4 Things You Can’t Not Know Before You Self-Publish

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, Wordmelon

Whenever I have a client who’s self-publishing, especially those who are just dipping their toe into the world of publishing for the first time, there is a host of information I want them to know. I can’t communicate all of it, but here’s what you can’t not know:

  1. Editing Process

When a contracted manuscript is submitted to a traditional publisher, the process will typically involve:

  • One or two rounds of developmental editing
  • A round of copy editing
  • Several meticulous rounds of proofreading, looking for the tiniest errors: an extra space after a period, a “zero” that’s really a capital “O,” or a “there” instead of a “their.”

Readers have been trained to expect an error-free product, and even a few errors can cause the reader to lose confidence in the book, and set it down. While this rigorous level of precision isn’t always possible when self-publishing, your readers will be best-served if you put this important work into your book up front.

  1. Book Cover

Whether readers will be browsing through a bookstore, scrolling through thumbnail images on Amazon, or buying from a merch table, the cover matters. It both signals what’s inside and whether what’s inside has value for the reader. Even if you have the technical skills to create a cover using your photo editing software, don’t. Resist the urge. There are tried and true principles relating to images, colors, font styles, and font sizes that make for great covers. Let a professional design the cover of your book.

  1. Book Design

Have you ever noticed that the inside of a traditionally published book, all the pages of content, have been designed? Care and attention have been given to the precise measurements of margins, as well as the size and shape of fonts in the text, chapter titles, headers and subheads. None of this is accidental. Each choice was made to serve the book and serve the reader. Although certain independent publishing options might aid you with book design, it’s up to you to ensure that nothing about the design creates a barrier to a reader reading your book.

  1. Books Are Hard to Sell

Before you sink your own dollars into publishing a book, have a plan for how you will market and distribute the book to your target audience. Don’t just throw it up at Amazon with millions of other books and hope for the best. You’ve been warned.

The purpose of your book is to serve the reader, and a well-written book with a sharp design does that. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

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Preparing for Your Next Book Launch

Past and Future

Whether you are about to launch your second book or your twelfth book, you have a valuable opportunity to learn from your past publishing experience and prepare for future success. Some aspects of your previous book launch may be worth repeating, while others may need enhanced and upgraded. Consider the following ways to learn from the past and prepare for the future in the publishing world:

  1. Your book launch team: Ultimately, your overall book sales will be as good as the people you recruit to your book launch team. Are they passionate about your topic, committed to spreading enthusiasm about your new book, and connected to other potential readers? Send early copies of your book to those who will take the time to read it and write a thoughtful review. To differentiate between those who will politely accept a book but are unlikely to follow through on writing a review or spreading enthusiasm about your book within their circle of influence and those who will help your book succeed, ask yourself if this person has ever reviewed or promoted anyone else’s book before. The people who have an established track record of reading, reviewing, and promoting books will be most likely to do the same for you and your book. Help the marketing director for your book locate thriving publications in which to place ads for your book. These publications should connect with readers interested in your topic and have wide circulation. Try to time the ads to coincide with any articles you are publishing in a given magazine.
  2. Your publicity team: People need to know that your book exists before they can read it, enjoy it, and benefit from it. The people who serve on your publicity team help people learn about your book. Think of your publicity team as comprised of both formal and informal members. Formal members include the group of publicists at your publishing house. They will set up radio interviews, create press releases, and coordinate dissemination of books to potential reviewers. Work closely with these publicists to make sure the opportunities they send your way are a good fit for your overall goals as a writer. Informal members of your publicity team include anyone who can coordinate speaking engagements in the six months leading up to your book release and in the first year following your book release. They also include anyone who helps you design a newsletter or other promotional materials suitable for emailing or for distribution at conferences or bookstore events. As the author, you will need to coordinate the efforts of both formal and informal publicists for maximum impact on book sales. Give everyone enough advanced notice before a speaking engagement or promotional event so that they can do quality work. Your publicists want to help your book get in the hands of readers, but you are the one responsible for increasing your own book sales.

What have you learned from publishing your previous book that can help your new book succeed?

10 Tips for Building Your Platform With Less Pain

Working on a book?

