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How-to Quickie: Make a Memorable Affiliate Link

November 22nd, 2013 . by Peggy

Are you using this free and easy method to create memorable affiliate links for your books?Memorable affiliate link setups are easy, and here’s a quick video to show you how to create a link you can simply mention to anyone.

Great if you’re now regularly making affiliate links from items on Amazon – especially linking to your own books and eBooks! It’s always important for authors to show off their books on Amazon in a memorable affiliate link you can just say to everyone you meet, put on your business card, or in a QR code. It’s really simple using this fast trick.

Learn more about how to create the account and memorable affiliate links in the first place…

at https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/. Affiliate links are not unique to Amazon, of course, and affiliate systems tend to spit out a lot of loooooong messy code that nobody can really work with. Here’s a safe way to control those links permanently with an attractive and memorable affiliate link.

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Top Kindle Indie Authors Worth Following

July 31st, 2012 . by Peggy

As a followup to my blog post for VivMag.com, about why women over 30 write better eBooks, here’s a list of the top female indie Authors worth following on Twitter, and definitely worth reading.

I was fascinated with how each of these women market themselves. Some have many books, others have very few. Some are wild about Twitter, and some are not. They use tools like video and podcasting to help get their eBooks out there. Their pricing is all over the map. And if you follow each of them carefully, you’ll learn more about their writing style, their attitudes about their business, and how that plays into their success.

In no particular order…

EL James

( https://twitter.com/E_L_James/)

- Fifty Shades of Grey

- Fifty Shades Darker

- Fifty Shades Freed

Karen McQuestion

(https://twitter.com/KarenMcQuestion)

- The Long Way Home

- A Scattered Life

- Easily Amused

Click here to see all of Karen McQuestion’s Kindle eBooks

Ruth Cardello

 (https://twitter.com/ruthiecardello)

- Maid for the Billionaire

- For Love or Legacy

- Bedding the Billionaire

Jamie McGuire

(https://twitter.com/jamiemcguire_)

- Beautiful Disaster

- Providence

- Requiem

Click here to see all of Jamie McGuire’s Kindle eBooks.

 

Tammara Webber

(https://twitter.com/TammaraWebber)

- Easy

- Where You Are

- Good For You

 

Colleen Hoover

 (https://twitter.com/colleenhoover)

- Slammed

- Point of Retreat

 

Zoe Winters

 (https://twitter.com/zoewinters)

- Blood Lust

- Save My Soul

- The Catalyst

 

Erin Kern

 (https://twitter.com/erinkern04)

- Here Comes Trouble

- Looking For Trouble

 

CJ Lyons

 (https://twitter.com/cjlyonswriter)

- Nerves of Steel

- Sleight of Hand

- Face to Face

Click here to see all of CJ Lyons’ Kindle eBooks.

 

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10 Things to Know Before You Write an eBook

July 25th, 2012 . by Peggy

My number one question of all time is, “How do I start writing an eBook?” Here are my top 10 recommendations.

1. Don’t buy any software or services.

Part of the reason I do what I do is to demonstrate to Authors that they really, really can do this all by themselves. As you’ll see as you get to know me, the approach I recommend is actually very simple. Besides, one of the biggest concerns you should have as you build your eBook business is to avoid creating dependencies. In the eBook business, those who build on a foundation of frugality are the ones that win in the long run. The only exceptions are an editor (non-negotiable, in my view), possibly a tech like me, and possibly a graphic designer for your cover. Otherwise, any halfway tech-savvy marketer really can do this from their kitchen table.

2. Start writing in a basic word-processor.

This is not the time to try to learn anything new. Your focus needs to be creating spectacular content. Avoid the distraction of fancy software by using something with which you’re already familiar. For most writers, that’s still MS Word. My fave happens to be OpenOffice, which is – you guessed it – FREE. It looks a lot like MS Word, and in fact, can open, edit, and save files right back to the MS Word .doc format. Just don’t go out and buy a new computer or think that you need to upgrade. Ironically, I actually spend more time for my eBook clients stripping out the hidden codes and back-end gunk from fancy software, than designing the actual eBook itself. I really do. And it’s a pain. Use what you already have and things will turn out much better in the end.

3. Don’t forget to do your research.

Before you move much farther past the beginning of your outline, be sure that you do some basic keyword research. This is how you find out if the book is even worth writing, because if there isn’t a market for it, why write it? Or, can it be tweaked into something that is marketable? Can you discover an opportunity that you didn’t know existed? Is the idea ahead of it’s time? Behind the times? Right at exactly the right time? I find that in about two hours of some basic – and fun – research, I can learn more than I could ten years ago in 6 weeks of work.

