by Cathi Stevenson There are "creative" ways to get your book on the best sellers' lists without the bother of having to wait for sales, reviews or even writing a book that's popular. This is a repetitive scandal that breaks again ever few years or so with different players. I've seen it so many times since I started working in the self-publishing industry 15 years ago, that I hardly bat an eye any more. The writers of this article did their due diligence though, and it shows how using these questionable method can backfire. The Huffington Post covered the buying of reviews last year. You can actually get a review on almost anything for $5. Another article about buying reviews ran on The New York Times site back in 2012. Many retailers have made attempts to thwart both practices, but even after exhaustively weeding out the cheaters, it's only a matter of time until someone reinvents the wheel, or comes up with a new spin for it.
by Cathi Stevenson Resources Worth Checking Out Here are some resources from other countries, or older resources that still have a lot of valuable insight and information to share. The Guardian (UK news source) has expanded greatly since launching on the Interwebs and they have an entire section dedicated to self-publishing. Many well-researched and interesting articles Dan Poynter is referred to as "the guru of self-publishing." He was doing it back in the '70s, before it was cool. He has a newsletter that allows authors to introduce new books, ask for subjects to interview and lots of useful, short articles. Check out ParaPublishing.com If you're looking for an editor (or any book production professional) who has proven herself, then check out the awesome freelancers at Mediabistro.com. The downsizing of publishing houses can work to your benefit. The brightest and the best are going freelance.
by Cathi Stevenson When Authors Go Bad Article here about an author behaving badly. Describes how author Kathleen Hale targeted and stalked a reader for giving her a one star review. Yikes!! And double yikes!! to this "humorous" piece Hale herself wrote about killing animals. In case you're into this sort of thing, here's another interesting story about an author chasing down a reviewer, with far more serious results. The reviewer claims the author actually attacked her and hit her on the head with a wine bottle. You don't have to do much to attract this kind of attention it seems. In June, I judged the e-Book Cover Design Awards over at The Book Designer and received a series of very weird e-mails in response to a casual comment I made about a cover. I've also been the subject of two blog posts — one about a project I had nothing to do with (a fact the writer never bother to confirm) and another from a competitor who read a very, very general article I'd written about images on book covers and took it personally. I'd never heard of him before, nor had I seen his book covers. I bet he thinks those TV commercials are really about him, too. Who Is This Mysterious Author? And because we seem to forget there is an entire world of books out there, some even written in languages other than English, here's an interesting guessing game surrounding the real identity of best-selling Italian author Elena Ferrante. (Relax, the books have been translated into English).
by Cathi Stevenson Author Websites Heard some great things about a new WordPress theme that's designed specifically for self-publishing authors. Easy-to-use interface, and book covers above the fold. It's $35 at Creative Market. It was offered for free for a while, but none of those links appear to be working any more. Publisher Woes Lots of buzz about money troubles at Ellora's Cave. Writer Beware has the scoop. Hugh C. Howey Taking a Few Hits Howey's unbending defense of Amazon is irking a few people. Salon writer Rob Spillman is the latest to take a shot at Howey.
