August #AuthorTip: First Impressions Matter

Continuing this post series with a tip for making a great first impression with your book:

They say not to judge a book by its cover. They say it because pretty much everyone judges books by their cover. Your book cover is the first thing people see of your book. If you miss this chance to make a fantastic first impression and grab their interest, they won’t bother finding out more. That means your book cover is actually an important, functional piece of your book, and should be treated as such.

Believe it or not, there are some rules, explicit and unspoken, about what your cover should look like:

  1. DIMENSIONS: Your eBook has a little leeway on dimensions, but will usually be required to be a minimum width/height to be used with stores/distributors. Learn what that minimum is and make sure your cover is large enough to pass scrutiny. Your print cover will need to be sized precisely down to the fraction of an inch for printing. Keep in mind its 3 parts: front cover, spine, and back cover. All three should fit together in a cohesive way and fit snugly around your book so the spine art doesn’t slip out onto the front or back covers and vice versa.
  2. THEME: You may or may not realize it, but different genres have differently themed covers. This serves an additional purpose of letting readers know at a glance what type of book they’re buying. You should research your genre to check out the current trend and make sure your cover art is genre-appropriate. In rare instances, going outside the norm can be a good thing. Mostly, though, it just confuses people.
  3. QUALITY: “Good enough” is never good enough. Having a Canva account does not automatically make you a graphic designer. Making a great cover is part art, part science, and part magic and the industry bar is set high. If you’re making your own cover, don’t just look at it as its own thing. Place it next to a bestseller in the same genre and compare the two side by side, because that’s the book you’re competing against, and the standard you should aim for. If your cover falls short, it’s in your best interest to either redo it or hire a professional.

August #AuthorTip: Plan Out Your Book Releases

Continuing this post series with a tip for making sure your new book makes the proper splash:

The biggest reason new book releases flop: No one knows about them. The absolute worst mistake you can make with your new book is to hit publish out of the blue and hope for the best. A proper book release takes planning, forethought, and a detailed strategy.

Things you should consider before you come anywhere close to uploading your book to a platform:

  1. REVIEWS: Have you sent out ARCs? Do you have eager fans ready and willing to flood your book listing with lots of enthusiastic reviews? Do you have a blog tour planned? Blogger reviews waiting in the wings? You should.
  2. SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS: You’ll want to let people know about your book early and often. The best way to do this is to utilize platforms like Hootsuite to schedule your posts ahead of time so you have continuous coverage leading up to and following your book release. You want to keep people aware without beating them over the head with it.
  3. ADVERTISING: If you can afford it, you should plan out at least two or three ad campaigns on different platforms to get more exposure. These should always link directly to where people can pre-order or buy your book, and you should monitor the statistic carefully to make sure you’re not wasting your money. Read up on how to do this before you plunge in. It’s an expensive venture to go into without preparation.
  4. GUEST APPEARANCES: Whether they’re in-person or online, you’ll want to get in front of people to talk about your book somehow. This can mean author readings in libraries, group takeovers on Facebook, live podcast interviews, panel discussions, newsletter swaps, etc.

Your promotional campaign should start several months before your release date. It should ramp up about 1-2 weeks prior to release to get people excited, and carry through 1-2 weeks after the release to keep your book visible. Those first two weeks after release will be crucial. This will be the time that will count the most toward bestseller rankings and future sales. Those early reader converts will help you spread the word going forward so you don’t want to miss out on capturing them.

August #AuthorTip: Release Dates

Continuing this post series with a tip for book releases:

Start setting a release date toward the end of the editing process and set it well in the future.

Pre-orders can really help your first week sales on certain platforms, so the longer you have there, the better for you. It is recommended you put your book up for pre-order at least 4-6 weeks ahead of the official release date. That gives you plenty of time to promote and rack up sales. Beware setting a date so far in the future that your readers forget all about it. As soon as it’s out there, you have something to promote, so promote regularly to keep your book visible.

Another reason to give yourself plenty of time is to give yourself plenty of time. I know, that sounds weird, but hear me out. Things happen. Editors get overwhelmed, or go on vacation. Emergencies happen and delay progress on your book. The more people who are involved in the process, the more time you need to allow for them to finish that work, and leave a healthy margin of error. That’s why waiting until the end of editing is a reasonable benchmark. By then, the most time-consuming tasks are completed, and you have plenty of time to finish the rest.