Yes, it’s true. You have to build your platform to catch the eye of a publisher. And, yes, most of us agree it can be a pain in the patootee, when what we really want to be doing is writing.

Here’s the one thing I know about effective platform-building:

When purposing to build a platform, do what works for you.

You’ll be most successful if you invest your energies in a way that’s live-giving for you.

Your platform-building efforts should align with who you are.

Pay attention to how you’re wired and situated…

  • Are you an introvert or extrovert?
  • Do you enjoy speaking or dread it?
  • Are you free to travel or chained to your home?
  • Do you have the freedom to post on your blog every day, or once a week?

To the extent that you’ll be driving this bus, building platform is about you. But to the extent that you’re inviting others into what you’re doing, it’s not about you! Is your writing and speaking meeting the real needs of the audience you’re building? Are you creating content that has value for them? Are you building relationships and promoting the work of others?

Build your audience by creating great content that has value for them.

…but back to you!

Here’s a list of 10 possibilities—among zillions—to stimulate your imagination for building your platform. Do one or two stand out? What has your name on it? What other ideas do these trigger?

1. Old School Article Writing
Create a list of 20 publications for which you’d like to write and begin pitching! If you have friends who’ve written for these mags, get a good contact name.

2. Easy Social Media Opps
The hard part was  getting the gig and writing the thoughtful article for the online publication.  The easy part will be posting the link on facebook and Twitter. Remember to capitalize on all that work you put into crafting the article. Tweet it 3 or 4 times over several weeks.

3. Go Live on Facebook
Got something to say? Start communicating with your audience. (Yeah…this isn’t for everyone.)

4. Ask For Help
Extend a personal invitation to friends to share something you’ve written. Don’t be all mass-email about. Ask personally.

5. Speak Locally
Volunteer to speak to your local MOPs group, or other gathering that regularly invites speakers. (The venues that don’t pay–like MOPs and many churches–are a great place to build your speaking resume!)

6. Engage Online Communities
Comment on good content you’re reading. Promote the work of others in your field (and make virtual friends!) by sharing valuable links…comment on relevant articles…become strategically involved!

7. Email Signature Line
Make every email count by linking to your site, blog or product at bottom.

8. Make Friends (aka “networking”)
When I read something I enjoy, I often do a quick search online for the writer’s email to send a note about why I liked their work & “friend” them as well. (Note: these are sincere.)

9. Piggyback
If I know I’ll be speaking someplace, I might get in touch with a local church or friend or school that might also need a speaker. (And save $ on travel, too!) Also fair game to have an assistant—or a friend who will do this for you!—make these contacts.

10. Vlogging
When I was blogging, I had a quickie question that I’d ask folks, and they’d answer for about 1 minute while I filmed with my pocket-size flipcam.  These got posted to social media and each one meant one more happy day I didn’t have to write a blog post.

These are jumping-off points. What feels life-giving? What feels death-dealing?

Remember why you’re building your platform.

You are building your platform for the privilege of continuing to be able to communicate with audiences.

That big-picture view is what keeps me tweeting. (Rarely…don’t count them.)

Remember, you don’t have to do everything. Just the next thing.

RESOURCES…
2 must-see resources if you’re a writer who’s serious about building platform…

  1. Michael Hyatt’s book, aptly named Platform.
  2. Rachelle Gardner’s fabulous blog for writers!

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, wordmelon.com. 

Amazon Book Sales Rankings Explained

The following guest post comes from Rob Eager of WildFire Marketing. It first appeared on his blog

Have you ever suffered from a bout of Amazon fever? It’s a strange condition that can take over an author’s brain and compel him or her to peek at the Amazon sales ranking for their book 10 – 20 times per day. Each time you look, you pray that the ranking will improve before you check it again in another hour. Authors who catch this fever might even get up in the middle of the night to see how their rankings fared after the sun went down. Going cold turkey and avoiding the rankings altogether is an option. But, freedom from the fever sometimes requires an intervention, which is why I wrote this article.

I’ve battled the fever myself, and many of my consulting clients struggle with the problem as well. It can be addictive to see how your books are performing on Amazon, where the vast majority of books are purchased. Besides, it’s easy to reason that authors need a quick way to gauge sales without having to call the publisher, check BookScan, or wait for a royalty check.

