Thursday, September 27, 2012

Creating an Author Platform Using Blogger or WordPress

Self-published authors are responsible for the entire marketing effort for each book that is published by the author. This includes building an audience for the book, promoting the book, and setting the stage for the next book.

The internet has made this task, commonly referred to as building an author platform, vastly easier with Social Media and Blogs. Social media such as Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook are not the focus of this post.

Two commonly used free blogging platforms are available for authors are Google's Blogger and the open source Word Press blog. Both of these have pros and cons and some thought needs to be used before selecting which platform to use.  

Note: It would be great if any author who has experience with either of both of these blogging platforms would share your experiences and thoughts on the subject in the comments section for this post.

I currently have four blogs I maintain and post to regularly. Two of the four blogs are hosted on Google's Blogger and the other two are "self-hosted" and utilize Word Press to run the blog. This blog, The Self-Publisher's Notebook is more for fun and a break from the "serious" blogs I write that are truly designed to serve as author platforms.  

The Everything Iggy (Italian Greyhound) Blog is meant to serve as an outlet for my passion for this breed of dogs and to experiment with different ideas for promoting a blog, generating traffic and eventually monetizing. Since I view this blog as having a two fold purpose, fun and experimentation, if I make a really big error with the blog, it's fine. It is meant to be a place to experiment and learn as well as a place to blog about Italian Greyhounds.

The Self-Publisher's Notebook is my first, and longest running blog. While I have two short books on self-publishing, it is not my focus from a business perspective. I just really enjoy writing this blog and sharing what I have learned, mostly from my mistakes, with other authors who self-publish.

I like the Blogger platform. It has been easy for a non-techie like myself to learn how to use, move things around and experiment with its features. This has been a huge plus for me.

The cons are I don't have control over the blog, its hosting or if the features change. Within the available framework, there are limits in how much I can adapt the format to my own purposes. There is a limit to how much I can customize the blog and I cannot use the platform for a true, traditional website. Without extensive programing skills, there is a limit to how much I can change the appearance of a Blogger template.

The WordPress blogging platform is free and open source. I am glad I started with the Blogger platform before moving on to a WordPress blog. While not difficult to use, it was a bit more daunting to me to attempt to set up. I still have a lot to learn and so far it has all been by trial and error. When I have needed to have something done right and quickly, I have paid good money to have the changes made to the WordPress blogs.

Also, if you choose the WordPress route, you really need to self-host your blog which will cost you some money, though good web hosting can be found for a low cost.

What do I like about WordPress? It can be adapted in so many ways. It can be used as a website. It can be used as an e-commerce site. It can do everything Blogger can do and so much more.

Will I start any more blogs using Blogger? Probably not. In fact, I have all I can handle in terms of posting regularly on the blogs I have. One of the drawbacks of blogging is it takes time away from writing (thus the need to re-purpose your blog posts into books).

Which blog platform gets my nod for an author looking to start working to create a an author platform?  Knowing what I know now, WordPress, simply because it is more flexible and allows for expansion into a full-fledged working website.

But Blogger is a good way to start as well to get your feet wet. If you start with Blogger and later decide to convert to a WordPress blog, you can transfer all of your own posts from a Blogger platform to a WordPress platform. You will need to own the domain name, which is a good idea regardless of which blogging platform you start with.

As with anything, think about what you need and want from a long term perspective and a short term perspective. Both platforms have their pluses and minuses and I cannot say I have covered all of the pros and cons of either platform.

If any authors who use more experience with either of these platforms would like to weigh in on this topic, please do so in the comment section.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Global Connect Launched by Lightning Source

Like its competitor, CreateSpace, Lightning Source is expanding its reach beyond the borders of North America. As promised, Lightning Source has launched a new program called Global Connect, expanding its services overseas.

Currently Lightning Source titles will now be available in Germany and Brazil. LSI's distribution of book titles will be done through a series of partnerships with other printers and book distributors located in other countries.

