Thursday, July 5, 2012

Friday Friend--Shirley Hailstock

Shirley Hailstock began her writing life as a lover of reading. She likes nothing better than to get lost in a book, explore new worlds and visit places she never expected to see. As an author, she can not only visit those places, but she can be the heroine of her own stories. A past president of both New Jersey Romance Writers and Romance Writers of America, Shirley’s has authored 28 books and continues to work on more. Recently she entered the self-published arena and has five books available online with more to come.

Writing in the Digital Age

The revolution of authors putting their backlist titles (self-publishing) on the Internet is well on the upswing. Writers previously unpublished by a print publisher also have the opportunity to participate in this revolution. For the first time in history authors have the ability to publish and market their books directly to the readers. And readers have an added advantage. They can decide the market without the filter of a publisher deciding what is best to enhance their business interests. This is not to say publishers have no place in this new age. They do. There will probably be a lot of home-truths coming to them in the type and quality of books demanded by readers. The focus of this blog, however, is on the writer and her/his audience.

What do they want? Many authors want to make a living wage. The Internet has the ability to afford them that right. Yet having a book digitized invokes more than just scanning, formatting and uploading. Our readers are intelligent people and they are savvy in what we’ve presented them with in the past. They have a quality expectation and it’s up to us to continue to provide them with books that are enjoyable and free of plot holes, grammatical errors, and below quality writing.

For those like me, digitizing backlist books means you need to update the previously published work. Readers want an enjoyable read, not just an old book. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. (We’ll get to publishing new books in a moment.) There are multiple steps that need to be thought about and resolved before making a book available to the exciting world of the Internet and downloads to e-readers.

It is an exciting world. The Internet books have the potential to garner a new audience and to provide readers with works they haven't been able to find. It can take an author that New York rejected and allow her to soar to the top of the ranks. It also has the potential to make a lot of money for the author.

What are the choices? Many of us have attended workshops on self-publishing and have begun to think of putting up one or more books. Others have already taken the plunge. The first step on this journey is to write the best book you can. You are going to sink or swim on the quality of what you present to the reading public. This is not new information. The best that you can do is always the starting point, be it print, digital, cave drawings, or crayon colors. For the previously published author, the book needs to be either scanned or if you have the final copy edit you can use that. Scanned books have scanning errors that need to be corrected. Like any presentation, you want it flawless or as flawless as possible. You don't want people to stop reading because their eye stops every time they come across an error.

Re-reading, editing, updating the book. Historical authors may have a much better time editing their books than their contemporary sisters. History doesn't change. They've already done most of the work, but there are areas of historicals that may also need attention, i.e. dialect. For the contemporary authors updating may be necessary. It's hard not to change scenes every time you read them. And the fact that the book is published is no reason to think we couldn't do it better or at least differently if given the chance. Some scenes may need pumping up or better explanations, different word usage, anything... For example if that audience reads that the heroine is stranded because her car broke down, they'll want to know where her cell phone is. Technology is not our friend in a contemporary. You cannot assume the reader will understand that you wrote this book years ago. They bought it today. And they want it to reflect today unless it’s historical.

As writers, we've grown as human beings. We're more experienced. We know more about life and about writing than we did when we originally wrote the book. The world has changed and the reading public has also changed. When I first began reading romances in high school, the books were full of descriptions: rooms, clothes, foliage, food, etc. The occupation of the characters was incidental. Even the nurse-doctor books never really addressed those professions. The need to have the hero and heroine meet as soon as possible wasn't a rule. Fast pacing wasn't a priority. So the process of updating and editing may not be speedy for any author.

For the author whose book will be an original publication, regardless of the author's publication history, have it edited by a professional editor. You'll probably have to pay for this service. But your name is going to be on that book. It's your stock in trade. If you have an audience you want to keep them. If you're trying to build an audience, you need to give them the best product possible. We all benefit from the editorial process, even if we don't like it.

Bookcover is king. It's the new little black dress, the color for all seasons, the leader of the revolution. Your book cover will get people to read the blurb about your book. It should look professional. If you can accomplish that yourself, go for it, but only if it looks professional. If you are dissatisfied with the look, seek a professional designer. Just like the editor, whom you will have to pay, the cover is also something you'll probably have to pay for. But you are the publisher. You have to bear all the costs associated with the project. In return you get the majority of the royalties.