It’s always better and more professional to point to a date farther in the future, than to set one you can’t keep. Believe me, that causes more problems and disappointments, and stress than it’s worth.

August #AuthorTip: Editing

Continuing this post series with a tip for editing and working with editors:

You should never blindly accept/reject changes made by your editor.

Your editor went through great lengths to read your book and make suggestions. The least you can do is return the favor by reading through those suggestions word by word and considering them before you accept/reject, if for no other reason than to see if the tone of your book has been preserved, and if the suggested changes make sense for what you’re trying to accomplish. You owe this both to yourself and your editor.

Additionally, if you’re self-publishing, the last eyes to read through your manuscript should be yours. Even if you are with a publishing house, you should read through your final edit word by word before you send it back to your publisher. People make mistakes, even editors and proof readers. Errors get overlooked, changes don’t always make sense, sometimes you find you liked it better the original way. Sometimes you discover a plot hole you didn’t see before. Always do at least one final read-through of your book before you start formatting and publishing. It’s worth the final, tedious hours of picking nits to spare your readers a frustrating experience and avoid bad reviews due to poor editing.

Bonus Tip: Changing the format/font/size of what you’re reading helps you spot issues more easily. Put the book on your eReader, or print it in different dimensions to disrupt the pattern of shapes your eyes and brain are used to seeing. It will force your brain to focus on what is actually there, versus what it expects to be there.

August #AuthorTip: Don’t Rush The Process

Continuing this post series with a tip for putting out a stellar book:

There are writers who want to write, and there are those who want to have written. It’s the difference between doing things right and cutting corners to get a book out quickly just to claim the title of a published author. One of these is more worthy than the other. Can you guess which?

No matter how you choose to publish, the process will take time. It’ll take time to…

  • write your book
  • find your publishing platform
  • get the book edited and proofread
  • get the book formatted
  • create a cover
  • finally publish the book

Depending on the length of your book and the publishing schedule (yours and your publisher’s), you’re looking at a timeline of 3 months to a year. My first book, published with Liquid Silver Books in 2010, was accepted in March of that year. It didn’t come out until September. And that was with a small publisher. My Indie books usually take about 2-4 months (2 for edits/proofreads, 1-2 for pre-order before live publishing).

You need to be patient with the process. Don’t rush through the edits and formatting–that’s how terrible mistakes make it through to publication. Don’t rush the pre-publishing/pre-order period–you need that time to promote your new release. There is absolutely no good reason why you would need to rush any part of this process, so think like a seasoned professional. Take the time to do it right. If you did your job right and built up some good buzz, your readers will be climbing the walls waiting for your new release. Industry secret: That’s what you want them to do.

August #AuthorTip: Your Time or Your Money

Continuing this post series with a tip for not spreading yourself too thin:

In whatever you do in life, you have two commodities to trade: time and money. You have to choose how much of each you’re going to spend on something–and you have to choose carefully, because you can only get one of these back.

If you’re self-published like me, you know there’s worlds more going on behind the scenes than just typing away at your keyboard. This is a merciless, demanding business and you need to be willing to wear a lot of hats. The trouble is there is a price tag attached to most thing you will want to do as a writer, self-published or not. You will see that price tag, compare to your royalty earnings, and cringe at spending a dollar. You’ll say to yourself, “Oh, it doesn’t look that hard. I can do it myself.”

And there’s the catch. Because that thing you want to do might or might not be simple. You might or might not spend hours, days, weeks just learning how to do it properly, and still not get it right. You might or might not end up spending even more money on the necessary tools and resources to do it and still not be satisfied with the result. That is time and money wasted. And, at least in this scenario, you will not be getting either of them back.

My tip here is simple: Know yourself. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. If you have the skill to do something yourself to industry standards, or you can learn to do it in a reasonable amount of time, then by all means go for it. But if you don’t, please look for another option. You can save up money to hire a professional. You might even be able to barter for their services. You can ask your friends to fund this in lieu of a birthday present. There are ways. Your time is better spent writing your books, and your readers are better served getting a professionally put together product. Quality matters.

August #AuthorTip: Back Up Your Work

Continuing this post series with a tip for not losing your shit (in several senses of the word):

Save early, save often, create redundancies.

