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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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Writing for eBooks vs. Writing for Paper Publication

May 25th, 2011 . by Peggy

Someone recently asked me, “Is there a difference in writing style between eBooks and paper publications?” Yes, and it can be quite dramatic.

People buy eBooks for completely different reasons than they purchase paper books. Again, it comes down to knowing your audience and their needs.

Let me share with you the top three reasons that people have specifically stated or demonstrated to me about why they might choose an eBook over a paper book. All of these cases apply to only my own work with non-fiction.

1. They want the information right away. Like, yesterday. They search online first for the content, find a resource, like a blog that tells them things they like to hear, and then find out that the blog Author also has an eBook available for download.

2. They don’t have time to read that much. I’ve heard more than once that people have a perception of paper-bound books occasionally being too deeply explorative of topics. They just want the facts. They don’t want to know the backstory – it won’t change how they use the information or how they make decisions.

3. They just don’t want more “stuff” in their lives. An eBook on their phone, iPad or other digital device is more or less invisible. It doesn’t require storage and is always in their back pocket. They can make notes or send paragraphs to others via email or even Facebook.

So if we know all of these things about our reader, how can we imagine that they want to read an eBook?

- uncomplicated, unburdened writing
- plain language, not a lot of buzzwords
- straight-to-the-point explanations
- external references will work easily (like web links for more info or your bibliography)
- high-level exploration of the topic, unless it’s specifically stated that yours is an in-depth work
- written in a lighter, more entertaining style
- consider modularizing content into self-contained sections that make sense on their own, allowing readers to make choices about how they choose to read the content, perhaps just one mini-chapter at a time
- use clear headings and sub-headings
- use consistent organization, conventions, and glossaries that interlink to your main content
- be sure that your chapter headings and subheadings links work properly, allowing people to hop around to parts of the content clearly
- make sure that your sales copy clearly represents what readers will receive
- use standardized platforms and technologies with the widest appeal and compatibility (watch out for the use of Flash on Apple devices, for example)
- offer them follow up content that meshes with your first book or offering

In closing, let me offer you a single caution: don’t make assumptions that your eBook readers are young hipsters, and can understand euphemisms and slang. Lighter and more entertaining doesn’t mean using cultural references or inside jokes that may be missed by a 55+ crowd.

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The Word On The Street – Here I Come!

September 14th, 2010 . by Peggy

I’m super proud to be speaking at this year’s The Word On The Street Festival in Vancouver, BC. On Sunday, September 26th, the other two Book Broads and I will be hosting a FREE panel titled “Build it and they will come – NAH!” It’s all about book marketing, publicity, and generally being in people’s faces.

The description of our talk goes something like this: “Many writers assume once the book is complete, it will sell itself, right? Wrong. No matter the method of publication — traditionally published, entrepreneurially published, or electronically published — the onus of promotion falls on the author. The Book Broads offer practical advice for writers (published or not) to raise their profiles, extend their reach and build their fan base.
Join Angela Crocker, Kimberly Plumley, and Peggy Richardson as they take the sting out of the overwhelming prospect of media interviews, blog posts, Facebook updates, podcasting, and so much more.”

Queue up early! We start at 1:45pm downstairs in the Peter Kaye room of the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library. (Yeah, that building that looks like the Roman Colloseum.)

See you there!

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I’m Speaking at Northern Voice This Weekend #nv10

May 5th, 2010 . by Peggy

I’ll be speaking at Northern Voice (#nv10) this weekend in Vancouver, Canada. This is the Canadian personal blogging and social media conference that’s now in its’ sixth year, and is being held at the Life Sciences Centre out at UBC.

I’m very proud to be co-presenting with Angela Crocker and Kim Plumley as The Book Broads. The title of our talk is “Flog Your Blog“, which is all about how to turn your blog into a book. The talk is scheduled for 1:45pm on Saturday May 8th, in room 1510. (That’s a bigger room than we were originally scheduled to use.)