As announced, the program will function by having the local company market the book and offer distribution as well to retailers in that country. LSI files will then be used to print and fulfill the order for the local retailer or customer.

List pricing and the book's discount will be determined by the nation of origin's default setting in that nation's currency. LSI will not allow returns. LSI states that not all book formats will be supported, depending on the nation in question.

Ingram, the owner of LSI, stated in a press release "The goal of Global Connect, said Ingram president Skip Prichard, “is to help publishers get their books into markets where there is a demand.” Using Global Connect will permit publishers to offer books for sale in other countries and not have to worry about such issues (and costs) as shipping. Prichard noted that Global Connect is a true print-on-demand service and will only print a book when there is an order. Ingram chose Singular as its partner in Brazil because not only does it offer POD services but has relationships with about 60 distribution channels in the country and its sales channels cover 95% of the book and digital content markets in Brazil."

While foreign sales might not be large in number for most authors, a book sale is a book sale. If you are already using LSI for your POD service, this new program is worth looking into. It costs nothing to participate in the program.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Amazon Sales Rankings or Amazon Search Results - Which is more important?

Understandably there has been lots of interest on the part of authors, both self-published and legacy published, in Amazon Sales Rankings. While Amazon refuses to publish data that will allow authors and publishers to determine exact sales figures based on sales rank, statistically minded individuals, such as self-publishing authority Morris Rosenthal, have done the grunt work necessary to try to build statistical models that correlate to actual sales figures.

It's fun to check the Amazon Sales Rankings for your book, particularly when it first starts to sell shortly after being published. 

What's more relevant to your success is Amazon Search Results. If you want to see your Amazon Sales Rankings improve, pay attention to your Search Results.

Amazon's website is both an eCommerce site and a search engine, and an elaborate one at that. Since as authors we have to do the bulk of the marketing of our books, particularly self-published authors, it pays to know how to get the best possible search results for your book.

Since Amazon is so secretive about its alogarhythms, it is hard to determine exactly what to do to boost your search results.

Several facts are reasonable to conclude about the process, some of which you as an author can control. They include:
  1. The more your book sells, the higher it will turn up in search results.
  2. If using POD with CreateSpace, Amazon allows you to list five keywords for your title. Since I only use CreateSpace now for all my POD sales for Amazon, I cannot address this issue if you use LSI or a different POD service.
  3. Your book's title will have a lot to do with the search results.
  4. The sub-title of your book is the key.
Since self-publishers need to take as much control as possible, lets look at the tools Amazon does provide authors/publishers to use to increase sales, the key to the first item in improving search results.

One of these programs is Amazon's Look Inside program. Authors have differing views about this program. My take on the program is simple. I participate in the program. Amazon prefers it if authors sign their book up for the program. Why? Amazon is concerned with making its consumers happy as its first priority, not authors (that being said, don't forget Amazon is the self-published author's friend). Consumers want to be able to "pick up the book and thumb through it" like they would in a brick and mortar book store. Look Inside is Amazon's way to allow consumers to do this. As an author I believe if a potential reader skims through my book he/she will buy it because of the information contained.

For authors who want to learn more about the entire process of selling books and getting a book listed on Amazon, there are few sources better than Amazon itself. Take the time to visit the Amazon Help FAQ page.

Amazon provides suggestions on how to optimize your book for the best possible search results. Since it's Amazon's search engine it is probably a good thing to pay heed to what Amazon has to say.

Categories and tags can help a book in the search result process. So let's take a look at what Amazon has to say about these two tools.

The title of your book can also play a huge factor in the search results for your book. No less of an expert than Aaron Shepard suggests dividing the book titling process into two distinct parts. The main title of the book needs to be named in the traditional process.
It is with the sub-title that Amazon's search results needs to be considered. Amazon allows the author/publisher to list a sub-title that does not necessary appear on the cover of the book. The sub-title should be crafted using keywords and in such a way as to provide the book with the best possible results in the search process.
Self-publishing is a business. Selling books is where the revenue comes from for self-publishers and for most of us, Amazon is where we sell our books. Amazon Sales Rankings are fun, but Amazon Search Results are what matter. Optimize to get the best possible search results for your book and you will generate more sales. You'll also have more fun checking your Amazon Sales Rankings as a result.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Self-Publishing Blog Posts - Sales Data, Design and Industry News

I spent the evening catching up on reading about the self-publishing industry and came across some blog posts worth sharing. Konrath's in particular is worth reading as he provides data based on his actual sales as a self-publishing author.