4. Don’t lose momentum.

When that muse appears, RIDE HER, ride her HARD, into the sunset. Your family’s opinion of your late-night writing sessions shouldn’t be allowed to phase you. So what if you drink a little more coffee or eat a few popsicles: just get ‘er done. If you’re in the mood to write, drop everything else. Don’t ignore inspriation, or you’ll bore of it quickly, and then it will never get written. (That boredom is the number ONE stumbling block I see in clients.)

5. Involve yourself in the book’s community.

By this I mean that if you’re writing a steampunk novel, by all means, join a steampunk society and go to the meetings. Business books mean getting out to networking meetings, and setting yourself up for speaking gigs. Poker books mean you should be playing daily, as part of some sort of group. Think of yourself as sitting in the center of a massive web. Look for opportunities to expand beyond your local geographic area, such as joining organizations that have expansion chapters, like Rotary clubs. And that’s just the (so-called) “real world”. Be certain that everyone in the online community related to your topic knows who you are. This is where social media comes in, as a way to easily integrate yourself and let people know about you. Very importantly, you should buy an eBook that is grounded in your community, perhaps the most well-known, and read it in the format in which you think you will publish. (Ie., if you’re aiming for a Kindle eBook, buy a Kindle version and read it that way, to familiarize yourself with the format. It’s surprising how many Authors come to me for help, yet they’ve never bought or read an eBook themselves.)

6. Buy the domain name, and secure social media ID’s in the name of your eBook.

If you haven’t hear me say this before, you need to buy the exact domain name of your eBook’s title. If the .com isn’t available, re-title the book. Setup a basic WordPress blog at that location and start making regular entries as you write, to build traffic to your site. Even if you never plan to write a single blog post or post a single tweet, at least buy or reserve the title, and your Author name, so that nobody else gets them, as yes, people will look for you by your Author name, the title of the eBook, and under any pseudonyms you have.

7. Start building an eMail list.

Please do NOT simply add people to your email program’s personal address book. Besides the fact that this doesn’t work, it happens to be illegal. (I’ll shortly have a revised version of my Cheat Sheet about this topic, which will explain all of this in detail.) Instead, use a free or low-cost account at MailChimp, aWeber, 1ShoppingCart, or even ConstantContact.com to manage this. It not only allows you to build a legal double-opt-in list, but also to offer things like free stuff when people sign up, and have really attractive-looking templates for your content. List-building will become a permanent, ongoing activity in your business. The sooner you start, the better.

8. Design the cover.

This might sound premature, but actually, it’s quite important. The sooner you can start talking about your upcoming eBook, the better. You’ll need to put an image of the cover on an information page on your blog, perhaps on your business cards, and of course, on social media. I have also printed out poster-size versions of it and put it on my vision board to inspire me to get it done more quickly. Or to brag.

9. Start looking for an editor.

You may need one of any of a variety of types of editing, from style and content editing, to simple copy editing, which is really mostly grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. The earlier you can form a relationship with this person, the better. As I said above, it’s a non-negotiable. The book must be edited at some point, and it’s probably a lot less expensive than you think. Objectivity is key – do NOT hire a friend or a family member. Besides ensuring basic writing ability, ignore any degrees on the wall. The most important thing about this editor is that you trust them. If you don’t, find someone else.

10. Write a proper marketing plan.

I don’t mean a series of unrealized ideas, but an actual written plan. I don’t mean a business plan, either, but a very specific marketing plan. And no, this doesn’t need to be more than a page. It must simply be concrete. (Concrete does not mean inflexible, by the way.) I use MindMeister.com, which is actually a mind-mapping tool, to create what ends up looking more like an infographic than a marketing plan. This allows me to change it when needed, and I can block out specific tasks that I need to complete in a certain order to make things move along. It also looks pretty darn sexy when printed out and posted on the wall.

While this is obviously not an exhaustive list, I think it covers the most important points. You’ll note that most of this is about setting up marketing tools for down the road, not actually about the writing. This surprises most of my clients that I don’t tell them how to write, or that I don’t start talking about how to use formatting for the manuscript. This is because all of that is secondary to your ability to sell it. Anything in the formatting can be fixed, modified, or more likely, is inconsequential anyway. What I want most for you is to realize the benefit of making these strategic choices up-front.

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eBook Covers: Screen Fonts vs. Print Type

July 16th, 2012 . by Peggy

Bad font choices can make or break your eBook cover design.

Are you designing your own eBook cover? Great! Here’s how to choose a font for the title and other text on your cover.

(And BTW< this is not something that’s worth obsessing over. You have a lot going on right now – and obviously, your first concern needs to be writing a great eBook.)

The difference between a screen font and a print typeface deals with the intricacies of readability and the science of typography. A screen font is one that’s designed to work and read well from a screen, versus a typeface that is designed for print, and not to be read on a screen at all. It’s a common mistake to not realize the difference, and use a screen font on an eBook cover, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

I should mention that the very word “font” is actually only used to describe the set of files that compose a screen font – not the typeface that is meant for print. Typography geeks might get on your back about that.

