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.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Building an Author Platform - Some Lessons Learned

I have a reasonable grasp on how a built a successful Author's Platform for a non-fiction series of books. Now that I have decided to take the leap and enter the world of writing fiction, I have to start the process of building an Author's Platform to support my new writing endeavor. 

Based on my own experience, I have started a new blog to serve as a focal point for my planned series of fictional novels. The blog will serve two primary purposes for potential and actual readers of my fictional universe and characters.

The first function, and perhaps most important to readers, will be to serve as a source of backstory information about the characters, the universe they live in and from time to time, short stories in the current time frame the stories take place, filling in story or simply ideas that won't fit in a novel but are fun for the readers, if I can attract them, so the readers can follow their favorite character's lives outside of the story line of a novel.

The second function will be to announce when new books, short stories or updates are available. Sales, free books, etc. will be announced on the blog, all in an effort to increase readership of my books, boost those Amazon sales rankings, and in general market my books as they become available.

As time allows, the blog may include some brief looks into my thinking about the characters, stories and how I view the universe I have created for my stories to take place.

E-mail lists can get expensive. Experience with so called free e-mail lists has not been positive. In time, as sales permit, I will start an e-mail list that will support the blog. Or I may not. Many fiction authors do send out e-mails, primarily to announce new titles or special offers.

For that reason, I am leaning towards building an e-mail list as time and money allow me to.

E-newsletters can eat up a lot of time and motivation. For that reason, I am going to take a wait and see approach.

Facebook and Twitter (Instagram, etc.) are not platforms I spend anytime on at all, either as a creator or consumer. I tried both and did not see any benefit in sales from all the time I invested on those two platforms. So for now, I'm not going to enter the world of social media. I'd rather spend my time writing and engaging in marketing efforts I have been successful with.

This is not to say I won't take up social media in the future. Right now, I need to get the first two novels done and in print. Time is a limited commodity. There is little doubt social media can be an effective marketing tool, I just don't have the energy and time at the moment to master the skills necessary.

For those of you who were friends of the sadly short lived Sci-Fi series, Firefly with the follow up movie Serenity, you might be interested in my novels. While not a western style sci-fi space opera, my stories will be a cross between classic noir detective stories and science fiction.

Inspector Thomas Sullivan, a tall, scarred veteran of the Space Marines and a no no nonsense cop with a past filled with secrets has been sent to the planet Beta Prime of the Beta System. Ostensibly his job is to clean up the crime ridden planet and the corruption rampant there. Others have something else in mind for the gritty, tough Inspector with a past that haunts him.

If you like science fiction and gritty noir detective stories, this might be a series you'd like! To follow my efforts, please visit Thomas Sullivan: Lawman of Beta Prime.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Trends of Interest in the Publishing World

The speed with which things change in the publishing world can make it nearly impossible to keep track of what is happening and with good reasons. Technology keeps moving along and market trends that we all rely on to sell our books seem to change with the blink of an eye. Sometimes I believe the tech people behind social media move the target for those who rely on the format to reach out to their readers just because they can, making it more difficult to keep one's head above water as a writer.

I try to read 20-30 minutes a day about the industry in a vain effort to keep abreast of what is going on. This post, the first sadly in a while, is a list of a few of recent posts and articles I found to be of interest or help. 


Temporary shift in the publishing world or positive trend in the bookstore industry? Time will tell. More bookstores can't be a bad thing in a world that needs more contact with books.


I'm not a fan of Led Zeppelin, I personally believe The Rolling Stones have it right when they're announced before their shows as The World's Greatest Rock 'N' Roll Band, but anything that involves copyright law and creative endeavors is important. How many fiction authors have been influenced in their storytelling by the dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands, of novel and stories they have read in the past.

In case you haven't heard, Led Zeppelin is being sued over copyright infringement in regard to their classic song Stairway to Heaven. The ruling may possibly have far reaching impact on the creative world. Worth the time to read.


This article got my attention. My overall non-fiction sales have been in decline in the past year, particularly my ebook sales. Yet my POD paper sales have held steady during the same time period. I write for a niche non-fiction marker and have saturated it pretty well. My logical conclusion was I had sold as many books as an author could expect given the limited size of the pool of readers.

Could so-called digital fatigue be behind my drop in sales and not market saturation? My paper sales seem to provide some anecdotal evidence this might be true. Who knows? 

Still, it is worth paying attention to anything that dramatically impacts self-publishing authors ability to sell their work. Since ebooks are such a big part of the market for so many indie authors, any trend that impacts ebook sales is worth paying attention to.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Creating Your Own E-book Covers

If you are like me, you can recognize an attractive, well designed book cover. I have no idea what elements of design are involved, I simply know Book Cover A looks better and is more eye-catching than Book Cover B. The odds are most authors are also like me in regards to ability to design a book cover that will sell books. In other words, you can't.

Whether your book is traditional published or self-published, the cover is one of the most important marketing tools you will have to sell your book. Many indie or self-published authors, particularly those just starting out, must do so on an extremely limited budget, limiting their options for paying for a quality cover.

This leaves the author with the choice of doing it themselves or using a template design offered for free by companies such as Amazon's CreateSpace or KDP. At best, these are a stopgap to allow the book to get into print and will need to be replaced as quickly as possible.

