WRITERS AT WORK, About this business of Internet publishing, Part One

Hi everyone,

As promised, Sandy Asher and I are back with another month of WRITERS AT WORK, this time to talk about publishing e-books and books on demand. Today I lead off. Over the next three Tuesdays we’ll feature Paula Morrow, Michael Wilde, and Sandy. Please feel free to add your thoughts as we go!


Topic 11: About this Business of Internet Publishing
Response 1: David
March 6, 2012

Okay, Sandy, here’s a subject on everyone’s mind these days: the publication of e-books and books printed on order. In other words, technology-assisted self publishing. Do you remember the first time you heard authors talking about electronic publishing? I do. We were at one of the annual Children’s Literature Festivals in Warrensburg, Missouri. After a day of talking to students, some of us were relaxing in one of the rooms where we were staying when the conversation turned to e-books. No one in the group had tried one yet but there was lively interest in the potential. All I could do was listen. I knew so little about this newfangled kind of publishing that I was afraid to open my mouth.

As in any new field, someone has to go first. A lot of you know Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell and are familiar with their pioneering efforts to publish e-book collections of poetry for young people. My toe-in-the-water experience came last year when they invited me to be one of thirty poets represented in PoetryTagTime, the first anthology of children’s poems published as an e-book.

They also invited me to participate in two other collections before the year was up, p*tag (for teens) and Gift Tag (for the holidays). To learn more, here’s the link: www.PoetryTagTime.com .

So what led to my decision to publish my own e-book? Since 1989 we’ve lived beside a small lake that supports a rich variety of plants and animals. I’ve dubbed it Goose Lake. As an old biologist it pleases me greatly to watch and take notes. Two years ago I wrote a book of prose and poems about the place.

My wife liked GOOSE LAKE (always a good sign!) and said it was my best work ever. I sent it out. Editor One said, “Absolutely lovely. I’ll buy a copy for myself if you get it published but right now my sales department would lynch me if I take on any more poetry.” Editor Two: “Your writing is quite wonderful. These poems are not simply gorgeous reflections on the beauty of nature, but rather active stories of animal observations and interactions. Unfortunately, nature poetry collections are sadly not at the top of my list.” Editor Three: “Your poetic prose and image-rich poetry complement one another in giving a multi-faceted view of the many creatures, indoors, as well as out.” And so on.

After two more such experiences I became a prime candidate to try an e-book. I knew I had a good manuscript and five editors had turned it down. I asked Janet Wong for advice. She took a lot of time to explain the procedures and nudge me in the right direction. Through her I was introduced to Sladjana Vasic, the talented artist who agreed to illustrate GOOSE LAKE, and her husband, Milos, who formatted the finished book for uploading onto the Amazon and Barnes & Noble store sites. I’m skipping most of the details involved because one e-book hardly makes me an expert and any effort to try to describe them would take far more room than I have here. I hope it’s needless to say that I’m not encouraging people to go fogging over to Janet’s site with pleas for help!

(Janet, if you’re reading this, let the record show that I’m trying to save you!)

On December 15, 2011, GOOSE LAKE was published as an e-book on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Goose-Lake-Year-Life-ebook/dp/B006MGDDHS/ref=zg_bs_155213011_1%20  ) and Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/goose-lake-a-year-in-the-life-of-a-lake-david-l-harrison/1107998233?ean=2940013876583&itm=8&usri=goose+lake+ ). I don’t have it up yet on iTunes but hope to master that trick one of these days. The process (exclusive of the writing), from my first note to Janet to the day the book was e-published, took 46 days.

You may be more interested in sales than in the details so here’s the report to date. As my own publisher, I’m paid 70% of net income from Amazon and 65% from Barnes & Noble. And I get to do all of my own promotion. (You’re supposed to smile.) If you read WRITERS AT WORK in January, you’ll remember our discussion about how hard it is for many of us to pound our own chests. It doesn’t get easier when your book exists only when you download it onto a reading device or computer. In the books that Janet and Sylvia did, there were thirty poets and, therefore, the potential for a lot of promotional oomph on the order of thirty times more than one person might do. Furthermore, children’s poetry is considered by most publishers to be difficult to sell in the best of circumstances. The niche is further restricted by its small foothold in the world of e-books. I could be wrong but I bet the market is better for picture books and longer stories.