After two destroyed hard drives, four lost USB drives, and countless crashed programs, I think I learned by now not to take anythign for granted. Trust me, losing hours of graphics work when your program crashes before you can save is nothing compared to months of writing progress getting lost on a damaged hard drive. It still physically pains me to think of all that material lost to the aether…

Save early. If your program has an autosave function, use it. Doesn’t matter if you just started a new document or you just wrote a paragraph or two. Save it. Trust me. Every time a new operating system comes out, glitches happen. Every time a software updates, glitches happen. Don’t take unnecessary risks. Save.

Save often. Again, this should be muscle memory. It’s just Ctrl+S, half a second and it’s done. In MS Word, you can even set it to create backup copies of your file at specified time intervals. If you write in Google Drive or similar cloud-based applications, you can export a copy of your file in a Word document for safe keeping. For the love of your sanity, use these tools. It’s one way to make sure your work doesn’t disappear, along with a piece of your soul.

Create redundancies. Whenever possible, back up your files in several locations. Dropbox makes this easy, when installed on your computer. It saves a copy of your files on your hard drive, and creates a virtual copy in cloud storage that gets automatically updated whenever you’re logged in and online. You can install it (with the same login credentials) on multiple PCs and all of them will be updated the same. But in case you forget your login or don’t want to rely on cloud storage, invest in a good external hard drive, or even a USB drive with a big enough memory, and back everything up regularly.

August #AuthorTip: Learn from The Masters

Continuing this post series with a tip for finding your place in the industry:

Role models matter. The ideal you aspire to with your own career should be professional and worthy of such admiration. When you’re starting out, for example, emulating your peers might not be the best way to get your feet wet. If you’re going to aim for an ideal, aim high.

  • Read the masters and analyze what makes their books so enjoyable for you. Is it the prose? The witty dialogue? The flowing descriptions? The heart-pounding action?
  • When you look at their covers, what catches your eye the most? How do the color schemes work to communicate the feel of the book?
  • Check out their website and see how it’s laid out. Odds are they probably have a webmaster who built the site and maintains it. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a similar look on your own. What’s on the front page? How is the menu configured? What info do they have for each book?
  • Are they on social media? Follow them and see what they post.
  • Do they do in-person appearances and readings? If so, attend if you can, or check out photos/videos after if you can’t. If not, why not? How does it affect their writing and release schedule?

If you’re going to learn, look for the masters and learn from them. Learn, but don’t copy. Instead, try to adapt the lessons to fit who you are as your own self and make something new(ish).

August #AuthorTip: Stay in The Know

Continuing this post series with a tip for keeping in the loop:

Keep informed about the state of the industry.

Just writing and publishing blindly is like throwing marbles against the wall. Knowing what’s happening in the book, eBook, and audiobook markets and their biggest players will help you form your pricing, distribution, and marketing strategy. Any time a publisher or bookstore goes under, it has a huge impact. The Barnes & Noble buyout is definitely something that should be on your radar. Also because they’re such a huge player, anything Amazon does is always a big deal. For example, did you hear about the new Audible Caption feature? If your books are out on audio, you should have. If this actually goes live, it might be a determining factor to whether or not you distribute your audiobook to Amazon. It will definitely be for me.

Remember, regardless of whether you publish alone or through a publishing house, you are now a small business owner. The more you know, the harder it’ll be for others to take advantage of you and the better off you’ll be in the long run.

August #AuthorTip: Go Outside Your Comfort Zone

Continuing this post series with a tip for putting yourself out there:

You’re a writer. Which means you’re most likely an introvert who would rather interact with the world through the filter of a computer screen than head-on. This is a perfectly normal, legitimate way to live (says the introvert). But the problem is you’ll need to put yourself out there if you want people to know about your books. Spending money on ads might help, but there’s really no substitute for enthusiasm and word-of-mouth. Your best marketing tool is, in fact, you.

We learn by trying new things. We grow by opening ourselves to the unknown and unfamiliar. The world is now so interconnected there is literally no limit to the number of ways you can reach new audiences. Yes, by all means, blog  and post on social media. But there are so many other things you can do.

You can try making an author video. But if you’re like me and aren’t comfortable in front of a camera, maybe a podcast interview is more your speed. Don’t want to do it live? No problem! You can always pre-record something like an author reading and upload it to SoundCloud for free. If you’re feeling super adventurous and can afford it, sign up for a group book signing to get in front of new readers so you won’t be facing them all alone.

There is bound to be something that works for you, and every little bit helps grow your audience that much more. It won’t be easy at first, and you’ll likely be very, very uncomfortable with the first few forays you undertake, but it will be worth it in the end.