8 Tips For Formatting Your Book

8 Tips For Formatting Your Book

This blog post is designed to help fellow independently published authors improve the quality of their work, but most of the tips here apply to the formatting of any book. I’m speaking of the formatting of books for the consumption of readers, not formatting your manuscript to send off to an agent or publisher.  There are a whole other set of rules for that exercise.

I’ve put together a list of ten tips that you should consider when putting your book together. They are not in order of priority, but together, they can make your book stand out from the millions of others available through your favorite sales channel.

1. Put Some Thought Into Your Cover

I have to admit, this was something I didn’t waste a lot of time on when I published my first book, Frankly Speaking. I just went ahead and used the Kindle cover creator and cranked out a generic cover. I’m not proud, but I’ll share with you what the original cover looked like:

FS Book Cover

Not too exciting is it? More importantly, what does it tell you about the story? Not much. If it wasn’t for the tag line, I don’t think anyone would even know it was a detective novel. It looks like it may be a book of poetry or something about the ocean.

Luckily, I came to my senses. In order to grab the reader’s attention as they peruse the Amazon Kindle store or the Barnes and Noble site, you need to have a compelling book cover. It should tell a bit of the story. Now, Frankly Speaking is about a crime involving a kidnapped girl and the search for her location. There is also the overarching evil from the main character’s past due to his run-in with the mob. Here is the cover as it exists today:

Newcover - Small

This cover tells a story. The young girl is represented by, well, the young girl in the photo. The evil presence in the main characters life is represented by the shadow of the ominous figure on the left side. The color scheme pushers toward a blue tint.

Because this book is a series, I wanted the subsequent covers to have some continuity and also tell a story. My covers for Let Me Be FrankFrank Incensed, Frankly, My Dear and Frank Immersed achieve (I hope) that goal. In addition, I tried to establish a color scheme for each so they are unified but stand alone. Here are those covers:

These covers tell the story but also establish their own cover scheme. The shadowed figure and the font are carried through each cover.

In  between my third and fourth ‘Frank’ books, I wrote a terrorism thriller called Blood OrangeI took a unique strategy with this book. I had two slightly different covers created for the Kindle and paperback versions. The first cover shown is the Kindle cover, which is slightly lighter and looks good on a smaller, thumbnail sized photo. The second is the paperback cover which just looks cool with the contrasting black and orange.

So, now you’re probably thinking these covers were expensive and out of your budget as an indie author. That is where sites like fiverr.com come in. There are freelance sites where graphic designers from all over the world will make high-quality covers for your. Because I wanted my covers for both paperback and kindle use, which adds a back cover I paid about $20-$50 each for these covers. I believe that they have more than paid for themselves.

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2. Font – Don’t Make Me Get My Reading Glasses

As I get older, my eyesight is starting to deteriorate to the point where I got my first bi-focal  lenses about two years ago. That’s one of the reasons that I like my Kindle. I can blow up the font to ridiculous sizes and put the glasses aside. I don’t, however, recommend making your font ridiculously large, but you should consider an 11 or 12 point font in either Arial or Times Roman when you format your book. If you make your font any smaller, you may save paper for your print book, but you may also lose readers like me with old man eyesight. I also have found that the demographic for the genre of my books tends to be more ‘seasoned’ citizens that prefer physical books. They appreciate the larger font.

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3. Spacing – Make it Readable

This topic has a lot of varied opinions, but I will give you some key rules that I follow. My books follow the rule of inserting a blank line between each paragraph and between a paragraph of narrative and a block of dialog. Additionally, I like to use proportional spacing. What this does is line the right side of your writing up along an imaginary straight line by spacing the words on each line proportionally. This eliminates the jagged edges within a paragraph. The last thing is to consider 1.5 spaces between each line instead of single-line spacing. I have two examples below, kind of a before and after, of each technique:

Option 1: Spacing rules not applied

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Option 2: Spacing rules applied

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You may not agree with the formatting differences, but it’s all a matter of preference. I find option two more aesthetically pleasing and easier to read.