Topics we’ll cover include;

- traditional publishing vs. self-publishing
- how to tell if your blog is a good candidate for publishing
- examples of bloggers who’ve successfully turned their blogs into books
- what *not* to do to turn your blog into a book
- how to use social media in conjunction with traditional publicity to help market your book
- how to choose the right options for various types of publishing
- eBooks vs. print books (and other options you may not have considered)
- how to market your book long before it’s published
- what the real job of a successful Author is
- your first, second and third steps to get it happening

I’ll be following up this session with my workshop on June 19th in Langley (near Vancouver, Canada), the eBook Jumpstart: http://ebookjumpstartlangley.eventbrite.com/.

Hope to see you all there!

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Why Amelia Peabody Keeps Me Interested

April 6th, 2010 . by Peggy

Today was the release of “A River in the Sky“*, the 19th book in the Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters. There’s a reason readers keep coming back.

The multiple NY Times bestselling Author Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters, and aka Barbara Michaels) was a housewife and mother when she wrote her first novel, The Master of Blacktower, (now available on your Kindle in under a minute) in 1966. Mertz’ numerous pseudonymns make it easy to miss what a prolific writer she really is, with a total of 69 books to her solo credit. She holds a Ph. D in Egyptology from the University of Chicago’s famed Oriental Institute, and many of her books have something to do with archeology or Egypt. The Amelia Peabody series of novels focus almost exclusively in this area, and so far are all set between the years of 1884 and 1923.

Mertz’ character of Amelia Peabody is so involving, so enticing, and so electric that I’ve re-read all 18 of the previously-published books in that series* up to 14 times. They are murder mysteries, with a feel that might resemble the bastard child of Agatha Christie and Indiana Jones. (Having not yet read today’s release, I can still say that “The Last Camel Died At Noon” is her best from the series.) There are no other books that I’ve read with that much enthusiasm since I practically lived in the school library’s Nancy Drew section at age 10.

While many could comment on the literary devices and other romantic reasons that Amelia keeps me coming back, I can reduce it to a few simple points that one might also try to include in a non-fiction work.

1. Higher Purpose

Amelia always has something bigger than herself happening, and while it’s not always life or death, Amelia interacts with a wide variety of famous characters in history, plays a part in incidents of the first world war, and is even present when the tomb of King Tut is first opened. While I’m not talking about creating a grand mythology around non-fiction content, Readers want to know that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Everyone’s work has a higher purpose of some sort, so it’s important to tap into that and involve Readers in that same sense of purpose. Amelia’s missions are much like many that we all have in our own real lives.

2. Constant Movement

Amelia is in many ways typical of the ladies of her class and era, and yet in many more ways, extremely atypical. She is of course self-disciplined, and extremely British in her general outlook, but she constantly bucks trends and acts very modern. She is an adventurer and discoverer, and she needs little sleep. Her mind is so quick that it blindsides not just other characters in the books, but occasionally, the books include various bits of narration to piece together certain puzzles for the Reader as well. She climbs mountains, both literally and figuratively, and she does so on a daily basis. It is not just important to maintain pace of story, but also to maintain pace of information, and that it is dished out in bite-sized pieces that the Reader is ready for, right when they need it. When creating non-fiction materials, the voice of the Author is often that of a Teacher, and the pace of that teaching is extremely important.

3. Level of Detail

Mertz’ descriptions of tombs, methods, how archeological finds are treated or cared for, and descriptions of tools, Victorian clothing, medicine and medical treatment, and even buildings and transportation are rich and full of detail. Her details of locations paint a clear image of what the area must have looked like, and make the reader feel as though they are walking on the same street. She describes the people of her era in Egypt with respect and deference to their glorious heritage, and the racial prejudice of many of the British people present as loathsome and narrow-minded. Her crime scene descriptions rival that of any modern homicide detective. Readers want to hear about the guts and the glory, and to put themselves in the position of the problem, and then of course, in the solution. And importantly, the content that augments the books adds additional enrichment, including maps and timelines to further clarify things like excavation areas and pre-historic locations. Things like tip sheets, checklists and web links augment any type of non-fiction material.