Here are the blogs and the posts!

J.A. Konrath provides data, based on his own experience, on why you should self-publish - Kornath's Newbies Guide to Publishing

A long but interesting article from Forbes titled: Publishing is Broken, We're Drowning in Indie Books - And That's a Good Thing!

Converting your blog into a book - Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer

Morris Rosenthal on fighting internet copyright infringement at Foner Books Self-Publishing 2.0

White Might Not Be Right - Michael Marcus on choice of color for book covers.

While it is from July, this post from Small Town Press is worth checking out because it actual sales data from a self-published author. The data is comparing Kindle versus paperback sales.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Google Books - The Next Step: Forming a Partnership

In an earlier post I announced I planned to list the books I have available in the ePub format for Nook sales with Google Books.

So far the most difficult part has been working my way through the maze at Google to find where to sign-up my books and get paid. Don't laugh too hard. My teenage daughter and my 23 year old daughter who was home for a quick visit had trouble as well and they're whizzes at navigating computer websites.

To speed things up for those who are like me, you want to go to Google Books Partner Program. You will need to create an account so you can receive payment for your book sales. If you have a blog you can participate in Google Ads to generate some revenue that way as well.

Click on log in to your account to go to this page:

You log in with your e-mail address and password you have created for your Google Account. You will then be taken to this page:

Click on My Account to go the next page to enter your bank account information and your tax information. Google will ask you to verify your account by an interesting process. Google will make a test deposit to your account and then ask you to verify the amount. This process takes a few days according to the statement made by Google.

As of now I have signed up and provided Google with the necessary information and am simply waiting for the account verification process to be complete.

The next step is to upload the files for my books. More information on this process as soon as I have my books available for sale with Google Books.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Cruel Paradox of Self-Publishing - Atlantic's Take on Changes in the Industry

Ouch. What a title. It certainly got my attention as I was searching for something else. After reading the article, I had to agree with some of the author's points, but not all.

The story is worth reading but I believe is written from the viewpoint of traditional publishing that is only beginning to realize self-publishing could potentially become a major competitor to the traditional publishing houses.

The story, I believe, was probably written due to the fact Penguin Group has purchased Author Solutions Inc, for $100 million dollars. Somebody at the Atlantic took notice. When that amount of money changes hands, it does generate some attention.

Yes, most self-publishing authors sell fewer than 150 copies of their books. I have several that certainly fall into that category. I also have several that have sold thousands of copies and for a niche non-fiction market, I think that speaks well for those books.

Digital publishing has changed the game. Print-on-demand, Amazon's Kindle, the Nook, Google Books and ebooks in general have leveled the playing field a bit for authors.

No longer is the question "how do you get published?" Now the question is "how do your self-publish?" The advantages can be considerable.

The challenges are also considerable and perhaps that is the value in reading the Atlantic's article if you are considering self-publishing.

For those of you who are up to the challenge, the real question to ask is not "how do you self-publish" but rather, I believe, "how do you market a book?!" 

Just as important a question to consider is print-on-demand versus ebooks and Kindle versus Nook. Which digital format to use?

Self-publishing is a business. Books need to be sold in order for them to be read.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Professional eBook Conversion versus DIY - Self-Publishers Beware

Self-publishers by necessity are willing to take on nearly every task required in the process of publishing their book. Sometimes the results of those efforts are books that are less than professional in appearance.