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4. Chapter Length

Some very famous traditionally-published authors use a common-sense technique that I like to use as well, keeping chapters short. Harlan Coben and James Patterson are both known for this. As someone who reads when I go to bed, I get annoyed by long and ponderous chapters that keep me from going to sleep. I hate stopping in the middle of a chapter, but sometimes I have to. If it’s a good book with short chapters, I will try to squeeze in one or two more. The short chapter length keeps me turning the pages.  I usually try to keep the chapters at 1,500-2,000 words.

differencePhoto Source: http://www.timeprep.me

5. eBook vs. Print – They Are Not The Same!

Although Amazon and other platforms make it very easy to set up eBook and Print Book formats, these two media types are not the same and your formatting should differ. In a non-fiction book (traditionally), this starts with the table of contents. An eBook does not need page numbers in the TOC. It does, however, need hyperlinks. When I’m flying to some destination for my day job and we hit rough air and I touch some forbidden spot on my Kindle screen, I have booted myself out of books or have jumped to locations unknown. If I haven’t synced my book in a while, it can sometimes be difficult to remember where I left off. With hyperlinks, I can at least jump to the right chapter and not get too frustrated. For print books, page numbers are necessary in the TOC and in the book itself.

Also, it’s not necessary to put page numbers or page breaks in an eBook. In fact, it can look sloppy if you do.

front-matter6. Front Matter – Yes it Matters

Front matter is that stuff at the beginning of the book like a title page, dedication, acknowledgements, copyright notice, disclaimer, and a table of contents. To make your book look like a real big-boy or big-girl book, you should be including these things. Some of them are also essential to protect yourself and your book. Let’s start with the title page and what should be on it. I’m including an example for you to refer to:

Title Page Example

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This title page contains the title (duh) the copyright notice, and the disclaimer. These last two elements are essential to protect your book from piracy and to protect you from being sued. You’ll also notice that the front matter is numbered with lower case Roman numerals in the print version of a book.

The dedication, acknowledgments, and table of contents also appear in this front-matter section and should have the same page numbering scheme. You shouldn’t start normal numbering until the first page of the actual book.

Something that I also do in my front- matter that you’ll see in a lot of books is the addition of reviews of either the current book or other books by the author. You can do this if you have enough reviews to fill a page or two.

tocPhoto Source: http://newsroom.unl.edu

8. Table of Contents, Page Numbers, Page Header

For non-fiction books, the table of contents should go in the front-matter. If you are using Word, the automatically generated TOC will work for both eBooks and print. You just have to suppress including the page numbers for the eBook TOC. For page numbers, they should be placed in the center at the bottom of each page in the footnote area. For a page header, I like to put it in the heading area, right-justified, and in the format Author’s Last Name/Title. An example of these elements is shown below:

ex4

previewPhoto Credit: http://shellymartinez.net

7. Preview Chapters

Another technique that I borrow from traditionally published authors is the use of preview chapters. This is especially effective in a series of books. You can keep the reader’s interest up by putting the first chapter of your next book at the end of the current book. You may be thinking, “I haven’t written the next book yet, dummy.” And this may be true. As the release of your next book gets close, however, you can certainly change your existing book to have this preview chapter at the end. Your existing readers can usually re-download the eBook for free and your new readers will find it there and snap up your new book. I usually announce that I’m doing this and have gotten good traction, even from those that have already read the current book.

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8. Write a Good Synopsis for Your Back Cover

A good 2-3 paragraph synopsis is something you can use over an over again. Most importantly, you can put it on the back over of your print book. If someone picks up a copy of your book, the natural tendency (after they marvel at your great cover) is to turn the book over and read the synopsis. You can also use it as the description of your book on your favorite eBook platform and as your “elevator speech” when someone asks you about your book in the hallway or…elevator. The synopsis should tell the reader enough of the story to entice them, but not give away key details or the ending. Think of movie trailers and television show teasers when you build your synopsis.

I hope these tips have helped you.  As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

The importance of Editors and Beta Readers for Indie Authors

The importance of Editors and Beta Readers for Indie Authors

This post focuses on the importance of using an editor and enlisting beta readers if you are an independent author.

Let’s start by comparing/contrasting independent and traditional publishing.

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In traditional publishing, an author receives an advance (if he or she is lucky). This advance is usually a fairly small amount. It is an advance against future royalties, so it’s not a bonus. It’s just a gamble on the part of the publisher against what they think the book will earn.

