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New Year, New Writing Schedule

December 31st, 2013 . by Peggy

Is 2014 the year you write your eBook?Is 2014 the year you really want to get that book written?

Whether it’s a breakout novel, a business book to help your company or build your profile, or just a creative explosion, 2014 can really be your year. I’m totally revising my newsletters into a once-a-month inspiration email that will give you all sorts of reasons to keep writing. It’s a like writing class that you don’t pay for!

Each month will include:

  • Downloadable writing calendars and writing schedule mini-poster for your wall
  • Punctuation mark of the month, including usage tips and examples
  • Monthly themes and writing prompts
  • Writer’s Wrecipes – my personal collection of brain-and-heart-feeding soul food
  • Writing contests and events worth knowing about
  • Recent Kindle stats and top sellers
  • Client Spotlights including cool real-world secrets to share with you
  • Tech tips to solve marketing and publishing problems we all experience
  • Monthly specials on products and templates to make your writing easier, cheaper, and more enjoyable

Be sure you’re signed up! Click here to sign up if you haven’t already: http://eepurl.com/jQ-lf

I’m on a mission of my own in 2014

… to finally get that historical novel of mine written and out there! I’ve spent over a decade working on various non-fiction projects and a few novels that are frankly, not that hot. :) Although I’m a trained technical writer and researcher, I’ve never studied how to create fiction. But this book is special – I’ve had it in my bottom drawer and in that dusty corner of a hard drive for years. I’m sick of fantasizing about it – I want to experience the writing of it! I’ll share my own writing trials and successes as we move through the year. I’ll tell you frankly what works for me, and what doesn’t.

I’m also giving myself permission to fail on this project, which is a very uncomfortable step for me. I’m not happy when I make mistakes, but I recognize that as a serious character flaw, and I want to work on it. If you have tips for me, I welcome them!

Let’s spend 2014 working together, inspiring each other, and getting books DONE!

Again, be sure you’re signed up for the monthly newsletter list by clicking here: http://eepurl.com/jQ-lf

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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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What To Do When Your eBook Isn’t Selling

June 14th, 2012 . by Peggy

Here are some tips not just from me, but from other Authors or creators of information products.

1. Write a second eBook.

Yeah, I know, this sounds completely counter-intuitive, but this one really does work. Why? Think “inbound links”. In terms of discoverability, the effect can be magnified many times. (Think SEO benefits.) This is a great place to expand in greater detail or to focus on one particular topic area. Every sales book I’ve ever read talks about this in some way, and yes, it has personally worked for me. It’s given me credibility as a topical expert, and has gotten me speaking gigs, where I ultimately sold more books.

2. Check that you’re being really, truly visible.

If you’re not always on the move, producing more content, the market will know. It’s a wheel that takes a lot to get rolling, and if you stop pushing it, the momentum you’ve built can only take it so much farther without you. Are you blogging? It creates more traffic to your sales page. Using social media? Twitter is free and works on any smartphone. Talking about your eBook somehow, to someone, every single day? Are you doing speaking? All of this is what’s known as “working it”, and that’s the real job of an Author – not writing. Never underestimate the power of a t-shirt with your domain name on it. I’ve gotten at least a half-dozen clients a year from that alone.

3. Revise it.

I’ve had one book that’s had three titles and four covers. Admittedly, they were not all great, but when sales have not been as expected, I take it down, revise it, put on a new cover, or change the platform. (Ie., if it’s not selling well as a PDF, try moving it to the Kindle format. Fresh market, new links, etc.) This is exploiting the most advantageous aspect of an eBook: it’s not carved in stone. It’s a living document that you can re-upload at any time. (Watch your version tracking, in a hidden spot in each book’s copyright page that tags it v.1.0, v.1.1, etc.)

4. Create parallel content.

By parallel content, I mean creating content that is not exactly what is in your eBook, but that is very clearly and closely aligned to it. If your eBook is about weight loss, create a low-cal recipe blog. Make a few cooking videos for YouTube with links to buy the eBook. (Video is so simple now that it really is inexcusable to not do this for such a visually-oriented subject.) If you’re talking about how to be a great consultant, write a few articles about how to manage your billing and accounting. Thinking with empathy about the needs of your audience will clue you into topics of interest very quickly.

