Monday, December 26, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 12...the Silver Bullet of Marketing

I wish a marketing silver bullet existed. I’ve seen ads, websites and books all touting they can get you big books sales. But I think what Joleene Naylor said in last week’s blog sums it up: If the product or service guarantees your book will be a success, walk away. No one can guarantee that.” 

But I can give you some of my thoughts.

Press Release. If you have a target, then a good thing.  I used a press release with a local newspaper that ran a feature of me and an upcoming book signing. Shot gunning news services without a clear goal, not a good thing.

Giving away books. It’s good PR. Trading free books for reviews never worked for me. They take the book and nada.

Discounting books. Yeah, it probably boosts sales but at what price?  It takes lots of sales at $0.99 to yield same profit at $2.99.  Still give it shot and see what happens.

Social Media. Not sure it will bring in sales, but it’s a great way to brand your name and your books.

Reviews. A good thing, although all five stars makes me wonder. Is the book that good or does the author have lots of friends?

Reviews on book blogs. I find most reviewers are swamped. Go for an interview instead. It takes less work for the reviewer and gets the same exposure. For the most fun, see if you can get a live interview.

Learn how to write. Putting out inferior work will not help futures sales. People will take a chance on a new writer once. But they will not keep buy clunkers.

Do a great cover. Eye candy sells. People judge a book by the cover.

Take your time. No one is an overnight success.

Most important: make writing your passion. This isn’t for the money. It’s for the reader.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 11...guest blogger Joleene Naylor

There’s an old piece of advice, “If you want to get rich during a gold rush, sell shovels.”

In the world of self-publishing this translates to “sell services to the authors.” This might be editing, formatting, book covers or even high-priced advice. It includes book trailers, and mysterious “associations”. It can mean websites, blogs, promotional services, advertisements, and in some cases even book reviews. Of course everyone offering these services just wants to help you.

Or not. While there are many legit people out there offering quality services, there are a LOT of scams, shysters and people who are just out for a quick buck. I’ve met authors who’ve paid $200 or more for a cover that shouldn’t have cost more the $35, or who pay $1,000 or more for editing or formatting services.

Recently, I ran into an “affiliate” group that cost $50 to join, then another $50 to enter each of their contests. It was packaged as a great promotional tool – but to who? As a reader, I’d never heard of them, and it’s a safe bet that 90% of the readers out there haven’t. Most readers don’t care whether your book has a pseudo award from someone they’ve never heard of. What they care about is that you have a GOOD book.

Unfortunately that means you might just need those editing, formatting and book cover services.
What’s the best way to navigate this maze of confusion and potential pick pockets? Research. Before you hire anyone, pay money to join any group, or sign up for anything, research it. Google search for the name of the person/company. Add the word “scam” after it and search again.  Did you get results? Check their webpage and look for the fine print. Talk to authors who’ve used them. It only takes five minutes to use google or post a query on a message board or to your author friends. 

Many of the authors who get taken for a ride ended up there because they didn’t do the above. As a book cover artist, I’m surprised at how many people hire me without checking out my work or my website and are willing to prepay. Though I’m not cheating them, they don’t know that going in. Yes, word of mouth gets around, but if you’re not listening, how are you going to hear it? 

Here are some simple tips to remember before you pay anyone for anything:

  • Never pay for something you can realistically do yourself.
  • Is this a service you actually NEED?
  • If it’s a promotion, is it geared at your target audience? Facebook ads and other broad tactics seem like a great idea, but their reach is vague.
  • If the product or service guarantees your book will be a success, walk away. No one can guarantee that.
  • Research others who offer the same service and compare prices of at least five companies/people.
  • ALWAYS check the company/person’s website. If they have an About page or a Frequently Asked Questions page then read it.
  • Before you pay to join a group, talk to some of the members and ask them what they’ve gotten out of it.
  • Before purchasing any How To books, check the reviews to make sure the book was actually helpful.
  • Before you pay to enter a contest see how many people have heard of it.
  • Check with people who have used the company or service. Were they satisfied?
  • Never pay for an Amazon/Good Reads review.
  • Never hire anyone if you haven’t seen a sample of their work.

Joleene Naylor is an independent author, freelance artist and photographer for fun who loves anime, music and writing. Check out her vampire series AMARANTHINE and more at

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 10...Its what's inside that counts

A big thanks to Tony McFadden for his guest blog, sharing some of his thoughts and techniques on laying out the paperback. The inside of a paperback is going to be more complicated than the ebook. Things that have to be considered are margins, headers, page numbers and various parts of the book like the title page, copyright page, dedication and so on.

