Bonnie S. Calhoun

Bonnie S. Calhoun is the Founder and Publisher of Christian Fiction Online Magazine . She is also the Owner and Director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance which is the parent organization for the magazine.

In addition to her passion for spreading the word about Christian fiction, Bonnie is also an author of snarky suspense. Her novel Cooking The Books (A Sloane Templeton Mystery) releases from Abingdon Press in April 2012. 

Meet Elizabeth Baker and Her Publishing Journey

Elizabeth BakerYou recently released an e-book through of self-publishing. How was the experience?

I released seven of my books as e-books, and the reasons, as well as the process, have been different for each.

For one, I was locking into a publisher’s contract at a low royalty with no advance. Since they could add an e-book without increasing my percentage, it was a great deal for them. Writing is a business so I don’t blame them for increasing their profit, even though it decreased mine. I published the other six on my own.

My first experience was a sharp learning curve, and I’ve since stopped distributing that one because of quality concerns.

The next two were out-of-print books whose rights had reverted to me. I originally published in a newsletter my compilation of short stories. Another was a booklet of Christmas stories. My newest e-book, The Assignment, is my first novel, which went online last week.

Since you are a multipublished author, why didn’t you use traditional channels with this novel?

That was my original intent, but I hit walls everywhere I turned. I believe in the work, am passionate about it, but the book does not fit neatly into any fast-selling category, it doesn’t follow the strict formula that is expected for first novels, and although I have published several nonfiction works, as far as fiction was concerned I was cast in the same mold as other first-time authors.

Was the process difficult? Long? What tools helped?

The process is not beyond the capabilities of most authors, and technology is making it easier; however, it takes effort to weed through the jungle of conflicting advice and marketers. Slogging through it is the first challenge, but understanding basic principles can help clear up the confusion.

What principles were most helpful?

First, this is an emerging industry. File extension and programs that work one place don’t necessarily work somewhere else. For example, the Nook and Kindle do not use the same coding so they are incompatible.

You can convert your book to an epub file using any one of several free programs and the results can be downloaded on Nook and Kindle as well as most other readers. But downloading to your own device and creating something to be uploaded to Amazon or Kindle are two different processes. Both systems are different and each has different contract agreements as well as coding, so read the fine print. Look for their exclusivity clauses, and make wise decisions.

It was very frustrating at first. I wanted one set of rules and one type of technology that I could apply universally. The actual process of uploading a text to either distributor is easy. You can even convert directly from a Word document, but the other details can drive you over the edge.

How would you advise someone who is considering an e-book?

If an author does not want to go with a company, it would be best to find one distributor (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, others). Learn their system thoroughly, including marketing opportunities. Once you know the terms, have converted the files, and have uploaded your work, it will be much easier to deal with the quirks of a second company.

Also, remember that when you put your book online, you are the publisher. All quality control is in your court. It is your name and reputation on the line. Don’t be so anxious to get something online that you skimp on the details. From content edit to copy edit to book cover to ISBN to the way the text looks on the page, the baby is all yours. Doing it well is a many-step process.

What are some of those steps?

The cover and the content are two separate beasts. Most authors are accustomed to working with content, but not so much with covers. You can hire a graphic artist to do the work.

For my collection of short stories, Spiritual Trail Mix, I purchased a picture from then used the editing features of Other resources are available, but you must be willing to learn new skills.

My novel was much more difficult. The story line of The Assignment involves angels and humans. I found no adequate picture. I had to be creative. I used a shaded background from PowerPoint, imported three colored, overlapping discs, edited in picnik, and used their fonts for the title and my name.

The cover for Cause Angels Can’t Sing was a drawing by my son-in-law and colored with crayons by my granddaughter. Other covers are scanned copies of covers that originally appeared on books. You can clear rights for these just like you clear rights for the text.

Spiritual Trail Mix

Are ISBN numbers necessary?

No. Even if you have them, the distributor will probably assign a different tracking number unique to their system.

What about editing?

Most authors don’t/can’t edit well. I am slightly dyslectic, so for me the job is even more difficult. I read the sentence as I intended to write it, not as it actually appears on the page. If you pay a company to get your e-book online, editing is often an option they offer—for a price.

I’ve used Crystal, an electronic voice in Natural Reader program. Now, “Crystal” reads the book to me and I “see” the errors. This was without doubt the best investment I ever made.

Has your online publishing brought the return you expected?

Yes. But, my expectations for money were very low so it was hard to be disappointed. My books have been online for about three weeks, so I can’t judge what the eventual return might be. My real hope is for ministry. Do I want money? Sure! But I am content.

The biggest problem with any e-book is discoverability. Imagine walking into a warehouse the size of a football field with tightly packed shelves six feet high. Your one book is located somewhere in the maze. You must effectively market to connect readers to your books.

Why are you so passionate about your novel? What is it about?

We are surrounded by a spirit world as well as the physical, but what does that mean practically? I wanted to show the spirit world through a good story that could be read and enjoyed by busy people living ordinary lives. I determined to stay firmly grounded in revealed biblical truth but at the same time let my imagination soar with possibilities that flesh out that unseen world and make it feel real. I wanted to others to “see” the unseen and find fresh reasons to embrace spiritual reality.

The Assignment, a mix between Jan Karon’s Mitford series and Randy Alcorn’s Deadline, follows a middle-aged Southern pastor and his family through the hours of one ordinary Sunday in a small town. Boring? Not when viewed through the eyes of JaKobe, a warrior angel who is returning to earth after an absence of 700 years. He and the rest of the crew stay plenty busy, and finishing his assignment will change the life of Jonathan Phelps and his family forever.

The Assignment is a quality read. Reviews on Amazon are, so far, good. Members of Amazon Prime can download to Kindle for free and others can purchase it for $4.59.