However, most people know that Amazon sales rankings must be taken with a grain of salt. The company guards their algorithm like gold in Fort Knox. No one knows how accurate the numbers really are. In fact, even the staff at Amazon has admitted their system isn’t completely precise. Thus, why even bother?

Actually, Amazon sales rankings can provide helpful clues about the performance of a book during a campaign. Plus, the rankings can help compare how similar titles are faring against each other. Since Amazon practically owns the book retail market, it’s easier for authors to judge immediate response to specific marketing activities by checking one website. In addition, the rankings give self-published authors a way to prove that their sales can be every bit as good as an established writer.

Yet, what do Amazon sales rankings really mean for a book and should you care? My answer is yes and no. I don’t mean to sound hypocritical, but the reality is that the rankings can only provide a ballpark idea on actual sales. Amazon updates the rankings every 60 – 90 minutes, so the numbers constantly fluctuate throughout the day. A book could have a good ranking in the morning and a worse ranking that same evening. Therefore, you never get numbers that are solid enough to make big decisions on its own. At best, the rankings can show real-time sales momentum or a lack of consumer interest. If you want to draw any real conclusions, it’s always best to include actual sales data from more reliable sources, such as BookScan. But, is it possible for Amazon rankings to give any reasonable insights? Here’s an example.

Earlier this year, I helped a New York Times bestselling author launch a new book. During the pre-order campaign, we found that the Amazon sales rankings provided a decent indication of sales momentum. That’s because my author client offered a series of special gifts to encourage pre-orders. In order for people to receive the pre-order gifts, they had to go to the author’s website, provide their retailer receipt number, and tell how many copies they purchased. I captured this customer information each day in a database, and then compared the data to the book’s daily Amazon ranking over time.

Before I discuss the results, let me emphasize that everything you see is purely a guess. There are no hard and fast rules. Do NOT quote these numbers or assume they will directly match your specific book sales. I simply conducted this exercise to prove a series of other important points, which I’ll mention in a minute. Here’s how the Amazon sales rankings translated into customer purchases according to one book that I tracked:

Amazon Sales Ranking = Copies Sold on Amazon:
2,500 = 30 – 75 per day
5,000 = 15 – 30 per day
7,500 = 5 – 15 per day

10,000 = 25 – 40 per week
100,000 = 5 – 10 per week
150,000 = 1 – 5 per week

300,000 = 5 per month
500,000 = 1 per month or less

Note: Numbers ONLY reflect book sales at Amazon. Other retailers are not included.

Why would I show you this information when it’s just a guess that cannot be trusted? For several important reasons:

1. As you can see, a good sales ranking of 7,500 or less doesn’t mean you’re actually selling that many books. Those numbers mean anywhere from 5 – 75 copies per day. That’s quite a wide range and doesn’t mean you’ll get rich anytime soon. Even if you maintained sales of 75 copies per day for a really long period of 30 consecutive days, you would only sell 2,250 total units.

Therefore, there is NO reason to brag to anyone about your Amazon sales ranking. In contrast, there is no reason to get depressed if your sales ranking is worse than other authors or books you see. The only authors selling a ton of books on Amazon are those with rankings less than 500 who maintain that level for multiple months. Those are the icons of the industry with major publishers and massive resources behind their campaigns.

As another example, I consulted on a backlist book that consistently maintained an Amazon sales ranking of less than 500, which is amazingly rare. But, it typically sold only 2,500 – 3,500 copies per week. Yes, that’s way above average, but no one is retiring to a private island on those numbers.

2. More importantly, if you tell people that your book is a #1 bestseller on Amazon, it means absolutely nothing. Any author who makes such a claim smacks of desperation and a lack of ethics. Here’s why:

a. First, any author can mount a marketing campaign that spikes their book to #1 for a brief period of time – maybe one day or two. But, that spike is a fleeting moment, which quickly drops off. If a book gets to #1, you could use my chart above and guess that it sold 100, 250, or even 1,000 copies in one day. That’s good, but it’s still not that many copies.

