Friday, September 7, 2012

Self-Publishing: Making Mistakes

Recently, I had an author write me that she wanted to self-publish, but was afraid of making mistakes. I wrote her back that she probably would make mistakes--that's part of life. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes.

Even as I wrote that email, I was in the middle of coping with my own mistake--probably the first one (at least in my opinion) I'd made along the self-publishing path.

To give the backstory to the mistake...

For the last six months, I've had a series of unexpected life events that interfered with my writing time. When I could write, I concentrated on a collection of Christmas short stories--Montana Sky Christmas--that I wanted to self-publish about the time Amazon Montlake launched their versions of Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky on August 28.

I started writing these stories in February, and gave each one to my developmental editor, Louella Nelson, as I finished them. I knew she's busy teaching writing classes and working to self-publish her backlist, so I wanted to give her plenty of time.

As my schedule freed up in August, I was busy writing the last of the seven stories and revising them as Lou's edits came back. I also wanted a copy editor to look at the final version, and found one in a student of my online self-publishing class, Linda Caroll-Bradd. For the last three weeks before the launch of Montana Sky Christmas, Linda also edited the stories, sending me her corrections. So I was doing original writing, developmental edits, and copy edits, right up until a few days before the launch date.

Lou, Linda, and my new formatter, Amy Atwell, went above and beyond to make the book happen by my deadline, and bless them, they succeeded. Montana Sky Christmas went live on August 28. I immediately downloaded it to do a final read-through, and MY KINDLE DIED. I went back and forth with Amazon tech support before they determined this, and then I had to buy a new Kindle. So it was two days later before I read the stories, and of course found some errors.

Amy corrected them for me, and I uploaded the new version of the book. Or I tried to... I had problems because I had set a different price for Amazon India. This had NOT been a problem on the first upload, and I didn't realize it was now. I kept getting an error message that I was missing inputs.

Unlike the normal error messages which give you the section you're missing in red, I couldn't find anything wrong. Amy checked the book file, and she felt sure that wasn't the problem. I tried several times to publish the book, but nothing worked. None of my self-pubishing friends had ever heard of this error, although one suggested re-entering the book data. I did so, and still an error. I went over and over each box to make sure I wasn't missing anything, and couldn't see where I'd left something out. The time grew later, and I grew more stressed, frustrated, and tired.

Finally, I decided to change the India price to match the others. That worked. I grabbed the book file to upload it again. All okay. Relieved, I went to bed.

The next day, I started to get returns on the book, very unusual especially since I'd only sold about 30. I had three good reviews, but no one gave me a bad review. So I shrugged it off. At five returns, I checked the book product page and saw that Amazon had put a notice on the page saying something was wrong with the book and they were working with the publisher to fix it. That was news to me.

Of course I was upset and embarrassed. And it was the holiday weekend, so I couldn't contact anyone I knew at Amazon directly. (A nice thing about being a Monttlake author is I know people.) So I talked to customer service, who of course, didn't know anything about what could be wrong. But while I was on the phone with the customer service rep, I checked the book in the preview and saw that I HAD UPLOADED THE WRONG BOOK! OMG! I couldn't believe it. I quickly uploaded the correct version.

I told the rep what was wrong. She never really got what the problem was, but she drafted an email to send to KDP, telling them the error was fixed, to take the block off the product page, and to send a new version of the book to the people who'd bought it. She promised a response in the next 24 hours. It was hard to wait because I wanted it fixed NOW.

For the next days I kept getting various emails from KDP that they were working on the problem. At first I could tell that they didn't understand what the problem was. They kept focusing on sending out new books, while I wanted the block to come down first. Secondly, they could deal with sending new books out.

I was very relieved with Tuesday morning came and I could email and call Dan Slater at Amazon, asking for his help. But unknown to me, Dan was buried in work for the launch of the new Kindles and didn't have time to work on my problem.

So more days went by with several "we're researching the problem" emails from KDP and no response from Dan. My frustration level remained high. I couldn't be mad at Amazon because the mistake was my fault, I still fretted about how long the fix was taking.

Thursday, I put another call to Dan, and that afternoon he called me back. He told me about the launch of the new Kindles. (GGGGRRRR because I just had bought one to replace the one that died.) I explained the whole tale, and he said he'd get on it. By late evening, Montana Sky Christmas was again available for sale. This morning the book began selling again.

So.... what's my lesson? Perhaps it's not to push so hard that I'm trying to accomplish something when I'm tired and stressed. Or maybe realize that because I'm in that state, I have to be extra careful.

Since I'm not a person who usually makes stupid mistakes, when I do, I know means I'm over-stressed. I need to relax, unwind, and recharge--something I was able to do yesterday when I knew my mistake would finally be fixed.

So there you have it. Stupid mistake? Yes. Cost me some sales? Yes. Upset me? Yes. But in the long run, it's not a big deal. Under normal circumstances, I'd probably have been able to focus on the fact that the book would eventually be for sale. But I had enough other things in my life last week that upset and stressed me, thus I wasn't as centered as I would have liked. Maybe that's my lesson.

But I can pretty much promise...I'll NEVER upload the wrong book again. I hope other self-published authors learn from my mistake!

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