9 Keys to Self-Publishing Success

It’s never been easier to publish a book, but that doesn’t mean we should

9 Keys to Self-Publishing SuccessI once read a self-published e-book, a novella. I read it for several reasons: it was recommended (which turned out to be a bad reason), it would be a quick read, I’d never read a novella, and it was free (I got what I paid for).

On the plus side, the opening captured my attention, the story line was intriguing, and the ending was a delightful surprise. On the negative side, the book did not flow smoothly, was poorly edited (or not edited at all), contained many errors, and was poorly converted into e-book format. Overall, the great ending did not overcome all the negative elements.

For a self-published book to be successful, it needs what all great books need:

  • A Promising Idea: If you don’t have a great story idea or theme, don’t start writing. This novella did, but its implementation fell short.
  • A Compelling Opening (a Hook): The opening didn’t grab me, but it was sufficient to make me want to read more.
  • Great Writing: I felt I was reading a rough draft. Elements of good writing were present, but they were too sparse to be effective.
  • Professional Editing: The novella may have been self-edited (never a wise idea) or done so on the cheap, but the result wasn’t even close to professional. While publishing perfection is hard to achieve, the goal should be to get as close as possible.
  • A Satisfying Ending: The ending of the novella was superb. It was the most notable element of the work. But one good line does not make a good book.
  • A Memorable Title: Some titles are hard to forget and others are hard to remember. I can’t recall this novella’s title.
  • An Attention-Grabbing Cover: The cover didn’t hurt the book, but it didn’t help either. If I were judging this book by its cover, I would have passed.
  • A Pleasing Layout: In print, the book shouldn’t look self-published. (We can’t always define it, but we know it when we see it). In electronic form, the formatting should flow smoothly with no glitches, misplaced text, bad alignment, or floating words or titles. In any good book, the interior design should be innocuous. When people notice the layout it becomes a distraction.
  • Effective Marketing: The above items all relate to the quality of the product. (There are more elements to consider, but these are the main ones.) A quality product requires effective marketing. A stellar book with no sales will not be a success, nor will great marketing of lousy writing work out.

If you’re considering self-publishing, be it in print or e-book, make sure you cover all nine of these items before proceeding. Your book’s success will depend on it.

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Let’s Make the New Year Your Best Year Yet

Happy New Year!In The Book Blog we talk about writing books, producing books, and marketing books. Successful writers must do all three. Neglect one element and your book will fail to meet your expectations and reach its full potential.

Even if you find a traditional publisher they will only handle the second requirement: publishing your book. Unless you are an A-list author they will do little marketing for you and expect you to put forth most of the effort.

And if you self-publish you must master all three: write a great book, produce an excellent product, and sell it effectively. Few authors naturally excel at all three. These are learned skills.

What do you shine at? What do you struggle with? Look at your weak area and commit to improving it this year.

The first step is writing a great book. Without compelling words, the rest doesn’t matter. Not really.

However writing a great book is just the first step. Next is producing it. This includes careful editing by skilled editors and a professional cover by an experienced designer. I’ve seen otherwise good books fail because of sloppy editing or an amateur cover.

Last, and perhaps most critical, is telling others about your book. We call this marketing. And though some artists think of marketing as the dark side of their craft, it is essential if you want to make money from your book and put food on the table.

Marketing starts with a great website, an email list, and an engaged social media following. Then there are ads, promotions, and pricing strategies.

Whether it’s writing, producing, or marketing, look to round out your skill set for this year and make it your best year ever.

Where are you at in the book publishing process? What will you do this year to shore up your weak area? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

What I Learned By Researching Competitive Titles

A common part in many book proposals is a “competitive works” section. I recently researched this for one of my book proposals. What I saw enlightened me.

What I Learned By Researching Competitive TitlesFirst were three books from traditional publishers. They gave me pause. I had to think a bit to determine how my book was different and how it would stand out. This challenged me, but it was a good exercise. Each book was impressive: an attractive cover, nice title, a great concept or theme where the content flowed nicely, and professional editing and formatting. However, I didn’t think about any of these qualities at first. I expected these characteristics. Since they met my expectations, I gave these traits no thought – until I looked at some self-published books.