I am sure that a hundred writers will have a hundred ways to layout the book.  The front which is made up of the title page, copyright notice, dedication and credits doesn't get numbered, or it can get number in lowercase roman numerals. i...ii....iii...iv.... Either way, I suggest not putting a number on the title page. Generally the main body of the paperback books gets numbered. 1...2...3... After the last page that has THE END, stop numbering. Biography and post material does not get numbered. Leave them blank.  The back of the book is a place to some advertising.  (This goes for ebooks too.) Web address, blog site and plugs for upcoming books go here.  Its also not a back idea to include the beginning of the first chapter of the next book.

There's no one right way to format. I will give you my formula here. I put my name in the top left header and the book title in the right. I center the page numbers at the bottom.   My chapters start about 1/3 the way down with a chapter number and title in bold, larger than the body text.  Also somethings to consider are the margins and most tricky is the margin on the bound side as it must be slight wider than the outside margins.  Having a good working knowledge of WORD can be good when doing margins size, the gutter, mirror margins, section breaks and page breaks.

Now that I have scared a few people off, let me tell you about the easy way. Createspace offers templates that can be downloaded.  Pretty much I started with the template and cut/pasted from my working copy to the template. I still needed to do some tweaking, but it was a far less daunting task. 

When ready I converted the whole thing into a PDF which is later uploaded to Createspace.  The PDF is WYSIWYG. If it looks good, that is most likely the way it will look in the printed book.

Happy formatting!

Ron D. Voigts is the author of PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE and PENELOPE AND THE GHOST'S TREASURE, both are available from Amazon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 9...Why I Format for Paperback First.

This week’s guest blogger is Tony McFadden author of Matt’s War, Book 'Em - An Eamonn Shute Mystery and G'Day L.A. I recently had the pleasure of reading the pre-released copy of Family Matters. Please welcome Tony!

Ron has been leaving little nuggets all over the interwebs helping writers who want to self-publish get their heads around the ins and outs of it all. I’m happy to add my two cents worth.

I’m in the middle (almost literally) of writing the first draft of book number five. When the copy edits and structural fixes and all of the other clean ups are finished, my first formatting exercise will be for paperback.

Use whichever service suits you. I’m using Createspace and highly recommend them, but use whatever you’re happy with. 

Aside from the fact that taking a paperback format and converting it to a Smashwords/Kindle format is easier than the reverse, there are some things that magically happen when you have paperback production as your first step.

You are forced to create a high quality cover. As minor as this may seem, a good cover on your eBook draws eyes, piques interest and will get the casual browser to take the next step (reading the blurb – more later). You’ve all read the guidance about making sure your cover works as a thumbnail, since that’s the image most readers will see first. Working on a trade paperback (6” x 9”) cover lets you focus on those elements as a priority, and not as an after thought.

The back cover design is just as important, and that’s where the blurb comes in. Again, you’re forced to make this count. It’s going to be printed and you want it to be the second step to the interior. The front cover is the smile, the back cover is the caress. I found (and this may not be true with for all writers) that the blurb on my first book tended to be a five minute exercise to fill in a box when I was creating ebooks only. Hit a book store (if you can find a bricks and mortar establishment still standing) and read a couple of dozen back covers in the genre you are writing. There’s a pattern. Copy the pattern. (Don’t copy the blurb. That makes no sense.)

If we extend the metaphor, after the smile (front cover) and the caress (back cover) is the relationship. The story. The interior design. This is a “why I do it this way” post, and not a “how I do it” post, but a little bit of overlap is inevitable. When the interior is formatted (Createspace have dozens of templates to choose from), that’s where the magic happens. I’ll find I spill a few lines on to the last page of the chapter. These hangers are ugly and the only way to remove them is to go back in the chapter and tighten it. And this is after you thought it couldn’t get any tighter. Get it cleaned up, make sure the typography doesn’t overpower the story, and order your proof.

I know. Createspace allows you to proceed without a proof, but that is one of the craziest things you can do. Order it, just one, and when it arrives sit down with your feet up, red pen in hand, and read your book as if it were the newest release from your favorite author. (You are your favorite author, aren’t you?)

I guarantee you that you will find errors you would have never believed existed. There’s something about the words on a printed page that highlights all the silly stuff. Mark your book with a red pen until it’s perfect. That includes the cover and the back blurb. 

Added bonus: When the newly revised book is going through the building process at Createspace (or your POD house of choice) you can take that newly corrected doc file and strip the formatting and build the Smashwords and Kindle versions in about an hour. When your eBooks are available, so will your paperbacks. The full meal deal.