Of Elves & Editors: Explaining Self-Publishing with Lord of the Rings


     ((A quick refresher on the story: The Dark Lord Sauron is searching for the One Ring of power. It’s currently held by Frodo, who sets out to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom. He’s helped along the way by many, including hobbits, elves, dwarves, wizards, and kings. Forgive us any oversimplifications: we’re trying to write an article about LotR, not rewrite LotR.)) 

Beginning the Journey 

     In this analogy, you are Frodo with one manuscript to rule them all. Your goal is to scale Mount Doom, which is the bestseller list. You aren’t going to destroy your manuscript in the end by throwing it into the fire (though we suppose if you have a best-selling book, you can celebrate however you wish).

     But Mount Doom is on the other end of Middle-Earth. How are you going to get there?

Networking (The Fellowship of the Ring)

     Frodo would have been dead before leaving the Shire if he hadn’t had help. Similarly, successfully publishing a book requires other people. Start with building a publishing team of specialists. You’ll need a trained editor, a great cover designer, maybe a marketer, and a wizard if you can find one.

     In the Fellowship, the members have diverse but complementary skill sets. Legolas has superior elven vision and proficiency with a bow. Gandalf has his magic. Frodo isn’t the best fighter, but he is fully committed to the mission. That kind of drive benefits you in any long-term project. In the same vein, your publishing team should be composed of multiple people who each have a specialty. Your editor should not also be your cover designer and publicist. That would be like Frodo setting off with only Aragorn at his side. Frodo would certainly get farther with Aragorn than he would alone, but the full Fellowship of the Ring is best equipped for the challenges that lie ahead.

Creating a Fan Base (Assembling an Army) 

     Besides the core nine members of the Fellowship, Frodo has many more allies who are not named. Theoden, King of Rohan, fights on the side of the Fellowship, but Theoden also brings the armies of Rohan, the largely nameless and faceless mass of riders. Aragorn may be the heir to the throne of Gondor, but he needs the ordinary soldiers to defend the walls of Minas Tirith against Sauron’s armies.

     These faceless fighters are like your readers. You will not get anywhere without readers. Your readers probably won’t be willing to die for you, but they should be willing to act on your behalf: buy your books, tell their friends, retweet and reblog your work, leave glowing (yet realistic and helpful!) reviews. In return, you provide engaging, immersive, enjoyable stories. It would be nice, but nearly impossible, to learn the names and stories of each reader. However, you can treat them with respect, keep them in the loop, and remain grateful for their support.

Bringing in the Big Guns (The Ents and the Eagles)

     Frodo has his Fellowship, and his Fellowship has allies, but not all allies are created equal. The Ents and the Eagles have power far beyond that of a mortal. The Ents are giant living trees that shake the earth itself during battle. The Eagles can swoop in for a rescue or survey the terrain ahead.

     In the publishing world, the Ents are the big, influential book reviewers. They’re hard to track down and they don’t particularly like outsiders. They are also slow to respond. If you manage to engage their interest, they can be an extremely powerful force. But you have to trudge through dark forests and sit around waiting for a response (which is likely not going to be the response you want).

     The Eagles are the popular writing-related blogs. They make it their business to know what’s going on in the world of publishing. Besides providing you with news, they can temporarily elevate you above the rest of the online writing world with a positive review, interview, or guest post on their sites. They have the ability to help you, but they can also peck out your eyes or drop you in the ocean, so be careful. 

A Multifaceted Approach (Strategy during the War of the Ring)

     The original Fellowship didn’t simply charge at Mount Doom. Even though that was their intent, they had to break apart in order to succeed. It is Merry and Pippin who bring the Ents to fight Saruman. Aragorn commands both the Dead Men of Dunharrow and the Rangers. Elrond, the elf-ruler of Rivendell, sends emissaries to fight with King Theoden of Rohan at Helm’s Deep, and Theoden, in return, takes his armies to the aid of Gondor.

     Luckily, you don’t need to cross any mountain ranges to enlist help from around the world. Instead, look for writing communities on various sites. Pinterest, Tumblr, Wattpad, Twitter, and Facebook all have resources for writers. Independent forums like those at Absolute Write and the Kindleboards are also good choices. You don’t have to recruit support and maintain  a presence in every online community; pick a few favorites to focus on. 

Play to your skills and interests other than writing. If you’re a good cook, invent a few recipes for food specific to your world. If you make jewelry in your spare time, create items straight from your book. Tolkien’s universe is full of these minor details (like lembas bread and the Evenstar necklace) that can become real-world objects.