During the first week or so after GOOSE LAKE came out, I e-mailed notices to quite a few friends and colleagues. I mailed letters to neighbors around the lake. I posted the news of my first e-book on my blog. I mentioned the free apps you can add from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=sa_menu_karl4?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771 ) or Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/u/free-nook-apps/379002321  ) so you can download the book onto your computer. A friend of mine also sent an e-blast to friends on her list. GOOSE LAKE debuted well. After five days it ranked #1 on Amazon’s Kindle Store for e-books of children’s poetry and #44 for general poetry. I was feeling gooood. Uh-huh!

But that was all I knew to do. And when I stopped touting my book, it began sliding down the scale rather quickly. It went from 1st to 20th to 50th in a matter of weeks. Now and then it would shoot back toward the top when someone out there bought a copy, but we’re talking about small numbers making big differences. I just now checked the rating on Amazon.com and I’m back in 14th place so I’ve had a few more sales. It drives you crazy if you look too often. I think they change rankings every hour.

I’ve been delighted to have interviews and features lately on some wonderful blog sites such as Robyn Hood Black’s (http://www.robynhoodblack.com/blog.htm?post=828175  ), Roxie Hanna’s (http://wp.me/pBU4R-T2 ), and Laura Purdie Salas’s (http://laurasalas.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/poetry-friday-is-here-at-goose-lake ). Such exposure helps very much. I’ve also received great advice on how to promote one’s e-book from Barbara Gregorich (http://www.barbaragregorich.com ) about selecting potential markets and seeking write-ups in special interest newsletters. God knows when I can get to such time-consuming activities, but I can easily understand the absolute need to try.

So, Sandy, my conclusions about this grand experiment so far? Hmm. Well I’m a long way from breaking even but it’s still very early. I enjoy the fact that I’ve been able to bring my work to readers who might never have seen it otherwise. I appreciate (always did) what traditional publishers do to help promote their authors’ books. I’m admittedly still close to the bottom of the learning curve about e-books and how to make them work. Would I consider trying another one? I won’t rule it out but for now I need to get better at promoting GOOSE LAKE. Then we’ll see . . .


22 comments on “WRITERS AT WORK, About this business of Internet publishing, Part One

  1. Dear David:
    Thank you for the scholarly posting. I look forward to the next 3 weeks.
    Did you actually format all the paragraphs and links? Or do you have a web master?
    Please allow me to add to the discussion from the point of view of the poet and desk top publisher/ illustrator. You had professional collaborators on your side!!! BRAVO!
    Jeanne Poland

    • Dear Jeanne,

      Thank you! Yes, I posted this without help, but my webmaster Kathy Temean showed me what to do after she established the blog and I still go back for booster lessons when I get stuck. And you are certainly right about my collaborators. I have been blessed with advice and encouragement by talented experts!


  2. Thanks for bringing attention again to our PoetryTagTime books! These 3 e-books continue to do well, and–as with GOOSE LAKE–sales often shoot up after a blog post.

    I guess what this means for us as readers and bloggers is: it makes a difference when we spread the word!

    David, I’m going to do the equivalent of buying you a cup of coffee and instead I’ll buy a gift copy of GOOSE LAKE to email to a good friend right now. I know she’ll love it on her cell phone. Thank you for this insightful and reflective reminder that GOOSE LAKE is there for us to enjoy, as you have all these years.

    • Hi, Janet!

      Wow! I’ll take this kind of support over coffee any day! I’ll say I owe you one but the actual number is much, much larger and growing!

      Thanks as always,


  3. Imagine getting the gift of a book on your cell phone! What a world we live in! And you’re doing such a fine job of embracing that world, David, from your ebook to the expertly embedded links in your post. I’m in awe!

    I seem to be about two weeks from the finish line on my reprint of TEDDY TEABURY’S FABULOUS FACT as a print-on-demand book by way of CreateSpace. That should coincide perfectly with my turn on our March blogging schedule. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to hearing from the editing pros — Paula Morrow and Michael Wilde.

