Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Consider Developing These Skills as an Indie Author - Part I: Simple Interior Design

Being an indie, or self-published, author has meant learning skills I never thought were a necessary component of an author's skill set. Like the vast majority of self-publishing authors, my budget to produce my books is very limited. In fact, once my books began to gain traction on Amazon and sell, I needed the money to pay bills for the family. 

Lesson learned. This is not a hobby, at least for me. There are skills authors today need that extend beyond craft. Without a doubt, the most important element of any book's success is a well written manuscript. Without a topnotch manuscript, no book will succeed despite all the other bells and whistles being topnotch.

Traditional publishing provides skills most authors don't have. Skills such as editing, interior design, cover design and for some lucky authors, marketing. Editing your manuscript yourself is not wise, thought it can be done.

Designing your interior is another skill that is best left to creative professionals. Having said that, there is an easy way to go about producing the files necessary to have your finished manuscript published in paperback and ebook formats. You don't have to learn the first thing about coding for ebooks or actual design elements for paper and ebook interiors.

Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer, and his partners at Book Design Templates have done the hard work for you. You simply have to select, and yes, pay for the template that features the interior design you believe best fits your manuscript. 

I have used these for multiple editions of my non-fiction books and successfully saved hundreds of dollars while producing quality book interiors! Yes, there is a learning curve. But, the good folks at Book Design Templates have provided the means to teach yourself how to use these Microsoft Word based templates.

You select the type of license you want to purchase, single or multi-edition. A commercial option is available as well. When finished, hit save and make a duplicate copy. I have found there are a few things I want to change for the two versions, one for paper and one for ebook. When finished, you are ready to upload your interiors for publication.

Once you master the process, you can format a 60,000 word book in a couple of hours. Books with images, graphs, etc, take longer.

If you hit a snag, for a reasonable fee, you can pay for help to either tutor you in the process or actually fix the problem for you. In one of my first efforts, I managed to mess things up so badly it took them awhile to repair the damage I had done. They did it with a smile and sent me my finished file ready to upload.

Please note! If you use these templates correctly, there is NO NEED to have your interior file converted to upload to Amazon's KDP or Nook's ePub. Your book, minus the cover, is ready to go! I have successfully used my files for Kindle, Nook and Draft2Digital who distributed my ebooks to iBook, Kobo and other ebook retailers.

Yes, this approach does cost some money and you have to invest the time to learn to use the templates. The positive is your book file is ready much quicker than if you paid someone else to do the work. Purchasing a multi-use license is still cheaper than paying to have a professional to design and produce your interior file and it is a one time fixed cost. You also do not have to pay for having the files converted for either POD or ebook editions.

I'm sold on this product/service produced and sold by Joel Friedlander and his partners. It is a skill indie/self-publishing authors should consider mastering.

For More Information

How the Business of Self-Publishing Has Changed - Authors Have to Embrace the Business Side of Self-Publishing

When I bravely ventured into self-publishing some eight years ago, I read Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon. This self-publishing classic still has a lot of valid advice for authors considering taking the plunge into the world of Indie publishing. Print-on-demand publishing through first Lightning Source and then Amazon's own CreateSpace made it possible for authors to publish their work and make money. Morris Rosenthal's Print-on-Demand Book Publishing was also required reading back in those days. Aiming at Amazon provided authors with a detailed marketing strategy using POD to publish and print books and selling them on Amazon. 

The focus of Aiming at Amazon was marketing, particularly the idea of driving all print sales to Amazon and ignoring brick and mortar bookstores, and provides still valuable insight into how Amazon works as a means to promote and sell books..  Print-on-Demand Book Publishing provided authors with a detailed understanding of how the entire POD model worked.

Of course, this was all before the ebook revolution, in particular Amazon's Kindle. With the bar to publish lowered, thousands of authors took advantage of the opportunities provided by Amazon and other ebook publishers. The result, to the dismay of many, was a dramatic increase in competition as the number of new books being published has mushroomed with the advent of ebooks.

I was able to compete quite effectively when POD was the only option available to authors who self-published. Following the advice and strategy provided in Aiming at Amazon, it was possible to drive your book up the all important sales rankings and generate a reasonable return on your efforts as an author.