5. Solicit some reviews.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of review exchanges out there – just Google “book review exchange”. (The concept is, “I’ll review your eBook positively if you review mine.”) They are typically no cost, and can mean anything from an Amazon Kindle review to an actual interview or blog post. I’ve heard one very successful Author suggest that you should aim for a few more each month. Again, this is actually about creating more inbound links to your content, ie., SEO benefits.

6. Examine your metadata.

Metadata is all the stuff you don’t see, but your computer does. For example, when you upload your eBook to Kindle, you are asked for keywords related to your eBook, and to choose a category, name all the contributors, write a description, and more. Did you actually do all of that? Does it need refreshing? Did you add keywords and check the page title and so on when you built your blog or website? Did you max it out? Hidden stuff mixed with quality visible stuff is what attracts traffic.

7. Setup an affiliate marketing program.

This takes a little more effort, but once setup, can be a virtual money machine. (Again, I have an upcoming Cheat Sheet about this. Watch my announcement list or the Facebook Page for details.) Essentially, offering to pay other website owners or list owners for marketing your eBook can be extremely cost-effective, and can be done almost indefinitely. You can listen to an audio about this topic that I recorded here: http://funnygirlmarketing.com/ (Once you sign up, check out week 3′s recording. It’s free.)

8. Examine your consistency.

By this I mean not just consistency in how often you do certain actions, like a certain number of tweets per week or writing a blog post each Tuesday, but also consistency in your messaging. Have you been sending mixed messages to your audience? Are you known for certain catch phrases? Do you use them often enough? Do you clearly align your objectives for each chapter with the messaging for the entire eBook? Does your blog also reflect that same mission and attitude? Do you practice what you preach? Do you slip? (We all do – don’t knock yourself up over that. Just get back on track.)

9. Check the usability of your shopping cart.

This is one of those stupid things that we might assume is working, but perhaps isn’t working all that smoothly from the viewpoint of the buyer. It’s amazing what can cause a consumer to abandon a shopping cart. I’m not talking about system failure, but instead, how easy and obvious things are. I have a “filter” person that I ask to test all things like this for me – my Mother. If it passes the Mom Usability Test, it’s good enough for the general public. It has often surprised me what things can trip people up. Sometimes it’s the location of a button, or the words actually on the button, or the colour of the button. It’s crazy.

10. Check your Klout.

Klout.com is an impartial way to know and gauge how you’re doing in the world of social media. Examine your rating, the details and explanation, and compare yourself to others in your business. For those lower on the scale than yourself, watch for the up-and-comers. For those higher on the scale than yourself, what can you learn from them? What can you emulate?

In my experience, for my own books and those of my clients, it’s often the little things that make the biggest difference. This list is a starting point that may lead you down side roads that you had not considered. Testing things scientifically is important: make one change at a time, and watch the results. And of course, everything is worth testing.

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How to Think Like a Successful eBook Author

June 5th, 2012 . by Peggy

 


Rodin's The ThinkerBecoming successful in any field often requires a shift in thinking. Here are some of the shifts that I myself experienced, and that I continue to witness in clients and other successful eBook creators.

1. Stop thinking of yourself as an Author.

Authors are amazing, creative, driven, and professional people. However, as the motivated creator of an eBook trying to crash into what might be a crowded niche, you need to shift yourself from almost all traditional thinking, and quickly.

My own fantasy of what it meant to be an Author was probably like that of many people: the Author as an introvert creative, working from behind a leather-topped desk in a quiet study, the oak-paneled walls lined with books, and a dog stretched out on a thick carpet at my feet. Occasionally, I would fetch myself a whisky from the mini-bar in the corner, or gaze out at my ocean view for inspiration. My publisher would take care of everything, and send me fat checks once a month, all because I was gifting the world with the gold that came out of my brain.

Yeah, that’s pretty far from my reality. Instead, after a rowdy morning of getting the kidlet off to school and taking something out of the freezer for dinner, I whip through Starbucks on my way to an office that I share with a crowd of marketing types. I then run down my whiteboards and address whomever is screaming the loudest. I eat lunch while typing or talking on the phone, scramble to meet deadlines, meet with new and existing clients about 3 times a week, test out new technologies or tools, write blog posts like this one, plan and execute official launch dates for ebooks or new information products, setup affiliate marketing data for the products of myself and clients, and then when that’s all done, dinner’s over and the kidlet asleep, I do a bit more market research to try to find the next niche that I can exploit to the max.

