This Week in Self-Publishing: I Love Pronoun

Money earned (total): $6,909

Money spent (total): $150

Money earned (this week): $0

Money spent (this week): $0

First, a quick update on the “licensing lyrics” project: I never heard back from Pioneer Drama Service, and I decided not to bother with Hal Leonard. Instead, I rewrote all of the text that previously included copyrighted lyrics, and it’s going to be fine.

This week, I want to discuss Pronoun and pre-orders.


So I cannot rave about Pronoun enough. I didn’t even think I was going to use it, because… I hadn’t heard of it? It was too new?

But then I read Jane Friedman’s interview with Pronoun head of marketing Justin Renard, and other people started asking if I was going to look into Pronoun, so I set aside some time to check it out.

Pronoun is SO GREAT. All of the stuff I’ve been doing for the past six months, like comparative cover research and Amazon category research and price research, is part of their FREE book-publishing package. (It was also nice to see that my research matched theirs, because that meant I did the right kind of work.)

With Pronoun, you drop your text into their magic box and and they give you a beautifully formatted ebook. You drop your cover into another box and they show you how it compares to other covers in your genre. You type in a potential price and Pronoun tells you how well that price performs with other books in your genre, as well as how many of those books at that price point are bestsellers.

You can even check your metadata against other books with similar metadata, and Pronoun will give you keyword suggestions to help your book stand out.

“How does Pronoun even work,” you might ask, “if it is free?” Jane Friedman also asked that question, and here’s the answer:

Pronoun works not only with individually self-published authors, but we also work with a number of paid enterprise publishers and count our own digital nonfiction imprint Byliner in our business mix. Through these income-driving activities and the strategic backing of our parent company, Macmillan, we are in a unique position to continue building a truly author-centric and free publishing experience. Our core pursuit as a business is to help authors succeed at publishing. As we grow along with our authors, new business opportunities will emerge that add value to what authors need.

When I use Pronoun, I get to keep all of my royalties, which includes that nice 70% royalty coming from Amazon. I get to sell my ebook through iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo—and all of my data and my payments come through Pronoun, which means everything gets centralized.

I also get to be part of Pronoun’s collection of authors—I already have an Author Page—which is especially important because I appear to be a (relatively) early adopter. If my book is successful, that’s going to look great for Pronoun and great for me, and maybe all of that greatness will generate more buzz and etc. (Yes, I am very strategic about this kind of thing.)

And if anything should happen, either now or five years from now, to end this relationship, I’ll own all my rights and I’ll have my own ISBN—which means I can take Biographies to KDP or anywhere else ebooks are sold.

But let’s go back to that beautifully formatted ebook. In two minutes, Pronoun did formatting work that would have taken me a full week to complete. I have a few more things that I need to put together, like front matter, but with Pronoun I’m much closer to being able to launch my pre-order than I had planned. So let’s take a minute to look at that.

Pre-orders and ARCs

Here’s how the pre-order is going to work. There are a lot of moving pieces, so I’m going to organize my thoughts along with yours.

The two biggest reasons to do a pre-order are:

  1. To give readers the opportunity to buy the book (and, more specifically, to create another promotional opportunity for the book; a pre-order is essentially a launch, with all the trappings but without the in-person parties and book tours).
  2. To get ARCs to reviewers.

Yes, it is possible to get a self-published book reviewed by the major players: Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Foreword Reviews. Yes, in some cases you have to pay for those reviews. This is one of the cases in which pay-to-play is totally legit, and part of doing business.

So. Here’s how the timeline works on that.

Once the pre-order is live, I take my beautiful Pronoun-created ARC and send it to BookLife, aka “the self-pub arm of Publishers Weekly.” Getting a Publishers Weekly review via BookLife is not guaranteed, and it’ll take 12 weeks or more, but it’s free.

Then I send my ARC to Kirkus. This review process takes 7–9 weeks, but I will for-sure get my review. I’ll also pay $425 for the privilege, but I’m guessing it’s going to be worth it—because if it’s a good review, I can immediately showcase it on the Biographies pre-order page, etc. (I can also announce it on social media and email the mailing list and tell Pronoun.)

Then I pay $695 to get my book reviewed by BlueInk and Foreword Clarion. These are the self-pub review sites for Booklist and Foreword, respectively, and they’ve combined their review services into a single package that delivers reviews in 4–6 weeks.

The big reason to do the BlueInk/Foreword Clarion package is to get Biographies into Total Boox, a service that distributes self-published ebooks to libraries. Not all libraries—you can see their list of participating libraries here—but enough that I definitely want to be a part of it. (I love libraries. The sixth chapter of The Biographies of Ordinary People is literally called “Meredith and Alex go to the library.”)

There’s no guarantee that I’ll get into Total Boox just because I bought the BlueInk/Foreword Clarion package, but all books that get BlueInk “favorable reviews” get sent to Total Boox—and, you know, I think I have a chance.