Screen (or web) fonts are meant to be readable in reflowable text situations, and represent well in what are generally lower resolutions on a screen. These fonts have different spacing attributes, meaning the spacing between letters, between the “legs” of each letter, and any enclosed areas, such as the gap in the middle of an “A”. Screen fonts are also meant to scale well and look good at both large and small sizes without any sacrifice to structure and readability. Font files will contain different sets of the letterforms than a print typeface. You’ll typically find a bold version, an enlarged bold, etc. Italics are found less often, due to their typically poor visibility on a screen. There’s a great article about this subject here: http://www.sitepoint.com/anatomy-web-fonts/

Print typefaces are typified by greater complexity and customizability, so that a designer in full control of the printed object can manipulate a typeface to an amazing extent. Designers can treat type like a graphic object, even though that’s usually something that’s tough to pull off.

A big part of this entire debate – and yes, it’s still an open debate – is what’s known as kerning. Kerning refers to adjusting the spaces between letters and words. A typesetter can adjust the kerning in a word or sentence so that parts of the letter overlap into the space of the letter immediately preceding or following it. For a great illustration of this concept, have a look at this Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerning.

Because we don’t typically adjust kerning for screen text, each letter in a screen font has a pre-set amount of space that surrounds each letter. This is what’s known as “monospaced” type. In other words, a screen font is meant to be standardized so that no matter what letter falls after which, the font will remain readable and properly spaced. Some screen fonts have evolved to be able to be kerned, but it’s highly automated, and like anything that’s fully automated, there will be some areas that just don’t work precisely the way that we’d always like it to. Sort of like factory cheesecake. Still good, but perhaps not worth blowing your diet over.

It’s not true that all serif typefaces are really for print, and non-serif fonts are for the screen, because in the years since modern monitors first came out, fonts and typefaces have evolved both artistically and in terms of usability. We now see both types of type in both print and on-screen. But there can be dramatic results by manipulating little things like the extension on the cross of a “t”, for example, which helps letters fit in a way that makes good use of the space on the screen, and still looks natural. Some typefaces, like Times Roman, were designed for specific things, like newspaper columns, and there are sooo many much better choices for serif typefaces in books, documents and papers, that I’m amazed that people still use that font at all. Times Roman is like the Scottish Play – you just can’t say the name of it at certain parties.

It’s considered a major no-no to use a screen font in print. The end result is a font that is not kerned properly, meaning that there are uneven gaps between the letters, which if they are used for the title, is going to glare at you from smack in the center of the cover of the book. There’s also something called aliasing, which very simply means that the angled edges of a screen font can be artificially smoothed to appear softer on the eye. Again, this is one of those areas that can get thoroughly messed up if you don’t understand the finer settings of stuff like Photoshop. Simply taking a high-resolution typeface and shrinking it down will not adjust the resolution properly, making it look “jagged” and blurry. See here for another article with an excellent technical explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spatial_anti-aliasing

Screen fonts also have different effects when justified, due to automatic kerning. If you align a paragraph to be justified using a screen font, the letters across the line will be aligned with even gaps from the outermost point of each letter, which means that if an “A” and a “V” happen to follow each other, there will be too much space between them. A print typeface will typically automatically compensate for this, making the line appear more naturally-spaced, and therefore lend itself to a more natural reading experience. You cannot always correct this with hand-kerning. And even if you can, it’s time-consuming.

No matter what, if I were you, I would not geek out too much about this issue. There is an argument to be made that using screen fonts for the design of eBook covers is totally appropriate, considering that they are not meant to be printed out – the covers, too, are seen only on-screen. But I must say that I’ve seen a lot of oddly-spaced type out there: it floats, strangely, like a ship that isn’t anchored properly.

I think it’s a style choice. Is it readable? Does it look professional? Does it clearly make readers understand what they’re going to get in this book? If you answer yes to all of those, then great. Trust your eyes and your instinct.

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5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Wrote My First eBook

July 2nd, 2012 . by Peggy

I’m about to complete my part in eBook number 170. Here’s what I wish I’d known before I started this journey.

1. You will need to write much more than you thought.

Alice might be in Wonderland - but she's not in over her head.

I knew that I’d probably want to write more than just one eBook, in fact, I could imagine dozens that I wanted to create, but deep in my heart, I didn’t really think I’d get to be part of this many. While I’ve certainly not created all 170 alone (about 1/3 of them I did alone – the rest were collaborative efforts with some incredible people) from that first one, I gave myself permission to not do it if I didn’t feel like it. That was not realistic. It was also not professional. I recently said to someone who had just gotten through number 1, “That’s great – now do 7-10 more by the end of the summer.” She was not enthused.

The reality is that eBook success is exponential. This is a volume business. While each item that you create might be a wonderful success, it might also be a horrible failure. Long-term success depends on producing timeless content with a long life span, and creating enough content that you’re known for a body of work rather than one or two products. Besides, a pattern is easy to replicate – only the first eBook is a learning experience.

