Jim Winter and the Power of Bartering

Yes, it’s ROW80 check in day, but first, . I have a special treat for my blog readers. My friend Jim Winter is here today to share one way an indie writer can put out a professional product in today’s publishing world without breaking the bank–something I was glad to help him with! And now, heeeeerrrreee’s Jim….

Compleat Winter

Jim’s newest release, in which he’s taken a stab at doing his own cover art

With publishing changing around us, authors are learning they have to do more for themselves. But covers are expensive and not easily done. Editing moreso. The average editor will charge around $900 for a 90,000-word manuscript. What’s the broke author to do?

Barter is your friend. You likely have skills another writer needs. They have skills you need. For instance, many of us are not artists. I know I’m trying. I’m getting better at using GIMP, an open-source alternative to Photoshop. But until I can do more than one cover, I need to have someone else do our covers.

That is where our lovely hostess Jennette has stepped in. Jennette needs something every writer needs: Editing. Never edit yourself. (That’s not to say don’t do revisions. You should do some clean-up before letting anyone see your work.) At the very least, a beta. If you understand story structure, genre, and, most importantly, grammar, you can do this for other writers. It’s a skill every writer should learn anyway if they want to improve their craft.

Jen needs a beta read for her current works in progress. I needed to replace the covers I made for my Nick Kepler series. They were… okay. Unfortunately, when I decided to release them in print, the city skyline pixilated. Jennette and I went back and forth on cover ideas for Bad Religion and came up with something that changed the entire branding of the series. Now all the covers have a similar look and feel. What did I pay her?

Compleat KeplerI’m to take a red pen to some of her work. The only money exchanged was for licensing fees on the cover photos.

Barter is not perfect, though. You have to have something to trade the other writer. You need to pick someone who can do what you need them to do, and vice versa. Not everyone can edit or format a book or make impressive covers. Choose carefully. This is your business, whether you think of it that way or not.

One benefit of barter is that, if you do something enough for other people and get really good at it, you have a new line of business. Many editors and cover artists I know started out this way.

Embrace barter. It’s an important tool for the independent writer.

Northcoast Shakedown    Secondhand Goods    Bad Religion

About Jim: Born near Cleveland in 1966, Jim Winter had a vivid imagination – maybe too vivid for his own good – that he spun into a career as a writer. He is the author of Northcoast Shakedown, a tale of sex, lies, and insurance fraud – and Road Rules, an absurd heist story involving a stolen holy relic. Jim now lives in Cincinnati with his wife Nita and stepson AJ. To keep the lights on, he is a web developer and network administrator by day. Visit him at http://www.jamesrwinter.net, like Jim Winter Fiction on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter @authorjimwinter.

Jennette says: The original covers on Jim’s Nick Kepler books were not serving his books well. Covers need to not only draw attention in a crowded marketplace, they also need to communicate genre and the overall tone of the book, which the original covers did not do. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in graphic design and worked in that field for over ten years before transitioning into software, but even someone without that kind of experience can pick up some design skills with practice, some trial and error, and possibly some training. I’ve heard good things about Dean Wesley Smith‘s online workshop on cover design from authors who’ve taken it. Jim is definitely getting better with practice, as The Compleat Winter cover shows, and I’ve no doubt he’ll continue to improve.

On the other hand, not everyone has the inclination or the interest to take on the learning curve that designing a good book cover entails, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Much better to pay someone–or barter!–and give your book the best chance possible in an increasingly difficult market.

Jim has a new release out–The Compleat Winter, a collection of crime fiction short stories, available at AmazonBarnes & Noble and other online retailers in both ebook and print. His Nick Kepler series and short story collection, and other works are available there as well. His books are action-packed and entertaining with a good dash of humor, so if you like crime fiction, check them out.

ROW80Logo175As for my ROW80 update, I wrote 4000 words on the WIP this week, so that’s a win! Didn’t hit the fitness or the website project, but I made good progress on the latter.

What about you–if you’re an indie author, do you design your own covers? I do my own–for my publisher. 🙂 Whether or not you’re a writer, have you ever bartered skills you’re good at for ones you’re not? Got questions about Jim and my bartering process? (Just an FYI–I’m booked for at least the next year). If you’re participating in ROW80, we’re about halfway through the round–how are you doing? Please share–I’d love to hear from you! And if you have questions for Jim, I’m sure he’ll be happy to pop in and answer.

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Guest Blog: Jim Winter

First of all, thanks to Jim for joining us here, and helping to make the mundane magical! I’ve known Jim for a loooooong time – we met my freshman year in college, <cough> years ago, through a mutual friend. I served as an early sounding board for some of Jim’s early Star Trek fanfic (you knew I’d mention that, didn’t you?:)) and later, as a beta reader for his first efforts at publishing crime fiction. Jim returned the favor and gave me some good advice for Time’s Enemy, and assured me that, yes, Tony indeed thought and acted like a guy.

So let’s dig a little deeper, and take a look at what makes Jim – and his characters – tick:

Jim, you’ve been published before by a small press. Your novel, Northcoast Shakedown, was a crime fic piece that I really enjoyed, even though that’s not a genre I read a lot. Please share your publishing experience with us:

Well, when I signed, the publisher was full of energy, and everyone on the roster became everyone else’s cheerleader. There were some hiccups getting Northcoast out, but it was a fun ride. And at the time, I had some money to spend on travel, so I used that to beef up my networking and get to know authors and booksellers. That first year was fun.