Today, the process of entering the business is quite a bit more complicated. Simply writing the best possible book, editing it, getting a great cover with a well designed interior and publishing it are no longer enough to produce sales. Truth be told, it was never that simple, but it certainly seemed that way.

For a book to succeed financially, meaning sales, an author must delve into the business side, or at least the marketing side, of publishing. Regardless of how your book is published, traditional or indie, today's authors are responsible for marketing their own book. Only proven best selling authors receive any marketing help from traditional publishing houses.

Marketing a book has to start long before it is ready to be published. As I am in the process of having my first work of fiction edited (The Predator and The Prey: Book I of the Thomas Sullivan Chronicles), I have been focusing on what has come to be called building my Author Platform. In theory, this process will allow me to provide my book with the best possible launch.

In order to meet my self-imposed deadline of publishing The Predator and The Prey in February of 2017, I sat down and made up a list of tasks that have to be accomplished. For the benefit of authors new to this process I have included this list below:
  • Obtain domain name 
  • Register with hosting company
  • Website/Author platform
  • Obtain custom e-mail for domain name
  • Register with e-mail service - find a free one to start
  • Rewrite after receiving manuscript back from editor
  • Finish first chapter of next book in series for inclusion in The Predator and The Prey
  • Interior design - POD
  • Interior design/conversion - ebook (mobi, ePub and Smashwords)
  • Back cover copy for POD edition
  • Cover design - POD and ebook
  • Amazon Author Central Page
  • Kindle Keyword research
  • Write book synopsis for Amazon and other online book retailers product page
  • Research ebook promotion sites
  • Obtain ARC POD copies to send out to potential reviewers
  • Research generating ebook edition reviews (behind on this)
  • Have ebook file for uploading on Smashwords professionally formatted - upload after KDP exclusive period ends.
This is not a complete list and I have done a reasonable amount of items on the list. I have also already made my decisions on an editor and cover designer.  

All of this takes time, and in my case involves a learning curve. In order to save money to invest it where it will do the most good (editing and cover design) I am going to really stretch myself and build my own website using WordPress. Supposedly, it's easy. I've heard that before.

I am quite certain I have left tasks I don't yet know I need to accomplish off my list. When I first started in 2008, I only wrote my manuscript, made the corrections asked for by the editor and approved the cover design. I uploaded my files to CreateSpace, wrote the book description and waited for the 24 hours for the book to go on sale.

Things have changed.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Chronicles of Thomas Sullivan

Trial and error takes time and it can prove to be a costly way to learn. Fear of making mistakes and the need to be perfect on the first attempt is paralyzing and leads failure more often than not. Trying my hand as a fiction author has certainly proven trial and error is unavoidable.

Still, I am hoping many of the lessons I learned as a self-published author of non-fiction will reduce the number of errors to be made as I prepare to launch my first novel. Hopefully, in February of 2017 The Predator and The Prey: Book One of the Thomas Sullivan Chronicles will be available.

Until then, the learning curve continues. For the readers of this blog who might be considering testing the waters of the fiction world, please visit the blog for my new series. The Chronicles of Thomas Sullivan: Lawman of Beta Prime is the blog I will be using to support my new fiction series.

In my efforts to build an authors platform for my plans for a multi-volume series, I plan to use this site to provide additional background for readers interested in learning more about Capital City and the planet of Beta Prime. Also to be included will be backstory for the governing structure known as the Interplanetary Alliance and the Space Marines, the branch of military service my protagonist Thomas Sullivan served in as a member of the Shore Patrol, the military police arm of the Space Marines.

Please visit and if you have suggestions I love to hear from you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sell More Books Using Your Author Website by Radu Balas - A Review

I gave up television seven years ago and haven't regretted it once. I spend all that newly found free time either reading or writing. With the advent of Kindle, I find myself reading more than ever before. In particular, I find I am a bit of a sucker for "how-to" books, especially in the area of writing and publishing.

If you are like me, you have found that many of the books marketed as a great source for ideas on how to sell more books or improve your writing are little more than Kindle spam.

As I am moving ever closer to the launch of my first work of fiction. I have been working hard to learn as much as I can about a launching a work of fiction, something I have discovered is quite different from launching a non-fiction book.

