Tag Archives: self-publishing

General Advice for Self-Publishers

Note: I originally wrote this article for this post. I’m republishing here because I should have my best articles on my own site, and this particular article summarizes each resource I’ve found helpful in my rediscovery of my self-publishing journey since 2016. If you’re reading this, I hope you get a lot of useful information out of it:

Please note that this presentation is not extensive. Consider this a starting point for additional research.

One-Stop Shops:

If you want a one-stop shop for setting up a self-publishing business (and by business, I mean setting up a brand that you might apply to future books), I find The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing quite useful, though the most recent edition is going on ten years old now. There are newer and perhaps more relevant resources available, but this is the only book I know of that combines just about everything that’s important in self-publishing into one source. It’s a dense book, though. I still haven’t read all of it, and I’ve had a copy of it for years.

If you want free information and don’t mind going down the rabbit hole (and possibly into a black hole) a bit, I’d recommend subscribing to or at least bookmarking a website called The Book Designer. It posts topical articles about book design or marketing on Mondays and Thursdays and links to other resources for design, marketing, and writing craft on Sundays. If you have the time to dig into the last few months’ worth of posts (and all of the ones they link to), you’ll get a sense of where the trends are today, but even then, there are some gems dating back several years that are worth looking at. Get a mug of coffee and plan to spend a lot of time scouring the site for information if you choose to dive in.

Other Resources:

-Interior and Cover Design-

The Book Designer also has its own paperback called The Book Blueprint, which covers much of the technical elements behind crafting a print book. It’s especially useful for showing you what to include in the front and back matters of a book, as well as what you should consider putting on the cover. Important resource if you care about how professional your book appears to readers.

-Registration-

Register Your Book: The Essential Guide to ISBNs, Barcodes, Copyright, and LCCNs is about what the title says. It’s a short book that includes updated registration information for 2019, as well as tips for launching your brand effectively the first time. I think The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing covers a good chunk of this, too, so it may be redundant to get this book if you get that one. However, this book is entirely about registrations, whereas the former book is about everything self-publishing, with registration being a small part of the content. It’s worth using the “Look Inside” feature to see which one you like better. But I can say that this one is more accessible given its focus, hence why I’m adding it to the list. The author has another book about creating your own imprint if you find that’s useful (The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing also provides information for that if I remember correctly).

Regarding ISBNs, everyone agrees that it’s better to buy your own ISBNs from Bowker than it is to use the freebies supplied by the distributors, as the ones you buy will have your imprint’s name as the publisher, whereas the freebies will have the distributor’s name as the publisher. Register Your Book talks more about that, but it’s important enough to reiterate it here. Likewise, no one thinks buying a single ISBN is worth the money. You should get, at the very least, a pack of ten. I plan to get a pack of 100 if I can ever manage to save up for it.

Note: You don’t need an ISBN if you plan to release your book on Amazon only. Amazon uses its own identification system called ASIN. But you should get an ISBN if you plan to release it anywhere else, and if you plan to produce it in more than one format (the rule is that every edition and every format has its own ISBN).

-Legal Information-

Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook is an essential book for the bookshelf, in my opinion. It reminds you of all of the ways you can violate copyright law if you aren’t careful. I wouldn’t publish anything until you’ve read through it. It wouldn’t hurt to retain a literary lawyer while you’re at it, though I think you’ll find that they’re more important when you’re writing nonfiction. The book also covers topics like working with freelancers and the legal advantages of forming your own LLC. It’s a must-own.

-E-book Formatting and Distribution-

Amazon KDP and Smashwords both have onsite guides that can show you how to format your books for e-readers. If you plan to use either of their services (and you probably should), you’ll want to take the time to read their guides or watch YouTube videos that can show you how to format e-books for each service properly. In my experience, I’ve found Amazon much easier to use overall, but Smashwords is more flexible with fixing mistakes on the fly.

It’s worth noting that a third site, Draft2Digital, has better formatting options than Smashwords, can reach many of the same stores as Smashwords (Barnes & Noble, Apple, Rakuten Kobo), and has a sister service called Books2Read that you can use to populate all of your storefronts into a single landing page. I’d recommend using both services, as both can reach certain stores and wholesalers that the other can’t. But for the shops that both distributors can reach, you’d likely be happier linking them through Draft2Digital given Smashwords’s limited formatting options (or, if you want to maximize your royalty potential, then uploading them direct to each shop might be the best option). Check the royalty rates at each shop before committing, though.

It should be noted, however, that you don’t have to use Draft2Digital to use Books2Read. In fact, it’s not technically designed for authors but for readers who want to populate shortcuts to their favorite storefronts where they can buy e-books. Authors use it, however, to make it easier for readers to purchase their books from whichever retailer they prefer. It certainly makes it easier to manage your links if you use it.

Distribution Note: If you decide to use both Smashwords and Draft2Digital, make sure you check only the boxes that you want each distributor to ship to. In other words, if you want Draft2Digital to be your e-book distributor to Barnes & Noble, then do not tick the Barnes & Noble box at Smashwords. Only one distributor should ship to a particular storefront at a time.

Formatting Tip: E-books are called “websites in a box.” You can technically format an .epub3 file using HTML if you really want tight control of your book’s presentation. Here’s an article that shows you how to do that. You don’t have to do it this way, though. Amazon, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital all allow you to upload simpler documents straight out of Microsoft Word if you want. That’s how I create all of my e-books. But, of the three, Smashwords is the only one that makes people angry. (It’s easy to use once you know what you’re doing though.)