While I’m not in that luxury den, I must say that I find this much more rewarding. NO, this is NOT a life of luxury, but it is fulfilling. I love marketing. I love technology. And I especially love the freedom that I have to keep reinventing myself and my work over and over again. The reality is that successful fiction Authors (versus me as a product creator) do a lot of the same things I do, all day, every day. They might call themselves something other than an information marketer, but really, that’s what all of us are. Once our false expectations fade about the exotic life of an Author, we discover that this, being a marketer with a sort of literary bent, is actually way more fun.

2. Get into a tech groove.

Let’s face it: books mean technology. Even if you are writing for print in the most traditional sense, with a publisher and (perhaps) even an advance, you’re still in a technology-run business. There is simply no working around that. The time of Authors being lumped in with lawyers and real-estate agents for their lack of tech knowledge has passed. Content creators must now at least understand, and hopefully fully control, all aspects of their content distribution.

At the very least, all Authors must get used to the basics;

  • Writing on a computer, using appropriate word-processing software. 
  • Creating eBook content using a standard word-processor. 
  • Using social media. 
  • Blogging or creating other web content. 
  • Deploying and managing their content (and things like reviews) on popular eBook platforms like Kindle or Nook, etc.
  • Linking to places where people can buy the books, and making them easily accessible.
  • Managing a mailing list properly.

The more advanced techy types will take it to the next level;

  • Setting up a shopping cart on your website to sell books and eBooks. 
  • Formatting your own eBook uploads.
  •  Managing your own blog platform, on WordPress. 
  • Setting up things like feeds for your blog or website.
  • Tracking visitors to your blog or website, to see where your visitors are coming from.

And then there are the ones that really exploit the technology that makes money;

  • Conducting webinars or teleseminars. 
  • Using web video conferencing for lectures or virtual signings. 
  • Managing an ongoing affiliate marketing program.
  • Managing digital ad campaigns to sell books or eBooks.
  • Using podcasting to gain recognition and drive traffic.

If you know you’re stuck in the first paragraph, or less, at least know what you need to delegate to the techy types – and how to explain to them what you want.

3. Stop waiting.

The slowness of the literary industry is improving, but it is still its Achilles heel. Independent product creators must work faster in order to meet demand and build market share. In my observation over many years, the idea for a novel does not get better if it steeps for a few years. Instead, it gets neglected. It’s not just about writing every day, which is also essential, but about setting up a production schedule. This allows you to move from one completed project to the next, without losing your momentum or enthusiasm or joy for the content. In the case of non-fiction, there’s often a window of opportunity that is fleeting and small. You either grab it, or you miss it. Speed of production is the way to make money.

4. Keep producing.

If all you have in you is one novel a year, please be sure you have another job. (But don’t stop writing that one novel, either!) One product does not a company make. But, one product can a market open. What I mean by this is that you can do a lot of work to launch one product into the market, and once you open that door, you then capitalize on that by creating more products to fill the market space you have created. Once you have your spearhead product created, be sure to follow it up right away with a companion product, or a sequel, or a study guide, or a series of implementation exercises, or a new edition, or, or, etc. As the expression goes, the second eBook takes 1/10th of the work, and makes you 10 times the money.

5. Template what works.

If I were to consider selling my business, I know that the part that would be assessed for the greatest value would be my templates. I have systems up the ying/yang. Spreadsheets for processes, lists for checking off, template documents with fill-in-the-blanks, step-by-step guides for myself and for clients, pre-formatted documents for creating everything from class handouts to new eBooks, etc. etc. This is where your real value in a business lies: in its systems. This is true of almost every company. McDonald’s is nothing without its templated systems for everything from food processing and handling, to uniforms for employees, to how to scrub a toilet. Templates are what allow success to repeat. I rarely do anything more than once, because in everything I create or do, I look for a way to be able to do it again without any extra work. Yes, I have a lot of wall charts. Yes, I keep a pile of post-it notes in my bathroom magazine rack. Yes, that makes me look like a major geek. But I know that if I want to look professional, I need to save time, and templating is the only way I know to do that effectively.