In the case of non-fiction, you have a well defined idea of who your target audiences is (if you don't you might find there is no market for your book). A work of fiction might fight nicely into a specific genre, leading you, the author, to believe correctly labeling your novel in the right categories on Amazon is all you need to do to find an audience.

It's not that simple. You have to build an audience for a work of fiction. It's a different approach than what I used to successfully market my non-fiction books.

As I work to ready my launch and build my author website, I am finding just how much more I have to learn. One of the few books I have found that has been helpful, in large part because the author, Radu Balas, has gathered so much practical information into one book, is Sell More Books Using Your Author Website.

One of the ideas he suggests is writing book reviews of books in the same or similar genre you write in and posting them on your author website. What a great idea!

Readers looking for honest, or at least independent, reviews of books in the genre you write might find your website while in search of a review. Granted, they might not buy your book(s), but you have gained exposure for your brand. Write good reviews that are helpful, and the reader might be inclined to bookmark your site and return. Repeated positive contact should eventually result in some book sales.

This one idea alone made the book worth purchasing. I don't know if it will work, but it is a new idea, to me at least, and because I read so many books, I might as well give it a try. As new authors, we need exposure. Book reviews is one way to draw readers who enjoy the genre you write in to your site.

Mr. Balas covers a wide range of topics about building an author website ranging from the blogging process to the SEO process. He discusses WordPress and e-mail list building. I'm not a fan of social media, but he has good ideas for those who want to include that as part of their marketing/branding mix.

Blogging. We all know we're supposed to blog as authors, but few of us really know how to create an effective blog to build our brand as an author. The chapters on blogging with the idea of creating an audience (tribe) and building your brand as an author were the most helpful parts of the book for me. Topics covered in the blogging chapters:
  • Benefits of blogging for authors
  • Writing effective blog headlines
  • Dealing with blogger block
  • Becoming a respected influencer
  • Keeping visitors on a page
  • The need for unique content
Branding is a strange concept for many authors. We just don't see ourselves as a brand, like Nike or Ford. But we are and we need to develop our brand. Mr. Balas has some simple actionable ideas to help any author understand what an author brand is and how to build one.

Finally, for those of us on a limited budget but who have no coding skills or knowledge of HTML, the author covers how to build interesting and effective sites that will attract and retain the interest of readers.

Sell More Books Using Your Author Website is one you need to add to your author library. You can find books that are in greater depth and provide more information about each individual topic covered in the book. The value of Sell More Books is it gathers together in one place everything you need to know to get started. As you learn and develop your skills in marketing and branding yourself as an author, you can research the areas you need to grow in.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Building Your Own Website For Your Author's Platform

Author's read it all the time. Experts all tell them they need one. An author's platform that is and one of the key components is a functional website. If you're like me, the first thing you think about is how much is one going to cost.

I've had a custom website built for me. It wasn't cheap but it was well done. It had lots of functionality and eventually it paid for itself. I have nothing but good things to say about the company that built the site for me.

But, like I said, it was expensive.

As I prepare to enter the world of fiction writers, I don't want to spend money on a website. I'd rather invest what money I do have for this new enterprise is to cover design. Covers that look good on a POD version of the book, the ebook version and the all important thumbnail image.

I still need a website.

I lack programming skills. If it is up to me to code the programming for the website I'd like to have, it's not going to happen. So I'm back to paying a lot of money.

That's still not an option.

Fortunately, there are ways Indie authors can create their own websites affordably and not have to learn how to program and write code.

You need three things, all of which fortunately are either inexpensive, if you look, or free. 

To build your website for your author platform you'll need:
  • a domain name
  • server hosting
  • a Wordpress Theme
A domain name is nothing more than the URL address for your site. Amazon.com is a domain name. KCSivils.com is the domain name for the author platform I am building to promote my fictional novels as an author.

Server hosting is the actual device that hosts your data for your website. These devices are expensive and require specialized knowledge to set-up and maintain. Spend the time to find a reliable company that provides regular back-ups for your site. I suggest Bluehost. I've used them and had a good experience.

That leaves a Wordpress Theme.

Wordpress is an open source program originally designed for blogging and later expanded to include website design. A theme is nothing more than the design of the home page and the functionality the site will provide. 

Wordpress themes are available for free and more advanced themes can be purchased at reasonable prices.