Online Bullies (The Nazgul)

     Though you’ll find many good guys in the online self-publishing community, you’ll also find some bad ones (and some very bad ones). Online bullies use tactics like spamming a page with one-star reviews, leaving aggressive comments on your site, publicly calling others to destroy your reputation, and, from the particularly dumb and tasteless, sending death threats. They are like the Nazgul, invisible, lurking in the shadows and incredibly hard to eliminate.

    Run away from a Nazgul? It gets a horse. Shoot its horse? It gets a FLYING horse (well, it’s more like a dragon, but still). Similarly, if you block an online bully on one site, he can come back with a new account or on a new site. In the War of the Ring, the only way to truly get rid of the Nazgul is by destroying the One Ring. And that’s what the online bullies want, too. They want you to give up, lie down, go home, stop writing.

    Obviously, you’re not going to do that. So rally your friends, find your own Fellowship, and prepare for the adventure.

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Ebook Basics Class Handouts

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      Last weekend, Lila went out into the “real” world to educate the public about ebooks at the OCH Art Market. If you couldn’t make it to New Orleans for the class, don’t worry! Here are the class handouts for you to download and share. 

Editors and Designers

Payment FAQ

Why Self Publishing

Got more ebook questions? Ask us on Twitter @popular_soda or email admin@popularsoda.com 

How to Save Your Writing (and Your Sanity)


Q: How many writers have lost months or years of work due to computer problems?

A: Too many.

     This isn’t a joke– it’s a scary possibility (or reality) for anyone who depends on their computer to store their work. All writers should back up their work in multiple places. We’ve put together a list of the most common ways to save and store your writing. Ideally, you’d use each method. Please, for your sake, use at least one.


Note:  This article focuses on backing up text files and writing work, not videos or photos for personal use.


      Both Dropbox and Google Drive have a free, basic plan that allows you to back up your work. These services let you access your work from any computer or supported mobile device. Here’s a handy chart for a quick overview of their different features.

      You can sign up for both services and use them for different purposes. Lila uses Google Drive for sharing and editing while Dropbox runs in the background to save any late-night ramblings or half-finished work.

PS: If you sign up for Dropbox through our referral link, we’ll both get an extra 500MB of storage.



      External harddrives and USB flash drives can keep your work safe in a different way. They provide a separate physical location (other than your main computer) for the storage of your work. The main problem with these items is that they’re susceptible to everything that kills computers: water, power surges, equipment malfunction, dropping, fire, bullets, lightning strikes, etc. And unlike Dropbox and Google Drive, these devices won’t automatically update. You’ll have to manually copy files to these external storage sources.

      USB flash drives and external harddrives can be useful if you want to back up your work but lack internet access (or visit somewhere that doesn’t have internet access). Also, USB sticks are cheap: you can usually find 8GB sticks for less than $10, and you might even find USB flash drives for two or three dollars during a sale.

      Of course, there’s always one last offline option: hard copies. If you want to feel like a spy, print out your manuscript and keep it in a safe deposit box. For a more realistic (and cheaper) alternative, print out a few copies. Keep one at your place and ask friends or family members to hold the others. It’s not a bad idea to invest in a fire- and water-proof safe. You’ll be able to securely store any writing work as well as delicate or important personal objects.

      The cost of printing hard copies can be prohibitively expensive for prolific (or graphomanic) writers. You can try to minimize cost by printing out only specific documents or using tricks to fit more words on a single page, like decreasing the font size, using a thin font like Arial Narrow, widening the margins, and putting poems into column. It’s a lot of work, but remember: hard copies are always compatible, no matter what happens to computer software.

Got ebook questions? Send them to admin@popularsoda.com. And if you liked this post, don’t forget to share it!

Terms of Service: Vanity Publishing, e-publishing, and Self-Publishing


      Recent conversations about vanity publishing, e-publishing, and self-publishing got our heads spinning as we tried to advocate for self-publishing, only to find our points dismissed by someone who confused it with vanity publishing. So let’s go back to basics here.

None of us in the ebook sphere can have productive, progressive, and sometimes painful conversation about self-publishing if we don’t define self-publishing in the same way.

      We posted a comment on this blog about our view on the differences between the terms. Here’s the fleshed-out version of our view on self-publishing, vanity publishing, traditional publishing, and e-publishing.

