Indie Publishing and Marketing
Step 1—Setting the Stage
Writing begs for a marketable product, which is a good book. And since everything you write will be up for scrutiny, becoming a successful author starts with the first word you write. Inadequate writing just won’t sell. Readers read, scrutinize, judge, talk about, review and rate books. If your writing is not up to scratch, they will punish you. Readers do not want you to waste their time or money. Putting a well-crafted book on the market is a therefore must. No book is flawless but striving for the best will serve you well.
Writing a book takes months, sometimes, as was the case with me, years to accomplish. Along the way you will incur cost. Even then you are not assured of success. Apart from daily living expense while writing a book, publishing and marketing is where and when the money flows like water from a bath tub with no plug. My advice to aspiring authors is that you make sure writing is what you want to do. Have a job, income, and/or capital you can tap into while writing. Don’t forget to leave a fair amount for publishing and marketing. You will need it.
Being an author is like making an investment. If it comes off, you reap the rewards. If it does not, you make a loss. But don’t worry, you’ll become a better person in the process. So, why not give it a go?
Hard on the heels of digital, internet and cellular technology came social media, which is huge. While you write, join social media networks. Create accounts and profiles. Let people know you are an author and writing. Keep them interested and posted on your progress. Give them teasers. Get the word out. Create a vibe. Even if you only use your profiles later when you’ve published, there is no harm in having social butterfly wings flapping in advance.
Social media can be an asset; it can also be a curse. Most people are skilled at social media. For those who have not tried it yet, plan before you get involved. Have material ready before uploading for the first time—at least five to ten posts. Participate or people will stop engaging with you. Be sincere and make meaningful contributions.
Not all social media works for all people. Try as many as you can. See which work for you. Remember, social media can be all consuming. It is impossible to engage your social media all the time and still write, publish, and market your books effectively. Since social media is distracting, somewhere along the line you will have to knuckle down and concentrate on what you are really doing, which is writing. Update your profile regularly. Nothing is worse than a poorly maintained site. Don’t get up to anything stupid either. Shooting from the hip is a sure way of getting into trouble, which could turn potential readers against you.
Social media to consider:
Facebook—social networking site to connect and share with family and friends online.
Twitter—online news and social networking site.
LinkedIn—the world’s largest professional network.
Amazon Author Central—Amazon’s site for customers to learn about you.
Instagram—social networking app for sharing photos and videos from a smartphone.
Before editing your manuscript, you might appreciate an opinion on your writing. Premise, genre, plot, structure, style, characterization, dialogue, setting are all aspects, which makes for good writing and critiqued for its quality and worth. Authors who have mastered the art of novel writing probably don’t need this anymore, but as a first-time novelist you should consider having manuscript assessed in this way. Having family and friends read your draft is not a bad thing, but hey, they can never be as unbiased as qualified professionals who have never met you.
I’ve had Blood Symbols professionally appraised three times; each time by a different assessor. The first draft was slated and rightly so. That was partly because it was a first draft. Your manuscript does not have to be finished before submitting it. The second assessment was less harsh, which is a sign of progress. Only when the third assessor gave me the thumbs up, did I move onto the next step of editing. A comment on the assessor’s opening page blew me away: “I assess a lot of manuscripts professionally every year and very few are as competent as this one.” Finally, I knew it was time to move on. Make no mistake, the book was not complete yet. I still had critique to dissect and implement.
You can expect as much as a twenty-page report. For most, it will be what is wrong with your writing. If you’re lucky, you might find a compliment tugged in somewhere. Don’t hold your breath though. It can be demoralizing. But don’t let it get to you. It is their way of informing you that you are not quite there yet.
Assessments are costly, I know, but they are worth every penny.
While manuscript assessment is on the go, why not finish your biography. Many authors shy away from writing a biography. Next to an agent’s letter and synopsis, a bio is possibly one of the most difficult things to write. Anything that incorporates years of thoughts is challenging to write. Your biography is one of them. Take the time to write a decent biography though. In the end you will be aiming to win over an agent with it. If not, and especially for indies, you will have to place it in your printed book, eBook, website, social media, as well as sites where you sell, promote, and advertise your work.
The biography should include the most important aspects of your life and the things that have made you the author you are. Writing experience, study, journalistic experience, awards and credits are all signposts along the life path which has made you an author.
With biographies less is more. Make sure that what you write inspires. Careful of being boring, which can happen when you need to be brief and to the point. Don’t overly sell yourself. And never come across arrogant. Unless you are famous already, people will mostly become aware of you on the web. When that happens, it is quicker for potential fans to read your biography than your book or a sample thereof. Even as a newbie, listing your experience can build trust and credibility.