Then, what about the next day when the ranking quickly falls off to 500, 2,500, or 5,000? Sales are back to modest amounts of 50 – 100 per day. Therefore, a brief spike to #1 doesn’t mean a lot of books were actually sold. In order to hit the legitimate bestseller lists, such as the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, or Publishers Weekly, you’ve got to sell around 5,000 copies or more in a week. (Amazon now has their own official bestseller list called Amazon Charts.)

Telling people your book made it to #1 on Amazon is like telling someone you’re the fastest runner in your neighborhood. It’s doesn’t mean you actually sold many books, and it doesn’t mean you’re actually a fast runner. Your neighborhood could be full of slow people. Or, a faster neighbor might have been out of town the day you decided to race. You get my point. No one really knows if it’s true, and no one really cares. Authors who make ridiculous claims about being #1 on Amazon look foolish, because they take an unverifiable number and make a big deal out of it. However, the public doesn’t look very smart either when no one challenges these preposterous claims.

b. Second, there is an even more bizarre issue. Some authors now claim to be #1 on Amazon in a specific category, such as women’s issues, advertising books, or even “children’s pig books” (yes, that category actually exists). These arbitrary categories are a distant cousin of the main Amazon sales ranking list. And, if you know anything about distant cousins in real life, they’re usually out of touch with the main family.

I’m shocked by how many authors and publishers will go out of their way to display “#1 Amazon bestseller” on their websites, press releases, blogs, Facebook pages, and even back cover copy. Are we so desperate for accolades that we resort to making up random awards with no basis in fact or actual sales data?!

Just because a book is temporarily #1 in an arbitrary category on Amazon means nothing. For instance, at the time of writing this article, below are rankings for three book categories that I randomly selected:

  • The #1 book in “Mortgages and Real Estate” is #3,353 overall on Amazon.
  • The #1 book in “Advertising Graphic Design” is #13,771 overall on Amazon.
  • The #1 book in “Mice, Hamsters & Guinea Pigs” is #34,444 overall on Amazon.

As you can see, being #1 in a specific category is a far cry from being #1 on Amazon overall. Not many books are actually being sold. Plus, the rankings fluctuate by the hour. So, claiming to be top dog in a random Amazon category is like claiming to be the biggest Chihuahua at a dog park. It doesn’t make sense.

Here’s the real issue. When authors make unsubstantiated claims about their Amazon rankings, they tend to ignore solid principles that could actually help sell more books. If you want to be considered a real bestseller, earn it through legitimate marketing efforts that create results:

  • Learn to master the pre-order sales process
  • Build a large email list
  • Create joint partnerships with other successful authors
  • Secure more speaking engagements and media interviews
  • Spend more money on advertising

For instance, what if I touted myself as the “#1 Book Marketing Consultant in the World”? Who sets the standard and how would anyone know the difference? I could display that title on my website, but you’d probably think I was a little over the top and question your ability to trust me.

Writing and marketing a book requires hard work that can already make an author seem a little crazy. Why make things worse by creating silly claims about a book’s Amazon ranking? Being an author with a book on Amazon is a rare achievement by itself. We get the unique opportunity to educate, inspire, and entertain the world. There’s no need to work ourselves into a frenzy and manufacture false accolades. Take this article and use it as my prescription to forever avoid getting Amazon fever.

—–

Rob Eagar is one of the most accomplished book marketing experts in America and a leading specialist in the field of direct-to-consumer sales. Rob’s consulting firm, Wildfire Marketing, has attracted numerous bestselling authors, including Dr. Gary Chapman, DeVon Franklin, Lysa TerKeurst, Wanda Brunstetter, and Dr. John Townsend. As an expert in direct-to-consumer marketing, Rob also helps companies and non-profits build Million Dollar Email Lists that create seven-figure revenue and donations. Rob is the author of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire (published by Writers Digest), which is considered the bible of book marketing.

“Fever” image courtesy of David Dominici Castillo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Six Hurdles to Becoming an Author

When I attended my first writer’s conference in 2006, I thought I’d pitch an agent or editor and sell my book on the spot. After all, my college professor used my papers as good examples for her class, so these writing professionals were sure to read my work and sing the Hallelujah Chorus, right? Interviews on Good Morning America, Oprah’s Book Club, and a Pulitzer Prize would be sure to follow. Money would rain from the heavens. I was 28.