Traditional Publishing

      For many years, this was the only way to be published. Stick with us for this history lesson:

      An author would write a book, polish the manuscript, and then send out query letters to agents. Any interested agents would contact the author for more information and a full manuscript. Then, it became the agent’s responsibility to send the manuscript to publishing houses and work out a deal. The publishing house took care of editing, cover design, and marketing for no money upfront: they took their cut from the sale of each book. The agent wasn’t paid upfront either, but only after the publishing deal went through.

      The process wasn’t totally transparent, and it was up to the individual author to choose a reputable agent who would best represent his interests. In addition, the process could take years and it was hit-or-miss. Some of the best-selling books of our time were repeatedly rejected for publication. It was nothing to do with the quality of the work; rather, the demands of the market, the views of the individual editor, and simple human error all contributed to this imperfect process.


      e-publishing is an umbrella term. It simply refers to things which were published electronically. Sometimes they have a corresponding print version. Sometimes they don’t. The New York Times has an electronic edition available for ereaders and tablets. So does The Onion, Star Trek Magazine, and Cowboys and Indians. JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy has an ebook version, and the Harry Potter ebooks are available through Pottermore.

     e-publishing is not disreputable in and of itself.

However, there is a very low barrier to entry in this marketplace. A major media corporation can spend millions of dollars on a beautiful electronic edition with corresponding app. Or someone sitting at home in front of his computer can blast his poorly written ebook across the internetscape. e-publishing is all of these things. In our eyes, e-publishing isn’t inherently bad, but there’s e-publishing done well and e-publishing that’s not.


Quick Questions: Using Copyright

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      In the first part of our Quick Questions regarding copyright, we discussed establishing copyright. Now we’ll talk about using copyright, finding a copyright holder, defending your copyright claim, and how to use Creative Commons licenses.

      Please keep in mind that copyright laws can be specific to your country. Check with the office or department which oversees copyright in your location for the most accurate and relevant lawsThis is a quick overview of copyright laws and not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for specific and sensitive copyright-related questions. 

How do I find the copyright holder?

      Most mass-produced works (such as printed books, CDs, or DVDs) will have copyright holder information either on the packaging or in the work itself.

      If you’re looking for the copyright holder for an obscure, damaged, or local product, you’ll have to do some sleuthing. First, you’ll need to determine the copyright holder’s country of origin. A French author who was published in France will not show up in the US Copyright Office records. If the work’s creator followed her country’s process, her work will be listed in her country’s database.

      If the work was not officially registered, and you’re looking for a specific person, the only option left is search engines. People search engines such as Spokeo and Pipl can connect you to individals (for a price). Whois lookups can give you information about the owner of a particular domain name. And old standbys like Facebook or LinkedIn can provide you with other ways to track down copyright holders.

What is Creative Commons?


Editing, Explained


      Everyone needs an editor. But what kind of editor? Many first-time or self-published authors acknowledge the value of editing, but remain confused about the nature of editing. Online, it’s an unorganized world. Posters mix up proofreading, editing, and copy editing with abandon. This post will outline the most popular forms of editing to help you choose the right type of editor for your work.


     Proofreading is the most basic form of editing. It’s debatable that proofreading even is a form of editing.

     Proofreading comes from the term “galley proof” (sometimes just called “proof”). Proofreaders read proofs. Easy enough.

      Historically, galley proofs have been one of the last steps in the publishing process. Proofreaders would check galley proofs against the previous version of the text in order to catch any errors introduced in the publishing process. Proofreaders concerned themselves solely with basic errors such as incorrect punctuation, misspellings, random capitalization, and, more recently, blocks of garbled text introduced by computer error (“</P > < P>&nbsp;< /P> <P >”, anyone?).

     With the dawn of word processors, self-publishing, ebooks, and independent authors, proofreading has come to take on a different meaning. For self-publishers, it’s uncommon to perform traditional proofreading with multiple copies of the same document. Now, when people talk informally about proofreading, they usually mean the process of checking a single text file for basic technical errors. A proofreader will change “suPine” to “supine”, but a proofreader will not replace “supine” if you really mean “prone”. That falls under the category of…


Quick Questions: ISBN for Ebooks


      We’re introducing a new feature on Popular Soda. It’s called Quick Questions and will contain the most basic information about an ebook-related subject in FAQ form. Today, we’re looking at ISBN.

What is an ISBN?

      ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is a number assigned to a book only after the publisher (self-publisher or traditional) has requested it for the book. Each distinct version of a book (such as books with added forwards, extra chapters, and collector’s editions) will have its own ISBN.

How long is an ISBN?

      Some older ISBN may have as few as 9 numbers. Today, all ISBN should have 13 digits.

How do I get an ISBN? More

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