As ebook reading devices and apps improve with each generation so does the need for well produced ebooks. As the users of ebook reading devices such as the Kindle and the Nook become more familiar with consuming books using the technology, they are also becoming more discerning when it comes to the quality of the interior design of ebooks.

Readers are able to spot poorly done book designs by self-publishing authors and are starting to do the same with Kindle and other ebooks. Spend some time reading one-star reviews of a range of Kindle books and you will find many of the reviews are not about the quality of the story or information but rather a condemnation of the formatting of the book.

The number of books available, in Kindle format no less, describing "easy" conversion methods to produce Kindle books are quite numerous. Having purchased quite a few of them myself, I can say I am no closer to being able to produce a Kindle edition that looks, or works, like I want it to.

There are certainly authors who self-publish who are perfectly capable of not only designing a nice interior for an ebook, but doing the conversion work. From what I have been able to learn, most of the authors who possess this skill are either knowledgeable in HTML or are well versed in computers.

While money is certainly an issue for self-publishing authors, this is one of those instances where "doing it yourself" in order to not spend money may cost money in the long run.

Just as paying for editing and professional design for a print edition is a wise investment, so it having your ebook professionally formatted as well. Of the 14 books I have available, all but one have earned back the cost of conversion and that lone title is close to earning out its production cost as I write.

As J.A. Konrath, one of the foremost advocates of self-publishing using Kindle, likes to say "ebooks are forever!" Investing money in having your book(s) professionally converted is a wise decision.

I use eBook Architects and have used the Kindle conversion service of CreateSpace. I prefer eBook Architects for my books with graphics and photographs and use their services for all my books now. CreateSpace has done a good job with my books that were text only and the pricing is reasonable.

eBook Architects also warranties their work with the QED quality seal of approval, the only conversion service I have found that does so.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trends, Reviews, Information and Some Self-Publishing History in the Making

I regularly read several blogs by individuals who are authorities on self-publishing, book marketing or book design in hopes of learning as much as possible. All of the individuals whose posts are referenced here and linked to are not only experts in the field, but are successful and experienced self-publishers themselves.

From Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer: The Biggest Secret of Book Marketing Success

An interesting post about book marketing. Joel reveals the method of book marketing that will produce the absolute best results.

From Aaron Shepard's Publishing Blog: Stumbling on Hyphenation

A review of Microsoft's Word 2011 by Aaron, who among other things, is the author of Perfect Pages, and extremely proficient in the use of Word to lay-out book interiors for use in POD publishing. In this review, Aaron focuses primarily on the problems with the hyphenation feature of the 2011 version of Word.

From Aaron Shepard's Publishing Blog: Counting on Amazon

For you coding fans and anyone who sells their book on Amazon, this blog is worth reading. Aaaron examines the inner workings of many of the marketing tools for authors on Amazon. A blog post well worth reading from one of the experts in book marketing using Amazon.

Morris Rosenthal's Self-Publishing 2.0:  The Decade of POD Publishing Gives Way to eBooks

I wrote about this post a bit earlier this week and linked to it. Thought provoking look at the changing nature of the industry of self-publishing as it relates to the technology of print-on-demand and ebooks.

From Dana Lynn Smith's The Savvy Book Marketer: Free Images for Your Blog or Website

Free is good! Ms. Smith provides information about locating images for use to improve blogs and websites that cost nothing for the user.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Has POD Run It Course? Are eBooks the New POD for Self-Publishers?

Morris Rosenthal, one of the leaders in the print-on-demand business model for self-publishers, has written a very thought provoking post on his self-publishing blog about the POD business model he helped foster and promote. Rosenthal's piece, The Decade of POD Publishing Gives Way to eBooks, is a summary of his latest thinking about the world of self-publishing. 

In February of this year I wrote a less insightful post, Does POD Still Have a Place in Self-Publishing, that poses the same question Mr. Rosenthal is attempting to answer.

Technology has certainly changed how we consume our reading material and readers seem to be embracing the new ereader devices. This past Christmas season Amazon's Kindle was the most gifted item from retailers.

