Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Paying It Forward Part Two

This is part two of what I've learned about Independent Publishing (so far).

Formatting is not as difficult as some people would have you believe. At this stage of the process, your head is swirling with new information and it might seem daunting, but it isn’t. If you absolutely can’t wrap your head around it, or choose to do something else with your time, you can pay someone to format it for you. But you should at least know which pitfalls to avoid so that formatting can proceed smoothly.
   Smashwords has an excellent formatting manual. Even if you don’t use them as your distributor, you would be well served to print it out. Those of us with simple ‘text’ books won’t need a lot of the content, but Smashwords owner Mark Coker has some shortcuts and How To explanations about using Word that are extremely helpful. Don’t be daunted by the size of the manual; pick out what you need.
  Amazon’s instructions are simple as well. They appear to have been written by someone who knows we don’t all speak computerese. Very refreshing. It’s a rapidly evolving business however, so check every once in a while to see if they’ve changed their requirements.
  Here are the main things I do with respect to formatting:
  Before I start typing my manuscript, I define my font, and paragraph settings. If you need help I recommend that you print out the relevant pages on Amazon or Smashwords.
  Please don’t try to Justify your text. There are too many instances where it looks terrible, such as when you’ve used a long word, or a hyphenated word, creating a long word. Justified text is also especially troublesome for people who like to read in larger point sizes.
   I also define the way I want my Chapter Headings to look. To do this I choose either Heading 1 or Heading 2 on those white boxes in Styles. Right Click, and choose Modify. Name your heading (I call it Chapter original),  and then do the formatting.  Everybody is different. I choose Times Roman Bold Italic, 16 Pt, Centered, Color Black, and then I fiddle with the two little boxes under the color box to determine space above the Chapter Heading and the space below it.  When you like the way yours looks, click OK. When it comes time to use it, just highlight the words (Chapter One) and click on the white box that you’ve called Chapter Head. Eh voila, your chapter heads will be consistent.
  The Smashwords manual also recommends that you define Centered, by using the little angled arrow underneath Change Styles. Frankly, I haven’t found this to be necessary, but you could check it out in their manual. They’re the experts.
  I believe that one of these days in the not too distant future, Amazon will require TOC (Table of Content) in all books. It’s just a hunch I have. As at this writing it’s still not mandatory but I think I should learn soon. Amazon’s formatting section offers links to a website showing how to set up TOC.
  I also keep a document file as a reminder of the way I want my title page to look. Name of book, by, and my name in appropriate sizes and spacing. I also have the standard disclaimer, which I copied from somewhere. Choose one that sounds right for you.
  In that same file I also keep the words I use after the book. Links to my other books, my blog, my website, my Author Central Page...all that good stuff. That way I don’t forget anything. This is also a good spot for an excerpt from one of your other books. Just remember to update your file when you add books, or other scintillating information about yourself.
  Before you get into formatting, read the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing pages. There is a list of what they cover on the left-hand side. Looks daunting, but it really isn’t, because they are well written. Spend some time studying them. You’ll be glad you did.
  Amazon accepts a variety of formats. I save as Web Page, Filtered, then use the Mobi Pocket Creator (free program) to convert it for publishing. Amazon does not require this, but when you use the Mobi Pocket you can preview for yourself how it looks and I believe that it uploads faster to Amazon. The first time I did the Mobi Pocket thing, it took me a while to figure out that my book (prc format) was now in a folder called My Publications. That is where you will go when you upload it to Amazon – My Publications, and click on the little book icon. The instructions are on the screen as you proceed. They are quick and simple. Really!