The second year was not so fun, but when any business goes under, there’s no clean way to sever ties. It’s too bad, because I really thought they could do something or be a decent launchpad for a lot of the writers. I think that’s true of a lot of small presses when they overreach. I remember UglyTown did not go quietly, despite both the publishers’ and authors’ best efforts, and Point Blank just sort of faded away. But for a short time in the middle of the last decade, it was a wild ride.

There are two more books featuring Nick Kepler, the protagonist of NCS, both of which I also beta-read and really enjoyed. I remember reading Bad Religion at work during a slow period, and having to restrain myself from laughing out loud. IMO, these books deserve to see publication, and NCS deserves another chance. Now that you’ve gone indie, do you have any plans to (re)release them?

Northcoast will definitely be out later this year. Noir master Ken Bruen wrote me a very nice intro, and I found out it was sitting on a shelf he uses for quotes when he writes. So I was very touched by Ken’s intro. He’s been one of my mentors for years, and I have one project under wraps that will bear his name on the dedication page. I’m not saying which one.

The second book, aptly titled Second Hand Goods, is going to get a rewrite and a fresh edit. I’ve evolved as a writer, and since its collected cyberdust for the last five years, I can look at it a bit more objectively.

Bad Religion is just screaming for some fresh material based on my experiences since the early drafts. I’ll likely downplay Nick and Elaine somewhat to focus on some of the other characters.

Road Rules coverWhich brings me to your new release, Road Rules. This book has a history of its own, including snagging an agent’s interest. Can you share a bit of that with us?

The seeds of Road Rules have been around for some time. Tim Mason was the earliest. A mutual acquaintance of yours and mine introduced me to this weird coworker. I’d toyed with making him a lawyer in a standalone (picturing Seth Green in the part) and a thorn in Kepler’s side, a role eventually taken by the Eric Teasdale character.

A couple years later, my publisher and I kicked around the road trip idea. I wrote a short sketch about two guys in a stolen Cadillac trying to get to Miami. Tim Mason sort of attached himself to the story.

After I got orphaned, a few friends prodded me into doing NaNoWriMo in 2006. So I fleshed out the story, hit on the idea of the decadent, yet spiritual drug lord, Julian Franco as the cause of all this chaos, and boom! The story demanded to be written.

Road trip stories are always fun! I love your tagline, “The road to hell begins with a stolen car.” But what really pulled me in were the characters. Were there any particular events, places, things you saw/heard/read that inspired the overall premise of the book, its events, or any of the characters?

The route they took was once the “long way home” from Hilton Head, SC, over a few years last decade. And having visited Savannah a few times in the process left me longing to write something set in that city. I still wanted to write about Cleveland, where I-77 begins, so the setting fell together easily.

I saw a few shows on History about holy relics and one of those true crime things about the theft of one such relic. Put those together in a city with a large Slavic population and you get St. Jakob.

Mike is based on years of working in the insurance industry. Maybe too many years. And Cinnamon was part of my desire not to have a bunch of macho white guys hosing the freeway down with testosterone. Plus, instead of the angsty tarnished knight, she’s someone just trying to prove herself.

Back in May, you released your first indie title, a short story called “A Walk in the Rain” (also a good read). What made you decide to go indie?

Well, crime doesn’t really pay well. Of course, I’ve got a short story in West Coast Crime Wave coming out this month from Bstsllr.com, which I did get paid for, but the paying markets are few and far between. I decided to get paid for my short work. I also found out that 1.) It’s the cover, stupid (though content still rules), 2.) people don’t really buy a lot of short fiction on Amazon unless it’s a collection, and 3.) it might help if you actually market an ebook.

(Jennette: A Walk in the Rain is available at Amazon for $0.99.)

Now that you’ve tasted the control and flexibility that comes with indie publishing, are you still pursuing a traditional publishing contract, or perhaps another agent?

I think eventually, I’d like to go traditional, but only under certain circumstances. I’m in a position now where I don’t have to make this a career. So the terms have to be right, and I have to be able to keep control of material I’ve already published. But if the right deal can be worked out, sure, I’ll sign.

Are you planning to offer Road Rules in print?

If enough copies sell, I’ll put it on CreateSpace. If a publisher makes a sweet enough offer, I’ll seriously consider it.

Now that Road Rules is out, what’s next for Jim Winter?

Northcoast, as I said, will be coming out. And the other two Keplers will see revisions and fresh edits. Then there’s my “magnum opus,” which I’ve been reworking since the original draft checked in at 105,000 words.


Thanks again for being here, Jim! And to everyone else, Road Rules is a fantastic, fun read that you owe it to yourself to check out, even if you don’t normally read crime fiction. It’s a fast-paced caper that will keep you reading – and laughing – all the way from Ohio to Georgia, along with Mike, Stan, and Cinnamon. Road Rules is available in your choice of e-formats for a knockout price of $ .99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Jim keeps a fun, entertaining blog at http://eviljwinter.wordpress.com where he writes about books, publishing, sports, Cincinnati, technology, and whatever else strikes his fancy.

Anyone have questions for Jim? Feel free to ask, or just comment to say Hi!