The moment I let go of the unrealistic fantasy was the moment my company was born. I found real joy in offering something of value to a market that wanted it. I love sharing this with consulting clients, and watching them make the same shift and get real. No, I don’t have an ocean view (especially here in Las Vegas!) but I do have constant inspiration.

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How to Title Your eBook

May 1st, 2012 . by Peggy

Here are some great tips for choosing a title for your book or eBook. Done carefully, the correct title can really help ensure the success of your project. Or not.

The title of your eBook should start with your goals and keyword research. Regarding non-fiction eBooks, the title must accomplish the following things;

Your title must directly relate to your keyword research. Read this document to help you with that.

You must be able to purchase the exact URL for the title. For example, if your title is How To Train Your Pet Monkey To Vacuum Your House, you must be able to purchase HowToTrainYourPetMonkeyToVacuumYourHouse.com. (Speaking of which, just how much does a pet monkey cost these days?) If you can’t get the exact title, yes, I would seriously reconsider re-titling the eBook. That domain name should point directly to a sales and information page about the eBook itself.

The title should clearly demonstrate to readers what they will discover in this eBook. Don’t use crazy slang, phrases that you invent, or other non-intuitive language. Be clear. If this is about how to get girls by becoming a great DJ, then please title it, How To Get Girls By Becoming A Great DJ. Since I’m old, and female, I don’t even know what the “street” title could be for that, but you get what I mean.

It should ideally be less than 32 characters. So, the monkey example doesn’t fit that, but Keyword Cheat Sheet does. (Although yes, that slightly violates the hard consonant rule, below.)

It must be easy to understand and speak. Try to include hard consonants that make it easy to hear and understand when spoken over background noise, or when someone has an accent, like us Canadians from Vancooooover.

You must be able to visualize others in a series. If you can share things like title text portions or other imagery among a series of books, you have a greater chance of achieving cross-marketing between your own products.

Don’t include digits or numbers. People never know whether to write the digit or spell it out. If you must include digits, buy all the related domains, such as 7monkeys.com, as well as sevenmonkeys.com.

Once you have chosen your title, lock it in by actually buying the domain within the hour. If you have spent hours searching if certain domain names are available, and then you walk away and don’t purchase the one you want immediately, you might lose it. This is because many domain registration services have automated systems that spy on your searches, and then if you don’t buy the good ones, they will. And, they do this quickly. You are doing the difficult imaginative work for them, and they can easily capitalize on good domain names by trying to resell them using their automated systems.

Don’t forget to also buy your Author name domain as fast as possible. It is one of the great agonies of my life that I do not own PeggyRichardson.com – I was too late to grab it after I searched to see if it was available. I do own PeggyRichardson.ca, however. (Which brings you to this blog.) That way, you can use your own name or that of your eBook to drive traffic, because as I always say, YOU are the product, not the eBook.

Just for fun, try using the Lulu.com title scorer to see if your eBook is destined to be a bestseller. This is about as scientific as astrology for eBooks, but it can be great at eBook parties. (Yeah, I do that. Whatever.) You can also play The Titling Game by trying out the wackiest titles you can, and see what is the highest score. You just never know what might make you famous: http://www.lulu.com/titlescorer/index.php.

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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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It’s OK To Make Mistakes With An eBook

February 22nd, 2012 . by Peggy

As far as business mistakes go – and I’ve made them all, I tell you – eBooks are one of the most forgiving projects you’ll ever attempt. Let me reassure you about how easy it is to dip your toe in the water without fear.

Let’s say that you write an ebook. You don’t do any market research. You create it as a PDF even though it’s 7300 pages. You forget the password to all of your social media accounts. You fail to correct over 1000 spelling and grammar mistakes in the manuscript. And, the cover design is just you typing the name of the cover in black text on white in MS Word. Yes, that would be a disaster in many other businesses, but in eBooks, all of this can be fixed.