Hooks and Blurbs
Hooks and blurbs are strong, creative descriptions consisting of a few words or lines to arouse a reader’s interest in investing time and money in your book. Hooks are almost like pick-up lines—it works best when you come up with something striking and original. A blurb, on the other hand, is a sales pitch. Once your title, cover, and/or hook tweaked the interest of a reader, the blurb motivates the person into purchasing the book. After cover and title, hooks and blurbs are the most important selling tools to entice the reader into spending their hard-earned money on your book.
Hooks feature on your website, advertisements, promotional websites, blogs and more. Blurbs feature on the back cover of your book, your website, retail sites where the title is sold, book clubs, and marketing sites. Since hooks and blurbs are designed to leave the readers craving for more, make sure they are fantastic. And, don’t forget to have them edited. Yes, they might seem short and insignificant, but hooks and blurbs need editing.
I would encourage first time indies to let a professional who specialize in hooks and blurbs do them for you. Having conversations with many characters entangled in multiple plots and traversing different countries muddles your mind so that condensing it into a hundred words is near impossible. Believe me, I’ve been there! Eventually after the hundredth attempt your mind goes numb. When fatigue sets in, give up; you will be writing rubbish not worth using.
Example of a hook:
When a New York journalist uncovers evidence that challenges the Vatican’s apostolic succession it could start up her career—if she doesn’t die first!
Example of a blurb:
Halfway through her Ph.D., Jennifer Jaine’s faith has been shaken. She has become convinced that the Catholic church’s authority is based on a lie. Desperate to prove herself wrong, she goes to the Vatican, only to be caught up in an international hunt for the truth about the church, the Pope, and how Jesus intended his followers to live their faith.
A stolen artifact, a mysterious murder, and an escaping intruder lead Jennifer from the Vatican to the streets of Rome to the Cave Church of St. Peter in Turkey, where she discovers a secret that could delegitimize the Pope. Chased by scheming cardinals and the trigger-happy head of Vatican security, assisted only by an elderly professor, the son of an Italian Mafioso, and a mysterious—but handsome—Turk, Jennifer must decide whether to become complicit in the church’s duplicity or shake the foundations of the planet’s most dominant religion.
Editing and Proofreading
Having a trusted editor who works with you all the time is beneficial. Your resident editor, so to speak. Not only is it convenient, but after a while they get to know your work, your writing style, typical mistakes you make, and understand what you are trying to say but did not quite get there. They get into your head, which is a good thing, but it can also be a curse. Getting too close to your work, they might get too familiar, almost complacent with it. And that is why you need more than one editor.
Not all editors do every type of editing. It is like authors that don’t write all genres but specialize. Some editors are better at editing British English, others prefer American English. Some are good line and content editors, while others make for good copy editors. In Blood Symbols my protagonist is a New Yorker. I therefore wanted an American for the final edit. You would be amazed at the number of changes and recommendations an editor from another country can come up with.
Of course, editing is costly, but a thoroughly edited book is a must. If you can afford three editors, then go for it. Several edits ensure a better product. In any case, editors make suggestions, which lead you to make corrections and changes, which spells improvement. Sometimes you rewrite parts, so more editing. Only when you are satisfied do you proofread. Editing is of your biggest expenses, but do not skimp on it, you may regret it later.
There are many internationally recognized editing companies to be found on the internet. Do your homework and select one that appeals to you. They should give a breakdown of costing, so you know exactly what you are in for. Fixed rates per word and length of document apply, and a timescale for completing the edit should be indicated. You have a say on which style of editing and language you favor, and once you’ve accepted the quotation, loaded the manuscript and paid, you can sit back, take a break and wait for what hopefully will be a great edit.
Editing packages can include manuscript critique, editing, proofreading, formatting and query packages which include a letter to agents, short and long synopses and an outline of each chapter.
Once editing is complete, your next step is formatting. Indie authors have the option of eBook and paperback, and if you’re lucky, and in the case of Amazon’s ACX, you may consider converting into audio as well (later about audio though).
Just to complicate matters, different retailers require different formats for each type of book. To clarify: the same eBook requires different formatting for retailers such as Amazon and Smashwords. Each has their own program that converts your formatted manuscript into their own format. You must master both, or your book will be rejected. And even if it does go through, mistakes are passed onto the reader—something you cannot afford. These companies offer ample assistance enabling you to format your manuscript to their specification. Study it thoroughly, train if need be, implement their requirements to the tee, and your manuscript will be accepted. Do not stress too much about making mistakes: they have an online reader which allows you to check the uploaded and formatted document for flaws. Check every page thoroughly before pressing the final publish button.