Important Note: Amazon KDP has a service called KDP Select. DO NOT enroll your e-book in that program if you plan to go wide (as in selling it on Barnes & Noble, Apple, Hamster Republic, etc.). It requires a 90-day worldwide exclusivity on your selected e-book title, and obligates you to the platform until the term expires (assuming you back out before it enrolls you in a new term). Its page-reads system works similar to Wattpad but, unlike Wattpad, pays you according to page reads and sales. And, while I believe the payment on actual sales is the same as it is on regular KDP, I’ve heard that it pays authors by the page a little worse each year. Payment comes out of a shared annual fund, so if J.K. Rowling ever decides to write a new Harry Potter book and makes it exclusive on KDP Select, everyone else is screwed. That said, it’s fine if you plan to keep the e-book on Amazon only (and no one pirates it and posts it elsewhere). Really, though, it’s better not to enroll any of your books in KDP Select, not anymore. Too much can and has gone wrong for authors, and some authors have even discovered that Amazon can become a bit like Henry VIII if they don’t play exactly by their draconian rules when enrolling in the program. Fortunately, if you do enroll, KDP Select doesn’t affect your paperbacks or hardcovers. Only your e-books, and only the ones that you specifically enroll. But given how Amazon changes its rules and algorithms constantly, I can’t say for sure that this will always be true. Just do your research before making a firm decision to enroll or not to enroll.

-Paperback Distribution-

The online guides will reiterate this, but you’ll want to use KDP for paperbacks sold at Amazon, and IngramSpark for paperbacks sold everywhere else. Amazon has great pricing on its own site and terrible pricing for its extended distribution. IngramSpark has better pricing systems for non-Amazon book sellers and is the standard for outside-Amazon distribution. It also costs money to use, including charging fees for uploading fixes, so you’ll want to make sure your book is set in stone the first time you upload. NaNoWriMo participants get some of those fees waived if they take advantage of the discount by March, however.

You should know that IngramSpark is your only option for getting paperbacks into brick and mortar stores. But that’s its own can of worms, too complicated to talk about here.

-Prep-

Books, websites, and YouTube AuthorTube channels all agree that you should never put a book on the market until your manuscript is solid (complete with beta reads, editor fixes, and proofreader fixes), has a genre-appropriate, eye-catching cover (front, back, and spine if you plan to do a paperback or hardcover), strong copy, and a tribe of followers wanting to read it.

You’ll want to hire professional editors and cover designers (and maybe interior designers if you don’t have the time to learn it yourself) who know what they’re doing if you want the book to get into stellar shape. Neither is cheap, but both should at least be cost-effective. Good editing will likely cost between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on the size of your book (60,000 words will probably land you around $1,500). But you can drive that cost down if you give the editor a manuscript that’s already in great shape. Good genre-appropriate cover design will likely cost no less than $300. Anything less and you may want to see samples or a portfolio to be sure you’re not getting scammed.

There are a number of sites you could check out for these professionals, but Reedsy has some of the best for the price. Nevertheless, I’d do extensive research on any designer or editor you’re considering before pressing the big green button on them. They say the biggest editing and design costs are the ones where the editor or designer gets it wrong.

Regarding the true cost of self-publishing, I like this video’s breakdown of the numbers the most.

Regarding store page setup and discoverability, if you want a good Amazon keyword checker for marketing purposes, or for deciding how to categorize your book, I’d recommend checking out Kindlepreneur and its flagship software, Publisher Rocket. The software helps with determining which of your book’s keywords are the most-searched and comes with the lowest competition. It also tells you how much each of your competitors’ books makes a month. The website has some great resource articles, too.

-Craft Support-

I could post a lengthy thread on crafting tips, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll say this. Writers Helping Writers has a wealth of helpful articles, thesauri, and resources worth looking into, including its flagship service, One Stop for Writers, which really should be explored if you have some time.

You may also want to look into self-editing resource, ProWritingAid, and crafting aid, Master Writer, if your budget isn’t too tight.

At some point, I’d like to write up a separate post about the topic of writing craft and development and list my favorite resources on the topic. Craft is the one thing above all else that really needs the most attention. But, this post is already too long to start listing my favorites here. Stay tuned.

-Online Courses, Marketing, Self-Editing, etc.-

I’ve spent a good chunk of 2016 and 2017 attending free webinars and receiving email blasts about “premium courses” for marketing and craft, usually priced at $#97. I actually bought two of these courses for $497 and $197 respectively a few years ago (on monthly payment plans which actually cost me closer to $800 ultimately) and thought they were fine. However, just about everything I learned in these premium courses can also be learned in a book called Sell Your Book Like Wildfire, and that’s true of nearly any premium course you might get solicited if you go down the rabbit hole. In short, unless you’re getting advice from a titan in the industry (like James Patterson, Lee Child, or George R.R. Martin), you won’t need to spend more than $75 on any one course (or $90 if you’re a user of Master Class). Anything more and you’re probably throwing your money away.

Possible Exception: Sometimes Writer’s Digest may offer a decent course taught by a reputable author/instructor for the price and format of a college class. I haven’t taken any of these classes, so I can’t vouch for their quality, but I know of at least one Writer’s Digest author whose book is very good who also teaches for Writer’s Digest University. The same author who wrote Sell Your Book Like Wildfire. Might be worth it if you have the money to spare. Let me know if you check any of them out.

Marketing is its own beast, and it really deserves some time to research, but the common response to effective marketing is to build trust, create high-quality material, and play the long game (meaning, write more books). I particularly like this book on that topic. I actually like the author of the book quite a bit, too. Here’s her website. Side Note: I watched one of her on-demand crafting courses over the Christmas break and learned stuff I hadn’t learned anywhere else. I don’t typically advise paying for information you can likely find on YouTube, but I do recommend checking out her classes (if her other courses are anything like the one I watched). Her style is casual but thorough and includes props. Take lots of notes.