2. You must be committed to your niche.

Over and freakingover again, I say, know your keywords.

The most expensive part of any business is customer acquisition. (Aka, sales.) Once you get a client under your wing, it’s much cheaper to sell more of the same sort of stuff to the same person, than it is to get new customers. That means that you really need to know your audience, and their needs, from day 1. This is most easily discovered through keyword research. Then your job becomes very simple: just create more of that which your niche desires. Otherwise, you find yourself constantly in a state of experimentation and newness. Your niche is your reader family. Take them unto your bosom. They are actually pretty easy to feed – if they want spaghetti every night, then for heaven’s sake, give it to them.

It took me a few years to get really good at doing keyword research. In the meantime, I did a lot of guessing, and wrote a lot of lovely content that didn’t sell. Spare thyself this agony. I’ve shared the basics here in this free eBook: Keyword Cheat Sheet, now in version 4.2. Costs you nothing to both download and use.

Don’t forget you can also serve multiple niches. I write under 11 different pseudonyms (some for clients, and confidential) and each of those serves a completely different niche. I’m sure there’s crossover, but a pseudonym is like a sign that says to readers, “Hey, remember that stuff you liked? There more of it right here.”

3. The money is in affiliate marketing.

While it’s true that things like SEO and social media are extremely important, affiliate marketing allows me to leverage the networks of others. (I had heard that expression for years before I knew what they were talking about.) By making small payouts for each referral, and making it easily trackable, it means that if I just focus on creating really great stuff, I can make other people confident in recommending it.

Affiliate marketing is a fairly broad term that has a number of different meanings, but essentially, eBookers can use it to track payouts to others who help them sell more books. There is no limit to the number of affiliates you can have, or how creative you can get with it. Watch for more help with this topic from me in coming months, in things like classes and eBooks.

4. It can be extremely boring.

I admit there have been days when I feel like if I spend one more minute looking at a monitor, I’ll claw my own eyes out. To top it off, for a little over 5 years, I worked from home in a beautiful but isolated area, a small gulf island off the west coast of Canada. This meant that if it weren’t for the dog, there were days when I wouldn’t open my front door. If I were to do it again, I’d make sure that I worked in a shared office space of some kind, like I do now, and networked in the real world more, like I do now, and lived in a city or more populated area, like I do now, in Las Vegas.

Besides the lifestyle issues, I now know it wasn’t good for my writing. Isolation is often seen as a requirement of Authors, and while I’ve seen the benefits of that sometimes, I can now see that I lacked objectivity about my business in general, and certainly about writing. It definitely makes for better non-fiction writing to be part of a team, where I’m not working exclusively on my own agenda. Being able to think like a reader, instead of like a writer, is an important skill for writers of all types.

5. The ramp-up time took a lot longer than I thought it would.

Partly because I was a noob, and partly because I was unfocused, it took me a long time to learn what I really needed to get done in what period of time. The original audience that I assumed existed, it turned out, didn’t exist at all. At first, I ignored the ghost writing market. (Stupid.) I didn’t write any fiction because I assumed it wouldn’t have a market. (Also, incredibly stupid.) I chose prices that were both too high and too low. (Stupid, and unresearched.) I agonized over the little things, which it turned out was a waste of my time. I took forever to figure out that I needed to partner with others to create cool products and services.

While I still struggle with typical self-employment issues, like setting aside time for my own projects versus that of clients, I now realize that the instant success that I thought was coming was a joke. I ignored the concept of critical mass, and it took until my own product number four before many people noticed my product number one. This took over 2 years, and in the meantime, instead of recognizing that this was all part of a normal development cycle, I called myself a failure.

The lifespan of eBooks can be just as long, if not longer than printed books. They are subject to update and regular revision, as they’re not burdened by the overhead of a stock of books. This means that you can spend a lot longer ramping up an audience, building your list, your reader base, and your discoverability. It’s worth it, and it’s normal. Savour it as part of the journey.


So when I take my daughter into my lap, and explain to her what it takes to be a good eBook creator, (and those of you who know me know that I do this often…) I talk to her about technology, commitment, and taking the dog for a twice-daily walk. At six years old, she already has a plan to write a series of books about cats and Barbie. Next week, we’re doing the keyword research about that.

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6 eBook Tools That I Can’t Live Without

June 25th, 2012 . by Peggy

Part of my job is to try all sort of things that help Authors. Here, I’ll show you six things that I’ve personally tried, and that are really helping me with various things related to online marketing and eBooks.