I’ll be 40 this year. I’m older, wiser, more experienced, and yet I’ve never met Oprah.

So let me step in as your coach and tell you how this really works.

  1. You have to write a book. I started many books before I finished one. And I probably only finished because I’d paid for a conference and needed something to sell to all those editors who I thought would come knocking. Editors or not, this is probably the hardest hurdle to clear. You don’t know you can leap over it until you do. So set that deadline for yourself, make the time, and feel free to write crap. Because this manuscript will likely be considered a false start anyway.I Got Nothin'
  2. Find a critique partner. Now because I’m the kind of person who takes off before the pistol is fired, I did have an editor request my manuscript after this conference and an agent sign me on the basis that I had an editor interested. This story didn’t get published though (thank goodness), and the most valuable thing that came out of my first conference was my critique partner. She got me back on track and trained with me. We moved at about the same pace and agreed to read each other’s manuscript. I not only learned a lot from her, but she ended up starting a publishing company which eventually published my Fun4Hire series. This is one of the coolest things about the writing community. Meeting all those famous authors is exciting, but it’s even more exciting to help your friends succeed.

    20170824_154228

    I named characters Christina and Dave after my first critique partner and her husband.

  3. Enter contests. Christina and I both finaled in contests. This is great encouragement to keep going when it feels like your words will never see the ink of a printing press. It also looks good in a cover letter and can include great feedback. Often these contests are judged by your dream editor. You’ll be scored on exactly what they like or don’t like about your work. And sometimes, if they like your work enough, as in the case of the Harlequin contest I entered, they’ll give you a contract and publish it.

    Book Signing

    Almost all of Team Love on the Run sold manuscripts through a Harlequin contest!

  4. Submit. Now I didn’t include “reading” as one of the six hurdles because normally if you want to be a writer, reading is no hurdle. It’s more like cheering from the stands. That being said, READ and research your favorite books to find out who sold and edited them. That’s probably who you should to submit your work to. Agents and editors know what they want, and you are wasting time if you send them something outside their interests.

    Angela and Editor

    My editor Miralee Ferrell is hard to keep up with.

  5. Get rejected. This is like shin splints. You don’t feel the pain unless you push yourself. Now you can commiserate with the rest of us. Feel free to keep count of your rejection letters or recycle them so your next rejection letter can possibly be written on the same fibers. Whatever you do, be proud. You’re writing isn’t perfect, but that’s okay. It’ll never be perfect. What matters is you’re working hard to beat your last time. Get up and keep going.

    Me and Mark Twain

    Even Mark Twain’s WAR PRAYER was rejected. He said, “I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.”

  6. Network. To some of you, this hurdle might be even harder than getting rejected. It’s like being interviewed after you lost a race on television. But you have to get in front of an audience to build what editors like to call a platform. It can be through social media, blogs, websites, radio, magazines, or newspaper. You are your own front man. You exude the the passion that pours into each of your stories. People want to read what you have to say because you inspire them.

    Why Christian romance- (2)

    People who know me know I’m passionate about healthy relationships and that I believe love can change lives. Also, it’s fun.

If you continue to improve your performance and don’t give up, you increase your chance of crossing the finish line into publication. All I’m going to say here is that selling your first manuscript won’t be anything like you imagine it to be. It will be better.

There you have it. Though you should also know that on average it takes seven years to win a book contract. And then you face a whole new set of hurdles.

Is it worth it? Only if you can relate to Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire when he says, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.”

He never met Oprah either.

Oprah

Photoshop is probably the closest I’ll ever get.

Making Connections as a Writer

Business People Meeting Corporate Digital Device Connection Concept

In my previous post, Connecting with People at Conventions, I discussed how writers can connect with people at various convention events such as exhibit hall displays, main sessions, workshops, luncheons, and receptions. While meeting people in person provides great opportunities for a writer to reconnect with key individuals as well as make new friends, most of the time writers need to communicate with people at a distance. Here are some ideas for connecting with people through technology.