Regarding self-editing, I like The Story Grid a lot. The book is a brick, but it gets you thinking about things you probably didn’t know you needed to consider. It’s another one for the bookshelf.

Solicitations:

If anyone calls you about representing your manuscript, hang up and run away. It’s probably a scam. Writer Beware is a watchdog service that reports publishing scams, and you should really consult them before agreeing to anything you didn’t seek out yourself. I’ve had one of these scam publishers contact me about Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two a couple of years ago, telling me they wanted to represent it in their catalogue (for a small fee). I kept asking them why they wanted that one and not Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One instead. They never gave me an answer. They just really wanted the second book (for a small fee). Anyway, they made Writer Beware’s list a few months later, and I haven’t heard from them since (though the woman who called me, under one name, called me again a few months later, with a different name and for a new company). Just hang up if they call. And, no, I don’t know how they got my house phone number.

Finally:

I could keep going, but the most essential thing here is to make sure you have a product that readers want to buy (and read). So, if you’re lacking in any crafting considerations (structure, genre expectations, narrative weight, proper scene development, etc.) or presentation (appropriate cover and title design, copy, author bio and photo, etc.), then I would keep working at it until the whole package is sufficient. I spent the better part of a year self-publishing old stories as new e-books in 2015 and 2016 (after some general edits) and had a shockingly lackluster reader response to them. In short, I’ve made about $10 across all of my titles. You’ll really want to take the time to get it right before you publish any of your books. It’s a pain to go back and fix things after they’ve gone public, including your author brand. My goal for the next couple of years is to reset and launch my books properly. You should do the same before you find yourself having to reset.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Rush to Preorder: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 3

Missed a part? Play catchup here.

“Rush to Preorder”

In August 2015, I gave my novel, The Computer Nerd, a preorder date for October 20, 2015, the day before Back to the Future Day. Then I started to write it, or add to its existing short story form, rather. I thought this was a good idea. I was on such a hot streak that I thought two months was plenty of time to produce a great title. I thought wrong.

I had just finished and uploaded the revised version of The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky, a novelette that I’d written as a simple short story years earlier (and am currently in the process of revising again to include more story and less fable, but more on that another time), and because I was trying to keep my release momentum up to one new title a month, it was time to get my next e-book title in motion. I was planning on revising and releasing the short story version of The Computer Nerd, which was only about 6000 words and ended with the protagonist taking a chance on his wife not murdering him in his sleep by going to bed with her, but I decided rather quickly that the story was just a first act and really needed more. So, by the second week of August, I ditched my progress on Teenage American Dream, which was supposed to be my next title at the time, and went to work crafting a novel out of that single-act short story. By September 9, 2015, I finished the first draft of the complete novel, and I was happy with it.

I’d set the preorder date for October 20th, because I thought that would give me plenty of time to revise it and get enough beta readers to tell me how to make it better, even though setting a preorder for October 20th meant I’d actually have to have the whole thing done and uploaded by October 10th. But I couldn’t get the beta readers I wanted even though I asked. I got one reader and two advisors for certain moments in the story to cover my every question. Hardly enough feedback to tell whether the story truly worked, or if it was even any good. Had I given myself, say, six months, I might’ve gotten more feedback, or even given myself enough time away from the story that I could read it with greater objectivity and see for myself what works and what doesn’t. Had I given myself that kind of time, or even a year, I’d have been able to learn enough about editing for genre that I could clearly see what was off about the story and worked to fix it before anyone in the public eye would ever see it.

But I didn’t do that. I obsess over most of my stories, which is evidenced by the fact that I keep going back to stories I’ve written more than ten years ago to see if I can improve them, but I didn’t give myself time to obsess over The Computer Nerd. In fact, as I write this two years later, I still don’t know if my ideas for improvement are actually good enough to make it worth public attention even now. All I know is that my plans for its revision are better than what I actually published in October 2015, as a preorder, in an attempt to publish something new every month.

In Part 1 of this unintended series (I thought I would tell this story in one part, not three), I mentioned my plan to rerelease this story with new content and a new title. This is why the planned update for a “finished” novel that people have bought on Amazon or downloaded for free at Smashwords during promotion seasons. I rushed the current version without giving myself enough time to really let it sit with me. I rarely rush through anything without giving myself adequate time to meditate on its details and fix whatever doesn’t work. But the conventions of indie publishing pushed me in ways I wasn’t ready for, and I broke my own personal conventions (and convictions) to see how the story would perform in the marketplace. The result of that performance was poor to say the least. I had no sales at Smashwords or its affiliates, short of a couple hundred free downloads during my I-no-longer-care phase, which aren’t sales, and may not even be reads, and only a couple on Amazon, the first of which yielded a one-star review. The print book never sold. As of this writing, I have the only print copy in existence, and I don’t get far into reading it without cringing. It’s not bad, but I know I can do better.

I intend to do better.

And I wish to do so by giving it a new identity, hence its retitle to Gone from the Happy Place. I want to make sure that readers get the story they deserve and not the one I felt obligated to rush out the door. I still have logistical questions to answer, like whether or not I want to change the opening, or even scrap the original first scene (my gut says yes), but I also have to consider conventional rules for its genre and figure out how best to incorporate those ingredients that the current version lacks, like, say, adding a new character who complicates everybody’s relationship to each other by simply being in the same room as they (because she’s trying to arrest two of the three characters while stealing the third away as a romantic interest even though he’s married to one of the two she’s trying to arrest, and you get the idea…spoiler alert).

