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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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Article: 6 Tips for Design

February 18th, 2010 . by Peggy

Check out this article from iStock.com, about 6 things to keep in mind when designing a logo. These tips can also be handy to keep in mind when designing books, book covers, and typesetting books or ebooks.

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Great (And Bad) Video Book Trailers

June 30th, 2009 . by Peggy

I’m being interviewed on July 2nd by Sheri Kaye Hoff, regarding eBooks and the video trailers to sell them. I’ve compiled a list of good and bad examples of video book trailers to make a few of my points clear.

Love, Stargirl


This one was the winner of the 2007 Teen Book Video Awards. (Like, if there’s an award, we should all make sure this is top on our priority list for book marketing, right?) Even though this example comes from a highly-niched fiction market, the comments still apply for business and non-fiction books.

Things I like about this one:
- extremely involving sequence, tone, etc. to draw in the watcher
- cool imagery appeals to the designated audience; in this case, teen girls
- a little weird and makes good use of “creepy” element
- it’s well-edited and looks very Hollywood-quality (essential here to foster the fantasy, but not essential in every case)
- kudos to them for finding an appropriate contest to enter and gain additional publicity

Things I think could be done better:
- more visibility of a URL or book title throughout production
- a clickable purchase link at the end (YouTube allows you to do a lot of custom stuff with a bit of research – see a future post about how to manipulate YouTube)
- I don’t see this in a lot of other locations, distributed on blogs, etc., which means somebody didn’t do the legwork

Duma Key


You may be surprised that this is my least favourite video of the bunch, and not just because this is a Stephen King cookie-cutter product: blood and gore, etc., etc. Loyal readers like my husband love this stuff, and the video gives them what they want. This is also the shortest – only just over 30 seconds.

Things I like about this one:
- short and to-the-point
- high-contrast graphic imagery makes it easy to see on the smallest of screens, like iPods, etc.
- the book graphic at the end makes it clear what’s being sold, as this is still new for many readers
- release date stated clearly at the end

Things I think could be done better:
- again, no direct link for ordering (Like, haven’t any of these people heard of affiliate programs?)
- perhaps this is too “corporate”, in the sense that it is rather predictable: a new author may consider taking bigger risks to gain an audience
- the imagery is somewhat disjointed, in that there is no “story” to this video – it’s just a bunch of scary stuff with a splash of blood, with nothing to involve the reader and link to something in their own lives (this is really about “features” vs. “benefits” again)

Nineteen Minutes

This video for popular Author Jodi Picoult was produced by AuthorBytes.com, a company that specializes in this type of media – and it shows. I’ve never read any of Picoult’s work because I thought it was something I wouldn’t be interested in. I think I may have been wrong.

Things I like about this one:
- the Author herself narrates the entire video, and there are photos of her periodically that help readers connect with her
- the shock value of the commentary is quite powerful, demonstrating contrast that I suspect will also be present in the Author’s work
- the commentary asks us to think of ourselves in perspective of the book’s subject matter
- the accompanying copy (“Details” in YouTube) is well-composed and easy for bloggers and others to use
- the narration and imagery reference other works by the same Author that have been highly successful and are easily recognized
- this doesn’t need full-motion video throughout to make the message work, and still images are used extremely well
- all the technical gunk is there at the end, such as ISBN number, cover format, page count, etc. which means this video is not just useful for consumers – it’s also very useful for booksellers and other markets

Things I think could be done better:
- again, no direct purchase link (How many times do I need to say this?)
- could be a lot shorter and still tell the story well
- the “clock” intro at the beginning drags a fair bit
- the music selection is not appropriate or powerful, and a better choice would make all the difference in the world
- this has 36k views and yet no comments, so perhaps a few “plants” would attract more viewers, and this may also signify a lack of effort to distribute and make use of this valuable resource

I’m really looking forward to our conference call about eBooks and video book trailers on Thursday, July 2nd, 2009. Click to Author Sheri Kaye Hoff’s page to register for this free call. Hear you there!

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Best Practices: Book Cover Design

February 2nd, 2009 . by Peggy

I’ve personally been involved on the design of about 25 book covers now, both ebook and printed books. Here are my 10 top tips for a great book cover.

The design of your book cover is extremely important, no matter how you plan to distribute it. Marketing rumour (I won’t say research, because I can find no quotable sources on this) tells us that from the moment a person picks up your book, you have about 6 seconds to convince them to buy it. This includes the time they take to look at the back cover and the spine.