The author may then receive royalties for books sold after a certain number. The royalties can vary from pennies per book to dollars if you are a bestselling author. In exchange for allowing the traditional publisher to publish your work, you receive editing, formatting, publicity, and marketing services. The quality and effectiveness of these services can vary depending on how much the publishing company believes it can make from your book. In the end, very few published authors make a living wage from traditionally published books.

indie-authorsPhoto Credit: https://authorallenwatson.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/what-your-support-means-to-indie-authors/

Independent authors know that their world is a different one. All the services mentioned for traditional publishers are either do-it-yourself or individually purchased from the many service providers out there.

I want to focus on the two functions that I believe are very important and look at what you should achieve for each.

editPhoto Credit: http://www.kristinethornley.com/about.html

The first service that an independent author should look for is editing. What is editing with respect to a book? There is no simple answer to this. I suppose that editing, in its purest form, is checking your work for punctuation, spelling, usage, and grammar errors.

These things are important. You may think, as an author, that you are an expert on these things. You may very well be very proficient in these areas, but over the course of a 70,000 word manuscript consisting of your own work, you are going to miss something. Having a fresh set of eyes with some expertise can help save you embarrassing typos and spelling mistakes.

I am very fortunate. My editor is a dear friend, but not the type of friend that will tell me something is good when it is not. I mentioned before that, in my opinion, editing services can vary. The qualities that set my editor apart is that she is an avid reader and has writing ability of her own. She spots weak story elements and plot inconsistencies and is excellent at documenting them.

If you are using a friend, or anyone, as an editor, you must be able to take criticism and be willing to implement the suggested changes. It is rare that I disregard or disagree with the changes my editor suggests. Your mindset should be that your editor is the first reader of a particular work. If they have issues with elements of your work, this will be multiplied exponentially once you publish your work if you do not change them. You need to trust your editor and develop a working chemistry with him or her to be effective in producing quality work.

Finding an editor can be a challenge. There are, however, various services out there such as Fiverr. I have provided services on eLance and they do have a decent screening process where you can vet potential editors. I have used services on Fiverr, most notably for my cover art and trailers. Services on Fiverr are inexpensive, but you have to carefully vet your service provider or you might get what you pay for. Of course, I am always willing to share my editor. She is very good at what she does and has bandwidth to take on other clients. If you want to learn more about her, please email me at don@donmassenzio.com.

betaPhoto Credit: https://awapara.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/beta-readers-a-valuable-resource/beta/

The second focus of this post is the use of beta readers. Beta readers are early previewers of your book that read through it after the editing process is complete. They look for story element inconsistencies and other elements of your book from the perspective as a fan and a reader. It’s a good idea to pick a couple of readers that are big fans of your writing, but are not afraid to give suggestions.  This process is like having a focus group or preview audience for your product that gives their opinion to you on a small scale before you release it to the relentless general public. Beta readers will spot things in your book that you and your editor missed such as inconsistencies in character traits, likability of your characters, and other intangibles. This is especially importance if your characters span more than one book in a series. You don’t want to publish a book in a series that has continuity issues with previous books.

One famous example of this, and he actually points this out in the forward of his second book of the series, is from David Morrell’s Rambo series. In the first Rambo book, John Rambo dies. When the book was made into the Sylvester Stallone movie, the studio had the dollar signs associated with sequels in their eyes. Since zombies weren’t in fashion back then, Rambo’s fate had to be changed in the movie. The interesting thing is that Morrell had the novelization rights for the sequel and had to right the second book in the series despite having killed off his main character in the first book. In his forward, he tells this story and basically says that he ignored Rambo’s death in the first book and just wrote the sequel. Of course, Stallone went on to make other sequels and Rambo eventually turned into a parody of the original character.

You might ask why, as an independent author, I am focusing on editors and beta readers. To answer that question, download some works from your fellow authors and look at the quality. There are some books of excellent quality in the world of independent publishing. And then there are some that are…not so much. Independent authors have a stigma, mostly perpetuated by traditional publishing, that the quality is lacking in their work. Those authors, such as Hugh Howey, that have survived and thrived in independent publishing have debunked this perception. In my work, I am trying to publish work of high-quality as well. I personally don’t believe this is possible without strong editing and beta readers.