What about devices such as Kindle and iBook readers? Don’t they also require different formats? Yes, they do. There are different formats for every device: EPUB, AZW, LIT, PDF, ODF and MOBI, to mention a few. This can be daunting, I know. Fortunately, though, the programs convert it for you. Once you’ve loaded your formatted version correctly, they convert it into the formats for the different devices.
eBook format is different from print format. Being digital, it adapts to the varying shapes and sizes of eBook readers, and since paging and text size is variable, traditional pagination of book format becomes obsolete. Its ability to adapt makes for a more complex format. Anyone creating an eBook should understand eBook format before formatting the document. It is not for everybody, I know, but with travail you will make it happen.
There are programs which convert a document into an eBook format, but they must be mastered before you can use them. And sometimes mastering the program is more difficult than learning to format it from scratch yourself. You must learn how to use their program and then choose from several programs: Kindle Create, Atavist, eBook Maestro, iBook Author, to mention a few. Before choosing, you must learn how each works and assess its value, otherwise how do you make the choice? Going through the process of choosing can make you feel like you’re wasting time. Finally, read the fine print, for some insist you only use their product, work through them rather than with them, making it difficult to backtrack, opt out, or choose another product later.
With the advent of the internet and digital technology came on-demand-printing. No longer need authors have publishers printing thousands of books for them and keeping stock in storage at great expense for long periods while marketing and distributing the books as orders come in. Amazon and previously CreateSpace have devised methods of cost effectively printing single paperbacks and distributing such across the world in a matter of days. All the author does is upload a formatted Word document directly via the internet and onto their websites and, voila, you have a paperback publication online.
On demand paperback has its own format, which differs from eBooks. Microsoft docx or PDF files will suffice, and although easier to manage than eBooks, still requires the document to be formatted to conform with print principles such as pagination, page layout, title page, copyright page, blank pages, different numbering for different sections, titles, headings, indentations, layout, fonts and so on. Once you have mastered this, publishing and printing are a breeze!
Companies and individuals offering their services for the preparation of manuscripts as described are aplenty. But it can be costly, adding to the overall cost of the book. In any case, doing it yourself is not that difficult. Why not give it a go? As a first time indie you are quite likely to make changes later—after all, we all make mistakes. So, having the skills to change the writing, biography, blurb, editing, formatting, and even cover design after the initial publication is essential. You would be surprised at how many faults pop up after publication. The ability to self-correct is therefore a must!
Audiobook only happens after you’ve had your manuscript edited and proofread. One cannot produce audio with changes likely to happen.
For most Indies, audiobooks will never materialize. Unless you’re established as an author, have successful titles behind you, a reputable publisher, or money to spend, audio will remain on the wish list. In an ideal world, however, this is where you’d consider audio.
Unlike files for eBook and paperbacks, which are relatively basic to prepare for distribution, audiobooks require narration and recording. Production obviously spells more upfront costs. Audiobooks, or the selling thereof, is not available to all authors either. Amazon for instance does not allow nonresidents of areas they represent like the US or UK to upload audiobooks—not yet anyway. Jurisdictional tax issues and profit sharing between Amazon, recording studios, narrators, and indie authors prevents Amazon from making this happen.
For those who are in the right area but cannot afford production, plan B is a partnership with the recording studio. Studios such as Findaway Voices offers recording for free but share the spoils. Plan C is to do it yourself but unless you are expert narrator, have a recording room, and the equipment to produce the audiobook, I’d not advise this. A program such as Recordio bridges the gap. Keeping in mind though that audiobooks are large files. A full-length audiobook can easily span 500 MBs.
Before designing a book cover and website, consider branding. With only one title under the belt one might consider it unimportant. With multiple titles a possibility, plan your brand identification from the outset. Graphics, script, design, titles, images, layout, aesthetics, and appearance contribute to a unique experience, making for a polished product.
Forget about designing your own cover—period! Since your book’s cover is one of the most important aspect of your marketing success and what makes someone pic up your book to buy, impeccable in quality and design is the only objective.
Combining text and art, book cover designers capture the essence of work you have created. To do so, they must understand eBook, paperback, and hard cover formats. They must also understand how to incorporate paper weight, spine size, image and trim sizes, file sizes, ISBN numbers, bar codes and more. All these should be in the designer’s knowhow. If not, move on to one that has the knowhow as part of their bag of tricks. If you cannot find a cover designer near you, there are ample on the internet. Designs can cost anything from $150-1500, depending on what you want and who you get. Whether it is an artist or company, negotiate until a direction is established. Only advance to the design phase once you are 100% satisfied. Several takes and changes are common before you settle on a design. Designers set a limit on the number of changes you can make before topping up on their charges again. Make therefore doubly sure to get it right from the start.