4. Heroes and Archetypes

I’ve talked (at least, verbally, if not here on this blog) about this concept many times in relationship to the Archetype (versus Stereotype) concept as described by screenwriting trainer Robert McKee*. Mertz does an excellent job of creating heroes and villains, and uses a variety of archetypal-characters, including a number of cats, which form an additional family of personas that many of us can relate to. She has masterfully used many elements of the classic archetype in creating her Sethos character, who is my favourite literary villain of all time. Sethos is Amelia’s dark-ish nemesis, and even though he waits until the third book in the series to appear, he plays a strong role from that point onward. Again, pacing is important here, as more and more details about Sethos are revealed so very very slowly, keeping the reader in suspense. (While the objective in non-fiction is not typically to create a sense of suspense, the importance of deciding on an appropriate pace is the same.) Sethos eventually becomes a hero in his own fashion, and anchors the story in a classic way that cannot be accomplished through any other method. The hero in non-fiction might be a concept rather than a character in that same sense, but the effect is the same.

5. Letting the Reader Think For Themselves

I admit that I have rarely been able to anticipate who the murderer is in any mystery novel, but Mertz doesn’t force the Reader into any sort of conclusions – false or real – too early. She merely presents all the (fictional) facts of the case, and the Reader is encouraged to try to figure it out. Not too coincidentally, this is an essential component in adult education. Since most non-fiction is about educating your Reader (in some way), letting the Reader/Student take ownership of the story or problem/solution combination is essential to getting them on-side, and making them loyal to your point of view. Just look at how I’m evangelizing about Amelia here – I’m one of her peeps because I’ve “helped” her with so many adventures.

As you can see, fiction and non-fiction both rely on classic tools and devices, and in surprisingly similar ways.

*Affiliate link.

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Open Source Software for Writers

November 4th, 2009 . by Peggy

Writer’s tools are extremely expensive, especially in terms of software. Here’s a great list of free open-source software designed just for writers.

First, lets define exactly what open source software really means. The term “open-source” comes from the idea that the source code of the software is revealed to the public, unlike Microdaft where everything is super-duper secret. (Or at least, so they think.) When the source code of a piece of software is available to anyone, it means that anyone in the software community can use it – within certain very loose guidelines – to create new software, create add-ons, refine the program, and so on. The one major caveat: they cannot take this free source code and sell it for a direct profit.

Does that mean it’s free? Well, sort of. There’s a strong code of ethics in the open-source community, and almost nobody abuses the grass-roots system that has grown up around this concept. Most people who contribute to open-source projects make their living by consulting, designing, supporting, and doing other things alongside the product of the open-source project, not the project itself.

However, this same code suggests that if there’s a donation button, and you’re happy with the software, then by all means, buy the programmer a virtual coffee. Realize that programmers of open-source software make only marginally more than your average freelance writer. Yep – a couple of bucks wouldn’t hurt either of you.

The website osalt.com has a massive database of open-source software for almost any purpose. (Be aware that they also offer downloads of commercial software – scroll past that to get to the free stuff.) But here are some of my personal recommendations for writers;

- OpenOffice, an alternative to Microserf Office. I have not used any MSO products for several years – this does more than MSO ever will, and looks almost identical. Virtually no learning curve, except for some exceptionally cool new stuff. Imagine this: free, does more, and fewer crashes. I once used this to layout an entire book for print, which I’ll talk about in a future blog post.

- WordPress, the blogging platform that this blog you’re reading is based upon. (This is different from WordPress.com, which is when you use it on a public server, which I do not generally endorse for writers.) I’m talking about WordPress.org, which offers the version that you can download and install on almost any webhost. A zany array of plugins and graphical themes are also available at WordPress.org/extend/.

- XMind, a mind-mapping application that can be used not only to distill your writing ideas, but also to map out characters, plot lines, and even help you figure out who the murderer is.