I want to see independent publishing evolve into a force that overtakes traditional publishing. I don’t think that a group of corporate publishing wonks in an ivory tower in New York should decide what books should and should not be published. The recording industry has gone in the independent direction, and movies and television are following. Let’s work together as authors to make our quality stand up against the traditionally published work. Editing and the use of beta readers are a big step in that direction. If you use them wisely, you will recoup and exceed every dollar that you invest in your writing.

I hope this has been useful to you. Your comments are always welcome.

Getting back to basics – Making your writing sound good to the reader

Getting back to basics – Making your writing sound good to the reader

I’m a big fan of famed western and crime novelist Elmore Leonard. I came across a great quote some time ago and it didn’t resonate with me right away. It really hit home, however, when I began reading my first book, Frankly Speaking, as I recorded the audio book.

Elmore-Leonard-001

If it sounds like writing, rewrite it – Elmore Leonard

It is amazing what you uncover when you read your work aloud. I found some of the sentences to be clumsy and even difficult to read at times. (Also, my voice sounded to me like someone was strangling a cat while running their fingernails down a chalkboard).

I had read in another writing tips book to read your work aloud as you rewrite it. I always thought that it was a waste of time, but I am now convinced that it isn’t.

Another tip from Leonard took on additional meaning as I read my book aloud. He says, “take out the parts that people skip.” As I read my book, I found one or two spots where I had some redundancy and maybe some back story items that just didn’t matter in advancing the story. When I used to read books by Tom Clancy, I often found myself skipping all of the minutia of the military operations that he describes in great detail. I found that I could completely skip these sections, that were sometimes 10-20 pages, and not lose any plot points within the story.

My wonderful editor, Catherine Violando, cracked down on me when I submitted drafts to her. I tended to insert a lot of back story because I thought the readers want to know what is motivating my characters to do the things they do.

I would have big chunks of information about the characters’ childhood and family life. She encouraged me to insert little pieces of this information here and there and not dump it on my readers all at once. I noticed, as I read other writers work, they used this technique as well. Stephen King is famous for giving the reader little tidbits about the character and then leaving them hanging. He might write something like, “John Doe spent the day with his children on a bright, sunny Saturday. He loved to spend the day this way. Too bad this would be his last.” Then he might end the chapter and not tell you what happened to John Doe for another couple of chapters.

It will be interesting, as I continue writing my 10th book, to see if I’ve learned anything and have improved. What I have learned, and this should be something that every writer realizes, completing your book with no grammatical or punctuation errors is only the beginning. Read your work aloud and take out the things that readers skip.

As I chronologically read the books of Elmore Leonard, I can see that he practiced what he preached and improved from book to book. Was his work perfect? I’m finished about a third of his books, and no, they are not.  They do, however, show his progression as a writer over time. He wrote novels on a pace of one every 1.5 years or so. I have written 9 books in three years with a 10th on the way while working full time. Leonard’s slower pace is likely due to the traditional publishing route, which was the only option at that time. I’m sure he had countless professional editors and marketing plans. Self published authors don’t have these same luxuries, but there is no reason that we cannot produce work that is both entertaining and high-quality.  Reading your work aloud and skipping those things that don’t advance the story are two tricks you can use to get there.

Making Book Marketing Tolerable

Making Book Marketing Tolerable
marketingPhoto Creditettwomen.com

Making Book Marketing Tolerable

One of the recurring themes in independent publishing is discussion of the time-consuming nature of marketing your book if you are an independently-published author. I’ve posted about my day job, time management, and producing more ‘product’. You might ask, where does marketing and PR come in when trying to increase exposure for your book.

This is the one aspect of independent publishing where I have turned to a professional for help.  As an independent author, I had no difficulty navigating Amazon, Create Space, and Barnes and Noble to publish print and e-book versions of my book. I had an editor, beta readers, and a cover designer. What I didn’t have is market research to tell me things that I needed to know and to help me build my network. The collective knowledge of a marketing professional that handles many authors can be a huge help. Here are some of the areas where outsourcing my marketing gives me an advantage:

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Key Word Research

Amazon and other publishing platforms allow you to select key words. These are terms that make your book appear in certain searches that readers might run looking for books to read. All of the marketing experts recommend changing these words frequently to keep your work popping up on the latest searches. My marketing professional is able to regularly give me keywords. Updating them on a regular basis is easy and effective if you know what words to use. Because of exposure to multiple authors and search trends, the keywords that I’m given have more credibility than just guessing at what words to use.