by Cathi Stevenson It really is the little things that count. Things that many people might not consciously notice when they're there, but miss when they're not there. This is true even when laying out a book. Spacing between lines, words, the type of numbers you choose, the font, drop caps...these are all essential elements that need to be considered if you want a book that is both pleasing to look at and easy to read. Book layout really is an art. That might be hard to believe in this world of technology, where it's possible to do such work by merely choosing a few options in some software program. But, if you take just two minutes — literally, to watch this video, you will learn a few things that can take your book layout from boring and amateurish, to sleek and professional. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOruWL2FOCs
by Cathi Stevenson Book sales are no easy thing to achieve in today’s market. Even the most riveting stories, polished by the best editors and proofreaders can fade into oblivion soon after they’re released. Reviews help, but it’s difficult to get enough reviews to sway an ambiguous reader into making a purchase, so you might have to promote your book with wit and charm or even controversy. The most efficient way to do this is by connecting directly with your audience online. For this reason, it’s important to include a professional website or blog in your marketing plan. It can involve a heavy investment in time to create a website, or you can hire someone to do the heavy lifting, but financially, it’s one of the least expensive forms of promotion available. Blog-style sites are by far the easiest to set up and maintain. Blogs require little or no knowledge of web design and allow the writer to log in and post an article in minutes. Blogs also allow readers to comment on each post, which optimizes the interaction between author and audience. Comments can be turned off or restricted with the click of a button, to avoid any issues with spam. The author is in complete control. Accepting and responding to comments also gives a writer the opportunity to build a customer base and mailing list (as long as he or she asks permission before eMailing anyone) to make announcements. Fees to have a blog professionally designed start as low as a few hundred dollars. Your dot com (the URL or web address people will use to find your site) will probably cost $15 – $20 per year. While there are plenty of free blog hosting sites available, it’s easier for people to find your site and remember it, if the URL is customized. You can invite readers to your site via a Facebook page, Twitter, Stumbled Upon and other social networking resources that are fairly easy to set up and maintain—and free. You, or your graphic designer, can create a customized look across these platforms, so people will immediately be able to recognize it as your brand, which is preferable to having the same header and layout as 100 other authors in your genre—often the case for people using free templates with no customization. I asked well-known agent Andrea Brown of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, if she thought it was important for authors to have an online presence and she replied, “short answer is yes—authors must have.” That opinion is shared by Gwen Gades, owner of Dragon Moon Press in Alberta, Canada. “Social media is very important, as is author branding. More and more readers choose based not just on a book, but because they have gotten to know an author “personally”. Large publishing houses, including Random House have an online biography for each of their authors that includes book cover images, links to purchase their books, links to personal blogs and websites, as well as Facebook pages. Harlequin has a similar setup for its romance authors. The Penguin Group (USA) has also recognized the importance of authors having and online presence and have a PDF called Penguin Authors Guide to Online Marketing, published back in 2008 (Google the title if you want to see it). If you’re a small press owner or self-publisher, you’ll want to spend your time and money wisely, and in today’s market that should be in online promotions where you’ll be able to reach the highest number of people for the least amount of investment.
by Cathi Stevenson
…it was nine years before I finally sold to Dorchester. If anything could go wrong for an aspiring author, it went wrong for me. Everything from a lost manuscript (I waited for a whole year on that one), agents who lost interest (three of them), editors who were young enough to be my daughters who moved from line to line and house to house, shuffling my manuscript back and forth, and so on.When did you publish your first book? Pam Crooks: My first book was released by Dorchester Publishing in 2001. That book was Wyoming Wildflower, which is still my mother’s favorite. How long did it take you to find a publisher who would work with you? Pam Crooks: Forever, it seems. But all told, it was nine years before I finally sold to Dorchester. If anything could go wrong for an aspiring author, it went wrong for me. Everything from a lost manuscript (I waited for a whole year on that one), agents who lost interest (three of them), editors who were young enough to be my daughters who moved from line to line and house to house, shuffling my manuscript back and forth, and so on. But finally, everything clicked, I found an editor who loved my work, and I sold, bing, bing, bing. Did you have an agent? Pam Crooks: I’d had 3 agents who failed at making a sale for me, and I parted ways with all of them. Ironically, I sold to Dorchester on my own. I didn’t get an agent until my fourth book with them. If so, do you still have the same agent? Pam Crooks: Yes. She still handles my Harlequin titles for me. How many traditionally published books have you produced including the first one? Pam Crooks: I’ve traditionally published 14 books, four with Dorchester Publishing and 10 with Harlequin Historicals. What book was the most popular? Pam Crooks: Hannah’s Vow, but not when it was still with Dorchester. When I got the rights back, I self-published the book in 2011, and it went on to make me an Amazon bestseller. What role did or does editing have in the success of these traditionally-published books? Pam Crooks: There were some revisions that I made gritting my teeth, others that definitely made the book stronger. It’s all subjective, of course, but when I was with Harlequin, their focus was and always will be on the relationship of the hero and heroine. Sometimes I felt like I was hitting the reader over the head with angst, but it was what my editor wanted, so I did it. Did you find the series books more popular than single story books? Pam Crooks: Definitely. Readers love to find out what happens to the characters in time. They want to see a couple happily married with kids. And they love seeing secondary characters given their own stories. What