recall seeing any tire tracks and the surface is pitted and bumpy enough I’m not sure how it could have got there. This is on the road from Furnace Creek to Badwater (the lowest piece of dry land on earth).

The second picture is of an old mine. I think it was probably a borax mine at one point. But I don’t think it’s operational anymore. You see things like this in places like Death Valley. Just random, in the middle-of-nowhere, factories or homes or buildings of one sort or other, that once thrived but now seem to be more ghost-like than real.

So … if you feel up to it and one of these (or both together) inspire a spark, write it and share it here. Put a link to it in comments if you post it to a blog, or email it to me and I’ll share it here. (

In the meantime … hope you’re all writing. I’ve got more pictures to sort through.