1) Evernote is great for;

- web-based research, saving web pages

- take a pic of a white board, it saves it as searchable text

- recording audio notes to myself (using the associated FREE Android app)

- my to-do lists and perhaps even dictation on the go

2) Smashwords is great for;

- reviewing an excellent style guide when formatting your eBook for almost any platform

- uploading an eBook to multiple platforms at once, including Kindle and others

3) Audioboo.fm is great for;

- quick podcasts using only my Android phone

- interviewing Authors and Experts with no prep or notice

- immediate, no editing, low-tech

- finding other 5-minute podcasts to listen to, both at home and on-the-go

4) MailChimp is great for;

- growing and managing my email list

- designing and sending out really nice-looking newsletters

- pay only as I need to and my list grows

5) MindMeister is great for;

- outlining before I write eBooks, white papers, audio products, and blog posts

- setting goals and outlining the tasks I need to complete to achieve them

- org charts, planning websites, and even illustrating processes to clients

6) Visual Thesaurus is great for;

- the obvious (an interactive thesaurus like no other)

- brainstorming domain names, eBook titles, products, and keywords

- try changing the settings and watch things fly around!

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When eBook Choices Seem Overwhelming

June 11th, 2012 . by Peggy

Stuck in a revolving door of confusion about eBooks?Stuck in a revolving door of confusion when it comes to various technologies around eBooks? You’re not the only one.

Knowing your options may seem like you’re opening a can of worms, but actually, I find that most of the choices in eBooks really boil down to just a few questions.

The problem is that these few choices have been inflated and repackaged a million ways. When various companies start inventing their own words to use for the same things, nobody knows what the heck is going on.

Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to pigeonhole options when they present themselves, and know if a new choice is something you really need to consider, or if it’s overrated or unneccessary.

Here are the questions I hear about the most in my presentations and workshops.

1) Do I need to create a PDF or an ePub?

This is really the biggie. Everything else falls into place based on this. For more information on each of the platforms, and how to make the choice based on your content type, read this previous blog post from me.

2) Do I need to hire an “eBook Publishing Company”?

This category of company invented itself a couple of years ago. Are they capitalizing on the confusion by charging outrageous prices for stuff that most people can do themselves? In most cases, absolutely. (However, there are some that I’m testing and that I may recommend in future.)  The built-in systems inside Amazon Kindle, for example, enable any non-techie to do it all by themselves. Anybody who can type an MS Word document can publish on Kindle. For more information about how to actually do this stuff yourself, sign up for my mailing list. I’ve got new video classes coming online very soon.

3) Do I need an Editor?

A resounding YES. For me this is not negotiable. In almost 170 eBooks, I’ve met exactly two writers who did not require the services of an editor. Two. Neither you nor I are one of those two. Find someone qualified you can work with, and just make the best deal you can. Try this database of freelance editors to start.

4) Do I need to hire someone to typeset my eBook?

If you are creating something that you want people to buy and read on Amazon Kindle, no, you certainly do not, as that’s not how Kindle works. (If you don’t know this already, it means you need to buy an eBook on Kindle and read it, to familiarize yourself with the platform. You can read an Amazon Kindle eBook for free using your computer, your phone, or your iPad or other tablet – you do not need to buy a Kindle device, or even pay money for an eBook for that matter.)

However, if you’re creating something that should be printed out and written in, or that contains many illustrations or tables or charts, or that must be seen in colour to make sense, then yes, you may want to consider hiring a designer to lay it out as a PDF for you. This means it’s more likely that you’re going to sell it off your own website, rather than on a platform like Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and etc. (Please, I beg of you, don’t simply type up an MS Word document and use that to create your PDF for download. It looks like crap.)

5) Do I need to hire a cover designer?

Unless you have some reasonable graphic design skills, yes, a professionally-designed eBook cover is totally worth the money. Don’t try to buy software and learn it as you create a homemade-looking cover design – too frustrating. You can certainly get a really attractive cover designed for you for about $200 – $500 USD. There are some great people overseas. (Or, hire me. It doesn’t matter – just be sure it looks slick.) I’ve written about eBook cover design guidelines here. You can share that previous link with your graphic designer.

6) Do I need a website devoted entirely to this eBook?

Perhaps not. What every book does need, however, is a landing page. If you already have a WordPress site, that means just adding another page to your current site, one that is totally devoted to selling your eBook, without distraction, alternative navigation, or outbound links. This page is where you’ll direct web traffic to “land” when they respond to things like your social media links, any ads you have to sell your eBook, or from other websites and blogs.

Let us say that you are a chef, and you’ve written a cookbook. The cookbook is a PDF, which means that it’s loaded with colour photos, lists of ingredients, and indented instructions. You want to sell this off your own website, and use it to build your profile. The best way to accomplish this would be to devote one landing page on your site to just selling the eBook. From that page, create a really HUGE and obvious link in the top right corner that says “Order my copy NOW!”, and make that button go directly into the shopping cart experience.

That sales page does NOT need to be independent of your website. In fact, it will work better if it’s not, as it reduces maintenance for you, as well as being able to easily capture traffic from the rest of your website.

7) How do I start writing? What should I use to type it?