The end result of this tale is that each of my stories are now under scrutiny, and some, like Gutter Child, as much as I like their current versions, still need more to become competitive in the marketplace. I can’t save every story or turn them all into blockbusters. But I can still do my best to give each one a proper foot forward, and that’s why I no longer wish to rush anything I write, even those stories I need to rewrite. Gone from the Happy Place is “finished” already; at the same time, I haven’t actually begun the version that will earn its new name, and I won’t start it until I’m satisfied with my rewrites for The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky, Shell Out, and whatever else needs my attention. And even when I do finish it, I won’t release it until I can get proper marketing in its fuel tank. I want to have a better launch for its next version.

So, if you’re wondering why my publishing pace has suddenly slowed to a crawl, or why I’ve produced nothing commercially since May 2016, that’s why. I believe in quality over speed. I ignored it in 2015. I won’t do that again. It’s the same reason I don’t blog all of the time. I’d rather spend my writing on novels than on lectures.

But thanks for reading this all the same! Please come back. Next time I’ll write about…er…stuff, I guess. You won’t want to miss it!

Note: You can find links to most of the books mentioned in this series as thumbnail images to the right. If you’re reading this on your phone, you can find the links at the top. Alternatively, you can wait until I release the revisions and just subscribe to this blog for updates instead.

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

Cover image by Pixabay

Bonus: In Other Programming (Software) (The Marketing Author 001, Part 13)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Bonus: In Other Programming (Software)”

Welcome back to The Marketing Author 001. This week I’m giving you a bonus chapter, which will cover some important software decisions you’ll want to make as you begin you’re indie author hobby…er, career. You won’t need them all, but you should probably consider getting them all, or similar programs, if you want to maximize your potential.

Microsoft Word:

You probably have this item already. It’s the world’s premier word processor. You probably wrote all of your English essays on it. I’m using it to type this sentence. It’s Microsoft Word. You should just have it. It’s very powerful. I shouldn’t have to explain it to you. If I do, you probably shouldn’t become a writer. This is your chance to flee! Really, why don’t you have Microsoft Word yet? Is it still 1990 where you live?

Microsoft Excel:

You probably have this program, too. (Most people have the core Microsoft products, Word, Excel, One Note, PowerPoint, etc. on their computers.) Let me just offer a shortcut here: All of Microsoft’s Office products are useful for one reason or another. One Note is good for keeping all of your thoughts in one place. PowerPoint is good if you want to build an online presentation to promote your product or build a course that will get people interested in what you have to say. But what about Excel? Why would a writer need to worry about Excel? Simple. You need Excel to keep track of your sales or downloads so you can see how well your titles perform (and what changes to metadata or cover images might do to improve those sales). Here’s what my sales looked like in November 2015.

Cool, huh? Okay, those are pretty much all free downloads. But the important thing is that I can see how each book does against the other. You want Excel as part of your author toolbox if you want to keep good records and track performance, especially since most of your hosting sites, like Smashwords, will only display stats over a certain length of time.

Scrivener:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - scrivener

You want Microsoft Office for your piecemeal work, but Scrivener is the Mercedes of the writing world, and for writers, it’s the thing most likely to replace Word as the writer’s best friend. It’s got a high learning curve, but through practice or via paid courses, you can discover just how great Scrivener is for any author and why you should have it on your computer, even if you’re a casual hobbyist writer who just wants to journal.

It’s a writing tool. It’s an organizational tool. It’s a digital notebook. It’s an idea farm. It’s a research hub. It’s basically all of Microsoft Office’s programs compiled into a single program, and each “file” is actually a “project file” that stores all relevant information into a story file via folders and special categories. It’s also about 10% of Microsoft Office’s price tag, and it provides a 30-day trial if you’re not sure.

But give it a few minutes and you’ll be sure. It’s gradually replacing Microsoft Office as the go-to for writers.

Note: The Mac version has features the Windows version doesn’t offer.

Editor:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - editor

Disclaimer: I have this program, but I haven’t used it in years. That said, the reason it’s on this list is because I still think it’s useful, especially if your power of language or ability to spot grammatical or repetition problems is weak. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting problems at the local level, which is why I don’t really use it anymore, but this program has once upon a time helped me spot a page one problem with punctuation that I must’ve overlooked twenty times, which is something I never would’ve done, even in thirty or forty revisions. I had become too accustomed to ignoring that particular problem. That reason alone keeps me loyally recommending it to anyone who needs an extra boost in spotting problems, even if I don’t use it much for myself.

It should be noted that Editor is a reporting tool, not a fixing tool. Its creator is an Ivy League English professor who wrote the program to assist writers in making wise style choices, not to override their writing, like what Word might try to do. It reminds writers that no program can know all connotations in grammar. It can only make an educated guess about your usage and that you, the writer, should still know grammar.

It’s also the only editing program I know that looks for clichés, repetition, and comes with a few dictionaries, like a rhyming dictionary if I recall correctly.

The only thing I don’t like is the interface. It’s pretty raw.

KDP Rocket:

Official Website

Part of the importance of marketing is knowing how to locate effective keywords that can increase exposure or interest in your book. This program, which I just bought recently, will go to a subscription model soon, so I’d get it ASAP if you want it, as it’s still sold for a one-time only fee of $97, but its job is to report the top performing books at Amazon in that particular category or keyword you choose so that you can make an informed decision about the keywords you apply to your book. For example, I learned that my keyword for The Computer Nerd, “marital thriller,” is pretty good, while my keyword for “computer nerd” kinda sucks for a psychological thriller (though it wouldn’t be so bad if I were writing a book about programming). The things we learn when we research.