Next, I looked at some books that were self-published using CreateSpace. At first glance, the covers were of similar quality and the titles were almost as good. The content, however, was not the same. The concept of these books was lacking and their execution, disappointing. Also, the writing wasn’t nearly as good. One didn’t even appear to have been edited, with sloppy formatting and missing words – and that from reading less than one page. The fault in all this is not CreateSpace. CreateSpace is a tool. If you put garbage into the tool, you get garbage out of it.

Last, I considered a pair of self-published e-books; they offered no print options. These suffered even more. Their covers weren’t as good and their concept was questionable. As far as the writing, I didn’t look at enough to tell: the interior layout was so bad that I couldn’t force myself to read it. I almost didn’t even include them in my “competitive works” section because I didn’t view them as competition, merely a distraction.

From all this I’m reminded, once again, that self-publishing is an attractive option and an affordable solution when traditional publishers take a pass on our books. While this could be for reasons outside of our control, it might also be that our content is ill conceived or our book still needs work. Sometimes this is hard to determine, especially after we’ve poured ourselves into writing it.

Regardless, if we choose to self-publish, we need to keep in mind that our finished product must look like a traditionally published book if we hope for folks to take it seriously.

What is your experience in reading self-published books? Have you ever self-published a book? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Great Article on Book Cover Design

Several years ago, Karen Saunders wrote an excellent article “How to Make a Book Cover Design that Flies Off the Shelf!” Today, her suggestions are still just as valid.

However, there is one I would elevate in importance: “Seek the services of an experienced book cover designer.” I don’t view this as an option or a suggestion but as a requirement. Of course, I have no illusions about my graphic design abilities, so it is easy for me to say everyone should hire a professional book cover designer.

The only thing I might add to her excellent recommendations is to create a cover that looks great as a thumbnail. This is because most people browsing online only look at the thumbnail of the cover, not the actual cover. Instead of judging a book by its cover, they actually judge a book by the thumbnail of its cover. Make sure the title in the thumbnail is clear and easy to read. Next, ensure the reduced size graphics still communicate your intended message.

“Book cover design,” she says in conclusion “is a form of packaging.” Make sure to present your book in the best possible package.

When you shop online, do you judge a book by its thumbnail?

Your Nonfiction Book is the Ultimate Business Card

If you are a consultant, service provider, or business professional, having a book can become your best form of promotion. A book provides instant credibility, elevating you above the competition who has no book. It becomes a calling card, opening doors and providing opportunities you would otherwise miss.

Your book is the ultimate business card. Learn more from the article “Your Book as Your Business Card: Indie Book Publishing Provides Professionals the Edge.”

Of course, to realize the most from your book as a business card, it must be professional. Business cards run the gambit from homemade cards using your PC printer and perforated stock to four-color glossy works of art with professional graphics and quality printing. The difference is apparent, separating card-carrying market leaders from under-resourced wannabes. Though the homemade version is better than no card, it’s only a marginal improvement.

So, too, published books run the gambit, from homemade cover and self-edited to professionally designed graphics, quality editing, and elegant interior design that ooze competence. While the homegrown book is better than no book, it is only marginally so.

Whether it is a book or a business card, when someone sees it, do you want them to think “Oh no!” or “Oh wow?”

Is your nonfiction book your ultimate business card? Why or why not?

The Two Extremes of Self-Publishing: Both Are Wrong

With changes in publishing and advances in technology, it’s never been easier to publish a book. This isn’t to imply publishing a book is easy, just that the barriers are disappearing and the costs are dropping.

This emerging reality leads to two extremes for do-it-yourself authors who want to publish their books.