Which brings me to Library Journal. It is technically possible for me to submit my self-published book to Library Journal to be reviewed, but they want it four months in advance of publication and they also want a print copy, and they still might not select the book for a review.

However, once the book has officially launched, I can send it to Library Journal’s SELF-e program. (I am really excited about this.)

By sending Biographies to SELF-e, I’ll get my novel into what’s called the “statewide collection,” which is to say that people in Washington State will be able to check my ebook out of participating libraries.

BUT, if the Library Journal SELF-e people like my book, it goes to all the participating libraries.

And if they really like my book, they’ll write about it. In the Library Journal.

So yeah. That’s Phase One of the pre-order ARC review plan. Phase Two is getting the ARC on NetGalley, doing a Goodreads ARC giveaway—Biographies is on Goodreads already, and people are marking it as “want to read”—and sending copies to a bunch of people whom I hope are interested in reading the book and, maybe, sharing that they liked it. If they like it. (I think they’ll like it.)

While all of this is going on, I’ll also be doing the final-final proofread—ARCs can have minor errors, it’s okay—and putting together my print copy so it can be available for sale as soon as the book officially releases.

There’s an argument for giving people the opportunity to pre-order the print copy as well as the ebook, but that would push back my publication timeline by maybe two months, and now that I’ve announced that I’m publishing Biographies I really don’t want to drag it out.

I want to get the pre-order up as soon as possible and, 90 days later, launch the book.

Let’s see what I can make happen. ❤


This Week in Self-Publishing: Licensing Lyrics, Part 2

Money earned (total): $6,909

Money spent (total): $150

Money earned (this week): $0

Money spent (this week): $0

EDITOR’S NOTE: I actually wrote this on Thursday night, after two glasses of wine, because I knew today would feel miserable. If my WINE PROSE makes you smile, all the better.

So I spent part of this week going back over every lyric I quoted in The Biographies of Ordinary People: Vol. 1: 1989–2000 and rewriting most of the sections to eliminate the lyrics.

I thought about eliminating all of the lyrics (or at least all of the ones that aren’t in public domain, because I can have my girls sing Henry Purcell as much as I want), but that felt like cheating. I said I would try to license some lyrics, and I’m going to do it. Because I want to learn how.

I started with lyrics from Tied to the Tracks, which is a super deep cut, but it’s a real musical that my high school put on back in the day, and it was really easy to contact Pioneer Drama Service and ask how I could quote from the show. (They haven’t gotten back to me yet, but it was easy.)

Then I tried Samuel Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night,” which is the American art song that takes its lyrics from a 1934 poem by James Agee. I’m not sure about Agee, but the copyright on the Barber song is held by Hal Leonard, and they actually have a form for novelists like myself, along with a caveat:

but please do not proceed to the form unless you can provide all of the following information: publication title, publisher, publication date, the excerpt and/or complete lyrics as they are to appear in your publication, the territory of distribution, number of copies to be printed and suggested retail price

Here’s what this means for me. I can’t request permission from Hal Leonard until I figure out my publication date, which is fine, but I’ll also need to figure out the suggested retail price of both the ebook ($3.99) and the print book (TBD depending on how much it costs to print the book).

Which, in the world of self-publishing, means I’m going to have to create a polished print layout and send it to CreateSpace as if that were the final draft. Once I figure out how much it’ll cost CreateSpace to print the book and how much I want to add on top of that for myself, then I’ll have the suggested retail price to give to Hal Leonard—but if they don’t want to give me the permission, or if they say it’s going to cost me more than I want to pay, I’ll have to rewrite the text (without the lyric) and reupload it to CreateSpace and blah blah blah.

Not to mention that “number of copies to be printed” is not how print on demand works. But I’ve heard from other self-publishers that you just fudge a number. ONE THOUSAND COPIES! And then if you sell more, you go back and tell them you sold more, and then they probably say “give me more money.”

It’s enough to make me not want to quote “Sure on this Shining Night” and have Jackie practice “Sebben Crudele” instead. (“Sebben Crudele” isn’t actually the right choice here, because she needs to be singing something that makes her think of her mother, but I’m sure one of those 24 Italian Songs and Arias will solve that problem. Anything written in 1700 would be great.)

Then I tried to figure out who owned the copyright on “Sing, Sing, Sing,” written by Louis Prima in 1936, and that is hard. There are a lot of band arrangements under copyright by sheet music company J.W. Pepper, but none of those arrangements clarify whether they own the copyright on the original song. I could email J.W. Pepper and just ask… or rewrite the section so it doesn’t include the lyric. (Y’all know how “Sing, Sing, Sing” goes, right?)