I have re-released almost every title on which I’ve ever worked. The beauty of the eBook business is that it’s digital – nothing is carved in stone. If the title stinks, re-title it. If the cover sucks, re-cover it. Edit it. Shorten it. Promote it. It’s all one gigantic testing ground.

One of the key components to this mistake-proof endeavor is the concept of split testing. Not a new idea, split testing simply means that you try two versions of your project, with only a single difference between the two versions. Which one sells better? A or B? If it’s A, then you would drop B, and then take A, tweak it a single time, and then offer the next set of two things to test against each other. By constantly splitting the product in two, you hone it, perfect it, and all without delaying your product to market.

Never assume that an eBook is “done”. That does not happen. At least, not in any successful eBook business.

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10 Things Authors Should Know About QR Codes

December 23rd, 2011 . by Peggy

I’ve spent the last year working with a firm here in the US, doing research and application development related to the use of QR codes for marketing. As a writer, I’m always on the lookout for how everything I encounter relates to information marketing, and I’ve summarized here some points that Authors in particular should find stimulating.

1. You can’t ignore it for much longer.

As tablets and smartphones capable of scanning QR codes expand to fill more than 53% of the mobile market, you have yet another avenue through which to connect to readers. If you have a book going to print in the next few weeks or months, be sure to put a QR code on the cover. If you haven’t yet decided to what you want that code to link, have no fear: just link it to a page on your current domain, such as mybook.com/qr. Then, when your’e ready, place the content at that URL.

2. Elevate your QR content.

In my don’t-call-it-humble opinion, the biggest mistake that seems to be made with QR codes overall is that they are only used to link to existing content that can be found any old way, regardless of whether someone has the code or not. Reward QR users with something extra-special, such as a video message from you that is not directly linked to from any other part of your blog, or a secondary version of your book trailer. Think of it as more than just an easy way to funnel people into what you already have.

3. Realize that most people will look at your stuff on a phone, not necessarily a tablet.

If you link to a video, be sure that it formats for a cell phone appropriately. (YouTube.com can link to an unlisted video and adjust automatically, no matter what viewers use to see it.) If you link to a page on a website, be sure it’s not a gigantic graphic, text formatted as images, etc., that will all look awful on a phone.  Make all text re-flowable, and all images self-adjusting.

4. Don’t have just one code.

Let’s assume that you’ve integrated QR codes as part of your wholistic marketing strategy. That should mean that you have a code on your business card that links to your “About me” page on your blog, and one on your book cover that links directly to information about the book itself, more in the series, extra information about the same vein of content, or perhaps an invitation to receive special extra content, one on your posters advertising book signings might link to an intro to the book, you as an author, and confirmed details about the event itself, with an easy link to put that event into their calendar. Each code can be context-sensitive and detailed.

5. Don’t expect people to buy your book from a QR code.

But do expect them to want to learn more about you, the book, your other titles, etc. If this is the first time they’re hearing about you, be sure you woo them appropriately first. As per #4, one of the codes in your arsenal should lead directly to a buy-it-now page, but be sure to offer more than that up front.

6. Don’t isolate the code.

Be sure that the code is presented in a way that lets the user know what to expect when they scan it – are they going to a contact page about you? Then be sure to tell them that. Are they going to buy tickets to your event? Are they going to see some exclusive content? A video? Be sure to give them a headsup, so that they are not only more interested in scanning, but also not worried about being spammed, getting a virus from a disreputable vendor, etc.

7. Expect more from your scanners.

It might not be a far-off assumption that people who own a smartphone and know enough to use a QR code are in that sweet spot group of consumers: 25-45 year olds with disposable income and a higher education. They might want complex content, that is well thought-out and implemented. Chances are, they will reward those extra efforts you make to entertain and challenge them with more money spent on your stuff. Give more to get more.

8. Don’t link directly to a file download.

Since users might access this from a phone, they are going to hate it if they scan a code only to see a PDF trying to suck up their entire data plan inside 2 minutes. Link to a page first, and give them an option.

9. Include social info on QR landing pages.

Once people scan the code, make it extremely easy for them to share what they’ve discovered, by including “Tweet this” and “Share on Facebook” links on that page.