impact did e-books have on your traditionally published books? Pam Crooks: Well, I quit writing the traditionally published books. They were all historical western romances, and I was ready for a change right about the time the big e-book wave hit in 2011. Why did you decide to start republishing some of your traditionally published books yourself? Were these released by you only in electronic format? Pam Crooks: About the time authors were really starting to hit it big with e-books, Dorchester Publishing was having serious financial difficulties. They began releasing their authors and giving rights back. I’d always felt that Dorchester never gave my books the attention and promo they deserved, and it broke my heart that they were languishing in some warehouse, so I was quick to get my rights back and self-publish. I’ve been happy to give them new life as e-books. You’ve since started self-publishing your new releases. What prompted you to do this? Pam Crooks: The speed, the control, the fun of being able to do everything myself. I love having the book available for sale in a matter of hours and seeing the sales each day. When before were authors given the liberty of knowing how much money they were making every day? When before had they been paid every month? That’s huge. Much, much better than getting paid twice a year, and even then, having a good chunk of the money held back in reserve. The icing on the cake, though, has to be working with my designer on the cover. Once the manuscript has been formatted and ready for upload, it’s the prize for all the months of hard work. It’s the one thing that makes the book real. It’s always a creative adrenaline rush for me. What was the first book you released totally self-published? Pam Crooks: Her Mother’s Killer. It was actually a Harlequin Intrigue that my editor at the time wanted to buy, but the senior editor rejected it. Back then, it was a tough line to get into. Not enough slots for the number of submissions. Too many good books never got bought because there just wasn’t enough room. Was it available in print and e-book? Pam Crooks: Yes. Which sold better and what would you do differently now if you could go back? Pam Crooks: Her Mother’s Killer earned out in a matter of a couple of weeks, and the cover (which I think is awesome) and the title played a big part in getting it noticed. What would I do differently? I’d probably do more social media. I don’t like spending the time on it, but they say it’s what sells books. Also, e-books always sell better than print. Price and convenience are what it’s all about. You experimented with a pseudonym and then went back to your real name. Can you tell us a bit about that and why you abandoned the idea? Pam Crooks: Since the time I entered the e-publishing world in 2011, the market has exploded. It’s getting harder and harder to be noticed, and an author has to constantly promote herself. In late 2012 and early 2013, I could tell the difference in the market, and it was just too hard (for me) to promote not only my real name but a pseudonym, too. Because there is such a huge glut of books out there, readers are overwhelmed from the selection. Their eyes glaze over. I found out the hard way that most of them will only buy from an author they know. Plus, losing the opportunity to browse through a book in a brick and mortar bookstore — impulse buying — played a factor as well. You recently re-released a self-published book with a new cover that is geared more for the romance genre, as opposed to the original, which was more masculine and seemed to be aimed at men and women. Why did you decide to do that? Pam Crooks: There’s nothing bigger and better than romance in the publishing world. It’s what I’ve always read and always written. It’s what I’m known for writing. Romance readers are voracious, some of them buying 20-30 books a month. They’re online, they’re in book clubs, and they’re in libraries. I knew I had to go back to my roots and make my life easier. Besides, I missed writing it. Have you noticed an improvement in sales since then? Pam Crooks: Within hours of changing the categories to romance on a free short story I’d written as part of the Secret Six series, my downloads quadrupled and I was pushed into the top 100 in my category. Review requests for The Spyglass Project sky-rocketed. Sales began to pick up. All of this convinced me I’d made the right decision in going back to writing under my own name in the romance genre. Why did I ever think I should have done anything different? What are your thoughts on free books or giveaways? Pam Crooks: I understand the business logic of free books spurring sales of a series, and it has catapulted many authors to bestseller lists. But it took me a long, long time before I ever wanted to give away my own work for free. When I finally did, I had 36,000 downloads and I refused to let myself calculate how much money I would’ve made if all those downloads had been paid at full royalty. But in the past 9 – 12 months, the effectiveness of ‘free’ has been greatly diluted. There’s been such a huge glut of free books that many readers refuse to pay for one. I heard one reader boast that she had enough free books on her Kindle to last her three lifetimes. What has been the most successful marketing technique you’ve employed for your self-published books. Is it different for print than e-books? Pam Crooks: I honestly can’t pinpoint one thing that was more successful than another. I’m convinced it’s a combination of things, trying new ways to keep my name visible on Amazon, everything from switching out keywords and categories and even changing my cover to keep the title fresh. I’m working on building a stronger presence on Facebook, and I’m getting ready to do a big mailing of chapter books to book clubs around the country. Time will tell if one effort stands out over the others. Other than doing a couple of print book give-aways on Goodreads (e-books are not allowed in their contests), marketing is the same for both print and e-book. Do you have more books in the works to be traditionally published? Pam Crooks: Not at this time. What are you working on right now? Pam Crooks: I’m working on Book 2 of the Secret Six series, tentatively titled, The Brewer’s Daughter. What advice would you give new authors trying to self-publish or trying to get published traditionally? Pam Crooks: If an author is considering self-publishing, I strongly encourage her to do her homework first. There’s a huge learning curve. I’ve been at this for a couple of years now, and I’m still learning. If an author can afford to pay to have the formatting, etc, done, even better. But if they have to pay for anything, be sure to pay for a professional edit—it’s imperative. Even though it’s tempting, don’t upload the book in too much of a hurry. Have the best product you can make. Same goes with traditional publishing. Learn, write, revise and then repeat. Make it your mantra.