    • Hi Sandy!

      Thanks for those kind words. I’m really looking forward to your response on March 27. I need to learn much more about the idea of print-on-demand books and you are always such a great teacher.


  4. Terrific post, David! And I look forward to what you and Sandy and these savvy special guests have cooked up for this month. I especially appreciate your offering such a candid peek into what this journey has been like for you. (To your ridiculously long and varied list of professional tags, you can add, “trailblazer” – thanks!)

    • Greetings, Robyn!

      Thank you for your nice note. Today’s post was a hard one to write. If it proves helpful to anyone, I’m glad. I don’t often feel like a trailblazer. Most of the time it feels like I’m creeping along with my nose six inches from the ground, searching for tracks to follow.


  5. Great info, David! I agree, everything we try is an experiment, we tweak things and adjust as we move along, always going forward. Congrats on jumping in with both feet! I wish you much success, and thanks for mentioning the interview on my blog!

    • Hi Roxie,

      Thanks again for the thought provoking questions. Be sure to come back next Tuesday to read :Paula Morrow’s remarks.

      All best,


  6. Pingback: The Biz of Internet Publishing « Roxie's Blog

  7. Pingback: Spotlight: David L. Harrison « Roxie's Blog

  8. Helpful post! It’s good to share the reality of self-publishing: it’s a LOT of work. But as traditionally published authors are expected to do more and more marketing, we may as well have more books to peddle. I hope people follow your example and publish polished, wonderful books like Goose Lake. This was the first ebook I ever purchased, and I love reading it again once in a while.

    • Good morning, Robin, and thank you for reading and commenting on this lead off to March WRITERS AT WORK. It always pays to have other eyes on a manuscript before it’s published. GOOSE LAKE was read by Milos Vasic as well as Janet Wong. Sandy Asher read some of it and so did Wendy Murray. Mistakes were caught and corrected and I felt better about the finished product.


  9. Thanks David, I needed to hear this from a professional author. Thank you for allowing us to learn about the ups and downs for e-books and self-publishing. I love to promote. I continue to submit to traditional publishers while I rework other children’a books to be printed at a local printer that do a great job. I can’t wait to learn more from you, Paula and Michael, and read all the comments. Mary Nida

    • You are welcome, Mary Nida. Thanks for letting me know that this episode is helpful. You are going to appreciate Paula’s remarks for sure. I know because I’ve already seen them.

      All the best,


  10. Hope you are enjoying a cup of coffee on the porch at Goose Lake–you’ve earned it. Thanks for an incredibly good and useful post. How many e-books have sold? How small are the numbers we’re talking about here?
    Also thanks for “fogging off,” I didn’t know that term. FUN!

    • Hi Joy,

      Thanks for keeping us all informed about how many days remain before the poetry workshop in Honesdale! I’m not home at Goose Lake yet. We drove from our condo along the Florida panhandle down to Captiva near Fort Myers for a week and then returned here. We’ll finally head for home on the 14th. This has been the longest my wife and I have been gone since we got married. At this point I haven’t shared sales figures for GOOSE LAKE because I haven’t had time to hit the promotions hard enough. I’ll probably come back to the subject a few months from now when I think I have a fuller picture.

      Take care,


    • Hi Charles!

      It’s good to hear from you again. Thanks for your encouragement. Time will tell whether enough readers will buy GOOSE LAKE to make it logical to try others. I have my fingers crossed.


  11. David, I’ve been behind the 8 ball for a while and am just finding this series. Looking forward to reading the rest and learning more. I really appreciate you sharing your story/process with us. I’m thinking of something similar with my poems about my native garden. Also pondering it on some writing essays.

    Off to read the next installment.

    • Greetings, Susan,

      Thank you for coming by to read and leave a comment. I expect more authors to try their luck at this form of publishing. As you’ll read later in this series, a good editor is always a necessary part of the equation but still it’s tempting to see what others think about our handiwork. Good luck in your own efforts if you decide to go ahead.


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