An ISBN is how your book can be found worldwide. You will need to apply for ISBN numbers for your projects. Bowker is the worldwide distributor of ISBN's, the identifier for books and other media types. In many cases you may need more than one ISBN. If you already have a book in print, the ISBN on it does not apply to the digital version. And your publisher owns that ISBN. Likewise if you create an audio version, it will need its own ISBN. To secure an ISBN you can go to BOWKER, set up an account and purchase them either one at a time or in bulk. Purchases in bulk reduce the cost per ISBN (

If you use Smashwords ( as a method of selling digital books, you can purchase an ISBN from them. Look into how often they record the ISBN in the Bowker database.

Finally, you've scanned, corrected, edited, got a cover for the book. Now it's time to begin the upload process. And this is a process. Format the book for whatever digital platform you're using. Amazon (, Barnes and Noble (, and Smashwords ( are the popular ones used today. However there are others. Keep in mind that you may have to format differently for each.

Blurbs are the small synopsis that is generally on the back of a printed book. If you did not write the blurb on your printed book, then you don't own that text and you need to write your own. If you've never written it before, practice because you don't want to go on for pages. Remember the reading public wants to read it fast and decide if they want to take a chance on the book. Usually, the uploading platform limits you to a certain number of words. You want to be intriguing enough that people will want to read the book, so don't give away the ending.

Upload. This is the point where you think you're finally about to see your creation on the computer screen and people can purchase it. If you have formatted correctly, the upload should be simple. If the book doesn't go up quickly, it's usually the formatting that is the problem. Take care with the formatting and everything will go right the first time.

The book is up, the cover blurb is satisfying and the cover is beautiful. It's time to sit back and rake in the sales. Nope, your work is not done. You are the publisher and you work 24/7. You need to get copyright registration papers or file them online. Copyrights cost about $35 each if you do them online ($65 if you submit them in paper form). This is to register it with the Library of Congress. Registration affords you some protection related to piracy, which is a huge problem with all books, not just digitized ones. You can read about copyrighting at

Finally, there is marketing. It's more than just Facebook. For the previously published, they already have a following. Hopefully, they have a newsletter or list of people they've communicated with regarding their books. They have the advantage of being able to contact those people with news of a new book or a re-release. There are self-publishing loops and sites. There are people who are opening advertising methods for self-published authors. However, at the moment, we are all unsure of how to promote on the Internet. The medium is new. The rules of print advertising don't apply. Many of us are turned off by the pop-ups ads. Many published authors don't want other author promotions. Not only is self-publishing revolutionary, but how to get the word out to readers is also revolutionary. I can't tell you how to market. If I knew I'd do it.

Finally, there is also a down side to self publishing B Piracy. Like everyone who becomes successful, someone wants to take it away from you. Internet piracy is a business that we can't measure at this time. Other people are making money from your hard work. Finding piracy sites and getting them to remove your work that someone else has stolen is almost a full-time job. You can use Google Alert to send you a message if data you put into the alert is found. Many people use their title in the alert, since the pirates don't even bother to change that. Some of the smarter pirates will change it, but it's a point you can use. Oftentimes the pirate site address is hard to find. They may be outside the United States. This is just a notice to let you know that your work can be stolen.

The above is powerful, time consuming and in some cases outside our realm of knowledge. Some authors just don't want to do all the taxing work to get their books online. In those cases, there are services where you can pay to have all except the actual writing done for you. The off-shoot of that is that you end up with less royalties than if you do some of it yourself. And there are taxes that go along with the income you make. Don't forget that when April 15th rolls around each year.

As I mentioned above, the world of Internet Publishing is new and exciting. This isn't to say that the world of print publishing is no longer an option. It remains as it always has. We love to see our books in print. We want to be able to hold it in our hands and show it to friends and family. We want strangers to buy it. However, the Internet gives the author more choices. Some of those choices may lead to print publishers. But, the question of having the New York publishing world dictate the terms on a take-it-or-leave-it basis is gone with the proverbial wind. Authors have choices. We're smart women. We can do it ourselves. If we don't like the terms presented, or if none are offered, we can decide what we want. And going from a thought to reality isn't the huge leap it once was.

Good luck with the books and the sales.