by Cathi Stevenson The files you supply must be created properly, or you’re going to have issues. Some printers will print whatever you send, and don’t check anything. Others, like Lightning Source (LSI) are more particular and more expensive. But you get what you pay for and I think they’re worth it. You absolutely have to make sure your files are properly formatted. There’s no sense creating a cover in Word (it doesn’t work with the right color gamut) or even the beloved GIMP, which is an awesome software, but alas, it too will not work with CMYK files. You’ll have no problem creating an e-book cover with these programs, but print is a bit more technical. If you’re going to be paying money for print proofs, you might as well do it right the first time. WARNING: The following contains technical jargon which you should be familiar with (you are the project manager), so I’ve provided links that will explain them to you within the text.
- If you’re using LSI, you will want to use their cover template generator. It will supply your customized cover template in EPS, PDF or InDesign formats, and your barcode will be in the file (you have to give them your ISBN). Color should be CMYK. Some printers will accept RGB files, but they’re still printing in CMYK. This means they’ll flip the color “on the fly” and you’ll be forced to deal with the results. As you can see from my link, they’re not always good.
- No more than 240% black or color saturation on the cover. Again, some printers don’t care, but if you’re printing with LSI it’s necessary. They will send you a .csf file to use with all your Adobe programs if you ask them nicely, so you won’t have to worry about this, the software will adjust things as you go.
- 300 dpi for everything. Don’t think that because you enlarged an image it will work. A 300 dpi image that was doubled in size becomes a 150 dpi image no matter how you’ve fooled the software into saying otherwise. So, while you might get by the prepress check, you’ll still end up with poor print quality. I wasn’t able to find a simple explanation of this online, so I created this image. You can see on the middle image that was simply enlarged to 300 dpi from 72 dpi that the quality is nowhere near as good as the one to the right, that was created at 300 dpi. But, as the one on the left shows, 72 dpi is fine for online purposes.
- Good fonts. Use them. All fonts are not created equal.
- Make sure to check that your fonts have embedded after you export the PDF. If you don’t, you could be in for some unpleasant surprises when a substitute font ends up in your printed book, throwing off your layout. In Adobe Acrobat Pro you can check this in Files/Properties/Fonts and beside the list of fonts it should say embedded or subset embedded.
Darker Covers Can Cause Problems
- Putting a lot of ink or toner on a book will mean a longer drying time. Heavy inking/toner sometimes causes issues with the lamination or other finishes not adhering as well (remember, you’re not attaching the coating to the porous paper, you’ve putting it on smoother ink/toner).
- Denser ink/toner creates a “layer” on the paper and that can crack and peel over time.
- Then there are “hickeys” which often appear in large areas of solid color and are most prevalent on darker colors. While they are simply a fact of life in printing, since darker colors require more drying time, so there’s more of a chance dust particles will land on the paper and create a “hickey” effect.