15-3Participation in Blog Tours

Because a book marketing professional presumably handles many authors, they have a group that can be called upon for blog tours. Every independently published author should have a blog to increase exposure. When we use each other’s blogs, it opens up an entirely new list of followers that will exponentially increase that exposure. Book marketing professionals can help you increase your network and help other authors in the process by sharing your own blog followers.

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Interviews

In addition to blog tours, my book marketing guy helps me by frequently circulating interviews about me and my writing on different venues. These venues can be independent author web sites and blogs, online magazines, and other similar vehicles that I might not have access to on my own. He is able to spin interviews from a pool of questions that I have responded to and time the interviews with upcoming events such as book launches, cover reveals, etc.

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Third Party Validation

It’s one thing to post links to your book on hundreds of groups on Facebook or to your twitter followers, but having someone else do it for you increases your credibility. If a respected third party is telling their multitude of followers that your book is worth a look it goes a long way. In addition, most marketing professionals have many more groups and platforms for this information to gain traction.

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Cafeteria Style Services

The marketing person that I used has everything from full-service book PR packages down to single reviews and interviews that are very reasonably priced. You can pick and choose the services you want. If you need a third party review, a podcast interview, posting on Facebook, or something similar, you can pick just these services and pay a one time or monthly price accordingly. I like this arrangement because it allows me to ramp up or down and then measure the results. This is an important aspect of using outside marketing, make sure you can measure the results and adjust your marketing choices accordingly.

Now that I’ve talked about outside marketing/PR services, I want to stress that you use caution in selecting them. Here are some guidelines to help you select the one that’s right for you.

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Beware of Full-Service Only

I mentioned the cafeteria-style arrangement that I have. For independently-published authors that don’t have unlimited funds, this is probably the way to go. If you lock yourself into full-service, you may be throwing money away and the results of what worked and what didn’t may be murky. Make sure you are focusing your marketing dollars.

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Talk to Other Authors

Before outsourcing my marketing, I talked to other authors that were further down the path that had marketing campaigns that I admired. I found that they were usually very forthcoming about what and who they had good experiences with and what and who to stay away from. I try to share this information as well. If anyone is interested in my experiences with my outsourced marketing, you can email me at don@donmassenzio.com.

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Don’t be Afraid to Try Something Different

One thing I’ve learned through outsourcing my marketing is that it isn’t just the books that are being marketed when you are independently published. It is the author, the author’s thoughts, and the author’s image that get marketed as well. Be prepared to do podcast interviews, written interviews, giveaways, and other things that might take you out of your comfort zone.

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Be Opinionated

If you are not happy with a particular aspect of your marketing or you feel that something is damaging your image, say so. You are paying for a service so you have a right to express your own ideas and input. Don’t be forced into a cookie-cutter marketing approach that is contrary to your vision.

I hope that these tips have been helpful to you. I have found much more success and have freed up time by outsourcing certain aspects of my book marketing. That being said, I try to keep my spending limits within the boundaries of the profit that I’m making on my writing. Someday, like all of us, I hope that my profit greatly exceeds what I’m spending, but until then, I want to keep these expenses in line. My marketing person understands and respects this. It has been a mutually beneficial arrangement thus far and I am hoping to gradually outsource more of my marketing chores so I can spend more time writing. I’m sure that is a goal for most of us.

Your Best Marketing Tool – Write Your Next Book

Your Best Marketing Tool – Write Your Next Book

Your Best Marketing Tool – Write Your Next Book

This post is about the activity that most of us probably enjoy the least, marketing our work. This is more than just posts on Facebook and Twitter. This is the part of independent publishing that I dread and that is the most cumbersome. To say you are an independently published author really means that you are taking on two full-time jobs, that of a writer and of a publisher.

I’m sure most of us would just like to write and ignore the marketing. Unfortunately, if you want to gain exposure, this is an unavoidable aspect of what we do. For the mundane marketing tasks, such as posting to Facebook and other social media outlets, I try to be efficient without spamming social media. Social media does have the word social as part of it. Things like automation and cut and paste marketing are time consuming and have not proven to be effective.

In the past, I’ve enlisted the help of a PR person to help me gain exposure through third parties like podcasts and blog interview tours. I then found that I could do this  myself with a minimal amount of effort and a whole lot less expense.