Plug-ins and Widgets allow for easy additions to be made to your Wordpress based website, adding functionality, SEO and other features. Most are free and simple to add to your website.

For those authors who are interested in learning how to set up their own Wordpress based website and in the process saving money for other important things, like cover designs and editing, I'd like to suggest the following book, How to Create a Website Using Wordpress: The Beginner's Blueprint To Creating A Website or Blog in Less Than 60 Minutes by Brian Patrick.

The Kindle version of the book has links to numerous sites and examples of what the author describes. The links alone are worth the $4.99 you'll spend on the book in regards to the time you'll save.

Mr. Patrick writes in an easy to read style. In a month or so, I'll post the link to my new author's platform! That's how confident I am after reading his book.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Books Are Judged By Their Covers or Are They Judged By Their Thumbnail Images?

My first attempt at a novel is nearly half finished. With over 20 non-fiction books under my belt, I've decided to venture into fiction and I'm slowly working my way through my check list of tasks that have to be finished in order to meet my target publication date.

Having a cover designed is my most important, and probably expensive, task to complete. It doesn't matter how well written my novel is nor does the book's interior design matter if nobody buys the book. No buyers equals no readers and no income for me as an author of fiction.

I have invested quite a bit of time examining covers of books in genre's similar to mine. What I have found coincides with what the experts say. A great cover generates interest to investigate the book further to see if you might be interested. Even more important, the cover must look great as a thumbnail image on the retailer's website, be it the all-important Amazon or other popular ebook retail platforms.

Going through my collection of over 700 ebooks on my iPad, I discovered I liked almost every cover design of very book I have purchased. In the rare instance of a book with a cover I didn't like, I found there was a specific reason I obtained the book, namely it was non-fiction and I wanted the content provided in the book. 

In the case of fiction books, I liked every single cover.

I'd never taken the time to examine all of the covers of the fiction books I've collected before. Going through the covers a second time, I looked for novels I'd started by not finished. A quick read of the first few pages again invariably reminded me why I didn't finish the book.

The fact remained though, the cover had enticed me enough to eventually download a book that did not hold my interest.

I spent nearly an hour on several occasions examining covers on Amazon. I picked a genre and went down the page, examining every cover of each book. Sadly, what I discovered was a lot of covers that looked terrible, or uninteresting, as a thumbnail image. When clicking through to the product details of each book, I was able to see a much larger version of the cover. Sometimes a cover that held no attraction for me as a thumbnail attracted my attention when I was able to see a larger version.

Now that I am in the process of searching for cover designers, one of the things I am going to insist on is that the cover design look just as good, if not better, as a thumbnail image as it does as a full size cover.

It would be a shame if I write a fantastic novel with a great cover design and it never sells because the cover lacks enough appeal as a thumbnail image to draw readers to the product page.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Want to See if You Can Write Fiction?

It is one thing to write non-fiction. It is an entirely different matter to write good fiction. Many successful nonfiction writers have tried and failed to succeed in the competitive arena of fiction. 

About a year ago the fiction bug bit me. I began researching what I could find about the writing fiction as opposed to non-fiction. It was daunting. Nearly every author of fiction who wrote about their early experiences said their first novels were trash and have never seen the light of day.

I have no illusions that I will write The Great American Novel. I do want to recover my costs in getting the book to market. That means I have to sell a few copies at a minimum.

Rather than self-publish a series of terrible novels and ruin any potential brand I might eventually be able to build for myself as a fiction author, I followed the advice of one individual and tried my hand at writing fanfiction. It was a far better endeavor than trying to write my first novel from scratch.

By borrowing a universe and characters created by someone else, you can write stories and concentrate on your storytelling and writing skills. You don't have to invent everything yourself.

Haven written a dozen stories and over 500,000 words in the past year, I took the time to sit down and read my stories in chronological order. I cringed as I read the first story, which at the time I had thought was pretty good. The reviews were critical of my writing but not the story I told.

As time passed, my writing got better and the stories were much more readable. The reviewers, many of whom stuck with me, praised my writing when it was better, pointed out errors that needed to be corrected and cheered me along in the process.

Is this approach for everyone who would like to try their hand at writing fiction? Probably not. But it has been a big help for me in shortening the learning curve.

Want to try your hand at this approach? Visit Fanfiction.net.