Book Title: Mirror Image


Aurora Alexander found her doppelganger in the form of talk show hostess Marsha Chambers. Yet the two of them couldn’t be further apart in personality. Aurora, a trained psychologist, supports her mother’s nursing home expenses through celebrity impersonation. Following a less than stellar interview with Martha Chambers, Aurora is mistaken for Marsha by a kidnapper who attempts to abduct her. Fighting him off long enough for producer, Duncan West, to scare the man away, Aurora’s life is plunged into danger for the famous face she wears.

Duncan West would like nothing better than to have his connections to the East Coast severed. He wants to be in Hollywood making feature films, not adhering to the whims of a diva. But when her look alike appears and he convinces her to stand in for the absent hostess, her life is put in danger and all Duncan instincts to stay away from her are put to the test. Aurora is tied to the East by a suffering parent. And Duncan wants to seek his fortune in the West. Can East and West meet?


  1. Hi Shirley,

    Thanks for being with us at Heroines with Hearts today.

    I give huge kudos to those who tackle the self-publishing market. For me, it's a time thing. With a full-time job outside the writing world, I find it difficult to get books written, let alone get them published myself.

    Congrats on your release! It sounds like you're keeping up well with digital publishing!

  2. Hey Shirley, welcome to our blog. So happy to have you here! Great advice about digital/self-publishing. Good luck with the book.

  3. Hi Shirley! Great post! You lay it all out so thoroughly and logically. I learned at least a few things I didn't already know about indie-pubbing. It's something I might be considering by Oct, if something doesn't break soon with submissions I have sitting with agents/editors (seems like the pub world slows to a crawl in the summer). It is wonderful that writers now have options and have savvy pioneers like yourself paving the way. See you in August!

  4. Great post, Shirley! Having heard of some of the problems people have had with self-publishing, I am reluctant to go down that road. I have no faith in my technical know-how, so I prefer to have other people look after the practicalities of formatting etc.

    Updating one's old books is an interesting issue. I have four books which were published in the 60's and 70's. TO re-publish them wouldn't be simply a matter of updating the language, occupations etc. They are no longer 'contemporary' in so may ways. You quote the revolution in technology and communications and I agree. Some things in my old books simply wouldn't work now because of cellphones! Also a couple of my early stories were set in schools i.e the schools of the 70's, not today's schools. It's a different world!

  5. Shirley, you are so right about time not being the friend of a contemporary writer! When I got the rights back to my romances published in 2003 and 2004, I had to comb through them for changes in technology.

    Even more heartbreaking, I had to write the twin towers of the World Trade Center out of one scene. That made me cry.

    The experience has taught me to be more aware of how I might be dating my books, since in the digital age, they can stick around forever. Someday they may be viewed as historicals! LOL!

  6. Debra,

    Like anything, this is a new world and it takes baby steps to get things done. if you pace yourself you can do it. I worked full time with babies at home, no help from a husband I subsequently divorced and was RWA president.

    I never missed a deadline. I find I love having control over the books and reaping the rewards. I can't wait until I can put up more original stories.

    But I understand that there are limits to energy and the number of hours in a day.

    Keep writing and getting stories out, no matter what the platform.

  7. Paula,

    There are problems, but they aren't overwhelming. And once you've done a few books, the problems seem less and less.

    I've even written a couple of macros to make the formatting go faster.

    I'm loving this process.

  8. Nancy,

    I had to write Princess Di out of my book. In many cases (over several books) I had to account for cell phones,, VCR's becoming a DVD player, l atop computers, etc.

    Some of the writing changed to. A lot of passive voice was updated and some scenes felt incomplete. So I fixed them and those buying books now, get a todya-contemporary .

  9. Marlo,

    I've put up five books up now. A huge issue is marketing or reaching the readers.


  10. Sorry I'm late. Shirley, thank you for this succinct tutorial. I have no backlist, but I'm tempted to fly indie when my WIP is edited.
    Promotion is a huge hurdle, though.

  11. Great post Shirley! I loved that book so I'm glad it will reach more readers.

  12. Great job of putting all this information together so clearly for the technophobes like me. I also never thought of having to update the ms. I'm heading over to check out your five books. I wish you many sales.

  13. That was a very informative blog, Shirley! You managed to organize everything so that it didn't sound as daunting as it usually does. Thanks!

  14. Thank you for your take on this, Shirley! What an interesting, all-encompassing post. I'll refer to this again and again.