Results for keyword “marital thriller”:

Results for keyword “computer nerd”:

You can alternatively find separate programs like KDSpy and Kindle Samurai to do similar functions for less money, but the nice thing about KDP Rocket is that it does everything these other programs do, but in one place, and it does it better in my opinion.

Adobe Digital Editions:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - adobe editions

This is not essential but still highly recommended, as this program will allow you to read .epubs right on your desktop. If you’re writing an e-book and you want to see how your story will translate, this program will help you see that translation. It’s kind of like tasting the batter before you commit to finalizing the cake. You want to know that you’re about to produce and distribute a quality product and Adobe Digital Editions can help you see what your readers will see.

Amazon Kindle (Desktop App):

Official Website

author marketing 001 - kindle

Ditto as above, but for .mobi files used on the Kindle platform.

WordPress:

If you want to blog, this is probably the best platform for it. You’re reading this post via WordPress. That’s how good it is. I don’t really want to talk about something you can clearly see for yourself. But having a blog is a great way to talk to people so that you don’t have to waste your life on Facebook. Plus, you’re more likely to reach your subscribers through WordPress than you are on your friends list, as Facebook requires you to pay lots and lots of money to promote your posts. That’s how they stay afloat.

And so on.

So that covers this week’s bonus chapter. If you have a program you like using, talk about it in the comments below.

Thanks for joining me on this beginner’s journey into independent authoring and marketing. Be sure to tell me how your marketing adventures pan out as it happens. I’m sure I’ll blog about mine soon enough.

I hope to launch a new series soon about books on writing, so stay tuned for that.

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

You’re Smart, but They’re More Experienced (The Marketing Author 001, Part 11)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“You’re Smart, but They’re More Experienced”

Okay, so I had put this series on hold because nobody was reading it, and with so much else on my mind at the time of the last post, I didn’t want to commit myself to something nobody was showing interest in. But, almost four months have passed, and I really hate leaving things unfinished. So, here we go with the beginning of the end of The Marketing Author 001! Hopefully you’re reading it.

This week we’ll talk about the experts you might find who can help you become a better independent author.

Let me begin by saying that nobody should be so independent that he or she does everything alone. This is true about editing, true about marketing, and even true about writing. Just as we need feedback on the things we write, we need guidance on developing the best plans for our writing future. This is where the experts come into play.

Now, when I say “experts,” I mean people who have done something right more than once and have built a successful author career as a result. Not only that, but I also refer to those who have special skills, like cover design, or marketing tricks they’ve tested again and again, like using Amazon Marketing Services to their advantage or leveraging freebies to grow their mailing lists.

You’ll know them by their similar procedures and information, their commercial makeup, if you will, much like a vanity press that pimps out its many, many subsidiaries. They all form their own little networks, and when you find one, there’s a good chance you’ll find them all. That’s how I learned marketing (and how I’m still learning ways to put it into practice). That’s also how I learned about the pros and cons of going down the rabbit hole of marketing research. I’ve spent about $1000 in the last year trying to learn this stuff, and if you know me, you’ll know that I don’t have much extra money to spend on average, pretty much ever.

But it’s $1000 well-spent, as my knowledge of marketing is stronger now than it was when I started my e-book indie publishing journey. And now I know where to look for answers to those questions I didn’t think I had to ask. I’m even beginning to understand who the good ones are and who might be just a tad unrealistic in their enthusiasm (or perhaps a tad lucky in their success).

It isn’t just about whom you know, but what you know about what they’re selling. And they’re all selling something, often at $497 or higher. And much of what they sell overlaps with the information that others like them are also selling, and they all sell it the same way, by giving you a free PDF or introductory video to their courses, by giving you a live training event running about 90 minutes, complete with questions and answers at the end, by giving you about five days to make a decision about the upsell, the premium course on how to build an email list, or write copy that sells, or design the perfect book cover, etc.

It can get very expensive if you’re not careful. But the tradeoff is good information. Most of these people come from marketing backgrounds, or something that’s related to the information they’re selling today. Some of them just “fell into it,” but they figured out how to make it work well, and now they’re in the business of sharing that info.

It’s an important road to explore, as their knowledge is well-founded. But, be careful with the numbers they project. Most, if not all, will never promise you success. They will generally make the claim that their systems (a shared system, it seems, as most of them say the same general things about book marketing) worked for them, even though it may not work as well for you (though, it probably will, as it works for most everyone who applied the EXACT systems they use). But, it’s also important to know that the numbers they project are often paired with numbers they get from other sources related to their business, like selling courses, for example. For those of us who just care about books, which is often the case for us fiction writers, we should expect a much lower number in our dollar returns than the many “experts” who, you’ll find, are predominantly successful, or have generated the seeds of success, through their nonfiction titles that begin with an odd number and end with the solution to a problem, like 51 Ways to Turn Celery into a Useful Vegetable, for example, or through their supplemental businesses related to the product, like a premium course on how to make the most of your celery sticks through 12 videos you can access for life, as long as you pay $197 in the next five days.

If you enter the search for experts with this in mind, then you should be well-armed and ready for information-gathering without busting your bank account too badly.

Remember that the information you find is going to be similar to the information you’ll find here or there. The difference is in the delivery, and in some cases, the focus. It’s a good idea to go for the general marketing courses first, and if you can afford them, take the more specialized courses later. Anything that costs you more than $997 is probably too much, as you could probably get similar information at Udemy for $10 and not miss a thing. The course you choose should depend on the instructor offering the course, taking into consideration his or her reputation, path to success, and ability to retain success. A simple way to check on that last one is to use a program like KDSpy or KDP Rocket and look at the financial reports they’re generating. It probably won’t show you paperback sales (I’d have to search the Internet for a program that can report paperback sales), but you’ll at least get an idea how well they’re performing in the e-book department at Amazon, the company with nearly 70% of the market share, and a decent indicator of how the average author is doing across all platforms.