Full Speed Ahead: Seeing it’s within their power to publish their books, some eager authors take the shortest (or the cheapest) path possible to place their books in print, be it on paper or a reading device. The casualty is quality: they make their own cover, skip peer review, bypass professional editing, don’t consider the need for interior design, and fail to pick the best possible title.

The result is they see their book published quickly – and it’s terrible. It is amateurish, few people will buy it, and even fewer will read it. Those who wade threw it will give it one star and a terrible review.

This makes it harder for others who self-publish to gain respect and sell books; they are guilty by association.

Do Everything Just Right: The other extreme is those authors who desire to produce the best possible book. They survey their followers to find the ideal title, hire a designer for their cover, tap a professional editor to copy-edit and proofread the book, and use someone to do the interior layout. Along the way, they consider every option for distribution and promotion, looking at the pros and cons of each possibility, comparing risks with rewards. They know they will only be able to launch their book once and want to make sure it’s perfect.

The result is the plethora of ever-changing options will paralyze them from taking action. They will never actually publish their book, because there will always be one more opportunity to explore. Then no one will be able to read their book, because they will never get around to publishing it.

Both responses are in error. Authors must resist the urge to race unrestrained towards their goal; they must also fight to not fall victim to the paralysis of perfection. The middle space between these two extremes is the best way to publish books and connect with receptive readers.

Why We Should Always Have Four Books in Our Pipeline

Some authors start writing their book, focus on it until completion, work to publish it, and then promote it. Then they start their next book – assuming they have an idea for one.

Other authors are working on so many books that it’s hard to accomplish anything. I fall into that trap. I recently claimed to have about a dozen books in various phases of development; in reality, the number is much higher. It is insane.

One successful fulltime writer works on three at a time. Even though I am part-time, I tweaked his advice to having four books in my pipeline:

The Planning Stage: Starting with a book idea, be it a title, a concept, a lead character, a plot, or an ending, we gather information. This includes research, making notes, taking pictures, outlining, and writing the book proposal. This activity is not our focus, but it must be intentional. Our goal is to be 100 percent ready to start writing when the time comes.

The Writing Stage: For this phase we write the book from start to finish. We work on it every day. This is our focus. We don’t switch books. Bouncing from one project to another dulls our concentration and lengthens the time required to finish it. When we finish the book, we start writing the next one right away because we have already done all our prep work.

The Prepublication Stage: If we are seeking a traditional publisher, this phase entails writing query letters, fine-tuning our book proposal, and seeking representation. Once we have a publisher, we need to work with them to finalize the book.

If we are self-publishing, this involves hiring an editor (or two) and reviewing their edits, having a cover designed, finding someone to do the interior layout, and so forth. This is our book, so we must be involved with every step.

Regardless of which publication path we pursue, there are lulls in activity as we wait for others to do their work. Our involvement happens in spurts. When it is time for us to act, we must make it a priority, all the while writing our next book.

The Promotion Stage: As the publication date nears, we switch into promotion mode. This could start six months in advance but at least one. Our involvement for this stage looks like a bell curve: there is a little bit of work leading up to the month before the launch, things peak – requiring much attention, and then a month or so after the launch things taper off. However, for as long as the book is in print, we should be promoting it to some extent.

Having four book projects in our pipeline at all times ensures we will have a steady stream of output and hopefully some income to match.

How many books are your presently writing? What do you think about having a book pipeline?

What Do Readers Care About?

When readers consider our book, few will bother to look to see who published it. They won’t care if a major publisher, let alone any traditional publisher, produced it. When it comes to publishers, there is little brand loyalty, let alone much brand recognition. The imprint is of no consequence. How the printed book gets into their hands or the e-book gets into their reader doesn’t matter to them.

Here’s what does matter:

Cover: What they will look at is the cover. They will, in fact, judge our book by its cover. First impressions matter a great deal.

Title: The title is critical, too. Depending on how they discovered our book, whether they see the title first or the cover first, the other element will seal the deal – or not. If the cover is great but the title, lame, they will dismiss it. Similarly, if they see the title first, a great cover will move them towards a purchase, while a bad cover will move them to a different book.