Paperback cover includes a spine, back cover, description and/or blurb. Sometimes, especially with non-fiction, a short author bio and picture are included. Varying spine thickness for number of pages and paperweight are common. The designer cannot create the spine without them. For those who cannot afford a unique design, templets are available. Templates are prone to stock material, though, making them less exclusive.
Cover designers are proud of their work. Once they’re done, you’ve paid for their services, and they’ve sent you the files, they will not allow you to change anything without their consent. In other words, they hold copyright. To protect their rights, they jinx the files so that you cannot access them to make alterations. This is a good thing but can also be a burden, especially when you need changes made afterwards. Marketing only really takes place later, after the cover designs have been completed, make therefor sure the designer is not a fly by night. You might have to call on them again later.
Now is a good time to get a headshot done. Websites, book covers, blogs, and social media require headshots. And since first impressions count, headshot is important. And no, selfies won’t do. Selfies could help you decide what you want, but thereafter getting a professional photographer to create the final product is a must.
The topic of headshot is vast and best left to the specialist. It is however necessary to understand the basics of what is required for creating a headshot. Your headshot should make a statement, preferably one that has branding written all over it. Decide on what kind of photo you want. Look your best. Since writing is a profession, look professional. Mostly be yourself. Setting, lighting, makeup, clothing, expression, mood, background, and color are considerations when creating a headshot.
Much like your book cover, different sites and applications require different headshot file types and sizes. Any photographer worth their salt will know what to do. If not, get one that does.
Resizing a headshot is sometimes necessary. These days that is not a problem. Since photographers use digital cameras files are saved in digital format. An easy way to size is with a graphics program. Photoshop is an old favorite of designers but expensive and an overkill for what you want to do. Something free and downloadable is Paint.net. Microsoft Windows has Paint, but I’ve found it to be too basic. Paint.net on the other hand allows one to change an aspect of a graphic while the rest are updated automatically. Both size and quality are adjustable in easy steps. Change the height of graphic from 1200DPI (dots per inch) to 300DPI and the width changes as well. Practice makes perfect, so give it a go. One final thing before you do it yourself: make sure you have backups of the original files. Better still, make copies of the original file and use the copy—only!
With formatting, cover design, and headshot completed, and with branding firmly imprinted on your mind, commence with the design of your website. A good website is a must; it features your titles and present you as the author. In that order. Yes, when it comes to website, your book/s take center stage. Readers want to read your books. The author they want to meet in hindsight. Once they like what you write, they will want to know more about you.
Unless you are a professional designer, don’t do it yourself. An unprofessional website is a sure way to lose support. What you want is an ongoing relationship with readers. Make therefore sure your website is striking, well designed, well-structured, and up to date.
Websites by professionals are not cheap. A website could set you back $150-1200. If you cannot afford a designer, templates are a fraction of the cost. Compared to a professionally designed sites, they are limiting. WordPress is a world-leading platform with scores of templates to choose from. Setting up entails training, and believe me, even if someone said it’s easy, it’s not. Web design takes skills and time. Since time is money let a professional to do the job for you.
Your website is the online home of your book/s. Make it therefore easy for visitors to get from your website to the retail outlets. Give readers and potential buyers something to take with them when they leave your site. Your blog is a good place to do this. Make sure your website does not take long to load. Big files can take long to load. Don’t make your website a sales pitch. As said before, standout book covers are important and book descriptions, blurbs, and punchlines must stand out. Make the domain name easy to remember. Your name and surname should do. Initials make for a forgettable search. .com comes across international. A contact page for those who want to get hold of you is a must. A dedicated page for e-mail will go a long way to getting them to contact you. Respond to every reader. A well-maintained blog shows readers you’re active. Links to retail and social media is important. It’s no use selling yourself but leaving potential buyers hanging when it comes redirecting to where they can purchase your book.
You have edited, formatted, cover design and website is in place, but it is not the time to go live—yet. Many Indies at this point will consider themselves ready to go public and commence with online marketing. This, however, is not the best time to publish or launch a book. Before climbing the next peak, which is the launch, numerous things need to be in place first.
Next, I will be writing about indie pre-launch: what is required and how to go about achieving success. So, hang in there, I’ll be back soon.
In the meantime, please purchase one of my books, and, if you like what you read, I’d love for you to leave me an honest review and/or tell your family and friends what favorable experience you’ve had.