You may think that an ebook is somehow less worthy of time taken on a quality cover design, but I strongly disagree: if anything, it is more important that your ebook have a quality cover design, as the ebook market is currently in a growth stage. It’s important to put your ebook into the next category up from some of the (let’s be frank here) garbage that has been distributed this way in the past.

These are in not in order of importance, and perhaps some of these don’t apply to your project.

1. The cover and typesetting should really be done by the same person, at the same time.

This wholistic approach unifies the design and gives it greater impact. A good recent example is the design of Jeri-Lyn McCrea’s Words in Action, which continued the floating words on the cover into the end papers, where the user can write a goal for the year inside the cover. All of this gives your content greater credibility.

2. Keep the design clean.

Avoid a cluttered look, make use of white space, and follow the fashionable rule: two main colours, plus an accent. (Think black skirt, red sweater, and the shoes and the belt should match either the skirt or the sweater – not a third colour.) Don’t give them too much to look at: strip it down to the basics. Too much stuff can threaten, confuse, and frustrate readers. Keep fonts clean and easy to read, and keep text from looking squished together. Use the back to flesh things out if you must, but keep the front of the cover cool and simple.

3. Use a focal point to orient the user.

The idea is to give them something that instantly tells the reader what your book will give them. This focal point must be meaningful to just about anybody, so test it out on a few people before you fly with it. This focal point could be a photo (my favourite) or something else that communicates clearly what your book is about, such as a single word in bold letters, etc. Your book cover is a promise of what’s inside. Grab their attention with a symbol or single word that will focus their attention.

4. Be sure they can read it without glasses.

Even as I typed that, it sounded stupid, but it’s true. Many people need reading glasses, but they don’t wear them while walking around a store or while using a computer. If they can’t read the cover because the print’s too tiny, you’ve lost your opportunity.

5. Use the spine properly.

The trend of creating spiral-bound self-published books makes me shudder. Not only does it look terrible, but you can’t use the spine to attract attention for your book on a shelf. Libraries won’t buy them, either. If you need people to be able to lay the book flat for some reason, there are much better alternatives than something that looks like it was done in your basement. The spine is very valuable real estate, and anything you can do to make the text there really *POP* is great. Keep the content restricted to the title and author’s name, as if you’ve titled your book properly, you can leave the sub-title for display on the front only.

6. Include a photo of the author.

A photo tells the reader who is doing the talking, and establishes instant trust. The photo does not have to be huge, but it should be included. If you are super-shy about having your photo taken, get a nice headshot done by a good photographer, and have it re-touched until you’re happy with it. Dress appropriately to your subject matter, and make it a cropped closeup of your face. (See a future article on what makes a good author headshot.)

7. Leave appropriate space for the technical gunk.

Freshman FlyFisher's Insect Guide - Back CoverCheck out the image here of the back of a book cover I recently designed. This book is rather small, only 4 inches wide x 6 inches high. Even taking that into account, we’ve left the scan codes at full size. This ensures that they will scan appropriately no matter what sort of equipment is being used. The ISBN number is clearly displayed, and one of the author’s websites is visible somewhere. The appropriate category is in the top left corner, which helps bookstores and libraries place the book to best selling advantage. The price is also given in both Canadian and US dollars. The ISBN-13 scan code includes a separate price bar code, and a separate UPC code allows the book to be sold in virtually any retail venue – not just bookstores.

8. Use appropriate information hierarchy.

Again, refering to the photo, pay special attention to the font sizes. The largest font size is used on the information that is most important – the book’s description. The smaller the font gets, the less important the information. Even subtle changes of a point or less can be detected. This leads the reader down a logical path of what order we want them to read in.

9. Make the design match the content.

I don’t understand why we continue to see child-like colourful designs with hand-drawn illustrations for business books. If you wouldn’t attend a business meeting wearing that cover, why should you ask your book to wear it? If the content is business, make the cover business-like. If the content is self-help, make the cover uplifting and beautiful. Good style is good business.

10. Don’t waste real estate.

A book cover is actually 7 locations: the front, the spine, the back, and don’t forget the inside of the front, and the inside of the back, plus the first right-side paper in the front and the last left-side paper in the back, which can be special sheets called endpapers. If you are publishing a hardcover, you can print the endpapers in one solid piece, and if you’ve gone softcover, you can print directly on the inside cover and the first “page” of the content. I’d love to see every author to ever publish put an order form there to order more books off their website. The cost is pennies per book, and the rewards can be great.

Remember: good design is good business.

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