Cover Art
Your cover art is critical. Without a good cover, it’s unlikely that anyone will click on your book, let alone buy it.  My theory is that when it comes to cover art, less is more.  Remember, it’s going to be reduced to thumbnail size. Details will disappear. Don’t try to send a subtle message with your cover. I suppose you could do that, but you won’t sell any books. Don’t use a font that’s difficult to read. I guess that just about covers the “don’t”s.
  Some authors absolutely know what they want on their covers. They’ve studied the other books out there, seen which ones are at the top of the popularity lists, and they have the skills (and the graphics programs) to create their own covers. Even then, they sometimes make mistakes. I certainly have, and I have a graphics background.
  I think my best advice would be not to mislead the customer. I designed a cover once with an embracing nude couple. No jiggly bits showing, but it was obvious that they were nude. There was a scene like that in the book. The book didn’t sell as well as I thought it should, and when I changed the cover to a serene vineyard vista, it started to sell well. Potential readers had thought it was erotica.
  Chick lit books often have cartoonish covers. Books with more sensuality have embracing couples. Sweet romances have...well...sweet covers.  Having said that, there are no hard and fast rules. But be prepared to change your cover if it doesn’t work...even if you’ve had it designed by a professional. The pros are only as good as the input you give them. There are dozens and dozens available online, and they all show their work, so if you don’t want to do your own cover, choose one you can afford. You can expect to pay from $30 to $300 and far beyond that. Ask around and get a reference, and don’t wait until your manuscript is finished.
   By the way, if you find that you need to change your cover, you would be well advised to change your Product Description to indicate that it’s a new cover. Why have customers think that you’re trying to fool them with a new cover? Because that is what they’ll think. Then they’ll get a refund, plus complain to Amazon. Who needs that?

Your Blurb
How long did it take you to write your book? Don’t tell me, I might get jealous, but I’m assuming it took anywhere from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 years. You spent a lot of time and effort on it, so give it the respect it deserves and write a good blurb.
  Your blurb is right up there beside your cover in the importance stakes. You don’t want to misrepresent the story, but you also don’t want to tell the entire story in the blurb. You want to pique the reader’s interest so that he’ll “Look Inside” or download a sample. If possible, keep your sentences short and crisp. Ask a question designed to involve him in the story. Polish it and polish it again. The blurb is your lure, and you catch more fish if it’s a tasty one.

It’s an excellent idea to apply for, and assign an ISBN to your work. You can be doing the necessary paperwork for this before you’ve finished your book. Include the ISBN info when you download to Amazon, and your book will show up in Goodreads. That’s a good thing.

Uploading Your Book
You will have set up an account for yourself, which allows you to go to your Bookshelf.
   Uploading a book is exciting, and relatively painless. Before you start, I would recommend that you check out the first page in the “Add new title” section. You don’t want to be making these decisions on the spot.
   Before you upload your book you will have decided whether or not you are going to enroll your book in KDP Select. This is your personal choice.
   The main section you want to study is Categories. Open Fiction and then the sub-categories and explore them.  If, after a couple of months you think you may have made a mistake, you can always go back and change the categories.
   Do give some advance thought to the keywords (tags). You are permitted seven. They will make your book searchable, and will show up on the book’s sales page. Once your book shows up, many authors recommend adding more tags on your book page until you have max’d out the tagging section with fifteen tags. This prevents other people from coming along and adding tags that don’t make sense.
   With respect to uploading in general, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing has excellent instructions.  Study them. I can’t add any insight beyond what they tell you.
    On the second page you will indicate rights and pricing. This you will already have decided. Check the little box at the bottom of the page and complete. You can follow your book’s progress as it goes through Review and Publishing, to Live. Congratulations.

How to price your books? Here again, ask ten authors and you’ll get ten different responses. I personally think it has everything to do with competition. This is a business; something a lot of us tend to forget. It also has to do with pride in one’s work. I dislike the idea of 99 cent books unless they’re only a few pages long. I would also like to charge more for my novels and perhaps one day that will come to pass. It’s an evolving business.
   The sweet spot currently seems to be $2.99, however many independent authors do very well at $3.99, $4.99 and higher. How much is a latte at your favourite beanery? I rest my case.
   What will you do with all those short stories you’ve been writing? You could combine them as an anthology. If they’re already written, it doesn’t take much to try.