Just use whatever you are most comfortable using. These days, everything can be exported and imported. Most people still write in MS Word, which is just fine, no matter how you plan to ultimately output your eBook. (I happen to prefer the free software Open Office over Microsoft products, but as I say, it doesn’t matter.) It helps a great deal to reduce the amount of formatting you use, and keep it as simple as possible, to avoid having to make adjustments to the manuscript later on. Whether you plan to release it as a PDF or as an ePub, as in, Kindle, etc., MS Word (or Open Office) is still a perfectly good way to start out.
Don’t worry at all at this stage about things like spacing, designing the layout of things on the page, or especially fonts. This seems to get asked all the time, and yet, at the first stage, this is absolutely the wrong thing on which to focus. Instead, worry about your marketing plan, your outline, and finding any images you wish to include, again, no matter which type of eBook you plan to create.

While this is not an exhaustive list, this certainly covers the most common questions I hear. The key is to simply not worry about the details too early in the process. The bigger question of things like your marketing plan and your keyword research are still the most important first steps.

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Choosing A Platform For Your eBook

May 31st, 2012 . by Peggy

Kindle reader on the iPadThe Kindle platform is great for many types of content, but not for all. When I offer my presentations and classes, I have a few slides that help walk Authors through the following choices. Your content might work for all platforms, or not.

For the sake of simplicity, I break eBook platforms into two major categories: PDF, and ePub. Both of these are compatible with Mac and PC platforms, and both can be sold off your own website. And, both can be used for the same content. But they will look quite different.

We all know what a PDF is. Static, colourful, suitable for things like charts, diagrams, fill-in-the-blanks, and of course, easily printable. Designers LOVE a PDF, because they know, without a doubt, that what they see on their screen is precisely what the consumer will see when they purchase it and open it. There is no fluidity to the content. It stays where you put it. This reliability is what caused the explosion of the PDF format in the first place. It can also be distributed and created more easily, and for most people wanting to sell a self-help or business book from their blog or website, the PDF option provides a very smooth experience for the consumer. The creator can use the simplest possible sales mechanism: the PayPal shopping button, which has virtually no maintenance, and is extraordinarily easy to setup, even for non-techies.

Plus, there really isn’t much to worry about in terms of things like tech support for the user. Once the consumer has downloaded the PDF, they can even use their Kindle device or software to open the file, as well as Acrobat Reader, Adobe Digital Editions, or various other software, making it extremely user-friendly.

However. (Ahem.) Let’s suppose that the user doesn’t shop that way for their eBooks. If they do a search on Amazon.com for your keywords, they will miss you entirely. And further, let us also suppose that you want to take advantage of the DRM support provided by ePub-based platforms like Amazon Kindle. And even further, let’s suppose that you just don’t want to be the one managing the shopping cart – you’d rather leave that to Amazon. And after all that, let’s just say you want it on Kindle so that you can win the bet with your know-it-all brother. (Matt, you lose.)

The big dividing line between PDF’s and ePubs is that ePubs are really all about text – not design. While they continue to evolve, and yes, images and so on can work beautifully, you’re really never quite sure what the consumer is going to see when it gets to their end.The Kindle platform is very user-friendly, virtually eliminates piracy, and allows the reader to conveniently carry their library in their mobile phone. All of that works the way it does because content for Kindle is really just text, and therefore, a very small file size. It’s about the raw, flowable text: not charts, not diagrams, not comparison tables, and certainly not large or complicated images.

Upon dissecting an ePub, which is the base of the proprietary Kindle format, you’ll find yourself looking at an html file – essentially, a web page. That’s right. Tags, text, and image files. Does your content rely on images to explain concepts? Do you have not a piece of prose, but a workbook in which users must perform exercises or fill in blanks? Do you rely on dramatic spacing and a series of complicated indents to set apart portions of your content,  such as in poetry?Do you have sidebars or flyouts? Do you rely on colour to make distinctions in the text? If so, you may wish to reconsider the use of the Kindle platform, and instead, stick to PDF’s.

While ePubs have evolved dramatically, and continue to do so, the reality is that there is just too much out of your control as the creator of an ePub with a lot of graphics, colour, or special text placement on the page. The content may not look like you expect it to on all devices and all platforms. (And in fact, I can virtually guarantee you that it will not.) If that’s the case, will it still make sense? Be readable?

Understanding the nature of the ePub or Kindle platform before we start to write allows us to create content that exploits its benefits, rather than getting caught its traps. For example, novels and non-fiction prose are very well suited to the ePub – Kindle platforms. That is exactly the sort of content for which the platform was invented, and, using even the most basic marketing will virtually guarantee some sales. Creating content that relies on rich descriptions and high-impact language will do best in this situation.