Recently, I came across a reasonable priced software program that allows me to produce both 3D and 2D covers for my ebooks. It will also create a variety of other items such as boxes, book covers, DVD disc artwork, etc. The name of this software is Cover Genie Pro. I purchased access for $47 and have been happy with the results.

First, the learning curve was not impossible. I have the option of using pre-designed templates I can modify (yes, I complained about those made available by CreateSpace and KDP) that have produced much better looking covers for many of my ebooks.





Above you can see the newest cover I designed for this short ebook. Below is the old cover (please excuse the blurry image, it's a screen shot of the original). The new cover might have issues, but it is light years ahead of the original.



For authors whose sales have fallen or are not doing well initially, one of the most common recommended fixes to make your book more appealing to potential readers is a new cover. The Cover Genie Pro software is allowing me to upgrade the covers for a lot of my older ebooks whose sales have fallen or face stiffer competition in my non-fiction niche.

This software is versatile in the different types of designs it can be used to create. If your business plan calls for DVD as well as books, you can produce the necessary artwork for both using this software. It is also possible to produce cell phone covers, boxes and mock-ups. So far I have only revised ebook covers, but have been very happy with the results.

If you are interested in learning more about this software, just click here. Please note, I am not an affiliate. I won't make a dime of this software. I'm just a happy user who has some much nicer ebook covers I was able to create myself at a very low cost.

It is worth noting Cover Genie Pro works with either a PC or Mac. The software is accessed from an online account with the company. You simply login and go to work.


For more information and to see examples of what can be created using Cover Genie Pro visit their website.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Is Print Still Important for Self-Published Authors? What Does the Flattening Sales of eBooks Mean for Self-publishing Authors?

Publisher's Weekly story on the decline in ebook sales indicates that while the industry is not alarmed, yet, the ebook market might be softening. What has caused this trend in the last quarter has quite a few industry experts speculating about what the decline in sales has been caused by. Some industry experts offer the following as possible explanations:
  • rise in prices due to the new contracts with Amazon.
  • saturation of the market.
  • changes in reader habits.
In reading various accounts of what the experts think, I find the change in reader habits the most interesting. These individuals argue people are returning to the traditional printed book in many instances, buying ebooks for when they travel or must carry the book with them to work or for work. The digital version, which can be read on nearly any device,  is easier to travel with. The traditional, familiar print version is a more complete reading experience.

I'm not an expert on this, but I can comment on my own sales and experiences as a reader. In the past quarter, my ebook sales have plummeted dramatically. My POD sales have held steady and actually increased in the past two months over last year's sales for the same months.

I write in a non-fiction niche and the possibilities for the changes in my sales can include saturation of my market and a preferences for the larger (8.5x11) print format paperback offers. The information in my books is illustration intensive and the paperback versions lend themselves to taking written notes in the book as well as duplication of key illustrations to share.

It is hard to know as a single author what causes a decline in sales. The variables are too many for me to track and make any real determination about.

My next book, due to be released in December, will appear only as a POD paperback. There will be no ebook edition for several reasons.

The first is there has been a rush to the bottom in my niche for ebook prices. The Kindle edition of a $19.95 paperback will only sell if priced $2.99.  My profit per unit is drastically smaller for the book sale. In order to make the same net, I have to sell four ebooks to every paperback.

Tracking four of my books and comparing the sales figures, I am starting to believe I should shelve the Kindle editions as an experiment for a month or two and see if my print sales for those titles increase in terms of units sold.

My forthcoming book will be huge, nearly 300 pages in length with almost 300 illustrations. The 8.5 x 11 inch format allows for a large amount of information to jammed into those 300 pages. The delivery fee, which I find reasonable and do not object to, for the sale of the Kindle edition will cut into my net significantly.

Pricing the paperback version at $24.95 will allow me to earn nearly $10 per unit sold. Pricing the same book at the Amazon desired $9.99 version, minus the nearly 70 cents per sale charge, will net me less than five dollars per sale. This of course only happens if I can convince my buying audience to pay $9.99 for the book. The past data I have for books this size says $4.99 seems to be the sweet spot for my readers.

The same sized book contentwise sells for $19.95 or $24.95 in its POD version. Clearly, finding a way to increase the number of print unit sales is critical for profitability. It's the same information, but I receive a better price for the actual print book than the ebook edition.

So my next book is not going to give my readers a choice. If they want the information, they are going to pay a fair price for it. There will be no ebook edition, a fact I plan to make clear in my marketing of the book.

I'm not trying to cut my nose off to spite my face. My small publishing business is just that, a business. It is a second income for my family. In asking the individuals who purchase my books if they think my pricing is reasonable, the responses are overwhelmingly favorable, for both print and ebook, a fact I find discouraging in regards to the ebook market.

For writers of fiction, where the potential number of customers is vastly greater than the niche I write for, I would price my novels in the price ranges most Indie authors sell their work for, $2.99 to $4.99. Creating a set of characters and a world allows you to build and audience for your work and continued publishing of books at reasonable prices means a large following and increased profitability through vastly increased unit sales.

I am beginning to think the same might not be true for non-fiction authors with a limited audience for their works.

And so it is that I will be taking a chance on my next book. If the audience wants the information, they have to pay for what it's worth in print. I am not going to provide a low cost option that reduces the value of my work and the hard won information being shared.

Time will tell if this is a mistake on my part, but it is a gamble I am willing to take on one book to see what I can learn, if anything.