It also helps to know that the course instructors (or “experts”) run sales on their courses and add bonuses during new launches every few months, so if you go through the funnel, but find that at the point of signing up for the premium course you don’t have the money, don’t fret it. As Alinka Rutkowska, the instructor of Author Remake (the course I decided to buy last March), told me, there will always be another course around the corner. Just do what you have to, to give you and your book the best chance it can get at success. That’s something I agree with, and that’s why I keep doing what I can to learn from the experts. If you want to prevent any flailing in the water during your author career, I’d suggest seeking out these experts, too.

Here are a few sites I recommend checking out and subscribing to if you want to get more knowledgeable about succeeding as an indie author. This is just a small handful in a vast trove of informants, and most of them will lead you to other gurus who are sufficient guides in this crazy infant wild west of e-book and indie authorship. Take a look. Give them a chance. And explore!

Goins Writer

The Story Grid

CreativIndie

Book Marketing Tools

The Book Designer

Next week, I’m just going to motivate you. I like writing, and I think everyone should do it. Publishing your work for all the world to see is simply a bonus. And, yes, I do mean next week, not four months from now.

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

The Marketing Author 001

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Introduction”

We all aspire to become excellent at what we do, and what we do, we hope, is somehow tied into our hopes and dreams. People who aspire to build the greatest architecture in the world hope that their names will be synonymous with structures equaling the likes of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, or Freedom Tower in New York, or that skyscraper in Dubai that Tom Cruise risked his life scaling for a scene in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the Burj Khalifa. But to reach that level, these dreaming architects must prepare themselves for greatness, and while many may want to just skip to the awesome, becoming awesome generally takes a few baby steps and a lot of planning.

As an author who aspires to become well-sustained on passive income from my novels, especially from my A Modern-day Fantasy series, which I’m still working on and will be for a while still, I can relate to this thinking, to this become-awesome-today-and-worry-about-the-details-getting-there-tomorrow idea of success. And thanks to my hubris at having great titles to share and ignorance at having a great marketing plan to get the word out, my journey out the gate has been a rocky reflection of this poor excuse for an ideology.

Fortunately, I’ve spent countless hours—amounting to weeks most likely (there’s 168 hours in a week, so, you know, math)—studying how to market, how to give my books the best foot forward and so on, and the one thing I’ve learned consistently in this journey is that everyone has an opinion about what works, what doesn’t, and that all of them say pretty much inconsistent things to the tune of a similar drumbeat.

Granted, I like these inconsistent things because it convinces me that any strategy could work, as long as it isn’t destructive in nature. Coming up with my own brilliant ideas could also be a strategy, if I had brilliant ideas to come up with. And sometimes I think I do have brilliant ideas.

But, I often cut my ideas short when I think about the cost involved or the legislation I have to deal with to ensure appropriate business. Then I tend to bury my ideas when I realize the planning involved is extensive and the dedication to consistent marketing is unrelenting. And, of course, the worst part of all marketing, the thing that puts to the death all of my good intentions, is the money needed to make it all happen. I usually don’t have anything left over after my bills are all paid each month. How am I supposed to do much with nothing?

The gurus I listen to all want to give free advice up to a point. But then they want money for their truest lessons. That, too, is a sound business model. For them. For me, as someone who’s trying to learn on the tightest of budgets, it’s a terrible business model, as the high cost of learning anything valuable makes it a challenge getting the information I need to succeed. I can generally learn something from these people’s free advice, but probably not enough. And they know that. That’s why they write books, sell premium courses, and save their best stuff for the paying customer. It’s an education, dangit!

Yet, these people know what they’re talking about. They’re marketers, and good ones at that. Their strategies, though sometimes conflicting with other strategies, work, so I’m shown in their promotional videos. I, and any writer (or inventor, game designer, etc.) who aspires for success, should listen to any and all of them and sort out the elements that work best.

But the money….

This is when I realized that for every Author 101, Author Marketing 101, Author Business 101, and so on that’s out there, there is a need for a prerequisite course to prepare us for the education and marketing ahead, a 001 if you will.

I don’t know of any that are out there, so I figure it’s time to start one if none exists (or is so obscure that no one has bothered to sell me on it in some lengthy email campaign). So, that’s what The Marketing Author 001 will aspire to do: To help pave a smooth road ahead of the drive that aspiring authors (and anyone else with a great idea) plan to take on their journeys toward greatness.

I won’t charge for this. I don’t expect there to be any video involved (I’m on a tight budget, remember?). I don’t know that it will even go beyond the first post—there may be no need for anything past my initial thoughts. I just want to share what’s on my mind regarding my rocky journey out the self-publishing gate and hopefully help aspiring anybodies to adequately prepare for the 101 instructions that flood the Internet and the marketing measures necessary to drive success.

As per my Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun series, I don’t know how many installments I’ll have for The Marketing Author 001 as of this introductory article, but I will have at least one starting on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at 1pm EST. If more follow, I’ll update this post with links and estimated times of arrival, so bookmark this page and check back often. Or check the tabs at the top of Drinking Café Latte at 1pm for an upcoming section for “Blog Series Posts,” where I’ll give easy access to any series I’ve written. (I haven’t set that section up yet, but I’ll revise this post once I do.)

Until then, remember this piece of advice: Preparation is more important than release. If you pull the trigger before setting up the target, you’ll hit the wrong thing, or hit nothing at all.