In this post, however, I want to talk about the best aspect of marketing for an independently published author, writing. That’s right, the more you write, the more exposure you’ll gain and the more product you’ll have to offer to the very deep pool of readers. Here are some reasons to write as much as possible:

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More Product = More Potential Readers

There are a lot of consumers of books out there. The more offerings you have, the more exposure you will get with those readers if they like your work. If you only release one book every 1-2 years, you might fade from the memory of readers that read 2-3 novels per month.

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More Product = More Potential Reviews

I’ve written and read about feedback and its importance in the past. It’s advantageous to get feedback on multiple works so that you can assess how readers are reacting to your work and make adjustments. It also gives you the chance to get reviews from multiple (non-family) independent reviewers which will help your profile on platforms such as Amazon. When my first book Frankly Speaking, reached 50 reviews on Amazon, I noticed sales start to increase as it was promoted more by Amazon.

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More Product = Greater Traction

In traditional publishing, it takes an author an average of three books to gain traction. On a publisher’s schedule, this is a minimum of three years if you’re lucky enough to find a publisher that will wait for success through three books. Did you know that John Grisham had boxes of the book A Time To Kill in his garage until The Firm became a huge hit. It was his first book and probably one of his best in terms of substance. The good news is that we can accelerate that period of time and get to that three book milestone more quickly.

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Less Product = Selling Your Book to Death

If you only have one book and you’re posting weekly to your favorite social media outlet, you’re going to hit the same targeted readers multiple times with your single offering. This can turn readers off to your single work because they are overexposed to it.

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More Books = More Sales

There is something called the Long-Tail Effect. This is the tendency of readers to go back and purchase older books by an author if they read a newer one that they enjoy. This is how I’ve discovered many authors. Harlan Coben is a case in point for me. I read one of his later books and liked his writing style and this caused me to go back and read his earlier work chronologically. If you are on your 4th or 5th book and it hits with readers, it is almost guaranteed that your earlier books will sell more.

Now, after my pep talk in favor of writing multiple books, that doesn’t mean you should do so without some important do’s and don’ts.

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Make Sure That What You Are Publishing is of Good Quality

Publishing 12 books that are not of good quality will not gain readers for you. A reader will take a chance on one or maybe two books, but continued quality issues will ensure that your books will not be read or attract loyal readers. Negative word of mouth spreads as fast, if not faster, than positive.

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Consider Writing Short Stories

If you’re an author of fiction, short stories can be useful for multiple reasons. First, they are a great way to practice your craft. Second, they can be published individually to give readers a small, inexpensive taste of your writing, or they can be collected into an anthology giving you another book to offer. Also, short stories can be a way to further gain exposure by offering them for publication in niche online or print magazines and collections. Hugh Howey’s Epic series, Wool, started as a short story.

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Don’t Rush to Publish Something Before It’s Ready

I’ve extolled the virtues of editors and beta readers. Don’t cut corners. Make sure that you have done all of your quality checks before launching. One slip in quality and your readers may abandon you.

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Don’t be Afraid to Re-Launch a Book

Once you’ve published a book, that doesn’t mean that it will reach a peak early on and then fade away. Remember my John Grisham story. A Time To Kill is believed by many to be his best work and is arguably the best adaptation of one of his novels into a movie.

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Play with Pricing and Giveaways

When you have a new book coming out, consider lowering the prices of your earlier books or using the free or progressive pricing options on Amazon to entice readers to impulse buy them.

The information in this chapter evolves for me on a daily basis. If you take nothing else away from this, strive to learn from the tasks that you carry out to gain a positive reputation as an author. Remember, authors write books.

Don’t pay attention to the artificial time constraints imposed on traditionally published authors. Break out of the box and keep on writing.

The Snobbery of Traditional Publishing

The Snobbery of Traditional Publishing

There are a number of articles that have popped up recently about the substandard quality of independently published work vs. the pristine and curated quality of traditionally published material. This post is one that I published back when I had an encounter with a traditionally published author.

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The Snobbery of Traditional Publishing

During a recent weekend, my seven year old daughter had an event with her dance group at a local street festival. As we walked around and looked at the various tables, we happened upon an author of children’s books who had some of her work displayed on a table. My daughter saw the books and we stopped at the table and listened to this friendly, grandmotherly figure tell us about her books.  They were based on the antics of her grandson and looked very nicely illustrated.