While the Kindle (and Nook) boom is great for authors who self-publish due to the increased access to readers and ability to experiment with pricing for best results, what place does paper edition books occupy in a business plan for a self-publishing author?

Just 18 months ago if I had been asked should an author bring out an ebook edition I would have responded with an unequivocal yes, but after the print version. Now I would advise either a simultaneous release or the release of the ebook version first. Some experts, which I am not, are starting to advocate releasing the ebook version and waiting to see if there is demand for the POD version.

For now, the type of non-fiction books I write are best served, for the most part, with paperback editions due to the graphics and photographs. Ebooks simply are not quite as good yet as traditional paper books in this area, though the technology is improving in leaps and bounds. Once the technology catches up, I am fairly certain I will follow the trend of ebook first and POD later, if ever.

For now, every author probably has a different experience, based on genre and type of interior the book has or must have. Do what fits your business model the best and will generate the most sales or the highest level of revenue.

At any rate, read what Morris has to say about the subject. It will make you think about the future of your self-publishing business.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Google Books and Self-Publishing - Why Not?

You don't read a lot about Google Books, or at least I haven't in the blogs and message boards about self-publishing that I frequent. Like many things in the self-publishing world, selling your books on Google Books means you, the author and publisher, will have to do all the work to get things set up so your books are available for sale.

Some quick research yielded the fact that Google Books uses the ePUB format. Since I have a number of books in the ePUB format (I use eBook Architects to convert my print POD titles to Kindle editions. eBook Architects also includes an ePUB version as part of the conversion. You pay the same price regardless of which version you want.) it won't cost me a dime to experiment with having a few titles available for sale through Google Books.

I don't want to pull sales away from Amazon so for the moment I don't plan on promoting the fact the books are available from Google. I am curious to see how well Google will promote the books without any effort on my part.

Some advantages I see in partnering with Google to sell ebook versions of several of my titles:
  1. Hands off sales, publishing and payment.
  2. I already have ePub versions of several titles ready so there will be NO COST to list my titles.
  3. Google is the dominant search engine at the moment.
There is always "legal stuff" and I have learned you need to pay attention to this stuff. The legal page is pretty long and the wife is going through all of the fine print.

Here is the direct link to the page with the electronic agreement to partner with Google Books: 

Take the time to read this.

Entering your titles is easy enough. Here is a screen shot of the page you will list your books.

Actually loading the book files has been problematic as I get an error message. I know for a fact there is nothing wrong with the files as they all work fine. My youngest daughter has a Barnes and Noble Nook and I use it to test all my Nook editions when they become available from Barnes and Noble.

If I cannot resolve this issue I will send Google physical copies of the books and my guess is Google will scan the books in.

I am not going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the issue is. I have perfectly good proof copies laying around so I may just send those to Google. Google provides instructions on how to do this as well as a shipping label that can be printed for ease of shipping.

In order to do all of this you will need to have a Google Account. Since I use Google Analytics for my website and other blogs, I already have an account. If you have a blog and have Google Ads you already have an account as well. 

Google will pay by check via snail mail or electronic deposit. If you choose the later you have to provide Google with your banking information so the electronic deposit can be made.

Once I have these five books loaded up and available for sale I will track how things go for three for four months and then evaluate if I should add more books to the program.

I will be sure to comment on what I learn.  As always, if any readers of this blog have any experience using this venue to sell books, please post a comment elaborating what you feel is valuable information to any other author who might want to sell books this way.

Aiming at Something Other Than Amazon?

Aiming at Amazon, POD for Profit by Aaron Shepard and Print-on-Demand Book Publishing by Morris Rosenthal should be required reading for authors considering self-publishing. While things have changed in the industry significantly since these two books have been published, these three books are still excellent primers on the business of self-publishing and developing a market strategy.