This is a huge topic. It’s also hugely important.
   Do you need to promote your book? Yes. How much, is up to you. This is a business, remember?
    I have a website. I have an Author Page on Amazon. I recently started this blog (it’s fun and I like it), I have an author page on Facebook, I have a Twitter account, and I have an author page on Goodreads. Sound like a lot? It is...probably too much, now that I list them all.
   There are literally hundreds of self-help books telling you how and where to promote your self-published books. A whole industry has grown up around this phenomenon. There is also a plethora (did I really use that word?) of information on-line. Try that first; people want to share their experience.
   I can only say that if I had to give up one thing, it would be Twitter. I love Twitter, but I’m not sure how many actual readers I’m reaching. Secondly I might give up Goodreads. This is a massive and very important site, but frankly I find it difficult to navigate. If you do create a page on Goodreads, take the time to read their section on Author Promotions first. You can set up a special page for yourself as an author.
  Does facebook annoy me? Yes, but I wouldn’t want to give it up. I visit sites relating to romance readers and romance authors. I enjoy hearing what people are reading. It’s a great way to connect with readers. Not always one-on-one, but I listen to what they're saying.
   I also like my website and my blog. Why? Because I want readers to know who I am, as apart from the person who wrote the book they just read.
   The Author Central feature on Amazon is, simply, good business as well. Why would you not list your books, talk about them, post reviews? It’s a no-brainer. Do it.
   Keep in mind that if you choose five separate sites to promote yourself, that’s five separate sites you have to re-visit every time you add a book, or change information on one. I try to do those things after my creativity has dried up for the day.

Free Book Giveaways as Promotion
Many authors give away one of their books as a means to get their name ‘out there’. It works, but you need more than one book of course. Sorry if that’s obvious, but I had to say it. Then there are the free promotional days offered by Amazon as part of the KDP Select program. I read a fascinating article on Squidoo recently on how to manage your free Amazon campaign. Read it for yourself here. I saved it for reference and future consideration.

Paid Advertising
I’ve tried paid advertising. Twice for free book giveaways, and twice to promote a new book. My results were mixed, but it was an experiment. I will try paid advertising again. The ‘best’ sites are sometimes booked up a year in advance. Ouch!

Time Management
Closely related to promotion, because promotion can eat into your time. Ideally, you should set aside a specific amount of time each day for promotion, reading and answering e-mails, etc. If you don’t, you will either drown in it, or you won’t get any new writing done. Remember, I said ideally. The reality will vary.

Lastly, Let’s Talk About Reviews
It’s all in the numbers. The more readers you get, the more reviews you’re likely to get.
   Let’s face it, you will get some nasty reviews. Some authors say you shouldn’t read reviews; they will only upset you. I disagree.
   What do I do after I read a harsh review? After I have a hissy fit, I calm down and read it again. Can I learn anything from it? Hard as this is to admit, the answer is generally yes. A reader will often point out something that my editor and I missed completely.  I don’t rush right out to change it, but the next chance I get, I fix it. Simply re-upload the new version right over the old one on your Bookshelf page.
   There are some reviews that are off the wall. You can generally spot these right away, and readers will recognize them too. But read them; they won’t hurt you. Then to go several best-selling authors' books and read the 1- and 2-star reviews. See? You’re not alone.
   Whatever you do, do not respond to bad reviews. Bite your tongue on that clever reply and go walk around the block. Vacuum the kids’ bedroom, but don’t reply. You will regret it, and it could come back to bite you. Don’t do it.

I Need To Say This Again
A flowery, uplifting ending would be great, but you’ll have to get that from someone else.
   If you are considering writing, formatting, uploading your first book to Amazon or other platform, please ensure that it is your very best work. You need honest, experienced people to tell you if your book is any good, and to point out your errors. Listen to them, and fix what’s wrong in your book. Then upload it and hopefully it will fly.
I wish you all the best.

Mona Ingram

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