- PDF995, which although not really an open-source project, it is still free and very reliable. Even though you’ve read in other posts what a fan I am of Adobe products, I still use this for creating most of my PDF documents from typed documents, because it’s lighter and faster than the real thing. This version displays ads each time you use it, but you could just slap down the $10 and not see the ads.

- Celtx (pronounced “Kel-tix”) offers an alternative to the writer’s plague of crazy pieces of paper in every room of your house. Designed as a pre-production and planning tool for screenwriting and similar story-based art forms, it’s very useful for writers. Think of this as a digital binder, collecting your ideas and storyboards, not to mention the actual script, all in one place. Great collaboration tools for more than one contributor.

And for Writers Who Podcast…

- My beloved Audacity, the program that I use to record and edit almost all my audio podcasts. Easy to use, with cool built-in effects and a very forgiving undo button. Even the kids will love this.

- I recently discovered The Levelator, a dandy yet tiny application with big benefits for any podcaster. Smooths out levels and jumpy volume levels. This saves me hours of work.

If you can find a way to give back to the open-source community, please do so by donation or by promotion. It will keep writers in software for a long time coming.

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Tips for Painless Indexing

May 19th, 2009 . by Peggy


Indexing a book is often ignored because it seems like an “extra step”. But it could be a fast and easy way to add incredible value for book buyers.

Think about the last time you were in a bookstore, either browsing aimlessly, or looking for something specific. How many books did you pick up to give a second glance? Did you flip to the back cover? The flaps? Did you check the index to see what topics the book covered? I’d bet you did, just like I do each and every time.

A well-created index makes the book “a keeper”. Users only want to buy and keep books that do something for them, such as give them fast answers. Think about the books you consider your “regulars”, the ones you keep close at hand. An index allows the reader to maximize their investment in your book by increasing the book’s usability factor. Libraries, reviewers and distributors will all demerit you if no index is present in a book that should clearly have one.

For all the things you do as part of your publishing project, an index has a very low cost in terms of additional overhead. There is typically no additional print cost, or if so, it is virtually nil. Flagging items for indexing as you write takes no calculable time. Planning items for indexing can actually help you during your outlining process, before you write a word, making your book more organized.

In regards to the technicalities of typesetting, there is (like many things in publishing) no “right” or “wrong” way to do it, and it is up to the typesetter to create their own formatting, unless a template is being used that they can rely on. Unlike the rest of your book, here is not the place to get creative. Follow current conventions, and perhaps use a handful of other books you like as a format reference. Give the Searcher what they are already used to.

I always prefer two columns per page, in a simple serif-style typeface, regardless of the formatting elsewhere in your book. Readers have been trained to look for those trademark double columns as they thumb through in a hurry, such as when they are making a decision whether or not to purchase. A serif typeface increases readability, especially at high speed and in smaller font sizes. Your book should have one serif typeface anyway, so re-using it here will ensure continuity. Use italics to bring attention to alternate forms of the word, even if you are duplicating a reference. Readers of a topic rarely think the way the writer does – ask your sample readers for feedback about other terms they feel should be indexed, or alternate ways of saying the same thing, perhaps in “layman’s terms”.

These days, automated indexing tools such as those in Adobe InDesign or even Open Office are remarkably easy to use and accurate. They allow you to ensure accurate referencing to page numbers, even if whole sections of your book are dramatically altered. Searches will guarantee that all flagged words are referenced to the same root word, or to related words and references if you prefer. Even so, be sure to proof all entries, or if that’s not practical, check a broad sampling, to ensure that page references are all accurate before going to press.

As a teaching tool, an index is invaluable. If you plan to use your book as a guide or text, or as a pre-requisite for any sort of coursework or other material, an index is simply a must. Doing some competitive research on other books in your category can also help you to highlight terms that should be flagged for your own index, or bring to light terms that have been ignored elsewhere and deserve greater attention.

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