  1. Magazine and Journal Editors – Even after you have written a book, keep writing articles for magazines and journals. You will find that writing these shorter pieces helps you pursue fresh ideas as a writer and keeps your name in front of readers. If you have met editors at writer’s events or conventions, send them an email to follow up on potential writing opportunities. If you discussed potential topics with an editor in person, send a query for an article that fits the publication’s current needs. If you have not already done so, connect with the publication through social media, liking the page on Facebook or following the account on Instagram, Twitter, or other social media sites. These social media connections will assist you in determining what articles are most suited to the publication and how a finished article will appear online.
  2. Agents and Publishing House Editors – If you are seeking to publish your first book through a traditional publisher, you most likely will need to communicate with a publishing house through a literary agent. During the publication process, your literary agent will give you suggestions as you hone your book proposal (nonfiction) or manuscript (fiction), so you want to find an agent who understands and enjoys books in your genre. If you have met a potential agent in person, follow up with a letter sent through email introducing your background (education, professional interests, previous writing experience) and a one-paragraph description of your potential book. If the agent is interested, the next step will be a scheduled telephone conversation to verify that the agent’s interests align with yours. After you sign a contract with your literary agent, he or she will communicate with publishing house editors until you sign a publishing house contract.
  3. Bloggers and Readers – If you have connected with bloggers and readers at conventions or speaking engagements, use social media to maintain the connection. Comment on blogs, guest post, and interact with readers through your social media accounts. Make sure you end each presentation at a workshop or speaking engagement with a slide providing your social media contact information. Focus on maintaining the social media connections with individuals and organizations whose values and focus match your readers. However, welcome connections that expand your reader base. Be aware that articles on the Internet can be taken out of context, especially with the passage of time, so use caution when deciding whether or not to write a guest post for a particular blog or agree to an interview.

How do you use technology to connect with people as a writer?

What authors need to know: a view from the reviewer’s desk

© Royalty-Free/Corbis

I’ve recently been reviewing books on Netgalley. To my surprise, it’s been an educational experience for me as an author; by putting myself on the reader’s/critic’s side of the equation, I’ve learned a few truths that every author should know about 1) writing books, and 2) receiving book reviews.

Truth #1: Not every book is for every person. No matter how important your message or story, it’s not going to appeal to everyone. I keep thinking of the key question every writer gets when pitching a book for publication: who will want to read this book? Many of us (myself included when I began writing) believe that EVERYONE should read our books, that there is value in our work for every reader. But the truth is that people have different interests, and not everyone will want to read your book; that’s why the precise identification of those readers most likely to read your book is so critical to publishing your work. Authors MUST know their specific audience.

As a reviewer, I can choose from a multitude of topics, which means there are many excellent books I don’t choose to review for the simple reason that I’m not interested in the topic. Don’t take it personally when reviewers don’t rave about your book – it may be that your topic just didn’t hit a home run with that individual. Remember always that reading and reviewing is subjective, so while authors want and need reviews, you’re at the mercy of individual preference.

Truth #2: Not every writing style will appeal to every reader. Part of the joy of writing is to find your own voice, and when it resonates with your readers, it’s like winning the lottery. From a reviewer’s perspective, however, some writing styles are irritating, which then often result in poor reviews. (Case in point: as a former teacher of English composition, I can’t get through a book filled with incomplete sentences. When I find that in a book I want to review, I return the book rather than penalize the writer for her own voice. I’ve made that my rule based on my experience of receiving a poor review for one of my books wherein the reviewer said he didn’t read the book because he didn’t like my style in the first chapter! Again, it’s subjective, so don’t panic when you receive a review like that; if you know your audience, you can let that bad review roll off your shoulders, because you know something your reviewer doesn’t: your audience likes your style.)

Truth #3:  Your writing will improve by reading and reviewing other books. As a writer, every learning opportunity you take – even reviewing others’ books – will contribute to your store of ideas, craft, and understanding. Besides reminding me of the importance of audience, reviewing has reassured me that there is room in the publishing and reading world for many voices and many topics. As long as you continue to polish your craft and write engaging books, there’s room for you, too!