Lastly, there’s “My Little Buttercup,” written for the 1986 movie The Three Amigos. Where do I even start with this? IMDb gave me a whole list of production companies and distributors, and sure, I could go contact HBO or whatever, but I might have better luck reaching out to Randy Newman, who wrote the song and who has a website with a contact form. He (or his assistant) could at least point me in the right direction.

For whatever reason, I am terrified of asking Randy Newman. I should just do it and get it over with. He’s just a guy who wrote a lot of songs that I know, and he probably won’t even read it himself, so…… DO IT! But not today. Because of the inauguration.

I’ve published choral music myself (long story), which means my copyright is owned by a publishing house, and if someone wanted to quote my music in a book, they’d have to figure out which publishing house owned it—and it might not be the one they think, because the publisher who originally published the music has since merged with a larger publishing house, and my copyright got transferred.

Which is a long way of saying that the one good thing about self-publishing The Biographies of Ordinary People is that if anyone wants to quote it in one of their books, they’ll only have to contact me.

And they shouldn’t be terrified of doing that.

This Week in Self-Publishing: Licensing Lyrics

Money earned (total): $6,909

Money spent (total): $150

Money earned (this week): $0

Money spent (this week): $0

So I realized, when I decided to indie-publish The Biographies of Ordinary People, that I was going to be tracking these numbers for myself, so I might as well track them for y’all.

If you are familiar with This Week in Freelancing, which I’ve been doing for five years now, you know how this is going to work: every week, I’ll tell you how much I’ve earned — and since self-publishing comes with a few costs of its own, I’m also going to tell you how much I’ve spent.

Right now, that $6,909 represents income received from Patreon supporters. That’s going to be the only income I receive for Biographies until it’s published and people buy it. (Or check it out from the library, if it passes the review. We’ll talk about that later.)

My biggest expense, so far, has been the two covers for Biographies Vol. 1 and Biographies Vol. 2, which I designed on Canva. I paid $100 to get an extended license for the flower image, which enables me to use it in as many print and online iterations as I choose, for as many copies as I eventually sell. (It’s the same flower image on both books. I just used different parts of it for each cover.)

My next biggest expense will be getting permission to use lyrics in Vol. 1. (I’ll worry about lyrics for Vol. 2 later — it still needs a lot of revisions first.)

Biographies has a lot of music in it. Everything from Schubert to Natalie Imbruglia. I wanted to center this book in a specific time and place, and I was also writing about a family of musicians, so there’s music in nearly every chapter — and lyrics in nearly 25 percent of them.

If you want to use lyrics in a book, the process is actually pretty simple, and I say that as a person who hasn’t gone through it yet. But essentially you go visit ASCAP or BMI or Hal Leonard or wherever and license the lyrics, similar to the way you might license a cover song.

I’ve done the cover song licensing thing before — my family, like Biographies’ Grubers, are all musicians — and although the process is relatively easy it is not necessarily cheap, depending on your definition of cheap. Licensing one cover song is no problem. Licensing an entire album of covers, which I’ve done, costs a gob of money.

So this week I went back over all the song lyrics and figured out which ones I could cut. For example:

Still, when she told Nat and Jackie “Let’s do a play of Matchmaker,” she knew she would be Tzeitel. There were three main sisters in the movie just like there were three sisters in the Gruber family, and so she had to play the oldest one. The two younger sisters would be saved for later, when they took out their paper dolls and created the story that the movie had not written for them.

It was hard to remember all of the words, and Dad had already taken the movie back to the college, but all three of them could sing “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch,” and they put together the rest of the song in a way that felt like what they remembered. They took old T-shirts out of the drawer and tied them around their hair, and Mom let them borrow her aprons, and they took baby blankets out of the toy box and practiced swinging them around.

There is no reason that I actually need a lyric there. I could write “all three of them could sing the chorus,” and since I’m guessing most of my audience knows enough about Fiddler on the Roof to also be able to sing this chorus, I’ll let you fill in the gap. WITH YOUR BRAINS. THAT’S HOW BOOKS WORK.

I ended up deciding to rewrite six areas in which I had previously used lyrics, but I’m going to try to license permission for six lyrics. I’ll see how the money goes. There are three lyrics that I think the audience absolutely has to know for the story to make sense, because while I bet a lot of you know “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof, I’m betting fewer of you know Samuel Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night.” (Which is actually an interesting question, lyric-wise, because the text is from a 1934 poem by American poet James Agee, and… does that mean I need to ask his people for the license? I’ll find out.)

I’m giving myself a really long lead time to get these licenses done. Like, a month. (The internet says that unlike cover song licenses, which take 24 hours, getting lyrics licensed can take two weeks.) After that, I just need to plop my Kindle-formatted text into Amazon and my print-formatted text into CreateSpace and we can start the pre-order, and I can start sending the book out for ARCs and reviews, and that’s when the money gets really interesting. ❤