10. Think in terms of space, not just time.

Mobile users might find it helpful to have a QR code perform an automatic checkin for a location on Yelp or Foursquare. Reward event attendees with a code that will help them earn Foursquare “Swarm” badges and other location or event-specific happenings.

BONUS – 11. Be sure to follow up.

Once someone has scanned your code, it’s easy enough to use any number of systems (afflink) to invite them to sign up for your list or enter their mobile number to keep up to date on future happenings. Not all will take advantage of this, but the 5% that do will be loyal enough to be worth communicating with in future.

 

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Why I tell writers not to get too excited about copyright.

November 7th, 2011 . by Peggy

There are reasonable privacy precautions to take when you start a publishing project. But don’t obsess over the stuff that doesn’t matter.

Almost every Author comes to me with a lot of fear (read: baggage from bad stories they’ve heard or imagined) about “copyright” and the possibility of people stealing their stuff. In all 12+ years I’ve worked as an editor, I’ve only seen two Authors who have lost anything because they didn’t sign the proper contracts. Neither were clients of mine, but they came to me for advice after such a thing happened. One was a case involving a divorce, (yeah, like I’m going to get involved in *that*!) and the second was a business partner that wasn’t happy and split, taking the IP (Intellectual Property) with her to market on her own. I’ve seen many, many more people throw around their IP without any protection at all, and never had anything happen. From what I’ve witnessed in my own businesses and those of my husband, disputes over ownership of content are very rare and usually involve something much more complicated, like an ugly divorce or the breakup of a business. It seems to become less common as technology advances, as it’s easier than ever to simply show a date stamp on a document and prove that we thought of it first.

All written works are protected by default copyright laws in Canada, the USA, and most of Europe, as per the Berne Convention. As it states on Wikipedia,

In all countries where the Berne Convention standards apply, copyright is automatic, and need not be obtained through official registration with any government office. Once an idea has been reduced to tangible form, for example by securing it in a fixed medium (such as a drawing, sheet music, photograph, a videotape, or a computer file), the copyright holder is entitled to enforce his or her exclusive rights.

In other words, as long as you can prove that you were the originator of the work (old files, notes, printouts with your edit marks, etc.) then you’re pretty safe in a general sense. The thing is, if you catch someone stealing your stuff, you would still need to prove it, and take it to court to be compensated in any way. (Although usually the threat to sue is enough to make people hold off.) The only benefit of actual copyright registration is that if you sue, you can sue for more money, and in different ways. But you’d still have to decide if it was worth it to fork out money for a lawyer in the first place.

When should you worry about copyright? In the music community, it’s a popular theme and debate. I’m not saying that theft doesn’t happen, because of course it does. And nothing I say here on this website replaces the advice of a good lawyer. But if worrying about this is stopping from creatively progressing with your work, I think you need to pause and consider if there’s a real issue, or an imagined one.

Now on the other hand, a smart and cheap way to give everyone a little more comfort is to sign an NDA, or non-disclosure agreement. I paid a lawyer to write mine, which you can now download by clicking the linked image at the top of this article. (Feel free to steal this and re-work it for your own evil purposes.)

What does this NDA do?

- It says that you promise not to steal my ideas about editing / technology / marketing, and I promise not to steal your ideas about your content.

- It says that you can’t circumvent me and go to one of my suppliers without paying me, nor I to your suppliers.

- It says that we’re both bound to do this equally. This contract doesn’t make a distinction between you or I, and so it doesn’t favour any one party.

- It says that we both agree to do this for 5 years, for a variety of projects in that time. (You don’t need to sign one for each of the 5 books on which you’re working.)

- It says that this NDA does not constitute a contract to do work, and that we’re just agreeing not to steal from each other.

So, to whom should you send this document? Certainly your editor, because we know all your secrets. And possibly any consultants that you hire to work on the project, and your graphic designer. And anybody that you ask for input as you develop your ideas. But that’s about it. You would not ask early reviewers and potential distributors, for example. In the first place, you want to be really nice to those people, and in the second place, they’re not interested in stealing anything anyway. Not that asking people to sign an NDA isn’t nice, but it can put some people on the defensive.

It’s not that your stuff isn’t worth stealing – I’m sure it is. But it seems we’re all too worried about our own ideas being stolen to worry about stealing anyone else’s.

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