Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guest Post by Rob Siders of 52 Novels

It’s wonderful that Joe has opened his doors to the independent publishing community so that he can take a much-deserved break. I imagine that much of what will be written here while Joe’s on hiatus will be from authors chronicling their journeys and giving advice on what worked for them.

My angle is from the other side of that... the services side. At my ebook design shop, 52 Novels, we see a lot of manuscripts and work with a lot of authors. As a result, we’ve gotten feedback on what’s worked for people, and we give frequent advice on how to put your best foot forward when becoming an independent author/publisher.

It’s no longer enough to simply write a great book. You’ve also got to think about your ebook as a core part of your marketing, rather than simply the thing that your marketing is designed to move.

Here’re some of the things we often advise:

1. Make sure your manuscript is in publishable shape

This seems elementary, but you’d be surprised by the number of authors we work with whose manuscripts aren’t ready... typos, incorrect punctuation, missing modifiers, characters whose names change (sometimes more than once). The story can be fine. And the book may have been rewritten, multiple times perhaps, to solve the sag in the second act. But it’s critical for anyone entering this business to ensure that their product is tested.

We’re well aware that an author may have read his or her book a hundred times. But we’ve made enough ebooks --- nearly 400 as of this writing --- to know that seeing them on an ereader for the first time reveals things the author missed on paper or while staring at the manuscript on their computer monitor. Even the pro authors we work with tell us they find things on their device that they’ve never seen before. The better you handle the editing on the front end, however, the less you have to worry about things on the back end.

Some ideas:

  • Find or form a writer’s group. Some of the best story and structure advice I’ve ever gotten has come from my peers.
  • Ask five people you trust to read the book. Give them each a new red pen and require them to drain the ink barrel.
  • A good copyeditor is worth every penny you’ll spend, so hire the best one you can afford.
  • Set up a crowdsource editing project using Amazon Mechanical Turk.
  • Use a service like ErrNet to proofread your book. It’s fast, inexpensive, and will help you spot things you may have overlooked.

Because your book is at the center of your marketing, you cannot rush this. The temptation to engage in “just in time publishing” is great. Resist.

2. Make sure you think about your book’s packaging as a whole

One of the things I like best about making books for Joe is that he understands the book-as-centerpiece concept. Completely.Passionately. As such, when he sends me a new manuscript to work on, it’s usually just one of several components that become a new Konrath/Kilborn/Kimball product.

For example, take SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT. It’s an extreme example, but I think it works well here. The book itself is the culmination of several different stories, plots/subplots, and character arcs that intertwine between a couple of universes that Joe and co-author Blake Crouch created over nearly a decade.

To keep all of these datapoints straight, Joe and Blake created a network of collateral material that enhance the reader’s experience beyond simply reading the epic novel.

  • Want to know when Luther Kite makes his first appearance? Go to the Cast of Characters page and follow the internal link to Kite’s first time on stage in Part Two. Every major character has an entry on the Cast of Characters page that’s clickable to their first appearance in the book.
  • Curious about how Jack Daniels got her start hunting down serial killers? Check out the full story chronology --- for both Joe’s and Blake’s books --- in the back matter.
  • Because SKU takes place in periods before, after and concurrent to Joe’s and Blake’s related work, head to the Storyline Endnotes section to find out what happened before or after events in this book.

But these things aren’t the true brilliance of this collateral material. What makes this stuff so great --- from a business perspective --- is that it’s driving readers to buy other books by Joe and Blake.

So, you’re probably asking “what if this is my first or second book?” At minimum you should think about some of the things you find in paper books: an author bio, acknowledgments, a dedication, a one-sheet hype page, blurbs. (A quick story on blurbs... a legacy-published author with whom I worked recently is indie publishing her first Young Adult novel. She asked her beta readers --- tweens and their parents --- to blurb the book. Brilliant!)

If you’ve got a few short stories, clean them up and include them as bonus content (and then publish them as stand-alones later so you can link to them from a bibliography in subsequent ebooks you publish). If you’ve started another book, polish the first chapter or two and add that content as a teaser.

Maybe you’ve got a friend who’s also publishing a first book. Team up and swap out teaser chapters to include in your back matter. Better still, find TWO friends who are publishing for the first time and trade out space at the back. (There’s an added benefit here in that the more you have at the back of the book, the bigger your free sample will be at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But that’s a technical discussion for another time.)

3. Consider adding POD to your product mix

With the tidal wave of independent ebook publishing well upon us, it sounds a little odd saying you should also add print to your product mix. If you consider readership on the whole, there’s a wide swath of book buyers who still go exclusively for paper, and many more who buy paper in addition to ebooks. Even with the release of the Kindle 4 at $79 for the ad-subsidized model, the death knell of paper has yet to be rung.

If you can afford it, don’t leave paper sales on the table.

4. Don’t cut corners on your cover

Joe’s dedicated a lot of space at the Newbie’s Guide to this topic already, but I have to give my full-throated endorsement of this. Your cover must --- no ifs, ands or buts --- be the enticement to your sales page. In short, find a designer who gets what an ebook cover is supposed to do: look fantastic and entice a buyer when it’s the size of a postage stamp.

Some things to consider when evaluating a cover scaled to a small size:

  • Is the title legible at that scale?
  • Does the cover tell a story?
  • Does the design echo the book’s theme/tone/mood?
  • Would I want to learn more about this book based on a 5 second glance?
  • If the book is part of a series, does the design effectively and consistently convey the author’s or the series’ brand?

Please indulge me a moment and click through to my Web site’s Recent Projects page. Scan the collection of book covers, all done by different designers (although some are represented more than others). The image dimensions for those covers are all roughly the size you’ll find in search results at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. While you’re there, jot down some notes about the ones you like while considering the questions above. Something might not be to your personal liking, but the ones that stand out to you likely answer the questions above with a “Yes.”

5. Finally, make sure your product description --- the copy that appears on your product page--is working on your book’s behalf.

This also seems elementary, but I find a lot of books whose covers appeal to methat fail to convert me to a buyer because the product description falls flat. Amazon gives you 4,000 characters to write your sales copy. Use every last one of them! A two sentence plot synopsis and a nugget from your About the Author copy might be all you can come up with… and it might not be enough to sell someone who’s on the fence about sampling your book, let alone on the fence about buying it.

These days, I buy ebooks almost exclusively. As a result, I don’t spend a lot of time in book stores like I used to, combing the stacks reading jacket copy.

In a digital store, your Web site product description is your jacket copy.

With ebooks, I’ll take a chance on an author I’ve never read if they can sell me from their product description page. I don’t care where they were born or where they live or that they used to sell Pop-Tarts door-to-door before they started writing. Sell me on your story. Convert me to a sale. Convince me I should spend $3 on you, Unknown Author.

Rob Siders runs 52 Novels, an ebook design shop. Kindle. ePub. POD. Amazon. Barnes & Noble. Apple. Kobo. Smashwords. CreateSpace. Lightning Source. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook.

Joe sez: I'm the reason Rob got into this biz. He did a favor for me years ago, put a bug in my ear to keep him in mind if I ever needed anything techy. When some readers complained about my Kindle formatting errors, I turned to Rob and he learned how to create perfect (and wonderfully artistic) ebooks.

Now it is his fulltime job.

Rob is very busy, but he's worth waiting for. Amazon is using him to create the ebook for Stirred, and I've gotten emails from Amazon's tech staff asking, "How'd he do that effect?"

Lots of people can help you format a readable ebook. But Rob's work goes beyond that, and turns your ebook into something beautiful.

But don't take my word for it. Try him for yourself.