This is why regardless of recent advancements in ePubs, I still caution users to rely on only the most simple formatting when creating content that they intend publish via Kindle, or a multi-platform ePub uploader such as Smashwords. When content is uploaded into useful systems like this, the interface to the creator forces the content to be reduced to its very bones, thereby ensuring compatibility to multiple retail platforms. For ePubs, simpler source content guarantees better results, and that’s why the PDF isn’t going anywhere: we still need it for its reliability of design and function.

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Designing Your eBook Cover

April 4th, 2012 . by Peggy

Why are there so many eBook covers that just suck? Here’s how to un-suck yours, and design for digital, not print.

It used to be said that you had 6 seconds to sell someone on your printed book in a bookstore. Personally, I think that was an overestimation, and it’s gotten much, much worse in the eBook world. You probably have a negative time frame in which to sell your eBook, as its cover is positioned in a grid of hundreds on your screen. You need to reach out and grab the reader by the nose, not simply wait for their passive eye to drift your way.

Keep this front-of-mind: eBook cover design is not an act of art, it is an act of marketing.

Yeah, harsh, I know. But it’s the truth. I started designing my own covers years ago, and now do them for clients, for a very simple reason: I couldn’t get the graphic designer to do what I wanted. The designer would select heavenly images, take hours choosing fonts, etc., and I would often end up with something that I’d love to frame for my wall, but wouldn’t sell a single copy. Bear in mind that graphic designers are taught things like how to use design software, not necessarily things like classic perspective and proportion. And even if they do know that sort of thing, my experience tells me that graphic designers don’t always make good eBook cover designers, because they get caught up in the artistic points, and lose sight of the marketing.

Here is a little self-checklist to go through as you design your eBook cover, either by yourself, or with a graphic designer. All of the following sample images are taken from the top 20 sellers on Amazon Kindle, on this date., which might say something about the relationship of good cover design to sales, meaning, that even if your cover isn’t perfect, it will still sell if you do other things right.

1. It must be seen from a distance: nothing tiny or complicated.

Remember that this cover will typically be seen at about an inch, or possibly two inches high. If you can print it out at 6×9, tape it to the wall, step back 20 feet, and it still makes sense to a stranger, you’re on to something.

Text is too tiny and too much detail.

Text is too tiny and too much detail.

2. High contrast text and images only.

Readability is key: your title of your eBook is based on your keyword research, (right?) and you need to be sure that people are able to see it on all sorts of screens, in an eBookstore, etc. Don’t put words over top of images without giving them a glow or drop-shadow to enhance readability. No fuzzy greys.

Nice high-contrast image and easily-read title.

Nice high-contrast image and easily-read title.

3. Use colour wisely: keep to one or two focus colours, then a bold accent as focal point.

Just like dressing oneself, don’t put too much colour or fading of one colour to another in a small space. One or two key colours, perhaps those that relate to some sort of branding around the eBook, and an accent. The accent may very likely be the title of the book, in a bold colour contrasting with your background.

Pretty blues, but lacks readability and focus.

Pretty, but lacks readability and focus.

4. If you use an image, it had better be close-up / zoomed in.
Unless it’s a silhouette, don’t use un-cropped images. Bring the subject in close. Make us feel like we’re right there. Eliminate distracting background to all images, and we’ll focus on what you want us to see.

Readable text, but image is meaningless.

Readable text, but image is meaningless.

5. Don’t use brown. Top sellers all have: black, blue, and red.

This is just personal observation. However, orange and yellow work well. Brown is a passive colour, not mixed from primaries, and it may be that something deep within our brains associates it with muddiness or lack of clarity. However, red means blood or excitement, blue recalls the open sky, and black is depth and mystery. There’s a whole colour theory about this, debated by psychologists, and perhaps you have more time than I.

Nice blue, clear text, leading image.

Nice blue, clear text, leading image.

6. No creepy fonts – can’t see them in small preview images and hard to read on a screen, even if they look OK in print.

Creepy or fonts not designed for titles are so, so wrong. Too cute, too curly, too ridiculous. Unless you are mimicking handwriting, please just stick to highly-readable fonts that are designed for use in titles.

Not bad, but the font just isn't bold enough.

Not bad, but the font just isn't bold enough.

7. Mimic your print book if you have one, but not if it doesn’t work in digital format.

Consistency in branding is important. However, printed book covers rarely migrate well to digital status. It makes perfect sense then, to design for digital first, then adapt for print, changing as little as possible.

8. If you aren’t using an emotive image, use a dramatic, archetypal illustration.

The emotive image is great on a cover. (Emotive image = either the current problem or pain, or the desired corrected outcome or happy result. ie. The couple riding off into the sunset would be the happy ending.) However, if you’re not using a photo that meets the above requirements, and are using an illustration, be sure that it’s archetypal enough to be universally understood. It must have strong contrast and high visual impact.

High-contrast, meaningful image on all in this series.

High-contrast, meaningful image on all in this series.