It costs just as much to produce bad book covers or bad marketing materials as it does to produce good ones. Everyone has seen the poorly rendered 3d-style images that look like robotic mannequins. Sometimes people will combine these with photos and even clipart. It’s bad. It’s really, really bad. It would be far better to go with a nice font and use creatively designed text to fill the space. If you really must have some graphic detail, consider an abstract background or use of color. How many times have you seen a book for freelance writers with a manual typewriter on the cover? How many freelancers are still using manual typewriters? What does a manual typewriter even have to do with freelancing in today’s world? Even a modern computer keyboard probably isn’t going to be interesting enough or unique enough to catch someone’s eye. How many times have you seen disembodied shaking hands on business marketing materials, advertisements and even billboards? Again, if you don’t have the budget or creativity to get to “wow," just use text. It didn’t hurt sales for the bestseller, The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. These Skype ads are little more than text and logo and they're pretty awesome. And this ad against workplace aggression says it all. The right graphic designer will be able to create great brochures and marketing material like this and this and this and this with nothing more than a keyboard. You can also manipulate the text to create interest like the designers did for the book cover for Drive, by Daniel H. Pink and Heat, by Bill Buford. You can try a creative twist on words like TiVibu did for their ad series (and here and here). Keep in mind that the font is what's doing the heavy lifting on these designs, so choose carefully. No Comic Sans, or upper case cursive text that no one can read. Another big mistake is the cliché image. Using chess pieces on books about business or business marketing materials has been done — to death! One book production company recently published a book that not only used the old chess cliché, it actually had the pawn featured on the book cover. Whose goal is to be a pawn? Other overused clichés that small business owners and publishers can’t seem to let go of include puzzle pieces and locks and keys. Unless you’ve thought of a completely fresh way to use these elements, come up with another idea. They have simply been used too often. Image desperation sometimes leads people into choosing the wrong illustration all together. The cover or marketing materials should demonstrate the solution, not the problem. If your book is about raising a happy child, don’t put a crying toddler on the cover. Your solution — the topic of the book, the information people want — is the happy child, not the weepy one. If you're a locksmith, don't put an image of a desperate person locked outside in the rain on your marketing materials. When’s the last time you saw an obese model on the cover of a weight loss book? Hint: never! That’s because they’re selling thin, thin is the solution. And avoid the temptation to be too clever, it is insulting to your audience. If your book is called A Blueprint to Happiness, do not put the blueprints for a house on the cover. Also stay away from anything that could be construed as offensive. One publishing company has its own promotional book cover featuring a naked statue with the male appendage almost dead-center. I’m not suggesting these elements can never work; They just need to be handled carefully and with originality, otherwise your message will get lost in the crowd, look dated or worse, shout “amateur”. Having a solid, professional design greet your potential customers increases you’re chances of getting noticed.
by Cathi Stevenson If you don't want your staff spending time answering the same questions over and over, make sure your messages are clear. That means signs, whether they're impromptu types of information taped to the front door, or important notices about meetings, need to be designed so they're noticed and people can read them. By age 40, most of us can read something 10 inches away. By age 50, that distance is usually closer to 16 inches and it increases as you get older. This condition, called presbyopia, is caused by the eye loosing its ability to focus and approximately 90 million Americans suffer from it. When you consider this and other eye conditions that affect vision, you can understand how essential it is for publishers to choose fonts with great care. This doesn’t apply just to the interior of the book, but to the title, back cover text, online ads, websites, posters and any printed matter that will be used in promoting your books. Here’s a little trick that will test the legibility of your font under less than ideal circumstances: just set a few lines and blur the text in Photoshop or similar software. Do letters such as a, o and d fill in? Do tall letters like i and t and l look alike? Are the letters so close together they’re just one big blur? Do narrow parts of the glyph (glyphs are the letters, numbers, punctuation marks, etc.. that we use to write with) vanish all together? Some fonts that fit this criteria include: Futura, Futura Condensed Bold, Futura Book, (but not Futura Light, condensed or bold), Frutiger Light, Frutiger, Frutiger Bold, Gill Sans, Gill Sans Bold (but not Gill Sans Light) Otpima, Bodoni, Bodini Book. Century Schoolbook, (not Century Schoolbook Bold) Garamond, Garamond Semibold, (but not Garamond Bold), Palatino and Palatino Bold. Remember, no one is going to struggle to read your message.