Check back here soon for Part 1 and the roster of potential future posts.

Oh, and please subscribe to my blog to receive updates. I always forget to suggest that. There’s your first free lesson: Remind your readers or customers to take action that’ll keep you relevant. The button to subscribe can be found at the bottom of this page. Just as I promised, that advice is free.

Update (3/1/17):

Just a quick programming note and content update: I’m going to experiment with a release schedule for later in the evenings, between 7 – 9pm, instead of early afternoons. I’m still trying to find the best time for connectivity with readers. The release schedule may seem screwy at first, but that’s because I want to maximize visibility, and that might require experimentation. I know; it’s the Internet, and an article release schedule shouldn’t matter, but if no one’s reading, then something’s wrong, and I want to fix it. (And I know it has nothing to do with the quality of the articles because this is golden information, people!) Also, I have a brief outline for The Marketing Author 001 series. As of now, I’ve got plans for 11 articles. Make sure you stick around and read them all. I’m sure they’ll open your eyes to things unseen.

The Art of Hyphenation

Recently, I revisited my novel, The Computer Nerd, to update its paperback version with the changes I had made for the e-books last month. Because print and electronic have two vastly different formats, simply porting one to the other is no straightforward task. Even with the foundation already set, I have to review how even the smallest change shifts everything around. At the end of the day, I find myself having to check and recheck the entire book to make sure nothing’s out of whack. Inevitably, something slips through, and now I completely understand the frustration that professional typesetters must feel when they piece a new book together. And though shelf space is cited as the number one reason why publishers don’t want to produce print books over 120,000 words (approximately 480 pages), I think the real reason is that their typesetters will up and quit if they have to deal with laying out anything over that mark. In short, it’s kind of a pain.

One of the worst parts about designing a paperback book is not so much setting the page size, or even determining which size best represents the book (something we can discuss in a future post), but the finicky hyphenation that one must consider if he wants to keep his lines from stretching too far across the page.

Consider:

compressed line
Hyphenation example #1

Over:

stretched line
Hyphenation example #2

I don’t know about you, but if I have to read a continuous stream of compressed, stretched, compressed, stretched, line after line, I’d get a little eye-fatigued. Nobody wants that.

So, the best way to handle the reduction of such a visual seesaw is to hyphenate the text.

But how?

Well, the first step is to consider your source file. It’s my understanding that the best program to use for any kind of book layout, whether you’re a professional or an indie, is Adobe InDesign. It supposedly has an algorithm that really gets close to accurate on the first pass (I’ll never claim that any program will get anything perfect by itself), but at a price tag of $19.99 a month (yes, you can only subscribe to it; you can no longer outright buy it), I think the professionals and the financially talented are the only ones likely to use it.

And good for you if you’re one of the successful people who can afford such a program. For the rest of us, especially those who are producing indie books on a tight budget from a spare bedroom in our parents’ houses, or at Starbucks because it’s the only place we can afford the Internet, or the bus station because…you get the idea, we’re stuck with the average quality hyphenation feature that Microsoft Word offers.

hyphenation selection
Example of how to hyphenate in Word

Okay, yes, it’s mediocre. But it’s there. It’s functional. If you want to hyphenate your self-published novel—because the only reason you would need to worry about the hyphenation feature is if you’re self-publishing—you’re going to have to get comfortable using it. It isn’t particularly fun. But it works.

Now, there are plenty of tutorials on how to use Word’s hyphenation feature out there. A particularly good one can be found here, and if you just need to learn how to hyphenate, I’d check that link out. It’s helpful. But, if you want to learn how to hyphenate effectively, then let me share with you what I’ve learned and put into practice.

Now, before I continue, I should emphasize the title of this post. It’s not “Hyphenation 101.” It’s “The Art of Hyphenation.” Understand that art is subjective. You can decide your own formula when you’re ready to hyphenate your own paperback or hardcover. I find that this formula works best for me. And again, this assumes that you’re using Word. If you’re using InDesign, then I’m jealous, and I’m guessing you operate by different rules set by your secret society of privileged layout artists.

First of all, you should consider why Microsoft Word’s “automatic” hyphenation feature is gross and terrible and the perpetrator of your book’s greatest eyesore. It hyphenates based on space used versus space free within each line. It guesstimates where the word you’re using may naturally split, even if it doesn’t understand the word or the syllables you’re using to form it. Even though you can set parameters on how often within a set range it chooses to hyphenate, chances are it will hyphenate in the most ridiculous of places, making your book appear messy and broken.

When you choose “manual” hyphenation, you have a lot more control, and thus, you can come up with a better plan for how your book should look.

manual hyphenation
Example of hyphenation in action

Notice, under manual hyphenation, Microsoft Word gives you the option to accept or reject its suggestion. You can also cancel the current session if you feel you need a break from the monotony. I like to cancel after every few changes to ensure that I’m happy with the layout so far. The thing to consider is that hitting “undo” on a hyphenation session will erase all changes you’ve made since your session began. By cancelling every few changes and checking your work, you reduce the number of words you’ll reset if you have to undo for any reason.

And because it’s really easy to make a bad hyphenation decision (it’s often difficult to see how this hyphenation works in conjunction with the surrounding text when your windows take up so much visible space), you’ll probably want your core draft and your hyphenated draft to be two separate files. That way, if you seriously mess something up along the way, you won’t cause any real damage.