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We were about to move on when my wife blurted out that I had written some novels.  The author’s first question was not about the genre or the titles. Her first question was, “who’s your publisher?” Before I could get the words DSM Publications (my initials are DSM) out of my mouth, my wife told her I was self-published. Now, I’m not ashamed of being self-published (I prefer independently published). In fact, I like the freedom that it gives me to publish on my own terms and at my own pace. I’ve talked about the marketing (not my favorite part) in past blogs, but I can deal with that.

scoldPhoto Credit: www.coetail.com

As soon as she heard the words self-published the grandmotherly smile disappeared, her body language changed, and I began to receive a lecture on the benefits of having a publisher. There were things like:

  • I get into author events for free
  • I don’t have to market my books (even though I’m sitting out in the sun at a table at a street festival hawking books)
  • They edit my books (children’s books targeted at 3-5 year-olds with two to three sentences per page)
  • Did I mention I get into author events for free?

I began to explain to her the benefits of independent publishing through such outlets as Amazon. She responded that Amazon and those other “outfits” keep too much of your money. I explained that you get to keep 70% of your royalties on Amazon if your book is priced at $2.99 or more. She told me that she heard it was less than that and didn’t trust them with her work. I told her that you retain all of the rights, and she told me she didn’t think so. Thankfully, my daughter had to be at a girl scout event and we had to move along. Her parting words were, “good luck with that self-publishing, but you really ought to think about getting a publisher.”

fact-check-1Photo Credit: www.southwesttimes.com

It was an enlightening conversation and one of those moments that solidified my choice to publish independently. As I thought about her “sweet” publishing deal, I began to look at the realities of her situation. Here are some of my observations:

  • Her books were priced at $10 and above. The copies she had on her table were likely purchased by her from the publisher. If she was making $1-2 per book, she was more in the 10-20% profit range. Based on the traffic at her booth and her book supply, I’d be surprised if she went home with $20-30.
  • How well is her publishing company marketing her books if she has to resort to events like this one and promote books between the boiled peanut stand and the fence company.
  • She had not checked out the specifics of independent-publishing. She didn’t know the terms and conditions. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make the switch because she no longer owned the rights to her books, the great and powerful publisher did.

This was not the first time I encountered this snobbery. An acquaintance of mine has worked throughout his career on the periphery of the journalism field. He has a segment on local public radio and I asked him if he had any advice around generating publicity for my work. He had some good tips. One of the things that he suggested was contacting a local authors’ group. I listened to the qualifications of their membership and what they had to offer and was interested. That is until he told me that I should not tell them that I had independently published and work because they would likely look down on it because they didn’t believe this to be “real publishing”. I asked how many members of the 30+ group had published work with traditional authors. The answer was “one”. I decided that I didn’t want to be brought down by a group where 99% of the membership had failed in their goal.

So, now I sit here with many works published in the past three years. I put this work out to the millions of potential consumers through Amazon and CreateSpace. Reviews for every piece of work have been 4-5 stars. If I quit today, that would be quite an accomplishment. I do outsource my editing and some of my marketing, but I still do many marketing tasks on my own. Can I quit my day job on the money I’m making and buy that beach house? Not yet, but I feel like my chances to do so are improving every day.

My fellow independently published authors, you and I have an advantage over the majority of the members of those snobbish literary groups, books that are published with readers that are buying them. Whenever someone turns up their nose when I tell them I’m independently-published, my gut reaction is to ask them the name of their published book to which most will reply that they don’t have one.

So, keep your heads held high. Don’t feel inferior to those snobbish traditionally published authors. Most of them are probably making less per book than you are and have much less control.

quality-assurancePhoto Credit: www.dynamixuae.com

Now, with all of that being said, I’m not going to get off of my soapbox about keeping the quality of independently-published work at a high-level. There is no excuse for not doing this. There are plenty of willing editors and beta readers out there to keep you from publishing work that is inferior in terms of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. Don’t put garbage out there, because you hurt all of us when you do.

You might think you can’t afford an editor, but, in my humble opinion, you can’t afford not to have one. You may think you can do it yourself, but, to paraphrase a saying from the legal profession, the author that thinks he can edit his own work has a fool for a client.