Successful self-publishers have found numerous ways to market and sell their books. Aaron Shepard's strategy outlined in Aiming at Amazon focuses on "aiming" sales at Amazon, allowing Amazon's sales and marketing machine do much of the "heavy lifting" of promoting the book. This approach has the added benefit if POD or Kindle ebooks are the format your books are published with of Amazon doing all the collection funds, shipping of books, etc, leaving you the author free to write and engage in marketing efforts rather than fulfillment of orders and bookkeeping.

Mr. Shepard's basic premise in Aiming at Amazon is by directing all sales to Amazon and using POD for publishing, the author does not have to deal with fulfillment, collection of payment, maintaining inventory or many of the other potential drawbacks of self-publishing. Once the book has been set up for POD the author can focus on marketing and have the money deposited in the bank once a month.

Why direct sales to Amazon? In addition to the aforementioned services there is the advantage of the Amazon long tail, the effect of Amazon's search engine and software helping potential buyers of your book find your book (If you are considering self-publishing and can only buy one book to research the industry, Aiming at Amazon is the one to buy).

Does this mean authors should avoid selling their books via other avenues. Not at all. I sell books on Barnes and Noble, Amazon Europe and a specialty retailer. But I direct all of my sales to Amazon and Mr. Shepard's approach has worked extremely well for me, particularly with the Kindle editions of my books. If I were to direct sales to Barnes and Noble and the specialty retailer though, I would lose much of the impact of the concept of pushing sales to Amazon to encourage the Amazon machine to push and promote my book(s). The more a title sells, the more Amazon promotes it.

Still, there are lucrative markets out there that I, as a niche market author, would like to tap into. Libraries are one such market. Selling one or two copies of a book at a time to a library does not sound like it would be very profitable concerning the amount of effort and time it would take. I would earn more money over the long haul by spending that time writing more books.

Thus the question of how to sell my book to libraries? Book distributors who deal with libraries! While I have not had a lot of time to spend researching this, I have managed to find a couple of distributors who serve the library market. Here is my list so far:

As I investigate and pursue this possible avenue for sales, I will share what I learn here at The Self-Publisher's Notebook.

I would love for anyone who had had success selling books to libraries through a distributor or through direct sales efforts, please post a comment and share your experiences with the readers here so we can all benefit.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Not Spending Money is Not the Same as Saving Money When It Comes to Self-Publishing

Very few self-publishers have a lot of extra cash just laying around when starting their fledgling publishing empire. Keeping costs at an absolute minimum is essential for the business (always remember self-publishing is a business) to succeed.

There are so many ways to waste money in self-publishing it is not possible to list all of the money wasters on this blog. 

But not spending money to "save money" can be just as big a trap for some self-publishers. Since I only seem to learn lessons the hard way, I probably should not kick myself too hard. Still, those lessons came at the price of lost sales, time and effort wasted and the very money I was trying to save being spent anyhow.

You don't have to be lavish and spend "top dollar" to get quality results as a self-publisher. You do need to do your homework, have a plan and shop for the best deal.

Four tasks you should pay to have a professional do for you:
  1. Editing your manuscript - it is the best investment in your book you will make
  2. Have a professional cover created by an experienced cover designer - people do judge books by the cover
  3. Hire a professional to do your ebook conversion. You won't be sorry. I recommend eBook Architects. 
  4. Consider having a book designer do your interior. Of the four things listed here, this is the one you might be able to get away with but the learning curve for this is really steep. Buy Aaron Shepard's Perfect Pages if you want to go this route.
If you can only afford one of the above four, pay for the editing.

Hiring a book consultant can be money well spent as well but be careful to discuss terms up front and be very specific in what you need and want help with.

Joel Freidlander who writes the The Book Designer blog not only will design your book but also has online classes covering nearly every topic a self-publishing author needs to learn about.

There is plenty of work you have to do yourself as a self-publishing author. A great deal of that work is of such a nature that mistakes won't kill your enterprise. But a less than ideally edited and produced book can make all of the rest of your efforts a waste of time.

Spend wisely and on things that matter. Learn to do the rest yourself until you can afford to pay someone to do the other work. Why pay someone else? So you have time to write your next masterpiece!