Now, when should you accept the hyphenation? Again, this is up to each artist according to his need. But I find this system works well for me:

  • Never hyphenate a word that breaks on the first two letters. Ex: If you are hyphenating the word reiterate, don’t hyphenate if the suggestion leans on breaking it at “re.” Two letters won’t overstretch a line enough to justify a break there.
  • You can hyphenate a word that breaks at the last two letters, if you want. Even though it won’t affect your finishing line much whether you accept or reject it, it could affect your starting line if a word like straighten is moved down to the next line (creating an eight-character stretchmark) by a lack of hyphen.
  • Even though it’s okay to break at the last two letters of the word, it should probably be avoided if that means leaving only two letters for the last line of the paragraph (or worse if it’s the last line of the page or chapter). Really, unless you have enough letters leftover after the hyphenated break, it’s probably a good idea not to break the last word in the paragraph.
  • If the word has three or more syllables, then it’s a good idea to manually choose the break yourself if Word is suggesting a break on a two-letter syllable. For example, if Word suggests you hyphenate sporadic at “ic,” and you don’t think moving the whole word down is the right choice either, which is what choosing to ignore it would do, then you’ll want to highlight the hyphen between “spor” and “adic,” since that would more evenly distribute the word across both lines. Again, this should be common sense, but Word does not break according to common sense. It has none. It does things mathematically. It’ll split the first line that feels too stretched, then it’ll split the next line because the first change caused a new stretch, and it becomes a vicious cycle. Make good decisions when hyphenating. Second-guess Word’s suggestions constantly. Don’t form ladders.
  • When it comes to three-letter syllables, I tend to accept them, as long as I haven’t just accepted another one within the last three or four lines, and as long as it doesn’t suggest it at the last full line of the paragraph.
  • I rarely accept any suggested three-letter hyphenations on two-line paragraphs. I just don’t see the need for it. This applies primarily to lines of dialogue that run just past the word wrap threshold.
  • I never let Word break a word where it gets the syllable wrong. You shouldn’t, either. Doing so is just sloppy editing.
  • It’s best to skip breaks on capitalized words. Odds are you’re breaking at the start of a sentence, and that’s a weird place to break anything. But you also don’t want to ruin the integrity of somebody’s name. I also think breaking already hyphenated words, like two-digit numbers, is weird.
  • Using hyphenation to break a word at the bottom of a page is probably okay, but breaking it at the end of a chapter is a little ugly.
  • Lastly, I prefer to keep my hyphenation count per page to the barest minimum. The other reason I tend to cancel a hyphenation session often is because I want to double-check the frequency of the suggested hyphens that I’ve chosen to accept and make sure that I don’t have more than three or four to a page, especially if they’re in close proximity to each other on that page. I find that if I do have too many on a single page, or more than two in a four-line space, then I want to hit “undo” and try again. This minimizes the work I have to redo. But yeah, having too many on a single page gives it that cluttered and choppy look. It’s not worth it.

So, that’s a general overview on how I like to hyphenate my books, but this isn’t a hard and fast set of rules. Writing is a medium littered with exceptions, and the art of hyphenation is wide open to those exceptions. Sometimes the line stretches too long if you don’t break that proper noun or all caps word in half. Sometimes breaking the word on a three-letter syllable on a two-line paragraph looks better than not. Rules are nice to follow, but certain conditions may present challenges that require defiance. At the end of the day, you might just have to split focus between the fo and the cus in order to keep the following line from pushing Sweeeeeeet! down to a spot by itself and pulling its origin line across the floor like a tired rubber band. But if you can avoid it, you should. Or, if you’re struggling with the ethics of splitting a good word in half, look at how your favorite books handle it. Sometimes the best strategy is to emulate your mentors. It certainly makes the heart feel better.

How do you prefer to hyphenate yours? Sound off in the comments if you’d like.

If you want additional advice on putting together your own book, I’d recommend these articles:

“Book Design Basics—Use Hyphens for Justified Type” by Dave Bricker

The above article is Part 7 in Dave Bricker’s Book Design Basics series, and the other parts are just as helpful, so you should read them.

“Why Self-Published Books Look Self-Published” by Joel Friedlander

A helpful reminder on the elements you need to keep your book looking professional (including hyphenation).

Self-publishing: Expert Advice On Typesetting for Self-publishers

A decent overview. Take notice of its “Shift + Enter” advice.

Note that some of these articles use professional terms like “rivers” and “ladders” to describe phenomena within the hyphenation universe, and if you want to use these terms, too, then check out these articles to find out what they mean. We call that educating ourselves. 🙂

Today’s Image Credit:

Palette Graphic by Liz Aragon, submitted to sweetclipart.com

Direct Link: http://sweetclipart.com/artists-palette-paint-and-brush-583

License Information: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

 

For Those Who Dream

May 4, 2016:

A couple of days ago, I was playing catch-up on my Publishers Lunch newsletter, when I read down to the footer in the February 29, 2016 letter and found a link to this interesting article about how The Martian by Andy Weir (the book about an astronaut left stranded on Mars that the movie is based on) began its life. If you’re a dreamer like I am, and you’re also a creative type, then you’ll find this is an article worth reading.

http://www.npr.org/2016/02/27/468402296/-the-martian-started-as-a-self-published-book

It’s really quite amazing how success stories happen. I think the takeaway, of course, is that luck (or God’s will) does have a huge part in the success of anything. Gaining success the way The Martian has is an extremely rare thing. But it happens.

The bigger takeaway is that you should really write (or create) for yourself first. If it’s not that good, it’s still good for you. If it’s amazing, it could eventually become something with Matt Damon in it. Either way, we’re all winners. Everyone except those who don’t get off their butts and try, of course.

Also, if there’s a third takeaway, it’s that self-publishing is not as stigmatic as the past may lead us to believe. If you can dream it, you can live it. Possibly!