Writers, what do you read?

Writers, what do you read?

I am a voracious reader. I read, on average, three books per month which, in view of my 60 hour per week job and the fact that I published three books in 2016, is not bad.

So what about you? What do you read? Something within your genre or outside? Fiction or non-fiction?

reading

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am an avid reader as well as a writer. I tend to pick authors that I enjoy and read their entire body of work in chronological order. This not only brings me enjoyment, but it shows me their development as an author from their early to contemporary work.

One of my favorite authors is Stephen King. His early work is strong and definitely got stronger. When he suffered his accident and nearly died, his work suffered a bit after his recovery. He even threatened to retire, but thankfully, did not. I use him as an example because he also has one of my favorite quotes by an author:

King2If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

In the past 2 and 1/2 years, I have written and published five novels, a collection of short stories and a non-fiction book. I have also read countless books during that time. This may not sound unusual, but I also work 50-60 hours per week at my “day job”.

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How do I do this? Time management is one technique. Even though I work a lot of hours, I have a job where I travel to a destination early on Monday and return late on Thursday. There is a great deal of down time. Reading helps me to block out and reduce the stress of travel. It also makes flights pass by quickly. I often alternate reading and writing as I am on long flights. The writing depends upon my seating situation. If I am in a middle seat between to portly people, it is difficult to get out the laptop or tablet to write, so I resort to reading.

Before I started writing, reading was an escape. It was a way to de-stress from the pressures of my work and allowed me to relax and go to sleep. Since I have published my own work, it is also a way to assess other authors and look at their development as writers.

Elmore-Leonard-001A prime example of this came to me through circumstance. A literary magazine reviewed my first book, Frankly Speaking, and compared my writing style to Elmore Leonard. I had heard the name and associated it with movies like “The Big Bounce” and “Get Shorty”, but I had never read any of Leonard’s work. I began reading from his very first novel, “The Bounty Hunters” which was published in 1953. It was a western, which took me by surprise. My book is a detective novel and I didn’t see the similarities. I’m not typically a reader of westerns, but stuck with Mr. Leonard. I noticed the lack of complex plots and well-developed characters in his early works. He also tended to end the novels abruptly without fleshing out the ending. Sixteen years and five novels later, he published “The Big Bounce”. It was his first non-western novel, but wasn’t really in the detective genre. I could, however, begin to see similarities in my use of dialog and narrative when compared to his work. I could also see his development as a writer over the 16 years.

james patterson

An opposite example of this development would be in the work of James Patterson. I have read his work sporadically. I thoroughly enjoyed his early works, especially in the Alex Cross stories. His later work, however, is watered down. Most of his books these days (which seem to come out on a weekly basis) are “with” books. What I mean is that the cover will have James Patterson’s name in huge letters and then, somewhere at the bottom, there will be a line in smaller font that says “with …”. I have a feeling that the person whose name appears after the “with” is the actual writer and is writing books based on the James Patterson characters with his blessing (and substantial percentage of the profits). This is a phenomenon where a successful author has become a business and his books are like McDonalds franchise stores. I don’t read James Patterson books anymore.

My reading tends to be author and genre based. I read Harlan Coben, John D. MacDonald, and Jonathan Kellerman for the genre. I read Stephen King and Elmore Leonard for the writing style and enjoyment.  I read Hugh Howey’s books because he has hit on the formula and success that all self-published authors aspire to. I also read non-fiction books that help me with my craft. These range from books on self-publishing to works by other authors that give writing advice. Stephen King’s book “On Writing” is one of the best that I have found. I use this as a reference book. Even if you don’t like King’s books, he gives great insight and a candid view into the mind of a writer. It is amazing, based on his youth, that he is alive, let alone a successful writer.

If you are, or aspire to be a self-published author, I recommend that you read books by your competition in your genre. You can learn a great deal from the successful authors and learn even more about what to avoid by reading authors that are not successful. You’ll marvel at the typos, grammatical errors, and other pitfalls that are the bane of self-publishing. You can read some of my other blogs to find ways how to rise above this.

Again, I go back to Stephen King’s quote and paraphrase. If you are not reading, you shouldn’t be writing. Find or make the time to do it. You can’t write in a vacuum and expect to be successful.

I look forward to your comments on this post.