9. Limit the text to title, author name, and a 22-character tagline, if at all.

If in a series, put the digit number high up in right-corner. Keep it clean. Let the image speak, because that’s what will catch their eye first from a distance.

10. Use consistent imagery throughout your work, and esp. within a series.

It’s important to retain branding, and series eBooks can he highly successful. It’s often said that if you have an eBook that’s not selling well, write a sequel. Then all of them sell well. Readers can’t resist more of the same.

Sparks departs from his signature cover style. Too bad.

Sparks departs from his signature cover style. Too bad.

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The 5 Most Stupid Things People Do With Their eBook Business

June 8th, 2011 . by Peggy

I’ve often said that it is our duty as entrepreneurial publishers to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Like our Mothers in the 1960′s and 1970′s, we are paving the road for those who come after us. If we make eBooks and entrepreneurial publishing look cheap, unprofessional, or just plain awful, what are we doing to the next generation?

Here are the mistakes I see all the time that make me crazy.

1. We seek out the ugliest possible cover design.

Please, I’m begging you, hire a designer. A professional. A person that has done this before. A person with training. Have them do a few different samples (not complete designs) and run them past your creative circle. Remember, you’re looking for readability, a graphic theme that clearly states the book’s intent, and no half-faded images. And remember, NO CREEPY FONTS. I will find you.

2. We don’t make use of affiliate marketing.

These things don’t sell themselves, people. I always endorse a self-operated affiliate program first, but if your book is on Amazon, set yourself up as an Amazon affiliate. Using their simple automated system, create banner ads and other affiliate links for your own products. Push these links out through your Twitter stream, your Facebook page, your podcasts, your iTunes content, your blog, your charitable fundraising connections, your reviews, your classes, your signage, on your business cards, your newsletter, etc. Be a little pushy. (But not too much.) Create a URL that you can promote that links directly to a page with your own products. (See the next post for how to do that.)

3. We think we’re going to make $120,000 a month.

Around these parts, here on Vancouver Island, there was a story about a woman in Cedar, BC, that did over $120k per month in nothing but Kindle eBooks. While I doubt the truth of that, even if it was the case, she doesn’t do that in her sleep. She’s working – probably really, really hard. Or at least, really, really consistently. She runs it like a business, which means she has specific things she does over and over again, and on a predictable basis. She meets deadlines and hires help. And, we’re not talking about one eBook. We’re probably talking about hundreds – possibly thousands. So, until you’ve gone through the ramp-up phase, don’t expect to be buying anything more than a Friday night round at the pub with eBook revenue.

4. We don’t get off our high horse.

I not too proud to know I’m not a literary giant. I make my money writing marketing stuff, for the most part. I’m a small fish in a massive ocean, but I work it. I have no qualms about promoting my stuff when it’s appropriate (vs. when I would just be harassing people).I consider most of what I do as a writer is marketing work, not great writing. No, my mom doesn’t think I do a very good job on some of it. But I know that I’m meeting the objectives of my clients. I don’t write romances or the next Great Gatsby or children’s lit, because although that sort of lit comes into my house on a daily basis, I have no illusions about myself as some great fiction writer or novelist. Yes, it would be nice to make my living doing that, but I still have the screenplays in the bottom drawer, and the novel that I peck away at when I can. It’s more like an extremely enjoyable hobby. And even if I did ever offer anything like that for sale, I wouldn’t have any snobbery about where I placed ads, or where I was “represented”. I’m here to sell. Show me the money.

5. We don’t write another book.

I have recently completed eBook number 155. That sounds like a lot. I can tell you, it feels like even more. Many of them probably don’t get read, like, ever. But I am not offended by this. They are often given away as free reports or client gifts. Remember the volume principle: one book makes $1 a day. Ten books make $10 a day. And so on. The eBook business is a template business – you do the same thing over and over again. There is an expression in the book business: the second book takes 1/10th of the time to create and makes you 10 times the money. In eBooks, it might be 100 times the money.

Plus, I now have a reputation. I can write almost anything, because what I am is a good Technical Writer – I specialize in breaking down complex topics and making them easy to understand. I’ve proven my template, and it works to meet my clients’ objectives. They won’t always pay for originality, but they will pay for what makes them money.

Topics that I’ve researched and then written include WWII weaponry, high-speed Italian cars, and ancient Egyptian enbalming techniques. But most of it is things like how you can buy stocks, how to get a mortgage as a single mother with no money, how you can sell a business in Illinois, how you can buy a house in Mexico, how you can amalgamate all your debts with a second mortgage, how to start a business in Nevada, and other incredibly dry topics that make my hands shake when I think about them. But, it’s about continuity. I get the work regularly because I’ve done it before.

The eBook business is about business – not always about literature. It’s about creating a community about your book. It’s about connecting through your marketing, not just pushing, pushing, and pushing. We all make mistakes – I discover new ones every day that I’m making – but taking things in perspective helps me stay grounded and keep working. “Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing…”

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