Formatting: Next, they will look at the insides, whether thumbing through the actual pages or clicking online. If the layout looks “normal,” they will proceed. If it looks odd – even though they won’t know why – a red flag pops up.

Content: If our book passes these first three screens, they may actually read a section or two. Great writing beckons them; bad writing or editing – even average writing or editing – sends them packing.

Only when they get this far will they consider buying it.

Readers don’t care if our book is traditionally published or self-published; they care if our book is professional looking, well written, and interesting.

What is your experience when buying a book? What do you care about?

Five Steps to Write Back Cover Copy For Your Book

The purpose of back cover copy is to sell your book. It’s essentially ad copy, a pitch to entice people to read your book. You must hook the reader, telling them enough to intrigue them without revealing too much.

If your book will be self-published, you need to write the back cover copy yourself. If you’re going with a traditional publisher, then they’ll do it for you, right? Usually, but who knows your book better than you? Who has the most at stake? You.

That’s why you should write your back cover copy. But writing it for your own book is hard. Although it’s only a couple hundred words, it takes hours to do a good job; don’t rush it. It is an art.

Here are five steps to writing back cover copy:

1) Research:

  • Start at a bookstore or library. Focusing on either fiction or nonfiction, according to what type of book you wrote, study the back cover blurb on lots of books. Note what you like and don’t like. What causes you to want to read the book? What turns you off? Also notice layouts. Some back covers have an author photo or graphic. Others include short endorsements. These elements leave less space for your blurb, resulting in 150 to 300 words to pitch your book.
  • Next, analyze back cover copy of books you’ve read. Compare what the back cover proclaims to what’s in the book. This provides insight into honing your message and hooking the reader.
  • Then, consider back cover copy of books that will compete against yours, especially the successful ones. This will help you home in on what you need to include in yours.

2) Brainstorm: With your research in hand block out time to brainstorm. Record every idea. Don’t evaluate; just write. For nonfiction, you may get ideas from your thesis sentence, introduction, or conclusion. For all books, consider your elevator pitch.

3) Write and Rewrite: Pick the best ideas and write your first draft. Work on a couple different angles. Over time, rework these ideas, polishing them into back cover gems.

4) Seek Input: Ask trusted friends (who will give you honest feedback) what they think. How do they react? Would your pitch entice them to read your book? Don’t apply everything everyone tells you; discern which advice to follow.

5) Test Your Results: After applying their input, take the best two blurbs and ask people which one they prefer. This will be your back cover copy. (Save the other versions, content you didn’t use, and your brainstorming session. You will need it later for something else.)

Have you ever written back cover copy? What struggles or advice can you share?

What Type of Book Will Yours Be?

A couple years ago, my newsletter column for the month was “Six Types of Books in My Library.” In summary, this is how I viewed my books:

  1. Books Worth Keeping: I enjoyed them once, and I’ll read them again.
  2. Reference Materials: Books with information I want to keep.
  3. Books I Plan to Read: I really do intend to read them – someday.
  4. One Reading Was Enough: I enjoyed these books, but once was sufficient.
  5. Books I Started But Never Finished: Despite initial promise, I gave up on them.
  6. Books That Seemed Like a Good Idea: I’ll never get around to reading them.

Running out of space and wanting to downsize, I gave away all my books in the last three categories. Some of those books will be read, many will be thrown away, and the rest will be dismissed – again. At some point, my books in category 3 will likely go, too.

With self-publishing options so prevalent today, anyone can publish a book. The question is, what category will these books end up in? Too many will fall into category 5 and 6. Some may not even rate that high. That’s because too many writers are impatient with the writing and publishing process, cutting short the honing of their work.

While we can’t guarantee that our books will end up in the “worth keeping” category, we can increase the likelihood through careful writing and rewriting, listening to feedback from critique partners and beta-readers, hiring a copy-editor, and paying for professional cover design and interior layout.

May your next book be one that people actually read and then keep to read again.